Saturday, May 31, 2008

FL and MI: ½ off

Can we now say it's over? As most expected, Florida and Michigan got a 50% penalty. Those were the rules everyone agreed to in the first place. The tricky part of course was Michigan, where it was hard to gauge how many Clinton voters would have voted for someone else if there had been no other choice than "uncommitted." In the end, the DNC voted 19-8 to accept the state party's recommendation and peeled off four of her delegates resulting in a 59-49 split.

Although Harold Ickes has threatened to take the issue of awarding of the "uncommitted" delegates from Michigan, it may very well be for naught. A battle over four delegates is going to be pointless if they only count for two votes unless there's a dead tie on the first ballot in Denver. The fact remains that even with the magic number now set at 2118, Barack Obama is 66 delegates away from going over the top. Hillary Clinton is 240 away. But by conceding Florida (the committee's vote was 27-0 to split the state 105-69 with a handful going to John Edwards), Clinton effectively admitted the race really is over, even if she didn't say so directly.

With the final primaries in Puerto Rico tomorrow and in Montana and South Dakota Tuesday, the time has come to bring the two sides together. Whether Mrs. Clinton is on the ballot line this fall or not, she and Obama need to at least sit down and come up with a platform that will present the Dems as the party with the new ideas and a bold strategy to turn the world around. We progressives of course know they are already, but they need to appeal to the moderate vote who could still be persuaded to vote for John McCain in the fall.

However, the idea of having such a prolonged struggle as this year's should scare the wits out of those who are thinking about next time. There is a very strong argument for having four regional primaries for each of the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest and West rotating every election season -- which each primary about four weeks apart, going from February to May. This would give candidates plenty of time to cover the ground and address issues specific to each region. It would also end the pointless "who's on first" game because everyone would know who's turn it was first.

It would also give late comer candidates time to declare. The idea one has to announce nearly a year or more before Iowa is just stupid -- especially if you have ideas that need to be shaped over a longer period of time.

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The flag, according to Penn and Teller

It's been nearly nineteen years since the US Supreme Court made its historic ruling that flag desecration -- where no intent to cause a breach of the peace entails -- is protected by the First Amendment. In casting his deciding vote in the 5-4 decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in concurrence: "It is fundamental but poignant that the flag protects those who hold it in contempt."

As the Dems' Rules and By-Laws Committee meets today to figure out what to do with Florida and Michigan's delegates, it's worth thinking about what freedom means. It's hard for a lot of people to imagine that in many other countries, there would even be a debate over such a delicate issue -- because of course there wouldn't be any. The protesters, or even suggesting there should be a protest, would be punished by imprisonment or worse.

Or the meeting would be held behind closed doors; unlike today's gathering which will be televised.

Penn and Teller have a great explanation of the concept of what free thought means to them:

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Friday, May 30, 2008

Wonder about those "clean coal" ads?

Don't you love TV ads that lobby for a cause without saying so or the reasons why? Archer Daniels Midland ™ has been masterful at doing this for decades -- claiming to be all things to all people while hiding behind the scenes very serious issues. Consider it soft-sell lobbying. The same with Cargill ™ and Monsanto ™.

It's not just agri-food. Several years back, rival accounting bodies bombarded the airwaves in Ontario with advertisements without ever explaining what the real issue was: The Chartered Accountants wanted to keep their near monopoly in certifying annual reports, while the General Accountants and Management Accountants wanted to break open the market to competition as it has been in most of the rest of the country (the latter group eventually won; but the CAs have fought back with a new series of ads suggesting they're the only ones with the credentials to do real business plans, for example).

So it is with the current energy crisis.

We see the ads non stop on US network and cable television: Clean coal, the "balanced" energy choice, the new saviour of the masses. Take the dirty stuff that normally comes out and trap it in carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) for eons, safely. Save for the facts that they haven't told us. You can count the number of demonstration projects around the world -- the world -- on one hand. Only one shows plausibility if not promise, and it only deals with extracting gas from coal and not turning coal to power. (A solution South Africa had to rely on to get gasoline for cars to get around the trade embargo during the apartheid era, and CCS was the last thing on their minds.)

Plus the costs for demonstration projects have spiralled out of control. The NYT reports today that back in January, the US federal government pulled out of a project when the costs hit $1.8 billion, more than double what was expected. It's now focusing, belatedly, on offering subsidies to existing companies who are willing to dedicate portions of a new plant to CCS provided the company and not the taxpayer take over the cost overruns.

So that's what the ads are all about, after all. The taxpayer should bear the brunt, and should continue to fund the pilot projects no matter what the cost. Current demonstration projects should be taken to their logical conclusion even if it means cancelling school lunch programs.

If CCS can be made to work -- really made to work -- then hey, even I would give them back their full investment in tax credits. Even resell those credits on the open market so the company gets double or more back. But throwing good money after bad isn't the way to solve the challenge of reducing emissions of pollutants.

Until then, we need to be relying more on the resources provided by nature and harnessing its potential. Wind, solar, geothermal. In addition to being more energy efficient. As for clean coal ... prove that it works. But don't bully us with ads that don't tell the whole story or disguise your real motives.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Let's play hardball!

With apologies to Chris Matthews ...

The Democratic Party's Rules and By-Laws committee meets two days hence to figure out what to do with Florida and Michigan. We all know what the deal is: Hillary who was against the delegates being seated is now for them being seated; while Barack wants the states seated at a 50% penalty de minimus.

If this posting from CNN is any indication, Obama's people will play hardball this weekend -- just as he himself did in 1996 when he got three fellow community activists disqualified from running for the Illinois state Senate over very minor violations with their nominating papers. It doesn't look like he was happy doing so but he needed an edge and used it. Holding primaries a full week before Super Tuesday, the first legal day to do so, is hardly a minor violation.

Rules are open to interpretation, but in the end they are rules ... and even with a 50% break which is the rule, that would only get Clinton to a point where she needs 87% of the remaining superdelegates to win. Not going to happen unless something really weird happens, and we don't want it to happen.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Like so much human garbage

Consider the following cases. If you were the judge, how would you handle sentencing? Bear in mind, in each case the defendant has pleaded guilty to manslaughter and the prosecution has accepted that plea.

A corporate scion, who stole millions from his or her company's pension plan deliberately impoverishing the employees who in good faith paid into the plan, gets whacked by one of those disgruntled employees in an altercation in the staff parking lot. How much time would you give that employee?

A devoted family person who handles an average job, has several kids and does nothing but live and let live, is killed in a home invasion after getting into a struggle with the burglar. How much time would you give the burglar?

A sex trade worker who is also addicted to drugs is kidnapped by a drifter, strangled to death, and dumped on the side of a rural road like so much human garbage. Knowing the kind of life the woman led, what would be a fair sentence for the pimp?

Well, a judge in St. Catherines has given a defendant in something akin to the last case time served plus one day -- meaning he only has to serve one more day in prison.

One day.

One can be a complete misogynist and still feel revolted by this, because someone who killed the titan or the average parent would get a dozen or more years in jail; but because the woman, Stephine Beck was a hooker, the numnuts judge thinks that she deserves to be treated in death worse than she was in life. This makes a mockery of equal justice for all.

The sentence must be appealed by Pointy Head ... no questions. It's also way past time to reform the prostitution laws so that street walkers have the same rights as those who take advantage of them and crimes of violence committed against them are treated as hate crimes -- which is what they are.

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The White House says it is "puzzled" by Scott McClellan's new tell-all book which he, a Bush loyalist if ever there was one, rips the administration apart.

Most of America, and the vast majority of the world, figured out Dubya and Rove for who they really are years ago. We sure aren't "puzzled."

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Bernier sacked; who else has breached national security?

One cannot take comfort in last night's dismissal of Maxime Bernier as Foreign Minister. However, the progressive movement in Canada has warned Prime Minister Harper on several occasions of Bernier's lack of judgment on a number of issues -- including on Afghanistan (when he suggested a provincial governor be fired) and Burma (when he promised C-17 planes to deliver relief supplies -- turns out they weren't ready and he had to beg Russia to let a cargo jet). However, it was his leaving a top secret briefing docket for an upcoming NATO summit at the residence of his ex-girlfriend that proved to be the final straw.

