Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Increasingly Dangerous Hunt for Oil

Give Big Oil and their political stooges their due - they're not going to give in to Peak Oil without a fight, no matter the cost to others.

Around the world, stocks of conventional oil are said to be in decline.   By conventional oil, I mean good, sweet crude like the Saudis that can be pumped straight into the tanker from the wellhead.  It's sort of like picking teams in high school gym class and the point where you're down to the last handful of players that nobody really wants.

As conventional oil staggers under the load of increased demand from the steady customers and the new, emerging economies, it opens the market for unconventional oil.    Some of it is extracted from deep beneath the seabed.   Think Deepwater Horizon.   Some of it is ersatz oil, synthetic oil, call it tar if you like - the stuff that's mined in Athabasca.

The common feature of unconventional oil is that it's a lot harder, a lot more expensive, and a lot more dangerous and environmentally devastating to recover.   Building, deploying and operating massive offshore drilling rigs is enormously expensive.    Mining bitumen and then processing it for delivery to upgrader plants for further extensive processing is also very, very expensive.   That's when you start getting into the dangerous part.

Getting at unconventional oil is expensive but getting at it safely is far more costly yet.   If there's one thing Big Oil likes it has to be massive profits.  It's very good at maximizing profits in no small measure thanks to let's call them co-operative politicians.   Working hand in hand, Big Oil and compliant regulators have been successful at keeping costs down and profits up.   We know that the Deepwater Horizon disaster could have been avoided had the operator been required to install an elaborate wellhead safety system mandated for every rig in the North Sea.   But Cheney saw to it that requirement was scrubbed from the books, saving Big Oil hundreds of millions of dollars in costs on every Gulf offshore rig.

Now The Guardian reports that a study shows America's oil industry has been running out of control for years:

the National Wildlife Federation drew on records from the Minerals Management Service, which regulates offshore drilling, and the Environmental Protection Agency, to come up with a figure of 1,440 offshore leaks, blowouts, and other accidents were reported between 2001-2007In addition to environmental damage, these caused 41 deaths and 302 injuries.

The safety record for onshore activities was even more dismal. Some 2,554 pipeline accidents occurred between 2001 and 2007, killing 161 people and injuring 576.

...At times, the accidents occurred far from industrial installations such as offshore drilling rigs or refineries. In one particularly gruesome incident from August 2000, three families with young children on a camping trip in New Mexico were consumed by a 500ft fireball from a ruptured pipeline. All 12 people were killed, and an official investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board later blamed the pipeline company for failing to detect or repair severely corroded pipes.
...Among the causes for the poor safety record was the industry's relentless costcutting, despite record profits, said the report's authors, describing equipment failures, tank corrosion, and other signs of poor maintenance.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Exactly.   Who is watching the watchers?   Who is watching our legislators and our regulators, those we count on to protect the public interest?   Apparently just about no one because they've been had, turned.  It takes a lot of looking the other way to tolerate 1,440 drill rig incidents in eight years even if they were Bush-Cheney years.
Canadians have no reason to be smug.   Our elected representatives, Ottawa included, and regulators, federal and provincial, have been very much "looking the other way" in regard to the Athabasca Tar Sands.   If you want to know the extent of their perfidy, read Andrew Nikiforuk's Tar Sands.   When you're finished you'll be left convinced there are a lot of people - in Edmonton, Calgary and, yes, Ottawa who ought to be behind bars.   And they're not just Conservatives either.   The point is that, even in Canada, we cannot trust our elected officials and the bureaucrats they direct to safeguard the public interest.  It's not so much that they fail to do it, it's that they refuse to do it - they choose to look the other way.
Here's something you need to keep in mind.  We're just beginning to pursue unconventional oil.   There are some who want Tar Sands production expanded three-fold, perhaps even five-fold.   Ask yourself this.   If we can't environmentally regulate the current trickle, what chance do we have if we open the flood gates?
Those tailing "ponds," the only ponds visible to the naked eye from the space shuttle, the largest man made containment except for China's Three Gorges dam project, why are they still there behind earthen walls that already leak and are just waiting to rupture?   Why?   And that fairy tale about carbon sequestration and capture, how many CCS plants are under construction?   When will they come on line?   How much of the massive carbon emissions generated by the Tar Sands is the Alberta government even promising to capture?  How about 20%, max.   And those lethal carbon-filled caverns.  How many centuries are they going to have to be maintained and monitored?  Who will pay for that?   How many "accidents" will they create over the next thousand years?
Another aspect of the expanded development of unconventional oil is the "cherry picking" factor.  It only makes sense that Big Oil would go after the best, most easily extracted and processed, bitumen first.   That part of the Tar Sands won't last for long.   Big Oil is going to have to move on to more costly, secondary deposits.   The temptation to cut corners will only increase even as the risks head in the same direction.
So who is championing the public interest in this steadily developing environmental fiasco?   Harper, Stelmach?   No, but that's to be expected.   But what about the opposition, Ignatieff?   Not a chance.  Have you heard Bert calling for an enquiry into the true state of the environmental threats posed by the Tar Sands?  Not a peep.   Stiffy, in the most illiberal fashion conceivable, is a Tar Sander through and through.  He embraces the Tar Sands as the beating heart of the Canadian economy for the 21st century, even calling Athabasca a "key to national unity."   No, don't count on Mr. Ignatieff to protect the country and the people of the MacKenzie watershed.
Brace yourself.   The expanding quest for unconventional oil will proceed apace, testament to the marriage of convenience of Big Oil and the political class.  It's going to get more costly and more dangerous.   We're going to have accidents and a lot more of them.   As David Schindler warns, if one of those tailing ponds bursts, we're in for an environmental disaster of such magnitude that people will stop mentioning the Exxon Valdez.  And for what?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Oooh, Russians Probing Canadian Airspace? Oooh, Scary!

If the Russians really wanted to probe Canadian airspace, as DefMin Peter MacKay likes to pretend, about the worst way to go about it would be to send over a Tupolev TU-95 Bear bomber and at high altitude no less.

The problem with probing anything with the Bear is the Bear itself.   In service since 1955 it's old.  It's old and huge.   It has four enormous engines turning enormous, counter-rotating propellers.   That's a total of 32-enormous steel propeller blades spinning about giving this beast the radar cross section of a battleship.   When the Russkies designed the Bear, stealth was not a consideration.

In effect, the Bear announces its presence well before it gets anywhere near Canadian airspace.   The Russians put in an appearance, check how long it takes for a Canadian fighter to intercept, and then head home.   No matter how much Peter MacKay wants to hype the event, the Russkies are hardly probing our defences.   If they wanted to do that they might fly a much different profile with a far better aircraft.

Cluster Bomb Ban Kicks In Sunday

For 107 countries, the use, production and stockpiling of cluster bombs is officially banned beginning Sunday, August 1st.  From AlterNet:

Dropped from aircraft or fired from artillery or rockets, the weapons scatter bomblets over a wide area, but have limited military impact today as they were designed to attack tanks on an open battlefield, an increasingly rare scenario, they said.

Cluster bombs often fail to detonate immediately and can explode years after a conflict, killing or maiming civilians in Laos, Kosovo and Lebanon, according to humanitarian groups.

"These weapons are a relic of the Cold War. They are a legacy that has to be eliminated because they increasingly won't work," Peter Herby, an arms expert at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), told a news conference.

Support is growing for the Convention on Cluster Bombs, adopted in May 2008 and ratified by 37 states including Britain, France, Germany and Japan, which all have significant stocks.

But the United States -- the world's largest producer with the biggest stockpile of 800 million submunitions -- has shunned the treaty, although it says it will ban the weapon from 2018.

China and Russia have also stayed away and don't disclose their stocks.
...Most countries are turning away from the weapon because they kill too many civilians and undermine political objectives, according to Thomas Nash, coordinator of the Cluster Munition Coalition. Lockheed Martin and Alliant Techsystems are among U.S.-based companies known to have produced cluster bombs in the recent past, he said.

As ever, the problem isn't with the weapon itself so much as our inability to resist using it inappropriately.   Cluster bombs, like land mines, have a legitimate purpose in conventional, battlefield warfare - army versus army.   But those who use the things like to fire them into civilian areas, fail to keep track of them and simply leave them where they fall to claim the lives of innocents, too often children, for many years afterward.   The Israelis have provided ample justification for banning these weapons.

