Monday, April 30, 2007

George Tenet's non-answer answers

George Tenet is a problematic figure, and last night's interview with Scott Pelley on CBS' 60 Minutes really didn't answer the questions many of us still have about what happened between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. However, he did score some points when he deplored the outing of Valerie Plame, saying that: "The country's intelligence officers are not fair game." This is in clear reference to Karl Rove, who felt she was in fact fair game.

Reading the transcript this morning, I still have a lot of questions. Why wasn't he more specific when he said the case for war was a "slam dunk"? Why is he still defending torture and refusing to call it for what it is? And why did he accept the Medal of Freedom when it clearly is tainted?

At least he's trying to be honest about what happened. I wish there had been more of that before and after 9/11. Otherwise there wouldn't have been this quagmire we're all stuck in.

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Yet another smoking gun in the Air India case

For 22 years, the families of those murdered in the Air India bombings off the coast of Ireland and at an airport in Japan have wanted to know, more than the rest of us, who knew what and when did they know it?

Last night, the CBC's Terry Milewski suggested both the then Mulroney government as well as Air India itself knew a lot. Newly declassified documents show as much -- that there were warnings weeks before the attacks.

331 people were murdered. This was the worst co-ordinated terrorist attack before 9/11. We already knew about the practice bombs and the fact one of the ring leaders defiantly called for the murder of hundreds of thousands of Hindus as revenge for the raid of the Golden Temple. We get repeated warnings, we know some people are up to something, and we do nothing? And let's not forget, when the bombs did happen, Mulroney sent a letter to the Prime Minister of India offering condolences to the people of India even though most of the people on board were Canadians. As if someone of South Asian descent isn't a real Canadian?

What did they know and when did they know it? If Mulroney knew something was up, he has a lot of explaining to do. And not just for his insensitive letter.

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Jon Corzine's excellent out-of-state adventures

Today's NYT has a story that reminds me of GWB and all the time he spent out of Washington before 9/11; including the day he went fishing after he was warned about OBL's impending attack one month before the tragedy. Jon Corzine, the Democratic Governor of New Jersey and who is presently still recovering from a horrific high-speed accident, has been spending a lot of his time out of state since being elected in the fall of 2005; a total of 111 days out of 450.

To be frank, I've never liked Corzine to begin with. Like the Kennedys, he seems totally out of place within the Democratic Party -- fabulously and even snobbishly wealthy. When he ran for the US Senate some years ago, he refused to accept any federal campaign matching funds and spent like a madman -- some $50 million of his own money, as I recall -- in a state of just 8.4 million people to win an office that, at the time, paid only about $154,000 per year. He even put ads on in New York City -- out of state -- since the flagship stations of the networks beam into the Jersey 'burbs.

The fact he got involved in the gubernatorial election because of a scandal -- his predecessor carefully concealed the fact he was gay and had cheated on his wife -- was already going to taint whatever Corzine had planned for the state. The circumstances of the car accident are still very suspicious considering Corzine wasn't wearing his seat belt, in a state that strictly enforces that law.

But going AWOL 25% of the time calls into question Corzine's overall competence. Certainly he has a duty to try to get investors to come to his state. Spending time in the Hamptons, the EU and St. Bart's isn't exactly my idea of working for the state, any more than Benny Hinn or Kenneth Copeland using their respective private jets to go on "layovers" to and from crusades using their donors' well meaning contributions.

Yes ... I am comparing Corzine to Hinn and Copeland. Because it's well deserved. And if I was living in the States, I'd seriously be considering a third party option for President next year -- because sleaze like Corzine harm the Democrats. Most of us get two weeks vacation per year, unpaid. It would be nice to see Jon set an example and refuse to take any salary for his job at all. After all, he's a zillionaire from his years on Wall Street and he doesn't need the money anyway.

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

How about them (Saudi) apples?

70% of SMS messages and photo files exchanged between cell phones in Saudi Arabia have pornographic content; in a country where such content is officially outlawed. And we're worried about it here -- in Canada?

Well we should be -- the same survey shows 88% of females in that country have been sexually harrassed via wireless technologies such as Bluetooth. If it's that bad in the desert one can only imagine how bad it's here. And upskirting is just scraping the surface, so to speak.

I made a point not to get a camera phone the last time out, and when it does come time to get a new one, I'm going to make a point to get a person's consent before taking their picture as we should all. It's not just because I consider myself a gentleman. No woman deserves that kind of treatment -- especially when they make more money than the men in their lives.

P.S. Yes, I'm still single and looking ...

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Turkish military butts into politics, again

This is a bit of worrisome news -- the still very powerful military leadership in Turkey has openly warned that country's Parliament about choosing an Islamic politician as the country's next President. It's problematic from a few standpoints, none of which has to do with Islam as a religion itself; although, admittedly, the fact the country is 98% Muslim is already bothering many Europeans, the vast majority of whom are moderately Christian and who worry what it'll mean when the country joins the EU and eventually subscribes to the Euro as well as the open-border rules under Schengen.

The thought an Islamic leader in Turkey would suddenly decide to bring back the fez and impose Sharia law is ridiculous -- the people in that country, not the military, would never stand for it. The military may have some reason to be concerned the strict secularism that has existed since 1923 is in threat but given how Islamic law works in nearby countries, such as neighbouring Syria, it's doubtful people have a taste for it.

The Treaty of Rome and its successor instruments which shaped the EU we know today deliberately sought to avoid the abuses in the many attempts to "revive" the Roman Empire, from Charlemagne to Hitler. At the very heart of the system is the insistence member states subscribe to the principles of democratic selection of their respective leaders, as well as the non-interference of the military. It is true the EU is top-heavy bureaucratically, but it'd be hard to imagine any country where a Parliament can be summarily dismissed or a government overthrown in a coup being invited to membership in the grouping. Until now.

It was trouble enough that Turkey was part of NATO while it was still under military dictatorship until only recently -- the early 1980s, and there was a coup in 1997 as well. But unlike some Muslim-majority countries where people fall for the deceptions of the fundamentalists after just one election cycle, the sense of some kind of freedom is well entrenched in Asia Minor.

There's no question the country has made significant progress on the human rights front, including becoming one of only a few Muslim-majority countries to abolish the death penalty. However, for some bizarre reason, the country's military is still a self-sustaining group and not under firm civilian control. Wherever this happens anywhere in the world, democracy is very fragile if there is democracy at all.

A country should have a well-equipped armed service to ensure its defence. The trade-off is non-interference in its internal affairs. Until this is well-established, Turkey should not be in the EU. The message should be sent that if the country is to join the privileged club democracy must prevail in all its forms. That includes ensuring generals keep their opinions to themselves -- or at least within government circles -- and not blown out in the wide open.

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Friday, April 27, 2007

I was going to call David Miller a putz ...

... for the way he and Toronto City Hall were treating a bunch of school kids for wanting to do the right thing. They collected about 12,000 batteries from their homes and asked the city's toxic waste van to come by the school and pick them up. The numnuts bureaucrats said no, that they only picked up from homes. But they are from homes. No, the bureaucrats said, they're now at an institution and we only serve homes.

Try to wrap your head around that fucking logic and it makes PMS' so-called Green Plan look heroic.

Late today, Toronto relented and sent the van over. They have also extended their policy to include all schools. This prompted the good kids to issue a challenge to other schools to beat what they did. Bully for them for winning this one -- mercury poisoning ground water is not a pleasant thing at all.

Turns out Hamilton has a similar program -- well established and running for years, to deal with all household hazardous wastes, but you actually have to drive to the dépôt to drop them off. For a lot of homebound people the only option is to throw batteries in the garbage or motor oil down the drainpipes. A stupid idea, of course, but it happens. Our city could use a van like that as well -- hopefully run by people not as stupid as the public servants in Toronto who dropped the manure on this one.

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In memoriam: Mstislav Rostropovich 1927-2007

Long before the world heard of Yo-Yo Ma or Ofra Harnoy, there were only two groups of cello players: Mstislav Rostropovich; and everyone else who played the cello. He was so good some of the 20th century's greatest composers wrote music specifically for him. More than a musician, he was also a conductor; and an advocate for human rights daring to stand up to the Soviet Union for its censorship of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. For this and other "outrages" such as condemning the suppression of the Prague Spring, he was exiled for years to the West where he loaned his talents to orchestras in such cities as Washington and London.

