Saturday, June 30, 2007

Review: Sicko

I'm still in shock after watching Sicko, the new Michael Moore venture, last night. The shock wasn't his idealistic portrayal of the Canadian health care system, or the horror stories of the completely uncompassionate American way (which includes a classic recording of Ronald Reagan ranting against the introduction of Medicare for seniors in the 1960s as "socialized medicine"). It was how far ahead the British and French are with their systems and how Americans have flocked to those countries precisely because of that. And how compassionate the Cuban way is despite their oppressive regime. I think some of the ways of the world may have relevance for Canada.

Britain's system, the NHS, is certainly fraught with flaws. But fully a decade and a half before Tommy Douglas, a country still ravaged by the shock of war decided to pull together and make good health a right rather than a privilege. Not only is basic health coverage free, but there are relatively low co-payments for dentistry, opticians and prescription drugs. I was stunned to learn the standard fee for a prescription is just under £7 (the £6.65 co-pay quoted in the film went up 20p a couple of months ago). There is a measure of private health care in the UK, but the NHS is the third rail of that country's politics. Even Thatcher, it was mentioned, refused to do away with it all together. The rim shot moment came when Moore came to the cashier, convinced patients had to pay something. Instead, the hospitals were paying patients who had to travel to get their health care -- covering their transit costs.

What was most impressive, though, was that doctors there get paid bonuses if they can get their patients to adopt healthier lifestyles -- quitting smoking, lowering their body mass index, etc. The poorest Brit is actually healthier than the richest American. Why? Because a Brit will go to the doctor if something is wrong rather than waiting until it's too late like Americans do.

France's system is even more comprehensive. Not only is everything free, but people get paid vacation time, full 100% maternity leave benefits (it's only about half that in most of Canada, somewhat higher in Québec), nannies on call. Universal day care (are you paying attention, PMS?)! And how about this: Physicians who are on dispatch to make house calls 24/7? (This one was created in the 60s by a doctor who felt if a plumber was available around the clock, so should doctors.) And like the British, the French are substantially healthier than most Americans -- even with their wine and pastry rich Mediterranean diet.

Most telling in the France segment were a group of Americans who told Moore, flat out, that American politicians from both parties lie about family values. France values families, in their opinion, and they'd rather live in Paris or Marseilles than Boston or Los Angeles.

Moore's ultimate stunt was bringing 9/11 volunteers -- who were shut out from benefits because they didn't work for the police or fire brigades, something which even George Pataki, a Republican, found repulsive -- to Gitmo for health care. They were refused so Moore then went to Havana with the gang and a couple of other patients. The care was, as I wrote above, uncommonly compassionate and first rate. Some patients were able to get off unneeded drugs all together -- presumably, their doctors back home were consequently denied payola. The drugs were extremely inexpensive -- five cents for an inhaler that cost 120 dollars in America.

But the most emotional moment was when a fire crew in Havana paid tribute to their colleagues in New York -- saying were it not for the trade embargo they would have been on the first flight out on 9/11 helping out at Ground Zero and the Pentagon. That's the kind of fraternity the Cuban-American lobby is so dead against, and those hypocrites should be ashamed of themselves.

So what can Canada learn?

I think the following points are critical.
  1. There's been talk of setting up a parallel system to clear up supposed "backlogs". I may be biased but my father's recent experience after nearly dying tells me he would not have received any more care or faster if there was a private hospital in town. My sense is, if people want to opt out then they should go all the way -- and that includes turning in their government issued health card. You're either in or you're out.
  2. Canada needs to have pharmacare, across Canada. If it's good enough for British Columbia and Québec it's good enough for the whole country. Surveys consistently show people would be willing to pay higher taxes if it means better health care. Further, we need to go to universal dental and optical coverage too. We can afford it.
  3. Healthy lives are only possible with healthy starts. We need to stand up to the Fraser Institute and other right-wingers and say that kids come first and if that means either universal day care or universal access with charges based on the ability to pay then so be it. And I'll say it again: We need to enhance the Child Tax Benefit and eliminate poverty among minors, once and for all.

Another home run for Moore. 4 stars.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Friday, June 29, 2007

London plot, take II

Today's thwarting of two gas and nail bombs in London is good news, but it reminds us we must be constantly vigilant and not so quick to dismiss CCTV. "They" only have to be right once to cause havoc as we've learned all too well.

I apologize for the relative briefness of my notes the last few days, but have had to attend to other matters ... I hope to write some articles of some substance in the days ahead.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Benoit's Wiki altered before bodies found

The case of Chris Benoit took a rather bizarre turn earlier today when it was revealed someone updated his Wikipedia entry early Monday morning to reflect his wife had died. Even weirder is that someone made the change in Stamford, Connecticut -- where the headquarters of the WWE are located. Only thing is, this was 14 hours before the bodies of the couple and their son were found.

Also we learned Benoit's physician's office was raided; one presumes for possible evidence of illegal prescription handling or at least irregularities.

So, what did they know, and when did they know it? And by they I mean the WWE and those under contract to it.

I believe in the presumption of innocence but I'm beginning to not like the looks of this. True, one can log on to any computer anywhere and track another computer and assume its IP address ... but if that is the case then why didn't the WWE shut down its computers to investigate possible tampering? And those text and phone messages -- about Benoit's wife coughing up blood and the side door being left open for the dogs? Why weren't the police called right away?

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

In memoriam: William Hutt

One of Canada's greatest actors is dead. William Hutt wasn't just a star at the Stratford Festival, for many he was Stratford. Hutt is perhaps best known for his numerous performances as King Lear and Prospero. But one role, for me, defined both the man as person and as actor.

I last saw him perform in 2001 as he took on the Clarence Darrow role in Inherit the Wind, against James Blendick's William Jennings Bryan. This was a couple of months before 9/11 -- and both brought the house down. (It's said that after 9/11 and for the balance of that year's season, the audiences for that show and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf were divided into two groups -- those who support free speech and those who don't, maybe that's what the terrorists wanted.)

Both Hutt and Blendick refused to flinch, however, and in so doing earned even more respect from people who appreciate theatre; one of the few bastions of free speech left in North America.

The stages in the city upon the Avon will seem awfully empty this year without Hutt. Here's hoping the next generation carries on his legacy.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Pete Peters, TBN, and Peter Popoff -- oh my!

