Reboot Alberta

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Are the Feds Ignoring the Mountain Pine Beetle Impact in Alberta?

The Harper government is big into Mountain Pine Beetle spending in BC but seriously lagging in doing anything about the Alberta infestation. The recent conference on the impact of MPB infestation in Grande Prairie pointed out the damages is already done to the forests in BC and the real need for help there is to assist communities and industry to adapt to the post-beetle reality. I will post on these MPB conference comments from the Grande Prairie conference in the near future once the video tapes of the speeches are on DVD and I have them in hand.

If we do not stop it in Alberta, the experts are suggesting it then spreads and reaches out across the boreal forest throughout the entire country. That is devastation that has impacts beyond forest industry and communities, important as those are, but also in the negative effect on the balance of the planet’s entire ecosystem.

The Alberta Forest Products Association has already complained about the political nature of BC pre-election spending by the Harper government on railway upgrades in the name of MPB action.

I have been working with Glenn Taylor, Mayor of Hinton and the Chair of the Grande Alberta Economic Region, (GAER) on some strategic approaches to help the west central Alberta communities adapt to the reality of MPB on their communities. They are very proactive and we have done a video on Policy Channel explaining what the MPB infestation means and what needs to be done. Local governments need the feds and the province to step up and damn quickly if we are to do anythings effective in dealing with the infestation impacts.

No doubt the BC industry and affected communities need help but the Fed response is reactionary at best. The also need to get proactive in Alberta and start putting some of their efforts and funds in here too. Albertans are Canadians too.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Toffler's Magnificant Metaphor for Institutional Change

Every now and then you get a great writer who gives you a metaphor that is intriguing as well as instructive. This is how I see the comparison of institutional change metaphor of Alvin and Heide Toffler in their new book “Revolutionary Wealth.” The chapter on “Clash of Speeds” deals with institutional “leaders and laggards.” This post is a paraphrase of what they say in terms of what is happening to key institutions in America (likely Canada too) and the rate of change they are “driving” as we move to a 21st century economy.

The Tofflers ask you to consider nine key institutions like cars “speeding” down the highway of change and to consider their capacity and experience and their rate of change.

First at 100 mph, the fastest change agents are companies and business, which Toffler says “actually drive many of the transformations of the rest of society.” They use technology to blast ahead and force suppliers and distributors to make parallel changes all due to intense competition.

At 90 mph we have civil society who they “consider collectively, and packed like circus clowns into that second car.” This is a burgeoning sector of thousands of groups “churning and changing” in pro and anti business ways, includes NGOs, professional groups, coalitions and even sports federations. “Because NGO led movements tend to be small, fast, flexible units organized into networks they run rings around large corporate and government institutions.

At 60 mph is the “American” family that has morphed in the face of industrialization where it shrank and abandoned the old style nuclear model of a dad, a stay-at-home mom and 2 kids under 18…fewer than 25% of North American homes fit that designation today. Family is now embracing single parents, unmarried couples, multiple remarriages and blended families, geriatric families, gay unions either civil or marriages. Now the home is more than a castle or a sanctuary and it is about to “in source” as tele-workers stay home and work from the family environment.

Clocking at 30 mph is the labour movement slowed by the change of “muscle work to mind work, from interchangeable skills to non-interchangeable skills and form blindly reputational to innovational tasks.” Temporary teams and projects dominate the new work groupings while unions languish in 1930s organizational models and expectations.

“Sputtering along in the slow lane are government bureaucracies and regulatory agencies” running at 25 mph. “Skilled at deflecting criticism and delaying change…the pyramidal bureaucracies run the day-to-day affair of government…slowing the pace of change for government and business.”

Coming along at ten mph even bureaucrats can see these folks in their rear view mirror…the schools systems. Toffler bemoans the lack of competition and an educational institutional culture persisting that was designed to serve an outmoded factory-style industrial age. He asks, “Can a ten mile per hour education system prepare students for jobs in companies moving at a 100 mph?” Hummm?

Chugging along at 5 mph are the big scale world based dysfunctional international global governance inter-governmental institutions like the UN, NATO, IMF, WTO to name a few. Perhaps the challenges to national sovereignty that are now in play will emphasize how dysfunctional these institutions really are.

Next a 3 mph Toffler tags political structures in rich countries, earmarking (sic) Congress and the White House to political parties themselves. No reason to believe that this designation would not apply equally to Canada to my mind. Designed for a more relaxed and leisurely debating society, they are hard pressed to respond to the faster action and high complexity and the new world reality of knowledge based globalized societies.

Lastly, the tortoise time change magic of 1 mph is captured by the slowest changing institution in modern society, todays the legal system. While law firms are quick to adapt with new responsive specialties and technologies, the pace at which the system operates is still glacial, that is pre-climate change glacial by the way. Toffler says “The body of law is said to be ‘living’ –but only barely so.” Sure the law needs to change slowly and to act as measure of predictability and an application of a judicious brake on overly rapid economic and social change. Toffler rightly asks, “But how slow is slow?”

Something to chew on for sure.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Will There be Big Changes in the Alberta Health System?

The over-arching political and policy question facing the Stelmach government around hospital safety standards is how Alberta got into this situation in the first place. The facts are starting to come out and more will emerge over time no doubt. The resignation of the East Central Health Board is a start; media reports say more changes of people in positions of authority will be forthcoming. Hancock has ordered all other RHAs to review their situation on infection control and sterilization practices and to report to HIM in a month.

This is clearly a situation where we must fix the problem but I also think we need to fix the blame too. I have not yet read the Health Quality Council of Alberta report or the GOA response but I will. I may have more to say on the subject then too. In the meantime I think there is some blame to be fixed on the old policy around the political reasons behind the decision to decentralize health care into regional authorities in Alberta.

