Sunday, August 30, 2009

Talking to Americans about Canadian Healthcare

Japan's conservatives annihilated

TOKYO — Japan's opposition swept to a historic victory in elections Sunday, crushing the ruling conservative party that has run the country for most of the postwar era and assuming the daunting task of pulling the economy out of its worst slump since World War II.

A grim-looking Prime Minister Taro Aso conceded defeat just a couple hours after polls had closed, suggesting he would quit as president of the Liberal Democratic Party, which has ruled Japan for all but 11 months since 1955.

"The results are very severe," Aso said. "There has been a deep dissatisfaction with our party."

Unemployment and deflation – and an aging, shrinking population – have left families fearful of what the future holds.

Fed up with the LDP, voters turned overwhelmingly to the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, which ran a populist-leaning platform with plans for cash handouts to families with children and expanding the social safety net.

"This is a victory for the people," said Yukio Hatoyama, leader of the Democrats and almost certainly Japan's next prime minister. "We want to build a new government that hears the voices of the nation."

Hatoyama and his party – an eclectic mix of former Liberal Democrats, socialists and progressives – face a daunting array of challenges, economic and demographic.

This has been coming for awhile as the LDP systematically alienated every sector of Japanese society, particularly women, youth, and seniors. The last was probably the deathblow and it happened over two years ago when the government admitted they had misplaced about 50 million pension files and therefore millions of seniors were going to get less pensions than they were entitled to.

Considering the segment of the population that reliably comes out and votes the most, the LDP were probably a dead party walking from that point on.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Keep Watching the Skies

Aircraft and vaguely defined 'technological solutions' company Sierra Nevada Corporation can't see what the fuss in Sarnia is all about. Just because they're floating a high tech surveillance balloon over the St. Clair River testing technology they hope to sell to the US government for border patrol and urban surveillance.

And it certainly shouldn't concern anyone that they're also experimenting with things like solar powered drones that could go up and stay up for months or years and a panoramic view aerial observation technology with the reassuring name 'The Gorgon's Stare' to be used against insurgents in Afghanistan.

Nor should anyone be unduly disturbed Sierra Nevada is testing aircraft that look exactly like 'Rover' the robotic border guards in the dystopian paranoid TV fantasy, 'The Prisoner'.

Seriously, this is like a James Bond super-villain's front company. Does their CEO go drinking with the head of Blackwater?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Big Easy to Big Empty

Four years on, Greg Palast and Democracy Now explore what happened before and after the drowning of New Orleans and who knew what and when. Download the whole movie here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Shake and Bake

Oh this is bad.

TULSA, Okla. — This is the new formula for methamphetamine: a two-liter soda bottle, a few handfuls of cold pills and some noxious chemicals. Shake the bottle and the volatile reaction produces one of the world's most addictive drugs.

Only a few years ago, making meth required an elaborate lab – with filthy containers simmering over open flames, cans of flammable liquids and hundreds of pills. The process gave off foul odors, sometimes sparked explosions and was so hard to conceal that dealers often "cooked" their drugs in rural areas.

But now drug users are making their own meth in small batches using a faster, cheaper and much simpler method with ingredients that can be carried in a knapsack and mixed on the run. The "shake-and-bake" approach has become popular because it requires a relatively small number of pills of the decongestant pseudoephedrine – an amount easily obtained under even the toughest anti-meth laws that have been adopted across the nation to restrict large purchases of some cold medication.

Police think this is a relatively new innovation, but it's spreading quickly.

This story has some pretty horrifying implications if you game it through.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Go for broke

Abandoning their careful recognition of the public mistrust of the Conservative brand, Harper and the Tories plan to explicitly campaign for a majority in the next election.

The Conservatives have 143 seats in the House of Commons, only 12 seats away from a clear majority in the 308-seat chamber.

Conservative Party officials said it would simply not make sense to call for a "stronger mandate," as Mr. Harper did in the last campaign, which the Conservatives started at 127 seats.