SCC Puts Robert Pickton on Ice

Prostitute serial killer Robert Pickton has gotten the boot from the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Supremes bounced Pickton's appeal seeking a new trial.   While acknowledging some errors in the conduct of the trial, the court ruled the former pig farmer received a proper hearing:

"...this was a long and difficult trial — but it was also a fair one. Despite the errors set out above, there was no miscarriage of justice occasioned by the trial proceedings. Mr. Pickton was entitled to the same measure of justice as any other person in this country. He received it. He is not entitled to more."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Dutch Afghan Force Stands Down on Sunday

Beginning Sunday, Dutch troops in Afghanistan's Uruzgan province will begin the process of going home.   The Netherlands has 1,950 soldiers deployed to Afghanistan, most of whom are expected to be back in their homeland by September.

Plans call for Dutch forces to be relieved byAmerican, Australian, Slovak and Singaporean soldiers starting this weekend.

The World's Biggest Muslim Nation - Muslim and Increasingly Moderate

It's part of the Western narrative that Muslim states in this era breed extremism, evidenced by a spreading clamour for harsh and oppressive Sharia law.   Well, the world's largest Muslim state, Indonesia puts the lie to that nonsense.   According to The Jakarta Post, Indonesian Muslims are turning against the spread of Sharia law:

"...In the last 12 months alone, there has been a palpable hardening in the attitude of Indonesians against sharia law. Form April 2009 to March 2010, the number of people who said “Islamic sharia law should be introduced in my area” declined from 43 to 36 percent of the population. That’s one in three people, not what an elected mayor could call a majority.

Expressions of support for sharia law have even less support. A year ago, 38 percent of the population believed “thieves should have their hands cut off”. By March of 2010, that number had slipped to 32.

“Those committing adultery should be whipped to death in public” also lost steam, with an almost identical decline during the same period.

...In this world’s Muslim majority nation, steadily growing numbers of moderate Muslims are looking at tomorrow’s Indonesia, differently. The purists and the fundamentalists are in the minority, and shrinking.

The politicians are reading the signs and even religious parties are seeking to redefine themselves."

Maybe if the West stopped propping up oppressive, anti-democratic despots in the Middle East and, instead, supported democratic reform, moderate Arab Muslims, the core of the Arab Street might themselves begin looking at tomorrow differently too.   If you want to drive out Islamist extremism, there's probably no better place to start than pushing for democratic reform.

Israel Set to Take Nukes to Sea? Pakistan Nuke Proliferators Back in Business?

Israel is reported to be preparing to deploy nuclear-armed Dolphin submarines to the Iranian coast.  The Xinhua News Agency and Global Security Newswire say Israel is mating nuclear warheads to its submarine-launched cruise missiles in preparation for the mission.    Germany has supplied three of the subs to Israel and is to deliver two more in the next two years.

"Israel has never spoken about the role of its submarines, whether they are for patrol or attack missions, but internationally they are thought as being part of Israel's deterrence," said Yiftah Shapir, who heads the Military Balance Project at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies.

"From my perspective it doesn't matter what their role is. As soon as it's believed to be one or the other then that's what counts," Shapir said.

The United States, meanwhile, is attempting to determine whether proteges of Pakistan nuclear weapons scientists AQ Khan might be going operational again.   The Washington Times quotes US intelligence analysts as saying that a number of countries could be attempting to recruit key members of the former proliferation ring.

"...Khan spent several years under house arrest in Pakistan following the breakup of his operation. Some 50 to 100 members of the smuggling ring never faced criminal charges, though U.S. spy agencies placed these individuals on multiple watch lists and carried out electronic and physical monitoring of those judged to pose the greatest threat. It is these free individuals that are the cause of worry to some U.S. spy officers.

Nonproliferation expert David Albright, head of the Institute for Science and International Security, said issue experts had been concerned for years about the failure to prosecute some smuggling ring associates.

"One of the things that emerged in the prosecution [of the Khan ring] is that these guys don't know any other business," Albright said. "There has been a constant worry that the second and third tier of the Khan network would resume the illicit business of the network."

"So few people were ever prosecuted and you get the sense that this network was never truly disrupted, ripped out root and branch," he added.

Steve, Mike - It's Time to Do the Right Thing for Canada

The 1980s were the warmest decade ever recorded.    That is until the 1990s arrived to become the warmest decade ever recorded or at least until the 2000s became the warmest decade ever recorded.  Here we stand, 2010, three full decades down the road and we're living in the hottest year ever recorded.

As I noted a few days back, NASA released its list of the hottest years ever - 2005, followed by 2007, 2009, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2004, 2001 and 2008 with 2010 poised to bump 2005 out of first place.  Res ipsa loquitor - the thing speaks for itself.

But temperature is just one indicator.   There are ten in all.  From The Globe:

“The conclusion is unmistakable – yes, the planet is warming,” said Derek Arndt, a co-editor of the report, called State of the Climate, which was published by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.

“The facts speak for themselves, and speak simultaneously,” said Mr. Arndt, who runs the Climate Monitoring Branch at NOAA. “And, they all point toward the same conclusion – the globe is warming.”

The report – co-edited by researchers in the United States, Canada, Britain and Australia – pulled together data from 10 climate indicators measured by 160 research groups in 48 countries. The scientists compared the figures decade by decade as far back as possible, more than 100 years in some cases.

...[Arndt] said he was personally taken aback by how all 10 indicators clearly showed the Earth is heating up. “Seeing them standing next to each other, kind of nakedly, and pointing to the same conclusion, it very much jumped off the page at me... Absolutely, yes, we live in a warming planet.”

Of the 10 measurements, the report said seven are rising – air temperature over land, sea-surface temperature, air temperature over oceans, sea level, ocean heat, humidity and the temperature of the troposphere, which is the atmosphere closest to the Earth’s surface. Three indicators are declining – Arctic sea ice, glaciers and spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere. All of which point to a warming trend."

Kind of makes you wonder how much longer those inveterate fossil fuelers, the Tar Sanders who hold the Conservative and Liberal leadership, can ignore this threat to our country, to our children and grandchildren?   How much longer are they going to remain mute on this?   Those two characters have a solemn duty to this country and the Canadian people.   This is a problem the like of which we've never confronted before.  It's potentially existential in dimension and it's not going away. 

If the Bitumen Bert & Ernie can't muster a climate change policy that's clear, comprehensive and solid as concrete; if they can't address the country's urgent need for remediation and adaptation measures; then they ought to pack their bags and get the hell out of Ottawa.  

We cannot afford to wait, uninformed and unprepared, while the impacts of climate change overtake us.  It can easily take 20-years or more to implement adaptation measures.   You have to get raw information out to each of the appropriate levels of government and to the public, that information has to be assessed and debated, options have to be weighed and selected and then, finally, action has to be taken and completed.  20 years?  Easy.

You can't run from these facts.  You can't ignore them.   When you're a federal leader you simply have to respond to them.   If the federal government can't or won't respond effectively to events that threaten our way of life, what is the point of having those people in Ottawa?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Terrible Tempered Commissioner

Reports are beginning to emerge that RCMP Commissioner Bill Elliott, a.k.a. "Bubbles," has been known for years for his foul and volatile temper.

A number of comments left on the CBC web site suggested someone look into Elliott's behavioural quirks going back long before he was appointed by Harper to head the RCMP.   If the man isn't stable enough to deal with his immediate, senior staff without resorting to abusive shouting tirades, is he really suited to lead an already troubled national police force?   Could he wind up doing more harm than good?

The Toronto Star claims that Harper is reluctant to sack Elliott, perhaps because his own temper is just as foul and volatile.    Harper is well known for kicking furniture and loudly berating staff so it's entirely predictable that one cheap bully wouldn't fire another.   It just wouldn't be kind - bully to bully.   Yet the paper claims Elliott's future with the force may not be salvageable:

 One senior insider acknowledged “Bill hasn’t helped himself in this.”

Elliott’s appointment as the first civilian commissioner was a shock to many within the RCMP, and his main task should have been to “build trust and relationships,” which Elliott failed to do, the insider said.

Elliott, said another source in the security community, was “indeed known for his arrogance and abusive managerial style and the interesting part is that it was widely known within the public service for years.”

The guy has already had one rather expensive round of anger management therapy but it plainly hasn't worked.   Worse yet, one might think that for so many senior RCMP officers to take their complaints public, they may have already lost all confidence in the partisan outsider parachuted into their midst by Harper.


Eleven Years for Kid Diddler Klassen

The BC Supreme Court has handed an 11-year sentence to kiddie sex tourist Kenneth Klassen.   The court convicted Klassen of 14-offences under Canada's sex tourism law.

The sad reality is that Klassen might easily have gotten away with it.   He only came to the attention of authorities when they stumbled upon videos Klassen mailed to himself that recorded him having sex with young girls in Colombia and Cambodia, some of whom the Crown claimed were as young as 8.

Is Duplicity the Central/South Asian Disease?

