Archive for the ‘US politics’ Tag

Canada Free Press – What A Joke!

Every now and then, I stumble across someone (usually an intellectually-barren right winger) who cited http://www.canadafreepress.com to support an argument. Even more amusing is that occasionally people seem to think that writing for this blog is some kind of journalistic credential.

When your tagline is “Because without America there is no free world…” I have to wonder what the “Canada” part is all about. CFP started as a print paper in Toronto, a right wing free birdcage liner, but it’s now rarely about Canada, and more a haven for American conservatives, and frankly, not good ones. There used to be a comedic value to it, but even that’s gone. Now it’s just… well… I can’t describe it. So let’s look at one of their articles, about the evil (well, if you grossly misinterpret it) UN Agenda 21) and its impact on the military, by Dr. Ileana Johnson Paugh. The article is here. Read carefully, because some of the hilarity is subtle.

The good doctor’s article is based on a US government directive about sustainability and designs for military bases – to make them more “walkable”, something that’s been, as I understand it, an urban planning concept for a long time. Most military bases I’ve been on aren’t, don’t offer much in the way of incentive for transit or ride share, and are thus often traffic nightmares. A base I spent a lot of time on has three gates fed by a series of collector roads, and it’s not uncommon to spend 15-20 minutes or more trying to get out at the end of the day, sitting in traffic. To travel a kilometre or two. That’s a lot of cars idling for no good reason. But I guess, if you’re a right wing moron, that’s not a big deal.

She wastes little time to turn an architect’s report on the community around the US Air Base at Aviano into a snipe at Italy – suggesting “they can defend themselves”. Which, of course, they do, which a fairly large and well-equipped military. I’m not entirely sure who or what the US base at Aviano defends Italy from, and would guess it primarily serves US and not Italian interests.

I particularly love this paragraph:

The military leadership explains that transit-oriented development reduces traffic congestion and accident rates while encouraging walking, bicycling, and overall healthy communities. This is a ridiculous excuse since a soldier, by definition, has to be healthy and fit in order to serve in the military. Walking and biking actually increase accident rates of hit and run. There are retirees, even young ones, who are handicapped, and biking and walking is not an option for them. We have thousands of soldiers who have returned from Iraq and Iran with severe, life altering disabilities.

I literally cannot make any sense of this. Where to begin? First, military communities don’t just include “soldiers”. Bases employ civilians. Military families use their facilities as well. And ultimately, that soldiers have a fitness standard that the general public doesn’t has pretty much nothing to do with this. Increased rates of hit and run? Okay, whatever. Conveniently, the Good Doctor offers no statistical support for this, and I somehow don’t think it’s particularly important. Biking and walking aren’t an option for lots of people, sure, but nothing in the ideas of better urban planning makes it impossible. Thanks to not right wing people, after all, we have laws about making sure that we accommodate disabled people. Of course, if you’re a certain class of conservative, you think those laws are an encroachment on your civil liberties and free enterprise, but we’ll try to leave Paultards out of this, shall we? I also love she says soldiers “returned from Iraq and Iran”, to help build the case that on basically the entire subject matter of this post, she has absolutely no idea what she’s talking about. Iran? Really?

Another gem of a paragraph:

Because of drastic cutbacks in the military for cost-saving reasons, at a time when the world threat to our country is at an all time high, we do not have money to refurbish and modernize the military capability. We let soldiers fight in Afghanistan and Iraq with scarce resources and protection, having to duct-tape their body armor to non-armored vehicles in order to provide some level of safety.

Well, “we” sent soldiers to fight a way in Iraq without proper equipment because there wasn’t enough of it to go around. By invading Iraq, Afghanistan was neglected with victory declared early, and it was allowed to fester. And the war with Iraq was totally unnecessary. By the way, which political party has members that actually voted against better equipment for soldiers? Ooops.

The military is more concerned with rules and regulations, like a soldier being licensed properly to drive an un-armored SUV through a war zone. Those who make ill-conceived rules from the safety of their offices in Washington, D. C. do not worry that this soldier might be blown off by a roadside bomb because his vehicle is not armored.

Why are soldiers “licensed” to drive UP-armoured (not “un-armoured”) SUVs? In the case of some places, because they’re less conspicuous and easier to maneuvre around cities. Big convoys of armoured vehicles are juicy targets. Consider the attack on the Rhino Bus on October 29, 2011 in Kabul, Afghanistan. It was a big, heavy, armoured vehicle, and a vehicle-borne IED destroyed it and killed all its occupants. It was a clear, significant target. SUVs disappear into traffic, theoretically. Why are they “licensed”? Because they have to pass a driving test that’s a little more than what most people do – how to drive evasively, and maneuvres that increase the safety of the driver and their passengers. Not just anyone should be thrown keys and told to have at it.

“Which would you rather have? Would you rather spend $4 billion on Air Force Base solar panels, or would you rather have 28 new F-22s or 30 F-25s or modernized C-130s? Would you rather have $64.8 billion spent on pointless global warming efforts,  or would you rather have more funds put towards modernizing our fleet of ships, aircraft and ground vehicles to improve the safety of our troops and help defend our nation against the legitimate threats that we face?” (Sen. James Inhofe as quoted by Caroline May)”

I like the solar panels thing. I recently read an article about the US Marine Corps using them on FOBs in southern Afghanistan, saving massive amounts of fuel that would be needed for generators to power the installation. Not only does using less fuel save money, and hey, it’s good for the environment (particularly relevant when the US military is under fire for the air quality on their bases, generator emissions are not exactly good in that sense) – but it saves lives potentially because less fuel consumption means less convoys to transport fuel, means less vehicle movement on the roads, regardless of whether the vehicles are armoured or unarmoured.

