Monday, November 30, 2009

It's not about patriotism, it's about crimes

Questioning the patriotism of those who oppose the Conservative Party of Canada is old hat for PMS. What is new is doing so not in Parliament, where he can be questioned, but on the road thousands of kilometres away, in front of our troops -- in effect, hiding behind the trousers and skirts of our men and women in uniform.

Asking questions is not unpatriotic. It's what democracy is all about. Perhaps Harper has taken one too many tutoring sessions from the GOP's Karl Rove, who has played this game against the Democrats since 1972 when he threw mud at George McGovern, even though the latter was a hero of World War II.
Let's be clear: No one has suggested that the allegations of Richard Colvin are absolutely, 100 percent the truth. All that has been said is that they should be investigated. No one has said all troops are guilty of war crimes. Just that it may be possible that war crimes may have happened and that it should be investigated.
A special prosecutor is necessary if civilians have been implicated, because of the obvious conflict of interest (since the Minister of Public Security has oversight over the RCMP). JAG is more than capable of handling complaints about people in uniform, but it too must be seen as operating without interference from the executive.
If Haper has the guts, he should say what he really thinks in the debating chamber -- not before a captive audience who could face court martial if they openly disagree with what he is insinuating. Make no mistake, STEVE, we are proud of our troops regardless of our political affiliation -- or theirs.

At the rate things are going, next we'll hear that Diane Finley or even Laureen Teskey has been named the new prez of the Canadian Red Cross. Good bye, political neutrality.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

CTV -- the UnCanadian Television Network

They're just about to start the Grey Cup in Calgary. But if you don't have cable or satellite, you can't get the game. It's only on TSN.
The finals of the CFL should be on the main CTV network. Since it's sweeps, they figure it's better not to piss off those who'd rather watch Desperate Housewives. Or even the Sunday night NFL game (which I think will be on TSN2).
If 1 out of 5 Canadians are denied the ability to even watch the game, then it proves that CTV is not patriotic and not Canadian.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Dubai World first, Tar Sands next?

Remember the huge flack created a few years ago when the sovereign wealth fund of Dubai, one of the fiefdoms of the United Arab Emirates, had the inside edge on a contract for the management of some of America's largest ports? People of all political stripes were so outraged that their country would sell out to some "Middle Eastern sheikh" that the company in question, Dubai World, backed out -- even after a charm campaign about the revival of the once sleepy city that included a story that took up 2/3 of an episode of 60 Minutes. The area was actually expanding out into the sea with palm tree shaped islands, that sail shaped eight star hotel (the Burj Dubai) and a massive shopping mall that included the biggest bowling alley in the Middle East and even an indoor ski hill with snow generated by machine all day and night.

My, how times have changed ... today, many world markets were shaken up by the news that Dubai World has asked for a six month extension on an upcoming interest payment -- a whopping $3.5 billion. Reason: Like most places during the boom, Dubai grew too big and way too fast and it's finally, like the rest of us, facing reality. Its dream of becoming the next great financial centre, after London, New York City and Hong Kong was, like the desert surrounding it, dust in the wind. And with the US markets closed today, one can only imagine the huge sell-off that will happen tomorrow during the biggest shopping day of the year -- if the company defaults, major banks in North America and Europe could be on the hook for about $40 billion in bad loans.
Hard to believe this is the same Dubai that advertised not that long ago in both the G&M and the NP for jobs working as oil technicians and accountants, for payrates in the six figures; even higher than what's being offered for some jobs in the Alberta Tar Sands. The benefit package included a six week vacation back home, fully paid by the company, each and every year in the five year contract. You can imagine how many people wanted to be the guy -- or girl -- in Dubai.
There are lessons here for us. The boom is bound to end at some point in Western Canada and off the East Coast. Not just the volatility in the price of oil but just the unrealistic cost of living is driving many away. These are tough times, but we need to find a way to diversify and make our locales a place that welcomes all kinds of business with long term growth. Otherwise, like countries overly dependent on just a minimum number of resources (and non-renewable ones at that) we may be shooting ourselves in the foot.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Two big decisions for Obama

President Obama may take his time making his mind up, maybe a little too much, but when he does it up it's well thought out and reasoned based on advice from a variety of sources; not just a narrow group of people who have a predetermined answer.
On two issues, he now wants to make a huge move forward. First, Obama announced he wants the US to cut its greenhouse gas levels by 17% of 2005 levels by 2020 and 83% by 2050, and will make that the basis of his country's proposals for the Copenhagen meetings coming up. He'll also demand that developing countries do their part as well, something which was missing from Kyoto. It's less than the 25 to 30% most experts feel is needed to make a real impact but it is a real target, not the reduction in "intensity" that the current Canadian government feels compelled to follow.

Second, he has decided what to do about Afghanistan and will commit, in a speech at West Point next week, to increase his country's troop commitment of 68,000 by about another 30,000 in a "surge" similar to a belated strategy used by Dubya in the latter part of his administration but will also make clear that Afghanistan has to meet certain goals by specific dates and that the Western troop commitment is not an open-ended one. Many of the troops would be sent to Kandahar which will no doubt be a relief to our Canadian soldiers who are stretched to the limit.

A surge is unfortunately needed; and I have been consistent in my belief that the war in Afghanistan was the important one, and the battle in Iraq unnecessary (as it indirectly provoked a civil war) as the troops who were and are still in Iraq could have been in Afghanistan and secured the country. Imagine the difference if 200,000 US military were in Afghanistan from the very beginning. It certainly would have set an example for all the other NATO countries, the majority of which got put off all together on any kind of deployment after Bush and Blair pushed it too far on Iraq.
The sad thing is that it will also give legitimacy to a president (Hamid Karzai) who by most accepted accounts was re-elected via fraud. There are also no assurances that Pakistan will do its part which is a problem both for Afghanistan as well as India.
Much needs to be done in the region -- not just neutralizing the Taliban and other paramilitary groups as well as the al Qaeda network but also coming up with a final resolution to the issue of Kashmir. Further to the east, the long standing border dispute between India and Bangladesh, especially over the convoluted Cooch-Behar area with its dozens of enclaves, also has to be resolved as just one of the roughly 200 patches could be used as a base to start a regional terrorist war.
Obama still has a lot of international goodwill which puts him further ahead of his predecessor; but the world's patience will wear short and thin if he doesn't act fast and the troops he sends actually does something to start a chain reaction of peace in that part of the Asia-Pacific region, which is so desperately needed.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

No to broadcasters' blackmail and cab-sat greed

Enough is enough.
At last we know the real reason why the TV broadcasters want higher carriage fees: They want to block access to prime time US television by forcing cable and satellite companies to black out signals if the Canadian network that has rights to the program airs the same episode within seven days. This policy, best described as domestic exclusivity, goes way beyond the current annoyance of "simultaneous substitution" or "simsub," actually a reality on both sides of the border -- in fact, domex is a form of legalized censorship. It makes the blocking of US newscasts during controversial trials because of publication bans look like small potatoes.

