Friday, August 31, 2007

Just in time for Labour Day ...

... Canadian Customs officials are packing heat, at least at land crossings -- for the first time ever.

I actually support this, but I hope it's not the sign of a long term trend. Not that long ago, I read the enforcement division of the North Carolina Worker's Compensation Board carries guns.

Yes, that's right. If you ever get injured at work, make sure you have your facts straight or you might be looking down the barrel of a gun ... courtesy your tax dollars.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

It was never about the money, Mr. Harper

Two days after Steven Truscott was finally acquitted of the 1959 murder of Lynne Harper, a rather bizarre and sad twist. Lynne's father, Leslie, said the only reason Truscott sought a review of his conviction was so he could get compensation.

I suggested a couple days ago that a large sum of money -- say, 50 big ones -- was not out of reason in a case like this. But for Truscott, it was never about the money. It was about restoring his good name and clearing his rap sheet, something he got for something he didn't do.

And the fact remains, Harper's murder investigation has now officially reopened. While the man Truscott suspected really did it is long dead, it's quite possible that the real killer is still alive -- and has been enjoying himself watching both Truscott and Mr. Harper suffer. If that coward is eventually caught and convicted, I hope he also is forced to pay civil damages -- make it $100 million, $50 million each for the two men whose lives have been inextricably tied because of this deplorable tragedy. True -- no amount of money can count for the lives destroyed. But there must be some quantum, especially in a case that is much infamy to us as the Shanghai justice that was dealt upon Bruno Hauptmann in the States seven decades ago.

We actually owe Mr. Truscott a great deal of gratitude. Thanks to him, secret trials are now only used in the rarest of cases, such as for reasons of national security. Police can no longer conceal evidence on pain of jeopardy attaching. And of course, Canada no longer has the death penalty.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Message to union: Thanks, but no thanks

Late today at work, I received a memo that said that a union has placed an application to form a local at the office where I am. I suspect it's the CAW although I'm not 100% sure on that.

I support the right to organize, and the right to bargain collectively. Unions have been a strength for Canada and I hope they continue to exist for a long time to come.

However, as a former union member, I can honestly say that I did not get much out of membership. In the position I was in for a couple of years, we got barely more than minimum wage and the only benefits were discounted (not free) dental and then only for cleanings and cavities, not restorative work or dental surgery. I didn't know who my stewart was and I don't even remember being told when membership meeting were or where. Or that there was an election coming and who was running. Well there was one fringe: We got our birthday off. Big deal.

I'm quite happy with the position I have. It's challenging but I feel like I'm adding value to the product we offer as are my colleagues. The benefits are more than what I could ask for; certainly better than what a union could try to get. And the managers are approachable and we're on a first name basis.

For that reason, plus the fact I actually come from a non-union family, I am not in the least bit interested in signing a union card or if it comes to a vote to allowing a bargaining unit to come into my workplace. If one should be formed, I will do what I can to decline my membership although I will, of course, be more than happy to pay union dues as is required under the Rand Formula.

For the record, my employers didn't ask me to write this; I'm doing this on my own volition and in the belief that another tier of bureaucracy would only complicate matters. So if you're with the union and you're reading this either at my blog or my Facebook page, please don't contact me or try to recruit me. I'm just not interested.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

In memoriam: Doug Riley

Much of the background instrumental work we hear on records that has come out over the last 40 years or so from artists ranging from Moe Koffman and Ray Charles to Gordon Lightfoot and Anne Murray, and even young masters of the trade like current violin champion Natalie McMaster is thanks to jazz musician and record producer Doug "Dr. Music" Riley. He was also a serious classical pianist as and played with many symphony orchestras as well. Riley died yesterday in Calgary. He was only 62.

Meanwhile, some truly wretched people in the entertainment business, who will not be named, live on into their eighties and nineties.

Proves the old truism, the good die young, the evil refuse to leave.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

48 years, 2 months, 19 days

That's how long it's been since twelve year old Lynne Harper was brutally raped and murdered near an air force base -- since abandoned -- in Clinton, Ontario. Not long after that, her friend, fourteen year old Steven Truscott, was convicted and sentenced to hang. While Truscott's sentenced was commuted and he was later paroled, he has always proclaimed his innocence.

Today, a five judge panel of the Ontario Court of Appeal -- while refusing to say outright that Truscott is innocent -- said that his conviction was a miscarriage of justice, and entered a verdict of not guilty. (Text of the decision is here, background on the case is here.)

Over the ensuing decades, it has emerged that the provincial prosecutors and the Department of National Defence had been colluding in suppressing key evidence that would have raised probable doubt ... not to mention that the autopsy pointing to a time of death was so laughable that CSI Cancun could have done a better job. Evidence points to a sexual predator stalking the area at the time, but he died in the 70s and his body was cremated -- plus the DNA evidence has degraded so much over time that pointing to any killer with certainty is an impossibility.

Should Truscott sue the province and the feds for the hell he's gone through?

Yes. While no amount of money can compensate for pain and suffering, $50 million is not out of the question as a deterrent to cops who'd be tempted to jump to conclusions like what happened five decades ago.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Coming soon to your friendly freeway: Tolls!

Pennsylvania has long been called the "Keystone" state in part because it often blazes trails, and if what you're about to read sets a trend for the rest of the US, then Canada can't be too far behind and that is truly a frightening thought.

While toll roads have been around for eons, it was Pennsylvania that opened up the first modern expressway, the Pennsylvania Turnpike. A number of interstates as well as some state highways make up the system as we know it today; and it's on EZ Pass, the electronic tolling system that covers much of the northeast and part of the mid-West. But apparently a toll increase just a couple of years ago is not enough. Seems that another east-west route -- I-80 -- has become the favourite of truckers going through the state. Serves to reason considering the toll for trucks on I-76 going from Ohio to New Jersey is at least $122, even with EZ Pass. (For cars, it's $22.75 for 357 miles, not a bad deal compared to the 407.)

So what does Ed Rendell, the governor of the state, want to do? Turn I-80 into the second mainline of the Turnpike, by putting up 10 electronic gantries (without tollbooths, like Ontario's 407 or Route 91 in the OC) along the route's length, every 30 miles or so. In other words, an existing free highway would become a toll road.

This isn't like what's been done in some states where toll lanes are put down the median of a free road -- new express lanes for those willing to pay, while the existing road becomes collector lanes for those who don't. This is a major route that is a lifeline to the whole of the Northeast, and there are no plans to put a third lane down the median strip. Needless to say, the longstanding tensions between the mostly conservative rural regions and the two major urban cities -- Pittsburgh and Philadelphia -- has heated up to the point of near explosion.

