August 2007 Archives

August 31, 2007

Friday night blues blogging

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Dr. John ponders one of life's great questions: How Come My Dog Don't Bark When You Come Around?

And Dr. John with Johnny Winter. Love, Life and Money.

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August 30, 2007

I don't want to claim that it was the blogswarm that finally got the media interested in the Conservatives unelected representative scam, but it's nice to think that we had some sort of effect. Regardless, as many blogs have pointed out, the media is on it now and the Conservatives are desperately backpedalling.

Government officials have distanced themselves from [Cariboo-Prince George MP Dick] Harris's unofficial appointment of Smith as the riding representative in Ottawa.

"He just kind of did that himself,'' government spokesman Ryan Sparrow said of Harris's move.

"(Smith) is the Conservative candidate in the next election. That's her only official capacity.''

Sparrow was unequivocal when asked whom local residents should contact for federal help: "They should contact their local member of Parliament ... Ms. Smith is working hard to be that person after the next election, but for now the riding is held by a New Democrat.''

I would venture that Mr. Sparrow is being factually creative by pinning all this on Harris. In Stephen Harper's micromanaged world, NO ONE goes to the media with something like this without authorization. In fact, it looks very much like this was a broadly orchestrated campaign to target vulnerable NDP ridings in preparation for the next election. Harris has been made the fall guy on this by the PMO, and he is now taking a brutal drubbing in The Prince George Citizen, his riding's largest newspaper, where the targeted NDP MP, Nathan Cullen, is venting his justified outrage.

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August 29, 2007

Neither what I wanted, nor what I ought

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C.S. Lewis didn't just write about Narnia. He was also a major religious thinker, writing scholarly books about the nature of Christianity. Actually, this can be seen if you look at the Narnia books with more than half an eye. And somewhere in between these two types of writing was The Screwtape Letters, a piece done as a series of letters written by an older, experienced devil to his nephew Screwtape on how best to influence a human soul so that Hell can get it in the end. At one point he mentions as a sort of ideal the situation where upon death a person looks back and says roughly “I realize now I have been doing neither what I wanted, nor what I ought.” I'm not religious, but that did strike me—it seems that so often, the kinds of things you can do that are wrong and bad are also hollow and banal, leaving you with nothing, or less, in the end.

Which brings us to the right wing and hard-line “free market” capitalism. Looking at the economic meltdown that is beginning in the US, which I think clearly traces its roots to deregulated, financialist capitalism, I find a similar duality. The Harperites and Cheneyists and Gingrichers push for a system which does neither what we want nor what we need—it is neither moral nor efficient.

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This has been a test of the emergency posting system.

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August 27, 2007

Let's face it, democracy is a messy business. This is why right wingers have been trying to streamline it for so long, to remove that most meddlesome of elements: the people. The Conservative government has finally figured out a way to do that in Canada: they're appointing their own representatives in ridings where the people have been so foolish as to - brace yourselves - not elect a Conservative.

Meet Sharon Smith - currently mayor of Houston B.C. and soon to be "liaison to the federal government" for the riding of Skeena-Bulkley Valley. Now I know what you are thinking: didn't the people of that riding elect their own liaison to the federal government, traditionally known for lo these past 140 years as a Member of Parliament? Why yes, they did, and his name is Nathan Cullen. But Mr. Cullen has commited the egregious sin of - please brace yourself again - not being a Conservative. In fact, he is a member of the NDP. Apparently, not being a Conservative means you can no longer represent the people of your riding. Welcome to the world of one-party rule.

Dr. Dawg adds his own commentary to this issue and nicely documents the growing blogswarm right here. And thanks heavens for the blogs, because as the good canine doctor notes, there is virtually no coverage of this is the major media. Maybe it will become a story when the media realizes it is not only happening in B.C.

Meet Brendan Bell, the North's very own right winger in residence. He is currently an MLA in the NWT assembly, but he is not running for re-election in the upcoming territorial election this October. And why is that? Well, he'll be running for the Conservatives against Western Arctic MP Dennis Bevington in the next federal election, but in the meantime he will be named - you guessed it - special liaison to the federal government for the people of the Western Arctic.

If it wasn't so fundamentally anti-democratic as to be sickening, you could almost admire the whole scheme. Their candidates get to play MP prior to being elected. Then, when the election comes around, they can tout their experience representing "their" constituents as a special liaison to the federal government.

