Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

And, in the spirit of the season, this from the legendary humanitarian, Ricky Gervais:

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Don't Hate Conservatives, Their Brains Just Don't Work Right

Actually their brains do work right, sort of.  A study by University College London has found the brains of conservatives are quite different from those of liberals.

Scientists have found that people with conservative views have brains with larger amygdalas, almond shaped areas in the centre of the brain often associated with anxiety and emotions.

On the otherhand, they have a smaller anterior cingulate, an area at the front of the brain associated with courage and looking on the bright side of life.

The "  exciting"  correlation was found by scientists at University College London who scanned the brains of two members of parliament and a number of students.

They found that the size of the two areas of the brain directly related to the political views of the volunteers. 

So let's stop getting so angry at cons.  It's not their fault their amygdalas, their fear receptors, are so damned big.  They're born cowards.  And it's not our fault either that they also got dealt a puny anterior cingulate, the courage generator.  It's no wonder with brains wired for a surplus of fear and a deficiency of courage that these people flock to a thug like Stephen Harper.  They're his for the plucking.  It's not their fault, they were born that way.

According to, conservatives are reacting to the study quite predictably - by claiming that evidence of their enlarged amygdalas (the fear centre) is proof of their mental superiority, conveniently ignoring the matter of their shrunken anterior cingulate cortex (the bravery centre).

Predictably, conservatives have jumped on both studies as an indication of their biological superiority. Across the right-leaning blogosphere and twitterverse, DRD4 was cited as the underlying cause of the "mental illness" known as liberalism; and some conservative tweeters have even tried to claim that the enlarged amygdala just means that conservatives "have bigger brains." Of course, the first claim begs the question, and the second ignores the shrunken anterior cingulate.

While the extent of the differences is still unclear, the biology of politics has begun to confirm that those differences are real.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

NATO - One Foot In the Boat, One Foot On the Dock

And the boat, it seems, is sailing and Washington has the helm.  By some troubling accounts, the Obama administration may be poised to succeed where the Bush regime could not, in co-opting NATO as its permanent Foreign Legion.

Asia Times' M K Bhadrakumar, a former diplomat in India's foreign service, warns that the idea that Washington is looking for an exit strategy to leave Afghanistan is an illusion.  He argues that the recently reborn NATO Mark 2 is poised to maintain a permanent and powerful presence in what once we considered the most distant corners of the world:

 Quite obviously, the alliance is well on the way to transforming into a global political-military role, and it is forward-looking. There are skeptical voices still that in an era of European austerity, a question mark ought to be put on the alliance's ambitions. European cutbacks in military deployment and rigorous savings programs in defense budgets should not be overplayed, either. NATO is by far today the most powerful military and political alliance in the world.

The US has always been the main provider of the alliance's budget - almost 75% currently - as well as its " hard power."    The perceived widening of the US-Europe " divide",   however, presents a complex scenario as regards the alliance's evolution as a security organization in the 21st century.

As NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen underlined at the Lisbon summit, " The United States would look elsewhere for its security partner."   A kind of " division of labor"   in international interventions becomes necessary for the US. The Iraq war showed that it is already happening.

The various partnership programs of NATO in Central Asia and the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Mediterranean regions can be viewed as part of the overall approach to take recourse to other states or groups of states to promote the Euro-Atlantic interests globally.

...The core task will be to defend Europe and ensure the collective security of its 28 members, while the Strategic Concept envisages NATO's prerogative to mount expeditionary operations globally.

The document explicitly says, " Where conflict prevention proves unsuccessful, NATO will be prepared and capable to manage ongoing hostilities. NATO has unique conflict-management capacities, including the unparalleled capability to deploy and sustain robust military forces in the field."

The article points out that NATO's muscular global reach comes at an awkward moment when America's and Europe's historical dominance is confronted by the ascendant giants - particularly China, India and Russia.   For some reason, we seem intent on playing in their backyard.   And we'll be doing it on NATO's terms, not the UNs.

From a seemingly reluctant arrival in Afghanistan seven years ago in an "out-of-area" operation as part of the UN-mandated ISAF [International Security Assistance Force], with a limited mandate, NATO is suo moto stepping out of the ISAF, deepening its presence and recasting its role and activities on a long-term basis. South Asian security will never be the same again.

To quote Zbigniew Brzezinski, " Whether they are "  rising peacefully"   (a self-confident China), truculently (an imperially nostalgic Russia) or boastfully (an assertive India, despite its internal multiethnic and religious vulnerabilities), they all desire a change in the global pecking order. The future conduct of an relationship among these three still relatively cautious revisionist powers will further intensify the strategic uncertainty."

From a seemingly reluctant arrival in Afghanistan seven years ago in an "out-of-area" operation as part of the UN-mandated ISAF [International Security Assistance Force], with a limited mandate, NATO is suo moto stepping out of the ISAF, deepening its presence and recasting its role and activities on a long-term basis. South Asian security will never be the same again.

At the Lisbon summit, NATO and Afghanistan signed a declaration as partners. The UN didn't figure in this, and it is purely bilateral in content. The main thrust of the declaration is to affirm their "  long-term partnership" and to build "  a robust, enduring partnership which complements the ISAF security mission and continues beyond it."

Does this explain why certain Canadian politicians have pushed for Canada to retain a toehold in Afghanistan, pointless as that seems?  Have we signaled, from both the Conservative and Liberal ranks, that Canada is onside with this "enduring" (i.e. indefinite) military adventure in South Asia?   Is this Michael Ignatieff's definition of "muscular foreign policy"?   Is this radical policy shift something that was appropriately done with a wink and a nod by the prime minister and opposition leader?

If this is the direction NATO is headed and if Canada has signed on for the voyage, that would be news to a lot of Canadians and it would seem to ignore their, by now, clearly and repeatedly stated opposition to the ongoing Afghan mission.

How the Man From Mars Would See Canadian Democracy

British Columbia has a rich history of producing cantankerous old men, gruff and outspoken.  One of today's classics is Rafe Mair, former lawyer, Social Credit cabinet minister, radio talk show host and now senior columnist for The Tyee.

In Monday's Tyee, Mair admitted he's a Liberal in a country that has forgotten what that is supposed to mean.  He then explains how the MFM - or Man From Mars - would see Canada and our democracy.   Here are a few examples:

A visiting Man from Mars would see a talk shop with the semblance of popular control but would observe that it was an illusion. The only person with less impact on decision making than opposition backbenchers are those on the government benches. He would see a Canadian system which since 1873 has only seen one government, federal or provincial, fall when it had a majority -- and that before party discipline had taken hold. The notion of "responsible" government, where a majority government is actually subject to the parliament is a hoax in the same class as a belief in Santa Claus.

...Our Man from Mars would look at how we run our business affairs and would be struck by the way large pools of capital form themselves into corporations that can't be controlled. How would we expect them to be controlled when the people who want nice comfy laws finance the governing party which makes up the rules?

...MFM would see that when corporations are held to account by some government or hearing or another that the fix is in. He would note the British Columbia environmental public hearings and stifle a guffaw as he sees how the government and the corporation are in partnership to stifle any questions that go to the root of the matter by calling them out of order. He would no doubt see that the only difference between China and Canada in this regard is the Canada holds hearings that don't matter and China simply doesn't hold meetings.

Our Man from Mars would see that labour unions, once a strong factor in the business community,  ...are largely unable to do much more than unions in the old Soviet Union could do. The private sector's principal source of labour now comes from cheap labour in foreign countries where the workers are worse off than a coal miner in 19th century England, so that local workers are happy to have any job whatever the pay and conditions.

MFM would see how the law prevents citizens to protest by permitting corporations to turn a common law action into a criminal act of " contempt" and throw the protesters in jail.

