Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas Message To PM Harper

The Great Helmsman

I know that things haven't been going so good for you lately - what with all that communist hub-bub about so-called "global warming" and liberal whiners whining about the torture of our detainees in Afghanistan. Sheesh, haven't these people heard: there's a war on, moron. We have no right to second guess what our troops are doing over there - especially when you ordered them to do it and you were elected by, well, a lot of people voted for you anyway. So, who are these jerks to question you?
Anyway, since Christmas is coming and the year ended on such a poopy note for you, I just wanted to send you a season's greeting and tell you that your supporters are with you. We will follow you to the end of the earth and back. After all, yours is the first principled Canadian government in living memory and that's something worth celebrating. You have made it clear that in war there will be casualties, whether that is in Afghanistan or in Palestine. And anybody who criticizes the policies of your government or that of Israel's are traitors to democracy and must be silenced. So, bravo for taking away the $7 million in development funding that was going to KAIROS. They may not have said or did the things that Jason Kenney said that they did but they might have. And letting them off the hook for doing it will only encourage others to do the same thing. Next thing you know, they'll be teaching their garbage in our schools - all that nonsense about human rights as though our values of freedom, democracy and open markets should be sacrificed just because some TALIBAN or their Palestinian kin are riled up. Well, if you don't want your fingernails pulled out, your country bombed and foreign troops telling you what to do, you'll do what we tell you next time. Or maybe you should just leave, if you're in Palestine. After all, God promised the whole land of Israel to the Jews, like five thousand years ago, who are you "johnny-come-latelies" to question the ancient word of the Lord? If you hadn't converted to Islam in the 8th century, well, real Semites from Europe wouldn't be kicking you out - at least not for religious reasons.
Speaking of Jason Kenney, you may know that I gave some money to George Galloway's case against him for barring Galloway from entering the country earlier this year. I want you to know that I only did it because I think once the Canadian public hears how Galloway gave food and clothing and ambulances to those terrorists who live in the Gaza Strip, they'll understand why Kenney did what he did. And it will ensure that Canadians understand why we must stop "humanitarian" (ie. communist-islamist) aid for people we don't like in the future. The sooner everyone is like us, the sooner this world will be a better place. Wasn't that, after all, the message of Christ: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It's right there in black and white - make other do as you say.

All the best this Xmas season and best of luck in the New Year, which will definitely start off much better if you prorogue Parliament till 2011 to shut up the "useful idiots" and Taliban sympathizers in the yapping Opposition and focus on what you do best: governing this great nation with decisive and firm leadership.

With love,

Friday, December 18, 2009

Predator Drone - $4 million. Insurgent Hacking Program - $25. Pentagon Embarrassment - Priceless

THE PENTAGON SPENDS CLOSE TO $1 TRILLION EVERY YEAR, between its regular budget and the money allocated to its various wars, policing operations, counterinsurgency programs and other murderous hobbies. They have an impressive array of super-duper-high-tech equipment to blow your mind - and blow your head off if you are an enemy of the United States of America. However, it seems that insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan were using a piece of $25 software, purchased off of the internet to intercept the video signals sent by Predator drones back to the remote pilots in the USA. This allowed them to see exactly what areas and people the deadly unmanned planes were surveying for attack. The US military is, of course, now fixing the problem but it could take a while: they have 600 of the $4 million vehicles.
Besides being a public embarrassment for the military, which is always a pleasure to see, this snafu is further demonstration that no matter how powerful the US military, it can never close all the gaps - gaps that a popular anti-colonial movement can take advantage of to the detriment of US/NATO occupying forces. This DIY resistance has been most powerfully felt, of course, in the widespread use of IED's - roadside bombs. While a leviathan like the USA can - and has - crushed popular movements in countries around the world, they are not invulnerable, especially where that movement has the support of broad swathes of the population.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Does The USA Want Civil War In Pakistan?

THE ANNOUNCEMENT THIS WEEK THAT THE OBAMA WHITE HOUSE is considering expanding drone strikes into the major Pakistani city of Quetta has exposed the faultlines in Obama's AfPak strategy. If it weren't clear before, it is becoming more so every day that the US pressure for more military action by Pakistan in more areas is fracturing Pakistan's institutions and threatening the stability of even the powerful army and intelligence service, the ISI.
Up till now, the US has focused its extremely unpopular unmanned drone attacks in the relatively rural areas of Pakistan's tribal areas, along the Afghan border. Already this year some 50 drone strikes have killed perhaps 500 people. And while the US claims that the vast majority of these were Taliban militants, independent press have been barred from these provinces, making verification impossible. Officially, Pakistan is opposed to this violation of its sovereignty, however, it is widely known that Pakistan is supplying the intelligence necessary to carry out the attacks.
This alone has stretched the US-Pakistan alliance but with the US attempt to meddle with the military/civilian balance of forces in Pakistan, popular hatred and official suspicion of US intentions has become intense. Earlier this year, the US passed an aid bill, the Kerry-Lugar Bill, to provide $7.5 billion over five years to Pakistan, though this was predicated on the military accepting a subordinate role in Pakistani political life. The military was less than happy with this and has since been carrying out a campaign to undermine Pakistan's president Zardari - with the latest phase being the elimination of the amnesty granted to politicians charged with corruption. Meanwhile, a few months ago when Secretary of State Clinton was in Pakistan on an official visit, she was taken aside by the military and it was explained to her which side the bread is buttered on in that country. She came away suggesting that she would use her power to water down the provisions relating to civilian rule in the bill. Military supremacy is clearly the price the US is paying to maintain the allegiance of the Pakistan Army.
If, however, the US thought that this would be sufficient to win the kind of carte blanche that they had with Zardari, they have received a rude awakening. The Pakistani military and ruling class have their own strategic goals in this, their native, region. It was this that Obama was referring to when he told news columnists on December 1 that "the most important thing that we can do in Pakistan is to change their strategic orientation." Roughly speaking, Pakistan sees its regional enemy as being India and its strategic goals in Afghanistan being rooted in a perspective of preventing India from gaining any foothold there. There is wide speculation that the real reason Abdullah Abdullah dropped out of the second round of the Afghan elections, when there was a decent chance of him winning, was because Pakistan saw him as being too close to India. From this similar perspective, Pakistan has no interest in smashing the Afghan Taliban or the Quetta-based Taliban shura (council), led by Mullah Omar. Omar has made it clear that the Afghan Taliban have no interest in interfering in Pakistan's internal affairs and are only focused on fighting the US/NATO occupation. Omar is clearly conceived of as an asset in any future Afghan government of national unity, which must involve the Taliban. Any attack by the US on the Quetta Shura will be seen by Pakistan's military and intelligence services as an attack on Pakistan's national interest. This also applies to US pressure on Pakistan to take on other "talibans" based in Pakistan, which seems to lack a recognition of the fundamental differences between the various tribal militias.
It is true that the Pakistan army is currently fighting the Taliban. But there are four Talibans in Pakistan, and their policies toward the Islamabad government range from hostile, to neutral, to friendly.
Pakistan's army has locked horns in South Waziristan with the Mehsud Taliban, the Taliban group that was recently driven out of the Swat Valley and that has launched a bombing campaign throughout the Punjab.
But the wing of the North Waziristan Taliban led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur has no quarrel with Islamabad and has kept clear of the fighting. Another South Waziristan Taliban, based in Wana and led by Mullah Nazir, is not involved in the fighting and considers itself an ally of the Pakistani government.
Washington wants Pakistan to go after the Afghan Taliban, led by Mullah Omar and based in Pakistan. But Omar has refused to lend any support to the Mehsud Taliban. "We are fighting the occupation forces in Afghanistan. We do not have any policy whatsoever to interfere in the matters of any other country," says Taliban spokesperson Qari Yousaf Ahmedi. "U.S. and other forces have attacked our land and our war is only against them. What is happening in Pakistan is none of our business."
While pressure on Pakistan to go after other talibans may not be successful in achieving their aim in this regards, it is putting a serious strain on the US-Pakistan relationship. And there is some suggestion that it is putting a strain on the Pakistani security institutions themselves. It was the ISI, after all, that helped to create the Afghan Taliban and was its client throughout the 1990s. Significant elements are resentful of US demands to dismantle this carefully constructed edifice, which, it is felt, will weaken Pakistan's position vis a vis India. Based upon Obama's point above, the US wants to apply just enough pressure to Pakistan that it sees its strategic interests being rooted in aligning with American goals. Unfortunately for the Americans, the Pakistani elite are only too aware of the fickle nature of alliances with the US based upon their behaviour during and after the Afghan-Soviet war in the 1980s. As an article in the Long War Journal notes:
Pakistani officials claimed the US timeline on the Afghan 'surge' and Pakistan's desire to keep Mullah Omar and the Haqqanis as strategic depth against India and other actors in Afghanistan account for the intransigence. But US military and intelligence officials said Pakistan's military brass also fears acting against the Haqqanis and Mullah Army will fracture the services.
"Even if he wanted to moved against Haqqani, I think General Kiyani is concerned the moved will spark the nationalists elements of the Army and ISI [the Inter-Services Intelligence] to side with the pro-Islamists, and spark a civil war within the military," the official said.
There is already a low-grade conflict within the military and intelligence services over the Pakistani Army's move against the Mehsud branch of the Taliban in South Waziristan and the tribal areas.
"The reality is the Taliban have been able to successfully conduct attacks against secured targets, particularly GHQ [Army General headquarters] in Rawalpindi, because they've had inside help," the official continued. "The military at least can say the TTP [the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan led by Hakeemullah Mehsud] is conducting attacks against Pakistan; Kiyani can't make that argument with the Haqqanis or the Quetta Shura. It would be a bridge too far."
One expression of this "low-grade" conflict within the military and intelligence services can be seen from the recent reports of the treatment of US diplomatic personnel. Over a 100 diplomatic personnel have seen their requests for visas or visa extensions turned down - an unprecedented act. This means that there are now no US helicopter mechanics in Pakistan to service US built helicopters presently being used for counter-insurgency operations. It also means that $1 billion in US payments to Pakistan for counter-insurgency operations have not been processed because all of the US accountants attached to the embassy have been forced to leave. There are also widespread reports of harassment, including extensive searches of vehicles, usually a diplomatic no-no.
The harassment has grown so frequent that American officials said they regarded it as a concerted effort by parts of the military and intelligence services that had grown resentful of American demands to step up the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Though the United States has been sending large amounts of military assistance to the Pakistani Army, and helping its premier spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, the campaign shows the ambivalence, even “hatred” toward the United States in those quarters, the American official said.
If the Americans go ahead an unilaterally begin operations in Quetta, or expand operations elsewhere, this low level conflict could begin to break into the open. The two drone attacks that killed up to 20 people in North Waziristan on Thursday indicate that Obama - who has dramatically increased such attacks since being elected - intends to move forward with this strategy. With a decent possibility that President Zardari will be gone in the near future, from the president's office it not from the country itself, and with another 8,000 politicians facing corruption charges, there is also the possibility that the shift in balance towards open military rule could also open up fractures, as elements see this shift as an opportunity to exert more independence from American demands.
Into this volatile mixture must also be placed the difficult situation of the Pakistani economy, which has had to take an $11 billion IMF loan this year and which has seen foreign investment drop by almost 26 percent - foreign direct investment fell by 52 percent. The country is mired in stagnant growth at a time of civil war in South Waziristan - leading to the largest population displacements since Partition - with intense bombing campaigns in the cities, an unpopular government and rising anti-US sentiment. With all these elements in place for an explosion, one can only wonder if the White House wants Pakistan to fracture or if they are utterly stupid.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Is Copenhagen A Flop?

