Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Films of the 40's

This is the time of the year to watch movies, with time on your hands at home. I’d like to suggest some movies from one of my favorite eras, the 1940’s. (The best film era is the 1970’s.) This generation were made up of people who had lived through the Great Depression and World War II. They were weary and street-wise. If 30’s films were escapism and the 50’s were fluff, then the 40’s were harsh realism. I picked my Top Five:



Amazon.com


Twelve O’Clock High (1949): This first got me into 40’s films. I was shocked to find out this was made only a few years after the war they depict. No propagandistic white washing here. General Savage (Gregory Peck) takes over an American bomber unit responsible for raiding Nazi Occupied Europe from England. Americans were engaged in daylight precision bombing, and with no fighter escort, they were being shot down disastrously. Morale is low and Savage is there to kick some ass into shape. He takes them up, flying in the massive formation on missions himself. Many planes are lost, there is real air-combat footage. Waist gunners battling the swarming German fighter planes trying to shoot each other down. B17’s being blown up.

Savage tries to hold them together. In a speech to the stone faced squadron he says:

"We've got to fight. And some of us have got to die. I'm not trying to tell you not to be afraid. Fear is normal. But stop worrying about it and about yourselves. Stop making plans. Forget about going home. Consider yourselves already dead. Once you accept that idea, it won't be so tough."

Can you imagine a general saying this in modern times? It’d be all over the newspapers and internet within hours.

Well worth watching with an ending that makes you want to pour a drink afterwards.



Amazon.com


The Big Sleep (1946): I love Raymond Chandler’s books about hard boiled PI Phillip Marlowe, and this was my favorite. Before I had ever seen this movie, I felt it was a given that Marlowe had to be played by Humphrey Bogart. Nobody has ever had, or will ever have, screen presence like Bogie. For the era of the fedora, trench coat, cigarettes, bottle in the desk drawer, tough guy voice: nobody was cooler. It’s a great mystery story with style and twists. Lauren Bacall is also fabulous as Vivien.



Amazon.com


Citizen Kane (1941): I’m not going to be original by saying that this is special. Every “greatest movies of all time” list has it listed as #1. People feel like they have to watch this movie. Don’t let that stop you. It’s not pretentious. As soon as the movie starts, you know it’s compelling. They do the pre-television “Newsreel” story of Charles Foster Kane’s life. He has died, he was the wealthiest man in the world. A reporter is assigned to find out the true story. Kane was a press baron, modeled after William Randolph Hearst. He was so rich that the people in his life were mere toys to be played with. The film follows his life from childhood to his bitter old years. It’s a great way to spend two hours during the holidays.



Amazon.com


Casablanca (1942): Once again, I’m not breaking ground by recommending this. Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa Lund emotionally cons Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine into giving her and her husband coveted plane tickets out of Vichy French (hence Nazi overview) controlled Casablanca in Morocco. It is not a sappy romance film. Ilsa and Rick had had an affair the year before, which he has never gotten over. My favorite scene is when after hours, Rick is alone getting drunk at his club, and feeling sorry for himself when Ilsa walks in to make her case. He can’t match her beauty and sophistication. She gets what she wants and has him feeling good about helping her out in the end.



Amazon.com


Double Indemnity (1944): Film Noir got started with this Billy Wilder classic. Fred MacMurray (My Three Son’s dad) is an insurance salesman who meets a seductive dame (Barbara Stanwyck) who wants to kill her husband and do a life insurance scam. As with this genre, we see a normally law abiding person get tangled up in a scam for adventurous and greedy purposes that ends with tragic results. There’s no easy money, or carefree life in the 40’s.

Way Too Late For This

The Washington Times reports that the Republican National Committee are coming out against bailouts:

Republican Party officials say they will try next month to pass a resolution accusing President Bush and congressional Republican leaders of embracing "socialism," underscoring deep dissension within the party at the end of Mr. Bush's administration.

Those pushing the resolution, which will come before the Republican National Committee at its January meeting, say elected leaders need to be reminded of core principles. They said the RNC must take the dramatic step of wading into policy debates, which traditionally have been left to lawmakers.

We can't be a party of small government, free markets and low taxes while supporting bailouts and nationalizing industries, which lead to big government, socialism and high taxes at the expense of individual liberty and freedoms," said Solomon Yue, an Oregon member and co-sponsor of a resolution that criticizes the U.S. government bailouts of the financial and auto industries. Republican National Committee Vice Chairman James Bopp Jr. wrote the resolution and asked the rest of the 168 voting members to sign it.


There is less than a month that Bush has left in office, and the bailouts have been doled out. Now they are coming out with this?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Things We Never Hear About: Tenuous Supply Line Through Pakistan to Afghanistan

Fighting a war in a land locked country like Afghanistan has many logistical hurdles. Right now the main route is through Pakistan and it's become more difficult to control. The Cato Institute has an article explaining the difficulty:

Militants operating in and around the Pakistani tribal region of Khyber Agency have repeatedly hijacked supply vehicles entering Afghanistan. Earlier this month, gunmen torched more than 160 vehicles near the Pakistani border city of Peshawar, the biggest assault yet on the vital military supply line. Last March, dozens of oil tankers were attacked in the tribal town of Landi Kotal. If the Pakistani supply routes are severed, Washington's options are not good.

Relying on providing enough supplies through the air using planes off of aircraft carriers in the Indian Ocean is not realistic. That is true even with the current troop levels in Afghanistan, much less with the 20,000 to 30,000 additional forces earmarked for deployment in 2009.
....

For the time being, the U.S. and NATO will have to rely on Pakistan. America's foreign policy in the region remains hostage to events in that increasingly unstable country. Washington would be wise to take steps immediately to repair relations with either Tehran or Moscow if it wishes to have another feasible option for sustaining the Afghanistan mission.

It's sad irony that both NATO and the Taliban/Al Qaida are supplying their principles from Pakistan. The question arises again: What the hell do we do with Pakistan?

Relevent Quote of the Day

Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.

- PJ O'Rourke

GMAC Bailout: Creating More and More Bad Debts

The almost daily, non-Congressionally approved bailouts continue. Now it is for GMAC Financing. The first paragraph of this New York Times article made me slap my forhead:

GMAC, the automobile financing company, said Tuesday morning that it would immediately resume financing to a wider range of car buyers, a day after the Treasury Department injected billions of dollars into the lender.

In otherwords, make more risky loans. Hmm, now how can this be a bad thing?

Under the financing deal, the Treasury will buy $5 billion worth of preferred equity shares in GMAC, which used to be the financing subsidiary of General Motors and is now owned jointly by G.M. and Cerberus Capital Management, the private equity firm that owns Chrysler.

A Treasury official said on Monday night that the deal had already closed and that GMAC already had the money. In addition, the Treasury said it would lend General Motors $1 billion so that it could purchase additional equity offered by GMAC.

Remember how heavily debated the 1979 Chrysler Bailout was? It was only $1.5 billion dollars. How quaint does that seem?

NY Post Hit Piece on Favre

I've been waiting for the NY Post to blast Brett Favre and was finally rewarded today. No more fawning Wisconsin press for the golden boy. This is tabloid journalism at its finest. (read)

This very public, fawning Favre-lust makes it awfully hard not to read the tea leaves whispering out loud that a graybeard gunslinger wearing a No. 4 jersey was spotted on the grassy knoll, blood on his hands, and never mind the obvious wisecrack that he would have missed his target, the artist formerly known as Mangenius, who three years ago was hired as the Jets' Camelot coach.

The owner and GM have fallen so head over heels for Favre, have been so blinded by his star, that it was easy for them to make Mangini the fall guy, who didn't motivate, inspire or win enough with a Win Now team and certainly wasn't going to sell any PSLs for the owner.