 And finally, and fittingly, Mair turns his attention to the weeds in his own backyard - press freedom in a nation that has tolerated the corporatization of its final bastion of democratic freedom.

Freedom of the press is, or rather was, the bulwark against oppression. It is called the " fourth estate"   because in the 18th century Edmund Burke saw the press as the proper force against abuse by the three " estates"   of government, the House of Commons, The House of Lords, and the Clergy.

To maintain this freedom has not been easy, and now it has all but disappeared, because the newspapers, TV and radio are controlled by big business which defends itself and the government that supports it by censorship in two ways: owners only hire publishers and editors that permit the official " truth"   to be uttered, and journalists who want to survive self-censor in order to keep their jobs.

A good example is in British Columbia.

From 1991-2001 the NDP government was rigorously held to account by media outlets. One columnist almost alone exposed a huge government debacle over some expensive and unsuitable ferries. This was scarcely the only issue where the government's feet were held firmly to the fire.

From 2001-1010 a " corporation"   party, the Liberals, have been given a free ride by the media with only this paper and one or two other " outside"  outlets providing free speech where writers like me and many better ones can write what they want subject only to the laws of defamation.

You Liberals may think that Mair is a raving socialist, not one of your own kind.  In fact, he's the real Liberal, not the modern party and its leaders and supporters who have meekly yielded to the convenience and benefits of corporatism.  And Mair is dead right on the demise of  press freedom from the scourges of concentration of ownership and cross-ownership, the keys to corporate control that stifles voices and filters opinion.

Corporatism has run absolutely amok in the US and, once again, while we lag well behind we're trending in the same direction but you'll never hear the very word "corporatism" crossing the lips of today's political leadership.   What we see instead is a society degraded by their betrayals, its cohesion eroded and rent by the powerful elixir of lies and wedge politics.   Does it not tell you Liberals In Name Only (LINOs) something that, in a country so badly in need of reform on so many fronts, your leadership offers up meaningless pap about arts funding or daycare?

If you think I'm making this up, go back to the roster of speakers at Iggy's "thinkers' conference" and find out how many of those supposed thinkers were CEO's and management consultants.   Just go through the list, tally them up, and then draw your own conclusions.

I think I agree with Mair that being a Liberal today is best served by keeping the party itself at arm's length where you'll find the MFM view.

Monday, December 27, 2010

My New Year's Resolution

This year I am resolved to work to find ways to arrest the steady Americanization of my country.   The United States is, to Canada, a black hole that, unless we begin to change course, will soon exert an irresistible pull on us.

Money talks, whether in the US, Canada or anywhere else for that matter.  It always has, it always will.   However sometimes money talks too loudly, a bit too forcefully.  This often occurs when the interests of money and society conflict.

Money has been instrumental in degrading the very voice of society, democracy, in the United States.  It has achieved a "bought and paid for" Congress to do its bidding, undermining the financial, health, and environmental regulatory bulwarks that empower and defend society against the excesses of money.  The kingpins of money have asserted an alternative reality through control of communication and the dissemination of perverted messaging that leaps the divide from partisanship on into rank propaganda.   Money has restored segregation to the US, this time wealth and privilege-based instead of race-based (the latter no longer serving any useful purpose).   The growth in wealth and prosperity now accrues to the monied class just as landed nobles once asserted an exclusive right to take stags as they kept their serfs in a permanent state of penury.    Money has shuttered America's factories.  It has choked the bastion of American democracy, the middle class, and impressed it into the irons of debt.

This is what awaits our Canada unless we reject our current crop of leaders and their empty vision.  One by one they seek to tilt the helm to align our policies and practices to those of the US, warning us that if we don't we may not be able to share in America's promise and prosperity.  We risk being left behind. WhatSay What?

Left behind?  Great and the sooner and further, the better.   Canada needs to find its own course, the route that takes us where we want to go, where we need to be.   Traveling with our immensely larger neighbour has definite advantages and conveniences but it would be foolish to assume our paths are destined to be coterminous.  We need to understand the disadvantages and perils and see them as clearly as we see the benefits for, without that, we sacrifice perspective and balance.

America in the 21st century is no longer on the same heading as the America we knew in decades past, the America we grew accustomed to admiring and following.  We need to grasp those distinctions in order weigh the costs and consequences of continuing to blithely tag along.

We are already paying a real price for trying to stay lockstep with America's pace.   The gap between rich and poor is widening and accelerating and it should be no comfort that, in this, we're still well behind the US.  We are going in the same direction.   Under the mantra of needing to "stay competitive" we keep bringing our taxation, monetary and resource policies into line with America's.   For the sake of supposedly staying competitive we're even willing to allow the US to prescribe our border security practices to enhance not our security but theirs.   Staying competitive is beginning to take too large a bite out of our very sovereignty.

It would help immensely if we would always keep in mind that America has been many different things at different times.   The America we see today bears great distinctions from Americas past just as it will from the America that will be in two decades from now or the America of the late 21st century.   In my lifetime alone America has gone from an ascendant power to a leader of a multi-polar world to the master of a unipolar world to today's brink of descent at the advent of a new, multi-polar world.

As Andrew Bacevich and the late Chalmers Johnson point out, today's America, with but five per cent of the world's population, spends more on its military, industrial and civilian warfighting complex than the defence budgets of the rest of the world combined.   That is an act of desperation, not an expression of assured self-confidence.  That is an America given over to madness.   That is an America heading for the shoals of reckoning.   Yet this is the America for which we should contort our own country, our own society to conform?

We're sort of nudged into compliance with the notion that, if we don't conform, it will not go well for us.   Parting company with American policy will be painful for the Canadian people, our economy and our nation.  That is unquestionably true, but to what extent?  Here is where we return to the need for sound perspective and measured balance.

If we choose not to conform it won't go well for us.   But does that establish the corollary that, if we do conform, it will go well for us?  Of course not, that would be ludicrous to assume and yet we act on that very assumption.

Let's ask the simple question of how well are those American policies, to which our leaders tell us we must conform to "stay competitive", how well are they serving the American people?   The question practically answers itself.  It answers itself in the state of American healthcare.   It answers itself in America's bloated penitentiary system.   It answers itself in the epidemic of debilitating debt that infects the country at the federal, state, municipal, corporate and individual levels.  It answers itself in the burgeoning military, industrial and commercial warfighting complex.  It answers itself in the chasm of the rich-poor divide.   It answers itself in blue and white collar wage stagnation in the face of substantial productivity gains.   It answers itself in the demise of America's middle class and the collapse of social mobility.

It answers itself in America's pain.

If these policies are serving Americans so poorly, what outcomes do they hold for us if we allow our leaders to rejig Canadian society to conform to them for the sake of "staying competitive"?   America isn't staying competitive, with anyone.   That is manifest from its chronic balance of trade and balance of payment deficits, from its unending dependency on foreign borrowing, from its declining educational standards, from its emerging oligarchy, from its corrupt government and from the dismemberment of its system of checks and balances by a politicized judiciary.

It seems our leaders are incapable of the vision needed to lead Canadians to their own destiny.  They need role models to emulate.  Yet, for convenience, they choose perhaps the most dysfunctional.   I was drawn to an article in AlterNet, "America in Decline, Why Germans Think We're Insane."   It's another piece from an American ex-pat who had to go abroad in order to see America clearly.  It speaks volumes.

And so this New Year I resolve to do what I can to keep my country from embracing America's dementia.  It's a big job and we all have a lot of making up to do.   Any takers?

Friday, December 24, 2010

An Alternative To Petroleum Fuels?

Let's hope this works and let's hope it's scaleable.   Researchers at CalTech have developed a solar reactor that produces a liquid fuel that could be used in place of gasoline or diesel.   It's based on cerium, an element as abundant as copper.

