Thursday, October 30, 2008

Taking a break

It's not easy coming up with one or more posts every single day ... and even I need to take a break. So unless something calamitous happens between now and Tuesday, I'm going to take a breather. Tuesday morning, I'll make my prediction about where I think the electoral college and the US Congressionals will wind up -- then we'll see how it measures up against the actual results.

Standing up for Margaret Wente

The other day, Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente wrote a piece about some of what she calls the "mythology" about Aboriginal Canadians. She called Dick Pound's comments about the First Nations whom he called "savages", "stupid," then went on to try to debunk some of the commonly accepted wisdom about our First Nations in part by relying on an upcoming book by Frances Widdowson and Albert Howard slamming current policy towards and about the First Nations. (I'll let you read Wente's column and decide for yourself.)

I don't necessarily agree with much of what she said, in particular about there being no link between the founding documents of the Iroquois Confederacy and the Declaration of Independence (although the latter does use the now non-P.C. term "savages" to refer to North American Indians). But is Wente's column racist as some are claiming? After reading it, I conclude it is not. It is wrong in a number of key respects but Wente is entitled to vent.

No doubt this is going to result in yet another investigation by a provincial or federal human rights tribunal (where due process rights go out the window), at great expense to Wente and her employer. That's not the place to have such a discussion. It's in the marketplace of ideas. Free speech is not the exclusive province of one side or of the other.

If the opinions of Ezra Levant, Kathy Shaidle or Margaret Wente, are not safe -- then can progressive claim to be safe as well?

Remember that when Oprah Winfrey was sued by Texas farmers under the "veggie libel law" in that state (although the issue was about ground beef) even Jerry Springer -- who Winfrey likely despises more than any other talk show host --- openly stood up for her; knowing his bottom scraping show was in danger as well if she lost. The general principles of free speech in America should also apply here, in my opinion. If someone's opinion is wrong it should be contested by other people -- in print, on television, in new media like the Internet. Not before human rights tribunals as seems to be so à propos nowadays.

The only exceptions I can think of to free speech in general are libel and child pornography. Beyond that I generally take an open minded approach. Determining whether one is promoting hate is a matter of criminal law, not quasi-judicial tribunals. In the absence of actual proof, Wente deserves better than to be called a "hate-monger" simply because she asks people to consider whether we need to dispense with conventional wisdom and find solutions that actually help rather than hinder Aboriginal people.

As for Dick Pound: As a tax lawyer, indeed one of the leading experts on both the Canada and US Tax Codes, he should know better than to use such a despicable term and I hope the Barreau du Québec gives him a stern warning.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Khawaja convicted, but no terror plot proven

When the Toronto Eighteen was captured just over two years ago, it was seen as a huge coup for the Harper Conservatives although the investigation actually began well before under the Liberals. Since then, things have been falling off the wheels of that case with at least seven of the alleged conspirators having charges against them dropped or stayed.

Today, in an unrelated case dating two years earlier in 2004, an Ottawa man named Mohmammad Momin Khawaja was convicted on seven violations of Canada's anti-terror laws. It was the first test of the zero tolerance statute passed after 9/11.

But in a huge loss for the Crown, the judge ruled that while Khawaja was aware of the activities of the group he was involved with, he did not know the exact use of the device called the "Hi-Fi Digimonster." Since no specific plot link could be determined, or even if it was meant for terrorism, Khawaja qualifies for a less stringent sentence -- which is still a maximum of life but with far less time for parole; and given he's already served four in custody he just might get time served.

Whatever sentence Khawaja gets from a Canadian court is well deserved. But the fact no conspiracy could be proven demonstrates that the system is not serious about actually making the connection to genuine, real terror plots. They had better do so, before it is too late.

That principle applies no matter which party is in power.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

James Dobson's fearmongering, seven days out

In a last ditch effort to GOTV and stop Barack Obama from winning next week, the unreconstructed James Dobson has issued a "Letter from 2012" predicting dire consequences for the US and the world if the election goes as expected. You have to love this -- it's from the Focus on the Family's own website (PDF format).

Supreme Court:
  • Justice Anthony Kennedy, tired of the infighting at SCOTUS, retires; Obama hires überliberal replacement. Justice Antonin Scalia, an arch conservative but also a First Amendment champion, also resigns for "health reasons" allowing Obama to make the liberal majority 6-3. The Supreme Court is in the hands of the left for the next 30 years making any GOP policy reforms impossible.
  • Boy and Girl Scouts of America votes to disband after SCOTUS legalizes gay marriage, and forces it to accept gay and lesbian scoutmasters.
  • Compulsory sex education from grade one (remember, socons oppose any kind of sex education right through to grade twelve).
  • Catholic and evangelical Protestant adoption agencies shut down rather than comply with SCOTUS rulings.
  • Churches shut down because they aren't allowed to turn away gay and lesbian couples who may want to get married.
  • "Don't ask, don't tell" repealed, career chaplains resign in protest.


  • No more before and after school prayer meetings allowed.
  • Churches no longer allowed to rent schools for meetings, even on Sundays. (Ditto for public parks and libraries).
  • SCOTUS strikes "under God" from Pledge of Allegiance.
  • Home schooling severely restricted.


  • Hyde Amendment repealed.
  • Nurses fired for refusing to participate in abortions.
  • Doctors who refuse to perform abortions lose drivers' licenses.
  • All forms of pornography legalized, freely sold at supermarket display racks.


  • Supremes reverse Heller decision, gun ownership now illegal. Inner city violence explodes as a result.


  • Obama keeps promise to withdraw from Iraq; Al Qaeda promptly takes over country and imposed Taliban-like rule.
  • At least two terrorist attacks on US home soil; Obama responds by increasing foreign aid to terrorist breeding grounds.
  • Europe: Russia takes over the Ukraine, the Baltic States, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. Obama does nothing like a good old fashioned appeaser.
  • Latin America: Obama increases ties to Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba.
  • Israel: Iran nukes Tel Aviv, Israel gives up large amounts of territory to Palestinians. Obama only calls for UN to condemn nuclear attack.

And on it goes.

What idiocy. What ignorance. What outright prejudice on the part of James Dobson.

If he thinks this is standing up for Christianity, it only serves to make us Christians look bad. Christianity is a religion of love, this promotes the ongoing Bush-Cheney-Rove agenda of hate and exclusionism and American exceptionalism.

A lot of people seriously believe Obama is weak (and in some areas he admittedly is), but is he really that weak overall? Or will he rise to the challenge of an increasingly dangerous world? I think by first withdrawing from Iraq, the US will be in a better position to defend itself against terrorist attack because an extra 140,000 troops would be on the homefront and not overseas. The money being spent on infrastructure in Iraq would instead be spent in the US, generating jobs and increasing revenues from income taxes paid to Washington, not Baghdad. That too will make America more secure.

Many in Europe still know what war's like. People in the EU will not stand for being invaded -- they'll crush Russia. France and the UK have nuclear weapons and the various military units across NATO can face off against the Russians any day. If the Kremlin thinks they can destroy the Common Market, Schengen's open borders and the overall greatest success in democracy and cooperation in the world's history, they are sadly misguided. America and the EU may be competitors economically but they will stick together if they're bullied by a common enemy -- after all they believe in democracy and Russia does not.

No doctor is going to be forced to perform an abortion. No priest or minister is going to be required to perform a gay or lesbian marriage. As for the Hyde Amendment being repealed -- a 7:2 liberal Supreme Court upheld it in 1978 and there's not a single reason to believe SCOTUS will change its mind on it even if Obama gets back to a 6:3 liberal majority.

Even if the "fairness doctrine" is reinstated, broadcasters (most of which are conservative, not liberal as the right claims) are not going to give equal time to their opponents overnight. They don't want to lose advertising revenue from the hands that feed them. Besides, many of us progressives have migrated to the Internet for our news -- the truthful news -- anyway.

As for the nightmare health care scenario that FOTF enumerates, it's bull. Obama's plan is more of a pay or play system like that in Hawaii or Massachusetts -- nowhere near Medicare in Canada or the NHS in the UK. If people want gold-plated health care they'll still be able to get it; if they want a basic policy they'll be able to afford it.

I never thought I'd live to see the day Karl Rove actually looked good. James Dobson has done precisely that. We truly are living in the last days!