After throwing interceptions 20, 21 and 22 in Sunday's loss to Chad Pennington and the Dolphins, Favre dismissed a Fox report that he didn't like playing for Mangini, didn't like getting called on the carpet in front of the team for those interceptions, didn't like being treated like the other 52 peons, didn't like all the pop quizzes and meetings. "He's fair," Favre said.


Hitchens: Is the US Turning Into a Banana Republic?

Christopher Hitchens, in a Vanity Fair piece, rails against the recent developments from bailouts to an impotent Congress, from a leftist point of view. I respect him, and some of the arguments he makes are universal, no matter what your stripe. What is happening now is an incredible blow to the credibility of the United States. (read)

And still, in so many words in the phrasing of the first bailout request to be placed before Congress, there appeared the brazen demand that, once passed, the “package” be subject to virtually no more Congressional supervision or oversight. This extraordinary proposal shows the utter contempt in which the deliberative bodies on Capitol Hill are held by the unelected and inscrutable financial panjandrums. But welcome to another aspect of banana-republicdom. In a banana republic, the members of the national legislature will be (a) largely for sale and (b) consulted only for ceremonial and rubber-stamp purposes some time after all the truly important decisions have already been made elsewhere.

...

Now ask yourself another question. Has anybody resigned, from either the public or the private sectors (overlapping so lavishly as they now do)? Has anybody even offered to resign? Have you heard anybody in authority apologize, as in: “So very sorry about your savings and pensions and homes and college funds, and I feel personally rotten about it”? Have you even heard the question being posed? O.K., then, has anybody been fired? Any regulator, any supervisor, any runaway would-be golden-parachute artist? Anyone responsible for smugly putting the word “derivative” like a virus into the system? To ask the question is to answer it. The most you can say is that some people have had to take a slightly early retirement, but a retirement very much sweetened by the wherewithal on which to retire. That doesn’t quite count. These are the rules that apply in Zimbabwe or Equatorial Guinea or Venezuela, where the political big boys mimic what is said about our hedge funds and investment banks: the stupid mantra about being “too big to fail.”

It's incredible what is happening right now and people are starting to wake up to it. People should be fired, people should be jailed.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Olympic Fears: Vancouver Falls Apart After Snowfall

I've never seen snow like this in Vancouver, but by Canadian standards it hasn't been very much. However, the city has been virtually shut down for a week. Even though it hasn't snowed for about 4 days the roads are still messy, the sidewalks impassable. Last night, not the busiest night of the year, we had to wait an hour and a half for a taxi.

The Globe and Mail has a piece about how this would be a disaster if it happens during the Olympics.

With 400,000 passengers passing through Vancouver in the last week on 5,000 flights, the present volume of traffic at the airport is very close to what it will be during the Games, said Don Ehrenholz, vice-president of operations for Vancouver International Airport. He admitted operations weren't perfect over the last few days, but promised improvement by the time the Games start.

“In our planning for 2010 we are planning that there will be a snowstorm of a fairly large magnitude at the worst possible time — either at the very first couple of days or the very last day or two, which is one of the more difficult times for getting people out on time,” Mr. Ehrenholz said.

....

“I understand that the type of weather that we've had over the past week or so is a one-in-10-year event,” he added. “Let's hope we've gotten it out of our system for another 10 years.”

I'm not looking forward to these Olympics.

Peter Schiff: There's No Pain-Free Cure for Recession

Once again, Peter Schiff is the voice of reason and common sense. With bailout mania in full swing, he asks us to think about what we're doing. (Read)

As recession fears cause the nation to embrace greater state control of the economy and unimaginable federal deficits, one searches in vain for debate worthy of the moment. Where there should be an historic clash of ideas, there is only blind resignation and an amorphous queasiness that we are simply sweeping the slouching beast under the rug.

...

Individuals, companies or cities with heavy debt and shrinking revenues instinctively know that they must reduce spending, tighten their belts, pay down debt and live within their means. But it is axiomatic in Keynesianism that national governments can create and sustain economic activity by injecting printed money into the financial system. In their view, absent the stimuli of the New Deal and World War II, the Depression would never have ended.

On a gut level, we have a hard time with this concept. There is a vague sense of smoke and mirrors, of something being magically created out of nothing. But economics, we are told, is complicated.

I bolded the last line. It's so true. If it defies common sense people are secure with the thought that people smarter than themselves are taking care of it. I remember getting into an argument with a person about some "modern art" painting of a few colored lines on a blank canvas. I said I thought it was garbage, a joke. The guy countered, with: "How the hell to you know? There are experts out there who think it has value." He admitted he himself didn't see it. People are too willing to trust the experts, instead of their own eyes. (But I digress.)

Similarly, any jobs or other economic activity created by public-sector expansion merely comes at the expense of jobs lost in the private sector. And if the overnment chooses to save inefficient jobs in select private industries, more efficient jobs will be lost in others. As more factors of production come under government control, the more inefficient our entire economy becomes. Inefficiency lowers productivity, stifles competitiveness and lowers living standards.

I've never had a bleaker feeling for the future. The media are ignoring the situation. All we get are People magazine type shots of the President-Elect on the beach.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Final Sunday of the Season in the NFL

A garbage game for the Giants against Minnesota, as they have already clinched the #1 seed in the NFC. The important game is Miami at NY Jets. The Favre experiment is down the drain if the Jets lose... I will be away from the keyboard today but will be back posting Monday.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Re-Examining Suburb-Phobia

I grew up in the suburbs. It was great, until you were about 13-14. Playing baseball in the park with your friends wasn't cutting it anymore. Movies, the shopping mall, and video arcades all required long bus rides to reach. In my later teens, cool hangouts or concerts were downtown and even further on the bus. Neighborhoodwise, we had a Chinese restaurant to hang out at and that was it. All my friends and I vowed once we got out we'd never come back. Fast forwarding to now, many of those same people are in the suburbs or wanting to be. I'm still holding out in downtown, but giving serious consideration otherwise.

In the novel High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby, the main character lives in London's cool urban neighborhood Camden Town. However, now that he's in his 30's and in a long term relationship, he is more concerned with home entertainment and rarely goes out. He might as well live in the suburbs because that was his lifestyle.

"But nobody ever writes about how it is possible to escape and rot – how escapes can go off at half-cock, how you can leave the suburbs for the city but end up living a limp suburban life anyway. That’s what happened to me; that’s what happens to most people."

In today's Wall Street Journal, Lee Siegal writes a brilliant article on the arts community unfairly villainizing the suburbs. There are so many great segments; I will highlight a few:

Sylvia Plath added some spine-tingling details. In her 1963 autobiographical novel, "The Bell Jar," Plath's heroine steps off a train and has this infernal experience: "The motherly breath of the suburbs enfolded me. It smelt of lawn sprinklers and station wagons and dogs and babies. A summer calm laid its soothing hand over everything, like death." The pleasures of a station wagon's aroma are open to question, but summer calm, the smell of wet grass, the scent of dogs (if they're clean) and babies (clean or dirty) -- are, it could be argued, some of the least horrifying experiences in life.
....

Yet the Wheelers live in a safe and protected middle-class town with intact, well-to-do families; efficient services; and happy children gamboling in sprinklers and running among the trees. How did such an environment come to acquire qualities previously associated with Dante's "Inferno," Dickens's Victorian workhouses and Solzhenitsyn's gulags?
...

It's easy to see why artists and intellectuals felt that they had to alert the general public to the emergency of these sudden new places' peaceful, leafy streets. For one thing, the suburbs seemed not to offer the primary experiences of either country or city. The backyard is but the reminder of a meadow; the tree-lined intersection is but the faint echo of a busy urban intersection. The suburbs were the embodiment of that period's fashionable existential fear: "inauthenticity."

Read the whole thing. He mentions "American Beauty", which was a silly movie. Watching, I remember thinking that I wouldn't mind living in that house and neighborhood, what are these people whining about? (Happy ending: the teenage girl and her boyfriend are ready to move to New York City to become drug dealers! What a great alternative to an upper-middle class suburb.)