Cerium reacts to heat by shedding its oxygen molecules.   As it cools it will draw oxygen molecules from water, releasing hydrogen.  Liquefy the hydrogen and you have a fine fuel for internal combustion engine technology that emits - no, not CO2, H20 - water.

The CalTech folks think this should be an affordable alternative to fossil fuels.  It could also erase the last refuge of fossil fuels - the transportation problem.  Cars and trucks can easily run on hydrogen.   The solar/cerium reactor may just fill the niche in the alternative fuel mix.

The Truth May Not Set You Free After All

You've probably heard about the recent study out of  the University of Maryland that found FOX News viewers to be more misinformed than those who received their news anywhere else and that the more a viewer watched FOX the more misinformed that viewer became.

It isn't hard to conclude that FOX and its clones are in the business of warping public opinion by feeding misinformation to their audiences.   Of course that's pernicious, diabolical even, but aren't these uber-right propaganda mills running a grave risk of losing those audiences if and when they discover the truth and that they have been had?   Here's the worrisome part - they're not.

A previous study out of the University of Michigan by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler found that the political misperceptions sown by outfits like FOX are extremely difficult to correct with factual information and, worse still, those who have been misled (brainwashed) may even deepen their misperceptions (dig in their heels) when presented with contrary, truthful information.  Nyhan and Reifler call this the "backfire effect."

When you couple the Nyhan/Reifler study to the University of Maryland research it pretty much erases any lingering doubt that some purported news outlets really are quite powerful misinformation agencies in service to some very anti-democratic interests.   They don't seek to inform merely from a particular partisan perspective but to confound, to confuse and mislead that segment of the electorate susceptible to their techniques.

We see the grotesque results of these techniques in the faces of the Tea Partiers or at Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck rallies.   When confronted with facts, clear truth, contrary to the misinformation they've been fed, they recoil angrily like vampires cast out into the noonday sun.   There you see the backfire effect in operation.   That is how you get blue collar workers riled up in support of tax cuts for the rich.   That is how you get ordinary people to see universal health care as an assault on their democratic freedoms.

Of course it's but a minority of the American public that is susceptible to this form of brainwashing.  The purveyors of this misinformation industry know that but, unlike the conservative Right that once coddled and colluded with them, the misinformers have always understood the enormous power of those they held in their sway.   David Frum referred to this when he quipped that the Bush Republicans thought that FOX News worked for them until they discovered that the tables had turned and they had come to serve FOX.

I suppose you can call it the "stampede effect" that we witnessed in full force in the 2008 mid-term elections.   The deliberately misinformed were herded into their own movement, the Tea Party, that rose up to capture several Republican congressional nominations from establishment candidates.   Faced with strong, Tea Party rivals, some, like John McCain, were compelled to jettison principle and integrity and adopt Tea Party platforms to save their political necks.

Of course you can't have a stampede without a herd of cattle and you can't form a herd without cowboys riding the range.   And, when it comes to this herd, the cowboys come with names like Hannity, Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Beck and Palin.  And of course the herd never suspects where the drovers are taking it - straight to the stockyards and slaughterhouses, the very abattoirs of democracy.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

F-35 Update - The Non-Stealthy Stealth Fighter

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has one, very costly advantage.   It is invisible to radar.  It's designed to have such a small radar cross-section that enemy aircraft won't be able to electronically detect it.  Of course that's a great thing to have but it's only relevant to actions against countries that field an air defence threat.  In Afghanistan, for example, it wouldn't make a hoot of difference.

The F-35 bomb truck, like its superlative fighter big brother, the F-22, uses a combination of shapes and materials to defeat X-band radars, until now the military standard around the world.   But the nations that produce the aircraft the F-35 would have to meet and defeat have come up with a work around, L-band radar.

What if a fighter aircraft was fitted with a sensor system, which operates outside the radar frequencies where X-band stealth is most effective?

Shaping is a critical aspect of stealth design, since the facets and aligned edges in stealth designs bounce hostile radar returns away from the radar producing them. A stealth design shaped to beat X-band radars will lose effectiveness in the lower S-band, and become even less effective in the L-band, performance becoming progressively worse as the operating band of the radar is moved away from the design target X-band.

If a fighter, which produces a tennis ball sized radar return in the X-band, produces a basketball or beachball sized radar return in a lower band, a sensor operating in that lower band nullifies the stealth capability. The fighter built with “narrowband” X-band stealth is no longer  difficult to detect and must fight it out using its aerodynamic capabilities alone.

If a sensor can bypass the stealth of the F-22A Raptor, this fighter still has sufficient aerodynamic performance to compete effectively in both Beyond Visual Range and close combat. The same is not true for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, since it is an overweight and underpowered design, incapable of competing aerodynamically against the newer Flanker variants, and completely outclassed by the latest supercruising Su-35S Flankers.

When you consider the realities of the F-35 in Canadian service, it's a grim picture.   The aircraft, if it is built at all, wouldn't enter Canadian service until about 2015.   Then we'd expect to rely on it for another 20-years, taking it up to 2035.  Meanwhile its potential adversaries will continue to field ever more sophisticated, more capable aircraft with much more effective radars and sensors.   For pilots having to take the F-35 into contested airspace under those conditions, life would be quite similar to those who flew Whitley and Hampdon bombers into the jaws of Messerschmidts in the opening days of WWII - exciting but brief.

Sometimes you can't wait until they're in combat to "support the troops."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Afghanistan - I Know, Let's Start All Over

Billions of dollars of Western aid to Afghanistan winds up in the hands of the Taliban, at least according to Australian counter-insurgency expert David Matthews.  He heads the counter-insurgency group at his country's Defence Science & Technology Organization.

Matthews argues that Western forces have blundered in their focus on reconstruction:

Nine years after the invasion of Afghanistan, the coalition had fallen into the trap of trying to impose a framework of centralised governance on a country which had no real history of strong central government, Dr Matthews said.

He pointed out that some of the most peaceful provinces were also the poorest.

''There was a belief that if you come in and build roads, schools or paint a governor's compound, all of a sudden everyone's going to be happy. In my personal view, it's spectacularly failed in Afghanistan,'' Dr Matthews said.
''Inadequate infrastructure is rarely a driver of poverty … Building a road or providing education is not necessarily going to generate goodwill.''

Well, shit, there goes Plan B.  We can't crush them with bombs and we can't put them out of business with schools and roads either.

''Insecurity is a massive driver of conflict and if we can create security, it often goes a long way. A lot of people are not dyed-in-the-wool, ideological insurgents. The local guys are making guesses based on risks and rewards.''

More Afghans were turning to Taliban judges for legal rulings on inheritance and debt.

'Even if there are justice mechanisms there at a local level, justice is available to the highest bidder in the main. This is at the top of the list everywhere we go.

''The Taliban are out-governing us in the justice sector, and that is a massive problem.''

Matthews said the best thing Western forces can do is to understand and tackle the causes of local conflict, such as tribalism.  Wait a minute, ten years down the road and now we're supposed to tackle tribalism?   The window of opportunity to suppress tribalism and warlordism slammed shut back in 2003, maybe 2004 at the latest.  If we were to try that now we'd be fighting the whole damned country not just the Taliban of the south.  I think there's a word for this in High German - oh yeah, we're "Gerfukt"

Saturday, December 18, 2010

If You Can't Win an Election Defending Canada Pension, You've Got No Business Being in Ottawa

Will the Liberals defend the Canada Pension Plan against the privatization ploys of Jim Flaherty?

During the summer Harper's favourite smurf agreed that a small increase in CPP premiums would be the best way to help Canadians save more for retirement.  Now, rather than enhancing the CPP, Harper & Co. want to go for a private investment plan, the Pooled Registered Pension Plan administered by the financial industry.

