Friday, February 29, 2008

What's scarier than Daleks?

Well according to Fox News, Muslim Daleks of course.

Inmate 18330-424

Conrad Black has to report to prison to begin serving his 6 1/2 year sentence by 2 pm Monday.

The lesson? Stealing from workers is safe enough (I own the company, so that means I also own the worker's pension fund right?) but steal from other rich people and you'll soon be wearing orange.

I repeat: It's funny when bad things happen to bad people.

UPDATE: Spotted at Red Tory, lets hear it for a British education and the British parliamentary system, that gave George Galloway the rhetorical skills to communicate hate, fury and scorn with a soaring lyrical beauty.

Un-Wired

Warren Ellis, along with being a very talented and funny writer is someone who's been more wired for longer than almost anybody else. He's been blogging before there was a word for it and running an email list that goes out to thousands of people, he's administered several message boards. He's got at least a presence on virtually every social networking and sharing interface on the web: MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Flicker, Second life...you name it and at the very least he's got a foothold and probably an active hub.

In quick succession within days of his fortieth birthday, his email list exploded and his computer died completely. He's been reduced to making updates to his blog from his phone.

And he's getting a little peculiar.
Haven´t even heard from the computer shop today. I suspect my computer lays in a shallow grave in their back garden, like a dead rabbit. This serves only as a reminder to all that I remain offline and desktopless, and am posting this via email from a phone.
I am also rather concerned about the sudden urge, half an hour ago, to alphabetise my cd collection. If I don’t get my computer back soon, I will clearly be found constructing rows of tiny houses out of toenail clippings, earwax and scrote-hair in the very near future.
I just thought of names for the houses. I must go now.
Sudden traumatic withdrawal isn't funny. Extremely talented people writing about it can be.

Say a prayer for Warren's technology folks - at the very least so he can get back to writing Doktor Sleepless.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Land of the Free?

More than one in 100 adult Americans is in jail or prison, an all-time high that is costing state governments nearly $50 billion a year, in addition to more than $5 billion spent by the federal government, according to a report released today.
With more than 2.3 million people behind bars at the start of 2008, the United States leads the world in both the number and the percentage of residents it incarcerates, leaving even far more populous China a distant second, noted the report by the nonpartisan Pew Center on the States.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Complaining is good for the economy

Excellent Cory Doctorow rant about the value of complaining about crappy service.

Companies aren't charities. They're businesses. It doesn't matter why they're offering an unacceptable product -- all that matters is that the product is unacceptable. Companies aren't five-year-olds bringing their fingerpaintings home from kindergarten. We don't have to put on a brave smile and tell them, "that's just lovely dear," and display their wares proudly on the fridge. I don't care if Apple adds DRM because Lars from Metallica has incriminating photos of Steve Jobs, I don't care if Sony BMG put a rootkit on its CDs because they were duped into it by a trickster spirit that appeared to their technologists in a dream. I care whether their product is worth my money. It's the market -- there's no A for Effort.

And my favorite line which should be at the forefront of people's minds when signing up cellphone, Internet or utility services:
Lock-ins are never good for customers: a business that isn't confident that it can keep your business by providing the best product at the best price is a business that isn't planning on providing the best product at the best price.
If, for example, Telus is willing to give you a whole computer system if you agree to be locked into their so-called high speed Internet service for five years - think about why they don't want you to have the option of leaving after you've tried it for a while.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Censored in Alabama

(Updated below)
For those focused on the Oscars last night, CBS's venerable news show 60 Minutes did a segment on the political prosecution and imprisonment of Alabama's Democratic Governor Don Siegelman. It's one of the most blatant pieces of political prosecution imaginable and unsurprisingly it's got Karl Rove's fingerprints all over it.

Of course it's not just Oscar viewers who missed it. If you live in most parts of Alabama and you were tuned into the program you saw the screen go black for the Siegelman segment and only the Siegelman segment. The local affiliate blamed technical problems at CBS headquarters in New York. CBS politely called this complete bullshit.