From our friends at the Wittenburg Door comes this classic segment (WMV and QT) from "Godstuff" which was a feature that ran for three seasons on Comedy Central's The Daily Show when it was hosted by -- Craig Kilborn. This is both the funniest and scariest one of the roughly ninety they did. Love or hate Ole Anthony and Joe Bob Briggs, they sure know how to poke fun at religion while making their point about the cults. Remember:
  • the ceramic 8 1/2" St. Michael kicking Satan's butt, price $500?
  • the miracle spring water that saved "thousands" from Chernobyl?
  • Pete Peters? (Besides this whopper, he's also a leader in the "white identity" movement.)

And the best church commercial ever: Shady Grove's "Dressed to Go."

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Telus backs down

In another sign that common sense may finally be coming to the corporate world, Telus decided not to go after Bell Canada after all. Yay!

Now, it would be in Bell's interests to rebuff all suiters and declare it will remain an independent, public owned, federally chartered company. That's the only way to make sure the wires we paid for stay ours.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Another wrestler kills himself -- after he kills his family.

We hear of murder-suicides so often that we've become numb to them, but the news that pro wrestler Chris Benoit did in his wife and kid before killing himself is almost too depressing to comment on. Cops are refusing to say whether this is another case of "roid rage" but I wouldn't be the least bit surprised.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The case of the $54 million missing pants

HT to April Reign: There's no doubt there are a lot of frivolous lawsuits out there, and this one involving a judge who took the phrase "satisfaction guaranteed" serious and sued a Korean family for $54 million for losing his pants at their dry cleaning outfit took the cake. Thankfully, a DC judge today dismissed the case as patently silly -- and worse, the judge who filed the suit could lose his job and be forced to pay the couple's legal bills; somewhat rare in the States where "loser pays" is actually the exception and not the rule.

Why did the aggrieved judge -- one Roy Pearson -- decide to file suit when the defendants (Soo, Jin Nam and Ki Y. Chung) offered more than reasonable compensation? Could it be, as WaPo reports, he was living off his credit cards at the time he got his judgeship and decided this could be a way of paying off his bills? Or is it just because it's DC, which isn't really a city or a state but a fiefdom under the direct control of Congress and whose "home rule" council simply doesn't have the powers a state legislature would have to enact tort reform and stop this utter nonsensical action?

Two things are clear from this: One, some way to end this madness is badly, terribly needed and it has to level the playing field between the powerful and powerless. Two, it's way past time for Congress to make DC a state. Because when all is said and done, Pearson and his targets still don't have the right to vote -- the only capital city in the entire free world with this ignominious distinction; and next time Pearson may find the tables are turned on him and Congress will still turn deaf ears on its peasants.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

What Canada's credit unions have to do

The news that the credit union centrals in Ontario and British Columbia are going to merge isn't exactly going to scare the Big Six banks in Canada any time soon -- at least, not in the English speaking regions. That's because the centrals still face a fatal flaw, the inability or unwillingness to encourage their member CUs to use a common brand name.

Why is that important? If I have money parked somewhere and I need to take it out, I'd like to know by a common logo or brand name that's where I can go anywhere in a province or country without having to incur Interac fees for using a competitor's machine. And I mean on the street, not stuck on a tiny label on the machine inside the physical plant. With dozens of credit unions who compete against each other as well as the banks and trusts, it may be easy for them to have local presences but very difficult to reach out beyond their communities. While credit unions in British Columbia do make a point in their advertising their fee-free withdrawal policy from any other CU in the province, the ones in Ontario do not which is why they are minnows in the pond.

That's not the case in Québec, where Caisse Desjardins is a force to be reckoned with. With 5 million members just in that province, this co-operative of over 500 local credit unions has shaken up financial services in a way that would make the rest of the country blush. Not the least of these is that it actually sells home and auto insurance right at the teller counters, something the banks are forbidden to do. It was also the first financial institution to cater to the huge "snowbird" population. The genius of the system is that people are members of local CUs -- sometimes one of many in a city -- but they don't have to worry about the name. A Desjardins in the financial district of Montréal is the same as a Desjardins in, say, Chisasibi over 1500 km to the north. They may be legally different CUs but they are part of the same group. Desjardins also does business in New Brunswick, Ontario and Manitoba and they've made no bones about wanting to be taken seriously there too.

So advise to the centrals: Learn from those who made it work. Try to come up with a common brand name; say "Provincial One" for example, and have your member CUs change their signage to reflect that. Then maybe you might convince people you are serious about taking on the banks -- because the more identical signs you have the bigger your presence and the higher intake of business you'll get. The banks deserve to get clobbered so actually use the tools at your disposal.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Best wishes for Belinda

It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: Seeing how cancer has ravaged both sides of my family, I wish Ms Stronach a speedy recovery.

UPDATE (4:59 PM EDT, 2059 GMT): HT to UOH for pointing out the gang at Free Dominion (not all, but some) have found a way of wishing Belinda the best while slamming her. It's no one's business but her own whether she has had an abortion, and in any case there is absolutely no link between the procedure and increased cancer risk. I commented on this nearly two years ago, here; and while I have since identified myself once more as pro-life I still rage people would actually propogate this lie -- and use the trademarked pink ribbon to add insult to injury.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Zimbabweans fleeing to South Africa

Many Americans, particularly in the Southwest, grumble about illegal immigrants from Latin America pouring over the Mexican border and want to put up a wall -- only problem is one can always dig under. The Nordic states -- indeed much of Europe -- are worried about illegals from Africa but in their case the problem is exacerbated by the open borders in Europe and I do mean open as in no interior border controls at all.

Now, add South Africa and the influx of refugees from Zimbabwe, over its (surprise) often porous border. And there seems to be common issues: the Horn of Africa which is already having economic problems and has to provide housing and education and health for its poorest must also find a way of helping its guests without appearing to be xenophobic. And those left behind in Robert Mugabe's personal fiefdom have to hope and pray they have relatives or friends in wealthy countries who can wire them money just to survive. With hyperinflation, the average worker in Harare now makes about two bucks a month. Last month, it was nine. I read the other day that inflation which was pegged to run at 1500% this year might be more like 1,500,000%. That is something no country has seen in years, not seen in fact since the early days of the Weimar Republic; something which Adolf Hitler used to his advantage in his later rise to power. And I make no bones in saying Mugabe is like Mr. Moustache in many respects.

And the weird thing is, those leaving the crisis are willing to do the menial jobs most of us would deplore -- and wind up getting exploited; just as is the case in Canada, the US, the EU.

The worst part is nothing is said or done by the likes of Stephen Harper, George W. Bush, John Howard or even the outgoing Tony Blair. And South Africa hasn't done much better either -- no one trusted it during the era of apartheid, for obvious reasons; and even after segregation ended neither Nelson Mandela nor Thabo Mbeki have done anything to neutralize Mugabe despite the tools at its hands.