Even people who didn't hear a single note of classical music usually knew who he was when the name was dropped, which explains the power and influence he had on the music business. Rostropovich died today at the age of 80. To say a huge hole has to be filled is the biggest understatement. It's the footprint and the good feelings that he created -- rarely if ever a critical word for him -- that put him in the pantheon that very few on the so-called "A-list" in Hollywood deserves to be in.

In that sense he leaves a far greater legacy artistically than say ... Anna Nicole Smith.

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Intensity is not reduction

Harper's government can spin this however they like, but the results remain the same. You can't deal with overall totals of emissions if you only reduce the percentage of pollutants per tonne or per barrel or whatever. Otherwise, you're just giving yourself a license to continue to pollute even more. We're not going to meet Kyoto in 2020 -- we're not going to meet Kyoto, ever. And that's the way Big Oil likes it.

This playbook is right out of the White House. And like Mulroney who made himself look stupid when he went fishing with the elder George Bush, Harper has become the bait for Dubya and Karl Rove.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

The 12-year old executioner

If anyone has any doubts about why the Taliban must be destroyed once and for all, it's this story about a 12 year old boy kidnapped by the group of thugs on and using his services as an executioner.

For my edification, I've been working my way through a copy of the Koran, a gift from a Muslim friend of my father's to him. Nothing in there -- absolutely nothing -- justifies the so-called jihad that some of these self-styled "holy warriors" has been on for decades. This has nothing to do with Islam. No mainline religion is a religion of peace, not even Christianity. But all religions call among other things to honour our children. Trying to persuade a kid it's his or her duty to become a murderer is the most devious perversion.

At the same time, it's also the duty of these countries we're trying to help to take on a somewhat bigger burden. We must keep our current military commitment in Afghanistan because we made our word we would do so; but if what's left when we leave in 2009 is a vacuum where terrorists just move in and do whatever they damn well please then the whole point will have been lost. Musharraf hasn't done nearly enough in Pakistan to stop the seedlings of terrorism, but Karzai really hasn't done much in Afghanistan either and I'm becoming increasingly exasperated by that as are most Canadians.

The longer those countries dither in their responsibilities the more unstable they will become. There's only so much NATO can do. It's time for them to pull up their bootstraps and stop extremists from getting away with atrocities like this one. The longer they take, the harder it'll be for our troops to sort out friend from foe. We can clear some battlefields for them, but the ultimate job of bringing Al Qaeda and the Taliban to justice (or finishing them off) lies with those countries, not the West.

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Another setback for Canada-US trade

Since 9/11, a big concern for businesses on both sides of the Canada - United States border has been ensuring efficient trade. In the "just-in-time" world of manufacture as opposed to the traditional method of stockpiling parts we really don't have much choice but to figure out how to do this -- protecting each nation's sovereign rights while recognizing our close association with each other. Both sides have even come up with a name for it: FAST: Fast And Secure Trade.

It's therefore perplexing to see Stockwell Day withdraw from a tentative agreement to permit preclearance of trucks on the Canadian side of the Peace Bridge between Fort Erie, Ontario and Buffalo, New York. The sticking point, it seems, was fingerprinting -- Canadian law only permits collecting such evidence when a person is actually charged with a crime whereas US law is much more lax when it comes to this form of identification.

The redevelopment of this crucial border link is already way behind schedule, with a twinned bridge that still hasn't gone through the environmental assessment process no thanks to some city planners in Buffalo who want a "signature" bridge instead of a second bridge next to the perfectly serviceable existing one. Now this hang up. What's the point of building the bridge if we don't have a way of speeding the clearance process?

Makes a lot of trucks want to use the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge about 30 km to the north. About two years ago Ontario created a separate truck exit to that bridge between the 405 and I-190 in anticipation of creating a US customs preclearance on that highway. Now it looks like because of the news about the Peace Bridge, that is up in the air too. We're familiar with the process at Canadian airports when we travel to the US. We go through US Customs but are subject to Canadian law in case of irregularities, until the plane is in the air. Why not do the same here -- with random fingerprinting once a truck actually hits US territory? And don't we already run security clearances on both sides of the border for people -- both commercial and private individuals -- who want frequent crossing passes? In that sense, such a check becomes redundant.

Any suggestions on how we can deal with this problem -- and it's not just this border crossing but also major points such as Windsor-Detroit and those south of Vancouver and Montréal and Winnipeg? Something that'll make both sides happy? Short of a European style arrangement where there are no borders at all (other than a line on a map) and broad information sharing, we need to solve this and FAST -- pardon the expression.

UPDATE (Friday 07/04/27 8:22 AM EDT, 1222 GMT): The CBC's Henry Champ has some thoughts on this issue -- seems the stubborn one might be Mike Chertoff and not Stock Day after all; but with Hillary Clinton taking Canada's side on this one might think the White House will look for a way to come to some kind of compromise and not turn this into an election issue for 2008. I hope so.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The night E.R. Murrow's nightmare came true

Say what you will about Rush Limbaugh -- and frankly, I personally don't like most of what he stands for, and continue to be concerned about his getting facts mixed up at times -- this is one night where he really got a rough ride when he tried to fill in for Pat Sajak and his ill-fated talk show. Attacking the message is one thing. Going after the messenger is quite another. The date: March 30, 1990. The news: Idaho's then Governor had vetoed an extremely controversial anti-abortion bill.

I'll admit I can be abrasive at times in the points that I -- your faithful scribe -- am trying to make in this blog.

But a decade and a half later, this still ranks as one of TV's worst moments; the moment the line between entertainment and legitimate news was finally crossed, exactly what Edward R. Murrow feared would happen fully three decades earlier. And the worst part of all, it was the same network, CBS.

No matter where one stands on reproductive rights, or any other issue, Limbaugh deserved better. Say what you will about him, he had the high ground that night. A progressive defends freedom of speech, and I do so his.

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Who's your Daddy?

One supposes in the current political environment it became okay to lie when Bill Clinton was asked point blank, under oath, if he committed adultery with Monica Lewinsky. However, during 1996 when Bill and Monica were "hot and heavy," someone was giving a helping hand to an upcoming politician we've come to know as Dubya. That secret helper was Alberto Gonzales, now the Attorney General.

Yes, this is old news, but it does raise questions about how sincere GWB was about restoring honour and dignity to the Oval Office. In 1996, as these things are bound to happen, the then Governor of Texas got called for jury duty in a DUI case. As would have been required, Bush would have been required to disclose on the form prospective jurors must fill out that he had been himself busted for DUI twenty years prior -- at his father's "cottage" in Kennebunkport, Maine. Gonzales claimed he accompanied Bush to the trial and both the defense and prosecutor in that instant case agreed to have Bush's name struck out. In reality, though, we know Gonzales met with the judge behind closed doors and said that there could be a conflict of interest situation if at some later point Bush was called upon to pardon the defendant.

Of course, this is specious reasoning. Pardons are given for murder, armed robbery, sexual assault -- all felonies. They are almost never given for misdemeanours which DUI was at the time in the state. The real reason was Bush was starting to work behind the scenes to raise money for President. The news about his DUI came out a few days before the 2000 election by which it was too late to do anything about it.

True, Bush never specifically lied. But the fact is he was never asked because certain people made sure he never was and in my book that's just as bad.

When a favour like that's pulled, you're going to have a friend for life. Which explains why despite Gonzales' evasiveness in the scandal over the mid-term firing of several federal district attorneys Bush is insisting he'll hang on to Gonzales to the bitter end.

Who's your daddy?

And let's not forget Karl Rove and the role he played in the 1996 race for positions on the Alabama Supreme Court. He managed to suppress absentee ballots, effiectively ensuring one of the Republican nominees would be elected -- the first time in over a century that happened. He's also alleged to have spread a misinformation campaign about one of the incumbents -- the son-in-law of George Wallace -- that said incumbent was a pedophile. That guy ended up being re-elected but only by the skin of his teeth. Over a decade later, when GWB was caught misinforming the American people about WMD in Iraq, Rove decides to play the old game and discredit the wife of a top-notch Ambassador -- which wife also happened to be a spy investigating the very real WMD program in Iran that we're so worried about four years later.

