Friday, November 30, 2007

Evel Knievel

Not too much on my mind tonight, but one can't help but note that we're losing even more links to the past ...

Robert "Evel" Knievel died today at the age of 69. True, he was a showman who showboated; but he did it with a lot of class unlike the show-offs of today.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

It's two bags

I'll let other bloggers talk about Karlheinz Schreiber's testimony, or lack of it, today. Instead, an update to a post the other day about the garbage question in Hamilton.

Last night, city council voted to have a two bag garbage limit with a one bag limit phased in eventually. The catch is that the second bag must be clear so collectors can see that it's real garbage and not stuff that could otherwise be recycled or composted. The city also vowed to get more aggressive in forcing landlords to set up recycling programs in their buildings.

That's good. The goal should still be zero garbage though. I've been able to achieve it several times as have many other residents since composting began aggressively. There's no reason why we can't all do that. It'd set a good example for Toronto, which currently trucks its trash to Michigan and soon will be doing so just outside London right on a site disputed by First Nations.

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After hours trading in Canada, now

One downside to the antiquated securities regulation system in Canada where the provinces monitor stock and bond trading (and not the federal government) is that after hours trading is still prohibited in this country. This is wrong. Canada does not operate on a 9:30 to 4:00 Eastern time schedule exclusively. We are a 24/7 nation and we have investments worldwide; our currency has long been considered one of the "benchmark" currencies as well and is traded while most of us sleep and on Canadian and US holidays no matter what the CBC says.

It's simply not fair to force Western Canadians to get up in the wee hours of the morning to do their stock trades or tell them they have till the end of their lunch else they're out of luck. All Canadians should have the right to trade and on their time, not Bay Street's.

So I'd suggest permitting "after hours" trading, as a start for two hours before and after the TSX closes. That would be 7:30 am to 6:00 pm Eastern. Over time, this should be extended to all day and all night. Canadian exchanges are no longer floors but all electronic anyway; and it's time the regulators stopped living in the 1920s. This can be done without any consolidation of the securities commissions -- all they have to do is say yes.

By the way, yes, I do support a single regulator for Canada. It's time inside traders and corporate thieves are treated as criminals, not as traffic ticket offences; and only Criminal Code offences carry penalties of greater than two years.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Schreiber stays for now

At almost the last possible minute, the Justice Department has decided not to fight Karlheinz Schreiber's extradition to Germany -- for now. Tomorrow, the businessman is going to testify before the House Ethics Committee under sub poena; rare in Canada since the last time such an instrument was used was back in 1913. (Normally, witnesses are invited and those called simply agree or decline to attend, not at all like the States where Congress has quasi-prosecutorial powers.)

I have no clue as to what Schreiber's going to say tomorrow. No one does, really. But the more we hear the more it becomes impossible to believe that he and Brian Mulroney were merely passing acquaintances. We know for a fact that Schreiber sent in a couple of planeloads of Mulroney supporters to that wild convention in Winnipeg that saw the beginning of the end of Joe Clark (remember Clark's assertion that 67% support wasn't enough?). We know the two guys were photographed together in 1991 and they appeared to be best of chums.

The real question many of us have is why did Schreiber wait so long? If top government officials took bribes, a claim made more than a decade ago, why did that man refuse to talk to investigative reporters about what he knew and when? Those documents, if they are accurate, would have been very useful to the Mounties back then.

So the first question I'd ask is not what he knows ... but why he obstructed justice so long. He's not a completely innocent figure either.

One can also only wonder about Clark. He could have easily beaten Turner, too -- and I think Canada would be a much saner country than the one that evolved during the Mulroney era.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Don't hold your breath

Haven't we been down this road before?

In the last days of the Clinton presidency, Slick Willy thought he had an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Palestine would become a state at last, with full control over Gaza, 94% of the West Bank (also called Judea and Samaria) and custody if not outright ownership of most of the holy sites in Jerusalem. In return, Jews and Christians would have full access to sites not just in Jerusalem but also in Bethlehem (site of the Church of the Nativity) and Hebron (the Cave of the Patriarchs, burial place of Abraham and Sarah among others; and holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians).

By all accounts it was a sweetheart deal. Yasser Arafat, fool that he was, said no.

What sunk the agreement? Stubbornness from Fatah? To a large part, yes. But another factor, I believe, was the huge "Israel lobby" (i.e. Christians who subscribe to the Kingdom Now philosophy), who insist that there is no West Bank, no Gaza; in fact they believe Jordan and the western part of Iraq has no right to exist; they believe it's all Israel. Dominionists also have joined the Armstrongists who support the destruction of the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque. Many older than I have a clear memory of 1969 when a disciple of Herbert Armstrong tried to destroy Haram al-Sharif to try to speed up Jesus' return to the Earth.

Abu Mazen, the current President of Palestine, now admits Arafat's stubbornness cost his people dearly, and whatever state emerges, whenever it happens, will be way smaller than what was offered seven years ago. No shit.

So don't hold your breath with this week's talks at Navy. There isn't going to be a Palestinian state anytime soon, not until Mazen can get at least what was offered to Arafat, and that's a long ways away.

