Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Year End Music Retro: Rasputin (and more euro ranting)

I wanted to write a comment last night, then today, about the sudden collapse the last few months of the pound against the euro (to nearly par) but that's something I can't really measure since I'm not that familiar with the 4X market and the rough drafts I had for a more fulsome post were just exercises in futility.

All I know is that the last few months, the idea of countries like Denmark, Poland and even Iceland joining in on the bandwagon because their currencies have become quite devalued, has suddenly become rather popular in their respective countries. The UK jumping on as well may be an inevitability but on terms like this is almost insulting -- they had a better chance when the euro was at 58p back in 2000 and now it's virtually par, £=€. At least it's not Zimbabwe where the currency drops 1,000,000% every six months before having to be reset again and again.

It's also worth noting Slovakia joins the currency tomorrow, the first ex-Warsaw Pact entity to do so, which should put added pressure on Russia as they have one less currency to manipulate. Not that they really can when oil has dropped to $37 this morning (from a high of $147 earlier this year) and the wholesale price of gas is now just 86¢ per gallon. (And that isn't the price that we're paying -- that's the price refineries charge each other.)

So, totally out there, and not entirely by coincidence, I offer this song.

Yup, Boney M's biggest hit. And contrary to some common thought, this weren't a one hit wonder either.

Happy New Year.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Is Ford next?

We have this romantic vision of corporate raiders -- people who swoop into a company, hope to add value to it, then sell it back on the market for a hefty profit. In reality, they can be brutually ruthless; demanding huge concessions from employees and the banks and showing little regard for individual investors. And so we have what came down yesterday on the markets.

Ford may not be in as much trouble as its US competitors, but it's not exactly out of the woods either. Unlike GM and Chrysler which have gotten loans from the government, Ford has asked for a line of credit "just in case."

Now, corporate raider Kirk Kerkorian had made things just a bit more complicated, and has taken a huge loss in dumping the 133 million plus shares he holds in Ford. He had bought the shares at an average of $7.10 and has dropped them at around $2.40.

Not that he's going to hurt that much -- he's a multi-billionaire and can write off his capital losses against any capital gains in other companies so he really loses nothing. So what's the problem? When that many shares suddenly float back on the market, it results in a major dilution of the stock price and it makes the ordinary stockholder who's already lost value hurt even more. In this case, the price dropped five percent in one day.

Often times there is a direct link between the stock price and the company's ability to finance its debt. If a company is worth only so much on paper but it owes many times more in instruments -- well, the company winds upside down. If the company has to refinance, usually the stockholders are the last to get what's left making the shares worthless or only a fraction of what they were. If the company is successful, stockholders often see a reverse split -- that is fewer shares are outstanding.

Remember Air Canada -- when it had to reorganize a few years ago, there was a stock consolidation, or "reverse split," of almost 14,000 to 1. The company of course survives, for now, but too many people got left out in the cold, employees as well as shareholders. Those who had a few hundred shares or less were just given a check for dollars -- if that -- and said, we don't want you around anymore.

Kerkorian, who's variously held stakes with GM and Chrysler in the past in the hopes of taking them over before he pulled out, ran into a firewall at Ford where the Ford family owns a tiny fraction of the shares but preferred voting rights effectively giving them 40% of the company. They weren't about to sell the store to a Johnny come lately any more than they were going to turn the keys over to Lee Iacocca thirty years ago.

But the storm is coming to Ford, too, and there may wind up being another raider who demands even tougher conditions to refinance -- at which point they'll wish they had talked deal with the last guy. And the layoffs, even more massive than what the "angel" would have asked for.

As far as the Japanese auto makers, they are not doing that much better. They may have more prudent business models and a more compact dealer network (making life easier) but when even Toyota announces a loss as they did last week, the first since World War II, the thought they might be passing the plate soon too is very frightening.

You thought our corporate raiders were bad? Wait until a sovereign wealth fund takes over one of the Japanese companies -- especially if the SWF is a crony for the Beijing government or a sheik who openly supports Osama Bin Laden.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Unfunny parody song could cost GOP chair candidate

An infamous parody song called "Barack the Magic Negro," which first came to light when Rush Limbaugh first broadcast it in April 2007 (no surprise there) has reared its head a second time. Now to be fair, this all got started a month before when a liberal commentator named David Ehrenstein wrote an op-ed piece of the same name in the LA Times, criticizing Barack's candidacy as a way of "assuaging white guilt" for the mistakes of the past in the same way black entertainers have broken through the colour barrier -- Sidney Poitier and Diahann Carroll to name just two.

That was in itself offensive. Entertainers are just entertainers and to pigeonhole them because they're of a certain race or ethnic group is just wrong.

But then the song came out. Rush thought it was funny and so did his ditto-heads. Most of us of course did not. It features an Al Sharpton impersonator singing these lyrics to "Puff the Magic Dragon." Here's the first stanza:

"Barack the Magic Negro lives in D.C./ The L.A. Times they called him that/ 'cause he's not authentic like me / Yeah the guy from the L.A. paper / said he made guilty whites feel good/ they'll vote for him and not for me/ 'cause he's not from the hood..."

Yeah, that's a feel good song right there. The author of that, by the way, was Al Shanklin, a con commentator.

What's gotten everyone into a lather now? One of the leading candidates to be the new chair of the Republican Party, Chip Saltzman, has been distributing a CD with the song (which also includes about 40 other anti-liberal screeds of a provocative nature, such as "Wright Church, Wrong Pastor" and "The Stay-Spanglish Banner") to other party officials hoping to elect him as the guy who will take on "The Black President." Needless to say, the outgoing chair, Mike Duncan, says the song sends precisely the wrong message and that the GOP needs to reach out to expand its base in the wake of last month's election where the party not only lost the White House but hemorrhaged in Congress as well as the majority of state houses for the first time in over a decade.

For his part, Sen. Obama over a year ago thought it was just another parody and he wasn't going to be bothered by it. On the other hand, Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary (and who has been maligned over the decades since many people think "Puff the Magic Dragon," which he co-wrote with Lenny Lipton, is about marijuana) wrote an op-ed piece at HuffPo slamming the piece and the mean-spiritedness it engenders:

What might have been wearily accepted as "the way it was" in the campaign, is now unacceptable. Obama is not a candidate. He is the President-Elect, and this song insults the office of the Presidency, the people who voted for him, as well as those who did not -- and taking a children's song and twisting it in such vulgar, mean-spirited way, is a slur to our entire country and our common agreement to move beyond racism.

It is almost unimaginable to me that Chip Saltzman who sent the CD, would seriously be considered for the top post of the Republican National Committee. Puff, himself, if asked, would certainly agree.

Don't forget, until the Great Depression, most blacks -- those who could vote -- supported the Republicans. I get the joke, but Duncan is right; this is not the way to move race relations forward -- or to take the party back to the future when it and not the Democrats were in the vanguard of race relations.

If the GOP wants to officially position itself as a pro-white party, then it should do so openly and with honesty and not cheap political stunts like this even if it was a lefty who started it. Frankly, Saltzman should be kicked out of the party. He belongs in the Constitution Party, not the Republicans. He just doesn't get it, any more than Lyndon B. LaRouche -- at least in his case he left the Dems before they could force him out.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Israel's raids over Gaza, to what end?

Every country has a right to defend itself, so in one respect Israel's air raids over Gaza this weekend are totally understandable. When there have been multiple attacks from the other side of the fence, of course you're going to fight back. On the other hand, where legitimate military targets and residential areas are so closely packed together, the type of pinpoint precision required to make it a successful operation is next to impossible. So no one should be surprised at the already high death toll, well over 270 civilians.

If Israel thinks this is going to put Hamas out of business any time soon, it is tragically mistaken. Hamas' stated goal is the destruction of Israel and there are millions around the world willing to underwrite such an effort. In the short term, some military advantage might be obtained by making a group of already impoverished people even further. In the long run, though, I think Israel as well as other countries facing terrorist threats need go after wire transfer companies and informal money remittance systems such as the hawalas to even begin to get a grip on the situation let alone get the upper hand.

