Thursday, September 29, 2005

Patriotic Dissent

"You can't be opposed to the war in Iraq and still claim to support the global war on terror."

"You can't support the troops without supporting the commander-in-chief."

The talking points have been repeated many times by Bush apologists in the media and in the blogosphere. They are the first two corollaries of Bush's Law which states that you are either with him or with the terrorists. And while it is a propaganda talking point created to garner support for the administration agenda, many people truly believe it. They are convinced that anybody who objects to the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war is anti-American and doesn't care about American servicemen. But now there is hard evidence that this notion is utterly false. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Pat Tillman.

You might recall that Tillman was a pro football player with the Arizona Cardinals. He was so moved by the attacks of September 11, 2001 that he turned down a multi-million dollar contract with the Cardinals to join the Army Rangers in 2002. He wanted to go to Afghanistan, fight al Qaeda and hopefully find Osama bin Laden. He was rightly hailed as a real American hero, and set the highest example of sacrifice and service to country. He did tours of duty in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Sadly, he was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004. He was just 27. You might also recall that initial reports put out in the media stated that Tillman had been killed by enemy fire, and a mythology abounded. It was shameful politicizing, similar to the mythology surrounding Jessica Lynch, but all the more tragic. It took weeks for the information to come out that his death was by fratricide, with his parents having been put through the ringer all along.

This article is kind of lengthy, but it talks about the Tillmans' struggle to discover the truth about Pat's death, and the stonewalling by the military. I could do a whole blog entry just on that. But for now, I'm interested in information revealed about Pat Tillman, the man, that many might not have realized. Aside from his superior intellect and generosity, which is described in the article, Pat had strong opinions about what his mission should be (emphasis mine):

Interviews also show a side of Pat Tillman not widely known — a fiercely independent thinker who enlisted, fought and died in service to his country yet was critical of President Bush and opposed the war in Iraq, where he served a tour of duty. He was an avid reader whose interests ranged from history books on World War II and Winston Churchill to works of leftist Noam Chomsky, a favorite author.


Instead of going to Afghanistan, as the brothers expected, their Ranger battalion was sent to participate in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. The Tillmans saw combat several times on their way to Baghdad. In early 2004, they finally were assigned to Afghanistan.


He started keeping a journal at 16 and continued the practice on the battlefield, writing in it regularly. (His journal was lost immediately after his death.) Mary Tillman [Pat's mother] said a friend of Pat's even arranged a private meeting with Chomsky, the antiwar author, to take place after his return from Afghanistan, a meeting prevented by his death. She said that although he supported the Afghan war, believing it justified by the Sept. 11 attacks, Pat was very critical of the whole Iraq war.


[Spc. Russell] Baer, who served with Tillman for more than a year in Iraq and Afghanistan, told one anecdote that took place during the March 2003 invasion as the Rangers moved up through southern Iraq.

"I can see it like a movie screen," Baer said. "We were outside of (a city in southern Iraq) watching as bombs were dropping on the town. We were at an old air base, me, Kevin and Pat, we weren't in the fight right then. We were talking. And Pat said, 'You know, this war is so f— illegal.' And we all said, 'Yeah.' That's who he was. He totally was against Bush."

Another soldier in the platoon, who asked not to be identified, said Pat urged him to vote for Bush's Democratic opponent in the 2004 election, Sen. John Kerry.

Senior Chief Petty Officer Stephen White a Navy SEAL who served with Pat and Kevin for four months in Iraq and was the only military member to speak at Tillman's memorial said Pat "wasn't very fired up about being in Iraq" and instead wanted to go fight al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

I think this proves what many of us have been saying since the Iraq war started - opposition to Bush and his Iraq policy does not mean you are any less patriotic, less supportive of the troops, or less committed to protecting the U.S. from terrorism. I challenge anybody who subscribes to the quotes at the top of this post to tell me that they now think Pat Tillman any less a hero.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Justice DeLayed

Tom DeLay, the cantankerous House Majority Leader, was indicted today on one count of conspiracy to violate political fundraising laws, a felony. Because of Republican House rules, the indictment forced the former exterminator to resign his leadership position in the House. At the White House, Scott McClellan stated, "I think the president's view is that we need to let the legal process work." And you know what? The president is absolutely correct. I don't know enough about the specifics of the case to make an informed comment on substance, but I believe in the principle that DeLay is innocent until proven guilty, and hopefully justice will be served.

Having said that, the initial reaction from DeLay can be described as dubious. If I were in his position and believed in my innocence, I would have responded like this: "The charges against me are false. The facts are A, B and C, and the law clearly states X, Y and Z, which shows that there was no violation." But DeLay did not devote one word of his statement to any of the details of his case. Instead, he attacked the prosecutor, Austin district attorney Ronnie Earle. Earle is a Democrat, and that alone seems to qualify him, in DeLay's eyes, as "an unabashed partisan zealot". DeLay claims that this indictment is some kind of partisan vendetta.

The partisan argument is weak on two counts. First, Earle hs prosecuted 15 public corruption cases, and 12 of them have been against Democrats. The other point is that, while I'm no expert on Texas jurisprudence, I'm pretty sure that the D.A. can present a case, but only the grand jury can indict. So are all of the members of the grand jury partisan zealots? William Gibson, the grand jury foreman, said of DeLay, "He's probably doing a good job. I don't have anything against him. Just something happened." That doesn't sound to me like someone with a political agenda.

