Thursday, August 31, 2006

Keith Olbermann calls out Rumsfeld on "facism" remark

Crooks and Liars has the video from Wednesday night's Countdown show. After watching this, one has to wonder why Keith Olbermann isn't running for President. And this comes just a couple of months after he called out Bill O'Reilly on the Malmédy massacre.

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Briefing notes (2006-08-30)

Caledonia Standoff

As the showdown goes into its seventh month, there are a couple of points that indicate this isn't going to be ending any time soon. First, we learn that the province's special advisor, Jane Stewart, is earning $1300 a day for her "consulting work," on an eleven month contract -- which works out to $300,000. Second, the natives who are there are now asking for donations of food and building materials, saying they're planning to stay there the winter and to finish the eleven unfinished homes on the housing development -- with no indication as to when they plan to leave or even if they intend to build the houses to Ontario Building Code standards. Third, Haldimand County Mayor Marie Trainer dropped a bomb on the radio this morning when she said the municipality that includes Caledonia is not even at the negotiating table.

The consultantcy fees described are not entirely out of line for someone in the private sector -- even for a former politician -- but an eleven month contract does seem to be out of line; and the McGuinty government should have told us in advance they thought this was going to take much longer than was conventional wisdom. As for the natives' request -- it's only bound to engender even more ill will. I think most people will say: You want to finish the houses, but do it on your own dime or get a loan from the bank. We may bring you some food, but that's it.

But the last part is the most perplexing. Until the issue is settled as to who has title, one should presume the status quo and say that Douglas Creek is in Caledonia and not Six Nations land; even though both the elected council and the Haudenasonee say it's Iroquois territory. Why on earth, then, would the County of Haldimand be cut off from the process? The province's interests are not necessarily the same as those of the residents of Haldimand County and especially those in Caledonia. When there was a dispute over some lands in Dunnville, well to the east (once its own town but now subsumed into Haldimand as well), the town council there and Six Nations sat down together to sort it out. Why not this time?

Barbara Streisand tickets forged

Set aside the fact that the Hostess with the Mostest is making another comeback after publicly proclaiming she was "retiring" from public performances, then appearing on Oprah just a couple of years later to sing. The idea she would "unretire" after promising no more is disconcerting to say the least.

What's even more bothersome is the news Ticketmaster has cancelled over a thousand tickets on her current tour -- tickets which were bought using stolen credit cards then flowed through reselling agencies. One can understand the need to stop fraud and get at those who stole the cards in the first place. But where does that leave those who bought tickets in good faith only to find out they're worthless?

Gas prices: How low will they go?

One would have thought that as a general rule, spikes in oil prices are immediately reflected at the pump, whilst drops in crude don't flow through to the consumer for anywhere from 60 to 90 days. But oil has taken a tumble the last couple of weeks, this morning going to under $69 a barrel -- and incredibly, consumers are getting the benefits. Some gas stations this morning were selling petrol for under eighty cents a litre. When one considers the price just two weeks ago was around a dollar ten, this is pretty good news. On the other hand, Labour Day weekend is coming up, and I wouldn't be surprised if it goes back over a dollar in due course.

Jeffs given away by carotid artery

Finally, we're learning more about the arrest of FBI 10 Most Wanted, Warren Steed Jeffs, the leader of the polygamist FLDS cult, who was picked up the other night in Las Vegas. For a man wanted on multiple charges of both statutory rape as well as facilitating child molestation, this was a very dumb criminal. A paper license tag on a $55,000 Cadillac? He was eating a salad in his car while being questioned? He contradicted his own brother as to where they were going: He said Colorado, the brother said Utah. Oh, and most criminals give a poker face and never give themselves away -- but this guy's carotid artery was pumping like crazy; as if he knew the gig was up.

Oh, and the contraband that was in the car. Multiple cells phones, walkie talkies, police scanners -- and a lot of cash.

Thank heaven this ended peacefully and not with violence. My hope is that Jeff's arrest is the beginning of the end of the FLDS. My worry is that it's only the beginning of a long process of purging, shakeouts -- and deprogramming thousands of people brainwashed to believe polygamy is the will of God.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Tiger Woods passes on Hamilton -- again

So Tiger Woods has decided -- once again -- that puny little Hamilton, Ontario (population 500,000+) is not big enough for his game or his ego, and he'll pass on participating at the Canadian Open when it comes here next week. What, Tiger, you scared of playing on a course that will actually challenge your wits?

Not that it matters much, anyway. I managed to snag free passes to the 2000 tournament when he clobbered the competition at Oakville's Glen Abbey; before collapsing the next year when the Open was in Montréal. I couldn't afford to get tickets even if I wanted to right now, but maybe his absence will open up the competition a lot more, making for a more fun weekend.

And more sales for the pizza place.

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Warren Jeffs arrested

This is really, really good news.

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Monday, August 28, 2006

McGuinty realizes election is coming, Part 1

Just a couple days after a surprise turnaround in finances allowed Ontario to go from a projected $2.2 billion deficit to a modest 300 million or something surplus for the year ending March 31, 2006 -- McGuinty proves he's already in election mode for the mandatory fixed date set for the first week of October 2007. Remember back in June when the Ombudman smacked the province for its contempt for those who lived almost exclusively on disability support payments? Well now, they've been on a whirlwind the last three months trying to catch up on back payments for the 19,000 or so owed money. They're up to 13,000; and hope to make sure the rest (who for some reason aren't in the computerized database) get what's due them by the end of the year.

At least the provincial Liberals are doing it, even if they were embarrassed into it. But they could and should do more. Disability payments from the CPP / RRQ as well as workers' compensation should also be exempt from the calculation of the disability payments. They can afford to do it, and it's the right thing. And, they should be indexed to inflation just as federal entitlements are.

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Bradley Dorrance
28/08/2006 5:24:40 PM

From the Ontario Liberal Party's eNews:
"General Motors of Canada’s decision to manufacture its new Camaro in Oshawa is a resounding vote of confidence in Ontario and its workers. The announcement about this investment took place just after Premier McGuinty was named Personality of the Year 2006 by fDi (Foreign Direct Investment) magazine, part of the Financial Times group of London. The Premier was chosen because of his efforts to promote research and innovation, for forming partnerships with the auto industry to bring $7 billion in new auto investments to Ontario, and for bringing forward a plan to ensure that we have enough electricity supply over the long-term. This latest investment further proves that our plan to attract investment in the province is working."
Just a little more evidence that this Premier has been dramatically underappreciated.

Katrina one year later

Katrina, one year later
It's been a year now since Hurricane Katrina decimated the Gulf Coast, including taking out a huge part of New Orleans, Lousiana. The rebuilding is going at a snail's pace, about 200 thousand families are still refugees from their homes and the city's mayor, Ray Nagin, continues to shoot himself in the foot by comparing Katrina to 9/11 and how high officials responded in each of those situations. To make matters worse, many engineers -- even within the US Army, who has responsibility for many of the levees -- wonder if NOLA can take another hit from even a Category 2 or 3 storm, let alone a 5 which Katrina was.

I for one can't figure out why there has been a lack of imagination on this one. This was the kind of disaster that called for something along the lines of the Marshall Plan; massive infusions of money going to the right sources at the right time, with deadlines to meet and performance bonuses if contractors had met their deadlines and produced product at or above acceptable standards; not to mention special authorities which had the power to cut through all the red tape and make sure the job got done and fast.

As a matter of comparison, consider the Northridge earthquake in 1994. Not the Big One, but it caused considerable damage in Los Angeles. Several freeways was so heavily destroyed many thought it would take up to five years to rebuild them; and they were major links, causing people to detour on already packed alternate routes. The contractors decided to work outside the mold and got their workers to work overtime and around the clock, rather than nine to five weekdays only. One major route was opened to traffic just two months after the tremblor, with all work completed in only two years rather than the four that was anticipated. Needless to say, the state paid major performance bonuses for being so far ahead.

Why wasn't that done in the Gulf States?

Oh yeah, that's right. They're mostly black down there. Plus, one doesn't exactly have to pay reparations for a so-called "Act of God" rather than a terrorist act like on 9/11. But even the black mayor of NOLA still has a lot to answer for -- including why he didn't evacuate the city even two days before he did, which would have saved hundreds more lives and would have helped make the rebuilding process a lot faster.