This excellent post was originally on lenin's tomb, from where I shamelessly stole it.

FROM SUMMIT TO NADIR SO QUICKLY? Copenhagen was, according to the most powerful state leaders represented at it, flop from the beginning. Obama said so, and he wouldn't lie to me. But not only is Copenhagen almost a complete waste of time as far as securing real measures to prevent climate change are concerned. Even the most ambitious rhetoric doesn't address the reality of the reforms required. Gordon Brown claims that he wants to reduce carbon emissions by 30% from 1990 levels by 2020. He does not appear to be taking any measures, unilaterally or multilaterally, to actually accomplish such a reduction. But perhaps he doesn't have to do too much. This is in part because, as George Monbiot points out, 'carbon offsetting' is factored into the overall target - so, the UK may continue to expand its polluting industries, particularly air travel, and will purchase carbon credits from other countries.
Based on the current arrangements, that means that the poorest countries, would have to sell so many carbon credits that they would end up reducing their total carbon emissions by 60% while the richer countries reduce theirs by only 40%. This limits the development capacities of those nations in need of development, while placing the burden of climate reform on those least responsible for the greenhouse gas effect. Quite aside from the issue of justice, the current targets agreed by the G8 countries currently dominating discussions in Copenhagen would not actually reduce carbon emissions enough to prevent global temperatures rising by 2 degrees - which itself may not be the best target anyway. Recall that a recent IPCC report predicted that 20-30% of animal and plant species may end up extinct if global average temperatures exceed 1.5 degrees above the levels of the late twentieth century. This would in itself be a catastrophic shock to the ecosystem upon which we appear to depend. And if the temperature does rise by more than 2 degrees, then the likelihood of 60% of the populated surface of the earth being flooded does rise substantially.
But the summit is also, if the 'Danish text' is any guide, the means by which the representatives of wealthy capitalist nation-states will further assert their dominance over the poor. More power is to be accumulated by the rich countries, and unequal limits on carbon emissions are to be imposed. These efforts have already resulted in a brief rebellion by African countries at the talks, who say that the rich countries are trying to overthrow Kyoto. The text also allows for developed countries to derive targets based on their own standards, rather than basing them on the science. Now, some commentators say that the release of such a draft document is not all that significant, that the circulation of these proposals is part of the drama of international negotiations, but that it does not necessarily preclude a more hopeful outcome to the talks. But the coincidence between the interests of the most powerful states at the summit and the measures vaunted in the text drafted at the COP suggests that something like the 'Danish text' will be the end result any way.
Now, I know what you're saying. There is nothing to worry about. The leaked e-mails from leading climatologists show that climate change is a fraud, and that global temperatures have actually declined. David Davis says so. Well, the good news is that the world's climate scientists are not engaged in an international conspiracy to defraud the public. The climate 'sceptics' are whistling dixie. Here's an effective debunking:

The bad news is, that means there is still the whole species-death thing to worry about, though the PR industry is still working assiduously to put your mind at ease on this score. Even worse news follows. Capitalism is a system of competitive accumulation and, as such, is a perpetual growth machine. The rate at which the system grows in normal circumstances has already taxed the earth's life-support systems to the limit. The effects of the amount of carbon already pumped into the atmosphere have not yet fed through the ecological systems that we depend on, meaning that we have probably already guaranteed ourselves a much more difficult - and for some, potentially unliveable - future on the planet.

