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Canada plays host to U.S.-Cuba talks

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This column courtesy of CanadianCrossing.com runs here with complete permission.

“Learning about Cuba, having some food.” — Jeff Spicoli

The United States and Cuba wanted to get together and talk about normalizing relations. But the leaders of the countries were concerned about meeting in each other’s country. So they needed a secret tree clubhouse where they could comfortably meet without people finding out.

So they picked Canada.

Canada hosted about seven secret meetings from June 2013 and November 2014 in Ottawa (6) and Toronto (1).

“Canada was pleased to host the senior officials from the United States and Cuba, which permitted them the discretion required to carry out these important talks,” Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper played down Canada’s contribution, pointing out in an interview that Canada did not mediate or direct the talks. Given the buildup to Canada’s federal election in 2015, rare these days to hear the prime minister be so humble.

We learned about the secret meetings when U.S. President Barack Obama announced that his country would normalize relations with Cuba.

“I think it’s very clear that the Liberal Party and Canadians in general have had very positive friendships with both the United States and with Cuba, and to see the welcome steps of building ties between the two countries appear today is a very good piece of news,” Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau said in Vancouver. “I look forward to Canada playing a positive role in bringing together those two countries.”

“Today is a great day for those who believe in engagement as the most effective tool of diplomacy. We should see more of this constructive approach in Canadian foreign policy,” NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said.

Canada was one of only 2 countries from the hemisphere not to break diplomatic relations with Cuba. The trade and travel advantage that Canada had in the hemisphere is about to disappear.

Travel restrictions will be lifted to travel to Cuba from the United States.

Licensed American travelers to Cuba can bring back up to $400 in Cuban goods, including tobacco and alcohol under $100. As for importing Cuban cigars, we still need to learn more information. Short term, Canada will be a great source for Cuban cigars. Why fly to Havana when you pick up some cigars in Toronto.

Again, we’ll have more when those rules are more clear about Cuban cigars. The economic embargo is under the lid of Congress. Given that the GOP controls both houses, the embargo will likely stay until at least 2017.

Canada has had a traditional role of peacemaker, a country that could be trusted to solve world problems in a low-key manner. This is a great example of where Canada has been, which is why you saw the NDP and Liberals as pleased if not more than Stephen Harper.

This act of diplomacy should be a talking point in next year’s debates leading up to the 2015 federal election. This should be an example of where Canada should be on the world stage.

Glad to see Canada play a role in a significant diplomatic mission in the Western Hemisphere. The impact on Canada, United States, and Cuba will be a delicate path that we will see unwind in the months to come.

Ontario is better destination for jobs thanks to Michigan’s ‘right to work’ status

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Ontario isn’t in the best shape these days. Huge debt, teacher problems, and a premier with a minority government who is still in office but not for long.

Compared to the folks across the border in Michigan, Canada’s most populous province is singing Hallelujahs.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has been signing bills right and right (not left and right) taking away worker rights, access to birth control, overriding voters insistence on getting rid of the takeover-a-city law. Snyder would have signed a bill allowing for guns in schools and day care centers, but the Sandy Hook school shooting made that virtually impossible to do right now.

Snyder was worried about competing for jobs with Indiana. He should have worried about Ontario.

For more on this story, check out this column from our sister blog, CanadianCrossing.com.

Mitt Romney won’t release medical records or tax returns; American voters deserve full disclosure

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If Mitt Romney is elected, he would be the fourth oldest person (Ronald Reagan, William Henry Harrison, James Buchanan) to be inaugurated. The issue of a 68-year-old becoming president was important in 2008 in part because of problems with cancer … and Sarah Palin.

Well, Romney is 65, and many find Paul Ryan more dangerous than Palin. Yes, Romney doesn’t drink, not even caffeine. In previous years, these concerns would be dealt with by releasing medical records. John McCain at 68 released his records somewhat and allowed only limited access. This was better than the standard for Palin, who got away with not releasing her medical records.

Medical records are magically not an issue in the 2012 race. No one seems to know why.

Heck, Romney didn’t want to release his tax returns beyond 2011 and 2012. His 2012 records had him underplaying his charitable contributions so his tax rate seemed somewhat more “normal” but still way under what average Americans pay. The fact that Romney hasn’t released any more (unlike other presidential nominees) does imply that he is hiding something.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tried to force Romney’s bluff. Reid could have looked extremely foolish, except for the fact that Romney never released those returns. The problem is that the MSM and most of the American public forgot that Romney never did release those records. The last media person I saw mention Romney’s tax returns was David Letterman, a late-night talk show host.