Yet we spend billions to needlessly restructure military bases into global environmentalism compliance. It is more important for our executive branch to “sustain” the so-called endangered environment, and please the environmentalist wackos, than to defend our country.

Actually, as I understand it, the directives apply to new base construction and chages thereto. Environmental compliance not only is good for the entire world, it saves money, and in most cases, if you look at what sustainable communities are actually about, it makes them more pleasant places to live. Saving money on defence facilities (the massive of cost of which she references in her article, oddly enough!) leaves more money available for defence, or whatever else. There’s literally nothing bad I can see about that, at all. Unless, like The Good Doctor, you want to make a series of arguments from ignorance to hear yourself speak.

Whither The Centre?

For some reason, I guess because I’m some kind of masochist, I tend to insert myself into all sorts of debates and discussions over politics.  Canadian politics, American politics, whatever – they all fascinate me, and if there’s one thing that’s becoming clearer and clearer over time, it’s that all politics is indeed local – everything matters, because we’re all really connected.

When I was a first year university student, I read Benjamin Barber’s article (since expanded into a book), Jihad Vs McWorld.  It was a very good explanation of the competing forces which we were just coming to be understood as “globalization”.  That article was six years old by then, but seemed to me very insightful.  I had started to understand those impacts during the brief travels I managed to do before and during school, which doesn’t seem to be a habit I’ve carried on with enough, though hopefully that will change.  Anyhow, if you’ve never read the article, do so – it’s worth a read.  It talks a fair bit about the ideas of confederalism and trying to define the role of a nation-state in this new world.  We’re seeing the same sort of thing now when we take a look at NATO trying to define a role for its future post-Cold War.  That, I suppose, is a whole other matter.

If I tell you that higher education softened my conservative views, I guess I’ll play into some sort of sick right wing stereotypes about liberal education.  Truth is, while I went to a very, very liberal school, I didn’t really start to really think like a centrist until a while after I was out of school in the real world and started to realize that all those monetarist, conservative “theoreticals” are just that, and they don’t really seem to work.  And I guess I realized that before a lot of people, because what I’m seeing unfolding in the world suggest it.

What happened to the idea of a rational, pragamatic centrist movement?  In the US, the only people I’ve seen claiming the label of centrists are really right wingers trying to sell themselves a little softer.  In Canada, the reasonably centrist Liberal Party of Canada just got totally wiped out in the recent election, and the “Progressive Conservative” Party no longer exists.  Although Prime Minister Harper doesn’t strike me as having some incredibly insidious right wing agenda, he also learns a fair way to the right, more than perhaps I’d consider acceptable, and even worse, some of the clowns in his party are far less ambiguous about it.

The problem is, as I see it, we have a whole lot of challenges to deal with.  Climate change, regardless of the degree to which you accept the anthropogenic nature thereof, is something that is going to impact the world somehow – it’ll change migration patterns, it’ll impact food supplies, it will impact everyone in some way.  The global economy is another problem – casino capitalism as it were has impacted us certainly.  The world’s largest economy sits in a country that faces massive budget deficits and complete unwillingness to overcome the polarization in politics in such a way as to actually make any progress.  There’s no rational voice in the centre trying to balance out the two highly polarized sides in any debate, and so there’s deadlock.

Why do we have to talk only about tax cuts, tax hikes and spending cuts and not look at other ideas?  More importantly, why is there no discussion of combining various approaches in the US for example to solve problems?  Obviously, taxes have to rise in some form in the USA, it’s just a matter of time.  Despite the claims of various pundits on the right, America does indeed have a revenue problem.  It does have a spending problem too, and that will take a lot of effort, it’ll take some pain I’m sure to fix it effectively, but it must be done in some form.  What astounds me is the denial of realities that healthcare reform as it’s been initiated by the Obama Administration will likely help while actually improving healthcare outcomes.  I’m also surprised (not really) that no one seems to grasp that massive, massive military spending cuts in the USA are going to be necessary to make any progress.   Those cuts will have to come from capital procurement primarily, and allowing the force to shrink via natural attrition.

What I don’t get is why people aren’t demanding better from politicians, demanding actual reasoned discussions.  I guess that advantage we had in Canada when we went through this in the 1990s is that our Parliamentary system allows the government of the day to just get on with things without having to constantly battle the opposition.  Score 1 for us.  Obviously there’s no way to make changes to that, but where are the voices starting up to the Professional Left and the Theocratic-Fascist-Corporatist right?

Ramblings – On Retirement Ages Eventually.

I have a myriad of things running through my mind at the moment, and I haven’t really been updating the blog lately.  It’s been even worse on my more personal one, I don’t think I’ve put anything meaningful there in a very long time, and that’s kind of sad in a way – I’ve had that blog since before the word existed, back when LiveJournal was a referral service and someone had to give you an invite for you to join.

