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Does Austerity Lead to Nuclear War?

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 10:48
We in the West for much too long have taken our military supremacy over everybody else for granted.  With a lead partner (or perhaps "head office" would be more apt) like the Pentagon how could we think anything else?  It's a given that we have the best and the most of everything from the infantry rifleman to stealth bombers.

There's a dangerous tendency to look at defence spending as the measure of military power.  On that score the United States should have no rivals for it outspends the next dozen or so biggest military spenders combined.  But recent analysis suggests that America doesn't get very much bang for its defence buck, certainly not compared to its emerging rivals such as China.

China targets its military spending to what it needs for a) self-defence and b) expanding the nation's 'sphere of influence' to suit its emerging economic superpower status.  The United States doesn't spend an awful lot on self-defence. You don't need thousands of Abrams tanks to defend Wyoming.  America's defence spending should be called "offence spending" to reflect the inherently offensive systems that the United States deploys.

Take stealth for example.  The B-2 bomber, the F-22 Raptor fighter and the F-35 light attack bomber - they're all offensive.  When the USAF conducted "Operation Chimichanga" it was a dress rehearsal for a first strike on China to neutralize the Chinese air defences, paving the way for a sustained air campaign on the People's Republic.  It was an adjunct to the Air-Sea Battle doctrine focused on China and Southeast Asia.  It has now evolved into the "A2/AD" doctrine meant to counter anti-access and area denial (defensive) capabilities in China's home waters.

Provocative?  Ya think?  It's the sort of behaviour that sparks arms races and, not surprisingly, that's precisely what's happening.  The Chinese are building submarines and medium-range missiles specifically designed to sink American aircraft carriers.  They're building their own stealth warplanes (with a great deal of help from massive amounts of stealth data hacked from American and British computers).  They're developing island air bases in the South China sea, the latest in the hotly disputed Spratleys.

Russia, too, with NATO parked right on its doorstep, is rapidly re-arming.  New warplanes, including a new stealth bomber.  New subs,  a new class of long-range missiles to go with them.  New, longer range, cruise missiles - perfect for an over-the-pole saturation attack on North America.   New tanks.  New, new, new - new and better (in a way, I suppose).

Which brings us to military historian  and BBC defence correspondent Mark Urban's new book, "The Edge" in which he asks whether the West has lost its dominance in conventional warfare.  Spoiler Alert - the answer is "Yes."

Mr. Urban warns that, "projected cuts “will make it impossible for America to have the kind of military reach it used to”. Many Americans, he adds, “do not realise that the age of a single global hyperpower is over. And, actually, it’s worse than that. For it is only by combining metrics of that decline with the growth in military capabilities elsewhere that you can gain a sense of how quickly the scales are tipping”.

Now, says Urban, Russia, China and India have such strong conventional forces, and America has cut its forces so much, that in the event of a conflict “the US would be left with the choice of nuclear escalation or backing down”. He adds: “Against a full-scale invasion of South Korea, the US would have little choice but to go nuclear.” Russia, China, India, Israel, Pakistan, North Korea and some other countries could “mount a credible conventional defence that would leave the United States having to think the unthinkable, with profound implications for the world”.

Would the US really need to contemplate a nuclear attack on these countries? Urban does not really answer the question. More convincingly, he talks about the dangers of nuclear proliferation and nuclear blackmail at a time when Russia and China are reverting to the notion of “spheres of influence” and when, as he puts it, the idea that political power grows from the barrel of a gun is back with a vengeance in many parts of the world. “A growing threat to world order,” says Urban, will ultimately lead to more countries acquiring nuclear weapons, as well as chemical and biological weapons, and what he calls “cyber weaponry”.

I should have Urban's book in a couple of weeks and I'll post a full review. Unfortunately there are plenty of regional and even a few global arms races underway although we hear close to nothing about them from our mainstream media.  Warfare itself is changing across the gamut from the smallest failed state (Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan) to the ascendant superpowers.  As we ought to have learned from Iraq and Afghanistan, having "All the King's horses and all the King's men" no longer yields reliable results.

This offensive mentality that was so ruthlessly implanted during the Bush/Cheney years now threatens our own security.  Every schoolyard bully learns that you can threaten people only so long before someone calls you on it.

It's probably a good time to put a lid on the hyper-bellicose nonsense spewed out by NATO.  Let's focus on what we need to actually secure ourselves, to defend our coasts and airspace.  It's shaping up to be a tough and intensely dangerous century.

Steve Hits One Straight Out Of the Park

Wed, 04/15/2015 - 08:32
Confused about the NDP's real position on combating climate change?  I've never been able to figure them out, especially since Layton and Mulcair put their party on the path to Blairification.

Which is why I heartily recommend that you check out Sudbury Steve's essay on the New Democrats and climate change.  When it comes to climate change and the Canada your grandkids will have to live in, the NDP are just another bunch of neoliberal con artists.

