Friday, October 30, 2009

Disappointing, but yet another component of the machine

A document obtained by the Washington Post has revealed that almost half of the members belonging to an influential House subcommittee responsible for defence spending are being investigated by Congressional ethics investigators: the ethics committee and the Office of Congressional Ethics (the Office of Congressional Ethics will investigate and then make recommendations to the House ethics committee, which has the power to subpoena and sanction elected representatives). The matter involves seven subcommittee members and the very influential PMA Group, a defence lobbying organization currently under investigation by the Justice Department and founded by the apparently ethically challenged Paul Magliocchetti.

In 2008 the PMA Group's offices were searched by the FBI, who confiscated boxes of records chronicling its political donations and the organization's attempts to secure earmarks for its clients. Ethics investigations of Congressional members are according to standard protocal very confidential, however The Washington Post learned of the investigation through a file-sharing network, where the document was obtained (what a scoop!). Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who chairs the House ethics committee, released a statement on Thursday that the document had been accidentally released by a Congressional staffer (whoops!). The document states that Congressional investigators are examining House members who apparently were "accepting contributions or other items of value from PMA's PAC in exchange for an official act." A Congressional source downplayed this statement, claiming the ethics committee has not obtained a significant amount of information and has not focussed on any specific legislators (huh?).

According to the document obtained by the Washington Post, two separate ethics offices are conducting investigations into representatives who received campaign contributions from the PMA Group, and then assisted in directing federal dollars to the organization’s clients. The representatives currently under investigation are:

• John P. Murtha (D-Pa.)
• Peter J. Visclosky (D-Ind.)
• James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.)
• Norm Dicks (D-Wash.)
• Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio)
• C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla)
• Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.)

Apparently the clients of the PMA group have received up to two hundred million in earmarks in the last two years, thanks to the efforts of the aforementioned seven legislators. For their part, the seven members received more than six million in campaign contributions from the PMA Grup and its clients in the last ten years (from an analysis by Congressional Quarterly and Taxpayers for Common Sense). The Washingont Post conducted its own review of earmark and campaign records and discovered that all seven of them had supported funding for PMA clients and received donations. And according to the Center for Responsive Politics, while this group of seven received these contributions, the PMA Group would go on to be one of the top lobbying groups in Washington, while raking in over one hundred million over the past ten years.

Now here’s where the story gets really interesting. The document obtained by the Washington Post revealed that Rep. Devin Numes (R-Calif.), was threatened by a PMA lobbyist, when Numes refused to direct tax payer dollars to one of PMA’s clients. A Nunes staff member was informed by the lobbyist that the influential defence contractor would vacate his district and dozens of people in Nunes’ district, employed by PMA, would lose their jobs. Ugh, the sleaze.

"I didn't appreciate being threatened," Nunes told the Washington Post. "To me, it was a symptom of the disease we have in Congress, where a lot of members have simply gotten addicted to contributions from companies that are getting their earmarks." Bingo! You can just smell the pork at the trough, mixing it up with the sleaze and greed, wining and dining at the tax payer's expense.

The PMA lobbyist who apparently threatened Nunes, Don Fleming, now works for Flagship Government Relations, an organization founded by former PMA lobbyists. In a statement, Fleming said "an important responsibility of any government relations professional is to communicate to policymakers the impact that their decisions have on our clients." He added that he has "always adhered to the strictest code of professional ethics."

Anyways, what I did want to get to with this post is just how disappointing this is that Marcy Kaptur is involved. Kaptur of late has been a rising star amoung progressive voters. She appeared as a progressive populist firebrand who actually cares about the people in Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story", and made a recent and very impressive appearance on Real Time With Bill Maher.

But wait a minute, is this such a big deal? According to a local ABC affiliate in Toledo Ohio, a Congressional committee's inquiry does not mean that an elected representative has violated any rules. In addition, elected representatives are also allowed to earmark federal dollars to organizations who provide donations to their campaigns. I can't see an ABC affiliate grossly neglecting their journalist standards to such an extent, so it is legal, but this entire process and product of Washington is a massive turn-off for almost everyone of whatever political or partisan stripe. It is also most of all offensive to tax payers and the ordinary citizen. It's a matter of the rules that elected representatives have to abide by, but really they shouldn't have to abide by such rules because those rules need to be re-written or erased altogether, as corporate lobbying has been perverting, corrupting and destroying the essence of America's basic democratic processes.

