Monday, June 30, 2008

Prince Charles reduces greenhouse gases, William won't

It's so good to hear that HRH Prince Charles cut his personal emissions of greenhouse gases last year by about 2800 tonnes. What's the reason for this? His fleet of Jaguars, an Audi and a Ranger rover now run on biodiesel and his Aston Martin on bioethanol made from surplus wine; among other energy conserving measures.

Oh, and along the way, the Prince of Wales' income from the Duchy of Cornwall (which during his administration over his personal fiefdom has become a mass demonstration project in sustainable development and responsible architecture) was about £16 million, proving it pays to be efficient. Maybe his marriage to Diana gave him some kind of a conscience after all.

Too bad HRH Prince William can't see fit to follow his father's example, such as spending £8700 to fly to a stag party on the Isle of Wight, or a military jet to shuttle his squeeze Kate Middleton around the UK. Wonder how much of the 2800 tonnes the earth was spared by Chuckles was offset by Wee Willie.

Surely he could have rented a hybrid or otherwise bio-friendly vehicle. Oh wait, he's the heir presumptive and that's beneath him.

I'd like to see the Monarchist League defend this kind of reckless spending. Or at least Her Majesty cut back William's share of the Civil List to pay back the British taxpayer for what he wasted.

Oh, the other interesting thing: Charles has said he wants to reduce his footprint by 25% by 2012, and by the numbers is well on the way there. PMS can barely get around the idea of reducing intensity by 20% by 2050 -- while during that time our footprint will increase by at least half again if not more. Food for thought.

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Low birth rates in the EU? It's not what you think

An article in the magazine section of today's NYT questions the conventional wisdom of why the birth rate in some parts of Europe are so low that even in the wealthier parts of the EU populations are expected to decline over the next few years, in some cases substantially.

It turns out that the EU states more to the north with more generous social programs -- the UK, Germany, Sweden for instance -- have higher birth rates, although even Germany is seeing their population shrink by about 100,000 per year. Those states in the southern and eastern parts of the trade bloc have low birth rates and are seeing their populations literally collapse. (Bulgaria, for instance, will see a decline of 3 million people by 2050 unless something happens soon.)

Social conservatives go back to the old red herring of women in the workplace to blame for the decline. But the facts show that where women get the full support of the state, including anywhere from 26 to 54 weeks of maternity leave, women will work and they will have more children. In other words, it pays to have more than two children if you're in Britain, France, the Netherlands, Denmark. Have them in Spain, Italy and Greece and you're setting yourself up for financial whiplash because of the lack of support from the state.

Another issue is where women are expected to do more of the housework, the fertility rate is lower. That should be no surprise -- where men agree to have a greater role in the household chores, they get rewarded, so to speak.

You'd think paying parents a huge bonus to have kids would do the trick. That's the tack that Laviano, Italy, has tried to take -- with the town half deserted, the mayor has offered a €10,000 bonus to have a child and raise him or her in town. It's available to citizens and immigrants, married and single mothers. Has that done the trick? Well, yes and no because the parents in the town were planning to have children anyway; and even though Italy has the second best health care system in the world (behind France) their social net is rather more frayed than in northern climes.

The article goes on to suggest the American laissez-faire model where state supports are next to nothing fits in quite nicely with a "religious" society and may explain higher birth rates than in the EU. This may have been true in an age when mothers could afford to take some time off to start a family because their husbands or partners had a well paying job. But in a time where it now takes two incomes just to makes meet it simply isn't true anymore and one could see a big drop in birth rates in the States the next few years because people can't afford to have kids anymore.

Of course, we need to consider population growth in terms of sustainable development to avoid a population explosion. But parents shouldn't be forced to not have kids because they can't afford another mouth to feed either.

The lessons for Canada? A European cradle to grave model may be far-fetched, but having extended maternity leave benefits is only the first step. We need to expand significantly the Child Tax Credit and the GST Credit, and make it geared to income. It makes no sense to pay everyone $1200 per year when the top two or three percent don't even need the money and it could be dispersed to people at the low end, increasing their benefits by say $500 to $600 per child per year -- for many that would make a huge difference.

A day care program is also vital. Provinces should choose whether this is universal or geared to income as well, but again parents should not have to choose between work and home to make ends meet.

And third, but certainly not least, we should be encouraging parents to have children -- in an environment where it is safe for them to do so and both boys and girls are brought up to have self-esteem and worth and not being told "their place in life."

Sadly, we have a government right now in Canada that believes the American way -- with the exception of health care -- is the only way to solve all our problems. We don't want to be an annex of the US that just happens to have free hospitals. We believe that collective responsibility is as important as individual ruggedness; and that we can't have life, liberty and personal security unless we first have peace, order and good government.

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Highway to (fine) hell

In some jurisdictions like Ontario, if you don't pay your toll road account, you can't renew your registration sticker until the back tolls are paid. Then, there is Virginia. Like most other places that use video tolling and/or transponder technology, the issue is that the toll is issued to the registered vehicle owner or transponder lessee -- which is not always the driver.

I can understand a small fine for toll evasion on top of the tolls not paid. However in Virginia, one you hit your fourth offence -- whether it was you who committed it or not -- it becomes a civil offence with a minimum fine of $500 each time on top of the $25 video toll charge, plus whatever courts costs each county might charge. Compare that to grand larceny which has a minimum fine of $2500.

Some have paid their fines, such as someone in Loudoun who paid $1900. But some owe as much as $21,000 for upwards of 38 violations.

The scary thing is that with a main gate and exit tolls, one could pile up as many as three violations for each trip, which could be $1500. I thought Amendment VIII prohibits excessive fines which clearly this is. I totally agree that going on a toll road with no intention of paying or stiffing someone else with a bill amounts to petty theft – but $500 is way out of line.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

From crisis can come opportunity

There is an old saying that the Chinese word for crisis is comprised of the words for "danger" and "opportunity." That's not at all true, but it does point out what happens when we are faced with a challenge. We can let it overcome us, or we can confront the challenge and turn it towards our favour.

Such is the situation faced by tender fruit growers here in Southern Ontario, in particular the Niagara Peninsula. Yesterday, the last Canadian canning plant shut down. While it was turning a profit, it was said the equity owners felt it just couldn't compete in a global market anymore. Be that as it may the fact is a lot of trees are going to be pulled out in some of the best agricultural land this country has to offer; and in a world where we're being encouraged more and more to buy locally grown food this is a slap in the face for that.

Does that mean the end of fruit growing in Niagara and even more urban sprawl? Maybe not, if lessons are to be taken from the grape growing industry.

For a long time, in fact right up to the introduction of free trade, the wine industry in Ontario was moribund and the stuff they produced was -- put it bluntly -- weak compared to imported wines. When free trade came along a lot of vines were pulled out of the ground in fear it was game over, with the most obvious buyer the Gallo Brothers. But then a funny thing happened.

Someone figured out that if one carefully monitored the vines' growth, and also in part because of global warming, it was now possible to grow vinifera grapes -- the European variety -- in Canada. So the labrusca and riparia vines were pulled out and new vinifera vines put in. As well, stricter quality control standards were put in and a genuine effort was made to make wine that actually tasted like, well, wine. And it was shown that in micro-climates that have cooler weather than what exists in Europe, some vine varieties were more robust and therefore the flavour of the grapes having much more impact.

There is still quite a big concern that we're still drinking wines that say they're Canadian but are in fact blended with foreign grapes. But our Canadian wines are competitive, and are becoming a favourite choice of palates both here and abroad. Much of our stuff is actually better than what they grow in Bordeaux or California, even the blended table wines.

Who would have thought back in the late 1980s we've have over 120 wineries in Ontario? It's happened. In fact, some of the wineries are takeover targets. That would simply not have happened if the vintners just threw in the towel 20 years ago.

If the wine business can do it, so can the tender fruit growers. One has to make the right kind of focus and decisions about how to do it. We've proven that we have some of the best fruit in the world, so it is simply a matter of focusing on what works while ensuring genetic diversity. The "Green Belt" which the fruit growing areas lie outside of need to be included, along with the wineries, to stop them being swallowed up.

But from this crisis can come an opportunity. It may even be possible to create an environment where canning plants flock here. That would be welcome.

