Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Medical Marijuana and the Memory Hole

This is going to be a hard post to write without cracking endless jokes about the effects of marijuana on one's general well-being... and memory. It's likely that a lot of the people reading this have heard anecdotal testimonials from friends who've raved about how great marijuana is for easing pain and stress of all kinds --- well, at least I have. So yesterday in a widely circulated news story it was reported that a study by ...a team of Montreal researchers has lent scientific credibility to the view that smoking marijuana can ease chronic neuropathic pain and help patients sleep better. What makes this important is that ...people suffering from neuropathic pain often turn to opioids, antidepressants and local anesthetics, but those treatments have limitations and the side effects can be punishing. Marijuana has none of those drawbacks and the stronger the better apparently, as pain intensity among patients decreased with higher-potency marijuana.

What's even more remarkable is that there was a study on marijuana (PDF) first published in February, 2000 when researchers in Madrid announced they had destroyed incurable brain tumors in rats by injecting them with THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, and that story has pretty much disappeared down the memory hole. Even during yesterday's reporting on the marijuana story, none of the news articles I accessed mentioned the Madrid study. Nor did they mention that in 1974 researchers at the Medical College of Virginia, who had been funded by the National Institute of Health to find evidence that marijuana damages the immune system, found instead that THC slowed the growth of three kinds of cancer in mice -- lung and breast cancer, and a virus-induced leukemia. You'd think this would merit some mention -- you can go read the entire backgrounder published by Alternet.

Sadly everything about marijuana has been politicized and there are lobbies working actively to prevent its legalization because it would cut into their profits. The fact that the societal costs of the drug are far less than those of alcohol seems to matter to no one. In fact here in Canada the Harper government is looking at mandatory minimums of the kind the Americans have which have succeeded only in creating an overcrowded prison system and have done nothing to stem the tide of illicit drug use.

We need common sense of the kind seen in Portugal when they decided to try something new and decriminalized the use and possession of heroin, cocaine, marijuana, LSD and other illicit street drugs. The results five years later had the number of deaths from street drug overdoses dropping from around 400 to 290 annually, the number of new HIV cases caused by using dirty needles to inject heroin, cocaine and other illegal substances dropping from 1,400 in 2000 to about 400 in 2006, according to a report released recently by the Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C, libertarian think tank.

It'd be simply amazing to see and hear something other than fear-mongering and demagoguery from the Tories when discussing important public policy on such controversial issues. We also need to know if medical marijuana is as effective as the above studies suggest. It'd be criminal not to follow up on research that suggests we could save innumerable lives by taking advantage of medical marijuana, wouldn't it?

Socialist Geese Consecrate Beckapalozza!

It must be getting a bit frightening for the immediate family of Glenn Beck. His megalomania and delusions make for an odd kind of entertainment but one wonders, how does this stuff look to people who have to live with him? Yesterday as he was mistily recounting the Saturday rally, he started to talk about some Canada geese that flew over the mall in a V shape just as Beckstock was getting under way and says it was likely a message from God. No, really!



The idiots in the MSM should be ashamed of themselves for treating this guy seriously. Maybe there is divine providence looking after him, after all John Stewart's on vacation for two weeks!

Some Environmental Blogging

Beginning with the tar-sands, a new study says that high levels of toxic pollutants in Alberta's Athabasca River system are linked to the tar-sands project. The study led by Erin Kelly and David Schindler of the University of Alberta also found that levels of the pollutants cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, silver and zinc exceeded federal and provincial guidelines for the protection of aquatic life in melted snow or water collected near or downstream from oilsands mining. Follow this link and see why it's called "dirty oil."

While using the oil from the tar-sands is controversial and the American drug-store chain Walgreens has decided to switch suppliers, they are not boycotting using oil from the tar-sands project and neither are, as had been reported in some news outlets, The Gap, Levi Strauss and Timberland.

Climate change is on everyone's mind due to the increase in extreme weather events that have occurred this year around the world and yet as recently as last week ,while visiting Canada's North, Stephen Harper was still reluctant to talk about it let alone meet the challenge head on. This while visiting a region of our country that is now embroiled in a gold rush for Arctic riches, fueled by the massive changes in the climate which have affected the polar regions more dramatically than other portions of the country. So how much sea ice is out there? What's the extent and the volume? Well, follow this link and get some solid science and answers to these questions.

Of course climate change is unpredictable and the models aren't always going to get it exactly right, which is no reason to disregard all the research that points to a rapidly changing climate with human fingerprints all over it. Most importantly the predictions for the consequences of ACC (anthropogenic climate change) and the costs of our inaction are dramatic and frightening.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Doubling Down On The Stupid

It's hard to keep up with all the stupid lately as our own government has decided that the GWB jr. model for running the country is the way to go. In the latest example fear-mongering, a fact free explanation for policy that the majority of the country disagrees came from Lawrie McFarlane, former deputy health minister from B.C., who said Canadians lie on the census. He cited the 21,000 who registered Jedi as their religion in 2001 and then compared compelling Canadians to filling out the census to having a gun pointed to one's head and that the arguments for the census are equivalent to the arguments for water-boarding. Did you get all the stupid contained therein?
So what if his idiot opinions are outnumbered by economists, researchers and social policy groups! Water-boarding!

Hell, do his arguments even deserve a refutation? I'm sitting here asking myself why didn't the Tories just pull some crazy person off a street corner to argue their case -- they certainly couldn't do any worse. Anyhow, the upshot of all this is that the Commons industry committee passed a motion Friday calling on the Conservative government to reinstate the mandatory long-form census. Also, the federal opposition Liberals say they will table a private member's bill to reinstate the mandatory long-form census when Parliament returns next  week.

