Wednesday, January 30, 2008

One hit and one miss

Which is better than some professional pundits.

On Christmas Eve I predicted that John McCain would end up on top in the Republican primaries and that's looking like an increasingly safe bet. I had joined everyone else in writing him off last summer, but the dismal field of choices offered to Republican primary voters acted to focus their attention. Only Romney presents any challenge to McCain now and Huckabee is seemingly just waiting for the best moment to sink him by throwing in with McCain.

On the Democrat side, I underestimated how openly and completely the corporate media would act to knee-cap the most anti-corporatist candidate, obvious in retrospect. Edwards never got the attention his support deserved and ultimately, despite being the most progressive candidate other than Kucinich he couldn't surmount a carefully nurtured Hillary VS Obama narrative.

Hopefully he has enough support to influence policy at the convention, maybe even enough to play kingmaker. If Edwards throws in with Obama - far more likely than Clinton getting his support - it might be enough combined with the Kennedy endorsements to surmount the lock Clinton has on the party establishment and the super delegates.

But don't count on it - expect to be swallowing your misgivings and pulling for Clinton to beat McCain in the general.

'I fights to the finish 'cause I eats my spinich!'

Whatever else...

...we can all come together from the left and right, and agree that it is a very, very good thing that Giuliani's run for the presidency has now come to an end.

He was sustained for longer than he deserved by Fox News who are going to have a very bad year, and its good to see that even with media support no one could afford to buy, a toxic, vengeance crazed little jumped up authoritarian who looks and acts like a comic book mad scientist can still lose in the modern Republican Party.

Romney's done too. Huckabee will be throwing his support to McCain soon, he may even have dreams of the vice presidency floating in his head - when he was clearly born to head up the department of petty graft and inappropriate office proselytizing.

The Republican candidates are apparently united in a shared loathing for the Mormon ex-governor who has principals you can like - and if you don't like those principals, he has others. It isn't actually hard to imagine the other candidates meeting together and deciding on an anybody but Mitt pact if things came down to the wire.

McCain, of the entire Republican lineup has the best shot of even attempting to reduce the Democrat tidal wave bearing down on the Republican Party. He has significant advantages, like the fact that the elite figures of the American media would happily line up on camera to blow him given the opportunity. Watch a video of a Chris Matthews interview with McCain some time, sexual tension you could cut with a knife.

And of course the Republicans have their long time standby secret weapon the Democrats.
'But how could we possibly screw it up this time?' they bleat. 'Bush has had lower support for longer in the polls than almost any other President (And George? You're no Harry Truman.) the American people hate the war and are scared and angry about the economy and are going to get more and more scared and angry about it for a year and then go into a voting booth. We've got more money to spend, better poll numbers than we've seen in a generation more volunteers joining campaigns. Blacks, Latinos, young people, women - they're all overwhelmingly supporting Democrats and they're all highly motivated to vote in November.'

'Given all that, how could we possibly screw it up this time?'
To which we can only reply: 'We don't know, but you're probably going to, that's what makes it so hard to watch!'

Monday, January 28, 2008 watching you

Regular readers will know I had little use for Elizabeth May and the Green party even before they became the Liberal Party's junior partners. She's made up for a lot with me with this post about the scary transformation of the government lobby:
What may have been the most fascinating part of the afternoon was my time in the Government Lobby. Behind the curtains that run along the last row of benches on both sides of the House, are doors to long skinny living room areas. One is called the Opposition Lobby; the other the Government Lobby. In my pre-Green Party leader life, I have spent a lot of time in both. The Government Lobby was a frequent work space when I was Senior Policy Advisor to the federal Minister of Environment back in the mid-1980s. And I frequented both lobbies when I was with Sierra Club of Canada from 1987-2006. It did not strike me until I walked into the Government Lobby to await my turn as Speaker that I had not been in there since Stephen Harper became Prime Minister.
It used to have some paintings on the wall. Past prime ministers, certainly a formal portrait of the Queen. Landscapes. I know there was the occasional photo of current Prime Ministers, but when I walked in this time, I felt chilled to the bone. Every available wall space had a large colour photo of Stephen Harper. Stephen Harper at Alert. Stephen Harper in fire fighter gear. Stephen Harper at his desk. Stephen Harper meeting the Dalai Lama. Even the photo of the Queen showed her in the company of Stephen Harper. None were great photos. None were more than enlarged snapshots in colour. They didn’t feel like art.
I've been in the government lobby, lobbying MPs while parliament was sitting. I remember a long stodgy hall full of old brown furniture, dark wood paneling and power suits. Photo's of Steve everywhere sounds frankly cheap in a room that had a very pricey vibe when I was there.

