Monday, June 30, 2008

Careful, Barack

Can anyone tell me why shit like this is necessary?

"As he's said many times before, Senator Obama honors and respects Senator
McCain's service, and of course he rejects yesterday's statement by General
Clark," said Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton.

What the fuck do you mean "of course he rejects"? What was there to reject? Tell me, Mr. Burton, are you saying that Obama now agrees that his military service makes McCain more qualified for the Presidency than him? Really? Because that's a pretty weird way to run a campaign, conceding that the other guy is more qualified for office!

First FISA, now this. This isn't how Obama got here. He can't win by triangulating like just another Clinton. That isn't "change". If the electorate has a choice between Republican and Republican lite, they'll choose the real deal, not the cheap imitation. And Obama does not want to be pissing off this guy:

It looks like Obama is gun-shy after sticking by Jeremiah Wright. Now, he
can't move quickly enough to denounce his own allies. So he's cross at Wes
Clark, and he's mighty cross at MoveOn as well! Who else will he be cross with
as he kicks off "Operation Piss Off the People Supporting and Bankrolling His
Campaign In Order To Prove He Hates the Dirty Fucking Hippies". Now that the
primary is over, he can turn his back on the people that brought him.

I was going to max out to him today, given I haven't given Obama a dime yet (focusing
on congressional candidates). But I changed my mind. He wants to send the
message that he doesn't need us, all the power to him. Message received. I'll
spend that $2,300 somewhere else.

Silly "swift-boating" moral equivalence

So according to the McCain campaign and their allies, this is questioning John McCain's military service:

First off, let me say that I am not a huge fan of Wesley Clark. Not that I would ever question his service, but he's never struck me as a very talented politician. And he was a Hillary Clinton supporter....

But anyway, on what basis can anyone truthfully claim that Clark was questioning McCain's military service? What he said was in response to Bob Schieffer's assertion that McCain's war record qualified him to be commander-in-chief. Clark correctly pointed out that having your plane shot down and being held captive by the North Vietnamese does not qualify you to be President.

The media is so head-over-heels in love with McMaverick that they view such an obvious statement with shocked incredulity. Just look at Schieffer's expression in that clip! He can't fucking believe it!

And to try and equate this with the John Kerry Swiftboating (as some are trying to do) is just ridiculous. Clark made no denigrating comments about McCain's record at all; all he was doing was hitting back against the silly idea that because he commanded a Navy Squadron and was shot down in Vietnam, he's inherently more qualified to be President than Obama.

It pisses me off to no end that "commander-in-chief" and "President" have become almost synonymous in the public eye. Yes, the President is indeed "commander-in-chief" of the military, but the Presidency is not a military position. The President is not defined by his military role; he is the civilian head of government. Taking it as a given that military service means you are inherently more qualified to be President is a very dangerous idea, and speaks to an increasingly military-centric view of the office of the Presidency. Hopefully Obama will take the time to point this out the next time the question arises.

Canada losing ground?

We are, according to this.

Someone counter-intuitively, the report ranks us number 2 in education, but mediocre in practically everything else. Perhaps that says good things about our future, at least, though it cautions that Canada trails in PhD graduates, who can be expected to be the drivers of innovation.

And innovation is where they really nail us, 13 out of 17. Since our economy is largely resource based, even moreso now with the reliance on Alberta's oil industry, there is less incentive to develop new technologies and new industries that could be competitive all over the world. That is a problem going forward, evidenced by our falling productivity. Mediocre productivity and economic growth cascades into our lower rankings on social and health policy:

The report links Canada's lack of innovation to flagging economic performance,
which means there is less money to spend on services such as health and

"Canada's deteriorating transportation infrastructure, its longer
hospital wait times, and the collective sense of urgency about the affordability
of social programs are all directly linked to Canada's lagging productivity,
which in turn is linked to its innovation problem," the report said.

All this is certainly cause for concern, but there are ways to reverse these trends. Our government is not short of funds; targeted tax cuts and incentives could help boost productivity and promote innovation, and improving public infrastructure and transportation is essential as we leave the era of cheap oil. Broad reform of health care could eliminate hospital wait times and lessen the financial burden of Medicare in the future.

I would not characterize our challenges as fundamental as those facing the US, but they are there, nonetheless.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Spain wins!

(Photo: The Canadian Press)

It was a long time coming (44 years), but Spain has finally lived up to their potential and defeated Germany 1-0 to win the European Cup. And people are going nuts:

It's hard for us in North America to understand, because let's face it, we never get this excited about sporting events. But there's something about soccer that captures the popular imagination in Europe, and it's something to behold.

One last bit of Terry McAuliffe craziness

I'd say this completes his arc:

Not really much else to talk about this Sunday afternoon. It seems that John McCain doesn't know the price of gas, and he and his wife have failed to pay some of their taxes, but who cares, right? If it doesn't involve lapel pins or angry black ministers, the US media has more important things to talk about, like Amy Winehouse attacking one of her fans. Important stuff, people.

Anyways, go Spain!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Our precarious position in Afghanistan

The Taliban made the news yesterday, as they and other militants seemed to be closing in on Peshawar, an important city in northwest Pakistan. The provincial government is now considering arming the locals as a first line of defense, and the Pakistani army is also fighting back, but it can't be very encouraging that the Taliban felt strong enough to even attempt a takeover.

Meanwhile, there has been little letup in the violence in Afghanistan. A new US report credits the Taliban for their "resilience", and predicts a possible increase in attacks during the year to come.

Without knowing all the facts on the ground, it's hard to say, but it sure seems as though things are going backwards in Afghanistan. Few of the underlying problems seem to have been solved; the central government and national army remain ineffectual, the poppy crop was bigger than ever last year, and there still seems to be too few foreign troops to clamp down on the Taliban.
As I said last month, I do believe Canada has a role to play in Afghanistan. I think it is a worthy cause, and the Afghan people deserve a new beginning. Unlike Iraq, the mission there is characterized by a truly multi-national force. The problem is that this multi-national force is not nearly large enough to accomplish what needs to be accomplished.

Our 2500 soldiers in and around Kandahar have responsibility for a vast region that is infested with insurgents and other troubles. Kandahar was the birthplace of the Taliban, and they retain a base of support there. I have full confidence in the abilities of our soldiers to do their jobs, but when confronted with the facts on the ground, one could be forgiven for thinking the entire enterprise hopeless.

This page has a very nice rundown of important statistics, graphs, and maps showing insurgent activity and progress on humanitarian/reconstruction projects. What do they tell us? They tell us that vast regions of the country are still classified as "extreme risk", that opium cultivation has never been higher, and that casualties for Afghan security forces have risen each year since 2002.

I think it's fairly obvious that a much greater international committment to Afghanistan is needed if any substantial progress is to be made, not just in terms of military forces, but also financial and humanitarian assistance, since much of the violence is ultimately fueled by the country's poverty and general lack of education among its people. It's a mistake to think we are only fighting the Taliban; they are but a sympton of what 30 years of constant war have done to Afghanistan. We are fighting to repair the damage of those 30 years, and that's no easy task.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Defining Canada

As we approach this year's Canada Day, there are the inevitable soul-searching stories about what defines Canada, since we are a nation with a seemingly permanent identity crisis. According to a survey, Pierre Trudeau, Niagra Falls, and the Maple Leaf are our defining symbols, with the Canadarm (on the Space Station) our defining accomplishment (followed by peacekeeping and universal health care).

Personally, I think it's a little depressing that our defining accomplishment is a space robot.

The continuing scourge of deforestation

This report is not very encouraging:

There is between one-third and one-half less forest on Earth today. And in recent times, what remains has been disappearing at an alarming rate.

Each year, 13 million hectares of forest is lost, according to 2005 figures. That's an area roughly the size of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick combined.

When forest regeneration is taken to account, the net annual loss is still 7.3 million hectares, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports. (Some environmental groups, though, dispute this number as being too low.)

In addition to its obvious negative effects on forest eco-systems, deforestation also contributes to climate change:

When forests are cleared in a non-sustainable way, the environment receives a nasty double-whammy.

The cleared forests can't take any carbon dioxide out of the air, which means less of a filter for greenhouse gas emissions.

