Friday, February 29, 2008

Obama makes it closer

Texas and Ohio were supposed to be cakewalks for Hillary Clinton.

With four days to go before the primaries in those states as well as Vermont and Rhode Island, take a look at these numbers from the conservative Rasmussen poll:

Ohio: Clinton 47, Obama 45.
Texas: Clinton 44, Obama 48.

The Texas numbers include those who have voted in advance polls; and mark a huge embarrassment for Mrs. Clinton who a fortnight ago was leading in the double digits. There are no advance polls in Ohio, as far as I know; but again, Clinton was way ahead at one point but is now has fallen within the margin of error.

Pennsylvania isn't scheduled to vote until April 22. It's a rustbelt state, and one of two states with a majority Catholic population (the other is Rhode Island). Natural state for Hillary? The numbers right now: Clinton 46, Obama 42.

What has Obama done right that Clinton hasn't -- and I don't just mean not going on daily donut shop runs for the entire Clinton posse?

The key to this year's election won't be youth, or Hispanics, or women. I think it's the evangelical vote. Until now evangelicals have been identified as being almost entirely Republican. Much to my chagrin and that of others, the MSM continues to make this characterization and it is a false one. The characterization is true only insofar as those evangelicals who actually vote. The majority of "born-again" Christians are actually Democrats or independents and who support a social gospel or "liberation theology" approach to the world; but haven't felt the need to vote or have voted Republican over moral nitpicks.

Both Clinton and Obama are evangelicals and appeal to that constituency; but it's Obama, I think, that has been able to tap into the sentiments of Republicans who feel they have been betrayed. Just as there were Reagan Democrats who were such and formed the basis of the so-called "Republican Revolution" because they were slighted by Jimmy Carter after he went after Bob Jones University's tax-exempt status, there are this year Obama Republicans who don't like either John McCain or Mike Huckabee and see the guy from Illinois as the only "moral" alternative.

They have read their Bibles and have come to the conclusion that Jesus would not have gone to war in Iraq, would not have supported torture or Gitmo, would not have voted to make the tax cuts permanent, would not have coddled the environment that attempts to repudiate the corporal acts of mercy and only accepts one of the spiritual acts (admonishing the sinner).

Clinton is a fine woman, but the bottom line is she is seen as a Washington insider. By its very nature, the Mile of Destiny between the Capitol and the White House are so full of corrupt people that a Clinton would not be able to change the tone of debate. In other words, she's seen as part of the sin that must be purged. Obama has been in Washington less than four years, and in the minds of many hasn't had time to be corrupted.

One wonders how this will all play out in the end or if Clinton will find a huge skeleton in the closet that Obama doesn't want the world to know; but for now all the attempts to smear Obama have bounced off like -- a non-stick coating.

Clinton still could win if she mobilizes her troops -- but that would neccesitate getting the overall turnout herein to 90% or more. I just don't see it happening. It's all about hope, not just solutions. One can't offer solutions without offering hope first.

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How to lose 20 million votes

A couple days after Barack Obama denounced the endorsement of Louis Farrakhan, John McCain has accepted an endorsement from televangelist John Hagee.

Hagee has been an enthusiastic supporter of the state of Israel, second perhaps only to Hal Lindsey in fervour. However, Hagee has also said that Jews only have themselves to blame for Israel's current woes. Hagee's called the Catholic Church the "Whore of Babylon." Not the first to do so, of course, but in a country with over 60 million Catholics -- 40 million eligible to vote and roughly half of them consistently voting Republican, not entirely a wise thing to do.

Oh -- Hagee still believes that Bill Clinton murdered Vince Foster for having an affair with Hillary, even though three investigations including the one led by conservative hero Ken Starr ruled Foster's death a suicide.

Set aside the fact Hagee is radioactive. What on earth would possess McCain to accept such an endorsement? I thought it was illegal for ministries to campaign publicly for specified candidates; that they could only provide guidance on "issues." Oddly, this is the first time I've agreed with Bill Donohue, the Great Catholic Censor, on anything.

It is well worth asking whether Russert will apply the same standard to McCain as he did to Obama over Farrakhan? No he won't. Russert is a Republican, openly Republican and quite scornful of Democrats; and GOPers stick together no matter what.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Harry in Afghanistan; who's the fink?

It's good to see that at least one of the Queen's grandkids, Prince Harry, is leading by example and fighting in Afghanistan -- unlike Dubya's daughters who would not go to Iraq or Afghanistan even if they were drafted.

What's disturbing is that there was supposed to be a media blackout about HRH's whereabouts until he got back from a four month rotation in Helmand. Some foreign media outlet -- I can only presume it was an American one -- decided to throw caution to the winds and leak his present location.

Completely irresponsible in my opinion; especially when the person in question is an heir presumptive. We certainly need more transparency about the operation; but we don't need to know if a high value target is part of that operation.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

CBC: Cadman offered bribe

Chuck Cadman was a principled person. When he lost his son in a vicious murder, he fought back the only way he knew how; by running for Parliament. When the Reform Party expelled him, he ran as an independent and still won.

Cadman insisted his decision to keep Paul Martin on life support was based on his consulting his constitutents. It might not be that simple after all.

In the spring of 2005, as we all remember, Belinda Stronach made a dramatic switch from the Conservatives to the Liberals, after Stronach understood what most progressives already did; that Stephen Harper was no moderate nor did he have any intention of taking the party to the centre. But her vote wasn't enough to uphold that year's budget. Paul Martin needed one more vote to survive; Harper needed one vote to go to the polls. That vote was Cadman's.

It's amazing the things that can happen when a single person holds the balance of power.

CBC reports tonight (no link yet as they claim it's an "exclusive" story) that as claimed in a biography of Cadman's life, a couple of Conservative party officials offered to welcome the ailing Cadman back to the party if he voted against the budget and forced an election. In exchange, said the report, Cadman was offered a $1 million life insurance policy.

Cadman's widow, reports Keith Boag, says Chuck was so offended that his mind was made up right there. It was not worth dignifying. He would vote with Martin.

The family could have used the money, because as we know Chuck died some time later. But it takes a lot to refuse something like that. Most of us probably would not.

Problem: If the allegations in the biography are true, then Cadman was offered an inducement which is against the law. There's no way of knowing for sure whether such an offer was ordered by Harper, but this would definitely go against any sense of the "clean" government or opposition that Harper was and is trying to cultivate.

We're still waiting on Elections Canada to find out if the Conservatives may have violated elections law. The notion they may have tried to force an election by paying someone off, an officer of Parliament no less, is shuddering.

Something Karl Rove would be very proud of.

UPDATE (11:27 pm EST, 0427 GMT Thursday): The G&M have posted the story on their website -- probably this will be a Page One story in the print edition tomorrow. What I find disturbing is Harper's admission that the two thugs were representing the party "legitimately." I'd like to see Harper explain how making an offer like this is legitimate.

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In memoriam: William F. Buckley, Jr.

Say what you will of Bill Buckley, he was quite an extraordinary character. Through two of his vehicles -- the National Review magazine and his long-running PBS show Firing Line -- Buckley became one of the builders of the modern conservative movement in the States.

While I profoundly disagreed with him on many of his viewpoints, I did like him for his gentlemanly character as well as his wit. Firing Line was one of the best opinion talk shows on TV and there was a huge gap in the prime time schedule, not just that of PBS, when it went off the air. Unlike so many of the bombastic media characters we associate with conservative media these days, it was hard to find a progressive or liberal who didn't at least respect him. He almost never gave them a reason not to; unlike Limbaugh or O'Reilly, both of whom get cited almost daily in Media Matters.

Buckley died last night in Stamford, Connecticut at the age of 82 still doing what he did best -- writing another column, at his desk. This year's American election and campaigns to come won't be quite the same without his insights.

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Just when Tim Russert couldn't get any lower ...

... he had to bring up this canard: Louis Farrakhan's endorsement of Barack Obama.


