Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Should the CBC switch to a license model?

It used to be the CBC played a very vital role in the lives of Canadians, especially in the regions.

Then began the era of budget slashing in the 1980s. Some funding was restored in the 1990s but in the last couple of years the game has begun again. Last week, some major cuts were made to programming, including some long standing shows on CBC Radio One that provided important investigational work including the sports show The Inside Track. There are still a few bright spots, such as The Age of Persuasion (which is very educational, by the way) but that is actually produced outside by an advertising agency on contract -- a break away from when all programming was done in house. And with very very minor variations (i.e. the evening news), there's very little distinct flavour with the regions anymore.

So, I'm offering an open question I've asked before but should definitely be asked now: Should CBC / Radio-Canada go to a self-funding model of having as they have in most European countries a TV license? One obviously thinks of the BBC, which mainly relies on "the license" (currently £139.50 per year) but also has other sources of revenue including magazines tied to its many productions as well as being the UK's largest record company -- but then one only stops long enough to think of how enforcement for non-payment can be quite draconian (and both collection and enforcement is contracted to a third party no less!)

Should we go that model, with the tradeoff being less or even no advertising? Or having a mixed model with both a license and ads like in France (for the country's networks 2 through 5 -- 1 was sold off some years ago)? Incidentally, the fee in France right now is €116 in "metropolitan" France (the mainland and Corsica) and €74 in the overseas colonies (including St. Pierre - Miquelon, Mayotte and St. Martin) and is collected as part of property taxes.

I'm going to offer an open thread (with moderation, of course). Let me know what you think, including if such a model was adopted how you think it should be funded (a surcharge on income taxes, direct billed, or included as part of cable or satellite bills).

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Who's running Ontario: McGuinty or [The Scottish Play]?

In the scene in "The Scottish Play" where the body of Duncan is discovered, we see the night watchman commiserate over random things as the incessant pounding of the castle door continues and he rushes to open the gate before everyone else wakes up. One of them was about "faith, here's an equivocator who could swear in both the scales against either scale." This was a blatant reference by Shakespeare to a then recent trial where a minister of the church on trial for treason who kept giving contradictory evidence, but could not be caught up because although he wasn't exactly telling the truth, he wasn't exactly lying either.

This makes me think about Dalton McGuinty's flip-flop-flip on the minimum wage. First he says it's going up to $10.25 per hour next year. Then he said last Friday it might not go up to help Ontario businesses "stay competitive" (even though the introduction of a multi-stage value added tax next summer is supposed to address that very issue!) Today, totally humiliated, the Great Equivocator said yes, the wage increase will take place after all.

What has Ontario become? This was supposed to be a place to stand and a place to grow. Lately it's become the Land of a Thousand Idiots -- and two of them are named McGuinty and Flaherty. At least the latter is honest when he admits he wants to screw over his home province.

More and more, McGuinty has become much like Brian Mulroney in the 1980s, in the sense he has the right policies but a completely wrong way of presenting them, and a hell of a way to not keep his mouth shut when he should.

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Watch group issues donor alert on Miracle Channel

My brother in Jesus Christ, Tim Thibault of Under the Son Ministries in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, has this week issued a "donor alert" about CJIL, aka The Miracle Channel. Included in his latest post are the two most recent complaints he has filed with the CRTC about the station and its on air fundraising practices and the station's responses. Note in particular within the transcripts the appeal made to Canada's First Nations.

I will not comment further either on the donor alert or the station's response, but encourage you to read the post and the attachments within and come to your own conclusions about whether the station is riding the line regarding fundraising versus proselytizing and politicking. If anyone at the station wants to add to what has already been said by Mr. Klassen in the replies to the CRTC, I will post the comment here (at the original blog, but not on Facebook where posts are cc'd), also without further comment.

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Remember Three Mile Island?

With Earth Hour tonight (hence the dark page today), an observation of mine.

Thirty years ago today, a little movie was playing in the theatres and was struggling to get business. It was doing so poorly that many cinema owners were threatening to pull it off the screens, making it yet another in a series of Hollywood busts. Then, in a life imitates art situation, people suddenly started flocking to it and became one of the most popular movies of 1979.

That movie was The China Syndrome (which was as much about the cover up attempted in the film as the actual incidents), and the all true life event which saved it from oblivion was the "incident" at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania (near the state capital of Harrisburg) and the conflicting "explanations" about what happened in the days that followed. This, plus the public uproar over nuclear anything at the time, effectively ended any plans for new civilian nuclear plants in the United States. Not one has been built, or even considered, since, even though the population has grown by a third and demand for electricity nearly triple even that.

Right now, Pointy Head says Ontario needs more nuclear power. It's just a question of siting. While the current facilities at Darlington, Pickering and Bruce are among the obvious choices, another possibility is to place one or two reactors where there used to be a thermal (i.e. coal) plant but are now in the process of being decommissioned. They now say 2014 but the date keeps getting pushed back. It seems pretty obvious at first -- you have all those power rights of way that would be totally useless once the coal plant shuts down so just have a nuclear plant ready to go -- one goes offline the other goes on. Think of the coal plants shut down at Lakeview (Mississauga), Hearn (Toronto) and the ones still operating in Thunder Bay, Nanticoke, Lambton and Atikokan.

It's not that I'm totally against nuclear power. Many countries have proven it can be used in significant amounts, and when run properly (and that's a big if) it can be efficient. France for instance relies on nuclear for about 85% of its power, Belgium 54%, Finland 27% (and which is looking to build more so it can be less reliant on its neighbour, Russia) and the UK 20%.

The problem is that as a general rule, nuclear power has always had cost overruns just in the building of the facilities. Then you have to run them. It takes about seven years to properly train a plant operator, according to Ontario Power Generation. While our CANDU technology can handle so-called "incidents" better than reactors used in other countries, such incidents still can happen and they cost a fortune to clean up.

Plus, where do we store all the nuclear waste? Right now, for the most part, they are being stored on site, and often under very lax security. A goldmine for terrorists. Plans to bury the waste in caverns, near Las Vegas and under northern Saskatchewan, are half baked and even outright dangerous concepts. Now we learn there may be another cavern, right next to Bruce. Yeah, like residents want that in their backyard but the waste will have to go somewhere eventually; it takes 10,000 years to cool after all.

Plus, little is being said about real alternatives. What about wind, solar, biomass and geothermal? Natural gas -- isn't there a huge pool of it under Lake Erie and along the shoreline?

And how about good old energy conservation? We don't need to keep the lights on all the time now, do we? And what some department stores and supermarkets are doing today, turning off only a third or a half of their normal lighting -- well, they can do that every day, and alternate days on which lights will be turned on or off -- it's still just as bright in the stores for heaven's sake! Same in most manufacturing facilities and office pools.

As it is, Three Mile Island is still in business and is about to get another twenty year extension on its operating license. You know they'll find ways of keeping Bruce, Pickering and Darlington running well past their expiry dates and again at taxpayers' expense.

As for one of the "cleaner" alternatives, water -- well, the tunnel they're building right now to double capacity at Adam Beck in Niagara Falls is going to cost triple what they thought. There's also plenty of water power potential up north, but there are outstanding land claims still to be settled and the process could be just as acrimonious as in Northern Québec with the Cree.

I'll be the first to concede, as I have before, that nuclear will inevitably be part of the mix of power generation for the next twenty to forty years. But it should be the last option considered, not the first. There are better options for new plants, especially for Nanticoke.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

McGuinty: When cough medicine simply isn't drowsy enough, screw Ontario even more

So it's true except for the official announcement: Ontario will enter into negotiations with Ottawa to harmonize the two sales taxes, and it will kick in July 1, 2010.

From a business standpoint, a harmonized tax is mostly good news. First it should clear up a lot of bureaucracy since the provincial tax they pay for supplies can be deducted from the amount they collect from consumers, essentially making it tax free for the operators; second exports will immediately become less expensive (by 7.4% since they would be going back to a base of 100 and not 108) and third only one tax remittance has to be filed, not two. This last item is something harmonized jurisdiction businesses actually like, sending only one form or e-file every two weeks or four to Ottawa (in the case of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland-Labrador) or Québec City (in the case of Québec).

From a consumer standpoint, especially for lower income people, this will be a big setback even with rebate cheques of $1000 per year (which if true should really be combined with the GST cheques we're getting instead of being sent separately). And you know it's going to get the triskadekaphobics out in full force. 13% on everything? 13 -- no I don't believe the superstition but many people do.

