Monday, March 30, 2015

Are We Allied with Sunni Arab States Intent on Wiping Out Shiites?

The United Nations would like a word with you.

It's about that hopelessly scrambled mess of an air war now underway in the Middle East from Iraq to Syria and, now, Yemen.  It's the Yemeni business, our Saudi ally's air war in particular, that the UN wants you to know about.

It seems the Saudi air force pilots have been bombing a refugee camp.  These are the Knights of the Air supposedly taking the fight to rebel Houthi forces except that they're not too fussy who gets blown up.



In the late morning, the Mazraq camp in northern Yemeni province of Hajja – close to the border with Saudi Arabia – was bombed.

It is the latest hit on a civilian target since a Saudi-led coalition of eight nations began a bombing campaign last Thursday aiming to displace the Iranian-backed Houthi rebel group from power.

The exact death toll is as yet unconfirmed, but the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is saying 45 people have been killed.

Issa, a resident of the camp, put the number of deaths at between 30-40.

Pablo Marco, Programme Manager for Middle East at Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF), told IRIN there were 29 dead on arrival and at least 34 injured in the hospital they run in the nearby town of Haradh.

What would you like to call it, collateral damage or just a mistake?  That question takes on a different colour when placed in the context of remarks made some time ago to Sir Richard Dearlove, the then head of Britain's MI6, by Saudi prince Bandar bin Sultan.

Prince Bandar told him: "The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally 'God help the Shia'. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them."

I think in anybody's books that's a pretty genocidal proclamation especially coming from a prominent Saudi prince and former fighter pilot.  It's one of those thoughts that sticks in your mind when you consider Saudi bombing strikes on Shia refugee camps.


Has Harperland Made Canada a Rogue State

The Tyee's Crawford Kilian argues that Harper's Canada has become a rogue state.

Kilian disposes of the arguments of those, including several Liberals, who see a "moral imperative" in our air war against ISIS.



It's a very selective morality that attacks the Islamic State in Syria while not attacking Boko Haram in Nigeria, or Russia in Ukraine, and attacks no one at all to protect the millions slaughtered and raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Somalia, and other failing states.

The media and academic war pimps have generally fallen into line with Harper, while dutifully and objectively reporting the opposition's views far down the story. They have no truck with moral imperatives; they just want to speculate on how Justin Trudeau is handling this.

Legally, of course, Harper is jumping into the proverbial quagmire. Foreign Minister Jason Kenney on Tuesday said our current bombing of the Islamic State is at the invitation of the democratically elected Iraqi government. Then on Wednesday Kenney claimed the right of self-defence under the UN Charter's Article 51, which states:

'Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.'

The Security Council, of course, isn't authorizing air raids on Syria -- it's the member state under armed attack, not Canada. A U.N.-sanctioned war, in theory, is the only kind a U.N. member state should engage in. In practice, even those wars tend to end badly (remember Libya?).

...Harper and the Conservatives are peace babies, classic Bush-style chicken hawks. They've grown up with a volunteer-staffed Canadian Forces of around 70,000 active personnel -- roughly one Canadian in 500. Few of us are related to one of them.

...The way to sell a war, they found, was to brand it as an abstract struggle between good and evil somewhere far away. The casualties would be droves of foreign evildoers and a handful of heroes, who would get their pictures on the front page when they died. Those who came home merely screwed up or maimed could be safely forgotten.

This strategy got Bush re-elected, and his successor failed to indict him for war crimes (or to shut down Guantanamo). Stephen Harper must hope that a similar strategy will get him through a perilous spring and summer and then safely home with a second strong, stable, majority government.

How else could he sell himself to the voters? He's touted himself as the guardian of our economic interests, while running up our deficits and promising a balanced budget real soon now. As viceroy of the Oil Patch, he bet the country on exporting expensive oil, and now the Oil Patch is drowning in its own product. We get endless warnings about a housing bubble, job growth has been at record lows for over a year, and the available jobs are crappy part-time ones.

With no end in sight, the economic downturn would demolish Harper and the Conservatives in the next election. But with a sanitary, low-casualty, far-away war to distract people, and Bill C-51 to silence critics, he might just scare enough voters into giving him four more years of the same -- while also running up as big a deficit as he likes.

Meanwhile the Islamic State will be happy to cooperate, whether it inspires our mentally ill or sends its own terrorists. Each outrage will provoke more Canadian response, and damn the cost and the balanced budget. Muslim Canadians will serve the same purpose as the Japanese Canadians after Pearl Harbour: a convenient target for racist bigotry.

But it will all be just entertainment, something to watch on TV or tweet about. We'll ignore the fact that we've become a rogue state, flouting international law. We'll ignore the puzzled looks our allies give us; after all, we were among the key framers of that law after World War II.

Having bet the country on expensive oil and lost, Stephen Harper is now doubling down and betting it on an election-winning war. It's an enormous gamble, and he must know how easily it could blow up in his face. He must therefore also know how bad the economy really is, and how it will worsen by October. Sooner than face certain defeat, he prefers to gamble Canadian lives and honour on a far-away war.



Is Canada Going the Way of Greece?

A report from PBS contends the Canadian economy is "headed off the cliff."

Vikram Mansharamani, a lecturer in the Program on Ethics, Politics & Economics at Yale University and a senior fellow at the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at the Harvard Kennedy School, is concerned about rising home prices and falling oil prices.

Canada is in the midst of an unprecedented housing boom that seems likely to bust. I was recently in Canada and noticed a schizophrenic oscillation between housing exuberance and oil-price despair. What did it mean for the Canadian economy’s outlook? Upon returning to the U.S., I did some research. What I found leads me to the conclusion that Canada is now among the most vulnerable large economies in the world. Here’s why.

First, household credit. The seemingly conservative Canadian population has been voraciously consuming debt at a breakneck pace. Total household debt (C$1.82 trillion) now exceeds GDP (C$1.6 trillion), approximately C$1.3 trillion of which was for residential mortgages. Further, household debt is now greater than 160 percent of disposable income – meaning it would take about 20 months for a family to pay off its debt if interest rates were 0 percent and they spent 100 percent of their disposable income to do so.

Second, housing prices. Home prices continue their basically uninterrupted rise that began in the mid-late 1990s. Unlike the United States real estate markets, which have corrected, Canadian prices continue to rise. Detached single-family homes in Toronto now average more than C$1 million and Vancouver is now deemed the second least affordable city in the world – thanks to Chinese buyers.

Third, crude oil. The impact of lower oil prices is rippling through the economy at breakneck speed. Since 2011, Alberta, the oil-rich home of the oil sands, was responsible for more than 50 percent of all jobs created in Canada. It has been the locomotive of job creation pulling Canada forward, but it is now in reverse. Employment growth has stopped in Alberta and is now shrinking.

Finally, craziness. Yup, not sure how to better categorize what I’m about to say. Here’s the situation, as told to me by Seth Daniels of JKD Capital, one of the most astute Canada-watchers I know. Daniels told me that there is now a booming private mortgage market in which ordinary citizens are borrowing from their home equity lines to lend money to desperate borrowers. Specifically, he noted “a homeowner acts as a subprime lender by drawing his home equity line at ~3%, and lends it to a subprime borrower at 8-12% for one year.”

I honestly didn’t believe him when he first mentioned this to me, but I then confirmed it myself. In fact, if you’re a Canadian and interested, here’s a sales pitch from one vendor. It’s only a matter of time before this shadow mortgage banking market slows, and the ramifications are likely to be enormous as defaults skyrocket, housing prices plummet, and consumer spending rapidly slows.


Net net, the ending of the Canadian credit binge, combined with an oil-driven economic slowdown, is likely to crush consumer sentiment. In this Looney Tune, it seems our Crazy Canadian Coyote has run off the cliff, his feet are still moving, but he has yet to look down. He’s suspended in air, and it’s only a matter of time until gravity exerts its force.

Unfortunately Mansharamani doesn't offer any suggestions about reforms our governments can implement to fend off collapse.  Nothing at all.


Deliver Us From Evil

Why do we tolerate Saudi Arabia when the kingdom, and its Sunni state allies, seems determined to deliver Yemen into the control of ISIS and al Qaeda?

Gwynne Dyer writes that, while we wage an air war against ISIS, the Saudis are undermining our effort with their war on the Yemeni Houthi.

They’ve all shown up for this war. Saudi Arabia and the other monarchies of the Arab world (Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and even Morocco) have all committed aircraft to bombing Yemen. Egypt, Jordan, Sudan and Pakistan have offered to send ground troops. And the United States (which just pulled the last American troops out of Yemen) promises to provide “logistical and intelligence support.”