The networks have also confirmed they are indeed completely pulling the plug on analogue signals in many smaller communities -- like Thunder Bay, Swift Current and Prince George, just to name a few so-called "minor" markets. This could leave tens of thousands in the dark. And they want to push back the switch to DTV where it does exist to 2013, which means a delay in access to new bandwidth and with increased competition lower prices for internet and mobile devices.
What makes it all the more peculiar is that they only want to stiff us with fee for carriage if we get cable or satellite. Those who get signals over the air -- for now -- don't have to pay at all. This is quite unlike most places in Europe where everyone is required to have a license (but in return, the number of channels available in digital for free, including all networks both state and commercial, is substantially higher than in North America; even a videotext newswire service with real time weather updates is available on screen in most places, not at all here.)
To be fair, cable and satellite companies are also full of crap. They make huge profits, in fact are guaranteed profits thanks to that little known hidden fee called the "pass through portion," and we don't get all that much in return. They can definitely contribute more into the production fund without impacting on profits; but the governments federal and provincial also need to increase the production tax credits.
I could support higher carriage fees if they actually went into Canadian programming, that we Canadians actually liked and wanted to watch. But at this price? No, thank you -- and the CRTC should see the threat to black out US signals for what it is: Blackmail. If I was Judge Konrad von Finkenstein, I'd tell the networks to F-off.

When was the last time there was a nightly newscast in Kenora or in Chibougamau, after all? Once a week summary, if lucky.
One other thing: Now that digital is widely available, we need to go to a pure a la carte system where we pay for what we want on a per episode basis. This eliminates channel surfing, lowers our bills and ensures a steady stream of revenue for everyone. And we should be able to choose if we want to watch it on a Canadian or US channel, especially for the Super Bowl with all the nifty commercials we are not permitted by law to see here.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Maybe we should just fire the lot

I am truly troubled by the further revelations today about what was going on in Afghanistan regarding the transfer of detainees to the Afghan government and the lack of cooperation or notification with the Red Cross, and that it is possible that senior officials in the previous Liberal government may have known about what was going on as well as the present Conservative government. Since the other opposition leaders have security clearances, it stands to reason they have known something as well but have been (for obvious reasons) constrained from doing so until now.

At this rate there are a lot of questions to be answered. But simply brushing it aside by saying most Canadians don't care or that this is the "insider story of the week" just doesn't cut it. Canadians want answers. If the military mission was to create an environment that would have respect for human rights as most people understand the principle, then knowingly contributing to torture is a sure fine way to do that.
Someone asked me the other day, do I think people in the Liberal party ought to resign? At this point I am almost tempted to say -- maybe we need a new and clean slate from all parties. Fire all 308 MPs and 105 Senators, ban them and all their predecessors from ever running again; and start with a new freshman class. I don't know what the result would be but at least we'd get a majority, regardless of affiliation, who have absolutely no tolerance for this crap.
But as far as today's news about the lack of cooperation with the Red Cross, which is itself a war crime: We can't hide behind the old standby that "this is a matter of national security, so we can't talk about it." If we don't say this is not what Canada is about, then we're actually risking our national security and inviting a terrorist attack on our soil. Not to mention, there is no point in donating to the Red Cross if their hands are going to be tied by meddling officials, which we expect from Burma and Zimbabwe but not from Canada.

We don't need a parliamentary inquiry or a "Royal Commission." We need a special prosecutor and we need one now.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

EU: The Next Generation

After what was thought to be a potentially crisis meeting for the current rotating chair of the EU Council Presidency, Sweden's PM Frederik Reinfeldt, the 27 heads of government came very quickly to agreement on who's going to run the massive EU bureaucracy under the new Lisbon rules. The new European President is the present Prime Minister of Belgium, Herman van Rompuy; and in a bit of a shock, the Foreign Minister of the EU will be a British peer, Baroness Catherine Ashton.

It's somewhat of a relief that the PMs didn't choose Tony Blair. Although extremely fluent in French, one of the working languages at the Commission, he has a lot of personal and political baggage. Besides having little credibility left after the sexed-up Downing Street Papers, it would seem rather inappropriate to have someone running the EU who was from a country that is presently outside both the Schengen open border zone as well as the Euro. Besides which, his relationship with the Queen wasn't exactly cordial even at the best of times; imagine having to get heck from her as well as 26 other monarchs and presidents.
The big concern of the new leadership will be trying to get the eurocracy down to a more reasonable size and to put a stop to some of the boneheaded regulations that come out of Brussels and court rulings out of Strasbourg and Luxembourg City; as well as a Parliament that has to rotate between all three cities for no apparent reason other than to make the state railways and public transit companies rich in the pockets.
I don't think we're anywhere near the "United States of Europe" that many fear, but Rompuy and Ashton will have to act quickly to put their feet forward to be taken seriously. Still, for those who haven't been paying attention to Fortress Europe, there is no question this juggernaut is about to get a whole lot more influence. There's already more Euros in circulation than US dollars and it's just a matter of time before the common currency becomes the reserve currency of choice among most nations -- as it already has with Canada.

And many may not know what hit them until it's actually the EU -- not China -- that holds most of America's staggering debt. Sweden knows what it was like a few years ago when interest rates hit 500%. It'd be very interesting to see how America would react if they faced those terms, and the nuclear missiles of the UK and France were aimed not at Russia but the States.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ten percenters hit new now

By now, we're all used to the so-called "ten per center" fliers we get in the mail, thanks to the virtually unlimited double-ended franking privileges, meaning one can send and receive mail free of charge, the Governor General and all Senators and Members of Parliament have. (The privilege is also held by the Sovereign, the Clerks of the Commons and the Senate, Parliament's Librarian and his or her deputy, the ethics officers and the other "officers of Parliament" -- including the Information and Privacy Commissioners, the Auditor General and the Chief Electoral Officer.)