The charge of partisanship is reminiscent of Ken Starr's investigation into Whitewater and, ultimately, the Clinton-Lewinsky affair. But the proof is in the pudding: After all the millions of dollars spent by Starr on his Reno-approved witchhunt and all the evidence gathered, the grand jury never saw fit to indict Bill Clinton on any charge. We can argue until the next millennium about what Congress should have done with the Starr Report as a political process. But in the court of law, the end result would lead one to conclude that Starr was either incompetent or on a wild goose chase. The fact that the grand jury in Austin saw enough evidence to warrant an indictment against DeLay means that there is at least a case there to be argued.

Time will tell what will happen in this case. It isn't the first charge of impropriety that DeLay has had to answer for. I can't sum this up any better than Arianna Huffington:

Delay, Frist, Abramoff, Safavian... Wasn't this the crowd that was going to "restore honor and integrity" to Washington? If this is what integrity looks like, let's bring back Oval Office blow jobs.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Would You Like Asparagus With That?

James Carville was really on to something when he told the Clinton '92 campaign team, "It's the economy, stupid." Because when you get right down to it, that's the only thing that everybody can truly relate to. Except for an elite few, most of us don't really know jack about issues like war and peace, diplomacy, and even politics itself, so we have to decide which sources we trust to educate ourselves and form opinions that way - or make totally uninformed opinions in a lot of cases. But the economy and micro-economics are things that we live with on a day to day basis. In our daily lives we set priorities on how our money is to be allocated. And from that experience, many feel comfortable extrapolating their economic priorities on a national level. I think that's why the most civil discussions on blogs tend to be the ones about economic issues, especially regarding taxation and government spending. People on the left and right challenge each others' priorities, and it usually makes for a healthy debate. So I'd like to encourage some of that.

I came across this article about how the poorest in our society are most susceptible to obesity and all the related diseases, in part because foods that are healthy (fresh produce, lean meats and fish) tend to be more expensive than unhealthy foods. Another factor is that many people work multiple jobs and don't have the time to cook proper meals for their children, so the children grow up with poor eating habits and many fall into the obesity trap. The article also includes opinions on possible remedies to the problem in Washington state, including a tax on junk food that could raise revenue to subsidize the sale of vegetables.

I think this is a terrific point of debate. I know that conservatives and others will talk about personal responsibility, and how most obese people got that way because of poor choices they made and they have to live with the consequences, and how people who eat junk food responsibly shouldn't be penalized for the sins of others. But I actually see this as something worthy of consideration. First off, if the price of fresh produce goes down, everybody benefits from that. If it means that more people eat healthy, then there will be less diet-related illnesses to treat and less of a crunch on health insurance, which benefits everybody. If the children in poorer households are eating healthier, they will have better self-esteem and more of a chance to succeed in their educational pursuits. The only downside is that a Whopper or a bag of chips will cost a little bit more. Many will argue that's too high a price to pay.

There have been other ideas bandied about to make healthy eating more affordable. Obviously, no program will totally eradicate obesity. People have to decide for themselves what they are going to eat. But I see this as both an issue of public health and equality of opportunity. There is an argument being made that low economic status is a hindrance to leading a healthy lifestyle and raising children to be healthy. Acknowledging that a healthy lifestyle isn't recognized as a constitutional right, isn't it still in the interest of the greater good to consider public solutions? It's a good ideological debate.

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Sun Never Sets On The CBC

Canadian Content Alert: American readers, feel free to check out the links if you'd like to learn a bit about our own madness up here.

On Tuesday, Michaëlle Jean will officially be installed as the 27th Governor General of Canada. As I wrote about in a previous post, I have my doubts about this woman being our de facto head of state. Among other things, I mentioned my discomfort with the thought of the commander-in-chief of the Canadian Forces being a dual citizen of France. I am happy to report that Jean has renounced her French citizenship, which was the right thing to do. I have no reason to doubt that the decision to take French citizenship in the first place was for family reasons, and it happened just last year. I only wish this had been addressed before she was designated as the next GG. My biggest concern about her remains the question surrounding her and (especially) her husband's ties to Quebec sovereignists and known FLQ terrorists. But I already had my rant about that.

I think Canadians have to seriously think about the role of the Governor General, and the future of the monarchy in Canada. The position of GG is largely ceremonial, although it holds real powers. One would think that the GG should be somebody with a background in politics, or diplomacy, or at least a background that would befit a statesman. And yet, our last two GG's have now been CBC broadcasters. Don't get me wrong - I have nothing against the broadcasting profession. I admired Adrienne Clarkson's media work, and have great respect for Jean's life story and career. But I don't recall Parliament ever approving a viceregal training program at the CBC. Somebody was joking the other day about the ongoing lockout at the CBC, and how nobody should throw eggs at the picket line because they might hit a future Governor General. Since there's a tradition of alternating Anglophone and Francophone GG's, by my calculation it should be Rex Murphy's turn next. I just hope, after Clarkson's spendthrift ways, that the Governor General's office will have to adhere to as strict a budget as the CBC.

In all seriousness, what are we doing in the 21st century still adhering to the British Monarchy? Seeing that Britons themselves are questioning the usefulness of the monarchy in greater numbers, it might be time for Canadians to consider alternatives. There are plenty of traditionalists around, so this isn't something that will happen any time soon. But it's still surprising that there isn't a larger republican (small r!) movement in Canada. We could still have ties to the Commonwealth - after all, it was our own Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent that proposed the formula that allowed India to remain in the Commonwealth upon independence. Maybe the new republican constitutional deliberations would even offer another chance to iron out some issues with Quebec and the West. And there's no reason why Rex Murphy couldn't be our next head of state, but he'd have to be elected. Ahhh, to dream. A republic, and Turks & Caicos, if you can keep it.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

A Modern-Day Solomon

I admit that tonight's blog entry is cheap. But because I'm suffering from one of my occasional bouts with blog fatigue, I thought I'd fall back on a proven standby - Bushisms. I'm liberally (because I'm a liberal) borrowing from a few sites that collect such things, and listing some of the highlights here for your reading pleasure. I've left out some of Bush's more famous quotes, and stuck with the ones that were new to me. This is for comedic purposes only (mostly). Come back shortly for some classic Chretien/Martinisms.