Doesn't this sound like Bush when he unsuccessfully pressed to privatize Social Security?   The PRPP has plenty of differences but it too invites the for-profit and often predatory financial industry into the Canadian public's retirement funds.

If you can't frame that issue in a way that resonates with Canadian voters, you should pack your bags and get the hell out of Ottawa.   And, yes Iggy I mean you.

Friday, December 17, 2010

FOX News, The More You Watch It, the Dumber You Get

And it's not coincidence and it sure as hell isn't accidental either.   A study by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland found Fox News viewers far more misinformed than those who got their news elsewhere and, better yet, the more viewers watched Fox, the more misinformed they became.

That's because Fox has precious little to do with information and almost everything to do with manipulating the gullible with misinformation.   Misinformation is what they convey and they do it quite deliberately to achieve a result - badly misinformed, hence easily manipulated, followers.  From AlterNet:

This study corroborates a previous PIPA study that focused on the Iraq war with similar results. And there was an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that demonstrated the break with reality on the part of Fox viewers with regard to health care. The body of evidence that Fox News is nothing but a propaganda machine dedicated to lies is growing by the day.

In eight of the nine questions below, Fox News placed first in the percentage of those who were misinformed (they placed second in the question on TARP). That’s a pretty high batting average for journalistic fraud. Here is a list of what Fox News viewers believe that just aint so:
  • 91 percent believe the stimulus legislation lost jobs
  • 72 percent believe the health reform law will increase the deficit
  • 72 percent believe the economy is getting worse
  • 60 percent believe climate change is not occurring
  • 49 percent believe income taxes have gone up
  • 63 percent believe the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts
  • 56 percent believe Obama initiated the GM/Chrysler bailout
  • 38 percent believe that most Republicans opposed TARP
  • 63 percent believe Obama was not born in the U.S. (or that it is unclear)
FOX is pernicious and ought to be investigated.  A great amount of money and power lies behind its campaign to warp the minds of Americans for the direct and specific advantage of those FOX serves.  We can mock the stooges gullible enough to fall for the FOX gang's transparent lies but we should see them as victims of a genuinely evil organization.

An Era Ends in Washington

In January when incoming Congressmen are sworn in it will usher in something Washington hasn't known since 1947.   When Representative Patrick Kennedy, an eight-term Congressman, retires it will be the first time in more than six decades that there's been no member of the Kennedy clan serving in the House, the Senate or the White House.

Patrick Kennedy, son of the late Edward Kennedy, wasn't even born when his uncle John was assassinated and was just 11-months old when Robert Kennedy was killed. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Just Sayin', That's All

I got dropped from Iggy's real Christmas list last year so I was a bit surprised to get an e-card from the Igster today.  It's not actually a Christmas card as such.  It's a "Happy Holidays" card with all the baby Jesus stuff left out.   Wouldn't want to offend anybody while folks are celebrating the birth of our Lord and Saviour.   That wouldn't be right.   So let's be politically correct and keep religion out of it entirely except let's toss in a dandy pair of Menorahs!  Now I could be wrong.  There's a little figure in there and I think it's Caspar the Friendly Ghost or a snow-covered Charlie Brown.   Could that be the Baby J hisself?  Nah, he'd have that little halo thing wouldn't he?

In any case I was pleased to have Michael so openly thank me for keeping the Liberal tradition strong in 2010.   Well, Mike, somebody had to.   Lord know there wasn't much of it to be seen up on Parliament Hill.

And a merry, merry, merry to you and yours too Mike.

Reuters Report - America, Sick Man of The World

Reuters has published a special report on the structural threats that beset America's economy and must be solved if the United States is to recover its place in the world.  It compares America's predicament today to the years when Germany was considered the "sick man of Europe" and finds lessons in how the Germans restored their country to its place today as an economic powerhouse.

Unfortunately, what worked to salvage Germany - vision, willpower and sacrifice - are qualities that America would have to relearn, attributes at odds with America's deeply divided society and disparate wellbeing.  In today's America the answers may be out of reach.

Because Canada's future is so tightly lashed to America's the Reuters report is well worth reading.    We have to realize what's coming long before it arrives.

How Do You Say "Buggered" In Irish?

Whatever it is, I'll bet that word is on the tip of the tongue of most Irishmen today as their country staggers on the brink a financial disaster that just won't go away.

Ireland recently relented and accepted an E.U. bailout but on terms that might make the IMF look like the Sally Anns.   According to Der Spiegel, the bailout is shifting the crushing burden of the rash profligacy of Ireland's banks from the speculators onto the backs of the Irish people.

The EU has failed to make the foreign bondholders take a hit on the losses from toxic real estate loans. In particular, the ECB insisted that the interests of the German, British and French banks would continue to be protected. Instead, Irish taxpayers are being asked to pay the bill: at a hefty interest rate of 5.8 percent, to ensure the foreign creditors will get their money back rather than face any losses.

That may be something German banks welcome, but it is a disaster for Ireland. And many economists now predicts that it is just a question of time before the country defaults. " This 'bailout' will sink the Republic,"   warns economist David McWilliams in the Belfast Telegraph. "  It is the EU giving us enough rope to hang ourselves in the hope that we don't hang all of them."

If Ireland fully exhausts the EU bailout then it will double the national debt to €175 billion by 2014, he calculates, and the interest on that would come to €8.5 billion a year -- more than even the thriftiest of governments could afford.

To make sure that the state does not drown in its debts, the annual rate of growth has to be significantly higher than the interest due on the national debt, McWilliams argues. If the Irish economy does not grow by 8-10 percent, then the country will end in a debt-deflationary spiral. And even the most optimistic government projections are just below 4 percent.

Barry Eichengreen, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, makes a similar argument. It would be neither politically nor economically sustainable to force Ireland to pay 10 percent of its national income as reparations to bondholders, he wrote recently in German business daily Handelsblatt, " as anyone who remembers Germany's own experience with World War I reparations should know."   It would be more sensible to have a debt restructuring and offer the bondholders 20 cents on the euro, he argues. 

[Trinity College economics professor Kevin] O'Rourke's prognosis is as foreboding as that of his colleagues. " We now face a negative spiral in which austerity causes emigration, which increases the burden of the debt, which ultimately leads to more austerity,"   he writes. He recommends as a way out the path pursued by Iceland. In a referendum, the voters rejected a proposal to pay back their banks' international creditors. Ireland, O'Rourke argues, needs a "  radical change."

And so ends the once vaunted Celtic Tiger.   The average Irish household is predicted to be 7,500 Euros poorer annually by 2012 due to government austerity.   The initial bailout adds another 17,000 Euros per capita to the national debt.   But the bondholders, the European banks that colluded with the Irish banks in the recklessness that brought Ireland to its knees - they'll be safe.

Yeah, Just as Soon as We Let Clifford Olsen Adopt

Michael Vick says he's looking forward to some day having a pet dog.   The convicted dogfighting ring operator has been prohibited by court order from ever again owning a dog.   The Philadelphia Eagles quarterback also spent 18-months in prison for his crimes that included disposing of wounded dogs by hanging and electrocution.

Whistling Past the Afghan Graveyard

I Know, Let's Give Them More Guns

Good news:  Western military forces are making headway in Afghanistan and it's good enough that Washington can begin withdrawing its forces next July.

Headway seems to be defined as the suppression of the Taliban presence in Kandahar and Helmand provinces due to the recent military offensive.

