Now let’s get this straight. A mid-level worker in a country’s security division has access to highest-level secret service documents and comes across information that he thinks should not be kept secret. And so he makes it public. It turns out that that is easier to do than it used to be, and that is true with all other sources of information meant to be kept secret. You simply copy that information and send it out on the internet. Or you do it Canadian style. An undistiguished sailor in the Canadian navy did it and was caught delivering it to the Russian Embassy (in a quaintly old-fashioned way) in an envelope. It turned out that the Russians hadn’t even asked for it; they simply received it and paid a modest sum of money to a chap in financial trouble who sold it for cash and ended in jail. And now a Chinese-born Canadian citizen who works as a research engineer for a subcontractor for the shipbuilding firm contracted to build Canada’s next generation of warships, has been arrested by the RCMP, charged with having approached the Chinese Embassy with an offer to sell the plans for the ships. The Chinese government denies it, but the chap sits in jail. All in all these seem like plots for one of those fine English comedies about amateur crooks, mink thieves, spies, ladykillers, etc, that the Brits can’t make any more, but they do suggest that there is no such thing as secure information communications any more.
And then on a much more startling level, with no sense of comedy involved, another (Australian) chap with apparently easy access to much more explosive material about US spying ended up disclosing it and claiming (and receiving) exile in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. But in the most dramatic case a US middle-level technician in the US security establishment took his vast amount of digitalized highest security level information with him to the Moscow Airport and began to gradually send out on the internet stunningly massive amounts of information about the way the US spy system now works – on an unimagined level of electric spying, apparently of just about everybody. He does not sit in jail, because he managed to get into Russia first. Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, is furious because the chap in Russian exile published documents that seemed to prove that the US had tapped the chancellor’s private cell phone. Angela Merkel was born and raised in Communist East Germany, whose main claim to fame was setting up an all-powerful spy network that relied on its own citizens spying on each other with the result that everyone knew that you could not talk in a hotel room or on the telephone anywhere without assuming that some thug was listening in. Imagine what Chancellor Merkel makes of the current constellation of world powers. President Obama claims that he didn’t know anything about this mass Big Brother collection of information. If that is true, it’s terrible. If it isn’t it’s worse..No Comments
Here is a tip for the many Yankee readers of this column, and it is of interest only to real football fans.
Do yourself a favour in 3 hours. Turn off whatever boring slugging match you are watching on the NFL Channel , and pull in that signal coming from Regina, Saskatchewan, and watch the only real old-time football game scheduled in snowy minus 30 C (who knows what that is in Fahrenheit) conditions as the oldest trophy in sports, the 101st Grey Cup, goes to the winner of the Hamilton Tiger Cat /Saskatchewan Rough Rider game. Don’t miss it, it will be the way the NFL games used to be played.
In any case, the only skilled NFL game on today (New England/Denver) has been cleverly scheduled to follow up on the Grey Cup game and pick up the few exhausted football fanatics, who want more.2 Comments
Ace foreign correspondent of the Mackenzie Brothers Network Wally Balloo, or possibly Artie Schermarhorn – it was impossible to determine precisely who was reporting, as both had called in simultaneously though they were both inexcusably behind schedule – reports from Toronto, Canada, that Bob and Doug McKenzie’s uncles Rob and Doug, bigger than life mayor and largest city councilor of Canada’s largest city, have been dramatically displaying why its previous name, Hogtown, was indeed well-considered.
My brother and I find outrageous Big Uncle Rob’s defence of smoking crack, drinking to oblivion and then driving home, knocking over a fellow female councilor while exiting the chambers in a huff and, worst of all, using a word on live tv – for God’s sake he spake that on the CBC from the chambers of office – which shocked and stunned all those daytime voyeurs who would otherwise be watching Coronation Street – that dare not be spoken – think of a little kitty cat – unless it is the name of a trio of Russian girls desecrating a church in Moscow, in which case it is excellent , or one of those cutesy Bond girls with lots of hair, in which case it’s funny and fabulous, and shows how nasty the Russkies are. In some quarters he has even allowed himself to be called the biggest hoser of them all, a title that my brother and I have shared without interruption since those legendary good old days of yore when we sat in front of cases of Molson Canadian and waxed on about the state of Canuck culture.
