Thursday, December 16, 2010

Alarmist statement

Letter to the editor written by my dad in today's Record.

Alarmist statement

Re: Light rail: ‘A failure to move forward will doom us’ – Dec. 11

Waterloo regional Chair Ken Seiling says that “A failure to move forward (with the ‘light rail’ project) will doom us.” This is alarmist in the extreme.

Seiling knows as well as anyone that the alternatives are trains or rapid buses, not trains or doing nothing. It is an honest debate and sensible things have been said in support of both alternatives. Trains will certainly run faster. On the other hand, any sensible version of the rapid bus alternative will cost less and provide a more flexible transit system. For example, if the claim that trains will be underutilized proved true there would be nothing we could do other than watch empty trains racing up and down King Street. If a similar problem arose with rapid buses, assuming they were not running on rails, we could adapt without paying a huge price.

To suggest that adopting buses rather than trains will bring “doom” is ludicrous. Ordinarily, Seiling comes across as a very competent administrator. In this present debate we are not seeing him at his best.

Larry Haworth
St. Agatha


Ellsberg on Assange

This post was written by the Insititute for Public Accuracy.

News Release

Ex-Intelligence Officers, Others See Plusses in WikiLeaks Disclosures

December 7, 2010

The following statement was released today, signed by Daniel Ellsberg, Frank Grevil, Katharine Gun, David MacMichael, Ray McGovern, Craig Murray, Coleen Rowley and Larry Wilkerson; all are associated with Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence.

WikiLeaks has teased the genie of transparency out of a very opaque bottle, and powerful forces in America, who thrive on secrecy, are trying desperately to stuff the genie back in. The people listed below this release would be pleased to shed light on these exciting new developments.

How far down the U.S. has slid can be seen, ironically enough, in a recent commentary in Pravda (that's right, Russia's Pravda): "What WikiLeaks has done is make people understand why so many Americans are politically apathetic ... After all, the evils committed by those in power can be suffocating, and the sense of powerlessness that erupts can be paralyzing, especially when ... government evildoers almost always get away with their crimes. ..."

So shame on Barack Obama, Eric Holder, and all those who spew platitudes about integrity, justice and accountability while allowing war criminals and torturers to walk freely upon the earth. ... the American people should be outraged that their government has transformed a nation with a reputation for freedom, justice, tolerance and respect for human rights into a backwater that revels in its criminality, cover-ups, injustices and hypocrisies.

Odd, isn't it, that it takes a Pravda commentator to drive home the point that the Obama administration is on the wrong side of history. Most of our own media are demanding that WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange be hunted down -- with some of the more bloodthirsty politicians calling for his murder. The corporate-and-government dominated media are apprehensive over the challenge that WikiLeaks presents. Perhaps deep down they know, as Dickens put it, "There is nothing so strong ... as the simple truth."

As part of their attempt to blacken WikiLeaks and Assange, pundit commentary over the weekend has tried to portray Assange's exposure of classified materials as very different from -- and far less laudable than -- what Daniel Ellsberg did in releasing the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Ellsberg strongly rejects the mantra "Pentagon Papers good; WikiLeaks material bad." He continues: "That's just a cover for people who don't want to admit that they oppose any and all exposure of even the most misguided, secretive foreign policy. The truth is that EVERY attack now made on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange was made against me and the release of the Pentagon Papers at the time."

Motivation? WikiLeaks' reported source, Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, having watched Iraqi police abuses, and having read of similar and worse incidents in official messages, reportedly concluded, "I was actively involved in something that I was completely against." Rather than simply go with the flow, Manning wrote: "I want people to see the truth ... because without information you cannot make informed decisions as a public," adding that he hoped to provoke worldwide discussion, debates, and reform.

There is nothing to suggest that WikiLeaks/Assange's motives were any different. Granted, mothers are not the most impartial observers. Yet, given what we have seen of Assange’s behavior, there was the ring of truth in Assange’s mother’s recent remarks in an interview with an Australian newspaper. She put it this way: "Living by what you believe in and standing up for something is a good thing. … He sees what he is doing as a good thing in the world, fighting baddies, if you like."

That may sound a bit quixotic, but Assange and his associates appear the opposite of benighted. Still, with the Pentagon PR man Geoff Morrell and even Attorney General Eric Holder making thinly disguised threats of extrajudicial steps, Assange may be in personal danger.

