Stephane Dion’s Carbon Tax

Stephane Dion’s carbon tax proposals may well be the most sensible policy yet proposed on the issue of the environment– but are voters sophisticated enough to accept that there is a need for structural change in our economy to reflect the new realities of global energy use? Are they smart enough to not think they can continue to live in a world of cheap oil when China and India are both increasing demand at astounding rates?

One anchor asked the reporter in the field, “and how are we going to get those gasoline prices to go down again”. Amazing. Absolutely amazing. Even people who should know better can be heard muttering about bad timing– gas prices are already up to record levels and here he wants to raises taxes on it.

What is happening is this. Gas prices are going up because expected consumption exceeds supply. It sounds like most people want to increase consumption (by lowering prices), which, of course, will reduce supply even faster, which, of course, will inevitably result in even higher prices.

Dion’s proposals actually shift the tax burden so that consumers are rewarded for reducing consumption and for using alternative fuels. Even better– it rewards clean energies and punishes energy consumption that contributes to climate change. You’ll notice that this took more than one “quip” to explain. That might– sigh– means it’s doomed as a political move.

“No new taxes” sounds much more appealing on your doorstep or in a 30-second radio ad.

Obama’s Next Compromise

Barack Obama supported and voted in favor of the recent wiretapping bill that grants immunity to telephone companies that cooperated with the Administration’s illegal requests for wiretaps on Americans receiving or making foreign telephone calls.

The so-called liberal media has completely dropped the ball on this one. Why is this not a scandal? George Bush refuses to admit that his Administration acted illegally when they requested the wiretaps. He continues to assert that the requests were legal. If they were legal, there is no need for immunity. The courts, as is their role in a constitutional democracy, have the authority and right to decide the lawsuits filed by plaintiffs against those Telcos. This law circumvents the constitution by providing retroactive immunity for crimes the government refuses to admit were crimes. This is insane. This is impeachable. This is obscene.

This is an out and out betrayal of all the bullshit platitudes about constitutions and freedoms and due process that America constantly foists on the world as justification for all the lives lost in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Barack Obama also supports the ethanol industry in its Disney-esque fantasy of replacing foreign oil with domestic plants. Everyone can already see what the results of this policy will be: oil will continue to cost more, and ethanol will have an absolutely negligible impact on domestic consumption while driving up food prices in the poorest parts of the globe. Even worse, Obama does not support dropping tariffs on imported Brazilian sugarcane ethanol which at least provides a far better return on the energy conversion (8-1, vs. ethanol’s 2-1). Why?

Because Iowa.

Because he wants the support of the Midwestern farmers who stand to benefit enormously from the ridiculous government subsidy of ethanol prices.

Put it this way: the oil industry is not worried about ethanol.

Think about that a lot. Think carefully about it: the oil industry LOVES ethanol. The oil industry’s stooges in the White House are pushing ethanol enthusiastically. The oil industry’s stooges in the White House have, so far, successfully torpedoed a bill that continues giving tax incentives to other alternative forms of energy like wind and solar power.

For those who think Obama will bring a sprig of fresh ideas to the White House, these two issues are bad omens. The first is a classic political compromise, an opportunistic sell-out to the enduring Democrat fear that they won’t appear to be tough enough to take on all those zillions of terrorists out there blowing up buildings in Des Moines, Iowa, or Cedar Rapids, or Flint, or Greensboro, and so on. Oh my God– we can’t let them think that John McCain will be more willing to undermine the constitution than we are!

The second is the classic trade-off of special interests against the genuine interests of the American people. There are numerous lobbyists or other agents associated with the ethanol industry working with Obama’s campaign. That’s disappointing.

The optimist hopes that Obama is making these compromises to get into office, so that once he gets into office he can resume his principled leadership and persuade Americans to support the right course of action. I tend to think it is more likely that once he gets into office, he will make the same compromises that most politicians usually make and things will not be so different after all.

It’s all relative. So we have here the shocking realization that Obama is human after all, and capable of making the same kind of moral and ethical compromises that most politicians make… it is still probable that the election of Obama will improve the U.S. government by a huge margin for the simple reason that we are more likely to have competent people in charge of government policy for the first time in 8 years.

