Friday, September 30, 2011

The Monster is Dead. Clifford Olson Is No More.

Cancer has finally erased Clifford Olson from the ranks of mankind.   The serial child killer died this afternoon in a Quebec hospital.

News From the Begging Bowl

Just got the word from Ralph Goodale.   The LPC Deputy Leader suggests if the party can just get another $50-grand by midnight, they'll be able to send an even stronger message to the Cons and NDP that the Libs "won't be pushed around ever again."  I found the italics in Ralph's e-mail interesting.

What I don't get is how $50,000 means the Libs won't get pushed around "ever again."   Is money going to fix the Liberals' maladies?   Is that what sunk them in the last election and the one before that - money?

Sorry, Ralph, but I'm anything but convinced that money - or lack thereof - is your party's problem.  What the Liberal Party needs is vision.   It needs policies and a leader who can connect with them to the Canadian people.   And, no, I don't mean funding for the arts and daycare.   Let's talk about what actually matters to Canadians today and to those who will follow.   Let's talk about income inequality and a determination to strengthen our society by sharply closing the chasming gap between rich and poor.  Let's talk about the environment and what is needed to deal with climate change and do Canada's bit to ameliorate global warming.   Let's talk about what we need to do to chart Canada's course so it works in ways that really matter to the guy on the street - the one who sees no reason to go to the polls.

Ralph, if you want money it's time you earned it.   Get back to me when you're ready to do that.

Supreme Court of Canada Backs Insite

Vancouver's safe injection site has been saved from Harper's attempts to shut it down.   The Supreme Court of Canada has held that not allowing the clinic to operate would violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Court stopped short of ruling the government must approve other applications for safe injection clinics, holding that where there is no evidence that a supervised injection site would have a negative impact on public safety, the minister "should generally grant an exemption."

Defective Government on Both Sides of the Atlantic

All too often these days we're visited with the consequences of defective government.   By defective government I mean the weak leadership incapable of taking the hard decisions necessary to benefit the country and future generations.  Defective government ignores inconveniences it can effectively kick down the road for some future government to tackle.

When Harper Envirostooge Peter Kent boasts of his government's "commitment" to reduce Canadian greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2025 but has taken not one meaningful step to implement that, it's a case of willfully defective government.

The Brits are dealing with their own example of defective government, the collapse of cod stocks in the Irish Sea and the west coast of Scotland.    The causet is supposedly overfishing but the real culprit is a succession of political leaders unwilling to reduce catch quotas to sustainable levels.  That's defective government.   Dr. Paul Connolly, a fishing scientists who advises the European commission on fish quotas, didn't hesitate to lay the blame at political feet:

"Continuous over-fishing has led to a collapse in cod in both these areas. The signs have been there for years and scientists have repeatedly warned quotas must be cut but fisheries ministers have time and time again ignored us. We do not know now whether the stocks will recover."

Hmm, politicians ignoring warnings of scientists.   Sound familiar?   It should because it's the telltale of defective government of the very sort that besets us today in Canada.   Government that announces commitments it has no intention of honouring.   Government that makes policy that flies in the face of science.   Government for which we will all pay dearly in the decades ahead.

Tar Sands on Trial

Should ecocide join the ranks of crimes against humanity?   The Brits are debating that at the moment.

should the bosses of polluting companies and the leaders of environmentally-unfriendly states join those responsible for mass murder in the dock. They could if a fifth crime against peace - ecocide - joined that list of human evils? The United Nations is now considering the proposal and the first test of how a prosecution for ecocide would work takes place on Friday, with fossil fuel bosses in the dock at the UK supreme court in London. It is a mock trial of course, but with real top-flight lawyers and judges and a jury made up of members of the public. The corporate CEOs will be played by actors briefed by their legal teams.

The crime of ecocide is the brainchild of British lawyer Polly Higgins, who in her UN submission defined it as:
Ecocide: The extensive damage, destruction to or loss of ecosystems of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished.
Crimes being considered for prosecution in Friday's trial include the extraction of oil from Canada's tar sands, a major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, fracking for shale gas in Nigeria and bauxite mining  of Niyamgiri mountain, India. The real world parallels are not accidental. 

I doubt the world is ready for this sort of thing just yet but public attitudes are bound to change as the forecast impacts of climate change set in and the full misery and costs of fossil fuel depredations set in.  Many millions are expected to die from climate change, either directly or from wars sparked by it.  Surely those who so relentlessly drove it should be accountable for the suffering and loss they occasioned.

Radical Religious Conservatism Has Little Place for the Real World

I keep trying to believe the radical religious right isn't a threat but that isn't working.

A study just released by Baylor University goes a long way to explaining the twisted thinking of our exalted Ruler, Steve Harper.  It suggests that fundamentalists believe that Adam Smith's "hidden hand of the marketplace" is actually God's hand.   In other words, God has control of the economy, we don't need to worry about it.   Here are a few gems from the survey:

"In today's United States with high levels of unemployment ande vastly expanding wealth inequality, belief in God's plan sustains belief in the fairness of our economic system and our ability to eschew government assistance to stem the tide of our economic woes."

"Although strong belief in God's plan supports the American Dream, it also supports the contrary belief that personal economicd status is predetermined.   For these respondents, perhaps the idea is that the American Dream is possible for those who work hard and have ability, but only some people are meant to possess those qualities."

"Even though Americans who believe strongly in God's plan earn less and have less education, they are most likely to believe that the United States' economic system is fair without government intervention.  Specifically, Americans who believe strongly in God's plan are much more likely to believe:

-The government is intrusive
-Healthy people don't deserve unemployment benefits
-Anything is possible through hard work
-Success = Ability"

The Baylor study is full of twisted gems like that.

About one in five Americans combine a view of God as actively engaged in daily workings of the world with an economic conservative view that opposes government regulation and champions the free market as a matter of faith.   This is how Professor Froese explained it to USA Today.

"They say the invisible hand of the free market is really God at work," says sociologist Paul Froese, co-author of the Baylor Religion Survey, released today by Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

"They think the economy works because God wants it to work. It's a new religious economic idealism," with politicians "invoking God while chanting 'less government,'" he says.

"When Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann say 'God blesses us, God watches us, God helps us,' religious conservatives get the shorthand. They see 'government' as a profane object — a word that is used to signal working against God's plan for the United States. To argue against this is to argue with their religion."

Most (81%) political conservatives say there is one "ultimate truth in the world, and new economic information of cost-benefit analysis is not going to change their mind about how the economy should work," Froese says.

Does that sound familiar?   We don't need science or statistics to tackle issues such as global warming or crime and punishment.   That sciency stuff isn't going to change our minds when we have the Ultimate Truth on our side.

Climate Change - Harper Has It Covered. Okay, You Can Cry Now

Don't worry, be happy.   The Harper government knows all about climate change and it's got that one covered according to Steve's Envirostooge Peter Kent.

Kent was reacting to a government report warning that climate change could cost Canadians 43-billion loonies a year by 2050 if our exalted Ruler doesn't pull his fundamentalist thumb out of his pudgy ass.  Oh no, says Kent, pointing out that the government is committed, as in "in principle", to reducing Canada's greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by, oh say, maybe 2025 or somewhere thereabouts.  Oh, don't worry, it's going to do something, sort of.   Why it's even forking out $29-million a year right now to help Canadians adapt to climate change.