I have visited the same suburbs that I was brought up in recently, and the trees and quietness and lack of crystal meth freaks roaming the street was refreshing.

Frum Defends Harper's Senate Appointments

I have criticized journalists being appointed to the Senate but I'm not upset about Harper going back on his word have elections for the vacant 18 seats. Neither does David Frum in today's National Post:

Following Stéphane Dion's attempt to take power via a clandestine deal, Harper and the Conservatives had every reason to fear that their two years of principled self-denial would profit only their opponents. Senate-watchers expect another 11 vacancies to open in the next 12 month. How would Dion have filled those 29 seats total -- that is, after paying his debt toElizabeth May?

So Harper acted. He acted as almost every prime minister before him has acted, following some of the most ancient traditions of Canadian politics.

If we don't like those actions (and I suspect that few like them less than Harper himself), blame the traditions -- not the man who was thwarted in his every attempt to repair and improve the traditions.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Pakistan Shifts Troops Away from Afghan Border

The Pakistanis are shifting troops out of their northwest frontier region bordering Afghanistan. Bill Roggio speculates about the connection to the Mumbai massacre.

"The Pakistani military does not want to be deployed in the Northwest Frontier Province to fight the Taliban, so if the military pulled them out, it does not surprise me. It is possible they are being reassigned for training, but I do not expect this is happening," Rikhye said, noting there are only three training locations in Pakistan and this is the time of year forces rotate for training.

...

The Pakistani redeployment of Army units to the east is the latest move in heightened tension over the Nov. 26 terror assault on Mumbai that lasted more than 60 hours and resulted in more than 170 civilians killed. India has presented evidence that the Pakistan-based, al Qaeda and Inter-Service Intelligence agency-linked Lashkar-e-Taiba terror group conducted the attack

This is extremely complex intrigue. Were the Mumbai attacks set up by the ISI and army with a move like this in mind? This will not help our people in Afghanistan.

Fighting an Insurgency

I don't envy Obama in trying to figure out what's best for the Afghanistan campaign. (Among many other problems of course.) We've been dug in there for seven years. It's impossible to declare a clear victory. Fred Kaplan takes a look at some of the issues as it stands now in Slate magazine:

The biggest problem is that the country's fate ultimately lies outside its borders. As long as Pakistan's northwest territories remain a lawless free-for-all, with Taliban and al-Qaida fighters crossing the border at will, Afghanistan will never be stable. And as long as Pakistan faces a threat from India to the east, its leaders will never deploy enough troops to quash the insurgents in the northwest territories.

In short, we could do everything perfectly in Afghanistan, but it wouldn't matter unless the region-wide conflicts could be brought under some control.

Again, the good news is that all the relevant players—President-elect Obama, Adm. Mullen, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Gen. David Petraeus, and their top aides—understand this. But knowing the dimensions of a problem is only the first step to solving it. And each one of this problem's aspects—countering the insurgency in Afghanistan, stabilizing Pakistan, and calming tensions between Pakistan and India—is very difficult.

...

But three caveats are worth noting. First, as Dexter Filkins reports in his excellent book "The Forever War", Afghan militias are notorious opportunists; they switch sides at the slightest shift—in who's winning or who's paying more—or sometimes just at whim. They might be won over, but maybe not for long.

...

One possible way to short-circuit this cycle is to demonstrate a few quick and easy successes. For instance, rush a flood of troops to a town that is not under grave threat from the Taliban at the moment and provide it with lots of services—roads, electricity, food, whatever aid is needed. At the same time, rush another flood of troops to an area of marginal Taliban control and crush them. And do all this without killing any civilians.

Kaplan does a great job of describing that there are many intelligent solutions for fighting this battle, but the bottom line is that it might not be worth it. Read the last paragraph I cited from the article above. What a dog's breakfast. You spend most of your time doing a song and dance for the whimsical locals, hoping they will like you. You try not to kill civilians but you are fighting guerrillas who look like them.

Do I have a solution to offer? Pull out. You can try to make it look better, by slowly withdrawing or making flimsy "peace with honor" pledges, but that just prolongs the inevitable. Take a hit to the pride. As Marcellus Wallace says: "...that's pride fuckin' wit ya. Fuck pride! Pride only hurts, it never helps."

Sometimes you just have to admit that the situation is has run its course. Good old American know-how cannot prevail over every circumstance.

UPDATE: Putting lives on the line so every bigamist war lord can get their Viagra.

The Decade is Almost Over

It's amazing to me that we're heading into the final year of the decade. Jonah Goldberg from the National Review takes a pass at making sense of it.

As flawed as the American habit of dividing our history into decades may be (the ’60s didn’t get started until the ’50s ended around 1964), it’s always made at least some intuitive sense. For instance, the popular conception of the ’70s — self-indulgent, tacky, kind of gross — closely jibes with my memory of it, even thought it didn’t begin until the end of the Vietnam War and died soon thereafter. The fatal blow was probably the “Disco Demolition Night” riot in Chicago’s Comiskey Park in the summer of 1979 (even staunch law-and-order types have to admire anti-disco riots), and it ultimately staggered to its death about the time of Ronald Reagan’s election.

Likewise, the 1980s and 1990s felt like real decades, whether you hated them or not. Reagan and Bill Clinton, through force of personality alone, helped give the ’80s and ’90s a coherence.

But it doesn’t feel like we can say the same thing about George W. Bush’s oughts, in no small part because Bush showed neither the interest nor the ability to dominate the culture.

Neither the pro-Bush nor anti-Bush segments of society seemed to control the commanding heights of the popular culture. After 9/11, the Bushian forces seemed to dominate — freedom fries, 24, the Dixie Chicks’ implosion — but that didn’t last long. And, with the exception of a brief counter-Bush surge led by the lefty blogosphere, Jon Stewart and the re-imagined coffeehouse rock version of the Dixie Chicks, the battle for decade dominance has been between a fizzle and a deadlock.

There was a gigantic shift in the "noughts". On a pop culture/style level, it may not be clear to define yet, but politically it has been dramatic: The Florida recount, 9-11; Bali; Afghanistan; Iraq; London 7-7; Madrid; video of Saddam getting hung; the bizarre 2004 Kerry v. Bush campaign. Continuing: An actual Conservative PM in Canada; the epic deterioration of the Bush administration; Obama Mania; the financial sector collapse; and the now developing bailout swindle.

Incredibly interesting to be alive in these times. Remember in the 90's when the major issue was the laughable Clinton impeachment?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Yuletide

A Christmas Carol

I love the 1971 animated version of "A Christmas Carol" with Alistair Sim as the voice of Scrooge. The animation depicts the bleakness of London during the Dickens era, with an edge that you can't get on regular film. There are two instances where I got genuine chills.

See it here - Merry Christmas! Google Videos

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

May the Ghosts of Christmas Be Good to You Tonight




Economy Shrinks 0.1% in October

StatsCan announced that the economy shrank a whopping 0.1% in October.

Canada's economy contracted by 0.1 per cent in October, although that was a smaller drop than the 0.3 per cent decline economists had been forecasting.

This is why we needed the Liberal-NDP-Bloc Coalition to overthrow the elected government with a backroom deal. The economic situation was so dire, we didn't have time to waste!

E Pluribus Unum


The Roman architecture of Supreme Court of the USA in Washington, DC.

There has been much discussion about comparing ancient Rome to the United States in the comments lately. It's clear that the Founding Fathers had Rome in mind as a model for the Republic.

Party Leader With 25% of the Seats in Parliament Sets Terms

The hubris of Michael Ignatieff comes through in this interview. Somebody must be bringing in the favors because once again the Globe & Mail fawn over him like any good PR agency should. Ignatieff warns PM against use of hardball tactics in Parliament

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has issued a warning to Prime Minister Stephen Harper that he won't tolerate the misuse of confidence votes or hardball parliamentary tactics when MPs return next month to decide the government's
fate.


