Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Rolling back the Liepert Era

Piece by piece, policy by policy, the sadistic idiocy of Ron Liepert's Alberta healthcare legacy gets reversed and rolled back.
Alberta Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky rolled back another unpopular health care decision Wednesday by announcing a delay to seniors' drug plan changes that were to take effect in July.

The plan has been delayed to make changes to regulations and legislation, as well as to get it in line with other programs for seniors. The current plan, where seniors pay 30 per cent of the cost of each prescription to a maximum of $25, will stay in place.

"We do have proposals for changes that would bring in a new seniors' drug program that are not yet ready to go ahead," Zwozdesky said, "And we'll take the time necessary to review everything, make sure that we get it right and that we haven't rushed it along and come to the wrong conclusions."

So hospital and psychiatric bed cuts canceled or at least disguised with rhetoric a little better, no more public plans to de-list services, the centralization of ambulance services put on hold and now a politically suicidal attack on seniors drug benefits frozen for further 'review'.

But the fundamental policy fallacy at the center of Liepert's benighted leadership of Alberta's medical system was the amalgamation of the regional health boards into one provincial super board. It was a policy move that was never about making healthcare administration more efficient or effective, just quieter.

The regional boards had a distressing tendency to emphasize the needs of their regions rather than those of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party.

The Superboard remains. The quiet starving of social spending that the government is desperately trying to hide by promptly reversing themselves whenever confronted with the very visible results from 'invisible' funding cuts continues.

The current, flailing desperation of the government of Alberta means almost any of their policies could be reversed right now with enough bad PR, but this unusual receptiveness to course correction is based on short term panic. It doesn't represent a real change in the arrogant entitlement to power we've all come to know and loathe in the Conservatives.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Obama is much more charitable than I would be

WASHINGTON (Associated Press) — President Barack Obama says he believes the Tea Party is built around a "core group" of people who question whether he is a U.S. citizen and believe he is a socialist.

But beyond that, Obama tells NBC he recognizes the movement involves "folks who have legitimate concerns" about the national debt and whether the government is taking on too many difficult issues simultaneously.
In an interview broadcast Tuesday on NBC's "Today" show, Obama said he feels "there's still going to be a group at their core that question my legitimacy." But he said he didn't want to paint Tea Party activists "in broad brushes" and he hopes to win over members who have "mainstream, legitimate concerns."

Sinead on the Pope's apology

I brought up Sinead last year when the report on systematic child abuse in Ireland was released, now she responds to Pope's response to that report.

Irish Catholics are in a dysfunctional relationship with an abusive organization. The pope must take responsibility for the actions of his subordinates. If Catholic priests are abusing children, it is Rome, not Dublin, that must answer for it with a full confession and in a criminal investigation. Until it does, all good Catholics -- even little old ladies who go to church every Sunday, not just protest singers like me whom the Vatican can easily ignore -- should avoid Mass. In Ireland, it is time we separated our God from our religion, and our faith from its alleged leaders.

Almost 18 years ago, I tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II on an episode of "Saturday Night Live." Many people did not understand the protest -- the next week, the show's guest host, actor Joe Pesci, commented that, had he been there, "I would have gave her such a smack." I knew my action would cause trouble, but I wanted to force a conversation where there was a need for one; that is part of being an artist. All I regretted was that people assumed I didn't believe in God. That's not the case at all. I'm Catholic by birth and culture and would be the first at the church door if the Vatican offered sincere reconciliation.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Tired of these tools humiliating Canada in front of the whole world yet?

OTTAWA – Canada took a kicking as it hosted a five-nation Arctic summit that left three other countries and the Inuit that live at the top of the world out in the cold.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a stinging rebuke and left the summit early, chiding Canada for not including all those “who have legitimate interests in the region.”

Presumably that would include Sweden, Finland, Iceland and the Inuit Circumpolar Council, representing the indigenous people of the North.

Those four, plus the five countries gathered in Gatineau – the U.S., Canada, Russia, Norway and Denmark – make up the long-established Arctic Council, which many fear is being undermined by this new group.

“I hope the Arctic will always showcase our ability to work together, not create new divisions,” Clinton said.

The meeting launched a two-day global gathering in the capital, where G8 foreign ministers will gather Tuesday to talk about sanctions against Iran, nuclear weapons, war in Afghanistan and other pressing international matters in advance of the leader’s summit in June.

But Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon appears to have started on the wrong foot while hosting talks where Russia has historically been the bogeyman and presumed Arctic aggressor.

It was a day spent discussing the challenges and duties that Arctic nations face: building northern search-and rescue capabilities; reporting rules for ships hauling people and cargo through the frosty waters; and environmental concerns like overfishing and pollution that weren’t necessary when the Arctic was a frigid no-man’s land.

But when he was standing alone at a microphone at Meech Lake, Cannon found himself fending off criticism from both inside and outside the meeting that key groups had been intentionally, and wrongly, left off the guest list.