Julie Couillard, Bernier's ex and a security consultant herself, apparently understood the gravity of this breach of national security as she says she herself has a security clearance (or so she says). She also knows her reputation has been tarnished due to her past association with biker gang members and continues to fear for her safety -- as well as she should. One should give her some credit for returning the dossier to Foreign Affairs.

In my opinion, however, the real issue is Harper himself. If he shows bad judgment in his choice closest circle of advisors, the advisors that have say on both our public safety and our foreign policy, then it shows his judgment as a leader. A policy wonk whose greatest contribution to our national discussion was a plausible and rational argument for a flat income tax would not have been most people's first choice to be head of foreign affairs. It also raises questions as to what other ministers have breached national security.

One can certainly fault Harper for being a control freak, but there are some things -- including sensitive diplomatic communications -- that the public just doesn't need to know about. On top of another security breach, the disposal of draft blueprints for our new counterterrorism headquarters in the regular trash, one wonders who is truly making us safe.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Lindbergh sought solution for eternal life

I know that Charles Lindbergh was quite the character -- aviator, inventor (including a hand in the creation of the heart-lung machine), author. Unfortunately, he also sympathized with the Nazis, at least until Pearl Harbour, and was a supporter of the rightfully discredited "science" of eugenics.

But this story from the BBC really makes me wonder how much of a grip he had. He actually sought a way to be immortal. Well, immortality for him and a "few chosen others."

Guess the search for the Philosopher's Stone has taken multiple turns, but I never would have guessed Lindbergh would be one of the seekers. As pointed out in Harry Potter, only one who knew enough to seek it but not use it would be able to find it -- and no one, absolutely no one, is capable or worthy of doing that in our world.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Carter close to endorsement, Hillary attempts 'splainin' self

In an interview with Britain's Sky News, Nobel laureate and former US President Jimmy Carter came awfully close to endorsing Barack Obama without saying so; but essentially said it's game over for Hillary Clinton. (AFP) Why can't he just say he's with Obama? His four kids are all supporting Obama.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Clinton attempted to offer an explanation about her comments on Friday regarding the Bobby Kennedy assassination, in the NY Daily News. Still not persuasive enough, and she still didn't say that she's sorry.

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Most ridiculous item of the week (2008-05-25)

No, not the super right wing "talking point" from Bill O'Reilly; but a really silly item. So silly, that one of the protagonists in the story actually begged the NPR show "Wait, Wait ... Don't Tell Me!" not to use the story -- but of course, they did.

From the AP:

Boulder, Colorado — It wasn't exactly pistols at 30 paces, but police say a security company supervisor and a restaurateur shot each other with Tasers ™ in a confrontation over parking.

Officers said neither man needed medical attention after the confrontation Saturday, but Harvey Epstein, a co-owner of Mamacitas restaurant in Boulder, was arrested on suspicion of felony menacing and using a stun gun.

A police report said Epstein and Casey M. Dane, a supervisor for Colorado Security Services Inc., were arguing over a metal boot that one of Dane's guards had clamped on a wheel of a van parked behind Mamacitas.

The guard claimed the van, owned by a Mamacitas employee, was on property he was hired to patrol. The van owner denied that.

Dane told police he was afraid Epstein was going to hit him with a 2-foot-long pair of bolt cutters. Epstein told police he had only tried to remove the boot.

Epstein, 36, of Longmont told police that Dane put his hand on a holstered pistol and threatened to shoot him.

Dane told the AP he never threatened to shoot Epstein.

Both men drew Tasers.

"They shot each other," said Police Sgt. Pat Wyton.

Carpe diem.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Has Hillary finally jumped the shark?

What were you thinking, Mrs. Clinton? It is just possible that you need a psychiatrist?

Since the Democratic race began in earnest last year, a lingering worry has been the spectre of 1968 when both Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. It's been such a worry that Barack Obama has had a Secret Service detail since April 2007 -- the earliest a candidate has ever been so offered, after specific threats were received against the Senator from Illinois. Perhaps Hillary Clinton has not had to worry about this since she's had continual protection since the summer of 1992, several months before her husband's first election as President. She, like Bill, are entitled to it for the rest of their lives.

Yesterday, during a meeting with the editorial board of a newspaper in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Clinton dropped this incredible statement:

My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. I don't understand it.

This isn't the first time she made the suggestion. She said it to Time back in March.

When the Obama campaign pounced on it, one of Clinton's aides actually said it was much ado about nothing. Later, Clinton herself attempted to clarify:

Earlier today, I was discussing the Democratic primary history and in the course of that discussion mentioned the campaigns that both my husband and Sen. Kennedy waged in California in June in 1992 and 1968, and I was referencing those to make the point that we have had nominating primary contests that go into June. That's an historic fact.

The Kennedys have been much on my mind in the last days because of Sen. [Edward] Kennedy, and I regret that if my referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation and particularly for the Kennedy family was in any way offensive. I certainly had no intention of that whatsoever.

That just doesn't cut it. "Regret if I offended anyone" is the classic non-apology apology. She isn't sorry. Not one bit. She finally revealed, in a Freudian slip not just once but twice, the way she really hopes she gets the nomination. She can't stand the idea of a black person running for President, so she wants someone to assassinate Barack Obama.

Does she remember her history about the horrors America went through after Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield and William McKinley were murdered? That the world went through when John F. Kennedy was murdered? The uproar when Malcolm X was killed? The campaign turmoil that resulted from MLK's and RFK's murders? The close calls with Andrew Jackson, both Roosevelts, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan; and yes even Bill Clinton -- when someone flew a small plane into the White House basement windows?

And having campaigned for George McGovern way back in 1972, she obviously remembers when Arthur Bremer shot George Wallace. A then almost unknown Bob Woodward, a full month before the Watergate break-in, told America that Bremer was looking for any Presidential candidate to shoot -- not Wallace in particular. In fact, it was Wallace's being paralyzed that led Nixon to issue a standing order, still in effect today, that viable Presidential candidates received round the clock Secret Service protection for the duration of their respective candidacies.

Of course, the eyes of protective services can't be everywhere at once, and there has been a genuine fear for the safety of Clinton (because she's a woman), Obama (because he's half black) and McCain (because of his positions on the Middle East). Several times during the campaign, she made clear that Obama didn't meet the Presidential standard but that McCain did. She stuck to this position until less than a week before the Pennsylvania primary, long enough to show enough doubts in Appalachia where she has her base and to make sure that base, a large section of which is racist, stayed racist. Or if by kismet Obama did win, that he'd lose so badly she'd be all set for 2012.

She would go on to say in her non-apology that she's honoured to hold the Senate seat that RFK once held. Well, I have to reply that if I was living in the state of New York, barely 80 km to the east of where I live, I would be writing to her demanding her resignation. Resigning from the campaign, and resigning as a Senator. Because New York, and America, deserve better than a woman who has wished all along -- whether consciously or subconsciously -- nothing but ill for her colleague from Illinois.

If uncommitted superdelegates have been waiting for a reason to declare for Obama and put an end to the race, she's finally given it to them. America, and the world, deserves better than her. She's not fit to walk in the shoes of RFK. She's not even fit to untie the sandals of her brother, Edward, whose illness has been on our minds all this week.

As usual, although much quicker out of the gate than usual, Keith Olbermann pounced -- in fact I think this is a record turnaround for a "special comment," coming the same day as Clinton's bombshell comment:

I don't know how this Dawn Quixote looks herself in the mirror anymore. She's proven to be a megalomanical figure, and yesterday's subtle death wish against a man she calls her "friend" was the absolute last straw. For the record, and so I am not misunderstood, I don't have a problem with women running for office, just women -- and men -- with her kind of slash and burn politics.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

McCain dumps Parsley; Khadr gets (some) secret docs

Two items today ... in reverse order.

First, Omar Khadr, the Canadian detainee at Gitmo, won a partial victory today when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the Government of Canada has to turn over some documents related to his case, provided that it doesn't relate to national security. The SCC also ordered the government to pay Khadr's court costs in this appeal. The ruling provides a bit of an out for Ottawa, but at least Khadr's entitled to transcripts of interviews conducted by Foreign Affairs, CSIS and the Mounties.

A key part of the ruling is that the principle of comity, where the decisions of foreign courts are respected, do not apply where international law is being violated -- and Gitmo is patently illegal except in the minds of Dubya and his cronies. The US Supreme Court has already ruled that the rules under which Khadr and others were detained violated due process; therefore by collaborating with an illegal court, Canada itself broke international law.