We had Donald Trump offer the sitting president of the United States, Barack Obama, to release his college records in exchange for a $5 million charitable contribution. We can’t get tax returns from the GOP nominee and Trump thinks something in college records, which no presidential candidate has had to release, is that valuable.

Trump said he’d be satisfied if Obama did this. No one believes this, not even Trump. While I couldn’t offer $5 million, we certainly could scrape up $10,000 — a typical Romney bet — to get Romney to release his tax returns.

George Romney released a dozen years of tax returns and he wasn’t even the party’s nominee. Like father, not like son.

The voters relied on a local journalist to uncover the DUI conviction of George W. Bush in 2000. Since the revelation came so late, the GOP felt like it was a last-minute trick. If the MSM had done their job, they would have found the DUI long before then.

You might think that DUI convictions, tax returns, medical files, and other personal information isn’t necessary to pick a presidential candidate. You might believe the information is important, but only if your opponent reveals that.

Unfortunately, there is no standard for what gets released and certainly no agreement on a penalty for not revealing information. The previous gentleman’s agreement philosophy has certainly been thrown out by the Republicans.

If Romney gets elected and we find out that he only paid 9% or 2% or really didn’t pay taxes in some or all of those years, we have ourselves to blame. If Paul Ryan has to take the oath of office because Romney had some medical condition and dies, well, we didn’t try hard enough to track this information down.

Past acts can’t guarantee what will happen in the future. But wanting to be president and vice president should lower your desire for privacy. In 2008, we had the candidate who was born in the United States release his long-form birth certificate. The guy who wasn’t born in the U.S. — he got a free pass.

If you want to be leader of the free world, you should let us know a few basic facts. The last thing we should want is a president or vice president who is more concerned about hiding something from the American people.

2012 VP Debate: Joe Biden had to show when Paul Ryan was lyin’

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Somewhere in Alaska, Sarah Palin is pissed.

The former vice presidential candidate is working on a diet and fitness book while Paul Ryan enjoys “credibility” with the establishment. Palin can understandably be confused by a world where she was considered incompetent and Ryan is treated as a candidate not just for vice president but possibly president in 2016.

This isn’t to say that Palin was competent; just that the different between her and Ryan was studying a little bit harder before accepting the VP nominee.

Ryan comes across as smart, but the smartest thing Ryan has done is be better at Sarah Palin on the conservative mantra and in lying.

Palin wasn’t asked terribly hard questions. Charles Gibson and Katie Couric aren’t very good journalists and they weren’t even at their best. The press pounced on her in part because her early answers were so clueless.

Ryan has been at the deception and lying game much longer than Palin and he is much better at it. After all, Ryan dodged any specifics on how the tax cuts will be “revenue neutral” on Fox News — on Fox NEWS.

Since we don’t believe in coincidences, we did notice that the documentary “As Goes Janesville” made its debut on Independent Lens on PBS last week. Not that the documentary makers thought when they started the project that Paul Ryan would be the VP pick, but they sure benefited from his candidacy.

Independent Lens only showed ⅔ of the film. From what we saw, the powers that be in Janesville love putting their eggs in one basket. This was bad enough when the GM plant was the major jobs source. After the plant closed, they were trying the same strategy on a company that wasn’t even sure if they were going to build something. The other depressing point is that they get sucked up into Scott Walker’s union bashing tactics. The Koch brothers sponsored candidate wasn’t about job creation; just blaming the unions that didn’t vote for him. Remember that Walker spared those unions that supported him during the campaign. A politician of principle would have done the same thing to all public unions. Walker didn’t do that.

Mitt Romney was hyperactive and acting like a bully to the moderator in his debate. The MSM gave him love and kisses for that behavior. Joe Biden stood his ground, debating, and the MSM jumps on him for acting like a bully in his debate. Huh?

The MSM always wants a close race and you could feel the pressure on them when Obama was doing well and Romney kept putting his foot in his mouth. The funny part is people talking about the momentum Romney got after the first debate. His momentum was nothing compared to the momentum from the MSM. They went gangbusters on the campaign.

The MSM has always rewarded style over substance. The 2012 campaign has sunk to a new low, which we didn’t think was possible. Whether President Obama likes it or not, he now has to respond to that narrative to keep the MSM at bay. Mitt Romney may not bury Obama, but the MSM will. And the media isn’t on the ballot.

Big Bird did something on Weekend Update that Seth Meyers hasn’t been able to do: make me laugh.

Big Bird came up to defend, as it were, the coverage based on Mitt Romney’s call to defund Big Bird.