She -- Valerie Plame -- could have stopped Tehran from getting the bomb were it not for Rove's cowardice and treachery. They probably already have it by now. Yet despite Iran's membership in the "Axis of Evil" and the inaction or action that made the country's leadership even more so, Bush thinks it's a-okay to keep Rove on his team because of what he did to help him and a whole slate of Republicans get elected into near-impossible offices across the South during the 1990s.

Who's your daddy?

Honour and dignity at the White House? If that's Bush's idea of that, then maybe Slick Willy was justified in cheating on his wife after all. (That last sentence was sarcastic, folks.)

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Hey PMS, what about the waiting lists?

So what was supposed to happen to the "wait times guarantee"? The Hamilton Spectator reports today that despite a massive expansion of the city's cancer clinic a couple of years ago wait times have actually increased, especially for women electing to have surgery for breast cancer. In fact, from mammogram to mastectomy or breast augmentation the wait is now six months. The recommended guideline is four weeks, before the cancer has a chance to spread.

No doubt this news will be a comfort to those who believe that illnesses are "the will of God." Wrong. Cancer is not the will of God. It's a test, to be sure, but I don't think God wants women dead before their time is really up any more than for us dudes. This also raises major questions about where all the money being "invested" into health care is really going. Reading the lists of those physicians who also have teaching jobs or administrative positions at hospitals or universities and make more than $100,000 a year on top of their non-disclosed piecework rates for services rendered to patients and paid by the public health care system, one wonders how much is being wasted.

Yes, we need the brightest and the best, especially when it comes to cancer. But we need front-line staff who can keep the clinics running 24/7 if need be to clear up the backlogs. We hear announcements about so many spaces being opened at medical schools, but what about laboratory technologists? Radiologists? And where are all the nurses that were supposed to be hired? When my dad recently got out of intensive care and into a regular unit at the hospital, the shortage of nurses was more than obvious; as a result my father probably was in chronic longer than he should have been.

God forbid I should get cancer, Mr. Prime Minister, but if by some weird chance I do (and the odds are about 1 in 3) I probably won't even bother to wait on the Hamilton clinic. I'm going to tell my doctor to fly me to where there is room -- even if it's over the border. After all, you "guaranteed" you'd pay for it, didn't you -- Steve???

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Torture and the $400 million boondoggle

Today, the Toronto Star's Jim Travers has an op-ed that pretty much says what we progressives have been saying: CNG is not so new anymore. And some of the mistakes it's making are starting to catch up to it. If this was a majority situation, PMS could sit pretty for four years. Like Mulroney was able to in the 1980s when there were conflict of interest allegations, tainted tuna and a Cabinet member visiting a strip club in Germany. By the time 1988 rolled around, people had mostly forgotten about those and focused on free trade.

But Harper has a minority, and the current scandal about prisoners captured in Afghanistan being turned over so they can be tortured -- even if the transfer is to Afghans, not to Gitmo -- is the tip of the iceberg. Gord O'Connor already had bad will when he betrayed the Liberals on Day One. And it's true no minister can keep track of every single action of every underlink, but if we're fighting terrorism overseas to prevent it here the least we can demand is that our hosts abide by some basic and internationally accepted rules.

Including the Geneva Conventions, which like the US the current government refuses to abide by.

Add to that $400 million in public works contracts that appear to have been untendered or rushed through the process and it makes Sponsorgate look like the Teddy Bears Picnic. We can't question the minister in charge, one Michael Fortier, because he's in the Senate and not the House of Commons. Is it a coincidence that the very minister who signs pension and public service paycheques can't be held accountable? Is this part of Harper's grand design to consolidate power into a pseudo-dictatorship? We don't know, because we can't find out.

Martin may not have been perfect but when the advertising scandal landed on his lap, he took full responsibility even if he was outside the loop at the time. That's what a real leader does.

Like Dubya, however, Harper believes he's pure in heart and doesn't make mistakes -- doesn't even sin in fact. Anyone who runs a country with that kind of attitude deserves to be trounced. Hopefully the jig will be up soon and people will realize that plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. Scandals will always be a part of political life. It's how we deal with them that defines a leader from a wannabe.

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GM topped by Toyota

When we in North America talked about the "Big Three," we of course meant General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. But over the last four decades, Japanese-based automakers have threatened that order. Today, we learn that during Q1, Toyota surpassed The General in sales for the first time.

What have they done right? What foreign automakers in general have done right? Simple: They make better cars. Period. In fact, the cars they make at "offshore plants" -- i.e. in Canada and the US -- are actually even better from a quality standpoint than the ones from "home." (My new "foreign" car was made in Southfield, Michigan and with mostly domestic content, which tells you something about the line between "our" and "their" cars.) More important they've got it right on fuel efficiency. The old guard is still overcapacity when it comes to SUVs.

I support a strong domestic industry, but I wish they were selling us cars that we want rather than telling us what we want. I also welcome anyone who wants to make cars here. There's certainly a demand for them, if sales numbers are any indication.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

In memoriam: Boris Yeltsin 1931-2007

Did I say it was a slow news day in my last post? Now this news.

When I think back to the summer of 1991, what will always stick out in my mind is the botched coup attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev. This ragtag gang put Gorby under house arrest at his dacha and cut his phone lines; yet somehow they forgot to round up the Presidents of the 15 republics of the Soviet Union -- all of whom were itching for independence from Moscow. Even Russia had declared independence from the USSR some time before. And of course, they totally ignored the Internet which still didn't have the World Wide Web but was just a text exchange -- people on the ground made sure the real news got out to the West somehow.

I'll never forget CNN managing to get in touch with Nursultan Nazarbayev, the President of Kazakhstan and Vytautas Lansbergis, the President of Lithuania -- and both pleading with the West not to let the coup leaders get away with it. They and their people had tasted freedom and wanted to keep it. Then of course, there was the Russian President, Boris Yeltsin. His standing up on a tank and defiantly saying that was where he was drawing the line inspired his countrymen, and the world. Within the week, Gorbachev was back. In no time at all, however, Yeltsin managed to pull the rug under the Soviet leader and by the end of 1991 the USSR was no more.

Yeltsin may have been less than competent in many respects, and his personal habits became the stuff of legend and even ridicule. Still for many that one singular image of him and Gorby going at it at the podium on live TV, a bloodless coup, will stand as his testament; of Yeltsin actually taking the words of the American Declaration of Independence seriously that

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Compared to what's happened under Vladimir Putin, Yeltsin was a genuine democrat. The world has lost a true statesman today.

UPDATE (7:22 PM EDT, 2322 GMT): Some have pointed out to me at my private e-mail that Yeltsin dropped the ball in Chechnya. I totally agree -- but we all saw what the Taliban did to women in Afghanistan and still want to do to them. The radicals in Chechnya aren't that much better, in fact I think they're worse.

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Benny Hinn: Let the Bodies Hit the Floor!

This video speaks for itself. Hinn is no faith healer, he's a mesmeriser, plain and simple. Sorry folks, but it's a slow news day and I needed to laugh after the week we've all had.

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Victims of crime speak against noose

A statement this week from a coalition of victims' rights groups in the States has -- surprise -- spoken out against the death penalty.

As murder victim family members we also share the same concerns as other Americans with the death penalty. We are concerned about innocent people being sentenced to death, about racial and economic disparities and about arbitrariness. But for us the stakes are higher because an innocent person might be executed in a misguided attempt to give us justice. Losing one innocent life to murder is one too many, the taking of another innocent life because of the first is beyond comprehension.

Those who argue for the death penalty often claim to do so on behalf of us, the victims’ families. They say it will give us “closure.” We don’t want the death penalty, and closure is a myth. Every victim, every time needs help, understanding, resources, and support. We don’t need more killing.

Now, if only Dubya and Karl Rove got that message.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Le Pen est fini!

Five years ago Jean-Marie Le Pen, the facist leader of the National Front of France, shocked the world when he managed to finish in second place in the opening round of the Presidential race, forcing a showdown between him and the incumbent Jacques Chirac. (Everyone had expected a rerun of 1995 between the conservative Chirac and his Socialist Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin.)

