Monday, March 17, 2014

Wasn't That a Party?

As Canada has now wound down its great Afghan adventure, the 'post mortems'  are beginning to appear. The standard, 'bringing down the standard' and 'bringing the boys back home' coverage is there,  some of it remarkably interesting.

Last week it was the standard fare about the ceremony at the embassy in Kabul, where the military entrusted the nation's flag to the diplomatic corps. That might have been the best idea 11 years ago. It certainly would have been less expensive.

The national papers are printing pieces  on how we can 'recognize the sacrifice' and 'pay tribute to those who served'. Military plans for such celebrations have beeen kiboshed by government announcements that, if the military wants it, the military will be paying for it.  The $10 million 'recognition assembly'  last year in Ottawa, to fete the Libyan humanitarian bombing, was billed to the D.N.D. The 'pols' will be there for the free canapes, and the people will be paying the shot, but it's coming out of the military budget. In much the same way as, I'd imagine, the 'tab' for  the Defence Minister  Julian 'il magnifico' Fantino (MPP and former 'chef' of the OPP) who's appearing, to-day, in Famagusta,  to welcome the last contingent 'decompressing' from Afghan service (I'm pretty sure they

weren't impressed to see that 'twat', with his 'service medals', rather than the other kind). According to the Cypriot press, Fantino was there to 'celebrate 50 years of Canadian peacekeeping' on Cyprus by opening a memorial museum and art gallery (another DND expense?). One would think if anybody would be paying for that,  it might be the Cypriots, they're the ones the peacekeeping was all about, no? And why a museum there, they've had first-hand experinece to remember. The Museum should have been in Canada.

The Prime Minister, not to be outdone, has announced he'll be on-hand to gladhand the boys as they alight in Canada. But that cost might be folded-into his 'succour the valiant Ukrainians tour'. He's also jetting-off to see if he can't get us into a shooting war with the Russians.

Naturally, too, there are a plethora of ruminations about the 'costs'.  One of the main causes of  Harper government's deficit-financing is a reputed $20 billion spent on warfighting. Now that figure is being 'attritted' down to the 12 billion dollar 'chump-change' region, as future costs aren't costs yet. All-in-all, this leaves the military in relatively worse shape than it was before they got the new desert 'cadpat' uniforms  and IED-resistant vehicles we won't be using, and in need of naval vessels and new aircraft we can no longer afford. At the same  time the government needs to come up with its first balanced budget - ever. So the sluice gates at the Department of National Defence have been pip-squeaked and Julian, having overseen many a tight police budget, is just the man for the buffet - sojers aren't invited.

One of the more poignant aspects is revisiting the families of the dead. For this 'war' had a real cost in broken lives. Sadly, one can almost hear the 'pols' and 'vets' moving-in to corner the 'honour' market. Not right now of course, they'd get 'shut up' in short order, but the families can't be trusted to 'honour the fallen' as their healthy comrades need it to be done. The benefits of all those little Afghan girls in school - whatever those may be (for we only know it's 'good');  the new-found freedom their women are 'working on'';  the stability of the gang of thieves and warlords we call their government;  the 'standing shoulder to shoulder to fight terror';  the best of intentions; etc, etc are all still trotted-out to justify 11 years of the second best bang-bang money could buy (our American cousins always do it better). Those 'loved ones' will eventually have to shut their cake-holes, or be ignored.

'Dying in vain' is such a lousy recruiting slogan.


The Russian people of the Crimean peninsula voted overwhelmingly (93 percent of them) to remove themselves from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation.  Although the referendum is "completely illegal" - according to Ukrainian government in Kiev and its western supporters, there are no sanctions to be taken against the Crimea, or Crimeans.

Nor will we be seeing Ukraine trying to force a 'return to the fold'. It is every bit as likely that disorder in the Donetsk region of Ukraine will spread and become worse. This is the critical area for Ukraine where most of its economic resources are located. The western Ukraine is largely marginal land - scrub-forest-covered woodland with vast marshy areas and an irradiated area closed to population around the old Chernobyl plant.   That area, outside the urban centres, lately described in 17th century terms, is the 'showcase' of the republic's lack of development under the Orange revolution.

Average income in Russia is almost six times greater than that of  Ukraine which was, in past times, described as the 'breadbasket of Europe' and the industrial heart of the Soviet Union. While Russia's economy is no bed of roses, they aren't indebted to anybody - Ukraine 'lost' some 170 billion dollars in western loans over the past decade. It needs  money now to stay afloat - the latest amount is $45 billion - nowhere near what Putin offered ($15 billion) and what the Euros said a bond issue would fetch ($1.5 billion). But Ukraine doesn't need more loans it can't repay, in the short run it needs alms. In the long run it needs production and it needs markets. None of which are on the horizon.

And things can only get worse if the Russian population in the eastern regions  decides it's 'time up' and votes to secede. Even if they take with them their 'share' of the national debt, the 'Russians' will still be taking the means of production. One would think that sensible minds would be speaking carefully in Kiev.  That is far from the case.