The Alabama Affiliate that apparently decided the people of Alabama shouldn't be exposed to this story is owned by the Bass family, passionately partisan Republicans and heavy contributors to the party.

Share this video widely, particularly with anyone you know in Alabama.

How far along on the road to tyranny is a country, when the public can be kept from hearing about this kind of story at the whim of media magnates?

UPDATE: Now that the extremely convenient and specific 'technical error' has made world-wide news the station has promised to re-air the report tonight.

UPDATE 2: One of 60 Minutes primary sources for the story, specifically on prosecutorial standards was Republican former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods. Quin Hillyer at the American Spectator sniffs that he's not much of a Republican because he takes 'liberal' positions like once prosecuting a border patrol agent for shooting an illegal immigrant.

Jesus Christ.

The rest of Hillyer's unhinged hit piece is dismantled here.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Mind's Eye

Josh Ritter

Clinton and the youth vote

It was May of 2006 speaking to the Chamber of Commerce that Senator Hillary Clinton, 61, starkly displayed what seems ultimately to have become a fatal political vulnerability: a maternalistic disregard for young people verging on outright disdain. In that speech, Mrs. Clinton criticized young people for having a sense of entitlement after growing up in a "culture that has a premium on instant gratification."
"We have a lot of kids who don’t know what works means. They think work is a four-letter word."
Even her own daughter called her on that nonsense and Clinton back-pedaled frantically, but the mask had slipped and the damage was done. Young voters took note of a presumptive Presidential candidate scolding them for their 'laziness'.

And they didn't like what they saw.

Hillary seemed to realize that she'd done herself some damage and made efforts to address it. But then late last year the Clinton campaign took a page from the Republican voter suppression play book and attacked the voting rights of college students. When Barack Obama sent out a mailer encouraging college students in Iowa to participate in the Iowa Caucuses, an alarmed Clinton campaign struck back with fear mongering and a transparent attempt to sow division between older and younger voters.

Bill Clinton darkly warned Iowa college students born out of state to use their consciences to decide if they were really 'Iowans'. Hillary chimed in that "This is a process for Iowans. This needs to be all about Iowa, and people who live here, people who pay taxes here"

Never mind that the law is clear that such statements are entirely baseless. College students have every right to be politically involved where they go to school, despite repeated attempts to stop them across the country.

At the same time they were trying to shame away Obama's college age supporters from participating, the Clinton campaign began to ramp up their own efforts to entice college students into the process, at the very least a deeply conflicted mixed message. 'Look,' her campaign seemed to be saying, 'Were 'down' with the Facebook generation.' Which may help explain Facebook's plummeting popularity.

The consequences of these kind of tactics, statements and implicit attitudes to the Clinton campaign have been evident. Young people have surged to Obama on a massive scale. Not just, as some commentators have suggested, simply in response to his relative youth but also in reaction to a perceived condescension and hostility directed towards them from the Clinton camp.

There's a strong irony in the candidate representing the boomer generation that really put the power of youth politically and socially on the map being so completely abandoned by a new generation of young people.

Even in Hillary's often touted advantage with Latinos there's a generation gap with older members of the Latino community viewing the Clintons as long standing allies who've earned their support and younger Latinos who seem ready to move on to a new political generation.

The Clinton campaign seemed to take for granted that the youth vote this election would be as weak and absent as it has been in recent years. That it would be safe to condescend to youth without fear of political consequence.
"They're not a particularly reliable voting bloc and haven't been in the past. That doesn't mean you can't get them out, but it's a lot of work," said Drake University political science professor Arthur Sanders.
The Obama wave makes it clear that was a bad bet.

UPDATE: Arrogant, condescending horrorshow.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Voter Supression 2008

As the anti-Republican wave builds in the US expect increasingly desperate attempts to suppress the vote in the general election in November. Remember the whole Justice Department political firings scandal at it's core was about getting rid of prosecutors who wouldn't get on the phony voter fraud band wagon and help suppress the vote.

