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Monday, May 31, 2004

Coalition of disgrace 

Mike Wilson writes a good blog reminding us of how the Reform and the Bloc worked together in 1992 to defeat the Charlottetown Accord.
Sadly, today the Reform/Conservative party returned to it's old ally, making it official that Stephen Harper will seek to form a coalition of disgrace with the Bloc Quebecois in order to gain power in Ottawa.
I like that term, coalition of disgrace -- I hadn't been able to articulate how dismayed and distressed I felt when this alliance first began to be talked about in the news.
These Conservatives parade their vitrue -- but how can they call themselves principled if they would join with the Bloc just to grab onto power? Its disgusting.

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The Boomerang Effect 

This was a front page story on today's Washington Post: From Bush, Unprecedented Negativity
Kerry is getting respect from reporters. I've noticed lots of regular coverage on the AP wire reporting his policy speeches. Even more important, though all the negative stuff and the lying to make the opponent look bad worked with McCain and with Gore, its not tripping up Kerry. Rather, its boomeranging on Bush.
I think reporters and editors are ashamed of themselves for how gullible they were about Gore and the Iraq war. They'll never admit it, but now they're reporting that Bush, Cheney and the RNC lie, no matter how much the White House hates them saying it. Threats about being cut off by the Bush campaign no longer work with the media, now that Bush needs them more than they need him. Better yet, all the lying has produced additional coverage about WHY they are lying.
Scott Reed, who ran Robert J. Dole's presidential campaign . . . said the Bush campaign has little choice but to deliver a constant stream of such negative charges. With low poll numbers and a volatile situation in Iraq, Bush has more hope of tarnishing Kerry's image than promoting his own. "The Bush campaign is faced with the hard, true fact that they have to keep their boot on his neck and define him on their terms," Reed said. That might risk alienating some moderate voters or depressing turnout, "but they don't have a choice," he said.

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True believers 

Gay-rights activists denied communion
The priests in Chicago were gutless and anti-Christian, but the priests in St. Paul were true to their faith. Its too bad that some will see it the other way around.

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The man with a mustache is here 

This LA Times story Some Find Ties to CIA, Baath Party Worrisome provides some background on Iraq's newest leader, Iyad Allawi, who is described as "worrisome" for people who want a democratic Iraq. So why pick him at all?
. . . one Western diplomat said that Allawi's Baathist past, his prominence as an Iraqi exile leader and his ties to the CIA had all kept him from being the preferred candidate of either the Bush administration or Brahimi. Appointing Allawi to the premiership, the diplomat said, 'hardly communicates the message of a clean break with the past,' that the international community has been pushing for as a sign that the planned U.S. return of sovereignty to Iraqis on June 30 is more than symbolic. 'He's probably not much more popular inside Iraq than Chalabi,' said Judith Yaphe, a specialist on Iraq. 'There are going to be charges that he's corrupt because he has been supported by the CIA for a long time. But nobody's going to be pure.' In the end, she said, the U.S. agreed because 'there was a potential for the Iraqi Governing Council to try to stiff us.' And the U.S., with the clock ticking toward its self-imposed deadline, needed to find a candidate that the council would back. In the end, Baram said, 'any politician who would take this job of prime minister will be on parole and be under scrutiny to make sure he is not using the job to secure his political future.'
And if it turned out that he WAS using the job to secure his own future, then what is the US or even the UN going to do? Another 'regime change'? Another invasion? Forget about it.
Here's the strong man with a mustache, and the US is agreeable because they don't have any other choices anymore, and this guy appears to be a tiny bit more pro-American than Al Sadr. As I have said before, Iraq will never have actual free elections -- Allawi's top priority is going to be to resurrect the army and maintain oil production -- he's not going to be worrying about setting up a commission to draft a constitution, or establishing a voter registration system, or developing a legislative assembly.
Here are my predictions for how it will go -- I think its likely that he will first work out a deal with the religious and tribal and Kurdish leaders to use their militias for security, basically turning over to them the troublesome and problematic cities while he gains control over the money and oil production revenue -- why would he want to be running the cities now anyway, considering how chaotic they are? He will demand that US troops leave the country, and the US will be happy to comply. Then as the city militias collapse from overwork and underfunding, while Allawi's new Iraqi army grows and rearms, he will be able to reassert his authority in the cities too -- and work out some kind of federal relationship with the Kurds. The end result, in about a year or two, and provided he doesn't get assassinated along the way, will be a new dictatorship for Iraq.
And I predict that Abu Gharib will never be torn down -- its too useful both as a symbol for Allawi and as a facility for anyone who dares to ask why there is no democracy in Iraq.

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Sunday, May 30, 2004

Watch Prom Queen on Tuesday night 

Watch CTV for Prom Queen on Tuesday, June 1 at 9pm ET
Its about the Marc Hall case, where a boy had to sue the school board to take his date to his high school prom. So please watch it -- apparently CTV is getting hatemail, and the production company's offices were trashed the other day, so we need to prove that there is a wide audience for a story like this.
There was an old episode of MASH on the other night when Hawkeye is dealing with a gay soldier. And it struck me how much things have changed in the media, how stories like Marc Hall's are seen now as human rights stories, not sexuality stories. It used to be that "gay" stories were actually about straight people, because the filmmakers assumed that the only important or interesting part of the story was how a straight person dealt with a gay/lesbian person -- the "villian" often seemed to be the gay person himself or herself, who had made everyone else so uncomfortable. Oh well, I suppose it was a start. But now, "gay" storylines are about how a gay person feels himself or herself, and usually in relation to a civil rights issue, and the "villian" is the homophobe. This has changed in a very short time, really.
But there is still enough hate to go around, unfortunately. PFLAG has lots of resources, by the way, for anyone who is gay or who has gay friends or children. I once read somewhere that PFLAG says that the best way to end prejudice against gay people is to know one.

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Saturday, May 29, 2004

Reform in sheep's clothing 

The Globe and Mail: Martin comes out swinging in Quebec
Right on, Paul
"We will not plunge Quebeckers and other Canadians back into the unity battles and language struggles of old," Mr. Martin said. "We find ourselves with a separatist leader like Gilles Duceppe who is afraid to speak of separatism during an election campaign. Then we have the two supposed national leaders in Stephen Harper and Jack Layton who would open old wounds and fan the flames of division. We don't need to go down that road and we don't want to go down that road."
I feel the same way about the divisive issues that the Reformer Conservatives would raise again in Ottawa if they ever got into power -- the charter, abortion rights, gay rights, women's rights, bilingualism, multiculturalism, environmental protection, social services, higher education funding, Aboriginal funding, would all swirl down the drain.
Ontario may not believe me -- but Ontario doesn't know Reform like we know them here in the West. And Reform is who the Conservatives ARE -- Joe Clark was right, he knows them.
Don't ever think, Ontario, that you're just sending your own premier a little message by voting Conservative this time, and that the Conservatives will hold back. They will swagger into Ottawa and act as though they have a mandate to do anything they want. And don't think that it really won't make any difference to Canadian policies if the Conservatives are in power -- if you thought the Bush neocons were bad for ideological rigidity, just wait until you see Reform in action.
Here is the 2003 Reform website from BC. Quotations from its platform and principles:
Special interest groups should provide their own financing and have no access to public funding . . Reform BC supports the elimination of the “Charter of Rights and Freedoms” in its entirety, and the return of the common law . . . Transfer payments would be in reverse. The federal government would no longer control the decision-making process regarding the amount returned to the provinces. Instead, provinces would decide the amount to contribute to the federal government in return for federal services . . . Provincial governments should be given exclusive jurisdiction over consumption taxes, including GST revenues. We need to implement a comprehensive, fair and simple single rate (flat) tax . . . Decreasing the government sector wage bill by at least 15 percent through a variety of measures, including staff reductions, privatization initiatives, wage policies, “no-strike” public sector labour policies, increased efficiency and program cuts . . . Marketing boards should be eliminated and replaced by voluntary cooperatives if warranted by the nature of the market or product . . . Reform BC supports greater choice in education through the introduction of a voucher system within both a public and private school system . . . the terms of employment for public sector employees should exclude the right to strike . . . Canada is not officially a bilingual country. It is bilingual only in the House of Commons. Reform BC believes official bilingualism is inappropriate in British Columbia . . . The introduction of a “Three Strikes and You’re Out” policy. Under this policy, anyone who has been convicted three times of an indictable offence would automatically receive a sentence of a minimum of 20 years, with no possibility for parole . . . A provincial (or preferably, national) referendum on the reinstatement of capital punishment . . . We will assert and defend provincial regulatory jurisdiction over firearms, to the exclusion of federal regulatory jurisdiction . . . Members of the judiciary should be subject to recall . . . Reform BC supports the abolition of the Human Rights Commission . . . The Reform BC supports the abolition of parole and parole boards, since the justice system already makes adequate provision for time off for good behaviour . . . Canada was built on a foundation guided by fundamental values and principles which supported the value and dignity of the individual and the importance of the family unit. The Party defines “family” as individuals related by blood, marriage or adoption, and defines “marriage” as the legal union of two people of the opposite sex. . .
Here is the Reform 1993 campaign platform -- their policy on bilingualism hasn't changed.