The Liberals and the NDP are actually no less guilty than the Conservatives -- I regularly get fliers from all three federalist parties in the mail from out of town MPs. It's more of an annoyance than anything and they usually just end up in the recycling bin without even being read. They are also increasingly partisan and in many cases, outright misleading or take quotes from "enemies" out of context.
(They are called "ten per centers" because, besides the four general mailings per year to the homes in one's own district -- although there are many more, to be certain -- MPs are permitted to sent out letters or fliers, equal to ten percent of the households in the district they represent, to homes and apartments in other districts and there appears to be no limit to how many times this can be done. For example, if you have 50,000 homes in your district, say in downtown Toronto, you can send 5,000 fliers to homes in, say, a district in rural Nova Scotia.)
Many have called to change the rules, including banning mailings outside one's home district other than for correspondence from actual letters. But after yesterday's torture bombshell, the latest fliers being sent out accusing the Liberals of anti-Semitism sets a real low for the ruling Conservative Party. In essence the pamphlet in question praises Mr. Harper for boycotting the "anti-Semitic" Durban conference while pointing out that Michael Ignatieff once accused Israel of war crimes (but neglected to mention that Ignatieff later retracted the remarks).

On the second point, a war crime is a war crime. I have always and will always support the State of Israel and its right to self-defence, but Israel gets no special exemptions from international law simply because six million Jewish people were slaughtered during World War II. Not only that, it clearly states in the Mosaic law that one is to have the same law for citizens as for foreigners; therefore it could be suggested all countries are guilty of this sin. "The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God." (Leviticus 19:34, NIV).
On the first point, by being absent, one actually is complicit with any lies (real or imagined) that might be stated. If Harper imagines himself to be the latter day Daniel then he should jump in the pit and face the lions in the den and call them out.
I share Scott Tribe's concern that the Cons timed the release and mailing quite deliberately, to distract attention from yesterday's damning testimony. If Harper thinks we're that stupid or forgetful, or that we have short attention spans, he may be in for a shock. When the death camps were liberated by Canada and our allies, it was by soldiers and other armed personnel of all political stripes, all persuasions and all religions. We've seen the pattern of atrocities repeated time and time again since then and the vast majority of us simply do not stand for it.

A lot of us have very, very long memories; and, for those among us who are Christian, we will not stand idly by and watch as our Jewish brothers and sisters are dragged through the muck, not the least of which is MP Irwin Cotler. We will also not stand and be silent about innocent people, including Christians, being bombed out of their homes under the principle of "collective guilt." If this is how $10 million of the Parliamentary budget (really, our money) is being spent every year, then it's time for the Board of Internal Economy (the "Board of Directors" for the House, which currently has a majority of opposition members) to put an end to the paid partisan b.s. that comes from all parties, once and for all. After all, if I sent a letter like that using the free mail to my MP or a Senator, I could be potentially charged with libel or promoting hate. But because a Parliamentarian does it (and on my and everyone else's dime), it's protected by Parliamentary privilege. That is unacceptable.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Torture, Canadian style (?)

If what former diplomat Richard Colvin told a House of Commons committee today is true, than Canada may be guilty of even worse crimes of war than many of the personnel serving in the armed forces of our allies as well as the political leaderships of all at the time the crimes took place. And to make it worse, those who were tortured after our forces turned them over to the Afghan government weren't even "high value" targets, those actually responsible for terrorist acts or in the leadership of the Taliban or Al Qaeda.

Ignorance of what was going on is no excuse, and telling a diplomat to tone down his or her memorandums or to just shut the hell up amounts to, in my opinion, complicity in the crimes. Not to mention the Red Cross -- the ultimate neutral arbiter -- also being told to mind its own business. Hearing the accounts on the radio tonight, I almost threw up. I didn't actually, out of courtesy for the people I was carpooling with, but I might have if I was alone.
What did Harper and MacKay know, and when did they know it? They owe Canadians an answer -- and they owe us the truth. Those responsible for such reprehensible actions should face courts martial in the case of the armed forces, or civilian trials in the case of the politicians.
I do have to ask, though, why didn't Mr. Colvin raise the questions while federal ministers were touring Afghanistan? Someone could have put a stop to this. In fact, it never should have been allowed to happen. Then again it's hard to see how our complaining would have helped much since we forsake our "honest broker" role in diplomacy quite some time ago.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Boondoggle, Caesar's ™ style

Truly unbelievable: To get the new and expanded Caesar's Palace ™ Windsor off the grid (because Windsor and area simply didn't have enough power to light up the hotel / concert / casino complex), the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation decided to build a "clean energy" co-generation plant on site. The Caesar's project was supposed to cost $40 million; it's now run up to at least $81 million but may actually be worth zero zip nada on paper because no one knows how much excess power would be created to pump back into the grid so it could pay for itself. And the worst part: It still hasn't generated a single watt of power.

Meanwhile, the designer of the power plant and the OLG are suing each other because of claims the province reneged on the deal to buy power in the case of the former, and lack of timely delivery for the latter.
You'd think with a name with the caché of Caesar's, and with several former auto plants in Windsor now idle permanently, there would be a top notch facility with plenty of power to spare. But the nearest power facilities in Lambton and Bruce are pumping out as much as they can -- to the Greater Toronto Area; meanwhile the juice from Michigan is sold out of state at top dollar.
For a Premier who promised accountability and major improvements in health and education, partly funded by the revenues from gaming facilities across the province (the casinos, slots at racetracks and the horse races themselves), we the taxpayers have gotten one hell of a snow job from Dalton McGuinty. Sure there's a recession going on and Ontario's casinos collectively lost money last year for the first time, but that's no excuse for overspending on a clean energy project with nothing to show for it.
Why couldn't they have done what they did up at Casino Rama near Orillia? They built a backup gas generation plant, which came in handy during the big blackout in 2003; in fact they were the only gaming facility in Southern Ontario that was still running. It doesn't cost that much to build a purpose-driven gas plant.
This is yet another thing Dalton McGuinty has to answer for. This is beyond embarrassing. Little wonder people would want to go to the casinos in Detroit -- and not just because one can bet on a single game there which is still illegal in Canada (a three game parlay minimum is required).
And if they can't be trusted to build an in-house plant at a casino, how can they be trusted to build a windmill farm, or a nuclear power plant, at or below the contracted or stated price? When pigs can actually fly, then I'll believe it's possible to keep a promise when it comes to power.

