Thursday, January 31, 2008

Bill Clinton's strange choice of friends

A story in today's NYT raises some serious questions about what we might expect from a Hillary Clinton presidency. And there's a bizarre Canadian connection.

Seems that in 2005, the Canadian mining financier Frank Giustra, a newcomer to the business after running Lion's Gate Films, wanted to get the rights to explore some potentially rich uranium veins in Kazakhstan. Turns out that one of the guys with him on the flight was Bill Clinton. During the trip, Slick Willy made some rather complimentary remarks about the President of the country, Nursultan Nazarbayev who has ruled the republic with an iron fist since 1989, two years before the collapse of the Soviet Union of which it was a part. This seemed to contradict the common sense evidence gathered by human rights groups and criticism publicly issued by his own wife -- Hillary.

The organization Nazarbayev wanted to run, and ultimately got to for a year? The one set up under the Helsinki Accords -- known as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

It didn't matter what other people thought. Giustra, defying the odds, won the contract to get three of the mining fields. Months after the deal was closed, Giustra thanked Willy by donating over $31 million to Clinton's foundation; and he has since pledged an additional $100 million. Giustra since sold his company to Goldcorp after securing other mining rights in Argentina, Australia and Mexico -- correctly predicting the current bull market in gold.

Here's the problem, once that John Kerry faced with his wife Teresa four years ago: Clinton has a huge network of friends, and like Mrs. Kerry operates a well settled charity. Clinton has also promised to continue to run the foundation business as usual if Hillary is elected President.

Forget the fact there's already a possible conflict of interest with her as a Senator. Can Clinton really be expected to give up all his friends for another four to eight years? Moreover, what does it say about a country -- America - where people theoretically have the right to petition for grievances but may only do so when he or she has friends in the right places? Whose spouse does one have to have a connection with to -- well, make the connection?

Hillary is trying to prove she's her own woman, and of course, she is. If she continues to get distracted by her husband and his wheeling and dealing, how can she be expected to run a competent administration let alone the kind needed to guide America out of the crisis it almost surely faces in the next few years?

If her husband has friends like those, then she has the wrong husband. She would do well to neutralize him and fast.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

As the sun sets on another day ...

Both Edwards and Giuliani dropped out of the US Prez stakes today. Edwards I would have like to have seen go the distance, but at least Democrats now have a choice between the future and the past. As for Giuliani ... good riddance.

The other news of note is that the Fed dropped interest rates another 50 basis points on top of the 75 drop last week. The rate banks charge each other is now 3%. The Fed clearly said their worry is not inflation but a recession. As well as it should be. And interest rates may fall even lower as Ben Bernacke tries to do what Alan Greenspan managed to do after 9/11 -- a so-called "soft landing." It won't be easy, though. America wouldn't be in this mess if they had some money in the bank rather than wasted in Iraq, borrowed from the thugs in Beijing.

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A step backwards

There is to me something so wrong about the concept of a black-centred school of the kind the Toronto Public School Board approved last night. This truly is a step backward, one towards even more segregation. It doesn't matter that the school would be open to all races. The vast majority will likely still be black and in a society where we attempt to integrate all people this is a recipe for more marginalization.

The high drop-out rate among young blacks does have to be addressed. But this is not the way to do it. We instead need to make the syllabus more relevant to people of all racial and ethnic groups, not just herald the story of the white majority. This starts by asking students what they want in a school -- not telling them what they need; and by telling more of the stories of the losers and not just the winners.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Hitler plus 75

Tomorrow marks a rather grim anniversary. On January 30, 1933, Adolph Hitler was democratically elected as Chancellor of Germany. The rest was history.

Since then, who knows how many leaders in both the East and the West have been impressed or inspired by his genocide, censorship and Machiavellian machinations? The world must never forget. I certainly can't. My father grew up in Nazi-occupied Croatia.

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The fall and fall of Giuliani

If the late Harold Wilson was correct in saying "A week in politics can be a lifetime," then the last few months must have seemed like a millenium to Rudy Giuliani. A few months ago, everyone was talking about an all New York showdown between him and Hillary Clinton. Now Clinton is fighting to stay on in a very competitive race with Barack Obama, while Giuliani has just about become the proverbial dust in the wind against Huckabee, McCain and Romney.

He must have thought that he was the guy who could finally bring his Republican Party back to the centre. Instead, as we've seen, it has become even more extreme this primary season. Failures in Iowa, New Hamshire, South Carolina -- what was this guy thinking? And he can't even get a couple of rows of people into an aircraft hanger; in fact the crowds are going to the reporters.

I don't think it's the fact he's a liberal. I think people in the GOP still hate him for the way he unceremonially dumped Donna Hanover while he was still mayor of the Big Apple. Personal conduct still counts for a lot of people, both Republicans and Democrats; and hopefully today Florida will finally give him the exit he deserves. At one time, even I might have voted for him, warts and all. I wouldn't even have a beer with him anymore.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

To what end?

Looks like Harper is backing the recommendations of the Manley Report which recommends that Canada "stay the course" in Afghanistan.

I'm sorry. I'm admittedly more hawk than dove, but even my patience has worn thin. We're propping up a government that is either corrupt or cannot contain corruption; a President who for better or worse is a glorified Mayor of Kabul. Development goals are nowhere near being met, and the drug trade is at an all time high. More important, the Canadian troops are concentrated in the wrong area ... they should be in the border region looking out for You Know Who. Six and a half years is more than enough for the Afghan Forces to pull their own bootstraps and not have the West fight the war for them.

NATO won't come up with the troops needed to finish the job. We either need to bring ours home for good, or at least take a sabbatical from the region for twelve to eighteen months so they can take a breather.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Ted backs Obama

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) has joined his niece, Caroline, as well as Ted's seatmate John Kerry and will endorse Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) tomorrow. The tipping point looks like where Ted begged Bill to stop playing the race card and Bill would not do so.

My advice to the former President: Stop running your wife's campaign, and move your office out of Harlem.

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Suharto: Not worth the RIP

Suharto was well into his 25th year of his brutal rule of Indonesia when I first became conscious of just how awful he was, in regards to the illegal occupation of East Timor. Maybe it's because most people in that part of the world aren't white and the press here just didn't care. But the information campaign on campus about just how bad things had become, really angered me. This was not long after freedom had come to most of Eastern Europe, was several years after a peaceful revolt in the Phillipines -- and this had been going on since 1975?

His record of economic growth for his country, an average of 7% a year, certainly can't be dismissed. But his repression against his opponents and especially his attempts at committing genocide in Acer, East Timor and West Papua must never be forgotten. Who knows how many billions of dollars he stole from his people and hid in secret bank accounts? (I think Transparency International voted him the most corrupt world leader ever.) And certainly Canadians and Australians won't forget how he colluded with corrupt business men to sell what was essentially a fraud -- the Busang "gold" pit.

He died today at the age of 86, 10 years after the people in the country finally got fed up with him and forced him out. I personally think Hell is too good for him.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Obama wins SC

I was expecting Barack Obama to win today's primary in South Carolina, but his margin of victory was huge, surprising even me. 55% Obama, 27% Clinton, 18% Edwards. Obama gave one of his best speeches ever tonight, and the wind is clearly his now. Edwards, who I personally like, is fading fast ... and at this point the best he can hope for is to be the crowner at the convention.