But being busy with other things is good, of course.  Work continues to be getting better and better, and it appears that for many reasons I’ve made a decent move.  I’m still not totally settled on things though, and I think my wife is homesick for Ontario more than she really admits, but is willing to concede that she has to give this a more thorough attempt.

Lots has been going on politically lately on both sides of the border, and I find it hard to nail down anything really sharp to say on a lot of it – in Canada, we have the renewed discussion of what the hell we are going to do in Afghanistan next year when the Parliamentary mandate for our current contribution to ISAF ends and in theory we are done.  As of my last check, the PM has decided that we’ll stay there in a training role, it sounds like in Kabul (vice the rather more dangerous Kandahar), with about 1000 troops on the ground.  I suspect that many of them will continue to be drawn from the Reserve, and have not given up on the idea of getting a tour in, though it’s hard to say what’ll happen.

This was sort of a dovetail from a major debate about Veterans Affairs, which started when the current ombudsman, Col Pat Stogran (ret’d) got into the spotlight for his vigourous criticism of the government’s handling of the claims of veterans, particularly those injured in Afghanistan, but also those with injuries, including invisible ones like PTSD, from previous operations.  Apparently it’s Bosnia veterans that report the highest rates of debilitating PTSD.

I don’t have a fully formed opinion on that whole thing, though I understand fully the frustration many feel because I’m a VAC client myself – well, I’m trying.  I was injured during my basic officer training years ago, I probably broke my foot but didn’t know it because I received rather lacklustre treatment, and no follow-up when I was sent home from the course, this is a common problem Reserve soldiers face that is starting to get addressed.  While I’m not so badly off, I do have a lot of pain from time to time walking, and I need special orthotics to be able to do my job.  My civilian job’s benefits currently pay for them, but I’d rather VAC do it.  I’m not really bothered about getting a lump sum payout (though it would go toward my house fund), I just want to make sure that if it gets worse as I get older, I have something to prove that it was due to service.

It took forever to apply, forever to get my first answer (no), and now I’ve been just to busy to jump through the hoops that the Bureau Of Pension Advocates wants me to endure.  We’ll see how it goes.

So we went to Boston a couple of weeks ago on our first real “vacation” in a long time – in fact, it was sort of our honeymoon for our fifth anniversary, just a long weekend, but it was neat to be there in the run up to the elections and all – we actually came home the day of, listening to the results come in on XM.  It is a little different seeing how things work in the US compared to here – one thing that really struck me was that it was hard to size up opinions from signs not knowing the actual candidates, since it seems that American candidates don’t always put their party on their signage, or in any way use colours etc that ID them.  Not so here, where signs are generally standardized and it’s pretty clear who’s who.

In the end, I guess the results didn’t surprise me.  I was happy to see that most of the crazy teabaggers got smited, though Rand Paul getting into the Senate was just a bit shocking, I have a feeling those Tea Party morons are going to regret sending him there.  Seriously, that guy has some ridiculous ideas and opinions, truly baffling that he was electable.

Losing the House was no shock, the Democratic Party has amazed me with its inability to put its majority to work and just get things done.   Particularly in the face of the idiocy spewed out by the Republicans.  I don’t get how people fall for their bullshit.  I read their “Pledge” which was mostly fluffy empty rhetoric and nonsense aimed at people who don’t really know much about politics.  The tax cuts thing is the most galling.  There is no reason to believe that a tax cut for the most wealthy will do anything to stimulate the US economy, and more ridiculously, the people calling for it keep calling themselves fiscally responsible.  Adding $700 billion to the US deficit is just not fiscally responsible, it smacks of the highest forms of hypocrisy, which seems to be their theme anyhow.  How does the GOP plan to balance the budget?  What will they cut, specifically?  They have no idea, no plan.  When you highlight to them that a staggering cut to the military they understandable go ballistic at the idea.

The silly thing is that the things that are reasonable to discuss are now being rejected by both sides – things like discussions of retirement ages and entitlements.  Given my personal background I have some insight on this, and that’s what I think I’ll focus on here.

One of the things put out as an idea in the United States was reforming Social Security by raising the retirement age.  You’ll likely know that France was recently gripped by protests and strikes over a plan to raise its state retirement age from 60 to 62, a move expected to save the French social security significantly.  To me, 62 seems still very generous, but anyone familiar with France’s generous welfare state will tell you that it’s still a big change.

As one of my colleagues likes to highlight to people when doing retirement planning presentations, the conventional retirement age of 65 was chosen for a reason.  The reason is simple: Life expectancy was (depending on which study of which country you look at) about 59 (or 63, I’ve also heard quoted).  That means that there was a pretty good chance that you’d never actually qualify to retire, you’d work until you died, and social security systems were in place to look after the lucky folk who actually lived longer.

The reality is that when you look at demographic trends and how long people live, it’s not reasonable to have a state pension fund a retirement that is in some cases nearly as long as one’s working life.  Even well managed ones (like the Canada Pension Plan) won’t be stable for long under such a setup.  Even now, more and more people are working longer, or phasing retirement by working less and less, but still working in some capacity.  In the case of many retirees I work with it’s out of boredom as much as anything else, a need to keep doing something.

