Saturday, June 28, 2008

Obit for the Old World

by Tom Engelhardt

For those who didn't happen to notice -- perhaps because it wasn't exactly front-page news in most of the country -- NASA's James Hansen, the man who first alerted Congress to the dangers of global warming 20 years ago, returned to testify before the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming this week.

This time around, he was essentially offering a final warning on the subject. Unless the United States begins to act soon, he pointed out, "it will become impractical to constrain atmospheric carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas produced in burning fossil fuels, to a level that prevents the climate system from passing tipping points that lead to disastrous climate changes that spiral dynamically out of humanity's control."

For the "elements of a 'perfect storm,' a global cataclysm" being assembled, he placed special blame on the "CEOs of fossil energy companies [who] know what they are doing and are aware of [the] long-term consequences of continued business as usual." He added that they should, in his opinion, "be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature… I anticipate testifying against relevant CEOs in future public trials."

That's a novel thought in our nation's capital. Oh, and while he was at it, he probably should have thrown in George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and crew. What they haven't done (and what they've blocked from being done) over these last eight years may turn out to be their greatest crime of all. Talk about smoking guns... or is it melting ice?

And here is the sad thing: As with so much else in these last years, the only way global warming has gotten the slightest respect in Bush's Washington is as a national security issue. Big surprise. The Navy, for instance, was already holding a symposium entitled "Naval operations in an Ice-Free Arctic" in April 2001. Now it seems that by 2010, or 2015 at the latest, the Navy may have its wish -- an iceless Arctic Ocean in the summer for the first time in perhaps one million years, and a scramble for energy and mineral wealth at the poles.

One office in the Pentagon, war-gaming about climate change back in 2004, wrote up a hair-raising, spine-tingling end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it report on a future planet in eternal conflict amid every kind of weather disaster. And only this week, the U.S. Intelligence Community -- the official 16 agencies gathering the stuff for the government -- chimed in with a grim new report, "The National Security Implications of Global Climate Change Through 2030."

As National Security and the Threat of Climate Change, a 2007 report from the CNA Corporation (a military-allied research organization) indicated, admirals and generals galore have been worrying about the subject for a while. Think, for instance, of those low-lying U.S. bases, like the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, which might just go under. Could climate change not only send millions fleeing from flooding or salinating lowlands, or out of areas of conflict over ever scarcer resources, but start the process of de-garrisoning the globe for the Pentagon? ("Climate change could compromise some of [our] bases…[T]he loss of some forward bases would require longer range lift and strike capabilities and would increase the military's energy needs.") It's enough to set a military-minded group to worrying.

Now, in a striking report, Living on the Ice Shelf, from the front lines of science, Mike Davis, author most recently of In Praise of Barbarians: Essays Against Empire, "welcomes" the new geologic era we are officially entering: a period in which humanity may simply, and catastrophically, outrun history itself.

As he puts it: "Our world, our old world that we have inhabited for the last 12,000 years, has ended, even if no newspaper in North America or Europe has yet printed its scientific obituary.”

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire, a collection of some of the best pieces from his site, has just been published. He is also the author of The End of Victory Culture.

Copyright © 2008 The Nation

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Reckless Incitement to War

Israel's Reckless Incitement of War
by Patrick Seale

Israel’s campaign of propaganda and intimidation against Iran and its nuclear programme has reached dangerous proportions. It risks building an unstoppable momentum for war with catastrophic consequences for the region, the wider world -- and for Israel itself.

It bears a marked resemblance to the campaign of disinformation that Israel and its neo-conservative allies -- inside and outside the Bush administration -- waged against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the run-up to the 2003 war.

Israel is widely thought to be urging President George W. Bush to strike Iran before he leaves office next January. This was the message Prime Minister Ehud Olmert carried to the White House on his latest visit to the U.S. in early June.

Israel’s persistent war-mongering has drawn a cry of alarm from Muhammad al-Baradei, director-general of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency. Nothing that he saw in Iran posed “a current, grave and urgent danger,” he declared in an interview with Al Arabiya TV last Friday. On the other hand, a military strike against Iran would, he said, turn the region into a ‘fireball’ and drive Iran to build nuclear weapons.

He might have added that a U.S./Israel attack on Iran would have a disastrous impact on the economies and societies of the Arab Gulf, which would inevitably find itself in the line of fire.

Three recent developments have served to raise fears of a confrontation.

• Earlier this month, Israel conducted a major air exercise over the Eastern Mediterranean involving over 100 F-16 and F-15 warplanes. Pentagon officials said its apparent aim was to practice flight tactics and aerial refueling for a possible strike against Iran’s nuclear installations.

•In a major front-page interview on 20 June with the French daily Le Monde, Israel’s Defence Minister Ehud Barak categorically dismissed as false America’s recent National Intelligence Estimate, which had concluded that Iran halted its military nuclear programme in 2003.