This time, Le Pen is well out of the running -- in fact he finished in fourth place and at age 78 he may well decide it's time to quit politics. At just 11.5% of the vote, it may well be that it's the FN itself that's a spent force.

Thankfully, the runoff will feature the two mainstream candidates -- Nicolas Sarkozy of the UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) at 29.6% and Ségolène Royal of the Socialists at 25.2%. Also impressive is the huge turnout -- nearly 85% of registered voters. Clearly they weren't going to be caught off guard like they were back in 2002 when many French spent the day at the beach. The choice between right and left is quite clear, and given France's big problems including a recession that has lasted 12 years and some misguided policies (including a 35 hour work week) whoever gets the keys to the Élysée Palace in a fortnight will have their work cut out for them.

For now, however, democracy is the real winner in France. If there is a God, Le Pen est fini.

UPDATE (7:29 PM EDT, 2329 GMT): With 95% of the ballots cast, the standings are Sarkozy at 31.01%, Royal 25.64%, the moderate François Bayrou at 18.54% and Le Pen at 10.63%, with no other candidate getting more that 4.5%. Royal has her vote concentrated in the Southwest and Breton and some of the overseas territories, including St. Pierre and Miquelon off Newfoundland while Sarkozy is pretty solid elsewhere. Obviously Bayrou is the king (or queen) maker, although Ipsos research says that based on the raw nunmbers, Sarkozy will win 54-46 in two weeks. But a 4 % swing isn't insurmountable. I'm rooting for Royal, but even Sarkozy would probably do better than the schlepping that Chirac has been doing the last dozen years.

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"We wouldn't have oil were it not for the dinosaurs"

It's Earth Day. In honour of the occasion, I found this patently silly quote which pretty much describes the attitude Big Oil, much of the religious right and PMS have when it comes to protecting the environment -- it's today's entry in the "Stupidest Things Ever Said" calendar, by siblings Ross and Kathryn Petras, and it was said in relation to protecting the Pacific salmon stocks:

I applaud the people that are trying to save species that are endangered, but it might be good that we don't have dinosaurs now. We've gotten oil from dinosaurs. If we had preserved the dinosaur, we wouldn't have that oil. -- Gretchen Borck

Well, we can get oil from salmon and almost any organic source, but it's not like we can put it in cars without producing greenhouse gases just to get that oil; let alone pumping it in our cars. So as we try to take in nature and put our food scrapes in the green bin instead of the garbage and whatever we do to reduce our footprint, let's remember that we do have resources that while they can be exploited should be done so in a sustainable manner. After all, when God gave us dominion, He didn't give us the right to dominate or destroy the Earth.

And if we destroyed the salmon for the oil, what does that do to the food supply? Or for that matter, other kinds of food? Not to mention clear cutting and whatever else we do to destroy God's creation.

As many aboriginals say, "O Great Spirit, grant that I may not judge a man unless I walk a mile in his moccasins." If Big Oil, Big Agra and Big anything actually lived the way many natives do -- off the land -- they might not have misguided ideas like the one above.

I'm not an eco-freak, and I do not worship the Earth. I worship God and honour the Earth He created -- and there's a huge difference.

But our ancestors, faith-based people, lived sustainably until the Industrial Revolution; and many countries have figured out how to live within its means in the post-industrial era. It's time the world's leading economies, including Canada, did the same.

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Most ridiculous item of the week (2007-04-21)

This week, my pick for the funniest news item are two men who thought they were text-messaging "911" to their drug dealer, meaning they had to meet with him urgently. Instead, they dialed 911 for real from a pay phone and were promptly arrested.

Maybe it's me, but since when does an addict mix up SMS with a voice call? Or a cell with a public telephone?

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Harper sees his future -- in the stars.

So now we learn that PMS uses a hairstylist and makeup artist who also happens to be a psychic.

Let's not be entirely smug about this news. Don't forget that during the late 1980s, a time when most people believed Jean Chrétien was out of politics forever, a psychic named JoJo Savard had a dream of the "Little Guy from Shawinigan" sitting on a white dog. The next day, she called his wife, pianist Aline Chainé, and told her -- unsolicited -- that Jean would be elected to two terms in office as PM.

I was under the presumption Catholics (which the Chrétiens are) are forbidden to consult horoscopes or psychics but they still do -- Savard still does pretty well at $4.99 a minute and as many as 2 million calls a day. Harper, an evangelical Christian, is supposed to oppose the occult even more but apparently he's also taking advice the same way Nancy Davis Reagan did when Ronnie was in office -- even delaying a nuclear weapons reduction treaty with Gorbachev by 24 hours because her psychic told her the original schedule wasn't the right time to sign it.

Harper can get advice from anyone he wants -- as long as it's on his dime and not the taxpayers. That includes party funds which are subsidized by taxpayers at a rate as high as 75%.

If I had "the gift"? I'd only use it to find fugitives and missing children, not dispense personal advice. And I'd charge incidental expenses for room and board, not a penny more.

HT: Cathie from Canada.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Limbo goes la-la

In a widely expected decision the Vatican has decided to get rid of the concept of "limbo," the idea that unbaptized babies who died went to a state of eternal bliss but one apart from God. I never heard about the notion until I was in the 7th grade and I found it a repulsive concept -- as did as it turns out our teacher that year, a nun.

The church will now say that such "lost" souls go to heaven. I sure hope so -- after all, being separated forever from God is the equivalent to Hell, whereas union with God is that of Heaven. They still need to work on purgatory, something which many Catholics reject. The idea of a half-way house or a boot camp in the afterlife is, well, based on specious logic and a narrow reading of the Bible -- unless I've missed something.

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Stop trading with China

The administration of PMS is implying the situation regarding Huseyin Celil, sentenced yesterday to life imprisonment in Mainland China for alleged "terrorist" acts, is in a delicate situation and things should not be rushed into.

Wrong. You don't play nice with dictators. You deal with them with a hard hand. Of course a country's internal laws must be respected but there is no indication that Celil actually broke any laws other than the ones that exist in the Forbidden City's imagination. Beijing must understand that Celil is a citizen of Canada and by denying him consular access they are already in violation of their treaty obligations.

When the Western world was falling over itself about a decade ago giving China "most favoured nation" status (that is, products from the country would only be levied the lowest level of duties charged to a third country not part of a free trade agreement or customs union with the destination state) many became rightly concerned that this was rewarding Beijing for something it didn't deserve, given its already appalling human rights record and its total lack of even fair trading practices let alone free trade. Canada currently has MFN with about 100 other countries; mostly the EU, most Commonwealth states and la Francophonie. Many in the latter two groups are of course dictatorships but human rights abuses while they are there are nowhere near the level that exists in China.

Now there's a situation of a man facing a real sentence on a bogus charge. We didn't back down with South Africa during the 1980s, indeed Brian Mulroney to his credit had the guts to take a stand when many other countries -- including the US and the UK -- would not. Now's not the time to be weak-kneed when it comes to China. Trade interests or not, what's important here is the human element. If Beijing won't recognize Mr. Celil's dual citizenship and recognize they phonied up this particular prosecution, then we should pull our Ambassador -- indeed, the entire diplomatic staff -- for consultations. The Chinese Ambassador should also be expelled.

The only thing China seems to understand these days is the Almighty Dollar. If that country was isolated, as South Africa once was, there might be hope for a change. Nuclear weapons or not. (And the Cape of Good Hope did have the bomb at the time, it must be remembered.)

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Choices, choices

After going for a job interview today, I stopped on the way home at a big box store to get some lightbulbs; and went through the self-service checkout. It was ten bucks. I paid with a fifty. The machine dispensed one hundred and forty -- not forty. I pointed this out to the attendant who appreciated my honesty.

I say this not to boast but to point out that despite what some out there may think of me -- and you know who you are -- I have always tried to be an ethical person. I'm not perfect, but I do know right from wrong.

I could have pulled the plug on my father when he went into a coma a couple of months ago; but I concluded that's not what he would have wanted and for what it was worth it wasn't his time yet. I have been offered drugs numerous times but have always refused. I have also faced temptation in many other ways but have found a way to resist, defying what Oscar Wilde once said about temptation.