Meanwhile, Obama has received another major endorsement and from a perhaps not too unlikely source -- Caroline Kennedy. Uncle Ted is keeping mum about his intentions but as the only remaining child of JFK she is in many ways her family's voice.

I can't imagine Clinton will be too happy about losing support from some members of the Vineyard Gang. Bobby Jr., for one, is behind Clinton but his voice pales in comparison to the President's daughter.

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Kerviel questioned

Jérôme Kerviel, the accused "rogue trader" in the Société Général scandal, is in police custody and being questioned. And we're learning that it could have been a lot worse. He's alleged to have cost the bank over $7 billion but it is thought he was actually playing with at least ten times that much -- perhaps 80% more than the bank's market capitalization.

For my part, I am being rather skeptical that one guy alone could have pulled this off. Could one man really have played with that much money, unsupervised? Surely a bank with €467 billion in deposits should have some better security checks than existed here. And if the management at SG knew about the fraud last weekend, why did they wait until well into this week to announce it?

Somehow, we think our banks and trust companies are safe, that it couldn't happen here. Well, we're not in a fishbowl. We have tenticles in the major financial centres in the world, and so do the Canada and Québec Pension Plans. Other public pension plans have desks dedicated to the derivatives markets. As well, it's worth remembering that since deposit insurance was created in Canada forty years ago, 43 financial institutions protected by such insurance have collapsed. Many of us still remember the collapse of two rather minor banks in 1985 -- the Canadian Commercial Bank and the Northland Bank -- and the shock wave that created.

Banks here have had to write down quite a bit due to the sub-prime mortgage crisis, as well as the Enron and Worldcom frauds. If one of the Big Six here actually collapsed, it would be an earthquake. Yes, deposit insurance would pick up the losses but most of us would not be able to wait the 60 to 90 days for the check representing what we had deposited in the failed institution to come in the mail. And most bill collectors don't work on that long a cycle.

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Detainee transfers stopped -- three months ago?

Torture is wrong, plain and simple. There's no place for it at any time either in peace or in war. Yet we know Canada has been an unwitting agent of such when we've turned over detainees captured on the battlefield to the authorities in Afghanistan. Maybe there's some smugness over doing that rather than sending them to the Americans who then ship them off to Gitmo, but it was still not right without some safeguards.

So what does one make of the news this week that Canada dropped the policy some three months ago? According to Stéphane Dion Dion and Michael Ignatieff, they learned about this change in procedure during their trip there two weeks ago; so Harper must have known well before then. This decision was made, it seems, after people got upset over one detainee getting beaten by an electrical cord.

If Rick Hillier, the Chief of Defence Staff, didn't inform Peter Mackay, the Defence Minister there's something wrong -- or if Mackay kept this to himself and didn't tell the Prime Minister, then there's something really wrong.

The least Harper could have done is quietly told the other opposition leaders of such a change; those leaders, of course, would have been bound to stay quiet under their Privy Council oaths. That Dion and Ignatieff had to find out through the backdoor is inexcusable.

Like most Canadians, we don't need to know every detail about ongoing operations. But it seems to me that this is the kind of decision that should have been announced right away. I for one think the Canadian forces were at much greater risk with the insurgents knowing the Canadians were a conduit for Afghan authorities. This is no ordinary war, not by any means; and we need some straight talk as we try to figure out whether we're going to stay the course or go home next year.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bigger than Baring's

During the work day today, the one story that kept nagging me was the one about how a "rogue trader" -- whatever that is -- cost France's second largest bank about ­€ 4.9 billion ... that's $7.1 billion.

Société Générale is big enough to absorb the hit, however painful; although it did have to come up with the cash in an awful hurry, through a secondary public offering. After the money-laundering that went on at BCCI which led to its collapse around the time of the first Gulf War, this may be the second biggest bank fraud in history.

The democratization of the stocks and futures markets, in particular foreign exchange or 4X, has been a good thing. Mostly. Even Joe or Jane Blow can now take positions on everything from orange juice and cattle, to potential interest rate moves and platinum, for a relatively small sum. You have to deliver the contract at some point but as long as you make a buck in the end you come out okay.

The problem is when it's done with borrowed money. To cover your losses, you sell yourself short but run the risk of getting more into debt. And when it's other people's money, or a bank's assets, then there's a real problem. It looks like someone took a bet on where the European markets were going and got burned by the sell off earlier this week, although the fraud was actually uncovered this past weekend. I found it interesting to read Nick Leeson, the guy who brought down Baring's, put it this way when told today of the SG scandal: "He survived for one day, he survived for a week, he survived for a month and eventually you start to believe that, okay, it's not quite as bad as it was."

The "he" in this case is accused to be Jérôme Derviel, a 31 year old who'd been at the bank for about eight years but at this critical trading desk for just two of them. He's suddenly found himself named to the Top Ten Most Wanted lists in more than just France. And because it's money and not lives, the search for him will be more diligent than for Osama Bin Laden.

And I have to agree with what they said this morning on CNBC. Most people were betting on a half point drop in the Fed next week, on top of their surprise ¾ cut earlier this week. Now all bets are off. Thanks to one stupid idiot who got caught losing billions rather than the thousands out there who skim mere dollars no less illegally -- or illogically.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

VON, St. Joe's get reprieve

Kudos to George Smitherman, the Ontario Health Minister, for blocking the local Community Care Access Centre (CCAC) plan to effectively wipe out St. Joseph's Healthcare and the local branch of the Victoria Order of Nurses (VON). Two agencies that between them do 80% of the outpatient and home visit business in the city. The local CCAC office just happens to be around the corner from where I live here in Hamilton.

Home care services for the elderly and disabled are contracted out to the private sector, and the bids were coming up this year. In a bizarre move that was never fully explained, the CCAC has said the two groups which have been providing services here in Hamilton for decades didn't even meet the bid requirements and would have to wind up their services by March 31. "Technically deficient" to use the expression, rather cynically.

One can only imagine the outrage ... and it was huge here from both the left and the right. It was also utter hypocrisy on the part of a government agency. "Stranger danger," we've been told ever since before kindergarten, and now the most vulnerable who've relied on the same care agent for months, even years, would now have to a face a new care worker --probably a government hack -- not due to attrition or misconduct but because of a sacrifice to the altar of the almighty dollar.

So for now, these two fine groups are in business to stay and the CCAC has to start from square one. While saving taxpayer's money should be a priority, it's value for money that should also be considered. Best practices mean results, and one can't sacrifice compassionate care for profit.

Smitherman may be pissing off agencies that were due to get the new contracts, but as he said last night he recognizes that it's the residents of this province that are his bosses. He's not the boss of them. How refreshing to hear that in a Parliamentary democracy.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Bring them home

Wouldn't it be great if Sarah Polley wins the Best Director Oscar next month?


Other thing on my mind tonight is the Manley report. The blue ribbon panel recommends extending the mission in Afghanistan if -- and only if -- the rest of NATO starts pulling its weight.

Not far enough. We've done all we can, and all that's happened besides the lost of some six dozen soldiers and a diplomat is an increase in the opium trade. It's time to bring them home, when the current commitment ends in thirteen months time.

