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Updated: 14 min 28 sec ago

Ditto What Australia Said. America Can Be a "Dangerous Ally"

Sat, 01/24/2015 - 16:23

Former Australian prime minister (1975-83), Malcolm Fraser, fears his country's dependence on the United States could drag Australia into a war not of its own choosing, a war with China.

In Fraser's book, he describes how Australia's blind faith in the UK before World War II left the country unprepared for war. He then goes on to say that currently many feel more vulnerable because of the country's dependence on the United States. What Fraser and many Australian leaders fears most is that the United States will get Australia involved in a coflict not of its own making. "Australia effectively ceded to America the ability to decide when Australia goes to war," said Fraser.

Fraser labelled the United States a "dangerous ally" as Australia has become progressively more enmeshed in American strategic and military affairs since the end of Cold War.

Just as with the armed conflicts in the Middle East, Fraser said that the conflict in Ukraine took place partially due to Washington's attempt to include Ukraine in NATO. He went on to blame the United States lack of historical understanding towards Russia on the matter.

Washington's policy to "contain" China can eventually lead to trouble for Australia. Believing that the United States will eventually use Australia as a base to attack China, Fraser suggested the removal of all American military facilities from Darwin in the north and Pine Gap in the center of the country as soon as possible. The former Australian leader added that the country should be more independent of the United States in both defense and foreign affairs. While recommending that Australia shore up its diplomatic activities throughout Asia and at the UN, he also suggested an increase in defense spending to 3% of the country's GDP.

When All the King's Horses and All the King's Men Can't.

Sat, 01/24/2015 - 14:05
The Atlantic's James Fallows was interviewed on Bill Maher's show last night. The discussion focused on Fallows' article in the latest edition, "The Tragedy of the American Military."

One point that Fallows addresses is how the mightiest, most costly and best equipped military in the world lost America's last two wars - in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Fallows accuses the American people of becoming a Chickenhawk Nation, plenty eager to go to war as long as someone else is sent to do the killing and the dying.

Too much complacency regarding our military, and too weak a tragic imagination about the consequences if the next engagement goes wrong, have been part of Americans’ willingness to wade into conflict after conflict, blithely assuming we would win. “Did we have the sense that America cared how we were doing? We did not,” Seth Moulton told me about his experience as a marine during the Iraq War. Moulton became a Marine Corps officer after graduating from Harvard in 2001, believing (as he told me) that when many classmates were heading to Wall Street it was useful to set an example of public service. He opposed the decision to invade Iraq but ended up serving four tours there out of a sense of duty to his comrades. “America was very disconnected. We were proud to serve, but we knew it was a little group of people doing the country’s work.”
...Ours is the best-equipped fighting force in history, and it is incomparably the most expensive. By all measures, today’s professionalized military is also better trained, motivated, and disciplined than during the draft-army years. No decent person who is exposed to today’s troops can be anything but respectful of them and grateful for what they do.

Yet repeatedly this force has been defeated by less modern, worse-equipped, barely funded foes. Or it has won skirmishes and battles only to lose or get bogged down in a larger war. Although no one can agree on an exact figure, our dozen years of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and neighboring countries have cost at least $1.5 trillion; Linda J. Bilmes, of the Harvard Kennedy School, recently estimated that the total cost could be three to four times that much. Recall that while Congress was considering whether to authorize the Iraq War, the head of the White House economic council, Lawrence B. Lindsey, was forced to resign for telling The Wall Street Journal that the all-in costs might be as high as $100 billion to $200 billion, or less than the U.S. has spent on Iraq and Afghanistan in many individual years.

Yet from a strategic perspective, to say nothing of the human cost, most of these dollars might as well have been burned. “At this point, it is incontrovertibly evident that the U.S. military failed to achieve any of its strategic goals in Iraq,” a former military intelligence officer named Jim Gourley wrote recently for Thomas E. Ricks’s blog, Best Defense. “Evaluated according to the goals set forth by our military leadership, the war ended in utter defeat for our forces.” In 13 years of continuous combat under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, the longest stretch of warfare in American history, U.S. forces have achieved one clear strategic success: the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Their many other tactical victories, from overthrowing Saddam Hussein to allying with Sunni tribal leaders to mounting a “surge” in Iraq, demonstrated great bravery and skill. But they brought no lasting stability to, nor advance of U.S. interests in, that part of the world. When ISIS troops overran much of Iraq last year, the forces that laid down their weapons and fled before them were members of the same Iraqi national army that U.S. advisers had so expensively yet ineffectively trained for more than five years.

Fallows deals with the modern collapse of accountability in top military ranks.
During and after even successful American wars, and certainly after the standoff in Korea and the defeat in Vietnam, the professional military’s leadership and judgment were considered fair game for criticism. Grant saved the Union; McClellan seemed almost to sabotage it—and he was only one of the Union generals Lincoln had to move out of the way. Something similar was true in wars through Vietnam. Some leaders were good; others were bad. Now, for purposes of public discussion, they’re all heroes. In our past decade’s wars, as Thomas Ricks wrote in this magazine in 2012, “hundreds of Army generals were deployed to the field, and the available evidence indicates that not one was relieved by the military brass for combat ineffectiveness.” This, he said, was not only a radical break from American tradition but also “an important factor in the failure” of our recent wars.
The author goes on to link the American public's detachment from their military with the madness of modern military procurement.
America’s distance from the military makes the country too willing to go to war, and too callous about the damage warfare inflicts. This distance also means that we spend too much money on the military and we spend it stupidly, thereby shortchanging many of the functions that make the most difference to the welfare of the troops and their success in combat. We buy weapons that have less to do with battlefield realities than with our unending faith that advanced technology will ensure victory, and with the economic interests and political influence of contractors. This leaves us with expensive and delicate high-tech white elephants, while unglamorous but essential tools, from infantry rifles to armored personnel carriers, too often fail our troops (see “Gun Trouble,” by Robert H. Scales, in this issue).