Hardball parliamentary tactics? As opposed to overturning an election?

“He took the wrong signal from the election. The signal he took was that he could try anything he wanted to and he grievously underestimated the Liberal Party of Canada. We've got our act together, got a leader chosen, and he can't keep making these misjudgments of the mood of the House and hope to survive.”

Iggy says Harper "grievously underestimated the Liberal Party of Canada." Oh please. The recent election was the Liberal Party's worst showing since Confederation. They are dead west of Ontario. They haven't had a majority in Quebec since the Trudeau era.

The Liberals have inked a deal with the New Democrats to take over government in a coalition, but Mr. Ignatieff has indicated he could back the budget if it delivers the appropriate economic help to increasingly anxious Canadians. The coalition came together after opposition parties were infuriated by an economic statement that, among other things, would have eliminated voter subsidies for political parties and suspended the right to strike of civil servants.

Point #1: OK. (deep breath) Globe and Mail people, one last time. The coalition deal is not just with the Liberals and the New Democrats. As we all know, the Liberal seats (77) + the NDP seats (37) = 114 seats, which is less than the 143 seats that the Conservatives have. So, to get the majority they publically signed on with the Bloc Quebecois who have 49 seats. Why do they keep pretending that the Bloc aren't part of the deal? I understand why the Liberals do that but why does the Globe?

Point #2 Does the Globe realize that eliminating voter subsidies and suspending fat cat government workers from striking is a popular move to the majority of the public?

Nonetheless, Mr. Ignatieff said liberal parties around the world are best positioned to take advantage of the current economic turmoil. International conservative leaders such as Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush rode the wave of looser market regulation that has been blamed for sparking the global financial crisis.

Take advantage? That's cold.... And by the way: Don't put Bush Sr., and Jr. in the same sentence as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Especially Bush Jr.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Time's Men Person's of the Year Since 1927



This website is very cool to look at. Every Time Magazine Person's of the Year. If you click on each cover, they have the explanatory write up. From hindsight, it's interesting to see some of the people that we have forgotten over the years. For example, James F. Byrnes in 1946 or Willy Brandt in 1970.

The cover to the left features Nikita Khrushchev for 1957. We haven't forgotten him. (Mainly for crushing Hungary in 1956, and for the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.) So why did they give it to him in 1957? First looking at the picture, I couldn't understand what the ball, with what looked like strings attached, was. Well, it was Sputnik. I remember my father telling me how big of a deal this was considered back then.

Jack The Mustache Befriends Newfie Expropriator

Newfie tough guy Danny Williams can sit back and let Canada fight his NAFTA suit from AbitibiBowater, the company he expropriated assests from. His professionalism is shining through. (read)

David Paterson, Abitibi's president and chief executive officer, in a stinging letter to Williams last week, called Newfoundland and Labrador's move illegal and subject to retaliation.

In an interview Monday with CBC News, Williams said he's not worried.

"You know I'm a lawyer of over 30 years, so blowhard, five-page letters that get sent to everybody in the country mean nothing to me. I know the law," said Williams.

AbitibiBowater has said it is consulting with officials in Canada and in the U.S. over a possible challenge using the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Again, Williams said he is unfazed.

"We're acting within our rights here. If there's going to be a NAFTA challenge, so be it," he said.

"It appears that Abitibi are trying to adopt that similar type of jargon and to try and impress probably political leaders or people with political influence, but, you know, that doesn't work with me," he said.

"I've heard it all, and sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me."

The NDP's Jack Layton is listening. Socialists love sticking it to businesses and never liked the concept of private property.

"I think the premier has made a very bold move on behalf of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, and I congratulated him for having the foresight to take such a step," Layton told reporters.

"Our NDP members of Parliament have been meeting with the communities to talk about whether or not we can somehow or another convince the government of Ontario to move down a similar path," said Layton, following a meeting with Williams.

"So I think he's opened up an important new approach to public policy and to the custodianship of a public asset, and a public trust."

"An important new approach to public policy." No Jack, that's a very old approach and is illegal. Goddamn, imagine this guy as a cabinet minister in a ruling majority. We were almost there folks. Votes and private property be damned.

Bad Vaudeville Act: Ann Coulter

Ann the man has an article up on why liberals hate Sarah Palin. The whole premise is wrong. Liberals love this gal. They could point and say: "Look, Republicans really are ignorant hicks." They can also laugh, as Saturday Night Live ratings went through the roof with Tina Fey's impersonation of her.

By the end, Ann's gets a little too fired up and admits Sarah may not be too bright:

Palin was a kick in the pants, she energized conservatives, and she made liberal heads explode. Other than his brave military service, introducing Sarah Palin to Americans is the greatest thing John McCain ever did for his country.

But unless Palin is going to be the perpetual running mate of “moderate” Republicans who need conservative bona fides, she will need to become wiser and better read. Even Reagan didn’t run for President in his 40s. (True Obama is in his 40s, but we are not Democrats.)

You see? Just a little readin' and learnin'. Maybe by 2012 she can name a newspaper, any newspaper. Democrats are saying their prayers every night hoping that the Republicans keep trotting her out.

Niall Ferguson: US Is Not Completely Down the Toilet

Popular historian Niall Ferguson thinks the financial situation is disastrous for the US. On the bright side, it's worse for other countries.

Emerging markets, too, have been hammered harder by the crisis than the "decoupling” thesis promised. In the year to the end of October 2008, the U.S. stock market declined by 34 percent. But Brazil’s was down 54 percent, China’s 58 percent, India’s 64 percent and Russia’s 66 percent. When Goldman Sachs christened these four countries the BRICs, they little realized that their equity markets would one day be dropping like bricks. These figures are scarcely good advertisements for the more regulated, state-led economic models favored in Beijing and Moscow.

The financial crisis is especially bad news for energy exporters: not only belligerent Russia, whose leaders yearn for a reconstituted Soviet empire, but also those other thorns in the side of the United States, Iran and Venezuela. Any oil price below $94 a barrel is bad news for Venezuela’s fragile finances; any price below $55 spells trouble for Iran.

In any case, is even the fastest growing of America’s rivals really a credible alternative to the United States? Rapidly though it is growing, China is bedeviled by three serious ailments: demographic imbalance, environmental degradation and political corruption. China’s military is not remotely ready to mount a serious challenge to American dominance in the Pacific. And, crucially, it is far from clear that China is ready to wean its manufacturing sector completely off the U.S. export market. After three years of very mild renminbi appreciation, the People’s Bank of China seems to be contemplating renewed intervention to keep the currency weak relative to the dollar. That means China will continue to sell renminbi for dollars, further enlarging its already large portfolio of U.S. bonds.

Read it all.

Monday, December 22, 2008

All Recipient Banks Can't Account for Billions of Bailout Money

In the rush to push through the "emergency" bailout for financials, dim-bulb or crooked Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson forgot to ask how the money was going to be spent. Congress passed the spending without knowing either.

The answers highlight the secrecy surrounding the Troubled Assets Relief Program, which earmarked $700 billion — about the size of the Netherlands' economy — to help rescue the financial industry. The Treasury Department has been using the money to buy stock in U.S. banks, hoping that the sudden inflow of cash will get banks to start lending money.

There has been no accounting of how banks spend that money. Lawmakers summoned bank executives to Capitol Hill last month and implored them to lend the money — not to hoard it or spend it on corporate bonuses, junkets or to buy other banks. But there is no process in place to make sure that's happening and there are no consequences for banks who don't comply.

"It is entirely appropriate for the American people to know how their taxpayer dollars are being spent in private industry," said Elizabeth Warren, the top congressional watchdog overseeing the financial bailout.

But, at least for now, there's no way for taxpayers to find that out.

Pressured by the Bush administration to approve the money quickly, Congress attached nearly no strings on the $700 billion bailout in October. And the Treasury Department, which doles out the money, never asked banks how it would be spent.