Well, I'll Be Damned. No, I'm Serious - Damned.

Tue, 04/14/2015 - 13:14
From The Washington Post, a map depicting the world's least-religious countries.

Well we're not as bad as those Pagan Swedes or the Chinese but we're batting above 50% as either not religious or atheist.

With its high numbers of atheist citizens, China and Hong Kong appear to be outliers in Asia. Western Europe and Oceania are the only regions where about 50 percent of the population or more either consider themselves to be atheists or not religious, as well.

In Western Europe, the U.K. and the Netherlands top the ranking, followed by Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Austria. In France, about half of the population is not religious or atheist — despite the fact that it is generally considered to be the birthplace of Western secularism.

With 65 percent, Israel has surprisingly many citizens who consider themselves not religious or to be atheists. According to Israeli newspaperHaaretz, atheism is deeply entrenched in the country's society. Many Jews furthermore practice some religious acts, but consider themselves as secular. In the West Bank and Gaza, only 19 percent of all respondents said that they were not religious.

It seems that Canada is in good company with Australia, most of Europe and Japan.

Jody Thomas is to the Coast Guard what Bill Elliott was to the RCMP.

Tue, 04/14/2015 - 12:59

Jody Thomas sits in Ottawa as the Commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard. She brings with her a lifetime of political hackery, none of it remotely related to her current post.  From the government of Canada web site:

Jody began her federal public service career in 1988 as Chief, Business Planning and Administration with Public Works Canada in the Atlantic Region. Ms Thomas then became the Atlantic Regional Business Manager, Architectural and Engineering Services and Business Manager of the Esquimalt Graving Dock in Vancouver, British Columbia. 
Jody joined the Passport Canada in 1995 as the Manager of the Victoria Passport Office and since then, has taken on many roles within the Passport Office including, Project Director, Manager, Case Management and Foreign Operations, Manager, Security Operations, She then became Director, Security Operations and Director General of Security. In 2007, Jody held the position of Chief Operating Officer of Passport Canada managing service delivery at 35 locations and with 3000 employees across Canada.
If you wonder why "Jody" sounds like such a shill for the Harper government, effusive in her praise of her own failures, just look at her background.  Christ, are we in trouble.

Former Coast Guard Commander Calls "Bullshit" on Harper

Tue, 04/14/2015 - 12:47

Retired Coast Guard Commander, Fred Moxey, believes the federal government's claims to have recovered 80% of the English Bay oil spill are nonsense.

“I’ve been in hundreds of spills and never seen an 80 per cent recovery," Moxey said. "Usually you recover 30 per cent at most, more like 10, and that’s with an immediate response and a trained crew with sponges and straw pulling the oil out by hand.”

The "80 per cent" figure was repeated at a press conference by the coordinated response team today at Canada Place.

Moxey, a 35-year Coast Guard veteran and former commander of the now-closed Kitsilano Coast Guard station, said the numbers reported by government are likely based on observation and aerial photography which fails to show the full reality in the water.

“They need to send cameras to the bottom of the bay to see what made it down there.”

...Moxey said that under the Harper government,coastal and marine response services has been amalgamated.

He called this "a horrible practice," meant to cut costs and push capacity away from the Coast Guard and onto partnered private enterprises.

The 2013 closure of the Kitsilano station has been under scrutiny since the spill. Moxey said before the closure the station was the busiest on the west coast, responding to over 300 calls per year.

Moxey said this spill was small – less than 2,900 litres of fuel, likely dumped from the ship’s bilge. He was visibly disturbed as he spoke about his lack of confidence in the cash-strapped Coast Guard's ability to deal with a larger incident.

"You can't remove the possibility of human error. They are in no way prepared for a catastrophe," he said. "It'd be years to clean it up."

The Vancouver Observer published the photo above showing the now shuttered Kitsilano Coast Guard station (in blue) overlooking English Bay where the oil spill occurred. 
Honestly, I feel like my coast is being assaulted by my own government.  Harper & Co. have done everything in their power to leave the coast vulnerable and essentially defenceless even as they have massively increased the risks of an environmental catastrophe.  The greatest threat to my coast is not ISIS, it's Ottawa.

How the Fearsome Become the Fearful

Tue, 04/14/2015 - 10:08
A Weapon of Weakness?

How did we become indentured to a culture of fear?  Fear-mongering has become a modus operandi in today's morally corrupt, visionless politics.  It is the stock in trade of authoritarians like our own Stephen Harper and it's effective.

The thing is democracy cannot thrive in the presence of a culture of fear.  It may not even be sustainable in that toxic milieu.

The culture of fear quickly comes to dominate aspects of how we are governed, how the nation state operates.  It even extends into national security structures and how we wage wars.  Until recently war was an interval of conflict between periods of peace.  In case you haven't noticed, peace is gone.  We've descended into a state of permawar, low-intensity conflict fought not to win a peace but out of fear to strike at groups we deem, often incorrectly, as a threat to our society.

