Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Obstacle to US health care candidates won't mention

As Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama race to the finish line to the Democratic nomination -- and as more superdelegates begin to line up with the latter despite his recent stumbles -- one issue that has gone underreported is that of how difficult health care reform is actually going to be. It may not be as simple as what the candidates state, or as simple as Michael Moore would want us to believe. Yes, Sicko (which I reviewed here) was a great movie but he forgot to mention -- or ignored -- another symptom of the American mess.

Like Canada which isn't a single, single payer regime but where each province and territory runs its own system (with very limited reciprocity, a fact which is itself against the law), there likewise isn't one single health care system in the United States. There are in fact fifty-one, one for each state and the District of Columbia. Each one has its own set of rules and regulations and because of that are each served by a different basket of insurance companies, and the states will not yield their authority to the federal government. Worse, reciprocity is next to impossible to obtain even within the same insurance company, which impinges on the right to travel and even work (many people live in one state but work in another).

Ever notice the small print in so many television and radio commercials, "Not available in all states"? Many companies don't bother selling insurance to those who need it not because the companies want to sell (of course they do) but because of the bureaucratic burden from regulations that prevent them from doing so.

If there was some interoperability allowed, that would drive down costs substantially. A company that can compete in all fifty-one areas instead of just a dozen or so could make insurance affordable for the masses because of the lowered overhead. Health care needs may be different in Wyoming or California, obviously, but having to make regulatory filings with fifty state agencies (and the home rule government in Washington) is patently ridiculous.

Hillary's plan of "mandates" -- forcing people to buy their own insurance -- is silly. Not just for the reasons above. Massachusetts has a mandate law but over 300,000 residents in the state still don't have insurance. They can't buy insurance if no one will sell it to them. Her plan overall would cover more Americans in the long run, but it still relies on the insurance companies -- which bought her off in the fourteen years since her last plan tanked.

Obama's plan isn't that much better. His plan does call for portability as well as "pay or play" (what they have in Hawaii) but it also relies on tax credits to help low income people buy insurance. He also does call for a ban on companies denying benefits or claims on so-called "pre-existing" health conditions. However he doesn't say how he's going to make sure premiums charged are fair -- or how premiums will be more levelled off across the United States.

As for McCain? Same old same old: Tax credits. They're useless if you can't get insurance in the first place. He also says absolutely nothing about ensuring interstate competition.

In the long run, I think America will ultimately have health care for all. It won't be a Canadian system and certainly not a Cuban system, but more of a hybrid system of public and private health care; not unlike what they really have in the UK, where there is a basic basket of services from the NHS but people can get private insurance for faster (and better) service if they can afford it. To get there however and to make even minimal reforms, Obama or Clinton will have to first confront that convenient catch phrase of "states rights" which once meant pro-segregation laws but nowadays simply means no federal mandates without just compensation for the lost of that aspect of state sovereignty.

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Cheney hates the whales, but loves to hunt humans

It's very interesting how in many US States, the Environment Department is called the Fish and Wildlife Service. Based on this story, maybe they should be in separate divisions. Because one person, Dick Cheney, apparently like to hunt for ducks without a license (and also for humans, literally) but hates beasts of the sea, especially the big ones.

Congress is trying to force the Bush Administration to adopt rules which the government's own scientists at NOAA -- the official weather office -- state are threatening the right whale, an endangered species if ever there was one. Fast moving ships can injure or kill the whales so the argument is for reduced speed limits in or near ports.

But as has been so typical of Bush-Cheney, the veep is saying there is "no hard evidence" that lowering the speed limits would make a difference.

Yeah. The same way Cheney objects to hard emission caps which would reduce America's greenhouse gases, preferring "voluntary" rules. Howdy, y'all, welcome to the Lone Star State where the grass is green and the skies are as opaque as waxed paper. There are voluntary rules in Texas and there are smog alerts in Houston almost every day. They have tough rules in California and smog days in Los Angeles every year are a handful at best.

What goes for the air also apparently applies to the sea. If Cheney lived in a manor on the ocean instead of a ranch in Wyoming, he'd say he has the right to flush the toilet without having the waste go through a sewage treatment plant even if everyone else in the city has to use the municipal facility. Could it be that his stake in Halliburton has something to do with his objections -- that it'd make things difficult for the favoured no-bid-contractor to warmonger Bush?

Why is Cheney so content to see one of the great species go extinct for short-term gain? How about the passenger pigeon which was hunted into extinction in just fifty years -- from 2 billion to zero?

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Ken Copeland continues shuffle

Kenneth Copeland, who lost his bid for immunity from possible prosecution when his favourite candidate Mike Huckabee lost the GOP nomination to John McCain, is now really pulling out all the stops to block the Senate Finace Committee's investigation of his and five other ministries. Copeland has now set up a website called -- get this -- Believers Stand United.

If anyone believes this is going to stop Chuck Grassley and Max Baucus from stopping their bi-partisan investigation of the ministries, they are mistaken. It's time to sub poena the false teachers before the Senate not for their teachings but for their financial misdeeds -- if they want to plead the Fifth that's fine; but that will only serve to add more suspicion upon them.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Two more reasons

A couple of items I wanted to talk about tonight ... both relate to the pattern of cynicism being engendered by "Canada's New Government ™."

The first is how Diane Finley blew off her own constituents -- more than 1500 tobacco farmers in her district -- because of alleged "security concerns" regarding the pending ban of foreign exotic dancers getting work permits. Even more remarkable is the statement she sent out to be read at the meeting:

As your Member of Parliament, even though we're not there yet, you still remain my number one priority, I and area MPs are doing everything in our power try to help you. [...]

Just so there are no surprises, should tobacco farmers initiate a lawsuit against the Federal Government, everything we are working on stops. Plain and simple. While I recognize, respect and understand your public right to protest in a peacefully, organized civil manner, negative messaging has made it increasingly difficult and challenging for me to obtain help for you. We've come close a few times and have been set back due to things like this and other various issues.

Can you believe the gall of that woman?

This from a woman who refuses to help the farmers get a potential new customer who has wanted to buy Ontario tobacco for its factory for years but has been consistently rebuffed -- Six Nations. Yes, THAT Six Nations. Its products are best sellers in Europe, in many parts of the United States and even on reserves in Canada. But it's not allowed to buy ONTARIO tobacco and Finley refuses to lift a finger to lift the obstacles that would potentially save the industry. Let alone proposed buyout packages that are still held up in limbo.

Hmmmm. Also today, the House of Commons voted their confidence in their arms length agency, Elections Canada. Voting against the motion -- the Conservatives. The vote was 152-117.

Double hmmmmm.

If Stephen Harper refuses to recognize the legitimacy of an agency created by an Act of Parliament, then he has forfeited his right to be Prime Minister. In fact, so has the whole Conservative Party; and the Chief Electoral Officer should decertify the party forthwith.

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Obama distances self from Wright

If people thought Obama wasn't clear enough about he thinks about Jeremiah Wright, he made it quite clear this afternoon.

The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago. His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate, and I believe that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the black church.

They certainly don't portray accurately my values and beliefs. And if Reverend Wright thinks that that's political posturing, as he put it, then he doesn't know me very well. And based on his remarks yesterday, well, I might not know him as well as I thought, either.

One would hope that settles the matter. The racist MSM, however, will make sure it won't.

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Ethics and prudence go hand in hand

Many Canadians may glaze over the details of the "in and out" scheme, or of untendered contracts, or of uninviting the opposition to international events to which they have traditionally sent a delegation. They may also wonder what the big deal is over secret cabinet meetings, muzzling members of the caucus, filibustering committee proceedings.

It's true that the last couple of days, the opposition has gotten back its swagger over the economy, particular high commodity prices and the rapid growth in grocery bills. However, it's important to keep plugging away at the issues involving ethics and trying to control the agenda.

