Saturday, December 27, 2008

Hell in Gaza

It wasn't enough that the Israeli government had blocked humanitarian aid into the Palestinian territories again - just the latest in a long string of collective punishments that the phrase "crimes against humanity" can barely be uttered about out loud lest they are met with accusations of anti-Semitism from those who continue to support this ruthless behaviour despite years of mounting evidence proving, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the US-enabled Israeli hawks have absolutely no interest in anything resembling "peace".

No. That wasn't enough.

And, because there are Israeli elections coming up in February, what better way for a hawk to strut his or her stuff than by supporting a massacre of Palestinians (200+ dead and 700 reportedly injured at the time of this writing)?

Any reasonable person would condemn both sides - Israel and Hamas - for continuing the cycle of violence however we learned quite clearly when the Israeli government attacked Lebanon in 2006 that it is prone to massively disproportionate responses to threats and that it has the willingness and ability to create human suffering on a grand scale in one fell swoop. And these players - Olmert, Barak, Livni et al, the architects of that failed war - appear to believe that they can get away with it all again. And why not? It's not like the Winograd Commission report had any impact on the type of arrogant thinking that decimated Lebanon and that now destroys Gaza and the lives of an already tremendously oppressed people who were systematically weakened by a lack of food and other life essentials.

Those who followed the Israel/Lebanon war will recall that that attack had been planned months in advance, contrary to claims by the Israeli government that it was just a spur of the moment response to the kidnapping of some of its soldiers. So, it should be no surprise that, as Ha'aretz reports today, the attacks on Gaza are not about retaliating against Hamas for its recent shelling of Israeli territory.

Long-term preparation, careful gathering of information, secret discussions, operational deception and the misleading of the public - all these stood behind the Israel Defense Forces "Cast Lead" operation against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, which began Saturday morning.

The disinformation effort, according to defense officials, took Hamas by surprise and served to significantly increase the number of its casualties in the strike.

Sources in the defense establishment said Defense Minister Ehud Barak instructed the Israel Defense Forces to prepare for the operation over six months ago, even as Israel was beginning to negotiate a ceasefire agreement with Hamas. According to the sources, Barak maintained that although the lull would allow Hamas to prepare for a showdown with Israel, the Israeli army needed time to prepare, as well.

And, once again, we are seeing just exactly how a warmongering Israeli administration views those it has already cast aside as less than as it continues to violate international laws while it pushes the ME to the brink of untold disaster.

Meanwhile,

In Damascus, Syria, Hamas' top leader, Khaled Mashaal, called on Palestinians to rekindle their fight against Israel. "This is the time for a third Intifada," he said.

Related:

IN PICTURES / The Gaza Strip under attack
Obama 'monitoring' Gaza strikes: spokesman
UN Ambassador Shalev defends IDF Gaza op in letter to Ban, UNSC head

To be in Gaza is to be trapped

What Israel hopes to achieve with the present military offensive – beyond influencing the coming Israeli elections – is not clear. For if a long-anticipated ground operation, leading to a partial reoccupation on the ground, is to follow these air strikes – as it did in the war in Lebanon in 2006 – it will have to achieve what neither Hamas nor its rival Fatah can: unifying Palestinian society once more against a common enemy, as Gaza was once united against Israeli settlements inside its boundaries.

If that is not the intention, it is hard to see what Israel's actions are meant to achieve in a community that cherishes its martyrs; where violent death is intended to reinforce social cohesion and unity.

For in the end what has happened in the past few hours is simply an expression of what has been going on for days and months and years: the death and fear that Gaza's gunmen and rocket teams and bombers have inflicted upon Israel have been returned 10, 20, 30 times over once again. And nothing will change in the arithmetic of it.

Not in Gaza. But perhaps in a wider Arab world, becoming more uncomfortable by the day about what is happening inside Gaza, something is changing. And Israel has supplied a rallying point. Something tangible and brutal that gives the critics of its actions in Gaza – who say it has a policy of collective punishment backed by disproportionate and excessive force – something to focus on.

Something to be ranked with Deir Yassin. With the Sabra and Shatila massacres. Something, at last, that Israel's foes can say looks like an atrocity.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Feliz Navidad

Feliz Navidad, Merry Xmas & Joyeux Noel to those celebrating the holiday.



I'm a buddhist so it's all just xmas (or Shortbread Cookie Day) to me.
 

Monday, December 22, 2008

Meet 'Senator' Mike Duffy et al

Welcome to this week's episode of The Liberals Made Me Do It! with your host, Stephen Harper.

Never one to actually take personal responsibility for his train wreck of a prime ministership, once again poor Steve is forced to take action that goes against a campaign promise and, worse, a Conservative party principle* by seemingly begrudgingly appointing 18 senators to prove to the Liberals that their prior appointments of "cronies"** were "undemocratic" (and to punish the opposition for not supporting his legislation).

Pay no attention to the fact that Steve had parliament prorogued to avoid a non-confidence vote that would definitely have turfed him from office and that he's now biding his time by grabbing as much political power as he possibly can. He's a victim, after all.

(Yes, I know. The Conservatives' so-called logic escapes me too.)

Among those appointed to seats in the upper house were former broadcaster Pamela Wallin, Olympian Nancy Greene Raine and CTV personality Mike Duffy.

Others named include:

* Former N.L. MP Fabian Manning.
* N.S. lawyer Fred Dickson.
* Stephen Greene, former deputy chief of staff to N.S. Premier Rodney MacDonald.
* N.S. businessman Michael L. MacDonald.
* Long-time New Brunswick MLA and cabinet minister Percy Mockler.
* N.B. lawyer John D. Wallace.
* National chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples Patrick Brazeau.
* Former Quebec MP and teacher Suzanne Fortin-Duplessis.
* Director of Via Rail Canada Leo Housakos.
* Former Quebec MNA Michel Rivard.
* Nicole Eaton, member of the prominent Eaton family.
* Ontario businessman Irving Gerstein.
* Co-founder of the Corean Canadian Coactive (C3) society Yonah Martin.
* B.C. cabinet minister Richard Neufeld.
* Former Yukon MLA Hector Daniel Lang.


* Apparently, Conservatives do have principles. On paper, anyway.

** During a CBC interview reacting to the appointments, the minister for Democratic Reform apologist spokespuppet for this latest bullying, Steven Fletcher used the word "cronies" to describe past Liberal senate appointees. Whoops. Take a moment to think about that, Steven. If those unelected, partisan, Liberal senators are "cronies", what do you call this new crop of unelected, partisan, Conservative senators?

A 21st century legislature cannot remain dominated by appointees who may sit for decades, without a democratic mandate and with the ability to thwart the elected government.
- Stephen Harper, 2006

He also proclaimed during that speech: "The will of the majority in Parliament always prevails."

That Steve! What a kidder.
 

Sunday, December 21, 2008

At least one right-winger likes me...

This is a surprise. Michael Taube of the National Post has included my little blog in his roundup of the Top 10 Canadian "left-leaning" blogs.

He comments:

4) liberal catnip (www.liberalcatnip.blogspot.com). The blogger known as “catnip” writes a fair amount of political commentary on Canada and the U.S. She obviously spends time crafting her left-leaning blog posts, and to her credit, they are often very interesting.

Aww. Thank you. And welcome NP readers.

Congrats to the rest of you "left-leaning", radical, librul commies as well!

I guess this means I should write something "very interesting" again soon. But first, I have shortbread cookies to make - so stay tuned.

Oh - and thanks to penlan for letting me know about this.
 

Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday Fun: Counting Ballots in Minnesota



"You don't know that there's not someone named Lizard People. You don't. You and I don't."

***

"You know. I have to admit that I've had somebody in front of me in court whose last name is People, spelled like that"

"First name, Lizard?"

