Monday, December 31, 2007

Clinton's "vision" thing

End of the year. All I can say is we can only hope 2008 will be a better one although given the events of the last few days, it probably won't be.

To conclude 2007, here's a link to a blog post from freelance journalist Alexandra Kitty about what she perceives -- and I do too -- one of Hillary Clinton's problems; the fact she seems to believe she's entitled to be President, while lacking a vision for it. Alexandra also has some choice words for Peggy Noonan who tries to say the same thing but in a rather ineffectual way.

We may be entitled to our entitlements, but public office isn't one of them. One has to earn that privilege, through the consent of the people. Personally, I hope John Edwards gets the Democratic nom, although his chances of winning it are slim despite his recent ground surge in Iowa. And while I think Clinton is in for the duration, I think even she's smart enough to make sure she has enough of her war-chest saved up for the 2012 Senatorial and Presidential races. She doesn't have to return the money to her contributors, after all. They're not tax deductible; and it's called the grandfather loophole.

Another thing: Clinton has to stop saying phrases like, "This is no time for on the job training." Dubya pulled that stunt in 2004 against John Kerry. No one's going to get fooled again by that one. And seriously ... does anyone believe Bubba when he says he's going to have no role if his wife is elected? This from the same guy who once said, "Two for the price of one?"

Iowa is in just four days time. I think it could be a long night ... and the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning depending on your point of view. Of what, that I don't know.

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Beijing: Same old city, even worse pollution

When the evildoers from Beijing put forward their successful bid for the 2008 Olympics, their campaign slogan was "New City, Great Games." Looks like they only got one of those four words right -- Games.

Because if the NYT and other media sources can be believed, Beijing is no different. Not only is the government there far more repressive than ever, and even financially backing even worse dictators in North Korea, Burma and Sudan; but because the capital is verifiably one of the most polluted cities in the world.

Forget the "green games." Sure, they've used recycled materials to build their stadia. So what? 1200 new cars are added to the traffic gridlock every day -- in the same city that was famous for nearly everyone getting around on their bicycles. And "clean coal"? They just burn it in even greater amounts than the "dirty" kind.

Bottom line: The city had 120 smog alerts this year. And even many of the so-called "Blue Skies" days had particulate levels far above what most Western countries would consider safe. How many smog alerts did Los Angeles have, by comparison? Maybe a half dozen at most. It's bad compared to the rest of America (with the exception of Houston which has no standards at all), but I can't remember the last time the Southland was covered in pea soup which is an almost daily occurence You Know Where.

And what are the implications, competition wise? Well, we know how the East Germans cheated Canadians out of gold medals in Montréal, only years after the fact. There's no doubt the strict training regimen the Butchers of Tienanmen Square have imposed on its athletes, includes not only mountain training so they can whiz through at near sea level but also day training through smog alerts.

Many Olympic Committees around the world are sounding the alarm over how the pollution in the city will affect their competitors. I'd be more worried about a near complete Red sweep because of the unfair advantage. That, and the continuing insistence of some Western governments that China and other so-called "developing" countries remain exempt from Kyoto et sequens.

In the present instance, the old expression "Better dead than Red" is entirely appropriate. It's way too much to hope for a grass-roots revolution to end Communism once and for all in the short-term, although one must still pray that will happen. But for the present, Beijing has only eight months to clean up its act; at least in the air. If they don't, we should consider trade sanctions to get them into compliance with the norms practiced by businesses in most of the rest of the world.

And of course, they have to get rid of the lead in their toys that winds up in the air anyway. It's simply a matter of fairness.

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Friday, December 28, 2007

Moe: "We have to stop the illegal immigants from ... uh, Haiti"

Yet another piece of the migration puzzle that Lou Dobbs doesn't want to talk about, but it's an important one -- not the south to north migration he and other nativists rail against; but "south to south": moving from one extremely impoverished country to another that is poor as we in the West understand the term but still significantly much better off than the donor country.

Today's NYT has an article about the illegal immigration problem faced by -- the Dominican Republic, and the thousands of Haitians who have crossed the porous border mainly because average incomes are six times higher. This is a common occurrence throughout Central America, Africa, South Asia.

It's not just the recipient country having to take in all those workers who usually just want a better life and to send some money back home; while the "new home" country also has to adjust its social welfare policies. It's the potential security implications. I don't think Latin America is going to be a threat to the US anytime soon. And let's face it, since the modern term "political refugee" was created, more than 50 million have found new homes -- permanent homes. My father was one of them.

But there are 150 million or more economic refugees, split about 60-40 between developed and developing countries who take them in. That kind of mass out migration to countries that can't cope -- unlike the US and Canada -- is the real danger. Not necessarily illegals who come to the rich ones.

Many of us are familiar with the slide from Al Gore's Oscar-winning documentary / slide show that shows the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic; the mass deforestation in the former, the relatively responsible policies in the latter. With increasing social pressures caused by this migration issue also comes environmental concerns which in many cases leads to ... terrorism. Or an attempt to install governments more corrupt and less democratic than the present ones.

Yesterday's murder of Benazir Bhutto puts that into even greater focus. Things are tough in Pakistan but they're even worse in Afghanistan economically. And just hours before she was shot, Bhutto vowed to do what Musharraf could or would not -- secure the border. Against terrorists openly; but also to deal with illegal immigrants as well who are taking advantage of the perceived greater opportunities.

As always, there has to be compassion for those who are economically distressed. Of course, we have to deal with what is, but we also have to deal with the source issue. It's not just one or the other.

The States could have a role in trying to lead a global answer in solving this issue and creating grass-roots development programs that actually work, rather than throwing good money after bad. But as long as it remains impotent to solving its own problems and caving in to those special interests who want to deport or isolate the unwanted within, it will have no moral authority to act to help the unwanted outside.

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bhutto dead

It was quite a shock this morning to hear that Benazir Bhutto, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, was assassinated; although to be honest I had this awful feeling it was coming. Crook she may have been, but she was perhaps the last best hope to bring her divided country together.

Some of my co-workers suspect that Musharraf was behind this. I have a feeling they're quite right. Nothing is more threatening to the powerful than the voice of the powerless. In the present instance, the stakes are that much higher not just because of the al-Qaeda presence in Pakistan but also the fact that it, like India, has nuclear weapons.

Tonight, even the true believers must ask at what price has Bush's unfailing support for Musharraf has exacted; and why he took so long to insist that democracy had to be restored. I don't think most Americans agreed to go to Afghanistan just so they could prop up a dictator or to create even more instability. Nor do I think they agreed to yet another excuse to impinge on fundamental freedoms.

Yet that's exactly what we're going to get in the coming weeks and months. Hopefully in the confusion that reigns, Osama Bin Laden is finally caught and killed.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Giants, Patriots -- on TWO networks

Now this is very interesting. For the first time since Super Bowl I, not just one but two US networks will broadcast what could be the biggest NFL game this year: Giants v. Patriots. The stakes couldn't be higher: The Pats are attempting to become the first team in 35 years to have a perfect regular season.

This rather remarkable turn occured when someone realized that the NFL Network is only available on cable and satellite -- and only to half those who actually get cable or satellite. And that network was supposed to have the rights to the game. Another hang-up was that because of domestic exclusivity rules, people in Rhode Island and other parts of New England would have been blacked out all together unless they subscribed to the Sunday Ticket Package.

So, instead, CBS and NBC will simulcast the NFL Net's feed Saturday night, and insert their own commercials.

This one game has the potential of having a bigger audience than the Super Bowl itself. It may even get people to tune out of Hockey Night here in Canada; and I hope many do, hockey isn't the only thing in the world. The game'd better live up to the hype. Otherwise, people are going to be really pissed that two networks pre-empted their schedule for this, let alone the anger that already exists over the writers' strike.

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The Castro problem, continued

It's good to be back.

During the weekend, it was announced -- not to much anyone's surprise -- that Fidel Castro would run again for his Parliamentary seat. Technically, he needs to do that in order to qualify to serve another term as El Presidente. So Castro isn't going away any time soon.