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Friday, May 28, 2004

Bilmon is back, with a vengence 

Billmon
The Whiskey Bar is open again, with a brilliant post describing the totality of US failure in Iraq.
So this is what failure looks like -- and, realistically, it's much too late to look to the UN or NATO or our Arab "allies" to save us from the consequences of the administration's folly. Strategic failure on such a grand scale is obviously going to have huge repercussions, not just in Iraq, not just in the Middle East, and not just for the war against Al Qaeda. Much more than 9/11, a U.S. defeat in Iraq . . . has at least the potential to change, if not everything, then lots of things -- from the U.S. political balance of power, to the future of NATO, to the health of the global economy. Old debates -- about the limits of U.S. power and the consequences of U.S. decline -- may be resurrected. America's attractiveness as a destination for foreign investment -- the main prop beneath our current prosperity -- could be undermined. But the ultimate consequences of the Iraq fiasco are really almost impossible to predict. In other words, while we may not be looking into the abyss (to borrow Gen. Hoar's phrase) we are certainly peering out over a dark and fog-covered landscape. Still, we do what we can. So over the next few weeks, I'm going to . . .focus on these unknowns -- Rumsfeld's unknown unknowns, so to speak. The most critical of these, of course, is Iraq itself, and the U.S. position in the Middle East (the most immediate casualty of Shrub's boneheaded play). This sucking chest wound - and what, if anything might be done to heal it - should be the topic of my next post.
Rock on, Bilmon.
When John Kerry is elected, he is going to face a hell of a mess. Here are the first steps as I see them. Regardless of who is in control of Congress, Kerry can:
1. Apologize to the world for America's 9.ll hysteria.
2. Close Gitmo and every other CIA and Homeland Security secret prison in America and around the world. Tell the military and the CIA to put up or shut up -- if they can charge people, do so. If they cannot, let them go home.
3. Host a summit of world leaders and the foreign service staff to announce a new era in international relations and security cooperation.
4. Put Gore in charge of Homeland Security with a mandate to focus on all of the clear and present dangers which that department has avoided. Require the CIA and the FBI to brief him every single day.
5, Send Clinton to the Middle East, with mandate and money for a Palestinian homeland. Then send him to North Korea to make a deal.

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Arar error 

POGGE has a great post exploring some of the issues around the Arar enquiry and why assertions of the people's right NOT to know should be an election issue. POGGE refers to a Globe and Mail article which quotes government lawyers on the party line: other countries will not want to swap secrets if they think their information (will) . . . be disseminated for general consumption by the Canadian public.
I think one reason governments don't want to reveal intelligence is that, unlike James Bond, we're not finding airliners hidden under a sheet in the ocean, or getting tapes of Blofield's meetings with SPECTRE. In reality, I think our intelligence sources in the radical community are often pretty poor, and their data is sketchy and uncertain and open to interpretation or to willful abuse, basically wishful thinking. The Iraq WMD "intelligence", for example, if it has been publicized, would have been demonstrated as inflated before the war even started, because the various agencies would have realized that their multiple sources were not multiple at all, just multiple copies of a single source, and that much of their so-called data was based on fraud. (And when the US refused to share the details with Chretien's government, Chretien, to his everlasting credit, smelled a rat and kept our boys out of that morass.)
In the Arar case, what has come out so far indicates that they were just so convinced that Canada is a hotbed of terrorism and so eager to find a terrorist that they were suspicious of Arar because he associated with other people of whom they were also suspicious -- sort of presumed guilt by association. If indeed they lacked any actual evidence against him, then they inflated their own activities to impress the Americans -- a phone call, perhaps, where someone said Yes, we've had him under suveillance, we have our suspicions about him, he seems untrustworthy, we've been watching him and he's part of the loop -- not realizing the new American Gitmo-inspired hands-free policy would throw him to the Syrian wolves without a second thought or any follow-up review of actual evidence. And perhaps this is the secret they don't want to discuss in open court.

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What does Layton think he is doing? 

Layton widens attack on Paul Martin to include two provincial premiers
Is Jack Layton actually a nutcase, or does he just play one on TV?
Jack Layton refused to repent Thursday for the attack he launched on Paul Martin from a church pulpit, instead adding two provincial politicians to his list of sinners who put poor people on the streets. Layton added fuel to the political firestorm he's ignited by saying former Ontario premier Mike Harris shares some of the blame with Prime Minister Martin for increasing homelessness in Ontario. Layton then went further, saying Quebec Premier Jean Charest is heading down the same path with cuts to social housing.
Well, I suppose our premier, Lorne Calvert, is safe, being NDP himself, though he's not exactly overspending on social services these days. But Ralph Klein better watch out, and Gordon Campbell, and . . . come to think of it, they're probably ALL killers according to Layton, frittering away public money on all that health care stuff and highways and education and environmental protection and economic development and First Nations reserves and foreign aid, when they could have been building houses.

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Thursday, May 27, 2004

Apres moi, le deluge 

Conservative language critic resigns but not before his message got sent -- and just listen to Harper's so-called position:
Although Mr. Harper said he does not envision changes at this time, he laid out his own philosophy that communities where French is spoken first are best equipped to keep the language alive. "We have to provide minority service where language warrants, but I think obviously we do it in a way that makes sure that strong communities stay strong."He said his party would make changes to the bilingualism policy in the country only if there was a wide consensus in his own caucus and among parliamentarians.
So what the heck does that mean? I think it means that, if Harper is elected, all the old-line unilingual Reform/Social Credit types from BC and Alberta will be flooding into Ottawa, and we'll start hearing the 30-year-old "lets get the French off the cornflake boxes" crap again.

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Thanks, Alfonso 

The Globe and Mail - Gagliano sues Martin and Martin says "thanks!" Regardless of how the lawsuit turns out, there isn't a single Canadian who thinks Martin was wrong to fire Gagliano (or maybe there is one, but even Jean Chretien will have the brains to shut up about it.)


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Feeling a draft? 

Hackworth's column about the exodus of people from the Army states that "Unless so-called Army short tours in the badlands of Iraq and Afghanistan become manageable based on the number of troops available – right now the Army is trying to do the work of 14 divisions with 10 under-strength, active-duty divisions – we’ll see a mass exodus from the Green Machine and the inevitable return of the draft."
Well, of course there will be a return of the draft in the US --does anyone doubt it? They're just waiting until after the election. It's quite clear that the US armed forces are in serious trouble because they are badly understaffed for the missions they are involved in around the world even now -- and don't forget the thousands injured in Iraq, too.
If Bush is elected, the draft will be back by next spring. If Kerry is elected, there will still be tremendous pressure from the military to bring in a draft, at least for some specialities. I'm not sure whether he would do this or not.
And then Canada will get the draft dodgers again, which would be OK -- having met several over the years, they were pretty good immigrants to have, hardworking, productive, etc, so I have no doubt they will be again.

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Another year for the beef ban 

Opening the border to beef? Ain't gonna happen. This story Ranchers in U.S. fight for beef ban is not good news. I think we can forget about live cattle or even beef products crossing the border, likely until next spring -- the US beef growers are happy with the way things are now, and the packers don't have enough clout to fight both them and the consumers union. The Canadian cattle industry has had their own 9.11, and they can talk all they like about an integrated market, it isn't integrated any more. If we want to sell our beef products, we are just going to have to test every single animal before its meat is used. I know, I know, its a complete waste of money, but that's the way it is. And there's not ever going to be a US market for our older cattle now.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Today's dumb and dumberer watch 

Lots of dumb stuff on the campaign trail today --
First, we see the end of the NDP in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver for sure, and likely vast swaths of rural Canada too -- doesn't Layton realize that, with real estate as high as it is in those cities, an inheritance tax on "any parent-to-child wealth transfers that amount to more than $1-million" will hit thousands of people with a house, a pension plan and some insurance? And he can say what he likes about farm land not being affected -- so if a farmer sells his land to a housing developer, and then dies, what are the chances that his estate would still be considered as farmland?
Then there is Harper, promising Atlantic Canada to end the clawback for oil and gas revenues. This may make the East Coast happy, but what will Ontario and Quebec and Alberta think, which is where the funds will come from?
And finally there is Martin, who is going to deal with high gas prices, yes sir! He's going to "really ask" OPEC to increase production at the G-8 in Georgia. Yes, that will do it, Paul!

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RBI 

Thanks to POGGE for the link to this post about Al Gore's speech today -- Explananda: Al Gore at NYU
I'm so glad some of the high-profile Democrats are speaking out now -- Kennedy, of course, and Pelosi last week, now Gore this week. Though it is important for Kerry to get better known in America, Liberal Oasis noted some time ago that they had to stop letting Kerry carry all the water in attacking Bush, and being the only one subject to the RNC attacks in return. At least some other democrats are standing up to the plate now and swinging, even occasionally taking a hit for the team. Carrying on the baseball analogy, it sounds like Gore at least got an RBI out of this speech.
Gore talked in particular about how Bush and his administration had let Americans down by their lawless approach. And finally, finally!, Gore has pinpointed what I always considered to be the creepiest, most shocking line ever spoken by a political leader, from Bush's 2003 State of the Union address - President Bush set the tone for our attitude for suspects in his State of the Union address. He noted that more than 3,000 "suspected terrorists" had been arrested in many countries and then he added, "and many others have met a different fate. Let's put it this way: they are no longer a problem to the United States and our allies."