 

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Poor Person's Guide to Gift Giving

I wrote this post back in 2004 as a response to a woman who was quite depressed about being poor at Christmas time while having a young son whom she wanted to provide at least some gifts for. Having faced that situation as a poor single parent when I raised my daughter, I felt I ought to share some creative ideas with her and anyone else out there who might need some help, inspiration and practical solutions.

So, here it is, in slightly edited form.

Why 'Christmas'?

I grew up Catholic, so Christmas is the holiday I'm most familiar with this time of year. I gave up Christianity as a teen and I am now a convert to Buddhism. However, I'll share my perspective as a child, a mother, and a grandmother on the difficulties so many of us experience dealing with the capitalistic pressures this time of year because the celebration of Christmas is the driving force behind this annual December madness. My appeal is to all of you to help me make this Christmas special for those who could use a positive boost and great ideas about gifts for the kids in their lives.

Why is Christmas important to me?

My beautiful daughter was born December 3, 1977. On December 23, I developed a viral infection and an extremely high fever. I was delirious and was hospitalized. I had already given up Christianity by that time but I did still celebrate "Xmas" with my family. I missed my first Xmas with my daughter. It was heartbreaking. I vowed then, no matter what, that we would always spend Christmas day together and that it would never be about presents - it would be about family.

And that's the way it has been - most years. Sometimes, life and misunderstandings got in the way. At times like those, you can spend the time with the "family" you create or have around you.

Meet my father: the alcoholic dentist... or: why traditions are vital

What do you think about when you remember Christmas as a child? I can recall perhaps 3 presents. One was an orange teddy bear that I so badly wanted in 1967. I still have him. I can't tell you how incredibly happy I was to find him under that ugly ass, silver tin-foil, 60's trendy tree we had. I also remember Baby Magic - a doll that came with a magnet that made her arms move up and down. Beyond that, one of my brothers, Mike the Hippie, used to buy me Beatles' 45s so he could listen to them too. So much for the importance of presents.

What I recall in far more vivid detail are the traditions.

Christmas went like this:

* hang around with family Christmas eve drinking egg nog and eating treats
* go to Midnight mass
* come home and pig out on buffet food
* go to bed around 5 am
* get up later and open presents
* play with stuff
* eat turkey dinner

My mother, who tried to be Martha Stewart even before Martha Stewart was Martha Stewart, put out a fabulous spread for our buffet. We always had tourtiere (we're French Canadian), mincemeat tarts, shortbread cookies, little fancy finger sandwiches, chocolates, wine, french bread, various cold cuts, more cookies, deviled eggs and on and on.

My father, the alcoholic dentist who disappeared when I was 12, spent most of his money on booze. So, our family of 6 kids had to grow up knowing what thrifty meant. We never asked for much and we never got much as far as presents went, but we knew our traditions and that's what we looked forward to. Christmas celebrations were predictable and that's what we counted on. That schedule and all that went with it were important. All parents know the importance of consistency (some of us learned that the hard way), so I encourage all of you to define and celebrate your own traditions. That's what today's kids will remember as adults.

On to the presents...

(I'm long-winded. Sue me.) Okay, now it's time for gift ideas. I raised my daughter as a single parent from the time she was 2 months old. Dealing with poverty became a condition I knew well. And now, being ill and unable to work, in the same financial boat, I rely on lessons learned from my younger days.

Charities

If you're poor, the first step is to admit it. No, really. Many people tend to think they're not that poor. 'Those charities serve people who are a lot more poor than I am, even though I have no money', you may think. Well, stop thinking that way. Charities exist to help people like you and me. Put your ego in the drawer and make some phone calls. Even if it's a week before Christmas, it's not too late. Do it for your child and yourself. You deserve help and that's what they're there for. As they say, check your local listings. Call now. One of my most memorable Christmases was when my daughter and I were sponsored by a car dealership as part of the local adopt-a-family campaign. We were overwhelmed by their gifts, huge amounts of food, a tree, lights, and decorations. I cried for a long time and she was overwhelmed by the generosity.

Practical ideas requiring no money

Use what you already have.

* coupon book: I made one for my daughter when she was around 8 or 9. It included coupons for days off chores, pizza (when I could afford it later), lots of hugs and kisses, etc. She loved it. No computer back then. I did it by hand.
* photo collage: I made one for my granddaughter a few years back. Cut old photos in fun shapes. Paste on some special paper. Write the kid's name on it and maybe add some pic captions. Voila! Instant tribute.
* scrapbook: Same as a photo collage idea but in book form
* collage: My daughter does this as a hobby year round. Cut out interesting pics from magazines and make a collage. Easy and very creative.
* write a book: No, I'm not kidding. By hand or with the aid of a computer and printer, along with free clip art, write a little story book for your child.
* easy bath beads: If you have epsom salts, just mix them up with food colouring, put them in a container, and there you go.
* play dough: I always made this as a child. Plenty of recipes online.
* puppets: Make a puppet show. Use old cardboard for the theater. Spice it up with colour. Make puppets from old material. Put on a show.
* "why I love you" book: Write about the most important things about your child, things you've done together, places you've gone, favourite pets etc.
* travel diary: I made one of these for my granddaughter when she went on a road trip. Write in sections for things seen ie. animals, people etc. Leave room so they can paste in mementos. Throw in some riddles and jokes. You get the idea.
* knit, sew or crochet something There are tons of ideas online that are quick and easy. Use your scraps.
* give a book: Project Gutenberg has free, downloadable books. Print one out and fancy it up with your own title page. (Just don't sell it!)
* be artistic: Draw, paint, doodle a picture for your child.
* comic book/strip: Create a comic strip with your child as one of the characters.
* joke book: There are so many joke sites online. Why not use them?
* jewel something: Use old, broken jewellery to spice up something like a boring picture frame.
* build something: Got boxes? Build a big castle or house. Paint it up.
* easy art: Download and print a pic you like and frame it.
* paper mache: Make a mask or a dish. The possibilities are endless.
* tea party: Set up a tea party with your fancy dishes on Christmas day.
* wrapping paper: Use the cartoon section of your newspaper. Brown bags and old material and pillowcases can be stamped with a potato cut with a design dipped in paint or even rubbed with ink from a pen. Old wallpaper works well too.
* tree: Check with your local tree lot to see if they have branches they're discarding. Make your own tree.
* decorations: Make a popcorn chain like we did in the old days. Cut out pics from old Christmas cards or online clip art, add string and hang. Challenge your kids to make the decorations.
* miscellaneous: join an online group like Freecycle. Last year I gave away some old coins to a mother who was putting together a collection for her son and I also got my tree through my local group. It's a great resource all year round.

Well, that's a start. Most importantly, give yourself as a gift. Do something out of character on Christmas day: dance, sing, have a pillow fight, be silly, make a snowman, stand on your head, run around outside, go out and enjoy the lights and decorations in the neighbourhood (my daughter still enjoys being the bad Xmas lights police). Be happy! Fake it if you have to. Be a kid again. Your kid will love you for it.

One Last Thing...

Teach your child to give. Let them experience the true joy and humility that comes with giving something to others. One year, I packed up old clothes and my daughter surrendered some old toys which we took to the Women's Shelter. That meant something to her (and me, of course). There's always someone in the world who is in need. Do what you can when you're able to and you'll always feel much better about yourself and your situation.

Feel free to share your ideas in the comments. You never know who you may help as a result.

Have a great holiday season! It is possible.
 

Monday, December 15, 2008

Shoedenfraude



"This is a farewell kiss, you dog," al-Zeidi yelled in Arabic as he threw his shoes. "This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq."
- WaPo

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Rae Out; Ignatieff In

Well, this is all rather sordid, isn't it? Bob Rae, as he explained to the press today, apparently had an overnite epiphany (minus a visit from the archangel Michael [last initial "I"]) and has decided to drop out of the Liberal leadership race thus handing a coronation as interim leader to Ignatieff.