And besides, look at it as a stimulus package, a permanent stimulus package.   The government will be covering at least some of that $43-billion a year, each and every year.   Isn't that stimulus spending?   But are the Tories serious?  In case you have to ask, these two lines in the Montreal Gazette speak for themselves.

Kent has not yet introduced a plan to meet Ottawa's greenhouse gas emissions targets, let alone stop the growth of pollution.

Harper has said the government's focus remains on the economy and job creation.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Don't Be Calling Me for Money

As a former Liberal I'm finding the "ex" part is being overlooked these days.   Whenever the Libs pass the begging bowl I can expect to get an e-mail about it.

What I don't understand is exactly what the Libs have done that would warrant me, a very 'former' party member, handing over my cash to them?   What have they done to reach out to me?   What have they done to reconnect with me and, for that matter, the Canadian public?   How have they reformed the party I've already rejected?   What have they done to purge the Conservative-Lite mantle bestowed on them by Ignatieff?   What have they done to restore genuine progressivism in the LPC?

What have they done?  Bugger all.   And, by my calculation, that's precisely how much of my money they deserve - bugger all.

I'm Okay With It, the Rio Grande Norte

The Americans are talking about fencing off part of the Canada-US border.   Their term is "selective fencing."  The US Customs & Border Protection Agency is canvassing local governments from Maine to Washington state for their input.

The fencing wouldn't run the whole length of our shared border.   Are you kidding?  The Yanks are broke!   And appropriate cut outs would be made for pipelines and such.

I'm okay with the idea but with just a few changes.   First, fence the whole damned 6,400 kms. of our shared border.   Second, plenty of barbed wire - on their side too.   Third, a whole lot of remote surveillance monitoring the American side.

As Gwynne Dyer points out in his book Climate Wars, when it comes to climate change, each nation's greatest threat is the neighbouring country lying immediately between it and the equator.   For Canada that means the United States.   The Gringos have to worry about Central and South American migrants, we're going to have to worry about Gringos.   The US is already being viciously whipsawed by severe storm events manifested in hurricanes, tornadoes, widespread flooding and regional, sustained droughts and wildfires.  Sea level rise and coastal groundwater salination are just beginning to set in.

The Americans, in better times, chose to populate marginally habitable regions, planting large cities in the middle of deserts for example.   Within another generation the US may well have to face the prospect of internally displaced climate migrants that will need to be relocated in more habitable regions, that is to say the north.   Coming at a time when all strata of its institutions are debt-plagued and its population weakened and severely divided, Canadians should be grateful for any  reinforcement of our own border security.   And make sure it works too.   None of this stuff.

So I'm down with it.   Let's treat the 49th parallel as the Rio Grande Norte and secure the hell out of it.  That would give Americans peace of mind and me too.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

This Seems to Surprise Americans - In Canada, Blacks are as Healthy as Whites

In Canada, white people are no healthier than our black people.   When I read that my reaction was, "well, duh."  Why would a Canadian achieve different health outcomes based on race?   Well apparently what we might take as a given is news elsewhere.

From health surveys, researchers found that blacks born in Canada had lower rates of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and cancer than their white compatriots.

By contrast, high blood pressure and diabetes were more common among blacks than whites in the U.S.

One possible explanation is that African Americans have a long history as second-class citizens, said Thomas A. LaVeist, who directs the Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions in Baltimore.

"That is what I think is fueling the disparity we see in the U.S.," LaVeist, whose findings appear in the Archives of Internal Medicine, told Reuters Health.

Healthcare in America - a Tale of Feast or Famine

We're all familiar with the accounts of America's healthcare "have nots," the tens of millions who get by with no health insurance and the hundreds of millions who are vulnerable to partial health insurance or capricious insurance companies.   But what about the "haves," the lucky people with the gold-plated health insurance coverage?   A study of primary care physicians finds the "haves" are undermining American healthcare.   They're simply getting too much healthcare for their own or anyone else's good.

In a new poll of primary care physicians, nearly half of them said their patients received too much medical care and more than a quarter said they were practicing more aggressively than they'd like to.

That could mean ordering more tests, prescribing more drugs or diagnosing people with diseases, although they would never have experienced any symptoms.

"Physicians at the frontline of medical care are telling us that their patients are getting too much care," said Dr. Brenda Sirovich of the VA Medical Center in White River Junction, Vermont, who worked on the survey. "And we don't think we are just talking about the 627 physicians that we surveyed."

"We spend a lot on healthcare in this country, more than anywhere else," Sirovich, also at the Dartmouth Medical School, told Reuters Health. "We realize that this is unsustainable."

...So why would doctors order tests that they themselves believe are excessive?

Three reasons stood out in the survey, which is based on a random sample of U.S. doctors: fear of malpractice lawsuits, performance measures and too little time to just listen to patients.

Four in 10 also believed that other primary care physicians would order fewer tests if those tests didn't provide extra income. (Of course, just three percent thought that financial considerations influenced their own practice style.)

"I'm not saying that physicians do tests in order to make money -- there is a potential to be a real cynic here -- but I think that the reimbursement model for most healthcare encourages utilization in a variety of ways," Sirovich said.

Before You Slam Shut Your Mind on Nuclear Power, Read This

It's a reflection of how little most of us know about nuclear power generation that we fell apoplectic at the Fukushima reactor disaster.   The tragedy of Fukushima is if we allow an accident caused by a tsunami at an aged, "first generation" reactor plant to seal the fate of the latest, fourth generation nuclear technology which, alone, may hold the key to the future of our civilization.

I strongly urge you to read Dr. Steve Kirsch's open letter to Obama's energy and climate change assistant director, Heather Zichal.   Kirsch is writing, not as an investor or developer or someone looking for handouts, but as one person who has come to understand the enormous benefits that fourth generation nuclear power offers us at the very moment when we need them more than ever.

He points out that today's IFR "fast reactor" technology can safely and reliably help in averting runaway global warming, safely dispose of existing nuclear waste, generate base-load carbon-free power at very low cost, avoid creating any additional long-lived nuclear waste, stimulate economic growth and create jobs and at the same time save billions in government spending.
Read the letter.   IFR, today, may be just the breakthrough we need right when we most need it.

Is It Anarchy When Our Elected Leaders Do It?

I've always understood "anarchy" by its dictionary definition as a state of political or social disorder resulting from absence of government control.  My layman's grasp of the concept was of some wresting of government control by a gang of, well, anarchists.   But what if that loss of control is generated from the top down, not the bottom up?   What if the loss of control is occasioned by those in whom control is democratically vested?   What do we call it if they're too indifferent or cowardly or self-interested to exercise the control we have entrusted to them?   Is that a form of reverse anarchy?

It's a fair question to be asked on this, the 2011 Earth Overshoot Day.   How our world fell into overshoot can't be laid at the feet of our elected leadership but they are directly responsible for our failure to address this challenging dilemma.   Global warming is not, of itself, their responsibility but they are directly responsible for our failure to acknowledge and respond to it.   They share some responsibility for the unhealthy growth in income inequality that is beginning to plague our societies and our economies but they alone are responsible for failing to address the problem because they alone hold the levers of power needed for that job.  They deserve a very big share of the responsibility for the degeneration of Western economies into the Casino Capitalism inherent in FIRE (Finance,Insurance,Real Estate) economies and almost total responsibility for failing to intervene to rectify this societal contagion.

