Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Franken wins, finally

It's taken far too long, nearly eight months -- but the election for Senator in Minnesota is finally over, and the Democratic challenger, comedian Al Franken, has unseated Republican Norm Coleman. With that, the donkeys now have the long sought after 60 seats in the upper chamber, needed to stop filibusters and ensure Obama's agenda gets smooth passage.
All this talk about filling in circles, chads and whatnot. Whatever happened to the good old paper ballot that you mark with an X or a checkmark? And eight months? Sheez. When there is a recount here in Canada, it usually only takes one day, a couple weeks after polling day.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ed McMahon dead

Some breaking news this morning, as longtime Johnny Carson sidekick Ed McMahon dies at the age of 86. I'm going to miss his insight as well as his very hearty laugh.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Monday, June 22, 2009

ندا آقا سلطان -- Neda Agha Soltan

از آن است که همه در مورد او

.(صلح پس از او باشد)

It's all about Neda (peace be upon her).

Saturday, June 20, 2009

در حمایت از یک ایران آزاد -- In support of a free Iran

"! من می دانم آنچه البته ممکن است دیگران را ندارد ؛ اما برای من ، به من آزادی بدهید یا مرگ به من بدهید"
پاتریک هنری ، 23 اسفند 1775 --

"I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"
-- Patrick Henry, 23 March 1775

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Friday, June 19, 2009

You've GOT to be kidding (Braidwood Inquiry edition)

Extremely conveniently and on the last day before Parliament rises for the summer -- and Harper's ass is saved for now -- an e-mail emerges suggesting the four Mounties who Tasered Robert Dziekanski had planned to use the electric stunning device all along, and long before they even got to Vancouver's airport. This directly contradicts their sworn testimony and has forced Judge Thomas Braidwood, who thought he would hear closing arguments today at the inquiry into Dziekanski's death, to adjourn for three months while he sorts out why it took so long for the e-mail to emerge.
Apparently, the government's lawyer had it for "weeks." Did Mr. Harper order the e-mail to be held back until now, when he had Michael Ignatieff by the short and curlies? In other words, what did Harper know (if anything) and when did he know it?
This demands an emergency debate. Ignatieff should demand the Speaker, Peter Milliken, reconvene the House of Commons as soon as possible. If this isn't a matter demanding a call on confidence in the government who was in power at the time of this tragic incident, I don't know what does. The RCMP, while independent, is nonetheless a militia as well and as a result reports directly to the Minister for Public Safety. Thus, there has to be accountability on this. We can't wait until September to get answers on four officers who it appears may be caught in a lie.

UPDATE (6:46 pm EDT, 2246 GMT): Big typo -- it's Peter Milliken, not Robert. Sorry, Mr. Speaker.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Now, not later

The Liberals and Conservatives put off the inevitable showdown until at least the fall, with the creation of a blue ribbon panel to study reforming unemployment insurance. The tradeoff is that the Liberals get one more "supply day" in which they can bring down the government if they choose to.

Canadians may not be in the mood for a summer campaign. But I can't understand why Ignatieff is delaying. He's almost becoming Hamlet, waiting and waiting to drop the hatchet before it is way too late to change the situation.
Maybe he knows something most people in this country don't. Then again, Dion kept delaying until Harper made the decision for him. Twice.

A blue ribbon panel. Please. If there's going to be one, at least involve the other major parties -- and yes, that does include the Green Party. Otherwise, this is going to be a farce that benefits employers, not employees.

The Conservatives should put their proposals for reforming the system on the table now. Not doing so is reason enough to force an election.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Pull the plug, Iggy

I can't figure it out to be quite honest. Why is it taking so long for the Liberals to trigger an election, even though it would be the fourth one that we've had in the last five years? Stephen Harper has given his enemies all the reasons they need, and now that the Liberals are out of debt and actually have something of a war chest to play with, they have one more reason to demonstrate that it is the Grits who are the party of fiscal responsibility.