"Those are legitimate questions that should have been asked on Day One," said Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., a House Financial Services Committee member who opposed the bailout as it was rushed through Congress. "Where is the money going to go to? How is it going to be spent? When are we going to get a record on it?"
...

Garrett, the New Jersey congressman, said the nation might never get a clear answer on where hundreds of billions of dollars went.

"A year or two ago, when we talked about spending $100 million for a bridge to nowhere, that was considered a scandal," he said.

You have to think Paulson is dirty. Like a con-artist who implores you to hurry up and buy now or you'll lose the opportunity, he managed to appropriate $350 billion without accounting for it. Unbelievable.

Well we know where $1.6 billion went:

The 116 banks that so far have received taxpayer dollars to boost them through the economic crisis gave their top tier of executives nearly $1.6 billion in salaries, bonuses and other benefits in 2007, an Associated Press analysis found.

That amount, spread among the 600 highest paid bank executives, would cover the bailout money given to 53 of the banks that have shared the $188 billion that Washington has doled out in rescue packages so far.

Queen's Thought Police In Action

Matt Gurney of the National Post has new information on the Queen's Thought Police today:

My friend's friend -- we'll call her "Judy" -- was part of a school club that helped organize an off-campus charity event. A skilled dancer, Judy was part of a group of female students who got up on stage and performed a "cabaret dance," which fitted with the theme of the evening. The costumes of the women in the dance group were what you'd expect --dress shirts tucked into shorts, fishnet stockings, etc. Fun was had by (almost) all, and money raised for a worthy cause.

But shortly thereafter, Judy was contacted by a representative of the Equity Office, which is tasked with ensuring that the university's workers and students can work and learn in an environment free of discrimination-- a laudable goal.

Judy, however, wasn't being accused of standing in the way of anyone's employment or education, but rather of causing offence.

A student had complained to Equity that Judy's costume was demeaning to women.

The Queen's Thought Police want to make sure nobody speaks publically about this because they know if absurd charges like this are brought to light they'll lose their power. I remember when I was on campus in the early 90's there was a universal lack of common sense throughout the faculty and the student organizations. This is why all of this does not surprise me at all.

Canadian Journalists Get Senate Appointments

Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin of CTV are two among 18 new Senate appointments named by the Conservatives today.

Among those appointed to regionally distributed seats in the upper house were former broadcaster Pamela Wallin (Sask.), Olympian Nancy Greene Raine (B.C.) and CTV personality Mike Duffy (P.E.I.).

Our last two Governors General were journalists as well. I'm a bit uncomfortable with members of the fourth estate getting patronage appointments. This is a threat to press neutrality. (Not that I believe the main stream media is neutral for a minute.)

US Congress Becoming the Roman Senate: No Real Power

I was wondering how, a week after the Senate shot down the bailout for the automotive industry, the Bush administration went ahead and bailed them out anyway? George F. Will takes notice in this Washington Post piece:

On Friday the president gave the two automakers access to money Congress explicitly did not authorize. More money -- up to $17.4 billion -- than had been debated, thereby calling to mind Winston Churchill on naval appropriations: "The Admiralty had demanded six ships: the economists offered four: and we finally compromised on eight."

The president is dispensing money from the $700 billion Congress provided for the Troubled Asset Relief Program. The unfounded assertion of a right to do this is notably brazen, given the indisputable fact that if Congress had known that TARP -- supposedly a measure for scouring "toxic" assets from financial institutions -- was to become an instrument for unconstrained industrial policy, it would not have been passed.
....

For decades, imperatives of wars hot and cold, and the sprawl of the regulatory state, have enlarged the executive branch at the expense of the legislative. For eight years, the Bush administration's "presidentialists" have aggressively wielded the concept of the "unitary executive" -- the theory that where the Constitution vests power in the executive, especially power over foreign affairs and war, the president is immune to legislative abridgements of his autonomy.

The administration has not, however, confined its aggrandizement of executive power to national security matters. According to former representative Mickey Edwards in his book "Reclaiming Conservatism," the president has issued "signing statements" designating 1,100 provisions of new laws -- more designations than have been made by all prior presidents combined -- that he did not consider binding on him or any other executive branch official.

A healthy Republic needs its Legislative Branch. Lame Duck Bush is spending unprecendeted amounts of the public's money, seemingly illegally and law makers are standing by without comment. Is anybody paying attention? Does anybody care? Where are the checks and balances?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Panthers at Giants


The Panthers travel to the Meadowlands to decide who is the number 1 seed in the NFC. Both teams are remarkably similar. Great lines on both side of the ball and a reliance on power running and ball control. (Ultimately, my kind of football.) What worries me is Carolina's runners, Williams and Stewart have the ability to break the big run. If they get through the Giants tough line, I don't trust those linebackers to stop them. Also, Steve Smith is always somebody to fear.

I'm not as cocky about the Giants' chances as I was a few weeks ago. Let's hope they can get it together. Let's see Brandon Jacobs pound some yards.

UPDATE: 34-28 Giants in a dramatic overtime win! My voice is hoarse from screaming. The Giants' tactics were pure power. We're not going use finesse or get cerebral, we're going to run it right at you and beat you up. No doubt the Giants will be back with the #1 ranking in the press again.

Great Economic Central Planners of History

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Overrated - Underrated

Prospect, the British magazine asked various people what or who they thought was overrated and underrated in 2008.

I thought I'd have a little fun with it and belted out my own short list.

Overrated

Obama – He ran a great campaign. He beat Hilary while appearing above it all. He handled McCain easily. He had the courage to stick with his anti-Iraq War stance. But I watched his biography recently on tv, and man, is that resume slim. I still don’t know what a community organizer is either.

Facebook – I remember the feeling of relief when leaving high school of the thought that there were many people I’d never see again. These are the type of people who love Facebook and they will find you.

NHL Hockey – Too many teams, playing too many games, with too many unrecognizable European players, culminating in a too long playoffs format. I used to enjoy attending games but it’s no where near fulfilling the expectations you have for the price you pay. Take a Caribbean vacation for the same price.

HBO Canada – I was pumped up when it got approved here but it has been disappointing. They play mediocre 15 year old movies over and over. Is there a pressing need to see Fatherland? Bill Maher is great but they only run 10 episodes a year.

Sarah Palin - White trash, evangelical, snake handlers celebrated her as being "one of us.” No, millions thought to themselves, that ain’t me. There’s talk of her being the front runner for Republicans in 2012. Trust me, she won’t be the nominee.

Iggy – People have annoited him the great hope of the Liberal Party. His un-elected ascension to the Liberal leadership is getting off to a poor start. He is still fuddling his way around without a clear position on the coalition. Remember that other can't miss star, Paul Martin?

Underrated

Pakistan – It has about 60 active nuclear weapons and it's on the verge of becoming a failed state. It’s the new centre of world terrorism. Something really bad is going to come out of this situation.

Bit Torrent – With an HDMI cable feeding into your tv, this is the greatest home entertainment improvement of my adult life. I haven’t used my video store card in 12 months.

...

If you have any you would like to add, please do so in the comments section. I know there are much better ones out there.

Big Three Bailout Share Turns to Canada

It's looks like CAW are talking tough. I don't understand where their bargaining position is coming from. They don't want to hear about workers making concessions:

Canadian Auto Workers president Ken Lewenza said he is concerned auto workers may be unfairly targeted by the conditions attached to the U.S. aid package. He said it is “ridiculous” to suggest the Detroit Three need to bring their labour costs in line with those at U.S. plants run by Japanese auto makers.

“This isn't about wages and benefits of workers,” Mr. Lewenza said in an interview. “We could work for nothing and we wouldn't sell another vehicle.”

