Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Real Agenda

Friends of Medicare's David Eggen on the real healthcare agenda of Alberta's Tories.

The government's warnings of "unsustainable health care" have returned, right on cue, to match the latest rounds of cuts.

As it happens, health expenditures in relation to gross domestic product in Alberta have stayed at between five and seven per cent for the last 15 years. We continue to compare favourably to other jurisdictions. The Canadian average is about 10 per cent, France and Switzerland are at about 11 per cent and the United States is at 15 per cent. To me, this sounds pretty sustainable.

This helps to reveal the real agenda behind Liepert's and Duckett's draconian actions. It is not about "saving medicare" or responding to the recession. People don't stop getting sick when the economy is weak.

The Alberta government's real plan is to destabilize our health-care system so it can implement private, for-profit experiments to "fix" medicare. They are purposefully breaking the health-care system so they can hire private contractors to repair it at inflated prices.

The research about private versus public health care is universally conclusive: private, for-profit health care costs more. A library full of studies have been done looking at the comparative costs -the Conference Board of Canada, Canadian Institute for Health Information, Wellesley Institute, Consumers' Association of Canada and the Parkland Institute have all done substantive research on the topic.

Their conclusions are the same: Canadians and Albertans would be wise to stick with a publicly financed, publicly administered, single-payer health-care system.

Crisis by Design

To bring costs under control, superboard CEO Stephen Duckett introduced a new policy that limited hospital spending during the first three months of this fiscal year to the same amount spent the three months previous. That move forced the Royal Alexandra Hospital to postpone elective surgeries and limit overtime. Similar cost concerns are increasing wait times for cataract surgery in the Calgary area, since the health authority won't overspend its cataract budget.

On top of that, Duckett stopped blanket recruitment of nurses and limited new job postings in an effort to avoid layoffs of current staff.

The government, in turn, stopped covering a portion of chiropractic care and sex-change surgeries to save approximately $54 million, some which will be funnelled to boost home care for seniors.

That move and other changes don't point toward a privatization agenda, Liepert has said, but are necessary because of costs pressures and the need to improve the public health system.

Parse that last paragraph and try to find any way it is anything but utter gibberish. I dare you.

DakhaBrakha

Monday, June 29, 2009

Texas Police Terrorism

The Fort Worth police decide to send a message on the anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

One of those arrested during the raid, Chad Gibson, 26, remains hospitalized with bleeding on the brain, his sister Kristy Morgan said.

Gibson is not violent, and "for anyone to come back and say he did something to provoke this is ludicrous," she told Dallas-Fort Worth television station KDFW.

Fort Worth police went to the Rainbow Lounge with Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission agents early Sunday as part of routine alcoholic beverage code inspections, said police Sgt. Chad Mahaffey. They first went to two other bars, where 10 people were arrested, he said.

Officers then went to the Rainbow Lounge, which had opened about a week ago. They encountered two drunk people who made "sexually explicit movements" toward officers and another who grabbed a TABC agent's groin, according to the police report.

No one was arrested for assault but about half a dozen people were arrested on charges of public intoxication, according to police records.

Police Chief Jeff Halstead said Gibson was the patron who grabbed at the agent's groin. Gibson was so drunk he was vomiting and struck his head when he fell, the chief said. Gibson was arrested, but was taken to the hospital instead of jail.

The Fort Worth police claim not to have known about the anniversary. If you believe that I have some dot com stocks to sell you.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Exposing the lie of runaway health costs.

Health spending in Alberta is down since 1990 as measured by the objective standard of percentage of GDP. Measuring it as a percentage of the provincial budget is entirely subjective and inherently open to partisan manipulation and interpretation.

To wit: If your ideology demands the ongoing deliberate impoverishment of the public purse, of the massive transfer of public wealth into private hands and the denigration of the very concept of a public sector then you must continue to wail about an entirely deliberate and artificial 'crisis' in public healthcare while doing everything possible to make it look bad enough to manufacture enough consent to gut it.

“This is the government that has saved almost none of the boom-time surpluses, has foregone $8 billion to $15 billion in tax revenue per year and has given away billions more in royalty breaks,” says Gibson. “The problem is not that health care is unaffordable, but rather that the government has chosen to be irresponsible with revenue collection and savings.”

“The public health care system has yet to fully recover from the 21% in cuts inflicted upon it between 1994 and 1996, and now the government wants to start cutting again,” points out researcher Greg Flanagan, author of the September 2008 report Sustainable Healthcare for Seniors from which much of the information in the fact sheets and backgrounder is drawn.

Gibson says that the Institute has chosen to release the backgrounder and accompanying fact sheets to ensure that Albertans have the information they need in order to fully assess the cuts to health care that will be announced next week. “Albertans need to know that this is not about affordability; this is about political choices guided by ideology, and it’s about irresponsible fiscal management.

Hugo Chavez picks the wrong side

I'm not one of those who has ever bought into most of the rhetoric directed at Venezuela and it's fiery President. Yes, Chavez engages in some fiery rhetoric himself, has some disturbingly authoritarian tendencies and promotes a dangerous cult of personality. On the other hand he's won multiple elections and accepted the will of the public when they've voted against him - on re-writing the constitution for example, he has the majority of the population behind him and I agree with a lot - by no means all - of his actual economic policies.

But then he goes and sides with a regime of murderous thugs:
As voting began in Iran on June 12, Chavez praised Ahmadinejad as "a courageous fighter for the Islamic Revolution, the defense of the Third World, and in the struggle against imperialism."