I'm doing an online course on remote-control warfare.  It's an awkward term that incorporates drone or autonomous warfare, special operations warfare and for-profit wars waged by corporate entities, the modern version of mercenaries.  It's a 21st century type of warfare that can be dangerously corrosive of democracy.

In better times states jealously guarded their monopoly on violence so integral to the state's ability to meet its cardinal responsibility to protect the citizenry. Now wars have become more complicated engaging state actors with a confusing and shifting mix of non-state actors that run the gamut from militias to rebels to insurgents to organized crime, even banditry.  States have likewise lost their monopoly on lethal, war-waging weaponry and technology.

Some speculate that this dystopian era will end the classic 'nation state' that has evolved in the Westphalian interval.  State sovereignty, borders, the use of lethal force pretty much wherever and whenever, demands a different political reality.

I was struck in reading the transcript of a lecture by prof. Bill Durodie, University of Bath, by a passage that resonates with some central themes I've been canvassing on this blog for several years.  Here are some excerpts.

Since the end of the Cold War not only have we become disenchanted with science, but some suggest that our social networks have become much more fragile or eroded. People no longer participate in the political democratic process in the same numbers as they used to. We've become disengaged from the decision-making processes of our own society. And at the same time, many of the informal social networks that provide a social glue and identity to people, whether they are families, neighbourhoods, communities, trade unions, out of hours clubs, teams, and associations all of those have seen a steady decrease in membership too. 

So what we're now seeing is a world in which we've become disenchanted with the benefits of science, disengaged from the decision-making process, and disconnected from one another. Put together, these make up what some people are describing as a culture of fear, but lends itself towards a politics of fear, whereby people always imagine and project the worst in relationship to any new development. And it's within that broad context that we need to understand the discussions occurring about science and technology and its application to warfare today. Drones and remote technologies are used in a very dystopian, negative way some will accuse.

In summary, if we ask the question, is technology a demon in the contemporary period or the saviour in terms of protecting real lives in the combat space, I think the correct answer is neither. There's a lot of hype about technology from both sides of the spectrum. Risk management, we should remind ourselves, is a means to achieving an end not an end in itself. And the danger is to view technology as the solution to problems or the problem itself. What we need is a clearer sense of purpose and direction for anything that we are doing in society, including the conduct of war

If we look at recent missions in Afghanistan or Iraq, what is strikingly obvious is that the purpose of the mission itself has being confused. Was fighting in Iraq to get rid of Saddam? Was it to bring democracy to the region? Was it to liberate women? All of these aims were thrown into the pot together. And the consequence is that there is a confusion as to what it is that we are fighting for. 

If we look historically, it's quite clear that when a society is very clear as to its aims and objectives, it is actually able to put up with remarkable acts of barbarism. The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki must rank as some of the most devastating and barbaric acts of human history. But set within a context of the Second World War, where a narrative had been framed and people bought in to the notion that we were in a civilizational struggle, these events went, if not unnoticed, certainly uncriticised for a remarkable period of time. 

Today, far less dramatic incidents, such as drone strikes in Pakistan, bring forward much more criticism. And that's because we live in a period in which we're unclear as to what the purpose and objective is in the first place. If technology is really going to be used to a positive benefit, rather than simply feeding into dystopian narratives, we need to clarify our purpose as a society and engage a much greater layer of the population in a discussion as to what it is that we're trying to achieve.

As we get into these low-intensity permawars, it's increasingly difficult to maintain effective civilian control over our armed forces.  Wars are now fought increasingly in the shadows, remotely.  It becomes harder and more complex to ensure effective oversight and there are political leaders who very much like it that way.  Outsource it to the commercial sector and oversight becomes almost meaningless.

Another Hot Year, Even Hotter for 2016

Tue, 04/14/2015 - 09:04
Word from Australia that this year and next will probably see record-breaking temperatures.

Sea temperatures around Australia are posting "amazing" records that climate specialists say signal global records set in 2014 may be broken this year and next.

March sea-surface temperatures in the Coral Sea region off Queensland broke the previous high by 0.12 degrees – a big jump for oceans that are typically more thermally stable than land. Temperatures for the entire Australian ocean region also set new highs for the month, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

The unusual warmth off Australia comes as the Pacific Ocean remains primed for an El Nino event, as the bureau reported last month.

If such an event occurs, the underlying warming from climate change will get a further boost from natural variability, making 2014's ranking as the hottest year on records going back to the 1880s likely to be short-lived, according to Andy Pitman, head of climate research at the University of NSW.

"If we do get an intense El Nino, it will blitz the records," Professor Pitman said. "The climate is on a performance-enhancing drug and that drug is carbon dioxide."