The Detroit Three's Canadian auto plants have improved productivity enormously over the past decade and the CAW would like to focus on making further gains, he said. And he has an answer ready for Mr. Harper and Mr. McGuinty in the event they ask his members to make concessions: “We will maintain our competitive advantage in Canada without being dictated [to] by government,” he said.

Let's repeat that. CAW, while begging for money from the government for their unskilled labourers during a recession says: “We will maintain our competitive advantage in Canada without being dictated [to] by government.”

This is getting personal. Go to hell CAW!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Banana Republic North: Newfies Expropriate Company's Assets

I can't stand Newfoundland Premier Danny "Despite the Oil Profit Windfall, I Still Want Dole From the Rest of Canada" Williams. Now he's acting like a third world tough guy:

In an escalating war of words between Mr. Williams and the multinational company, Mr. Paterson describes Newfoundland and Labrador's seizure of its assets as “confiscatory and hostile actions” that could damage the province and Canada.

“The legislation is an entirely unfounded and unscrupulous attack by the province of Newfoundland and Labrador,” it says.

“The legislation, which is without precedent in Canada, and is reminiscent of decrees emanating from jurisdictions with less democratic traditions, shocks common sensibility.”

Rule of Law is taking a beating in Canada lately.

A Lesson In Humility

It's painful reading this from the creditors of the United States. In the Atlantic, Gao Xiqing, president of the China Investment Corporation, dishes out his opinions and advice to the US. Unfortunately, you have to listen to your meal ticket.

The simple truth today is that your economy is built on the global economy. And it’s built on the support, the gratuitous support, of a lot of countries. So why don’t you come over and … I won’t say kowtow [with a laugh], but at least, be nice to the countries that lend you money.

Talk to the Chinese! Talk to the Middle Easterners! And pull your troops back! Take the troops back, demobilize many of the troops, so that you can save some money rather than spending $2 billion every day on them. And then tell your people that you need to save, and come out with a long-term, sustainable financial policy.

...

The current conditions can’t go on. It is time for the new government, under Obama or even McCain, to really tell people: “Look, this is wartime, this is about the survival of our nation. It’s not about our supremacy in the world. Let’s not even talk about that any more. Let’s get down to the very basics of our livelihood.”


These reflections are about as welcome as a kick in the teeth. But this is what happens when the debt piles up. Expect more of this kind of talk.

No Surprise: Bush Bailing Out GM and Chrysler

It didn't matter that the Senate blocked the bailout, Bush is dipping into TARP for an immediate $13.4 billion:

With these loans, Treasury will have committed virtually all of the $350 billion of that fund that it can hand out without additional authorization from Congress. Once Congress releases the other $350 billion, the two automakers will be able to borrow an additional $4 billion.

GM will get $9.4 billion from the first allocation of federal loan money, while Chrysler would get the other $4 billion.

GM has a total market cap of $2.4 billion. The loan is over three times the entire worth of the company.

This is just in time for Chrysler workers' one month paid vacation. I hear Cabo is nice this time of year.

What a disgrace.

Mark Felt "Deep Throat" Dies Age 95

I was a little let down when it was revealed a few years ago that Felt was "Deep Throat." I thought it was somebody working inside the administration. There were rumours that it was Pat Buchanan which was ridiclous as he was merely a speech writer, and not involved in clandestine activities.

AP has a good summary of his life. I found this footnote interesting:

Felt left the FBI in 1973 for the lecture circuit. Five years later he was indicted on charges of authorizing FBI break-ins at homes associated with suspected bombers from the 1960s radical group the Weather Underground. President Ronald Reagan pardoned Felt in 1981 while the case was on appeal — a move applauded by Nixon.


There's a lot packed into that tidbit. It kind of taints the whole "whistle-blower" doing his public duty label. What rich irony that Nixon applauded the move. Also was Bill Ayers involved?

Harper Planning a $30 Billion Dollar Deficit?

Damn. I had a feeling this was going to happen. Canada tightened up and climbed into the best debt to GDP ratio in the G7. It looks like we won't hang on to the title.

Break out the boondoggle!

A federal economic stimulus package will likely lead to a deficit in
the $20-billion to $30-billion range for the 2009-10 fiscal year, a Prime
Minister's Office official told CBC News on Thursday.

Ah Harper, where is that small government, 'Alberta Way' guy I voted for? You've chickened out.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

If the Economy Could Speak

I am dying with the help of too many physicians.

- Alexander the Great

Chrysler Workers to Collect 95% of Their Pay During Shut-Down

Chrysler are closing down their plants for a month since they are broke. What a great idea, you think. It'll be a tough month for workers, but with the company on the line, it's a necessary sacrifice. Not so. The UAW agreement means they will get paid 95% of their wages during the shut-down.

Corker told Chrysler chief Bob Nardelli that one of his lobbyists told him the previous day that, even if a Chrysler plant is shut down, Chrysler still has to pay wages to its union employees.

How can you come before us, Corker directed to both Nardelli and UAW chief Ron Gettelfinger, and ask us for $25 billion if you're asking taxpayers to fund this sort of activity?

This is simply unbelievable. Who hears this and isn't outraged? We can't keep funding these people who have completely lost the plot. Let them go bankrupt. Maybe somebody can buy up the assets and produce cars again, without UAW.

Mysterious North Korea

Eagle-eyed readers of the Times Online noticed that there was something suspicious about a recently released picture of Kim Jong Il

In a bid to end speculation that Kim Jong Il had suffered a stroke, North Korean officials released a new picture of the “Dear Leader” in apparently good health. But is the image genuine?

A Times Online reader with an eye for detail has pointed out that there is something shady about the shadows in the picture.

A close inspection of the photograph published yesterday by the Korean Central News Agency suggests that the shadow cast by Mr Kim is very different to those cast by the soldiers standing alongside him.


If you look at the photo close-ups they have you can see the image of him is superimposed. Hopefully Kim is seriously ill and will pass away. Surely the next guy in line won't be this insane? I'd sure like to see this pointless Orwellian state open up to the world.

Zombie Businesses

Anthony Randazo has an excellent piece in Reason magazine on what lessons we can learn from the Japanese by examining the steps they took when their bubble collapsed in the early 90's. Unfortunately, the US government aren't learning and falling into the same trap. (read here)

With the government propping up poor business models rather than allowing further job losses, firms wound up operating over the long-term without making a profit or adding any value to society. Their utter lack of vitality earned these perpetual money-leaching entities the moniker "zombie businesses." And unless American policymakers understand the failures of the Japanese response, we will suffer the same zombie fate.

...

The length of Japan's asset deflation, recession, and liquidity struggles has been blamed largely on the lack of foresighted policies and political leadership. Politicians bent on retaining their power took action that sought to solve the present day concerns, such as infrastructure projects, without regard to their long-term effects. As a result, economic growth was not sustained.

America suffers from a similar vision problem. Intent with avoiding any semblance of economic pain, federal officials have thrown moral hazard and laissez-faire principals to the wind. Creative destruction has been rejected, despite long historical proof that it is the best way for an economy to grow.

Read the whole thing. There is a living, breathing example for us to study in Japan. It bothers me that there seems to be such a rush for government to do something. This notion that we can't waste any time or the whole economy will collapse. No, we need to think about this. There needs to be a big debate. Unfortunately, the majority of the population are just waiting for government to make it better and aren't concerned about the details, or considering the consequences. What if they don't make it better but make it worse?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Great Post From David Frum

O% Rates?

A huge burst of money creation + a $700 billion bailout for financial institutions + a probable auto bailout + another looming $600 billion - $1 trillion in deficit spending by the new Democratic administration and Congress + a $100 a barrel drop in the price of oil = a gigantic application of monetary and fiscal stimulus to the US economy = the next bubble in 2011.

In a crisis like today's, it's hard to remember that the actions of the government will have their consequences in 12-18 months' time. On every side, you hear warnings today that we are doing too little. Only after it is too late will the same voices discover that we did too much ....

Cancel the Bar-B Mate!