Reporters might have followed up on the criticisms if Clinton or any of the other foreign ministers had stuck around for a wrap-up news conference. Instead, Cannon stood alone, a decision apparently agreed to by ministers during the day’s deliberations.
So now were getting publicly spurned and hung out to dry by all the countries of the Arctic including our most important ally. Cannon and Harper are getting a taste of what Netanyahu got last week.

When's the last time do you think the rest of the world heard a positive Canada story? We're the folks who are still led by the Bush cronies who don't give a shit about the environment and are trying to cut Arctic natives out of Arctic decision making.

This is really getting old.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Obama Pwns Netanyahu

The president’s revenge the following evening was perhaps rendered with the swagger of a man who had a few hours before enacted a reform that eluded all his Democratic predecessors. Then again, maybe not. “I think it’s safe to say that Obama really, really dislikes Netanyahu,” says an unpaid White House foreign policy adviser. In a calculated snub, the Israeli prime minister was ushered into the White House for a meeting with no photographers to record it. After 90 minutes of unfriendly discussion, he was left to stew in the Roosevelt room with his advisers while Mr Obama went and ate supper alone (his family was in New York). They then resumed their meeting.

It may sound trivial. But by the standards of diplomacy, particularly those of US-Israeli diplomacy, Mr Obama’s behaviour was rude. It was read as such in Israel – with quite a lot of Israelis approving, according to the country’s media.
It has become obvious that Obama would much rather be dealing with Tzipi Livni or Ehud Barak. The White House has finally decided that Likud, Netanyahu and his fanatical and racist coalition partners are part of the problem, not the solution.

It will be interesting to watch the schizophrenic incoherence this will doubtless cause in Harper's government here in Canada; on the one hand the Tories have been working over-time to define pro-Israel to mean pro-Likud, and anything less as antisemitism. On the other hand, the central unifying theme of the geopolitical thinking of the Canadian Conservative Party is 'Give the Americans anything they want.'

Their triangulation just developed a decided tilt.

Quote of the Day

"The church wants wriggle room for the one crime no one can think about without vomiting...Don't let's call it child abuse. It's the rape and torture of children."

Same Territory, Different Maps

Wow, do Eugene and I read this quote differently. Eugene surprised me by letting my comment through - but I feel the need to respond here too.Really? A leader who doesn't panic and toss away civil rights and the rule of law? A leader who even in a crisis wouldn't wipe away all our freedoms but would trust the system he was protecting?

And this is the difference:

Some of us read this and applaud conviction and faith in the strength of our liberties. The belief that we don't need to sacrifice freedom for security and those who are convinced we do are merely displaying how little faith they have in our way of life that they believe we must abandon it to protect it.

I hadn't seen that quote before. Thanks for reminding me why I'm proud to be a New Democrat Eugene.

Not the response you were hoping for I'm guessing.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Red Libs, Bay Street Boys and Blue Dog Libs

This started out as a comment over at Alison's place, about the fairly dismal display by the Liberals over the last week. Alison, thought it should go a little wider:

About time for the Red Libs to realize the Blue Dog Libs and the Bay Street Libs are going to use them hard and put them away wet forever.

They don't respect them, they plan to never respect them. They'll push them in front for the cameras during campaigns and keep them chained up in the basement the rest of the time.

Libs who believe in reproductive freedoms, a robust safety net, peace and economic justice will still be getting used and abused by what's left of the Liberal Party long after the rest of us are all dead.

George Orwell, cheerful sod that he was, said the defining image of the future would be a boot smashing into a face again and again forever.

For those on the left wing of the Canadian Liberal Party it's John Manley's smirk. For him it's the back of their heads.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Unintentional Irony Alert

Mr. Levant called the cancellation a sad commentary on the state of free speech in Canada. “When you start to intimidate and pose as security threat, there is no longer free speech.”
Some examples of verbal intimidation and threat to security:
"We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."
"I think the government should be spying on all Arabs, engaging in torture as a televised spectator sport, dropping daisy cutters wantonly throughout the Middle East and sending liberals to Guantanamo."
Now how could Muslim students and staff at the University consider that verbal intimidation and threat to their security?

Or there's this gem:

"I don't really like to think of it as a murder. It was terminating Tiller in the 203rd trimester. ... I am personally opposed to shooting abortionists, but I don't want to impose my moral values on others." --on the murder of Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller, FOX News interview, June 22, 2009
Now how could doctors and people who believe in reproductive choice consider this the condoning of violence, even glee taken in violence committed against them? How could this not be considered verbal intimidation and threat to security?

Or we could just listen to her own explicit statement on the subject of intimidation:
"We need to execute people like (John Walker Lindh) in order to physically intimidate liberals."
Freedom of speech doesn't mean freedom from consequences. I'm not a fan of hate speech laws, but its not like there's anywhere with no limits on free speech whatsoever.

You can't shout fire in a crowded theater, you can't threaten people, you can't libel or slander people. These are all examples of speech prohibited by law. And in this country you cannot threaten people or promote hatred against any identifiable group.

I happen to think that last one is counter-productive. I think people like Coulter absolutely exult at the opportunity to put on the veneer of smoking martyr to free speech. Handing her that opportunity on a plate gives a professional rodeo clown far more credibility than she deserves.