The best government is open government, not a closed one. When there is transparency in how things are done, Canadians are in the best position to determine whether they are getting value for money. In a parliamentary system, secrecy does even more no good than the secret government that Bush and Cheney have run the last few years. The Sponsorship scandal was horrifying but at least some people were held to account in the end. Under the current regime it appears no one ever will be for what would be deemed as corrupt and definitely illegal in most member states of the European Union.

On the economic front, it's possible that the government may still be able to get away with making a surplus for 2009 if only because of the ad valorem nature of the GST on gasoline and diesel purchases (i.e. the effective rate of the tax actually goes up as the price of oil does, as opposed to a flat per litre excise tax). However, such a model is unsustainable and relying on a boom in resources is irresponsible. Eventually the resources will be depleted; or it is also possible that the price of oil and natural gas could crash downwards substantially. Either scenario would hurt not only the federal coffers but that of all provinces that produce even minimal amounts of fuel.

Recall what happened the last time an oil bust hit Alberta. Now imagine the domino effect of the next bust on Alberta, then spilling on to British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland -- as well as pinching the federal coffers.

It may happen this year, or next year, or even the year after. But it will happen -- and the consequences may be catastrophic. An income tax cut will have been seen by that point as more prudent than a two point GST cut we got -- by then it will be too late.

And the real winners will have been those who can ride out the storm, those with big pockets in the corporate towers of Calgary and Toronto who supported Harper. The rest of us will have gotten the shaft. They won't care about ethics violations so long as it doesn't affect them.

So ... keep plugging away at the government on the economy. But don't forget integrity either. Inevitably, they go hand in hand. Look at the countries the IMF and the World Bank have to keep bail out. It's those with corrupt governments who squander resources. It's only a matter of time before they have to bail out the United States, like they did the UK in the 1970s. Canada may be in a much better position but only because of the tough decisions we made during the 1990s. A return to corruption and irresponsibilty, however, and we'll eventually wind up the same way.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Jeremiah Wright: On the record

Most of the press -- the racist, MSM -- don't want Americans to know the full context of what Jeremiah Wright has been trying to say about race relations in America. Neither do the supporters of Clinton or McCain, and I suppose those of Obama either.

Fortunately, here are full transcripts of Wright's remarks, first last night to the NAACP in Detroit, and today to the National Press Club in Washington. Admittedly, there's actually more in there I agree with than I disagree with. But that's me. I was blown away by this guy and I was left asking, why isn't HE running for President?

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30 years after the Fleck strike

Many people may not remember the events in a small town in Ontario called Centralia thirty years ago. People like Stephen Harper want us to forget; even state that those caught on the wrong end of the debate were in the wrong. But it was in 1978 that the union movement in Canada changed forever.

A group of plucky women at a plant making wire harnesses for the auto industry, sick and tired of being treated like scum by their employer, Fleck Automotive, were able to certify a local of the United Auto Workers. The company refused to recognize the legality of the vote, furthermore they vowed they would never deduct union dues from those who had decided not to join the union.

In so doing, they were challenging an informal principle called the Rand Formula which the Big Three put in place after a nasty strike at Ford Canada in 1945. The Rand Formula ensures union security by making sure the company doesn't play favourites with those who because of conscience or politics don't want to join; since everyone gets the same benefits everyone should pay for those benefits through union dues. Rand does allow such conscientious objectors to have the dues redirected to either the in-house charity or a mutually agreed upon third party NGO.

When the women at Fleck went on strike, the company struck back hard. Using its connections at the office of then Premier Bill Davis -- it just so happened the owner was also a top official in Davis' office -- 500 OPP officers were on force at the plant and brutalized the women at Fleck, day after day; while ensuring replacement workers got free passage into the plant. The burly set at some auto assembly plants as well as at parts plants like Budd Canada had to come down to Centralia to act as bodyguards for the women. More notable was that when the press attempted to report on what the OPP was doing, the cops raided TV stations and newspapers, destroying tapes and ripping up manuscripts in Gestapo-like fashion.

The strike went on for 23 weeks. Finally, a mediator was sent in from of all places the Canadian Senate. He suggested a compromise: The company recognize the union local and agree to a compulsory check-off; but that all plant workers, including the replacement workers, vote on the first contract. It was quite risky but the UAW took the bait and they won the day by a margin of 3-1.

Humiliated by the conflict of interest and embarrassed by what became a huge public relations disaster, Bill Davis made the Rand Formula mandatory in Ontario law -- with the same compromise in the Fleck strike; that all workers in a bargaining unit either in or out of the union get to vote on contracts.

I have stated in the past that if I was in a non-union environment and a union came in, I would probably stay out if my relationships with management were cordial. But if a union was already present at a place of employment, I would definitely be in. The fact is, in either scenario, I support the Rand Formula because it ensures union security. Unions are the reason why much social progress has been made in Canada and why many of the better places to work have such good wages and fringe benefits. They've sought top of the barrel treatment and not bottom rung.

We need to fight to ensure that unions remain a vital force in our way of life. Unions helped build Canada as much as big business did, perhaps much more. There is an argument that in the present world unions should not be so inflexible in terms of job classifications. But we also should not allow the provinces to become right to work jurisdictions where it becomes a free for all, where companies become bullies and workplace safety is an afterthought.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Random observation on the 2nd Amendment

As the US Supreme Court mulls over the legality of a DC law that bans the personal ownership of a firearm, which is claimed to violate the 2nd Amendment, one should necessarily look at what the 2nd Amendment actually says.

"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

The first half of the amendment is written in the ablative absolute, a grammatical tense that would have been very familiar to the Framers who were mostly schooled in Latin. While the tense is still perfectly acceptable nowadays, it is rarely used except by the most profound of geeks. In today's language the amendment would be written as "The security of a free state requires a well regulated militia; therefore, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

In that context, there are legitimate arguments for both sides on the issue. On the one side supported by the NRA, that the first part of the amendment protects the independence of the state National Guards and when separated from the rest of the amendment individual gun ownership is absolute. On the other, that since the people themselves form the militia and not just reservists, the people require regulation (i.e. gun control) to ensure that rogue elements don't get out of hand and undermine the security of the free state that law abiding people are entitled to.

Since Canada views gun ownership as a privilege and not a right, we tend to see it through those blinders. However even with them removed, common sense dictates the latter view should apply.

My sense is when SCOTUS rules later this year in DC v Heller, it will have it both ways. It will strike down the absolute ban of the DC law but also make clear that states do have the right to make reasonable regulations to keep the domestic peace while imposing the duty to protect the right to have a gun.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

At least Nixon denied wrong-doing

First, some good news: I'm opening up comments to all users; however I am continuing to moderate them.

Adding my thoughts about the article in the Guardian the other day that some others have commented on:

Some writers have found some stark parallels between Richard Nixon and Stephen Harper. Frankly, I think Nixon was a whole lot better. Yes, Nixon set out to undermine constitutional government although he didn't go as far as Bush and Cheney have. But Nixon had some redeeming qualities. He actually cared about the environment as well as workplace safety and attempted to build bridges where none existed before such as when he opened a door to Red China. In other words, he had a bit of a conscience, at times. Harper, on the other hand, is bent on coming off as an "environmental" guy by protecting some wildlife sanctuaries here and there but is content on letting air and water emissions continue unabated. As far as labour standards go, he'd be quite content to making the federal civil service a "right to work" environment with the Rand Formula out the window -- thus destroying federal workplace unions. And as far as bridges go, he's burned just about all of them. He doesn't have a conscience the way most Canadians would understand it.

But the stench of campaign finance fraud could very well be Harper's Waterloo. Consider when Woodward and Bernstein began their investigation of the Watergate break-in. What began as a laughable bugging attempt was the tip of a massive fraud that began with $25,000 in misdirected campaign contributions, which escalated to $350,000 and then over $1 million; all to fund domestic espionage. Imagine if $10 million went missing from the coffers of Clinton or Obama or McCain and the press would have a field day.