But the act of deforestation actually is a major cause of those emissions as well. Moist, dense rainforest soil contains even more carbon than the tree branches and leaves, and it's all released into the atmosphere when the forest is cut and burned.

The clearing of forests has helped Indonesia become the third-largest producer of greenhouse gases on the planet. Brazil is close behind.

And deforestation contributes roughly 25 per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, according to various estimates.

That's more than 12 times all of Canada's emissions or, as one British newspaper theorizes, the equivalent of eight million people flying from London to New York daily.

The major loci of deforestation are mainly in the Third World, as land is cleared for agriculture, oil production (ironic, huh?), and obviously for logging. The article states that Canada has put a halt to deforestation, and in much of the developed world, the trends have even reversed, with Europe adding 661,000 hectares of forest per year. And there are some signs of progress elsewhere as well:

China, as well, added almost four million hectares of forest cover each year during the first half of the decade. Vietnam is adding two per cent annually.

And as awareness of the problem grows, countries are setting aside more land for conservation. The central African country of Gabon, to name one example, set aside 10 per cent of its forest land in 2005.

The UN has an initiative to plant 7 billion trees by the end of next year. You can go here for more information.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Onward to the final

Spain advanced to the Euro 2008 final today by beating Russia 3-0 in a very dominant performance. I'm of Spanish background myself, so I cheer for them, but this is a new experience for me: Spain actually winning. Despite their obvious talent, Spain has a reputation for choking in big games. Even though they are perennially regarded as a top contender in the soccer world, they have only one international championship to their name, Euro 1964, in which they defeated the Soviet Union in Madrid. Since then, it's been one disappointment after another.

But they looked pretty damn impressive today. Maybe they finally got the monkey off their backs by defeating Italy for the first time in eighty years or so.

¡Viva la furia roja!

UPDATE: Speaking of monkeys, perhaps we have the apes to thank.


Darkest Knight

Is this movie going to be badass or what? Peter Travers from The Rolling Stone has seen it, and he's pretty impressed:

No fair giving away the mysteries of The Dark Knight. It's enough to marvel at the way Nolan — a world-class filmmaker, be it Memento, Insomnia or The Prestige — brings pop escapism whisper-close to enduring art. It's enough to watch Bale chillingly render Batman as a lost warrior, evoking Al Pacino in The Godfather II in his delusion and desolation. It's enough to see Ledger conjure up the anarchy of the Sex Pistols and A Clockwork Orange as he creates a Joker for the ages. Go ahead, bitch about the movie being too long, at two and a half hours, for short attention spans (it is), too somber for the Hulk crowd (it is), too smart for its own good (it isn't). The haunting and visionary Dark Knight soars on the wings of untamed imagination. It's full of surprises you don't see coming. And just try to get it out of your dreams.

Movie of the summer, bitches. You heard it here first.

....well, that's a lie, but fuck it. :P

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Landslide in the making?

The polling over the past couple weeks has been very favorable to Obama. Today we have polls showing him with large leads in Michigan and New Mexico, a small but statistically significant lead in Pennsylvania, and statistically tied in Indiana (a state that usually lies outside of the Democratic calculus). Recent polling also has him looking good in Ohio, Colorado, Iowa, and Nevada (all states Kerry failed to win). Even Florida looks very much like a toss-up. Needless to say, if he wins all those states, he'll win the election in a veritable landslide compared to the squeakers of 2000 and 2004.

We're still in June, of course, and traditionally, June polling has not been a good predictor of the final result. But the "unity bounce" is real, as Democrats get over their post-primary hangover, and come to their senses on the possibility of President McCain and all that entails, notably more wars, no universal health care, more failed economic policies, and a more conservative Supreme Court.

Theoretically, this June polling is almost like a baseline for Obama. As he raises more and more money and is able to saturate the airwaves with his message, and as sharp contrasts are drawn between him and McCain (culminating in the debates), he might be able to really pull away in a lot of these swing states, and consolidate his position in the states that "lean" Dem. Theoretically.

The wild card is, of course, the possibility of a successful right-wing smear campaign, like the swiftboating of John Kerry. Given Obama's background, he appears highly vulnerable to this kind of attack, but his performance thus far gives a lot of cause for confidence. Generally, he confronts the vile bullshit head-on, and comes out of it so much the stronger.

Still, the patriotism meme is dangerous, as are the persistent questions over his religious background. I prefer to think that people who are inclined to take lapel pins seriously are people who wouldn't vote for Obama under any circumstances. Then there's the inevitable attacks on Michelle Obama, who the Republicans will attempt to portray as a bitter, anti-white radical, based on pretty much nothing (just a few weeks ago, there was frenzied discussion on anti-Obama websites about a supposed videotape of her making racially charged remarks; no such tape has materialized, and given the source and the constantly changing details, it is likely to be about as real as the fucking Easter bunny).

I'm going to give Mike Huckabee his props, because despite his political beliefs which are fundamentally different than mine, he does seem genuinely honest and an all-around nice guy. This is what he had to say about attacking Obama:

What I am saying is that we need to challenge Obama on the basis that his ideas are the wrong ones — not attacking him personally. If people spend their time repeating a bunch of internet driven drivel about his middle name (he didn’t choose his anymore than I chose mine), or his race (I do sincerely celebrate that our country has moved to a place where a person’s race doesn’t limit him from aspiring to the highest office in our land, but I just believe that due to his proposals and lack of substantive experience, he’s gone far enough — not because of his race, but because of his sincere, but misguided proposals), or his church (there are far more important reasons for us to elect Senator McCain than where Obama went to church).

Politics ought to be VERTICAL and Obama’s ideas will not take this country UP, but DOWN. I think he is a sincere and obviously a very intelligent and charismatic person. For us to deny that is foolish. Our focus should be to logically and systematically explain why ideas really do matter and why some are bad for those struggling as it is to pay the rent.

Well said. If only the Right would follow his advice. They won't, because if the election is about ideas and policy, they don't have a chance.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Liberal "Green Shift"

I'm always sympathetic to any bold move on environmental or climate change policy.

On the face of it, the Liberals' new Green Shift plan is a good one. It establishes a carbon tax, starting at $10/tonne of CO2, which will rise yearly. Taxing carbon directly cuts to the heart of the problem, and for that reason many economists believe it to be the best option. The Liberals also promise to use the revenue to pay for a variety of tax cuts and incentives.

As Andrew Coyne notes, this plan is not actually revenue neutral. In other words, all the revenue raised by the carbon tax will not be going to tax cuts. Actual tax cuts are small or non-existent. Much of the revenue will be ear-marked to pay for tax credits, which Coyne rightly equates with new spending initiatives that will do little to promote stagnant productivity growth, unlike meaningful tax cuts.

But tax credits are not necessarily bad policy, even if they are spending by another name. And a carbon tax may be long overdue.

Whether a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade framework is more cost-effective is open to debate. Theoretically, cap-and-trade should be, since each emitter is able to reach their cost-effective solution, while a carbon tax would be indiscriminate. Firms less able to reduce emissions would be taxed at the same rate as firms more able, and the end result would be a deadweight loss, with one group having surplus profits and the other having surplus losses.

But in practice, there are very real complications with cap-and-trade that make cost-effectiveness unlikely. There would be costs associated with uncertainty over emissions and abatement costs. There would also be major administrative costs associated with running such an inevitably complex scheme.

A carbon tax, on the other hand, would be simple to administer. Taxes are easy to understand, even if unwelcome. And the government would have increased revenues that could be invested in alternative energy and other green solutions.

Smart octopi?

When one thinks of a smart sea creature, the octopus rarely comes to mind. But there's a fair amount of evidence that they can be quite clever:

Aristotle didn't have a high opinion of the octopus. "The octopus is a stupid creature," he wrote, "for it will approach a man's hand if it be lowered in the water." Twenty-four centuries later, this "stupid" creature is enjoying a much better reputation. YouTube is loaded with evidence of what some might call octopus intelligence. One does an uncanny impression of a flounder. Another mimics coral before darting away from a pushy camera. A third slips its arms around a jar, unscrews it, and dines on the crab inside. Scientific journals publish research papers on octopus learning, octopus personality, octopus memory. Now the octopus has even made it into the pages of the journal Consciousness and Cognition (along with its fellow cephalopods the squid and the cuttlefish). The title: "Cephalopod consciousness: behavioral evidence."