Nine days later, with a bloody crackdown on Iranian protesters gaining momentum, Chavez declared that "Ahmadinejad's triumph was a triumph all the way." The Venezuelan president condemned those "trying to stain Ahmadinejad's triumph and through that weaken the government and the Islamic revolution."

Clarifying thinking

Christie Blatchford's column in the Globe and Mail this morning on the Garbage strike is a fascinating display of abrupt tonal shift and divided loyalties.

It starts with the patented Blatchford sneers at whining ninnys and dainty Toronto Garbage men protecting absurdly generous perks.

The real hot-button issue, certainly the one infuriating taxpayers suffering in this hideous recession, are the “sick day” provisions of the city's collective agreements, negotiated decades ago with two locals of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which see workers allowed to bank 18 days of sick leave a year and accumulate up to six months' pay over a lifetime. It's a rich-seeming perquisite for union members who, particularly in a lousy economy where plenty of people are out of work, are pretty richly rewarded – at the top of the scale, garbage collectors get $25.01 an hour, receptionists $23.70, cleaners $21.30, etc.
Then in the final few paragraphs it does a vertiginous 180 degrees as Blatchford seems to change her mind in midthought.

That's the thing about many of the city workers, particularly the 6,000 from Local 416: They do the hard, physical, outside jobs that a lot of people wouldn't want. That ought to count for something.
The truth is, it's not really the workers who strain the patience of Toronto taxpayers, but rather the municipal bureaucracy – all those rules and regulations, the Byzantine processes, the permits and bylaws that are the bane of all of our lives – and the dysfunctional and inept city council. The politicians, who just recently voted themselves a little raise, are merely embarrassing, and the bureaucrats (management, for the purposes of this discussion) are the ones who are really well-fed.
Just check out the so-called “Sunshine list” of municipal government employees who last year earned more than $100,000. They sure aren't the guys collecting the garbage or cleaning the streets, but rather the dozens
of folks it seems are required to manage them. On the 2007 list, for example, I counted four “repair supervisors” earning between $168,000 and $191,102 a year, and three street-cleaning supervisors earning about the same.
In the words of my friend Tracy Nesdoly, whom I quote several times a year saying this, “You have to know who to be mad at.” And in this case, it isn't the workers.
What led to such a stunning midthought reversal from a columnist consistantly writing from the political and economic right wing hitherto?

Finally, a bit of a confession.
I have had some fine sunshine streaming out my rear quarters most of my professional life, as I realized last weekend when I had occasion to attend my first union meeting and cast my ballot in a strike vote for the first time.
I will not bore you with details, but suffice to say that as of June 30, The Globe and Mail and members of the Southern Ontario Newspaper Guild (the union which represents, among others, the journalists) could be on the brink of a lockout or a strike.
Though colleagues and friends have walked a picket line before, through sheer luck and good timing, I've never even had to contemplate the possibility. I find it clarifies your thinking.
Much like a hanging in the morning.

A very similar transformation happened to The Calgary Herald columnist Naomi Lakritz. An extremely right wing, indeed angrily reactionary columnist, after standing on the picket line during the Herald strike following Conrad Black's takeover, the Lakritz writing after the strike was a very different person, becoming the Herald's token progressive for a while at least.

Time will tell how long Blatchford's new found class conciousness will last.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sharks in the water

CLAC lobbyists circle the Saskatchewan legislature licking their lips at the thought of getting into a jurisdiction previously off limits. Consider the unseemly haste in which the Saskatchewan Party is working to let them through the fence.
Bill 80 would open the door to unions — such as the CLAC and Communications, Energy and Paperworkers — that couldn’t previously unionize construction companies in Saskatchewan. A union could also organize a company on a multi-trade or “wall to wall” basis as practised by the CLAC, so everyone at a location could potentially be under the same union.

Paul deJong, the prairies director of the CLAC, told the committee the bill will create “fair competition” among unions and accused the building trades unions that oppose the legislation as wanting to stifle that.

“They want to preserve an unfair monopoly. They don’t want competition. They don’t want construction employees to have a choice,” he told the committee.

But deJong also faced questioning by the NDP’s Andy Iwanchuk about the CLAC’s relationship with Alberta-based construction giant Ledcor CMI Ltd. as the union representing all of the company’s hourly workers.

“Now, when Ledcor opens another division to deal with any particular kind of element of construction or in another jurisdiction, the workers who are hired by them say, ‘CLAC has represented the Ledcor workers across Canada,’ and we get that phone call and we move forward,” said deJong.

Last week, Ledcor’s Tom Brown told the committee the company had essentially been prevented from coming to Saskatchewan by existing construction industry legislation because it keeps out the CLAC.

Brown said the company had a strong relationship with the union because of its wall-to-wall certification and the fact that its collective agreements do not require subcontractors to be unionized by the CLAC.

But the Christian Labour Association of Canada isn’t regarded so favourably by the majority of the union movement.

Saskatchewan Federation of Labour president Larry Hubich accused the CLAC of “anti-democratic practices” such as conducting ratification votes before a wage schedule is negotiated, permitting management to take part in union meetings and enticing employees with interest-free payday loans.

He said research done by the Canadian Labour Congress showed that in some jurisdictions, 25 to 40 per cent of agreements involving the CLAC are voluntary recognition agreements from employers that don’t want legitimate trade unions.

“Bill 80 is designed to prevent workers working for non-unionized employers from certifying that employer. Bill 80 will diminish the ability of employees on a construction site from organizing and forming a union,” said Hubich.

“Bill 80 does this by allowing a company, for example a contractor from outside the province, to strike an agreement with an employer-friendly union, sign an agreement with them and anyone who works for that employer will have to work for that union chosen by that employer.”

But deJong said there are myths being perpetuated about the CLAC because it does not take the “adversarial” approach of other unions.

