Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sympathy for Canadians

Robert Fisk asks:
"...how did so many millions of decent Canadians come to be ruled by such a weird government?"
Yeah, don't rub it in man.

Andy Hallet RIP

Andy Hallet who played the jovial singing demon Lorne on the TV show Angel died Sunday of congestive heart failure. He stole every scene he was in, not based on the elaborate make up job but his own irrepressible joie de vivre.

Finally flushing away Rob Anders

The Calgary MP, Calgary West's invisible man who once described Nelson Mandela as a communist terrorist and churlishly refused to stand when he entered parliament may finally be losing his death grip on his riding.
Outspoken, long-serving Alberta member of Parliament Rob Anders is facing a challenge from within his own party in his Calgary West riding.
On Saturday, more than 600 card-carrying Conservative members lined up for more than an hour to get into the annual general meeting of the Calgary West Conservative Party. Among the agenda items was electing a new board of directors, which oversees nominations.
The event, at the Montgomery Community Association hall, was seen as a showdown between supporters of Anders, who has won in Calgary-West five times, and lawyer Donna Kennedy-Glans, who wants to replace him as the Conservative candidate.
Anders accused Kennedy-Glans of being a disgruntled Liberal who is trying to steal the riding. She dismissed the allegation as a fear-mongering tactic, and said people want to see change.
The federal Conservative party recently decided that the only way incumbent MPs can be pushed out in their ridings is if two-thirds of constituency members vote to hold a nomination race. In the end, supporters of Kennedy-Glans swept the board elections with 27 of them elected to fill the 30 positions. One of Anders's backers was elected, while the remaining two successful candidates were on both slates.
Despite a long history of histrionics, desperate smears and blatant suppression of any and all opposition within the riding from the party apparatus, it looks like Rob may get a chance to be a full time bloated gym queen without having to be bothered with persistent questions about what he actually does for his constituents.

Afghanistan's Western backed government legalizes rape

Afghanistan's President, Hamid Karzai, has signed a law which "legalises" rape, women's groups and the United Nations warn. Critics claim the president helped rush the bill through parliament in a bid to appease Islamic fundamentalists ahead of elections in August.
In a massive blow for women's rights, the new Shia Family Law negates the need for sexual consent between married couples, tacitly approves child marriage and restricts a woman's right to leave the home, according to UN papers seen by The Independent.


Details of the law emerged after Mr Karzai was endorsed by Afghanistan's Supreme Court to stay in power until elections scheduled in August. Some MPs claimed President Karzai was under pressure from Iran, which maintains a close relationship with Afghanistan's Shias. The most controversial parts of the law deal explicitly with sexual relations. Article 132 requires women to obey their husband's sexual demands and stipulates that a man can expect to have sex with his wife at least "once every four nights" when travelling, unless they are ill. The law also gives men preferential inheritance rights, easier access to divorce, and priority in court.
A report by the United Nations Development Fund for Women, Unifem, warned: "Article 132 legalises the rape of a wife by her husband".

But isn't it great that we got rid of those awful Taliban? Can I get some more lectures from Stephen Harper about how if you oppose our Afghan adventure you are against womens rights? Can't get enough of that stuff.

Alberta's Health Board disaster

Ten months ago the government of Alberta abolished the regional Health boards and replaced them with one centralized superboard. The Calgary Herald finally notices what a complete disaster this has been.

In 10 short months, the deterioration of Calgarians' health care has been precipitous.The superboard's own statistics show a deepening crisis at Calgary hospitals.

Alberta Health Services indicates 50 per cent more local patients are waiting for placement in long-term care, while those sleeping in hospital corridors because of bed shortages is up 23 per cent. The waiting lists for surgeries have grown by 18 per cent in the past year and a half.And emergency wait times have jumped well past appropriate levels, increasing on average by 30 per cent to 16.6 hours to get admitted.

This is a far cry from the improved quality the superboard was tasked with delivering.

Of course improving healthcare was never the point, getting rid of multiple fractious boards who had a distressing tendency of publicly criticizing the government's priorities and parsimony with funding was. The current leader of the Alberta Liberals David Swann, first rose to prominence as the medical officer for the Palliser Health Region where he publically criticized the province for ignoring the health consequences of runaway development and publicly endorsed the Kyoto Accord. He was fired and then offered his job back after public outrage. Instead he went into politics to become a long term thorn in the government's side.

Alberta has a nasty little democratic deficit that the government publicly abhors and privately exults over. After 40 odd years as a one party state the Tories have concluded that everything is much nicer if Albertans just shut up and do what they are told. Centralizing many regional health boards down to one - that just gave it's board members a 25% raise - makes benign neglect that much easier.

The Herald knows all this, which makes questions like this deliberately disingenuous:
The question has to be asked:Why has the province gone down this road, reversing a system that was working? The Alberta model was a success, it's been copied by other provinces and has received international recognition. Ironically, the Calgary Health Region is the star of a new book, High Performing Healthcare Systems--Delivering Quality by Design. The CHR--now a non-entity--was one of seven organizations from around the world chosen as an example of excellence in health care, delivering quality through a mix of good incentives, clear goals and accountability. All of this is now gone.
Centralizing the regional healthboards was never about improving outcomes, it was about neutralizing noisy regional concerns with a decaying system.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Laying Charges

LONDON — A Spanish court has taken the first steps toward opening a criminal investigation into allegations that six former high-level Bush administration officials violated international law by providing the legal framework to justify the torture of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, an official close to the case said.

The case, against former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and others, was sent to the prosecutor’s office for review by Baltasar Garzón, the crusading investigative judge who ordered the arrest of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. The official said that it was “highly probable” that the case would go forward and that it could lead to arrest warrants.

The move represents a step toward ascertaining the legal accountability of top Bush administration officials for allegations of torture and mistreatment of prisoners in the campaign against terrorism. But some American experts said that even if warrants were issued their significance could be more symbolic than practical, and that it was a near certainty that the warrants would not lead to arrests if the officials did not leave the United States.
So high officials of the Bush regime will never again be able to safely step outside the borders of the United States? That seems a bit more than symbolism to me.