More of this crap is going to come the next seven days. We progressives need to fight it until the last polls close -- tooth, nail and claw.

UPDATE (7:06 pm EDT, 2306 GMT): An earlier version of this post said that David Sweet who represents the ADFW portion of Hamilton in Parliament, and was re-elected last week, was a member of Focus on the Family. He was in fact the Canadian director of Promise Keepers, that bag of nutbags who believes a woman should follow a man in all circumstances. But that group and FOTF are ideological cousins -- and totally against my ideals as to what women in Christianity should be about.

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Even worse for McCain in Arizona?

Thirty two states have advance polls for the election a week today. This morning on NBC's Today, Chuck Todd told Meredith Vieira that in North Carolina, one of the "battlegrounds" this time out, 50% of the total turnout in 2004 have already voted. This figure does not include newly registered voters which the Democrats lead in by huge numbers. Todd also says that Colorado and Virginia are no longer battlegrounds -- based on the early returns it's Advantage Obama by a longshot.

The rule of thumb is when there's a large number of absentee ballot requests of people in-state or a large number of people vote at advance polls, it's trouble for the incumbent party. The turnout in Dallas-Fort Worth for early polls is approaching 1 in 5; and while McCain will probably still win Texas my read is that Obama will at least sweep the northern part of the state. When you get it up to 1 in 2 as you are in other Confederate states, then it's a sign people don't just want change but a revolution.

Yesterday I mentioned McCain's lead in Arizona is down to five (by Rasmussen's count). This morning, another poll has the lead down to 2. Admittedly, Carol and Pete Zimmerman are Democratic hacks, and a number that close may be distorted due to Obama's huge lead in Pima County which includes Tucson and the Tohono O'odham and San Xavier reservations, the latter is actually an exclave of the former. (Source: Arizona Daily Star of Tucson; article also provides a county breakdown of the vote which shows where each candidate has strength.)

This is one state where the final result could actually be based on turnout from the states' First Nations. Just as one example: The Tohono people, about 25,000, are not very happy about the border fence which cuts across their traditional land which crosses the international boundary -- on the other hand, as one of country's first lines of defence they have to deal with drug and human smugglers and the tribe is not getting adequate compensation from the federal government to do the job. Also, unlike Aboriginals in Canada along the northern border who have dual Canada-US status, there is no US citizenship for Tohonos living in Mexico or vice versa and attempts to redress this keep getting defeated in Congress.

Aboriginals in America are just as diverse as non-natives. Like the rest of their fellow citizens some are Democrats, some are Republicans and some independents. The fact their concerns have not been addressed by the Exempt Media is shameful and racist, in my humble opinion.

I'm surprised the networks haven't picked up on the fact Arizona is now a battleground. They might get egg in their fact a week today, too.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Ted Stevens: Guilty X 8

The US Democrats now have even greater hope of achieving the magic number of 60 in the Senate next week. Ted Stevens, the "Alaskan of the 20th Century" and a man with an ego so big he named the Anchorage Airport after himself -- has been convicted on all eight counts of filing false financial statements.

His opponent, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, must be celebrating but I wouldn't be so fast to do so. Americans have voted for dead people after all, as well as crooked ones.

If Dubya even dares to offer him a pardon or clemency, as he did for Scooter Libby, then that act alone will outclass anything Warren G. Harding did with Teapot Dome -- ironically, also about oil on public lands -- or even Tricky Dick Nixon.

In the end, Stevens had it coming to him, especially when he blamed the wife. It must take incredible hubris to name an airport after oneself, just as Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) did for himself on an expressway after a major highway in the state -- US19 -- was twinned.

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"Am I truly more pathetic than Charles Nelson Reilly?"

That was a classic line from a 1991 episode of "Married with Children" uttered by no less than Jerry "The Beaver" Mathers. Al Gore must have wondered that in 2000 when he lost his home state of Tennessee by a wide margin -- had he won there, the Florida scandal would have been moot.

Now, horror of horrors, Barack Obama is closing the gap in John McCain's home state of Arizona. The right-wing Rasmussen poll has McCain leading 51-46, ±4.5%; just five points and within the margin of error. Just four weeks ago, the last time Raz measured the state, McCain was ahead 59-38, or 21 points. Narrowing the lead by 16 is truly remarkable especially against the incumbent party's candidate. At that rate, next Tuesday could be a horserace in that state.

I highly doubt McCain would lose his turf; but even if he wins Arizona by a narrow margin he may have to see it as a vote of non-confidence and he'd have to wonder if he has a future in the Senate.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Anchorage, Fort Worth papers back Obama

Jesus said that a prophet is never welcome in his -- or her -- hometown (or for that matter, territory). So it should come as no surprise that the largest newspaper in Alaska, the Anchorage Daily News, has endorsed Barack Obama. While they concede Sarah Palin is an extremely gifted woman and more than capable of running the democratic version of Saudi Arabia, she is nowhere near able to handle the current financial crisis, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and global warming. Not yet, anyway.

Also making a surprise endorsement today -- the Fort Worth Star-Telegram joins a growing chorus of conservative papers that have gone from red to blue -- and backed Obama. They also have some choice words for Palin too. The FWST also notes that between advance polls and postal ballots, the turnout in Tarrant County (which includes FW) is already 14.5%; if those trends are true statewide there will be a record turnout in Texas. Maybe, just maybe, Obama can pull off an upset win in this state or make it uncomfortably close for McCain. That would really change the political map and drive the "pundits" crazy!

Regardless of what happens next Tuesday, the fact we have people from two American exclaves (Alaska and Hawai'i) running top of ticket shows the maturity of the last two states over 49 years of statehood. On the other hand, even the ethically challenged Ted Stevens would have been a better choice to join McCain -- indictment notwithstanding -- than Palin. That's saying something. Surely there are more experienced women and more thoughtfully sober women in Alaska than Palin also -- women inherently more vettable.

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Obama's socon problem, part 2

Following up on my last post about the conundrum Democrats may face in the next session of Congress over the issue of gay rights, comes this story in the NYT today about the fact that to increase their majority the DNC is running a number of pro-life Democrats to peel away seats from the GOP who have traditionally claimed a monopoly on the issue of abortion. Twelve pro-life Dems in fact have put their names forward (in districts where there were primaries) or have been recruited (where the Dems usually never even bothered before, allowing the GOP candidate to be acclaimed).

This isn't the first time they've tried this. Part of the reason for the Dems' huge success in 2006 was their willingness to break with traditional ideology and recruit pro-lifers. Six out of eight won in the House; and an even bigger victory came when Robert Casey Jr won an upset over Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania. They all schlepped their way to wins because of a very unpopular war in Iraq and the botched response to Katrina -- and really didn't need party funds to get their victories. This time, the paper says, the party is spending huge sums of money in districts once thought untouchable, just to be sure.

And according to polls, they have a strong chance of winning this round as well; they may even run the board. Democrats for Life, which has put forward the 95-10 agenda (a 95% reduction in abortions over 10 years, through simple but common-sense policies such as making the adoption tax credit permanent and eliminating pregnancy as a pre-existing health condition in insurance policies), is ebullient. They feel the national party HQ is finally respecting them. I don't think it's that so much. Rather I think Howard Dean, in pursuing his 50-state strategy, has been backed into a corner by the party's right wing and forced to run an election from the centre (not the far -left as the GOP claims about their opponents).

The strategy: Focus less on social issues, and force the Republicans to fight at the kitchen table, particularly the economy. It's somewhat of a stealth approach thought and it makes me a bit uneasy, even if I am pro-life. Even with a Democratic majority in the Senate, the fact is a majority of Senators can now be classified as "pro-life" which puts another wrench in Barack Obama's options (if he wins)-- this time for Supreme Court and appellate court appointments. Pretty much certainly, most if not all of Obama's choices would get the stamp of approval and be confirmed (ensuring Roe v Wade stays the law for some time to come)

On the other hand, if John McCain pulls off an upset nine days hence, he'll have the excuse he needs to cave into the socons on most social issues since may of them, as on gay marriage, are Democrats. And the next thing we'll know it won't be 95-10 -- with the kinds of social policies needed to ensure no children are unwanted -- but rather 100-0 and an even more crowded foster care system.

As I said yesterday, you can't win elections in the US unless you get at least some social conservatives onside.

