Friday, August 24, 2007
Monday, August 20, 2007
Monday, August 13, 2007
Then there's Stephen Harper. Having seen one initiative after another falter and collapse and in the wake of a dismal caucus retreat that did nothing to rejuventate Canada's Stalled Government, Harpo now seems to have found a niche issue - the Arctic.
It's a no-brainer. A clear cut issue of Canadian sovereignty under threat from those Russian bastards we spent half a century learning to distrust. While most Canadians never venture further north than cottage country we none the less hold this soulful attachment to our country's "far north." We see it as something that belongs to us that is worth defending. Even Jack Layton understands the enormous political impact of the Arctic.
The Arctic is an issue that ideally suits both Stephen Harper's strengths and his weaknesses. No one cares if you have the personality of a sandbag when it comes to this sort of issue. There's no East versus West landmines to weave through. It is perhaps the lone issue on which right and left, at least for now, seem to agree. The Arctic offers all the benefits of being a "wartime prime minister" without the ugly necessity of an actual war and the all the risks that entails.
The Arctic is an issue that can be used to manipulate public opinion. Granted it's not the same as squadrons of red-starred bombers over Toronto but that's not necessary to instil a measure of anxiety and a sudden desire among the electorate for a steely tough leader. It is not difficult to subtly depict the Arctic of the 21st century as the Hungary of the 50's or the Czechoslovakia of the 60's facing the approaching threat of a ravenous and omiverous Red Bear.
Harper watched how his American Idol was able to manipulate the emotions of his people to distract them and allow him to pursue legislative goals that would otherwise have blown up in his face. Imagine taking your nation to war and cutting taxes for the rich at the same time, leading to huge deficits - and managing to get re-elected, albeit with a good dose of chicanery.
I expect Harper to try to showcase the Arctic as "his" issue, to use it as a foil to cast the already-bookish Dion as weak and not fit for the challenge. How can a leader hope to become prime minister if the voters perceive him as unable to defend them and their country?
Which brings me again to the same old question, where in hell is Stephane Dion? A Google search showed me he's been carping about some free trade deal with South Korea. Apparently he wants to protect the right of Canada's automakers to freely sell their cars in South Korea as if that's likely to happen. I guess it scores some points in Windsor and Oshawa but, beyond that, who cares?
No, Stephane Dion has used the summer break to all but consign himself to obscurity. Just because he won the student council election doesn't mean the kids are going to make him King on Prom Night, the runoff that counts.
The coming election is an extremely critical election. Treating any election as anything less than critical is to embrace defeat. The one leader who is not showing that he gets that is Stephane Dion. That the Liberals are tied with the Conservatives isn't because of Stephane Dion. It's despite him.
I'm going away again. See you in a week or two.
Monday, August 06, 2007
Getting back to the point, the American media are now recognized as having been instrumental in misleading their nation's populace on the war against Iraq, WMDs and Iraq's connection to al-Qaeda.
A big part of the problem is the "new media" - the Fox News types that, in saner times, would have been consigned to the lunatic fringe but now enjoy a huge following of the easily deluded.
A new study suggests that what the American media did for Iraq it's also accomplished when it comes to public perceptions of global warming. This from, dare I say it, CanWest:
The report, in the latest edition of a magazine published by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, said there are multiple examples of major American media organizations watering down recent warnings from peer-reviewed scientific literature about the consequences of global warming and the human-produced pollution that is causing it.
The watchdog group based its analysis on a comparison of American and British headlines and articles about the release of a series of international reports that assessed the latest peer-reviewed on climate change.
"Where U.K. media generally presented climate change as an urgent crisis that requires immediate action, in the U.S. it's still widely portrayed as an unresolved debate," says the article, written by Neil deMause in the July-August edition of Extra!.
The coverage is helping to prop up U.S. government policies which suggest aggressive action to tackle climate change could be economically costly, deMause said. For example, he explained that many Americans were unaware of a British government study by former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern that warned the cost of doing nothing would be much worse than immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"The Stern report is something that has been hashed out in the British and Canadian media and argued back and forth, whereas in the U.S., nobody has heard of it," said deMause in an interview. "That's the problem. It's not particularly what stand the media takes on what should we do about climate change, it's the information is getting out about climate change, and I think that in the U.S., it's a very limited debate."