The Unbearable Whiteness Of Being

I'm at a loss for words as to what to say about a media that treats Glenn Beck's megalomania as worthy of coverage -- C-Span covered the whole thing and then replayed it! I also don't understand what this snake-oil salesman has done to merit any credibility. Having a TV show that plays to the rubes and bilks them is no great accomplishment. Watch this video collection of some of the most self-aggrandizing moments not featured on the WWE that you'll ever witness or hear:



Bonus link to a great kos diary with pics of the very white rally ( and some teabagger fools climbing all over a WWII memorial!) -- you might want to note that MLK's rally was about 1/4 white while Beck's was 1/1000th black. And because I love you, here's a clip from that movie Keith Olbermann is always referring to in his op-eds about Glenn Beck's alter-ego, Lonesome Rhodes.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Night and Day

The difference couldn't be more stark. On August 28 1963, a great man with a vision and hope for his fellow man's ability to put centuries long injustice behind them, inspired people to summon the courage to stand up to their oppressors and gather peacefully at the Lincoln Memorial and share their dreams for their nation. Later today, in contrast,  a rodeo clown with delusions of grandeur and profit in mind is going to the same hallowed ground to exploit the fears of people who probably feel the world is passing them by.

Think Progress takes the time to show that these two men are diametrical opposites -- if anyone other than the idiots in the MSM needed to be reminded of this. An example: King believed that it was America’s collective responsibility to provide economic justice for all. Beck, on the other hand has repeatedly insulted any government attempt to help the poor. Go read the whole thing.

For those of you who never tire of hearing the original speech in all its moving glory and heartfelt humanity, enjoy:

Friday, August 27, 2010

CIA Paper Says U.S. Has Long Been Exporter Of Terrorism

The people at WikiLeaks released a CIA analysis paper yesterday that reveals the US has long been an exporter of terrorism and the world yawns. Here's the WikiLeaks summary of the document:

This CIA "Red Cell" report from February 2, 2010, looks at what will happen if it is internationally understood that the United States is an exporter of terrorism; 'Contrary to common belief, the American export of terrorism or terrorists is not a recent phenomenon, nor has it been associated only with Islamic radicals or people of Middle Eastern, African or South Asian ethnic origin. This dynamic belies the American belief that our free, open and integrated multicultural society lessens the allure of radicalism and terrorism for US citizens.' The report looks at a number cases of US exported terrorism, including attacks by US based or financed Jewish, Muslim and Irish-nationalism terrorists. It concludes that foreign perceptions of the US as an "Exporter of Terrorism" together with US double standards in international law, may lead to noncooperation in renditions (including the arrest of CIA officers) and the decision to not share terrorism related intelligence with the United States.

Okay, I know you're shocked, shocked by this revelation but absolutely no response anywhere in the MSM to this? Have we become that cynical?

While we're on the subject. it's being reported that the lawyer for the  two women who claim to have been sexually assaulted by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Sweden said on Friday he has appealed the prosecutor's decision not to open a rape probe. On Wednesday the judge said there was no reason to believe a crime had been committed but there was enough evidence to continue probing a separate molestation allegation against the 39-year-old Australian founder of the controversial WikiLeaks organization. Julian Assange insists he is the victim of a "smear campaign" aimed at discrediting his whistleblowing website, which is locked in a row with the Pentagon.

Signaling that there may well be further troubles ahead for Assange, newly appointed Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor refused to answer a student's question about the recent document leaks and the national security and free-speech imperatives at stake. She said she had to decline to answer because "that question is very likely to come before me."

And in the latest controversy to engulf the whistle blowing website, WikiLeaks has published uncensored police files from the case of Marc Dutroux, a paedophile who was jailed for life in 2004 for killing four girls and a former associate. A senior prosecutor vowed to try to block the publication of the 1235 page dossier that pertains to a prominent Belgian politician who was cleared of suspicion of paedophilia and any connection with Dutroux in 1996 after being named during the investigation. The dossier published by WikiLeaks revives those allegations and has caused some outrage in Belgium.

Good Manners

The one place in Canada where no one argues about climate change is the North. This is because the effects are so obvious and dramatic (PDF) you'd have to blind not to notice them. This is not to be confused with the willful blindness of the many deniers of anthropogenic climate change that can be found in the more southerly regions of Canada. It's one of the reasons for the current geopolitical gold rush that is taking place between the four polar nations. The signs are so apparent that even Stephen Harper is forced to mention while visiting in the region.
You've got to give it him, only our Prime Minister could spend a week in an area so obviously affected by climate change and, as Jeffrey Simpson of the Globe and Mail says, rather than using the occasion to speak to his fellow citizens about what’s happening and what we should do about it, he mentions “climate change” in passing, then moves on to another subject or military announcements. It was probably hard not to notice giant tracts of Arctic ice have been calving off ancient glaciers and ice shelves recently, including just last week when a twelve story thick piece of ice, estimated to be between 3,000 and 5,000 years old fell off of Ellesmere Island -- part of Canada's largest remaining ice sheet.

Sea ice, as Harper has probably been informed (that's what the PMO staff is for right?) is a very important part of the climate system, ...affects surface reflectivity, ocean currents, cloudiness, humidity, and the exchange of heat and moisture at the ocean’s surface. Open ocean water is darker in color than sea ice, which causes it to absorb more of the Sun’s heat, which increases the warming of the water even more. But that doesn't mean he has to talk about it, much. It's like mentioning religion or politics at a dinner party, and who would do a thing like that? Not our Stephen!

Where Omar Khadr Stands

The tribulations of Omar Khadr get lost in the shuffle all the time -- in fact the shuffle has been going on for almost eight years now and still he's in Guantanamo. As an issue this won't crop up again until his trial resumes in three weeks and maybe that's symptomatic of what's wrong with our media and our politics. If an issue isn't directly in our faces as a result of a recent media report or focus there's a tendency for that issue to be ignored or forgotten until the MSM deems it time to report on it again.

That said, I wanted to bring my readers the best new media report I've seen to this point on where the military commissions trial kangaroo court of Omar Khadr currently stands. You'll note that it's an American news organization, McClatchy, that gets this right and that they also believe that, the Canadian government, to their discredit, has done nothing it should have to fight for Omar Khadr's rights in this case.

You can also watch a CBC documentary on the the U.S. vs Omar Khadr here.