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Youth - wasted once again on the young 

The Globe and Mail: Few answers as to why young people disengaged
You know, this kind of story appears in the first week of every single election campaign, federal provincial municipal. Its because reporters don't have much else to write about, because no polls have yet been done and the platforms are just getting filled out.
But I do get tired of reading about those poor, poor 20-somethings, who are just so, so bored with politics. First, who ever gave them the impression that politics should be roses roses all the way, rave on Paul, rock on Stephen? It takes some work to read over all the platforms and consider candidate qualifications and find out where your polling station is and actually go and vote -- its not supposed to be fun, fun, fun.
And my, Im' getting grumpy already, aren't I?
That said, I must also say that MuchMusic does a terrific job of covering elections -- during the last federal election, my husband and I agreed that they had done a better job than just about any other network in covering caididates, issues, voting patterns, etc. etc. , sock puppet and all, particularly on election night.

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The press conference 

So here's the transcript of the big press conference -- it isn't even on the Washington Post website but I found the transcript on CNN.
And how is the FBI going to respond to all this chatter, this horrendous terror threat. They're going to INTERVIEW PEOPLE -- yes, the seven so-called terrorists listed at the prese conference can quake in their boots - might as well give up. As was noted at the conference, Tom Ridge wasn't there, just Ashcroft and Mueller. The reason for Ridge's absence, apparently, was so that he wouldn't have to answer any questions about why the threat level is not being raised.
QUESTION: If there's credible intelligence suggesting the United States is going to be attacked between now -- there is a plan to attack the United States between now and the election, why not raise the threat level?
ASHCROFT: We believe that the kind of activities that are engendered in this task force kind of information which is developed.
(sic - and no, I don't understand it either) And the Homeland Security Council, led by Secretary Ridge, would make such a decision, and for me to try to speak for them at this time would be inappropriate.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2004

The sky falls yet again 

U.S. Warns Of Al Qaeda Threat This Summer Once again, a bunch of unnameable officials are saying that everyone had better watch out. Why does this remind me of the children's song -- they're here, they're there, they're everywhere. So beware!
And note the timing -- key graf: ". . . al Qaeda operatives are pleased with the change in government resulting from the March 11 terrorist bombings in Spain and may want to affect elections in the United State . . . " Yeah, sure. The terrorists want you to vote for Kerry but good Americans won't be fooled, they'll vote for Bush just to show those terrorists who's boss. And Bush will keep you safe -- he's focusing on terror again now, didn't you know.

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Mea culpa from the NYT 

From the Editors: The Times and Iraq "We consider the story of Iraq's weapons, and of the pattern of misinformation, to be unfinished business. And we fully intend to continue aggressive reporting aimed at setting the record straight." Well, its about time.


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It is so difficult to be sultan! 

Thanks to Atrios for this quote from a Washington Post story on how the Republicans are falling apart For Republicans, a House (And Senate) Divided
"It's extremely difficult to govern when you control all three branches of government." (attributed to Speaker Hastert's spokesman John Feehery)
Reminded me of the great quote in The Wind and The Lion, when the sultan complains to the American ambassador - "It is so difficult to be sultan! You Americans do not understand."
Ah, yes, the burden of command, the lonliness of leadership, when you don't have any excuses for not being able to get things done, other than your own lack of ideas and competence. Its terrible when you cannot blame anything on anybody.
This is a problem that parliamentary systems do not have, because the Prime Minister, by definition, has to have the support of a majority of parliament. Therefore no politician can complain about government paralysis, and there are no excuses for a government not to get its legislative agenda through. It requires the Prime Minister to exert firm control over the Cabinet ministers who are bringing forward legislation, so that a coherent and achievable legislative agenda can be enacted -- in other words, in a parliamentary system the government COULD do just about anything it wants, but this doesn't mean it WILL do it all. There will still be lots and lots of things that aren't high enough priority, or are too controversial, or are too complicated to enact, or that it cannot afford to pay for. Prime ministers must ruthlessly limit what their cabinet ministers want to do and must force ministers to focus on government priorities, or they don't last very long.
In the American system, when voters frequently elect one party to the governorship or the presidency and the other party to the House or Senate, governing requires he skills of horse trading and deal making, taking another political party's good idea and getting your own party to support it, advancing your own party's good ideas by doing quid quo pros with the other guys -- these skills are seen by American politicians as the normal way of governing.
When one party faces the ususual situation of having actual control of the government and legislative agenda, like the Republicans do now, it requires a different type of governing style, one which can balance and reconcile competing interests and present a unified legislative program which meets the needs of the public and which coordinates with the tax and revenue policies through which it is financed. These are skills that many American politicians have never developed -- particularly, I dare say, today's national Republicans, who spent the last decade focusing on a narrow and rigidly ideological right-wing agenda that is unpopular, expensive, and inadequate to meet the problems faced by the Americans today. Thus we see the President introducing scattershot legislation (drug benefits, education reform) and making scattershot policy announcements (Mars, immigration, etc) with no followthrough, while the house and senate Republicans make speeches in committees about how torturing Iraqis really isn't so bad.

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Monday, May 24, 2004

The grandfather joke 

Bob Herbert's newest column The New York Times > Opinion > Did Somebody Say War?:
There's a terrible sense of dread filtering across America at the moment and it's not simply because of the continuing fear of terrorism and the fact that the nation is at war. It's more frightening than that. It grows out of the suspicion that we all may be passengers in a vehicle that has made a radically wrong turn and is barreling along a dark road, with its headlights off and with someone behind the wheel who may not know how to drive.
For some odd reason, this reminds me of the grandfather joke "When I die, I want to be sleeping peacefully like my grandfather, not screaming in terror like his passengers."

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Sunday, May 23, 2004

And they're off! 

Martin makes it official: Canada votes on June 28
Its hard to avoid the horserace analogies, but I hope we will be able to do so this time. Portraying elections as horseraces is a vivid image which becomes habitual -- Martin's in the lead but Harper is preathing down his neck. Now Layton makes his move but may have moved too soon, etc. etc. -- and it has a certain applicability in our relatively short political campaigns.
But if elections are horseraces then what are the voters? Just spectators? We have, of course, much more stake in the election outcome than do racetrack bettors. I know the national media focus is always on "who's winning" and voters are interested too, but of much more relevance than national opinion polls is to keep up with what is happening in individual ridings. The Globe has what looks to be a pretty good Election page set up, which I have bookmarked.
Personally, I think I am intending to vote Liberal in this election, for the first time in about 20 years, because I think Martin is going to make a difference in how Parliament and government functions, and I think he expects voters to be grownups, too, with a variety of positions and beliefs on a variety of issues, instead of treating us like blissfully-ignorant sheep, knee-jerk robots or loud-mouthed protesters, the attitude that Chretien and the other party leaders seem to have about Canadians.

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People of Mass Destruction 

Paul Krugman's latest column The Search for P.M.D.'s asks about the suicide bombers in Iraq. He notes several aspects that I have wondered about, too -- who are these young men who are so willing, so eager to die? What are they doing it for? Who are they doing it for? And what do they hope to accomplish? Nobody seems to know. There's no apparent organization to which they belong, no one seeks credit for their acts, there seems to be no apparent knowledge of who they are or what their families think of what they have done. Krugman writes ". . . these people are utter nihilists . . . The people running the suicide operations in Iraq, whether they are working independently or are just one organization, don't even claim credit, let alone make any demands." Krugman concludes " They just want to ensure that America fails to produce anything decent in Iraq and they are ready to sacrifice all Iraqis for that end."
But I am not so sure their goals are that strategic or comprehensible. The only thing I can compare it to is the monks who set themselves on fire in south Vietnam and the kamicaze pilots during WWII. In both these cases, their goal was primarily religious, a demonstration to their God of the purity of their faith contrasted with the corruptness of the earthly regime they were fighting.
Such intensity of religious feeling makes these tactics impossible to stop by "secular" means. Now the FBI is warning that suicide bombers might attack in the United States. Its such a useless warning -- police are supposed to keep an eye out for "people wearing bulky overcoats in the heat of summer, people with electric wires sticking out of their clothing, or people smelling of chemicals" but what are Americans supposed to do if such a person is spotted -- run screaming for the exits?
It would be better to talk to Muslim religious leaders, at a high and sustained level, about how this kind of fanaticism can be dealt with -- though considering the track record of the FBI (Waco, Ruby Ridge) and the Bush administration (some of whom seem to be actually trying to turn this into a religious war of Judaeo-Christians against Islam) this may not be a very realistic suggestion.
UPDATE -- maybe they really do want a religious war - read this article by Sydney Blumenthal about General Boykin.

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Friday, May 21, 2004

Chalabi, master spy? 