Tories Stick Their Fingers In Their Ears

YOU HAVE TO HAND IT TO STEPHEN HARPER WHEN IT COMES TO PARTISAN MANEUVERS. He doesn't play any phony games, pretending that parliament's processes mean anything. There's only two rules in Harper's Machiavellian playbook: 1) do anything to prevent popularity falling 2) drive through a right wing agenda. When Harper's agenda becomes clearer to the average shmo - usually preoccupied with trying to work, pay the bills and feed the kiddies - and the Tories start to drop, as they are around the detainee scandal and climate change, it's time to kick in the secondary playbook.
We've now seen enough of the Harper playbook when it comes to squelching debate to know what it means: lie, smear, throw tantrums, shut down parliamentary committees, fire parliamentary watchdogs, defy parliamentary motions, and their newest nuke: prorogue Parliament.
Of course politics is a dirty game and we're all cynics now. But I have to admit that I am astounded with what callous disregard for the most basic pretenses of public accountability the Tories are acting. They have simply stuck their fingers in their ears on the detainee scandal and now refuse to talk about it.
My faith in the human race's ultimate ability to discern truth can't accept that people won't see this juvenile display, and I mean three-year old juveniles, and not be disgusted. The Tories have gotten lost in the Ottawa bubble and become disconnected from how cheap maneuvers look to the people watching it from the outside. They are literally giving weapons to their political opponents. You would have to be a pretty blinkered Tory supporter to justify their complete and utter refusal to cooperate in the most basic way with Parliament. After all, this is how the limited democracy we have works in this country. You can't say that the Opposition are being oppositional with a straight face. If you think they're blocking your agenda go to the polls. Otherwise suck it up. And, in any case, the Tories, by contemplating proroguing Parliament yet again - this time using the pretense of the Olympics - are putting the lie to their previous complaints to be concerned about the speed with which their legislation could pass through Parliament.
It remains to be seen it Harper will be able to get away with this present Tory tantrum, or whether Peter MacKay can survive the storm of the detainee scandal. My hope is that the anti-war movement re-mobilizes in the new year to keep up the pressure. Dislodging that particular Tory fixture from an already wobbly edifice could strike a fatal blow. It we become hypnotized by the spectacle of their floundering and flopping and fail to act, there is a good chance that they will, as in the past, recover and put it all behind them.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Afghanistan, Drugs & Bank Bailouts

EVER WONDER WHERE SOME OF THE BANK BAILOUT MONEY CAME FROM? According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, it came from the Afghan opium trade. Foreign Policy in Focus has a fascinating article analyzing the recent UNODC study on the drug trade, entitled "Addiction, Crime, and Insurgency: The Transnational Threat of Afghan Opium."
While the original study headlines the role of the Taliban in the Afghan opium trade, the FPF article notes that buried deep in the study is the admission that the Taliban receives less than 15% of its funding from drugs and that it likely only benefits from 4% of the Afghan drug trade. Poppy farmers, for instance, take about 21% of the drug trade's earnings. And the rest?

"...the remaining 75% is captured by government officials, the police, local and regional power brokers and traffickers — in short, many of the groups now supported (or tolerated) by the United States and NATO are important actors in the drug trade."
Besides "our" allies being the main beneficiaries - not surprising since many of the people NATO and the USA put into power in 2001 were widely recognized to be warlords with large stakes in the drug trade. In comparison, the Taliban had outlawed poppy cultivation in 2000 based upon a promise from UNODC to provide aid to offset the revenue losses that would result from the ban. That aid never arrived:

That basic logic prompted UNODC to open negotiations with the Taliban once they had gained control over much of Afghan territory, using Executive Director Pino Arlacchi's hollow offer of USD 250 million as bait and raising unrealistic expectations about international recognition. In September 2000, two months after Mullah Omar's decree, Arlacchi announced that, instead of compensation, UNODC would close down all operational activities in Afghanistan. The decision took even UNODC staff in the country by surprise. They learned about it from a BBC broadcast. The Taliban were understandably angry: "We have fulfilled our obligations. We demand that the agreement we made should be fulfilled up to the end," said Abdel Hamid Akhundzada, director of the Taliban's High Commission for Drug Control. "We have done what needed to be done, putting our people and our farmers through immense difficulties. We expected to be rewarded for our actions, but instead were punished with additional sanctions" (Transnational Institute, 2001).
It is likely that the UN backed off on the aid under direction from the US which was in secret negotiations with the Taliban until five weeks before September 11 to build gas and oil pipelines from Central Asia, through Afghanistan, to a Pakistani port. The Taliban were resisting the US conditions and US negotiators were at turns offering threats and rewards to them. According to the French author of the widely read book "Bin Laden: the forbidden truth", US negotiators told the Taliban that "either you accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs." However, Colin Powell, US Secretary of State at the time, did provide a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) grant of US$43 million - a drop in the bucket - to aid Afghan farmers who lost significant revenue from their traditional cash crop. One is tempted to see this as an incentive to submit to the conditions offered to win the release of further aid.
As a result of the Taliban ban on poppy cultivation, Afghanistan went from providing 75% of global opium to zero almost overnight - a drop of 4,000 metric tons. Besides demonstrating just how much the US/NATO invasion has transformed Afghanistan into a "narco-state", to use DEA parlance, it also demonstrates, once more, just how craven and dishonest was UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. Blair is now all over the media saying that if the WMD justification hadn't worked he would have invaded Iraq in any case. The same dishonest - and deadly - method of international relations applied to Afghanistan. Blair stated that they would "bomb their poppy fields" even though there were none. And Downing street backed up this fiction:

“A senior Downing street aide said: ‘We have reliable information that the Taliban are planning to use money from drugs to finance military action, and that bin Laden has ordered farmers to step up production…”
But if the Taliban have never been the major beneficiaries of the Afghan drug trade, there have certainly been others. In particular, western banks have used drug money to lubricate the interbank credit system during the 2008 credit crisis. According to the UNODC report, somewhere between US$400-$500 billion in drug money has found its way into the banking system.

In fact, Antonio Maria Costa [UNODC exec. director] was quoted as saying that drug money may have recently rescued some failing banks: "interbank loans were funded by money that originated from drug trade and other illegal activities," and there were "signs that some banks were rescued in that way." "At a time of major bank failures, money doesn't smell, bankers seem to believe," he wrote in UNODC's 2009 World Drug Report (emphasis in original).
While the UNODC report may have attempted to provide a cover to further justify the war in Afghanistan, their use of stats that counter the report's headline claim actually reveals one more sordid truth about the war in Afghanistan. In addition to the death, destruction and destabilization of the region, the war has facilitated a massive growth in the Afghan poppy trade. From 200 tons in 1980, Afghanistan last year produced 6,900 tons and now controls 90% of the global opium trade. Upwards of 1.5 million Afghans are employed in poppy cultivation. And it reveals an irresolvable contradiction for the US: the more they attack the drug trade, the more they attack their own allies, some of whom - like Hamid Karzai's brother - are on the US' payroll. And most of all it hurts poor Afghan farmers who rely on the poppy trade to sustain their livelihood. It is they who will fill the ranks of the insurgency.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Demand Peter MacKay Resign (Already!)

I JUST RECEIVED NOTICE OF THIS CAMPAIGN by the Canadian Peace Alliance, posted below. The detainee scandal is the best chance in a while to seriously damage the Harper government. The truth is, Harper has only looked unassailable because of the weakness of the Opposition. In reality, he is bumbling from one stupidity to the next - whether it is on the economic stimulus, his earlier attacks on the nuclear watchdog, his laughable scolding in China, his cro-magnon stupidity over climate change, and now the detainee scandal. 

If enough people focus some effort on pushing MacKay over, it could help to blow the Tories off course. And once off course, it will be difficult for them to recover. Already, their obstinacy around releasing information, firing the watchdog and defending the deeply compromised MacKay is making them looking like the wannabe dictators that they are.

Call, fax and e-mail the Prime Minister to demand Peter MacKay resign

Today we learned that not only did the Canadian government know about torture of Afghan detainees but that they actually defended their torturer in Kandahar.

And although the government insists that the detainee transfer agreement stopped the abuse of Afghans, this appears to be another smokescreen.

The Harper government needs to hear from you. Call to demand that Harper:
* Fire Peter MacKay
* Call a full public inquiry
* Bring the troops home now (not in 2011)

Contact the Prime Minister (and his chief of staff):
*, Phone: 613-992-4211, Fax: 613-941-6900
* Guy Giorno, Stephen Harper's Chief of Staff, Phone: 613-992-4211 x11

Please let us know how they respond by sending us an e-mail or by posting a report on the wall of the "Peter MacKay Must Resign" facebook group.