The problem lies in a loophole in federal law that allows free roads to be converted to tolled ones provided revenues raised go towards better roads for all. Pennsylvania, on the other hand, wants to use it for public transit. Only the two cities above, and possibly the capital of Harrisburg, could possibly benefit from better bus and subway service. Not to mention that the whole plan may be illegal since I-80 was built in the first place with federal money, not bond issues like the Pike was.

I can appreciate Rendell trying to get creative. It's better than his original idea of leasing out the Pike for decades to a private group. (They tried that in Indiana, and the people revolted at the polls, but the damage was done.) But if the idea is to impose user fees without raising taxes, it's still not a good way to do it. Since most of the people who use the interstates are actually from out of state, it becomes a captive tax on the unwilling, just like a hotel tax. To shunpike, one would have to take side roads just before the gantries. That would increase traffic on rural roads as well as greenhouse gases.

Frankly, they could make just as much money selling naming rights to the road.

It's just a matter of time before Dalton decides there's money to be had, perhaps not in tolling, but in naming rights too. Imagine driving up from Hamilton to Barrie -- first take the Tim Horton's QEW, exit at the Microsoft 427, head east on the Globe and Mail 401 and then north on the Molson's 400. But don't be surprised if the 401 is tolled sooner or later. That'll be pretty much the end of Ontario right there.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Here's a piña colada on the way out, Al ...

The only surprise was when Alberto Gonzales was going to resign, not if. As for Dubya saying that the Democrats dragged Al's name in blood -- um, mud -- my response would be, didn't Karl do that to Valerie Plame first?

Probably, GWB will pick Ted Olson as the replacement for AG. Not my favourite guy but he's someone with a heck of a lot more integrity than most of the cabal at the White House right now.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Stelco sold

An era in Hamilton is truly over. Stelco has been sold to an American company, USX. There are now no more independent steel producers in Canada.

I come from a Dofasco family, but the workers at Dofasco (non-union) rooted for their union brothers and sisters at Stelco -- wage agreements there usually trickled down into what the people at Dofasco got. However, the US steel industry has seen a massive shakeup, with USX one of the survivors after making brutal cuts in their workforce as well as what they pay workers.

This is really going to be interesting, what happens next.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

"D" Something something something spells Dictator

I disdain the word gauleiter, or any phraseology that hearkens back to the Nazi era. Yet I'm having a very difficult time trying to figure a way to describe what's been happening the last few days in British Columbia. My fellow Prog Blogs give their two bits here, here, here, here and here. Here's the skinny for those who don't know: The Conservatives don't like the fact that an NDPer represents a certain district, Skeena - Bulkley Valley. That MP's name is Nathan Cullen. So the Conmen have decided to appoint their own "liaison" named Sharon Smith, who is the Mayor of Houston BC and just happens to be the Conservative candidate for whenever the federal election is finally held.

They say having someone from the fourth party "doesn't cut" it when it comes to getting projects done for the home district. They insist only a government hack can get the job done. That's funny logic, because I've been seeing more done with someone out of government in the last year in a half in my home district of Hamilton Mountain represented by an NDPer, Chris Charlton, than happened in the previous thirteen when someone in the Liberal government was the MP here. And I'm saying that as a Liberal. Someone elected represents all the people in the district regardless of affiliation. They present petitions to Parliament even if they themselves disagree with the content, for instance. They have the ability to walk up to a responsible Minister right on the House floor for specific requests. They procure congratulatory messages and other greetings from the higher-ups even if it's someone from the other side. No liaison is necessary, because that MP is the liaison.

What are these guys trying to attempt? Divide Canada into an us-vs-them confederation of exclaves? Some have suggested that this is entirely unconstitutional as only the people can choose who represents their district in Ottawa, and I agree with that connotation.

This kind of trickery is completely intolerable. The Cons have only one aim, a permanent far-right wing majority, but to get there they need a temporary dictatorship which is what is really what's happening here. Having someone place a district entirely under their control with a marionette beneath them while that someone or his or her superior pulls the strings. Marionette is too kind a word, gauleiter too harsh -- but there has to be a word to describe this one.

What Canada needs is proportional representation which would ensure a permanent minority Parliament. That would have stopped this kind of chicanery from happening in the first place.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Nothing to apologize for

A couple of days ago, Sudan decided to declare personna non grata two diplomats for allegedly "interfering in its internal affairs." The favourite code of dictatorships, especially the most brutal ones. One diplomat is from Sweden, the other from Canada. Their sin? Calling out Khartoum for its continued foot-dragging on the Darfur genocide. Tonight, it seems the one from Sweden has a reprieve for three weeks, the balance of his tour of duty. Sweden's rep also represents the interests of the EU as a whole.

While the EU issued a statement apologizing for any "misunderstanding," it's my opinion there's nothing to apologize for. Genocide is genocide, and what Sudan is doing to the people in Darfur is genocide. In fact, it's the belief of many and not just myself that Khartoum wants to spark a regional war with Chad and the Central African Republic.

200,000 have been murdered so far, part of a wider civil war in the country that has claimed over 2 million over the last quarter century. The only reason why the United States has spoken out in favour of the refugees is because the country has oil, a lot of it. (Rwanda, by contrast, does not so Bill Clinton allowed 800,000 to be murdered because it wasn't worth his time.)

The one country that could put an end to the bullshit is Mainland China, which only last month finally stopped using its veto at the Security Council to allow a peacekeeping force to intervene (although it's going to be a heck of a lot more peace making, just like NATO had to do in Bosnia-Hercegovina). Why has it failed to do more than the bare minimum? Why, because it's Sudan's biggest customer for Texas T, of course! They're equal partners in the genocide.

There's a reason why diplomatic immunity was created -- so the messenger wouldn't be killed. It should never be used as an excuse to flout a country's laws regarding everything from moving violations to drug-smuggling and even murder but a country's "guests" are there for a reason, to be the official conduits of policy from other governments. Our ambassador, and his counterparts, are doing their job in speaking in favour of human rights.

A country that treats its diplomatic corps like that which Khartoum favours deserves equal treatment. If Sudan is expelling our ambasador there, PMS should return the favour and tell Sudan's top voice in Ottawa to get the Hull out of Canada.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Live Next Door to The Prophet!