Agency: Chalabi group was front for Iran
" . . . one of the most sophisticated and successful intelligence operations in history . . . " Well, I should say. In 70 years of trying, did the KGB ever in its wildest dreams think it could trick the United States into going to war against another country, at a cost of 500 killed, 10,000 wounded, $200 billion?
If this is true, if the Bush and Blair administrations really were played for such fools by the Iranians, then Bush, Cheney and Blair will likely have no choice except to resign. I think that means the Secretary of State (Powell?) would become president, but I'm not sure.

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Thursday, May 20, 2004

The List  

Oh, those goofy Americans, always kidding around! AP reports on the newest security toy U.S. database contractor gave authorities names of 120,000 'likely terrorists' There's this new database, see, that can easily and cheaply pick out a terrorist at a hundred paces, just by filling in a few facts - age, gender, ethnicity, credit history, complaints from the neighbours, places you go and people you see, and all that, and hey presto, you get The List of everyone who's likely a terrorist.
But of course, they're not actually USING The List, they say, so there isn't anything to worry about here -- and if, by chance, they ever did actually use The List, well, it would only be used by trained, professional investigators, so really there's no problem -- they're just having a little fun with it, so don't worry, be happy. Its not as though anyone would ABUSE such The List, after all, like by filling in any false data, any data that hadn't been checked rigorously by a trained professional, so there's no need for alarm.
And of course any truly innocent person would easily be able to prove their innocence in spite of how suspicious it would be if their name did came up on The List . . . of course, if their name kept on coming up on The List again and again, well, that might be a little more suspicious, even if they do SAY its just someone else with the same name . . . or if they maybe LOOK a little shifty-eyed or if their neighbours THINK they act funny, like maybe if they're not friendly enough, or maybe too friendly, well, that's suspicious . . . or if they CAN'T prove they are innocent and that it's all a big mistake, well, that's REALLY suspicious . . . so maybe then we should arrest them anyway, and send all of them to this big camp, where they can do all sorts of useful work and they only have to stay there until they can prove how innocent they are, just to make sure the rest of us will always be safe. . .

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Call for resignations 

Wow -- I have never seen such an article before -- Salon.com | A call to conscience
Former diplomat Roger Morris says American foreign service officers should resign rather than serve the Bush administration any longer.
You serve the worst foreign policy regime by far in the history of the republic. The havoc you feel inside government has inflicted unprecedented damage on national interests and security. As never before since the United States stepped onto the world stage, we have flouted treaties and alliances, alienated friends, multiplied enemies, lost respect and credibility on every continent. You see this every day. And again, whatever your politics, those of you who have served other presidents know this is an unparalleled bipartisan disaster. In its militant hubris and folly, the Bush administration has undone the statesmanship of every government before it, and broken faith with every presidency, Democratic and Republican (even that of Bush I), over the past half century. In Afghanistan, where we once held the promise of a new ideal, we have resumed our old alliance with warlords and drug dealers, waging punitive expeditions and propping up puppets in yet another seamy chapter of the 'Great Game,' presuming to conquer the unconquerable. In Iraq . . . we are living a foreign policy nightmare, locked in a cycle of violence and seething, spreading hatred continued at incalculable cost, escaped only with hazardous humiliation abroad and bitter divisions at home. Debacle is complete.
I have worked off and on in the civil service for the last 30 years, for both NDP and Social Credit governments. Having worked for Social Credit, I know how soul-destroying it is to work for people who do not respect the work done by the civil service -- ultimately, this attitude disrespects the public on whose behalf you are working.

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More awful photos from the Shank 

Videos Amplify Picture of Violence (washingtonpost.com)
I wonder if the subtext for "Camp Redemption" is actually "The Shawshank Redemption" (Stephen King's novella about a totally corrupt and brutal prison nicknamed The Shank.)>

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Wednesday, May 19, 2004

I see gay people 

When you see those great Boston photos of the incredible couples, with their proud parents and laughing children, it will make everyone realize that gay people are just people, like everyone else only happier.
One point made by PFLAG is that knowing someone who is gay is a critical component to changing prejudiced attitudes. Now with the Boston photos, like with the San Fransisco photos before this, millions of people are seeing openly gay people at their best, and maybe for the first time. And realizing they are not weird, odd, or the least bit dangerous -- in fact, Martha, they look just like us! In fact, maybe they're even happier than we were when we got married! I think these happy photos will make a difference.
Liberal Oasis's article Don't Worry, Get Married sums up the political impact of some of the anti-gay ballot initiatives this fall, which may not be what the anti-gay politicians anticipated -- ". . . just because the Bushies may be behind these under-the-radar moves, doesn't mean they are going to work. LO previously noted that Ohio's GOP Gov. -- who probably has a better feel for his state than Rove -- signaled that he didn't think the issue was politically beneficial, when jobs are of paramount concern. Now, Sunday's NY Times reported that even the Christian Right leadership is dumbfounded at the giant yawn they're getting 'from the pews'. 'Our side is basically asleep right now,' Matt Daniels, founder of the Alliance for Marriage, which helped draft the proposed amendment, said in an interview last week. The Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, said 'I don't see any traction. The calls aren't coming in and I am not sure why.' Let's review: emphasizing opposition to gay marriage alienates the swing, and bores the base. So relax and bask in the glory of this week's historic marriages, free of fear of a November backlash."
If anything, maybe the backlash will come the other way, when people start to question why anti-gay politicians are trying to demonize such nice, normal gay people.

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He's ba-a-a-ak! 

Yahoo! News - Johnson Tosses Perfect Game Vs. Braves
Great to see Randy Johnson back in his old form again. Sometimes I wonder at how lucky I have been in the last ten years to have seen the greatest athletes who ever played in their sport -- people like Tiger Woods, Wayne Gretzky, Randy Johnson -- its a great time to be a fan.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Pulling back from the heart of darkness 

Great story about what really happened in Fallouja -- Deadly April Battle Became a Turning Point for Fallouja This LA Times story tells how the Marines saved Fallouja, and themselves, from disaster. Key paragraph "With a potential bloodbath looming, Marine leaders adopted a mantra: "We don't want to turn Fallouja into Dresden" . . . Three days after that April 26 firefight, the remarkable deal was cut: The Marine leadership made a pact with the ex-generals. The Marines pulled out, violence ceased, further carnage was averted, and both sides declared victory."

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Monday, May 17, 2004

Why I am against the Iraq war 

Just wanted to clarify something raised in some recent comments.
Personally, I am more concerned about what the Iraq War is doing to Americans and the west, than to Iraqis.
Its great for Iraq and, I think, somewhat beneficial for that region of the world, that Saddam and his awful sons are gone. Israel may be a little safer now that Saddam's malign influence over Hamas and Hezbolla has been removed, so that there is no longer someone of his stature legitimizing suicide bombers. And some kind of change in the Iraq situation was likely inevitable at some point anyway -- the sanctions and the no-fly zones were getting more difficult to maintain every year, yet if they had been removed Saddam would geared up his weapons programs again. And given Saddam's history, there was likely no way to get rid of him without a lot of violence and disruption for the Iraqi people (though perhaps even he could have changed his spots -- look at Quadafi). And maybe now Iraq can establish some kind of society based on rule of law rather than another dictatorship.
But all of that, whether good or bad, isn't my main concern. No, what I care about is maintaining the strength of America as a moral, economic and social force. This has been endangered by the Bush neocons and their Iraq adventure, and I really don't think the relatively marginal benefit to Israel of ending Saddam's regime is going to be worth the damage that Bush and this war is doing to America's economy, to its military, to its social structure, and basically to its willingness to act as a world leader.
It took America more than a decade to get over Vietnam -- it was the mid-80s before America was willing to step forth again to exert influence in the world, and over the next 15 years,until 1999, it had tremendous impact in political, social, environmental, humanitarian and economic areas. This happened particularly under Clinton (saving Kosovo, sorting out Ireland, North Korea containment, environmental issues, NAFTA, economy, etc) but also under Reagan (the end of the Soviet Union) and under Bush 41 (creating the alliance for the Gulf War).
In the unhappy happenstance of history, Bush 43 was president on 9.11 -- it remains to be seen whether his ideological stupidity and the incompetence of his government contributed to that event, but it certainly contributed to the abandonment of basic American values which followed, exemplified but not restricted to Gitmo. Now America is mired in Iraq. Because of the Iraq war, and its terrible cost in terms of soldiers, money and international reputation compared to its relatively insignificant regional benefits, I am afraid that America will lose not only its willingness to provide leadership to the world but also its capacity to do so, and its credibility to establish the kind of peaceful political and economic alliances that the world needs. And Bush has taken Blair down with him, knocking out Britain as a world leader, too.
In a nutshell, this is why I care more about America than I do about Iraq.
Let us be lovers we'll marry our fortunes together
I've got some real estate here in my bag
So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner's pies
And we walked off to look for America
Cathy I said as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh
Michigan seems like a dream to me now
It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw
I've gone to look for America
Laughing on the bus playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
I said be careful his bowtie is really a camera
Toss me a cigaret I think there's one in the raincoat
We smoked the last one an hour ago
So I looked at the scenary she read her magazine
And the moon rose over an open field
Cathy I'm lost I said though I knew she was sleeping
I'm empty and aching and I don't know why
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They've all come to look for America
All come to look for America



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Sunday, May 16, 2004

More than we can bear 

On 9.ll, New York mayor Rudy Guiliani was asked repeatedly how many people had died at the World Trade Centre. At the time, everyone thought it would be in the tens of thousands. But Rudy refused to speculate on numbers and all the irrelevant arguments that would have arisen around any figure he could have given. Instead, he said simply and respectfully "It will be more than we can bear".
I was reminded of this line when I read Seymour Hersh's new article The Gray Zone. There will be "numbers" arguments coming to refute what Hersh has said here, boiling down to the argument that only a relatively few Americans have been involved and that only a relatively few at Gitmo and in Iraq have been tortured, and that it was all for a good cause anyway. This misses the point -- no matter how few or how many have been tortured, its still not only a morally wrong policy but also morally bankrupt. By not following the Geneva Conventions themselves, they have also put their own soldiers in harms way in the future. They have also shamed America and made it question its own moral purpose in the world. This is truly a sad, sad result.