Meanwhile our Central European correspondent Word Carr, winner of 16 diction prizes just reported that Uncle Rob and his pals, after creating such mayhem that Toronto suddenly found itself in the centre of international interest, finally proved to be died-in-the-wool Canadians by ordering takeaay poutine (not Putin as most Amurcan listeners thought they had heard) for a final meal My brother and I have decided that such unverified rumour-mongering reportage is unworthy of a veteran reporter and Mr. Carr has been assigned to our Guam bureau.
For over four years we have been barraged with misinformation, disinformation, lies, and misrepresentations by the Republican party, its politicians and media hacks that has apparently convinced many Americans that a national attempt to bring down costs of health care AND to make it available to all is a bad thing.
America has the most expensive health care system in the Western world, with per capita costs 25 to 300% higher than other Western democracies’ plans. While one might assume that we get better results, one would be mistaken. Bloomberg News did a ranking of national Healthcare systems using data from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Health organization and the Hong Kong Dept, of Health (for Asian data). For any American who has bothered to look at facts beyond the political game shows played on their local TVs, the results are not surprising. The U.S. spends over $8500 per capita on health care; this is almost 4 times what Israel spends; almost 8 times what Hong Kong spends, almost three times what Italy spends, etc. See the chart at Bloomberg News.
There is no country that spends more but there is a boatload of countries that while spending less, get equal or even better results. The statistics for all of this are readily available to both American voters AND their congressional representatives and Senators. Bloomberg News’ study ranked the U.S. at 46th among nations for the effectiveness of their healthcare system. Among the countries ahead of them in the rankings were all the Western European countries, most of the advanced Asian countries, and some surprises that included Libya(!), Israel, Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, Canada, Turkey, the Czech Republic and the list goes on. Every part of the world except most of Africa (beyond Libya) is represented. It is – and continues to be – for the U.S., a national disgrace.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) – dubbed “Obamacare” by Republican and Tea Party hacks, is an approach to a problem that was clearly out of control. Costs were becoming prohibitive, significant parts of the population were unable to obtain affordable insurance, people with chronic, serious diseases were unable to get insurance, people that got sick soon found themselves dropped by their insurance companies and medical expenses became the most frequent driver of personal bankruptcies.
In this context the Republican party has spent the past four years lying about the ACA, promoting scare stories about its content, insulting in almost racist terms the President who initiated the plan, – in short doing everything possible to make the plan fail while presenting NO alternative plan. It has been a criminal – even traitorous – approach abetted by all Republicans, even those so-called guardians of moderation like Susan Collins of Maine. The lies have been obvious, easy to disprove by simple fact-checking, but abetted by a supine press willing to pass on the nonsense and lies without vetting or comment. The press should be ashamed for treating an issue of such fundamental importance to the public good as a crass political game.
This could not happen without a population too lazy and/or too stupid to seek and care about the truth, and a political party that has no interest in governing the country for the good of the country.. We are a country of hucksters and suckers.2 Comments
Chris Christie was all over the Sunday talk shows and the national press/media after his re-election as Governor of New Jersey, supposedly all but ensuring his nomination – or anointment – as Republican nominee for President in 2016. Time Magazine went so far as to put him on the cover under the oh-so-clever title: “The Elephant in the Room”. Then a piece in the New Republic comes along pursuing the possibility of Elizabeth Warren capsizing the USS Hillary in the race for the Democratic nomination. But, it seems to me to be waaay premature to be worrying about the candidates for 2016; too much can happen between now and then and in some ways the 2014 congressional elections may be more important, especially for domestic policies.