And of course we already know just how cynical her current outrage at censorship really is:
"They're [Democrats] always accusing us of repressing their speech. I say let's do it. Let's repress them. Frankly, I'm not a big fan of the First Amendment."

Caught in the Act

The Alberta government works best in the dark with as little oversight as possible. By 'best', I mean they can ram through the most vicious, cold-hearted abandonment of the weakest and most vulnerable to help pay for scuttling any attempt to make the wealthy and the resource industries pay their fair share of the social contract.

When a light is shone on their latest act of fiscal brutality they scuttle for cover like cockroaches.

EDMONTON — Alberta’s minister of children and youth services has apologized for a plan to cut pay for foster parents looking after disabled kids.

“There will be absolutely no change in practice,” Minister Yvonne Fritz said Monday. “I apologize that this had to happen to those parents. The good work they do. They don’t need this (stress) added to it.”

Earlier in the day, the Alberta NDP released a presentation made last week to foster parents in the Edmonton region. It laid out a new “fair compensation program.”

Under the proposed plan, homes that cared for children with extreme medical and psychological problems were to receive a maximum of $100 a day to pay for extra services and supports.

Homes that received less than $100 a day could also have had their fees cut under the new assessment plan.

Until Fritz’s reversal, the plan was to begin on April 1.

“These are very seriously disabled children,” NDP MLA Rachel Notley said. “And this is what is so awe-inspiredly cold-hearted, because this is truly the most vulnerable, voiceless group of children within our community.”

Notley said the proposed cap suggested the government doesn’t care much about its foster parents.

“If I were a foster parent, I would seriously question whether the system truly wants to support me and my work,” Notley said.
There is a very narrow window of opportunity right now, with this terrified lurching beast of a government, to make them reverse themselves on any number of things. Healthcare was taken away from the brutal thug Ron Liepert and given to former Liberal turned Tory Gene Zwozdesky and the government is trying to soft peddle the deep cuts to social spending and back down when confronted with the most egregious examples.

They're terrified of the Wildrose Alliance on the right and trying to avoid flareups on the left as well.

Good time to give their tightrope a vigorous shaking.

UPDATE, Jesus, what balls:
Stelmach is quite indignant... that the NDP chose to go public with this situation, rather then quietly and politely bringing it to the government's attention in private.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Quote of the Day

"...we don’t have a left and a right party in this country anymore; we have a center-right party and a crazy party. And over the last thirty-odd years Democrats have moved to the right and the right has moved into a mental hospital."

-Bill Maher

Congratulations America

It was a stunted, incrementalist hodge-podge of a bill by the time the lobbyists and side deals with conservative democrats were done. Real reform would put the health insurance industry out of business altogether, while this bill will actually increase their customer base.

But the Americans have achieved some real progress towards real reform. Strong restrictions on the insurance companies ability to deny care to new customers over pre-existing conditions or take care away from existing ones if they actually try to use it have been created. Young people just starting out can stay on their parents employer insurance now until they are 25. Seniors drug bills will be reduced.

It isn't perfect and hopefully they'll keep working on real reform that doesn't cater to corporate America at the expense of main street America but its definitely a start. Congratulations America,

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Slap of the hand

South Park was right; the Vatican really does seem to believe that its everyone else's problem.

The children keep revealing what was done to them, the media is insufficiently deferential to their holiness and ask impertinent questions, their waning supply of believers want to know why child raping predators were protected and enabled and now that the cover-up scandal has come right to the Pope's door he's actually expected to take personal responsibility for his actions.

People keep asking if a culture of celibacy, of deliberately pushing those who reveal they are gay in confession to suppress their sexuality in the priesthood, of secrecy, authoritarianism, deference from the laity and unquestioned authority and access to vulnerable children are part of the problem.

Don't these disrespectful people understand that protecting the reputations of priests and bishops and the Holy Father himself is more important than a few dozen...hundred...thousand raped and beaten children?

If this was a new religion, IE a cult, the police tanks would have been knocking down church doors by now.

The church keeps trying to blame the evils of the modern world, claiming that permissiveness and waning adherence to faith are the cause of these problems - but it seems far more likely that these horrible acts have been happening throughout history and only now have people lost enough deference and awe of the church and priesthood to start holding it to account. The worldwide ebbing of faith is the only reason that the church is now getting seriously challenged on abuse and the protection of abusers.

Faith was the problem. Secularization was the solution.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Almost unmockable

Ralph Klein, Alberta’s feather-ruffling former premier, will assume a different kind of throne – this time as the host of a television game show.

Mr. Klein will hit the airwaves this weekend on a show called On the Clock, which airs on Crossroads Television Systems across Alberta and Ontario and nationwide via satellite.

The format is simple.

Three Alberta “experts” — a Calgary city councillor, a columnist and a radio host — are asked public-policy-type questions, both light and heavy, such as how would you rewrite the national anthem? List the benefits of global warming.