Just how perverted is this generation of voters? McCain feels no need to hide the fact that he would allow the CIA to continue to use torture. TORTURE. On human beings. As if we were not morally superior to terrorists and murderers and torturers.

No candidate in this coming election– wait, is Ralph Nader running?– has proposed to return the U.S. to democratic constitutional greatness and honor and decency. There are no Christian candidates in this election. There is no god in this election.

Torturing the New York Times: Why, in this article, does the New York Times– supposed bastion of liberal dissent– refer to torture as “enhanced interrogation techniques”. Who the hell told them to use this phrase instead of the word “torture”? Is this because they are giving McCain and Bush the benefit of the doubt? Well, it might not be torture, after all? It might be the euphemism? Geez, where are the real liberals when you want one!

Highly Symbolic Rituals by Shrunken Men

“The awards ceremony is a highly symbolic ritual, acknowledged as such by all athletes and other participants,” the IOC said. “Any disruption by any athlete, in particular a medalist, is in itself an insult to the other athletes and to the Olympic movement. It is also contrary to the spirit of fair play.” CBC, August 18, 2008

All this in connection with a Swedish wrestler who was angry about the officiating at his bout. He threw his medal to the floor.

Officials seized the medal.

The hilarious part is “highly symbolic ritual”.  A ritual is a symbol.  So they are telling you its a “symbolic symbol”.

What they mean is, you will publicly respect us to convince the public that we are not–as we appear–a gaggle of grasping privileged insiders using our positions for gratuitous personal reward.

And if you don’t we will punish you.

You thought the award was for your performance? You mad dog! The award is for us! By giving you an award we declare ourselves to be superior and powerful and beautiful because you had the privilege of receiving our blessings.

And that is why the medals are no presented by wonderful athletes of great historical accomplishments- -but by these shrunken little functionaries who move the money around or suck up to the politicians and dictators who rule the Olympics.

I’ve been watching the Olympics for about 40 years now and I never noticed any coherent symbolism to any of the ridiculous rituals that are part of the ego-fest. I suppose they mean something like “the flame symbolizes the passion of the athletes in their desire to achieve” or the way politicians burn through money erecting this monuments to their own egos while their own citizens starve, or, in China’s case, live in tents while their earthquake-ravaged villages fester hopelessly and all dissent is brutally quashed.

Bush Pardons

You undoubtedly remember vividly the apoplectic outrage of conservative commentators when Bill Clinton issued his list of pardons just before leaving office. That outrage, of course, is reserved only for occasions on which the Democrats appear to be doing what the Republicans think the Democrats would do if they had the ethics of Republicans.

I might be wrong, but I believe we are about to see George Bush make Bill Clinton look like a piker when it comes to pardons. I’ll even stick my neck out and predict it: George Bush is going to have to issue a large number of pardons… for people who will not admit to having committed any crimes.

The problem is this: Barack Obama wins the election. Do you think Obama will interpret the constitution to mean that the President of the United States can make torture legal by commanding his minions to torture?

Maybe he will. Or maybe he will feel the same way that most civilized western leaders have felt for 100 years: that the use of torture is repugnant to the fundamental principles of human rights. Okay. So what do all the torturers in the CIA do? Quietly quit their jobs and move to Switzerland or Argentina? Apologize? I’m really, very, very sorry that I tortured you– I had thought it was legal. And resort to the standard “I was only following orders” defense?

I suspect that an understanding might be reached, that would see the federal government under the new administration not ask any embarrassing questions, provided that the violations of fundamental human rights comes to a quick stop. But what if any of the victims are put on trial? What if their lawyers challenge the validity of evidence obtained against their clients because it was adduced under torture? Sticky wicket, isn’t it? What if they call in the FBI witnesses who objected to what they termed “rough treatment” of suspects by their colleagues in the CIA and Defense Department?