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Saturday, May 15, 2004

Declaring victory and leaving 

Bloggers like Kevin Drum are wondering what Powell means when he says the US will leave Iraq if the new government asks them to.
Here's what it means:
June 30 -- tranfer to a new government
July 1 - new government establishes its credibility by asking US to leave "as soon as possible, though we still need your help to clean up the security situation"
July 2 - US announces it will pull its armies out of Iraq "as quickly as possible, given the present security situation" and promises that just about everyone will be home by Christmas (except, of course, for those who will be manning the Pentagon's four new permanent bases in Iraq which are needed for continuing "clean-up operations")
July 3 - US newspapers all cheer wildly, public heaves a sigh of relief
July 4 - Bush gives major Independence Day speech at southern army base or maybe even at Centcom, announcing that a grateful nation loves its troops and welcoming their return as quickly as possible, except for "cleanup operations". Behind him we see a new banner "Democracy Accomplished"
July 5 - Bush approval ratings spike back up to 60 per cent.
July 6 - Media outlets pull most of their correspondents out of Iraq.
July 7 and on - Whether the soldiers actually come home or not, the "loss" in Iraq is off of everyone's news radar. Continuing US military activity in Iraq will be described relentlessly as "clean-up operations".

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Better news 

Well, there is at least one positive development from 9.11 -- generally, the western media are doing a much better job covering the political, economic and social situation in the rest of the world now. Look at the coverage of the India election, an event which, three years ago, would have rated a footnote in many US and Canadian newspapers with the story emphasis only on what this would mean for western interests. Now, these elections are covered for their own sake, recognizing that so many Indian expatriates around the world these days are vitally interested. It's progress.

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Does anyone have a battlefield map? 

US troops kill two Sadr fighters U.S. forces have clashed with fighters loyal to Iraq's rebel Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, killing at least two insurgents and wounding seven others, witnesses say. It was the latest round in more than a month of fighting that has turned the Shi'ite shrine cities of Iraq into battlefields, with U.S. forces trying to crush an uprising by Sadr's forces across southern Iraq and in the capital Baghdad.
While everyone was talking about prisoner abuse and the beheading, I get the impression that the fighting is spreading beyond Najaf and Sady City in Bagdad, but I'm not sure. But I cannot get a sense of which places are in trouble and which places are quiet. So does anyone know where there might be a map? When I google for it, I get a lot of old links to battlefield maps from last year and from 1991, but I'm looking for something from this week.
And has anyone else noticed the recent emphasis on body counts for the Iraqis? Until recently, it seemed that the US didn't announce how many Iraqis killed or wounded in firefights, but now they are. Or maybe my impression is wrong.

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Friday, May 14, 2004

"Camp Redemption"? Don't make me laugh 

The Wrong Direction
This NYT editorial makes lots of good points:
The proper way for Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld to show support for the troops is not to use them as a screen from the heat over the mismanagement of the military prisons. It is to fix the problem, now. The solution is real changes, not cosmetic ones like yesterday's announcement that Abu Ghraib's inmates would be moved within the prison grounds to new temporary quarters, which have been dubbed Camp Redemption . . . Each passing day has made it more clear that the routine treatment of prisoners in military prisons violates international law, the Geneva Conventions and American values of due process and humane behavior. This is a terrible burden for the fine men and women serving in Iraq to bear, as they live their lives among an ever more hostile populace.. . . Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld should also stop trying to dump the blame on the shoulders of America's enlisted men and women . . . Mr. Bush and his Republican allies in Congress should stop trying to evade responsibility by accusing those who want to ask tough questions of being disloyal to the troops and the war effort.
One point that made me chuckle, though, was the "Camp Redemption" name -- are they channelling Cotton Mather and the Quakers?
And just what is now being redeemed in this prison -- the reputation of the army, perhaps, or the immortal souls of all those so-called terrorists at Abu Gharib? Or maybe just some Canadian Tire dollars?

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Just one more thing for working mothers to feel guilty about 

Bottle-fed babies 'face higher risk of heart death' Is it just me, or is medical research getting more and more farfetched with some of their conclusions? The article flings around figures like 30,000 lives a year could be saved -- then we find out the study consists of 216 premature babies, who are now in their early 20s, none of whom actually have heart disease yet, apparently, but some of ones who were bottlefed now have 14 per cent higher colesterol levels.
I guess my only point is, there's a lot that goes on in a person's life that affects their overall health and their propensity for heart disease, including parental health and lifestyle, being male or female, genes, diet, exercise, smoking, drinking, socio-economic level, other illnesses like diabetes, and the older you get the more factors enter into it. So it seems like a stretch to blame heart disease on baby formula.
Personally, its pretty useless information for me, really, since I haven't been bottle fed for about 54 years now, and my kids, being in their 20s, are about finished with baby formula too.

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A grand finale 

Where Have All the Grown-Ups Gone? - The Frasier finale marks the end of situation comedies for adults Well, its over. I thought the final episode of Frasier was terrific -- often, final episodes are grim, maudlin clip shows, but Frasier was actually funny -- the bit with Niles and the monkey was so typical -- the whole birth scene was set up for this one joke, and it was a joke where not a word was said. That kind of subtlety, with the implied compliment that the audience is smart enough to get it without having to be hammered over the head, is what I am going to miss the most.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Damned if they do 

Liberals fall back on that old-style sleight of hand
and damned if they don't.
So the Liberals have decided they might as well be damned for doing something. The media would have been writing stories about Martin's "do nothing" government if they hadn't started doing a few things -- and in this story, Simpson forgot to mention the foreign fisherman thing the other day.
Personally, I have no particular problem with any of this. At least a few important things are getting done, though its too bad that it takes an imminent election call to get everybody's attention focused on action rather than hearings.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2004

The End 

Yahoo! News - Killers: Beheading Avenges Prison Abuse
I think this will be the end, the final straw for Americans. I think they will say, to hell with Iraq. We're not going to take it anymore. Not another dime. Not another soldier. I think they'll say, we came to give you liberty and you should have been grateful but you shot our boys and blew them up and burned them and now you beheaded this nice boy who never did you any harm, so to hell with you all.
They left Vietnam defeated, in an undignified scramble from the embassy roof. They'll leave Iraq because they're pissed off, not remembering or caring that the mess is their own fault, just wanting to be rid of it.

Once again, it all puts me in mind of The Second Coming
TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
by William Butler Yeats

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Shorter David Brooks 

For Iraqis to Win, the U.S. Must Lose "Those cute little Iraqis only think they have defeated us. Actually, as long as they hate us, we've won!"

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Well, its about time 

Guité, Brault arrested in sponsorship scandal

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Monday, May 10, 2004

Ah, the fair and balanced newspaper 

Post-Crescent - Editorial: We need more letters to achieve a balance
Thanks to Buzzflash for the link to this incredible piece of so-called journalism -- this excuse for a Wisconsin newspaper wonders why it isn't getting very many letters supporting Bush -- they write "We’ve been getting more letters critical of President Bush than those that support him. We’re not sure why, nor do we want to guess."
Perhaps because there are many more people among their readership who are critical of President Bush than who are are supporting him? Do you think that could possibly be it? Really? Naaah, couldn't be!

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Great post at Billmon 

Billmon:
"Dick Cheney - the other, dumber half of the Bush administration's answer to Laurel and Hardy - has already weighed in, demanding that all those pesky Congress critters 'get off his back' and let Rumsfeld return to the more important business of losing the war in Iraq. Wolfowitz and Feith can't do it all by themselves, as hard as they try."