Regardless, it is still very disappointing to see a rising progressive star succumb to the very old tired cliches of Washington D.C.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Guaranteed health insurance: people first, not profits

The American health care system is really one of a kind in the western, industrialized world: that it places profits over people. The concept of and belief in the free market has been unwavering in the land of the free, so much so that it was deemed fit to introduce the profit margin and turn health insurance and prisons into forms of industry. Specifically private health insurance companies are really nothing more than a greedy middle-man, like organized crime, which takes their cut from people and then pays doctors. It's perplexing that this system is ardently defended, and anything else to the contrary is labelled as socialism or government interference with too much red tape. Meanwhile approximately 45,000 people die each year in the U.S. due to lack of health insurance.

In the midst of the health care reform debate south of the border, Lou Dobbs recently examined other health care systems throughout the western world and realized, wow, they're really good. I know Dobbs has said some incredibly stupid and offensive things, as he is really hell bent on castigating illegal immigrants and Latinos, but Dobbs, like other conservatives, certainly does have his moments (which should be recognized), with some sound reporting from Kitty Pilgrim.





Friday, October 23, 2009

Stephen Harper doesn't watch Canadian news

Prime Minister Stephen Harper admitted that he doesn't watch Canadian news while addressing a business function in Toronto on Wednesday. Despite the prime minister having an enthusiasm for Canadian programming, and making cameo appearances on Corner Gas, the Rick Mercer Report and TSN's broadcasts, as well as having a fondness for appearing on American cable news channels such as Fox Noise and CNN. But when it comes his homeland's television news broadcasts, Harper seems to have tuned out.

"I watched the last several elections in the United States very closely. I tend to watch mainly American news because I don't like to watch Canadian news and hear what Allan (Gregg, Harris/Decima) and everybody else is saying about me, so my hobby is to watch politics elsewhere."

Seriously? He doesn't like to hear what people are saying about him? Aren't politicians supposed to have thick skins? So he tunes out the Canadian content to shield himself and happily watches American content? Federal NDP leader Jack Layton quipped just exactly what myself and surely others are thinking:

"Perhaps if he watched Canadian news more often, he would understand the negative impact of his policies on Canadian families. And if he actually likes Fox News better than Canadian news, then Canadians ought to be concerned."

Ditto Bob Rae:

"I'm surprised – if it's true – I'm surprised that it's the case. I find that quite shocking. Because we all have an obligation to know what's going on and to know what other people are reporting and what's taking place. I'm quite astounded that the Prime Minister would be so unaware of the world around him."

Rae would add that he regularly watches the news, even during his roughest periods as Ontario's premier when the previous recession was taking its toll. "I also read the newspaper. Look at the colour of my hair. Of course, I still read it."

Several high profile federal Reform party members, I mean Conservative members, claimed, or more accurately presumed that the Prime Minister does watch Canadian news, including Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Peter Kent, and Industry Minister Tony Clement. However an absurd line of defence was provided by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, when asked if the Prime Minister should watch Canadian news:

"It's up to him. Look, um. I'm glad to hear if the Prime Minister isn't sitting there glued to the TV. It means he's doing his job. That's a good thing."

Is he for real? Does he actually think that Canadians expect the Prime Minister to be glued to the television? Obviously he is an extremely busy person with a very tight schedule and demanding responsibilities, but I don't think it's asking too much if the prime minister did tune into Canadian news from time to time, in order to be informed of what is transpiring in his homeland. The kicker though came from Harper spokesman Dimitri Soudas:

"The Prime Minister doesn't watch himself on the news. That is why he tends to mainly watch American news."

Is he afraid his feelings might get hurt if he listens to some analysis or criticism? You would think that the Prime Minister would want to pay attention to analysis, commentary and criticism from the punditry in order to improve his performance or game.

Republican WWII veteran for gay marriage

Back in April while attending Maine's Judiciary Committee, Philip Spooner, a veteran of World War II and a loyal Republican, delivered a speech in which its subject matter is not usual territory for GOPers: support for gay marriage. The video of Spooner's emotional speech is becoming an internet hit, as he shares his own personal war experiences and emphasizes that fighting for equality is an American value.