When all of this comes to an end, and there is an actual peace agreement and one that manages to stick, the notion of a contiguous West Bank and the Gaza as an exclave of it is almost impossible to imagine. Instead, one will see multiple enclaves and exclaves -- not of the type that distinguishes the Belgian-Dutch town of Baarle with its bizarre map (bizarre but manageable with Europe's open borders) but more like Cooch-Behar on the India-Bangladesh border where even basic services are denied because one lives on the wrong part of the map.

No country can viably exist with such inherently stupid and irregular borders which is almost certain to happen if the illegal and legal settlements on the West Bank are not evacuated. Palestine is doomed to be a failed state from day one unless it actually has viable territory and is able to suppress any and all terrorists and from all quarters also from day one. If it can't get either, then Israel will be even more vulnerable than it is right now -- when someone even worse than Hamas takes over Judea and Samaria as well as Gaza.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"Clean coal"? Humbug!

Here's a pleasant way to wake up on Christmas Eve: To discover you're surrounded by 500 million gallons of coal sludge -- which happened after a containment wall holding back the mess broke. About 400 acres in eastern Tennessee have been covered by the mess which will take at least 6 weeks to clean up and who knows what other damage has been done. 400 acres, more than the area covered by the Exxon Valdez spill.

Welcome to the world of clean coal, people.

After a record breaking $50 million ad campaign to brainwash Americans into believing that it's the way to go, we have this awful mess. Where exactly are the tailing that come from "cleaning" coal supposed to go anyway? You have to put all that fly ash somewhere -- you know, arsenic, benzene, mercury; all natural substances but when concentrated in coal burning that's where the problems start. Carbon capture and sequestration can only handle so much. Sure, the argument will be "this was the dirty coal" but who believes that crap anymore? Clean coal, dirty coal. ToMAYto, ToMAHto.

You want to prove it works? Run a real demonstration project, and accept full liability from any bad stuff that comes from it, including disasters like this.


I'll be on and off during the next week or so. Merry Christmas, y'all.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Stupid, stupid, New York Times!

You'd think the NYT would have learned its lesson by now.

Not a chance. They got punk'd by someone claiming to be Bertrand Delanoë, the mayor of Paris, and published a letter to the editor today, criticizing Caroline Kennedy.

Sorry, but the editor's retraction doesn't cut it. Read the letter for yourself, and the ed's apology to see what I mean. Would they have published the same letter if the letter writer signed it "Heywood Jablome" or "Hugh Jass"?

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Harper does a Chrétien, Mulroney, Trudeau ... all of them

My preference for Senate reform, the last number of years, has been a hybrid system -- having half the Senators elected by the people with the other half selected by the provincial and territorial legislatures, and both on a PR basis. I'd stick with the current levels of representation pending discussions on realigning the numbers by province, while doubling the number of Senators from each territory from one to two to preserve the hybrid system.

Failing that, and keeping the status quo, I would hope that the appointments to the Senate reflected the best Canada had to offer -- sports figures, entertainers, writers, well respected lawyers and so forth. Far as I can tell, I can only pick out three names out the eighteen summoned today who meet this standard: Former skier Nancy Greene, journalist Pamela Wallin and Chief Patrick Brazeau (whose lobby represents off-reserve North American Indians in Canada).

The rest are nothing but Con hacks, least of them Mike Duffy of the Conservative Television Network. And it makes Stephen Harper, who has claimed he wants Senate reform, look like the ultimate hypocrite -- not that many of us already knew that.

Also, Harper bypassed the House Justice Committee and directly named Thomas Cromwell to the Supreme Court of Canada. Qualified he may be, but if a government says that key appointments to the courts as well as the arms-length offices of government will be subject to Parliamentary review, shouldn't Harper stick by that?

Not a good day for democracy. Not unexpected either when Harper is basically our gauleiter for seven weeks while Parliament is suspended.

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Meanwhile, in Minnesota ...

It's been, what, seven weeks since the generals in the States, and they're STILL counting the ballots in the state where the Vikings allegedly landed a thousand years ago. They took a break over the weekend because poll officials said they were exhausted (who wouldn't be?). But the disputed votes should be settled by tomorrow, and comedian Al Franken is saying that when all is said and done he expects to win by anywhere from 35-50 votes.

That's a pretty bold prediction, even if it's more conservative than the 75-80 vote lead most observers have it at right now. Who knows who will come out on top when it's really all over, after court challenges and such. Of course, if Franken really does win, it's only a matter of time before we see Sen. --- Jerry Springer. He was the mayor of Cincinnati, after all.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sunday night music retro: Little Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth

With Christmas in just a few days, this classic from 1977 -- recorded in September of that year, the duet with Bing Crosby and David Bowie, just one month before the Old Groaner died.

To this day, still one of the most surreal moments in television history, knowing one of the guys was already dead when it was first broadcast.

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You want the NYS Senate seat, Caroline? Put it on the line in 90 days

This article in today's NYT, which is a sketch of random people from across the state (upstate and down) about what they think about the possibility that Caroline Schlossberg Kennedy, daughter of JFK, might become the seat filler for the New York State (NYS) federal Senate seat which will become vacant when Hillary Clinton becomes Secretary of State next month, pretty much covers it. For some, huge hopes for the return of alleged magic created during the administration of the president who screwed Marilyn Monroe. For others, anger at the sheer arrogance that a Kennedy is entitled to anything at all; and for a third camp, bewilderment that after all these years of being in the background, why now?

Under NYS law, a by-election doesn't have to be held for the seat until the midterms in 2010; the person who Gov. David Paterson appoints on an interim basis can sit unopposed for the next 22 months. That is wrong.

If Mrs. Kennedy wants the seat that bad, she should be willing to put her job on the line and ask the NYS legislature to pass a law requiring a by-election within 90 days of her appointment, no later than April 14, 2009 -- and use the campaign in the by-election to prove she is a truly different type of candidate and not just another f***ing Kennedy.

While she has many progressive ideas including supporting same sex marriage and abortion rights, and she is an ardent supporter of an undivided Jerusalem, she does have one Achilles heel -- she supports tougher gun control, not a popular idea Upstate which except for the cities is NRA Central. Don't forget, Hillary lost upstate by 10 percent in 2000 and was only saved by a huge majority in the NYC metro area.

NYS should have the right to say if they want a Kennedy (or anyone else for that matter) in the Upper Chamber -- not have it shoved in their faces like a fait accompli.

Back in 1991, when John Heinz of Pennsylvania was killed in a plane crash, the governor of the state, Bob Casey Sr., appointed Harris Wofford to fill the seat until a by-election could be held (which state law requires). Even though he was far behind the Republican candidate, Richard Thornburgh (who resigned as Bush 41's Attorney General), Wofford accepted the appointment and willingly ran in a by-election. No one seriously thought Wofford would win -- after all, he was a JFK hack, an advisor on civil rights and the Peace Corps. Worse, saying one was associated with any "Kennedy," in many rural parts of Pennsylvania, is like whispering the number 666.

But Wofford had an ace in the hole: The campaign was run by the tag team of Jim Carville and Paul Begala, until then two total unknowns outside of most circles. Wofford slam dunked Thornburgh by 10 percent when the by-election was finally held, mostly on a promise to try to bring universal health coverage to the country with his state acting as a pilot project. And we all know what Carville-Begala as well as George Stephanopoulos did for Bill Clinton the following year.

Wofford lost in the generals three years later to Ricky Santorum, one of the dominoes that fell in the Gingrich revolution (his position on gun control, which toughened during his three years in the Senate, didn't help) but when the process started in 1991 he knew he could lose but he took the risk. As for Thornburgh, he knew there was a risk as well and he was left out of the cold all together -- by that time, his post at the White House had already been filled by William Barr and instead had to take a job as the #2 in the US delegation at the United Nations. (In one of those full circle things, Santorum lost the seat in 2006 to Bob Casey Jr.)

If it's good enough for Pennsylvania next door, it's good enough for NYS. There should be a by-election, just as much as there should be one to fill the vacancy left by Barack Obama in Illinois and probably will be to circumvent Blagojevich.