The catch of course, is that while they may be "intelligent", intelligent means different things for species so vastly different. We are intelligent in different ways from an octopus; not surprising once you consider that our closest common ancestor existed some 700 million years ago.

There's not much point in trying to pin this sort of behavior to some human-based scale of intelligence, because our behavior emerged as apes adapted to life spent on two legs, in groups, and using our hands to make tools. We'd fail pretty badly at an octopus-based test of intelligence, but surely we wouldn't hold it against ourselves.

(h/t Pharyngula)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sunday afternoon politics roundup

I really do want to post on some other subjects, but let's get a few things out of the way first.

1. Steve Benen has compiled an incredible list of McCain flip-flops here. Check it out to see what is required of a "moderate" Republican when running for president.

2. This video of Jonathan Turley on Olbermann explains everything you need to know about FISA and why the Democrats' actions have been so infuriating:

3. Ah, the "liberal" media. Here is Charlie Gibson wondering whether it's "unfair" that Obama has so much more money than McCain. And here they are refusing to call Republican pundits on their hypocritical BS on campaign finance. Damn liberal bias! How can McCain possibly win with all of these latte sipping liberal journalists working against him?

There, I think that does it for now. Stay tuned, and I just might talk about something that isn't related to the US election.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Followup on FISA

Some have suggested across the blogosphere that regardless of what Obama does or does not do, the votes simply are not there to stop this bill from passing. There were only 128 nay votes in the House, and there will probably be little more than 30 in the Senate. Even with the influence Obama currently carries, it is indeed unlikely that he could sway enough of his colleagues to defeat this bill. Many of them are the infamous "Blue Dogs"; Democrats from conservative districts who invariably vote with the Republicans on issues of national security.

All true. Yet to posit that it would somehow disadvantage Obama by supporting a "losing bill", or that it would be dangerous to "alienate" his House and Senate colleagues is ridiculous.

First, it's never wrong to support a good cause. Obama should stand for what he believes in, whether it is politically expedient or not. Integrity and principle are their own rewards.

Second, by explaining in very clear terms why gutting the Fourth Ammendment and protecting lawbreaking telecoms so that Bush can cover his own ass are bad things (something that has never really been accomplished by the Dems), Obama could frame the debate in terms that are easy for anyone to understand. This would put major pressure on the Democrats working in support of this capitulation.

Finally, to risk "alienation" among fellow politicians is nothing compared to all the votes and admiration Obama would gain by taking a principled stand. What kind of leverage does some Blue Dog have over Obama anyway? None! Keeping his base happy is more important than keeping his House and Senate colleagues happy. They are only a few hundred votes, after all; Obama doesn't need them for anything. He's after millions of votes. And supporting this craven compromise (after repeatedly stating he would do the opposite) does very little to help him get those votes.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Obama is dead wrong on FISA and telco immunity

Yesterday, the Democrats announced a "compromise" bill on the FISA/telecom immunity debate that was actually quite far from a compromise. It was in fact a total capitulation, effectively granting immunity to telecom companies that aided and abetted the Bush administration in illegally spying on their customers. The only caveat was that telecoms would have to provide evidence that they received written assurances from the Attorney General affirming that Bush believed the program to be legal, written assurances that almost certainly exist.

That's it. If Bush said it was legal, it's legal. Since the Congress certainly doesn't have the balls to investigate the Bush administration itself, these pending lawsuits against the telecoms were our last chance to learn the full extent of the warrantless wiretapping program. And now, as the Democrats in the House and Senate prepare to rubberstamp immunity for corporate criminals, that last chance will be gone.

The worst part of all of this is that the immunity question is just a smokescreen. All of these companies with competent legal departments no doubt negotiated indemnification agreements before giving Bush anything. That means that they have nothing to fear from lawsuits even if they proceeded. So what's the point of this? To cover Bush's ass. Investigations of the telecoms would reveal things that Bush would rather not have revealed.

The Democrats not only gave the Republicans everything they wanted, appearing weak and craven yet again, but they also closed off any possibility of us ever learning the entire truth.

Throughout this debate, Obama has generally been strongly opposed to immunity, and strongly opposed to the President's illegal spying programs. He has not seemed like a candidate willing to accept Bush's transgressions against the constitution, stating that one of his first acts as President would be to review each and every one of Bush's executive orders and decisions, and overturn any that violated the constitution. That attitude is welcome and commendable, exactly what the US needs after years of radicalism.

Just in the past few days, he was sending out the following e-mail:

I have consistently opposed this Administration's efforts to use debates about our national security to expand its own power, whether that was in regard to the conduct of the Iraq war or its restrictions on our civil liberties through domestic surveillance programs or suspension of habeas corpus. It is time to restore oversight and accountability in the FISA program, and rejecting this unprecedented grant of retroactive immunity is a good place to start.

Giving retroactive immunity to telecom companies is simply wrong. Thankfully, the most recent effort to pass this legislation at the end of the legislative year failed. I unequivocally oppose this grant of immunity and support the filibuster
of it. I have cosponsored Senator Dodd's proposal that would remove it from the current FISA bill and continue to follow this debate closely. In order to prevail, the proponents of retroactive immunity still have to convince 60 or more senators to vote to end a filibuster of this bill. I will not be one of them.

This Administration has put forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand. When I am president, there will be no more illegal wire-tapping of American citizens; no more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime; no more tracking citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war. Our Constitution works, and so does the FISA court.

An admirable position.

Yet for some reason, he has not spoken out against this latest capitulation. On the contrary, he has spoken in support of it, and also in support of a prominent Bush-enabling "Blue Dog" Democratic congressman from Georgia, John Barrow, who is facing a possibly tough primary battle from progressive candidate Regina Thomas.

Given the grave threats that we face, our national security agencies must have the capability to gather intelligence and track down terrorists before they strike, while respecting the rule of law and the privacy and civil liberties of the American people. . . .

After months of negotiation, the House today passed a compromise that, while far from perfect, is a marked improvement over last year's Protect America Act. . . It does, however, grant retroactive immunity, and I will work in the Senate to remove this provision so that we can seek full accountability for past offenses.

It is not all that I would want. But given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as President, I will carefully monitor the program, review the report by the Inspectors General, and work with the Congress to take any additional steps I deem necessary to protect the lives -– and the liberty –- of the American people.

It's far from clear how he can both support the compromise yet still promise to "work in the Senate" to remove the central premise of the compromise. He should be unequivocal in his opposition to this travesty.

This is an incredibly disappointing move from Obama. He is now, for all intents and purposes, the leader of the Democratic party. It is well within his power to make a stand for civil liberties and the rule of law, and defend them, not only against the Republicans, but also against the cowardice and inexplicable weakness of his own party. He has not, and has in fact chosen the opposite course, making a mockery of his previous stated positions on this issue.

Greenwald is pretty brutal:

Telling Americans that we have to give up basic constitutional rights -- and allow rampant lawbreaking -- if we want to save ourselves from "the grave threats we face" sounds awfully familiar. Obama has obviously calculated that sacrificing the rule of law and the Fourth Amendment is a worthwhile price to pay to bolster his standing a tiny bit in a couple of swing states. The full Obama statement is here.

The fact is that the American public now sees past the standard Republican BS. They will not see the Democrats as weak on national security if they say no to warrantless wiretapping and immunity for law-breaking telecoms. In fact, polls show that Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to both of these things. Polls also show that Congress actually has a higher approval rating among Republicans than Democrats! No wonder; Democrats have a lot of reason to be disappointed in these cowardly and unprincipled idiots they elected to office in 2006. But Republicans have little cause to complain, since whenever Bush stamps his feet, they give him everything he wants.

I expect better from Obama, and he isn't delivering on this issue.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bill C-10 and Government patronage of the film industry

The tax Bill C-10 was recently introduced by the Tories, and the film financing section stirred up some major controversy. They want to ammend the way the film industry receives tax credits from the Government, allowing the Heritage minister to deny these subsidies on a case by case basis. For example, if the film in question amounts to little more than soft-core pornography, the minister can say "no tax credits for you".