"We discussed the way forward in Iraq, discussed the importance of a democracy in the greater Middle East in order to leave behind a peaceful tomorrow."

"It's in our country's interests to find those who would do harm to us and get them out of harm's way."

"We have enough coal to last for 250 years, yet coal also prevents an environmental challenge."

"We look forward to analyzing and working with legislation that will make — it would hope — put a free press's mind at ease that you're not being denied information you shouldn't see."

"It's a time of sorrow and sadness when we lose a loss of life."

"And so during these holiday seasons, we thank our blessings."

"Let me put it to you bluntly. In a changing world, we want more people to have control over your own life."

"I hope you leave here and walk out and say, 'What did he say?'"

"I couldn't imagine somebody like Osama bin Laden understanding the joy of Hanukkah."

"For every fatal shooting, there were roughly three non-fatal shootings. And, folks, this is unacceptable in America. It's just unacceptable. And we're going to do something about it."

"My plan reduces the national debt, and fast. So fast, in fact, that economists worry that we're going to run out of debt to retire."

And my personal favourite:

"The relations with, uhh — Europe are important relations, and they've, uhh — because, we do share values. And, they're universal values, they're not American values or, you know — European values, they're universal values. And those values — uhh — being universal, ought to be applied everywhere."

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Over and Over and Over...

The spirit of Goebbels is alive and well. The Bush White House is employing an effective program called Friends & Allies. The way it works is the White House and RNC staff regularly prepare a list of talking points ("D.C. Talkers") and e-mail the list to pundits and journalists to get them out in print and over the airwaves. The idea is that if you provide the material to those who are friendly to your cause, they will air your message and help to define the terms of the issue. That is why you will find a lot of talking heads on television and radio spouting the same lines and ideas, propagating a very disciplined message. Not surprisingly, that message is often false or misleading. For example, just recently you had Rev. Joe Watkins, Bill O'Reilly and Dick Morris all making similarly misleading claims about poverty trends in the Bush and Clinton administrations. It's almost impossible to imagine that both O'Reilly and Morris could come up on their own with the asinine argument that the poverty rate at the midway point of a presidency is some sort of meaningful indicator. (Although with O'Reilly, anything is possible.)

This is just one more method of propaganda delivery from the administration that brought you pundit payola (Armstrong Williams et al.) and fake news releases.

Bush once said, "See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda." Recall that this comes from a president who has introduced programs that accomplish just the opposite of their names. (See No Child Left Behind, Clear Skies Initiative.) In fact, it is the propaganda that is catapulting the truth. And I haven't even brought up the subject of Iraq.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Turning Japanese?

I heard a radio commercial recently that was refreshingly honest. It was for a local Mitsubishi car dealer in Toronto. In the ad, a male character says, "I want to buy a Japanese car that is actually made in Japan!" And the announcer voice states that many of the models featured at this Mitsubishi dealer are assembled in Japan, so they are built with the quality you would expect. I can definitely relate to this ad. I worked at GM in Oshawa, Ontario as a co-op student for four months in 1990. I didn't work in the assembly plant, but in the plant where the machines stamp out parts. I often saw workers who didn't seem to do much except read a newspaper while the machines were stamping away. It was at that time that I decided I'd never buy a North American car. I'm a proud Corolla driver.

I should make the point that I'm not anti-union. Organized labour is largely responsible for creating a middle class in our society, and for forcing corporations into a degree of responsibility. I believe that it still has a role to play today, lest the corporatocracy become complacent. My biggest beef with some unions is that they overreach and create an environment in which workers are encouraged to be unco-operative toward both their employers and their co-workers. For example, if an employee wants to work through his break to complete a task, I don't think his colleagues should be dragging him away. Or if someone wants to help out in an area that is outside her job description and is prevented from doing so by union watchdogs, they are only hurting her personal development. Many union policies undermine pride in a job well done, which is a major component in work fulfillment and self-esteem. These are the kinds of things that give unions a bad name, and have caused a weakening of the labour movement in recent years.

In an era of corporate malfeasance, and with government not willing to provide oversight with teeth, unions need to be strong. They just need to re-define what it means to serve the best interests of their membership.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Coast Isn't Clear

The deadly hurricane season continues. Rita is on her way to the Gulf Coast, and will possibly hit Texas with an intensity more severe than even Katrina. Galveston, once the crown jewel of the South, is right in the crosshairs as it was in 1900. Large segments of Houston are being evacuated - including some of the displaced New Orleans residents. And Louisiana might be in for another hit as well.

The only good news about this is that the experience of Katrina opened a lot of people's eyes about the damage that can be done by this kind of storm, so there will be less resistance to evacuate. Even still, there are a few people who are stubbornly making the decision to ride out the storm in their homes. But the lessons learned from Katrina have also helped to prepare local, state and federal authorities to better facilitate the evacuation and respond to the aftermath of this latest storm.