We know that technology is our military’s main advantage. Yet the story of the post-9/11 “long wars” is of America’s higher-tech advantages yielding transitory victories that melt away before the older, messier realities of improvised weapons, sectarian resentments, and mounting hostility to occupiers from afar, however well-intentioned. Many of the Pentagon’s most audacious high-tech ventures have been costly and spectacular failures, including (as we will see) the major air-power project of recent years, the F-35. In an America connected to its military, such questions of strategy and implementation would be at least as familiar as, say, the problems with the Common Core education standards.

Fallows reserves special attention for the overpriced, overdue and under-performing F-35.
“Political engineering,” a term popularized by a young Pentagon analyst named Chuck Spinney in the 1970s, is pork-barrel politics on the grandest scale. Cost overruns sound bad if someone else is getting the extra money. They can be good if they are creating business for your company or jobs in your congressional district. Political engineering is the art of spreading a military project to as many congressional districts as possible, and thus maximizing the number of members of Congress who feel that if they cut off funding, they’d be hurting themselves.

The next big project the Air Force is considering is the Long Range Strike Bomber, a successor to the B-1 and B-2 whose specifications include an ability to do bombing runs deep into China. (A step so wildly reckless that the U.S. didn’t consider it even when fighting Chinese troops during the Korean War.) By the time the plane’s full costs and capabilities become apparent, Chuck Spinney wrote last summer, the airplane, “like the F-35 today, will be unstoppable.” That is because even now its supporters are building the plane’s “social safety net by spreading the subcontracts around the country, or perhaps like the F-35, around the world.”
...In the spring of 2011, Barack Obama asked Gary Hart, the Democratic Party’s most experienced and best-connected figure on defense reform, to form a small bipartisan task force that would draft recommendations on how Obama might try to recast the Pentagon and its practices if he won a second term. Hart did so (I was part of the group, along with Andrew J. Bacevich of Boston University, John Arquilla of the Naval Postgraduate School, and Norman R. Augustine, the former CEO of Lockheed Martin), and sent a report to Obama that fall. [Here is that memo.] He never heard back. Every White House is swamped with recommendations and requests, and it responds only to those it considers most urgent—which defense reform obviously was not.
...Seth Moulton, a few days after his victory in last fall’s congressional race, said that the overall quality and morale of people in the military has dramatically improved since the days of a conscript force. “But it’s become populated, especially at the highest ranks, by careerists, people who have gotten where they are by checking all the boxes and not taking risks,” he told me. “Some of the finest officers I knew were lieutenants who knew they were getting out, so weren’t afraid to make the right decision. I know an awful lot of senior officers who are very afraid to make a tough choice because they’re worried how it will look on their fitness report.” This may sound like a complaint about life in any big organization, but it’s something more. There’s no rival Army or Marine Corps you can switch to for a new start. There’s almost no surmounting an error or a black mark on the fitness or evaluation reports that are the basis for promotions.
Obviously America's cultural-political-military problems are an order of magnitude greater - and worse - than what  confronts us today in Canada.  Yet we too are a society detached from our military, a people too willing to support sending our soldiers into unwinnable wars by Chickenhawk politicians to suit their own ends and often led by ticket punchers that populate the highest ranks.  
America wasn't alone in losing the Afghan war.  We lost it too.  Every ISAF contingent lost that war.  Yet we don't speak of that.  We'll have no scrutiny of what went wrong and what went right, no post-mortem, without which we're entirely vulnerable to making the same blunders in our eagerness to send other young Canadians into harm's way whenever the coalition horns sound.  
No one has dared ask Harper why we lost.  We have on record his declaration of what we were fighting for in Afghanistan and what we were determined, even bound to achieve.  In that, our prime minister set the bar that determines victory or defeat for our Afghan campaign and, by his boastful criteria, we failed.  We didn't even have a solitary defeat because Harper kept lowering the bar as the war dragged on until, at the end, success was so hollowed out as to become a function of getting our troops and the bulk of our equipment out of Afghanistan. 
It wasn't the sergeants and corporals or the lieutenants and captains who let us down.  They fought admirably.  By elimination that leaves our political and military leadership who must be held accountable but they're not talking. 

Said the Man With the 145-Foot Yacht

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 10:04

He made his billions in real estate but Jeff Greene could have had a great career in stand-up.

Greene's private jet was one of 1,700 that conveyed the rich and powerful to the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos now underway.

In an interview with Bloomberg, the real estate entrepreneur, 60, with an estimated wealth of $3 billion said Americans have too high expectations of how their lives should be.

"America’s lifestyle expectations are far too high and need to be adjusted so we have less things and a smaller, better existence," he said.

"We need to reinvent our whole system of life."

Greene, who is on the Forbes 400 list, lives in Palm Beach, Florida, where he founded Florida Sunshine Investments, but also owns a string of luxurious properties across the US.

He added: "I’m remarkably long for my level of pessimism.

"Our economy is in deep trouble. We need to be honest with ourselves. We’ve had a realistic level of job destruction, and those jobs aren’t coming back."

"A realistic level of job destruction" indeed.  Of course it's hard to tell just what that means to a guy who raked in billions by gaming the sub-prime mortgage markets.  I expect the world looks a lot different when you're on the top perch of the vaunted 1%.  

It's Three Minutes to Midnight

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 09:40
The Cold War relic, the Doomsday Clock, has been moved two minutes and is now set at three minutes to midnight.

"Today, unchecked climate change and a nuclear arms race resulting from modernisation of huge arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity,” said Kennette Benedict, executive director of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in Chicago, the group of scientists which set the clock.

Although the clock is essentially a barometer, it is set by a team that includes 17 Nobel Prize winners and is taken extremely seriously.