Big Bird came across as funny, charming, sincere, honest, and non-political. Though American voters secretly love the infighting that is a campaign, they say they would rather have behavior shown by Big Bird in their candidates. Don’t think Big Bird can run for president; some people are disappointed by that news.

The MSM admonished the Obama campaign for focusing too much on Big Bird. While these debates are filled with wonkish details of tax plans, small items such as Romney’s attack on Big Bird get more attention at the end of the debate. The Obama campaign pointed out an overlooked element in the Republican platform. They focus on deficits when the president is from the Democratic Party, and they are more concerned about ideology than reducing the deficit.

Spending a little money that turns into more money — investment — is something you want to keep in a budget. The small amount of money that goes to the Corporation of Public Broadcasting turns into much more money thanks to sponsors and pledges. And the cuts wouldn’t hurt Big Bird, but instead would shut down PBS stations in smaller markets, many of them in the red states.

Speaking of “Saturday Night Live,” when they were teasing the Thursday night updates, they played a clip of Jason Sudeikis doing an impression of Mitt Romney about the 47%. Yet the show never aired the actual comedy skit. Was censorship, self-imposed or otherwise, the reason why that never aired? After all, SNL has done an overbearing take on Obama, Biden, and the MSNBC team — all liberal targets. Ignoring Romney’s 47% is something even the SNL of 2008 would have failed to do. Airing the clip might be “too late, but in the spirit of fairness (and humor), NBC should still air it. At least, we deserve an explanation.

The MSM spent some time debating the viability of Martha Raddatz as a moderator because President Barack Obama attended Raddatz’s first wedding … in 1991. I discovered this by watching Morning Joe the morning of the debate. The discussion centered around whether Raddatz could be unbiased based on this information.

During the conversation, Joe Scarborough pointed out that if this had happened on the other side that The New York Times would put this on the front page. That fact that he appeared to say this without irony means he conveniently forgot what happened to his network four years ago.

Tom Brokaw was thrust into the spotlight in 2008 after the death of Tim Russert. NBC debated about various inside personnel (Chuck Todd, David Gregory, Keith Olbermann) before letting Brokaw handle duties on an interim basis.

The McCain campaign threatened not to have NBC involved in a debate because of their criticism of the coverage, most notably on MSNBC. Brokaw met with the McCain campaign to convince them to let the network have a debate. Brokaw also later put pressure on NBC to remove Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews as anchors of MSNBC election coverage. The network subsequently demoted Olbermann and Matthews.

Just before the debate that Brokaw moderated, he ended an episode of “Meet the Press” by falsely quoting poll numbers giving McCain an advantage he didn’t have.

Brokaw later was the moderator for the town hall debate in Nashville.

In reporting this story at the time, I remarked on how this would impact Brokaw’s reputation as a newsperson. Then again, his career wasn’t as remarkable as his reputation would lead otherwise.

“Brokaw was the milquetoast anchor of the Big Three in the 1980s and 1990s. Never the great reporter such as Dan Rather nor did he have the curiosity and worldliness of Peter Jennings, Brokaw was always the favorite son of the corporate media. He liked The Greatest Generation and wrote about them. He never stirred the pot, but never did anything great either.”

Steve Schmidt was on the set of “Morning Joe” as they were discussing the Raddatz story. Schmidt is a MSNBC contributor. Given Schmidt’s role in the McCain campaign, he either had some role in those Brokaw conversations or certainly has some idea what happened. Yet we heard nothing.

Scarborough is right in that The New York Times did run the story, though not on the front page. Very few MSM outlets picked up on the story.

Raddatz and Obama were at the same social event 21 years ago. And she was the bride, so she was presumably distracted that day by being the bridge. Brokaw and McCain’s people met about a month before the debate. Even Paul Ryan could figure out which incident shows bias.

Everyone loves freedom, except for Mississippi on abortion

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We celebrated freedom in these United States this week. Freedom in Mississippi is hanging by a legal thread, as the state’s draconian laws that essentially eliminates abortion in the state are temporarily put on hold.

If you needed to get an abortion in Mississippi, you only had one option — in the capital, Jackson — which still meant a significant drive from anywhere else in the state.

The Republicans in Mississippi decided that one abortion provider in its state was one too many, and passed laws making it virtually impossible to perform the medical procedure. Requiring hospital privileges, something that isn’t necessary, was the key point of the Mississippi legislation.

The old stat that gets tossed around is that 85% of all U.S. counties have no abortion services; that statistic hasn’t improved. Roe v. Wade might still be the law of the land, but in many parts of these United States, the Supreme Court decision doesn’t even apply.