Bush is going to have perform that goofy voodoo thing wherein you forgive people for crimes you claim they haven’t committed. He tried to do a similar thing by getting Congress to grant immunity to corporations that he swears were merely obeying the law when they allowed the government to spy on individuals in the U.S. without warrants. If they were obeying the law, why do they need immunity? This kind of hypocritical bullshit should not be allowed to pass: why will anyone need a pardon if, as Bush says, everything they did was legal?

Congress should make a simple demand– it should insist that no one can be pardoned unless they have committed a crime. So Mr. Bush may only pardon torturers if they admit they illegally tortured people. And then we may turn to the President and impeach him in the hour before he leaves office.

By golly– George Bush really does understand the constitution. He just willingly shits on it.


2011-03 I was wrong. George Bush — much to Cheney’s displeasure, apparently– refused to pardon anybody, not even Scooter Libby.

Yes, I do think more highly of him than I did before. Barack Obama, on the other hand, basically continued the same policies. So, yes, I think much less of him for that. By continuing the policies, of course, he erased the possibility of charging members of the Bush Administration with violating the rights of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. That’s exactly what Bush needed and wanted and I do wonder just how overt this kind of understanding between one President and another is.

Don’t forget Karl! There are strong grounds for suspicion that Karl Rove orchestrated the malicious and false prosecution of Alabama Democratic Governor Don Siegelman. A Republican lawyer has sworn, under oath, that she was told that Rove directed the United States attorney for Montgomery to undertake proceedings against Siegelman though there was no real evidence of any crime.  For a political operative to instigate such an investigation is a felony.

Congress has subpoenaed Rove but he refuses to testify. How on earth can he get away with that? The Attorney General is ultimately responsible for enforcing the law. George Bush appoints the Attorney General. There you go.

We need to start a campaign now to head off the inevitable. The campaign should focus on the demand that no pardons should be issued by President Bush for anyone who has not publicly admitted that they have committed the crimes for which they are being pardoned. (It’s probably too much to ask that they actually be charged with those crimes and put on trial.) It’s simple: no confession, no pardon. So all those intelligence agents who tortured and generals who lied and secretaries of state who lied and phone companies who allowed the government to eavesdrop on conversations without a warrant and so on and so on should have to line up on television and takes turns telling us exactly what they did that requires a pardon. It would be the ultimate reality show, and it would be GREAT for the country. These are the sonsofbitches who have been running your country for the past eight years. What do you think?

But I was only following orders!

Right. America supported the findings of the Nuremburg judges that the “following orders” defense does not exculpate actions that a reasonable person would perceive to be illegal and abhorrent. So Nazi soldiers that participated in atrocities, unless they had good grounds to fear for their lives, were not excused from their sins. The same standard was applied to the William Calley case.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure a judge in the U.S. in today’s political climate would agree with me that anyone participating in the use of torture has no excuse. America is moving backwards, towards barbarism. The idea that torture is “abhorrent” prevails in civilized countries. What is a civilized country?


Nick Cave’s Towering Tower of Song

Unfortunately, I can’t trace the origin of this story, but here it is: Nick Cave was asked to do a cut for the 1991 Cohen Tribute album “I’m Your Fan”. But he didn’t want to. But he loved Leonard Cohen, so he had to.

This is not the same as the more mainstream tribute 1995 album “Tower of Song”, which featured some regrettable and embarrassing choices (Don Henley singing “Everybody Knows”, Elton John butchering “I’m Your Man”, Billy Joel singing “Light as a Breeze”. Now that I mention it– how can any album with a Don Henley cut on it be a tribute to anything?)

Where was I? Oh yes– Nick Cave did not like tribute albums. He thought they were tacky and tasteless and, you know, Don Henleyesque. But he loved Leonard Cohen. So he showed up at the studio and then took his band to a bar across the street and got everybody totally smashed and then came back into the studio and worked up “Tower of Song”. Apparently, he did several versions and the engineers later patched them altogether.