As Flat as Piss on a Platter

Tue, 04/14/2015 - 08:40
As oil spills go, Harper's "world class" oil spill response team couldn't have asked for better conditions than they faced last Wednesday in Vancouver's English Bay.

There was nothing to obstruct crews getting at the spill and deploying their booms and equipment.  The waters were calm.  It was day time.  It happened not all that far away from the Sea Island Coast Guard station.  The best part is that it was a small spill, what should have been a piece of cake for our world class guardians.

And still they screwed it up.

It could have been so much worse.  Imagine a heavily loaded tanker floundering on the rocks overnight in the midst of the sort of West Coast winter storms that fell giant trees in coastal forests.  Imagine that heavily loaded tanker breaking up in the Douglas Channel or Hecate Strait.  That is to imagine catastrophe of an incalculable scale on a multi-generational time span.

Do you realize that those world class oil spill recovery vessels can't leave the pier in our winter storms and their booms are useless in those conditions?

That oil spill in English Bay should have been like a kindergarten field day. Everybody should have come away with a shiny blue ribbon.  Only they screwed it all up.

Environment Minister Mary Polak told the B.C. legislature on Monday that in the event of a marine spill “we are led in a unified command structure by the federal government through the Canadian Coast Guard.”

However, the minister said the province and other emergency response agencies were forced to act outside their usual roles due to the Coast Guard’s inaction.

“As a result of our repeated requests for an improvement in that situation, I can tell the members that the Coast Guard certainly stepped up their involvement, took back over the leadership of incident command as of Friday morning,” Ms. Polak said.

Of Leaders and Eunuchs

Tue, 04/14/2015 - 08:18
One of these three has balls:  Tommy Boy, Junior, or Hillary.  And the winner is - Hillary!

Even though her duel at the ballot box isn't until November of next year, Democratic presidential frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, has wasted no time in serving notice that the fight against climate change will be front and center in her campaign.

In fact, Hillary's is the first ever presidential campaign to make combating climate change a core issue.

Our boys, Mulcair and Trudeau, get to strut their stuff this year and, like the wee geldings they are, climate change seems to be something they're not too keen to talk about.  Oh Canada, indeed.

Guess Who Can't Make the Party?

Sat, 04/11/2015 - 11:32

It's quite a gathering.  55-warships from 13-NATO countries are taking part in Exercise Joint Warrior in the waters off Scotland.  This year's war games are considered especially important given the perceived resurgence of Russian naval forces.

They take place against a background of rising concern about Russian expansionism but the Ministry of Defence said the Exercise Joint Warrior war games are a twice-yearly exercise rather than a response to any specific threat.

However, the Joint Warrior exercises are the biggest yet held by Nato and are intended to act as a show of strength while honing the ability of member nations to co-operate in the event of an attack.

Training for submarine hunts is regarded as particularly important in waters north of the UK as they are the most obvious route into the wider Atlantic Ocean for Russian vessels.

Russian submarines are also suspected of operating close to the UK shoreline. In March a fishing vessel 10 miles off the Isle of Lewis snagged an object suspected of being a submarine – none from Nato were said to be operating in the area at the time – while in November dozens of aircraft and ships took part in a major search after a sighting was reported.

...Warships from the US, including guided-missile vessels USS Porter and USS Anzio, will join the Royal Navy for the exercises along with ships from Poland, Estonia, Lativa, France, Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Lithuania, and Belgium.
So, which country is conspicuous by its absence?  That, of course, would be Canada.  Unlike Latvia or Belgium, we don't seem able to contribute a naval presence to these games.  The best I could find is a National Defence press release from 2013 that proclaimed the importance of Exercise Joint Warrior and Canada's role in it.

News Release / April 2, 2013 / Project number: NR - 13.095

OTTAWA – More than 900 Canadian sailors, airmen and airwomen of the Canadian Armed Forces departed today to participate in Exercise Joint Warrior, a joint multinational NATO exercise taking place in the United Kingdom from April 15 to 25. Exercise Joint Warrior is the largest military tactical exercise in Europe and is designed to prepare NATO military forces to work together in a variety of missions from providing humanitarian aid to full-combat operations.

“This exercise presents an excellent opportunity for the Canadian Armed Forces to build and strengthen interoperability and combat effectiveness between Canada’s military and our NATO allies,” said the Honourable Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence. “Our sailors and aircrew will conduct realistic training to enhance the various tactics, techniques, and procedures that they will employ on behalf of the Government of Canada in a variety of operational scenarios both at home and abroad.”

...Exercise Joint Warrior is organized by the United Kingdom and will involve the participation of close to 13, 000 military personnel, 55 vessels, and up to 40 aircraft from various NATO nations over a ten-day period. Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships (HMCS) Preserver, Iroquois, and St. John’sdeparted Halifax, N.S. today to begin their transit across the Atlantic Ocean and will participate in the exercise later in the month.

