Saturday, May 30, 2009

Best of the 80's

It's hard to find original videos on youtube, but after some digging, I found "She Sells Sanctuary" by The Cult. It will not allow me to embed the video. You have to click on this link.

I remember very clearly the first time I heard this song. My friends and I were looking around bug-eyed: What the hell is this song? This is incredible!

It's Not Over Until It's Over

Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday Spicoli

Didn't we love Sean Penn much better in the 80's?

Abu Ghraib Scandal Strikes Again

Here we go again. It turns out there were much worse photographs of the Abu Ghraib torture sessions of 2004. The Daily Beast has the grim details:
The Daily Beast has confirmed that the photographs of abuses at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, which President Obama, in a reversal, decided not to release, depict sexually explicit acts, including a uniformed soldier receiving oral sex from a female prisoner, a government contractor engaged in an act of sodomy with a male prisoner and scenes of forced masturbation, forced exhibition, and penetration involving phosphorous sticks and brooms.
I'm not sure what to say. I'm glad I'm not one of those people who are digging in to support torture techniques. If you open the door to not treating people in captivity humanely, it's no surprise something like this would happen. Heck, some it of was sanctioned. To people who think either you have to torture to get information or the people who think this kind of thing isn't real torture: This mess is yours. Don't give me the "few bad apples" excuse either.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Just When I Was Gaining Interest...


The Blue Jays have lost 9 in a row. They are now in 3rd place in the AL East.

I think it's those stupid black uniforms. Bad karma. When a color is mentioned in your team name, you go with it.

Iggy the Carpetbagger

Claire Hoy, writing from some hickville paper, does a beautiful hit piece on Iggy that gets straight to the point. So called Tory 'negative ads' are dead on
If he didn't win his Toronto riding, he said, he would move back to Massachusetts.

No great surprise there. After all, this is a man who continually referred to himself as an American, both in his speeches and his writing. In fact, in 2004, just one year before he was coaxed into coming north to grab a chance at his party's leadership, Ignatieff appeared on C-SPAN, the congressional cable channel, and said this:

"Look, this is America and you have to decide what kind of country you want. This is your country as much as it is mine."

At that time, by the way, Ignatieff was one of then president George W. Bush's strongest supporters of torture, the Iraq war and the Bush doctrine against terrorism on U.S. soil.

And now, just a few short years later, Ignatieff would have Canadians believe that Tory advertisements openly questioning his allegiance to his birth country are not only insulting to him, but to every Canadian who has ever lived or worked abroad.


What a hypocrite.

Why doesn't Claire Hoy have a column in a major newspaper?

The point is true and everybody knows it. Iggy lived virtually, his adult life away from Canada, and comes back in his 60's to be Prime Minister? It's absurd. The public can see it. (Well, he's popular in Quebec, but they're a "nation" themselves, and not Canadian right?)

Michael Ignatieff is a carpetbagger.

Toronto Star, National Newswatch Run with Liberal Spin

If you go to the National Newswatch website today, they have an unflattering picture of Prime Minister Harper next to an evil looking Richard Nixon shot. They link to an article from the Toronto Star. Here's the first paragraph:

OTTAWA–In a move described as "Nixonian," Prime Minister Stephen Harper suggested he would release potentially damaging videotapes of Michael Ignatieff after the Liberal leader called on Harper to fire Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.
Who described it as Nixonian?

Ignatieff described the comment as the "most Nixonian" of Harper's many remarks to him. "Every day that goes by, he's more like Richard Nixon," Ignatieff told reporters.
Good grief. Why not just go straight to the Liberal Party website for the news?

I like how they add this nugget, to help us conjure up memories of the Nixon era:

While U.S. president, Nixon installed secret audio recording systems in the Oval Office, his cabinet room and at Camp David and surreptitiously recorded hundreds of conversations from February 1971 through July 1973.
Of course, it doesn't say that nobody is accusing Harper of releasing a bugged recording of Ignatieff. Way down in the article it explains that Harper meant there are many speeches and public appearances that Iggy made over the years, and that there is probably a few things he said that would be embarrassing.

They imply this is paranoid and ruthless of Harper. Hmmmm... Remember back in the Martin era, the Liberals quoted over and over an excerpt from a Harper speech in New York, years before when he said Canada is like a northern European welfare state? I guess it's ok if the Liberals dig up this stuff.

When you think of it, isn't Paul Martin more Nixonian? Bitter battles before getting the big job, that made him thin skinned and paranoid? Mysteriously became wealthy when not in office?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Milan Kundera: A Fink for the Commies?

Milan Kundera, the great, ex-pat, Czech novelist of modern classics such as The Unbearable Lightness of Being is alleged to have ratted out a 22 year old man out to the Communist authorities in 1950. This is a shocker to readers of his brilliant, humanist books set in Soviet-occupied Czechoslovakia. I'm also surprised to learn that the Czechs hate him. (article)
By mid-October, the Tlustý/Morava affair had been bumped from the front pages by a scandal with considerably more gravitas, though no less slavering by the media: a prominent weekly magazine claimed that in 1950, Milan Kundera had sent to prison a 22-year-old Czech who had been spying for the West. The furor this news aroused in the Czech Republic seems inseparable from the Czechs' persistent "allergy" to the expatriate novelist. Ivan Klíma diagnosed the ailment in a 1990 interview with Philip Roth, explaining that Czechs resent Kundera for being "an indulged and rewarded child of the Communist regime [before] 1968," too hands-off in his opposition to the party even after he began to criticize it in the '60s, and all the while presenting his travails under Communism to the world beyond the Iron Curtain in a "simplified and spectacular way." Now people were wondering how Kundera could have suppressed the 1950 incident for sixty years, even as he garnered international prestige for his opposition to Communism and his literary autopsies of the moral rot it breeds in the individual conscience. Perhaps he hadn't kept the episode under wraps. Could he have recycled it in his fiction? After all, his stories and novels are full of the betrayals endemic to a totalitarian regime. Speculating on whether Kundera had pulled off a grand deception, Czech journalists spiced their accounts of the affair with scenes from his novels in which characters seem to play according to the 1950 script.
Kundera denies it, but he was listed in a police report as the one who gave the name. What a terrible disappointment if true.

Shattered Delusions

Lately, I've been thinking about what a year 2008 was. You think of the monumental years out of the last 100: 1914, 1929, 1939, 1945, 1968, 1989, 2001. You have to agree that 2008 is in that lineup and in my lifetime, could be the most important. What did we find out? Wall Street, and US banks turned out to be a scam run by incompetents. Manufacturing giants like GM and GE weren't making money by producing things but through financial schemes. We were in Afghanistan for seven years and the Taliban were popular again. Pakistan is falling to the "terrorists." Communist China leads the capitalist world. Despite pumping in trillions of dollars and making Iraq a "democracy," the people made a hero of the man who threw the shoe at Bush.

In other words, we woke up to our delusions. I've put many core beliefs that I held under review. I'm trying to view the world with fresh eyes.

On this note, I saw this interview on Charlie Rose, with Joshua Cooper Ramo about his new chaos theory and new way of thinking. I don't agree with everything he says, and I don't agree with some of his "new thinking." But I think he has the germ of an idea here. The world has been turned upside down and our old ideas about analyzing it might be out of date. (Press play to view, it is 16 minutes.)

North Korea Is Evil

Its citizens starve to death, it has a totalitarian society that is even worse than the one envisioned in the novel 1984, and the crazed dictator threatens war and has nuclear weapons.

North Korea threatens military strike on South

SEOUL -- North Korea, facing international censure for this week's nuclear test, threatened on Wednesday to attack the South after it joined a U.S.-led plan to check vessels suspected of carrying equipment for weapons of mass destruction.

In Moscow, news agencies quoted an official as saying that Russia is taking precautionary security measures because it fears mounting tensions over the test could escalate to war.

Adding to mounting tension in the region, South Korean media reported that Pyongyang had restarted a plant that makes plutonium that can be used in nuclear bombs.

(...)

"Any hostile act against our peaceful vessels including search and seizure will be considered an unpardonable infringement on our sovereignty and we will immediately respond with a powerful military strike," a North Korean army spokesman was quoted as saying by the official KCNA news agency.
Is North Korea crazy enough to start a war? I think they are. Since there is nothing anybody can do about it, I will simply stick my head in the sand and hope the problem goes away. If anybody has a better idea, step right up.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Be Careful in Islamic Countries

A British woman is facing one year in jail in Dubai for adultery.
Sally, who has been married for 14 years and lived in Dubai for 12, told officers she paid for her lover’s flights from the UK to the strict Muslim emirate.

