Saturday, October 30, 2010

Those Airplane Bombs - Something Doesn't Add Up

The story coming out about two bombs air freighted from Yemen, destination Chicago, doesn't make a lot of sense.

We're told the bombs were very sophisticated, even sniffer dogs couldn't detect the explosive charges.  One was rigged with a cell phone detonator, the other a timer.   Both bombs were supposedly to detonate while the aircraft was over the Atlantic.

It seems the bombs were detected, and disarmed, before the aircraft left Europe for the United States.  The Brits were apparently onto the plot.   Yet both aircraft were allowed to continue to the United States with the presumably disarmed bombs still aboard.  That's hard to understand.

What about the Canadian F-18s sent up to escort the aircraft to the U.S. border?  Why?  Were officials afraid the flight crews of those freighters were up to no good?

But what really gets me is the description of the packages in which the al-Qaeda bombs were allegedly secreted.  Printer cartridges.   Printer cartridges being shipped, by air, from high-tech Yemen to the United States.   Coals to Newcastle?  Printer cartridges being shipped from Yemen, that hotbed of Islamist radicalism, addressed to synagogues in the States?  Synagogues?   Packages in Yemen addressed to American synagogues.  Wow that won't draw any attention at all, will it?

Now I'm no terrorist but it strikes me that an Islamist terrorist wanting to air freight a bomb onto a jet freighter in Yemen would never, absolutely not ever, address the packages to a U.S. synagogue.

This just doesn't add up.  What gives?   What do you think?

Zach Galifianakis Wades In on Marijuana Debate

I think this clip speaks for itself

Ashley Smith "Bored" Herself to Death In Her Cell

Ashley Smith was in solitary confinement.   The 19-year old was being held on suicide watch.   In October, 2007 she strangled herself with a piece of cloth.

A psychiatrist hired by Corrections Canada claims Ms. Smith's use of ligatures - while on suicide watch - was not evidence of suicide.  Dr. Margo Rivera claims Smith's binding behaviour was probably done out of boredom.

This horrendous story began when Smith got into trouble at age 15 for throwing apples at a postal worker.   She never got out.  Instead she kept getting into trouble that extended her sentence.  At 18 she went into the adult system and then into federal penitentiary.  Later it was determined Ashley Smith was mentally ill.

Conrad Black - Close, But No Cigar

"The evidence of pecuniary fraud is so compelling that no reasonable jury could have refused to convict the defendants of it," Judge Richard Posner
Conrad Black scored a Pyrrhic victory yesterday after a U.S. appeals court reversed two of this three fraud convictions.   The two convictions were set aside on technicalities, meaning prosecutors can retry Black on those charges.

Unfortunately for Connie, the pecuniary fraud charge was affirmed which guts his argument that, on the fourth charge, there was no obstruction of justice because there had been no previous crime.

Depending on the trial judge, Conrad Black could be back at the Greybar Hotel in time for Christmas.  I'm actually sympathetic toward the old goat.  He's done enough time, the important point - his fraud conviction - stands, now let him go.

Surveillance Society - Remote Cameras That Sense Anger

A British firm is hawking software that will allow surveillance cameras to listen in, analyze the pitch, tone and intonation of noises and determine whether they reveal some type of threat.   The idea is that the monitors will be able to tell if you're being aggressive or attacked and then alert authorities.

Not only is Big Brother going to be constantly watching you, now he'll be listening to boot.  Who knows just how far this fledgling listening technology can and will evolve?  From BBC News:

 "A lot of incidents just can't be picked up by video only systems," said Chris Mitchell, Audio Analytic's boss, on BBC World Service's Digital Planet.

"For example in a hospital where somebody, or a nurse, is being threatened early hours in the morning - that's a very difficult thing for CCTV guards who monitor hundreds of channels worth of video signals on 20 screens or so to pick up."

The software goes beyond simply placing microphones onto cameras and listening in. By feeding hundreds of sample sounds into the system, the software can distinguish different threats from various sounds - and not just based on volume.

As always it's not the technology that's really the problem but rather the manner in which it can be abused, the improper ends to which it can be turned.  I'm sure it would be great, say at hospital parking lots where nurses coming off shift in the middle of the night can be at increased risk.  But, as always, quis custodiet ipsos custodes, who watches the watchers?

Upping the Ante in Afghanistan

A joint Russian-US drug raid in his own backyard has Afghan president Hamid Karzai almost apoplectic.

The raids destroyed four drug labs and seized about a tonne of heroin and morphine, a quarter billion dollars worth.

The drug lords aren't going to be happy and I assume a hunk of the loss will be coming out of Karzai's cut.   The Afghan government and bureaucracy are widely believed to be in league with the country's narcotics establishment, a contributing factor in Afghanistan being rated one of the five most corrupt nations on the planet.

Karzai is routinely criticized for protecting drug lords.  It's been apparent in that not one key drug kingpin has been prosecuted since Karzai was popped into office after the Talibs were sent packing.

The wisdom of going after the narcotics industry at this point in the campaign is perplexing.   Our side is already having little luck tackling the Taliban.   At this point do we really need more enemies?  Don't forget some of the drug lords are also warlords who have been sitting on the fence.    This could stir them up and create additional headaches for NATO troops. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Khadr, Schmadr - Turns Out Obama's Okay with Child Soldiers

Forget everything you thought you knew about Barack Obama.   When it comes to child soldiers he's as bent as a pretzel.

Today Obama signed a waiver allowing four countries that use child soldiers to continue receiving U.S. military aid.  These are real hellholes - Chad, Sudan, Yemen and the D.R. Congo.  From The Washington Post:

Human rights groups reacted with surprise and concern, saying the decision would send the wrong message.

"What the president has done is basically given everybody a pass for using child soldiers," said Jo Becker, children's rights director at Human Rights Watch.
Administration officials said cutting off aid would cause more damage than good in countries where the U.S. military is trying to fight terrorism and reform abusive armies. 

Senior U.S. officials said Wednesday that Yemen was exempted because ending military aid would jeopardize the country's ability to fight al-Qaeda. In Sudan, U.S. military assistance will be critical in helping the unstable southern part of the country build military institutions if it votes to secede in a January referendum, as expected, officials said. 

Congo was exempted because U.S.-funded programs there are aimed at helping the military become more professional and less abusive, officials said. Chad got a pass because of its role in fighting terrorism and assistance with the humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan.

So it's not whether you use child soldiers but what you're using them for that's the litmus test in Washington.

A Tale of Two Sphincters

The taller and balder of the two sphincters pictured above is Tim Profitt who made a name for himself recently for stomping on the head of a woman who showed up at a Rue Rand Paul appearance to mock the Tea Party candidate.

At the time it was thought Profitt was simply just another unhinged Rue Rand Paul supporter but now it turns out this tough guy is a member of the Paul campaign.   Profitt is the Rand Paul for Senate Bourbon County coordinator.

Profitt has released a statement acknowledging that he indeed pressed his foot on 23-year old Lauren Valle's head.  Rue Rand Paul later went on, you guessed it, FOX News where he conveniently did not let on that Profitt is a member of his campaign.

But Wait, There's More!   Check out this news clip in which Profitt says Valle owes him an apology.  This is the mentality that is alive in the ranks of the Tea Party.

Is Denying Protection to a Child Soldier a War Crime?

If it isn't, it should be.

The United States is a signatory to the Child Soldier protocol.   The United States therefore acknowledges that child soldiers can and are made to believe and do just about anything their adult mentors wish.   The United States therefore accepts that child combatants are to be treated as victims and, as such, agrees to furnish child soldiers with protection and rehabilitation.

So why, with Omar Khadr, did the United States turn its back on everything it acknowledged and undertook to do in signing the Child Soldier protocol?

Omar Khadr was not treated as a victim but as a war criminal.  Khadr was not protected and rehabilitated as the United States was obliged to do.   To the contrary, Khadr was housed within a community of radical Islamists where, by the prosecution's own witness, he was even further steeped in their beliefs.  In effect, the United States did just about everything conceivable to ensure that Khadr is today more radical and more dangerous than ever.

And now they blame Khadr for supposedly becoming everything that was entirely foreseeable from their own indifference and neglect.

Denying a prisoner food or water is a war crime.   Why should denying a child soldier protection and rehabilitation be any less a war crime?

Maybe That's Why Harper Likes Prisons But Not the Census

Furious Leader Steve has got a gut feeling that crime is raging out of control.  Maybe that's because in his neck of the woods, Conservative Country, are the most murder plagued cities in Canada.  Winnipeg is the worst.   Edmonton is third with Calgary running a close fourth.  Vancouver comes in second overall largely because of the interminable ethnic gang drug wars.