But you may have to sacrifice some of your principles to do that -- and the Obama that we see right now and may very well take the oath of office on January 20 will be a completely different guy on the 21st; given the realities in Congress and its composition. He has a good record of reaching out to pro-lifers in Illinois (a law providing for compulsory universal health care for minors in the state, which I believe he cosponsored or at least assented to, is a good example) but the mid-West and the South are two completely different places; in fact they're two completely different countries within a Nation.

The Senator from Illinois, in the last days of the election, owes it to both the pro-life and pro-choice camps in America how he plans to balance opposing interests to achieve what is the desired goal by both -- a drastic reduction in the number of voluntarily terminated pregnancies. With all due respect to him, all we hear right now is fuzzy logic.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Obama's socon problem

Yes, and it's not just Barack. The Democratic Party in general has a problem with socons. They need a big chunk of them to win elections and they want to be heard.

If progressives think the New Jerusalem is just going to come about if Barack Obama wins next Tuesday (and the Democrats increase their majority in Congress), they may be in for a shock. For among the people who will be voting for the Senator from Illinois are people who are anything but progressive. They are going to be voting for a change in atmosphere, not necessarily utopia. They will be particularly resistant on a number of policies and will let the White House and Congress know about it.

Especially on social issues ... and one of the unlikely battlegrounds for this will be California. It's not quite as monolithic liberal as some would have us believe. Large parts of the state are very conservative, in fact the OC is Ground Zero for some of the more outrageous televangelists including Benny Hinn, Hal Lindsey and Paul Crouch (and their legions of deceived followers) and they are only going to get louder with an Obama win.

And that's not the only reason.

Among the down ticket ballot items on Nov 4 in California is "Proposition 8" which would ban gay marriage in the state and define marriage as the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others.

It's a given that Obama will win the Golden State, but one thing we need to watch for on US election day is how many people in California who vote for Obama also vote yes on the proposition, even in socially liberal areas like San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. California has voted Democrat consistently for two decades and there's no reason that will change. But among Democrats and independents in California as in every other state, are in fact a large block of social conservatives who are voting Obama for economic reasons and not religious or social ones.

It's worth remembering that even though the Dems took the Senate back in 2006 when they won a narrow victory in Virginia, 1/3 of those who voted for Jim Webb also voted against gay marriage. One out of three. One can't dismiss all of them as bigots, otherwise they would have voted for George "Macaca" Allen en masse. But that margin was enough to ensure the state constitutional amendment easily passed.

So I'd keep an eye on this one next Tuesday. In particular, watch how the vote breaks down among ethnic and racial groups. The once solid "ethnic vote" for the Democrats isn't that solid anymore. It will likely cohere for the top of ticket (Obama-McCain) but fracture drastically on Prop 8.

If as expected Obama wins, and this and other similar initiatives across the US passes, the Senator from Illinois may be stymied somewhat from having an exclusively progressive administration and policies. He will almost certainly have to reach out to the block of socons to which he owed his victory, and many of the changes that need to be make in law -- including equal adoption and benefits rights for gay and lesbian couples -- may have to be delayed until sometime in a second Obama term.

Despite my personal opposition to gay marriage, I believe denying or delaying such rights would be as anti-progressive as it gets and would hope Obama has the guts to stand up to his more conservative supporters -- unlike John McCain who chickened out and chose a so-con rather than a moderate to round out his ticket. To be frank, I don't think even someone like "Yes We Can" Obama would have the courage to do that with a filibuster-proof Senate (as some in his own party share those regressive views, including Senate leader Harry Reid).

UPDATE (Sunday 8:08 am EDT, 1208 GMT): Thanks for voting this one up, fellow ProgBlogs -- but no comments? Surely you have a counterargument on this one!

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End US veto at IMF and World Bank

In the coming weeks, world leaders will be meeting in Washington to discuss how to reform the world's financial system and to try to prevent the recession from becoming an all out depression. One has to wonder if among the topics of discussion is how to reform the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (the World Bank). If not it should be.

While most developed countries and some developing countries have shares in the banks, the United States effectively holds sole veto power. They managed to do this years ago because the rules require an 85% supermajority to change the rules; and the US has 16% of the voting rights. So, if every other country on the planet voted against the US, Washington would still get its way.

Having five countries with a veto in the Security Council is bad enough -- it's one of the reasons things never get done at Turtle Bay and why reforming the UN has proven impossible. When only one country calls the shots, it's an even greater recipe for stagnation. Consider the fact that every single World Bank president has been an American -- always. Every single IMF president has been a citizen of the EU -- always. Both are nominated by the US President (the latter in consultation with the 27 EU heads of government, presumably); and because of its veto (and its nuclear weapons arsenal) the other countries have no choice but to fall in line.

Countries that may actually have smarter individuals who know what they are doing -- Canada, Australia, Japan, India, Pakistan -- need not apply.

Given that much of the world's crisis has been caused by irresponsible behaviour by both Washington and Brussels, I submit that for the foreseeable future -- say, the next twenty years or so -- no American and no EU citizen be permitted to even apply for the jobs. The US must also be forced to give up its veto and no country should be allowed to have more than a 10% voting stake. (Absolute equality is somewhat unworkable given the wide disparity in the sizes of various countries' banking systems). The qualified majority needs to be shaved as well, from say 85% to 67%. This is 2008 and not the 1940s. And even with the slide of the Euro as of late the Eurozone is still more powerful than the US economically; and the old rules don't consider the Asia Pacific region or the growing strength of Latin America -- let alone Africa.

Any vestiges of Bretton Woods need to be abolished all together; and the IMF and WB either have to be reformed or abolished all together and replaced with a system that helps countries that want to lift themselves, not punishes them for trying.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Fox News exec: It's over

Yesterday, that ever so reliable news source Matt Drudge put a story on his website screaming that a John McCain campaign worker had been attacked in Pittsburgh. Her name is Ashley Todd, she's from College Station, Texas; and had flown in to the Keystone State to get out votes in the battleground of Pennsylvania. Apparently, someone had subdued her at an ATM and carved a "B" into her cheek -- in reverse. And yes, she's white; and her attacker was "black."

Fortunately, some of the more established bloggers including Michelle Malkin on the right (a Barack Obama hater if there ever was one) and Wonkette on the left (very friendly but for rather "subtle" reasons, for those familiar with Wonkette) became more than a bit suspicious. Finally this afternoon, Todd admitted she made the whole story up and had carved the B on her face herself. (Source: AP)

John Moody, EVP at Fox News, said last night this was a watershed event. If Todd's claims were true, it could swing the undecided votes McCain's way and he could still pull off a narrow win (given such undecideds would conclude the Obama Army was nothing but a gang of thugs). If it was false, then McCain had lost whatever remaining credibility he had left because it would show that the McCain Militia had gotten so desperate they would concoct a truly wicked lie. That even an exec at Fox News -- the network that colluded to ensure Dubya stole the election in 2000 -- had called Todd's bluff show perhaps not so much the network has finally matured from a right-wing comedy channel to a legitimate news organization (they're still far from the latter); but rather a recognition on their part "the times they are a-changing" and even they are powerless to stop it. Moody's right (no pun intended). People are sick and tired of eight years of dirty tricks and they don't want sixteen more, or even four more.

Well we know the truth now. Don't know if this really is Obama's breakout moment, but to think it happened in Pittsburgh, one of the birthplaces of the American labour movement and a lot of US history along with it -- and by a representative of a candidate so thoroughly against organized labour made a fool of herself and Team Red.

There's no proof that McCain or Sarah Palin would have authorized this kind of "race bating" but this stunt will almost certainly backfire; it will make many of their other most loyal supporters look back to independents and they'll now rush out to support Obama-Biden.

And to think that it happened at Three Rivers ...

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

NYT endorses Obama

This happened in the last couple of hours. The Senator from Illinois becomes the first candidate for President in decades to complete the Grand Slam -- all four "papers of record" in America endorsing the same person.

Perhaps not too surprising on the Times' part, but the paper was especially concerned about McCain's regressing into neo-con mode after decades of claiming to be a maverick while also slamming his ill-advised pick of Sarah Palin as running mate (a increasingly common theme with both progressive and right-wing papers who are pulling for Obama or have refused to endorse either top of ticket candidate).

NYT endorsement editorial is here.