But the affair was uncovered by her hubby Vincent, 48, who tipped off cops on May 2.

(...)

“No one here believes she would be able to cope with prison.

“She has two children and she’s desperately worried about what will happen to them.
People really need to do some sober consideration before going to a place like Dubai.

There's never been a Muslim Pierre Trudeau who said the government has no business in the bedrooms of citizens.

Poll: Tories in the Lead

It looks like the coronation of Michael Ignatieff by the media as the new PM of Canada, is on hold for now, as the liberals fall back into second place.

The latest survey, conducted for Canwest News Service and Global National, shows the Harper Conservatives have edged up two percentage points in recent weeks, to capture a slim lead with 35 per cent support.

The Liberals, while significantly ahead of their showing under former leader Stephane Dion, have dropped three points to 33 per cent support of decided voters.
The Liberals haven't quite understood that regular Canadians haven't fallen in love with Iggy, like they have. Why should they? Has the man said anything other than bland generalities? What are his policies? Even in boring old Canada you have to pretend to stand for something.

UPDATE: I'm watching Question Period live from the House of Commons. Liberal Finance Critic John "Too Drunk To Be Allowed On An Airplane" McCallum is criticizing Harper and the Tories for running a deficit. Wasn't the whole point of the Coup d'Etat last year, was to get the government to spend more money, and use fiscal stimulus? So do they want the Tories to now do spending cuts? Who are these light weights? There's a term in politics, it's called: Staying on the message.

I always wondered how Chretien got elected to three straight majorities with these clowns. It was that the right were still divided and hadn't got their act together. It had nothing to do with the talent of the Liberal strategists. We're seeing now what amateurs they are.

UDATE II: I don't have an exact quote but Harper made a crack, to paraphrase: "I don't understand the opposition, they criticize the deficit and are also asking us to spend more?"

UPDATE III: The exact quote is: "I think Canadians can see... we have the opposition parties coming in and saying the deficit is too large, why don't you spend more?" The Tory benches erupted in laughter.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Alleged FBI Entrapment Scheme

I was stunned reading this story in the New York Post, about the four jihadis that were arrested in New York for plotting to bomb synagogues in the Bronx. If this is true, then they need to do some series reviews of FBI policies. (read)

Cassandra McKoy, girlfriend of accused co-conspirator David Williams, insisted that the men were duped into the plot with the lure of a cash payday and that religious hatred had nothing to do with it.

"They aren't radicals. They were just financially motivated. They aren't terrorists. If Maqsood wasn't in the picture, they would've never come up with this idea," she said.

"This was not their idea. They make it sound like they sought him out and said we want to do this when he's the one who approached them. He enticed them with money.

"Maqsood wasn't even allowed inside the mosque, he waited in the parking lot for them and offered them $25,000 to join."

(...)

But during the course of the year, Maqsood kept trying to steer Cromitie down a path to jihad -- giving him religious pamphlets, clothing and prayer rugs. In the end, it seemed that cash and gifts worked better.

She said Maqsood promised to get Cromitie jobs and once said he would give him a black Mercedes-Benz. On repeated occasions, he gave Cromitie cameras, cash and even drugs, she said.

"Maqsood gave him a lot of marijuana," she said.

An FBI spokesman did not return a call for comment on the alleged gift giving.
The FBI bribed and organized these clowns, and then plotted the whole thing for them? Is this a joke? If true, this is an absurd entrapment scheme. I'll await updates on this story.

Apologies

I seemed to have come down with a flu bug. I feel terrible. Not sure when I'm going to post next, probably not today.

UPDATE: OK, I feel better. I'm going to post today.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Soho Square


Soho Square in London. I used to go for lunch breaks here. The building that held my favorite Soho pub, Nellie Dean's, is in the background. White building, second from right.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Have a Good Weekend


I'm going to be away this weekend. Here's a picture of dolphins, my niece's favorite animal.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Del, what are you doing?

Drug Decriminalization in Portugal a Success

Here's a great case study at the CATO Institute on the effects of drug decriminalization in Portugal:

Notably, decriminalization has become increasingly popular in Portugal since 2001. Except for some far-right politicians, very few domestic political factions are agitating for a repeal of the 2001 law. And while there is a widespread perception that bureaucratic changes need to be made to Portugal's decriminalization framework to make it more efficient and effective, there is no real debate about whether drugs should once again be criminalized. More significantly, none of the nightmare scenarios touted by preenactment decriminalization opponents — from rampant increases in drug usage among the young to the transformation of Lisbon into a haven for "drug tourists" — has occurred.

The political consensus in favor of decriminalization is unsurprising in light of the relevant empirical data. Those data indicate that decriminalization has had no adverse effect on drug usage rates in Portugal, which, in numerous categories, are now among the lowest in the EU, particularly when compared with states with stringent criminalization regimes. Although postdecriminalization usage rates have remained roughly the same or even decreased slightly when compared with other EU states, drug-related pathologies — such as sexually transmitted diseases and deaths due to drug usage — have decreased dramatically. Drug policy experts attribute those positive trends to the enhanced ability of the Portuguese government to offer treatment programs to its citizens — enhancements made possible, for numerous reasons, by decriminalization.
It's a slam dunk. The population has experimented with it and agree it's better this way. Usage is down, and side related diseases among addicts are down. The nightmare scenarios never happened.

Now they just have to take the step to full legalization from decriminalization.

Hat tip: Pat

No Surprise: Taliban Using US Weapons

The Times Online reports on the duplicitous situation in Afghanistan.
The Taleban have been using rifles and ammunition that were supplied by the US to the Afghan Army, it was claimed yesterday.

Thirty rifle magazines taken recently from the bodies of insurgents killed in battle contained at least 17 rounds that were identical to ammunition that the US had given the Afghan forces, according to The New York Times.

Some of the thousands of M16 rifles supplied to Afghan soldiers to replace their Kalashnikovs have also ended up with the Taleban. M16s were found to have been used in a battle last year in which nine Americans died, The New York Times said.
It's an open secret that the US trained and supplied Afghan military is unreliable.

I'll go further to say, in my opinion, there is almost no doubt that the Afghan militia double deals with the US and the Taliban. The Americans are desperate to set up an Afghan military to do their job fighting the Taliban and they are getting suckered. They supply them arms and no doubt they turn around and sell them to the Taliban. It's very difficult to wage this war and deal with that kind of blatant duplicity.

Meanwhile in Pakistan the Taliban are hijacking US and NATO supply convoys and stealing arms.

What utter madness.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Reason Magazine: Legalize Drugs, Gambling and Prostitution

Reason Magazine is at the cutting edge of libertarian writing in the US. In his article Nick Gillespie argues about legalizing drugs and while we're at it, the other vices too: (read)

Legalizing the world's oldest profession probably wasn't what Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, meant when he said that we should never allow a crisis to go to waste. But turning America into a Sin City on a Hill could help President Obama pay for his ambitious plans to overhaul health care, invest in green energy, and create gee-whiz trains that whisk "through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour." More taxed vices would certainly lead to significant new revenue streams at every level. That's one of the reasons 52 percent of voters in a recent Zogby poll said they support legalizing, taxing and regulating the growth and sale of marijuana. Similar cases could be made for prostitution and all forms of gambling.

In terms of economic stimulation and growth, legalization would end black markets that generate huge amounts of what economists call "deadweight losses," or activity that doesn't contribute to increased productivity. Rather than spending precious time and resources avoiding the law (or, same thing, paying the law off), producers and consumers could more easily get on with business and the huge benefits of working and playing in plain sight.
This is a no brainer. All this stuff goes on anyway, why not be open about it? Here in Vancouver, vice is largely ignored, due to lack of police resources. There are marijuana cafes and casinos. I knew a person who was a Crown litigator, and he told me that the Vancouver Police have an unwritten rule for prostitutes, they can solicit in designated areas, and will only get arrested, if they street walk in areas deemed off limits. Also, there are escort classified ads in free weekly newspapers, right out in the open. So you have to think, why not just go all the way and legalize these vices, and then tax and regulate it?

UPDATE: I'm pleasantly surprised by the traffic that this post has generated. This afternoon, I have gotten over 100 hits on it from New Zealand, to Pakistan, to the UK, and across the US and Canada. Welcome to my site!

