Saturday, May 31, 2008

Just a few things

1. First, I would like to direct you to this excellent post by Hilzoy, dissecting the Geraldine Ferraro editorial I wrote about earlier. A quote:

And what is it about Obama that makes it impossible for him to reassure Reagan Democrats, whatever he says, whatever he does, and whatever positions he holds? Ferraro says this: "They don't identify with someone who has gone to Columbia and Harvard Law School and is married to a Princeton-Harvard Law graduate." But that can't be right: surely Reagan Democrats don't have such a finely-grained view of the distinctions* between Ivy League law schools that while Obama qualifies as an elitist, someone who went to Wellesley and Yale Law School and is married to a Georgetown-Yale Law grad counts as the salt of the earth.

It's very hard to avoid the conclusion that Obama cannot reach the Reagan Democrats in Geraldine Ferraro's head, that they don't think he will treat them fairly or understand them or their problems, because he is black.

Ferraro's Reagan Democrats, whoever they are, are either easily manipulated simpletons who vote against their own interests or racist fucks. Either way, her seeming empathy with them is disturbing.

2. In other news, the Democratic bigwigs are meeting today to decide the fate of Florida and Michigan's delegations. Any "compromise" will be grossly unfair not only to Obama but also to the millions of Democrats who were told their votes would not count, and thus did not vote.

But it looks like they'll just cut the total delegates in half and give Obama most if not all of Michigan's "uncommitted". TPM reports that the Obama campaign is already supporting a deal for Florida that will net Hillary 19 delegates, but they want to just split Michigan 50-50. Works for me, if it finally ends this primary.

UPDATE: From Daily Kos:

I think for 2012, Californians should unilaterally decide that our state will be worth 5,000 delegates. Sure, it'd be against one piffling party rule, but I fail to see why the voters of California should be disenfranchised by not seating them all.

We're a democracy, so not seating them would be like enabling Hitler.

Also, our delegates will have the power of tagsies, which means that if they touch a delegate from another state while shouting "I AM THE HIGHLANDER", that other delegate has to give them their lunch money. Deal with that, Rules Committee.


3. Finally, I did indeed see the new Indiana Jones last weekend, and I just realized that I have not yet posted a review. I enjoyed it, but it was not the same quality as the originals. It was marred by too much CG, too much implausible and silly action (even for this series), and weak use of Karen Allen's character. Harrison Ford is still good in the role, and Shia LeBeouf wasn't too irritating, but 19 years on, it's time to put Indy to bed.

Americans hate their health care

Via Ezra Klein and TNR:

If you've heard John McCain talk about health care lately, then you've heard him suggest that Democratic plans for universal health insurance would lead to long waits, higher costs, inferior care, etc.--since that's what they get in Europe.

As I've mentioned before, one of the many, many flaws with this argument is that the people in those countries don't seem to agree. Their systems have problems--some more than others--but overall people in the larger, more advanced European countries seem more content with their health insurance arrangements than most Americans are with theirs.

Today's news brings yet more evidence of this. On behalf of the International Herald Tribune and France 24 television, Harris Interactive surveyed people in the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. The findings? Four out of five Americans say the system needs fundamental changes or a complete overhaul--the highest of all the countries surveyed.

As I said earlier, I plan to blog about health care from time to time. It really is amazing how much of a disgrace the US health care system is, and how little is being done about it.

All of the arguments being attributed to John McCain above are resoundingly false. Most European health care systems have lesser wait times, much lower costs, and lead to equal or superior health outcomes for their citizens. This applies to Canada as well, although I take issue with a few things that we do here as well (I'll take a whack at that in the future).

The US is the only First World country to lack universal health care. It is the only First World country to leave a large percentage of its population without health insurance. Yet, amazingly, it spends more than any other country on health care as a percentage of GDP (graph from the Commonwealth Fund):

What is wrong with this picture? As counter-intuitive as it is to many libertarian minded folk, a government administered health insurance scheme leads to a more efficient economic outcome than dozens of competing HMOs. It's that simple. A mountain of administrative costs plus inherent difficulties with assymetrical information between patient and provider make it difficult to reach a cost-effective arrangement within the private sector.

There has been much whining about the soaring costs of Medicare south of the border, and how it will eventually become insolvent. But look at this CBO graph:

The major increases in health care costs are projected to fall outside of the government system. This is also a moral issue:

So why has this situation been allowed to persist? The reason is that there has been an ongoing campaign of disinformation in US politics that uses key words like "socialized medicine" to scare a populace that instinctively distrusts government involvement in the economy. This campaign has been promoted by those who have a financial stake in the existing system, such as the HMO and drug companies. The Democratic candidates this time around are promising "universal healthcare", but in truth, neither Obama's or Clinton's plans go far enough. The disinformation campaign has been so effective that true reform may take a backseat for years to come. And it's a travesty.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Geraldine Ferraro....please go away

Geraldine Ferraro has turned up once again to whine about sexism and "racial resentment":

The truth is that tens of thousands of women have watched how Clinton has been treated and are not happy. We feel that if society can allow sexism to impact a woman's candidacy to deny her the presidency, it sends a direct signal that sexism is OK in all of society.

As for Reagan Democrats, how Clinton was treated is not their issue. They are more concerned with how they have been treated. Since March, when I was accused of being racist for a statement I made about the influence of blacks on Obama's historic campaign, people have been stopping me to express a common sentiment: If you're white you can't open your mouth without being accused of being racist. They see Obama's playing the race card throughout the campaign and no one calling him for it as frightening. They're not upset with Obama because he's black; they're upset because they don't expect to be treated fairly because they're white. It's not racism that is driving them, it's racial resentment. And that is enforced because they don't believe he understands them and their problems. That when he said in South Carolina after his victory "Our Time Has Come" they believe he is telling them that their time has passed.

Whom he chooses for his vice president makes no difference to them. That he is pro-choice means little. Learning more about his bio doesn't do it. They don't identify with someone who has gone to Columbia and Harvard Law School and is married to a Princeton-Harvard Law graduate. His experience with an educated single mother and being raised by middle class grandparents is not something they can empathize with. They may lack a formal higher education, but they're not stupid. What they're waiting for is assurance that an Obama administration won't leave them behind.


I will say a couple things in response.

First, has Clinton been a victim of sexism during this primary? Yes. She has also been a victim of her own words and actions. She has been a victim of her own mistakes and her own missteps. She has been a victim of her campaign's incoherence and constant changing of the goalposts. But most of all, she was a victim of her own hubris. To suggest that Hillary Clinton, a candidate with all the advantages going in, lost because of sexism is absurd. Imagine if Obama had lost 11 primaries in a row in February. Does anyone seriously think the media would have pretended he had a chance afterwards? But they did for Clinton. They played along with her narrative until it became impossible to accomodate.

Second, her explanation of "Reagan Democrats" (whoever the hell they are) and their problems with Obama strikes me as incredibly condescending towards a group of people that the Democrats outwardly are supposed to be courting, because the picture she paints is not favorable. She is basically saying that these people are so stupid and ignorant that they don't want to vote for someone with a good education. They don't want to vote for someone who rose from a modest background to a successful career in law and politics. (UPDATE: And another thing; is she forgetting the particulars of Hillary's education? They can "identify" with a Yale graduate but not a Harvard one?) They're so stupid that they believe an Obama administration will actually discriminate against whites. When she says they cannot "empathize" with Obama, what they really mean is that they cannot empathize with a black man.

In other words, people like the voters in West Virginia and Kentucky who voted for Hillary in overwhelming numbers, and think Obama is a Muslim and doesn't say the pledge of alliegance and all the other bullshit. Reagan Democrats, my ass. Those are Republicans. And those who are not can go have intimate relations with farm animals as far as I'm concerned. Obama doesn't need them.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What's going on in Iraq, anyway?