While he broke his promise for fixed-date elections last year, Mr. Harper is now actively campaigning against a fall election and emphasized last week that this is not the time for political instability.

"The last thing Canadians want is a Liberal government propped up by the NDP and the Bloc Québécois," Mr. Harper said at the event in Mr. Calandra's riding.

The last thing Canadians want? In fact in election after election that seems to be exactly what about 7 out of 10 Canadians want.

I think the Conservatives should be encouraged to follow this strategy. It doesn't help that the Liberals have only stood up to their agenda once, when a direct attack on their party financing made it personal, but it would still be easy, and true, to argue that there's stuff that the Conservatives haven't even tried to ram through in a minority that would be on the order paper in a month in a majority.

I can't think of a better election strategy to remind Canadians about everything they they don't like or trust about the Conservatives.

Help a brother out?

Columnist Dan Savage is calling for help from his readers, looking for an important historical artifact:
Does anyone have a copy of the porn flick Foreskin Gump
lying around? It's a hugely important porn title from the early 1990s. I need a picture—a large one—of the box. All I can find online is this small image. Anyone got a copy? What would I have to do to get you to scan it and send me a high resolution picture? I'm desperate here. Help me, Sloggers, you're my only hope!

If you have the box, email me the image here.

Be sure to read the comments.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Time to change tactics?

A recent British protest shows, nonviolent civil disobedience may be our best hope to counteract global warming.

The case took on historic weight only after the Kingsnorth Six went to court, where they presented to a jury what is known in the United States as a "necessity" defense. This defense applies to situations in which a person violates a law to prevent a greater, imminent harm from occurring: for example, when someone breaks down a door to put out a fire in a burning building.

In the Kingsnorth case, world-renowned climate scientist James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, flew to England to testify. According to the Guardian, he presented evidence that the Kingsnorth plant alone could be expected to cause sufficient global warming to prompt "the extinction of 400 species over its lifetime." Citing a British government study showing that each ton of released carbon dioxide incurs $85 in future climate-change costs, the activists contended that shutting the plant down for the day had prevented $1.6 million in damages -- a far greater harm to society than any rendered by their paint -- and that their transgressions should therefore be excused.

What surprised both Greenpeace and the prosecution was that 12 ordinary Britons agreed. The jury returned with an acquittal, and the freed defendants made the front pages of newspapers throughout the country. The tumult also produced political results. In April, British energy and climate change minister Ed Miliband announced a reversal in governmental policy on power stations, declaring, "The era of new unabated coal has come to an end." Discussing Kingsnorth, Daniel Mittler, a longtime environmental activist in Germany, told me recently, "it was probably one of the most impactful civil disobedience cases the world has ever seen, because it was the right action at the right time."

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunday Linkblast - August 16

Friday, August 14, 2009

Margaret Wente for the Settler Movement

In yesterday's column in the Globe Margaret Wente pours scorn on those opposed to the mistreatment of Palestinians in the Occupied territories.

On the one hand she reluctantly acknowledges Israeli excesses in the last paragraph of her screed while still minimizing them:
Israel can be condemned for many things, including bad judgment, botched military campaigns, unnecessary harshness and occasional brutality. So can lots of other countries.
But she is dismissive of the comparison with Apartheid South Africa while still admitting that Black South Africans who lived under it like Bishop Tutu find it an accurate comparison.
But the analogy with South Africa is badly flawed. Under apartheid, non-white South Africans were denied the right to vote, to organize, to live where they wanted or to marry across racial lines. A small white minority ruled a large black underclass.
Denied the right to live where they wanted? Is she suggesting that Palestinians in the occupied territories have this right? In fact she repeatedly and deliberately tries to confuse the issue by referring to Israeli Arabs living within Israel rather than Palestinians living in the occupied territories - she knows better what the debate is about but obfuscation has always been her favorite tactic.

Palestinians in the occupied territories have no vote in the state that controls them and in South Africa at its worst they didn't have whites only highways which nonwhites could be shot for setting foot on and had more freedom of movement than Palestinians in the open area prison of Gaza do now. At the height of resistance to Apartheid - which Apartheid apologists in the west sounding a lot like Wente described as 'communist terrorism' - black townships weren't being shelled with heavy artillery and white phosphorus.