We're not used to this kind of weather in Vancouver. My barbeque sits idle.

It's getting difficult to cope.

The arctic front that has the whole of British Columbia in its grip has caused road chaos, left thousands without power and is especially tough on the homeless.

New York Waiting in Judgement of Brett Favre

As I have written before, I hate Brett Favre. I'm happy to see that he's been playing terribly lately. New York is not the place you want to be playing when you're sucking. My favorite trashy tabloid, the New York Post, sets down an ultimatum. Favre Has Two More Games To Deliver:

Somehow, he made the Pro Bowl yesterday. But even the most ardent Jets supporter would admit that's the silliest trip to Hawaii since the Brady Bunch vacationed there.
...

His quarterback ratings in losses to Denver (60.9), San Francisco (60.8) and the miracle win over the Bills (61.4) are the worst healthy three-game stretch he's had since the end of the 2002 season.

As a follow up to the previous post, I would like to note that Charo also made an appearance on the Brady Bunch. She was billed as playing "herself".

Elizabeth May: Who Pays This Woman?

Unfortunately, as a taxpayer, probably me. She seems to pop up everywhere. At the leaders debate, even though her party didn't have a single seat. Then she appears during the Coup, chiding Harper about the economy, only a few weeks after voters rejected her in her own riding. (And apparently she was promised a Senate seat by Dion.) Now she's engaged in grievance theatre about Canada not committing to Kyoto, or something:
"It was embarrassing being a Canadian at these meetings," May said.

"Canada, unfortunately, was about the worst performer here, and that's saying a lot. That means worse than the United States with the lame-duck Bush administration, still doing what it can to obstruct."

This woman actually feels the emotion embarrassment? I don't think so, that would require shame. Our collective democracy has told her to go away, but she's still right in there. Why is she representing us at these meetings? It's like that Charo woman who kept appearing on Love Boat and Hollywood Squares in the 70's. Nobody knew where she came from and there was always a mystery as to why television producers green lighted putting her on the air in the first place.

Manufacturing News: The Globe and Mail

Is Prime Minister Harper making the worldwide recession worse? The G & M thinks so. I want to fisk a few points. (Fisking: This is a term for taking a main stream media article and arguing specific points.)

Mr. Harper, who said in a television interview on Monday that he has never seen such uncertainty about the future, came under fire for giving in to fear at a time when Canadians need their Prime Minister to offer a more positive outlook – both to relieve anxiety and to keep consumers spending.

Do the writers of this article actually believe this? If Harper acts chipper and says everything is ok, Canadians are going to feel better and start spending more? We have stats and news from so many different sources in the world. Everybody knows things are bad globally. The Fireside Chat a-la-Roosevelt is not going to turn things around.

“I think human behaviour drives recessions and recoveries, and confidence in the future drives human behaviour,” said Liberal MP John McCallum, a former chief economist for the Royal Bank of Canada.

“Especially during difficult times, leaders have to inject confidence and hope into their citizens and Stephen Harper has done precisely the opposite with these comments.”

John "You're Not Allowed on the Airplane Because You're Too Drunk" McCallum is talking about inspiring confidence? He was part of the shaky Coup that tried to overthrow an elected government on the grounds that the dire economic situation called for drastic measures. This was inspiring confidence?

I read the article and think, did the Liberal Party Communications Department directly dictate it? How badly is the G & M in the tank for them?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Roger Sterling Fan Club

[on grieving for celebrities] I mean Roosevelt, I hated the man, but I felt like I knew him.

- Roger Sterling, Mad Men #2, 7

Why Fiscal Conservatives Hate Bush

A contrite Bush is now saying: "I've abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system,"

My blood boils reading that. I want to put my fist through the screen.

Listen to this description from AFP:
Bush's comments reflect an extraordinary departure from his longtime advocacy for an unfettered free market, as his administration has orchestrated unprecedented government intervention in the face of a dire financial crisis.

Are you kidding me?! Since when is Bush is a "longtime advocacy of an unfettered free market?" The biggest spending, big government, subsidy addicted junkie in US history? This guy has signed every f---ing pork bill that has ever crossed his desk! He is no free marketer.

It makes me sick that unknowing people will relate free market capitalism with Bush. He should be the frightening example of Big Government that you use for campfire stories to scare your kids.

Stuffing Money Under the Mattress

Anne Applebaum has an article in Slate about how schemes like the Madoff fraud will erode trust and make doing business much more difficult. (here)

Worst of all, everyone who invests anywhere will think just that much harder, take that much longer, demand that much more documentation. And they will do so not only because of Madoff, but because of the subprime lenders, Wall Street investment banks, and Enron fraudsters who have worked so hard to erode our faith in the reliability of our system.

...

Madoff's pyramid scheme, far broader than anything MMM dreamed up, was made possible by our own tradition of lawfulness. And now he will help bring that tradition down. Here's a prediction: In the coming years, American capitalism will become slower, more cautious, less productive, and less entrepreneurial. We're still a long way from Eastern Europe of the 1990s or from the Latin America or Russia of the present. But maybe not as far as we think.

Who can you trust these days with your money? Is burying gold in your backyard the soundest investment strategy?

On a related note: It's troubling to me that the government of Canada sold off virtually all of its gold holdings. Is our entire Treasury based on questionable paper?

Afghanistan: Is It Time to Leave?

Joe Klein has a hard-hitting, gut-wrenching article on the Afghan situation in Time Magazine. Personally, I would have found this type of article defeatist, and distasteful two or three years ago. However, at this point, I think it's fair to examine the situation. It seems hopeless. The Aimless War, Why Are We in Afghanistan?
And then there were the daily frustrations of Armour's job: training Afghan police officers. Almost all the recruits were illiterate. "They've had no experience at learning," Armour said. "You sit them in a room and try to teach them about police procedures — they start gabbing and knocking about. You talk to them about the rights of women, and they just laugh."

....

We know what the mission used to be — to kill or capture Osama bin Laden and destroy his al-Qaeda command. But once bin Laden slipped away, the mission morphed into a vast, messy nation — building effort to support the allegedly democratic Karzai government. There was a certain logic to that. The Taliban and al-Qaeda can't base themselves in Afghanistan if something resembling a stable, secure nation-state exists there. But the mission was also historically implausible: Afghanistan has never had a strong central government.

...

The current Western presence is the most benign intrusion in Afghan history, and the rationale of building stability remains a logical one — but this war has become something of a sideshow in South Asia. The far more serious problem is Pakistan, a flimsy state with illogical borders, nuclear weapons and a mortal religious enmity toward India, its neighbor to the south. Pakistan is where bin Laden now lives, if he lives.

After 9-11, I was as fired up as anybody about the Afghanistan campaign. We couldn't sit back while Osama and Mullah Omar were laughing at us. The camps and safe harbors needed to be rooted out. But, who was talking about nation building and democracy? Seven years later, the idea is getting old. It's not going to work.

Obama had better articulate why this mission is so critical, and gain popular support. If not, pull out and blame the whole mess on the previous administration. Here in Canada we're bugging-out in 2011 regardless. It's getting harder to explain the commitment in these tough economic times.

Anti-Americans, jihadis and lefties will point their fingers and say, 'see, another Empire gets humiliated in Afghanistan.' It's foolish to let your pride get in the way of clear thinking. We chased the bad guys out, realized we were in a bad neighborhood, and didn't want to stick around. It's the armpit of the world. Time to go home. Hopefully the Afghans can benefit from the infrastructure improvements.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Hitchens: 'Tis the Season to be Incredulous

Fed up at this time of year? Christopher Hitchens voices his distain for Christmas, in Slate today: (article)

As in such dismal banana republics, the dreary, sinister thing is that the official propaganda is inescapable. You go to a train station or an airport, and the image and the music of the Dear Leader are everywhere. You go to a more private place, such as a doctor's office or a store or a restaurant, and the identical tinny, maddening, repetitive ululations are to be heard. So, unless you are fortunate, are the same cheap and mass-produced images and pictures, from snowmen to cribs to reindeer. It becomes more than usually odious to switch on the radio and the television, because certain officially determined "themes" have been programmed into the system. Most objectionable of all, the fanatics force your children to observe the Dear Leader's birthday, and so (this being the especial hallmark of the totalitarian state) you cannot bar your own private door to the hectoring, incessant noise, but must have it literally brought home to you by your offspring.