Ignatieff was lying low on Tuesday and not available for public comment, but was expected to speak after the Liberal caucus meets on Wednesday.

On his website, however, he did express gratitude for Rae's decision, writing, "His decision today reflects his commitment to the unity of our party and our purpose in these challenging times."

Followed by, "I'm king of the world!"

(kidding)

Seriously, good luck Liberals. You're going to need it.

I've expressed my (negative) opinions of Ignatieff here repeatedly so I won't get into all of the reasons that I think he would be a terrible leader for your party - which he will end up being permanently (such as that type of permanence is) if no one else throws their hat into the leadership race by the end of February. Start polishing that crown and have it ready for May, by which time the idea of a Liberal/NDP coalition will be ancient history.
 

Monday, December 08, 2008

Dion out; Ignatieff in?


So, it looks like Stephane Dion will resign as Liberal leader today and that he's expected to be replaced by Ignatieff in a caucus vote on Wednesday. Dominic Leblanc will reportedly withdraw from the race this afternoon to support Ignatieff. That leaves Bob Rae flapping in the wind.

I was struck by the lack of analysis on right-wing radio this morning about a new poll suggesting that the idea of a coalition led by Ignatieff isn't much more "palatable" than one led by Dion. The conclusion drawn that it doesn't matter who leads the coalition.

It does to me.

I supported the coalition with Dion at the helm. I would not support it with Ignatieff, so those poll numbers may be somewhat inaccurate. I have absolutely no use for Ignatieff and I believe that choosing him as party leader will be a huge mistake for a number of reasons - not the least of which is his lack of leadership experience. (And don't even try to spring the Obama argument on me. At least he served in his state senate for a number of years.)

And Ignatieff's neocon-like, interventionist military beliefs which some claim he has since changed his stripes about (not buying that, sorry) show that he is not a man to be trusted. He plays intellectual gymnastics on the issue of torture - so much so that he contradicts himself as he attempts to contort what he really believes.

In the end, I'm not a Liberal party supporter anymore so I wouldn't give a flying fig who they chose as their leader except for the fact that we now have an empowered dictatorial bully in charge of our country and the only salvation for those of us who are tired of his antics is to ignite growing popularity for the coalition or to remake the Liberal party into something that is more palatable. I don't see the latter happening with Ignatieff in charge. He was rejected the last time around and for good reason.

I have to laugh looking back now while hearing John Manley called for the rapid ouster of Dion on the weekend, considering what he said during the last Liberal leadership convention while everybody was waiting for the results i.e. that it was "inhumane" and "cruel" to make poor Iggy wait. History repeats itself. I wonder what kind of government job Ignatieff has in mind for Manley. I guess we'll find out.

Update:

I see that while I was writing this post, Dion has made it official and will step down 'effective as soon as successor is duly chosen';.

On Sunday, Mr. Ignatieff launched a bulldozer charge at the leadership, campaigning for the party's parliamentary caucus to elect him immediately as an interim replacement for Mr. Dion.

Mr. Ignatieff's organizers said they had the support of at least 55 of the party's 77 MPs, including Mr. Dion's most vocal supporter, suburban Toronto MP Bryon Wilfert, and MP Maurizio Bevilacqua, who chaired the 2006 leadership campaign of Mr. Ignatieff's major opponent, Bob Rae.

In addition, Mr. LeBlanc flew to Toronto Sunday night to meet with Mr. Ignatieff.

The plan calls for Mr. Dion's resignation followed by a vote that would likely install Mr. Ignatieff at the helm as interim leader. At a second-stage process — almost certainly the leadership convention currently scheduled for May — the party either would confirm him as leader or turn to his only other declared opponent, Mr. Rae.

The party's caucus executive met Sunday night and agreed to recommend the two-stage selection process to the national party executive, which is to decide the issue on Tuesday.

Should the Ignatieff plan prevail, the proposed Liberal-NDP coalition could well be scuttled. Mr. Ignatieff was never an avid supporter of the coalition and had turned against it by Saturday, according to party insiders.

There's what our future now looks like - stuck in the opposition for the duration while Harper cooks up new and even more insulting policy changes for the new year. What fun.
 

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Run away! Run away!

As expected, Steve has done what all bullies do when it's time to face the music - run in the other direction. And the Governor General has co-signed his cowardice by agreeing to allow him to shut down parliament.

Con Treasury Board Prez Vic Toews takes his toy and goes home.


Let's play Spot the Contradiction:

He [Harper] added that he hoped the other parties would work with him. "Canadians expect us to get on with this."

Yes, let's "get on with this" - at the end of January after the Cons have had a longer opportunity to demonize the opposition through its nasty media blitz while the recession further damages our economy. Yup. Darn good idea.

In response, Dion said the coalition will continue to hang together and that it would take a "monumental change" in Steve for it to vote for the upcoming budget. I'll say. "Monumental" as in an extreme political/personality makeover (a la get your head out of your neocon ass). That's not going to happen, no matter how many sweater vests he wears between now and then. Beware the spouse who brings home flowers after they beat you up the nite before.

You can bet that the Cons will now do everything they can to paint themselves as victims while visions of powerplums dance in their heads this xmas season.

Twas weeks before Christmas, when all through the House
Not an MP was stirring, thanks to one louse.

I'm already going through Question Period withdrawal. Damn you, Stephen Harper!

Cheesecake. I need cheesecake...
 

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Steve's Lyin' Eyes

Quietly concerned, wispy-voiced, passive aggressive Steve left Little Angry Steve at home and showed up on teevee screens and radio airwaves this evening to lie again to the Canadian public.

"The opposition does not have the democratic right to impose a coalition," he insisted.

Wrong.

"Instead of an immediate budget...," he said, as if there was an "immediate budget" to be had from his gang of loafers who only relented under pressure of being ousted to bump up their budget date from February or March, 2009 to the end of January. That's "immediate"?

Apparently.

Pffft.

No mention of proroguing (or perogies or prerogatives - this week brought to you by the letter "P" as represented by Steve's puffy eyes). No mention of what he plans to do (because he's still in denial?). No mention of anything new (again).

In response, I draw my inspiration from the wisest of the wise (all hail Monty Python) and fling it in Harper's general direction:

"So, you think you could out-clever us French folk with your silly knees-bent running about advancing behavior?! I wave my private parts at your aunties, you cheesy lot of second hand electric donkey-bottom biters."

Oh - remember when I asked for new and more bizarre material from the Harperites yesterday?

Well...


 

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

It's the end of the world as we know it...

The political apocalypse has arrived, brought to you by the four horsemen: Dion, Layton, Duceppe and Jean (if she decides to grant the coalition's wish.)

Harper played chicken one too many times and now he's finally being forced off the road into the depths of hellish obscurity - where he belongs. In the meantime, pundits and various Canadians are shocked - shocked, I tell ya - that parliament has come to this while the Cons are encouraging hordes of angry supporters to man the barricades of the neocon fort.

"I think a lot of political science students are going into their university classes today asking their professors: To become prime minister of this country don’t you have to win an election?" Heritage Minister James Moore said in an interview Tuesday with CBC News.

Well no, James. That's the point. Ask your leader. He knows all about that.

Am I the only Canadian who feels some peace about this situation? I'm not a fan of Dion, Layton or Duceppe but I certainly support what they're doing. Conservatives so desperately want me to be extremely scared about what's to come. This is simply the fundamentalist version of the religion of politics - preach fear to keep people in line. Call out the sinners (like the CBC and Justin Trudeau) and use fire and brimstone to warn them that they'll all burn for this.