I was not impressed, the first time I heard it. Or the second or third. It was there in the middle of an album that I enjoyed very much, otherwise. And then a funny thing happened. The first I remember of it was this: I began listening for the belch. Yes, about 2/3’s of the way through Nick Cave’s cover of “Tower Song”, he lets go one very loud, ornery, rude belch. Then I began to listen more carefully to this whacked out pastiche of bizarre interpretations– one minute he’s Elvis, the next he’s Hank Williams, then Heavy Metal, then Lou Reed…

It’s really quite charming. It’s simultaneously off-putting and embracing, passionate and excoriating. It’s a throw-back to Cohen himself, in his old “Dress Rehearsal Rag” days. It’s a paean to pure unbridled passion and spirit and despair, and a great party song.

“I’m Your Fan” also features the definitive cover of “Hallelujah”, for my money, but if you liked Rufus Wainwright’s or K.D. Lang’s versions, you might not like this one.

It’s a quiet, humble little performance by John Cale accompanying himself on the piano. Why oh why oh why do so many so-called artists approach this song with the attitude of, “well, let’s see how many people I can blow away with my soaring rendition of this esteemed song!”

It’s not that kind of song. It’s a song that is demeaned and embarrassed by a soaring, virtuoso performance. “It’s not a cry you can hear at night/ it’s not somebody who’s seen the light/ it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah”.

Please, have some respect for the integrity of the song and stuff your fucking ego into the toilet.

Nick Cave and his band “The Bad Seeds” appeared in “Wings of Desire”, an exquisitely beautiful German film by Wim Wenders.

Nick Cave also created and performed one of the most revved up and demented– and hilarious– criminal mind songs ever called “The Curse of Millhaven”, about a young girl that goes on a murder spree, which features these fabulous lines:

Now I got shrinks that will not rest
with their endless Rorschach tests
I keep telling them
I think they’re out to get me
They ask me if I feel remorse
and I answer, “Why of course!
There is so much more
I could have done
if they’d let me!”
So it’s Rorschach and Prozac
and everything is groovy

The Disneyland George W. Bush

Let us all take a moment and celebrate the achievements of George Bush, now that the full moon wanes on his administration and the pardons are readied to be delivered. When George Bush came into office, America was troubled with a vast budget surplus, peace and stability, cheap oil prices, a decreasing crime rate, low unemployment, a functional but deficient social security system, modest but effective environmental regulations, and a split Supreme Court.

After George improved the education system so that America is now– what is it? 21st in the world? And then solved the social security crisis by doing nothing, he eased everyone’s health care concerns by providing elderly Americans with a confusing and expensive drug plan. He open the nation’s forests and wildlife preserves to oil drilling and forestry where-ever he could, and made it easier for America’s manufacturers to sell defective products without consequence, which didn’t stop them from shipping most of those jobs to China. Did I mention the trade deficit?

Or the unimaginable increase in military spending which has succeeded in creating millions of new enemies in Pakistan and Egypt and Saudi Arabia? He did nothing for peace in Palestine but that’s a lost cause anyway. He corrected the crazy perception that most independent scientists believe that humans are causing global warming by arranging an overwhelming number of oil industry employees to say they’re not.

He appointed partisan political hacks to the Justice Department to correct fears most Americans have that the justice system is above partisan politics.

He managed the mortgage crisis so effortlessly that naive observers are still convinced he did nothing. He managed health care so effectively using competition to drive down costs so precipitously that most Americans now claim they don’t need health insurance.

The inevitable George Bush presidential library should have one volume in it, with the title, written in crayon. “How I helped a small number of wealthy Americans become even more wealthy.”

Added December 2008:  How much was Bill Clinton paid? He and Hillary have together collected over $109 million in the eight years since leaving office.  “Pretty good wages, for one little kiss….”

Americans, this is how your government works.

Paying Off George Bush

[2022-05-12: I am leaving this in because I was wrong, and I admit it, and you should know it.  George W. Bush has had a generally honorable post-presidency life, painting, and giving anodyne speeches here and there, and showing up for appropriate ceremonial events.  Of course, the election of Trump, which gave us one of SNL’s better jokes in recent years: the Will Ferrell as Bush going “how do you like me now” has transformed everyone’s appreciation what we now see as a fundamental decency in George W. Bush utterly lacking in the current Republican Party.  It should also be acknowledged that the Clintons were far more avaricious in cashing in the post-presidency boom in speeches and fund-raising events.]