(Note: The links to both videos kick in as soon as the site loads)

Free Ride

The amazing thing about Stephen's photo-op in the Arctic is that not one of the reporters there was willing to ask him a tough question. Nothing but softballs so he can forward his preferred narrative about "all" that he's done and is willing to do to help transform Canada's North. It'd be brilliant if it were true. The bulk of his promises were delayed , and still won't be completed until 2015, or 2017, which is long past the time to establish an unmistakable and definable presence in the North so as to support Canada's claims to our sovereignty over that region (the UN is expected to rule on all claims by 2013). Not a single question about why he cheaped out and went for the 6-8 slush breakers instead of 3 real ice-breakers when he's perfectly willing to spend $10-$13 billion for prisons to house those who've committed unreported crimes.

There are many examples of Harper being penny-wise and pound foolish -- especially where Canada's Arctic sovereignty is concerned.

This is a lot more important than just securing Canada's share of Arctic riches, it's about our national heritage. Yet Canada's press can't be bothered to get beyond the images they themselves produce -- witness this nausea inducing puff piece from John Ibbitson. He does manage to get one thing right about the opportunistic PM's annual visit in this graph however: Harper appears to genuinely love the North. It’s a tourist’s love – exotic glimpses of its beautiful, barren lands; carefully prepared conversations with local dignitaries.

A tourist's love is right -- as opposed to a native of the region who would be more likely to be concerned with climate change and other environmental issues as far as development was concerned. Harper's just there to exploit it for votes and nice looking pictures for his photo-album.

One of the major concerns should be making sure that off-shore drilling in the region is done in the safest way possible. Maybe someone could ask him a question about that while he's up there. After all just a few short days ago the Senate gave a hearty thumbs up to offshore drilling -- this while the consequences of the Gulf oil spill are still unknown and most likely disastrous. Go take a look at the Truthout report and photo essay on what the region looks like at a time when officials from both the government and BP are saying everything's fine.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cold War Style Games and Rhetoric

Today's story about two Russian military TU-95 Bear bombers flying within 56 kilometres of Canadian soil, just when the House of Commons defence committee is getting ready to examine the government's single-bid purchase of the new generation of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, makes it look like the Tories are trying to manufacture an excuse for $16 billion dollars worth of spending. Aiming your jets at someone else's airspace and veering off before you cross it is an old Cold War style game. A way of testing response time and seeing if the other side is awake. This is the second time in the last few weeks that this has taken place and both times the news articles took the time to note that this is a not uncommon occurrence -- four bombers have been intercepted this year, and it happened sixteen times last year.

That it happens while the three countries that are competing for Arctic riches with the Russians are engaging in military exercises -- Canadian, American and Danish warships are in the final week of a joint exercise in the Canadian Arctic, part of an annual event known as Operation Nanook -- makes the affair even less surprising. Of course the Tories would have you believe this is proof that they needed to buy sole-sourced jets at a cost of $16 billion instead of just a routine "buzzing." Canada no doubt needs an upgrade in its defense forces, the question people want the answer to is why were there no competing bids?

Report: Long Gun Registry Effective & Efficient

The RCMP report on the long-gun registry has surfaced and it is described as an important tool for law enforcement. Will the tough on crime Tories notice anything that disagrees with the narrative they've been trying to manufacture? It costs less to run than building a fake lake and is described as being cost efficient in reducing firearms related crime. It is also said to promote the public safety. This should be a no-brainer then, right?

Statistically the Canadian Firearms Act saves lives and billions of dollars a year. The Conservatives have not made a case for the proposed changes to the Firearms Act. All we get all summer long is empty rhetoric void of science and fact.

Media Demagogues - First In A Series

At the top of the list of modern day media demagogues is self-styled spokesperson for all things Christian is Glenn Beck (even though he is a Mormon). He is getting ready to hold a rally on the anniversary of the "I Have A Dream" speech, and dishonour the name of Martin Luther King. I say self-styled because there is nothing about his behaviour that is remotely Christian. The event which he has claimed will be non-political, will be decidedly political with the NRA as sponsors and Americans for Prosperity, a major conservative political organization backed by right-wing billionaire David A. Koch of the oil giant Koch Industries, providing buses to rally. He will also encourage attendees to join the right-wing group FreedomWorks, which is chaired by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey.

Listening to Beck discussing NYC Islamic center, he asks, "After you've killed 3,000 people, you're going to now build your mosque?" You have to wonder who the you in the question is. The people who want to build the community center didn't kill 3,000 people on 9/11 -- but it sure is a great way to tar 1.5 billion people and drum up hatred. What major religions would Jesus demagogue?

Glenn Beck even goes so far as to rail and campaign against "social justice" regularly on his program as if such an idea sprang from the devil himself instead of being an idea that runs throughout the Old and New Testaments and includes such virtues as "caring the for the poor and speaking about human rights.

He has helped to normalize this kind of vitriolic speech. Listen to Glenn below talking about rivers of blood:

Earth Blues

And we're back! Seventeen minutes past the big hour and we've got lots of stories but rapidly running out of time here tonight.

Starting with a story that should be getting way more ink, Pakistani government officials admitted that they deliberately sabotaged secret peace talks between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Taliban because they resented being excluded from those talks. And in some news from the middle-east that actually might be called good news, turns out the prospect of an alliance between the Iraqiya and Iraqi National Alliance (INA) blocs and the formation of a coalition government could be closer than anyone realized.

Sadly that's where the good news ends for Iraq, as the country has between 25 and 50 percent unemployment, a dysfunctional parliament, rampant disease, an epidemic of mental illness, and sprawling slums. The killing of innocent people has become part of daily life. All brought about by the havoc the United States has wreaked in Iraq.


 
The right has the brothers David and Charles Koch, heirs to the oil and chemical conglomerate Koch Industries the Koch family to orchestrate not only the Tea Party movement, but much of the modern right-wing infrastructure. They have founded or funded dozens of conservative or libertarian publications, think tanks, and attack groups. Grass roots my ass! The New Yorker goes further in exposing the Koch brothers.
 
