Monday, March 31, 2008

Kill the Montreal Accord

Today, a number of Canadian financial institutions as well as about 8000 private investors are going to vote on what's been called the Montréal Accord, an attempt to refinance about $33 billion of subprime mortgage back securities. The concept is that they will be swapped for government backed paper. Basically, the banks get cut a break. But for the small time investor who believed they were buying government paper in the first place and not playing the market as turned out to be the case, well they'll get their money back.

Eight years hence.

This is one of the rare cases where, as CBC Radio reported this morning (as usual, no link to the web story yet -- won't be for hours), the little guy could take out the big ones. I hope they do, and force the loanees and big loaners to go back to the drawing board. Why should the Big Six and Caisse Desjardins be rewarded for their bad behaviour while the rest of the class gets punished? It's not their fault the US housing market tanked. They bought what they thought was ABCP -- Asset Based Commercial Paper -- with good quality scores, in good faith. They deserve a better deal. Maybe not their money back right away, but a shorter time frame -- say four years.

It would also remind Americans that anyone in the world, not just Americans, can play the US market and cause another crisis. It'd be nice to see John McCain explain this one to the voters down there. He can try to run as his own man but as the GOP nominee for President he's obligated to defend Dubya's record.

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Sunday, March 30, 2008


The 5% goal power cut goal here in Ontario was met -- in fact, it dropped 5.2% during Earth Hour last night.

I think the message to all of us is we should try to make this a daily thing, not just once a year. Figure out where and when we need to use power and only at those times. Cities should also invest in light standards that only light the street and NOT the night sky. If we got together and did those two things, we wouldn't need those two new nuclear reactors that are supposed to come on line. And we'd get back the starry nights that only people in the country can enjoy.

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Earth Hour

In honour of Earth Hour, this page is going with a "dark" background.

To all the right wingers who intend to have everything on full blast tonight in retaliation, I hope the electric panels in your houses short out and you have fires on your hands.

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Could Casey's endorsement turn the tide in Pennsylvania?

Many people were surprised yesterday that Sen. Robert Casey Jr. (D-PA) endorsed Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) after saying he would stay neutral and after most of the Dem machine in Pennsylvania vowed to support Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY). They should not have been.

In 1992, Bill Clinton got a lot of flack when he prevented the then Governor of Pennsylvania, Robert Casey, from speaking at the Democratic Convention. It is widely suspected it was because Casey was pro-life and Clinton is pro-choice. Many Democrats saw it as a slap in the face, especially as the convention was a month after the US Supreme Court handed down its decision in a Pennsylvania law that Casey designed to reverse Roe v. Wade. In a complicated decision, the Supremes voted 7-2 to uphold most of the law (a waiting period, counselling, parental notification, and public reporting about the fact of an abortion having taken place) but also voted 5-4 to uphold Roe as well as to strike down the most contentious part of the law -- spousal notification.

While some pro-life Democrats were allowed to speak at the podium (although they did not talk about abortion), the fact Casey's slot was instead taken up by some pro-choice Republicans began a family feud of sorts. Why snub the acknowledged leader of the pro-life faction in the party? The Casey clan quietly supported Clinton at the time of election but privately were looking for their opportunity to get back. I think Clinton also missed an opportunity to explain how Casey's approach might help Clinton fulfill his goal of making abortion "safe and legal but rare." That Casey did not endorse Clinton at first during primary season should have irrelevant -- a convention should unite factions within a party.

Casey died in 2000 but he's still widely regarded in Pennsylvania for balancing most socially liberal economic policies with some conservative ones -- which may reflect the realities of most people in the state. In a heavily Catholic state that kind of pragmatism is necessary.

If Hillary Clinton thought that was all behind her, she was wrong. Casey Jr.'s announcement of support for Obama not only revives an old debate it also is an attempt to help Obama win over a major constituency -- the Catholic vote. In 18 of 24 states with major Catholic populations, Clinton has received more votes. Voters in Pennsylvania certainly aren't sheep but the Caseys are very respected and the endorsement should help Obama close the gap with about three weeks left to go. He was trailing by as much as 15 points but now it's down to about eight, and while Obama is obviously pro-choice (as is Clinton) if he is seen as being in tune with the economic issues facing the state he can make it very close.

If he manages to actually win Pennsylvania, it's all over. With all due respect, the Clintons should not have burned their bridges. It went against their claims they were uniters and not dividers. The presidency -- even the nomination of the Democratic Party -- cannot be won by snubbing two core constituencies, pro-life evangelicals and pro-life Catholics.

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Friday, March 28, 2008

CBC kills orchestra

The CBC must really, really hate classical music.

First, it guts the heart of Radio Two and cancels many long standing programs such as Disc Drive and Sound Advice.

Now, it's getting rid of its in-house orchestra based in Vancouver -- the last radio orchestra left in North America -- on the flimsy excuse that the million bucks could be better spent recording "hip" artists.

Buffalo chips, heifer dust and codswallop. Not to mention patently un-Canadian.

UPDATE (9:32 am EDT, 1332 GMT): Fixed bad link.

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Canadian Tire eliminates catalogue

First, a necessary preamble.

When the Timothy Eaton Company got rid of its eponymous catalogue, it marked the beginning of the end of the department store chain that invented the money back guarantee. The elimination of the catalogue happened back in 1976 but was as big a stain on the Canadian psyche as Peter Pocklington trading Wayne Gretzky from Edmonton to Los Angeles. The catalogue was one of the few things that united Canadians -- so much so that it's one of the focal points of Roch Carrier's beloved short story The Hockey Sweater. Namely, the sweater is ordered out of the catalogue and when the wrong one (Toronto instead of Montréal) is mailed out, the mother refuses to send it back because "Mr. Eaton," who she says understands French but is an Anglais and who will be insulted and the company will refuse to honour its guarantee.

Of course, the collapse of Eaton's and its subsuming into Sears predated the Internet era -- or accurately, happened just as e-commerce was taking off. The fact that Eaton's abandoned the heartland of Canada, however, was seen as an insult by many; even by urban Canadians and it marked the beginning of its slow decline. And worse, rather than invest the savings from closing down the mail order division the Eaton brothers left the urban stores that were left mostly to rot. New stores were built in such places as Toronto, Hamilton, Brantford and Montréal but not much else. Physical plant was never upgraded or even made to look fresh. No wonder the chain collapsed when Wal-Mart came along. The Bay and Sears knew what it took but the Eaton team never got it and when it did it was too late.

So now it's 2008. And in a move that can only be called bizarre, Canadian Tire has announced that it is getting rid of its catalogue. Now in many ways the chain -- best described to my American readers as a combination of a sporting goods, outdoor gear, hardware, lawn and garden, home electronics, small appliances, and auto parts and repair all under one roof -- has gotten over the hump after a number of years. The floor staff is much friendlier and actually take you to what you need rather than saying "it's over there" with a huge wave of the arm. Many of the stores are either brand new or significantly expanded, very brightly lighted, and actually fun to walk through. The chain doesn't just sell its housebrand anymore, it also now has name brand products so people can decide for themselves what they want.

And depending on the location, you may even be pointed to another store if they think you'll save money. That was my experience at least on one occasion when I needed a radio antenna for my late Olds; and a couple I know who needed a child car seat installed (they were told to go to the police who would do it for free).

However, a major draw for Canadian Tire is still its catalogue which has given many families ideas about camping gear, the latest in hockey or figure skates, cool gadgets used by the pros but also available to the masses (such as voltage testers). And let's face it, CT's online site is still very hard to navigate -- many including me find it easier just to grab the paper catalogue and flip through the pages (much faster too, even with a broadband connection).