In an ideal world, natural disasters would not be political. Katrina sparked a nasty wave of partisan grandstanding. To be sure, there was plenty of blame to go around for the inadequate preparation and response to that storm. But the discourse should never have come down to an "us vs. them" exchange between supporters of the two parties. Individuals should be held accountable for their failures, but not assigned or absolved of blame based solely on the parenthesized letter next to their names. I am hopeful, first off, that this storm won't hit as severly as predicted. Regardless, I hope that there will be minimal casualties from Rita, and that the people evacuated from the storm won't have to endure anything like the scenes at the Superdome or N.O. Convention Center. And Governor Perry, FEMA and local authorities should be praised if that happens. But I can also see the blogs brimming with Republicans gloating about how their leaders are better at handling these disasters, without considering the benefit of hindsight. There have been plenty of comparisons between how Ray Nagin and Rudy Giuliani handled their city's tragedies, even though there was no similarity whatsoever between the challenges each had to face. Politics will always be politics. The main thing is I hope those in charge will use the hindsight of Katrina and be successful in minimizing the human tragedy. And lets all dig deep once again and give what we can, because the effort won't be cheap and people will still need our help. That's something all sides can agree on.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Break 'Em Out!

I haven't seen any TV news today, so I don't know how prominently this story has played, but to me it seemed underplayed on internet news sites. British forces in Basra conducted a jail break. Literally. They broke right through the wall. Does anyone else find this whole episode disturbing? It raises some serious questions, to say the least.

1. What constructive undercover operation were the two British troops conducting by firing on civilians and police? Is that a way to prove that you have the Iraqis' best interests at heart? Are bullets a suitable substitute for flowers and candy?

2. Under what "rule of law" is the armed invasion of an ally's civilian police station and jail acceptable? That's a fine example the British are setting for a fledgling democracy. I thought the coalition wasn't at war with the Iraqis. There is an agreement by which coalition troops detained in Iraqi police custody are to be turned over to coalition authorities - a new twist on diplomatic immunity. But according to the article, the jailbreak was ordered within three hours of the British command being informed of the arrest and detainment. Well, if it's okay to rush into an invasion of a country, then a rush to demolish a police facility is small potatoes. Never mind the fact that the arrestees were no longer at that facility when the cavalry arrived, and that information could have been found out BEFORE the demolition instead of afterward. (Hmm, there's a WMD analogy in there somewhere.) Meanwhile, that operation allowed hundreds of other potentially dangerous prisoners to go free. Brilliant.

3. Why were the detained troops handed over to Shiite militia? Is there some kind of collusion going on between Iraqi police and insurgent forces? Was this a case of betrayal, corruption or both? That's a little unsettling, don't you think?

4. Will the two undercover troops be brought to justice by their own military for their criminal activity? (Yeah right.)

This is a debacle, pure and simple. When you engage in the type of activity you wouldn't tolerate from anyone else, on foreign soil, you aren't going to make many friends. This will put a strain on Iraqi-British relations, and force the U.S. to pick a side, i.e. side with Britain, and further alienate the victims of this latest atrocity. That'll show those insurgents.


I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the passing of Simon Wiesenthal earlier today in Vienna at the age of 96. It is impossible to overstate how important Mr. Wiesenthal was, and not just for the Jewish population. He exemplified justice and humanity like nobody else ever could. In spite of his horrific experiences in 12 different Nazi concentration camps, and the loss of 89 members of his family, his deeds were never motivated by anger or bitterness. "I am someone who seeks justice, not revenge," Wiesenthal said. "My work is a warning to the murderers of tomorrow, that they will never rest." Now it is he who may rest, but his work must not.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

And For What? A Little Bit Of Water

I'd like to write a little bit about a topic that is near and dear to most of our hearts: insurance. A lot of people like to dump on insurance companies, so someone needs to put their foot down and say something positive. And that foot is me. The insurance industry should be commended for being a renegade in the business world, where everybody else places paramount importance on customer service. If you can manage to piss off your customers while making a handsome profit, you must be doing something right. What has been happening since Katrina is a perfect illustration.

The Attorney General of Mississippi is suing five insurance companies in order to get them to pay out claims for water damage, which are excluded from coverage in most policies. The insurers are correct to claim that flood insurance is sold by the federal government, and is supplemental to policies with private insurers. After all, the flooding that happened recently across the Gulf Coast just came out of the blue, right? You can't really prove that it was a result of the storm surge that came about because of Katrina and her high winds, can you? I hope I will have this kind of ingenuity, when on trial for murder after pushing someone off a tall building, to argue that it was the impact with the ground that caused the death and not my shove.

A number of insurance companies were also thoughtful enough to issue cheques for living expenses to their policyholders who were affected by Katrina. All they asked in return was for the policyholders to sign a document to acknowledge that the damage to their homes was caused by flooding and not wind, thus absolving the insurers of claims. It didn't matter whether the homes were thoroughly inspected to assess what the actually cause of damage was, or that the policyholders were under great duress when signing the document. The insurers were there to be Jacob to the victims' Esau. Vince McMahon is still trying to line up an angel for them.

Even if the lawsuit in Mississippi is successful and the insurers have to pay out claims for flood damage, they won't be losing any money. They will recover the funds by upping the premiums for all of their policyholders. You have to love insurance companies. They are the only businesses in the world who can reap large profits without assuming any risk. They have my utmost admiration.

Tune in next week when I wax poetic on garden snakes.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Bleu, Blanc, Orange

Today I read a piece of news that I found to be bittersweet. Youppi!, the longtime mascot of the Montreal Expos before their departure to Washington, is coming back as mascot of the Montreal Canadiens hockey club. It might seem silly for a 37 year old man to be moved by something like this, but I have my reasons.