Albertans are talking about separating again. (That old Harper firewall letter might come in handy. Maybe Steve can become the first PM of the Republic of Alberta?) The rhetoric flying around is absolutely insane - wingnuttery at its finest. There are hints (very small admissions) that Cons know that Harper screwed himself and the party with his actions last week but that is quickly shoved aside by ridiculous fearmongering about how Canada is about to spontaneously combust. It's quite the theatre and I find it all very entertaining, to be frank.

"This is the worst abuse of the democratic process I have ever seen in this country. Ever." - Dave Rutherford, QR77 radio

Oh my!

I'm sorry, Dave, but I find that kind of ranting hilarious. People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. As for democracy, those of us who voted anybody but Conservative chose people to democratically represent us in situations like this. I know. That's not your kind of democracy because only the party you vote for counts, but that's reality, baby.

The latest news today is that Steve is planning to address the country. A mea culpa? Not a chance. More bullying? You betcha. Queue slightly contrite but passively aggressive Steve as he tries to remake himself into Braveheart or some such figure.

One of the arguments in favour of keeping these clowns the past couple of days has been the fact that they've backed down on the funding and strike issues. Do Canadians really want a government ready to flip-flop at the drop of a hat like that? I thought they were supposed to be standing up for their principles - or whatever it is that they call their belief in their right to strip rights away from everybody else. Their supporters apparently don't have a problem with that. Not their problem, after all.

The only serious concern I have at this point is the potential for the upcoming public protests against the coalition to turn into civil disobedience gone wrong because of the level of rage I'm hearing expressed. And with the Con party planning to blitz the media, stirring that brewing pot of resentment, there's the possibility that things could get out of control.

Other than that, all I have to say to Conservatives is this: deal with it. Climb down off of that holier than thou pulpit, stop pretending that you're the only people who care about the future of Canada and eat the crow you deserve. And please come up with some new material. As entertaining as all of this is, showing reruns of your incompetence on a daily basis can only keep me laughing for so long. New and more bizarre stuff, people - I know you have it in you. Bring it on.
 

Sunday, November 30, 2008

I'll Take 'Conservative Spies' for $500, Alex

Question: Sunday's winner of the Conservative Weasel of the Day award

Answer (in the form of a question a la Jeopardy™): Who is "the Conservative member" who secretly taped Jack Layton's caucus call?

According to the audio tape, Layton appears to take credit for the possibility of a coalition.

"Let's just say we have strategies. This whole thing would not have happened if the moves hadn't been made with the Bloc a long time ago and locked them in early," Layton says. "Because, you couldn't put three people together in one or three hours. The first part was done a long time ago."

He then goes on to say that the NDP "spotted and prepared for the opportunity and had taken the steps that were required, so that when the opportunity arose, which was when Mr. Harper made his disastrous strategic error by not providing stimulus to the economy and instead playing political games, we were able to move and things began to move very quickly."

Layton also says about the Bloc: "Nothing could be better for our country than to have 50 members who have been elected to separate Quebec...actually helping to make Canada a better place."

The standard denial was issued, of course, and legal action against the person who recorded the conversation is being looked into.

Who knew this fall session would be so much fun?

In related news, Daddy Deficit has now bumped up budget day to January 27 and John "Pit Bull" Baird announced that the Cons are backing down from taking away strike privileges. That's Baird once again acting as Steve's spokespuppet - the Transport minister. What's wrong with this picture?

How do you spell scramble? These days it's spelled C-o-n-s-e-r-v-a-t-i-v-e.

And how do you spell subpoena? Stay tuned.

Update:

Details of proposed Liberal-NDP coalition emerge

A Liberal-NDP coalition agreement that would replace the minority Conservative government was being fleshed out Sunday night, the CBC has learned.

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion has shown the outline of an agreement between his party and the New Democratic Party to Liberal leadership candidates Michael Ignatieff, Dominic LeBlanc and Bob Rae, the CBC's Keith Boag reported, citing sources.

"They're discussing this tonight in Toronto," he said from Ottawa.

The NDP would hold 25 per cent of cabinet positions, Boag said, adding that the finance minister and the deputy prime minister would be Liberals.

The Bloc Québécois would not officially be a part of the coalition, but the new government's survival would depend on their support, he said.

The Harper government could prorogue Parliament to block the coalition efforts, but "that'd be a very, very dramatic step given the government has taken the position there'll be a budget early in January," Boag said.

"The real obstacle to this deal going through is still within the Liberal party," Boag said, adding the deal is being negotiated by Dion, who believes he has the right to be prime minister.

But it's unclear whether the party wants him to continue, and the leadership candidates were meeting Sunday evening to discuss the matter, Boag said.

Canwest reports:

The National Post reported that Michael Ignatieff is to become prime minister in a Liberal-led coalition if the opposition parties do bring down the Conservatives in a no-confidence vote next week. It went on to say that outgoing Liberal Leader Stephane Dion would step aside and that leadership Bob Rae would receive a senior cabinet post. The Post reports that the plan will be presented to the Liberal caucus Monday afternoon.

But a spokesman for Bob Rae categorically denied Sunday night that Rae has agreed to step aside to make room for Ignatieff and said that Dion was not even at the meeting where the purported deal was said to have been hatched.

Also Sunday night, there were media reports which said that the Liberals and NDP had agreed on sharing cabinet seats, although there were conflicting reports on the number of portfolios each party would get.

Whatever's going on, the Liberals had better get their ducks in a row quickly by getting these leadership egos out of the way if what they're up to is truly for the good of the country. We've had enough politicking this year, thank you very much.

And, here's more of who might have recorded the NDP caucus call:

Harper's spokesman Kory Teneycke said the PMO was inadvertently given the co-ordinates to the teleconference call between Layton and his caucus. Teneycke said he would "leave it to others" to decide if it were ethical to tape the conversation and to distribute it.

There you go. It was the PMO's office. Busted. They wouldn't know the definition of "ethical" if it slapped them in the face. No wonder they have no shame about what they've done.
 

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Conservative Talking Points Brought to you by the G&M

The Globe and Mail has published an e-mail, from Guy Giorno, Steve's chief of staff, to Con sockpuppets who need help selling the so-called economic update to the media and the public.

At least it's not 200 plus pages like the manual about how to destroy parliamentary committees. That's an improvement.

As I stated in a previous post, I listened to right-wing talk radio for a few hours on Saturday and there's no doubt that the message from on high was received.

Here are the talking points:

Mr. Giorno's message included very detailed scripts MPs are expected to follow while delivering radio interviews that include the following lines:

* We're not even two months removed from the last election, and a group of backroom politicians are going to pick who the Prime Minister is. Canadians didn't vote for this person. We don't even know who this person will be.
* Not a single voter voted for a Liberal-NDP coalition. Certainly not a single voter voted for the Liberals to form a coalition with the separatists in the Bloc.
* This is what bothers me the most. The Conservatives won the election. The Opposition keeps saying that the Conservatives have to respect the will of the voters that this is a minority and so on.
* …how about Liberals, NDP and Bloc respecting the will of the voters when they said "YOU LOSE".
* And what's this going to do to the economy. I'm sorry, I don't care how desperate the Liberals are — giving socialists (Jack Layton) and separatists (Gilles Duceppe) a veto over every decision in government — that is a recipe for total economic disaster.
* But how more phony could these guys be?
* I mean, I follow the news, virtually every single day you have Harper or Flaherty out there telegraphing exactly what they plan to do with the economy. And not once did you hear the Liberals, NDP or separatists talking about toppling the government in response.
* No — do you know what set this off. When Flaherty said he was going to take taxpayer-funded subsidies away from the opposition. Now there is a reason to try and overturn an election— because the Conservatives the audacity to say "Hey, it's a recession, maybe you should take your nose out of the trough."
* And I wish the media would be more clear on this point — the opposition aren't being singled out by this fact the Conservatives stand to lose the most money of all. The only difference is that Canadians are voluntarily giving money the Conservatives, so they don't need taxpayer handouts. The only reason the opposition would be hurt more is because nobody wants to donate to them. They should be putting their efforts towards fixing that problem.
* I don't want another election. But what I want even less is a surprise backroom Prime Minister whom I never even had the opportunity to vote for or against. What an insult to democracy.