Obviously, nothing will ever please some Palestinians; let along Hagee, Roberts and Flurry. But here are some guidelines I'd go by:

1. The borders have to come along or very close to the 1967 ceasefire line. If Israel is to keep any settlement, there has to be a land swap in return; the ideal is to get close to contiguous areas or if that is not possible at least a corridor between Gaza and the West Bank.
2. Fair compensation for dispossessed Palestinians. Giving them their land back is impossible; that would mean the end of Israel. Other countries like Canada may have to contribute to a fund to finance this but it must be done.
3. Full access to holy sites for any who wish to go there, provided they come in peace.
4. Real security guarantees. Once the borders are finalized, Israel just can't execute an incursion when it wants -- that would be considered an invasion anywhere else.
5. The United States must stop subsidizing Israel. The foreign aid transfer is presently $3 billion. No other developed country provides aid to another developed state except in times of a natural disaster -- not even Canada.
6. Iran must recognize Israel. Period. If it will not, it must completely dismantle its nuclear weapons, in return for Israel doing the same (with international inspections to confirm this).
7. Israel must be permitted to nominate judges to the International Court of Justice. Its continued exclusion is complete nonsense. (After all, if the Vatican wanted a seat, it'd get one.)
8. The "Israel lobby" must once and for all pony up to provide housing for their Christian brothers and sisters who just happen to be Palestinians as well. Their current blindness on this key count already condemns them to damnation.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

The one bag limit

Some localities in Ontario, like Stratford and Wellington Centre (the mostly rural areas around Guelph), treat garbage the same way as electricity or water -- a public utility. You pay depending on how much you use. This is entirely fair. A single person living alone shouldn't have to subsidize a family that goes through a couple hundred diapers a week.

Hamilton currently has a three bag limit -- it used to be six, until composting and recycling became mandatory last year. But the megacity is still nowhere near the 65% diversion target. So city staff is proposing, reasonably I believe, to bring it down to just one bag a week. And city councillors are hearing it from ratepayers, thinking Hamilton shouldn't join other cities' sensible programs because "we're special."


We're not. Just drive around town and one can count the number of dumps -- sorry, PCers, landfills -- on both hands. Among the most notorious are Upper Ottawa, Rennie (which had to be partially excavated to make way for the Red Hill Parkway and which has methane pipes coming out on both sides of the highway), and 86 Acre Park (at 10th East and Green Mountain) which was supposed to be a nature preserve but turned out to be a toxic waste dump all along.

Stratford has the right approach. When they started charging for tags -- $1.75 per bag -- ten years ago, the impact was immediate. Everyone in town, from the acting company on down to the street buskers, found ways to reduce and reuse and recycle. It's not that hard. And after a while, it became second nature -- like buckling up our seat belts when we go out for a drive.

I say Hamilton should do the same, and force both residences and apartment buildings to play by the same rules. There's no reason why the diversion rate should approach 100%. The longer we can keep the Glanbrook site open, the better for all of us in Hamilton.

As for that other alternative, incineration ... anyone remember SWARU? Sure, the Europeans have figured out a way to make it cleaner and produce electricity from it, but I actually like going to Confederation Park without having to smell burning garbage anymore.

UPDATE (8:37 PM, 0137 Tuesday GMT): s.b. pointed out Guelph doesn't have a pay per bag system but the surrounding areas do. Duly noted -- and I've updated this entry to reflect that.

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Aspire to what?

Stephen Harper knowing full well that John Howard was going down in flames this past weekend in the Australian elections, losing big time to Labour's Kevin Rudd, managed single-handed to torpedo this past week's Commonwealth summit. Rather than hard targets, the guy who long ago sold out his soul to Big Oil bullied the other 52 leaders into saying the Commonwealth would only seek to "aspire" to carbon dioxide reductions. With no clear definition as to what those targets should be.

No, I'm not happy the previous Liberal government didn't do more to get Canada to meet Kyoto. But for the Conservatives to just throw in the towel and not try to reduce pollution levels, even if they are way off, is disgusting.

He wants Canada to aspire to something? How about aspiring to eliminating child and elderly poverty in Canada. Cutting poverty in Africa and South Asia by half; primarily through disease prevention, sex education and micro credit. Declaring the high seas and Antarctica are strictly off limits to pirates and reckless exploration and Canada will join with other allies to enforce this principle.

Those are aspirational goals, realistic and achievable goals.

To aspire to cut pollution is only to say that the Conservatives support increased pollution. Because intensity only means cuts in pollutions per person, which is fine since the population is growing anyway.

We need real targets, with real consequences. Because there's no point in making the world a better place, if we can't breathe the air and drink the water.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy (US) Thanksgiving

Blogging will be relatively light the next few days. To my American readers, Happy Thanksgiving.

And .... there was no magic bullet, there was a second shooter, and Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

My third secret assassination, if I had one

There's the old joke that every world leader gets three secret assassinations. If I was Prime Minister of Canada, here are the three people I'd want bumped.

1. Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe.
2. Than Shwe, Burma.
3. King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia.

The first two, pretty obvious. The third, I held off on because I couldn't decide who should be the third; until this week's news that a rape victim has been sentenced to two hundred lashes.

The victim is whipped while the perpetrator gets off scott free? Forget the Al-Saud's human rights abuses up till now. This one is truly worse than all the rest put together.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Mr. Rhodesia dead, Personal files stolen in UK

Ian Smith was one unreconstructable SOB. Like Hitler, he vowed his country's regime -- the illegal, pro-white "Republic of Rhodesia," named after the even more racist Cecil Rhodes (founder of the De Boers diamond dynasty and the Rhodes Scholarships), would last a thousand years. It lasted just two years longer than Nazi Germany, when a guerrilla leader named Robert Mugabe overthrew Smith and founded what we now know as Zimbabwe.

Smith was an awful man, but at least there was relative economic prosperity in his country when he ruled. We've all seen how the breadbasket of Africa turned into a basket case.

Smith died today in Cape Town, South Africa. He was 88. To paraphrase Mark Antony, we should bury him, not praise him.

The other story of note today should send shivers up the spines of most. The UK Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted that two disks containing the personal information of 25 million Britons -- nearly half the population -- went missing while being transferred from one department to another, in the mail.