At this point one couldn't blame Harrah's if they decide to strip the OLG of the right to use the Caesar's name. Who would want to be associated with a bs project like this knowing there's money for nothing? That's what's supposed to happen to those who patronize the facilities, not those who built it -- in this case, us the taxpayers.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Zambian "porn" editor acquitted

Back in August, I wrote about the crazy story of a newspaper editor in Zambia who was charged with pornography because she took photos of a woman who was forced to deliver a breech birth in a parking lot after two hospitals turned her away for a lack of nurses caused by a labour dispute. The baby later died from suffocation. Many felt that the arrest was politically motivated as the editor -- Chansa Kabwela -- has been an outspoken critic in her newspaper about the incumbent and (allegedly corrupt) president of the country, Rupiah Banda; even though the photos were never published.

Today, a court in Lusaka ruled that there was nothing to suggest the photos were anywhere from being "obscene" and duly acquitted Kabwela.

For a continent largely unaccustomed to the idea of a free press, this is without doubt a huge victory -- not just for journalistic integrity, but also for the common sense idea that a woman has the right to give birth safely. How anyone could have possibly viewed photographs of child birth as being "porn" is beyond comprehension, but that kind of idiocy exists even on our shores and it needs to be challenged if women are ever going to truly be considered the equals of men not just in law but in fact.

Put it this way: If the roles were reversed and men could give birth, would a woman pursue such silly charges? I would hope not.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Military contractors get free pass when raping?

You would think by now that the message has gotten through to people: Rape is a crime, anyplace and anytime. It apparently hasn't reached the ears of some US Senators.
A few weeks ago, ex-comedian Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) put forward a bill that would prevent the US Department of Defense from signing contracts with private companies that require their employees to resolve sexual harrassment and / or assault via private binding arbitration rather than through the courts. In effect, the situation as it currently stands gives service companies -- I'll let you guess which ones -- immunity from prosecution, and the Franken amendment if it becomes law would end that immunity. The amendment passed in principle, as well as it should -- the vote was 68 to 30. But on the way there, 30 Senators, all Republicans, voted against it.

In many states, as well as in most of Canada, a restaurant or bar can be held liable if they were aware someone had too much to drink then hit the road and caused an accident under the influence. Furthermore if it was one of their employees that had one too many, they'd be fired on the spot as well as facing criminal charges. Most companies nowadays have strict sexual harrassment policies knowing full well that they could be held liable if they create a "hostile work environment" that allows such discrimination to take place.
Why should it not be any different with contractors on the battlefield? Should they not be held to the same standards as those who wear the uniform and could face a court martial if they committed similar acts?
As it turns out, President Obama's Defense Department is trying to get the amendment killed as it goes to conference for reconciliation and a final vote -- they say it would disqualify too many current and potential contractors. Tough. Taxpayer money should not be subsidizing criminal acts and those who do commit such acts should face justice, both monetary and criminal. It's that simple.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Can't terrorist groups come up with better names?

There's ETA (Basque Freedom and Homeland) ... the Tamil "Tigers" ... and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a separatist group in the Phillipines. Yes ... MILF.

Maybe that's why many people don't take the threat seriously. With a name like that ... who would?

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Last dance for Dobbs at CNN

I don't think anyone saw this one coming, Lou Dobbs asked for and was released from his contract two years before it expires ... then again, Lou Dobbs was getting increasingly belligerent over the last six months. Not that he wasn't already but he may have finally worn out the patience of even the most tolerant editors at CNN.

He concluded tonight's show, his last, with "I'll be seeing you on the radio ..." à la Charles Osgood. Don't count on me tuning in.

It's almost certain he's going to settle in at Fox News any time now; proving just much of a comedy channel FNC is.

Indeed, he is the last of the original CNN anchors. Maybe they need to bring back one of the other originals -- that station is dead meat.

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Blackout in South America

Just weeks after Rio de Janiero won the 2016 Summer Olympics and as it gears up for perhaps as equally big an extragavanza, hosting the 2014 Men's World Cup of Soccer, a huge security concern has come up. Last night, a blackout plunged 60 million residents of Brazil and Paraguay into darkness for over two hours.

Why did this happen? No one seems to know for sure. Officially, sabotage is being denied at this time and the blame is instead placed on an "atmospheric event." The events have pointed critics to a huge flaw that nearly did in the Northeast of North America in the summer of 2003 -- too much interconnectivity causing a chain reaction blackout.
But if a 60 Minutes story the other night about how easy it is to hack into critical infrastructure is any indication, it may not be a good sign. It's happened before in Rio and many point a finger for those past events directly at Mainland China which, while it was unstatated, cannot tolerate any possible economic rivals and democratically elected ones at that. Or perhaps organized crime who can operate virtually anywhere on the planet.

Or it could be al Qaeda or another tech saavy terrorist group. And we know trojan horses have already been downloaded into central computers by stealth.
It doesn't make me feel all that comfortable about the security of Canada's electrical grid and our chemical and other raw materials plants. Or how easy it is to disconnect some power plants that may need to go offline in a hurry without causing damage to other plants or infrastructure at the end-user points. Not only that, if it's easy to hack into civilian systems, what leap of logic would it take to go from there to hacking into -- say, drones that can be flown by remote control, guided missles, entire cargo planes or destroyer ships.
And God forbid if a terrorist ever cracked the official nuclear launch codes.
I don't want to necessarily know what's being done -- that of course gives the hackers the heads up. Just that something is being done and intrusion attempts are caught and prosecuted.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Double Exposure Remembrance Day podcast

This is quite a surprise but a nice one ... comedians Bob Robertson and Linda Cullen ("Double Exposure") get very serious for once and have put together a 45 minute podcast in honour of Remembrance / Veterans Day, tomorrow, November 11. Their motivation: Hadnan Hajizade and Emin Abdullayev, who are in jail in Azerbaijan for a satirical video. This is very moving. You can get it off iTunes or download it directly from the humourists' website.

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Rescuers get rescued

Yesterday morning, there was a special bulletin on the radio about someone who was hunting, who got caught in an ice floe and a rescue mission was underway. It turns out the victim was indeed rescued, but then the rescue team got stranded on the way back to their own port and themselves had to be rescued.

