Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Demystifying The Canadian Election - for whomever

After watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Tuesday I realized that the Canadian brand of democracy and the electoral system is probably something of a mystery to most Americans... and to more than a handful of Canadians. Samantha Bee started into it and Stewart (who actually has a pretty healthy knowledge of the Canadian system), portrayed the confusion evident in most Americans when Canada goes to the polls. So, I'll try to do a small comparison.

Riding. The same as a US Congressional District. A riding is a population area which will send one representative to Parliament. The Member of Parliament is the person who gained the most votes of all candidates running. Other similarities to the US system are campaign funding scandals, lying and smearing the other candidates.

Parliament. Similar to the US Congress. Based on the Westminster model, it is bicameral. Led by the Governor General, there is an upper house, known as the Senate and a lower house known as the House of Commons. The House of Commons is the body elected by universal suffrage and possesses political power. The government is usually formed by the political party which holds the most seats in the Commons. Parliament can be a pretty boring place... until the TV cameras switch on and then it resembles an unsupervised birthday party of three year olds. Food fights in Parliament have been outlawed. Members may call each other names but may not call each other liars.

Political Parties. There can be any number of political parties running during an election. There were four parties in the last Parliament: The Liberals, who have held power in one form or another since October 1993; The Conservatives, which is now an amalgam of three different parties; The New Democratic Party, although they're not so new; The Bloc Quebecois, a regional Quebec party intent on separating Quebec from the rest of Canada. (They haven't said where they intend to take it, and unless you speak french, you'll have trouble figuring it out from their website). With the exception of the Bloc, you might be able to sort out what part of the political spectrum each party represents. You'd be wrong... except if you think the Conservatives have a wingnut element, you'd be right on the mark. Regrettably, the Rhinoceros Party does not appear to be running candidates in this election.

The Senate. This is an appointed body loosely based on the British House of Lords. Most Canadians want the Senate completely reformed and overhauled to better represent the people. Currently the Senate is occupied by party hacks, major campaign donors and out of work former Members of Parliament, sort of like FEMA. The Senate is supposed to provide "sober second thought" on all legislation originating from the Commons. That would work if it were possible to keep all senators sober and awake. Every once in a while the senators get a little uppity and reject a Bill, (before lunch), which causes the Prime Minister to appoint even more party hacks in order to achieve the needed majority. Helluva system. Confuses us too.

Drop a Writ. This is when the Governor General, (yes... She's a hottie), on the advice of the Prime Minister dissolves Parliament and calls a general election. The term makes no sense at all, unless you realize that it originates with a bunch of drunken newspapermen. The actual term was originally DRAW UP A WRIT. This was slurred when Cubby the junior reporter asked a table full of other reporters in the pub when the election call would come. He was told, "Wen 'er ladyship takes the time ta dra'up (hic) a writ. Cubby submitted his story, having interviewed all his anonymous sources to completion and wrote Drop a Writ. OK, OK, so maybe it wasn't Cubby. But it IS supposed to be Draw Up A Writ. The Governor General is required by law to call a general election at least every 5 years. In fact, no government in Canada runs longer than 4 years with a few minor exceptions. The last government lasted 17 months.

Campaign. The same as a US election campaign only shorter. The mudslinging is pretty much the same except the Swiftboat Veterans For The Truth are replaced by the Raging Grannies. The leader of each party is selected by the party itself. We don't vote for the leader... we vote for the candidates running in our riding. (Scroll up, scroll up!). The leaders however run a campaign which is every bit as dirty, slime-ridden and nasty as if they were running to capture your direct vote. It's really very entertaining.

Voting. Federal elections are always held on a Monday and are administered by Elections Canada, an independent body which reports to the Governor General. No other election is allowed to be held on the day of a federal general election and all those eligible to vote are given time from their jobs to cast their ballots. Registration of Electors is Canada's voter registration system, also run by Elections Canada. Registration is carried out be sending Enumerators to visit every single residence in the country. Each person aged 18 years and up is registered to vote. Where someone may have been missed, a person can show up at the polling place on election day and register. Every single Canadian Citizen of age is entitled to vote. This includes incarcerated prisoners. The actual process of voting is not the same as the US. Each polling place has the same process across the country. Nothing is administered by provinces. When a ballot is received from the Deputy Returning Officer at the polling place, we go to a little booth and using the pencil provided put an X next to the name of the candidate of our choice. The ballot is then put in the box and counted manually by Elections Canada officials in the presence of scrutineers from each political party. No machines, no video terminals, no hanging chads and no dimples. And, as cumbersome as the system may sound, it's really quite efficient, producing a result within hours of the last polls closing on the west coast. Challenges to the count are by Electoral Recount (run by the Deputy Returning Officer) or a Judicial Recount (run by an independent body appointed by a federal court judge). The Governor General has the authority to nullify and election and hold the whole thing over again. (This has never happened). In fact Elections Canada works in many countries establishing electoral systems and supervising the election process. While the process may differ, the fun in getting there is almost the same.

Christmas Campaign. Well, this is a serious flaw in the system. An election can be called at any time in a parliamentary democracy. Since there are no fixed election dates, we have the dubious pleasure of exercising our franchise in January, which means the usual holiday season bombardment of ads and flyers is mixed with political ads, flyers, signs and rhetoric. It doesn't go down well with many Canadians, particularly since we don't hold our politicians in the same high regard as the US holds theirs. You do hold them in high regard, don't you?

National Strategy For Victory in Iraq - The Musings of George W Bush

I read the National Strategy For Victory In Iraq (NSVI) three times. Finally, it hit me; this thing is the strawman for an advertising campaign designed to sell a product that does nothing and nobody is buying. It reads like something produced by a grade 9 civics class during an afternoon spare. It was clearly intended for the US domestic market because nobody outside the US would even think of buying it. (Document here, courtesy of Washington Note). (PDF).

The entire document is easily deconstructed and Think Progress has done a good job of exposing a body with no bones.

Bush claims that this is the unclassified version of the plan which the administration has been using all along. Umm... I don't think so. Maybe for the past 7 days, but there are references to problems and objectives which didn't exist prior to 2003 and indeed are new this year.

As a plan, the NSVI is sorely lacking. It is filled with motherhood statements and platitudes but no concrete support for objectives. It is a poorly written business plan with no numbers whatsoever. The various quotes peppered throughout the document give one the feeling of having picked up an americanized version of the Quotations of Chairman Mao Tse Tung. If these are the basis for a strategy then there is no strategy at all.

The truth is, this 35 page "strategy" was produced as a result of a group brainstorming session carried out between the November 17th John Murtha proposal and whatever day NSVI went to print. If there was any plan prior to that, a summary would have appeared long before this very amateur production.

There is a moment of comedy in NSVI. The Consequences of Failure, a term normally reserved for the performance standards of individuals, is a side-splitting piece of work.

The reiteration in writing that Iraq is the central front in the War on Terrorism should give other countries a moment of pause. NATO is involved in the War on Terrorism in Afghanistan and rejects the assumption that Iraq is a front in that struggle. In fact, Iraq was terrorist free until the US invaded it. If Iraq has become a terrorist battlefront, it is the Bush administration's own doing.

As Think Progress notes, there are contradictory statements, a failure to set standards for accountability, a dismissal of actual conditions and failure to address key objectives. In other words, it says nothing at all. There is no fall-back position and there are no alternative objectives. Simply the statement that Failure is not an option. (The Bushies DO love their movies!)

Bush's statement today was just as vague.

Before our mission in Iraq is accomplished, there will be tough days ahead.

A far cry from his "Mission Accomplished" speech after his visit to USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003.

In fact with the NSVI and Bush's speech today, America and the world can expect a long stay in Iraq.... a very long stay. And the bodies will keep piling up.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Real Meaning of Jesus' Birth

OK, I admit it. I'm a Sunday school dropout. But I'm pretty sure I was awake during the lesson on why Jesus was born - it had something to do with saving our pitiful souls. But I was wrong...sooooo wrong. It's a good thing we have Pastor Bill O'Reilly to educate us on the TRUE meaning of Jesus's birth:

Every company in America should be on its knees thanking Jesus for being born. Without Christmas, most American businesses would be far less profitable. More than enough reason for business to be screaming Merry Christmas.

The meaning of Jesus's life is to prop up the retail trade in the U.S. Whew! Glad I got that cleared up!

Harper... Foot... Shotgun

I was wondering how long it would take. The Canadian version of neo-cons is little different from their American counterparts. The federal election campaign isn't even 12 hours old and we're hearing the same old garbage from the right-wing.

Harper, who has no end of real issues with which to kick off this unnecessary campaign, goes for... SAME SEX MARRIAGE. Is he nuts? Does he really think Canadians want to revisit that debate? Does he think he can repeal an act and then pull out the "notwithstanding clause" to defend against a Supreme Court challenge?

