Monday, February 28, 2011

Conrad Black, "soft" on crime? Who's next?

HT to BC in TO -- although I was probably going to write about this anyway:

Either jail time has mellowed out Baron Conrad Black, or he is pissed off that the PMS who is ruling Canada is not the Steven Harper who ran for PM five years ago.   Either way Black wrote an op-ed piece in the paper he founded, the National Post, and strongly critiqued Steve Harper's "throw away the key" and "tough on drugs" policy.  He actually supports the concept that a government should be "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" -- the phrase coined by Tony Blair and is what underlines what most Third Way proponents have said all along.

First, Harper loses Preston Manning on the environment.   Now he loses Black on crime.

Who's next?

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Friday, February 25, 2011

In and Out updated

News broke this morning that four senior Con party officials as well as the governing party itself have been charged with violations of campaign spending rules.   Remember the allegation that has been brewing for a couple of years now, that the party funneled money into local campaigns, then yanked it back so they could buy more ad time for their national campaign and thus exceeded the $18 million spending limit by at least a million.

Leave it to the courts to determine where this is going ... but I'll wish you a good weekend with this appropriate skit from Sesame Street -- "In and Out Fever."

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

What did Bill Davis know and when did he know it?

The King of Brampton retired from politics back in 1985, but this happened on his watch, indeed even before he was first elected .   Really -- wild grasses and weeds on Ontario's public highways were treated with Agent Orange!   Maybe explains Dalton McGuinty and his pack of mutants running this province now ...

Seriously, however, the forests that were clear cut to print the NYT for 50 years were also sprayed with the deadly dioxin.   Did people reading the paper during the second half of the last century get traces of the chemical?

When people were travelling did they also get the tailwind of excess spray?

Is it really a coincidence so many DMV workers are in a cancer cluster?

This has class action written all over it and it has the potential to bankrupt an already broke province.   Or Premier Dad could just say, we can't apologize for the sins of the past -- like, let's say, the World War I era Regulation 17 which tried to Anglicize Franco-Ontario (where a lot of the Orange was used decades later).

Just a coincidence?   Hmmm ...

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Hamilton the not good anymore

Hamilton used to be quite a welcoming city even to the more marginal elements of society.   Not any more if last night's City Hall council meeting is any indication.   Led by former DJ and now mayor Bob Bratina, the city unanimously voted to spend $10,000 of our money to fight a local half-way house and treatment centre, the local branch of St. Leonard's Society.  At issue are four variances (exemptions from by-laws) that need to be cleared so that the facility can have renovations.

What's truly amazing is that city staff recommended that the variances be granted since the residents have generally posed no problems to the downtown neighbourhood.    However, the council caved into NIMBYism and said that we have too many half-way houses already.  Here's the kicker -- the councillor for the ward, Bernie Morelli, says he's never even visited the facility to see what they have now or what they propose although he has given them a phone call.   Man, who's giving him his marching orders anyway -- Steven Harper?  Or the guy running Fox News North?

This is incredible.   If you asked the neighbours they probably didn't even know there was a half-way house there in the first place.   There have been notorious problems with violent criminals who should have been kept behind bars before their sentences were out, but these have been at rather less secure facilities such as the downtown Sally Ann (although the half-wayers are on a different floor than shelter residents).   But Lenny's is actually a major success story, one that should be emulated.   And now City Hall wants to shut them down.

And in so doing, actually aid and abet the increase of crime rather than lowering it.   I'll confess to being a numb-nuts but the men and women on council are the dictionary definition of numb-nuts a hundred times over.

That $10k could be used to fix pot holes, really important this time of year.   Instead of hiring an outside "consultant" to fight an application the city has absolutely no hope of winning at the municipal board.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Obama drops defence of DOMA

In the last hour or so as I write this, Pres. Obama's AG, Eric Holder, announced the White House will no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act (Public Law 104-199) stating the obvious:   The law is unconstitutional because it is based on a narrow view of "morals" and not on sound principles of equal protection.   It's the right decision although I have to wonder why Obama has waited until now to make up his mind on this.  It won't endear him to the so-cons who voted for him on economic issues in 2008 but governing is based on doing the right thing -- not what's popular.