I was shocked to read about this one, but perhaps should not have been -- developers in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, are building condominiums in the neighbourhood of the Ka'aba, the holiest shrine in Islam. Also being planned is an office building that will have twice the floor space of the current world's champion in that department, the Pentagon.

Truly, is nothing sacred?

Not that I could go to Mecca anyway -- it's forbidden to non-Muslims to enter -- but even if they did allow infidels to come to meditate or personally reflect, I wouldn't want to go anyway, knowing there's a Body Shop and a Cinnabon right on the edge of the shrine's precinct.

What if someone tried to build a mall next to St. Joseph's Oratory, or the Mormon Tabernacle, or the Cave of the Patriarachs? I mean, really.

Is it any wonder there are people trying to overthrow the al-Saud family? And you can bet that even if the family does fall, al-Qaeda will keep those stores and apartment buildings open to fund their terrorism, just as the Mafia uses legitimate business fronts to stay alive. But I thought holy sites were supposed to be just that, holy. Selling stamps and phone cards and trading Euro coins with the Pope's profile on the back, next to the Sistine Chapel, may be one thing -- after all, the Vatican is a sovereign state. But selling out one's faith in the name of the almighty dollar is quite another.

I'd think most devout Muslims would be outraged at what's happening to their sacred sites.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Chaos in Montréal

Many years ago, they had a great joke on Married ... With Children: "I know there are K-Marts in Chicago, but there's something so special about going to one out of town!"

I guess one could say the Hudson's Bay location in downtown Montréal would have to be one of those places -- a department store as well as a tourist attraction. Today it almost became a death-trap also when the ceiling in the basement started leaking big time. They actually had to shut down a section of the Métro's Ligne Verte because of fears the subway might be flooded in. There's been chaos as a result, as that one line alone carries 200,000 passengers every day.

It's telling that although our downtowns are the lifeblood of major cities in Canada, they also have the worst infrastructure. Many water pipes are a hundred years old or more with an intended service life of only 40 years or less. And they run right through the heart -- or in this case, between two worlds; the one above ground and the one below, with people both in it.

We keep seeing all these megaprojects being bandied about. What about keeping the basics in a good state of repair? It's a good thing someone spotted this before there was a real problem. Sure we could use a deep water port in the Far North but imagine what five billion could do to bring pipes up to standard and making sure bridges and tunnels get painted every so often. Often, that's enough to avert disaster.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Alberta spied on Montanans

Environmental groups in Canada have long complained the Government of Alberta has illegally wiretapped their offices. While nothing has ever been proven beyond the shadow of a doubt, there's little doubt these plucky people have been fighting an uphill battle just to get attention. During an oil conference in Calgary, for instance, the private television stations made absolutely no mention of counter-demonstrations by green activists -- and of course they're the ones most sympathetic to one party rule in the province. They're not going to bite the hand that feeds them, even if that hand is engaged in funny business.

Spying on fellow Canadians is one thing. Spying on people from the States is quite another. Yet now the Montana state government is investigating whether the utility board in Alberta spied on people from Big Sky Country. What was their sin? Protesting the construction of a power line that would deliver surplus electricity to the States. True the line -- a 500 kV high tension line -- is presently intended only for the Edmonton-Calgary corridor, but it can easily be extended and the US is hungry for that power.

According to the Alberta NDP which got the word via an Access to Information Request, the board hired a spy to infiltrate a group of landowners who oppose the development. Frankly, I think it's despicable.

It's heartening in a way that the very farmers we often misconstrue as "rednecks" are often the most passionate defenders of what's left of the Prairie way of life. One only has to think of the Oldman River Dam project, which still has questionable benefits if at all -- while it was eventually relocated after massive protests it was still built, in an area where wind power would made much more sense.

All that is reasonably called for is an environmental assessment hearing. When it's Montana of all places that's asking questions, even if it stands to benefit from all that power, there's a problem. If the Alberta government suspects their perceived enemies of wrong-doing then they should go before a judge and get a wiretap warrant. Otherwise, they should heed the rising voices of those -- on both sides of the border -- who fear the Wild Rose is starting to wilt.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

30-3. A score in American football? Nope ...

... baseball. The Texas Rangers, in last place in the AL West, pulled off a shocker when they came from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Baltimore Orioles 30-3. A team scoring 30 runs hasn't happened in the United States in the pros since -- 1897. And that was just the first leg of a double header; the boys from Arlington won the second frame 9-7.

Interesting these things happen to the worst teams.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Condo Conversions and 100% Mortgages

They've been around almost as long as someone got the idea to sell apartment units but in the last few years I've noticed quite a few apartment buildings in my hometown converting to condominiums. And it's a nationwide trend also. One can understand why on the surface landlords are doing this; one can make more money selling the units individually than as a block -- even the condo fees can earn as much as low-income housing.

But that's the crux. Many of the units being converted used to be public housing or rental units at rates below market. It may be a good thing to get people back into our downtowns, but is it also good to force people onto the streets?

While the real estate barons sleep on thread counts of ever increasing numbers, their ex-tenants struggle to find a place to live -- and eventually they wind up taking no-down payment mortgages. Guess who backs those up?

The Government of Canada. The banks have no risk whatsoever but it's the taxpayers who foot the bill for defaults. It's nowhere near as bad as the subprime scandal in the States but it's getting to the point where eventually it will be awfully close.

There's no question ownership is far preferable to renting. But shouldn't we give people an incentive to save to do so? It's time to bring back the federal home ownership savings plan -- shelter some of one's savings until he or she is ready to make their first home purchase. If there aren't going to be any more apartments, the least we can do is give people a head start.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Two items ...

... that I want to talk about today.

First: The union that represents many of the federal public servants in Canada, have accused PMS of conducting a firesale of some of the nation's top assets -- the office buildings where the bureaucrats work. They are in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa and Montréal. The feds sold them for a billion six. PSAC says they're really worth two billion three.

The feds say the buildings will be bought back over 25 years. Frankly, I've never liked the idea of leasebacks to begin with. To undervalue them, like Mike Harris did with the 407 toll road (which was sold for a ninety-year contract), is insanity.

Second: The so-called "Queen of Mean," Leona Helmsley, is dead. Like Mrs. Astor, she was an uncommonly generous philantropist although she always came off as shadowy in comparison -- kind of like Angelina to Jennifer in an earlier age. But she could never live down the accusation that she said "Only the little people pay taxes," a snide remark that (true or not) led to her conviction for tax evasion.

