Monday, March 21, 2011

Hey! Look at Me! Look at Me!

Somebody once asked a rocker (it might have been Keith Richards) what message he thought rock and rollers were trying to get across: he said it was, "Hey everybody, look at me!" That seems to be a common thing in the world ,too. There are a couple of countries that seem to be unable to stand being ignored. North Korea is one, South Korea is another. Gaddafi was good at it, and America, because of its importance, has not yet really been tried since its early days, which then had some promise. One of the best 'crier' is gallant little Israel.

Maybe it's because the 'threat' never really goes away. Maybe it's because it has been a nation-in-arms for the past 60 years. Maybe it's because it has kicked the tripe out of every one of its neighbours, some of them twice or three times, in that 60 years, or maybe it's just because the cash might stop coming if the crying stopped. But Israel makes a lot more noise about 'needing' than many other places far worse off, or with far greater needs.

Israel started advertising itself as the place that 'made the desert bloom' back in the fifties and although they've turned the place into an Arizona look-alike since then, it's probably had as much to do with having tremendous financial resources available, almost from the very beginning, than it's had to do with hard work. For, since the first Zionists arrived, they've been hiring the locals as day labor. It's not much different to-day. For a lot of Jews in Israel, the 'job' is just being Jewish, that aggrevates the non-religious Israelis who actually have to work for a living. When you look at what Israel actually exports to the world you find that, for all its modernity, it doesn't actually produce much at all.  But you wouldn't think so from looking at  google world. Israel is a lush green colour surrounded by dun-coloured neighbours. How could this be possible, with only a little help from friends and an 'edge' on the local resources.

Considering it has no oil production of its own and one of the highest ratios of citizens to automobiles on earth, and an active military, you have to wonder why you never hear Israel moaning about gas or oil shortages. If there is anywhere on earth that should have them, given the hostile neighborhood, it's Israel. But Israel never seems to have to scrimp at home while running a war anywhere else. Why is that? Well it could be because Israel, by some strange twist of kismet, got itself located at the end of an oil pipline from Jordan to the sea that exports mainly Iraqi oil, for Jordan has precious little of its own, either. For all their wanting to 'destroy' Israel, its oil rich Arab neighbours don't feel any constraints about oiling its war machine. Strikes me that, if they were as serious as the Israelis say they are, that tap would have been offed long ago.

Egypt controls the Suez but the thought of making Israeli shipping take the long way from Ashkelon to Eilat doesn't seem to have occurred to them. Even lately, the Egyptians were letting Israeli subs through their canal while the Israelis were whinging about a glorified Iranian tugboat being allowed through for the first time since the Ayetolleh was Homeini. Once again one would have thought, that, to 'strangle' Israel wouldn't have been such a difficult thing to do. The Arabs may have navies, some quite powerful on paper, but it's the Israelis who range the eastern Med fending-off those 'existential threats'.

This week the blogdom of the Jewish world lit up with the news that a settler family had been 'massacred' in one of those west bank outposts. It was unremarkable in that every one that I read stated, without any doubt that the Arabs had done it, because 'that's what Arabs do'. And the other unremarkability was the bloodthirsty nature of the proposed 'price extraction'. This week Jewish blogdom is riven by arguments about whether, or not, the on-site photos of slashed parents and bloodied babies should have been used to illustrate the story. While the effect of such lurid details was debatable; whether  the Arabs might actually not be guilty occurred to only one or two Jewish commentators. Or whether the actions of the IDF and settlers in the nearest Arab village, or whether the extension of that particular settlement onto newly 'abandoned' Palestinian land (suitably named from the initials of the 5 dead)  were appropriate reactions to such a horror, were noted by very few bloggers and commentators. Those commentators  were, naturally, greeted with the 'meshuggeneh' reaction.