After all, most white Americans opposed desegregation in the 1960s -- much less enshrining the concept of equality of the sexes -- but that didn't stop JFK and LBJ from pushing through legislation that did both.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Gaddafi's marching orders

Fun reading that Green Book is, isn't it folks?   Like the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital, it's the noble idea that is nice but how it's put into practice that's the problem.   Heck, even the official "book of office" of the UK Lib Dems, a first edition of Mill's On Liberty, is a joke when one considers what the modern day party stands for (supposedly).

At least it's not Mao's Little Red Book, but it's worth a laugh if you want to find out the opposite of what Ka-Taffy really believes.

Liberty, freedom and enfranchisement for all the people of the Middle East -- and now!

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Parliament's irrelevance

I have to admit reading this story in Macleans didn't make me really happy, but it wasn't really surprising either.   Other than Question Period or really important votes, most MPs don't see any reason to hang around in the House of Commons chamber.   And nothing substantive really gets done.   During the Pearson era, about 86% of government bills proposed were passed by the House -- and usually with unanimous consent.   Since Harper came to power five years ago, only 42% of bills have passed -- and it's not just the opposition "stall tactics" the government claims, but also the fact bills are introduced then a session is prorogued if the government can't get its "way."   The increased heckling and unnecessary standing ovations only makes the optics worse.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Another cop gives out the "sluts" lie

That police officers in 2011 still believe the myth that women who dress "provacatively" then get raped asked for it is simply unbelievable.  But in reality, nothing has been unbelievable since hell froze over.   And this comment was given at a forum on how not to be a victim.   May God have mercy on us all!

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Hacked (and the Cons' response)

One should not be surprised that the computers at Finance and Treasury Board in Ottawa are being hacked, most likely at the behest of the Beijing government.   What should be surprising is the response of the Cons -- rather than loan the two departments the most secure computers there are, the ones at the spy agencies, the employees have been ordered to do their jobs at, wait for it, coffee shops with WiFi hotspots!  Connections which are even less secure than the supposedly tamper proof systems the money departments had.

And this is the party of law and order?  Cyber attacks are inevitable in the global village, but this has been going on for six weeks and we only found out late last night.   Who knows what damage has been done to the integrity of our financial system in the meantime?   Where is the response to that?   Especially now in the age of "cloud" computing where servers as we've come to know them have become obsolete and replaced by virtual storage points.

What if the hackers were after even more important secrets -- our nuclear secrets, for instance?   I've mentioned before that we in Canada have relatively unsecured nuclear weapons grade materials.  It's not really a secret that China gives less credence and importance to non-proliferation than do our Western nuclear armed allies, one only has to look at the rather lackadaisical approach China has to North Korea.   Or our arms secrets -- Afghanistan does share a border with China and the latter has never clouded its intent to be the regional superpower.

Like I said, this attack would have been unavoidable no matter who was in power.   But it's the response or the lack thereof that is really bothering me.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lara Logan attacked

In the pursuit of freedom, or something like it, even the revolutionaries will attempt to control the message.   Thus hearing this morning that Lara Logan of CBS News was sexually assaulted by a mob in Cairo is not just heartbreaking, it is outrageous.  What is it going to take before the press is truly free to report anywhere anytime on newsworthy events without threat of violence?   I pray for her speedy recovery -- the world needs more hard-nosed reporters like her.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Bev admits to BEING the smoking gun

HT (Impolitical):  It's one of those holy shit moments people on both the right and left can only dream of.   Bev Oda admitted in the House of Commons today that she was the one who altered a document ordering that Kairos -- a coalition of faith-based aid groups -- not get a funding request for $7 million.

Let's see who Kairos is composed of -- the Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, United, Quaker, Mennonite and Catholic churches.   That's pretty much every mainline Christian denomination in Canada.   Nice way of pissing off, oh, 65 percent of Canadians! (if one believes the estimates of the CIA.)

While our separation of church and state may not be as clearly defined as in some other democracies, we do enforce it -- but we also make allowance for the historical role the churches have played in providing social services even as they became nationalized.   However, the fact these churches have taken a particular collective stand on the Middle East conflict, Aboriginals, women's rights and climate change does not give the government the moral right to punish them in favour of religious groups that view things "their" way.   Legally they may, but at the expense of eviscerating pre-budgeted aid projects and leaving thousands of people in the developing world hungry or prone to the changes in climate we're causing -- not to mention, people who don't care about the Middle East at all?