The time to have done this was during the time the GST was actually introduced back in 1991. It would have given businesses the chance to convert to a harmonized system right then and there. We all remember the fury over conversion costs then, now they're going to have to go through the process again. And besides which, does anyone really believe that a cut in internal costs will be passed on to consumers, especially in times like these? Did Canadians get cost savings when the hidden 13.5% federal sales tax was replaced by the 7% (now 5%) GST? Inflation more than doubled to 6%, then when it settled down all too quickly, we actually went into deflation (-1%) for a year. A spiral like that now is the last thing Ontario needs.

The best part is reports this morning suggest that the province will actually wind up with less revenue overall, not more, as the result of this. All this will do is increase the fortunes of the provincial NDP. But rest assured: A tax implemented is a tax that is almost never eliminated. (The temporary "war" income tax, which has been in place since 1917, for instance -- which started as a wealth tax but quickly spread to nearly the entire population.) Not even the NDP will dare tamper with such a cash cow.

And as Alberta's oil royalties begin to become more unstable look to it to follow Ontario's example and finally impose a sales tax of its own -- also harmonized with the GST.

The pill would be a lot easier to swallow if there are some goodies in today's provincial budget -- a move to universal day care, or more money for seniors besides the paltry $250 property tax rebate and the $83 per month poor seniors get as a top up on their Old Age Security cheques. Heck, I'd be happy with a universal drug plan like Québec has.

But I'm not betting on any of those. Unless this is a budget for the people, McGuinty has lost my vote come the next election -- it will either be NDP or Green depending on my mood.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Livent operators: Guilty

I am not entirely surprised -- but there could be enough grounds for an appeal. The twosome of Drabinsky and Gottlieb now face up to fourteen years in prison. With their otherwise strong reputations, it will probably be at Club Fed and not in supermax with Paul Bernardo so it's really no sentence at all.

It's also not unreasonable to demand some kind of compensation for the stockholders who were taken for a ride and forced to sell in the end for pennies of what they were entitled to.

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Judgment in Toronto, Broadway style

In a short while, we will find out the fate of two former giants of the Canadian entertainment business and it's ... another sign I'm way too old for my thirty-six years: I remember when Live Entertainment, or Livent, was the toast of Toronto and Broadway. Beginning as a division of Cineplex ™, the guys who ran that division, Garth Drabinsky and partner Myron Gottlieb, bought out the division and restored the abandoned Pantages Theatre (later renamed the Canon ™) for the Toronto production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera. I had a chance to see the show in Toronto (on a student discount while I was going to McMaster) and later my late mom and I went to the revival of Showboat (which was as close to perfection as it could get -- and we got a laugh out when we discovered one of the stars also had a recurring character on Married With Children! (Among other shows the company produced were Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Ragtime and Fosse).

What few knew at the time was that Livent was a troubled company almost from the start. In going over the top for its audiences, it went over the top in its finances, even after it went public. When it started losing money, mega-agent Michael Ovitz (who had just been unceremoniously fired from Walt Disney ™ with a record severance package in the nine figures -- that's NINE) was brought in to clean up the mess; and the next thing people knew Drabinsky and Gottlieb were escorted out of the company they founded.

Long story short: The Mounties and the SEC looked further into the company and have alleged the twosome falsified the true nature of the company. Among the allegations: They personally took $4.6 million in corporate funds for their personal use, and that overall the company's value was overstated by about half a billion dollars. The company was eventually sold for $98 million (peanuts) to the behemoth now known as Live Nation ™, and Drabinsky and Gottlieb are wanted in the States for failing to answer to a warrant. Here in Canada they are on trial for each of nineteen counts of fraud over $5000.

What will be the outcome? Given the Toronto Crown's recent track record, it really could go either way. The two guys made Toronto the entertainment hotspot it is today -- but did they break the rules? My sense, even if they are acquitted, there are some ethical questions that may never be answered in full. If they ever produce another show again, people may ask twice about purchasing a ticket for an event sponsored by them. Heck -- I'd rather go to Stratford anyway, what with free parking courtesy the local chamber of commerce, and the drive there is always relaxing.

Update later.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Canada's chance to invade Turks and Caicos? Uh, no

There have long been proposals -- quite serious ones, it seems -- that the Turks and Caicos Islands (which is home base for a lot of "shell" corporations) should secede from Great Britain and join Canada, specifically Nova Scotia. Those dreamers, nearly all of them Canadians, have new ammunition today with word that the TCI's PM has resigned over allegations (denied) of selling government lands for personal gain.

I just post this to point out the story is out there. But really, folks -- does anyone really want TCI to be a part of Canada? Especially those living there? They don't want to give up their currency -- the US dollar. And as long as there are outposts like the TCI, Britain can still claim to say that "the sun never sets on the British Empire" -- or what's left of it.

Besides, we all see what happens when we whites move into a black majority area and try to impose their "civilization". Blueprint: Africa, and most Caribbean states.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Canadian oil for Canadians

I wonder if Justin Trudeau, in his comfy office on The Hill, must be stewing in his own juices this morning after learning as we all have that Petro Canada (Big Daddy's creation that led directly to the creation of the western rights movement) has agreed to a "friendly" takeover by Suncor Energy. As I understand it, the US and Canadian operations of Sunoco are separate, but the fact that another Canadian created company has been divested to the wilds of American oil speculators who own most of the stock of Suncor is not a good story.

There are some legal technicalities, among them since there is only so much one entity can own in Petrocan it needs the approval of Parliament. The twosome can always get around it by having a reverse takeover where Petrocan takes over Suncor then immediately changes its name to Suncor.

Canadian oil is Canadian and should be owned and sold by Canadians. Not Americans, not Saudis, not anyone else. We may need American expertise to dig some of it up (actually, Americans are using our slant drilling knowledge to dig up theirs!), but ownership should essentially remain ours. This is a major loss of our sovereignty.

What's next? Canada joins OPEC? It's no secret that there is an invitation to do so -- but Canada does not want to be seen screwing the Americans or the EU. But the way things are going, I won't be surprised if it does happen. It would certainly make Edmonton happy to fuck the rest of Canada all over again, just by turning off the taps.

Oh yeah, it also means my points card is now totally worthless, since with the other one you only get points if you fill up with extra premium (which cost 20 t0 25 cents more per litre than regular) and which 99% of the cars on the road don't even need. Thanks a lot, motherfuckers.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Kenney: Right, and wrong on immigration

You'd think I'd find everything about the current immigration minister disagreeable with my values. However, Jason Kenney did say something that I do agree with, at least in principle: Potential new immigrants to Canada, especially in the regular class, should possess a working knowledge of English or French -- or both if planning to migrate to an area where bilingualism is essential, such as Ottawa or Montréal. While this is the law, it's often not enforced by immigration intake workers especially if there is a labour supply shortage in Canada.

However, I am disturbed by the implication of some of what the minister said about immigrants who are here (particularly in the refugee and family classes) who still don't have a demonstrable knowledge of either official language, or know just enough to pass the citizenship test. This is certainly not a uniquely Canadian problem, it has gone on for years. Adding fuel to the fire in a recession, however (i.e. implying such Canadians, and they are in the hundreds of thousands, should be deported), is not the way of going about it.

We should, however, as a society attempt to integrate newcomers with ESL or FSL programs, with training programs that reflect the actual language used in society (including slang) as well as intensive immersion programs where for a number of weeks one attempts to speak and read the new language only, including old and new media sources. That's what happens with some programs Anglophones and Anglophiles take when they go to language "boot camps" in places like Trois Pistoles, Québec -- where exposure to English is completely non existent, and you're constantly monitored, losing marks if you slip into English even accidentally. The idea is by the time you're done you're functionally bilingual.

I am sensitive to this issue as both my parents are immigrants -- my father as a political refugee. But both Mom and Dad made it a point to take ESL classes almost as soon as they got here, and while my father's delivery is still less than perfect it's enough to carry on a conversation. I do have to admit I am disturbed that there are some communities large enough that one can spend his or her entire life here not speaking a single word of English or French, if one just stays in the ghetto markets and goes to private schools in his or her "own" language only. The lack of pride in being Canadian even if in name only is a problem, that we need to address.