Ballooning the deficit to over fifty billion and just blaming it on the world economy is not good enough.
Michael Ignatieff has laid out four conditions for his party to support the "Blue Book," that is the discretionary appropriations, this coming Friday.
Here's how I see the issues.
1. Reforming EI
I personally think that working just 45 days in a non-seasonal work environment to qualify for unemployment benefits is ridiculous, but even crazier are the multiple rules that exist in different regions across the country. This leads to uncertainty, and justifiable accusations that the system is unfair for many if not most.
Ignatieff says he's willing to be flexible on the number, but there should be a reasonable offer from Harper to indicate that EI reform is going to be taken seriously. Of course, since the exhaustion of benefits leads necessarily to going on welfare, the provinces and territories need to be at the table. In many respects, the system is still designed for the 1940s when the sub national jurisdictions ceded unemployment insurance to the federal level -- and World War II ended 64 years ago.
2. More information about stimulus spending
Last week's publicity stunt with Conservative journalistic shill turned Senator Mike Duffy about how the stimulus money is being spent was inexcusable. Equally revolting is the claim that 85% of the stimuli have been spent. Many cities are saying they haven't seen any money, and that a lot of it is tied up in the usual red tape that the Cons promised they would eliminate.
We do need clarity on this. In particular, there are a lot of shovel-ready projects ready to go but the money must be made available. Otherwise, where is all that money going? Photo ops aren't going to do it. For example, dedicated transit lanes are being proposed for K-W and York Region, and new express streetcar lines for Hamilton, Ontario. There is no date certain for these projects to begin.
Incidentally, the Cons' claim that the money would dry up if there was a forced election is simply untrue. They can buy votes during an election using Governor General's Warrants, a reserve power of the Crown intended for emergency situations but which can be used during a prorogation or dissolution of a Parliament. Of course, it can backfire, but without such warrants the government would simply have to shut down all together -- tolerable in a presidential system like the US but intolerable in a parliamentary system where there must always be some kind of government operations.
3. Details on how to contain the deficit
During the 1990s, the Finance Department under Paul Martin had a plan to get the annual deficit down to 3% of GDP with an additional goal of getting the debt to below 60% of the GDP. The rationale was, once one got the debt below 60%, the economy would grow faster than the debt and we would be seen as prudent managers. Of course, the goal was more than met but only because of massive off-loading of programs to the provinces and territories which caused problems of their own. Still, something was done and the feds were lauded, as well as they should have been. While the targets set in retrospect seem weasel like, they were reasonable worst case scenarios in case the bottom fell out; this prudence was proven when the horror of 9/11 happened and we had a cushion to pay for security improvements as well as income tax cuts.
The Conservatives raised income taxes (before lowering them back to Liberal levels) and irresponsibly cut the consumption tax two percentage points, money that could have been used to fight the recession instead of having to go back to borrowings. In just one year, all the gains of the last several will have been lost and we'll be basically back to pre 9/11.
It's also worth pointing out the Conservatives under their rule have increased spending 25% percent and this was before the recession began to take hold last fall. No wonder they broke their own law and timed the election for when they did. Even Preston Manning sounded the alarm last week things are getting out of control. (Mr. Re-fooooom, who created the cause of eliminating deficits in the first place and made it a mainstream principle!)
Canadians don't want pie in the sky figures. They want a plan to get back into surplus as soon as possible. Nothing should be left off the table -- including tax increases, tax points or the various forms of revenue sharing; while respecting existing agreements that the Cons seems so willing to tear up.
4. The isotope shortage
This was a problem coming on for years, but the improvements being made to the reactors in Hamilton and Winnipeg won't even begin to cover the shortage. Now, Harper wants the feds to get out of the business all together, hoping Belgium and South Africa will pick up the slack.
That is simply unacceptable. While we have nuclear weapons capability and the isotopes for nukes as well as armored vehicles spiked up with depleted uranium can last for decades, the kinds used by medical facilities have a much shorter shelf life -- in some cases less than 10 hours. The alternates that are available, such as from the Hamilton facility, cost ten times as much even when available.
The reactor should have been replaced long ago, in fact should have been done when the Liberals were in power. That's no excuse, however, to just throw in the towel. We Canadians practically invented the nuclear business as we know it today; we should be using our ingenuity to solve the problem and build a new reactor that will be relatively low in cost and relatively goof-proof over its life.
I could see Harper giving way on EI, but there seems to be no movement at all regarding the last three. As weary as Canadians may be of elections, there may be no better time to get rid of Harper than now. My advice to Iggy: Pull the plug now.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