The media: again, the media is key. No one has said it better than MonseƱor Romero of El Salvador, who just before he was assassinated 25 years ago warned, "The corruption of the press is part of our sad reality, and it reveals the complicity of the oligarchy." Sadly, that is also true of the media situation in America today.

The big question is not whether Americans can "handle the truth." We believe they can. The challenge is to make the truth available to them in a straightforward way so they can draw their own conclusions -- an uphill battle given the dominance of the mainstream media, most of which have mounted a hateful campaign to discredit Assange and WikiLeaks.

So far, the question of whether Americans can "handle the truth" has been an academic rather than an experience-based one, because Americans have had very little access to the truth. Now, however, with the WikiLeaks disclosures, they do. Indeed, the classified messages from the Army and the State Department released by WikiLeaks are, quite literally, "ground truth."

How to inform American citizens? As a step in that direction, on October 23 we "Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence" (see below) presented our annual award for integrity to Julian Assange. He accepted the honor "on behalf of our sources, without which WikiLeaks' contributions are of no significance." In presenting the award, we noted that many around the world are deeply indebted to truth-tellers like WikiLeaks and its sources.

Here is a brief footnote: Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence (SAAII) is a group of former CIA colleagues and other admirers of former intelligence analyst Sam Adams, who hold up his example as a model for those who would aspire to the courage to speak truth to power. (For more, please see here.)

Sam did speak truth to power on Vietnam, and in honoring his memory, SAAII confers an award each year to a truth-teller exemplifying Sam Adams' courage, persistence, and devotion to truth -- no matter the consequences. Previous recipients include:

-Coleen Rowley of the FBI
-Katharine Gun of British Intelligence
-Sibel Edmonds of the FBI
-Craig Murray, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan
-Sam Provance, former Sgt., US Army
-Frank Grevil, Maj., Danish Army Intelligence
-Larry Wilkerson, Col., US Army (ret.)
-Julian Assange, WikiLeaks

"There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nothing hidden that will not be made known. Everything you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight; what you have whispered in locked rooms will be proclaimed from the rooftops."
-- Luke 12:2-3

The following former awardees and other associates have signed the above statement; some are available for interviews:

A former government analyst, Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, a secret government history of the Vietnam War to the New York Times and other newspapers in 1971. He was an admirer of Sam Adams when they were both working on Vietnam and in March 1968 disclosed to the New York Times some of Adams' accurate analysis, helping head off reinforcement of 206,000 additional troops into South Vietnam and a widening of the war at that time to neighboring countries.

Grevil, a former Danish intelligence analyst, was imprisoned for giving the Danish press documents showing that Denmark's Prime Minister (now NATO Secretary General) disregarded warnings that there was no authentic evidence of WMD in Iraq; in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Gun is a former British government employee who faced two years imprisonment in England for leaking a U.S. intelligence memo before the invasion of Iraq. The memo indicated that the U.S. had mounted a spying "surge" against U.N. Security Council delegations in early 2003 in an effort to win approval for an Iraq war resolution. The leaked memo -- published by the British newspaper The Observer on March 2, 2003 -- was big news in parts of the world, but almost ignored in the United States. The U.S. government then failed to obtain a U.N. resolution approving war, but still proceeded with the invasion.

MacMichael is a former CIA analyst. He resigned in the 1980s when he came to the conclusion that the CIA was slanting intelligence on Central America for political reasons. He is a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.

McGovern was a CIA analyst for 27 years, whose duties included preparing and briefing the President's Daily Brief and chairing National Intelligence Estimates. He is on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.

Murray, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, was fired from his job when he objected to Uzbeks being tortured to gain "intelligence" on "terrorists." Upon receiving his Sam Adams award, Murray said, "I would rather die than let someone be tortured in an attempt to give me some increment of security." Observers have noted that Murray was subjected to similar character assassination techniques as Julian Assange is now encountering to discredit him.

Rowley, a former FBI Special Agent and Division Counsel whose May 2002 memo described some of the FBI's pre-9/11 failures, was named one of Time Magazine's "Persons of the Year" in 2002. She recently co-wrote a Los Angeles Times op-ed titled, "WikiLeaks and 9/11: What if? Frustrated investigators might have chosen to leak information that their superiors bottled up, perhaps averting the terrorism attacks."