One notes the order was issued by "The Court," a tool the Supremes sometimes use in controversial cases to hide the author of the opinion. I think this is wrong, a per curiam order may be justified where leave to appeal is denied but where a hearing is granted Canadians do have a right to know who stepped up to the plate to make the ruling on behalf of his or her colleagues, even if it is a 9-0 decision.

Still, it's a major stand for human rights. The Stinchcombe precedent that requires almost complete full disclosure by prosecutors stands. It's hard to say how it will affect Khadr's defence but it got considerably easier today.

The other relates to John McCain. Late last night and still smarting from his disavowal of John Hagee, McCain also dumped Ohio-based Ron Parsley after it "became known" that Parsley believes it is America's destiny to destroy Islam. I place "became known" in quotation marks because he's had this opinion for years, and now McCain suddenly discovers it?

Dumping two ministers in the course of a day may actually be a good sign, that like many mainline Republicans he is simply sick and tired of televangelists and their undue influence on party policy especially when it comes to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Unfortunately the friends McCain have chosen to get endorsements from, like many other televangelists directly or indirectly support the aims of the Kach and Kahane Chai; both of which advocate the expulsion of Arabs not just from the Occupied Territories but also from Israel proper where 18% of its citizens are Arabs, as well as the destruction of Islamic worship sites including Haram al Sharif and -- worst of all -- the destruction of Israeli democracy and the installation of an absolutist monarchy that would make the Taliban seem pretty gentle to women.

Several illegal settlements in the West Bank not authorized by Israel have been already set up and are in the full control of Kahanists; few outside of foreign policy circles know about this but it should be known.

Not surprisingly, Israel, the US, Canada and the European Union have all declared Kach and Kahane Chai terrorist groups; even though Israel seems to be perfectly okay with religious tours organized by the likes of Hal Lindsey, Paul and Jan Crouch, inter alia, who support the aims of the followers of the late Meir Kahane. Something McCain seems to have forgotten or neglected. How could the guy with the most public service to America running for office this year not know who they are or what they stand for? With friends like these ...

McCain should go all the way and state the GOP is done with the "New Right," period. Either he's his own man, or the pawn of James Dobson. As more evangelicals admit they're actually with the centre or left in America and both Clinton and Obama court their favour, America is in for a huge shift in the way it reconciles church and state; and that it will be religious progressives, not religious conservatives, that drive the agenda for both foreign and domestic policy. This may finally mean, inter alia, a break in the logjam in the longstanding dispute over the Middle East.

All I can say to that is, it's about time.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

McCain dumps Hagee

I'm not surprised that John McCain has disavowed himself of John Hagee's endorsement. Had he bothered to run a NEXIS / LEXIS, he never would have sought it out in the first place. Nor would he be going after the endorsement of so many other televangelists. Some of the stuff they come up with you can't possibly make up, but they make for comedy reels. (Just run any televangelist's name with "comedy" at YouTube and you'll get at least a few videos.) Suggesting the Holocaust was pre-ordained in the Bible? That Hitler had to come along because the Bible said so?


Take Hagee for instance.

Shortly after Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995, controversial San Antonio broadcaster and preacher Hagee insisted the murder -- like the Holocaust or the refounding of Israel -- was preordained in the Bible. I can't recall the exact chapter and verse he cited, but he said something about a million people witnessing their king being murdered; and said such a thing would not have been possible until the modern electronic age when the attack was shown live on television. After stating this, Hagee was careful to condemn the murder but in the next breath basically said, "I told you so. The world's coming to an end!"

I got sick of these newspaper preachers years ago -- you know, the kind that holds a Bible in one hand and a paper in the other and tries to corelate the two. And I'm not just talking about the "fig leaf" and Israel.

For decades they've claimed the European Union is the seventh and final revival of the Roman Empire, pointing out it was founded by the Treaty of Rome; not recognizing the first six -- if you can say there were six -- were all personal dictatorships and one of the terms of becoming and retaining membership within the Union is being a democratic state. This precludes the Vatican from ever joining the EU, although it has expressed an interest in joining Schengen (the border free regime) as it already has an open border with Italy.

Given that a major swath of Europe is Protestant and the rest that is Catholic is a secular Catholicism at best it's highly unlikely we'll ever see a Pope who's also President of the European Commission. A moral influence, perhaps, but that's all Vatican Hill can ever hope to be.

Many of the same televangelists have tried to connect the Roman Catholic Church (the alleged "Whore of Babylon") and the European Union, pointing out among other things Vatican City is permitted to mint Euro coins with the Pope's effigy on it.

Oh please.

Of course the Vatican mints Euro coins, but that's owing back to the time when it minted a Vatican lira alongside the former Italian currency. While it is technically legal tender through most of the continent you rarely see those coins in circulation in Europe -- the same as Monaco and San Marino, the other two "out" members of the Euro zone. The Euro coins the three authorized microstates makes mostly sell as proof collector sets; and anyone who can fish out a Vatican or Monegasque or Sanmarinese coin in any of the eighteen countries is very lucky. Definitely not a leech for the so called "Whore." And anyone who manages to have a complete coin set each of from all eighteen countries (which is a hobby in itself, since coins made by any of the eighteen countries can be used in all eighteen of them) would be very lucky. Again, not a leech for the "Whore."

Take a vote from whomever one wants, an endorsement from whomever one wants. But remember, people judge you by the company you keep and whether they can get their facts straight, about world events or even as simple as currency.

To his credit, Pastor Hagee said afterwards he's not going to actively campaign for McCain anymore. He shouldn't have in the first place, if he wanted his mega-church to keep its tax-exempt status.

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End of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell?"

The Huffington Post reports that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco voted to reinstate the lawsuit of an Air Force officer who was dismissed from the military.

While not specifically striking down "don't ask, don't tell," the majority of the court did say the burden of proof was on the Pentagon that Maj. Margaret Witt's presence as an individual was detrimental to morale, not merely the fact she is a lesbian. The panel relied on a 2003 US Supreme Court decision which legalized sodomy in the States, based on SCOTUS' assessment that a Texas law invaded an individual's right to personal privacy.

One of the panel members said that assessment didn't go far enough: He would have struck down "don't ask ... " all together.

It's worth noting that Witt's dismissal just two years before completing her 20, despite a shortage of flight nurses and receiving a citation from no less than Dubya, led to several resignations from the military who thought she was being treated unfairly. Clearly, the fact she was a lesbian didn't bother her underlings. Why should it have been bothersome to her superiors?

Frankly, I believe the policy was stupid to begin with and it should be trashed, in favour of one that states specifically that a person's sexual orientation is not a reason to be hired (or not) or fired (or not) from the armed corps -- since it is not a justifiable reason in the civilian portion of the public service. The only reason why sexuality should be a reason for dismissal is if sexual misconduct, be it harrassment or assault, was committed; whether the person accused was gay or straight.

There are already many fine men and women serving who are homosexual. They fight just as hard as people who are heterosexual. It's time to open the door. Hopefully, the next administration will finally put an end to the nonsense. Witt, not just her lawsuit, should be reinstated retroactively and allowed to return to active duty or re-retire with a full pension with the correct seniority and full benefits -- as well as others like her.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

So Hillary, you want to seat FL and MI? YOU STILL LOSE!

Here's a nifty chart from Democratic Convention Watch. Under every scenario being considered, from excluding Florida and Michigan all together to seating them as is, Obama still leads Clinton in number of delegates and is closer to the magic number required to win outright. The lead is 71 to 171 depending on how the Rules Committee decides to handle the situation. My guess right now, they'll seat Florida as if the election was legal; and split Michigan 67-57 since Obama wasn't even on the ballot there.

We'll know what the DNC decides on Friday. It's an open meeting; at least, open to the press; but since Obama has a vast majority of the states and territories to date, it stands to reason his team will control the process.

One other point: Clinton claims she's the real leader in popular vote, but note she and Terry McAuliffe deliberately exclude the caucus states which they dismiss as "beauty pageants." It's a bit tricky since the state parties there reported delegates to the state or territorial convention and not actual raw numbers as the GOP did in their caucuses, but presuming 20 votes for each delegate selected by precinct, Obama would still have a lead of about 200,000 votes when all is said and done.