In practice, however, this coalition of Sunni Arabs and Americans is unlikely to commit large numbers of ground troops to Yemen: the country has been the graveyard of foreign armies from the Romans to the Ottomans. But if they don’t do that, the (entirely unintended) result of their bombing may be to facilitate the take-over of most of Yemen by al-Qaeda and/or ISIS

Sunni paranoia about the rise of Shia power has its roots in the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. So long as the Sunni minority ruled Iraq, it limited the influence of Iran, the paramount Shia power, in the Arab world. With the US overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the destruction of Sunni supremacy in Iraq, Iran’s power automatically soared – and so did its influence in Shia parts of the Arab world.

Iran didn’t have to do anything particularly aggressive for paranoia to take off in the Sunni countries of the Gulf. Of the 140 million citizens of countries that border on the Persian/Arabian Gulf, about two-thirds are Shias. With a Shia-dominated government in Baghdad, Saudi Arabia and the smaller Sunni Arab monarchies felt terribly exposed and began to see Shia plots everywhere.

...The “coalition” is now bombing the Houthis all over the country. How intensively and how accurately remains to be seen, but if they really succeed in breaking the Houthi grip on central and southern Yemen, they will create a power vacuum that will NOT be filled by the “legitimate” president of Yemen, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, whom they are allegedly trying to restore to power.

Hadi’s forces have utterly disintegrated, and Houthi fighters now occupy the temporary capital that he established in his home city, Aden. (The real capital, Sanaa, has been in Houthi hands since September.) Hadi left Aden by boat on Tuesday, which suggests that he has left the country entirely – unless he plans to create another provisional capital on, say, the island of Socotra.

So if the coalition bombs the Houthis out of Aden, but does not commit ground troops of its own, the real winners will be the al-Qaeda forces that wait just outside the city. Much the same goes for Taiz, the third city, and even for Sanaa itself: it is al-Qaeda or ISIS jihadis who stand to profit most from a Houthi retreat.


Perfect, Mr. Harper.  Just what in hell have you gotten us stuck into?  One thing is sure, if you really do intend to "defeat ISIS" as your supposed defence minister claims, you're going to need a lot more than a sixpack of CF-18s.  And don't forget to bring your chequebook.





Sunday, March 29, 2015

Why Syrzia Matters. It's About a Good Deal More than Austerity. It's About Salvaging Democracy.



Le Monde reminds all of us why Syrzia matters not just in Greece, but across Europe and even on our side of the North Atlantic.

The Greeks don’t need to have the meaning of the word “democracy” explained to them. Even so, they have been given countless lectures since voting in a leftwing government determined to end the austerity policies that have made their lives a misery for six years. The schoolmasterly reprimands have come from people who know what they are talking about: they are people who imposed treaties their electorates had voted against and reneged on campaign promises as soon as they came to power. They are now in a trial of strength with Syriza, which has been trying, against terrible odds, to stick to its promises and beliefs. That trial was all the tougher since those beliefs may spread thoughts of resistance to those hitherto resigned to powerlessness. This confrontation has been about more than just the fate of Greece: the future of European democracy is at stake.

...Though Syriza is isolated in the EU, hounded by its creditors and faced with capital flight, it is in fact trying to rehabilitate concepts that have become alien to democratic life, such as “sovereignty”, “dignity”, “pride” and “hope”. But how could it do so in a state of permanent financial crisis when it is forced to back down in each successive negotiation? And do so all the more painfully as the means designed to throttle the will of a restive populace were shown publicly, while the tormentors chuckled as they recounted the most recent confrontations.

...As its finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has made clear, Greece is “determined not to be treated like a debt colony that should suffer”. What is at stake goes beyond the right of a people to choose their destiny, even when a judge of democratic niceties as fine as German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble reckons that they have “elected a government which is acting somewhat irresponsibly”. Because the question also concerns the possibility of a state extricating itself from destructive policies, rather than having to further toughen those policies each time they fail.

....
Greece’s economic collapse, which has now lasted six years, is comparable to the damage that four years of military destruction and foreign occupation inflicted on France in the first world war.  Which explains why Tsiprias's government gets enormous pupular support — even from the right — every time it refuses to prolong such a destructive policy, and why it is unwilling to survive “like a junkie waiting for his next fix”. But Syriza has few friends outside Greece. As in Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, to investigate the potential killers of Greece’s hopes would mean interviewing every EU government, and the chief suspect would be Germany: the failed disciplinary strictures are German, and it intends to squeeze those — especially in Mediterranean countries — who refuse to endure them indefinitely. In Spain, Portugal and Ireland, the governments’ motive for the crime is more sordid. Their citizens would benefit if the iron fist of austerity stopped pounding them. But their governments are afraid, especially when they feel threatened by a domestic challenge from the left, that Greece will demonstrate that it is possible to refuse to follow “a well-marked path, a known path, a path that the markets and the institutions and all the European authorities know,” the path that French finance minister Michel Sapin claims must be “explored right to the end”. The prospect of Greece breaking free would show that all these governments were gravely mistaken to make their people suffer needlessly.

Everyone knows that getting Greece’s debt repaid would be like “extracting blood from a stone” (Paul Krugman, The New York Times, 29 January). So why isn’t it equally clear that Syriza’s economic strategy to finance urgent social expenditure through a determined fight against tax fraud could draw on a young, determined, popular, political force, originating in social movements and free of the compromises and corruption of the past? Even if not marked out, the path is discernible. The uncertain future brings to mind what the philosopher Simone Weil wrote about workers’ strikes in France in June 1936: “No one knows how things will turn out. There is reason to fear a range of disasters. ... But no fear can erase the joy of seeing those who have always had to bow their heads, by definition, standing up for themselves. ... Whatever may happen next, we will always have had this. For the first time, and forever, there will be other memories floating around these heavy machines than silence, coercion and submissiveness”. The Greeks’ struggle is universal. Our good wishes no longer suffice. The solidarity it deserves calls for action. Time is still, as always, running out.




Want Canada to Make a Difference? Let's Back Tunisia.



Face it.  There's not much hope that we're really going to achieve anything significant from our air war in Iraq, regardless of whether we get stuck into Syria also.

All ISIS needs to survive is a nation in chaos.  They weren't in on the ground floor in Syria.  ISIS moved in after the civil war was well underway.  Same thing for Libya.  ISIS moved in once the anti-Gaddafi forces had established a viable resistance.  Iraq, same same.  Yemen, ditto.

ISIS is into turf, acquiring control.  Muslim countries that are destabilized are the organization's preferred hunting ground.

Our approach to ISIS - bombing - is futile.  It amounts to "we'll bomb ISIS here but not there, there, there, there or there."  Sounds pretty rational, doesn't it?  Sort of like the Brits figuring to defeat Hitler by liberating the Channel Islands.  Then again, you can never underestimate a government that has Harper at its head and Jason Kenney as its defence minister.

If we wanted to give ISIS a setback, we could begin with Tunisia.  That's a great place to draw the line, to stop the spread of radical Sunni Islamists.   We might not get to bomb anybody but sometimes you have to sacrifice for the greater good.

Why Tunisia?  Because it has a population ready to turn out by the tens of thousands to denounce extremism. And these people know a thing or two because they're the same crowd that sparked the "Arab Spring" and achieved a stable democratic system for it.

Let's back Tunisia.  Let's give them at least as much support as we're squandering on Iraq to make sure they have everything they need to anchor their democracy and deny ISIS the power vacuum so instrumental to its spread.  Draw the line, stop the fanatical brigands here, and then slowly begin rolling them back.

Post script:

What I'm proposing here is a completely Canadian response.  As I've written repeatedly, the last thing this region needs is more fighter jets to bomb Iraq.  Tell you what we should do.  Let's take our six pack of CF-18s out of Kuwait and add those to the six pack we have carving holes in the skies over the Baltics.  This time, let's double down.  Bring in another dozen from Cold Lake and Bagotville. Then let's ship over half our tanks and a regiment or two of our soldiers.  Then let's set up shop somewhere in Tunisia.

Our role won't be political or cultural.  There'll be no economic back story.  It'll simply be that we, Canada, have decided that Tunisia shall not be threatened, or attacked and never, ever destroyed.  And we, Canada, (not some coalition of the feckless and compromised) will stand surety for their democracy and liberty.

We're doing this not just for Tunisia but for us too and for everyone else.  Where better but a stable, democratic and free (from both Islamic and Western dogma) Arab state to bring the Muslim world into the 21st century and show that Islam and democracy are not remotely mutually exclusive.

Tunisia should really be seen by the outside world as the true, irreplaceable gem in the crown.  Where are we if we lose that?

It's Degrading. Right Before Your Eyes.