Without getting to deeply into what seems to be 'an on-going investigation', in this instant we have what an American in Iraq once described as "what happens when you  bring your kids to a battle". This particular family of settlers, the Fogels, were among those who had 'settled' in Gaza, and had then been removed by the IDF. Funded by the Israeli government they moved into a West Bank settlement on what was considered to be  'legitimately-appropriated' land. For some reason they left that established home to break ground in a new settlement near Hebron.  Since it was started, the settlement has been in a literal 'war' with its Arab neighbours.  People, on both sides, have been beaten and killed, the notion of 'extracting a price' from Palestinians in destroyed property started near here,  and numerous Palestinians have been arrested and jailed under a military administration that often fails to identify settlers involved in provocations or violence. The Fogels may have been raising their children 'well',  but that included a readiness, in that community, to meet Palestinan "violence" with even more violent Israeli offensive "defence".

Along with a general round-up of young males in the nearby Palestian village (two policemen were identified immediately as suspects), the Israeli police also rounded-up all the 'foreign workers' in the settlement itself. These settler camps, like many other places in the middle east,  make use of  the  cheap labor of Thais and Philippinos to build or tend to things the settlers apparently don't have time to do. Some commentators have posited that it was one of these workers who may have killed the Fogels. For an outsider to enter the 'front line' camp, and 'execute' the family of two otherwise healthy adults, (one an IDF officer) - missing two of their children at home (who may have slept through the mayhem) and a third who was out at a meeting - without raising any alarm and then exiting the village undisturbed,  just seems to verge too much on the miraculous.

Both sides in this sad story have their martyrs, and their martydoms. Neither is particularly conducive to peace or reconciliation. No one, especially children, should have to suffer for the sins of their parents, but that, once again sadly, is, often, life.  By the same token,  no one should be dispossessed of their homes for anyone else's previous or historic 'rights'. If  that were the universal case, there would be few places on earth that wouldn't be challenged by  'former' owners. I really don't think that Jews from anywhere, other than Palestine, have any 'right' to land there, particularly if it currently belongs to a Palestinian. They should, perhaps, have a right to buy, if a Palestinaian wants to sell, but there is a lot of 'buying more than was sold', or buying rights to property from someone who doesn't hold them, and then using the courts and the law to gain freehold after encouraging  the residents'  'abandonment' through intimidation and violence.

As things stand now, with Israel continuing to 'cry out' and be heard by Americans and their government, nothing fair or equitable can be expected. What the world will get is more violence, for those like the Fogels, who claim a 'divine right', have no place for any non-jew in "Eretz Yisroel". Their only solution is ethnic cleansing. The non-religious Jews might be more temperate, but many of them see that they're in the same boat with the others, that the best way to keep 'safe' is to keep on top of the Palestinians, to make sure they can't go anywhere, be anything or do much but labour for scraps, if they stay in, or even near, Israel. Which leaves Palestinans with no real choice other than to give up and hope for some change of heart, or to keep fighting, and breeding, in hope that either they drive Israelis to do them what the Germans did to their sires and become 'pariah' to their supporters, or until they outnumber their masters and  their masters have no choice but to change.

For all the crying, the world isn't helping by running to 'pick up the baby'. It's already been spoiled, so there is no easy 'cure'.

Kill Khaddafi!

The latest  bit of 'UN-sponsored', first-world industrialized destruction is being rained down upon one of the world's "bad guys", again. The leaders of the 'free-world', or a chunk of it, have decided that a robust military response to the 'terror' Muammar Khaddafi is inflicting on his own country is the best way to remove him from office. It's another one of those  "freedom for  ______" (fiil in the blank) exercises the 'good guys have been doing since the late 80's. If it wasn't that such exercises usually require somebody getting bombarded from the air, and, to date, haven't accomplished much more than some good will and honest brokering might have done, I'd be all for them.

Not that I have any great affection for Khaddafi,  but it strikes me that he's doing exactly what the other 'allied' leaders of the middle east are doing: 'keeping their houses in order'. And they would be doing it exactly the same way (wouldn't we too?) had  their protesters there been able to access an arms dump, as was the case in Libya. The army is 'defecting' in other places too, and supporting the protestors, as some units did in Libya. There are, again in all instances so far, forces 'loyal' to the government available to wreak varying amounts of mayhem, or order, as the case may be. In Yemen it's called 'mayhem', in Bahrein it's called 'order' for example. Some people are calling Libya a 'civil war', others a 'revolution' or 'putting down an armed insurgency' - the differences are solely in the optics of the observer. Libya, like Egypt and Tunisia, is not a failed state, yet. Until very recently Khaddafi, for all his warts, was considered a world leader and Libya considered friendly to the west. Khaddafi had claimed for himself the mantle of Arab 'leader' against radical Islamicists. So why all, of a sudden, the need for regime change?