To be truthful, I haven't followed the news from Iraq as diligently lately as I once did. Part of it has been because of the SUPER-EXCITING Democratic primary. (/snark) But part of it has been the general lack of news itself.

It's true that violence is down, though that is relative; large numbers of Iraqi security forces and civilians are still getting killed with some regularity, with little improvement over, say, 2005. It's even more true that violence against US forces is down. Total deaths this month are set to be one of the lowest of the entire war, no doubt aided by the increasing responsibility of Iraqi forces.

So what's happening? Is it the surge? Without going into more detail and examining the statistics province by province, I would guess that the US strategy has indeed produced some localized successes in reducing violence. Standard counter-insurgency doctrine requires large numbers of occupying forces to maintain order and clamp down on violence, and this has finally been realized in some areas.

But far more important in my mind has been the bribing of Sunni militias and insurgent groups in Al Anbar province, which was previously the hotbed of insurgent activity. This alliance of convenience has held up for quite some time, and depending on how things go, it may yet hold up for a while to come.

The violence that is still going on appears to be more the product of various sectarian militias vying for power; namely Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army and the more powerful SCIRI groups, which are backed by Iran and control much of the Iraqi government. It seems as though these groups are not interested in any lasting compromise, and they may be headed toward a major clash.

And the Sunnis may have been placated for the time being, but there is no indication that any of them recognize the legitimacy of the Iraqi government. The various tribal leaders all have their fiefs, and they're happy as long as no one challenges their authority.

But if Iraq is to become a functioning nation-state with a democratic government, this status quo must be overturned. And if the past five years are any indication, it will not be peaceful. Bush has succeeded in holding Iraq together long enough for the final outcome to become the next president's responsibility, but if things come apart as I suspect they will, he will not escape blame.

The soaring stock market

This applies more to Canada than the US, but our stock market has been at record levels the past few weeks. The TSX is currently trading at around 14,500 points, and it has a lot of us wondering just how strong the Canadian economy is. My brother is a banker, and he wrote a post on it a while back.

South of the border, despite the much anticipated recession, the latest GDP forecasts remain positive (however slightly). However, this is a distinction without meaning. The definition of recession is rather arbitrary; officially, it's two consecutive quarters with negative GDP growth. But even one quarter of negative growth is recessionary in character. And for those with stagnant wage growth and job losses, they surely feel as though they are in a recession already, despite what the official numbers say.

It's possible the US has dodged a bullet for the time being, but the underlying problems remain. Too much debt, an anemic domestic manufacturing sector, an over-reliance on the automobile and fossil fuels, and a seriously fucked up financial sector.

What explains the rapid growth of the TSX then? Simple. A rise in oil prices hurts the US, because they are a net importer of oil. We are a net exporter. It's like free money. Most of it is going to Alberta, but it keeps our entire economy afloat, as well as our stock market. The TSX has more oil and gas companies than any other major exchange in the world. But Ontario's manufacturing sector has been hurting, and in normal times, that would spell trouble. These are not normal times.

The question is how far out of balance can things go? Oil or not, our export economy is dependent on US demand. If all the underlying problems in the US economy come to a head (and they will one way or another, whether it's this year or next year, or five years from now), we'll get hit too, no matter how much oil we produce, or how high our stock market soars.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Four reasons why Lanny Davis is an idiot

Can't think of much else to blog about, so I guess I'll make fun of Lanny Davis.

Davis is a hardcore Hillary Clinton partisan whose bullshit has been unmatched by just about any other hardcore Hillary Clinton partisan during the primaries. Today he posted something on Huffington Post that truly must be seen to be believed:

The follow(sic) are four things that the Obama campaign couldn't resist doing to anger Clinton supporters, supporters that Sen. Obama needs in the general election if -- if -- he is the nominee.

1. Couldn't resist waiting one day after Sen. Clinton won West Virginia by 41 points to announce John Edwards endorsement.

Should Obama have waited two days? Should he have told Edwards to go fuck himself? Should he have travelled back in time and got Edwards to endorse him sooner?

2. Couldn't resist waiting to win majority of ALL delegates (not just pledged delegates) to do victory lap speech in Iowa the night Hillary won Kentucky by 36 points.

The bastard! How dare he spoil Her Majesty's party!

3. Couldn't resist waiting to win majority of all delegates to announce Jim Johnson as VP search committee head -- the first candidate in my memory ever to do so while his chief opponent is still fighting for nomination -- and winning in last primary in crucial border state by 36 points (Kentucky).

What's the rush?

He already announced his VP search committee head? The fiend!

4. Couldn't resist listing Bill Richardson as under consideration for Veep - the one Red Flag name that infuriates even moderate Clinton supporters the most -- not because he chose to endorse Sen. Obama, but the way he did it, i.e., his inability to avoid making negative comments about Sen. Clinton while doing so -- another person who sometimes can't resist the temptation of not being gracious when he should be, a great disappointment to many of his former close friends from the Clinton camp and which will not be forgotten.

Shorter Lanny Davis: Judas' betrayal will not soon be forgiven. When the rightful heiress to the throne returns with her terrible vengeance, much blood will be spilled. All shall fear her wrath and despair.

...or Hillary Clinton is henceforth shunned by the Democratic party, fades into obscurity, and neither she or her batshit insane supporters ever bother us again.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Mars' North Pole

NASA's Phoenix lander touched down without any problems on Mars' north pole yesterday, and it's already sent back some cool pictures:

Apparently, the polygonal patterns are evidence of water freezing and refreezing on the surface, similar to what happens on Earth.

I'm certainly no expert, I just think this stuff is cool. Congrats to NASA and the Phoenix team!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Various Items

Okay, wedding business is all finished. Everything went great, and we all had a good time, but I'm beat.

Just a few things to comment on tonight; I notice that Hillary Clinton made a big boo-boo during my brief vacation from blogging by referencing RFK's assassination when justifying her staying in the race. Oops. I don't quite think that she's hoping for Obama to be assassinated or anything like that, but it's clearly a major mistake that will hopefully put an end to all of this foolish "dream ticket" talk. June 3rd can't come soon enough....

And as promised, the new BSG preview:

With any luck, I'll get out to see the new Indiana Jones tomorrow. I've lowered my expectations a bit, so hopefully I'll be pleasantly surprised.

Friday, May 23, 2008


Okay, I'm almost functioning normally at this point. When it's my turn, I am sooo not doing that. Jesus...

So due to the monster bachelor party hangover that I am doing my best to overcome, and other wedding related business, I will not be blogging much today either. Or tomorrow. But I'll be back, good as new, spewing fresh wisdom by the end of the weekend.

PS: My brother has not dropped off the face of the Earth; he is, of course, insanely busy with wedding preparations. But he should also be back blogging again next week. If anyone cares. ;)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sore Loser

I won't have much time for blogging today (my brother's bachelor party is tonight; he's getting married on Saturday), but I leave you with this scathing critique of Hillary's latest strategy, from Josh Marshall:


For the last week it's seemed that Sens. Clinton and Obama were adhering to their tacit truce, continuing the primary campaign but avoiding the harsh exchanges that make later party unity a dimmer and dimmer prospect. Clinton particularly had deescalated her rhetoric. Then we have a speech like Sen. Clinton's yesterday in Florida in which she compared the controversy over seating the Florida and Michigan delegates to the Florida recount debacle and many of the great voting and civil rights battles of the 20th century. She is of course also claiming that whatever the delegate count, she leads in the popular vote and that that is what really counts. Never mind of course that even if you count Michigan and Florida she's still not ahead in the popular vote without resorting to tendentious methods of counting.

I've always assumed, as I think most people have, that once the nomination is settled the Florida and Michigan delegates will be seated. And I can see if Sen. Clinton wants to embrace this issue to claim a moral victory even while coming short of her goal of the nomination. As things currently stand, seating them would still leave Sen. Clinton behind in delegates.