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Holy S%@#! Barry Goldwater's granddaughter backs Obama

Some time back, I just shook my head in disbelief when Richard Nixon's daughter Julie came out and contributed the maximum donation to Barack Obama's campaign. Now it gets even more stranger: CC Goldwater, the granddaughter of Barry (the first arch-conservative GOP candidate for President, back in 1964), says she is not supporting her fellow Arizonian John McCain -- rather she's behind Obama. From her op-ed in HuffPo:

We believe strongly in what our grandfather stood for: honesty, integrity, and personal freedom, free from political maneuvering and fear tactics. I learned a lot about my grandfather while producing the documentary, Mr. Conservative Goldwater on Goldwater. Our generation of Goldwaters expects government to provide for constitutional protections. We reject the constant intrusion into our personal lives, along with other crucial policy issues of the McCain/Palin ticket.

My grandfather (Paka) would never suggest denying a woman's right to choose. My grandmother co-founded Planned Parenthood in Arizona in the 1930's, a cause my grandfather supported. I'm not sure about how he would feel about marriage rights based on same-sex orientation. I think he would feel that love and respect for ones privacy is what matters most and not the intolerance and poor judgment displayed by McCain over the years. Paka respected our civil liberties and passed on the message that that we should conduct our lives standing up for the basic freedoms we hold so dear.

If this many Republicans, and top name elephants at that, are abandoning their top of ticket candidates at such a rapid rate, then we truly are living in the end times.

Or not. I can only imagine what the phone calls between the Nixon sisters (Julie and Tricia, the latter who is supporting McCain) are like these days; or for that matter the Reagan brothers (Michael and Ronald Jr.).

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

More Obamentum

This is absolutely incredible. Barack Obama's lead over John McCain just keeps getting larger and larger. Based on a weighted average of the six major polls in the US --- Gallup, Rasmussen, ABC/WaPo, Hotline/Diageo, Research 2000 and Zogby -- Obama is ahead 51.3% to 43.1% or 8.2%. This is well ahead of the roughly 3.2% weighted margin of error.

Meanwhile 124 newspapers have now endorsed Mr Obama while only 46 have backed McCain. 27 have moved from the red column to the blue while only 4 have gone the other way.

Wonder if OBL is biding his time, waiting to release another videotape to prove he's still alive? At this point, it probably won't matter -- Americans won't get fooled again; and the huge lineups for advance polls (often three hours or more) indicate possibly a record turnout. I think people in the States are really pissed if they're willing to vote two weeks ahead of the actual date.

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Hamilton's LRT choice: Don't screw it up again!

27 years ago, the local council in Hamilton screwed the city royally when it rejected a rapid transit line that the Bill Davis goverment offered to build for free. The technology was then sold to the Lower Mainland of BC where it became the Skytrain and the rest is history.

This week, Hamilton's city council finally agreed to push ahead with its bid to have Metrolinx -- the regional transit authority for the GTA and Hamilton -- fund the costs of turning the present B-line east-west Hamilton express bus into a surface level LRT line; as well a later "A-line" running north-south from the airport down Upper James and James and onto the harbourfront.

There are two huge catches however.

First: There's still a debate about whether to have the line go down the Clairmount (missing key points such as St. Joseph's Hospital and the GO Station), or to build a tunnel through the Escarpnent to connect James and Upper James. At minimum, this could add $100 million to the project cost. I think it's worth the cost -- no point pissing off hospital employees and patients' guests who might actually want fast access to the campus.

Second: The city wants Metrolinx to cover the full costs of construction of the two lines (about $1.2 billion) while the city would later pick up the operating costs.

If this is the strategy Hamilton is hoping to work on, it just won't fly. On the first count, places such as Peel and York Regions are way ahead of Hamilton, with rights-of-way for rapid transit already set aside and ready to go (a Transitway-like line in Mississauga and Brampton; and bus only lanes down the medians of Highway 7 and Young Street in York). We can't even figure out if we should have a wrong-way concurrency for the B-line or have them split along where King and Main Streets run one-way.

On the second count capital construction for public transit has always been a three way proposition split between the federal, provincial and local governments. I'm sure the province would be more than happy to download public transit operations onto the cities 100% but they subsidize the services knowing that super high fares would get even more people into their cars and trucks.

Hamilton is much more cash-strapped than other cities right now but they need to be more pragmatic knowing the payoffs LRT provides in cities across North America and in the EU that have them. My message to the Marbleheads: Don't fuck it up again and put Hamilton into another 30 year downward spiral backing onto the present one.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Good fences make bad neighbours

Here's a story in tomorrow's NYT about how the US Border Patrol is about to reinforce a chain link fence in what is informally called "Friendship Park" and has allowed people on opposite sides of the border (between San Diego and Tijuana) to talk through the present fence. Now however, and just like the Communists did during the Cold War -- and egged on by the Lou Dobbs Army -- the government is building a second fence to put a stop to this, in effect creating a "no-man's land."

One can appreciate the need to stop smuggling of drugs as well as of humans. But how far does one go to achieve these goals? Furthermore, further afield where the border literally cuts through the middle of nowhere important nature migration pathways are being blocked off and the eco-system threatened.

How thoroughly unenlightened. Obviously, there are issues along the Canada-US border but for the most part the line is not impeded by such ridiculous encumbrances to allow nature to obey -- well, the call of nature and to permit normal good neighbour relations; although at official crossing points things are getting crazier and more bureaucratic.

And let's not forget western and central Europe most of which has abolished the borders between them altogether. It allows for open access with the odd random inspections, while at the same time creating and upholding unintended nature preserves along the lines where the former double fences existed. And twin cities which were once divided can now co-ordinate social and cultural activities as well as security arrangements meaning lower taxes and costs.

Which approach is better, for both the environment as well as just the policy of cordial relations? I'll let you decide. For me, good fences don't always make good neighbours -- they can actually ruin well-established familial and arms-length relationships. And there are smarter and more cost-effective ways of fighting illicit materials and illegal immigration than just building a wall. The situation along the southern border is not the same as, say, the separation wall between Israel and the West Bank (or more accurately well beyond the internationally accepted Green Line between the two).

Certainly, the wall won't solve the issue of what to do with the millions of illegal immigrants already in the US.

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Archbishop orders "visionary" to cease and desist

I only caught up to this story this morning although it is a few days old. The Roman Catholic archbishop of Baltimore, Maryland, has ordered a lay Catholic who has claimed to speak to the Virgin Mary to stop spreading any alleged "messages" from her. Gianna Talone Sullivan of Fairfield, Pennsylvania, has claimed to have spoken to Mary on a regular basis and disseminated her "prophecies" at least once a month. By contrast, a group in Emmitsburg, Maryland has accused Sullivan of running a cult within the church. Things came to a head a few months ago when Sullivan said that Mary said a "celestial body" was headed towards the earth and would wipe out 60 to 70 percent of the population.

This reminds me of something that's going on around this part of the world. At a local parish which is attached to a monastery there is a 24-hour chapel and for the last couple of years a local person has claimed to be seeing Mary in the chapel around the 25th of each month and posting the "message" disseminated on the front door. While I do go to that chapel every so often to meditate and just mull things over, I have to admit I roll my eyes if I see a "message" attached to the door to the chapel. I'm wondering why the local bishop here hasn't paid attention to this -- he ought to.

While I am a Roman Catholic, I have always been at the very least skeptical about all the purported apparitions of the Virgin Mary on and off for the last nearly 2000 beginning with an appearance to St. James the Great in the year 39 -- but especially the number of visions gaining in intensity over the last 160 or so, most notably beginning with her claimed appearance to Mélanie Calvet and Maximin Giraud in La Salette, France in 1846.

My skepticism lies in two basic biblical principles.

First, when Jesus was asked by the Pharisees to perform a sign to prove he was the Messiah, he said the only sign they would see would be the miracle of Jonah (Matthew 12:38-40). If Jesus declined to perform cosmic disturbances, how can one reasonably believe that the Virgin Mary would do such including the "spinning of the sun" in Fatima in 1917?

Second, St. Paul warned that Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) -- and by extension, dole out false prophecies. How can one discern if the "messages" are genuine? Put it another way: If people think what they're seeing is the Virgin Mary, they'll believe anything she says; what if the prophecies or sermons being offered are themselves dangerous?