What's the message here, as May reasonably asks?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


It took explosives to do what diplomacy couldn't: allow Palestinians to go on a shopping spree. The siege of Gaza, imposed by Israel and the international community after Hamas seized control of the Palestinian territory last July, ended abruptly before dawn on Wednesday when militants blew as many as 15 holes in the border wall separating the territory from Egypt. In the hours that followed, over 350,000 Palestinians swarmed across the frontier, nearly one fifth of Gaza's entire population.
Thousands of Palestinians, the vast majority being collectively punished for the actions of a tiny minority made it over the wall today, some to shop, some never to return.

Those responsible for the largely ineffectual rocket attacks that Israel uses to justify the collective punishment of all Gazans are Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The extreme Islamist movement among Palestinians would never have gotten as far as it did in the Occupied Territories without the care and feeding of the Israeli government based on the crack brained idea that religious extremists would be easier to deal with then secular groups like the PLO they were intended to counterbalance. Now ordinary Palestinians suffer due to a situation sponsored from without.

For now at least, they have an escape hatch from their prison.

A trifling matter of the will of the people

The Globe and Mail today has a predictably rapturous response to John Manley's predictably bellicose Afghanistan report.

Christie Blatchford actually reports getting weepy over it she loves it so much (They get it, they really get it.), while on the editorial page jowls quiver manfully in righteous approval for Manley's 'eloquent and impassioned case for extending Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan'.

The little matter of the Canadian people's overwhelming disapproval for the mission and the overwhelming desire for it to end immediately if not sooner is barely mentioned at all, and only in the context of the government's failure to explain it to us well enough. Is it perhaps condescending and patronizing to propose that the only reason we silly citizens don't overwhelmingly support rather than overwhelmingly oppose this mission is that we just don't get it? To even ask the question means you are a deeply un-serious person and should just leave these matters to the grownups to handle.

To the Globe and Mail the will of the people isn't even a factor in this decision apart from mild criticism of the government's failure to successfully sell us on it.

Then there's the insulting pantomine that Manley has set stern conditions of increased NATO troop support if we're going to stay. Manley's report is no blank check for the Prime Minister pontificates Brian Laghi. If NATO doesn't step up, we'll be on our way.

Of course then Lewis Mackenzie lets the mask slip a little by pointing out that the previously announced 3000 marines promised by US Defense Secratary Robert Gates (With some sneering at our troops efforts as an extra bonus) can easily be spun as meeting the tough new conditions Manley has stuck the PM with.

Meanwhile the Toronto Star points out that the report is just a stern call for more of the same.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

One year from today...

...and the prayers of billions will be answered and a village in Texas will have it's idiot back.

So all we have to do is get through another 365 days without another Gulf of Tonkin being engineered, with a Persian flavor this time, pray that Americans do what they seem about to do and elect a Democrat with something approaching sanity and competence and we can all breath a sigh of relief.

Maybe the Democrats in the Senate can even catch a clue and stop sucking up to the half-wit in chief now that his lame duck status is definitive.

Sunday Linkblast - January 20

  • The truth was inconvenient and unpalatable
    So we'll go back to pretending our allies don't torture prisoners.

  • Uniting the far right
    Two wingnut fringe parties merge in Alberta, they won't win power as Alberta's cities get more and more urbane, but they might be enough to decisively split the rural right wing vote and hurt the PCs.

  • US economy teetering
    And our fiscal health is inextricably tied to theirs.

  • The Science Fiction Conspiracy
    In 1944 the US government was horrified to read a detailed description of the intricacies of the secret Manhattan Project to create an atom bomb - in a science fiction magazine. This is the story of the investigation into the SF conspiracy and here's part 2.

  • And a real conspiracy
    Is the FBI covering up a high level plot to sell nuclear secrets?

  • The only option
    Only deeply unserious people believe there's any choice in Iraq but keeping US troops there forever.

  • The CRTC's apparent role
    To retroactively legitimize unacceptable media concentration levels.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Climate change denial compared with pro-slavery rhetoric

From New Scientist, a researcher compares the arguments against taking action on climate change with arguments made in the 1800's against abolishing slavery.
Marc Davidson of the philosophy department at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands has decided to compare the rhetoric used by US climate "deniers" to that of early 19th century congressional debates on the abolition of slavery.

Davidson claims that historical hindsight shows how preposterous the claims made in favour of slavery were. He suggests they bear striking resemblance to claims made against taking any action on climate change by contemporary members of Congress.

