Blog of Mass Distraction

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Take it to the Airwaves

Prime Minister Martin made a televised address the other night. The PM addressing the public on tv hasn't been done since Jean Chretien appealed to Quebecers before the last referendum. Martin made a plea to Canadians to hold off on an election call until after the final report from the Gomery inquiry. He said that within 30 days of the report being released an election will be called.1 Opposition leaders Stephen Harper and Gilles Duceppe are both salivating at the thought of an election. If an election were to be held right now however, Harper would likely become leader of a minority government and the Bloc would probably sweep Quebec. The NDP has become a surprise ally of the embattled Liberal government as Jack Layton has tried to hold off an election call. Moreover, polls have shown that most Canadians don't want another federal election right now, so all parties are currently waiting in the wings.
Again, I think Martin should step down and remove any of his or Chretien's Quebec political cronies and let the Liberal party make a fresh go at it. Otherwise, there are enough people that see little difference between his corruption and the unknown danger of Harper. There is a palpable fear of Harper in many moderate people, but they figure now that he can't be any worse than Paul Martin and the corrupt Liberals. But they definitely can...

Republican lead Senator Bill Frist has also taken to the airwaves. He's promoting a recent Republican initiative that's been dubbed 'the nuclear option'.2 Republicans have been terribly annoyed by the Democratic attempts to stop appointments. Their specific concern is over Supreme Court Justice appointments. They want to remove the Democratic minority's opportunity of using filibusters to block the appointments. The Republican party is currently looking to appoint some ultra conservative members to the Supreme Court to stop any legal battles over moral and policy issues. To appease the Christian right they want to stop any fights over abortion, gay marriage, affirmative action or deregulation. The Republicans have of course used filibusters to block Democratic appointments and blocked several of Clinton's appointees when they gained contol of the senate, but that doesn't matter because the current administration has no concept for history or context. The filibuster is meant to protect the rights of minority parties in the senate by requiring more than a simple majority (60 votes rather than 51) for decisions such as Justice appointments; the Republicans currently have 55 seats in the Senate.

Not to be outdone, U2 lead man Bono has taken to the airwaves in radio interview in Vancouver. Bono criticized Prime Minister Martin for not living up to his commitments on international aid. Canada currently contributes about .3% of GDP while the goal was supposed to be 0.7%.3 A Martin representative said they are still aiming for that goal, but they feel they can't afford it right now. Bono dismissed this excuse citing the consistent surpluses in the federal budget over the past years, and he said that Martin will regret this decision in a years time (or perhaps whenever the next federal election is called).

Israel, in a move critized by the US,4 has decided to expand West Bank settlements. The settlements, which are illegal under international law, will be expanded despite comments from President George Bush that Israel should abide by the US drafted Road Map to peace. Israel has also decided to delay the Ghaza pullout, prompting further criticism along with recent outbreaks of violence. Israeli soldiers have killed several young Palestinians in recent attacks in Gaza.5 This along with protests and a planned march of pro-settlement groups into the Al-Aqsa site threaten the current ceasefire which has been observed by both sides.6

1. Prime Minister Martin sorry for not being more vigilant.
2. Article on The Nuclear Option by Paul Street.
3. Bono is upset with Martin.
4. Bush criticizes Sharon for for expanding settlements.
5. Three teens killed in Gaza.
6. Right wing group threatens ceasefire.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Health of the Nation

The House in the US has passed a bill, that's now waiting for Senate approval, that institutes major changes to US bankruptcy laws. The bill is supposed to hold people who declare bankruptcy more accountable, but in reality it will make it much harder for people to declare bankruptcy and be protected from creditors. The bill predominantly affects those that file for Chapter 7 where your assets are sold off and you're absolved of your debt. Those who have more than the median state income will have a much harder time filing under Chapter 7, and may have to look to filing under Chapter 13. Filing Chapter 13 means you have 5 years to pay back certain creditors, and those creditors that aren't included in the plan get nothing. Except under the new law those creditors can contest those decision. The bill particularly enforces payment of credit card and medical bills. Moreover, lawyers will be held responsible for any mistakes made in the bankruptcy filing so legal fees for filing will go up as well and lawyers will have to go through client's finances.1
The biggest problem with this bill is forcing people to repay medical bills. Currently, chronic or expensive illnesses causes 50% of bankruptcies in the US. And most people that declare bankruptcy because of illness already have medical insurance. Most of those health insurance plans have a lifetime limit which once passed will end their benefits. Because health care is so much more expensive in the US this can happen easily with chronic disease or serious illnesses like HIV/AIDS. As I've mentioned before, the US is the only G7 country without universal coverage and yet it spends the most per capita on health care because health care there is just more expensive.