It never ceases to amaze me that the Cuban American lobby -- and I stress lobby, because it definitely doesn't represent all Cuban Americans, some of whom want to open up a dialogue with Castro -- but this lobby have been saying all along that they want Cuba to be a democracy. Nonsense. They just want to replace a Soviet style lackey with an American one and make Cuba an American client state again with a US backed dictator, à la Fulgencio Batista.

And whether America wants to admit it or not, that is the official policy of the State Department. To them democracy isn't about a free and fair vote as we understand the expression. It's freedom only as long as other countries vote the way Americans want them too. Especially if the people in that country -- the majority or a significant minority -- isn't white. And it explains why Cuba has been suspended from the Organization of American States. Given a re-vote today, a fair one, one might see Cuba voted back in the club -- but then you could be sure the US would request the OAS to leave Washington and relocate outside the United States.

You're probably never going to see America invade the UK for example, since the three major parties support NATO, and 10 Downing Street has access to Da Bomb. But we saw what America did to Chile, Bolivia, Argentina and El Salvador and how that has strained relations between Latin America and the US Mainland ever since.

None of the major Presidential candidates for 2008 are talking about normalizing relations. In fact, Clinton and some of the Republicans want to tighten the screws even more. But Castro isn't going away any time soon. You play with the cards you're dealt with, and in this post 9/11 world America needs as many friends or at least partners as it can get. If terrorists are using Cuba as a base camp to launch future operations, that might be something they might cooperation on to stop.

As it is right now, they don't even recognize Cuba's right to exist, at least officially. And that's just plain stupidity. Yes, Cuba must be made free and America should insist on it -- real freedom, not Batista freedom. But the first step should be recognition that what is, is.

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

A break

I'm going to take a break from blogging until Boxing Day. Whatever your persuasion, my wish for Peace on Earth.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Borderless Europe gets larger, and that's a good thing

While Lou Dobbs and the Minutemen want to build longer and higher borders, Europe -- or at least the democratic portion of it -- is whittling them away. Today, nine more countries acceded to the Schengen acquis, for a total of twenty-four. (Actually, it's more like twenty-seven; for while Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican are not officially "in," they are de facto given their long standing open borders with their neighbours.) It is now possible to travel from Tallinn, Estonia all the way to Lisbon, Portugal without ever encountering a single border guard. That is perhaps the most significant thing of all, that many of the new signatories were states that were forced in the former Soviet Union or were client states in the Warsaw Pact.

I've mentioned before here that the concept of a fully open Western Hemisphere is a long way off and won't happen in the short term simply because there are too many interests on the left and the right who won't let it happen. But the Europeans must be doing something right. They've had relative peace and prosperity for over six decades after being almost left with nothing after World War II, and have opened or at least loosened border controls for at least a dozen years. If the border between France and Germany could be opened up, it certainly made sense to open them up between Germany and Poland also.

No one has been coerced by fiat to speak a new language or have been forced to become friends with former enemies. The open border regime works simply because it makes common sense ... and in a region about half the size of the United States, perhaps a bit larger, having common basic labour and safety standards benefits everyone; as does the free movement of goods, services, labour and capital.

Two EU countries still conspicuously absent are the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. They have special security concerns, given the presence of the presently inactive but still present paramilitary groups from both sides of the divide as well as other terrorist groups. However, they do co-operate with the Continent on many security issues including information sharing on people they consider trouble, such as the soccer hooligans. Would one have imagined even that say two decades ago? No.

Of course, there's always the Berlin Wall approach that CNN and Fox News both approve of. Just remember, one can always dig under the wall; and money moves by wire these days, not the byways and highways of the planet.

Europe gets the thumbs up from me, at least today.

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Joke of the Day (2007-12-20)

There's been a joke that's been making the rounds as of late. It's a new twist on an old one, but the point is still there ...

One day, a teacher in the Mid-West is asking her class random questions about various Americans and the things they said. She begins: "Who said, 'I regret that I have but one life to give for my country.?'"

Silence from the students in the class, a mixture of whites, blacks and Native Americans. Finally, one student in the back, a Hispanic, raises her hand and says, "Nathan Hale, 1776 ... just before he was executed by the British for treason, I believe. No, um ... espionage; the British treated spies as what we, or at least President Dubya, now call 'enemy combatants.""

"Correct," replies the teacher. "Now, who said, 'Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens?'"

Again, dead silence from the class. Then the lone Hispanic student raises her hand and says, "John Marshall Harlan, 1896; in his dissenting opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson, which legalized racial segregation in the United States."

"Right!" said the teacher, smiling. "Okay, now tell me who said, 'I am not a crook?'"

Dead silence, for thirty seconds. Finally, the Hispanic student raises her hand and says, "Richard Nixon, 1973. It was at a press conference at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida; and he was responding to a question not about his involvement in Watergate but allegations he evaded income taxes.'"

"Absolutely correct!!" said the teacher, with a huge grin on her face. "Now, class, see little Jessica over there? She knows her American history, and even the minutiae around specific events that give quotations their context. But the rest of you should be ashamed of yourselves. After all, she's an immigrant from Mexico and the rest of you were born here."

A student in the middle of the class muttered, "Aw, fuck the Mexicans."

The teacher was livid, and screamed, "All right! Who said that?"

In unison, every single student replied, "LOU DOBBS, 2006!!!!"

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Zoe 101 preggers

What kind of role models are left anymore -- after Mel Gibson went on his anti-Semitic tirade, the self-proclaimed moral arbitor Bill O'Reilly slandered the American soldiers massacred at Malmedy, and now Jamie Lynn Spears (sister of Britney) gets knocked up at the age of ... sixteen?

Something is horribly wrong when even the siblings of ex-role models live up to the lowered expectations of their blood rather than try to make a mark for themselves and at least attempt to be different.

At what point do we, the consumers of entertainment, say enough is enough? God forbid we go back to the days when we said that a teenage girl had "gone to an aunt's." But the lack of parenting across class lines is absolutely appalling. At least Zoe 101 can afford to raise her kid. Most teenage moms can't.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

New Jersey delivers guillotine to lethal injections

Yesterday, New Jersey became the first US state to formally abolish capital punishment since the Supreme Court reauthorized it 31 years ago. It joins twelve states and the District of Columbia that have all this time refused to have the ultimate sanction. Signing the bill was the very controversial Governor of the state, zillionaire Jon Corzine, but that's not the point ... the point is that the legislature voted to abolish the procedure after it was found that the system was beyond defective and that those who were put on death row were probably never going to be executed anyway. A commission earlier this year almost unanimously recommended the step Trenton has now taken.

The eight who were awaiting the needle have had their sentences commuted to life without parole. That's as it should be. Murder one should carry LWOP. No more, no less. This surely won't satisfy a large segment of the Jersey population who support the death penalty's continuance, but surely one has to concede the money spent on endless appeals in DP cases could be better spent both on law enforcement and crime prevention.

And keep in mind, this is Soprano country, which at least has some semblance of habeas corpus and people tend to have a more open mind about these things. Completely the opposite from Texas where its citizens take pride in being a legal lynch mob and where -- barring the intervention of the Supremes -- getting rid of the death penalty is less likely than a hair growing in the middle of the palm of one's hand. And Dubya has stacked the courts to make sure that abolition won't happen for at least another fifty years.

Uh, then again, that palm of the hand bit is what someone said about Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair ever facing off. But it did happen.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Barrie, the next Hamilton?

Some good news in public transit ... and with it, some bad news as well. GO Transit, the inter-city mass transit system here in South Central Ontario, has extended the Toronto-Bradford line to Barrie. More accurately, the train service has been restored and enhanced beyond what existed when Bob Rae cancelled the run fifteen years ago. Reports this morning for the first day indicated surprisingly high usage, especially for a snow day. And that's just for a line that for now will only have rush hour service.

If it gets even some traffic off the 400 during rush hour, that's fantastic.

Or is it? Well, not really. Because while the Greenbelt has contained urban sprawl within the GTA, it doesn't stop developers from leap-frogging it. And Barrie is quickly becoming the new Hamilton, the last refuge from the exhorbitant housing prices in and around Toronto. The last few years, the population of Barrie has doubled. And it's facing the same kinds of problems much larger cities further south have, not the least of which is urban sprawl. What was formerly a staging area for resorts further north is now more or less a suburb ... separated by a lot of farmland, to be sure, but a suburb nonetheless.