Some may remember the 1995 referendum in Québec, when the Non got an endorsement from an unlikely source -- the Hells Angels. Every vote counts, naturally, but Jean Charest and Daniel Johnston Jr. would both have been raked over the coals if they openly accepted such a seal of approval.

When Obama attempted to disassociate himself from Farrakhan, a vile anti-Semite ranking alongside Hutton Gibson (Mel's father), Russert kept pushing the point and even entered the "Reverend"'s own comments on the record. Anyone -- Jew, Christian or Muslim -- should be appalled that someone like Big Russ' son would even dignify the leader of the Nation of Islam.

Publicity is what feeds hate-mongers. Russert managed single-handedly to extend Farrakhan's fame by another fifteen weeks. Tim should be ashamed of himself.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Flaherty's got high hopes

If it's a mile wide and an inch deep, as Stéphane Dion insists, why won't he pull the plug and let the people decide on Budget 2008?

If Canada manages to weather the coming recession it'll because of the tough choices made during the mid 1990s, not what Stephen Harper and James Flaherty have done the last two years. There are some good points in the budget including a Canadian version of the Roth IRA as well as more money for students, seniors and some targeted industries.

Even so, the fact that Flaherty is predicting surpluses of only $2.3 billion next year and $1.3 billion the year after that, when we've been averaging about $10 billion per year the last decade, is very disappointing. Using some calculations, we might even run into a deficit which would definitely not be good. One can only hope 2.3 big ones is a worst case scenario.

Nothing about a carbon tax. Nothing about funding for green industries. The only other good positive new thing I see is that unemployment insurance will now be a locked box and not a piggy bank. I would go one step further and have it run by an investment board like the one for the CPP or the Caisse de dépôt for the RRQ. Prudent leveraging, as happens with government pensions on our behalf, would mean more cash in the trust fund. That would help drive down premiums for both employees and employers to a truly break-even level. More money for employees, more employment opportunities on the employer side.

I give this one D+. Thumbs almost all the way down. Don't be surprised if Moody's or Standard and Poors downgrades our debt in the next few months. A downgrade of even one letter grade sub -- a plus to a neutral or neutral to minus -- would mean an average interest rate increase across the board of about a half percent -- which will put a lot of families over the edge. It would also increase interest service costs on the federal debt an addition $800 million to $1 billion per year. The vicious cycle we've worked so hard to eliminate would begin anew.

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An unusual thanks

I want to openly thank Fern Hill at Birth Pangs for her kind words at her blog today.

I don't usually find myself in the same company as the pro-choice crowd, but when one smells a rat one has to speak out about it, which is why I joined yesterday's blogburst. Progressives support a honest debate, regardless of the issue, based on honest facts; and Bill C-484 is simply not an honest way to engage the debate on how to protect women and their children before, during and after pregnancy.

Yes, I am pro-life, but I continue to refuse to join self-described pro-life lobby groups for this simple reason: They generally have nothing to offer women besides taking away their options. The same groups which oppose abortion also oppose contraception, accessible day care, income supports, and nutrition programs for nursing women and their infants. Not to mention their also fighting against "Safe Haven" laws, as well as opposing funding for women's shelters and other domestic violence prevention programs.

That's not being pro-life. That's pro women's enslavement. This I oppose vigorously. Further, as I wrote before, there are ways to sanction those who induce a miscarriage or harm a fetus, by physically attacking a woman with the intent of raping or otherwise violating her. C-484 is the wrong way.

Some pro-life groups in the States, such as Democrats for Life, get it and have crafted policies to address these very issues. It's not perfect, but it's a start. They continue to get ignored by the media who see the issue as black or white. It's not.

I hope Parliament here gets the message and votes against C-484 on second reading. Then we need to get to the job of addressing what I think is the real issue -- ensuring both mothers and their children have healthy and safe starts during pregnancy and the first five years post-partum.

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LA, the best tap water?

I had to chuckle at this one.

Two cities tied for first in the annual contest for the best tasting tap water, this past weekend.

One was Clearbrook, British Columbia.

The other was ... Los Angeles, California; and it's not the first time they've won. I think it's largely because the water board is a government agency and they have strict quality standards.

Makes me shudder about the period in 2000 and 2001 where I had to get a water filter pitcher because the water here in Hamilton tasted so awful -- was in fact, a laxative. All because the contract for water and sewer was let first to a copper scrap dealer; and then during those two years when it got really bad, to Enron. Since the city got the contract back the taste has improved considerably.

No coincidence, in my opinion.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Thumbs down to Bill C-484

There is a right way and a wrong way to address the fact Canada presently has no law regulating the termination of a pregnancy.

While I remain pro-life, I am convinced Bill C-484 is the wrong way to address the issue. Several female friends of mine who had to get an abortion due to health issues related either to the mother or the fetus, or both, would have been made criminals under the bill as currently written -- as well as the physicians who performed the procedure.

That is blatant insanity. Ken Epp can say all he wants, but the text of the bill as written strikes me as very sinister.

So I add my voice to those who want to Kill Bill C-484.

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Rove Dirty Trick # 1289

When a TV station in Alabama goes black during the very time when the CBS network is running a story about the former Democratic Governor of the state, Don Siegelman, and the fact he may have been Shanghai-ed by Karl Rove over trumped up charges of bribery, one has to wonder what passes for the new normal. Key among the claims are some prosecution notes from a witness who kept coming up with conflicting testimony was not turned over to the defense. Even Republican state Attorneys-General outside Alabama are now raising a stink over this.

The claim was made at first it was a technical issue out of New York. Impossible, since there is but one wild feed for the Eastern and Central time zones. Later, it was claimed a backup generator just "happened" to conk out at that moment.

Oh really?

If the "permanent Republic majority" that Rove dreams of includes chicanery like this, tactics he learned from Lee Atwater and Donald Segretti before him, one must truly fear what Rove has taught his protégé(e) what to do if Obama or Clinton wins it all this fall. Provided of course, either manages to survive the swift-boating that is sure to come as soon as a nominee is secured. (During Nixon's 1972 re-election, Rove depicted George McGovern as a "left-wing peacenik" notwithstanding McGovern's service during WWII piloting a B-24.)

I don't buy for a single minute that the station in Huntsville had "technical difficulty." This was censorship by the station management, plain and simple, who don't want their "innocent" viewers to be hearing the truth. Several bloggers more polished than I feel the same way. Interesting the station later chose to air the segment at 10 pm -- during the Oscars.

Oh, not that it's worth much, but Rove claims to be a Christian.

Judge for yourself if he's going to operate the McCain campaign this way behind the scenes. Enough of the puppet-masters, and dirty tricks like the one in Huntsville last night.

Note to my right-wing readers: Would I be raising a stink like this if the roles were reversed and it was a GOP who was wrongly jailed? Of course -- I believe in due process and justice for all, not just those I agree with.

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What's eating Nicolas Sarkozy? What's he eating?

The President of France attempted to cultivate the image of a reformer in last year's election but he was controversial even before then. During the 2005 riots in Paris, Sarkozy called illegal immigrants "scum," which would put him in the welcome dinner company of Lou Dobbs.

Since getting the country's top job he has become a rather even more strange figure, nothing like his dignified predecessors. He unceremoniously dumps his wife, and shacks up then marries an Italian supermodel. This past weekend, at an agricultural fair, he got into a confrontation with a fellow citoyen. When said gentleman refused to shake Sarkozy's hand, Sarkozy said, "Casse-toi alors, pauvre con, va." Which roughly translates, "F you, A-hole."

I can understand it if a deputé or a Senator said something like that in the heat of the moment. We all lose our cool every so often; and yes, I've dropped the f-bomb here every so often.

You'd expect a bit more dignity from a head of state. I don't expect him to apologize, though. It's just not his style.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Today in history (1988-02-24)

20 years ago, a conservative US Supreme Court handed down one of its most liberal decisions ever, Hustler Magazine v. Jerry Falwell (485 US 46), which gave First Amendment protections to parody advertisements and declared celebrities can't sue a media organization simply because said celebrity was "humiliated." A later decision involving 2 Live Crew later extended this protection to songs, stating a parody doesn't necessarily violate copyright.