I just don't buy the "savings" argument. Nor do I buy the retention argument that people just toss the catalogue into the recycle bin. Yes, some do chuck it own; but many others do not. Sure, you'll save a few trees -- well, a lot. But the catalogues were being printed on recycled paper anyway, and getting rid of the hard copy eliminates yet another contract for Quebecor which is struggling as it is. Get rid of an emotional connection people have to an institution, you may as well get rid of the institution itself. Sometimes you have to spend money to make it and this is a case where one might be digging one's own grave.

That's what happened to Eaton's. One would hope that the brain trust that thought up this stupid idea knows what they're doing -- we can't afford to lose this icon.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Kids aren't safe from predators ...

... not even in Iqaluit. I don't know who's worse: Those who make the stuff, those who distribute it online, or those who download the material.

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Suck the blood out of the turnip and save Darfur

An article in this Sunday's NYT Magazine section but already posted on the paper's website discusses the action campaign to embarrass Mainland China over its support of the ongoing massacre in Darfur, running up to the Genocide Olympics this summer.

Among the leaders of the campaign is the actress Mia Farrow. They plan to keep it up all the way to this August when the games begin.

As well as they should. It's totally disgraceful that China, using its veto, won't even allow a discussion of what's happening in Sudan. Or that it continues to buy the country's oil adding further salt to the wounds of those killed and displaced.

I don't know what a complete boycott would achieve. Obviously the athletes want to compete. But there are two things that should and can be done. First, all world leaders should make a point of boycotting the opening and closing ceremonies. In fact, so should the athletes themselves. A Parade of Nations without the nations marching in would send a symbolic point -- and it would cut down the ceremony by about an hour and a half. 90 minutes less for the fucking Butchers of Tiananmen Square to spread their evil propaganda. Better Dead than Red, I say.

Second, the athletes should be according diplomatic immunity by their respective governments in respect of one aspect -- free speech -- so that while they're there they can tell the people of China, 24/7, what's really going on in their country. I think it would be a real blessing if during the Games people there have a real revolution and overthrow their masters in the full view of the world.

Some will say, it's better that China stay Communist. NO IT'S NOT. We should be praying for the deaths of the Commie leadership. Perhaps a new regime of leaders will see the recklessness of their policies and stop buying oil from Sudan and other places where killing people randomly is the order of the day. Suck the blood out of the turnip, lives are saved. It's that simple.

For my part, I will never visit China -- never -- until the country is free. And when it is, I just might walk right up to the place where Chairman Mao is buried and urinate on the tomb.

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Steelworkers drop Dofasco bid

This morning, the United Steelworkers pulled their bid to unionize Dofasco (now part of the Arcelor Mittal Group) after deciding there wasn't enough support on the ground.

No kidding. The process seemed rigged from the beginning: The company which as a standalone firm had opposed unionization all these years -- 96 to be exact -- suddenly decides that now it's part of a conglomerate to welcome a union in to try to recruit people.

Two problems with the scenario. First: The company pre-selected the union rather than let the workers attempt a grass-roots organization. Why was Arcelor so hell bent on the Steelworkers? Shouldn't the workers have had the choice of trying to go for another union, say the Canadian Auto Workers which is far more militant? Maybe it's because Arcelor's other plants in North America are bargaining units with the USW but the regular rules should have been followed.

Second: Dofasco has done pretty nicely over the years without a union. It's not perfect, but my father and my two uncles prospered working for them; so does my cousin who's presently there in the office pool. The benefits are as good as if not better than what could be achieved in a union environment. That may have been the biggest beef: Why give up the maximum eight weeks vacation for only five? Or all the other fringe benefits? If you treat people like human beings they will act like and produce like human beings -- without another level of bureaucracy.

The world is a different place and mega companies are now the norm. My father's former stomping ground, though, is still a very adaptable company; able to adjust product lines as necessary. That was the case when it was independent, it's still the case as part of a multi-national. Many unionized places where working conditions and job classifications are spelled out in excruciating detail and just don't have that flexibility. I think that's what really killed the bid in the end. A steel plant needs rules, like anywhere else, but having too many complicates things.

If at some point Dofasco employees decide it's in their best interest to unionize, then that should be their choice -- their own, not the companies or any particular union that gets preferential treatment. A secret ballot vote should ensue in that case, as well as the compulsory Rand Formula checkoff for dues for those in the union and those out (to prevent favouritism). Until then, let the workers there do what they do best. Make the steel that auto companies and other durable goods manufacturers like to purchase.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

NYC considering congestion pricing -- could TO be next?

An op-ed piece in today's NYT talks about the general concept of congestion pricing for lower Manhattan and how the hold-up appears to be the details of how to implement it. It has worked very well for such places as London, Stockholm and Singapore and there's no reason why America's biggest city would not benefit from reduced traffic provided it came along with major transit improvements.

If NYC manages to put it through and it succeeds it could be a template for other North American cities. One city with chronic problems, of course, is Toronto. It may very well be useful to have downtown tolls for peak periods.

There are two issues: One, an extensive system of cameras and transponder gantries would have to be set up -- and ways would have to be found to ensure accurate tolling. Transponders for the 407 could be used to this purpose however anyone who drives the 407 or has an EZ Pass in the Northeast or Upper Mid-West US knows that inaccurate billing happens. (It has to me, although it was worked out.)

Second, where does one draw the boundaries? Should Bloor be the northern boundary, or Eglinton? On the west side, should it be Bathurst or the Humber? And once it's implemented, who gets to decide if the boundaries should be expanded? A recent expansion of the zone in London, well into residential areas, was extremely unpopular. Do people residing in the zone have to pay the full charge or do they get a discount as in London?

Also needing consideration is through traffic -- should people who travel only on the Gardiner and Don Valley Parkways to and from the QEW and the 404 or 401 respectively be nicked as well, or does the toll incur the moment one hits any of the entrance or exit ramps?

Since Ottawa has absolutely no intention to implement even rational pollution standards, it will be up to the provinces to do so. I'd like to see Toronto take the lead. If it reduces traffic even by 20%, that will mean faster public transit as well as lower insurance premiums for everyone.

Sidebar: It's time to harmonize the 407 and EZ Pass systems. A lot of us cross the border quite frequently and with currencies at or near par it would be kind of nice not to have to fumble for change or grab a ticket -- again, saving on emissions over stop and go.

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The right answer

For all the problems Hillary Clinton has had of late, there was a bright spot yesterday. On a seemingly never-ending tour of university campuses, daughter Chelsea Clinton was asked if the Monica Lewinsky scandal had hurt her mother's credibility (i.e. the "vast right-wing conspiracy" remark when the affair first broke the news in January 1998).

Chelsea's response:

Wow, you're the first person actually that's ever asked me that question in the, I don't know maybe, 70 college campuses I've now been to, and I do not think that is any of your business.

Absolutely, positively the right answer.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Wilkins ice shelf collapses

Tony Perkins and James Dobson; and Stockwell "Flintstones was a documentary" Day too, will no doubt say that Satan is testing us in an attempt to "deceive" us about global warming. But pictures don't lie. This one may not be as big as Larsen B but it's still seven times bigger than Manhattan.

When palm trees grow again in Wyoming, and wheat on Ellesmere Island, maybe people will wake up. But we'll be under 10 metres of water or 100 of ice by then.

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On Flaherty and Carville

Two points in one post.