And as a general rule, I at least attempt to treat people with respect because you never know when you might need their help some day. I can be brash at times and even pushy, but being stubborn does not change the fact I should try to make the world a better place -- even if it's just by my thoughts and words for now.

The other day, someone I lost touch with for a number of years wrote me and asked me if I was still the gentleman she remembered. I can't recall the last time someone said that about me and it was truly appreciated. All I can say is, I hope that I still am a gentleman and will be for the rest of my life, with the grace of God.

I could have used that extra hundred bucks. But as Robert Fulgum says, we should put things back where we found them. I may be entitled to my entitlements, but not to those belonging to others. Hint to governments: Just try that for a month.

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Banned in Zhongguo!

Add my blog to the tens of thousands banned by the People's Republic of China.

Am I proud of that? Damn right -- shows just how cowardly those fuckheads are banning a dinky little site like mine; alongside such sites as CNN, the NY Times, Wikipedia and even the Vatican. Along with Rosary Army, Klingon Word and Catholic Family Podcast. Oddly enough, Prog Blogs is "available" -- for now, anyway.

Want to join the revolution to bring down censorship in that country? Check your blog at Great Firewall of China.

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Be not as the hypocrites: Senate reform edition

I support the idea of a reformed and elected Senate. My preference would be for a body with equal representation from the regions and sitting for a fixed term of six years. But as it is right now, things are not equal. Not only is it an appointed body making it little more than an elder debating society, but Atlantic Canada is overrepresented with 30 Senators (4 from PE, 6 from NL and 10 each from NS and NB) whilst the Western provinces only have 24 (6 each).

However, PMS' decision to appoint the so-called elected "Senator in waiting" Bert Brown is perplexing to say the least. It has nothing to do with Senate reform but an attempt to make sure the Conservatives keep a lock on all 28 districts in the province in the next election; because the Cons have absolutely no intention of dealing with the immoral first past the post system and having PR instead of FPTP would ensure the Liberals, NDP and Greens get seats in Wild Rose Country. More important, this decision does nothing to satisfy the demands Canadians have everywhere either to eliminate the Senate or to reform it.

It also makes no sense to appoint "elected" Senators to an inherently defective body. Regional imbalance is just one aspect. The fact the Senate only has a six month hoist on constitutional amendments is another. But the real problem is that the Senate as currently constituted carries only an advisory sense of the nation. It has long had a real read on national security issues even before 9/11 and made concrete proposals to fix the problem, but successive Liberal and Conservative governments have refused to listen to it. It's made common sense suggestions on how to reform health care but they too have been ignored by Prime Ministers who think the best way is just to throw money at the problem. The only time the Senate seems to make a real splash is when it tries to stifle free speech, when legitimate questions are asked about our war history.

I do wish Mr. Brown well, provided he signs an iron-clad contract that he will resign in six years and stand for "election" again. Otherwise, his appointment is a total sham.

And it's worth reminding PMS that an amendment regarding the method of selecting Senators requires not just the consent of both Houses of Parliament as he thinks, but also seven provinces with at least 50 percent of the population -- with no opt outs. Moreover, the issue of whether Prime Edward Island and Newfoundland-Labrador gets more seats in the House as a consequence of Article 51A of the 1867 Constitution must also be dealt with -- getting rid of that rule would require unanimity of all 10 provinces. (51A stipulates a province must have at least as many members in the House as it has Senators -- which is why PE has four when it really should only have one, while NL has six when it should have five or even four.)

Unless there's a huge sea shift, such an amendment is not going to happen for at least ten years; unless the Western provinces agree to regional as opposed to provincial equality (and BC wants to be treated as its own region to begin with); and one of Ontario and Québec sees the wisdom of having an elected Senate rather than getting rid of it all together.

It also has to come with reform of the House of Commons. Whether it's some form of proportional representation or a preferential ballot as exists in Australia, that has to be taken care of as well. No half measures. For now, this move if it's what PMS truly believes in runs totally counter to what he publicly stood for. Earth to PM: Read Matthew 6:2.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Stuart McLean wins Leacock AGAIN?

Don't get me wrong -- I love listening to Stuart McLean's Vinyl Café, roughly the equivalent of Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion. I enjoy the stories with "Dave and Morley" as well as McLean's witty observations about life in Canada; and how he introduces us to acts that would not otherwise get national exposure. But it also says something about the incredible dearth of humour and satire in Canada that McLean manages to win the Stephen Leacock award not once, not twice, but three times. Only Arthur Black has also pulled off three Leacock wins.

Come on, fellow Canadians! We live in the shadow of an economic superpower while being heavily dependent on it. We have winter anywhere from four to nine months of the year depending on where we live (one in the Lower Mainland of B.C.), yet think summer is when Canada's true nature shines. We're considered unpatriotic if we dislike Don Cherry, yet we don't seem all that worried about the possibility of Québec separating. We want to enjoy the vast back country to take in nature yet have no qualms about driving our SUVs to get there.

We're an inherently funny group of people. Why should McLean, Coupland, Air Farce and 22 Minutes have the monopoly on wisdom? Surely the Leacock Foundation could actually be bothered with trying to find struggling artists who have better use for the the $10K prize than Stuart does.

Not that I wouldn't attend a live taping of the Café the next time it comes to Hamilton -- of course I would. I just wish Canada's broadcasters actually gave more time to our own than the often repulsive people that come out of the Broadway or Tinseltown factories.

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"By their fruits you shall know them ..."

With every school shooting, this essay seems to reemerge. It was written back in 1999 by Sarah Roney, not too long after the Columbine massacre. You may agree or disagree with it -- there are some points I find troubling -- but this is really something to think about.

On April 20, 1999, there was yet another gruesome shooting in Littleton, Colorado. Kids killing kids. And again, the entire nation in its uproar is trying to figure out why. I am eighteen years old. I live in a Small town near Madison, Wisconsin. A small town just like the ones where these horrifying shootings always seem to take place.

Every time those stories come on the television, I can't help but notice how easily it could be my small town next. And I want to know why this is happening just as badly as any parent or police chief or anchorman. The thing is, I am right in the middle of it. I am in the same age group as all of these high school kids. So I may have some insight for the world that has been otherwise unattainable since these shootings started some years ago.

The night of the Littleton shooting, as I was flipping through the various news channels that were covering the story in Littleton, Colorado, I heard something that struck a chord in me. An anchorman was interviewing the mother of a victim in the Jonesboro shooting. His question was: "If you look at America in the 1950's, you will find that this kind of thing never happened; whereas if you look at America today, this kind of thing is becoming more and more frequent. Why do you think this is happening?" The woman, of course, could not answer the question. In fact, she didn't really even try.

But I did. I thought about it for a long time that night. And again the next morning, when my favorite morning radio talk show asked its listeners why they thought this has been happening. Many people said it's the parents of the kids. Many people suggested television and video games. Many people even turned to popular musicians, looking to put the blame somewhere. But I will tell you what I think it is. What I, a regular teenager riding on the coattails of Generation X, blame it on. It is not the parents or the movies or the rock stars. It is AMERICA. It is this culture of death, this culture in which liberals and feminists and activists are so anxious to let anything be "OK" that the once tightened, knotted rope of society is unraveling right beneath us.

Don't you see? There can be no order without discipline. All of those things people think are causing children to run into a school and shoot their teachers and peers and even kids they don't know - the movies, the video games, the parents, the rap artists - they are only REFLECTIONS of our society. Society breaks down, from one big metaphoric "family" into 50 metaphoric "families" and so on and so on, until you have the actual FAMILY, the one with the parents and the kids and the dog. It is not one thing or two things; it is the attitude of an entire "familiar" nation being reflected back at us in the kids.