When it was first unveiled, many in the industry cried "censorship!" (David Cronenberg, whom I otherwise admire, said "it sounds like something they do in Bejing") and spoke gravely of the death of the Canadian film industry (of course, something has to be alive before it can die), because without these tax credits, it would be very difficult for smaller filmmakers to attain funding for their projects. True enough.

Leaving aside the fact that I can't remember the last time I watched a Canadian movie, it's a bit bizarre that allowing the Government to decide which films receive subsidies paid for by our tax dollars should somehow amount to "censorship" (with one important caveat, which I will get into below). Like filmmakers in any other country, nothing is stopping Canadian directors and producers from making the movies they want to make, provided they can secure the necessary financing through the private sector. "Censorship", in my view, would be Government control over what movies are allowed to be made and which ones aren't. This is not what is being discussed.

In any case, the Liberal controlled Senate has made some ammendments to the bill in the hopes of reaching a compromise. They are as follows:

*Remove the right of the heritage minister to refuse tax credits based on "public policy" or to issue guidelines about film content.
*Give producers an efficient judicial appeal mechanism if the minister blocks or delays funding.

*Continue to prevent government funding of pornography, child pornography, and hate propaganda.

Assuming that the Heritage minister retains some right to discriminate on funding, all of these sound okay to me, to be perfectly honest. I don't think it's a big scandal for the minister to be able to choose which movies to fund or not, but it shouldn't be done on a political basis (that would be disturbingly close to the creation of a government propaganda office, only giving tax credits to films that promote their policies), nor should there be a set of specific guidelines and rules about content (since similar "content" can be presented in different ways and for different purposes). Numbers 2 and 3 also seem eminently reasonable.

Of course, passing the larger Bill C-10 is a confidence vote, so if this compromise is still deemed unacceptable, it has the potential to bring down the Government. I wouldn't have expected it over something like this, but never underestimate the political influence of those in danger of losing their handouts.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Yes, Osama gets habeas corpus

Anyone held in US custody has the right to challenge their detention in court. That is what the Supreme Court decided, and they are absolutely right. This applies to Osama Bin Laden too, if he were to be captured.

Predictably, some on the Right are going into full meltdown mode over comments that Obama has made on the subject (saying that he agrees with the SC decision), and McCain has tried to make an issue of it too, saying that it shows Obama has a "September 10th mindset". One of his campaign people said the following in a conference call this morning:

"If Sen. Obama did receive that 3 a.m. phone call," Scheunemann said of the call so often mentioned throughout the Democratic primaries, "I guess his response would be to call the lawyers in the justice department."

Well, we already know that Obama is the candidate of laws and following the constitution, and that McCain is the candidate for lawlessness and ripping up the constitution in order to get all the scary Arabs, but this debate uncovers another critical flaw in the Right wing argument.

Having legal rights does not imply innocence or leniency. Bin Laden could challenge his detention all he wanted, but that doesn't mean he'd escape the death penalty. As Obama correctly noted, most of the conspirators in the 1993 WTC bombing were tried and convicted in US courts, and they now reside in US prisons. Why should Bin Laden be any different? Why is it necessary to give him a show trial rather than a legitimate one? Are they afraid that the courts might actually rule in his favor? Ridiculous.

But the Right has dishonestly chosen to frame the debate (as they always do) in terms that suggest Obama is showing weakness in the face of the terrorists simply by having faith in the US justice system. In doing so, they confirm yet again how radical their views are on the rule of law and on essential human rights that have been sacred to Western civilization for centuries.

I must say that it's almost encouraging how McCain seems to be following the Bush playbook almost to the letter, talking a lot about September 11 and how dangerous the world is, accusing the Democrat of being soft on terrorists, etc., rinse and repeat. Luckily the electorate is in a very different mood from four years ago. And the Anonymous Liberal asks a good question:

As McCain's surrogates seem to acknowledge, the Supreme Court's ruling is now the law of the land and it will be binding on whoever ends up winning this election. Are McCain's surrogates suggesting that only Obama will follow the law? That McCain will disregard the Court's ruling? And if they're not suggesting that, then what exactly are they suggesting?

I think they are suggesting to anyone who is paying attention that they intend to demagogue this issue for all it's worth, even while knowing that everything they are saying is bullshit. Even a McCain administration would have to abide by the SC's rulings.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

More evidence for universal health care

Taiwan introduced a single-payer health insurance system in 1995. Since then, they've gone from 60% insured to 100% insured. But at what cost?

Via Ezra Klein, this article from Health Affairs:

Taiwan established a compulsory national health insurance program that provided universal coverage and a comprehensive benefit package to all of its residents. Besides providing more equal access to health care and financial risk protection, the single-payer NHI also provides tools to manage health spending increases. Our data show that Taiwan was able to adopt the NHI without using measurably more resources than what it would have spent without the program. It seems that the additional resources that had to be spent to cover the uninsured were largely offset by the savings resulting from reduced overcharges, duplication and overuse of health services and tests, transaction costs, and other costs. The total increase in national health spending between 1995 and 2000 was not more than the amount that Taiwan would have spent, based on historical trends.

Imagine that. Klein summarizes:

In other words, Taiwan was able to move from 60 percent insured to nearly 100 percent insured (a tiny number of folks are overseas or off the grid) without increasing costs at all. Reducing administrative costs, transaction fees, cost shifting, overuse, and so forth paid for the expansion. Since then, they've been able to keep their cost growth low. In addition, "Taiwan did not experience any reported increase in queues or waiting time under the NHI. Meanwhile, the government has taken regular public opinion polls every three months to gauge the public’s satisfaction with the NHI. It continuously enjoys a public satisfaction rate of around 70 percent, one of the highest for Taiwanese public programs." And they accomplished all this by moving to one of those awful, inefficient, government-controlled single payer programs.

I would really like to see the free market ideologues try to explain away the success of Taiwan's single payer system. More people served for less cost, little to no queuing or rationing of services, and most importantly, broad public satisfaction. Compare that with the polls that show four out of five Americans favor fundamental changes or a complete overhaul of their health care system.

It's absolutely stunning how support for universal health care remains a fringe position in US politics even when the evidence in favor of it is so incredibly overwhelming.

McCain is confused

Not to be ageist or anything, but the guy doesn't seem to know what his own policies are:

QUESTION: The European Union has set mandatory targets on renewable energy. Is that something you would consider in a McCain administration? [...]

MCCAIN: Sure. I believe in the cap-and-trade system, as you know. I would not at this time make those -- impose a mandatory cap at this time. But I do believe that we have to establish targets for reductions of greenhouse gas emissions over time, and I think those can be met.

As hilzoy notes, McCain doesn't seem to have any idea what a cap-and-trade system of greenhouse gas emissions actually entails. He says he does not support a mandatory cap, only "targets for reductions". But a mandatory cap is a crucial component to any cap-and-trade system, hence the "cap" in the name, and "targets for reductions" is an incredibly vague and meaningless statement of policy.

The idea behind cap-and-trade is that you cap emissions at a certain level, and then allocate a set number of permits to all corporations that emit CO2. Each permit would be like an allowance for a certain amount of emissions. Some firms may find the cost of the permits higher than their cost of reducing emissions, and these firms will sell their permits to firms that have abatement costs higher than the cost of the permits. In this way, each firm is able to reach a cost-effective arrangement, at least in theory.

But if John McCain supports such a system, he is either lying or confused when he says he does not support mandatory caps. It's almost like one of his advisors convinced him that cap-and-trade was a good thing, but he never quite figured out what it actually means.

This isn't the only time he's said stuff like that. From an interview with Greenwire:

It's not quote mandatory caps. It's cap-and-trade, OK. It's not mandatory caps to start with. It's cap-and-trade. That's very different. OK, because that's a gradual reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions. So please portray it as cap-and-trade. That's the way I call it.

WTF is he talking about?

hilzoy also compiled some other examples of McCain's general confusion on the issues:

* He said that the number of troops in Iraq was "down to pre-surge levels". In fact, we have 25,000 more troops in Iraq than we did when the surge began.