So... what's next? Expect abortion to resurface.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Off Leash Playground... For The Dogs Of War

Let's start by calling them what they are: Mercenaries. They hire themselves out for profit. Unlike the militaries from which most mercenaries emerge, they swear no oath, they have no loyalty to a state and they share no camaraderie with their brothers and sisters in arms. They show up in a theatre of armed conflict for one purpose: money... and lots of it. (Mercenaries in Iraq make 3 to 5 times what their uniformed, sworn counterparts earn. $110,000 is a common annual income for a junior NCO equivalent). When they appear alongside a uniformed national military they wreak havoc on morale. They are paid more (much more) for doing essentially the same job; they are not subject to a national code of military discipline and they generally have considerably shorter tours "in theatre". To a professional soldier, marine, sailor or aviator, a mercenary is lower on the human scale than the enemy. They are, in short, scum.

The recent video (courtesy Crooks & Liars) which was pulled from an employees' website erected by members of Aegis Specialist Risk Management shows a Personal Security Detachment on Route Irish, the road from the Baghdad Green Zone to the airport. The vehicle's rear gunner, known as the "Trunk Monkey", lays down fire with a light automatic weapon on any vehicle which comes within range.
Route Irish has a reputation for being extremely dangerous and has been plagued with Improvised Explosive Devices (IED), Vehicle Born Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIED) and Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG). Government civilians leaving the Green Zone are not permitted on Route Irish without being accompanied by "shooters" which are assigned from either private security firms or from US armed forces resources. The vehicle convoy has a sign on the rear of each vehicle in arabic and english which reads "Do not overtake convoy. Stay 100 meters away. Deadly force."
In the video, several vehicles were well outside the safety zone until the convoy clearly slowed and the 'trunk monkey" went to work. It is the loosest possible interpretation of the rules of engagement, a demonstration of poor personal protection procedure, abysmal weapons discipline and immoral beyond comprehension. A real soldier would not do that, and I was a marine. It is a Grand Theft Auto video game using live beings to score points.

The mercenaries in Iraq have tried to acquire legitimacy by way of incorporation. They claim not to be mercenaries like Bob Denard, Mike Hoare and Jacques Schramme who became notorious in the 1960s for their role in the Congo and then reappeared in virtually every other African conflict into the 1980s. Instead, they come from established organizations known as Private Military Companies (PMC). The colonels become CEOs, trade in the beret for a pinstripe suit and call themselves reputable businessmen.

So what makes them different from the 1960s Dogs of War? Nothing. They behave in exactly the same way. Most come from high grade special forces units like the British SAS, US Marines, Rangers, Royal Marines and British army. Those who voluntarily separated to join one of the PMCs did it strictly for the money; those who have completed their service and are receiving a superannuation are attracted by the high pay and the action, (which they miss); and then there are those who found themselves outside their chosen military force due to character flaws which the PMCs ignore.

Aegis Specialist Risk Management, led by former Scots Guards Lt. Colonel Tim Spicer, has a $293 million US Dept of Defense contract to provide coordination and guidance to every single contract "security company" in Iraq. The company also provides 75 eight man security teams in the various regions of Iraq. In essence, what Spicer never achieved in the British army, he has managed through war for hire. He is now a general. He commands an armed force equal in strength to a reinforced US Army division of over 20,000 troops.

Spicer has said that he is investigating the incident which appeared on the video, but that he does not even know if it was his people. There's the difference between a light colonel and a general. Spicer's company is the coordinating authority for all contractors; they are all his people. And there are a lot of companies which answer to him.

Spicer himself has a less than stellar past. He was the head of Sandline International which was accused of illegal arms deals in Sierra Leone during a UN weapons embargo in 1998 and a fiasco in Papua New Guinea in 1997 which resulted in a coup. Sandline was created with Spicer by Simon Mann, also a former Scots Guards and SAS officer who is now serving a prison term in Zimbabwe for attempting to smuggle arms into Equatorial Guinea. Mann had been one of the operational leaders of Executive Outcomes, an earlier company of mercenaries which had been active in Angola, Congo and Sierra Leone. Spicer's, Aegis is little more than a morphing of the original Executive Outcomes with the now infamous Sandline International along the way. His reputation is well known and when the current contract was being let, there were several objections, including specific concerns from members of the US Senate and the House of Representatives.

My experience with mercenaries has usually been restricted to witnessing the aftermath of their actions. They are not inclined, nor do they have the structure to take prisoners. They often show a callous disregard for civilian populations which get in the way of their mission. And, as can be seen in the video, the rules of engagement mean very little. They are anything but heros.

So, why would the US and the UK engage the services of PMCs, which are simply mercenary armies with a corporate face? There are several reasons, none of which can be considered more important than the next.

The US and UK have gradually reduced the size of their ground forces over the past decade. In order to relieve already stretched combat organizations of the jobs of VIP protection, perimeter security and convoy protection, it is convenient to "hire" already trained professionals to do such jobs.

Using mercenaries paints a different picture of troop strength. While the US can claim they have 150,000 troops in Iraq, the mercenary strength goes unreported and does not show up on the Table of Organization and Equipment (TO&E). If the mercenaries and support contracters were included, actual strength on the ground would be closer to 190,000.

Mercenary losses do not affect the total count of troops killed, missing and wounded. It can also be argued that the use of mercenaries has staved-off the need for additional troop call-ups and possible conscription in the US.

None of that excuses the use of mercenaries by countries which claim to have a morally superior position in the world. Even if the American, British and other coalition troops believe in the cause, no mercenary is fighting for anything principled. A mercenary is fighting for the almighty buck; no moral platitudes to get in the way, no conscience, no mess to clean up. Their business is war and the longer it lasts, the more money they make. A quick end to the insurgency in Iraq is the end of El Dorado for the PMCs. Guess what they're wishing for.

Any government which employs mercenaries in the place of disciplined regular troops is morally bankrupt. But then we knew that about 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Washington and 10 Downing St. London quite some time ago, didn't we.

Note: The link which provides a list of Private Military Companies is but a sampling. There are dozens of mercenary outfits under contract in Iraq.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

And then... She called ME a feminist

It was just a casual conversation. You know... stuff. My attention was moving between computer, TV and what she was saying. And then she called ME a feminist.

I was momentarily stunned and then looked down at my genitals. Everything seemed to be there, although at that moment there was a reaction similar to having my lower extremities plunged into Arctic water.

I thought about it for a minute. While she was not a part of my life when it was my job to think in terms of "shoot or be shot" and "maiming is more effective than killing", she is fully aware of that past. Perhaps she had forgotten that I have a workshop fitted-out with at least one version of every power tool ever invented. I have TWO Dremel tools and accessories! Maybe she missed my hours spent under the hood of the jeep, covered in grime only to emerge with a grin and announce, "No problem! All she needs is a new engine."

When, in a ship, I had women under my command (and still do on occasion). I cannot imagine any one of them even suggesting I was a feminist. Usually it was more along the lines of "demanding asshole". And believe me, some of them quit, because I was (and am) just that. There has always been an eager line-up to get in, so I have never worried. But that certainly did not make me a feminist.

Here was a point of serious concern. How, with this title, could I face the guys at the pub? Was it obvious? Maybe she didn't really mean it.

So I asked her, "Why, would you suggest I am a feminist?" (Actually, I said, "No, I'm not!" But we eventually got around to the primary question.)

"Because you believe in the things which make ME a feminist," she said. She is married to me. I had to listen. (That does not make me a feminist).

She explained what made a feminist. Some of it I agreed with; some of it seemed a bit of a stretch. I responded by suggesting that I preferred being known as a "humanist". In short, respect for everyone, regardless of sex. She disagreed and then proceeded to illuminate some of the areas which give her the right to identify me in a way I would never have chosen.

"You don't just say you support me and my beliefs, you actually do it," she said. "At home, at work, in the world, you believe in equal treatment, equal opportunity and a level playing field."

Yes... I do. But that STILL does not make me a feminist. I am very heterosexual, y'know.

And then she gave me an example of something important. A charity. I remember when she first told me about it, how impressed I was with the concept. It was Light Up The World and it impressed me with its simplicity. What sold me on the idea was the fact that they trained only the women of the villages to supervise, operate and maintain the system once it had been installed. But, that still didn't make me a feminist. I have been all over the world and have seen the results of civil war, ethnic cleansing and senseless slaughter. It was always the women who suffered the worst, yet it was always the women who toiled to rebuild. Talking to them, I found a sense that, if they had just been empowered, they would have stopped whatever was happening to destroy their world. They always looked to the future because their present was so bleak. But they sucked it up and did it. They had the guts; the men had the guns.

Still, I had a problem with owning the title, feminist. Hell, the General might take umbrage. I might have to stop cleaning the bathroom. Maybe I'll just leave the laundry. Perhaps, I should insist on her cooking suppers no matter how busy she is. And I know none of that would work, because cleaning a toilet, running a vacuum cleaner, doing the laundry and preparing a meal are not a woman's job; they are simply jobs, no matter how Proctor & Gamble, Electrolux, Maytag or Safeway portray them.

So, to ask a very Carrie Bradshawesque question: Can a man be a feminist?

Well, I will always have doubts, but my best guess is that I cannot confer that title on myself. If I am a feminist it is because my wife, the person I respect most in this world, says I am.

So, to answer in a very Possom Lodge way: I am a man. I can change. If I have to. I guess.

It's OK boys, you can come out now. Being a "Feminist" doesn't mean you've lost your job.