But a few questions arise: who is paying for these jobs? Are these liaisons being set up as public servants, thus meaning that the taxpayers are subsidizing the next Conservative campaign? Are they being paid for out of Conservative Party coffers, thus surely breaking the spirit and most likely the letter of campaign financing laws? Even if they aren't paid positions, there are a heck of a lot of expenses in maintaining an office, visiting "constituents" and so on. Who exactly is paying for these shadow Cons to displace elected MPs?

And where the hell is the media on this? Why has no one noted the questionable constitutionality behind all this except for a bunch of nobody bloggers? It's not like the Cons are being sly about this. They sent out a press release for crying out loud.

And just how many more of these special liaisons are we going to see? I suspect that the Conservatives won't stop at two. Will we have a special liaison for every riding in the country, or are they simply concentrating on the NDP right now?

With this manoeuvre, the Conservatives have established a new principle for Canadian democracy. If you can't win a majority government, appoint yourself one.

Update: I must apologize for the poor sourcing, folks. I learned the information about Bell at a meeting in Yellowknife this week. He is waiting until after the NWT election to make any announcement. My three sources from that meeting are all very solid, and the fact has become an open secret in Yellowknife, where Bell is being raised up as the Conservative white knight to unseat NDPer Dennis Bevington. Regardless, I do appreciate your scepticism, and will provide a link to official sourcing as it becomes available.

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August 24, 2007

Friday night blues blogging

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Ry Cooder says that when you get the blues, you should Get Rhythm. And you should always listen to Ry.

And the bonus track (is it a bonus track if I always add one?): The Very Thing.

And what the hell. The last time I found some Ry Cooder clips on YouTube they disappeared before I had a chance to blog them. So I'm packing a third one in. Here's Smack Dab In The Middle.

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August 23, 2007

Yes, it's that time again. What has set poor, obssessed Tim off this time? Once again, it's Dr. Brian Day, head of the Canadian Medical Association.

VANCOUVER (CP) - The incoming president of the Canadian Medical Association says the country's public health-care system is headed for crisis, but a greater role for private health care could be the right prescription.

Dr. Brian Day said in his inaugural speech to Canada's medical establishment Wednesday that contracting out health services isn't new and has helped slash wait lists.

"Let's be clear: Canadians should have the right to private medical insurance when timely access is not available in the public system," he said to applause from about 270 delegates at the annual convention.

Day, a Vancouver orthopedic surgeon, said the Supreme Court of Canada has already made a decision favouring such a move.

The Chaouilli case, named after the Quebec doctor who initiated it, struck down Quebec's ban on private insurance in 1995, saying it contradicted the provincial charter of rights.

Day said injured workers in some provinces are treated in private facilities, saving workers' compensation boards millions of dollars in wages and keeping people off long wait lists.

Day, who opened Canada's first private surgery clinic in 1995, has often been criticized for his pro-privatization views that some say could pave the way for a for-profit system much like in the United States.

"No one I know wants to adopt a so-called American-style health system," he told delegates at the association that represents 65,000 doctors across Canada.

He said the private-versus-public debate is largely irrelevant and counterproductive but that new ideas and concepts are bound to face opposition and skepticism.

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Whose security and prosperity?

And what do those thudding words mean, anyway?

They don’t have quite the ring of liberté, égalité, fraternité, do they. They don’t sound like the highest ideals of the citizens of a modern democracy, and that would make sense since they are anything but.

From all we know of the tacky euphemisms so beloved of the mouthpieces for the SPP – security, prosperity, harmonisation, integration, convergence, mobility, dialogue, partnership – they are cosmetic terms for the real aims of people who think that citizens are inefficient, liberty is dangerous, and equality is too expensive.

Secrecy is a lot of fun for them, though. They really get off on secrets.

There has been some confusion and some downright nonsense talked and written about the SPP on both sides of the border in recent weeks. For some of the best sense in Canada I take instruction first of all from Alison at Creekside, writing at her own place, at The Galloping Beaver, and at Bread and Roses. (As someone wrote last week: Alison talk: you listen.) It was Alison who first alerted some of us to the strange turn that anti-continentalisation had taken in the U.S., pre-emptively possessed by the 'way far-out right, but then she had to jerk us (ok: me, anyway) to attention as well about the American left’s consequent misreading of the issue and its failure to protest the corporatising ambitions of our current political and business elites.