We don't need an American style Megalopolis -- the non-stop city from Richmond, Virginia to Boston, Massachusetts.

One other observation I have is that the rail line is well away from both the 400 and the 404. Were it closer or parallel to it, drivers would see the speedy train as compared to the snail's pace of the expressway.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Why does Canada, provinces allow pedophiles to immigrate?

I don't like snow, but there are far worse things than a couple feet of the white stuff. So today, one of my wishes for 2008.

Immigration is a shared responsibility between the federal and provincial governments here in Canada; although for the most part we only hear about Québec having an active role in selecting immigrants for the "regular" class while the other provinces defer to Ottawa.

This is problematic in one respect. Law enforcement is a provincial responsibility. Yes, we have the Mounties, but they are under contract to most of the provinces who have elected not to have provincial patrols. And there is a big gap in running background checks to ensure people who are coming to Canada are doing do with integrity and not fraudulent intent or malicious aforethought.

I am aware of at least one person who came to Canada from the UK. It was known that he was on the sex offender registry in Britain, as is his ex-wife. He was put there because he abused his own kids. When the law got too hot for him, he decided to try Canada for luck; and what did he do? He abused a divorced mother's kids as well. And on top of that, he gets a work permit under false pretenses, after he comes to the country (not before, as procedure calls for).

In my opinion, blame falls to both the feds (for allowing the man to come in to Canada with a concealed weapon, among other things) and the province (for not doing its job in saying whether such and such person was acceptable).

I don't have a problem with Ontario having more say in who's welcome here; provided that helps to enhance our ethnic mix and the people have the skills that are needed. They should start taking such an active role, and the New Year is as good as time as any. But the OPP needs to do its part too, and call law enforcement in the donor country and find out if potential immigrants had a past. If so, the province should exercise its veto and say, "No." End of story, the person is personna non grata everywhere in Canada. Simple as that.

Because the buck stops at the top, it would be appropriate for the federal and provincial Attorneys-General to resign; for allowing an administrative environment that allows this and other pricks to abuse Canada's hospitality. Harper, McGuinty and all the other Premiers needs to say enough is enough.

Better still, 2008 should be the year when we think about whether immigration should have more of a law enforcement component. Many democratic countries like the UK combine their Immigration and Justice Departments, viewing potential external threats as a matter of national security. And in my opinion, when ill willed people abuse their or other people's kids, they have breached Canada's national security.

Why do I feel so strongly about this? Because my father was a political refugee. And while I have compassion for those who are seeking asylum for humanitarian or political reasons, I have absolutely no tolerance for criminals who just want out of their country so they can commit more crimes in ours.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Knob of the week (12-15-07)

With apologies to Air Farce ...

I heard on the radio this morning that the Winnipeg branch of the Salvation Army has seen donations really drop ... in the bucket, as much as 50%. Why, you may ask? Seems that some mall operators in Fort Garry have allowed the Salvation Army in with their Christmas Kettles but have forbidden them to ring their Christmas bells, saying they are distracting to shoppers.

Oh come on!

More than a denomination, the Salvation Army has emerged as one of the pre-eminent NGOs on the planet. Even atheists appreciate the good work they do for the community. And this is the biggest time of year for donations for them. Having the kettles without the bells is like a Christmas tree without the presents or a slice of apple pie without the ice cream.

Are these Grinch mall owners hoping that there are some people in Winterpeg who are as beneficent as the mystery guy a couple years back who dropped a Krugerrand worth $20k in a kettle in Manhattan? I don't think the Asper family is that generous. But the CBC reporter (oh yeah, that's another thing, the Aspers would never cover this story, or if so very reluctantly -- they want the CBC to get out of the news business all together!) did an experiment. He went to another mall and saw what happened when the volunteers rang their bells. Donations doubled almost instantly.

So bring back the bells. Better yet, just call the local Sally Ann branch and make a donation directly so you get the tax receipt. Their slogan, "Need has no season" is truer now that some knobs are trying to take what little fun there is left in this season.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Six buses -- just the buses, not the money to drive them

First, some good news ... I've partially unlocked this account so you can comment if you use WordPress, TypePad or another similar blogging account. But I'm still monitoring the comments for spam.

Okay, on to today. And it's a good news / bad news story. The good news is that Pointy Head is giving the cities badly needed money for public transit. For Hamilton, that's $6.5 million. The cash will go towards the purchase of six new articulated diesel-electric articulated low floor buses like the ones that currently plow the express milk run from the former Stoney Creek City Hall to McMaster University. (They're the ones painted grey, not white).

The new buses are supposed to run between downtown where the GO Station is (the buses and trains that run to Toronto) and southern points in the city; to Mohawk College and along Upper James Street then right to the airport which right now has a taxi link to the Upper James garage (and an additional fare, about a buck or so). Eventually this will be the north/south bus rapid transit route.

So what's the bad news? It'll be up to the city to operate the buses on their own. And the only way they'll be able to afford it is if they make the express runs a premium route with an extra fare, such that exists on some express buses in Toronto and Ottawa. That might only get people into their cars or the more crowded slow routes.

We just avoided a transit strike here by the enamel on our teeth. Does Hamilton and Queen's Park both really want to piss off transit riders again? Isn't the idea to get people out of their vehicles? The province should fund the operations up front and first then slowly withdraw them as more people see the advantages of riding transit. And the fares should be the same for local and express buses. Eventually the day should come when transit is self-financing. But it's not going to happen with the snap of one's fingers.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Party on Brian, and Party on Karl!

The least one can say about Brian Mulroney is, at long last, he finally apologized for taking $300,000 from You Know Who. (Although he claims it was more like $225k.) What still bothers me is how he got involved with the German businessman in the first place. And how he managed to carry all that cash across the border when the law says one must declare to customs any transfers of cash or equivalent of $10,000 US or more.

Mulroney, however, directly accused Schreiber of committing perjury. If he has any proof of that, he'd better show it. Whatever credibility the former Prime Minister may have left is disappearing from the top half of the hourglass just like sand slipping through it.

All we need now are Men Without Hats -- um, Men Without Talent -- to join Brianstock and we can turn Parliament into Party Central. Even I'm getting bored by this story.

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AMU: "Catholic" but ...

A little while back, I mentioned Tom Monaghan has been trying everything he can to get the Roman Catholic diocese of Venice, Florida to officially declare his pet project -- Ave Maria University outside of Naples -- a Catholic one, and the so-far secular oratory a church one.

Word this morning that the Bishop, Frank Dewane, may be prepared to give conditional approval. This would mean Midnight Mass could be celebrated on campus. Just one sticking point: Dewane wants to reserve the right to name a chaplain for the university and more importantly a pastor for "Ave Maria Town" in case the town ever gets big enough to justify a parish. And so far, the new housing starts are well below project.

AveWatch is speculating, and I do too, that since Monaghan would view a chaplain as his employee and not the Church's, he is balking at the offer. So for the time being, AMU remains a secular university pretending to be Catholic; and with its accreditation hanging by a thread.

And the question remains: How can Monaghan demand obedience to the Magesterium when he himself won't do the same? If he refuses to recognize the authority of the regional bishop and instead hires a golf-playing hack priest from Michigan as his "chaplain," isn't he in fact admitting he's not really a Catholic after all?

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Air France 358: The crash that should not have happened

It was considered a miracle nearly two and a half years ago. On the hottest day of the summer in 2005 and during a violent hailstorm, an Air France plane crash landed at the airport in Toronto, skidding off the runway and exploding in a ravine. Incredibly, all 309 passengers and crew survived.

At the time, a lot of people were asking what business did a plane have landing during such a weather event. Today, Canadian investigators ruled what most of us already knew. It did not. There was plenty of warning but the flight crew decided to land anyway, and as they did they got caught up in a tailwind which sped up the plane on landing, making it impossible to slow down or stop.

While the crew deserves credit for evacuating the plane in 90 seconds, as per protocol, they screwed up in one respect -- they apparently allowed the passengers to take their carry on bags with them. This actually wasted valuable time, as the last passengers left the plane just as it blew up.