No, I'm not making this up. This definitely isn't funny, but yet more proof positive the climate changes we're responsible for in the South are wreaking havoc way up North -- and we can expect to have more incidents like this. Thank God everyone was safe, and one can only hope beyond hope that no one dies in the future. Of course, most of the televangelists and their followers won't ever be convinced and they wouldn't be even if they could see the evidence for themselves up close.
Quite frankly, if Jesus came back today, he'd be executed by the religious right, before sundown, because they'd think he was the anti-Christ -- such is their unbelief.

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Korean naval clash -- again

After yesterday's celebrations in Berlin around the 20th anniversary of the fall of The Wall, one would have guessed the optimism would be short lived. It was. Enter today and a naval skirmish between North and South Korea -- two countries who don't even recognize the other's right to exist, to the point where broadcasts from the communist North are actually jammed in the democratic South. The world needs a regional war like a human needs a shot in the head and cooler heads need to prevail before this gets really out of hand.

But the bottom line is, just as is only one German people and the wall between them had to come down, so too is there only one Korean people and it's time for the DMZ to go and for Koreans in the North to be free. If it takes force to achieve that goal, then so be it. Much as I'd like to see Kim Jong-Il get shot, it'd be even sweeter justice to have him captured and tried at the Hague for crimes against humanity -- specifically, bringing his citizen slaves to starvation levels -- and get a life sentence.

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Twenty years ago today -- the Fall of the Wall

Twenty years ago today, the Berlin Wall fell. When I got home from high school that day and turned on the TV and saw all the channels covering this extraordinary event I had to pinch myself -- was this really happening. Then my parents and I saw people climbing up on the walls, the notorious Trebants literally lining up to go through Checkpoint Charlie -- and people using chisels, jackhammers, anything they had handy to literally rip the wall down and I thought ... well, there are no words to describe it. The following day, a Friday, the students at school were in a total party atmosphere -- whether our parents had come from Eastern or Western Europe, we knew then the Cold War was finally over. With Remembrance Day just a couple of days away, it made what our soldiers had fought for truly worthwhile after 44 years.
There had been a power shift in Poland earlier that year via a semi-democratic election; in Hungary the Communist Party simply declared itself out of business. The "day after" as it were the government in Bulgaria just proverbially threw in the towel and the end of dictatorship in Czechoslovakia was just around in corner.
What happened in Germany, however was inconceivable. One had to reasonably presume that, even with Erich Honecker out of office, the Soviet Union would intervene as they did in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968. The fear was especially real given that the Soviets still had several hundred thousand troops stationed in the East. This time, Moscow, which was under the control of Gorbachev at the time, just let things play out on their own. One supposes it was because the still active Soviet Union had problems of their own; but the realization that the Warsaw Pact was no longer to be considered a group of client states beholden to a superpower's interests was huge.
It was hard enough to know that a double-fenced No Man's Land cut through the heart of Europe, quite literally from the Baltic to the Adriatic. Even more insane was the Berlin Wall, which completely surrounded West Berlin (well inside of East Germany), a city that had vast urban and rural tracts.
The truly horrible thing, one reason why I still hate walls so much, is that it wasn't meant to keep the people of West Berlin out of East Germany as in a prison city -- instead, it was East Germany that was the prison country and West Berlin a free international city for while France, the UK and the US occupied West Berlin it couldn't actually say it was part of West Germany. In fact, it was so crazy that many in the "main" part of West Germany actually tried anything they could to get into West Berlin to evade compulsory military or alternate service. Some sources I've read suggest it cost the East about USD 1 billion per year to maintain the Berlin Wall -- when a country was still basically trapped in a post-World War II infrastructure. Today, public transit across Berlin is so generally easy it's hard to remember that as many as 12 of the 25 rapid transit lines that serve Berlin, both surface (the S-Bahn) and underground (the U-Bahn) were either totally cut off mid-point or had to run through so-called "ghost" stations -- not to mention the chaos done to the tram / streetcar lines.
Twenty years later after the fall, it's reprehensible to see people advocating for walls in the United States, such as Lou Dobbs. As pro wrestler and former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura pointed out to Larry King last year, you build a wall to keep people in -- not out, citing Berlin as just one example. And America is literally being its own prison as more people want a wall to keep the "enemy" Mexicans from crossing in. It will get to a point where people want to break down the walls, and when it does it will either be peaceful as it was in Berlin or a violent bloodbath as the Christmas coup in Romania was a few weeks later. It's true a "wall of the mind" is still there and people still speak of being from "East" or "West" Berlin and reconstruction has been hugely expensive but the vast majority, I am certain, would never want to go back to the bad old days.
So many of us saw the Iron Curtain as permanent that when it just faded away, literally in one night, I think it caught the West off guard. It's been said that all NATO ever did was plan for an invasion from the East, it never had a plan for what to do if Eastern Europe ever actually did democratize.
Yes, we had always had the hope that freedom would ring from Lisbon to Tallinn. But had you told me that not only would the Iron Curtain disappear but it would become possible to travel across Europe without any border guards whatsoever, and that over time you would only need one currency as well -- not to mention that Canada would build a permanent embassy right where the death zone stood -- I would have said you were nuts. Yet within a few years after "the end" people from both East and West Germany could travel freely to the other countries in Western Europe without border checks, by 2007, border controls had been abolished in nearly all of central and eastern Europe. Even Switzerland and Liechtenstein, about two of the freest countries you can imagine, finally got with the program and also opened their borders to the rest of Europe this year. The Euro is the currency of 16 of the 27 EU member states and widely accepted in many of the others. The impulse for freedom cannot be resisted.
Freedom doesn't come by building walls. They come by breaking them down. Meanwhile, while the former Warsaw Pact and the Baltic States have relative prosperity and complete freedom, Russia has retrenched back into dictatorship. I think deep down people want the openness of the late 1980s back and they will wake up sooner or later. So too will the people of Mainland China, the ordinary people who know their country took the wrong path in 1989 unlike Eastern Europe which understood a future would like in freedom and not repression. Sadly it's just not happening fast enough.
Twenty years ago today was the day that changed everything. I for one am glad it did.

UPDATE (Tues 09/11/10 3:26 PM EST, 2026 GMT): Some minor corrections. Also, the party last night in Berlin, where Lech Walesa toppled the symbolic dominoes across the city, was a lot of fun. Too bad Thatcher wasn't well enough to attend -- on the other hand, she was at first opposed to reunification.