First she screws up the CRTC (first by declaring that Bryan Adams wasn't a Canadian -- remember that, folks -- then by setting in process the route for all-Christian TV and radio stations and the damage they've done to the political arena) and by just those two acts, set it on the long course to its present irrelevant status.   Now this.   Ms Oda must resign, or Harper must fire her.   Better that than she to be found in contempt by her colleagues in Parliament, much as I relish that thought.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Adieu Hosni

A great afternoon as we learn today that Hosni Mubarak has resigned as President of Egypt after 30 years.   Truly this could not come soon enough.

"Friend" to the West he may very well have been but he was no friend to his own people.   Still, to quote a good line from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, "I fear there will come in his place."  (III,ii,110)  Democracy may have won one battle, but the war is never truly won until human rights and democracy are truly secure.   As Bill Clinton once wryly noted about Haiti -- and I'm paraphrasing -- a country's most important democratic election is its second.   So we're probably at least four years away before we see whether people power does amount to anything substantive especially in a region that, unlike Eastern Europe, has no real recent memory of a democratic past.

I cross my fingers tonight, but only tentatively.   One can't help but be skeptical even as we're hopeful.

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

RIP Penlan

It's with a heavy heart that I have learned today that a favourite blogger of mine, Penny Lankshear, better known as "Penlan," has passed away.   She commented quite a few times on this page and while we weren't in total agreement on everything she had the kind of integrity I can only hope to reach.   Have fun in the other debating club, friend.

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Gas tax for arenas?

I was going to write today about the proposed merger between the Toronto and London stock markets (bottom line, I think it makes sense but it needs to be studied carefully and not rushed through to decision)    But the news that some of the money from the federal gas tax may go to fund the construction of a new $400 million arena in Québec City with no guarantee that any NHL team would move or a new franchise created strikes me as wrong headed, when the intention of the shared tax is to deal with immediate infrastructure needs (roads, sewers, and public transit improvements).

A pot of $2 billion per year may not seem like a lot in the scheme of things but for a city like Toronto, that's over $162 million -- and TO has chosen spend all of its money on the TTC.   If even a small portion of that was cut then the fight over bus route cuts could start all over again and everyone would know who to blame was.

Nor is there any guarantee that costs would be contained.    Just look at some classic blunders -- The Big Owe (rightfully named), project cost $134 million (in 1969 dollars!), total cost $1.6 billion.   And the Expos moved to Washington DC.    The SkyDome -- was supposed to cost $150 million, ended up costing over $570 million; all we ever got back was $151 million and its current book value is maybe $85 million.    In the States, they built a new Giants stadium and the taxpayers in New Jersey still have to pay the bonds on the old stadium, about $110 million, even though that arena was destroyed.

Ask the average person in Québec, or any province, what's more important, maintenance of roads or a dream project -- they'd tell you, it's maintenance of roads.    Properly maintained roads ensures a vibrant economy, not necessarily a project that is used only several days a year and winds up a white elephant.

The Cons may have just opened up another front on the non-election election front, and I for one welcome it.

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Monday, February 7, 2011

What Bernier has started

Why were all the party leaders absent from today's Question Period?  I wonder.   And why was the National Citizen's Coalition, Harper's former stomping ground, so quick to come to Maxime Bernier's defence?  Could it be that they, not the Conservative Party, are the real spokespeople for what Stephen Harper really thinks?

I mentioned yesterday that Maxime Bernier has managed, however unintentionally, to cause a storm with his comments that Québec no longer needs the Charter of the French Language.   It was even asked today by the NDP's Thomas Mulcair, who represents Montréal's Outremont district in Parliament, if the Cons have forgotten that they were the ones who introduced the resolution that declares that Québec is a nation within Canada.

And what defines a nation?   Let's see, a language, a culture, a legal system -- to name but three.

And Québec meets all three.

A French-language majority, overwhelmingly so.

A very distinctive literature (where else but Canada must we learn Roch Carrier's The Hockey Sweater as required reading in schools, in both official languages?), its movie industry, music; even its business culture, and I specify its legitimate business culture, has nuances that are often misunderstood by business leaders in other provinces.