Personally I think the idea of regional health care authorities has merit. It can help inform and design policy that can better understand and respond to local differences and realities in the province. That said it has not always worked that way and until the recent leadership change and Hancock taking over Health and Wellness the unique health care needs of the people Wood Buffalo were blithely ignored. Hancock almost immediately upon his swearing in put a couple of hundred million into health care needs into Wood Buffalo…and acknowledged that was just a start.

The problem of the good idea of RHAs is that they had some serious political flaws from the get go. Those flaws were the unspoken political motives behind the policy decision. First they were supposed to save money in the system by getting the system out of the hands of bureaucrats and into local people who would be “right thinking” about serving the health care needs of their region. It did not save money, it tended to starve the local systems instead. Once the debt and deficit was done we ended up paying a lot more just to catch up to the infrastructure deficit and the need to respond to growth.

The second flaw was the governance issue of the relationship between the RHAs and the GOA politically. The stated reason for RHAs was to get the decision making power closer to the people and “out of the dome.” That did not really happen. Instead the RHAs became a buffer to protect the politicians from having to deal directly with citizen concerns. That was (and is?) true of may other regional boards in other areas from Children's Services to Persons with Developmental Disabilities just name a couple.,

So when we fix blame, it is not just the board members and the problem with professionals meeting standards…it is the governance and politics that motivated the RHAs in the original instances that must carry some of the blame load.

I’ll bet the accountability and governance concerns are what Hancock is looking at when he says he will work with the RHAs “…to work towards a more cohesive provincial system.” Or when he says “this is not about reorganizing the health authorities again, at this stage. That is not to say it wouldn’t be an outcome of the whole process.”

Good government is always good politics. Rarely is the reverse true and we are seeing the consequences of that in this major health safety issue in Alberta today.

The 15 Greenest Cities - Canada has one of them

Vancouver makes it into the Grist Magazine's list of the 15 Greenest Cities. Quebec City gets an Honourable Mention too but no other Canadian cities make the cut. Surprising list when you read it … #1 Reykjavik Iceland. I want to visit Iceland. It has to be one of the most interesting civilizations on the planet these days.

I wonder if Grist Magazine ever heard of Edmonton? Based on what I have read on what it takes to qualify for the list, Edmonton should be right up there.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Stemach Government Taking Over Hospital Standards

OMIGOD! Read this CTV link. It suggests that an Alberta government that is actually actively governing and taking responsibility for ensuring that citizen’s needs are met and rights are protected...and in health care too!

Look into the night sky. Is that a blue moon I see? No? This must be a sign of a renewal and revitalization of government. Can we hope that this is an indication of government once again taking on an appropriate role responsibility and looking at serving the needs its citizens?

If this news item is accurate then it is a sure sign that Stelmach and Hancock are putting the PROGRESSIVE back in the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party. About time if you ask me! Let the banners fly and the bells ring out!

Alberta Forest Industry Spanks the Feds Over Mountain Pine Beetle Funding

The Alberta Forest Products Association (who have been client’s of mine but not currently) are very engaged in responding to the Alberta infestation of Mountain Pine Beetle. They have sent a letter to the Editor of the National Post chastising the federal government for using designated funds for responding to mountain pine beetle infestation redirected for “improving rail service in BC." How does improved rail service in BC help stop the MPB? Is this move politically motivated instead of being science driven policy?

When will the feds focus on Alberta as the place the battle has to be engaged if we are to save the boreal forest? It is worth a read and the implications of the MPB killing our pine forest on our economy and our ecology and our society have to be considered. Good to see industry engaging in all aspects of this disaster in the making. Here is the AFPA letter to the National Post

July 20, 2007
Letter to Editor:
The National Post

RE: Rail gains from beetle funding by Nathan VanderKlippe July 19, 2007
The Alberta forest industry is deeply troubled by the report that Federal funding designated to combat the Mountain Pine Beetle outbreak will be utilized to improve rail service in British Columbia. We are especially concerned because north-west Alberta has now become the frontline in the battle to contain this epidemic.

With more than 2.5 million pines trees infested in northern Alberta last year alone by an overflight of beetles from British Columbia, our industry and provincial government have invested millions of dollars and significant other resources to deal with the situation. So far, no federal assistance has been provided in Alberta to support front line Mountain Pine Beetle control efforts. Alberta pine trees are dying and dead, and the next generation of beetles are now emerging and looking for new pine trees to infest and kill.

Just east of the current Alberta front line in the beetle infestation is a great forest buffet called the Boreal Forest. If the mountain pine beetle gets a foothold in the Boreal there is a good chance it will eat its way clear across our northern forests to the Atlantic Ocean.

Through a concentrated and dedicated effort by all parties, we stand a fighting chance of holding, or at least minimizing the damage to the ecosystem and local communities, as a result of the beetle outbreak. The use of funds earmarked to combat Mountain Pine Beetle for private rail interests instead is not acceptable. Don’t play politics with the health of Canada’s forests. Use the money allocated for mountain pine beetle control into actually fighting the beetle’s eastward advance.

Neil Shelly, P.Eng
Executive Director
Alberta Forest Products Association, Edmonton

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Michael Moore Goes Head to Head With Stephen Colbert

More Moore on mainstream media and the Colbert Report interviews Michael Moore. Colbert actually gets more talk time in the interiview than The Michael. Satire for sure but almost good journalism coming from the Colbert Report in this piece.

Friday, July 20, 2007

French Government Bans PDAs - For Fear of US Spying

The Financial Times is reporting today that the new French Cabinet is forbidden from using Blackberries because of fears that the US could intercept state secrets.