The committee pointed out that greenhouse gas emissions have soared by 50 per cent since 1990, while more than £660bn of investment floods into fossil fuel infrastructure every year.

“The resulting climate change will harm millions of people and will threaten many key ecological systems on which civilisation relies. This threat looms over all of humanity,” said committee member Richard Somerville.

The report also raised considerable concerns about nuclear weapons.
“Since the end of the Cold War, there has been a cautious optimism about the ability of nuclear weapon states to keep the nuclear arms race in check and to walk back slowly from the precipice of nuclear destruction,” said Sharon Squassoni, a member of the clock committee.

“That optimism has essentially evaporated in the face of two trends: sweeping nuclear weapon modernisation programmes and a disarmament machinery that has ground to a halt,” she added.

The last time the clock read three minutes to midnight was in 1983 when “US-Soviet relations were at their iciest” according to the bulletin.

CBC Folds, Finally. On-Air Talent Barred from Paid Speaking Gigs.

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 16:25
Was it Amanda Lang's excesses or the scolding Mother Corp got from the Guardian's George Monbiot?

In an email to CBC staff shared with, top management told reporters all staff must get approval to appear at conferences or to moderate debates or events. It also notes, “CBC/Radio-Canada will no longer approve paid appearances by its on-air journalistic employees.”

The news comes after a slew of controversies over stars at CBC taking money for speaking at events. From chief business correspondent Amanda Lang to chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge, the broadcaster has previously defended the practice as separate from their journalistic activities.

Is Harper Collaborating With the Saudi Princes to Crush Their Shiite Minority?

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 09:59

Stephen Harper is beginning to catch a bit of flack over the sale of 15-billion dollars worth of Canadian-built light armoured fighting vehicles to Saudi Arabia.

At first blush it's hard to understand what Saudi Arabia, that already has a significant armoured force but shows no inclination to use it except to suppress pro-democracy dissidents in places like Bahrain, wants with those LAVs.  Maybe it's got something to do with this, the simmering religious conflict between the Sunni House of Saud and Shiite Iran.  Could the Saudis be gearing up to crush their own Shiite minority?

Last October, Saudi Arabia’s Special Criminal Court sentenced Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr — a popular Shi’ite cleric and outspoken political dissident — to death.

This was not an ordinary criminal trial, even considering Saudi Arabia’s liberal use of capital punishment. Among other charges, the prosecutor sought to convict al-Nimr of “waging war on God” and “aiding terrorists,” even calling for the cleric to be publicly executed by “crucifixion.” In Saudi Arabia, this rare method of execution entails beheading the individual before publicly displaying his decapitated body.

The widely revered Shi’ite cleric was ultimately convicted of “disobeying” the king, waging violence against the state, inviting “foreign meddling” in the kingdom, inciting vandalism and sectarian violence, and insulting the Prophet Muhammad’s relatives. However, al-Nimr’s family and supportersclaim that the ruling was politically driven and insist that the cleric led a non-violent movement committed to promoting Shi’ite rights, women’s rights, and democratic reform in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabian Shi’ites have long complained of state-sponsored discrimination and human rights abuses by conservative Sunni authorities.According to Human Rights Watch, Saudi Arabian Shi’ites “face systematic discrimination in religion, education, justice, and employment.”

In early 2011, anti-government protests erupted in the Qatif district of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, which is home to nearly all of Saudi Arabia’s 3 million Shi’ite citizens and nearly one-fifth of the world’s oil supply. Throughout 2011 and 2012, al-Nimr was a leader in these protests, in which activists demanded the release of the “forgotten prisoners” — a reference to nine political prisoners who had been detained then for some 16 years.

After Saudi Arabian, Emirati, and Kuwaiti forces entered Bahrain to help quell a non-violent Shi’ite uprising in the tiny island kingdom, Saudi Shi’ites expressed solidarity with their Bahraini counterparts. This prompted officials in Riyadh to fear that growing Shi’ite dissent could trigger a crisis in the strategically vital Eastern Province, which borders several other countries with sizeable Shi’ite populations. So between March 2011 and August 2012, the Saudi government waged a harsh crackdown on Shi’ite protestors, killing over 20, injuring several dozen, and detaining over 1,000 others, including 24 children.

When you supply 15-billion dollars worth of armoured fighting vehicles to a gang of cutthroats like the House of Saud, you're complicit in whatever they do with them.  Prominent Saudis like Prince Bandar bin Sultan have openly stated that the Saudis are gearing up to exterminate Shia Islam.

Some time before 9/11, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, once the powerful Saudi ambassador in Washington and head of Saudi intelligence until a few months ago, had a revealing and ominous conversation with the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove. Prince Bandar told him: "The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally 'God help the Shia'. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them."
More here, here and here.

Salvaging Order Out of Chaos

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 09:26

I don't want to blame America for this but, somehow, on its unipolar watch, much of the world was set ablaze.

It's not just Afghanistan (along with neighbouring Pakistan) and Iraq although they're both beset by violence by non-state actors they simply cannot quell. Syria, ditto.  Libya, same same.  Lebanon, it's on the cusp.  Yemen, who can tell what's going on there.

Then you've got the African charnel houses.  Central African Republic, check. Congo, check.  Somalia and Sudan, check.

Did I mention Mexico?  Well there's some wholesale carnage going on there.  As for Guatemala and Honduras, they're pretty much out of sight, out of mind for the West.

Southeast and East Asia.  Order more or less prevails, for now, but it's a seller's market for modern instruments of mayhem, especially submarines.  Why the city state of Singapore needs six modern submarines, I'm not sure.  Vietnam is deploying modern Russian u-boats with missile capability and the open secret is they're intended to deter China.  Japan may be on the verge of shredding the last vestiges of its post-WWII pacifism, especially if it can score an order from Australia for new submarines.  The F-35?  Korea's in, so are Japan and Australia. Can't imagine what they've got in mind for those.