Now when you've got all those murders happening in your own backyard, who wants a detailed census to highlight the fact?

Of course gun murders are well down again.   Damn, that really doesn't help Steve's prison fetish.

Campaign Against Taliban Not Working

The only surprise is who in his right mind thought it would?   In case you haven't heard, there's a big operation underway in Afghanistan to batter the Taliban, hoping that will nudge them into a peace deal with Karzai.   And this time it's the brainchild of David Petraeus, America's counterinsurgency guru himself.

David Petraeus may be at the wheel but it's the same old, clapped out car we've been driving about for the past nine years.   Even General David can't make this car run right.

This whole offensive is a military campaign against an enemy that has steadfastly refused to fight a military war.    What do they do when the tanks and attack helicopters come after them?   Easy, they bugger off.   They go and find a place to lay low so that they can come back at a time and place of their choosing.  From the Washington Post:

"Escalated airstrikes and special operations raids have disrupted Taliban movements and damaged local cells. But officials said that insurgents have been adept at absorbing the blows and that they appear confident that they can outlast an American troop buildup set to subside beginning next July.

"The insurgency seems to be maintaining its resilience," said a senior Defense Department official involved in assessments of the war. Taliban elements have consistently shown an ability to "reestablish and rejuvenate," often within days of routed by U.S. forces, the official said, adding that if there is a sign that momentum has shifted, "I don't see it."

The Talibs are the grand masters at this game.  They know one of their big advantages is one that doesn't cost money or lives.   It's time.  Time is on their side, not ours.  We're the foreigners, they're the home team.

Time for us is a huge vulnerability, especially those years we've squandered that never were ours to waste.   In this sort of war, time is a sponge that soaks up both our treasure and our soldiers' lives.  Worse, on the ground time is a deal-changer.  As Petraeus said long before he went to Iraq, our side has a limited shelf life before we go from liberator/defender to occupier/oppressor in the locals' minds.  You've got to get in, make things happen, and get out.  We haven't done any of that.  We had our chance and we blew it.  End of story.

We've been outplayed and it's about time to swallow that bitter pill.  We didn't fight their war, the only one that mattered, we fought ours.   We're still fighting our war and we're not putting a dent in the bad guys.  After nine years we might as well accept that our war doesn't work in places like Afghanistan.   For nine years we've been trying the same thing over and over, each time expecting a different result.   What do they call that, insanity?

Khadr's Kangaroo Kourt

This reminds me of those old films that recorded an anti-Nazi being harangued by a German judge before being summarily condemned.

The prosecution in the Khadr case has called a forensic psychiatrist to give evidence that both indicts America for the conditions at Guantanamo and seeks to punish Khadr for them.  This is insane.

The psychiatrist says Khadr is enormously dangerous because, during his years as an American captive at Guantanamo, he was steeped in Islamic radicalism.   In other words, the Americans put this child soldier in a place where he could be freely indoctrinated in radicalism - in their very own super prison under their very own control.  

Isn't the Child Soldier protocol specifically intended to recognize that kids can be indoctrinated by adults to do or believe almost anything?   Isn't the Child Soldier protocol intended to therefore see child combatants as victims in need of protection and rehabilitation when they're captured?  Doesn't just about everything the Americans did with and to Khadr while he was their captive just fly in the face of the Child Soldier protocol which the U.S. has itself signed?

Instead of meeting its obligations to give Khadr protection and rehabilitation, the United States left him to stew in a cauldron of  Islamic radicalism called Guantanamo,  a cauldron of their own making, and then seek to blame him for the very conditions they imposed on him.

Only in a total kangaroo court would that sort of argument be received.  It's the sort of thing that erases any doubt about the fairness and integrity of the military tribunal that will pass judgment on Omar Khadr.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Isn't That Exactly Why We're Supposed to Treat Them as "Child Soldiers"?

The prosecution in Omar Khadr's farcical trial has called evidence that stands as a scathing indictment of Guantanamo and America's hypocritical rejection of Khadr's child soldier status.   The giveaway is in the evidence of a forensic psychiatrist who painted Khadr as
an unrepentant, dangerous, Islamic extremist who has been “marinated in the radical jihadism” at Guantanamo.

Marinated in Radical Jihadism at Guantanamo?

That captures the whole essence of the child soldier protocol that even the United States embraced until it chose to turn rank hypocrite.  We know that child soldiers are susceptible to being 'marinated' in radical causes and that's why decent societies have agreed to treat them as victims, not perpetrators.

Worse still, the American forensic psychiatrist's evidence is that Khadr continued to be marinated in radical jihadism while in American captivity.   If the Americans couldn't protect their own young captive from radical jihadism in a place like Guantanamo, what do they think he was subjected to in Pakistan and Afghanistan?  Shouldn't some American honcho be charged with failing to protect Khadr while an inmate in America's toughest prison?  Just who allowed him to be 'marinated' while he was imprisoned in Cuba?

Bad as Khadr may have been, even may still be, this is a case in which the Americans have utterly lost any moral high ground.  To argue that Khadr should be further punished because the Americans allowed him to be 'radicalized' while in their hands is more than laughable, it's pathetic. 

I Thought Canada Had a Defence Minister

What is Peter Mackay doing these days?   I had thought he was Canada's Defence Minister, you know the politician in charge of running the Canadian Forces, keeping tabs on everything.   Everything, like the purchase of Chinook helicopters, for example.  Pete's supposed to keep an eye on that sort of thing, make sure the deal is coming in on budget, on time.  Except, according to Auditor General Sheila Fraser, Petey has been asleep at the wheel.

That $2-billion Chinook contract?   It's coming in at just under $5-billion.  Seems the CF brass said they were going to buy "off the shelf" but then pulled a fast one and ordered modifications that jacked up the price and delayed delivery.   Heads should roll, but whose heads?  Maybe the Chief of Defence Staff - oh but he's safely retired a long time ago.   Whoever came up with the "off the shelf" assurance - he should be out.   And what about Harper's Defence Minister, the prime screw up, Peter Mackay?  Surely he should be out, gone, shuffled off to Buffalo.

And while we're at it, maybe it's time to take another hard look at that F-35 contract.

Monsanto Succumbs to Evolution

Oh this is priceless.   The Dr. Frankenstein of genetically modified crops, Monsanto, has been humiliated by Mother Nature.

Years ago Monsanto introduced "Roundup Ready" crops - soya beans, corn and cotton.   These were crops genetically modified to be resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's herbicide, Roundup.   The idea was farmers would plant Monsanto genetically modified crops, spray their fields with Roundup to kill off everything else, and - voila - big harvests of Roundup Ready produce.

Except that Mother Nature had other plans.   Let's just call it Evolution.  For a while Roundup worked as advertised but then the awful weeds evolved and developed their own Roundup immunity.  Oopsie!

As if that wasn't bad enough for Monsanto, it's claims that Roundup is an environmentally friendly herbicide are being challenged.  Read more here at

Drought Hits Amazon Basin

The mighty Amazon basin is being hammered by drought.   The north and western regions of Amazonia are experiencing the worst drought conditions in decades.   The Rio Negro has hit its lowest levels since records began being kept a century ago.

The Amazon and its tributaries are vital highways for the native people of the region.  The waterways are essential for both transport and food.   Now thousands are marooned, their small boats grounded.

According to The Guardian, nearly half of the Amazon's 62 municipalities have declared states of emergency.

Will 2010 Be America's Most Corrupt Election Ever?

This is definitely the "money talks" election in the United States.   There's much at stake in this election for Big Business and the billionaire rentiers who sit atop the American heap and they're throwing big bucks at it to ensure it goes their way, the far Right way.

Democracy in America was immeasurably corrupted by the now radical Right U.S. Supreme Court of Chief Justice Roberts.   That much was plain from the utterly perverse Citizens United case that equated money with speech and extended the right of free speech to corporations whether American or even foreign.   The case gave a green light to corporations to  throw money into skewing American elections - and governments - to their liking.  And boy are they going to town.   Corporatism has descended like a blanket on America and, as Mussolini made plane, fascism is corporatism.

The quiet dismantling of American representative democracy is both alarming and fascinating.  Here are some articles detailing what is actually transpiring today in the United States:

"Bailed-Out Companies Spending Big Money to Elect Politicians They Favor,"

"12 of America's Most Crooked Candidates on the Ballot in the 2010 Election."

"Corporate Hijacking of Our Elections is Well Under Way, With Foreign Companies Chipping In to Destroy Our Democracy."