The French government national security organization has banned the use of PDAs by ANYONE in the President’s or Prime Minister’s offices based on “a very real risk of interception” by third parties.

Is seems the paranoia is based on the fact that the Blackberry servers are located in the US and UK and strategic and sensitive information could fall into foreign hands. The repost cites a confidential study done 2 years ago by a civil servant in charge of economic intelligence. Earlier ban of Blackberries on other French government departments made officials in government use them secretly.

I though the US government would be too busy these spying on its own citizens and “outing” their own spies to have time to worry about the French. And why would they care about French “intelligence” since they refused to participate in Bush’s War of Terror in Iraq.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Industry Warns Alberta About Managing Growth

At a recent meeting of the Alberta Chamber of Resources industry leaders articulated some sobering realities. Alberta may be the youngest, healthiest, richest, hardest working, best educated, urbanized and most resource endowed place in the county and perhaps the planet, we are not without problems and challenges…and most of them are of our own making.

Managing the growth pressures are one of the key policy priorities of the Stelmach government and that resonates with Albertans. Given the comments by ACR President Roger Thomas at the recent Annual General Meeting it looks the “marketplace” is creating ample opportunity but a correction to the hyper growth concerns in the province is on the horizon.

Here are some of Mr. Thomas’ insights around the issues of managing growth in Alberta:

“There is a strong public perception that current pace of economic growth will
continue unabated, and a growing sentiment that big industry alone should
pay the costs associated with this growth.”

“When it comes to regulation of industrial growth, there is a sentiment out there that we are
moving too fast, and there are lots of people who thing it’s time to slow
things down. We need to find the balance between growth and

“There is also an element of stakeholder fatigue in activities relating to resource development these days. Everyone is extremely busy, and we don’t always have the ability to connect all the
dots when it comes to achieving balance.”

Other dose-of-reality facts stated by Mr. Thomas that are worth reflecting on, like:

  • There is expected to be a $6.5 billion decrease in spending in the traditional oil and gas sector in 2007 as compared to 2006.
  • The cost of bringing new gas to market is approaching $5/GJ, putting price pressure on the marketplace.
  • Drilling rig utilization is at an all-time low of 18 per cent and the growth curve for the service industry in this sector is flat.
  • Oil sands, land sales are down significantly in the first quarter of 2007.
  • Climate change rules already in place will mean virtually every major producer in Alberta will have to pay into the Province’s technology fund – and this still does not factor in federal measures on climate change.
  • Power demand for Alberta is expected to rise by 3,800 MW by 2016, but only 690 MW of new power development is currently approved and under construction. Power prices are expected to rise and the marginal cost nature of Alberta’s power pool structure is not set up for the flow through of these costs.
  • The tradition frame housing market in the United States has collapsed, reducing the demand for lumber. In addition, the mountain pine beetle threatens to decimate Alberta forests at a time when forestry companies can least afford it.

Mr. Thomas was being a realist but his concluding message was encouraging when he said.

“Even in the face of these warning signs, however, the prospects for resource development in Alberta are far from doom and gloom. World energy demand will continue to increase and our long-term resource fundamentals remain sound. We need to make sure we don’t stumble on the way to prosperity. A lot will depend on what various levels of government will do in the future in terms of policy on resource development.”

So much of the future responsible stewardship and prosperity of Alberta resource development is dependent on the federal and provincial governments. As we move into the red zone of election time provincially and the perpetual red zone inherent in the federal minority government who knows what is going to happen.

Monday, July 16, 2007

CNN Gets Blitzed by Michael Moore

Here is the "interview" that has Michael Moore taking on Wolf Blitzer on CNN live, up close anda very personal.

Moore is an obvious and an accomplished propagandist. So is CNN, it is just they are not so obvious - and that is the problem.

Sicko's Michael Moore Blitzes CNN's Wolf-man

There is an info-war brewing around Michael Moore and CNN is the “theatre” for this conflict. Moore will only go on MSM television live so he does not get edited and reframed. He recently “Blitzed” CNN’s Situation Room host Wolf on July 9th over claims of misrepresentation and distortion around his “Sicko” documentary. And now Moore is demanding an apology from CNN.

This is no media stunt to my mind…it is serious stuff. This is not just a skirmish – it is a battle for who has the authoritative and trustworthy voice in media today. CNN likes t promote itself as the most trusted name in news and compared to FOX – who could argue…well Michael Moore for one.

This media event has serious implications and finally the debate is engaged. I suggest every citizen you loves freedom and democracy best pay attention.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Some Perspectives on Foreign Investment in Alberta's Oil Sands

Interesting column in The Times of India today on the wisdom of investing in oil and energy supplies in other countries and it puts some perspective on the recent China pullout of the Gateway Pipeline project.

The Chinese cited lack of Harper’s political will to pursue facilitating the pipeline project. The Chinese interest was through a state-owned company and that gives the government some pause. The other underling issue is the impact of granting access to our energy supply to other markets on Canada-US relations.

CNN reports that the Iraqi war is costing the American people $10B a month and they now have a $9Trillion dollar debt…much of it owed to the Chinese. U.S. sensitivities are inevitable and rather obvious.

That said the India Times piece adds more context and perspective on the wisdom of a nation buying foreign mineral rights instead of just paying market prices for needed commodities, even at high prices instead of investing in foreign countries to ensure supply.

It cites the historical facts that if a nation makes investment in energy supply sources abroad that do not prove large enough, they have achieved no strategic purpose. If, on the other hand, the sources are significant, then the typical approach has been for the local government to nationalize the resources.

