Follow The Money

Saw this beautiful poster on US expenditures today and thought I'd share. Uses great visual cues to help organize and convey the information. You can jump to the original location on the web at wallstats.com or try the link to my web album in case it's not there anymore (go to download to get the full-size image).

Interesting highlights: US spends $831m on bullets for the army, $540m on housing for the elderly, and $675m on biological sciences research.


Harper Stacks Senate

Harper provided Ignatieff and his opposition colleagues with plenty of fodder today by announcing eighteen new senate appointees while Parliament is prorogued. This is despite a clear and unambiguous commitment that the neoConservative Party would reform the Senate appointment sytem.

excerpted from the 2004 Conservative Party Platform (emphasis mine):

A plan for better and cleaner government
The Conservative Party has a plan for better and cleaner government for Canadians, and to change the way that Ottawa works.
A Conservative government led by Stephen Harper will: [...]
• End corporate and union political donations, and end forced taxpayer subsidies of political parties.
• Set federal elections on a fixed date every four years and examine other democratic reforms. [...]
Hold elections to fill vacancies in the Senate.

and elsewhere in the platform:

In a federal system like Canada, the interests of provinces and regions must be represented in the national Parliament. Every major federation in the world – except Canada – has an elected, regionally based upper chamber. We must demand better. It is unacceptable that Canada has reached the 21st century with one House of its Parliament still a patronage body. Despite promising Senate reform years ago, the Liberals still refuse to allow Canadians to elect their own Senators. Creating an elected parliamentary chamber independent of the Prime Minister is a critical step in ending the Liberal democratic deficit and can be done without any constitutional amendments.
The Plan
A Conservative government led by Stephen Harper will appoint only elected Senators to the Senate. A Conservative government will also propose further reforms to make the Senate an independent and democratic body for all regions.

Despite that commitment, Harper has scrambled to stack the Senate deck with as many Conservative appointees as he can. His rationale, according to a press release: "If Senate vacancies are to be filled … they should be filled by the government that Canadians elected rather than by a coalition that no one voted for." Nevermind that these aren't the Senators Canadians voted for. Nevermind that the Liberal and NDP parties received 44.44% of the popular vote to the neoCons' 37.63% (CBC).

And as for how many Canadians voted for Stephen Harper, the answer to this important trivia question is: 38,545. That's how many Canadians voted for him in the last election. And that's how a parliamentary democracy works. A bunch of Calgarians elected Canada's Prime Minister. And the elected representatives of Canada's other parties, if they are galvanized to action in opposition to a wrong-headed minority government, can legitimately take control of Parliament. That, too, is how a parliamentary democracy works.

Harper has a tough time understanding these principles. Or maybe he understands them just fine, and only cries foul when they don't suit his hegemonic aspirations. Canadians must be able to see through his rhetoric to the heart of his antidemocratic agenda. In the span of a few weeks, he has suspended Parliament—where our elected representatives perform their duties—and crammed a windfall of patronage appointments into the Senate—to which he promised only elected representatives would ascend.

These are revealing acts of desperation. The lesson: power corrupts even the most mild-mannered and well-meaning neoconservatives. I suspect that lurking in a hidden room somewhere in 24 Sussex Drive, behind lock and key and a shroud of blue velvet, is the true Portrait of Stephen Harper, "It was from within, apparently, that the foulness and horror had come. Through some strange quickening of inner life the leprosies of sin were slowly eating the thing away."

The new appointees (CBC):
• CTV personality, Mike Duffy.
• Former broadcaster, Pamela Wallin.
• Olympian, Nancy Greene Raine.
• Former N.L. MP Fabian Manning.
• N.S. lawyer Fred Dickson.
• Stephen Greene, former deputy chief of staff to N.S. Premier Rodney MacDonald.
• N.S. businessman Michael L. MacDonald.
• Long-time New Brunswick MLA and cabinet minister Percy Mockler.
• N.B. lawyer John D. Wallace.
• National chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples Patrick Brazeau.
• Former Quebec MP and teacher Suzanne Fortin-Duplessis.
• Director of Via Rail Canada Leo Housakos.
• Former Quebec MNA Michel Rivard.
• Nicole Eaton, member of the prominent Eaton family.
• Ontario businessman Irving Gerstein.
• Co-founder of the Corean Canadian Coactive (C3) society Yonah Martin.
• B.C. cabinet minister Richard Neufeld.
• Former Yukon MLA Hector Daniel Lang.