But Sen. Clinton is doing much more than this. She is embarking on a gambit that is uncertain in its result and simply breathtaking in its cynicism.

I know many TPM Readers believe there is a deep moral and political issue at stake in the need to seat these delegations. I don't see it the same way. But I'm not here to say they're wrong and I'm right. It's a subjective question and I respect that many people think this. What I'm quite confident about is that Sen. Clinton and her top advisors don't see it that way.

Why do I think that? For a number of reasons. One of her most senior advisors, Harold Ickes, was on the DNC committee that voted to sanction Florida and Michigan by not including their delegates. Her campaign completely signed off on sanctions after that. And there are actually numerous quotes from the Senator herself saying those primaries didn't and wouldn't count. Michigan and Florida were sanctioned because they ignored the rules the DNC had set down for running this year's nomination process.

The evidence is simply overwhelming that Sen. Clinton didn't think this was a problem at all -- until it became a vehicle to provide a rationale for her continued campaign. Now, that's politics. One day you're on one side of an issue, the next you're on the other, all depending on the tactical necessities of the moment. But that's not what Clinton is doing. She's elevating it to a level of principle -- first principles -- on par with the great voting rights struggles of history. There's no longer any question that she's going to win the nomination. The whole point of the popular vote gambit was to make an argument to super-delegates. And that's fine since that's what super-delegates are there for -- to make the decision by whatever measure they choose. But they've made their decision. The super delegates are breaking overwhelmingly for Obama. They simply don't buy the arguments she's making.

As Greg Sargent makes clear here. There are very good reasons to think Sen. Clinton won't take this to the convention, even as today she suggested she might. But that's sort of beside the point.

What she's doing is not securing her the nomination. Rather, she's gunning up a lot of her supporters to believe that the nomination was stolen from her -- a belief many won't soon abandon. And that on the basis of rationales and arguments there's every reason to think she doesn't even believe in.

Exactly. The Hillary dead-enders are already crazy enough; the last thing the Democrats need is for her to keep pouring fuel on the fire.

Also, this from the Anonymous Liberal:

Over the last few weeks, as it's become increasingly clear that Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee, I've noticed a real sense of grievance take hold among many of Hillary Clinton's most ardent supporters, particularly her female supporters. There's a real sense, I think, that this outcome is somehow deeply unfair, that Clinton--the more experienced and accomplished female applicant--is being passed over for the job in lieu of the younger, less experienced, and more charismatic male.

Given how often that particular scenario has played itself out in American offices and workplaces over the years, I understand why people might come to view this race that way, especially women who have experienced that kind of sexism first hand. That said, the analogy itself is totally absurd.

First, and most obviously, the nomination fight is not supposed to be a meritocracy. If it was, Clinton would have long ago lost the race to candidates like Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, and Bill Richardson, all of whom have way more experience than she does and many more political accomplishments to their name. Clinton may be older than Obama, but her governmental resume isn't all that much longer than his, and both have far less experience than most of the other candidates in the race (and in past presidential races for that matter).

I can see this argument gaining a lot of traction among Hillbots, and it's a dangerous one.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Shocking news!

Canadians favour Obama over McCain

Democrat Barack Obama would crush Republican John McCain in the U.S. presidential race by an almost four-to-one margin — 56 per cent to 15 — if it were up to Canadians.
Well duh. The Republican Party makes our Conservatives look like hardcore socialists. Also:

Forty-two per cent of respondents called Mr. Bush one of the worst presidents in U.S. history, 23 per cent said he was the absolute worst.
I wouldn't go so far as to rate him the absolute worst. A lot of presidential historians rate James Buchanan pretty near the bottom. The introductory paragraph on his Wikipedia page is hilariously harsh:

As Southern states declared their secession in the lead-up to the American Civil War, he held that secession was illegal, but that going to war to stop it was also illegal. Taking his own advice, he did nothing.


More new Battlestar!

I couldn't find the longer preview clip; apparently they have it on, but those bastards discriminate against Canadians. *grumble*

Anyway, here's the standard preview (it won't air until next week though; maybe I'll find the longer clip by then):

Hee hee, it looks awesome. Apparently there are plans in the works for some webisodes to bridge the two halves of season 4, and also 3 new TV movies to be produced after the series ends! And of course, Caprica debuts this fall. How great is that?

Fixing the Democratic primary mess

Obama won Oregon very handily, and now possesses a majority of pledged delegates, bringing him that much closer to the nomination. So hopefully this horrible primary will finally be over soon. June 3rd isn't too far away, boys and girls.

One thing that has been made abundantly clear is that this primary has been a mess, largely because of the confusion and continuing uncertainty over the delegations of Florida and Michigan. John Cole has some good ideas:

First, the seating of Michigan and Florida. It seems to me that since these were not to count and many feel completely not seating the delegation is too draconian, the fairest thing to do is to punish them by halving the total number of delegates (pledged) from the states. Then, the appropriate way to apportion them would be to take the pledged delegate lead from the other 48 states and assorted territories and the like (DC, Guam, Puerto Rico), and apportion the Michigan/Florida delegates according to the percentage that both Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama have from those states. For example- If Obama has 52% of the pledged delegates from those 48 states+, he would get 52% of the delegates from Michigan and Florida. I have no idea what to do with the supers, but I am inclined to tell them to pound sand.

This would accomplish several things. First, it would stop the “seat the FL and MI delegates” nonsense. Second, it would be a strict punishment. Third, since there really was no election, it would fairly distribute the delegates according to the way they were determined in the rest of the country. Fourth, it would not impact the outcome of the election (and it wouldn’t if Hillary were in the lead of delegates, either). Finally, it would ensure that the DNC is still respected by the state delegations, and crap like this would not happen again in the future.

Second, solving this mess from the future. Unlike many, I like the proportional representation. It allows for campaigns to last longer, it really allows non-institutional candidates a shot, and I think it is a good thing. Keep it. I would also get rid of the sense of entitlement that Iowa and NH have, and make the primary system run on a regional basis, rotating every election. Break the states into appropriate and manageable regional blocs, set a start date for primaries, and every two weeks a different bloc votes. Depending on how long you want the primary season to last, you could tailor the size of the blocs and the start date for the election. States would be free to determine whether they want to be a primary or caucus or hybrid.

One last thing. I would create a sort of political quasi-holiday for all Democratic candidates running nationally prior to the start of voting in which they the rules of the contest, the metrics that will be used to determined the outcome and the nominee, and all that stuff are read, agreed to, and then have the candidates sign a statement agreeing to them. Publicly. Turn it into a celebration, make it a big deal so everyone knows it happens. Get all the party heads there, take a time to remember past party giants who may have died in the past few years, present awards to people who have done great things for the party. Have fund-raisers, do meet and greets, introduce rising stars in the party, etc. Call it “Signing Day” or something. But make it big, known, and public. The bullshit goalpost moving a certain campaign has done the past few months is unacceptable.

I think making all parties publicly embrace the rules that have been set out, no questions asked, is an excellent idea. Moving the goalposts in mid-game creates confusion, resentment, and bitterness among the supporters of the losing candidate. Combine that with the uncertainty and equivocation over Florida and Michigan and you have toxic memes like "Hillary is winning the popular vote".

Gas taxes and inventories

Today oil is at $132/barrel. Strong demand for diesel in quake-devastated China is blamed, as well as a report of low gasoline inventories:

In its weekly inventory report Wednesday, the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration said crude oil inventories fell by more than 5 million barrels last week. Analysts had expected a modest increase. Gasoline inventories also fell and took the market by surprise, while inventories of distillates, which include heating oil and diesel fuel, rose less than analysts surveyed by energy research firm Platts had expected.