Well we had better ask Obama's female advisors, for they, apparently convinced him it was time to 'go kinetic' to save their Libyan sisters. More likely it's being seen as the need to do something, as opposed to being accused by teabaggers of doing nothing, that has goaded the American President into 'joining the fun'. Sarkozi may be getting the credit for 'leading', but everybody knows the only state capable of 'getting her done quick and professional' is the US of A. And there, as the old saying goes, lies the rub. America, or the rest of the free world for that matter. needs another fast and professional military solution to anything like it needs an outbreak of plague or another economic melt. (In actuality it seems that there may be more to American involvement that we were led to believe, as comments about the CIA being involved "for weeks" and rumours that Obama had signed the orders to assist the rebels well before he told Americans he was considering it. The reason, however, is not yet clear.)

'Quick and professional' sounds good going in, but as the warriors are so fond of telling the rest of us, the best laid military plan does not survive the first clash of arms. They've obviously gotten over the 'cake-walk' and 'home for Christmas' ballyhoo  learned in such outstanding vic'tries as the Falklands, Grenada and Panama, for the latest applications of military 'science' have reverted to the classic styles of  fiasco or quagmire.  Even the best of such operations, as in Kosovo, wind up being protracted military 'peace-keeping' operations. There are still NATO troops 'standing watch' over Kosovo, although the war has been over for almost a generation. While Libya is no Iraq or Afghanistan, it's not going to be a Kosovo either. It definitely won't be a push-over like aforementioned 'vict'ries', if Kaddafi chooses to 'fight it out', particularly without any 'boots on the ground'. But that right now is not part of the 'plan'.

At present there seems to be no plan other than bombard, evaluate and re-bombard. Once again there is the impression that somebody wants to kill Khaddafi (although EVERYBODY says Khaddafi's NOT being 

targetted), unless he's in the habit of pitching his tent right next to valuable military targets.  Ronald Reagan let somebody talk him into blasting the beast in his lair. The result was an ugly press relations situation featuring Muammar's dead baby daughter. Ronnie never tried 'second time lucky' on that mode of 'reasoning'. Shortly afterward an American jumbo jet, full of citizens, came to an unscheduled landing in Lockerbie, Scotland. Muammar got some 'payback' for that assassination attempt. (As an aside, to get back in the 'good books'  he recently paid off the monetary damages for that bombing.  The 'convicted'  bomber ( he still pleads innocent) was granted a 'humanitarian' release from a Scottish jail. Maybe he's being targetted now, too.). There are, at present, no plans to put boots on the ground in Libya. So the UN/NATO is depending on an untrained armed jacquerie to put paid to Khaddafi. They'd better be prepared to send in a kill team. Of course to arm, supply and train the protestors  would take more resources, and a lot more time.

Other than that,  there is a split in world support - China and Russia could have vetoed the adventure, but didn't, they haven't been verbally supportive though.  The Arab states offered some lip service to their best customers, but once again weren't able to actually do much.  The African Union is adamantly opposed to the move. I guess they're getting the feeling that, since Asia's a bust, the next great hope for western 'progress' is Africa. Progress being the process in which the west's bi-lateral 'interests' open a country up for economic (viz business) 'cooperation'.

In the short run, though, the Libyan adventure is just another great opportunity for something else to go wrong.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Of Cabbages, and Kings

I was remarking to a friend the other day about the way that events tend to happen and louse-up the best laid plans. I was thinking, at the time, of the numerous occurrences that changed Bushco's great Asian adventures into General MacCrystal's 'bleeding ulcer'. And how the same things keep happening to stop Afghanistan from becoming the out and out success that some prognosticators say they're already seeing. I'm surprised that North Americans are still willing to invest their grandkids future on the chance that, one of these times, the Afghan dice will start coming up 7's or 11's. But this ain't exactly like just tossing dice. With a dawdling to non-existant economic recovery - unless you're counting the massive sales of paper that did so much for stock portfolios prior to the last crash, and some other crises lingering on the near horizon - I'm surprised the 'cut the losses' crowd hasn't been more vocal. Or, could it be, that those losses are now so massive that they're in the 'too large to....' category?