Actually, Hil, I'm being hard on you. There are no losers, you've proved a woman can run for President and be taken seriously and in that sense you are a winner. You just decided to run as though it was 1992 and 2008 -- and America's moved on. You totally misread Web 2.0 and its power.

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Don't you hate these things?

I had to check my maternal grandmother into the hospital yesterday. She checked out after some tests, but the next few days might see limited blogging on my part while we make sure the meds she got actually work to fix the issue this time around.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The tax increase Flaherty won't admit to

In 1985, as a budget restraint measure, then finance minister Mike Wilson ordered a partial deindexing of tax brackets and personal credits, saying they would increase only on the portion above 3%, if inflation was above that level. Because of sound economic fundamentals from the private sector, however, the CPI most years was either below or barely above that. As a result, we Canadians got hosed because even though the tax rates didn't increase more and more of us creeped up into higher brackets with annual wage increases.

Thankfully, Paul Martin finally put an end to this shell game in 2000. True, he made us wait six years -- but he finally restored full indexing. Unfortunately, general increases in the personal exemption over and above inflation hasn't been entirely retroactive. Right now, the federal exemption is $9600; inflation dictates it should be about $12,000 to $13,000 if we set today's dollars back in 1985.

So what's my beef on this one? Well, first, the exemption should be raised up to its proper level, maybe not immediately but phased in over four years. But there's another one.

Although inflation last year was 2.5%, the personal exemption remains frozen at the same level as last year. It should be, at a minimum, $9840. Flaherty will argue that the brackets went up. Fine. He will also say Canadians are saving income taxes, what with an exemption for kids and a working income tax benefit. That's fine too, I do support both also.

But single people need a tax break too. Either the exemption should be increased across the board for all which works for everyone (since putting the exemption where it should be at least would save everyone $14.76, but hey every little bit helps!); or the feds should adopt something similar to what exists in Québec, a "living alone" amount.

Otherwise, the "tax cutter" is actually increasing taxes behind our backs. Which makes Slim Jim a liar.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Clark snubbed!

It's easy to understand how bitter feelings can die hard, but I simply don't buy the explanation that PMS couldn't reschedule a portrait unveiling in Parliament for Joe Clark. The unveiling has been a long time coming, in part because Clark was still quite active in politics for another 24 years after being unseated as Prime Minister -- 17 of those as a sitting member.

But consider that Jean Chrétien attending the unveilings for two of his rivals: Brian Mulroney (Progressive Conservative) and John Turner (Liberal). Paul Martin attended the unveiling for Kim Campbell even though he had a role in creating the platform that resulted in her mass decimation at the polls. In fact, the records show the only other time there was a snub was Mulroney telling Pierre Trudeau to eff off -- and with some reason, over the constitutional issue.

The fact, though, that the two would still rather avoid each other shows a fatal flaw in the conservative movement in this country. The merger between the PC and Reform parties was hailed as a partnership of equals -- instead, it's turned out to be the Christian far-right steam rolling over their more pragmatic "allies." Little wonder many PCs have found their way to the Liberals or to fringe parties, because there is no voice for the centre right left in this country.

Bottom line is, Harper should have found a way to reschedule the unveiling. This is just petty on his part. But he himself set the precedent: When he was running in the by-election that put him in the House a few years ago he refused to debate his four opponents in the district, not even acknowledging their right to exist. He did not want to be attacked for fear of being exposed for his vulnerability: his insecurity and power hunger.

Now all he can do, all he wants to do, is blame the current problems of the country on the previous administration -- all of them. Harper may legally be the Prime Minister, but he sure isn't acting like one. By contrast, when Trudeau lost to Clark in 1979, he made a point of having his sons reach out to the latter's daughter in a show of fellowship. They were the real gentlemen. Harper isn't one and he never will be.

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What goes up ...

It's often been said that one doesn't have to be nice to the people he or she meets on the way up, if they're not coming back down. Of course, the problem is far too often up comers never think they'll fall -- but of course they do and when it inevitably happens they find they have few or no friends left.

Such may be the case with Hillary and Bill Clinton, according to an article in the Boston Globe. One reason why so many superdelegates are endorsing Barack Obama is all the bridges Billary burned during the 1990s, especially on health care and education.

One of them was Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee who had a compromise health care plan that had bi-partisan support but was stopped dead by Hillary who, according to Cooper, set up a "war room" with the specific purpose of defeating any and all plans except her own. There's also Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. of Pennsylvania who's still smarting over his father being denied a speaking slot at the 1992 convention because of his pro-life stance.

I submit that if the Clintons had been more flexible on health care, the only people who would have heard of Newt Gingrich are those who watch C-SPAN. If they had been more welcoming to the pro-life camp of the Democratic Party, there could have been a decisive policy shift in favour of healthy families and an even more substantial reduction in abortions than merely the 1/3 that happened during their administration (largely due to increases in the earned income tax benefit, which Bush Lite has decimated during his two terms, resulting in an increase in abortions during his term).

But it seems that even for them, the "Third Way" had its limits and it had to be their way or the highway.

The Clintons are clearly banking on Barack Obama losing so they can get their revenge in 2012, and put their enemies out in the wilderness once and for all. But the train has already left the station. The baby boom has had their turn running America. The "two for the price of one" team disgraced themselves, he over his misconduct and she over blaming his infidelity on a "vast right wing conspiracy." And we all know what Dubya has done, bringing America to an economic and moral precipice.

It's sad in a way, because the Clintons are brilliant people. They just do stupid things. And we don't need a Stupid ™ in the White House after 16 years of Stupids ™. If Bill and Hillary want to know why their party has abandoned them, they need to consider whether they abandoned their party in favour of narcissism.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Plan B for all ... sort of

We hear the stories all too often of pharmacists in the United States who refuse to stock any kind of family planning products because of "moral conscience," which really means imposing their will (the vocal minority's) against the silent majority. Others are even worse: They'll provide condoms and dental dams and even sell impotence pills for the guys, but will refuse to sell birth control pills or diaphragms to women.

Both positions are untenable. Pharmacists are licensed professionals and they're bound by the rules of their profession, which in some cases are tempered by the law. In this case, if a drug is legal or device is legal to sell it should be available to all. Controlled substances, of course, require a prescription; but if one is presented it should be filled -- without any alleged presumptions by the man or woman behind the counter about the patient's moral code. Any whatsoever.

So it is good to hear the story that "Plan B," the so-called morning after pill, will soon be available in Canada over the counter and without a prescription -- no questions asked. Everywhere, that is, except in Québec; where it will be dispensed upon request on a qualified OTC basis, that is the pharmacist will still advise the woman about the risks involved which means females in that province will pay $15 more than in the rest of Canada.

I think that last part is ridiculous, even if the drug is covered by Medicare or private insurance. There is an argument that this mandatory consultation will leave vulnerable women, especially teenage girls, more so -- and even more reluctant to discuss the risks of sex with their partners and if under 18 with their parents or guardians. As far as adult women go, there may very well be a reason why a woman might not want to get pregnant especially if she is being abused by her partner.

From a personal standpoint, I do think there is a role for parents to encourage their kids, male or female, not to have sex of any kind until they are at least eighteen and in a committed relationship, if neither is possible to use protection each and every time, and to practise serial monogamy -- only one partner at a time, period. All women, regardless of age, also require protection from their abusive partners and strict enforcement of the sexual assault laws based solely on the facts at hand and not question a woman's prior history as police are so wont to do.

But if a woman wants to use the morning after pill, that should be her decision and no one else's. As far as the concern that a pharmacist may be able to flag whether a woman's been raped, it's a fair one; but I know too many women who've had to elect to have an abortion or were forced to get one by their partners after they were raped and were too embarrassed to discuss either scenario until years later. In such cases, disclosure of a rape should be voluntary and not coerced; but if a woman volunteers that is why she is getting the drug then of course the pharmacist should call law enforcement straight away and provide whatever other assistance he or she can.