This was at the crux of the argument over the gas tax that both McCain and Hillary Clinton were pushing a little while back. The idea is that the refineries are already running full-tilt, the supply of gas is fixed over the short term (the summer months) and therefore the price of gas is rising due to factors other than hoarding and speculation, which seems to be confirmed by these reports of low inventories. Since the supply of gas is relatively fixed, any artificial decrease in price (like suspending the tax) is just going to be cancelled out by the price rising until the demand for gas once again equals the available supply. Using a simple supply and demand graph, all you're doing is moving down a fixed supply curve. Since the quantity supplied neither increases nor decreases (for our purposes; minor changes might occur in real life), any movement along the demand curve is temporary as prices increase to get back into equilibrium.

Any beneficial effects of a gas tax holiday are contingent on the benevolence of the gasoline companies; keeping prices low and forsaking easy profits.

I'm getting popular!

.....well, not quite. But I do seem to have a consistent group of 8 or 9 people that read my blog, and 5 or 6 subscribers. I'm happy that at least a few people enjoy my cranky ramblings.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Immigration: right or privilege?

Well, we're sort of in the downtime between the Kentucky and Oregon primaries. Hillary got a 35 point win in Kentucky, pretty much as expected. Hopefully Obama will win big in Oregon. Anyway, time for some Canadian political commentary.

There was some recent controversy here in Canada over some proposed immigration reforms. We have some 900,000 people who are waiting to get their immigration forms processed, and the way it worked previously was that those applications were processed one at a time, without respect to the details of each particular applicant. What the Conservatives proposed was for the government to have the authority to set caps on applications based on various criteria, and faster processing for individuals whose skills are in high demand, among other reforms, with the primary intention of clearing this massive waitlist and making the immigration bureaucracy more efficient in general.

Simple enough, right? Wrong. From Macleans:

The current political storm over Ottawa's proposed immigration changes can be rather difficult to comprehend. The federal Liberals claim the Harper government is giving itself "exorbitant powers" and plans to "cap" immigration, even though Ottawa has always put an upper limit on visas. Even more puzzling is NDP critic Olivia Chow. She told the Ottawa Citizen: "My fear is they will choose immigrants who they think are 'good for Canada.' "

The bill ended up getting passed. But these remarks are typical of the debate over immigration in this country. I am not philosophically opposed to immigration or multi-culturalism. I agree that Canada needs immigration to sustain its economic growth. And I agree that immigrants give Canada a cultural depth and sophistication that it would not possess otherwise.

But the attitudes on display during this controversy really disgusted me. Many were talking as if our government was under some obligation to get all these people into Canada, and it was a terrible and mean thing to do to discriminate based on talent or other qualifications. As Chow put it, they will choose immigrants who they think are "good for Canada". Well excuse me, isn't that how they SHOULD be choosing immigrants? Canada is not under any obligation to allow people from all over the world to come and live here, especially if they have nothing to offer us. Being allowed to live and work here is a privilege, not a right. And we damn well better discriminate.

McCain's attacks on Obama's foreign policy

So McCain is really pressing his attacks on Obama's foreign policy. Today, he bashed him on the suggestion he might meet with Cuba's Raul Castro:

Republican John McCain, speaking to a raucous crowd on Cuba's independence day, hammered Democrat Barack Obama for saying he would meet with President Raul Castro and called Obama a "tool of organized labor" for opposing a Latin American trade deal.

For a second day, McCain attacked Obama for saying, in a debate last year, that as president he would meet with the leaders of Cuba, Iran and Venezuela without preconditions.McCain insisted such a meeting could endanger national security, sounding a theme that is likely to persist until the November general election.

It's worth taking a step back here and examining just how worthless the US policy on Cuba has been. For some 50 years now, the US government has had no diplomatic or economic ties with one of its closest neighbors. Just 90 miles off the Florida coast, there Cuba sits, a world apart. Why? Because of Castro, and because of the undying hatred that Cuban-Americans have for him. Never mind that the policy makes absolutely no sense at this point, 17 years after the end of the Cold War, or that the US has extensive relations with China, a much more repressive and threatening regime that is still "Communist" (and has even restored diplomatic relations with Vietnam), and that the Castros are still there, and that Fidel was beaten only by old age, not the US. Those Cuban-Americans must be pandered to.

So Obama is the first major presidential candidate in a long time to seriously re-examine this policy toward Cuba. And predictably, the usual suspects are going nuts over it. But Obama probably isn't going to win Florida anyway. And it's better that he sticks to what is right than what is right politically.

McCain went on:

The Arizona senator recalled the ridicule President Carter faced in 1979 when he kissed Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev during the signing of an arms treaty.

"Carter went over and kissed Brezhnev, remember?" McCain said Tuesday in Miami.
"So it's dangerous; it's dangerous to American national security if you sit down and give respect and prestige to leaders of countries that are bent on your destruction or the destruction of other countries. I won't do it, my friends."

Um, is McCain implying that Carter shouldn't even have talked with Brezhnev, or only that he shouldn't have kissed him? There's obviously an element of risk involved in any negotiations with hostile powers; there's always the potential of embarrassment. But that hardly means you shouldn't negotiate at all. To think that Carter's embarrassment was more important than the signing of the arms treaty or the maintenance of diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union is absurd.

And again, this obsession with "respect" and "prestige", as if Bush's cowboy diplomacy and "with us or against us" attitude hasn't cost America more "respect" and "prestige" than meetings with foreign leaders ever could.

He's also been going around saying how irresponsible and inexperienced it was for Obama to refer to the threat of Iran as "tiny". Of course, he never said that. He said it was tiny compared to the threat posed by the Soviet Union and its thousands of nuclear missiles pointed at the West, but McCain conveniently leaves that part out, since it happens to be inarguable. Unless you're a neo-con.

UPDATE: And here's Joe Klein doing some actual journalism, exposing McCain's ignorance (or dishonesty) on the question of Iran's leadership.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Some McCain bashing to balance things out

And just for laughs, here's part two of the hilarious "Iron Man and Batman" series, which is itself a continuation of the Apple spoofing "I'm a Marvel and I'm a DC" series.

Here's part 1 for those who missed it:

Residual anti-Hillary anger

Yes, I know Obama has told his supporters to be nice. I know that attacking Hillary now is kind of pointless, since she's already lost. And I know the Democrats need to be unified. But screw that. I'm not a Democrat, I'm Canadian. This is my blog, and I'll say whatever I damn well please.

Even so, I wish I could just move on and devote my time to McCain bashing. But Hillary isn't making it easy.

Even with the math as hopeless as ever, and with Obama set to secure a majority of pledged delegates tomorrow, Hillary appears to be campaigning harder than ever, and her campaign is still sending out crap like this:

Hillary Camp: Obama's "Plan" To Declare Victory Is Insult To Her "17 Million Supporters"

Ugh. Like I said, the best way for her to go out is to run a dignified campaign, sticking to the issues, and attacking the Republicans. To try and begin the healing process after such a bruising primary. But nooooo....

She'll probably trumpet her inevitable win tomorrow in Kentucky as more proof that Obama can't win white voters, and she'll find some excuse not to count Oregon, just as she has with all the other states she's lost. And we'll no doubt hear a lot of the number 2210. What is the significance of this number, you ask? Why, it's the number of delegates needed to win the nomination, of course! If you count Florida and Michigan, that is.


The End of Suburbia

Despite his recent episodes of Klinton Kool-aid drinking, NYT columnist Paul Krugman remains a fairly sane voice on economics. His latest column, about public transit and the difficulties in continuing our gas-guzzling lifestyles, is timely:

O.K., I know that these days you’re supposed to see the future in China or India, not in the heart of “old Europe.”