The flag-planting ritual and the thinking behind the Russians' audacious territorial claims have their roots in the development and use of the Doctrine of Discovery by European and American explorers from the 15th through the 20th centuries. Starting with Pope Nicholas V in 1455, the Europeans conveniently declared their divine right to empty land or to land occupied by "pagans and enemies of Christ." The main requirement was just first-come, first-served discovery.
Canada is also facing off against Denmark over tiny Hans Island near northwestern Greenland. In 1984, Denmark's minister for Greenland affairs landed on the island in a helicopter and raised the Danish flag, buried a bottle of brandy and left a note that said "Welcome to the Danish Island." Canada was not amused. In 2005, the Canadian defense minister and troops landed on the island and hoisted the Canadian flag. Denmark lodged an official protest.
Planting a flag or burying brandy isn't enough these days to guarantee possession -- international treaties such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea are invoked. But historically, staking a physical claim is the first rule of the discovery doctrine. Spanish, Portuguese and, later, English and French explorers engaged in all sorts of rituals on encountering new lands: hoisting the flag, displaying the Christian cross and leaving evidence to prove who was there first.
As early as 1790, federal law reflected the discovery doctrine, but it wasn't until 1823 that the doctrine was formally recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court -- and its full meaning spelled out. In the Supreme Court case Johnson vs. McIntosh, about whether private citizens could purchase Indian lands, Chief Justice John Marshall, in a long, detailed opinion for a unanimous court, established that discovery had been the law on the North American continent since the beginning of European exploration. Indian rights "to complete sovereignty, as independent nations, were necessarily diminished, and their power to dispose of the soil at their own will, to whomsoever they pleased, was denied by the original fundamental principle, that discovery gave exclusive title to those who made it."
In short, Indians couldn't sell their tribal lands to private citizens because their conquerors -- the U.S. government by then -- essentially owned them. Today, that aspect of the 600-year-old Doctrine of Discovery still prevails in U.S. and international law. It remains the principle by which the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia continue to control the lands of their indigenous peoples.
As to the larger principle of "finders (or claimers) keepers," it also lives -- notwithstanding international treaties. The proof is in that symbolic Russian flag planted 2.65 miles below the North Pole, at the potentially lucrative, already contested bottom of the deep blue Arctic sea.
Now rescue workers are bracing for an epidemic of fever, acute respiratory infections, diarrhoea and snake bites among refugees. Simply finding food and water for the displaced is nearly impossible with stocks described as "perilously low."
Words alone cannot convey the tragedy that is unfolding. The Guardian has run a photo essay on the devestation from which the pictures below were taken. The first five photographs were taken in India. The bottom picture shows Beijing police linking arms as they conduct a search along a flooded street.
Iraq's energy ministry is using a Saddam-era decree to crack down on trade unions and stifle dissent against foreign exploitation of the country's vast oil reserves, the Basra-based oil workers' union claims.
Hassan Juma'a, the union's leader, has been at the forefront of a public campaign against the signing of a controversial new oil law - demanded by Washington - that would lead to long-term profit-sharing contracts being signed with multinational oil giants.
But Hussein Shahrastani, Iraq's oil minister, has now issued a directive banning unions from participating in any official discussions about the new law, 'since these unions have no legal status to work within the state sector'.
Juma'a said the minister's approach echoed an infamous law passed by Saddam Hussein in 1987 - the so-called 'Article 150' - suppressing trades unions. He insisted this weekend that his members would not recognise the directive, saying 'we are working for Iraq'.
The union argues that, like other Gulf states, Iraq should keep its oil ventures in state hands. With the second-largest reserves of quality crude oil, the union claims the country should borrow the funds needed to restore Iraq's oil production.
While the debate over the American-initiated oil law expands, Iraq's electricity grid is said to be on the verge of collapse as temperatures soar to 45 C. The country's electricity network fell into serious deterioration as a result of the sanctions imposed on Saddam's government after the 1991 Gulf war.
Compounding the problem are provinces that have better electricity generating assets taking their systems offline for their own benefit. Particularly hard hit by this is Baghdad.
Hazim Obeid, who sells clothing at a Kerbala market stall, said: "We no longer need television documentaries about the stone age. We are actually living in it. We are in constant danger because of the filthy water and rotten food we are having."
Sunday, August 05, 2007
There, in all its glory, he displayed again his obsessive control of his caucus and of short, simple and sometimes simplistic messages - something that helped him get elected, but that has started to put off more and more voters.
When reporters were "escorted" by RCMP officers from the hotel where the Tory caucus was meeting, allegedly because the families felt intimidated, it was just another embarrassing episode of Harper's continued paranoia about the media.