* He gets Shi'a and Sunni Islam confused, and doesn't seem to know that Iran, which is Shi'a, is very unlikely to train al Qaeda in Iraq, which is Sunni, within its borders. Possibly that's because he thinks that al Qaeda is Shi'a.

* He doesn't seem to know what his own Social Security policy is. From the WSJ: "On Social Security, the Arizona senator says he still backs a system of private retirement accounts that President Bush pushed unsuccessfully, and disowned details of a Social Security proposal on his campaign Web site."

* He also seems to disagree with his campaign and his website on whether he plans to repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax.

* My personal favorite:
"The economy is not good. The stock market continues down. And the indicators are not good. I'm not too astonished. ... We let spending get totally out of control, and it continues today, and I'm sorry to tell you this," McCain said at a town-hall style meeting at the Carolina Hospital East Campus in Florence. (...)
"People talk about a stimulus package. Fine, if that's what we want to come up with. But stop the spending first," he said."

Um: excessive government spending does not slow the economy down. And you stimulate the economy by (basically) putting more money into it. Saying that we need to "stop the spending" before passing a stimulus package is like saying: "Sure, we need to deal with the flooding in your basement. But let's finish filling it up with water first."

Is it "ageist" to make an issue of all of this? McCain's inability to understand basic issues of policy is not a question of age discrimination. It is a question of competence. If McCain can't tell the difference between Sunni and Shiite, if he doesn't understand what cap-and-trade means even when he repeatedly says he supports it, and if he thinks excessive government spending slows the economy, real doubts arise about his competency for office.
That's just a fact. And it will become an issue, especially if he continues to make these kinds of gaffes. His free ride in the media can't last forever.

Renewable Oil?

This sounds really cool:

Scientists find bugs that eat waste and excrete petrol

If you can get past the lingo (by "bug" they mean bacteria, and "petrol" is British for crude oil), this amounts to a pretty amazing discovery. Crude oil produced by bacterial consumption of food waste. Not only that, but the process is carbon negative, meaning that burning the stuff puts less CO2 into the atmosphere than the CO2 consumed in producing it.

Don't know how practical it will be to mass-produce, though.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Just a little hazing

This article should shock and disturb you. The facts contained within have shocked and disturbed me for years, but for some reason, they have received relatively little attention in the media, at least compared with what happened at Abu Ghraib.

The major reason is the lack of pictures, I think. Without any visual representation, it's hard to grab people's attention. The details may be shocking (and far more serious than anything that went on at Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib), but there's some weird disconnect going on here.

The most violent of the major U.S. detention centers, the McClatchy investigation found, was Bagram, an old Soviet airstrip about 30 miles outside Kabul. The worst period at Bagram was the seven months from the summer of 2002 to spring of 2003, when interrogators there used techniques that when repeated later at Abu Ghraib led to wholesale abuses.

New detainees were shoved to the floor of a cavernous warehouse, a former Soviet aircraft machine shop that stayed dim all day, and kept in pens where they weren't allowed to speak or look at guards.

The Afghan government initially based a group of intelligence officers at Bagram, but they were pushed out. Mohammed Arif Sarwari, the head of Afghanistan's national security directorate from late 2001 to 2003, said he got a letter from U.S. commanders in mid-2002 telling him to get his men out of Bagram. Sarwari thought that was a bad sign: The Americans, he thought, were creating an island with no one to watch over them.

"I said I didn't want to be involved with what they were doing at Bagram — who they were arresting or what they were doing with them," he said in an interview in Kabul.

The rate of reported abuse was higher among men who were held at the U.S. camp at Kandahar Airfield. Thirty-two out of 42 men held there whom McClatchy interviewed claimed that they were knocked to the ground or slapped about. But former detainees said the violence at Bagram was much harsher.

The brutality at Bagram peaked in December 2002, when U.S. soldiers beat two Afghan detainees, Habibullah and Dilawar, to death as they hung by their wrists. Dilawar died on Dec. 10, seven days after Habibullah died. He'd been hit in his leg so many times that the tissue was "falling apart" and had "basically been pulpified," said then-Lt. Col. Elizabeth Rouse, the Air Force medical examiner who performed the autopsy on him.

Had Dilawar lived, Rouse said in sworn testimony, "I believe the injury to the legs are so extensive that it would have required amputation."

The usual excuses are given; lack of training, inadequate supervision, etc. But it also gives the real reason for these abuses:

The mistreatment of detainees at Bagram, some legal experts said, may have been a violation of the 1949 Geneva Convention on prisoners of war, which forbids violence against or humiliating treatment of detainees.

The U.S. War Crimes Act of 1996 imposes penalties up to death for such mistreatment.

At Bagram, however, the rules didn't apply. In February 2002, President Bush issued an order denying suspected Taliban and al Qaida detainees prisoner-of-war status. He also denied them basic Geneva protections known as Common Article Three, which sets a minimum standard for humane treatment.

Without those parameters, it's difficult to say what acts were or were not war crimes, said Charles Garraway, a former colonel and legal adviser for the British army and a leading international expert on military law.

Bush's order made it hard to prosecute soldiers for breaking such rules under the military's basic law, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, in large part because defense attorneys could claim that troops on the ground didn't know what was allowed.

In sweeping aside Common Article Three, the Bush administration created an environment in which abuse such as that at Bagram was more likely, said Garraway, a former professor at the U.S. Naval War College.

The Bush administration created the conditions that led to abuse. It is their responsibility. As the article makes clear, in most of these cases, no one at all is punished, but when they are, it's only those at the bottom. There are no high-profile prosecutions or resignations. It's a travesty.

A lot of the people who were tortured were completely innocent, but in my view, that shouldn't matter. Whether it's an innocent Afghan goat-herder or a hardened terrorist, Western militaries are supposed to have some standards of conduct. We are signatories to the Geneva Convention. We do not believe in inflicting physical or psychological pain on defenseless prisoners. It's the antithesis to everything we profess to be fighting for. And that's why it's so important to publicize these abuses and prosecute those responsible.

Party unity?

If all you had to go on was the media coverage of the past few months, you'd think that if any political party had a problem with unity, it'd be the Democrats. After all, they had a vicious primary battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, with much bitterness on either side. There were numerous op/eds and analyses that spoke gravely about the daunting task that Obama now faces to "unite the party".

But is it really true?

The truth is that the Democrats are energized. Anyone can see that based on the record turnout throughout the primaries. George W. Bush is incredibly unpopular, and there is a general consensus forming that his policies have basically wrecked the country's economy, tore up the constitution, and blasted apart America's image worldwide. In this climate, it would be a shock if the Democrat wasn't a heavy favorite.

And sure enough, as the primary fades from memory, Obama is doing better and better in the polls. Many states have yet to be surveyed, but Fivethirtyeight has Obama with 300 electoral votes (well over the 269 needed to win) and a 62.1% win percentage, while Electoral Vote has him with 304 (see the widget over there on the right). As more recent polls are included to reflect Obama's post primary bounce, these numbers may start to look even more favorable.

But most devastating to the "disunity" theory is the fact that among Clinton's most important constituency, women, Obama leads McCain by significant margins, outperforming John Kerry and Al Gore. Frank Rich does a good job of breaking down the numbers in this op/ed:

New polls show Mr. Obama opening up a huge lead among female voters — beating Mr. McCain by 13 percentage points in the Gallup and Rasmussen polls and by 19 points in the latest Wall Street Journal-NBC News survey.

How huge is a 13- to 19-percentage-point lead? John Kerry won women by only 3 points, Al Gore by 11.

The real question is how Mr. McCain and his press enablers could seriously assert that he will pick up disaffected female voters in the aftermath of the brutal Obama-Clinton nomination battle. Even among Democrats, Mr. Obama lost only the oldest female voters to Mrs. Clinton.
But as we know from our Groundhog Days of 2008, a fictional campaign narrative, once set in the concrete of Beltway bloviation, must be recited incessantly, especially on cable television, no matter what facts stand in the way. Only an earthquake — the Iowa results, for instance — could shatter such previously immutable story lines as the Clinton campaign’s invincibility and the innate hostility of white voters to a black candidate.