No hint that this kind of tomfoolery has happened at the federal level in Canada although it's well known the Alberta provincial government (which is basically the martial arm of Harper nowadays) has long illegally bugged environmental groups such as the Pembina Institute; and during the dark days of Duplessis' reign of terror in Québec that unions were the subject of similar intimidation tactics.

But to think that a party could transfer funds to a local district not for local campaign literature with local issues, but to then ask for the money back and have the ads labelled as "local" with no reference at all to the local issues -- at the orders of head office -- then to attempt to get the local candidates to ask for the 60% of matching funds they're entitled to for getting at least 10% of the vote in a particular district, fails to pass even the most basic sniff test. If the allegations are true, Canadian taxpayers have been defrauded of $700,000 and the very reason why we have public financing is undermined.

It's good to see some Conservatives, like NL's Joseph Goudie, have a conscience about the wrongness of this game of musical chairs.

I too would like to know why Harper is bragging about what he did.

See also: Runesmith's thoughts about this.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

You have a sniffer dog? Prove you need to use it

The Supreme Court of Canada made the correct ruling today when, in two cases, it decided that sniffer dogs cannot perform drug searches without probable cause. In both cases, the vote was 6-3.

In the first case, students were confined to their classrooms at a Catholic high school in Sarnia, Ontario -- while a trained police dog sniffed out the students' backpacks in the school gymnasium. The visit was not based on a search warrant but rather a standing invitation by school officials that the police could come any time. Several students were found to be in possession of marijuana and psilocybin a.k.a "magic mushrooms."

In the second, a bus passenger getting off a bus in Calgary from Vancouver. The passenger "looked nervous" and a police officer obtained a sniffer dog to inspect the bag which contained cocaine and heroin. The police justified their actions by saying the bus depot is a major staging point for drug trafficking and they could smell something in the air.

In both cases the court ruled that there was a lack of probable cause and that the actions of the cops constituted illegal search and seizure. People have a reasonable expectation of privacy when they're going to and from school or work, riding on public transit or on an elevator and so forth. As far as the "scent in the air" goes, the court mentioned a case in the States where nearly 2800 students at a high school were searched by a dog and found one -- who happened to be playing with her dog earlier in the day, a bitch in heat.

The situation here was far different than using sniffer dogs to check for guns or explosives where there is a legitimate public security threat. Such is the case at airports where there is a real concern for public safety; a similar concern does exist with intercity trains. Or at border crossings where customs agents have certain powers domestic police do not.

Both decisions may cause some problems for the police in the short term, but both decisions were correct. People do have a right to privacy, regardless of their age or occupation; and regardless of whether they choose to travel or not. But there's a much bigger issue beyond search and seizure, and that is the right to be presumed innocent. In the school case, the school board presumed all the students were guilty unless they could prove their innocence. In the bus case, the mere fact that a guy looked disoriented when getting off a bus was all the proof the cops needed. Seriously -- how many of you have ridden a train or bus from one city to another and need a few moments to get your bearings when you get off the vehicle?

In short, as Justice William Binnie wrote: "A hunch is not enough to warrant a search of citizens or their belongings by police dogs." Schools and transit authorities have every right to impose a zero tolerance policy on drugs, alcohol, weapons and sexually explicit materials. They do not however have the right to make everyone look guilty for the sake of catching the few truly guilty ones.

Nothwithstanding what the right-wing bloggers and media may have us believe, the success rate for Charter appeals by defendants in Canada is actually very low, about 6%. That's because the SCC recognizes police do need to do their job, but within reason. It has set a fairly reasonable bar for what constitutes reasonable police conduct. They have done so again today in ruling for the defendants and for that they are to be applauded.

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That's how they got Capone and Bakker

Not for the St. Valentine's Day massacre or alcohol running (as in the case of Capone.) They (i.e. the government) nailed him on tax evasion.

Not for a high flying lifestyle or his heretical beliefs (as in the case of Bakker). It was for overselling a time share hotel project and committing mail fraud when he filed a false tax return.

And so it is with Wesley Snipes, who was sentenced yesterday to three years in jail not for his past legal troubles including reckless driving and carrying a fake passport, but for not paying income taxes; in fact not bothering for filing to file a tax return. He was lucky to be acquitted on felony tax fraud unlike his co-defendants who set up a tax shelter in a deliberate attempt to evade taxes.

Too bad in a way, because he's a really talented actor as well as a martial arts expert, among his other gifts. He could have just admitted "his problem," had the matter referred before a tax tribunal at the IRS and paid a relatively small penalty in addition to the back taxes. It's not like he can't afford to pay.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

You can't have it both ways, Hillary

One of Hillary Clinton's attempts to smear Barack Obama last week was to point out his association with a member of the Weather Underground terrorist group.

Yet she claims she knew nothing, absolutely nothing, about her husband's pending commutation of the sentences of two WU members who killed two cops in a botched Brinks robbery, which was a red-hot issue in her first Senate campaign in 2000. A commutation that even the guy who became her seatmate, fellow Democrat and NY Senator Chuck Schumer, angrily opposed during Hillary's campaign.

How could she not know when it was in the news every single day in New York State that fall? This is so typical of carpetbaggers like her. But that's my opinion.

Read the article for yourself, then decide.

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Why I don't like Harper

Joining the Mound of Sound, PG Liberal, and Woman at Mile 0, among others, I want to throw in my two bits worth on why Harper must go.

When JFK narrowly beat out Richard Nixon in 1960, it was said that actor John Wayne was shocked. Then, magnanimously, Wayne said, "I didn't vote for him, but he's my President and I hope he does a good job." For all his faults, Kennedy lived up to that standard, something no President unfortunately has done since.

Liberals have had their share of heroes and villians who have served as Prime Minister. So have Conservatives. While I was disappointed when Harper won two years ago, I hoped he would try to do a good job as Prime Minister of Canada. He hasn't even come close. In fact, I (as a Liberal) have to go as far as say that Brian Mulroney, Joe Clark and John Diefenbaker (all Conservatives) were a heck of a lot more competent at the job. But that's because they were Progressive Conservatives, progressive in the positive sense. Harper is the furthest from that.

Rather than cut income taxes (the more prudent and revenue neutral course), he cut the consumption tax (GST) which is a much more reliable source of steady stream revenue to the point where we might run a deficit this year for the first time in over a decade. He attempted to eliminate the Court Challenges Program, which in fact he can't since it was set up under the Official Languages Act a full four years before the Charter of Rights came into force. He's said he wants to restore the traditional balance of powers between the federal and provincial levels, but in fact is bent on mass centralization and this is no more apparent than his proposed immigration reforms which completely disrespects agreements with the provinces on the nomination of suitable regular class immigrants.

He opposed floor-crossing in the opposition benches, but was perfectly okay with someone crossing the floor the very first day he became PM. He was against public financing of political parties and tax credits for contributions to federal parties, yet seemed quite content (it seems) to not only exploit public financing but bend the rules to ensure an election victory.

He favours seniors with pensions at the expense of those who must rely on Old Age Security and the Supplement alone -- if they get the Supplement at all. Health care reform is a bust -- rather than demand benchmark improvements in five areas as he promised, he let the provinces get away with improving just one.

He has shown his contempt for children by decimating the purpose of the tax-free Child Tax Benefit and adding money that is taxable rather than having a real strategy to reduce or eliminate child poverty. His plan to create 125,000 day care spaces is nowhere near met because businesses don't have the incentive to do so.

And he's very content to be the fishing and hunting buddy of Dubya and will continue to act in this vein if John McCain is elected President. He wants Canada to be the fish and game, not the fisherman and hunter.

As far as Middle East diplomacy goes, he has just about destroyed Canada's reputation as an honest broker in the region. Of course we must support the state of Israel and stand up against militant groups that want to destroy the only true democracy in the region. But we also need to insist upon a just solution for Palestinians and other Arabs who want to live and let live; as well as ensure free access to the holy sites of the three main monotheistic religions. Harper, unfortunately, comes off as a Kingdom Now evangelical who thinks we must trigger Armageddon rather than let events take their course in due time. This is unacceptable. Frankly, I wouldn't be too surprised if Harper would support tearing down Haram al-Sharif and rebuilding the Third Temple. It's right in his ballpark.