We need to change the way we think about working and retiring, and about older workers if this is the approach we’re going to take, though.  In Canada the current approach is to stiffen the penalty for drawing one’s pension early.  Currently you can draw CPP at age 60 but you get penalized 0.5% per month for every month early you draw it – that’s going to increase to 0.6%, meaning that you will only get 64% of your entitlement vice 70% if you start at age 60.  They’re also increasing the premium one gets for delaying drawing a pension, which they hope will persuade people still working to wait a couple of years in exchange for a larger annuity.  That could work and should be helpful.  I have to wonder how such changes might impact Social Security in the USA…

This is kind of discussion that has to be had, though, because pensions are a ticking timebomb potentially, as boomers retire, and there simply aren’t as many workers coming in behind them – and well – there’s not as many growing up either… but that’s something for another entry.  The key is, it’s going to take createive ideas and not political dogma to get things going again, and that will take a lot of dialogue that we all need to be involved in.

The Spectacle That Is Politics

Politics of all sorts have been rather interesting lately.  First, there’s been the failure of Manitoba MP Candice Hoeppner’s Private Member’s Bill C-391, which was designed to finally scrap the Long Gun Registry.  It made it through two readings before a number of New Democratic Party MPs were persuaded to switch sides and defeat it by the narrowest of margins.  One of them, Peter Stoffer, is an MP from Nova Scotia, and the number of angry letters in today’s Halifax Chronicle-Herald is interesting.  His riding will be one targetted in the next federal election campaign I’m sure by the Conservative Party.

I’m annoyed C-391 failed, mainly because there are simply no good arguments for the registry that justify spending any further money on it when there are other programs that could be persued in its stead that might actually improve public safety, but I think I’m more annoyed that it’s revealed the true dark underbelly of Canada’s political system currently, and shown that while Stephen Harper is the best guy to be running the show right now, he’s really not great, and should count himself very lucky that there is no credible alternative to him for the time being.

For all his efforts this summer, much to the chagrin of the aforementioned Mr. Harper, Michael Ignatieff is just not resonating with a lot of Canadians (except maybe those damned “Toronto elites” that MP John Baird hates so much), and that suits me fine, as it means that the status quo of a relatively powerless Conservative minority will last.  I’m okay with that.

The next big PMB that seems like it’ll come up for debate is Gerard Kennedy’s C-440, which basically neds the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to allow American deserters to qualify for refugee status in Canada.  This is probably the most alarming development to me lately.  Since the Iraq War in the US started, there’s been quite a few American military personnel who have deserted and made their way to Canada, where they have tried to claim refugee status.  So far, none of them have been accepted, and they have no reasonable prospect of doing so unless the definition of “refugee” is significantly altered.  Some have been deported already, and prosecuted in the normal maner in the United States, others have not.

So, let’s be clear.  A deserter from a volunteer military in a liberal democractic country like the USA – someone who was not conscripted or otherwise impressed into service – should absolutely not be considered a refugee, period.  The definition of refugee in Canada is taken from the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.  A refugee is a person who, “”owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country”.

A deserter is not someone facing persecution.  They face prosecution for the crime, but that is not justification for another country to offer them refuge, particularly when desertion is an offence in Canada as well, under Section 98 of the National Defence Act.

These so-called “war resisters”, all of whom joined the military knowing (or at least, they ought to have known) the risk that military service entails, the possibility of being deployed to a serve in a war zone, whether they agree with the politics of the war or not, have no business in Canada.   They are owed nothing by us, and to bend our rules to process these people is an affront to the process of aiding legitimate refugees.

So, C-440 must fail, and any politician who supports it in any way better not be asking for my vote as they will not get it.  It’s an insult to anyone who has accepted unlimited liability in military service, who has made any sort of sacrifice as such, that some selfish fool who doesn’t want to live up to their end of the bargain should be allowed a pass.

As if Canadian politics isn’t interesting enough of late, there’s the brewing shitshow in America.  I am rather interested to see what will happen in the mid-term elections in November.  My father was musing last night that he wants to make sure he’s at his place in Arizona on November 2 to see the results and listen in on the conversation.  I have to think it’ll be interesting.

I don’t get what the hell this “Tea Party” movement is going to accomplish.  It seems that “their” candidates are nothing but utter wingnuts, people whose only credibility seems to be some hatred of the status quote and little or no knowledge of anything to do with the challenge of running a country.  Most astounding is their disdain for, or avoidance of the democratic process – such as interaction with the media.  In a democratic society, the media has a role to play in getting candidates’ messages out and in holding them to account for what they say.  The recent antics of two of the chief wingnuts, Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell and Nevada’s Sharron Angle are prime examples.  Both seem to avoid any sort of media contact out of a fear of “gotcha questions” – like, as one pundit put it, “What is your plan when you get into office?”.  O’Donnell comes off as a puritan religious nutter, and Angle, well… she’s certifiable I think, the shit this woman has said in the past makes me astounded that anyone would take her remotely seriously.

Of course, if you think the Republicans have a rational plan for anything, take a look at their “Pledge To America”  and see what you think.  I had a hard time taking it seriously, except for the ideas of not intermixing different policies into single pieces of legislation or tagging controversial matters to “must pass” bills in order to shoehorn them.  This is a feature of the American legislative process I’ve always been appalled by.