Anyone here in Canada remember a few years back when there was a woman who bought a second-hand computer from the Manitoba government -- and it contained the names and addresses of everyone in the province on social assistance?

Truly, some countries would be better off if they were ruled by a Prime Minister who graduated from clown college and not schools like Upper Canada, Bishop Strachan or Eton.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Underdogs face off in Grey Cup

I can't remember the first time we've had an all-Western Canadian football final. On Sunday, two underdogs -- the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers -- will meet in Grey Cup XCV. (That's 95, for those who can't read Roman numerals.)

Actually seeing two teams no one but a few took seriously at the start of the season makes me want to watch the game this Sunday; the first time in several years I've wanted to watch. Good luck to both teams.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

When public service actually mean something

The idea of patents and copyright is a relatively recent concept. While Charles II established the principle of registering books, it was actually Queen Anne I who gave us the modern idea of granting limited licenses to people for their creativity.

It's only fair and proper that if someone comes up with an invention they should reasonably profit from it -- the key word being reasonable. The same is true with novels, original journalism, plays and songs. But what if the concept or creation is so revolutionary, so important to public health or national security (and in some cases both) that the invention should rest in the public domain?

There are two major examples I can think of. The first is cell phones and Wi-Fi. Not many people realize that the code-hopping which underlies wireless technology today was co-invented by the actress Hedy Lamarr who was more than just a screen siren but also a brilliant mathematician; she and composer George Antheil submitted their patent application in June 1941, six months before Pearl Harbor; and received their patent in August 1942. They promptly signed over the rights to the patent to the US Government. It was so ahead of its time that the US military couldn't use it until the early 1960s (and the first civilian cell phone as we now know them wasn't available until 1984).

Lamarr actually volunteered to join a think-tank that was charged with coming up with inventions to win the war but was instead told (notwithstanding her genius) her celebrity status could help raise money for war bonds -- and she did pretty good in that department too, raising millions in the Hollywood community.

When Lamarr was finally recognized for her work in 1997, it was pointed out to her that had she and Antheil held onto the patent and taken it to its logical conclusion they could have made well over $2 billion (over $20 billion in the equivalent in the 90s). Lamarr said no. There was a war going on and the United States needed all the help it could get.

Think about that. Duty first, self second. Whatever happened to that concept?

Last night, I browsed through some of the bonus materials in the DVD of Sicko, the Michael Moore film. One of the interviews was with Dr. Marcia Angell, the former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, and a policy analyst who is very critical of the drug industry and its knack for presenting "me too" drugs as "breakthrough" ones and thus being able to extend a patent on a drug by another twenty years (and thus, windfall profits too). She pointed out that most of the research on drugs is done not by Big Pharma but by the National Institutes of Health, one of the few functional agencies of the United States government.

She also noted Jonas Salk, the inventor of the injectable version of the polio vaccine. (Angell notes that she herself is a polio survivor.) Did he profit from a mostly middle class scourge? No. He made sure it was widely available. His attitude was, how could someone patent something that saved lives?

Contrast that with Albert Sabin, the Canadian who invented the competing vaccine, which is taken in oral form. He did make a huge profit out of it. But even then, he made sure that it was reasonably priced so Third World countries could afford it. True, both men competed against each other and probably even hated each other. But both men's shared civic mindedness made sure that polio is now so rare in the developed world that we don't even think about it -- and were it not for some African tribal leaders who think we're trying to poison them and their communities, as well as al-Qaeda, we actually could have abolished polio all together two years ago. (The target now is somewhere around 2015.) But note that Sabin got rich even though the vaccine was fairly priced.

Note also that even in countries with strict price regulation, Big Pharma thrives. One of the world's most prescribed anti-cholesterol drugs was invented and is manufactured in Dublin, Ireland. Why it then that the price for a thirty day supply in Canada is $13 US while in the States it is $169?

There was something poetic about what Marx and Engels wrote: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. That's something I am actually in agreement with them on, in principle.

It's the practice -- both in capitalist and communist countries -- that's the problem. And it's something that's been lost even in the limited amounts that used to exist. As we take another look at our copyright and patent laws this is something we need to think about, seriously.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Why did Bush trust Musharraf?

Many firm believers in democracy have been wondering for a long time why and how George W. Bush could have been suckered by a deceiving man such as Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the President of Pakistan. Musharraf has never been a small-d democrat. Democracy and martial law are inherently antithetical to each other. Bush fell for the line, the NYT will report in tomorrow's Sunday edition.

Yet it should not be a surprise. Augusto Pinochet, Alfredo Strossner and Manuel Noriega were all installed by conservative US regimes who didn't distinguish between democratic socialism and communism. When Ngo Dinh Diem proved to be too inconvenient for John F. Kennedy, the CIA assassinated the former. And given the choice between Taliban style rule and "the alternative" one would naturally choose the devil one knows; especially when that devil has his fingers on the nuclear button. So of course, Bush would continue to support Musharraf even once he knew he had been had. He now wants the General to drop martial law and proceed with truly fair elections; but we all know it's not going to be totally fair.

But even if Musharraf keeps his promise this time (which he probably won't) and before we get too quick to thinking Benazir Bhutto is Pakistan's salvation and the key to capturing Osama Bin Laden, let's not forget that Bhutto had her hand in the cookie jar while she was Prime Minister. And despite her denials at the time about the country's nuclear intentions it's now clear that the country was well on the way to having a bomb before her ouster; it was just a question of when the country was going to do its first "test" detonation.