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Cruise: still ranting, still irrelevant

Earth to Tom Cruise: L. Ron Hubbard was a science fiction writer. A very good one (I have Battlefield Earth on my bookcase), but a sci-fi writer; no more or less. Dianetics is sheer nonsense.

And anti-psychotic drugs do work. They've helped many people, including my late mother.

Perhaps you need another smack-down. Some other actor, besides Brooke Shields.

Any volunteers?

Or does Cruise want to destroy the secret archives in the Vatican, too?

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Monday, January 21, 2008

The poor also vote

Today is Martin Luther King Day.

While he's best remembered for leading a mostly non-violent struggle to gain equal rights for blacks and for women, we forget that in the last few months of his life he was becoming extremely unpopular with both blacks and whites. With the legal battle for equality in the workplace and equality in public facilities won, Dr. King decided to go after a much touchier subject -- poverty.

But he was right to do so. There was no point in fighting for equal rights if the underprivileged had nothing to show for it at the end.

That's what makes the recent sniping among Democratic candidates about which of them is the true heir of King's legacy so distressing. Far as I can see, John Edwards has been the most forthright about the need to deal with endemic poverty, seeing it as much a threat to long-term national security as any terrorist group. Barack Obama hasn't emphasized it as much but from what I can see he also has started to get it. As for Hillary Clinton -- she's in bed with the lobbyists, has been from the day her run started and well before.

There was this thing during the 1960s called the "War on Poverty," which would have cemented LBJ's legacy as one of the true giants, had it not been for that thing called the Vietnam War. A number of years later, addressing a mostly white male group of rich people, Ronald Reagan got a huge ovation when he had the gall to say, "The War on Poverty is over, and the poor lost."

We need a champion for the poor this time around; someone who will set the broad framework by which the real dream of King will finally come to fruition. But I'm not optimistic. Because both parties and the mass media don't want to even hear of or from the poor. But the poor do vote, too.

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Help public transit workers

An article in today's Toronto Star reminds us that PTSD is not limited to war veterans. Victims of sexual assault suffer from it; and so do public transit workers.

It's not just that the drivers and other associated workers need help; of course they do, and it's forced worker's comp to adjust its focus from what we normally consider workplace injuries. It's also that nothing is being done to keep driver's safe. I'm not necessarily saying we should have undercover marshalls on every public transit vehicle but would it hurt so much to give these drivers not just self-defence training but also the moral and social support they need when they are attacked? They don't need people telling them, "Are you going to file for LTD?"

The fact they are not getting moral as well as health support, tells me that those in power believe those who they believe serve them alone but in fact serve all of us, are expendible.

Little wonder so many people prefer driving their cars and trucks to work and school. If the drivers aren't safe how can they be? Plastic shields and locked driver compartments aren't enough.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Among my junk mail, this nugget

Going through some of the junk mail and flyers this past week, I noticed one flyer that talks about what is generally thought of as impossible: an interest-deductible mortgage in Canada. Unlike the US (where this deductibility is a big part of the sub-prime crisis in the States) one can't deduct mortgage interest.

The strategy is an old one, but a bizarre one too -- in a round-about way, it involves using a line of credit allegedly to make investments. In reality, you're using it to pay off the mortgage. Then you make payments on the line of credit, often interest only, and that interest becomes deductible. The way it's discussed in the flyer and advertising an upcoming "information" session, one can get even bigger tax returns since the money somehow finds its way into tax shelters.

The kicker: They claim to get the endorsement of the Financial Post writer Jonathan Chevreau.

Oh come on. When word of this gets back to The Revenue, you know they'll find a way to shut it down. There's nothing wrong with tax planning, but this comes very close to tax avoidance which is the grey area between planning and evasion.

As a still single guy without kids who's willing to pay the related higher income taxes because I am single income with no kids (a SINK), I have four words: I'm not that stupid.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

That bus ad

Only in Hamilton could something like this happen. Well, Fredricton too, as it turns out.

A pro-life group took out a series of bus shelter ads questioning the fact that an abortion can still be legally obtained at nine months in Canada. Nine months. Far as I'm aware, there is no other jurisdiction on the planet that allows open-ended access to abortion from conception to partum. Most other places set a dividing line when restrictions kick in ... generally anywhere from 16 to 28 weeks. Some countries technically "ban" abortions but they are available; the performing physicians simply reclassify them as "miscarriages" to stay out of trouble.

The group raised, I think, an important topic for debate. And at first, the ads when up without question. What happened, you may ask? After just a few "complaints," Hamilton ordered the ad agency that handles the bus ads here, CBS (yes, that CBS), to remove them. (Earlier, Fredricton decided to not go with the ads at all.)

I may be pro-life but that does not shape my opinion about this because I generally oppose many of the tactics of many so called "pro-life" groups. It's censorship, and to call it anything other than that is ignorance.

That does not change the fact that 20 years after the Morgentaler decision which struck down the reformed "John Turner" law, we need to have a debate in the country on where the dividing line should be, and and the same time what steps we should take that no child is ever unwanted in Canada. A general reluctance to do so, since a 1991 attempt to put in a law that would comply with Supreme Court of Canada guidelines was defeated by the Senate on a tie vote, is in itself a form of censorship no less than puling this ad was.

On the flip side, when the worker's comp wanted to run some graphic ads about workplace safety, the city objected only later to back down and accept them. What a blatant contradiction. We're okay with supermarkets and grocery stores putting in your face magazines of very pregnant women like Jamie Lynn Spears and Christina Aguilera; and we're not okay with an anonymous pregnant woman at nine months? Where are our priorities?

I've written on this board and its predecessor about the need for better low income support, as well as to streamline adoption procedures for children in Canadian foster care so they have the same right to a warm loving home as foreign adoptees. Those steps as well as a real day care strategy would make a substantial dent in the number of abortions. And I'd be quite comfortable with the law drawing the line at viability (generally between 20 to 28 weeks).

But the debate should be engaged. Pushing it under the rug does no one -- pro-life or pro-choice -- any good.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Somewhere out there ...

End of the week. I'm exhausted. And still no hint, not even a glimmer, of the answers I want. Maybe they aren't what I've wanted after all ...

Don't worry folks, I'm not going to do anything stupid. I'm just ... frustrated. On the outside, I'm trying to be as productive as I can. On the inside, just ... well, it's mostly dark. Somewhere out there, the light is there. But it just seems like the headlight on a speeding train; not the sunshine.

Better luck tomorrow, I hope. Until then, rest assured, you're not going to see ads on this blog; not for quite a while, anyway. I'm not for sale, and neither are my principles. Not at any price.

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BREAKING: Bobby Fischer dead.

Arguably the greatest chess player ever ... until Gary Kasparov.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Canadarm sale aids and abets land mines

As a middle power, especially one without nuclear weapons, there's only so much Canada can do. But there are times when the world turns to this country for leadership on foreign policy; given we're a bridge with our strong ties to NATO as well as usually more cordial relations with nation-states the US State Department almost never acknowledges. When Reagan and Thatcher refused to impose trade sanctions against apartheid South Africa, Canada took the role in leading an economic boycott -- eventually, the US Congress overrode yet another Reagan veto and from there the rest of the story is known.