As it becomes increasingly likely that Barack Obama will be the Democratic candidate one of his largest group of supporters college and university students will be particularly targeted.

There's a toxic history of Republican officials trying to suppress the vote of college students across the US. In 2004 at predominantly black Texas A&M University the DA for predominantly white Waller County threatened university students with jail if they voted, falsely stating it would be illegal. After being threatened with a civil rights lawsuit he backed off.

But this year an early voting primary polling location next to the campus was removed leaving only one seven miles from campus with no bus service connecting them prompting this response from students:

Expect the same kind of determined organized response to these kind of shenanigans in the general with a much more aggressive response from Waller County officials with a long history of trying to suppress student voting.

It's not just Texas:

That’s exactly what’s been going on in Statesboro, Georgia, where civil rights lawyers and fair elections advocates recently beat back a blatant attempt to prevent students from Georgia Southern University from voting in local elections.

Local officials were apparently alarmed by a voter registration campaign that had signed up about 2,000 new voters, most of them Georgia Southern students.

A group calling itself Statesboro Citizens for Good Government challenged the eligibility of more than 900 students. According to accounts by the National Campaign for Fair Elections, the students also faced threats and intimidation from police officers stationed both inside and outside polling places.

In a textbook case of voter suppression, a local elected official attempted to place an ad in a local paper falsely telling students that they would risk losing financial aid and could no longer be claimed as dependents on their parents’ tax returns if they registered to vote in Statesboro — threats commonly used against students across the country.

Students who showed up at the polls were harassed by the police. One officer demanded that a student point out where she lived on a district map and tried to prevent her from casting a ballot. Another officer told a student that he would be in danger of receiving a ticket if he did not update his identification to reflect local residency.

The law is clear that students have a right to register and vote where they attend school. But that right is not always recognized in practice.

In Maine, a Republican legislator introduced a bill in the legislature that would have prevented students who live in university-owned housing from voting.

Another common method of suppressing student voting: making too few voting machines available, forcing students to wait on line for hours — far longer than in polling places used by non-student voters. (In Ohio in 2004, students from Kenyon College waited in line up to 12 hours to cast a ballot.)

Student vote suppression is especially common in presidential election years, when the stakes are highest. Election officials need to put policies in place now that ensure that young people are able to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

Before we Canadians get too smug, keep in mind similar bogus 'voter fraud' fairy tales are being promoted here to justify 'voter id' laws that will primarily disenfranchise lower income voters. This isn't an American tradition we should be eager to import.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Canadian Right Wing doesn't like Obama either

Let's be charitable and assume that when Greg Weston refers to Obama as 'boy' in his Sun chain column today it's just an example of thoughtless stupidity rather than actual racism.

His opinion that Obama's concern for workers and desire to re-negotiate NAFTA and other trade agreements to protect labour rights would be bad for Canada on the other hand, is just the usual parroting of right wing talking points instead of real analysis.
For a start, this champion of hope for curing what ails America is also an apostle of the deep Left -- among other things, an advocate of stronger unions with tougher labour laws. While making U.S. industry less competitive may intuitively seem like an unearned advantage for Canadian business, not much hurts the American economy that doesn't eventually bite here, too. But there could be a bigger problem with our boy Barack of the labour left.
At a union-sponsored forum in Chicago, Obama was asked whether he would scrap the North American Free Trade Agreement if he became president.
"I would immediately call the president of Mexico, and the president of Canada," he said, "to try to amend NAFTA because I think that we can get labour agreements in that agreement right now."


Aside from the trivial mistake of referring to Canada's head of state as 'President' there really isn't anything in this statement that is that controversial. Why should workers consider successful, agreements that make cross border wealthy people wealthier while driving workers rights and gains downward? We've learned that trade harmonization almost invariably means worker and consumer protections race to the bottom and beyond.
In short, protectionism always gets a big cheer at the union hall, but less so when the workers start losing their jobs to trade wars.