I also watched a couple of very good movies this past weekend. The first was Hotel Rwanda. I saw Ray a while ago and I thought Jamie Foxx did a fantastic job, but Don Cheadle was amazing in this movie. So was Sophie Okonedo as his wife. In fact, the only thing I saw bringing this movie down at all was a paltry performance by Nick Nolte.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Under New Ownership

Jalal Talabani is the new President of Iraq. This is supposed to be a big deal because he's the first non-Arab to be the head of state of an Arab country.1 The position is largely ceremonial but, also being the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Talabani can have significant influence on the Kurdish independence movement. This would of course be worrisome to Turkey2 which, along with a couple of other countries, opposes Kurdish independence. Since being selected Talabani has tried to distance himself from the independence movement. But Talabani is also known to be an opportunist, since he's worked with both against and with Saddam Hussein and against and with Iran.

Also, Zalmay Khalilzad has been named as the replacement for John Negroponte as ambassador to Iraq. He leaves his position as envoy/ambassador to Afghanistan and his successful implementation of US policy there.3 He is perhaps most highly regarded among hyper-conservative circles for his ability to work with extremists, oppressors and war criminals, as he did in Afghanistan while ensuring US interests. In Afghanistan he's been able to work with General Dostum, former Taliban members and of course selected Hamid Karzai for President of Afghanistan (who was approved and appointed by the Afghan elite). Perhaps the US hopes he can once again bring extremists that have come to Iraq to the barganing table to make sure that US interests can be preserved (without having to bother with extremists or oppression).

The big news here however is the released testimony from the sponsorship inquiry. Jean Brault, former head of Groupaction, gave testimony before justice John Gomery that he had paid large sums of money to senior Liberal party members and Jacques Corriveau, friend of former PM Chretien. He also had to keep several Liberal loyalists on his payroll without them actually doing anything for him. This was in return for high paying contracts that were part of the sponsorship program. The talk of exchanging envelopes stuffed with money and other shady dealings has given the federal Liberal party, particularly those politicians from Quebec, a black eye. The Conservative party and especially the Bloq Quebecois can smell blood in the water and there is much talk now of a spring election. Neither of these parties, however, will be looking for a confidence vote yet because neither wants to rush into an election unless they're sure they can win something. Polls done recently have put Stephen Harper's Conservatives ahead of the Liberal party since the publication of this testimony. While another election this soon would not please the Canadian public, Harper may try for it sooner rather than later.
In my own opinion, I think that if the Liberals want to get past this they need to do some serious house cleaning. Martin claims that he's done and is continuing to do just that; he's fired and asked for charges against those involved. He also ended the sponsorship program when he became PM and the inquiry was started at his request. However, him being finance minister at the time still leaves questions and doubts as to his credibility. Martin really should step down as PM and clear out the remaining higher up with any ties to the sponsorship affair and/or other Quebec Liberals. Let the Liberals get a chance to redeem themselves as a party, and hopefully prevent Harper from instituting the kinds of harmful changes across Canada that Harris and Eves inflicted on Ontario during their time in office.

1. Wikipedia article on Talabani
2. Turkey has openly said and even threatened moves to stop an independent Kurdistan.
3. Larry Everest on Zalmay Khalilzad.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Making Amends

Canada and the European Union have raised retaliatory taxes against certain US imports. The move is in reaction to the Byrd amendment, named after Democrat Robert Byrd,1 that gives duties collected from anti-dumping laws on foreign companies to US companies. The US law was condemned as illegal by the WTO and the US trading partners and relatively minor retaliatory duties have been instated on products such as cigarettes, oysters, pigs and fish. Much harsher duties may be raised later on because of conflict between Airbus and Boeing. Too bad Bush couldn't make Wolfowitz (who was unanimously approved as head of the World Bank) unquestioned leader of the WTO... that would remove these little complications in their trade policy.

Pope John Paul II died today. Catholics around the world are morning and cardinals will be called to the Vatican to begin the process to select a successor. For some reason, US President George Bush Jr. gave a speech about the death of his holiness and his celebrated papacy. Unlike many before him, John Paul II stay apolitical and condemned several acts of US foreign policy and other international atrocities.

The Venezuelan Supreme Court has annulled the decision that let free the four military leaders that carried out the attempted coup against President Hugo Chavez.2 After the initial coup attempt, which failed after 48 hours due to a popular uprising, the 4 men: Army General Efrain Vasquez Velasco, Air Force General Pedro Pereira, Vice-Admiral Hector Ramirez Perez and Rear Admiral Daniel Comisso Urdaneta, were absolved of responsibility by the Supreme Court in Venezuela under the dubious claim that Chavez had resigned willingly. After reforming the courts, which were highly biased towards the US backed right wing, they've repealed that decision. While the poor majority were able to bring Chavez back to power, no one was tried or imprisoned for the coup; a fact the Vice President Jose Vincent Rangel called "a true assault on democratic legality". Charges have also been laid against the corporate and opposition backers of the coup. In a related case charges have been made against former Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez. Perez was impeached for corruption in 1993 but during his tenure implemented many harsh conservative policies at the behest of the IMF and also crushed riots and popular uprisings with brutal force.

1. Failing in their attempted appeal the WTO has again recommended the US repeal the Byrd amendment.
2. The US condemned Chavez for loading the courts with his supporters.