If the Afghan report sounds good to Washington, it probably sounds even better to the Talibs.   We're sticking to this notion of a military solution to Afghanistan's troubles and that's music to the ears of the Taliban.  When we turn up the heat, they lay low.  We've had ten years, plenty of time, to watch the rebels disappear only to return when it suits them.   That's what you do when you're outnumbered and hopelessly outgunned by a foreign army, you fall back on the one decisive advantage you've got - time.   You win simply by surviving with your capabilities more or less intact.

Elsewhere on the front page of today's New York Times is another Afghanistan story, this one about the spreading presence of the Taliban in northern Afghanistan.   That's what they do.  You press here, they go somewhere else.

The Pentagon’s year-end review will emphasize hard-won progress in the south, the heartland of the insurgency, where the military has concentrated most troops. But those advances have come at the expense of security in the north and east, with some questioning the wisdom of the focus on the south and whether the coalition can control the entire country. 

 The NATO command has largely defined Afghanistan's instability in terms of the Taliban insurgency, which is the most recent fight here, but hardly the only one that looms in people’s memories. For many, the period 20 years ago when mujahedeen warlords divided the country into fiefs shapes their current fears. It was the behavior of the warlords, among other factors, that drove people into the arms of the Taliban in the 1990s. 

Pablo Percelsi, the director of operations in northern Afghanistan for the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has had a staff and presence here for 30 years [warns], “The Taliban are only a small part of the equation.
“You have the whole fabric of the militias,” he added. “There are groups that collect money, and they collect it from civilians and by doing kidnapping and bold actions against internationals.”

NATO’s current strategy aims to transform many of these militias into local police forces that would augment the often thin national police. However, many local Afghan officials worry that the plan legitimizes the groups, some of which are made up of little more than thugs, and amounts to putting government uniforms on gunmen whose real loyalty is to their local strongman. 

Isn't that interesting.   It's only taken a decade for us to realize that the Talibs aren't the only bunch that undermine the future of Afghanistan.  So are the guys we're supporting, the thugs we want to equip and arm.  I'm sorry but that's what happens when you perpetuate a culture of tribalism and warlordism - which is precisely what we have done in Afghanistan.  We have never attempted to douse the embers that will reignite the Afghan civil war once we clear out.  This is what you get for a decade of indifference and rank stupidity.

My head hurts.   Can we go home now?

Flooding Imperils Britain's Food Supply

One of the things climate change has brought the United Kingdom is water - much too much of it.   Always known as a rainy place, Britain is now known as a flooding place.   In London the government is pursuing massive infrastructure programmes to protect British cities and towns from fresh and seawater inundation but a report warns they're leaving the country's farmland at risk:

The government's emphasis on protecting towns and cities will expose low-lying food-producing areas to flooding and salination, according to the Country Land and Business Association (CLA).

" Land managers need to be able to defend their properties ... even when the Environment Agency has withdrawn funding from what it regards as uneconomic defences,"   it says in a report. " The ability to continue using land for producing food, energy, textiles, pharmaceutical and industrial products is a national asset and not the liability it is treated as in the government's cost benefit analysis."   The cost of traditional "hard" sea defences is about £5m a mile.

The report, entitled The Tide is High, criticises " managed retreat"   policies. " The amount of high-grade agricultural land that will be lost through erosion and flooding in Lincolnshire alone could have a significant impact on our ability to produce food in the future, at a time when it will be more needed than ever. Current projections put 39% of Lincolnshire's land area in danger of flooding from the sea and rivers."

Has nobody told these Brits that global warming is a hoax?

Halliburton, Bush Sr. and James Baker Get Cheney Off the Hook for 250-Million Dollars

Yes it does, only we need them in a cell.

It took a bit of arm twisting and bags of cash but George Bush Sr., his former Secretary of State, James Baker, and Halliburton succeeded in getting Nigeria to drop corruption charges against Dick Cheney.

A spokesman for Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission says a plea bargain that saved Cheney from prosecution was reached in London last week.

A quarter-billion bucks.   That's a lot of mea culpa for the Dickster.   The sum is said to include $130-million "trapped" in Switzerland.   That sounds like code for "misappropriated" which is a nice way of saying purloined or filched.

Global Warming, check. Freshwater Crisis, check. Desertification? Really?

Apparently desertification, the degradation of arable, productive farmland into barren desert, is the "greatest environmental challenge of our time."  At least that's how the UN's  top drylands official, Luc Gnacadja, sees it.

Today kicks off the UN decade for the fight against desertification.   Gnacadja, executive secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, warns, "The top 20cm of soil is all that stands between us and extinction."

Land conflicts in Somalia, dust storms in Asia and the food price crises of recent years all stem from the degradation of land, he said, due to overuse by humans and the impacts of global warming. Since the early 1980s, a quarter of the planet's land has been despoiled and 1% a year continues to be lost.

The better known issues of climate change and loss of biodiversity are both rooted in the global loss of fertile soil, said Gnacadja, as the soil harbours a huge stock of carbon and the health of creatures living in the soil underpins global food production and forest growth. The reason desertification has not been a priority is because 90% of the 2.1 billion people who live in drylands live in developing countries, he said.

" Even in their own countries, they are the poorest among the poor and live in remote areas,"  said Gnacadja. "  The world is driven by city dwellers: political leaders are setting agendas to satisfy people who live in the cities, we therefore tend to perceive soil as just dust, or mud, or a dumping place. But if we don't preserve that first 20cm of soil, where will we get our food and water from?"   Half the world's livestock are raised on drylands and a third of crops, especially wheat.

Gnacadja is pushing for carbon credits to be earned by drylands people for preserving their land.   I don't know how well that's going to go over.  Paying people to not harm themselves, for not destroying their own property perhaps isn't as straightforward as it sounds.

Desertification leads to starvation and that leads to wars of subsistence and other perils.  It is intertwined with a gaggle of environmental challenges beginning with the big two - global warming and freshwater exhaustion - and includes deforestation, species extinction and migration, resource depletion, disease and pest migration, air/soil/water contamination, the collapse of fisheries, drought and the increasing frequency of severe storm events and, underlying them all, overpopulation and global security threats.

Here's the thing.  You can't fight any one of these successfully unless you fight them all.  They're all interconnected.   They all share some common causes and they all require some similar solutions.  Gnacadja is right.   That top 20 cms. of soil is all that stands between civilization and extinction but so does that onion-skin of atmosphere that wraps our planet and so does the distribution and recycling of the earth's freshwater resources.   Without them life becomes a matter of weeks, days or even minutes.

What I find frustrating in the annual climate change summits is that world leaders take global warming in isolation and then try to apply skewed mechanisms that ultimately block effective solutions.  At the end of the day the only thing that can block carbon emissions is carbon rationing enforced through effective carbon pricing - the very policy that Harper and Layton used to destroy the Dion Liberals.

These challenges need responses that measure the problems and calibrate the responses according to what is required to rectify them, not a haze of negotiations, dubious "targets" and offsets.   These are organic, living problems and that means they're moving targets which defy convoluted solutions based on out of date data.   All you can do with the current approach is to chase your tail.

This isn't about saving the earth.  The earth will be fine.   It isn't about saving the trees.   They'll be fine too.   It is entirely about saving mankind and preserving our civilization but in a form that can live in harmony with the very finite limits of our biosphere.  Even if you believe that biblical claptrap about god promising never to destroy earth again this has nothing to do with a god destroying anything.   It is solely mankind that's destroying, not the planet, but man's and a lot of other animals' ability to keep living on earth.   Your god has nothing to do with this.  This one's on you.

I feel badly for Stephane Dion.   He had the vision we need in our leaders but he utterly failed to lead the Canadian public to his vision or to defend his vision against the unscrupulous attacks of Stephen Harper and Jack Layton.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

In Fairness to the Tar Sands

An independent team of researchers from The Royal Society of Canada reports that there's no credible evidence that Tar Sands contaminants are causing cancer in downstream communities.   But the team went on to castigate Alberta and federal government authorities for being asleep at the wheel:

But when it comes to regulating the industry, governments have not kept up with its growth, especially Alberta's Environment and Resource Development ministries, the report says.