This also helps make the case I and several hundred other people were trying to make when we protested outside the Telus Convention Center in Calgary as a war criminal our government welcomed with open arms spoke inside.

There is an overwhelming preponderance of evidence that George W. Bush ordered that crimes against humanity be committed. Torture. Kidnapping. Murder.

But at least Canadians are safe from British MPs who deliver medical supplies to victims of horrific suffering.

Friday, March 27, 2009

No Double Standard, Right?

Avi Benlolo, president and CEO of Toronto's Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center has called for two Arab religious figures to be barred from speaking in Canada.
Benlolo called on government officials to determine whether Sabri and Hanna represent a security threat to Canada.
He accused Palestine House and groups behind Israeli Apartheid Week of "bringing radicals to town to speak about divisiveness."Instead, he said, they should "bring people who are peaceful and talk about coexistence and how we can work out our differences."
Former Grand Mufti Ekrima Sabri is on record saying some pretty unambiguously hateful and bigoted things about Jews and actively promoting violence. Putting him in the same category as Atallah Hanna, the Archbishop of Sebastia from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem however seems inappropriate as the only factor Benlolo mentions in his call for Hanna being barred from speaking in Canada is that he once described Jerusalem as an 'Arab city'.

Does this mean Benlolo will be actively demanding that any Israeli figure who has ever described Jerusalem as a 'Jewish city' be barred from speaking in Canada?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

My debate with Andrew Sullivan


I may be glorifying a brief email/post exchange by calling it a debate, but regardless, here it is.

I have a lot of respect for Sullivan. He's a compulsively readable and very rational conservative who has had his faith in his ideology, church and state slammed by one horrible revelation after another. He's been transformed in less than a decade from an Iraq war supporting Republican fan of George Bush into a furious critic of deception, torture and domestic spying and one of Barack Obama's biggest supporters. That's one hell of a transformation and he did it with a certain amount of grace, apologizing for his 'unspeakable' arrogance and condescension towards Iraq war opponents back when he was on the other side. That's a level of class I'd hope I'd show in similar circumstances.

He did a post this morning defending Barack Obama's big spending budget from the perspective of a conservative uncomfortable with it philosophically but resigned to it's necessity, it did however include this passage:
On healthcare, I fear that restraining costs means rationing in the end and expanding the power of the public sector in ways that will reduce patient choice and slow innovation and research. At the same time, I can see that the combination of our current expectations and the revolution in medical science will mean huge increases in spending which, because healthcare is distributed through third party insurance, is very hard to curtail without more government. But Obama is right to ask back: so what do you propose? On energy, I'd say a gas tax hike balanced by a payroll tax cut. On healthcare, I'm not so sure. It's hard to oppose the upgrade in information technology as a cost-saver. I can see the merits of getting more people insured. As long as any reform is careful to prevent the private sector being squeezed out of business, I'm open to persuasion. But I'm more cautious on this than most, I guess. I value the private healthcare system in the US, that, for all its faults, has innovated medicines that have saved my life.
Well I had to respond to the implication that innovation is somehow the sole province of the private sector and he made my email his dissent of the day here.

He took my point about the contribution of public money to healthcare innovation but objected to what he saw as my hostility to the drug companies making a buck.
Two-thirds of pharmaecutical (sic) research is done by the private sector. There's no question that they cannot replace the NIH, but their research should not be dismissed as hair and hardons. Their work is more geared to treatments for specific diseases, and is vital.
My letter actually generated two posts from Sullivan, with the follow up here.
I find the knee-jerk hostility to private companies that take enormous risks and make products that save and improve lives to be baffling. It's a form of bigotry on the left - a loathing of the private sector and an inane notion that somehow public dollars are more virtuous than private ones.
Well I may have been a bit snarky towards the drug companies, but I think a lot of their behavior has warranted it: for instance I'd be interested in finding out what percentage of their research budget is devoted to making tiny molecular changes to existing compounds that allow them to continue making a profit when their patents lapse or they find a new application for them.

For that matter, what about the reverse of his argument? I've seen a fair amount of kneejerk hostility from the right against any undertaking or product born of the public sector - my email was spurred specifically by Sullivan's tossed off assumption that 'of course' public healthcare would stifle innovation. Andrew, what's with the loathing of the public sector and the inane notion that somehow private dollars are more virtuous than public ones?

And what has a public healthcare system got to do with pharmaceutical innovation anyway? Canadian healthcare doesn't include pharmacare and the Americans don't look like their even planning anything close to the coverage we have, so the argument doesn't even apply.

Plus, I can actually point to examples of the profit motive stifling innovation, can proponents of the 'public healhcare would stifle medical innovation' myth point to any concrete examples of public healthcare actually doing so?

UPDATE: A third follow up from Sullivan and one of his readers offering some perspective:
I currently work as a contractor for NIH and I see how even when companies develop their drugs, they heavily rely on the NIH funds to run their clinical trials (in this case, for cancer). It is clear that there are certain areas they don't want to put money into, even when in the future they will profit from it, so they turn to the government to do the dirty work: the tedious, extensive and expensive road of the clinical trials. More so in cases of rare cancers or diseases, where there is no money to be made yet.

Anyway, I'm not dismissing the role of pharmaceutical companies, I'm just trying to elevate the role of public research to its rightful place.

Amen. Sullivan seemed to miss the irony of accusing me and leftists in general of an unreasoning censorious loathing of big pharmaceutical companies. I was responding to his atypically unreasoning, almost reflexive assumption that more government involvement in healthcare would ipso facto mean less innovation. I did so by pointing out that the number one supporter of medical innovation and research, not just in the US but in the entire world is already and always has been, the government.

Sullivan responded by reducing my point down to 'lefties hate drug companies for trying to make money'.

And righties have real trouble ever admitting that sometimes government, big government, does some things better than the private sector does.