The Pledge offers no credible solutions, and sticks to the same nonsense that the GOP has parroted for ages – tax cuts create jobs, a healthcare reform act that won’t work, and so on.  It is the most empty set of policy ideas ever, designed to trade on the fear and lies they’ve promoted since they lost the last election.

For his part, President Obama has failed – not in policy accomplishments – he has gotten a lot done – but he has utterly failed to show the value of his presidency to Americans – he’s not made any real political capital on them.  He’s tried to be nice when the GOP haven’t, and now he really needs to go on the attack, he’s started a little bit, attacking John Boehner (what’s with that guy’s obsession with tanning, by the way) directly, and so on.  He needs to show average Americans that GOP policies are bad for them, and he needs to get on that quick.

Random points on Sunday afternoon.

It’s a cold, lazy Sunday.  I’m really doing a lot of nothing today, except for research on our upcoming vacation trip, one that I wish was going about a month later because I’d have much more of a budget for it given that work has been quite productive lately, I just won’t be able to cash in on it until later in August.

It’s almost August.  We made the move to Nova Scotia in January and it’s almost August.

But I’m glad overall we came.

Last night, my father and I were sitting on the deck in the twilight, he’s been reading Churchill’s History of the English Speaking People, and I’m reading Diamond’s fascinating Collapse.  As we sat out, I was watching my neighbours, a Sikh couple – or rather my neighbour and his father-in-law lighting some kind of fire.  I realized eventually that it was a small charcoal barbecue and they were trying to get it going, presumable to make themselves some dinner.  It was not going very well for them.   So, as good neighbours, we wandered over, and started trying to get it going.  They hadn’t used any sort of starter fluid or much for kindling, but eventually I managed to get it going for them.  It turned out that they had made the food already, and just wanted to finish it on the barbecue, and we joked that at the rate they were going they’d be waiting until breakfast.

I wound up sitting and talking with them for at least an hour – I had had a few beers earlier on in the day and they insisted on sharing a bottle of Nicaragua’s finest (Flor de Cana rum) with me, so it’s possible I didn’t sound as smart as I thought, but we had quite an interesting discussion about India, the history of the Sikh people, about Indian food, and all sorts of things, it was really a great way to spend a warm evening under a nearly full moon, around a fire, just talking about all sorts of things.

And getting a couple of pieces of tandoori chicken out of the deal is nothing to scoff at.  I think I’ll have to cater the next lesson on barbecue, but we’ll get them straightened out on how to do it, without the normal starter that is apparently traditionally used in India – cow dung!

It’s amazing how easy it is to get along with almost anyone in such a setting, and I have to wonder if there was some way that more people could do that sort of thing – sit around a communal meal and realize that we aren’t really all that different.  I’ve heard anecdotes from many friends in Afghanistan that the best bonding opportunities they had with the locals and the ANSF people they worked with was over food, when they’d get sick of Army food and go out and trade with the locals for more interesting meals.  That’s some sort of primal bond amongst people I think – it’s sort of the key to a lot of things.  What made me think of that over the conversation last night was the concept in Sikhism of the gurdwara in a temple – a communal kitchen which feeds everyone who comes to the temple – they won’t let you go away hungry basically.

So what else, then, to write about?  I’ve been paying more attention to work than anything else, but was fascinated by the shitshow started when blogger/idiot Andrew Breitbart released an edited, out of context video of a woman who worked for the US Department of Agriculture making a speech to the NAACP in which she appeared to admit to being a racist.  Except, as we all know, the clip was cut and she was actually talking about how she came to realize that perpetuating or reciprocating racism doesn’t help anything.  If you aren’t familiar with this story, you probably shouldn’t be reading this.

Breitbart is a disturbing fool.  This of course is not the first time he’s done something like this, and he’s tried to spin this as him being the victim, then tried to claim the attack was on the response to the story (before the “redemption” part), that it “proves” the NAACP is racist and thus has no business condemning that rather bizarre Tea Party movement in the USA.  None of this actually holds up to scrutiny if you watch the tape, though.  And this ain’t Breitbart’s first “discredited video” rodeo, either.  He does, however, reveal a deluded sense of his own importance, as apparently, and I haven’t see the tape, he claimed his “journalism” was … well, it doesn’t matter what he claimed it was, that isn’t the point.  He’s not a journalist to begin with.  Then he tried to claim he’s “public enemy number one” because of his “journalism”.  Please.  Mr. Breitbart, you’re a piece of shit hack artist that no one of any real importance cares too much about – and I hope you find yourself on the receiving end of a significant lawsuit for the shit you’ve pulled here.

I think I’m just continually staggered that things like this can happen in a country that is supposed to be so advanced as the USA.  The fact that people like Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Sharron Angle, Rand Paul can have any sort of influence on politics like they do just astounds me.  It’s as though on the right at least stupidity is revered as some sort of necessary quality of a politician.  It’s almost as though they think that if they elect the inept that they can’t do much harm.  Unfortunately, we’ve seen that is anything but the case, all you have to do is look at the Lost Decade under Bush – surplus squandered, goodwill squandered, two wars, etc etc.  I think that doesn’t bode well for a country whose trajectory for the last little while has borne some discernable resemblances to the empires of Rome and Britain before they were finished.

Even if Obama, who seems to have gotten more done as POTUS in a year than his predecessors did their whole time in office, is a miracle worker, I often wonder if, as someone on Twitter I saw put it, he just volunteered to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.