Just as corporatism is racing through the back door to subvert American representative democracy and supplant it with corporatist oligarchy, so too are America's top billionaires flexing their muscle to fuel groups of idiots, like the Tea Party movement, to unwittingly do their bidding.  The Guardian's George Monbiot chronicles the false consciousness of the Tea Party and how its members have succumbed to outright delusions foisted on them by the likes of Charles and David Koch who run what they like to call "the biggest company you've never heard of."

This is indeed a dark day for American democracy.

Octo-Paul is Dead

Paul, the octopus that seemingly predicted the outcome of Germany's World Cup final  games, is dead.

The cephalopod became a hit in Spain which he predicted would beat Germany for the cup.  One Spanish town even made Octo-Paul an honorary citizen.

At the time I wondered about all the hoopla.  The octopus, like its relatives, the squid and the cuttlefish, are remarkably short-lived.   If they don't get eaten within two years they pretty much just keel over.  Paul made it to a remarkable two and a half years before he was discovered, tentacles up, by aquarium staff in Germany.

Wow, We're Right Up There With the Northern European Welfare States

According to Transparency International, Canada is right up there with the northern European welfare states when it comes to corruption.   In fact, we're supposedly the 6th least corrupt country in the world.   Denmark topped the charts at 9.3 out of a possible 10 points.  Finland and Sweden came in at 9.2.  Canada scored 8.9.   Norway was 8.6 and debt-ridden Iceland trailed at 11th place for 8.5.

Stephen Harper has open contempt for the northern European nations but, by gosh, they're remarkably decent, honest and open.

Steve's American Idol slipped out of  the top-20 for the first time since the index was created 15-years ago.  The U.S. fell to 22nd with 7.2 points thanks to its financial scandals and the "influence of money in [U.S.] politics" which seems like an awfully nice way to refer to America's bought and paid for Congress.

Meanwhile those countries that Washington has spent most of the past decade invading, conquering and supposedly rebuilding, Iraq and Afghanistan, were right at the bottom.  Afghanistan tied with Myanmar for second-last with 1.4 and Iraq placed fourth from last with 1.5.

Particularly worrisome are countries that scored 5 or less.   They're the bottom three-quarters of the 178-country rankings.   Their ranks aren't getting any smaller either.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Billy Carter Wins Toronto Mayoralty

The Toronto Star has called it.   Seems that Smitherman dude lost.   That leaves the other guy - you know, Billy Carter - the new mayor of the centre of the universe.  Good luck with that folks.

Gordon Campbell Goes for Broke Wednesday Night

British Columbia's massively unpopular premier, Gordon Campbell, is taking to the airwaves Wednesday night to beg BCers for a second, yet another chance.

There had been some speculation that Campbell might plan to announce his retirement but he shuffled his cabinet this morning, something you wouldn't expect from a premier about to hand over the reins of power.

I suspect that Campbell has weighed up his predicament, figured that this might be the best moment he'll have in the near future and calculated that he really doesn't have anything to lose at this point.  He's desperate to get his numbers up.   The alternative might be an insurrection in the ranks.

My guess is that minds are pretty well made up already and even a dead cat bounce won't be enough to save Campbell from an in-house skinning.  He's never been especially popular personally and today he's positively loathed.   Some nose dives you just can't pull out of and this may be Campbell's.

Using America to Thwart Action on Climate Change

Guess who is pouring money into the election coffers of U.S. candidates opposed to climate change initiatives?  Major European polluters, that's who.

Climate Action Network Europe has issued a report outing prominent European industrial polluters who've figured out the best way to derail global climate change measures is to buy help elect a Congress that will block action.   If the U.S. won't act, the rest of the world probably won't do anything meaningful either.

polluting European companies are funding climate legislation blockers in US politics. Their overseas support is all the more galling because the same companies argue that additional emissions reductions in Europe cannot be pursued until the United States takes action. 

“It’s disturbing that these European polluters fund anti-climate crusaders in the US while simultaneously fighting against strong climate legislation in Europe,” said Tomas Wyns, CAN Europe Senior Policy Officer. “This newly released data proves the anecdotal rumours about European companies that have been circulating for some time.”

 Big European emitters BAYER, BASF, Solvay, Lafarge, BP, GDF-SUEZ, Arcelor-Mittal and EON supported senators blocking climate change legislation in the US for a combined total of $240,200. To put it in perspective, in 2009 these seven firms emitted 130 million tones of greenhouse gas pollution, roughly the same as the annual emissions of Belgium. Support from these European companies is going to numerous US candidates who not only block climate legislation, but also actively deny the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and is caused by humans.

Ever since the radical rightwing U.S. Supreme Court ruled that money, even corporate money, is protected speech, the doors have been flung open to foreign corporate influence peddling - and meddling - in American elections.  Well, as Mussolini said, corporatism is fascism.  I'll bet he would have loved the Roberts court.

These Eurotrash companies are even helping our homegrown Petro-Pols who will use American inaction as a cover for their own unwillingness to combat climate change.

Canadians Want Peacekeeping Not War Fighting

It appears the Canadian public's infatuation with warfighting has soured.  A Globe & Mail poll by Nanos Research shows that while Canadians still see the military as a genuine priority, it trails health care, jobs, the environment, taxes and education in importance.  Health care and education took 1st and 2nd spots respectively.

Though years of lethal combat in Kandahar have changed the face and image of the Canadian Forces, the public that awaits the return of the troops sees a future military modelled on its vision of blue-helmeted peacekeepers of years past. Canadians retain a deep vein of interest in internationalism, but not one that gets soldiers into shooting wars - rating combat missions by troops overseas as the least important of five roles for Canada's military.

...The Nanos poll found 52 per cent of respondents rated UN peacekeeping as an important role for Canada's armed forces - a quarter rated it a 10 on a scale of importance from one to 10. Only 21 per cent of Canadians rated overseas combat missions as an important role for the military. 

Overall, said pollster Nik Nanos, Canadians still see their military's job as they have for decades, based on two main pillars: UN peacekeeping, and the kind of North American defence co-operation with the United States long done by institutions such as NORAD. "It's kind of like retro hour for foreign policy," he says.

Those views are likely coloured now by an Afghanistan mission they wouldn't repeat. The poll found 66 per cent of Canadians would oppose or "somewhat oppose" another mission like it. Only 21 per cent said they would support or somewhat support such a mission.

When it comes to Afghanistan, Canada's military and political leadership have only themselves to blame for the public's disenchantment.   Harper's John Wayne act was exposed as blatant partisan manipulation.   He was so "pro-Afghanistan" until he abruptly turned "anti."   And our military leadership repeatedly showed themselves at best mediocre, at worst probably incompetent.   Remember when stand up comedian, now safely retired general Rick Hillier bragged about sending 2,500 Canadians to Kandahar to kill "a few dozen ...scumbags"?  What a dark and bitter farce.

Why is Climate Change a Dead Letter in Canadian Politics? Cui Bono?

Last week the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, NCAR, released a study showing that drought will be the defining impact of global warming this century.  A few parts of the world are going to get wetter.   The most heavily populated parts are going to get dryer, much, much dryer.

The good news is that Canada is one of the lucky places that will receive more precipitation.   The bad news is that where most of you live is not the lucky part.  Click on the map above and see what your neck of the woods can expect by 2060.

Do you find this alarming?   Well you should, especially if you have young kids or grandchildren.  They're going to have to deal with this.   Bear this in mind.   The world depicted in this map isn't going to suddenly land on earth in 2060.   This has already begun.  We've just had our own study showing a significant decline in precipitation in the Great Lakes basin over the past 30-years.  That's not a fluke.  As the NCAR study shows, it's going to become steadily more significant.

Are there things we can do to forestall mega-drought or to reduce its impacts?  Of course.  Are there things we can do to adapt to some of these impacts.   Absolutely.  Are we doing any of those things?   Absolutely not.   The fate of our country and our children hangs in the balance.  It is imperative we start dealing with this - now.  So, whether you're Conservative, Liberal or NDP, ask yourself this - just what are the people leading my party doing about this?   Better yet, ask them.

Ask your leaders if they believe this NCAR study to be true?  If not, have them explain why not?  But, if they don't dispute it convincingly, ask them just what in hell they intend to do about it.   Tell them you want specifics, you want timelines.   Here's something to keep in mind - if they start talking about "intensity-based" reductions or "cap and trade" that's simply code for doing nothing worthwhile.

Instead of endless dicking about on this percentage reduction or that, country versus country, region versus region, bloc versus bloc, the leaders of the world need to look at that map and say, okay, how do we prevent as much of this as we possibly can?   There's no reason that Canada can't launch that sort of effort.  Except we won't.   Which gives rise to the question, cui bono?