Saskatchewan workers should do themselves a favour and investigate what kind of creature their government is considering letting off the leash in Saskatchewan. The Finning case is instructive.

Finning decided to construct a new Component Rebuild Centre (CRC) in 2001 and restructure operations through a complex series of transactions in 2003-2004.

The restructuring included an investment of $87 million for a new plant and an agreement to contract out the work carried out by Finning Canada at the CRC.

O.E.M. Remanufacturing Company Inc. was created during the amalgamation of three related companies on Jan.1, 2004.

In the transfer, OEM evaded the existing contract with the IAMAW and signed a contract with the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC).

Finning was aided in their effort to take their workers union away and replace it with CLAC which management had quietly negotiated a sweetheart deal with, by the Alberta Labour Relations Board which in an extraordinary display of blatant bias, over-ruled the conclusion of its own arbitration panel and tore up the Finning workers contract with their original union by fiat. Fortunately they were overturned in an unprecedented rebuke by the Alberta Court of Appeals.
EDMONTON, Oct. 18 /CNW/ - In an important and strongly-worded decision released yesterday, the Alberta Court of Appeal overturned a controversial Labour Relations Board (LRB) decision which allowed Finning International in 2005 to rid itself of a union collective agreement by establishing a new company for part of its operations. At the time the decision was considered by many to fly in the face of available evidence.
"This is an important decision by the three Justices of the Court of Appeal," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "It reverses a terrible decision by the Alberta Labour Relations Board (LRB). Finning had created a new blueprint for union busting, and the LRB was letting them get away with it. Thankfully the Court of Appeal saw through it and has stopped it."
The unanimous decision pertains to a dispute in 2005, in which Finning International created a new entity, OEM Remanufacturing, to take over Finning's component rebuilding operations. In the transfer OEM evaded the existing contract with the International Association of Machinists (IAM) and instead signed a contract with the Christian Labour Association of Canada(CLAC).
An original LRB decision ruled OEM was a successor to Finning and that the two companies were, in fact, a common employer. Normally this would have meant that IAM would have maintained its status as official bargaining agent and the workers would have been protected by the existing IAM collective agreement with Finning.
Two months later, adopting a highly unusual procedure, the Labour Relations Board reconsidered the decision at the request of the employer. In that reconsideration, a five-person "superpanel" consisting of the LRB Chair Mark Asbell, two Vice-Chairs and two Board members overturned the original ruling. IAM then appealed to the courts.
"It was a thinly-veiled attempt to bust our union, and we were determined to fight it," says IAM Lodge 99 President Bob MacKinnon. "This is an important day for us, the Machinists, and for all unionized workers. It is also a great day for the democratic process: the Court has recognized that where workers have voted to be represented by a union, that decision must be respected by employers in Alberta."
When you combine the efforts of a bosses union, corrupt management, business friendly government and an in the tank labour board the cards end up stacked firmly against workers. Saskatchewan workers and progressives should consider Bill 80 a mortal threat and respond accordingly.

The Gangster Model of Healthcare

Health insurers have forced consumers to pay billions of dollars in medical bills that the insurers themselves should have paid, according to a report released yesterday by the staff of the Senate Commerce Committee.

The report was part of a multi-pronged assault on the credibility of private insurers by Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.). It came at a time when Rockefeller, President Obama and others are seeking to offer a public alternative to private health plans as part of broad health-care reform legislation. Health insurers are doing everything they can to block the public option.

At a committee hearing yesterday, three health-care specialists testified that insurers go to great lengths to avoid responsibility for sick people, use deliberately incomprehensible documents to mislead consumers about their benefits, and sell "junk" policies that do not cover needed care. Rockefeller said he was exploring "why consumers get such a raw deal from their insurance companies."

The star witness at the hearing was a former public relations executive for major health insurers whose testimony boiled down to this: Don't trust the insurers.

"The industry and its backers are using fear tactics, as they did in 1994, to tar a transparent and accountable -- publicly accountable -- health-care option," said Wendell Potter, who until early last year was vice president for corporate communications at the big insurer Cigna.

This the direction the supporters of health care privatization in Canada want to take us. An industry that behaves like an organized crime empire with bought and paid for lobbyists and politicians spouting fear mongering rhetoric about 'socialism' in order to protect local monopoly 'families'.

This is what's at the end of the road for every flirtation with private delivery here in Canada. Two-tier, user fees, P2P scams, 'patient based funding' and all the other attempts to circumvent the public will to protect public heathcare and bring in privatization through the back door.

They all lead to a vampiric collection of greedy monster insurance and private clinic empires fighting to protect the misery, corruption and death toll that makes them wealthy.

Welcome to the net neutrality party

The Liberals provide a pleasant surprise by responding to the Conservative's Orwellian Internet legislation by citing principal and taking a firm policy position.

The one the NDP has held all along.

Hours later, the scene shifted to question period, where Liberal Industry critic Marc Garneau surprised Internet watchers by emphasizing the importance of an open Internet and declaring that the Liberal party now firmly supports net neutrality. The party has adopted a position opposing the management of Internet traffic that infringes privacy and targets specific websites, users and legitimate business applications.

The move represents an unexpected shift in policy direction just weeks before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is scheduled to conduct hearings on network management practices. For months, the NDP has stood virtually alone among the major Canadian political parties in its support for web neutrality.

With the Liberals onside, the door is open for a bipartisan effort this fall to enshrine net neutrality principles into law.

Short term tactical thinking setting up a juicy confidence vote? Longer term strategic thinking about demographics and engaged youth? The liberal economic appeal of keeping a major economic sector as unregulated as possible?