Make no mistake, if Harper wins another term he'll almost certainly help the US in its more fanatical missions. When our tour of duty in Afghanistan ends in 2011, they'll be reassigned -- to Iraq. And as in the US, he'll play the patriotism card.

He wants to get rid of the CBC, or at least CBC News; even if he doesn't want to admit it.

Another thing I don't like about Harper: Racial profiling in selective mass mailings. There are literally hundreds of people named "Lee," for instance, who have received Chinese New Year cards even though they're Anglophone and not Chinese. The same goes with many people named Livingstone and Waxman who received Hanukkah cards even though they're Christian. And so forth. A friend of mine, whose parents are Italian but considers herself 100% Canadian, was quite insulted when she received a "Buon Natale" card for Christmas last year from Harper. She considered it patronizing to ethnicity, the exact opposite of the old Reform Party's entirely correct opposition to "hyphenated Canadians."

And oh yeah, "I gonna sue ya" to just about everyone in the House of Commons and the peanut (i.e. press) gallery who disagrees with him.

Harper has chosen expediency over vision. This must not be tolerated. That's partly why I've kept writing this blog.

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Hamilton pools slot money

Follow-up on my last post:

Hamilton city council voted 8-7 last night to pool the slot money now. While widely expected, and I do live in the so called "old city," I think it's an ill advised decision and could lead to big problems.

Revolutions started on less important issues than this.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Phase in slot revenues in Hamilton (and screw the robocalls)

Many cities and towns as well as some native reserves have come to rely on gaming facilities as a way to raise revenue and offset property tax increases. Here in Canada where cities are forbidden to have a local sales tax (unlike the United States), it's especially lucrative when a municipality makes that choice.

This leads to the issue of how much revenue should be shared from casinos and slot machines at racetracks. While it's presently a local issue here in Hamilton, it's also has the potential to become one nationally, especially in areas where municipal amalgamation has occurred.

Flamboro Downs, a standardbred racetrack, was teetering on the edge when it won an unexpected windfall during the 1990s -- 750 slot machines. The revenues the track kept enabled it to boost purses and stay in business. The local municipality, at that time the sprawling Town of Flamborough, obtained the royalties, running about $8 million per year to begin with and now about $15 million.

When the six cities and towns in Hamilton-Wentworth were merged into the megacity of Hamilton in 2001, it was agreed that Flamborough would keep the revenues from the track. This was keeping entirely with what are informally called the "Cummings principles," which states that in case of a merger between two or more cities, facilities built for the benefit of the former city should stay with that community or borough which is now part of the larger city.

The money went to pay off the huge debt incurred when Borer's Creek required rehabilitation.

Now the debt has been paid off, the local city council had to decide what to do with the money. On Monday, city council here in Hamilton proposed to pool the money across the city. For most residents in the old city, this will mean about a $15 cut in property taxes. For residents of Flamborough, however, they face a hike of about $200. The final vote on the issue is tonight, and many in Flamborough -- and I can't blame them -- are planning a tax revolt.

Amalgamation isn't the only reason for such a massive increase, contrary to what people in Carlisle, Waterdown, Rockton and Freelton may believe. The freeze on property assessments that Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty imposed is lifted this year. Moreover, as Waterdown has become a bedroom community even though Hamilton is outside the GTA, property values have skyrocketed -- although that may be abated with the current sub-prime crisis.

But it just seems wrong to drop a guillotine like this in such an arbitrary manner. There may be an argument that the money belongs to all the people of Hamilton and not just those in Flamborough (given that the track and slots are regulated provincially and not locally); but surely there could be a phase-in of the pooling over three to four years to ease the bite. For better or for worse, amalgamation is a done deal and won't be undone but this is not the way to engender good will.

That leads me to another point. On Sunday, I received a robocall from Terry Whitehead, the councillor for the ward I live in, urging people to pack the meeting to provide a counter to the expected crowds from Flamborough. I don't mind rallying people to a cause, but I don't appreciate being called by a robot. Unfortunately, the proposed do not call list won't apply to elected officials or candidates to such offices, so I can expect more calls like this and that too is wrong. I just don't like it.

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Did Bernardo do it?

Did he murder Elizabeth Bain?

From today's Toronto Star, what follows is a partial transcript of a conversation that Bernardo had with police June 7, 2007 at the Kingston Federal Penitentiary where he is serving a sentence of life without parole. Notice how Bernardo answers it with a very lengthy preamble interjected by several supplementary questions, when a simple "yes" or "no" up front would suffice. Also check this link to see the too close for comfort coincidences between the rapes in Scarborough and the circumstances regarding the disappearance of Bain; particularly the brand of cigarettes found in Bain's car, the radio station tuned into, what was in the cassette deck and the way the car was parked when Bain vanished.

You be the judge.

Police: Um, did you kill Elizabeth Bain on June 19, 1990?
Bernardo: Well that's a loaded question. I mean, are we going to go back and go through the time sequence of what happened in my life. I mean I could just give a yes or no answer. But you know, there are a lot of issues about that.
Police: Right.
Bernardo: You know, Karla's and my role. Who did what, when, why – you guys, you know, go down there to get a polygraph to get to see if she's telling the truth. Why didn't they do it in the first place? ... why would he make a deal with someone and not give them a polygraph? It's incomprehensible. You know, because ... my file says her version and it's a lie. ... I'm not making frivolous points here. And now, you're asking me, after Peel Regional says I'm lying about this and now you're saying I'm lying about my profile. ... and now you're saying hey, did you kill this person? I mean if you're saying I'm lying here, here and here. I could say no, I didn't, but, I mean you already said I'm lying here with the Peel. You say ...
Police: I'm not saying anything about who's lying. I'm simply ...
Bernardo: And I've given you directions to go to find the truth and no one has done that.
Police: Right. And again I've told you that I've done the investigation from what information you've told me and ... I've been able to verify in my mind where you've told me the truth. So if Peel Region is lying about you or someone else is lying about you, I have no control over that or (inaudible).
Bernardo: It goes right to credibility.
Police: Well, absolutely. ... I hope to be able to go through some timelines here and identify where you were, what you were doing specifically in relation to this case.
Bernardo: Anyways, I know I'm giving you guys a hard time but I mean really. I'm a human being. When you guys do all these things, I've gotta. I'll try to give you a little bit more but. Anyways the answer to that is no. But the 800-pound gorilla in a room – that's life-25 sentence, you know. It really comes down to credibility.
Police: Right.
Bernardo: And not only credibility but then again timelines, what Karla's and my roles were respectively and this and that – the answer is no to that question.
Police: Did you have anything to do with her disappearance?
Bernardo: No.
Police: Did you know Elizabeth Bain?
Bernardo: Not that I know of.
Police: Had you ever met her?
Bernardo: I'm going to answer that one with I don't remember. Because if I did, I don't remember. I know an ex-girlfriend, which I can think – but I don't know.

I had to smirk at the part where Bernardo calls himself a human being. Of course he is, but what kind?

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Never ending root canal

If current projections hold up to the raw numbers, Hillary Clinton will win by 4 to 6 points over Barack Obama in Pennsylvania. A win is a win, of course. But in some ways this also represents a collapse of sorts. A state with the demographics presented to the candidates such as the Keystone State should have been a huge win for Mrs. Clinton, on the order of 20 points or more. In many ways, Mr. Obama has nothing to be ashamed of; he made his name known and that's what matters.

More significant is that most voters in the state acknowledge that regardless of who they voted for, Obama will be the Democratic nominee in November, period. That's something Clinton should pay attention to as the race moves on to North Carolina and Indiana in a fortnight.