But we’re living in a world in which oil prices keep setting records, in which the idea that global oil production will soon peak is rapidly moving from fringe belief to mainstream assumption. And Europeans who have achieved a high standard of living in spite of very high energy prices — gas in Germany costs more than $8 a gallon — have a lot to teach us about how to deal with that world.

If Europe’s example is any guide, here are the two secrets of coping with expensive oil: own fuel-efficient cars, and don’t drive them too much.

Why does gas in Germany cost $8 a gallon? It isn't because Germans really like gas and are willing to pay much more for it, it's because the government has imposed exhorbitant taxes on its consumption. While US presidential candidates wrangle over how to lower the price of gas, the German government has intentionally increased the price to more than double what it is in North America. But Germans do just fine, because they have excellent public transportation, from buses to trains to subways. Gas prices aren't the hot button political issue in Europe that they are here, because European countries heavily invested in alternate modes of transportation.

The problem is the lack of effective public transit infrastructure in much of the US and Canada, and thus, the lack of an alternative to automobiles. Unlike major European cities, the nexus of population in most North American cities is usually the suburbs. Not only are suburbs usually far from the centers of industry and commerce (and thus, the jobs), but they also have low population density. Obviously, you can fit many people in rows of apartment buildings and condos, but relatively few in the same area full of houses; hence, the phenomena known as suburban sprawl arises, with people very widely dispersed, far from their place of work, and all driving cars for whom fuel is getting ever more expensive. So why not improve public transit networks to better serve these suburbs?

Public transit, in particular, faces a chicken-and-egg problem: it’s hard to justify transit systems unless there’s sufficient population density, yet it’s hard to persuade people to live in denser neighborhoods unless they come with the advantage of transit access.

It's amazing how no one in power ever saw this crisis coming. Or rather, that they saw it coming, but did nothing. Instead, they clung to the fantasies of cheap gas, McMansions in suburbia, and hour-long commutes.

No one likes to hear how they have to fundamentally change their lifestyles, but neither do politicians like to say such things. And George W. Bush sure as hell wasn't going to.


I also added a bunch of widgets to the blog. You'll see some cool stuff over on the right; election stuff, a news headline thing (couldn't find a good ticker, unfortunately), a stock market watch, a couple Batman things, including a countdown timer for the biggest movie of the summer.

"Long memories"

This little tidbit from a Boston Globe article caught my eye:

Now that Clinton's chances for the nomination are dimming, party insiders are feeling freer to criticize Clinton and her husband. But Democrats must also be cautious in how they treat the couple, said Charles Manning, a GOP consultant based in Massachusetts.

If Obama sews up the nomination, he will need both Clintons to help heal wounds among some female voters and others who had worked so hard for Clinton's historic candidacy, Manning said.

"There almost seems to be a glee among a lot of people to throw Bill and Hillary Clinton overboard," Manning said. "My guess is [the Clintons] are going to have long memories about this."

First off, why are they talking to a GOP consultant? I'm sure he's completely impartial, right?

Anyway, the Clintons are going to have long memories? What about the rest of the Democrats? Aren't they going to have long memories of all the shit she's pulled during this primary? The attacks on Obama's fitness for office, and unfavorable comparisons to John McCain? The repetition of right-wing talking points and appearances on right-wing media? The racial divisions that she and her campaign have fostered? Her blatant hypocrisy on Florida and Michigan?

If Hillary or anyone else thinks that she's headed for a VP slot, they're dreaming. There's no way in hell that Obama will put her in that position. The "dream ticket" is anything but, which is obvious to all but the least experienced political commentators. The last thing Obama wants is to have to deal with the Clintons and all their baggage. The VP is supposed to be someone non-threatening and supportive, and someone who will not hurt your chances in the general. Does that description fit Hillary Clinton? Hardly.

There's a lot of talk about healing the rift with all the disgruntled Clinton supporters. Just today, Obama said to "be nice" to them. Frankly, they have no one to blame but themselves. By the end of February, it was clear who the nominee was going to be. Instead, they drank the Klinton Kool-aid, and continued believing her ever more ridiculous spin. They believed her "tide is turning" speech just a couple weeks ago, even when it was clear that she had not won the delegates she needed from Pennsylvania, or Ohio and Texas before that. They've been fooling themselves, and their rhetoric has become increasingly more deranged and crazy. Check over any of the die-hard Clinton supporting blogs, and you'll see conspiracy theories about how superdelegates secretly know Obama is unelectable and are just waiting to go over to Clinton en masse. You'll see stupid arguments about how Clinton leads in the popular vote....but only if you count Florida, and don't give Obama any votes in Michigan, Nevada, Washington state, Maine, and Iowa. You'll see endless concern trolling over how Obama cannot win the white working class vote, despite the fact that no Democratic candidate has won the white vote in decades. There is no mention, of course, as to why this does not apply to Hillary and the black vote.

They are living in a fantasy land. And it will be up to Hillary to appease them, not Obama. She is going to have to bow out gracefully (if that is even possible at this stage), and tell them to get over it. Dispense with the conspiracy theories, tell them she lost fair and square, and now let's go beat McCain.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Like most people my age, the Indiana Jones movies hold a special place in our movie-loving hearts. Raiders of the Lost Ark is rightfully viewed as one of the greatest movies of all time. It had just the right combination of action, comedy, spectacle, and mystery to make it a classic for the ages. It was cutting edge filmmaking and a nostalgic tribute to adventure films of the past all at once.

So it is with both feverish anticipation and also some trepidation that we approach the long-awaited release of Indy IV. It has just been shown at Cannes, and the early reviews are....lukewarm. They criticize it for an over-reliance on unbelievable CGI set-pieces, with one reviewer saying it suffers from Star Wars syndrome. Other reviews complain that the exploration of ancient tombs and temples has all been done before in previous Indy films and their imitators, and that there is little fresh or exciting in this one.

On the bright side, they applaud the trademark humor and banter between Indy and the other characters. Apparently, several action sequences stand out and recapture some of the old magic.

One part of me thinks that these reviews betray the reviewers' bias; they have such fond memories of the original three Indy films that they have impossible expectations for this new one. My chief concern, frankly, was the age of Harrison Ford. Is he still believable in the role? The reviewers say he is, and that his age is not ignored within the film.

In any case, I know I'll be seeing it, and if it feels like an Indiana Jones film, even if only for fleeting moments, it was worth doing.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The hardships of living in Canada

Slow news day, and not much else to blog about, so here's my brother complaining about the rotten weather we endure up here in the frozen north. I take it better than he does, but yeah, it sucks.

Still have nightmares of White Juan...

Friday, May 16, 2008

Why poor countries are poor

Of course, there's no single, simple answer. Different countries are poor for different reasons. Poor countries have become rich, and rich countries have become poor, often due to circumstances beyond their control. Sometimes it's a combination; Chile was hit by a perfect storm in the early 1970s as the price of their chief export, copper, fell in world markets, and the failed socialist policies of the Allende government sent the economy into a whirlwind of hyperinflation and GDP contraction. Only now, after suffering through years of dictatorship and free market experiments has Chile's economy now become the most dynamic of Latin America.

But for many countries, there are no such dynamics. These remain desperately poor, and have little hope of digging out of the hole they are in. They have an insufficient capital base for needed investment, and through increasing population or deteriorating environmental conditions, what little they have actually decreases on a per capita basis.

Many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa fit this bill, whereas other countries afflicted with extreme poverty such as Bangladesh or Cambodia are at least on path to development, with economic growth that is self-sustaining and benefiting from positive feedback.

So what's wrong with Africa?

Look at the map, and the first thing you should notice is the high number of landlocked countries, cut off from easy access to ports and international shipping. Even if individual villages are capable of surplus agricultural production, there is no easy way to market these goods to other countries. Even marketing to neighboring villages can be a huge challenge, due to insufficient road networks. The infrastructure does not exist, and since these places are so poor, the governments cannot finance its construction without foreign aid and investment.