UPDATE: Follow up number four. I seem to have struck a nerve with Sullivan's readers. One writes in to point out some of the harsh truths about drug company priorities and gets a bottom line position from Andrew on the subject:
The core issue is whether we can treat drugs as products like any other, i.e. products that are restricted by price. This means that the poor will get worse treatment than the rich. As long as basic care is guaranteed, I can live with the inequality, and I do not see the government's role as ending it.
And there, my respect for Sullivan as a rational thoughtful conservative aside, is the Rubicon we can't cross together. Both ethically and pragmatically I disagree with Sullivan's comfort with treating health as just another commodity with unequal access determined by whether you can afford the treatment you need.

UPDATE: Almost a week since my initial email and Andrew is still indignant on behalf of the poor maligned drug companies.

A real skeptic

The only climate warming skeptic - he's far too open minded to be called a 'denier' - I have any use for at all is Freeman Dyson.

Dyson seems to see the world as an interdisciplinary set of problems out there for him to evaluate. Climate change is the big scientific issue of our time, so naturally he finds it irresistible. But to Dyson this is really only one more charged conundrum attracting his interest just as nuclear weapons and rural poverty have. That is to say, he is a great problem-solver who is not convinced that climate change is a great problem.
Dyson is well aware that “most consider me wrong about global warming.” That educated Americans tend to agree with the conclusion about global warming reached earlier this month at the International Scientific Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen (“inaction is inexcusable”) only increases Dyson’s resistance. Dyson may be an Obama-loving, Bush-loathing liberal who has spent his life opposing American wars and fighting for the protection of natural resources, but he brooks no ideology and has a withering aversion to scientific consensus. The Nobel physics laureate Steven Weinberg admires Dyson’s physics — he says he thinks the Nobel committee fleeced him by not awarding his work on quantum electrodynamics with the prize — but Weinberg parts ways with his sensibility: “I have the sense that when consensus is forming like ice hardening on a lake, Dyson will do his best to chip at the ice.”
Dyson has a little of the reflexive scorn of the self made genius for those with official Doctorates that Edison had but with a little less of the resentful spleen of Edison.

I disagree with his conclusions but I appreciate how he came to them. It would be nice if he was right, but the rational approach is a variation of Pascal's wager: If there's a chance that the overwhelming consensus that we're heading for environmental devastation is right then the potential consequences of not acting overwhelm any potential costs of trying to stop it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Response to a specious claim

'Ah Ha!' they announce in triumph. George Galloway and his supporters must be hypocrites because Galloway supported keeping Dutch politician Geert Wilders out of England.

The differences between the two situations are night and day as anyone doing even a minimal amount of research without an axe to grind could easily discover: Galloway has spoken out against the actions of the Israeli state (and the UK's and the US and Canada) and provided medical supplies and ambulances to people experiencing appalling suffering. Wilders is merely a hatemonger.

As an exercise for those still unwilling to acknowledge how little the two cases apply to each other:

Find examples of George Galloway saying:
  • "I don't hate Jews. I hate Judaism."
  • "there is no such thing as 'moderate Judaism'" and that the "Torah also states that Jews who believe in only part of the Torah are in fact apostates".
  • That Moses would "... in these days be hunted down as a terrorist."
  • Of the Torah: "The book incites hatred and killing and therefore has no place in our legal order."
  • referred to Moses as "the devil"
  • That he believes that all Jewish immigration to the UK should be halted and all settled immigrants should be paid to leave.
I'll save you some time. None of these are quotes by Galloway, in fact he has a consistent record of fighting such ideas tooth and nail.

They're all quotes by Wilders with 'Jews' substituted for 'Muslims', The Torah for the Koran and Moses for Mohamed.

If you don't see the fundamental differences between the two cases now - that pretty much has to be intentional doesn't it?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Friday, November 5, 1999

Go. Read. Weep.
''I think we will look back in 10 years' time and say we should not have done this but we did because we forgot the lessons of the past, and that that which is true in the 1930's is true in 2010,'' said Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota.
Spotted at Boing Boing

They don't even notice the hypocrisy

Predictably, The Calgary Herald has come down on the side of protecting Canadians from the terrifying threat of a lefty British MP peace campaigner by barring George Galloway. In their remarkably pompous editorial today they call Galloway's barring simply the law being applied to someone who has supported terrorists like Hamas.

Section 34(1) of the act specifically forbids people who materially support terrorist activities from coming into the country. Galloway has not only publicly declared his support for Hamas, among other organizations, but he has boasted of providing these terrorists with financial aid. He is perfectly free to speak out on his support for them, but aiding them is in clear contravention of the law.
Galloway was scheduled to give a speech March 30 at a conference whose theme is entitled Resisting War From Gaza to Kandahar, sponsored by the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War.Kenney's spokesperson, Alykhan Velshi, said the ban was being issued under Canada's "security laws," that"special treatment"would not be provided to Galloway due to his financial support of Hamas, which is banned in Canada, and also because Galloway "offers sympathy for Canada's enemies in Afghanistan." Galloway gave several thousand dollars to the Hamas-led Gaza government, along with several dozen vehicles.
This is the formulation preferred by Canada's Conservative government and the Neo-Con press. for purposes of propaganda it is superior to the just as accurate 'Offered support for the people of Gaza suffering a humanitarian crisis in their giant outdoor prison by providing support for food and medicine to their chosen elected representatives.'

Jason Kenney, the government of Stephen Harper and the Can West editorial board appear to believe their distaste for the Palestinian people's elected representatives thereby annuls that democratic choice. If the Western world wants Palestinians to elect moderates - push Israel to show any kind of progress to justify supporting moderates in the minds of the Palestinian people. Hamas, after all was the creation of the government of Israel and it's security services - as pointed out, among other places, in that well known commie rag The Wall Street Journal - in an effort to undercut the power of secular Palestinian movements.