Just as that anchorman suggested, something was different about the 1950's. WE WERE CONSERVATIVE. We had boundaries; we had a definite knowledge of right and wrong throughout the entire nation. We didn't have feminists pushing women so hard to go get a job that a woman who didn't have a job was somehow "bad," thereby leaving kids at home with inadequate parental guidance and often times with parents who were truly unhappy. We didn't have liberals fighting so avidly to legalize everything that it was at the point of completely blurring the line between good and bad. We didn't have a nationwide media surge dedicated to sex and violence so intense that if you weren't playing killing video games at age 14, then you were trying to choose between contraceptives beforehand or abortion afterwards. We didn't have disputes over whether or not we should help someone who is dying die sooner - over whether or not we should ASSIST them in committing SUICIDE. And we certainly didn't have a President who was in favor of NATO bombing and killing children in Serbia come on the television to grieve the loss for the families of children killed in America.

We live in a loosely tied society, a culture dedicated to death. If you don't want the kid, kill it. If you don't want to live out the rest of your God-given days, kill yourself. Or better yet, have someone else come help you do it. I guess, no matter how horrible or gruesome or gut-wrenching it may be, it was just a matter of time before someone got that "killing-as-a-means-to-an-end" idea stuck in their head for the part between birth and death as well. Everything that happens in families and cities and states and countries is the mirror image of the big picture.

We are falling apart as a society. Am I - some random normal teenager in Farmertown, U.S.A. - the only one who sees that? It's sad and it's hard to believe, but what's worse is that it's scary. I think it's time for our - America's - Mom and Dad to ground us - to say, "If you don't shape up by the time I count to three..." And then really count to three. Because we are running wild and pretty soon we're going to be too far from home to ever get back.

There was once a great saying by a famous man that has rung true throughout the history of mankind - in every family and in every society and in every social group and in every religion - it was a frighteningly true statement that cannot be disputed. I am reminded of it now, in the wake of yet another indescribably tormenting result of a nation gone haywire...

"By their fruits you shall know them."

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Poland, Ukraine get Euro 2012 -- and a parody of "The Headbutt"

In a sign that Marxism may become a faded memory in Europe the governing body of soccer on the continent, UEFA, has awarded the 2012 European Championships to a joint bid submitted by Poland and the Ukraine.

Without a doubt the Euro competition is far and away the biggest regional tournament in the world and is followed around the world -- in fact it's so big that even ESPN and its Canadian arm TSN broadcast all the games live in North America; and the passions involved can be even greater than the World Cup. This devotion to the sport is something I noted the first year I really paid attention to it, 1996, when it was held in England.

We're a long way from next year's showdown in Austria and Switzerland; but looking forward to 2012 I have to say it's truly remarkable that two countries that were once firmly under the darkness of Moscow -- one, an unwilling client state; the other, an even less willing province -- have progressed to the point that they are able to commit to pulling something this big off. Even more impressive is that they beat out the widely favoured Italy, still reeling from scandals related to game rigging and financial improprities not to mention being the target of Double Z's Headbutt Heard Round the World.

Speaking of which, here's a scene from last summer -- um, winter in Australia -- about a week after "The Headbutt." A game show contestant on Temptation, the revival of $ale of the Century, decided to imitate Zidane on stage. Watch what happens (and don't you love YouTube for moments like this! -- oh, if you're reading this in Facebook, click on the original post at the top):

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

"Dallas Morning News" turns against death

With yesterday's dramatic events I put off blogging on this until now -- but: Add yet another newspaper to the chorus against the death penalty. This time, it's the Dallas Morning News. Hard to put this paper's general stance as either liberal or conservative, but this shift in editorial policy is just as dramatic as the Chicago Tribune's change of heart a little while ago. Like its Windy City counterpart, the DMN finally said yesterday that it has the same kinds of misgivings about the ultimate punishment:

Our justice system has developed a dual standard, alternately meting out the death penalty and life in prison in comparable cases. In fact, some who conspire to commit the same crime are punished quite differently. Consider the teenage trio convicted in the murder-for-hire of Fort Worth socialite Caren Koslow.

Kristi Koslow masterminded the gruesome killing and recruited her boyfriend and an acquaintance to carry out her plan. She was sentenced to life in prison. Brian Salter agreed to testify against his girlfriend in exchange for a life sentence. Jeffrey Dillingham exercised his right to a fair trial and was sentenced to die. Mr. Dillingham sought clemency, claiming a disparity of punishment. His request was denied, and he was executed in 2000.

We need a consistent standard.

But as long as capital punishment remains an option, it will be viewed as the ultimate goal, and prosecutors will face pressure to meet that goal.

Once again, it comes down to the same issue: Consistency, or rather the lack thereof. And it's not just people who plea bargain to try to get a better deal. When someone in a drug deal gone wrong could get the death penalty, while a mass murderer like Terry Nichols gets life without parole, there's something really wrong.

LWOP is in many ways an even harsher sentence than death -- because one never knows when the Grim Reaper will call whereas with death the state presumes the role of the sickle. And it's a life sentence, meaning natural life, that should be the standard for murder one -- in all countries.

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Massacre mastermind was "loner"

We now know the identity of the person responsible for yesterday's rampage in Blacksburg, Virginia. He's Cho Seung-hui, an English major and a legal immigrant with a Green Card. That pretty much debunks one of the early operating presumptions that this was linked to al-Qaeda or an illegal alien.

Also interesting is that the profile describes him as a "loner." Maybe it's me, but that's a frightening concept. I don't socialize perhaps as much as I should and tend to be rather introverted, and in the minds of some of the most cynical cops I could fit the profile, too. But does that mean I'm going to explode at any moment on a scale like this?

No, of course not.

Still, it just sickens me that something like this happens. We Canadians aren't immune from school shootings, of course -- think of Dawson College and L'école polytechnique, for instance. But it goes back to the question, why aren't people trying to reach out to these so-called "loners" before it's too late? True, some people put themselves in a box quite on purpose. There had to be warning signs, however.

I don't know how we can make sense of tragedies like this -- all we can work on is constant vigilance.

UPDATE (2:59 PM EDT, 1859 GMT): Am I the only one miffed by the fact PMS said absolutely nothing about this tragedy?

UPDATE #2 (6:08 PM EDT, 2208 GMT): He did, during Question Period -- but that was fully 24 hours after Tony Blair made light of it in his monthly confab at Number 10.

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Charter + 25 years

It's often been said that judges should apply the law, not make it. PMS certainly thinks so. Yet Canada's Constitution plainly says that any law that conflicts with it is, to the extent of the inconsistency, of no force or effect. Since Parliament passes statutes and the Cabinet issues executive orders, who's to say where and when inconsistencies apply? It has to be an independent judiciary.

It's possible that few understood just how far reaching the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would go, 25 years after its proclamation. Without a doubt, it's affected police arrest and interrogation procedures, thrown a wrench into dealing with illegal immigration, and given people a sense they don't have as many responsibilities as they have rights.

It's also had some unintended consequences, particularly in education. Many out West probably still grate at the fact the French-language minority are actually entitled to run and operate their own schools wherever the parents received their education in the world (correcting an injustice dating back to the 1880s), while in Québec only parents educated in English within Canada have a corresponding right for their children. Meanwhile, some thought the Charter ended the question of confessional schools once and for all (i.e. they were illegal and had to go); in fact the text of the Charter said exactly the opposite and when the Supreme Court ruled they were part of the "Confederation bargain" it forced the issue on the provinces, some of which decided to abolish the religious schools themselves.

There's no doubt in my mind that the Charter has done more good than harm. Parliaments can sometimes go astray and that's what the courts are for, to ensure balance and equity. The fact only about a third of Charter challenges are actually successful in the end also tells me that courts do defer to Parliament and a nullification of a law only happens as a last resort -- after all, there is that clause that says rights may be restricted if justified in a free and democratic society.

So today, I'm going to celebrate -- not with somthing mind-altering but with a sense of satisfaction that this is something that three mainline parties all found common ground on; that they themselves had to limit their power to avoid abuses. Unfortunately, they go on -- such as the persecution of Aboriginals, and secret trials. But I can't imagine where we would be without it. Probably after 9/11, under a state of indefinite martial law.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Shooting at VA Tech

This almost seems like a broken record, but there has been yet another mass shooting at a school -- this time, it's Virginia Tech. As I write these words, at least 25 are dead and perhaps as many injured. The suspected shooter is also dead. Apparently there were two separate shooting sprees about two hours apart which makes one ask why the campus wasn't locked down in the first place.