When Bill Clinton refused to sign on to a treaty on land mines (so did Russia and Korea, among others), Canada pushed ahead anyway and led over a hundred countries to outlaw the scourge. Now, it looks like Canada may be placed in violation of the very treaty Canada got most of the civilized world to sign -- which is called the Ottawa Convention, in fact.

Because as reported this morning on CBC R1, the space division of Macdonald Detwiler, the Canadian company that gave the world the space robotic arm that even NASA now calls the Canadarm, is being sold to an American company that as it turns out makes -- wait for it -- land mines.

No doubt you won't hear any of the American candidates for President speak about this either. After all, far as I know, they all support land mines too.

Stephen Harper has a duty to put a stop to this, now. Failure to do so means that he believes Canada should be a compliant client state of the US, just as the Eastern Bloc harmonzied their foreign policies to match that of the former Soviet Union. If he draws a line in the sand, then he'll truly be a leader. As it stands now, his continued silence means one thing, to use a turn of his own phrase: Stephen Harper is not a leader.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Lunn sacks Keen

Federal Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn fired the head of the Nuclear Safety Commission, Linda Keen, late last night; after she accused Lunn of interfering with her job and the crisis at Chalk River. (A reminder to my non-Canadian readers: Chalk River, upstream from Ottawa, is where most of the free world's medical isotopes are manufactured.)

Nope, sorry. It's Lunn who should resign. Keen was a career bureaucrat, not a "Liberal appointee" as he accused her of; although since Lunn said that in Parliament he of course cannot be sued since in both Houses and their committees one has immunity.

And the weird thing about all this is this comes after the House Natural Resources Committee subpoenaed both yesterday to appear to answer questions today.

Keen says she has every intention of appearing even though she was sacked. I'm almost hoping this is what triggers an election. True, there have been problems at Chalk River for years but to blame this one on Liberals and Liberals alone as Lunn wants to do has gotten so old it's not funny anymore. Canadians are sick and tired of the Blame Game. The Government is the Government and must take responsibility in the here and now no matter what may have been done by others in the past.

Keen was anything but insubordinate. She was doing her job, and she has the right to criticize the powers that be just like any other Canadian.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

High speed rail, the way to go

Last week, the Ontario and Québec governments said they are looking again at the idea of a high speed rail link to connect major cities from Windsor to Québec City; the focus of course being on the run between Toronto and Montréal.

Except mostly for commuters, train travel still seems so exotic to Canadians. It shouldn't be. It should be a serious mode of commerce. It is for freight and with some adjustments it could be for passengers as well.

There are two problems holding back development of "The Corridor," as it's often called. One is that freight trains own the rails and lease space to passenger trains on a space available basis and at often exorbitant rates. Either VIA Rail should demand lower lease rates, or the transportation agency should require a dedicated corridor for trains. I noticed on a trip to Montréal that the CP and CN lines run side by side for most of the run, but at most times three of the four tracks were empty.

Two is significant infrastructure improvements. We don't necessarily need seamless track, fibreglass ties and a concrete roadbed, as we see on high speed lines in Europe. We do, however, need to get rid of all the level crossings and replace them with grade separations. Conservative (that's small-c) estimates to do that are pegged at $2 to 4 billion. This would be a benefit to freight trains as well, who wouldn't have to worry about vehicles getting stranded on, or trying to beat the train at, crossings anymore. And such a price tag is certainly more palatable than the $18 billion that is often cited to do a gold plated system.

Whether it's diesel, diesel electric or all electric is irrelevant; the point is we need a viable alternative to the airports. Despite quick check-in services for the Pearson-Trudeau flight it can still take almost as much time to travel as the express train -- of which there is only one per day (the rest are local or semi-express trains). Plus the trains go between downtowns and the airports certainly do not.

The point is, this is something we can't afford to do. The 401 / A-20 corridor can have only so many lanes and the right of way is filling up. We have to get passengers out of their vehicles for inter-city trips and into trains. It's good for the environment, and it's time to put an end to the "Are We There Yet" syndrome because kids would be too enraptured by the changing scenery to even care to ask.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

The Guergis Factor

A few years ago, Geraldo Rivera got into a lot of hot water when, deliberately or not, he revealed the details of some sensitive troop movements in Iraq just after the invasion started. This prompted a memorable sketch by Jay Leno where Rivera "reported" on some other top secret information, including the secret hiding place of Anne Frank.

So what was Helena Guergis thinking when she all but announced on Saturday where Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion and his deputy, Michael Ignatieff, were headed next on their tour of Afghanistan? I just don't buy her story that she's out of the loop from the inner circle and was just "guessing." She is, after all, a member of the Cabinet. And given we're in the middle of a war, it is a War Cabinet.

The only reasonable explanation is that the Conservatives, or at least some of them, have a death wish for anyone who reasonably disagrees with them. Perhaps Guergis was hoping for something bad to happen to two of her enemies so she could engage in a bit of Schadenfraude.

That's the American Way. It's not the Canadian Way. Especially in a minority Parliament, the Opposition has the right, indeed the duty, to make sure our men and women in uniform are getting the best support they can -- technically, logistically, and morally. To ensure the troops on the ground know that Canadians stand with them even if they disagree with them, as well as to be enabled to gather contemporary information so the Loyal Opposition can present a credible alternative; whether that's demobilizing or reassigning the troops to another part of Afghanistan.

There's a bumper sticker going around these days here in Canada: "If you don't stand by our troops, feel free to stand in front of them." It's meant at opponents of the war, from propoents who don't understand that those who disagree still do stand by them. Maybe, just maybe, it's advise that Guergis might consider. Because her actions against a fellow Member of Parliament, a member of the Privy Council no less (albeit a presently inactive one), are tantamount to treason.

Personally, I'd rather see her resign, though.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

War makes people killing machines: NYT

In the spring of 1993, my father and I took a trip to the Gulf Coast of Florida. That week there was a huge controversy about a then pending execution (which ultimately happened on the Saturday night). The prisoner was a veteran of the Vietnam War, who was pleading for clemency on the basis he was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder -- a legitimate mental health condition, one that used to be called "shell shock." The then Governor was having none of it. Being a long time opponent of capital punishment, I felt disgusted. It's not like the guy was asking to be released -- he admitted what he did. He just wanted a life sentence. Even my father, an avowed supporter of the death penalty, thought the Governor should have cut the prisoner some slack.

No doubt, Vietnam and other "interventions" forced a rethink of how we view the side effects of war on the combatants. At least, among civilians -- not among law enforcement officials. And while public health authorities have warned of an impending crisis, the inner circle of executive authorities simply have not listened.

Well, welcome to 2008. And the NYT reports today that no fewer than 121 veterans of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan have been charged with committing homicide. If that be so, it is truly alarming. It shows a complete breakdown not just of the Defense Department's healthcare network (which washes its hands once a member of the military returns to civilian life) but also that in Veteran's Affairs. Be clear, there is no justification for killing another human being; but also be clear that nothing is being done to prevent such killings from happening in the first place.

And judges, mostly schooled in hard knocks rather than getting even elementary training in the natural and health sciences, still don't accept the legitimacy of PTSD.