Hard to believe this, a convicted felon, was the same woman who a few years earlier had a confident smiling face in full-page ads inside the AAA tour-guides for her premium hotels, inviting the road weary to spend just one night. Made me actually want to stay at a Harley or Helmsley even if I -- or my parents -- couldn't even dream to afford it. Yeah, I'm gonna miss her even if a lot of New Yorkers are popping the bubbly tonight in celebration. Rest in peace, ma'am.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

When will I support SPP?

When will I be OK with the "Security and Prosperity Partnership" that Dubya, Calderón and PMS are shoving down our throats?

When labour standards and police practices in Mexico match those of the US and Canada -- as well the incomes.

When people's e-mails and phone calls in all three countries aren't just wiretapped for no good reason.

When people are allowed to support the troops and oppose the military missions they're sent on without being called unpatriotic.

When the powers that be stop talking about the wrongs of the previous governments and actually talk about what they're doing right now.

When people are actually allowed to protest right at the doorstep of the resort where the three leaders are staying -- not from a distance where the leaders can "watch on television" which means they'll just turn it off and watch something that they can agree on, like Fox News.

When the three leaders stop treating legitimate dissent in general with the contempt they do.

When will I support the SPP under the present conditions that are proposed -- without any consideration at all in Parliament, Congress and the Mexican National Assembly?

I'm a free trader, but not at this price. North America is not Western Europe.

À c'est prix-là, c'est rien!

UPDATE (4:55 PM EDT, 2055 GMT): Some may note I said rien, or nothing -- rather than jamais or never, as in "At this price, it's nothing." No, it's not a mistake. The SPP is not worth the paper it's printed on -- not until it's ratified as a treaty by the national legislatures of all three countries.
To vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers, click here.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Here's why Anna Nicole Smith REALLY died ...

... okay, it's a joke but a well deserved swipe against Bob Larson.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Local paper apologizes for racial slur

Nerene Virgin, the former kid's show host (Today's Special) and CBC journalist is hopping mad after the group of local "community" papers here in Hamilton ran a column using a certain racial slur made famous by the long-suppressed Disney film Song of the South. (Maybe "hopping" isn't quite the word I want to use -- the line comes from an argument between Br'er Rabbit and Br'er Fox.) The columnist, who was arguing against Dalton McGuinty appointing her to the district, is pleading ignorance.

I don't buy it -- any more than I buy the story the college student who "wasn't" aware of a slur used to demean North American Indians.

After reading the item I can understand more why Disney has been so reluctant to release SOTS on DVD in North America -- although I do think it should be, it remains to this day an artistic masterpiece and should not be subject to the victimization of political correctness even if it is racially incindiary.

That's no excuse, however, for someone to use that expression in the real world -- especially against someone as accomplished as Virgin. Note too, that the Hamilton Community Newspaper Group only publishes on the "Mountain" and the suburbs; conveniently it misses a fair chunk of the inner city that happens to fall into the district where Virgin is running as a Liberal candidate in the upcoming provincial election. That inner city portion has a more racially diverse population than in the areas where the papers are distributed -- and one of those areas is also part of the same district.

Interesting. Did the paper think it was going to be not read by those who wouldn't notice or pay attention? This is their most grevious fault since another columnist from long ago -- in fact their then editor -- made Desmond Tutu's name rhyme with the sound trains make in cartoons. (This was during the apartheid era, in a clumsy attempt to argue why Canada should not have imposed sanctions against South Africa.)

While she may not have wanted it, Virgin has suddenly gotten a lot of publicity again and likely the election. And in his attempt to argue against the appointment process (which I agree is wrong, there should be an open caucus or primary vote among party members in the district to name the candidate) the columnist completely undermined his point.

And ... I might add ... added fuel to the argument we need proportional representation.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Friday, August 17, 2007

His face sure rings a bell ...

Can you imagine this? A church is facing a fine of €5,000 per day for ringing the bell for morning mass, or at least ringing it too loud. Guess where? Not in Singapore where you can go to jail for chewing gum without a prescription. Not in Wisconsin where it's illegal to throw dynamite in a lake to catch fish.

Nope. This outrage is in the most liberal country on the planet -- the Netherlands.

Maybe it's me but what if they tried issuing a noise complaint against a mosque for the call to prayer or a temple's cantor for singing so loud people outside could hear it?

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

CARE to USAID: Shove it, Part Deux

As promised, a follow-up on my last blog post.

Agricultural policy in Canada and the United States, as well as the European Union, really has its priorities backwards. The lands of plenty grow enough food to feed half the world and then some -- yet are extremely regressive when it comes to protecting themselves against the developing world.

Nearly twenty years ago, Dame Eugenia Charles -- the late Prime Minister of the island of Domenica -- complained that the country could be well on the way to prosperity if the US would allow it to provide just one out of every one thousand oranges sold in the country. Dame Eugenia said the response of the US agricultural lobby always was, "Sorry, but we're not ready for reciprocity."

Reciprocity? How about fair trade, which is what developing countries reasonably ask for?

Here in Canada, we have powerful agricultural co-ops which on the one hand ensure a fair price for all but on the other hand distorts the market overseas. The United States is much more cutthroat but even it has huge farm subsidies -- in fact, many farmers are paid off not to grow crops: Payment in Kind. And of course, the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy has written the book on trade distortion.

Which leads to the issue of food aid.

Because we grow a surplus more years than not, we have plenty to go around. Rather than store that food for lean years (when there's drought or other natural disasters) we practically give it away, even dump it, on the foreign market. For countries experiencing food shortages that's not always a bad thing; after all, it's a bad thing to see people die from starvation. But when those countries have home-grown farm industries and their farmers are forced into bankruptcy because we see keeping our farmers from going under as more important -- well, that's a problem.

Rather than tackle the disease which is inequity in trade, we go after the short term symptoms and only make the disease fester more. We tie food aid to other concessions -- such as their reducing trade and services barriers, while we build up the wall even more. Far better would be reducing or eliminating foreign debt while encouraging co-ops or microcredit in those countries.

Add in the cooperation of government which directs a big part of foreign aid and it really wreaks. We give third world nations the chaff along with the grain. So to see CARE -- the Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere -- take the stand it did today and saying no more to US government aid, even though it'll shrink their budget by about $45 million per year, is truly encouraging. The feds there also give to some other non-governmental groups and they're probably mulling it over telling USAID to screw off as well. I hope they do.