The point is that on one score after another after another upon yet many others, our political leadership is failing to act and, in the result, abandoning us to an anarchy of their own making.   They beseech us for the reins of power, the very instruments essential to deal with these challenges and threats, and then simply drop them to their feet.

We can't expect anything better from our current Ruler, an unproven bean counter and professional political place holder, the very sort of institutional hanger-on his party supposedly detests yet routinely flocks to.   No, we can't expect much from someone handicapped with Steve's ideological myopia.  His is a perverted, narrow path that can only be followed by actively rejecting science and spurning fact.

It would be nice to conclude this with an assurance that some time, eventually, we'll find the sort of leadership that will meet challenges head on, individuals who will use the reins of power for the purpose they're given.  But we can't wait until 'eventually' rolls around.   We simply don't have the luxury of whiling away the dwindling opportunities that remain to us to act. 

Why do we keep electing a latter day version of the Easter Island municipal council?

It's Here! Earth Overshoot Day has Arrived.

Nothing to celebrate, actually.   Today is estimated to be the day on which mankind has consumed the entire stocks of renewable resources our planet will generate this year.   Today is Earth Overshoot Day.

As the graph shows, we're en route to gobbling up 35 per cent more renewables than get renewed this year.   How do we manage that?  Easy.   Some aspects of it, things such as spreading deforestation and desertification, are visible to the naked eye from the International Space Station.   Other aspects are discernible in other ways.   For example, the collapse in global fisheries which has fishing fleets maintaining production only by continuously "fishing down the food chain," going after the next most desirable fish as the more desirable species are fished to commercial extinction.  Perhaps most disturbing is the emptying of our ancient aquifers, drawing many times their natural replenishment or recharge rate in order to feed our demands for agricultural irrigation and our slightly insane desire to build megacities in the middle of deserts.

The best image I can come up with for our predicament is that of a guy who has just run headfirst into a wall.  The guy shakes off the impact, backs up and runs headlong into the wall again - and again, and again, and again.   He just keeps doing it until he kills himself.

Overshoot is such an existential problem that it never so much as crosses the lips of any of our political leaders - any of them.   Overshoot is one of those things they don't dare talk about because, like many other problems, it reveals that our society is based on models - economic, industrial, social, political - that have outlived their utility and turned dysfunctional.   Overshoot is us turning on ourselves and nothing less.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

How Far Will Obama Grovel?

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is said to be weighing "punitive" measures against the Palestinian Authority for having the temerity to seek statehood from the United Nations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he is evaluating Israel's next step. But key members of his right-wing coalition are pushing for a firm response, which they say would discourage Palestinians from pursuing their strategy of gaining United Nations recognition or taking other unilateral steps away from the negotiating table.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has warned Palestinians of grave consequences and, according to one Israeli newspaper report, threatened to quit the government unless punitive actions are taken. He later denied saying that he would quit over the issue.

Lieberman and others say the Palestinian application for U.N. membership violates the 1993
Oslo peace accords, which committed both sides to work out their differences at the negotiating table. As a result, they say Israel should annex all or part of the West Bank, terminate the Oslo accords or cut off tax transfers that Israeli ports collect on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. That revenue, about $100 million a month, accounts for much of the authority's budget.

Is Obama Buying Netanyahu Time to Finish Annexing the West Bank?

"Not now" is Barack Obama's answer to the Palestinian Authority's appeal for statehood.  It's hardly unexpected coming from a feeble executive who can't even get basic legislation passed through his own unruly Congress.  The Republican's will piss on Obama later for gutting American hegemony in the Middle East yet, on Palestine, he's as reliable to Netanyahu as would be Rick Perry.

All Obama has left is an hollow "no."  He's an empty suit when it comes to the Palestinians, Jerusalem and the West Bank.  So, where does that leave the Palestinians?  al Jazeera provides a telling glimpse into flourishing West Bank Zionism, the sort of people who consider West Bank Palestinians "occupiers."  Now they're even recruiting gunmen from France.

Two weeks ago, an announcement appeared on a French website, calling for "militants with military experience" to participate in a solidarity trip to Israel between September 19 and 25. "The aim of this expedition is to lend a hand to our brothers facing aggression from the Palestinian occupiers, and to enhance the security of Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria," it explained. The dates of the trip coincide with the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations.

The website belongs to the French chapter of the Jewish Defence League (JDL), a far-right Jewish group founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane in the United States in 1968. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has refered to the JDL as a "violent extremist organisation".

"In France, it is a movement made up of French citizens who defend the Jewish community when faced with aggression, and also defends Israel in a more general manner," said Amnon Cohen, a spokesperson for the group. “In terms of ideology, we are Zionists, pro-Israeli, and we share similar ideologies to that of the Ichud Leumi ["National Union"] party in Israel." The National Union advocates the settlement of Jewish people in the entirety of the occupied West Bank, which it calls by its biblical name of Judea and Samaria.

I suppose it's to be expected.  Israel was born out of terrorism of the Irgun and other Zionist groups.  Terrorism drove Palestinians from their homes for the expansion of Israel.   Now, with Obama safely painted into a corner, what's next should be pretty clear.

I Don't Get Worked Up About Movies - But This!!!

John le Carre, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, George Smiley played by Gary Oldman.  Does it get any better than this?

A Marriage Made in Hell

Pakistan and the United States, bride and groom, betrothed in a supposed war on terrorism.   But there never was any love, no trust, hardly any common ground.   It was never more than a transactional relationship.   Was it any wonder that Pakistan opened its boudoir door to another suitor, China?

Even as it delivered cash by the billion to Islamabad, America groused about its bride's infidelities and duplicity.  A marriage made in Hell.

America has proven itself astonishingly clumsy at the "Great Game." It seemed to believe it could buy local allies like Karzai or the Pakistani military but the return on its billions has been decidedly paltry.  America expects a manner of obedient gratitude that is not forthcoming.   America's generosity has been squandered on empty promises and thinly veiled duplicity.

Recently the Chairman of America's Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, told Congress that Pakistan's shadowy intelligence agency, the ISI, actively supports the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network that was behind last week's attack on the US embassy in Kabul.   Mullen claimed the Haqqani group, "acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency."

Needless to say, Mullen's claims were roundly denounced in Pakistan where leaders threatened to sever Pakistan's supposed assistance with America's "war on terror."   Like it or not, America needs Pakistan's cooperation if it is to have any hope of stabilizing Afghanistan without which the Caspian Basin oil and gas reserves will likely fall under Russian control.  Oh, I'm sorry, you didn't think this was about oil?

But if America has fractured its relations with the government in Islamabad and Pakistan's generals, there's always the opposition, right?  Wrong.   In Pakistan the opposition is more anti-American than the government.  One prominent opposition voice, Imran Khan, sums it up this way, "America is killing Pakistan.  We're using our army to kill our own people with their money."

"According to the government economic survey in Pakistan, $70bn has been lost to the economy because of this war. Total aid has been barely $20bn. Aid has gone to the ruling elite, while the people have lost $70bn. We have lost 35,000 lives and as many maimed – and then to be said to be complicit. The shame of it!"'