The Koch brothers delight in misleading and muddying the waters about the nature of climate change -- they are not alone in this endeavor and there are a myriad of ways to do so. To paraphrase a song I heard, you don't believe in climate change, you understand it or you don't. The above link from Skeptical Science, in an article entitled How Climate Skeptics Mislead, looks at some of things that help us understand climate change. The point to signs of warming that are found all over the globe:

•From space and the Earth’s surface, we see more heat being trapped by carbon dioxide
•Nights are warming faster than days
•The upper atmosphere is cooling while the lower atmosphere is warming
•Ice sheets are melting
•Sea levels are rising
•Biological changes in tens of thousands of species
•Glaciers are retreating
•Seasons are shifting
•Species are becoming extinct

Also from Skeptical Science, in an article about Arctic sea ice volume, they ask the question why do skeptics only think in two dimensions?

To close out on some troubling environmentally related stories, starting with a story from Julia Whitty over at Mother Jones, the IWC (International Whaling Commission) has granted Greenland an aboriginal quota to kill 27 humpback whales starting in October. But (maddeningly) the hunters aren't waiting for the season to start.

From Science Daily, A previously undefined expanse of the western North Atlantic has been found to contain high concentrations of plastic debris, comparable to those observed in the region of the Pacific commonly referred to as the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch."

And from Nigeria, what happens when sweet crude turns sour.

(cross-posted at New Media and Politics)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Empty Promises

It's gratifying to see the Canadian media notice that Harper's boasts and promises for the last five years about what all that he'll do for Canada's North are just that. From today's Globe and Mail on Stephen's annual northern photo-op: Prime Minister Stephen Harper confirmed Tuesday that Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, will host a new High Arctic Research Station.

The announcement represents incremental progress in a project that has already been studied for three years, and that still has five years of design work ahead before construction actually begins.

More importantly the purchase three armed naval ice-breakers are no longer on Stephen Harper's to do list, having been replaced with six to eight ice-breaking patrol ships, which will not be nearly as effective at breaking ice for commercial vessels, helping to re-supply northern communities, assist in search and rescue efforts, and support in scientific research. Not to mention helping to establish a genuine and indisputable year-round presence -- the smaller patrol ships can only break through a metre or so of ice and so have been dubbed "slush-breakers."

Make no mistake about it there are a myriad of issues (PDF) to be settled in the Arctic and Canada is now effectively in competition for the North, its riches and control over the Northwest Passage. Empty rhetoric and Stephen's promiseswill not sway the tough-minded Russians or our allies the Americans.

Iggy's Ace in the Hole

From the moment Michael Ignatieff became leader of the Liberal Party, the Conservatives went on the attack and pinned a host of labels on him. Not being a politician by trade Ignatieff was slow to fight back. Probably thinking the charges were so ridiculous that who would pay any attention? Sadly that's not how politics, even in the great polite North, works these days. So Michael has had to re-introduce himself to the Canadian public this summer, and has done a creditable job of it.

Witness this report from the Kelowna bclocalnews.com site that echoes what was posted here yesterday about the B.C. leg of his Express tour. “I just wanted to find out what kind of guy he was and whether he can reach the common man,” said attendee Warren Waddell. “I think he came across as a warm and caring Canadian... very much in tune with the country.”

Now I realize it's anecdotal, but the pitfalls of such a tour are far more numerous than the opportunities and he's managed them well. He could very well have been done at the end of this tour. Instead, he's managed to make his way across the country, talking and listening to Canadians and more importantly dispelling some of the characterizations the Tories had made stick up until now.

It remains to be seen if he can be a more effective leader of the opposition but he is giving every indication that he will be.I liked the agressiveness of this statement he made to the people of Kelowna, “If you vote Green, or vote NDP you are getting four more years of Stephen Harper.” If he can follow that up by getting Quebeckers to understand that parking their votes with the Bloc Quebecois is a vote for Harper and make it stick, he has a real shot at turning his party's fortunes around.

Iggy's ace in the hole? He's not Harper.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Canadian Fish-wrap News Wrap

Starting with a completely great story from the Calgary Herald about ...Calgary's Motive Industries, which announced it would introduce an electric car whose bio-composite body is made from hemp.

 The prototype of the four-passenger, zero-emission vehicle, known as the Kestrel, is to be unveiled at an electric mobility trade show in Vancouver in September and would be the first of its kind in Canada (my brother has been telling me about this possibility for some time now).

Another good news story from out west is that five years after a huge caustic soda spill, the Cheakamus river teems with life: Over the last five years, with luck, the dedication of a broad base of volunteers, and millions of CN dollars invested in the recovery, much of the aquatic life is returning in numbers approaching prespill levels.

Beyond committing a total of $5.3-million or more in funds to at least 2015, CN has expanded its recovery focus beyond the immediate river, recognizing that migrating Cheakamus salmon also rely on the health of the Squamish estuary, the point at which the Squamish River drains into the Pacific Ocean.

From the Calgary Herald's Kelly Cryderman, a story about the Alberta government's plans to set aside 20 percent (or more) of the landscape in Alberta's oilsands region that would be for conservation purposes. It has the look of window dressing to address the bad publicity the tar-sands project has been receiving internationally.

George Poitras, former chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, said for the past four years, his band has been asking for a moratorium on all new oilsands approvals and expansions."Twenty per cent in my opinion is way too little," Poitras said.

The government has said they will consult with first nations on the reclamation processes -- something that Poitras dismisses as a "public relations exercise."


Andrew Nikiforuk at The Tyee writes an in-depth piece about the potential costs of the tar-sands to Canadians and how they rearranged Canadian economy and diminished the nation's economic diversity and resilience -- profits from this enterprise exist but are only for the few.

Again from the Herald, in the wake of the government's decision to not bring back Pat Strogan, an op-ed that describes the government as being at war with its veterans. That never looks good.

In an effort to display their common sense the Canadian government released document showing they turned down a direct plea from NATO to send more troops into southern Afghanistan in the run-up to last year's Afghan presidential election.