I was born and raised in Montreal and was a huge sports fan, particularly in my youth. When I was growing up in the 70's, the Canadiens were a juggernaut, winning the Stanley Cup almost every year. And yet, my favorite team in all of sports was the Expos. Until the advent of cable sports channels in the mid-80's, there was only one Expos game on TV each week, maybe two, so it was always must-viewing. I'd regularly listen to games on the radio, along with my dad who has always been a huge baseball fan. And, of course, I'd go to a fair number of ball games each year at the Olympic Stadium (and at Jarry Park before that as a young child). Contrary to the myths that have become common belief among baseball fans these days, the Expos were not a dreadful team that finished last year after year. From 1979 onward they finished at .500 or higher more often than not. Sadly, they never made it to the World Series, but they had some really competitive years in which they contended right to the end of the season. They always seemed to have a star-crossed quality to them. I continued to follow them closely after moving to Toronto in 1993 - the day before the Blue Jays won their second World Series on Joe Carter's homerun. (And just a few months after celebrating the Habs' last Cup win over Gretzky's Kings. I got to see some of the looting firsthand.)

I could probably write a week's worth of blogs explaining why the Expos franchise failed in Montreal. But the short answer is that there were a number of factors happening in a short time frame that created a perfect storm. First, there was a prolonged recession in Quebec in the late 80's and 90's, and that province's recovery came much later than the rest of North America. Then Charles Bronfman decided to sell the team in 1991, and the franchise never again had solid, committed ownership. Then there was the issue of the devalued Canadian dollar throughout the 90's. And there was the last place finish in 1991, combined with a chunk of the stadium falling off - forcing the team to play its entire last month on the road. That was when attendance started to drop-off, and the player payroll became restrictive. Despite the low payroll, they were able to produce contending teams in 92 and 93 because of their strong farm system, and attendance got a bit of a boost. Then came 1994, the greatest team they ever had, great attendance numbers, and the strike killed everything. Players were sold off, the on-field performance suffered, and the fans became as apathetic as the team owners. It became just a matter of time before the team would move out of town. And yet, when it was finally made official, I was moved to tears. It felt like losing a friend. It hit me harder than I was expecting. Washington Nationals? Whatever. I think I'm going to adopt the Cubs as my team. Why end the suffering?

The only thing that still exists in Montreal that is linked to the Expos, other than a dilapidated concrete money pit, is Youppi!. I have to admit that I always had a soft spot for Youppi!, even while others found him annoying. There was always something about that big furball. At least he should get credit for breaking baseball's orange colour barrier. He certainly is popular all throughout Quebec with children, and has made a lot of charity appearances over the years. Now he's making history again, becoming the first major sports mascot to change leagues. So I'm happy to see Youppi! back on the Montreal sports scene and in the community. But he also looms like a lingering ghost of my dearly departed ball team. I hope ghosts can skate. (Maybe the Habs can find a job for Souki too.)

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Blissfully Ignorant

Well, I missed Bush's speech tonight. And I haven't read anything about it yet. So I'm not going to comment on it. And I don't even need to read any blogs, because I already know what they are saying. Those that like Bush will talk about what a wonderful speech it was and how he has things well under control and is doing great things to get the Gulf Coast back to its former glory. And those who don't like Bush will say that he's full of shit. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, and if I had heard his speech I'd probably have serious doubts about his sincerity. I don't generally judge what I haven't seen, but some things are predictable. I was telling a friend the other day that if you look a blogs on the Left and Right, you'll see exactly the same message on both: a) The mainstream media sucks and doesn't tell the real truth. b) The other party is too extreme and our party lacks backbone. c) The courts are out of control. The only contrast is d) Bush is the second coming of Jesus OR Bush is the anti-Christ. I don't have a hate on for the man, just serious questions.

BTW, check this out for some confirmation hearing humour. And written by the Frumster's wife, no less. I think I've used up my quota of links to that family's work. There's nothing more insidious than a charming hack.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

All-American Mom

Thursday is a momentous day for my mother. She will be in Orlando, FL to be sworn in as a new citizen of the United States of America. She has lived down in Florida for about six years now, and previously wintered there for a number of years. Now she can be called an American.

How she came to this occasion is a real modern-day love story. She met her husband on the internet. She was living in Montreal, and had just purchased a beautiful condominium. She put lot of renovation work into that condo, from paint to flooring, furniture to storage management solutions. It was a stunning home. And around that time, she met Irv online. Irv was a product of the streets of Chicago, living in Indianapolis. Mom and Irv connected at first largely because they were both members of Reconstructionist synagogues, which is one of the smaller Jewish constituencies. And Mom was charmed by his online handle, Big Zaidie. They came to realize they had a lot more in common, one thing led to another, and soon they moved together to South Florida. And Mom sold her beautifully furnished condominium. At a profit. Who says you have to choose between love and money?

My mom is (and will continue to be) a proud Canadian, but never cared for the cold winters. In a way, that's like saying, "Jamaica is wonderful, but those beaches have to go." And maybe all of this would not have happened if Canada had ever been able to close the deal with Turks & Caicos. But Mom has embraced her new country, and I have a feeling that citizenship will eventually have special meaning for her. If it helps my sister in her quest for a Green Card, all the better. Most importantly, it means another much-needed vote for the Democrats in Florida! In Palm Beach County no less. I hope the citizenship test includes balloting instructions.

My mother, sister, and most of my extended family live in the U.S. And while I disagree with the actions of the American power elite (and not just under Dubya), I have an affinity for the American people. That is one of the reasons why I take great interest in the American political process. Now that my mom is a citizen, I hope the country does her proud. Congratulations, Mom.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Bush: I'm A Culpa

In a refreshing development that many thought they would never see, President Bush claimed responsibility for the failings of the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina. I'd like to take a moment to praise Mr. Bush for doing so, because it was the right thing to do. Granted, it was also the politically expedient thing to do, because it temporarily diffuses the heat surrounding him. It is well known that the Bush-Rove strategy has always been to never admit error because the admission might be used by the opposition to open the floodgates (no pun intended) to other criticism and posturing. So Bush's grudging claim of responsibility was certainly newsworthy.