Japan has been having its problems too, economically and, lately, politically - there doesn't seem to be any one strong method being put forward to advance the place. But those problems pale to some insignificance when one considers the events that have occurred  there in the last four days. "Catastrophe" comparable to WW2 -  it's being called and World War 2 was not gentle on Japan. But, thank goodness, such  massive damage seems to be fairly localized. What may not be as local, and certainly more long lasting, are the potential effects of a catastrophe all on its own at one of the Japanese nuclear generators. The Earthquake did minor damage to the installation, as did the ensuing Tsunami - even though the atomic station is built right on the coast. The damage the tsunami did do howver seems to have been mortal - it knocked out the main diesel generators. Without these, the pumping system that cools the reactors couldn't be operated properly. The earthquake may have damaged the reactors themselves too, for it triggered their automatic shut-down processes. That shut-down was incomplete when the tsunami struck and stopped it completely. The cores started heating, sea water was deployed as an emergency coolant. First one, then a second reactor, then three and their containing buildings suffered  violent explosions. This was written off to a build-up of hydrogen in the building which, I guess wasn't being vented - but the explosion was markedly violent enough - being 'felt' some 25 KM away -  that a gas build-up in a light building was probably not the only cause. As we write, Japan could be on its way to giving Chernobyl a run for the money. The lids are off three reactors in which the core has been exposed, it's not cooling any more and a fourth is now 'on fire'.

One of the safety features of atomic power generation, about which I think we've all been led up the garden path, is that, once the reaction process has been started, it can be shut down a) rapidly and b) safely. What we're seeing in Japan is that, under a worst case scenario, the best prescription might be that old saw about 'bending over and kissing your ass good-bye'. Shutting down an atomic reaction in 'an emergency' takes weeks, if not longer, and it has to be carefully staged and executed, two things the 'need' for immediate safety  might very well preclude.

Another consideration I think is important, is that building such inherently dangerous and delicate systems on a seismic fault line might not be a full application of conventional wisdom. Add to that, the wisdom of building one at sea level beside the sea, or beside any large water body that could be affected by a seismic event enough to generate a 'tsunami', or even just a large wave, without some robust precautions to minimize the effect of water damage. Neither of those are evident in the Japanese situation.

If there is a good thing coming out of this it is that, at least, the Japanese seem to have worked effectively to minimize the deleterious effects on near-by residents. Evacuations seemed to timely and efficient, considering the other problematic situations abounding. Unless, of course, as seems to be the developing case, there has been some of that 'face-saving' going on and this 'minor difficulty' is turning into something potentially worse than either of the natural events that gave rise to it. The atomic 'crisis' has not yet reached a climax.

Almost as a 'microcosm' in comparison, it seems,  is the other 'little' tragedy of the week, going on in Libya. It would appear that Gaddafi has regained his composure, and is now set to 'take back' what the 'rebels' grabbed. For all their encouragement, and/or bluster, nobody seems willing to get more involved as Gaddafi cleans things up. We'll have to see what happens this week, as NATO, the EU, the Arab League, the African Union, and America's 'resolve' seems to melt away like a highwayful of AAA pick-up trucks. It could be that destroying the rebels ammunition dump was the smartest move yet. It certainly seems to have been a game changer. Thank goodness they don't have any atomic plants, like the Iranians or Israelites, sitting smack dab on top of a potential Japanese experience.

It's good that we don't know about some things. FAP!

Holy Moly Things are Changing

Leave for a while to visit the 'socialist paradise' in the Caribbean and what happens? 'The more things change, the more they say the same', as some French wit once remarked. It seems like it's been THE month for popular uprisings - Tunisia and Egypt, now Libya with ongoing rumbles on Morocco, Algeria, Yemen, the Gulf States and the counterpoint that's been part of the background noise in Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan for years. All this, supposedly about 'democracy'. What's really amazing is the lack of such 'popular' uprisings in those pariah states where, we're told, the tyrants are on the bones of their ass - namely Iran, North Korea and Cuba.