While Christie will have his detractors – both within and outside the Republican party – Clinton and Warren would likely be presented as polarizing figures. But it seems that any candidate for the Democratic party inevitably becomes a polarizing figure because the system is broken.
We are a country moving in an almost inexorable way toward oligarchy with the help of the current Supreme Court, people like the Koch brothers, major financial institutions and international corporations. While Bill Clinton was able to raise a lot of money from Wall Street his presidency was under the most vicious kind of attack from day one of his presidency, with the complicity of a mediocre press and a well-financed right-wing hate machine. The same has happened to Obama and would most certainly also happen to Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren.
The combination of an electorate unable to identify their own interests let alone vote for them, a courtier press unable to extricate itself from the ordinary thinking that dominates political discussion in America, the corrupting influence of money and the breakdown of Americans’ commitment to the common good has led to a broken country. Warren understands this and her candidacy would be welcome simply to get some very basic political issues on the table. But first, let’s see if the Democratic Party can figure out how to win back the House of Representatives in 2014. Not that I am especially hopeful.No Comments
September was one of the finest months for Canadians to demonstrate their rising power in the arena of foreign politics. The US government has shut down through the monty pythonish behaviour of the so-callled pillars of democracy. John Cleese, where are you when the Ministry of Silly Walks would represent a a crucial place of stability and order in the otherwise dysfunctional pecking order of Washington D.C.? I’ll tell you where you could ussefully demonstrate your walks. Take a stroll on the floor of the US Senate for 25 hours with Canadian-born Senator Tom Cruz, an expat Canadian currently living in Texas. You could follow him as he paced about telling you everything he knows about the awful socialist, maybe even Commie health care system in his northern homeland, where every citizen – even Cruz, should he ever visit his homeland - has the absolute right to free medical care, no matter who they are and what they earn. And amazingly, he seems to know absolutely nothing and says he didn’t even realize he was a citizen of another country, which disqualifies him from becoming US president. He also says that he is ready to replace President Obama, but looks like foreign affairs won’t be his strong suit. Instead he rambled on about everything under the sun except the tiny little step towards some sort of sanity that Obamacare would bring to the the US medical system, which as it is is adequate for most of the middle and great for the upper class and non-existent for something like 45 million US citizens, who have no insurance at all if they have any medical problem.
Meanwhile in another election in a far-off universe, the people of the Republic of Austria went to the polls, and gave a new party named after and led by Canadian auto-parts magnate Frank Stronach almost 10% of the vote. His main strength seemed to lie in the feeling that anybody from a place like Canada would have to be a better leader than anyone currently involved in the chaotic dysfunctional political climate of the splendid imperial city of Vienna. As if to prove the point, the major right wing party received 21 % of the vote in Austria while the one with similar views on immigration and the European Union in Germany received an almost invisible percentage of the votes in last month’s German election, coming nowhere near the 5% needed for entering parliament. So what do we make of it. In a single month a Canadian wins the Nobel Prize for Literature, another one becomes a political force to be reckoned with in Austria, and a third one is a major mover and shaker in the self-inflicted shutdown of the US government and considers himself to be a dark horse shot for President. Watch out! From Vienna to Stockholm to Washington D.C. The Canuck are coming, the Canucks are coming! If only they would take on Ottawa next.1 Comment
The weird new Bromance between President Obama and John McCain surged (so to speak) over the weekend as they agreed to a general strategy over Syria. This after everyone’s (except my) favorite cranky uncle, Joe Lieberman, reminded us of the importance of bombing something, anything, anytime something happens in the Middle East. This morning we find that Speaker of the House John Boehner is also supporting Obama’s plan for intervening in Syria. So for the first time in his presidency Obama has the support of Republican leaders – although Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell might be holding out. One might think that Obama would give pause to the source of his support, but it appears this train of battle has virtually left the station.