At least Mrs. Kennedy would have a job to fall back on if she lost -- many New Yorkers don't have that privilege right now. And she should get her own advisors too, not rely on those who brought Billary to national attention.

Sidebar: When I ran the spellcheck for this post, one of the suggestions for Schlossberg was sleazebag. Caroline has thankfully stayed away from that kind of sleaze that most of her family's been involved with, but shouldn't NYS residents be the judge of that -- now?

UPDATE (11:26 am EST, 1626 GMT): Minor edits. Also, all the Sunday talk shows today are talking as if Mrs. Kennedy's appointment is a slam dunk. If it is, I hope Mrs. Kennedy knows what she's getting into -- Capitol Hill is a dog eat dog world, totally unlike the fairyland menagerie that her mother created to deceive the American people.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Back into deficit -- it didn't have to be this way

In his year-end television interviews, Stephen Harper indicated that the deficit this year -- and he actually admitted there would be a deficit -- would be in the neighbourhood of 30 billion.

He is damned from two fronts -- his conservative core who will accuse him of abandoning Laffler for Keynes, and his progressive opponents who will note that he wouldn't be in this position if he had not cut the GST from 7 percent.

There is no question that Canada is coming from a far better position than the States. But that's because of tough steps that the federal and provincial governments took during the 1990s -- massive cuts in the public service, reorganizing transfer payment and cost sharing and only then when the debt to GDP ratio had shrunk to a much more managable level were income tax cuts provided.

With the last year of surplus, which ended on March 31 of this year, we essentially were back where we were when Trudeau finally left office -- adjusted for population growth and inflation. While that certainly puts us in a better position to run a deficit from, since our debt is way less than half of what the American burden is, it would have been even better if we had had a surplus that could be counted on for a rainy day such as this so the deficit would not have been as large.

It was that prudence that helped Canada weather the recession that came about after the 9/11 attacks. We were able to fund security improvements because we had the money to spend. What did the Americans do? Borrow money from the very people who funded the attacks, rogue elements in the Saudi royal family. And they still hold the West hostage by being able to set the price of oil at their whim. Market conditions have driven down the price but that's only temporary -- when things get better, the prices will skyrocket and America will be back to where this all started.

Remember, had the tax situation been frozen where it was in 2001 when Clinton left office after actually running a couple of surpluses, the US would be close to debt free right now and able to afford all the bailouts it is engineering to prevent a worldwide disaster. Instead, Bush decided to give a huge tax cut and ran his country back into deficit and that was before 9/11. When you keep borrowing money like that, soon you become a banana republic, not even able to pay the interest on the debt.

I just find it so odd, even funny, that neo-conservatives in any country keep talking about smaller government, that government is the problem etc. Yet when they're done, the government is way bigger and the funds available for real priorities just petty cash if there is any of that at all. Am I the only one wondering how program spending has increased by about 25% over the last three years when population plus inflation has been less than half of that? And on top of that, they cut taxes to drain themselves even more.

Income tax cuts would have been better, getting money back into the private sector; that would have raised GST monies so the overall result would be revenue neutrality. More important, if I was the one running the show, I would not have cut the GST until the debt to GDP ratio was below 25%, a level at which we no longer had to float bonds on the foreign market and we could take care of ourselves.

In short, Harper got us into this mess -- or rather back into the mess that progressives tried to get us out of. He owes an explanation when Parliament resumes on how he's going to get us out now without screwing us over.

Otherwise, the coalition option remains a viable one.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Will Bentonville get the message?

Maybe it's the stupid idea that many of the powerful have that every union member is a Commie (which is simply not true, many if not most front line employees on shop floors and in office pools are actually social conservatives), but Wal-Mart closes one of their stores or a unit within it anytime sometime tries and succeeds in getting a union inside the doors. But if the trendlines keep continuing, they may soon have little choice but to sit down and actually negotiate liveable working conditions.

The latest victory: A Wal-Mart store in Hull, Québec; not even two weeks after a certification in Weyburn, Saskatchewan.


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Deep Throat dead

Not exactly a hero (he was part of the FBI's goon squad and also the very illegal investigation into the just as illegal Weather Underground), not exactly a villain (often pushing paper like most bureaucrats, google or yahoo "red cross ™ toilet paper" to see what I mean) -- but W. Mark Felt was just someone in the FBI who had the guts to do the right thing. That's all I have to say about it.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Those were the days ... Illinois Rhyme Time

Hard to believe that it was six years ago, 2002, a year when Democrats were getting pummeled in the Congressionals, that everyone thought Rod Blagojevich was the greatest thing since sliced bread and Barack Obama was still a nobody state senator from Chicago's South Side. He came up with this really silly radio commercial that got him elected -- by figuring out how to make something rhyme with Blagojevich.

I first heard this last weekend on NPR's Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me! You can imagine the shock of the panelists -- last week's show had Paula Poundstone, Tom Bodett (some of you may remember him as the voice of "Good Idea Bad Idea" and "Rhyme Time" on Animaniacs, and the voice-over for all those Motel 6 commercials) and WaPo's Roxanne Roberts -- when they were told this was a real commercial.

If anyone thinks Blagojevich is going to quit, they don't know anything about guys and gals from the Balkans. If there's one that united the people of the heavily fractured former Yugoslavia, it's that no one ever backed down from anything -- and never quit even if the allegations were absolutely true.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Quick notes (2008-12-17)

Three stories, all from Canada.

First, you'd think the computers at the stock exchange would have backups, and those backups would be back-up as well. Instead, the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) is completely shut down and can't handle any trades. This is 2008, people!

This reminds me of a 22 Minutes joke from around 1997 or 1998. With the migration to electronic trading, the TSE (as it was then known) said that stock brokerages needed to improve communications with the exchange's computers so that the latter's terminals wouldn't crash. Greg Thomey said something like that the brokers replied, "We'll improve our systems when the TSE upgrades to Windows 3.1!" This was a sly reference to the fact the TSE was still using the CATS system, which dated back to 1977. (By that time, as many pointed out, most of the world had already migrated to Windows 4.1 -- ahem, 98 -- or whatever version number the Mac was on in those days.)

Second, the Rev. Bill Blaikie, the very popular former ND MP from Winnipeg Transcona, has said he'll collect his MPs' pension ($155k+ per year) in addition to what he would get for salary as an MLA if he wins a seat in the upcoming Manitoba election.

Sorry, Rev, but Canadians really don't have tolerance for double dippers, even an unrepentant progressive like you. Come on, you're still an ordained minister! Not that you should take a vow of poverty, but can't you donate either the pension or the MLA salary to your church's development fund?

Third, Calgary Robot and Pointy Head (i.e. Stephen Harper and Dalton McGuinty) have agreed that Ontario will get a seat allocation on the same proportion as British Columbia and Alberta -- which means 21 more seats instead of 10 (or just 4 if the status quo had been applied).

It would be nice if instead of 21 more FPTP seats they could be allocated on a PR basis. I'd like the choice of being able to split the ticket; most people here would. It would also be nice if Dalt agreed to an elected Senate -- by a real constitutional amendment, not the sham (and completely unconstitutional method) that PMS has been proposing.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

BYOB at the movies

This one's time has come and is way past due, but is still bound to cause problems. As with anything containing alcohol, I say proceed with caution.

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Another Fed cut; Conference Board demands stimulus

In the last hour or so The Fed has taken the unprecedented step of declaring it it will not have a set rate for American banks to charge each other -- noting the target hasn't even been hit as of late -- but rather setting a target range for the funds rate: anywhere from 0 to ¼%. The Fed also said today that they are going to be taking pretty aggressive steps to jump start the economy but warned that rates could be stuck at low levels for quite some time to come. The statement of Bernacke and Co. is here, but it's worth noting that the greenback which had been at about $1.25 against the Euro just a couple of weeks ago fell three cents on the news within seconds from $1.37 to about $1.40. Simply Ben also lost about a full cent against the loonie.