The way it is right now, migrants tend to gravitate to their own communities allowing them to continue to speak their home languages while integrating into Canada. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, but it goes against my idea of multiculturalism where we share in each others' diversity and share in our common future as Canadians; not pigeon hole ourselves each in our own corners, advertise only to our segmented communities, and so forth. The integration process would go faster is if they went in headlong first -- particularly on language. Of course they should have contacts with people among their group but not at the expense of using local, not home, languages. A mosaic is made up of many pieces, they cannot be isolated into their individual parts.

It also doesn't help, however, when classes and immigrant settlement programs are among the first to get sacrificed first on the altar of budget cuts -- so in effect, those who complain about the problem are the ones making it even worse. And of course, those who want to learn English or French can't often take those classes without affordable day care for their children, something else the Conservatives oppose (see where this is going)? Forcing them to learn the same way their kids are -- by watching stupid educational shows for pre-schoolers on the CBC or educational television.

In many EU states, you can't apply for naturalization (a non-native born gaining citizenship of his or her adopted country) unless you can prove you speak the national language well enough to function in the workplace. There are some exceptions to this: Germany, which does have a language requirement for most, does grant citizenship as a matter of course to some of the victims of Nazi atrocities (who were stripped of their statehood by Hitler) and their children and grandchildren.

Trudeau's vision of nation-wide bilingualism is a farce, except as a practical matter in the areas I mentioned above. Still is it really too much to ask for a little bit of English or French from newcomers, regardless of the class they are applying in? No, I don't, and asking applicants to take the TOEFL or the TCF is not an undue burden.

But I also don't appreciate people making the suggestion in threatening or menacing words, be they by connotation or denotation, that lack of knowledge should automatically be a disqualifying factor. Instead, we need to say, okay, we'll let you in on a work permit but you have such and such amount of time to learn English and / or French and pass the tests that prove it; if you can, then you'll get full immigrant status retroactive to the time of entry. The vast majority of applicants would take the offer, and there's no question they'd pass not one but both tests. The more immigrants that know three, four or more languages, the more competitive we then become as we sell our wares and services overseas.

With that, I'm off to church ... and one of my prayers this morning is that only saner and less bigoted thoughts will fill the halls of the Centre Block.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

The multiple double standards in the banning of George Galloway

George Galloway's banning from Canada by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney simply because the former was trying to carry £1 million of humanitarian supplies into the Gaza Strip, an area presently ruled by the democratically elected party (and listed terrorist group) Hamas, has really worked up a lather with most of my fellow ProgBloggers who have written about it: Maxwell Devin, Cliff Hesby, David Climenhaga, Bernadette Wagner, and Scott Tribe, just to name a few. Of course, the Conservatives don't have a monopoly on banning entry to those who rub them the wrong way, the Liberals did the same to Louis Farrakhan some years ago. But I disagreed with that decision (despite Farrakhan's well known anti-Semitic views) and I have to disagree with this one.

My opinion is along with the majority of my fellow (and more articulate) progressive blogging scribes: Let the guy into Canada so he can speak. Here's my sense:

He's a loudmouth, to be certain, but he poses no threat to Canada's national security. He threatens our law and order as much as Don Cherry threatens club-level ice hockey in Europe. They're never going to take his pro-fighting stance seriously (and as a journalist, if you can call him that, he can travel to any EU country so he can bash the Europeans he hates so much); any more than we would take to heart Galloway's more bombastic opinions about the situation in the Middle East and South Asia. He's wrong about much of it, but that doesn't mean he's dangerous.

For what it's worth he's also pretty inconsisent on GBLT issues: He voted to lower the age of consent for homosexuals to the same age as that of heterosexuals (21 to 16) and supports adoption rights for gay and unmarried couples, but has also taken donations from anti-gay groups.

To place Galloway in the same company as Osama Bin Laden is ridiculous. For Mr. Kenney to compare Galloway to Oliver Cromwell is laughable. (The expression used was "an infandous street corner Cromwell." I didn't even know "infandous" was a word -- but I looked it up and it means "too odious to be expressed or mentioned." Even the NY Times, which seldom mentions Canada, got a howl out of that one, and noted the word hasn't been regularly used since 1708 -- incidentally the same year Queen Anne I vetoed an Act of Parliament and the last time a royal veto has been used in the UK.) We've seen some of our citizens say some incendiary things, Don Cherry for one, but you don't see other countries banning them from travelling there. And when you limit what outsiders can say, going to the point of banning them even from sending accredited reporters to tell the story, it's only a few steps away from limiting what your own citizens can say, which inevitably happens.

Just ask the people who live in any country run by a dictatorship. Burma and Zimbabwe on an ongoing basis, for instance, where humanitarian aid is also routinely denied or confiscated by army officials. Or what happened in Beijing in 1989 after the reporters were forced to leave.

Using the same logical fallacies used to ban Mr. Galloway, one could suggest that George W. Bush should not have been allowed into Canada this week to make a speech in Calgary for starting a war that killed tens of thousands of civilians and made the humanitarian crisis there even worse -- but he was.

It can often be hard to separate a group's political and humanitarian aims. When the group is outlawed by Canada, the United States, and the European Union, it should raise more than a few alarm bells. (That's why when there is a major disaster, I usually find it safer to donate to the Red Cross or the Salvation Army, because of the general political neutrality of both in relief efforts.) But to classify the whole Gaza population as lovers of terror is wrong. To call Galloway a supporter of terror because he genuinely wants to help Gazans is stupid.

The powers that be couldn't make anything stick to him on Oil for Food because there was no story there -- the documents that maligned him were forged.

Prove that he has actually trained in a terror camp with Hamas or Hezbollah, or that he supplied arms to them, then you might convince me. Right now, there is no proof that even meets the sniff test. If Canada still had grand juries, they'd laugh the "evidence" right out of court and issue a no true bill.

There's no question there are some people who shouldn't be allowed into Canada -- a whole slew of terrorists and criminals come to mind. I don't know how long our banned list is (the number is an "official secret" but I suppose it is probably in the tens of thousands or higher, since the Schengen list of "undesirables" banned entry to the European open border zone presently totals over one million.)

And it's not like there's a precedent for personnae non grata being granted entry here -- Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin has been repeatedly allowed into Canada despite well-reputed links to the IRA, and there's no doubt that some Basque leaders who support ETA's have slipped in as the legitimate "political wing" representatives of the otherwise outlawed group. (Most Basques, it should be pointed out, are completely opposed to ETA's tactics; they want greater autonomy for their corner currently in Spain and France but not in that way.)

Canada has a large Tamil community, and many of its members regularly send remittances to the political arm of LTTE, which is an outlawed terrorist group if for no other reason than their use of child soldiers during the bloody civil war. Protesting the conditions their brothers and sisters are living in right now as the Sri Lanka army has pretty much cornered the Tamil community on the island should not be seen as terroristic -- but apparently, the Conservative government seems to think differently since Tiger flags were flown at the protest last weekend, even though you can easily get one of those flags on Craigslist or eBay.

And, the Cons seem to think that Omar Khadr, whose status at Gitmo is still up in the air, is not a child soldier. There's a nice double standard for you right there.

But Galloway certainly doesn't fit the bill. And even if he did, you just don't change the rules mid-course to satisfy your own political ends. I find much of what he stands for repulsive.

But this is just reactionism by the incumbent Canadian government, plain and simple. I say let him in and speak. To deny him just gives him the publicity he seeks. (And it also makes Canada a laughing stock, which is why I selected "humour" as one of the tags for this entry.)

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We never should have closed down our German bases

Last night, we learned that four more soldiers have been killed in the line of duty for Canada: Master Corporal Scott Vernelli and Corporal Tyler Crooks of November Company, 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment; and Troopers Yack Bouthillier and Corey Joseph Hayes of the Royal Canadian Dragoons. Eight others were wounded and reported in "stable" condition.

That brings the total death toll to 117 -- 116 soliders and one diplomat -- killed in the line of duty since 9/11. Two Canadian aid workers have also been killed.

Obviously, it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better. And it is truly infuriating that most of NATO is still not pulling its weight in Afghanistan. Only five countries have full time combat operations there right now: Canada, the US, the UK, Denmark and the Netherlands. Other countries put so many conditions for the rules of engagement for their fighting men and women that it makes joint operations that would be more effective, impossible to execute. As NATO marks 60 years next month, the success or failure of the operation could well depend on whether more countries will be persuaded to jump in.

However, there is one aspect of the situation -- the wounded -- that still bothers me.