One of my dreams has been to ride the City of New Orleans -- the Amtrak train that goes from Chicago to the Big Easy. Not exactly sure I'd want to at this stage, though ... the city's certainly making a courageous comeback; but even from this far away I sense something's missing there. I know we're told to bring hope to where there's despair, but we go to places where hope predominates.

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28/08/2006 10:40:48 AM

I suppose one of the major problems of being black AND poor would be that your voice doesn't get heard quite as loud. I can't help wondering whether exposure to long-term poverty and welfare crushes a person's spirit. Perhaps it dulls or completely removes the "help yourself" mentality, and this could be a "part" of the explanation. I'm not singling out any race, denomination or creed because I feel this is across the board in human nature. The poor, black folks in the Big Easy haven't got a chance to cash in on the big federal assistance cash! Is NA doomed?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Newsweek: Plame leaker was Armitage

Mike Isikoff and David Corn have finished a new book called Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War. It's due out on October 3rd, but an excerpt has been obtained by Newsweek. It now appears that the source of the leaking of the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson -- who was working the Iran nuclear file at the time she was betrayed -- was none other than Richard Armitage, Gen. Colin Powell's number two while Powell was Secretary of State. Moreover, Armitage told at least two reporters: Robert Novak and Bob Woodward. It was, as we all know know, a deliberate attempt by the Bush Administration to discredit Joe Wilson, who wrote his now famous NYT editorial about his ill-fated trip to Niger -- which got the whole Iraq war started in the first place.

Novak conceded a few weeks ago he had a couple of sources on the story but refused to name them, saying that like other reporters he never named sources unless they agreed to be named; and he stuck to that this morning on Meet the Press. But at the end of the show, he did state matter-of-fact that it was way past time for the source to come forward and identify himself.

For once, Novak has gotten it right. The fact is, he should have kept his mouth shut and never mentioned Plame in the first place. But if it hadn't been him, it would have been Woodward, Tim Russert or the NYT's Judith Miller who would have had every reason to reveal Plame's name at the drop of a hat.

Dubya said nearly three years ago that if someone inside his Administration blew the cover of a secret agent, he or she should be dealt with. Given Armitage has no love lost for most of the hawks inside the White House as well as most of the spy agencies, he would do well to turn himself in now given he's sat on this for nearly three years without any repercussions. On the other hand, I fully expect 43 to give Armitage an unconditional pardon; just as 41 did for most of the conspirators in Iran-contra. After all, his role in the affair was to promote Big Oil's interests -- by shooting America in the foot by ruining the job of the one person in America who knew more about Iran than anyone else.

It just makes me shudder to think how stupid this was. Iran could have been brought to its needs by now, had Plame's identity remained a secret. Instead, the country formerly known as Persia probably already has the bomb. And besides, who would want to be a spy now after what happened to her?

UPDATE: David Corn offers his explanation about how he and Isikoff got the Armitage angle at Huffington Post. What he doesn't explain is how making Armitage the villain winds up insulating who most of us progressives still think is the mastermind behind it all: Karl Rove.

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Fox News journalists freed from captivity

Some genuinely good news to start the morning, as two journalists from the controversial Fox News network, Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig, were released from nearly two weeks of captivity after -- apparently -- the intervention of Hamas. Regardless of the rivalry that has pitted Fox and its affiliates against the rest of the world, the Fourth Estate is a fraternity and an attack on one is an attack on all; so I'm heartened to see the captors came to their senses.

If the militants in the region will only do what else is right and release the three soldiers from the IDF still currently being held in Gaxa and southern Lebanon, which is what started the current crisis in the Middle East in the first place, then there might be a way to move forward. Unfortunately, for now, two things are certain: Rather than just merely create a barely viable democratic Iraq, the US has emboldened Iran; and Israel has once again found Lebanon to be its Achilles heel -- and the two are indisputably linked.

I'd be surprised if Ehud Olmert survives the year in office. I won't be if Iran confirms it already has the nuclear bomb as many of us suspect they do.

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Briefing notes (2006-08-26)

A few items in the news the last couple days have been on my mind. They're in no particular order, but I wanted to get this off my chest.

Status of Women Canada

There's no doubt that while major progress has been made in women's rights, there is a long way to go. Personally, I empathize with the feminist movement, or at the very least those women who work for change in the mainstream. This includes restoring the principle of pay equity which most provinces abolished during the 1990s -- that is, bring back the idea of equal pay for work of equal value, even if two comparable jobs are totally different in nature (e.g. police officer and public health nurse). It's completely unacceptable women continue to earn only 70 cents for every dollar a man earns for a smiliar or comparable job -- and I say that, as a man.

It is my view, however, that the federal agency that deals with women's issues, Status of Women Canada, as well as the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC), represent a fringe element of feminist thought -- the radical "men are pigs and must die" camp. It's not that I have anything personal against Laura Sabia et sequens, but their almost socialist views simply don't fly with the middle ground, as far as I can tell -- in fact, they never even bothered to reach out to seek common ground, unlike other social groups like Campaign 2000 or the Caledon Institute. It was their way, or the highway.

The last few days, the main anti-feminist women's group in Canada, REAL Women, as well as a number of conservative bloggers, have demanded the government dismantle Status of Women, saying it's discriminatory that one group with a left wing slant gets the lion's share of federal money on women's issues.

I'm going to go on a limb here, and say that no group at all should get any federal money to lobby the government in return to oppose the current government's policies. Not NAC, not the Assembly of First Nations, not the Centre for Policy Alternatives. No one. Lobby groups can raise the money on their own, from their memberships. If they can't, they should resort to old fashioned letter writing and e-mails. As far as the federal agency itself, it needs a major policy rethink and ought to be more reflective of women's needs today, not in the 1970s where NAC and their kindred are stuck. If it can't do that, its operations should be rolled into a government department more appropriate for the purpose -- such as Human Resources and Social Development.

Yale Shmale

Yes, this is an actual website, and it links to Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario. I heard about this on the radio earlier tonight, and a number of print media outlets also talked about it today, including the Toronto Star. While regular readers would know I really don't care for the policies of George W Bush, I think this is going just a bit too far.

For heaven's sake, attack the man's policies, not the school to which he went. After all, John Kerry also went to Yale, and he too was a member of Skull and Bones -- excuse me, I mean the Illuminati.

Elizabeth May elected Green Party leader

Back in January, I voted for the Green Party on principle and not out of any particular loyalty to its platform or anything else. I am now a card-carrying Liberal, so I'll measure my words here. I wish May the best of luck in her new position, and wish her luck at gaining seats -- at the expense of the Conservatives, Bloc and the NDP. It's way past time for Canada to have proportional representation, and had we had such a system, the Green Party would be holding enough seats from British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Québec to hold the balance of power in Parliament right now. Greens have been a source for sane social policy in Western Europe, and I can't see any reason why they wouldn't do the same here. It might even be nice to have to have a Red-Green coalition government. Red Green -- get it?

Kidding aside, I do agree with her that NAFTA has to be renegotiated. The best place to start would be Chapter 11, which is actually unpopular with the population in all three countries -- but not it seems the governments who ratified and continue to stick by them.

Pluto demoted from "planet" status

This is not the end of the discussion. Not by any means. Pluto is still a real planet to me, and if any scientists try to tell me otherwise, they can go fuck themselves.

Cameras may be coming to Ontario courtrooms

The proposal to have them at the appeals level and at non-witness trials is a good thing. I'd go one step further, and allow them during closing arguments at trials where witnesses have testified. The Supreme Court of Canada and Federal Court of Appeal has no problem with cameras, and neither should the provincial courts.

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Celtic player gets yellow card for sign of the cross

Well, maybe not on the field, but Scottish authorities did give Glasgow Celtic goalie Artur Boruc an official warning after he crossed himself before a match last February against their crosstown rivals, Rangers. Prosecutors in Scotland insist the booking was for a series of events during the match, including some lewd gestures before the crowd -- but the main focus was on the sign of the cross.

I am well aware the Presbyterian Church is the national church in Scotland, and the Old Firm battle between Glasgow's Catholic and Protestant teams goes back decades. But isn't this going just a tad too far?

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Friday, August 25, 2006

Since when is TNT a keepsake?