Harper Move To Slash Funding of Political Parties Anti-Democratic

Canadian PM Stephen Harper and his Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty, took another step toward eliminating democratic process in Canada. Since the summer, he has called an election with only five weeks' notice, refused to debate opposite the Green Party leader, and now has decided to strike a despicably opportunistic and transparently anti-democratic blow against his opponents: By eliminating public funding of political parties.

As noted by L Ian MacDonald in the National Post, the move is being cloaked as symbolic of the Government's belt-tightening regime in face of dire economic times, though the $27.7m saved is a pittance compared with annual expenditures of $200b. Moreover, the stipend serves an essential function in our democracy by directing funding to parties on the basis of the number of Canadians persuaded to vote for them: $1.95 per vote.

For political parties able to procure significant donated funds, i.e. the neoConservatives, the new policy hurts, but not nearly so much as for its opponents. Check it:

It is because of this disproportionate effect on his political opponents that Harper would consider such a maneuver. Perhaps more persuasive is the decimating effect on his chief rival in Quebec, the Bloc Quebecois.

As the origin of one quarter of Canada's Members of Parliament, Quebec is essential to any political party interested in achieving dominance in Parliament. And the Conservatives most certainly are interested in that. By targeting the Bloc Quebecois, Harper has declared war on the Bloc and is prepared to allow the will of the Canadian electorate, Quebecois or otherwise, to be a casualty of that war. Rather than persuade the Quebec electorate that Conservatives have earned their vote, Harper has unsheathed his long knives to eliminate his political enemies from contention.

In this discussion, some may be reminded of a certain sanctified politician south of our border, who famously reneged on a commitment to rely exclusively on public funding and opportunistically capitalized on his record private fundraising. The difference here is that when Obama elected to use private donations, he did not then abolish the public funding system to eradicate his most threatening political opponent.

I wish to be clear: What Stephen Harper is proposing is not just crass neoconservatism, it fundamentally undermines the electoral process in Canada. Do not dismiss this. This is huge. Write to Harper and your MP. Tell them that you love Canada, True North Strong and Free, and that you reject the silencing of political parties that Canadians supported at the polls. Tell them instead to cut their bloated Cabinet, which has expanded from 26 ministers when the neoConservatives took office in 2006, to 38 ministers. Tell them to refund the public financing they received voluntarily if they're so committed to saving money. Tell them they lost your vote.

I am pleased to say that the neoConservatives have decided to belay their elimination of annual allowances to political parties. It is not clear to me why. We will certainly never get a clear answer from Harper on why. For a gaffe to raise such a universal shit storm that Harper would reverse his announcement in a day is a spectacular political blunder. Regardless, at least the allowance is safe for now.


The Value of Ideas

I once read that Nicholas Negroponte insured his laptop computer for $2m, not for the value of the hardware, but for the value of the bits it contained. I was reminded of that factoid when I read the following story:

Why You Should Never Try to Steal a Law Student's Laptop

A thief learned the mistake of trying to steal a law student's laptop last week after after becoming a punching bag for an Arizona State student he tried to rip off. Armed with a baseball bat, the intruder, Gabriel Saucedo, allegedly climbed through an open window into Alex Botsios' apartment, waking the student and threatening to smash his head in...

I love this story because it illustrates how some in the knowledge economy are completely disconnected from the value of ideas. The law student, Alex Botsios, knew that his things could be replaced. Even though he probably had some sentimental attachment to his guitars, he was willing to part with them without complaint. What he could not abide was the loss of his ideas, the theft of work that was entirely cerebral in origin. He put himself at risk and punished his would-be robber for his ignorance.


Who Is Rahm Emanuel?

The Straight Talk Express implored the electorate to ask "Who is Barack Obama?" then proceeded to sketch his caricature as Barack Hussein Obama, a Muslim-schooled, untested, inexperienced Communist that we should all be fearful of. Never mind that he wrote two autobiographies of his short life. Let FOXNews define him for us, not his legislative record, his career, or his own confessional words. Why work to slog through the latter sources when the former paints his portrait in broad, lurid strokes visible from 100 miles.

But what I want to know is: Who Is Rahm Emanuel? Here is what Obama said in his introduction on November 6.

OBAMA: I am pleased to announce that my good friend, Congressman Rahm Emanuel, has agreed to serve as my White House chief of staff. I announce this appointment first because the Chief of Staff is central to the ability of a President and Administration to accomplish an agenda. And no one I know is better at getting things done than Rahm Emanuel.