Wilkerson, Col., U.S. Army (ret.), former chief of staff to Secretary Colin Powell at the State Department, who criticized what he called the "Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal." See recent interviews

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Setting Off a Bomb of Revolutionary Ideas

When WiliLeaks began releasing its latest batch of documents, 250,000 US diplomatic cables, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the act an attack on the US. Since then the US has been trying to find a way to prosecute WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange. There has been talk of using the Espionage Act. There is proposed Senate legislation targeted at Assange. The Justice department is said to be scrambling, trying to find legal grounds to get him.

The dubious Swedish sex charges appear to be part of plan - the idea being that once Assange is extradited to Sweden, it will be easier for the US to extradite him to American soil. Or maybe they're purely designed to discredit, distract and embarrass. Whatever the intent, the plan seems to be going off the rails a bit, with a Swedish police leak ironically providing proof that the charges are bogus.

But you have to wonder how clearly the Americans are thinking. If they manage to find a way to try Assange in the US, they provide a bully pulpit for him to communicate with the American people. Currently, most Americans dismiss Assange as an egotist, an anarchist, a criminal, a hacker. Even if American prosecutors managed to muzzle the man, journalists could find his voice in his published writings: his blog from 2006-2007, his articles, and a growing host of interpretations of his work.

I've been dipping into the Assange oeuvre this week, and even if his enemies killed him today, he has written enough to change the world. In fact, killing him could be the second most effective way to rapidly disseminate his thinking (not that I'm advocating it, mind you) - but trying him in the US would be the most effective dissemination method ever. That would ensure that his ideas are popularized in the country he is most targeting for change.

It's not that Assange's ideas are particularly new. I think he's brilliant, but it's not even that. He is very thoughtful, and he describes his theories in a compelling way. His importance is that he's inspiring. Assange's thoughts could form the basis of a powerful popular movement.

Assange doesn't just write about how to save the world, he writes about what it is to want to save the world. He muses about his personal valuation of idealistic activism over moral agency. He sometimes falls into a mystical way of talking, and even writes political poetry.

Assange creates new language for political analysis. Legitimate forms of government are described with the terminology of illegitimate forms, which allows us to be more objective about how they work, how they do bad things, and how to force them to change. He uses popular analogies to explain his thinking. For example, he compares the US government to a group of drug dealers in the TV show The Wire... and he does it very well.

Assange's goal is not regime change, but regime behavior change. It's not anarchy and it may just be doable. In fact, you might argue that if it's not done, the US will decline into an impoverished, despotic, desperate superpower that is ultimately the greatest threat to freedom in the world.

I can't claim to understand him yet. I'm not even sure if Assange sees the leaks as a way to force change in the behavior of governments, or whether he sees them as an end in themselves - an extension to freedom of information laws.

But I betcha we'll be hearing a lot more about what he thinks we should do. Jail is not the end of Assange; it's the beginning.


Sunday, December 05, 2010

Rallies in the Square: A Suggestion

For anyone planning a rally in the Waterloo public square, I have a suggestion: invite participants to a post-rally event at a local establishment afterwards. Whole Lotta Gelato, Symposium, Jane Bond, the Huether - all would be great spots to meet for post-rally chat. It's good for you: organizers can join in and keep the conversation going. It's good for Uptown: all those establishments could use a boost, especially on a Sunday.

Whole Lotta Gelato, in particular, seems to be struggling a bit these days. They've added lots of new food items: cakes, soup, sandwiches, salads, breakfast stuff (along with their old standbys of paninis, gelato and coffee), and it's an advantage for groups that the upstairs room is often empty. (Plus they have a sort-of all-you-can-eat policy: they won't charge you beyond $13.)


Rally for Rails

Three local organizations held a rally for LRT today at the Waterloo public square. It was a well-attended event, especially given the temperature; one or two hundred people, I'd say, mostly students (not counting press and organizers). A number of people made (mercifully) brief remarks, including local politicians Ken Seiling, Carl Zehr, Angela Veith and Jean Haalboom.

I sat off to the side and listened, trying not to get in the way. I was struck by my agreement with almost everything that was said. The remarks mostly concerned what I would call motherhood issues, and I think there's broad public support for them: a cleaner environment, less congestion, less sprawl, and more efficient use of public funds.

That's all an argument for better public transit. The problem is that LRT is not better public transit.

You don't have to be a transit planner to know that good public transit is transit that people want to take: that goes to where people want to go and is convenient. In Waterloo, the LRT is convenient for people at the University of Waterloo and a couple of other groups (bedroom communities to the north, perhaps), but not so good for most residents. The proposed LRT doesn't stop frequently enough; the route does not benefit most of Waterloo; and taking it would involve too many transfers (unless you're going to UW).