Of course, the US Constitution bans aid to religious groups (not that it's stopped Dubya from trying any which way to get around that rule). That's not the case in Canada, where there is long standing taxpayer-funded support for faith-based charities (I guess we've figured out the balance between assistance and prosletyzing). In fact, during the weeks before Easter, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) matches donations made to a number of religious groups on a six to one ratio. Fortunately, the government is mostly hands-off in the oversight of these funds since the churches spend the money prudently and on targeted projects that have realistic potential for self-sufficiency which should be the goal of development. But if those donations were pegged to food aid, I'm sure the churches would balk at that.

Recently, PMS has indicated he wants to focus foreign aid on a select number of countries where there's hope. That's short sighted. What I'd like to see is: Fair trade practices, including giving preference to local farmers and craftspeople, not multinational sweat shops and slave labour camps; aid tied to human rights and democratic reforms; and food aid that's a hand up, not a foot stomp.

And of course, I'd like Canada to hit the target Lester Pearson set 40 years ago of 0.7% GDP. Whether that's money or aid-in-kind is not the point; the point is getting to the target and making the sure the money's spent wisely for a change. Starting with making sure our farmers are treated well while those overseas aren't punished for our greed.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

CARE to USAID: Shove it!

I'll probably write more about this later today after work, but for now all I can say is Kudos to CARE for telling the US Agency for International Development -- USAID -- to take a hike and keep the $45 million it donates to CARE for food aid.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Get your motor running ...

The speed limit on many of Canada's highways is way too low. Many roads in the back country posted at 80 km/h should really be 100, and most expressways posted 100 should be anywhere from 110 in the cities to 130 in rural areas.

I'm not suggesting we go the way of the Autobahns in Germany -- which technically have no speed limit but still enforce a guideline of "reasonable and prudent," meaning one can't endanger the lives of others. There, the "recommended" speed is 130. But I would like to see more reasonable limits along with much stricter enforcement aimed at speed demons.

So to watch this video today, of some truly reckless people who think they have the "right" to drive 300+ because they can afford to drive a Ferrari or Lamborghini is truly frightening. There could have been some real carnage if someone law-abiding had been on those highways and byways in Alberta.



Personally, I'd like to see those cars repossessed -- not to be destroyed but to be given to charities. After all, civil society deserves as nice a ride as those who obey the law but are disgraced by their moronic comrades.

UPDATE (08/17/07, 7:01 AM EDT, 1101 GMT): It now appears this video -- or at least the participation of one or more participants -- may have been faked. Still, that's no excuse to daring to be stupid or reckless.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Monday, August 13, 2007

Brooke Astor 1902-2007

It's hard to imagine the world without Brooke Astor. By the time the Astor Foundation wrapped up its affairs about ten years ago, she had given away nearly 200 million bucks to improve the lot of her fellow New Yorkers. Truly the last of a breed in the class of the Rockefellers, Carnegies and Fords.

Can you imagine Donald Trump or his kids being that charitable?

Don't be ridiculous.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

NO S%&@, Mitt! (And Bye Bye Karl!)

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney says he may have misspoken when he said his sons' volunteering for his campaign was the equivalent of if they had volunteered to serve in Iraq. (None of them have.)

Meanwhile, breaking news this morning: The power behind the throne at the White House, Karl Rove, says he'll resign at the end of the month.

Expect a presidential pardon around Labor Day even though Rove hasn't been charged with anything as of yet.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Who said Iraq would be a quagmire? Dick Cheney ...

... in 1994.



To be fair, Cheney wasn't the first to say this. Schwartzkopf pretty much said the same thing two years earlier in his autobiography, "It Doesn't Take A Hero" -- right towards the end, when he answered the most frequently asked questions he had received after the First Gulf War. But the general also had a warning that the future was not global but regional conflicts, and the key to winning them would be the ability to manage them smartly -- which Bush and Cheney have not done well at all.


Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

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

Long before he became part of the FBI's infamous "Goon Squad" and before he became the source known as "Deep Throat," Mark Felt handled a patent infringement case for the Federal Trade Commission, regarding a brand of toilet paper called "Red Cross" and whether it misled people in thinking they were purchasing something endorsed by the Red Cross; a non-profit, non partisan NGO.

This wasn't an isolated case. The Red Crosses and Red Crescents of the world (and in Israel, the Magen David Adom) protect their trademarks and with good reason: The symbols indicate humanitarianism and impartiality, so much so that the only other group entitled to use them are medical corps and only in times of conflict (to indicate military EMTs and physicians). Even using the Red Cross on a commercially sold first aid kit is technically illegal.

Or ... is it?

Fast forward to the third millennium. The pharmaceutical giant, Johnson and Johnson, has now turned the table and is suing the American Red Cross over its decision to license the symbol for the sale of products at commercial establishments. Everything from toothbrushes to humidifiers. What is J and J asking for? An injunction demanding the inventory be turned over so they can be destroyed.

It's kind of complicated in a way when one considers J and J had the trademark before the Red Cross was founded (how they lost it on the way, I'm not quite so sure). The two do have an agreement on who gets to use the symbol and when but that dates back to 1895. Moreover, the revenues the American Red Cross gets from the sale of the products in question is puny, about $5 million per year. In a normal year, they raise about $4 billion -- it spiked up to 6 last year because of the outpouring of donations to the Katrina relief effort.

For the life of me, I can't figure out why a charity shouldn't be allowed to sell commercial wares as part of its line of business, so long as it doesn't become its primary source or such business undermines its original purpose. It's hard to believe the same company that got out of an entire line of business during the 1980s (the decision to stop producing acetaminophen in capsule form, after two cyanide poisonings) as the ultimate act of corporate citizenship would now turn around and say that a charity that is probably one of its best customers can't go into business themselves even if the profits go right back into the charity itself.

I don't know how I'd rule in this case. How would you?

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Your vehicle may have been recalled -- so find out

I was going to write today about mine safety in Canada versus the United States but Buckdog beat me to it and pretty much said what I wanted to (thanks!) so I want to talk about one thing that seems to have come up of late at work -- a lot.

It's bound to happen but making vehicles isn't a perfect science. Every so often there is a recall (ordered by the government) or a safety campaign (voluntarily ordered by the manufacturer). There are really no secrets about these, notwithstanding what some auto writers claim. They are well publicized. Nor are there any so-called "secret warranties." There are warranty extensions on occasion, but the companies also go out of their way to let the owners or lessees know.

