Thursday, May 28, 2009

Prop 8 upheld but fight isn't over

While I continue to remain personally opposed to gay and lesbian marriage (preferring civil unions instead), I have to say that the decision the other day by the highest court in California to both uphold Prop 8, as well as upholding the gay marriages that took place between the time the law was passed and Election Day last year is simply incomprehensible. (Opinion and dissent in Strauss v. Horton can be found here).

Simply put, the courts can't have it both ways. If the amendment is valid, then it should have invalidated the marriages that took place under the law up to that point. If it is invalid, then any gay or lesbian couple should be allowed to get married in California.
In my opinion, the 14th Amendment, section 1, is very clear on this: Equal protection of the laws. That means gay marriage is legal for all, in all 50 states. That Ted Olson and David Boies (the opposing counsels in Bush v. Gore) would join up to fight Prop 8 is encouraging -- even more surprising considering Olsen was married to Barbara Olson, the arch-conservative pundit who was killed when one of the 9/11 planes, American Airlines 77, slammed into the Pentagon, and that Mr. Olson himself is a member of the arch-conservative Federalist Society.

Presently, same sex marriage is legal in Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont; while New York State now recognizes same-sex marriages contracted in foreign countries. Civil partnerships are legal in Oregon, New Jersey, Washington State, and in Washington DC -- and apparently civil unions are still legal in California. The trend lines continue to sway in favour of equal rights and it's just a matter of time before a federal case is taken to the US Supreme Court.
It's going to be a very close vote but I have a gut feeling that what is basically the correct decision will be made -- to drop the pretense and grant equality to all. It may not wind up being popular in many quarters, but it will be the just thing to do. After all, as the counsel opposing Prop 8 at the California Supreme Court pointed out, no one should have to sit on the back of the bus even if they get to their destination at the same time.

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North Korea stirs again

Yesterday, North Korea announced it was ripping up the 56-year armistice with South Korea that has kept a very uneasy peace on the penninsula all that time. This after a series of missile launches and the underground test of a nuclear bomb at least the size of the ones dropped by the Americans on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II.
Even North Korea's long time ally, Mainland China, is upset that the leadership of the "Hermit Kingdom" may have finally gone too far. But exactly who is in charge of the PDRK these days anyway? We're used to their "news anchors" reading prepared statements, but these ones are getting increasingly belligerent. There is no indication that the North is planning a major attack, but they do have missiles that could be fired on major cities in the South, including Seoul which is just 50 kilometres from the DMZ.
The Korean War is often called the "forgotten" war because we often forget just how much the balance of power was at stake in the years following the end of WW II. I think the Americans would like nothing better than to leave the South, provided some way was found to reunite the country as a free and democratic one.
But this isn't exactly like East and West Germany. The infrastructure issues weren't as bad comparatively as in North Korea, and while reunification is still problematic the restoration of democracy was quite smooth if for no other reason than the East as well as West Berlin (technically an occupied international city during détente) automatically became of the European Union with all its benefits. And, it wasn't like the East deliberately starved its people.
North Korea, however, is the new powder keg of the world. And it simply can't be trusted. Food aid is stolen by the government and given to apparatchiks or sold in markets (clearly with the label "UN" or the country of origin) to the highest bidder, if one can afford it. Their huge army, goosestepping 24/7, is on permanent standby for war on a moment's notice. (Even active National Guard units in the States, such as the one in Alaska, are normally on 48 hour standby).
The double-talk of the North Korean ambassador the other day, incidentally, is another example of just how clueless they are. A country certainly has the right to develop nuclear power, but to use it for military purposes takes it one step further. If North Korea can have the bomb, why not the South? If the UK and France have nuclear weapons, why can't Germany, Italy and Poland?
For that matter, Canada has weapons-grade capability. Publicly our police is non-proliferation, but I'll bet a dozen donuts that it's never crossed the minds of our Prime Ministers to consider it, even privately, to develop our own nukes.
This is a very serious situation. Every agreement that North Korea signs is ultimately broken -- by North Korea. If they launch a war it will be the PDRK's suicide but it will come at a very heavy price, with hundreds of thousands of civilians lost on both sides. But if in the end the decades long slavery inflicted on the North's populace is broken, that won't be a bad thing.