1) Jim Flaherty seems to have have amnesia about the fact he was once Ontario's Finance Minister; and it was during his time in that job, about two years, that he put in some very damaging policies including tax credits for private schools and trying to make homelessness "illegal," two things which almost drove Elizabeth Witmer out of the provincial Con party. He also supported the stupid proposal to make mortgage interest tax-deductible against Ontario taxes, which policy had it been sustained would have made the relatively minor sub-prime crisis here as big as if not worse than in the States. And now he wants to lecture Ontario about how to run this province, from Ottawa? Sorry, pal. You had your chance and you screwed it royal. I agree corporate taxes should be cut, but I trust Dalton McGuinty on the appropriate timing for this one.

2) It was a few days ago, but I felt I had to comment about Jim Carville comparing Bill Richardson to Judas Iscariot, and on Good Friday of all days. I am usually reluctant to criticize a fellow Catholic, but I have to speak out on this. The allegory is entirely inappropriate, and Carville made it even worse last night on Anderson Cooper's show. Richardson didn't need Bill and Hillary Clinton's help to become Governor of New Mexico, he did quite fine on his own merits. And it's not like Richardson left the donkey to join the elephant. If he had, then the Judas comment might pass muster. Clinton and Carville should look themselves in the mirror and ask why they're trying to help John McCain and not debate the issues with Barack Obama until there is actually a winner.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

$24 billion? We thought it was $9

The CBC reported this morning that successive Liberal and Conservative governments have spent $24 billion on national security in Canada since 9/11. In a sense, that may be a good thing. But $15 billion of that is in secret or unreported appropriations. It included among other things more money for the Mounties, CSIS, the military; and airline upgrades.

Also interesting is that very little has been done to beef up border enforcement on our end, not just to stop illegal migrants or possible terrorism suspects but also the illicit trade in contraband alcohol and tobacco. Our border services and coast guard contingent on the Great Lakes is a fraction of what exists on the US side. We have just 14, they have 2200.

Some have wondered why that money wasn't spent on other things like child care or pharmacare. Others wonder why some things have gone unnoticed. Like many others, I don't want to know how the sausages are made. Yes, I think we can afford child care and pharmacare without compromising our national security interests. In fact, all should be priorities. But I also think that secret earmarks go against the grain of the Parliamentary system. The Auditor General at the very least should know and be able to report on an annual basis how much we're spending and whether that's money well spent, just as for any other priority area.

To the argument there haven't been any terrorist attacks since 9/11 on Canadian soil, I point out that we can't afford that kind of complacency. The thwarted Toronto plot is an example.

But could we have done better? Could we have beefed up our defences for half that money -- say $12 billion? Or was the $9 billion sufficient enough to begin with and why was it deemed necessary to spend so much more? If the money really was needed, we're entitled to an accounting. If not, those who stole taxpayers' money or secretly jacked up appropriations without authority should be imprisoned. Both Liberals and Conservatives.

As for the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence areas -- if the feds can't truly afford to defend the border then the OPP and SQ units assigned to the lake and rivershores should either be federalized or given authority to enforce federal customs laws, with weapons if necessary.

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What about an arts tax credit for kids?

This is just a personal observation ... but it's interesting that there is a federal tax credit for families who put their kids in activities that promote "physical fitness," yet there is no equivalent credit to promote the arts (visual, dramatic, musical).

The only province in Canada that has an arts deduction for kids is Québec. The other provinces and the territories which use the federal base to calculate their income taxes follow the federal rules and discriminate against the artistic. What do kids in Québec have that others in Canada do not? Could it be that the present régime in Canada is content to create a generation of people who won't have the ability to think? That partly explains why so many Republicans get elected in the States -- their backers are those who tend to prefer NASCAR and the NFL to Live from the Met and MTV.

It doesn't have to be one or the other -- we do need the sporting life but we also need the artistic life. Kids who may not have innate talents in athletics but may prefer the finer things in life that also stimulate the mind as much should not be punished for that. Some minors also excel in both as well -- but don't spend enough time in the athletic component to qualify for the credit. That is also wrong.

The physical fitness credit should be extended nationally to include artistic pursuits, and should be renamed the fitness and arts amount. And it should be increased substantially -- from $500 to $5000 per child with an inflation adjuster (increasing the actual tax savings from $75 to $750 per year, at just the federal level).

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Sunday, March 23, 2008


Either bring them home to the States -- or put them to where they're actually needed in Afghanistan.

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FCC's war on free speech

This past week, I unsubscribed from the mailing list of the Parents' TV Council after the US Supreme Court decided to hear a case regarding the FCC's policy about punishing television and radio stations for broadcasting "fleeting expletives." This all started with Paul "Bono" Hewson's minor breach of politeness at the 2003 Golden Globes. The FCC decided the entire broadcast, because of Bono's faux pas, was indecent. This led to later citations against Cher and Nicole Ritchie. And who can forget the "wardrobe malfunction" that got CBS in hot water?

Even PBS isn't exempt. It has gotten so ridiculous that the Denver affiliate refused to air Marie Antoinette because of some explicit pencil drawings; and last year Ken Burns' masterful miniseries The War was distributed to stations in two versions -- one with swear words, one without. (Thankfully, my satellite service carries Boston's WGBH, which spelled out what FUBAR and SNAFU means among other expletives, so I saw the uncensored print.)

The Second Circuit ruled that the FCC has gone too far, that what's often said on TV is no worse than what one sees in a PG movie or walking down the street. While the court acknowledged community standards may vary from rural Kansas where the f-word is verboten in the lingua franca to lower Manhattan where one is expected to drop the f-bomb every sentence, it also said the FCC is divorced from reality and its rules probably violate the First Amendment.

The FCC has appealed. It will mostly likely try to cite the 1977 Pacifica case, where the Supremes ruled the First Amendment does not apply to radio or TV (the case revolved around George Carlin's Seven Words). Not sure if the CBS case is also being heard but the network wants its fine in the Super Bowl incident reimbursed.

I originally got interested in the PTC's work because there were some examples of material on TV that were truly demeaning to women -- stuff both feminists and anti-feminists would find offensive. However, I've come to realize that there is a difference between free speech and license, and most of the stuff out there is free speech. As long as the law is not being broken, no long term harm is done. Besides, one only has to take a look at Canada, the EU, Australia and other countries.

We see the same violent and explicit movies, listen to the same violent and explicit music, and watch programs on TV in prime time that would never be allowed in the States -- the firewall (also called the "watershed") drops after 9 pm Eastern in Canada; and there is no proof that more rapes are happening because networks are allowed to show simulated sex in prime time.

No ... my problem is networks and cable outlets who try to make local murders of sexy women national stories, and also mply their murderers are worse than Osama Bin Laden or Timothy McVeigh. (A view I share with freelance journalist Alexandra Kitty.) You don't see the PTC complain about that. Instead, they put forward Dean Jones (star of the original Love Bug) who actually suggested Chandra Levy and Laci Peterson were murdered because of porn on TV. As if. Anyone with half a brain should be offended by that suggestion.

If people are offended by something they see on TV, they can turn the channel. Ratings systems now measure people's watching preferences by the second and if people turn out what is really offensive then programming will change to reflect that. Until then, let the marketplace decide. Let a thousand flowers bloom. For among the thorns, an idea may very well sprout into something bigger. The FCC's approach is swatting a fly with a sledgehammer and creates a Puritanical climate of fear, potentially suppressing good ideas even if such ideas come encapsulated in a foul word or phrase. Even a five second delay is unacceptable -- live should mean live, and what goes goes.

The US Supremes should so rule and uphold the Second Circuit. The people may own the airwaves, but the FCC does not have the right to regulate the airwaves as if only those who write letters to the commission and their standards should be the rule of the day. If George Carlin wants to say the seven magic words in succession on network TV, he should have that right. As should anyone else. And no one was ever damaged by adult full frontal nudity on TV -- they were damaged by those who broke the law behind closed doors (rape, incest, child exploitation) and no one is going after those people.