...

Imagine that conclusive archaeological and textual evidence emerged to prove that the whole story of the birth, life, and death of Jesus of Nazareth was either a delusion or a fabrication? Suppose the mother had admitted shyly that, in fact, she had fallen pregnant for predictable reasons? Suppose we found the post-Calvary body?

Serious Christians, of the sort I have been debating lately, would have no choice but to consider such news as absolutely calamitous.

Non-Story of the Year

Russian ships are visiting Cuba for the first time since the breakup of the Soviet Union. (Drudge Report has a menacing close-up picture of Putin as the lead story.) So what? Are they going to start shelling Miami? (read)
The Admiral Chabanenko, the nuclear-powered cruiser Peter the Great and support ships arrived in the Caribbean last month in a deployment also unprecedented since Soviet times. The voyage is widely seen as a show of force close to U.S. shores and a response to the U.S. use of warships to deliver humanitarian aid to Russia's neighbor Georgia after their war in August.

What I find interesting is the naming of the ship after a Czar. Communism is definately over in Russia.

The Real Life Colonel Kurtz

The film Apocalypse Nowis based on the Joseph Conrad 1902 novella Heart of Darkness. Director, Francis Ford Coppola updated the Kurtz character to be a Special Forces Colonel during the Vietnam War. I've been reading about the Vietnam conflict recently, and I stumbled upon this nugget (From the Historical Dictionary of the 60's - James Stuart Olson):

RHEAULT CONTROVERSY. Colonel Robert Rheault was commander of the Fifth Special Forces Group in South Vietnam in 1969 when he was arrested for ordering the killing of a South Vietnamese Special Forces employee, whom Rheault learned was a secret agent of the Vietcong. Eventually, the case had to be dismissed because the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) refused to release sensitive, classified documents to the prosecution. Rheault resigned from the Special Forces in 1969. REFERENCE: Charles M. Simpson III, Inside the Green Berets: The First Thirty Years, 1983.

The case received some coverage when it came out Time Magazine, 1969:
Ripples of Disbelief. The Army did nothing to lessen the mystery. The killing was said to have occurred June 20 near the Special Forces headquarters at Nha Trang, 200 miles northeast of Saigon. Rheault was relieved of his command on July 21. Who the victim was, what his connections with the war might have been, who brought the charges — all these facts remained secret. Regular military investigating units professed to have no knowledge of the incident, leading to conjecture that the case involved a secret agency, possibly the CIA. This speculation was supported by the fact that at least three of the Green Berets were intelligence specialists. According to one story, the victim was a Vietnamese spy for the Americans, who had disappeared when he was discovered to be a double agent. No body has been found, and rumor has it that the victim was disposed of at sea. Such a killing would not be unique in Viet Nam, not difficult to disguise. Why the Army chose to publicize the case is another mystery.
...

Mrs. Rheault said she had sensed that something was wrong from her husband's most recent letters, but relatives of the others said that they had not been aware of any difficulties until news reports of the arrests appeared.

The assasination was of apparant double-agent Thai Khac Chuyen. It was considered excessive, and the army tried to court marshall Rheault. Nixon and Kissinger put on pressure from above and the charges were dropped.

From Apocalypse Now screen play:

WILLARD (v.o.)"October 1967 on special assignment, Con Tum province. Kurtz staged operation Arch Angel with combined local forces. Raid a major success. He received no official clearence. He just thought it up and did it. What balls. They were gonna nail his ass to the floorboards for that but after the press got hold of it they promoted him to full colonel instead. Oh man, the bullshit piled up so fast inVietnam, you needed wings to stay above it."
...

WILLARD (v.o) "Kurtz's patrols in the highlands coming under frequent ambush. The camp started falling apart...November: Kurtz orders the assassination of three Vietnamese men and one woman. Two of the men were Colonels in the South Vietnamese army. Enemy activity in his old sector dropped off to nothing. Guess he must have hit the right four people. The army tried one last time to bring him back into the fold."

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Giants at Cowboys


The Giants are in Dallas for the Sunday Night Primetime game. I'm hoping that the Cowboy's playoffs will be sunk with a home loss. That's what they get for bringing in Terrell Owens, the ultimate ego-maniac receiver and quarterback killer.


There has been squabbling lately, beause T.O. thinks he deserves the ball more often, and that QB Tony Romo is throwing the ball too much to his buddy Tight End Jason Witten.

Terrell Owens is Unhappy with Yet Another Quarterback

TO is mentally ill, and I enjoy sitting back and watching the hated Cowboys implode.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Conrad Black on Harper vs. Ignatieff

I was pleased to see that Conrad Black published an article today about the current political situation in Canada, in particular focusing on the Liberal and Conservative leaders. I'm currently reading Black's excellent biography,The Invincible Quest: The Life of Richard Milhous Nixon. What makes it compelling reading is his ability to describe the tactics and intrigue of the political process. (I will have a review of this book coming soon.)

Despite his current predicament, his sense of humour and wit are still intact. Laurier vs. Macdonald, Ignatieff vs. Harper

Michael Ignatieff removed any lingering doubt that he had the character to lead when he did not scheme against the hapless Dion, and kept his distance from the hare-brained exploration of a coalition government with Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe. Canada needs, and surely deserves, deliverance from the sort of nasty, hyperactive political adolescents who confected that mad enterprise.

I think Black might be a bit too generous here. It wouldn't be a stretch of the imagination that Iggy schemed against Dion. Also, during his interview with CBC this week, he was unsuccessful in distancing himself from the coalition. I think the Tories will pound home that he was a signatory of this agreement over and over. He'll have to dream up a convincing counter-measure to this attack. He hasn't yet.

Perhaps because of the brilliance of the Florida summer sun, compounded by the foibles of my American hosts, I have been conducting a completely unnoticed, rear-guard argument in favour of the theory that Stephen Harper is something of a Mackenzie King, an ungalvanizing public personality but a cunning political operator.

It is conceivable that there was an element of calculation in his suggestion of ceasing to finance political parties, reviewing some of the rigidities of pay equity, and revisiting the right to strike in the public service. These are all respectable policy options, and my impression is that the country was more offended by the absurd opposition response than by Harper's heavy-handed, yet sneaky and reckless introduction of these thoughts in a financial message. This episode should be out of mind when the budget is presented in January, but Harper can still revive these issues more promisingly, later.

Read it all.

Can the Chinese Government Withstand the Financial Crisis?

When the Soviet Empire started collapsing in 1989, like everybody else, I remember thinking it was all happening too fast. It was difficult to properly comprehend the situation. The Berlin Wall came down, those pictures of Ceauşescu in Romania with a bullet in his head. It was unimaginable, even a year before. Could we end up seeing this kind of chaos in China?

Marcus Gee takes a look at China and potential trouble for a shaky Communist government.

... But in its transition to the "socialist market economy," China remains in a halfway house, with far too much intervention by government. Beijing still won't allow prices for fuel or power to find their own level, its currency to trade freely on the international market or (despite recent, half-hearted reforms) its farmers to fully own the land they till. Inefficient state enterprises still control too much of the economy and banks are too tethered to Beijing's political aims.

The Communists know that the people relate the prosperity of the last 20 years to their reforms. If the economic crisis hits hard, the people won't have any reason to support them.

Unlike 1989, we don't have an all powerful United States to insure stability. If chaos is unleashed in China, there is little the Superpower can do these days, as worries pile up at home.

We live in interesting times.