With American credibility in the Muslim world already reeling from the Palestinian debacle, with Israel isolated, with a new Turkish-Egyptian power base being forged, with Iraq falling into Iran's sphere of influence, with Afghanistan turning into an increasingly bloody and fruitless mess and with Pakistan virtually ensuring America's failure next door, with Chinese influence flowing into America's power vacuum. with America fumbling on Syria and Bahrain, the most relevant question may be when will America find the costs and consequences of maintaining its strategic presence in the Middle East/South Asian regions unbearable?

A New Middle East Reality

Oh my, my.  Mahmoud Abbas has called Barack Obama's bluff and applied to the United Nations for Palestinian statehood.   It will fall to the United States to veto the motion, spilling international political capital the US no longer has in much abundance.   With that, America loses its last shred of credibility in the Muslim world, especially with Israel's neighbours.   Obama has but two choices - either he wrestles a triumphant Benjamin Netanyahu to a genuine settlement or he posits America as Israel's discredited stooge, paving the way for a geopolitical realignment in the Middle East.   China stands ready and willing to supplant US hegemony in the Middle East, further cementing its ascendancy globally.

Middle East expert Robert Fisk, says there's no going back:

"The Palestinians won't get a state this week. But they will prove – if they get enough votes in the General Assembly and if Mahmoud Abbas does not succumb to his characteristic grovelling in the face of US-Israeli power – that they are worthy of statehood. And they will establish for the Arabs what Israel likes to call – when it is enlarging its colonies on stolen land – "facts on the ground": never again can the United States and Israel snap their fingers and expect the Arabs to click their heels. The US has lost its purchase on the Middle East. It's over: the "peace process", the "road map", the "Oslo agreement"; the whole fandango is history.

"Personally, I think "Palestine" is a fantasy state, impossible to create now that the Israelis have stolen so much of the Arabs' land for their colonial projects. Go take a look at the West Bank, if you don't believe me. Israel's massive Jewish colonies, its pernicious building restrictions on Palestinian homes of more than one storey and its closure even of sewage systems as punishment, the "cordons sanitaires" beside the Jordanian frontier, the Israeli-only settlers' roads have turned the map of the West Bank into the smashed windscreen of a crashed car. Sometimes, I suspect that the only thing that prevents the existence of "Greater Israel" is the obstinacy of those pesky Palestinians.

"But we are now talking of much greater matters. This vote at the UN – General Assembly or Security Council, in one sense it hardly matters – is going to divide the West – Americans from Europeans and scores of other nations – and it is going to divide the Arabs from the Americans. It is going to crack open the divisions in the European Union; between eastern and western Europeans, between Germany and France (the former supporting Israel for all the usual historical reasons, the latter sickened by the suffering of the Palestinians) and, of course, between Israel and the EU.

"A great anger has been created in the world by decades of Israeli power and military brutality and colonisation; millions of Europeans, while conscious of their own historical responsibility for the Jewish Holocaust and well aware of the violence of Muslim nations, are no longer cowed in their criticism for fear of being abused as anti-Semites. There is racism in the West – and always will be, I fear – against Muslims and Africans, as well as Jews. But what are the Israeli settlements on the West Bank, in which no Arab Muslim Palestinian can live, but an expression of racism?

"...So goodbye to  [Israel's] only regional allies, Turkey and Egypt, in the space of scarcely 12 months. Israel's cabinet is composed both of intelligent, potentially balanced people such as Ehud Barak, and fools such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the Ahmadinejad of Israeli politics. Sarcasm aside, Israelis deserve better than this."

If Obama runs true to form, he'll do what previous American administrations have done when confounded by Israeli intransigence - he'll put the matter on the shelf and wait.   Only this time Washington's waiting game may be hexed.  A collapse of American hegemony over the Middle East could be a milestone in America's global decline and a Great Leap Forward for Beijing.

Update:  For another take on how Obama's bungling is playing straight into the hands of China, follow this link to Asia Times.   Meanwhile, al Jazeera, is calling it "The Humiliation of Barack Obama. 
As he prepares to singularly veto Palestine's statehood bid, he must be thinking to himself: 'This isn't right'."

Guess Who's Back?

Full marks if you guessed Vlad Putin.   As expected, his United Russia Party has approved another job swap.   Current president Dmitri Medvedev will slip back into his old job as prime minister. Putin, the current prime ministerial place holder, will step back into the driver's seat as president.  Thanks to constitutional changes, Putin could hold power for two, six-year terms or until 2024.

If you want a chilling look into what is today's, or Putin's Russia, check out Guardian correspondent Luke Harding's account of his stint, and expulsion.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Georgia Board of Pardons Commutes Death Sentence - For White Killer

Just two days after black inmate Troy Davis was executed, the Georgia Board of Pardons commuted the death sentence of white inmate David Crowe to life imprisonment.

Let's see:  Crowe is white, Davis was black; Crowe admits he killed his former employer in the course of robbing his store that ended with Crowe shooting the guy three times, beating the man with a can of paint and bludgeoning him with a crowbar.    Davis supposedly shot a security guard who happened to be an off-duty policeman.   There was no physical evidence connecting Davis to his purported crime and almost every eye witness subsequently recanted their testimony, many saying they had been pressured by the cops into fingering Davis.   Thousands of intervenors, from the Pope to Jimmy Carter, pleaded that Davis' life be spared.   Davis maintained his innocence to his death.

When you compare the execution of Troy Davis to the commutation of David Crowe it becomes apparent the only thing the State of Georgia overlooked was the lynching.

Meanwhile, in other death penalty news, Texas has decided it will no longer off the condemned a "last meal."   Apparently malevolent swine James Brewer ordered a feast and then went to his maker on Wednesday without taking so much as a bite.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Make Room in Hell For One More

Serial child-killer Clifford Olson is dying.   That sick, twisted monster is said to be dying of cancer and to be just days from breathing his last.

Netanyahu's Sock Puppet Addresses UN General Assembly

Barack Obama showed what he was made of today - not very much at all.

In a flaccid speech that appeared to convince no one, Obama said that recognition of Palestinian statehood was premature and the UN instead ought to use its efforts to push Israel and the Palestinians into negotiations.

Obama plainly implied, but stopped short of actually saying, that recognition of Palestinian statehood would somehow undermine prospects for peace with Israel.  He didn't come right out and say it because he knew how pathetically stupid it would sound.

With a wormy lap dog like Obama, Netanyahu is away to the races.

Monday, September 19, 2011

General Walt, Answer Me This

So you wracked up a million bucks worth of jet taxi fares.   Fine, maybe it was just a mistake, an error of judgment.  Forget about reimbursement.   Military types aren't paid like their civilian counterparts.  No stock options, no big bonuses.   They give up that stuff and more to serve their country and we have no right to forget that.


I'm ready to see you let off the hook, Walt, this time.   But.  You've defended a practice that rankles the Canadian people.   In case you haven't noticed, we and the world are hovering on the slippery edge of a global recession.   Conspicuous consumption, especially of our government's assets, simply isn't on.

So my question, Walt, is this.   If we let you off the hook this time will you promise to go and sin no more?   We can throw in first class airfare but you'll have to go commercial.   Is that too much to ask?