The airport is also partly to blame. The runway is about 300 metres shorter than international standards and a prior fatal accident in the same ravine wasn't enough to get the airport to extend the runway as it should have. In my opinion, if the Toronto Airport Authority is collecting the highest landing fees and passenger take-off "charges" in the free world then certainly they have the cash to make this very simple adjustment. I've landed on the same runway a number of times and each time when the plane has taxied back to the terminal I've noticed that damn ravine and wondered, why is that there?

I'm not sure what civil penalty is appropriate, if one has been imposed yet. But considering that other near disaster -- the Air Transat flight from Toronto to Lisbon just a couple weeks before 9/11 that lost fuel over the Atlantic and crash landed in the middle of nowhere, again with everyone surviving, and the relatively paltry fine of $250k -- I'd say a forfeiture of $10 million to the feds is not out of the question. This is over and above the civil damages in the still-pending class action. Airlines need to understand that passengers and cargo are their business, their only business, and we'll take our money to the competition with better safety records if they don't smarten up.

UPDATE (9:40 pm EST, 0240 Thursday GMT): Did I say 1995???? Man, this weather's getting to me. It's 2005 of course.

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Requiem for a Muslim girl

There are quite a few Muslim women who work where I do. Some wear the hijab, others don't. None who do or who not question the morals or motivation of the "others." And as a Christian, I don't care what any one wears to work as long as it's business appropriate and they do their jobs.

News that a Muslim teenager who paid the supreme price after she decided to dress as most of her classmates did and not in traditional dress and listen to contemporary music is, therefore, disheartening and downright outrageous. She was the victim of repeated attacks from her fellow family members. Now, she's dead; and it looks like her father will be charged with murder.

I refuse to contemplate the possibility that this was a merely frustrated parent we're talking about. This has all the classic makings of an honour killing and if that's the case it may be one of the first, if not the first, in Canadian history. And it's the old double standard again that applies to any religion -- men in a family can do whatever they want, are expected to do whatever they can with a woman; but women can't, even with fellow women. Men can adapt to civil society, but women can't. Men may dress as they want, listen to the music they want; but not women.

Human Rights Watch stipulates that even in those circumstances, the term honour killing is appropriate. So I choose to characterize it as such also.

Let the trial process sort this one out. Suffice it to say that there is a major gap in our criminal law in Canada. A judge can impose a harsher sentence if the victim was attacked because of colour, ethnic origin, religion, disability, or sexual orientation. But not their sex. Because of that, the father only faces 25 years in jail, not 50.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Schreiber the drone

If Brian Mulroney did indeed discuss a potential military procurement deal with Karlheinz Schreiber while still Prime Minister then it raises serious questions about the former PM's judgement. And who arranged the meeting? Elmer MacKay, father of Peter. And it now appears Schreiber funded the deposal of Joe Clark as PC leader with foreign money and from no less than the former Premier of the German state of Bavaria -- if that's the case then Mulroney never had the right to be leader of the party to begin with, let alone Prime Minister.

Schreiber keeps dropping names at the House Ethics Committee. One was Benoît Bouchard, one of the very few Ministers in the Mulroney Cabinet who managed to avoid controversy.

We keep getting bits and pieces. And the longer this goes on and Schreiber plays cat and mouse, the more he sounds like the incessant monotone drone from a set of the bagpipes. If Schreiber has been sub poenaed, and he was, he should be forced to give answers now under pain of contempt of Parliament. We need answers and we need them now.

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Nobody's a somebody

They were once the second largest muffler chain in Canada. This morning, the Toronto Star reports that Speedy Muffler King is definitely going out of business. They were in bankruptcy "protection," facing a debt of $2.8 billion but now the safety net has ended now that the trustee has determined the cash in hand and equivalent isn't enough to keep the company minimally going.

I never used their services, but my father got a couple tune-ups there for his vehicle. Their service wasn't something to complain about, it actually wasn't that bad. And they had the best commercials, and the catchy slogan "At Speedy, you're a somebody." Now, what's left of it will be taken over by the relatively smaller Minute and a US chain, Meineke.

My father just asked me as I'm writing this, how could a muffler shop go bankrupt? How indeed?

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Conrad Black gets his

In sentencing Conrad Black to 6 1/2 years in prison -- a lot less than what many were expecting -- US Federal Judge Amy St. Eve spoke for many of us when she said this:

"I frankly cannot understand how somebody of your stature - on top of the media empire that you were on top of - could engage in the conduct that you engaged in, and put everything at risk, including your reputation and your integrity."

I don't we ever will understand how a brilliant journalist could have taken one of the premier media companies in the world on such a roller coaster ride; and turned himself from a hero to a zero. Suffice it to say, justice has been served. It's also a clear indication we need to toughen up our own corporate governance standards here in Canada. Compared to the States where such acts are considered criminal and not jaywalking like they are here, we really are a laughing stock. Had the trial been here, he would have gotten away with a $500 fine and 6 demerit points.

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Sunday, December 9, 2007

It's murder two for Pickton

Robert William Pickton has been found guilty on six counts of murder two. My suspicion is that the prosecution will appeal, wanting nothing less than murder one -- perhaps citing the admission that the judge admitted he screwed up the instructions to the jury on the difference between the two levels.

Regardless, there still remain twenty indictments outstanding that Pickton must stand trial for. And absolutely nothing has changed to protect sex trade workers. Nothing. I griped about this back in January and the fact is that women still have to face the scorn of law enforcement officials' and the general public's indifference.

I for one refuse to remain silent. As a man, it's time to ensure that if women must work in that particular business, that they have the same rights as the men who exploit them. We have safe drug injection sites and vans; prostitutes deserve safe houses as well. As long as the criminal law give greater protection to pimps and johns than to the ladies of the night, none of us has the right to feel truly safe.

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Most ridiculous item of the week (2007-12-08)

There are no words for this one.

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Chalk River SNAFU should have been avoided

Last night's story about how the shutdown at Chalk River and the ensuing crisis at hospitals across North America as they scramble to find alternate sources for radio isotopes all could have been avoided, is a stark reminder that the advances in medicine have also been curses. Renovations at the facility are six years behind schedule? With no backup reactor, which won't be open until the middle of next year? Surgeries and even routine medical appointments have been thrown into turmoil. Even workers' compensation boards, the main funder of "after hours" examinations, are trying to make alternate arrangements.

We can't imagine a world without CT and PET scans, the problem is that physicians and nurses for the most part can't remember an age when we did without them. And for the next few weeks they'll have to do without, and people's lives will be in danger.

To use an analogy, someone once remarked that we're so reliant on communications systems like GPS that if it broke down we will have forgotten to use the sextant. We rely on television and radio so much that many were "in the dark" during the big blackout four years ago; the only ones who were able to access information were those smart enough to have backup batteries for their ISP connection, had windup radios, or were tuned into the amateur radio network. (You see "hams" on the roads here in Canada all the time, they're the ones who've been issued plates with their call signs; beginning with VA, VE , VO or VY.)

How is it possible we live in a country where even the completely peaceful use of nuclear power can't be relied upon anymore?

Some one, whether it's the morons at Chalk River -- or the regulators -- should be made to compensate our health care system for this SNAFU. If people are left to die, it's depraved indifference homicide.

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Saturday, December 8, 2007

An ABBA Museum

Anne Murray has one. Shania Twain has one. And now ABBA's getting one. A museum.

Okay, so during their 10 year reign at the top of the pop group boards they actually brought more money into Sweden than Volvo, Saab or Ikea. Some of their songs I liked, some I didn't. And yes, I did see Mamma Mia at the Royal Alexandria in Toronto.

But I would want to visit Stockholm to see how urban planners have made the unlikely city work the past 300 years. And there are other museums in the capital of Sweden much more worth seeing. Heck, I'd rather visit Parliament than a shrine to the Spandex Four. Hard to believe someone would spend $30 million on that. Anyone remember the Canadian Humour Museum in Montréal? (It's now run by the Just for Laughs Corporation and is open by appointment only.)

This could very well be the city's Waterloo ... pardon the expression.

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Yes to mandatory vehicle inspections

We Canadians pride ourselves as being "different" from Americans, although often we have a hard time saying saying how -- saying we have universal health coverage and gun control and "they" don't really isn't enough. But there is one thing where Americans do have it right, at least in respect of auto safety.