Mr. Klein, who appears perched on a golden throne, then evaluates the candid responses and hands out “Ralph Bucks” based on what he thinks.
Special bonus points for mocking the disabled, thinking up ways to gut public health care, writing mash notes to vicious dictators, helping energy companies steal from the public purse and lying about public revenue projections.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Let her speak you BASTARDS!

The government of Stephen Harper is fighting tooth and nail to keep Suzanne Trepanier, the grieving widow of Remy Beauregard from being allowed to speak to parliament. The reason is straightforward; Trepanier believes that the vicious harassment from the partisan ideologues Harper's government appointed to the board of Rights and Democracy drove her husband to an early grave.
Tory filibuster keeps widow from speaking
OTTAWA (CP) — Conservative MPs are thwarting the grieving widow of former Rights and Democracy president Remy Beauregard from testifying at a Commons committee.
Suzanne Trepanier has requested permission to appear at the Foreign Affairs committee to defend her husband’s record and provide her version of events that she believes contributed to Beauregard’s fatal heart attack in January following an agency board meeting.
But Tory MP Jim Abbott’s hour-long filibuster Thursday ran out the clock on a committee decision, and Abbott made of point of reminding the committee chairman that he holds the floor when the group next meets.
Abbott told the committee that hearing from Beauregard’s widow "would be an emotional reaction to a situation over which this committee has absolutely no control."
Rights and Democracy, an arms-length, taxpayer-funded agency, has been in turmoil for months as factions on the government-appointed board battled over three small grants to Middle East rights monitoring groups that are critical of Israel.
Can there be anything more contemptible than blocking a grieving widow from speaking out because you don't like what she's going to say?

They're quite willing to let their own partisan appointees at the center of the scandal speak and expand the witness list to include 'academics', as long as Trepanier or any other actual witnesses who might say something that would embarrass the government are NOT allowed to speak.
Conservatives have agreed to hear from newly appointed president Jacques Gauthier and board chairman Aurel Braun, although both the Conservative appointees cancelled an appearance Thursday for scheduling reasons.
"The reason why we want the witness list limited to that is because we see no value in having people who can make their positions clear in public in other fora at this committee," Abbott told The Canadian Press following the committee meeting.
"It doesn't accomplish anything."
Abbott, however, said he was not averse to expanding the witness list — as long as it doesn't include Beauregard's widow and three senior agency employees recently fired by Gauthier.
"We're also completely in favour of people who may have differing points of view — professors, people of knowledge — who may have differing points of view from an academic perspective as to what should be happening."
Conservative disdain for academic expertise has been frequently stated, including a frank assessment last spring by Ian Brodie, Harper's former chief of staff, who told a McGill university forum the government actually benefits politically from such critics.
But first-hand testimony by the widow of a man whose supporters say he was harassed and maligned by stoutly pro-Israel members of the Rights and Democracy board is another matter.
"Given the extraordinary efforts that were made by some people to review Mr. Beauregard's conduct and the impact of that review on Mr. Beauregard, I think she's fully entitled to appear," said Liberal MP and committee member Bob Rae.
"I think they're frankly very concerned about what Suzanne Trepanier would say," NDP Leader Jack Latyon said in an interview.
UPDATE: Go see Alison's excellent post about the 'honorable' Mr Abbot's sickening display.

Jim Abbott :

Telephone: (613) 995-7246
Fax: (613) 996-9923

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Fox News stops even pretending

A few weeks ago Roger Ailes, former Nixon staffer and current grand poobah of Fox News shocked observers by candidly admitting that the White House has legitimate complaints about Fox News behavior and treatment of them.

But any hopes that this recognition of blatant bias by the head of Fox News would lead to real fairness and balance were pretty unambiguously dashed in the last few weeks.

Glenn Beck continues to spew paranoia, sexual panic and eliminationism at anybody who has the cancerous, vermin ridden evil to believe in such Satanic concepts as progress, justice or peace. This, for anybody who's never watched him, is not exaggeration or hyperbole by the way. Glenn Beck believes ideas like social justice and progress are literally evil and uses rhetoric that skates just up to the line of blatantly calling for the extermination of people who believe in these things.

It would be interesting to compare his broadcasts with those by Hutu radio DJs in Rwanda in the early 90's.

Glenn Beck is so crazy there's even pushback within Fox News itself about having him on the air. A lot of people working at this blatantly propagandistic news distortion machine think Glenn Beck crosses the line. Roger Ailes on the other hand, fiercely defends Beck making it clear he has no objection to providing a venue for dangerous demagoguery.

Bill O'Reilly and other Fox talking heads recently claimed that the New England Journal of Medicine had done a survey of doctors and '46% were thinking of quitting the profession if Obama's health care reform passed'. With absolutely minimal research it was discovered that this so-called 'survey' was actually a quote from a professional medical recruitment firm's promotional material. The New England Journal of Medicine had nothing to do with it and saying they did was a blatant lie.

Finally watch and be awed at this Foxbot's response to a Democratic congressman's giddy response to a CBO report saying Obama's health reform package would reduce the deficit by trillions of dollars over the next two decades.