In attempting to build democracy abroad, Dubya has undermined it at home. I've said this several times; but in this case it bears repeating. Treating the Armed Services like common chattels instead of human beings who need to be heard, who need help to deal with the after-effects of war before they really snap, is reprehensible. There's no question in my mind that sooner or later a Canadian veteran will face similar criminal charges and the JAG or Crown Attorney here (depending on if it's a military or civilian trial) won't give a shit either.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

2008: Same old story at Ave Maria U

The past couple of weeks haven't been good at Ave Maria "University," as three law professors at AMU quit in disgust. Two just this week. And in yet another twist in the ongoing war of nerves between Tom Monaghan and Frank Dewane, the Bishop of Venice, Florida, a planned consecration of a building that's supposed to be the campus "Oratory" was cancelled. (Many in the neighboring town of Naples have joked the chapel is shaped like a salmon steak. It really does, although I kind of like the avant-garde design; at least I would if Monaghan was playing by the rules.)

This really has become a running joke. On top of possible obstruction of justice charges for using the campus server back in Michigan to hide child pornography stored by a priest; and wrongful dismissal charges for several professors and the chaplain, the attrition is a sign of weakness and not strength.

The problem remains Monaghan himself, who seems hell bent to waste the billions he made when his pizza chain went public to run an institution that's as much a temple to his own glory as Fox News is to Rupert Murdoch. Monaghan is an embarrassment to Catholics, both conservative and liberal. It's way past time for the US Department of Education to put an end to the pretense, and deaccredit the place.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Who's paying the bills? Not the Justice Department

If there's going to be anything that's going to put an end to Dubya's illegal wiretapping program, it will be his own stupidity. Or rather, the FBI's.

Seems the G-men and -women haven't paid their phone bills. Repeatedly. So the phone company isn't waiting for the courts to tell them to unplug the wires ... they're doing it themselves.

Bully. Oh, did I also mention that one of the feds is accused of stealing $25,000?

Honour and dignity to DC? Is that what Bush's idea of that is?

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

In other news (2008-01-10)

A couple of other items before I turn in tonight:

Talk about a harrow ride for the passengers on Air Canada 190 from Victoria to Toronto. The pilot deserves a heck of a lot of credit for taking over a plane that lost the autopilot over the mountains and did a sixty degree bank each way before the pilot straightened it out. Just a few injuries before landing in Calgary.

I'd be more worried about mechanical failure or pilot error than a terrorist the next time I fly which is why I've been earthbound for the last eight plus years.

And Sir Edmund Hillary died today. What can be said about the man who along with Tenzing Norquay conquered Everest and pushed Elizabeth II's coronation off the front page? Rest in peace, dude.

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Kerry's choice: Obama

John Kerry snubbed his own choice for veep back in 2004, John Edwards, and has instead endorsed Barack Obama to get the Dem nom.

This is big news because of one big advantage Kerry has even though he's only running for re-election for the US Senate this year. A mailing list. 3 million in his e-mail address book, left over from four years ago. (Just for laughs, I put myself on it back then and I still get the occasional mailer from Kerry.) One address book he used very effectively during the 2006 mid-terms, when he targeted several House and Senate seats he thought were ripe for the taking. He urged his supporters to donate to the local Democratic candidates and they did. It wasn't the only factor in the Democrats winning back Congress but it certainly helped.

Now, he's going to see if maybe some of the residual good luck he had in 2006 can be extended just a bit further.

I still like Edwards, particularly for his anti-poverty strategy as well as his push for public health care; but Obama is a fine choice, and I'm sure he'll appreciate all the help he can get to stop the Comeback Gal.

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Senior income splitting -- not so fast

Seniors' groups were crowing in 2006 when PMS announced senior couples would be allowed to split pension income -- not just allocations from the CPP, RRQ and OAS, but private pensions and RRSPs too.

I defy you to find where you can find that on this year's tax return. Actually, you can't.

You have to file an election on a completely separate form -- T1032 -- and file two separate ones, one for each spouse, with the tax returns by the tax deadline or you're out of luck. Oh, and this election has to be made each and every year.

This may be one of the rare cases where a joint return may be justified; especially couples who have been married fifty years or more and still have great sex. People have to elect to split their income, or they'll be accused of tax fraud? Even elderly people who have always abided by the tax rules and have no reason to cheat now?

That's the Flaherty Finance Department for you.

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PMS: Making tax returns even more complicated

I had a chance to take a look at the 2007 tax package we Canadians will be filling out in the next few weeks -- posted online right now but yet to be mailed out or disseminated in software packages. What I can't figure out is exactly what PMS is trying to do to us. Rather than make life simpler with a flat tax or few rates, he's actually thrown multiple "tax credits" into the mix.

He's retroactively raised the personal exemption and lowered the base tax rate after he started his term by doing vice versa to both.

He threw in a deduction for kids -- kind of nice, $2000 each, except at 15% that only works out a $300 reduction ($250.50 in Québec), and one that isn't even refunded if the kids' parents' net taxes are zero. (Wouldn't it have been better just to increase the refundable Child Tax Credit by $300?)

My favourite, though, has to be the Working Income Tax Benefit. It sounded like a nice idea in principle. But it's complicated to calculate, and at least for the first year the thresholds to qualify are very low both for singles and people with children. Second, there's an application process to get 50% of the credit in advance for this coming year -- presumably added on to the GST cheques we get every quarter -- but we actually have to apply for this and mail it in every year. This is totally unlike the CCTB and the seniors' GIS which is renewed automatically for 99% of recipients who just mail in their tax returns or remember to.

Issue: How many people are going to miss these items and pay more than the law requires? Worse, for a government that promised to make life easier, why make it even more complicated?

It would have been easier just to raise the exemption or, again, add in money to already existing entitlements flowing through to individuals.

Remember, these ideas came from what were once the flat tax Reform Party. (Truth be told, I support the idea of a flat tax in the long term, provided exemptions were set high enough to ensure lower to middle income families paid little or no tax -- but that will be discussed in a future blog post, both how it could work and why the present flat tax ideas as currently constituted make no sense.)

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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Clinton wins NH .. just

Hillary Clinton managed to win a narrow victory over Barack Obama (39-37) in the Democratic primary in New Hampshire last night after her pool of tears stunt on Monday; but if she thinks that's going to be enough to win the nomination in the coming weeks, it will not. In terms of delegate count it didn't matter much, both got 9 of the 22 up for grabs so really it was a tie. (John Edwards, with a respectable 17%, got the remaining 4.) Five other delegates, incidentally, are the so called "super"delegates or ex officios and weren't in play.

The Republicans have everything to lose; given the slowing economy, the Democrats won back Congress in 2006, no incumbent, a massive foreign policy failure and no real foreign policy success to date. But Clinton's a non-starter. Why?

Clinton simply lacks the level charisma or "hero" status of her opponents, which opponents do have one or the other -- both Democratic and Republican. In my opinion, Clinton is going to lead her party to defeat in November if she wins the nod, unless a truly viable third candidate emerges (someone like Mike Bloomberg, the NYC Mayor). Any other Democrats wins, and it will a cakewalk.

No one in the Media will say it out loud, but the Evita Peron factor looms large. Do Americans want to go the way of Argentina? I sincerely hope not. The smart money is still on Barack Obama as the Presidential nominee, with John Edwards as his veep. America needs the future, not the past.