While we have a modern field hospital at the base in Kandahar City that is fully capable of handling critical injuries -- for our troops, our allies alongside, and even our enemies who we capture as POWs -- it is, at its "base" a critical care facility (in and out, so to speak). To handle the more serious injuries that will take a longer recovery period, we have to transfer our WIAs to an American air base facility in Ramstein, Germany. Their physicians, nurses and other specialists are just about the best there is and there is no question our soldiers are in good hands there. And it also helps that there are Canadians posted there on a full time basis (as well as troops from 10 other NATO members), to help keep the wounded company.

But the fact is we had our own base in Germany for decades -- the base at Baden-Soellingen, in addition to facilities in Lahr and Zweibrüken. These were not only staging areas for conflicts in Europe and the Middle East, they also had the facilities you'd expect back home including top-notch medical personnel. Zweibrüken was closed after the three branches (army, air force and navy) unifed their command in the late 1960s, but the other two remained open -- until Mulroney ordered them closed in the early 1990s under the guise of budget constraints. Canada wasn't the only one, other countries pulled out of Germany too with the end of communism in most of Europe.

But many world leaders totally missed the shifting paradigm. It was no longer East versus West as in Eastern vs Western Europe. As the Cold War ended and Europe was becoming more united (with customs-free borders beginning in 1995) the Eastern boundary had now shifted, to the Middle East, South Asia and the Asia Pacific -- and small but well armed and financed groups who were prepared to fight unconventional war against us.

They also missed the opportunity to have battle ready people able to move in in several hours notice, not having to organize a deployment months in the making (as is the case now), fly them half way around the world, and then having to ship the wounded half-way back to a foreign country's facilities. It's insane -- we had our own army hospitals in Germany, good ones, and we shut them down and have the Americans bill us (and we know how expensive their health care is!)?

Too: Having a continued presence would have strengthened Canada's hand in dealing with the EU. We're finally into free trade talks with them now, but this could have been done a decade or more ago -- when we pulled out it was like we were snubbing the people we helped liberate in World War II so they had no reason to reason, particularly during the cod and turbot "wars." Why do you think America can be as tough as it is with the EU, and vice versa? It's because of the physical American presence in Europe.

The other thing is all those "support our troops" stickers you see on bumpers. I'd like to ask them if support means supporting PMS and his policies, or does it mean really supporting our troops -- giving them the best and most up to date fighting equipment possible, not Bay of Pigs relics? Does it mean subletting long term care of wounded soldiers, airmen and sailors to the Americans, or having them in our own army hospitals? Does it mean just giving soldiers their LTD when they get back -- or also emotional, financial and every other support they're going to need, for a lifetime? "Support our troops" in the context presently being used is a sinister one and it is costing our troops dearly. You don't fight terrorists equipped with Kalashnikovs and Berettas when all you have are the equivalent of starters' pistols which is basically what we're doing right now.

I support our troops. Supporting them means they get it in every way, and that includes treatment of the injured by Canadians, from start to finish. Again, I admire the work that the men and women at Ramstein do and I think we should thank them for their friendship and service; but we really need to have Canadians treating Canadians. Flying them home all the way would be impractical, so a mid-way point would have been nice. Closing Baden and Lahr was about the stupidest thing we could have done. And we can't have them back either -- they were sold and redeveloped commercially.

Not too surprising, given conservatives -- progressive and regressive conservatives -- have a penchant for selling top class land at fire sale prices.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday night music vault: Softly

This one goes way back to 1969, and the old Johnny Cash show. Softly is one of Gordon Lightfoot's somewhat lesser known songs, but certainly one of the most beautiful ones, the performance a few months before he released his monster hit song If You Could Read My Mind.

Where are the songwriters like this now? I mean, really? Is Taylor Hicks and Justin Timberlake the best the Machine can give us?

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Charest: Sitting pretty, running deficits

Could this be a sign of things to come for the rest of the country? The Charest government introduced their 2009 budget for Québec and it is not pretty. For one thing it is "suspending" the province's balanced budget law, which in any province is really a worthless piece of paper to begin with, and announcing deficits for the next four years. As well, it will increase user fees and start indexing them to inflation (except for daycare); and starting in 2011 the provincial sales tax is going up to 8.5%, which of course is going to hit lower income people the most.

There is some targeted stimulus, which is a good thing, but there is nothing in there to explain what the heck happened at the Caisse de dépôt. There's also something a bit confusing in the budget papers, and that's that revenues from natural resources is going to be negative $80 million or so. Someone help me out on that one: The province is a paradise for fish and game, and they're going to lose that much money on permits -- what, they're giving them away for free or something?

Rumour is that the finance minister in the province, Monique Jérôme-Forget, may quit her post because she's gotten fed up with fighting with Slim Jim ™ over transfer payments and equalization. On the other hand, the province also has the kind of flexibility to arrange its finances in a way that other provinces could only dream of and it (relying for resources for much of its economy) saw the warning signs long before the rest of the country, so Charest just can't say it's the global economy's fault. Of course, he has a majority for four years so the Richard Simmons wannabe can just sit pretty until things get better -- if they do.


Ontario will have its budget coming any day now, and one claim is that the province will consider harmonizing its sales tax with the GST, as does Québec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland-Labrador. We were already lied to about the health tax. Without a huge cut in the sales tax rate, or a big increase in the personal income tax exemption, or a cut in income taxes I say nyet.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Out of nothing at all!

If some Third World countries like -- name any of a number of them -- tried to print money like this, their money would be devalued instantly by several factors and their economy in tatters.

But today the US Fed said that it would create $1 trillion in new securities to try to unlock credit markets -- in other words, they're effectively printing that much in new money. This had the effect of having the dollar drop about 3% against major currencies. Only three percent, I emphasize. How do they get away with it? Because they can.

I may be just ranting here, but isn't making something out of nothing equal to making nothing?

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

End of an era in Seattle

It's another "end of an era" within the Fourth Estate, as the Seattle Post Intelligencer -- unable to find a buyer after Hearst put it up for sale -- will publish its last print edition today, and going forward will be a web only newspaper. It's sad, in a way -- it got ahead of a lot of "national" papers and television outlets in investigating stories from crime to politics to entertainment, not just for the Pacific Northwest but across America.

That leaves the Seattle Times as the city's only major paper, which insists it's saddened to see its longtime rival bite the dust -- and one can only anticipate a generation gap with Gen X and younger gravitating to online content while older people will still prefer a paper product in their hands. Different content, different editorial spins -- we're going to pull apart more than we already are I'm afraid. Denver and Seattle are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine as long time two paper towns become one paper -- and there's already a terrible lack of progressive voices in print already.

A few years back, Honolulu came dangerously close to losing its second paper -- and Canadians remember the furore when one paper each in Winnipeg and Ottawa (operated by rival companies) closed, leaving each with an English language monopoly for years until the Toronto Sun started printing local editions (not much of a "choice" if you ask me, for cities with populations educated well above the national average).

It will also be interesting to see how PI can turn a profit on the Web when advertising revenues are scarce right now and people will still want a "free" newspaper.

Could it possible that the Toronto National Post might take this step next? The Aspers are just buying time for it, by getting yet another extension to refinance the debt of CanWest. I think they'd rather sacrifice radio and television properties before their most prized possession, but in this market there are no sacred cows.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Bank official: Deficit to be bigger than forecast. BFS

Slim Jim ™ Flaherty has predicted that the federal budget deficits for fiscal years 2010 and 2011 are going to be $33.7 billion and $29.8 billion, respectively. An economic analyst at Toronto Dominion says the numbers for Canada are actually going to be far worse: $39.2 billion and $42.3 billion -- in other words, the fiscal situation will worsen, not improve, over the next two years. While Canada's economy is much larger than it was during the Mulroney years and therefore better able to handle a shock of that size, that's not the point.

It can look bad when one predicts a worst case scenario that's too rosy, as the Liberals did for years, but it does lead also to make a zero based budget that is based on prudent and independent forecasts, so that when the numbers do come in better than expected the excess revenues can go down to pay market debt, thus lowering interest payments and in turn reducing taxes.

But at least that way, you put the cart and the horse in their proper order. If the horse faces the cart -- that is, you make up your own rosy predictions that are not based on realities on the ground, and you also ignore the advice of those who know the realities on the ground, namely the Big Six Banks and the Caisse Dejarsdins credit union -- you're going to run yourself into the ground sooner or later. That's true for private businesses who eventually face bankruptcy, but it's also true for the government who then has to borrow money on the "full faith and credit" of the citizens at large.