Is it just me, or has the age of terrorism made people a whole lot stupider? Take today, for instance. No fewer than six separate airline incidents that could have turned for the worse. The biggest one happened on a flight from Buenos Aires to Newark, diverted to Houston because of some suspicious activity. Turns out the passenger had detonating devices in his carry-on and dynamite in his checked luggage. Why? Because he's a student who went went on a tour of a mine in Argentina and was taking home the contraband as a "souvenir."

A souvenir? I guess that makes those coins allegedly minted from silver left behind at the WTC vault (i.e. stolen) souvenirs, too.

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9/11 was staged says -- a Republican

Conspiracy theories abound about the events of September 11, 2001. Many people simply don't believe that the twin towers of the World Trade Centre as well as WTC 7 could have just collapsed like a house of cards without an internal detonation -- although the fact remains they were built using what could politely be called the Patty Stacker construction method. I have wondered, however, whether it was more than just a coincidence that NORAD was supposed to run a military exercise simulating attacks on skyscrapers -- and it just so happened it was on 9/11.

Or the fact that former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was prepared to shoot down a plane that might have been threatening a major Canadian city -- did the South Korean plane really emit an "unfriendly" ping from its transponder because of "pilot error"? Was the little guy feeling just a little trigger happy that day for some reason?

One would think the "inside job" camp was exclusively something on the far extreme fringes of the left. They would not expect a Republican, of all people, would say 9/11 was a hoax. Yet that's what's happened. A challenger to the GOP incumbent for a congressional seat in New Hampshire, Mary Maxwell, says the Bush Administration had a role in 9/11 to deliberately make Americans hate Muslims. In Maxwell's words, the Sept. 11 attacks were meant “to soften us up . . . to make us more willing to have more stringent laws here, which are totally against the Bill of Rights . . . to make us particularly focus on Arabs and Muslims . . . and those strange persons who spend all their time creating little bombs,” giving Americans a reason “to hate them and fear them and, therefore, bomb them in Iraq for other reasons.” (Source: Nashua (NH) Telegraph) She cites the bombing of the Lusitania in 1915 and evidence that it was the British, not the Germans, who killed Americans to get the US to join World War I.

Frankly, most of the conspiracies are just pathetic if not outright laughable. There is no doubt, however, that civil liberties in the United States and other countries in NATO are in peril after the events of 9/11 and that the heads of government see themselves as having unlimited powers -- as opposed to being first among equals. And it's worth thinking about the fact that during his first eight months of office, George W Bush was so adrift that he was losing all moral authority to lead; and just days before 9/11 he was -- according to contemporary reports at the time -- seriously thinking about purging Donald Rumsfeld and John Ashcroft from his cabinet. So did they get to him, and if so how?

For the record, I very seriously doubt there was any collusion between the White House and al-Qaeda re 9/11. I do think, however, it was an opportunity lost. Rather than use the momentum to unite Americans, Bush chose to divide them. Rather than fortify America's defences and create American jobs which would pay taxes back to the US Treasury, he chose instead to go into a war that's already cost the US $300 billion that must be repayed to undemocratic thugs in Saudi Arabia, Mainland China and Singapore. Rather than putting pressure to bear on the President of Pakistan to actually hunt and kill Osama Bin Laden, Bush just took Pervez Musharraf's word for it and OBL is roaming around with impunity and presumably in a different house every night -- just like Yasser Arafat during all the time he was in exile. And signnificantly, the time honoured tradition of habeas corpus -- the violation of which was one of the reasons why the Patriots revolted against the British over 200 years ago -- no longer seems to matter. Bush, unlike his father, seems to think Star Chamber is a more appropriate model for these times.

One doesn't back down from civil liberties when times are tough. They are the times when they must be fortified, to tell those who would attack our way of life that though they might change the world they are not going to change us. Professor Maxwell might be off-base in attacking Dubya about complicity in the events of 9/11, but her assessment of his civil rights violations post 9/11 are spot on.

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pot calling the kettle black: Jason Kenney edition

Jason Kenney can't have it both ways. He spoke to a group -- the National Council of Resistance in Iran -- who happens to be the political wing of an Iranian terrorist group Mujahedin-e-Khalq, April 6th last.

If Hezbollah are like the Nazis, according to him, so is the Mujahedin. For a guy who scored points over some Liberals suggesting Hezbollah be delisted from the terror list, it's pretty high handed of Kenney to do what he did -- knowingly or not. He has no choice but to resign as "Steve" Harper's Parliamentary secretary.

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Catholic women's shelter gets Clinton; Catholic Church objects

There's an old saying among some people, which goes something like: "You only have the right to think, if you agree with me." Kenneth Copeland, a heretic for his belief in positive confession (which asserts, among other things, Jesus died spiritually on his execution), dismissed the whole idea of discerning the truth, saying: "Believers are not to be led by logic. We are not even to be led by good sense."

Little wonder, then, why some people are up in arms over the upcoming visit to Canada by Bill Clinton. Common sense has, with all due respect, completely left them. This isn't the first time. A few years back, Slick Willy came to Hamilton's St. Joseph's Hospital for a fundraiser for the Firestone Clinic, which specializes in respiratory illnesses and allergies. They've always managed to snag A-list speakers, from the elder George Bush to Mario Cuomo; but for some reason Clinton's visit drew a nerve. One local priest, who led the city's Francophone congregation, said that Clinton was welcome if -- and only if -- he apologized both for his repugnant conduct with Monica Lewinsky as well as for his strong pro-choice stance. (St. Joe's is a pro-life hospital, but the Firestone Clinic has little if anything to do with that position.)

I ended up writing a letter to the editor of the Hamilton Spectator (which was published), saying Clinton shouldn't be allowed to participate in a fundraiser for a pro-life hospital because of his wayward middle leg, was akin to telling companies like Bayer AG and Volkswagen they should forbidden from making contributions to anti-defamation causes because of their collusion with Hitler during World War II. I also said his views on reproductive choice were irrelevant to the issue at hand, and that his presence would only help raise more money. (Which it did, it broke a record for the time it took to completely sell out the dinner.) I ended my letter rather sarcastically, saying, "People have a hard enough time making up their minds on the issue of abortion, without adding the Bill and Monica show to the fire."

My sense from it all, when it was over, was that a city with a large Catholic population simply didn't care anymore. Clinton had apologized, at least for his reckless behaviour, and at least he was trying to do the right thing (maybe as part of an ongoing process of rehabilitation). I would have thought, that's the end of that story.


Now Clinton is coming to Kitchener -- which is part of the territory of the Diocese of Hamilton -- on November 8th, to speak at a fundraiser for a Catholic counselling centre there. This is an entirely secular agency, serving people of all denominations; and the money is going to expand a shelter for victims of domestic violence. In the wake of this announcement one of the auxiliary (assistant) Bishops of the Diocese, Gerard Bergie, has been fielding a series of complaints from people across the country, (not just locally) and he's urging Catholics not to go to the event, as Clinton among other things now supports the widespread use of condoms to help fight the AIDS crisis in Africa.

Two points. First of all, as far as the problem of AIDS goes, I support the ABC approach (abstinence, being faithful, contraception), which makes abstinence first the priority. Contraception may be a necessary evil, but it's way better than what South Africa's government promotes as a "cure": Lemon juice. Uganda has had huge success with its ABC program in stemming the tide, and it's a model for other countries. So, Clinton's merely saying use what works. I agree.

Second, as was the case with St. Joseph's a few years ago, his views should be completely irrelevant to the issue at hand, which is helping victims of domestic violence. No, I'm still no big fan of Clinton and I think his conduct during the 1990s was completely revolting. What's done is done, however, and it can't be taken back. To continue to punish someone for something he did or for what he believes is, well, non-sensical. I'm convinced people aren't using their common sense on this one; and that in the end they are making a much bigger deal out of this than it really is.

Some will say, "What if it was someone like Mel Gibson?" Well, after his anti-Semitic tirade a few weeks back, he would hardly be the ideal speaker, because he causes divisions. Bill Clinton, despite his faults, tried to build bridges, and for that he's still demonized even though he left office more than five years ago.