"I am here today because of a conversation I had last June when I was voting. A woman at my polling place asked me, "Do you believe in equal, equality for gay and lesbian people?" I was pretty surprised to be asked a question like that. It made no sense to me. Finally I asked her, "What do you think our boys fought for at Omaha Beach?" I haven't seen much, so much blood and guts, so much suffering, much sacrifice. For what? For freedom and equality. These are the values that give America a great nation, one worth dying for."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

General Paul Eaton calls out Dick Cheney

A senior adviser to the National Security Network, General Paul Eaton (retired), has never been afraid to call out the incompetence, arrogance and ignorance of those in the former Bush administration, with some of his favourite targets including Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. Cheney's most recent criticism of the Obama administration (not included were the thousands of sighs and eyes rolling), was delivered before a gathering at Washingon D.C.'s Union Station of an apparent reunion of the Bush administration. Cheney claimed that President Obama was endangering the troops, that he "now seems afraid to make a decision, and unable to provide his commander on the ground with the troops he needs to complete his mission.” At this same event, Cheney would go on to receive a "Keeper of the Flame" award, while fellow Bush administraiton alumni and convicted felon Lewis "Scooter Libby (his sentence commuted by that crafty Bush) received the "Service Before Self" award (que more exasperated, perplexed sighs and rolling eyes) - on a side note, the convicted felon received a standing ovation, perhaps for successfully getting away with an assortment of crimes, along with the rest of the former administration. Cheney would then go on to take credit for the Obama administration's current Afghanistan strategy, suggest that seeking diplomacy with Iran is essentially futile, and defend torture (classy).

Anyways, Eaton stepped up to the plate through a press release via the NSN, putting this deluded jackass in his place:

The record is clear: Dick Cheney and the Bush administration were incompetent war fighters. They ignored Afghanistan for 7 years with a crude approach to counter-insurgency warfare best illustrated by: 1. Deny it. 2. Ignore it. 3. Bomb it. While our intelligence agencies called the region the greatest threat to America, the Bush White House under-resourced our military efforts, shifted attention to Iraq, and failed to bring to justice the masterminds of September 11.

The only time Cheney and his cabal of foreign policy 'experts' have anything to say is when they feel compelled to protect this failed legacy. While President Obama is tasked with cleaning up the considerable mess they left behind, they continue to defend torture or rewrite a legacy of indifference on Afghanistan. Simply put, Mr. Cheney sees history throughout extremely myopic and partisan eyes.

Thank you, General. Cheney and co. pop up every once in a while to defend their failed legacy of sheer incompetence, warmongering and high crimes and misdemeanours. While their occassional and half-assed PR blitz is becoming incredibly tired and pathetic, it sure can provide some comic relief for the overcast, dreary and bleak days of autumn.

Now, moving away from Cheney's delusions towards clear cut reality based assessments, General Paul Eaton:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Republicans can learn from Arnold

Governor Schwarzenegger has proven himself to not only be a very sane, moderate or better yet liberal Republican, but also as a very pragmatic, practical and even progressive politician. Schwarzenegger represents the Republican Party of old, of yesteryear when it was led by practical centrists such as Dwight D. Eisenhower and even Richard M. Nixon. Now it's essentially become the party of Limbaugh, a rather tight knit camp of knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing neanderthals, religious fanatics who believe they'll see the apocalypse in their lifetime, don't believe in climate change, evolution, and essentially reject science. Besides from being the party of "no" who are doing pretty much everything they can to be an obstructionist party, all they really have to offer are tax cuts, tax cuts, deregulation, and more tax cuts. Anyways, Schwarzenegger isn't a religious nut and not only acknowledges science and climate change, but is also seriously concerned with this environmental crisis. He actually believes in reaching across the aisle. He also recently contemplated becoming a Democrat. But what has also turned many heads in the last year, which has also caused many heads of conservatives and Republicans to explode, is his endorsement of starting a debate on the legalization, taxation and regulation of marijuana in California. Given the state's current financial crunch and budget crisis, this makes perfect sense and hat's off to Arnold.

Arnold: Time To Talk About Legalizing Pot

Ryan Grim l HuffPost Reporting From DC
05/05/09 07:17 PM

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called on Tuesday for an open debate on legalizing and taxing marijuana. A recent Field Poll showed that 56 percent of Californians support taxing and regulating marijuana as a way to address the state's fiscal crisis. Schwarzenegger was asked at a press conference if it was finally time to legalize marijuana.

"No, I think that it's not time for that, but I think it's time for a debate," he said, according to a transcript provided by Schwarzenegger's office. "And I think that we ought to study very carefully what other countries are doing that have legalized marijuana and other drugs, what affect it had on those countries, and are they happy with that decision."

It gets better.

In November last year, Schwarzenegger was interviewed by George Stephanopoulos, and he pretty much admitted that the majority of Americans want the government to focus on progressive policies and initiatives, and that they don't want, or are not interested in the current incarnation of the Republican Party. In fact, he outright criticizes his party and harkens back to Eisenhower.

"I think you can also make it very simple, and that is, you know, that Republicans have not provided for what the people need. And I think that's why Jindal is partially right on that, or he's right on that, because, you know, it is all about what the people of America need right now, and have we provided that as a party?