There's a catch, however. By law, the companies only have to notify the first registered owner of a vehicle; or if the owner has changed, the subsequent owner -- but only if he or she has let the company know that such a change has happened. A company's records will show four things -- the date of the recall, when the letter was issued, the date it was performed and the date it was "closed" by the dealer (that is, the dealer lets the company know the work was done and it can registered as such.) Some consumers do call just for that purpose (a good chuck of the e-mail I handle deals with that one question, whether there are recalls) but some are clueless.

There are no time limits on these recalls. They remain open until every vehicle recalled is either worked on and / or declared "branded" (i.e. totalled or scrapped) by the police. Believe it or not, some vehicles ten years or older were recalled just months after leaving the assembly line, the owner sold the car before then and the subsequent owners -- sometimes quite a few of them -- have no clue, until their suspension cracks or catalytic converter blows up, they get the work done by an independent garage, and months after that finally find out there was a recall after all. Reimbursements are considered but they are on a case by case basis.

Much more recently, at least two vehicle lines for some model years have had a warranty extension against corrosion of the rear suspension -- a quite long one -- and our records show the work to replace the one sold with the vehicle hasn't even been performed yet!

So if you buy a new car and later move, let the car company know -- the call centre phone number is in the owner's manual, or find out the number by calling toll free directory assist. If you're selling the car, let the new owner know how to get in touch. And if you're buying a used car -- whether it's from a dealer, any dealer -- take a few minutes to call the car company and let them know you're the new owner and make sure the FIRST question you ask is, "Are there any recalls?" (Of course, you'll need to have the vehicle identification number, or VIN, handy -- not all vehicles produced during a model year have necessarily been recalled.)

Where I work, the company to whom we're contracted requires us to do the search anyway (by the VIN) but some may not. But as a consumer you have the right to know. Heck, why not give them a call anyway? You'll touch base with a human person, and if there is a recall it will be done with genuine manufacturer parts (not aftermarket like what are sold at some places which will not be mentioned) and it'll be done at no charge.

Hopefully, your car or truck will never be recalled or subject to a service campaign. But if there is, it's one of the few things that will increase the resale value down the road.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Québec woman can't take hubby's name -- no woman can

A recent migrant to Québec from Ontario is upset that she can't get the province to agree to have her husband's name on her provincial driver's licence. That's due to Article 393 of the province's Civil Code, which states: "In marriage, both spouses retain their respective names, and exercise their respective civil rights under those names."

This is part of a group of articles that were enacted back in 1981 and went further than anywhere else in Canada to ensure the equality of the sexes in marriage. The only legal reasons a woman may be permitted to take her husband's name is if her own is difficult to pronounce or is the subject of ridicule or infamy (example: a woman would have a case if she was called Hitler or Hirohito). The law has also led to a very interesting situation: Many fathers in the province allow their kids to have their wife's or common law partner's name for precisely the same reason.

The woman here -- Caroline Parent -- is asking nothing more than for women to be given the choice as is the case in the common law provinces.

I'm not sure that's a good idea. We're entitled to a name and unless we have a good reason we're entitled to keep that name. Changing one's name presumes you're selling out to your spouse and turning over your rights, even though the law for at least the last two decades or so has made it clear that spouses are fully equal in a marriage -- period. There may be historical reasons for the rule but I just don't see it being valid anymore. I think the law in Québec should be taken nation-wide. It recognizes that as long as both partners are law-abiding, neither is a threat to the other's rights and privileges.

There may be a case based on freedom of expression -- but I would argue that that can be limited by what's justified in a free and democratic society which is that mothers and fathers are equal and neither has authority over the other.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

They knew and did nothing

After the Arar report was declassified today and the revelation the Canadian government knew what was going to happen, one has to wonder whether it may be time to disband CSIS and turn foreign intelligence back to the Mounties.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

I support MMP

At the upcoming provincial election, the people in Ontario will also vote in a referendum on whether to dump first past the post and replace it with mixed member plurality -- a form of representation by population. The method proposed is not somewhat like the system in Germany and New Zealand, where one votes for both a local candidate and a party slate.

I support the move, precisely for the reason some are opposing it: It will mean the end of endless majority governments. Why is that important?

It may be true that majorities produce stability. But they also produce arrogance. As the system is presently set up in Canada, someone could win an election outright with as little as 35% of the popular vote then rule like a dictator (with a compliant bunch of minions in the legislature) for the next four years. Coalition building would require broader and more palatable policy options that draw consensus rather than division. And it would permit "dream team" Cabinets, such as the Red-Green alliances one often sees in Europe.

Besides this is totally unlike the pure PR system in Israel, where a party wins seats with just 2% of the popular vote; it's little wonder why coalitions are so unwieldly there. The floor proposed here is slightly higher -- 3% -- but given the party seats would level out any "overhangs" it would prevent fringe groups from gaining access to the legislature unless they first had fairly broad local support.

By ensuring the representation closely reflects how people actually voted, one will feel their vote counted. Moreover, by having two ballots one can split the vote so they can vote for one party's candidate (or rather his or her slate) for the top job while selecting another party's local candidate.

Some have argued against the idea of closed lists. And this is a concern -- generally I support the principle of no representation without selection. However, the fact is parties will have to justify who appears on their lists and why. If a party decided, for instance, to choose a slate made up entirely of white males from Toronto's financial district it would risk getting punished not just on the list but on the local level as well. Going back to Israel and its pure PR model -- would any party stand a chance if it just fielded a slate entirely from Tel Aviv or Meggido (Armageddon)? Not likely.

There are kinks in the system and they can be worked out but this may be the best and only chance we have of getting it done. It's unacceptable a party can win the popular vote and still lose the election. MMP will prevent that from ever happening again. That's why I'm going to support this and work among my colleagues and here to get it up to the 60% vote needed to pass.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Money for Nothing: The Magazine

If those of the cloth want to know why people are so cynical of religion, they only have to look in the mirror and see the hypocrites in their midst.

Such as this guy, one Jason Christy, who collected money for ads to a Christian magazine ... then allegedly pocketed the money for himself.

Christian publishers like Gary McCullough, director of the Christian Communication Network and a competitor of Christy’s, accuse him of running an “ongoing scheme that has defrauded many Christians.”


McCullough says Christy uses his website to prompt Christian churches and organizations to buy ads for the corresponding magazine but then prints only “a few hundred copies” and mails them “as if they are part of a much larger distribution.” Then, after the ministry has spent thousands of dollars and begins to ask for tear sheets or copies of the magazine, Christy balks, McCullough said.