And as for those under-utilized Challenger jets and the pilots needing stick time to maintain their proficiency.   Can't you find something for them to do other than ferrying your sorry ass down to the Caribbean for holidays?   That sort of thing used to be called "ServiceAir" and operated as a handy shuttle for service personnel who inevitably get shifted from one part of the country to another.  Maybe these Challengers are too fancy for the plebs but, in that case, maybe we don't need them.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Can You Feel Your Hide Thickening?

We're all going to get pretty thick skinned in the years and decades to come.  The more you want to cling to your way of life and the greater the global suffering that results, the thicker the skin you'll need.   Some already are quite well acclimated to the misery spreading throughout the world as a result of climate change and other man-made maladies.  "Inured" comes to mind, to accept something undesirable.

It's what psychologists would call a coping mechanism I suppose.   It comes naturally to us, adapting to suffering, particularly when it's others, well removed, doing the suffering.   Out of sight, out of mind.  It's that very technique that's required when we promote products and activities that magnify or accelerate the suffering of others, elsewhere.

It's a Dark Art mastered by every one of our political classes - Conservative, Liberal, NDP - who, for the sake of expedience or personal ambition, support the development and expansion of the Athabasca Tar Sands.   Make no mistake, that project is killing people only not so much right here at home.  It's killing people elsewhere and we're only just getting started.  But they're mainly brown people or black people and they don't have a lot of clout or money and they sure as hell don't have the sort of arsenals that might ever let them retaliate against us.   To all those Conservatives, Liberals and NDP who support the Tar Sands, those little people in their droves are insignificant, irrelevant, expendable.

Of course it's not just the Tar Sands although Athabasca is fairly the poster boy of global warming.  Sure, carbon emissions are the most obvious of our environmental depredations but there are others.  However, in relative terms, we in the West are the "haves" while just about everyone else is or will soon  be the "have nots."

For example, take "overshoot."   The term means any nation's consumption of resources contrasted to nature's ability to replenish those resources.   Resources are used in everything from direct consumption, as in food stocks, to natural filtering of our effluent and emissions.   We're now using our planet's natural resources at roughly 1.3 to 1.5 times the earth's replenishment capacity.  How can we use more resources than the earth provides?  That's easy.  Some forms of overshoot can be seen to the naked eye from space - spreading desertification and deforestation for example.   Other examples are the collapsing global fisheries.  It's called "eating one's seed corn."  We're not just eating this year's corn but we're also consuming next year's.

But we in the developed world aren't just eating our own seed corn, we're also buying up the seed corn from the "have not" world.   We have all sorts of vexatious means to screw with the have nots.  Land grabs are becoming very popular.   Instead of buying their crops at rapidly escalating market prices, why not just buy their farmland and cut out the middleman, the local farmer?   Wall Street is in on the act, exploiting global food shortages on the commodities markets.   And then there's the rest of us "haves" who just buy anything we want - because we can.  Of course the prices we take for granted are the prices that also beset the "have nots" and inflict on them and their governments and their societies what we now call "food insecurity."  The UN Food and Agriculture Organization recently reported that much of the Third World has now embarked on an era of permanent food insecurity.

It's bad enough that much of the Third World is going to have to deal with cyclical drought and flooding and other aspects of man-made climate change but they'll have to compete against our fat wallets with their empty purses for what is left.  Can you feel that skin growing thicker?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's climate change advisory board, the WBGU, keeps advocating for solutions that are at once both obvious and hopelessly unrealistic.  They want a global social contract, in essence the recognition of a global society, the idea that mankind is one.   Within this framework we would find answers to everything from carbon emissions to resource sharing.   For starters they would have the atmosphere declared a "commons" belonging to all.  In that sort of regime, any nation's right to emit carbon dioxide, for example, would be a function of its population.   For the major emitters that would mean severe cuts in overall emissions, something that would be especially felt by the major per capita emitters which group includes you and me.   In order to do our bit and share the remaining capacity of the atmosphere with everybody, we would have to almost completely decarbonize our societies and our economies within just a few years.   And along the way we'll have to jettison a culture that embraces gluttony and greed.  What are the chances?

What makes the WBGU studies so important is the dual realization that they're almost certainly right but that we will never do the right thing.   And we won't do the right thing because (a) it's really inconvenient and, (b), someone else gets to pay the price of our indifference.   We live in the northern part of the northern hemisphere which is about as good as it gets in terms of climate change impacts this century.  Better yet, we don't live in the less advantaged parts of the world where the impacts of our self-indulgent, gluttonous and greedy ways arrive soonest and hit hardest.   We revel in the feast, they get stuck with the tab which is increasingly being delivered by the Reaper.

What if we woke up one morning to learn that we'd been bombing orphans in Somalia for no good reason?   Would we rise up in outrage demanding that this be stopped immediately?  I'm guessing we would - in a heartbeat.   But what we do to them isn't that direct.  It's harder to see, easy to deny, even easier to ignore.   All we'll need to get through tomorrow is a slightly thicker skin.

Taking Stock, Just With Better Metrics

Steve Harper may be in church today, probably seeking some sort of absolution for his sins, but the real altar at which jokers like Steve worship at is sepulcher of the Lord GDP.   It's gross domestic product that turns Harper's crank.   Those who seek to defile it, like Air Canada employees or postal workers with talk of strikes, are promptly flogged silly with back to work legislation.    Steve will defend Canada's GDP at all costs or at least at any cost someone else gets to bear.

But Steve is a throwback to an earlier time, let's call it the 80's, where he remains firmly mired.  He's one of those, "if it was good enough for my grandfather, it's good enough for me" sort of guys.   That may work for Steve but it's a dead end mentality for Canada.   Steve's GDP fetish is a perfect example.

Steve hasn't noticed but the world is changing.   The 80's are over and they're not coming back (provided we're vigilant to prevent a return of the padded shoulder).   We're slowly coming to recognize inadequacies of old fashioned GDP.   Two years ago it was France's Nick Sarkozy who championed a new measure of economic performance, one that factored in things like sustainability and well-being.    Now that same thinking is trying to get a toehold in China where economist and senior government advisor Niu Wenyuan is pushing to reform the GDP standard.

"The GDP quality index is coming under political pressure, not from the central government but from the local level," Niu told the Guardian at his office in the Chinese Academy of Sciences. "I have had a lot of phone calls in recent days from the offices of provincial governors asking why they ranked so low."

Niu's formulation combines five elements: Economic quality, which considers the amount of resources and energy needed to generate each 10,000 yuan of GDP; social quality, which includes differences of incomes between rich and poor that might led to destructive riots; environmental quality, which assesses the amount of waste and carbon generated per 10,000 yuan of economic activity; quality of life, which figures in life expectancy and other human development indicators; and management quality, which measures the proportion of tax revenue used for public security, the durability of infrastructure and the proportion of public officials in the overall population.

Imagine judging an economy not just by how much stuff it makes but by how well it serves its society.  Imagine evaluating projects like the Tar Sands according to the amount of waste and carbon generated per unit of economic activity.  We might as well imagine it because it's not going to happen in Harperland.   This sort of thinking would seem rank heresy to the rigid, fundamentalist-padlocked mind of our Ruler.  It represents the sort of clear thinking that holds no value in today's Canada.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The IMF Comes to Its Senses - Income Inequality is Ruinous

It's about time.   The International Monetary Fund, it seems, has opened its eyes and discovered that income inequality, the growing gap between rich and poor, is ruinous to modern economies.