People have the right to decide whether or not they want to buy tickets. They also have the right not to be bullied by church officials, even if it amounts to nothing more than a "suggestion." Using red herrings (a common tactic of the religious right) will only repulse people who elect to use their common sense, and actually want to get tickets or otherwise help the non-profit agency here. They couldn't buy this kind of publicity, and personally I wish them the best of luck. If they could get someone like Clinton to help out, all the power to them.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Liberal MP resigns over pro-Hezbollah comments

It's not really surprising that Liberal MP Boris Wrzesnewskyj was going to have to resign as the party's point person on foreign affairs, after suggesting that Canada ought to drop Hezbollah from the list of organizations sponsoring terrorism. No doubt this is going to give Stephen Harper reason to gloat and make fun of Les Deputés Rouges. The fact remains though that it should not have even been thought of in the first place as a serious talking point.

It took Canada ages to ban the Tamil Tigers. We also struggled for a long time trying to get around the proposition that Sinn Fein and the IRA were really one and the same. So why would anyone seriously believe that Hezbollah has a "good" side, doing community service work? That's how they get their recruits in the first place, as does any terrorist organization.

On a related note, I'm kind of getting weary of the line that a lack of support for Israel's policies automatically indicates anti-Semitism. The more accurate statement is that people who oppose Israel's right to exist as a country are the real anti-Semites. (Count Mel Gibson's father as just one of them, not to mention the President of Iran.) The lack of satisfaction within Israel itself about how the recent war went should be indicative. It's a majority Jewish state, so does asking questions about the war within the country make the Israelis themselves anti-Semitic? One can support a country while criticizing its foreign policy or its human rights record.

Using that line is like saying because one is opposed to televangelists, who control and dictate White House policy for the most part, he or she must be anti-American -- or if one lives in America, unpatriotic. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In these times, one must be really, willing and prepared to take unpopular stances; even those that oppose the status quo. At the same time, we don't need people like a certain MP making stupid remarks like the ones he made. Little wonder why Gerry Swartz and Heather Reisman gave up on the Liberals. I'm going to have to check which leadership candidate Wrzesnewskyj endorsed -- may make me think twice about voting for him or her.

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Reforming Canada's tax system: Payroll taxes, and families

After last talking about seniors, I'm going to end this series by talking about two other issues necessary to reforming our messed up tax system.

Payroll Taxes

These are not just the taxes we pay for compulsory programs such as EI and CPP or RRQ. They are also the taxes corporations pay -- which also include workers' compensation and health taxes. Generally speaking, they are fairly competitive with other countries; but they could still be restructured. Here's what I would do:
  • Employee health and safety should be a shared responsibility between workers and employers. While corporations have a duty to make sure their eimployees are safe, the workers in turn have a duty to make sure they stay safe. So I would transfer a portion of the WCB tax to employees, so it's a 50-50 proposition.
  • Companies currently pay EI premiums per capita at a rate 40% higher than what we pay on payroll deductions. As EI is now mostly self-funding, employers deserve a break -- so I'd lower their premiums so it's on a par with employees, as is the case with CPP / RRQ.
    If overcontributions were made during the year for EI or pensions, employers should get a rebate, as employees do. Right now, employers lose the overcontribution and they can't carry it forward to write off against future contributions.
  • If a province has a health tax for employers, it should for employees as well. I for one don't mind making a small contribution to make sure I'm covered by "The System." However, it should be fully deductible. Right now, it's not. It should also be geared to income, as it is in Ontario and Québec. Alberta and British Columbia have a head tax, punishing the poorest families.
  • All payroll dues should be fully deductible for employees. Right now, they only get a credit of 15.25%.
  • All programs financed by compulsory dues should be managed by arms-length boards who invest the money on behalf of the taxpayer and try to achieve the maximum possible return. The Caisse de dépôt is certainly the most successful at this, and the Canada Pension Plan now has an investment board, but there's no reason why EI and provincial WCBs (other than the one in Québec, which the Caisse manages in addition to the RRQ) could do the same. If it means lower premiums across the board in the long run, so much the better.
Families and children

I've written numerous posts on this, so I won't write an encyclopaedia. Bottom line: Restore the Young Child Supplement, and make the Harperbucks fully tax free and geared to income, not universal. This would mean a full child tax credit for families with net incomes under $112,000, and a partial credit from that level to $172,000. This would cover 98% of families. Harper's plan actually raised taxes on families, it did not cut them -- and when they realize the money is taxable, they're going to flip. (Yes, some stay at home parents will think it's tax free, but their spouses' deduction will drop by an equivalent amount -- not to mention that the tax free portion of the credit and the GST rebate will be clawed back big time as well.)

As for parents themselves, eliminate the marriage penalty. Completely. Two income families should have no more rights than sole breadwinners or single parents. I'd raise the spousal deduction so it's the same as the personal exemption.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Do people not care we even have a national anthem in Canada?

One of the highlights of this year's Stanley Cup, even more than two months later, still has to be the crowd in Edmonton belting out both the American and Canadian national anthems. So powerful, even the broadcast team at NBC (which was showing the game in the States) was moved to tears.

Maybe it's an East-West thing, or more precisely East Coast and West vs central Canada, but I'm beginning to wonder if people in this neck of the woods care if we even have a national anthem. Case in point: Back on Sunday, the 20th, the local standardbred track -- Flamboro Downs -- held the annual Confederation Cup. Nowhere near as big in prestige as Charlottetown's Gold Cup and Saucer on the same weekend, but in terms of money it's probably ahead. (And unlike the Gold Cup, it is simulcast at off track facilities across North America -- hint, Pat Binns: You might want to tell the people at the Charlottetown track they made a big mistake not allowing out of province betting -- your government lost a TON of money on it by not doing so, and the replay we saw showed it was one of the best races this year.)

In addition to the Confed Cup, there were three Ontario Sires Stakes finals -- basically, provincial championships -- and several other undercard races. Pretty good turnout, maybe 13,000. One of the biggest sports events in Hamilton each year, if not THE biggest; and moving it to the afternoon this year instead of having it in the evening as it traditionally has been certainly brought the kids out, which is a good thing. (For the record: No, I didn't make any money, but I didn't lose a lot either.)

Here's my point, though: At the start of the event, they played O Canada. This was clearly announced on the loudspeakers throughout the grandstand, clubhouse and the betting area. Some people heard this and stood up, including me. Then they started playing it. Maybe fifteen seconds in, other people started realizing it was playing and stood at attention, some even taking off their hats. But two weird things. People in the betting area and the food court were still chattering like they didn't care. Moreover, the drivers on the track for the first race along with their horses couldn't be bothered to hold still, just for a minute, to stand at attention.

Is it just me, or were other people who were there on Sunday who saw the same thing I did? And have any of you been somewhere, where no one cared about our patriotic hymn? And why is it that movie theatres, although the law requires them to, doesn't play the national anthem anymore before they start rolling the trailers?

Maybe we should do what Michael (Let's Get Ready to Rumble) Buffer suggested: Forgo the national anthem all together. People don't care about it anyway, except during the Stanley Cup and the Olympics, so why bother?

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Monday, August 21, 2006

Muslim council proposes using calendar -- not weather -- for start of Ramadan

Back in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII decided to cancel eleven days from the calendar because of the drift from celestial time that had happened from the days of the early church to the Renaissance. It was met with some resistance, but over time (i.e. centuries) it was eventually adopted by pretty much the entire world. Even non-Christian countries use the Gregorian calendar for civil purposes, although instead of using A.D. (Anno Domini) they use C.E. (The "Common Era.")

It's been useful if for no other reason than that Good Friday and Easter Sunday (which are official holidays in most Western states, although as primarily secular observances) can be determined years in advance, nifty for calendar makers. It's not so simple, however, in Islam, which insists upon a clear sighting of the new or full moon for the start of some religious festivals, such as Ramadan. This has often led to a situation where the Asia Pacific region starts Ramadan a few days either before or after Africa, while Europe and North America have yet another day.

It's even led to what some might see as silly -- a "hotline" where people call in a sighting of a moon's phase, then "experts" determining whether it's credible or not. Some mosques have had to book banquet halls on consecutive days just to hedge their bets -- then lose one of their deposits.

So in an attempt to settle the issue, a number of US and Canadian imams are proposing to do what Turkey has done for years -- just go by the civil calendar and when it (based on astronomy) says the new moon is.