The implication is that some years down the line, in a century or two perhaps, the comments of climate "deniers" will seem just as shocking as those of the slave owners of the 1800s.
Let the outraged howls commence...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Canadian government puts USA and Israel on torture watch list

After releasing their 'torture awareness' training documents for Canadian officials abroad in a court case on Afghan detainees, the government apparently realized they had just publicly revealed that there was reason to believe Canadian allies the USA and Israel were torturing prisoners and tried to recall the documents.

Arar was sent to a Syrian prison where he was tortured for nearly a year. An inquiry into the Arar affair ordered a new focus on torture, and CTV News has learned that, as part of a "torture awareness workshop," diplomats are now being told where to watch for abuse.

The goal of the workshop was to teach diplomats who visit Canadians in foreign jails how to tell if they've been tortured. It also listed countries and places with greater risks of torture. The list includes Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, and China. But surprisingly, it also included the United States, Guantanamo Bay, and Israel.

It notes specific "U.S. interrogation techniques," which include "forced nudity, isolation, and sleep deprivation." The U.S. has repeatedly denied allegations by international groups that it tortures prisoners captured in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. However, U.S. officials have refused to comment on the Canadian list.

But international observers say they are heartened by the specificity of the Canadian list. Alex Neve of Amnesty International says he is surprised that Canada would risk offending allies by naming countries that potentially torture prisoners.

"These are countries where, sadly, the record is clear -- torture and ill treatment happens," said Neve.

Second thoughts

But it appears that Ottawa may have had second thoughts about being so explicit. After the documents were released as evidence in a court case relating to Afghan detainees, the government tried to get them back. Sources say that Ottawa apparently wanted to black out sensitive parts that may anger allies.

A war crimes trial has never been held against anyone under the age of 18. International observers have questioned Ottawa's decision not to help Khadr, who many believe is no different than child soldiers victimized in Africa.

Oops. Too much honesty from Canada's 'new' government, so committed to openness and transparency as it is.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Healthcare Premiums on their way out?

It seems likely.

Premier Stelmach is musing about the move publicly
and it seems unlikely that he would raise hopes about axing a regressive tax loathed by 80% of Albertans and condemned across the political spectrum only to dash them just in time to be smacked around for it during an election campaign.

As Don Braid points out in the Herald today, a lot of the people making the sniffily condescending argument that the premiums should stay because 'people need to know health care has a cost' are ivory tower conservative academics who get their premiums covered by their schools. And whether you're a struggling young family straining to make ends meet or a professional right winger getting a six figure retainer from the Fraser Institute you're paying the same amount. Except that the higher the income the more likely your company includes paying it in your benefits.

This is the dictionary definition of an unfair regressive tax.

It doesn't even go to health care! If every penny collected was dedicated to upgrading hospitals, adding beds and recruiting and retaining health care professionals -- it would still be an unfair regressive tax, but at least it wouldn't be going into general revenues to be spent on expensed three martini lunches for cabinet ministers.

The so called Alberta advantage is predicated on a supposedly low tax bill for Albertans - invariably the Tories fail to include the health care tax (It's a premium see, not a tax.) in their calculations of the Alberta tax burden. Include the premium tax, include it's disproportionate effect on lower income Albertans and the Alberta Advantage frays considerably.

There are also many lower income Albertans who have fallen drastically behind on their premiums to the point of defaulting on them completely for years. Many of them are too terrified to seek needed medical attention for fear that it will be refused because of it. In fact no one can be refused health care for not paying their premiums but a lot of people don't know that and let health care problems that could be effectively treated with preventative care degrade to conditions requiring much more expensive emergency room care.

Which brings us to the other health care news of the week: US researchers report long waiting lists in American emergency rooms.

But how can this be? The Fraser Institute and our elected officials tell us endlessly that the solution to our own waiting lists here in Canada is ever more private sector involvement in the health care system. But in the most private sector health care system in the world they have dangerously long waiting lists too. Waiting lists furthermore, that are longer based on income and race and concentrated in expensive and dangerous emergency care because of lack of primary and preventative care. In fact many American hospitals are closing ERs because of how expensive they are.

So in other words the people pushing the idea of taking even more resources away from the public system and putting them towards ill advised private sector flirtations are risking damaging the public system and the health of Canadians - and it won't even help with the wait list red herring they are using to justify such moves.

Ever get the feeling these people think that we are complete fucking morons?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Okay, NOW I'm jealous

I've enjoyed the fuss over Premier Stelmach's tone-deaf attack on mischievous fellow Alberta blogger Daveberta, and the huge free publicity gift Special Ed has given Dave over Dave's amusing domain name prank. I wish I'd thought of it, and I wish Dave well in his public joust with our clueless Premier.