Let me tell you something. When it comes to building roads and people driving on the roads -- it's Democrats, Republicans, independents, decline to state --everyone wants to use those roads. Everyone's kids -- Republicans' kids, Democrats' kids -- everyone is in the school. They want to have great education. When it comes to clean air and protecting our environment and fighting global warming, everyone in America wants to be part of that.

Remember that so many times there's dialogue about, you know, we have to go back to our core values. What is that? What is core? How far does core go back in history in America, the word core? Does it go back 30 years? Does it go back 50 years? Because we know that Teddy Roosevelt talked about universal health care. So they're off the core for a long time ago already. He has talked about protecting our environment. So they've been off for a long time on that. I mean, let's be honest. Ronald Reagan -- let's go to Eisenhower, for instance. Eisenhower has built the highway system in America and he's poured billions of dollars into infrastructure. Where Republicans today say, well, that's spending. We shouldn't spend. That's not spending. That's investing in the future of America.

So there's a lot of things that they have been off on, if they want to go and talk about the core values. But maybe their definition of core values is maybe different. But I mean, so I think it's all nonsense talk. I think if they just talk about one thing, what do we need now? Now, America needs to be rebuilt, because we haven't really rebuilt America for decades. So we need to rebuild America, fix the bridges, fix the highways, fix the buildings, tunnels and all of those kind of things we need to do. And then we have to go and create great relationships with our partners overseas, with the world, and to build those relationships again. And we have to take care of health care. We have to take care of our environment. And we have to build an energy future. Those are the things that people want right now. And I know in the poll numbers in America -- I mean in California, that's what the people want.

And it gets even better.

Governor Schwarzenegger not only supports President Obama's health care reform initiative, but just recently signed two pieces of legislation honouring the late San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk, and recognizing same sex marriages performed in other states.

You have to admit, as a Republican, Governor Schwarzenegger is providing a great example to those in this party.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Denmark makes you green with envy, indeed

Denmark, along with other western European nations, such as Germany, France and Sweden, are not only head and shoulders ahead of the rest of us and arguably who the rest of the world looks to as innovative leaders, but also are at the cutting edge of clean, renewable green energy and products. They are taking climate change very seriously and are doing something about it, without any foot-dragging, denying the science or proclaiming that it's too late to do anything and that we will have to adjust. And it isn't damaging their economy, as the science deniers and fear mongers like to proclaim. In fact, they're reaping the economic benefits.

Thank you, Gary Mason:

Denmark makes you green with envy

Gary Mason
The Globe and Mail
Published on Wednesday, Oct. 07, 2009 6:23PM EDT
Last updated on Thursday, Oct. 08, 2009 2:10PM

Down at Nyhavn Harbour, where old row housing has been turned into chic restaurants and Copenhagen's iconic sailing ships wait for their next trip to sea, the masses have been arriving to take in an outdoor photography exhibit.

Called 100 Places to Remember Before They Disappear, it's a collection of images taken around the world of places believed threatened by global warming: the Amazon, Venice, Zahara de la Sierra, the Antarctic. Say what you will about the perceived threats, the pictures are beautiful and sad at the same time.

You don't need to spend much time in the Danish capital to realize how seriously the people here take climate change. It is probably no coincidence that the next big important conference on the issue will be held in Copenhagen in December.

While much of the world talks about the problem, the Danes are finding solutions.

How about this stat: The Danes use about the same amount of energy today as they did in 1980. But over that same period of time, the country's economy has grown by 70 per cent. A tighter focus shows that from 1990 to 2007, economic activity in Denmark grew by 45 per cent while carbon-dioxide emissions were reduced by more than 13 per cent.

Denmark has become synonymous with wind energy. It accounts for 20 per cent of the power generated in the country. Now, the Danes are selling the technology throughout the world and getting rich doing it. The biggest wind-turbine manufacturer in the world, the Danish giant Vestas, can't fill orders from China and India fast enough. Danish exports of energy technology stood at about $13-billion in 2007.

The Danish utility Dong Energy has entered into an agreement with Project Better Place of California to mass-produce electric cars. Work is under way to build recharging and battery-swapping infrastructure throughout the country to make the project feasible. Cars should start to arrive in a couple of years.

But then, who needs cars? Fifty-five per cent of people living in Copenhagen (population 550,000) ride their bikes to work every day. City officials have estimated that people cycle 1.2 million kilometres, seven days a week. That's 30 times around the world every day. No wonder you can't find a fat person anywhere.