This has become a pattern of right wing governments everywhere: Claiming fiscal prudence, they are financial disasters. Claiming surpluses are "excess revenues" they cut taxes so much they can't afford to pay for the daily expenses. And it's going to get even worse in the next couple of years even if the economy begins to turn around.

Consider the GST cut -- the money flowing from the value added tax before Team Harper started their slash and burn on the revenue side, essentially made sure Old Age Security and its supplements for low income people was self-financing. With the first wave of the baby boom starting to collect OAS in 2011, the money required to pay the entitlements will shoot up, big time, and there will not be the money to pay for it. The CPP and RRQ are self-financing, for now -- but there's a chance they might have to be bailed out like Social Security in the States, at which point we're going to have to make some choices. Meanwhile, those who actually have private pensions get a tax break -- now being able to shelter triple what they could before from income taxes.

Seniors should get a tax break for all the hard work they did, but there should also be an expectation that their less fortunate brothers and sisters who live only on OAS get an equal offer in the supplement. Since the tax savings amounts to $450, that means those on supplement (whose incomes are usually so low they often don't pay taxes to begin with) should get an increase in that every year. What do they get, however? Indexed to inflation and there hasn't been an increase since October, and because of dropping prices won't be until July at the earliest. And with the cut in GST revenues, already down because of an ill-timed cut before lower sales figures, there sure isn't room to offer an extra $37.50 per month to the poorest especially when they need it now!

With lower revenues across the board, and with a general consensus on social welfare policies we're going to have to make some choices? Do we need a military? Can we get by without agricultural subsidies? Are we going to have to charge co-payments each time we see a physician or specialist (as most of our competitors do, even the more socialistic ones)? This is something we need to think about.

Surpluses, or at least keeping deficits below the growth rate in the economy, gives one policy options. Running deficits above that water mark ensure we start sinking again. After more than a decade in progress, Canada is making the same mistakes as the rest of the industrial world, and it does not bode well for us as a nation to do that. Appropriate stimulus is needed, but throwing money into a toilet is not.

This is not conservatism we're experiencing. It's radicalism, and it's reckless. And while revenues have gone down, they've increased spending by twenty five percent. This is insanity.

I am also not the least bit surprised we're in the mess we're in. Right-wing governments tend to screw things up like that. Then to make it worse and slap it in our collective faces, they say they run deficits not just because they don't matter, but it's "what Jesus would do."

Give me a break.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Good pay, huge risks, terrible loss of life

Obviously, these have not been a very happy few days for Canadians. I think of course of the helicopter crash off the coast of Newfoundland the other day that killed 17 of 18 on board whilst the passengers were being ferried to their shifts on board the rigs in the White Rose and Hibernia fields.

The riches of oil and natural gas off the East Coast have brought some long-sought and so well deserved prosperity, but with the business comes inherent risks. Many of us who live in this part of North America, where I write from, don't appreciate just how difficult it can be to be away from home for up to three weeks at a time (with an equal amount of time off back onshore) while working very intense shifts, on 12 hour rotations all week long.

Being in close quarters for such long periods of time, and with co-ed work crews (a good thing) can be trying at the best of times, but it's even harder to imagine the most dangerous part of the job is actually getting there or coming back home. You just can't hop in your car or take a train. This is something that people on the US Gulf Coast as well as those who live along the North Sea in Europe (another abundant supply of oil and natural gas) can appreciate also

There really are no words, other than to offer my condolences ... and a hope that all bodies can be recovered so that the families can properly bury their loved ones. And to the sole survivor, you have my prayers too -- hang in there.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Putting my dad away; another IM upgrade

Today wasn't an easy day for me ... I had to place my father into long-term care. It's been a long time coming and it is definitely one of the toughest things I've ever had to do, but it is the right thing and I hope he's able to get the care that I haven't been able to give him -- I'm come close to pulling out my hair several times. That's all I'm prepared to say about it for now but I'm sure you will all be praying for him.


Just a little annoyance last night when I got a message "suggesting" I upgrade to the "next" version of MSN Messenger. In my case, it actually took me up several versions from v8 to v14. Thing was when the browser toolbar loaded up after I opened up IE, it was the AMERICAN one, with links to msnbc.com. I had to click on the side to switch to Canadian settings so I can get the Canadian headlines (and this took several attempts) when I click on the newspaper button. And it didn't even reset until this afternoon even though I made the selection last night.

Maybe it's just me, but shouldn't the upgrade tool have just transferred my settings from the old messenger to the new one? This is a real pain no matter what security features come with the "new." And based on one's IP address, Macrohard should know by now what country you're in so it doesn't even have to ask.

Life goes on.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Khawaja: 10½ years

It's taken more than seven and a half years since the 9/11 attacks but finally someone has been sentenced in Canada for conspiracy to commit terrorism. Mohammed Momin Khawaja was convicted of helping to finance a training camp in Pakistan. However even the sentence handed down, ten and a half years, is far less than the double life plus fifty-six years prosecutors were asking for, which indicates that to an extent the judge thought the government was full of shit in a large part of their case -- which included their claim that Khawaja had prior knowledge of attempts to build fertilizer bombs in London.

My only two comments: We need to crack down on those who would do the worst harm, and stop each man or woman who would do so before he or she gets the chance. Second, it was wrong to single out Khawaja by denying him double credit for time served which would have meant only a few months more in prison -- that is something that is a grounds for appeal.

No, I don't like the idea of Khawaja walking on the streets. But what's fair is fair, and the fact he's been convicted is enough. He'll have that on his rap sheet for the rest of his life which probably makes him effectively unemployable -- almost no one will want a convicted terrorist on their payroll. However, anyone else would get credit for time served, and so should he.

But the next time there's a roundup, the government should make sure it gets all its facts straight -- otherwise, it's keystone kops all over again, while the terrorists get a chance to actually pull off another mass attack. And next time, sad to say, they will be successful -- it's just a question of when.

Last I checked, the Toronto 18 was down to 11 and the evidence against even some of the remaining is flimsy at best. And I don't think Canadians will really be satisfied, until OBL is captured by Canadians and made to stand trial for the twenty-four Canadians murdered on 9/11.

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France rejoins NATO command

A long running pastime in the United States, at least among civilians, is to be against France, a long time ally of the country. This is in part due to the 1965 decision by Charles de Gaulle to pull France out of the command structure in NATO in 1966 -- which partly had the effect of shutting down NATO bases in the country (although Chirac also said the country would respect the remaining treaty obligations, including the Article 5 "attack on one, attack on all" clause which was eventually invoked after the 9/11 attacks on the US).

Many cite this continued reticence towards NATO for the last President, Jacques Chirac, not sending troops to fight in Iraq which made things between his country and America even worse.

I don't know if Americans are going to say "Vive le France" all of a sudden, but they'd definitely better put away their freedom fries if they haven't already -- because Nicolas Sarkozy, in a surprise decision, has said his country will rejoin the command structure. His argument is that there are NATO missions in which his country participates but his government isn't involved in the decision structure and needs to be going forward. He also said that coordinated action with its allies did not undermine its independence, nor the country's nuclear deterrent which remains firmly in France's hands.

It's certainly the right decision and should help improve relations across the great pond, but it does put France in a bit of a bind -- when it comes to multilateralism is its first priority to the European Union, or to the United States? Also, Europe is trying to develop its own defence policy independent of NATO, how does that affect the Atlantic alliance especially in this, the 60th anniversary year?

Remember Bill O'Reilly's "boycott" of French products, saying it would bring the country to its knees, and citing figures from the "Paris Business Review" to prove it was working? Actually, trade between the US and France increased after the Iraq War started, and the magazine he cited never even existed -- it was an April Fool's Joke (and one which one a Peabody Award. How many Peabodys has O'Reilly won, eh? Stuart Smalley, the comedian who should be Senator from Minnesota except for a wasteful court challenge from Norm Coleman should be able to answer that one for you!)

Mind you, Ted Baxter didn't seem too upset with Germany -- a country which has always had its military structure integrated with that of NATO's and was also opposed to the war. The so-called boycott has long ended, and the consumer advocate (which is all he really is, plus the pomposity) has one less excuse for his "Factor."