This is a security issue as much as al-Qaeda style terrorism is, and a way must be found to ensure dignity for those seeking better futures while ensuring those few who migrate solely with ill-intentions don't get a chance to carry their plans out. AQ and its like-minded associates aren't the only crooks out there.

Building walls is not necessarily the solution in this particular case, but there's going to come a point where even the most tolerant will not tolerate anything anymore and when that day comes those of us in the developed world will really have a problem on our hands.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Telephone merger? Nyet!

Back in 1979, when Lee Iacocca asked the US government to guarantee (i.e. co-sign) $1.5 billion in new loans to save Chrysler from bankruptcy Big Business -- and especially his competitors at Ford and GM -- were deeply opposed to the idea. Not the front-line auto dealers, and especially the competition. One dealer, who sold Chevrolets and Hondas, said he was behind Iacocca because competition was good for the industry and especially the consumer.

The rest is history.

Now, Telus wants to join forces with BCE, effectively creating a monopoly landline company everywhere except in the territories, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and northern British Columbia. Bad idea? Definitely.

People are still scared about the security issues with VOIP. They may hate their phone company but they hate their cable company even more. And many "local" phone companies are fly-by-night operators and not user-owned telephone co-operatives like those that exist in many parts of the US. One of the most successful examples that comes to my mind is the co-op in Horry County, South Carolina -- which includes the resort city of Myrtle Beach. They're extremely rare in Canada, though, and that's a pity.

What's good for the shareholder is not always good for the consumer. If we're to have competition in Canada, we should mean it. The only reason why there are even exploratory talks at all was because of the income trust decision last year. People should have a choice, no matter how bad the choices are. No merger.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Pay per trash

Smaller communities like Guelph-Wellington and Stratford have done it already, but next year Toronto is going to take a huge step to solving the garbage crisis: Pay per trash -- or at least, a version of it. Rather than paying for garbage collection as part of property taxes, families will now have to pay an annual fee to rent a bin from 120 L to 360 L -- or 1 1/2 to 4 1/2 bags per week. Those who opt for the smallest bin, 75 L, won't have to pay at all.

Personally, I like the Stratford model better -- buying tags that one puts on a garbage bag or bin so they can be picked up. This ensures equality of sacrifice from the poor to the stars on stage and turns garbage collection into a utility like electricity or public transit -- the more you use, the more you pay. No question pay per trash drastically increases recycling and compost participation which is precisely the point.

But the fact the Meeting Place is trying to clean up its act is a good move forward and making sure larger families as well as the wasteful pay up is a sign of progress. Less garbage means less leachate, less toxic waste -- and one less excuse for al-Qaeda.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Joe Kennedy's annulment reversed by Vatican

Every time a Kennedy gets knocked down, I admit I get a bit of Schadenfraude and this is one of those times.

Contrary to popular belief, getting a divorce is not considered a sin in the Catholic Church; provided that all attempts have been made to reconcile a marriage and legal action is the only way to resolve issues of property and child custody. That doesn't mean a church annulment which allows a Catholic to remarry within the Church is given lightly either -- nor should it be. The burden of proof is high; that a marriage was never consecrated in the first place because one or both parties did not intend to fulfill the vows of marriage or did not possess the capability of entering into the sacrament.

The Vatican -- or to be more specific, the Roma Rota, an appeals tribunal -- has decided that in its eyes the marriage of Joe Kennedy and Sheila Rauch is still on. This despite the fact that the Boston Archdiocese granted an annulment three years after Kennedy married Beth Kelly, one of his aides. Rauch is quite understandably celebrating. She says she takes full responsibility for her part in the breakdown of her relationship with Kennedy but the church side of things was crooked to begin with, not even giving her a chance to tell her side of the story. Kennedy "just wanted out," to put it bluntly and his family's enormous influence in New England made sure he got it his way.

Rauch's win is even more remarkable when one considers she is an Episcopalian (U.S. Anglican).

In short, this news means that Kennedy and Kelly who got married in a civil ceremony can't get their marriage convalidated by the Church unless they win a cross-appeal which is still being considered. It also underscores a problem Benedict XVI is trying to deal with -- keeping divorced Catholics within the Church. Joe Ratzinger wants to streamline the process but also wants to prevent abuses. It's worth noting 75% of annulments are granted to American couples and most of the rest to pairs in other developed countries with substantial Catholic populations.

For now, though, it's a good news story for all except the Martha's Vineyard Gang. Being a Catholic carries certain obligations; and having a certain family name or wealth from ill-gotten gains (i.e. alcohol running) will not give one a free pass.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Three state solution?

With the Gaza Strip firmly in the hands of Hamas and the West Bank under the rule of the PLO the dream of an independent Palestine seems further than ever -- in fact one may just decide either of the following: Create two Palestinian states to the southwest and the east of Israel and let the chips fall where they may; or just give the lands back to whom they legally belong in the eyes of the world -- Gaza to Egypt, Judea and Samaria to Jordan. Of course, the issue of settlements (really unrecognized exclaves) as well as access to the holy sites in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron among others would be unresolved so one would be right back to where they started.

Love him or hate him, Jacques Parizeau spoke of a normal people wanting their own normal nation. Independence has often been sought by war but not always. The rate things are going, Palestine will be at a civil war that seems almost perpetual. And that's anything but normal. Maybe "The Wall" (not necessarily where the location is right now but just the idea of a wall) may not be such a bad idea after all, and a second one around Gaza may have to be fortified further. If it keeps the peace for Jews, Arabs and Christians in Israel proper, a three state solution may not be such a bad idea after all.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The no-fly list: Right ends, wrong means

Since 9/11, airlines have had reason and rightfully so to fear hijack attempts. A no-fly list of potential suspects -- such as the one Canada put into place today -- makes sense on the surface but it's fraught with pitfalls. The most common of these are people who are excluded because they have the same or similar names to those on the list. Just ask Maher Arar. Or Edward Kennedy -- yes, Senator Kennedy (D-MA) who's been stopped from boarding planes no less than five times in the last three years.

Kennedy's case was worth a laugh. Certainly not Arar's. And definitely not those law abiding citizens who just happen to have a shared identity with a terrorist or wanted fugitive.