For more background information please see.  

As Plain As Berlusconi's (Broken) Nose

I FEEL LIKE I SHOULD SAY SOMETHING ABOUT THE ITALIAN PM, since there's a lot of traffic arriving at my blog because of a previous post on the broken-nosed dirtbag. The first thing, of course, is that whacking him with the souvenir trophy of a church may involve a certain amount of ironic pleasure - since he has been happy to use the church to whack his opponents - it is not a useful political act. If anything, it will give him a boost in his popularity in the short term as people, thankfully, identify with and feel sympathy for those who are the victim of violent attacks.
However, the second thing is: I have absolutely no sympathy for the man. He is an extremely vicious and merciless political animal. He is responsible for much worse than a broken nose. Berlusconi was premier when carabineri were sent to attack anti-globalization protesters outside of the G8 summit in 2001, that led to hundreds of injuries, allegations of torture and the death of Carlo Giuliani. He has sent Italian troops to assist in the bloody occupation of Afghanistan. He is responsible for attacks on women's rights, attacks on Italian unions, attacks on democracy, attacks on the left, and, in general, lining up with the most degraded elements of Italian politics, including open fascists. He has contributed to making Italy one of the least open places in the world, in terms of a free press. If he has generated so much polarization and anger that a wayward and unstable soul has engaged in an act of individual violence, we ought to not sympathize with Silvio but to condemn the policies that have created desperate souls in a country as wealthy as Italy. And, apparently, I'm not alone in thinking this:

Roberto Maroni, who as interior minister is in charge of police forces, said he had counted some 300 Facebook groups praising Tartaglia. He also mentioned Youtube videos showing the attack with comments inciting more violence.

Brits Whack Bankers As Study Proves They're Parasites

WHAT COULD BE MORE FUN THAN SMACKING A GREEDY BANKER with a mallet and not only getting away with it but having the chance to win a teddy bear for your kids? It seems that the idea is very popular in Britain where an arcade owner who has put in a game of "Whack A Banker" has had to replace the mallets several times over.
It's no wonder that the game is popular. There has been a simmering dispute, for instance, between the board of directors of the Royal Bank of Scotland and the government over bonuses. The board is demanding the "right" to pay out £1.5 billion in bonuses at the bank, even though there business sense is so utterly crap that the government has had to pump billions upon billions of pounds into the bank to keep it afloat. The government is set to own up 84% by the time all the pieces fall. And while millionaire bankers want to use public funds to pay themselves bonuses - for what great feat, I'm not sure - the average salary in the UK is £20,000. The board of directors is threatening to resign if they don't get their loot.
And, just to confirm the public's belief that bankers are greedy parasites, a study by the New Economic Foundation in Britain has found that for every £1 they are paid, bankers destroy £7 worth of value. This contrasts with childcare workers, for instance who create £7 worth of value for every £1 they are paid. So much for the rich being rich because of their contribution to society. As I suspected all along, it is the poorest who contribute the most with socially useful work, while the rich are a big drag. As the study notes:

It said the report challenged the notion that high pay did not matter as long as poverty was eradicated. It argues that high pay is often generated by businesses that destroy other parts of the economy or fail to pay the full costs of their activities.
The report said tax accountants were the most destructive, laying waste to £47 of value for every £1 they created. Elite City bankers (earning £1m plus bonuses) destroy £7 of value for every £1 they create and advertising executives wreck £11 of value for every £1 they are paid.
On the other hand, the report judged that waste-recycling workers generated £12 for every £1 spent on their wages. Childcare workers create between £7 and £9.50 of value for every £1 of pay and hospital cleaners create more than £10 in value for every £1 they receive in pay.
So, go on and give those rich a whack, I say. You're providing a social service to the rest of us.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

In China The Poor Key Luxury Cars Too

I WOULD, OF COURSE, NEVER ADVOCATE ACTS OF VANDALISM against the wealthy of the world. I think it's politically counter-productive to pour sugar in their gas tanks, or drag the key to your Hyundai across that shiny coat of paint on the red Porsche parked outside of Lululemon. I think it demonstrates an immature class consciousness to put poo-poo in a brown paper bag, light it on fire, set it on the doorstep of  a mansion and ring the doorbell, then run away. I abhor such acts and if you send me photos of such acts I will publish them as demonstrations of moral depravity that must never be copied.
I'm particularly hoping to get some such photos from China where, apparently, keying luxury cars has become something of a past-time. I've often enough pointed out that China is not a socialist country, whether it's by looking at the macro-economics, the levels of class struggle, or the differential access to healthcare. I would add to this litany of evidence, the fact that the poor hate the rich. In fact, according to China Daily, 96% of the population feel there is resentment against the rich.
Yi Zhao, a civil servant from Guangdong province, admitted that he dislikes the rich.
"Most of them collect wealth at the expense of the poor. Take those real-estate manipulators for example. They control the property market aiming for a higher price and a considerable profit," he said.
"On the other hand, I simply can't accept the skyrocketing prices. Isn't it unfair to the majority who are unable to afford an apartment, even if we squeeze together the savings of three generations?"
You'll be glad to know that just like here, the rich in China are also self-important and self-deluded pricks who think that they got where they are because they're so damn smart.
"If those people have the time to hate us and envy us, why don't they spend the time working, using diligence and intelligence?"
Well, maybe because they know what was pointed out in an article on the Wall Street Journal blog, that 90% of China's private sector ruling class are, in fact, the children of top government officials. Whether the economy has been organized primarily through the state or the market, it continues to be the same people and their children who benefit, generation after generation. They're not so different from us after all. But still, you shouldn't key their cars. Unless you really want to and there's a good chance you could get away with it...

Friday, December 11, 2009

Non-Muslim Swiss Man Builds Minaret

GLAD TO SEE SIGNS OF ANTI-RACIST LIFE IN SWITZERLAND, I must say. This article is about a Swiss man who decided to send a big "fuck you" to the far-right in Switzerland - and the boneheaded voters who went along with the referendum to ban the building of minarets. Converting the chimney on his house into a minaret is the next best thing to tearing down all the damn church towers blotting the European skyline. I'm joking, of course (sort of), but just to make the point that Christianity's presence is felt everywhere in Europe and it has, ahem, a pretty piss poor record on the question of equality (women priests anyone? gay rights?), tolerance and progressive thinking. So Christians who say anything about the character of Islam ought to look in the mirror. Or their own bell towers - probably built by the forced labour of peasants. Anyway, two thumbs up to you, Guillaume Morand.

"It was scandalous that the Swiss voted for the ban. Now we have the support of all the far-right parties across Europe. This is shameful," he said. Mr. Morand put up the minaret on Tuesday not only to protest the decision but also to send a message of peace.

Nobel Prize Hypocrisy Or How Obama Made Me Spray My Coffee

IN THE WORLD OF 1984 THE FUNCTIONARIES OF THE ENGSOC STATE have developed many tools for control of the population. One of them is doublethink: the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in one's head simultaneously, believing both of them. Newspeak was the expression of that contradiction by talking shit. Or, as Wikipedia puts it (in part):

The basic idea behind Newspeak is to remove all shades of meaning from language, leaving simple dichotomies (pleasure and pain, happiness and sadness, goodthink and crimethink) which reinforce the total dominance of the State.
Well, what could possibly be a better example of double-thinking, newspeak horseshit than giving President Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize a week after he ordered the escalation of the war in Afghanistan. Thanks to the USA, war truly has become peace. And the icing on the cake of Obama's acceptance speech, the one that made me spit my coffee had to be this doozy:

“Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this,” Mr. Obama said. “The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms.”
Say f***in what? Mistakes? Well, my friend, if Vietnam was a "mistake" then I'd hate to see the USA act with malice aforethought. Up to 3 million Vietnamese died as a result of that mistake, along with 60,000 young Americans. Indeed, if that was a mistake what do we call The School of the Americas,  with its death squad training programs. Or the Pinochet dicatorship, or the overthrow of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, or President Arbenz of Guatemala, or Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh. In fact, I could go on all day detailing the dictatorships that the US has set-up, propped up, justified and armed. But, pardon me, I'm interrupting the President:

"And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America's commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend."
He conveniently neglects that the US maintains a "black prison" at Bagram where torture continues, that it breaks international law when it send pilotless drones into Pakistan and kills civilians. It continues to cover-up for the brutal treatment in Guantanamo, in particular the deaths of three inmates in what was claimed to be a group suicide. And, of course, the US gets around the Geneva Conventions by using private contractors, mercenaries, that are not accountable to the Conventions or by simply redefining what they are doing to exclude these activities from consideration. But the President continued with proposals for how peace can be achieved and maintained:

"Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price. Intransigence must be met with increased pressure -- and such pressure exists only when the world stands together as one."
I think that this is a great idea. After all, Israel - just off the top of my head - continues to illegally occupy land granted to Palestine in 1948 (we won't even get into the founding of Israel) and further, to illegally settle that land, in breach of the Geneva Conventions. It is also a nuclear power, though it has never signed the non-Proliferation Treaty and isn't subject to IAEA inspections, unlike Iran. Israel should face sanctions, and yet the US gives Israel a lot of money:

By FY2013, we will be sending Israel $3.15 billion a year (or an average of $8.6 million a day) and will continue to provide military aid at that level through 2018... In addition to military aid, the United States continues to provide Israel with additional aid and benefits. The numbers are not yet available for FY2009, but are likely to be significant.
But this is typical of US hypocrisy which sees lawbreakers everywhere and yet none in its own home and family. It is, in fact, astonishing that Obama could say any of this with a straight face.

"The same principle applies to those who violate international laws by brutalizing their own people. When there is genocide in Darfur, systematic rape in Congo, repression in Burma -- there must be consequences. Yes, there will be engagement; yes, there will be diplomacy -- but there must be consequences when those things fail."
We could again point to Israel, of course but we needn't fetishize there. Just across the border we find Egypt, which receives billions in US aid and is a de facto dictatorship. There are few civil rights, certainly no right to organize into independent unions or real opposition parties. It is a police state, funded by the Americans. Across the ocean in Latin America, the Colombian government continues to fund death squads and the USA continues to fund Colombia. It also has plans to build bases there. Skip to China, well, the US owes China a lot of money so you can't expect them to say much about that. In this case it is about "quiet diplomacy". As he said:

In light of the Cultural Revolution's horrors, Nixon's meeting with Mao appeared inexcusable -- and yet it surely helped set China on a path where millions of its citizens have been lifted from poverty and connected to open societies.
Apparently China can kill thousands of its citizens, deny them any semblance of democratic rights but they get the soft glove whereas Iran gets the fist of sanctions. You'll excuse me for sensing some financially based double-standards. And so when Obama wrapped up his speech with an inspirational call to arms that pointed to the inspiration of people fighting against injustice and to feed and educated themselves, I could only think about the $1 trillion the US will spend on its military this year. Obama will never say that the US promotes wars through the sales of arms, through military aid and, most insidiously of all, by sustaining a system that ensures inequality, poverty and scarcity in a world of plenty. And nothing promotes war more than the fight over scarce resources. For all these reasons, Obama didn't deserve this award and his receipt of it only demonstrates that it is bankrupt. But then, why should we expect any more from an award that was created by Alfred Nobel, a Swedish arms dealer and the inventor of dynamite.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Star Trek TNG: Race, Class And Marijuana

WELL, APROPOS OF NOTHING BUT SILLINESS, I was sent the below video recently and for some reason can't stop watching it and laughing like a demented teenager after a loud fart. My only explanation is that in my younger years I used to smoke pot with my roommate and watch TNG all the time. I particularly liked listening to his analysis of the semiotics of race in the Star Trek universe.
He was convinced, as I recall, that the Klingons were Arabs and the Romulans were the Soviet Union. Of course, once the Soviet Union had collapsed the federation could make peace with them. But then, like the return of the repressed, the spectre of communism is never far off and it returned as some kind of Red Cult of Death in the form of the Borg with their identical clothing and the merging of man and machine.
Vulcans were Japanese, representing Asiatic who had gotten their mojo under control and could focus on their rational selves. The Ferengi, meanwhile, were 19th century stereotypes of Jewish merchants. I mean, lookit those guys - they could have been drawn by some racist newspaper cartoonist. In the Deep Space Nine Series we had the Cardassians, who were Israelis and Bajorans who were Palestinians. I didn't buy this particular ethnography one bit. Palestinians are never the poor and oppressed in western mythology - always terrorists and fundamentalists, Jew-haters even. More likely they were Tibetans, made to look cute with those crinkly noses of theirs. Or perhaps Irish - there was definitely something elfin about them.
In any case, the larger picture is that Star Trek is a big outer space, liberal nerd wet dream. The workers are made to disappear - or only appear long enough to be killed in horrible ways. Can you imagine living in a world where the only people are supervisors? Fuck, kill me.
The idea of race in Star Trek is completely essentialized so that what race you are born determines your personality characteristics. Klingons are always warlike. Vulcans are always coldly intellectual. Everyone except for humans, of course, who were primarily white, certainly through the TNG series, until DS9 came along. The only black guy on the Enterprise was Jordi La Forge (was this a joke about him being burnt dark in a forge?) and he was blind! He was allowed to be there because he was literally blind to his race. Whew - he escaped his essential nature in this way. 'Course they never let him near any of the white women... And I wonder what he thought when he finally got his sight? Then there was Will Riker. That guys was always a laugh. The ship was driven by the liberal-minded, philosopher king, Jean Luc Picard, but it was still useful to have a nazi like Riker at his side. We always need the generals who are willing to be motherfuckers...
Anyway, all that cultural analysis... it has nothing to do with the video.

Exposing Honduran Election Fraud

AN EXCELLENT NEWS REPORT BY THE REAL NEWS which exposes some of the key myths being used to provide a justification to support the coup regime. Pretty devastating stuff, all in all.

Help Galloway Kick Jason Kenney

I RECEIVED THIS APPEAL IN MY INBOX this morning. People may remember when George Galloway was barred from entering Canada for the crime of having provided grassroots aid to the people of Gaza, who are suffering under an illegal and immoral Israeli blockade. It looks like it might blow up in the faces of the Tories and we should all help to apply some fire to the wick. With the scandal around detainee torture, the petty maneuverings around the economic stimulus, and just plain old incompetence and foolhardiness, this could be another nail in the Tory coffin.

Dear friends:
The Defend Free Speech Campaign is pleased to announce that British MP George Galloway has recently won an important victory against Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney in the Federal Court of Canada. On October 31, 2009, the Court announced that it would hear a judicial review of Kenney’s decision to ban Galloway from entering Canada. The Court is expected to issue a final decision in January 2010.
The significance of this development should not be underestimated: only about10 to 15 per cent of all cases ever make it to the Court. This indicates that Galloway has a serious case against Kenney - one that we can win!
But we urgently need your help!
Between now and December 21, we must raise a minimum of $20,000 CAD to cover basic legal expenses. Our dedicated legal team has been working pro-bono since the ban was announced, and will continue to do so, but they have had very little support for mounting court costs.
By contrast, Jason Kenney and the federal government have unlimited resources to undermine Galloway's case in the Court, and to attack our campaign in the media and the public. Indeed, this was their approach when the ban was first announced.
In order for the case to proceed, we're going to need your generous financial support, and we need it as soon as possible. At stake is much more than Galloway’s ability to enter and speak in Canada; at stake is the freedom of Canadians to criticize and oppose their government without fear of censorship or retribution.
Please help us to defend free speech by making a donation today!