We know that Pakistan plays both sides, the Americans and the Talibs.   We know that Hamid Karzai isn't burning any bridges to the Taliban either.  Now the Afghans are questioning America's seemingly contradictory policy of ignoring Pakistan's aid to the Islamist extremists.  Pakistan meanwhile questions how its self-proclaimed "ally in the war on terror" cuts nuclear deals with its mortal rival, India.

Wheels spinning within wheels.   There are no good guys just constantly shifting perceptions of who, at any given time, is the lesser of evils.   This is not a place for Western, linear thinking.

And then it comes down to Afghanistan itself where treachery is a political art form.   I just don't think Westerners have the mental dexterity for this sort of thing.

Can we bring our soldiers home now please?


Poor old John Mantooth and his quest for election to District Judge in Oklahoma.  Not only does he have to contend with his electoral rivals, he also has to deal with his daughter, Jan Schill, and her web site

Not sure what set Jan off but she sure doesn't want her dad to become a District Judge.  She wants him to lose so badly that she has posted links to eight court cases in which her father has been accused of everything from failure to pay child support to punching an opposing counsel to illegally raising horses and sheep on a residential property.

I don't know whether John still has a hope in hell of becoming Judge Mantooth but I don't think anybody who checks out Jan's web site will be voting for him.

Just To Set the Record Straight

Here are the hottest ten years on record, according to NASA.   2005, 2007, 2009, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2004, 2001 and 2008.  2010 is poised to bump 2005 out of first place.

Now do you get it?

Ethnic Cleansing in the Negev?

Former Israeli paratrooper Neve Gordon claims his government is moving to ethnically cleanse the Negev Desert of its Bedouins.  The Guardian has video of Israeli police backed up by bulldozers demolishing the Bedouin village, leaving 300 Arab citizens of Israel homeless.  You can watch the video here.

...The signs of destruction were immediately evident. I first noticed the chickens and geese running loose near a bulldozed house, and then saw another house and then another one, all of them in rubble. A few children were trying to find a shaded spot to hide from the scorching desert sun, while behind them a stream of black smoke rose from the burning hay. The sheep, goats and the cattle were nowhere to be seen – perhaps because the police had confiscated them.

Scores of Bedouin men were standing on a yellow hill, sharing their experiences from the early morning hours, while all around them uprooted olive trees lay on the ground. A whole village comprising between 40 and 45 houses had been completely razed in less than three hours.

I suddenly experienced deja vu: an image of myself walking in the rubbles of a destroyed village somewhere on the outskirts of the Lebanese city of Sidon emerged. It was over 25 years ago, during my service in the Israeli paratroopers.

...Perhaps because the 300 people who resided in al-Arakib, including their children, were sitting in the rubble when I arrived, and their anguish was evident; or perhaps because the village is located only 10 minutes from my home in Be'er Sheva and I drive past it every time I go to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem; or perhaps because the Bedouins are Israeli citizens, and I suddenly understood how far the state is ready to go to accomplish its objective of Judaising the Negev region; what I witnessed was, after all, an act of ethnic cleansing.

They say the next intifada will be the Bedouin intifada. There are 155,000 Bedouins in the Negev, and more than half of them live in unrecognised villages without electricity or running water. I do not know what they might do, but by making 300 people homeless, 200 of them children, Israel is surely sowing dragon's teeth for the future.

And it's not just Israeli Bedouin who are getting hammered.   IRIN, the news agency of the UN Humanitarian Affairs Office, reports West Bank Bedouin are also being run out by the Israeli army.  Read the report here.

The Afghan National Army - A Square Peg for a Round Hole

Fact:  Afghanistan is deeply rent along ethnic lines.  Pashtun, Hazara, Uzbek, Tajik, Baloch, Turkmen and more.   There are real linguistic, cultural and, yes, ethnic divides that have, for centuries, denied Afghanistan the cohesive nationhood other countries enjoy.

The Taliban are the home team of the Pashtun.   The Northern Alliance represented the other ethnic groups.   There's an enormous amount of bad blood between them from decades of ethnic violence and atrocities.  We haven't begun to sort that out and yet we expect Afghanistan to be able to field a truly "national" army.  According to the Sydney Morning Herald, that's not really working out.

" southern Afghanistan, the focus of the US war effort, nearly all the Afghan soldiers are foreigners, too. Few even speak the local language. Despite ethnic quotas and recruiting drives, the Afghan army is still dominated by northern minorities who were oppressed by the Taliban.

Nearly all Taliban are ethnic Pashtuns, the country's biggest ethnic group. Although many Pashtuns are not connected to the Taliban at all, the rift between the northerners and the southern Pashtuns runs deep.

Now this ethnically skewed army is pouring into southern Afghanistan as part of an operation to squeeze the Taliban out of strongholds and win the loyalty of the Afghan people.

...''We can be here in the Pashtun area for 1000 years, but they will never be our friends,'' said Lieutenant Gulagha Haksar, a 30-year-old soldier teamed with US troops in the strategic Arghandab Valley. An ethnic Tajik, Lieutenant Gulagha remembers the killing rampages by the Taliban in his home town in the north-eastern province of Takhar.

 ...When the Afghans go on patrol in surrounding villages, they are treated as outsiders.

''When they see us, the old men say, 'They are the sons of the British,''' Lieutenant Gulagha said, explaining that villagers equate the US and the Afghan soldiers with the British attempt to colonise Afghanistan in the 19th century.

There you have it.   How is anyone going to make the Afghan National Army work in a country this divided?  It truly is a square peg for a round hole.  Yet this is the very force we're counting on so that we can withdraw from that country.   See anything wrong with that idea?

How Vancouver Island Copes with Forest Fires

You see them at anchor on placid, Sproat Lake near Port Alberni.   They're two magnificent, 73-tonne Martin Mars water bombers, the biggest in the world and the last of their kind.   Did I mention that they're big, really, really big?

These ships have a special ability.   They can often kill a fledgling fire before it can grow.   That is thanks to the 37,000 kilograms of water the Mars can drop in one pass.   That's 18-tonnes of fire drenching water at a time and that covers a good bit of ground.

The Mars is and always has been the world's largest operational flying boat.   Their wingspan exceeds that of the Boeing 747.   They're not fast and when you see them in the air their immense size and slow speed gives the illusion that they're not moving at all.

A couple of years back the Mars did a demonstration drop over the Vancouver waterfront to show what it could do if it was ever needed there.

As you may know, the island is in the throes of our summer drought.   The forest fire hazard rating is at "extreme."   July has been an astonishingly dry month - hot and dry.   At times like this it's nice to sit out on the patio of the Fish and Duck pub and gaze out at those two enormous water bombers at anchor out on the lake.

Pakistan Rides the Tiger and the World Trembles

Pakistan is instrumental in a lot of what's going wrong for us in Central/South Asia.   While the Americans have supposedly bought Pakistan's support to fight the Taliban, Islamabad and particularly its military intelligence service, the ISI, have been playing both sides.

Conventional wisdom holds that the West puts up with Pakistan for one reason - it has a nuclear arsenal that we fear might fall into the wrong hands if we don't support the existing government.  In effect, we're hostage to Pakistan's nuclear weapons.   And they know it and they count on it.

If there was ever a reason to forcibly disarm Pakistan of its nukes it could be the danger posed by the government's dalliance with Islamist radicals including the Taliban and other like-minded groups.  As McClatchey Newspapers point out, the Islamists Pakistan supports don't hesitate to bite the hand that feeds them:

The latest is a video that emerged Tuesday of a former Pakistani military officer with longstanding ties to the Taliban who said he's being held prisoner by a militant splinter group and threatened to expose the Pakistani government's "weaknesses" if it didn't release almost 160 imprisoned militants.

Sultan Amir Tarar, known as "Colonel Imam," who helped launch the Afghan Taliban and served as a Pakistani representative to the Taliban movement, said that a splinter faction of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an offshoot of the extremist Sipah-e-Sahaba, was holding him.

Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence directorate reportedly once patronized the larger group along with numerous other militant Islamic movements.

"You people know about my services for this country and nation. If the government does not care for me, then I will not care for it and disclose its several weaknesses," Tarar said in the three-minute video, first obtained by Pakistan's Aaj TV.

Just what "several weaknesses" is this guy willing to divulge?   And, if Pakistan does release the 160-radicals as demanded, how will it ever say no to future kidnappers?   Is Pakistan's nuclear arsenal vulnerable to Islamist extremists?   Pakistan is riding the tiger and what becomes of it when it has to get off the beast?