Many if not most US states stipulate that to register a vehicle or to renew a plate sticker, one must subject a vehicle to a mandatory safety inspection every one or two years. This is in addition to the smog test. In Canada, by contrast, only Nova Scotia -- as far as I'm aware -- requires a safety. The other jurisdictions only require a certificate to be produced at the time a vehicle changes registration; by the buyer, not the seller.

Can you imagine how many dangerous cars and trucks are out there because no one has bothered to do routine maintenance? Insurance premiums are crazy, but they'd go down 20% overnight if we could get the unsafe ones off the road until they are road worthy.

It's something we need to consider. If at least some traffic jams are eliminated because of such a change, it would make us more competitive and in our just in time economy we need every edge we can get.

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Friday, December 7, 2007

It's not Romney's religion

Yesterday's speech by ex-Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) I think went a long way to dispelling some doubts some may be having about voting for a Mormon as US President. Some have gone so far as to say it may be the most daring move a Presidential candidate has made since JFK, a Roman Catholic, dared to go into the lions' den of a conference of Protestant ministers and declare that if he had to chose between the Vatican and America he would always choose America.

In both cases, I think the timing was and is suspicious. Kennedy was running dead even with Nixon and it could have been anyone's race. In the end, the tipping point wasn't religion but charisma -- Kennedy had too much of it, while Nixon had comparatively little notwithstanding his famous "Checkers" speech in 1952. Nixon was a Quaker, and no one questioned his faith.

This time, Romney is trying to stop a surge from the very evangelical Mike Huckabee (who like Clinton is evangelical, a former Governor of Arkansas -- and also from Hope). Most evangelicals and even many Protestants refuse to accept Mormons as Christians. Many Catholics also have misgivings -- my understanding is that the Vatican refuses to accept the validity of a Mormon baptism (unlike the form for the Sacrament as used by most other Protestant and the Eastern Orthodox churches, which it does).

Personally, my stance remains the same: If one associates himself or herself with the Christ, he or she can't be the Anti-Christ, or against Christ period. So if Romney states he's a Christian, then he is. No one I am aware of has ever questioned the Christianity of the Osmonds, and they are devout Mormons.

It's not Romney's religion. It's the party he belongs to. Romney has more than proven his competence; first by cleaning house at the Salt Lake City Olympics, then running a very efficient government in Massachusetts. But he's a Republican, and he wants to continue to the fight the so-called War on Terror as business as usual. In other words, continue the unwinnable GOP strategy.

He also risks becoming beholden to the most extreme element of the evangelical community which wants to turn America into a theocracy. The religious right has controlled the party for far too long. The GOP has to move back to the centre where it once was and start recognizing the legitimacy of the camp led by Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT), Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) and former EPA boss Gov. Christie Wittman (R-NJ). It has to be the Big Tent that Nancy Reagan claims it is -- for real, or they're toast next November. No sign from Romney that he will, yet.

If he was a Democrat, and he had a viable plan both to pull out of Iraq as well as to crush terrorist groups outside and inside America once and for all, and he found a way of healing the country from the inside by addressing the concerns of the poor and unprivileged classes -- then he might get my consideration. For now, however, the only Republican candidate that even begins to meet the merits of being winnable is Ron Paul and he's a longshot at best.

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Thursday, December 6, 2007

Follow-up

To follow up on my last post:

It wasn't an easy one to write. I'm a social liberal on most issues as well as a fiscal conservative. But there some issues that I lean right. I'll state again my personal opposition to abortion but also my wish for social policies that would ensure abortion becomes totally unnecessary (the 95-10 initiative sponsored by some moderate Democrats in the US Congress, as well as supported by the far left James Carville and Paul Begala, is a good example of how one could strike a balance without having to overturn Roe v. Wade).

I also have respect for the law. I agree with Martin Luther King that an unjust law is no law at all; and in some cases civil disobedience is justified. Latimer's actions were anything but that.

My vision of social justice is that of Tony Blair before he got way off track with Iraq: "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime." Fix the broken windows; mend our health care system; make sure working families pay the minimum amount of tax possible and have access to affordable day care; ensure all minors (especially those under seven) and seniors can live with dignity and not in poverty. A good head start is a good preventative measure against crime in the future.

But we must remain a nation of laws. We can not be a nation of individuals who make it up as they go along. With rights come responsibilities. And chief among them is the right to disagree respectfully. I defend someone's right to disagree with me and hope they would return the favour.

I assert again that Parliament really does need to consider cases like Latimer's, and if a middle road is enacted, Latimer and others like him should have the right to redress retroactively on a case-by-case basis ; similar to the process Canada followed when battered spouse syndrome was added to the accepted grounds for self-defence. His criminal record should, however, remain on the books.

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Latimer should stay in prison

I'm finding myself begging to differ again with many of my colleagues, but I think the National Parole Board of Canada did the right thing yesterday by denying Robert Latimer day parole. Latimer, who's serving ten to life for murder two in the death of his daughter, Tracy (he poisoned her with carbon monoxide) is still in a certain mindset about the matter.

I appreciate he was under considerable duress after taking care of Tracy for thirteen years (she had celebral palsy). One could argue he finally just snapped, although he put a lot of thought into how he was going to end his daughter's life.

But the problem for me is that he keeps insisting it was an act of love. Perhaps it was. However, he just can't get around to saying that it was wrong. I'm not saying he should apologize, just merely acknowledge that his actions were out of the norm. Instead, he said he wanted to go to a halfway house so he could lobby politicians in Ottawa to change the law.

Last time I checked, Latimer was still free to surf the Net and send e-mails to Parliamentarians; or to send good old-fashioned snail mail. Until he appreciates the gravity of what he did and steps up to that, he should remain incarcerated -- at least until the ten years are up, three years hence.

That being said, I do agree we need to have some more compassion in situations like he was in. I think we need to change the law to including, perhaps, creating something similar to what many US states have for situations like his -- third degree murder; something between voluntary manslaughter and murder two (with a sentencing range of five or seven to twenty-five).

But we also need to focus on reforming long term care facilities and hospices and ensuring people like Tracy Latimer get the care they need, with full family participation; including the right to die with as little pain as possible. One can understand why Robert refused such offers at the time -- our health care system is still stuck in the 1960s and focusing on primary care. It was never designed to deal with chronic and persistive illnesses. No one, absolutely no one, should ever again have to resort to Robert's desperate measures. If the health care system did its job, he never would have had to do what he did.

But that's not a matter for the criminal system to change. Unlike Mainland China and Burma, we keep prisons and hospitals separate for a reason. Patients aren't criminals. And certainly neither was Tracy. She never had a say in the matter, though. Her father made it for her, and for that he needs to accept the consequences.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

I'll be friends with whom I want

Some people are annoyed, even upset, that I have friends who are small c-conservative or even further to the right -- in the bloggin community and beyond. Some have even asked me, "How could you?"

How could I not? I can be a tough cookie, but I am a likeable guy or at least I hope I am. I don't place conditions on friendship or being an acquaintance with someone who has different viewpoints than I do. This is not a country where thought control rules the day. I am not controlled by anyone, and no one controls me.

I've said time and again I wouldn't mind having a conservative significant other as long as she can think for herself and is not a dittohead who just repeats what others say. Until then, and even beyond then, I'll keep open the lines of communication. If you have a problem with that, tough noggies.

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You can't say that on a license plate!

For a couple hundred bucks or less, one can get a vanity license plate. As long as it's not "offensive." The DMV censors such obvious ones as YUCK FU. But now a United Church of Canada minister, the Rev. Joanne Sorrill, has been ordered to surrender the plate REV JO to the Ontario Government. Why? Apparently, Rev is a also blue vodka energy drink and it's alleged she's promoting drinking and driving.

Say what?

This has gone too far. Because someone was offended by NTFADA, it was seized. Same with JEHAD, even though that was a guy's first name. What's next? HOHOHO is taken away because someone is offended by the slang word for a street worker?

I have a friend who is another United Church of Canada minister. She has a vanity plate as well. And part of her plate is also an abbreviation for a fairly common consumer product, albeit in its generic and not trade name. Should she be punished for advertising?