The Oil Spill – And The Strange Impacts Thereof

What’s going on right now in the Gulf of Mexico is a disaster.  Not that that’s a particularly insightful statement, but it’s true.  It’s a demostration of the very, very awful things that can go wrong in modern industry.  As much as companies will say that they plan for every imaginable contingency, the Deepwater Horizon disaster is proof that it’s impossible and unrealistic to assume that indeed we can handle anything.

What’s really shocking is that like so many other disasters, it’s been turned into some sort of perverse political football as well.  It shows a lot about conservatives/teabaggers who hate big government, but curiously have been pleading for government intervention.  Probably the funniest example of this was raving lunatic Michelle Bachmann.   Commandeer boats?  That sounds like tyranny to me. 

Then there was the world’s biggest moron, Sarah Palin, posting on her ludicrous Facebook page blaming “liberals” for offshore drilling, and trying to qualify that when she said “drill baby drill” she didn’t mean that.  Again, the media mocked her, and deservedly so.

These same people are the ones calling this “Obama’s Katrina” and demanding he do something about the hemorrhaging wellhead.  I don’t know what these people figure Obama could do.  I think the comparison to Katrina doesn’t work, either.  I got the impression – though I’ve not looked into it as much – that Dubya simply accepted the administrative incompetence of FEMA in dealing with the aftermath of that event.  In this case, the catastrophe is ongoing, but it doesn’t seem that no one is doing anything about it.  I’m sure BP’s engineers are working long hours trying to figure out how to handle the problems.

The laugh is that it all is coming down to these champions of the free market looking like complete hypocrites.  They’re basically calling for socializing the costs of the mess, when they should of course be advocating for BP, TransOcean, Halliburton, Cameron, and any other firms who might be found to have contributed to the disaster to pay up.  If they are bankrupted in the process, so be it.  Of course, they have to get around the ludicrous liability gap that was another great conservative gift to the world.  I hope that can be done easily.

It certainly seems as though BP’s got lots of resources to fire up the PR machine, and I have to say they are doing a pretty good job of messaging on the whole issue, Tony Hayward and his US subordinates have been visible, and it seems to me fairly candid.  I don’t think Hayward is a bad man, nor do I think anyone in the industry is necessarily intentionally a villain.  Accidents always happen, and it seems like BP is trying to come out looking the best they can and hopefully can do this thing right.

This morning, however, the Nova Scotian magazine that I get with my Chronicle-Herald had a small article about the Niger Delta, and the environmental disaster there.  The amount of oil spilled there annual rivals Deepwater Horizon, apparently, never mind that they flare tremendous amounts of gas, and the companies operate with relative impunity. One source suggested that the equivalent of around 40% of Africa’s total volume of natural gas consumed is flared in the Delta annually.  Never mind the needless air pollution this causes, the release of greenhouse gases, etc, that’s natural gas that could be used for proper, necessary consumption.  The trick is that AG (associated gas) is expensive to separate and put into production, it’s cheap to just burn it off and maximize crude oil production instead.

 Most people in the Delta haven’t got access to any uncontaminated water, and suffer ill health as a result of oil production, and get no real benefit of it.  The terrible story of Ken Saro Wiwa is just one example of the problem. 

That’s not the only story of the misery of oil production – virtually everywhere, it’s the same.  Huge pollution problems, suffering amongst the local population, and a curious absence of direct benefits to those who live in the area in production. 

The only real thing I can see as a solution has been the obvious one for many years – we need to start weaning ourselves off of oil.  We need to work harder to find alternatives and making better use of what we have.  The fact that we’ll have to keep going further and further offshore to find and produce more oil and risk repeats of the Deepwater Horizon disaster is the best evidence of that, leaving aside climate change and all the other associated problems.  If we don’t start working at this now, we’re only going to see more problems – and we don’t even see all that are already here.

Another Winner From TwiceRight.

These guys are just geniuses.  I love them.  No other blog seems to make itself so apparently attractive to me with its fill of misinformation and utter nonsense.  I’m sure there are far, far worse out there, but this one, I guess since they followed me on Twitter and I wound up checking out who they were, just draws me in. 

I read the blog mainly to shake my head in sheer shock of how stupid some people are.  It’s kind of like the description of an Army officer in a performance appraisal I read one – “his men would follow him anywhere – but only to see what he’d do next!”  Anyhow, here’s the piece I’m most staggered by.  President Sarkozy claiming that President Obama is insane.  Why, wonders Alex, hasn’t the left media picked up on this?   (As an aside, what’s this “left media” anyhow?).

Well, the short answer is that it’s probably not even remotely true.  Let’s take a look at the source of this claim.  It may look familiar as I’ve blogged about it before.  It’s the “European Union Times”.  If you’re an ignorant right winger it might sound like some sort of newspaper, a legitimate news source about the European Union.  You would, of course, be totally wrong.  This is the blog that also reported in an article titled “Prepare For Rebellion, Obama Orders US-Canadian Troops” that President Obama had asked for and NATO had “authorized an ‘emergency request’ from President Obama to utilize American and Canadian NATO troops to put down what is expected to be a “rebellion” after the expected January, 2010 ‘declaration of bankruptcy’ by the State of California.”  The article goes on to cite reports from major outlets like the Pembroke Daily Observer(!), noting “confirming the mass movement of military supplies and thousands of Canadian Special Forces Troops to California from the Canadian Forces Base of Petawawa to join their American military counterparts”.