I love the smell of desperation in the morning.

I wonder what those MPs will do now that their Dear Leader has backed off cutting the public financing of political parties. Quick! Someone needs to issue new talking points to the brainless ones pronto!
 

Memo to Cons: Blame Steve

The (self) righteous indignation of Conservative party supporters is palpable. Heads are exploding all over western Canada. Beware grey matter splatter. Dress appropriately.

Fueled by right-wing radio talk show hosts on stations like Corus Entertainment's QR77 in Calgary, the angry mobs on the airwaves have their virtual torches and pitchforks ready to go while they rail against what they characterize as an attempted "coup d'etat" by the federal opposition parties who've threatened to form a coalition government to bring down the Harper regime.

The funny thing is that radio hosts blowhards like Charles Adler and Roy Green (I'll get to him later) both admit that Steve's decision to gut federal financing of political parties was a mistake - a "weapon", as Adler put it, simply handed to the opposition at a very bad time. Steve seems to have received that message since he announced on Saturday that he's running away from that decision. Typical bully - taunt and taunt and when someone calls you on it, run as fast as you can in the other direction.

As for Green, I'm not a regular listener (thankfully) but I sure let him know that I was listening to his show today after he was absolutely rude, petulant, and childish in the way he treated MP Libby Davies, whom he had invited onto his show as a guest. He battered her with his non-stop anger and refused to give her a chance to answer. When she did manage to get a few words in though, she stayed calm and chided him for his ridiculously emotional behaviour and then went on to try to explain the NDP's viewpoint. Kudos to her.

Green was nowhere as rude to Bob Rae or John Baird (who came onto the show 2 hours late - yes, I listened to his show for 2 hours - the horror). Green was appalled - appalled I tell ya! - at the idea that the Liberals and NDP would get support from the Bloc to bring this coalition to fruition. He continually denied the fact that the Conservative party has repeatedly used the Bloc's support while it's attempted to lead a minority government because it had to. Rae was quick to point that out (as was I in an e-mail to Green). Hypocrisy might be entertaining but it's no substitute for the truth.

So much misdirected anger. Conservative supporters need to take a good, long look at the fact that their party failed to step up to the plate at a moment in time when the economic situation needs immediate action and active solutions. "Wait until Flaherty announces his new budget next year" is not acceptable. If your house was burning down, would you appreciate being put on hold by a 911 operator? No, I didn't think so. And if that 911 operator didn't effectively deal with your situation, wouldn't you want him or her fired? No doubt. Well, guess what? Canada's economy is on fire. And not in a good way. We're dialing 911 and being put on hold.

We know what "taking responsibility" looks like after watching years of Harper in office. It's simple: blame the Liberals. Blame anyone else you can. That's why there's so much right-wing anger out there today. It's so much easier to spew misplaced, red-faced rage than it is to look at your own role in your impending demise. So, be angry. The rest of us will be responsible and rational. Somebody has to be. Maybe we'll even save your house while we're at it.

Related:

G-G would have little choice but to accept coalition, experts say
Harper scrambles to retain power
Flaherty's instinct to cut out of step with world
 

Friday, November 28, 2008

How to be a Boneheaded Conservative

(Yes, I realize that phrase includes a built-in redundancy.)

Now then...let's review the past couple of days to provide Conservatives and their supporters a lesson in how real boneheadedness operates in Ottawa.

1. Announce an "economic update" in the midst of a global financial crisis.
2. Provide absolutely no stimulus to Canada's economy even though we're headed for a "technical" recession with a "structural" deficit while continually reminding people that you did stuff last year.
3. Take advantage of the national stage to strip rights away from women (no pay equity for you! Does that include Con cabinet ministers?) and workers (don't even think about striking! An old Ralph Klein idea). And throw a few dollars at seniors temporarily hoping they'll be dead in a year and won't notice that they'll still be shafted down the line anyway if they actually do survive that long.
4. And for the final coup de grace (there had to be something bilingual in there somewhere), end public financing of political parties (knowing that your party mainly benefits from private donors while leaving the opposition parties basically bankrupt, ).
5. Stand back, give yourself a big pat on the back and say you really did something today to help the average Canadian who's melting down in financial turmoil.

But wait! That's not all.

When you get wind of the fact that the Liberals aren't going to play nice this time by rubber stamping your..."creativity", shall we call it?...and that there are rumblings afoot about the formation of a coalition government ready and willing to vote your Conservative butts out of office on Monday, simply cancel any and all votes scheduled for that day and whine about how the Liberals and NDP really can't take that coalition ball and run with it, knowing full well that it's a legal possibility.

Sweat.

Stutter.

Call your mom.

Call Karl Rove.

Use that old cartoon line, "Curses! Foiled again."

And wait.

Because you know this time, they mean business.

(Are you having fun yet? I know I sure am!)

Stay tuned next week for more Conservative boneheadedness. You know they just can't help themselves.
 

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

AWOL

If there was a prize for the blogger who moves the most often, I'd win it. I'm moving on east of Calgary this Saturday - out of the city again (finally!) and into a weird little bedroom community. That should be interesting. It's all part of my master plan to eventually buy a car again (I gave mine up a few years ago) and move back out into the real country some day where I'll settle down and finally write that Giller prize-worthy novel (right).

I was a bit worried that I might not have easy access to big city shopping facilities (ie. malls) if I moved out there but who am I kidding? Like I actually shop all that often anyway (or go out, even? Not with this back and not with my current state of finances). They do have some stores out there and, luckily enough, my newest roomie/landlady will let me use her vehicle if I need to. How nice is that??

I can't wait to shake off the city (and current roomie situation) noise. Cape Bretoners can be quite...ummm..."lively" and I am...not.

So, I won't be posting all that often in the next while.

I did watch the Remembrance Day ceremony from Parliament Hill this morning and what struck me as terribly sad was listening to the voices of the children singing - children taught about peace and all that means - who then grow up to learn the ugly reality that war powers lay in the hands of men (mostly) who send people off to die for resources, power and money. And when I saw a clip of Bush's speech, I once again felt that extreme contempt that comes with watching someone who should be tried for war crimes spouting off as if he did something exaltingly moral by invading Iraq and horribly ignoring the plight of the Afghans whose lives he's ruined as well. And don't even get me started on the so-called Middle East peace process. What process?

Once again, RIP to the veterans and civilians who've perished and may the walking wounded receive the best care possible.

In the words of John Lennon:

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

We sing it but do we really mean it?
 

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Nite USA


I'm not excited. Not like the massive throngs of people waiting on the edges of their seats to find out who will lead The Empire into its next chapter of "change" (however you want to define that).

My moment of relief will come when Bush leaves DC as the past president and Cheney disappears into Wyoming's ether - never to be heard from again unless it's from the defendant's chair in his war crimes trial.

Obama will most likely win. To not would be a nearly inexplicable defeat. But I've watched and listened and read him too much to believe or hope that "Yes We Can" is anything more than a very effective marketing slogan. What people think he can do and what he actually will do has yet to be seen. And I'll be watching.

**********************

11 pm ET - It's all over: OBAMA has won.

**********************
 

Monday, November 03, 2008

Thousands Disappear in DR Congo

Stunning news:

The first UN aid convoy to reach the heart of rebel-held territory in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo arrived yesterday to find refugee camps that had housed tens of thousands of people last week now standing empty.