Whatever it was, I'll take it. Welcome aboard Libs.

You'll forgive me if I haven't forgotten Bill C-74, I'll be watching closely to see what exactly the new Liberal enthusiasm for net neutrality means when it comes to proposing legislation rather than just opposing it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Old School

Music night. Time for some old school, 80's early 90's rap I think.

Dream Warriors because along with Run DMC they were the first rap I got into. I was heavily into punk at the time but I could see the appeal. Keep in mind this came out many years before Austin Powers.

Punk is what led me to the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and this cover of Jello Biafra's rage filled salute to his state. The rest of The Disposable Heroes stuff is great too - track it down.

And Jump Around by House of Pain because who knew bagpipes and battle rap went together so well?

They'll probably drink them

Just unimaginably paternalistic and contemptuous reasoning from Health Canada:

Health Canada delayed the delivery of alcohol-based hand sanitizers to some First Nations communities affected by swine flu because of concerns the alcohol content might be abused, the senior public health adviser to the Assembly of First Nations told a Senate committee Tuesday.

Dr. Kim Barker said the incident was only one example of the way that the measures used so far to contain the swine flu pandemic have been ill-suited to the social realities of aboriginal communities.

Better they should suffer from a pandemic if there's the slightest chance somebody might drink one. In this day and age a government health agency makes life or death public health policy decisions on the assumption that First Nations people are infants who can't be trusted with hand sanitizers.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Globe and Mail: Bargaining from a bully pulpit

Several column inches, inside front cover of page two is valuable real estate to a newspaper. Today the Globe and Mail used it to write about the pending strike by Globe unions, including editorial, advertising and circulation workers. Ostensibly a straight news story it makes a point of laying out the Globe's bargaining position and drops strong hints about tough times for journalism and the need for concessions.

Will the unions be offered the same column inches and position to present their viewpoint as well?

The deadline for a settlement after the overwhelming vote for a strike mandate is midnight June 30. I need to start planning on an alternative daily paper - I certainly won't be buying the products of scab labour.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Badly thought out toy

Seen while shopping today, shot with my phone. I swear to God this is real.

Flashpoint

From Andrew Sullivan:

If you catch militia - do not use violence do not kill him - treat him as your brother

People of Iran - THIS IS THE DAWN - This is the new begining - have hope and prepare

Soon Mousavi will announce full national strikes, probably starting with Petrochemical - prepare for this

Expect food shortage - transport stoppage - money shortage in bank

At this point, its win or die for a lot of these people. If these protests fail Iran goes behind a curtain and becomes every nightmarish story told about it.

Sunday Linkblast - June 21

Friday, June 19, 2009

They had decided to electrocute him before they even saw him

In the car on the way to the airport as revealed in an email the government finally revealed on what was supposed to be the last day of the Braidwood Commission.

And you thought the RCMP's behavior couldn't look any worse.

This e-mail was one of 260 documents on a CD sent by the RCMP to the justice department last April, yet the federal lawyers didn’t open the CD until last week.

Last week? Evidence delivered in April didn’t get opened until last week?

What?

Helen Roberts had every reason to be in tears Friday as she apologized to the public inquiry into Dziekanski’s death for failing to disclose what appears to be not just germane but also startlingly important evidence.

If Roberts had cried over Dziekanski mother’s pain, I would be moved — but a veteran lawyer wet-eyed over another screw-up in this case? I think they were crocodile tears.

Commissioner William Elliott’s carefully parsed press release was equally unbelievable: “This was simply an oversight. Unfortunately in an exercise of this magnitude, such an oversight can occur.”

Bollocks. No one but a moron overlooks the import of an e-mail like this.

The officers deny the explosive content is true and Roberts says Bent was wrong in what he said. But their protestations ring hollow after almost 18 months of bluster and denial. So does Elliott’s threadbare these-things-happen excuse.

The situation is as bad as the most virulent critics of the Mounties feared. This is no longer about four officers who made mistakes in judgment: It’s about an organization that thinks it is above the law.

Crazy, evil old man reminds us why we should be glad we're rid of him

Gut social programs, ruin lives, cripple the economy by cutting spending during a recession which nobody sane since Woodrow Wilson has thought was a good idea - anything rather than making the rich and big corporations contribute even a little more to the social contract. Thank God we got rid of him.

CALGARY - Former premier Ralph Klein criticized the Alberta government's return to deficits Thursday, suggesting he'd make a five to 10 per cent spending cut across the board.

Klein, speaking in Calgary at a security conference, said he's philosophically opposed to deficits, noting his government introduced a provincial law banning fiscal shortfalls.

The Stelmach government amended that law this spring, as it forecast a $4.71-billion deficit in its $36.4-billion budget. The province plans to drain its emergency savings to pay for four straight years of expected shortfalls, totalling $10.3 billion.

While stating he doesn't tend to comment on Premier Ed Stelmach's performance, Klein offered his successor advice on dealing with a steep plunge in resource revenues: Cut government services.

"Ten per cent or five per cent . . . across the board. Everything," the former premier told reporters after his speech.

At the start of Klein's 14-year tenure as premier, he drastically reduced government spending and public sector jobs to slay a$23-billion debt. The province declared itself debt-free in 2004.

"We shrunk government from 30,000 to 20,000 employees. We rolled back salaries by five per cent. We got rid of our pension plans, so there are a lot of things that can be done," Klein said.

The regime doubles down

As an indication of how the power struggles between hardliners and reformists have gone behind the scenes - it doesn't look good. The religious paramilitaries openly threaten vengeance and plan marches on the homes of reformers and the Supreme Leader offers no concessions.