But the fundamental issue of whether such action is in our national interest – and whether it can do anything but harm – seems to have been skipped over to become now a struggle for political support in the Congress, regardless of the quality of the basic decision and regardless of the judgment of the American people. There seems to be no doubt that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against its own people and this time it is seen to qualify for a military response, while the 100,000 plus earlier deaths by other means did not.
So far there has been only vague lip service given to whether it serves our long term strategic interests to get involved. There are comments to the effect that if we do not do something we will lose prestige, but with whom, and so what? There is also fear that the President will lose personal prestige because he drew the “red line” and now must respond regardless of any collateral damage to our interests. The talk shows on Sunday were all focused on what kind of military response is needed – how robust, how long, what targets, etc. The issue of WHETHER we should do something has been pushed aside and now we focus on the process of gaining political cover for the decision from the Congress.
The role of the press has been largely reactive, focusing on process issues rather than substantive strategic concerns. One exception was the appearance of John Mearsheimer on the PBS Newshour Monday night. He argued convincingly that the U.S. does not have a central strategic concern in Syria, that if we get involved we will likely suffer unpleasant consequences in the future, that we really have no idea what kind of government we would end up with in Syria if Assad is driven out and that our track record when getting involved in the region is a miserable failure. As for the moral case, it is not America’s job to be a kind of global moral force, given our own record in places like Vietnam, Chile, Nicaragua, Iran, Iraq – even Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Obama may have wanted a working relationship with the Republicans for lo the past 5 years, but this smacks of his going away from some core American values in search of love in all the wrong places.1 Comment
Now let’s get this straight. Ten years ago, the neatly attired Secretary of State of the United States told the UN Security Council that his security experts had definite proof that the nasty Arab dictator of Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that council should therefore approve a military action that would remove them from his control. Okay that turned out to be a fib – there were no such weapons and it may even be that the poor secretary didn’t know it – and the results are very much central to the problems of the middle east today. Iraq is a dangerous place, its minorities have fled or are hidden in holes and the once legendary city of Bagdad is a disaster zone. The nasty dictator was executed, but chaos rules in his absence and for the normal Iraquis, if they managed to survive the ensuing war, life is no better or worse than before. My brother was at the Baltimore Ravens football game when that attack was announced by then President George Bush and explains that the president waited until half time to announce the news on the giant jumbo screen that the invasion had begun. Didn’t want to interrupt the game when it was on. The 80,000 spectators cheered.
Now we have the next president announcing in best sports lingo that he was drawing a line in some kind of sand (beach volleyball?) and if anyone dared venture over that he would take out his big stick and thump them, just like the Ravens’ defense did that afternoon a decade ago. Now it seems clear that somebody did that recently by throwing poison gas across the line, and the current Secretary of State, very nattily attired, is haunting the talk shows to announce that the security aces of the United States, who know everything about you, also know who is guilty of crossing the red line, namely the nasty dictator of Syria this time. He denies it, though it may well be the case, but it is not yet proven and the Iraqui past haunts this present like a ghost. The powerful president of Russia says he doesn’t believe it , and then the British parliament cut down their prime minister at the knees by voting against his decision to join the attack with the US, apparently forgetting that in the UK the Parliament has to approve such an action. The Prime Minister of Canada, which did not join the attack on Iraq, says he is a”reluctant convert” to this one (whatever that means), and won’t contribute any military help. Germany says it will never join a military action not sanctioned by an international body like the UN (as they well know,this one doesn’t have a chance there). Even Israel is not taking sides on this one, afraid of the results of any such invasion, no matter who wins. The only real military power answering the call to use the big stick is France, which, according to Secretary of State Kerry, is the longest-standing ally of the US. (He said that with a straight face, but many thought he remembered the French contributions in the Second World War, Vietnam, NATO, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. and meant it ironically).