Kenya Outlaws Civil Protest

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki has outlawed opposition protests according to the BBC today.

Protests have increased in intensity since a referendum calling for a new constitution was defeated.

Vice President
Moody Awori said: the rejection of constitutional reforms were not grounds for
new elections.

No? Then what is? Parliamentary democracy? Uh huh... sure.

But he has refused to dissolve parliament, saying the referendum was not a
no-confidence vote.

Of course it isn't... only an elected politician can decide that! Plebiscites don't mean ANYTHING.

Really, Kenya has been using the wrong country as a role model. One which also has the vice president do all the talking. But for chrissakes, if you want to contain dissent, at least give them a free speech zone.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Why Iraq? Why Now?

(This is a particularly long article. Readers may wish to print or email a copy to themselves)

Why Iraq? Why now? Two questions to ask the proponents of the war in Iraq. Make them answer both as one. If they can answer one but not the other it is proof that they have their heads firmly planted in the dirt. The truth is too hard to bear and the grand strategy is too complex to understand in a single serving.

So… why? Well, everyone leans toward the simple answer: oil. And they’re right, but not in the way most people view it. The elements which came together to ultimately lead the US to invade Iraq have origins further back than the turn of the century. At the risk of going back to the evolution of man (or talking snakes), let’s define the start point: 1973.

October, 1973 – Enter OPEC. The members of OPEC nationalize their respective oil industries which, until that point had been dominated by foreign oil companies in the form of concessions. Host countries take taxes and royalties while all other decisions involving development, production and pricing remain under the absolute control of the oil companies and their shareholders (the Seven Sisters). Under this system the host country receives a portion of the per-barrel posted price of oil; a price determined by the oil companies without input from the host country. OPEC countries, aside from the obvious commercial disadvantage of the arrangement, take a political view of the concession system as a form of colonial rule and foreign domination. When OPEC nations nationalize the Middle East oil industry they politicize the price, raising it based, not on market forces, but political events. The resulting “Arab Oil Embargo” of 1973 causes a rise in prices which sends the world reeling. Oil, at least in the eyes of OPEC, is no longer a commodity; it is a political weapon. The sharp rise in prices in 1973(Arab-Israeli war), 1979(Khomeni take over of Iran) and 1980(Iran-Iraq war) are all centered on events around which OPEC withholds the commodity for political reasons. Unfortunately, and unlike a market arrangement, they never reduce the price once the event wanes. This keeps the price artificially high enough to send consumers (the oil companies) scrambling for other sources of supply while the governments of consumer nations vow to reduce dependence on Arab oil. The result of OPEC’s pricing policy is to reduce the consumption of oil by western nations (to near ½ previous levels in Europe) and to accelerate oil exploration outside the OPEC sphere. Oil companies flee from their now less-than-profitable Mid-East concessions and, because the new world oil price provides huge financial returns, invest in new non-OPEC oil reserves. The result is that by 1986 OPEC is supplying less than ½ of what it had been supplying in 1972. OPEC has become the oil supply of last resort. In 1986, with less demand, too much supply and artificial quotas, the price of oil crashes.

August, 1990 – Enter Saddam Hussein (who entered Kuwait without an invitation). Claiming that Kuwait is a province of Iraq, Saddam invades. Oil from Iraqi fields still flows, but under the OPEC arrangement Saddam now has control of two quotas. Iraq is broke after its war with Iran and needs the revenue additional oil production will bring. Financially, OPEC members are not doing well. Major consumers have reduced the demand for OPEC oil. In order to meet the demands of financial pressures in their own countries many OPEC producers are far exceeding their quotas and selling for “market price”. Where the west had once been dependent on OPEC oil, OPEC countries, having failed to invest revenues into enterprise development, have become dependent on oil dollars. With the world price low and demand reduced, OPEC members, particularly Saudi Arabia, need Iraq brought under control and Kuwait’s supply separated from Iraq’s. The US Defense Secretary, Richard Cheney, produces intelligence photographs which show 1500 Iraqi tanks amassed on the Saudi border. Closer examination will reveal that there were no tanks. In fact there was nothing but desert. The US Secretary of Defense has intentionally lied. The Saudis appeal to the US and ultimately the UN for help. Defend Saudi Arabia and oust Saddam from Kuwait. And… oh yes… find a way to punish him… we have an idea. (And we’re nearing bankruptcy).

January, 1991 – Enter G.H.W. Bush, VII US Corps, a Grand Coalition Army and H. Norman Schwarzkopf. Between January 15 (UN deadline for Iraq withdrawal from Kuwait) and March 5 (return of prisoners) a US led coalition force beats the living daylights out of Saddam’s forces and totally destroys the Iraqi military command and control system. During the first two weeks of March retreating Iraqi troops lead an uprising among the Shiia. They capture Basra, Najaf and Karbala. In the north, the Kurds, instigated by the US, rise against Saddam. At the head of the uprising is one Ahmed Chalabi, a Shiia Muslim. Saddam’s forces put down the rebellions, killing the rebels. Those in the north who escape to the mountains die in the tens of thousands from malnutrition and exposure. The US does nothing to help. Chalabi comfortably escapes to the UK. The under-secretary of defense for policy is a little known neocon (former democrat) idealist named Paul Wolfowitz. On March 6 GHW Bush addresses Congress and announces a “New World Order”. (The official US meaning of this phrase is the sole “righter of wrongs around the world”. Arabs, highly skeptical of this self-assumed mantle, came to view it as “a tyrannical system of rule which the United States imposed after the breakup of the Soviet Union giving it authority over those world powers which endeavor to resist it.") Iraq accepts the conditions of UN resolution 687 which requires the destruction or removal of all long-range ballistic missiles and nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, to be verified by UN weapons inspections. The US, France and Britain establish an enforceable “No Fly” zone in northern Iraq intended to protect the Kurds and will later establish a similar zone in the south to protect the large Shiia population. A full trade embargo, which has existed under UN resolution 661 since Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, remains in force and is strengthened under resolution 687. OPEC changes its allocations to make up for the loss of 3 million barrels a day of Iraqi oil. Saudi Arabia increases its production from 5 million barrels a day to 8 million barrels a day. Without the UN embargo on Iraq, Saudi Arabia, on the brink of fiscal disaster, would not have been able to survive financially given the low quotas provided by OPEC.

May, 1991 – Enter John Rendon, Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress. During Operation Desert Storm John Rendon (Rendon Group) is employed by the government of Kuwait conducting a multi-million dollar PR campaign denouncing the Iraqi invasion and to mobilize support for the US led coalition action. Given the scope of the job his group performs, it is clear that Rendon is one thing – a propaganda machine. In May, President GHW Bush signs a presidential finding directing the CIA to create conditions which will cause Saddam to be either removed by coup d’etat or assassinated by his own people. The CIA, without the necessary in-house mechanisms to pull off such a feat, hires Rendon. He engages in an intense information campaign, operating mostly out of Kuwait, spending 23 million dollars in the first year of his contract. In contact with Ahmed Chalabi, he names and puts a new organization to work gathering information, distributing propaganda and recruiting dissidents – The Iraqi National Congress (INC). Rendon establishes the Iraqi Broadcasting Corp and Radio Hurriah with signals originating from US transmitters in Kuwait. Rendon also has a transmitter established in the Kurdish Iraq city of Arbil where the INC is active. Saddam’s forces attack Arbil at the end of August, 1996 and execute 12 IBC staffers and 100 INC members. Ahmed Chalabi is not there. Rendon funnels 12 million dollars of CIA money into the INC between 1992 and 1996. Ahmed Chalabi, The INC and John Rendon are inexorably linked.

1992 – Enter Paul Wolfowitz. Wolfowitz prepares and circulates a document known as Defense Planning Guidance. In it, he suggests that the United States maintain a military force beyond challenge and to use it in pre-emptive attacks on “rogue” nations. It also states that the US should, if necessary, be prepared to act alone and without UN concurrence. Two country cases presented as arguments in favour of the policy are North Korea and Iraq. When the document is leaked to the media, GHW Bush has the document rewritten and watered down.

December 1996 – Enter the UN and the Oil-for-Food Program. UN resolution 986 allows Iraq to sell $1 billion worth of oil every 90 days and use the proceeds for humanitarian supplies. OPEC members are not ready for the return of Iraqi oil to the market, nor are they prepared to reduce quota shares, particularly those of Saudi Arabia. When Iraq starts to pump 2.7 million barrels a day, the world price of oil starts to drop dramatically. Multi-national oil companies are also affected by this drop in prices and claim that the pace of new exploration will be reduced until prices rise sufficiently to offset costs. Whether exploration is even required at this time raises a question among western governments. The world oil supply is in a surplus condition. In January 1998, the world price of oil crashes. Oil exploration companies, particularly in the US, are bankrupted. In June 1998, Iraq is permitted to export $300 million worth of additional oil at a time when oil prices are falling through the floor. The additional Iraqi oil drives the world price even lower. OPEC member nations, addicted to high prices and quotas, are once again reeling. When oil prices fall to $10 per barrel OPEC countries are facing doom. The previous years of lavish spending have exhausted any fiscal surplus and many now have debt exceeding 100% of their GDP. All have budget deficits. OPEC is very, very scared. Major oil companies are also panicking. Shareholders are dumping oil company stocks at a horrendous rate. The oil companies view the only solution to their woes as one which will cause the price of oil to rise steadily and substantially.