And once again, it's just a matter of time before we see the usual comments; from the NRA and Dubya saying how terrible this was but it just goes to show why everyone should have a gun on them at all times, and from gun control advocates who say this is just more proof that there should be tighter controls or even an outright ban.

A few years back, a popular television program had one of its characters -- who nearly lost his father in a workplace shooting -- say something to the effect of that everytime he heard of a shooting, the gunman felt as if he had a score to settle. In that sense, perhaps each and every one of us could be a time bomb waiting to explode. True, most of us have the common sense not to act out on those impulses but a few do.

I have long supported gun control, with the view that gun ownership should be a privilege and not a right -- and even where it is a right is one that can be taken away if one breaks the law. I also think that this is yet another lost opportunity, a case of a person who got lost in the system and didn't get the help he needed and in the end wound up going postal.

In the long run I don't know what it'll take to put an end to this kind of bloodshed. I am convinced that once again the politicos will scream at each other and blame Marilyn Manson just like they did at Columbine. When confronted with that and asked what he would tell the families, Manson famously said, "I would not say a single word. I would listen to what they had to say; and that's what no one did."

What Manson said six years ago is still relevant today. Let's not blame him. Let's blame a society that allows Slick Willy to get away with adultery while Karl Rove gets away with treason.

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Dad's home

My father came home from the hospital today after a stay of two months. I want to thank all of you for your prayers and support during this very difficult time. Make no mistake, he still has a long way to go and some aspects of his medical condition are pretty much permanent, but given he was on a respirator when all of this began and he had a next to zero chance of survival, I'll take anything I can get and for that I'm grateful to God.

Whatever happened to "never again"?

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. In the more than six decades since the Nazi death camps were liberated and a vow was made "never again," we've seen the ugly head of genocide rear itself over and over caused both by dictatorial regimes as well as democratic ones. We know all too well about the killing fields in Cambodia, Srebenica, and Rwanda. We're too lax in trying to remember how thousands "disappeared" in South American countries during the 1970s and 80s, how many are now disappearing in Zimbabwe and Burma. And it's not like the West is any better, what with secret prisons and trials and "renditions."

It's like we've become numb to the most basic principles of decency and honour, to treat a human being so they will act like a human being. In the name of national security we're too willing to sacrifice the most self-evident civil rights, or target specific groups for "profiling." It's this kind of ignorance or prejudice that led to the expulsion of the Acadians in the 18th century, the Irish Potato Famine in the 19th -- and the attempted cultural genocide in the 20th when the Ontario government tried to eliminate the French fact in this province with "Regulation 17." Or on a national level with the Chinese head tax, the abuse of aboriginal students, and the internment of the Japanese. We also saw full well the consequences of segregation and its real intent.

And now, we deal with world leaders who deny one of the most obvious facts of history -- flat out deny the Holocaust ever happened. We think this is just limited to places like Iran where it's official policy. Yet studies consistently show 1 in 5 Canadians deny it happened, including many self-described Christians.

What will it take for the agony to end? For us to actually mean it when we say "never again!"? Because the longer I live, the more I am convinced we're doomed to repeat history and elect leaders who want to repeat it.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Maher calls out Robertson, Crier the MSM

Over at Crooks and Liars, two great hits. One, part of this week's "New Rules" by Bill Maher about Pat Robertson's law school (yes, he has a law school -- which happens to be ranked Tier 4, the worst of the worst, along with Tom Monaghan's Ave Maria) and its undue influence on Dubya's Justice Department. The other is from Judge Catherine Crier and her scathing attack on the MSM's refusal to call out Limbaugh, O'Reilly and Coulter for their racism as well as anti-women rap lyrics, but being quite comfortable in purging Imus for an ill-advised but still repugnant remark.

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

RIP Don Ho 1930-2007

Man, celebrities really do die in threes. First, Kurt Vonnegut, then June Callwood and now -- Don Ho. When I went to Hawaii in 1999, the tour guide gave some rather unflattering gossip about him which I won't repeat here. But imagine the world without "Tiny Bubbles."

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RIP June Callwood 1924-2007

June Callwood, perhaps Canada's most famous social activist, died today. Words really can't do her or her legacy justice, so I'll refer you to this tribute from my conservative colleague, Kathy Shaidle (the "Relapsed Catholic").

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If I had $200 million -- Tom Monaghan in historical perspective

Another critical look at Tom Monaghan from the gang at That a publisher in the Catholic mainstream is now willing to take Monaghan on is courageous in my opinion. It's one thing to give money away or donate to philantrophic causes out of the good of one's heart. It's quite another to go on an ego trip, or attempt to prove you're better than everyone else by developing megaprojects.

I'm certain Monaghan has a good heart or least he thinks he does. Uprooting a law school from one state to another; or firing a top university official for calling out his superiors on gross heresies regarding the form of the Mass; or running a foundation like a one man show forces one to raise legitimate questions about motive.

It certainly isn't unprecedented. For proof, here's this article from the National Catholic Reporter from over a decade ago, where a baron at Miller Beer squandered his nest egg on fruitless enterprises. Forgetting the Biblical warning to be not of this world, Harry John decided to impose his views on the world; while pretending somehow the real world didn't exist. Read the whole article, but here are some examples of John's quirkiness:
  • When the Catholic schools in Milwaukee refused to adopt John's imposition of a very conservative version of the catechism, he pulled their funding. He also got into a war of nerves with the liberal bishop of the city, Rembert Weakland.
  • He tried to start up a Catholic TV network, based on what he thought was Vatican teaching (not necessarily that it was). He fired one executive for missing Sunday Mass, and cancelled an interview with Michael Landon because he was divorced. The station never get off the ground due to internal infighting.
  • He also tried to run a movie studio -- also, without much success.
  • He went on numerous treasure hunts for sunken ships with foundation money -- to the ire of the IRS. One of the ships that he gave up on turned out later to have the motherlode -- about a billion in gold.

Oh, by the way, John had a high flying style of living that would make a lot of Protestant televangelists proud. He also decided to invest in junk bonds and precious metals rather than more conservative investments. In one bad year, his foundation's nest egg dropped by about half. And one of his most influential advisors? No less than Joe Fessio, who's at the centre of the current battle royale at Ave Maria University.

Eventually, John was found in a civil suit to have grossly mismanaged his foundation and engaged in stock manipulation. He found a way to get the last laugh, however -- even with his very odd funeral.

I'm not suggesting that Monaghan has done anything that is illegal, nor have any of his other critics (as far as I know). What I am saying is that there are time-honoured principles in running faith based enterprises; among them that there is independent auditing to ensure money -- whether one's own or other people's donations -- is well spent. It's little wonder why people like Benny Hinn and Robert Schuller are not members of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. Or why Catholic givers seem to think they're bound by different rules just because they think the Pope is King of the World.

When in fact it's Jesus of Nazareth. It all goes back to Matthew 6:2 -- "Be not as the hypocrites." Sometimes, people like John and Monaghan make me embarrassed to be Roman Catholic, and with good cause. Their kind of "almsgiving" is not what I learned about at school.

But I stay. Why? "It's because of the stories," as author and priest Rev. Andrew Greeley would say.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

An alternate view on ethanol

The local alternative weekly newspaper here in Hamilton, View, has this week a commentary about ethanol-based fuels. It offers a counterpoint to the commonly held view that moonshine is the key to energy independence from the Middle East and Venezuela. As the writer Sarah Veale points out, ethanol in Canada is like the United States backed by a very powerful lobby -- the agrifood business with such giants as Archer Daniels Midland, Monsanto and Pioneer. Independent farmers, which are becoming fewer and fewer and who rely on companies like these for their daily bread, are getting squeezed out and are not likely to benefit.

There are a number of other points Veale brings up. First, because farmers are switching to corn and soybeans almost exclusively to feed the growing veracious appetite for ethanol, there is less crop rotation and/or leaving sections of field fallow for regenerative purposes; as a result, soil erosion is increasing. Second, it may lead to even more destruction of environmentally sensitive areas including old growth forests to make way for more crops; which in turn increases greenhouse gases and threatens water supplies. And third, ethanol can be produced not just from corn and soybeans but also from less environmentally degrading sources such as hay and sawdust.