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran's supreme leader said Friday that the country's disputed presidential vote had not been rigged, sternly warning protesters of a crackdown if they continue massive demonstrations demanding a new election.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sided with hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and offered no concessions to the opposition. He effectively closed any chance for a new vote by calling the June 12 election an "absolute victory."

The speech created a stark choice for candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi and his supporters: Drop their demands for a new vote or take to the streets again in blatant defiance of the man endowed with virtually limitless powers under Iran's constitution.

Andrew Sullivan has the live tweet response to the speech from Iranians here.

So that's it for any hope of some kind of brokered solution, government of national unity, what have you. The only choices for the protesters and reformers now are quietly returning to their homes and waiting for the months of 3 AM raids and mass disappearances that will inevitably follow - or open revolution.

This is going to be a bloody, painful weekend in Iran either way.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Finally!

The government finally backs down. The shameful forced exile of an innocent Canadian citizen is over.
CTV.ca News Staff
The Tory government will comply with a judge's order to bring Abousfian Abdelrazik back to Canada.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson made the announcement in Parliament on Thursday.
Earlier this month, Federal Court Justice Russel Zinn ruled that Abdelrazik's rights have been violated and Ottawa must bring him home within 30 days.
However, there had been speculation that Ottawa would appeal that ruling.
Abdelrazik, of Montreal, has been stuck in Khartoum since 2003 when he returned to his native country.
UPDATE: Was the government of Stephen Harper acting on orders from the Americans to keep Abousfian Abdelrazik in limbo?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The definition of Insanity

Were in a hell of a mess in Alberta and Ricardo Acuña of the Parkland Institute explains how the governing Tories are ideologically incapable of getting us out of it or even realizing how we got in it.

Provincial Finance Minister Iris Evans told media last week that current economic conditions will make it difficult for the provincial government to meet the targets it established for itself in this year's provincial budget.

The problem, according to Minister Evans, is that despite improving oil prices, government revenues from oil and gas are still significantly lower than what was expected. Natural gas prices are still far below the government's budget projections, and the rising Canadian dollar is further eroding government revenues from energy exports, which are sold internationally in US dollars.

That reality is aggravated, explained Evans, by the fact that revenues from corporate and individual taxes are also down significantly from what the government had projected.

In short, energy revenues are down, tax revenues are not high enough to replace them and we seem to have no other significant sources of revenue. In short, we're screwed.

It's mindboggling that the finance minister would be so genuinely surprised by a dynamic that is the direct—and entirely predictable—result of her government's own policies. It's even more shocking that when faced with the clear failure of the fiscal and economic policies they've put in place over the last 16 years, this government has not shown the slightest indication that they plan to change any of those policies.

It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The last economic bust in this province came about as a result of our provincial economy being so over-dependant on the oil and gas sector that when prices collapsed our entire economy collapsed along with them.

Liberal/Conservative coalition government to continue

If you're surprised you just haven't been paying attention.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff reached a deal on Tuesday to examine employment insurance reform, averting the possibility of a summer election following days of speculation over the fate of the minority Conservative government.
Earlier this week, Ignatieff had threatened to withhold confidence in a budget estimates vote on Friday unless Harper provided answers on a series of issues, including the Tories' unspecified plans for more EI proposals in the fall.
But after a series of face-to-face meetings in recent days, the political rivals agreed to create a working group on employment insurance that will have three members selected by the Liberals and three by the Conservatives.

The People United

A shot of the five mile long protest march in Tehran yesterday.Which should pretty much settle the silly and insulting suggestion that this is just a movement of elites and spoiled college students.

The latest stunning almost unimaginable developments: official troops now openly protecting protesters from the murderous violent thugs of the paramilitaries. It is widely believed among Iranians that the hardliners have imported Hezbollah Arabs to suppress the protests with brutality and murder, apparently the soldiers are starting to get tired of being lumped in with them.

Most shocking are reports at Huffington Posts excellent, continuously updated liveblog of all the information available about Iran, that the Clerics council that usually only gathers to replace the Supreme Ayatollah is holding an emergency meeting. This is a shocking blow to the ultimate authority of the Islamic regime and the power behind Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Khamenei.

Its hard not to feel hopeful that something pivotal and transformative is happening.

UPDATE: Excellent piece about the internal power structures, cliques and movements among the clerics and power elite of Iran. Recommended.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Iran: Supreme Leader agrees to recount!

After calling the Ahmadinejad win a 'divine assessment' only a day ago Khamenei now calls for a probe into voter fraud after a shocking weekend of protests and every other candidate calling the election fraudulent.

It's impossible to express how stunning a reversal this is - even if the end result is just a rubber stamp on theft - the regime blinked.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

In the dungeons of Iran

A Canadian journalist gets a brief taste of what the dissidents are getting.

Riot police had driven off anti-government demonstrators and the sting of tear gas in the air was fading Sunday when the heavy-set man in a camouflage uniform grabbed me, shouting in Farsi, and pushed me into a throng of riot police. They shouted while I waved my hand and said “Canadian” to no effect. Before I knew what was happening, I was whisked away on a motorcycle to the Interior Ministry headquarters, and taken to a large basement room.

Inside a concrete room to my left, I could see more than 50 others being made to stand in uncomfortable positions – on their toes with their hands pressed behind their heads. Some were covered in blood, and police with batons patrolled the rows, tapping some detainees on the shoulders with their sticks. There was no screaming, just the sound of boots pacing on the concrete floor.

For a few terrifying hours Sunday, I was mistaken for an anti-government protester, giving me a glimpse into how the hundreds arrested over the weekend are being treated by authorities in a system where dissidents are known to “disappear” and not be seen again for months.