This new rate is a cut of up to 5¼% since September of last year when the economy showed signs of slowing down. One has to wonder if negative interest rates are next -- they have them in Japan right now. If one reads the statement, it reads like a desperate plea for more time and almost begging to keep its independence from the White House. If Barack Obama is planning something really interventionist, he's being awfully coy about it right now. He'd better come up with something -- when the annual inflation rate drops 2.6% in just a month (from 3.7% to 1.1%) there's a big problem.

It may sound almost perverse to say this, but I think Americans will realize just how worthless their currency is once their beloved game board cash drops to 2:1 against the Euro. It can happen (it troughed at around $1.61 earlier this year). Only then will there be a real revolution -- not against the government but against the corporations.

Meanwhile, the Conference Board of Canada, usually friends of Harper and Co., is pleading for a massive stimulus package here, in the neighbourhood of $13 billion. That's pretty modest compared to the multiple jump start attempts in the States, but the board said what most of us have known for months -- monetary policy can only go so far.

We in Ontario know that Jim Flaherty is a ship on his own course and pretty much doesn't care much about the opinions of people either on the left or on the right. So I'd tell the ConBo not to hold its breath.

But if he would take a piece of unsolicited advice, I would tell Flaherty to follow what Martin and Goodale did before him and further increase our reserves in Euros (we already have more in that currency than in the US dollar); and to fast-track the pending "free trade plus more" agreement with the EU. In the present environment, we definitely can no longer view anyone from Washington as being our economic salvation -- and for what it's worth, I think Europeans have more in common with us in terms of social values than Americans ever will.

The worldwide cooperation to prevent a total meltdown is certainly better than the kill each other's throats approach of the 1930s, but at some point the cooperation will end -- and it will be the Americans, not the Europeans, who first cut bait.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Oh Rudd, where art thou?

When Kevin Rudd won the Australian election last year, a lot of people were hopeful that he would finally take the serious action on the environment that John Howard refused to. His first act, indeed, was to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Protecting nature is a huge issue in a country where there's been a drought since early 2003, called derisively the "Big Dry" by Aussies. (There's been so little rain, even in coastal areas, that when there was a torrential rainstorm on Christmas Day in Sydney a couple of years back people were actually dancing in the streets hoping the end of their torment had come.)

But what Rudd announced today is not only underwhelming but very disappointing. He says that he will only commit to a cut in greenhouse gases by 2020 by only 5% of what the level was in 2000. That number will go up to 15% if, and only if, the world agrees to further emissions cuts. Rudd is also going to go with a carbon "cap and trade" system of emission credits, not unlike what they have in the EU.

There is, to be fair, billions for disaster relief as well as an increase in pensions. But many environmental groups say that a much more aggressive target, say 25%, is needed. One faith-based charity, World Vision, has warned a two degree rise in average world temperatures from where they are right now will push the planet over the edge and that 20% is the bare minimum target that should be set so temps can drop a couple of degrees to back where it was in the 1980s when the present series of weather problems around the world started.

Not surprisingly, the business lobby -- especially the mining industry (it's not just the American coal kings who want to promote "clean coal"!) -- says even 5% goes too far.

Okay, it's a start ... I'll give Rudd that much; certainly better than what Howard ever did. But if he keeps it up on green issues the track he's on right now, he'll be nothing but a socialist version of Stephen Harper here in Canada.

UPDATE (12:29 pm EST, 1729 GMT): The general stream of comments in my e-mail, not here, is that I shouldn't have been surprised. That's not the point. When there's a lack of leadership on a moral issue by the major powers, it's up to middle powers like Canada and Australia to take that leadership. Even Mulroney was far better for the environment than Harper will ever be.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

102, 103, 104

Three more soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb on Saturday, making the total of Canadians killed in the line of duty 104 (103 servicepersons plus one diplomat).

At this point, words are insufficient to express the helplessness we feel when this happens. But mere press releases from the PM and the opposition leaders are not sufficient to satisfy the anger of a growing number of Canadians who have had enough. War is a bitch and people will die and that's something we just have to deal with on our own.

But when none of the main stated goals have been meet fully seven years into the mission, and when our allies are as much on the run as we are, it makes one wonder what are we doing there. Also, are we really serious about a 2011 end date certain, or will we keep coming up with one excuse after another to stay there? At what point do we say we really have no business fighting a civil war?

We're still in Cyprus, after all. A considerably more peaceful place to be sure, but you'd think after several decades of a UN presence from 1964 and a more or less stable ceasfire since 1974 the two halves of that conflict would have finally gotten their act together and reunited their country -- NOT! Well, maybe not, but there's hope there.

Even a token one or two Canadians doesn't seem to make much difference in 2008. The only thing that may finally push things along there are the facts the south is in the EU and the Eurozone, and that Turkey is desperate to get into the trade block and one of those conditions is pulling out of the north of the island.

It's going to take a lot more than economics to get the Greeks and Turkish people on the island to bury the hatchet.. But at least they have a relatively healthy economy even in these tough times which may be motivation enough. Compared to the rest of the Middle East, Cyprus actually comes off as a halcyon (even with the occasional "incidents" of incursions through the ceasefire line) which is a good place to start from so there's hope the UN mission can finally end sooner rather than later.

What does Afghanistan have to export, other than rugs and opium and rival factions of terrorists? Do we really want to be a part of that much longer?

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Saturday night music vault: Brand New Key

Not quite Saturday night in my time zone but here's another one of my favourites -- a more risqué one at that. One can understand why a lot of radio stations wanted to ban Melanie Safka after she came out with this nugget in 1971. But it may have paved the way for the even more controversial #1 hit for Chuck Berry the following year, My Ding-A-Ling even though it was a cover and had actually been written 20 years earlier.

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What about CANCON?

I will not be the first to comment on the state of Canadian television, which already is crap. But I have to say this anyway.

In the extremely crowded market where both Canadian and American networks compete for viewers one would expect a certain amount of differentiation, a certain amount of Canadian flavour, to our broadcasts. The private broadcasters have an almost exclusively American prime-time schedule with very few Canadian developed and produced shows if ever. Two notable exceptions in the Toronto market are OMNI 1 and 2 which must produce original programming in prime time (usually, newscasts in non-official languages between 8 and 10 pm); and CTS, the Christian station run by 100 Huntley Street, which has the guts to have a talk show at the 8pm hour.

The CBC is mostly Canadian but ever since North of 60 left the air and their news and currents events department has a certain amount of respect (especially The Fifth Estate) but their drama schedule has been crap -- really, crap. And with Air Farce leaving the air on New Years', the only two programs left watching will be Little Mosque on the Prairie and The Border.

When you have a business model where a block grant from Parliament plus Saturday night hockey, as well as first-run episodes of two American shows (Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy) as well as reruns of The Simpsons, funds a devoid set of programs, it's going to lead to disaster.

The CRTC was quite right a few weeks back to deny the networks' demands for carriage fees to be paid by cable and satellite subscribers. People would have just disconnected so as not to pay them -- it's not like they were going to miss HBO or CNN anyway. But Canadians should expect a certain amount of Canadian programming, and I do not buy for one minute the excuse the current rash of layoffs at the networks is because they were denied a steady slush fund.

Canadian produced shows don't have to be bottom feeder stuff like The Trouble With Tracy, but if it is intelligent enough or funny enough there will be an audience for it. CANCON rules need to be enforced in prime time -- which should be redefined as it is in the States, 8-11 Eastern Monday to Saturday, 7-11 Sunday. It's hard to believe that two of the best Canadian shows ever, ENG and Street Legal, went off the air in 1994 and The Road to Avonlea in '96. Even Ready or Not which ended in '97 had a lot of charm in it. What have we had since then? Crap, crap and still more crap. Canadian produced segments of professional wrestling do not count.

Every other major democracy outside of the US, even English speaking ones, have a thriving domestic television industry which still has room for American imports. There is simply no reason why we can't insist on good television here. There's a huge difference between music, where our system of producing new stars has gotten so good that we probably don't need content rules anymore on radio stations; and television where rules are still needed and must be enforced.

For what it's worth, the same applies to the movies but that's for another post (actually, I think I wrote one on it!)