And its legal system -- on the one hand a concise civil code for private disputes (unlike the often contradictory common law in other provinces), combined with Anglo-American law for criminal matters, one of the very few dual law jurisdictions on the entire planet.

The duality is a source of strength and pride, not weakness.  It's reflective of political realities that were recognized not 5 years ago but nearly 250 years ago, when Britain gave equal rights to Roman Catholics in Canada (in 1774) a full 76 years before they were granted to Catholics in Britain (in 1850) -- and which sparked the American Revolution.   And it's reflected in our federal laws, when both common and civil law terms are denoted in our statutes if both need to be used -- a practice first adopted about a decade ago (for example, what we in English Canada might call a "continuing care power of attorney" or "living will" is defined in Québec as a "mandate in anticipation of being incapacitated")

I can't understand what Bernier was thinking.   There may be an argument to be made that the law in question needs to be reviewed to reflect modern realities ... but why so openly and why now?   Especially with an election on the horizon.

Harper needs to make it clear:   Did he really mean it when he said Québec is a nation, or was he just blowing hot air?   What about the other leaders?   Even Iggy hasn't said much about this for a few years.

Québec isn't the only thing that makes us different from Americans, but the sense of solidarity that exists in the province on social issues is something that is something that should be emulated, as opposed to the everyone for themselves attitude we see south of the border.  We're not Americans, and we never will be.   First we see the drive for mega-prisons, then tougher drug policies and a hard-nosed attitude towards street workers who need to be protected rather than prosecuted .... and now this.

We have a pretty good idea who Maxime Bernier is.  Isn't it time that the real Stephen Harper please stand up?

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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Maxime Bernier's Mouth

Whoops ... a federal Cabinet minister said that the Charter of the French Language, one of the cornerstone laws in modern Québec, isn't needed any more.   Double whoops ... Maxime Bernier said it in Nova Scotia rather than back home in his home province.

The Cons hope to get to majority status by winning more than just 11 seats in the province?   Guess how that's going to play out now.  And Bernier's also supposed to be a potential leadership candidate as well.

The law is draconian in many respects but the goal of ensuring the primacy of French in schools and the workplace in the province has been more than met.    Why kick the hornet's nest now?

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Friday, February 4, 2011

Idiot of the week (2011-02-04)

As a general rule, some speed limits are set too low.  Others too high.   But it's generally accepted that except in a known radar trap most cops will ignore people who go about 10 km/h (6 mph) over the posted limit.   My choice for moron of the week, therefore, is a man who may have set the record for going over the limit -- in fact he was going 240 (150) in a 70 (45) zone, on Montréal's Ville Marie Parkway.   The penalty:   $2598 and in what may be a record in Canada, 42 demerit points.   (In most provinces you cap out and get suspended at 15).

Incredibly, it was 3 am in the morning, and he was sober.  I can't imagine what would have happened if he actually hit the tunnel that runs under the Old City -- I've driven that tunnel, and it's signed at that speed for a reason.   Coming out of the west end, you actually hit a city street with signalized intersections.  It's remarkable no one got killed or hurt.

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Thursday, February 3, 2011

"I was for democracy, before I was against it"

Just an observation -- I find it funny that those who keep saying we must "Stand Up For Israel ™ " pointing out among other things that the Jewish state is the only true democracy in the Middle East -- are now up in arms at the possibility that the dominoes of democracy might actually start falling in Arab countries.   For instance, "Pastor" John Hagee said that Hosni Mubarak has been a good friend of Israel and now that he's going all bets are off.

Funny ... Hagee was for democracy before he was against it???

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The return of the ten percenters

Not that I'm a big fan of the Canadian Taxpayer's Federation -- I am on their e-mail list mostly for laughs -- but they're absolutely right on this one.   Just a few months after the House of Commons decided to kill those annoying mail-outs called 10 percenters, QMI News is reporting that the Senate -- which is now controlled by the Cons -- has voted to start the practice.   And since those summoned to "The Other Place" have franking privileges as well, it's at our expense and not subject to normal campaign spending rules.

The only caveat -- that they not attack fellow Senators.    Like that's going to mean much.  I mean, can you name five Senators off the top of your head?   Quite frankly without a search engine I can only name three -- one is a Liberal (Gen. Roméo Dallaire) and the other two are the last of the Progressive Conservatives (Elaine McCoy and Lowell Murray).   And that's probably three more than most Canadians could -- which says a lot about why the Senate needs to be elected, properly (with an amendment that passes the seven-fifty rule).