Let's take a look at Cuba for a minute. I was in Trinidad recently (on the south coast half-way down the island). The town is a world heritage site as, apparently,  it's location, (inland a bit), stopped  whatever  predators have been known to burn down parts of Cuba in order to assist regular urban renewal, from torching the place much. The city buildings are of some antiquity and hence are archtecturally interesting.

Things haven't changed much in terms of infrastructure, if you don't count a new airport building and two markedly upgraded 'cafe' businesses just outside the terminal at Cienfuegos. Trinidad is a very old city sprouting some of the appurtenances of modernity. The city itself is remarkable for a recent outburst of housing additions - building an extra story on the roof. Some of these look like a 'dodge' of  city planning ordinances and don't look like they could be trusted in an earthquake. There is also some new 'foreign investment building underway - a couple of Novotel projects in the works. The 'casa particular' (bed and breakfast/lunch/dinner) operations seem to be expanding along with a number of private restaurants. It could be a sop to the 'new economic reality', but it is a sign that the Cubans are doing something.

In like manner a host of newly-built (in the last 8 years) communal housing developments in rural areas are noteworthy. There doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason to having them located as they are, except for one in the middle of a cane plantation of some size and another, under construction, nearby what I was told is a Cuban holiday spot  at the mouth of a river. The schools look more dilapidated than before, but the kids seem just as clean and well-turned-out as ever.

The resort we stayed at was in turmoil of sorts while we were there. The government austerity plan announced last summer - which was to see the civil service and military reduced by 30 percent, had worked it's way down to the tourist spots where the wait staff and cameraras were being told which of them was soon to be out of work. As a friend noted,  'connections' seemed to take precedence of actual ability,  for those bartenders and waiters with the laziest streak seemed to be the ones who were 'OK'.

For the first time,  we met Americans who had 'sneaked' into Cuba - taking a flight over from Cancun. They seemed nice, but were the sort who were either 'sorry' for what America was doing or self-described as the "last socialists in America". Nice to see them, they certainly made a less gaudy show than the returned 'Miami Cubans' with their rented 'bling' and 'boss' attitudes. The Cubans seem to really enjoy 'banging' them an extra 15 percent for exchanging their US dollars. Maybe, if they were staying with family, instead of at a tourist resort, they'd be better received. It was also surprising to note the lack of full-time resident tourists this time round. The place was virtually empty most afternoons. The Europeans all seemed to be on bus tours that pulled-in in time for supper and left right after breakfast. The entertainment staff must have appreciated the evening crowd. I'd say, however, that tourism seemed to be way down, so that has to hurt the economy.

One would think the Cubans had every reason to be 'out on the street' - unemployment way up, an educated population of underutilized young people, etc. It isn't for the lack of cell phones - as every second Cuban I saw had one. So it must be 'fear of repression', or just not feeling they have to.

In like fashion the Iranian young people have hesitated to throw themselves under the bus of  freedom and the North Koreans still seem to be content to goose step around Red Square and make moues at the fightin' forces of liberty around Panmunjom. But maybe they're just the well-fed ones,  keeping the others down.

In Baghdad it's different - they're protesting about economic conditions and a government's failure to 'get going'. In Afghanistan they're still protesting about the regular killing of civilians by ISAF, and ISAF's failure to be able to protect the others, killed by the insurgents. Even in places like Madison, Wisconsin you have Americans out on the street protesting. OK, the latter are middle-class types like teachers, cops and firemen coming face-to-face with a reality that the local governments they work for have failed to meet their obligations to fund retirements and other employment benefits. Now the 'debt crunch', caused by too many tax cuts, has come home to roost. Rather than raising taxes on business or the 'haves', the only 'solution' the latter-day neocons can see is to level the playing field between the US and the Third World by making those who don't have, take less. The poor have already had their 'screwing', and it's not as if all that 'negative' social spending on hand-outs was really the problem. Those 'savings' weren't enough to change anything. The solution now is to take more from the middle class, particularly public employees. But those savings won't be enough to change anything either so, who's next? Ordinary Americans - like ordinary Egyptians Iraqis, Tunisians, Moroccans and most of the ordinary people on earth are about to undergo a serious change of lifestyle because of the economic shenanigans of the 'elite'.