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Health care in States crosses huge hurdle

It's kind of hard to believe but more than a hundred years after health care reform was first proposed by Theodore Roosevelt -- TR! -- the US House of Representatives passed a proposal for overhauling the medical system, one more ambitious than what President Obama proposed in his landmark speech to Congress barely two months ago and also even more broad than "Hillarycare" which never even came to a final vote before the Gingrich revolt in 1994. The vote last night was close; 220-215 (219 Democrats and 1 Republican for, 39 Democrats and 206 Republicans against). The GOP well as pro-life Dems did get one major concession -- they got through a provision that tightens the 1975 Hyde Amendment (which prohibits federal funding of abortions) further.

The most important provisions have been the two humps that has bedeviled lawmakers for years -- first getting rid of the anti-trust exemption that ensures virtual oligopolies in 34 states (even though there are dozens of companies who would gladly want to compete as they can for federal employees and drastically drive down premiums were it not for the loophole); and second, the rule allowing denial of coverage for a pre-existing health condition and also permitting cancellation of a policy for a condition one didn't even know about when applying for a policy. No other country would tolerate either of these, even for supplemental insurance over and above the state plan.
The bill will have to be reconciled with whatever comes out of the Senate (certainly less sweeping, about $300 billion less over ten years) but approval in principle is still a major victory for Obama after months of "teabagging" (a misappropriation of a lewd sexual act) and even comparisons of universal health coverage to the Holocaust (which prompted Elie Weisel, the famous survivor of the massacre, to write a very angry response on his Twitter account this week). Not to mention using babies, live babies, as props on the House floor saying such things as "our babies don't want a government run plan." I don't recall their being asked if they want to die, though.

It still seems amazing that every industrialized democracy other than the US has figured out a way to pool the wealth when it comes to health care. As I've mentioned previously, some have had complete takeover, such as with the NHS in the UK. Even there private competition exists and all three major parties there have offered, under certain circumstances, to have the government pay to "go private" if the wait for certain procedures gets too long. This is something Canada should stop fearing and also approve, provided that the private clinics generally outside the loop only first take patients who are not entitled to our health care system at all.
Other countries strictly regulate the health care markets to ensure every can affordably access the system. Then there is Canada, which as noted before is basically Medicare for all but needs more than tinkering to ensure its survival especially with an aging population.
The battle is far from over; but the fact a vast majority of Americans support at least a broad outline of reforms similar to what Obama and most other Democrats have advocated will put pressure on the Republicans to offer something should they ever regain control of Congress -- getting rid of reforms barely a year after they were passed will create an uproar that will make the teabagging / birthers / KKK protests seem tame by comparison.
A major item that will have to be in the "reconciliation" bill would have to be portability. Firstly, across across state lines. Second, being able to continue to be able to buy into a company plan after one leaves an employer within certain time limits with the of course much lower premiums than under an individual plan (this is actually the law, an act written by two former Senators -- Republican Nancy Kassebaum and Democrat the late Edward Kennedy -- but never enforced due to the powerful health care lobby). Just these two would drive down premiums enough to get about half of the uninsured covered again; and cut down the length of the current bill by at least two-thirds (from over 2000 pages to around 600).
Admittedly, Obama should have stuck to his prior guns and demanded the right of Americans to buy into the public service plan. But at least there is a start.

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Friday, November 6, 2009

What they are expected to say

I got a call about 4:45 pm (Eastern) today from someone who said they were an organizer for Terry Anderson, the federal Conservative candidate in my district (Hamilton Mountain) for the "coming election." (Hint, hint -- looks like PMS may call one when even the media least expects it). The caller asked if they could count on my support. I said, quite matter of factly, "No ... I'm a card-carrying Liberal."
"Oh thank you ..." the caller breathlessly began -- then she realized what I said and laughed. "I'm sorry. I guess I was answering what I'm expecting to say."
"That's quite all right," I replied, "but you have a nice day."

"Thank you."
What they are expected to say? I thought politics was about dialogue. I was willing to talk about some issues on my mind but she didn't even want to hear from me. She didn't even take the chance to see if I could be persuaded to defect.

I'm surprised they even called me at all. I would have thought the Cons would have scanned for all the "progressive" blogs, taken names, and struck them off the list.
That's Team Harper for you. But I'll take the hint that an election is coming.

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Hate over hate only creates more hate

Can someone help me out here? An officer of the Army and a practicing Muslim, who's disgruntled because of prejudice against Muslims in society in general, kills his fellow soldiers so as to engender even more prejudice against Muslims by society in general?

What is wrong with this picture? There can be no justification for the actions of the major if he in fact is the shooter. Not only that, feeding on the environment of hatred is no way to improve race relations especially when your own group is the target of that hate. It only serves to marginalize the vast majority of the minority group who wants nothing but to live in peace.
The last thing we need now is a race war, but I get the impression incidents like what happened at Fort Hood, Texas yesterday is exactly what extremists on both the left and the right hope for to fan the flames.

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Croatia moving one step closer to EU

Croatia's bid to join the European Union, something it has sought going all the way to the Balkan conflict nearly two decades ago, got closer to reality when it agreed with its neighbour Slovenia (an EU and Eurozone member) to send a long standing dispute over where a harbout is demarcated to binding arbitration. While it is welcome news, it does feel like a bit of déjà vu all over again. At least two former Yugoslav states, perhaps three if Serbia continues to cooperate with The Hague on the war crimes issue, will in a sense be put back together under the European umbrella.