Last week, Chet Scoville of The Vanity Press wrote a superb open letter to American progressives at Shakesville, setting out the serious (as opposed to the extreme right-wing paranoid nativist) history of and dangers posed by the SPP to democracy in all three nations (h/t to pogge at BnR). That’s the best summary of the historical context and significant diplomatic moves that I’ve seen, and it deserves broad distribution. Chet closes with this appeal to American progressives who are leaving the field to right-wing extremists:

In the end, it comes down to this: despite the embellishments that the rightists are guilty of, the SPP is real. It claims to be nothing to worry about, but its negotiations are happening behind closed doors, and have been for two years and counting. It is affecting life throughout the continent at the most basic levels. It is a process of subjecting all North Americans to corporate rule in as many remaining areas of life as possible, and stripping citizens' abilities to set their own standards through their legislatures.

The people have never been consulted on it. No politician has run for election with the SPP as part of their platform; nobody has a mandate from the people to put it in place. American progressives should be demanding that the process become open and transparent. Instead, they have ceded the issue to the crankiest of right-wing cranks, who are mingling the facts with their own paranoid fantasies. And with no American progressives on board, Canadian progressives opposed to the SPP find themselves alone in the fight -- for there's no way they could ever make common cause with the John Birchers, and the animosity would surely be mutual.

Divide and conquer is of course an old strategy. The frustrating thing, though, is that when it comes to the SPP, American progressives have done the division part all by themselves.

Some of us wonder whether American progressives are slower to pick up on the problems of “harmonisation” because its most immediate effects look likely to be an erosion of higher standards and an often more generous social consensus in Canada.

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Truth through satire

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Every now and then, I am struck with the jarring reality that the only place to find some semblance of truth in American journalism is on The Daily Show or in The Onion. A case in point:

CHAPEL HILL, NC—A field study released Monday by the University of North Carolina School of Public Health suggests that Iraqi citizens experience sadness and a sense of loss when relatives, spouses, and even friends perish, emotions that have until recently been identified almost exclusively with Westerners.

"We were struck by how an Iraqi reacts to the sight of the bloody or decapitated corpse of a family member in a not unlike an American, or at the very least a Canadian, would," said Dr. Jonathan Pryztal, chief author of the study. "In addition to the rage, bloodlust, and hatred we already know to dominate the Iraqi emotional spectrum, it appears that they may have some capacity, however limited, for sadness."

Though Pryztal was quick to add that more detailed analysis is needed, he said the findings cast some doubt on long-held assumptions about human nature in that region.

"Contrary to conventional wisdom, it seems that Iraqis do indeed experience at least minor feelings of grief when a best friend or a grandparent is ripped apart by a car bomb or shot execution style and later unearthed in a shallow mass grave," Prytzal said. "Last December's suicide-bomb killing of 71 Shiites in Baghdad, for example, produced unexpected reactions ranging from crumpled, sobbing despair to silent, dazed shock."

The truths revealed in this article are deeply disturbing. The number of Iraqis killed in the war doesn't even enter into American discourse. It is simply a non-issue. The Iraqi dead have been relegated out of the category of human beings and are classified as faceless, inherently evil "insurgents."

How should we describe a culture that views the rest of the world in this manner? Diseased? Amoral? Catastrophically self-centred? I'm not sure, but I'm certain that "inherently good" wouldn't be amongst the descriptors I would choose.

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August 22, 2007

Onward to Iran: Postscript

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Lest anyone have any doubts as to what the Bush administration's last "great" act on the world stage will be:

Yesterday, Raw Story pointed out that former CIA operative Bob Baer told Fox News that the Bush administration will likely attack Iran in the coming months. “Iran policy is on close hold, but the feeling is we will hit the Islamic Revolutionary Guard corps sometime next six months or so,” said Baer.

Today, former U.N. ambassador John Bolton appeared on Fox News and responded. He said that while he couldn’t confirm Baer’s statements, he “absolutely” hoped they were true:

HEMMER: One final step here, too, that I want to take with you. You told one of our producers earlier today that you don’t know if it’s true — and you’ve made that clear in our interview here, that you don’t know what the odds are or are not against that — but you hope it’s true. Why do you hope it’s true?

BOLTON: Absolutely. I hope Iran understands that we are very serious, that we are determined they are not going to get a nuclear weapon capability, and unless they change the strategic decision they’ve been pursuing for close to 20 years, that that’s something they better factor into their calculations.