Here's a graph that illustrates the absolute ungratefulness of our NATO allies: NATO sources in Kabul said U.S. commanders in particular don't understand how their northern neighbour could have produced over 4,000 troops for peacekeeping in the Balkans in the 1990s — a time of budget restraint — and yet claim the well is dry while fighting a war. They question Canada's short rotation system of six-month deployments and nearly year-long training programs for each battle group. Nine freaking years and they behave like we're pikers! How much sacrifice do they want from our kids for their war on the other side of the planet?

And last but not least, from Toronto where 300 people facing G20-related charges appeared at a Toronto courthouse Monday, a legal tidal wave resulting from the largest mass arrests in Canadian history. Don't forget that the original  "security" bill for this fiasco was more than $1 billion dollars -- this nonsense just adds to the cost.

Iggy's Weekend (The Steep Learning Curve Express)

Iggy's cross Canada tour rolled into British Columbia this weekend and while the results are not spectacular one gets the sense from various newspaper reports out that way, that he is making headway and some converts. It helps of course to have the ideologically driven Tories constantly putting their foot in it seemingly every day of the summer. Liberals traditionally trail New Democrats and Conservatives in B.C. But while Grits remain in third place on the West Coast, a new Angus Reid poll reveals support has been on the upswing both for the party and its leader. So there's hope for west-coast Liberals and a chance for Michael Ignatieff to garner momentum going into the next session of Parliament.

He kicked it off in Nanaimo on Friday with Ujjal Dosanjh, Liberal member of Parliament for Vancouver South, Ken Dryden, hockey legend and MP for York Centre and Liberals from Vancouver Island and Ottawa. At the Mon Petit Choux Cafe he greeted and shook hands with supporters and gave a speech. His speech was interrupted by protesters chanting, “what's the deal, Michael Ignatieff?” Ignatieff shrugged it off, saying “they're Canadian citizens just like us.”

He then turned the protest (against his support of the seal hunt) into an opportunity to delineate between himself and his rival Mr. Harper, thereby proving the value of the summer long meet and greet tour when he used the moment and stressed ...the distinction between the Liberals and the ruling Conservatives, saying Prime Minister Stephan Harper doesn't understand “the difference between adversaries and enemies.”

There were also visits to Victoria, Squamish and into the heart of Conservative territory, the Fraser Valley, where he was savvy enough to put aside politics for the evening. The Richmond Review reported that a small crowd was there to see him present their town with a copy of his great grandfather’s diary at the Yale Historic Site -- and Ignatieff read to the small crowd the pages written by his grandfather during his stay in Yale, B.C.

After presenting the pages of the diary to Bronwyn Punch, president of the Yale Historical Society, along with a copy of the book Ocean to Ocean, Ignatieff toured the museum before heading off on the Liberal Express bus to Kamloops.

Earlier in the day, Ignatieff stopped for a short time in Abbotsford and toured the Bakerview eco-dairy.

He won over at least one new voter who blogged that all that he'd heard about Iggy proved to be false and he found him to be ...funny, engaging, curious and interested when talking to the people. He was “present” and remarked on several different local situations.

None of this is definitive but it does mark a turning point for Michael as a politician in that he's finally becoming one. It's a lot easier to theorize about what one would do as a politician than actually being one as Iggy has learned this past 18 months or so. He has been engaged in an unscripted, summer long dialogue with Canadians across the country, done a creditable job rarely setting a foot wrong and learned how to turn tough situations into opportunities. We'll soon see if this translates into he and the Liberals being a more effective opposition soon. Let's hope so.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

All Talk and Photo Ops

The Tories have been making noise for five years now about how they're going to defend the Canada's Arctic sovereignty and establish a genuine and indisputable presence there but have so far done very little beyond those promises. To quote Stephen Harper, "You don't defend national sovereignty with flags, cheap election rhetoric, and advertising campaigns. You need forces on the ground, ships in the sea, and proper surveillance." Indeed.

So where are we today? Well, sadly all of the Tory promises made about defending Canada's Arctic sovereignty have not come to pass -- just more rhetoric and repetition that said Canadian Arctic sovereignty is not negotiable, except when it is. That's right, on Friday they announced their desire for co-operation and rules everyone could abide by. The prime minister's comment came after the federal government announced earlier Friday that Canada will work to create a "rules-based region" with clearly defined boundaries. Speaking to reporters in Charlottetown, Harper said the statement does not signal a policy change but is an elaboration of the government's "broad approach" on the North. That approach, Harper insisted, has always included working with partners in the region "where appropriate."

And not to worry, they have lots of stuff on the drawing boards to fuel their tough rhetoric. The Conservatives announced plans in 2008, instead of the promised three new armed naval heavy icebreakers, a new, $720-million polar-class icebreaker named after former Conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker (after scrapping plans for three armed naval ice-breakers which were an election but neither the pledged icebreaker nor the promised six smaller, Arctic patrol vessels that critics call "slush-breakers." In fact little that has been promised has gotten beyond the announcement phase.

Stationing three new armed ice breakers, to be made in Canada, in the area of Iqaluit, as mentioned above has been turfed. Building a new military/civilian deep-water docking facility in the Iqaluit area has been delayed. Establishing underwater listening posts to monitor northern waters for foreign submarines and ships hasn't happened yet. Building a new Arctic army training centre in the area of Cambridge Bay on the Northwest Passage finally got under way last month three years after it was announced. Stationing new fixed-wing search-and-rescue aircraft in Yellowknife still has not happened.

It's remarkable that they rarely get called on it. In the North they are reluctant to complain too loudly for fear of being ignored completely. The economy has been suffering and so understandably they tend to tread lightly when speaking of any and all possible job creation initiatives.

Has Harper actually accomplished anything in Canada's North since he was first elected -- a little but nothing to match his government's rhetoric for the past five years. For a solid in depth look into many of the issues in play you can go read this report by Rob Huebert the Associate Director Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, entitled Northern Interests And Canadian Foreign Policy (PDF). Or you can go watch this CBC documentary entitled Battle For The Arctic which also does a pretty good job of explaining all the issues that should concern Canadians.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Canada's Arctic Claims

In 2009 the New York Times called the fight over Arctic territorial claims, The biggest land grab since colonial times, and said it was accelerating as nations scramble to claim writ over hundreds of thousands of square miles of ocean floor, much of it believed to be rich in natural resources.