And now the wielder of the big stick has run for cover and suddenly announced he will wait for approval from a Congress which won’t be able to deal with that for some weeks. Obama will be meeting with Putin in a couple of days at a G-20 conference in St. Petersburg. As a warm-up to the reception he will receive in St. Petersburg, he will spend his first European night in Stockholm where the frosty fall nights are already well underway. Needless to say Sweden will not be supporting an attack on Syria. When he sits down with Putin, he must be prepared for the following difficult questions. 1. What will he do if the US congress does not support him, as happened in the UK to the now lame duck PM Cameron? It is clear that there is substantial bipartison opposition to the Obama attack proposal, though it seems likely to pass. 2. Just how does he imagine the attack? Most observers think it can only be a brief attack on military targets, airfields , strategy centres,barracks, etc. The Syrian government now will have ample time to remove much of value from such targets in the next weeks. Cruise missles are very accurate but not 100%, and any variance will inevitably land on civilians. Is the US prepared for the reaction of the Moslem world if that happens? 3. Worst of all, has the US considered what the consequences would be if the security information, much of it apparently gathered by tapped telephone calls, turns out to be planted information by the other side, a standard spy-ploy. Many suspect that’s what the Russians suspect – they are no novices at that – and it is not inconceivable. What if it turns out the US with unmanned drones bombed the wrong targets in another legendary Middle-Eastern city out there in the cradle of civilization. 4. And finally, how does the US imagine the reaction in the Arab world after an attack.1 Comment
“Political realism refuses to identify the moral aspirations of a particular nation with the moral laws that govern the universe. …All nations are tempted — and few have been able to resist the power for long — to clothe their own aspirations and action in the moral purposes of the universe. …There is a world of difference between the belief that all nations stand under the judgment of God, inscrutable to the human mind, and the blasphemous conviction that God is always on one’s side and that what one wills oneself cannot fail to be willed by God also.”
― Hans J. Morgenthau
Morgenthau’s comments (above) are useful reminders of some of the realities in play as the United States stands on the threshold of using military force in Syria.
Morgenthau was driven out of America’s foreign policy establishment because of his disapproval of America’s folly in Vietnam and some 10 years later when – after some 58,000 American and over a million Vietnamese deaths – Morgenthau turned out to be right, we walked away from the war while one of its last main architects, Henry Kissinger, stayed on as Secretary of State until 1977. Today Vietnam is a favorite stopover for American tourists.
The lessons of Vietnam lingered until the early 2000′s when the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center opened a Pandora’s Box of national self pity, false belief in America’s omnipotence, and a belief that we know how to help other countries move toward re-inventing themselves in our image.
We went into Afghanistan originally to seek revenge for the 9-11 attacks and in a short period drove the Taliban into a relatively short-lived exile, installing in its place our almost comically corrupt ally, Hamid Karzai as President. But almost at once, the George Bush administration saw 9-11 as an excuse to do something neocons had wished for some time – the removal of Saddam Hussein from the world stage. There is no need to review the fiasco that became the Iraq War, nor its dreadful consequences. The decision to invade Iraq was built at least partially on the delusions that we were doing God’s work in bringing democracy to Iraq, that Saddam was an evil person that we needed to punish, and that we would easily carry the day. Today Iraq has an ongoing civil war, lacks democratic ideals, is unable to function even as well as it had under Saddam, and thousands of American troops and millions of Iraqis, have died or suffered irreparable damage.. If that is not enough, we can reflect on the results of over ten years’ effort to bring democracy to Afghanistan.
But here we are, trying to figure out the best way to punish the president of a country who has done something of which we disapprove and on the other hand wondering how best to help countries, including Syria move toward “democracy”.