Fox News has decided to stop pretending and just blissfully roll around in the bias snuffling happily.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Clueless irony alert

Fox news hosts shocked, (Shocked I say!) that TV can influence people to think torture is ok.
French documentarians conducted an experiment where they created a faux game show -- with all the typical studio trappings -- and then instructed participants (who believed it was a real TV program) to administer electric shock to unseen contestants each time they answered questions incorrectly, with increasing potency for each wrong answer. Even as the unseen contestants (who were actors) screamed in agony and pleaded for mercy -- and even once they went silent and were presumably dead -- 81% of the participants continued to obey the instructions of the authority-figure/host and kept administering higher and higher levels of electric shock. The experiment was a replica of the one conducted in 1961 by Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram, where 65% of participants obeyed instructions from a designated authority figure to administer electric shock to unseen individuals, and never stopped obeying even as they heard excruciating screams and then silence. This new French experiment was designed to measure the added power of television to place people into submission to authority and induce them to administer torture.
None of this should be at all surprising to anyone who has observed, first, the American political and media class, and then large swaths of the American citizenry, enthusiastically embrace what was once the absolute taboo against torture, all because Government officials decreed that it was necessary to Stop the Terrorists. But I just watched an amazing discussion of this French experiment on Fox News. The Fox anchors -- Bill Hemmer and Martha MacCallum -- were shocked and outraged that these French people could be induced by the power of television to embrace torture.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sunday Linkblast - March 14

Abuse scandal reaches the Vatican

Michael Wolff suggests that the latest upswing of the priest abuse scandal in Europe comes right to the Popes door and threatens his position directly.

This isn't getting much attention in the US, but it's a big one: The Pope's in trouble.

Trouble, trouble. Not-going-away trouble. Run-out-of-office trouble. It's a potentially transformative moment in matters of religion and of power, wherein even the infallible turns out to be vulnerable. Some of us live for such moments.

It's the priest sex story, the same one we've already done -- and done. But now it's popping up in Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands, all markets which make the American news media yawn. But come on. The priest sex story is one of the best we've had. It's one of the ones that the media of our time is going to be remembered for. It's the ultimate destruction of façade; the giving of voice to silence; the catching of deer and hypocrites in the headlights. It's our triumph.

It's also, on the other hand, our shame. Because who hasn't known for generations that that's what priests were doing? And yet the story went untold. It had to wait for 30 or 40 years for public sensibility to catch up with it before it was told.
He also makes the point we all know but almost never see in print: This isn't a story about aberrant behavior that is an exception to the norm; clearly a disturbingly large percentage of priests became priests precisely for the sexual access to children.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Real Pro-Lifers

From the credit where credit is due department:

Twenty-five pro-life Catholic theologians and Evangelical leaders yesterday sent letters to members of Congress urging them not to let misleading information about abortion provisions in the Senate health care bill block passage of sorely-needed reform.

Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, a Washington-based advocacy group, said that the Senate health bill upholds abortion funding restrictions and supports pregnant women.

The letter included a page by page analysis of the Senate bill as it pertains to abortion.

The group asked members of Congress “to make an informed decision about this legislation based on careful deliberation guided by facts.”

“We believe that the provisions below provide extensive evidence that longstanding restrictions on federal funding of abortion have been maintained. Furthermore, this bill provides new and important supports for vulnerable pregnant women,” the letter states.

Deliberate Dumbing Down

Thomas Jefferson is out, the civil rights movement caused 'unrealistic expectations' and the U.S. isn't a democracy. These will become the standards in textbooks for MILLIONS of American children in the coming decades. The deliberate dumbing down of the American public is about to accelerate.
The Board removed Thomas Jefferson from the Texas curriculum's world history standards on Enlightenment thinking, “replacing him with religious right icon John Calvin.”

From the Texas Freedom Network's
live-blog of the board hearing:

Board member Cynthia Dunbar wants to change a standard having students study the impact of Enlightenment ideas on political revolutions from 1750 to the present. She wants to drop the reference to Enlightenment ideas (replacing with “the writings of”) and to Thomas Jefferson. She adds Thomas Aquinas and others. Jefferson’s ideas, she argues, were based on other political philosophers listed in the standards. We don’t buy her argument at all. Board member Bob Craig of Lubbock points out that the curriculum writers clearly wanted to students to study Enlightenment ideas and Jefferson. Could Dunbar’s problem be that Jefferson was a Deist? The board approves the amendment, taking Thomas Jefferson OUT of the world history standards.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Palestine's Time