Americans who've used it respond to the lies about Canadian Healthcare

The scare ads and op-ed pieces featuring Canadians telling us American how terrible their government health-care systems have arrived - predictably.

There's another, factual view - by those of us Americans who've lived in Canada and used their system.

My wife and I did for years, and we've been incensed by the lies we've heard back here in the U.S. about Canada's supposedly broken system.

It's not broken - and what's more, Canadians like and fiercely defend it.

Example: Our son was born at Montreal's Royal Victoria Hospital. My wife got excellent care. The total bill for three days in a semi-private room? $21.

My friend Art Finley is a West Virginia native who lives in Vancouver.

"I'm 82, and in excellent health," he told me this week. "It costs me all of $57 a month for health care, and it's excellent. I'm so tired of all the lies and bullshit I hear about the system up here in the U.S. media."

Finley, a well-known TV and radio host for years in San Francisco, adds,

"I now have 20/20 vision thanks to Canadian eye doctors. And I haven't had to wait for my surgeries, either."
UPDATE: The leading cause of bankruptcies in the U.S.? Yeah.

Using a conservative definition, 62.1% of all bankruptcies in 2007 were medical; 92% of these medical debtors had medical debts over $5000, or 10% of pretax family income. The rest met criteria for medical bankruptcy because they had lost significant income due to illness or mortgaged a home to pay medical bills. Most medical debtors were well educated, owned homes, and had middle-class occupations. Three quarters had health insurance. Using identical definitions in 2001 and 2007, the share of bankruptcies attributable to medical problems rose by 49.6%. In logistic regression analysis controlling for demographic factors, the odds that a bankruptcy had a medical cause was 2.38-fold higher in 2007 than in 2001.

Conclusions:

Illness and medical bills contribute to a large and increasing share of US bankruptcies.

Oprah turns her sights on Alberta

The most popular TV personality in the world may be planning a segment on Alberta's mean-spirited attack on transsexuals:

EDMONTON — The Alberta government’s decision to stop funding sex-change surgery has attracted the attention of the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Edmonton resident Sarah King, who’s hoping to get the surgery next year in Montreal, said she was contacted through e-mail by the popular U.S. talk show when it got word Alberta was cutting funding.

A message from Harpo Studios in Chicago said the show wasn’t doing a story now, but would contact her for an interview if it does a segment on transsexuals in the future.

Kris Wells, a researcher at the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, said if Oprah tells her audience about the funding cuts, Alberta’s $25-million attempt to boost its oilsands-tainted image would be a waste.

Iran Rising

More thoughts on what is happening in the streets of Iran.

First, it baffles me how many media and blog sources don't seem to understand that this is the biggest story in the world right now. We haven't seen scenes like these since the late 80's.

Second, those who are paying attention in many cases may be imposing their own biases on the situation: while many of those battling in the streets and the halls of power right now may be fighting for some kind of western secular democratic ideal - many more on both sides are probably fighting for their ideal of the Islamic Republic and the Islamic Revolution of '79 and believe passionately that they are being betrayed.

There are senior clerics and religious authorities on both sides flinging religious anathemas at each other and what is happening may be best understood as a secular takeover by revolutionary guards fighting any change in the international isolation status-quo.

Only time will tell if we are watching another Velvet Revolution or another Tienanmen Square.

UPDATE: A young Iranian responds to the official censorship and suppression of the truth about the resistance to this rigged election by bringing down Ahmadinejad's and Supreme Ayatollah Khamenei's websites. The resistance is young, technically savvy and not ready to be shoved back in the box.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The revolution will be twittered

Thanks Matt:

From IranRiggedElection@twitter

  1. Another police station in Tehran is taken over by people. The telecommunication building in Amirabad (tehran) is on fire.
  2. Foreign reporters are told to leave Iran. The government is not going to renew the visas.
  3. From Isfahan: University buildings are on fire, windows broken, ... special guard has entered the university
  4. People have taken over a police station in Northern Tehran!! [Kalantari Tajrish!]
Update:

Mousavi just said his prayers @ the HQ and is moving toward ministry with 30000 supporters #iranElection
from web

Saskatchewan: We'll happily take the Albertan nurses you are driving away

As the 'unofficial' hiring freeze continues and Alberta's government expresses contempt for the job nurses do - suggesting there's a 'glut' of nurses while canceling vacation time and demanding ever more overtime - Saskatchewan's nurses suggest their own shortages could be filled by recruiting here.

REGINA -- The Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association (SRNA) suggests provincial health-care recruiters look to the west if there aren’t enough nursing graduates in Saskatchewan to fill the current vacancies.

Currently Saskatchewan has about 600 vacant registered nurse positions, said SRNA executive director Donna Brunskill, explaining while the first priority should be to hire Saskatchewan RNs, the health regions should pursue recruiting opportunities in Alberta.

Brunskill was responding to media reports coming out of Alberta that nursing managers in Calgary were being laid off and that the health authority in Edmonton is suggesting there is a glut of registered nurses in that province.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Couldn't happen to a nicer industry

Bob Cesca on why the U.S. health insurance companies sincerely deserve a good hard screwing:

A government healthcare plan, on the other hand, would be specifically tailored for stories like mine, and it's my only real chance of having health insurance anytime soon.

In addition to putting the "insurance" back into "health insurance," the public plan would force the private insurers to figure out how to compete -- or face bankruptcy. How excellent would that be for a change? The health insurance companies under financial pressure brought on by a competitive entity that we own.

Honestly, I hope they choke on it. I can think of no other American industry that more closely resembles a criminal shakedown of the public than the health insurers.