Forbes Magazine: Chicago Blackhawks Great Turnaround

Forbes Magazine takes a look into the business aspect of sports and how the classic original six team, the Chicago Blackhawks enjoy success again:
The Greatest Sports-Business Turnaround Ever

Rocky Wirtz's rapid reinvention of the Blackhawks has largely been due to his decision to hire John McDonough as team president, a marketing guru who emerged from baseball's Chicago Cubs. McDonough quickly modernized an organization that until recently did not have a human resources manager or even a receptionist.

McDonough moved the Blackhawks' radio broadcasts to regional powerhouse WGN Radio, organized a summer Blackhawks convention and secured the outdoor hockey game the NHL puts on during New Year's Day. He scrapped the team's ad agency and its outdated rotunda pricing scheme, under which all tickets on each arena level cost the same, whether for the corners or center ice.

McDonough also instituted a commitment to winning. He fired coach Denis Savard after winning only once in this season's first four games, replacing him with Joel Quenneville, who has guided the Blackhawks on-ice success.

This is a feel good story to me, and I loved reading it. If the NHL is to survive in the US, then it's got to get back to its roots, with real fans and traditional teams. I don't see the Hawks getting past Detroit, but I am rooting for them.

Question: Is there a better uniform in hockey than the Blackhawks?

Reusable Bags Are Great for the Envirnoment Going to Make You Sick

I'm happy about this scientific finding that reusable bags suck.
The study found that 64% of the reusable bags tested were contaminated with some level of bacteria and close to 30% had elevated bacterial counts higher than what's considered safe for drinking water.

Further, 40% of the bags had yeast or mold, and some of the bags had an unacceptable presence of coliforms, faecal intestinal bacteria, when there should have been 0.

"The presence of faecal material in some of the reusable bags is particularly concerning," Dr. Summerbell stated. "All meat products should be individually wrapped before being placed in a reusable bag to prevent against leakage. This should become a mandated safety standard across the entire grocery industry."
Hopefully somebody sends a memo to snarling, anti-plastic bag, fascist, grocery clerks.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

World War III Watch

I'm no more, nor less paranoid than the next guy, but this worries the hell out of me:

Iran Test-Fires a New Missile With a 1,200-Mile Range

American officials and international inspectors are concerned that Iran seems to have made significant progress in the three technonologies necessary to field an effective nuclear weapon: enriching uranium to weapons grade;developing a missile capable of reaching Israel and parts of Western Europe; and designing a warhead that will fit on the missile.

The greatest mystery surrounds the warhead program, which intelligence agencies said in late 2007 had been halted at the end of 2003. Asked today whether he had seen additional evidence to indicate that the weaponization program had restarted, Mr. Saymore declined to comment.

The announcement was likely to reinforce Israeli concerns, voiced strongly by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, about Iran’s regional intentions as a military and political power. The reported launch also followed efforts by the Obama administration to seek a new relationship with Tehran to forestall a nuclear program that Western countries say is designed to build a nuclear bomb. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has threatened to wipe Israel off the map. The Israelis don't take such threats lightly. In 1981 they launched a surprise aerial bombing attack and destroyed Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor, for fear that Saddam was enriching uranium for weapons to be used against them. You have to think they would be willing to do the same thing to Iran. What happens if they do make a strike? What if Iran strikes back? What will the US do, if so? There are so many horrible scenarios one can think of, in a region not known for cool heads.

Jimmy Kimmel Knocks His Bread and Butter

Somebody forgot to tell Jimmy that it wasn't a Pamela Anderson Celebrity Roast. He decides to throw zingers at potential advertisers.

Then, in a “Jerry Maguire”-like moment of clarity, Mr. Kimmel said, “Everything you’re going to hear this week is” nonsense. “Let’s get real here. Let’s get Dr. Phil-real here. These new fall shows? We’re going to cancel about 90 percent of them. Maybe more.”

If ABC is so confident in its new fall shows, he asked, why is it announcing them at the same time it announces the midseason shows that will replace those fall shows? “This show ‘Shark Tank’ has the word tank right in the title,” he said.

To the ABC advertisers, Mr. Kimmel said, “Every year we lie to you and every year you come back for more. You don’t need an upfront. You need therapy. We completely lie to you, and then you pass those lies onto your clients.”
Bam! Zoom! Pow!

Rooster Sauce on Fire


I use "Rooster" chili sauce for everything. (Actual Name: Sriracha from Huy Fong Foods.) I didn't realize that it is a hugely popular phenomena in North America, as the New York Times points out in this article.
Sriracha has proved relevant beyond the epicurean realm. Wal-Mart sells the stuff. So do mom-and-pop stores, from Bristol, Tenn., to Bisbee, Ariz.

Sriracha is a key ingredient in street food: The two Kogi trucks that travel the streets of Los Angeles, vending kimchi-garnished tacos to the young, hip and hungry, provide customers with just one condiment, Huy Fong sriracha.

Recently, Huy Fong’s sriracha found its place in the suburbs. Applebee’s has begun serving fried shrimp with a mix of mayonnaise and Huy Fong sriracha. They followed P. F. Chang’s, another national chain, which began using it in 2000, and now features battered and fried green beans with a sriracha-spiked dipping sauce, as well as a refined riff on what both Applebee’s and P. F. Chang’s call dynamite shrimp.
UPDATE: I should have highlighted the humorous part of the article:

He could never have expected what he found, one recent afternoon, as he trolled the Internet in search of what fans of his sauce have wrought.

Mr. Tran scanned pictures of 20-something women in homemade Halloween costumes designed to resemble the Huy Fong bottle. He navigated to one of two sriracha Facebook pages, the larger of which has more than 120,000 fans.

He retrieved a favorite picture, of Travis Mason, a 36-year-old coffee salesman from Portland, Ore., who commissioned a tattoo of the Huy Fong logo on his left calf. “I’m always interested in what they do,” Mr. Tran said, his voice filled with genuine wonderment.
UPDATE II: I substituted the picture with one of my own. Click to expand it. There's something strangely attractive about the container.

Rumsfeld Article Creating Buzz

The most talked about article this week, outside of the Rush Limbaugh crowd, is Robert Draper's GQ expose of Donald Rumsfeld during his tenure as Secretary of Defense for the Bush Administration. I wish more officials would have agreed to use their names, but this is fascinating reading. The ten page article left me wanting more. We see Rumsfeld as a stubborn, controlling and ultimately unhelpful to the cabinet, staff and the president in many regards. (Read the article here.)

Excerpt:

.... Turning to the man seated at his immediate left, Bush barked, “Rumsfeld, what the hell is going on there? Are you watching what’s on television? Is that the United States of America or some Third World nation I’m watching? What the hell are you doing?”

Rumsfeld replied by trotting out the ongoing National Guard deployments and suggesting that sending active-duty troops would create “unity of command” issues. Visibly impatient, Bush turned away from Rumsfeld and began to direct his inquiries at Lieutenant General Honoré on the video screen. “From then on, it was a Bush-Honoré dialogue,” remembers another participant. “The president cut Rumsfeld to pieces. I just wish it had happened earlier in the week.”

But still the troops hadn’t arrived. And by Saturday morning, says Honoré, “we had dispersed all of these people across Louisiana. So we needed more troops to go to distribution centers, feed people, and maintain traffic.” That morning Bush convened yet another meeting in the Situation Room. Chertoff was emphatic. “Mr. President,” he said, “if we’re not going to begin to get these troops, we’re not going to be able to get the job done.”

Rumsfeld could see the writing on the wall and had come prepared with a deployment plan in hand. Still, he did not volunteer it. Only when Bush ordered, “Don, do it,” did he acquiesce and send in the troops—a full five days after landfall.
I must admit, there was a time when I greatly admired Rumsfeld for his no-nonsense press conferences. However, with history to judge, it appears that his appointment as Secretary of Defense was a disaster.

UPDATE: David Frum has some interesting comments on the article:
Conservatives should be focused instead on a very different question – an unpleasant one, but one absolutely essential to our indispensable, inevitable but still postponed reckoning with the legacy of the Bush administration. The question is: Why did Iraq go so very badly wrong – and why, having gone wrong, did it take so ruinously wrong for the administration to shift to a more successful course? Conservatives rightly take pride and comfort in the achievements of the surge. But the surge does not banish all the antecedent questions about Iraq. The surge may have rescued the American position in Iraq from total disaster, but nobody would describe the present situation in Iraq as anything like satisfactory.