Since everything that was revealed to us came to the Scriptures, the Church's position has been that a private revelation can only emphasize revealed revelation, it can never add to it. Furthermore while the Church may itself confirm the veracity of an appearance it has never required its members to actually accept the vision as a doctrine of faith. In the absence of a smoking gun per se I choose to remain skeptical but will not ridicule those who choose to believe in their veracity.

After decades of taking pilgrims' claims of apparitions at face value, it's good to see the Church is starting to clamp down and take such claims with more than an askance glance. For most of us Catholics, devotion to the Virgin Mary is important but it's not key. We are told, as other Christians, to worship God alone; and the reports of appearances by Mary sometimes lead people to worship the mother of Jesus -- a very heretical practice -- rather than merely venerating her.

I have on many occasions criticized the distortions of televangelists and will continue to do so. I will be equally critical of those who claim they know what the Virgin Mary said but probably don't. For myself, I choose to follow the Lord in His walk. I admit I trip a lot, but that's the path I follow.

I conclude by asking, why would Sullivan suddenly decide to change the post box of her foundation from Emmitsburg to Fairfield thus changing the diocesan jurisdiction for this matter from Baltimore to Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania? One can only conclude a desire to continue the charade. While I normally support local control for local matters, can it not be argued that this is a case where the national church or even the Holy See needs to put a stop to this nonsense once and for all?

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Dion resigns

Ideally, it would have been nice to see Stéphane Dion stay on as leader. Realistically, he didn't have much choice.

However, while he remains leader until the next leadership convention he needs to do three things.

First, update the fundraising techniques. Relying on the Laurier Club (the $1000 + per year donors) just doesn't cut it anymore. Obama in the States has shown winning campaigns are won by having a huge donor base of smaller donations, say $50 or $100 at a time. The grassroots need to be engaged, and the membership has to be pressed to donate. A 5% of members donation rate is simply unacceptable.

Second, the party needs a 308 district strategy. Every district, every poll, has to be fought for. Howard Dean tried to press the party on this two years ago about his successful "50-state" strategy in the US but obviously the brass didn't listen.

Third, if Harper wants to continue to play chicken and make every vote a confidence one, the Liberals have to step up to the plate and actually vote non-confidence and not just keep abstaining. I doubt Dion would want to make a late comeback like Trudeau did after he "retired" but necessity may have to be the mother of invention if things go from bad to worse with the economy.

Whatever leader does come out on top, needs to purge the divisions and make sure the party has a common vision. Whether that means a redesign of the Third Way or something completely different is not the point; what matters is there is a plan for victory and not just schleping through an election.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

More on the Powell endorsement

As promised, some more thoughts about Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama.

Many will say it's not too much of a surprise. Perhaps not.

Some will say that as with newspapers, a celebrity endorsement doesn't count for much. Again, perhaps not.

But Powell is no ordinary celebrity, no ordinary former public servant. He entered the Army not through West Point (the usual track for wanabee top soldiers) but through ROTC at NYC's City College -- with a C average in geology, no less -- and had to claw his way up to the top of the food chain, including dealing a very negative performance evaluation during the 1980s that could have ended his career. Later as a Washington insider he also proved his mettle and analytical skills.

While his infamous appearance before the Security Council just before the current Iraq War was a "blot" on his record -- his words -- there is no doubt that he remains a highly respected figure in America and the world by people of all colours.

So when a card-carrying Republican of his importance announces that he is backing a Democrat for President, people notice that. He's not a neo-conservative (the faction that has hijacked the party) but a classic liberal Republican, in the mode of Rep. Chris Shays or Sen. Olympia Snowe. While the Northeast Republicans are continuing to get more and more squeezed out, they still have a very important voice in the party -- because the party as a whole knows they simply can't win the White House without at least one or more of the ten north-eastern states; and they're hanging on to Ohio by a thread.

Therefore, Powell has reason to complain when he says that the GOP has become even narrower in its ideology and is no longer the "big tent" that Barbara Bush spoke of a decade and a half ago. He also understands his party needs to show strength in times of crisis. This isn't just by brandishing the sword but also by being in tune with the people's interests.

To think that it was the decision to put one person -- Sarah Palin -- at the top of the ticket along with John McCain was the catalyst for Powell's annoucement today is disturbing on its own; that a candidacy almost certain to fail will set back women for at least another decade. However, his frustration with the bigots in the party who still believe the lie that Obama is an Arab, a Muslim or both, must be trying for someone like Powell who was both a champion and a product of the civil rights movement. Prejudices die hard, especially in a nation too much influenced by hateful televangelists. As Powell pointed out -- even if Obama was a Muslim, it shouldn't matter in a multi-denominational society.

In making his decision, I believe simply that Gen. Powell was being true to himself while looking at the big picture. That's all anyone can do at the ballot box in the States on November 4th. Experience has shown this isn't always true, and even Powell made reference to the "Bradley effect" that has cost more than one black politician high office because racist subjects of telephone or exit polls simply lied to pollsters to trick them. One only hopes that this phenomenom is finally history.

Here's a thought, that I think most of the Sunday chat shows missed completely: I think Powell's main motivation was to reach out to absentee voters who need to get their ballots in the mail in the next few days to have them counted on November 4th, and who still have qualms about Obama. It turns out in the infamous 1982 California election that gave rise to the "Bradley effect," Tom Bradley did beat out George Deukmejian in polling day votes but the latter won the election after postal votes were counted. Pollsters may be missing the mail-ins which is why the GOTV for both walk-ins and postals is so aggresive from both sides this time out. Powell may be trying to bait undecided voters for Obama while they still can be caught.

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BREAKING: Colin Powell endorses Obama

More later ... but his comments this morning on NBC's Meet the Press indicates his frustration with a GOP that has moved even further to the right with the addition of Sarah Palin -- who he also said is absolutely unqualified to serve either as President or Vice-President. He was also angry with many within the McCain camp -- though not McCain himself -- who keep insinuating that Muslims can't be Americans. Powell cited a photo spread that ended with a grieving mother at Arlington Cemetery, with the Muslim moon and star on the headstone, to dispel that notion.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Free trade with the EU: It could be coming

Yesterday, Steve Harper and President Nicholas Sarkozy of France confirmed that Canada and the EU will enter trade talks aiming towards a free trade agreement or perhaps something more.

In general I am a free trader, in particular with other developed and democratic countries and so I would support any moves to give Canada access to markets other than the United States so we're not putting all our eggs in one basket, so to speak. There are likely going to be two major stumbling blocks. The first, which can be dealt with in relatively easy fashion, are common labour and safety standards and mobility of workers. Despite major differences there is room to come to some common ground in this area.

Since labour is a provincial responsibility here in Canada there will first have to be national standards here -- and that has been a stumbling block towards creating an economic union here. The provinces generally continue to defy Article 121 of the 1867 Constitution which anticipates free movement of goods, persons, services and capital. To cite just one example, it's shocking the EU can have common standards when it comes to the financial markets yet there remain 13 separate securities regulators in Canada -- and a stock dealer has to recertify if moving from one province to another; let alone a foreign national coming here to hang his or her shingle. European negotiators may well wonder -- if we can't get our act together, why should they drop their duties for us?

A similar issue will come up in terms of fisheries. While each country in the EU with access to the open seas has an exclusive economic zone, for trade purposes they're considered to be one area. They have enough problems allocating quotas for fishermen within the trade bloc, let alone figuring out how much outside countries can fish. Europeans haven't forgotten the turbot war back in 1995 and they'll exact a high price for access to their seas.

The second is going to be much more difficult, and that will be in terms of agriculture. On the one hand, there is Canada with its system of marketing boards and quotas with a guaranteed price. On the other is the Common Agricultural Policy which along with the Euro is one of the major pillars of the EU and a constant source of anger for developing nations as well as developed ones outside the bloc. Rather than quotas per se, they pay out amounts based on what is grown. This more or less guarantees an income for farmers but it also results in the most expensive subsidy regime in the world, even more distorting than the American "Payment in Kind" which pays farmers not to grow crops. Like other trade distorting régimes, commercial growing operations tend to benefit more than the family farmer even though the reverse is supposed to be true.

While CAP is being transitioned into more of a land stewartship system rather than paying out quotas for just about anything, it's still there. Farmers here criticize CAP as much as EU farmers hate our marketing boards. The idea behind both is to ensure lower prices for consumers but we know that's anything but the case -- and it hurts growers in third world countries who only want fair access and a fair price.