These “thousands” weren’t special forces – they were the 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, headed to Fort Irwin to conduct workup training for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.  How 2800 Canadian soldiers, over whom President Obama has no authority, would put down a rebellion that wasn’t actually remotely likely in a state of 30 million or so people is left to the imagination of the reader, who judging by the content of the blog is probably a survivalist white supremacist who’s more than a little paranoid to begin with.  Your clues to this is the “European Pride” links on the blog and the “survival” part.  White supremacists tend to use pride in their “nordic” or “northern European” heritage as a way to soften what they are.

Now, to their credit, the last paragraph of the article concedes the apparently silliness of the very post, when Alex says, “If what the site is saying is true (it’s said some weird stuff in the past)…”  He rants about his hatred of liberals but that’s immaterial to the point I have.  When you realize that your source is probably not even remotely credible, you probably should realize that publishing the entry probably isn’t necessary.  Like the previous post of theirs I attacked, it probably should have just been deleted rather than sent out into the intertubes.

Arguing With Idiots, Indeed

If I ever needed proof of how Americans – right winger ones anyhow – are being dumbed down by the media they choose to follow, I got it today in a couple of shining examples on Twitter.  Started when I discovered @Newfederalists engaged in some manner of debate with another tweeter I follow.  This dude said something pretty ridiculous, can’t remember exactly what, but I responded in a little bit of a chirpy way, as I do from time to time, “Says a man evidently chock-full of right-wing bullshit. Move along now.”

Well, obviously, he didn’t move along.  And the exchange just went from there.   And it was just pretty pathetic.  The whole thing was about the rather asinine beliefs that so many right wing nutjobs have about political ideologies.  What I have never really gotten is how these folks like to label Barack Obama as a socialist, Marxist, and Nazi all at the same time.  I frequently like to point out that contrary to the bullshit spewed by their sources, Nazism is not related to socialism at all, that it’s most closely related to fascism and is considered by virtually all scholars, theorists, historians, basically everyone of any intellectual capacity to have been a extreme right wing movement.  Like fascism, though, it is syncretic – drawing from across the spectrum.  In fact, Nazism and fascism to me are pretty good illustrations of why the simplistic ideas of a simple bi-polar linear spectrum don’t really work.

The crux of their argument is the most incredible logical fallacy I’ve ever seen.  The Nazis were actually the Nationalsozialistiche Deutsche Arbeitspartei, or the National Socialist German Workers Party.   The “proof” that their views are left wing, in the view of these uneducated fools, is that the word “socialism” exists in the title.

My favourite counter to this is to point of that by the same logic, North Korea – formally, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, MUST be a democratic republic.  It’s in the name, so it must be correct.  It’s about as logical a statement to make.

I’m not going to rewrite the history of the Nazi Party and their rise to power in Germany.  The “socialist” part of their ideology was a not socialism in the sense that most people in modern times would know – and Hitler detested the concept of it.  The infamous “Night Of The Long Knives” was actually a coup against the SA faction of the party, getting rid of the social issues interests of the party, consolidating Adolf Hitler’s power, and launching Nazism as we know it today.

Alright, alright, I said I wasn’t going to take you into the Third Reich.  Suffice it to say that any reasonable assessment would not at all conflate Nazism with socialism, much less with Marxism, an ideology intensely hated by the Nazis.  The whole discussion, ultimately, in the context of American politics, is ridiculous.  The most extreme interpretations of the platform of Barack Obama would probably fit into right edge of the social democrat/Third Way model, though I’m not totally sure about that.  I could dive into that more, but I again can’t be bothered.

What really got me as we progressed were brilliant tweets from both @Newfederalists, and then the next person to come into the mix, the similarly brilliant @mach1broker.  I couldn’t believe what I saw these people say, it’s so stunning.  It’s like they’re revelling in their own ignorance, almost like they’re bragging about their unwillingness to actually get more information, to go read, study, ask question.  It makes no sense to me.  None at all.

This is the kind of shit my American cousins are going to have to put up with for the next little while.  A pack of vile, ignorant right wingers who’ve suddenly decided to become politically aware – without actually investing any time in learning what they’re so passionate about.  It’s shocking to see this sort of thing.

And the power of this sort of ignorance and idiocy becomes pretty clear when you start to see things like what was shared with me today – about those crazy bastards in Michigan.  Apparently, one of them was primarily motivated in her hatred of President Obama based on a bullshit Facebook rumour.  You simply cannot make shit like this up.

When I read stuff like this, when I see what influences these people, the bullshit they subscribe to, I just feel a lot better that these people are the minority, and will likely never amount to anything – and the more extreme, ignorant, and stupid they sound, the more likely they’ll wind up more on the fringes.

The First Steps In Reform Getting Closer!

I’ve spent probably far too long today watching the House of Representatives debate on the Senate bill.  During the last two days it seemed that the Democrats were getting closer and closer to the 216 votes that are needed to pass the bill.  I think CNN reported it fairly early today, probably before I went grocery shopping actually.  (That, incidentally, was my one “accomplishment” today), everything else was a write-off).