No doubt that will make hardliners like OBL upset. But who gives a shit what he thinks anymore? Besides, if I were to offer a gift to a Muslim colleague in honour of the occasion, shouldn't I have the right to know when it is rather than just hope the skies stay clear for a month? Hopefully, it won't take as long to settle this one as the Roman Catholic Church, which took until 1992 to finally admit Gallileo was right about the earth revolving around the sun.

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

$3 million (US) for proof Elvis is still alive

Proof this is a slow news day.

Odds The Pelvis is still alive: 1000-1.

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Saturday, August 19, 2006

Finally, a Canadian film to unite us all (and why we need CanCon for films)

I got the chance today to see the film Bon Cop, Bad Cop. It's way too funny to describe it here. Just imagine what might happen if a dead body is found right on the Ontario-Québec border and two officers are assigned to it -- one English, one French. The tagline "Shoot first, translate later" is pretty -- well, à propos.

Québec has long had a very successful homegrown industry with huge audiences from both the francophone and anglophone communities, but the films are rarely shown in the rest of Canada, outside of Ottawa, except in art houses. They're successful because they tell stories people can relate to. Think of the Les Boys series (about an oversexed men's minor hockey team), or the satirical La Florida (about a Montréal bus driver who gives it all up and buys a hotel in the Sunshine State), or Revoir Julie (two female friends -- one French, one English -- reunite after fifteen years and after arguing non stop for nearly two hours suddenly click and rekindle their lesbian relationship -- oh yeah!).

By contrast, most English films in Canada are so esoteric, so out there in terms of plot, that few people even bother to see them, yet they seem to be the films that get the most nominations at the Genies. And thanks to very bizarre rules, any foreign funding automatically disqualifies a film from consideration at the Genies -- take, for example, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a quintessentially Canadian story written by a Canadian but backed in part by Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson (Americans). OUT! If there is any justice, the French films have taken a huge lead at the Canadian Oscars the last few years, which should send a message to those who practice the craft in TROC.

Unlike so many other Canadian movies, the producers of Bon Cop Bad Cop made a point of making the plot bilingual (with subtitles) and the stereotypes that play out are done just perfectly. Pretty graphic violence and some scenes of nudity, but overall a fun time. I hope this film gets a US release. I also hope this is the start of a trend where homegrown stories that appeal to everyone get made, with wider releases and wider audiences. The Australians and British have succeeded for decades and there's no reason we can't do the same.

The only way to do this is to seed a Canadian star system. Since French Canadians do just fine on their own, I think we should have CANCON (Canadian Content) regulations for multiplexes outside of La Belle Province and the Ottawa Valley. Say, out of every eight theatres, two must show Canadian films, until such time Canadians are regularly seen by Canadians and appreciated by their own. It's way past time for us to be able to see and hear our own stories. When such a system is possible, the CanCon regs can go and with them it also will no longer be necessary to have the complicated and often bizarre system of tax credits for film production; which all too often go to Hollywood studios anyway.

Besides, the trend might wind up working in reverse and we might be able to take over Hollywood all together. Heck, we've already got many of the actors there already. Why not give the Americans our real stories, too, rather than the stereotypes about Mounties and the weird passion we have with poutine?

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Friday, August 18, 2006

Some thoughts on the JonBenét Ramsey case

I was going to hold off on commenting about the arrest made the other day in the murder of JonBenét Ramsey. But I can't hold off any more. There are some aspects of this that just don't add up for me.
  • First, why would this guy get in touch with Ramsey's mother Patricia just before she died, after all this time? Most child killers prefer to stay underground. Look at the slaying of Christine Jessop. Twenty two years after her murder and eleven after Guy Paul Morin was exonerated, there still have been no new leads in the case.
  • He said he "loved" Ramsey but didn't mean to kill her (yeah, like no one means to strangle anyone). Can anyone figure that one out?
  • He seemed to know details about the case only the police would know. Anyone who read Perfect Murder, Perfect Town by Lawrence Schiller could pretty much figure out the m.o.
    What about the ransom note? How could the suspect know that John Ramsey's bonus that year was $118,000 -- which happened to also be the amount of the ransom? Why not a million or a quarter mill, or some other nice round number?
  • Last but not least, the house in Boulder was actually quite the obstacle course. How could a break and enter artist possibly know the floor plan and all the escape routes unless he or she had visited the house before?
Beyond all that, there's a much bigger issue here: The child beauty pageants. Before Ramsey was murdered, I doubt most people -- even most upper class people -- even knew such things still existed. It's quite literally a legalized form of child pornography; and I don't understand why the press has not focused on this point. It's a perfect breeding ground for sex stalkers. And, let us not forget that in Schiller's book, Pasty (RIP) was confronted by someone who asked her about the propriety of the cattle markets and what she would do if JonBenét refused to participate. Patsy was alleged to have said something like, "There is no way she will say no. You WILL be MISS PAGEANT." (Emphasis mine)

Doesn't that sound like a parent obsessed beyond any rational level of self-control -- especially someone who just happened to be a former beauty queen herself? Sure does to me.

The other thing was the obvious: That the investigation was botched from the start. In any missing child case, standard procedure is to separate both parents and interrogate them separately, and to completely clear out the hosue so forensics can do their work. Instead, the cops walked all over the place completely ruining the crime scene; and the parents didn't meet with the police for several months, giving them plenty of time to come up with some plausible alibi, one that could be completely corroborated by the other. There was good reason why the parents were under an "umbrella of suspicion," because it's usually the parents and other relatives who are normally the prime suspects in any case like this.

Look, I'm not saying we should accuse the parents of anything, or anyone else for that matter. A person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. But something tells me something is not quite right here. The confession is probably half-baked, and I think there's way more to the story than we've heard from the media so far.

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Detroit judge shuts down "warrantless wiretaps"

Yesterday's decision by a US federal judge in Detroit to shut down the warrantless wiretapping program of GWB is a major victory for civil rights, especially the right to privacy. Once again, the point has been made that a fishing expedition to find the rogue plankton is simply wrong and unreasonable. (Text of ruling here.)

I find it rather humourous that Republicans, who immediately appealed the decision, are claiming the judge in the case -- Anna Diggs Taylor -- is biased because she was a civil rights worker and was appointed by Jimmy Carter. Yet they have no problem with conservative judges ruling in trade and patent cases where he or she had a clear conflict of interest (i.e. they had positions in one of the contesting companies); let along whatever stances they might have in individual and collective liberties.

Is there something wrong here?

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Motion Picture Academy bails out celebrities' tax bill

On the lighter side of the news, the IRS has clamped down on those celebrities lucky enough to present trophies at the Oscars and who get gift bags, running in the thousands of dollars. The Academy has offered to pick up the tax bill so "unwitting" celebrities won't have to go to jail.

Oh, how nice. If I got a gift like that, I would go to Collins Bay or Warkworth. But since they are celebrities, they can count on an angel.

Fucking hypocrites!

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United Church of Canada discusses -- bottled water?

A number of years back, when I was in a state of flux about my faith and the Catholic congregation I belonged to refused to pay for my services as a church organist, I began seeking out churches who would offer money. So, for a time, I wound up an "adherent" (although not a full member) of a number of United Church of Canada and Presbyterian Church in Canada congregations. It's funny in a way because although I had been already confirmed a Roman Catholic and had no intention of ever converting to Protestantism, I found myself at home with what I viewed as being much more socially progressive groups; particularly on the issue of married clerics as well as the ordination of women.

Most of that time was with a Presbyterian church (about four years on a steady basis, followed by occasional contract work for several years after that) but my first foray was at a United Church for about three or four months. The people there were quite enthustiastic, and the minister made me feel quite at home -- and always had time to answer any questions I had even with his extremely busy schedule and an even more arduous "two church charge."

I never made mention of the fact that I was a bit uncomfortable with their position on gay and lesbian ministers, although I was a bit mollified by the fallback position that since a congregation hires and fires a minister (unlike the Catholic Church, where a bishop makes appointments) they could decide whether or not to accept a cleric who had come out. I did notice, however, they seemed to be a bit stagnant in terms of growth. Not too many baptisms, and I don't recall a wedding being held during my term there.

After my stint there and with the Presbyterian Church, I went back to the Catholic Church full time --as my services as an organist were no longer required and; as my mother had passed away, I felt no longer obligated to attend the city's "ethnic congregation," finding instead a neighbourhood church that found a way to buck the trend and rapidly grow its membership.