The obvious examples quoted are, “…Russia has on bogus environmental grounds cancelled Shell's licence in the giant Sakhalin-2 oilfield, and now seeks to force British Petroleum out of the giant Kovykta gasfield. Venezuela has abrogated contracts with foreign oil companies and acquired majority rights in most oilfields. Bolivia has done the same.” This is not a new phenomenon given a 30 year old Indian example quoted, “The Rostam and Raksh oilfields that India once owned in Iran were nationalised for a pittance in 1978.”

In terms of Canada-US relations and the economic-political philosophy of Alberta being the reliable secure source of continental supply the article makes another interesting observation. “The notion of national security of supply is a largely a diplomatic fiction. Many miracle economies have proved that raw materials are always available at a price. Hence, owning foreign mines and oilfields is not more logical or profitable than buying commodities at the going price.”

It will be interesting to watch the international aspects but the national elements of Canadian and Alberta relations evolve as oil sands development, investment and market issues unfold. It has to be considered in the broader context of competing interests in North America and American security interests for energy supply and homeland security. The broad context of China and India growth and leverage will be a particularly interesting element as well. And we have not even touched on the ecological and social implications – which are just as important considerations on oil sands development these days.

Friday, July 13, 2007

China Says Au Revoir Canada - Buenos Dias Venezuela

Is China saying they would rather deal with Venezuela who is nationalizing it oil resources, than Stephen Harper? The media today is full of PetroChina’s announcement yesterday speaking of investing in Canada saying “The environment is not comfortable. We tried to come here and we can’t.”

They went further to say “We sincerely wanted to do something and open up a new market for Canadian crude…but Canada doesn’t want to open up is own markets to us.” OUCH!

So we can thank our "business friendly PM for the $4B pullout of Chinese investment in the Gateway pipeline project to the new Prince Rupert Port that was to carry 400,000 barrels per day.

This smells of bad politics. How much have Mr. Harper and his “New” government succumbed to the status quo of Canadian energy export being essentially to only one market…the American market. How is this in the long term best interest of Canada in a new globalized and interdependent world? Is Harper only interest in Canada being dependent on one market source for our energy?

I am all in favour of continental energy supply. It is a key to the Americans getting out of Iraq – which then need to do sooner than later. I wonder of the wisdom of sacrificing investment, market access and geo-political and even environmental relations with the rest of the world – particularly like China and India - as a consequence of a continental energy arrangement. We essentially have continental energy established under NAFTA – if only the Americans would honour the NAFTA accord in areas like beef and softwood.

America is Canada’s friend and neighbour. In a globalized world as an exporting nation we need many more friends and neighbours. Looks like Alberta better get be ready to go it alone with attracting foreign investment. We need the capital and the markets to optimize the opportunities before us. Mr. Harper is more interested in his relationship with the deceptive and duplicitous Bush administration than the best positioning of Canada. I am no Alberta separatist or even a Firewall supporter but boy oh boy does Harper ever given those perceptions a leg up in this province.
Stephen Harper has once again undermined Alberta, his home province, because he can take it for granted - and he does...regularly. He has not done the rest of Canada any favours with this attitude towards China either. It looks more like we will have Harper in power until November 2009 - a whole year longer than George Bush will be President. We all are astonished over how much more harm Bush has done and still can do to the States (and the planet) in the time he has left. Harper is a small player but with up to 16 months more, he can be a disaster akin to Bush if only on a Canadian scale.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Can Alberta Handle Oil Sands Growth Demands?

I note with some consternation the recent media reports about the International Energy Agency around growing global energy demands. There is a media consciousness growing is causing even more focus on the oil sands in Alberta and not all of it is pretty or encouraging.

The pressure is mounting for an even greater expanded and accelerated development to secure North American continental energy supply is going to strain the Alberta economy, society and ecology even more than at present.

Alberta is currently capable of producing just over a 1M barrels per day of oil sands bitumen and is straining and suffering with that level of development. With a potential to expand to 3M by 2020 and 5M by 2030 according to government of Alberta reports but market and political pressures to expand accelerate that production growth is going to be even more problematical for Alberta.

The nine years up to 2004 saw $34B of oil sands investment and a projection (made in 2004-05) of a further $45B by 2010, on a “cautiously estimated basis.” The growing ecological concerns, social disruption and economic havoc such rapid growth has been sobering for thoughtful Albertans for some time now. If the IEA is right, it looks like Alberta “ain’t seen nothin’yet!”

With the IEA report release showing “surging demand in the developing world and the oil-addicted West,” the future is going to be even more challenging than the enormous consequences outlined in the 2004-05 projections. This is ominous for Alberta unless we get a handle on these global realities and their local consequences.

Albertans have to take control over this development on a rational and integrated strategic basis using a long term sustainable, responsible stewardship approach that encourages innovation and requires constant improvement in extraction and reclamation practices. It has to rationalize the development in ways that supports social well being instead of undermining social cohesion and capacity.

There is a place for the market to impact and influence competitive factors for investment, infrastructure development and even to encourage and enable technological innovations. I have no problem with competition but suggest it has to be looked at in terms of its earlier Latin meaning…that of “seeking together” not picking winners and losers.

The marketplace, in terms of oil sands development, is a bit like water is to soup, an essential ingredient, but alas, soup is much more than mere water. An integrated approach to oil sands development requires more than market forces as the operational or the values based perspective lens we need to apply. The future of the oil sands development has to be about creating value but it has to be values based and done within a global context.

This is a potential and a challenge that is much bigger than just how it impacts on Alberta. The oil sands is global in economic scale, it is geo-political as an energy issue and is potentially about the ecological health of the entire planet. Albertans have to be ready to take on these challenges and think this through. We better get very focused, very serious and very engaged about all of this right and NOW!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Teenage Smoking on the Decline

Stats Canada is reporting some progress in the right direction in teenage smoking in a review from February to December 2006. Still a long way to go but these numbers and the trend lines are encouraging. Here is a summary of the findings.

Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey
February to December 2006

Smoking rates among teenagers aged 15 to 19 have declined, according to the latest results from the Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey (CTUMS) conducted from February to December 2006.

An estimated 15% of teenagers in this age group were either daily smokers or smoked occasionally in 2006, down from 18% in 2005, the survey found. The rates for this age group were unchanged between 2003 and 2005 at 18%, after falling from 28% in 1999.

The proportion of teenagers who were daily smokers declined from 11% in 2005 to 9% in 2006.

Young women apparently accounted for most of the decline. The smoking rate for girls aged 15 to 19 fell from 18% in 2005 to 14% in 2006. Smoking prevalence among their male equivalents was 16% compared to 18% in 2005.

In the provinces as a whole, overall smoking prevalence remained constant. Estimates show that slightly fewer than 5 million people, or 19% of the population aged 15 and older, reported smoking daily or occasionally in 2006, roughly the same as in 2005.

Provincial differences in smoking prevalence also remained stable, with all provinces within 5 percentage points of the national average of 19%. The lowest rate was in British Columbia, where only 16% of the population smoked.

As well, 37% of respondents in the CTUMS reported being exposed to second-hand smoke at least once a week. Another 12% said they were exposed to second-hand smoke every day.

Respondents were asked about the most common place in which they had been exposed to second-hand smoke in the 30 days prior to the interview, excluding their own home. Just over one-half (51%) said it was at an entrance to a building, 31% cited outdoor patios of a restaurant or bar, 29% cited inside other people's homes, 25% cited inside a car or other vehicle, and 23% cited in the workplace.

THE PENDING ALBERTA TOBACCO CONTROL legislation scheduled for 3rd reading later this year will address many of these second-hand smoke concerns around entrances to buildings, outdoor restaurant and bar patios and workplaces.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

VP Cheney Does "Oaf Broadway!"

Rusty Idols – who should be one of your regular read Bloggers, has done us a great favour with some links to political cartoons today. But he led me to some even higher concept satire. Thanks to his guidance I have discovered Walt Handelsman’s political animations. This is the Internet at its best and Handelsman is a PULITZER PRIZE WINNER. Not too shabby…not to shabby at all…he is, and has, a gift!

Here is “a must go to link” that shows Handelsman’s handiwork and reinforces some of my recent blog postings on “may he rot in Haliburton” – Vice (and I do mean vice) President Dick Cheney.

Rusty Idols posting give you a recent link to an Economist piece on the trials and tribulations of Fort McMurray reality too. This is a problem the Stelmach government inherited but must stay focused and fixated on a fix - otherwise all of Alberta will end up like Fort Mc.

Bush Pardons Libby! Who Will Pardon Bush?

I don't like to republish MSM piece verbatim in this Blog however the latest Frank Rich column from NYT is a worthy exception (again!). His perspective is always interesting because he is a Pulitzer Prize-winning theatre critic whom NYT switched to political commentary. His commentary shows us just how much politics is like theatre - so much of the time.

I am OK if God wishes to Bless America.
I just hope America appreciates the Blessings of a Free Press and writers like Frank Rich!

July 8, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
A Profile in Cowardice
THERE was never any question that President Bush would grant amnesty to Scooter Libby, the man who knows too much about the lies told to sell the war in Iraq. The only questions were when, and how, Mr. Bush would buy Mr. Libby’s silence. Now we have the answers, and they’re at least as incriminating as the act itself. They reveal the continued ferocity of a White House cover-up and expose the true character of a commander in chief whose tough-guy shtick can no longer camouflage his fundamental cowardice.

The timing of the president’s Libby intervention was a surprise. Many assumed he would mimic the sleazy 11th-hour examples of most recent vintage: his father’s pardon of six Iran-contra defendants who might have dragged him into that scandal, and Bill Clinton’s pardon of the tax fugitive Marc Rich, the former husband of a major campaign contributor and the former client of none other than the ubiquitous Mr. Libby.

But the ever-impetuous current President Bush acted 18 months before his scheduled eviction from the White House. Even more surprising, he did so when the Titanic that is his presidency had just hit two fresh icebergs, the demise of the immigration bill and the growing revolt of Republican senators against his strategy in Iraq.

That Mr. Bush, already suffering historically low approval ratings, would invite another hit has been attributed in Washington to his desire to placate what remains of his base. By this logic, he had nothing left to lose. He didn’t care if he looked like an utter hypocrite, giving his crony a freer ride than Paris Hilton and violating the white-collar sentencing guidelines set by his own administration. He had to throw a bone to the last grumpy old white guys watching Bill O’Reilly in a bunker.

But if those die-hards haven’t deserted him by now, why would Mr. Libby’s incarceration be the final straw? They certainly weren’t whipped into a frenzy by coverage on Fox News, which tended to minimize the leak case as a non-event. Mr. Libby, faceless and voiceless to most Americans, is no Ollie North, and he provoked no right-wing firestorm akin to the uproars over Terri Schiavo, Harriet Miers or “amnesty” for illegal immigrants.

The only people clamoring for Mr. Libby’s freedom were the pundits who still believe that Saddam secured uranium in Africa and who still hope that any exoneration of Mr. Libby might make them look less like dupes for aiding and abetting the hyped case for war. That select group is not the Republican base so much as a roster of the past, present and future holders of quasi-academic titles at neocon think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute.