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Santa's Workshop to disappear, say scientists

There have been some days in the last year or so that I wish Jerry Falwell could have lived to see this extraordinary year. Not only would he have seen his worse nightmare come true, a black person actually making it into the finals for President; he would have also seen one of his repeated statements proven to be demonstrably false, the line where he said over and over that the "polar ice caps aren't melting." Yesterday came word of one of the nightmare scenarios coming true a full thirty years ahead of schedule: the North Pole may very well be ice free sometime this summer for the first time since Eve handed Adam the apple.

Imagine the broken hearts of children when they think of Santa, his unpaid and indentured servants and the nine reindeer seeing their workshop sink.

Seriously, the huge implications for mean sea level in the next few years should be dawning on us; and that alone should convince us that we can't live the way we have anymore. I'm certainly not suggesting going back to caveman days, but two centuries of taking without giving back was bound to have a price eventually. There is a direct link between less ice in polar regions and the much more violent weather we've experienced the last few years. When Larsen B collapsed in 2002, an ice sheet the size of Rhode Island disappeared -- a sheet 220 metres thick. The ice at the North Pole which should be tens of metres thick is paper thin this year which has led to the startling prediction by scientists.

Remember, Katrina created a million refugees in a developed country. Consider the security implications from that that are still being felt nearly three years later; now think about ships sailing across the top of the world unimpeded and with no country able to assert sovereignty. Who needs a Northwest Passsage if the North Pole has no ice?

The developed world needs to make sustainable development the law; and should insist developing countries do the same as a condition of freer access to our markets. The Earth is our shared inheritance and it's time we stopped treating it like a miden.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Rafe Mair stands up for gays and lesbians, wins big at SCC

Rafe Mair, the noted vocal wordsmith from the West Coast, has won a huge victory today as the SCC threw out a libel ruling against him. This goes back to 1999 when Mair made a rather indelicate comment about a BC protester who was opposed to teaching about gay lifestyles in the province's public schools. Mair compared Kari Simpson to Hitler and the Klan -- among others -- and called her a "bigot."

Simpson sued Mair and his employer, WIC Radio. A lower court threw out the case based on the "fair comment" doctrine, but the BC Court of Appeal reversed this saying it was not an adequate defence.

Now, the Supremes have unanimously ruled in favour of WIC and Mair -- and have awarded costs not just for the appeal, but right from when the lawsuit started. (I hope Ms Simpson has the money to do so.)

Writing for the court, Justice William Binnie said there was no evidence of malice and it was fair comment. The court also broadened the concept of fair comment, to a belief that a reasonable person might hold based on the information available -- not just the person being sued might hold.

This is definitely the right decision. Mair has pushed a lot of buttons over the years -- and certainly I've disagreed with him on much of what he has said -- but he is entitled to his opinions. For if one reads the comments in full (as in the appendix to the judgment), one finds that lost in the part that everyone focused on was Mair's fear that removing these books would create a situation similar to Tennessee v Scopes -- the Scopes Monkey Trial. Who decides what's indecent? Should a vocal minority decide the curriculum of the majority?

More important, as Mair pointed out, what sparked the whole row was when he stood up for the civil liberties of gays and lesbians and this prompted the complainant -- with whom he had previously had a good working relationship with -- to suggest that he supported child molestation. This is the common canard thrown by the "Christian" right while failing to see the child abuse committed within their own ranks, by heterosexuals no less.

Gays and lesbian students, and teachers, have been part of the education system from time immemorial. I might not necessarily approve of the way Mair stood up for them, but he was standing up for them; and in the end that's what matters. Yes, I don't approve of gay marriage -- as I've said quite a few times before -- but the fact is there are many families with two mothers or two fathers (whether married or living at common law) and they work just fine, and to marginalize the parental units in those households is also to marginalize the children. That's just wrong, in my opinion; just as it's wrong to condemn an opposite sex couple who live at common law and not married, as well as the issue therefrom.

In that regard, Mair was entirely within line to suggest all one had to do was substitute George Wallace, Orval Faubus or Ross Barnett with any vocal lobbyist who suggested closing the doors of a school to gay and lesbian students -- suggesting it was no different than attempting to exclude blacks during the civil rights struggle.

For the record, I know for a fact that at least one -- and perhaps more -- of my elementary school principals was gay, and a handful of teachers from elementary through secondary school were gay or lesbian. This was the Catholic school system too. Were I or my classmates poisoned in any way? Of course not. Were any of us damaged because some of our class were gay or lesbian? Come on.

The frightening fact remains, however, the Christianites who make the rest of us Christians look bad won't be dissuaded by this decision. They'll keep fighting to get their way no matter what. We need to fight back the only way we can -- through the printed and virtual word. The pen, and the keyboard, are truly mightier than the sword.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Sam, I Am

Not too surprisingly, SCOTUS ruled much as I expected a couple months back that it would -- that the Second Amendment does in fact protect an individual's right to own firearms. It struck down a law in DC that all but banned individual gun ownership in the capital in one's private home, unless the gun was locked up and stripped of its ammunition. It did however say that states and cities can impose some regulations and that the right is not absolute.

No doubt that this will become an issue on the campaign trail where supporters of both McCain and Obama will say for opposing reasons that it proves one vote on the Court makes a difference. Of course it does ... but it won't be the only talking point this year.

In other news, the court also struck down the so-called "millionaire's amendment." Also by 5-4, the Marble Temple said that special campaign rules that kick in when someone self-finances his or her campaign entirely violate the First Amendment. The rules stated that such candidates must disclose more information about their finances than usual, while their opponents can raise more money than rules would normally allow -- in fact the usual $2300 contribution limit tripled. In essence the court said the law created two classes of candidates and that was wrong.

Perhaps ... but the issue of people buying their way into office has to be addressed and this permits open season for that.

It's worth pointing out that McCain-Feingold was approved by SCOTUS by a single vote in 2003; that of Sandra Day O'Connor. I have a feeling that O'Connor would have upheld the gun ban in DC as well. Now, his replacement, Sam Alito, has voted in three straight cases to strike down sections of the same law and declared duck season is all year round.

The same Alito who, at the Third Circuit Appeals Court in 1991, voted to uphold spousal notification in the Pennsylvania abortion law, saying that courts had no business interfering with legislatures even if the laws they passed were unwise from a policy standpoint. The Court correctly, struck down the notification clause for spouses.

However, the implications for the future are frightening ... unless the courts are brought back into a common sense frame of mind with justices who actually use common sense rather than strict legalities. It shouldn't only be rich people who get into Congress, it shouldn't only be men that decide what a woman can do, and it shouldn't only be the NRA that decides whether people live or die in America.

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Hamilton Mayor admits leak

Just when you thought things couldn't get any crazier, the Mayor of Hamilton, Fred Eisenberger, admitted leaking confidential information from a closed door council session. The odd thing is he discussed the information with a reporter "off the record," but a tape of this conversation also off the record somehow leaked out. Eisenberger insists someone broke into his office and stole the tape.

Just goes to show you that nothing is really off the record anymore ... but it does put a bit of a dent in Eisenberger's otherwise impeccable record for ethical leadership. On the other hand, admitting the security breach in itself shows leadership. Unlike his Conservative cousins in Ottawa, that's really refreshing.

Meanwhile, there's continued talk about the LRT proposal but it's just that, talk. We need something solid to discuss so it can be put forward for a vote. If Montréal and Ottawa are able to get moving and Toronto is seriously considering tramlines as its future, what's the big deal here in The Hammer?

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Rapid fire (06/25/08)

A fairly busy news day. Here are the highlights:

US Supreme Court rejects death penalty for child rape 5:4 -- you have to read Sam Alito's dissenting opinion, it really is to laugh. But the court has drawn the line: It won't allow a death sentence where there was no death committed in the first place. That doesn't go far enough -- it should be banned all together -- but it clears up some confusion from an earlier 1977 ruling which dealt with adult rape. The fact it was so close proves just how important the next President and his appointments will be. Few want far lefties on the bench but America needs a move back to the centre if the Constitution is to be restored.