While so called 'free trade' gets even more cheers in the board room when Canadian jobs are lost to overseas outsourcing and the collapse of our local manufacturing sector and workplace, environmental and consumer protection standards get lower and lower. Remember when Canada had to lower our standards of minimum poisons on food because they were a 'trade irritant' to American firms with lower standards for toxins on fruit and vegtables? How about having to repeal Canadian laws against toxic fuel additives because American firms saw it as restraint of their trade in toxic fuel additives?

NAFTA had even worse effects in Mexico as family farmers were driven out, sometimes violently by huge corporate agribusiness.

Renegotiating NAFTA and other trade agreements to bring true cost environmental, consumer and labour concerns to the table is only a threat if you think such things are some kind of lefty plot rather than simple common sense.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Republican race baiting begins

You knew it was coming. It will get much, much worse.

Lisa Schiffren at the National Review explains that since Obama is mixed race and in his 40's, this means his parents must have been Commies.

No, really.

Meanwhile Bill O'Reilly talks about how he doesn't want to lynch Obama's wife. How very comforting.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Obama in '08 a certainty

It's over. At this point, after nine straight wins for Obama, Clinton would have to not just win Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania, to pull ahead of him on delegates in the Democrat proportional representation system, she would have to win all three by double digit margins.

It's just not going to happen. The Democratic Party isn't going to seat the delegates stripped from Michigan and Florida after all the candidates endorsed them being removed and the superdelegates certainly aren't going to go against the will of the primary voters. Do you think the Democratic Party wants to present to African Americans the spectacle of unelected party elites stealing the nomination from the black candidate? Get serious.

Clinton went from an assumption of inevitability to a busted flush in a matter of weeks - up until this week I thought she'd still pull it out. It's got to be heart-breaking for her, but she needs to start thinking about the good of her party and her country and begin working on her concession speech.

Short of the Democratic party completely screwing things up - never a safe bet that they won't - the American people are about to elect their first black President.

Get ready for the Republicans to go to the southern strategy. Get ready for dog whistle racism from the party owned pundits and desperate attempts to suppress the African American vote from Republican officials. This is going to get very, very ugly before its over.

Fidel retires

Cuba's ailing leader Fidel Castro has announced he will not return to the presidency, in a letter published by official Communist Party paper, Granma.

"I neither will aspire to, nor will I accept, the position of president of the council of state and commander in chief," he wrote in the letter.

Despite multiple assassination and invasion attempts Fidel stayed in power until he chose to give it up. Although he turned Cuba into a totalitarian police state he also ushered in one of the highest standards of living in Latin America - as measured by literacy levels and public health if not in consumer goods.

I suspect that a lot of haters expecting Cubans to turn on socialism overnight are in for disappointment, as well as die-hard old fashioned communists who think nothing will change. Whatever else happens, expect Cubans to find their own way forward.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Wargasm

The warmongers need a bunch of scruffy religious fanatics hiding in caves to be an existential threat to all that is decent and good. They really, really need it.
There is nothing more psychologically invigorating than the belief that you are staring down the Greatest and Most Evil Enemy Ever in History, courageously waging glorious war for all that is Good and Just in the world. Nothing produces more pulsating feelings of excitement and nobility like convincing yourself that you are a Warrior defending Western Civilization from the greatest threat it has ever faced, following in -- even surpassing -- the mighty footsteps of the Greatest Generation and the Warrior-Crusaders who came before them.

For those who crave and glorify (though in their lives completely lack) acts of warrior courage, play-acting the role of the intrepid Warrior is uniquely satisfying. That's why nothing can fill the bottomless spare time of bored, aimless adolescents like sitting in front of a computer commanding vast armies and destructive military weapons, deployed against cunning, scary and evil enemies. That's why the Mark Steyns of every generation create such Enemies, because they are purposeless and aimless without them.

Primary Sources

Wikileaks is an online clearinghouse for whistleblowers, a resource that Time Magazine said "could become as important a journalistic tool as the Freedom of Information Act." Since 2006 they've been releasing the kind of documents that get shoved under doors in plain brown envelopes. In the past they've exposed criminality at the highest levels and even affected elections.