Europe stands for the kind of freedom many progressives here admire -- individual rights and free enterprise tempered by collective responsibility and a hard line on arrangements that thwart competition. Unfortunately, some of the countries already in the EU have some very troubled pasts. With the celebrations this week of the end of Communism in most of Europe 20 years ago, one has to constantly remind oneself not just of the brutality of the Securitate in Romania but also the long simmering anger of Germans over the expulsion of their fellow men out of the Sudetenland by the former Czechoslovakia after World War II (to the point where the Czech Republic, one of the successor states, had to get promises from Germany that its citizens would not use the updated European Charter of Rights to file lawsuits for being so dispossessed as a condition for Czech accession to the Lisbon Treaty).
The Balkan conflict still weighs heavily all this time later. Very heavily. It's been going on for centuries, to be fair, but World War II and the atrocities committed then made the forty-six years that followed before the bloody breakup more like a ceasefire. Ethnic cleansing went around on all quarters. And it's going to run up against one of the pillars of Europe -- free movement of people.
Make no mistake, the right of free abode held in common by those who live in an EU or EFTA country is going to be a huge pill to swallow for both Croatia and Serbia, many of whom were only too happy to force their long time neighbours to move further down or upwind. And the attitudes don't just end in Europe. Here in Canada, where minor league soccer matches regularly break out into riots. You think NHL games are bad on the ice, you've never seen how uncivilized fans can be at soccer just because one has a name someone else doesn't like.
It's not at all a genetic thing. But I do worry somewhat if there's too much of a rush to get Croatia and Serbia into the club just as there was with Romania and Bulgaria back in 2007. Not just the ethnic conflict. The economies are relatively stable, a necessity to join of course, but there's still a lot of corruption both within and without the governments and court systems are to an extent still stuck in the communist area with judges still wont to do the government's bidding rather than independently applying the law. Guess who those judges favour in case of a civil dispute between two parties from the two ethnic groups? Hello. And organized crime is still a big problem. It's a common problem across Europe of course and one of the goals of the EU in common is to eliminate the Mafia in its various forms but Romania lost several hundred million euros in transfer payments this year as a sanction for its lack of action. I believe that any country should face similar shunning if they are also so inclined not to act.
Membership should be approved -- it's been delayed too long -- but the European Court on Human Rights needs to keep a very close eye on the situation and apply appropriate sanctions if the wont to fall into old habits bubbles back to the surface and this should be strictly enforced. However, 2010 is way too fast a timetable even if the Lisbon Treaty has now been approved. I think 2012 should be more realistic but if and only if economic tests are met (and the current economic crisis does raise red flags about the chances) a fast track into the Euro rather than a three year waiting period should be considered.

I still sense a bit of stubborness, however. Piran should have gone to arbitration years ago.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

US 2009 results wrap

A quick wrap of yesterday's election results:

The two governorships up for grabs, New Jersey and Virginia, both went Republican. I think the old "all politics is local" meme applied here and not opposition to Obama's slow to date performance on the domestic front. In particular Jersey where the incumbent governor was plagued with problems including proposing raising road tolls by 800% over thirteen years to pay down a huge debt -- when of course road tolls by law are supposed to go back into roads and not into general revenues.
Both congressional by-elections went to the Democrats. California 10 (the East Bay) was perhaps not too surprising. The big surprise was New York 23 where voters fought back against the Palin effect and elected a Dem for the first time in 137 years -- and oddly enough the Democrat was actually more in line with the conservative values of the Champlain Valley than the "Conservative" is!
Yeah, I'm happy about this, but also annoyed at how the right fought against itself falling into the same bad habits that divided the left in the States for years. I do think it's way past time for the US (like Canada) to have proportional representation or a preferential ballot. Could I vote for a Republican if I was in the States? Perhaps, provided he or she was the kind that Eisenhower and Ford were, not the current bunch of betards.
New York City: Mike Bloomberg won but with only 51% of the vote. He reported spent $86 million of his own money, for the Democrat to win 46% and who respected spending rules is nothing short of remarkable. Seven words for Bloomberg: WORLD TRADE CENTER, REBUILD IT AS WAS!
Finally, Maine: Medical marijuana was approved, and the ballot measure that would have overturned a law that allows gay marriage and also includes a refusal to marry a couple based on conscience -- was approved. That second one really doesn't make sense. In fact, a conscience law should have ensured the law could be sustained. As usual, there's an urban-rural split and I can only see a mass migration to cities so that the next time that this appears on the ballot gay marriage will be approved. On a compassionate level it doesn't make any sense to rip families apart like this. It just does not.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Lisbon Treaty a "go"

With a court decision earlier today, the president of the Czech Republic no longer had any excuse to hold off signing on the Lisbon Treaty, which sets out the biggest reorganization of the European Union since its founding in 1957. With the final ratification Europe comes one step closer to becoming a semi-federal area without actually calling itself one. That this happens in the week of the 20th anniversary of the Fall of The Wall, is not at all a coincidence but a final repudiation of totalitarianism and the bullshit concept of "socialism in one country." It is also the next logical step in a process that began with free trade then open borders and then a common currency.

Also interesting today is that the leader of the British Conservatives, David Cameron, has now backed away from a promise to hold a referendum on the treaty if as expected he's elected PM next year. Necessary as the treaty is, a promise is a promise and it should be one that should be kept. This doesn't do much to help his credibility when the Labour incumbent, Gordon Brown, has almost none left whatsoever. As far as the Lib Dems go, the party does have a referendum on EU membership in its platform but its leader Nick Clegg has only promised for now a binding referendum on replacing the sterling with the Euro.
Only UKIP and the BNP, both fringe parties, have vowed to pull the UK out of the EU immediately but neither has a real prospect of forming government any time soon -- or even holding a possible balance of power, especially with NATO possibly ganging up on Britain and starting World War III which would be the inevitable result.
European integration has its benefits, both for businesses as well as consumers -- and one of the big winners is also tourism as a common currency in most countries makes trips that much easier. I still think people should be asked; after all, it's their future as much as that of big commerce. But at last the much needed reforms can be done. Most important is the need to really revamp system of payments from CAP -- the Common Agricultural Policy -- so family farms get subsidies and not agrifood giants like Monsanto, ConAgra, ADM and Nestlé.
My only hope is the first real European President is NOT Tony Blair -- the EU needs that like a shot in the head. If Canada is going to have free trade with Europe, I would not want us dealing with him, especially after lying about WMDs.

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Monday, November 2, 2009

The race in New York 23

Normally, the November elections in the year after the American Presidentials are the dullest. Besides the governorships in New Jersey and Virginia (the only two up for grabs) and the mayoralties of New York City, Boston, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Houston, there really isn't too much to be interested in. But one by-election for the vacant House seat in New York 23 (the northeast part of the state, which borders southeast Ontario and southwest Quebec and includes most of the Adirondacks), is everything everyone is saying it is and it could have major national implications.