1998 – OPEC swing producers reach production capacity. Enter China. With the exception of Saudi Arabia and Iraq, the oil producers of the Gulf States have reached their production capacity. Saudi Arabia, in an attempt to deal with a $5 billion deficit makes a side deal with major oil companies outside the realm of OPEC. The problem facing OPEC is that all the members are cheating on quotas. Venezuela forces OPEC to change the cartel’s production regulations thus limiting production. While OPEC takes credit for this, they in fact, had nothing to do with it. OPEC is in ruins and no longer functions as an effective cartel. China, with an economy growing at an unbelievable pace makes a deal with Saddam to develop two of Iraq’s major oil fields as soon as sanctions are lifted. China’s oil consumption is growing at a rate of 9% per year. It is forecast that China will have a demand of 5.5 million barrels annually by 2020. China lobbies hard to get sanctions lifted from Iraq. The fly in the ointment is Saddam who continually obstructs weapons inspections. The 4 major oil companies, 2 US based and 2 UK based are in favour of continued sanctions on Iraq. They have the effect of keeping competitors at bay. The oil companies see the Chinese effort in Iraq as a major threat to any possible future development in the region and worry that China’s national oil company might gain a long-term advantage in the global oil industry. The governments of the US and UK also view condition of the Gulf States with some concern. As the Gulf OPEC producers slowly start to de-nationalize their oil industries, concern grows that China’s (and France’s and Russia’s) interest will restrict US and UK domination of the region, and bring about a loss of control of a strategic resource. While the four majors and their governments had hoped Saddam would fall, the worst possible scenario occurs: The UN embargo weakens and Saddam is able to cling to power. The 4 majors are worried that they will be shouldered out while China, Russia and France take control of the most productive oil fields in the region. China accelerates talks with Saddam over oilfield development. The sanctions continue to weaken and China has every reason to believe they will have secured a major supply of oil from Iraq by early 2003. China has also made a deal with Pakistan to finance and build a major oil/cargo/naval port at Gwadar facing the Arabian Sea. China is also in negotiations with the Maldives and Bangladesh to acquire additional naval ports.

November 2000 – Enter George W Bush and a whole cast of neocons. He brings with him a lot of names from the past. Richard Cheney is VP and in the defense department, is Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz reporting to Donald Rumsfeld. Wolfowitz has advocated the invasion of Iraq as a pre-emptive measure since 1992. Idealistically driven, he feels military and political domination of the Gulf region is essential to the preservation of Israel and to US hegemony worldwide. Without something of a reason, however, there is no way to convince the public that such an invasion is justified. The hunt for intelligence begins.

March 2001 – The major oil companies (US and UK) have a date with Cheney’s energy task force. Who knows what was discussed but considering the jitters that were being felt over China’s involvement in Iraqi oil, it is reasonable to assume that it was an important topic. Further, plans which have emerged subsequent to the invasion suggest that the oil companies were very much involved well before 2003.

September 11, 2001 – Terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. Al Qaeda does its thing. Most of the terrorists are Saudi or Algerian. Al Qaeda has no relationship with Iraq. Osama bin Laden, leader of Al Qaeda, despises Saddam and while there has been an approach to collaborate against the US, Iraq rejected such an arrangement. Wolfowitz drags out the pre-emption card again. While it is agreed that Afghanistan and the Taliban must be taken out, this is also the time to take on the problem of Iraq.

January 2002 – Bush identifies Axis of Evil. Iraq is definitely on the hit list. Bush starts to link 9/11 with Iraq in a campaign designed to mislead the American public.

April 2002 – Enter Tony Blair. Blair travels to Crawford, Texas to meet Bush. Plans are made to take military action in the Spring or Fall of 2003. Blair requires that UN weapons inspections be allowed to exhaust their search. Bush and Blair hold extensive private talks. No one knows what was discussed. Blair meets with Bush again in September and announces his support. Bush tells Blair then, that war with Iraq is likely.

November 2002 – Enter Hans Blix and UNMOVIC. After years of blocking inspections, with the threat of force, Saddam allows Hans Blix and the UN weapons inspection teams into the country. They make progress and report that they are able to demand and receive compliance.

February 2003 – Enter Colin Powell. Powell briefs the UN using tapes of intercepts and satellite photos of Iraqi weapons disposition. Subsequent information proves the contents of the briefing to be completely erroneous. At this point it becomes obvious that other players are moving in circles trying to promote war with Iraq. John Rendon, the propaganda specialist is under contract to the Pentagon and Ahmed Chalabi is providing “intelligence”, all of which turns out to be false. The INC produces an Iraqi defector, (proclaiming first-hand knowledge of Iraqi WMD and nuclear programs), known as “Curveball”. He turns out to be a complete fraud. British intelligence indicating that Saddam attempted to buy yellowcake from Niger is also subsequently proven to be completely false. A further issue is that factual information on WMD in Iraq is at least 5 years old and some of it dates back to the 1991 Gulf War. There is no new information on Iraq’s weapons programs.

March 2003 – Back to the Chinese (and the Russians and the French). The Chinese, Russians and French refuse to back another UN resolution. The US withdraws the draft. If they go to war there is no international support. There is also no support from the Gulf States who, while claiming to object on moral grounds, see the outcome of a US/UK action as leading to the freeing up of Iraq’s oil reserves and severe damage to, if not the total elimination of, OPEC’s ability to control world oil prices.

March 20, 2003 – USA, Britain, Australia and others invade Iraq. The coalition eventually takes Iraq. The Chinese, Russian and French interests in Iraq are eliminated. Iraq’s oil industry falls under the control of the American occupation Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), however, Iraq remains a member of OPEC. Although against WTO rules, the US has a defacto seat on the cartel. No weapons of mass destruction are found. China, which has focused all its efforts on Gulf oil starts to scour the world for other sources of supply and accelerates the building of port facilities and naval bases in the Arabian Sea area.

May 1, 2003 – Bush declares major combat operations have ended. Enter Jay Garner and Phillip Carroll. Earlier, on April 21, Jay Garner took his seat in Baghdad as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority. Once Baghdad is secure Philip Carroll, the former CEO of Shell Oil USA, takes up his post as the person in charge of the Iraqi oil industry.

With that, the history is complete… to a degree. Weapons of Mass Destruction were never found. Evidence of a nuclear program was never found. Questioning of some of the principals of the former Iraqi government has revealed that sanctions were indeed working to contain Saddam. But that was known all along. Hans Blix has accused western intelligence agencies of withholding information and intentionally leading his team in the wrong direction. Had WMD and/or a nuclear weapons program been discovered by the Americans or British, there would surely have been howls of joy from the precincts of Washington and London power. It would have been a bonus because that is not why they went to war in the first place.

The neocons, the true idealists in Defense and State, had a plan for Iraq. They would crank out a democracy, become bosom buddies with the newly elected government, leave a permanent and powerful US military force on the ground and, oh yes, privatize Iraq’s oil industry. The latter goal would serve to achieve one of the unspoken but primary objectives of the take-over of Iraq: the crushing of OPEC.

The elimination of OPEC would serve two primary purposes. The price of oil would fall since it was intended that the four majors would open up the rich oil fields and, true to their competitive ethos, attempt to undercut and out-produce each other. The second purpose was to remove the single Gulf States oracle with which China could negotiate to secure Middle East oil. China would have to negotiate with each country on an individual basis and with Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia firmly in the US/UK camp that left smaller producers and a fragmented supply. If Iran got too far out of line, they would get the Iraq treatment – an invasion launched from the permanently established US military command in Iraq. But there were problems…

The four major oil companies are not populated by neocons. When Phillip Carroll took over Iraq’s oil industry he was expected to immediately start the process of selling off the equipment and awarding long-term licenses to the major oil companies. He didn’t do it. When Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation, a neocon think-tank, described the act of privatization as a “No-brainer”, Carroll responded with, "I would agree with that statement. To privatize would be a no-brainer. It would only be thought about by someone with no brain." Carroll had no intention of privatizing the oil industry and although he was working for the US government, he was “oil company” to the core of his soul. The majors were dead-set against privatization. In fact, over the previous three decades they had adapted their industry to exploit OPEC. The presence of OPEC, particularly the powerful Gulf States segment, had the effect of keeping prices high. Unfortunately, with little influence over OPEC until after the invasion of Iraq, that same group had been the cause of wild price fluctuations. The majors wanted price stability and they wanted the price of oil to remain high. By keeping OPEC intact and having control of Iraq’s reserves through a national oil company, they could achieve both. The majors also have an ally – Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney, despite having participated in such efforts as the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), is no idealistic neocon. He is on the side of the oil companies and his only theology: wealth and power.

Carroll held his ground until after the CPA had turned over visible control of Iraq to the interim government. After that the opportunity was lost to privatize the oil fields of Iraq. OPEC remains intact and Iraq, with the second largest oil reserve in the region, still under US occupation, has a seat; China has effectively been shut out of any exclusive arrangement in the Gulf and the US has the start of a military and political lodgment from which to control the region.