On the Republican side, John McCain won with 37%, Mitt Romney 32%, Mike Huckabee 11%. This is still anyone's game with about 47 states left on the table for the GOP and 48 for the Dems.

Turnout overall was 85%, a record. If that proves to be a trend in other states, there could be a real democratic revolution coming that country's way.

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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The urban transition

It is widely thought that sometime this year, the world as a whole will have made the long-feared urban transition; that is, more of the world's people will live in cities than do out in the country.

This has implications the developed world needs to pay attention to. Most of the industrialized democratic world made the move a century or so ago; Canada is split roughly 80-20 between urban and rural populations. It's not as big a problem as it once was, as with roughly equivalent access to health care mortality rates in town and country are nearly equal. In the early years, though, death rates were much higher in the cities because of course of then poor sanitation protocols.

But it's in the developing countries, especially what used to be called the Third and Fourth Worlds, that things are still in flux. The rates of migration to urban areas far exceed what was experienced in Europe, North America and Australia. Slums are rampant and growing, and with no effective land use policies or zoning laws it's every person for him or herself. One only has to take a look at Shenzhen, the area next to Hong Kong. Barely 30 years ago this was a fishing village of about a couple thousand people at most. Today it has over 8 1/4 million and it shows no sign of stopping. This has been repeated in various scales on nearly every country on the planet.

It's not just the urban sprawl that's daunting. It's that people are leaving their farms in large numbers and hoping to seek their fortunes in the city. That's always been the case in Canada and the US, of course, but multiply it by several magnitudes and you have to wonder not only about the futility of the hopeless but also potential food shortages caused not by droughts or floods but by lack of farm hands. And with that, the implications for global security.

Once we cross that dreaded threshold this year of 50.1% of humans living in cities worldwide, there is unfortunately no going back. The least we can hope for is to contain the growth. We should at least insist that development dollars go into sustainable development. We insist on it for ourselves or at least should, with such policies as Greenbelt legislation. We should do the same for the developing world and help them manage the growth in smarter ways. A breakdown in the system there could lead to even more unsavoury characters we'll be forced to negotiate with.

Such as terrorists, who hold their own people hostage as well as ours.

On the other hand, if people have a reason to hope, then we take away the very thing terrorists need -- oxygen and money.

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Monday, January 7, 2008

See, I told you so ...

I told you a month ago that the BC government would appeal Robert Pickton's second degree murder conviction and would go for murder one. And today, they did precisely that.

Really, they had no choice. If they didn't cross appeal Pickton's appeal, they were faced with a situation that if the convictions are overturned on a technicality and the six charges in question remanded for retrial, the most BC could hope for, the most they could charge him with, was murder two.

It's not the jury's fault the judge screwed up the charge to the jury. Their verdict should stand as is. They fairly came to that decision and it should not be second guessed. And let's face it, Pickton will never get out of jail anyway. He got twenty-five years to life and no parole board in its right mind is going to let him out, even if he manages to get acquitted on the other twenty charges he still faces.

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McGovern: Still the resonable one after all these years

HT to We Move to Canada:

George McGovern delivers a knock-out punch to Bush and Cheney and demands their impeachment. A bit late in the game, but McGovern -- who's now 85 and an adjunct instructor at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, South Dakota -- gives a very, very credible argument that the time to start the healing process is at the start of this present election cycle, not at the inauguration. And he correctly says, too, that Nixon and even Bush I would never have gone down the dangerous path the world is now on.

The op-ed piece, in yesterday's WaPo, is as follows:

Why I Believe Bush Must Go
Nixon Was Bad. These Guys Are Worse.

By George McGovern

As we enter the eighth year of the Bush-Cheney administration, I have belatedly and painfully concluded that the only honorable course for me is to urge the impeachment of the president and the vice president.

After the 1972 presidential election, I stood clear of calls to impeach President Richard M. Nixon for his misconduct during the campaign. I thought that my joining the impeachment effort would be seen as an expression of personal vengeance toward the president who had defeated me.

Today I have made a different choice.

Of course, there seems to be little bipartisan support for impeachment. The political scene is marked by narrow and sometimes superficial partisanship, especially among Republicans, and a lack of courage and statesmanship on the part of too many Democratic politicians. So the chances of a bipartisan impeachment and conviction are not promising.

But what are the facts?

Bush and Cheney are clearly guilty of numerous impeachable offenses. They have repeatedly violated the Constitution. They have transgressed national and international law. They have lied to the American people time after time. Their conduct and their barbaric policies have reduced our beloved country to a historic low in the eyes of people around the world. These are truly "high crimes and misdemeanors," to use the constitutional standard.

From the beginning, the Bush-Cheney team's assumption of power was the product of questionable elections that probably should have been officially challenged -- perhaps even by a congressional investigation.

In a more fundamental sense, American democracy has been derailed throughout the Bush-Cheney regime. The dominant commitment of the administration has been a murderous, illegal, nonsensical war against Iraq. That irresponsible venture has killed almost 4,000 Americans, left many times that number mentally or physically crippled, claimed the lives of an estimated 600,000 Iraqis (according to a careful October 2006 study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health) and laid waste their country. The financial cost to the United States is now $250 million a day and is expected to exceed a total of $1 trillion, most of which we have borrowed from the Chinese and others as our national debt has now climbed above $9 trillion -- by far the highest in our national history.

All of this has been done without the declaration of war from Congress that the Constitution clearly requires, in defiance of the U.N. Charter and in violation of international law. This reckless disregard for life and property, as well as constitutional law, has been accompanied by the abuse of prisoners, including systematic torture, in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions of 1949.

I have not been heavily involved in singing the praises of the Nixon administration. But the case for impeaching Bush and Cheney is far stronger than was the case against Nixon and Vice President Spiro T. Agnew after the 1972 election. The nation would be much more secure and productive under a Nixon presidency than with Bush. Indeed, has any administration in our national history been so damaging as the Bush-Cheney era?

How could a once-admired, great nation fall into such a quagmire of killing, immorality and lawlessness?

It happened in part because the Bush-Cheney team repeatedly deceived Congress, the press and the public into believing that Saddam Hussein had nuclear arms and other horrifying banned weapons that were an "imminent threat" to the United States. The administration also led the public to believe that Iraq was involved in the 9/11 attacks -- another blatant falsehood. Many times in recent years, I have recalled Jefferson's observation: "Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just."

The basic strategy of the administration has been to encourage a climate of fear, letting it exploit the 2001 al-Qaeda attacks not only to justify the invasion of Iraq but also to excuse such dangerous misbehavior as the illegal tapping of our telephones by government agents. The same fear-mongering has led government spokesmen and cooperative members of the press to imply that we are at war with the entire Arab and Muslim world -- more than a billion people.

Another shocking perversion has been the shipping of prisoners scooped off the streets of Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and other countries without benefit of our time-tested laws of habeas corpus.

Although the president was advised by the intelligence agencies last August that Iran had no program to develop nuclear weapons, he continued to lie to the country and the world. This is the same strategy of deception that brought us into war in the Arabian Desert and could lead us into an unjustified invasion of Iran. I can say with some professional knowledge and experience that if Bush invades yet another Muslim oil state, it would mark the end of U.S. influence in the crucial Middle East for decades.