Churches, in general, have served the community for decades regardless of whether the people they help are members of their church or not. Certainly the most visible and successful in this regard has been the Salvation Army. But when one looks within, one begins to get a picture of whether any given congregation is sustainable in the long run.

The United Church, for example. About a year ago, I read an article (I can no longer find a link, sorry) that said that its membership is currently around 300,000 -- roughly the same as it was when it was founded in 1925 by the mergers of the Methodist and Congregationalist Churches of Canada, as well as about two-thirds of Presbyterian congregations. I found this a bit surprising, for not only is social justice a big part of its ethical code but it was at the forefront at ordaining women -- the first female ministers were called sometime during the Great Depression. I knew that its pro-gay stance put off some devoted members and even entire congregations who broke off from the church ... but it just didn't seem to make sense that its numbers would be stagnant.

Then yesterday, I heard a report on CBC Radio One that said at this year's conference in Thunder Bay, the delegates are considering a resolution to tell its members to stop buying bottled water; stating that water should be a right and not a privilege -- even though they are being catered by a university that is not equipped to serve tap water.

My take on this is somewhat different than Kathy Shaidle's, in that I believe water should be a public enterprise and not private. (Our experience here in Hamilton having our water system run by a scrap dealer, ENRON, and private water companies based in the UK and Germany -- in that order -- before it went public again is pretty instructive.) But I do agree with her that focusing on rather trivial issues like this is a meaningless exercise.

It's good to take public positions on social issues, and actually do work in the community to help the less fortunate (and in that respect I think the UCC is among those at the forefront -- for example, during an extremely tight period when both my mother and I were on welfare, we used their services when a local Catholic food bank had the chutzpah to turn us away). But bottled water? Shouldn't that be a personal decision? Besides, all the cola companies do is run city water through a filter five times -- you're better off getting your own pitcher and filter. Way cheaper!

Being the subject of ridicule and scorn by the MSM is just one reason why church memberships have in general across the board -- even in the Catholic Church. Nothing against the UCC, but aren't there more important issues -- like child poverty and AIDS? Or the inequity of our income tax structure; one that favours two income families over stay at home mothers and single parents? Or even the fact single people increasingly feel unwelcome in congregations that value families over free agents?

Tell me how to be a good Christian in my daily life, and as a single person who is just as important as a married couple with ten children, or one, or even none at all. Then -- and only then -- I might consider not drinking bottled water. Besides, the place where I work sells it to us agents at cost -- and when you're talking on the phone for nine hours a day, you need all you can get.

(Incidentally, Kathy offers her prayers for the wife of my fellow ProgBlogger Dr Dawg -- and so do I.)

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Calling Daniel Ellsberg -- or anyone at the RAND Corporation

Via Think Progress: The Boston Globe reports that the Pentagon has commissioned a secret study about the failures of US operations in Afghanistan and Iraq -- including a history of the situation and what led to American and allied involvement in those countries. Sounds exactly like the "secret study" commissioned by Robert McNamara toward the end of his time as Defense Secretary regarding Vietnam; only that one was leaked by Daniel Ellsberg, an operative for the RAND Corporation which had one of the copies of the top-secret report.

Only this study is supposed to be released to the public -- or at least a portion of it, one can presume -- this fall (whether it's before or after the November mid-terms is unclear). But senior Pentagon officials are already talking -- and are contracting Donald Rumsfeld in stating the obvious. They tell the BG that among other things:
  • In many civilian areas troops used excessive force and wound up alienating the locals;
  • Commanders were way too slow in establishing relationships with local contacts (unlike Gulf War I, when Norman Swartzkopf -- who spend part of his childhool in Riyadh -- ordered his immediate underlinks to do just that with the mayor and chief imam in each city in Saudi Arabia and other countries where troops were being hosted); and
  • Law enforcement took a back seat to overthrowing the Ba'ath. This allowed many towns to slip into anarchy, a situation which continues to exist to this day, three years after Iraq was "liberated."

Adding to this is a previous analysis by the RAND group itself -- stating that there was little or no intelligence going on to figure out what motivated the insurgents, how they were being recruited or their numbers, or who was supporting them.

In other words, the US and its allies have done the exact opposite of what they promised to do. They're not winning the "hearts and minds" of the civilian population; they've succeeded in alienating them even further. Insofar Canada is concerned, Iraq isn't a problem since we sent no troops there; although we almost certainly had and still have spies from CSIS and the RCMP. But we are in Afghanistan, and along with our NATO allies we've fighting a rather uphill battle against the Taliban -- and the males who support them. (Very few if any females do, as the Taliman Bananas support the genocide of all women.) The joke that Afghani President Hamid Karzai is the "Mayor of Kabul" may be facetious but one wonders how much truth there is in that. If it took six years for the Allies to triumph over the Nazis in all of Europe (an area roughly the size of the States east of the Mississippi), then why are we still fighting after five years in an area that's about the size of Texas? With far more sophisticated weapons, no less?

The question is, will the people know the whole truth, and will they know it before November? Count on Rumsfeld and company to try to censor major portions of this new report, and even try to block it all together. The Supreme Court authorized the release of the first Pentagon Papers back in 1971, saying on a 6-3 vote that freedom of the press trumped national security Of course, the Marble Tower was much more liberal then than it is now, but there are still enough justices in the freedom of speech camp to uphold the ruling.

Will the RAND Corporation produce a new Dante, like they did with Ellsberg 35 years ago, and reveal the truth to all -- someone who will lead Americans back to the world of the sane? Will he or she also release the 28 censored pages of the Congressional investigation of 9/11; which pages potentially reveal who financed the 9/11 operation (namely, rebel members of the Saudi Royal Family)?

I'm not holding my breath either.

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Mike Schiavo sets up PAC

Michael Schiavo is at once both a person who is both pathetic and repulsive. Pathetic, in that he was caught up in an impossible situation -- his wife Terri Schindler was in a persistent vegitative state and in the absence of a "living will" he was in the position to determine her fate; and we all know how that played out -- with even Congress trying to intervene on her behalf. Repulsive, because of the fact that while his wife was in a coma, he started a relationship with another woman, Jodi Centonze, and had two children with her; and just weeks after Terri's death, he married his personal whore -- in the Catholic Church, no less.

Now, Schiavo is taking his battle to the political scene. He's started up his own personal Political Action Committee -- TerriPAC, and raising money to endorse candidates who either supported him or to oppose those who were against him.

This is not an easy issue for me. Watching my mother rapidly deteroriate then die several years back convinced me the importance of having a continuing care power of attorney -- the only issue in my Mom's case had to deal with a technicality in the one she already had and was in the process of being amended when her tired body finally gave up and it was no longer relevant. On the one hand is the issue of the tens of thousands of families who have relatives in similar states and wrench with how to deal with it -- do they keep them alive or do they pull the plug? On the other hand is the fact that the vast majority of them are not politically connected like the Schindlers were, which is what got the whole controversy going in the first place.

I do not know what is true -- what Schiavo claims, that Terri collapsed from complications owing to bulimia; or what the Schindlers claim, that he was an abusive husband who wanted her dead. What I do know is this: The state had no business interfering in the case. She was clearly in PVS and was simply incapable of recognizing her surroundings; no matter what her "supporters" may have been saying. As a Catholic, I had great difficulty with the decision that Mike made; but on the other hand keeping Terri alive for another thirty or forty years with absolutely no chance of recovery -- as half of her brain had collapsed -- was prospectively an even worse alternative. There was no chance she was going to awake again in this world, and had earned the right to reawake in the next without delay.

It's pretty clear that had there been a living will, the issue would have been settled and no one -- not even Tom Delay -- would have been able to stop it. Unfortunately, the Republicans are hoping for one last chance this fall, because among other things the more extreme members of the party on the issue would like to pass a law that would invalidate all living wills that are currently in effect; putting the decision back in the hands of the state.

At the very minimum, all Mr Schiavo ever asked for was a right to privacy; and it's what he's fighting for now. I cannot abide his adultery, as well as the Church's sanctioning of it. But I do agree with him that, in the absence of definite proof of coercion or abuse, the right to terminate medical treatment is something that rests with immediate families first without interference.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Chuck Roberts apologizes; 10 terror alert "coincidences"

A major victory for the blogosphere today, as CNN's Chuck Roberts apologized to Ned Lamont in a live interview for referring to him as the "al-Qaeda" candidate; conceding he phrased it poorly: Roberts was not able to identify anyone who had made such a reference to Lamont; but had rather meant to say that Lamont's victory was seen by some as "emboldening" al Qaeda. Lamont appeared to accept the apology then quickly attacked Vice-President Cheney and Senator Joe Lieberman, the latter of whom he defeated.