UPDATE (11:13 am EDT, 1513 GMT): Fixed a bad link and grammar errors, added an attribution.

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Roll out the barrel in NS

It's hard to believe, but until now it was actually illegal for a bar in Nova Scotia to serve drinks on Good Friday or on Christmas unless they also sold food -- and the food was more expensive than the drinks. This patently silly regulation went out the window this week allowing the beer to flow for the first time in decades.

Yes, I do wonder about the wisdom of drinking during the High Holy Days of the Catholic and Protestant calendars (the Thursday to Saturday before Easter). But come on -- like Christmas and Easter themselves, Good Friday is marked by civil authorities as a strictly secular holiday. If people want to drink, let them -- just make sure enforcement for DUI is stepped up.

And it's not like a lot of states in the South, where grocery stores can't sell beer until noon on Sundays and many restaurants can't even serve alcohol with meals (unless you buy a trial membership, informally called "dinner by the wink").

For the record, the Christian scriptures don't forbid drinking -- it forbids getting or being drunk. There is a difference.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

"Your parents were Herb and Judy Nahasapeemapetilon"

[With apologies to the writers at The Simpsons]

Isn't it curious that on three occasions this year, Barack Obama's passport file was breached? That they were breached the day after the New Hampshire primary, the day of the Texas Dem debate, and the day the Rev. Wright story broke? And that no one, including Obama, found out until last night?

Even Hillary Clinton is crying foul, remembering how her husband's application was breached during his 1992 run to look for evidence of travel to Moscow (which, by the way, was not against the law at the time). A passport application, along with a person's annual tax return, is supposed to be kept secret; because it contains very, very personal information -- including one's social security number, family contact information, names of references and guarantors, etc. And while a politician may very well self disclose one's tax return voluntarily to satisfy critics one would never expect the same for the one piece of ID that proves ones's citizenship or national status.

Maybe it's just a coincidence that the two contractors who were caught and fired were Republicans. Then again, maybe not. It's very suspicious that Obama, perhaps on the verge of clinching the Dem nom, would be subjected to such a breach of national security. Apparently the matter is before the Inspector General. Actually, this calls for a special prosecutor. A real one, not the whitewash investigation over the Clinton breach with Joe DiGenova (a.k.a. Mr. Victoria Toensing).

UPDATE (2:47 pm EDT, 1847 GMT): CNN is reporting that Mrs. Clinton's and John McCain's passport files were also breached. Something is very, very wrong at the State Department if something like this is happening.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Terrorism unit blueprints dumped in trash

For a Canadian government that has taken absolute pride in controlling the flow of information to the press and insisting bureaucrats clear just about everything with Cabinet before they talk to members of the media (with the exception of the weather office) this is a huge gaffe; and as Ottawa prepares for Easter, I don't think a lot of people there will be sleeping well tonight.

Blueprints detailing plans for the new counter-terrorism building at the Canadian Forces Base in Trenton, Ontario were thrown in the garbage -- and picked up by someone connected to the left-wing Rideau Institute in Ottawa's Glebe district, about a fifteen minute walk away from Parliament. Included in the blueprints recovered: The location of fences, utilities and the layout of the building.

More shocking is that only one of the eight cylinders dumped were recovered and reviewed before being turned back to National Defence. The rest may be in a landfill or a recycling facility -- or they may be in the wrong hands. Say, an Ottawa sleeper cell of Al Qaeda? God forbid if that's true.

If ever there was a time ministerial responsibility ought to be invoked, it's now. Both the minister for Defence and for Public Safety need to explain to us why such blueprints if not needed any longer were not disposed of properly.

There's a long tradition of rooting in the garbage to find out about corruption in the First and Second Estates (the church and the bureaucracy, respectively). All I can say is it's a good thing a civic minded person did the right thing and made sure it was returned back where it belonged. The point is, though, this is one thing that should not have been in the trash in the first place. It's one case in particular where most of us just don't "need to know."

UPDATE (9:40 pm EDT, 0140 GMT Friday): An earlier version of this post identified the operative who found the discarded blueprints as one with the Laurier Institute. It was in fact the Rideau Institute.

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Free Brenda Martin

This has gone on long enough. If Mexico won't free Ms Martin, then we should boycott Mexico where it hurts, in their pocketbooks -- whether it's tourism, or vehicles assembled in Mexico.

Or maybe some way should be found to kick Mexico out of NAFTA so Canada and the US can go back to the old Mulroney-Reagan free trade agreement between just the two countries -- which while imperfect was just fine until Mexico got into the game.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008


On this week, the fifth anniversary of America's illegal invasion of Iraq, Dubya gave a speech still defending what he did and spoke again of the "transformative" power of democracy, which is religious right code for, "We're gonna impose Christianity on those 'stupid infidels' whether they like it or not." Transformation being a synonym for "transfiguration" -- one of the key moments of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.

While democracy should be the norm for all freedom loving people, you just can't impose it on someone if they don't want it. Free elections may have been held in Iraq, true, but clearly there's a significant portion of the population there who believe democracy and Islam are incompatible -- and want an Iranian style caliphate. Officially, Iraq is also still an enemy of Israel.

Sadly, the legacy of the second Bush will be his absolute stubborness. He makes a decision first then seeks out advice only from those he agrees with to concur that decision. A true leader may stick by his or her guns but will always hear the point of view from the devil's advocate.

As for transformation -- we've seen how Iraq has transformed. The war is still going on and people are worse off than five years ago. Meanwhile, America has also transformed (especially on the Gulf Coast) and you don't see Dubya doing anything about that.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama's address on race

I watched Barack Obama's speech about race relations in America this morning and it is one of the most brilliant statements on the issue I have seen or read in a long time. Obama, it is said, wrote this one entirely by himself and without the help of any speech writers or pundits. (Transcript here.)

Some may note he came off as a bit soft-spoken. Actually, being understated helped underscore the points he was making -- just as it did for JFK in his address to evangelicals in Houston about how Kennedy's loyalties lay with America and not the Vatican. This is not the kind of issue where fire and brimstone helps, as Obama noted. He covered a lot of bases in his address today, addressing many of the concerns shared by blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans -- and those of mixed race like himself.

To the issue he hasn't disassociated himself from the church (the United Church of Christ) he has belonged to for over twenty years, Obama pointed out we've all heard something from our pastor or rabbi that has put us off but we haven't left our churches. That's an important point.

To use an analogy, far too many Catholics including myself are way beyond offended by the sex scandals that have rocked the Church, not to mention the complicity of quite a few archbishops as well as the Holy See in obstructing justice; but that hasn't made most of us leave the Church. We've stayed because that's where our roots are.

Why would it be, or should it be, any different with Obama -- an evangelical Christian -- just because his ex-pastor is out of step with reality?

Key among Obama's other points was that the blame game has to stop. The blame game won't solve the many economic issues Americans of all colours and creeds face. He also had the guts to say he can't solve all of America's problems, nor can any other person who might be elected to the Oval Office; all a President can do is try to change the tone of the debate. For that, he may have well locked up the nomination -- and I hope he has. Sadly Hillary Clinton wants to continue her personal vendetta war against her enemies for another eight years and Americans just don't need that right now, not when the economy is teetering. Why should the States subsidize that vendetta? Obama has made it clear he wants to rise above that.

One only hopes Americans in general do as well. They would heed well to read all his words, not just the soundbites on the evening newscasts tonight.

Besides, all Clinton could say is that she agreed the election shouldn't be about race -- even though she didn't see or read Obama's speech. Is something wrong with that picture?