The Iroquois, of course, is now headed for the scrap yard. Sister ship
Algonquin has also been paid off.  HMCS Annapolis (pictured above) just got sent to the bottom of Howe Sound to become an artificial reef.  HMCS Preserver along with sister ship Protecteur are also awaiting their turn at the breakers' yard.

Oopsie. And the Walls Come Tumblin' Down.

Sat, 04/11/2015 - 08:22
The Crown in the Duffy trial has introduced a very interesting proposition using Justin Bieber to make the point.

The Crown's contention is that you cannot be a senator unless, at the time of appointment, you are duly resident in the province you are to represent.  Mr. Holmes used the example of the requirement that senators be 30-years of age when he asked the Senate law clerk whether, had 21-year old Bieber been given a Senate appointment, the law would deem him to be 30.  Of course not.

So the Crown's theory is that, if you're not already resident at the date of appointment, your appointment is invalid.


Let's chat about Harper loyalist and former personal aide, now senator for New Brunswick, Carolyn Stewart-Olsen - the one who dutifully helped launder Duffy's Senate audit report.  For years she lived and worked as a nurse in the Ottawa area.  Unlike Duffy, who actually owned property - land and a cottage - in Prince Edward Island at the time of his appointment, apparently Stewart-Olsen didn't get her residence in New Brunswick until several months after taking her seat in the Senate.


By the Crown's theory. Stewart-Olsen's appointment was even less valid than Duffy's which could mean her residency expense claims are every bit as fraudulent as Duffy's.

Wow, slap the bracelets on the honourable senator for New Brunswick.

Expect to hear more about this when Stewart-Olsen answers her subpoena to testify.

We Hear Rumours

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 23:41
Spent almost two hours tonight with a veteran trial lawyer/long-time Tory insider dissecting Week One of the Duffy trial.

Stephen Harper won't be testifying at trial?  Who says?  Duffy's lawyer, Don Bayne, has been quietly establishing the foundational basis throughout the week that the trial judge may have no choice but to issue that subpoena.

Rumour has it that the Crown might just drop the whole essence of this proceeding - the bribery charge. People close to Nigel Wright are said to be floating the idea that Nigel may never take the stand.  No bribery charge, no need for Nigel to spill his guts on Harper, Perrin et al.

Imagine what you might do if the core charge is inexplicably dropped?  A motion to stay/dismiss all the charges?  A proceeding in malicious prosecution or vexatious proceedings?

Benjamin Perrin.  I hear there's an e-mail in which Perrin writes that Duffy will fold either out of embarrassment or because the PMO-directed trial will bankrupt him.  Benny, did you really write something that potentially damaging to yourself and your prime minister?  Were you that much of a cynical douchebag?

The Crown.  Did they get their lessons in prosecutorial brilliance from watching Marcia Clark in the OJ trial?  How about opening your trial with an expert witness who testifies that the applicable laws are hopelessly vague?  If the laws are so vague who influenced the prosecution to proceed?  If those laws are so vague, why did RCMP investigators choose to pretend that they demonstrated the criminal culpability of the Cavendish Cottager?  Is RCMP commish Paulson heading for early retirement?

What about the Prince of Darkness?  The documents introduced in court this week seem to show that this prime minister lied his ass off throughout this scandal as to his role, what he knew and when.  Nigel's written statements are as good as fingerprints on this score.

The Crown may have decided not to call Harper and Harper may believe he's off the hook but Steve's megalomania isn't the end of the issue.  He may be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the witness stand and, if so, it won't be for just an hour or two.

This is shaping up to be the biggest political trial in Canadian history.  It's set for 41-days but it could drag out far longer.  The defence is planning to interrogate Nigel Wright for more than a week and who knows how much more?

This is not going to die an easy death.

Harper is a "Defence Deadbeat"

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 13:09

The man sure talks a good game but Canada has never seen a bullshitter with the skillset of Stephen Harper.

Oh we've got a penny packet of jets flying here and there, dropping a few bombs there and over there, but, overall, Canada's armed forces are about to succumb to fiscal starvation.

It's a common problem among NATO members.  They're simply not pulling their weight.  They're not putting their money where their big, greasy, oh-so bellicose mouths are.  But, even for this bunch of martial loafers, Canada is about the bottom of the barrel according to a report by the European Leadership Network.