Right wing media organizations including the closely related Parents TV Council and Accuracy in Media would like to see both of these decisions overturned and are hoping for a GOP prez who will put in "originalist" judges. Problem is ... the Hustler ruling was authored by the late Bill Rehnquist; and the even more conservative "Nino" Scalia is a First Amendment champion, supporting flag burning among other things. The Founding Fathers intended free speech to include everything except libel and there's no reason to presume that would change under any future President from either party and his or her court nominations.

No ... the real aim is for a constitutional amendment to effectively gut the First Amendment. That would have huge ramifications for the rest of the freedom loving world. It must not be allowed to happen. Larry Flynt is a cretin, but he was absolutely right to put forward the Campari ad and the parodies should be allowed to continue.

It's the left that usually has the sense of humour after all -- the right's doesn't always seem to be that well refined.

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Ralph Nader = Pat Paulsen

Ralph Nader may be an American hero for bringing safety standards to the US auto industry, but the consumer advocate has a penchant for wanting to ruin things. For the fifth time in a row, starting with a 1992 write in campaign, Nader is running for US President.

He has the right to run, of course. But with each season he becomes more like the late Patrick Paulsen -- a joke candidate. He has the potential to siphon votes off from both parties and become a spoiler, especially if he winds up polling at least 5%.

That would be fine if America had a system like in France, where the top two contenders square the circle in a run-off. The US, however, has an electoral college where the 50 states and DC are allocated a certain number of electoral votes. A narrow split between the GOP and the Dems in any number of battlegrounds could prove fatal.

I am sympathetic to the claim both major parties in the US have lost their way. Short of proportional representation or abolishing the college, no third party candidate will ever have a rats chance of winning; and with so much at stake Nader doesn't seem to care about the consequences.

Obama, the presumed Dem front-runner, should try to reach out to Nader and fast -- and neutralize him before this gets really out of hand. Nader is the new Paulsen, only this time no one is laughing. And people did vote for Paulsen out of disgust for the alternatives.

By the way, Nader turns 74 on Wednesday. Happy B-day, Ralph -- I suppose.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Toronto loses Indy

Good news and bad news. The good news is that the 12 year battle between the IRL and Champ (formerly CART) is over. The two circuits will merge and have a unified open car series for North America. The bad news is that, at least for 2008, Toronto will lose its race. The city estimates the hit to the economy will be in the neighbourhood of $50 million.

The split was regrettable to begin with if for no other reason than the Indy 500 was for a long time a truly stupid race with a lot of no-names.

I can't figure out, though, why the combined league would give up one of its biggest and most reliable revenue generators even for one year.

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There will be PAX in the (Allegheny) Valley

Both John McCain and lobbyist Vicki Iseman deny having an affair and I'll take them at their word. However, questions still have to be asked about the kind of relationship they did have even if it was strictly professional.

Bud Paxson, who ran the former PAX network, now Ion (best known for c0-producing Sue Thomas, F.B. Eye) has now jumped into the frey and shed some additional light.

From WaPo:

Paxson yesterday contradicted statements from Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign that the senator did not meet with Paxson or his lobbyist before sending two controversial letters to the Federal Communications Commission on Paxson's behalf.

Paxson said he talked with McCain in his Washington office several weeks before the Arizona Republican wrote the letters in 1999 to the FCC urging a rapid decision on Paxson's quest to acquire a Pittsburgh television station.

Paxson also recalled that his lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, likely attended the meeting in McCain's office and that Iseman helped arrange the meeting. "Was Vicki there? Probably," Paxson said in an interview with The Washington Post yesterday. "The woman was a professional. She was good. She could get us meetings."

The recollection of the now-retired Paxson conflicted with the account provided by the McCain campaign about the two letters at the center of a controversy about the senator's ties to Iseman, a partner at the lobbying firm of Alcalde & Fay.

The McCain campaign said Thursday that the senator had not met with Paxson or Iseman on the matter. "No representative of Paxson or Alcalde and Fay personally asked Senator McCain to send a letter to the FCC regarding this proceeding," the campaign said in a statement.

But Paxson said yesterday, "I remember going there to meet with him." He recalled that he told McCain: "You're head of the Commerce Committee. The FCC is not doing its job. I would love for you to write a letter."

McCain's lawyer Bob Bennett claims whether McCain spoke to Paxson isn't really such a big deal.

Oh yes it is. Lobbyists do have a place in politics but there's a difference between using a lobbyist to make a point and using one to obtain a solution. In the case of the latter there is an ethical way to do things and an unethical way.

The FCC, a quasi-judicial body, is supposed to be free from political influence and regulate the airwaves in the best interests of the people. Not the people who own the stations or phone companies, all the people. It hasn't exactly performed that function that well the last few years as it's allowed media consolidation to escalate to the point where the press exercises a form of censorship. In the case of an approval for a TV station, the FCC has a duty to decide whether it's a new one or a transfer of ownership, it judges whether it serves the local community interest.

Paxson is a plucky guy. He made a genuine attempt to break through the firewall of network TV and create a 7th network, one with a mix of family friendly and religious programming. He wasn't entirely successful but he did put some noteworthy shows on the air and he deserves praise for that.

However, it's the Pittsburgh situation that's rather interesting; if for no other reason that Vicki Iseman is from near that city.

Long story short, his mini-net, PAX, was a montage of about 60 local stations. Nearly all of them were on the UHF band. UHF stations which signals while travelling farther are seen as being less desirable than VHF stations. But he still had something close to national coverage. One city was missing a PAX affiliate. Yup, Pittsburgh. So Paxson suggested another Christian station offer to buy one of the two PBS stations in that cty -- the sister channel to the one that gave us Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. Paxson would then buy that station for $35 million, swap transmitters with the Christian station, and 50% of the proceeds would go to the remaining PBS channel which was in the red at the time. (Like where this is going?)

PBS agreed it was a good deal. So they made a joint application to the FCC. Normally such approvals take about a year. After 2 1/2 years, no word -- not even a date to set a hearing. So Iseman was sent in to ask McCain for help. McCain eventually wrote two letters.

The problem isn't that McCain did write to the FCC on Paxson's behalf. He certainly had the right to. It was that McCain had already accepted $28,000 in campaign contributions from Paxon, raising a bit of a stink about his reputation for "straight talk." For that blatant breach of ethics, plus the fact that FCC staff was still going over the details of the deal with a fine tooth comb and was actually days away from a decision, McCain was openly rebuked by the Commission. More important, McCain used Paxson's corporate jet for his 2000 campaign.

What happened to the deal? Well, the FCC approved it, 3-2; but it collapsed anyway because the Christian group who also stood to benefit refused to accept an amendment to their license banning proselytizing.


So, let's see now. He gets bitten once for being part of the Keating Five. He gets bitten a second time for interfering with the FCC when he had a vested interest to do so. While the FCC story explains Iseman's presence on the corporate jet, it doesn't explain how McCain can claim to be a straight talker. He's no more a man of the people than he is a salesman trying to sell a monorail to a village.

It's also worth noting that Congress only banned its members from flying on corporate planes in 2007. What's happened before then and all the promises made in secret, away from prying media and muckraking eyes?

Certainly Obama and Clinton can't claim any high ground here -- they've done the corporate route too.

I just find it troubling that a war hero would see fit to fall into that kind of crowd. Moreover if a Senator says one thing and a businessman something quite different about the nature of their professional relationship, then it has to be investigated by the Senate Ethics Committee. Given the stage of the electoral season America is in right now, I don't see any appetite for that, though.