Bolton’s calls for strikes against Iran mirror those of other neocons, such as Bill Kristol and Michael Rubin, who also pushed for the Iraq invasion. Bolton’s claim that “Iran is interfering in Iraq and is posing a direct threat to our troops” is not a reason to strike the country. In reality, both Gen. Peter Pace and the National Intelligence Estimate have confirmed that Iran is “not likely” to be a major driver of violence in Iraq.

As that last sentence shows, the U.S. government is well aware that their cassus belli is nothing but trumped up lies. That leaves only insanity as the reason for why they would undertake such a disastrous misadventure. One can only wonder what the world will look like once the calamity of neoconservatism is done wreaking its fearful havoc.

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August 17, 2007

Friday night blues blogging

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I don't think I've done a lot of Freddie King. I should remedy that.

Have You Ever Loved A Woman

And a little instrumental goodness.

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August 15, 2007

Act One: The Subtle Smear

Iran is arming Iraqi insurgents causing chaos in Iraq and killing American soldiers!

Recently, the Iranian ambassador spoke to reporters, rejecting U.S. claims that his country was funding training and arming militia groups in Iraq. He demanded to see evidence. In today's briefing, the U.S. officials admitted there was a gap between what they say they know, and what they can show, leaving reporters with more questions than answers.

Proof? Oh yes, they have lots of proof. They just can't share it with the punters so we'll have to go on trust. Everyone comfortable with that?

Well, we probably shouldn't be. But the groundwork has been successfully laid: We must attack Iran in order to protect U.S troops!

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August 13, 2007

What Can You Say?

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The internets are abuzz with Karl Rove's announcement of his resignation and I can't think of a thing to say. The destruction he has wrought will so outlive his miserable life that having the head rat desert the sinking Titanic Bush ship of state is barely even comforting. And, of course, the fact that he has resigned from his formal position doesn't mean he's gone. It just means he can now operate with less scrutiny behind the scenes. I think I have just seen the encyclopedia entry for "hollow victory".

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August 10, 2007

Friday night blues blogging

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Albert Collins. Same Old Thing.

And I Ain't Drunk.

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August 9, 2007

A basic problem with defining labour as a “market”

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The thing about markets is that they operate on these “supply and demand” principles. Now, “supply and demand” are often taken as both inevitable and wonderful, but there are a lot of things they don’t work very well for. Take any crisis situation where food is scarce—let things operate by “supply and demand” rather than by rationing and watch the price multiply by ten or more.

For labour, the problem I see is on the other end. It’s absolutely necessary for people to work. If everyone stopped working, we’d all starve, freeze in the dark, drown in garbage, become ignorant and so on. That’s given. So when we say an economy is functioning, we mean the people in it are working to make it function—labour is as needed a commodity as food. Now, we would like the outcome of people working to be that as many people as possible have the best possible quality of life. That’s not a given, it’s an ethical statement, and depending how you define quality of life it could leave out issues such as freedom, autonomy, and so forth. But I think it’s close enough for talking about economies, and I think on that economic level it’s an ethical statement that’s kind of hard to argue with.

OK, now mix in supply and demand. If there’s more supply of than demand for labour, the price goes down. If the price goes down, people don’t get paid much. If people don’t get paid much in a capitalist society, their life sucks. If their life sucks, the economy is not functioning well by the ethical definition of “functioning well” that I just described.

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August 7, 2007

Globe and Mail and other dino-publishers, please copy, as we used to say:

While other online publications were abandoning subscriptions, the Times took the opposite approach in 2005 and began charging for access to well-known writers, including Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich and Thomas L. Friedman.

The decision, which also walled off access to archives and other content, was controversial almost from the start, with some of the paper's own columnists complaining that it limited their Web readership.

In July, The Post reported that insiders were lobbying to shut down the service. After two years, however, the move to do away with TimesSelect may have more to do with growth than grumbling inside the paper.

The number of Web-only subscribers who pay $7.95 a month or $49.95 a year fell to just over 221,000 in June, down from more than 224,000 in April.

So, ok: for now, it's only Frank Rich we really want to read, but let's try to focus on the principle of the thing.

h/t to The Next Hurrah

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August 3, 2007

Friday night blues blogging

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Albert King. Move to the Outskirts.

And a bonus track: King with John Mayall's Blues Breakers on Why Are You So Mean To Me.

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