You will not have seen the likes of this before– when George Bush leaves office, he will embark on the greatest orgy of corporate pay offs in the history of Capitalism.

George’s corporate Svengali’s can’t pay him now, of course. That would be unseemly. And illegal, of course. But they are waiting in the wings flush with gratitude for the President who delivered more to them they could even have imagined in their wildest dreams. He gave them tax breaks, deregulation, corporate-friendly judicial appointments. He gave them Alito and Roberts and the ironically titled “Clear Skies” act. He gave them oil and ethanol and mythologized global warming. He gave his friendly military contractors billions and billions of dollars in fat government contracts with embarrassingly little oversight. He gave them everything they asked for.

And now, the reward.

The reward will look like partnerships and speaking engagements for unprecedented amounts of cash– he won’t even really have to move his lips– just show up and smile and cavort. The reward will look like Board appointments and investment opportunities and parties and jets and jewels and medals and awards and statues and presidential libraries in the name of the president who never reads or learns or studies or thinks.

Perhaps Laura, a former librarian, might find something to do at his.

There will be highways and airports and bridges named for the man without the slightest interest in building anything that would benefit anyone except his corporate cronies.


The Naked Army

There are moments, inevitably, when the unblushing face of real American foreign policy–as an extension of commercial corporate dominance– reveals itself. Here it is: the treaty governing future American relations with Iraq, a little document Bush is hoping will tie the hands of future administrations.

The Bush Administration claims that the document is not a “treaty” because a treaty would require congressional approval, which would require a relatively transparent discussion of all of its provisions, which might alert the opposition parties in Iraq to the fact that they are unwillingly surrendering their national sovereignty in exchange for American military protection of a government that could never survive on its own, and would alert Americans to the fact that this quagmire grows ever more gooey.

Oh my– all the screeching conservative voices that swore with wounded dignity that the invasion of Iraq was all about liberation, not about extending American military might into the oil-rich middle east, and — heavens, no!– never, ever about installing and preserving a pro-American government in Baghdad, or intimidating the Iranians. Oh my, no. What a coincidence that, due to instability and those wicked Al Qaeda insurgents, we’ll have to stay for, oh, a decade or so, or at least until the oil runs out.

Where is the coverage of this issue in the media?  Practically non-existent.

As I’m typing away here, the Blue Jays broadcasters are wondering why, oh why, are home runs down this year.

Could it be the cold weather?

Could it be better pitching?


What, oh what could it be?

Hmmmm. No idea.

No mention of the testing for performance enhancing drugs that has kicked in..

Leonard Cohen Live in Kitchener

I remember fondly an era in which I was the only person I knew who was a fan of Leonard Cohen. When I was in college, I personally introduced many of my friends to the dark, brooding pleasures of “Suzanne”, “The Stranger Song”, “Famous Blue Raincoat”, and “Take This Longing”.

Most, quite sensibly, rejected him: “music to slit your wrists by”.

On June 2, 2008, I joined more than 2000 people paying over $100 a seat in Centre in the Square in Kitchener to see “the grocer of despair” on his latest (and last, perhaps) tour. With the exception of “Suzanne”, he didn’t do any of my six or seven favorite songs, which are, without exception, products of his early career, before he became the bard of rueful despair, rather than the bard of exquisite, flaming rage and desire… and despair.

Nothing in this concert suggested the searing heat and mystical vulgarity of his brilliant novel “Beautiful Losers” or the searing heat and mystical vulgarity of “Songs of Love and Hate”.

I have a couple of favorites from his later albums– “First We Take Manhattan” and “Hallelujah” of course. His backup singers, the Webb Sisters, performed a marvelous version of “If it be Your Will”. The band was smoking on “Who By Fire”, the best performance of the night. “I’m Your Man” was fine. But I longed to hear the Cohen I first came to love, and his explorations of the dark links between sensuality and mysticism and despair and grace.