Mississippi isn’t surrounded by the most enlightened of states: Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Alabama. Factor in laws that require an overnight stay or limit teenagers from crossing state lines and women in that part of the South really have it rough.

You can get an abortion, especially an early-term abortion, in the United States, but getting that abortion is not as simple as wanting one.

This law, and the other similar laws, hurt sexual freedom in Mississippi and other states, but they also hurt economic freedom. If you can’t use your freedom to plan your family, you can end up with kids when you can’t afford them. Given the low benefits people in Mississippi and surrounding states receive, poor is as poor does.

We have learned throughout American history that even if laws are passed in Washington, often they come to the South and die. Black men had the right to vote thanks to the 15th Amendment, though the South got away with not allowing many blacks to be able to vote for the next 100 years.

Thanks to a judge’s ruling, the lone Mississippi abortion clinic can stay open, though little has been done before this point. One is too few, but still better than none.

Americans are good at talking about the idea of freedoms, but in reality, people aren’t nearly as free as they should be, especially compared to the rest of the First World. The European Union allows its citizens to go freely to live and work in another country; Americans, Canadians and Mexicans don’t have that freedom. Single-payer health care allows Canadians, Europeans, and others to pursue their own dreams without having to be tied down to a job for health insurance.

Poor Americans who are conservative want to keep taxes low on the off-chance that they might someday be rich. But they live in the First World country where that is the least likely to happen. And that was true long before the Great Recession of 2008.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that states cannot pass laws posing substantial obstacles or undue burdens on a woman’s right to an abortion. Having one abortion provider in a state larger than Rhode Island would seem to be an undue burden. having none would definitely be an undue burden.

This isn’t to say that the American dream is an abortion provider on every corner. Reasonable access can be in the eyes of the beholder, though the largest city and capital of a U.S. state should have more than one provider, and political intimidation shouldn’t be used to reduce Americans freedom.

The next step comes July 11 when a federal judge hears from both sides on continuing the temporary injunction. If not, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization will be put out of business and more than just symbolically, Mississippi will become the first state in the country where economic and sexual freedom don’t exist.

Women have to speak up for their vaginas to protect them from political harm

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Vagina.

Long before Michigan state representative Lisa Brown entered the national political landscape, vagina was destined to be the word of 2012. Yes, the “Vagina Monologues” deserves some of that credit for bringing alive what should be a common word, yet little heard in American media and society.

Over 50% of the country has one, most of the rest of us want to find one, and all of us came from one. Yet vagina was a word that just … wasn’t … used.

Sure we use pussy and the c-word and, with apologies to our Canadian readers, beaver. Va-jay-jay is a recent phenomena that was worse than the actual word vagina.

I do enjoy a phrase I heard from the folk/comedy duo of Garfunkel and Oates (both women) who spoke of the “Georgia O’Keefe bouquet.” And I personally like “secret garden.” But I and others in our society should feel just as comfortable to use the clinical term, vagina.

The penis has many great slang terms — dick, cock — to name a couple, but the word penis and its euphemisms are much more commonly used.

Mentioning of lady parts in American society is a recent trend. Women’s lib brought up the idea of burning bras, even if we didn’t always talk about what was inside the bras. Even as much play as breasts have received, people who support raising money for breast cancer research use phrases such as “Save the ta-tas.”

Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield) got banned from speaking on the House floor by Michigan House Republicans. This is what got her silenced:

“I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but no means no.”

Brown was referring specifically to her vagina, and also to vaginas all around.

This was too much for Rep. Mike Callton (R-Nashville), a chiropractor with a biology degree, who said that what Brown said was “so offensive, I don’t even want to say it in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company.”

Afraid to say to women about something that they all have … in 2012.

The embarrassment that these men feel at the use of such word would be slightly amusing at a party. But the Michigan Republicans were jumping on the bandwagon of passing draconian legislation to interfere in health care decisions made by women about their vaginas.

The war on women has been about abortion and reproductive rights, but also laws that treat women as second-class citizens incapable of making decisions about their own bodies. Part of that war has been to make it difficult for women to talk about their private parts.

Clitoris, uterus, ovaries, vagina. Not being able to say these words, not being able to talk about what potential legislation will do to these body parts, this is where women lose the power. Being able to say breasts, nipples, areolas, vaginal wall. This is where power comes into the discussion.

Men talk about their penises and scrotums with pride and vigor. Women need to own what they have and be proud of what they bring to the table. Their vaginas are being put into danger by these legislatures run mostly by men. While some men are rising up to support vaginas, women have to rally to support their own body parts, and protect them from undue government interference.