But now Dave got this rare gift from the Edmonton Journal:
As spotted by The Sir Robert Bond Papers. Now I feel a stab of envy. Having an editorial cartoon about me is a special little dream, particularly one this good. Curse you Dave Cournoyer you lucky bastard!

Parties of fear

So another election in the offing, another predictable campaign ramping up to convince Canadian voters that they have far fewer choices than they actually do.

Jason Cherniak tries to explain to us poor misguided leftists, more in sorrow than anger, that we really have no choice but to vote for his party - but do the Liberals really even qualify as 'left' any more? Even center left?

Dion described himself as an 'economic right-winger' in an interview with the Globe and Mail. Naturally the reporter, didn't ask the obvious follow-up question: what else besides economics is there left to be left-wing about?

Identity politics, or if you prefer, human rights politics have reached the point where seeking a more just society now requires fundamental challenges to the current economic order - does anybody really believe the Liberals are the ones to attempt something like that? Or that they even want to?

Having the mushy middle as the dominant paradigm means a constant drift to the right; if it's center left it's what the Liberals do, therefore if they do it, its center left.

So huge tax giveaways to the rich and huge corporations while claiming the cupboard is too bare for any significant new social spending is center left. Paying lip service to the environment while abandoning any meaningful attempt to protect it is center left. Betraying labour on anti-scab based on a contemptuous and contemptible lie about a nonexistent threat to essential services is center left. Waiting for the courts to compel them to respect same sex marriage and fighting survivor benefits in the courts to the bitter end is center-left.

But hey the Conservatives are worse...somehow... plus they're scary. So don't do anything silly like start to think about how we deserve better.

Liberals howl at any efforts by the NDP to win seats in 'their' ridings. Ontario is Liberal country and any efforts by the NDP there are just irresponsible partisan vote splitting. I will start viewing this specious argument with anything other than utter contempt the first time I hear real criticism from Liberals about Liberal vote splitting in traditional NDP strongholds in the West or elsewhere. No? Then shut the hell up.

The Liberals haven't earned the votes of Canadians who are concerned about progressive issues. On the most important issues of the day they have consistently sided with the elites against ordinary Canadians. They're the Tories with a slightly hipper rap.

I certainly don't think the Conservatives are any better, almost two years in power and they still begin every answer to every question with "Well when the Liberals shamefully failed to..." The aggrieved reactionary battling corrupt elites shtick starts to wear thin immediately after it becomes clear that you are the elites.

If we were looking for a single word to describe the Harper government, it would be 'thuggery'.

Thuggish accusations of treason against anyone who questions the Afghanistan mission, thuggish negative campaign advertising when there isn't even a campaign happening, thuggish attempts to intimidate independent regulators following their mandate to protect us on issues of nuclear safety, thuggish treatment of environmentalists and the environment at Bali and elsewhere.

The Conservatives are the party of 'Sit down and shut up if you know what's good for you!'

Harper is very likely right to warn of economic turbulence ahead as he did the other week, however trying to head off an angry populist response from the electorate to the party of thuggery as the economy begins to list is probably a doomed strategy. Conservatives are firmly opposed on ideological grounds to any attempts to alleviate economic hardship or inequality and Canadians know it.

And the Liberals are firmly opposed to making any alleviation of economic hardship anything more than cosmetic - unless forced to in a minority government.

And Canadians know that too.

Cherniak suggests NDP voters simply must vote Liberal because only the Liberals have any chance of forming a left leaning government.

Well A: I don't concede that the Liberals qualify as left wing anymore - if they ever did.

And B: There are other options besides forming the government, like holding the balance of power in a minority, which the NDP have done in the past and will do again in the future.

And C: The Social Credit Party seemed inevitable in Alberta for 35 years - until they were annihilated at the polls and never came back. If you'd told somebody in 1985 that the Federal Progressive Conservatives would virtually cease to exist in less than a decade they would have laughed at you. Remember the Saskatchewan Progressive Conservatives? After seemingly half their caucus went to jail they had to change their name and spend a decade in the political wilderness before being allowed to take office again. The graveyard is full of political parties that thought they were immortal. Saying that the Liberals are an inevitable part of Canada's political landscape is akin to the words 'This ship is unsinkable.'

So if Canadians are looking for real change - and I think we are - voting for the Liberals and their junior partners the Greens isn't the way to go. Taking enough seats away from them so that any potential Liberal government is a minority is.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Glen Greenwald defends Ezra Levant

Well, not Ezra so much as his free expression rights.