Now at the behest of a Swiss/Cayman bank group providing confidential offshore banking services and apparently money laundering for many rich and powerful Americans (Including some running for President?) hiding money from the tax man and the public, a California judge has tried to shut them down. Wikileaks had already set up multiple domains and pathways to their site in case of censorship efforts but had not anticipated needing them for the US.

Cryptome is a similar resource with a focus on intelligence and espionage secrets. They've revealed material like Guantanamo torture manuals, telecom spying details and even the identities of undercover spys.

And of course most people are familiar with The Smoking Gun, perhaps a fluffier, celebrity scandal oriented provider of primary source material but still a valuable one.

These are the kind of resources that underlie the investigative journalism that changes the world.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Resistance is surrender

Slavoj Žižek on the way forward for the left:
One of the clearest lessons of the last few decades is that capitalism is indestructible. Marx compared it to a vampire, and one of the salient points of comparison now appears to be that vampires always rise up again after being stabbed to death. Even Mao’s attempt, in the Cultural Revolution, to wipe out the traces of capitalism, ended up in its triumphant return.
...

It is striking that the course on which Hugo Chávez has embarked since 2006 is the exact opposite of the one chosen by the postmodern Left: far from resisting state power, he grabbed it (first by an attempted coup, then democratically), ruthlessly using the Venezuelan state apparatuses to promote his goals. Furthermore, he is militarising the barrios, and organising the training of armed units there. And, the ultimate scare: now that he is feeling the economic effects of capital’s ‘resistance’ to his rule (temporary shortages of some goods in the state-subsidised supermarkets), he has announced plans to consolidate the 24 parties that support him into a single party. Even some of his allies are sceptical about this move: will it come at the expense of the popular movements that have given the Venezuelan revolution its élan? However, this choice, though risky, should be fully endorsed: the task is to make the new party function not as a typical state socialist (or Peronist) party, but as a vehicle for the mobilisation of new forms of politics (like the grass roots slum committees). What should we say to someone like Chávez? ‘No, do not grab state power, just withdraw, leave the state and the current situation in place’? Chávez is often dismissed as a clown – but wouldn’t such a withdrawal just reduce him to a version of Subcomandante Marcos, whom many Mexican leftists now refer to as ‘Subcomediante Marcos’? Today, it is the great capitalists – Bill Gates, corporate polluters, fox hunters – who ‘resist’ the state.

The lesson here is that the truly subversive thing is not to insist on ‘infinite’ demands we know those in power cannot fulfil. Since they know that we know it, such an ‘infinitely demanding’ attitude presents no problem for those in power: ‘So wonderful that, with your critical demands, you remind us what kind of world we would all like to live in. Unfortunately, we live in the real world, where we have to make do with what is possible.’ The thing to do is, on the contrary, to bombard those in power with strategically well-selected, precise, finite demands, which can’t be met with the same excuse.

Or to put it another way...

Sunday Linkblast - Feb 17

I haven't done one of these in a while, so here's my weekly rundown of the things that make me go hmm...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Stacking the returning officer deck with Tory hacks

About half of the 83 returning officers in next month's provincial election have past connections to the Conservative party, said an Elections Alberta spokeswoman.

...
Among the returning officers hired for the Alberta election are:
A failed candidate for a Progressive Conservative nomination.
The secretary of a Calgary Conservative constituency board.
The wife of the head of the nomination committee of a Tory riding association.
A woman who posted to a website photos of herself at Conservative party functions and wearing Tory T-shirts while campaigning for a leadership candidate

This isn't new unfortunately. When I ran in 2004, the officer I dealt with was almost pantingly eager to find an excuse to refuse my nomination papers with only hours left to the deadline, poring over every signature and refusing several. She even tried to challenge the party leader's signature, grinning happily as she did so and it took an incredulous call from a staffer at the party headquarters to convince her it was genuine. She processed my papers with sulky and unambiguous reluctance.

