Wednesday, February 29, 2012

UPDATE: Elections Canada deluged by 31,000 complaints of robo calls

UPDATE: By Daniel Leblanc, Globe and Mail, March 2, 2012
Elections Canada has been deluged by 31,000 complaints in relation to last year’s ballot, focused mainly on robo-calls and other harassing phone calls.

The non-partisan agency received 500 complaints in relation to the previous election in 2008, and 329 in relation to the 2006 ballot.
By Steven Chase, Daniel Leblanc and Josh Wingrove, Globe and Mail, February 28, 2012
Documents retrieved from an Edmonton court for the first time describe in detail exactly how Canada’s elections watchdog believes someone linked to the Conservative campaign in Guelph, Ont., tried to suppress the vote for rival candidates on May 2, 2011. This comes as opposition parties accuse the Tories of election misdeeds across a broader array of ridings – about 30 throughout the country.

The allegations laid out by Elections Canada paint a picture of a sophisticated dirty tricks campaign, one that is likely to damage the governing Conservatives despite their insistence that any wrongdoing was the work of a rogue political aide.

Former chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley said he has never encountered a vote suppression scheme on the scale of the one alleged in Guelph.
“Absolutely not, I can say that honestly,” he said in an interview. “This is the first I hear of something of this scope.”
Late Tuesday, Michael Sona, the former Conservative staffer linked to the controversy, broke his silence to protest his innocence and say he hoped the “real guilty party” would be found.
Elections Canada has been investigating complaints of voters being called and misdirected to the wrong polling station in the last federal election, and their probe has centred on Guelph. The Liberals ultimately held the riding in the May 2 ballot and even increased their margin of victory.
But Elections Canada alleges somebody in the campaign of Conservative candidate Marty Burke had a “customer relationship” with RackNine, an Alberta firm that distributes telephone messages and was used in the attempt to misdirect voters in Guelph. It says in court filings it believes this relationship “related to the misleading calls made to Guelph area electors.”
Agency investigator Allan Mathews says in court documents that he found Guelph Conservative campaign phones called RackNine 30 times during the election campaign, but he nevertheless found no Burke campaign receipts for payments to the Alberta company.
“I believe the individuals(s) behind the misleading calls … would not want a local campaign to be identified with the calls, as they amount to improper activity, and consequently I believe that any expense would likely be omitted from a campaign return,” Mr. Mathews said in the court filing. ..
Elections Canada’s Mr. Mathews said in court filings he believes the Guelph robo-calls are linked to a Virgin Mobile disposable cellphone registered to the improbably named “Pierre Poutine of Separatist Street” in Joliette, Que. The inspiration for this alias is unknown, but there is a Pierre’s Poutine restaurant in Guelph.

Disposable phones – also called “burner phones” – are prepaid phones with lax registration requirements.
The alias Pierre Poutine hid the identity of whomever owned the cellphone, which was only activated in late April of 2011.
NDP MP Pat Martin pounced on the use of a disposable phone, saying it shows how untoward the scheme was. “Only dope dealers and Hells Angels and Tony Soprano use burner cellphones,” he said.
It turned out to be an exceptionally important piece of evidence for Elections Canada.
The pursuit of power, once again it would seem, is more powerful than any aphrodisiac and it seems, now, incredibly, that where there was once only smoke, there is now a fire, that is a political fire demanding the Prime Minister's firefighting skills and squad.
A sponsorship scandal in Quebec, by a few "bag-men" freelancing on their own under the umbrella of the Liberal Party has done deep damage to the Liberal "brand."
However, interferring with the democratic right to vote of Canadians for the alleged purpose of turning them away from their legitimate voting stations is something we might read about in a banana republic and barely raise an eyebrow, simply because it is so common.
While there is some "evidence" in this story trickling out into the national media, and there will likely be more, and while the Prime Minister will likely have to answer some questions in Question Period in the House of Commons, the real question is how seriously will this "phonegate" damage the Conservative Party?
And that will depend, once again, on how Harper "frames" the issue, and whether the reporters accept that framing, and whether the story develops the kind of legs that brings about a public inquiry.
If that should happen, and the story brings witnesses to testify under oath, in front of national television cameras, then there might be some damage to the Conservative brand. However, this story is still in the incubator stage, waiting for a full blown disclosure, and we can all be sure that if the story has a single or even two operatives, it is sadly likely that it will not do serious harm to the government.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

O'Hanlon reviews Obama's foreign policy: pragmatic and disciplined, not weak nor apologetic

By Michael O'Hanlon, from GPS website, February 28, 2012
Editor's Note: Michael O’Hanlon was in Afghanistan earlier this month and is co-author of the forthcoming book Bending History: Barack Obama’s Foreign Policy.
(President Obama)... has been a pragmatic, disciplined, and moderately successful president on many core matters of war and peace, and on the crucial subject of preventing a global economic meltdown during his first year in office as well. Specifically:
- As evidenced, for example, in the nation’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama has been strong, pragmatic, and nonideological - not an apologist for the country, not weak, and not naïve.
- His policies towards al Qaeda embody that most clearly, not only due to the killings of Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki but due to the broader decimation of much of al Qaeda’s top leadership.
- He has also toughened his initial approach toward the rogue states of Iran and North Korea. After offering to reach out his hand should they unclench their fists in his inaugural address, by the summer of 2009 he had concluded in both cases that such efforts were pointless and pivoted to much tougher approaches. Having tried and failed to improve relations, he was well positioned to convince other countries to tighten sanctions thereafter - arguably becoming more effective than George W. Bush in pursuing much of the core Bush agenda. Of course, sanctions are not an end in themselves, and Obama has not been any more successful than previous presidents in rolling back either the North Korean or Iranian nuclear programs.
- Overall, Obama has done best on the major foreign policy problems: the “Russia reset” policy; progress towards a realistic and balanced partnership with China; further improvement in relations and India (building on the work of Clinton and Bush); and improving relations with most major allies. His nuclear nonproliferation record and defense records are good so far as well (though the specter of sequestration hangs over defense budget, and indeed budgetary and economic policy more generally).
- Obama been generally prudent with the Arab awakenings including in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and Libya - not because he wished to “lead from behind” but because he sought to work with coalitions and let others step up where American vital interests were less engaged. Clearly, Syria remains a work in progress.
- There have been major mistakes, most notably in his handling of the Arab-Israeli peace process. His efforts to lead on climate change via adoption of cap-and-trade legislation at home failed abjectly. While his Afghanistan policy was well thought through, execution has been marred by inconsistent approaches by members of the Obama team.
- And while the financial crisis of 2008/2009 was managed competently, the American economy is still in such a perilous place that repairing it has become priority #1 for the president. Importantly, the United States cannot sustain a role of global leader without shoring up its economic foundations. The world still very much wonders if it can accomplish that. On matters such as deficit reduction, Obama has not yet been successful. Relatedly, partisan acrimony has not been mitigated on his watch as he had hoped.
This is on balance a better foreign policy record than most presidents have attained at their three-year marks. Generally speaking, it represents the triumph of pragmatism over ideology and reflects a reluctant realism that this president has come to personify in office.
Still, one senses that it is not what Obama exactly expected out of his time in office, and that it leaves him feeling unsatisfied in many ways. Because of the enduring economic crisis, it also leaves the country weaker in some ways, though the cause here has hardly been entirely Obama’s doing.
The 2012 presidential campaign thus has much to consider. Many key issues remain in flux and the best U.S. policy options to address them remain unclear or in need of improvement. One hopes the campaign will unfold on such terrain and not dwell on the canards that somehow this president has been weak or apologetic or incompetent in his foreign policy.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Michael O'Hanlon.
From the perspective of just slightly north of the 49th parallel, we are grateful to Obama for having kept an even, steady and predictable hand on the foreign policy tiller, without having precipitated another Iraq, in fact while bringing the troops home from that theater, and starting the troop removal from Afghanistan later this year.
Realism, while different from idealism, is more likely to constitute the stuff of foreign policy and the one thing the world can be grateful for is that, whatever else, Obama is an outstanding learner. And, only his re-election can provide even a limited assurance for the world that America will not pre-emptively strike ANY country, as the world endured in 2003, under another American president. All Republican candidates, except possibly Ron Paul, sound like "Rambo" compared with Obama, and Rambo has no place at the foreign policy discusssion tables.
Obama has proven beyond a doubt that he certainly does belong there.

"discussitis interminabilis" and other paralyses of Canadian governance

By Preston Manning, Globe and Mail, February 28, 2012
Preston Manning is president and CEO of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy.
We Canadians have many virtues, but we also have our faults. One of the most worrisome is our growing tendency to substitute discussion for action on key public issues such as health-care reform, productivity improvement and energy policy.