My sense is that ethanol is only part of the solution. A big part, but just that. Higher fuel economy standards -- such as those that exist in California or the EU -- would also cut our reliance on foreign oil. So would simply driving less often and using alternate modes of transportation. And here's an idea: How about if everyone actually drove at the speed limit? People could save a ton of fuel, and the roads would be a lot safer as a side effect.

I only have to think of here in Hamilton where some arterial roads are treated like expressways; such as the express lanes on Burlington Street between Ottawa and Woodward. The posted limit is 70 km/h and the average speed is more like 110, with next to zero law enforcement there. Or Garth Street near where I live -- speeds averaging 80 km/h in a 50 zone; again with sparse patrols. We have to smell that stuff and on top of that there are too many head-on collisions.

It's bad enough people flash their headlights in your rear view mirror commanding you to break the law, then when you won't passing you with three inches to spare because they can't wait another 30 seconds to go 500 metres down the road before the next intersection. Like inhaling corn instead of dead dinosaurs will actually make us feel any safer behind the wheel or on the sidewalk?

Makes one wonder whether the money PMS offered in last month's budget on ethanol and bio diesel was money well spent. Especially when it's Big Agra -- or rather, its employees and suppliers -- that provide a lot of the ruling party's funding.

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May and Dion in Wonderland?

When I first heard the news last night that Stéphane Dion of the Liberals and Elizabeth May of the Green Party would not field candidates in each other's districts (Saint-Laurent - Cartierville and Central Nova, respectively) I had one immediate impression: Either this is the most brilliant move, or the most incredibly stupid. There's no question that May and Dion share common ground on the environment and by pulling a Liberal candidate both hope to topple Peter MacKay, the member in the Nova Scotia district that with one exception has been a Conservative fiefdom for as long as anyone can remember.

Of course there was bound to be a quid pro quo, namely the Greens won't run in Dion's Montréal district. This does seem odd at first glance, especially since in last month's Québec election the Greens without winning a seat still managed to finish in second place in the popular vote on the Island -- ahead of the ADQ and the PQ. And depriving people of a choice could backfire in both districts -- either undecided voters will flock to the target candidate in sympathy or they'll go to the alternate progressive party, the NDP.

Moreover, the Liberals and the Greens actually have big issues with each other, especially when it comes to the military and free trade.

Rather than selective pullouts, what I'd prefer to see is the two parties sit down together and try to form a common platform; and then mount some kind of Alliance. It's happened in peacetime in other countries and especially in Europe, where Red-Green coalitions are commonplace.

And progressive, middle-of-the-road parties have also attempted it. For example in the UK, during most of the 1980s, the Liberals and the Social Democrats ran under the "Alliance" banner with each party supporting the other in a more or less formal agreement; that is if one party fielded a candidate the other would stand down and not hold a nomination meeting. At one point, they got as high as 25% of the popular vote but were stymied by FPTP, never quite being able to come up the middle between the Conservatives and Labour in their traditional strongholds -- rural and urban areas, respectively.

(It's worth noting that eventually the two parties merged and became today's Liberal Democrats but that some who opposed the marriage broke off -- most notably Baron David Owen, who later unsuccessfully tried to broker a peace deal in Bosnia. The Lib Dems have gradually regained ground in the seat count but last time out, 2005, still won only 62 seats out of the 628 in which they fielded candidates -- damn FPTP again.)

Maybe there's something in the polling numbers that Dion and May see that the rest of us or the MSM don't. Right now, short of a formal alliance, an ad hoc arrangement of this sort is kind of like being Alice in Wonderland -- where everything is not what they should be, and even a sneeze is punished with beheading. That being said, I wish Elizabeth May the best. If there's one province I'd like to see painted Green, it's Canada's Ocean Playground.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Imus out

It's official -- CBS Radio has fired Don Imus. I take no pleasure in his dismissal; and that's all I'm going to say about it.

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In memoriam: Kurt Vonnegut Jr. 1922-2007

You either loved him or you hated him, but there's no doubt Kurt Vonnegut Jr. -- author, social commentator, comedian, actor -- was a huge influence to the baby boomers and Generation X (the latter of which I belong to). The world does feel a lot emptier without him this morning.

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Man who smeared Thai king pardoned

The King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej, has pardoned a Swiss national, Oliver Rudolf Juder, who had been sentenced to ten years in jail for spray painting a billboard with the king's image. Such acts of desecration have been illegal since 1908 when the country was still known as Siam. Juder, who could have received as much as seventy-five years, will now be deported.

There's no doubt that Juder broke the law and he was not entitled to any immunity since he's not a diplomat. But mischief of this kind would normally merit a far lesser sentence most other places -- in Canada for instance spray-painting an image of Queen Elizabeth might get say just a couple of months.

It does raise some questions, too, about Thailand's overall political regime especially since there was a coup last year, supported by the king himself. Freedom House last year downgraded the country from "free" to "partly free," giving it scores of 3 on both political rights and civil liberties (a 1 means "free" and 7 means "not free") and this might only downgrade that status further. Which is a shame since the country besides being one of the Asian Tigers also has a very successful birth control program that uses humour and common sense compared to the oppression of China's policies.

If I had money to invest in foreign markets, I would not choose Thailand or would try to stay away from mutual funds that have Thai content. Juder's behaviour was certainly offensive but trying to squat a housefly with a sledgehammer doesn't exactly do wonders for your reputation.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

BREAKING: MSNBC drops Imus show

One down, one to go.

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Belinda, we hardly knew ye

It's hard to imagine that just under three years ago, Belinda Stronach ran for the Conservative party leadership with an unprecedented pledge: If she was chosen leader and went on to become Prime Minister, not only would she serve two four-year terms and no more but she would also work for free and not accept any salary either as PM or as an MP. Not like she needed the cash anyway; she is after all the heiress to one of the biggest auto parts empires in the universe.

But it really made me think two things: One, here was a person who was sincere and wanted power to do good, not power for powers' sake. Two, she was trying to take the merged party to the centre -- the progressive centre; and had she succeeded, I think there's little doubt she would have demolished Paul Martin on the first try.

The train had left the station, however, and it was clear Stephen Harper was too tied to the right. So her later defection to the Martin Liberals wasn't too much of a surprise although the timing, just a couple of days before a no-confidence vote, was very suspicious. And what was the big deal with her relationship with Peter Mackay anyway, or rather why did the media make such a big deal? She's a single mom, she can date and dump whoever she wants, just like any other woman.

A few months later, she found herself in opposition with the rest of the Liberals. And rather than go for a sure thing -- the Liberal leadership -- she took a pass. Now she's quitting politics all together and going back to Magna effective immediately. Greener pastures, maybe? Or is she hoping Stéphane Dion crashes and burns in the next election?

Stronach would have been a very tough but fair Minister of Finance if she stayed on. But she's made her choice and of course it is respected. Her departure leaves quite a big hole in Newmarket-Aurora and the party's going to have to find someone who can stand on his or her own and not just ride Dion's coattails. I wish Stronach the best of luck in her chosen path.

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CN strike resumes

So, the rail employees at CN -- or the conductors and yard workers, to be more exact -- are on strike again after rejecting the latest contract offer even though the union recommended acceptance. Frankly, I can't blame them for saying no -- who wants to go back to work on just a one year contract?

I can't help wonder if this could become an election issue, if it becomes prolonged and it continues into a snap election which could happen at any time. Strikes have brought down governments before in other countries -- such as the "Winter of Discontent," the infamous UK public service strikes in 1979 over wage controls, that saw the fall of James Callaghan and the rise of Margaret Thatcher. Here in Canada, where the railways bind this country and many businesses are heavily reliant on les chemins de fer, it will only take a few days of disruptions to tick off both labour and management where "just in time" is the rule and not the exception; even in agriculture.

Perhaps Harper could weather the storm, but in such a case he'd be lucky to get another minority government; leading to another eighteen months to two years of instability. Meanwhile, the ports will be backlogged like they were a couple of months ago during the last slowdown.

Normally, I'd support mediation or final selection arbitration. There needs to be some certainty, however; so I'd go for something I'd think fair to both sides: A three year contract, with increases of three percent each year. Just plain common sense.

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