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Fed cuts rates -- again

Citing a weakening US economy, the US Fed dropped two of its key interest rates in the last hour and both by ¾%. The Fed Funds rate (the rate banks charge each other) is now 2¼% and the discount rate (when banks borrow directly from the government) is now 2½%. This was actually less than the 1% most were predicting.

Reviewing the statement, a couple of things stick out. First is the concern about inflation and an attempt to level things out. I can understand what the Board is trying to do, but it's also hard to see how putting more money into the system would help that factor. As you increase demand, you naturally increase prices -- not lower it or level it out. People on fixed incomes are having a hard time making ends meet; and many commuters are getting sick of paying $4 a gallon for fuel.

Second, the Fed is warning that the housing market is going to be depressed for the next few quarters. The fact so many people have had foreclosures the last year or so as adjustable mortgages reset with the five year clock they're on; plus that many more are now upside down (they owe more on their mortgage than the houses they're living in) is going to be a major issue in this year's election. It looks like the Fed is trying to ease things up so the reset rates are less and therefore fewer people will foreclose over the long run.

However, one also has to wonder whether there might be a bit of political interference happening here. In 1984, there was a tight race between Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale. Contrary to popular wisdom Reagan didn't win a landslide by making fun of Mondale's "inexperience" (even though Mondale had been a veep and an Ambassador and one of the few people in America, in fact the first VP ever, to know the nuclear launch codes). Nope. It was because just before the election, then Fed Chair Paul Volcker -- who had caused a huge headache for Jimmy Carter by letting interest rates float in 1979, making a soft economy even worse -- orchestrated a cut in the Fed rate by 1¾% in one fell swoop.

Few people then knew what the Fed was or its alleged independence from the Treasury Department; so they credited the rate cut to Reagan, and he won a clearly unearned second term in office.

Now, with far more people (indeed the vast majority) in America playing the markets they're not so stupid anymore. If the Fed is holding back for an October Surprise, the people who actually vote won't be fooled; if the only ones to benefit are the banks who've squandered their depositor's trust to play the risky commodities market where everything -- even mortgages and credit cards -- can be traded for a song. And the first thing Obama or Clinton will do when they're elected, or what I think they should do, is fire the entire board and start over with bankers who actually know and live in the real world; and not just Level Two stock quotes.

Then -- and only then -- will Americans have a Fed that is responsive to the people and not the financial institutions or brokerage houses.

Sidebar: The US Dollar hit another low today -- it's now on par with the Swiss Franc. That is definitely not a good sign.

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3 out of 4

In going over last night's by-election results, I am happy that the Liberals won three of the four vacant districts contested. The one district in Saskatchewan (Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River) went to the Conservatives, though; and like many I think it's in large part due to that Stéphane Dion set aside the people's choice for the nominee, David Orchard, and parachuted his own candidate. Dion tried that strategy in Montréal's Outremont section, one of the safest Liberal bastions in the whole country -- and it was lost to the NDP. The will of the people should be respected, and Dion missed out on a great opportunity; Orchard would have been more than capable of going toe-to-toe against Team Harper especially on the Canadian Wheat Board file.

Another thing worth noting is how well the Green Party did. In the two Toronto districts up last night, the Greens finished either ahead of the socialists (Willowdale, won by Martha Hall Findlay) or virtually tied with them (Toronto-Centre won by former Ontario socialist Premier Bob Rae). In Vancouver-Quadra, it was a lot closer race than most thought and it may have been because many Liberal votes peeled away to the Greens.

This is something the Liberals caught on to when they decided last year not to contest a Nova Scotia seat that Green Party leader Elizabeth May is running in; against Con Peter Mackay (in return, the Greens won't run in Dion's home district in Montréal).

Sad as it makes me, the NDP has become irrelevant to a lot of Canadians -- it's just not the party of Tommy Douglas or Edward Broadbent anymore; and the "new" in New Democrat wore off ages ago. I happen to know many fine N Dippers including my MP, Chris Charlton. The way I see it, though, the new progressive movement that many Canadians are aligning with is the Greens; and while I remain a firm Liberal I think that the Green Party is poised to make a major breakthrough whenever the Generals happen either this year or next.

I also think the Green Party would be a more viable coalition partner for the Liberals if May does manage to pick up a few seats -- it's almost certain the next election will produce yet another hung Parliament barring a huge scandal that rocks the Cons as much as Sponsorgate did the Liberals.

Be that as it may, or what may come, we deal with the here and now; and having Rae and Findlay on the front bench alongside Dion and Ignatieff should give the Liberals a bit more swagger, and a desperately needed one at that. We're looking at least until the fall for an election now. Wouldn't it be poignant if Rae -- the guy who as a socialist introduced the budget amendment that brought down Joe Clark in 1979 -- also introduced as a Liberal a non-confidence measure against Harper in 2008?

Not too many people around the world can say they brought down not one but two Prime Ministers while being a member of two different parties 29 years apart.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

No anonymous posts

Just as a reminder to readers here, I do not allow anonymous replies to my entries. Someone just tried to post a comment under the handle "Withheld" for something I wrote way back in December. Sorry. I need some kind of link to know you are a verifiable person or corporate entity. This means a verifiable Blogger or Open ID account with a name attached to it.

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Bear in the pet cemetery

Bear Stearns is no more. Last night, J.P. Morgan Chase bought out the investment bank for a pittance -- $2 dollars a share, way down from its close of $30 on Friday (a loss of 47% in one day) and way down from over $100 just a couple of months ago. As well, the US Fed extended another $30 billion in loan guarantees to finance the buyout. Clearly, the end came when depositors realized that deposit insurance only covers real banks -- not investment houses -- and pulled their money and / or moved it into guaranteed divisions.

What an awful end for a group that survived the Great Depression, several wars, the meltdown after 9/11. This morning, Asian markets have taken a huge drop on fears it could only get worse. The US dollar dropped to a measly 96 yen. At this rate, it will be at par by next year unless central banks pull off another huge intervention.

And again I ask the same question I did last week, albeit in a slightly different form -- say the investment arm of one of the Big Six in Canada, or of Desjardins, suddenly got into trouble. Would we as depositors be expected to allow our secured deposits to bail out the risky portion of those financial institutions? Or would we bail out and find a safer institution, deposit insurance notwithstanding?

The shoe is going to drop. In a few weeks, or a few months, but it will happen. Maybe not the banks themselves, but their investment houses -- and the losses will be catastrophic. And this is one thing Stephen Harper won't be able to blame the Liberals for.

UPDATE (1:11 pm EDT, 1711 GMT): Couple of notes -- first: the 47% drop I referred to above was the decrease in price from Thursday to Friday. Today, Bear is trading just above $3.50; a 97% decrease from Friday. Second: Some are speculating that Bear just might make a huge comeback. Not likely -- someone at CNBC reported that to secure the sale, Chase Manhattan took the Bear building as collateral (and the building is worth more than the company); meaning even if Bear found a new suitor it'd lose its physical plant. Adding insult to injury to be sure. All in all, most of the 14,000 people who are there will lose their jobs; and Manhattan can't afford to lose that many employees plus all the spinoff jobs that exist. Both Bush and Mrs. Clinton have some explaining to do.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Most ridiculous item of the week (2008-03-16)

When you have to do your business, don't sit on the throne for two years, as this woman in Kansas apparently did. (Source: Dallas Morning News).

Sometimes reality truly is stranger than fiction.

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Prayers for Tibet

The Butchers of Tienanmen have given protesters in Tibet until Monday to "surrender."