Ironically, while Bush and Cheney made counterterrorism the battle cry of their administration, their policies -- especially the war in Iraq -- have increased the terrorist threat and reduced the security of the United States. Consider the difference between the policies of the first President Bush and those of his son. When the Iraqi army marched into Kuwait in August 1990, President George H.W. Bush gathered the support of the entire world, including the United Nations, the European Union and most of the Arab League, to quickly expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait. The Saudis and Japanese paid most of the cost. Instead of getting bogged down in a costly occupation, the administration established a policy of containing the Baathist regime with international arms inspectors, no-fly zones and economic sanctions. Iraq was left as a stable country with little or no capacity to threaten others.

Today, after five years of clumsy, mistaken policies and U.S. military occupation, Iraq has become a breeding ground of terrorism and bloody civil strife. It is no secret that former president Bush, his secretary of state, James A. Baker III, and his national security adviser, Gen. Brent Scowcroft, all opposed the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq.

In addition to the shocking breakdown of presidential legal and moral responsibility, there is the scandalous neglect and mishandling of the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe. The veteran CNN commentator Jack Cafferty condenses it to a sentence: "I have never ever seen anything as badly bungled and poorly handled as this situation in New Orleans." Any impeachment proceeding must include a careful and critical look at the collapse of presidential leadership in response to perhaps the worst natural disaster in U.S. history.

Impeachment is unlikely, of course. But we must still urge Congress to act. Impeachment, quite simply, is the procedure written into the Constitution to deal with presidents who violate the Constitution and the laws of the land. It is also a way to signal to the American people and the world that some of us feel strongly enough about the present drift of our country to support the impeachment of the false prophets who have led us astray. This, I believe, is the rightful course for an American patriot.

As former representative Elizabeth Holtzman, who played a key role in the Nixon impeachment proceedings, wrote two years ago, "it wasn't until the most recent revelations that President Bush directed the wiretapping of hundreds, possibly thousands, of Americans, in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) -- and argued that, as Commander in Chief, he had the right in the interests of national security to override our country's laws -- that I felt the same sinking feeling in my stomach as I did during Watergate. . . . A President, any President, who maintains that he is above the law -- and repeatedly violates the law -- thereby commits high crimes and misdemeanors."

I believe we have a chance to heal the wounds the nation has suffered in the opening decade of the 21st century. This recovery may take a generation and will depend on the election of a series of rational presidents and Congresses. At age 85, I won't be around to witness the completion of the difficult rebuilding of our sorely damaged country, but I'd like to hold on long enough to see the healing begin.

There has never been a day in my adult life when I would not have sacrificed that life to save the United States from genuine danger, such as the ones we faced when I served as a bomber pilot in World War II. We must be a great nation because from time to time, we make gigantic blunders, but so far, we have survived and recovered.

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Sunday, January 6, 2008

"Renegade" had better be careful -- some hate hope

Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) to me is a truly incredible character. He exudes the kind of confidence we haven't seen since the early 1960's; and he also has youth on his side, being born at that cusp where the Baby Boom ended and my generation -- Generation X -- began. His meteoric rise up the Democratic ranks from just four years ago, when he gave his famous "Audacity of Hope" address to the Democrats, is nothing less than amazing.

There's little doubt in my mind that the Democratic ticket for 2008 will be John Edwards and Barack Obama. In which order is the question, although it does look like after the twosome tag-teamed and suckerpunched Hillary Clinton last night, Obama has the greater momentum and Clinton will be shunted aside.

And yet, there's the fear of, is this 1968 all over again? Remember that year -- the murders of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy and the Chicago riots, which allowed the inept Hubie Humphrey to get the Dem nom? Nixon pounced and won, which would not have happened if Kennedy had been his opponent.

Simple fact is, America has been operating in a cycle of fear for six and a half years. The Roves and the Bushies, and yes even Bill O'Reilly, want that to continue for another four decades. I'm not saying they're planning an attack on the Senator. But he is a threat to the military industrial complex that Eisenhower rightfullly condemned as he left office way back in 1960. I will not be surprised in the least if, God forbid, there's an attempt on Obama's life in the next few weeks. After all, hope always beats out fear in the long run as long as there's a glimmer of hope left -- and the opponents of change want to do anything to extinguish even that tiny glimmer.

Yes, the Secret Service has given protection to the leading candidates, including Obama (who apparently has the appropriate code name "Renegade.") But no amount of protection stopped the attempts on Ford or Reagan, or Bush I years after he left office. My advise to the Senator: Hire a few private security guards, just in case. You can't trust the government you're a part of and now want to lead for anything.

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Saturday, January 5, 2008

To stop urban sprawl, don't build houses

Bob Dylan said "The times they are a changin'." Well, not really.

In the late 1970s, my parents and I lived in a fair sized bungalow in Hamilton's Leckie Park section, the area roughly bounded by Highland, Upper Centennial, Rymal and 1st Road West. This was way out of the built-up area in those days, part of a larger area once known as Satellite City and today known as Heritage Green. We had quite a huge backyard, so much so that my parents attempted to get the lot severed. The city and county fought us all the way up to the Ontario Municipal Board; and we lost. Not long after we moved to another part of the Satellite area -- Albion Estates -- the new owners managed to get it severed.

Must have been our last name, we thought at the time -- but in retrospect I've come to understand the very real concern about urban sprawl. The area then abutted the urban boundary, which began just a half block from our home at the former CKOC transmitter towers. (That tells you how old I am!) And it also turns out we weren't the only ones who had trouble severing -- other neighbours did too, only to see future owners get the approvals.

Well, the area is now fully urbanized with hundreds -- no, thousands of homes, and a Big Box conglomeration, complete with a SprawlMart. Not the small mall store, but one of those huge ones that Americans are familiar with. I don't even recognize the area anymore. Only one or two of the neighbour families we still know still lives in the area and they don't recognize it either.

So ... fast forward to today. A local city councillor, who owns a fair size farm spread in Lower Stoney Creek (small by Western standards, but a farm nonetheless), wants to sever his lot so a guest house he built for farm hands -- namely his sister and her husband -- so the couple can have their own space. The citizen run board of adjustment approved the request, but this goes against the advise of city staff so now the city's appealing the decision. Wisely, Mitchell is staying out of it because of the obvious conflict of interest.

As first glance, I can understand the apprehension. Then, as now, the concern is about having urban pockets in what's supposed to be a rural area. Uh -- Winona? Fruitland? Alberton? Carlyle? And let's not forget Binbrook and Mount Hope. So was Heritage Green, once. Isn't this being just a little bit hypocritical? Do people really think other farmers are just going to build guest houses of their own so they can sever as well? They're not really all that a common occurrence in Canada -- you tend to think of guest houses for rich people in urban areas, not rural ones.

For heaven's sake, the house is already there. As Mitchell correctly points out, severance would be a win-win for the city because his sister and brother-in-law would start paying property taxes; and as a separate property the city would actually get more money on the mill rate, not less. Of course we need to protect what's left of the tender fruit lands, but Mitchell got approval to build the house in the first place -- where were the concerns of the moron city staff then? (Okay, so in those days it was still Stoney Creek, but there still had to be some integration with the county-wide urban strategy.) Otherwise, they wouldn't have had this problem to begin with.