Let's not forget, France is heavily involved in NATO missions in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Bosnia-Herzegovina and taking heavy losses. But they are involved, unlike some other NATO members who are just throwing money at the situation rather than providing ground troops and air support. Unlike Canada, the UK and even Poland which have stepped up to the plate.

It'll take a lot more than today's decision to put Sarkozy back in my personal plus column. His overreaction to the Paris riots back in 2005 still draws a nerve.

But it's a good step. We are stronger united than divided, especially when the new threat is terrorism which no one country can contain on its own.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

It's still a mad, mad, mad world

The last few days, it has seemed the world has gone mad. First, two shootings in Northern Ireland orchestrated by the "Real" and "Continuity" IRA that threatens to derail the entire peace process -- and perhaps even put an end to the Common Travel Area that ensures border-free travel between the UK and Ireland. (Even Sinn Féin has disavowed the attacks -- although I think it may have more to do with Gerry Adams trying to position his way to eventually become Taoiseach, the Irish PM, by hook or by crook. Don't say it'll never happen.)

Then a minister in Illinois gets killed during a service on Sunday. Then the gun rampage yesterday in Alabama, followed by the mass murder at a school in Germany today.

And oh yeah, North Korea threatening to start World War III if the rest of the planet tries to "intefere" with a satellite launch -- really, a test of a new style of missile vehicle. The US now thinks it really might be a satellite, but what does a country that is a "black hole" for the Internet want with a satellite anyway, other than to shoot down satellites of its enemies?

I thought we were officially in the Age of Aquarius now? Not that I believe that schitck, but whatever happened to "Can't we all get along?" It sounds trite, but Martin Luther King was right -- it's nonviolence or nonexistence.

On the plus side, someone went over Niagara Falls today and survived in the freezing water -- without a barrel or a lifejacket. Little miracles, I suppose.

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Not smart, not now

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation is in enough trouble with little to no disclosure of insider wins as well as other questions about how it manages its operations. Now we learn of another major gaffe, and certainly one of the right hand not knowing what the left was doing.

Although GM and Chrysler are before the federal and Ontario governments asking, as they have in the States, for billions in loan guarantees, the OLG decided to hold a contest the casinos and racetracks -- and the grand prize at each is a Mercedes Benz B200 fastback.

Forget the fact that the steel does come from Hamilton (the Dofasco division of Arcelor-Mittal) and that it is assembled in Alabama. The notion of a German car being offered to players, many of whom may be auto parts or assembly line workers and who been laid off by the current recession, is really quite the insult. People in the plants remaining open must be asking questions too. Why not one of their cars? If the government had to insist on "foreign," why not one of the Suzukis made in Ingersoll, a Toyota in Woodstock or Cambridge, or a Honda in Aliston? Keep in mind many of those plants also rely on steel from either Dofasco or Stelco (US Steel), the latter of which is about to be on indefinite shutdown.

George Smitherman, the minister responsible, should resign. It's just not acceptable, not at a time like this. We should be employing the maximum number of Ontarians right now, not subsidizing Alabama (not that I have anything against people from that state personally).

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sarah Ferguson: "Canada could have saved our marriage" -- Uh, yeah

Last night on The National, they had a discussion about the production of a new movie about the early years of Queen Victoria and her reign. A couple of surprises -- First, the fact they used a French-Canadian director, Jean-Marc Vallée, almost totally unknown outside of Québec, to direct the film. The second is that one of the producers is none other than Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York.

Ferguson has confirmed that at the time of her marriage to Prince Andrew, the talk about his being appointed Governor General to Canada wasn't just scuttlebutt -- there were serious discussions about it. Ferguson suggested that had the plans gone through, she would have been able to spend more time with Andrew. During the first five years of their marriage, because of his naval duties, they only spent an average of forty days a year together -- which she blames as a huge factor in their eventual breakup. (Most of his time was at sea, the rest was on official business with or for his mother.)

Could the move have strengthened our ties to Britain some more? Maybe. And it certainly would have been a way to get rid of Jeanne Sauvé who just two years into her term was proving to be the most unpopular GG in our history -- she closed the grounds of Rideau Hall to the public, and she caused quite the fuss when she insisted there be a toast to her and not the Queen whenever she showed up for a banquet, which was considered an outrage especially in Western Canada.

Sauvé would also not allow people to sing the words to God Save the Queen at events she attended -- insisting instead on the music only vice-regal salute (six bars of GSTQ followed by the first four and last six bars of O Canada) -- which while technically correct from a protocol standpoint did not exactly endear her to a lot of people. While generally competent in the job, many thought her attitude towards it was so far off-base that only a royal couple could knock sense back into the institution.

I don't mean any disrespect to Ferguson, but there are a few problems with her line of thinking. First, she was a free spirit to begin with -- which was still very unwelcome in "The Firm" at that time. Diana had already overshadowed Charles, and Sarah was outclassing Andrew. Whether by accident or by design, the two women were outsiders, and the House of Windsor had already predetermined they had to be ejected sooner or later.

Second, by the 1980s the idea of having a Canadian as viceroy or vicereine was well established. Being appointed Governor General, effectively our head of state, is the ultimate patronage appointment and no prime minister would want to give that up perk after Louis St. Laurent fought so hard to wrest that from Buckingham Palace in 1952. A trade commissioner or some other high appointment, perhaps, but not GG. (Besides which, and slightly ironically, Andrew is now Britain's foreign trade representative, a very political position.)

Third, she knew full well what she was marrying into. She really can't complain about "what if." Especially since their marriage produced two daughters who both seem (so far anyway) to have their heads on straight, if you know what I mean. And she's not hard done by either -- she paid off her debt to the Queen and easily makes seven figures a year. Not bad for a woman who grew up in an English village with no title, no silver spoon and nothing going for her -- except a very high grade point average and the fact she was a military brat, daughter of a guy who attended Eton. (Yes, she's descended from aristocracy but far enough removed from it she would not otherwise be entitled to a hereditary peerage.)

Despite her history, including the infamous "toe-sucking" incident, I think a lot of guys would jump at the chance to try to date her and make her wife. Who wouldn't want to be a step-father to two princesses, one of whom who just might by fate become Queen some day? I'd tell Ferguson to stop dwelling on the past and live in the present. She seems to be doing quite well for herself -- and so does Canada, thank you very much.

To be fair, I actually have a great deal of respect for Sarah Ferguson. But on this one, she's living in a glass ménagerie.

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Monday, March 9, 2009

Who ARE these people? A washing machine?

What is it about Vatican Hill that makes its denizens keep putting their feet in their mouths?

In an editorial in L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's "semi-official" newspaper, a church official said the washing machine did more to liberate women than the oral contraceptive. You can't make this stuff up.

In a world where so many women live in fear of their husbands and boyfriends who believe that God made them "masters" over their women, even their "property," in a world where women who need to work can't get affordable daycare, in a world where women have to fight just to be on the front lines in wartime -- this is the best the church, my church, can come up with?

This isn't funny. Equality denotes mutual respect and this kind of attitude does anything but foster feelings of that. This isn't just demeaning, it's repulsive. If the Virgin Mary was here on Earth, she'd slap that editorial writer right in the face, as he so deserves to be. For that matter, even St. Mary Magdalene would as well.

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

That satellite radio commercial

Satellite radio is quite the nifty invention. Originally marketed to truckers, it has become a boon for a lot of people tired of conventional radio -- and often, an add-on or standard equipment on most new cars. The commercial-free music stations are great, but the other stations, like comedy, news and -- yes, sex information and talk -- have commercials. Some of them totally unsuited for young audiences.

I suppose this is a throwback to the trucker-oriented days, when the men and women who haul the loads that keep Canada and the United States rolling needed something to spice up their lives for when they came home to their spouses. But there is this one commercial that's been running in various forms for about a year now. And I almost cringe waiting for it. In fact, whenever friends I carpool with hear it, they laugh out loud and can even recite it verbatim along with me.

The ads are for a little "breakthrough" pill for male "enhancement" one that makes Mr. Happy not longer, but "thicker and wider." First it was one of the men who claimed to have invented it, learning from the "experience" he had with four female co-eds as roommates. Lately, it's one of the women involved in the project, who says, "All you women are nodding their heads -- thicker and wider is what we REALLY want."

And the line at the end --- "Order now, and we'll even throw in a FREE MEASURING DEVICE" -- to evaluate your "progress."

I'm not naming the product, although many of you know it by name either by hearing that commerical or by word of mouth. Note they never mention the price on the air.