Our new bogus narrative rose from the ashes of Mrs. Clinton’s concession to Mr. Obama, amid the raucous debate over what role misogyny played in her defeat. A few female Clinton supporters — or so they identified themselves — appeared on YouTube and Fox News to say they were so infuriated by sexism that they would vote for Mr. McCain.

Now, there’s no question that men played a big role in Mrs. Clinton’s narrow loss, starting with Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Mark Penn. And the evidence of misogyny in the press and elsewhere is irrefutable, even if it was not the determinative factor in the race. But the notion that all female Clinton supporters became “angry white women” once their candidate lost — to the hysterical extreme where even lifelong Democrats would desert their own party en masse — is itself a sexist stereotype. That’s why some of the same talking heads and Republican operatives who gleefully insulted Mrs. Clinton are now peddling this fable on such flimsy anecdotal evidence.

In fact, it's McCain who faces the real challenge of party unity:

The conservative hostility toward McCain heralded by the early attacks of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and James Dobson is proliferating. Bay Buchanan, the party activist who endorsed Mitt Romney, wrote this month that Mr. McCain is “incapable of energizing his party, brings no new people to the polls” and “has a personality that is best kept under wraps.” When Mr. McCain ditched the preachers John Hagee and Rod Parsley after learning that their endorsements antagonized Catholics, Muslims and Jews, he ended up getting a whole new flock of evangelical Christians furious at him too.

The revolt is not limited to the usual cranky right-wing suspects. The antiwar acolytes of Ron Paul are planning a large rally for convention week in Minneapolis. The conservative legal scholar Douglas Kmiec has endorsed Mr. Obama, as have both the economic adviser to Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America,” Lawrence Hunter, and the neocon historian Francis Fukuyama. Rupert Murdoch is publicly flirting with the Democrat as well. Even Dick Cheney emerged from his bunker this month to gratuitously dismiss Mr. McCain’s gas-tax holiday proposal as “a false notion” before the National Press Club.

These are not anomalies. Last week The Hill reported that at least 14 Republican members of Congress have refused to endorse or publicly support Mr. McCain. Congressional Quarterly found that of the 62,800 donors who maxed out to Mr. Bush’s campaign in 2004, only about 5,000 (some 8 percent) have contributed to his putative successor.

Moral of the story? The pundits are not to be trusted. It's in their interests to portray the Democrats as divided, because it predicts a close presidential race. A close race is good for ratings.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Totalitarian creationists

Remember when the Kansas school board decided to remove evolution from high school biology curricula? It was a proud day for ignorant simpletons and religious fanatics alike (though perhaps not such a proud day for non-ignorant and non-fanatical Kansans). Tom Willis of the "Creation Science Association" (an oxymoron if I ever saw one) helped draft those groundbreaking new educational standards.

And now, he's at it again, with this fairly disturbing proclamation:

The arrogance displayed by the evolutionist class is totally unwarrented (sic). The facts warrent (sic) the violent expulsion of all evolutionists from civilized society. I am quite serious that their danger to society is so great that, in a sane society, they would be, at a minimum, denied a vote in the administration of the society, as well as any job where they might influence immature humans, e.g., scout, or youth, leader, teacher and, obviously, professor.

Frankly, I think the facts warrant the violent expulsion of Tom Willis from civilized society.

I must say it is deeply ironic that while the ID movement whines and moans about how they are being so terribly repressed, here we have a high-profile creationist talking about disenfranchising and alienating mainstream biologists and academics...oh, I'm sorry, I mean "evolutionists", from society. I wonder what Mr. Willis thinks should be done with these "evolutionists" after they are successfuly violently expelled from "civilized society"? Perhaps they should be rounded up and put into camps so they cannot go on spreading their wicked beliefs to the outside world? And then perhaps some forcible re-education? And if they still fail to embrace God's love, burn them!

And don't you just love the epithets that creationists use to describe people that understand anything about the history of life on this planet? "Evolutionists". "Darwinists". I guess "biologists" sounds too innocuous. Far better to create some scary sounding "ism" with which to scare all those "immature humans". Classic totalitarian methods.

(hat tip Panda's Thumb)

Friday, June 13, 2008

New ideas or good ideas?

Greg Anrig does a good job of taking apart a vacuous Time article attacking Obama's economic policies:

Why do policies have to be "new and transformative?" If they have proven be
effective in the past, doesn't that make them "good" as opposed to "not
necessarily bad." The conservative movement pushed for all kinds of new
and transformative ideas that led to one disaster after another.
Enough with

Since Obama is the candidate of "change", it seems some intellectually challenged journalists believe he must also be "new and transformative". In fact, what is really needed is change from the past 8 years. The US doesn't need transformative policy on every issue, it just needs good policy, which would be a vast improvement.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

In lieu of real blogging, here's some Youtube clips!

Sorry for the lack of updates; I've just been too damn lazy to blog.

Here's an entertaining rundown of the entire primary season from Keith Olbermann's Countdown:

Ah, good times.

And here is the preview clip for the last BSG episode before the break:

I can hardly wait; I think some major shit will go down in this episode.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

More stupid gas tax politics

The gas tax issue really gets me worked up, because it's one of those things that the general public just might get fooled by. No one likes taxes, much less taxes on gas, the price of which has skyrocketed. So when politicians talk about suspending taxes on gas, it strikes me as a position that could gain some traction with ordinary people.

The only problem is that it is the very definition of a cynical pander, as I explained in this post. Steve Benen is also pretty annoyed:

I just find it hard to believe we’re still talking about this obvious nonsense.

With gas prices reaching a national average of four dollars a gallon — a record high — John McCain is planning to resurrect his call for a national gas tax holiday, which became a staple of his stump speech in late April and early May.

A McCain aide told CNN’s Dana Bash on Monday that the Arizona senator planned to plug the gas tax holiday in public statements throughout the day as a message to voters that he understands the plight of working families in a tough economy.

Before a fundraiser in Richmond, Virginia on Monday, McCain mentioned the gas tax holiday in remarks to a smaller event for about 40 high-dollar donors. “That was derided by Sen. Obama and others as a gimmick,” McCain said, but added that working people and truckers would appreciate it.

McCain apparently conceded that his proposal wouldn’t solve the problem, but according to the CNN report, McCain believes “low-income families could save some extra cash to pay for their children’s school supplies this fall, or perhaps treat themselves to a nice dinner.”

This is just too ridiculous for words. McCain wants to eliminate the 18.4-cent a gallon federal gas tax over the summer. This would cost the Highway Trust Fund between $9 billion and $11 billion. McCain hasn’t said whether he’d just increase the deficit to make up the difference, or just let the transportation money disappear, costing thousands of jobs.

And what would consumers get in return? Nothing. Putting aside the volatility in oil prices, and the fact that the cost of a glass of gas will probably go up over the summer regardless of federal taxes, Americans won’t actually be in a position to save any money if the gas tax is temporarily repealed. McCain may not be the sharpest crayon in the box, but he almost certainly realizes this.

Obama needs to hammer him on this issue. He needs to make it very clear that all McCain is proposing is more profits for the oil companies, and less funds for the maintenance of America's decrepit infrastructure.

And what is McCain's position on gas prices? (other than the brilliant gas tax "holiday")

John McCain Will Help Americans Hurting From High Gasoline And Food Costs.
Americans need relief right now from high gas prices. John McCain will act
immediately to reduce the pain of high gas prices.
How exactly this will be accomplished is not explained. Really, most of McCain's policy briefs are like this. "John McCain will act immediately to fix ______." How? Doesn't matter, just trust him.

In contrast, check out Obama's detailed policy pages on every issue.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Blogging? What does that mean, anyway?

From Ezra Klein:

Back in the early days of blogging, the medium was set apart by style as much as venue. It was shorter, punchier, almost never reported or edited. Blogs read very differently from magazines, and even more differently from newspapers. For some blogs, that remains true. But the last year has seen the rise of reported campaign blogs (and other reported blogs, but I'm going to use the campaign example here). Marc Ambinder, Ben Smith, The Caucus, the Trail -- blogs written by serious political reporters, some of them in a style approximating newspaper articles, all of them dedicated to gathering and disseminating new information (not commentary) about the race. Blogs are, increasingly, just a platform. They're set apart by speed, comments, lack of space constraints, ability to embed video, hyperlinks, etc. They're not set apart by a particular type of content. The terms "blogging" or "bloggers" are of almost no analytical use, as they don't describe anything more specific than "writers" or "writing."