IMF researchers Andrew Berg and Jonathon Ostry ask,  "Do societies inevitably face an invidious choice between efficient production and equitable wealth and income distribution? Are social justice and social product at war with one another?
In a word, no."

No?  Really?   Equitable wealth and income distribution actually facilitate efficient production?  Say it ain't so, Joe.   Except that it is.

"...we discovered that when growth is looked at over the long term, the trade-off between efficiency and equality may not exist. In fact equality appears to be an important ingredient in promoting and sustaining growth. The difference between countries that can sustain rapid growth for many years or even decades and the many others that see growth spurts fade quickly may be the level of inequality. Countries may find that improving equality may also improve efficiency, understood as more sustainable long-run growth."

"... the increase in U.S. income inequality in recent decades is strikingly similar to the increase that occurred in the 1920s. In both cases there was a boom in the financial sector, poor people borrowed a lot, and a huge financial crisis ensued (see “Leveraging Inequality,” F&D, December 2010 and “Inequality = Indebted” in this issue of F&D). The recent global economic crisis, with its roots in U.S. financial markets, may have resulted, in part at least, from the increase in inequality. With inequality growing in the United States and other important economies, the relationship between inequality and growth takes on more significance."

But it's not just economies that benefit from shrinking the wealth and income distribution gap.   As revealed so clearly in books such as The Spirit Level, societies with the narrowest wealth gap also have better outcomes on such things as crime and imprisonment, health and longevity, mental health and substance abuse, even teen pregnancy and divorce rates.  In other words, it's a no brainer.

Monday, September 12, 2011

America's Climate Change Paralysis

An editorial in the environment section of today's Guardian ponders why, despite the onslaught of hurricanes, drought, floods and wildfires,  America's political leadership and its media opinion makers, simply cannot take up the issue of global warming.

In 2007, then New York Times environmental reporter Andrew Revkin pondered the possibility that thanks to the vast geographical expanse of the United States, "there is almost never a shared sense of meteorological misery." This, he noted cautiously, might help explain why global warming had not become a front-burner political issue, unlike geographically tighter places like Europe where elected leaders were tackling the problem with more vim.

But recent record-breaking "meteorological misery" from coast to coast is making it clear that severe weather may well be the new normal. Weather is getting more extreme and this, scientists tell us, has a lot to do with climate change. Meanwhile, inside the Beltway and among mainstream media, there's virtually no public debate about the likelihood we're already paying the high price of climate change.

...after the Copenhagen climate change conference in 2009, the amount of US media coverage of climate change has plunged to pre-Inconvenient Truth levels, consistently hovering below levels of coverage from other parts of the world. At the same time, Nielsen's recent Global Online Environment and Sustainability Survey found that concern in the US over climate change has dwindled considerably since 2007, dropping 14 percentage points. Less than half of those surveyed in the US (48%) consider climate change a source of concern.

...Elected officials have a built-in political incentive to ignore climate disruption. Viewing climate change as an issue facing future generations, if that – rather than already with us – allows politicians to do what they do best: focus on their short-term political interests while hemming and hawing over long-term, seemingly intractable problems. When you add election-year Republican dynamics and stir, you have yourself a full-throttle political thicket where frontrunner presidential candidate Governor Rick Perry of Texas can wave off global warming as an "unproven" theory even as extreme weather ravages his home state.

As for me, I'm coming to realize that we can achieve nothing if we try to tackle global warming driven climate change in isolation.  It is but one of a host of scourges, some potentially existential, that must be addressed if our civilization is to survive.  If you're a regular reader of TDL you'll know what's coming - desertification, deforestation, air/soil/water contamination, cyclical flooding and drought, species migration, disease and pest migration, species extinction (particularly global fisheries), resource depletion and exhaustion (especially freshwater), severe weather events of increasing frequency and intensity, overpopulation and a host of global security challenges including terrorism, nuclear proliferation, food insecurity, regional arms races (notably between China and India) and the realignment of global power spheres with the decline of the West and the ascendancy of the emerging economic superpowers, the BRIC nations.

These problems cannot be solved with the same mechanisms that created them, namely, 18th century economics, 19th century industrialism and 20th century geopolitics.  We have a powerful, perhaps even insurmountable, dependence on these structures because they have served us so well - for a while.  Yet it is gradually emerging that our economic, industrial and political models were suited to a civilization living safely within the very finite limits of our biosphere.   These models become dsyfunctional with a human population much greater than three billion.   Today we stand at seven billion, heading to at least nine and possibly as high as fifteen billion by the end of this century.

We have arrived at where we are in 2011 by some amazing sleight of hand.   We are devouring our planet's resources at far beyond their replenishment rate.   It's called "eating the seed corn."  The evidence of this is manifest, tangible, irrefutable.  It is visible to the naked eye from the International Space Station, particularly the scourges of deforestation, desertification, flooding, wildfires and severe storm events.  It is patent in the spread of pests such as the pine beetle infestation in our western provinces.  It is cruelly apparent in the collapse of global fisheries, the critical source of protein for the poorest peoples on earth.   It is lethally obvious in the political upheavals sparked by food riots resulting from spreading and now permanent food insecurity.  It is inescapable except to those who refuse to see.  But our conjuring tricks will not work for much longer.

Unless and until we, as a species, opt for a different way of organizing ourselves, a truly new world order based on economic, industrial and political models tailored to today's realities, we must brace for a future in which tomorrow will always be a little bit worse than the day before.

The Wisdom of the Great - Mark Twain

"If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything."

"Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect."

"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education."

"Go to heaven for the climate and hell for the company."

"Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself."

"Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very;' your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be."

"Always do what is right. It will gratify half of mankind and astound the other."

"If you don't read the newspaper, you're uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you're mis-informed."

"Name the greatest of all inventors. Accident."

"The easy confidence with which I know another man's religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also."

"Sanity and happiness are an impossible combination."

"Education: the path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty."

"Any emotion, if it is sincere, is involuntary."

"A clear conscience is the sure sign of a bad memory."

"When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained."

"To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

"Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option."

"We are all stupid, just on different subjects"

"It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare."

"Some people bring joy wherever they go, and some people bring joy whenever they go."

 "We need not worry so much about what man descends from; it's what he descends to that shames the human race."

"Faith is believing what you know ain't so."

"If Christ were here now there is one thing he would not be – a Christian."

"The radical of one century is the conservative of the next. The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out, the conservative adopt."

"Most men die at 27, we just bury them at 72."

"Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over."

"There is no sadder sight than a young pessimist, except an old optimist."

Scary Times In the Middle East

It's a bad time for Israel to be stuck with a boneheaded president like Benjamin Netanyahu.   The neighbourhood is changing and Netanyahu's bad boy bully tactics have fallen out of vogue.  An editorial in today's Guardian speaks of an ominous alliance evolving between Turkey and Egypt that leaves Israel caught in the middle.

Monday's visit to Egypt by Turkey's prime minister, Reccep Tayyip Erdogan, will be watched like no other.  ...If post-revolutionary Egypt and an economically resurgent Turkey make common cause against their former common ally – and there is every indication that they will – Israel's isolation in the region will be profound.