They succeeded and now they and those offering them unstinting support have villains allowing them to tar all Palestinians and all those empathizing with their suffering with the brush of terrorism. The Herald finishes up with this spectacularly clueless display of cognitive dissonance:

No, this is not about free speech. It's about the strength and principle of Canadian law. Kenney is upholding it exactly as it should be upheld.
This is the paper after all, that greeted a visiting George W. Bush as 'a vastly important figure upon whom no comprehensive judgment can be rendered until the history of the next 20 years is known.' described his visit as a 'feather in Calgary's cap' and opined rapturously that Bush was 'welcome to speak' here.

Thereby spitting on Canadian and international law that requires anyone credibly accused of war crimes be arrested and prosecuted no matter who they are.

Call the two editorials the tale of two 'Georges'.

The Calgary Herald's righteous upholding of the purity of the law would leave less of a bitter taste in the reader's mouth if they hadn't made it so abundantly clear that the law should not apply to the rich and powerful known to have violated international law on torture, waged a war of aggression, committed acts of kidnapping and murder and spied on his own citizens, but should be applied vigorously to a leftist gadfly guilty of providing support to the victims of atrocious human rights violations who, more importantly, has said mean things about Stephen Harper and his government.

The Herald's editorial offers a timely reminder that the Latin root of the word Privilege is simply 'private law' - one law for the rich and powerful, another for the rest of us. To the Calgary Herald this formulation is so inherently part of their basic world view that they don't even notice when they are explicitly promoting it.

Good Question

Galloway told his New York audience he could not understand a Canadian government that would bar him, but allow George W. Bush to visit Calgary last week for a paid speech.

“Some people tried to get the Canadian government to ban him, maybe even arrest him, on the grounds that he killed a lot of people and told a lot of lies to justify it,” he said. “But of course the Canadian government would have none of that.

“I just cannot understand why Canada should want to throw away the reputation that it built over decades as being the kinder, gentler North American state.”

He said that, using Ottawa’s logic, former South African president Nelson Mandela should be banned from entering Canada.

“If you look at the banning order, it actually fits him more than it fits me,” Galloway said. “He’s actually been imprisoned for terrorist offences.”

Speaking as one of the people standing outside the Convention Center here in Calgary last week imploring the line of police to go inside and arrest the war criminal they were guarding, yeah, I've been kind of wondering that myself.

As for the Conservatives banning Nelson Mandela if they could, well considering Jason Kenney's ideological soul-mate is his fellow Calgary MP Rob Anders, you know he'd love to.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunday Linkblast - March 22

The Truth

Handsome Boy Modeling School
(featuring Roisin of Moloko)

So just to be sure I understand...

Violent, nationalist, religious fanatics who despise democratic norms and would like to see their enemies exterminated are bad, right?

A soldier, identified by the pseudonym Ram, is quoted as saying that in Gaza, “the rabbinate brought in a lot of booklets and articles and their message was very clear: We are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle, God brought us back to this land and now we need to fight to expel the non-Jews who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land. This was the main message, and the whole sense many soldiers had in this operation was of a religious war.”

Dany Zamir, the director of the one-year premilitary course who solicited the testimonies and then leaked them, leading to a promise by the military to investigate, is quoted in the transcripts as expressing anguish over the growing religious nationalist elements of the military.

“If clerics are anointing us with oil and sticking holy books in our hands, and if the soldiers in these units aren’t representative of the whole spectrum of the Jewish people, but rather of certain segments of the population, what can we expect?” he said. “To whom do we complain?”

For the first four decades of Israel’s existence, the army — like many of the country’s institutions — was dominated by kibbutz members who saw themselves as secular, Western and educated. In the past decade or two, religious nationalists, including many from the settler movement in the West Bank, have moved into more and more positions of military responsibility. (In Israeli society, they are a growing force, distinct from, and more modern than, the black-garbed ultra-Orthodox, who are excused from military service.)


Those who oppose the religious right have been especially concerned about the influence of the military’s chief rabbi, Brig. Gen. Avichai Rontzki, who is himself a West Bank settler and who was very active during the war, spending most of it in the company of the troops in the field.

He took a quotation from a classical Hebrew text and turned it into a slogan during the war: “He who is merciful to the cruel will end up being cruel to the merciful.”

A controversy then arose when a booklet handed out to soldiers was found to contain a rabbinical edict against showing the enemy mercy. The Defense Ministry reprimanded the rabbi.

Or is that only when they are brown and Muslim, Minister Kenney?

UPDATE: Hitchens connects the dots:
Peering over the horrible pile of Palestinian civilian casualties that has immediately resulted, it's fairly easy to see where this is going in the medium-to-longer term. The zealot settlers and their clerical accomplices are establishing an army within the army so that one day, if it is ever decided to disband or evacuate the colonial settlements, there will be enough officers and soldiers, stiffened by enough rabbis and enough extremist sermons, to refuse to obey the order. Torah verses will also be found that make it permissible to murder secular Jews as well as Arabs. The dress rehearsals for this have already taken place, with the religious excuses given for Baruch Goldstein's rampage and the Talmudic evasions concerning the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Once considered highly extreme, such biblical exegeses are moving ever closer to the mainstream. It's high time the United States cut off any financial support for Israel that can be used even indirectly for settler activity, not just because such colonization constitutes a theft of another people's land but also because our Constitution absolutely forbids us to spend public money on the establishment of any religion.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Clean Your Own Tables

Johnny Cash

The Coming Humiliation

Get some popcorn, this is going to be fun.
George Galloway is the Fantasia Barrino of the looney left — an entertaining force of nature who's only ever singing to the choir. There's no point in interrupting him or even engaging with him. He's dusted Norm Coleman and Christopher Hitchens where they live. And now he's going to do the same thing to the Conservative Party of Canada; all of which could have been avoided if Jason Kenney had just let him into the country and got out of the way. Galloway wouldn't have changed a mind or a vote. Now even the Globe is forced to bitch slap the Tories; proving yet again that you can lead a neocon to water but you can't make him think.
This is what awaits lying thug Jason Kenney:

Friday, March 20, 2009

A National Embarrassment

Many others have already addressed Jason Kenney's thuggish barring of British MP George Galloway from our shores.