Then again, it really was kind of a half-baked claim, wasn't it? "[T]o the extent the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility." What exactly is he taking responsibility for? This is like saying, "I don't know what I did wrong, but I'm sorry." The folks on Free Republic are upset that he even allowed for that much - they think the federal response has gone swimmingly from the beginning. But, in truth, it was Michael Brown who took the fall. Remember back in the Bush-Kerry debates (and previously in a televised news conference) when Bush was asked if he had made any mistakes as president? After hemming and hawing, he would only concede that he had made mistakes in some of his political appointments. I think that selecting a failed horse show commissioner to head the nation's emergency management agency would qualify as one of those mistakes. But you're not likely to hear Bush tell you any more about how he might be "responsible" for what went wrong, be it his policies, his priorities with regards to emergency response to natural disasters vs. terrorism, or the decision to put FEMA under the jurisdiction of Homeland Security and at an additional arm's length from the White House. All you'll get out of him is that he appointed the wrong man. So Bush's claim of "responsibility" is really nothing new, and nothing for either the Left or Right to get excited about.

E.J. Dionne (who, curiously, is the only non-Rightie listed on the links page of Ann Coulter's website - she must have slept with him) wrote a column titled "End of the Bush Era". It has to be recognized that Bush still has over three years left in his term, which is an eternity in politics, so it might be perilous for Dionne to engage in the business of writing political obituaries. But there is no doubt that the Bush presidency has been weakened, and the Right can't blame the MSM for that. Even people who are in total agreement with Bush's agenda must admit that his execution has often been lacking. That is a question of competence. And Bush boldly claimed in 2000 that he is "a uniter, not a divider". He had unity on 9/11 and squandered it. That is a question of leadership.

In blogs on the Left, you'll often see comments from Rightie visitors that go something like this: "Instead of bitching, why don't you come up with some ideas and actually win an election?" Or: "Maybe if you stop getting highjacked by your extremists you might win some elections." I find it curious how so many Republicans want to offer advice to Democrats about how to win an election. But it occurred to me that maybe it's possible that these Repubs actually DO want the Dems to win some, to keep a healthy balance of power, because they don't like the direction in which America is going under the current one party rule. I really get the sense that there has been some kind of tipping point in public opinion. Whether the Dems are capable of seizing the opportunity is to be determined. I see them as much a part of the problem as the Republicans - but that's for another time in another post.

Monday, September 12, 2005

See Ya, Shariah

The question of Shariah Law coming to the province of Ontario has finally been settled, and to paraphrase Clint Eastwood, it's not gonna happen. After much deliberation, debate and protestation, Premier Dalton McGuinty decided that the recommendation made by former attorney general Marion Boyd to continue the option of faith-based arbitration in family matters will not be implemented. As a result there will be no Islamic tribunal established - but the existing Jewish and Catholic courts will come to an end as well. (Go here for some excellent background information on this story.)

I'm really torn on this issue. I certainly sympathize with those who are fearful of Shariah Law stifling women's rights in the Islamic community, with the full accreditation of Ontario law. Although the law stipulated that any religious court would have to conform to Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, women's groups protested at Canadian embassies in a number of cities throughout the world. And, no doubt, a good portion of the opposition was a knee-jerk reaction in these troubled times to anything "Islamic" or "Shariah" without actually knowing what it all entails. On the flip side, one of the groups supporting Shariah-based tribunals was none other than B'nai Brith Canada. I imagine that they were well aware that it might come down to an all-or-nothing decision, and they were interested in protecting the Jewish courts. In truth, the existing religious tribunals have worked quite well and have helped ease the caseload in the civil court system. But it sends an awful message, in a country that prides itself on multiculturalism, for the government to pick and choose which religions are allowed to have special judicial privileges and which ones aren't.

In the end, McGuinty opted for the path of least resistance. It was the only decision he could have made in which he was assured of achieving both religious and gender equality, but it came at the cost of fixing something that wasn't broken. I might be an opinionated blogger, but this is one decision I'm sure glad I didn't have to make.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Four Years Ago Today

Everybody has their own story about what they were doing on September 11, 2001 when they heard the news coming out of New York. This is mine. It started out as a regular Tuesday morning, and I had come out of the shower just after 9:00am was getting ready to go to work. I heard the news on the radio that an airplane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. The news anchor and morning host were talking about the scene they were witnessing on TV, and how this was a terrible accident. Then the second plane hit the other tower, and the morning host yelled, "This is no accident!" I was then transfixed in front of the CNN images of the Twin Towers that were right out of a B movie. I was feeling ill, but knew I had to go into work.

I took my twenty minute drive into work, listening to developments on the radio and knowing full well that this was not going to be a productive day. When I got to work, just about everybody there was huddled in stunned silence around the TV. This would ordinarily be a busy time for us, with the Toronto International Film Festival going on, but the phones were deafly silent that morning. One Senior VP was beside herself with what she was seeing, and said, "We should just go home! We shouldn't be fucking working today!" but we all knew that wasn't going to happen. Eventually we tried to get into our routine, but nobody stayed away from the TV for very long, and radios were on in every room. By now we knew about the plane hitting the Pentagon, and would soon hear about the one that crashed in Pennsylvania. Because of the frantic nature of the news reports, we thought that there had been other planes hijacked in Los Angeles and San Francisco, but those turned out to be the destinations of the four doomed flights. Then, the towers collapsed. And that's when the whole event truly sunk in.