If something this fundamentally important to the future of the country and our people gets buried, you have to assume that someone pretty powerful is benefiting from all that nothing.   In some situations, dormancy can be extremely valuable.   It certainly works for those dimwitted bastards who still speak of dreams of Canada as a fossil fuel superpower.  Maybe ten years ago that wasn't all that unreasonable.   That was then, this is now.  It certainly works for the ultimate beneficiaries of their apathy - Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Gas.

Like any dysfunctional behaviour, you have to remember that people only do that because they get something out of it.   It is extremely dysfunctional that the Petro-Pols of Parliament Hill who alone have the only effective power to defend our interests, to protect our welfare, are working for somebody else.

The Duty to Let the Dying Die

I used to be dead.   At least I was once. For a while.  No pulse, no respiration, not even any twitching.  A goner.   That is until a team of fire department paramedics stationed just two blocks away raced over with what (I am told) was some ungodly needle affair and paddles and stuff.   I didn't even know I was dead until I woke up a couple of days later to find out I wasn't.

That incident somehow got me focused on death.  I went right out and got my affairs in order.  A new will, a power of attorney, and a "living will" complete with a DNR, "do not resuscitate" clause.  I should be all set to go next time.

Death is and ought to be an intensely personal thing.  That's why living wills are so important.   They come into play when you're no longer able to speak for yourself.  Oddly enough, that can be when you most need to be heard.  Curious, isn't it?  If you haven't got one, get one.

We DNRs are the easy ones.   Pretty straightforward. easy to follow instructions.  Just keep us comfortable and see us out the door.   But what about the hard cases, where the patient wants his doctors to do anything and everything possible to forestall death?   Just how far ought the medical profession go to meet that demand?

That debate rages right now at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.  48-year old  Toronto accountant Mann Kee Li has been there since August battling terminal cancer.  His living will calls for all medical procedures possible in the event of a life-threatening emergency.  Last week, however, the hospital doctors concluded enough was enough and issued their own DNR order against the family's wishes.   The family has taken the hospital to court.

Now here's where it gets weird.   On Friday, Justice Barbara Conway issued a ruling that effectively revoked the hospital's "do not resuscitate" order and dumping the whole thing on Ontario's Consent and Capacity Board as though this was an issue of either consent or capacity.  Barry Swadon, the family's lawyer, says the ruling is a game changer,
"It is a recognition by the Superior Court that physicians should not be making DNR orders without first obtaining consent of patients or substitute decision makers.”

This is where you become involved.   If physicians require the consent of patients or family to issue DNR orders, your medicare bill could be in for a bubble.  It's insanely expensive but medical science can keep many terminally ill alive long after nature has come calling for them.   If the patient is beyond all hope of ever again enjoying any quality of life and life can only be sustained by the hospital paying its hydro bill what is the point of extending life?  Isn't that life beyond any meaning?

Quite frankly I cannot understand the thinking that would see a loved one put through this for no good end.   Judge Conway showed that there is no justice in cowardice.

Khadr - Reserve Thy Judgment

Here's all you need to know about Omar Khadr - you don't know and probably won't know for years at the very least.   You don't know what he did in the Afghan cave and you don't know what was done to him at the time and in the years at Guantanamo that followed.

There are a few things you do know.   He was a "child soldier" when he was shot twice in the back and captured.   You know that even the United States is a signatory to the protocol that requires captured child soldiers to be treated as victims, not perpetrators.   You know that, from the outset, the proceedings against Khadr in Guantanamo have made a farce of any notion of American justice.

So Khadr finally pleaded guilty to all charges brought against him.  I suppose if the deck is stacked high enough you really don't have much choice and stacked it truly was.

Did he commit the crimes for which he was charged?   I really don't know and neither do you.   Is his guilty plea an admission of guilt?   In these circumstances, not at all.   It's an administrative not a legal act.  When your captor claims the power to hold you forever regardless of charge much less guilt, there's nothing remotely legal in the decisions taken by a captive.

It's All How You Look At It, Hamid

If you want to make million-dollar bribes sound good, come straight out and admit the fact and then say it's all perfectly okay.

The Top Dog in the criminal enterprise we call the government of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai himself, says sure he gets bags full of cash from Iran.   A million dollars a shot.   Twice a year, maybe more, who's counting?   Sure the money's paid right to his office.  And what is the money for?

"They have asked for good relations in return, and for lots of other things in return,”says wily Hamid.

And what exactly does Hamid do with the loot?   He says it all goes, “to help the presidential office and to help dispense assistance in various ways to the employees here and to people outside.

And just what is wrong with that?   After all, he quickly retorts, the Americans have been sending him bags of cash for a long time.  The Americans, "give us bags of money.  Yes, yes they do.  It's all the same.  So let's not make this an issue."

Silly me.  All this time I thought Afghan bosses got all the cash they needed from the narcotics trade.   Somewhere, in some little offshore tax haven, there are probably a bundle of discrete accounts growing steadily larger by the month as highly placed Afghans wait for the day their western enforcers get fed up and leave.  I'll bet that Hamid and his brother, Ahmed, won't be waiting to hop the last plane out either.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Climate Change is Already Real. Ask Any Multi-National.

We usually consider climate change a mid- to long-range threat, something that won't really bother us much for the next twenty to thirty years.  In fact much of the world is already at extreme risk of devastating climate change impacts over the next three decades.  Maplecroft, a corporate risk consultant, has evaluated the short-term climate change vulnerability of 170 countries.

The new Climate Change Vulnerability Index (CCVI), released by global risks advisory firm Maplecroft, enables organisations to identify areas of risk within their operations, supply chains and investments. It evaluates 42 social, economic and environmental factors to assess national vulnerabilities across three core areas. These include: exposure to climate-related natural disasters and sea-level rise; human sensitivity, in terms of population patterns, development, natural resources, agricultural dependency and conflicts; thirdly, the index assesses future vulnerability by considering the adaptive capacity of a country’s government and infrastructure to combat climate change.

The index rates 16 countries as ‘extreme risk,’ including nations that represent new Asian economic power and possess significant forecasted growth. Bangladesh (1), India (2), Philippines (6), Vietnam (13) and Pakistan (16) all feature in the highest risk category and are of particular importance as they are major contributors to the ongoing global economic recovery and are vital to the future expansion of Western businesses in particular.

...Other countries featuring in the ‘extreme risk’ category include: Madagascar (3), Nepal (4), Mozambique (5), Haiti (7), Afghanistan (8), Zimbabwe (9), Myanmar (10), Ethiopia (11), Cambodia (12), Thailand (14) and Malawi (15). According to Maplecroft, the countries with the most risk are characterised by high levels of poverty, dense populations, exposure to climate-related events; and their reliance on flood and drought prone agricultural land. Africa features strongly in this group, with the continent home to 12 out of the 25 countries most at risk.

China, Brazil and Japan are rated 'high risk' countries while Russia, the U.S., the U.K., Germany and France are 'medium risk' nations.   Canada, like the other high northern latitude states, is rated 'low risk.'

So, how does this matter?   Over the past twenty years massive investment has poured into 'extreme' and 'high risk' countries.  It has been foreign investment that has largely fueled the economic miracle experienced by the emerging economic superpowers, India and China.  Those same multinationals and institutions that inundated those emerging economies with their seed wealth are now having to weigh the security of those investments.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Playbook for Michael Ignatieff

The IgLibs have presented themselves as a hesitant, awkward bunch - fickle and unsure of themselves.   Well, ready or not, the Libs may soon have to fight an election.   Given their lack of focus (call it "spine" if you choose) they should be grateful that Gerald Caplan has charted out a dandy strategy for knocking off Furious Leader Harper.

C'mon Michael, even you can cut and paste.

When Are The Tories Going to Exploit the Williams Case to Revisit Capital Punishment?

Canada's radical Right, a.k.a. the Conservative Party, didn't get where they are today by passing up any opportunity to exploit emotion and, right now, the most emotional thing - thanks hugely to the lurid appetites of Canada's media - is the Russell Williams murder case.

On a strictly emotional level I suspect a lot of us would support the execution of Williams and that's blood I suspect the Tory sharks scent.

So, what do you think?  Will the Wedgies go for it - again?  You know they're aching for a tasty bit of the ol' eye for an eye.

Blaming the Victim

America's radical Right, a.k.a. today's Republicans, like nothing so much as accusatory narratives.  They like pointing fingers and casting blame so much that they're not deterred in the slightest by contradiction or inconsistency.   Their workaround is epistemic closure, the process of simply excluding all facts that don't conform with the chosen narrative.   A classic example of that is how the radical Right dealt with the subprime mortgage element of the global fiscal meltdown.   There was an awful lot of mortgage fraud that the radical Right sought to blame on the borrowers - the poor and minorities.