You don't have to agree with everything Galloway says or believes to find this decision moronic. Personally I respect his steadfast support of any and all resistance to oppression, while viewing some of the figures and organizations he's specifically backed reprehensible. But in the balance of power, exploitation and casualties he's consistently been on the side of the oppressed and their chosen representatives. We can abhor those chosen representatives but dictating to victims of colonialist oppression who they are allowed to vote for or how they may defend themselves is never going to produce any kind of positive results.

The biggest objection to Galloway from Canada's Conservative government is probably just how articulate, erudite and convincing he can be. The tradition of soaring rhetoric and passionate eloquence in the British parliamentary system makes him a lethally effective speaker who has delivered withering takedowns of Prime Ministers, Presidents, media blowhards and Senators. If he were to debate the thick witted Jason Kenney or the passionless and vastly over-rated intellect of Stephen Harper, it would be as if they had brought pea-shooters to a gun fight.

They're keeping him out of Canada because they are scared of him.


Doubtless such dauntless defenders of free speech as Ezra Levant and the various Blogging Tories always ready to come to the rescue of various bigots, homophobes and hatemongers will be rushing to decry this act of censorship of a leftist peace activist by our Conservative government.

Any day now.


A final thought: On Tuesday I joined several hundred people in the streets of Calgary protesting that the government of Canada had chosen to ignore its obligations under Canadian and international law by allowing into the country and then failing to prosecute a former world leader credibly accused of war crimes. Apparently overseeing a gulag regime of secret black site prisons where prisoners were tortured - as confirmed by a leaked and unusually blunt Red Cross report - is just fine, but an elected representative of the British people is barred for failing to support the Canadian mission in Afghanistan.

That's some seriously distorted priorities.

Milestone Month

I started this blog three years ago this month and sometime this weekend my 60,000th page hit will load. Over the years I've posted quick little links to articles that interested me, angry rants about policies or people who've annoyed me and long analysis pieces that have perhaps been more useful to me and my own understanding than my readers. After all, the best way to learn something is to try to explain it somebody else.

This blog started, first and foremost as a blog about Canadian health care and the various short-sighted attempts to dismantle it incrementally. More specifically it was about the inaccurate, disingenuous and just plain false arguments being used to justify calls to undermine universality and equity coming from the proponents of de-listing, two-tier healthcare where the rich get to buy their way to the front of the line (Which proponents argue will reduce waiting lists - the exact opposite result from every adoption of two-tier care everywhere in the world) and every other privatization scheme cooked up by the Fraser Institute or owners of private clinic chains.

Those arguing for a more market based health care system make confident pronouncements about wait lists, quality of care, costs and Canadian attitudes about their health system that turn out after even minimal research to be exaggerations ranging to outright lies. Think about why they have to resort to such tactics just to make their arguments.

Over the years I've covered labour issues heavily, drawing on my own experience as a shop steward, elected delegate, organizer and lobbyist. I work in a vastly different environment for an overwhelmingly better employer than I did when I was most active in labour issues, but I'm still proud of the union card in my wallet.

I was trained and educated as a journalist, I've been a reporter, editor and photographer for papers and magazines in Western Canada and sold some articles to American publications like the anti-censorship journal Gauntlet as well as short fiction that has popped up in various places. Not surprisingly this blog has engaged in extensive criticism of the mainstream media. The official journalism gate-keepers have bristled at the criticism and competition from blogs but have always missed the point that the criticism from the blogosphere was about trying to get better journalism.

I'm a political animal, an unapologetic partisan leftist trying hard not to shout 'See, we told you!' as the catastrophic results of the ideas that an utterly unregulated market was the answer to all of our society's needs and cancer style growth was the ideal economic paradigm are now on bald display for all to see. The left, in Canada the NDP specifically, have the models and the policy proposals that best address and engage the world we are living in now. It's no accident as Accidental Deliberations points out, that the two Canadian provinces entering these perilous times in the best shape are being run or were being run until only months ago by the NDP. As this blog has evolved economics has increasingly surged to the fore - but everybody's paying more attention to the Dismal Science lately. It's been deeply satisfying to watch the decline and fall of the Chicago School/Washington consensus on economics and globalization and the return of such thinkers as Keynes to prominence - all just in the last few years.

It's not all sturm and drang, there's been a lot of music, humour and posts about movies and books in between Ranty Jack McHatey muttering about cleansing rains. I've enjoyed this interaction with my readers immensely and plan to continue this blog as long as it's this much fun.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Gambia's Modern Witch hunt

Imagine waking up one day and realizing that your president isn't just crazy he's batshit insane.

DAKAR, Senegal — Authorities in Gambia have rounded up about 1,000 people and forced them to drink hallucinogens in a witch-hunting campaign that is terrorizing the tiny West African nation, an international rights group said Wednesday.

Amnesty International called on the government of President Yahya Jammeh, who seized power in a 1994 coup and has claimed he can cure AIDS, to halt the campaign and bring those responsible to justice.

Gambian officials could not immediately be reached for comment and the government has issued no statements in reaction to the report.

Authorities began inviting "witch doctors," who combat witches, to come from nearby Guinea soon after the death earlier this year of the president's aunt. Jammeh "reportedly believes that witchcraft was used in her death," the London-based rights group said.

Since then, "witch doctors" _ accompanied by police, soldiers, intelligence agents and Jammeh's personal guards _ have forcibly taken about 1,000 alleged witches from their villages and spirited them to secret locations, Amnesty said. About 300 of them were taken to Jammeh's personal farm in his native Kanilai, east of the capital, the group said.

This is basically what would have happened if Jerry Falwell had ever become President.

Alberta's PC Government VS Paramedics

You know who I want to feel happy and fulfilled in their jobs? The Paramedics saving my life. Given just how vital, intricate and high stress a job it is, the last things I would want them to worry about are toxic labour relations and whether they're about to be deprived of their hard won pension benefits.