Is it any reason why Hamilton continues to have a steady decline of tax revenues? Other neighbouring cities simply don't have this problem. Burlington has a very clear boundary between urban and rural -- the 407 -- and they are thriving. Of course, it also helps that city is run like a business and not an ad hoc snake oil medicine show. Even in the country, I think Burlington would have approved it without objection -- mo' money for the city after all.

This time, it's the board of adjustment that's right and the city staff that's wrong. Just sever the damn property, and leave the Mitchells in peace.

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Friday, January 4, 2008

The Holocaust "ban" myth that keeps going around

It's absolutely appalling how these rumours get started. But months after the myth that the UK had banned teaching the Holocaust was debunked, it still spreads around; and now thanks to some dope who doesn't know UK stands for United Kingdom, some people now think the -- wait for it -- University of Kentucky -- has banned courses on the Shoah as well.

Thankfully, the U of PA's FactCheck project has put out a page that attempts to put this myth to rest once and for all. It's good to see UK, the university, offer an elective on this most harrowing chapter of the human story -- History 323. As for Canada, I'm not even sure if it's still part of the Canadian history ciriculuum in high school. If not it should be; but even in my high school while I appreciated learning about the massacre I also wished they spent more time talking about the ignorance and prejudice of people in North America that contributed to even more human beings being murdered.

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Iowa: Obama and Huckabee

Once again, the Exempt Media has had its expectations turned on its head. The Iowa Caucuses last night yielded quite the interesting results. On the Democratic side, Sen Barack Obama (IL) won with 39% of the vote, with Sen John Edwards (NC- Retired) with 30%, and Sen Hillary Clinton with -- wow -- 29%, a disappointing third place. Technically she still is way out front in terms of delegates when you factor in the so called "super" delegates (ex officios from the federal and state parties, Senators, Representatives, Governors) but if someone with a big warchest as hers can flunk out in a state where it's the grass roots that really count, then we have a real race and those insiders will amount to nothing.

For me, the real winner is Edwards. He needed 30% to have a fighting chance moving forward. He has that. Bob Woodward at WaPo can say this is only a snapshot, but I disagree. Here's why: The Clinton factor looms large, and it puts off a lot of people who think she represents the past. She's an effective communicator, but she's also very abrasive. It's not her sex, it's her personality. Many still accuse her of running the show when Billy was in the White House; and it's not just Republicans who are mad at her for not divorcing him when he fooled around with Monica Lewinsky, many Democrats feel that too and I think last night showed just a bit of that backlash. The dinner conversations in Iowa are probably the same in the rest of America. If she can't convince the real heart of America, she can't convince the rest of America, period.

On the Republican side, what can you say? Mike Huckabee who was outspent by Mitt Romney 15-1 beat him 34 to 25; followed by Fred Thompson and John McCain at 13 each, Ron Paul at 10 and Rudy Guiliani at just 4. Now that last one is real indictment -- guess the former federal DA for Manhattan isn't America's Mayor after all. Problem with Huckabee: He's a minister and he's hell bent on turning America into a theocracy. Even the mostly anti-Resurrection Founding Fathers would be reeling over that one.

New Hampshire is in four days. Probably a different beast given the state's Libertarian grassroots, but I've seen all the commercials (I get satellite, so I'm fed the Boston stations which beam into the Granite State) and this is a very, very unpleasant campaign which could yield yet another shocker. I'm not going to call it; but if Romney and Clinton can't catch a second wind they may as well pack it up.

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Thursday, January 3, 2008

Hypothetical question #1

This is a totally hypothetical question, but I'm going to ask it anyway. Because I know of people who's done what follows.

No matter how you may feel about it, and I personally think it's very, very, wrong, ask yourself this: If you're getting promoted at work depended on sleeping with the boss, and you needed that promotion because along with it came not only more money but also fringe benefits and early pension vesting -- would you do it?

Be honest, but keep it clean ... I'm still moderating, after all.

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Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Misery Loves Company

Man, am I pissed off today. Not in the mood to say much, so for your musical enjoyment, this video from a group calling itself The Lovemakers. Porter Wagoner (PBUH) this isn't.

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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Forget Québec? My point exactly!

I've stated before here that I would have preferred broad based income tax relief, with special attention to families and low-income seniors, to a GST cut. But it's a reality, and whether we like it or not the GST has now been cut to 5%.

One unintended consequence is the effect it will have on the revenue situation for at least one province, Québec. Like three of the four Atlantic provinces, it has harmonized its sales tax (the TVQ) with the GST. However, rather than being an alongside tax, Québec cascades its sales tax. So the stated rate of 7.5% is actually somewhat higher. When the GST was 7%, the TVQ effectively was 8.025%. But with cuts in the federal tax to 6 and now 5%, the effective TVQ dropped to 7.95 and now 7.875%. So what, some readers may think -- turns out Québec gets the best deal of all, a 2.15% cut in sales tax instead of 2%.

But it is a big headache for Jean Charest. Having had to have been bailed out by PMS so he could finance a long overdue provincial income tax cut, offset partly by greater social and infrastructure spending as demanded by Super Mario Dumont as the price for avoiding a non-confidence vote, Charest more than other Premiers has to count every penny. Québec is finally running a surplus but just. By its own admission, it lost about $520 million in revenue from the first GST cut; then they cut income taxes by a billion. (It was necessary to keep up with the other provinces which had cut theirs; but the timing so soon after an election was highly suspicious.)

And losing about half billion won't make it any easier.

This could have lessons for Ontario as well. It as well as PEI and three of the four Western provinces have refused to harmonize their sales taxes with the federal one. (Alberta and the territories, of course, have no sales tax at all.) And bluntly, we're all sick and tired of the rob Peter to pay Paul strategem. Stable revenue sources should mean just that. I don't think the harmonized provinces agreed to do so just to get jerked around. And the other provinces, all provinces actually, should demand a quid pro quo: my preference would be for increased transfers to help the provinces eliminate child proverty, since Harper refuses to do so.

It seems amazing that Harper wants us all to forget Québec ... then again, so did Preston Manning. Because that province sets trends for the rest of us to follow, including more generous social benefits and child care; but I guess that's too "socialistic" for PMS.

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Hamilton cabbies attacked

The last few days here in Hamilton have seen a series of attacks against taxi drivers. Yesterday, two were arrested in one of those assaults -- a cabbie attacked at knifepoint for money.

But in total 13 have been attacked over the last week. No real sense where all of those attacks are ... suffice it to say, however, in a city with the vast area that Hamilton covers it's pretty easy to cover a lot of ground. Far as I've been able to read most of the crimes were committed within the urban boundary but the city does cover significant tracts of farmland and forests as well ... and of course, a few limestone quarries.

Pick up a fare downtown, order the driver to go out to the boonies, then whack him or her well away from a fire station where paramedics could do a rapid response like where the sprawl is. That's where I fear this is headed.

I don't normally take a taxi unless I absolutely have to ... but for many this is the only reliable means of transport especially since it goes door to door. Drivers, as well as passengers, deserve to be safe -- and shouldn't have to worry whether their next ride will be their last one.

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