What will be the result? Who knows, but with America possibly becoming more belligerent in trade than they already are, we need other options. Personally, despite the EU's many problems, it's an admirable system because free trade has helped keep the peace between formerly warring countries and also ensured the continuation of democracy across most of Europe too. I'd rather trade with countries with a good human rights record than those with bad ones -- Chile and Mexico, for instance, both of which we do have trade agreements with but shouldn't have until they proved they had cleaned up their acts.

I don't think we'll adopt the Euro any time soon -- but having access to a market of greater importance to the world than the US can't hurt at all. It would send a message to Washington that we'll look out for number one if we have to.

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GOP papers' endorsements for Obama keep rolling in

It's often been joked that one has to be a card-carrying member of the GOP to also be a member of the Mormon Church and/or to reside in Utah. That's definitely not true, especially in the former case -- Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada is a Latter Day Saint. The Dems also have a small but still vibrant Democratic party wing. But Utah is at least 3/4 Mormon, and many outside the state as well as non-Mormons within it still accuse the state of being a Republican theocracy in everything but name. And the GOP has had a stranglehold hold on state politics since -- well, other than the mayoralty of Salt Lake City no one can ever remember a Democrat holding a significant statewise or local office.

So what a huge shock it must be -- to see the Salt Lake Tribune has endorsed Barack Obama?!

While they mostly support Obama on his professional and political merits, they said what tipped it over for them was John McCain's selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin -- perhaps the most naïve state-level figure to ever emerge on the national scene. Many more women are clued into the domestic and foreign political scenes than she, the paper noted -- and they also cited her questionable ethics in "Troopergate." This lack of judgment, said the paper, disqualifies McCain at a time when the country needs steady but prudent leadership the most. The paper made it clear McCain should have gone with Mitt Romney who has executive experience in a liberal state (Massachusetts). Precisely what many of us pundits have also been saying.

Keep in mind, Obama has virtually no chance of winning Utah. Polls in the state show him behind McCain by 36 percentage points. This is more of a moral endorsement than a practical one but Obama should run with it for what it's worth.

Also offering a surprising endorsement for Obama was the Denver Post. It wasn't unanimous as Chuck Plunkett made a point of writing a dissent (saying he would have joined if the Dems' candidate had been Hillary Clinton). However the majority of the board at the paper notes that while Obama leaves a lot to be desired, his community service gives him grass-roots experience; something lacking in Washington. They also say a major consideration for their endorsement is McCain's health care proposals which would make employee medical benefits taxable.

For the average person in Colorado that would raise income taxes by about $3000 per year at a time when a tax increase of that magnitude is the last thing people need. With America so heavily in debt (more than double per capita than here in Canada) and that does not include the unfunded liabilities in Social Security and unemployment benefits (unlike Canada which has surpluses in both) a tax increase is probably inevitable; but a "temporary refund adjustment" like that -- ugh! In a time of crisis, they conclude America needs a pragmatic approach and not an idealistic one and that's Obama.

Also offering Obama endorsements today are the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Kansas City Star (also with one dissent, E. Thomas McClanahan) and the Chicago Sun-Times -- generally all favourable to Democrats but very critical of their past top of ticket choices.

Again, newspaper endorsements don't necessarily influence voters. But if usually Republican or even pro-business Democratic papers are rallying behind "Barry" Obama then that must mean the papers know a revolution is coming and they want to prepare their readers for it. To be blunt, however, many of the papers who supported Bush four years ago must be having some remorse as well while the rest who supported John Kerry are basically saying, "We told you so."

There is a place for endorsements of course. But there's no need to rub it in -- especially in times like these.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

ChiTrib, LAT goes Obama

In its history, the Chicago Tribune has never endorsed a card-carrying Democrat for US President with one possible exception: They did endorse an independent upstart in 1872 named Horace Greeley who was running against the corrupt Ulysses Grant -- and who was later nominated by the donkey. They also backed Teddy Roosevelt when he ran as a Progressive in 1912. But after nine and a half decades of non-stop GOP endorsements it appears that this libertarian paper's patience with the elephant has finally been exhausted; and online today (in print tomorrow) it gave its thumbs up to Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, the Trib's sister newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, has formally endorsed a candidate for the first time since the Watergate era -- and the very pro-business paper too has chosen Obama.

On top of yesterday's endorsement by the Washington Post, that makes three out of the four papers of record in America. If as expected the New York Times also backs the Senator from Illinois, that will mark the first time in living memory that a candidate has completed the Grand Slam.

Some will say, it's just the liberal media ganging up together. Not so. As noted above, the Trib has traditionally been a favourite of the right, and it's worth remembering that WaPo endorsed Dubya in 2004.

The industry's trade publication, Editor and Publisher, notes that endorsements are currently running about 3:1 in Obama's favour -- it was roughly even four years ago with John Kerry winding up with just a slight advantage of 51.7% of editorial pages. If nearly 24% of papers in America have switched party loyalties in that frame of time, it can't be from left to right. (Here's a tally of the list of newspaper endorsements so far). Obviously the editorial boards of America are hearing what their readership is saying on both sides of the aisle: It's time for something completely different.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Final US debate

Last night's final debate in the US was a coffee table style format, much like what we see in France for their presidentials. Much more open for face to face discussion as well as to get points across. It was, I thought, more nasty in some respects by both sides but after the drone of the first three there needed to be some spark. John McCain was much more combative but it was too little, too late.

If either McCain or Barack Obama were looking to say something in last night's final debate that closed the deal, it was the latter who likely did so. Speaking about education reform, Obama wrapped up his point by saying the following:

But there's one last ingredient that I just want to mention, and that's parents. We can't do it just in the schools. Parents are going to have to show more responsibility. They've got to turn off the TV set, put away the video games, and, finally, start instilling that thirst for knowledge that our students need.

Neo-cons may not believe it, but many of us progressives have been saying that for so long a time we've almost given up trying. So has Obama, but he got a huge TV audience when he said it and, according to the networks who were running those "reaction graphs" by undecided voters, that was the line that got the biggest and most instantaneous positive response. I personally think it wasn't just American parents, but also the billion watching around the world, that stood up and cheered.

Because no matter what the government is able to do, it can't parent. It's up to parents to do that. The McCains have of course done admirably in raising an adopted child and that more than proves their mettle in the family values department. But it was Obama that sparked a nerve.

Lastly, kudos to Bob Schieffer. Unlike Tom Brokaw last week, The Schief kept the debate on track and to the point. He's retiring next year -- or so he claims -- and this gives him the feather in the cap of a distinguished career.

Much more distinguished than the wanabees in the media today, who think the rapidity of the disappearance of Angelina Jolie's "baby bump" is more more newsworthy than the number of single mothers who are more telegenic than her but can't afford to pay the mortgage.

For what it's worth, I think those Jane Blow moms have more family values, and know what they are, than Jolie anyway.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

If we had PR

Here are the unofficial seat results from yesterday's 40th general election (subject to verification, of course, by Elections Canada) -- the results we got thanks to first past the post:
  • Conservative 143
  • Liberal 76
  • Bloc Québecois 50
  • New Democrats 37
  • Independents 2
  • Green 0

I reviewed the results by province then allocated the seats based by popular vote. (The three territories each elect one member at large -- and as luck would have it the three major national parties split them three ways.) What would have happened with PR?

  • Conservatives 118
  • Liberal 81
  • New Democrats 57
  • Bloc Québecois 29
  • Green 22
  • Independents 1

What Parliament would you prefer? This isn't sour grapes, or partisan in favour of the Liberals. I'm furious that the Liberals were out polled by the NDs in Saskatchewan, yet the NDs failed to win a single district there while the Liberals won one. This is patently unfair. People who voted for the Green Party all across Canada were left unrepresented as well, thanks to FPTP.

We need PR, and we need it now. The opposition parties, all three, should demand PR will be part of the Reply to the Throne in the opening days of the next Parliament. Otherwise, the Cons should be non confidenced.

UPDATE (1:23 am Thursday EDT, 0523 GMT): Fair Vote Canada did some number crunching of their own, and they came up with 117-81-57-28-23 and no indies. HT to Chrystal for this one.