Big Coal Targets Dems in 2010 Elections

America's uber-right Supreme Court gave them the hammer and Big Coal is wasting no time in preparing to use it to swing November's mid-term elections against "unco-operative" Democrats.  From McClatchey Newspapers:

Several major coal companies hope to use newly loosened campaign-finance laws to pool their money and defeat Democratic congressional candidates they consider "anti-coal," including U.S. Senate nominee Jack Conway and U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler in Kentucky.

The companies hope to create a politically active nonprofit under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code, so they won't have to publicly disclose their activities — such as advertising — until they file a tax return next year, long after the Nov. 2 election.

America's corporatist (yes, as in "fascist") Supreme Court has taken the shackles off corporate meddling in American election campaigns.   Even foreign companies can get in on the act, using their wealth to shape voters' minds.

Hot, Hot, Damn Hot

Are you feeling the heat?   You probably had better get used to it, our new environmental reality.

NASA reports that 2010 is on track to be the hottest year on record.   Today NASA noted that the past 12-months have been the warmest 12-month period recorded.   And to top it off, the past four months ending in June have each individually been the hottest on record too.  That'd be the hottest March, the hottest April, the hottest May and the hottest June ever recorded.

Does that mean we'll never see cold snaps again?   Hardly.  Weather is weather, it fluctuates, but climate change is less volatile, more consistent.    So, hotter it is and it'll keep getting hotter until we mend our ways.

That's the key to this whole business.   The climate is changing but so are we, mankind.   Our world is changing and that alone changes us.   Do you think the people of regions whipsawed by a succession of floods and droughts aren't changing?  Of course they are.   So are the people of low-lying islands and coastal regions.   So are the people of permafrost regions.

Change is coming, it's inevitable.   The only question is whether we're going to do anything to control it, to slow the change and perhaps even reverse it, and to adapt to it in the meantime.   The question is whether we're going to decarbonize our economies, decarbonize our societies.

Of course in our global pariah, Canada, the leaders of both major powers see carbon as a medium of exchange, a commodity of international trade, regional and national wealth, and even a key to "national unity."  To them it's all just a matter of cleaning up the filthiest fossil fuel project on earth - eventually, sometime, somehow.  To this pair of cutthroat bastards it's as though paying lip service to Athabasca remediation is the same as accomplishing it, or close enough for government work anyway.  Canada's Bitumen Bert & Ernie don't have much appetite for alternative, clean energy because that doesn't square with their vision of a century of mining, processing and selling tar.

Our Furious Leader, Harper, and his trusty sidekick, Stiffy, are Fossil Fuelers.   They're Climate Changers, Global Warmers and it is indeed that cut and dried.    Targets have been defined, lines have been drawn, and you're either on one side or the other.   Twenty years from now the two of them will be footnotes, entries on lists of the weak, the greedy and the cowardly who had a chance to change things but didn't.  It's too bad they chose Big Oil and the United States over the people of Canada and future generations of Canadians but, by not acting, that's just what they've done.

So hop aboard, strap yourself in and try to enjoy the ride.   While you're kicking back why not take a look at predicted conditions for your area by 2030 and 2050 if we don't mend our ways.   You'll have to dig a bit.   Our government has all that information but doesn't seem to want to share it with us and, curiously enough, the opposition seems just fine with that too.  Other countries, the Brits and Germans for example, get information out to their people so they can see what's coming, so they can get on with the lengthy process of assessing that information, planning and implementing programmes for remediation and adaptation.   Canada's leaders, it seems, don't want you to trouble your gentle mind with that sort of information - because the more you know, the worse they look.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Hans Blix on Iraq War: "I am of the firm view that it was an illegal war"

Former UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix pulled no punches in his appearance before the independent panel examining Britain's part in the Iraq war.   As far as he's concerned it was an illegal war.

"Some people maintain that Iraq was legal. I am of the firm view that it was an illegal war.  There can be cases where it is doubtful, maybe it was permissible to go to war, but Iraq was, in my view, not one of those."

From the Global Security Newswire:

"I think the U.S. at the time was high on military," Blix, a former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said at today's hearing. "They felt that they could get away with it (an invasion), and therefore it was decided they would do so."

Blix said today that U.N. inspectors checked 500 facilities but found very little proof of illicit weapons efforts in Iraq in the months before March 2003, the BBC reported. He cited missiles with ranges beyond what was allowed by the United Nations, missile engines and records among the discoveries.

"We carried out about six inspections per day over a long period of time," Blix said."All in all, we carried out about 700 inspections at different 500 sites and, in no case, did we find any weapons of mass destruction."

He added that it was difficult for Iraq "to declare any weapons when they did not have any."

Blix argued that U.N. resolutions issued before the invasion did not create a legal standing for the war.

Water Is the New Oil

A new study has been released documenting the projected sustainability of America's freshwater resources by the year 2050.   The conclusion is that 70% of American counties will experience water shortages by 2050 with about 30% suffering severe to extreme water shortages.   The map below shows those parts of America expected to be hardest hit.

Read the full report here.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Egyptians have taken to the streets to protest water shortages.   This comes at a time when Egypt is locked in a dispute with countries of the Nile headwaters over entitlement to that resource.  From IRIN:

“Water scarcity will be even worse in the future,” Riad Aldamk, head of a water studies project at Cairo College of Engineering, told IRIN.

He said Egypt’s total water consumption had increased by 17 percent in the last five years, according to studies conducted by the college. Hotter summers were partly to blame.

A recent report by the state-run Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) said annual water resources would decline by 15.2 billion cubic metres by 2017 - from a required 86.2 billion cubic metres to a projected 71.4 billion cubic metres.

The report said Egypt, where average per capita consumption was 700 cubic metres of water a year - was one of 15 Arab countries under the global water scarcity mark of 1,000 cubic metres per capita. The global average is 6,750 cubic metres per person annually.

Wheels Spinning Within Wheels, Why We Can't Prevail in Afghanistan

It wasn't called the "Great Game" for nothing.   Only a couple of centuries ago the main rivals were the British and the Russians.   Today it's America, Pakistan, India, China, Iran and to some extent Russia who are playing for control of Central Asia.  In Afghanistan the influence of each of these players is manifested in some way or another.   Few events occur there that don't have some ripple effect beyond Afghanistan's borders.

Simple-minded dolts like our Furious Leader, Harper, or most of Canada's general staff like to depict our struggle in Afghanistan as a decisive battle against a fundamentalist insurgency as though that will decide the future of Afghanistan.   That's almost comical.

The insurgency/civil war is but one wheel spinning within many other wheels in motion in Central Asia. The India-Pakistan rivalry bears directly on our war in Afghanistan.  Perhaps it shouldn't, but it does.  Then there's the American-Russian rivalry to control the Caspian Basin oil and gas reserves.   China wants to feed its industrial revolution with energy from Iran and all manner of natural resources from Afghanistan and its neighbours.  China also wants to contain Indian ambitions in the region just as India tries to contain China in other ways.

Asia Times columnist, Spengler, explains why so many countries, particularly America, have sat mute as Pakistan delivered aid and support to the Taliban:

"...This raises the question: Who covered up a scandalous arrangement known to everyone with a casual acquaintance of the situation? The answer is the same as in Agatha Christie's 1934 mystery about murder on the Orient Express, that is, everybody: former United States president George W Bush and vice president Dick Cheney, current US President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, India, China and Iran. They are all terrified of facing a failed state with nuclear weapons, and prefer a functioning but treacherous one.

...To exit the Afghan quagmire in a less than humiliating fashion, the United States requires Pakistani help to persuade the Taliban not to take immediate advantage of the American departure and evoke Vietnam-era scenes of helicopters on the American Embassy roof. The politicians in Washington know they have lost and have conceded to the Taliban a role in a post-American Afghanistan. They can only hope that once the country plunges into chaos, the public will have moved onto other themes, much as it did after the Bill Clinton administration put Kosovo into the hands of a gang of dubious Albanians in 1998.

 India does not want America to call Pakistan to account. In the worst case, Pakistan might choose to support the Taliban and other terrorist organizations - including Kashmiri irredentists - openly rather than covertly. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, of whom the Economist on July 25 wrote "the strength of his coalition depends largely on how weak he is as Prime Minister", does not want to confront Pakistan. If Pakistan's support for anti-Indian terrorism became undeniable, India would have to act, and action is the last thing the Congress party-led coalition in New Delhi wants to consider.

China has no interest in destabilization in Pakistan; on the contrary, Beijing lives in fear that radical Islamists in Pakistan might infect its own restive Uyghurs. And Iran, which shares the fractious Balochis with Pakistan on their common border, lives in terror that a destabilized Pakistan would free the Balochis to make trouble."