Queen Elizabeth II strips Robert Mugabe of his knighthood. I didn't even know he had one! But the rebuke is a welcome one from someone who doesn't get involved quite as much as she ought to at times. We're still waiting for Ratzinger to excommunicate Mugabe from the Roman Catholic Church, however. On the other hand, the churches are about the only sanctuaries left and the "war veterans" are looking for any excuse at all to get rid of their enemies. Don't forget, ZANU-PF has a Politburo so it's Communist in everything but name -- and we know how the Vatican is supposed to feel about the Commies. (Funny they didn't have a similar reaction when San Marino had an elected communist government after World War II. Oh well.) Someone, please save Zimbabwe from itself.

US Fed keeps its key interest rate -- the one banks charge each other -- at 2%, and signals it's keeping an eye on inflation. Markets respond by dumping the greenback and buying up even more Euros on word the ECB will raise its rates at its next board meeting in July. Meanwhile, oil shows no signs of slowing its price growth, even though I heard so many analysts on CNBC and Bloomberg say it's bound to drop to $65 at some point. That might cause some problems for Alberta and Newfoundland which budgeted this year on oil at a mean of $83.

Student meets teacher, as Turkey's Cinderella run is stopped by Germany in the semi-finals of Euro 2008. Score 3-2. For all their efficiency, you'd have thought the Swiss would have remembered to have backup generators for their broadcasting centre -- the world feed was cut three times during the game and the best action in the second half was gone.

And finally, another Cabinet shuffle in Canada. Big effing yawn. More of following the "path of inner decay for the sake of outward appearances," to borrow a good line from Vaclav Havel. The bad news is that Diane Finley is still in the inner circle. That won't make the tobacco farmers or Six Nations any happier.

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Hate victim fired for plagarism

What is it with all these plagarism incidents as of late? First the story about an essay on plagarism that was itself plagarized. Now, a professor at Columbia has been fired for a similar offence. What makes this one more interesting, though, is that Madonna Constantine first made the news not over this -- but when a noose was found hanging on her office door last fall.

She claims she's innocent and is suing the Ivy League college. Whatever the truth to the charges may be, the simple fact is that being a victim of a hate crime or any injustice does not give one a free pass to act inappropriately either before or after the fact. Professors should be bound by the same rules of citation and references that their students subscribe to as well -- the honour code should belong to everyone.

As far as the noose thing -- no, I don't think it was planted by her. But it does make one wonder what the whole story is.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sugar company bought out, Everglades saved

Some good news on the environment front today. The State of Florida is buying out a major sugar producer for $1.7 billion, and when that company officially shuts down six years from now, 187 000 acres -- about 292 square miles or 757 km² -- will be restored to the Everglades, by restoring the natural flow from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay.

We know that wetlands, like old growth forests, act as a carbon sink; as well as cleaning upstream water sources for major urban centres, so anything that helps give back what we've taken away is a good sign. Now it's important that this change is made permanent, and the land freed up off limits to development permanently.

We need policies like this in Canada as well, obviously. Green Belts are a start, but the leapfrog phenomenon of land development where suburban surveys simply jump over "off limits" zones needs to be stemmed. If people need to live in urban areas, there should be a focus on brownfield development before even more marshes and farms are expropriated.

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Dobson throws a stone in the glass house

Ever notice that every time there's a book burning organized by a "Christian" group and copies of the Harry Potter series are torched, so are the works of Shakespeare? Guess the "Christians" are miffed by the line in The Merchant of Venice:

"In the course of justice, none of us should see salvation."

In their selective reading, they neglect to read the very next phrase:

"We do pray for mercy; and that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy."

It is obvious James Dobson doesn't understand the concept of mercy. Otherwise he would not have lashed out at Barack Obama in the manner he did today.

I think most of us are guilty of taking selective phrases from sacred writings for our own selfish ends. Viewed holistically, however, if Jesus was around today the radical right would dismiss him as a communist -- "Love thy neighbour as thyself," "Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned and sick, shelter the homeless," "don't let the right hand know what the left is doing." Jesus also advised us to warn the sinner and instruct the ignorant -- and if someone didn't want to hear the Word, to take his or blessing back and to shake the dust off his or her feet as he or she left town.

Along those lines, would Jesus have approved of the Second Gulf War? Strictly speaking, I don't think so. He might even have raised a red flag about Afghanistan.

The problem with people of Dobson's ilk is that they won't take no for an answer. They also claim to "Focus on the Family" yet are opposed to many legal protections for children. So before Dobson accuses Obama of distorting the Bible, he should remember Jesus also said, "Be not as the hypocrites" and examine himself for the distortions he has advocated all these years. Dobson ought to understand also that evangelicals aren't exclusively Republicans -- a lie perpetuated by the Exempt Media.

Don't throw stones in glass houses, especially the one that you built. It's as true today as it was when we got the Ten Commandments.

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The Green "Whoops"?

A report this morning on the CBC website says a small Toronto firm is taking the Liberal Party of Canada to court over misappropriation of what it claims is its trademark -- "The Green Shift."

No, I don't know what to make of it either. But if a Montréal restaurant could use the name of Barbie ™ and a small premium furniture store that operates with the name of "Brick" could continue operating despite the overwhelming juggernaut of The Brick ™ one wonders how far this will go.

How could anyone confuse a "green shift" on tax policies, with a company that consults on adopting saner business practises, is beyond my comprehension. But I'm not a trademark lawyer.

Oh, yeah, that snark from PMS the other day about the Liberals' new platform being a resurrection of the National Energy Policy? That's comparing apples to oranges, and also suggests people out West aren't interested in energy conservation. Of course they are and to pretend they are not is just plain ignorant.

UPDATE (11:59 am EDT, 1559 GMT): I had to delete a comment for spam considerations ... but in the interests of equal time here's an alternate viewpoint to the Dion platform -- called the Shifty Green.

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The Khadr letter

I honestly do not know what to make of Omar Khadr's heavily reviewed letter from Gitmo (reviewed by the US military, that is). In no way could it be compared to the "great books" in literature. But it does raise some tough questions:

How can he possibly have a normal life now? And who, honestly, would want to admit that their physician was Mr. Khadr? He can't even assume a new identity, not without plastic surgery anyway. And given his sister's and mother's vehement views supporting the 9/11 attacks, does he really think he'll get a welcome back into Canada?

From a human rights point of view: Even his US guards are concerned that his extended detention in Cuba may be turning him into a radical, so why won't he be released into the traditional court system -- whether it be a court martial or a civilian court -- so the Pentagon has to prove that Khadr was the only one in the room when an American soldier was killed? Some doubts whether this story is true or not have already been raised.

PMS' silence on this is proof he supports Gitmo. By silently condoning this kind of human rights violation, he has shown he is not fit as PM.

Unfortunately, the previous Liberal government didn't quite do nearly enough to get Khadr out of the situation he is in. Even Bob Rae would have to admit that much.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Carlin obit, Al Hurra running away with what?

A sad morning, with the news that comedian George Carlin died last night. What can be said about him that already hasn't? I'm sure right wingers like Brent Bozell and Bill Donohue will be clicking their heels this morning; but you already know how I feel about both of them. Since American network television, technically, still won't allow the use of the Seven Words you can't say, I'll say them here in bandwidth:
  • Shit
  • Piss
  • Cock
  • Cunt
  • Fuck
  • Motherfucker
  • Tits

There. I said it.

Now, a story in today's WaPo covers what must be one of the biggest broadcasting flops since Marconi invented broadcasting and is part of Dubya's "Hearts and Minds" propaganda campaign. Al-Hurra, Arabic for "the free one," is an Arabic language television service run by the same agency that brings us the Voice of America (the latter of which I confess I have listened to on occasion via shortwave). It was set up by the Bushies in an attempt to counter what was seen as the "bias" show by such nets as Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Mecca. The neo-conservatives thought the cold war was still on, and there'd be a hunger for an audience for American programming. However, they were thinking along the lines of the mission statement for Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, the European arm of VOA which alongside the BBC, Radio Canada and Deutsche Welle were the only reliable sources of information in the Communist world. (RFE/RL has since shifted its focus to the remaining regressive states in Europe as well as the Middle East.)