In fact within Israel the debate about the occupied territories is much more robust than Israel's apologists would prefer was allowed here and Apartheid is a term that is regularly used. Arguments that get fierce accusations of antisemitism thrown at them here are routinely made by Jewish Israelis within Israel.

Just another Wente column with her usual mix of snide sarcasm and selective application of the facts.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

My Guitar Gently Weeps

Les Paul RIP

NEW YORK — Les Paul, the guitar virtuoso and inventor who revolutionized music and created rock 'n' roll as surely as Elvis Presley and the Beatles by developing the solid-body electric guitar and multitrack recording, died Thursday at age 94.

Known for his lightning-fast riffs, Paul performed with some of early pop's biggest names and produced a slew of hits, many with wife Mary Ford. But it was his inventive streak that made him universally revered by guitar gods as their original ancestor and earned his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the most important forces in popular music.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Can't say we didn't warn you

Last December I said that if The Liberal Party proved itself to be a self interested, unreliable coalition partner than the NDP would take that into account the next time a coalition was negotiated. That absent a coalition New Democrats and left leaning voters in general would see little reason in the future to vote for one arrogant right wing neoconservative over another. I wasn't the only one giving similar warnings.

Nonetheless, expect the reaction from Liberals to Brad Lavigne's straightforward declaration of war and signal of the intent to fight to win the inevitable impending election to be the fits, the shits and the blind staggers.

“Mr. Layton has written a book about investing in Canadians and their communities. Mr. Ignatieff has written books defending torture,” said Lavigne.

“Mr. Ignatieff has defended and supported the war in Iraq … If Mr. Ignatieff or Mr. Harper were prime minister in 2004, Canada would still be in Iraq today.”

Lloyd Axworthy warned last October of the political 'death wish' of right wing pro-corporate Liberals who in defiance of the facts, the polls and simple common sense believed the future of the Liberal Party was to the political right.

One major question mark in all this will be the Liberal leadership contest, already under way in sub rosa fashion. Will a leader emerge who is willing to take a chance and be ready to embrace, indeed take a lead in forming, a different kind of political constellation? Or will there be a push by that faction of the party that believes a return to right-of-centre politics will offset the present Conservative advantage.

To this death wish, I am reminded of the comment of Keith Davey, renowned Liberal party organizer, who said that Canadians given a choice will always vote for a real Tory, not a pseudo-Tory in Liberal clothing.

At least it can be said that Liberals didn't choose the bottle of hemlock; it was chosen for them, in the backrooms, without any of that messy democracy that has a distressing tendency of not putting the needs of the elites first. The draught will be no less fatal because of it, probably more so in fact.

The NDP's numbers have been trending upwards, the Liberals have no where to go but down - as Campbell Clark pointed out today Michael Ignatieff is sitting where Stéphane Dion was a year ago, and counting on breakthroughs in the west and a phoenix like restoration in Quebec isn't so much a political strategy as a desperate prayer for divine intervention.

Liberals, we intend to cut your grass. Debates about name changes are mere sideshow and the smugly inevitable and perennial predictions of the NDP's demise begin to take on the whiff of desperate hope. Stephen Harper may lose the election but we intend to make the price of the Liberals winning it a dear one.

The next coalition will be on the NDP's terms. Expect Michael Ignatieff to experience an unconvincing road to Damascus moment and be transfigured into a born again progressive out to protect the interests of the Canadian public against those of the Canadian elites. This will be simply bowing to the inevitability of political reality.

Obama defends Canada

“I've said that the Canadian model works for Canada,” Obama said, “It would not work for the United States, in part simply because we've evolved differently. We have a employer-based system and a private-based health care system that stands side-by-side with Medicare and Medicaid and our Veterans Administration health care system. And so, we've got to develop a uniquely American approach to this problem.”
...because the insurance lobbyists who own our political system outright would never allow anything that threatened their meal-ticket.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Classic Concern Trolling

Kelly McParland has all sorts of helpful advice for the NDP - advice which essentially boils down to becoming the Conservative Party.