So, there you have it, wheels within wheels, and this example merely concerns what to do with Pakistan and why Islamabad's perfidy will continue to be tolerated.   It does, however, illustrate the complexity that attends virtually every issue in this region.   It also reveals how myopic and simplistically misleading Canada's military and political elites have been and why they have bungled this so badly.

Krugman Declares 2010 "The Year In Which All Hope of Action to Limit Climate Change Died"

World leaders are scheduled to meet in Cancun in December for another attempt at reaching a global plan to fight climate change.   Unfortunately there's a building consensus that Mexico will be as dismal a failure as Copenhagen was before it.

There's plenty of blame to go around.   Our own Canada is an international pariah on the global warming front.   But the stumbling block is really the United States.   Without strong action on the part of American lawmakers to curb US carbon emissions, the emerging economies, countries that already feel shortchanged, won't budge either.   Right now, America's modest climate change initiative lies dead on the floor of congress.

The New York Times' Paul Krugman puts it down to those signature conservative values - greed and cowardice.

"...why didn’t climate-change legislation get through the Senate? Let’s talk first about what didn’t cause the failure, because there have been many attempts to blame the wrong people.

First of all, we didn’t fail to act because of legitimate doubts about the science. Every piece of valid evidence — long-term temperature averages that smooth out year-to-year fluctuations, Arctic sea ice volume, melting of glaciers, the ratio of record highs to record lows — points to a continuing, and quite possibly accelerating, rise in global temperatures.

Nor is this evidence tainted by scientific misbehavior.

Did reasonable concerns about the economic impact of climate legislation block action? No. It has always been funny, in a gallows humor sort of way, to watch conservatives who laud the limitless power and flexibility of markets turn around and insist that the economy would collapse if we were to put a price on carbon. All serious estimates suggest that we could phase in limits on greenhouse gas emissions with at most a small impact on the economy’s growth rate.

So it wasn’t the science, the scientists, or the economics that killed action on climate change. What was it?

The answer is, the usual suspects: greed and cowardice.

If you want to understand opposition to climate action, follow the money. The economy as a whole wouldn’t be significantly hurt if we put a price on carbon, but certain industries — above all, the coal and oil industries — would. And those industries have mounted a huge disinformation campaign to protect their bottom lines."

But Krugman argues this goes beyond America's "bought and paid for" congress.  The added layer is political cowardice.  Krugman singled out Arizona senator John McCain as perhaps the worst of the climate cowards.

"Alas, Mr. McCain wasn’t alone; and there will be no climate bill. Greed, aided by cowardice, has triumphed. And the whole world will pay the price."

Could it really be as bad as Krugman claims?   Could this be "the year in which all hope of action to limit climate change died?"   Unfortunately, it could.   Finding a workable international framework even with America's full support would have been enormously challenging.    With a hostile and cowardly congress refusing to accept any degree of carbon pricing, it's a deal killer.

Are there ways to coerce the United States?   Probably but only if its main creditors and economic rivals were really ready to play hardball, to make America play the carrot and the stick game.  If enough players told Washington to either come up with solid carbon emissions measures or else risk losing the advantages that come from retaining the US dollar as the international reserve currency, neither congress nor the White House would have much choice but to submit.

What choice does the world have?   American intransigence is leading all of us to the abyss of catastrophic, runaway global warming.  Some of the top climate scientists now argue we have just ten years to abandon coal entirely.   The potential economic consequences of ditching the US dollar as the world's reserve currency, real as they are, still pale compared to the economic consequences of runaway climate change.   There's too much at stake not to put the boot in.

However Krugman's gloomy assessment holds special significance for Canadians.  If the fight against global warming is indeed a lost cause, it's all the more reason for Ottawa to begin focusing on remediation and adaptation initiatives for every region in Canada.   Our political elite, Liberal and Tory, display plenty of their own greed and cowardice, in thrall to the fossil fuel industry.  Neither one of those jackasses wants the government to come clean with you about the climate change impacts you'll have to cope with in the immediate and mid-range future.   They want silence on that front because, once they told you what's coming your way, they might have to explain their unqualified support for the Tar Sands.  So long as we've got Harper or Ignatieff at the controls, the Tar Sands will decide Canada's approach to global warming.   Sad, but oh so true.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Are We The Last to Realize the Afghan War is Lost?

Kabul knows we're not going to win.   So does Islamabad and Tehran too.   The Taliban know we're not going to defeat them.   Everybody sees the writing on the wall, everybody but us.

The Afghanistan war logs disclosed by Wikileaks are a stark testament to a feeble military effort, haplessly commanded and burdened by political incompetence in Afghanistan and throughout the Western nations that have deployed troops to that country.

Yes Tehran is giving support to the Taliban.   So is Pakistan.  Karzai is desperately sucking up to Pakistan hoping Islamabad can help him structure a deal with the Talibs.   Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan know that we're floundering and that soon they'll have to sort out this mess on their own.

We see it as an act of betrayal for Pakistan to aid the Taliban.   That's because we expect Pakistan to embrace our delusions about what we're doing there.   They pretend to do just that, pocket enormous sums of American aid in the process, but never lose sight of reality.   Time's Tony Karon sums it up this way:

" may simply be that while the U.S. plows on with a troubled counterinsurgency war, Afghan and regional stakeholders are more inclined to a Machiavellian hedging of their bets. Machiavelli once suggested that it's more important to be feared than to be loved. But what the latest documents reveal about the activities and outlook of America's ostensible allies in Afghanistan is that Washington is neither loved nor feared as much as it is increasingly ignored."

Much as I sometimes question the integrity and agenda of US general, counterinsurgency guru David Petraeus, the Afghan war has clearly borne out the maxims enshrined in the US military's counterinsurgency field manual prepared by a team of military and civilian experts led by Petraeus himself.  

In unveiling the manual to the media Petraeus restated a number of these maxims which the Bush regime steadfastly ignored.  The foremost maxim was "go big or go home."  You can't fight an insurgency and hope to prevail without flooding the area of conflict with masses of troops.  In Afghanistan that would have meant a force of between 250,000 and 300,000.

Another maxim was that less firepower is more.   Have huge number of troops so you don't have to fight insurgents with airstrikes, rockets and artillery.   Insurgents mix with civilians and heavy firepower  means heavy collateral casualties.   Insufficient forces often have no choice but to call in the heavy guns with all the predictable blowback.

A third important maxim is get in and get out quickly.   The way Petraeus put it to a WaPo reporter, there's a very limited shelf life before a counterinsurgent goes in the public's eye from being a liberator-defender to being seen as an occupier-oppressor.   You flood the place with your own people at the outset and then you commit whatever resources are needed to train, equip and field a national army capable of taking over.   You don't wait nine years.   That's time that's not yours to waste, time in which the political issue can be decided against you.

The Afghan war will go down in the textbooks as a war that never should have been.

Adapting to Climate Change

The climate is warming and, even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases entirely, today, what we've already poured into the atmosphere will bring us further warming throughout the century.   Our biosphere is heating up.  It's happening and there's a lot more than simple thermostatic evidence to show it.  The declining ice fields, the increase in severe weather events (droughts/floods/cyclonic storms), species migration, on and on they go and they all point in the same direction - our world is heating up.

In some places it's warmed up enough to justify adaptive measures.   Where I live, adaptation is easy, relatively inexpensive and actually quite enjoyable.   On this island, we have the warmest weather in Canada.   We don't get nearly as hot as the Prairies or central Canada in the summer but we more than make up for that with relatively warm winters.   Thank you oh great Pacific current.

A couple of years ago I started identifying options for adaptation in my home.  It's a relatively small but modern bungalow, a wonderfully comfortable little place just a block back from the ocean (close enough to plainly hear the sea lions barking on the beach at night).  

July, August and sometimes September can get quite hot, certainly in the high 20's with a few days in the low 30's.   While the days can be hot, nature quite often rewards us with evening offshore breezes that sweep the place with cool air pouring off the local mountains.   There it is - free air conditioning. 

To take advantage of nature's air-conditioning I replaced all the old, contractor-grade (cheap) windows with high-efficiency, casement windows.   Casements open out like doors.   Wide open is genuinely wide open.   Shut tight during the day with the blinds down, the house never gets excessively hot.   Then when the evening breezes arrive, all those windows open up and I have delightful, cooling breezes pouring through the rooms and hallways, flushing all the built up heat outside.   Even on the hottest day you sleep under a duvet at night.   With these windows working their magic this year I haven't needed an electric fan much less an air-conditioner.

But we're only a few months away from the onset of our other season, the rainy season that can run from November to June.  It might not get "cold" as you understand the term but we often do get two or three days of snow in a year and the rest of the time it's plenty coolish and wet.  This year I've decided to get away from fossil fuel heat.   From this year onward I will heat my house with a locally abundant, non-fossil fuel - Douglas Fir.