Stunned aid workers described the camps around Rutshuru that had been sheltering as many as 50,000 people displaced by the relentless fighting, as levelled with all signs of building materials and people gone.

"All the camps are empty. They have all left," said Francis Nakwafio Kasai, a field officer with the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). "All the shelters have been destroyed ... nothing remains."

The BBC adds:

Aid workers found refugee camps that had held tens of thousands were virtually empty. Many people are believed to have fled into the forests around the camps fearing further violence.

While as many as 50,000 displaced people reached Goma, many others have tried to return to their homes on foot without safe shelter, food or water.

The recent rebel offensive was exacerbated by a wave of killing, looting and raping by retreating Congolese soldiers.

On Sunday afternoon, I was surprised to hear CNN anchor Don Lemon actually say at the top of the hour that they'd go straight to their election coverage because there was no other news. Well, guess what Don? There's a helluva more going on in the world than your election and whoever wins will have this growing humanitarian crisis to deal with and AFRICOM is (rightly) off to a very rocky start. Having been refused a permanent headquarters on the continent so far, it will remain based in Germany - and with good reason.

So, just how much attention will be paid to regional conflicts horrors like those in DR Congo and Darfur by a new American administration? And exactly how will that attention be given? African leaders are justified in their concern that the permanent presence of American military personnel on their land will only serve to bring up fears of western colonialism once again. They've been down that road before.

Meanwhile, as the power struggle continues, what will be done about these disappearing and dying refugees?

Related:
Congo's riches fuel its war
 

Flaherty Meets Reality

Flaherty - March 1, 2008:

"If you're going to make a new business investment in Canada, and you're concerned about taxes, the last place you will go is the province of Ontario."

Flaherty - today:

MISSISSAUGA — Ontario will for the first time collect from a federal program designed to shift wealth to Canada's poorest regions next year, an unpleasant reminder of the grim economic prospects facing the country's most populous province.

Premier Dalton McGuinty's government will receive $347-million in the fiscal year starting in March, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced at a meeting Monday with his provincial and territorial counterparts.

“It's sort of an odd feeling to see Ontario in such difficult straits,” Mr. Flaherty, a finance minister under former Ontario Premier Mike Harris, told reporters. “Regrettably, I expect Ontario will be in the equalization program for some time to come.”

Maybe if he'd actually listened to all of the opposition parties pounding on him day after day the last couple of years about the sorry state of the manufacturing sector in Canada, he wouldn't be experiencing whatever this "odd feeling" is today. (I suspect that feeling is actually indigestion from having to eat crow.)
 

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Sunday Food for Thought: How about a non-campaign?

Here's something to think about: considering how close Obama and McCain poll numbers are in the homestretch, would it have made any difference if they hadn't wasted hundreds of millions of dollars campaigning?

The elections since 2000 have shown that Americans are still almost evenly divided when it comes to sticking to their partisanship guns. I'd hypothesize that even if both of these candidates had just stayed home since they were both chosen as their party's picks for president, those poll numbers would be eerily similar, regardless.

Perhaps the most stunning aspect of the American public's behaviour these past 8 years is the fact that even though Bush's campaign of slashing and burning anything resembling democracy, the rule of law and decency, and the fundamentals of his own party have made him one of the most unpopular presidents ever, once again half of the voters see some redeeming quality in choosing a Republican representative who has overwhelmingly supported those policies as a logical and rational choice.

On the Democratic side, considering the embarrassingly low approval numbers of the Democratically-led congress and the failures and capitulation of Harry Reid and Nancy 'impeachment is off the table' Pelosi added to the centrist mantra Obama has been pushing while so many of his supporters think he's some kind of liberal in the true sense of the word, the cognitive dissonance is equally as palpable.

Overall then, would it have made any difference at all if this whole charade involved candidates who literally were a dog and a pony? I don't think so.

You have a Republican who's clumsily tried to convince people that he's not a Bush sockpuppet and a Democrat who really should have been able to muster an incredible amount of support - enough to have a huge lead in the polls at this point - after Dubya destroyed the country. Neither candidate has managed to deliver on their promise to bridge the partisan divide during this campaign and they have both run races that have mirrored the nastiness and shrillness of every other one before them. Why should we think that either of their presidencies will change that mood in the years to come?

America likes to consider itself as being on the cutting edge so, next time, why not take that to the limit - saving enormous amounts of money and the frazzled nerves of election watchers, journalists, pundits and bloggers (not to mention all of those train, bus, car and plane fumes) - and just have a non-campaign campaign? I'm sure the rest of us could find something else to do with our time (and sanity) until election day.
 

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Shuffling of the Deck Chairs

Meet Steve's new cabinet:

Agriculture - Gerry Ritz
Defence - Peter MacKay
Environment - Jim Prentice
Finance - Jim Flaherty
Fisheries - Gail Shea
Foreign Affairs - Lawrence Cannon
Health - Leona Aglukkaq
Heritage - James Moore
Immigration - Jason Kenney
Intergovernmental Affairs - Josee Verner
International Trade - Stockwell Day
International Cooperation - Bev Oda
Industry - Tony Clement
Justice - Rob Nicholson
Labour - Rona Ambrose
National Revenue - Jean-Pierre Blackburn
Natural Resources - Lisa Raitt
Public Safety - Peter Van Loan
Public Works - Christian Paradis
Transport - John Baird
Treasury Board - Vic Toews
Veterans Affairs - Greg Thompson

Government House Leader - Jay Hill
Government Whip - Donald O'Connor

Ministers of State:

Atlantic Opportunities - Keith Ashfield
Democratic Reform - Steven Fletcher
Economic Development (Quebec region) - Denis Lebel
Foreign Affairs - Peter Kent
Science & Technology - Gary Goodyear
Sports - Garry Lunn
Transport - Rob Merrifield
Western Diversification - Lynn Yelich
Women - Helena Guergis

And what was that about Conservatives hating big government?

Harper expanded cabinet to 38 members from 31 to make room for new and veteran MPs alike.

Source: The Star

Throne speech: Nov 18

Update::

I missed a few (temporary laptop meltdown) but you can find them here.
 

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What about the poor?

When I read personal stories by Americans who have been hit hard by the economic meltdown like this, I can't help but have a visceral reaction to this type of obscene campaign spending:

Obama, who raised a record $150million in September, has bought ads just about everywhere – even in the virtual world of Xbox video games. At 8 p.m. tomorrow, he will run a 30-minute commercial on NBC, CBS and FOX. Cost: about $3million.

I know this race is still close and, with less than a week to go, getting the message out is crucial for both candidates but what would speak more loudly? Obama yapping on teevee for half and hour or donating that $3 million to charity to help the poor?

Oh but there's a payoff if he wins, his supporters will surely tell you. He plans to lower taxes for some 95% of working families which, as Bloomberg's article points out:

The ``working'' caveat turns out to be crucial: The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates that, including tax filers with no wages or business income, 81 percent would get a tax cut.

Still, that sounds like good news, doesn't it? Perhaps until you try out a few examples on Obama's tax cut calculator. Let's say you're a single parent with 2 children and your adjusted gross income is $15,000. Your tax savings under Obama's plan would amount to $486.21 which, according to that site, is much more than the $18.69 you'd get under McCain. Quite the difference - but with the price of absolutely everything skyrocketing these days, how much of a difference would $486.21 make in that single parent's life? And don't they have the right to be just a little pissed off at this $3 million ad buy? And what about that $600 million Obama has spent on his campaign?

Having been a poor single parent, I can tell you exactly what it feels like to drown in financial depression while government decides to throw you a sponge as if that's some sort of a life-saving device.