There has to be a better way. Why not fingerprinting? Or interrogating passengers when they hit the check-in counter, like they do at David Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv? In the 30 or so years since Israel put in its get tough policy at the airports, there has been only one hijack attempt and it was quickly quelled by air marshalls anyway. And there's nothing wrong with a bit of civilian vigilance in flight -- such as what actor James Woods did when he reported on a few of the 9/11 hijackers a month before the massacre but was ignored.

It's true that to have freedom and peace, we must accept responsibility and prepare for war. But isn't this going about it entirely the wrong way?

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Tehran upset Rushdie knighted

So the Iranian government is upset that Queen Elizabeth II has decided to knight Salman Rushdie in the "June list."

Tought noogies, Tehran. It's the decision of the Firm, not the Guardians. He was bound to get the honour sooner or later. The only two surprises were a) J.K. Rowling still hasn't been knighted herself although she deserved to be a long time ago; and b) Rushdie received the title from the Queen -- and not the Prime Minister in his annual "Christmas list."

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Stupid Centennial Parkway

I'm slowing down a bit on blogging for about the next week or so while I get settled into the routine of office work again. But I do have a beef for today.

Why aren't all the accesses up and down the Escarpment in Hamilton four-laned? This morning, Centennial was closed due to an early morning accident and as I write these words is still closed. All the other accesses -- from the windying Fifty Road to the 403 -- were bumper to bumper. The still under construction Red Hill might have eased the pain but the that's not the point. We need better public transit in Hamilton, but we need better and safer roads too, roads that can handle overflows for unexpected situations.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Obituary: Kurt Waldheim 1918-2007

We learned earlier today that Kurt Waldheim died. Best known as UN Secretary General for eleven years starting from 1971, Herr Waldheim later was elected President of Austria. But for most of the latter part of his life, he was dogged by some very serious allegations -- namely, he was part of a Nazi army unit that sent thousands of Greeks and Yugoslavs to their deaths. Waldheim was forced to concede he was in active duty when his official biography had indicated he was medically discharged -- but the damage was done.

Did he or didn't he? Thousands of men and women served in the Nazi armed services but that did not make every single one complicit in the Holocaust. There were war criminals who were prosecuted and there are quite a few still at large for the atrocities commited sixty years ago. But to suggest everyone who speaks German should be deported would be the wrong kind of retribution.

If he didn't commit any war crimes then he should have been left alone and suffered a grievous wrong. On the other hand, he was far less than honest about his war record and in that sense he did deserve to be censured. We may never know the whole story now ... and that leaves the families of the victims he allegedly killed with even more questions.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Does this mean Tony the Tiger is dead?

Tomorrow's New York Times is reporting that Kellogg's will stop marketing products to kids if they don't meet specific food nutrition standards. This results in a lawsuit against the cereal manufacturer being dropped.

Now, if only Fox News would apply a similar principle and pull "news presenters" if their main aim is to brainwash viewers into voting for the GOP -- and that applies pretty much to everyone on their lineup except Alan Colmes and Greta Van Susteren.

It'll be kind of sad to see Toucan Sam go although I'd really miss Tony the Tiger. Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity going off the air -- that'd be greaaaaaaaaaaaaat!

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Fund autism

Actor Eugene Levy has added his voice to a growing chorus demanding kids with autism in Canada get full coverage under Medicare. Add my voice, too.

Kids with disabilities are people too and they deserve better than the crap they've been getting from provincial premiers of all political stripes.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

China censors Pirates 3

The only place in China where one can see the third installment of Pirates of the Caribbean is in Hong Kong. Elsewhere, it will be censored -- because of Chow Yun-Fat's depiction of a Qing Dynasty warrior and because Chow recites a poem in Cantonese, a language heavily discouraged in China in favour of Mandarin; except in Hong Kong where Cantonese is an official language.

The last part of the Pirates series was totally banned in Mainland China because it had ghosts in it. (Seriously.)

What will it take to wipe out the Butchers of Tiannanmen Square and bring freedom to all of China, once and for all?

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Moore stashed master of "Sicko" in Canada

This is truly pathetic. Canadians have the right to travel anywhere they want but not Americans. Who's truly the land of the free?

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Monday, June 11, 2007


Trooper Darryl Caswell of the Royal Canadian Dragoons was killed by a roadside bomb attack. That brings the death toll in Afghanistan to 57 personnel -- plus one diplomat. My thoughts and prayers are with the family and his platoon tonight.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Dare to be stupid: Stephen Harper edition

Only someone as self-absorbed and sure of himself as Vanity Smurf * -- um, Stephen Harper -- would actually do what the Prime Minister did today; daring the Atlantic provinces to take him to court over breaking the Atlantic Accord.

Fine. I think the people "Down East" are going to take him up on the challenge. This was the same Stephen Harper after all who spoke about a mentality of defeatism in Acadia and The Rock while demanding Alberta build a "firewall" to ensure the Atlantic stayed poor. And now that he's in power he manages to tick off everybody including his home base. Mo' money may be money, but the question is whether it's sustainable funding.

There is a special case to be made for the Atlantic too because for decades industrial policy made the less affluent provinces the clients of Québec and Ontario and both exacted a very heavy price. They need that extra bump to become self-sufficient as the rest of Canada, because the oil and natural gas isn't going to last forever.

Harper's saying "it's my way or the highway" is not a way to govern Canada. Time and time again the voters have rewarded parties that broker the differences between the regions and craft policies that benefit the country as a whole -- and they get angry when their PM plays off one region against another. I'm not saying make it absolutely equal -- just bring the provinces up to the average.

Some will say the era of brokerage parties is past. I believe it may be back to the future. And Harper's stupidity demonstrated today may cost him big time because the courts -- funny as these things are -- might just rule against him and award the aggrieved provinces punitive damages; payable, naturally, by all Canadians. Based on today's events, Stéphane Dion may have well found his next campaign slogan: "Promises made, promises broken."

Just spare us that cheesy K-Tel-like commercial Joe Clark tried in 2000, though.

* I'm not implying anything about Harper's choice of lifestyle, by the way, because he's straight as they come. Vanity wasn't gay either, he was what we today call a metrosexual. And Harper does have good taste in fashion and hairstyle, I'll give him that. His choices of suits or hairdresser / astrologist, though, won't help him any in court.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Tory's "public religious" schools

In the last few days John Tory, the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, came up with yet another way to try to "equalize" the fact that denominational schools in the province other than Roman Catholic schools are not publicly funded. But the solution offered may be far less than ideal. Tory is suggesting that "dissentient" schools should have the option of opting into the public system.