What if somebody told you that, globally, mankind has about 60-years of farmland left. It's hard to grasp how farmland, something that goes back to prehistory, could be in such peril.

It's already happening and it's gathering steam with each passing year.  It is the degradation of farmland around the world.

We've got 7+ billion mouths to feed today.  Some expect that to swell to 9 billion in coming decades and possibly 11 or 12-billion by the end of the century.  That's a lot of mouths to fill and an increasing percentage of those mouths want to get filled with the good stuff, especially meat.

What with wastage - spoilage, loss and contamination mainly - mankind has developed a potentially lethal dependence on industrial agriculture.  That means crazy volumes of water and even crazier amounts of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.  Those chemicals, in turn, degrade the soil.  It's a linear process that goes from rich soil to dirt to desert which may have something to do with it being called "desertification."

This may sound novel to you but there's been a good deal of research into the productive decline of farmland around the world.  Even the good stuff - our own farmland with the latest agricultural techniques - is measurably degraded. Elsewhere, it's a far more grave problem.

Indeed one reason our numbers have swelled so enormously so quickly is that the Green Revolution allowed historically food-insecure countries to produce bumper crops through the intensive use of groundwater irrigation, chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.  Unfortunately no one worried about how all good things must end - until recently that is.

Generating three centimeters of top soil takes 1,000 years, and if current rates of degradation continue all of the world's top soil could be gone within 60 years, a senior UN official said on Friday.

About a third of the world's soil has already been degraded, Maria-Helena Semedo of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) told a forum marking World Soil Day.

The causes of soil destruction include chemical-heavy farming techniques, deforestation which increases erosion, and global warming. The earth under our feet is too often ignored by policymakers, experts said.

"Soils are the basis of life," said Semedo, FAO's deputy director general of natural resources. "Ninety five percent of our food comes from the soil."

Unless new approaches are adopted, the global amount of arable and productive land per person in 2050 will be only a quarter of the level in 1960, the FAO reported, due to growing populations and soil degradation.


There are strategies to slow and at least partially reduce the soil problems but not without some disruption of the food supply and the difficult process of breaking our attachment to industrial agra.  Can it be done?  The wildly optimistic response would be "possibly, maybe if."







Because You Really Can't Tell the Players Without a Programme


The Duffy trial is just about a week away.  It seems like forever since the scandal broke plunging Harper's PMO and the Senate into a fearful rout.

To get you back up to speed on the scandal and all the players, National Post has published a dandy primer on the Who's Who of the witnesses expected to be called at trial.

There's a big bag full of names some of which, by the time this trial is over, you'll probably hope never to hear again.

That Burnt Smell, That Hissing Sound? That's the Fuze.

Ready to Rumble
\Well, if nothing else, Stephen Harper might just have earned Canada a ringside seat to the outbreak of a Middle East regional war.  The way the International Crisis Group sees it, the Saudi air war on Shiite Yemeni rebels might just be the burning fuze that explodes the Sunni-Shia powder keg.

Obama and the Euros are trying to calm the situation, urging a negotiated peace between Yemen's Sunni government and the Houthi rebels but, according to the ICG, the mixed up gaggle of players aren't in the mood for talking.

No major party seems truly to want to halt what threatens to become a regional war. The slim chance to salvage a political process requires that regional actors immediately cease military action and help the domestic parties agree on a broadly acceptable president or presidential council. Only then can Yemenis return to the political negotiating table to address other outstanding issues.

The Huthi-Hadi divide is the most explosive, but it is not the only conflict. Tensions are also unsettling the recent marriage of convenience between the Huthis and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who, after being deposed in 2011, has taken advantage of popular dissatisfaction and tacitly allied himself with the Huthis against their common enemies to stage a political comeback through his party, the General People’s Congress (GPC), and possibly his son, Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh. Divisions in the south, which was an independent state prior to its 1990 union with the north, are rampant as well. Southern separatists are internally split and suspicious of Hadi, a southerner who supports continued unity with the north. Then there are al-Qaeda and a nascent Islamic State (IS) movement, both determined to fight the Huthis and take advantage of the state’s collapse to claim territory.

...GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council - the Sunni Arab states] countries have lost faith as well and are increasingly committed to reversing Huthi gains at virtually any cost. Saudi Arabia considers the Huthis Iranian proxies, a stance that pushes them closer to Tehran. Throwing their weight behind Hadi, the Saudis moved their embassy to Aden and reportedly bankroll anti-Huthi tribal mobilisation in the central governorate of Marib and the south. They lead efforts to isolate the Huthis diplomatically, strangle them economically and, now, weaken them militarily. In turn, the Huthis denounce Hadi as illegitimate and offer $100,000 for his capture. They have conducted military exercises on the Saudi border and likely will harden their position in response to Saudi military intervention. They are less dependent on Tehran than Hadi and his allies are on Riyadh, but on today’s trajectory, their relative self-sufficiency will not last long. They are already soliciting Iranian financial and political support.

...Without minimum consensus within and beyond its borders, Yemen is headed for protracted violence on multiple fronts. This combination of proxy wars, sectarian violence, state collapse and militia rule has become sadly familiar in the region. Nobody is likely to win such a fight, which will only benefit those who prosper in the chaos of war, such as al-Qaeda and IS. But great human suffering would be certain. An alternative exists, but only if Yemenis and their neighbours choose it.


This is a perfect example of what's being called "new war."  It's a furball of state and non-state actors.  Governments, including outside nations, rebels, insurgents, militias, terrorists and criminal organizations.  It's a very fluid type of warfare that commonly features shifting alliances among the parties and widely differing and at times irreconcilable political and territorial objectives.  In the context of a negotiated peace, it really is the equivalent of herding cats.

We're not built for this stuff.  We like our combat "old war" style.  Good guys versus bad guys; winners and losers; war and peace.  We don't know what to do when peace is not a realistic option, certainly not an outcome we can dictate. That's when we do what we Westerners have been doing since Algeria and Viet Nam.  It's what we did in Afghanistan and Iraq and it's partially responsible for the hot mess that is the Middle East today.  We go into a place, toss it over, hang around for a decade or so and then leave.  We cannot accept, despite our persistent lack of success, that we're on a path to near certain failure.  It's right there in the user guide - our side gets to win.  End of story.  What, can't these people read?

UPDATE - The United Nations has thrown in the towel, pulling all UN personnel out of Yemen, a measure that's seen as dashing all hopes of a negotiated deal of any sort.

One other thought.  If this business in Yemen is the opening salvo in a grand, Sunni versus Shiite regional war, let's hope Harper has plans to get our people out of the Middle East on short notice.  If this thing blow up, everyone might start looking like the enemy.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

What Is It With Barrick Gold?



When Bryan Mulroney left politics he took a spot on the board of Barrick Gold.  So, too, did George H.W. Bush after he failed to win a second term as president.  Now it's John Baird who has a date with Barrick destiny, apparently as an "adviser."  Baird will be joined by Newt Gingrich, also appointed to Barrick's international advisory board.

It's not exactly a demanding job.  Barrick says the international advisory board meets "about once a year."

The job probably won't put Baird on Easy Street but he might try picking up a few of Pam Wallin's former directorships to help make ends meet.

What Has Jason Kenney Been Smoking?



Seriously.  I'm wondering if our fledgling defence minister was high, high, high, when he proclaimed that, after we defeat ISIS,  Iraq and Syria better not look to Canada to create a model democracy in those states.

That's sort of like me asking the confirmed bachelor if he's stopped beating his wife yet.  Apparently, though, Mr. Kenney foresees that we are going to defeat ISIS.  Where?  How?  When?

He's an amicable little shit but I think minister Kenney is in way over his head on this portfolio.  Fortunately for Kenney, Canada has already outsourced most of our foreign and defence policy decisions to Washington.  All he has to do is listen for America's dog whistle.

It's really not all that bad so long as you don't expect Jason Kenney, ISIS Slayer to make a whole  lot of sense.


About that "Of the People, By the People, For the People" Business? Forget About It.

Proof positive that America is a corporatist state saddled with a "bought and paid for" Congress.

The big US banks have given the Democrats an ultimatum - silence progressives like Elizabeth Warren or we'll cut off our funding.  Salon.com calls it "Wall Street's political shakedown."

If ever you doubted that our obscene campaign finance regime constitutes a form of legalized bribery, consider this: Reuters reports today that officials at top Wall Street banks recently convened to discuss how they could convince Democrats “to soften their party’s tone” toward the financial industry, and among the options now under consideration is halting campaign donations to Senate Democrats unless they rein in progressive populists like Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

The banks represented at the Washington meeting included Citigroup, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, according to the report, and though the idea of withholding campaign contributions did not arise at that gathering, it has since been floated in conversations among representatives from the banks.