Johann Hari says its time for Palestinians to unilateraly declare independance and let the chips fall where they may.
There is very little the Palestinians can do to change their situation alone. They are virtually disarmed, with a few rockets and some stone-throwing kids, against the fourth most powerful army on earth. But international pressure -- applied intelligently, without hyperbole -- can strengthen their hand, and the Palestinians are considering a move that would catalyze it. They are considering a unilateral declaration of independence, and an appeal for the world to recognize them as a state. It wouldn't cause the occupation to vanish -- but it would make the situation plain for all to see. They are a people; they deserve a state, as much as the British or the Israelis. Netanyahu talks about the dangers of Israel being wiped from the map, yet Palestine is being wiped from the map every day by his tanks and his guns. Why should they have to "earn" their right to their own land by proving obedience to an abusive foreign power?
Western governments support this erasure of Palestine: the EU with diplomacy and arms sales and by providing Israel with its largest markets, and the US with hard cash. A declaration of Palestinian independence would force them to either defend that position to (mostly appalled) electorates, or change it. Already, France's Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, has hinted that he would feel obliged to support a declaration. Would Obama veto the creation of a Palestinian state at the UN Security Council?
Netanyahu is clearly panicked. The negotiators would meet as one head of state to another -- rather than as a broken supplicant appealing to his master. He has angrily declared that the Palestinians will face "consequences" if they choose this path, including the annexation of settlement blocks. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saed Erekat replied: "The purpose of such a move is to keep hope alive... We're fed up with your time-wasting. We don't believe you really want a two-state solution."
The Palestinians want the same freedom that the Jews pined for -- a safe home of their own. They should declare independence. Then it is up to us -- the watching billions -- to pressure our governments to make it real, rather than a howl in the dark.
Should it not be just as incumbent on Israelis to accept Palestine's right to exist as Palestinians must accept Israel's right to exist?

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Iceland's citizens refuse to pay banker's debts

Iceland's three hugest banks failed, partly as part of the leading edge of the crisis that hit the entire world economy, partly as the result of deliberate attacks by rumor spreading short-selling international hedge funds. Icelanders woke up to their economy in ruins, their standards of living about to take a nose dive and governments in Scandinavia and England demanding they pay the bill for excesses of the financial sector.

Iceland has held a referendum on plans to repay the UK and the Netherlands debts owed from the collapse of Icesave bank.

Despite overwhelming opposition to the proposal, the country faces years of financial pain.

Iceland's 320,000 citizens voted on whether their government should repay Britain and the Netherlands more than 3.8bn euros (£3.4bn) - equivalent to each person contributing 99 euros a month for eight years.

Britain and the Netherlands say they are due the money following Iceland's financial meltdown in 2008. But Icelanders say the terms of the repayment are too onerous and rejected the package in its current form.

The collapse of three of Iceland's biggest banks overwhelmed the country's deposit-insurance scheme.

Some 340,000 British and Dutch depositors in the Icesave online bank (owned by Landsbanki) had to be bailed out by their domestic compensation scheme.

Now these two countries want their money back from Reykjavik.

At stake is nothing less than Iceland's ability to restore its economic credibility in the eyes of the world

According to Dragana Ignjatovic, analyst at IHS Global Insight: "In order for Iceland to even hope to rebuild its battered reputation, a compensation deal needs to be reached."

Speaking to the BBC, Chancellor Alistair Darling said the UK would get its money back, if not for many years.

"It's not a matter of whether the sum should be paid. There is no question we will get the money back but what I am prepared to do is to talk to Iceland about the terms and conditions of the repayment," he told the BBC's Politics Show.

Asked about how long it would take for the UK to be repaid, Mr Darling said it would take "many, many years".

But there was never any suggestion many people would vote "Yes".

That's why the referendum became an explosive political issue.

Most Icelanders argue that they should not be penalised for their government's failure to rein in spending and for the excesses of a few banks.

As we are seeing in Greece, and elsewhere in Europe, the majority of people don't want to be penalised for the actions of a few.
There have already been unsubtle threats to link IMF assistance to debt repayment. There's a strong sense of Déjà vu to all this...

A $30 Billion Heist

There are currently two investigations under way on the foreign banks' role in illegally sending money out of the country. Acting on information compiled by Radical Party lawyer Juan Carlos Iglesias, federal judge Norberto Oyarbide authorized at least 30 raids of foreign financial entities, including HSBC, BBVA-Banco Francés, Citibank, and Bank of Boston, in which computer files, and other documentation on capital transfer out of the country, were confiscated.

Of particular interest is the charge that 385 armored trucks transported billions of dollars in cash to Ezeiza International airport in Buenos Aires at the end of November, to be sent to the United States, while money sent to smaller airports ended up in Paraguay and Uruguay. The Central Bank is also being scrutinized, for failing to adequately supervise the financial system. Oyarbide is looking into capital flight of an estimated $25 billion, and has hinted that the heads of HSBC and BBVA-Banco Francés could be charged with "misappropriation of funds, fraud against the State, and illicit association."

This is the predator/prey approach to international finance capitalism. A game with people's lives.