As one of the main opponents of setting a hard target for NATO defence expenditure in Wales last year, Canada continues on its current course of downsizing its military and reducing its defence budget. In 2014, the Harper administration allocated CA$18.2 billion to defence (or 1% of the country’s GDP).33 No official information has been published yet on the figures for 2015 (the federal budget is due to be announced in April 2015). However, a briefing note prepared for the deputy Defence Minister last September projected that the budget could be cut by CA$2.7 billion as a part of the government-wide programme of reducing the federal deficit.34 If that happens, it would put Canada behind countries such as Spain, Slovakia, Hungary, Luxembourg, Lithuania, and Latvia when comparing the percentage of GDP spent on the armed forces.
At this point I like to recall that the last time Canada's defence budget was at the magical 2% GDP mark was during the Trudeau government.  As for Harper, he's made such a mess of the economy and the country's finances that he's ideologically duty-bound to starve the military of essential funds at what he never fails to tell us is an extremely dire moment for Canada's national security.  

Houthis Commit Atrocities Too - Well, Sort Of.

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 09:14
By now we're all too familiar with al Qaeda executing people and ISIS beheading captives, even burning them alive.  But let's not overlook the Houthi rebels in Yemen.  They too are committing atrocities, hundreds and hundreds of them. Why, they turned some schools into temporary barracks preventing kids from attending classes for - wait for it - ten days!

Fortunately, Euro-mid Observer has kept an eye on those Houthis and has published a summary of their skulduggery.  It's enough to make your blood boil - or not.

In Over Our Heads, Way Over.

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 09:04
Usually when someone orders their life according to alternate realities we consider that person mentally ill.  It's not hard to notice, they do a lot of weird things that just don't make much sense.

Nations can come down with a similar affliction and, like their human counterparts, unless it's diagnosed and treated early, it rarely ends well. Which brings us to the bizarre alternate realities being played out in the Middle East - Iraq, Syria, the US, Canada (et al), the Gulf States, al Qaeda, ISIS and, most recently, Yemen.

While the West has been earnestly doing the bidding of the House of Saud and the sheikhs and princes of the Gulf States, our Sunni Arab masters have been pulling a Sneaky Pete in Yemen that could be putting us in a "one step forward, two back" position.

The Sunni Mafia, apparently confident that we'll do their bidding in Iraq and Syria, have decided to take their own warplanes and armies to attack the Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen.  Only, like the Israelis raining death from above on Palestinians, the Sunni mob is employing tactics against the Houthi people eerily reminiscent of Israel's Dahiyeh campaigns.

What we're far too polite to mention is that the Sunni Mafia is also providing air support for a couple of outfits that the Houthi are engaged in fighting - ISIS and al Qaeda.  Isn't it curious how these Sunni potentates and these monstrous Sunni terrorist outfits have this habit of lining up?

This is one mini-war where we're keeping our eye on the ball so that we don't have to see the other ball, the one that really matters.  The schizophrenic cast of the Sunni mob's war in Yemen is explored in Foreign Policy:

Amid the chaos and suffering of Yemen’s ongoing, and quickly internationalizing, civil war, one clear winner seems to have emerged: al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the al Qaeda affiliate with the closest relationship to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. The group, which U.S. officials have long labeled the most dangerous offshoot of the core al Qaeda organization, could be set to find an even more comfortable operations base from which to launch terrorist attacks and claim territory. Just this week, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter warned, “AQAP has seized the opportunity of the disorder there and the collapse of the central government.”

...What separates AQAP from other al Qaeda affiliates is the group’s willingness to strike outside Yemen and the Middle East, even making attempts inside the United States and Europe. Since the group formed in 2009, most of its attacks have focused on the Yemeni government. However, U.S. officials have tied it to sophisticated attempts to bomb American airliners in 2009 and 2010, and the group produces Inspire, a stylish English-language online magazine that regularly features anti-Western content, including calls for lone wolves to attack in the United States and detailed instructions for how to make or acquire the weapons to do so. AQAP also took credit for the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris in January, and the attackers trained with the group in Yemen.

...Now that Hadi’s government has fallen to the Houthi rebels and civil war has engulfed much of the country, counterterrorism efforts against AQAP have eased. U.S. officials rightly fear that the group will enjoy greater freedom of action: Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, warned on Sunday that “the pressure has been taken off AQAP.” The Washington Post reports that as violence escalated, the United States pulled its military and intelligence personnel from the country, and our Yemeni counterterrorism partners are now in disarray. Last Thursday, AQAP conducted a massive prison break (the usual adjective before “prison break” is “daring,” but given the chaos this one seemed pretty easy), freeing many cadres and at least one senior leader. AQAP militants subsequently took control of the port city of Mukalla, where the prison is located. The group now reportedly controls the checkpoints at all five entrances to the city as well asthe governor’s palace, the central bank, a military base, and several other key local government facilities. Armed tribesmen are trying to launch a counterattack to retake the city and drive out the jihadis but have so far been unable to get past AQAP’s checkpoints.
...One key uncertainty in assessing what comes next for AQAP is Saudi policy. On the one hand, Saudi Arabia opposes al Qaeda in general and AQAP in particular, as the latter has targeted Saudi security forces and, in 2009, even tried to kill Prince Mohammad bin Nayef, who is now in charge of Saudi military operations in Yemen. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia has a history of working with Salafi-jihadi groups and may believe they are the lesser of two evils in the war against the Houthis, whom the Saudis believe are puppets of Tehran.Tehran has armed and otherwise assisted the Houthis, but the scale of Iranian involvement remains unclear. For the Saudis, the temptation to aid all the Houthis’ enemies, no matter how nasty, will grow should Saudi military operations stagnate.
But how is the Sunni war against Shiites in Yemen going?  Not well at all, even with America's assistance.  Yes, that's right - Alternate Reality Alert - Washington is helping those helping al Qaeda and ISIS.
Through its backing of Saudi Arabia — with bombs, intelligence, refueling, and search-and-rescue capabilities — and Riyadh’s military intervention in Yemen, the United States is effectively at war with the impoverished land that occupies the southwestern heel of the Arabian Peninsula. That war is going spectacularly badly.