True, Clinton may get a brief cash infusion in the next couple of days but the fact remains she's heavily in debt while Obama pays nearly all of its bills on time and has plenty of cash on hand. She needs the next two states desperately; North Carolina is a given for Obama and Indiana is much tighter than anyone expected.

One can only hope there is some kind of resolution to the race soon. It can't go on much longer without significant damage to the donkey.

UPDATE (11:19 pm EDT, 0319 GMT Wednesday): Looks like the margin will be in the range of 8 to 10%. The fact remains Clinton should have done better, particularly in a state where she has family ties.

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Two trials, two results

Brenda Martin found guilty of money laundering.


Boycott Mexico!

Meanwhile: Robert Baltovich found not guilty on the first day of his retrial.

There was some talk on the pre-Web Internet that Paul Bernardo killed Elizabeth Bain and dumped her body under Scarborough's Kingston Road, while it was under re-construction; much in the style of the thugs who got rid of Jimmy Hoffa. Anyone notice that Karla "Rhymes with Cadillac" Homolka has remained completely silent about this? She was engaged to Bernardo at the time Bernardo was a serial rapist before the two became murderers. It's just too coincidental to ignore the possibility.

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A little less conversation, a little more action

We tend to be a bit prudish on this side of the pond when it comes to sex on network TV, although here in Canada we're much more relaxed than Americans are with a much earlier watershed hour (9 pm Eastern as opposed to 11 pm). We seemed to be quite pleased, even smug, about characters such as those on The Tudors having full blown sex on prime time network TV. And yes, it's on network TV in Canada -- you only get that on cable in the US. Suckers!

But there's a huge row in Wales over a network TV show (broadcast in Welsh) about a sex scene shown recently. It wasn't the sex itself -- that's been par for the course in the whole of the UK.

Nope ... it's where it was filmed. In a baby changing room at the Welsh National Assembly.

This has left officials at the legislature with a lot of explaining to do, and demanding answers. The building has been used quite frequently as a set, with permission, so no one seemed to flag the problem. Apparently they were told by the filmmakers the W.C. was needed for a "conversation scene."

Lighten up, guys. It's not like hanky panky isn't going on in some of the stalls for real over there as well as every other debating house on the planet!

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Nixon daughters split on Prez candidates

No point in guessing who's going to win in Pennsylvania today ... so I'll wait until the results come in to comment on the road ahead.

But a sidebar came up yesterday revealing a family feud with Richard Nixon's two daughters. Julie Eisenhower is supporting Barack Obama in the Democratic primary and has contributed the maximum $2300 in this round to his campaign. Tricia Cox is supporting John McCain (the GOP nominee) and has contributed the maximum double contribution of $4600 (for the primary and general).

Getting an endorsement like that cuts to the point that Obama can cut across party lines while Hillary Clinton can't.

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Earth Day

It's Earth Day. To celebrate it, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has announced that the province will be banning cosmetic pesticide use in the province next year. (Farmers and forests will be exempt for now.)

That is good news. But one does have to wonder how relevant Earth Day is to many people any more. I still remember the celebrations and the hoopla over the 1990 events, the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Day in 1970. That year, people were really talking about what it meant and would take to save the Earth. You couldn't turn the radio dial without hearing at least one song about Earth each hour.

Since then, people have done little things that do help; like turning down the thermostat in the winter and up in the summer, changing light bulbs to more energy efficient models, using the cold water cycle for clothes washing, etc. But it's big industry that continues to get a free ride. Despite tough air and water regulations, they have collectively a much bigger footprint than we do. Under the guise of pollution credits, they are continuing to poison our water and our air. It's true that both Liberal and Conservative governments are to blame for the carte blanche, but it's gotten worse the last two and a half years. The current government in Ottawa which is content to see the former green Alberta turn into a wasteland isn't helping matters at all.

As oil hit $118 a barrel this morning, and the price of shipping food becomes evident at the supermarket, we need to think about what needs to be done. Long and hard. Because this is the only place we've got to live.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Final PA Polls

Some more poll results this morning, one day before the Keystone State votes:

Rasmussen: Clinton 49, Obama 44
Strategic Vision: Clinton 48, Obama 41
PPP: Obama 49, Clinton 46
ARG: Clinton 52, Obama 41
Quinnipiac: Clinton 51, Obama 44%
Suffolk: Clinton 52, Obama 42

And, as some of you noted in my comments box last night:

Zogby: Clinton 48, Obama 42

On a raw average poll of polls, we're looking at Clinton 49.4%, Obama 43.3%.

Interesting note about the Rasmussen poll is that three percent of those who gave a response said they could change their minds, which still leaves room for an Obama win. Having looked at some of the breakdowns, I think now that the best hope for Obama to pull off an upset is a huge GOTV operation in the Southeastern part of the state; namely Philly and the burbs.

Meanwhile: Michael Moore endorses Barack Obama.

Yeah, like that's going to help much! It's not like people in Pennsylvania are going to listen to an outsider, let along home grown natives like Bill Cosby or Lee Iacocca.

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Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide

When Conservative Party officials run down a fire escape staircase to avoid reporters, and both the Toronto Star's Tonda MacCharles and CTV's Mike Duffy tell the CBC's Keith Boag that the Cons are clearly trying to frame the discussion about In and Out, it really pokes a hole about the "clean and honest" claims of the Harper Government.

To wit, MacCharles' report details how the scheme worked and gave "clear and precise instructions" in e-mails about how to wire transfer money back to party HQ. It is now clear that some Conservative candidates as well as the advertising agencies working for the Cons had misgivings about how to get around the rules but it was too late by that time; the ad space had already been purchased. (It was 65 or 66 districts in dispute, depending on who's reporting.)

Again, these are only allegations. But what really concerns me is just how much central control there was over the Conservative campaign in 2006. What makes Canadian elections work is that in many districts it's not so much national issues that matter but also local issues. As well, some MPs get elected again and again based on his or her personality no matter who winds up winning the nationals. However, what the Conservatives presented Canadians with instead was an army of 308 dittoheads who spoke from a pre-determined script which would not vary even to address local concerns; and the message was the same whether the labelling had the imprimatur of the national HQ or the local campaign chair.

As for the Conservatives complaining the Mounties seized everything but the kitchen sink -- well, if you've got nothing to hide, then it's only fair that every potential hiding place be looked at. And it's not like it's gone forever, it will be returned at some point. Running down a staircase doesn't make one look good either.

Elections Canada shouldn't take too long in its investigation, however. It's been going on for two years already. We need to know if they're actually going to pursue criminal charges before the next campaign; not during or after it.

UPDATE (10:43 am EDT, 1443 GMT): This one has really have some of my fellow bloggers talking. I was just ranting above. Check out the more polished reactions from Jason Cherniak, Scott Tribe, Saskboy, and Cathie from Canada, just to name a few.

UPDATE #2 (3:55 pm EDT, 1955 GMT): Gilles Duceppe called $tephen Harper a "control freak" which coming from the leader of the BQ is saying a lot. Meanwhile, The Star has posted the warrant here, here, and here. (The last one is a big download, about 18 MB so you might not want to if you're still on dialup.)

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The beauty of being (able to) frank

As we learn more about the "in and out" scandal and what exactly was in the 600-page search warrant served against the Conservative Party last week, another issue has cropped up -- the abuse of "franking" privileges by members of all the major parties. (Source: CP)

Canada is the only developed country I'm aware of where such free mailing privileges are double-ended, that is constituents can send free mail to federal officials as well. But it's getting ridiculous, according to Canada Post. They're asking for an increase of the $22 million + subsidy they receive to process mail to and from Parliament. Garth Turner claims that the Cons have mailed 30 to 50 million pieces of propaganda just this quarter. I personally think that's overinflated; but I have noticed my MP, NDPer Chris Charlton as well as party leader Jack Layton mails something out to every home in this district about once every three or four weeks; and my extended family who lives in other districts around town have noticed the same thing too from their MPs.

Even the Liberals admit they've bent the rules quite a few times too. Who wouldn't, when someone else is paying?