Some quotes from Icelanders rejecting the imposition of private debt on the public:
Óskar Freyr Hinriksson, Reykjavik

We said a big "No" in this referendum. My family's livelihood comes from selling seafood to the UK and some of my best friends are there. Unfortunately politicians on both sides have taken the Icesave matter out of context, as the over-inflated Landsbanki bank should have been bankrupted from day one of the crash. Neither Icelanders nor the UK public should pay for the Icesave crash, but each state has a tendency to move private debt over to the public and let it pay for decades. Iceland is facing now what the UK, EU and US are facing very soon.
Ivar Palsson, Reykjavik

I voted "No". This referendum was not about rejecting a deal, as a new one is being negotiated as we speak. This vote was about ordinary citizens in a democracy saying "we will not accept socialised losses for the masses". The outcome is a token of the people's unhappiness with a flawed system.
Jon Audunarson, Reykjavik

I voted "No" because I just can't see the logic in a taxpayer like myself bailing out a private bank that runs on profit. It makes as little sense as me bailing out a jewellery store that is going broke. The bottom line is that it has nothing to do with me so therefore I should not be forced to pay for their mistakes.
Saevar Gudbjornsson, Reykjavik

Why does it have to be Either/Or?

So the coordinated response from those opposed to Israel Apartheid Week included pamphlets and posters focusing on the evils of the Muslim world.
A spokesman for one ICC member organization questioned the usefulness of direct efforts to counter Israel Apartheid Week's campaign.

"Putting out 10 reasons why Israel is not an apartheid state when the Israeli defense minister said in the last several weeks that Israel is in danger of becoming an apartheid regime may not be successful," said Noam Shelef, strategic communications director of Americans for Peace Now and its liaison with the ICC. Shelef was referring to a February 2 speech in which Ehud Barak said that Israel "will be an apartheid state" if no peace deal is reached and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza do not gain citizenship rights in their own state.

"I think we need to have a real discussion about what the policies are that are problematic - that put Israel in danger of becoming an apartheid state," Shelef said.

But StandWithUs, another ICC member, took a different stand, in favor of confronting the Apartheid Week advocates directly and going on the offensive. A booklet it produced to help pro-Israel activists respond to Israel Apartheid Week bore an image on its cover of Neda Soltani, the Iranian woman whose videotaped death at a Tehran election protest last June was seen worldwide. The booklet argues that the term "apartheid" should be applied not to Israel, but rather to Muslim societies in the Middle East, based on what it describes as gender inequality, political repression and discrimination against gay men and non-Muslims in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states.

"Unfortunately, the [Palestinian Authority] still uses many of the apartheid practices described in this booklet on their own people," the booklet states.

"I personally don't think that's helpful at all," said Yahel Matalon, a student at Barnard College and a leader of a J Street-affiliated student group at Columbia University called Just Peace, of the StandWithUs document. Referring to the abuses by Arab states described in the booklet, Matalon said: "Okay, so that's horrible, but that doesn't excuse the treatment of Palestinians in Israel today. If what we're talking about is peace in Israel, it doesn't matter what Saudi Arabia is doing."
Exactly. I have no problem whatsoever with shining a light on persecution of women in Saudi Arabia, the plight of gays under the murderous regime in Iran, the Nazi ideology of Syria.... I don't think too many people argue that these are all bad things and that there are some very unpleasent regimes in the region.

But I can walk and chew gum at the same time. I can decry human rights abuses from multiple countries at the same time. I can particularly hold to account a nation that trumpets that it is a democracy, indeed insists it is the only bastion of democracy and freedom in its entire region.

That's the price of claiming something like that; Insisting that your nation is one of higher standards means you get held to higher standards.

This debate is already over. When Ehud Barak forthrightly used the word Apartheid and said firmly it was Israel's future without accommodation with the Palestinians all the fierce accusations of antisemitism against anyone else using the word just become silly. The objection against the Israel Apartheid comparison isn't about antisemitism and never actually was. Its about how effective the campus Anti-Apartheid movement of the 80's was in forcing South Africa to change.

There were lots of people calling South Africa the only democracy in Africa, a bastion of civil rights and a bulwark against Communism... and now lots of people - including some of the same people are calling Israel the only democracy in the Middle East, a bastion of civil rights and a bulwark against Islamism.

But international protests, divestment and worldwide shunning made Apartheid untenable and it ended. Despite efforts to demonize the movement, despite conservative Apartheid supporters in Canada the US and Britain, in South Africa the organized, institutionalized repression of non-whites ended and a man who had spent decades in South African prisons accused of terrorism became President.

The effort to suppress the debate, to delegitimize criticism of Israel, potentially even outlaw it is a Quixotic one, but the mere attempt shames and discredits those who try.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The man who broke into Auschwitz