Mission accomplished! Just not the one we were told about.

A Federal Election Looms

It's a matter of time now. Stephen Harper's Conservatives in concert with the NDP and BQ have tabled a motion of non-confidence in the house.

Harper is betting that Canadians are still burned up by the contents of the Gomery Inquiry enough to punish the Liberals. However, Harper may be off to a bad start.

Alberta Premier Ralph Klein suggested that Harper doesn't have enough support in Ontario to win and predicted another Liberal minority government. Add to that a rather odd development - former Liberal MP Pat O'Brien has teamed up with conservatives to start Defend Marriage Canada. That should appeal to the wingnut segment of the Conservative Party which will start a new debate on "same sex marriage". That's political suicide.

The Liberals have been very busy and with a rosy fiscal report (written in deep black) they are presenting themselves in a better light than the last election.

Monday night should be straight forward. That is, unless the NDP pull a double-cross... and it wouldn't be the first time.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Iron Ladies

Hmmmm, how about a female prime minister in Canada (actually, we did have one, briefly...very briefly) or a female president of the United States (the right wingers would rather poke their eyes out with a rusty fork). For a lesson in female politicians, let's take a look at a couple of countries known for their egalitarian, democratic, female-friendly societies (snark!)

The newest president of Liberia (not exactly a hotbed of gender equality), with 60% of the votes, is Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Many Africans refer to Johnson-Sirleaf as the Iron Lady, and with good cause. This Harvard-educated former Liberian Minister of Finance has had an "interesting" life. Just prior to the 1985 elections, she gave a speech highly critical of Samuel Doe, the military ruler of the day (you just know she was going to pay for that!). For that transgression, she was sentenced to 10 years detention. After serving a short period of detention, she managed to flee the country and stayed in exile for 12 years. During her exile, she managed to keep herself busy doing various McJobs such as senior loan officer of the World Bank, director of United Nations Development Programme, and vice-president of Citibank (African operations).

Her opponent in the election was George Weah, a popular soccer star. (Weah couldn't even conceive of the idea that he could be beaten by a woman. In his arrogance, he sent out his minions to do the hand-shaking and deal-making while Johnson-Sirleaf actually went door-to-door herself). But many Liberians feared Weah had links to rebel groups that helped plunge Liberia into a bloody seven year civil war that has crippled the economy and wreaked havoc on the country's infrastructure . And then Weah made a campaign mistake, a serious mistake. Weah decided to campaign on the slogan "educated people failed", blaming all the country's woes on the educated class of Liberian society. With this attitude he offended a large section of the voters - the women. (rule number one - don't piss off half the population!). In a country with 80% poverty and 60% illiteracy, the poor still see education as the means of bettering ones life. Telling people that getting an education was a waste of time and energy didn't go over well with large segments of society, especially the women. The mothers and market women of Liberia toil for long, hard hours, doing everything in their power to provide the financial means to educate their children. They may (or may not) accept that they cannot change their own lives, but by God, they will do whatever it takes to make their childrens' lives better. To be told by Weah that it is all for nothing pissed them off! And they let their anger be known. On election night, Weah never knew what hit him.

In the meantime, Johnson-Sirleaf ran a clean campaign emphasizing the economy and the need to repair and replace the infrastructure so heavily damaged during the war.
Many Liberian newspapers backed Johnson-Sirleaf's campaign, calling her plans for Liberia's future "clear, comprehensive and practical"

As a side note, when it was clear that Weah had lost the election, the soccer star lost his composure. He claimed election fraud, ballot-stuffing, etc. and refused to acknowledge Johnson-Sirleaf as the new president. The sour grapes routine didn't work - Johnson-Sirleaf has now been officially declared the winner.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, Michelle Bachelet appears poised to become the next president of Chile when the Chileans go to the polls on December 11. Bachelet,a surgeon specializing in pediatrics, has had a long, tough road to travel. Under the Pinochet government Bachelet, along with her mother and father, were imprisoned and tortured. Bachelet's father didn't survive. Like Liberia's Johnson-Sirleaf, Bachelet was forced to flee her country for a number of years and like Johnson-Sirleaf, Bachelet comes with an armload of qualifications - surgeon, a Masters in military science from the Chilean Army's War Academy, Minister of Health, Minister of Defense.

Bachelet's strong presidential campaign is a bit of a surprise in a country that is known for being ultra-conservative, highly patriarchal, and strongly Roman Catholic. (in fact, Chile has only legalized divorce in the last year.) Against this background, we have Bachelet,a divorced mother of three (two of whom were born out of wedlock due to the illegality of divorce at that time) and a self-proclaimed agnostic. Can you imagine her trying to run for city council in the US? She wouldn't be allowed to make it past the front door! When asked her opinion about the equality of the sexes, she responded (with a mischievious grin on her face) "I think men are just as good as women" (gotta love her!).

In a recent poll, voters said that of all the candidates, Bachelet seemed the most honest, most sincere, and the most "level-headed". (Imagine polling in North America on the "level-headedness" of candidates! I love it)

So, tell me something. How is it that these women, in such female oppressive societies, have managed to do something (achieve the highest political office in their respective countries) and we, in a supposed egalitarian North American society, still tend to view female political leaders as surprising as Ed, the talking horse? Why is it that these female-unfriendly societies are capable of either ignoring or accepting the unconventional personal lives of Bachelet and Johnson-Sirleaf, and we drag our public members through the mud for the slightest infringement of somebody's "family values"? As much as we may like to sit back and point fingers at what we claim are intolerant societies, it's difficult to believe that we here in North America are any more tolerant than them.

Oh, and by the way, go back about the business of Bachelet and her mother being imprisoned and tortured. Now, try and tell me that women are too weak for combat!

And you thought YOUR Mom was tough!

A mother in Oklahoma was fed up with her 14 year old daughter's bad behaviour, poor grades and skipping school. Tough talk and grounding the young lady didn't achieve anything, so the mother decided on a novel tactic. She took her daughter to a busy intersection of town and made her stand on the corner holding a sign that said "I don't do my homework and I act up in school, so my parents are preparing me for my future. Will work for food."

Somewhere along the line, the message sunk in. Apparently the girl hasn't missed a day of school since!

Let's teach science in church!

It would be mildly amusing to watch the reaction if a state or local government was petitioned to place before the people, a proposition which required churches under the extreme literal bible movement ministries of Falwell, Robertson, Dobson et al, to provide equal time to teach evolution every time they presented "creation" or its permutation, "intelligent design".

Of course, it would never carry, but perhaps it's time that arrogant lot was fed a spoonful of their own medicine.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The US should look to Canada to find out how to balance both its budget and its life

This article showed up in the Observer this morning. It's a perceptive look at the difference between Canada and the United States. It also makes a point in showing that Canada is what the US used to be and perhaps, still wants to be.

So much of its decency, cordiality, wit and thoughtfulness is drowned out
by strident chaps wearing flags in their lapels and the babbling hatred that
pours from the Fox Network. When you get to Canada, the clamour stops.
Suddenly, you find yourself in the place that America should be and once
was, though it would offend every American to think that Canada has anything
the US should want.

But, if the article bears any truth, why wouldn't they?

If only on the grounds of Canada's economic success, Americans should take
more notice. Last week, the Liberal government announced that it would cut C$30
billion out of the budget because of the enormous fiscal surplus, currently
running at about C$13.4bn a year. Just over C$5bn is to be given back to
Canadians on taxes collected this year. And in the future, some of the the
surplus will be spent on training, the settling of new immigrants and student

Something seldom acknowledged by the average American and, indeed, the CIA Factbook:

Canada is democratic to its marrow, relatively enlightened on environment,
health and welfare issues and its political discourse, unlike America's, is
recognisably connected to the rest of the free world. That is almost certainly
because the centre ground of politics, the place where you find a nation's core
values and you can most easily read its character, is some distance to the left
of the centre ground in the US.

While truth about Canadian politics is somewhat more complex, the discovery that it is a near bloodsport is refreshing. Yes, we thank Chretien for doing what the majority of us wanted. Why is that such a big deal? By the way, if that's his legacy, I suppose it means the things he didn't do right just didn't make the news outside Canada:

To the outsider, Canadian politics is often mystifying and the conduct of
the debate between Conservatives and Liberals seems slightly less genteel than a
couple of ferrets in a sack. But on the big issues, the political class makes
some good decisions. For example, Jean Chretien, the Prime Minister for 10 years
who left office in 2003, refused to go to war with Iraq unless there was a
second UN resolution, which is exactly the course Tony Blair could and should
have taken.

Maybe this is why Canadians clung to a Canadian beer ad which contained the rant, I AM CANADIAN:

Someone once said Canadians were so busy explaining to the Americans that
they weren't British and to the British that they weren't American that they
hadn't found the time to be Canadian.

Read the whole thing here.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

BC Politicians Give Themselves a HUGE Pay Raise

There was no warning, no real debate and no dissenting votes. The British Columbia Members of the Legislative Assembly voted themselves an outrageously large pay increase, including a gold-plated pension package which the Premier had once campaigned against.