Many, many writers have reported on this history. No definitive answer has ever been reached. Definitiveness has eluded writers in part because there is so much blame to go around. Yet there is something else too, a special factor: the mysterious personality of Donald Rumsfeld. More than any other figure in the administration, Rumsfeld is elusive, his decision-making opaque, his motives inaccessible.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cato: US Needs to Look at Canada For Pointers On Capitalism, Small Government

In things I never thought I would be reading: The libertarian think tank Cato Institute is touting the merits of Canada. So much for being a socialist backwater. Canada and Jefferson’s Natural Progress
Major pro-market reforms are possible in advanced welfare states — Jefferson can be proven wrong, as Canada illustrates. U.S policymakers can prove Jefferson wrong as well. They can start by cutting spending, decentralizing power out of Washington, and making pro-growth tax reforms in response to globalization, as Canada has, rather than imposing self-defeating “Buy America” provisions and making childish rants about “corporations moving jobs offshore.”
This is another result of George W. Bush's disastrous administration. Who would have even considered reading something like this 10 years ago? Canada has taken some positive steps in the right direction while the US was getting worse and worse. It only took a less than a decade to see the rot show through in America.

Obama's Outreach Speech in Egypt

Obama's good intentions may be paving the road to hell, as David Frum comments on his upcoming gig in Egypt. (read)
Candidate Obama promised to deliver a major speech to the Muslim world from a Muslim capital. On June 4, President Obama will make good on that promise in Cairo. What could go wrong with this heartwarming outreach? Begin with this question: Does the president regard Salman Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali as belonging to the Muslim world, yes or no?

If yes – if “the Muslim world” includes everyone who happens to be born to a family of Muslim origin regardless of his or her own personal belief, and if it includes liberals of Muslim origin, secularists of Muslim origin, atheists of Muslim origin – then it seems almost pointless to speak to them all as a distinctive group.

The more likely answer however is no - Rushdie and Ali are not intended. Almost inevitably, the President’s speech will address the most anti-Western, the most militant, the most radical Muslims. The decision to speak “to” the Muslim world is a decision to speak “to” these rejectionists.
Nobody is sure what Obama is going to say to the Egyptians, but this could be the most important speech of this generation. It's a real chance to inspire free thinking in the Muslim world.

It's a huge challenge. Let's hope he doesn't blow the opportunity and do another boring, vacuous speech.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

May Two-Four Weekend


I plan on plenty of sunshine. It'll be lawnchair and paperback, not the keyboard. Be back blogging after the weekend. Enjoy yourselves!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Thomas Ricks: Obama Only Now Realizing How Screwed He Is On the Iraq War

Thomas Ricks, Pulitzer Prize winning military journalist, who has written two best selling books on the Iraq struggle was on the Huge Hewitt Show yesterday. Transcript. Audio (see May 14)

Hewitt is a Pro-Bush hawk, and a leading defender of both the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns. It took some nerve to have him on, and it makes for fascinating listening. Here are some highlights:

HH: What is your assessment of Pakistan right now, Thomas Ricks? Over at your blog at Foreign Policy, which is http://ricks.foreignpolicy.com, you have a caption – Pakistan: Have I Seen This Movie. What are you talking about?

TR: I’m talking about Algeria, commando raids that the French did in Algeria in the 1950s, which are captured in that movie, Battle Of Algiers, were tactically productive, but strategically counterproductive, that is they had some battlefield success, but it undercut the political will to do much there. And the French ended up losing the war. The Pakistan military strikes me as being very much on the same course, which is they don’t want to do counterinsurgency, they don’t know how to do it. Instead, they’re going in and whacking people in neighborhoods, they’re antagonizing the locals, they’re losing support, and increasing support for their enemy Taliban.

(...)
This is timely for me. Last week I wrote a review of the film, read it here: Battle of Algiers
(...)

TR: I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. I’m just telling you the fact of the matter is twice now, the military has confronted him and made him throw out existing positions that he has taken. He campaigned on getting a brigade out a month in Iraq, every month, for the first year he was in office. Almost the first thing he did when he began talking about Iraq was throw that campaign promise overboard. Now I’m not saying I agree with it or disagree with it. I’m just saying that a lot of people voted for him to do what he promised to do. It’s a bad thing, I think, if a guy gets elected on one thing and does another thing. On the other hand, I do think yeah, number one, Obama is a strategic thinker, and is willing to make short terms course corrections to achieve a long term goal. And second, I think he’s only now realizing just how screwed he is on Iraq, that this was the biggest mess in the history of American foreign policy, invading Iraq was the worst decision in the history of American foreign policy, and it’s going to take him years, and it’s going to take the president after him many more years to clean up the mess that George Bush made.


HH: Of course there’s a counter-argument to that, but I’m running low on time....
Great comeback Hugh.

If you have the time, give it a listen. It's very interesting.

Tougher Steriod Testing Exposing "Stars"

Even with the terrible year he is having, David Ortiz had a historically bad outing for the Red Sox yesterday.
Ortiz went 0 for 7 and stranded 12 runners—tying Trot Nixon’s team record — as his average plummeted to .208. The five-time All-Star dressed slowly while facing his corner locker, then turned around and saw a swarm of reporters surrounding him before saying: “Sorry, guys. I don’t feel like talking today. Just put down, `Papi stinks.”’

Ortiz has gone 144 at-bats since his last home run on Sept. 22 against Cleveland’s Zach Jackson at Fenway Park. He is one at-bat from equaling his longest dry spell in the majors.
Hmmmm. Now, what on earth could be the problem Papi?

Evil on Mexico's Northern Border

I continue to be shocked at the descent of Mexico into a violent and lawless place. For generations Americans would cross the border for a few days of fiesta. You'd be crazy to do it these days. 4 US citizens found strangled in Tijuana

TIJUANA, Mexico – The bodies of four U.S. citizens were found strangled, beaten and stabbed in a van in this border city, two days after they reportedly left their Southern California homes for a night at the Mexican clubs, U.S. officials said Thursday.

The victims, ages 19 to 23 years old, were found tied up on Saturday, but their deaths were not reported earlier because they were under investigation, said Fermin Gomez, an assistant state prosecutor in Baja California.

UPDATE: I can't help but think of Steve Earle's song The Week of Living Dangerously

Well I headed south on 35 hell bent for vinyl
I hadn't never had her up past 55 before
Well somethin' 'bout that little red line always looked so final
Buddy you'd be surprised how fast a Chevrolet truck can go

Now, down in Mexico they've got a little place called Boystown
Where a man's still a man if you know what I'm talkin' about
Well, I walked into the Cadillac bar and I laid my cash down
I said "there's plenty more where that came from" and the lights went out

Well I woke up in a county jail 'cross the line in Laredo
With a headache and a deputy staring at me through the door
Well he said "Now how you got across that river alive, I don't know
But your wife just made your bail so now you're really dead for sure"

Bettman's Disastrous Sun Belt Strategy

The world's worst sport's commissioner of any sport, any time comes under fire in this Ottawa Citizen article about the Coyotes by Bruce Ward:
The forecast high in Phoenix today is 98 Fahrenheit -- perfect hockey weather -- but it's way hotter under my collar as I write this. I'm steamed because short capitalist tool Gary Bettman keeps trying to prevent Canuck billionaire Jim Balsillie from bringing the Phoenix Coyotes to Southern Ontario.

Guy wants to pay $212.5 million for a team that's losing $20 million a year and bring it to a place that loves hockey. And that smug Bettman keeps saying no. Because it's a far better thing to spread hockey fever in Arizona, where the favourite sport is berating the hard-working Hispanic community.
Bettman is still banking that these failing sun belt teams will somehow attract new fans and grow the sport. It's not working, and it ruins it for fans in other regions where hockey is popular. The lock out hurt hockey, but recent Cup champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes and Anaheim Ducks hurt it just as badly, IMHO.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ralph Peters: Wrong Mission

I'm a big fan of Ralph Peters and once again, in this NY Post op-ed, he comes out swinging. He doesn't think Washington, and the Miliatry High Command understand the Afghanistan situation. AFGHAN GRAVEYARD
As this column has pointed out repeatedly, Afghanistan's worthless in and of itself. Securing hundreds of premedieval villages means local progress at the cost of strategic paralysis. To fight a mobile enemy, we need to be hypermobile. The dirt doesn't matter.

That's where special-ops come in. Our efforts should concentrate on supporting our black-program professionals. It's their fight. We need fewer troops, but a clear vision and more guts.

McChrystal needs to question all the "givens." And he needs to dismantle the NATO pleasure-palace that only impedes the war effort. Our commitment must be streamlined, not fattened and diffused. We need to focus on what must be done, casting aside what just seems nice to do.

Getting it right in Afghanistan -- and across the frontier in Pakistan -- means digging fewer wells and forcing our enemies to dig more graves. I'll bet on McChrystal to get it right. If he's allowed to.