It's a tale of remarkable, arguably almost insane courage. British WWII vet Dennis Avey relates the story now at age 91 of how he broke out of his POW camp and switched places with a Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz, just to bear witness to the crimes of the Nazis.
Denis Avey, even at the age of 91, cuts a formidable figure. More than 6ft tall, with a severe short back and sides and a piercing glare, he combines the pan-ache of Errol Flynn with the dignity of age. This is the former Desert Rat, who, in 1944, broke into — yes, into — Auschwitz, and he looks exactly as I expected. He removes his monocle for the camera, and one of his pupils slips sideways before realigning. It is a glass eye. I ask him about it. He tells me that in 1944, he cursed an SS officer who was beating a Jew in the camp. He received a blow with a pistol butt and his eye was knocked in.
Avey shaved his head and blackened his face. At the allocated time, he and the Dutch Jew sneaked into a disused shed. There they swapped uniforms and exchanged places. Avey affected a slouch and a cough, so that his English accent would be disguised should he be required to speak.
“I joined the Stripeys and marched into Monowitz, a predominantly Jewish camp. As we passed beneath the Arbeit Macht Frei [work makes you free] sign, everyone stood up straight and tried to look as healthy as they could. There was an SS officer there, weeding out the weaklings for the gas. Overhead was a gallows, which had a corpse hanging from it, as a deterrent. An orchestra was playing Wagner to accompany our march. It was chilling.”
They were herded through the camp, carrying the bodies of those who had died that day. “I saw the Frauenhaus — the Germans’ brothel of Jewish girls — and the infirmary, which sent its patients to the gas after two weeks. I committed everything to memory. We were lined up in the Appellplatz for a roll call, which lasted almost two hours. Then we were given some rotten cabbage soup and went to sleep in lice-infested bunks, three to a bed.”
The night was even worse than the daytime. “As it grew dark, the place was filled with howls and shrieks. Many people had lost their minds. It was a living hell. Everyone was clutching their wooden bowls under their heads, to stop them getting stolen.” Lobethall had bribed Avey’s bedfellows with cigarettes. “They gave me all the details,” he says, “the names of the SS, the gas chambers, the crematoria, everything. After that, they fell asleep. But I lay awake all night.”
In the morning, Avey joined other prisoners for a roll call, followed by “breakfast” — a husk of black bread with a scrape of fetid margarine. “It wasn’t enough to sustain life. Everything was designed to make you waste away.” They were formed into groups and marched out of the camp, again to the accompaniment of an orchestra.
“When we passed the shed again, I slipped in to meet the Dutch Jew,” he says. “That was hair raising. Although I trusted him, I couldn’t be sure that he’d turn up. And if an SS officer had looked in the wrong direction at the wrong time, that would have been it.”
The changeover went smoothly, and Avey returned to the PoW camp. “The Dutch Jew perished, but I’m certain that this short reprieve prolonged his life by several weeks,” he says. “Whether that was a good thing, I don’t know.”

Monday, March 01, 2010

Is Ehud Barak an Antisemite?

"As long as in this territory west of the Jordan river there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic," Barak said. "If this bloc of millions of ­Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state."
Don't tell Iggy:
'Let us be clear: criticism of Israeli government policy is legitimate. Wholesale condemnation of the State of Israel and the Jewish people is not legitimate. Not now, not ever.' - Michael Ignatieff
Of course this isn't the only time Ignatieff has addressed the Apartheid comparison:

"When I looked down at the West Bank, at the settlements like Crusader forts occupying the high ground, at the Israeli security cordon along the Jordan river closing off the Palestinian lands from Jordan, I knew I was not looking down at a state or the beginnings of one, but at a Bantustan, one of those pseudo-states created in the dying years of apartheid to keep the African population under control."
- Michael Ignatieff, The Guardian, April 19, 2002.

Will Ignatieff accuse former Israeli Prime Minister and current Defense Minister Ehud Barak of antisemitism? Will Stephen Harper demand Israel lose any government funding from Canada as a result of Barak's statements?

Drink my Kool-aid or else!

Liberal blogger Eugene Forsey appears to have taken to hunching over his keyboard at two in the morning and pouring out vitriolic, border-line demented anti-NDP rants.

If you challenge his idiosyncratic interpretation of the facts or time lines, he proudly blocks your comments unless you agree with him.

His hobby horse, like most Liberals these days, is obsessing over the past. Some Lib bloggers, five years on, are still incensed with the self inflicted fall of the Paul Martin government. As Eugene still has one of those insipid 'Thanks Jack' sidebars, I guess he's one of them.

At the moment though he's fixated on three years ago and the bizarre contention that it's the NDP's fault we're still in Afghanistan. Point out that it was the Liberals who voted against an NDP motion calling for immediate beginning of the withdrawal process and subsequently voted to extend a mission they theoretically disagree with for two more years of bloodshed, and then later voted again to extend it another four years... and he will tell you that any further comments that disagree with him will be blocked.

Feel free to respond here Eugene, see I actually have confidence in the facts and my opinions so I don't need to ban people for disagreeing with me.


My infallible psychic abilities tell me that Sidney Crosby won't be paying for his own drinks for the forseeable future. You heard it here first.

Marijuana scare of the week

The latest terrifying headlines: Marijuana use can cause psychosis! is another example of misunderstanding data - either deliberately or though ignorance.

People with incipient and ongoing mental illnesses are more likely to self medicate, with whatever comes to hand. So they drink more as a group, take more drugs in general including pot. And then they have the episodes of severe mental difficulty they were trying, however ineffectively, to control through self medication.

To draw from this that the higher usage of pot, along with the higher consumption of other intoxicants found in the histories of people with mental illness, was the cause of that illness is a logical and medical fallacy.

And probably a deliberate one.

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