President Assad of Syria is a nasty person and his apparent use of chemical weapons on his own people is a despicable act. But does it really warrant a military intrusion by the U.S.? Or, more importantly, is it in our national interest to intervene militarily in a civil war in which we do not have anyone to support, that we know that the rest of the world does not support our getting involved, and that the only American support for getting involved rests with the same tired, old neocons and internationally naive warriors like Senators McCain and Graham. I see nothing good coming from this unless you count Obama’s polishing his power credentials as worth the present and likely future costs. It is perhaps useful to remember that the chemical attack killed ca. 1000 civilians, the more traditional and “acceptable” weaponry like bombs, shrapnel, bullets, etc. have killed upwards of 100,000 Syrians. Dead is dead, whether by chemical or bomb, or bullet and there is considerable recent evidence that whenever we get militarily involved in that part of the world we make matters worse. (It is instructive to remember our complicity in Saddam’s use of chemical warfare on Kurds in 1988 – go to the link for more detail). The immediate result of U.S. bombing in Syria would be to add to the dead. We can only guess at the long-term results but might reflect on life in Iraq today for some suppositions.
Today it seems that the administration has decided to intervene in Syria in some way and is putting together a rationale to support a decision already made but apparently based on our God given right to punish sinners and not on America’s core national interests.No Comments
It signalled the end of an era last month when Alex Colville passed away in Wolfville, Nova Scotia at the age of 92. His wife of 70 years, who had been the model for almost all the women in his paintings, had predeceased him by only a few months and there was a certain sense of order and correctness when Alex died at home in the old family home in a small town in Nova Scotia. Like several of the elite formers of modern American literature – we’ll just mention the great American poets Richard Wilbur and Anthony Hecht and the novelist Norman Mailer – Colville had experienced the horrors of the Second World War first hand, where it really counted, as a young lieutenant with the Canadian troops that fought their way from Juno Beach in Normandie through the Netherlands to the concentration camps of Central Europe.
Like Hecht he had been there when a concentration camp was freed – in his case it was Bergen-Belsen – and witnessed a scene he could never forget. And he was commissioned to catch that for the historical record, for he was a war artist. He was under orders to use the primitive painting materials in his pack to make the sketches on site that he could later turn into oil paintings. Years later, when he was considered one of the elite world artists and his painting were sold for small fortunes, he would indicate that he felt that those sketches, now almost all in the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, captured something of the nightmarish horror he was witnessing but that he could not transform them successfully into oil paintings. The colour itself was so out of place that it destroyed even the painterly illusion of reality by its very existence.
And then Hecht would go on to write splendidly controlled presentations of an ordered world that on occasion ended with a messenger of death and concentrations camps knocking at the door. Wilbur would go on to be one of the best classical poets in the English language, a complete master of linguistic form, but the reader often had the strange feeling that something threatening loomed just below the surface of the beautifully described things of this world. Mailer offered the naked and the dead in all their helplessness in the battles of the South Pacific islands, before himself becoming an anarchic self-destructive wanderer in an inebriated universe.
As for Alex Colville – He returned to his roots, rarely leaving his Maritime home base with all its beauty and idyllic familiarity. He would soon become a reasonably celebrated artist of this world, often drawing on family, animals and the sea for his compass. But beneath the surface of an apparently tranquil scene of beauty, a kind of terror emerged from the beginning of his career and never disappeared. Often it was conveyed by the unexpected presence of a gun on a table or a potential weapon in a hand and sometimes it was the due to the dramatic presence of a horse he railroad tracks running straight at a roaring train. In all of his great works Colville displayed a masterly control of the scene on the canvas, often geometrically prepared in advance, that drew on old and new masters of realism like Vermeer and Hopper and made no attempt to join the popular movements toward abstract expressionism. With the exception of a year spent in Berlin at the invitation of the German government (in this time he painted one of his greatest works, The Woman on the Spree) he spent no time in the art centres. In his professional isolation and family centrality, he knew that he was gathering together an oeuvre of superlatively painted super-realistic works containing more than a strain of explosive power that could erupt at any time and destroy the idyll. just as the march to Bersen-Belgen would destroy the old hope of basic human decency and a superior European culture.