Fair enough ... there are two problems, though. From a liberal standpoint, it goes against the principles of integration. A "public religious" school could still theoretically decide which students it wants and which it doesn't. It's true quite a few parents who have decided to exclude themselves from the public system take on second jobs to pay for their kids' tuition, but the fact remains the "Old Guard" schools remain primarily the preserve of the wealthy as well as those kids who are lucky enough to get scholarships whether from the schools themselves or private "benefactors" such as the Fraser Institute.

Add in religious schools to the mix and one could wind up with a system where segregation becomes de facto, not by race but by class. To be fair, the Tory plan would exclude the Old Guard schools such as Upper Canada College, Bishop Strachan, Hillfield-Strathallan, etc. but it does not change the basic fact.

That would, to be blunt, suck. Quite a few friendships I made in high school -- albeit a Catholic high school -- were across the classes. I still count an upper middle class woman from that time as one of my friends, among others. But I also met people from lower circumstances than from my working class background and I value those too.

From a purely conservative view, however, the Tory plan is anything but Blue Toryism (pun unintended). If people wish to withdraw from the public system and have their own religious schools -- or in some cases, home schools or charter schools -- the argument can be made they should forfeit the right to elect public school trustees. They should, in the classic view, also get a refund for the portion of taxes (provincial and local) that fund public schools.

That was the idea behind the defunct Ernie Eves plan for tax credits; which was well-intended but very poorly structured and irresponsible in light of the financial situation of the province.

Admittedly, the status quo may be a 19th century anachronism but it has been upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada as entirely Charter-compliant. In fact, one of the conditions the nine provinces that signed onto the Charter had for doing so was denominational schools as they existed in 1982 would not be wiped out. The Prairie provinces already had their own rules in the Constitution but it was especially a concern for Newfoundland which at the time had only denominational schools and no public ones (ironically, Newfoundland has since done a 180 and abolished religious schools and gone all public).

Most of the other provinces provide at least some funding for religious schools of all stripes; even Québec maintains it for Catholic and Protestant schools in Montréal and Québec City although it now has a language based system in the rest of the province. Yet Ontario remains the only province that has funding for only one religion.

Is there a middle ground? Yes there is, but it's not the model Tory proposes. It's patently silly anyway because those in religious schools (mostly Protestant, although there are also Jewish schools and Islamic madrases) want to be apart from educational society, on purpose.

Instead, I think schools with similar religious tenets across the province should be permitted to have province-wide school boards with elections for trustees to it -- and with adequate public funding. In the electronic age it should not be the logistical problem it once was. The catch would be that standards in the Catholic and non-denominational schools would also get an upgrade -- in terms of funding as well as the curriculum and course materials.

Then there really would be equality in education. Short of that, go the other way as Newfoundland did -- get rid of the religious schools but allow the public schools to have credit courses and religious exercises on the school campuses. That in no way would impair the separation of church and state. After all, they have crosses on the hilltops in Hamilton and Montréal and no one complains about that. Why should people get hot and bothered over a menorah or a crescent moon being displayed alongside a cross at school?

If teaching kids values includes religion then so be it. Why should Catholics have any more rights than the rest of Ontarians? And I say that as a Catholic. But Tory needs to rethink his ideas. If that's going to be the heart of his platform this fall, he might be in for a big surprise -- the province has bigger problems as it is. Especially health care.

Vote for this school at Progressive Bloggers.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Collective bargaining constitutional right, sez Canada's Supremes

In a major win for labour, the Supreme Court of Canada reversed itself from a ruling twenty years ago and stated that Canadians do in fact have the constitutional right to join a union and to bargain collectively. A huge slap in the face for Stephen Harper, Gordon Campbell and all the other so-called "right to work" leaders in our country and a well deserved one at that.

This stems from a 2002 decision by Campbell to rip up a nurses contract, firing 8000 of them and giving the rest a 15% pay cut. Set aside the basic unfairness of that and the violation of the principle that a promise made should be a promise kept. What does it say about the state of health care in this country where one makes waiting lists and basic care in chronic care facilities even worse by cutting into the heart of the profession without which physicians would be totally helpless?

It says, in my opinion, that our cherished system of single-payer health care is in terrible danger and we have to stand up for it. If we are going to say that good health is a right -- and not a privilege as it is in the United States -- we need to make sure physicians, nurses, support staff and the physical plants gets mo' money and that the money is being well spent. It also says that we need to fulfill those commitments also. The provinces were bitching about how their "50 cent dollars" had been slashed over the years by the feds to 18 cents.

They meet halfway and get 25 cents -- and this is how Campbell repays the favour?

Let us not forget the Winter of Discontent of 1979, the series of public service disputes in Britain, including the infamous London Garbage Strike, that led to the fall of Callaghan -- a socialist. Between aboriginal protests and some contracts coming up for negotiation in the next few months this could very well be Canada's Summer of Discontent, and the organizers will have the full backing of the courts to do so.

Of course, Harper and Co could always use the notwithstanding clause. But if he did, you can be sure the Cons will get zero seats in the next election. As for Campbell and the other Premiers, they'd better make peace with the nurses and fast. Hospital closings are one of the last things Canadians need right now.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Video: The Panama Deception

This film from 1992, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary, still gives me the creeps a decade and a half later. It was one of first times someone had the guts to call out the Bushes on their wacky ideas about the world in a truly substantive manner. Getting rid of Manuel Noriega may have been a good thing, but the cost? This movie foreshadowed what would happen during the two Gulf Wars.

By the way, if the narrator sounds familiar, well she was; the late Elizabeth Montgomery, the star of Bewitched.




Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Paris Hilton: Go directly to jail; do not pass Go or collect $200

It's hard not to smile at the news Paris Hilton is going to jail after all just a day after she was released because the LA Sheriff thought she was going to "lose it". Especially after reports she was taken out of the court kicking and screaming.

She wants sympathy? Message to the heiress to the motherlode:

Get a life, Hilton. At least you didn't go on a racist rant after you got caught DUI -- unlike Mel Gibson. But like Gibson, the real you came out; had to eventually and it did today. Like the Romans once said, in vino veritas. So take it like a woman and bite the bullet and use the 45 days to think about your place in American life. Given society's intolerance for drunk drivers, you actually got off with a slap on the wrist.

And to the Republicans: You really want someone like her in your party? Or her family? If I were you I'd expel them all, even if they are among the RNC's biggest supporters.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Canada, EFTA sign deal

Canada signed a free trade agreement with the four countries that make up EFTA, the European Free Trade Association: Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Great. Given they export to us far more than we ship to them, that should reduce our trade surplus by ... $3 billion per year. Still, I'd rather trade with them than dictatorships like Zimbabwe and Venezuela.