There are two salient points to be made here: First, while only the most naive mind could consider it surprising, that Democrats are clutching their pearls over a possible drought of Wall Street funds underscores how poisoned our campaign finance system has become, and it speaks volumes about the plutocratic capture of American politics. Moreover, the report further puts the lie to Chief Justice John Roberts’ apparently straight-faced assertion, writing his opinion in the Citizens United case, that campaign contributions are not intended to influence lawmakers’ official duties.

...Yet here we have an industry that may well cut off a political party if it does not jettison proposals like breaking up “Too Big To Fail” institutions, reinstating the Glass-Steagall law separating commercial and investment banking, and reining in unscrupulous speculation. These proposals have galvanized the Warren wing of the Democratic Party, which may be emboldened but is far from dominant. Look no further than Wall Street’s affinity for the party’s likely presidential nominee, or the identity of the Democrats’ potential next leader in the Senate, a top recipient of financial industry contributions.

For Democratic neoliberals who have proven all too eager to forge an unholy alliance with the malefactors of great wealth, this Wall Street shakedown will only redouble their commitment to keep the financial powers-that-be placated.



From Bad to Worse to Absolutely Nuts. How Yemen Complicates and Confounds Everything in Our War on ISIS.



MSM reporters are finally beginning to figure out that all's not what it seems with our air war against ISIS.  There are wheels spinning within wheels on this one.  There's the religious civil war between Shiite and Sunni Islam, Saudi Arabia versus Iran.  Then there's China's interest in expanding its presence and influence in the Middle East.  Russia is holding a hand too although it's keeping its cards pretty close to its chest for now.

Much as we badmouth ISIS, it does have its usefulness.  Among other things it's presence has become the hallmark of a failed state.  If ISIS is there, the place has gone all to hell.  ISIS shows up just in time to push everything over the edge.  ISIS also lets us see our supposed friends in a clearer light.  ISIS is in Iraq which has gone all to hell.  ISIS is in Libya which has gone all to hell.  ISIS is big in Syria - yeah, gone all to hell.  ISIS is in Yemen - ditto, ditto, ditto.

ISIS is synonymous with chaos.  Which brings up an interesting point.  How do you restore order out of chaos with a bombing campaign?  You could put that question to the half-wits that make up our political and military leadership but you would need to be fluent in babble to make any sense of them.

The lack of any shred of coherence in our current adventure in the Middle East is blatant in the fighting now underway in Yemen.  Lots of players there.  Start with the ousted (Sunni) president, a puppet of the Saudis.  Also on the Sunni side are ISIS and al Qaeda fighters.  Among their ranks are the guys on whom Obama has been waging drone warfare for.. well, it feels like forever.  On the other side are the Houthi rebels, a Shiite bunch, who have been kicking their government's ass and are engaged in fierce combat against ISIS and al Qaeda.  But wait, there's more.  Asia Times has a good backgrounder.

Simply put, the conclusion becomes unavoidable that while Obama has no option but to be seen openly holding the hands of King Salman, a key ally, the US would have serious misgivings about the efficacy of the military intervention achieving anything of lasting value. The Saudis, after all, have no known record in modern history of being great performers in wars and the Americans willy-nilly factor in that if and when the Saudi operations in Yemen fail, a direct US military intervention may become unavoidable, which means involvement in another Middle eastern war, which is something that Obama has refused to contemplate.

Most certainly, Washington would also see that the weakening of the Houthis at the present juncture can only shift the balance of forces in favor of the extremist Islamist groups affiliated with the al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Meanwhile, the standoffish stance taken by the European Union would also imply an early warning to the US from Brussels that it will essentially have to opt for a ‘coalition of the willing’ to carry forward any sustained military intervention in Yemen. In a clear-cut statement on Thursday, the EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has disapproved of military actions on the whole and has counseled that the aim should be to reach “a political consensus through negotiations” so that a “sustainable solution” becomes available.

...Conceivably, Obama and Mogherini’s thinking converge. And that brings in the role of Russia and Iran. Of course, Moscow and Tehran have held consultations. President Vladimir Putin received a phone call on Thursday from his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani and has been reported as stressing “the urgency of an immediate cessation of hostilities and of stepping up efforts, including the UN, to develop options for a peaceful settlement of the conflict.”

Clearly, Moscow is reading the tea leaves correctly that US will turn to the UN Security Council shortly to open a political and diplomatic track and that Russia’s cooperation becomes vital.

Hey, even Pakistan wants in.

This dominant thinking in the world capitals make it very difficult for the Saudis to push ahead with the military operations and expand them to a ground offensive. Interestingly, Riyadh has since advised Islamabad to postpone the visit by a high-level Pakistani delegation including military officials that was to have taken place on Friday. (See my blog Pakistan’s Yemeni War.) Sensing that the Saudis are having a rethink, Islamabad has also quickly re-calibrated its earlier enthusiasm to be part of the Saudi-led coalition.

All in all, the Saudi operations in Yemen are lacking a sense of direction and may have to give way to the political and diplomatic track sooner than later. Iran will be pleased that the prospect of the Houthis being accommodated in Yemen’s power structure in Sana’a as a legitimate constituent party looks brighter than ever. If that happens, Shi’ite empowerment in the region gains further ground. Indeed, the suppressed Shi’ite communities in Bahrain (where Shi’ites are in majority) and other regional states in the Gulf, including even in Saudi Arabia, are watching closely the denouement in Yemen.

As the best-organized force in Yemen, the Houthis can afford to play the long game. Their winning trump card, in the ultimate analysis, is that they are the bulwark against the al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Yemen — and not the GCC states.

Our leaders, political and military, cannot see where this is going.  Harper and Kenney do not see the larger picture.  They haven't got a clue.  The conflict in Iraq is tied into Syria and, through ISIS and al Qaeda, those conflicts are tied into Yemen and the victorious Houthis are kindred spirits with the "suppressed Shi'ite" minorities in the Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia where most of the really good oil fields are in Shiite areas.  

And what does it really come down to at the end of the day?  This is it.


Sunni Muslims regard themselves as the orthodox and traditionalist branch of Islam.

The word Sunni comes from "Ahl al-Sunna", the people of the tradition. The tradition in this case refers to practices based on precedent or reports of the actions of the Prophet Muhammad and those close to him.

Sunnis venerate all the prophets mentioned in the Koran, but particularly Muhammad as the final prophet. All subsequent Muslim leaders are seen as temporal figures.

In early Islamic history the Shia were a political faction - literally "Shiat Ali" or the party of Ali.

The Shia claimed the right of Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, and his descendants to lead the Islamic community.


There you go.  Now does all this chaos make sense?  Is it finally clear?







Friday, March 27, 2015

Even Diplomats Admit Our Middle East Policy is a Mess.



Of course it's a mess bordering on schizophrenia.  We can't figure out which side we should be fighting, Sunni or Shia.  We're bombing Sunnis on behalf of the Shia in Iraq and, soon enough, Syria but we're backing the Sunnis in their air war against Shiite rebels in Yemen.  Next year we might switch sides again.

What's going wrong here, what's missing?

I think I know.  We're succumbing to a messed up foreign policy because we haven't yet accepted that we've become unwitting warriors in a religious civil war underway in the Muslim world.  It's Saudi Arabia versus Iran, Sunni versus Shiite, and we're reduced to proxies, muscle for one side against the other.  Why should they do the heavy lifting when we'll show up to do it for them?

800-front line jet fighters sitting in the hangars of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf States, all of them within easy striking distance of ISIS, so why are we sending a six pack of aging CF-18s 10,450 kms, the distance from Cold Lake, Alberta to Kuwait?  Their kit is mainly newer than ours and often better.  These Arab states are literally awash in F-15s, F-16s, F-18s, Eurofighter Typhoons, Panavia Tornadoes and Mirages of all varieties.  So, why us?



"We’re not taking sides against a Shia faction [on behalf of] a Sunni faction,” insisted a State Department spokesman, Jeff Rathke. “We’re trying to promote a dialogue process in which the views of all Yemenis can be taken into account, and it’s the Houthis who have refused to engage in that dialogue.”


This, of course, is pure bullshit.  The Saudis have been dropping American and Israeli-made ordinance, including cluster bombs, on Yemen's Houthis for months now as discovered by Vice News.  Everybody wants to pretend this just started. That's nonsense.

The US has also denied it is overtly working in concert with an Iranian-backed assault on Islamic State militants in Tikrit, arguing that their interests only temporarily overlap.

But Rathke revealed the conflict in Yemen had been raised at a meeting between John Kerry, the secretary of state, and his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif during talks in Lausanne that are separately aimed at reaching a treaty with Iran over its nuclear programme...