In a 200 channel world which does exist in the Middle East, however, Al-Hurra has proven to be a minnow and an expensive one at that. $350 million in taxpayer money has been spend the last few years, about what is blown on the services aimed at Cuba -- TV and Radio Marti. Moreover, the BBC, a much more trusted source for information in that region, is about to start its own Arabic language TV service.

It also hasn't helped that the crew at AH has made some huge on-air gaffes -- such as the time when an anchor began Easter by saying "Jesus Christ is risen today!" Muslims of course view Jesus as a prophet but a mortal one at that -- as with the other prophets they write Jesus PBUH (peace be upon him). Or the time they covered a Holocaust-denial conference in Iran; or when an incendiary speech by a Hezbollah leader was broadcast, uninterrupted.

The fact is, more people in North America and the EU watch Al-Jazeera or browses its website, than the corresponding population in the Middle East watch Al-Hurra. American entertainment shows dubbed in Arabic get more water cooler chat in the Middle East than on AH.

Heck, if I was living there, I'd watch CNN over AH -- and given the crap CNN is spewing these days, that's saying something. Mind you, it is CNN International, whose production values are better than the domestic network but is rarely if ever seen in the US or Canada.

How's that for hearts and minds, Dubya?

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Happy now, Mugabe?

Saying that a free and fair election is impossible in the midst of increasing violence and state-sponsored murders, Morgan Tsvangirai has pulled out of the race for President of Zimbabwe with the poll to be held on Friday.

Where are the other countries in the region which have relative peace but are on the verge of becoming powder kegs themselves with mass outmigration from Zimbabwe? Where is the United States? Where is the United Nations? Why isn't the Vatican speaking out?

Oh, yeah, right. Zimbabwe doesn't have oil or natural gas.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Insanity of Euro 2008

It's the second to final weekend for Euro 2008, and this is turning out to be yet another wild soccer tournament. Three of the four first place teams -- Portugal, Croatia and now the Netherlands -- have been eliminated. And tomorrow's game, Spain vs Italy, who knows what'll happen there?

Bet the oddsmakers in Vegas -- and in London -- are pulling out their hair. As it should be. I don't like it when the same countries dominate things over and over again.

I also noticed that ABC carried today's quarter-final today. Even Disney ™ realizes the money to be had in advertising.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

MoveOn shuts down § 527 arm

In a shocking decision, the left-wing group is today killing its § 527 fundraising arm, which became extremely controversial during the 2004 campaign when it raised millions in "soft money" to support John Kerry by circumventing regular spending and fundraising rules. Instead, MoveOn will ask people to donate to its political action committee or PAC. The effect is that rather than donations at $5000 a pop, it will have to rely on advocacy at only $50 or so per donation.

Why is this important? Because Barack Obama proved one can win a nomination, and potentially an election outright, by relying on smaller donations and not on the largesse of the powerful. Running a third party campaign with money from unions and progressive businesses would have run counter to the message Obama has run on, that this should be a people's campaign and not just one for those who have "access" or the means to buy it. And under § 527 of the US Tax Code, such foundations don't have to reveal where their money comes from, unlike charities and churches which elect to run under § 501(c)(3). Non-disclosure also goes against the spirit of Obama's official campaign.

In my opinion the 527s while serving an important purpose defeat it by hiding behind a wall. They had too much influence over the Bush - Kerry race four years ago and it's time this relic was shown the door it deserves.

The challenge to equivalent 527s on the right: Will they do the same and pack up too? Now that's something I like to see. McCain said he can't control negative advertising. Disavowing these secretive organizations outright would be a first step.

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Suggestion to M. Dion

Following up on my last post regarding M. Dion's proposals on how to tax carbon emissions and putting it back in the form of tax cuts:

Emphasize over and over again the benefit this would have for seniors and for people with children. Point out this will mean more money in their pockets, tax free, each and every month; that this shows a real commitment in the goal to substantially reduce levels of poverty to meet the 30-50 goals (30% reduction of the number of people living below the poverty line, 50% less children living in poverty; both goals reached over five years.)

It's important to contrast how this will help value families, to the hot hair of PMS' claim to support family values. How $100 per month fully taxable per child under six is much different than $100 or more per month tax free for every kid under eighteen.

That low income seniors deserve a roughly equivalent break to wealthy seniors (a $600 per year increase in the Supplement is roughly the same as what richer seniors who don't get the GIS get in their pocketboot, after taking into account the doubling of the pension amount, at an average 40% bracket).

That even single people are going to get modest help -- unlike with the Cons, where the group I'm in gets squat.

In short, don't get Swift Boated, M. Dion. Don't allow yourself to be Swift Boated. Fight fire with fire, day in and day out. Act as if the election campaign started yesterday, no matter when you actually decide to pull the plug for real.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

A green line in the sand

It's taken long enough -- too long in my personal opinion -- but finally, Stéphane Dion has finally drawn a line in the sand. And the line is coloured green. In most parts of the world, a "Green Line" is a formal or informal cease-fire line -- such as that which exists between Israel and the West Bank, the Turkish and Greek parts of Cyprus, the Muslim and Christian parts of Beirut, the Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods of Belfast. However a first review of Dion's new plan which he is calling "The Green Shift" certainly impresses me, for the most part.

The plan puts a tax at the source of pollution -- the more one pollutes, the more one pays. That's as it should be. It also offers broad-based tax relief, with an across the board tax cut of between 1.5 for lower incomes to 3.5 percent for the middle class; recognizing that most higher incomes (below $122,000) can no longer be considered "rich" in this country. (I know quite a few two income families with a combined gross of over $100,000 and they certainly don't see themselves as wealthy in any sense of the phrase.)

It also gives relief to families (including a major boost in the Child Tax Benefit, which would go a long way towards meeting the Campaign 2000 goal of eliminating child poverty) and lower income seniors, as well as to people in rural areas and the Far North to recognize the higher costs of living relative to urban areas, something I've suggested for quite a long time. It also makes several non-refundable tax credits fully refundable; similar to what Québec has done at the provincial level for years.

I do have a couple of concerns. First, while gasoline won't be taxed any further (supposedly; oil companies can always pass on their costs in the wholesale price), diesel will go up 7 cents a litre. With truckers barely making it by as it is with oil hovering at $133 a barrel any income tax cuts they get will be eaten up by higher operating costs. We've already seen the effect with higher food prices -- stores can't be expected to absorb the costs on their own entirely.

Second, while the plan calls for increases in carbon taxes to be passed back to Canadians in the form of personal and corporate income taxes to be monitored by the Auditor General, it is not explained exactly how this will be done. Because our top accountant only monitors spending after the fact -- in some cases up to three years after -- there's no way of knowing whether we're being scammed at the front end or at the back if retailers decide to engage in some mischief.

To put it into some perspective, this proposal is in effect an accounting change as big as the conversion to the Euro currency; and while there were set exchange rates by the European Central Bank that did not stop some retailers across the board from rounding up to the next euro rather than using rounding up or down as called for. This continues to be an issue as more countries adopt the currency. Even if incidents of price gouging were few and far between, first impressions are very hard to eliminate when proof is offered.

Be that as it may, this is a significant change in thinking,and certainly if implemented the most important tax reform in twenty years. It will also make people think about their energy choices. It's the kind of thinking big and outside the box that we need and it's something I can certainly support.

One should not be surprised that PMS would come out swinging against this. He wants to protect the profits of Big Oil without a windfall tax -- something a carbon tax would address in a roundabout way. We can lead, follow or get out of the way. I prefer a leader than a follower.

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US vacillates on illegal immigrants, EU moves ahead

While the United States continues to vacillate over immigration reforms and how to deal with the 11 million illegal migrants in the country -- no thanks to Lou Dobbs' legion whose king dismisses even the most modest changes as "amnesty" -- the European Union is moving full steam ahead to standardize policies regarding illegal immigrants across 25 of the 27 countries. (Opting out for now are the UK and Ireland, I suspect in part because of the implications it would have on their separate Common Travel Area.)

I am obviously concerned about permitting detentions for up to 18 months, although states may elect to have a lesser period than that. (However, the wide variety of holding periods -- ranging from 32 days in France to an indefinite period in 6 of the Schengen nations -- led to a great deal of uncertainty.) As well, those ordered deported could face exclusions from Europe for up to five years.