The pace of events has surprised everyone. The pro-Palestinian sentiment of the thousands who thronged Tahrir Square was latent rather than explicit. Analysts then expected that major foreign policy changes would have to await domestic ones like elections and a new civilian government. Israel on the other hand found itself looking the wrong way, gearing up for protest on the West Bank and on its Syrian and Lebanese borders after the declaration of statehood at the UN later this month. No one expected the forces unleashed by the Arab spring to turn this suddenly on an Israeli flagpole in Cairo.

...Israel's old alliances were with regimes, usually despotic ones, not their people. Now that popular opinion is once again making itself felt in the region, Egypt will never again stand quiet – as it did when Israel launched its military campaign against Gaza in 2008 – if another war breaks out.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu now faces a real choice. He must realise that humiliating Turkey by refusing to apologise for the deaths on the Mavi Marmara was a colossal error. The strategic consequences for Israel of a hostile Turkish-Egyptian alliance could last years. They far outweigh the advantages of a tactical victory in the UN Palmer report, which lasted exactly days. Israel needs to repair relations with Turkey and do it quickly. The price of such a rapprochement will have gone up in the last week, but it is still worth paying. The Israeli premier's reaction on Saturday to events in Cairo was, by his standards, measured and moderate, so maybe even he now realises this.

The choice he faces is clear. He can either prepare for another war (Avigdor Lieberman's response to Turkey was to suggest that Israel arm the PKK) or he can accept that Israel can no longer impose its will on hostile and weaker neighbours. For one thing, the neighbours are growing stronger. The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz put it more bluntly. In an editorial about the harassment of Israeli passengers on a Turkish Airlines flight in retaliation for similar treatment Israeli authorities meted out to Turkish passengers, it suggested that Israel needs humiliation in order to respect others. No one needs further humiliation, but respect of its neighbours is in short supply.

With our own born again bonehead at the wheel we can expect Canada to rally to Israel's side if only to extend moral support.   Washington will probably do the same.  The irony is that our support may be the very thing that Israel doesn't need if it serves only to reinforce Netanyahu's belligerance. 

Friday, September 09, 2011

But No, This Isn't Class Warfare

From the far right "American Thinker," an item entitled, "Registering the Poor to Vote is Un-American."

"Why are left-wing activist groups so keen on registering the poor to vote?

"Because they know the poor can be counted on to vote themselves more benefits by electing redistributionist politicians.  Welfare recipients are particularly open to demagoguery and bribery. 
Registering them to vote is like handing out burglary tools to criminals."

This drive to dismember American democracy is very real.   The forces behind it are the country's richest, most powerful who want a corporatist state and seek to achieve just that by sowing fear and anger that destabilizes, divides and sets against each other those who otherwise might thwart them.   Theirs is the culmination of a decline that began fully three decades ago and is manifest in today's permanent "warfare state."

Why Commemorate 9/11?

It's hard to determine what legitimate purpose there is in commemorating the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon.   The difficulty arises in going back and seeing how those nearly 3,000 deaths were essentially commemorated over the last ten years.

9/11 wasn't so much a daring, boldly executed attack as it was the culmination of an incredible succession of blunders starting with FBI and CIA field agents through to their directors and on to the White House National Security Advisor and straight into the laps of the President and Vice President.  Bin Laden's al Qaeda didn't have anywhere near the amount of money to pay for the breaks they got from the Bush administration.

Yet Americans, so supposedly dedicated to the loss of their fellow citizens, let the Bushies off the hook.  They even rewarded them three years later with a second term in office.

12/7, that is to say December 7, 1941, was so different in its aftermath.  America rose to the attack.  The American people committed themselves to do whatever it took to avenge their dead.   The country mobilized, the people sacrificed and droves swarmed into recruiting centres to sign on for the duration. 9/11?  Not so much.  To show their patriotism, President Bush urged Americans to "keep shopping."

Only a small wedge of society, the working classes, showed up at recruiting centres.  Instead of spreading the burden of service equally by reinstating conscription, Bush and a craven Congress decided, instead, to invoke "stop loss" and keep those who had answered their country's call in harness for five, six, sometimes seven combat tours.   Families were destroyed, livelihoods and careers ruined.  It was the rankest societal betrayal of those willing to sacrifice all in their defence.

After Pearl Harbor the Americans set about to fight back against the forces of fascism and imperialist militarism.  It led to an intense, four year war that ended with the unconditional surrender of Mussolini's fascists, Hitler's Nazis and Imperial Japan. 

After 9/11 the White House launched a half-assed effort to topple the Taliban.  Due to the powerful combination of political and military incompetence that war still rages inconclusively a decade later.  Afghanistan stands as one of the world's most failed states headed by a criminal enterprise of a government and bureaucracy of our choosing.  Not content with that, the American people rallied to Bush and Cheney's call to attack Iraq on the flimsiest of contrived pretexts.  Iraqis, after all, were Muslims and that was what really mattered.  Again it was a brilliant display of utter military and political incompetence that has left Iraq with a criminal enterprise for a government and has propelled America's true security concern in the area, Iran, into the driver's seat for the entire region including Iraq itself.

Rather than calling for sacrifice to honour the dead of 9/11, America waged these wars on borrowed money even as Washington did the bidding of the richest of the rich and enacted massive tax cuts for them.   America might be heading down the tubes, plunging headlong into debt, its economy hobbled and bent, entangled in wars without end, but it was a great time to be a truly rich American.

Post-9/11 Americans have been indoctrinated to recoil at the mention of "socialism" or "liberal" but accept the transformation of their country into a true "warfare state."  Marines in dress blues parade on the track and air force jets fly overhead at Nascar races, a now permanent part of the race ritual.  These spectacles of American militarism are paraded out to almost every event imaginable as the crowds stand and cheer without dwelling on exactly what it all means.

9/11 has been exploited to the point of obscenity.   It has been used as the essential anchor to hold fast both fear and anger in the American people.   Fear and anger have become the ersatz substitutes for pride and optimism in America.  This conditions Americans to accept manipulation.  Fear and anger were the stock in trade of the despicable, dishonest, even odious Bush administration and they used these weapons shamelessly upon their own people.   American opinion makers, from credible journalists to open-mike carnival barkers, spoke of the "post 9/11 world" as though that day's events necessitated a transformed world.   3,000 dead Americans mattered.  5,000,000 dead Congolese weren't even mentioned.

It's entirely possible that 9/11 has hastened the decline of America.   The country has lost much of its once considerable goodwill abroad.  It may never be trusted or respected as it once was.  The country that ushered in Bretton Woods has now become known as the home of Casino Capitalism.  What had been the world's most vibrant democracy has been broken on the wheel of inequality and recast an oligarchy, a true corporatist state fueled by political, social, religious and military radicalism.

Perhaps 9/11 should be commemorated, not for what happened on that tragic day as much as for everything that has happened in its wake, in its name.  9/11 in retrospect wasn't a day but merely the first day in a very sad era not yet nearing end.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

In Washington, "Peace" Is a Dirty Word

They've utterly demonized the meaning of "liberal," driven "socialism" into the cellars of Lubyanka, transformed "entitlement" into something anything but deserved; and now they can no longer stand the foul stench of "peace."   Welcome to the perverted legacy of 9/11 in today's Washington.

John Feffer of Foreign Policy in Focus says "peace" is a word that no longer sits well in Washington.