NS NDP win

Congratulations to the Nova Scotia NDs on their huge victory. Here's hoping they're a smart, progressive régime like their cousins in British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and the Yukon; rather than the disaster we had in Ontario under Bob Rae.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Sexy isotopes

Truly, one cannot make this stuff up. Bad-mouthing a fellow Cabinet member is one thing, but calling isotopes, radiation leaks and cancer "sexy"? I really don't need to comment on that one. The story practically writes itself. What was the line from a sitcom during the nineties: "Is that radium in your pocket, or are you happy just to see me?"

And the funny thing -- this time the reporter tried to return the tape recorder but it was refused. Who do we have running this country? And remember, this was the "hand-picked" woman that Harper shoved into Halton over the local constituency association's pick, and who wound up beating Garth Turner.

Lisa Raitt is to the Conservatives what Hedy Fry was to the Liberals; a giant killer turned non-stop Joke of the Day.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sarah Palin has a point, for once

There's been a lot of buzz the last couple days about what Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) has had to say about the murder on Sunday of one of the few doctors left in America who performed post-viability abortions, George Tiller.
First, Palin issued this statement on her fundraising website:

I feel sorrow for the Tiller family. I respect the sanctity of life and the tragedy that took place today in Kansas clearly violates respect for life. This murder also damages the positive message of life, for the unborn, and for those living. Ask yourself, 'What will those who have not yet decided personally where they stand on this issue take away from today's event in Kansas?'

Regardless of my strong objection to Dr. Tiller's abortion practices, violence is never an answer in advancing the pro-life message.

Palin then followed up with this:

The stories of two very different lives with similar fates crossed through the media's hands [Monday] - both equally important but one lacked the proper attention. The death of 67-year old George Tiller was unacceptable, but equally disgusting was another death that police believe was politically and religiously motivated as well.

William Long died yesterday. The 23-year old Army Recruiter was gunned down by a fanatic; another fellow soldier was wounded in the ambush. The soldiers had just completed their basic training and were talking to potential recruits, just as my son, Track, once did.

Whatever titles we give these murderers, both deserve our attention. Violence like that is no way to solve a political dispute nor a religious one. And the fanatics on all sides do great disservice when they confuse dissension with rage and death.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that, no matter how much I disagree with much of Mrs. Palin's politics, I have to agree with her on this one. We cannot say that one murder is more despicable than another. Both men believed in what they were doing, and both were gunned down for those beliefs.
The fact the media has spent so much time talking about Tiller but so little about Long is quite disturbing. Both had families. Both had to put up with ridicule, even threats, for what they were doing. And both were ambushed, murdered in cold blood.
Let's consider February 8, 2007. The day Anna Nicole Smith died, it was considered "breaking news." But what else happened that day? One group of scientists were beginning a trial of an AIDS vaccine in South Africa, another group of scientists were reporting that robins and mosquitoes were making appearances in the High Arctic and the Inuit had no words in their language to describe either, and someone was convicted of manslaughter for neglecting his mother who had Alzheimer's. Oh, and 13 "terrorists" were killed in an air raid in Iraq.

Maria Shriver, the Democratic wife of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA), was so disgusted by how the media had overblown the Smith story that she told NBC News (from which she was on leave) that she was not coming back. Who can blame her?
Have we reached the point where war is so discredited, that an army recruiter is seen as less worthy of life than a doctor who performs one of the most controversial medical procedures there is? That celebrity is valued over genuine public service; or that one public service has more value than another?
If we're going to report on murders, unexplained deaths and the like, we should give equal time and treatment to everyone. Or we should go back to what we used to do and treat local murder stories as local murder stories. I still shudder at the Fox News pundit who said the Laci Peterson murder was a bigger story than 9/11. Sadly, it's not just Fox who has this lackadaisical attitude towards human life these days.

It makes me upset, indignant actually, to think I would agree with Sarah Palin on anything. She is the very antithesis of feminism, which I generally support. But when you're right about something, you're right regardless of your political orientation.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Pass The Buck Steve

Instead of Lisa Raitt taking the fall, as she offered to, "Steve" instead fires Raitt's press assistant, Jasmine MacDonnell.