I am also concerned part of the pushback is coming from the presence of so-called "illegals" from Romania in Italy even though, far as I know, they have every right to have residence in any EU state like any other EU citizen even though Romania won't join Schengen until 2011 at the earliest. The violence being committed against the minority community there is, for what it's worth, totally unacceptable.

But I do find it interesting that, for all its diversity and all its bureaucracy -- a relatively large group of prosperous and sovereign nations such as the EU can actually all agree on something so important; while one country, the US, continues in quagmire. Unbelievable.

And it is also amazing to consider that the same people who oppose reforms, those who view Ronald Reagan as the greatest person who ever lived (until George W Bush, of course) forget that in 1979, a year before his second and ultimately successful run for President, Ronnie actually supported open and customs-free borders with Canada and Mexico; anticipating in a way the Schengen arrangement that presently exists in much of Europe (and which, while very successful has somewhat exacerbated the "problem" with migrants who find their way to the states with the most generous social programs).

Hopefully, the next President will find a way to unite people around the issue and come up with common sense immigration reforms -- no matter what Lou Dobbs or any other heartless person like him thinks. If it also leads to a partial loosening of border controls for the vast majority of law-abiding citizens and trade in the NAFTA area, so much the better.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008


I had a working title for this post, two actually, but both were really tasteless. Still, this is starting to get real, real scary. Six human feet, severed from the rest of the bodies they belonged to, have now washed ashore on Vancouver Island. No motive, no clear connection. Even the Mounties who take pride in always getting their man or woman are stumped.

Who wouldn't be?

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Enjoy the fishing lodges while you can

One reason why nuclear power plants are usually located near huge bodies of water is the relative ease in which a confined area can be contained if there is an "incident" like Three Mile Island or an "accident" like Chernobyl.

The same cannot be said of lakes and rivers which are converted into tailing ponds for mines and tar sands. Once they're gone, they're gone forever. We've already seen the damage done in Alberta and in Labrador. Now, as Terry Milewski reported the other night on CBC News (and as he details in a web article with his byline), more lakes are being targeted in British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, the NWT and Nunavut. A total of 16 sites. These are prime fishing spots we're talking about, huge sources of income for fishing lodges in the most remote parts of the nation. For Aboriginals, they are as hallowed ground as, say, St. Joseph's Oratory in Montréal is to Catholics in Canada.

To be fair, the regulations in question that permit this ecological terrorism were written in 2002 during Jean Chrétien's third term. However, since 2006 when PMS came to power there has been a move towards speeding up approvals without considering the consequences. At a time when we should be protecting our watersheds and even increasing the size of wetlands, we're destroying them piecemeal.

I am all for development and reducing regional disparities. There is a right way and a wrong way to do it. As someone writing about native spirituality wrote decades ago, "Our God is your God. The Earth is precious to Him, and to harm the planet is to heap contempt upon its Creator." Even many Christians have understood or are coming to understand the Earth is the Lord's, not humans', and we can't just keep taking without putting back. How can we expect to go to the Happy Hunting and Fishing Ground, if we wipe out the terrestial equivalent here in the vale of tears?

Mining, without doubt, is one of the best paying job classifications even at the entry level; but we need to ask ourselves, what price progress? Whatever bureaucrats or courts are deciding to rule in favour of business and not the people are, quite frankly, stupid idiots. When it comes to non-renewable natural resources, we owe it to ourselves and future generations to be extremely careful.

Terry Milewski once referred to the federal government as the "forces of darkness." That expression can certainly be applied to this kind of irresponsible development. Out west, farmers say "water's for fighting" in response to the tar sands projects; it's bloody well time natives and non-natives stood together to stop the bullshit being inflicted upon other bodies of water as well.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What's wrong with Kansas? (Grand juries by petition edition)

Regular reads will know of my personal distaste and reprehension at abortion, and that I am personally pro-life.

However, this story in today's NYT makes me wonder to what extent people will go to stop abortions. There used to be a saying, "Who said anything about America? This is Mississippi" -- in response to what many rightly considered the most racist state and legal system in the country. Now, it's Kansas' turn for ignominy of a different kind.

A physician in Kansas, one of the few in America that still performs "late term" abortions, has been relentless picketed, been the subject of lobbying groups -- and even shot. Now, he's facing a grand jury investigation. It's not the first, it would seem, but in an unusual move enough signatures on a petition were gathered in order to force a grand jury to convene to determine if there is enough evidence that abortions were performed after 22 weeks -- a criminal offense in Kansas.

It's not the first time a petition has been used to force a grand jury to convene. In the last few years, it's been used 10 times -- eight against explicit videos magazines, two on violations of reproduction laws. So far, there has been only one conviction from this procedure. Originally used against the adult video stores, most simply decided to close down rather than fight the charges; itself a form of censorship. (What was it that Justice Harlan Black once said: "I recognize obscenity when I see it?" Certainly I recognize the harmful effects pornography can have, but if women aren't being raped or tortured and there are no children involved -- and the consumers recognize that what they're consuming is fantasy and not even plausible in real life -- I think people should mind their own business.)

The law dates back to the days when railroads ruled and there were battles over which cities got to be the county seats. It was meant to be a check against abuse of power; but this 1887 law remains on the books, so all that is needed to force a grand jury to meet is 2% of a county's turnout in the previous general election plus 100. In Wichita, that's 3500 signatures and a self-styled "pro-life" group gathered double that, 7000.

What's bothersome about this are the following: First, this amounts to judiciary by poll. People don't like the fact prosecutors won't file charges because of lack of evidence, and DAs may very well have a reason why they know the charges won't stick. So they file private charges of their own, or gather a petition. The implications of this, rule by mob, are frightening. This may be something some people may approve of but people of conscience should not. A similar petition law next door in Oklahoma led to a grand jury trying to figure out if there was a conspiracy in the Oklahoma City bombing beyond Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. The ham sandwichers spit out the ham sandwich and stated clearly there wasn't.

Second, by issuing a sub poena for medical records to find out if a crime has been committed, this rides the edge of harassment of women who have had to make a very difficult decision. The Kansas Supreme Court has allowed this investigation to proceed but has warned against a fishing expedition. Problem is, that's precisely what the petitioners want; smoking guns so they can hound the women to no end.

For what it's worth, the clause in dispute states that an abortion may only be performed after 22 weeks where the fetus is not viable, or a pregnant woman would otherwise face "substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function." This is so broad that it could be and probably should be declared void for being too vague. Other states which have drawn a line use such terminology as, say, the continuation of the pregnancy would cause damage to the fetus, or to the physical or mental health of the mother," a formula which courts have upheld.

There's a reason why there are district attorneys. There job is to represent the interests of the people. They are the order in "law and order," and if they feel no law has been broken then their decision should stand. If voters don't like it, they can vote out the DA in the next election. Otherwise, we could get Jim Crow back via the back door -- and rule by mob is the very antithesis of representative democracy and an independent judiciary.

Moreover, if voters want to restrict abortions further it should be down via legislation, not the courts -- and to use the courts makes the pro-life lobby guilty of the judicial activism they vehemently oppose. Of course, they also oppose pro-family programs and policies such as Head Start, WIC and lower-income tax relief. Little wonder why the pro-life dude writing this doesn't want anything to do with the radicals.

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Free trade with Colombia. Who's next?

Last week, Canada and Colombia reached a deal on a free trade agreement. It may be introduced for ratification by Canada's Parliament as early as today.

Regular readers will know that I am a supporter of free trade in principle; provided that the aim is to raise living standards, not lower them and that national sovereignty in the whole is respected. However, another non-negotiable item is respect for human and labour rights. One certainly can't expect an all-encompassing regime such as exists in the European Union, but there should be a minimum level of respect for what's provided for in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in a number of the protocols of the International Labour Organization.

Note the list of countries with which Canada presently have free trade agreements: Chile, Costa Rica, Israel, Peru, the EFTA states (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland), Mexico and the United States. Of these, Costa Rica has a serious child prostitution problem the government won't deal with, Israel has a less than honourable record when it comes to the Palestinians, Peru is still locked in a civil war, and Mexico seems to have a convenient way of making Canadian tourists disappear -- and of course, you don't want to mess with a Federale. At the present time, we're in negotiations with Singapore which has one party regularly winning 80% of the seats thanks to gerrymandering and therefore cannot be considered a democracy in any sense of the term; and the country's press is free to criticize other countries' governments but not its own.