So why won't Bush do the morally right thing and cut Musharraf loose all together? As the article notes, look at how long he held onto Rumsfeld and Gonzales after even most Republicans wanted them out. I can hardly wait until a terrorist group actually seizes power in Pakistan and gets control of "The Button." It's really just a matter of time.

Then we'll see how Bush reacts to that.

During the civil rights struggle, many white people told the blacks, "Wait." Martin Luther King pointed out that really meant "never." Surely Bush should have learned that the word "wait" means exactly the same thing in a country with a military government. One doesn't need friends like that. Instead one must insist, democracy now -- or we'll cut you loose.

A world leader can be a true democrat without being a tool of the United States.

UPDATE (Sunday 8:49 am EST, 1339 GMT): I said the CIA assassinated Le Duc Tho. It was, of course, Ngo Dinh Diem. Le Duc Tho was the man who co-won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for the treaty that "ended" the war in Vietnam; then declined the prize since the war hadn't actually ended.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Try plain English, surfer dude!

Earlier this month, a snowboarder named Garrett Lisi claimed he had come up with a so-called theory of everything, the missing link between relativity and quantum mechanics. There's just two problems. One, it's been widely criticized by some as being simply unproveable. Second, the math is so complicated that even most Mensa members couldn't understand it. Thus, it violates one of the premises made by Stephen Hawking nearly twenty years ago; that a Grand Unified Theory should be understandable by the masses just like Einstein's relativity theory.

Unlocking the secrets of the universe shouldn't be limited to a select few; it should be available to all. Lisi had better explain it in terms the rest of us understand or he will be a laughing stock.

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Welcome to Canada, we speak Taser!

Why am I not surprised that Stockwell "Flintstones was a Documentary" Day refuses to even rethink the circumstances under which it may be necessary to use the Taser?

Guess this "New" Government doesn't like even immigrants from the European Union. Would it have hurt just to find someone, anyone at YVR, who spoke Polish?

The Mounties more than just dropped the ball, they sullied the Red Serge. It's not just those at the top of the chain who embezzle pension money. Now it's the front line officers we're supposed to count on; the crème de la crème among all law enforcement agencies in the country. They didn't calm him down, they didn't try to ask what help he needed and they didn't perform CPR.

They've been watching too much American TV. I thought our police were better than that; and that if they used a Taser they would have done it as the last line of defence, not the first. I support the use of deadly force if and only if it's needed. This immigrant didn't even have a chance to contribute to this country.

Lesson for the world: Canadians speak Taser; and Canada is not a country worth immigrating to. As for trade -- any hopes of Canada entering even exploratory talks about free trade with the EU as a possible shield against increasing American trade belligerence against Canada are pretty much shot, as long as PMS and Co. are in power.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

ORU Faculty: Richard Out!

The faculty at Oral Roberts University have now had their turn to speak, and it's resounding: They want Richard Roberts out. Richard, son of Oral, has been on "leave" pending an investigation into charges as wide ranging as lavish spending, improper dismissal of tenured faculty, phone sex and illegal campaigning.

To think a lounge singer and his wife might be capable of all of that. Then again, some Catholics -- lay as well as priests -- aren't all that much better.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Harper calls inquiry

After nearly two weeks, Harper has finally caved into enormous pressure -- some from his most loyal supporters -- and has agreed to a public inquiry in the Mulroney-Schreiber matter. As well, the Mounties are also relaunching an investigation many had thought had been settled ages ago.

Way back when CBC Newsworld aired Air Farce and 22 Minutes (before the regulators here said they couldn't -- Newsworld was a news channel, not a comedy one said the CRTC -- BS!) I watched one Sunday night and seeing the Farceurs doing another routine about Airbus when the "crawl" broke in with a special bulletin; that Chrétien had reached an out-of-court settlement with Mulroney, the night before the civil trial was set to begin. It took me thirty seconds to realize it wasn't a joke.

Frankly, Canada missed out on a great trial if for no other reason than Mulroney cleverly chose a Québec court as the venue. It was no accident. Under common law in the English provinces (and to a lesser extent Québec in terms of criminal matters) one must prove allegations against someone are not true, on a preponderance of the evidence. Under Québec's Civil Code, however, one only has to prove damage to one's reputation regardless of whether charges are true or not. The distinction is important; and it's relevant as the public inquiry process goes forward.

Like Clark, Turner, Campbell, Chrétien and Martin (as well as the late Trudeau), Mulroney was an unregistered lobbyist. Perhaps the fact one used to be in government exempts former ministers of the Crown (it should not), but the fact is ex-PMs do wield influence behind the scenes. The incumbent in the office would be foolish not to rely on the advise of his or her predecessors -- for their candor as well as their experience.

The problem becomes greater, though, when claims like Schreiber are making are made. It doesn't matter whether they are true or not; people will believe them period and because the targets of the claims are politicians, people in general think the worse of them. In terms of heads of government, the stakes are even higher. It was Rick Mercer, after all, who wryly said when the Airbus scandal broke that "89% of Canadians believed Mulroney took kickbacks, the other 11% believe he turned them down."

I'd take advise from anyone, of course, but I'd be extra careful if there was the hint of scandal; I'd limit my inquiry of those who came before me to specifics, not a back slapping howya doing. I certainly wouldn't take advise from a known liar but the standards for those who spin the truth are even higher; bizarre as that may sound.

What I find even more bewildering is that Mulroney and Harper who once despised each other's mere existence on this planet (let alone Turtle Island) get along so well. Harper says he is temporarily breaking off ties with Mulroney until this is settled and is well advised to do so, but the question is what advice did Harper get in the first place and did that taint his judgement on policy matters? In particular, what Harper was saying two weeks ago to an inquiry (no) and what he said today (yes)?