Sorry about this but I'm just working off the top of my head.  Apologies to all the hell holes I inadvertently overlooked, places like Ukraine and the Stans.

The bedeviling part of this is that most of these conflicts are what are termed "new wars" to distinguish them from "old wars" of the sort we're familiar with that were typically conducted between state-actors.  New wars are like a floor party at an asylum, everyone's invited and the cutlery drawer is unlocked. They're a melange of state-actors, quasi-state actors, non-state actors and a smattering of garden variety criminals and thugs.

Old wars tended to have winners and losers.  Wars past were ordinarily fought for something discernible that could define victory for the winner and defeat for the less fortunate side.  And there were "sides" which, we're finding, really helps keep the conflict focused.  New wars can be pretty wobbly with the participants pursuing their own objectives that might not be compatible with lasting alliances. Yesterday's ally can be today's adversary.  It's like herding seriously feral cats that are armed to the teeth and are equally skilled in assassination and improvised explosive devices.  In other words it's best not to rely too heavily on the old "my enemy's enemy" rule.

The overall situation is, well, chaotic.  There's really no better word for it.  The global litter box is getting pretty ripe and there are a lot of repeat customers lining up for their next turn.  A report prepared for the World Economic Forum meeting now underway in Davos, Switzerland, warns that the risk of inter-state conflict over resources is looming.  And the focus is on water - who will get it and who will have to go without.

We may have to wait a few years to discover whether those will be fought as new wars or old wars.  Wars of subsistence, wars of survival, resource wars.  It brings a new dimension to "losing."  What do you do after your neighbour gets control of your water?  Move, I suppose, if you can.  Try to get your kids to some place where they've still got water.  Migration.

The World Economic Forum has even released a lovely chart as part of its Global Risks 2015 report that lists threats according to their impact and probability.  It makes pulling double shifts in an ebola ward seem not all that bad.

Surely this is somehow futuristic.  These identified troubles lie well off on the horizon.  Actually, no.  The WEF report is based on a 10-year time frame.  These are calamitous, catastrophic events you can expect to read about over the next decade.

Some of the countries at risk of resource war are already immersed in conflict, usually religion or ethnic-driven.  Others are on the cusp of conflict.  New meat for the butcher.

For a while I hoped this chaos might lead to the emergence of a new, bi-polar world order.  Impaired little states would seek the patronage of either the US or China and we'd be back to something resembling the good old days before the Soviet Union imploded.  I no longer think that's going to happen.

The major players, the US and China, are facing enormous environmental challenges at home.  Both are very vulnerable to catastrophic sea level rise.  Both have major, low-lying coastal cities and infrastructure.  Both face dwindling freshwater reserves.  China has an enormous pollution and contamination threat affecting air, water and its soil.  The United States is bracing for a probable mass-migration out of Central America.  Russia fears China has plans to relocate excess population to sparsely populated Siberia. India and Pakistan fear that China has plans to scoop their shared resource, the Himalayan headwaters.

As for Canada, it might be wise to give up our fantasies of foreign intervention. We have a lot of turf to protect, a lot of resources to secure with, by world standards, a minuscule population.  We must revisit our priorities and perhaps focus more on long-term goals like overhauling and upgrading our essential infrastructure to meet the demands of the harsher climate era, the anthropocene, we're now entering.  We can't even begin to secure our own borders against a determined challenger.  We could start by looking at the world as it is, not the world we delude ourselves into believing we can make it.

It's Nearly "Duffy Time" Again

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 11:38
We're just over two months away from the start of the trial of senator Mike Duffy.  It's scheduled to open April 7 and continue to May 12, when it will adjourn to be completed from June 1 to 19.  That's 41 court days in all.

With trial prep, motions and 41 days in court, that adds up to one huge legal bill for a guy who, rumour has it, is somewhat impecunious.

I'm guessing those will be the longest 41 days in the political career of Stephen Joseph Harper.  It could turn into an ordeal for a lot of the players including the PMO types and the Tory Senate leadership.

The known facts raise far more questions than they answer.  People are going to be examined and cross-examined on a number of those issues, some of which go uncomfortably close to the prime minister himself.

I'm surprised this has gone on as long as it has and I'll be even more surprised if the trial proceeds in April.   I thought this might be settled with a quiet plea bargain deal - no time/conditional sentence/various charges withdrawn - over the Christmas break.  Anything, just make it go away soon to put as much distance as possible between Duffy and the next election.

That hasn't happened and I'll spend some time over the next couple of weeks to see if I can find out why.

The Winter That Wasn't

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 09:51

I put a stand of firewood in my garage this year figuring it would spare me having to go out to the woodshed in back on cold winter nights.  I figured it would hold enough firewood to get through maybe six weeks of winter heating. As things are looking now, the modest cache in the garage won't even need refilling this winter.

Crocuses and daffs are coming up.  Trees are budding.  The herbs are re-awakening.  Before long it'll be time to fire up the lawnmower.

I never did get to dig out my snow shovel from the dark recesses of the garden shed.  We had a sprinkling of snow, maybe half an inch, one morning but it was gone as fast as it had arrived.

My daughter has noticed it too.  She figures we've entered a "sweater" climate. Her fireplace now turns her home into an oven so it's easier and more pleasant for all concerned just to throw on a sweater.

It's something of an annual rite of passage out here to needle our Eastern kin with accounts of early spring sprouting while they're still digging out from the latest blizzard.  It used to be good fun.  It's not funny any more.

What does this warming mean?  For urban dwellers it brings some obvious benefits in even lower heating costs and driveways that go from one year to the next without need of clearing.  But we share this big, sparsely populated, island with a great variety of wildlife for which this change may hold ominous consequences.