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Message to whatever Asper brother runs Winnipeg right now ...

If I was Dan Maclean, I'd walk away too. The Aspers should be ashamed of themselves for firing Connie Smith. (Raise right hand, present international one finger salute aimed at Canwest headquarters in Winnipeg.)

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bell, EI/UI Owe, Jackson

The attempt to take Bell Canada private has failed -- thank God. The Ontario Teacher's Pension Plan, which has made such wise investments as the Toronto Maple Leafs, shopping malls and the tobacco industry walked away after KPMG ruled Teachers and the other members of the buyout consortium simply couldn't afford to take on $52 billion in debt. (No kidding!) It still faces a $1.2 billion breakup fee for backing out.

This is a victory for consumers. Any time a company goes private it means there's something to hide because the owners no longer want to be accountable. Now Bell can go back to what it's supposed to do: Provide a reliable telephone and ISP service. And never, ever, ever -- should a telecommunications company be allowed to be in private control.


The Supreme Court of Canada ruled today that the government acted mostly legally when it raided the unfunded surplus in the unemployment insurance trust fund -- nearly $54 billion worth. It also ruled that the trust fund has the right to use some of its funds for job retraining and job placement programs is constitutional. The did rule, however, that the government broke the law when it unilaterally set the UI rates in 2002, 2003 and 2005 without authorization from Parliament.

What does it mean? Well, the money's been spent.

Frankly, they should have left the money alone for a rainy day like this one, as well as increased benefits, maximum time to receive benefits as well eased the rules on who can collect. During the sunny days, they should have also set the premiums at break-even rates -- as far back as 2002 that could have been as low as 45 cents per $100 instead of the close to $1.80 we were paying. If there's one thing Harper's done right is that the money raised by UI will now go into a locked box run by an arms-length board. It's what should have been done all along.


One name that has come up in the investigation into the Senate seat sale investigation against Blagojevich is Jesse Jackson Jr. (as "Senate Candidate 5"). While it now appears he was not involved in the scam -- we hope -- it shouldn't be surprising that his name would come up.

Half of Americans, most of them white, hate his father, the legendary preacher -- and they hang on to any hope that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree (citing the elder Jackson's infidelity).

But I don't think in the end Jackson will get the seat, unless the Illinois legislature moves to have a by-election over the head of the governor. Even if he gets the chance to run, one has to recognize there's more to Illinois than Chicago and Peoria and it is generally a very conservative state. Obama had appeal to evangelicals because of his strong personal faith. Both Jacksons are also evangelicals, but the wrong kind according to the "religious right."

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Texas sex offender in Calgary, busted

Nothing is lower in the food chain for most people than someone who preys on children for their own sexual gratification. So it's good to hear that a fugitive from Texas has been picked up in Calgary. Steven Andrew Hayes, who was also picked up on an unrelated charge of using a fake social insurance number to work on a construction site, had been featured in January of this year on America's Most Wanted -- not in a feature story but in John Marsh's weekly "fifteen seconds of shame."

It's especially people like him that is a reason why I watch the show on a regular basis. It sounds incredible now but over twenty years ago when the show was first introduced police agencies were generally against the show -- yes, against it. They didn't want civilians "interfering" in their line of work and they must have felt that if they can't catch the bad guy or gal how can Joe or Jane Six-Pack?

But that's precisely the point. We the people have eyes and ears that the police don't. We can look for the places that cops sometimes miss. And sad as it is, when there is a murder or a drug bust, minor victims of crime often take a backseat. The overall success of the program over the years -- an average of about one arrest per week -- speaks for itself. It's especially satisfying when one of their busts is a sex offender.

One thing: Hayes actually had the gall to request political asylum in Canada saying he wouldn't last long in a US jail. Sorry pal, but the prison code also applies here and as far as the "no snitch" rule goes, prisoners make a huge exception for pedophiles.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Is it something in the water in Peoria?

Boy, you'd think that with all of Barack Obama's talk about restoring ethics to politics his successor in the Illinois Senate seat he's vacated would have at least some character. Think again. Rod Blagojevich, the state's Democratic governor, is under arrest for allegedly trying to sell the seat to the highest bidder, thinking that in turn that crony would ensure that Mad Blag might be able to get a top post in the Obama government -- such as Secretary of Health and Human Services.

This is an outrage. Especially for those states where there doesn't have to be a by-election until the next Congressional cycle which can be as long as two years.

Obviously every state should have equal representation in the Upper House. But why can't they do it like they do in some states where if there's a vacancy the Governor appoints an interim seat-warmer who has no intention of sitting there permanently, for a maximum of ninety days (in some states it can still be months) -- until a by-election can be held? That way, there's little to no chance for a stunt like the one Rod is accused of.

Obama left a huge gap to fill. He certainly deserves better representation from his own governor than that.

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Rae out

Well, if reports are to be believed, Bob Rae -- or as Double Exposure often called him, The Bobrae -- is going to pull out of the Liberal race making the selection of Michael Ignatieff as the party's nominee for the Prime Ministership of Canada an almost absolute certainty.

It would have been good to see a real race with a real vote of the membership. Notwithstanding my support for Ignatieff, Rae has, I have to concede, some very good ideas about how to move the party forward and they need to be heard. But if PMS wants to throw hate at his enemies -- and it is obvious he not only hates but also has absolutely no respect for his opponents -- he needs it shoved right back in his face, and Iggy may just be the man to do that.

What does it mean for the coalition? It could be in trouble, since Ignatieff said "coalition if necessary but not necessarily coalition" this past weekend. Given the opportunity to think it over the holidays, though, I think he'll see there are more benefits than negatives for the Grits.

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Charest wins third mandate

I congratulate Jean Charest for being returned to a third term in Québec and with a majority government although not near as large as he would have liked. The bad news, however, is for the democratic process. People generally tuned out this election and turnout was out 56.5%, the worst since 1927 when Tashereau won the second of his three-peat string (and the electorate was still all male no thanks to the objections of the Catholic Church to women voting). Charest needs to appreciate why over 43% of the people just tuned out all together -- which pretty much says a pox on all their houses, not just his.

Couple of notes: First the collapse of the ADQ, dropping from 41 to 7 seats should not be a surprise given that it was effectively a one-man band under "Super" Mario Dumont (not so super any more). It also dropped to 16.5% of the popular vote -- and under Québec rules it loses official party status as it needed 12 seats or 20% of the vote. Aspirations it may have had to become the legitimate successor to the old Union Nationale are pretty much dead for now.

And the big surprise, the emergence of Québec solidaire, the province's alternate independence party (which broke away from the PQ after concluding that it's become just another right-wing party). It got its first ever seat and vows to make promoting free health care its number one priority. As well as it should.

As is the case on many other issues in Canada, Québec leads the way on social policy and how health care is restructured in that province will have ramifications for the rest of us. Charest may have gotten the mandate he wants, but it's not just the economy on which his people have high expectations and for all of us, across Canada, health care is what it comes down to as much as the NHS does in the UK.

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Monday, December 8, 2008

Cubs' owner in bankruptcy

The storied Chicago baseball team is not part of the bankruptcy restructuring, but the Tribune Company which owns the ChiTrib, the LAT, WGN and numerous other radio and television properties is wallowed in $13 billion debt while it's worth only $7.6 billion on paper. To demonstrate how bad it's gotten for them: A 4.88% coupon bond expiring in August 2010 was trading on Friday for only $13.25 (par is $100) which indicates the level of distress and the market's lack of confidence in the company.

Not even the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool's bonds got that bad before it was forced to refinance, although it made some pretty stupid decisions after it demutualized.

The Trib was in trouble long before today's filing and the current downturn, but this is bound to make a lot of people stand up and take notice. When one media company after another folds like this, the people who end up on the street are trusted voices and scribes who people come to rely on for opinions and just information and local content. With major turnover, people lose whatever trust they have left in the media which isn't a lot to begin with.

Not that I wish bankruptcy on anyone, but some people are going to be quite happy when the next shoe to drop is Can West here in Canada. Slashing local news and public affairs shows as they did a couple of weeks ago just to prop up a perennially losing money paper (the National Post) is not a prudent business model.