You know what would really be great? Having an open border with Europe -- the EU as well as EFTA. Anything to tick off the Americans -- especially those who claim the One World Government is a sign of the end times. It's quite possible given the US' growing unreliability on issues of trade as well as its reliance on brutal dictatorships to borrow money from, our future may lie from where many of our parents call home -- not the country below Canada.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Take the O-Train home

A few months after the city council in the nation's capital scuttled the old idea for light rail transit in Ottawa, a blue ribbon panel led by David Collenette has come up with a much more ambitious plan. The old blueprint called for a rather experimental train line to be built at surface through downtown on a route that would have been actually slower than the already successful existing bus Transitway and the "temporary" O-Train that is really an express train for Carleton University (with no connection to the airport, bizarre as that sounds). It would have also suspended the O-Train service for two years with no logical explanation for it.

The new proposal is much more ambitious and long term with expansions planned out over the next thirty years. The key to this one is using existing freight train lines which is the model in many cities in Europe -- some portions of the London Underground, for instance, are run on the British Rail network with somewhat more frequent service than suburban commuter rail. In fact, the present O-Train does use this model with freight trains running overnight when the transit system shuts down for the day. By having several rail lines and not just one, bus routes could be shortened and theoretically commuting times reduced since the "spines" would handle the express routes. In other words, it would be a "hub and spoke" approach.

The potential snag is building a tunnel through downtown Ottawa, about three kilometres long. While this is certainly more aesthetic than a surface rail line that would have had to compete with traffic -- traffic which is getting as bad as in Toronto or Hamilton -- experience in Canada shows tunnel lines tend to have huge cost overruns. The expansion of the Montréal Métro into Laval ran more than three times the original estimate (contrary to what the Collenette report claims), just as an example. Not to mention the huge inconvenience during the construction of such a tunnel even if the tunnel is bored rather than built by "cut and cover."

The trains would be diesel-electric in that they would run on diesel on surface lines while switching to electricity underground. Eventually, the whole system would run on electricity. Presuming the power comes from green sources (e.g. such as Calgary's C-Train which is run on wind power off of turbines in the Bow Valley) this could be a real win for the environment.

So what are the issues?

Well, the plan is quite bold and unlike the old transit plan takes into account that it has to fully integrate Gatineau into the picture. After all the National Capital Region extends on both sides of the provincial border and people on the Québec side of the river. However, it's hard to see the Québec government chipping into a project that will, even by 2017, mostly benefit the Ontario side -- they'll probably sit out until the later stages.

And while a strong argument can be made that the NCR should really be its own province, both Ontario and Québec see their borders as inviolable -- and the separation question isn't going away anytime soon.

Another issue is the talk for private-public partnerships to built it -- P3. We in Hamilton had a lot of fun when several contractors ran our water supply including Enron (yes, Enron!). If private business can't be trusted to maintain the sewers why would they be trusted to build public transit of this scale on time and under budget unless severe and binding penalties were imposed at the time of the contract?

Another potential problem is that it would eventually replace the Transitway lines. That's not necessarily a good thing. Bus rapid transit (BRT) can be a very cost-effective way of moving people around. It's worked extremely well in Ottawa, has been very successful in York Region in just the first couple years of its operation there and is coming in the next year or two to Mississauga and Brampton. It's also the preferred solution for Hamilton's transit woes (I'll get to that shortly). There's no point spending hundreds of millions building new rights-of-way or even rail on top of an existing roadbed, even if it is a dedicated bus road to reduce service frequency to ten or fifteen minutes when buses running at five minutes or less are more practical.

It's true the Transitway can get overcrowded at times but I'm not sure people in Carp or Stittsville would like huge trains, or even squat trains at ground level, running all day and disturbing their still quite rural way of life in the big city. The reason why Ottawa's BRT is a bottleneck right now is because there is no bus tunnel as was in the original plan in the 1980s. Nor do buses get priority signalling (the vertical white line that is seen on some bus routes in Toronto and Montréal) which forces them to compete with the automobile. Otherwise, there would be no need for this "think big" plan. If I was in Ottawa I'd rather have the trains for downtown and built-up suburban areas but have BRT for rural areas.

So ... what lessons does it have for Toronto and Hamilton? Well, Toronto is already seeing both BRT and LRT as the wave of the future; and Hamilton's considering BRT as well. Basic points:

The routes chosen must be well travelled or have the potential to be. Service frequency must make it worth leaving the car at home. Fares have to be reasonable (obviously). In case P3 is chosen, the contractors (not the taxpayers) should be held liable for failure to perform up to standards. Where possible, dedicated routes should be built or at least lanes assigned -- with signalling priority at all intersections, not just the "major" ones. And the stations and/or interchanges should actually be inviting and act as a "soft welcome" to the system; not built by committee like the Bloor-Danforth Line in Toronto was.

Could the Ottawa plan work? It has some defects. But it's certainly more practical than the subways to nowhere approach we've come to expect from many city governments. It should seriously be considered. I hope Harper and McGuinty do so as well.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Ducks win Stanley Cup

The Senators had no chance as they got clobbered by the Anaheim Ducks 6-2 in Game 5. The team from the O.C. wins the series in five games. Deep down, I was probably rooting for the Mighty Ones. Outside of the Valley, no one likes anything about Ottawa anyway. Besides, Ottawa-Gatineau has another, unrelated reason to celebrate: A new plan for an O-Train network that could actually work, provided the federal government and the provincial governments of Ontario and Québec chip in with adequate funding for the infrastructure. I'll write more about this tonight and what lessons it might have for the GTA and Hamilton.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Video: Tiny Tim sings "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?"

A blast from 1982 -- boy, Rod Stewart must have been really embarrassed. Like he already didn't humiliate himself with the original version.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Libby sentenced

Scooter Libby was sentenced today to 2 1/2 years in prison and fined $250,000 for lying about what he knew in the CIA leak case.

The question that I have, like many other people, is when they will actually prosecute the person or persons who committed treason when they revealed the secret identity of Valerie Plame, perhaps America's foremost expert on weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. If a job like hers isn't safe, why would anyone want to risk their lives and become a spy?

It still sickens me that the people responsible are likely still employed by the White House and quite possibly George W. Bush knows exactly who did this horrid deed. Very likely, we will never know the truth; and for a dedicated career servant like Plame who's not even allowed to tell her side of the story or for her husband Joe Wilson who did tell the truth about WMD (or the lack thereof) in Western Africa, that's the ultimate insult.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Will Bill Casey pull a John Nunziata?