“Each month Christy would apologize and give an excuse or wonder himself why I had not received copies of the magazine with my ad,” McCullough said. “This was all an elaborate con. The Church Report was never printed with my ads—because it was never printed.”


Christy apparently continues to sell ads and collect payment, claiming a circulation of 30,000, even though there apparently has been no print version of the magazine published in more than a year.


And these are the people who keep voting Republican, time after time after time. Simply breath-taking.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Sesame Street Bus

This is an old joke that goes back a bit, but it's still a good one.

A subway driver gets the scare of his life when his train is hijacked and forced to take a joyride all around a major city. He's dealt with muggings and stabbings, but this one breaks his nerve. He tells his supervisors he's sick and tired of driving underground -- but since he's a few years away from "thirty and out" he uses his bumping rights and demands a surface route. Not wanting to lose a loyal employee, the transit company agrees.

He shows up at the bus depot a week later and is stunned to learn he's been assigned the Sesame Street run. He shrugs and begins his rush hour run.

At the first stop, a better built woman steps on board. "Hi, you must be the new driver," as she swipes her smart card against the meter. "My name's Patty." She takes a seat near the front.

Several stops later, another better built woman steps on board. "Oh, you're the new driver," she says, and she takes her pre-paid ticket and validates it in the meter. As the printer stamps the card and it beeps, the woman says, "My name's Patty." She takes a seat in the middle of the bus.

Two miles down, a middle aged man boards on. He pays cash, then tells the driver, "Hi, my name's Saul, and I'm special!" He then bends down, takes off his socks and picks some bunions off his feet. He then puts his socks and shoes back on and goes to the back. The driver, who's seen it all as a train operator on the subway, is really dazed.

The rest of his shift is otherwise uneventful. He comes home, and his wife asks him how the buses were.

"If I have another day like this one, I'm going to take the package as soon as they offer it. I just can't wait four years until I make my 30."

"What happened?" asked his wife.

"What happened???? Two all-beef Patties, special Saul on his knees, picking bunions on a Sesame Street Bus!"

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Guess who's claiming the papal vote was rigged?

Back during the 1980s and 90s when I was really adrift in terms of my faith, I somehow got hooked on a little magazine called The Plain Truth, edited by Herbert W. Armstrong and his successors. Remember that guy? He claimed that Americans and Brits are really Israelis, that we should follow Jewish dietary laws, and that Christmas and Easter are pagan holidays and the only "correct" days of worship are Jewish holidays. I had to chuckle at a lot of the magazine's articles as well as the weekly show The World Tomorrow, but back in 1988 they actually had a very insightful article about the Free Trade election in Canada and what was at stake -- covering some points the MSM missed, such as the US needed a viable partner to take on the European Union.

Interestingly, Armstrong to the best of my recollection never specifically condemned Roman Catholicism. In fact, he had audiences with several Popes during his lifetime. He kept saying something about the European Union being the seventh and final "revival" of the Roman Empire but neglected to mention the "sixth" -- the Hitler / Mussolini cabal -- rejected Christianity as a religion for weaklings. (And for what it's worth, the Vatican did turn a blind eye to the Holocaust which is still a stain on its reputation today.)

Fast foward to 2007. Armstrong is long gone, and the copyright of the books fell into the hands eventually of the "Philadelphia" Church of God. It's a long story but let's just say this church decided to publish Armstrong's books under "fair use" laws after Armstrong's old church turned its back on its past and became part of the evangelical movement. Somehow, the PCG won an upset victory over its rival.

The PCG's magazine is called The Trumpet. And while they're certainly right about Wojtyla and Ratzinger taking on the "liberation theologians" they really go into speculation about whether the papal vote was rigged.

I picked up the magazine at a local restaurant. It seems like every third article they find some way to smear the Vatican or mainline Catholics in general, just enough to avoid libel laws. And this is anything but a principled magazine that The Plain Truth was. In my humble opinion, it's a religious version of MAD.

Look, it's no secret that Wojtyla changed the voting rules during the 90s. This was actually picked up by the press, contrary to what the PCG claims. Catholics knew about the change quite well too. The reason for going to a simple majority after 34 ballots (dropping from 2/3)was to ensure a papal enclave wouldn't last for months, as it often did during the Middle Ages. Someone has to be running the government of a country, even the world's smallest.

As for the "amnesia" the PCG criticizes about what actually happened, it's important to remember the cardinals take an oath of secrecy before the conclave beings. Of course there was going to be a denial of the actual vote, even though it eventually leaked out anyway. The McKenna brothers weren't supposed to know Wojtyla won in 1978 by a vote of 99-9 with 9 spoiled ballots, but they did find out anyway. Newspapers weren't supposed to find out Ratzinger led on the third ballot over Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires 72-40, before winning on the fourth 77-34. A cardinal actually confirming this -- or his assistant -- would be excommunicated if caught, but that didn't stop the leak from happening.

So what if Bergoglio won a surprising level of support? Everyone knew it was Ratzinger's election to lose. Everyone said his greatest fear was Maria Martini of Milan.

And besides, Ratzinger is in my opinion at least, talking sense when he says he'd like Europe to rediscover its faith. Is that really a bad thing? One can support the separation of church and state and still be a faithful person. Just because someone said all roads lead to Rome doesn't necessarily make it so. And regardless of what most secular analysts, most religions, teach -- the War Against Terror will eventually be won. Just not the way we're fighting it right now.

Oh, one other thing -- why is the Philadephia Church of God when most of their offices are in Oklahoma?

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Mount Steele smaller

At least PMS can't be blamed for this, but when a mountain suddenly gets smaller without warning it's a very troubling sign.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

The new symbol of shame in Bangkok ...

Who has flunked the third grade 33 times and is now a symbol of shame for bad cops in Bangkok?

Hello Kitty ™.

As funny as this sounds, the BBC reports that cops who are late, illegally park or commit other "minor" offences will be forced to wear an armband with the legendary Japanese cartoon character for a few days.

They should try that on Karl Rove and Scooter Libby -- heck, why not Tom Delay and Richard Cheney?

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The spotted owl returns, on the run

Over a decade after a mostly conservative US Supreme Court defied the first Bush Administration and acted to save the spotted owl (the votes of Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O'Connor made the difference), the endangered species faces a new threat -- a predator called the barred owl, forcing the spotted to find new habitats. Guess what the current Bush and the forest industry wanted to do? Yup? Cut down the trees where the spotted used to live. Fortunately, a federal judge said they can't do that -- and the issue isn't the owl, but the forest. Off limits means exactly that.