I find the whole Stupak/pro-life nonsense a little baffling, but that’s probably at least in part the Canadian in me that sees no point in that debate.  It’s just basically over within Canada, only the nutty extreme right wing still goes on about it, and the rest of us just see that there’s better things for our politicians to worry about.  Just listening to the baffling bullshit that is spewed by these people astounds me, but fortunately they’ve been gotten on side by the executive order promised.  I don’t see any issue with that concession either, really, as long as it doesn’t restrict access to abortion overall.  Whether it will or not isn’t something I’m in much of a position to assess, it’s not something I know much about.  Ultimately, as well, it’s a minor issue in comparison to the accomplishment of getting this bill passed.

Now it’s winding down, the Republicans are blustering away with the same bullshit ranging from innocuous whining to ridiculous blusters about “totalitarianism” and “socialism”.  I’ve got a laugh from the fact that some lobby group is running ads on CNN still that prattle about the “Deem & Pass” concept that has long since been dropped.

It’ll be interesting to see the response from the right.  It’ll be hilarious, I suspect.  They’ll whine and bitch, and before long, they’ll accept the fact that the bill makes things better – though not perfect.

Trying to clarify some issues for people…

I made the mistake, apparently, of trying to explain why allowing the sale of health insurance across state lines in the United States isn’t likely to fix the US healthcare mess.  I have never, ever met someone quite as ignorant as this guy, quite honestly.  I mean, this man just doesn’t get it.  Doesn’t understand that insurance markets do not operate like garden variety markets for good and services.  So I decided to try, via Twitter, to give the guy a crash course in insurance and basic healthcare economics.

So I started out by trying to explain the concept of adverse selection.   In simplistic terms, adverse selection is a market failure that comes from the way pricing works in insurance works.  A decision to buy insurance weighs one’s perception of the potential cost of the insured risk against the cost of the insurance.  Insurers set their prices based on statistical models on covering their potential losses .  They try very hard to determine how much of a risk any particular insured peril is.  Consider, then, a market for insurance – a community.  Insurers will have an idea of how much on average their healthcare will cost in any given year, and base their premiums on that sort of a model (I’m grievously simplifying, but just to illustrate the concept!)

Now, suppose in our market, some people smoke and some don’t.  The cost for care for those that smoke will likely be higher.  What could happen is that the price of the insurance will reflect this, and those people who don’t smoke might therefore assess the value of the insurance not to be worth the cost.  They might then decide not to buy insurance – or what could happen is another entrant to the market might show up, and offer insurance just to those non-smoking people for a lower cost.  For our original insurer, they have a problem – their average cost is going to rise because the best risks are no longer in their risk pool.  This can cause a vicious circle whereby only the higher risks remain in the pool and costs soar.

Something similar to this is what caused the end of the community rating system that was originally used by the Blue Cross/Blue Shield system in the United States – new entrants cherrypicked out the best risks and drove costs up. 

So, what’s this got to do with the cross state line idea?  Well, let me try to explain.

The savings would most likely come from differences in what’s required to be covered in various states in the the US.  Different states mandate different conditions be covered in different jurisdictions.  Ultimately, you’ll get cheaper insurance, because you’ll get covered for less.  The buyer essentially gets exactly what they pay for, after all.

Remember what I said about cherrypicking?  Well, suppose you’re in a state with relatively lax mandates.  You can offer very cheap coverage to young, healthy people for the simple reason that you don’t have to cover much and the risk to you as an insurer is low.  Your clients are generally healthy and you can fairly accurately model their risks for the relatively few perils you cover.  That’s great for young, healthy people who don’t see a need to carry much insurance.  However, if you’re older, or sicker, or considered a higher risk, you’ll see your costs likely soar, because those healthy folks are being poached out of the overall risk pool.  That’s a lot of people who’ll see their costs rise, potentially.

What about those savings?  Well, consider that in 2005 the US Congressional Budget Office studied that.  What’d they find?  Well, here’s the study: http://www.cbo.gov/doc.cfm?index=6639&type=0  Take a look at the fifth paragraph.  Here’s what it says:

“In general, health insurance that includes coverage of mandated benefits will cost more than it would if those benefits were not required. In aggregate, this estimate assumes that if only those benefit mandates imposed by the states with the lowest-cost mandates were in effect in all states, the price of individual health insurance would be reduced by about 5 percent, on average.”

Five percent.   That’s it.  Five percent.  Some magic bullet that is.

There’s another great argument for why it won’t work.  I’d go on about it, but it’s done better on another blog: http://healthpolicyandmarket.blogspot.com/2009/12/selling-health-insurance-across-state.html  Summarizing, insurers get their cost efficiencies from the networks they establish in their markets.  Without those networks, there’s not likely to be much cost advantage.  I’ve got no personal experience with this “in-network” nonsense, every single healthcare provider in Canada is my network, at least as far as my provincial medical insurance goes.  So you might by that cheap cheap policy from another state, but where will you be able to get the service?

Basically, I’m not going to write a dissertation on the subject, but I could.  The aim of this posting is to highlight the fact that insurance markets aren’t so simple as to suggest that this approach will actually address the problem.  The reader needs to go and do their own research, and maybe if I get the inclination I’ll flesh out more of this.