UPDATE (7:00 AM EST, 1200 GMT): Yes, the guy named Jehad got his plate back, with an apology, but that's not the point.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Light One Candle

Adam Sander, in his series of Hannukah Songs, muses that while we Christians have one day for presents, Jewish people have "Eight Crazy Nights." But it is a serious religious festival. (Minor compared to Passover and the High Holy Days, but still serious because it marks a historical event.)

Briefly, 165 years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, Judas Maccabeus and his posse successfully lead a revolt against the Seleucids who had taken over the Second Temple and erected an altar to Zeus. The "Awful Horror" was purged and the Temple rededicated to the LORD. Tradition holds there was only enough oil left to burn for one day but by a miracle it burned for eight. With the unfortunate commercialization of Christmas has also come a similar turn of events with a celebration that happens around the same time each year. But at its core is a holiday many Christians actually admire at a distance; one that speaks to the constant faithfulness of millions to the Covenant, a faithfulness that has not dissapated even in times of the greatest testing -- including the Holocaust.

Even the dreidel, which has often been parodied, has meaning. The four letters are taken from the initial letters of the Hebrew phrase which translates as "A miracle happened there" -- or if in Israel, "A miracle happened here."

The festival is marked for eight days beginning on the 25th day of Chislev, which this year begins tonight. So, for my Jewish friends and colleagues, here's my personal favourite Hannukah song -- from Peter, Paul and Mary.



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Monday, December 3, 2007

My 2007 letter to Santa

Dear Santa:

Short, sweet and to the point sir. Canada should not be a haven for paedophiles. Get them off of the streets, now -- and put them in prison or kick them out of the country and send them to places where they no doubt face prosecution for exploiting minors too.

Respectfully from your not so favourite elf,
Robert.

Meyer says yes to Grassley, Copeland says no

Some news this morning about Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) inquiries about some of America's most controversial televangelists and their spending habits. He set a deadline of December 6th for the ministries to turn over specific documents.

Joyce Meyer states she will fully comply.

Ken Copeland will not. His daughter, Terri Pearsons, effectively compared Grassley to Hitler when she called Grassley's request for documents the equivalent of Kristallnacht. The implication was that Grassley has been possessed by the spirit of the anti-Christ.

No response as yet from the other four ministries although I suspect they'll plead the Fifth.

Kristallnacht. Seriously, she said that. And they claim to support the State of Israel?

Refresher course, people: Hitler was a Roman Catholic. A lapsed Catholic, but one nonetheless. And it was both Catholics and Protestants in Germany who enthusiastically supported the Holocaust during WW II. No one is calling for a Final Solution for TV preachers. We're just asking them to prove that they are actual churches and not businesses disguised as a church in a deliberate attempt to evade taxes. And more important one who associates himself with the Christ cannot be the anti-Christ. Period.

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Chavez loses referendum

Some genuinely good news for democracy this morning, as Hugo Chávez lost a referendum that would have given him virtually unlimited powers. The vote was extremely narrow -- 51 to 49 -- but appeared boosted by the rural vote as well as university students who don't want to see their country sink into the kind of kleptocracy Cuba has become with one elite class under Batista substituted for another.

Chávez had warned if he saw evidence the US "interfered" in the vote he'd cut off oil supplies. Not a likely scenario. One, it's not just Citgo that gets its oil from Venezuela. Second, he'd get a lot of flack from OPEC which is planning to boost oil production either this week or next.

The problem was he presented his package of 69 amendments as an all or nothing deal. And some were good ideas, including extending social security benefits to more people. But that's a matter better suited for the legislature, not the supreme law of a nation-state.

And a swing of three million votes in just one year can't be understated. The threats of some to just up and leave if Chávez had won must have been the tipping point -- lose the middle or try to undermine their power (or in the worst case scenario just kill them) and you country will go down the toilet. Much like what happened in Cambodia under Pol Pot or Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe. At least there's one country in the world where people have finally woken up before it's too late.

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Sunday, December 2, 2007

In Memoriam: James Barber

We've learned today that James Barber, best known as The Urban Peasant, died of natural causes at his home last Thursday. Unlike the vast majority of snotty cooking shows which often include really obscure items, Barber made a point of doing recipes on his show using ingredients we can get at most supermarkets.

Barber was well published long before his TV days, going back to the 1970s; but it was on his show that he issued a unique challenge. He dared his viewers to call a pizzeria or any place that delivered at the start of his show; and if they delivered before the 30 minutes was up he'd pay the viewer a thousand bucks. He never had to during the show's ten year run.

KISS: Keep it Simple, Stupid. That applies to food as well -- eating healthy without being too complicated.

Another one bites the dust, sadly ...

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Let the people of Calgary-Egmont decide on Craig Chandler

The Alberta PC Party decided yesterday to quash the nomination of the duly nominated candidate for the district of Calgary-Egmont, Craig Chander. Many progressives are celebrating. I'm not.

I may be a bit biased as I know Craig personally and consider him a friend despite our almost completely opposite ideological differences. And yes, some of his comments in recent weeks can almost be considered radioactive and downright repulsive. But as far as I'm concerned, he won the nomination fair and square. The only reason to override the will of the local district association would be if Craig did not disclose certain facts about his past, or if he had a criminal record. Neither is the case. He has always been forthright about who he is and what he stands for; and the time to have stopped him was at the district level when the nomination meeting took place, not the Star Chamber of the party executive.

What this move tells me is that Ed Stelmach, the Premier of Alberta, is a control freak. He wants to control the agenda and "rebrand" his party as moderate even if it ultra right at the core. While I concede the leader has to lead and set boundaries, he or she is not free to decide who the messengers are. If some "slip through" and get nominated, the proper procedure is to make sure if the party gets elected to govern the perceived rogue stays on the backbenches or is asked to run a toothless committee. It's not to isolate the person midstream because then he or she will run as an independent or for another party, fragmenting the vote even further. More likely however, the rebel candidates will sink the fortunes of the party elsewhere which is what should happen.

The voters in Calgary-Egmont should decide whether Craig meets their merits as a Progressive Conservative. He won that right, he should get it back and not be forced to run as an independent. No, I would not vote for him (I'd probably vote for the Libs or NDs) but I would still want that choice.

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Saturday, December 1, 2007

DNC tells Michigan to F*** Off

There is something inherently undemocratic when it's the national Democratic Party in the States, not the state parties, that gets to decide who's on first. In a not too unexpected move, the DNC vote to strip Michigan of its 156 delegates today because the state wanted to have its primary on January 15th, after Iowa and New Hampshire but ahead of the other two "me first" state of South Carolina and Nevada. While many suspect it's more of a suspension and that the Great Lakes State will get its delegates back in time for the convention it raises a serious problem in my mind. Well two.

The first issue, of course, is that American elections are way too long. With the big semi-national primary on February 5th, voters in the United States will effectively have a nine month election. Here in Canada and indeed in most of the industrial democracies, elections are a mere four to six weeks.

If an election gets too long, people get disengaged. And it'll be the media, not the people, who determine the parameters of the discussion -- even with new media such as You Tube.

It would make more sense to have the primaries and caucuses in the spring, with four regional primary dates rotated between the Northeast, Midwest, West and the Confederacy every four years. Many in the States have advocated this and it just makes sense. It would make campaigning a lot saner. Coupled with this, however, should be mandatory public financing with strict limits -- and free time advertising which every country has except the United States. And it's those free time ads that are often the most imaginative (such as the Liberal Democrats' "Wolf" in the UK a couple of years ago).

The second issue is that if the parties decide who can run and where, it also gives too much power to Washington and not where the issues really matter outside the Beltway.

Understand, I support the principle of no election without selection -- that is, a candidate should not run unless he or she wins the party's nomination or can get at least a couple percentage of the vote in a petition drive to prove they are a serious nominee. Parachute candidates or appointed ones (as is all too common in Canada) should be prohibited in every nation that calls itself democratic.

There is something unbalanced, however, when the DNC insists that the industrial heartland's issues don't matter. Well they do. The traditional upfront states of Iowa (mostly farming) and New Hampshire (farming and mostly light industry) force candidates to go door to door; and having South Carolina in the mix ensures racial balance, and Nevada ensures the often ignored Southwest is also heard. But while most people work in the service industry or high technology, it's heavy industry that still drives the heartbeat of America. As Lee Iaccoca once said, you can't have Silicon Valley without Detroit.