What is going on here?

I do believe countries which have proved they have improved their record should be entitled to escalating improvements in trade access, starting with debt relief, then Most Favoured Nation (the lowest level of tariff), then free trade. However, it is in our best interests to seek better access to markets on which we can rely on, countries which have proven they have good overall labour and human rights standards -- the EU, Australia, Japan. Wittingly supporting a still ongoing civil war and illicit drug trade is not my idea of lifting people up. The Colombian agreement does attempt to address human and labour rights but it does not go far enough. And let's not mention the environment.

The minority Parliament here should draw the line. We should not accept this as a fait accompli -- and ratification should be deferred until Colombia can prove they're moving forward and not going back into old habits.

Who's next on the free trade list? Zimbabwe? Sudan? Burma? You get my point.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Damn the atoms, we'll split them anyway!

So the government of Ontario has decided that the future lies with nuclear power and that it will built two reactors alongside the existing plants in Darlington. Don't be surprised if the proposals that come from AECL, Westinghouse and Areva demand that four and not two reactors are built -- since Darlington has four already.

Given the history of Darlington -- a series of reactors that wound up costing six times the original projection -- I'm not sure that the site is entirely the best choice. Given the options for siting I would have picked Kincardine. Plants there along with improvements to the transmission lines from there would have been way less expensive. But the fact is regardless of where the reactors are nuclear power in itself is a real bogeyman both in terms of operating costs as well as what to do with all the waste material.

Right now, the Canadian government is considering burying all the waste somewhere in Saskatchewan -- not unlike the proposed Yucca Mountain project outside of Las Vegas. Two words: Terrorists, earthquakes.

Nuclear should be the second to last option, so-called "clean coal" being the very last. Conservation measures as well as renewable energy should have been at the top of the list. I'm very disappointed today.

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Leader of the band

To all the fathers out there including my own, Happy Father's Day.

Now, a musical interlude from the late Dan Fogelberg.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

One, two, three, what are we fighting for by the way?

It's been a little more than 24 hours since a brazen break-out at the prison in Kandahar and 1100 detainees escaped, after the Taliban launched a successful rocket attack. The Canadian Army and the US Marines are now in a joint operation trying to round up those who escaped from Sarposa, diverting the men in women in uniform from their job of protecting the southern part of Afghanistan from the Taliban. It's no accident that among those who broke out are 400 of the Taliban.

I certainly do wish those on the side of right all the luck that can be mustered in this emergency; but the fact is that Kabul and Kandahar among other cities in the region are far from secured as it is and the last thing Canada and the US needed was this migraine. More important, the border areas are still unsecured as well. We've been at it for seven years, and this is all we have to show for it? Little wonder why people back on the homefront are getting exasperated.

Another interesting point that should be mentioned: While I obviously am rooting for Barack Obama in this fall's elections in the States, he has said that he's looking to Canada to further increase its commitment in Afghanistan, by 1000 to 1500 troops; the price he's demanding for sending another 5000 Marines who would have otherwise been deployed to Iraq. I submit Afghanistan would have been much further along on the road to recovery if the Iraq expedition had never been fought in the first place but I also think Canadians have no appetite to top up our deployment when we've already said we're out of there in 2011.

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Hampton walks away

Yesterday, Howard Hampton announced that he is resigning as the leader of the Ontario NDP. While I disagreed with him on much and could never find a way to vote for the party, I think he was absolutely right about the mess that came from electric deregulation; the ramifications which we will have to deal with for decades to come.

In last year's election he was trying to discuss some of the other real issues that are affecting Ontario greatly, especially child poverty and long-term care which are items I am also worried about. The election instead was fought over public education which while important is only one piece of the puzzle to make this province competitive again. They are issues that need to continue to be discussed. In that respect, it's now more regrettable than before that Ontario voters rejected proportional representation -- we should have the right to split the ticket if we so wish so we can have as many views as possible represented.

I respect people of principle, and Hampton was certainly that.

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RIP Tim Russert

A friend of mine and I were on our way to meeting some other friends in Toronto late yesterday afternoon when I heard on the radio that Tim Russert had died at the age of 58, just hours after flying back to Washington from Rome to attend a celebration for his son's graduation and then going right back to work to tape an interview. To say that my friend and I were shocked would be an understatement. On the way back, we heard on my satellite radio -- tuned into Fox News, a rarity for me -- that Russert had an enlarged heart and coronary heart disease. Coming as it did barely a week after the passing of Jim McKay, it was very hard to comprehend and still is early this morning as I write these words.

Like many other bloggers, I had in recent months become very critical of Russert and the kinds of questions he wasn't asking and the fact he tended to have many more conservative guests than those who were liberal or neutral. However, there are two things that made him stand out as a great broadcaster. One, he did ask some very tough questions of his guests and was able to turn around a once very boring show, Meet the Press, which is the world's longest running program on television (on the air since 1947). A show that had lost its spark during the 1980s.

Two, he had incredible integrity. In last year's perjury trial of Scooter Libby, Russert wound up testifying despite a long-standing journalistic code not to reveal one's sources. When he was finally asked on NBC's nightly newscast why he responded to the sub poena both at the grand jury and later the trial -- once he had finished his testimony at the latter -- he bluntly told anchor Brian Williams something his mother and his father ("Big Russ") both had taught him; that if you tell the truth the first time you don't have to tell the same story twice. In other words, Libby was caught in a lie and Russert felt his duty to call him out even if he was an otherwise reliable insider.

That's the kind of ethics journalism badly needs right now, especially in a world where if and when Angelina Jolie Voight had her twins is considered more important than how many died in Iraq on the same day of the alleged "blessed event." And in this historic year, it will be all too painful to know that Russert won't be there to tell the story of how Obama v. McCain winds up.

That even the team at Fox was devastated shows you just how big this loss is. Coming as it did just before Father's Day and the realization that Big Russ will now have to bury his son is the biggest insult.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Ireland says no

A follow-up to my post from yesterday ...

The final results are in, and it looks like voters in Ireland have, in fact, rejected the Treaty of Lisbon, and also by a fairly wide margin, 53.4% to 46.6%. This in spite of support from the establishment in the country including the two largest parties, the ruling Fianna Fail and the opposition Fine Gail.

This doesn't mean the end of the EU, not by a long shot. Ireland, as most of the continent, is in too deep already in part because it's part of the Eurozone. It does mean, however, that Brussels will have to do something it's been very reluctant to do in the past -- actually listen to the people rather than just the governments of the constituent states. If the EU is a partnership of democratic nations, than democracy should mean more than just an election to a neutered continental assembly every five years.

Common labour, safety and environmental standards, free movement of people and capital and common money make sense on the surface; and for the most part have contributed to Europe's recovery over the last six decades. Digging deep, however, my sense is that Europeans want the EU to get back to basics as a free trade zone and not be the all-encompassing behemoth that it is today, micromanaging nearly every aspect of people's lives except for defence, health, education and welfare -- about the only things the member states have left under their respective jurisdictions.

After all, 27 countries can't be expected to agree on absolutely everything. And I think the line towards even further integration should have ended once the Euro became reality. States still not part of the currency should, of course, have the right to opt in when conditions warrant; but they shouldn't have to give up any more. Not for themselves, not for their people. In fact, they should start taking some things back.

That doesn't make me a Euroskeptic -- not by any means. Just someone who thinks national sovereignty should still mean something in an open border world. I dread the day when Europe fields a united dream team for the World Cup of Soccer. As we've seen the last week or so with the Euro 2008 tournament, national pride still does count for something even in an open continent; a matter the Commission seems to forget at times.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

SCOTUS: What part of "no" doesn't Dubya understand, Part Trois

For the third time in four years, the US Supreme Court has ruled that the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- the so-called "enemy combatants" -- do have rights. Significantly, the court upheld the right to seek habeas corpus in the civilian federal court system. It should be no surprise that this decision was made albeit by a narrow margin, 5-4. What is surprising in Boumediene v Bush (Case 06-1195) is the level of exasperation shown by the normally dour and conservative court.