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Notes for a speech 

to be given by Dubya on July 4, 2004.
- [start with Iraq - call it success] Taking nation to war vr hard but I prayed every day for God's guidance and support and he gave it to me. God made me a war president! [proud but humble tone]
- vr proud of successful handover to UN-mandated government. vr proud. got rid of world's worst dictator and started Iraq on road to democracy. No more mass graves and rape rooms. [mention rape rooms twice] Iraq will come to appreciate the great gift of freedom that we have given it. [subtext: any problems now are UN's problems and Iraq's problems, not America's problem any more.] Talk about safety for region [subtext: for Israel] Say I have made US safe from WMD and defeated world's greatest dictator [NOTE TO SELF: do not mention Iran, North Korea, Africa, Asia minor, middle-east. . .]
- God has blessed this great nation and great soldiers. God is proud of you'all. Yes, America can! Vr proud of troops, how well they fought, how brave for country. Country is putting the unfortunate incidents by just a few soldiers at Al Gah-ribby behind us. Moving forward, forward.
- terrorism - we've got them all on the run. but still have to be afraid, really afraid. Remember 9.ll, [repeat - 9.ll, 9.ll] I am the only one who can protect you, not that flip flopper who's running against me and against america. He doesn't know how to fight a war, his record proves that [laugh knowingly]
- economy strong, great - more tax cuts needed, creating more jobs every day, deficit to be cut in half [slur voice to make sure no sound bites for the D word] - job creation strong, great schools progress, Medicare strong, great families. [NOTE TO SELF - call everything STRONG, GREAT] - end with how God has blessed your war president [repeat- war president]
[NOTE TO SELF -- DO NOT mention immigration plan, anti-gay ammendment, Mars initiative, benefit cuts for soldiers, overtime pay rule changes, Medicate overcharges, Phlame investigation, memogate, energy policy, environmental regulation gutting, Halliburton, Enron . . .]


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Sunday, May 09, 2004

Latimer's dream 

Latimer continues to question top-court ruling, won't apply for clemency
This is so sad -- another example of the dream world lived in by Robert Latimer.
Latimer's first mistake was to talk to RCMP without a lawyer -- he apparently thought that if they understood what happened, that would be it. But RCMP don't have that option though they might pretend to.
Then he should have pled not guilty due to insanity -- it was clear at the trials that grief for his daughter had driven him temporarily insane. But he couldn't accept this view of himself. Then the jury entered its own dream world with a meaningless one-year sentence recommendation, when they should have known that the only way he would escape the mandatory sentence would be if they found him not guilty.
So now he wants the supreme court to explain itself? Ain't gonna happen.
Latimer is not a murderer, but if he wants to get out of jail, he will have to accept that in the real world he is considered to be one.

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High crimes  

Fareed Sakaria - The Price of Arrogance
Since 9/11, a handful of officials at the top of the Defense Department and the vice president's office have commandeered American foreign and defense policy. In the name of fighting terror they have systematically weakened the traditional restraints that have made this country respected around the world. Alliances, international institutions, norms and ethical conventions have all been deemed expensive indulgences at a time of crisis. Within weeks after September 11, senior officials at the Pentagon and the White House began the drive to maximize American freedom of action. They attacked specifically the Geneva Conventions, which govern behavior during wartime. Donald Rumsfeld explained that the conventions did not apply to today's "set of facts." He and his top aides have tried persistently to keep prisoners out of the reach of either American courts or international law, presumably so that they can be handled without those pettifogging rules as barriers. Rumsfeld initially fought both the uniformed military and Colin Powell, who urged that prisoners in Guantanamo be accorded rights under the conventions. Eventually he gave in on the matter but continued to suggest that the protocols were antiquated. Last week he said again that the Geneva Conventions did not "precisely apply" and were simply basic rules. The conventions are not exactly optional. They are the law of the land, signed by the president and ratified by Congress. Rumsfeld's concern—that Al Qaeda members do not wear uniforms and are thus "unlawful combatants"—is understandable, but that is a determination that a military court would have to make. In a war that could go on for decades, you cannot simply arrest and detain people indefinitely on the say-so of the secretary of Defense . . . On almost every issue involving postwar Iraq—troop strength, international support, the credibility of exiles, de-Baathification, handling Ayatollah Ali Sistani—Washington's assumptions and policies have been wrong. By now most have been reversed, often too late to have much effect. This strange combination of arrogance and incompetence has not only destroyed the hopes for a new Iraq. It has had the much broader effect of turning the United States into an international outlaw in the eyes of much of the world.
This is why I have been railing against what has been going on in the States since Bush was elected -- the world NEEDS a strong US, as a leader and as a model. Who will do it if the US does not? China? Russia? For sure, they will try to push forward now, but they present only models of dictatorship, not of democracy. Maybe the European Union and Britain can step up to the plate now, but they just don't have the economic health and international clout that the US had. The Bush administration has abandoned the world, and the rest of us will pay the price.

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No pot bill? 

Liberals prepared to allow marijuana bill to die
As I argued with my kids, this bill was far from perfect, but at least it was a start. Making a crime of pot possession has destroyed tens of thousands of lives, wasted billions of our tax dollars in enforcement and imprisonment, taken police away from catching other criminals, and has made dope so profitable to sell that the biker gangs are flourishing across the country. My kids thought the bill should be better, that the grow penalties shouldn't be so high, but I thought this could be changed later as long as we could decrimilize minor posession.
Hundreds of thousands of Canadians have used dope with no ill effects whatsoever. They haven't damaged themselves or anyone else, they haven't taken harder drugs. It's vastly less harmful to individuals and to society than alcohol -- no one ever smoked dope then went home and beat up their wife and kids or wrecked their house or destroyed their health. If every alcoholic could switch to smoking dope instead, how much better off they would be, and how much less social and economic disruption we would have.
I just hope Martin has the courage to revive this bill after the election.

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Saturday, May 08, 2004

Shorter David Brooks 

The New York Times > Opinion > David Brooks: Crisis of Confidence
"We have handled the occupation of Iraq so badly that now we should be telling the rest of the world how to deal with failed states."

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Apologies all around 

A Sorry State
Key paragraphs:
If Rumsfeld. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz or Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard B. Myers were honorable men they would resign in shame. But they are not. If Bush were of presidential caliber he would have sacked them by now -- and taken full personal responsibility for their incompetence. But wherever the buck stops these days, it surely is not on the president's desk. Yet nothing short of such an old-fashioned assumption of duty can now retrieve America's standing in the community of nations. To the rest of the world Bush's apologies are mere exercises in damage control. The same president who spoke of leading God's crusade against Evil and who basked in the self-congratulatory aura of his invincible warriors will have difficulty convincing the rest of humanity that he really cares about a few brutalized Arabs. Given the president's simultaneous and reiterated insistence that neither he nor his staff have done anything wrong and that there is nothing to change in his policies or goals, who will take seriously such an apology, extracted in extremis? Like confessions obtained under torture, it is worthless. As recent events have shown, America under Bush can still debase and humiliate its enemies. But it has lost the respect of its friends -- and it is fast losing respect for itself. Now that is something to feel sorry about.

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Again with the gonzo journalism 

Martin denies charge he uses private health care
Thanks to the Mop and Pail for another gonzo journalism story -- this time, we're supposed to be shocked! shocked! that Martin's doctor runs a clinic that offers X-rays and MRIs on the side. Big deal! My own doctor's clinic, right here in little old Saskatoon, has a lab attached that does blood tests and x-rays -- and they charge $10 for a once-a-week wart clinic. Its not exactly unusual, Mr. Seguin, nor does it represent the crumbling of medicare.
And get this straight -- whether Martin ever availled himself of these services or not, I DON'T CARE! I don't have the least interest in any politician's personal life -- I don't care that Chretin's kid has had legal problems and I thought it was mean of reporters to cover it. And I don't care where Martin gets his hair cut, I don't care how his wife dresses. I don't care whether Layton's wife runs for parliament, because its not in my riding. I don't even know who Stephen Harper is married to or how many kids he has.
The only reason for anyone to write a story about Paul Martin or about any political figure, and the only reason to read it, is when it relates to their actions as a politician.

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Its not just the photos that are sickening 

Posted today by Associated Press -- Yahoo! News - Early Iraq Abuse Accounts Met With Silence describes detainees punished by hours lying bound in the sun . . . being attacked by dogs . . . being deprived of sufficient water . . .. spending days with hoods over their heads . . . an elderly Iraqi woman tied up and lying in the dust . . .ill men dying in crowded tents . . .a man saw his sister being punished by being stretched out bound in the sun. He angrily tried to cross the razor wire ringing his tent, and they shot him in the shoulder . . . he saw another prisoner shot dead when he approached the wire at Abu Ghraib. "On Friday, the Red Cross disclosed it had repeatedly demanded last year that U.S. authorities correct problems in the detention centers. The Americans took action on some issues but not others, it said. "We were dealing here with a broad pattern, not individual acts. There was a pattern and a system," Pierre Kraehenbuel, the Red Cross operations director, said in Geneva."
He's wrong in one respect, I think -- there was no system, really, just ad hoc bumbling where prisoner of war camps were set up on the fly, then underresourced and poorly managed, with happenstance dictating whether the individual soldiers trying to run things were competent to do so -- like we've seen with so many other aspects of this occupation. The incompetence of the Pentagon in managing this war is breathtaking.

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And millions voted for this guy? 