The Globe and Mail's Cognitive Dissonance

After suggesting on Tuesday that the surge of the far right and nativist vote in the recent EU election was actually a vote of confidence in capitalism, today our paper of record suggests that the landslide NDP win in Nova Scotia is actually a sign of how conservative Nova Scotians are.

The Globe and Mail: Where the voters intentions are what we say they are and are always for a conservative pro-corporate agenda no matter who people actually vote for.

Health Priorities

The Globe and Mail Health columnist Andre Picard has a good piece today about the amalgamation of Alberta's regional health boards. The money quotes:

Alberta has, in the past decade or so, created the best, most innovative health system in Canada. Regionalization allowed health authorities to shape services to local needs, created better continuity of care, made the health system more responsive, improved public health and led to strong alliances between university researchers and health regions.

But regionalization also created powerful, independent health leaders like Sheila Weatherill of Edmonton and Jack Davis of Calgary, who used their influence to push for massive infrastructure investment, new research funding and ever-larger health budgets.

Slightly more than a year ago, Premier Ed Stelmach blew up the structure and replaced the regional health authorities with a single "superboard" to oversee all health-care services in the province.

The move was motivated principally by petty politics. Mr. Davis and Ms. Weatherill had become so powerful that they were perceived as threats, not to mention that their politics did not align perfectly with those of Mr. Stelmach's rural conservatism.

I said pretty much exactly the same thing back in March here.

If (when?) this ill-considered politicized health board centralization decision blows up and makes a bigger mess out of medicine in Alberta than it already has, be ready for the usual suspects to try to pin the blame on the essential characteristics of the public universal model rather than the policies of this conservative government. Vandalizing the system and then blaming the system itself for any negative results is part of the standard right wing model for healthcare.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Nobody Cares Ralph.

Ralph Klein speaks out from retirement on the issue that helped end his Premiership:

Former Alberta premier Ralph Klein maintains some strong opinions about health care in our province.

While attending an event in Red Deer Tuesday night for the Convenience Stores Association of Western Canada, Klein said health care spending in Alberta is out of control.

"It's going to come back and bite every politician of every political stripe, on the bum," he said. "It's out of control and no one wants to address it."

Klein said health care spending now makes up over 40 per cent of the provincial budget and insists that two-tiered health care, part publicly-funded and part private, is the way to lower costs.

"When health care consumes over half the budget, the total provincial budget, then I think people will understand health care costs are out of control."

Klein has been out of politics for more than two years.

Of course measured as a percentage of provincial GDP rather than the arbitrary budget numbers, healthcare costs in Alberta have been virtually static. Don't expect to hear that from Ralph or other fellow travelers in the 'rich people should be able to buy their way to the front of the line and get better care' movement to mention that. People might start realizing that means that healthcare is becoming a bigger percentage of the budget only because successive governments have deliberately impoverished Canada's provincial and federal budgets with huge tax giveaways to the rich and big corporations.

Since polling has repeatedly shown that healthcare, universal single tier public healthcare, is still a passionate high priority for Canadians these kind of regressive taxation policies will be harder and harder to defend and sustain as time goes on.

Gone with the Wind

First came the revelations of back-biting, careerism and rampant cynicism in Stephen Harper's cabinet revealed by Minister Rait's tape leak. Now we now find out Rait believed that Environment Minister Jim Prentice redirected funds meant for research into clean wind power to dirty tar sands power.
OTTAWA – Money earmarked to support wind energy producers was diverted to research and development in the oil patch in backroom budget wrangling, the minister of natural resources said in a conversation with an aide in January.

Lisa Raitt told aide Jasmine MacDonnell that she suspects Environment Minister Jim Prentice took the money for wind power and redirected it to his Clean Energy Plan – a $1-billion fund for research and development in the oil sands.

The revelation is likely to intensify criticism of the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper as unfriendly to the environment.

Mr. Prentice is the MP for Calgary-Centre North, home to much of Canada's oil industry. Mr. Harper also represents a Calgary riding.
Shocking, disgusting, enormously cynical and contemptuous towards the environmental concerns of the majority of Canadians.... and not even remotely surprising.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Congratulations Nova Scotians

The first NDP government in Nova Scotia, and the first one east of Ontario. Congratulations for not falling for the fear mongering folks. Darrell Dexter seems like he will run a careful, focused government and a lot more people will be lost to the myths forever.

As has been pointed out by others, only two provinces in Canada have a balanced budget right now, one of them NDP, one that was NDP for more than a decade up until just last year.

But tell me the one about the irresponsible, free spending NDP again. Used to be that one never got old, but things change.

Good Times

Charlie Robison
From the soundtrack to the first season of True Blood. Twilight if it was sweaty, southern fried with a lot more sex and drugs and a lot less of 'Teh Mormon'. It's probably an acquired taste, but the music is great.

'Well at least they're right wingers...'

Under the jubilant heading 'Capitalism Lives' The Globe and Mail Editorial Board twists themselves into knots to put the best face on the crazed pack of racists, nativists and hatemongers elected to the European Parliament yesterday:

It is hard, then, on this basis, to support ruminations about the end of capitalism, or even of American-style capitalism, except possibly in the United States itself under President Barack Obama. In Canada, the incumbent Conservative government, which has its own problems, can take some heart in this.

The EU elections were a vote for caution and stability, for conservatism in uncertain times. They also reflect misgivings among many people over the scale of immigration in Europe, and concern over the rapid pace of European political integration. These are legitimate concerns, not evidence that Europe is inching toward neo-fascism, as some fear after a handful of extremists were also elected.