Prices are  rising just like those who have to raise prices said they would. Amazing that the same guys who couldn't see an economic hurricane bearing down on Wall St. have such clairvoyance about rising prices. Actually there's no rocket science there, either. Raising prices is the one thing these guys can, and do. Just like fleecing suckers. Right now they're making noises about how world events - that changing weather we don't have to worry about, and increasing numbers of people starving, or dying from imported lead poisoning, are the 'natural forces' making us all  pay more. But just maybe, one of these years, when they report another surge in profit, dividends or compensation levels, the sheeple will just 'go nuts'.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Big Ol' Jet Airliner

There may be three years of Canadians flying into Afghanistan left before the scumbag killers get their final notice, but it's never too soon to figure out how you're going to get their kit back home. Well the Canadian forces aren't sleeping at any switches, even if the the "Harper Government" - best war party to be almost elected in decades did cock-up the supply conduit. And so this recent piece on how things are going without the stopover in Abu Dhabi.

The Vancouver Sun, and other papers which carried the piece - no doubt emanating from a military source, outline a complicated process of getting our troops home via Germany. Now that couldn't be as much fun as the SOP of getting them home through the gin joints of Cyprus. But I think some recent misbehaviour on those 'ROTO decompressions' have done 'an Abu Dhabi' on the Cypriots. The latter putting a greater value on their tourist trade than they do in entertaining  CF personnel on a piss-up. Maybe we're banned there, too. But I digress.

The way home follows the old route, non-stop and then takes a sharp right to fly across south-eastern Europe to Germany. I'm wondering why? Wasn't there a load of ballyhoo about the Russians allowing free transport of non-lethal supplies across it's territory. Now, I know the troops are all 'lean, mean, killin' machines' at least in Gen Rick's (ret) estimation, but surely a planeful of the troops disarmed, in mufti and on their way home would qualify for a free pass. And wouldn't a route over Russia, or at least across the friendly ex-SSR's and the Black Sea,  be more direct? Or maybe there's some ATC problem with going the short way. Any way they're taking the long way home.

So supply and replenishment isn't a problem, and isn't considered to be a potential problem. The four C-17's of the CAF fleet can get that job done. But the other stuff will have to find some other way home. A fleet of trucks will be bringing heavy equipment and 2000-odd storage containers through Afghanistan and into Pakistan for shipment home by sea. The C-17s - or other 'rental transport'* will be moving sensitive equipment, 3 containers at a time, to the safe base in Germany at the rate of two flights per day. That doesn;'t mean 8 flights per day but more than likely exactly what is said, one, or two, of the 17's making the trip,  twice (or once) per day.

I'm wondering what's going to happen to some of the equipment, like those Leopard 2's for instance. I was under the impression that Canada had bought a number of these tanks, used, from the Dutch, but from things I 've read lately,  that 'purchase' may have been more in the nature of  'a lease'. For we're giving the tanks back, long before we're going home. The Marines are deploying tanks to take our place. So who pays to get these babies back to Holland, or wherever they're going? I know we rented the Ruslans to get them to Kandahar. The Dutch aren't all that stupid, so I'd imagine we're paying to send them back, too.

And then there are the Nyasas and all the bomb-resistant battlewagons we've bought to keep 'our boys' safe. Ideally they'd stay in Afghanistan, for as sure as hell they're going to be of little use in western Canada. They're clumsy enough on the Afghan tarmac, they'd be tipping all the time on Manitoba's back roads. But leaving them in Afghanistan would mean giving them, or selling them, to somebody. That means giving them to the Afghans, or selling them to America - which is paying for everybody else except the French, Brits, Germans and Italians (who already have theirs). And since the war is the best economic stimulus America has these days, selling second-hand to America is a no brainer, as well as a no-starter.

* Rental Transport?  The ongoing saga of  'we shoulda, but didn't'. Those Ruslans will be rented to haul stuff home, so much that the article posits buying another one or two C-17's is needed. That would mean we'd then have 6 C-17s. Enough to respond to a good disaster anywhere and 'only' for another billion and a half, or so. Scratching open the scab on the sore that we could have had all 27 Ruslans for about that much, spares included and have been renting some of  them out ourselves. Another "Harper Government" foul-up?