Significantly Justice Anthony Kennedy on behalf of the majority wrote that the US government's claim that Guantanamo Bay is not part of the United States is as specious as the claim that Scotland is not part of the United Kingdom for the purposes of the Magna Carta -- or for that matter, Imperial India during the Raj. Furthermore, as Kennedy points out, if Guantanamo is part of Cuba then it follows that the detainees should naturally be able to seek redress in the Cuban courts but they're being denied even that privilege -- denied, by the United States.

In other words, the US Constitution is extended extraterritorial jurisdiction outside the US to wherever the US effectively has controlling jurisdiction. These includes embassies and consulates as well as military bases set up overseas and her ships at sea. The issue was also settled when it came to the question of whether the Constitution applied to territories it acquired at war including the Philippines (a US territory until just after World War II) as well as Guam and Puerto Rico (which remain territories to this day). To the US claim that a 1950 SCOTUS decision regarding war crimes in Germany, that the detainees there could not use habeas corpus, was dispositive of the issue, Kennedy replied in part that because the tribunals were multi-national it was unclear which country had jurisdiction; but there's no issue of who is in charge de facto in Gitmo.

It is of course, the right decision. But as Justice Souter pointed out in his concurrence, there is also an important issue that many of the detainees have been held without charge for over six years. This impinges on the right to a speedy trial. In a normal war, it may make sense to detain someone somewhat longer than normal, in part to ensure the accused's safety. But in an undeclared war such as the so-called war on terrorism, it has been largely the Bush administration that has set the terms of what constitutes the war. There is no doubt that al Qaeda attacked America and that was an act of war in its own right. However, where no nation has made the first strike (terrorists, after all, have no nation) one has to wonder who has the right to decide when the war has ended. Under the Bush rules, it will never end and therefore the accused -- presumed guilty until proven innocent contrary to habeas corpus -- should be held indefinitely.

Is America a dictatorship of one, or does the balance of powers mean anything? Put it another way: Does anyone wonder how it's possible Vatican City can be an absolute dictatorship when it promotes democracy in Europe (outside the walls of the Holy See) and elsewhere? The only permanent residents there are the Swiss Guard and a few others and even they don't get to vote on whoever gets to be the day-to-day Governor of the compound even if it is from a list of Cardinals.

Who polices the police, in other words? Bush says, no one. Uh-uh. It must be the courts, and the courts will not tolerate nor should it tolerate any attempts to have its jurisdiction circumscribed, no matter what Congress or the President has to say about it. That's as it should be. If Bush disagrees with that, tough luck -- but he said he "respects" the decision. Whatever respect means these days. Pretty much the same as what love meant to Prince Charles when he was married to Princess Diana.

Gitmo was a flawed process from day one. If the government believes it has the right people, then show the evidence and put the accused on trial -- whether that's in a civilian court or a court martial is beside the point; but a military commission where the outcome is predetermined is not the way, and certainly not consistent with habeas corpus. If Bush has any decency left in him, he can save some grace and move the prisoners to Fort Leavenworth or another military stockade; with trials to begin in 90 days or less.

As for the dissenters' claims that some detainees released have gone on to commit other atrocities, that is true in one case; but the counterpoint is, what if Gitmo is creating terrorists where none existed before? Moreover Americans insist upon basic consular rights when they are arrested or detained in other countries, in particular the right to be treated as nationals in the country they are visiting or working in would be. Americans owe the same courtesy to their guests, no matter how gross the crime may be.

Six years is more than enough to gather evidence; in fact it's so long that it's enough to attach jeopardy and produce a default verdict of not guilty.. After all, OJ Simpson gave the district attorney in Los Angeles 60 days when he was indicted in a preliminary hearing, and the LAPD had no issue with that. Some of the detainees at Gitmo are being held on minor immigration violations, no more -- and it's just plain stupid that they are being held to a different standard than Mexicans or Canadians who cross the border at an unauthorized point.

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Could Ireland KO EU union treaty?

A couple of years ago, it were referendums in France and the Netherlands that derailed a draft constitution for the European Union. Now, another country has the potential of stopping the whole process over again, in regards to a revised text for a union treaty, in this case the Treaty of Lisbon. That country is -- the Republic of Ireland.

It could be a very close vote, with the "No" side having picked up a lot of momentum the last week or so. It is rather interesting though, that a country with about a quarter of the population of the Dutch and that like the Dutch and the French uses the Euro currency could derail the whole process and send the 27 presidents and prime ministers back to the drawing board.

I'm not sure about all the issues, but I do find it interesting that people do want to hold on to whatever sovereignty they may have left; that they are not just a star on someone else's flag. The EU has been overall a remarkable success story, one of the greatest of the last century and continues to be so in this century; but somewhere one of the founding principles of the Union in 1957 of subsidiarity -- that decision making should be wherever possible be done close to the people -- was lost long ago.

A no vote might also be a big morale boost to those in the UK who also oppose further integration, in particular with the Euro. Interesting since the financial district in London for all intents and purposes operates with the Euro and not pounds sterling for 90% of transactions.

While adopting the Euro might make sense for the UK in the long run (especially since the bulk of its trade is now with Europe and not the Commonwealth), I suspect that a referendum on the issue (which has been promised at some undefined point in the future) would be excruciatingly close and would definitely be voted down in Scotland and Northern Ireland where banks print their own bills (really promissory notes tied to the sterling) since such would not be possible in the Eurozone and only one set of coins could be minted representing the whole of the UK and not separate ones for its constituents parts.

The main thing though is that people in only one country this time around, just one, are being asked their opinion; unlike the other 26 where there is merely a ratification vote in the respective national parliaments. What is so wrong with putting a treaty of such scope to the people? Take the Euro, for example. It's proven mostly successful but I don't remember the French or the Italians or the Belgians being asked their opinion about abandoning their currencies. There is still strong sentimental attachment to the Deutschemark in Germany and the Lira in Italy for obvious reasons. And there's something lost in the Gorda lottery in Spain every year when the kids are singing songs about the prizes in Euros and not pesetas.

The Irish were and they said yes; the Danes and Swedes were at different points in time and they said no for the time being. There's something wrong that people in most of the other countries were not asked about giving up one of the ultimately expressions of national sovereignty, money. The same applies about ceding further power to a bunch of commissars in Brussels. Let the people, not just their representatives, decide on this one.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

When is sorry enough?

Later today, PMS will offer a formal apology for the abuse inflicted upon thousands of Aboriginal Canadians who went through the rightfully discredited residential school system. This for Canada is no less significant than the apology offered to the natives in Australia a few months ago for being dispossessed of their lands and similar abuses. One can only hope that this is a truly sincere apology and that it moves us forward and not back.

This should have been done years ago, when the true nature of the abuse became known to the wider Canadian community. The system was terrible for non-native orphans who were forced into a similar and parallel gulag, also run by the country's churches, and in no way should that ever be minimized either. It brought shame to the religious community, in particular the Roman Catholic Church to which I belong.

Coming as the revelations did during the late 1980s to early 1990s, I know that it had a decimating effect not just on the victims who were ignored by church officials who as their US colleagues had been doing (though it was not revealed until a decade later) been moving priests and nuns around to ensure they evaded prosecution; but a similar effect on enrollments at monasteries and divinity schools. There had been a general downward trend since Vatican II, but the revelations drove away many would be applicants who did not want to be tarred with the brush of being called a child molester -- they did not want to be accused of guilt by association.

Who could blame them? I was one of those dissuaded. And I like many other Catholics are furious that the Vatican City has given those who gave blind consent to the worst kind of abuse immunity from prosecution -- not the least of them the former archbishop of Boston, Massachusetts Cardinal Bernard Law who is now in an administrative post at the Holy See; just one reason why the late Pope John Paul II should not even be considered for sainthood, let alone put on the fast track for it.

But in some respects, there was a qualitative and quantitative difference when it came to natives. Since non-natives usually had the same culture as those teaching them their souls were not always implicated. For natives, however, having the double whammy of being abused and being told they were getting it because "they didn't have a soul" was the ultimate insult. Further as wards of the state, they did not necessarily have access to the same kinds of supports offered by provincial social services agencies since they were outside the jurisdiction of the provinces.