This op-ed piece in the NYT gave me a chuckle -- and a bit of hope that despite Dubya's machinations, there still may be enough tree huggers in the courts to stop the madness that he believes in. After all, the new Chief Justice, John Roberts, says he defers to stare decisis.

At least, that's what we were led to believe.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

What happened to the "defense" in Interstate highways?

The US Congress voted to appropriate $250 million to rebuild the collapsed I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, on top of an equal amount pledge by the Minnesota state legislature. While there is nothing to suggest what happened was an act of terrorism, the accident has exposed a huge failure in US thinking -- the lack of maintenance of ways.

When the Interstate system was first developed in the 1950s, the main concern was not to do with intercity commerce but defense considerations -- the need to move land forces from one city to another in the event of a civil emergency. The network is called the "National System of Interstate and Defense Highways "and with good reason: When Eisenhower took some troops across America to thank Americans for their support after World War One, it proved to be a national embarrassment as it took two months for the convoy to go across the country and bridge after bridge simply snapped. Later, Ike could only watch with horror when Hitler built the Autobahns and used them with striking force -- continental Europe was indeed Blitzkrieged. After World War Two, Dwight wasn't about to let America get suckered again.

Roads aren't just a means to move goods and services as well as people and capital; they're vital to national security. Imagine if the half a trillion spent in Iraq was instead spent on basic infrastructure improvements. Terrorists have just found a new vulnerability -- just because Washington was too cheap to spend a couple thousand bucks on a simple paint job to cover up rust. And don't forget, 2000 bridges collapse in the US each year. It's just that 1980 of them aren't worthy of coverage even in community papers.

All AQ needs to bring down an endangered bridge is a stick of dynamite or even C4 -- not a truck bomb. Thank Karl Rove for screwing up America's priorities, kids.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

How far does $200 Gs go in Harare?

Things have gotten so bad in Zimbabwe that they are now printing a $200,000 bill -- which at current market rates is worth a mere USD 13. And to add insult to injury, the already plundered country is now facing wage and price controls. Robert Mugabe says he's doing it as another step to prevent his country from being "recolonized." But why would anyone want to take over that country when almost all its natural resources are worthless?

One country normally invades another because it has a bounty of them. Like, when the US took over Iraq for its oil.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

A city sales tax?

Unlike US cities, municipalities in Canada are severely limited in the kinds of revenue they can raise. Montréal and Vancouver do have a special gas tax and a levy from parking metres and garages that funds public transit, and some cities in Canada have a hotel tax; but for the most part the vast majority of the burden is on property taxes -- putting the burden on residents and corporations which settles in wherever they are. And when they do get taxing authority, it's very limited too. Look in Toronto. They tried raising the land transfer tax and vehicle registration fees -- it failed, now they're looking at basically destroying public transit in the Meeting Place.

There may be a "better way," pardon the expression. I don't like raising taxes, but I'm also against cutting them unless a significant part of the debt burden has been permanaently retired. Cities have been demanding one percent of the GST. I say, why not take the one percent that was cut last year and give that authority back to the cities to raise it?

It makes sense because it can be tacked on to the provincial sales tax. And it would be painless for business since they could remit it as part of the PST and the province in turn would send the money right back to the cities where they came from. This is how many US cities get their bread and butter -- not from ratepayers (which in many cities is less than half of the population) but consumers (which means everyone). Thus both residents and transients would share the pain. In New York state, for example, the state sales tax is 4 % but cities can tack on up to 4.5% on top of that. Some cities choose to put in as little as 0.5% while major centres like Buffalo and New York City elect for the maximum increment.

There is a downside of course -- consumption taxes tend to hit lower income people the most. But those taxes would tend to be less than property taxes in the first place, so in the end there would be a net benefit.

I'd also like to see all cities, not just some, allowed to have a hotel tax. There will always be tourists and business travellers and they will be willing to pay the going rate. Some cities' transient lodging fees in the States can be as much as 20% -- which may be absurd to us Canadians on the surface; but how else can they afford to build new stadia for "free"?

Our cities are facing a funding crisis, and it's time we thought outside the box. Provinces should give cities home rule and let them run their affairs, their way. It's past time to do so.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Another Hamilton icon bites the dust

I'll readily admit, some so-called "historical" sites are the kind I think we could do without. The Lister Block in Hamilton, which should have been torn down years ago, is instead going to be preserved at a cost far greater than tearing it down and building a "replica" which was the plan in the first place. The building is so full of rot one could smell it a couple of blocks away.

On the other hand, some demolitions don't make sense. A couple of days ago, a truly greedy developer decided he couldn't wait even to get a demolition permit and tore down a 160-year old institution in Hamilton, the Dynes Tavern -- to make way for a million dollar housing development. I didn't go there that much, but it had pretty decent food for a pub; and it was also the breeding ground for future music stars, among them country singer Mark LaForme who as recently as a couple of years ago still performed there even though he had long ago gotten too big for the "honky-tonk" scene.

Sure, the Beach Strip is a lucrative place. But the more homes that go in there, the less it becomes one of the last small-town neighbourhoods in the city I call home. And having the Dynes as a focal point gave the area a bit of class. For pieces of silver this jerk has thrown that all away. As for the fine he could face -- $200,000 -- he can just write it off as the cost of doing business.

Disgusting.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Open thread

After yesterday's horrible bridge collapse in Minneapolis, I think you can understand why I don't feel much like blogging today. Besides, I was doing a lot of catching up at work today, after the mainframe in Nashville crashed for more than half the day.

So if you have thoughts about bridges or on anything else, I'll leave this thread open. Keep it clean, please.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Dead Innocent

A recent paper published in the Tulsa Law Review is worth a read. It raises the question, what would happen if an innocent person was executed? Well, the answer is quite obvious: All hell would break loose. But as Jeffrey L. Kirchmeier of the CUNY School of Law in Queens NY points out, the fact innocent people have been released from death row hasn't necessarily changed people's attitudes about the death penalty, just made them more nervous. What has happened is that groups have been desperately seeking a case of a wrongful execution to bolster their case and, sadly, it's become more and more futile, giving ammunition in favour of those who call those of us who oppose capital punishment "bleeding hearts."

The essay (in PDF) speaks for itself. And it does raise a good point: We're going to have to do more than just merely suggest the worst case scenario. We have to appeal to logic as to why life without parole is the more moral alternative.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.