Two weeks ago, Riyadh and a coalition of Gulf states intervened in Yemen with a campaign of airstrikes aimed at halting the advance of Houthi rebels and restoring President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to power.

Neither of those goals currently appears achievable. Instead of being halted, the Houthi rebels, whom Saudi Arabia claims are backed by Iran, have gained territory. On Thursday, they took the city of Ataq, a Sunni stronghold. Local residents told Reuters that the city’s security forces and tribal chiefs helped the Houthis enter the city.

Meanwhile, fighting continues in the city of Aden, a city of about 800,000 on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. The city, a port on the southern coast, is currently the scene of street-to-street fighting, and humanitarian agencies report having difficulties delivering aid. International shipping companies are steering clear of Yemeni ports — terrible news for a place that imports about 90 percent of its food and which faces a looming water crisis. “It’s nearly catastrophic,” Marie Claire Feghali, the International Committee of the Red Cross spokeswoman in Yemen, told Reuters.

Amid this fighting, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the terrorist group’s Yemen affiliate, is making territorial gains. On Thursday, the group seized government offices in al-Siddah district, which had previously been controlled by the Houthis. Last week, AQAP, which U.S. spies consider to be al Qaeda’s most dangerous offshoot, seized the port city of Mukalla.

...Saudi Arabia views this war as a showdown with Iran. And while Iran has some ties to the Houthi movement and has provided it with some support and weapons, allegations of Iranian backing have been exaggerated by Saudi Arabia to cast the intervention in Yemen as part of a broader regional and sectarian struggle between the two powerhouse nations. The Houthis are Zaydi Shiites, but that religion is doctrinally closer to Sunni Islam. 
To a simple minded ideologue with a Wal-Mart worldview, just like our own Stephen Harper, none of this madness matters.  We're on the third string of the varsity team and grateful for it.  Therefore we'll show up with our cleats in good order for game day and drop a few bombs.  Nothing else really matters.   We're there, after all, because these radical Islamists posted a YouTube video threatening to blow up the West Edmonton Mall.  Yet the guys who might actually do something like that are the guys in Yemen and our side is tacitly backing them.

From SLATE - Do Not Watch "Game of Thrones" With These People

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 08:57
Sunday opens the fifth season of Game of Thrones.  If you're going to watch it, suggests you not view it with any of these sorts of people.

 While you're waiting for Sunday to roll around, be sure to stop by the Game of Thrones graveyard and pay your respects to the already departed.

Say What? Oh, Yeah. Say What?

Tue, 04/07/2015 - 23:01
You know you've reached 60 when the peer discussion suddenly turns to memory loss.  There's a strong element of 'gallows humour' involved. Yet there's rarely anything said in total jest.

Brace yourselves,  neo-seniors.  Here's a dandy article explaining what might be going on.

Does This Mean No More Chocolate Bunnies?

Tue, 04/07/2015 - 19:14
Cute Little Buggers, Eh?

Hold the presses!  Word out of Israel that the lost tomb of Jesus has been found and it contained the ossuaries (bone boxes) of Jesus; Mrs. Jesus (aka Mary Magdalene), their son, Judah (aka "Junior"); and six others.

Dr Aryeh Shimron says he has carried out new tests that suggest it is more likely the Talpiot Tomb, a burial site found in East Jerusalem in 1980, was a family grave for Jesus of Nazareth, his wife Mary Magdalene and his son Judah.

Dubbed “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” in a 2007 documentary movie directed by James Cameron, the chamber contained nine burial boxes or “ossuaries” inscribed with the names “Jesus son of Joseph”, “Mary” and other names associated with the New Testament.

The inscriptions and the approximate dates of burial have led some to suggest the Talpiot Tomb means Jesus married, that he fathered a child, and that the existence of bodily remains means the Resurrection could never have happened.

...speaking to the New York Times, Dr Shimron has said that geochemical tests on a 10th ossuary make it highly likely the box was recently removed from among the others in the Talpiot Tomb.