There are two easy ways to donate:
1) Online
Click here to make an easy and secure donation by credit card (please note, your donation will be private; we do NOT list the names of contributors):

2) By cheque or money order
Mail your cheque or mondey order made payable to "Peace and Justice Committee" to:
Defend Free Speech Campaign
427 Bloor Street West, Box 13
Toronto ON M5S 1X7
No donation is too big or too small, and every penny counts towards our $20,000 goal.

In addition to making a donation, you can support the Defend Free Speech Campaign by taking the following steps:
+ Forward this e-mail to friends, family, co-workers and all your e-mail contacts, encouraging them to support the campaign, too!
+ Visit our website
+ Add a link to our campaign on your website.
+ Join our Facebook group: Help George Galloway beat Jason Kenney in Federal Court!
+ Spread the word on Facebook and Twitter. Update your status to: I'm helping George Galloway beat Jason Kenney in Federal Court! You can, too.
+ Follow us on Twitter.
+ If you belong to a trade union, student union, peace or social justice
group, download this sample resolution to endorse the campaign and make a

Thank you in advance for your generous support! This is a campaign we can win, but only with your help.

In solidarity,
James Clark
Defend Free Speech Campaign


On March 19, 2009, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney banned British Member of Parliament George Galloway from entering Canada. Galloway learned about the ban from the British media, which had been contacted by members of Kenney's staff. Hours after the ban appeared in the media, Galloway finally received written confirmation of the ban from Canada's High Commission in London.

Letter from the Canadian High Commission.

Response from Galloway's Canadian lawyers.

Galloway had been scheduled to visit four Canadian cities - Toronto, Mississauga, Montreal and Ottawa - as part of a North America-wide speaking tour in March and April 2009. He had been invited by local peace coalitions, student unions and church groups to speak about his recent humanitarian aid convoy to Gaza, and to speak about his opposition to the war in Afghanistan.
Galloway spent two weeks speaking to audiences in major cities all over the United States, but was banned from entering Canada by Jason Kenney.
In response, peace activists and civil liberties campaigners launched the Defend Free Speech Campaign, which helped galvanize public opposition to the ban. Unfortunately, we were unable to overturn it before Galloway was scheduled to speak in Canada. As a consequence, Galloway was forced to speak to Canadian audiences through an online video connection from New York City.
Since then, the Defend Free Speech Campaign has remained committed to opposing Kenney's attack on free speech, and has supported a legal challenge in the courts. The Federal Court ruling on October 31 is our first major victory.

More background information is available on our website, including timelines, media reports, and legal documents.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Israel: The Plucky Democracy That Opposes Democracy

ISRAEL LIKES TO PORTRAY ITSELF as the Middle East's only democracy; a bastion of (western) civilization in a sea of (oriental) despotism. That picture has always been false, of course, as soon as you include the Palestinians who were ethnically cleansed and who now are subject to Israeli rule in the Occupied Territories but who have zero civil rights in Israel. It's not for nothing that Israel is compared with South Africa's racist apartheid system.
But Israel's disrespect for basic democratic rights is even more pervasive than this. Just ask the Bedouin in the Negev desert, who have never had their right to their pastoral lands recognized, though they have lived there for hundreds of years prior to the founding of Israel. Most of them must live in tin shacks or tents because Israel destroys any more permanent buildings. One Bedouin community had finally won the right to elect its own local council, however the Israeli parliament cancelled the vote just weeks prior to it taking place - likely to ensure it maintains control while a lawsuit moves through the courts to demand land rights. According to Abu Ras, a geography professor at Ben Gurion University:
"If there is a Palestinian state, Israel does not want the Bedouin controlling lands that connect those two Palestinian territories. It would rather the Bedouin were concentrated in as small a space as possible."
Also within Israel, the parliament's Central Elections Committee attempted to ban Arab parties from Israeli elections in January of this year. Ultimately it was overturned in the Supreme Court but the unanimity of all the Jewish parties was indicative of the level of disrespect towards the civil rights of the large Arab minority inside Israel. Israeli government cabinet minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said after the Supreme Court decision that is was "unfortunate, since no boundary was established to prevent the disloyalty of some of the Arab MKs toward the state of Israel...
"In the next Knesset, we will pass a citizenship law that will prevent the disloyalty of some of Israel's Arabs."
And in Gaza, of course, the Israeli government has maintained a deadly blockade since Hamas won a landslide victory, following an election that was imposed upon Palestinians by Israel and the United States. In 2007, Israel and the USA supported and armed an attempt by Fatah to overthrow the Hamas government. It failed badly and Hamas took total control of the Gaza Strip. In the present round of prisoner-swap negotiations between Hamas and Israel, for the release of Cpl. Shalit, Israel continues to refuse to lift the illegal blockade. Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri said in an article in Xinhua that:
"This siege is imposed on the Gaza Strip because Hamas won in the legislative elections in 2006, and apparently this siege has nothing to do with the deal to release the Israeli soldier... The Israeli decision is part of the ongoing Israeli military aggression on the Palestinian people."
 Across the northern border in Lebanon, the government now includes members of Hezbollah, which is incredibly popular with the country's large Shia population, having led an insurgency against the illegal Israeli occupation throughout the 80s and 90s. Israel's defeat at the hands of a small guerilla force has never sat well with it, nor the idea of an independent Lebanese state to its north.  Again, even though it is the democratic will of the people of Lebanon that Hezbollah should be represented in parliament and that it should continue as a guerilla force to defend the southern borders, Israel cannot accept this democratic affront to its god-given right to determine the shape of the region. To call Israel a democracy is to do damage to the word.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Somali Pirates Set Up Investors Co-op

ONCE UPON A TIME, THE WEST ROBBED AFRICA OF ITS RICHES. Actually, that's still going on as the people suffering from the proxy wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo could tell you. So, you'll forgive me if I don't condemn the Somali pirates, who are mostly fishermen trying to make the best of a difficult situation in the face of continuous meddling in Somlia's affairs.
It's in this context that I find this innovation of social banditry in a key pirate town so fascinating. Pirates have set up something like an investment co-op for locals to take advantage of, and participate in, the profits from piracy. They can invest into pirate crews with either money or equipment, garnering a share of the booty when that crew is successful.
"Four months ago, during the monsoon rains, we decided to set up this stock exchange. We started with 15 'maritime companies' and now we are hosting 72. Ten of them have so far been successful at hijacking," Mohammed said.
"The shares are open to all and everybody can take part, whether personally at sea or on land by providing cash, weapons or useful materials ... we've made piracy a community activity."
Haradheere, 400 km (250 miles) northeast of Mogadishu, used to be a small fishing village. Now it is a bustling town where luxury 4x4 cars owned by the pirates and those who bankroll them create honking traffic jams along its pot-holed, dusty streets.
This description of a local woman who has been able to use her divorce settlement as a way to improve her income earning potential is particularly inspiring.
Piracy investor Sahra Ibrahim, a 22-year-old divorcee, was lined up with others waiting for her cut of a ransom pay-out after one of the gangs freed a Spanish tuna fishing vessel.
"I am waiting for my share after I contributed a rocket-propelled grenade for the operation," she said, adding that she got the weapon from her ex-husband in alimony.
"I am really happy and lucky. I have made $75,000 in only 38 days since I joined the 'company'."
To hell with AMWAY and AVON, African piracy is the new way for single gals to supplement their income. And whoever invested in the crew that just seized a super-tanker with 2 million barrels of oil on board is about to take a very nice vacation this year.