I say no. Tibet is an illegally occupied country and it's time for an oppressed people to reclaim what is rightfully theirs. It's time for freedom to ring in South Asia. It's not right that there are only three truly free countries in that part of the world -- India, Japan and Mongolia. Push back now, or face enslavement and cultural genocide for another 100 years.

If Beijing decides to pull another Tienanmen, then the world should decide they will boycott the Olympics. Now more than ever, we need to pray for the liberation of a long suppressed people.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Obama condemns Wright

Barack Obama just posted a blog entry at HuffPost about the rather incendiary remarks made by Rev. Jeremiah Wright and disassociates himself from those remarks. Indeed he uses the word "condemn" at least three times. He also talks about his views about religion and politics which are very much in line with the Social Gospel.

I think this is clearly aimed at the voters in Pennsylvania, especially the vast rural and conservative areas which have a different mindset than Pittsburgh or Philadelphia. I note, however, he's been much quicker to try to put out this flame; than Hillary Clinton has been in talking about her inconsistent policy positions or the remarks made by her supporters and by herself.

I say good for Obama. He understands what's at stake this year and the way forward.

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Bear in the Big Outhouse

When one heard on the radio that investment bank Bear Stearns is now worth less on paper than either Black and Decker or Hasbro, you realize the US economy is really in the toilet. Rival JP Morgan and the New York City branch of the Federal Reserve has had to bail out Bear to avoid a "liquidity crisis." Other big banks in the States -- BofA and Citigroup -- have also had a run on their book value today.

This on top of the Reserve Board's $200 billion bailout of the banks, the second in a quarter, finally forced Bush to admit today that there are "warning signs." He still thinks, though, that the housing market should be left alone to work out its own vices on the premise that first time home buyers may be shut out of a rare opportunity to buy quality homes on the cheap.

The problem with that theory is that foreclosure auctions are nearly monopolized by home flippers who buy the distressed mortgages then sell them really fast to new buyers in the regular market at the original market price, gaining a huge profit. First timers are totally shut out of the market; just like us regular folks who have to buy concert and sports tickets on the secondary market because brokers have found ways to circumvent security systems that are supposed to stop the brokers.

One wonders where the shoe will drop here in Canada. Which of the Big Six found itself too overexposed to the much riskier US markets? Actually, I suggest it's all of them. They've already taken big writedowns to reflect the subprime scandal and it's only a matter of time before the Superintendant of Financial Institutions pulls the plug on one or more of them. When all is said and done, we'll be left with three or four -- and even less less choice and higher interest rates.

All because some wise guy or girl had the idea to extend credit to someone who couldn't afford it, then kept writing more and more of those ticking time bombs.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Elephants don't forget

Stephen Harper should know this: Like elephants, Canadians don't forget. We haven't forgotten the income trust betrayal, and we won't forget the Cons' vote today to cancel the RESP tax break.

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Screw the DLC

I was going to leave the Ferraro issue alone after she quit the campaign last night. But after watching Keith Olbermann's rant against Hillary Clinton (and a well deserved one) I had to make some comments about this small but very influential group called the Democratic Leadership Council.

The DLC whose most influential members include Bruce Babbitt, Chuck Robb, Dick Gephardt and the late Lawton Chiles, has single-handedly managed to take over and nearly destroy what was once a very proud party in the United States. They have done this by arguing that populism is not the way to win elections; citing the crushing defeats of George McGovern and Walter Mondale. Thanks to the DLC, Democrats in the key leadership positions are no longer the party of Thomas Jefferson and Franklin Roosevelt. They are, in point of fact, a centre-right party disguised as a liberal one. This is largely due to the groundwork done by a number of rightist Democrats in Congress but best exemplified by Bill Clinton.

It's not that the DLC is all bad. Quite the contrary -- the Third Way gave new vigour to a party that was disspirited during the Reagan era. But like any think-tank, ideas need to be reviewed every so often. The Third Way remains stuck in the 1990s, and refuses to accept that every so often a little bit of populism can't hurt that much. In fact, it's their opposition to populism that partly explains the election (flawed or not) of GWB.

It's therefore no surprise that the DLC has put its enormous weight behind their candidate this year -- Hillary Clinton. Why they are doing everything they can to stop the populism and even pragmatism of their arch-enemy Barack Obama.

Bottom line: The DLC and both Clintons are the Republican wing of the Democratic Party. It's time for the Democratic wing of the party to stand up and tell the DLC where their proper place is -- in the GOP. It's also time for the real Hillary Clinton to stand up and tell the world where her loyalties lie -- and with which party.

Those are my thoughts. Now, here's Olbermann's -- and I think he's absolutely right to bring up the spectre of David Duke.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Ferraro out

Geraldine Ferraro quit the Clinton campaign late this afternoon. Not without yet another cheapshot aimed at Barack Obama, though.

She just doesn't get it. There's a difference between making an impartial statement of fact; and being a partisan saying the same thing with a sinister insinuation.

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Eliot Spitzer resigns

I take no joy in seeing the fall of such a sanctimonious freak. There is simply one lesson in this: Do what you want behind closed doors; even if you're cheating on your spouse (which, of course, I do not condone) and betraying the trust of your children (even worse!). Just make sure you pay with cash and in non-consecutive bills.

Spitzer's replacement come Monday is David Paterson who is, as far as I know, the first blind person to hold a state chief executive position. New York State has a lot of structural problems, hampered by a long dysfunctional legislature, and it's going to take more than just a cheerful disposition to fix those problems. Paterson will need more than luck but he should be up to the task and should be wished all the best.

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Hamilton's inconsistent snow plowing

Depending on what part of the Hamilton megacity you're in -- even the part that's the "old" city -- snow clearing services can be either fantastic or just plain crappy.

I live in Ward 8, the West Mountain (a euphemism, it really should be West Escarpment). Snow plowing is fairly consistent on my street, a bare to centre bare standard as on main thoroughfares; and as I write these words several dumpster trucks have come by to pick up all the snow that has piled up the last few weeks and dumped on a couple of bends. The big pile in front of my yard is only about a third of what it was when I turned in last night.

Now go to the lower city. It's absolutely appalling. I had to park on a side street in Ward 4 (most of the industrial area and the residences south to the escarpment) and it looks like it hasn't been plowed since Christmas. Seriously. The roads down there are an obstacle course; and a danger to suspension systems even for luxury cars.

We spend a half a billion dollars on an admittedly badly needed expressway, one kept to an impeccable clearing standard even better than the provincial 400 series; and they can't spend even a hundred thousand bucks to clear side streets, in a part of town that doesn't even have driveways for most houses? Where's the sense in that?

Maybe it's the fact I live in a middle to upper class neighbourhood and that other part of town is lower class. But that's no excuse. We pay the same mill rate based on property values, we should get the same level of road maintenance regardless.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Ferraro's big mouth

I never thought I'd live to see the day a former vice-presidential candidate would actually make a racist remark. Yet that is exactly what Geraldine Ferraro did when she said yesterday that Barack Obama is only in the lead in the Democratic delegate race because he is a black man. Ferraro is a Hillary Clinton supporter, in fact she is on the fundraising team.

Quote: "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept."

Hillary only said she "regretted" Ferraro's remark (the classic non-apology apology) but refused to disassociate herself from Ferraro herself. Smelling blood, David Axelrod who supports Obama demanded Ferraro be kicked out of the campaign.

Perhaps kicked out of the party, too. There is no warrant for such a reckless remark; and someone with such a distinguished career as Mrs. Ferraro ought to know better. This is only adding more fuel to the argument that Clinton is unfit for command. If the shoe fits, walk in it. Samantha Power was forced to quit the Obama campaign for calling Clinton a "monster" and the same standard should apply to Ferraro.