We increasingly seem to think that a major issue is being “dealt with” when someone writes a paper, article, report or book about it. Further “progress” is then measured by the extent to which the paper, article, report or book has been peer-reviewed, conferenced, editorialized, blogged and tweeted, with the original discussants linked in and befriended by an ever-growing number of fellow discussants via the Internet.
But who’s going to do something about what’s being discussed or proposed? Where’s the acceptance of responsibility to act on what has been proposed and discussed? Where’s the implementation plan and to-do list that translates interest, concern and discussion into actions that achieve results?
Never would I have anticipated including a quote from this source, Mr. Manning, on this blog, so far apart are we in our political views. However, the former leader of the Reform party hits the nail straight on the head on this issue.
Politics in Canada is not only infected with the disease Manning dubs, "discussitis interminabilis," but, as historian Arthur Lower wrote so many years ago, we "muddle" along in our politics, never really deciding anything. So when those two "traditions" are combined, we manage to change the faces of the people who sit in our parliament, and, to some extent we shift the em pha' sis that we place on issues; but really very little is accomplished.
Recently, I was asked to submit a "values" statement for a political organization, so I included several "action" steps simply because I believed that politics of all sides had forgotten that action was an integral part of the game. Immediately upon its receipt, my phone rang, wondering why the piece was so "long" since others had submitted their "statement of values" and they ran to one paragraph.
Of course, my piece was ridiculed because I did not "understand" that values did not include action.
However, my retort was that "action" as part of my "values" statement, and without action, the values meant nothing.
It was in 1979 that then N.D.P. leader Ed Broadbent moved a motion in the House of Commons to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000. The bill received unanimous consent. That means that every single Member of Parliament voted "for" the bill. Today, in 2012, child poverty has not only not been eliminated, but it has grown exponentially and there are simply no consequences for that failure.
And that is only one of the examples of "good intentions" talked about, talked through, researched, and even voted upon, without a single act having been taken to follow up on the issue. Our history book, including our government's basements are clogged with Royal Commissions, most of which have never had a single recommendation acted upon. The "story" has simply faded from the front pages, and the politicians have simply moved on to other "hot button" issues with which they wish to become congruent, fearing a termination in their parliamentary tenure at the ballot box.
We have heard slogans about politics such as: politics is the art of compromise...and in the U.S. the gridlock has seen that bromide turn into frozen salt.
"Politics is the art of the possible," is another slogan used to describe politics but that seems more a contemptuous derision of the arena than an ideal, especially when what is possible is merely another committee meeting, and another press release, and another photo opportunity, or another trip abroad for some politician in another government plane.
"All politics is local" is usually used to mean that nothing of "national" or "international" interest or consequences means very much to the average voter, given that s/he is really concerned about his own back how much gas costs, or how high the tax bill is, or whether the Old Age Security pension will be withdrawn. This is another tightening of the noose around the political potentials, because the voters are both quick and loud in their resistance to change, and they have several routes to informing their MP's about that resistance.
Another reason that politics is about little more than "discussitis interminabilis" is that the media's having exposed the private lives of Members of Parliament, there are very few really outstanding individuals who wish to expose themselves to such depraved scrutiny. Consequently, mediocrity hangs like a cloud over the parliament, leaving the rest of the country wondering if and when anything really exciting and remarkable will happen, for us to cheer about.
We used to have serious debates about the future of the country, given Quebec's penchant for sovereignty; Harper virtually ignores Quebec, favouring instead, the voters and opinions of the "west".
We used to have debates over the constitution; that has been killed by the fatigue and the miniscule details into which those debates devolved, so no one wishes to bring up the subject.
We have had debates about the future of the environment; those have been etherized by the tsunami of corporatism that has taken over this government, one that is completely disinterested in global warming and climate change, preferring to serve as cheerleader for the tar sands oil project.
We used to have serious debates about the relationship between Canada and the aboriginal peoples, and that has been reduced to "we need a financial administrator" in Attawapiskat.
A terse one-line reductio ad absurdum is no substitute for a debate, a serious and public and open consideration of the implications, and the options available to any government on any important file.
So, for the benefit of the "media" we now have preparaed "talking points" issued by the PMO (Prime Minister's Office) to be memorized and regurgitated on television by the acolytes in the governing party, so that everyone is "kept on message"...and nothing falls amiss.
Yes, Mr. Manning, we do suffer, virtually from a faux government, given the many excuses for both serious consideration of issues and the need for real and sustainable and even supportable actions by our governments. Now, should you wish to discuss the direction and content of those actions, I would be more than pleased to debate them with you, since our agreement likely terminates on too much talk and too little action.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Clear thought, straight talk from Brzezinski on GPS, Sunday Feb. 26, 2012

From GPS on CNN, February 26, 2012
No need to go to war with Iran, Brzezinski
Zbigniew Brzezinksi: We don’t need to go to war (with Iran). And we have to make that very clear to our Israeli friends. We’re not going to go to war. They’re not going to go to war by flying over our airspace over Iraq. We’re not going to support them. If they do it, they will be on their own. The consequences will be theirs, because the price we’ll all pay, based on a massive war, which the Iranians interpret as being done with our connivance, will be disastrous for us in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in the terms of oil, but also in the Middle East more generally.

By Zbigniew Brzezinski, Foreign Affairs from CNN website, February 26, 2012
U.S. needs to Upgrade the West and Balance the East: Brezezinski
The United States' central challenge over the next several decades is to revitalize itself, while promoting a larger West and buttressing a complex balance in the East that can accommodate China's rising global status. A successful U.S. effort to enlarge the West, making it the world's most stable and democratic zone, would seek to combine power with principle. A cooperative larger West - extending from North America and Europe through Eurasia (by eventually embracing Russia and Turkey), all the way to Japan and South Korea - would enhance the appeal of the West's core principles for other cultures, thus encouraging the gradual emergence of a universal democratic political culture.
At the same time, the United States should continue to engage cooperatively in the economically dynamic but also potentially conflicted East. If the United States and China can accommodate each other on a broad range of issues, the prospects for stability in Asia will be greatly increased. That is especially likely if the United States can encourage a genuine reconciliation between China and Japan while mitigating the growing rivalry between China and India.

from GPS on CNN, February 26, 2012Brzezinski on GOP Candidates,
Fareed Zakaria: In this fall’s election, you still prefer Obama to the alternative?
Zbigniew Brzezinski: Oh, without a question, without a question. I mean, look at those Republican debates. I must say I literally feel embarrassed as an American when I see those people orate. One of them sounds like a medieval Savonarola. Another one is trying to explain why he has some of his wealth located in the Cayman Islands. And someone else would go back to 1780. And then there is someone who is using his credentials as a repudiated speaker of the Congress to be president. I mean, this is just embarrassing....

Zbigniew Brzezinski is a CSIS counselor and trustee and cochairs the CSIS Advisory Board. He is also the Robert E. Osgood Professor of American Foreign Policy at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, in Washington, D.C. He is cochair of the American Committee for Peace in the Caucasus and a member of the International Advisory Board of the Atlantic Council. He is a former chairman of the American-Ukrainian Advisory Committee. He was a member of the Policy Planning Council of the Department of State from 1966 to 1968; chairman of the Humphrey Foreign Policy Task Force in the 1968 presidential campaign; director of the Trilateral Commission from 1973 to 1976; and principal foreign policy adviser to Jimmy Carter in the 1976 presidential campaign. From 1977 to 1981, Dr. Brzezinski was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter.
(from CSIS website, February 27, 2012)

Boko Haram ("Western Education is Outlawed") kills Nigerian Christians ?

By Holly Yan and Hassan John, CNN website, February 26, 2012

Jos, Nigeria (CNN) -- Fear and anxiety gripped churchgoers in Nigeria on Sunday after four people were killed in the latest church attack.

Police said a car packed with explosives rammed into the compound of the Cocin (Church of Christ) headquarters in Jos.
Some church members emerged from the scene covered in dust.
"It's pandemonium. There are a lot of people who are concerned -- some are on their way to church" and fear more attacks, said Mark Lipdo, program coordinator for the Stefanos Foundation, which aims to help persecuted Christians in Nigeria and elsewhere.
Lipdo -- who is also a member of the church -- said the car apparently went through a security checkpoint and toward a gate, which had been left open.
The driver struck and killed one woman before his car exploded, killing two churchgoers, Lipdo said. He said the driver's body was found in pieces.
The blast was so intense it could be heard for kilometers away. About 30 cars in the compound had their glass blown out, Lipdo said.
It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the attack.
Nigeria has suffered a rash of attacks on churches and mosques in the past year.
In December, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in several northern states following a series of Christmas Day attacks on churches.
The attacks in five cities killed 35 people last Christmas, including 32 people at a Catholic church in Madalla, a national secuirty adviser said. The militant Islamist group Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for that attack.
And in November, dozens of Boko Haram assailants descended on Damaturu, capital of the northern Nigerian state of Yobe, and killed more than 100 people in a coordinated series of bombings and gun attacks.
Many of those targeted were Christians, but police stations and mosques deemed "insufficiently Islamic" were also attacked.
Boko Haram translates from the local Hausa language as "Western education is outlawed." The group has morphed into an insurgency responsible for dozens of attacks in Nigeria in the past two years.
Boko Haram's targets include police outposts and churches, as well as places associated with "Western influence."
According to the Red Cross, rumors have swirled in recent months that Muslims in the largely Christian south may also become targets of attacks.
Red Cross official Dan Enowoghomwenma in southern Edo state said last month one mosque had been burned and another vandalized during clashes in Benin City.
About 3 million people belong to the Cocin church across Nigeria, and about 3,000 worshipers attend services at the headquarters in Jos -- including several hundred who had fled Yobe because of church violence there, Lipdo said.