Warm winters mean reduced mountain snowpack.  That snowpack plays a vital role, especially during our summer "drought" months.  It's essential for salmon to spawn.  Not enough fresh water to dilute the seawater at the mouths of spawning rivers and the salmon will simply not head upstream.  If they do go up and spawn it takes a steady flow of cooling meltwater to keep their eggs from overheating and dying.  And, of course, the salmon spawn is critical for the survival of bears, wolves, eagles and scavengers of all sorts.

Those of us who live along the coasts - Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic - tend to see the changing climate perhaps a little more clearly than the inland population. From early-onset sea level rise to marine species migration there is a range of changes showing up at our doorsteps.  And just noticing it makes you wonder, okay, what's coming next?

Jesse Ventura's Two Million Dollar Judgment Against the "American Sniper"

Tue, 01/20/2015 - 11:37

American sniper, Chris Kyle, may be dead but he still owes Jesse Ventura nearly two million greenbacks in damages for defamation.  Even for me, that's a lot of money.

Kyle’s legal difficulties emerged from a subchapter of American Sniper titled “Punching Out Scruff Face.” In it, Kyle describes beating up a former Navy SEAL (“Scruff Face”) after the SEAL claims American soldiers deserved to die in Iraq. Early drafts of the book identified the SEAL as Jesse Ventura, former governor of Minnesota and famed professional wrestler, but Kyle’s publishers removed the name for fear of a lawsuit. Nonetheless, in a radio interview following the book’s release, Kyle admitted that “Scruff Face” was Ventura, and he repeated the claim soon after on The O’Reilly Factor.American Sniper shot to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list, becoming a smash hit for its publisher, HarperCollins, selling more than 1.5 million copies by July of 2014.

There was, however, a problem: The Ventura story wasn’t true, and Ventura meant to prove it. So he took Kyle to trial, suing him—and, after he died, his estate—for defamation and unjust enrichment. In the United States, defamation cases are extremely difficult to win, thanks to the First Amendment. When allegedly defamatory statements pertain to a public figure, the plaintiff mustn’t just prove those statements were false. He has to prove the defendant made those statements with “actual malice”—that is, knowledge that they were false—or with “reckless disregard” for their falsity. Very few defamation plaintiffs can make it over the high bar of actual malice.

Ventura made it. On July 29, 2014, a federal jury returned from six days of deliberations to award Ventura $1.845 million in damages—specifically, $500,000 for defamation and about $1.345 million for unjust enrichment. (In other words, Kyle unjustly profited from defaming Ventura, and so his estate must give Ventura some of that money.) Kyle’s widow, Taya Kyle, promptly filed for “judgment as a matter of law,” asking the trial judge to reverse’s the jury’s verdict because the jury clearly got it wrong. Failing that, she asked for an entirely new trial. The judge denied both requests, defending the jury’s verdict as legally and factually justifiable. Kyle’s widow is currently appealing the decision; her odds of winning appear quite low.

Now Ventura has launched another suit, this time against Kyle's publisher, Harper Collins.  Good luck with that, governor.

It's Not al Qaeda or ISIS That Endangers My Family. What Truly Imperils My Grandkids Is My Government.

Tue, 01/20/2015 - 11:14
The greatest threat to my grandchildren and their future is not Islamic radicalism. It's the Harper government and its obscene fetish with energy superpowerdom. It's helpful to remember what Harper & Co. are really about and it's a hell of a lot more than simply dragging their heels on climate change.

They're not only doing nothing to curb greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, they're obsessed with maximizing the extraction, production, transportation and consumption of the highest-cost/highest-carbon petroleum and, in the pursuit of their fossil fetish, they actively seek to undermine international consensus and derail any prospect of effective action.  That's going from bad to pernicious to diabolical.

It's not al Qaeda you have to fear.  If you're worried about the world in which your kids and grandkids will live out their lives, the enemy stalking you and yours currently lurks on Parliament Hill and in certain provincial legislatures across our land.

Do you think your grandkids will give a sh_t about you squandering billions (on their tab of course) fighting to save the world from al Qaeda while throwing the environment into chaos and ruin?  They'll be wondering, rather angrily I expect, at why you let it all happen knowing full well what it would mean for them fifty years down the road. They will despise us and with good cause.

A Sea Change for Davos?

Tue, 01/20/2015 - 11:00
The World Economic Forum spent its first four decades focused on economics, trade, and globalization.  Welcome World Economic Forum, Mk. 2.  From New Scientist.

"The risks of the last 10 years were all about economy. Those in the next 10 will be about societal and environmental issues," said Axel P. Lehmann of Zurich Insurance, at the launch last week of a WEF report that polled the opinions of 900 experts, including researchers, politicians and business leaders.
The demand for fresh water is so large and unsustainable that wide-scale shortages are expected. The report ranked this impending water crisis as the most dangerous risk facing our civilisation, followed by fast-spreading pandemics.

Failure to adapt to climate change came fifth on the WEF report's list of risks ranked by their potential impact on humankind.

As well as assessing impact, the report also estimates the likelihood of these risks becoming a reality. It ranks extreme weather events as second only to international conflicts, with natural catastrophes, not acting on climate change and water crises all featuring in the top 10.

Environmental risks to civilisation have risen in the forum's assessment this year, said Margareta Drzeniek-Hanouz of the WEF at the launch. And thanks to a rise in conflicts and distrust among states, the international community will be less able to deal with global health and environment issues, as it expends more energy on squabbling, said Espen Barth Eide, also of the WEF.

The World Economic Forum also seems to be adopting the "precautionary principle" in its approach to emerging technologies and the unknown risks they may hold.

New technologies, such as synthetic biology, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence, carry largely unknown – but potentially huge – risks, according to the report. Synthetic biology commands tremendous and rising interest from both academia and industry, said John Drzik of Marsh, a risk advice company, but could be risky due to "error and terror". The field is likely to grow dramatically but lacks oversight, he said.