She also waxed rhapsodic about the Tory hobby horse of the faux senatorial vote - her condescending tone and sly grin making it clear she knew the New Democrats in her office had no interest in that dog and pony show.

When I voted after an exhausting but exhilarating campaign - for myself in case your wondering - I advised the poll worker that I wanted my senatorial ballot marked as refused and a Tory pollwatcher instantly zoomed in, virtually attached herself to my elbow and almost followed me into the voting booth.

For those who wonder why Albertans stand by the same party for so many decades - don't discount these kind of maneuvers along with rural oriented gerrymandering that contribute to the kind of margins the Tories pull off.

When, not If

Mussolini is supposed to have said that "Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power." The FBI appears to have taken this idea to heart:
The FBI reportedly launches a clandestine alliance which prepares privileged citizens to 'shoot to kill' without possibility of prosecution. An alliance dubbed the 'InfraGard', which reportedly consists of over 23,000 representatives of the US' private sector in addition to the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, is engaged in secret activities to maintain elements of 'critical national infrastructure'. According to a February 7 article published in the Progressive magazine, these businessmen impart vital information to the FBI in return for secret intelligence about 'terrorist threats' prior to informing the public and perhaps even government officials. "One business owner in the United States tells me that InfraGard members are being advised on how to prepare for a martial law situation-and what their role might be," author Matthew Rothschild quoted a whistleblower as saying. "Then they said when-not if-martial law is declared, it was our responsibility to protect our portion of the infrastructure, and if we had to use deadly force to protect it, we couldn't be prosecuted," the informant claimed.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The next bubble?

Eric Janszen writes in Harpers this month about how western economies are now addicted to bubbles, to the unrealistic inflation of one market sector after another and then moving on to the next one after the fictitious profits die and go to money heaven.

Before the current sub-prime housing meltdown of course, there was the bizarre overvaluing of internet businesses with no idea how to translate internet clicks into actual cash and all you had to do to collect on an absurd payday was to hold an IPO for a company with .com in its name.

I can't be too smug because I was working for one when the internet bubble popped. I remember co-workers that were incredulous that I wasn't investing half my salary on the weeks latest IPOs. By the end, the Vice President was driving a cab to feed his family and sleeping in his office. I managed to get fired and collect severance before the whole thing imploded completely.

Janszen thinks he's identified the next bubble floating to the surface in the alternative energy field. He makes a compelling case and ethanol in particular is unambiguously a huge boondoggle. The question is if enough funds can make it to the kind of green power and infrastructure investments that are necessary without sinking the whole field by going to the irrational exuberance place.

Al Gore uses the sub-prime mess to make a very different point
about the potential economic true cost landmines of carbon heavy investments waiting to go off in people's portfolios.
"You need to really scrub your investment portfolios, because I guarantee you — as my longtime good redneck friends in Tennessee say, I guarandamntee you — that if you really take a fine-tooth comb and go through your portfolios, many of you are going to find them chock-full of subprime carbon assets," the former vice president said.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Ideology over people

It's the choice the Alberta PCs will make every time.

Ideology and the well funded landlord lobby tells them 'rent control bad!' So working families are expected to just suck up 300% rent increases and like it. Ideology tells them to privatize and de-regulate everything in sight so Albertans pay more for energy utilities. Ideology and the even better funded insurance lobby tells them 'public insurance bad!' So Albertans pay more on average for car insurance than the inhabitants of provinces on either side who have public insurance.

Question: How can you call it the 'Alberta Advantage' to pay more in rent, utilities and insurance than other Canadians? Answer: It's an advantage for landlords, energy companies and insurance companies - what, did you think it was supposed to be an advantage for you?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Calgary to become the PCs Waterloo?

Will the Alberta PCs lose the upcoming provincial election? No probably not, but the day after the election there will still be no joy in Tory land.

Calgary, once a conservative fortress is poised to decisively abandon Ed Stelmach and the Alberta Progressive Conservatives.