Still keeping his MPs and his ministers on a painfully short leash, Harper seems to feel that even after 18 months in office, most members of his government can't be trusted, or aren't smart enough, to have a conversation with a reporter without risking derailing his tightly controlled messages.
Friday, August 03, 2007
Russia, India and China are all moving to create world class navies.
CBC offers more examples. A Nissan Altima on the block for $24,000 in the States, $30,200 up here. GAP jeans - $49.50 US, $79.50 Cdn. Walmart's price for a type of Baush & Lomb contacts - $44.72 US in Buffalo, $89.97 Cdn. in Toronto. Walmart? That outfit?
Thursday, August 02, 2007
This is the second bit of good news from Iraq. Civil society, trade unions, professional oil experts and the media are stirring on the oil issue and putting their points across to parliament in the way democracy is meant to work. The oil unions have held strikes even at the risk of having leaders and members arrested.
The pervasive outside image of Iraq as a country in free-fall where violence on a mass scale is an ever-present threat is not wrong. But it can mask the fact that "normal life" and indeed "normal politics" are still possible. The real reason why the Bush administration wanted the oil law rushed through was that it feared public discussion, and was worried that the more people understood what the law entails, the greater the chances of its defeat. Key parties in the Iraqi parliament oppose it, including the main Sunni party - which this week withdrew from government - as well as the Shia Sadrists and Fadhila.
Washington has promoted the law as a "reconciliation" issue, claiming its early passage would show that Iraq's ethnic and sectarian communities could share revenues on a fair basis. But this is a trick. Only one of the law's 43 articles mentions revenue-sharing, and then just to say that a separate "federal revenue law" will decide its distribution. The first draft of this other law only appeared in June, and it is clearly unreasonable to expect the Iraqi parliament to pass it in less than two months.
The law that Washington and the US oil lobby really want would set the arrangements for foreign companies to operate in Iraq's oil sector. Independent analysts say the terms being proposed are far more favourable for foreign oil companies than those of any other oil-producing state in the region, including Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
Platform, an oil industry watchdog, warns that the Iraq oil and gas law could "sign away Iraq's future". Greg Muttitt, its co-director, says: "The law is permissive. All of Iraq's unexploited and as yet unknown reserves, which could amount to between 100bn and 200bn barrels, would go to foreign companies."
Jamil Hussein, 52, a retired army officer who lives in northeast Baghdad, said his house has been without water for two weeks, except for two hours at night. He says the water that does flow smells bad and is unclean.
Two of his children have severe diarrhea that the doctor attributed to drinking what tap water was available, even after it was boiled.
"We'll have to continue drinking it, because we don't have money to buy bottled water," he said.
Adel al-Ardawi, a spokesman for the Baghdad city government, said that even with sufficient electricity "it would take 24 hours for the water mains to refill so we can begin pumping to residents. And even then the water won't be clean for a time. We just don't have the electricity or fuel for our generators to keep the system flowing."
Noah Miller, spokesman for the U.S. reconstruction program in Baghdad, said that water treatment plants were working "as far as we know."
So there are two related lessons America should take away from the Iraq disaster. First, don't treat war lightly. It is an insanely powerful and unpredictable agent, one that can destroy everything it touches. Second, beware of leaders whose devotion has not brought them real humility -- and beware of their wars. They will see war as a toy, which they control, or which is controlled by their God. But nobody controls war. Not even God.
"There is no threat to Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic ... we're not at all concerned about this mission -- basically it's just a show by Russia," he told CTV.
"Getting the work done on time will likely involve chartering a heavy icebreaker from Russia or Finland," Mr. Byers told CanWest News Service earlier this week. "So be it. The stakes involved more than justify the cost."
National caucus chairman Rahim Jaffer defended the action, saying that spouses and children accompanying many of the 125 MPs and 24 senators may be intimidated by the reporters and cameras.
Yesterday supermarkets across the country reported that shoppers were panic buying dairy products in an attempt to beat the price increase.
The only effective way to increase global milk yields without breaking the milk quotas, according to experts, is to encourage the breeding of cows outside the EU. German dairy farmers have duly been selling their best high-performance milk cows to Chinese farmers, who are receiving government subsidies if they switch to dairy farming.
It's a reality that the White House can't bring itself to accept. Iraq is just far too broken to be fixed.