It's bad enough Senators are not subject to the same conflict of interest rules those in the House are -- look at how many sit on so many boards of governors and do not have to abstain on the very issues they have purview over when they come up for vote.

But this goes too far.   If Steve and Iggy could agree on anything, it's that we shouldn't get any junk mail at taxpayer's expense.

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Corporate welfare and health care

Sure, we all like tax cuts ... mo' money is mo' money, right?    Well, not necessarily.   We've seen the impact of the GST being cut from 7 to 5 percent.   And now, there is almost certainly going to be a showdown in Canada's Parliament over corporate tax cuts.

Let's not forget that to finance the first part of the GST cut in 2006, the Conservatives actually raised the basic personal income tax across the board for everyone and froze indexing of the basic personal amount for about two years.   When people caught on they got upset and the indexing was restored along with the previous tax rates, but the GST cut remained.

If there was a guarantee that people would actually be hired with the money saved from corporate tax cuts then I'd support them.  Trickle down economics -- or "voodoo economics" as George Bush Sr. so rightly call it -- only trickles down to the wealthy.

But there's also the question of all the things businesses large and small can deduct that ordinary working Canadians can not.   Every new tax "incentive" is a form of corporate welfare.   One good example are the credits we give for television and film production.   Sure people get hired, even if only on contact work but their wages are essentially subsidized by the taxpayer.   At a 50 percent subsidy and an average 25 percent bracket that means the effective tax rate -- what we get back -- is only 12½ percent.

Add to that the write offs for resource development, the relatively low royalty rates for mineral and forest extraction and so forth, and we're getting taken for a ride.  And now Harper wants to cut taxes for the fat cats even more?  Isn't he leading the same party that once published a famous pamphlet about the need to stop digging the debt whole?   Isn't he the same man who took Canada from surplus to deficit?

And any money out of the system means less money for our top priority, what should be our top priority in Canada -- health care.  It's 2011 and the first cohort of the baby boom is starting to collect Old Age Security.  I've written before about the impact the GST cut is having on funding OAS but over the next fifteen years as the rest of the Boom starts getting their guaranteed pensions we're really going to get screwed.

Despite our rather appalling personal choices across the board when it comes to personal health -- choices which if corrected would also save the system a ton of money -- we still have a basic consensus that we need to look out for each other.   One of the problems is that the present Prime Minister once ran the National Citizen's Coalition.   Its main purpose when it was founded over forty years ago was to kill public health care in its infancy.   It certainly does support tax cuts and has long been at the forefront of eliminating not just the tax credits that sustain political parties but also any limits to contributions.

It's all too obvious what this would mean.   Well heeled interests can easily out buy smaller voices in terms of advertising and thus skew public opinion in a certain way.  It's not that much of a stretch to figure out that tax cuts would not be used to hire people but to buy even more ad time to get people to distrust even more the social safety net we've worked so hard to put together.   And of course since advertising is deductible, they'd pay even less tax in turn.

I totally agree with the sentiment that payroll taxes on top of the corporate rate -- public pensions, workers compensation, health care premiums -- can be a burden on paperwork.   But it's better to have healthy employees who pay taxes than sick ones who do not.

The last major stab at tax reform was about 25 years ago.   We do need to have an a new debate, and we need to put everything in the pool.   This also means lower corporate rates -- with accompanying cuts to corporate welfare, i.e. far fewer write off regimes.  I thought this was the reason why the GST was introduced in the first place -- to get rid of a "manufacturer's sales tax" that was only paid by about 75,000 people but also had 22,000 "exceptions."

But given the choice now, short term, between fixing taxes and fixing health care, it's a no brainer.   If a prime minister once ran a group that wants to abolish a key plank -- the key plank -- of our social safety net, then he can't be trusted on health care.   This is the issue the opposition parties need to run on when the election is called or forced.   Period.

PS  Neither Harper nor any one else has offered an explanation as to why the NCC doesn't issue financial statements nor why it distinguishes between "voting" and "public" members or why it doesn't have meetings where its public members can influence policy.   How can we have a PM who opposed democracy for a private group but ... never mind.

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