According to Drzik, we face similar hazards from nanotech too. "Risks are not fully understood, yet already we have 180 products on the shelves," Drzik said. Emerging technologies carry a higher risk because the pace of innovation is faster, and governments have not caught up with that, he added. "Bodies that exist haven't done sufficient amount to regulate these risks."
For those interested in learning more about the inherent risks in these emerging technologies and from the manner in which scientific research is being undertaken in this new neo-liberal era, you should get your hands on a copy of "Our Final Hour, A Scientist's Warning: How Terror, Error, and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind's Future in This Century" by Royal Society professor and Britain's Astronomer Royal, Lord Martin Rees.  It's a well-reasoned, impeccably researched and compellingly argued warning to us all.

We've Already Entered the Counter-Stealth Technology Era

Tue, 01/20/2015 - 10:06

It'll be years before the over-priced, overdue and underperforming F-35, stealth light-attack bomber, ever shows up in Canadian air force hangars but already the supposed magic of stealth is losing its lustre to the evolution of counter-stealth technology.

Ask yourself just what did we expect the countries obviously intended as the targets of our stealth supremacy to do except to work out ways of both copying it and defeating it.  We've been waving this "first strike" sword over their heads - Russia's and China's - for about 15-years now.  The Americans even war-gamed a dress rehearsal of a stealth sneak attack on China.

The Russians were pretty quick off the mark but, then again, it was a Russian mathematician who unlocked the magical ratios and angles necessary to bring stealth to fruition.  The Americans simply translated his paper.  It took the Americans to show the Russians what they had overlooked.

The Chinese were no slouches either.  They hacked reams of data, including millions of lines of stealth computer code, from the computers of defence contractors (American and British) and the US government.  Then they pounced on the Lockheed RQ-170 stealth drone the Iranians brought down to help unlock secrets of design, radar-cloaking materials and electronics.  Tehran, it seems, allowed Chinese engineers to pretty much help themselves.

So today we have one Russian and two Chinese stealth warplanes flying and in late-stage development that will be coming into service about the same time as the F-35 and one can only guess what they're working on that's still under wraps.

In parallel with developing their own stealth warplanes, the designated "enemies" have also been making strides in counter-stealth technologies.  This room, housing models of America's top stealth warplanes and missiles, is at a Russian laboratory.

As far back as 2001 Aviation Week was publishing accounts of Russia's counter-stealth programme.  Back then the Russians were working to unlock America's stealth secrets using the wreckage of an F-117 stealth bomber brought down by the Serbs during the Kosovo air campaign.

Aviation Week's stealth guy is Bill Sweetman.  He writes that, in 2015, the F-35 debate will be mainly about cost and the emergence of new counter-stealth technologies.

Programmatic risk has become a reality that users must accept. The Netherlands is buying 37 aircraft rather than the planned 85; the money that would have acquired 60 F-15s for South Korea pays for 40 F-35As. The U.S. Air Force has put its badly needed F-16 upgrades on ice and is suffering readiness issues: The F-35 fleet, with a deficient diagnostic and logistics system, has a big appetite for experienced support people.

Cost will drive more JSF stories this year. The program has 700-plus international sales on its books, and relies on them to achieve planned production rates before 2020, but fewer than 5% are covered by signed contracts. Getting firm orders is an increasingly urgent matter. Denmark’s decision is due this year, as is a U.K. defense review that may indicate whether and when Britain plans to acquire most of its on-paper 138-aircraft fleet.

F-35 customers looking at budgets and schedules will want to know what the Block 4A/4B upgrade package will contain. Block 4A development starts next year and 4B becomes operational in 2024, making it the best capability before 2026. The wish list includes nuclear capability, Norwegian and Turkish cruise missiles, Brimstone and Meteor for the U.K., AIM-9X Block 3 for the U.S. Navy, “5th to 4th” communications and close-air-support systems for the Marines. Nobody is perfect, so 4A/4B will also fix discoveries from operational testing. Customers had better be ready to compromise.

The second class of risk, as the programmatic issue closes, is operational. Counter-stealth technology went from theory to big green pieces of hardware in 2013 with the appearance of Russia's 55Zh6ME radar complex, comprising a VHF active, electronically scanned array (AESA) networked with higher-frequency radars. Last year saw claims of stealth detection by the infrared-search-and-track community and radar developers, and the appearance of China’s analog to the 55Zh6ME. Nobody argues that stealth is dead, but has the operational advantage of the F-35 been eroded?

Expect more of the same in 2015: China is building its new, bigger Type 055 destroyer—it will not be surprising to see a low-band AESA on its aft deckhouse. Everyone and his aunt is selling digitized versions of the veteran Russian P-18 radar—counter-stealth on the cheap. In response to concern over low-band threats, Congress has extended the F/A-18/EA-18G production line and, with it, the debate over the future makeup of the carrier air wing.

What this suggests is that the F-35 will no longer be an independent operator but will require jamming from the EA-18G Growler.  Two steps forward, one step back.
The Marines will continue to mitigate operational risk by developing ways to use the short-takeoff, vertical-landing F-35B. The latest concept of operations seeks to place ships and main bases outside the range of mobile missiles while keeping refueling and rearming points close to the targets. Survival depends on moving those forward strips faster than the adversary can target them.
In other words the Marines operating the F-35B will be on the wrong side of the "whack-a-mole" board.

You Can't Defeat Radicalism with F-18s

Tue, 01/20/2015 - 09:02
Picture this.  You've got the crew in the bilges bailing furiously except for a couple of guys who are keeping busy boring new holes.   That's not likely to turn out well, is it?

Yet that's similar to the scenario outlined by the International Crisis Group on the radicalization spreading across Central Asia and churning out recruits for movements like ISIS.