Friedman: U.S. becoming energy self-sufficient/ needs floor price for imported oil, gas?

By Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, February 25, 2012
An e-mail came in the other day with a subject line that I couldn’t ignore. It was from the oil economist Phil Verleger, and it read: “Should the United States join OPEC?” That I had to open.
Thomas L. Friedman
Verleger’s basic message was that the knee-jerk debate we’re again having over who is responsible for higher oil prices fundamentally misses huge changes that have taken place in America’s energy output, making us again a major oil and gas producer — and potential exporter — with an interest in reasonably high but stable oil prices.
From one direction, he says, we’re seeing the impact of the ethanol mandate put in place by President George W. Bush, which established fixed quantities of biofuels to be used in gasoline. When this is combined with improved vehicle fuel economy — in July, the auto industry agreed to achieve fleet averages of more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025 — it will inevitably drive down demand for gasoline and create more surplus crude to export. Add to that, says Verleger, “the increase in oil production from offshore fields and unconventional sources in America,” and that exportable U.S. surplus could grow even bigger.
Then, add the recent discoveries of natural gas deposits all over America, which will allow us to substitute gas for coal at power plants and become a natural gas exporter as well. Put it all together, says Verleger, and you can see why America “will want to consider joining with other energy-exporting countries, like those in OPEC, to sustain high oil prices. Such an effort would support domestic oil and gas production and give the U.S. a real competitive advantage over countries forced to pay high prices for imported energy — nations such as China, European Union members, and Japan.”
Indeed, Bloomberg News reported last week that “the U.S. is the closest it has been in almost 20 years to achieving energy self-sufficiency. ... Domestic oil output is the highest in eight years. The U.S. is producing so much natural gas that, where the government warned four years ago of a critical need to boost imports, it now may approve an export terminal.” As a result, “the U.S. has reversed a two-decade-long decline in energy independence, increasing the proportion of demand met from domestic sources over the last six years to an estimated 81 percent through the first 10 months of 2011.” This transformation could make the U.S. the world’s top energy producer by 2020, raise more tax revenue, free us from worrying about the Middle East, and, if we’re smart, build a bridge to a much cleaner energy future.
All of this is good news, but it will come true at scale only if these oil and gas resources can be extracted in an environmentally sustainable manner. This can be done right, but we need a deal between environmentalists and the oil and gas industry to lock it in — now.
Says Hal Harvey, an independent energy expert: “The oil and gas companies need to decide: Do they want to fight a bloody and painful war of attrition with local communities or take the lead in setting high environmental standards — particularly for “fracking,” the process used to extract all these new natural gas deposits — “and then live up to them.”
Higher environmental standards may cost more, but only incrementally, if at all, and they’ll make the industry and the environment safer.
In the case of natural gas, we need the highest standards for cleanup of land that is despoiled by gas extraction and to prevent leakage of gas either into aquifers or the atmosphere. Yes, “generating a kilowatt-hour’s worth of electricity with a natural gas turbine emits only about half as much CO2 as from a coal plant,” says Harvey, and that’s great. “But one molecule of leaked gas contributes as much to global warming as 25 molecules of burned gas. That means that if the system for the exploration, extraction, compression, piping and burning of natural gas leaks by even 2.5 percent, it is as bad as coal.”
Hence, Harvey’s five rules for natural gas are: Don’t allow leaky systems; use gas to phase out coal; have sound well drilling and casing standards; don’t pollute the landscape with brackish or toxic water brought up by fracking; and drill only where it is sensible.
I’d add a sixth rule for crude oil. No one likes higher oil prices. But — perversely — the high price benefits America as we rapidly become a bigger oil producer and it ensures that investments will continue to flow into energy efficient cars and trucks. If we were smart, we would establish today a floor price for any barrel of crude oil or gallon of gasoline sold or imported into America — and tax anything below it. A stable, sufficiently high floor price serves the environment, our technology investments and our energy productivity. As our producers succeed, we would become increasingly energy self-sufficient, keep a lot more dollars at home for our Treasury, stimulate innovation on renewables and drive down the global oil price that is the sole source sustaining Iran and other petro-dictators.
But all of this depends on an understanding between the oil industry and the environmentalists. If President Obama could pull that off, it would be a huge contribution to America’s security, economy and environment.

Bruce Cox (Greenpeace): Harper demonizes dissent, essential for democracy

By Bruce Cox, Globe and Mail, February 27, 2012 

Bruce Cox is executive director of Greenpeace Canada.
As leader of the opposition, Stephen Harper was clear on the vital role of dissent in a democracy: “When a government starts trying to cancel dissent or avoid dissent is frankly when it’s rapidly losing its moral authority to govern.”
In power, however, Mr. Harper’s Conservatives seem to have taken a page out of a U.S. election campaign: Smear your opponents early and often to avoid dealing with the substance of their arguments. Think of the advertising campaigns against Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, “Taliban Jack,” or more recently, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’s demand that the opposition “either stand with us, or with the child pornographers.”
What should alarm those concerned about Canada’s democracy, however, is how the Conservatives have brought this election war-room mentality into government itself. Rather than engaging with citizens or organizations who disagree with their policies, Mr. Harper’s government has sought to attack, even criminalize them.
One example is the government’s recent revision of its anti-terrorism legislation to include environmental groups as a potential threat, even though there is no evidence of any Canadian environmental group ever employing violence. And recently, this paper revealed that assessments by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have labelled Greenpeace – a group founded on the Quaker principles of non-violence and refusing to turn a blind eye to the abuses of those in power – an “extremist” organization.
The academic who uncovered this evidence made the link back to Greenpeace’s opposition to the expansion of the Alberta tar sands. Prof. Jeff Monaghan of Queen’s University noted that government rhetoric around Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and “the frequent use of words like ‘radicalism’ and ‘extremism’ to characterize opposition” is being used to legitimize taxpayer-funded surveillance of vocal political opponents, such as environmental groups. Other published reports indicate that the security services are reporting on their findings from such surveillance operations to private-sector corporations, including a presentation to “energy sector stakeholders” in November, 2011.
This attack on Greenpeace is simply one part of a broader, well-orchestrated campaign against anyone who questions the wisdom of tripling the size of the tar sands or building the new pipelines this requires.
We have seen this building over the past few years, but the campaign began to roll out in earnest in early January, when Mr. Harper expressed his concern about “foreign money” influencing Canadian energy policy. He was not referring to the foreign money represented by multinational oil companies or state-owned Chinese firms, but rather to U.S. charitable foundations supporting Canadian environmental groups’ efforts to protect globally significant ecosystems.
Three days later, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver accused environmental groups of being foreign-funded puppets looking to “hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.” Their crime was to participate, according to the rules established by federal law, in the environmental assessment of a new pipeline that would stretch from the Edmonton area across the Rockies and through the Great Bear Rainforest, bringing more than 200 oil tankers a year along B.C.’s pristine coast.
Next, there were the behind-the-scenes threats to change the legislation governing charities. This has already had a chilling effect, as groups have been weighing the loss of their charitable status as retaliation for speaking out against the tar sands or the Enbridge pipeline. Then, a Conservative MP publicly announced his intent to bring in a private member’s bill that would prevent environmental groups from receiving foreign financial support, even as the Prime Minister went to China to try to encourage foreign investment in the tar sands.
Digging deeper, Greenpeace obtained internal government documents under the Access to Information Act that detailed how Ottawa actively works with oil companies to attack environmental laws in Europe and the United States, laws that would force tar-sands companies to clean up their act. Rather than introducing measures to reduce pollution, the federal government has chosen to join – at the invitation of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers – a public-relations campaign to “turn up the volume” in support of the tar sands at home and abroad.
The federal government’s own “Pan-European Oil Sands Advocacy Strategy” document divides Canadians into two camps. “Allies” include the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, business groups and the National Energy Board. Environmental and aboriginal groups are identified as “adversaries.”
What’s good for oil companies isn’t always what is good for the country. Canadians need to send a clear message to Mr. Harper’s government: Building and governing a nation differs from running an election campaign. It requires, at minimum, an acknowledgment that those who disagree with you are still part of the community.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Tutorial 101 on International Criminal Court...still a "work-in-progress"

By Doug Saunders, Globe and Mail, February25, 2012
Our rage and horror (at the Syrian slaughter of innocents) produce two responses. On one hand, we wish Mr. Assad would disappear: Fled, unseated, defeated or killed, whatever it takes to make the killing stop. This is the political approach. On the other, we want to see him pay for his crimes. This is the legal approach. If only there were a white-suited sheriff who could read him his rights and bring him to trial.