UPDATE (5:32 pm EDT, 2132 GMT): David "Sinbad" Adkins adds some more dumping to Clinton's self-proclaimed foreign policy "experience," noting the junket he and Sheryl Crow went on in 1996 with Clinton and her daughter to Bosnia. The trip was just a USO concert for the US troops there. No diplomacy at all.

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Another bailout

For the second time in about three months the central banks of Canada, the United States, the UK, Switzerland and the Eurozone are bailing out banks having liquidity issues thanks to the sub-prime mortgage crisis. This time, another $300 billion in credit and debt swaps are being offered; with credit terms over 28 days instead of overnight as is usually the case. The US which is in the most trouble has extended $200 billion to its banks. Canada, which hasn't been hit as hard relatively, is releasing $4 billion.

In a sense, that is the role of a central bank; to be the banks' bank and to assist financial institutions for short-term crises. The current downturn has many more structural issues than just the sub-prime scandal, however, and taxpayers are going to balk at some point if it is they and not institutional investors that have to pick up the cost of paying off bad loans. This is not a short term issue and if the banks have had to have been bailed out twice in only 90 days it could be the sign of worse things to come.

It also points to another issue: Many people have wondered for years, why can't we just pay off our debts by printing off more money? The answer of course is that our creditworthy status would be seriously downgraded and our currency devalued. Yet by unleashing that much cash on the markets, it really is the equivalent printing off $300 billion of cash that didn't exist before 1230 GMT today -- or to be fair, money that's been hoarded in reserves. It's a monster that feeds itself.

Others have suggested central banks should be serving its shareholders -- i.e. its citizens -- rather than the banks, by loaning money to the government rather than having banks do so. That too would upset the balance.

If this really is another stopgap measure, as was the bailout in December, fine -- as long as we see results in terms of lower food and commodity prices as well as a return to solvency of the banks. But enough is enough. We shouldn't be held responsible for the bad debts of others. If you borrow money, you have to pay it back at some point. Nor should we be held responsible for rogue traders like the one at the SG bank.

One has to wonder who's upset the apple cart this time, that made the centrals move so fast.

Someone at the Caisse de dépôt, perhaps? That would make recipients of RRQ and Québec worker's comp payments very happy.

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Spitzer the hypocrite

If criminal charges are levied against New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer as a result of the prostitution scandal that broke yesterday, they won't be for being a john. Nor for his hypocrisy, although he should be rightly shunned for that.

Nope ... the two most likely charges are transporting a person across state lines (from New York to the District of Columbia) for illicit purposes; and what's known as "structuring" -- that is, issuing a series of payments just below the $10,000 minimum to require reporting to the feds of unusual transactions.

This was what a lot of Catholic Irish Americans did during the Troubles. They believed it was their patriotic duty to support the IRA (a terrorist group). Knowing about the $10k rule, they sent transmittances to Sinn Fein in amounts just below that -- $9000, $9900, $9999.99; so the crime of structuring was created to deter this "get around." As I understand it, that's what got Rush Limbaugh into trouble, making successive payments below the threshold to his dealer that supplied his pain killers; not the fact that he had excess amounts of pain killers in his possession.

The sad part is the feds initially thought Spitzer was being bribed, or worse extorted or shaken down, after his bank noticed a series of unusually large transactions. Instead, he was shaking out his middle leg inside a $4300 per hour service agent.

The most galling thing of all is that even when all is said and done, he'll do less time than the prostitute. This may be a bad case study, but this is even more reason why the law has to be changed to protect the sex trade workers and punish the johns who exploit them.

As for Spitzer -- he should resign, period. He's bad for his state, and an even worse neighbour to Ontario and Québec.

UPDATE (8:23 am EDT, 1223 GMT): Slight clarification about Limbaugh. The original version made it appear that he supported the IRA. That was certainly not what I meant.

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What's with gas?

The wholesale price for regular unleaded gasoline -- that is, the price refiners charge each other -- hit $2.7149 US yesterday. The spread between the wholesale price and the retail continues to grow as well; many parts of the US are paying $4 a gallon; here in Southern Ontario many gas stations are charging around $1.07 a litre (also $4 a gallon, give or take). This even though signs indicate supplies are actually increasing and demand decreasing.

At least in the States, they have multiple gas stations to choose from and there's a price spread between them, generally about ten to fifteen cents. Here in Canada, we're down to about four majors and some independents and inevitably the big guys charge exactly the same price. The savings at a discount, maybe 0.2 cents. Why? No wonder some people try to fill up at native reserves.

So basically, we the consumer get ripped off again; gouged and gouged and gouged. And because food and other supplies have to be transported, we're seeing prices go up substantially especially at the supermarket.

Isn't it time the competition bureaux actually did their job? I'm all for profits, but there comes a point when those profits only benefit a few and not society as a whole.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

RIP Perry Rockwood

One of the best known and perhaps stranger preachers died last Friday. Perry F. Rockwood, best known for the radio program People's Gospel Hour was two weeks shy of his 91st birthday.

Ordained a Presbyterian during WWII, Rockwood later broke with the church when he charged it with "apostacy." He went on to craft a six day a week radio show that was and still is, to say the least, intriguing. He was one of those "Bible newspaper" guys who waved a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other and tried to co-relate the two.

Rockwood was also a huge proponent of the King James Only movement and kept insisting to his death that any and all any other English translations were heretical -- an odd theory since the KJV is riddled with translation errors and even disrespective of Hebrew grammar and poetry rules, and Rockwood broke with the Presbyterians around the same time the Dead Sea Scrolls and other manuscripts were discovered in Judea and Samaria; such discovery the basis of many modern translations and corrections of earlier ones.

In a world where evangelism is almost completely America-centric, he put Canada on the map for millions of listeners around the world. While I may have had many issues with his doctrinal approach, one could not doubt his devoutness to those beliefs. I'm sure Rockwood and the scribes of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures will have many dinner arguments on the other side.

"May the Lord bless you, and make you a blessing." -- Perry F. Rockwood.

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Dem Campaign update (2008-03-09)

Some potentially bad news for Hillary Clinton on two fronts: First, South Dakota officials are thinking about making the SD Democratic primary an open one. Such a scenario would favour Barack Obama who's been on fire with independents. Sure, some Limbaugh dittoheads might try to shake it up by voting for Clinton, but it really wasn't that much of a factor in Texas last week if exit polls are correct about the cross-overs.

Second, to save costs, there is talk that a pending "do-over" primary in Florida might be done by mail in ballot. Clinton has every reason to fear this. Mail-ins done across America the last few years have tended to favour the more progressive side of issues, and the more progressive candidates. This is because there is plenty of opportunity given to a voter to think things over; this leads to rational thought.

There's no reason to doubt Clinton might win the overall vote as she did in the unofficial primary where Obama wasn't even listed as a candidate (in part due to the large Hispanic vote); but if Obama can keep it competitive and peel away a good chunk of delegates there, he might have enough to go over the top without the superdelegates.

It's possible the same may have to be done in Michigan.

To do it properly, though, the mail-in would have to be double blinded. (This is roughly the same thing that is done for absentee votes.) That is, the filled in ballot is put inside a plain envelope which is then put inside a numbered one. Upon receipt, the numbered envelope is opened, that envelope destroyed after being emptied, and the number crossed off the list (to ensure no one can vote twice); then the plain envelope is put in the box to ensure secrecy.

It gets more interesting, folks.

UPDATE (3:33 pm EDT, 1933 GMT): Barack Obama warns those thinking about voting for Clinton because they could still get Obama as veep are being bamboozled by Clinton. I hope this is just the first shot in a series of cannonballs at Billary -- they really deserve it.