Also remember the rather nuanced position McCain took on the Confederate Flag when he was locked in a battle with Dubya back in 2000. Both saw the South as key to their strategies and McCain later admitted he wasn't straight talking at all -- the Stars and Bars really did had to go. That reluctance to say how he really felt cost him a lot of credibility and possibly the election. I think the world would have been much better off had McCain won the GOP nod that year and not GWB.

These days, you see US networks take pains to discuss conflicts of interest on the air -- for example, if NBC is doing a story about GE's quarterly results, they'll add that GE owns the network. CNN does the same when it identifies Time or People or the gossip site TMZ as sister organizations to Turner.

Why is so hard for Senators and Representatives to do the same when they approach executive agencies? Why can't they just say: So-and-so needs movement on their disability pension; oh by the way, she also donated to my re-election campaign also?

All McCain had to do was say he was feeding at Paxson's trough. The time to have done that was back in 1999.

Now, McCain is the presumed GOP nominee.

Paxson is willing to give some straight talk. It's time for McCain to do the same ... before he locks up the nomination for sure.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Debate is not disloyalty, General

You may be tempted to find solace in the diversity of opinion that is American democracy. You should resist any such temptation. Diversity ought not to be confused with division. Nor should you underestimate, as others have before you,
America's will.

That wasn't some nobody. That was the elder George Bush in a letter to Saddam Hussein, days before the First Gulf War. He knew whereof he was speaking. In fact, although there was widespread opposition to the war in America, Bush 41 actually saw democratic debate as a plus and not an impediment to the then task at hand; namely, evicting Iraq out of Kuwait.

Now, Canada's Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Rick Hillier, would have us believe that a protracted and divisive debate would give ammunition to the Taliban. That's the same kind of BS Karl Rove and Co. used to drum up support for Gulf War II.

Debate is not disloyalty. Trashing out differences and coming up with a general consensus or at least hearing out the other side is entirely the point. The Taliban and other Muslim extremists want it their way -- period. No debate, no discussion. I'm not sure if the soldiers, sailors and airmen of our Armed Services would appreciate being told they're fighting to eliminate free speech and thought. That's not what the Greatest Generation fought for in WWII -- they fought for the right to speak out.

Hillier should just shut his yap and let the politicians make the decisions; then give the orders to him. Not the other way around. The military is under civilian control and not military for a reason. If he wants to eliminate freedom of speech, he should spend his time looking for the Spear of Destiny -- not whine that Canada actually has a Parliament. Last time anyone heard of it, it was allegedly in the possession of Mr. Moustache who murdered 6 million Jews.

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A date certain

PMS counter-offered the Liberals yesterday and agreed to a date certain to end the Afghanistan mission -- December 2011, six months after the Liberals end-date proposal. However, Harper won't agree to Liberal demands that turning over detainees should be stopped; instead the motion states operational decisions should be left to the field commanders.

While my preference remains bringing the troops home next year, it's good to see that this never ending story may finally have an end in terms of the Canadian contribution. The fact remains that NATO still isn't pulling its weight. There's something inherently wrong when 26 countries declare war on Osama Bin Laden after 9/11 but only six or seven are willing to provide troops and equipment.

I do hope as well there is a greater focus on development and diplomacy. This should have been the case a long time ago from when this all started and too many opportunities have been squandered. If there is a place where we still have a chance to win the hearts and minds of a people it is in Afghanistan.

The other thing is that the border with Afghanistan has to be made more secure, without question. Only trouble I see is an unwillingness to do so even with surveillance and counter-intelligence measures. The US and Canada have difficulty at times securing their common demilitarized border. If we can't properly ensure a fast and still secure border here, what does it say about about standing guard alongside Waziristan and the Northwest Frontier and Tora Bora, which have so many caves Fred Flintstone would feel right at home?

The main point is, though, the Liberals and Conservatives broadly agree that there has to be an end date. What that date will be is still up for negotiation; but this time it had better be a date certain and not something with enough loopholes that it's an open ended committment.

We don't want a 100 year war. We must end it fast, and we must win so Afghanistan can stand on its own; but Kabul has to step up to the plate as well and start taking care of itself.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Death penalty may grind to halt in Georgia

Another state faces a budget crisis -- and it could lead, unwittingly, to a moratorium on the death penalty. This time it's a state that is overly enthusiatic about capital punishment, namely Georgia.

From the AP:

The funding roller coaster continued for Georgia's public defenders Tuesday as a key Senate committee slashed their budget to just a fraction of what they had sought to stay afloat.

The midyear budget that passed the Senate Appropriations Committee contained just $513,000 for public defenders to get them through the June 30 end of the fiscal year. Gov. Sonny Perdue had recommended $3.6 million.

"We still believe they have sufficient resources to meet their needs," Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, told reporters.

The move continues a tug-of-war over dollars between the legislative and judicial branches that's been exacerbated by the high-profile case of Brian Nichols, which has ground to standstill because of a dispute about funding for his defense.

Though none of the additional state cash would go to the trial of accused Atlanta courthouse gunman, the case has become a lightening rod and emboldened some who believe the state's indigent defense lawyers - funded by court fees - are driving up costs unnecessarily.

Sen. Preston Smith, who oversees judicial branch spending, has suggested that death penalty opponents are trying to put an end to capital punishment in Georgia by placing the price tag out of reach.

But officials with the Public Defender Standards Council have said they are wrestling with a jump in capital cases. They warned that without additional state funds they could be forced to furlough their lawyers and support staff for the month of June, bringing the court system to standstill.
Revenge, whilst being one of the seven deadly sins, doesn't seem to count as such when it comes to murder and high treason. But an increasing trend among states is the cost-benefit analysis; that it cost more to execute a person than it does to just lock him or her up for 25 to 40 years; that it can take an average of 12 years before someone is executed (and some have waited 24 years, equal to a life sentence); and in the final scheme of things, death is not a deterrent but only encourages more killing and not less.

The fact remains that the Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to counsel. Over the years, the US Supreme Court has made it clear that this also means effective counsel. Public defenders are hardly an ideal solution, but in many cases that's all that is available to an indigent defendant. Short of attorneys to the rich suddenly getting a whiff of conscience and offering to defend capital cases on a pro bono basis, the accused whether guilty or not deserve a bit better treatment than what they have been used to -- or could be subjected to under such draconian cuts. The argument would be that if a defendant didn't get a chance to present a counter-argument, his or her due process rights were violated and thus the death penalty should be excluded. Do that across the board, no death chamber, period.

If this helps to end the death penalty in the States, so much the better. While New Jersey (by law) and New York (by order of court) have abolished the ultimate punishment in the States, my sense is that the movement to end it will not gain any traction until at least one state in the South or the Plains gets the courage to do so.

For murder one, as I've written before, the punishment should be life without parole.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

BREAKING: McCain's ethics questioned

This was posted in the last half hour, as I write this, on the NYT website. This is the guy who's supposed to be carrying the GOP mantle, remember. You gotta love this though:

Early in Senator John McCain’s first run for the White House eight years ago, waves of anxiety swept through his small circle of advisers.

A female lobbyist had been turning up with him at fund-raisers, in his offices and aboard a client’s corporate jet. Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself — instructing staff members to block the woman’s access, privately warning her away and repeatedly confronting him, several people involved in the campaign said on the condition of anonymity.

When news organizations reported that Mr. McCain had written letters to government regulators on behalf of the lobbyist’s clients, the former campaign associates said, some aides feared for a time that attention would fall on her involvement.

Mr. McCain, 71, and the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, 40, both say they never had a romantic relationship. But to his advisers, even the appearance of a close bond with a lobbyist whose clients often had business before the Senate committee Mr. McCain led threatened the story of redemption and rectitude that defined his political identity.

It had been just a decade since an official favor for a friend with regulatory problems had nearly ended Mr. McCain’s political career by ensnaring him in the Keating Five scandal. In the years that followed, he reinvented himself as the scourge of special interests, a crusader for stricter ethics and campaign finance rules, a man of honor chastened by a brush with shame.