What this crowd never understood is that Mr. Bush’s highest priority is always to protect himself. So he stiffed them too. Had the president wanted to placate the Weekly Standard crowd, he would have given Mr. Libby a full pardon. That he served up a commutation instead is revealing of just how worried the president is about the beans Mr. Libby could spill about his and Dick Cheney’s use of prewar intelligence.

Valerie Wilson still has a civil suit pending. The Democratic inquisitor in the House, Henry Waxman, still has the uranium hoax underlying this case at the top of his agenda as an active investigation. A commutation puts up more roadblocks by keeping Mr. Libby’s appeal of his conviction alive and his Fifth Amendment rights intact. He can’t testify without risking self-incrimination. Meanwhile, we are asked to believe that he has paid his remaining $250,000 debt to society independently of his private $5 million “legal defense fund.”

The president’s presentation of the commutation is more revealing still. Had Mr. Bush really believed he was doing the right and honorable thing, he would not have commuted Mr. Libby’s jail sentence by press release just before the July Fourth holiday without consulting Justice Department lawyers. That’s the behavior of an accountant cooking the books in the dead of night, not the proud act of a patriot standing on principle.

When the furor followed Mr. Bush from Kennebunkport to Washington despite his efforts to duck it, he further underlined his embarrassment by taking his only few questions on the subject during a photo op at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. You know this president is up to no good whenever he hides behind the troops. This instance was particularly shameful, since Mr. Bush also used the occasion to trivialize the scandalous maltreatment of Walter Reed patients on his watch as merely “some bureaucratic red-tape issues.”

Asked last week to explain the president’s poll numbers, Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center told NBC News that “when we ask people to summon up one word that comes to mind” to describe Mr. Bush, it’s “incompetence.” But cowardice, the character trait so evident in his furtive handling of the Libby commutation, is as important to understanding Mr. Bush’s cratered presidency as incompetence, cronyism and hubris.

Even The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, a consistent Bush and Libby defender, had to take notice. Furious that the president had not given Mr. Libby a full pardon (at least not yet), The Journal called the Bush commutation statement a “profile in non-courage.”
What it did not recognize, or chose not to recognize, is that this non-courage, to use The Journal’s euphemism, has been this president’s stock in trade, far exceeding the “wimp factor” that Newsweek once attributed to his father. The younger Mr. Bush’s cowardice is arguably more responsible for the calamities of his leadership than anything else.

People don’t change. Mr. Bush’s failure to have the courage of his own convictions was apparent early in his history, when he professed support for the Vietnam War yet kept himself out of harm’s way when he had the chance to serve in it. In the White House, he has often repeated the feckless pattern that he set back then and reaffirmed last week in his hide-and-seek bestowing of the Libby commutation.

The first fight he conspicuously ran away from as president was in August 2001. Aspiring to halt federal underwriting of embryonic stem-cell research, he didn’t stand up and say so but instead unveiled a bogus “compromise” that promised continued federal research on 60 existing stem-cell lines. Only later would we learn that all but 11 of them did not exist. When Mr. Bush wanted to endorse a constitutional amendment to “protect” marriage, he again cowered. A planned 2006 Rose Garden announcement to a crowd of religious-right supporters was abruptly moved from the sunlight into a shadowy auditorium away from the White House.

Nowhere is this president’s non-courage more evident than in the “signing statements” The Boston Globe exposed last year. As Charlie Savage reported, Mr. Bush “quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office.” Rather than veto them in public view, he signed them, waited until after the press and lawmakers left the White House, and then filed statements in the Federal Register asserting that he would ignore laws he (not the courts) judged unconstitutional. This was the extralegal trick Mr. Bush used to bypass the ban on torture. It allowed him to make a coward’s escape from the moral (and legal) responsibility of arguing for so radical a break with American practice.

In the end, it was also this president’s profile in non-courage that greased the skids for the Iraq fiasco. If Mr. Bush had had the guts to put America on a true wartime footing by appealing to his fellow citizens for sacrifice, possibly even a draft if required, then he might have had at least a chance of amassing the resources needed to secure Iraq after we invaded it.
But he never backed up the rhetoric of war with the stand-up action needed to prosecute the war. Instead he relied on fomenting fear, as typified by the false uranium claims whose genesis has been covered up by Mr. Libby’s obstructions of justice. Mr. Bush’s cowardly abdication of the tough responsibilities of wartime leadership ratified Donald Rumsfeld’s decision to go into Iraq with the army he had, ensuring our defeat.

Never underestimate the power of the unconscious. Not the least of the revelatory aspects of Mr. Bush’s commutation is that he picked the fourth anniversary of “Bring ’em on” to hand it down. It was on July 2, 2003, that the president responded to the continued violence in Iraq, two months after “Mission Accomplished,” by taunting those who want “to harm American troops.” Mr. Bush assured the world that “we’ve got the force necessary to deal with the security situation.” The “surge” notwithstanding, we still don’t have the force necessary four years later, because the president never did summon the courage, even as disaster loomed, to back up his own convictions by going to the mat to secure that force.

No one can stop Mr. Bush from freeing a pathetic little fall guy like Scooter Libby. But only those who paid the ultimate price for the avoidable bungling of Iraq have the moral authority to pardon Mr. Bush.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

George Bush's Power Grab: Authorizes Martial Law Provisions

Another chilling reality of the Dubya Bush disillusionment. He is now defining a national emergency in ways that will allow him to personally and unilaterally dictate and direct almost every power in all orders of government and even the private sector economy apparently without going to Congress.

These Presidential Directives are being made without notice never mind consultation with Congress.

Whatever happend to the American governance principle of "Checks and Balances?"