UPDATE (Tuesday 8:38 am EST, 1338 GMT): For what it's worth, I pulled out my old business calculator, and figured out that in order to make good on that bond I mentioned above, Tribune would have to offer an interest rate of -- wait for it -- 1592.27%. Sounds like something Zimbabwe would offer on the market if anyone bothered to buy its bonds.

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Down to two

It's too bad it had to end like this, but perhaps in the end Stéphane Dion really didn't have much choice but to step aside. It would have been nice to see him serve as PM even if only for a few months, instead he'll just be a footnote in history ... and a joke for Conservatives from now until the Second Coming.

That leaves things down to Ignatieff and Rae. We need clarity -- say, by tonight at the latest -- about what the process will be and if there will even be a leadership vote by rank-and-file members of any kind.

Whoever the leader is, we also need to get our act straight. The budget comes down on January 27 which means a Ways and Means motion somewhere between January 28 and February 2. It is absolutely vital that there is a united voice and we still mean business when we say we want Harper out and merely changing the Con leader will simply mean same cart, different driver.

I don't know where this is headed although it must be some kind of joke for the Cons. But their time is running out. This isn't about East vs West. It's about Parliamentarism versus the mess they have in America and whether we want to go that route.

UPDATE (4:45 pm EST, 2145 GMT): Silly me. I forget the link.

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Sunday, December 7, 2008

One member, one vote (or something like it)

With the news that Dominic LeBlanc, son of a former GG, has dropped out of the Liberal race, the battle is now down to MM. Ignatieff and Rae. However, if the caucus of MPs and Senators thinks they can decide this on their own, think again. One of the reasons for the Cons' success is one member, one vote -- with no "superdelegates" to overturn the will of the membership.

In the present situation, we Liberals need to get our act together and fast. There's no reason why we can't have a quick vote of the membership to determine a new leader. My preference is one member, one vote -- but even if we have an electoral college like the defunct PC Party where each of the 308 districts gets equal weight, that would still be better than the status quo. I believe both of the remaining candidates should put their case forward and let the members -- not the party hacks -- decide.

Of course, I continue to support Iggy but if Rae came out as the legitimate leader after a truly open process I would accept it.

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Parliament or Congress?

After the events of the past week, I have to ask as I have on several occasions whether our proximity to the United States is a bad influence on Canada -- especially those who are situated on the right of the spectrum.

Some of the expressions going around right now, including "going over the heads of the media, and speaking directly to the people" are inconsistent with Parliamentary traditions. So is the notion of "direct democracy." (Even in most countries that have referenda, other than the US, they're limited to a specific purpose -- say, the adoption of the Euro as currency -- and the consequences well defined for all to understand; and usually it's about the expansion of rights or contraction of executive powers, not the other way around on both.)

We also hear constant stories about how bad crime is in Canada and that we need "tougher" sentences, while not looking at some of the root causes of crime. Politicians are to blame for this but so is the media who is so influenced by what happens south of the border that they usually fail to look for solutions elsewhere in the world -- in the EU member states, for example.

It seems to me that if CRAP wants to jettison our Parliamentary system and replace it with a separation of powers system like in the States, it behoves them to say it as much, out loud. Otherwise, don't keep changing the rules on the fly. At some point, even your staunchest supporters will figure out your game and they'll lash back with a vengeance.

So, simple question for Harper: If you hate Parliament that much, why not propose a constitutional amendment to turn it into a Congress with a separately elected PM or President, and submit it to the people in a binding referendum (which would require 7-50 for the first, and unanimity from all provinces for the second)?

Or ... could it be ... you're just, chicken?

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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Saturday night music vault: Classical Gas

One of the best compositions of the last forty years or so, and it still sounds fresh today. Odd thing, Mason Williams wrote it while he was also a writer for the original Smothers Brothers show.

They don't make them like they used to.

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Avery, Simpson

First, Sean Avery received a six game suspension for his disgusting "sloppy seconds" remark and he was ordered into anger management which could make it longer. Some say Gary Bettman overplayed his hand here, but I say the suspension was nowhere near harsh enough. I would have benched Avery for the rest of the season and the playoffs, and if by chance the Dallas Stars win it all I would not allow his name to appear on the Stanley Cup.

Avery was a bad enough boy to begin with as a player (his "screening" stunt and his yelling at a female spectator, both earlier this year, are just two examples); but saying something like that, even off the ice, has no place even in crude private conversation. I'm all for freedom of speech but I would never say that about an ex-girlfriend and her current paramour -- it shows a complete lack of class. Say what you will about Elisha Cuthbert and Rachel Hunter but they and their respective current boyfriends, Dion Phaneuf and Jarrett Stoll, deserve better. No amount of anger management will ever wipe out any latent misogyny either.

For what it's worth, the Stars may try to fire Avery all together citing the CBA's "morals clause" and I hope they do.

Second, O.J. Simpson got 9 to 33 years for the armed robbery last year in Las Vegas, where he claims he was trying to take back stuff stolen from him. With good behaviour he could possibly be out in as little as five. Even if he didn't "know" he was breaking the law, he knew he was acting with depraved indifference towards his victims (in this case a pawn broker and his associates).

I have to wonder though if there was extra time added on only because he is still perceived in most quarters as having "gotten away with murder," namely the deaths of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman Most jurisdictions I'm aware of in the States, the max for armed robbery where no one dies or is disabled is fourteen, tops. Simpson has no chance of overturning his conviction but I think he has an argument on sentence especially if others have gotten less for similar crimes.

It's a weird comparison, I know, but fifty years after Louis Riel was hanged for treason, one of the jurors who convicted him -- Edwin Brooks -- and who along with his colleagues unanimously pleaded for mercy from John A. MacDonald, said, "We tried him for treason, but he was hanged for the execution of Thomas Scott."

It's a well established principle you're sentenced for the crime on which you were convicted, not for the stuff you were not convicted for.

I don't wish Simpson well -- he got what was coming to him in this case, at least on the conviction, and I also think he should be kicked out of the Hall of Fame -- but the sentence could set a bad precedent for others who aren't an actor / athlete / comedian / journalist.

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Friday, December 5, 2008

One hundred

To be more accurate, one hundred soldiers plus one diplomat, so it's really now one hundred and one servants of Canada killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan, with the deaths of three more service persons.

Isn't it interesting this milestone was reached just when Parliament was prorogued? Or did DND sit on this story until the prorogation to make the opposition would be silenced? Honest to God, the fact Harper doesn't even want to debate this issue -- questioning the patriotism of those who have serious questions about the prosecution of the war -- indicates something close to ... I'm not going to use the word, but next month Parade comes out with their annual list of the world's worst leaders and don't be surprised if with this act of Mugabe-like suppression, Harper is a first-time entry.

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Europe cuts rates, Harper does s@$* all

While we're caught up in one hell of mess here in Canada, things are getting really desperate in Europe. In Britain the rate banks charge each other has dropped to a 57 year low -- two percent. That's a cut of a full percent. Meanwhile, the ECB cut the rate in the Eurozone to 2¼%, a ¾% cut.

I don't know about you but when rate cuts get to the point where they're practically giving it away then it's a sign of major trouble, but at least they're doing something. And all we get in Canada is seven more weeks of suspended animation.

UPDATE 6:21 pm 2321 GMT: I was going to write a letter to the PM telling him exactly how I feel, but I don't know how to spell "blow a raspberry." Actually, it's something else but I have a bit more class than that. I'll let his conscience, such that it is, get the better of him.

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Prorogation, the last refuge of the scoundrel

But the idiot got his way. The fact that the meeting took nearly two hours tells me that he must have gotten a really hard time from the GG. The way things were going, I wouldn't have been surprised if he had invoked martial law.

Well, he's bought himself some time, but when Parliament resumes on January 26th it's absolutely vital that the united front sticks and I believe that it will. At this point, it's obvious nothing he can offer in the budget is going to be acceptable.