But I finally looked it up, and they're charging $76 US (plus shipping and handling) for a 30 day supply. 76 bucks for something that supposedly works better than all those other "enhancement" products there? Hasn't anyone actually evaluated this?

Anyone remember something that was supposed to help arthritic pain, by "stimulating" it with a push button? It turns out that it was -- a barbeque starter. That's it, and a consumer advocate show proved it, by disconnecting the regular lighter and connecting it to this "miracle" device.

Another consideration: Like the ED drugs out there, one has to be concerned about the possibility of a "rise" (pardon the pun) in sexual assaults. Remember when the blue pill came out and a lot of women were reported being raped by their men who could finally get it up but the women didn't want to respond? Seems to me a woman could be seriously injured by a very thick -- um, Mr. Happy -- if they were forced to do something against their will, even more so than in a rape where no sex aids were used whatsoever.

Why aren't federal regulators actually checking this thing out, or the ingredients that are in it? Something tells me that this "male enhancement" product could be either a placebo or a big load of -- um, hot air. I don't know too much about women, but I'm sure that no matter what's out there, there's two things that remain true -- it takes a lot more to get in bed with someone than with charm and claims of prowess; two, it's not the size of what's down below or how to use it, but how one uses the most important sex organ of all, the one between the ears.

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And the winner is ... Horwath

Andrea Horwath did indeed win the Ontario ND leadership last night on the third ballot. Many in the media predicted in the last few days she was emerging as a dark horse and the second choice of many in the party. In the end, after Gilles Bisson crossed the floor to support her, it wasn't even close with Ms Horwath getting 60.4% of the vote.

In her acceptance speech, she drew on something that is so vital -- and precisely the point that the very pro-business Lee Iacocca wrote about over 25 years ago: It's great to have a service industry and a resource industry, but the strength of a developed economy is its manufacturing sector. Iacocca, who noted IBM's (then) three biggest non-defence contractors were the (then) "Big Three" said, "You can't have Silicon Valley without Detroit."

It's true now. We can't have Blackberries if we don't have steel and auto plants. As Horwath said, it's the salaries and wages in the industrial core that flows through to the rest of the economy, ensuring high wages for all and the ability of families to pay for post-secondary education for their children. She called herself a "union brat," which I think is sadly a dying breed.

And given the opening provided by the now vacant Ontario PC leadership, she has the ability to begin to pounce every day the legislature is in session, and in scrums when it is not.

Recall that having a leader in place for quite some time worked to the NDs advantage in 1990, when the PCs who had been leaderless for nearly three years after Larry Grossman (peace be upon him) embarrassingly lost his seat in a general election and the party had to be guardianed by Andy Brandt until a little known guy named Mike Harris came along just before David Peterson's stupid decision to call an election a year before it had to be. Harris was a fish out of water back then; which gave Bob Rae who had been relentless in the legislature a chance to topple Peterson, which he did in one of the biggest come from behind upsets in Canadian history. (Brandt didn't do too badly for himself: Rae, Harris and McGuinty -- guys from all three parties -- kept reappointing him as head of the once stuffy but now classy wine and liquor shop, the LCBO).

Many Ontarians still smart from what the NDs did during the early 1990s, particularly on raising tuition feeds, forcing unpaid days off for public service workers as well as breaking their promise to have public auto insurance -- and during a recession too. Such turmoil gave Mike Harris the opening he needed to sideswipe the Rae team and crush the Liberals.

Certainly Ontario's economy is more diversified than in other provinces, and this recession is different from past ones, but if Horwath can find the right balance between socially liberal policies with ones that encourage economic growth, she could prove to be a winner. I'm not saying she's going to be the next Tommy Douglas but I see that kind of optimism and verve in her and she's going to need that to go after Generation X (which I'm in) et sequens, where elections will be decided in the future.

I wish her luck.

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Ontario NDs choose new leader

Later tonight, the Ontario NDP will be choosing a new leader. While I am a Liberal federally, I consider myself to be an independent at the provincial level and generally choose the party I think can best move the province forward at election time. After five years, Dalton McGuinty has become a rather stagnant Premier and he reacts as if he was blindsided by the current recession -- like he wasn't expecting it to hit this hard. While that does not necessarily mean I would vote NDP come the fixed date election in 2011, it does mean that the Liberals aren't the only option.

Based on who the NDs choose today, they may convince me to look their way. There are four very good candidates -- all of whom are sitting in the legislature which avoids the problem John Tory had running the PCs from the gallery before he resigned yesterday after losing in a by-electon. Any one of them would be a good choice; but of the four, I'd like to see Andrea Horwath get it. Not just because she's from my hometown of Hamilton, although in a different district, but she's the kind of person Ontario needs right now -- a community activist who understands the real pain we're facing right now. She is also, based on what people of all parties have told me who have met her, a very approachable and likable person yet also someone who is not a pushover.

And of course, she's a woman. Even many men are pissed off with the way men have run this country into the ground.

Win or lose, she's put her foot forward. If Ontario elects the NDs next time out, she definitely will be on the front bench.

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Friday, March 6, 2009

God bless the rains down in Africa

It's been a couple of days, but I did have to make a comment about the International Criminal Court issuing an indictment against Omar al-Bashir, and his immediate reaction to kick out ten NGOs providing aid to the Darfur region. Not surprisingly, Bashir thinks the indictment is a joke and instead claimed this was an attempt to impose "colonialism" against Sudan. Hmmm, where have we heard that expression before? Oh yeah ... Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. I'll get to him in a moment.

It's worth remembering that the civil war in Darfur isn't Christians versus Muslims, but rival Muslim factions. But religion shouldn't be an issue, humanity is humanity and deliberately displacing nearly three million people is a war crime even if a single person has not been killed. Of course, hundreds of thousands have been murdered, raped and tortured. Since Sudan won't deal effectively with its own leadership, since the rule of law doesn't exist in Sudan, then the world must act. With any luck, Bashir will drop in on the Vatican, which doesn't recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC -- and he and Ratzinger will play a marathon game of Texas hold em while millions continue to starve.

Enough. The moment any plane he is on is over international waters, a military escort should intercept it and send him straight to the Hague where he belongs. He is presumed innocent until proven guilty in that forum. If he is truly innocent, he should turn himself in voluntarily.

As for Zimbabwe -- very interesting that Mugabe's main rival and now Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, was involved in a motor vehicle accident today where he was injured and his wife was killed after their car ran into a tractor trailer. Can anyone believe it was really an accident, despite the poor state of repair of roads in the country? This looks very suspicious, even though Mugabe paid Tsvangirai a visit in the hospital. You just don't spend years trying to knock someone down only to suddenly make him your PM like that without having an ulterior motive.

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How to write the cv of John Tory

John Tory is almost certainly going to quit today, as leader of the Ontario PC Party. A history of this man's remarkable career:

1. After graduating from the private University of Toronto Schools, a private high school connected to the U of T, hired by Rogers Communications. Moonlights as a journalist for CFTR (then a Top 40 station, now 680 News) while earning law degree from York University's Osgoode Hall.

2. After a stint in the last term of Bill Davis' "Big Blue Machine," is retained by Mulroney on acid rain issue, his work leads to new treaty with the US.

3. Runs Kim Campbell's disastrous 1993 election campaign, the brain behind infamous "funny face" ads that ridiculed Jean Chrétien for having Bell's palsy; knowing full well that many celebrities have suffered the affliction -- Pierce Brosnan, George Clooney, Jane Greer, Curtis LeMay, Gordon Lightfoot, Ralph Nader, Jim Ross -- and that it is not funny at all.

4. Returns to Rogers. Brain behind controversial "negative option billing" campaign that leads to record cancellations of subscriptions and a flock to satellite TV.

5. Runs the CFL. No comment.

6. Challenges David Miller for Toronto mayoralty. Finishes in a strong second place. Helps to pay debts of Miller and the far trailing third place finisher, Barbara Hall, as a good sport.

7. Becomes leader of Ontario Tories. Parachutes into safest possible seat, the one held by outgoing leader Ernie Eves, wins.

8. At general election of 2007, decides to pass up on rerunning in safe seat and runs in hotly contested seat in Toronto. Loses by 11%.