Blogs have indeed come a long way, and they are increasingly a medium rather than a particular form of content. The rise of reported blogs further blurs the line between the mediums. There really isn't any meaningful difference between what Ben Smith does and what more traditional political reporters do.

In any case, even blogs that are strictly limited to commentary (like mine) are often more informative and penetrating than what passes for serious reporting. Bloggers like Glenn Greenwald and digby have done an excellent job over the past few years of exposing the corruption and laziness of the MSM, and it's a good thing that the media giants are losing their monopoly on news and analysis.


Oh boy, lock the doors and shutter the windows. Bill Maher's making a movie about religion:

This movie is worth it just to see all the stupid red-faced outrage it will inevitably spark.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Her concession

Credit where it's due: good speech. She struck the right notes, and unambiguously threw her support behind Obama, even co-opting some of his best rhetoric.

Now we'll see how much of this bitterness will wash away. Her job isn't finished. She needs to get out there and campaign, along with her husband. There's a lot of people out there who are still too angry about the way things turned out. There's a lot of people who, thanks to Hillary's divisive strategy up to this point, really think Obama somehow stole the nomination.

But this was a good first step.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Hillary's debt

Supposedly, it amounts to $30 million.

Naturally, the politic thing to do would be for Obama to ask his supporters to chip in and help her pay off this massive debt load. It would be smart in that it would help her get on board with his campaign, and would make many of Hillary's supporters more favorably disposed to him.

However. And this is a big however. There is one person responsible for this debt, and one person alone. Hillary Clinton. It was she who chose to fight on to the bitter end. It was she who chose to loan herself $11 million. And now Obama is supposed to help pay for something that actively hurt him? Obama is supposed to help pay for what is now being used in RNC attack ads? Obama is supposed to help pay Mark fucking Penn's massive salary? Fuck that.

The Clintons are rich. As in, really rich. She should just take a loss on the $11 million, and pay off the rest from their massive personal fortune. It's even a good moral lesson (something she is sorely in need of): quit once you've lost.

But no, I fully expect Obama to help her out. He's been maneuvered into a position where he kind of has to do something for her; he doesn't want to give her VP, but this might do the trick. Just makes me mad, that's all.

Rockin' right-wingers!

This post from Ed at ginandtacos had me in stitches:

2. John Miller of the National Review Online brings us “Rockin’ the Right: the 50 Greatest Conservative Rock Songs.” My first thought was, how in the hell are they going to wring 50 songs out of this? I mean, we can count on one hand the number of rock musicians who are NRO types. But John got around that pretty easily - by taking songs written by liberals about things that have nothing to do with conservatism and re-interpreting the lyrics! I’m sure that when the Who wrote “Won’t Get Fooled Again” or Living Colour wrote “Cult of Personality” they did so with Jonah Goldberg’s talking points in mind. The highlights: noted conservative Bob Dylan at #12 and an extraordinarily curious interpretation of the Plant Doing Way Too Much Acid lyrics to “Battle of Evermore” at #25.

This is possibly the most embarassing thing that anyone has ever written. If Miller finished the piece by revealing that he still wears Underoos and that he blew his bunkmate at summer camp in 1971, it still would not be any more humiliating. A crack team of humiliation artists, training and working exclusively in the medium of humiliation since birth, could not devise a way for John Miller to have more thoroughly humiliated himself. Wagonhalt. Pure wagonhalt.

Too bad I can’t find a video of Arnold’s election night victory party in 2004, as he stood on stage with dozens of his fellow millionaires singing “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (……anymooooooooorrrrrre). It would fit here.

Heh. The Right does have a bit of a problem with pop culture.

Well, there's always Ted Nugent. (Fair warning: Sean Hannity's a total piece of shit in that clip)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Cadman affair

There's been some strange developments in the bizarre case of Chuck Cadman, the late independent MP, whom opponents of Stephen Harper allege was offered a life insurance policy by the Tories in exchange for a crucial swing vote to bring down the Liberal government, all while he lay dying of cancer in hospital. Pretty morbid, and if true, it would raise significant concerns about the ethics of the Harper gang. The Tories claim that the only offer made was to help Cadman with campaign expenses should he decide to run as a Conservative.

Anyway, in the past couple days, an audio interview of Stephen Harper emerged in which he said, "I don't know the details. I know that um, there were discussions, um. But this is not for publication?", referring to the alleged offer to Cadman, and the Liberals have used this to claim that Harper was at least aware of a financial offer.

The only problem is that the Tories say the tape was doctored, and that Harper's answer was actually in reference to a different question. The interview was made by BC journalist Tom Zytaruk, who recently wrote a biography of Mr. Cadman, and he denies any attempt at manipulation.

I honestly don't know what to believe, but it doesn't seem as though the tape has proof that Harper knew about any life insurance offer to Cadman, nor does it seem that the tape was intentionally doctored to smear Harper, and the Government may be being a little over-defensive on this.

I often criticize US politics for being obsessed with media-driven narratives that have little relevance to the real issues that people care about, but in all fairness, I think Canadian politics is even less issue driven. Since the various parties are not as starkly defined by ideology, there is inevitably less emphasis on policy. Everyone knows that the Conservatives are not going to outlaw abortion or get rid of universal health care. The moderate views of most Canadians make such drastic action politically impossible. Likewise, everyone knows that the Liberals can be trusted to take a middling stance on practically every issue. As for the NDP...well, they'll never get elected.

What this amounts to, especially with minority governments, is much greater concern about conduct, rather than policy. The Cadman affair is only one example; the Harper government has also been criticized (quite rightly) for undue secrecy and a confrontational relationship with the press. Likewise, the previous Liberal government was brought down by a corruption scandal that was quite unrelated to any partisan issue.

More Iron Man and Batman!

Hee hee, I love these clips.

And yeah, just for the record, I liked Iron Man. But TDK will kick ass. Only 43 more days!

The fruits of torture

A few weeks ago, all charges were dropped against Mohammed al-Qahtani, a man described by the US as the 20th hijacker on 9/11. How could this be?

The US military gave no reason for its decision.

But lawyers for the defendant say they believe the charges were dropped because he "was tortured" under interrogation.


In 2006, he recanted accusations he had made against fellow detainees of having links to al-Qaeda.

His lawyer told Time magazine the statements had been extracted under torture. The Saudi was reportedly submitted to stress positions, sleep deprivation and humiliation at Guantanamo.

Officials said he had been subjected to a harsh interrogation authorised by former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Oh, shit! And that, ladies and gentlemen, is yet another reason why you don't torture people. Suddenly, any "evidence" that you gain through it is no good! Isn't that crazy? Whoops....

But wait, there's more!

The decision could have implications for the other five suspects, whose lawyers claim that similar treatment was meted out to them, the BBC's Adam Brookes reports from Washington.