Being connected to the auto industry indirectly, I say directly that this amounts to spitting the working man or woman in America right in the face. Much of the mid-West and the South lives or dies by durable goods sales and no one seems wiling to step up to the challenge of the butchers from China. And if a candidate wants to campaign in a state where those are big issues, they're threatened with disqualification.

That's not democratic at all -- democratic with a small "d." One can only wonder what will happen if no candidate gets 50% of the delegates, and the party also decides to later give Michigan and Florida their votes (along with a few others who incurred a 50% penalty for being closer but still too close to February 5). A truly open floor fight, the likes we haven't seen since Chicago 1968.

Now that would be democracy in action. (The Republicans have managed to stage manage all their conventions since 1956, ever since the first TV broadcast saw the rise of Ike but not before America saw how parties really work or are supposed to.)

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Friday, November 30, 2007

Evel Knievel

Not too much on my mind tonight, but one can't help but note that we're losing even more links to the past ...

Robert "Evel" Knievel died today at the age of 69. True, he was a showman who showboated; but he did it with a lot of class unlike the show-offs of today.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

It's two bags

I'll let other bloggers talk about Karlheinz Schreiber's testimony, or lack of it, today. Instead, an update to a post the other day about the garbage question in Hamilton.

Last night, city council voted to have a two bag garbage limit with a one bag limit phased in eventually. The catch is that the second bag must be clear so collectors can see that it's real garbage and not stuff that could otherwise be recycled or composted. The city also vowed to get more aggressive in forcing landlords to set up recycling programs in their buildings.

That's good. The goal should still be zero garbage though. I've been able to achieve it several times as have many other residents since composting began aggressively. There's no reason why we can't all do that. It'd set a good example for Toronto, which currently trucks its trash to Michigan and soon will be doing so just outside London right on a site disputed by First Nations.

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After hours trading in Canada, now

One downside to the antiquated securities regulation system in Canada where the provinces monitor stock and bond trading (and not the federal government) is that after hours trading is still prohibited in this country. This is wrong. Canada does not operate on a 9:30 to 4:00 Eastern time schedule exclusively. We are a 24/7 nation and we have investments worldwide; our currency has long been considered one of the "benchmark" currencies as well and is traded while most of us sleep and on Canadian and US holidays no matter what the CBC says.

It's simply not fair to force Western Canadians to get up in the wee hours of the morning to do their stock trades or tell them they have till the end of their lunch else they're out of luck. All Canadians should have the right to trade and on their time, not Bay Street's.

So I'd suggest permitting "after hours" trading, as a start for two hours before and after the TSX closes. That would be 7:30 am to 6:00 pm Eastern. Over time, this should be extended to all day and all night. Canadian exchanges are no longer floors but all electronic anyway; and it's time the regulators stopped living in the 1920s. This can be done without any consolidation of the securities commissions -- all they have to do is say yes.

By the way, yes, I do support a single regulator for Canada. It's time inside traders and corporate thieves are treated as criminals, not as traffic ticket offences; and only Criminal Code offences carry penalties of greater than two years.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Schreiber stays for now

At almost the last possible minute, the Justice Department has decided not to fight Karlheinz Schreiber's extradition to Germany -- for now. Tomorrow, the businessman is going to testify before the House Ethics Committee under sub poena; rare in Canada since the last time such an instrument was used was back in 1913. (Normally, witnesses are invited and those called simply agree or decline to attend, not at all like the States where Congress has quasi-prosecutorial powers.)

I have no clue as to what Schreiber's going to say tomorrow. No one does, really. But the more we hear the more it becomes impossible to believe that he and Brian Mulroney were merely passing acquaintances. We know for a fact that Schreiber sent in a couple of planeloads of Mulroney supporters to that wild convention in Winnipeg that saw the beginning of the end of Joe Clark (remember Clark's assertion that 67% support wasn't enough?). We know the two guys were photographed together in 1991 and they appeared to be best of chums.

The real question many of us have is why did Schreiber wait so long? If top government officials took bribes, a claim made more than a decade ago, why did that man refuse to talk to investigative reporters about what he knew and when? Those documents, if they are accurate, would have been very useful to the Mounties back then.

So the first question I'd ask is not what he knows ... but why he obstructed justice so long. He's not a completely innocent figure either.

One can also only wonder about Clark. He could have easily beaten Turner, too -- and I think Canada would be a much saner country than the one that evolved during the Mulroney era.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Don't hold your breath

Haven't we been down this road before?

In the last days of the Clinton presidency, Slick Willy thought he had an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Palestine would become a state at last, with full control over Gaza, 94% of the West Bank (also called Judea and Samaria) and custody if not outright ownership of most of the holy sites in Jerusalem. In return, Jews and Christians would have full access to sites not just in Jerusalem but also in Bethlehem (site of the Church of the Nativity) and Hebron (the Cave of the Patriarchs, burial place of Abraham and Sarah among others; and holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians).

By all accounts it was a sweetheart deal. Yasser Arafat, fool that he was, said no.

What sunk the agreement? Stubbornness from Fatah? To a large part, yes. But another factor, I believe, was the huge "Israel lobby" (i.e. Christians who subscribe to the Kingdom Now philosophy), who insist that there is no West Bank, no Gaza; in fact they believe Jordan and the western part of Iraq has no right to exist; they believe it's all Israel. Dominionists also have joined the Armstrongists who support the destruction of the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque. Many older than I have a clear memory of 1969 when a disciple of Herbert Armstrong tried to destroy Haram al-Sharif to try to speed up Jesus' return to the Earth.

Abu Mazen, the current President of Palestine, now admits Arafat's stubbornness cost his people dearly, and whatever state emerges, whenever it happens, will be way smaller than what was offered seven years ago. No shit.

So don't hold your breath with this week's talks at Navy. There isn't going to be a Palestinian state anytime soon, not until Mazen can get at least what was offered to Arafat, and that's a long ways away.

Obviously, nothing will ever please some Palestinians; let along Hagee, Roberts and Flurry. But here are some guidelines I'd go by:

1. The borders have to come along or very close to the 1967 ceasefire line. If Israel is to keep any settlement, there has to be a land swap in return; the ideal is to get close to contiguous areas or if that is not possible at least a corridor between Gaza and the West Bank.
2. Fair compensation for dispossessed Palestinians. Giving them their land back is impossible; that would mean the end of Israel. Other countries like Canada may have to contribute to a fund to finance this but it must be done.
3. Full access to holy sites for any who wish to go there, provided they come in peace.
4. Real security guarantees. Once the borders are finalized, Israel just can't execute an incursion when it wants -- that would be considered an invasion anywhere else.
5. The United States must stop subsidizing Israel. The foreign aid transfer is presently $3 billion. No other developed country provides aid to another developed state except in times of a natural disaster -- not even Canada.
6. Iran must recognize Israel. Period. If it will not, it must completely dismantle its nuclear weapons, in return for Israel doing the same (with international inspections to confirm this).
7. Israel must be permitted to nominate judges to the International Court of Justice. Its continued exclusion is complete nonsense. (After all, if the Vatican wanted a seat, it'd get one.)
8. The "Israel lobby" must once and for all pony up to provide housing for their Christian brothers and sisters who just happen to be Palestinians as well. Their current blindness on this key count already condemns them to damnation.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

The one bag limit

Some localities in Ontario, like Stratford and Wellington Centre (the mostly rural areas around Guelph), treat garbage the same way as electricity or water -- a public utility. You pay depending on how much you use. This is entirely fair. A single person living alone shouldn't have to subsidize a family that goes through a couple hundred diapers a week.

Hamilton currently has a three bag limit -- it used to be six, until composting and recycling became mandatory last year. But the megacity is still nowhere near the 65% diversion target. So city staff is proposing, reasonably I believe, to bring it down to just one bag a week. And city councillors are hearing it from ratepayers, thinking Hamilton shouldn't join other cities' sensible programs because "we're special."

BS.