LRT is not going to reduce congestion or create density nodes if people don't ride it; there are plenty of examples of expensive transit failures in North America, and the proposed LRT is likely to be another one. Insanely, some proponents want to create traffic jams in order to force people to take the LRT, but the carrot is a far more successful tool than the stick in transit planning, because if you make traffic impossible, people will just go somewhere else. Instead of working and shopping Uptown, they'll go to the industrial parks and big box stores on the outskirts of town.

LRT is poor transit planning in other ways, too. By running down our main street without stopping very often, it actually reduces our ability to get to places on our main artery. It disrupts car, bus and bike traffic while not providing alternative convenience.

The final nail in the coffin and biggest failure of the proposed LRT route is the left turn across King onto Erb that will cause traffic chaos in the Uptown - as well as the chaos it will cause at Erb-Bridgeport and Caroline-William in the Uptown.

The problem with the cost of LRT is not that it costs money: it's that it wastes money.

Students in support of LRT are quite cavalier about the cost to taxpayers. I'd like them to put their money where their mouth is and agree to the following. If this UW rail shuttle is to be foisted on the residents of Waterloo region, there should be:

  • No more cheap transit passes for university and college students - they pay the full adult fare.
  • Transit passes should be a compulsory ancillary fee for all students, guaranteeing revenue for the GRT/LRT.
  • UW students should pay an extra fee of $10/month since the LRT services them more than any other group.

But better than all that, whether it's LRT, BRT, bus, streetcar or whatever technology, the route should be changed so that Uptown Waterloo is not so severely damaged. Bottom line: LRT cannot turn left across King in Uptown. Either it is circumvented to go two-way on Caroline, or - far better - we get a transit system that goes straight down King, creating density nodes at King-University, King-Columbia and King-Weber; and we get a route that has much more frequent stops.

And let me say again that not only do I live extremely close to the proposed Uptown LRT stop, but I work (and have worked for most of the past 11 years) near the proposed UW R+T Park stop. I am not only an alumni of UW but my parents were both profs there and I grew up on campus: I love UW. My opposition to LRT is not because of any personal inconvenience or dislikes: it is because LRT, as currently planned, is very, very bad for Waterloo.


Bus is Best – downtown is (and will be) too small

This post was written by John Shortreed.
  • LRT will cost over 1 billion, local taxpayers will put up 500 million – for example grade separation at tracks in Kitchener is estimated at under 10 million – will be 30-40 million
  • Bus Rapid Transit will be about half the cost of LRT and have lower operating costs
  • LRT is a commuter rail system to bring commuters from Elmira – park at mall then go to downtown Kitchener – LRT will not intensify development in the existing cities
  • BRT will intensify land use with more stops, will serve Sun Life (LRT has no stop there)
  • BRT will serve Bauer Lofts (that’s right LRT has no stop at Bauer Lofts, 144 Park and new Red condos) Where LRT will have one stop, existing King St. Bus has 10.
  • UpTown is one of three “Region and Provincial Growth Centers” but it will reach target population and employment before the LRT could be built
  • LRT, a commuter rail system, has one stop between UpTown Waterloo and downtown Kitchener –LRT can not intensify development in the prime 2.5 km redevelopment area
  • BRT is flexible, if there is an accident it can go around the accident, LRT sits there. Santa Clause Parade and Buskers only possible with BRT not LRT
  • If a station is in the wrong place or more stations are needed (they will be needed), BRT can change cheaply as no tracks, curbs, LRT involves major expense.
  • BRT would not have curbs and left turns into businesses on King would be possible, with LRT no left turns into Adult Rec Center from King St. north, or the 2 Funeral Parlors.
  • BRT can be integrated into some Cross town routes without transfers, while all LRT connections are transfers
  • Region’s ridership estimates are 2 to 3 times higher than ridership in Buffalo which has a better system, double the population and more than double the downtown employment
  • With realistic ridership the annual LRT subsidy will be at least 10 million more than forecast and few ways to reduce it other than stop running the trains
  • Transit expenditures have been increasing by almost 10% a year and revenue by about 2% with most of the new riders being University Students with passes (which is good)
  • In 2011 Transit expenditures will be about 80 million per year (operating plus capital), with about 20 million revenue – overall return on investment is 20%.

And by 2031 cars will be more energy efficient than the LRT.