Making the Syrian dictator disappear will not be easy, as we saw at Friday’s failed summit in Tunis. But, we remind ourselves, there is a man in a white suit.
His name is Luis Moreno Ocampo, the Argentinean jurist who is the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. Mr. Ocampo, in almost a decade running the world’s first permanent international court, has made himself known for his sudden arrival by helicopter, surrounded by TV cameras, in conflict zones. And for his big, ambitious claims: that Saif Gadhafi, son of the late Libyan dictator, “will face justice, that’s his destiny,” months after announcing incorrectly that Mr. Gadhafi had been captured, or that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir would soon be brought to justice for the Darfur slaughter.
This should be the ICC’s moment. It now has its first head of state, Laurent Gbagbo of the Ivory Coast, behind bars in The Hague; his trial will start later this year. The case involving the court’s first arrest, made in 2006 against Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, is likely to reach a verdict soon.
But it is impossible to see the ICC as a serious solution, and even though there have been some calls to get it involved in Syria, few believe it would help, and it might make things worse. The court is no longer seen as a major international force, in good part because of Mr. Ocampo.
One problem is that Mr. Ocampo’s desire to be seen threatening leaders with trials runs the risk of keeping those leaders in power longer. “If figures in the Syrian leadership were to be under investigation by the ICC, they might be less willing to cede power,” writes American legal scholar John Quigley. “The Syrian opposition might well oppose ICC action, as an ICC investigation might keep them from getting the voluntary departure of the top leadership.” This was certainly the case with Robert Mugabe and his generals, and is suspected elsewhere.
But the larger problem is that Mr. Ocampo has made his court’s legal process part of the political process. If countries aren’t signatories to the ICC’s treaty (and most, including Syria, aren’t), then the only route to justice is for the United Nations Security Council to refer them to the court. That’s what happened last year in Libya.
It quickly became apparent, however, that the superpowers on the Security Council (who aren’t ICC signatories themselves) were using the court’s investigation to marginalize Moammar Gadhafi and clear the way for a military solution; there was no real interest in bringing him to The Hague. “There is a largely untold story about how the ICC has been getting closer and closer to the power politics of the UN Security Council by accepting its referrals, which are politically tailored,” says Mark Kersten, a researcher into international-law politics at the London School of Economics.
That’s a serious problem, because the court is widely viewed in the developing world as an instrument of Western intervention in Africa. Indeed, all 22 cases currently before the court have involved African states, despite atrocities elsewhere. Mr. Ocampo’s image as a white-suited outsider, tied to the superpowers, has poisoned the idea of international justice and made it seem like a crusade. Mr. Kersten, researching the court’s work in northern Uganda, found that “many thought the ICC was a man.” Unfortunately, they weren’t all that wrong.
Crimes against humanity are increasingly rare. That is because of better politics and economics, not because international justice serves as a deterrent. It has an important role in bringing lethal disputes to a close and preventing vengeance, but is not an instrument of rescue or prevention.
Later this year Mr. Ocampo will be replaced by Fatou Bensouda, a Gambian lawyer known for her firm but professional approach. We can hope that she will put an end to the ICC’s age of heroism.
First, as any law student barely entering his or her first semester in law school must know, politics and the law are and must remain separate, never to be married, never to sleep together, and certainly never to enter into a business relationship. However, we all know that lawyers gravitate to politics, whether as candidates or as back-room volunteers. Politics is where the connections are made that undergird legal careers, and that also too often sustain the appearance of croneyism, between the "establishment" and the political operatives, including sometimes the government officials.
If the International Criminal Court is to have a future, and clearly it must, then people like the "man in the white suit" will have to give way to a much more professional, and that includes ethical, approach to prosecution. And that means separating the pursuit of truth (the core of any modicum of justice) from the promotion of political agendas. Will Fatou Bensouda, the Gambian lawyer who is to replace Mr, Ocampo, put the court on the road to such a separation?
Second, the members of the Security Council are not signatories to the ICC. One of the more obvious reasons might just be that people like Mr. Ocampo have established a culture of too much politics inside the ICC. Another might be that, to sign, would be for the major power to have to surrender a portion of their national power and their national interests to a wider, broader and more international and more collaborative standard, and not be able to keep their dirty laundry in their national "closet". The world would and should quickly see, and thereby take action, if and when citizens of any country are being persecuted by their government, as is the current case in Syria. And the world must have institutions, like the ICC, to which it can bring offenders of basic human rights, in order that others will come to resist such oppression, given that there might possibly be consequences.
However, with such potential signatories as the United States continuing to resist becoming a signator, how can we expect other countries like Russia, China, India to come on board? The short answer is, "We can't!"
Third, the ICC is quite clearly still work in progress.
What is the Rome Statute?
On 17 July 1998, a conference of 160 States established the first treaty-based permanent international criminal court. The treaty adopted during that conference is known as the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Among other things, it sets out the crimes falling within the jurisdiction of the ICC, the rules of procedure and the mechanisms for States to cooperate with the ICC. The countries which have accepted these rules are known as States Parties and are represented in the Assembly of States Parties.
The Assembly of States Parties, which meets at least once a year, sets the general policies for the administration of the Court and reviews its activities. During those meetings, the States Parties review the activities of the working groups established by the States and any other issues relevant to the ICC, discuss new projects and adopt the ICC’s annual budget.
As of 1 Februray 2012, 120 countries are States Parties to the Rome Statute. Of these, 33 are from Africa, 18 from Asia-Pacific, 18 from Eastern Europe, 26 from Latin America and the Caribbean and 25 from Western European and North America. (From the ICC website.)
And here are some more FAQ's, and answers from the ICC website)
How is the Court funded?
The Court is funded by contributions from the States Parties and by voluntary contributions from governments, international organisations, individuals, corporations and other entities.
How does the ICC differ from other courts?
The ICC is a permanent autonomous court, whereas the ad hoc tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, as well as other similar courts established within the framework of the United Nations to deal with specific situations only have a limited mandate and jurisdiction. The ICC, which tries individuals, is also different from the International Court of Justice, which is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations for the settlement of disputes between States. The ad hoc tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice also have their seats in The Hague.
Is the ICC an office or agency of the United Nations?
No. The ICC is an independent body whose mission is to try individuals for crimes within its jurisdiction without the need for a special mandate from the United Nations. On 4 October 2004, the ICC and the United Nations signed an agreement governing their institutional relationship.
Which crimes fall within the jurisdiction of the ICC?

The mandate of the Court is to try individuals rather than States, and to hold such persons accountable for the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole, namely the crime of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression, when the conditions for the exercise of the Court’s jurisdiction over the latter are fulfilled.
What is genocide?
According to the Rome Statute, “genocide” means any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group:
•killing members of the group;
•causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
•deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
•imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
•forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
What are crimes against humanity?
“Crimes against humanity” include any of the following acts committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack:
•deportation or forcible transfer of population;
•rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity;
•persecution against an identifiable group on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious or gender grounds;
•enforced disappearance of persons;
•the crime of apartheid;
•other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering or serious bodily or mental injury.
What are war crimes?
“War crimes” include grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and other serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in international armed conflict and in conflicts "not of an international character" listed in the Rome Statute, when they are committed as part of a plan or policy or on a large scale. These prohibited acts include:
•mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
•taking of hostages;
•intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population;
•intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes, historical monuments or hospitals;
•rape, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy or any other form of sexual violence;
•conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 years into armed forces or groups or using them to participate actively in hostilities.
What is a crime of aggression?
As adopted by the Assembly of States Parties during the Review Conference of the Rome Statute, held in Kampala (Uganda) between 31 June and 11 May 2010, a “crime of aggression” means the planning, preparation, initiation or execution of an act of using armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State.
The act of aggression includes, among other things, invasion, military occupation, and annexation by the use of force, blockade of the ports or coasts, if it is considered being, by its character, gravity and scale, a manifest violation of the Charter of the United Nations.
The perpetrator of the act of aggression is a person who is in a position effectively to exercise control over or to direct the political or military action of a State.
When will the Court have jurisdiction over the crime of aggression?
The Court may exercise jurisdiction over the crime of aggression, subject to a decision to be taken after 1 January 2017 by a two-thirds majority of States Parties and subject to the ratification of the amendment concerning this crime by at least 30 States Parties.
Can the ICC deal with terrorist acts within its existing jurisdiction?
The ICC has jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The ICC may be able to prosecute terrorist acts only if they fall within these categories.
 Does the ICC have the power to arrest suspects?
The Court does not have its own police force. Accordingly, it relies on State cooperation, which is essential to the arrest and surrender of suspects.
According to the Rome Statute, States Parties shall cooperate fully with the Court in its investigation and prosecution of crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court.
Who has to execute the warrants of arrest?
The responsibility to enforce warrants of arrest in all cases remains with States. In establishing the ICC, the States set up a system based on two pillars. The Court itself is the judicial pillar. The operational pillar belongs to States, including the enforcement of Court’s orders.
States Parties to the Rome Statute have a legal obligation to cooperate fully with the ICC. When a State Party fails to comply with a request to cooperate, the Court may make a finding to that effect and refer the matter for further action to the Assembly of States Parties.
When the Court's jurisdiction is triggered by the Security Council, the duty to cooperate extends to all UN Member States, regardless of whether or not they are a Party to the Statute. The crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court are the gravest crimes known to humanity and as provided for by article 29 of the Statute they shall not be subject to any statute of limitations. Warrants of arrest are lifetime orders and therefore individuals still at large will sooner or later face the Court.
This brief excerpt of information from the ICC website also discloses that the ICC is indeed a "work-in-progress" and certainly has not come to the full fruition of its mandate on "what" is its work, but even more importantly, both the "how" and the "who" are still evolving.
It would seem that we are at a stage in our international legal development that could be compared with the  early stages of sterilization of food products. There are some limited signs of progress, but clearly the message has not reached the most remote corners of the planet, that this is a "good" step for the people in every country, given the many biases against anything "from away" as the people of Newfoundland and Labrador would put it.
Regional, parochial and tribal cultures, including the most obvious fears of "invasion" even in the non-military terms of a new legal structure with new legal requirements, new processes, new prosecutors and new expectations will readily put brakes and roadblocks on this project. And those brakes and roadblocks are not, and will not be restricted to the underdeveloped countries. And, if the court is already seen by some as an instrument of the "west" then its future is already clouded with uncertainty.
So we seem to have this "infant in the incubator" of the world's judicial community, struggling for legitimacy, for oxygen, for dollars and new signatories, and for new and sustainable decisions that will, over time, bring some of the missing ingredients to its reputation.
Balancing national interests with international interests, always an extremely complex and risky venture, is even more fraught with peril, in the legal arena. However, the attempt to make progress in these still unchartered waters merits the attention and support of all people of every race, nationality, religion and culture.
We need to watch, and to support those efforts to enhance the ICC by our various national leaders, since international co-operation will only happen piece by piece, and certainly not by some magical tsunami of political, legal, economic and cultural magnitude.