But the concerns about Mr. McCain’s relationship with Ms. Iseman underscored an enduring paradox of his post-Keating career. Even as he has vowed to hold himself to the highest ethical standards, his confidence in his own integrity has sometimes seemed to blind him to potentially embarrassing conflicts of interest.

And on it goes. No idea where this might lead, but if there's even a hint of impropriety against McCain, this could blow the primary season wide open and give Mike Huckabee a new lease on life. They just mentioned on Lou Dobbs' "newcast" that McCain and Co. begged the Times not to publish the story, which of course it will be in tomorrow's edition and just about any other publication that subscribes to the NYT newswire.

If they're worried about this, then it may very well be McCain's "hero" status is terminated. And that would mean another "key" turned in favour of the Democrats. Let's not forget he was one of the Keating Five -- the gang of senators that convinced regulators to keep their hands off the "moral" -- and I use the term sarcastically -- Charles Keating and his Lincoln Savings and Loan, which later collapsed in one of the biggest bank frauds in history (McCain was reprimanded by his fellow Senators for bad judgment).

McCain vowed not to take a direct flight from Phoenix to Washington on commercial flights (a route he got approved) yet had no issue flying on corporate jets to and from work. He fought for campaign finance reform but he is leaching off lobbyists this year. And let's face it, who wouldn't be attracted to a Vietnam vet? Especially a married one?

God bless -- and help -- America. If this what passes for normal, DC really needs a shakeout.

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Best blog post of the day (2008-02-19)

I usually don't pay attention to live blogging until after it's done. Going through my RSS this morning, though, I found this charmer from one of the better right wing pundits:

"Oh, goody. Bill O'Reilly is covering the gripping Paul McCartney divorce case. Back to CNN!" -- Ed Morrissey.

Thanks for the morning smile, Captain. Hope all is well with you and the First Mate.

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Can we call it Obamentum now?

Chalk up two more wins by Barack Obama. No surprise he won his birth state of Hawai'i: 76-24. Wisconsin was an even bigger win. This is the kind of working class state that should have been Hillary Clinton's. But Obama continued to make inroads into her constituencies: Unskilled workers, the latter baby boom and Generation X, women. Obama took the state by an almost 3-2 margin: 58-41. As late as Monday, Obama was showing just a four point edge; and the fluff about him lifting some phrases from fellow Democrats proved to be just that. Clinton has no right to whine about it: She and virtually every other candidate for office has at one time or another.

Add to that some polls which indicate Obama is slightly in the lead in Texas, and one can understand how some are now saying Clinton has backed herself into a corner. There are still misgivings about her, serious ones, which she unfortunately has not yet addressed. I am not taking away from her legislative record, street smarts and her good nature. I am amazed, though, that a guy (Obama) with far less legislative experience than JFK could be, at this stage of the race, a far more credible candidate than Clinton (or, if you're Kang, Klin-ton).

The way I see it, the only hope for Clinton in Texas is making sure that her supporters show up for both the primary and the caucus on March 4. That's right, due to yet another quirk in Texas law, there's a two stage election -- a secret ballot held earlier in the day (in fact, advance polls start today) followed by a series of caucus meetings. And we've seen how well Obama does in caucus situations.

Realistically, Clinton must win Texas or at least get 45% of the vote. If she fails even there, one could hardly understand why a superdelegate who has pledged to her might be tempted to say enough of her.

"I know what you want," versus "I know what you need." Hobson's choice, really. Against a 100 year war that John McCain wants -- the money is still on hope.

Look at it another way: the BBC World Service broke into regular programming to carry Obama's announcement for his run about a year or so ago. They didn't do that for Clinton. That must mean something in itself.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Top Eleven Reasons why Dion should force an election

Harper has given the Liberals the following reasons why the time to move is now:

11. Banning access by bureaucrats to progressive websites -- mine included -- even during their off time.
10. An Accountability Act that actually created some new issues that surpass the problems the law was designed to eliminate.
9. Screwing around with the Wheat Board -- one of the most successful cooperatives on the planet.
8. Cancelling universal day care. Harper won't even consider a means-tested regime.
7. Permanently damaging the Child Tax Benefit program with the so-called "child care" benefit which is taxable and reduces eligibility for other entitlements such as the GST Credit and the Guaranteed Income Supplement.
6. Favouring seniors with private pensions over those who don't.
5. Holding cabinet meetings in secret locations.
4. Muzzling committee chairmen.
3. An irresponsible GST cut. An across the board income tax cut would have made way more sense and have been revenue neutral.
2. Questioning the patriotism of those who disagree with Harper [read: Afghanistan].
1. Two words: Chalk River.

All these have happened with a minority government. We can't afford a Conservative majority.

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Adios, Castro

It would have been nice to see him hang on longer, just to make the State Department even more mad, but Fidel Castro has announced today that he will not seek another term as the President of Cuba.

It is my sincere wish that this marks the beginning of the end of the American embargo against the country south of Key West. It has never posed a serious threat to US interests, at least since the termination of the Cuban Missile Crisis. More significant is that is managed to do what the Americans are incapable of doing: Providing top rate, universal medicare -- at about 1/30th the cost of the broken American system.

Castro proved to be a good friend to every Canadian PM except PMS -- and I think it's that bridge that will prove valuable as the barriers eventually come down. When it comes time for contracts to rebuild the country, it will be Canadians and EU firms that get first dibs, not the Americans.

Like Martha Stewart says, that's a good thing.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Give it up, Fayed

Am I the only person on the planet outside of the employment of any government agency who has had it up to here with the fabrications and conspiracy theories of Mohammed al-Fayed? Today's testimony at the inquest really reached a new low even for him.

He claims Diana told him she was pregnant at the time. Impossible: She had her period ten days before. Multiple medical reports attest to this. (Besides, even if she was, who would she tell the news to first; her sons or Mr. Fayed? Exactly.)

He claims the then PM wanted her dead. On the contrary, Tony Blair was about to appoint her as an Ambassador at Large -- maybe even Ambassador to Washington. Why would he blow away his secret weapon just months after becoming PM?

He claims MI5, MI6 and the CIA also wanted her dead. Ridiculous, although all three spy agencies did have files on her.

It's true there was no love lost between Prince Phillip and Diana, during her marriage to Chuck. But they actually got along very well after the divorce.

He is right about what he called Camilla. But you just don't say that in polite conversation and certainly not in a court of law.

As for the accident itself: Serious and credible allegations have been made that Dodi Fayed switched businesses from motion picture producing to arms dealing. If this is indeed the case, wouldn't the elder Fayed have had a duty to warn Diana to keep a safe distance from his son? If there was a murder, wouldn't it be more appropriate to blame it on Al Qaeda or other extremist groups? Or the Mafia?

Fayed is an embarrassment to himself, what's left of his family and the UK. The government should go into Harrod's, melt down the solid gold memorial and drive down the price of the precious metal a hundred bucks an ounce or so.

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UK Bank nationalized

In a last ditch effort to prevent a Titanic, the British government is going to temporarily (whatever that means) nationalize the Northern Rock Bank while it reorganizes; and freeze trading of the stock. This is going to put the Brown administration in the unenviable position of having to foreclose on some of its own citizens.

This move was made after two buyout offers were deemed by the government there to be insufficient. For a party (Labour) that finally appeared to give up on the concept of nationalization, this is déjà vu.

I don't know whether the UK has deposit insurance such that exists in Canada and in the US which theoretically protects innocent depositors in case of a "run" on a bank, but there are two things that bother me about this. One is that it sets a very dangerous precedent and that beyond the deposits, British taxpayers could be on the hook for £55 billion, the value of the distressed loans the bank itself owes. If another major bank gets into trouble, it'll be huge if for no other reason that Northern Rock is rather small compared to the other majors there. (An apt comparison in Canada would be the National compared to the other Big Six Banks.)