Instead, Barak repeated the familiar Israeli mantra that Iran was “a challenge to the whole world” and that “no options should be taken off the table.” If the world allowed Iran to become a nuclear power, nuclear devices would, he predicted, fall into the hands of terrorists within a decade, and could be sent by container to a major port on America’s East Coast, to Europe or to Israel.

Israel, he said, had to be a “lion” in a “rough environment.” It faced threats from “radical Islamic terrorism, the proliferation of military nuclear technology and rogue states.” In confronting these threats, he mentioned former Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s destruction of Iraq’s French-built nuclear reactor in 1991, as if to say that this was a precedent to be followed.

Barak failed, however, to mention Israel’s own substantial contribution to Middle East violence, lawlessness and chaos.

• A recent 30-page study by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, entitled The Last Resort, argues not just for a one-off strike against Iran -- using, if necessary, nuclear earth-penetrating munitions -- but for a more ambitious policy of “successive military strikes against a number of targets, in tandem with a variety of nonmilitary measures, carried out over an extended period [of] time.” Iran, it seemed to be advocating, should be hit hard and kept down for the foreseeable future!

The Washington Institute is one of Israel’s main instruments for influencing American opinion. It directs its efforts at shaping the Administration’s Middle East policy, in much the same way as AIPAC, the Israeli lobby, shapes opinion in the U.S. Congress.

Just as it pressed for the destruction of Iraq by the United States, so Israel is now pressing for the destruction of Iran. It evidently persists in seeing its ultimate long-term security in terms of military domination over a weakened and shattered region, rather than in comprehensive peace with its neighbours.

But this is almost certainly a strategic blunder of the first importance. It has not won Israel security and could prove self-destructive. The time has surely come for Israel to rethink the security doctrine it has pursued since the creation of the state in 1948.

Patrick Seale
is a leading British writer on the Middle East, and the author of The Struggle for Syria; also, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East; and Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire.

Copyright © 2008 Patrick

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Harper Proposes Change to Copyright Laws

Educated Canadians oppose copyright act changes

p2pnet Canadian industry minister Jim Prentice is promoting his bill C-61 Canadian DMCA as a “made-in-Canada approach that will benefit all Canadians”.

But Canadians aren’t exactly lining up in support with, “more educated respondents … much more likely to want their MPs to oppose the changes to the Copyright Act,” says a new study.

On top of that, fewer than half of respondents think the proposed amendments balance the rights of copyright holders and consumers.

Under proposed changes, people could be fined $500 for downloading copyrighted material, and up to $20,000 for hacking digital locks or uploading copyrighted material to file-sharing websites, notes the poll, from an Angus Reid.

But, “Canadians are clearly divided on the proposed changes, with 45 per cent of respondents supporting the amendments, and another 45 per cent rejecting them,” it says, with one-in-ten undecided.

Regionally, British Columbia (52%) and Alberta (48%) show the most resistance, while Quebec (53%) and the Atlantic Provinces (50%) are, “the most encouraging of tougher copyright infringement laws,” says the report.

“In turn, Manitoba and Saskatchewan (21%) house the most respondents who are unsure on the issue,” it says, going on >>>

The survey reveals that a majority of Canadians over the age of 55 and those with a high school diploma or less are clearly in favour of the amendments to the Copyright Act. Sixty-one per cent of older Canadians support the new changes, while only 23 per cent of those aged 18 to 34 and 47 per cent of those aged 35 to 54 feel the same way.

Canadians are also split over whether or not downloading music equals stealing it, an idea originally mooted by Vivendi Universal, EMI, Warner Music and Sony BMG’s RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) which claims downloading is exactly the same as walking into a store and shoplifting a CD.

Fifty percent of the people included in the poll agree with the RIAA, 45% disagree, and four per cent aren’t sure.

“A breakdown among various groups reveals that women (54%), older Canadians (65%), respondents living in households earning more than $100,000 a year (57%) and university graduates (53%) are more prone to believe that downloading music from the Internet without paying amounts to stealing,” says Angue Reid.

‘Lobbying by the North American music industry’

Respondents were given a list of seven statements, “related to the new amendments and asked whether they agree or disagree with each one,” says the company.

The result?

The vast majority (76%), “believe the proposed amendments to the Copyright Act are being introduced as a result of lobbying by the North American music industry”.

The poll also says asked about how they’d want their Member of Parliament to vote on the proposed amendments, more respondents said they wanted their MP to vote against the changes (39%) than for it (32%).

“The discrepancy between males and females is also of interest,” Angus Reid says, adding, “While 49 per cent of men want their MPs to vote against the new copyright amendments, only 29 per cent of females concur.

“Respondents aged 18 to 34 once again show the highest level of opposition to tougher restrictions, with a clear majority (58%) saying they want their MP to vote against the new changes —- compared to 37 per cent in the 35-54 age group and only 27 per cent of older adults.”