Gone is the awful gas fireplace.   In its stead now stands a high-efficiency, wood-stove type fireplace.  It's a closed-door unit that, unlike an open fireplace, allows the fire to be tightly controlled.  It has a thermostat that operates the fresh air intake mechanism to maximize the duration of the burn and the heat produced.

Particulate emissions are extremely low and greenhouse gas emissions are claimed to be lower than for a gas fireplace.   The important difference is that the emissions come from the surface carbon cycle.  It's renewable energy.  New trees will grow to replace the wood I burn and to create new carbon sinks.   That's in contrast to digging up safely buried prehistoric carbon and adding that to the atmosphere.   Best of all, the wood I burn is scavenged by one of several local businesses licensed by the lumber companies to clean up leftover wood from logging operations that would otherwise be piled up and burned on some mountainside to make way for reforestation.   Even Monbiot endorses wood heat provided the firewood source is local.

There is more than can be done.    A few years back  I put a red maple in the backyard to break up the late afternoon sun that heats the back of the house.   It's already having a noticeable effect and the added colour as the leaves change is a delightful bonus.   In a few years, if conditions warrant, I may install awnings on those windows most affected by the mid-day and afternoon sun.

I'm hoping that, within the next several years, solar hot water and solar electricity will become economically viable.   This little house is ideally situated for those technologies.   Even wind power generation isn't out of the question.

It's ironic that adapting to climate change can be as simple as falling back on old technology, windows instead of air conditioners, and positively ancient energy - wood.   New technology is coming, eventually, despite the indifference of the Fossil Fuelers who run our government.   Climate change, global warming, is here to stay but there are a great many things we can do to cushion, even offset the impacts.

Wikileaks Has "Several Million" US Government Files

Those 92,000 documents Wikileaks released to American, British and German news organizations?   Just the teeniest tip of a enormous iceberg.   According to The Guardian, the Afghanistan war logs released to the media are just the start.

[Founder Julian] Assange volunteered that Wikileaks was in possession of several million files, which amounted to an untold history of American government activity around the world, disclosing numerous important and controversial activities. They were putting the finishing touches to an accessible version of the data which they were preparing to post immediately on the internet in order to pre-empt any attempt to censor it.

American authorities are fighting back:

Since the release of the Apache helicopter video, there has been some evidence of low-level attempts to smear Wikileaks. Online stories accuse Assange of spending Wikileaks money on expensive hotels (at a follow-up meeting in Stockholm, he slept on an office floor); of selling data to mainstream media (the subject of money was never mentioned); or charging for media interviews (also never mentioned).

Earlier this year, Wikileaks published a US military document which disclosed a plan to "destroy the centre of gravity" of Wikileaks by attacking its trustworthiness.

According to The Guardian, a key player in the leaks was a US Army intelligence analyst serving in Baghdad who went by the online name Bradass87.   It all began when Bradass87 contacted computer hacker Adrian Lamo.

For five days, Bradass87 opened his heart to Lamo. He described how his job gave him access to two secret networks: the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, SIPRNET, which carries US diplomatic and military intelligence classified "secret"; and the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System which uses a different security system to carry similar material classified up to "top secret". He said this had allowed him to see "incredible things, awful things … that belong in the public domain and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC … almost criminal political backdealings … the non-PR version of world events and crises."

Bradass87 suggested that "someone I know intimately" had been downloading and compressing and encrypting all this data and uploading it to someone he identified as Julian Assange.

So it would seem that the Afghanistan logs could be just the beginning of a fascinating look into America's role in the world.   We may just get to see the American government for what it truly is, not what it pretends to be.

Bring it on.

45 Afghan Civilians Wiped Out In NATO Air Strike

If you read yesterday's post on the RAND Corporation's study on why wars like ours in Afghanistan are usually failures you'll know that one of the most powerful factors is collateral casualties inflicted on civilians by the counterinsurgency forces (that'd be us).

You'll also know that the RAND Corporation has already assessed our Afghan war as a failure.  That's right, the American government and military's oracle, the RAND Corporation, has declared our Afghan war lost.

And today's news that a NATO airstrike last week was, in terms of civilian deaths, the deadliest ever.  45-dead, mainly women and children, according to the Afghan government. 

How America Destroyed the Very Afghanistan We Say We Want to Create

If there was ever a dark farce it's been the West's meddling in Afghanistan.   You know the Afghanistan our leaders told us we were fighting to establish?   It actually existed, in the 1980's, until Washington decided  to destroy it.   Never heard that one?   Think it can't be so?  Think again.

You don't hear about it.   Even written, historical references to what happened are difficult to track down.  Much of the factual background is disorganized, scattered, and buried in self-serving propaganda - but it's there.  It's a story that I've been putting together, bit by bit, for years and, as I progressed, it became increasingly obvious why this narrative has been buried by our political and military elites.

The Afghanistan we dream of truly existed.   Then we intervened to destroy it.  And in putting it down we ensured that country would remain shackled to fundamentalist warlords for decades, probably many generations to come.

The history of this debacle is well chronicled by Michael Parenti in Afghanistan, Another Untold Story.  I've copied it in its eye-opening entirety here for your convenience.   Read it and ask yourself how we came to be so grossly misled and manipulated?

Some Real History

Since feudal times the landholding system in Afghanistan had remained unchanged, with more than 75 percent of the land owned by big landlords who comprised only 3 percent of the rural population. In the mid-1960s, democratic revolutionary elements coalesced to form the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). In 1973, the king was deposed, but the government that replaced him proved to be autocratic, corrupt, and unpopular. It in turn was forced out in 1978 after a massive demonstration in front of the presidential palace, and after the army intervened on the side of the demonstrators.

The military officers who took charge invited the PDP to form a new government under the leadership of Noor Mohammed Taraki, a poet and novelist. This is how a Marxist-led coalition of national democratic forces came into office. “It was a totally indigenous happening. Not even the CIA blamed the USSR for it,” writes John Ryan, a retired professor at the University of Winnipeg, who was conducting an agricultural research project in Afghanistan at about that time.

The Taraki government proceeded to legalize labor unions, and set up a minimum wage, a progressive income tax, a literacy campaign, and programs that gave ordinary people greater access to health care, housing, and public sanitation. Fledgling peasant cooperatives were started and price reductions on some key foods were imposed.

The government also continued a campaign begun by the king to emancipate women from their age-old tribal bondage. It provided public education for girls and for the children of various tribes. A report in the San Francisco Chronicle (17 November 2001) noted that “Kabul was once a cosmopolitan city. Artists and hippies flocked to the capital. Women studied agriculture, engineering and business at the city’s university. Afghan women held government jobs–in the 1980s, there were seven female members of parliament. Women drove cars, traveled and went on dates. Fifty percent of university students were women.”

The Taraki government moved to eradicate the cultivation of opium poppy. Until then Afghanistan had been producing more than 70 percent of the opium needed for the world’s heroin supply. The government also abolished all debts owed by farmers, and began developing a major land reform program. Ryan believes that it was a “genuinely popular government and people looked forward to the future with great hope.”

But serious opposition arose from several quarters. The feudal landlords opposed the land reform program that infringed on their holdings. And tribesmen and fundamentalist mullahs vehemently opposed the government’s dedication to gender equality and the education of women and children.

Because of its egalitarian and collectivist economic policies the Taraki government also incurred the opposition of the US national security state. Almost immediately after the PDP coalition came to power, the CIA, assisted by Saudi and Pakistani military, launched a large scale intervention into Afghanistan on the side of the ousted feudal lords, reactionary tribal chieftains, mullahs, and opium traffickers.

A top official within the Taraki government was Hafizulla Amin, believed by many to have been recruited by the CIA during the several years he spent in the United States as a student. In September 1979, Amin seized state power in an armed coup. He executed Taraki, halted the reforms, and murdered, jailed, or exiled thousands of Taraki supporters as he moved toward establishing a fundamentalist Islamic state. But within two months, he was overthrown by PDP remnants including elements within the military.

It should be noted that all this happened before the Soviet military intervention. National security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski publicly admitted–months before Soviet troops entered the country–that the Carter administration was providing huge sums to Muslim extremists to subvert the reformist government. Part of that effort involved brutal attacks by the CIA-backed mujahideen against schools and teachers in rural areas.

In late 1979, the seriously besieged PDP government asked Moscow to send a contingent of troops to help ward off the mujahideen (Islamic guerrilla fighters) and foreign mercenaries, all recruited, financed, and well-armed by the CIA. The Soviets already had been sending aid for projects in mining, education, agriculture, and public health. Deploying troops represented a commitment of a more serious and politically dangerous sort. It took repeated requests from Kabul before Moscow agreed to intervene militarily.