Greed, Stupidity, and the Climate Scandal

IT'S BEEN ALL OVER THE MEDIA: CLIMATE SCIENTISTS were engaged in fraud as proved by a series of emails and files stolen from East Anglia University's Climate Research Unit. Some of those emails suggested fudging data and excluding competing theories from being published. Of course, every climate skeptic on the planet - especially the ones connected to the oil industry - has come crawling out of the woodwork to announce that human-induced climate change is a fraud and fighting it is an enormous waste of money.
Nonsense. Let's put this absolutely stupid, retrograde position to bed. As Robert Watson writes in the Guardian newspaper in Britain:

The global temperature analysis is robust and the work of the UEA Climatic Research Unit, on the land component, is fully supported by two separate independent analyses in the US at Nasa and Noaa. The evidence for climate change over the past 100 years also comes from observed changes in retreating glaciers throughout most of the world, a decline in Arctic sea ice, melting of the Greenland ice sheet, changes in precipitation patterns, and changes in vegetation and the behaviour of wildlife.
All three analyses of global temperature have been thoroughly and independently assessed by the IPCC, which is one of the most rigorous scientific review bodies in existence. Many thousands of scientists have dedicated their time to preparing and reviewing the most comprehensive and authoritative assessments of climate science available. In addition, governments from around the world have also reviewed the IPCC findings and, by consensus, approved the key findings in the summaries for policymakers and synthesis reports.
There is absolutely no basis from the email scandal to question the science behind climate change. What is astounding is that no one is raising questions about who is behind the illegal break-in to the East Anglia computers to create this furor just prior to the Copenhagen Summit. To say that the sophistication of this operation ought to make us dubious is a serious understatement, involving as it did, sophisticated security operations, computers in multiple countries, including Turkey, Russia and Saudi Arabia. This was a big job and it wasn't some computer nerd in Nebraska. What's more, in recent days there were also multiple attempts to break-into the offices of one of Canada's leading climate scientists, Andrew Weaver at the University of Victoria.
Beyond the character of the break-ins being a cause for suspicion, there's the fact that there's a lot of money at play here - to reverse climate change means that humans must substantially reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and other forms of carbon producing fuels (I would include agri-fuels here, as I've commented previously.) Exxon alone made over $40 billion in 2007. Shell made $31 billion. Climate change is a very high stakes debate. Saudi Arabia certainly understands this and has staked out its position:

“There is no relationship whatsoever between human activities and climate change,” says Mohammad al Sabban, the lead climate negotiator for Saudi Arabia.
I'm sure everyone is surprised that Saudi Arabia would take a backward position on climate change. It's certainly in the forefront of human progress on many other fronts, like women's rights, democratic governance and criminal justice. Not.
There is a second point worth noting in all this frew-fra. Even if climate change were not a proved science. It wouldn't matter. The reliance on oil, coal and the private automobile is causing terrible environmental destruction to our planet - not to mention destroying our health - without taking into consideration the climate. The Tar Sands in Alberta create vast toxic lakes and cause birth defects and exotic cancers in local populations. It is leading to the depletion of the water table, loss of wetlands and the cutting down of boreal forests. The mining of coal is both dangerous and environmentally destructive. In China the use of coal plants has led to a serious degradation in air quality, causing an estimated 1.75 million premature deaths. Then there are the effects of acid rain, caused by automobiles and coal burning, et al, which kills lakes, trees and wildlife. The rapid rise in asthma in our cities is, at least in part, a result of reliance on private automobiles.  Our reliance on suburbs as the model of residential development leads to higher car use and decreased exercise, which has almost certainly contributed to an increase in obesity - an important factor in cardio-vascular disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases. Not to mention that the suburbs just suck and also lead to higher rates of depression and social isolation.
The above list is by no means exhaustive. What it points to is that the use of carbon-based fuels are a key element of environmental destruction on the planet today. Regardless of climate change science, we need to reduce our dependency on carbon fuels. However, this need is made all the more acute by the fact of climate change - by the melting of glaciers and thinning of the ice sheet; by the increase in extreme weather events; by the rise in sea levels, et al. Now is not the time to let the fight for action on climate change be derailed by the greed of big oil, the stupidity of climate deniers (my favourite being Lord Monkton from the UK who said during a recent US Tour that "They are about to impose a communist world government." Sheesh, if only.) or the spinelessness of politicians. Now is the time for action.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Dear Planet: Sorry That We're Climate Assholes

50,000 protest climate chaos in London, UK

I THINK MOST CANADIANS LIKE TO THINK OF THIS COUNTRY as a warm and fuzzy place to be. Sure, we've got problems - genocide of the aboriginal population, all those Chinese who died building the railroad before we deported the ones who survived, the war in Afghanistan, that sort of thing. But all that imperialism and stuff aside, we're really quite lovely. The kind of people you'd like to have over for dinner and to meet your mom.
Sorry folks. While you were napping we elected a bunch of neanderthal wingnuts who are pretty retrograde on every issue. And the ones who aren't wingnuts, like Stephen "Napoleon" Harper, are certifiable sociopaths. I won't get into how we got stuck with them - that's for another post. But do you know what they've been doing about climate change? I mean, holy shit! Our kids are going to have to start sewing American flags on their backpacks when they go on vacation so that they don't get spit on and beat up.
First off, in 2006, the Tories abrogated our commitment to the Kyoto Protocol - the agreement that Canada had signed committing us to reducing our carbon emissions. Then we've spent every opportunity since then trying to derail any climate deal anywhere that would commit us to doing anything. Internationally acclaimed author and journalist, George Monbiot put it this way:

After giving the finger to Kyoto, Canada then set out to prevent the other nations from striking a successor agreement. At the end of 2007 it single-handedly blocked a Commonwealth resolution to support binding targets for industrialised nations. After the climate talks in Poland in December 2008, it won the Fossil of the Year award, presented by environmental groups to the country which had done most to disrupt the talks. The climate change performance index, which assesses the efforts of the world’s 60 richest nations, was published in the same month. Saudi Arabia came 60th. Canada came 59th.
In June this year the media obtained Canadian briefing documents which showed that the government was scheming to divide the Europeans. During the meeting in Bangkok in October, almost the entire developing world bloc walked out when the Canadian delegate was speaking, as they were so revolted by his bullying. Last week the Commonwealth heads of government battled for hours (and eventually won) against Canada’s obstructions. A concerted campaign has now begun to expel Canada from the Commonwealth.
The simple reason is oil, in particular, the Alberta Tar Sands. There's plenty of reasons why the Tar Sands are an absolute and total disaster. For instance, it takes up to four barrels of water to clean and process one barrel of oil. The giant toxic lakes of "tailings" that the refining process generates are so poisonous that special measures have to be taken to frighten off birds and other animals that would die were they to come in contact with it. Processing tar sands oil, which produces triple the carbon emissions of crude oil, requires burning enough natural gas each day to heat three million homes. By 2020 the tar sands will release more than twice as much carbon as all the cars and trucks in North America. But with the tar sands development valued at $200 billion so far it's no wonder that the Tories are committed to allowing Canada's carbon emissions to increase by 2% over 1990 levels. It is conservatively estimated that carbon emissions must be cut globally by 20-25% by 2020.

If the fossil fuel industry is allowed to proceed with its current plans, greenhouse gas emissions in Canada will grow to 827 million tonnes in 2010, 44% beyond what Canada is permitted under the Kyoto Protocol and a far cry from the 80%-100% reduction that scientist say is essential to stabilize the climate. If the world burned all of Canada’s estimated fossil fuel deposits, global concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere would rise by about 20% beyond 1990 levels.
All of this is to say that we ought to be ashamed of what these jokers are doing in our name to protect the profits of big oil companies like Shell and BP, and the big banks that have invested in tar sands development. There hasn't been nearly enough mobilizing in this country (and I confess I'm guilty of passivity on this also). With glaciers melting and sea levels rising it really is time to get our act together. Over in Britain, for instance, 50,000 people protested on Saturday, December 5 to demand action on climate change. It's time that we stepped up to the plate - after all, we're one of the worst offenders on the planet. It's the least we can do.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Up To 1 Million Protest Berlusconi In Italy

NOT THAT LONG AGO, I WROTE THAT Italy's right-wing, billionaire Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi was losing his marbles under the pressure of upcoming corruption trials, a looming (and, likely, very costly) divorce and his fall in popularity. Well, I'm happy to report that his troubles have now broken out into open protests on the streets of Italy. According to organizers there were a million people there. Police said 90,000 but then cops are liars, so who listens to them?
This is a good sign, not only because the B man deserves to be shown the door. Even more important, the left has been in disarray since the last election that Berlusconi's coalition of regular right-wing slimers and open fascists won. In part his victory was a result of the main far left party, Rifondazione Communista, prioritizing electoral maneuvers with the center left, which discredited them, over popular mobilizations. Hopefully this will give a boost to the demoralized and depressed on the left. Nothing like making a right-winger go bananas to improve your sense of perspective.