“Yes, it is messy. It is contradictory. That’s foreign policy,” a former US ambassador to Yemen, Barbara Bodine, told the Guardian.

“As opposed to seeing it as ad hoc … I would prefer to see it as tailored to local circumstances,” she added. “I would be more concerned if we had some sort of overly rigid policy. I think that would do us less good.”


Hey, I've got just the idea to sort this out.  Wednesdays and Thursdays and every second Monday we'll bomb Shiites.  The other days we'll bomb Sunnis.  There, perfect.

It's a Muslim Religious Civil War and We're Going In Blind.

When we see one of our closest Arab allies, Saudi Arabia, go after a Shiite bunch engaged in combat with ISIS and al Qaeda forces, the same groups we're supposedly fighting, then it should be obvious that all is not as it seems. Suddenly this entire anti-ISIS coalition smells off.

Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar are up to their arses in modern strike fighters, over 800 among them, and they're within easy flying range of ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria.  Stationing a penny packet of 6 CF-18s in that territory is literally sending coals to Newcastle.

I assume Obama has any number of geo-political reasons for delivering yet another Western air armada to fight ISIS but c'mon it's the tail wagging the dog as usual. We, however, seem to be there because somebody blew the "coalition" dog whistle.  That's life in America's Aerial Foreign Legion.

Harper is utterly Pavlovian about these gigs.  It's the equivalent of yelling "squirrel" to a setter.



We get in, not knowing what we're going to achieve or how or what we're going to do when things go sideways which is often the result of going into these things in such a half-arsed manner.

Vic Toews - Deadbeat Tenant

He says he couldn't understand the documents because they were in French even though the judgment was entitled "Decision."  It wasn't until former Harper henchman Vic Toews judges' salary was garnished that the little moustache figured it out.

Toews left Ottawa owing his Gatineau, P.Q. landlord apparently stiffed for three-months rent, a total of about $3,900.

The landlord waited a year before turning the debt over to a collection agency that notified Toews in December to pay up.  When Vic didn't cough up, his salary as a judge on Manitoba's Court of Queens Bench was attached.

Toews, the former Minister for Family Values, hasn't confirmed whether he's paid up yet.


Running on Empty - Harper Defence Budget Stretching Military to Breaking Point



It's the usual story.  The federal government talks a good game but it's just empty talk. A glaring example is Canada's military.  Harper came to power promising to build up the Canadian Forces into a war waging, ass kicking powerhouse.  Rick "The Beached Cod" Hillier praised Harper to the rafters for rescuing the forces from their "decade of darkness" under the Liberals.

Today the boast is burst.  Harper has his own stealth programme, quietly defunding the military.  As Liberal senator Colin Kenny has pointed out, Harper won't downsize the military to meet his budget cuts, unemployed soldiers would be hard to conceal.  Instead he's just allowing their equipment to fall apart as already overdue replacement is stalled.

Harper's Hubris inevitably summons Harper's Nemesis, the parliamentary budget officer.

Jean-Denis Frechette, the parliamentary budget officer, says the federal government will need to either pour more money into its defence budget, scale back its ambitions, or do a mixture of both in order to put Canada’s military on a sustainable footing.

The Harper government currently spends $21.5 billion on defence — or 1.1 per cent of the gross domestic product.

In order to sustain the existing number of troops, bases, tanks, planes and ships, the budget office says the Conservatives will have to spend about 1.6 per cent of GDP, which would be an increase of at least $3 billion annually.


“The model shows that it was only with the significant spending increases seen in the latter half of the 2000s that the affordability gap was closed and capability was able to be maintained and to some extent re-built. However, the recent cuts to the defence budget point to an impending affordability gap beginning in this fiscal year.”

That affordability gap — or shortfall — runs anywhere between $33 billion and $42 billion.

Frechette said, under the current budget structure, the government can afford a military about the same size it had in 1999, at the height of what the Conservatives have often described as the “decade of darkness” under the Liberals.


The Great Economist doesn't seem to understand that you can only play war war if you're ready to pay pay.  Ask the Royal Canadian Navy.  They can't sally forth to defend even one of Canada's three coasts because their air defence destroyers and provisioning ships are at dockside preparing for their next life as artificial reefs.  

It speaks volumes of the character of Stephen Harper that he shamelessly squeezed every drop of political capital possible out of the dead and broken bodies of Canadian troops in Afghanistan and then dumped them when they were of no further use to him.  This while Vlad Putin is aggressively contesting the skies and the seas, especially in the Arctic where Canada stands wholly unprepared.



Thursday, March 26, 2015

From the Mekong to the Rio Grande - Some Things Just Don't Change

During the Vietnam War, America maintained a large and active riverine force to patrol the Mekong and its tributaries to engage Viet Cong elements.  It was a role featured in the movie, Apocalypse Now.  Remember this scene from the movie?


That was then, this is now only today it's the Rio Grande that the Americans are patrolling with machine guns.


Gee that machine gun looks familiar.  Wow, it's the same (only a bit updated). But what about the menacing looking guy with the baseball hat and sunglasses? That's former Texas governor and Republican presidential hopeful, Rick Perry, manning up for what is claimed to be the now obligatory Rio Grande cruise for Republican aspirants.

New Contest. Spot the Progressive!

I'll bet you've got inside yourself some sense of progress, progressive, progressivism.  Even bad people have a little.

The question today is whether progressivism remains a real construct in Canadian politics.  Have our political parties become so neoliberal as to eradicate progressivism?

Let's take a look at some of the major problems of the day.  You think of how a progressive would respond.  Then compare that of any of the three main parties seeking power today.

What about an easy one, Palestine?  How would a progressive respond to that volatile and worsening problem?  How would Harper, Trudeau and Mulcair respond?  Short of condemning Israel for its half century of enslavement of a people, how would a progressive respond?

See what I'm getting at?  Take a problem.  Here's a partial list:  climate change, health care, education, inequality, bitumen trafficking, Arctic Canada, democratic deficit, free and fair elections, freedom of information, press freedom, corporatism... you could easily spend half a day tacking items onto this list.  Just pick a couple or a few and try to envision what would be a progressive approach to them.  Then "contrast and compare" that with the thin gruel being offered up by our major political parties.

Who knows, maybe you'll be able to Spot the Progressive.  Somehow I doubt it.

I Used to Find Him Odd. Now I Know He's Nuts.

He's the Republican presidential nomination front runner (if only because there's no one else in the race yet) and he's a special guy at that.  In his own humble opinion, Ted Cruz is a modern day Galileo.  And those of us who accept the scientific consensus on climate change?  Well, in the curious mind of Galileo Cruz, we're "Flat Earthers."

Speaking to the Texas Tribune on Tuesday, Cruz said that contemporary “global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-Earthers.”
“You know it used to be it is accepted scientific wisdom the Earth is flat, and this heretic named Galileo was branded a denier,” he said.

In Cruz’s opinion, when it comes to climate change, his denier position places him alongside 17th Century scientist Galileo Galilei, who was also considered to be denying the mainstream knowledge of his day. According to Cruz’s logic, he is taking the minority view that human-caused climate change is not happening, just as Galileo took the minority view that the scientific method should be trusted over the Catholic Church.

Crazy is not considered grounds for disqualification for running for the Republican presidential nod.  See:  Santorum, Rick.

A Little Perspective, Please.

You can sling a lot of bombs from an F-15, eh Saudi Arabia?

There's a split in the Liberal ranks over Canada's role in our notional air war against ISIS.  Should we be bombing ISIS forces in Iraq?  Should we expand our missions into Syria?

Some, like the Loudmouth Liberal see this as our moral duty, utterly unassailable.  Our six CF-18s are needed to keep these monsters at bay.  It's our duty as real Canadians to do our bit.

This is where a little perspective might come in handy.  Now, ISIS is a fundamentalist Sunni band of brigands.  These insurgent/rebels had to come from somewhere and nobody's pointing fingers at Shiite Iran.  That's because they're largely from the Sunni Gulf States.

Let's have a look at some of those Sunni countries in the neighbourhood.  First up is Egypt.  What could Sunni Egypt contribute to this melee?  Egypt is the fourth-largest operator of the F-16.  They've got about 228 of those.  Add to that 18 Mirage 2000s and 200-older jet fighters.

How about the Sunni Saudis?  They've got even better stuff.  150 F-15s, 40 Eurofighter Typhoons, and 80 Panavia Tornadoes.  That's a mittful.  Next up, Sunni Jordan.  The RJAF has about 60 F-16s.  Sunni Kuwait has 35 F-18s and they're a lot newer than ours.  Even Sunni Qatar has a dozen Mirage 2000s.