9. Runs party from gallery, until supposedly "safe" seat northeast of Peterborough opens up. Runs, loses by 900 seats.

If this was the resumé I was presented with for a job offer ... I'd tell Tory, okay, there's some good you did there, but you were an idiot in a lot of other respects; so get some humble pie and for a change work in the coke ovens or in a call centre, like REAL people do.

I think there should be a rule: Anyone who went to private school should not be allowed into politics, period. Ordinary people -- those of who went to real schools -- are a lot smarter, and would run the country and businesses better, if the tables were turned and it was the "old boys and girls" who had to work the factories from the shop floor and not the board rooms for a change.

Ta Ta, John. We hardly knew ye even though you've been in our faces for 30 years.

UPDATE (8:42 am, 1342 GMT): Earlier I said Mel Lastman ... of course, it was David Miller as a commenter pointed out.

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

How low can it go before we get to Armageddon?

In an even greater sign of desperation, the two major central banks in Europe cut interest rates to historic lows. The Bank of England, serving the UK, cut its overnight rate to 0.5%, the lowest interest rate ever in the country, and announced it would print £75 billion of "new money" (or what they call "qualitative easing", whatever the hell that means!) -- while the European Central Bank cut the base rate in Euroland to 1.5%, the lowest since the creation of the Euro ten years ago, and pretty much announced similar measures to float money.

It's not they're really making new money -- that would severely devalue the currencies. Rather, it will be as has been in the case in the States an electronic swap of good money for the commercial banks' bad loans. But eventually, the interest rate is going to hit zero -- which means banks will loan money to each other for free. They don't like loaning money to each other even in the best of times. And car loans are still at 10%? Is something wrong here, people?

Most developed countries, including Canada, only print new money under the most extraordinary of circumstances and it is well known to be a risky strategy. Let it get out of hand -- well, we saw what happened in Zimbabwe, turning from the richest country in Africa to the poorest in just one generation.

Who knows where this might lead. Then again, everyone thought "the smartest guys in the room" were at Enron. I hope the central bankers are a lot smarter than that -- they are now collectively Atlas with the weight of the entire planet on their shoulders and the rate things are going we're going to have Armageddon without a single shot being fired in the infamous Israeli town.

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

New York State finally relaxes 70s drug laws

As Stephen Harper moves to toughen Canada's drug laws (an overreaction and "one size fits all" approach to the very serious problem of street gangs, by bringing people far away from gang culture into the view of the criminal law), the State of New York which notorious for having some of the toughest laws in the United States (the so-called "Rockefeller Laws"), is moving to relax them. This is possible since the Democrats now control both houses in Albany, having broken the Republicans' long time strangehold on the Senate in last year's elections (in part to the demographic shift on Long Island).

In short, the laws currently require a prosecutor's permission before a judge can consider sending a first time offender into drug treatment -- now the lower house has said that discretion will go back to the judge where it properly belongs.

The bill has to be reconciled with a similar measure working its way through the state Senate, but when passed should help reduce the huge overcrowding that exists in the NYS prison system, and follows up on a 2004 measure that ended mandatory life sentences for most drug crimes. It also puts NYS more in line with other states who have come to realize that mandatory minimums are packing the prisons and bankrupting the criminal law system.

We of course have to deal with a firm hand with drug kingpins as well as those who for whom treatment is an impossibility. (Especially kingpins: Murder in the course of a drug transaction should carry a life sentence.) But the more we realize that drug use is a public health issue and not a crime issue, the better we'll be able to handle the problem. First and second time offenders, who have otherwise not committed any other crime while in possession or under the influence of drugs, should be in treatment and not in jail.

Harper would be well advised to learn from the American experience: Zero tolerance simply doesn't work.

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Federal Court to Harper: Stand up for death row inmates

The Harper government got another well deserved smack down today, when a federal court ruled that the Conservatives acted unfairly when they decided the foreign affairs department would no longer seek clemency for Ronald Allen Smith who is facing a death sentence for double murder in Montana -- even if he was convicted under accepted rules of "due process," which of course does not nor can it ever exist where capital punishment is a sentencing option in the first place.

As you may recall Harper announced back in 2007 that it would no longer offer such assistance where Canadians were on death row in "democratic" countries. The House of Commons overwhelmingly passed a non-binding resolution slamming the decision, one which overturned more than three decades of policy followed by Liberal and Progressive Conservative PMs.

Today's court decision does not excuse the actions of the prisoner in question, of course. Smith, on death row for 26 years, admits he did it -- hunting down two people with a sawed off shot gun.

Nor should it be seen as a license by Canadians to break American law at will.

Today's decision does say, however, that Canada made a decision to abide by certain human rights standards and it is bound to do so, no matter the religious or personal ethical views of the incumbent chief operating officer of the government. If Canada wants to end its obligations then it has to ask Parliament to withdraw from specific treaties or express reservations in certain aspects of them. It just can't do so by executive decision. More important, the government can't drop its attempts to seek clemency just because there's a change in the horse or the rider. And if we're not willing to stand up for our citizens even the most despicable of the lot in of all places the United States, then why should countries with less complimentary human rights records give our citizens fair treatment either?

One other thing: While I think Smith should get clemency -- if for no other reason than that he's actually spent more time on death row than most murderers do who haven't been condemned -- he should still spend the rest of his life in jail, and he shouldn't be allowed back into Canada to serve out his sentence, which under current rules would mean he automatically gets parole. This wasn't a crime of passion, it was killing two people in cold blood.

No one should applaud that. Let him rot away in Montana; we don't need scum like that here. Where there is no doubt whatsoever -- none at all, not even the slightest reasonable doubt -- murder one should carry life without parole. That should also apply to Canada.

UPDATE (9:19 pm, Thursday 0219 GMT): Thanks to Impolitical for her link to this post.

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Different ads for different folks?

During the 1990s, there was this one small cable company in the suburbs of Washington DC, maybe about 20,000 customers that had become the first to go 100% digital. It also adopted a very bold pricing strategy: Rather than paying so much for so many channels each month, it went to a pay per view for everything, that is à la carte -- even network programming. The idea was you'd pick ONE show to watch in a time slot, so as not to fall into the trap of channel surfing. For most, the monthly bill actually worked out to what it would have been prix fixe, especially for those who wanted to see just one or two movies on HBO rather than pay to get the channel for the whole month.

But the system went further. It recognized the demographics of each individual viewer and for local station breaks (other than the network commercials) it would feed content on that basis. So, for example, an executive might see a commercial advertising yacht sales or charter airline rentals. Someone towards the middle might see a commercial advertising the next cultural event at Wolf Trap. And for those with lower incomes, this week's specials at the discount supermarket chain.

Or if the same company was advertising to homes, the richer people might see an ad for an HDTV, the "little people" the video game of the week.

Now, there is going to be an adaptation of this in the NYC area, targeting about 500,000 homes with differentiated commercials, with a roll out to all 3.1 million by next year. There was a pilot project with about 100,000 homes last year with "targeted" and "untargeted" ads that seemed to indicate a far higher buy rate for premium services from those who were "targeted."

While people have the right to opt out and just get the "general" feed, this raises major invasion of privacy issues. The claim is they're going solely by demographics and personal information is double-blinded, but who's to stop someone from reverse engineering and getting personal data about someone -- and more importantly, what they are watching and / or ordering?

And don't be surprised if this comes to Canada soon -- the technology does exist since we already have on-demand programming. I don't mind customized ads, but I think I should have the right to opt in rather than being told I must opt out. To not give a choice is basically another version of negative option billing, which is wrong.

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More rot (2009-03-04 edition)

Three more Canadian soliders killed by a roadside bomb, this time northwest of Kandahar City. Dead are Warrant Officer Dennis Raymond Brown of the Lincoln and Welland Regiment; Corporal Dany Fortin of 425 Tactical Fighter Squadron, 3 Wing Bogotville; and Corporal Kenneth O'Quinn of 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group Headquarters and Signals Squadron.

That brings the total of Canadians killed in the line of duty since 9/11 up to 114 -- 111 soldiers, 1 diplomat and 2 aid workers.

Is this what we're fighting for? To stop the flow of opium? Because if that is what is it, then we're clearly into a war we have no possible way of getting out of. And to think we in this mess until 2011 at the least? What did we ever get ourselves into? We were supposed to smoke out OBL and his cohorts -- in and out -- and not fight a civil war.

Oh, and notice pretty much everyone killed, besides the one diplomat, have been enlisted or NCOs members of the forces? Why can't the commissioned officers do some of the dirty work themselves?