Two is that this is indicative of just how much the sub prime crisis has gotten out of hand and that no one did anything to stop it. I generally favour free markets as the best place to determine loan risks, but I also wonder what business the banks around the world had in granting mortgages to high risk people as well as people who decided to hedge on whether those loans would be paid back. Some towns in California and in Ohio are facing foreclosure rates of 25%. This is insane, especially when people were given 125% mortgages meaning even if they lose they still win. The loanees, that is; the loaners are the ones stiffed. Surely there should be some guidelines if not outright regulation to ensure those who take out money can pay it back.

This is truly a case of damned if you do, damned if you don't. Frankly, this extraordinary step could be the end of Gordon Brown who is mostly a lame duck here on in. While I'll be glad to see New Labour go, the presumed alternative of the Conservatives are hardly appealing either -- I'd want to give another look at the Lib Dems (ironically they're supporting Labour on this one, although they say it's very late in the game to have had to taken this step).

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Screw Family Day

Tomorrow is the manufactured holiday called "Family Day." I won't be celebrating it. For one thing, I don't have a family. It was taken away from me when my parents divorced, and there is no prospect of me ever having a family.

I cannot celebrate it when the divorce rate continues to hover at 40%.

I cannot celebrate it when 53% of women will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetimes.

I cannot celebrate it when Canada's Immigration Department does not do a background check on a pedophile known to British authorities, and allows him to enter Canada to commit even more child abuse.

I cannot celebrate it when our tax policies continue to favour rich families over lower income families.

I cannot celebrate it when PMS deregulates foreign adoptions but makes it even harder to adopt a kid born in Canada, making the foster care gulag even larger.

In short, I cannot celebrate a concept that to me is a total farce. There are no real families in Canada, just people who live together who are related to each other.

Screw Family Day. I don't mind the day off. Just call it something else.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Delay's gerrymander may favour Obama

This is interesting ... remember a couple of years ago when the Texas Democrats refused to agree to a mid-cycle redistricting plan; and under orders from Tom Delay arrest warrants were issued for the Dems, when they walked out of the legislature resulting in lack of quorum?

One writer suggests that plan which split the white and black Dem vote in many districts to ensure a Republican win may wind up working in favour of Barack Obama. Since about 2/3 of the delegates are selected by district and only 1/3 by the statewide vote, Obama is primarily focused in Houston, where six of the districts intersect.

This one is really fascinating. It also does raise one of the pitfalls of the particular form of PR the Democrats chose for this cycle; that Obama could lose the popular vote in a really close contest, but still wind up with more delegates as has happen in some states already.

Which vote should people therefore pay more attention to; the state vote or that by district? This one could be messy. But if this helps Delay to shoot himself in the foot; if in fact it helps Texas become a swing state or even a Blue State, so much the better.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Barrie cop circulates "LA Math Test"

Looks like the infamous Los Angeles Math Proficiency Test has come around again -- and in a truly ugly way. This time, a Barrie police officer is on indefinite leave after circulating the "test" (a commentary on gang culture, but which has been given as a real test in some schools in the US and Canada), this after the TO School Board decided to create a school with an "Afro-centric" syllabus.

The test is in and of itself funny. (The tip-off is right at the top, when the student is asked to give his or her name, and his or her gang affiliation.) The context under which this was circulated -- in my opinion, blatant racism -- is anything but. I wrote a few weeks back why I don't agree with the idea of a magnet school of this type. This event further underscores the argument why we need to have a system that reflects all cultures and not just the Two Solitudes; and not a fragmented system.

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Which states matter?

Something that still bugs me about Hillary Clinton's machine is their insistence that Barack Obama has only won in states with relatively smaller populations or where there are caucuses. The races that really matter are the "big" states -- New York, Massachusetts, California (which she has won) as well the big prizes yet to be won: Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania.

That's a rather smug attitude to have. It is right out of Karl Rove's playbook of dividing the country into "red" and "blue" states. In this case, it's navy blue for Obama and robin's egg blue for Clinton. The notion is, even if most of the map is coloured in favour of Obama, it doesn't matter as long as she has the "states that matter."

Every state matters, Sen. Clinton. Every one. If you win the delegate race in the popular vote fair and square, then fine; you're the nominee. But if you treat people in Missouri, Virginia and Connecticut with that kind of an attitude on the way there, then it says a lot about wanting to be a unifier; especially when your husband was extremely divisive although one of the better Presidents from a technical standpoint. It also says, however, that you will tolerate the continued shenanigans he got away with, if he manages to return to the White House as First Gentleman. And that if there's a flood in one state or shooting in one state or a part thereof, you'll respond; but not if it's in another.

Get a grip. Treat all people in your party with respect, not based on what state they're from.

(And for God's sake, have Bill chemically castrated.)

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FISA! FISA! You not give me FISA, I kill you!

Dubya is so hell bent on getting Congress to reauthorize FISA -- the Foreign Intelligence Security Act -- that he even threatened to postpone a trip to Africa to make sure the legislature passed the bill. They haven't yet, to his satisfaction, so for now he's oddly backed off. But the notion that America would be less safe if FISA expired is ridiculous.

In fact, the opposite is true. America would be safer because America would be less under a state of fear. People would be more willing to report suspected terror threats, not keep them under the rug or having to encrypt them a 100 different ways.

The FISA law may not technically apply to Canada (i.e. US laws can't be enforced here), but I have friends in the States and every single e-mail I've sent to them, and all the ones they've sent to me, are in US custody. Along with every other transborder communication. Why?

And let's face it, the real aim of FISA is to spy on domestic phone calls and e-mails as well, as well as library records and other electronically stored sundry. If I borrow The Anarchist's Cookbook, or I want to chat with a Muslim friend, or I just want to vent about what I think about the lack of civil rights at this time in the USA, that's my business and no one else's. The intelligence services of the States -- indeed in all democracies -- have more than sufficient tools at their hands. The Echelon project -- run by Canada, the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand -- monitors every single phone call and e-mail on the planet. Every single one.

Should we be able to stop the terrorists before they strike us? Absolutely. Are FISA and other related laws the way to do it? No. We need to restore the principle of probable cause, not just act merely on a "hunch."

Who's being unpatriotic here? I don't go as far as Keith Olbermann in suggesting that GWB is unpatriotic -- but FISA does come very close to Orwell's 1984. It's time to kill the incipid law, and restore the Bill of Rights.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Why should Fonda apologize?

Aussie comedian Kevin "Bloody" Wilson once griped that you can't say c*%^ in Canada (after Bowser and Blue had to edit out the word from one of his songs they adapted for their act); but apparently, you can in the good old US of A.

Like Jane Fonda did this morning. Let the conservatives rage all they want. Fonda may have had to apologize for her ill advised trip to Hanoi, but she doesn't have to for discussing that word with a morning talk show host. I actually congratulate her for finally saying the last of the Seven Filthy Words on network TV.

(And for the record, Wilson actually got back at the CRTC by dropping the c-bomb himself -- right in Montréal. Good for him, too.)

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Screw Valentine (Open Thread)

I don't particularly like today, because it's so commercialized and so pointless. But I have no intention of being mean about it.

So if you don't have someone in your life, happy Singles Awareness Day.

If you do, happy Valentine's.

I'm leaving this as an open thread today. If you want to talk about Harper, the US election, Valentine's or Britney Spears -- whatever -- feel free to rant. Just keep it clean.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Spielberg gives Beijing middle finger

One of the highlights of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City was the flag ceremony -- and the five rings being carried in by a truly impressive group; among them Desmond Tutu, Lech Walesa, Cathy Freeman -- and Steven Spielberg. So one can imagine the annoyance of many when Spielberg was invited to be an artistic coordinator for the opening and closing ceremonies for this year's Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Spielberg has now announced he's pulling out. The reason: Beijing's refusal to do anything about the situation in Darfur. Mainland China gets a lot of its oil from Sudan so many feel that it is uniquely positioned to put influence on Khartoum to do something.

It was the right thing for Spielberg to do, and he should be congratulated for it. A lot of the suffering in that part of the world is due to China's indifference or cooperation and it should be called out for it.