Oh yeah, I've left out NATO's Muslim member, Sunni Turkey.  It's one of a handful of countries that actually produces its own F-16s and they currently operate about 260 of those multirole fighters with more coming off the line all the time.

All totaled that comes out to well over 800 combat aircraft that would be just dandy for suppressing Sunni ISIS.  It's an aerial armada big enough that they could pretty much do the job by dropping bricks if there is ever a bomb shortage. There's so many of them they could darken the sky.

So, to sum up, THEY have many hundreds of modern multi-role fighters parked right on ISIS' doorstep.  WE have six F-18s.  Do you really think the war against ISIS needs six Canadian fighters?  But, if we really are needed, what are all these Sunni Arab air forces doing exactly?

As I pointed out last evening, we know what the Saudis are doing.  They're bombing the guys who are battling (Sunni) ISIS and al Qaeda fighters in Yemen.


Just Sayin'

C'mon, wrap your heads around this one.

Does anybody find it curious that (radical Sunni) Saudi Arabia can barely make a token contribution to the fight against (radical Sunni) ISIS but seems to have no end of firepower to bring down on the heads of the (Shiite) Houthi rebels in Yemen?  Does it matter that the Houthi rebels are mainly fighting al-Qaeda and ISIS forces?  The Houthi are fighting the people we're fighting but we're okay with Saudi Arabia giving ISIS a pass so they can bring the hammers of hell down on the Mouthi?

The Saudis are giving air support to ISIS in Yemen.  What have we gotten ourselves into?

Just sayin'



Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Top Gear Becomes Dropped Gear

The BBC has given Jeremy Clarkson the boot from the world's most popular TV programme, Top Gear.  The show is sold to more than 124 countries and gets about 350-million viewers per episode.   Even in the States there's nothing close.

Clarkson's co-host, James May, says Clarkson is a "nob" but describes the three hosts, Clarkson, May and Richard Hammond as a package and doesn't seem interested in doing the show without him.



My guess?  There might soon be a new car show on a rival network.

Whatever You Do, Don't Let Harper Find Out.

This would appeal to Stephen Harper.  Actually, appeal wouldn't be the right word.

The new leader of Thailand, junta boss Paryuth Chan-ocha, says how he'd react to journalists who don't tell the (junta approved) truth.

Last month Gen Prayuth said he had the power to shut down news outlets, and on Wednesday he took an even harsher line. “We’ll probably just execute them,” said Prayuth, without a trace of a smile, when asked by reporters how the government would deal with those who do not adhere to the official line.

Actually, judging by the cowed performance of most Canadian journalists, maybe Harper already has that policy in place.

A Small But Hard Won Victory Over Harper



It's bittersweet at best.  Health Canada has issued an exemption to Vancouver's Insite, the city's clean needle injection site.  That's not to say the battle is over. Despite the clear ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada, the Harper regime has put Insite on a year-to-year exemption meaning the Vancouver authorities will have to run the regulatory gauntlet every year.

Vancouver Coastal Health is required to apply for an annual exemption to operate Insite.

"We know Insite works," says Coastal Health chief medical health officer Dr. Patricia Daly, in a written statement.

"Thousands of overdose deaths have been prevented, the spread of infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis C have been reduced, and clients can more easily connect to health services like detox and primary health care," she says.


The Harper regime this week passed the Orwellian named Bill C-2, The Respect for Communities Act,  which is a vehicle to heap layers of federal disrespect on communities like Vancouver.

Daly said the new legislation will make the process of applying for an exemption more onerous, requiring volumes of information to meet 27 conditions.

"VCH is troubled by the numerous conditions set out in the new legislation," she said.

Donald MacPherson, spokesman for the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, said he believes the government purposely created Bill C-2 to discourage new sites from opening

"Supervised consumption sites are a response to a very dire situation," he said.


Update:  Alison, of Creekside, sent along a link to a 2010 Paul Wells article from Maclean's that I hadn't read.  This post needs to be considered in light of that article from 5-years ago.  It's proof positive of the malevolent character of this Harper government and the partisan political role the RCMP plays in it.  Thank you, Alison.

Also check out Troy's comment.  Troy, a very eloquent, British Columbia First Nation, has known the streets of East Vancouver.  This disgrace churns in him.

I've Got Just the Thing - Let's Go Fight in Yemen!



We've already got a crew in the neighbourhood, we could probably cut'em a sweet deal.

Yemen asked the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday to back military action by "willing countries" to combat an advance by Shi'ite Muslim Houthi militia, according to a letter from President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi seen by Reuters.

Hadi wants the 15-member body to adopt a resolution to authorize "willing countries that wish to help Yemen to provide immediate support for the legitimate authority by all means and measures to protect Yemen and deter the Houthi aggression."


Hey, when it comes to whacking Muslims, what says "willing country" more than Canada?  And this time we'd get to whack some Shiites .  We've been ripping up Sunnis for almost 15-years and bombing Shiites for once might be a nice change.  Who knows, we might just like it.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/26/world/middleeast/al-anad-air-base-houthis-yemen.html?emc=edit_na_20150325&nlid=25999106&_r=0

Here's some background on Houthi from Vice TV's Ben Anderson that aired several months ago.




Yes, By All Means, Bomb ISIS But Why Not Bomb the Next ISIS Too?

Where do they keep coming from?  We've seen several iterations of radical, fundamentalist Sunni butchers.  They go from mild, the Taliban; to mid-grade, al Qaeda; to full bore,  ISIS, with plenty of other outfits betwixt and between.

If you keep running into 7-foot tall monsters that look like Karloff in drag, while you're slugging it out with them you might start asking just where they're all coming from and where will you fight the next monster?  Then when it dawns on you that there's this doctor named Frankenstein you might want to pay him a visit and bring this nonsense to an end.

We know our doctor Frankenstein.  That would be the vastly wealthy sheikhs and princes of Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States.  Those guys are leaking money so fast that there's plenty to fund these murderous radicals and the bunch after them and the bunch after them and so on.

Whatever happened to, "now clean that up"?  They've got the tanks, they've got the troops, they've got all the whistles and bells so why aren't the Saudis and the Gulf States killing the monsters they created and continue to create?  What conceivably makes that our job?  Have we become Saudi Arabia's janitor, racing with bucket and mop in hand, whenever they leave something embarrassing on the floor?

Just because NATO can't find a decent paying day job does that mean we have to become some Arab prince's day labour?

And what about our pay packet?  When elder Bush waged Desert Storm, America collected enough donations that it actually came out ahead.  Why are we funding this one?  Why aren't those Clown Princes picking up our tab?

This whole business stinks.


Don't Eat That, Charlie, It's Bullshit.


Most of us come with a pretty good "BD" or Bullshit Detector as standard equipment.  People lie, so we need it.  Not that it always works but it's still pretty good.  The more obvious the lie the better our BD works.  White lies sometimes get past us but whoppers rarely do.

So, why?

Why have we spent decades listening to Israeli leaders tell us how they support the "Two State" solution only to then authorize new Israeli settlements on land that plainly belongs to the Palestinians?  Look at it this way - there are now more than 600,000 lies illegally occupying the West Bank.  Why do we still believe this nonsense?

How in hell would Israel ever relocate, oh let's use the term "repatriate" all those settlers back into Israeli territory?  Do you think they haven't already asked and answered that question?  Of course they have. They're not stupid.  And the answer is, and always has been, "we won't."

Take a look up top.  Can you foresee Israel going back from Map 4 to Map 2? Of course not.  So then you're pretending to believe that this Two State business is at least possibly in the cards.  You're making this up in your mind.  The only place it has any illusion of reality is between your ears.

There aren't many people still breathing who know the doctrine of "profit a prendre" or "long user."  They're old real property terms from the days of the ancient British land registry system.  Long user describes the situation where a farmer crosses your field to access his own.  Over the course of 20 or 30-years he acquires a right of long user. It's sometimes a right of carriageway or an easement.  Profit a prendre is a right to take something (okay, let's call it groundwater) from land belonging to another.

Israel has another term for "long user" when it comes to Palestinian lands.  They call it "reality on the ground."  It's another way of saying, "my tank is parked on that hill, ergo it's my hill."  I don't think the Israelis have come up with their own term for profit a prendre but they don't need one, they just take the groundwater without it.

At this point further talk of the Two State solution should have your BD buzzing hard enough to loosen your fillings. So what's the point of pretending it's not?  Is it because we don't like to think bad thoughts?  Is it because we realize we're complicit in the armed conquest and illegal seizure of the Palestinian homeland? Is it because we don't like to trouble our beautiful minds with images of two generations of Palestinians already born into captivity with a third not far off?  Is it because we know that what we're watching is slow-motion ethnic cleansing?