This is another way to get around spending restrictions, and I think it's wrong. If you want to mail party propaganda, do it with party money and not the taxpayers'. Most donations get a 75% tax abatement to begin with so there should be plenty there. If there is legitimate correspondence (without party spin) though, then it should be free. Besides, haven't these guys heard of e-mail which most people have these days? Save on paper and postage at the same time, folks.

Sidebar: About In and Out, why did the Cons allow some media groups like CTV and The Star into a briefing yesterday, but excluded others like the CBC? Makes it look like there's something to hide.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Zogby: Clinton 46, Obama 43

Two days before the Penn Primary. Rasmussen hasn't reported tracking info for Pennsylvania since Friday and I'm not sure if they'll make a prediction tomorrow (if they do I'll post and comment on it); but Zogby has an interesting find: Clinton, who had built up a one point lead over Obama from Wednesday's Diz-nee-bate to five yesterday, dropped back to three today (46 to 43), with Clinton losing a point and Obama gaining one. Margin of error is ±4.1% so the race remains deadlocked.

Zogby's methodology has gotten rather wonky as of late: He predicted a 14 point win for Obama in California and we know how that turned out -- Zogby only took into account those who actually voted on Super Tuesday. He didn't take into account the 1/3 of absentee voters who pulled overwhelmingly for Clinton. But he's been more often right than wrong, along with Scott Rasmussen, so those are the two polls I look at the most often.

The comments from John Zogby today about the tracking poll are rather interesting: Obama's strength is the area around Philadelphia and in the eastern and central regions; while Clinton is picking up around Pittsburgh. However, says Zogby:

[A] very close examination of these numbers over the five days we have been tracking shows that it is whites and Catholics who are undecided. They clearly do not like Clinton and are definitely not breaking for Obama. They compose a pretty big chunk of Democratic voters who say they will vote for McCain in the general election. If this small group of white/Catholic undecideds do not vote, Obama can win Pennsylvania if he is able to get out his base of young voters, African American voters, and very liberal voters. If those white / Catholics do vote, then they will probably vote for Clinton and she can conceivably meet the 10-point victory threshold that meets pundits' expectations. It looked like she was moving some of these voters after the debate, but today is a different story. Too soon to tell.

Clinton's lead with Catholics is huge: 58 to 26. Not very surprising given Catholicism and Methodism (to which Clinton belongs) have quite similar outlooks on many social welfare issues. But there's still 16% to fight over and I partly disagree with Mr. Zogby on this point: if undecided Catholics haven't made up their minds by now, I don't think they will vote at all on Tuesday; unless one candidate or the other manages to pull off a huge vote fixing scheme like Dick Daley Sr. did in Chicago back in 1960 with Kennedy vs Nixon (remember "vote early, vote often"?)

As for undecided white voters -- I'd look to those who have no religious affiliation at all, or have one but aren't serious about it. Slowly but surely they've pulled to Obama as they see the Clintons, both of them, as old school.

More importantly, Obama still has a huge donor base to build on, people who've donated only $50 or $100 a piece, well below the $4600 maximum allowed by law ($2300 for each of the primary and general seasons; and both nationwide). Clinton's donor base, on the other hand, Old Faithful if you will, has for many of her wealthy contributors hit that $4600 wall ages ago; and she doesn't have too many places left to raise money other than at MySpace and Facebook, something which Obama perfected early on.

The sit-at-homers are the Reagan Democrats who'd rather vote for McCain but won't bother at this time since he's got the GOP nom already. But I would have to agree with Mr. Zogby on the point that it's GOTV, GOTV, GOTV. And time and time again, Obama has made runaway states very close with a better overall turnout machine.

Tuesday will be a lot of fun, that will be for sure. Not just because I have a few acquaintances who were born in the Keystone State and / or live there. Barring an Eliot Spitzer type scandal breaking tomorrow, Obama should easily fall within a 10 point loss he said he needs to consider Pennsylvania a "win" for him. Right now, I'm going with a five point loss. Almost there, but didn't quite close the deal.

UPDATE (7:26 pm EDT, 2326 GMT): Mason-Dixon has Clinton up by five. Not sure about their methods, but there seems to be an across the board consensus that Clinton will win PA. The issue now is by how much.

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"I'm from Canada and they think I'm slow, eh?"

Just when you thought it was safe to go to a sports park to take in a game, we learn that the US Consumer Product and Safety Commission -- the CPSC -- is investigating whether artifical turf contains lead at levels above the legal limit. More specifically, lead chromate which is what makes the playing field green. This past week, officials in New Jersey closed two high school fields because of fears that the fibres may break off and players or fans might inhale it.

We know what lead poisoning does to our brains. That's why they got rid of it in gasoline.

It's not too coincidental that the massive surge in players' salary demands in two of the Big Four sports in North America, baseball and football -- beginning with the free agency era -- came around the time that AstroTurf ® and other playing surfaces came into vogue. Maybe there's a link between player greed and the turf.

To its credit the turf industry, while denying a link, is nonetheless now making lead-free versions of the fake grass. In a way, though, I kind of like the real stuff because it makes games so unpredictable.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Let's Get It On

No, not the Marvin Gaye Jr. song, although it's a good one.

I have to agree with my colleague Scott Tribe that if there is one issue on which to end the current Parliament, it's on immigration. Immigration may very well be THE opening Stéphane Dion has to go on, to bring down the government of Stephen Harper. It happened to be one of the issues at or near the top of the agenda at the local Liberal riding association meeting (Hamilton Mountain) earlier this week. It also won't be the only issue discussed in a campaign.

It's a huge risk ... but it is probably an issue that unites most fair minded Canadians who share a middle of the road approach. When a country opens its doors to people from all walks of life, all trades, and all other countries, that tells others what the country's values are. When a country closes its doors, builds fences, kicks out people with long standing ties to a country on the flimsiest evidence, that also tells of that country's values.

As I noted in an earlier post, of course a country should update its immigration policy to meet current challenges; and in Canada's case where the jurisdiction is shared with the provinces, attention is needed to address each region's particular needs. However, absolute power corrupts absolutely. The PMO has too much in its hands already, the Harper reforms would give the office even more power in an area where it really shouldn't have it.

As an offshoot, an election now also be a welcome chance to get rid of Diane Finley. She's not too popular a character with some of my friends -- first and second generation Canadians who have been stonewalled by the Immigration Department on myriad issues, as well as people from the immediate area as well as in and around Caledonia (non-Native and off-reserve Native) which she represents.

The In and Out bit is just one more reason to get moving, in my opinion. So is the environment. So enough half-measures and dithering. This country needs a real discussion about what needs to be done, and the people need to decide it; not a cabal of a dozen or so people in a cramped room in the Château by the Rideau.

Let's get it on.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Four days to PA Primary

Latest PA polls:

Rasmussen: Clinton 47, Obama 44.

Zogby: Clinton 47, Obama 43.

Both are tracking polls of likely voters and both are within the margin of error.

Guess the debate Wednesday night, where the ABC assholes and Clinton ganged up on Obama, backfired. Obama, who got some flashback from the "bitter" comments may have actually latched onto what the actual sentiments in a mostly rural state. At this point, I'm not sure if Obama can pull off an upset, but the trendlines indicate a very close result on Tuesday barring another Tonya Harding whackjob.

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Do the Monaghan Shuffle

Just when one thought the saga at Ave Maria University in southwestern Florida couldn't get any more interesting, a new bombshell came about yesterday. Tom Monaghan, ex a certain pizza chain, announced that due to the "housing slump" the law school (presently in Michigan) will not relocate to the instant town (Ave Maria) that Monaghan built as a monument to himself (or rather his alleged "Catholic" sense of himself), 35 miles (60 km) away from Naples. No. It will go to the former "temporary" campus in Naples itself.