During the mid to late 1990s, the Air Farce had a running gag where rebel Liberal MP John Nunziata would whine about not getting a Cabinet post or a House Committee chair but then would add the words, "But I'm not bitter." In fact, he was very bitter over what was a rather imprudent and impossible promise in the "Red Book" to eliminate the GST and his government's stonewalling on the issue. When it was clear Paul Martin would not follow through on the promise, Nunziata voted against the budget and was promptly kicked out of the party. Unbowed he ran in the next election as an independent and still managed to win.

Looks like there is great discontent within the Reform ranks -- and it's over Stephen Harper's promise to uphold the Atlantic Accord with Nova Scotia and Newfoundland-Labrador on the issue of oil and gas revenues. The new equalization formula basically forces the two provinces to choose between the Accord or a new math that would put a cap on royalties from the depleted resources in exchange, allegedly, for more money. Instead Bill Casey and many other have alleged, it would cost the East Coast a lot of money.

Because this is a multi-year plan to "fix" the fiscal imbalance I don't know how much room the feds have to manouever on this one. One thing is certain, when people are angry enough they say it at the polls. No one forgot the Liberals' broken promise and it nearly cost them their majority. No one except Harper's most die-hard supporters have forgotten Harper's comments about the "defeatist" culture Down East; and there may well be a Red Tide next time out unless Harper sticks by his mantra of "promise made, promise kept."

Casey has every right to be bitter and he should stick by his guns. If he is kicked out of the "Conservative" Party, he'll be welcome into the Liberal family with open arms; provided he actually resigns his seat first and runs in a by-election. Or he might well run as an Independent and I wouldn't be surprised if he wins by that route as well.

UPDATE (7:51 PM EDT, 2351 GMT): Casey did, in fact, vote against the budget. Not that it would have prevented the budget passing because the Blocheads said they would support the Conservatives on this one from the very beginning. But I applaud Casey for standing on principle just as Nunziata did over a decade ago.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Is this Keystone Kops or what?

The so-called "Canadian Taliban," Omar Khadr, had the charges against him unexpectedly dismissed today at Gitmo. Seems that there is a difference between "unlawful enemy combatant" and "enemy combatant," at least as far as the relevant statute is concerned. While Khadr probably won't be released any time soon, it may indicate that the Bush Administration's case against who he deems "terrorists" is built on a house of cards. For none of the detainees have been called "unlawful." Even weirder is that Bush has 72 hours to appeal but the court that's supposed to hear such appeals doesn't even exist.

A bigger issue, though, is that by treaty the United States is not permitted to execute someone who was under eighteen at the time an alleged capital offence took place -- something affirmed by the Supreme Court a couple of years ago. And Khadr was only 15 at the time he was captured. The US decries juvenile executions in other countries yet will not apply the same principles at home -- the hypocrites.

Terrorism must be stopped, no question. And the rest of the Khadr family are hardly innocent, either -- Omar's father was a founding member of al-Qaeda and at least a couple of the women in the family actually openly celebrate the atrocities of 9/11. But if the US won't play by the very rules it agrees to, it endangers the very lives of those men and women who are supposed to be hunting the evil-doers. If America doesn't play by the rules, why should any other country? And as far as Canada is concerned, Harper needs to get that point too. Otherwise, next time the terrorists might actually succeed in toppling the CN Tower.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

John Howard's "Green Plan"

Stephen Harper of Canada and John Howard of Australia must be soulmates. How else to explain Oz's latest climate change plan which calls for a 20% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020 (and holding it at that level) and which heavily relies on trading in emission credits? (A concept which he rejected just four years ago.) This is so much like Harper's plans to rely on "intensity" that one can't help wonder how Howard plans to pull it off.

Howard's main opponent, Kevin Rudd of Labour, is aiming for a much more aggressive target of 60% by 2050. Already, Howard is predicting economic disaster if Rudd wins -- using pretty much the same talk Harper uses to dismiss Stéphane Dion here in Canada.

Howard's going for a fifth term this fall -- um, spring. An opinion poll done for the Rupert Murdoch organization shows Rudd's opposition alliance ahead 53-47. That's a swing of five percentage points from a month ago in favour of Howard's coalition government but after 11 years there may finally be fatigue with the incumbent.

Wonder if what's happening on the other side of the planet might hold some lessons for Canada?

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

On a clear day, you can see Hamilton

Yet another industrial fire spewing toxic smoke in Hamilton's North End. This time it's consuming part of a warehouse by a former steel fence plant, now used by a computer parts recycler. The hospitals in town have been on super high alert all day.

I thought Ontario had an "Environmental Bill of Rights" that was supposed to register places like these ...

We still haven't gotten over the Plastimet disaster ... or the tire fire in Hagersville to the south of us. If our experience with both Dofasco and Stelco is any indication for so-called "inadvertent" violations of the law the owners will just get a ticket for $300. How about compensating the families evacuated for being inconvenienced, huh?

Any one want to suppose when Stephen Harper will have anything to say about this? Or will he get another round of applause from his financial backers for his "we'll tolerate anything" environmental policy?

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.


Does the secretive government of Stephen Harper draw its inspiration from Dick Cheney?

An op-ed piece in the New York Times today asks the same kinds of questions progressives and liberals have been asking almost from the very beginning of the Bush 43 administration. Noteworthy is what the piece doesn't mention -- that Cheney forced Google Maps to erase the Naval Observatory, the VP's official residence, from its satellite images even though the White House is clear for all to see.

It's one thing to try to conceal evidence of top-secret installations such as Area 51. It's quite another to keep secret where the official US timekeeper keeps its equipment. Does Canada conceal where its atomic clocks are in Chalk River? Does the UK obscure the location of Greenwich?

People have often accused George W. Bush of speaking in a code only evangelicals can understand. But even his most devoted supporters must be wondering if the Founding Fathers would have stood for the kind of close-to-the-vest politics Cheney practices which goes even further than Bush's. There are some secrets which, in times of peace as well as war, must be kept secret. But we expect public officials to be scrutinized for their policy decisions as well as how they reached them.

The fact the other day Cheney denounced those who demand the basic protections of the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions puts him in violation of the very oath he took -- the oath all public officials other than the President take:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter.

The Geneva Conventions, having been ratified by the Senate, take precedence over domestic laws as per Article VI of the Constitution. By piloting the Administration to be a law unto itself with no regard even for the decency of those who with good faith peacefully oppose the government's policies by threatening to declare them "unlawful combatants" and send them to Gitmo or other prisons in the American Gulag, Cheney has positioned himself to be the Dictator of the 50 States with Bush his puppet.