Determining who controls the Arctic Ocean's seabed won't play out until a few years from now. Russia has decided to postpone its Arctic bid to 2013 while Denmark and Canada have until 2012 and 2013, respectively, to file claims of which Canada's are well supported by maritime law. Norway became the first nation to win control of Arctic territory, when the commission finished its review of Oslo's claims north of Svalbard, a region that lies far south of the North Pole. This leaves Russia, Canada, Denmark and the US to sort out the remainder of the Arctic riches.

What has all the maneuvering been about? The U.S.G.S. (US Geological Survey) has also run an assessment of undiscovered oil and natural gas reserves in the region and concluded that the continental shelves are a veritable treasure trove. Specifically, according to U.S.G.S. estimates, hidden within the continental shelves lies between 22 and 256 billion barrels of oil and as much as 2,990 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. These numbers are significant. The mean estimate of undiscovered oil reserves is more than double the amount of oil that has been previously found in the Arctic. Also, the median estimate of undiscovered natural gas in the Arctic represents about 30% of the world’s undiscovered reserves.

And there is the Northwest Passage. One day, the fastest way between Asia and Europe will be across the Arctic Ocean from the Bering Strait in the West to Baffin Bay and the Davis Strait in the East. There are a number of possible routes but the quickest and most likely to be ice-free for extended periods of time are those that traverse through Canada’s Arctic islands. The savings in time and cost will be enormous. For example, travel time from Japan to the Netherlands would be cut in half. Moreover, ships travelling through the Northwest Passage will not be limited to the maximum size currently permitted through the Panama Canal, the so called Panamax Ships.
 
When will the Northwest Passage will be fully navigable? Likely sooner than anyone thinks. In September 2007, the European Space Agency used a series of satellite photos to establish that an ice-free route through the Northwest Passage existed for the first time in modern history.

Now, after years of promises about standing up for Canada's claims to Arctic, the Conservative government has decided it wants swift and permanent solutions to issues that they have heretofore preferred to leave unresolved. Canada will make finding solutions to Arctic boundary disputes this country’s top foreign-policy priority in the far north. The reason being, one can assume, is that Canada is the most vulnerable of all the nations involved in the disputes to a potential loss of control over its Arctic waters -- this due to a lack of appropriate ships, port facilities and infrastructure to enforce the existing laws and regs.

Shelagh Grant  of the Globe and Mail asserts, Canada no longer has the luxury to dither and debate. If this government fails to take immediate action, Stephen Harper may well go down in history as the prime minister responsible for the nation’s loss of control over its Arctic waters – as will the Canadian people for allowing it to happen.

Julian Assange is Now a Target

I awoke this morning to charges that Julian Assange (terrific profile from the BBC) was wanted for rape in Sweden. Considering the outright furor of the Americans over the leaking of 70,000 documents relating to the war in Afghanistan and the promised release of 15,000 more, I had my doubts as to the veracity of the complaints.

The Pentagon has recently demanded WikiLeaks immediately erase the huge cache of secret US military files about the Afghan war it has posted online and hand over another 15,000 classified records in its possession. The defence department has no power to enforce its demands, but the increasingly threatening language is seen as a bid to deter WikiLeaks from releasing the 15,000 Afghan war records it has not published as well as an encrypted file recently added to the site entitled "insurance".

So two hours after reading that Julian was being charged I read the warrant for his arrest has been rescinded. I know, shocking! So if it wasn't obvious before it sure is now, Assange is a target for people who don't like whistle-blowers. We need people like Julian in this not so brave new century. If you feel inclined to help him and his WikiLeaks organization go here.



Cross-posted at New Media and Politics.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Omar Khadr and the Cowardice of Stephen Harper

At the end of each morning's radio show there is always at least one story that sticks with me -- one I covered that gets into my psyche and makes me wonder where the hell we are headed. This morning it was reviewing the story of Omar Khadr who is currently being tried by a US military commission. He is accused of throwing a grenade and killing a US soldier while under attack by US forces in Afghanistan. The fact that Harper has done nothing to protect the rights of a boy that was snatched off the battlefield at the age of 15 sickens and disheartens me. I know he'd do the same for any of us: nothing!



Back in January of this year, the Supreme Court of Canada  ruled that the constitutional rights of the young man from Toronto, protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, had been violated, but the same court turned down orders from lower Canadian courts to have the Conservative government of Stephen Harper request the return of Khadr to face justice in a Canadian court system. So given an excuse not to do the right thing, the Harper government was effusive in its' praise of the ruling: Canadian justice minister Rob Nicholson hailed the Supreme Court's ruling, reiterating his government's line that "Omar Khadr faces very serious charges including murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, material support for terrorism, and spying."

Complete nonsense! How can a minor be responsible for such actions? There is nothing more malleable than a 15 year old boy. The people around him may be guilty of coercion and abuse but he cannot be guilty of what he has been accused of -- he was a child when all this took place. There are international laws concerning child soldiers and there are good reasons for them to exist. Obama's administration is engaging in the first prosecutions for war-crimes by a minor since WWII. This is not a good precedent to set. This is not change from the Bush regime's course of actions either.

More to the point, Glenn Greenwald asks the question that I would love to ask of Stephen Harper, and has never been fully explored in the Canadian news media: how can it possibly be that the U.S. invades a foreign country, and then when people in that country -- such as Khadr -- fight back against the invading army, by attacking purely military targets via a purely military act (throwing a grenade at a solider, who was part of a unit ironically using an abandoned Soviet runway as its outpost), they become "war criminals," or even Terrorists, who must be shipped halfway around the world, systematically abused, repeatedly declared to be one of "the worst of the worst," and then held in a cage for almost a full decade (one third of his life and counting)?