Change?

I'm scratching my head reading this story: Obama mulls 'indefinite detention' of terror suspects
President Barack Obama's "administration is weighing plans to detain some terror suspects on US soil -- indefinitely and without trial -- as part of a plan to retool military commission trials that were conducted for prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay," The Wall Street Journal said.
Can somebody tell me how the Obama Administration is different from Bush's?

I not somebody who gets too upset about Gitmo. It's hard to figure out what to do with terrorist guerrillas that you've picked up on the battlefield. It's not like a soldier serving in a national, regular army. However, I don't think people had this in mind when Obama promised to shut down the detention center at Guantanamo. Wasn't it about due process, not merely geography?

Could America Lose its Triple A Credit Rating?

This Financial Times report is a cold bucket of water in the face about the future of the USA. If it doesn't get its spending in order, it risks becoming a banana republic. America’s triple A rating is at risk

That warning from Moody’s focused on the exploding healthcare and Social Security costs that threaten to engulf the federal government in debt over coming decades. The facts show we’re in even worse shape now, and there are signs that confidence in America’s ability to control its finances is eroding.

Prices have risen on credit default insurance on US government bonds, meaning it costs investors more to protect their investment in Treasury bonds against default than before the crisis hit. It even, briefly, cost more to buy protection on US government debt than on debt issued by McDonald’s. Another warning sign has come from across the Pacific, where the Chinese premier and the head of the
People’s Bank of China have expressed concern about America’s longer-term credit worthiness and the value of the dollar.

(...)

For too long, the US has delayed making the tough but necessary choices needed to reverse its deteriorating financial condition. One could even argue that our government does not deserve a triple A credit rating based on our current financial condition, structural fiscal imbalances and political stalemate. The credit rating agencies have been wildly wrong before, not least with mortgage-backed securities.

How can one justify bestowing a triple A rating on an entity with an accumulated negative net worth of more than $11,000bn (€8,000bn, £7,000bn) and additional off-balance sheet obligations of $45,000bn? An entity that is set to run a $1,800bn-plus deficit for the current year and trillion dollar-plus deficits for years to come?
There is a potential catastrophe in the making. I don't think the US has the potential wealth creation to tackle its debts.

I feel like when a few years after the start of the Iraq War and things were still unsettled and getting worse. My thought was: Could some politician step and make a speech to reassure me things will get better, or what the plan was? We never got one. We're still there. With this financial crisis, I would like the president to explain how and when they plan to pay off these debts? Can they pay it off?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Matt Taibbi: Anti-Torture Is Not Treason

Matt Taibbi is a writer for Rolling Stone, who I have seen on Real Time with Bill Maher several times, including last Friday. This week he wrote an excellent blog post about how "pro-torture" critics are bending the argument out of shape: Being anti-torture doesn’t make you pro-terrorist

Here’s a snippet from one letter I got: “What really gets me about liberals like you is that when other countries torture and kill our people, and cut off their heads, [there's] not a peep from you. But you dunk some terrorist’s head underwater for a few minutes and you go all weepy.”

(...)

It’s the same thing with this torture business. There are a lot of people in this country who genuinely believe that torture opponents are “not upset” about things like 9/11 or the beheading of American hostages. The idea that “no one complains when Americans are murdered” is crazy — of course we “complained,” and of course we’d all like to round up those machete-wielding monsters and shoot them into space — but these people really believe this, they really believe that torture opponents are secretly unimpressed/untroubled by Islamic terrorism, at least as compared to American “enhanced interrogation.” For them to believe that, they must really believe that such people are traitors, nursing a secret agenda (an agenda perhaps unknown even to themselves, their America-hatred being ingrained so deep) against their own country. Which is really an amazing thing for large numbers of Americans to believe about another large group of Americans, when you think about it.

I have noticed myself there is popular a "whose side are you on" counter-argument to this issue. That's ridiculous. If torture is considered un-effective and is really bad for the American image in the Middle East, isn't it patriotic to call it a wrong strategy?

Do you put your seal of approval on those of those sick scenes from the Abu Graib scandal? Well you must if you are a pro-torture patriot. But don't be surprised if some folks don't want that to have America's name behind it.

via: Andrew Sullivan

Conservative Attack Ad on Iggy

Not bad!

PJ O'Rourke On Conservative Talk Personalities

Here's an oldie but a goodie from 2004 as conservative PJ laments against people he might even agree with: the Limbaughs, Hannitys and Coulters. I Agree With Me
Coulter begins her book thus:

Liberals have a preternatural gift for striking a position on the side of treason. You could be talking about Scrabble and they would instantly leap to the anti-American position. Everyone says liberals love America, too. No they don't. Whenever the nation is under attack, from within or without, liberals side with the enemy.

Now, there's a certain truth in what she says. But it's what's called a "poetic truth." And it's the kind of poetic truth best conveyed late in the evening after six or eight drinks while pounding the bar. I wasn't in a bar. I was in my office. It was the middle of the day. And I was getting a headache.
Read the whole thing.

The argument continues to this day at NRO.

Campbell, BC Liberals Win Another Majority

I cannot tolerate a NDP government, so I'm happy they won. However, I'm no big fan of this government, who have gotten fat and arrogant over the years. As with so many provincial or federal elections in my adult life, this one garnered very little enthusiasm in me.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Benefits of Being a Cheapo Canadian

Why are Canadian banks doing so well as compared to others in this economy? Colby Cosh says our banking prudence is in our cultural DNA: (read)

Both Kravis and Rowe suggest that the innermost core difference might be cultural — and, perhaps, ultimately a matter of the Scottish prudence and tight-fistedness that has survived in our banking DNA. This, of course, raises an obvious chicken-and-egg question: Has that spirit been preserved because we’re still using the same banks our great-grandparents did, or vice versa? International observers have noticed that our “principles-based” financial regulation takes a very different form from the “rules-based” style prevailing in the United States.

Down south, lenders are engaged in a constant chess game with the government. Were, the bank executives and the regulators have absorbed each other’s values to such a great degree — both taking the view that, to put it simply, the first goal of the Royal Bank is to make sure that there is still a Royal Bank 100 years from now — that internal audit procedures are tougher than any regulator would dare demand, and arguably more effective than any regime created solely by a narrow, politically shifting rule set. Plain old-school snobbery plays a role too. Only by means of a very powerful ethos of noblesse oblige can you staff a modern banking system, as we have, without dangling big short-term rewards in front of top executives and doing away with substantive board oversight.
My experience in technology sales has taught me there is a major difference between Canadian and American clients. Our own countrymen, we used to call "Cheapo Canadians." Money was always the object. I remember one time at a tech company, we introduced a consulting package to go with our software. A business could hire one of our people to implement our business model, and it was very expensive. On the floor, we were quietly skeptical that it was not going to sell. At first it wasn't. The VP of sales had us in for a strategy session. 90% of our potential customers were American. He told us to stop thinking like risk averse, penny pinching Canadians. If an American client said he couldn't afford it, don't believe him. He can get credit anywhere. Everybody down there, even with modest salaries, drive a BMW and live in a McMansion on credit. If you could sell the vision, money was no object. It was hyperbole, but he was right. It was 2004 and it ended up being a big seller down there. (Not so much in Canada.)

S.P.E.C.T.R.E Like Organization behind Somali Piracy


I had posted last month about: Crime Sydicates Running Somali Piracy. In The Independent article cited, they mentioned:
Front organisations are believed to have signed up to the Lloyd's List ship movement database, and sources such as Jane's Intelligence, to ascertain protective measures being undertaken by the shippers.
The Guardian follows up on the British connection in this piece by Giles Tremlett:
In each case, according to the report, the pirates had full knowledge of the cargo, nationality and course of the vessel.

It is not clear who these ­"consultants" were, but Dincel believes they may work inside the industry. "They knew the ­vessel, they knew the cargo, they knew the loading ports, they knew the destination, they knew everything," he said. "The knew their job."

Andrew Mwangura, who heads the East African's Seafarer's Assistance Programme, a piracy monitoring group based in Mombassa, Kenya, said negotiations over hijacked ships often involve Somalis in London. "Not only for the Karagöl, but for many other ships, the negotiations involve people in London," he said.
This is a fascinating international conspiracy. The UK press are leading the way to uncovering it. If you watch the news you tend to think of it as rinky-dink bandits hijacking whatever they happen to come across. Not so, it is very organized.

Note: S.P.E.C.T.R.E is a crime organization from James Bond novels. Dr. No and Ernst Stavro Blofeld were members. They were highly organized and not attached to any national loyalty. It stands for: Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Canucks Out!