Politicians voting in their own pay packages has always been a sore point with the electorate, but this event turned the stomachs of even those least interested in the BC political scene. Even the pundits were shocked. The public has responded with overwhelming disgust, something which the government and the opposition say they find surprizing.

REALLY?! What bloody planet are these people from? That's not "out of touch" with the electorate; that's "totally removed" from reality. This all comes on the heels of an acrimonious and illegal work stoppage by BC teachers and several more "imposed" contract settlements on other public service employment groups. So, while the government has been out union-busting, with a good deal of public support and an opposition barely issuing a whimper, they were all working the back room together to refill their personal trough.

Carole James, however, demonstrated that the New Democratic Party of BC is still being controlled by those not holding office. Less than 24 hours after wholeheartedly supporting the pay package, she withdrew her support. Pretty radical for someone who had supported it through committee, onto the floor of the House, through a unanimous vote and then through the doors.

That was... until the BC Federation of Labour heard about it. While James says she had thought about it and realized it was wrong, the truth is that the BC Fed president Jim Sinclair was fuming. No matter what James or Sinclair would like us to believe, the NDP leader's change of heart was imposed on her. She's not being truthful and Sinclair is suddenly being very quiet. If nothing comes of this outrage, at least we can see that the NDP is still very much in bed with the BC Fed.

The worst effect of this self-serving piece of legislation is that any chance of labour peace in the province has just been wiped away, particularly since a huge group of public service employees are entering negotiations for new contracts this spring.

There were, of course, those politicians who felt compelled to use an old argument when giving themselves a trough-filling wage increase: "MLAs need good remuneration if we are to attract good and qualified people into provincial politics."

If that is the case, we should expect that not one name from the current people occupying seats in the BC Legislature will appear on the ballot in the next provincial election. We shouldn't have to choose between two different colours of pond scum.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

She Fights Too

While the US continues to debate the issue of women in combat roles, I thought it might be useful to take a look at the experience of the Canadian Armed Forces. My interest was raised after reading a post on The Happy Feminist. THF takes on 10 arguments against women serving in combat and quite succinctly puts 8 of them to rest with clear logic and a matter-of-fact manner. It’s worth the read and there are some illuminating comments which both support and refute THF’s position. I will attempt to briefly address the two questions THF has not yet answered (although I'm sure she will): The difference in physical strength between men and women, and the issue of unit cohesion.

Canada, in 1989, was the first NATO country to eliminate the legislative barriers which prohibited women in combat roles. The decision was sudden, unscheduled and received with a great deal of angst by the male dominated military hierarchy. At the time of the 1989 Human Rights Tribunal decision Canada had been conducting a trial known as Combat Related Employment of Women (CREW). The decision ended all trials and opened the doors to women wishing to serve in any position except for submarines. (That restriction has been removed with the commissioning of the Upholder class subs).

Unfortunately, The HRT decision was accompanied by a statement that the difference in the physical strength of women and men was irrelevant. They went on to state that hand-to-hand combat was a relic of the past and that all future combat would be trigger-pulling and button-pushing without directly contacting the enemy. It was this view, from a group who collectively had never served as much as a day in the services, which so angered most of the serving members of the armed forces. The HRT had to be ignored when it came to selection, physical standards and training.

The men serving in Canadian Armed Forces took the integration of women into combat units with a mixture of disdain and welcome. Many men were glad to see the playing field leveled since it now meant they could take up some of the static positions which had been occupied primarily by women. This would give the army and the navy a better field/base and sea/shore ratio respectively. On the other hand, a large number of serving men were unhappy with the infringement on a traditional male bastion.

The “differing physical strength” argument was played often and loudly. It was quelled when headquarters made it clear that the physical, psychological, education and character standards would remain in place. If a woman couldn’t pass the selection standard for a particular occupation, she simply would not be accepted in that trade. The same applied to men. This had an effect on infantry recruiting where out of 102 female recruits only one successfully completed training. Today, there are only five females in the infantry classification. While there is now a focused effort to attract women to combat-arms, the army, quite correctly, refuses to adjust the physical strength standard.

The navy had a different problem. The Canadian navy’s reputation in the Persian Gulf, the Adriatic and the Caribbean centers around one of the most effective embargo and boarding operations of all allied navies. Hostile boardings are a dangerous and dirty task. There is a requirement for brute strength in some cases and some men were concerned that women, with less physical upper body strength would be excused from sharing the risk. (Note that this was used as an argument for not having women in the ship at all. It’s called biting off your nose to spite your face). In my ship the question was approached with some logic. The boarding teams needed a combination of many skills and attributes. It was noted that a requirement also existed for sailors with a small physique just to get into and through small spaces. The hand-to-hand combat requirement could not be discounted, but that was a matter of training; not size. In fact, the solution was training; lots of it. All members of a boarding team have to be able to think on their feet, rapidly adjust to a changing situation and be able to defend themselves and the members of their team. Weapons training was specialized so any attempted argument that women did not possess the necessary weapons skills immediately failed. None of the men possessed those skills prior to selection for the boarding teams either. Women were in and they performed exactly the same as the men on the teams. There were two occasions in my ship where the presence of women enhanced the operation. The ships being boarded had women amongst the crew. They immediately gravitated toward the women on the boarding team and were more than happy to share information which would normally have to be extracted through lengthy and tedious questioning.

Sexual harassment became a problem which has only recently been brought under control. There were many justifiable claims of sexual harassment; at least one reported rape and a case of torture which angered even the hardest of those opposed to women serving in combat. There were also just as many cases which turned out NOT to be sexual harassment. Unfortunately, the na├»ve leadership of the armed forces simply prosecuted every complaint in an attempt to set examples. The embarrassment of senior officers was clearly visible when one sergeant, at a court martial, asked the military judge, “Why is it that when a female is involved, it’s sexual harassment, but when I make a male do exactly the same thing, it’s considered good training?” The Court Martial Appeals Court was overturning sexual harassment convictions with great regularity and it compelled the armed forces leadership to implement a more effective system of reporting, investigation and resolution.

Unit cohesion was a concern, and I suppose in some areas still is. However, to blame the lack of unit cohesion on the presence of women is to turn away from the real problem. Unit cohesion is born of good leadership. In those units and ships which suffered or suffer from a noticeable lack of unit cohesion there is usually a problem closer to the top than among the ranks. The issue of sexual attraction cannot easily be dismissed. An “in unit” love or lust affair can have a destructive effect on unit morale. Regulations are in place prohibiting fraternization beyond friendship, but only an idiot would believe that a regulation will prevent a group of young people from having sex. The problem arises when it becomes public. Since the population of men numerically always exceeds the women, some men display jealous behaviour when a woman “hooks up” with one of the men. While this may all sound a little juvenile, one needs to remember that most young soldiers, sailors and air force personnel are barely out of their teens. When a relationship becomes public knowledge, one of the pair is transferred. As costly as that may be to the unit at the time, it is costlier to allow the combat edge to dull. Leadership and some tough discipline will usually overcome the problem, but in truth a good leader will invoke a level of esprit de corps through training, communications and individual recognition that motivates people to want to stay in that particular unit. As rude as it sounds, the senior leaders of a unit should have an intimate knowledge of what is going on in the lower ranks of their unit, including who is screwing whom.

In the US debate pregnancy has been tossed around as a major reason for disallowing women in combat. The Canadian Armed Forces situation was no different but it was dealt with adequately. In the CAF pregnancy is simply a medical condition. It does have an immediate impact on unit strength since current practice is to medevac and repatriate those who become pregnant while deployed, and to transfer to base or garrison any woman who is pregnant. It is not permanent or punishment. Women have a variety of options and those who find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy may opt for an abortion if that is her wish. If all this sounds a little lopsided, it is balanced by the fact that men are entitled to parenting leave on the birth of a child by their spouse and that has now been extended to include an adoption. Where this runs into a wall is when the headquarters personnel organization fails to provide a timely relief for the vacated position. It is inconvenient but not insurmountable. Indeed, given a hot combat situation in which casualties occur, the unit must be prepared to fight on in a shorthanded condition.

Canada is no longer the sole NATO ally to remove the combat barrier to women, although it is the only one (aside from the reality of the US situation) to commit women to combat in Afghanistan and quasi-combat in global peacekeeping operations.

Two truths emerge which make restricting the role of women in combat pointless:
1. Ground combat has evolved to the point that there really is no safe rear area. The US is highly cognizant of that fact through their operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq. While the US debates allowing women to serve in front end combat units, it is happening anyway. It makes little sense to insist that women be restricted to support trades when the “front line” is so fluid.
2. The recruiting pool in Canada and many other NATO nations is changing. Lower birth rates, strong economies and higher standards of education are reducing the numbers of young men available for voluntary military service. In Canada’s case, simply meeting manning targets will require that more women enter the service. While the US situation may be somewhat different, that country too has faced a shortage of men. In fact, the US has a higher percentage of women serving than most other countries. Under such circumstances prohibiting women from earning a Combat Infantry Badge seems a bit ridiculous.

Malkin's stand in is just as dumb as Malkin

I won't link to Michelle Malkin's tripe, but you can get there via Blogoland.