As far as drug interactions go, such as for epileptics -- a store's computer already keeps track of what pills and inhalers a patient is taking and normally that patient will go to only one store as they have all the drugs on file for insurance purposes. The red flag would come up, and an alternate and less harmful combination of drugs dispensed.. Women in Québec shouldn't have to wait two more years to get Plan B on a true OTC basis. Besides which, the drug is only an emergency contraceptive; if a woman is sexually active and has no plans to get pregnant then she should be taking The Pill anyway, if she is not allergic to it, and insist her partner use condoms.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

McGovern on Obama

George McGovern is a very thoughtful person, and I almost wish he had beaten Richard Nixon back in 1972. Here is McGovern at a rally last night for Obama.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Who cares about Shania Twain?

As the week comes to a close, I take a look at the top ten stories right now at the CBC's website. Number one is the daily Sudoku puzzle. Number two -- is Shania Twain filing for divorce from Mutt Lange.

Okay, it's not a happy story and there's a six year old kid involved ... but aren't there more important things to talk about? Especially when tens of thousands of couples break up every day and we never hear about that?

Reminds me of a bad joke on Air Farce. Neil Young starts to talk about the group Moist. David Crosby perks up and says, "That's the feeling I get whenever I see Shania."

I'll be busy tomorrow campaigning for Tyler Banham, the Liberal candidate here in Hamilton Mountain. I'll catch y'all tomorrow.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Even golfers would be embarrassed by this

So Bush's idea of paying tribute to the fallen in Iraq is to ... stop playing golf. Seriously.

Many of you probably saw Keith Olbermann's "Special Comment" last night. Haven't been able to find a full clip to paste here, so here's a link to the full editorial. This guy is really angry. Here's how he concluded it:

Your one, tone-deaf, arrogant, pathetic, embarrassing gesture, and you didn't even think of it yourself? The great Bushian sacrifice — an Army private loses a leg, a Marine loses half his skull, 4,000 of their brothers and sisters lose their lives — and you lose golf, and they have to pull you off the golf course to get you to just do that?

If it's even true.

Apart from your medical files, which dutifully record your torn calf muscle and the knee pain which forced you to give up running at the same time — coincidence, no doubt — the bombing in Baghdad which killed Sergio Vieira de Mello of the U.N. and interrupted your round of golf was on Aug. 19, 2003.

Yet CBS News has records of you playing golf as late as Oct. 13 of that year, nearly two months later.

Mr. Bush, I hate to break it to you 6 1/2 years [sic] after you yoked this nation and your place in history to the wrong war, in the wrong place, against the wrong people, but the war in Iraq is not about you.

It is not, Mr. Bush, about your grief when American after American comes home in a box.

It is not, Mr. Bush, about what your addled brain has produced in the way of paranoid delusions of risks that do not exist, ready to be activated if some Democrat, and not your twin Mr. McCain, succeeds you.

The war in Iraq, your war, Mr. Bush, is about how you accomplished the derangement of two nations, and how you helped funnel billions of taxpayer dollars to lascivious and perennially thirsty corporations like Halliburton and Blackwater, and how you sent 4,000 Americans to their deaths for nothing.

It is not, Mr. Bush, about your golf game! And, sir, if you have any hopes that next Jan. 20 will not be celebrated as a day of soul-wrenching, heart-felt thanksgiving, because your faithless stewardship of this presidency will have finally come to a merciful end, this last piece of advice:

When somebody asks you, sir, about Democrats who must now pull this country back from the abyss you have placed us at ...

When somebody asks you, sir, about the cooked books and faked threats you foisted on a sincere and frightened nation …

When somebody asks you, sir, about your gallant, noble, self-abnegating sacrifice of your golf game so as to soothe the families of the war dead.

This advice, Mr. Bush: Shut the hell up!

Amen, brother Keith. Amen.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

John Edwards endorses Barack Obama

Hillary Clinton must be asking if the astrologer on her payroll -- if she has one -- ought to be fired. She spent the whole afternoon taping TV interviews for tonight's newscasts; and gets upstaged by none other than John Edwards, who in the last hour (at this writing) and just in time for the evening newscasts on the East Coast endorsed Barack Obama. If his 19 pledged delegates and one superdelegate join him, that more than wipes out all her gains last night in West Virginia.

Moreover, it may give some straddling superdelegates who would have otherwise endorsed Edwards had he stayed in the race (given his very strong stance against endemic poverty) the incentive they need to wrap this thing up. Sure, Clinton has the right to stay in the race to the bitter end. But as Bette Midler is fond of saying, "Why bother?"

It does pose a question, though: Less than 48 hours ago he was on Larry King Live and still refused to say one way or the other, so what changed? Anyone know something about this? Edwards must have been offered vice-president or a cabinet post as quid pro quo, otherwise he wouldn't have waited until after the primary in North Carolina last week.

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Rapid transit for Hamilton, now

Back in 1981, then Ontario Premier Bill Davis was keen to showcase a made-in-Ontario technology -- a light rapid transit line that operates on linear induction, a form of magnetic levitation. He offered to pay for a line in Hamilton. For whatever misguided reason, a NIMBY attitude plus a local magazine sympathetic to the super rich and big business in town conspired to get the then regional council to reject the plan. The technology was sold to Vancouver -- and it became the SkyTrain.

The results became evident. Commercial development in Vancouver skyrocketed. In Hamilton, it has been largely stagnant.

Now, we're finally getting a chance to do it right. Next week, a liasion committee is set to issue a final report on what mode of rapid transit Hamilton should adopt. And overwhelmingly, the people's choice appears to be light rail. While I initially thought bus rapid transit was more appropriate, a surface light rail line might just be what Hamilton needs.

The current draft proposal would be for two lines. One would cover the tracks of the current "B-line" express bus running from Eastgate Square in Stoney Creek to University Plaza in Dundas (not to be confused with McMaster University about three or four kilometres east). The other, called the "A-line" would run from downtown along James and Upper James to Airport Road and then west to the airport itself; with a possible spur line running from Upper James to Mohawk and onto Limeridge Mall.

The hangup appears to be the crossing up and down the escarpment. A bus rapid transit line would require closing James Mountain Road to all but buses and emergency vehicles; and since it is a major tracked route during morning and evening rush hours there might be pushback there. A light rail line would require boring a tunnel or cut at 5% grade through the escarpment and there are few examples other than Pittsburgh to demonstrate the cost efficacy of this.

Another issue could be the cost of expropriation. Upper James from the escarpment to Twenty Road has a well developed commercial sector, and while there is a fairly wide road, it's still not quite enough to have dedicated lanes without widening the road to some extent. However, city after city that has some kind of rapid transit has seen widespread use and commercial development along the route.

But the die has been cast, and it looks like we're finally going to do the right thing. Whatever the cost -- and it's said to be over a billion for light rail -- it must be done. We have to get people out of their cars and create more transfer points to facilitate travel, not just one or two. One last thing, to make it effective there must be frequent service -- say, every five minutes. Otherwise there's no point.

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Dems win by-election in ... Mississippi!

Clinton's big win last night in West Virginia (67-27), while disappointing, wasn't entirely unexpected. Even with an 16-7 delegate split (estimated) that closes the gap by 9 -- in a week when Obama picked up at least two dozen superdelegates and even a handful of delegates already "pledged" to her.

Inexplicably, 6% voted for John Edwards even though he dropped out months ago. What's with that?

The real story last night, was the by-election in Mississippi-01, the northwest of the state. This was no contest: The Democrats won a huge upset in the land of Elvis, historically Democratic but a GOP fiefdom for more than a decade, by a comfortable margin of 8 points; and drop the elephants to below 200 seats in the House. Republican attempts to paint Travis Childers as an Obama ally backfired as there was a record turnout of both blacks and poorer whites who are just fed up with the Gingrich-Cheney revolution.

A huge congrats to Childers, who puts another piece in the puzzle to help all of Mississippi turn Democratic this fall.

Childers is a strong conservative, a Southern Democrat in the traditional sense (he called himself a "Mississippi Democrat"); and Obama will need to pull a big chunk of disenchanted classical conservatives (not the pseudo neo-cons). He's proven he can do this in some marginal regions but will have to repeat the feat nationwide. Nevertheless, winning three out of four by-elections in three months -- and all three switches in favour of the Dems -- is a very good sign that, yes he can.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

By the way, Hillary ...

... about that thing you said a few months ago, that pledged delegates really aren't pledged at all. Maybe you should have kept your mouth shut. Because one of your "pledged," Jack B. Johnson -- the county chair of Prince George County, Maryland, who was "pledged" to you -- will now vote for Barack Obama.