Jihad and Taliban, CIA Style

The Soviet intervention was a golden opportunity for the CIA to transform the tribal resistance into a holy war, an Islamic jihad to expel the godless communists from Afghanistan. Over the years the United States and Saudi Arabia expended about $40 billion on the war in Afghanistan. The CIA and its allies recruited, supplied, and trained almost 100,000 radical mujahideen from forty Muslim countries including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Algeria, and Afghanistan itself. Among those who answered the call was Saudi-born millionaire right-winger Osama bin Laden and his cohorts.

After a long and unsuccessful war, the Soviets evacuated the country in February 1989. It is generally thought that the PDP Marxist government collapsed immediately after the Soviet departure. Actually, it retained enough popular support to fight on for another three years, outlasting the Soviet Union itself by a year.

Upon taking over Afghanistan, the mujahideen fell to fighting among themselves. They ravaged the cities, terrorized civilian populations, looted, staged mass executions, closed schools, raped thousands of women and girls, and reduced half of Kabul to rubble. In 2001 Amnesty International reported that the mujahideen used sexual assault as “a method of intimidating vanquished populations and rewarding soldiers.’”

Ruling the country gangster-style and looking for lucrative sources of income, the tribes ordered farmers to plant opium poppy. The Pakistani ISI, a close junior partner to the CIA, set up hundreds of heroin laboratories across Afghanistan. Within two years of the CIA’s arrival, the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderland became the biggest producer of heroin in the world.

Largely created and funded by the CIA, the mujahideen mercenaries now took on a life of their own. Hundreds of them returned home to Algeria, Chechnya, Kosovo, and Kashmir to carry on terrorist attacks in Allah’s name against the purveyors of secular “corruption.”

In Afghanistan itself, by 1995 an extremist strain of Sunni Islam called the Taliban—heavily funded and advised by the ISI and the CIA and with the support of Islamic political parties in Pakistan—fought its way to power, taking over most of the country, luring many tribal chiefs into its fold with threats and bribes.

The Taliban promised to end the factional fighting and banditry that was the mujahideen trademark. Suspected murderers and spies were executed monthly in the sports stadium, and those accused of thievery had the offending hand sliced off. The Taliban condemned forms of “immorality” that included premarital sex, adultery, and homosexuality. They also outlawed all music, theater, libraries, literature, secular education, and much scientific research.

The Taliban unleashed a religious reign of terror, imposing an even stricter interpretation of Muslim law than used by most of the Kabul clergy. All men were required to wear untrimmed beards and women had to wear the burqa which covered them from head to toe, including their faces. Persons who were slow to comply were dealt swift and severe punishment by the Ministry of Virtue. A woman who fled an abusive home or charged spousal abuse would herself be severely whipped by the theocratic authorities. Women were outlawed from social life, deprived of most forms of medical care, barred from all levels of education, and any opportunity to work outside the home. Women who were deemed “immoral” were stoned to death or buried alive.

None of this was of much concern to leaders in Washington who got along famously with the Taliban. As recently as 1999, the US government was paying the entire annual salary of every single Taliban government official. Not until October 2001, when President George W. Bush had to rally public opinion behind his bombing campaign in Afghanistan did he denounce the Taliban’s oppression of women. His wife, Laura Bush, emerged overnight as a full-blown feminist to deliver a public address detailing some of the abuses committed against Afghan women.

If anything positive can be said about the Taliban, it is that they did put a stop to much of the looting, raping, and random killings that the mujahideen had practiced on a regular basis. In 2000 Taliban authorities also eradicated the cultivation of opium poppy throughout the areas under their control, an effort judged by the United Nations International Drug Control Program to have been nearly totally successful. With the Taliban overthrown and a Western-selected mujahideen government reinstalled in Kabul by December 2001, opium poppy production in Afghanistan increased dramatically.

The years of war that have followed have taken tens of thousands of Afghani lives. Along with those killed by Cruise missiles, Stealth bombers, Tomahawks, daisy cutters, and land mines are those who continue to die of hunger, cold, lack of shelter, and lack of water.

The Holy Crusade for Oil and Gas

While claiming to be fighting terrorism, US leaders have found other compelling but less advertised reasons for plunging deeper into Afghanistan. The Central Asian region is rich in oil and gas reserves. A decade before 9/11, Time magazine (18 March 1991) reported that US policy elites were contemplating a military presence in Central Asia. The discovery of vast oil and gas reserves in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan provided the lure, while the dissolution of the USSR removed the one major barrier against pursuing an aggressive interventionist policy in that part of the world.

US oil companies acquired the rights to some 75 percent of these new reserves. A major problem was how to transport the oil and gas from the landlocked region. US officials opposed using the Russian pipeline or the most direct route across Iran to the Persian Gulf. Instead, they and the corporate oil contractors explored a number of alternative pipeline routes, across Azerbaijan and Turkey to the Mediterranean or across China to the Pacific.

The route favored by Unocal, a US based oil company, crossed Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Indian Ocean. The intensive negotiations that Unocal entered into with the Taliban regime remained unresolved by 1998, as an Argentine company placed a competing bid for the pipeline. Bush’s war against the Taliban rekindled UNOCAL’s hopes for getting a major piece of the action.

Interestingly enough, neither the Clinton nor Bush administrations ever placed Afghanistan on the official State Department list of states charged with sponsoring terrorism, despite the acknowledged presence of Osama bin Laden as a guest of the Taliban government. Such a “rogue state” designation would have made it impossible for a US oil or construction company to enter an agreement with Kabul for a pipeline to the Central Asian oil and gas fields.

In sum, well in advance of the 9/11 attacks the US government had made preparations to move against the Taliban and create a compliant regime in Kabul and a direct US military presence in Central Asia. The 9/11 attacks provided the perfect impetus, stampeding US public opinion and reluctant allies into supporting military intervention.

One might agree with John Ryan who argued that if Washington had left the Marxist Taraki government alone back in 1979, “there would have been no army of mujahideen, no Soviet intervention, no war that destroyed Afghanistan, no Osama bin Laden, and no September 11 tragedy.” But it would be asking too much for Washington to leave unmolested a progressive leftist government that was organizing the social capital around collective public needs rather than private accumulation.

US intervention in Afghanistan has proven not much different from US intervention in Cambodia, Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Grenada, Panama, and elsewhere. It had the same intent of preventing egalitarian social change, and the same effect of overthrowing an economically reformist government. In all these instances, the intervention brought retrograde elements into ascendance, left the economy in ruins, and pitilessly laid waste to many innocent lives.

The war against Afghanistan, a battered impoverished country, continues to be portrayed in US official circles as a gallant crusade against terrorism. If it ever was that, it also has been a means to other things: destroying a leftist revolutionary social order, gaining profitable control of the last vast untapped reserve of the earth’s dwindling fossil fuel resources, and planting US bases and US military power into still another region of the world.

Troubling as this assessment may be to those who believe in fairy tales, I must concur with Parenti on the strength of much of what I've read elsewhere.   Afghanistan was on the path to the progressive and egalitarian nation we've been told all these years we were fighting, and dying, to establish until we put an end to it two decades ago. 9/11 allowed our leaders to fill us with a load of jingoistic garbage to justify yet another war against Afghanistan, one deliberately designed to perpetuate the very warlord culture and narco-state that confounds us today.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Wikileaks Blows Up Afghan War Fantasy

 "After nine years of warfare, the chaos threatens to overwhelm.
A war fought ostensibly for the hearts and minds of Afghans cannot be won like this."

Wikileaks has released a 6-year archive comprising 92,000 documents from the Bush and Obama years that reveal the war in Afghanistan is far more grim than Western leaders claim.  The Wikileaks archive was given weeks ago to The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel on their agreement to embargo the material until today.

The documents are said to include several eye openers.   Here's the assessment of The Guardian:

...the collective picture that emerges is a very disturbing one. We today learn of nearly 150 incidents in which coalition forces, including British troops, have killed or injured civilians, most of which have never been reported; of hundreds of border clashes between Afghan and Pakistani troops, two armies which are supposed to be allies; of the existence of a special forces unit whose tasks include killing Taliban and al-Qaida leaders; of the slaughter of civilians caught by the Taliban's improvised explosive devices; and of a catalogue of incidents where coalition troops have fired on and killed each other or fellow Afghans under arms.