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Election 2008 aftermath (progressives will not remain silent)

Well,we went through five weeks of an election and what do we get? For $300 million another minority government. If it wasn't for the turmoil the last two weeks it may have well been carte blanche for Harper and I suppose we should be thankful for that.

I was out all day working as a poll clerk so I didn't get a sense of what was happening until much later. I was disappointed that the Liberal candidate in my district of Hamilton Mountain, Tyler Banham, wound up well back in third place -- which one wouldn't have guessed in the poll I worked which indicated a horserace between Banham and the NDP incumbent Chris Charlton (who won) and a fairly strong showing from the Con's Terry Anderson.

A few points I want to make about yesterday's overall results.

First, if Harper is sincere about working with the Opposition, he needs to stop acting as though he has a majority government. Whether it's domestic or foreign policy, a minority government is supposed to work in the best interests if the country. Some of our best social policies, including pensions and public health care, came during minority governments. Some of our best foreign policies, including substantially increasing foreign aid, came during minority governments. Harper needs to respect this tradition.

Second, the breakthrough for the Green Party many of us were hoping for simply wasn't. It's a reflection of our FPTP system, which spreads things too far and too thin not just for the Greens but also the NDP in particular. It's also become a problem for the Liberals. It also explains the stranglehold the Cons have in Alberta -- under a system of PR the opposition parties not just in Alberta but across Canada would have fared way better.

Third, is it game over for Stéphane Dion? I would hope not, but I have to be honest in saying that I thought either Gerard Kennedy or Michael Ignatieff would have been stronger leaders for this out. Still, it's almost inevitable that the Liberals will have to turn their next policy convention in six months into a leadership one. Then they're actually going to have to crack the whip and actually mean to vote no-confidence in Harper if he steps out of line with Canadian values.

Fourth and finally, I find it odd we're moving in a direction opposite to the Americans. It's clear that baring a last minute fluke Barack Obama will win the US Presidency in a landslide and the Democrats will substantially increase their majority in both Houses of Congress -- and the donkey will also make improvements downticket to the state and local levels. When there's a right-leaning government in Canada and a left-leaning one in the States (or vice versa), relations can be tricky at the best of times and these are not the best of times. One hopes that Obama quickly makes his mark so that the neo-cons don't know what hit them and Canadians see that it's progressive values and not regressive ones that result in balanced budgets, lower taxes and improved lives for everyone.

In short, we're looking at two more years of infighting and outfighting -- and little will get done to benefit Canadians. But progressives like me will not be silent. We will continue to fight for what we believe in which includes among other things fairness for all, a clean environment, personal freedom in the arts and sciences, and an open and neutral Internet. If Harper doesn't clean up his act and govern towards the middle he claims to represent then perhaps the Liberals, NDP and the Bloc need to work out some kind of temporary "grand alliance" or coalition to defeat him.

Our reputation as a fiscally responsible nation is at stake and I will feel personally betrayed as will other Canadians if Harper continues on the track he appears to be on.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Comments disabled

Tomorrow is the choice, and the one day when all Canadians are truly equal. Make sure you vote whomever that is for.

With that said, I will be temporarily disabling comments until sometime after 10 pm Eastern -- 7 pm Pacific -- when the last polls close in British Columbia and the Yukon. This is to comply with broadcast rules and also so I have a bit of a break.

It's been interesting these last 37 days. See you on the flip-side.

The choice 2008

I don't know how clearer it can be. From Day One as Prime Minister, Steve Harper has run his government as a one man show and has flip-flopped on several policy planks. He was against floor crossing, before he was for it. He was for Senate reform before he was against it (appointing hacks to the Upper Chamber). He supports greater representation for British Columbia and Alberta but not for Ontario (on a proportionate basis). He was for income trusts before he was against them.

His foreign policy has become a carbon copy (almost) of the Americans' under Bush. He alienated many by not supporting the cause of the Palestinians and supporting an Israeli bombing of Lebanon that even many Israelis now say wasn't worth it.

He meets with his provincial colleagues only when he deems fit and then only on twenty-four hours notice.

And those sweaters. Like that is going to impress anyone.

His opponents may be even less polished, but beneath the grubby exteriors are actual substance. So it comes down to this: If you feel you're better off now than you were in the winter of 2006, vote for Harper. If you're not (and after the market girations over the last five weeks it's probably not anyway), vote him out. At this point, it doesn't matter much if it's a Liberal or someone else -- but vote for the man or woman who you think has the best chance of beating a Conservative in your district.

Whatever the results may be tomorrow I will of course accept them -- but I would be happier if by the end of the night Harper's fate is essentially sealed. Every vote really does count so vote. It only takes a few minutes of your time and it's your country's future at stake.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Make Harper's wish come true

HTs to my colleagues Impolitical, Scott Tribe and Accidental Deliberations: Steve Harper mused yesterday that if he loses two days hence he may quit as Con party leader. Couple of points:
  • It's a stupid thing to say this late in the game, especially in a race that is still well within the margin of error;
  • It motivates the base of your opponents even more than your own -- in fact some of your own people may vote against you just to get rid of you.

So I just say, let's grant him his wish. He needs to go back to the boardrooms where he's more comfortable, not the Cabinet room. They're going to need a lobbyist like him to fight tooth and nail against the carbon tax.

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Mr. Monaghan's unsafe neighbourhood

Time for another visit to our esteemed extreme right Catholic friend, Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino's Pizza ™ and the ever controversial Ave Maria University. According to, a Catholic site ever critical of Monaghan, we find the following: First, on top of a collapsing real estate market which is making it next to impossible to sell houses in this new town a monument to Monaghan's glory, a jewelry store in town was hit by an armed robbery the other day -- thus killing the notion that Ave Maria Town is a "safe and wholesome" community. Put a town in the middle of a swamp that's isolated from the outside world and this will happen sooner or later Oh yes, and naturally witnesses said the robbers appeared to be "black or Hispanic." Uh, yeah.

Second, anti-feminist and right-wing columnist Kate O'Beirne, long a hatchet woman for Monaghan (or so says another site critical of Monaghan, Fumare), was unceremoniously dumped from the university's board of directors -- with absolutely no acknowledgement of her contributions to the school. She's been replaced by Richard Klaas. (He may not be the same Richard Klaas I'm thinking it might be.) I don't exactly care for her opinions but you'd think Monaghan would show her some gratitude of some kind unless she finally got fed up with his schenanigans as much as other people formerly connected with the school.

Third, in this allegedly "100% Catholic" town, they had a fair not too long ago and among the sideshows was -- drumroll -- a psychic. Most Catholics know damn well it's wrong to seek advice from a psychic (Articles 2115-2117 of the Catechism) although many have, including me admittedly. Still, like most people Catholics tend to know their sign more than their blood type. However, this freak show in Ave Maria Town was actually a pet fair, and the psychic was a pet psychic. Oh, they also had a "massage boutique." Was it for the pets, or was it (ahem!) another kind of massage boutique?

I'll be the first to admit, I'm not exactly everyone's idea of a "good Catholic," although I am personally devout and I do what I can. But Monaghan is simply an embarrassment to conservatives as much as he is a joke to moderates and liberals in the church -- let alone the outside world.

Armed robbery? Summary dismissals? Psychics? (Along with giving the Sacrament of the Sick to those who don't actually need it?) No blanking way I'd ever want to visit the town, let alone live in it. This is not a safe town -- either from a public safety standpoint or a moral one. There are many places in Southwest Florida that are more family friendly than Ave Maria Town.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

CTV and Harper to Dion: "Speak White"

I don't exactly agree with Gilles Duceppe on everything, but he's right to defend Stéphane Dion on this one: An anglophone isn't expected to be exactly fluent in French, just enough to be understood and / or understand. Yet if a francophone is to speak English, he or she must be perfect or be derided as "just another Québec politician." In other words, French Canadians must "Speak White" or they aren't real Canadians. That Harper would pile on this is inexusable in my opinion. That CTV would air the tape unedited is their right but it also shows an incredible lack of class especially when Dion asked for a second take. If it was Harper, it would have been edited out.

So, I offer this link to one of my favourite poems from required high school reading: Speak White. I think it says everything else I want to say about it. The Cons were not allowed to get away with making fun of Chrétien's affliction with Bell's Palsy some 15 years ago, almost to the week. They should not be allowed to get away with this either.