Harper and Day Do the Right Thing With the New RCMP Commissioner Appointment

I am usually very critical of the Harper Con-government but when they do something right or courageous I will applaud. I think the appointment of William Elliott as the new RCMP Commissioner is both right and courageous. I give this move more than applause. I actually give it a standing ovation. Mr. Elliott has proven to be able and respected in a trans-partisan way, serving in Prime Ministers Mulroney, Martin and now Harper.

The deplorable leadership and inept management culture of the force has been cancerous to the goals of good policing. Commissioner Elliott need not, and should not, wear the red serge uniform of the RCMP. That is something one earns through professional policing and service on the front lines. However he need not wear the uniform to run and reform the organization. He is, by all accounts, a capable and earnest public servant. It is that sense of duty to public service that has been missing in the nepotism and mismanagement of the RCMP leadership of late.

The RCMP is to serve the public and live up to its motto by “Maintaining the Law” we need fundamental change…especially at the top. There is too much evidence showing disturbing incidences were the management and leadership of the RCMP has been in service of more private and personal interests. There are examples where there have even been serious breaches of the law by the RCMP! That is unacceptable and only "serves" (sic) to undermine public confidence in their credibility and ability to maintain the law.

It is time for big changes in how the RCMP is run. That is clear. To presume this can be done only from the “inside” is a privilege that the RCMP, as an organization and an institution, has squandered. To those traditionalists who believe the military culture of a police force cannot be lead by a civilian, they will have to adapt. The RCMP is not just their organization. It is Canada’s police force that has a proud history and was at one time a proud symbol of our country.

It is time to restore the confidence of Canadians in the RCMP and to return it to a reputation as a respected, effective policing authority and an enduring international symbol of what is good about Canada.

Good luck Commissioner Elliott and good job Stephen Harper and Stockwell Day.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Is Dick Cheney a Law Unto Himself?

The New York Times recently published a piece on the aproach to governance by Vice President Cheney. It is rich in detail, facts, context and interpretation. It is also worth a read if you value democracy.

July 1, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
When the Vice President Does It, That Means It’s Not Illegal

WHO knew that mocking the Constitution could be nearly as funny as shooting a hunting buddy in the face? Among other comic dividends, Dick Cheney's legal theory that the vice president is not part of the executive branch yielded a priceless weeklong series on "The Daily Show" and an online "Doonesbury Poll," conducted at Slate, to name Mr. Cheney's indeterminate branch of government.

The ridicule was so widespread that finally even this White House had to blink. By midweek, it had abandoned that particularly ludicrous argument, if not its spurious larger claim that Mr. Cheney gets a free pass to ignore rules regulating federal officials' handling of government secrets.

That retreat might allow us to mark the end of this installment of the Bush-Cheney Follies but for one nagging problem: Not for the first time in the history of this administration — or the hundredth — has the real story been lost amid the Washington kerfuffle. Once the laughter subsides and you look deeper into the narrative leading up to the punch line, you can unearth a buried White House plot that is more damning than the official scandal. This plot once again snakes back to the sinister origins of the Iraq war, to the Valerie Wilson leak case and to the press failures that enabled the administration to abuse truth and the law for too long.

One journalist who hasn't failed is Mark Silva of The Chicago Tribune. He first reported more than a year ago, in May 2006, the essentials of the "news" at the heart of the recent Cheney ruckus. Mr. Silva found that the vice president was not filing required reports on his office's use of classified documents because he asserted that his role in the legislative branch, as president of the Senate, gave him an exemption.

This scoop went unnoticed by nearly everybody. It would still be forgotten today had not Henry Waxman, the dogged House inquisitor, called out Mr. Cheney 10 days ago, detailing still more egregious examples of the vice president's flouting of the law, including his effort to shut down an oversight agency in charge of policing him. The congressman's brief set off the firestorm that launched a thousand late-night gags.

That's all to the public good, but hiding in plain sight was the little-noted content of the Bush executive order that Mr. Cheney is accused of violating. On close examination, this obscure 2003 document, thrust into the light only because the vice president so blatantly defied it, turns out to be yet another piece of self-incriminating evidence illuminating the White House's guilt in ginning up its false case for war.

The tale of the document begins in August 2001, when the Bush administration initiated a review of the previous executive order on classified materials signed by Bill Clinton in 1995. The Clinton order had been acclaimed in its day as a victory for transparency because it mandated the automatic declassification of most government files after 25 years.

It was predictable that the obsessively secretive Bush team would undermine the Clinton order. What was once a measure to make government more open would be redrawn to do the opposite. And sure enough, when the White House finally released its revised version, the scant news coverage focused on how the new rules postponed the Clinton deadline for automatic declassification and tightened secrecy so much that previously declassified documents could be reclassified.

But few noticed another change inserted five times in the revised text: every provision that gave powers to the president over classified documents was amended to give the identical powers to the vice president. This unprecedented increase in vice-presidential clout, though spelled out in black and white, went virtually unremarked in contemporary news accounts.

Given all the other unprecedented prerogatives that President Bush has handed his vice president, this one might seem to be just more of the same. But both the timing of the executive order and the subsequent use Mr. Cheney would make of it reveal its special importance in the games that the White House played with prewar intelligence.

The obvious juncture for Mr. Bush to bestow these new powers on his vice president, you might expect, would have been soon after 9/11, especially since the review process on the Clinton order started a month earlier and could be expedited, as so much other governmental machinery was, to meet the urgent national-security crisis. Yet the new executive order languished for another 18 months, only to be published and signed with no fanfare on March 25, 2003, a week after the invasion of Iraq began.

Why then? It was throughout March, both on the eve of the war and right after "Shock and Awe," that the White House's most urgent case for Iraq's imminent threat began to unravel. That case had been built around the scariest of Saddam's supposed W.M.D., the nuclear weapons that could engulf America in mushroom clouds, and the White House had pushed it relentlessly, despite a lack of evidence. On "Meet the Press" on March 16, Mr. Cheney pressed that doomsday button one more time: "We believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons." But even as the vice president spoke, such claims were at last being strenuously challenged in public.