The Misunderestimated Man - How Bush chose stupidity. By Jacob Weisberg
"But if "numskull" is an imprecise description of the president, it is not altogether inaccurate. Bush may not have been born stupid, but he has achieved stupidity, and now he wears it as a badge of honor."
"The most obvious expression of Bush's choice of ignorance is that, at the age of 57, he knows nothing about policy or history. After years of working as his dad's spear-chucker in Washington, he didn't understand the difference between Medicare and Medicaid, the second- and third-largest federal programs. Well into his plans for invading Iraq, Bush still couldn't get down the distinction between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, the key religious divide in a country he was about to occupy. Though he sometimes carries books for show, he either does not read them or doesn't absorb anything from them."
"As the president says, we misunderestimate him. He was not born stupid. He chose stupidity. Bush may look like a well-meaning dolt. On consideration, he's something far more dangerous: a dedicated fool."

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Road to Fallujah 

Matthew Fisher's article Iraqis reject Rumsfeld's apology contains two telling quotes:
Schoolteacher Saad al-Jabori: "How can they possibly congratulate each other about their democracy at this moment? The first question to be answered is why we are only being told about this now. The answer is not because their democracy is so wonderful. It is because the media released photographs of what had happened. Otherwise, we still wouldn't know. If this scandal is part of the freedom the Americans have always been telling us about, Iraqis want no part of it.'
Astronomer Mohammed Saleh: "It is clear they are trying to change the reality on the ground here to those disgusting photos by having Rumsfeld testify, but it won't work. Rumsfeld and others have apologized. But what Iraqis want is an apology from every American for all the chaos and sectarianism they have created since they came here. They seem to think these hearings will show us that the road to freedom and human rights. The road they have really been on in Iraq has just led them to Fallujah."

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Thursday, May 06, 2004

The right to choose but no place to choose it 

Canadians For Choice is taking on the fight for access to hospital abortions
When my daughter told me that Canadian women were losing the right to chose, I didn't understand what she meant. I had no idea things were this bad. Now I read Peter Wilson's article in the Globe -- " A CARAL study last year concluded that more than four out of five Canadian hospitals do not perform abortions. In Prince Edward Island not a single hospital provided the service. Across the Prairies, women can obtain abortions in only 5 per cent of hospitals. Finding a hospital that performs abortions is hard enough, but in many cases that's just the first of many obstacles. Gestation limits range from 10 to 23 weeks, CARAL found, noting that inconsistencies exist even within individual hospitals. In New Brunswick, in direct contravention of the law, the approval of two doctors is required. When a CARAL researcher posed as a woman needing an abortion, 95 per cent of B.C. hospitals told her to contact a family physician or go to a walk-in clinic. Fifteen hospitals nationwide referred her to an anti-choice agency and 16 hung up outright."
This is deja-vu all over again -- we FOUGHT this battle 30 years ago. We WON it 20 years ago. And now we have to fight it again?
Well, OK, I guess we do, and we will win again. Because what other choice do we have? Access to abortion is the cornerstone of women's rights, pure and simple.

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Bad apple talking points 

Well, I guess the Republican talking points about Iraq prisoner abuse have been distributed.
I heard the chairs of the House armed services and Senate foreign relations committees (or maybe it was the other way around) on Lou Dobbs and on Hardball respectively. But they might as well have been the same person speaking -- "It was only six soldiers blah blah blah it wasn't Rumsfeld's fault blah blah blah in a war you have to expect these kinds of isolated incidents blah blah blah it was only six bad apples blah blah blah we are in an insurgency situation and we have to press hard to protect our troops blah blah blah Saddam was a lot worse than this blah blah blah the brigade commander should be held accountable but no one any higher is to blame blah blah blah and did I mention that it was only six bad apple soldiers?" The stress on the number six echoed the talking points last summer --"it was only 16 words". And Chris Matthews has got the message, he was repeating these talking points himself.
But Lou Dobbs hadn't read the memo -- I could tell he was particularly unimpressed with the "Saddam did it too" justification after two years of arguments that America represents a higher standard. And Dobbs pointed out the absurdity of the idea that we should blame it all on the brigade commander but no one any higher in the chain of command should have to fall on their sword.
What was particularly silly, too, was the repeated reference to "only six" soldiers, when the Washington Post photos today clearly show many soldiers standing in the hallways watching as the naked Iraqi prisoners are being bound together.

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Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Bush can't understand the story without the photos 

Rumsfeld Chastised by President for His Handling of Iraq Scandal
So was it the abuse that Bush was upset about, or just the photos of the abuse? From this story, it appears that it was the photos, not the events, that Bush worried about. The story reports that unnamed officials ". . . said the president had expressed his displeasure to Mr. Rumsfeld in an Oval Office meeting because of Mr. Rumsfeld's failure to tell Mr. Bush about photographs of the abuse, which have enraged the Arab world." Then down in the 19th paragraph, the story reports that Bush was told about the abuse "within weeks" of the mid-January noficiation to Rumsfeld. "Mr. Rumsfeld told the president about the case" the story says, "But it is not clear, the official said, whether Mr. Rumsfeld mentioned the photographs or their basic content to Mr. Bush at that point."
Of course, a picture is worth a thousand words.



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Only the soldiers will get the blame 

MSNBC has posted the U.S Army report on prisoner abuse. This is the report that Bush, Rumsfeld and Myers have spent the last two months NOT reading. The damning parts, I think, are not just the well-publicized descriptions of how prisoners were tortured, but also the unreported descriptions of how the US Army was treating its own soldiers. Tabula writes:
. . . members of the 800th MP Brigade believed they would be allowed to go home when all the detainees were released from the Camp Bucca . . . on May 2003. . . . In late May-early June 2003 the 800th MP Brigade was given a new mission to manage the Iraqi penal system and several detention centers. . . Morale suffered, and over the next few months there did not appear to have been any attempt by the Command to mitigate this morale problem. . . . soldiers throughout the 800th MP Brigade were not proficient in their basic MOS skills, particularly regarding internment/resettlement operations . . . not adequately trained for a mission that included operating a prison or penal institution . . . Brigade personnel relied heavily on individuals within the Brigade who had civilian corrections experience, including many who worked as prison guards or corrections officials in their civilian jobs. . . . the 800th MP Brigade as a whole, was understrength for the mission for which it was tasked. . . . the quality of life for Soldiers assigned to Abu Ghraib was extremely poor. There was no DFAC, PX, barbershop, or MWR facilities. There were numerous mortar attacks, random rifle and RPG attacks, and a serious threat to Soldiers and detainees in the facility. The prison complex was also severely overcrowded and the Brigade lacked adequate resources and personnel to resolve serious logistical problems. Finally, because of past associations and familiarity of Soldiers within the Brigade, it appears that friendship often took precedence over appropriate leader and subordinate relationships. . . . In addition I find that psychological factors, such as the difference in culture, the Soldiers’ quality of life, the real presence of mortal danger over an extended time period, and the failure of commanders to recognize these pressures contributed to the perversive atmosphere . . . we observed many individual Soldiers and some subordinate units (who) overcame significant obstacles, persevered in extremely poor conditions, and upheld the Army Values. We discovered numerous examples of Soldiers and Sailors taking the initiative in the absence of leadership and accomplishing their assigned tasks. . . .
I wonder how many other aspects of the occupation of Iraq have been as half-assed, patched-together, and poorly-managed as the prison operation apparently was? The PR hype portrays the American army as the best Army in the world, but the performance of the military command in many aspects of the occupation of Iraq will trash that reputation, leaving the soldiers to bear the blame and the shame.

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Rising above the smear 

Liberal Oasis links to the new Kerry ads - JohnKerry.com - Heart & Lifetime which LO likes a lot -- so do I -- simple, direct, and positive.
I just posted a Kvetch at Counterspin about the importance of Dems talking about what a great leader Kerry has been and will be, to counter the message of the RNC smear campaigns. The RNC and Tricky Dicky Dubya are trying to bury Kerry's outstanding Vietnam record with dirty tricks -- the stupid medals controversy last week, the swiftboat stuff this week fronted by a veterans group of closet republicans who didn't even serve with Kerry. Joe Conason reports the background on how this group was manufactured by a Texas PR firm with close links to Bush. Connason writes "Arguments about the war in Vietnam seem destined to continue forever. For now, however, the lingering bitterness and ambiguity of those days provide smear material against an antiwar war hero with five medals on behalf of a privileged Guardsman with a dubious duty record. The president's Texas allies -- whose animus against his Democratic challenger dates back to the Nixon era -- are now deploying the same techniques and personnel they used to attack McCain's integrity four years ago. Bush's "independent" supporters would apparently rather talk about the Vietnam quagmire than about his deadly incompetence in Iraq."
But I think the pattern is broader than just Vietnam. Yes, Vietnam is still a bad memory for many Americans, but for anyone under 45, its ancient history. For the Bush campaign, its just a convenient hook for smears.
Rather than arguing factoids and conspiracies, Kerry and the Dems must maintain their focus on the main message -- that Kerry would be a great leader for America.

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Tuesday, May 04, 2004

The shot heard round the world 

Google reports more than 2300 stories about the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal,

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Do your mom a favour and stay in 

Share a meal, and time, with your Mom I got a chuckle out of this article -- I've been to restaurants on Mother's Day and the experience leaves a lot to be desired -- crowded, noisy, irritable waitstaff, rushed service so they can get to the next sitting.
Waitstaff hate Mother's Day, because so many customers are newbies at restaurant dining on that day, and they don't know how to behave in a restaurant or how restaurants usually do things. Mother's Day gets a whole chapter in Waiters:Waiters True Tales of Crazed Customers, Murderous Chefs, and Tableside Disasters
So anyway, cook a meal or bring a deli one to Mom's and go out to eat a week later when everything has quieted down.