The facts of the case need to be reiterated again and again until Canadians actually understand the circumstances of his capture, how he came to be there and what has been done to him during, what must be for him, eight very long years. Khadr, then 15 years old, was taken to Bagram near death, after being shot twice in the back, blinded by shrapnel, and buried in rubble from a bomb blast. He was interrogated within hours, while sedated and handcuffed to a stretcher. He was threatened with gang rape and death if he didn't cooperate with interrogators. He was hooded and chained with his arms suspended in a cage-like cell, and his primary interrogator was later court-martialed for detainee abuse leading to the death of a detainee. On top of everything else, he was also subjected to severe sleep deprivation for a period of three weeks.

Now, the commission has already ruled that confessions made by Khadr which were clearly obtained through coercion, abuse and torture will be admitted as evidence against him. How can that be unless their desire is not to try him fairly bit merely to convict regardless of the evidence? Maher Arar who was held and tortured by the Americans for nine months, says that is the express purpose of the kangaroo court military commission: to convict.

So Stephen Harper has fought any and all attempts to repatriate a Canadian citizen and ignored the rights abuses that took place - does anyone doubt that he would do the same for any of us?

The trial has been suspended temporarily while defence lawyer Lt.-Col. Jon Jackson convalesces. Jackson, who had gall bladder surgery six weeks ago, was to be airlifted to a U.S. medical facility after collapsing in court.

UPDATE:

The military judge presiding over Omar Khadr's war-crimes case has ruled today that there is no credible evidence that he was tortured by his American captors or interrogators.

This flies in the face of testimony given by Khadr’s primary interrogator nicknamed "the monster" for the three months the teenager was detained at Bagram, before his transfer to Guantánamo in October 2002. Referred to only as “Interrogator One,” he said he interrogated Khadr about 20-25 times, more than anyone else, totaling about 50-100 hours of interrogation. He added that he first interrogated Khadr when the 15-year-old was sedated and lying handcuffed on a stretcher, about two weeks after he was brought to Bagram with multiple gunshot and shrapnel wounds.


In 2005, Interrogator One pled guilty to prisoner abuse at Bagram, in connection with the death of a detainee two months after Khadr was transferred to Guantánamo. He was convicted of forcing a detainee to roll around on the ground and kiss interrogators' boots. He also pled guilty to twisting the bottom of a hood around another prisoner’s neck and forcing him to drink a bottle of water, causing him to gag and choke. He was sentenced to five months' imprisonment.

At the hearing for Khadr, ...Interrogator One replied, “I don’t specifically recall” to most of the defense’s questions about abuse he may have inflicted on Khadr.

Jennifer Turner of the ACLU, an observer to the testimony says of what she saw, ...that his (Interrogator number one) evasiveness and fading memory probably thwarted a full accounting of Khadr’s treatment at Bagram. So the chances of Omar Khadr receiving a fair trial have diminished even further. But that's okay with PM Harper,after all Khadr's a brown skinned Muslim and has a very unsympathetic family.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Some Unsexy War Blogging

There are days you can sift through your local Canadian fish-wrap and not know that there are Canadians at war on the other side of the planet. When you realize that Canada has been in Afghanistan longer than they were in the European theatre in WWII and no one can as of yet readily define what victory will look like -- you have to ask yourself why our forces remained there for such a long stay?

At the very least Canada's media could engage in more than just perfunctory coverage. I took a look through today's Montreal Gazette and found two items on Afghanistan - one a short article on Afghanistan's President, Hamid Karzai seeking help in the fight against insurgents from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. And the other an even shorter piece, on an issue that should be of concern, about security fears shutting down more than 900 polling centres before Afghanistan's parliamentary elections next month. There is mention of the upcoming election being a litmus test and that it will be against a backdrop of increasing violence as the Taliban-led insurgency has spread out of the traditional strongholds in the south into the rest of the country. That is not a sign of progress -- are Canadians aware?



So let's take a look at the under-reported news from the very unsexy war over just this last week. The above mentioned increase in violence is undermining the hope that Karzai can deliver security and a legitimate government. The US is expecting heavy fighting around the key Afghan city of Kandahar through this fall, one Pentagon official said Wednesday, dimming hopes for big gains in the war ahead of U.S. elections and a White House review of its war strategy. And so the US military is apparently urging Barack Obama to slow down the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, which was planned to start next year.

General Petreus, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan said in an interview, "The timetable of U.S. troops' withdrawal from Afghanistan will be driven by situation on the ground," providing  a ready-made excuse for not leaving next year. With unsettling reports like the following from the Washington Post: With most Afghan and NATO troops stationed in the country's south and east, villagers in the path of the Taliban advance into the once-peaceful north say they are powerless and terrified, confused by the government's inability to prevail -- and ready to side with the insurgents to save their own lives -- how can anyone believe that they'll be able to declare victory and withdraw like they've just done in Iraq? Keep in mind the Iraq withdrawal involves leaving 50,000 troops behind.

In fact, General Petraeus has stated his belief that the July 2011 drawdown date, set by President Obama in December and quietly disavowed by virtually everyone in his administration, was not something that would bind him either. So even though the US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates has put himself at odds with the country's top commander in Afghanistan by ruling out any delay in the start of troop withdrawals next year, who are you going to believe? Where's the analysis in the MSM?

It's a very complex situation that in all likelihood won't be resolved by next year -- Four members of the House of Representatives held talks last month in Europe with leaders of Afghanistan's ethnic minorities opposed to President Hamid Karzai and his U.S.-backed initiative to open political negotiations with the Taliban. There was acknowledgement by Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., after the meeting about the nature of the problems faced: "None of the people of Afghanistan except for the crooks at the top are interested in a central government with all the power," Rohrabacher said in a telephone interview last week. "That's the model that we have been trying to force with our military ... on the people of Afghanistan." And that widespread corruption has not been dealt with in a timely fashion in spite of repeated warnings from the Americans to Karzai to clean it up.