Oh boy, what a cliffhanger until the last three minutes! When the Canucks went up 5-4 in the 3rd, my neighbourhood exploded. People were cheering from balconies, and blowing air horns.

Final 7-5 Chicago. Hawks take the series 4-2.

They wouldn't have been there without him, but geeze, Luongo let in 7 goals on 30 shots.

Then Why Did You Sign The Agreement Iggy?

From the Globe and Mail: Coalition would have deeply divided Canadians: Ignatieff

“I'm in politics to unify people, not to divide them,” Mr. Ignatieff said.

“There was also a question concerning the legitimacy of the coalition that troubled me.”

The power sharing deal between the Liberals and New Democrats, with support from the Bloc Quebecois, was not undemocratic, Mr. Ignatieff told the crowd of some 150 Montrealers gathered in a downtown theatre, but it would nonetheless have given Canadians the feeling that the parties had “in some sense or another stolen power.”

In their report the Globe and Mail failed to mention that Iggy put his signature on the Coalition agreement. It really doesn't matter what he thought, if he signed on supporting it. If he had questions, and doubts, it shows that he didn't have the courage of his convictions to stand up at the time, against it. Seems he's getting a free pass from the press about it.

A Newspaper That Won't Go Bankrupt

It's impossible to avert your eyes from the New York Post. I don't care how snobby you are, if this lead story doesn't make you laugh, then nothing does:

PHELPS 'IN MARATHON SEX ROMP'
Michael Phelps deserves another gold medal - for stamina in the sack, according to a stripper who claims she had a threesome with the swim champ.
It's hilarious how the US media was trying to sell Phelps as an All-American, Wheaties Box type, when he seems to be a tacky guy with an affinity for trashy strippers and dope.

World's Least Surprising News Headline

Pope's Address Disappoints Muslim Leaders

In other news: Dog Objects to Cats Entering Yard.

Tamils Use Children as Shields to Blockade Toronto Highway

When you come to Canada you should drop your Sri Lankan politics. I don't know how they're going to garner sympathy when they pull crap like this. 'Unlawful' Tamil protest blocks Toronto highway

The Tamil protest has spilled onto Toronto's Gardiner Expressway Sunday, blocking traffic in both directions-- and there's no end in sight.

Hundreds of people from Toronto's Tamil community, including women with babies in strollers, marched up the highway ramp on Spadina Avenue at around 7 p.m. to protest the violence against civilians in Sri Lanka.

They are demanding to speak to a representative of Prime Minister Stephen Harper about the civil war in Sri Lanka. Police have said that will not be possible.
How do they think this is going to win over the Canadian public? But here's the real outrage...
Blair said he was extremely concerned about the presence of children at the protest and said the elevated highway itself was very dangerous for people on foot.

"I'm very concerned about the safety of children, I think it's an extremely dangerous situation to put children on the front line of a protest in that way, I think it puts them at tremendous risk' he said.
They bring children, and put them in harm's way, so the police (or motorists) can't break them up. Disgusting! Outrageous! I don't care what their cause is!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Saturdays With Rex Murphy's Column

Bacon, eggs, Rex Murphy's column. It's not Saturday in Canada without them. When I read it, I always hear his Newfie voice in my head. He hits a home run today. (Read)

Unfortunately even the most glassy-eyed idealism can be confronted by reality, and such was the case with Carbon Neutral's expedition. They hit a bad patch of weather. Their poor boat was thrice capsized. And the fickle Gods of Global Warming must have been taking a siesta, for in one of those incidents one of the team "hit his head and the wind generator and solar panels were ripped from the yacht." I can only imagine them at this moment, staring soulfully into the hurricane-whipped sky, and pleadingly imploring: "Al Gore, Al Gore, why has thou forsaken us?"

They were in a powerless pickle. Solar and sail had failed them and green intentions will not float your boat - they were not so much "carbon neutral" as carbon deprived. Bobbing around the North Atlantic in a gale without motor power of any kind is not the most soothing experience. Fortunately, Providence, in one of its most artful facsimiles, was on hand in the shape of the Overseas Yellowstone - a ship that was, to put it mildly, not relying on solar power or a wind turbine.

It was a 113,000-ton oil tanker, carrying 680,000 barrels of crude oil. We may reach for many adjectives to describe the Overseas Yellowstone but "carbon neutral" will not be among them. Indeed, the Overseas Yellowstone, looked at from a carbon-neutral perspective, is the Life Raft from Hell. Nonetheless the oil tanker picked up the eco-people.
I'll be back blogging later tomorrow. Have a good weekend.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Er, Good News: Support for bin Laden down to 34% from 50% in Pakistan

Fred Kaplan has a blunt article on the Afghanistan-Pakistan puzzle in Slate:

In short, we can send Pakistanis money, arms, handbooks, and the like. But we can't make them do what they say they're going to do or even effectively monitor whether they're doing it. Bush sent $10 billion to then-President Pervez Musharraf, who pledged that he would use the aid to go after the terrorists. For the most part, he didn't.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani military has little desire to improve its counterinsurgency skills. Many officers are more loyal to the Taliban than to the central government. And though the army is beginning to crack down on Taliban fighters in the Swat and Buner districts, it is still the case that
80 percent or 90 percent of Pakistani troops are stationed on the border with India, which most officers still see as the country's greatest threat. This perception is no mere idiosyncrasy; it is integral to the Pakistani worldview, dating back to the founding of the nation and the partition from India in 1947. It has been reinforced by three wars between the two nations, in '47, '65, and '71, as well as a war or two that nearly broke out in the past decade, and has been hammered home further by the fact that both counties have nuclear weapons.

Maybe this time the Pakistani military is really getting serious. Certainly the population is less enamored of Islamist terrorists than it used to be. Those who say they support suicide bombing under certain circumstances has plummeted from 40 percent in 2004 to just 5 percent in 2008, according to a
Pew survey released this past March. (Then again, 34 percent of Pakistanis still say they have confidence in Osama bin Laden, down from 50 percent.)
I like how Kaplan throws out the bin Laden poll way down in the article. 34% is no tiny minority of extremists. The Taliban are much more popular than the Americans. There's no way to change it, but the Americans keep playing pretend and sending money. It's impossible that this will end well. Impossible.

Beleaguered Brown Badgered To Call an Election in the UK

Here's some great viewing from the British Parliament. Tory leader David Cameron is hilarious. I love a good political brawl.

The 70's: When Every Adult Spent the Day Drunk and Popping Pills

I can see why people thought America was going down the toilet in the 70's.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Abuse of Power

Once again, Peter Schiff in plain language is able to drill down and see the big picture: Funds Hoodwinked
Reacting to the setback, President Obama took aim at the few Chrysler bondholders (including hedge funds and private investors) who had scuttled the plan. He described these “holdouts” as unwilling to make the sacrifices that the company, the workers, the pensioners, and the taxpayers had been prepared to make for the good of the country. Ironically, the “greedy” group that Obama holds responsible for killing the auto industry is the only force capable of saving it.

Singling out hedge funds as the bad guys will not be politically controversial. The accusation falls comfortably into the Administration’s view that unfettered capitalists on Wall Street and poor planning by short-sighted CEO’s are responsible for our problems. These ideas, echoed in Congress, the media, and on Main Street, completely ignore how government intervention incentivized the bad behavior and brought down our economy.

The investors’ reluctance to cave in sends Chrysler to bankruptcy court. Normally, this process would be the best means to reallocate Chrysler’s assets in a way that benefits our economy. But Obama made clear that this will be no ordinary bankruptcy. The guiding hand of Washington had already formulated its far-sighted plan to save Chrysler, and this proceeding is meant to strong arm those won’t cooperate. As a result, expect a cram-down rather than a negotiation. The sanctity of the bondholder’s investment contracts will crumble under the political weight of Obama’s vision.

Hat tip: Pat

Breaking: Manny Ramirez Suspended 50 Games for Testing Positive to a Banned Substance!

Wow! ESPN

The commissioner's office didn't announce the specific violation by Ramirez, who will lose about one-third of his $25 million salary.

Ramirez's test result was first reported by The Los Angeles Times.

Scott Boras, Ramirez's agent, told ESPN's Peter Gammons that his client did not test positive for steroids, but for a drug that was prescribed by a doctor for a medical condition.

(...)

The report of a Ramirez positive test is the second to rock the sport in three months. In February, New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez admitted that he used steroids from 2001-2003 while with the Texas Rangers.