The Alberta government decided to go another way.
EDMONTON, ALBERTA--(Marketwire - March 18, 2009) - Over 2,800 health care workers lost the right to be represented by the union of their choice today as Minister of Labour Hector Goudreau announced details of how health care restructuring will impact employees.

CUPE Alberta President D'Arcy Lanovaz met with the Minister today and was told that 1,200 Paramedics belonging to CUPE, along with 1,600 health care workers belonging to CUPE and CEP would be merged into existing bargaining units with other unions.

"The Conservatives told health care workers they can no longer belong to the union of their choice," said Lanovaz.

CUPE had been asking the government to make arrangements for health care workers to stay with their existing unions.

Rick Fraser, President of the Calgary Paramedics, explained that the move was really an attack on the pension plans of his profession.

"It took a long time, but paramedics recently won a pension plan that treats us like firefighters and police, allowing us to retire early," said Fraser. "We've been told repeatedly by government authorities that when the transfer happens, we will no longer be emergency personnel, but rather health care workers. In other words, our pension is gutted."

"This is nothing more than an attack on Paramedics and other health care workers," said Lanovaz. "An attempt to cut costs on the backs of the people who save lives."

Lanovaz said he didn't expect the decision to stand. "There is a new reality thanks to recent Supreme Court decisions giving unions and our members more rights in these situations. The Conservatives think they can do what they want, but the reality is going to prove much different."
This is deliberate humiliation, the usual ritualistic 'Sticking it to Labour' like the Alberta Labour Board Finning decision that was so grotesque the Alberta Appeals court overturned it. It's all to remind Alberta workers who's in charge. They don't have to do this shit, they want to.

But Lanovaz is right, the new Court rulings affirming right to representation in Canada change the game.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man

Concrete Blonde

Scenes from Bush in Calgary

A warm welcome was provided for our visiting dignitary.1500 of Calgary's richest and most vacuous best and brightest were on hand to welcome George Dubya to our city at $400 a plate, no media allowed. Here we see them doing the walk of shame, the two hour line up around the block with hundreds of protesters doing our best to make sure their wait wasn't boring.
They were a fairly shameless crowd though, sneering as they shuffled past a silent witness.

Some of them actually had the gall to stand at the windows toasting protesters with flutes of champagne. This is who the song 'Eat the Rich' was about.A little after noon, my girlfriend who works in a building downtown sent me a text:
We can see snipers on
the roof of the Hyatt.
I'm being paranoid now.
Here's a blurry cellphone photo of one of the snipers on the roof of the Hyatt. He's about one pixel in this shot but other people photographed them too. Here's a relative close-up.
At least three Four protesters were arrested for trying to perform their legal duty to make a citizen's arrest of a known war criminal.
There were several hundred protesters at the peak of things and some of the highlights have made the international press. The elite may have rushed to sit at the feet of a war criminal but ordinary Calgarians stood up and said this is our city, our country.

And Bush isn't welcome in it.

UPDATE: Mom just called. No Mom, I wasn't one of the people who got arrested. Love ya Mom.

UPDATE 2: Olberman covers it!

Pope: Condoms not the answer to AIDS

His holiness didn't go on to say: "...unless the question is 'How can I almost completely eliminate my chances of getting AIDS while having sex?' in which case, well yeah, they totally are."

What the hell is 'SyFy'?

The term was invented by writer, publisher and fantasy culture Ur fan Forrest J. Ackerman, but Sci-Fi itself is a concept, a genre - so the fantasy cable specialty network the Sci-Fi Channel couldn't copyright or trademark the name. Presumably they know because they tried.

But artfully miss-spell it after having a team working on variations for literally years? Then you can own it.

The Syfy name is to be introduced on Monday to advertisers and agencies by executives of Sci Fi, part of the NBC Universal Cable Entertainment division of NBC Universal, a unit of General Electric.

The name will be revealed at an upfront presentation, when networks try to win commitments by advertisers to blocks of commercial time before the start of the next TV season. Cable channels will spend this month and next making upfront presentations; the broadcast networks will follow in April and May.

One big advantage of the name change, the executives say, is that Sci Fi is vague — so generic, in fact, that it could not be trademarked. Syfy, with its unusual spelling, can be, which is also why diapers are called Luvs, an online video Web site is called Joost and a toothpaste is called Gleem.

“We couldn’t own Sci Fi; it’s a genre,” said Bonnie Hammer, the former president of Sci Fi who became the president of NBC Universal Cable Entertainment and Universal Cable Productions. “But we can own Syfy.”

Will Canada's SciFi equivalent the Space Channel soon decide there's no point in their name if it doesn't mean they actually own all of Space? Is Zpays Channel coming next? If so I'm staking my claim to the name now.

If you ever wonder why so much of marketing and consumer product naming seems to just involve deliberately bad spelling - this is why.

UPDATE: So Yeah, Fuck You.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Last Sane Man at Fox News

Shep Smith must be a lonely guy...

Former US Attorney General: Canada Should Arrest Bush

Former U.S. Attorney General Clark calls for Bush arrest.
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen; my congratulations and gratitude to Canada’s peace movement and its many organizations and individuals protesting the March 17th, 2009 appearance of former US President George W. Bush for a speech at a “private” lunch in Calgary.
While the primary responsibility for addressing the Bush administration’s involvement in crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity rests with the people of the United States, because we both enabled then failed to arrest his acts, there is necessarily universal jurisdiction over such crimes if humanity is to end the scourge of war. We dare not blink at the magnitude, diversity and pervasive impact of the known crimes committed by the Bush administration. Wars of aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Supreme International Crime, have killed hundreds of thousands outright, wounded, sickened and malnourished many more than they have killed and sent millions as refugees to neighboring nations while rendering homeless millions more.

Central America after Reaganism

25 years, millions of dollars spent and hundreds of thousands dead, tortured or disappeared and in El Salvador and Nicaragua its as if Reagan's bloody war with the Latin American left never happened.