If these representatives can’t say vagina, then they shouldn’t be messing around with them. And there’s a word for people who behave this way: they are dic, er, penises.

U.S. protesters can learn lessons from Quebec student protesters

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I covered the NATO protests in Chicago with an eye to what was going on in Montréal. The MSM has its way of delegitimizing protesters, whether they be against the Iraq War or NATO or the Afghanistan War or any other action that has fallen into the status quo. The local coverage in Chicago was particular nauseating since journalists went out of their way to critique their signs and how they didn’t conform to the same message.

The fact that the signs were against action taken by NATO, current and future, and that taxpayer money going to war could be better spent on domestic problems — all that escaped the mindset on the TV screen.

Such trivial nonsense wasn’t found in the ongoing coverage of the student protesters in Montréal. The coverage, in English, at least was mostly shallow and worried more about how the protesters upset tourists and summer highlights, including the Canadian Grand Prix, the Montréal Comedy Festival, and the Montréal Jazz Festival.

As for the French coverage, from what I have been told, the slant depended on which source you read. But they didn’t belittle the protesters for “inconsistencies.”

Can American protesters learn lessons from the student protesters in Montréal? Absolutely. Even if American protesters follow every lesson, will the MSM give their cries the same legitimacy as it treated the teabaggers? No. But the coverage of U.S. protesters will improve because much of the ammunition against them will be detonated.

Uniformity of message: The student protesters were chanting the same thing. The rhythm of wooden spoons hitting pots snd pans was catchy and I heard it long after they weren’t around. Not that the teabaggers had consistency, but the MSM usually loves consistency in a message.

Age diversification: When the protesters were mostly students, the cries were that they were young, or spoiled, or didn’t understand the world. When the Quebec government passed Bill 78, making it more difficult for students (or anyone) to protest, people outside the student realm started marching along with the students. Having people of different ages march together shouldn’t give a protest more legitimacy, but the media coverage did soften.

Keep the protest going: NATO had a limited shelf life of 4 days, counting the G8 summit that was supposed to be in Chicago. When you have a limited amount of time, you have to cram in more than you should. And Chicago pressured businesses to keep their employees out of the Loop on Friday and Monday. The student protesters in Montréal have been going longer than 100 days with a consistent message.

Incorporate symbolism in your protest gestures: I heard the terms “le casserole” and the banging of the pots and pans, but didn’t understand the symbolism. Fortunately, I had bilingual people explain this to me during my stay in Montréal, so hopefully this won’t get lost in translation.

Loi is French for law; l’oie is French for goose. The pots and pans are to cook the special goose — the special law. Le casserole is French for saucepan, though that might have been obvious.

Give people a chance to support you without protesting: Too often, we hear the MSM cries implying that only those people out in a protest care about the issue. In Montréal, people wore the carre rouge — red square — to support the protesters. Often, those who were protesting at night wore them during the day. But the streets were filled with people wearing the carre rouge who weren’t visibly protesting.

I saw a tall guy with a Army buzzcut in a 3-piece suit riding one of the rented bikes you see throughout Montréal through a street in the Little Italy neighborhood, and he was wearing a red square of support. I couldn’t react fast enough to take a picture nor to ask him about it.

I was told some people wore green squares (against the protesters) and white squares (neutral in the debate). For what it was worth, I didn’t see a green square or a white square in my 6 days in Quebec’s largest city. But when you can get people against you and for you to wear a symbol of support, you have passion in a movement that has been missing on the American side of the border.

The good news for the students is that government was willing to listen and make change. Early on, the Jean Charest government (province of Quebec) changed its stance to spread out the tuition increase from 5 years to 7 years. The students have had enough power to get more done, but negotiations haven’t gone well. The problem, and this isn’t the students’ fault, is that the fight is about the tuition hikes AND Bill 78. The special law is only temporary, and hasn’t been fully implemented (in part because the police weren’t sure how to do so, and it became virtually impossible to enforce).

At some point to any protest, both sides need a conclusion they can live with. Bill 78 could easily die if the students stop protesting, but the students won’t stop protesting until Bill 78 is removed. As for the tuition hikes, the hikes might go through with a lot more concessions from the Charest government. When protests go on for too long, public support can easily slip. The parties involved don’t always know when is the best time. In this case, thanks to the students’ consistency and passion, they have more power than those who have protested on the American side of the border. The question is how will the students use that power to get concessions. That is a lesson we are still learning.