Dark green: states parties to the ICC
Light green: states that have ratified or acceded but for which the Statute is not yet in force
Orange: signatories to the Rome Statute which are not states parties
(From Wikipedia)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

UPDATE: G20 says "No" to IMF request for $500 billion

UPDATE By Kevin Carmichael, February 26, 2012
The onus on solving the European debt crisis has shifted almost entirely to Germany after the Group of 20 rejected contributing to a bailout until Europe’s wealthier countries put more money on the table.By Kevin Carmichael, Globe and Mail, February 25, 2012

“Europe has substantial resources and has sufficient resources to fund the necessary firewall,” Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said at a press conference at the end of a weekend meeting in Mexico City. “We expect the euro zone countries to step up to the plate.”

Richard Waugh, chief executive of Bank of Nova Scotia and a prominent figure in global financial circles, is backing Canada’s hard line against an international rescue of Europe, highlighting the contentiousness of a debate that will dominate a Group of 20 meeting this weekend.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has been a vocal opponent of a boost for the IMF, which the Washington-based fund says it needs to ensure it has access to enough cash to guard against a worst-case scenario of a series of sovereign defaults triggered by the European debt crisis.

Canada and the United States oppose an increase in IMF resources because they say wealthy members of the euro zone such as Germany and the Netherlands have the means to build a financial backstop for Europe on their own.
The opposition of Canada, the U.S. and others is impeding a resolution of the European debt crisis, which is feeding uncertainty about the prospects for global economic growth and roiling financial markets. Despite that, Mr. Waugh, who runs the Canadian bank that does business in more countries than any other, said he saw no need for the IMF and the non-G20 countries to deepen their financial exposure to Europe.
“European countries have enough to settle the contagion issues,” Mr. Waugh said in an interview Friday in Mexico City, where he is attending a conference hosted by the International Institute of International Finance. “There is a lot of money in Germany; there is a lot of money in other northern European countries. I don’t think it’s an IMF issue. It’s a euro zone issue.”
While certainly not an economist, nor a financial expert, nor someone who is really an expert in financial matters, I strongly disagree with the position of both the Finance Minister and the CEO of the Bank of Nova Scotia, in calling this an "euro-crisis".
While that may be the case today, there is a serious possibility that the crisis could grow, encircling more economies than circumscribed by the European Union. And, in strengthening the IMF, the G20 countries would be taking a substantial step toward achieving an international, collaborative and sustainable agency to ward off any serious default, for the moment by an EU member, and in the longer term, the spill-over into other countries like Canada, U.S. and others.
The attitude of both the Finance Minister and the bank CEO seems a trifle parochial, perhaps needing a little tweeking to look beyond their job descriptions, which, no doubt, require them both to put their first priority on their respective "clientele" the first case the Canadian taxpayers and in the second, the investors of the Bank of Nova Scotia.
However, these are different times from normal. They are so different, in fact, that the world community, including the financial community, has to begin to see the world differently.
We see the request from the IMF through the lens of a longer term perspective that sees the world needing stronger, and more muscular and more financially and politically stable institutions, including the IMF, quite possibly an enhanced World Court, certainly enhanced international judicial chambers in which arguments, for example, pitting the scientific community's interest in disclosing the research behind a lab-generated virulent virus in the Netherlands using U.S. money, and the international security establishment that seeks to keep that information out of the hands of terrorists.
Since the current front-page crisis is primarily financial, and since the IMF is at the nexus of its potential solution and also its potential for spreading, the developed world, including both Canada and the U.S. must examine their options carefully, and consider seriously the request to amp-up the IMF funds, as an insurance policy, if for no other reason. And that would include the Bank of Nova Scotia, apparently the Canadian bank that does the most business of all Canadian banks in other countries.
Whether or not there is "enough money" in Germany and in the northern European countries is really not the question. Containment may simply not be possible, given all the factors in play, by those EU members most exposed to the potential crisis.
And the prevention of defaults that could impact many other countries, by considering the IMF request could and would go a long way to enhancing the perspective of all political and financial leaders in all countries.
Just as on global warming and climate change, so in the current financial crisis, "we are really all in this together"....and the sooner we come to that awareness, in real terms including in dollar terms, the sooner we will reach international protocols to which all countries must subscribe, for their own interests and the interests of their peoples.

Friday, February 24, 2012

U.S. burning of Koran neither premeditated nor malicious, but very costly

Editorial, New York Times, February 24, 2012
It is unfathomable how American military personnel in Afghanistan could decide to burn copies of the Koran. Muslims consider destruction of the holy book blasphemous. A decade after the United States intervened in Afghanistan, all American forces should know that.

Obama Sends Apology as Afghan Koran Protests Rage (February 24, 2012) Yet this week, Americans started to incinerate a truckload of Islamic religious items, including copies of the Koran, taken from detainees at Bagram Air Base. The incident triggered three days of protests and on Thursday at least nine people were killed, including two American soldiers. Some members of the Parliament, eager to capitalize on the event, have even urged Afghans to take up arms against the American military.
The top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, immediately apologized. On Thursday, President Obama sent a letter to President Hamid Karzai. According to Mr. Karzai’s office, it said “the error was inadvertent,” and promised to take “the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, to include holding accountable those responsible.” Mr. Karzai and the Americans began separate investigations. They should be completed quickly and the results made public.
General Allen ordered coalition soldiers in Afghanistan to undergo training in “the proper handling of religious materials.” This is not just a lesson in respect for other religions, as important as that is. The disregard shown the Koran has given extremists another excuse to fan anti-Americanism, making the incredibly difficult effort to stabilize Afghanistan even harder.
The behavior of the American soldiers was shockingly insensitive. And while Afghans’ anger is understandable, there can be no justification for violent rampages. President Karzai is trying to quiet the outrage and reportedly told Parliament he accepted the Americans’ apology. He needs to keep pressing for calm.
Clearly, this incident in which the Koran and other religious books were burned, is a torch that has ignited a cauldron of high-test gasoline that has been lying there ready to explode if and when the torch found it.
Demonstrably a tragic development, the burning itself was neither deliberate nor malicious; however, to the Taliban, it is the kind of torch that they know will ignite all the anti-occupiers in every corner of the land.
And the Taliban are fully intent on capitalizing on that discontent.
Neither the Afghan president, (virtually a figurehead) nor the American president, with his sincere and timely apology, are likely to quiet these flames, either the ones that shoot American soldiers, or the ones that burn within the hearts and minds of the Afghanis, so angry are they that another outside power would presume to wage war where others (Russians, and even Alexander the Great) have been driven out of their country.
And all the "sensitivity training" that can be purchased and delivered to the American soldiers will neither put out this frenzy nor will it pardon the Americans who perpetrated it.
Getting out of Afghanistan, by the NATO forces, including the U.S. military, cannot come soon enough; it is a war the U.S. should not have joined, only slightly less heinous than the war the U.S. inflicted on the people of Iraq, just to topple Saddam Hussein.
If you want to see more of the American foreign screw-ups, watch the U.S. people vote for, and possibly elect Rick Santorum to the White House. Should that happen, (God forbid!) we will be subjected to at least another decade of militarism from the U.S. answers from world leaders...and the list grows

By Doug Saunders, Globe and Mail, February 23, 2012
Many of the world’s most powerful people spent a day gathered in London to talk about the world’s most tragic and unsuccessful country, and failed, once again, to find any solutions.