Ezra Levant is a right-wing Canadian neoconservative who publishes Western Standard, a typical warmongering, pro-Likud journal -- a poor man's Weekly Standard for Canadian neocons. In February, 2006, he published the Danish Mohammed cartoons, which prompted an Islamic group's imam to file a complaint (.pdf) against Levant with the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission, charging Levant with "advocating hatemongering cartoons in the media," and the imam specifically accused Levant of "defaming me and my family because we follow and are related to Prophet Mohammed."

Rather than dismiss the complaint as a blatant attempt to punish free thought and free speech, the Alberta Human Rights Commission announced that it would investigate. To do so, they compelled Levant to appear before a government agent and be interrogated about the cartoons he published, his thoughts and intent in publishing them, and the other circumstances surrounding his "behavior." Under the law, the Commission has the power to impose substantial fines and other penalties on Levant.

The hearing was closed to the public -- only his lawyer and wife were allowed to attend -- but Levant insisted on recording the proceedings and was directed by the Commission not to publish the video, but he did so anyway. Here are the noxious fruits of hate speech laws: a citizen being forced to appear before the Government in order to be interrogated by an agent of the State -- a banal, clerical bureaucrat -- about what opinions he expressed and why he expressed them, upon pain of being punished under the law.

I've addressed the dangers of Hate Laws before, in the anti-censorship journal Gauntlet. Greenwald presents most of the same arguments I did. Laws designed to stop Nazis have inevitably migrated to lesser extremes of both the right and left and are having a chilling effect on the robust expression of political views.

I also argued that allowing extremists an opportunity to present themselves as martyred victims to heavy-handed government oppression could sustain them more than being ignored could.

I'm happy that Levant's magazine fell to the market forces of an insufficient reader base rather than as punishment for thoughtcrime.

The argument that such laws protect minorities is a little condescending and a bit of a false hope; The Wiemar Republic had stringent hate speech laws - look how well that worked out for them.

Friday, January 11, 2008


Lupe Fiasco

His new disc The Cool, is the only new Hip Hop that has inspired me in months. Fucking thuggery, get along go along crap and bling bling bourgeois worshiping at the alter of slick businessman status, is proliferating faster than the good stuff lately.

The Doughy Pantload strikes back

Shorter Jonah Goldberg: 'My thesis that liberals are fascists works perfectly if I'm allowed to to distort and cherry pick facts and statements and create whole new definitions completely opposite from the accepted ones.'
Listen to the rhetoric of Obama, it's all about unity, unity, unity, that we have to move beyond our particular differences and unite around common things, all of that kind of stuff. That remains at the heart of American liberalism, and that's what I'm getting at.


Click for larger version:

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Season's end

Like a lot of bloggers I've been light on the commentary for a few weeks.

My girlfriend and I spent Christmas with my family up in Edmonton the week before Christmas. Then we spent a private quiet Christmas together here in Calgary, a New Years Eve celebration here with a close friend and then Little Christmas this weekend with her family in Medicine Hat.

For Ukrainians, it's Christmas Eve which was Sunday night which is the big deal. We had a feast of kutya, perogies and borscht and then rolled ourselves away from the table. Gregorian calender folks: Ukrainians, Russians, Greeks, Ethiopians - Orthodox Christians worldwide celebrated this weekend. Those with one foot in both worlds have had a lot of Christmas the last few weeks.

Now I'm back, I'm tanned and rested and ready to spit vitriol again - anything happening in the world?

Friday, January 04, 2008

Thursday, January 03, 2008

GOP cognitive dissonance roundup

Former National Lampoon editor Ellis Weiner on a political party gone mad:

Does George W. Bush really believe that he is a good Christian? Does he really believe he's a "compassionate conservative"? Does Ann Coulter mean what she writes? Does Dick Cheney think he's done a good job? Does Rudy Giuliani mean well? We don't know. We probably can't know. They probably don't know. They don't want to know.
Do we want to know? I don't know.
I do know this: When the Supreme Court halted the vote-counting in Florida in 2000 and anointed Bush president, it was the equivalent of dropping that gang of boys on that island in Lord of the Flies. Actually, it was worse: they didn't have any adult supervision. The administration, supposedly, did. But the adults, in the form of the Democrats and the media, were too intimidated (by the tragedy of 9-11, by their corporate masters, by careerist insecurity) to do any supervising.
And so for seven years, under the watchful eye of the genial, soulless Karl Rove, Republicans from sea to shining sea pigged out, yielding to their most gluttonous impulses and indulging their pettiest proclivities. The result? Like Saddam Hussein's (evil, awful) sons, the Republican Party, drunk on power and unmediated by any sensible outside force, went fucking insane.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

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