In response to Maloney, the following applies:

Canada rates higher in press freedom than the United States. I hate repressive regimes too.

Rogue?? You want rogue? Hey Maloney, did you know that there is a country where the leader, after the election had more fraud than a dog has fleas, was selected by their supreme court... a non-elected body. Ever hear of that? Why we're so "rogue" that we're going to have at least two federal elections to your one. I hate that... God, there's pools of democracy everywhere.

Corrupt? Yup... there was a little problem there. We are taking care of it. How are you guys doing with that little mess over at Halliburton? How about that CIA prison system! Oops... sorry. That's part of the repressive thing, isn't it.

Evil regime? You ain't seen nothing yet bucko! Just so ya know... we have been amassing weapons with which to take out the US in one quick move. Canadians have been sacrificing for weeks to prepare for a sneak border crossing employing TMD (Timbits of Mass Destruction). Disguised as simple doughnut holes, we will be releasing Timbits (in 32 different flavours) enmasse on the American population on a single day. Unable to resist, this will cause the general population to demand that Canada come in and establish Tim Hortons in all towns and cities. (Tim Horton's is actually a form of government). Kiss your Twinkies goodbye!

By the way.... isn't that drug you're taking illegal?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Welcome to Cold War II

China and Pakistan to conduct naval exercises in the Arabian Sea

China, a country which has never been inclined to engage in treaties on an equal basis with other nations, has become rather cozy with Pakistan. Further, it began to seriously woo Pakistan within a few months of the US assault on Afghanistan. Although in the planning stages since May 2001, China and Pakistan have entered into an agreement and neared completion of the construction of a deep-water naval port at Gwadar. Ostensibly a port intended for the Pakistani Navy, the agreement between the Chinese and Pakistanis will allow the Chinese unlimited access when their ships are in the area.

When their ships are in the area? But the Chinese navy has never ventured beyond what could be described as their own regional waters. They have never possessed a blue-water naval capability and have always operated very close to home. A previous exercise with the Pakistanis in 2003 was held for 3 days off the Chinese port of Shanghai. That was before this month.

China, for the first time in modern history, will engage in naval exercises with the Pakistani Navy, not in the South China Sea, but in the Arabian Sea. This should be sending shockwaves through diplomatic circles around the world. China is rapidly developing the ability to project its naval forces, once little more than a regional patrol fleet, on a global scale. It alters the defensive role of the PLA Navy to that of an ocean-going fleet with a presence. China has always had a desire to possess a blue-water navy, but this is a radical acceleration of their traditionally methodical approach to expansion and comes years ahead of what analysts had expected.

China, since the US increased their presence in the south, central and western Asian regions in 2001, has actively sought out bases and facilities to support a continuous naval presence in the Indian Ocean. It has established a listening post in the Myanmar, Cocos Islands and will soon have an operational listening post at Gwadar, Pakistan. She has also come to an agreement with the Maldives to establish a base on the island of Marao, which is intended to support a fleet of nuclear submarines complete with sea launch ballistic missiles.

What is causing this sudden Chinese interest in a strong Indian Ocean naval presence? Well, oil. China relies heavily on the Persian Gulf states for over 60% of their current petroleum supplies and they view the US adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan as being centered primarily on the controlling of that supply of oil. They see the US enveloping them in the southwest Asia region as a direct military threat and they have become nervous. They also view India as the emerging dominant naval power in the region and a threat to oil-transportation sea routes. The Sino/Pakistani alliance, in which Pakistan becomes a Chinese client, is a strategic boost for Pakistan in that country’s long “on again; off again” war with India.

The Chinese also recognize that, despite the battle-axe posture of the United States, the US is now engaged in global warfare which has all but negated the ability of the US to respond to a building naval presence in the Indian Ocean. The US Navy has 34,000 people deployed on operations or exercises worldwide. Of twelve Carrier Battle Groups, two are on station in the Persian Gulf, five are on pre-deployment training (or proceeding to station) and five are in extended shipyard periods for critical repair and maintenance making them undeployable within 60 days. A full one-third of the US Navy’s combat fleet is currently deployed away from home waters or away from their permanent overseas bases. In naval terms, that leaves nothing to spare. To put it succinctly, the US is in no position to challenge the Chinese navy’s arrival and permanent residence in the Indian Ocean. Add to that the fact that US foreign policy, particularly the adventure in Iraq, has angered most of America’s traditional allies and has weakened the US position in what were once some of the most durable of its alliances. The US decision to ignore the protests of its NATO partners over Iraq, for example, has caused other member nations to view continuing US global naval dominance as a US problem which the US, if it wishes to protect that position, must solve without the help of the alliance. Until the major western alliances see a change in attitude and behaviour from the US, the US stands alone and China is taking full advantage of this rare situation.

Something which should also be taken into consideration is China’s economic position. Unlike the last major US standoff with the Soviet Union, in which significant differences existed in terms of technology, manufacturing, economy and trade, (all in the US favour), China is positioning itself to best the US in all those categories. The American economic condition does not lend itself to out-producing an adversary. The US manufacturing sector is closing down at a rate faster than the Chinese and other not-so-friendly nations can take up the slack.

Another fly in the geopolitical ointment is the Bush administration itself. The Bush administration has proven to be completely inept when faced with a diplomatic challenge. The adventure in Iraq is akin to taking a shotgun to a hornet nest deep in the woods. Given a military standoff which requires continuous monitoring, deep thought and a solid grasp of foreign culture, ambitions and capabilities, the current administration is simply not up to the task. Further, with the departure of Colin Powell, it has lost the counsel of one who might be able to prevent disastrous knee-jerk responses to a Chinese implied threat and has, instead, a Secretary of State who, despite her acclaim for being a Soviet expert, was absolutely wrong in forecasting the position and condition of the Soviets through the 1980s.

How long before China starts to force the hand of the US militarily in the Indian Ocean? How about a week? When the first Chinese warships take their berths at their new base in Pakistan, Cold War II will have commenced.

Monday, November 14, 2005

You've got to know when to hold 'em

Know when to fold 'em....

Paul Martin gave his political opposition a clinic today in federal politics.

Now, I have no love for Martin, but I have to admit, he is one hell of a poker player. He also knows how to read a poll.

Martin rejected opposition plans for a motion on a federal election in January and simply tossed the monkey right onto the backs of Stephen Harper, Jack Layton and their pet poodle from the Bloc Quebecois. With a simple "NO", he put the onus for an election nobody wants right into the laps of Harper's Conservatives and Layton's NDP. (The BQ continue to yap like a terrier standing next to a tolerant St. Bernard). Then Martin and his Minister of Finance handed Canadians another mid-term budget with yet another surplus that is yet again higher than the original budget forecast. And, as in the lead up to every election since the dawn of the Canadian Pacific Railway, he has produced large tax cuts, all of which fly in the face of the deal he had previously made with the NDP. He also found support from the Metis and aboriginal community who are begging not to have an election before the next First Ministers' conference scheduled for the new year.

Martin knows full well that Canadians dread the thought of a mid-winter election and could possibly produce a worse voter turnout than the last election which, at 60 percent participation, was the worst attendance at the ballot-box in Canadian history. He is gambling on two things:
1) That the opposition knows the feelings of Canadians and fear punishment at the polls, thus quelling the political sabre rattling until after the new year;
2) That IF the opposition is foolish enough to table a motion of non-confidence during one of the upcoming Opposition Days, that Canadians will indeed punish those who ruined their festive holiday season with what will be an acrimonious election campaign of at least 36 days.

Martin, who knows that he needs time to build his support in Quebec, says he will call a federal election within 30 days of the 2nd half of the Gomery Inquiry report being issued. Phase 1 dealt with "Who did what"; Phase 2 is recommendations on how to change government to make it more accountable, responsible and responsive. Martin's plan is to campaign on those recommendations with a view to implementing them all; something Stephen Harper wants to cut off before Phase 2 Gomery is issued.

Harper has presented his own plan for government accountability. Essentially, it is likely very similar to that which Mr. Justice Gomery will produce. After all, after detailing the problems with the Sponsorship Scandal, the fixes are relatively straight forward and Canadians won't be in the mood to accept anything except easily followed paper-trails in government use of taxpayers' money. He wants to get to the polls before Gomery II hits the streets and literally scoops him. He's willing to force a Christmas election campaign but he also knows that, if Canadians grow angry (as they likely will), he can claim he had lost confidence in the Liberal government months ago and was only performing his role as leader of HM Loyal Opposition in a perpetual attempt to bring down the government. If the government falls before Christmas you can rest assured that he will blame the NDP for a mid-winter campaign.

Layton, who thought he was in control of Parliament with his 19 NDP seats had his bluff called and is now in the unenviable position of either handing Canadians a Christmas election campaign (and taking the electoral punishment) or being forced into accepting Martin's terms for a likely Spring election. In short, he has been backed into a corner: He can exercise his control and take a possible hit from the electorate, or he can back off and accept the fact that his party has less influence than he believed (and possibly suffer at the hands of his own party).