The ICG reports that somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 radicals have left Central Asia to join fighters in Iraq and Syria and, eventually, they'll return to bring the insurgency to their homelands.

The five – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – crippled by corruption, poor governance and policing, have done little to address a threat as intricate as radical Islam. Instead, they are fuelling further radicalisation by curtailing civil liberties and initiating security crackdowns.

“It is easier for IS to gain recruits in Central Asia than in nearby Afghanistan and Pakistan”, says Deirdre Tynan, Central Asia Project Director. “Its appeal in the region is rooted in an unfulfilled desire for political and social change. Rich or poor, educated or not, young or mature, male or female – there is no single profile of an Islamic State supporter”.

Unfortunately the leaders of the five "Stans" have shown little inclination to accept the social, political and economic reforms needed to curb the ongoing and growing radicalism of their populations.  We in the West have done little beyond turning our heads to their excesses.  These tyrants are, after all, notionally on "our side."  

Is British Columbia Ready for a Green Party Breakthrough?

Mon, 01/19/2015 - 12:46

Legendary pundit Rafe Mair looks around his affluent West Vancouver riding and sees change in the air.

In years past, many people whom I know throughout the constituency would rather have been found in a house of ill fame than part of a meeting supporting environmentalists. But this has dramatically changed, and people I once knew as staunch Socreds are now leaders against LNG development, pipelines and tankers, and now openly Green in their politics. Is this happening elsewhere, I wonder?

The Green Party has another plus. More and more Canadians are coming to realize that government MPs are no more than highly paid lickspittles doing precisely what they're told. They pretend to be busy little bees on their constituents' behalf, but the most cursory examination shows this to be rubbish. My own MP, in nearly eight years, has never uttered a single word of criticism of any statement or action by the Tory government.

...The federal Liberal leader doesn't have the magic name in B.C. that he evidently has in Ontario. Nevertheless, B.C. is essentially a small "l" liberal province, driven away from the Liberal party by policy rather than philosophy. Will dislike of Harper translate into votes for the son of the hated Pierre, who probably isn't as hated in death as he was alive?

The NDP has its base and has been strongest of the major parties on the environment. But Thomas Mulcair looks and sounds so... eastern!

While it's early days, I'll venture this prognostication. The Greens will do substantially better than last time, and that doesn't have to be terrific to be effective. In fact, I'll go so far as to predict that they'll hold the balance of power after next November.

If I'm right, at least there'll finally be something happening in Ottawa of interest to British Columbians.

In Kentucky, the Cops Shoot Themselves

Mon, 01/19/2015 - 12:37
In Glasgow, Kentucky, a cop goes into a sporting goods store to check out a pistol.  The clerk hands him (inadvertently I'm sure) a loaded automatic.  The cop plays with it for a minute before proceeding to blow off his own finger.

We should never entrust firearms to cops like this.  He breaks every rule in the book.  First rule, you assume the weapon is loaded.  That's your responsibility as soon as you pick up the gun.  Second rule, you SAFE the firearm, ensuring that it's not loaded.  Third rule, you never, ever, ever point a firearm at others, such as the two employees and two customers further down the counter.

Je Suis L'Oeuf

Mon, 01/19/2015 - 11:52
There's nothing quite like watching a senior capo in the Harper mob on the run.

We Don' Need No Steenking Pipelines

Mon, 01/19/2015 - 11:12

All is not well up Alberta's Athabasca poop chute.  The Tyee's Mitchell Anderson writes that the Wild Rose hangover is just setting in.

So what does Alberta have to show for some 24 billion barrels of conventional crude and bitumen that have so far come out of the ground? The province is currently over $12 billion in debt and is projected to run a budget deficit of $500 million this year, the seventh consecutive year in the red for a province that prides itself on having a sharp fiscal pencil.

Resource prices often go through boom and bust cycles, and this is certainly not the first in Alberta, as evidenced by a certain iconic bumper sticker. Yet to fully grasp Canada's colossal lost opportunity, we need to look toward our Norwegian neighbours.

Norway, like Canada, was scaling up its petroleum industry in the early 1970s. It endured the same cyclical rides in resource pricing, and negotiated terms with many of the same foreign companies.

Yet Norway now has over $1 trillion socked away in its sovereign wealth fund, a dedicated repository of all petroleum revenues. Even if oil was worth nothing tomorrow, the country would still have no public debt, fully funded social programs that we can only dream of, and a very large nest egg to transition to a new economy.

So where is our nest egg? The Alberta Heritage Fund was started almost 15 years before the Norwegian oil fund, yet the province has not contributed a dime of resource revenues since 1987. This moribund fund has only two per cent of the value of Norway's pile of cash, which is now the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world.

The difference is what Alberta had that Norway didn't have.  The Norwegians didn't have Ralph Klein.  They didn't have Ed "Special Ed" Stelmach.  They didn't have Alison Redford and they sure as hell didn't have Sideshow Steve Harper or Joe Oliver.  They also were spared the sophomoric and ultimately self-destructive ideology these morons inflict on all and sundry in their rush to maximize bitumen extraction at any cost.

The laissez-faire approach to resource management in Alberta has been a fiscal disaster compared to what might have been. In 2012, the province collected a mere $4.04 in royalties per barrel of oil equivalent. That same year, the Norwegian taxpayer raked in $46.29 on their petroleum production -- more than 10 times as much. How did they achieve such vastly better results? By embracing a profitable public involvement and oversight in their resource economy that would be abhorrent to the Fraser Institute worldview that has taken root in Alberta.

While it is true that Norway's Brent crude is worth much more than the low-grade bitumen currently wrung out of the oilsands, Alberta has also produced enormous amounts of conventional crude since oil was discovered in the Turner Valley southwest of Calgary 100 years ago.