Another factor is public health. Africa is by far the most diseased continent. Not only is the incidence of malaria higher than anywhere else, but the particular strains native to Africa are much more deadly. AIDS is also a huge problem, and like malaria, it afflicts Africa like nowhere else, with millions already dead, and millions more orphaned or debilitated because of the disease. Again, fighting sickness in Africa hits a wall due to insufficient public investment and infrastructure. In the case of malaria, incidence of the disease can be reduced dramatically through the use of mosquito nets. AIDS can be combated through education and basic safety measures. But the resources are not there.

It's a vicious circle, as an unhealthy workforce is also an unproductive one, and an unproductive workforce cannot finance desperately needed public investment in sanitation, education, health care, and improved transportation infrastructure.

The only way to help these countries out of this rut and on the path to development is for the rich countries to open their wallets, and get serious about ending poverty. Because it clearly has not happened yet. Canada's foreign aid budget amounted to less than 0.3% of GDP last year. The US is worse (though improved from previous years), at only 0.2% of GDP. The most generous donor countries are the Scandinavian nations, who give very close to 1% of GDP. The truth is that if all these donor countries pledged 1% of GDP for the next couple decades, extreme poverty could be virtually eliminated throughout the world. The UN Millennium Development Goals were intended to halve poverty by 2015, but it doesn't look like they will be met.

Unfortunately, the political will simply does not exist, partly shaped by mistaken assumptions about why the Third World is poor. It is not because of "corruption". It is certainly not because people in these countries are lazy. Racist ideas about the destinies of nations become absurd when you examine each country in context, even more laughable when taking into account the decades of colonial exploitation many of them endured.

It's also remarkable how people in the US and other rich countries routinely overestimate their government's aid budgets many times over. Many Americans mistakenly identify foreign aid as one of the biggest pieces of the federal budget, when it is nothing of the sort. Far less than 1% of the US federal budget goes to anything resembling foreign aid (there are similar misconceptions about welfare). These misperceptions will have to be overcome before extreme poverty can be eliminated.

For further reading, I recommend Jeffrey Sachs' The End of Poverty.

Negotiating with Iran

Obama had to make sure today that everyone knew he has never said a word about negotiating with terrorists (other than to say he wouldn't do it), because over the past couple days, a lot of right-wing hacks seem to have gone around saying that Obama wanted to sit down with Hamas and Hezbollah and whoever else, as part of the whole "appeasement" thing. Leaving aside the fact that none of this is true, it's really up to the Israelis to deal with Hamas and Hezbollah, and the US can be nothing more than a facilitator of talks between them.

So the question remains, what about Iran? It is true that Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a bit of a nut. He's mused about a world without Israel (or wiping Israel off the map, depending on how you translate it), he's voiced doubts about the holocaust, and his religious views are, by all accounts, quite radical. But he is a president of a sovereign nation. He isn't a terrorist.

Looking back over the past 7 and a half years, has Bush's policy vis a vis Iran (ie. not talking to them, calling them part of an "Axis of Evil", and threatening them with attack every now and then) been a success? Obviously not. If anything Iran has become much more powerful in the Middle East since Bush took office. The war in Iraq removed one of their oldest and most inplacable enemies, Saddam Hussein, and gave political power in that country to the majority Shiites, who Iran holds a great deal of influence over. Aside from the US, the Iraqi government's most important ally is, ironically, Iran. And they've been bold enough to let their proxies in Hezbollah start a war with Israel and fight to a symbolic victory. And with the price of oil higher than ever, Iran has more resources with which to pursue its ambitions.

Can talking to them really be any worse? According to the Bush administration's own intelligence, there is no Iranian nuclear weapons program. Bush was embarrassed by that admission, of course, and he prefers not to dwell on that issue when he compares Ahmadinejad to Hitler in front of foreign parliaments. So that's one issue off the table. Since the US and Iran have not maintained diplomatic relations for some 30 years, no one should expect immediate progress on any of the outstanding issues. Iran will continue supporting Hezbollah for the forseeable future. They will continue meddling in Iraq. And Ahmadinejad is not going to change his entire political/religious philosophy. But the simple act of talking, country to country, equal to equal, is an important and necessary precursor to working this stuff out.

Kevin James, RIP

This has been posted all over the internet already, but it's so awesome, I need to post it too:

You know, if you're going on national television to accuse a leading presidential candidate of aping Neville Chamberlain and "appeasement", it might help to know the following two things:

1. Who Neville Chamberlain was, and what he did.
2. What appeasement means.

What a fucking idiot.

McCain has no substance

Via John Cole:

Sullivan asks: “And did Bush’s Nazi silliness unwittingly stomp on McCain’s big speech today?”

To which I respond, if McCain is lucky. I briefly blogged about the McCain speech yesterday, asking why he chose 2013 as a good time to withdraw the troops, and after having some time last night to watch more of the speech and read the whole thing, I have my answer.

There is no answer. The whole speech is made up. It is all, every last word of it, pure fantasy. There was no outlining of plans, no presentation of facts that would lead you to believe all of the things he “sees” in his “vision” will come to pass- it was nothing but pure nonsense. Here is a partial list of things he sees in his “vision”:

We “win” in Iraq. No mention of what “winning” actually means.

The Taliban is “defeated.” How? Who knows?

We have a bigger Army and bigger Marine corps, and they are “better” trained and “better” equipped.

Bin Laden will be dead.

The economy will be “growing.”

New trade agreements leading to increased exports. Who are the agreements with?Who knows? What are we exporting? Who cares?

Health care will be “affordable.” How? FORCE OF WILL, BABY. Don’t you know John McCain is a veteran!

And on and on and on it goes. He might as well have also promised to cure AIDS, give everyone a PONY, and promised time travel.

And what is so amazing about it is that most of the press seems to have taken this… seriously. Why was he not laughed off the stage? Why, after eight years of an administration making their own reality, is this buffoon offering us visions and people are not throwing tomatoes at him? This is insanity, plain and simple.

This has been typical of the McCain campaign all along. Specifics are not his strong suit. I briefly looked over his website, and I must say, it has improved a bit, because it used to be filled with the same kind of crap as that speech; just a bunch of vague platitudes and goals with very few specifics.

Still, on health care:

John McCain Believes The Key To Health Care Reform Is To Restore Control To The Patients Themselves.

On HMOs:

John McCain Will Reform Health Care Making It Easier For Individuals And Families To Obtain Insurance. An important part of his plan is to use competition to improve the quality of health insurance with greater variety to match people's needs, lower prices, and portability. Families should be able to purchase health insurance nationwide, across state lines.

John McCain Will Reform The Tax Code To Offer More Choices Beyond Employer-Based Health Insurance Coverage. While still having the option of employer-based coverage, every family will also have the option of receiving a direct refundable tax credit - effectively cash - of $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families to offset the cost of insurance. Families will be able to choose the insurance provider that suits them best and the money would be sent directly to the insurance provider. Those obtaining innovative insurance that costs less than the credit can deposit the remainder in expanded Health Savings Accounts.

John McCain Proposes Making Insurance More Portable. Americans need insurance that follows them from job to job. They want insurance that is still there if they retire early and does not change if they take a few years off to raise the kids.

John McCain Will Encourage And Expand The Benefits Of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) For Families. When families are informed about medical choices, they are more capable of making their own decisions and often decide against unnecessary options. Health Savings Accounts take an important step in the direction of putting families in charge of what they pay for.

Not a single word about lowering the costs for health insurance. Just a few ideas about saving money and getting tax credits to pay for insurance, and offering more "choice", as if choosing between horseshit and donkeyshit was a choice.

We already know that McCain doesn't know shit about economics, but he has no serious plan for healthcare because Republicans don't have a serious plan for healthcare. They prefer to keep scaring people about the evils of "socialist medicine", while getting greased by HMO and drug company lobbyist dollars, and while they get some of the best insurance coverage in the country as members of Congress, provided by....wait for it....the GOVERNMENT.