Guess PMS doesn't want to respect the convention of ministerial responsibility either. And Chalk River is still bleeding. Terrific. No accountability. Even the Smurfs ™ wouldn't put up with passing the buck.

Oh, I'm sorry. The little blue creatures lived in a collective. Guess that's too socialist for the Cons.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Another "top secret" binder, left behind

Dear me ... now our minister of natural resources, Lisa Raitt, leaves behind a top secret binder which contains some of the most sensitive secrets that Canada has -- namely our nuclear secrets. These include the tons of money spent at Chalk River, plans to sell off AECL that have been months in the making, and the fact that the rehab jobs at Bruce Nuclear are way behind schedule, even more than we were first lead to believe. Not to mention a handwritten note that the Cons were spending a billion seven, as necessary for "cleaning up a Liberal mess."
Nice partisan twist for a disaster a long time coming -- for a reactor that was out of date during the 1980s, when Mulroney was in charge!

The kicker? The binder was left behind at a TV studio in Ottawa ... for one week. This is the same government that lost the blueprints for the command centre for our commando squad, JTF2, and where a foreign minister "lost" a dossier at his then girlfriend's apartment.
And the same government that manages to balloon a deficit from the mid teens to over fifty billion -- and now, with the GM bailout, another ten on top of that.
It would be funny if it weren't true. Let's not forget, Canada has nuclear weapons capability and in light of the threat posed by Pakistan and North Korea, surely the thought of having our own arsenal must have crossed the minds of the leadership of the two largest parties in this country.
The problem is, we just don't secure our weapons grade uranium and plutonium well enough -- and this incident only proves the point that government ministers can't be trusted to protect even the secret recipes let alone the launch codes. And, the next time there's a security breach, something we really don't need to know could fall into the hands of Al Qaeda -- and trust me, it will happen sooner than we want to believe it. . Let's see Stephen Harper blame the Liberals and NDP when that happens.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Bible Camp: An Outsider's Look

A couple of years back, a student at Brown University decided to take a semester off and do a first-hand investigation of one of the most controversial schools in America -- the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. Now, the author, one Kevin Roose, has published his diary of the experience called The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University.

It didn't come quite out as Roose expected. He says that in the end, when he finally fessed up to his fellow students about his ruse, they actually were quite understanding and forgave him. The book clears up some of the more wild misconceptions about Liberty and other ultra right-wing schools.

But there is no question that the discipline codes come out of a Puritan era and are simply out of step. Even students at military academies have more freedom both on and off-campus than "fundies." Consider the following -- I'm not making these up:

  • Possession and/or use of tobacco: 6 reprimands + $25 fine
  • Improper personal contact (anything beyond hand-holding): 4 reprimands + $10 fine
  • Attendance at, possession or viewing of, an R-rated movie: 12 reprimands + $50 fine
  • Spending the night with a person of the opposite sex: 30 reprimands + $500 fine + 30 hours community service

This is truly Bible Boot Camp, to be sure -- and some students are of the kind where they are saving not just sex for marriage, but their first kiss; some men who have no knowledge of the female anatomy and some women who are way too devout. Others, thank God, are far less sheltered.

But everyone does have to take the mandatory Bible courses -- from the Falwell perspective. And courses in creationism, including whether Noah's Ark was big enough to hold the dinosaurs. (One presumes the correct answer on the test was "true," although if one takes the ark's measurements literally it would have been far smaller than the size of a World War II aircraft carrier.)

It's an interesting book, but it does shed light on the fact evangelicalism is a growing force among young people.

And while quite a few evangelicals did vote for Obama last fall (bolstered by a large chunk of the youth vote), four times as many still voted for McCain despite their misgivings about how "Republican" the Senator from Arizona is. The movement not going away any time soon ...

... and it is growing in Canada as well. Graduates of both accredited and unaccredited "divinity" programs are dominating the airwaves more and more, and selling a brand of politics quite at odds with the social consensus that has held Canada together for the past forty years. The conclusion is that we progressives need to sort out which of the evangelicals share our values and co-opt them to "spread the word" about social justice and shared values, before it's too late.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.