As Edna Krebapple would say, Ha!

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Buffalo Bills do right by Everett

It's not every day that a sports team does the right thing by its players, but I want to tip the hat to the Buffalo Bills.

Tight End Kevin Everett, a third round draft pick in 2005, was looking forward to a breakout season last year when during the season opener's second half opening kickoff, he collided into Denver's Domenik Hixon and severed his third and fourth vertebrae. Paralyzed from the neck down, many thought he'd never walk again. This was a truly awful scene -- people in the normally boisterous crowd were just silent and many bars across North America even more so.

Most teams would just cut their losses -- especially a team which haven't had a few good seasons. Not the Bills. Thanks to a quick acting sports medicine team in the ER as well as extensive rehab in Houston, Everett is walking on his own.

He was officially released today -- technically, placed on the waived / failed list. But the Bills did something else which makes me want to stand up and cheer.

The team made a point of putting him on the reserve injury list last year, and he was paid his salary of $435,000. By doing this, they made sure Everett qualified for the NFL's three and out pension; which guarantees he'll let a pension of $1410 a month for the rest of his life based on years of service. In addition, he'll get disability of $18,700 a month as long as his back doesn't heal (of course it won't), a lump sum payment of $75,000 -- and full medical benefits and dental benefits for him and his family for five years.

In other words, while fate dealt him a cruel hand, his employer made sure he would be taken care of. That's what all companies, not just sports teams (and most don't, as I stated) should do. My only beef is that he doesn't get the medical for life; but $20,000 a month will be more than enough to take care of his worries -- plus he should have no trouble getting a job as a play-by-play announcer for any team or network.

His case is a hard one but it proves the point why America needs universal coverage. Insurance companies look for any excuse to cut off their customers, especially when a spinal cord injury happens. The Bills organization put their foot down -- not just for themselves but for all American companies. I agree, enough is enough. We certainly wouldn't do the same if an athlete, or anyone else, in Canada was dealt the same hand Everett was -- that is, we wouldn't let them rot; we'd make sure they got the best treatment possible no matter how much it cost our public health care system.

And we need to make sure that everyone is entitled to the same kind of gold-plated LTD and rehab that less than 10% get as part of their benefits package, in both countries.

On a more personal level, I also salute Everett himself. He proved spinal cord injuries can be beaten -- and medical science should make all efforts to ensure all of the paralyzed can walk again. Let's burn all the wheelchairs, and get rid of them permanently.

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Change a-comin' in Mississippi?

West Virginia has its primary today and while it's safe to say Hillary Clinton will win big it may be somewhat closer than polls suggest. I say somewhat because while there's no way Barack Obama will win that state, if he can keep the gap within 20 points it will be a moral victory for him and a Pyrrhic one for her.

But even if she wins by the 2/3 majority expected, her net gain in delegates will be just 10 -- peanuts. Very few (except her and Terry McAuliffe, maybe) are expecting she'd actually get 85% and with it a clean sweep.

However, I suggest that a race we should all keep an eye on today is the runoff by-election in Mississippi's 1st district, which includes the cities of Columbus, Corinth, Grenada, Southaven and Tupelo. (See map here.) Like some other southern states like Louisiana, there's a second round ballot if no one gets 50% in the first, like in France. The district has been traditionally Democratic but switched Republican during the Gingrich revolution, ending a 122 year winning streak. Now, there's a strong chance it may go back to the Dems.

How bad has it gotten for the GOP? Put it this way: The district tends to vote Republican about 10% more than the national average. In the first round ballot three weeks ago, though, the donkey came within 400 votes of winning it all. Even Dick Cheney was sent in to campaign there -- yes, Dick, and he's not exactly popular down there either.

The Democratic candidate, Travis Childers, has been guaranteed a seat on the Agriculture committee if he wins and in a mostly rural district that could be a huge boon as the farm bill is being negotiated.

What has the Republican candidate, Greg Davis done? The Obama card, of course -- even though Childers has never met Obama and is also pro-life and pro-gun. Childers isn't entirely innocent, though: He's claimed Davis is a carpetbagger since his hometown of Southaven is a suburb of Memphis (literally, the two cities are across the state line from each other). If Davis wins, he'll probably get a crappy committee assignment -- say, the Library of Congress or the District of Columbia. That too will weigh on the minds of voters in MS-01 today.

When even the main paper in Memphis (the Commercial Appeal) endorses the guy not from the immediate region, you know the GOP is in trouble.

A loss in the 'burbs of Chicago, in Baton Rouge -- and possibly in northwest Mississippi too? People are really hungry for change if the Republicans can't win the easiest contests of all. A Dem win -- or even a very close loss -- would put that state in play for the fall Presidential contest and we all know Clinton has already given up on Old Miss. Not Obama, I would think.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Is Obama an apostate?

Hermann Goering said if you repeat a lie often enough, eventually enough people will believe it so it becomes universal truth. In the age of the Internet; and when most of the networks are controlled by right-wing interests, routinely stamp on editorial independence, and fail to disclose conflicts of interest (especially at Fox News) -- the lies spread even faster and are more enduring.

This partly explains Barack Obama's difficulties in rallying rural white voters to his camp. While most will be brought over come fall (I and many others hope), one out of seven Americans still believe that Obama is a Muslim. Even though the facts demonstrate this is patently false -- he is a practicing evangelical Christian, a modern day champion of what we call the Social Gospel or liberation theology (albeit with a high degree of self-reliance, à la Bill Cosby) -- once people's beliefs are fixed they are usually fixed for life. Prejudices are learned and often very hard to unlearn.

But the concerns may not be so misplaced after all. It may not matter what Christians think but rather what Muslims think, especially in the developing world.

An op-ed piece in today's NYT points out that because Obama's father was a Muslim at the time of the future Senator's birth, he automatically became a Muslim. It didn't matter that his mother was a Christian because Islam does not allow for "half-Muslims." Nor does it matter that Obama had any say in the matter, or any self-defined religion until about twenty years ago. Moreover, when Obama was baptized into Christianity, he became an apostate and under sharia, the penalty for irtidad ... is death, preferably by stoning.

The implications? People in the Third World seem genuinely enthusiastic that a son of Africa could be the next US President. When they (at least in Muslim parts of the world) find out he's a Christian, they're going to go nuts. The notion that John McCain has put forward that he's the favourite candidate amongst "Islamic" terrorist groups must be tossed out, based on the thesis put forward by the op-ed writer.

It gets worse:

Because no government is likely to allow the prosecution of a President Obama — not even those of Iran and Saudi Arabia, the only two countries where Islamic religious courts dominate over secular law — another provision of Muslim law is perhaps more relevant: it prohibits punishment for any Muslim who kills any apostate, and effectively prohibits interference with such a killing.

At the very least, that would complicate the security planning of state visits by President Obama to Muslim countries, because the very act of protecting him would be sinful for Islamic security guards. More broadly, most citizens of the Islamic world would be horrified by the fact of Senator Obama’s conversion to Christianity once it became widely known — as it would, no doubt, should he win the White House. This would compromise the ability of governments in Muslim nations to cooperate with the United States in the fight against terrorism, as well as American efforts to export democracy and human rights abroad.

Obama's Secret Service code name is "Renegade." In more ways than one apparently, in some people's minds.

Overall, Obama is still the better candidate because growing up with Muslim influences he would be a better bridge to the other side of the world than Hillary Clinton would. But, he'd really better watch his back now.

On the other hand, he could use his influence and office to point out that the Arab oil-rich states' reliance on sovereign wealth funds does not qualify for the Islamic injunction to quarter tithe -- exposing the "Islamic" governments for how un-Muslim they are; and that as a result the foreign aid is being cut off until further notice.

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Ex L & O star caught with gun at airport

After the character of Lenny Briscoe (the late Jerry Orbach) left Law and Order, I kind of got attached to his replacement Joe Fontana (Dennis Farina). Fontana was much tougher than his exterior (and his Porsche) suggested; and he had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of history and pop culture which he used to help solve cases. He left after, I think, just two seasons which I kind of thought sucked.

Yesterday, Farina (a real life ex-cop) was going through security at LAX intending to fly a plane to Chicago, when officials found a loaded and unregistered handgun in his briefcase. He was reported to be "very apologetic and cooperative" to the LAPD, as they took him in to the detachment in Van Nuys.