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Obama, McCain cross Potomac

Big wins for Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) as they further consolidate their positions; both ran the board in Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC. In fact, not only did Obama take the overall lead in delegates over Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), after taking the lead in the popular vote over the weekend; he also got more votes in Virginia than all of the Republican candidates combined.

Noteworthy is that in DC voting for Democratic candidates outpaced Republicans nearly 19-1; but that's to be expected when the Dems support statehood for the nation's capital and the GOP does not. Also, the primaries in DC and Maryland are "closed" -- meaning only open to party members -- but Obama clobbered Clinton there as well. Clinton is supposed to have the advantage in closed primaries according to the conventional wisdom.

What is more significant, in my opinion, is that for the first time Obama also took the advantage among two of Clinton's natural constituencies -- women and unskilled workers. Clinton has an edge with Hispanic voters still but my sense is that is slowly starting to trend away from her as well.

My concern is that she's pretty much given up on Wisconsin and Hawai'i and instead putting all her eggs in Texas and Ohio on March 4th (Vermont and Rhode Island also have polls that day). That would be a terrible mistake on her part. Rudy Giuliani tried that one or two state strategy and it failed miserably. In a general election as well as in the primaries, every precinct -- not just every state -- is a battleground. The one who gets it in the end is not always the one with the most money but the one who believes he or she has to earn the position, not the one who believes he or she is entitled to it.

To be blunt, Obama's "Yes We Can" is a more inspiring message than "Solutions for America" or the "I'm Your Girl" which appears on one of her campaign buttons (really). Also, last night Obama emphasized collective responsibility in his speech; all I heard from Clinton was "me, me, me." Obama has now clearly taken the Bill Cosby approach to civil rights (pulling up one's bootstraps and doing something)as opposed to the Hillary Clinton / Jesse Jackson one (whine, whine, whine). America has paid the price for narcissism in the past, it can't afford it in the future.

I still get the impression, unfortunately, that Mrs. Clinton believes she's entitled to her entitlements and she sees this new kid on the block as the party pooper. After two more of her campaign staff quit last night (or were fired, depending on your point of view) she really needs to regroup and fast.

On the GOP side, McCain is starting to pick up conservative voters who have tended towards Huckabee, but still not quite at 50% of them. For that reason, Mike Huckabee refuses to bow out. There are ways to lose gracefully but increasingly the latter seems to go out like a crybaby as well. At that rate, he can forget the vice-presidency. I don't think McCain would want him as Secretary of Education.

UPDATE (12 noon EST, 1700 GMT): Some minor corrections.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Sorry is always the hardest word ...

... but at least in one country, Australia, it's finally being said. The country's new PM, Kevin Rudd, has offered an official apology for the cultural genocide committed against Aboriginals on the continent as well as the Torres Strait Islands.

Like the disgrace committed by Canadians against the First Nations here in Canada, those afflicted in Australia were truly the stolen generations and no amount of money can compensate for the damage done. The former PM there, John Howard, said it would be wrong to say sorry because the present generation shouldn't be held responsible for the sins of the past. Rudd, however, has taken the high ground as primus inter pares. He's understood it doesn't matter when it happened, it happened and to not make amends however belatedly is just as wrong as the abuse that happened in the first place.

Rudd gets a huge thumbs up from me. If only Harper would get the courage to say "sorry" instead of "regret," he might get some respect from me for a change. It's time to implement the Kelowna Accord.

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Patty Hearst: The (something) is back, so to speak

Remember Patty Hearst -- the newspaper heirress turned Symbionese Liberation Army terrorist? She was eventually pardoned by Slick Willy in exchange for her testimony against Kathleen Soliah.

Last night, she won the 2008 Westminster Dog Show. Well, actually, her pet, a French bulldog. Seriously. Yeah, like that makes up for taking part in a series of bank robberies. Stockholm Syndrome, my butt cleavage.

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Words of wisdom from Thomas Jefferson

As America decides who will its next President be, as we Canadians decide how to go forward in Afghanistan ... and as progressives continue to be called traitors or worse by our conservative colleagues, let us remember these words from Jefferson when someone suggested to him that Shays' Rebellion was a terrible thing and the rebel leaders deserved to be executed:
A little rebellion now and then is a good thing. …God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. …And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.

Amen. Never be afraid to speak out, never be afraid to express your opinions, never be afraid to call it as you see it. Fear is what Cheney and Rove; Harper and Van Loan, want from here to eternity. Enough.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Prayers for Big Blue Wave

Please say a prayer for Big Blue Wave. She's pregnant, and hemmorhaging. You can leave your thoughts and best wishes at her comments. Kathy Shaidle: Thanks for the heads-up.

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Huckabee shafted?

Earlier today, I was very critical of Mike Huckabee and his association with Ken Copeland; and I stand by that. However, and with absolutely no relation to that issue, Huckabee is absolute right to raise a stink about the way the votes have been counted in the Washington State caucuses. Josh Marshall, no friend of Huckabee by any stretch, covers the points in this entry at TPM.

Keep in mind, this is a state where Republicans tend to be more liberal than average. That's no excuse to stop counting the ballots and declare John McCain the winner after only 87% of the returns and with a 1.8% gap between him and Huckabee.

This wouldn't be the first time the apples in Washington were rotten. Christine Gregoire, the state's Democratic governor, won with less than 6000 votes a couple of years ago and also under very suspect ballot counting procedures as well.

It's bad enough not to have a recount like in Florida in 2000. To not even count all the ballots and just presume McCain won is outrageous. Count the ballots -- all of them -- and let the people's voice be heard.

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Mulroney's "lobbying": Denials he both did and didn't

Brian Mulroney has a lot of explaining to do. In testimony to the House of Common Ethics Committee back in December, Mulroney admitted taking payments of $225,000 from Karlheinz Schreiber for consulting work for arms and steel manufacturer Thyssen (now ThyssenKrupp). Claimed Mulroney, the payments were in exchange for lobbying work to governments in France, China, and Russia; as well as the United Nationas.

Seems the CBC and the Globe and Mail decided to check out his claims. So far, they report, they can't prove either that he's telling the truth or that he's lying. The most bizarre point, though, is that no one at Thyssen has any records of Mulroney ever doing any work for them.

It's bad enough Mulroney would want to lobby for the very firm whose name -- Krupp -- still sends shivers up the spines of veterans and war historians. Yes, Germany like most of the rest of the EU is presently an ally of Canada and it's a good thing that they are; but it wasn't that way 60 years ago and memories die hard. But it gets worse.

As far as the claim about China goes, Canada's ambassador to Beijing does state that, yes, Mulroney went on a trade mission to China in 1993; yes, he did lobby the government for arms deals; but no, Mulroney never stated he was specifically acting on behalf of Thyssen. However, if Mulroney did so, he would have violated the very same trade sanctions he imposed on Beijing after Tiananmen and which were in place at the time.

Russia: Jane's Defence Weekly scoffs at the notion Russia would want to purchase materiel from Canada when its own defence plants were in dire straits at the time. France: Why would it favour German industries over its own (even though EU rules require equal treatment)?

So here are my questions:
  1. Are these countries telling the truth when they say they had no contact with Mulroney?
  2. Is ThyssenKrupp telling the truth when they say they never heard of Mulroney?
  3. If the money wasn't to lobby for Thyssen, then what was it for?

It's worth remembering Mulroney did this lobbying, or alleged lobbying, after he stepped down as PM but was still the MP for Québec's Charlevoix district (which includes his hometown of Baie Comeau). He was no longer a member of the Cabinet, but some ethics rules still bound him as to what he could and could not do. Schreiber claims the first payment was made while Mulroney was still Prime Minister which would have been, at the very minimum, a conflict of interest.