I'll most likely blog more about healthcare in the future; it's one of my main areas of interest. I'm sort of an amateur (okay, very amateur) policy wonk on the subject.

New Battlestar!

New episode of BSG on tomorrow night; check out this preview clip:

Best show on TV, bar none.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Check out my brother's blog too

This is just a shameless plug for my brother's brand new blog, One Sided Argument.

Unfortunately, he isn't as intelligent and entertaining as me, but check out what he has to say all the same.

Biden: Bush's comments "bullshit"


The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Joe Biden, D-Delaware,
called President Bush’s comments accusing Sen. Barack Obama and other Democrats of wanting to appease terrorists "bulls**t” and said if the president disagrees so strongly with the idea of talking to Iran then he needs to fire his secretaries of State and Defense, both of whom Biden said have pushed to sit down with the Iranians.

“This is bullshit. This is malarkey. This is outrageous. Outrageous for the president of the United States to go to a foreign country, sit in the Knesset…and make this kind of ridiculous statement,” Biden said angrily in a brief interview just off the Senate floor.

All this translates into a very good news day for Obama, if you ask me. What better gift could anyone give him than bullshit attacks from the least popular president in our lifetimes? Keep talking, W.

Canada in Afghanistan

The US commander in Afghanistan calls the Taliban's spring offensive a "myth", but nevertheless, US and NATO forces continue to take casualties.

The most recent Canadian death was Cpl. Michael Starker from Calgary, killed just west of Kandahar on May 6.

For non-Canadians, it may surprise you to learn that we actually have the highest casualty rate of any coalition military force in Afghanistan. We've suffered 83 deaths since 2002, most of them since the expansion of the Kandahar mission to a full-time committment of 2,500 troops in 2006. This is mostly due to our presence in one of the most dangerous regions of Afghanistan. Kandahar was the home of the Taliban and remains a hotbed of militant support.

Predictably, the Afghan mission has become a very hot topic in our politics. The Conservatives support the mission, as do the Liberals, but there is a growing sentiment that our troops should be redeployed out of the combat zone while other NATO countries such as France and Germany pick up the slack. There has been very limited progress on that front, mostly vague promises and symbolic measures, though France has promised to deploy more troops to eastern Afghanistan, thus freeing up some American forces who can then aid us.

It's worth noting that for decades, the Canadian public and government viewed the military largely as a peacekeeping force, and thus, its peacemaking capabilities steadily deteriorated. The Conservatives have injected some new funds into the Forces, but there are still many deficiencies to overcome. And the Afghan mission has really sparked a public debate over Canada's role in the world. Should we be fighting wars? Is this what Canada is about?

My opinion is that the Afghan mission is legitimate, unlike the war in Iraq. We have an obligation to the people of Afghanistan to finish the job we started, and to get the country on its feet and making progress toward economic development. But we have to recognize the basic fact that poppy cultivation (leading to heroin production) is the central obstacle blocking a peaceful resolution. The warlords depend on it, as do most Afghan farmers. If we destroy their poppy crops, they see us as their enemy and join the Taliban.

A major international committment is needed to solve this problem; Afghans need alternative means of making money, and this will come only after the basic needs of a functioning society are in place: basic sanitation, disease control, universal primary education, adequate food and water supplies, well maintained roads, and a competent government that is accountable to the people. And the deplorable oppression of women must end as well, but societal transformation will only come as a by-product of economic transformation. Afghanistan needs a hell of a lot more aid then they are getting. Without that, any military progress we make is like pissing into the wind.

UPDATE: There is an ongoing blog at the Globe and Mail by Katherine O'Neill (on the ground in Kandahar) about Canada's mission in Afghanistan; it can be accessed here:

Also of interest:

Tories grilled on defence plan

Some funny insanity from Terry McAuliffe

This guy is like the Baghdad Bob of the Hillary Clinton campaign:

I love how none of the press people even take him seriously.

Bush continues to lie about Obama's positions

Bush has previously smeared Obama with outright falsehoods relating to foreign policy, characterizing his desire to negotiate with America's enemies and potentially conduct strikes against Al Qaeda in Pakistan as wanting to "embrace Ahmadinejad" and "attack Pakistan".

Now, the asshole is at it again:

"Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along," Bush said at Israel's 60th anniversary celebration in Jerusalem. "We have heard this foolish delusion before," Bush said in remarks to Israel's parliament, the Knesset. "As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history."

Of course, Obama has never said ANYTHING about negotiating with terrorists. And notice the obligatory reference to "appeasement" and the Nazis, as if every potential conflict is WWII all over again.

It's a standard talking point among neo-cons that Iran is the next Nazi Germany and Ahmadinejad the next Hitler, but this only makes sense if you ignore absolutely all the facts. Iran is a poor, third-world country with minimal industrial capacity and minimal military power. It can project some degree of force outside of its borders with the help of its proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon, and its militia allies inside Iraq, and it does have some leverage over the world supply of oil, but comparing it to Nazi Germany, a true superpower in every sense of the word, is absurd.

Also notice that Bush conflates the internationally recognized government of Iran with "terrorists and radicals". Naturally, if you start from that point, diplomacy becomes impossible. The US does not even recognize the legitimacy of the Iranian government, so on what basis can the United States negotiate with Iran? Only through third parties and the rattling of sabers.

Also from the article:

The remarks seemed to be a not-so-subtle attempt to continue to raise doubts about Obama with Jewish Americans. Those doubts were earlier stoked by Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee in the 2008 presidential election, when he recently charged that Obama is the favored candidate of the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas, which the U.S. government has listed as a terrorist group.

There has been a concerted effort among the right in recent weeks to try and scare Jewish American voters away from Obama. Except it has failed miserably. Recent polls show Obama holds an overwhelming lead among American Jews, proving that the Right certainly does not speak for them in any way, despite their pretensions of doing so.

The importance of oil and how to change it

The debate over fossil fuels is often in the context of global warming and alternate energies. But in fact, oil is one of the single most important physical resources that we as a civilization possess.

Just for fun, take a look around where you live. See any plastic? It's probably everywhere, even if you don't realize it, from plastic bags, to bottles, to toys, to compact discs, to rubber, to Goddamn model food replicas. All of that is made from oil. Look outdoors; you see the roads? Guess how they make asphault. I could go on and on; suffice to say that we owe a lot to oil.

It's really a crime that we burn any of it. And it's finite. We have maybe another few decades before it becomes prohibitively expensive. But little changes in our lifestyle make a difference. Ed from ginandtacos makes the point:

I wonder why people like McKibben don’t spend more time presenting these problems in a way that doesn’t overwhelm readers’ feelings that they can do something concrete about it. Not “write your Congressman” or “vote for environmentalists” but actually do something measurable. When he says “The planet is going to die and you have to fix it” there aren’t many people who think that’s a realistic goal. Maybe, for example, he could write a column about how re-usable canvas grocery bags can save 300-500 plastic (made from oil, of course) or paper bags per shopper every year. Even though suburban America is resistant to anything that asks for a lifestyle change or suggests that profligate consumption is not our birthright, most people will read that and think “Well that’s not so fucking hard.” I mean, honestly, how hard is it to use a different bag to carry groceries? It isn’t. At all. It’s so goddamn easy that….people might actually do it.

So we wean ourselves off of plastic grocery bags as a nation. McKibben has a tangible victory. An example toward which to point. “See? We changed something. And it was easy! Now let’s try…..” Because the problem here is not SUVs or lack of public transit or McMansions. Those are symptoms. The problem is that our entire national mindset is fucked up. We simply do not think about conservation, waste, or efficiency at all. We ask only two questions: What do I want? What is easiest/most convenient for me?