As regards Harper consider:
  • Unannounced Cabinet meetings;
  • No First Ministers' Conference since Harper came to power;
  • Robbing the energy-rich provinces (AB, NL, NS and SK) to bail out Jean Charest;
  • No prior announcement of foreign dignitaries coming to Canada;
  • Outright refusal to even discuss meaningful lobbying reform;
  • Attempt to reform the Senate through entirely unconstitutional means.

Even Brian Mulroney didn't go this far. He may have kept the press out in the cold to an extent but his administration was much more transparent than what we've been getting as of late. He was willing to be subject to criticism -- much of it warranted, but some of it not.

Over a decade ago when Mike Harris came out of nowhere and surged from third place in public opinion to first to win the Premiership of Ontario many compared him to Newt Gingrich, the then Speaker of the US House of Representatives. In reality, Harris was a lot closer to Christie Whitman, the then Governor of New Jersey -- they were social liberals on quite a few issues such as abortion and birth control. And while some of their methods were quite controversial (witness for example Harris' role in the Dudley George scandal), they never kept secret their aims. They had no hidden agendas.

I believe that if we don't call Harper's bluff soon, there will be a Canadian gulag just like there is an American one. I have no qualms in saying so. We need to speak out against it before it's too late.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Scotland Yard: Woolmer not murdered

Back on March 22nd, I commented on the shocking news that cricket coach Bob Woolmer was murdered during the middle of the Cricket World Cup. I said then I thought this might turn into a farce like CSI Cancun is.

Today, we learn Scotland Yard believes Woolmer wasn't murdered after all; that he died from natural causes.

We expect police forces to abide by certain minimum investigative standards. If they don't live up to them, maybe we should start boycotting countries like Jamaica, Mexico, Aruba. This news certainly has made me strike out Montego Bay and Sans Souci as possible destinations for my honeymoon -- presuming of course, I ever do get married.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

When Thatcher outsmarted Reagan

A very interesting entry at the blog of one of my favourite columnists from the "other side," Judy Klinghoffer. It tells of one of the areas where Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher disagreed with one another. We knew, of course, they were at odds on the environment. Thatcher saw the problem for what it was while Reagan believed that trees caused acid rain rather than acting as a sink to reduce its effects. Then, there was the Falkland Islands. And it wound up proving one of Bob McNamara's eleven principles: Number nine -- "In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil."

We've now learned from the secret Reagan diaries that his widow Nancy published a few weeks ago that Reagan was working behind the scenes to save the military junta in Buenos Aires -- the regime that tried to take over the Malvinas, the same regime that made thousands of people in Argentina "disappear."

Note the entries from April 14, where Reagan countered a claim by Carl Bernstein (then still at the Washington Post) that the US was lending military aid to Britain -- which wasn't true. And May 13, where Reagan tried to persuade Thatcher against further military action (the battle was then an air and sea one) but was unable to persuade her against a land invasion to take back the British territory (which happened eight days later).

Why would Reagan secretly support the junta? My guess is he was afraid of losing access to Argentina's natural resources. Same old story, what it's always about -- why America continues to back the dictatorships that pervade much of the Middle East and South Asia; while it turned a blind eye to the massacre in Rwanda and Burundi, and more significantly during the Reagan years why Ronnie was reticent (at first) about sanctions against South Africa.

Thatcher, however, stood on a principle: The Falklands may not have been of much strategic value but they clearly belonged to Britain and they had to be defended. Lives were going to be lost and were lost but the bigger principle was that Gen. Leopoldo Galtieri, the Argentine "President," was a wicked man and deserved to be taught a lesson. To do good (liberate the Falklanders) she would have to do evil (risk the lives of her country's servicepeople).

We know how it ended: The Falklands were free and eventually the people of Argentina, fed up by the idea they were humiliated by their leadership, took matters into their own hands and overthrew the junta. Today, Argentina has its economic problems but it has a rather healthy democracy. More important, its armed services are under civilian control -- one of the keys to a democratic state.

And it was because of Margaret Thatcher, not Ronald Reagan. Had Reagan had his way, people would still be disappearing in Argentina and other countries in South America. So don't give me the shtick that Reagan, Thatcher and the former Pope liberated Eastern Europe. It's not true, the people did it themselves. As far as South America was concerned, Reagan and to a lesser extent Wojtyla were happy with things just the way they were while Thatcher wasn't. And it was one of the few times Thatcher was correct.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Dutch donor show a hoax

Sometimes it's stories like these that make me not want to be an organ donor -- although currently I am. And the worst part is, the three contestants in the Netherlands who were competing for a kidney transplant were in on the fix too.

This is not funny. This is serious. Only a small fraction of Canadians have signed their donor cards. I would urge you all to do so. This includes my fellow Catholics -- contrary to popular belief it is not against our religion to be a donor or to receive a transplant. People's lives really are on the line.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Charest gets reprieve

Québec Premier Jean Charest gets a reprieve for now as the separatist PQ has agreed to back down and not defeat the government on a Ways and Means Motion today that gives the people of Québec a 25% across the board income tax cut. In exchange Charest has agreed to boost social spending and regional development by $161 million. But the winner is still Charest -- because the reduction in paycheque withholdings goes into effect almost immediately.

Had Charest actually kept his promise to fully cut provincial income taxes four years ago rather than wait for a like-minded federal PM -- Harper -- to bail him out Charest would not have been backed into a corner like this. Charest will likely argue, however, Harper was actually complying with a section of the 1982 Constitutional Amendment that Québec has never recognized -- that the federal government was "committed" to ensuring provinces had enough money to ensure social services were provided across Canada at "comparable" levels of taxation.

By accepting the federal money to in turn fund a tax cut, Charest actually puts himself at the peril of future attack, that he sold out his principles to defend Québec's areas of jurisdiction. Why, will the PQ and ADQ say later on, didn't Charest instead argue for an increase of the federal abatement from 16.5% to, say, 25%? (The abatement is a line on the federal tax return, available only to Québecois, that ensures they pay less federal income tax as recognition for the much broader range of social services Québec provides for its people, that the feds handle in the other provinces and territories.)

Charest's response will likely be: I did something to stop the brain drain. We need our people to ensure our future development.

Sorry, Jean, but it's going to take a lot more than a tax cut to do that. I would have saved health, education and welfare first -- even if it meant a hike in tuition and the premiums for health care and prescription drugs.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.