During his seven years in the Clinton White House, Rahm was the point man on some of the most difficult issues, from the passage of landmark anti-crime legislation to the expansion of health care coverage for children. In just six years in Congress, he has risen to leadership, helping to craft myriad important pieces of legislation and guide them to passage. In between, Rahm spent several years in the private sector, where he worked on large and complicated financial transactions. That experience, combined with his service on the committees on Ways and Means and Banking, have given Rahm deep insights into the challenging economic issues that will be front and center for our Administration. Though Rahm understands how to get things done in Washington, he still looks at the world from the perspective of his neighbors and constituents on the Northwest Side of Chicago, who work long and hard, and ask only that their government stand on their side and honor their values. The son of an Israeli immigrant, Rahm shares a passionate love for this country, and has devoted much of his life to its cause.

His decision to accept this position is a wonderful reflection of that commitment, for it is not easy to give up the significant position he holds today as chair of the House Democratic conference. The post he has accepted also will require more time away from Amy, and their children, Zach, Ilana and Leah, which I know is painful and difficult.

I appreciate his friendship. And I, and all Americans, should be grateful that Rahm is once again answering his country's call.

That tells us a little. But let's describe him instead as a neo-Zionist, a sharp-elbowed, partisan pit bull, truth be damned. I went to Wikipedia to learn a little more, for what that's worth. He left his post as Clinton-appointed Board member of Freddie Mac to pursue elected office. His work history includes working as an investment banker after he left the Clinton administration, where he made $18m after two-and-a-half years according to Fortune magazine (read this great profile from 2006). Rahm Emanuel "was the top House recipient in the 2008 election cycle of contributions from hedge funds, private equity firms and the larger securities/investment industry" according to OpenSecret.org.

His father was a member of the Irgun, a militant Zionist group operating in British Palestine from 1931 to 1948. His father also said some egregious nonsense about his son influencing "the president to be pro-Israel. Why wouldn't he? What is he, an Arab? He's not going to be mopping floors at the White House." I have a tough time writing that without the bile rising in my throat or my knuckles whitening. Emanuel has apologized for his cantankerous offensive father to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

The PlanIn his book, The Plan: Big Ideas for America, Emanuel and Bruce Reed propose a flat tax, a College Tax Credit, a Universal Mortgage Deduction, and other modes of tax reform to a byzantine system. He describes a system of Universal Children's Health Care. He advocates an end to "corporate welfare," costly disbursements to corporations which skew the market economy. He proposes mandatory public service for American youth. These proposals tell me something more, but still don't paint a complete picture of Emanuel.

I think it is essential to be skeptical of the new leadership entering the White House. I hate the fearmongering that passes for news. I hate the fawning too. Obama is now more a symbol than a leader. But as he begins to lead, there can be no honeymoon period. The stakes are too high. He needs to hit the ground running and not let up til 2017. Guantanamo Bay. Iraq. Afghanistan. Carbon emissions reduction. Health insurance. Financial Industry regulation. Infrastructure investment. Tax cuts. Alternative energy. Environmental protection. Pakistan. Free trade. The list goes on.

Obama is credited with a sharp intellect, openmindedness, sound judgment, and a willingness to find quality advisors, even if they disagree with him. As his Cabinet fills out, the media should be reading the entrails of each appointee's credentials and telling us what it means, not sketching broad caricatures designed rankle or woo us.


Change Has Come To America

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama at a campaign rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina: "I don't love him ... I wish him to be elected."

None of us who gathered in my library yesterday to watch the outcome of the US election could dispute that we were bearing witness to history. Barack Obama promises, as Colin Powell noted, to be a Transformative Figure. His platform of optimism, of Change We Can Believe In, and of Hope, were a powerful elixir for an American electorate exhausted by suspicion, fear, and violence.

I was fortunate to be able to share yesterday’s triumph with family and friends. As Obama spoke, as he spun the story of centenarian Ann Nixon Cooper and the history she bore witness to in the last century, as he exorted America to construct a similar arc of progress for the coming century, tears rolled down my cheeks. No Greek columns to mock. No empty slogans to keep in frame. No red white and blue bunting, or confetti, or balloons to clean up when the speech was over. A bare stage, a simple lectern, and a man whose only embellishments were the power of his ideas and depth of his conviction.

Change has come to America.

I told my sons to “Remember this night,” this historic night when a parent can tell his child that anything is possible, and actually believe it. It was on this night that more Americans than ever had voted, that a higher proportion of Americans had voted than at any time in a hundred years to first elevate a non-white to the White House.