The five suspects still facing trial at Guantanamo include the alleged mastermind of the plot, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is a bona-fide Super Terrorist. Just look at him:

Isn't he nasty looking? Just look at all the things he admitted to under "questioning":

1. The 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City that killed six people and injured more than 1,000.
2. The 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington using four hijacked commercial airliners. Nearly 3,000 people were killed.
3. A failed "shoe bomber" operation to bring down two US commercial airliners.
4. The October 2002 attack in Kuwait that killed two US soldiers.
5. The nightclub bombing in Bali, Indonesia that killed 202 people.
6. A plan for a "second wave" of attacks on major US landmarks after 9/11 attacks. Alleged targets included the Library Tower in Los Angeles, the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Plaza Bank building in Seattle and the Empire State Building in New York.
7. Plots to attack oil tankers and US naval ships in the Straits of Hormuz, the Straits of Gibraltar and in Singapore.
8. A plan to blow up the Panama Canal.
9. Plans to assassinate former US presidents including Jimmy Carter.
10. A plot to blow up suspension bridges in New York.
11. A plan to destroy the Sears Tower in Chicago by burning fuel trucks beneath or around it.
12. Plans to "destroy" Heathrow Airport, Canary Wharf and Big Ben in London.
13. A planned attack on "many" nightclubs in Thailand targeting US and British
14. A plot targeting the New York Stock Exchange and other US financial targets after 9/11.
15. A plan to destroy buildings in Elat, Israel, by using planes flying from Saudi Arabia.
16. Plans to destroy US embassies in Indonesia, Australia and Japan.
17. Plots to destroy Israeli embassies in India, Azerbaijan, the Philippines and Australia.
18. Surveying and financing an attack on an Israeli El-Al flight from Bangkok.
19. Sending several "mujahideen" into Israel to survey "strategic targets" with the
intention of attacking them.
20. The November 2002 suicide bombing of a hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, frequented by Israelis. At least 14 people were killed.
21. The failed attempt to shoot down an Israeli passenger jet leaving Mombasa airport with a surface-to-air missile on the same day as the hotel bombing.
22. Plans to attack US targets in South Korea, such as US military bases and nightclubs frequented by US soldiers.
23. Providing financial support for a plan to attack US, British and Jewish targets in Turkey.
24. Surveillance of US nuclear power plants in order to attack them.
25. A plot to attack Nato's headquarters in Europe.
26. Planning and surveillance in a 1995 plan (the "Bojinka Operation") to bomb 12 American passenger jets, most on trans-Pacific Ocean routes.
27. The planned assassination attempt against then-US President Bill Clinton during a mid-1990s trip to the Philippines.
28. "Shared responsibility" for a plot to kill Pope John Paul II while he visited the Philippines.
29. Plans to assassinate Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.
30. An attempt to attack a US oil company in Sumatra, Indonesia, "owned by the Jewish former [US] Secretary of State Henry Kissinger".
31. The beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped in Pakistan in January 2002 while researching Islamist militancy.

Wow, it's a good thing they caught him and stopped his reign of terror! Except....the "questioning" may have included a little torturing, possibly nullifying his confession. Ruh-roh!

Isn't the Bush administration brilliant?

UPDATE: Well, it seems KSM is hell-bent on getting the death penalty, so maybe this won't be as much of an issue.

Why is food so damn expensive?

Unless you live under a rock and subsist on phosphorous or something, you probably know that prices for basic foodstuffs have skyrocketed over the last year and a half. Staple foods, like wheat, rice and corn have doubled in price or even worse. There have been shortages and riots in many places across the world, as people struggle to get what they need. This Economist article from December has a pretty good run-down of the facts.

So, back to Econ 101. What causes a good to rise in price? There are three main possibilities, and in fact, all are at work here:

1. Increased demand. The world's population is increasing, and in much of the Third World, especially in growing economies like China, people are turning more and more toward a Western style diet, high in meat (which is highly inefficient compared to a more tradional Third World diet).

2. Speculation. Speculators believe the price of food will continue to rise, and therefore they bid up prices on the futures markets in the pursuit of short-term profit. They will never take delivery of the food produce they are bidding on, and thus their only goal is to make a little money in the short-term. This has led to calls from various NGOs for increased regulation in these markets.

3. Restricted supply. Much has been made of the bio-fuels industry and how it affects food production. What ethanol subsidies have done is take vast amounts of farmland that used to be used in food production and diverted it to bio-fuel production. Not only is otherwise-edible corn being wasted in this way, but it is also diverting land resources.

It takes nearly as much gasoline to produce this fuel as it purports to save. And the carbon output of ethanol is even higher than regular gasoline by the end of the production process (graph retrieved from Wikipedia):

(click the graph to see it more clearly)

There are other studies that say US ethanol does, in fact, reduce carbon emissions slightly, but the main point is that this is no silver bullet, and many of the bio-fuels listed here do nothing at all to help the environment or reduce the effects of global warming. And at the same time, this industry is starving poor people all across the world.

The US is the world's largest producer of corn, and thus, Bush's ill-advised ethanol initiatives have done the worst harm. But as the graph shows they are not the only country investing in this red herring. Canada has also put billions of dollars into ethanol subsidies.

So food prices are rising because of increased demand, future market speculators, and reduced production resulting largely from the bio-fuels industry. There's nothing we can do about the first reason, other than to change our diets, but the latter two are fixable.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

She's dropping out

Yes, Hillary. Really.

I can't believe it either. But good for her. Would have been better last night though...

What has to happen now is this:

She's going to congratulate Obama and say she's supporting him. That is a given. But what she also needs to do is appear on stage with him, give him a big hug, say that he won fair and square, and say that it's okay for her supporters to get behind him. Say that it was a tough campaign, but all that's behind us now. And now what is needed is a unified Democratic party to push back against the catastrophic legacy of George W. Bush, and to beat Bush's 3rd term, otherwise known as John McCain.

And Obama has to say even more nice things about Hillary. He has to commend her on her tenacity, her unwillingness to compromise on her principles (it doesn't matter if it's true or not; that's what her supporters believe), and all her many achievements. Magnanimity overload is what is called for here. And they have to give the impression that they are united, or their supporters will not follow suit.

Movies on your hard drive

Apparently, you can now rent (and buy) movies on iTunes Canada.

That's actually pretty cool. I wonder what the big movie rental chains think of that? $4.99 to rent the new releases (an extra dollar for HD) isn't too bad, but I haven't tested it out yet, and thus I'm not sure how easy it is to watch them on your big screen TV.

As for the entire idea of downloadable media, I'm not sold on it at all. There's just something about having a nice big collection of DVDs (or Blu-rays) that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Having a bunch of movies on my hard drive doesn't give me the same feeling, and I would always be afraid of losing them in a freak hard drive wipe or something. I think packaged media is here to least for now.

Reaction to McCain's disastrous speech

Hee, even Fox News can't think of anything nice to say.

Weekly BSG blogging

Preview for this week's episode:

Looks a lot more interesting than last week's. Only two left until the break, but don't despair, frakheads! There are going to be some webisodes bridging the two halves, and the spinoff Caprica pilot will premiere in the fall. And finally, there are plans in the works for three additional TV movies after the series ends. :)

Congratulations, America

For nominating the first African-American for president. It truly is a milestone.

Obama's speech was excellent, and I wish I could link to it, but it hasn't yet been posted on Youtube. In any case, check my Obama TV widget over there on the right if you haven't seen it; I assume it will eventually show up there.

What else can I say? Well, I'm disappointed with Hillary's decision to prolong this, but that's nothing new. And if it weren't for her millions of supporters, I would say Obama should just ignore her at this point and focus on McCain. Don't meet with her, don't talk to her. Just ignore this disgusting, tedious narcissist and move on.

But unfortunately, there is this nasty business to come of bringing most of her supporters back into the fold. Obama will need them to win the general election. That is a fact. He was smart tonight to praise her up and down for her talents and contributions to America, but it isn't going to be that easy to defuse her and her fans. She made that perfectly clear.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

That's all folks

Obama's got it. McCain's speech was horrible, and should give everyone a lot of confidence about the Dems' chances in November.

Now the only question is what will Hillary do? Will she bow out with a little bit of dignity, or will she vow to take the fight all the way to the convention, tearing the party apart in the process?

Updates to follow...

UPDATE 10:28 PM: Looks like South Dakota will indeed go for Hillary. Don't really understand it, since Obama has won all the surrounding states, some by huge margins. But whatever. He looks set to win Montana at least.

UPDATE 10:35 PM: She speaks; so far, it's relatively classy. She has congratulated Obama for the race he has run.

UPDATE 10:39 PM: Uh oh. Now she's talking about popular vote and the electoral college. Christ.

UPDATE 10:45 PM: She doesn't want the 18 million people who voted for her to remain "invisible". Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. Prove me wrong, Hillary....

UPDATE 10:50 PM: "I will be making no decisions tonight". Nope, she's going to keep trying to blackmail Obama for the VP slot.

UPDATE 11:34 PM: As he usually does, Obama is spending most of his speech attacking John McCain (quite skillfully), and he began by saying nice things about Hillary Clinton.