I'm not letting McCain off the hook here - a man who can barely get the phrase "middle class" out of his mouth without choking on his spit. But I do expect more from a presidential candidate who calls himself a progressive and acts as if he alone will lift the struggling out of the stormy seas to stop them from perishing in this flood of financial ruin.

Sure, he has a tax plan (and don't get me started on his refusal to push for true universal health care) but, in these times when there's a global recession looming and he pledges to make more war in Afghanistan, just how much of his platform will he be able to accomplish? And if he's so focused on helping the middle class, what will happen to those who are already living below the poverty line? They seem to have been lost in all of this. Many of them have bought the "hope" and "change" messages and will cast their votes for Obama. But it seems, at this point, that's really all they have left. Frankly, it's just an insult to think that that's enough when the man they're voting for blows another $3 million to promote himself.
 

Monday, October 27, 2008

Attack in Syria: A Late October Surprise?

Lest we forget, as much as we may want to, Bush, Cheney and Gates are still busy plotting and carrying out various random attacks on sovereign countries while most of America is focused on the election and the accompanying financial crisis. I have to add though that, even if nothing else was happening, I suspect the majority of Americans wouldn't even blink at the fact that the US military has continually invaded Pakistan's territory in recent months and has now completed an air raid in Syria's boundaries. USA! USA! and all of that... The desire to win something, somewhere is overwhelming.

Depending on who you believe, the attack on Sunday either "killed a major smuggler of foreign fighters into Iraq" according to some anonymous "US official" and/or resulted in the deaths of 8 civilians.

Killing innocent people is a nasty habit the US military has yet to shake as it continually happens in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq - to list the countries that we know of where such "mistakes" involving "collateral damage" take place. We have no idea what other covert operations around the world might be "accomplishing" in this failed war on terror.

I don't think it's a stretch to see this latest US show of militarism in Syria as perhaps a signal favouring the election of Netanyahu over Livni after she admitted this week that she had failed to form a coalition government in Israel and was forced to call an election. Netanyahu has flatly stated that he has no interest in compromising to further the Israeli/Palestinian peace process (such as it is) and if Livni manages to win, media reports characterize the situation as having now delayed that process for at least a year.

While this certainly isn't a good outcome for Bush, who had expressed that he wanted to find some finality on the I/P issue - but who, in reality, along with Condi had stalled progress repeatedly for years - aggression towards Syria could serve as a favour to McCain. We'll have to see how or if he plans to handle this news if his campaign can manage to get the focus off of Palin's wardrobe (an issue she can't seem to let go of).

As Marc J. Sirois writing in Lebanon's Daily Star explains, after analyzing the futility of attacking Iran:

Then came another kind of "surprise." The global financial crisis that broke out earlier this month did not just damage McCain's campaign by exposing his fundamental (and openly acknowledged) ignorance on economic matters ahead of an era in which such abilities are likely to be at a premium. It also forced the US government to take on trillions of dollars in new liabilities in a bid to restore confidence in the markets. Given the gargantuan deficits and debt already amassed by Bush's profligate spending on wars against Muslims, tax breaks for the rich, and subsidies for large corporations, a costly war with Iran is simply no longer a viable option.

For all of these reasons, Syria must look like a more attractive target, especially if Washington can maintain a level of hostilities that is sufficient to pique the average American's "patriotism" but not so intense that it incurs significant costs. There is no guarantee, however, that the Syrians would cooperate with such an approach, even though any form of response in kind on their part would only invite the Americans to escalate disproportionately, especially with their overwhelming advantage in air power.

The ball seems to have gotten rolling in a Syrian village near the Iraqi border shortly before dusk on Sunday. According to Damascus, US troops arrived in helicopters and assaulted a building under construction at a farmstead, killing eight civilians - half of them children.

The Bush administration's official reaction has been painfully slow in coming, but according to an Associated Press report, a US military officer has confirmed that an attack was carried out by special forces. "We are taking matters into our own hands," AP quoted the officer as saying on condition of anonymity because of what the reporter described as the "political sensitivity" - no mention of patent illegality - "of cross-border raids." Pointedly, the comments came in Washington, not from an officer on the ground in Iraq, where the US military professed to be in the dark about the attack in Syria.
[...]
So why now? The timing has got to be instilling a sense of deja vu among senior members of the Syrian regime. They recall with consternation that even after US diplomats publicly acknowledged the value of Syrian intelligence assistance in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Bush and other senior figures kept up their menacing rhetoric about Damascus. [even though they used Syria as a dumping ground for suspects they wanted tortured, like Canada's Maher Arar -catnip]

This looks to be different. Even if Damascus were still a target in Bush's so-called "war on terror," the timing is so vulnerable to accusations of an attempt to influence the election that only a dire threat could possibly justify taking the risk. Even if it turns out that what the Americans hit was indeed tied to the insurgency, therefore, hitting it now makes no sense - unless the real objective is to capture the hearts and minds of undecided voters in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania.

While Sirois "hope[s] that Obama wins the White House and then makes good on his promise as a conciliatory figure", Obama's fealty to AIPAC may supersede any possible progress with Syria's government on the I/P and Iraq war fronts. The Bush administration's decision to launch this latest attack has only complicated matters but hasn't that been its legacy around the world since day one?

No matter who wins the US election, the dangerously shifting sands in the Middle East will no doubt see the US government involved in extremely complex deliberations for years to come - especially once the Pentagon finally admits that military might is not the answer and that might not happen unless the US finally goes completely bankrupt. A new Great Depression might provide exactly the amount of humility needed to finally reach that point.

But who am I kidding?

Update:

Baghdad condemns 'US Syria raid'

Speaking after a Baghdad cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh also explicitly criticised the US over the unconfirmed helicopter strike.

"The Iraqi government rejects the US helicopter strike on Syrian territory, considering that Iraq's constitution does not allow its land to be a base for launching attacks on neighbouring countries," he said.

 

'Wrecked Iraq'

While both US presidential candidates are fond of using the same talking point about the fact that $10 billion per month is being spent in Iraq, no one seems to have asked the logical follow up question: On what?

Michael Schwartz, writing for the Asia Times takes a look at what that money isn't being spent on in his article, 'Wrecked Iraq'. He also debunks the myth that the Iraqi government has free and unfettered control over its oil revenues, which McCain and Obama both use to chastise Iraq's leaders:

Much has been made in the US presidential campaign of the $70 billion oil surplus the Iraqi government built up in these last years as oil prices soared. In actuality, most of it is currently being held in American financial institutions, with various American politicians threatening to confiscate it if it is not constructively spent. Yet even this bounty reflects the devastation of the war.

De-Ba'athification and subsequent chaos rendered the Iraqi government incapable of effectively administering projects that lay outside the fortified, American-controlled Green Zone in the heart of Baghdad. A vast flight of the educated class to Syria, Jordan, and other countries also deprived it of the managers and technicians needed to undertake serious reconstruction on a large scale.

As a consequence, less than 25% of the funds budgeted for facility construction and reconstruction last year were even spent. Some government ministries spent less than 1% of their allocations. In the meantime, the large oil surpluses have become magnets for massive governmental corruption, further infuriating frustrated citizens who, after five years, still often lack the most basic services. Transparency International's 2008 "corruption perceptions index" listed Iraq as tied for 178th place among the 180 countries evaluated.

The Iraq that has emerged from the American invasion and occupation is now a thoroughly wrecked land, housing a largely dysfunctional society. More than a million Iraqis may have died; millions have fled their homes; many millions of others have been scarred by war, insurgency and counterinsurgency operations, extreme sectarian violence, and soaring levels of common criminality. Education and medical systems have essentially collapsed and, even today, with every kind of violence in decline, Iraq remains one of the most dangerous societies on earth.