But this very lack of grand vision might be the most telling thing to have come out of the London Conference on Somalia. Despite attracting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and top ministers from 50 countries, there was no talk of “saving” Somalia – and an aggravating lack of will to let it save itself.
After 22 years of collapse, civil war, warlord armies, piracy, international terrorism and mass starvation emerging from Somalia and a string of often disastrous military and political interventions, big schemes of nation-building, humanitarian intervention and rapid regime change have lost their appeal.
Even Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, who had been an eager supporter of big-project solutions to failed states such as Libya and Afghanistan, seemed to exude a sense of anomie when discussing Somalia. “I’m just not convinced that the security situation on the ground would allow us to send Canadian personnel into Mogadishu at this time,” he said shortly after leaving a meeting with fellow ministers. “We’ve done a lot during this past year for Somalia, and it will continue to be high on our radar.”
Indeed, the only substantial outcome of the conference occurred a day before it began, when the United Nations Security Council voted to add almost 6,000 more African Union soldiers to the European-funded combat force that is fighting to oust the powerful al-Shabaab militia, which is now formally allied to al-Qaeda.
Beyond that, there was little. Even the future of the Western-backed transitional national government, whose term is due to expire in August and whose rule has been plagued with corruption and impotence, was left largely unsettled. Leaders agreed that they do not want it to remain in power, but offered no real alternative.
This frustrated many Somali political and humanitarian leaders, who would have preferred to have democratic development and nation-building at the top of the agenda. “Today politicians could have been talking about rebuilding Somalia; instead they talked about bombing it,” Rahma Ahmed of the Somali Relief Development Forum said on Thursday night.
In public, Western officials said humanitarian solutions remain at the forefront, and that nation-building is still being pursued. They pointed to the inclusion at the conference for the first time of the leaders of Somaliland, the semi-independent breakaway state in northern Somalia whose comparative peace and prosperity are seen by some as a model for the larger nation.
But privately, there seemed to be an agreement that crushing al-Shabaab must come first. Ms. Clinton’s key message, beyond pledging some further humanitarian aid, was that “we must all keep al-Shabaab on the run,” and she noted that African Union forces had driven them out of a key southern stronghold on Wednesday.
“The only goal in our sights now is to beat back al-Shabaab until we have enough land liberated from their control that we can begin to talk about political solutions,” the policy adviser to a European foreign minister said during the summit. “This may frustrate those who want democracy to start now, but we need to get it done first.”
There were no representatives of al-Shabaab at the conference, even though they control the largest swath of territory in Somalia and would likely have to be part of any future peace. Indeed, al-Shabaab responded to the conference on Thursday by posting a message on their website announcing an even closer alliance with the central leadership of al-Qaeda.
This is the central dilemma of Somalia at the moment: Its complete lack of a state infrastructure has allowed criminal international terrorist forces to move into its power vacuum. Those forces pose a threat to the wider world: Al-Qaeda has launched attacks across Africa from Somalia, and has attracted fighters from Britain, the United States and likely Canada, and piracy threatens international shipping.
As a result Western countries are focused on eliminating the terrorist threat. But many observers say that this singular focus on security is creating even greater instability. Aid agencies capable of helping a democracy-building effort are unable to send staff to Mogadishu. As a result, the instability mounts, and this makes the terrorist threat more acute.
Somalia, a failed state, fails to bring about a co-ordinated, collaborative and focus response from world leaders, leaving what is effectively an open, cancerous wound, on the world's stage, to continue pouring both its terrorism and its starvation and death and disease and its piracy into the world community.
Once again, we have to ask, "Is this a lack of funds, political will, imagination, fatique, urgency or some complicated combination of many factors including those mentioned?"
If we are to leave failed states to Al-Shabab and terrorist groups like that, the world is going to face more virulent violence, erupting from both the imagination of the terrorists and the plunder in both arms and confidence of the terrorists.
Syria's unresolved civil war, with neither an international agreement to bring about a ceasefire, nor an international effort to provide humanitarian assistance, leaves that country to Assad, and his allies Hezbollah and Iran.
The terrorists know, and have evidence to support their contention, that western nations will eventually grow weary with continual fighting without any sign of success, or even an end to the threat. And, in such a vaccuum, they will rise again and wreak their havoc. So, in a sense, they will demonstrate to their followers that they are winning, in the long term war. Just yesterday in Iraq, some fifteen co-ordinated explosions went off in different locations, including police academies and elementary schools, most by suicide bombers, and while Al Qaeda has not formally claimed responsibility, there is general agreement that the attacks were the result of groups working under the broad and diffuse umbrella of Al Qaeda.
Little wonder the question of the stability of Iraq, without yet having a full and functioning government, years after the last election, remains both unanswered and unlikely to be answered soon.
Afghanistan's Taliban has begun shooting American soldiers directly, and called for all Afghans to kill Americans in the wake of the thoughtless and senseless burning of the Quran and other holy books by U.S. personnel, and even a sincere apology from President Obama seems to have had little impact in quelling the anger and violence.
With so many pots boiling over on so many red-hot stove elements, diplomats must be left wondering if their jobs have not become impossible. Even long-time allies are struggling with the confluence of huge factors like the economy, the environment, lab-generated viruses that mutate rapidly, international security, nuclear proliferation especially in Iran, technology and job and industrial seismic shifts, and even bigger shifts in power to the "east" with the accompanying military build-up, especially in China and, it would seem that failed states, harbouring terrorists have fallen off the radar of what is possible, even with the best of intentions.
Failed states like  Somalia and their people cannot and must not be left to the humanitarian agencies, lest the resources of those agencies become so depleted that they are unable to make a dent in the size and scope of the problem. However, finding the effective balance of political will and muscle and the appropriate strategy and tactics to deploy such muscle will, apparently, remain as open  and unresolved questions for the next generations of political leaders.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

H5N1 virus (avian flu) generated in lab, now WHO vs security on disclosure

By Anna Mehler Paperny, Globe and Mail, February 22, 2012
When two groups of scientists on either side of the Atlantic engineered a highly contagious strain of avian flu, their findings were variously hailed as brilliant, groundbreaking – and reckless.

Late last year, researchers in the United States and the Netherlands announced they'd manipulated the H5N1 virus so it could be spread between mammals and through the air. It’s a global first for a virulent virus. And if the dangerous, transmissible mutation were unleashed – by accident or through malice – it could have pandemic consequences.
At a special meeting in Geneva last week, the World Health Organization recommended that the sensitive research be published, igniting a tussle within the ranks of global leaders on science, health and security: At what point does potentially life-saving data become reckless bait for would-be bioterrorists?

The recommendation to publish flies in the face of pleas for self-censorship from a U.S. government watchdog, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity. The board asked researchers to hold back on releasing crucial “how-to” portions of their work for fear the details would fall into the wrong hands and spark germ warfare on a global scale. Anyone who needs the information for legitimate research, the board reasoned, could make a special request for it.
Not good enough, the WHO committee decided. The new knowledge, every last bit of it, should be freely available. From a public-health perspective, the committee wrote in a statement, full disclosure is the best option.
That conclusion is sending shock waves through the global scientific, epidemiological and counter-terror communities.And it has particular resonance in Canada.

Save the world from pandemic
The scariest thing about infectious-disease research is that the most dangerous disease out there is the one you don’t know about, because it doesn’t exist yet.
Scientists developing new vaccines can barely keep pace with the rate at which virulent viruses morph into something just different enough to evade the latest cutting-edge treatment.
So it’s no surprise that microbiologists and immunology researchers want to get ahead of the game by trying to guess which way a virus will mutate next – and how it will behave once it shape-shifts.
From this perspective, details of the powerful avian flu created in labs at the University of Wisconsin and the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam are of maximum importance to people in the business of stalking viruses.
Details of a microscopic viral mutation can mean the difference between recognizing a lethal breed of disease and missing its significance altogether, says Gary Kobinger, a University of Manitoba microbiologist and head of vector design and immunotherapy at the National Microbiology Laboratory of the Public Health Agency of Canada.
If scientists on the lookout for new flu mutations find one whose fingerprint matches this one, they’ll respond very differently than they would without that knowledge, Dr. Kobinger says.
The Winnipeg site is home to Canada’s highest-security bio-safety laboratory, where Dr. Kobinger and his colleagues are researching new vaccines and testing virulent diseases. Knowing what human-transmissible H5N1 looks like would make a huge difference for those watching out for new natural mutations of the virus.
“It’s a very important public-health impact,” says Dr. Kobinger. But “we'd need to have the details. If we don't have the mutation, we're back to square one.”
Canada has a lot on the line in this field. Ottawa is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on experiments researching biological and chemical weaponry.
The military’s research and development arm, Defence Research and Development Canada, has its own biological defence program with an annual budget exceeding $8-million. Separate research into chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive technology has a multi-year budget of $175-million through the end of this year. Between 2002 and 2011 it undertook 152 research projects with a combined budget of $241-million.
These experiments range from developing new vaccines for the world’s most dangerous diseases to coming up with new ways to detect biological weapons and clean contaminated sites.