Nine days earlier Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency had announced that documents supposedly attesting to Saddam's attempt to secure uranium in Niger were "not authentic." A then-obscure retired diplomat, Joseph Wilson, piped in on CNN, calling the case "outrageous."

Soon both Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Congressman Waxman wrote letters (to the F.B.I. and the president, respectively) questioning whether we were going to war because of what Mr. Waxman labeled "a hoax." And this wasn't the only administration use of intelligence that was under increasing scrutiny. The newly formed 9/11 commission set its first open hearings for March 31 and requested some half-million documents, including those pertaining to what the White House knew about Al Qaeda's threat during the summer of 2001.

The new executive order that Mr. Bush signed on March 25 was ingenious. By giving Mr. Cheney the same classification powers he had, Mr. Bush gave his vice president a free hand to wield a clandestine weapon: he could use leaks to punish administration critics.

That weapon would be employed less than four months later. Under Mr. Bush's direction, Mr. Cheney deputized Scooter Libby to leak highly selective and misleading portions of a 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq to pet reporters as he tried to discredit Mr. Wilson. By then, Mr. Wilson had emerged as the most vocal former government official accusing the White House of not telling the truth before the war.

Because of the Patrick Fitzgerald investigation, we would learn three years later about the offensive conducted by Mr. Libby on behalf of Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush. That revelation prompted the vice president to acknowledge his enhanced powers in an unguarded moment in a February 2006 interview with Brit Hume of Fox News. Asked by Mr. Hume with some incredulity if "a vice president has the authority to declassify information," Mr. Cheney replied, "There is an executive order to that effect." He was referring to the order of March 2003.

Even now, few have made the connection between this month's Cheney flap and the larger scandal. That larger scandal is to be found in what the vice president did legally under the executive order early on rather than in his more recent rejection of its oversight rules.
Timing really is everything. By March 2003, this White House knew its hype of Saddam's nonexistent nuclear arsenal was in grave danger of being exposed. The order allowed Mr. Bush to keep his own fingerprints off the nitty-gritty of any jihad against whistle-blowers by giving

Mr. Cheney the authority to pick his own shots and handle the specifics. The president could have plausible deniability and was free to deliver non-denial denials like "If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is." Mr. Cheney in turn could delegate the actual dirty work to Mr. Libby, who obstructed justice to help throw a smoke screen over the vice president's own role in the effort to destroy Mr. Wilson.

Last week The Washington Post ran a first-rate investigative series on the entire Cheney vice presidency. Readers posting comments were largely enthusiastic, but a few griped. "Six and a half years too late," said one. "Four years late and billions of dollars short," said another. Such complaints reflect the bitter legacy of much of the Washington press's failure to penetrate the hyping of prewar intelligence and, later, the import of the Fitzgerald investigation.

We're still playing catch-up. In a week in which the C.I.A. belatedly released severely censored secrets about agency scandals dating back a half-century, you have to wonder what else was done behind the shield of an executive order signed just after the Ides of March four years ago.

Another half-century could pass before Americans learn the full story of the secrets buried by Mr. Cheney and his boss to cover up their deceitful path to war.
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Olbermann: Bush, Cheney should resign

Olbermann puts the Bush Pardon of Libby in context. it is 10 minutes long but a must view for anyone who values democracy.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Bush Grants Lying Libby a Free Pass - Shame!

OK Scooter Libby’s Presidential Pardon for obstruction of justice and perjury before a Grand Jury is perceived by President Bush’s equivalent of judicial jaywalking. Is that really our concern in Canada? It is American politics after all. However given Mr. Stephen Harper's proclivity to mimic all things Bush-league, I worry.

What if Harper actually manipulated the judicial appointment process, as he has professed to want to do? Would a Prime Ministerial pardon ever be even necessary (if it were possible in the first place in Canada) given that the Harper hand picked court of the future may be far from free and independent.

True Mr. Libby’s transgressions are not as tacky as a blowjob in the Oval Office anteroom with a willing Intern. They are however, to put the kindest possible light on it, power politics trumping a duty for good governance by the U.S. Executive Branch - and at so many levels.

In fact the Libby outing of a CIA operative (spy) while serving as Chief of Staff for the Vice-President, done for pure domestic partisan political reasons, undoubtedly put the lives and families of many more CIA operatives around the world at risk. Then to lie about it and to obstruct justice to boot – especialy given the fact that he is a lawyer and clearly knows better…that is unfathomable and unforgivable...unless of course you are George Bush and a Presidential pardon is within your power.

To “died in the wool” American Republican Conservatives Dubya must seem like a rock today. He is, after all, showing the "courage" to grant a Presiential Pardon to a reckless, wanton felon who may yet be seen by history to be a de facto traitor. To socially progressive citizens everywhere, given his actions yesterday, President Bush is also going to be perceived to be like a rock – only dumber.

I think Dubya just gave up the White House and the Congress to the Democrats in the 2008 elections with this action. I wonder if he hasn't also invited the laggardly impeachment proceedings against him to now pick up steam. That may be an appropriate reaction for American citizens to pursue, save for the fact that if impeachment were successful then Dick Cheney would be his pro tem replacement. Another rock - but this time it is one who like to be in or be creating "a hard place."

I want to look up to America but this latest abuse of the Rule of Law by the American head of state is making that nearly impossible, at least for now. Come on America...make us proud of you and your principles once again. We Canadians all know the world needs more Canada. But it also needs a renewed America.