When considering his novel suggestions, its worth wondering why a rabid right winger would want to help the only real left wing party in Canada with sitting Members in parliament. A party that has been increasing its vote count and number of seats every election for the last decade, just elected it's first provincial government east of Ontario and in Manitoba is running the only province to table a balanced budget since the economic collapse. A party with an economic world view that has been massively vindicated by recent events and which is poised to make major gains in the next election with Iggy's honeymoon over and people actually starting to think about party platforms in the context of an election campaign.

A lot of people have been offering helpful advice and the NDP do have major policy considerations ahead - but the advice of Kelly McParland can safely be ignored except as what not to do.

I've got your 'Civility' right here

After accusing Obama of wanting to murder her disabled child, Sarah Palin calls for 'civility' in the debate on healthcare:
There are many disturbing details in the current bill that Washington is trying to rush through Congress, but we must stick to a discussion of the issues and not get sidetracked by tactics that can be accused of leading to intimidation or harassment. Such tactics diminish our nation's civil discourse which we need now more than ever because the fine print in this outrageous health care proposal must be understood clearly and not get lost in conscientious voters' passion to want to make elected officials hear what we are saying. Let's not give the proponents of nationalized health care any reason to criticize us.

The Conservative argument for American Healthcare Reform

He hasn't become a proponent of Single-Payer and he wishes reform wasn't necessary, but Andrew Sullivan reluctantly accepts that the American Healthcare status quo is unsustainable.

If you have guaranteed emergency room care for the uninsured at public expense, you have already effectively socialized medicine. It makes no sense not to bring these people into the insurance system, and to offer less expensive, long-term preventive healthcare. To insist that ideology stand in the way of this piece of compassionate common sense is irresponsible.

I've come to accept that the fiscal and economic costs of the current system, however wonderful it has been for a few decades, simply cannot be sustained much longer. I say that not because I have become a socialist, but because the US is on the brink of the kind of bankruptcy it will be very hard to recover from if we do not tackle its source now. Taking measures to avoid fiscal collapse even greater than today's is a conservative impulse. Letting one sector of the economy destroy the rest of it - and public finances too - is sheer recklessness.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Quote of the day

Gothic novelist Horace Walpole, observing the (early balloon flights), delivered one of the most prescient comments ever about the dark side of science. "Well! I hope these new mechanic meteors will prove only playthings for the learned and idle, and not be converted into new engines of destruction to the human race -- as is so often the case of refinements or discoveries in Science," he wrote. "The wicked wit of man always studies to apply the results of talents to enslaving, destroying, or cheating his fellow creatures. Could we reach the moon, we should think of reducing it to a province of some European kingdom."

Sunday Linkblast - Aug 9

Friday, August 07, 2009

I Was Born On A...

Demented Are Go

Sarah Palin: Psychotic Evil Bitch

Takes a lot to get me to call a woman that:

Palin: Obama would make Trig face "death panel"

Sarah Palin might not be the governor of Alaska anymore, but she's still weighing in on politics. Friday afternoon, she took to her Facebook page to warn of the dangers of Democratic healthcare plans.

"The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care," Palin wrote.

Telling this kind of unspeakably vile lie, putting this kind of unfounded fear into the parents of disabled children, is literally unforgivable.

You thought the Republican Party was crazy in power, with their power and influence taken away from them, they've gone utterly bugfuck insane.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

It's only Teenage Wasteland

John Hughes: RIP
John Hughes was the first film-maker who really understood the world of high school and teenagers. I still remember watching The Breakfast Club when it first came out, open mouthed to see teenagers on screen who were as segmented and riven by class, caste and clique as the ones I knew. Sure like almost all Hughes movies the entire cast was white, but artists tell the stories they know.

John Hughes, biographer of the American teen and revolutionary. He will be missed.

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