Michael Hudson has burst that accusatory fantasy with his new book,   The Monster:  How a Gang of Predatory Lenders and Bankers Fleeced America, and Launched a Global Crisis.  Here is an excerpt:

A few weeks after he started working at Ameriquest Mortgage, Mark Glover looked up from his cubicle and saw a coworker do something odd. The guy stood at his desk on the twenty-third floor of downtown Los Angeles's Union Bank Building. He placed two sheets of paper against the window. Then he used the light streaming through the window to trace something from one piece of paper to another. Somebody's signature.

Glover was new to the mortgage business. He was twenty-nine and hadn't held a steady job in years. But he wasn't stupid. He knew about financial sleight of hand -- at that time, he had a check-fraud charge hanging over his head in the L.A. courthouse a few blocks away. Watching his coworker, Glover's first thought was: How can I get away with that? As a loan officer at Ameriquest, Glover worked on commission. He knew the only way to earn the six-figure income Ameriquest had promised him was to come up with tricks for pushing deals through the mortgage-financing pipeline that began with Ameriquest and extended through Wall Street's most respected investment houses.

...Glover learned that his colleague's art work wasn't a matter of saving a borrower the hassle of coming in to supply a missed signature. The guy was forging borrowers' signatures on government-required disclosure forms, the ones that were supposed to help consumers understand how much cash they'd be getting out of the loan and how much they'd be paying in interest and fees. Ameriquest's deals were so overpriced and loaded with nasty surprises that getting customers to sign often required an elaborate web of psychological ploys, outright lies, and falsified papers. "Every closing that we had really was a bait and switch," a loan officer who worked for Ameriquest in Tampa, Florida, recalled. " 'Cause you could never get them to the table if you were honest." At companywide gatherings, Ameriquest's managers and sales reps loosened up with free alcohol and swapped tips for fooling borrowers and cooking up phony paperwork. What if a customer insisted he wanted a fixed-rate loan, but you could make more money by selling him an adjustable-rate one? No problem. Many Ameriquest salespeople learned to position a few fixed-rate loan documents at the top of the stack of paperwork to be signed by the borrower. They buried the real documents -- the ones indicating the loan had an adjustable rate that would rocket upward in two or three years -- near the bottom of the pile. Then, after the borrower had flipped from signature line to signature line, scribbling his consent across the entire stack, and gone home, it was easy enough to peel the fixed-rate documents off the top and throw them in the trash.

Kind of puts a different perspective on those subprimes doesn't it?  It does but it's one that the radical Right's epistemic closure works so hard to suppress. 

Delusional Thinking

Imagine if the crew of the Titanic actually knew their ship was speeding on a course for an imminent impact with a massive iceberg but simply went on with business as usual.  Can you imagine the captain giving a shrug and muttering, "Oh well, not much we can do about it.  Maybe later, we'll see."   That would be preposterous, wouldn't it?  But is that really not the attitude we're showing to the impacts of climate change that are rapidly arriving on our doorstep?

Most of the people I talk to aren't unduly concerned about it.  They're still working out the details of their next holiday abroad or weighing the merits of one mega-pickup truck versus another.  Even on all these progressive and liberal blogs, climate change as an issue doesn't hold a candle to squabbles over long-gun registries and long-form census or crime and punishment or just about any other issue of the day.   And, as for our politicians - well the captain of the ship has barricaded himself inside his cabin with a case of pusser rum.  You can count him out.

The U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research released a study this week that revealed drought will be the dominant climate event globally this century.   Drought far more severe than any we've ever known even in sub-Saharan Africa.   Drought that will be multi-generational, possibly permanent in duration.   The drought map for 2060 speaks volumes.   Here it is again.   Click on it for a larger version.

Look at it.   There's your iceberg.   This is where we're heading and we're going full bore to get there.   This is where those same people who believe we should expand Tar Sand production five fold are steering us.  This is the world that Harper and Ignatieff want to leave for our kids and grandchildren.  Oh yeah, but what about that long-form census anyway.  That bastard, Harper!   Grrr.

Oh but that drought is just a "projection" isn't it?  Maybe the science isn't right.  Maybe they've got their numbers in a bunch to get us all whipped up.   Even if that is right, we'll find some technology to fix it in plenty of time, right? 

Well, not quite.   The drought depicted is already here and it's been going on for several years as close to home as the southern and western U.S. and into the vast, Great Plains region.  We've been reacting to it.  One way we've adapted is through increased irrigation from surface reservoirs and once mighty aquifers.  In effect, nature is burning the drought candle at one end and we're burning it from the other.

So what about fixes?   Well the fact is there really aren't many, not nearly enough anyway.  Take California.  If you never thought farmfields could be an awesome sight, you've never driven through California's great agricultural valleys.  They were like nothing else on the planet.  They allowed California to become the supplier of something close to 75% of America's market garden vegetables, fruits and nuts.   But drought and warming has already hammered California agriculture.  "Winter Chill" which is a vital trigger for many tree crops (fruits and nuts) has already declined by 30% and is projected to reach 50% which effectively ends that form of agriculture in California unless new varieties, capable of adapting, can be found and planted in time but it does take a good while to grow a functioning orchard.

But the double whammy is the water supply.   California agriculture has always been heavily dependent on irrigation.  One key source was the Colorado River.  Farmers were allocated quotas of river water they could draw for irrigation.   But that supply is in distress now too.   Some farmers are simply bulldozing their orchards and selling their water quotas to water short cities nearby.   If you go to a Canadian grocery store, the shelves are packed with produce from California and Mexico but for how long?

The Great Plains, North America's breadbasket, are also under water stress.  Mega-drought is, in fact, an historical feature of this region.   We arrived to settle during an unduly wet century and a half.   It didn't dawn on us from the very fact that these were grasslands instead of forest that protracted drought wasn't unusual.   However, during this "wet window" we were able to establish that region as an incredibly productive source of staple grains and livestock.  How are we going to cope when that fizzles out?

Look, just take that NCAR drought map for the simple proposition that this problem, that we're already feeling, isn't going away.  It's with us for at least the rest of this century and it will worsen from where it is today.   How much worse is partly up to us.  So, do you really think this is any time to be grinding our teeth over gun registries and census forms?  Do you really?  Isn't that delusional thinking?

I studied this very sort of thing decades ago while doing my undergrad in the States.  We examined the native villagers of the Andes mountains.   Their settlements are particularly prone to devastating mudslides and earthquakes.   That has imbued them with an amazing degree of fatalism.   Instead of migrating to safer areas they simply accept the real possibility that at any time they'll be buried in rubble or mud, their lives and their children's lives snuffed out.   Is that going to become our coping mechanism too?  Is that the best we can do?   But wait, what about that census form?  We can't let the bastards get away with that.

Now go back and take another look at the 2060 drought map.  Just look at Latin and North America.   What you're seeing in the mauve to orange sectors are areas that will most likely become uninhabitable.   Now what do you think is going to happen to all the people in those densely populated regions?   Think they're going to lay down and die and become naturally mummified so we can examine them really carefully centuries from now?  Or do you think they're going to pack their things and migrate?  Look at the map.  If you lived in one of those dark red to mauve areas, where would you be headed?  Norte, amigo, norte.   We'll need really good census forms then, no?

The way I figure it, we have to start paying attention to this.  We have to figure out what's coming, how much of that we can prevent, and how we'll adapt to what we can't prevent.  That's a challenge on a scale beyond anything we've dealt with, even war.   The longer we put it off, the bigger the challenge, the harder the fixes.   But there's only one group that can really harness the resources and the people of the country to meet this challenge and that's our political leadership.   We give them the reins of power specifically to deal with this sort of thing.   Their first responsibility is our welfare, protecting our future, not how to ramp up the production of bitumen or bitch-slapping each other over gun registries and census forms.

That's their fundamental responsibility, their key priority, but, judging by their behaviour, they don't get it.   They're barricaded in their cabins guzzling the pusser rum.   And why not?   They won't make it their priority until you do.   You have to show them that it's your priority.   You have to show them that it's time to put down the bottles and sober up.   Put away their infantile fantasies of great windfall riches, stop the delusional thinking.  We're all screwed if they don't.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Wanna See What the 2nd Half of the Century Looks Like?