This certainly comes nowhere near eclipsing Sponsorgate. But Air Canada was owned by the government until well into the 1990s as were many other Crown Corporations; and if this goes beyond Airbus the shakedown will be fierce.

I truly hope Mulroney is vindicated. We need our elder statespersons more than ever. But like many of these matters, the truth may very well come out between what Mulroney is saying and what is said by Schreiber. And any public inquiry report can be appealed so this may drag on for quite some time yet.

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Mulroney demands inquiry on himself

Late last night, Brian Mulroney himself dropped the other foot and also said it's time for a public inquiry to clear the air once and for about his dealings with Karlheinz Schreiber.

"I have come to the conclusion that in order to finally put this matter to rest and expose all the facts and the role played by all the people involved, from public servants to elected officials, from lobbyists to police authorities, as well as journalists, the only solution is for the government to launch a full-fledged public commission of inquiry," Mulroney said.

All I can say is I respect Prime Minister Mulroney for realizing just how serious this is. The question I have this morning is, does Prime Minister Harper?

And it goes without saying; the Federal Court of Appeal should stay Schreiber's extradition to Germany on charges he evaded taxes there and bribed former Chancellor Helmut Kohl -- until we get more answers.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

What did he know and when did he know it?

It's a phrase coined during Watergate. But it's truly à propos now.

This one's really troubling. Stephen Harper last Friday finally called a "limited" inquiry into allegations made by Karlheinz Schreiber that Brian Mulroney received a payoff of $300k in his final days as PM. About time ... except for one little thing we learned today: The PMO first learned about this claim seven months ago.

Harper has staked his reputation on the claim he runs a "clean" and "accountable" government. And these are very serious charges, whether they ultimately prove to be true or not. The question I and a lot of other Canadians have is why did Harper wait all this time? He just can't claim the letter got clogged in the mail -- there are dozens of people in the sorting room at the Langevin Block. This is the kind of thing that should have been vetted by the Mounties from the very beginning.

In fact, the so-called "Accountability Act" calls for a special prosecutor in circumstances like this one. So if Harper knew but sat on it, he broke his own law.

It's not the crime that does someone in, it's the cover-up. I have nothing to suggest anything untoward happened but I don't like the way this smells. An independent counsel, if not an outright judicial inquiry, is called for.

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Faith in action, NY style

A very delightful story in the NYT today to brighten up a dreary morning. A Jewish congregation is taking on the task of handwriting a Torah -- the first five books in what we Christians call the Old Testament -- one letter at a time. The difference? Rather than pay a scholar to write the whole thing, they're doing it themselves, a letter at a time. In other words they're honouring and revering Torah firsthand.

Now that's what I call faith in action. Of course, they have to pay for the privilege of adding their hand to it but that's another point -- they're learning about their faith rather than have someone tell it to them from the pulpit or the idiot box. And of course, it's another nail in the coffin of the theory that NYC is a godless city.

Can you imagine a televangelist allowing his or her supporters to take part in a project where they could help write a new printing of the King James Bible, a handwritten letter at a time, for a song? No, it wouldn't happen. They'd rather sell their own overpriced "study" Bibles with very heretical notations for a couple hundred bucks for something that cost maybe five bucks to print.

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Red Hill: Boon or bust?

The Red Hill Valley Parkway here in Hamilton -- possibly one of the most controversial expressways ever built in North America -- finally opens up to the public this Friday. It's long overdue and the opportunity to zip from one end of the city to the other in just minutes and taking heavy truck traffic off arterial roads will be taken advantage of by many who thought the north-south highway, first proposed 50 years ago, would never be built. It's not the panacea for Hamilton's ills but it's an important step.

Even before the opening there have been some successes. It was thought 47,000 trees would have to be cut down; it was more like 15,000 and the highway was built along the valley's eastern slope rather than straight through the middle. A short tunnel for wildlife to pass under -- a ridiculous 30 metres -- was extended to a 400 metre + viaduct; and the creek itself which was once a concrete runway for overflow sewage has been redesigned, so well apparently that salmon are swimming up creek again for the first time since most people can remember. And the trail system built alongside the project has reopened and it's as user-friendly as before, perhaps more so.

Still, together with the east west Lincoln Alexander, the total cost of the project runs to a total of about a half billion. Infrastructure of this nature really is a provincial responsibility, not a local one; and it's going to be a few years before we know whether this was a disaster just waiting to happen or a blessing. Not to mention we've had a several "fifty year storms" the last half decade the highway was being built, not just one.

Will I drive it when it opens? Sure. It'll cut the drive time to my grandmother's place in half.

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

10 simple sentences, words which still resonate today as our men and women in uniform face dangers greater than any those fought in the wars of the 19th and 20th centuries could have imagined:

Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation: conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war. . .testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated. . . can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war.

We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate. . .we cannot consecrate. . . we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us. . .that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion. . . that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. . . that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom. . . and that government of the people. . .by the people. . .for the people. . . shall not perish from the earth.

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Style guide influenced by IM?

This is an actual headline in the former US "paper of record" today: Rudy and Bernie, B.F.F.

Gail Collins makes some good points, but since when did chat room abbrev. become acceptable in that newspaper's style guide? This is just getting sloppy and is a rather low water mark for the Old Gray Lady. After all, there may be some readers who may not be entirely acquainted with instant messaging lingo -- even if they do read the paper online.

The paper makes a billion a year in ad revenue. How much ink and bandwidth would they have wasted spelling out the words Best Friends Forever?