Meanwhile, the U.S. scientist behind the mutated flu virus has stepped into the fray to defend his work.
“Some people have argued that the risks of such studies – misuse and accidental release, for example – outweigh the benefits. I counter that H5N1 viruses circulating in nature already pose a threat,” University of Wisconsin researcher Yoshihiro Kawaoka wrote in an online commentary at “It would be irresponsible not to study the underlying mechanisms.”
(Dr. Kawaoka himself has been unavailable for interviews.)
Philip Campbell, the editor-in-chief of Nature, welcomed the WHO’s recommendation. “Discussions at the WHO meeting made it clear how ineffective redaction and restricted distribution would be for the Nature paper,” he said in a statement. “It also underlined how beneficial publication of the full paper could be. So that is how we intend to proceed.”
An editorial published Wednesday evening on Nature's website had a similar rationale: Unless there are additional, as-yet undisclosed biosecurity or biosafety risks, it reads, "it is Nature's view that the papers should ultimately be published in full."
It can be tough to argue in favour of secrecy in a world where disclosure is the norm and information is increasingly accessible. But as Peter Singer, director of the Sandra Rotman Centre at Toronto’s University Health Network, observes, “global health and bio-security go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other – we need a balance.
Annihilation of the human species

The biosecurity community is flummoxed that anyone would dismiss expert pleas for secrecy surrounding a human-engineered virus that could be the most dangerous breed of flu on earth.
The spectre of a global pandemic spawned by germ warfare is less the stuff of science fiction and more a reality taken seriously by policy-makers, militaries and security experts worldwide.
For most people the quickest mental reference is the anthrax scare of 2001. But the potential for havoc in 2012 is much greater – and the barrier to accomplishing it much lower.
“Capabilities have been evolving remarkably quickly. … And with that comes the capability of either deliberately or unintentionally creating, in this case, a living product that’s of serious concern,” says David Relman, a Stanford University microbiology expert and a voting member of the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, which recommended holding back key details of the experiments.
It’s called “dual-use” research –knowledge that has the potential to save lives, or end them.
A 2006 paper on globalization and biosecurity from the National Academies Press noted how quickly technology is changing the implications of previously innocuous research.
“As with all scientific revolutions,” the paper reads, “there is a potential dark side to the advancing power and global spread of these and other technologies. … Most experts believe it naive to think that the extraordinary growth in the life sciences and its associated technologies might not similarly be exploited for destructive purposes.”
As far as Dr. Relman is concerned, research as dangerous as these particular H5N1 flu experiments should not have been going on in the first place.
“You need to show how the work will lead to major, major benefits right away,” he said. “If they cannot show an immediate, tangible, real, scientifically supportable benefit, they shouldn’t have done it.”
Those who argue against even attempting such research note that the safest laboratories are far from foolproof. According to a 2009 report from the U.S. government accountability office, some of the country’s most secure labs reported 400 accidents in the preceding decade, caused by both human error and system failure.
(This particular experiment was done in a “bio-safety level 3” lab – the second-highest level of security that exists. The Public Health Agency of Canada stipulated this month that any Canadians wishing to tinker with a human-transmissible bird flu virus must keep it in a bio-safety level 4 lab. Now other countries are considering following suit.)

Lawrence Librach, director of the University of Toronto’s Centre for Bioethics, goes a step further: The scientists in question, well-intentioned as they might have been, abrogated their responsibilities, he contends.
“Although I respect freedom to speak and academic freedom, this is too risky and the scientists have to act responsibly. I do not believe they are acting responsibly.”
Others argue the research is valuable and should be done – but that its findings, and especially detailed instructions on how to replicate it, be kept under wraps.
“We don’t need every Tom, Dick and Harriet to know which mutations will cause an awful pandemic,” Dr. Singer said. “We do need the people developing flu vaccines and flu surveillance to know that.” Hence the proposal for selective release upon request.
Dr. Relman says he has “mixed feelings” about the WHO’s decision to ignore his board’s advice. But more crucially, he thinks they overstepped their turf.
“I don't think they really were in a position to offer that kind of recommendation,” he said. “I would hope that people who have larger decisions to make would turn to a broader representation of the various interested and relevant parties.”
What comes next

The precise fate of the pair of studies into the H5N1 virus is still uncertain.
While Nature magazine has made clear it agrees with, and hopes to follow, the WHO’s recommendation, there is as yet no timeline on publication. Future discussions are in the offing, but timing and scope are still vague.
In the meantime, international consternation has thrust the issue into the limelight. And that’s arguably a good thing.
“The whole notion of dual-use research … has been promoted in a very useful way: Many more people are aware that there is such an issue,” Dr. Relman said. “On the negative side, the tenor of the discussion has sometimes become very polarized and accusatory. And I think that’s unfortunate.”
At the very least, the kerfuffle should force scientists, security experts and policy-makers to come up with a better mechanism to figure out what happens next time.
“If this is leading to an environment where there’s oversight from different backgrounds … I think that’s very positive,” Dr. Kobinger said, adding that he’s optimistic this won’t cast a chill on bolder experimentation.
“At the end of the day we all want better treatment. We all want better drugs. There’s a lot of devastating chronic diseases we don’t have a solution for. The only way to tackle this problem would be research.”
Canada’s lab-safety edict earlier this month is just one example of the fire that has been lit under jurisdictions that simply hadn’t thought of dealing with a situation like this. And Dr. Singer is hopeful Canada will have a significant role to play on the global stage. “Canada can contribute a lot to resolving this in a balanced way,” he said.
Dr. Relman warns that this scenario is guaranteed to occur again.
“Examples like this will absolutely arise again. Possibly with increasing frequency.”
Here is a rivetting case in which the parameters of the research biologists, and the WHO in favour of disclosure and the security establishment's position of repressing the data need a full airing, in an arena where decisions made, and arguments proferred can be made available to the world community. We are all interested in the implications of this "dual-research science" because our lives are at stake, no matter which side of this debate is held to be stronger, in the long run.
So far, we do not have any body, designated by the world community, outside national boundaries, and with a body of laws and a stable of jurists, before whom these arguments can be put and from whom we can expect reasoned and balanced decisions, without either failure to hear all relevant arguments from all academic disciplines, or fear of being manipulated by one side or the other.
And with the pace of both terrorism and counter-terrorism, and the pace of the mututions of virulent bacteria, the world's clock is ticking, relatively quickly. So creating mechanisms for the appropriate airing of these conflicting interests which clearly cross national borders, time zones and eonomic conditions would seem, at least to this observer, an urgent item on the world's agenda.
Anyone heard a political leader talking about such mechanisms lately? The silence deafens.

Teacher evaluation....most important ingredient in school improvement

By Bill Gates, New York Times, February 22, 2012
LAST week, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that teachers’ individual performance assessments could be made public. I have no opinion on the ruling as a matter of law, but as a harbinger of education policy in the United States, it is a big mistake.