Well, this is it.   The green bits and blue bits are the lucky places.   Yellow through violet are where it's going to be really tough to survive.   This is a picture of global mega-drought.  It comes from the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research.  These models are based on the 'moderate' model from the IPCC.   That is based on atmospheric CO2 concentrations of 500 ppm by 2050 and 700 by 2100.  But, given the way we're going, we're actually headed for 1000 ppm by 2100 so the horrible drought map below may actually be a rosey projection.  Click on chart for larger version.

Now to give you a better perspective of this map, the worst drought in recent memory was in the sub-Saharan Sahel region.   It ranged between a -3 and -4 on this scale.   By mid-century we're looking at some very heavily populated areas including the Mediterranean basin, much of central United States and Latin America rocketing into the -10 to -15 range.   The orange and red bits will be merely heavily stressed.

By the way, the NCAR sees the global drought actually showing up beginning around 2030.   No one is going to escape the fallout from this.   See all those glowing parts of the United States?   Well the people who live in those parts are going to be looking for other places to live.   That means massive climate migration.    Now, look at that map again.  If you lived in the American south or west, where would you be headed?

NAACP Links Tea Party to Racist, Fascist Groups

The NAACP has released a 94 page report detailing the cozy relationship that exists between various branches of the Tea Party movement and white supremacist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and anti-immigrant groups.  The study examines six "core" Tea Party organizations: FreedomWorks Tea Party, 1776 Tea Party, Tea Party Nation, Tea Party Patriots, ResistNet, and the Tea Party Express.   From AlterNet:

Citing one of the links between the movement and extremists, the report says Dale Robertson, the chairman of the 1776 Tea Party, invited Martin "Red" Beckman to be a guest on the Tea Party Radio hour that he co-hosts. Beckman, who was introduced as a "great guy" and "an authority on the Constitution" has been publishing anti-Semitic writings for over twenty years.

Moreover, the report claims that Robertson endorsed a pastor who believes that Jews are a "satanic force" and that "people of color" are less than fully human."

...The report also details the relationship between the white supremacist group the Council of Conservative Citizens and the Tea Party movement.

"The Council of Conservative Citizens promotes the idea that the United States is or should be a white Christian nation; and that Barack Obama and black people generally oppress white people," page 60 of the report describes.

...Anti-Muslim rhetoric and Islamophobia also permeate the ranks of the Tea Party, says the report.

"We are at a point of having to take a stand against all Muslims," the ResistNet Tea Party website claimed. "There is no good or bad Muslim. There is [sic] only Muslims and they are embedded in our government, military and other offices...What more must we wait for to take back this country of ours."

My take?  This is almost inevitable when the political centre drifts too far right and society's keel, its moderator, the middle class is eliminated as an effective force.   The middle class is the driving force of genuine progressivism.  Knock it out and you can feed what remains a rich diet of frustration, fear and anger and - voila! - the Tea Party.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Relentless March of the Oligarchs

If you don't believe progressive democracy is under attack, you need to read how mega-billionaire muscle is collaborating with the far Right media to skew the 2010 elections.  This piece from AlterNet is an eye opener.  Follow the links, read the documents.  With the world facing severe, potentially existential threats, this is an insight into what we're up against.

Drought Notice - For the Planet

The U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research has released a study that warns our world could be in the throes of serious and widespread drought by as early as 2030.  The report states that, for much of the world, drought could become the dominant climate impact throughout this century.

According to Reuters, the industrialized west won't escape this one:

Some of the world's most populous areas -- southern Europe, northern Africa, the western U.S. and much of Latin America -- could face severe, even unprecedented drought by 2100, researchers said on Tuesday.

...To get an idea of how severe the drought might get, scientists use a measure called the Palmer Drought Severity Index, or PDSI. A positive score is wet, a negative score is dry and a score of zero is neither overly wet nor dry.

As an example, the most severe drought in recent history, in the Sahel region of western Africa in the 1970s, had a PDSI of -3 or -4

By contrast, the new study indicates some areas with high populations could see drought in the -15 or -20 range by the end of the century

"Historical PDSI for the last 60 years show a drying trend over southern Europe but nothing like those values at the end of this century," study author Aiguo Dai said in answer to e-mailed questions. "Decadal mean values of PDSI have not reached -15 to -20 levels in the past in any records over the world."

Canada, Russia and other high-northern latitude countries are expected to avoid the drought and may even become wetter but it's not all good news for the True North either:

"The high-latitude land areas will experience large changes in terms of warmer temperatures and more precipitation, and thus may indeed become more habitable than today," he wrote. "However, limited sunshine, short growing season, and very cold nighttime temperature will still prevent farming over most of these high-latitude regions."

Of course.  Why didn't I think of that?   Climate change isn't going to affect the earth's axis of rotation so the notion of the far north turning into a rich agricultural breadbasket for the future is nonsense.  Not only is a lot of that area Canada Shield granite, permafrost or poor, weak soil but the earth's rotation means it won't have the requisite amounts of sunshine and long growing seasons needed for intensive agriculture.  Shit, oh dear!  Well maybe we'll develop a hankering for tundra soup.

But wait a minute.  If this drought could begin hammering the earth in just 20-years, what does that mean for us?  Believe me, twenty years goes by very quickly.   In the context of government planning and action, it's barely a heartbeat.  Isn't it about time our Petro-Pols on Parliament Hill pulled their heads out of the sand and started figuring out what to do about this?

Stiglitz Counsels Stimulus, Not Austerity - Beware the "Confidence Fairy"

What is it about the Nobel Prize that makes economists think alike?   After all, Stephen Harper is an economist (sort of), he was never even nominated for a Nobel for his (non-existent) work in economics, and yet he sees the global economy and Canada's for that matter entirely differently than guys like Joe Stiglitz and Paul Krugman.

These Nobel Prize winning economists believe this is no time to introduce austerity budgets.  Krugman has been saying so in The New York Times for months.   Stiglitz is saying the same thing in today's Guardian:

The Keynesian policies in the aftermath of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy were a triumph of economic theory. In Europe, the US and Asia, the stimulus packages worked. Those countries that had the largest (relative to the size of their economy) and best-designed packages did best. China, for instance,maintained growth at a rate in excess of 8%, despite a massive decline in exports. In the US the stimulus was both too small and poorly designed – 40% of it went on household tax cuts, which were known not to provide much bang for the buck – and yet unemployment was reduced from what it otherwise would have been – over 12% – to 10%.

Britain, and the world, cannot afford not to have another stimulus. We cannot afford austerity. In a better world, we might rightfully debate the size of the public sector. Even now there should be a debate about how government spends its money. But today cutbacks in spending will weaken Britain, and even worsen its long-term fiscal position relative to well-designed government spending.

There is a shortage of aggregate demand – the demand for goods and services that generates jobs. Cutbacks in government spending will mean lower output and higher unemployment, unless something else fills the gap. Monetary policy won't. Short-term interest rates can't go any lower, and quantitative easing is not likely to substantially reduce the long-term interest rates government pays – and is even less likely to lead to substantial increases either in consumption or investment. If only one country does it, it might hope to gain an advantage through the weakening of its currency; but if anything the US is more likely to succeed in weakening its currency against sterling through its aggressive quantitative easing, worsening Britain's trade position.

  cutbacks in investments in education, technology and infrastructure will be even more costly in future. For they will spell lower growth – and lower revenues. Indeed, higher unemployment itself, especially if it is persistent, will result in a deterioration of skills, in effect the destruction of human capital, a phenomena which Europe experienced in the eighties and which is called hysteresis.

 Matters may be even worse if consumers and investors realise this. Advocates of austerity believe that mystically, as the deficits come down, confidence in the economy will be restored and investment will boom. 

...Austerity converts downturns into recessions, recessions into depressions. The confidence fairy that the austerity advocates claim will appear never does, partly perhaps because the downturns mean that the deficit reductions are always smaller than was hoped.

...Critics say government won't spend the money well. To be sure, there will be waste – though not on the scale that the private sector in the US and Europe wasted money in the years before 2008. But even if money is not spent perfectly, if experience of the past is a guide to the future, the returns on government investments in education, technology and infrastructure are far higher than the government's cost of capital

Stiglitz is right.  Krugman is right.   But Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty know better.  They know its best to gamble on the same conventional political wisdom that got the developed world in this hole in the first place.   Guys like Krugman and Stiglitz saw the global meltdown coming and warned anyone who would listen but so what?

The past couple of years have been less than stellar for the Parliament of Canada and not just the Tories.  Liberals have plenty to be ashamed of.   As the recession loomed and Harper prorogued Parliament, Ignatieff took it as an extended school holiday and devoted his time to writing an invaluable history of his mother's family.  