Pre-emptive Justice

US asks to rewrite detainee evidence

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration wants to rewrite the official evidence against Guantanamo Bay detainees, allowing it to shore up its cases before they come under scrutiny by civilian judges for the first time.

The government has stood behind the evidence for years. Military review boards relied on it to justify holding hundreds of prisoners indefinitely without charge. Justice Department attorneys said it was thoroughly and fairly reviewed.

Now that federal judges are about to review the evidence, however, the government says it needs to make changes.

The decision follows last week's Supreme Court ruling, which held that detainees have the right to challenge their detention in civilian court, not just before secret military panels. At a closed-door meeting with judges and defense attorneys this week, government lawyers said they needed time to add new evidence and make other changes to evidentiary documents known as "factual returns."

Attorneys for the detainees criticized the idea, saying the government is basically asking for a last-minute do-over.

"It's sort of an admission that the original returns were defective," said attorney David Remes, who represents many detainees and attended Wednesday's meeting. "It's also an admission that the government thinks it needs to beef up the evidence."

Justice Department spokesman Erik Ablin declined to comment on the plan. The discussions were confirmed by several attorneys and officials who attended or were briefed on the meeting with the judges and defense lawyers.

"It's a totally fishy maneuver that suggests that the government wants, at the 11th hour, to get its ducks in a row," said Jonathan Hafetz, an attorney representing several detainees. He was briefed on the plan.

The documents include the government's accusations and summaries of the evidence that was presented to the military review panel. The records were filed in federal court in many detainee cases in 2004 and 2005, before Congress stripped those courts of the authority to hold hearings.

Detainees' attorneys who have reviewed the records criticized much of the evidence as hearsay cobbled together from bounty hunters and border guards who accused people of being terrorists in exchange for reward money.

At Guantanamo Bay, the traditional rules of evidence do not apply in trials run by the military. In a Washington federal courtroom, they would.

The government wants to submit new records, which would allow it to add new intelligence and expand its reasoning for holding the detainees. Since the hearings will decide whether the detainees are lawfully being held now — not whether they were lawfully being held over the past several years — the government wants to provide the court its newest, best evidence.

It will be up to federal judges to decide whether the Justice Department can rewrite those documents.

The question is part of a broader dispute over what the upcoming hearings will look like. Attorneys for the detainees want judges to review all the evidence and decide whether each prisoner should be released. The government believes the judges should look only at limited evidence prepared by officials at Guantanamo Bay.

That's why defense attorneys are troubled by the idea that authorities now want to rewrite that evidence. If the court limits arguments to just the government's record, and gives the government a chance to improve that record, they believe the detainees' chances will be hurt.

"They're not just talking about making a little supplement where they've learned something new," said attorney Charles H. Carpenter, who was in the meeting. "They're talking about possibly amending every single one."


Helicopters for Homeless Patrol

Saanich police use helicopter to spot homeless in parks
ROB SHAW, Times Colonist
Friday, June 20, 2008
Police have taken to the sky to search for homeless people camping in Saanich parks.

Officers used one of the RCMP's provincial helicopters this week to scour the more than 150 municipal parks. It was the first time they've used aerial surveillance to spot hard-to-see camps of homeless people, said Saanich police spokesman Const. Brad Brajcich. "It was a trial for us," he said.

As warm summer weather increases, police are concerned campers pose a serious fire risk in wooded areas, said Brajcich.

On Monday, officers spotted two suspicious-looking areas in Cuthbert Holmes Park, near Admirals Road and the Trans-Canada Highway. The police bike squad investigated the sites Tuesday but they appeared abandoned, said Const. Michael Gee.

"They weren't used to camp, it was something that had been there for some time," said Gee, who is on the bike squad.

A pair of Saanich bike officers patrol the parks and Galloping Goose Trail every day looking for campers, said Gee. In the last year, Gee said he's noticed a significant decrease in homeless camping in Saanich. "We're finding we don't have as many campers here as in the city," he said.

If officers do find a camp, park staff haul away the belongings -- such as tarps, clothes and backpacks -- and leave a note with contact information. Saanich parks manager Rae Roer said it is rare for anyone to actually claim missing belongings. Camping in a park violates municipal bylaws and can result in a fine.

The homeless community is a particular focus of police in the summer. In Victoria, increased police enforcement usually drives the homeless out of the tourist-filled downtown core, along the Galloping Goose Trail to camping locations in Vic West and Saanich. Last summer, residents of newly built condos in Vic West began complaining to police, who in turn increased patrols and pushed the campers elsewhere.

A CRD bylaw officer accompanied police during the helicopter ride to look at regional parks, such as Elk/Beaver Lake. Chief CRD bylaw officer Don Brown said it was a unique opportunity, because the CRD could not afford a helicopter on its own.

Saanich police said it did not cost much money to charter the helicopter, because the force already contributes to a provincial fund and gets a number of flight-days a year.