Beyond that, it goes to the issue of character. I will not deny that he did a lot of good for Canada. He streamlined the collective bargaining process for the federal bureaucracy; made the family allowance means tested (a necessary step on the long term goal to eliminate child poverty); made a sincere effort to reform pension. On the world scene he spoke out for freedom in Eastern Europe and in South Africa; and was seen as an honest broker between Washington and Moscow, particularly during the first Gulf War.

But when one minister after another got caught in scandal in both his administrations, he was seen as incompetent in his choices. Of course, one naturally had to ask if he himself was on the take. He never delivered on the massive retraining program he promised during the free trade election. And forget Meech Lake. He waited until the last possible moment to rescue it rather than fight for it from the very beginning.

I can't help but wonder if he tried to contain the damage of the early scandals he might have been a truly great Prime Minister. Instead, he's remembered as someone who occupied the office. Someone with incredibly bad taste in the choice of friends.

One last point: I'm not against arms dealers. Someone has to do it, no matter how shady the business can be at times. Even Dodi Fayed, allegedly, was one; as is Mark Thatcher (son of Margaret). But why would Mulroney lobby for a German company, even one with a Canadian branch plant? Shouldn't be have been lobbying for Canadian arms manufacturers instead? Where's the patriotism working for a guy who'd rather sing Das Lied der Deutschen than O Canada? Yes, I know, Schreiber is a Canadian citizen, but he himself should have been working on behalf of Canadian companies rather than German ones, too.

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Huckabee has some 'splainin' to do

Recently, a rather disturbing videotape was leaked showing televangelist Kenneth Copeland during a supposedly "closed door" session with other ministers; endorsing Mike Huckabee after Copeland got the impression that if Huckabee was elected President he'd make sure the IRS didn't interfere with TV ministries.

Copeland also basically told Sen. Chuck Grassley, a fellow Republican leading the investigation of his and five other ministries, NFW. Yesterday on Meet the Press, Gov. Huckabee gave a rather half-baked explanation -- saying Copeland was a "Friend" but that he'd never interfere with a Congressional investigation.

Uh, yeah.

Well, Grassley isn't giving up. He's threatening to sub poena documents from the five of these so-called "churches" that haven't yet complied with his request. (The only one who has so far is Joyce Meyers.)

Look, I'm all for freedom of religion. And while I have repeatedly criticized the "Word of Faith" for its teachings which contradict sound Biblical principles, I won't oppose their right to preach so long as they comply with the law; and walk their talk. Copeland's using his private jet to go on ski trips despite his very specific public vow never to do so is just one example.

Does Huckabee support this kind of hypocrisy? He sure seemed to imply that yesterday on MTP -- and I suppose those who vote for him do also. We have much to fear if McCain picks him as his running mate. (McCain would be wise not to -- Gerald Ford regretted dumping Rockefeller for Bob Dole, saying caving in to the evangelicals was one of the biggest mistakes of his life.) Granted, Huckabee does have a point about investigating all 527 (c) groups as well, but this kind of friendship is too close for comfort.

After all, you didn't see JFK having a lovefest with Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Not that Sheen would have wanted the company -- he was too busy being chummy with Robert Schuller and Billy Graham.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

UK censors athletes

The Olympics are supposed to be non-political but they wind up being such anyway. One of the most blatant (but also one of the most justified) examples was when John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their arms in the "Black Power" salute at Mexico City 1968.

Now, the British Olympic Committee is forcing its athletes to sign a contract forbidding them from criticizing China's human rights record -- or anything else political -- during this summer's games in Beijing. It's interesting to note that Canada, the US and Australia are not putting similar restrictions on their participants. Yet.

Since China will not change before August, barring a miracle, I think all competitors should be granted diplomatic status by their countries for the duration of the games so the Commie Bastards can't do anything to them. And although I personally don't like tattoos, it'd be nice to see some participants write "Fuck the Butchers of Beijing" in Chinese characters on their arms -- then raise them during the medal ceremonies with the Black Power salute, just as Carlos and Smith did 40 years ago.

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Sex offender wins lottery

Should people who have served time in custody be required to compensate the state if they win the lottery? These things do happen ... although in this case the perp, a sex offender, is in trouble not for the $10 million, but for not reporting a change of address. (Source: WCVB)

It's almost impossible to impose an enforcement mechanism that prohibits such people from playing lotteries or at casinos. But in my opinion, they owe restitution to their victims; and if they have a winfall they should forfeit it to those victims.

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Saturday, February 9, 2008

Get rid of the superdelegates

NBC Reporter and legal counsel Dan Abrams wrote an entry on his blog at The Huffington Post about those "superdelegates" that the MSM is focused upon right now, especially in the Democratic Party. He raises the point that these ex officios, about 20% or more of the delegates, each effectively has the power of 10,000 -- that is, it takes ten thousand votes to earn one delegate; but as a Congressman, Governor, ex-President or Veep, or state party chair one automatically gets a free ticket to the convention. (Except for "Independent" Democrat Joe Lieberman, who was stripped of his status since he's campaigning for John McCain.)

It's a good point. I want to see Obama or Clinton lock up the nomination by the state caucuses and primaries; not in a smoke filled, wine and cheese gobfest. Abrams' suggestion, that the supers be bound by the majority vote in their respective district, is smart but impractical. They'll do what they want; and if it goes against what appears to be the clear will of the people, McCain will be laughing his way to the White House.

America doesn't need another eight years of hegemony. It needs a man or woman of the people, not a man or woman of the elites.

Jesse Jackson had it right back in 1992: Get rid of the superdelegates entirely. Party officials should earn their way to the convention the same way as any other delegate. Billy Clinton only cut them by a 1/3, very reluctantly, as the price of getting Jackson's endorsement after the two fought it out all through the first half of that year -- and that decision is now rearing its ugly head. (Jackson also claimed he had the "right" to be veep that year, but Clinton offered that cut, which started from zero, as his quid pro quo to get the minister to shut up.)

No election without selection -- period.

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Clinton gets desperate

Four years ago, John Kerry made a desperate gamble and dipped into his personal fortune -- he is indirectly connected to the Forbes dynasty on his mother's side -- and loaned his campaign $6 million. It paid off in spades. But that was very early in the campaign, well before the regional primaries, way before Super Tuesday.

Now, Hillary Clinton has loaned $5 million of her own money to her campaign. This time, I think it's too little too late. If her campaign is bleeding money, Barack Obama is raising it like crazy -- $3 million just on Thursday. In her latest column, even Margaret Noonan (the woman who wrote the elder Bush's infamous "Read My Lips" speech) suggests the momentum is now tilting clearly in Obama's favour; and that the" superdelegates" who have staunchly been behind Clinton may have now quietly decided to flip and vote for the Man from Illinois if it goes to the convention floor.

That kind of backstabbing would be more stupid than just openly admitting the truth. But beyond that there are from my perspective some big problems with the American Way of politics. Two stick out.

First, if one accepts public financing, he or she is limited to how much they can spend. If they don't they can spend as much as they want. Edwards did the right thing and took public money but it made him an even bigger minnow in a war of attrition. Most other countries set out strict limits for both the nomination process and the race to the actual election.

Second, unique among democracies in the world, America doesn't have free time advertising; that is, requiring networks to give over some time each night during a campaign to let the campaigns tell their stories unfiltered. The best known example is the UK and their announcements which usually have professional production values and a bit of wit attached to them. Canada has a hybrid system with both paid and free time ads.

If everyone in the States had a strict limit of spending and an allotted time to speak out, it would be a more thoughtful and less personal debate; and winning and losing would depend less on personality and more on character. It would be an issues based campaign. And there would be people who actually deserve to run for the highest office in the land; not people who run just because they have money because they're born with it or are convincing authors.

The rate things are going, though, it's going to be McCain vs either Clinton or OBama and it will come to a battle of personalities. America needs a better debate than that.

And I'd start the debate by getting rid of the "commission on Presidential debates" and letting the League of Women Voters do the job again. And let the LWV, not the networks, determine who are viable candidates. Heck, get Ralph Nader involved too -- just so Americans can see for themselves how irrelevant he has become.

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