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Auf weidersehen Haider

Jörg Haider, the brains behind the far-right wing Freedom Party in Austria and later the Alliance for Austria's Future, and the former premier of the country's Carinthia region, was killed in a car accident today. Haider was notorious for his anti-immigration and anti-EU policies. At his peak, he stunned other EU countries when he managed to win 27% of the popular vote and that led to temporary sanctions against Austria. More recently, he's only been polling about 11% but was expected to have a role in the next coalition government there as well.

Not going to say that I miss Haider, any more than I'm going to miss Jean Marie Le Pen when he dies; but apparently Haider was on his way to his mother's 90th birthday party when his car flipped over several times almost inexplicably. Not exactly my preferred way of exiting stage left.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Cynical, cynical, cynical

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is buying up about $25 billion of mortgages to free up credit markets here, and hopefully that will lead to lower interest rates for us consumers.
That's all fair and good, but am I the only one who's just a tad cynical that Slim Jim ™ Flaherty announces this just four days before the election?!

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2008 Nobel Peace Prize

After yet another day of turmoil in Asia-Pacific stock markets, which of course will spread to Europe and North America, I suppose now we can officially call it a crash -- and what the short and long term damage will be will take some time to sort out. But there is some positive news this morning. Any other day this would have been the top story for the morning.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee after sifting through 197 nominees has awarded the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize to the former President of Finland Martti Ahtisaari. He was cited for his work in helping to end South Africa's decades-long occupation of Namibia as well as his behind-the-scenes diplomacy in Aceh, Kovoso, Northern Ireland, the Horn of Africa and Iraq. (Official citation here.)

All I can say is, congratulations sir. Some previous choices could only be seen as bizarre or out of the park but if anyone deserves it you certainly do. Alfred Nobel intended the prize to go to someone who among other things worked for "fraternity between nations" and that you have.

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Another US bank merger

Late tonight, Citibank cried uncle and conceded the sale of Wachovia -- to Wells Fargo; although Citi will seek about $60 billion in damages -- fat chance!

Expect this shakeout to continue for some time to come. I would not be surprised when all is settled, there are only about 1000 banks left in America from about 7000 now -- about ten to twelve national giants plus a fair number of regional players and some local microcredit banks. Having too many players in the field isn't necessarily good, but having too few like in Canada -- even with our tighter credit rules -- also stifles competition.

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$18.1 billion: How high will it go?

I have to admit I was quite stunned, although not entirely surprised, when the Parliamentary budget officer came out this morning with his estimate for Canada's cost of the Afghanistan mission: $18.1 billion when the 10 year mission is supposed to end in 2010. This is way higher than the $8 billion that the Conservatives have been claiming all along. Included in the number is not just the price of deployment but also development projects and long term disability for veterans. Not included, however, is the cost of military procurement to ensure our men and women in uniform have the proper equipment to do their job and that could make the total even higher.

No wonder the Conservatives were trying to kill this report -- they didn't want us to find out the truth until after the election. Of course, when the war started there was a Liberal government but to be fair back then we didn't think it would take as long as it has. Frankly, none of our allies in NATO did either. And forget about how on the take Halliburton is in Iraq -- when you're dealing with tribal warlords anything goes.

It's not the amount of money spent, but the value for money that is the issue. Over and over again, the "3-D" goals of defence, diplomacy and development keep getting pushed aside in favour of that fourth D: Drugs. It's not our job, nor the job of our allies, to fight the drug trade -- at least it should not be, when we have drug abuse issues back at home already. At best, the Karzai government is holding on to about ¼ of the country; what else he controls is through agreements that many who support democratic principles would find quite contrarian to those ideals.

The Auditor-General owes it to us to do an investigation of her own -- letting costs get out of hand like this is no less scandalous than Sponsorgate was. The next Parliament, whichever party leads it, must contain the costs or end the mission. As important as rebuilding Afghanistan is, we need to rebuild our economy here first -- especially in times like these.

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And the listeria played on

Despite a "complete" decontamination of a Maple Leaf ™ plant in Toronto, federal food inspectors have confirmed that at least four products made there are still coming out with the listeria bacterium.

Fortunately, all items coming out of that plant are being held in quarantine and tested before being released into the marketplace -- and Michael McCain said last night that as an extra precaution all products including those that tested negative are also being held back until the company gets to the source of the problem and all tes

Being absolutely safe is the prudent thing, of course, and McCain deserves credit for that. However, it doesn't do much to restore confidence in our food supply; nor does a story this morning that deli foods served at long-term facilities are also laced with listeria -- ⅔ of meat samples, in the case of Toronto area nursing homes.

We need strict regulations for food, not self-regulation. It's that simple. One can blame the Liberals or the Conservatives for who started the ball rolling; but it doesn't change the fact both inspectors and food processors need marching orders and the rules made clear, and that if even one rule is broken the processed food will not make it to market -- period. Nor does it change the fact 20 people have died and the numbers will go up over the 90 day or so incubation period.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

This is what should have been done in the first place

At long last, the major central banks in the world -- including for Canada, the US and the Eurozone -- finally got their act together and cut the rate banks charge each other by a half percent. This is the first time ever they've acted in unison on loosening up credit supplies. In the case of the European Central Bank, down to 3¾%, it's the first rate cut in 5 years -- and they are finally saying they're willing to let loose more Euros on the market if that will help calm things down.

The US overnight rate is down to 1½%, while here in Canada the overnight rate is now 2½%.

The markets have girated a bit all day, but as I write these words they are on an uptick for the first time in a couple of weeks. Hopefully the slide has come to an end for now. Still, troubled times lay ahead; and with a view to the elections in Canada and the US, one certainly has to consider that lettting things get out of hand for this long before acting does not reflect well on the executive branch even if the central banks are independent. After all, who appointed the present central bankers? The current administrations, naturally.

Voters should remember that when they go to the polls.

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Even more death threats against Liberals in TO

Let's be quite clear: There is absolutely no proof that the Conservatives, or any other party, are behind the latest incidents against Liberal supporters in Toronto. But when people who have lawn signs in front of their homes start receiving threatening phone calls saying "Take down your lawn sign or else" then one has crossed the line from mere debate and into the realm of facism and anarchy.

There are simply no other words to describe this, and the people responsible should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law; for in this case people are even scared to put the signs in their garage, they've asked the campaign to take the signs back. Threatening people with a shakedown, literal or otherwise, is how it's still done in many places in the United States (illegally, of course, but it still happens). It may be par for the course there, unfortunately, but it is simply unacceptable for Canadians and we must say we will not tolerate it. It is a form of terrorism -- no more or less.

It behooves Steve Harper to condemn these obscene phone calls and other attempts at sabotage in the strongest possible terms. We eagerly await him doing such.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Harper: "I'm not the most emotionally expressive guy"

With one week to go before the election, Steve Harper finally released his platform for re-election; which amounts to a significant amount of nothing. The fact he did so at a ballroom filled with the business elite rather than a crowd of Joe and Jane Sixpacks is itself telling. After it was over, the press pool which until now has been pro-Harper all the way finally showed signs of turning on him. CTV's Craig Oliver challenged him on being insensitive to ordinary Canadians.

Harper actually replied by saying the down market actually provides opportunities for bargain and value hunters -- pretty useless for people who don't have money to invest in the first place. Then he said what must be the understatement of the campaign.

"I'm the first to admit I'm not the most emotionally expressive guy," Harper said. "There's a lot of panic, but the government can't panic. Canadians must be assured that the government knows where it is going and that is obviously what we are trying to communicate them in this election."

Is that the best Steve can do? How about a plan for action, rather than just say, "Don't panic." And what on earth was he implying when he mentioned Noah started building his boat when it wasn't raining? The fundamentals were a lot stronger before he came to power and he did some tinkering that turned a safe harbour into a mined one.

Today, Nanos has Harper's lead down to just three points. Today's underwhelming and very late platform launch may just cut that even more. What's more it is now entirely possible for either Harper or Dion to win the popular vote but lose the election on seat count, something that hasn't happened since 1979 when Trudeau bested Clark by over 700,000 votes but still won 21 fewer districts than Joe Who. Even this past weekend, I would have discounted the chances of that all together. Maybe not that big a margin, but it could be two or three seats one way or another.

UPDATE 9:54 PM, 0154 GMT Wednesday: Fixed bad link. Also, any one wonder if the US election could affect how we vote a week today?

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