This not only has developers in the town up in arms -- they were counting on a potential doubling of the town's population as well as the large salaries the law school professors make compared to the other profs at the university -- it also calls into question the legitimacy of the whole university itself. One analyst (at Fumare) asks whether this could cost the law school its accreditation from the American Bar Association; because among the ABA rules is a stipulation that a law school's classrooms cannot be used exclusively for law training, they must be made available to all faculties that may need surplus space at any time. Not easy to do when you have two campuses 35 miles apart. Constantly moving facilities is also another reason to review accreditation.

One also has to wonder if the whole Ave Maria enterprise may be on the verge of collapse. There is a difference between being charitable, and squandering ones' wealth with little or no material gain in the end. Like some ex-braumeisters. This is stark contrast to families who truly understand philanthropy is meant to be for all time and not for a period. The Carnegies, the Fords, the Rockefellers -- and the Gates'.

When is someone going to stand up to Monaghan and say the B.S. has gone on for far too long? He has $12 million to build a sports stadium, finally got his way (kind of) on the issue of consecration of the campus chapel (formerly the "oratory") -- but he can't come up with the money to build the new law school as originally planned? No. Something's fishy here. The SEC might want to look at Ave Maria Mutual Funds (no, I did not make that up) to find out if there's been malfeasance there as well.

"Where your heart is, there your treasure will be also."

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

One word for Hillary Clinton

I ran into a friend from elementary school today. During the talk, I mentioned that I may be volunteering for the local Liberal candidate for Hamilton Mountain, Tyler Banham, in the future federal election; that this is the first time I've felt driven to do so because of what's gone on in Ottawa.

After implying she agreed with how I felt, she then asked me if I saw last night's Disneyfied debate. Unfortunately, I admitted, I did. She then went on to say she thought Charlie Gibson was just plain mean; then she asked me who I would vote for if I could. I said, Obama.

"Me too," she said. "I think Hillary's selfish. I liked her when this started, but the longer it's gone on, I've seen how selfish she is."

Sadly, I had to admit to my friend, that's the conclusion I came to ages ago.

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Worst. Debate. Ever.

From the brief look I've had at blogs from both the left and the right, there is definitely a consensus that last night's debate in Philadelphia and shown on ABC-TV was BOOOOORING. The network's anchor, Charlie Gibson, and the chief Washington correspondent, George Stephanopoulos, were real jerks last night in the kinds of questions they asked the candidates. Rather than talk about real issues, so much of the debate was spent on Hillary's excellent adventure in Tuzla and Barack's "bitter" comments; and her being forced to admit that there was more than just that in her autobiography that was hooey, while he was almost goaded to point out that many of his constituents are rural conservative church-goers who are gun owners but nonetheless share his values.

There was some serious discussion about taxes, particularly the capital gains tax. They were both trying to emphasize that raising income taxes on the wealthy while cutting them for the middle class would mean more revenue for Washington. Some with a basic accounting background like me could probably understand what they were attempting to say but it was lost on most of the viewership who don't understand the code in which politicians often speak. The sense I got from their coded verbiage was they're aiming for at least revenue neutrality, but Gibson attempted to suggest a capital gains tax increase would be a disaster for the Treasury. Also, Gibson's suggestion that people earning between $97k and $250k are "middle class" is way out of touch. Maybe in lower Manhattan it is, but definitely not in Harlem or even in South Philly. My question to Gibson is, try to be more sensitive, and give us full disclosure and tell us what your stock portfolio is. CNBC asks no less of its on-air personnel as well as its guests when there is a conflict of interest.

The only bright moment was when Hillary was asked -- three times by my count -- if Barack could beat John McCain in the fall. She finally admitted that, yes he can. What took you so long, ma'am? What's happened to convince you that your colleague finally meets the commander-in-chief threshold?

One can only hope the next proposed debate in North Carolina with Katie Couric on CBS-TV -- apparently still up in the air as of this morning -- won't be as annoying. Given her track record so far on the Evening News however, as well as the attitudes of the media which is mostly secretly Republican to begin with (albeit liberal Republican) my guess is yes it will.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

From Eighteen to Eleven

I must say that I am very disturbed that what began as the "Toronto Eighteen" is now eleven. Four more defendants accused of organizing what could have been the worst terrorist attack ever visited upon Canada had their charges dismissed yesterday for lack of evidence.

I am disturbed not just because of the rush to judgment in this particular case, although the authorities had to act against what was a real threat. I am disturbed because some who were falsely accused will never be able to have the "terrorist" label taken away from them, particularly by the Exempt Media and the religious right.

I also am disturbed because this might give aid and comfort to sleeper cells which continue to operate under the radar and who the police might not even be looking at and will wish they had when it's too late. We need to enforce our anti-terrorism and anti-racketeering laws and stop the terrorists whenever and wherever we can. We also need to make sure that we actually have a case when charges are laid.

Otherwise, Canada's justice system will be seen as a mockery; just as the US system has become.

As with some of the other most serious cases, terrorism is too important a case to be dealt with by the regular prosecution service. We need a special prosecutor who can examine honestly evidence from both sides to make sure the evidence is real and the threat is imminent. I will always support due process but not at the expense of creating kangeroo courts.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

In and Out

After months of this being talked about, the Mounties have now executed a search warrant against the headquarters of the ruling Conservative Party here in Canada, on behalf of the arms-length Elections Canada agency. In what some have called the "in and out scandal," the story is this: After the Cons' candidate for PM, Stephen Harper (now PM), reached his spending limit of $18.3 million, surplus donations were transferred to 66 of the 308 local district campaigns. Nothing wrong with that -- it's been done before. That's the "in" part.

If the money had been used for truly local advertisements about local issues, that would not have been a problem either.

However, the accusation is, the local candidates sent the money back to national HQ (the "out") which then rebroadcast the identical ads on local television and radio stations -- except that the small print identifying who "approved" the ad was not the federal authorized agent (i.e. campaign manager) but the local ones. Since there was no differentiation in the ads, Elections Canada says, the spending limits were broken.

It does seem too clever by half, prima facie. Whether any laws were actually broken I am not really in a position to say. However, the penalties can be severe -- up to five years imprisonment plus a seven year ban from voting, each instance. Not to mention substantial fines.

This sort of reminds me of a strategy that the Ontario PCs used in the successful 1995 campaign of Mike "The Knife" Harris. Strapped for funds even with all the publicity over the "common sense revolution," the PCs custom made video tapes for distribution in each district. The only differentiation was a brief appeal by the PC candidate at the end; along with video of the Liberal or NDP incumbent (or exiled candidate attempting to make a comeback after sitting out for one term) voting for a tax increase.

As best as I can recall, the videos were marked "local" but they were clearly made by head office in Toronto and paid for by them. Very dangerously close to breaking the law, but they weren't called on it -- for what it's worth, both Bob Rae (then NDP) and Lyn McLeod (Liberal) were both unpopular nominees so Harris won it in a walk coming from worst to first.

Even if the Cons get away with it on a "fine print" technicality, that rule should be changed. There should be a clear announcement at the beginning or the end of the advertisement saying: "I'm Joe / Jane Blow, and I approve this message." There should also be clear rules that a national advertisement cannot be used solely on local stations and vice versa.

Better yet -- go the route they have in the UK, with no paid time ads whatsoever; and have only free time election broadcasts of three to five minutes each. Their production values are way superior to anything seen in either the US or Canada, and since you know when a party has their turn it becomes must see TV. No one can run away from responsibility in that case -- you KNOW who stands behind the ad, period.

Whatever the case may be, the Liberals should think long and hard about whether now's the time to pounce. If the Cons got elected by overspending, then that undermines their claim to be a clean government and makes them no better or worse then the people they replaced. Frankly, I'd make the move now before the Cons can make any more damage to our international reputation, our environment, our already fractured system of child care.

UPDATE (6:02 pm EDT, 2202 GMT): Harper is asking out loud why the Mounties had to be involved. Um, they usually get involved if they suspect criminal behaviour. This is way beyond the civil matter where the Conservatives are suing Elections Canada to get their matching funds in local races. Also, isn't it interesting that the press happened to be at Con HQ just when "The Service" showed up? Like with Glen Clark (NDP) in BC a few years ago, right at his home?