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Friday, November 9, 2007

Mussolini-ette busts right wing grouping in EU

On the darker side of the news comes word that the far-right grouping in the European Parliament (which is mostly a farce to begin with; its only real power is to approve the EU budget -- the real decisions are made by the Eurocrats) is on the verge of collapse after Alessandra Mussolini, grandaughter of Benito, used a rather inappropriate slur to describe Romanians. She called them "habitual law breakers."

I'm trying hard not to chuckle as I write these words but find it hard. For with the withdrawal of five right-wing Romanian MEPs, the group which calls itself "Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty" is now down to 18 and it needs 20 to be an official "party." Not unlike the quota of twelve in Canada's lower house.

I see it as a hopeful sign that some of the truly dark days of European history are truly over and that ethnic bigotry in whatever form is simply not acceptable, in the EU, Canada or anywhere else. Just because some members of an ethnic group commit crimes should not cast aspersion on the group as a whole.

Personally, I think what Mussolini's beef is with Romania's anticipated accession (along with Bulgaria) to the Schengen acquis four years hence; and with it further expansion of the open border regime in Europe. Nine other countries are joining the zone next month with two (or three) more next year. While eliminating border controls has no doubt been a boon for trade and tourism in the zone as it is currently constituted right now (and will be for the new members) it's also led to the exacerbation of illegal immigration and along with it resentment of recipient countries at those immigrants; and a failure of nativists to distinguish between legitimate migrants and those who just jump borders to take advantage of another state's social programs.

Not to mention that with open borders gun control can end up being a farce, especially if one wants to smuggle a gun from a "guns for all" state to a "guns for none." Frankly if I was Mussolini, I'd be more worried about illegals from Switzerland -- there gun ownership is mandatory and men are far more likely to murder their wives with a gun than in Italy.

As always there must be respect for the law ... but I think Lou Dobbs must be wondering if there's inspiration to be had in his battle to make America "the way it used to be" and building a Berlin Wall along the Mexican and Canadian borders.

The way it used to be? Uh, like before the white people stole land from Native Americans? If the right wing is losing its tracks in Europe one can only hope it's a matter of time before the nativists in America and Canada are exposed for who they truly are.

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Thursday, November 8, 2007

As Dan Rather would say ...

Courage. To the men and women in uniform around the world fighting the wars the rest of us couldn't care about. As Remembrance / Veterans' Day comes up this weekend, let us remember our troops regardless of whether we agree or not with the political decisions that sent the troops there.

And if you love freedom ... thank a veteran.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Racing law working too well?

Ontario's new road racing law is beginning to take hold -- well beyond anyone's expectations. In its first month, 1300 people have been caught doing 50 km/h (30 mph) over the speed limit. The sanctions are tough: Zero tolerance, no warnings -- a mandatory seven day suspension beginning at roadside, vehicle impoundment and a fine ranging from $2,000 to $10,000.

One consequence is that people in a "rush" to get somewhere are keeping the needle just below the fault line -- say, 148 in a 100 zone. On the other hand, the dragnet has caught people who aren't even aware they broke the law. That's not an excuse, of course, but the principle of mens rea states that to be found guilty one must have willingly broken the law or acted recklessly. That means people who just used bad judgment -- rather than acted with criminal intent -- could face the same kinds of sanctions, and I'm not sure that's constitutional.

I'm surprised few who have been cited attempt to turn the tables on the cops and issue a sub poena demanding the radar be calibrated and tested by an independent lab. This is a common legal tactic in the States and it results in more than a few speeding tickets getting quashed because the cops are found in contempt for not having obeyed the order.

And it does raise an important question, too -- whatever happened to the presumption of innocence, or the right to retain and instruct counsel without delay? The Therens precedent has resulted in 3/4 of DUI charges in Canada being dropped on these important points; and I see no reason why a court would have a problem in striking down the racing law.

We need to stop speeders, without question. There are better ways to do it, however. If people actually bothered to drive at or just above the limit in all lanes of traffic, thus forcing the would be crooks to follow the flow of traffic, that might be a first step. Of course, that would just send drivers to the back roads -- so try such things as spike strips or the "California stop" ramming technique.

35 automatic suspensions per day ... something's not quite right there. Our roads can't be that bad.

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Mainse shelves Hagee -- for two days

HT to my conservative colleague, Kathy Shaidle (although my take on this one is probably different from hers!):

Crossroads Television (CTS) which has stations in Burlington, Calgary and Edmonton and whose Burlington signal is broadcast across Canada via satellite and cable -- decided to pull the last two parts of the three-part series "Islam in America" by San Antonio, Texas based televangelist John Hagee after complaints from CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations. While Rev. Hagee never says it specifically, the interference in the program is that Muslims can never be patriotic Americans.

CTS, founded by 100 Huntley Street kingpin David Mainse, apologized for the offence the programs may have caused and that it goes against its mission to serve all communities in its broadcast area. As well as it should -- unlike many US religious broadcasters which can be 100% evangelical or Catholic or whatever, CTS takes the balance requirement seriously and has done so from the start 10 years ago.

One can only wonder what the Lethbridge based Miracle Channel's position is going to be on this one. It has long aired the unedited version of the 700 Club, for example (rather than the CRTC-approved "Canadian edition) and Hagee features prominently in its prime time schedule (9:30 pm Mountain). And unlike Southern Ontario, the Lethbridge area probably doesn't have that many Muslims percentage wise by comparison -- so they can probably afford to show the episodes unedited without too much flak.

And well they might were it not for the fact TMC is also broadcast across Canada on cable and satellite.