UPDATE # 2 (3:47 pm EDT, 1947 GMT): New York Governor Eliot Spitzer admits he was involved in a prostitution ring; and may even resign. This may actually help Obama even more; after all, Clinton is one of Spitzer's most enthusiastic supports and vice versa. And people in the heartland of America got back to hating New Yorkers, especially the limousine riding ones like the Klin-tohns, once the shock of 9/11 wore off.

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Sunday, March 9, 2008

Austin Powers: "Why won't you die?" (Lazarus edition)

One can't help but notice a rather strange irony in today's Gospel reading in most of the Western churches that use the Common Lectionary; in relation to the events of the last few weeks in the States. Today's pick is John 11 -- the death and raising of Lazarus. What is often skipped in the reading is what comes after Lazarus is raised; that the council of religious elders in Jerusalem were so furious that not only did they decide there and then to finish off Jesus of Nazareth, they also decided to go after Lazarus even though he didn't stay dead the first time.

How does this relate to the campaign between Obama and Clinton? At this point, there is so much bad blood between the two that when one seems to be dead he or she comes back and then the other seems to falter only to come back. And it becomes infuriating to one candidate that the other won't go away. It's like they're both like the Chief Priests of Jesus' time: They're not happy the enemy stayed dead the first time so they'll do almost any thing to perform another death blow -- again and again. Whether it's having the opponent shoot themselves in the foot, or saying someone patently stupid oneself.

They're also both devout Christians, but as of late neither have really acted as such. Of course, I don't wish ill of either but at some point something has to give and one may have to make the supreme sacrifice (winding up his or her campaign) to save the other.

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Saturday, March 8, 2008

"3 am girl " supports Obama

At long last, Hillary Clinton can be accused of being completely dishonest about something. Well ... almost.

That 3 am ad she ran last week against Barack Obama? The girl in bed turns eighteen next month; and SHE PREFERS OBAMA!!!!! (Source: KING-TV, Seattle). In fact, she was a precinct captain for him in last month's primary in that state. The picture was a stock image from when she was ten, and the photo purchased by Clinton from the Getty organization.

The young woman, Casey Knowles, does concede she'll still vote for Hillary if the latter makes the final cut; but you'd think Clinton's hench team would have checked THEIR facts on this one.

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Thatcher released from hospital

She spent the night in one for observations. Looks like it was just a scare, but I'm still going to pray she gets well.

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Friday, March 7, 2008

Conservatives hate kids

HT to Cameron Holmstrom:

How else to explain their threat to kill C-253, the proposal to make Registered Education Savings Plans tax deductible, by fillibustering it in the Senate? Their claim is that the plan would put the government into deficit. Imagine that: The Conservatives actually oppose a tax cut and one that makes perfect sense.

Of course, the Con Artists would not have had this problem if they stopped corporate welfare to energy companies, delayed the GST cuts until it was more fiscally prudent to do so, or enacted revenue neutral income tax reductions.

We're talking $900 million per year. Here's an idea: How about hiring just a few more investigators to go after renovation companies and automobile garages that operate in the black market -- oh, sorry, underground economy. The cheaters cheat Canada out of $10 billion in revenue every year, and that's just at the federal level.

Of course, those fraud artists probably contribute to ... wait, what am I saying???? That's never been proven. Besides, a donation generates a tax receipt and the whole point is to EVADE taxes, not just reduce them.

Need any more proof Harper doesn't have his priorities straight?

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Power out

It's unfortunate that some ill advised comments from Barack Obama's lead foreign policy advisor, Samantha Power, has forced her to quit the campaign; at least openly. We haven't seen the last of her, though -- if the end of the cycle results in an Obama Administration I see Power as the National Security Advisor.

The fact remains, however, that even with Power aside for now Obama still has more credibility and honour when it comes to foreign policy than Hillary Clinton's delusions of "foreign policy experience" which are grossly exaggerated compared to the reality.

Mr. Clinton -- that's MISTER -- had almost zero foreign policy experience when he beat out the elder George Bush in 1992. What nerve does Mrs. Clinton have claiming she had twenty years more in that department than her husband when HE was elected? There must be some double counting going on here. What treaty did she negotiate, or what foreign Congressional junket did she travel on, back in 1973? Serving on the Watergate committee alongside actor Fred Thompson (both of whom were Congress' legal counsels to the impeachment investigation) and the work they did in taking down a tyrant (Nixon, who in many ways was still better than Bush Lite) does NOT count.

Sooner or later, and I hope it will be sooner, Obama will start fighting back; and fighting back hard. I for one am getting sick and tired about Clinton talking about her credentials when it comes to national security when she's offering at best short term measures to deal with economic security which is inherently tied to national security. If people aren't safe in their homes and in their jobs, and if the executive does not have a realistic plan to fight crime substantially, how can they expect their President to protect the country from abroad enemies? You need taxes to pay for foreign aid and tours of duty after all -- you can't keep borrowing money from China which is a bigger enemy to America than Russia has been or will ever be.

Clinton thinks she has the RIGHT to be President because she's entitled to it. She still has to close the deal in a few more battlegrounds and it is by no means over. In my opinion, she is very lacking in something Americans want from a President; humility.

Obama is a humble man and therefore a better choice. But he needs to close the deal, and now. This necessarily means going on the attack which is something he's been reticent to do until now but one fights fire with fire. He has to expect pushback from Clinton, of course, but it's time.

First piece of advice to Obama: Target the Catholic vote in Pennsylvania and appeal to their concerns, which has more roots in the "Social Gospel" than one might presume at first glance. Peeling a few points away from Clinton in that category will pay dividends in the final result in that state's primary next month.

UPDATE (8:06 PM EST, 0106 GMT Saturday): HT to Josh Marshall, tomorrow's Chicago Tribune has a story that parses Clinton's "foreign policy" credentials. Not a pretty picture, but I'm not sure how much it will blunt the Power kerfuffle.

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Arbour steps down

As widely expected, former Supreme Court of Canada Associate Justice Louise Arbour has stepped down as the UN's Human Rights Commissioner. It's not too surprising when one considers her frustration with the US Government and its continued support of torturing terrorism suspects, destroying what credibility it has on the issue. As long as America continues to interfere on this important UN agency, no person worth his or her salt should take the job. Which means that some maniac from Syria or North Korea will probably be next in line.

Americans should really pay attention to this one. Yesterday, Hillary Clinton came out with the whopper that she has national security "experience" and John McCain does as well; as for Barack Obama, said Clinton, he'll have to explain himself.

Mrs. Clinton has absolutely no credibility or moral authority on national security or torture, and the two issues are inherently linked. She openly supported torture until just before the primaries in New Hampshire (how convenient!); while McCain who was stuck at the Hanoi Hilton for five years and was a victim of torture is now one of its most enthusiastic supporters.

Obama has opposed using the enemies' means from day one. He has the most crediblity and moral authority, and therefore has the upper hand when it comes to national security.

Don't be surprised if the UN job remains vacant for a year or so and when the next President finally comes into power and it was Clinton, she nominated Karl Rove who is even worse on the issue.

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8 year old passes law school test

An eight year old kid in Brazil who has skipped two grades has done the almost unthinkable: He passed the law school entrance test; and almost managed to get enrolled until he showed up at school with his father. He was told he needed a high school diploma. It seems that there is no standard test in that country, unlike the common law schools in Canada and the United States which use the LSAT; and he just happened to pick a school which has a rather easy one.

I think he should have been allowed to stay. It's not like a lot of adults who've been at the bar for thirty or forty years are any good. That applies to all countries.

Good thing I have a lawyer who's smart on his feet. No, I'm not going to give his name.

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