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Bitter, bitter, bitter; I AM a MAN

For the fourth day in a row, Hillary Clinton went after Barack Obama's comments about people in rural areas being "bitter" about the economy. This time, however, the audience in western Pennsylvania would have none of it -- and jeered her. NBC's Andrea MItchell claims the boos were orchestrated by Obama supporters in the SEIU (the Service Employees' International Union). I don't think so. As I noted yesterday, Mrs. Clinton has lived the high life for over a quarter of a century -- and has hobnobbed with elitists. For her to claim Obama is being "elite" is, well it's bullshit. There, I said it.

Meanwhile, the Republicans continue to go after Obama's race. Not all GOPers are racists of course -- there are quite a few in the Democratic Party too. But this comment from Rep. Geoff Davis (R-KY 4) really went over the top. At the Lincoln-Reagan dinner in Northern Kentucky over the weekend, Davis (referring to a war game simulation he particpated in with Obama) said:

"I'm going to tell you something: That boy's finger does not need to be on the button. He could not make a decision in that simulation that related to a nuclear threat to this country."

Uh, Congressman? Sen. Obama is a MAN, not a boy. Resign, you racist shit.

UPDATE (7:42 pm EDT, 2342 GMT): Boy, a lot of people were really furious over this one, and the bluegrass boy knew it. Davis wrote an open letter of apology to Obama, asked the Senator to forgive him and insisted he respects Obama professionally. I suspect Senate Obama will accept the apology, of course -- but I still think Davis should resign for being so reckless.

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Get moving on rapid transit for Hamilton

After years of talking about it, and about a quarter century after Hamilton made the stupid decision to reject rapid transit -- which was a huge factor in the decline of downtown -- the city is considering the idea again, seriously.

The two alternatives on the table are a light rail line (i.e. streetcars, either on main thoroughfares or on a dedicated route) or bus rapid transit, or BRT. While my preference would be for light rail, it would be a back to the future scenario for Hamilton as the last streetcars were ripped out somewhere around 1948 -- and given this city's love affair with automobiles it could be prohibitively expensive to replace lanes with streetcars and cause new problems of their own. On the other hand, getting people out of their cars is precisely the point.

The other is BRT. This could build on the cross-town Beeline express, which currently runs only on weekdays from University Plaza in Dundas (a strip mall, not McMaster University which is some ways east) to Eastgate Square in Stoney Creek with local service well into SC beyond there. I'd extend the current express run out to the old SC City Hall (presently the local offices for the Mounties as well as a library branch), with stops at the major intersections en route at Fiesta Mall, Grays, Green, Dewitt and Fruitland. Additional express routes should be running along Barton, Upper Wentworth / Wellington, and Upper James. The Upper James should run all the way to the airport as well -- not just stop at the bus barn south of Twenty with an extra fare cab connection.

For either option (light rail or BRT) priority traffic signalling is a must. The closest thing we have to light rail in the region is the streetcar on Spadina in Toronto and that city still refuses to give the vehicles along the line the white line which would put it in front of other traffic on the street. As a result the streetcar is actually slower than the buses it replaced a few years ago because it must wait for the green light just like all other vehicles. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

One other thing: The current bus loop in Gore Park needs to be buried underground. Connections at major transfer points such as in the Gore, Limeridge, Eastgate, Mac and U Plaza must, in fact, all be enclosed to ensure safety for passengers as well as drivers. It makes no sense to have to walk a couple of blocks at surface traffic signals just to change buses.

The time to get moving on this is NOW. As for the NIMBY crowd -- screw them. They won 25 years ago and wound up screwing the whole city. I'll have more to say about public transit in Hamilton in a future post.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Don't cry for me, Argentina

Sorry, folks. Not much on my mind today. I leave you instead with a gangbusters comment someone left last night at Josh Marshall's TPM, about who's being elitist -- Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

Person of the people? Hillary wants us to believe that? She probably doesn't even know what a New York City MetroCard looks like. Let alone how to use one. (Hint: Slide in, slide out.)

Wait ... Bill knows. Instead he used a cigar instead of a fare card.

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Sark's a democracy, but Zimbabwe isn't?

One item of note this past week was that the Island of Sark, part of the Balliwack of Guernsey and the last feudal state in Europe, voted to end its near absolutist rule and to become a democratic state. Hard to believe this would happen in 2008 -- but there we are.

My only guess why this has finally happened is because of the heat that the EU has put lately on tax shelter countries like Monaco, Andorra and Liechenstein; and Sark (which like the other Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are not part of the UK but its inhabitants are British citizens and use UK phone numbers) has long been a "post office box" place to set up corporations, like Delaware in the US -- mostly to evade corporate taxes. Perhaps the islanders were fearful of any trade sanctions that might wipe out their tourist industry, so they decided to overthrow their "masters." No idea whether this will lead to some clamping down on tax cheats from the "Mainland" but one can always hope.

Oddly, some inhabitants liked things the way they were; but open government is still the best government. So bravo to the Sercquiais.

If democracy is good enough for 600 people off the British coast, why isn't it good enough for the millions who live under repression in Sudan, Zimbabwe, Burma, Mainland China and so many other places? Can someone please explain that?

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Another hospital proves they hate women

First the scandal in Newfoundland, now this one in Toronto.

Again, I ask the question: If it were men, would officials at the hospital have acted sooner? You're damn right they would have. I don't care that in this case, this was follow-up analysis and not initial diagnosis. They shouldn't have screwed it up in the first place. Period.

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That's all the elephant has left, name calling?

With nothing to lose but the election, many Republicans have resorted to calling both Barack Obama names and Hillary Clinton names; the former by pointing out his middle name Hussein associating himself with the former President of Iraq even though there was another Hussein which was a strong ally of the US (the late King Hussein of Jordan), the latter by referring to Clinton (usually with a whispering voice) with an adjective that rhymes with "Cadillacs."

Now it's extended to the congressional races.

According to TPM's Election Central the Republican campaign committee for House of Representatives seats is running an ad against the Democratic nominee for Lousiana's 6th district, in a by-election to fill the vacant seat on May 3rd. They're trying to rhyme Don Cazayoux with "tax you." In a state with a large Cajun population and the only one that has French as an official language, one wonders how well that will play out.

Not too well, one hopes.

Note the disclaimer at the end where it says it's authorized by the Republican House Conference, not by the GOP nominee himself. Yeah, like anyone's going to believe that.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

MDA sale blocked, for now

It's not that often that I agree with PMS, but for the first time in months Harper has done something that is actually a good thing. The proposed sale of MacDonald Detweiler and Associates to a US arms firm has been blocked for now over concerns that the States will get its hands on secret Canadian technology -- specifically, a satellite that has potential surveillance purposes.

It's a major issue because as global warming speeds up, the Northwest Passage could become ice-free all year and it will be up to Canada to find a way to make sure the shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans stays Canadian. Currently, most countries including the US and the EU member states view the Passage as international waters -- even considering the northern-most islands to be terra nullis belonging to no one though the UK ceded them to Canada in the 1880s.

Frankly, it's time someone actually stood up for Canadian high tech firms. This had the potential of being the biggest scandal since the cancellation of the F-105 Arrow which caused a brain drain that lasted the better part of two decades -- its was only with the robotic "Canadarm" on the space shuttle and the International Space Station that we finally began to catch up to the rest of the world. And we were going to go back to the Diefenbunker days.

Clearly MDA has increased its value and has more than paid back what we as taxpayers put into it. But it should stay in Canadian hands, period. Our arms industry, limited as it may be, is not for sale. Not to the Chinese, not to Europeans, and certainly not to Americans. If they want to build a new plant here and build stuff, like GM does for the gun turrets for diesel tanks in London, Ontario, that's fine. But if they want to steal our homegrown technology, they'll have the full force of Canadians to deal with.

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