US Unemployment: Who Do You Believe?

I WON'T PRETEND TO BE A STATISTICAL BRANIAC when it comes to the economy. Well, statistically I'm a braniac but not when it comes to statistics. Oh, never mind. Anyway, maybe someone can explain to me why, with all the hoopla about the US only losing 11,000 jobs last month, there is this other statistic from a private payroll company, called ADP, that provides payroll services to 1 in 6 US workers, 23 million, which says that the economy lost 139,000 jobs in November. I wouldn't want to suggest a government head count was inaccurate or politically motivated, of course. I just want to know how they came up with such different numbers.
Anyway, even by the most optimistic numbers there's still a helluva lot of people out of work in the USA. And many of those have now been unemployed for half a year or more - 38.3 percent of the unemployed, up from 35.6 percent. That's probably why one economist, Allen L. Sinai described the good news this way:
“Things are getting better, but a one-month respite, frankly, means nothing in the context of the worst labor market ever seen since the 1930s.”
And, at this point, I still stand by my argument that the US economy has bought a temporary relief on the basis of postponing a major correction. It may be that the economy stabilizes as a result of the $787 billion stimulus package (not to mention trillions more in bank bailout cash) but one of two things face the US economy in the future. Either the effect of the bailout won't be sustained and into next year the recovery will lose steam. Or the contradictions that led to the present crisis - the financialization of the US economy, the massive growth in both private and public sector debt - will continue to overhang the economy and lead in a few years to a new crisis. I suspect if it's the latter, it will take less time than the gap between the last bubble burst - the dot-com bubble -  and the most recent one, about 8 years.
Likewise, the imbalances in the global economy haven't even been touched and, if anything, have gotten worse as China has poured most of its stimulus spending into investment, creating a mass of over-capacity. Trust me on this, I'm a brainiac.

Friday, December 4, 2009

General Jones Agrees With Me: US Isn't Leaving in 2011

ACCORDING TO AN INTERVIEW WITH THE BBC, top national security advisor, General Jones, the US has no intention of pulling out in 2011:
"Its very important that people in Afghanistan hear this very clearly: this is not a withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan in 2011, it is a decision to turn over to the Afghans some of the responsibility where they are ready to accept that responsibility. But in no manner, shape or form is the United States leaving Afghanistan in 2011."
So, how does this square with Obama's statement that a withdrawal will begin in July 2011, which was widely read as an exit date?
[Obama] said "these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground."
Could it be that Obama is lying?

Obama's Withdrawal Date Is A Sop And A Lie

WHENEVER I'M UNDER PRESSURE AT WORK I ALWAYS SAY "I'll have it done by Friday" even if there's absolutely no chance that I'll have it done by Friday. Then, perhaps, I'll say on Monday: "Oh, didn't you get that? I was sure I sent it." In this way I can push back a deadline by a week or more. Anybody who thinks Obama's Afghanistan deadline is anything different than this is hopelessly naive.
Obama is responding to the widespread desire - particularly amongst his base - for a withdrawal of troops. In the days immediately following Obama's West Point speech - with support likely to be at its highest, before the body bags start, there were still 26% who thought that the troops should be withdrawn sooner than 2011. A plurality want the troops withdrawn by 2011. Still, even with his immense personal authority, Obama's war plan only has the support of a bare majority - 51%. Prior to the invasion by President Bush in 2001, 83% of the US population supported going to war. As of March of this year, a full 42% thought that invading Afghanistan had been a mistake (in Nov. 2001, only 9% thought it a mistake). As of September, a majority, 56%, of Democrats thought that troops should be removed immediately. This massive decline is the result of the combination of mass mobilizations - particularly in the lead up to the war in Iraq, which saw up to 20 million protest in countries around the world on February 15, 2003 - and the grinding down effects of the insurgency, both in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both these processes have shifted consciousness inexorably. Obama has not bought himself very much time.
But if this is a crumb to the mass anti-war sentiment, the real plan is based upon the ability of the surge to weaken the Taliban to the point of forcing them to negotiate on the USA's terms. The fact that Obama used the words "Al Qaeda" almost twice as often as "Taliban" is an indication of this shift in strategic focus. Up till now the USA has strongly resisted talking to the Taliban leadership. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has openly expressed frustration with this intransigence, blaming the US for the failure of negotiations. Now, of Obama's stated three goals - pushing back the Taliban's gains, strengthening Karzai's administration and military, crushing Al Qaeda in Pakistan - the first two are about establishing the best negotiating position for the future. The US government doesn't want to leave Afghanistan without it at least looking like they got what they wanted. As Nixon once described it in relation to Vietnam, they want "peace with honour."
But 18 months is a very short period of time to build the Afghan military and police to the point that they can take on the Taliban - when the US recently moved out of Nuristan province, it collapsed in days. They have been there for 8 years and have failed to build up a reliable indigenous fighting force. The same can be said for pushing back the Taliban, who have had 8 years to rebuild their strength and support and who now control almost the entire countryside outside of the cities. They are now deeply rooted and will be difficult to remove. For those two reasons alone the deadline looks highly unlikely. That it is a sop for domestic consumption has also become clear very quickly as Administration officials have appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to defend the plan. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, for instance, referred to Obama's withdrawal date as the "beginning of a process, an inflection point if you will, of transition for Afghan forces as they begin to assume greater responsibility for security." An "inflection point"? These are weasel words to say that the date means nothing. The Secretary of State seconded Gates' commitment to nothing in particular:
Mrs. Clinton said the “best information available at the moment” pointed to July 2011 as the pivotal moment. But she said that the withdrawal of troops would go on “probably for the foreseeable future,” as would requests for “continuing logistical support for the Afghan security force.”
Obama's plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan is certain to do one thing: destabilize Pakistan further as they increase drone attacks inside that country and likely push Afghan insurgents across the porous border. In addition, the pressure on the Pakistani regime is guaranteeing greater power for the Pakistani military, which has a habit of overthrowing civilian governments. This is a much greater danger than the possibility of tribal militias in the North-West Frontier Provinces overthrowing the Pakistani government.
The likelihood of the present surge sorting out all of these factors on an 18-month timeline is more than extremely unlikely, it is a lie to dampen domestic opposition. It will be important to re-mobilize the anti-war movement in the US to push for an end to the war in Afghanistan or July, 2011 will be just another day of the year when people die in an endless war in Afghanistan's killing fields.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

German Artists Take Over IKEA

I CAME ACROSS THIS INTERESTING AND ENTERTAINING PIECE about a group of artists in Germany who are going to be evicted from their warehouse workspace to make room for a new IKEA store. Lord knows there's never enough IKEA stores with those easy to assemble futons and their Swedish meatballs. But 50 of the German artists weren't happy with the idea of being evicted and decided to move into a local Hamburg IKEA store and just start working.
“Bring your notebooks, use the IKEA products to visualize future work, make your business phone calls (there are plenty of little niches). Drink coffee in the restaurant until you drop”, the organization instructed the activists. “Just behave like ordinary people in IKEA. Organize in pairs, look for a place in the store, and begin to work.” And so they started a parasite office within the walls of the Swedish furniture giant. “The protest action is a lesson about art, marketing, and consumption.”
I've always thought this kind of thing is a great idea. I'd love to see some socialist paper sellers in Yorkdale shopping mall, some unlicensed buskers, and maybe stilt-walkers and jugglers. The hallways are beautiful open spaces, naturally lit, with a feel of a high street market. Any takers?

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