French journalist Bernard-Henri Lévy described Barack Obama as the living embodiment of John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr, a conflation of their ideals, their gifted oratory, and their promise. Some watching with me yesterday had the appallingly poor taste to wonder aloud when, “Obama’s number would be up.” How long would it take for some fucked up American white trash hillbilly zealot to put a bullet in Obama’s head? In just a five year span, JFK, MLKjr, and RFK were all assassinated. This is the reality check on our hope. All of us present yesterday wished that Obama would become President, yet most of us were afraid to believe that his election would truly come to pass. Now that he has been elected, we temper our hope and optimism with the fear that Obama will be taken from us, just as those other great men were taken from us.

I cannot help but believe that Obama’s leadership will be more empathetic to those who struggle at society’s fringes, more constructive on the world stage, and more dedicated to the American ideals of democracy, liberty, and justice for all. There will be litmus tests of his effectiveness, on the promise he embodies.

I, too, have never felt more hopeful for America than I do now. In crisis, as the worn-out business-speak turn of phrase goes, there is opportunity. America is at a crossroads, and while I hope Obama can lead them on a path of inclusiveness, multilaterality, sustainability, and prudence, I am also mindful that Obama is not only a product of his humble beginnings but also of his recent success. I am sure he is already strategizing for the 2012 campaign. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a candidate recently elected to President must be in want of a second term. How will his intentions be corrupted by the process? How has the process already corrupted his intentions?

He is saying all the right things. Now is his time to act. Now we will measure this man by his deeds.

"...to all those who have wondered if America’s beacon still burns as bright – tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope. For that is the true genius of America – that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow."


Hitchens Tirade a Bit Off The Mark

Christopher Hitchens, writing for Slate, ranted about Palin's dismissal of Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly) research. He summed his arguments thusly...

This is what the Republican Party has done to us this year: It has placed within reach of the Oval Office a woman who is a religious fanatic and a proud, boastful ignoramus. Those who despise science and learning are not anti-elitist. They are morally and intellectually slothful people who are secretly envious of the educated and the cultured. And those who prate of spiritual warfare and demons are not just "people of faith" but theocratic bullies. On Nov. 4, anyone who cares for the Constitution has a clear duty to repudiate this wickedness and stupidity.

...then maniacally wiped the spittle from the corners of his lips.

Here is an important insight I would like to share with Hitchens: Politicians will say anything it takes to get elected. While McCain has continuously pumped out disinformation on Ayers to confuse the electorate, he stated that "He doesn't care about some washed-up terrorist" at the most recent presidential debate. While Palin extolls the ideals of Real America and the Real Americans that inhabit it, she also feels that same sex union should have full legal weight as she stated in the VP debate. Where their feet can't be held to the fire, at their rabble-rousing rallies, McCain-Palin pander to the most obscene impulses of the Republican base, including anti-science, anti-intellectual, xenophobic rhetoric.

I think neither McCain nor Palin are as theocratic as they seem. I expect Palin took advantage of political opportunities afforded by wingnut church affiliations in Alaska, as Obama did in Illinois. Hitchens should remember that Obama had to shed a few theo-albatrosses of his own, including distancing himself from ties to his muslim schooling and renouncing Reverend Wright.

All this political maneuvering is obscene, and the US should take a long look in the mirror and divorce theological rhetoric from political discourse. I actually winced when Stephen Harper closed his victory speech a couple of weeks ago with the words, "God Bless Canada." I hope that someone virtually bitch slaps the PM for his exhortation.


Palin Drones

fey palinForeign Policy's blog features a discussion of Palin's empty rhetoric and empty-headedness when interviewed by Charlie Gibson. The New Yorker features her caricature twice and several articles, editorials, and blog posts about the candidate on their website today. She was lampooned last week on Saturday Night Live by Tina Fey. She is lampooned every night by the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. She is vigourously defended by the White Knights of Fox News. She is everywhere. She is even the reason I am posting for the first time in five months.

frontier girlThe prospect that this homey, undistinguished, untested, churchgoing hockey mom might become Vice President, let alone President, has filled some with delight and most sensible observers with dread. The former are too giddy and the latter too mortified to speak of anything else. In fact, the only way Obama can get mentioned these days is to obliquely mock her lipstick-on-a-pitbull joke with a lipstick-on-a-pig joke, a line Obama cleverly borrowed from McCain when the Reformed Maverick used it in reference to Ms Clinton's proposed healthcare plan.