I do not, however, looking forward to more instability which is what we're going to have for at least another two months. We could have resolved this last week, if they had actually introduced a real budget that would offer something rather than do even more ass sitting.

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Take some advice from Eddie, Steve

I see View from the Left had the same idea as me, but here goes:

One little quirk in our constitution says that there only has to be one -- one -- pro forma sitting of the House of Commons every twelve months. With a fixed term law (already violated by PMS), theoretically that means that Harper could ask for four straight prorogations with throne speeches then go to the polls in 2012 without the House ever having done any business. In the meantime, any appropriations would be done by Governor Generals' Warrants -- normally only used during a general election.

In other words, Harper could effectively rule as a dictator for four years. And he could use those "special" appropriations to ram through the hidden agenda we know he has.

Or he can actually take heed some open advice from a former Governor General -- and the second youngest in our history to serve in the role -- Manitoba NDer Eddie Schreyer who said a prorogation is just a stalling tactic. A cooling off period may be fine, but to stall for up to a year would be unacceptable. Schreyer noted that in 1979 he accepted Joe Clark's resignation but asked for a few hours to see if a coalition could be formed among the remaining parties. Of course we know that the Social Credit / Crédetistes (an antecedent of the Reform Party) were not going to do any sort of deal with the Liberals and NDP even they had united to vote down Clark's budget, so when "time expired" only then did Schreyer on the following day give the go-ahead for an election.

In other words, said Schreyer: Face the music, buddy.

To delay the inevitable would be setting a bad precedent. This is clear.

Bob Fife said last night on the Con TV Network that if Michaëlle Jean refuses to prorogue -- and precedent actually does dictates she should not -- Harper might immediately resign. Good. Her Excellency should call his bluff.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

No apologies, no concessions ...


Especially now that we know that Stockwell Day tried to do a deal with Duceppe and Alexa McDonough in 2000. How could you be for a coalition with the Bloc and NDP before you were against it?

How could you be for free votes before you were against them?

And why it is you say that in English that they're selling out to separatists, while telling the Bloc in French they're selling out to federalists?

You can't have it both ways, pal.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

How Harper can save himself

Much as I would like to see a Liberal-NDP coalition government go ahead, I believe Mr. Harper has one chance to save himself. Only one, and it's a longshot, but here goes:

Mr. Prime Minister, please go on live television and admit you were wrong not to introduce a stimulus package at this time. Admit you were wrong about public financing, public service collective bargaining and pay equity. Admit you were wrong to question the patriotism of your opponents. And, most of all, just say the two words -- the only two words -- that could possibly save you: "I'm sorry."

If you've bothered to read any of a number of fantasy novel series over the years, what ultimately befalls the prime antagonist is his or her inability to feel or express any remorse. The problem is the process of remorse is enough to kill someone. Is that what you're afraid of, sir? That you might die in the process? Or your soul might die but you're still alive (even worse)?

You promised a more collaborative Parliament. You can be given a second chance if -- and only if -- you admit to hubris, before it gets to you; and go back to what you promised.

Otherwise, face the music like a man, and resign like a man rather than take the coward's way out with prorogation or dissolution.

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Uh, December 6th guys?

So the Conservatives want to hold mass rallies against a possible left-wing coalition on December 6, which also happens to be the day that Parliament years ago designated as the National Action Day on Violence Against Women -- in honour of the fourteen female engineering students slaughtered in Montréal in 1989.

A day not only to commemerate what happened and continues to happen, the insidious war against women, but also to speak out against the millions of men and women -- but mostly men -- who sit idly by and do nothing just as the men in that classroom did nothing, nineteen years ago.

Set aside the timing, which is horribly wrong. This speaks strongly to the anti-women agenda of the Conservative Party, one of the reasons I turned away from the Reform Party years ago. And it's just another reason why the government needs to go down -- or the Prime Minister ought to resign before he is forced to.

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Monday, December 1, 2008

WKRP is back on the air

No, seriously. No word yet if Johnny Fever is going to do the 6 o'clock news.

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Progressives strike back

So it looks like a deal -- the Liberals and NDP will form a coalition with the support of the Bloc. There's a written agreement and admittedly, the devil is in the details, but there's more money for infrastructure, the environment, seniors and children; and the scheduled corporate tax reductions will go ahead as scheduled. There's also a commitment to go ahead with a national daycare strategy. All things I like.

What I'm not sure about is Stéphane Dion serving as interim Prime Minister until the Liberals have their convention in May. Sounds like an accidental PM, but at least he can say he served as PM.

The question is, what will Harper do? I think there is about a 50% chance he'll try to prorogue Parliament by this weekend, but that would only delay what he must know is inevitable. I think he should just face the music and throw in the towel before he is non-confidenced out of office. If he did, history might judge him as a gentleman. Right now, he doesn't come close to that. I lost respect for him a long time ago but he might get some of it back before it's too late.

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Still up in the air, but ...

The details were first reported last night, but it looks like we have an idea of what a coalition government might look like here in Canada -- if it pulls off and that is still actually far from a certainty. The Liberals and NDP would form the government with the Libs getting 18 Cabinet seats and the NDs 6 (none of them economic or the deputy PM slot). The Bloc Québécois would not be part of the inner circle but would agree to support the coalition. The grouping would last 30 months.

The two hang-ups? First, who's going to lead this thing. Will it be Stéphane Dion, or Michael Ignatieff, or someone else who would be a caretaker? The leader has to be someone who can be a uniter but is still willing to take the fall if the leadership convention in May goes against him or her. While I'd like it to be Ignatieff, there is an argument that would give him an unfair advantage going into the leadership. If it was Dion, would he really relish being a PM for just five months?

Second, and it's something I and some others talked about the other day before the MSM picked up on it -- Stephen Harper could always ask the GG to prorogue Parliament and try again with a new session in the new year. Obviously a no-confidence vote could not take place while Parliament is not sitting, and I believe there would have to be eight sitting days minimum before such a new motion could be considered (since the Speech from the Throne would be the first topic for debate).

The only time I can recall such a protracted session was in 1988 after the free trade election. There was a brief three week session (two in the House, one in the Senate) to ratify the treaty after the election was forced on the issue in the previous Parliament.

But it would be one of the most cynical moves imaginable, and GG Jean would have to ask, what stunt is being pulled here? It would be an impossible position for her. If she accepted prorogation she'd be stopping a legitimate debate in Parliament from taking its course. If she refused, she'd be accused of taking a partisan position.

In the UK, there's a new session that begins every fall. It's as simple as that. It'd be a lot easier if we did it that way here -- but Canadian politics is a peculiar thing.

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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Nothing unethical, eh? Try illegal (maybe)

Canada has a history of dirty tricks in politics. But the PMO's admission that a Conservative member hacked into an NDP conference call yesterday takes things to a new low. I was under the presumption that warrantless wiretapping, or recording a phone conversation without consent, is illegal in Canada. To openly release the tape is beyond comprehension.

But like Duplessis and Nixon, Harper must presume that if he's the leader then nothing he does is illegal. Or unethical.

At this point, a normal person would hire an independent prosecutor to investigate. But Harper is anything but a normal person. If there is any way to bring down his government before next Monday's no-confidence vote (short of a military coup d'état) then I'd like to know.

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More backpeddling -- not good enough

The Conservatives continue to backwheel. They've now backed down on the right to strike and pay equity issues -- at least, for now (as with the case on party financing). But that doesn't change the fact that they never should have brought it those issues in the first place. As for announcing the budget date as January 27, much earlier than would be expected in the cycle, one has to note this is even more cynical as it's just one week after Obama's inauguration.

We can't wait two months.

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Another reason to dump the Cons: Pay equity (or the end of it)

After going through the economic statement last week, that's caused the left to unite as it hasn't been in a very long time, I noticed something else very odious that's reason enough for me to hope Stephen Harper is forced to resign next week -- even if all the other concerns were somehow addressed (which of course they won't be). The Conservatives want to wipe out outstanding lawsuits regarding pay equity in federally regulated industries as well as the right to sue for any suits that might be forthcoming.