Farina's defense appears to be he "totally forgot" about the gun being in the briefcase.

Excuse me ... he remembers that the Knights Templar were the first group to be given diplomatic immunity by the Pope, centuries before the concept was enshrined by treaty -- and yet he forgets about a gun?

On the upside, his new movie What Happens in Vegas opens this week. Any publicity is good publicity ... I suppose.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Not that it means much ...

... since I have no prospect of ever becoming a father. But to all the mothers and mothers to be out there, Happy Mother's Day.

Hooray for (McAuliffe's) New Math!

This is truly bizarre. I'm not sure if you've heard but Terry McAuliffe, the former DNC Chair who's now running the Hillary campaign, is trying to push the goalpost back a bit. He says the real magic number isn't 2025, but 2209 (if you include Florida and Michigan). This, in spite of the fact that four years ago when Michigan then attempted to have its primary before New Hampshire, McAuliffe threatened Michigan with a 50% penalty.

What's changed between then and now? Rules are the rules. Even if you put those two states back in you still have to have a 50% penalty -- the rules all the states agreed to last year -- the magic number is 2117; and by any math Obama would still beat that number too once the primary season is over (counting in the cross-overs and add ins that are certain to flood his way).

Maybe McAuliffe believes that American kids should once again be taught "New Math."

I mean, seriously. This from a team that once tried to say that oral sex when performed by a woman is sex, but when performed by a man isn't.

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

"I have a family and a wife, and a dog and a cat"

Stephen Maher writes an excellent column in today's Halifax Chronicle-Herald about Maxime Bernier, whose previous experience with public affairs before PMS was elected was a book defending a flat tax proposal (which influenced quite a bit of Mario Dumont's thinking on the issue).

It got me to think that, the whole bit about Maxime Bernier trying to brush off his previous relationship with his ex-girlfriend Julie Couillard as nobody's business even though she was once connected (by marriage) to a biker gang member is beyond perplexing. It is everyone's business because as a Cabinet minister -- and in particular foreign affairs -- he has access to some of Canada's most important secrets.

Why does it matter?

Well, some backtracking, and once again I refer to the Watergate scandal.

A few months before the infamous break-in at the DNC, a letter came out which among other factors helped to torpedo the campaign of Edmund Muskie. It was of course the "Canuck letter," which insulted French-Canadians living in America. Months later a reporter at the Washington Post admitted to Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward that Nixon's communications director, Kent Clawson, told her that he wrote the letter as part of a dirty tricks campaign to make sure George McGovern would run against Nixon -- since Muskie was a sure-fire winner and McGovern was sure to lose.

When Woodstein confronted Clawson about this, he hung up and called the female reporter. The reporter offered to let Woodstein listen in. Clawson told the reporter, "I have a family and a wife, and a dog and a cat." Meaning, if it was found out he had a contact with the reporter, however innocent, it could be made to look worse than the letter. Later when Woodstein's boss Ben Bradlee asked Clawson if he wrote the letter (which he did), Clawson repeated the same cryptic statement. Bradlee replied he didn't care what Clawson or the reporter did, all he cared about was what Clawson said to the reporter.

The lesson is clear. Everyone you get involved with, even thirty years ago, is public business when you are an executive or legislative official. When you let slip something you shouldn't about a past transgression, it will come back to haunt you. Given the past and present Canada -- and in particular Québec -- has had with biker gangs, it is totally understandable why this isn't just mere gossip.

Biker gangs and Al Qaeda have one important thing in common: The illicit trade in drugs. So let's just suppose for a minute, entirely hypothetically, that during pillow talk Bernier let slip some key information about operations about Canada's military and humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan (for example, scheduled troop movements); and said girlfriend then passed on that information to her biker gang handler who then through their underground network passed it on to Al Qaeda and their partisan allies the Taliban. The Taliban then used this information to ambush a platoon of Canadian service personnel during a "surprise" attack.

Imagine if it went back to Bernier. There would be no question about it -- Bernier would be charged with violating the Official Secrets Act; and the girlfriend with much worse, up to and including high treason.

When it comes to our national security, everything is on the table. It's as simple as that. And it is every one's business. Harper should have run a background check when picking his Cabinet members -- because even the most elementary would have discovered such a blatant conflict of interest.

Maher thinks Bernier will be demoted to international trade. I'd go further and kick Bernier out of Cabinet all together.

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Friday, May 9, 2008

Obama takes superdelegate lead

Hillary Clinton's hope that the Democratic Party's superdelegates would overturn the will of the people and install her as the rightful (in her and Bill's mind) Queen of the United States has all but been eliminated. Today, Barack Obama picked up eight more PLEOs today -- some uncommitteds, the rest defections from Clinton -- and he now leads her in that important count. Depending on who's counting, Obama is now between 160 and 166 delegates away from going over the top. If enough cross over, the primaries in Kentucky and Oregon on the 20th will be irrelevant.

I still think the idea of superdelegates is wrong, but the point wasn't to stop a populist like Obama from currying public favour and giving new energy and ideas to a moribund party. It was to stop extremists like Lyndon H. LaRouche from hijacking the party.

What is noteworthy is since March 4 -- the Ohio primary (which she won) and the Texas two-step (which they split) Mrs. Clinton has picked up a net of only 17 delegates, and only started gaining ground after Pennsylvania. Obama, despite a few hiccups, has gained 65 -- and even after loses managed to get more of the superdelegates than her -- for example, her win in Penn got her eight supers but he got 16.

Perhaps the leadership is smarter than we've given them credit for. They realize that the time has come to pass the torch to the next generation. They also realize that it's a no-brainer that the Dems will win in the fall; but the real battle will be four years hence and who can win re-election. In other words, they're looking ahead. Most of the supers now realize that Clinton will have no chance in 2012 given her total lack of charisma, but Obama may have the charm and persuasiveness needed to fend off the coming crisis.

Clinton shouldn't feel too bad, though. She will continue to serve America just fine -- as leader of the Democrats in the Senate pushing through Obama's appointments to the Executive and the court system. No way she's going to be veep or in any Cabinet post. People have had enough of this generation of Clintons. It's time for Bill and Hillary to prepare Chelsea for a Senate run in two years time when she's 30 years old, the minimum age for membership.

It'd be nice to see a mother and daughter team in the world's most important debating chamber.

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What will it take to get rid of Than Shwe?

More than a week after a cyclone hit Burma, and the thugs who rule the country still refuse to allow international aid to come into the country. They're more concerned with their own security and power; somehow fearing that their regime will be overthrown and the rightful PM of the country, Aun Sung Suu Kyi, will be put in power.

If there is a trigger for the moment Than Shwe and company forfeited their right to rule, it is over this. When Iran was devastated by an earthquake back in 2003, it accepted aid from the United States even though the two countries don't even recognize each other's right to exist. There is simply no excuse to allow upwards of a million people to die simply because it is convenient for the leadership to do so.

The response of the US government in the Katrina disaster was appalling, but at least most of the refugees in that crisis eventually got some assistance, albeit in the form of food stamps and trailers filed with urea formaldehyde foam insulation. They were able to have something to begin to get back on their feet, even if it was peanuts. Here, on the other hand, it seems Than would rather the people drown or die from starvation.

Oh, did I also mention that the cyclone also wiped out the rice crop in Burma, which will make our food prices go even higher? What fucking piece of shit those assholes are.

If the Burmese authorities won't do their job, then unfortunately the UN will have to use the extraordinary powers it does have to intervene in a humanitarian crisis. If it means getting rid of Than, having him die in "mysterious" circumstances will more than make up for the millions he's murdered. Man, if I had that kind of scratch I'd offer $10 million for his assassination. Really, I would.

The people in Burma need help and they need it now no matter what Than may think about that. Handing out DVD players instead of food is not the way to generate positive public relations.

Unless, of course, Than hired Hill and Knowlton as his PR firm. Wouldn't surprise me. After all, they also represent Kuwait (remember "Nurse" Nayirah?) and Mainland China amongst other undesirable governments; and formerly, the Church of Scientology.

UPDATE (9:04 am EDT, 1304 GMT): BBC World TV just reported that 38 tons of food aid from the UN's Food Program was seized by the junta. Really, really fucking bastards!

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

What is Cindy McCain hiding?