Reading these logs, many may suspect there is sometimes a casual disregard for the lives of innocents. A bus that fails to slow for a foot patrol is raked with gunfire, killing four passengers and wounding 11 others. The documents tell how, in going after a foreign fighter, a special forces unit ended up with seven dead children. The infants were not their immediate priority. A report marked "Noforn" (not for foreign elements of the coalition) suggests their main concern was to conceal the mobile rocket system that had just been used.

In these documents, Iran's and Pakistan's intelligence agencies run riot. Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is linked to some of the war's most notorious commanders. The ISI is alleged to have sent 1,000 motorbikes to the warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani for suicide attacks in Khost and Logar provinces, and to have been implicated in a sensational range of plots, from attempting to assassinate President Hamid Karzai to poisoning the beer supply of western troops. These reports are unverifiable and could be part of a barrage of false information provided by Afghan intelligence.

...However you cut it, this is not an Afghanistan that either the US or Britain is about to hand over gift-wrapped with pink ribbons to a sovereign national government in Kabul. Quite the contrary. After nine years of warfare, the chaos threatens to overwhelm. A war fought ostensibly for the hearts and minds of Afghans cannot be won like this.

The New York Times reports that the documents cast light on Pakistan's shady support of the insurgency:
Americans fighting the war in Afghanistan have long harbored strong suspicions that Pakistan’s military spy service has guided the Afghan insurgency with a hidden hand, even as Pakistan receives more than $1 billion a year from Washington for its help combating the militants...
The documents... ...suggest that Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.

Taken together, the reports indicate that American soldiers on the ground are inundated with accounts of a network of Pakistani assets and collaborators that runs from the Pakistani tribal belt along the Afghan border, through southern Afghanistan, and all the way to the capital, Kabul.

...The behind-the-scenes frustrations of soldiers on the ground and glimpses of what appear to be Pakistani skullduggery contrast sharply with the frequently rosy public pronouncements of Pakistan as an ally by American officials, looking to sustain a drone campaign over parts of Pakistani territory to strike at Qaeda havens. Administration officials also want to keep nuclear-armed Pakistan on their side to safeguard NATO supplies flowing on routes that cross Pakistan to Afghanistan.

What effect will the disclosure and analyses of these documents have?   They'll certainly make it a little harder to justify this misconceived and haplessly conducted war.   These revelations will clearly undermine the credibility of the military and political leadership championing the war and its continuation.   They will also bolster the war's critics by officially corroborating much of what they've been saying all along.  

Mexico Climate Summit Stillborn

There will be no climate change deal at the upcoming summit in Mexico. Those hoping that something could be rescued from the ashes of the Copenhagen global warming summit should brace themselves for yet another failure.

India's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, is already claiming there's no hope for a climate deal emerging from the Cancun meeting in December. Ramesh blames the developed world, arguing the industrialized nations' failure to honour obligations to fund climate change adaptation measures in the Third World means a deal is out of the question for the next two to three years at least.

India has joined a climate change bloc, BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India, China). Ramesh made his remarks before departing for South Africa for a 2-day climate meeting with BASIC enviromins.

Washington seems moribund on the climate change front, something the New York Time's Tom Friedman warns Americans will soon enough come to regret:

I could blame Republicans for the fact that not one G.O.P. senator indicated a willingness to vote for a bill that would put the slightest price on carbon. I could blame the Democratic senators who were also waffling. I could blame President Obama for his disappearing act on energy and spending more time reading the polls than changing the polls. I could blame the Chamber of Commerce and the fossil-fuel lobby for spending bags of money to subvert this bill. But the truth is, the public, confused and stressed by the last two years, never got mobilized to press for this legislation. We will regret it.

We’ve basically decided to keep pumping greenhouse gases into Mother Nature’s operating system and take our chances that the results will be benign — even though a vast majority of scientists warn that this will not be so. Fasten your seat belts. As the environmentalist Rob Watson likes to say: “Mother Nature is just chemistry, biology and physics. That’s all she is.” You cannot sweet-talk her. You cannot spin her. You cannot tell her that the oil companies say climate change is a hoax. No, Mother Nature is going to do whatever chemistry, biology and physics dictate, and “Mother Nature always bats last, and she always bats 1.000,” says Watson. Do not mess with Mother Nature. But that is just what we’re doing.

RAND Study Shows Why We Can't Win in Afghanistan

The famous/infamous RAND Corporation, oracle to the US government and the Pentagon, has passed judgment on our Afghan War and declared it a dead loss.

When it comes to success or failure in counterinsurgency warfare, it's a function of doing more things right than wrong. That's the conclusion of a fascinating RAND Corporation report analyzing 30-recent guerrilla wars. Of those 30, the "government" side was successful or mainly successful in just eight. The insurgents won the other 22.

RAND has worked up a list of counterinsurgency "do's and don'ts" which it claims can be used mathematically to perfectly predict the outcome of each of the 30-conflicts. When the "don'ts" outnumber the "do's" it always results in a win for the insurgents. Only when the government side has a positive balance of "do's" does it have any chance of success.

So, what are the "must do's" of counterinsurgency warfare, the pluses? Here are some of the factors:

- The government established and maintained legitimacy in the area of conflict
- The government was at least a partial democracy
- COIN force intelligence was adequate to support effective engagement or disruption of the insurgents
- The COIN force was of sufficient strength to force the insurgents to fight as guerrillas
- The government/state was competent
- The COIN force avoided excessive collateral damage, disproportionate use of force, or other illegitimate applications of force
- The COIN force sought to engage and establish positive relations with the population in the area of conflict
- The majority of the population in the area of conflict supported or favoured the COIN force
- The COIN force provided or ensured the provision of basic services in areas that it controlled or claimed to control
- The perception of security was created or maintained among the population in areas that the COIN force claimed to control.

And what are the "don'ts," the negatives? Here are some of the factors:

- The primary COIN force was an external occupier
- COIN force or government actions contributed to substantial new grievances claimed by the insurgents
- Militias worked at cross-purposes with the COIN force or government
- COIN force collateral damage was perceived by the population in the area of conflict as worse than the insurgents'
- In the area of conflict the COIN force was perceived as worse than the insurgents
- The COIN force failed to adapt to changes in adversary strategy, operations or tactics
- The COIN force or government had different goals or levels of commitment.

By my calculation, of the 15 "good practices" identified, Western forces in Afghanistan and the Kabul government have succeeded in just two and have been partly successful on two others (.5 points) for a total of three points.

In the 12 "bad practices" listed, Western forces in Afghanistan and the Kabul government have committed six and have partly failed on three others (.5 points) for a total of negative 7.5.

Subtracting the bad from the good scores results in an overall negative 4.5 points. In case you think I'm unduly negative, the RAND assessment of the current Afghan War is just half a point better. They score two pluses for the government side and 6-negative points for the insurgents. That's minus 4 overall, in the RAND Corporation's evaluation, a clear loss.

In other words, all the King's horses and all the King's men; all their numerical superiority; all their technical superiority, all their absolute firepower superiority; have failed miserably against a homegrown gaggle of rebels armed with Korean War-vintage rifles and grenade launchers.

The RAND analysis reveals that no force can hope to defeat an insurgency on behalf of a failed central government such as Karzai's. It can't be done. There's nothing salvageable to save by force of arms. Due to what Washington (Bush/Cheney) allowed to be created in Kabul, this whole thing has been a waste of time and an awful waste of lives and treasure. The Afghan War reveals what the Soviets discovered before they left, what the Americans ought to have learned from Vietnam but forgot - our forces can't be defeated but they can surely lose. The Soviets were never defeated in battle in Afghanistan but they lost. The Americans were never defeated in battle in Vietnam but they lost. We have never been defeated in battle in Afghanistan but we've lost.

How can we lose when we're winning every battle? Easy. It's because, like the Soviets and the Americans in Vietnam before us, we're winning our war, the military war, but not the war that counts, the political war. It's the political war that always decides the issue. If you can wrestle the insurgents to a standstill in the political war it will remain an insurgency. However, if you can't achieve a standoff in the political war, the insurgents come to control territory and establish their own political, administrative and judicial systems in place of or parallel to the government, and then you have allowed the insurgents to morph into rebels in a classic civil war. That benchmark was realized in Afghanistan at least three years ago. The Taliban know it, Karzai knows it, those of our leaders who know it rarely speak of it although you can tell when these former fierce warriors reverse their bravado and come to support talks with the rebels. That's the sound of powerful arrogance wincing and yelling "uncle."

You can find the entire report, Victory Has A Thousand Fathers, Sources of Success in a Counterinsurgency, by following this link.

If the RAND Corporation report isn't enough, I invite you to read this fascinating background article exposing the actual legitimacy of our cause in Afghanistan and why the insurgency we're fighting today is one very much of our own making. You may think you understand what's going on there. Don't count on it.