The Liberals had months in which they could have and should have been hammering out a stimulus initiative of their own, a package ready to present to the public when Parliament reconvened.   And so the Harvard schoolboy went back to school without his homework.  Harper unveiled his laughable, even pathetic stimulus budget and a woefully unprepared opposition could do little but back it, cloaking their incompetence by pompous nonsense about putting Harper "on probation."

Like the Americans, we handled the stimulus very poorly.  The lack of vision and leadership at the federal level, on both sides of the aisle, among every party was breathtaking.   Instead of identifying where we could get the best bang for the buck, how we could invest those deficits in assets - think education, think technology, think infrastructure - so as to reap a tangible, fiscal return for years or decades to come, our political parties offloaded that responsibility on provincial and municipal governments and tossed the rest away for home improvements.

Now, instead of taking the measure of the building global economic uncertainty and the rising prospect of both currency and trade wars, Mr. Ignatieff and his gang are using the deficit as a political football, hypocritically attacking Harper for the very spending they demanded and approved.  In taking this tack, instead of listening to wiser voices coming from people like Stiglitz and Krugman, the IgLibs are fueling Harper's drive for austerity when they ought to be attacking it.   One thing both Harper and Ignatieff have powerfully demonstrated over the past two years is that neither one of them is remotely fit to lead our country.

Those Wacky Americans

Okay, it's not as though Canada doesn't have its fair share of nutjobs in high office, the type who believe man walked with dinosaurs, the earth is 6,000 years old and that god is going to Rapture them up to heaven just as soon as they can trigger Armageddon in the Holy Land.  We do.   We call them the Conservative government.

But somehow Canada's political, lunatic fringe just doesn't come up to the standards of America's.   Down there, "moron" seems to be a prized qualification for high office.  Think of Dan Quayle.   He made it to the vice presidency.  He was one assassin's bullet away from having his finger on the nuclear trigger.

Then there's Sarah Palin whose entire body of political thought is scribbled on the palm of her hand.    She can say just about anything (and she does) without denting her political support base.   She lies and fudges and just makes shit up - and it doesn't matter.  Now Sarah is the patron saint of the Tea Party movement, a phenomenon that conveniently opened up for her just in time for her 2012 presidential campaign.

Another prominent voice of the Tea Party movement is the Ditz from Delaware,  Christine O'Donnell.   She's the Republican candidate contesting the senate seat formerly held by Joe Biden.   Yesterday she debated her Democratic opponent at a Delaware law school.  O'Donnell rocked the house when she attacked her rival for claiming the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provided for the separation of church and state.  From The Guardian:

O'Donnell asked: "Where in the constitution is the separation of church and state?"

Not only is the first amendment perhaps the most famous part of the constitution but the "establishment clause", as it is known, is the subject of legal precedent stretching back into the 19th century. No less an authority than Thomas Jefferson declared the clause's aim to build "a wall of separation between church and state".

Christine O'Donnell is a living, breathing gaffe.   She has been all her life.   There was a time when people as dumb as O'Donnell might be sleeping in the public square or sweeping the public square but would never, ever be found speaking in the public square.

Should politics really be an equal opportunity employer for the ignorant?   No, it shouldn't.   There's simply too much at stake today to line our legislatures with the ignorant, the wilfully obtuse or those who want to lash our societies tightly to their religious fantasies.   You don't have to be highly educated to have wisdom but you ought to have demonstrated, proven wisdom to have your name placed on a ballot.  It's like the computer guys say, "garbage in, garbage out." 

Now I realize I may be sounding like an elitist.   Well, I am.   I want the best and brightest to hold the offices where we need the best and brightest.    As I said earlier, that doesn't necessarily mean the most highly educated.  I've known plenty of highly educated people who, frankly, couldn't find their ass with both hands.

While I'm on the subject I also want those offices completely off-limits to those jackasses who want to inject their religious myths into my country's laws, my way of life.  That's simply subversive.   If they want to form a theocratic party, why do they lurk in the shadows of what are supposed to be secular, inclusive political institutions?

I do hold religious views, beliefs if you will.   But my religious beliefs are no more and no less valid than any held by radical fundamentalists of any stripe.   My religious beliefs have no place being interwoven into the fabric of my nation.  Neither do theirs.

And Who Do We Think We Are - Nero?

Asia has been hammered by flooding this year but is that such a bad thing?   After all, floods are a solution to drought, no?  Well, no.  Except for a few spots like the lower Nile valley where gentle, seasonal floods both irrigated and fertilized swathes of farmland, flooding is normally a curse.

Flood waters are inundations that race toward the sea.   Little floodwater ever trickles down into empty aquifers.  Floods tend to ruin the areas they inundate, destroying settlements and killing livestock and sometimes people.   They can ruin crops already in the ground or leave the land unsuitable for planting.   And floods are a scourge that just keeps on giving long after the floodwaters recede.

A couple of articles from the UN Humanitarian Affairs news service, IRIN, illustrate what can befall flood victims after the deluge passes.   In the African state of Chad flooding has struck the capital.  That has not only displaced thousands but the floodwaters have engulfed household wells and toilets, contaminating the local water supply with cholera.  Not only do people have to make their way through the sometimes neck-deep waters but some of the displaced have no choice but to use well water that is often contaminated.

You've probably heard something of the floods that hit Bangladesh recently.  They also have sanitation-related problems but what they're struggling with at the moment are mosquito-borne diseases, dengue fever and malaria.   A lot of Bangladeshis, mainly poor, lost everything including their homes, their beds and, of course, their mosquito netting.  Now having to cope with the logistical nightmare of the displaced they're also finding the shops have run out of mosquito nets.

Here's the deal.   If you believe the escalation in frequency and severity of severe weather events such as droughts, floods, and storm surges is tied to global warming, anthropogenic or man-made global warming, then we, the rich neighbours and the major emitters of greenhouse gases, are giving our poor neighbours a real shitkicking.   We have a direct responsibility to these people and that includes a duty to furnish them with aid and assistance to cope with these scourges and a moral obligation to change our ways to at least try to keep their plight from getting worse, much worse.   We owe it to them and we owe it to ourselves.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How Afghan Elections are Won

Ah, isn't democracy a beautiful thing?  Courtesy of Brave New Foundation.  And we're losing our soldiers' lives for this?

Campbell Government Aides Plead Guilty to Corruption Charges

Two BC Liberal government aides surprised observers by quietly pleading guilty to corruption charges regarding the sale of BC Rail.  Robert Virk and David Basi wrangled a plea deal that has them dodging jail time in favour of two years less a day of house arrest.

As the guilty pleas short-circuited the criminal trial that was to have received evidence from several BC Liberal officials and cabinet ministers the provincial NDP is calling for an enquiry to get to the bottom of what actually happened.   From The Tyee:

"Are the taxpayers on the hook for Basi and Virk's legal bills? If so that's outrageous," NDP MLA Leonard Krog said in an interview. "If you're found guilty as a government employee, why should the taxpayers pay for your defence."

Krog says ending the trial without testimony from several former cabinet ministers and government insiders is a "complete shock" that makes an inquiry essential.

As part of the plea bargain, money laundering charges were dropped.   With the BC Il-Liberal government up to its neck in scandals and the premier's popularity at a less than impressive 9% it would be understandable that the government would appreciate any deal that avoided senior members having to testify.

The Greatest Nuclear Proliferation Threat? Korea? Iran? No, Try Pakistan.

It won't please just whoever is in power in Islamabad these days but the White House Coordinator for WMD Counterterrorism and Arms Control Gary Samore has pronounced Pakistan to be the greatest nuclear nonproliferation challenge facing the Obama administration.

"The thing that keeps me up at night? Pakistan. This is a country that is facing very serious internal and external security threats, has a dysfunctional political system [and] is seeking to expand its nuclear weapons program."

From the Global Security Newswire:

Samore said the United States has been "lucky" that nuclear war has not erupted between Pakistan and its atomically armed rival India, or that the civilian government in Islamabad has not lost control of its stockpile. However, "things could go very badly in South Asia very quickly," he said during a panel discussion at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 

"We have extremely limited policy tools to affect that," he told the audience. "We can't occupy countries and hope to secure all of their nuclear material. That's really beyond our capacity."

Samore later admitted his nightmare scenario is a "toss-up" between Pakistan falling into political chaos and North Korea selling its nuclear material and expertise to other countries.

North Korea and Pakistan are among only a "handful" of nations that hold nuclear materials and face the threat of government collapse, Samore said. The challenges such states pose to the international nonproliferation regime, though, are "very, very dramatic," he argued.