A-Rod and Manny were supposed to be the two "natural" talents that weren't juicing. Baseball gets another black eye. All the major stars of the era are frauds.

UPDATE: I've been waiting all day for Red Sox fan and Manny defender Bill Simmons to comment, and he didn't disappoint with this column on ESPN:
We look at the 2004 banner again. I always thought that, for the rest of my life, I would look at that banner and think only good thoughts. Now, there's a mental asterisk that won't go away. I wish I could take a pill to shake it from my brain. I see 2004 and 2007, and think of Manny and Papi first and foremost. The modern-day Ruth and Gehrig. One of the great one-two punches in sports history. Were they cheating the whole time? Was Pedro cheating, too? That 2004 banner makes me think of these things now. I wish it didn't, but it does. This makes me sad. This makes me profoundly sad.

My son can read it in my face. I am sad. He can see it.

"That's OK, Dad," he says, rubbing my shoulder. "Everyone cheated back then."

Movie Review: The Battle of Algiers (La Battaglia Di Algeri)

I had been hearing about The Battle of Algiers since I was in university. The 1966, Italian film is considered the great Marxist, anti-colonialist film. A must see for radicals. For this reason, I had avoided it all these years. Often cited as a rally cry and blueprint for Islamic, or anti-western uprisings, I thought it was a fitting time to watch it. Besides, it is considered a masterpiece of cinema.

I was blown away.

It’s a gripping docu-drama based on the real events, and people of the Algerian War of Independence, between 1954-1962, when the Muslim-Arabs struggled for independence from France. The film is based entirely in Algiers the capital. There is a divide between the European Quarter where the French live and the famous Casbah, the section around the old citadel in the hills where the Arabs live.

To begin with, the film focuses in on the Arab FLN (Front de Libération Nationale). Main character, Ali Lapoint, from his prison window witnesses an Arab scream “Allah Akbar!” before getting the guillotine from the French. Afterwards, free and listless, Ali is recruited by the FLN, and they test his loyalty. Ultimately he becomes a fighter and killer for the cause.

The FLN is not just a guerrilla organization but intends to be the governing and moral authority of the Arab population. The French educated, intellectual leaders wage a propaganda war. With a brilliant use of voice over, the film depicts the FLN announcing several decrees to the population to resist French rule. For example, wanting to rid themselves of French/infidel vice they decree the ban of alcohol, drugs and prostitution. They want to create an Islamic rallying point, in areas they control. We see the results of this plan, as a pimp is shot and then a group of children are urged to beat and harass a drunk, yelling: “Wino! Wino!” It’s a masterful cinematic segue from idea to result.

Ramping up, the FLN launch a campaign of assassinating French police officers, and the viewer witnesses the action. Reeling from that sequence, the film uses voice over again, this time decrees from the French police, about the consequences of harbouring Muslim radicals. As a solution, the French army cordons off the Casbah with barbed wire, and Arabs have to cross a checkpoint to get out. The assassinations continue, through organized, covert activity.

Frustrated, the police unofficially plant a nighttime bomb in a crowded civilian area, known for radical activity in the Casbah. The blast kills a dozen men, women and children, (that we can see), perhaps there are more under the rubble. Incensed, the FLN plan a bombing campaign of their own, for the European Quarter. What follows is one of the most intense scenes I have ever experienced, as we follow the Muslim bombers on their grizzly task. I won’t cheapen it by trying to sum it up. The suspense is nearly unbearable.

Algiers is an exotic and compelling setting. The Casbah is an ancient fortress of walls, stairs, a maze of alleys, and doors that lead to courtyards or different building complexes or dead ends. (Metaphorical of the French understanding of the Arabs.) What came to mind were descriptions of Prague from friends, except with white box-like Arab-style architecture. In contrast, the coastal European Quarter has wide open boulevards, populated with cars, shops, cafes and fashionably dressed whites. It looked like it could have been the Montreal of the 50’s that my parents grew up in.

The bombing campaign angers the French who summon the Foreign Legion Paratroopers, headed by Colonel Mathieu, an outstanding character, played by actor Jean Martin. He states clearly that this is a war and as a soldier, his only goal is to win. He is no caricature, but thoughtful and intelligent. In briefing his troops, he explains how the FLN operate in self-contained cells, very much what he have heard on the news for the last decade in our own time.

Faced with the new force, the Arabs change tack and wage a one week general strike in support of the FLN. World observers were starting to weigh in on the conflict, and the FLN ordered non- violence and used the strike to impress the UN and world opinion. (They were not stupid.) However, Col. Mathieu uses this as leverage to break the strike and round up any Arab suspects to interrogate and if necessary, torture for information leading to cell members. (Included are rough torture scenes. Blow torch, jumper cables and car battery. And water torture.) Ultimately his counter-insurgency breaks the top cells. The negative result is that it has inflamed Arab opposition even more.

Mathieu understands that the most important player for the French cause is not the army but the free press. They question him on torture and he says to them at a press conference: "Do you think the French should stay in Algeria? If yes... then you must accept the consequences.” At the beginning of the conflict, even the communist papers were supporting the war effort, but now everybody was turning to accept the Algerian cause. Sound familiar? My head was spinning watching this.

I have to mention the film score by Ennio Morricone and Gillo Pontecorvo was phenomenal as well. I don’t have the best music vocabulary, but during tense scenes there was pulsating, hypnotic music that obviously adds to the film’s critical acclaim.

This film inspired many western Marxists, but to me, it does not do their cause any good. These days we tend to think of a Marxist as a pot smoking, professional student, wearing a Che Gueverra t-shirt. But serious Marxism and Communism believes in violent means to achieve an end. Ideas are more important than human rights. The film depicts merciless, unflinching assassinations and bombings. When it goes from cop killing to civilian killing, it’s appalling to watch. I don’t know how a person brought up in western society would approve. Just like, on the other hand, it’s impossible to support the French for torturing people.

Growing up in my generation, it’s obvious that colonialism is bad. The Algerians beat it. Tragically, we look ironically at the modern Algiers which is a destroyed and forgotten city. The natives threw off the colonial yoke, but ended up their own worse enemies.

Most importantly though, the Algerians won their independence. This film is a “how-to” for running an insurgency. The western powers still do not have a strategy to defeat a guerrilla war.

This movie is relevant to today’s situation. I bet Obama saw it in his student days. Does he remember the lessons, as he sends an American Col. Mathieu to clean up the Afghan insurgency?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Backlash to Maclean's "Disturbing New Poll"

Barbara Kay in the National Post takes to task Maclean's Magazine for chiding Canadians as intolerent based on some poll findings. I meant to post on this, but I think Kay sums it up well. I expect better from Maclean's

Of the many features offending against minimal standards of objectivity in this poll, two stand out as especially discrediting.

One is Maclean's' solicitation of editorial commentary on the poll numbers from Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of Islamism-supportive CAIRCan. CAIR-Can has never repudiated Islamic terrorism and fellow-travels with the Muslim brotherhood. The Brotherhood is openly committed to the promotion of stealth jihad, and is universally acknowledged as the intellectual fountainhead of Sunni Islamic radicalism. No media organ should invite such an extremist institution to pass moral judgment on Canadians.

The other is Maclean's' overt editorial criticism around the very low level of acceptance for shariah law. Hostility to officially sanctioned shariah law is falsely linked here with negativism toward Muslims. In fact Canadians' opposition to shariah represents a wholesome rejection of Europe-style cultural suicide.

It is offensive that Canadians should be implicitly labelled racists for upholding democratic ideals over willfully blind multiculturalism. To regard the phrase "clash of civilizations" without ironic quotation marks is not a sign of hostility toward individual Muslims. On the contrary, national self-interest demands that we view Islamism and the dangers posed by radicalized Muslim youths with dread.

Read the whole thing.

Free Trade Between Canada and the EU?

The Globe and Mail had a story that the Canadian government is brokering a deal to bring free trade with the EU. Great! What does this mean for the Canadian consumer? Great wines and beer at a cheaper price? French cheese? No tariffs on German cars? I had to get far down into the article to see what it would mean:
It is hoped that the free trade deal, which will seek agreements in areas including labour mobility, customs procedures, trades in services investment, food safety, sustainable development and goods, could be signed within a year.
Oh. Labour mobility is great but I have a feeling those European goods that people want will be as expensive and difficult to obtain as ever.

It's like NAFTA. Our northern climate in BC is not great for growing certain foods. But try getting anything other than a BC grown tomato, which are awful. Why can't I get California tomatoes, the best in the world? Protectionism for the few hothouse tomato farmers in the province.