Whatever our excuse, it sucks.    



Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Falklands - Again?



The British government is planning to reinforce its garrison on the Falklands Islands out of concern of another attempt by Argentina to take the islands by force.

The south American nation is feared to be increasing military expenditure. Senior ministers in the country have also made a series of increasingly aggressive statements about the islands in recent years.
[Defence secretary ]Michale Fallon said: "The threat remains. It is a very live threat. We have to respond to it."

He said reports that Russia is working on an agreement to lease 12 long-range bombers to Argentina which could be used to support a renewed attack are unconfirmed.

"We do need to modernise our defences to ensure that we have sufficient troops there and that the islands are properly defended in terms of air defence and maritime defence.

"The threat, of course, to the islands remains but so does our commitment to being absolutely clear that islanders have the right to remain British and the right to proper protection by our forces.

"It is our general view that the threat has not reduced. Argentina still, sadly, maintains its claim to the islands 30 or more years after the original invasion and the war and we have to respond to that."

It's Not For the Sake of Science.



China, the People's Republic Whereof, wants to establish an Arctic research station in Tuktoyaktuk or Cambridge Bay, NWT.

John Higginbotham, senior fellow at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs and the Centre for International Governance Innovation and Arctic policy expert, knows that China is eyeing the Arctic's resource wealth, but says that Canada should welcome researchers, as long as they can ensure that Chinese research adds and builds on work already done by Canada.

"I am not at all concerned that we, Canada, cannot well protect our sovereign interest... while at the same time finding important areas of co-operation and common interest with China," says Higginbotham.

Before we go along with this sort of thing it might be prudent if we got some thorny issues clarified first.

One problem arises out of China's position that seabed resources in the Arctic Ocean should not be governed by the standard international conventions.  China is not an Arctic nation and so it fears that the existing protocols could impair its access to these resources.

A second problem is that China has already stated it wants to maintain a permanent military presence in Arctic waters.  Why?  Does it think the Northwest Passage is in peril from Inuit copying Somali pirates?  Does it worry that Russia, the United States, Canada and Norway can't maintain naval security in their shared waters?  

Of course we have a huge problem.  Beijing is currently our prime minister's Head Office and the Nexen deal showed how low Harper will go to keep his masters happy.  

A Growing Chorus Demanding an End to Denialism.

Climate change denial is immoral.  Who says?  A growing chorus of voices in the United States for starters.

California governor Jerry Brown slammed radical Republican, Ted Cruz, for his denialism arguing it made him "absolutely unfit" for the office of president.

“That man betokens such a level of ignorance and a direct falsification of scientific data,” Brown said Sunday during an appearance on Meet the Press. “It’s shocking and I think that man has rendered himself absolutely unfit to be running for office.”

Now the top woman in the Anglican Communion, a former oceanographer, has denounced climate change denial as an immoral position that reject's God's gift of knowledge.

Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal church and one of the most powerful women in Christianity, said that climate change was a moral imperative akin to that of the civil rights movement. She said it was already a threat to the livelihoods and survival of people in the developing world.

“It is in that sense much like the civil rights movement in this country where we are attending to the rights of all people and the rights of the earth to continue to be a flourishing place,” Bishop Jefferts Schori said in an interview with the Guardian. “It is certainly a moral issue in terms of the impacts on the poorest and most vulnerable around the world already.”


They're in good company.  Pope Francis, who intends to release a Papal Encyclical on climate change, isn't hedging on the issue.

“An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.

“The system continues unchanged, since what dominates are the dynamics of an economy and a finance that are lacking in ethics. It is no longer man who commands, but money. Cash commands.

“The monopolising of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness,” he said.



Did Bibi Spy on Barack? Easy Answer? Of Course.

Israel has never been reluctant to spy on its global benefactor, the United States. Now Washington is accusing Israel of having spied on American negotiations with Iran for a nuclear enrichment treaty.

The apparent decision by the White House to leak the allegations is the latest symptom of the growing gulf between Barack Obama’s administration and Binyamin Netanyahu’s government over the Iran talks, in which the Israeli leader suspects US officials of being ready to make too many concessions at the expense of Israeli security. Intelligence analysts suggested that the leak reflects the degree of anger in Washington at Netanyahu’s actions, and could mark a more serious blow to the already tottering relationship.

The leak has come exactly a week before a deadline for the US-Iranian negotiations in Lausanne to produce a framework agreement.

According to the report, the US has long been aware that Israel is among the shortlist of countries with the most aggressive intelligence operations targeting America, alongside Russia, China and France. It said American diplomats attending the talks in Austria and Switzerland were briefed by US counterintelligence officials about the threat of Israeli eavesdropping. It also raised the possibility that Israel gathered intelligence about the US position by spying on other participants in the negotiations, from western Europe, Russia, China or Iran. US intelligence had previously provided help to the Israelis to spy on the Iranians, the report said.

The fact is that Israel has a rich history of spying on the hand that feeds it some $3-billion a year.

The most infamous case was that of Jonathan Pollard currently serving a life sentence.  By some accounts Pollard may be released from prison this November.  Netanyahu has repeatedly pressed various American presidents to free Pollard at one point claiming it would be an appropriate reward for Israel suspending the expansion of illegal settlements in the Palestinian territories for three months.

In the 60s, Zalman Shapiro was suspected of smuggling weapons-grade uranium from his processing plant in Pennsylvania to Israel.  In 1985, US businessman Richard Smyth was convicted of shipping about 800 nuclear bomb triggers disguised as "radio tubes" to Israel.

Then there's this eye-opening summary of Israeli spying against the United States published in 2004 in CounterPunch.

Overall, it seems that Israel was second only to the Soviet Union in spying on America, at least until the recent ascendancy of China.

I Just Can't Say "Climate Change." I Can't. I Won't.

Florida governor Rick Scott continues to deny that his office has forbidden state staff to use the term "climate change."  Really, Rick?  Watch Florida emergency management director, Bryan Koon squirm under questioning.

Send In the Slaves



When it's completely boiled down what are robotics except the process of capital owning labour?  What are the implications of that if capital is given a free hand to dislocate human labour with its mechanized alternative?

A report in the Sydney Morning Herald claims that robots could replace half of human jobs in the next 20-years.  Something that radical usually results in guillotines in the public square.

University of Oxford Associate Professor in machine learning Michael Osborne has examined the characteristics of 702 occupations in the US, predicting 47 per cent will be overtaken by computers in the next decade or two.

Those most at-risk jobs are in accommodation and food services (87 per cent of workers at high risk of being replaced), transportation and warehousing (75 per cent) and real estate (67 per cent).

By contrast, only about 10 per cent of workers in the information sector, software developers and higher level management were at risk of automation.

Professor Osborne said machines and computers still struggled with creativity, social intelligence and the manipulation of complex objects, making jobs with high requirements in these areas less vulnerable to robotisation.

History is full of examples of machines replacing workers.

At the start of the 20th century about 40 per cent of US workers were in agriculture. That's now about two per cent but the unemployment rate has remained relatively steady.

The invention of the car savaged jobs in the horse transport industry but gave rise to tourism and all the jobs that come with it.

In the early 19th century the Luddites rioted against labour-replacing machinery in the English textile industry, coining a name for someone resistant to change.

"These people weren't irrational. There were genuine risks to their jobs," Professor Osborne said.

"And while overall in the end unemployment wasn't affected, there certainly were very severe negative consequences for those workers in the short term.

"I think the story here is fairly similar actually that in the end, yes we may see new forms of work generated but it's not clear that the kind of people who are put out of work, which I said ought to be those at the low-skilled end of the spectrum, are necessarily going to be those that move into those new forms of work."


The dislocation triggered by mechanization can be ameliorated in an expansive economy but what does it mean to a world of scarcity and retraction?  We're not there yet, thanks in good measure to some economic parlour tricks, but we're not far off either.               

It's Time For "Just Society 2.0"

I was lucky enough to be around when Trudeau (the real one, not Junior) inspired us all with his vision of a "Just Society" for Canada and our people.

On winning the Liberal leadership in 1968, Trudeau put it simply: “Canada must be unified, Canada must be one, Canada must be progressive, Canada must be a Just Society.

Trudeau knew that for Canada and its people to achieve its potential greatness it had to be progressive.  That was a lesson lost on his successors and one repudiated with disdain by the current occupant of 24 Sussex Drive.