" These agencies need to seriously review whether they have and can effectively maintain the specialized technical expertise needed to regulate industrial development of this scope and sophistication,"  the summary says.

As well, Alberta's environmental review process is " seriously deficient"  in assessing health and socio-economic impacts.

..." There has generally been inadequate overall risk assessment for technological and natural disasters, assessment of community health impacts, integrated and cumulative ecological impact assessment, and assessment of regional socio-economic impacts."

Water monitoring of the oilsands is of a lower standard than that used for forestry and the data from the program isn't made public.

" There are valid concerns about the structure of [the monitoring program] that need to be addressed regarding the appropriateness of the data collected, public access to data, independent scientific oversight and verification of results."

Not enough is known about groundwater movement in northern Alberta, says the summary, especially as the industry moves from open-pit to underground mining.

As well, the report says the province hasn't obtained enough financial guarantees to ensure oilsands mines get cleaned up — although the province has said it is negotiating with industry on the issue.

The report also scolds Ottawa for failing to enforce federal legislation over the oilsands.

" Despite many clear areas of valid federal interest, the profile of relevant federal agencies has been low."

Read more:

Global Warming Impacts - Arctic Cross-Breeding

Polar bears breeding with grizzlies, bowheads breeding with right whales, narwhals with belugas, even porpoises with seals.   This is apparently going on in the Arctic.

In a commentary published in Wednesday's peer-reviewed journal Nature, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration marine biologist Brendan Kelly and his co-authors say rapidly disappearing sea ice means the barrier that once kept Arctic species apart is literally melting away.

" In addition to that, marine mammals are particularly infamous for hybridizing,"  says Kelly. " It turns out their genes haven't changed so much that they can't interbreed."

Co-author David Tallmon, a marine biologist with the University of Alaska, says while it's unlikely hybridization is widespread in the Arctic, no one has looked systemically at the issue. He and Kelly, along with Andrew Whiteley, a conservation geneticist at the University of Massachusetts, say the question of whether to try to stop animals from crossbreeding needs immediate attention.
" It's likely to become increasingly important as the summer ice diminishes and is ultimately lost,"  says Tallmon. " Hybridization is essentially impossible to reverse once it has begun on a large scale. So, we want to be sure to halt any hybridization before it becomes unmanageable and unique lineages are lost forever."

Read more:

Claimed Stem Cell Cure for HIV & Leukemia

If this is true it is the story of the decade.  

DOCTORS in Berlin, working with an American patient with HIV and leukaemia, have declared in a peer-reviewed journal they believe they have cured both illnesses.

It would be the first time a HIV patient has been cured. The procedure is creating a buzz among HIV academics in the US.

Experts call the development encouraging, but warn that years of work remain before the treatment could lead to a general therapy against HIV.
'''Cured' is a strong word. But this is very encouraging,'' said Dr David Scadden, a co-director of the Harvard University Stem Cell Institute. ''From all indications, there was no residual virus.

''It's as good an outcome as one could hope for.''

There'll Never Be an Effective Global Warming Treaty. Here's Why.

 Can you imagine North America reducing its carbon emissions by 74% by 2020, 95% by 2030 - from a 1990 baseline to boot?   Roughly put that's what we would do if the balance of the atmosphere's safe carbon carrying capacity was divided up on a per capita basis.

A 74% reduction from 1990 levels within just 10-years.  Never in our wildest dreams is that going to happen.  So we're going to need help from the low-emitting nations, the poor countries.   And that's going to be costly.  It is going to require the transfer of an awful lot of wealth from the industrialized world to the Third World.   And that's going to be an ongoing thing.  We're going to have to pay them to adopt the green technologies that our locked-in carbon dependency won't allow except through a slow transition.

We've dithered so long that we're now pretty much reduced to schemes like this.  Probably the worst thing about this solution is how vulnerable it is to attack by its opponents.  You'll hear the usual battle cries about "world government" and devious, liberal plots to effect massive and pointless transfers of wealth to the undeserving Third World and all the other claptrap they still fling from their pants about global warming.

This does not exactly arrive at an auspicious moment.  The rich people have suddenly found themselves up to their necks in government, commercial and individual debt.   We don't know how to provide for our own societies so where are we going to find those extra trillions for the poor countries?   Even if we found the money and the will to part with it, this won't save us from the pain of decarbonizing our economies and our societies nor will it spare us from the climate change impacts already in the pipeline.

These are policies that would be a very tough sell even to very cohesive societies in periods of general affluence.   Yet the success of these policies falls to very divided societies driven by wedge politics in a period of protracted and deep financial uncertainty.

This has the makings of a political football unlike any we have ever seen.  And the longer the forces of delay prevail, the more enormous that football becomes.  It's the sort of thing that breeds its own inertia even as time to adopt it is running out.

Leaving South Asia's Problems to Asians

Afghanistan bled the coffers of the Soviet Union in the past just as it bleeds the American treasury today.   The question is why America keeps banging away after a decade of a war that could easily go on for another two decades or longer?

Where's the reward?  What is America actually getting out of this?  Many years ago I asked a psychiatrist about an individual who exhibited what I considered irrational and self-defeating behaviours.  This person was reasonably well educated and moderately accomplished and, in most respects, quite rational.  The doctor explained that rational people can indeed do seemingly irrational things against their self interest.   The difficult problem was determining why.  People do what they do for what they get out of it, even though that can be real or imagined.

So what does the United States hope to get out of Afghanistan?  It won't defeat al Qaeda there.   Those guys have gone to Pakistan and destinations beyond.  If it wants to shoot al Qaeda guys it should move its army to Yemen.  The Taliban?  You can hold them at bay, sort of, but they're really just a tribal militia in a land packed full of tribal militias headed by warlords of incredibly flexible loyalties.  We set out to build a strong, central government defended by a strong national army and a strong national police service.  We did this despite the history of the place that only saw peace in a very loosely federated form.  Even the Bible says you can't build a house on sand.

So what's the payoff?  Who is keeping this war going and what are they getting out of it?  An article in The Guardian on the death of Richard Holbrooke suggests that his former boss, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has bought the Pentagon's position that the military campaign will work in the end.  She (and presumably her boss likewise) accepts General Petraeus' assurance that a little more banging away on the Talibs will motivate the rebels to negotiate in earnest.  That is breathtakingly simplistic yet that's the only answer short of outright lunacy that is consistent with America's posture toward Afghanistan.

So there it is in a nutshell.   America's strategy is "Whack a Mole."    The White House believes it can achieve a desired political outcome through military force.  Is it pure coincidence that our political objectives have steadily diminished even as our military force has escalated? 

Remember what we went over there to accomplish?   We were going to destroy al Qaeda; crush the Taliban; establish a secular, Western-democracy complete with the essential core institutions - legislature, judiciary, bureaucracy, armed and police forces.   How well have we done so far?   We've got a rigged executive and legislative branch, a judiciary and bureaucracy that rival each other in corruption, a relatively hapless military and a positively predatory police force.  Oh yeah, I forgot to mention a narco-economy that fuels all of the institutions I just mentioned.  We're setting out to build an Afghan army that the Afghan government's treasury cannot begin to afford.   And we're going to force the Taliban to negotiate with whom exactly, for what, when?

So that's it.   That's what America hopes to get by prolonging its war.   It hopes to get out.   Well maybe Washington should simply cut to the chase and get out.  The only reason for staying on is if it results in a better outcome than we've achieved over the past decade.   We're like Charlie Brown and the military is like Lucy holding the football.