Peace has never been a particularly popular word in Washington, DC. This is, after all, the home of the Pentagon and the major military contractors, not to mention all the think tanks and congressional lapdogs that lie in the king-size family bed with them. But the word "peace" has acquired such a negative reputation inside the Beltway that the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), which saw Congress nearly ax all its funding over the summer, is now considering a name change.
"Peace," the Institute's president Richard Solomon recently told The Washington Post, "is too abstract and academic." One alternative he is proposing: the U.S. Institute for Conflict Management.

Friday, September 02, 2011

What Do We Do If The Global Economy Fails?

The global economy is a relative newcomer, at least for most of us.   There's always been global trade but it was subject to capital controls, tariffs and import restrictions.   Then, as the world moved out of the world wars and cold war of the 20th century, conditions arose that allowed the scrapping of capital controls, tariffs and trade restrictions and most of the world embarked on global free trade of sorts.

I think we're seeing now that global free trade has not worked as promised.  It created a certain surrender of sovereign powers by our governments and, with that, a transfer of political powers that fed the rise of corporatism and, in some countries, the ascendancy of the corporatist state.   Although we do our best to look the other way, there are countries such as the United States in which corporatism has insinuated itself between the electorate and the political classes, the ultimate corruption of the notion of government "of the people, by the people, for the people."

American corporatism is, arguably, the engine driving the evolution of the first modern "warfare state."  Imagine, one nation representing just 5% of the world's population carrying the burden of more military spending than the combined military spending of every other nation representing fully 95% of the world's population.  In that lies the utter cancerous madness of corporatism.  Even now the House is moving to cut $1.2 billion in spending needed to maintain in operation a satellite, hurricane early warning system even while continuing to squander $10-billion every month in Afghanistan.

But, while American corporatism may furnish the anchor of global capitalism, it's unclear that it will hold.   Globalization is the product of a number of favourable circumstances all coming together more or less simultaneously.   One key aspect is cheap transportation which, as everyone realizes, is threatened by the arrival of "peak oil."    The global demand for oil is going up even as production begins to wane, witness the quest for unconventional oil such as bitumen.   But transportation is just one of several critical factors needed for gobalized industrial capitalism.  What are the others and how secure are they?

Global corporatism is also entirely dependent on global social, political and military stability.   When your business relies on products from a dozen nations, instability in even just a couple of them can bring your operations to a halt.   Take Dell computers, for example.   A news/information item a few years ago focused on Dell's global manufacturing structure.   It emerged that every Dell computer was dependent on key parts and components sourced from something in the order of 30-countries.   A number of those components were single-source.  Upheaval in the source country could sever supply of essential components without which Dell would be unable to complete and ship its product.   The losses, it was said, would be devastating.

The 21st Century is already being called the "Century of Revolution."  Destabilizing change is upon us and is not limited to isolated countries here and there.  We continue to watch the Arab Spring unfold.  Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya have fallen and now Syria is entangled in upheaval bad enough that even its traditional Shiite ally, Iran, has broken with the Damascus government.   Waves of riots have swept European states - Greece, Italy, Spain, even Britain has not been immune.

One thing globalization has achieved is the concentration of wealth, and power, in the hands of the few.  American consumers hunker down in insecurity all except for one segment, the rich, who are buying luxury items at a furious pace.   At upscale stores, high-price goods are flying off the shelves.

This concentration of wealth has spurred wage stagnation, wealth inequality and the choking off of social mobility.   Making one's way up the social ladder is now far easier in Europe than in the land of the "self-made man," the United States.   America's middle class, blue and white collar, is in tatters, its anger shrewdly misdirected by the richest of the rich into hapless movements like the Tea Party where the vulnerable are taught to turn on their own.   Their homes under foreclosure, their savings lost, saddled with debt, their pensions, Social Security and Medicare under attack, they inhabit a dysfunctional nation more divided, and deadlocked, than at any time since the Civil War.

This sets the stage for an era just beginning to witness the impacts of global warming and climate change.   Earlier this week, the risk analysis firm, Maplecroft, released its 2011 Food Insecurity Index.  The map below shows countries with relatively good food security in green.   The rest face medium (yellow), high (brown) or extreme (red) food insecurity.   And this is for 2011 which marks just the beginning of the climate change impacts we will experience this century.

The US National Center for Atmospheric Research, confirming other predictions, has forecast global drought conditions that can be expected for 2030-2039 which are shown in the map below.

As can be seen, many heavily populated areas face protracted drought over the coming decades.  Drought of course drives famine, unaffordable food prices, mass population migration and wars.  It also undermines the global political, social and military stability so vital to globalization.

What then is the future of globalization for the world and for Canada?   We see many factors that imperil its continuation even in the mid-range but we show little interest in the question.   Is the global economy capable of functioning in this rapidly changing world?  If so, what will it need to do to adapt?   How should our country be changing its institutions and policies to facilitate adaptation requirements?  What do we risk if we don't?  What if the global economy dissolves under the forces of peak oil or widespread and protracted political, social and military instability?   What would we need to do to adapt to that?   How should our country be repositioning our institutions and policies to meet that potential challenge?  What do we risk if we don't?

We fear more the possible consequences of even discussing these questions than we do the potentially dire consequences of ignoring them.   And so we will continue with our heads firmly stuck in the sand.  Societies that fall into that trap rarely fare well.

Here's a thought-provoking, informative discussion of the future of globalization with Rob Hawkins from a series on peak oil and climate change produced by The Nation:

Thursday, September 01, 2011

America's Iraq Mini- My Lai Massacre Erupts

A Wikileaks firebomb.    This time it's a U.S. diplomatic cable indicating that, in 2006, American soldiers entered a house in the Iraqi village of Ishaqi, near Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, and killed everyone inside.   Ten civilians died, ranging from a 70-year old woman  to a 5-month old child.

Of the ten killed, four were women and five were children all under the age of 5. 

A U.S. diplomatic cable made public by WikiLeaks provides evidence that U.S. troops executed at least 10 Iraqi civilians, including a woman in her 70s and a 5-month-old infant, then called in an airstrike to destroy the evidence, during a controversial 2006 incident in the central Iraqi town of Ishaqi.

The unclassified cable, which was posted on WikiLeaks' website last week, contained questions from a United Nations investigator about the incident, which had angered local Iraqi officials, who demanded some kind of action from their government. U.S. officials denied at the time that anything inappropriate had occurred.

But Philip Alston, the U.N.'s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said in a communication to American officials dated 12 days after the March 15, 2006, incident that autopsies performed in the Iraqi city of Tikrit showed that all the dead had been handcuffed and shot in the head.

The McClatchey Newspapers account indicates that American authorities did not respond to requests for information at the time and they're not talking now either.

The cable closely tracks what neighbors told reporters for Knight Ridder at the time. (McClatchy purchased Knight Ridder in spring 2006.) Those neighbors said the U.S. troops had approached the house at 2:30 a.m. and a firefight ensued. In addition to exchanging gunfire with someone in the house, the American troops were supported by helicopter gunships, which fired on the house.

The cable also backs the original report from the Joint Coordination Center, which said U.S. forces entered the house while it was still standing. That first report noted: "The American forces gathered the family members in one room and executed 11 persons, including five children, four women and two men. Then they bombed the house, burned three vehicles and killed their animals."