It's hard to imagine that in a country that strongly frowns upon parachuting a candidate into a district (in the States, it's called "carpetbagging") that a party's activists would actually support the outsider. While the US constitution only requires a candidate for office to be a resident of his or her state it's a well established convention one has to also reside in his or her district to be taken seriously.
Yet supporting the carpetbagger is exactly what has happened in the race to succeed John McHugh who resigned when President Obama named him Secretary of the Army. The local Republican party named Dede Scozzafava who is an old-style Republican -- pro-gun and in tune with rural values, but also pro-choice and pro-gay rights. Thing is, for most militant Republicans, being any kind of leftist is unacceptable. So for this by-election, to be held tomorrow, they are rallying behind the New York Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, saying he's the "real" Republican.
How can this be? Well, New York State is one of the few states left that has an "electoral fusion" law, which allows candidates to run on multiple ballot lines with the totals from all endorsed lines pooled and added up, and as long as at least one of those lines passes a statewide quota -- in NYS' case it's 50,000 -- a "fusion" party can remained registered in the state. Fusion laws do exist in some other democracies, such as the UK where Labour has an informal agreement with the "Labour Co-operative" on the mainland and the SDLP in Northern Ireland -- but it's in NYS that the multiple lines that have allowed way out there parties such as the "Independence" and "Right to Life" parties on the right and the "Working Family," "Liberal" and "Green" parties on the left to stay in business as long as they have.
Fusion laws appear to be a way around the first past the post system which dominates the US system in the vast majority of states; only Texas, Louisiana and Georgia, as far as I can recall, require a candidate to get 50% plus one to avoid a runoff between the top two candidates in a second round of voting. It does ensure smaller voices get heard, but when you have the same candidate run across several lines it really isn't quite that democratic. All it would do, all it does do, is give a cause an extra lease on life. In the 2006 NYS governor race, there were effectively only two candidates with one running on three lines and the other running on two. Same dictators, you just choose the colour.
In the present case, Hoffman has gotten support from a rather odd bunch, including Sarah Palin and Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and many other GOP luminaries -- which has unexpectedly given the Democrat, Bill Owens, an outside chance of winning; which became even greater when Scozzafava quit the race in disgust on Saturday and at the last minute endorsed her Democratic opponent.
To make things even more confusing, the Independence Party endorsed Scozzafava while the Working Families Party has endorsed Owens!
Why the possible national implications? Not just for the principle that a candidate from a district should be from the district and not just because there should be "no election without selection" (Scozzafava was handpicked by district party executives without a primary) but also because it's a fight for what the GOP should be. With the election loss last year of Chris Shays in Connecticut, the Republicans have virtually no seats in the Northeast and NY 23 is one that the GOP has held since, I believe, 1872. Not only that, but Shays and company represented a dying breed -- moderate to liberal Republicans who made sure the party didn't get too far off track.
Sarah Palin has said she supports Hoffman because when Reagan ran for President he refused to compromise on his principles and the GOP should not now. However, it's more accurate to say that while Reagan did employ the infamous and very racist "Southern strategy" to get elected, he actually did make huge compromises. He was vocally opposed in the 1960s to civil rights legislation, voting reforms and Social Security. But by the time he got into the White House, he had made peace with public pensions, enforced the Voting Rights Act, and presided over the EEOC when it finally took sexual harassment seriously and landed a major victory when the Supreme Court accepted the principle that harassment is discrimination. And while he was certainly quirky when it came to the environment, he actually saw it to it that the Clean Air and Water Acts were enforced as they were written -- not at all like what happened under Bush 2 two decades later.
Reagan didn't compromise any of his values to do so. He simply accepted that the line of reforms of government that had popular acceptance should not be tampered with. To do this, he embraced the moderates in his party and consistently warned his radical minions not to speak ill of their more meek fellow mates.
If Hoffman wins, it will mean that moderates no longer have a place in the GOP and undoubtedly that will leave many rank and file Republicans out in the cold. Many would rather register as a "fusion" member in the states that allow the practice or as an independent in the majority that do not -- than become a Democrat. But if those who are fiscally conservative but socially liberal do not have a home feel they need to express their feelings at the ballot box they will go for the party that has actually demonstrated fiscal prudence in the 1990s and early aughts of this centruy much more so than the Republicans did -- and that party is the Democrats.
In many social mores, the US is undoubtedly conservative. But a conservative in one part of the States may well be a liberal in another. Some of the great ideas have come from the smallest parts of the country, not from the loud mouthpieces who have legions of dittoheads to do their bidding just like Pavlovian dogs or those who actually comply with Milgram experiments.
In most countries, what we now call "Republican," or what has been hijacked by the militants, would almost certainly fall into the "black" or neo-Fascist column -- like the Front National in France, the BNP in the UK and the Freedom Party in Austria. Meanwhile, moderate conservatives would actually be the Conservatives or Christian Democrats. They are successful at the ballot box because they understand a "big tent" should be exactly that and one cannot exercise personal freedom unless he or she also is part of the collective responsibility. Losing a seat that should be a lock, and losing it after holding it for 137 years, would be a well deserved slap in the face.
If the GOP keeps this up and keeps marginalizing those who want to bring the party back to the radical centre, they can look forward to another twenty years in the wilderness, at least as far as Congress is concerned.

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Afghanistan (election) fraud

In absolutely no surprise at all, Hamid Karzai's sole remaining opponent Abdullah Abdullah called the election in Afghanistan what it was -- a farce -- and dropped out giving Karzai an undeserved third term in office.
Yeah, that's what the West is fighting for. To prop up the Man from Unocal.

That's all it ever was about ... building a gas pipeline through the landlocked country so an absolute dictator from one of the ex-Soviet Stans could get their gas to market. Not about women, not about doing in the terrorists. And of course, the opium trade is as huge as it has ever been.
But we made a promise to stay in there until 2011. And note, in the case of Canada, the 2011 commitment applies only to Kandahar. It leaves open the possibility of combat missions elsewhere in the country, particularly where the Taliban and allies are in even greater control.
We've made the promise so I guess we have to keep it ... but really, should Canada be in the business of keeping the peace in a dictatorship? America's supporting thugs over the decades is why that country is so hated in the developing world. Do we want to be brushed with the same brush? I hope not.

Democracy can't kick in overnight unless you're dealing with a country that has had a long tradition of democracy but then had to deal with years of dictatorship -- which is why the transition in Eastern Europe twenty years ago was as relatively smooth as it was. But certainly by now, after eight years, we should have seen at least the semblance of a freely elected government and a free press. Afghanistan has neither and likely will not for quite some time to come.

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