First of all,  Russia is the demon here - at least according to Ukraine. Demonized they are - blamed for the government Ukrainians elected twice; for 'invading ' Crimea; for calling-down the revolution; for outing the involvement of outside forces at work, etc, etc.  But, failing the Russians, there is no one else to talk to about the Ukrainian problem. For all the willingness to sympathize and 'help',  Europe has no interest in taking-on a basket case - with the Russian bear breathing down its neck. America can do even less.

Russia has no great dependency on America for much else than fast food chains, American cars and 'investments'- all of which they can do without. Russia has nothing to lose, and the respect of the non-aligned nations to gain, by holding its ground - not to mention the benefits that will accrue from having the Donbass and Crimea back in the federation. There is nobody sensible willing to start a war over the Ukraine - except the Ukrainians - who might actually do something stupid if they don't get their way. They will however, lose - the equivalents of a few Ossetias for sure, maybe more.

So far the Russians seem to be the only power involved that makes any sense. Rather than threatening sanctions, or even leaving the Ukraine to starve in the dark by cutting the supply of natural gas, they're calling on the world to encourage Ukrainians to sit down together and reaffirm their independence - from all power blocs - as was intended when the country was formed. Independent Ukraine should not be part of the Russian Federation, nor should it be a  member of the EU or NATO. That was the original agreement. If that can be changed by a revolution, or a referendum, then what about anything else?

By the way -  the other  "important"  stories vying with the Ukrainian crisis in the news this week? A mystery airliner and the death of a TV comic

Monday, March 03, 2014

Whoo hoo! It's a Wing-Ding!

What a GREAT 3rd o' March!

Canada's off and running! We're "centre stage" in world affairs. We've got the iconic 'mayor' on US TeeVee and the Oscars are over in another blaze of glory for expat Canucks in sunnyside.

Big-Mouth Johnny Baird is back from his exposee in Ukraine and champing at the bit to 'disinvite' Putin from anything. After shaking hands with the non-entity who's been appointed maximum leader by somebody, and 'expressing' something from recently-released crook,  Julia Tymoshenko,  Baird has it all fingered-out.

The Russians have no business standing in the way of the victorious Ukrainian freedom fighters. (Mind you had anything looking like Ukrainian freedom fighters showed up, say, in suburban Montreal, as indeed' they did, not much more than a year ago, Johnny would have been taking 'the vapours' and calling for mass arrests, to go with the tasering, teargassing and 'riot control'. He did, actually.

But they were 'ungrateful' students protesting tuition hikes. They never armed themselves to start killing police squaddies, like the Ukrainians did. Instead of calling for civil order and fairness for all, John has decided he knows what's best for Ukrainians, including the sizable population that suddenly found itself living in somebody else's country when the Soviet Union fractured. Until now they, and obviously some 'real' Ukrainians, have been electing governments of  'their own choice' - most of which borrowed the country into a crisis.

But those who leaned east, instead of west, have become THE problem. Historically Ukraine has been 'autonomous' for a very brief period in the 20's and again, when associated as an SSR, with Russia. What parts of it were 'westernized' were  'provinces'  of  Poland and Austria in former times. But Baird thinks that Russia doesn't 'belong', although almost 40 percent of the Ukrainian population - Russians - do. They've just lost their voice to the 'real' Ukrainians, who, they fear, have an (legitimate?) ax to grind against Russia, and Russians. Like the Russian enclaves of gallant little Georgia, Mother Russia is offering them a self-determination denied by the 'free' west.

 If Johnny understands Quebec, he should understand Ukraine. In the same manner of thinking he should help the Quebecois declare independence. But that's somehow 'different' because this is Canada and we don't repress anybody - but rioting students.

Sadly, what Baird, and other 'great minds' before him, have done, is take Canada out of the middle ground. We are no longer able to talk to both sides. That hasn't made us better, or smarter  .. in fact it has cost a lot of needless death and suffering. If we're not careful it could happen again  and  even be much worse.

Canada needs Baird as much as we need Bob Ford.

The only substantial differences are that Ford admits to being a doper, a drunk and he doesn't  like gays. But he's getting the kind of press - in the absence of none - that Baird could only dream about. Toronto's disgrace is trotting his fat fanny out on American talk shows this week. Apparently somebody invited him to the Oscars -  and, (not being totally stupid, OK?)  he accepted. He did a 'mistaken walk-out' on the Kimmel Show last night, but is to be featured along, with a Muppet, tonight. Kevin Spacey passed a comment about him 'puking' all over the green room and so 'ramped-up' the interest in what 'ennertainment' is in store for this evening. No doubt his 'Onner' won't  let us down, eh?

I don't think Canada did  particularly well at last night's Oscars but it wasn't for want of a good time. The week-end papers reported on the 'pre-oscar' party for Canucks, featuring the grand old man of Canadian involvement in Hollywood - Mr. Norman Jewison. The tradition, dates back to the days of the government-funded - 'good-times' of special 'artistic' envoy to H'wood - her excellence, Kim Campbell. It gives Canadians a chance to dress-up in designer duds and tuxes, to meet, greet and schmooze with Canadians from all parts of the GWN, now-resident green card-holders and living in California. I would imagine that the Oscars might have been more fun had the Canadians had the good sense to lose a little more at the Olympics.