If Cindy McCain thinks her vow "never" to reveal her income -- from a beer distributing company -- is going to settle the issue, it won't.

One of the minor (but not insignificant) reasons why John Kerry lost the US presidential contest four years ago was the intransigence of his wife, Teresa Heinz -- in refusing to discuss the scope of her wealth, which conservatively is in the ballpark of $1.2 billion. As the widow of Sen. John Heinz III she wound up with a bonanza, a big chunk of the Heinz ketchup fortune.

There's no evidence she's lived a life of sloth (despite having five houses with Kerry); quite the contrary, she is known to be a very generous person -- for example, she donated $20 million towards the construction of a performing arts centre in Pittsburgh. Certainly she is not like Paris Hilton or Angelina Jolie Voight, just two women who believe they're entitled to their entitlements by birthright and who give money to charity (and in the latter case, adopt children) just for show.

But the fact is Mrs. Kerry does have quite a lot of money, she manages at least two sizable charitable endowments and she's still coy about what her draw is from that and any possible contacts with the federal and state (Pennsylvania) governments. People are entitled to a certain amount of privacy; but the venire of that privacy strips away quite a bit when you, your spouse or your sibling is a public official. The income she has disclosed indicates she gets most of her money at present from tax-free municipal bonds and pays a tax rate of just 12%-- another red flag, when most Americans pay a marginal rate of 33% (when income taxes and social security are combined).

The voters fully expect complete disclosure of one's assets and sources of income, for both the candidate and the candidate's immediate and extended family, to ensure any conflicts of interest will be on the table.

If one thinks this is an unreasonable concept then imagine the humiliation an already unpopular Jimmy Carter had to endure when his brother, Billy (as in Billy Beer), was found to be a lobbyist for the government of Libya. While this was technically not illegal at the time, many people correctly questioned both Billy and Jimmy's judgment.

Michelle Obama has had no problem revealing her income. Neither has Bill Clinton although he's reticent about the sources, which by anecdote include some pretty nasty dictators and their financial backers.

So what's Cindy's problem? At least Heinz admits she's kind of fast and loose with the tax rules. No such luck from Mrs. McCain who won't reveal penny one. Is the reason why she won't disclose her income is that she hopes that John will repeal the federal beer tax? Because she certainly would have the connections already to make that happen. Whether she realizes it or not, she's increasingly become a liability for her husband's campaign -- and, for the record, the age difference has nothing to do with that.

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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The 41,000

As a second generation Canadian, I am a direct product of immigration. Were it not for a welcoming country, I probably would have been born into a repressive state -- if I had been born at all. Which is why I find so offensive the news that the federal government has not been able to keep track of 41,000 people who have been ordered deported. It is as if they have completely disappeared.

Of course, they haven't. They've just gone underground. The real numbers may be even higher.

This has been an ongoing problem, but for the Harper government to just dismiss this as "Liberal corruption" is once again to evade the issue. The buck stops with whoever is currently in power, and the Conservatives need to explain things.

Those who have no business being in Canada should be promptly shown the door after due process has taken its course. The fact people working their way through the immigration and citizenship process legally wind up paying for those who have outstayed our welcome or have abused the process is sickening.

Some of the problems, it seems, could be traced to bugs in a computer system. Aren't we supposed to have IT pros to work out those problems? While I have written previously in this column about my opposition to some of the reforms Diane Finley is trying to shove down Canada's throats, I do support getting tough on lawbreakers. The few who abuse the system make other immigrants look bad, and the last thing we need is to slam the door shut like the Lou Dobbs Klan are so hell bent on doing south of the border.

However, if it means integrating immigration and law enforcement -- such as with the UK's Home Office, or the Schengen Information System in much of Europe -- then so be it. Often times, we need to flag trouble makers before they enter the country, not try to track them down when often it's too late.

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If Tim Russert says it's over it's over

A real nailbiter last night in Indiana -- but Clinton won that state, albeit very narrowly, just 23,000 votes. Obama's strong showing in the urban parts of Lake County, the last major area to report (six hours after the polls closed) was offset by Clinton's rural vote.

However, North Carolina was a different story as Obama won by 14% and picked up all of the popular vote lead he lost in Pennsylvania a fortnight ago. While women were still very much for Hillary in both states, the exit polls indicated many more women were put off by her negative campaigning than in earlier states. The speeches last night were also telling for me -- Barack was much more "Presidential" and conceded Indiana right at the top hours before it really was over, and clearly gave his first general election speech; while Hillary didn't grant her corresponding concession until almost the end. She was putting on a brave face and vowing to fight on, but she clearly came out the "bitter" one. On CNN, one commentator -- David Gergen -- noted Chelsea almost seemed distraught on camera, as if she knows the end is nigh.

Interestingly Hillary later cancelled all public appearances today -- both network TV shows as well as campaign stops. Tim Russert, who's been against the Democratic party since a century before he was conceived, stated firmly that Barack can now be viewed as the presumptive nominee -- because even if Florida and Michigan are seated he will still have a majority of elected delegates. The battle is now for the PLEOs but with such a convincing win in a Red State with increasing Blue State qualities -- which Hillary has claimed as her monopoly -- he's finally proven he can put swings states into play.

I expect most of the remaining uncommitteds to swing to Obama in the next two weeks, making the primary in Kentucky on the 20th unnecessary; so America can get on to the real election with Obama and McCain.

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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Fun with Zogby

Sorry ... but Weird Al once thought "Fun with Dirt" would make a great TV show. Since many of you pointed out Zogby correctly noted Clinton's late break in Pennsylvania two weeks ago (which Zogby claimed he "quadruple checked"), I have to note a couple things I spotted today regarding a similar and unexpected trend in another state; Indiana.

Josh Marshall has some commentary about the Hoosier State, where Zogby still has Obama in a two point lead (rolling average over two days) but that in the last phone blast yesterday he led Clinton 47-41. This seems to contradict SurveyUSA which has Clinton 54-42. (North Carolina is a differnet story; Obama has a clear 51-37 lead).

JM writes:

I fondly remember my own personal Zogby epiphany moment. I don't recall who my interlocutor was. But I told this person that the thing with Zogby was that he relatively frequently nailed final totals right on the nose, even if pretty frequently his numbers were way off. To which my friend very wisely responded, "Josh, that means he sucks." And I thought, "Hmmm, I guess that's right."

Zogby was pretty dead on about the state by state in 2004 -- missing out only on Ohio, although actually most pollsters did underestimate the religious right's GOTV operation there. Why he had problems with the 2008 races until recently is something you'll have to ask Zogby. But here's why I think he may be on to something today:

I'm not sure if the various other pollsters have included those who went to advance polls -- where Obama has done consistently well everywhere in the US. (Turnout at early polling for these states was about 30%, itself a record.) Zogby has factored this in which leads to his surprising prediction. But here's Zogby's commentary about the various cross-tabs in both Indiana and North Carolina so you can decide if he's an outlier yet again.

The sum game for Hoosierville is a bit of a reversal of fortunes -- Obama now leads among Catholics and Clinton leads among Protestants, a total reversal from Pennsylvania just two weeks ago. Clinton has a solid lead in the south while Obama holds Indianapolis; leaving the north the battleground -- not the conventional wisdom. The story, however, is among older voters where Obama seems to have finally made a breakthrough and has a very slim lead.

They're the ones hurting the most with the increase in gas prices and may be thinking a middle class tax cut of $1000 -- about $20 less in withholding taxes each paycheque -- is actually worth more than a $30 pump one time "holiday" that GWB is going to veto anyway. If that $20 helps them get to and from work that'll be a big factor in their thinking as they vote.

However, Clinton does have impressive GOTV ops, as good as if not better than Obama's. That's something all pollsters, including the Zogster, can't get a handle on; as is who will actually vote and who's lying to the outbound phone banks. We should get a better picture starting around 6 pm Eastern.

UPDATE (3:12 pm EDT, 1912 GMT): Just to be clear, I stand by my prediction yesterday that Clinton will win Indiana; but in light of a last minute surge by Obama it will be a lot closer to the four point spread I think it will be. Meanwhile, my colleagues at Democratic Space are saying Obama will beat Clinton in NC 54.7-45.3 while Clinton will win IN 52.5-47.5 --both calls are roughly in the ballpark I think it will be too.

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