Karzai has declared that he wants to do away with the 52 security firms, both foreign and domestic operating in Afghanistan.  They employ more than 24,000 guards who work mostly for Western entities. Karzai, who calls the independent fighting forces "thieves by day, terrorists by night," has set a four-month timeline to dissolve the companies and bring their workload under his government's control. That may not sound like a terrible idea but in the unstable environment that currently exists the fear is ...transit routes will be impassable, foreign companies will leave Afghanistan, the economy will suffer, and -- perhaps most ominously -- unemployed security guards will turn to the insurgency.

Lastly, some numbers that should give everyone pause and deserved scrutiny from the media, in less than two years the US has suffered more combat deaths in Afghanistan under President Barack Obama than it did during the two-term presidency of George W. Bush.

That's just a week of cherry picked news from Afghanistan and it didn't include this week's civilian deaths or the protests over same. None of this augers well for our Canadian troops who are there until July of next year, and collectively this all points to a dramatic and expensive failure for the NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Off With His Head!

I'm not particularly happy about the impending arrival of Fox News North, but whatever the market will bear is alright with me. Now it seems 2011 is not nearly soon enough for Péladueau's project and PM Harper will try and hasten its' arrival by dumping the head of the CRTC.

I've been looking around the Canadian blogosphere this morning and so I know it's not just me who believes Harper is losing it, or as Scott over at Scott's DiaTribes puts it, "going all in." The real question is will Canadians be turned off enough by this autocratic Conservative Party behaviour to encourage the opposition to head to the polls sometime in the autumn?

There aren't enough bad things to say about the idea of a network that resembles Rupert Murdoch's Fox News. All you have to do is watch this week's current fake controversy, the NYC mosque to know that their purpose is solely to divide and create animosity amongst Americans so as to boost their ratings. They'll use hate, demagoguery, propaganda and outright bald-faced lies to do it. They do not care about public policy or for that matter the country from which they broadcast. They care solely about the wealthy, the astroturfers, and other corporate interests. Canada does not need this and I do not want to be forced to have to accept this channel on my cable or satellite feed - but Stephen's not going to give me that option.

U.S. Rules Over Canadian Common Sense

Six Flags, corporate owner of Montreal's La Ronde Amusement Park has imposed its conservative right wing policies in Canada. Accused of raciest practices in the U.S. the company can now add Quebec to its list.
Brunaud Moise was kicked out of La Ronde for wearing Bob Marley shirt. According to La Ronde the shirt did not meet their "family friendly dress code". There with his 15 year old brother Mr. Moise was told by security guards he would have to turn his shirt inside out or leave.

Moïse said his brother was quiet during the meeting with La Ronde's security guards. "I told him you have to be courageous when these things happen. There has to be a change in mentality."  
(On behalf of  the staff here at NMP we would be proud to give you a New Media and Politics Tee-Shirt, just e-mail us. We can't promise you'll be able to wear it at La Ronde.)




We'll give Mr. Marley the final word









 

Stephen's Way

You know things are not going Stephen Harper's way when Canada's so-called national newspaper, the reasonably conservative Globe and Mail, compiles what they call a Tory hit list. They even do him the favour of leaving out the smearing of Richard Colvin and still things look bad. It's the kind of thing that gives the impression he's behaving like a tin-plated dictator from some 3rd rate banana republic -- and he is.

It's gotten so bad for PM Harper that he actually spoke to the press today to tell them he had nothing to do with the "bouncing" of Superintendent Marty Cheliak - video here. He looked completely sincere -- it's all an internal RCMP matter don't you know, and the PM would never interfere. That's not his style, right?

Rick Mercer dished out some advice to all Canadians just before Harper's first prorogue. It was well worth heeding then and is still pertinent today.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Conservative Plot Against The Summer Silly Season

I think that I've uncovered a plot by Canada's Tories to undo the summer silly season and make sure we're all angry, unhappy and sleep deprived by the time the next session of Parliament rolls around.

How else can you explain the billion dollar boondoggle that was the bill for a single weekend's security for the G8 and G20 summits, the still continuing census controversy, and who could forget the rising number of unreported crimes as an excuse to spend $10-$13 billion on fancy new prisons? You didn't think the Tories were going to quit there did you?

Starting with the Ombudsperson for Canadian veterans, Col. Pat Stogran, a retired infantry officer, and the Conservative government's decision not to appoint him to a second term -- which in itself isn't the problem. As he noted himself at the news conference yesterday, that's their prerogative. The problem is he was critical of the government's handling of veterans affairs, revealing yesterday that he was "impeded by a bureaucracy that was deliberately obstructive and deceptive," and so he is summarily turfed.

Even more damningly, he says he only realized the enormity of the battle he was fighting after a recent conversation with a civil servant who watches over the government’s purse. “I was told … that it is in the government’s best interests to have soldiers killed overseas rather than wounded because the liability is shorter term,” Stogran said. I'm not even sure what to say about that. If true, that's possibly the most disgusting thing I've heard in a year's worth of stone-walling, demagoguery and fear mongering on every issue possible.


All criticism or disagreements with the Tories lead to dismissal: Marc Garneau told reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday that Stogran joins a long list of arm's-length advocates — including former military police complaints commissioner Peter Tinsley and ex-RCMP watchdog Paul Kennedy — who were "sacked because they are telling the government the truth, instead of parroting."

Sadly there's more evidence of the Conservatives' desire to suppress all dissent. Yesterday the head of the Canadian firearms program, RCMP Chief Superintendent Marty Cheliak, and a supporter of the long-gun registry was bounced from his post and sent off for French-language training. Needless to say his support of the long-gun registry is in direct opposition to the Tories stand on the issue. People are noticing that this is part of a continuing pattern on the part of the ideologically driven Tories. Hopefully that includes Canada's voting public.

The furor over the Tamil migrants that showed up in B.C. last Friday has our PM talking about changing laws to give authorities greater powers to curb human smuggling, instead of say... enforcing the laws that are already on the books! Why not simply take it on a case by case basis? The new cases represent only two per cent of the 30,000 refugee applications Canada receives annually, so why all the fear-mongering? Oh, right, they're the Tories and that's what they are predisposed to do.