Somewhat related to this is how coincidental it seemed that there were terror arrests made in London less than 48 hours after Lamont's victory, and how it was timed under pressure from the United States, even though British authorities now concede no attack was "good to go" and they still needed to gather some more information and round up more suspects before going public. On that note, Keith Olbermann of MSNBC reviewed ten other "coincidences" of events which seemed to tip the balance in favour of the Democrats, only to be followed within three or four days (and in one case the same day!) by a "terror alert." Read the list -- about a third or so down the transcript -- and judge for yourself.

UPDATE (Wednewday 06/08/16 7:53 AM, 1153 GMT: Crooks and Liars has the video. Guess this and his other smackdowns of the likes of Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter is why he hasn't been invited back to guest host on Paul Harvey's "newscast."

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Privacy Commish investigates data mining by States

Towards the end of June, both the New York TImes and the Wall Street Journal reported about a small but very important outfit called SWIFT -- the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication -- was passing information to Western governments about suspicious financial transactions. The White House and Fox News condemned the disclosure by the NYT as "supporting the terrorists" but strangely, they did not call the WSJ to talk.

Now, SWIFT has come under scrutiny from a rather unlikely source -- and it has the potential to be embarrassing to the Harper Government. That source is Canada's Privacy Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart. True, the exchange of financial data has been going on for years, even before 9/11. However, the concern here is that in an attempt to track down terrorists, a "fishing expedition" has been going on and people's private information has been turned over to the US Homeland Security Department. This includes people who have no ties or have no intention of ever being tied to terrorists.

The question here is, has Canadians' private banking information been given en masse to the Americans -- and if so, why? If Canadian banks are being used to launder the ill gotten gains of crooks, then there should be no safe harbour for those who would break the law. But if the purpose of the exercise is just to give the White House the store so they can look for a needle in a haystack, then that is completely unacceptable.

We already have our own, in house system of tracking potentially fradulent transactions, called FINTRAC. If monies have crossed borders for suspicious reasons, then there is probable cause to investigate if it is not above board -- or is. However, it's no one's business but mine if I go to a supermarket or gas station or hotel and get something for myself.

In a world at real or apprehended war, there obviously needs to be a tad more scrutiny to see who's playing by the rules. I can abide by that. But the current régime implemented after 9/11 regarding the electronic transfer of funds are supposed to ensure the safeguarding of law-abiding citizens. If banks -- or the government -- have gone and above that to appease Shrub and Karl Rove, then they are breaking the law and should be punished.

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Monday, August 14, 2006

First Saturday, then Sunday

With the current ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon still holding under Resolution 1701 -- and one can only hope it will still hold until the UN can actually get more troops in there to enforce it -- I have to continue to marvel at one aspect of the debate; the unwavering support of some elements of the evangelical community for the State of Israel and their refusal to question its actions.

Make no mistake about it, I too support the State of Israel and its right to exist. I always have. I also support the right of Palestinians to have their own country; preferably with the pre-1967 borders, but I would support any border settlement that ensures two countries live side by side in peace -- with free access between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as well as to the Holy Sites of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. As late as a couple of weeks ago, comedian Jon Stewart suggested making Jersualem an "international city" again; but realistically this is unviable in the current situation: The only sites that I could see being in neutral territory again are the Temple Mount (including the Dome of the Rock), the Church of the Holy Sepelchure, and a few other places in and around Jerusalem held sacred or in high esteem to one or more religions; as well as the Cave of the Patriarchs in Jericho, important to all the monothestic faiths.

I also support the absolute need to destroy terrorism in all its forms -- no matter who's behind it. To have peace, we must sometimes have war. And the only thing the terrorists understand is war. They are the ones who sacrifice human shields -- even fellow denizens of their respective faiths -- for selfish purposes. While civilian casualties must always be minimized (which is partly why I was somewhat critical of the dimension of the current conflict) they are going to be inevitable. A country has to able to defend itself from threats both from outside and within -- and when one considers that Israel is less than 10 km wide at some points, the imperative to be able to strike back is even more crucial.

What continues to annoy me, however, is that in their zest to support the Jewish people, televangelists and their minions refuse to recognize there is a Palestinian problem. Among the Palestinians, as well as Israeli citizens who are of Arab origin, are a small but not insignificant number of Christians who feel they are being ignored in what the religious hotheads and the mainstream media perceive merely as a Jew versus Muslim conflict. It's way more complicated than that. Besides the thousands of Palestinian Christians in refugee camps (which are almost always passed by on official or semi-official tours of Israel), the Christian community in Israel, like most others in the country, which the situation would just go away -- that there would be a lasting and viable peace.

It's not just that the false teachers and their followers want to trigger the Battle of Armaggedon, which is completely unbiblical to begin with (only God the Father knows the timing of the end). It's that they simply don't care about their fellow Christians. In so ignoring, they are not paying attention to something that Hamas -- now the government in Palestine -- once said. "First Saturday, then Sunday." They want to destroy the Jewish state, but their accompanying goal which they know is impossible without the other happening first is to forcibly convert Palestinian and Arab Christians to Islam or else. In fact, many have already been driven out knowing they are no longer welcome even in what could be their home in a free and independent state sometime in the future.

Some criticize Dubya for using the phrase "Islamic facists" the other day, and as US President he probably should have learned his lesson from when he referred to the war in Afghanistan as a "crusade" after 9/11. Unfortunately, there is an arcane truth in what he said.

During World War II, a Protestant minister named Martin Niemöller (1892-1984 -- and who, incidentally, was an anti-Semite) said: "First they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I was not Jewish. Then they came for the social democrats, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I was not a member of a union. Then they locked up the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me ... and by that time, no one was left to speak for me."

I suppose some credit has to be given to those who are speaking up for the Jews -- matter of fact, we all should be. But the fact is, the false teachers are not speaking up for their fellow Christians who are just as surely the victims of facism and terrorism as are the Jewish people as well as the majority of Muslims who want no part of the conflict, either. At the very least, one of the most positive aspects of the State of Israel is freedom of religion and the right to worship on the day a person chooses -- be it Friday, Saturday or Sunday. The worse part of what the evangelicals are doing, however, is they have an ulterior motive to forcibly convert Jews in Israel and elsewhere to Christianity -- which they believe is essential to paving the way for the return of the Messiah.

If they only bothered to ignore the "annotations" of Cyrus Scofield and John Nelson Darby, and actually read the Bible without those references, they would realize their entire theory is built on a house of sand. Contrary to what so many TV preachers teach, Jews are already the chosen people of God -- they do not need to be converted. There is no two-part return of Jesus of Nazareth (namely, a Rapture followed by a seven year tribulation) because the Rapture is heresy, period -- the Messiah will only return once and for all, he won't make a "stopover." One cannot trigger the end times -- only God can do that. One cannot presume the end is near because "knowledge has increased" -- it has exponentially ever since the Renaissance and even before then.

I am convinced that when Jimmy Swaggert, John Hagee, Benny Hinn, Oral Roberts, Joyce Meyers and the rest of "that" crowd show up on Judgment Day, the first question Jesus of Nazareth will ask them is, "What did you do for the least of your brothers and sisters in Palestine?" I'm not quite sure how they're going to respond when that happens -- but for now, it's pretty obvious they've done squat.

First Saturday, then Sunday. They speak out against pornography, alcoholism and gambling altogether, and doing all sorts of business on Sunday altogether in the United States, but they can't be bothered to speak up for some who can't even get to Church on Sunday because they're being terrorized? In the land where Jesus -- a Palestinian Jew -- grew up? Now ask yourself, who's the real hypocrite?

Yeah, yeah, I know, "Judge not, lest ye be judged." But isn't that what those guys are doing by pretending the least among them don't even exist, or believing they deserve to be swept under the mattress?