In this respect, compensation which began to be paid out last year was well justified, although in my opinion it would have been better to allocate the reparations as a top-up to monthly federal entitlements such as the Child Tax Benefit (for the relatively younger victims) or the Guaranteed Income Supplement (for seniors) and paid out for life with a guaranteed lump sum for the unexhausted portion of the annuity upon death to the victim's descendants. The stories of natives who don't know what to do with such a large one time amount of money is equally depressing.

Be that as it may, it does go back however to the point that not all those who were at the teaching and administrative end of the system were guilty of abuse. Many, indeed probably most, did not. I know for a fact at least one of my teachers -- a nun, from 7th grade -- was at one time previous to that assigned to a reserve in Northwestern Ontario. She said as much, and in fact was an early supporter of native sovereignty for Canada's Aboriginals, similar to the arrangement in the US where many federal and state laws don't always apply to reserves unless the tribal councils assent to them. There was nothing in her character that would have suggested she would have contributed to such abuse; in fact the code of conduct for her order had zero tolerance for that.

So, I do worry about those who were and continue to be wrongly accused.

The forthcoming Truth and Reconciliation Commission needs to offer a chance to heal, but it also needs to focus on the truth and ensure those who have been wrongly accused have a chance to vindicate themselves. I am concerned, though, that unlike other TRCs (most famously the one in South Africa) there is also no immunity (limited or blanket) being offered for those who are truthful about their victimization. It's not that abusers should not be held accountable; of course, they should. But, while there is no statute of limitations in Canada there is also a concern that those who did such things will not see a need to even testify; after all, many of the older generation still think they did nothing wrong and that the attempted literal and cultural genocide of Aboriginals to which they contributed was entirely justified. Thus the TRC here may only wind up getting half the story.

My bottom line on this: What happened constituted a complete lack of the imagination and was a gross misuse of power. It deprived not only natives of their dignity, but also non-natives access to information of a quality of life that had existed undisturbed for generations and in some ways superior to others including peace of mind and self-sustenance. Access to health and social care is a right that all Canadians should have; but I often wonder if Aboriginals in tepees and igloos were and are better off than in the artificial environments we shoved upon them. Not that they should not be encouraged to contribute in full to our society; but we're too eager to offer solutions to their social isolation as well as their high rates of crime and substance abuse, rather than offering them the chance to try bottom up solutions.

The healing has to begin somewhere, and I say better late than never -- but again, this apology should have been issued in the 1980s when most of the victims were still alive.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Welcome to Circus!

The RCMP admitted late today that Julie Couillard, the ex-girfriend of Maxime Bernier, was known to them ... but wouldn't get any more specific than that since the investigation (if there is one) is ongoing.

In other testimony to the House Ethics Committee, former spy Michel Juneau-Katsuya, one of Canada's best known critics of our national security situation, suggested that PMS is applying a double standard; saying that bureaucrats in the permanent service are held to a much higher standard than Cabinet ministers.

Big. Effing. Surprise. To no one's surprise, Harper has kept resisting demands for an independent police investigation, that an internal probe is enough. Why? Is it possible that Harper knows something about this that he doesn't want Canadians to know and thus can determine the terms of reference for the investigation?

When Martin replaced Chrétien as PM, he hired a special prosecutor to investigate Sponsorgate. Filegate, which may be less odious but still constitutes a serious breach of our national security demands no less. No one can or should feel safe if military secrets are leaked not once but twice in the course of just a few months.

As for Harper's assertion he won't participate in a "partisan circus" -- well, his cronies were the ones who created it in the first place, not the opposition. Let him try to defy a sub poena.

Oh, one last thing -- Couillard attended a $1000 per plate dinner in honour of Harper last year. The cheque bounced. She later claimed she was offered a chance to be a candidate for the party. Anyone find that just a bit suspicious?

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Trouble for King Coal -- in coal country

With all the ads from the self proclaimed "clean coal" lobby running ad nauseum on TV, I had to snicker at this article in the NYT today about a county in eastern Pennsylvania where coal seams run all over the place. In order to save money in the increasingly volatile energy marketplace they are actually considering switching from coal to natural gas. While methane is actually more expensive per unit, the cost savings would come from the maintenance in boilers -- it's much less expensive to operate a gas heater than a coal one.

It's somewhat controversial for those who rely on the coal industry, especially as the cost of anthracite has doubled over the last few years. Coal also has a sentimental value in the region for obvious reasons. But the bid being put forward by the gas interest includes energy efficient lighting and upgrades to the county phone system. For a cash-strapped region, $15 million in savings is a lot of money.

Interestingly, Clinton had her largest percentage vote in the Keystone State in and around this region. Long ago, she sold her soul to King Coal -- and she was rewarded with votes. The claims she "appealed" to the working class is bunk; she knew where her bread was buttered and the people in the region expressed their gratitude accordingly. An ideology right out of the era of the machines which we thought ended in the 1930s.

From a Canadian perspective, we're seeing serious talk about the revival of coal mines long mothballed because of their polluting nature -- because of the increasing demands for power and the lack of support for alternatives in part because of NIMBY. Again, the earliest we can expect "clean coal," presuming it can be made to work (a big if) is 2020 which is when the next round of emission targets are supposed to be met; and we have a government quite content to continue to pollute to the heavens and beyond while reducing "intensity" while increasing actual outputs of carcinogens and other disease causing elements.

Not that the people at the permanent public service in Ottawa -- particularly Public Works -- are entirely innocent on this one either. Here in Hamilton, there's a co-generation plant downtown that operates using steam diverted by pipeline from the steel and chemical plants. Literally, free or very low cost heating in the winter and cooling in the summer. Guess which building is not plugged into the network? Yup -- the brand new federal offices; while older office buildings agreed to be connected. They'd rather be powered by the huge coal plant in Nanticoke; which is scheduled for shutdown in a few years but is still running at full speed especially in the current heatwave making smog even worse. Oddly enough, the former federal offices (scheduled to be converted into a hotel or lofts) ran on solar power. There isn't even a windmill on top of the new building.

Hypocrites. Both federally and provincially.

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Monday, June 9, 2008

Fighting C. diff

The last few years have not been easy ones for hospitals across Ontario and Québec, what with superbugs like SARS and more ominously clostridium difficile, a severe colon infection. In one outbreak in a Hamilton area hospital, 62 patients died. The response by public health authorities has been nothing short of appalling -- far too late, far too half-hearted and even insulting to the families of both those who died, as well as to those lucky enough to survive.

It's also been a big issue in the UK, where in 2006 -- the last year for which there are complete numbers -- about 6500 died from c. difficile. Interestingly, the response from the various units of the NHS have varied drastically -- from indifference from public health authorities in Wales to unsanitary conditions (janitorial duties are contracted out there -- hint, hint!), to an all out and all-party war against the disease in Northern Ireland. These include surprise health inspections, £10 million in extra funding to stop the current outbreak (which started in January) and an forthcoming independent inquiry.

To think that Ulster with all its lingering sectarian problems manages to get it and can put aside prejudices to deal with a health crisis, while we in totally secular Canada don't get it is embarrassing. This strain has been around since 2006 and over 250 have died in total in Ontario, over simple and preventable steps that could have been taken. Just because our health care system is strained is no excuse to put patients first and make sure they're not killed by the hospitals they're staying at -- or the unhealthy conditions therefrom.

George Smitherman must stop being in denial over this and call an independent inquiry. It's long overdue.

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Where did it go wrong?

From the team at comes this analysis of where Hillary Clinton got it wrong -- and so did the press. I found the last point, that she found her voice too late, to be true but also disturbing. Remember how a year ago everyone was saying it would be a subway series between Clinton and Rudy Giuliani? Seems like a lifetime ago.

With the conventions some time away, I hope to focus on some hot Canadian topics the next little while.

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Sunday, June 8, 2008

"They're all gone"

It was a few days before I was born, but those three words still continue to haunt television to this day ... and they were said by the legendary sportswriter Jim McKay. Munich, 1972 -- the murder of 11 athletes from Israel. In a clever move, ABC News decided to throw the newscast to McKay, who broadcast for 16 hours straight -- on his one day off during the Games. He became the first sports reader to win a News Emmy.

He died yesterday; one of the last true giants. God bless you, sir.

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