The apparent victory of leftist candidate Maurico Funes in Sunday's presidential election in El Salvador finally closes out the Cold War in Central America and raises some serious questions about the long term goals of U.S. foreign policy.
With Funes' election, history has come full cycle. Both El Salvador and neighboring Nicaragua will now be governed by two former guerrilla fronts against which the Reagan administration spared no efforts in trying to defeat during the entire course of the 1980's. We will now coexist with those we once branded as the greatest of threats to our national security. Those we branded as "international terrorists" now democratically govern much of Central America.

From the late 1970's until a negotiated peace settlement in 1992, the FMLN fought a bloody civil war against a series of U.S.-backed right-wing regimes. Those Salvadoran regimes engaged in horrific massacres and deployed savage death squads, taking a massive human toll. While the FMLN also perpetrated atrocities, all independent analysts agree that the overwhelming majority of the 75,000 who were killed in the war in El Salvador were victims of government-sponsored violence.
This same FMLN which now comes to power in El Salvador was once declared as the primary perpetrator of "international terrorism" by the Reagan administration who deployed hundreds of U.S. military advisors to the tiny Central American country and who quadrupled the size of the Salvadoran Army. In this all-out quest to crush the FLMN, U.S. authorities, at best, turned a blind eye to the bloody excesses of the Salvadoran regime. At worst, it encouraged them.
At the same time in history, the U.S. spent billions creating a "contra" army to destabilize and dislodge the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) which had taken power in Nicaragua in 1979, overthrowing the dynastic and dictatorial rule of the Somoza family - another U.S.-backed ally.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

This Perfect Day

The Saints
Music Only

Sunday Linkblast - March 15

South Park to Disney: We dare you to sue us!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Official Provocateurs

"But what is a policeman with a rock in his hand and a scarf over his face, if not provocation?" - Francis Dupuis-Déri.
Hat tip to Sketchy Thoughts.

A year and a half ago the Sûreté du Québec police force were caught blatantly infiltrating the ranks of protesters at the Montebello Summit with thuggish masked goons carrying rocks. The Sûreté were forced, finally, to admit that the men caught on video were undercover police officers but staunchly denied they were provocateurs, claiming they were carrying the rocks so they would blend in.

Which was hard with all the protesters shouting "Drop the rock, cop!" at them.

Now Quebec activist and Poli-Sci Professor Francis Dupuis-Déri has used access to information requests to acquire police records of the operation. Records that, among other things, reveal that at least three of the undercover officers in the unit were listed as 'Provocateurs'.

Remember this the next time any kind of violence happens at a protest.

Hold Me in Your Arms

The Black Keys
(Music only)

Calgary VS Bush update

Today we hold his trial,

UPDATE (Saturday, March 13th):
Join us for the People Vs. Bush Trial at The Uptown Theatre, 612 8th Avenue SW. Doors open at 2:30pm, trial begins at 3:00pm.

And here's the schedule of events going right up to rallying outside of the Convention Center as he's speaking.

Here's where to send your old shoes. Many of them will be recycled after the protest... by being sent to Calgary MPs, and big Bush fans Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney while those in the best shape will go to the local clothing banks.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Bell Canada Blackmail

If you want to know why it's a bad idea to let a private corporation build and own a major piece of public infrastructure, here's why:
Bell may refuse to upgrade to next-generation networks if the Canadian government does not concede to demands, a statement from the company proposes. The country's telecommunications regulator, the CRTC, recently issued a ruling that would require the company to open up its next-generation networks to competitors. Bell is only one of two national Internet service providers in Canada however, and would likely gain no more than diminished profits if forced to cope with competition.
As Electronista points out, it also makes it harder to control, throttle and monetize basic Internet access.

Maybe its time to start thinking about public infrastructure as... belonging to the public again.

UPDATE: MTS files an appeal asking essentially the opposite,
MTS argued in its appeal the CRTC has refused to mandate former monopoly telephone companies to provide competitors with fair access to the local broadband networks, leading to higher prices for consumers.

The Final Scene

With Bush finally gone and the horrifying truth beginning to dribble out about how far gone the US was the last eight years, particularly Sy Hersh pointing out pieces in the New York Times about an organization reporting only to the Vice President's office that was basically Dick Cheney's personal wetwork team, I feel like this apropo scene from the astoundingly prophetic 1975 movie 3 Days of the Condor is worth running.

I don't ever want Jon Stewart mad at me.

Lots of people have blogged about this of course. Here's a youtube while it lasts.
It's just a brutal, relentless mauling. Cramer is almost in tears by the end and looks like he's lost 20 pounds and aged 10 years.

Jon Stewart still likes to call himself a comedian not a journalist, but bottom line: His team are some of the best researchers and producers in the business and Jon is one of the best interviewers in the business. Yes he's passionate, snarky and has a definite point of view, some of the best journalism always has. There's nothing wrong with a journalist having a point of view if he's got the facts on his side.

Jon Stewart is a journalist, one of the very few on TV right now.

This video is only 8 minutes of relentless interrogation. There's more. Here's the whole thing uncensored at the Comedy Network. Time not wasted.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Frank Miller's Charlie Brown

For the comic book fans, hat tip to Andrew Sullivan:Frank Miller is the comic book artist and writer behind The Dark Knight, a bunch of great Daredevil comics, Sin City and 300. He got into film when director Robert Rodriguez invited him to co-direct the film adaptation of Sin City (Well he also wrote the screenplay for Robocop 2 twenty years ago, but the less said about that the better.), the most faithful adaptation of a comic book ever. Miller went on to direct the overwhelmingly panned Spirit movie - as one fan of the Spirit comics said when they heard Miller would be adapting it "But the Spirit isn't about whores!" Well, it didn't used to be.