I am a strong proponent of measuring teachers’ effectiveness, and my foundation works with many schools to help make sure that such evaluations improve the overall quality of teaching. But publicly ranking teachers by name will not help them get better at their jobs or improve student learning. On the contrary, it will make it a lot harder to implement teacher evaluation systems that work.
In most public schools today, teachers are simply rated “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory,” and evaluations consist of having the principal observe a class for a few minutes a couple of times each year. Because we are just beginning to understand what makes a teacher effective, the vast majority of teachers are rated “satisfactory.” Few get specific feedback or training to help them improve.
Many districts and states are trying to move toward better personnel systems for evaluation and improvement. Unfortunately, some education advocates in New York, Los Angeles and other cities are claiming that a good personnel system can be based on ranking teachers according to their “value-added rating” — a measurement of their impact on students’ test scores — and publicizing the names and rankings online and in the media. But shaming poorly performing teachers doesn’t fix the problem because it doesn’t give them specific feedback.
Value-added ratings are one important piece of a complete personnel system. But student test scores alone aren’t a sensitive enough measure to gauge effective teaching, nor are they diagnostic enough to identify areas of improvement. Teaching is multifaceted, complex work. A reliable evaluation system must incorporate other measures of effectiveness, like students’ feedback about their teachers and classroom observations by highly trained peer evaluators and principals.
Putting sophisticated personnel systems in place is going to take a serious commitment. Those who believe we can do it on the cheap — by doing things like making individual teachers’ performance reports public — are underestimating the level of resources needed to spur real improvement.
We could not agree more with Mr. Gates. Shame has never been an effective teaching instrument, with students and certainly not with teachers.
This is a complicated business, evaluating teachers. And those who do it, have one of the most serious and pressing responsibilities in North American society.
First, it is not, and must not become a political act. And teachers' federations (that's what we call them in Canada) have to open the process, participate in the process, provide the best research and the best possible evaluators, along with the board supervisors, the parents' feedback and the students feedback including improvement in that regard.
  1. Students who did not "like" the subject at the beginning of the term, and grew to like it "a lot" have much to thank the teacher for, as do the parents of that student. Students, who did not read, for example, at the beginning of term, and are now reading, can point to the influence of that teacher.
  2. Students who had no idea of their potential, and their life work, at the beginning of term, and have begun to draw pictures of that goal by the end of term, have some teacher to thank.
  3. Students who were failing and doing little or no homework at the beginning of term and are now passing and spending a regular time at homework, have some teacher to thank for the change.
  4. Students who were hanging around "the wrong gang" at the beginning of term, and have chosen different and more supportive and disciplined friends, have some teacher to thank.
  5. Students who had no interest in extra-curricular activities at the beginning of term, and are now committed to the goals of some organization, sports group, fund-raising proposal, etc. have a teacher to thank.
  6. Students who refused to take leadership roles in school activities at the beginning of term, and find themselves accepting responsibility for such roles, even if they are small and insignificant, have a teacher to thank.
  7. Students whose performance on tests, assignments, projects and examinations were less than satisfactory at the beginning of term, and watch their performance improve by the end of term, have a teacher to thank.
These are just a few of the transformations that occur each day, in each classroom, and on each team and organizations....and the students themselves deserve no less than a formal and an informal monitoring of these changes...demonstrating that all kinds of students, of a variety of abilities and interests are deciding to become a real, authentic and self-creating individual, with the support of the whole school community.
And anything that supports and enhances the teachers appreciation of their influence, will necessarily, generate enhanced culture and performance expectations among all members of the school community.
And if teachers are not fully and publicly committed to a curriculum, within and without the classroom, they should be encouraged to find different work.

EU votes today on Canadian Oil Sands Crude...dirty oil? Vote:a draw...goes to EU ministers

By Shawn McCarthy, Globe and Mail, February 23, 2012
Amid heavy lobbying from Canada, a committee of the European Union Parliament blocked passage of a proposed fuel quality directive that would label Alberta oil sands as a more carbon-intensive source of oil than conventional crude.
In a vote Thursday, proponents of the directive failed to win a majority of votes in favour, but neither was there a majority to kill the proposal. As a result, the directive will be taken up by a committee of EU ministers in the coming months.
Key Canadian allies abstained on the vote, including Britain, France and the Netherlands – all home to multinational oil companies that have invested heavily in the oil sands.

The Harper government has been lobbying for two years to prevent the EU from targeting the oil sands due to its high emissions of greenhouse gases compared to conventional crude.
Under the fuel quality directive, EU refiners and marketers would be required to reduce the carbon-content of their overall fuel mix.
Greenpeace said the EU ministers will now be held accountable if they allow Canadian lobbying to defeat a regulation that is meant to battle climate change and reduce emissions from Europe’s transportation fuels.

“Now that the tar sands issue is finally in the hands of publicly accountable ministers, we will see who’s pulling the strings in Europe,” Greenpeace tranport policy adviser, Franziska Achterberg said in a statement Thursday.
“The evidence is clear: tar sands are the world’s dirtiest fuels. The decision is even clearer: the ministers should stand up to the oil industry and ban them from Europe.”
Canada needs an EU win
By Cludia Cattaneo, Financial Post February 23, 2012 2:07 AM,
from Ottawa Citizen website, February 23, 2012
After the mess in the United States over Keystone XL, Canada could really use a win Thursday - or at least the benefit of the doubt - when the European Union votes on whether to label oil from the Alberta oil sands as "highly polluting."
A vote in favour of the Fuel Quality Directive would signal that attitudes against the oil sands are hardening, even as far away as Europe. It would also stand out as another home run for the environmental movement and its strategy of picking on the Canadian sector to push its climate-change and off-oil agenda.
Meanwhile, a vote against the directive would set a favourable policy precedent for Canada as it courts new markets for oil sands crude. It would also show its intense lobbying and education efforts in Europe over the past few months are working.
The directive, driven by EU Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard, sets a mandatory target for fuel suppliers to reduce the carbon footprint of fuels by 6% over the next decade. The oil sands would be ascribed a higher greenhouse value (107) than average crude oil (87.5), if byproducts are ever sold there.
Worried the EU would be unfairly discriminating against the oil sands, the Canadian government and the oil sands industry mounted an aggressive campaign to ensure greater understanding of the business.
While seen as sinister in the European press, the effort was entirely justified following years of unfettered anti-oil sands bashing by environmental NGOs, which no doubt influenced the EU's bizarre targeting of Alberta's oil even though it's not sold there.
Greg Stringham, vice-president for oil sands at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, led the industry campaign. It involved a co-ordinated approach with the federal government, European oil companies with oil sands operations - Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Total SA, Statoil ASA and BP PLC - and the large cohort of European suppliers to the sector.
Read more:
And this....
By Lawrence Herman, Globe and Mail, February 22, 2012
Lawrence Herman is international trade counsel at Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP and a senior fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute (A Canadian Right-wing Think Tank)

Will there really be a trade war with the European Union over imports of Canadian fuel from the oil sands?

The media have been reporting it this way, based on letter sent in December to the EU environmental commissioner by Canada’s EU ambassador. It said that if the proposed EU fuel quality directive (FQD) is enacted, Canada will march to the World Trade Organization.
There’s a fundamental WTO legal issue at stake in the ground war.

It concerns the WTO prohibition against governments discriminating against “like” goods from different countries. This is the famous most-favoured-nation treatment rule. It requires fully equivalent treatment to imports of “like” goods wherever they come from. And the equally famous “national treatment” rule means that you can’t discriminate against imports in favour of “like” domestic products. It means that all duties, taxes or other border measures – such as carbon offset requirements – that differentiate between these “like” goods are WTO-illegal.
The question comes down to what is “likeness” in WTO terms.
Numerous WTO panel decisions have said that “likeness” is based on the intrinsic nature of the goods, not how they are made. Likeness is determined by physical properties, usage and, importantly, whether the goods compete in the same market. It is the direct “competitiveness” of the goods that is normally critical in determining likeness, according to these decisions.
How the goods are made – production and process methods – is not a differentiating factor when the imported goods are like domestic products and other imports in every other respect. A 2011 WTO Secretariat Working Paper examined the jurisprudence in depth going back many years and concluded that border measures based on production methods that don’t affect the “likeness” of the final product would be in contravention of the WTO Agreement.
Coming back to the Canada-EU dispute, the issue is this: Can the EU apply differential border measures – such as carbon offsets – on fuel from Canada that is produced from bitumen but is “like” conventional fuels in terms of physical and chemical properties, end-usage and, importantly, that competes in the same market?
Canada says definitely not. Admittedly, each case must be looked at on its facts, but WTO jurisprudence leads to the conclusion that Canada is right.

Today's vote will bring some attention to the divide between the big oil companies and government attempts to rein in the conditions that contribute to global warming and climate change.
If the vote goes "thumbs down" for Canada, along with the postponement of the Keystone Pipeline postponement in the U.S., it will signal a significant set-back, in world opinion for the oil sands project.
A "thumbs up" vote would be a very different kind of signal for the developers of the project, and the Canadian government which is "all in" the fight for the trade opportunities selling Canadian crude to European countries could provide.
This vote could signal other votes in other jurisdictions over the question of fracking in order to recover natural gas from under the earth's surface, using chemicals that can potentially contaminate the water resources for millions of people.
The U.S. and Mexico have also entered into an agreement to open up the Gulf of Mexico to more energy resource exploration, believing there is a substantial amount of both gas and oil waiting to be "harvested" in that venue.
However, the energy needs of a world economy and the climate needs of a world's population that really quite simply needs to breathe clean air, and to drink clean water have to be reconciled. It is a new equation which continues to evolve with each chapter in its development. And the balancing act that is required could conceivably be beyond the learning curve of most political operatives who will cast their votes as the issue raises its head.
For each community, big oil and the environmentalists, these are perceived as existential threats, in one case to the industry and in the other to the world's health. However, the road to solving the equation does not necessarily lead to apocalyptic fears on either side. It could and should lead to some very hard-headed and honest, and scientifically based exchange of both ideas and the best information available, from both sides. However, it appears that the world community might have to strengthen its "deciding apparatus" like the WTO, or the World Court in order to best litigate these monstrous issues...and one has to ask if the questions are not becoming larger than the capacity of those making the decisions can legitimately tolerate.
Do we, in short, need some international judicial body deciding how to balance the needs of the economy with the needs of the environment, so that countries can find some standards or benchmarks with which to guide internal, national decisions?