Oh well.

Here's what I think is going to happen.  Washington will drag this out for a few more years and leave a Potemkin Village of an Afghan state behind.  Then the neighbours will either intervene to broker a peace deal or the country will power up their unresolved civil war and go back at it, each side with its own sponsors.   One way or the other, South Asian problems won't be decided by anyone other than South Asians and certainly not by us.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Did Amelia Earhart Die a Slow Death on a Desert Island?

We'll know soon enough when DNA recovered from a bone found on a forlorn Pacific atoll is tested against that from a descendant of the Earhart line.  If it is part of the remains of Amelia Earhart we'll know she probably died of thirst and was eventually consumed by crabs.

Read more here

America's Emerging Oligarchy - Dismantling Checks & Balances

Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court tossed George W. Bush the American presidency, courts in that country have been thundering along on a rightwing, corporatist stampede that makes a mockery of America's once vaunted system of checks and balances. 

Remember Tony Scalia indulging himself on hunting trips with Dick Cheney while he had before him appeals against Cheney himself?

The Roberts court showed its true colours in the Citizens United case that granted corporations the right to spend as much as they liked to skew elections their way.

More recently, a federal court judge struck down as unconstitutional a key part of the Democrat's healthcare reform law.  Now it has been disclosed that Virginia judge Henry Hudson has a financial interest in Campaign Solutions Inc., a GOP consulting firm that has backed anti healthcare reform candidates including Michelle Bachmann, John Boehner and John Mccain.

America's judicial system isn't bent, it's broken.   It has now offered itself up as a annex to the rightwing of the legislative branch.   This is just one more step in the advance of oligarchy, one more body blow to what once was American democracy.   The merger of government and corporatism becomes stronger by the day.  Mussolini would be proud that someone is keeping his dream of fascism alive.

Kosovo, Kuwait, Afghanistan - Three Strikes and You're Out.

Remember when we bombed the hell out of Serbia to shoehorn the liberation of Kosovo?   So how well has that worked out?   When Kosovo became independent agencies like the CIA described the place as pretty much a criminal enterprise that lived off smuggled cigarettes, gasoline and concrete.   Sort of like a Mafia state.

Who knew?   Now the European Union has released a report from a 2-year investigation that accuses the Kosovar P.M. of heading a human organs, drugs and arms ring.  Well, at least he diversifies.

[Prime Minister] Hashim Thaçi is identified as " the boss"  of a network that began operating criminal rackets in the run-up to the 1999 Kosovo war, and has held powerful sway over the country's government since.

The report of the two-year inquiry, which cites FBI and other intelligence sources, has been obtained by the Guardian. It names Thaçi as having over the last decade exerted "violent control" over the heroin trade.

Figures from Thaçi's inner circle are accused of secretly taking captives across the border into Albania after the war, where a few Serbs are said to have been murdered for their kidneys, which were sold on the black market.
Legal proceedings began in a Pristina district court today into a case of alleged organ trafficking discovered by police in 2008. That case – in which organs are said to have been taken from impoverished victims at a clinic known as Medicus – is said by the report to be linked to Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) organ harvesting in 2000.

Why do we even bother?   This is the sort of thing that Harper & Ignatieff love - "muscular foreign policy" as Iggy puts it.   Canada went to war to liberate Kuwait.  We went to war to liberate Kosovo.   We went to war to liberate Afghanistan.  Kuwait funnels money to support the Islamists who kill us.   Kosovo and Afghanistan promptly turn into drug-dealing, criminal enterprises.

Does Canada need another leader who will get us into more of this lunacy?

When will we ever learn.   Consider this warning, given three years ago, from Paddy Ashdowne, the international community's High Representative to Bosnia-Herzegovina until 2006:

" The Iraq experience represents the triumph of hubris, nemesis and, above all, amnesia over common sense. We have abandoned experience in favour of a kind of 19th-century 'gunboat' diplomacy approach to peace making. And it isn't working. Getting intervention right is not rocket science and it's not new. Spend at least as much time and effort planning the peace as preparing for the war that precedes it. Base plans on a proper knowledge of the country. Leave ideologies and prejudices at home. Do not try to fashion someone else's country in your own image. Leave space for its people to reconstruct the country they want, not the one you want for them. Don't lose the 'golden hour' after the fighting is over. Dominate security from the start; then concentrate on the rule of law. Make economic regeneration a priority. Understand the importance to the international community effort of co-ordination, cohesion and speaking with one voice. And do not wait until everything is as it would be in our country. Leave when the peace is sustainable.

" At present, we intervene as though democracy was our big idea. It is not. We are not even particularly good at it ourselves. Good governance is our big idea; the rule of law is our big idea; open systems and the market-based economy - these are our big ideas. A stable democracy, fashioned to the conditions and the cultures of the country concerned, is what comes afterwards. It is the product of good governance, not its precursor.

"...we have chosen the wrong mindset to defeat al-Qaeda. We have chosen to fight an idea primarily with force. We seek to control territory; it seeks to capture minds. This is, at heart, a battle of ideas and values. Unless we realise that and can win on that agenda, no amount of force can deliver victory.

" We are not winning. In those regions of the world where this struggle is fiercest, civilisation is losing and medievalism is winning."

Gee, I wonder if Ashdowne would be interested in leading our Liberal Party?

Desert Storm - Coalitition of the Not Very Bright

Gee, it sounded like such a good war when it started.   Saddam had overrun Kuwait.   Iraqi forces were on the Saudis border and supposedly threatening them too.   We had us one of those "just" wars everybody likes to much.

We bombed the living hell out of Saddam's army in Kuwait and destroyed most of his war waging infrastructure throughout Iraq and then a 48-hour land war and, voila - we win!  It was about the most one-sided military victory ever and we even had video recordings taken right from our missiles' nose cones.  Cool or what.

So we restored Kuwait to the Kuwaitis or at least the oligarchs who run that oil state (curious how petro-states evolve into oligarchies) and they couldn't have been more grateful, could they?  Apparently not.

WikiLeak's diplo dump had a few eye-openers about how our good buds in Saudi-Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and, yes, Kuwait continue to shovel big bucks to Islamist radicals, including al Qaeda.   Say what?   We went halfway around the world to save their asses and they're paying guys to blow our asses off with IEDs?

Actually our Kuwaiti buddies are a pernicious bunch of little pricks.   The Kuwaiti bosses have now given al-Jazeera the boot, complaining the Arabic news service defied government warnings not to cover recent political developments in their country.   Recent political developments like video of police attacking opposition assembly members at a meeting to discuss their government's crackdown on freedoms.

From Egypt to Saudi Arabia to the UAE to Kuwait we're propping up a gaggle of anti-democratic thugs, a lot of whom think it's just dandy to use the West's oil money to finance Islamist radicalism.  If we really can't, or won't, live without their oil maybe we should crack down and start supporting democratic reform in these countries.   Radical groups like al Qaeda can't survive without the backing of the Arab Street but by supporting oppressive Arab regimes we're helping to keep the Islamists' lifelines open.

Monday, December 13, 2010

There are Cyclists, Then There's Danny

Even if you aren't or never have been into bicycling, prepare to be floored by Danny MacAskill:

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Would You Buy a Stealth Fighter That's Not?

The raison d'etre that supposedly justifies the over-budget, overdue and under-performing F-35 is its stealth.   The idea is that it is supposed to be invisible which, we're told, more than offsets all its other disadvantages.

If history, ancient and modern, has shown us anything it's that great military breakthroughs are fleeting.   The other guy sees a problem and he finds a way to counter it often at a fraction of the cost the first guy incurred in creating it.