The government, particularly the security services - the folks with the guns, is in the iron fist of the majority Shiites and they have no intention of letting go. Between the Shia and the Kurds, the fix is in. One more set of elections and their people will veto the very deal America is trying to impose on them. That'll mean no constitution for Iraq as a unitary state but, then again, the Kurdish constitution which is incorporated into the Iraqi constitution means there really is nothing unitary about that government.
Can Iraq survive as a federal state? Probably not. The two sides with decades-old grievances against the former Sunni ruling class aren't interested in any deal that raises the resource-poor Sunni triangle up to their level of potential wealth. That would mean a gratuitous transfer of economic and political power to the same group that suppressed them, at times barbarously.
Once you look at Iraq as a cluster of 3-states just waiting to happen, the American/Brit military forces take on a much different complexion. At that point the Western forces exist to try to impose a political reality that two of the three Iraqi groups want to escape. The infidels become an impediment to the legitimate aspirations of both Shia and Kurd. They revert to their original status as occupiers.
In an earlier time the United States might have put in place a strongman to impose order and a government to Washington's liking. In fact that's what the White House wanted for Iraq until Sistani forced Washington's hand to call an election in which the neo-con's handpicked, pro-Western, secular slate was stunningly defeated. That was the writing on the wall for Iraqi unity.
With the departure of the central government's main Sunni bloc, Iraq's political viability is at an end. The Sunnis can see what's coming and can only hope that their walkout, on the eve of the September assessment of the surge, will cause the White House to pressure Maliki to yield to their demands.
Why did Iraq's parliament go on holiday with nothing achieved on their legislative "to do" list?
Did they leave not realizing that they hadn't met even one of the benchmarks they were to have achieved by September? Is this a parliamentary temper tantrum?
Were they like a bunch of irresponsible college students skipping class in order to hit the beach?
Were they playing hookey or have they actually dropped out?
Is this an "I don't have to and you can't make me. You're not the boss of me" moment?
Isn't it curious that you don't hear these obvious questions bandied about much in the Western media? You don't hear Washington pols raising them either.
Think about it. The notionally sovereign government of Iraq having the nerve to stage a soft mutiny against Washington even as the Baghdad parliament begins to collapse.
We may be seeing the endgame in Iraq orchestrated not from half a world away but by the Iraqis themselves. Maybe they know what we haven't been willing to recognize - that the Iraqi state is now so broken, it can't be fixed.
"We probably all underestimated the depth of the mistrust and how difficult it would be for these guys to come together on legislation which, let's face it, is not just some sort of secondary kind of thing.
"The kinds of legislation they're talking about establish the framework of Iraq for the future, so it's almost like our constitutional convention."
Probably underestimated the depth of mistrust? Just what planet have these people been on for the past four years? This isn't a mistake, some sort of oversight - it's full-bore incompetence. It's also a shocking admission of hubris - Washington continuing to believe that it will shape the future of the Iraqi peoples. This is the thinking of idiots and morons.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Ban highlighted the need for a comprehensive global agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The Kyoto Protocol, the international community's current framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, expires in 2012, and Ban said countries must agree on a successor pact to be ready for ratification by 2009 to allow countries to enact it into law before the Kyoto Protocol expires.
"Greater variations of rainfall, combined with rising sea levels, will lead to more extreme weather, particularly in parts of Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America," she said at the opening of today's meeting. "We therefore have a special responsibility to help those countries most affected to adapt to climate change."
But although he comes second or third in many polls, procrastination has cost him some of his lustre. He also has a reputation for laziness, and there are claims that he does not have the energy for presidential campaign.
The Toronto Star reports that Canadians polled became much more enthusiastic about the mission when told of the non-military aspects.
...almost half of all respondents registered their strong support, when those surveyed were told about Canada's diplomacy and development efforts, such as ensuring human rights for women and supporting democratic institutions.
Combined with those who said they "somewhat" backed a mission that is balanced between combat and aid, support topped out at 83 per cent, compared with 44 per cent who supported the mission without being prompted about the development work that is being done.
"Support (for the mission) increased significantly after hearing more about Canada's role," says a summary of the findings by pollster Ipsos Reid.
What's not clear is just what the respondents were told about the mission's non-military aspects and the actual conditions on the ground in Afghanistan.
He said that, as US commander in chief, he would remove troops from Iraq and put them "on the right battlefield in Afghanistan and Pakistan", adding that he would send at least two more brigades to Afghanistan and increase non-military aid to the country by $1bn .