He was at one point, one of the most brilliant, cutting edge, transgressive artists working in the comics medium but has spiraled into bizarre self parody and Ayn Randian Islamaphobic crankiness in recent years. Doubtless though, he's making enough movie moolah that he doesn't care what I think.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Dick Cheney's Death Squad

Sy Hersh answered a question at a presentation at the University of Minnesota last night with a bombshell:
"Right now, today, there was a story in the New York Times that if you read it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command -- JSOC it’s called. It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him. ...
"Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths.
"Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.
If you're thinking of rejecting this as too grotesque to possibly be true, keep in mind that Sy Hersh is the guy who exposed the My Lai massacre and the torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib.


Edmonton Oilers Fans Fondest Dream Comes True

March 11, 2009 at 4:22 PM EDT
Former Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington has been arrested on bankruptcy fraud charges in California, U.S. court filings show.
Mr. Pocklington will be formally charged Wednesday afternoon with filing false bankruptcy declarations, as well as making false oaths and accounts in bankruptcy.
He faces up to 10 years in a federal prison, U.S. Attorney spokesman Thom Mrozek said in an interview.
FBI agents took Mr. Pocklington, 67, into custody after executing search warrants at his residence in the Palm Springs region.

Come back Herbert Hoover, all's forgiven

When conservatives argue against economic stimulus and claim, in confident ringing tones, that 'everybody know that the New Deal didn't work' they are almost certainly basing the argument whether first, second or third hand on the work of Amity Shlaes.

In her book 'The Forgotten Man' Shlaes and her admirers claim its a settled proven contention that the New Deal was a failure and by extension all fiscal stimulus must fail. In fact far from proving her thesis she doesn't even address it as Jonathan Chait shows in his must read piece in the New Republic.
Now here is the extremely strange thing about The Forgotten Man: it does not really argue that the New Deal failed. In fact, Shlaes does not make any actual argument at all, though she does venture some bold claims, which she both fails to substantiate and contradicts elsewhere. Reviewing her book in The New York Times, David Leonhardt noted that Shlaes makes her arguments "mostly by implication." This is putting it kindly. Shlaes introduces the book by asserting her thesis, but she barely even tries to demonstrate it. Instead she chooses to fill nearly four hundred pages with stories that mostly go nowhere. The experience of reading The Forgotten Man is more like talking to an old person who lived through the Depression than it is like reading an actual history of the Depression. Major events get cursory treatment while minor characters, such as an idiosyncratic black preacher or the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, receive lengthy portraits. Having been prepared for a revisionist argument against the New Deal, I kept wondering if I had picked up the wrong book.

The last person to listen to right now

Johann Hari offers a bracing takedown of the madness of Ayn Rand combined with horrified astonishment that anybody could possibly take her prescriptions seriously right now.

Of course, her practical influence should not be exaggerated. Even most right-wing Americans consider the specifics of Rand's philosophy to be loopy. Many prominent conservatives loathe her strident atheism (one of her few appealing characteristics), and some even see fascism in her tracts. Whittaker Chambers famously wrote in the National Review, "Just as her operatic businessmen are, in fact, Nietzschean supermen, so her ulcerous leftists are Nietzsche's 'last men', both deformed in a way to sicken the fastidious recluse of Sils Marnia... [In her vision] resistance to the Message cannot be tolerated because disagreement can never be merely honest, prudent, or just humanly fallible. Dissent from revelation so final can only be wilfully wicked. There are ways of dealing with such wickedness, and , in fact, reason itself enjoins them. From almost every page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding, "To a gas chamber - go!""

But Rand's rabid anarcho-capitalism has clearly tapped into something primal in American conservatism: it is revealing that she is almost invariably described as an "idealist", rather than a maniac.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The only good thing about catastrophic economic collapse...

...is that it might slow down catastrophic environmental collapse.
In India, enough small steel-rolling mills around Delhi have closed that levels of sulfur dioxide (which forms acid rain) fell 85 percent in October 2008 compared with a year earlier. The recession is bringing a green dividend in the developed world, too. Reduced economic activity is projected to cut Europe's emissions of carbon dioxide, the chief man-made greenhouse gas, by 100 million tons in 2009, and the United States' by about the same amount.
Andrew Sullivan addresses the question of whether, painful as it might be, this slowdown in careening cancer-cell like economic growth wasn't exactly what we and the world really needed right now.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Open Letter to John Ibbitson

Today the first line of your column is:
WASHINGTON — Rush Limbaugh's ratings have practically doubled in the last week, thanks to Barack Obama.
Would you be so good as to provide your evidence for this statement?

Trick question. There is no such evidence because unlike TV there is no definitive, numerical tracking of radio audience. For TV there's the Nielson's. I actually used to be a Nielson Household, there was a box on top of my boobtube that tracked what I was watching and when and whether anyone else was there watching it with me. From a million such tracking boxes Nielsons can extrapolate millions more with a fair degree of accuracy.

Radio has nothing even approaching such a system, there are tentative projections made by industry professionals, polls in individual markets and guesswork. Arbitron, the company that attempts to quantify radio listernership admits it's more art than science and flatly refuse to even try to guess at Limbaugh's audience size.

So when you, following in the footsteps of Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz - whose alleged ideological even handedness is questionable to say the least, make confident claims about recent boosts to Limbaugh's audience you are frankly deceiving your readers. It seems far more likely that Limbaugh is preaching to the choir, an audience that may be tuning in more regularly than they used to, but are much the same band of dead-ender dittoheads they've always been.

The rest of the piece is better, its stark warning of a near permanent political realignment in the states turning the Republicans into a permanent minority accords with the observed facts - although you muddy the waters again with cautions that the Republicans have been counted out before and may recover again.

Such modifiers don't take into account the fundamental demographic transformations taking place in the States that spell the unambiguous end for the Republicans in their present form.

If they radically transform themselves, lurch dramatically back to the center and return to the Republican party of Eisenhower and Ford - repudiate Reaganism entirely in other words - they may be able to come back in a generation or so. They show no willingness to take these steps. Even if they were willing to transform themselves so completely, their renewal isn't a sure thing; people tend to keep the political alignment they form in their twenties their whole lives and America's youth have shifted overwhelmingly to identifying as Democrats.

You are trying to sustain a horse race narrative that is increasingly being annihilated by events.

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