We're not. Just drive around town and one can count the number of dumps -- sorry, PCers, landfills -- on both hands. Among the most notorious are Upper Ottawa, Rennie (which had to be partially excavated to make way for the Red Hill Parkway and which has methane pipes coming out on both sides of the highway), and 86 Acre Park (at 10th East and Green Mountain) which was supposed to be a nature preserve but turned out to be a toxic waste dump all along.

Stratford has the right approach. When they started charging for tags -- $1.75 per bag -- ten years ago, the impact was immediate. Everyone in town, from the acting company on down to the street buskers, found ways to reduce and reuse and recycle. It's not that hard. And after a while, it became second nature -- like buckling up our seat belts when we go out for a drive.

I say Hamilton should do the same, and force both residences and apartment buildings to play by the same rules. There's no reason why the diversion rate should approach 100%. The longer we can keep the Glanbrook site open, the better for all of us in Hamilton.

As for that other alternative, incineration ... anyone remember SWARU? Sure, the Europeans have figured out a way to make it cleaner and produce electricity from it, but I actually like going to Confederation Park without having to smell burning garbage anymore.

UPDATE (8:37 PM, 0137 Tuesday GMT): s.b. pointed out Guelph doesn't have a pay per bag system but the surrounding areas do. Duly noted -- and I've updated this entry to reflect that.

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Aspire to what?

Stephen Harper knowing full well that John Howard was going down in flames this past weekend in the Australian elections, losing big time to Labour's Kevin Rudd, managed single-handed to torpedo this past week's Commonwealth summit. Rather than hard targets, the guy who long ago sold out his soul to Big Oil bullied the other 52 leaders into saying the Commonwealth would only seek to "aspire" to carbon dioxide reductions. With no clear definition as to what those targets should be.

No, I'm not happy the previous Liberal government didn't do more to get Canada to meet Kyoto. But for the Conservatives to just throw in the towel and not try to reduce pollution levels, even if they are way off, is disgusting.

He wants Canada to aspire to something? How about aspiring to eliminating child and elderly poverty in Canada. Cutting poverty in Africa and South Asia by half; primarily through disease prevention, sex education and micro credit. Declaring the high seas and Antarctica are strictly off limits to pirates and reckless exploration and Canada will join with other allies to enforce this principle.

Those are aspirational goals, realistic and achievable goals.

To aspire to cut pollution is only to say that the Conservatives support increased pollution. Because intensity only means cuts in pollutions per person, which is fine since the population is growing anyway.

We need real targets, with real consequences. Because there's no point in making the world a better place, if we can't breathe the air and drink the water.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy (US) Thanksgiving

Blogging will be relatively light the next few days. To my American readers, Happy Thanksgiving.

And .... there was no magic bullet, there was a second shooter, and Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

My third secret assassination, if I had one

There's the old joke that every world leader gets three secret assassinations. If I was Prime Minister of Canada, here are the three people I'd want bumped.

1. Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe.
2. Than Shwe, Burma.
3. King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia.

The first two, pretty obvious. The third, I held off on because I couldn't decide who should be the third; until this week's news that a rape victim has been sentenced to two hundred lashes.

The victim is whipped while the perpetrator gets off scott free? Forget the Al-Saud's human rights abuses up till now. This one is truly worse than all the rest put together.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Mr. Rhodesia dead, Personal files stolen in UK

Ian Smith was one unreconstructable SOB. Like Hitler, he vowed his country's regime -- the illegal, pro-white "Republic of Rhodesia," named after the even more racist Cecil Rhodes (founder of the De Boers diamond dynasty and the Rhodes Scholarships), would last a thousand years. It lasted just two years longer than Nazi Germany, when a guerrilla leader named Robert Mugabe overthrew Smith and founded what we now know as Zimbabwe.

Smith was an awful man, but at least there was relative economic prosperity in his country when he ruled. We've all seen how the breadbasket of Africa turned into a basket case.

Smith died today in Cape Town, South Africa. He was 88. To paraphrase Mark Antony, we should bury him, not praise him.

The other story of note today should send shivers up the spines of most. The UK Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted that two disks containing the personal information of 25 million Britons -- nearly half the population -- went missing while being transferred from one department to another, in the mail.

The MAIL?

Anyone here in Canada remember a few years back when there was a woman who bought a second-hand computer from the Manitoba government -- and it contained the names and addresses of everyone in the province on social assistance?

Truly, some countries would be better off if they were ruled by a Prime Minister who graduated from clown college and not schools like Upper Canada, Bishop Strachan or Eton.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Underdogs face off in Grey Cup

I can't remember the first time we've had an all-Western Canadian football final. On Sunday, two underdogs -- the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers -- will meet in Grey Cup XCV. (That's 95, for those who can't read Roman numerals.)

Actually seeing two teams no one but a few took seriously at the start of the season makes me want to watch the game this Sunday; the first time in several years I've wanted to watch. Good luck to both teams.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

When public service actually mean something

The idea of patents and copyright is a relatively recent concept. While Charles II established the principle of registering books, it was actually Queen Anne I who gave us the modern idea of granting limited licenses to people for their creativity.

It's only fair and proper that if someone comes up with an invention they should reasonably profit from it -- the key word being reasonable. The same is true with novels, original journalism, plays and songs. But what if the concept or creation is so revolutionary, so important to public health or national security (and in some cases both) that the invention should rest in the public domain?

There are two major examples I can think of. The first is cell phones and Wi-Fi. Not many people realize that the code-hopping which underlies wireless technology today was co-invented by the actress Hedy Lamarr who was more than just a screen siren but also a brilliant mathematician; she and composer George Antheil submitted their patent application in June 1941, six months before Pearl Harbor; and received their patent in August 1942. They promptly signed over the rights to the patent to the US Government. It was so ahead of its time that the US military couldn't use it until the early 1960s (and the first civilian cell phone as we now know them wasn't available until 1984).

Lamarr actually volunteered to join a think-tank that was charged with coming up with inventions to win the war but was instead told (notwithstanding her genius) her celebrity status could help raise money for war bonds -- and she did pretty good in that department too, raising millions in the Hollywood community.

When Lamarr was finally recognized for her work in 1997, it was pointed out to her that had she and Antheil held onto the patent and taken it to its logical conclusion they could have made well over $2 billion (over $20 billion in the equivalent in the 90s). Lamarr said no. There was a war going on and the United States needed all the help it could get.

Think about that. Duty first, self second. Whatever happened to that concept?

Last night, I browsed through some of the bonus materials in the DVD of Sicko, the Michael Moore film. One of the interviews was with Dr. Marcia Angell, the former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, and a policy analyst who is very critical of the drug industry and its knack for presenting "me too" drugs as "breakthrough" ones and thus being able to extend a patent on a drug by another twenty years (and thus, windfall profits too). She pointed out that most of the research on drugs is done not by Big Pharma but by the National Institutes of Health, one of the few functional agencies of the United States government.

She also noted Jonas Salk, the inventor of the injectable version of the polio vaccine. (Angell notes that she herself is a polio survivor.) Did he profit from a mostly middle class scourge? No. He made sure it was widely available. His attitude was, how could someone patent something that saved lives?

Contrast that with Albert Sabin, the Canadian who invented the competing vaccine, which is taken in oral form. He did make a huge profit out of it. But even then, he made sure that it was reasonably priced so Third World countries could afford it. True, both men competed against each other and probably even hated each other. But both men's shared civic mindedness made sure that polio is now so rare in the developed world that we don't even think about it -- and were it not for some African tribal leaders who think we're trying to poison them and their communities, as well as al-Qaeda, we actually could have abolished polio all together two years ago. (The target now is somewhere around 2015.) But note that Sabin got rich even though the vaccine was fairly priced.

Note also that even in countries with strict price regulation, Big Pharma thrives. One of the world's most prescribed anti-cholesterol drugs was invented and is manufactured in Dublin, Ireland. Why it then that the price for a thirty day supply in Canada is $13 US while in the States it is $169?

There was something poetic about what Marx and Engels wrote: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. That's something I am actually in agreement with them on, in principle.

It's the practice -- both in capitalist and communist countries -- that's the problem. And it's something that's been lost even in the limited amounts that used to exist. As we take another look at our copyright and patent laws this is something we need to think about, seriously.

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