Getting Tired of Myth America

Americans love to mythologize their history.  That proclivity has played a vital role in maintaining their cherished notion of American exceptionalism.  

Witness the myth that they won the War of 1812, the war the United States declared for the specific purpose of conquering and annexing Canada.   Oh sure they had ten times our population and vastly better lines of communication and all sorts of tactical advantages but we drove them out, repeatedly, didn't we?  We're not still here because they wanted it that way.  Remember that when you get the great barrage of triumphalism from south of the border when the war's bicentennial arrives in just two years.

Canada was America's first war of aggression and conquest, its very first foreign war, and it ended the way a lot of their foreign wars have been ending lately.   I guess when you get your ass handed to you on a platter a little mythological salve is okay.   We'll look the other way.   But only up to a point.

For some strange reason, American politicians since 9/11 have repeatedly clung to the myth that the 9/11 terrorists got into the U.S. via lax security at the Canadian border.   Now, with the midterm Congressional elections nearing they're at it again.   Naturally it's coming from the shallow end of the gene pool, a Tea Partier.

The Chicken Lady, Sharon Angle who is running against fellow Nevadan Harry Reid came up with this zinger:   “what we know is our northern border is where the terrorists came through.”  Ambassador Gary Doer has written to this ditz to set the record straight.  Yet it's become a bit tedious.   Other prominent Americans who've spewed this same nonsense include Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano, John McCain and Newt Gingrich.  I'm sure there have been others, plenty of them.

When will Americans figure out that it was their government that issued visas allowing every one of the 9/11 hijackers to come right through the front door?

By the way, I'm dusting off my own collection of War of 1812 artifacts in preparation for the bicentennial.   To me, that was the most important war Canada ever fought and won.  If we had lost it, I or my brother might well have been drafted to fight in Vietnam and you and I might now be living with the likes of Glenn Beck, the Patriot Act and the Tea Party.  When you think about it, you owe a real debt of gratitude to those British regulars, our Canadian militiamen who fought with the Voltigeurs, the Canadian Fencibles, the Glengarry Light Infanty and smaller Canadian forces and heroes like Isaac Brock, Charles de Salaberry and the "Green Tiger" himself, James Fitzgibbon.

Monday, October 18, 2010

HarperLand - Is It Too Late to Save Canadian Democracy?

Just how much damage has Stephen Harper caused the PMO and Canadian democracy and can we really expect his successor to undo the damage?   This dark question is posed by Crawford Kilian writing in The Tyee.  What begins as a review of Lawrence Martin's Harperland turns into speculation of whether Harper's successor will simply continue Furious Leader's excesses:

"...the really depressing aspect of Martin's book is this: After all these years of watching [Harper] in action, a third of us still support him. 

Think about that. Anyone can see how he's attacked the values and institutions of 20th-century Canada. He promised "transparency" and delivered an information clampdown Stalin would have admired. He sent Canadians into harm's way in Afghanistan, and then smeared Richard Colvin for saying our troops were handing prisoners over to torturers. He sacked, or drove from office, the brilliant people who ran AECL and StatsCan, because they told inconvenient truths.

This is the kind of culture-war wedge politics that Nixon exploited in the 1960s and 70s. It has become routine in the U.S. since then because some American cultures intensely dislike other American cultures.

Similarly Harper has attracted plenty of Canadians who despise other Canadians. Many are willing to run as Conservatives for a seat in his emasculated Parliament. His senior public servants have decided their careers are more important than their country, and go along with him. Canadian reporters let him frame the issues. So do the opposition parties."

 Kilian warns there's no reason to accept on blind faith that even someone like Ignatieff might not find Harper's abuses of democracy quite convenient or far easier to continue than to dismantle.  I think it's a legitimate point, one that needs to be addressed before, not after, we have a change of government.   The Liberal rank and file need to do a little soul searching and obtain concrete commitments from their man that he won't settle in to Harper's status quo but will break the shackles Harper has used to bind our democracy.

The Real Conquest of Iraq - By Iran.

Stephen Harper castigated Jean Chretien for not allowing Canada to play a part in the theatrical farce of George w. Bush's conquest of Iraq.    As events are (quite predictably) unfolding today it's apparent that Harper's policy would have yielded nothing more than a stream of flag-draped coffins and funeral corteges driving along the 401 highway.

In recent days this blog has examined the unraveling circumstances that threaten the stability, perhaps even the unity, of a post-America Iraq and the cost, in lives and treasure, to hang a dictator.   Today, The Guardian has an exclusive account of how America's current bete noire, Iran, has brokered a behind-the-scenes deal for a pro-Tehran government in Baghdad.

"Iran has brokered a critical deal with its regional neighbours that could see a pro-Tehran government installed in Iraq, a move that would shift the fragile country sharply away from a sphere of western influence.

The Guardian can reveal that the Islamic republic was instrumental in forming an alliance between Iraq's Nouri al-Maliki, who is vying for a second term as prime minister, and the country's powerful radical Shia cleric leader, Moqtada al-Sadr.

The deal – which involved Syria, Lebanon's Hezbollah and the highest authorities in Shia Islam – positions Maliki as a frontrunner to return as leader despite a seven-month stalemate between Iraq's feuding political blocs."

According to the British newspaper, the Tehran-Baghdad pact features a promise by Maliki to have all British and American forces out of Iraq by the end of next year.

"It is understood that the full withdrawal of all US troops after a security agreement signed between Baghdad and Washington at the end of 2011 was also sought by Sheikh Nasrallah.

"Maliki told them he will never extend, or renew [any bases] or give any facilities to the Americans or British after the end of next year," a source said.

The Americans don't like to talk about it but a key motive for toppling Saddam was to relocate America's military bases from Saudi Arabia, where they were destabilizing the regime, to a more acquiescent state - post-Saddam Iraq.   Asia Times Online has called the myth of the successful American surge the Petraeus Village, a take on the idea of a Potemkin Village.  It's hard to argue with that one.

Christ, and to think Stephen Harper wanted Canada to jump into this bloody mess!

It's the End of the Line - Act Immediately or Face Mass Extinctions

Many people "get" the reality of global warming and the associated host of other ecological threats.  But, of those, there are many who either think it's hopeless or are "wait and seers" and don't necessarily support prompt and potentially disruptive action.

Well the word from the United Nations "Convention on Biological Diversity" has opened its 12-day summit with a plain warning - we must take immediate action to stop the accelerating loss of animal and plant species and their habitat or face near-term, man-made mass extinctions.

"The time to act is now and the place to act is here,"  CBD executive secretary Ahmed Djoghlaf said, describing the summit as a  ""defining moment" in the history of mankind, reports the Agence France Presse.

Scientists say climate change and human population pressures are destroying ecosystems such as tropical forests and coral reefs as well as animal and plant species. A recent report by WWF warned that the world's 6.8 billion humans were living 50% beyond its sustainable means in 2007 and that, at current rates, a second Earth will be needed by 2030 to meet the planet's needs.

The indifference of our political leadership from every party is bewildering.   Can they not see what's happening or grasp what that means?   Do they really think Canadians will be immune to the fallout from this?

We're nearing the end of the line.   It's even visible to our satellites.   Take deforestation, a key destroyer of animal and plant habitat.   Some places are logging off valuable lumber where it really shouldn't be taken at all.   In other places the forests are being cleared for space to farm biofuels.   Still other places, like Western Canada, are seeing forests ravaged by climate-change induced infestations of pests like the Lodge Pole Pine beetle.

You don't need to grasp the intricacies of climate change science to understand the widespread destruction of coral reefs and the vital role those reefs play in sustaining marine biodiversity.   You don't need a university degree to understand that we're steadily collapsing our fish stocks, one after another.

Unless you're one of these weird shits that believes the earth is 6,000  years old and embraces apocalyptic visions of the Rapture (oops, I really didn't mean to slag the Conservative government), the need to act is obvious.   It's not a matter of throwing ten or twenty million dollars to research programmes or eco-organizations.   It's a matter of resolving to do whatever it takes to arrest the devastation of our planet's biodiversity.

“Biodiversity underpins the health of the planet and has a direct impact on all our lives. Put simply, reduced biodiversity means millions of people face a future where food supplies are more vulnerable to pests and disease and where water is in irregular or short supply,” said James Leape, WWF International’s Director General.

“No one can escape the impact of biodiversity loss because reduced global diversity translates quite clearly into fewer new medicines, greater vulnerability to natural disasters and greater effects from global warming.”

So, what are the chances of meaningful action resulting from the Nagoya summit?  According to Der Spiegel, the odds are pretty lousy.   Once again the world is looking to the U.S. for leadership and, once again, America appears utterly indifferent.