The argument will be that Canada's criminal hate statutes allow for an exception where people make purportedly hateful statements "in good faith." That might work if Hagee spoke on a stump in, say, Toronto's High Park. But the airwaves are owned by the people, and while people are entitled to their opinions it must also be remembered that one must respect the opinions of others. Any inference one group or another is "unpatriotic" or threatening to impose a caliphate or theocracy without solid proof had better be prepared to accept criticism.

I know I can annoy a lot of people with my opinions on religion, the media, politics, whatever -- but I haven't appeared on TV since a "man on the street" interview about a hot topic; and that was cable access. Hagee reaches millions every day. There are ways to say what one means without marginalizing whole groups of people. And I find it rather interesting that one doesn't see that many blacks or Hispanics in his congregation.

Hagee is on tour in Israel and "unavailable for comment." Convenient.

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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Veto this!

It looks like the US President will not get his wish to be the first President since LBJ to have all his vetoes sustained. The House voted by a huge margin to override Bush's "I forbid" on a water resources bill and the Senate is expected to override it sometime later this week. Some of the items amount to pork, but it's good to see that this Congress finally sees a President is not a King.

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Monday, November 5, 2007

Clearing up the border wait; cigs on reserves

Two thoughts today. First ...

With the loonie hitting $1.07 US, more and more Canadians are crossing the border to do their shopping and scoop up bargains. And the return trip at the crossings can be up to five hours. What's the hold-up? Once again, it's customs agents who are playing by the book looking for contraband liquor and cigarettes instead of terrorists and phony refugee claimants.

This may have made sense in an age when customs duties made up 80% of the federal treasury. Today, it's 0.17%. For a government collecting $200 billion per year in revenues that works out to ... $340 million. And that's on everything, including raw materials imported by manufacturers. Duties paid by ordinary Canadians make up -- wait for it -- only 10% of that.

Nearly a year ago, the Senate's committee that deals with national security issues issued a unanimous report that suggested increasing the exemption for out of country trips up -- way up -- to $2000 per trip. It's a good idea. It's not like the feds are going to miss less than a dollar per Canadian, and it'll free up the border guards for more important tasks.

Of course it would be better if Canadians spent their money in Canada. But they have the right to leave and re-enter Canada whenever they want so that right should be facilitated.

Second ...

Some provincial politicians are calling for a crackdown on people going onto reserves for no-tax cigarettes. This after a study showed about 1/4 of sales in Ontario -- all sales -- are on reserves or Natives selling tobacco to non-Natives. Up North, it's well over 50%.

Not like my family was totally innocent -- my mom went to Haudenasonee quite regularly for her stash while she was alive. So did my dad while he was still smoking -- before he smartened up. But that was during the nineties.

This is not an issue that's going to go away any time soon. Short of setting up border posts at the edge of native territories there is no effective way of cracking down on illegal sales without raising the ire of the First Nations, especially bands with their own police forces.

What is required here is respect for the law. Reserves know well enough to make sure only those with federal status cards get cut-rate gasoline. I would urge them to apply a similar firm hand when it comes to those who want to cheap out on that "other" sin. In return, the provincial government should allow bands to keep a greater share of the taxes that would otherwise go to Queen's Park and Parliament Hill. This would be a positive step towards self-sufficiency.

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Sunday, November 4, 2007

Warren Buffett: I don't pay enough taxes!

It may seem surprising that one of those calling for tax fairness in the US just happens to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Dubya tax cuts: Warren Buffett, the Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and the third richest human being on the planet. But Buffett's been complaining the middle class has been shafted for a long time. And last week, he really started to rattle his saber and said enough is enough.

To prove his point, he calculated his effective tax rate on his multimillion dollar salary: 17%. Then he asked a random sample of his office pool at the Omaha, Nebraska -- based company to crunch their own numbers. Of the 18 he picked, 15 responded and not one, not even his own secretary (who packs in a cool $60k per year), had an effective rate below 30%.

Not only does he say he's not paying enough tax, Buffett also supports keeping the inheritance tax, going against the GOP which calls for its outright repeal. Not that it's going to hit his kids anyway -- he's already decided to donate over 80% of his fortune to the foundation run by Bill and Melinda Gates.

I'd like to see him put forward some concrete proposals on how this ought to be done. Does he think the top rate should be brought back up to just under 40%, where it was during the Bill Clinton years? Where would he set the basic exemption? What should the cap be on FICA tax? (Currently, the Social Security tax for wage earners is 7.65% of income to a maximum gross of $102,000 for employees, or $7803; double that for self-employed people -- which rate is actually much higher than the combined amount Canadians pay for EI and CPP or RRQ). And of course, how would he tax capital gains and dividends? (Most of the Wall Street crowd want all capitals gains to be tax free, all capital losses ineligible as writeoffs).

Still, it's refreshing to see someone of influence go against the grain and take the side of the progressives. To say that government should be a hand up, not a hand out; and that it's those who create the wealth that should carry the burden -- not those who sell their labour for wages.

Bill Maher adds his two cents:

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Saturday, November 3, 2007

Where does Harper stand against Musharraf

Pervez Musharraf -- the alleged "ally" in South Asia against terrorism, has imposed a state of emergency and fired Pakistan's chief justice knowing the country's Supreme Court was days away from saying that he couldn't serve as President and military Chief of Staff at the same time. Independent media outlets were taken off the air and the country's under martial law -- again.

The country's President says the country is facing instability. It's been like that for years and this is only going to take things worse. The world has rightly condemned the action, as it should.

What has Canada done so far? A terse statement from the Foreign Minister, Maxime Bernier, but nothing from the PM. Silence. Just the same kind of silence from Harper's office about Canadians sitting on death rows in democratic countries, Canadians who in many cases had their treaty and due process rights violated by overzealous law enforcement agents and prosecutors.