Of course, if the opposition as a whole believe they can actually work together and form government (when pigs fly) Stephen Harper can go to the Governor General and tell her that he is prepared to do so. If the GG believes it possible she could quite legally appoint PM and cabinet from the opposition. Don't count on this ever happenning. Harper knows that he could never work with the NDP and the BQ is interested only in a Quebec agenda. (Interestingly, this scenario would severely test the Governor General).

In any case, none of us sitting on the fringes know the outcome. This is high stakes Texas Hold 'Em. The antes are in, the small blind and big blind have been posted, everyone has two cards down, the flop and the turn are on the table and we're waiting for the river; the final card.

We'll have to wait and see who's bluffing, but Martin is now showing something of himself we do not often see: guts.

Getting Bill O'Reilly

A hat tip to Daily Kos! Bill O'Reilly, the wingiest of the wingnuts in American punditry has been Google-bombed.

It appears that Bill O'Reilly is a terrorist sympathizer.

Go to Google, type in Terrorist Sympathizer and hit I'm Feeling Lucky

Friday, November 11, 2005

Willy Pete and some Truth

Recent days have seen what, on the face of it, appears to be a stunning revelation that US forces in Iraq used “chemical” weapons during the assault on Fallujah. This unearthing of information comes from a documentary aired by the Italian state broadcaster RAI and specifically the words of one Jeff Englehart, a former US Army private (recon scout) who served in Iraq with the 1st Infantry Division. Englehart was labeled a “problem” by his superiors for continuous insubordinate behaviour. He is not an expert or a specialist in chemical weapons, heavy ordnance or any weapon beyond the small arms in which he was trained.

White Phosphorus as a weapon

I spent a good deal of time in forward positions calling for fire from both artillery and naval gunnery. I called for WP from time to time, depending on the tactical situation and enemy disposition.
At night, WP would be laid behind the enemy to provide short term illumination.
In daylight WP generates a thick white smoke which makes it useful for marking targets. It can be used against personnel but it lacks punch. Out in the open it is easily dodged and it produces fewer casualties than an airburst high explosive (HE) round. The spraying effect and the concentration of smoke may have a psychological effect on troops, but a disciplined enemy will overcome the confusion quickly.
WP actually burns quickly and coolly making a less than effective incendiary, although it will cause fires if it comes in contact with combustibles.
As a smokescreen, WP is highly effective. The smoke is thick enough to screen troop and armor movements and is not toxic, thus does not present a threat to one’s own troops should the smoke blow down on position or should troops have to advance through the smoke. It is also used as a barrier to bar escape routes to enemy troops.

As an artillery round it is less lethal than high explosive point detonating (HEPD) or high explosive variable time (HEVT) fused ammunition. Its clear lack of effectiveness against fortified positions limits its use. In an urban environment WP would also have limited use, but would probably have the effect of suppressing enemy fire, screening and blocking.

The concern over WP burning is overdone. HE burns hotter, covers more area, removes oxygen from the immediate area instantly, has a wider shock wave and creates more casualties. A Forward Observation Officer would never call for WP simply to create casualties.

There is a truth about WP that has surfaced and been ignored extensively: It has been an integral part of every army’s stock of conventional ordnance since World War I. It is no more a chemical weapon than HE or gunpowder and it less lethal than some of the more standard ammunition.

The Blogs

There has been a huge outcry on both sides of the spectrum. The liberal blogs are busy screaming that this exposes a hitherto secret use of chemical weapons. The right-wing and ultra-right blogs are rebutting with howls of “you’re not supporting the troops” or words to that effect. Both have managed to rise to hysteria without closely examining the facts, nor closely scrutinizing the video in question.

I won’t bother getting into the right and ultra-right blogs. They tend to get what they deserve, being the purveyors of mistruths and the cherry-pickers of information. I would take aim at some of the others, however because they are now guilty of committing the same act for which they roundly criticize their right-wing opposition: mistruth and cherry-picking.

Many of the better blogs engaged this issue with no information and next to no research. They believed what was fed to them and then refused to move their position when facts demonstrated that they had indeed over-reacted. I mention this in particular because there are highly respected outlets, well-known for their ability to analyze specific issues, expose ultra-right-wing absurdity and question social and political intolerance. It was disturbing to see journals of reason suddenly go off half-cocked over this issue, if simply because it would have the effect of labeling them reactionary. Attempting to wind up the use of WP in Iraq as a cause celeb with which to protest the conduct of that war will take them down a cul-de-sac of disappointment. It isn’t the issue they think it is and it will garner little more than a shrug of the shoulder from most informed quarters. If a demonstration is needed, it should be pointed out that one army which does not possess chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, and has even abandoned the use of land-mines, retains, employs and trains in the use of WP in their artillery - Canada.

The war in Iraq needs to be addressed. The blogs I mentioned and hundreds of others like them are in a position to raise the questions, criticize their leaders and demand a change in US foreign policy. The question of the type of munitions used in the razing of Fallujah is a distraction from a much more important issue: Why did Fallujah have to be destroyed in the first place?

The Video

I watched the video, Fallujah: The Hidden Massacre with a bit of a jaundiced eye. The producer is known for his faulty reporting and less-than-subtle warping of the truth. He once produced a documentary for RAI suggesting that Italy had sent troops to Iraq to secure an oil deal. In fact, subsequent investigation proved no such deal existed and his assertion that Italian troops were running a refinery in Iraq turned out to be nothing more sinister than Italian troops guarding a refinery in their area of operations.

The video contained many graphic images, but almost none of them, as stated in the documentary, came from Fallujah during the assault. There was a serious attempt at the start to form a connection with the US military adventure in Viet Nam. The flaws in the video and the interviews are legion:
  • Jeff Englehart lacks credibility. From the outset, the name he used for the operation was incorrect. He was not involved in the assault and he did not see what munitions were being used. During the last two days of the operation he was outside the outer perimeter of the combat zone. Everything he says he knows, he heard over the radio in his Humvee. Further, on his own website, he mentions his two days outside Fallujah with considerably less elaboration than he provides in Ranucci’s documentary and concentrates on the foibles of the senior officer he is there to protect. His presentation of “10 year olds with AK-47s” being killed is handed off by the producer as grown soldiers killing kids. Excuse me, but a 10 year old facing me with a loaded assault rifle is an enemy combatant regardless of his age.

  • The munitions and weapons firing presented in the video do not match the narrative. There is no research and the only attribution is given to a disgruntled, no-longer-serving private. Many scenes which a viewer might take to be white phosphorus ordnance are in fact, magnesium flares. *The scene of the helicopters shooting WP is insinuated as “using it on people” when in fact it is an artillery observation aircraft providing spot illumination of a target. *The lay viewer could be excused from believing the narrator, but a small amount of research and a snap question to anyone with extensive combat experience would provide the truth – something the video seemed to lack.

  • Englehart’s description of the blast, the coverage and the effects of WP are a pure, unadulterated fabrication. His assertion that WP burns skin but not clothes would be laughable if it weren’t so far from the truth. WP burns everything it hits, including clothing. He further states that the only way to stop WP burning is to apply wet mud. Rubbish. WP stops burning when placed in water. He then states that it burns right through a gas-mask. True… it does. How does he reconcile that fact with his statement that it doesn’t burn through clothing?

  • The producer provides graphic views of bodies with “carmelized skin, skin melted away from the bones and the clothing virtually undamaged" as though it has to be the chemical effects of WP. Wrong! What was presented there was consistent with aging corpses. I’ve seen plenty of them. You were seeing the effects of decomposition. In fact, none of those bodies showed the effects of being hit by WP. WP would have left clearly visible burn marks over the entire body, clothing included. The strangely dead dog was probably killed from the shockwave of an HE round but there was no evidence of WP anywhere near that animal.

  • The insinuation that the casualties in the video died as a result of ingesting gas produced by WP is pure bovine scatology. The smoke emitted by WP isn’t pleasant, but it does not have the necessary toxicity nor is it persistent enough to cause death. Englehart’s description of the effects of emitted WP smoke is absolutely false. Asphyxiation can occur, of course, as with any other smoke in concentration in an enclosed space. But then, it’s got to get into an enclosed space. Given the methods allegedly used to deliver WP in this case, it would be an extraordinary feat to lodge it into an enclosed space. That WP is poisonous is a fact…. if you swallow it raw.

  • There is something made out of the fact that a WP burst removes the air from the immediate area. True, but then so does an HE burst and exploding gasoline fumes. Again, it requires an enclosed space to have such an effect and the removal of oxygen during a burst is a property of rapid combustion – not something restricted to WP.

  • The final sequence (machine gun attack on enemy troops) is not attributed. Done through night vision equipment, it provides the viewer with nothing in the way of valid information. It simply expands the graphic feature of the documentary. Armed combat is unbelievably ugly. It doesn’t matter what the cause, the ugliness is ever present.

There is a cause out there. Stopping a completely unnecessary war is one of them. Getting rid of the perpetrators of the Iraq adventure is one of them. It needs to be done with a cool head and reasoned judgment. Going into high blood pressure mode over WP isn’t going to accomplish any of what needs to be done.

Update: Upon closer examination of the video, once it had been enhanced, what appears to be helicopters launching WP flares turns out to be artillery rounds. The round is exploding above the ground and "rags" are dropping from the burst. The WP is burned out by the time it hits the ground.