It would be wrong to dismiss the message of European voters so crudely.
So the success of extremist hate groups like The British National Party that forbids non-white members and calls for all descendants of immigrants in the British Isles to be 'voluntarily repatriated' to their ancestor's countries of origin isn't a dangerous sign of rising extremism it's a sign of fundamental support for the tenants of capitalism.

Marx once said that capitalists would sell the rope used to hang them, and clueless neoliberal corporatist rags will gloss over the extremism of populists - as long as they're right wing populists.

UPDATE:

Matt Steinglass on why interpreting the EU election results as a vote for capitalism is a serious misreading.
It is a historical accident that in the US, the populist nativist rural/exurb party is also the party that embraces free-market economics. It’s actually quite weird that the GOP combines these two elements, since in most countries they’re generally opposed to each other. And it leads American commentators to interpret victories for nativist parties like the French Front National or anti-Muslim “charismatic” politicians like the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders as victories “for capitalism” and “against socialism”. They have nothing to do with each other.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Repeating History

A political rival is kept onside by being given the role of Finance Minister and is largely considered a successor in waiting. After more than a decade of their party holding power the rival gets tired of waiting and arranges a relatively bloodless coup, but even after forcing out his former boss and taking the reins of power the sniping and backbiting between the two party factions continues.

After waiting impatiently for years for the top job he believes is his by right to come to him, the former Finance Minister than dithers away his mandate and ultimately is destroyed by a venal corruption scandal that reveals a sense of entitlement to the public purse among elected officials. He loses his leadership and in due course his party loses power.

Any of this seem familiar at all?
LORD MANDELSON, the business secretary, penned a devastating critique of Gordon Brown’s character, labelling him “insecure”, “self-conscious” and “angry”, according to leaked e-mails.
The memos are understood to state that Mandelson thought Brown was too preoccupied with celebrity gimmicks and should concentrate on “strategic policy formulation” rather than “telling people that you watch The X-Factor”. Only last week the prime minister telephoned to inquire about the health of Susan Boyle, the Britain’s Got Talent runner-up who had been admitted to the Priory suffering from exhaustion.
Mandelson also suggested that Brown could not win the next general election unless he brought back more heavy hitters into the cabinet.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

The hidden shipyards of the Colombian jungles

In just the last two years submarines have become the source of over a third of the cocaine entering the United States.

MEXICO CITY -- When anti-narcotics agents first heard that drug cartels were building an armada of submarines to transport cocaine, they thought it was a joke.

Now U.S. law enforcement officials say that more than a third of the cocaine smuggled into the United States from Colombia travels in submersibles.

An experimental oddity just two years ago, these strange semi-submarines are the cutting edge of drug trafficking today. They ferry hundreds of tons of cocaine for powerful Mexican cartels that are taking over the Pacific Ocean route for most northbound shipments, according to the Colombian navy.

The sub-builders are even trying to develop a remote-controlled model, officials say.

"That means no crew. That means just cocaine, or whatever, inside the boat," said Michael Braun, a former chief of operations at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

The subs are powered by ordinary diesel engines and built of simple fiberglass in clandestine shipyards in the Colombian jungle. U.S. officials expect 70 or more to be launched this year with a potential cargo capacity of 380 tons of cocaine, worth billions of dollars in the United States.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Organ Donor

DJ Shadow

Wow, I'm so glad I don't work for Telus anymore...

Operation Rescue tracked victim for murderer

At the time of Roeder’s arrest Sunday afternoon along Interstate 35 in Johnson County, a television station captured the vehicle on video. There on the dashboard was a note that read “Cheryl” and “Op Rescue” with a phone number.
Cheryl Sullenger, senior policy adviser for Operation Rescue out of Wichita, said Tuesday that she has spoken to Roeder in the past, but she said he would initiate the contact. She said she hasn’t had any recent contact with him.
Sullenger served about two years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic in California in 1988. She has since renounced violent action.
She said Roeder’s interest was in court hearings involving Tiller.
“He would call and say, ‘When does court start? When’s the next hearing?’ ” Sullenger said. “I was polite enough to give him the information. I had no reason not to. Who knew? Who knew, you know what I mean?”
Yes, who could possibly predict that repeatedly describing someone as a 'murderous nazi' running a 'death mill' could possibly lead one of their overwrought followers already known for threatening behaviour to violence?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Mitsubishi: Profiting from extinction

Japan's sprawling Mitsubishi conglomerate has cornered a 40 per cent share of the world market in bluefin tuna, one of the world's most endangered fish.

A corporation within the £170bn Mitsubishi empire is importing thousands of tonnes of the fish from Europe into Tokyo's premium fish markets, despite stocks plummeting towards extinction in the Mediterranean.

Bluefin tuna frozen at -60C now could be sold in several years' time for astronomical sums if Atlantic bluefin becomes commercially extinct as forecast, a result of the near free-for-all enjoyed by the tuna fleet.

Not even the respect of culpability

The anti abortion movement puts a great amount of effort into demonizing doctors. The women who get abortions are depicted mostly as victims or dupes, the anti-choice folks don't even want to think about what making something illegal actually means. Even in their hate-mongering they're patronizing.

I guess it's the same mentality that says women can't even own their own bodies, much less responsibility for their actions.

Terrorism: By the numbers

If you live in the U.S. you are far more likely to be attacked by anti-abortion terrorists than Islamist terrorists:
According to the National Abortion Federation, since 2000 abortion providers have reported 14 arsons, 78 death threats, 66 incidents of assault and battery, 117 anthrax threats, 128 bomb threats, 109 incidents of stalking, 541 acts of vandalism, one bombing, and one attempted murder.
Add one murder to that list.
Does anybody know the Canadian numbers?

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