The only conclusion I can reach is that Harper thinks democracy is only for white people. And if Musharraf can get away with declaring martial law, Harper will figure out a way too -- minority Parliament be damned.

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Friday, November 2, 2007

Steve sez no to inquiry against Big Chin

In response to a question today about whether the feds were going to call an inquiry into Brian Mulroney's secret commissions, Stephen Harper said no.

"Do they really want to say that I, as prime minister, should have a free hand to launch inquiries against my predecessors?" Harper said. The PM also suggested that if they were going to reopen the books on Mulroney, then perhaps questions about the business dealings of Chrétien and Martin should also be investigated.

Frankly, I say, why not?

After all, a Prime Minister is prima inter pares, first among equals. We expect a PM to adhere to the highest ethical standards. And even when they leave office, people still address former PMs with the title even if they no longer hold it out of respect. That's because we hope, perhaps forlornly, that they still live up to those standards.

Taking $300k in several brown paper bags, or holding a controlling interest in a shipping company while taking a corporate raider approach to slashing government spending (even though such cuts were necessary) isn't exactly my idea of ethics. We need this out in the open. We should expect the answer that Harper gave -- after all he's the most secretive PM in modern times.

But that's not the answer a leader would give. A leader would put all the cards on the table -- investigate all living PMs, including an outside investigation of himself, and let the chips fall where they might. After all, Clinton ordered a probe into his and his wife's financial dealings when they were still in Little Rock. Were it not for that we never would have heard the names Paula Jones, Juanita Broaderick or Monica Lewinsky. (The common links: Vernon Jordan and Linda Tripp.)

Who's the missing link here? Guess Harper doesn't want us to know. Because the truth would humiliate a lot more people than just him and Mulroney.

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Three cents

That is what it appears to have come down to in the battle between Hollywood studios and their writers. Since it's become almost impossible to get royalties from those who share videos without attribution, the writers have offered to increase the amount studios get from legitimate DVD sales -- from five cents to eight per unit. The studios call it outrageous.

Oh really? Where are they going to work, Uzbekistan? It's not like Canada (or at least English Canada) has had a real TV industry for over a decade. And American "humour" is much more overstated than that in the UK and their job posts are pretty much full.

A certain recording artist in Canada has long criticized other Canadian stars for mostly plying their trade in the United States and thus suggests they should be ineligible for the Junos. Problem was that many of those singers were also songwriters and for years the royalty on records was one cent per unit while in the States it was 5.5 -- and it stayed that way for over two decades until the early nineties.

What, Canadians were going to plead poverty for the sake of "patriotism?" You go where the money is. For the same reason many European hockey players come to the NHL. Or why Canadian soccer players are signed up to clubs in Europe. That's why the Canadian studios finally ponied up, because even with CANCON they were on the verge of losing its soul. And it's not like every major city in Canada has a 15k + seat stadium.

Many writers are well off, but a lot of others aren't. Three cents on a DVD that costs about $25 sounds like a bargain -- provided they actually provide us with entertainment with merit, not gossip. Even direct to DVD movies should get similar consideration ... it's not like the adult entertainment business is going to die out but a lot of those films are now being made in Mexico because those studio bosses have become cheapshots too.

I'm not joining a union any time soon, but if I was an actor or a TV host, I'd abide by Rule One: Everyone has a contract or no one works. If the actors have to ad lib during the Oscars or Golden Globes, tough.

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Thursday, November 1, 2007


An AMBER Alert has been issued for a newborn baby kidnapped from a hospital in Sudbury, Ontario. Information here. If you have any tips, call 911.

UPDATE (9:09 PM EDT, 0109 Friday GMT): The kid's been found, safe and sound. Thank God.

Al Campanis wins moral victory from grave

In 1987, Ted Koeppel (then host of Nightline) unexpectedly created a news story that came close to eclipsing the Iran-contra hearings that year. On April 15th, Koeppel interviewed Al Campanis, general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson "breaking the colour barrier" in the majors (although technically Robinson actually busted it a year earlier in the minors for the Montréal Royals). Koeppel asked a legitimate question -- why none of the then 26 Major League teams had a visible minority person as field manager -- or working in a meaningful position in the front office.

On live television -- unedited, unscripted -- Campanis had the gall to suggest blacks didn't have the necessities -- the quote was, blacks "may not have some of the necessities to be, let's say, a field manager, or, perhaps, a general manager" for these positions. Later in the interview he demurred that blacks are often poor swimmers "because they don't have the buoyancy." When Koeppel gave Campanis numerous opportunities to clarify or back track, Campanis made it worse. Two days later, Campanis was fired.

It's 2007. And the Dodgers caught a break from none other the Commissioner of Baseball, Bud Selig. The team was granted an exemption from a rule introduced as part of the backlash from the Campanis scandal -- that teams must list minority candidates they plan to interview, seriously, for management or coaching posts. Since the Dodgers had every intention to hire Joe Torre and not honestly consider anyone else, Selig decided there was no point into forcing the Dodgers into doing sham interviews. They're not the first to get such an exemption -- perhaps it's because the Dodgers have a better employment record for minorities than most other teams -- but that's no excuse.

Torre's a good coach, no doubt; but surely there are some blacks out there who deserve a change to compete in the marketplace and who should have been at least given a chance to present their credentials and how they'd set up crucial plays. Besides, it's not necessarily coaches that make bad teams on the field -- it's the players themselves who screw up and put the I in a team where there is no lower case "j."

Campanis must be smiling from hell. Along with Adolf Hitler, who must feel vindicated after getting humiliated by several black athletes during the Berlin Olympics in 1936 -- including John Woodruff, the 800 metre winner, who died two days ago.

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