Denmark is the most energy-efficient country in Europe. By 2020, 30 per cent of its energy supply will come from renewable sources. All household waste is incinerated to generate heat and power. In Canada, incineration still conjures up images of the technology that hasn't existed in decades.

Each year, the eco-devoted from around the world make pilgrimages to Samso Island, situated off the east coast of the Jutland mainland.

What's so special about Samso? In 10 years, it found a way to convert 100 per cent of its energy needs to 100-per-cent renewable energy. So the 4,100 residents now rely on wind turbines for electricity, and solar panels and biomass for heat. The experiment has been written up in all the leading journals in the world and was featured on CBS Evening News.

With the upcoming climate talks, this green mecca is getting set to be invaded by media.

Connie Hedegaard, a former journalist who is now the country's Minister of Climate and Energy, enjoys rock-star status. She rides her bike to work too – in a skirt and high-heeled boots some days.

Of course, the focus on reducing CO2 emissions had to have come at a brutal cost to the economy. At least, that is what's supposed to happen, isn't it? Somehow it didn't here. Denmark has one of the strongest economies in the European Union. Unemployment is 3.7 per cent. You read that right.

Danish politicians are different too. They're not afraid to impose taxes to discourage people from driving their cars. A litre of gas costs twice what it does in Canada. Almost half of the cost is tax, which the government collects and uses, in part, to help fund green innovation research.

If only Canadian politicians had some of that spine.

I could go on, but I'm sure you're sick of hearing about the virtuous Danes. In any case, the greenest country on the planet doesn't really care if you're applauding. The people here figure you'll be joining them soon enough. They're just getting a head start

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

In complete denial of reality? Or just unrelenting devotion to deregulation?

Michael Moore appeared on Fox News last night as a guest on Sean Hannity's show, to discuss his new film "Capitalism: A Love Story" and engaged in a surprisingly very civil debate with Hannity. Hannity was in complete denial about the causes of last year's economic meltdown, and you get the sense while watching him argue against the facts that he is either completely out of touch with reality, knows he's wrong but will never part from his partisan dogma, or doesn't care what he's saying because he's making big bucks. Perhaps it's a combination of all three. Anyways, Moore really took Hannity to task for claiming that the subprime mortgage crisis (predatory lending) and the resulting financial crisis was a result of low-income borrowers who acquired mortgages they couldn't afford (ie screw the average or little guy, praise and worship corporate America). It's amazing, that despite everything we know about the causes of the meltdown, and with Moore citing FBI statistics, Hannity was completely aloof and dismissive. Regardless, seeing such denial in action is utterly perplexing and astounding, and reinforces the fact that Fox News is strenuously ardent and unrelenting in pushing its message and agenda onto their very large and loyal base of viewers.

The Economic Meltdown for Dummies

An older yet excellent 60 Minutes report by Steve Kroft, chronicling the economic meltdown last year and the disastrous right-wing economic policy of deregulation, which was fervently pursued by the previous Republican Congress, Bill Clinton, and Alan Greenspan. Unfortunately, Kroft's report did not include former Senator Phil "nation of whiners" Gramm, the role he played in the passage of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and his subsequent lobbying for further deregulation of state laws which had prevented predatory lending schemes to get potential homeowners in expensive mortgages. Incidently, it was also Gramm who included the Commodity Futures Modernization Act amendment into Clinton's omnibus appropriations bill. Did Clinton or any other senators even bother to read it? Anyways, Gramm's amendment guaranteed deregulation of derivatives trading or credit default swaps. A provision in the bill, which Enron lobbied for (a major campaign contributor to Gramm), also excluded energy trading from regulatory oversight. Essentially, it paved the way for the Enron disaster and a new disastrous era of deregulation.

Ivison nails it

National Post columnist John Ivison was spot on in his column today regarding the Liberal Party's recent woes, specifically the bizarre and poor decision making of Michael Ignatieff. I have zero electoral representative experience, but even I know that the country is in no mood to spend another couple hundred million dollars for an election, yet Iggy appears to be hell bent on this rawr-rawr-bring-down-the-government trip, despite taking a beating in the polls, especially in the crucial provinces of Quebec and Ontario. Ivison essentially boils some of this down to rookie inexperience, but it does seem that Ignatieff wants to demonstrate that the Liberal Party has a spine, and is rough and ready to rumble, which is understandable considering the recent hapless Dion era and its inability to muster any coherent form of opposition. Still, you don't need to be a lofty Ivy League academic to realize that the Canadian electorate is not in the mood for an election. Smarten up Iggy, seriously.