Pay equity goes beyond equal pay for equal work. It's the principle that there should be equal pay for work of equal value. It does this by measuring what the comparative worth of a job classifcation is and the value it provides to society at large (in the case of government) or to a corporation (in the case of industry). In plain language, it tries on an objective scale to compare apples to oranges.

For example, on a purely hypothetical example, say you're comparing federal public health officials (some working for the Health Department, others for Defence or for Indian Affairs) to a disparate class -- for this example,. detachments of constable Mounties (under the jurisdiction of Public Safety). Both groups are public employees on the federal payroll. The jobs are obviously vastly different and serve different purposes, but on an independent evaluation they are found to prove equal value to the community at large. Under pay equity, whoever is getting paid less should have their salaries raised to match the higher paid job. Further, identical jobs across different departments should also get paid the same.

While the vast majority of pay equity cases have involved underpaid women, some have involved underpaid men. Now the government wants to take that away citing "budgetary constraints."

No. Wrong. We cannot sacrifice equal rights at the altar of the bean counters. I should not be surprised that this would be happening. Mike Harris did away with pay equity in Ontario (wrongly) and the hatchetman he picked for the job was Jim Flaherty. He had a majority behind him in the Ontario Legislature (as well as a sailing economy at the time) so he mostly got away with it.

He, and Harper, cannot be allowed to get away with it at the federal level even if we are in recession.

This is a matter of equal rights. It's as simple as that. Anyone against something as simple as the equality of men and women in the workplace does not deserve to even sit as an MP let alone be a Minister of the Crown.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Saturday night music vault: Let's Call the Whole Thing Off (and life imitates art)!

Well, what do you know? Who would have thought Steve would have caved in but he did just that tonight and scrapped his plan to destroy his enemies by eliminating public party financing.

Clearly they got the message on that one point but they still don't get it on the stimulus issue. The fact Harper has finally been shown to have a weak spot demonstrates the Opposition can be effective if it just gets its act together; and far as I can tell they have no plans to call off their non-confidence vote on December 8 nor should they.

In honour of this surprise news, I present my musical selection for the week. I was going to pick this one anyway, but the breaking news was just plain serendipity. Ladies and gentleman, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

Now to whatever's on TV, besides ice hockey ...

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King-Byng no precedent now

I decided to look over the events surrounding the King-Byng Affair in 1926 and see if it has any lessons for the current stalemate in Ottawa. Let's review the facts. (I've reviewed a couple of online articles to get my facts straight.)

After the 1925 generals, the House of Commons was in a minority or "hung" situation. The Conservatives under Arthur Meighen (grandfather of current Senator Michael) won 116 seats, the Liberals (led by Mackenzie King) had 101 and the left-leaning Progressives under Robert Forke had 24. King had an informal agreement with the Progressives to stay in power.

A few months after the election, one of King's hacks at Customs and Excise was accused of taking kickbacks. The Minister in charge of the Department was fired but then quickly promoted to the Senate. The Progressives were outraged and pulled their support. King, who had lost two procedural votes (not on confidence) but fearing he'd lose one on the corruption issue (which was possibly a confidence matter) asked the Governor General, Field Marshall Viscount Julian Bing of Vimy, to dissolve Parliament and call a new election.

Byng refused, but for two specific reasons: First, the House was still considering a motion of censure and to interfere in that would be tantamount to the Crown stamping on Parliament's freedom of speech; second, he thought the Conservatives should have a chance to rule since they were the largest bloc in the House. King asked Byng to reconsider and that he should consult the British government (remember, Canada was still a colony in those days). Byng declined that, too. Furious, King resigned. Byng then asked Meighen to form a government.

Under the rules of the time, a Prime Minister called in mid-stream ould only make his ministers "acting" ones; to get their posts locked up they would have to individually resign and run in by-elections. King seized on the opportunity, got the Progressives back on his side, and voted non-confidence; an election was called and King won by a landslide. Ironically, he made Canadian independence his issue notwithstanding he was the one who had asked the Colonial Office to intervene; and even though Byng saw correctly that it was an issue for Canadians, not the British, to decide.

After the election, the Dominions (Canada, Australia, New Zealand and a few others) got an understanding (called the Balfour Declaration) that a Governor General was not to be the agent of the London government but of the Sovereign. Thus, the viceroy or vicereine became a "vice-regal" representative. Representation of 10 Downing Street's interests would be instead taken up by a High Commissioner (the functional equivalent of an Ambassador).

So is Stephen Harper correct in saying that the 1926 crisis sets a precedent? I'm not so sure. I'm no constitutional expert, but there are four problems I see with the argument.

First, Balfour did not end the residual power that a Governor General has to seek out a possible government that can be formed in case of a deadlock or vote of non-confidence. There is an example for this -- many cite the 1985 alliance formed in Ontario between the Liberals and NDP, although in that case it was the lieutenant governor that called upon Peterson to replace Miller. The people would not have tolerated two elections in only three months and we're only six, seven weeks past the last election.

Second, King tried to have it both ways first by being for the Colonial Office before being against it. There's no more Colonial Office, and there's no way the Comonwealth Office or the Queen herself is going to get involved in this one; she got burned over Lord Hume in the UK in 1963 and she vowed never again to get involved in party politics.

Third, there wasn't a non-confidence vote that forced King to resign. It was still being considered. He resigned out of disgust to avert the humiliation.

Fourth, I think Harper might have an argument if he won the popular vote by a margin so large the other parties with their combined totals would barely surpass it if at all. That was the case in 1925: The Conservatives had 46.13%, the Liberals 39.74%, the Progressives 8.45%. Add the latter two, you get 48.19%, a difference of 2.03%.

Now look at the 2008 numbers. Conservatives: 37.65%, Liberals 26.26%, NDP 18.18%, Bloc 9.98%. (The Greens, who unfortunately didn't get any, won 6.78%.) Add up the numbers for the progressive parties. 54.42% voted for progressive parties that got into the House, if you add the Greens it was 61.20%. That's a gap of 16.77% or 23.55% depending on how you count it; a huge difference compared to 1925.

A reasonable GG would have to look both at the numbers in the House as well as the popular vote and say to herself, wait a minute -- the opposition parties do have a mandate (albeit a tricky one); it was given to them by the people even if they may disagree on a number of points. Let's see if they can work out their differences and try something.

Now, of course, Harper can end this game of brinksmanship and offer a real economic package rather than make us wait until the New Year. Or he could do what he should have done in the first place, and talk deal with one of the opposition parties to get their support. But if he doesn't, then the opposition parties will have to act. When you promise to make Parliament a calmer place and then make it explode in just the session's second week, then you've lost the moral right to govern.

As for sober second thought that Flaherty referred to yesterday -- that's the Senate's job to do on legislation, and they have no say on confidence whatsoever.

That's my view. If you think the GG has no choice but to call an immediate election, I'd welcome your argument.

UPDATE (10:41 am EST, 1541 GMT): Some minor edits. Also, some may think about the 1975 crisis in Australia where the GG and PM fired each other; but that country's situation was complicated by a double dissolution of both Houses of Parliament, something that couldn't happen here since the Senate is presently an appointed body; also I wonder if it's possible for our Senate to hold up a supply bill for an indefinite period.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Steve stalls for time

Driving home about a half hour ago I heard PMS say that he's not going to have the vote on the Ways and Means motion on Monday after all but instead will let the chips fall with however the non-confidence motion goes on December 8, the earliest it can be voted on.

This is just a stalling tactic, but it's hard to see how six sittings days are going to change the minds of the opposition. And as for his claim that he has the right to govern because he was elected, well no he wasn't. In Canada, like the UK, we elect MPs who are committed to a party platform and not directly for a PM. An overwhelming majority of Canadians voted for a majority of MPs who are progressives, not regressives. If he had a majority of members then it would be a different story -- but his survival now depends on the House.

Unless Steve says that he's actually going to do something to help the agriculture, automobile and forestry industries, he can forget deal. He's going to get voted down. Of course, he can always prorogue and have Parliament sit out for a one year cooling off period. But most Canadians would easily see that for what it is, too.

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