In 2004 Ralph Klein's desultory campaign about nothing cost the Conservatives three seats to the Liberals in formerly solid blue Calgary. Last year they lost another when Ralph Klein's riding went to Liberal Craig Cheffins. They won't be getting any of those seats back.

Since 2004 five Conservative MLAs have announced their retirement plans. A combination of being permanently knocked out of the cabinet power elite in Stelmach's northern rural coterie and a recognition that hard times are coming for the Tory brand in Calgary.

Those who were left aren't happy. Infighting, accusations of fraud, ideological purges and complaints of heavy handed control by the distant Premier's office are the daily news from Calgary's Conservative MLAs. Long time Tories have voiced loud disgust over the city's treatment.

Several ridings have already been tacitly conceded to be easy Liberal pickups, perhaps none more so than my own home riding of Calgary Buffalo. In 2004 then Solicitor General Harvey Cenaiko held onto the seat by his fingernails, with a narrow margin of about 600 votes against the Liberal candidate. The NDP candidate for the riding came in much further back in the pack despite a devastating combination of charm, wit and good looks - did I mention I'm also very humble?

After the leadership contest which featured every single Calgary MLA supporting the losing horse Jim Dinning, Cenaiko made a hamfisted and rather desperate attempt to suck up to the new boss by promoting Stelmach's son within the provincial Sheriff's department. It ended badly for Cenaiko, he was banished to the backbenches and it was unambiguous that was where he would be spending the rest of his political career. He's taken the hint and he'll be retiring after the election. Expect Calgary Buffalo, which was a close call for the PCs even with a Cabinet Minister on Ralph's team to be an easy pickup for the Liberals.

Calgary McCall only stayed in the Conservative column last time by a little over 300 votes after a recount. With Ralph gone and Calgary souring on the Conservatives it should be a turkey shoot for the Liberals.

Calgary Egmont, with it's internecine battles, unhappy right-wingers and star Liberal candidate would be a tough fight for the Tories even without Craig Chandler determined to punish the PCs for his downfall sniping from the sidelines. Expect it to also enter the Liberal column.

Calgary Montrose is another toxic brew of scandal and litigation with an MLA who bolted the party in a very public display of spite and burned all the bridges on his way out of town. With unhappy PC activists promoting a narrative of fraud and abandonment by the party, the conservatives in Montrose are in disarray and a capable campaign could easily tick off another win for the Liberals.

There are other potential surprises in store from Calgary come polling night. Foothills, Bow and Calgary North West in particular are not quite the low hanging fruit of Buffalo but if Calgary continues its recent trend of souring on the Conservatives, evident even before Klein's departure, the high water mark of an opposition tide could easily encompass all of them.

Calgarians are unhappy and feeling unappreciated. The ideological contempt for the idea of rent controls expressed by Stelmach and his government was not appreciated in this city of renters.

After this election the Conservatives will still be in power, but the framework of decades of careful gerrymandering that has made one rural vote worth a half dozen urban ones will be on bald display.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The End of an Era

Healthcare premiums were never about funding healthcare. They go into general revenues and can be spent on anything from tax breaks for the oil sector to expensed lunches for cabinet ministers.

The argument for the premiums in fantasticly wealthy Alberta was always a paternalistic sniff that 'people had to understand health care comes with a cost.' This usually from politicians, ivory tower conservative academics and professional right wingers from 'think tanks' like the Fraser Institute, most of whom get their premiums paid for by their employer.

Now, as the writ has dropped the Tories have done a volte face on the health tax and promise to phase it out over four years. Of course this just meant they've joined every other major party in the legislature to do so. The NDP have opposed the premiums since their inception and the Liberals eventually joined the bandwagon too - certainly not the only issue that the Alberta NDP has led the debate on.

Any Alberta voter who might be persuaded on the subject of the health tax alone knows that they have a lot of other alternatives to vote for to see it quashed.

The real point of the premiums was never to fund health care, never even the contemptuous 'making sure the rabble understand health care has a cost' argument, it was always about having a potential back door out of Canada's public healthcare system.
Dr. Tom Noseworthy, director of health and policy studies at the University of Calgary, said premiums have likely been charged for so long in this province to bolster the government's position in case of a potential conflict over the Canada Health Act.