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Venezuela jailbreak

Some good news from South America this morning. While Venezuela President Hugo Chavez was in Cuba to celebrate Fidel Castro's eightieth birthday; one of Chavez' main rivals, Carlos Ortega, escaped from jail. Ortega was serving a sixteen year sentence for "inciting unrest" during a 2002 strike against the country's oil monopoly. Ortega did nothing other than question Chavez' moves to turn Venezuela from what used to be Latin America's richest country into a Robin Hood basketcase state and a noveau socialist kleptocracy.

Apparently, Ortega and three others who escaped with him got help from the inside. This may indicate that there are some in the highest levels who are just sick and tired of Chavez acting like a clown. There's no doubt that Hugo remains extremely popular with the lower classes -- but we saw what Castro did with that kind of populist sentiment. At least Venezuela, unlike Cuba, is still a democracy, so there may be some hope people will wake up and eventually put in a more pragmatic administration --one that is fair to both the downtrodden as well as the privileged classes.

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Sunday, August 13, 2006

Wal-Mart vs family values: "Dry laws" being challenged

Tomorrow's NY Times has a Page One story about the battle to make towns and counties in the South that remained "dry" even after Prohibition ended in 1933 "wet"again. This one gave me a bit of a chuckle -- and raised my brow too.

During my trip to the South last year, my father was a bit annoyed and even indignant when he discovered North Carolina had a law that prevents grocery stores from selling beer until noon on Sunday. Why? To make sure people are able to go safely from church to the stock car racing track, naturally. Actually, it made me feel good that someone in government was also thinking about the tourists, who want nothing but to get to their destination safely -- them and their families.

Among those who want the "blue laws" lifted are the beer and liquor companies, the major restaurant chains -- and, of all companies, Wal-Mart, which by some estimates sells over a billion bucks worth of alcohol per year in the States. Normally, I say just let the stores do business the way they want. But if this is a matter of emboldening families and reducing the strain on the health care system, then the answer is obvious. This should be a local decision; and if people want to keep liquor out that is their right.

It might even be something we should look at -- quite frankly and in my opinion, the drinking age of 18 or 19 in Canada should also be raised to 21. If it helped reduce the number of divorces and domestic violence incidents in this country, I'd be all for it.

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Book review of "Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism"

Sometime yesterday, I reached 20,000 hits on this blog. That's in less than 14 months, and I have to admit even I'm surprised. I'm probably never going to be near what the big guys get on a daily basis, but I'm still satisfied, and I want to say thank you to all my readers.

I just finished reading Alexandra Kitty's book "Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism" -- about how the Fox News Channel has single-handedly destroyed the principles of responsible journalism, to the point where even respectable mainstream media outlets are now following its tactics, in an attempt to catch up. This is both an expanded version of Robert Greenwald's documentary of the same name; as well as a focused analysis based on Alexandra's previous book, "Don't Believe It!" which I reviewed last year. (I also explain there why I refer to the author by her first name.) Both books are by the Disinformation Company.

This book was published about a year ago, but not much has changed in the world to deflect from Alexandra's criticism. She begins by focusing on how self-described "billionaire tyrant" Rupert Murdoch took over a bunch of stations owned by Metromedia, which along with some other stations was the launching ground for the Fox Broadcasting Company -- or what we now simply call Fox TV. About a year later, Murdoch set his sights on the Washington DC affiliate, WTTG. It was one of the most respected independent TV stations in the country, and had long dominated the ratings in DC with a first-class newscast shown at -- horrors! -- 10 PM. But all that changed one night in August 1988, when in the middle of the newscast they got orders from "head office" to interrupt their newscast and carry the Republican National Convention, which at that moment was showing a fauning tribute (read: propaganda film) about the life and career of Ronald Reagan who was retiring at the end of the year. The news staff at the station, which had long taken pride in their independence, went ballistic but realized they had no choice. From there, it went downhill -- many nights, they were running entire segments from A Current Affair with Maury Povich and presented them as "legitimate" news stories.

(How well do we remember that show. So much was Rupert against West and East Germany reuniting that the night it finally happened -- October 3, 1990 -- ACA ran a story called The Rise of the Fourth Reich.)

He pretty much did the same with other stations in his company, until they fit his neo-conservative, "Democrats are commie pieces of shit" Weltenshaung. It was at this point that he was ready to launch Fox News -- and all hell broke loose.

There are way too many examples that Alexandra cites to count. But there are a few points that underline her thesis:
  • Fox does very little original journalism. Much of it is cribbed from its competitors. What it is successful at is paring away the complicated stuff and making everything a sense of black vs white -- and it makes clear which is which.
  • The network is hypocritical. On the one hand, it condemns violence on network television. But it has no trouble parading erotic film stars as news analysts.
  • Nearly everything is turned into a "Fox News Alert," complete with so-called "Fair and Balanced" (i.e. Republican) talking points, and the mandatory whoosh that tells everyone this is important.
  • Senior management tells its staff what the focus of the network's coverage will be for the day -- not the other way around, where journalists try to gather information for themselves.
  • The economy is always Pollyanna positive, if one believes Neil Cavuto.
  • Senior members of the staff are also hacks for the Republicans. John Ellis, a cousin of Dubya, make the Florida call in the 2000 election for Fox News -- and Tony Snow, a staffer for Shrub during his time as Governor of Texas, wound up at the network for a few years before being recalled to the White House. Coincidence? The author thinks not!
  • There are only a handful of token Democrats who regularly appear on air -- Alan Colmes and Greta Van Susteren, for example. The rest are blatant sycophants for the Republican Party. Even many Democratic guests who are brought in for the sake of "balance" are the more moderate kind who tend to agree on many Republican talking points.
  • The shows themselves, above and being bombastic, are also infomercials touting either the hosts' or their guests' latest books. Think of how many times we've seen Ann Coulter or Judge Kenneth Starr on Fox and you get the picture.

Alexandra also takes a critical look at many of its personalities, but she saves her harshest criticism -- quite rightly -- for former schoolteacher and Inside Edition alumnus Bill O'Reilly. In fact, two or three entire chapters are reserved for the King of Mean. Apart from his inaccuracies and distortions -- which he always weasels himself out off -- he says "Shut up!", "Like" and "Okay" so many times one could mistake him for any Valley Girl, let alone Moon Unit Zappa. Even when someone does smack him down, he finds a way of fighting back -- and is considered an urban hero. But deep down, Alexandra implicitly suggests O'Reilly is very close to being a sociopath; and his reaction to his infamous interview with Jeremy Glick, the son of one of the 9/11 victims (Glick finally managed to crack the code meet O'Reilly tit for tat after numerous previous guests had stumbled ) as well as Canada's initial resistance to allowing Fox News to be shown in Canada (which had to do with content regulations and not Chrétien's vendetta against Dubya -- content regulations which were later dropped) demonstrates how vulnerable Ted Baxter truly is. Alexandra even says that Billo's antics are the subject of a popular and actual parlour game -- so many drinks for whatever nuances, and soon one passes out from having one too many.

It's long been no secret that, despite its denials, Fox News is the official organ of the Republican National Committee. Alexandra concludes by talking about how the media has to get its spine again -- and to take on Fox for its usually inaccurate portrayal of the world. She brings up a lot of numbers, but the most fascinating one is this: The infamous question about whether Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were in bed together. Among Fox viewers, 78% of Republicans and 48% of Democrats think there was a link. Among those whose main source of news is from Jim Lehrer's Newshour on PBS and/or National Public Radio, 50% of Republicans and zero percent Democrats saw the link. (And NPR, which was around long before Fox, has a reputation for impartiality which is much higher than the CBC and nearly as good as the BBC -- so even the smart Republicans knew Team Fox was full of hooey.)

Long story short, this second book from Alexandra is another clarion call for the basics of responsible and printable journalism. Without the sleaze, the vindictive -- and definitely without the whoosh. But in a couple of places, she does overdo it after having proven her point -- so I give it four and half out of five stars. Definitely worth buying.

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17/08/2006 1:21:04 AM

Congratulations on your hits! 'Build it and they will come!'

Just moved digs over the month of July so have been out of commission for awhile.

Looks a little different around here since Windows went Live on your space too!

I like the green paint job! LOL! Take care and keep on poli-ticking!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Friday, August 11, 2006

Kylie Minogue and Kermit the Frog -- together!

For something totally different, here's something I found totally by accident at You Tube. (Almost freakishly, this was broadcast just a couple days before 9/11).

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