Unfortunately, it didn't sink in for everybody. By mid-day, downtown Toronto had shut down. The tall buildings had been evacuated, and a number of streets in the business district were closed off. Traffic became a nightmare, which severely delayed local deliveries. And while the Film Festival cancelled its events for the day, Andrew Krystal (the host of a radio entertainment program at the time) called us demanding the delivery of audio film clips. We tried to explain to him that deliveries would be delayed because of the events of the day - and that the point should be self-evident. He would have none of that. "I don't care if there are people dying in New York, I have a show to put together." (Several months later, Krystal came by the office to pick up a tape and we saw that he had a big gash on his ear. His barber had clipped more than just his hair. Karma's a bitch.)

After all is said and done, Hurricane Katrina will be a bigger human and material tragedy than 9/11, even if the death toll doesn't turn out to be higher. But it's hard to imagine any event traumatizing a nation and the world like what happened out of the blue four years ago. Nobody who witnessed it will ever forget what they saw, and the utter fear and helplessness they felt at that moment. After all, if you can't be kept safe in the United States of America, where can you be safe? That is why people from all over the world were touched by what happened. But 9/11 was also the first time people in many countries experienced the same kind of fear felt by those in many other countries on a regular basis, whether because of terrorism or war. As we continue on with our relatively sheltered lives, that should never be forgotten either.

Flotsam & Jetsam

A few pearls of Jaymeister insanity on a Saturday night/Sunday morning:

  • You don't know how sexy someone is until you have sex with them.
  • Success is not a destination.
  • Why were car headlights ever designed to work without a key?
  • One bad apple spoils your lunch.
  • Why does a football game end with a gunshot?
  • Whoever came up with the advice, "Work like you don't need the money," obviously didn't have any subordinates.
  • Why doesn't society place more value on "play ethic"?
  • How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a cab?
  • You can charm more people with dental floss than with candy floss.
  • Why do most religions think their deities are high maintenance?
  • You must remember this: A bris is not for Chris.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Hits Just Keep On Coming

There are few things I read anymore that I consider jaw-droppingly asinine, but this would definitely qualify. John Stossel, that well known capitalist libertarian windbag, argues that price gouging is a good thing because it saves lives! His rationale is that the only people who would choose to buy water and gas at inflated prices are the ones who really need it, so the supply will be there for them. You can read the rest of it, as he invokes faulty analogies and Economics 101 dogma. I was almost speechless after reading that. Aside from his callousness, Stossel didn't take into consideration that many people who were affected by the hurricane don't even have $20 in their pockets to buy a bottle of water.

Government doesn't have all the answers, but neither does unbridled capitalism. And it used to be that, aside from the extremists on each end of the spectrum, the political battles were over how to find the right balance between regulated capitalism and limited socialism. I fear that now the New Deal abolitionists are gaining momentum in the U.S., and it won't be long before they will in Canada as well. But people have a right to make a buck, and Stossel is right about how the people who re-build the affected areas will command a premium price. I can dig that. So that's a perfect segue to the latest outrage, which I will excerpt :

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush issued an executive order Thursday allowing federal contractors rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to pay below the prevailing wage.

In a notice to Congress, Bush said the hurricane had caused "a national emergency" that permits him to take such action under the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act in ravaged areas of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Bush's action came as the federal government moved to provide billions of dollars in aid, and drew rebukes from two of organized labor's biggest friends in Congress, Rep. George Miller of California and Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, both Democrats.

"The administration is using the devastation of Hurricane Katrina to cut the wages of people desperately trying to rebuild their lives and their communities," Miller said.

"President Bush should immediately realize the colossal mistake he has made in signing this order and rescind it and ensure that America puts its people back to work in the wake of Katrina at wages that will get them and their families back on their feet," Miller said.

In other words, the contractors can expect a premium price, but their employees will be working at below scale. You know, I try to keep an open mind. I read and listen to other perspectives, to see if maybe I am way off base in my ideas. There are times when I come very close to being sucked into thinking that conservatives may be onto something, or that Bush isn't as bad as the Left would have you believe. Then something like this comes to my attention, and it's like a cold shower to bring me back to reality. If this isn't Social Darwinism, I don't know what is.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Tennis, Anyone?

I was going to write another post about the aftermath of Katrina, but I'm enjoying a bit of a diversion. I've been watching some absolutely riveting tennis from the U.S. Open. Earlier, Elena Dementieva beat Lindsay Davenport in a third set tiebreak, and now James Blake and Andre Agassi are battling it out and look like they are going to go five sets. (UPDATE: Agassi won in a fifth set tiebreak. That fifth set had to be one of the best I've ever seen.) Dementieva is now in the semi-finals, after reaching the finals last year. I am amazed by how she is able to be so accomplished in spite of the fact that she has maybe the worst serve in professional tennis. She is just a bulldog when it comes to hanging in the match, and she knows how to put points away. And she's not bad to look at either. I don't think I'm the only one who would relish a Dementieva-Sharapova final.

I'm not generally a big tennis fan. I don't follow the tour week to week. Most of the time I find the action to be uninteresting, quite frankly. I don't even understand the mechanics of the seedings and the draw. It would seem to me that if you have seeded players, they should be placed in the bracket such that if the higher seed won every match, it should work out that in the fourth round it would be 1 vs. 16, 2 vs. 15, etc. and by the quarterfinals it would be 1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, etc. Then you would draw lots to place the unseeded players in the bracket. The number 1 seed should expect to play, barring upsets, the 8 seed in the quarters and the 4 seed in the semis. But it never works out that way. For example, this year's U.S. Open draw would have had the 1 seed (Roger Federer) play the 6 seed in the quarters, and the 3 seed in the semis. Without upsets, Maria Sharapova would have had to play the 5 seed in the quarters. This makes no sense to me. But I digress. Suffice it to say that I don't often get interested in a tennis tournament as much as I do with golf, but the tennis at this year's U.S. Open has been superb.