For that matter, you can't buy freshly squeezed orange juice in Canada. It's all frozen concentrate. Pick up any orange juice carton in Canada and it will say product of Markham, Ont. or some such place. Why doesn't it say Florida? You can buy freshly squeezed anywhere in Seattle or Portland, not far from where I am. It's some kind of special interest scam to protect a few distributers in Canada.

Free trade, never means true free trade.

Nanny Scandal With Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla

I find these accusations fascinating and tend to believe the poor nannies. The Toronto Star chronicles the abuse in this expose:

Fast-rising Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla has become entangled in the nanny trap, with allegations two nannies hired to care for her mother were illegally employed and then mistreated.

The nannies also allege Dhalla improperly seized their passports and family members forced them to do non-nanny jobs such as washing cars, shining shoes and cleaning family-owned chiropractic clinics.

(...)

Ruby Dhalla vehemently denied any mistreatment of the nannies. "I've never held
on to anybody's passport," Dhalla said." I've never raised my voice to anyone."

Gordo, who said she was owed money after she quit, claims Ruby Dhalla called and said she would pay if the nanny signed a letter saying she was well treated and properly paid. Gordo refused. Later, Gordo said she met Dhalla's mother, Tavinder, at a McDonald's and was handed $400 cash.

In the interview, Ruby Dhalla said nannies at the home work for her family, not her.

She said she spends four days a week in Ottawa. Gordo and Tongson said Dhalla arrived at the home every Thursday and left for Ottawa on Monday. They said she occupies the biggest suite in the four-bedroom house.

Dhalla said all queries should be directed to her brother.


It sounds like Dhalla's family expected an old country servant, and used threats and intimidation on these women to get their way. Obviously, it was so bad all three of the women quit in a short time period, despite the consequences. The fact that Dhalla seems to be shifting the blame onto her family in the part I quoted, makes me think she knows that she has done wrong.

UPDATE: The boss is not happy.
Statement by Michael Ignatieff

This morning I accepted Ruby Dhalla's resignation as Youth & Multiculturalism Critic. Ms. Dhalla will continue to serve as the Liberal Member of Parliament for Brampton-Springdale. I look forward to a determination of the facts regarding her family's experience with live-in caregivers.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Quagmire Watch

The Taliban are promising that they are going to ratchet up the violence, the bombings, suicide bombing and assassinations in response to the US surge. Do we believe them?
Out-powered in rural areas by military weaponry, fighters there will carry machine guns and attempt to sharpen the results of their ambushes, but they will rely more on land mines and improvised explosive devices, sources say.

Inside the city, insurgents plan to stage more frequent multi-bomber suicide attacks and targeted assassinations. Government officials and civilians who appear to be in favour of the current government regime will be hunted with new intensity.

“If a man or woman is working with the government, or they are supporters of the government or of the foreigners, we want to kill them,” said one Taliban organizer speaking through a Pashto translator. “We want to put the pressure on Kandahar city. And we want to dissolve the government.”

(...)

How locals respond to troops remains to be seen. In the city, confidence in both government and coalition forces has waned, and military officials acknowledge research confirms the forces' sunken popularity.

Their approval ratings have not been helped by a spike in large-scale violence over the course of the past month. Militants successfully carried out deadly bombings at the governor's mansion and the provincial council offices. Assassinations have become a daily occurrence, so much so that victims of the gruesome killings only make the news now if they are well-known figures.

(...)

Mullah Masood, Maywand's district leader, said allegiances to militants will not change until foreign stakeholders invest properly in Afghanistan.

“My suggestion is for the foreigner to find work for the common people, the people who are poor,” he said. “Find food for the children. Otherwise, this joining of the people with the Taliban will continue.”
This is definitely a 1969 moment. At the time the Vietnam War was looking unwinnable and the public had turned against it. The Johnson administration were crushed and unpopular. The newly elected Nixon could simply wash his hands of the war and withdraw, with popular support, and without the burden that it was his war. Instead Nixon waffled. He pursued the "peace with honor" policy, that they wouldn't just up and leave without concessions from the North Vietnamese. So the war that wasn't winnable dragged on, until 1975 and they had to leave in disgrace with the famous helicopter evacuation from the US Embassy.

Obama is in the same situation right now. It appears that he is choosing to drag it on. It becomes his war now. Not to be too cynical, but it's easy to see that this will not to turn around, and we'll have a nice clean victory. Does anybody really believe it will? It sickens me that we have to watch this unfold because failure can't be admitted. More money and lives will be destroyed over this point of honor.

Thank You For Smoking

In the upside down world of China, the government encourages you to smoke.

Daily Telegraph:
The edict, issued by officials in Hubei province in central China, threatens to fine officials who "fail to meet their targets" or are caught smoking rival brands manufactured in neighbouring provinces.

Even local schools have been issued with a smoking quota for teachers, while one village was ordered to purchase 400 cartons of cigarettes a year for its officials, according to the local government's website.

The move, which flies in the face of national anti-smoking policies set in Beijing, is aimed at boosting tax revenues and protecting local manufacturers from outside competition from China's 100 cigarette makers.

In total, officials have been ordered to puff their way through 230,000 packs of Hubei-branded cigarettes worth £400,000.
All we need now is a higher booze consumption quota and I might start thinking about a new place to live.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Book Review: American Tabloid by James Ellroy

I came across James Ellroy by chance several years ago. I was on my way to a beach holiday and needed reading material. The movie LA Confidential was out in theatres. Somebody had recommended that I see it, knowing that I loved Raymond Chandler and the noir genre. At the bookstore, I saw the 500 page paperback, that the movie was based on and I had never heard of the author. I bought it, thinking it might be something I would enjoy. Later, sipping a few beers on the beach, I realized I had something better, much better, than Chandler. I was enraptured. I became a huge Ellroy fan and have since read every book he has published.

Blood's A Rover the long awaited third and final book of James Ellroy’s Underworld Trilogy is due out this year. Eager with anticipation, I decided to re-read American Tabloid, the first of the series.

Here’s some of the things we know about the late 50’s, early 60’s America: There was extreme corruption involving the mafia, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, the CIA lead invasion of the Bay of Pigs, Las Vegas casinos, mob electioneering for JFK in the 1960 election, and Jimmy Hoffa’s oversight of the Teamster’s Pension Fund, to name a few. Also you had a reckless president who had liaisons with countless number of women of questionable backgrounds, and whose brother, Bobby was Attorney General of the US and was bent on going after mafia kingpins. In Los Angeles, lived the world’s richest man: the drug addicted, hermit Howard Hughes and everybody wanted a piece of his money. Rich material you would think? What writer would have the nerve to tackle it, and thread it all together as historical fiction? Ellroy steps up to the plate in American Tabloid and hits the ball over the fence and out of the stadium itself. This is a brilliant and enjoyable novel.

As Ellroy stated, in an interview about his work:

I like the idea that there is this human infrastructure to American history, and that lots of big historical events couldn’t have happened without these leg-breakers that I write about doing violent things in the background. That’s what I set out to write—the stories of the men and women behind the scenes who did the dirty work of American power.
The main characters are the leg breakers. Pete Bondurant: Physically massive, French-Canadian born, ex-US marine, ex-cop, dope runner, extortionist, black-mailer, paid hit-man. (Big Pete also appears in two other Ellroy novels, and I feel like I personally know him. He’s a good friend of mine and I root for him with all my heart, even though, you know, he’s a murderer. I’ve heard that the rights of the book have been sold as a potential HBO mini series, funded by Tom Hanks’ group. If so, for the love of God, cast the right person for Pete.) The other main characters are: Kemper Boyd, Yale educated, FBI lawyer spying on the Kennedys for Hoover. Ward Littlel, educated by the Jesuits, FBI black-bag man, determined to do real police work for justice but comes up against the cynical Hoover and his own crushing alcoholism.

Playboy Magazine ranked American Tabloid as a top twenty Book that Every Guy Should Read. Meaning there is violence, politically incorrect humor, gangsters, politics, war, hookers, drugs, booze, gambling, guns, tabloid press, etc. etc. Indeed it is great that way. However, do not underestimate it as mere pulp, this is a work of intricate genius. The events, and the legends of the day populate the plot: Hoover, Hoffa, Hughes, the Kennedys, Sam Giancanna, Frank Sinatra, Fidel Castro, Santo Trafficante.

I highly recommend this to read. Or, if you want to get started on Ellroy, you can start with his brilliant LA Quartet: The Black Dahlia, White Jazz: A Novel, L.A. Confidential, The Big Nowhere. All four are fantastic. There is no living writer that I enjoy more than him.