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Will finally gets it 

George Will: Time for Bush to See The Realities of Iraq (washingtonpost.com)
Being steadfast in defense of carefully considered convictions is a virtue. Being blankly incapable of distinguishing cherished hopes from disappointing facts, or of reassessing comforting doctrines in face of contrary evidence, is a crippling political vice.

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Monday, May 03, 2004

Whoopee! 

Flames dump Red Wings Wow!

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Gonzo 

Hugh Winsor: Martin may yet regret decision to jump on cities' bandwagon
Winsor writes "By embracing 'a new deal for cities' in the Speech from the Throne, the Prime Minister raised expectations he is already finding difficult to deliver -- note the flip-flop around transferring gasoline taxes to municipal governments. And if he continues in power after an election, the challenge of developing policies that can make a difference in urban areas will increase."
Oh, come on! What is Winsor actually saying here -- Martin has been Prime Minister for five whole months and he hasn't yet solved the problems of Canada's cities so he's just a hopeless wanker after all.
This is the kind of gonzo journalism that we see all the time in the US now, where every politican except Bush and Schwartzenegger get raked over the coals for not walking on water. I thought Canadian reporters had a little more perspective.

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Another magic bullet 

How Ahmed Chalabi conned the neocons
Great article -- its too bad no journalist connected the dots in January, 2003. Key paragraph: Why did the neocons put such enormous faith in Ahmed Chalabi, an exile with a shady past and no standing with Iraqis? One word: Israel. They saw the invasion of Iraq as the precondition for a reorganization of the Middle East that would solve Israel's strategic problems, without the need for an accommodation with either the Palestinians or the existing Arab states. Chalabi assured them that the Iraqi democracy he would build would develop diplomatic and trade ties with Israel, and eschew Arab nationalism.
They thought regime change in Iraq was another magic bullet -- again, the grandiose but incompetent Bush Administration believed that they could quickly and easily fix a problem which had bedeviled the world since 1920s. They really do believe their own press coverage.

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Sunday, May 02, 2004

Thumbs-up in Baghdad 

There's been a lot of stuff in the news lately about torture, particularly now that the news is full of horrible and disgusting photos of American soldiers giving the thumbs-up over the miserable naked bodies of humiliated Iraqis.
The odd thing is, everyone KNOWS that torture doesn't work very well, that the confessions are likely false, and that there's no way to determine whether anything the torturee is saying is true at all. One of the best things that ever happened to police work in the last 40 years was the Miranda Warning -- it forced police to stop trying to beat often-false confessions out of people and start trying to talk them into true confessions (read the book Homicide for a description of how police now do this).
The dirty little secret is that in our popular culture, torture by the people who consider themselves to be the good guys makes the torturer feel righteous -- particularly when he feels justified in taking some kind of revenge on the torturee. Consider the hundreds of movies and TV shows we have seen over the last half-century where the nice-guy police officer finally "snaps", driven to a righteous rage by the heinousness of some crime and the despicableness of the perpretrator, and starts beating the guy's head against the wall -- "I'll wipe that smile off your face" is the cliche line. And doesn't the audience applaud? Doesn't it seem like the righteous thing to do? Isn't it an enormous release when we have an excuse to disobey society's dictate to "be good", when we just let 'er rip and damn the consquences?

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Compassion 

CBS News: "First lady Laura Bush says U.S. troops are the face of American compassion abroad. " Unfortunately, this may be true.

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How about a Weather Protocol? 

CNN.com - Flash floods kill at least six in Texas - May 1, 2004 This is a painful story to read.
I wonder how many people die every year just because they are driving in bad weather? Coming from a part of the country where people die every winter when their cars break down in the cold, it seems to me that the only type of "weather warning" I ever hear about for drivers is when visibility is down to nothing -- ie, that a snowstorm is so bad that RCMP are advising people not to drive. I think we need a broader effort here -- some kind of alert system or set protocol for drivers to follow when they are caught in some kinds of weather. I've seen some advisory stuff for drivers caught by a tornado -- get into a culvert, for example -- but I haven't heard any other protocols for other bad weather situations. I don't know anything about flash floods, but maybe in Texas the protocol would be that during a storm drivers should stop at a high ground location and stay there, and that police or highway workers should patrol these areas to transport these stranded drivers to the nearest motel or school. Here, maybe we should have a procedure that tells people to cancel non-essential evening or night trips when its below, say, 35 below unless they are driving with a "buddy" car, and asks farmers to leave their yard lights on and their porch doors unlocked during such conditions.
My sister could have died one December night when her car ran out of gas, just a few miles from the city -- the first farm she walked to was locked up tight, nobody home; thank god there was someone home at the second farm, because she wouldn't have made it to the third.

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Comments 

I've been getting some comments on my blog recently, which is rather disconcerting -- its surprising to realize that other people are reading my opinions, warts and all. Though I write my posts as though I am talking to someone, I didn't think I was really talking to anyone except myself.
I started this blog as a birthday gift to me -- turning 55, I wanted to do something new and a little challenging. Mainly, I wanted to sound off about my increasingly-opinionated views, And its fun to see my words "in print". And I had been reading the blogs listed on the right, who have become a left-wing community on the net, and I wanted to be a part of their effort, however small and unsung.
So now I'm getting some comments, and I'm feeling like I need to be better -- improve the quality, quantity and variety of my posts -- just to make sure they have something interesting to read. And I'm getting a lot of negative comments from one fellow in partictular -- it surprises me that he keeps reading a blog he hates, because personally the blogs I like to read regularly are from posters with whom I usually agree so I had just assumed that everyone else felt the same way.
Anyway, its a learning experience for sure. Comment away!

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Saturday, May 01, 2004

Nortel, how could you? 

"Controversial Bonus Plan 'a waste of . . . money' ": The Globe and Mail reports "Nortel Networks Corp.'s controversial bonus plan has design flaws that gave senior management an incentive to play accounting games and manipulate profits, investors and governance experts say."
Honesty in academic work is one of the areas I am involved in at the university where I work, and it can be very difficult sometimes to figure out the ethical course of action. And in a workplace, good employees look to their Board to signal the direction the company should take, and then the employees try to follow this course. So I do wonder whether, by setting up this type of bonus plan, the Nortel board was signalling that employees should puff up earnings. But still, even if this is what the board wanted, the employees cannot justify cheating because "I was only following orders". Since when, I would ask them, has it ever been OK to lie, regardless of the bonus plan?
Its just so sad, really -- Nortel was such a "Canadian success story" for so long, and so many people were proud of them and believed in them even when the bottom fell out a few years ago. And Nortel took that belief and trust, and just threw it away, ground it into the dirt like an old cigarette butt.

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Waves on the beach 

As I said in a comment I posted on Billmon about watching Nightline tonight, "the names and faces became like watching waves break on a forlorn sunset beach." I want to expand a little more on that comment.
I was 15 or 16 when Life magazine published its issue with the photographs of every American who had died in Vietnam. Now, I was a pretty ignorant self-centered Canadian prairie teenager at the time, and I hadn't even been particularly aware that the US was so involved in a war so far away, in a country whose name I didn't even really know how to pronounce. As I paged through that issue, looking at face after face after face, I began to realize these were just boys, only a little older than me -- why, they could have been in high school with me, they could have been my friends! It was a personal awakening --for the first time in my life, I was deeply affected by a tragedy which had nothing to do with me or my family or even my country. And it was a political awakening -- for the first time, as I struggled to understand why they were dying, I began to grasp the profound importance of politics.
Watching Nightline tonight, again there were the faces of boys and, for the first time, girls -- again there was the personal impact because so many of these smiling faces are about the age of my own son and daughter. This time, however, I thought that the perspective of 40 years of political awareness would allow a more intellectual approach, blunt the impact, temper the tragedy, immunize me from shock.
But no -- the sadness was even deeper. I know now how much those fine young people have lost, the lives they will never have, the contributions to society they will never make, the joy they will never share with families and friends, and the children who will never be born.
And I have seen the ocean tides now.
When you sit on a beach and watch the waves roll in, one and another and another and another, each individual wave seems to be just the same as the one before it. But cumulatively, there is an enormous effect, as the tide rises inextolerably and the beach is gradually overrun. When the beach is deserted, as it is in the evening, the tide is even frightening, because darkness follows the waves, and the beach itself disappears.
Are the names and faces of the dead in Iraq an evening tide for America?
I am profoundly afraid of an America which lets incompetent and unprincipled leaders pander to the bloodlust of the beltway pundits, the good ol' boys and the Joe Sixpacks by sacrificing your best and brightest in a pointless war. Is the "American way of life" so brittle, so hollow that a single horrific event can crack it? If so, America will take us all down into the darkness. It felt that way for me tonight.

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Shorter David Brooks 

Sex and the Cities Considering how disasterously things are going in Iraq, I think I'll write a column about sex.

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