So, when McCain and Obama complain about the $10 billion per month being spent there, instead of both of them refusing to consider lowering the Pentagon's budget while they promise a new and improved military effort in equally ravaged Afghanistan, someone needs to ask them what they plan to do about the wretched state of Iraq's infrastructure and why private corporations like KBR, Dyncorp, Blackwater, and Halliburton will still be allowed to flourish under their administrations while the Iraqi and Afghani people continue to suffer.
 

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sunday Food for Thought


“Men will lie on their backs, talking about the fall of man, and never make an effort to get up”

- Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, October 25, 2008

10 More Days



I have to hand it to you - you yanks are a colourful and eclectic bunch. How else could you possibly stand election campaigns that last almost 2 bloody years? As a voyeur from the frozen tundra above, gazing down (and over at Alaska) from a place where eating poutine while watching Hockey Nite in Canada on a Saturday is aboot as exciting as it gets (according to every known Canuck stereotype) and being one of basically a handful of ye frozen people who actually puts up with covering our 37 day federal election campaign in any detail (and believe me, 37 days is more than enough), I know that it takes a special kind of political junkie (and I do mean "special") to sustain an interest in a race between 2 American parties that are virtually the same (in too many ways) for any length of time.

Rah rah patriotism, character flaws magnified and examined to the nth degree - sort of a colonoscopy of the mind, if you will, hundreds of millions of dollars spent on the US election industry (probably more than the entire economies of some small countries and certainly enough to eventually end world hunger), promises, promises, promises - just waiting to be broken, wild-eyed partisans who for some insane reason "love" their candidates and who are willing to do practically anything to get them elected, weary-eyed extremely monotonous pundits and journalists from hell who actually think they contribute something of worth to the national conversation; and stump speeches - spoken and shown over and over and over and over again by candidates who, after all of that oratory, still need teleprompters to guide them when most of their followers could recite their words verbatim for them.

It's a modern-day traveling circus: freaks and snake-oil salesmen included, not to mention the revival tent set up on the side for those who may have strayed from The Way (or The One). The curious are drawn in and suckered, leaving with smiles on their faces but feeling vaguely ripped off at the same time - prepared to shrug that off because they need to believe that they actually got value for their money. And besides, maybe it'll be better the next time. (But it never really is, is it?)

Just 10 more days...and then it starts all over again. Enjoy the show.
 

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Italian Barber, The Gas Station Attendant, and Jim

As I was coming home on the bus on Wednesday - a long, long bus ride from the other end of the city where I had checked out yet another place to rent (that I won't be taking) - I was slightly nodding off as the bus stopped downtown during rush hour to pick up riders heading home from their work day.

The seat beside me was filled by a man who was probably somewhere in his 50s. Having spotted someone he knew who had just embarked, he called out to him, "Jim! I have a bus ticket for you."

As it turned out (as I snooped on their conversation which I couldn't help but overhear), Jim was apparently a client of the man next to me, who, bantering in his heavy Italian accent, was clearly identified as his barber. They chit chatted about this and that - Jim is off to Cancun next week for 5 days to get a house ready for his annual trip to Mexico where his 80 year old mother who lives in Winnipeg is scheduled to meet Jim's family over xmas. The Italian barber said he wasn't going anywhere and paused - informing Jim that he'd lost half of the money he'd invested in his RRSPs because of the economic meltdown. "It's bad, Jim. It's bad," he said. Jim sympathized and said that, as far as he was concerned, all anyone could do was to try to enjoy life in the moment, regardless of what's going on. That's the type of response I would probably have given but it wouldn't alleviate the Italian barber's long term concerns considering that he may now have to delay his retirement. It was a sad conversation.

Having done that stretch of my trip, I got off the bus to transfer to the one I needed to take to get home. That's where I met the 40ish, female gas station attendant. We talked as we stood and waited for the next bus. She informed me that the last bus ran out to her place at 4:40 pm. Because her stint that day had ended after that, she had to grab my bus and walk from 68 St to 84 St NE. I told her that I'd just spent 1 1/2 hours getting from Abbeydale to Bowness and the same amount of time getting back. (Yes, I've complained to Calgary Transit that they need to update their runs. Having lived here for over 20 years and having watched the city's population almost double in that time, the system's services are now horribly antiquated.) When the conversation turned to the economy, she told me bluntly that, "the Bible predicted all of this". Not being a Bible believer and being way too exhausted to even get into it, I just let the comment pass. I really wasn't in the mood to have a discussion with a Rapture Ready person. She'd found her way to cope with the crisis. Who was I to argue with her? I guess we all find comfort where we can.

Home, finally, I mentioned the trip highlights to my roommate who told me that her 40 year old boyfriend had decided to pull his money out of his RRSPs because they were losing money as well. I guess my poverty status (ie. not even having any money to invest in the first place because I'm on permanent disability) has left me immune to those kinds of concerns but it's painfully obvious that Stephen 'the fundamentals of the economy are solid' Harper has badly misjudged the impact of this crisis on average Canadians.

The Bank of Canada announced today that "the Canadian economy is on the razor's edge of recession". No doubt. Interest rates may be going down but so are oil prices (bad for Alberta's economy), the loonie, housing prices, and consumer confidence - which is at 1982 levels. Food and rent prices are still high and are probably expected to stay that way. Everyone I've met who has a room to rent has said that they need help with their bills.

I'm currently spending 60% of my income on rent and that doesn't look like it's going to change considering the few options I have available to me in this city - and that's for shared accommodation. And 7-8 servings of fruits and vegetables per day? Are you kidding me? So much for trying to be as healthy as possible while I fight my illnesses.

There's a reason times like this are called "depressions".

Don't worry about the banks though. They're getting direct help from the feds, even if the rest of us aren't.

Related:

Video interview: Chomsky on the economy
Wall Street's 'Disaster Capitalism for Dummies'
 

Monday, October 20, 2008

Stephane Dion: 'I failed.'

The big Canadian news of the day is that Liberal leader Stephane Dion will resign once a new leader is chosen. Dion acknowledged that the Liberal party was unable to sell its Green Shift plan to Canadians and blamed the Conservatives for framing him as someone he wasn't through their use of negative campaigning.

He also said the Conservatives had a "massive financial advantage" to "distort" his Green Shift plan and that the Liberals did not have the resources to fight back "given our existing financial crisis."

"It has been a mistake to go ahead with the Green Shift because we are not equipped to explain what it was," he said.

Dion said Tory "propaganda" about the plan was cemented in the minds of Canadians and "was the main reason why we lost."

Here's the deal: the Liberals unveiled a novel platform that they simply didn't have time to sell properly - despite the amount of money and "propaganda" the Cons employed. We have short election campaigns. That's a fact of life.

Secondly, the Liberals' campaign was disjointed, focused too much on Dion, and was continually playing catch up. The Cons waited until the last week to spring their platform on Canadians who didn't even have time to digest it. Their message was simply, 'trust Steve' and, for many voters, that worked. It wasn't a brilliant strategy since they still have a minority government but it was enough to convince at least some Canadians to turn to the Cons like a warm glass of milk before bed time after a long stressful day.

Thirdly, as I've said before, I really don't think the Liberals' 'vote for us - we're centrists' was a winning message. People understand left and right, liberal and conservative. Centrism is what, exactly? Just how many left-leaning voters did the party sacrifice to that meme - even if the fact that they are centrists is the truth?

So, regardless of the nice guy that he is, Dion has to go. Let's hope the Liberals don't take absolutely forever again to choose his successor. I damn near pulled my hair out the last time around - not because I'm a Liberal, I'm not. These long leadership races (like the excruciatingly nails-on-a-chalkboard-like race in the US) are wearing and are enough to make even seasoned political veterans want to take a vacation in some place peaceful by comparison - like Iraq.