Palin is at once mesmerizing and appalling. Like a tornado. Or a car crash. Or a dude that eats worms. It is so much easier to talk about her dubious credentials, keeping her Down Syndrome child, field-dressing a moose, teenage pregnancy, and so on, than it is to broach challenging policy issues. For example:

Why--along with Russia, Iran, Israel, China, Haiti, Rwanda, and North Korea--is the United States not among the 108 nations of the world to ratify the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court? The other G7 nations all are.

How can America free itself from what McCain terms a "dangerous dependence on foreign oil" when it has been dependent on foreign oil for decades, has been unable to grow its domestic production beyond its peak in 1973, and in the last four years consumes four times as much oil as it produces: 20 million barrels a day?

Why are American taxpayers rather than the risk-taking corporations themselves, paying the price for reckless financing? Perhaps because the under-regulated operating environment the government created allowed the disaster to occur?

Why do Americans pay more for healthcare (as a proportion of GDP or in absolute dollars) than any other nation in the world? The US is a spectacular outlier spending 15.3% of GDP while the next twenty nations on the list spend between 8.3% and 11.3%. And how can the US leave so many Americans uninsured and have poorer health outcomes than thriftier nations?

oecd healthcare spending
How can Republicans preach that they are fiscally responsible when, under the stewardship of Bill Clinton's Democrat regime, the US Budget posted surpluses for the first time since 1969, while under Bush II the National Debt grew by $5.5 trillion after seven straight years of deficit spending?

Sarah Palin must be quite pleased with herself. Inside of just a few weeks she has the whole world united in prayer: her narrow-minded Republican supporters praying that she'll get in, and the rest of us praying that the American electorate can come to its senses by November 4 and make the right choice.


Baffling Hillary Tactic

The official website of Hillary Clinton's website features a bizarre Pop Quiz. It accuses the Obama campaign of lifting strategies from the Republican Attack Playbook, and calls Obama on his claim that he has been "measured" in his tone regarding Clinton.
The quiz concludes with a statement that Obama has described Hillary as "calculating, polarizing, divisive, dishonest, secretive, disingenuous, and untrustworthy," then makes no effort to actually refute any of these claims! Bizarrely, a littany of the most venomous accusations levelled against Clinton are parroted back to her own supporters and attributed to both Republican and Obama sympathizers, suggesting that at least on Hillary's faults, both parties can agree.

This strange episode in the campaign reminds me of the last Presidential election in which Bush II was somehow able to persuade the American populace that Kerry was not heroic enough in Vietnam, though Kerry did not seek out a Purple Heart for his acts of bravery while battling in country. He convinced Americans that Kerry was disingenuous for treasuring rather than discarding the awards his country decorated him with. He convinced Americans that Kerry was unpatriotic for serving in Vietnam then testifying that the war was unjust because it flew in the face of American values. Yet Bush II did everything possible to steer clear of active duty in Vietnam, and was a delinquent on his weak-ass stateside military commitment.

In the case of the Democrats, Clinton intends to discredit Obama for accusing her of wrongdoing, as if that is somehow more egregious than the wrongdoing itself.


Faith, Reason, and the Death of Democracy in America

It is difficult to understand the rise of religious fundamentalism in the US. Many of the world's most highly respected learning and research institutions are located within the US. In its inception, the leaders of the US received their power from the people, not by Divine Right, not by peerage. God does not appear in the Constitution, though the free practice of any religion is protected by it just as explicitly as the freedoms of speech, of the press, and of assembly. The US is the great refuge of the oppressed of the world, where principles of self-reliance and self-determination are prized, and where a diversity of thought and a clash of ideas is seen as a healthy—as an essential—aspect of their democracy.

For nearly a decade, the White House has enabled the ideological fringes of the country, rewarding faith with spending and the spotlight, with an undeserved legitimacy in education, in the military, and in the political arena. It has smothered dissent by accusing dissenters of possessing, at best, a lack of patriotism.

Al Gore enunciated the pitfall of relying on faith over reason in an interview with NPR (podcast May 27/07): "Whether it's New Orleans, or Iraq, or the climate crisis, when evidence that any reasonable person can understand is completely ignored in favor of ideology and power politics, then our country suffers." In a nation with some of the world's greatest scientists, it is tragic that empiricism is condemned as blasphemy, and that evidence is obfuscated rather than interpreted by the Executive.