Well, what kind of a sick person “enjoys” listening to this:

There is no comfort in the covens of the witch
Some very clever doctor went and sterilized the bitch
And the only man of energy, yes the revolution’s pride
He trained a hundred women just to kill an unborn child

(Leonard Cohen, “Diamonds in the Mine” from “Songs of Love and Hate”)


And when we fell together all our flesh was like a veil
that I had to draw aside to see
the serpent eat its tail.

And the answer is:  me.

(Leonard Cohen, “Last Year’s Man” from “Songs of Love and Hate”)

Would Mr. Cohen be embarrassed to sing those lines today?

He now sings “give crack and careless sex” instead of “give me crack and anal sex”, so, yes, I think he is.  And to sing them with passion?

It is more embarrassing to hear him wail, unconvincingly, “there is a crack in everything/ that’s how the light gets in”.

Songs I wish he had skipped:

  • Democracy
  • I Tried to Leave You (the joke, of performing this as an encore, is worn out)
  • Anthem (Cohen’s Hallmark Card song; yes, there is a crack in everything, but sometimes there is a light in everything and a crack gets in.)
  • A Thousand Kisses Deep
  • Bird on the Wire (I know this is a fan favorite but even Joe Cocker can’t make it interesting musically).

Songs I wish he had performed

Famous Blue Raincoat
Take This Longing
Chelsea Hotel
Last Year’s Man
Stranger Song

A “Finding” Does not Make it Legal

You might think that torture is actually presently legal in the U.S., given all the efforts by Bush and his Attorney Generals to make it so. And maybe you just don’t care that it is– or you approve– because you are a God-fearing patriotic American and you don’t take bullshit from foreigners– whatever— I don’t care. Jesus loves you, whatever, because you approve of the use of torture, and you really can’t remember or think of or imagine any reason why that would make you less of a human being than, say, believing in witchcraft or astrology. Whatever.

Back to my point: I don’t believe torture is, technically, “legal”. It is, in fact, quite illegal, no matter what Bush says it is. Then why hasn’t anybody been arrested? Who would arrest who? Because Bush is in command of the only apparatus that can enforce the law: the Attorney General’s Office and the FBI (which is accountable to it) and he has ordered it not to.

[added October 22, 2008: if a New York City cop on the beat, for example, stumbled into a group of men treating an individual the way they are, in fact, treating the detainees in Guantanamo, he would surely make an arrest and lay charges.  Nobody would or could excuse the crime with a “finding”.]

If Bush or his Attorney-General issues a “finding” that torture is legal (he calls it “enhanced interrogation techniques” but no court is so stupid as to not see through that), and thereby instructs federal officials to abide by that “finding”, he hasn’t really changed any aspect of the law. What would it take to activate the apparatus on behalf of the courts? Well, how about a new executive who believes in the constitution?

Take for example any prisoner being held currently in Guantanamo, who had previously been tortured, either through rendition, or by CIA officers at locations outside of the U.S. Bush has succeeded in blocking this individuals access to any court with the power to respond to his circumstances with directives that will actually be obeyed by Federal agencies. At the moment, Bush simply ignores any legal motions he doesn’t like and then obfuscates.

Now suppose a new Chief Executive– a new President– instructs the new Attorney General (John Edwards?) to investigate whether anybody involved in the handling of prisoners by American forces or intelligence agencies or proxies has broken the law, or violated the rights of these prisoners.

I think about this a lot. I can imagine that nothing will happen, if the new President turns out to be gutless and decides that he can live with simply stopping any more torture from happening. That’s hard to imagine, however, because the lawyers for all of the prisoners being held by agents of the U.S. Federal Government will be clamoring for due process and habeas corpus and dozens of other constitutional rights we all used to think Americans treasured dearly. And I can’t see this new President doing what Bush did, which is, instructing his staff to find ways around the courts, so we can suppress the rights of these individuals.  [Update: that is, in fact, exactly what Obama did.]

So imagine instead that President Obama (or Clinton) allows the attorney general to investigate and he finds out that there has been some torture going on… and he decides that his interpretation of the constitution is that torture is never allowed.

Just imagine.

[2011-03: of course, it didn’t happen. Odd, but not really surprising now that I think about it. Would a politician who was seriously intent on enforcing the law survive the primary process in the U.S.? I doubt it. ]