The Just Society will be one in which the rights of minorities will be safe from the whims of intolerant majorities. The Just Society will be one in which those regions and groups which have not fully shared in the country's affluence will be given a better opportunity. The Just Society will be one where such urban problems as housing and pollution will be attacked through the application of new knowledge and new techniques. The Just Society will be one in which our Indian and Inuit populations will be encouraged to assume the full rights of citizenship through policies which will give them both greater responsibility for their own future and more meaningful equality of opportunity. The Just Society will be a united Canada, united because all of its citizens will be actively involved in the development of a country where equality of opportunity is ensured and individuals are permitted to fulfill themselves in the fashion they judge best.


Note the emphasis on equality of opportunity, specifically for First Nations, and generally for all Canadians.  Equality of opportunity, whatever happened to that idea?  It's one thing to say it, they all do, but it's another, much harder thing to make into reality.

Equality of opportunity requires a strong and robust social safety net.  It is anchored in two things - education and health care.  On both fronts we've been backsliding.  Equality of opportunity also means taming inequality in all its facets - income, wealth and opportunity.  Yet, largely through legislative enactment, we have been fueling inequality.  An often overlooked but essential chronicle of this is in Stiglitz's book, "The Price of Inequality."  It's focused on modern America but read it and you'll recognize how pervasive this legislated inequality is in modern Canada also.

I am constantly dismayed at how many self-identified Liberals assume that simply being slightly left of the radical Right in power today somehow constitutes being progressive.  Far from it.  To call a Liberal progressive is to mock the word, stand it on its head, deny it meaning and significance.  Today's thoroughly Blairified New Democrats are scarcely better.

Three of these were Progressives.  The other, a general.

The heart of progressivism is preserved in a speech that I often reference given by Theodore Roosevelt to an audience of Civil War veterans at Osawatomie, Kansas in August, 1910.

In his speech, Roosevelt spoke of healthy democracy as a constant struggle tempered by balancing, but not necessarily equality, of interests.  Here are a few of his remarks:

It is half melancholy and half amusing to see the way in which well-meaning people gather to do honor to the men who, in company with John Brown, and under the lead of Abraham Lincoln, faced and solved the great problems of the nineteenth century, while, at the same time, these same good people nervously shrink from, or frantically denounce, those who are trying to meet the problems of the twentieth century in the spirit which was accountable for the successful solution of the problems of Lincoln’s time. ...

Of that generation of men to whom we owe so much, the man to whom we owe most is, of course, Lincoln. Part of our debt to him is because he forecast our present struggle and saw the way out. He said: —

“I hold that while man exists it is his duty to improve not only his own condition, but to assist in ameliorating mankind.”

And again: —

“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

...In every wise struggle for human betterment one of the main objects, and often the only object, has been to achieve in large measure equality of opportunity. In the struggle for this great end, nations rise from barbarism to civilization, and through it people press forward from one stage of enlightenment to the next. One of the chief factors in progress is the destruction of special privilege. The essence of any struggle for healthy liberty has always been, and must always be, to take from some one man or class of men the right to enjoy power, or wealth, or position, or immunity, which has not been earned by service to his or their fellows.

...At many stages in the advance of humanity, this conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess is the central condition of progress. In our day it appears as the struggle of freemen to gain and hold the right of self-government as against the special interests, who twist the methods of free government into machinery for defeating the popular will. At every stage, and under all circumstances, the essence of the struggle is to equalize opportunity, destroy privilege, and give to the life and citizenship of every individual the highest possible value both to himself and to the commonwealth.

Practical equality of opportunity for all citizens, when we achieve it, will have two great results. First, every man will have a fair chance to make of himself all that in him lies; to reach the highest point to which his capacities, unassisted by special privilege of his own and unhampered by the special privilege of others, can carry him, and to get for himself and his family substantially what he has earned. Second, equality of opportunity means that the commonwealth will get from every citizen the highest service of which he is capable. No man who carries the burden of the special privileges of another can give to the commonwealth that service to which it is fairly entitled.

Now, this means that our government, national and state, must be freed from the sinister influence or control of special interests. Exactly as the special interests of cotton and slavery threatened our political integrity before the Civil War, so now the great special business interests too often control and corrupt the men and methods of government for their own profit. We must drive the special interests out of politics.  ...For every special interest is entitled to justice, but not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench, or to representation in any public office. The Constitution guarantees protection to property, and we must make that promise good. But it does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation.

The true friend of property, the true conservative, is he who insists that property shall be the servant and not the master of the commonwealth; who insists that the creature of man’s making shall be the servant and not the master of the man who made it. The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have called into being.

There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains. To put an end to it will be neither a short nor an easy task, but it can be done.

We must have complete and effective publicity of corporate affairs, so that the people may know beyond peradventure whether the corporations obey the law and whether their management entitles them to the confidence of the public. It is necessary that laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes; it is still more necessary that such laws should be thoroughly enforced. Corporate expenditures for political purposes, and especially such expenditures by public service corporations, have supplied one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs.

...We have come to recognize that franchises should never be granted except for a limited time, and never without proper provision for compensation to the public. It is my personal belief that the same kind and degree of control and supervision which should be exercised over public-service corporations should be extended also to combinations which control necessaries of life, such as meat, oil, or coal, or which deal in them on an important scale. I have no doubt that the ordinary man who has control of them is much like ourselves. I have no doubt he would like to do well, but I want to have enough supervision to help him realize that desire to do well.

I believe that the officers, and, especially, the directors, of corporations should be held personally responsible when any corporation breaks the law.

...The absence of effective State, and, especially, national, restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power. The prime need to is to change the conditions which enable these men to accumulate power which it is not for the general welfare that they should hold or exercise. We grudge no man a fortune which represents his own power and sagacity, when exercised with entire regard to the welfare of his fellows.

...We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have been gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community. This, I know, implies a policy of a far more active governmental interference with social and economic conditions in this country than we have yet had, but I think we have got to face the fact that such an increase in governmental control is now necessary.

No man should receive a dollar unless that dollar has been fairly earned. Every dollar received should represent a dollar’s worth of service rendered — not gambling in stocks, but service rendered. The really big fortune, the swollen fortune, by the mere fact of its size acquires qualities which differentiate it in kind as well as in degree from what is possessed by men of relatively small means. Therefore, I believe in a graduated income tax on big fortunes, and in another tax which is far more easily collected and far more effective — a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes, properly safeguarded against evasion, and increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate.

How did this sort of talk by a Republican president just a century ago become so discredited today that even advocating it probably would be seen as seditious by today's authoritarian rule? It's not difficult to canvas the past two centuries and observe the rise and relatively recent fall of progressivism.  It began with Reagan, Mulroney and Thatcher and the consequences of their handiwork has been cataclysmic on a global scale.  One thing is brutally clear - we can't, as a society, survive another thirty years of it.

Every word that Roosevelt spoke on a hot August day in Kansas, 1910, is as true and as valid today as it was then.  But how are we to get government back on track as, to use the American adage, "government of the people, by the people, for the people"?

How are we to restore the balance of labour over capital?  What party will, "take from some one man or class of men the right to enjoy power, or wealth, or position, or immunity, which has not been earned by service to his or their fellows." 

Who will stand today and say something this bold yet so fundamental to the rehabilitation of progressive democracy?  "We must drive the special interests out of politics.  ...For every special interest is entitled to justice, but not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench, or to representation in any public office. The Constitution guarantees protection to property, and we must make that promise good. But it does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation."

What leader, Mulcair or Trudeau, has the courage to make this stand?  "the true conservative, is he who insists that property shall be the servant and not the master of the commonwealth; who insists that the creature of man’s making shall be the servant and not the master of the man who made it. The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have called into being."'

Many of us will throw up our hands and accept that something this bold simply can't be done.  We're too tightly bound by fetters of corporatism and supposed free trade and other shackles on our democratic freedoms.  Our aspirations, like our sovereignty, have been sold out long ago.  Who could even find their way back to the days envisioned by Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Pierre Trudeau?

It's a challenge you'll wrestle with at length, an intensely frustrating exercise. Yet there do seem to be answers if we're willing to change the way we consent to be governed.  We must have government focused on what we need and deserve. We must demand government dedicated to the restoration of our damaged democracy.  That's government that can break free of the mantras of neoliberalism that currently infect all of our political parties.

Maybe we need government that starts with a few questions and then devises policy that reflects the answers.

What do we need to build as robust and cohesive a society as possible that we can best meet the challenges of this century?

What do we need to do to ensure that the environment our grandchildren inherit will be no worse than it absolutely must be?

What obstacles stand in our way of meeting what we need to do to restore our society and prepare the country for generations to come?

What must we do to overcome or circumvent those obstacles?

How do we again think like Lincoln, Roosevelt and Trudeau?

There you've got the start of a matrix.  Now formulate the necessary policies.  Do it - while there's still time.