Now it seems the F-35s vaunted stealth advantage may be largely neutralized even before the aircraft becomes operational.   The F-35 has been optimized to thwart X and S-band radars which has led the Russians to field their L-band radar.

Defence analysts say the new Russian L band radar will detect the fighter and can be fitted to Sukhoi jet fighters of the type flown by Indonesia, Malaysia, China and Vietnam.

The Liberal member for Tangney, Dr Dennis Jensen, is a former research scientist and defence analyst with the Defence Science and Technology Organisation. He says the radar system can see through the F-35's stealth protection.

 " The stealth on the Joint Strike Fighter has been optimised around a certain set of frequencies and this is the problem with the radar that the Russians have developed to fit into the Sukhoi Flankers among others."

The Russians have been telling anyone who'll listen that they can defeat the latest American stealth technology.   And they're backing that up with their own fifth-generation, stealth fighter, the Sukhoi T-50:

How effective is the new Russian super jet?   Well the modern and highly capable Indian Air Force is going for it and they've been pretty shrewd in the aircraft they deploy.

Because stealth technology can and will be defeated we need to consider what this aircraft is giving up for the sake of stealth.   Combat aircraft are an enormous assortment of compromises.  You give up something to get something else.  Everything comes at a cost - speed, range, maneuverability,payload, avionics, redundancy, strength and now one more cost - stealth.   What does the F-35 give up to be stealthy?  Quite a bit actually.  Everything has to be carried inside which means fewer bombs, fewer missiles and no external fuel tanks.  Mount any of that stuff outside and it's simply another airplane.

The question becomes if the F-35 was detectable, if it's stealth advantage is negated, is the rest of the airplane worth the massive cost?   The answer is plainly no.   Once the F-35 can be seen it's just another bomb truck that is pretty much outmatched by the latest European and Russian stuff.   Once the stealth is gone this aircraft needs to be escorted by real fighters if it's to have any chance in contested airspace.  Without stealth this thing won't have much chance of avoiding close-in fighting where all its weaknesses become glaring.

Hey, I've got the solution.   This sort of aircraft has a lifespan of about 20-years so why don't we get a money back warranty from Lockheed that the aircraft will be stealthy to all possible threats for, say, at least ten years?  Do you think for a minute Lockheed would imagine giving that sort of assurance?   If Lockheed isn't willing to take a gamble on their own technology, should we?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

It Just Doesn't Get Any Better

And one for the road:

Jeff Beck's tribute to the legendary Les Paul:

And to bridge the generation gap again. Knopfler and Chet Atkins. Wait for "Imagine":

And just the one more:

Thursday, December 09, 2010

A Perfectly Conservative Integrity Commissioner

Until she packed up her tent and stole out of town in October, Christiane Ouimet had spent the past three years collecting the big bucks as the Harper government's integrity commissioner.  There's a reason she got out of Dodge in a hurry.  In fact there seems to be more than one.

According to Auditor General Sheila Fraser, Madam Integrity Commissioner was decidedly deficient in, well, integrity.

Auditor General Sheila Fraser released a damning report Thursday on Christiane Ouimet, who resigned as public sector integrity commissioner in October four years before her term was set to expire amid allegations of internal strife and that she wasn't doing her job, if she did anything at all.

During her three years as commissioner, Ouimet investigated only five of the more than 200 complaints her office received and never produced any recommendations or findings of wrongdoing or reprisals against whistleblowers.

Fraser also found Ouimet berated her staff, sometimes yelling and swearing at them in front of others, and amassed binders full of personal information — 375 pages in total — on a former employee she didn't trust, and circulated some of the information to government officials and prospective employers in the private sector.

" I find this obviously very troubling and I think very disappointing,"  Fraser said Thursday. " We've all heard of bad bosses, but I'm troubled by the fact that there were binders of material being assembled by personnel within that office on someone who had left that office six months previously.”

So, what's the problem?   Isn't this the way we've come to expect Conservatives to act?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Somebody Will Be Singing This 50-Years From Now

Real poetry survives because it's so much more than just a song

Carole James Booted for Cozying Up to Big Business?

That's how Carole James explains why she was made to walk the plank by BC NDP insiders.

James said Tuesday that behind the scenes party brokers such as Bob Williams and Bill Tieleman were actively working to remove her because she was taking the party to the right and extending an olive branch to big business -- the long-sworn enemy of the NDP, the longtime party of unions and workers.

 The MLA who led the revolt, Jenny Kwan, says what sparked the coup was the belief that James simply couldn't get the NDP into power.
Kwan, leader of 13 dissident MLAs who openly opposed James's leadership, said the party had to hurry to choose a new leader for fear the B.C. Liberals will call a snap election once their own new leader is in place.

 " That's why there was an urgency to get this renewal,"  Kwan told The Province.  " W e are going to be ready when they call an election."
There remains some speculation that the James ouster may have split the party and left it weakened.   I'm no Dipper but I don't see it.  I think Carole James has had her 15-minutes in the spotlight and she's now yesterday's news.  It's hard to understand how her departure could have a seismic impact on the NDP's fortunes, or at least a negative impact.

Could China Call America's (and our own) Bluff?

What if China did a complete 180 and agreed to legally binding greenhouse gas emission cuts including international monitoring and verification?   Don't laugh, they might just do that at Cancun.

Are the Chinese calling our bluff?   The U.S. and its faithful lapdog, a.k.a. the Harper government, have been dragging their heels on serious emissions cuts, hiding behind the argument that we need a binding agreement with the developing nations (i.e. China and India) first.

That was always a pretty rich argument coming from Canada, the world's emerging petro-state, governed by petro-pols, Tar Sanders and Fossil Fuelers.  It was also a giggle coming from the Americans with their "bought and paid for" Congress securely in the arms of Big Oil and Big Coal.   Yet to the willingly gullible it sounded like a plausible position - but only so long as the other side kept saying no.

Shit, oh dear, what have we done?  Has our game plan counted on Chinese intransigence?   Do we even have a Plan B?   What if the Chinese use their concession on overall emissions to bolster their argument on per capita emissions equality?   Don't understand that one?  Bear with me.

The historic (and I suspect desired) standoff between North America and the emerging economic superpowers has featured two equally plausible yet irreconcilable arguments behind which both sides could shelter with their supposed moral integrity intact.   Our side focused on total, overall emissions and told the Chinese that, as the newly crowned top overall  emitter, we demanded they sign on for binding reductions subject to international verification.   The Chinese retorted that their emissions needed to recognize that they were more than three times as populous as America and that, therefore, Americans were the real emissions swine, pumping out three times as much greenhouse gas per capita than the average Chinese guy.

The per capita argument has roughly the same moral weight as our, overall emissions argument.   China's pair of aces is backed up by a king - the argument that much of their emissions results from industrial production that is destined for WalMart shelves across America.   The Chinese didn't show up in the middle of the night and walk away with our manufacturing plants.   They didn't steal General Motors.   G.M. went over there and took those jobs with it.   So there is some legitimacy to China's backup argument.

So the dilemma becomes how, if the Chinese concede to our demands, do we persist in rejecting theirs without totally losing the moral high ground?   I don't think we can  hope to come out of this ahead.   In fact, I'm pretty sure the last thing we want to do is to honour our own, reciprocal obligations under our demand - simple binding and verifiable reductions in overall emissions.

Let's put it this way.  Canadians would have some tough choices - keep Athabasca rolling and growing or walk to work.  A strict, meaningful emissions reduction regime that didn't crack down on Athabasca would have to be met on the backs of other industries and the Canadian public.   And those parties might want to know why in hell they had to make good Athabasca's emissions?  And Harper might have to come up with an answer he doesn't have.

I think the Chinese might call our bluff and force us to admit we've been bluffing all along.