I also got to thinking about comparisons between the majors in tennis and in golf, because I find there are some parallels. I look at the Australian Open as the PGA Championship of tennis. It's the obvious fourth choice among the players and fans (with apologies to fans Down Under.) It is on hard court, but is kind of the poor cousin to the U.S. Open, much as the PGA is in golf. No young golfer dreams of making a putt to win the PGA, and no tennis players regard the Aussie Open as their top prize, except for the players from that part of the world. (Okay, it's not a perfect analogy, but you get my drift.) The French Open, meanwhile, I equate to golf's (British) Open Championship. They are both unique in their venues - the French Open played on clay, the British Open on links courses - and bring different types of players into and out of contention than the other majors. Then there is Wimbledon, which is the Masters of tennis. Both are staid, proud and dignified, and widely viewed as the most prestigious title in their respective sport. And the U.S. Open is like, well, the U.S. Open. Both offer unique challenges you won't find anywhere else - the toughest course setups in golf, and nighttime tennis matches in front of raucous crowds. In both those tournaments, the audiences are immensely supportive of the American participants against foreign opponents - and that's a great thing in my opinion. I'm glad to know that Canadians aren't the only ones who react to our homegrown athletes like we're small town hicks.

Watching the U.S. Open has not only been enjoyable, but it has also inspired me to want to pick up a racket and go out and play, which I haven't done in several years. So if anyone is up for a set or two, let me know. But be forewarned - I can serve almost as fast as Elena Dementieva.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

FEMA Needs Some HR Experts

I came across an article that is kind of disturbing. It goes something like this: 1,400 firefighters from across the United States were dispatched to Atlanta at the behest of FEMA. But instead of being deployed as emergency workers in the hurricane-affected areas, they came to Atlanta to be trained as "community relations officers" for FEMA. These brave men and women, who would willingly trudge through the disease-infested waters of New Orleans to save lives, spent Sunday in an Atlanta hotel being trained on sexual harassment and other issues so that they would be qualified to distribute fliers and a phone number to hurricane victims.

This is absolutely outrageous. At this moment there are still fires burning in New Orleans, people are still isolated in some areas, and the New Orleans fire department has been working for nine straight days without relief. 1,400 highly trained specialists are made available, at great expense to their local fire departments, and they are called upon to hand out pieces of paper. Here is yet another example of the generosity and noble spirit of the American people being squandered by the incompetence of FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security. While I'm no big fan of Walmart, they stepped up big and tried to deliver trucks full of water to the New Orleans area, and were turned away by FEMA. This is an agency that needs to get a clue in a hurry.

Maybe the biggest outrage of all is at the end of the article. Fifty of the firefighters were indeed dispatched on Monday to Louisiana. "The crew's first assignment: to stand beside President Bush as he tours devastated areas." Some of the best and bravest in the country - the ones not working as couriers - were used as Bush's photo-op props. With all due respect to the President, these fifty people would best be used to save lives rather than save his image.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Catching Up

I have returned from Montreal, and I'll be back to the working grind tomorrow. I had a few days away from internet access, which was probably a good thing considering what I've been seeing today. I guess the unity to help the poor souls in New Orleans lasted all of about five minutes. This article in the New York Times pretty much sums up what this crisis has come to. To be sure, there is plenty of blame to go around for the way this evacuation/rescue effort has been botched. The mayor of New Orleans will have to answer for why there were all those school buses sitting around when they could have been used to get some of the poorer residents out of town. Gov. Blanco has to take some blame if she underestimated the resources that her state would require. But the buck ultimately stops at the federal level, because that is where the Dept. of National Security and FEMA are. This fiasco can do nothing but embolden terrorists, because it shows that the federal agencies are ill prepared to handle a major emergency. And the way the Rove smear machine has gone into action to deflect criticism away from his Fearless Leader has been nothing less than shameful. I don't deny that there have been some shameful and gratuitous shots at the President coming from the Left over this tragedy, and they are all the more unfortunate because they distract attention away from the legitimate criticism of the way Bush has comported himself in the wake of the devastation. (Maybe this will shed light on where some of Dubya's attitudes and worldview come from.) But responsibility has to start at the top. No objective observer can say that the rescue operations have gone well, and we will never truly know the human consequences of these failures. We have all witnessed scenes that nobody could have thought possible in America. The main thing right now is to ensure everybody is rescued, brought to a safe place and receiving proper care. Please give money toward that effort if you have not already.

The other major story over the weekend was the death of Chief Justice Rehnquist. Since we have heard all of his praises sung in the media over the last few days, I found Alan Dershowitz's take on Rehnquist to be quite interesting. Once again, it appears that Bush will benefit politically from the misfortune of others. By creating an artificial urgency to fill out the Court, he will be allowed to install a judicial neophyte into the top job. And if the Democrats try too hard to challenge John Roberts' nomination, they might be weakened in their efforts to oppose the next ultra-conservative that Bush picks to succeed Justice O'Connor, lest they be labeled obstructionists. This is very clever politicking by Rove et al, capitalizing on Rehnquist's timely death and the Dems' lack of backbone. And the backdrop of death, destruction and the need to restore order don't hurt either.