Ignoring the oilsands altogether, Alberta has produced 18 per cent more conventional crude and natural gas than has Norway, and the province didn't have to venture hundreds of kilometres into the North Sea to get it

Anderson sees a glimmer of hope in the recent election of Jim Prentice to become the province's premier.  He thinks Prentice might just be the first sane Alberta politician to come along since Peter Lougheed.  Maybe, we'll see.

Remember, these are the same people who are telling the people of British Columbia to stand aside and let them run hazmat pipelines across our province so that armadas of supertankers can ply our pristine but treacherous coast.

All I Want from Davos This Year

Mon, 01/19/2015 - 09:35
I feel like a kid writing his wish list for Santa Claus.  In this case Santa would be the World Economic Forum meeting, a gaggle of billionaires and top politicos, gathering this week in the beautiful mountain resort of Davos, Switzerland.

We know they're going to receive a couple of "this is it, really, the world is ending, last call" reports on the terminal state of our global environment.  That should get them through the first three courses and then, for dessert, they'll mull over a report on inequality from Oxfam showing that, by next year, 1% of mankind will own more than half of everything.  If you're with me and still safely within that 99% that means we get to share the other half.  Here's your share.  Sorry.

The charity’s research, published on Monday, shows that the share of the world’s wealth owned by the best-off 1% has increased from 44% in 2009 to 48% in 2014, while the least well-off 80% currently own just 5.5%.

“The message is that rising inequality is dangerous. It’s bad for growth and it’s bad for governance. We see a concentration of wealth capturing power and leaving ordinary people voiceless and their interests uncared for.

Oxfam made headlines at Davos last year with a study showing that the 85 richest people on the planet have the same wealth as the poorest 50% (3.5 billion people). The charity said this year that the comparison was now even more stark, with just 80 people owning the same amount of wealth as more than 3.5 billion people, down from 388 in 2010.

Oxfam said it was calling on governments to adopt a seven point plan:

• Clamp down on tax dodging by corporations and rich individuals.

• Invest in universal, free public services such as health and education.

• Share the tax burden fairly, shifting taxation from labour and consumption towards capital and wealth.

• Introduce minimum wages and move towards a living wage for all workers.

• Introduce equal pay legislation and promote economic policies to give women a fair deal.

• Ensure adequate safety-nets for the poorest, including a minimum-income guarantee.

• Agree a global goal to tackle inequality.

Speaking to the Guardian, Byanyima added: “Extreme inequality is not just an accident or a natural rule of economics. It is the result of policies and with different policies it can be reduced. I am optimistic that there will be change.

This echoes the warning from Nobel laureate economist, Joe Stiglitz, in his 2012 book, "The Price of Inequality" that was heralded by The New York Times as "the single most comprehensive counterargument to Democratic neo-liberalism and Republican laissez-faire theories."  In his book, Stiglitz dissects inequality and then demonstrates how classic merit- and market-based inequality has been utterly eclipsed by the rampant inequality crafted by our legislatures.  It stands as an indictment of our political classes for their abject betrayal of the publics they are supposed to serve.  
What began as a means to shift the tax burden from capital to labour and benefits from labour to capital has, today, predictably resulted in the transfer of political power and influence from the electorate to capital in a process now called "political capture."  Nowhere is this as blatant as in Washington but there's plenty of it in the Great White North as well.  Fossil fuel subsidies are a classic example. Harper's income splitting initiative that will benefit the top 15% of households is another.  Every corporate tax exemption and deferral, almost every subsidy, grant and waiver (especially ecological) come under this umbrella of legislated inequality.  
The bitter irony is that this political capture so boldly on display in our politically engineered inequality is the unmovable mountain that will continue to thwart any possible chance we have at saving this planet, our environment, for future generations.  We haven't got a chance, not a snowball's chance in hell, of salvaging what remains of our environment until we begin to see those forces that suppress action that only they are empowered (and duty bound) to initiate for what they are.  That goes for the lot of them.
So, what do I want from Davos Claus this year?  Truth, that's all.  Just complete, unvarnished truth about the threats facing mankind, who is behind those threats and what we have to do, now, to fight back.  What's that?  There is no Santa? Well, shit!

I'm Sorry He's Not Going to Live But It's a Dangerous Job

Mon, 01/19/2015 - 08:56

One of the two RCMP officers shot in a casino in St. Albert, Alberta, is not expected to live.  Constable David Wynn was shot in the head and doctors do not believe he will recover from his wound. It reminds us that policing in Canada can be a dangerous job. I suspect that's why we give them body armour, pistols, shotguns, tasers, pepper spray and such.

This being the Year of Our Harper, 2015, the usual suspects have wasted no time jumping on the idling hearse to demand "more protection" for Canada's police officers.  RCMP Commish, Bob "I always get my Duffy" Paulson, questioned how the shooter, Shawn Rhen, was able to get his hands on a gun given his lifetime ban against owning one.  Who knows?  Maybe if we had a gun registry that might be a good place to start.  Of course the shooter probably just went into some seedy bar and bought the gun under the table.

More worrisome were the remarks from Captain Former, Kash Heed, the former chief of the West Vancouver police before he moved on to become British Columbia's former solicitor general, said, “We need to outfit our police officers, give them the tactics, give them the training … to ensure they go home each and every day.”

They're pretty good at couching their remarks but what it seems they're after is something that might wind up looking like the Ferguson, Missouri goon squads. Do we want our cops strolling around with assault rifles?  Will that make them safer? Will it make you safer? 

Maybe if this government did a better job at gun control, putting some serious money into intelligence to locate, identify and recover guns circulating through the criminal ranks that would be a good start.  We seem to be doing a good job at generously funding an intelligence operation to keep track of dissidents opposed to pipelines.  Maybe we should take the considerable experience we have amassed on that project and put it to work in a crackdown on illegal firearms.

In the meantime, let's keep this in perspective. Cops die. It's an unfortunate reality in their job.