I'm not quite as negative as Ed; the environmental movement has come a long way, and most people are at least sympathetic to it. The problem is a lack of information. A lot of people just don't understand how important this is, and our governments need to show some leadership.

For one example, governments all around the world have passed legislation that will phase out or outright ban the use of incandescent lightbulbs in favor of compact fluorescents, which use only a fraction of the power. I think a similar committment is needed to limit the use of plastics and other petroleum products.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Cheap Blu-ray disc players

The Digital Bits is reporting that Samsung is set to release a new profile 2.0 Blu-ray player that will retail for $350 USD:

EngadgetHD is reporting that Samsung's BD-P1500 Blu-ray Disc player is now
on shelves in select Wal-Mart stores. That's not the good news. The player is
profile 2.0 BD-Live compatible, and is supposed to bitstream all the advanced
audio codecs up to 7.1. That's not the good news either. Here's the good news:
It's selling for just $349! That makes it by far the cheapest stand-alone
BD-Live ready player available. It's also likely that the BD-P1500 will be on
sale later in the year for under $300. Get 'em while you can, because they're
likely to go fast.

For anyone out there who is still on the fence when it comes to high-definition media, take it from me: Blu-rays are pretty damn impressive. You've never seen anything like it. But to fully take advantage of Blu-ray's capabilities, you need a 1080p-capable television and a kick-ass audio setup. Then you're cooking.

Edwards' endorsement is mostly irrelevant

So the news right now is that John Edwards has just endorsed (or will soon endorse; I'm a little confused on the timeline) Barack Obama for president.

On the face of it, it's a pretty big deal. Edwards was the number 3 candidate behind Clinton and Obama, and he still has his fair share of supporters. He also possesses some pledged delegates left over from the early contests; presumably, these would shift over to Obama, bringing him that much closer to the magic number.

I myself am not a fan; I've never been all that impressed with him. His record is thin, and his recent transformation from a cautious, moderate senator to a left-wing firebrand stretches credulity.

But leaving aside all that, does it matter? At this late stage, not much. Most of Edwards' supporters shifted over to Obama a long time ago. By waiting this long, with the nomination contest all but over, he has relegated his endorsement to the realm of the irrelevant. It's good for a headline, but not much else. And frankly, if he wanted to score some brownie points with Obama, an endorsement that actually helped him win a few states would have done the trick, and may have even secured him another VP nod, if he was interested. Now, I doubt it.

Canadian Election Watch

Tories losing ground with voters.

I've been stunned at the longevity of Stephen Harper's Conservative government, just like everyone else. It's had a lot to do with the general weakness of the current Liberal party; Stephane Dion just isn't viewed as Prime Ministerial by most Canadians.

Still, if the Tories drop low enough in the polls, it may embolden the Liberals enough to make a go at it. The result will almost certainly be yet another minority government. It seems to be unavoidable as long as the Bloc Quebecois continues to hold 40-50 seats in the House of Commons.

For my part, I'm rather ambivalent. Neither major party commands much respect from me (and I refuse to take the NDP seriously), so I am best described as "undecided". And an election may be a long ways off anyway.

Hard at work...

I've been busy figuring out this blogging business this afternoon. I think I've added a valid RSS feed, a link to Technorati (hopefully I'll be listed there pretty soon), and even an ad bar.

Publicizing a blog is harder than making a blog. It all seemed so easy last night, but today I've had to figure a bunch of stuff out and work through third-party websites to get it all up and running. I guess I've gotten a couple hits, but nothing much so far. Oh well, Rome wasn't built in a day...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Clinton "more determined than ever"

So Hillary won pretty big in West Virginia, as expected, and if you believe what she says, she's "more determined than ever" to stay in and fight this thing out. From CNN:

"I am more determined than ever to carry on this campaign," she told supporters
in Charleston, West Virginia.

"I am in this race because I believe I am the
strongest candidate. ... I can lead this party to victory in the general
election if you lead me to victory now."

With half of the results in, Clinton was ahead of Sen. Barack Obama by a margin of more than 2-1.

Clinton has faced calls to drop out of the race because she trails Obama in delegates won, states won and the popular vote this primary season.

Of course, she doesn't just "trail" in all those things; she has literally no hope of winning the nomination unless a picture turns up of Obama in a cave in Afghanistan holding a Kalashnikov.

It's worth taking a step back here and recognizing that this is the standard M.O. for losing presidential candidates. No matter how dim their prospects are, they always sound 100% confident right up until the end. See Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, John Edwards, etc.

So I take Clinton's words with a grain of salt. She could drop out tomorrow and it wouldn't surprise me. More likely she will wait until the next round of primaries are finished. It even does Obama a favor in one way, since he is likely to lose by a similarly huge margin in Kentucky next week, and it would be more of an embarrassment if he lost to a candidate that had already dropped out.

Economics matters

From time to time, I'll post on various economics issues. I just graduated from Dalhousie University in Halifax with an economics degree, so it's a subject that I remain quite enthused about (I know many people are bored to death by it, but don't worry, I won't ever get into anything too technical).

To start with, Robert Kuttner has an informative article on the subprime mess and why Europe is not experiencing similar problems:

The credit crisis, which is sapping America's economic strength, was the result of an almost religious belief in deregulation whose excesses are now coming home to roost.

It is instructive to compare the American financial mess with the economic situation in nations that resisted deregulation. Old Europe tends to get a scornful press in the U.S. But Europe is not suffering a financial meltdown today -- mainly because Europeans (with the exception of Britain and Switzerland) took only a few sips of the financial Kool-Aid so heavily promoted by U.S. banks.

Generally, you don't want important industries to be heavily regulated; regulation adds administrative complexity and market inefficiency. But a balance must be struck, and regulation in the American financial sector was sorely out of balance.

In this business, nothing is more important than confidence in the system. The ultimate fear is a dreaded "run on the banks", meaning everyone scurrying to withdraw their deposits from institutions at risk (or perceived risk) of insolvency. It's basically a panic, and panic is contagious and self-sustaining.

This is but one reason why some regulation is necessary. Absent hard and fast rules, risky instruments like subprime mortgages and their derivatives will invariably arise in the pursuit of profit. Of course, it doesn't help when your central bank spent most of the nineties and 2000s promoting ever more debt creation and real-estate/credit bubbles. The Fed must take its share of responsibility for this.

West Virginia Democratic primary

What better time to start blogging than at the end of the nomination contest to end all nomination contests? Half of me wishes I had started sooner, considering how interesting it has all been, and how important it is for not just our neighbors down south, but for the entire world.

8 years of George Bush have fucked things up royally, and I think it's important the next US president represents something entirely different, and...may I say, more sane. That's why I support Barack Obama for president, as he represents a real change, no matter how cliched that slogan has become.

Obama is a candidate who refuses to pander, who refuses to tolerate lobbyist influences on his campaign, who had the judgement to oppose the Iraq war for the beginning, who has the integrity to stay out of the muck no matter how sleazy the attacks against him become, and who, as a black man and son of a Kenyan foreign student, really embodies the American dream.

So if you don't like Obama, stay away from this blog. That's called "fair warning".

There isn't much to say about the West Virginia primary tonight; results haven't started coming in, but by all accounts, it should be quite a massacre. Here's hoping Obama stays above 30% or so. I really cannot recommend a better election resource than Daily Kos (and independent) blogger poblano, who predicts a roughly 68-28 margin tonight.

Hello Internet

Hey everyone (if anyone is out there), this is my first ever foray into the harsh world of internet blogging. I felt it was time.

My only goal in this is to help organize and communicate my thoughts and feelings on what's going on in the world, and hopefully get some feedback from others of like mind or maybe even converts.

So bear with me, I'm very new at this; I don't know how half this shit works, and I'll be figuring it out as I go.