That’s significant because the Aramaic inscription on the 10th ossuary reads “James son of Joseph brother of Jesus” – adding weight to the suggestions that the names are those of Jesus Christ and his family.

“The evidence is beyond what I expected,” Dr Shimron said. “I think I’ve got really powerful, virtually unequivocal evidence that the James ossuary spent most of its lifetime, or death time, in the Talpiot Tomb.”

Jesus, Joseph, Judah, James - what's with all the J-names?
But if the Resurrection never happened, does that mean the Easter Bunny is a hoax too?

Can Duffy Shred Nigel Wright's "Goody Two-Shoes" Routine?

Tue, 04/07/2015 - 12:16

Nigel Wright's 'gift' of $90K to senator Mike Duffy was a bribe when it was pocketed by Duffy but not when it was given by Wright.  Most of us are finding that pretty hard to square and it is.  The logic by which Duffy is culpable and Wright is not reflects how far the RCMP was prepared to bend over backwards to make some cherry-picked facts suit their narrative.

It sounds as though they're charging Duffy with extortion, not bribery.  Duffy strong-armed the money out of Wright's chequebook.  But that's a different section of the Criminal Code of Canada.

Besides, why let Nigel Wright off the hook at all?  Oh, I see.  Charging Wright with bribery would have exposed others in the PMO to criminal jeopardy. Benjamin Perrin for starters and even Old Beelzebub himself, Stephen Harper. The rumours are that Wright made it well known around Ottawa that he wasn't going down alone on this so, take him off the hook and everybody's off the hook - except Ol' Duff.  Even out here on the wet coast you could hear the collective sigh of relief.

To get this to stand up at trial you have to keep Wright virginal.  He was just trying to do the right thing.  Duffy was raising proper hell and so Wright did what he thought was the answer, handing over $90K.  No corrupt intent on the part of Mr. Wright, ergo no crime except for Duffy's.

I don't know how hard you have to struggle to keep the facts at bay but it must be almost Herculean.  The Crown needs to keep this very simple.  Duffy snarls, Wright cuts the cheque.  Nothing to see here, keep moving.

But there is more, a lot more and it goes to whether Nigel Wright's Goody Two-Shoes image is a highly self-serving scam.  There was a quid pro quo to this deal, one the RCMP chose not to notice.  Duffy got the money but on very clear terms dictated by the Prime Minister's Office.  These were terms plainly intended to benefit the Conservative Party if not the prime minister personally.

In emails, Wright called the brewing controversy, "our public agony," and spoke of Conservatives "circling the wagons."

One of the most revealing sets of internal emails filed in court involved the manipulation of a Senate committee, one drafting a report on Duffy's expenses in the spring of 2013.

PMO staffers set about ensuring the committee remove any negative language  from the report on Duffy, and at one point discussed how to get an independent audit firm to refrain from drawing any conclusions on Duffy's residency status...

"Do I need to call Marjory [LeBreton]?" Wright asked in an email.  "They think they're hurting Duffy, but they will end up hurting the prime minister instead."

Duffy was also coached by PMO staff on what to say to the media about the repayment of his expenses.

"It's a scenario, in Nigel Wright's own words, that was created for Sen. Duffy not because he had anything to hide or he'd made inappropriate claims, but because the PMO had decided they wanted to sweep a political embarrassment to their Tory bse under the rug," [defence counsel Don] Bayne said in 2013.

Oddly enough, what may save Duffy's hide (on the main charge, at least), is the very same email that sets these events in motion.  This whole business would likely have died a natural death at an early stage but for a stupid email Duffy sent to his 'confidantes' at the very time the deal was being put in place.

Duffy's email said the PMO was giving him the cash to clear his tab with the Senate.  It listed the conditions imposed - that he was to make no public statements and he was to stop cooperating with the Senate-appointed auditors. For doing this, the PMO would intervene to ensure the Senate audit report "went easy on" Duffy.

This was the email leaked to CTV's Bob Fife.  It's the match that sparked the wildfire that brings us to where we are today.  What makes that email so critical are its contents - it described the deal that transpired - and when the email was sent - back when the parties thought they could keep a lid on the deal.  This didn't come out after the fact.  It wasn't contrived to suit anyone's narrative.  It conforms to the known facts.  That could make it the "magic bullet" when it comes to assessing credibility and resolving contradictions and inconsistencies.

Duffy's story, as we know it, comports with the magic bullet email.  Wright's story doesn't even though his emails also seem to corroborate some of Duffy's statements.

How this will play out in court is unclear but one thing is inescapable - there's been an awful lot of very high-level. Hall of Fame Turd Polishing at both the political and investigatory levels to contrive this result.

John Oliver Takes on the Surveillance State

Mon, 04/06/2015 - 09:22
From Last Week Tonight