Ottawa has the power to cut off transfer payments to a province for breaking the law.

"I think they've always kept that as a safety net," Noseworthy said of the premiums.

The prospect of dismantling public health care was the only thing that a bloated and lazy Premier Ralph could still get enthusiastic about at the end. But his run at healthcare had more to do with his fall from grace than the Tories are willing to admit and Stelmach has signaled he wants nothing to do with the crusade that branded Ralph as an uncaring right wing ideologue.

Alberta's voters should remember that this is the same government, the same individuals, who rode us off the cliff in terms of sustainability and infrastructure, and the same government eager to dismantle the public system they now claim to champion. The politics have changed, the ideology hasn't.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

One Last Revenge

The New York Times were mostly just dancing on his political grave when they published their piece on Rudy Giulliani's obsession with petty revenge. Nothing could have made his nomination run more definitively doomed by January 22.

But now, a little more than a week later, Attorney General Michael Mukasey, a huge booster of Giuliani's presidential run, has heated up an eighteen month investigation by subpoenaing New York Time's reporter Jim Risen for the identity of his source on the Bush Administration's illegal wiretapping.

This is about the neocons striking back at the journalists they blame for the death of their dreams, it's about the FISA bill and the White House frustration and spite - it has Cheney's stink all over it - but it also feels like part of the classic networked Giuliani style death from above revenge.

Did the small man in search of a balcony manage one last stab to the kidneys of his tormentors?

And will the New York Times keep on their columnist page, a writer who pushed for journalists on the paper to be charged with treason? It seems very much like a big 'Fuck you!' from the paper's management to their reporters.

This is the government our troops are fighting and dying for

A 23-year-old student journalist in Afghanistan has been sentenced to death for downloading and distributing a report that is critical of the oppressive treatment of women in some Islamic societies.

Sayed Pervez Kambaksh (at right), who is a journalism student at Balkh University and a writer for Jahan-e Naw, was sentenced last October after downloading a report from a Farsi website that criticized Islamic fundamentalists who misrepresent statements in the Koran to justify the oppression of women. Kambaksh was arrested after someone filed a complaint against him. He is accused of blasphemy for distributing the report to other students and teachers at his school.

He was tried by a sharia court (which oversees Islamic religious law) and was not allowed legal representation, according to news reports. The Afghan Senate passed a motion this week supporting the sentence, according to the British newspaper The Independent.

The next Conservative MP who insinuates that Afghan war opponents don't care about protecting women's rights should be publically bombarded with copies of this story. The latest update is that the Afghan Senate has withdrawn their support for the death penalty in the face of international outcry. How many similar cases are happening without worldwide scrutiny?

The equation changes again

From Crooks and Liars, as recently as 2001, John McCain was negotiating a possible defection with Democrat Senators.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was close to leaving the Republican Party in 2001, weeks before then-Sen. Jim Jeffords (Vt.) famously announced his decision to become an Independent, according to former Democratic lawmakers who say they were involved in the discussions.

In interviews with The Hill this month, former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and ex-Rep. Tom Downey (D-N.Y.) said there were nearly two months of talks with the maverick lawmaker following an approach by John Weaver, McCain’s chief political strategist.

Democrats had contacted Jeffords and then-Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) in the early months of 2001 about switching parties, but in McCain’s case, they said, it was McCain’s top strategist who came to them. (emphasis added)

And why would these Democrats reveal this now? If you were them, in November would you rather face Mitt Romney's Bushism on meth or a canny 'maverick' who might peel off some of the independents identifying as Democrat now. Yeah it's a contrived image that doesn't withstand serious scrutiny, but the media shows no interest in aiming any at their bestest buddy.

This news either costs McCain the nomination or cripples him even if he wins. The only hope the Republicans have of avoiding electoral Armageddon and they've gone into circular firing squad mode.

There are Democrat strategists praying for Mitt to win.

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