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Let the networks freeze in the dark

You've probably seen the commercials this past week, running on the CTV affiliates as well as on their cable properties (including the Discovery Channel, MTV and even SexTV). The claim that local television could "disappear forever" if they and the other networks in Canada are not allowed to charge cable and satellite companies carriage fees for their "free" programming. In the current recession, the advertising well has certainly dried up. But I think there is another consideration.
We've all been bombarded with the switch to digital television in the States, which will definitely happen on June 12. Canada is scheduled to upgrade from the NTSC to the ATSC standard (the standard used in North America) on August 31, 2011, a little over two years from now. While most major centres are already broadcasting dual signals (and cable companies and the sats have picked up the digital signal), the analogue signals will be turned off in 2011 by law. Simple enough. However, the networks are now crying poor because many of their repeat transmitters -- the low power translators that simulcast main signals -- are in isolated hamlets that can only be reached by plane or boat. If they don't get the money, so the claim goes, much of northern Canada could be "in the dark."
Bunk. The deadline was set a long time ago, and the networks had plenty of time to have the funds to construct the digital transmitters. Besides which, the real issue is not access to television but the ineffective use of the synergies created when newspaper and television properties were allowed to merge and wasted opportunities -- as well as relying on US programming rather than the quirky yet innovative programs Canada was once famous for.

This comes from the same people who oppose Net Neutrality, by the way.
Let the networks freeze in the dark, as far as I care. We're not going to bail them out.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Black gets last ditch chance

In a surprise decision, the US Supreme Court has said it will review Conrad Black's conviction on fraud charges last year. On the other hand, Black's name is quite well known and his celebrity may have helped him get through SCOTUS' usually very narrow gate, which is that a case for possible appeal must raise a "substantive federal legal question." Black is arguing that his prosecutor, Chicago federal district attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, stretched out the meaning of the word "fraud" to a conclusion not substantiated by law, therefore confusing the jury which convicted Black.

The facts remain that Hollinger, once one of the world's premier newspaper publishing companies, just became a piggy bank for its highest officers. Black still hasn't explained sufficiently why he "borrowed" some documents from his Toronto office over one weekend. Or his wife Barbara Amiel's extravagant lifestyle, which she crowed had no bounds.
It's going to make for an interesting oral argument. But his chances are slim, especially in the current political environment where anyone who is a board member of a publicly traded firm is considered suspect. If his convictions are overturned or remanded for retrial, he's going to be one very lucky guy ... um, lord.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

War in Sri Lanka "over," but it's only just begun

The more than twenty-five year war in Sri Lanka between the Sinhalese and the Tamils appears to be over, with the government there declaring a "victory" over the Tamil Tigers, or LTTE. I am not familiar with all aspects of the conflict, but there can be no doubt that the humanitarian crisis was just a disaster waiting to happen and we're now seeing the results of that. Well, actually we can't since the Sri Lankan government has banned reporters from the last stronghold the Tigers had.
This situation has gone back and forth over the years, but it seems to me that some in the Western world have seen this as a black and white issue, with political parties taking sides depending on how the wind blows and governments changing policies as different parties take power. However, the Tigers do not represent the Tamil community as a whole and it is only in the last few years that governments both left and right have come to realize that the LTTE is in fact a terrorist group that uses very unsavoury tactics, such as extortion, piracy on the high seas, and recruiting child soldiers. One can no more separate the LTTE from its political wing than he or she can separate the IRA from Sinn Féin in both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

The Tamil community does claim a large part of the island of Sri Lanka as its own (as well as the state of Tamil Nadu in India), and it is hoped by many that saner heads can finally prevail and some kind of settlement can be reached that satisfies all communities there -- but for now one has to deal with the immediate crisis, the thousands of refugees that have been created; as well as the almost dead silence we have heard from the Conservatives on this other than the fact they classified the LTTE as a terrorist group in 2006 (as did the European Union).
Terrorism should not be tolerated under any circumstances. To brush all Tamils with the same paintbrush, however, is also intolerable and one can appreciate from that perspective why such tactics as blocking major highways have had to be resorted to. It's important to remember there is a large ex-patriate community in Canada and like other immigrant communities the Tamils vote.
Alienating several hundred thousand voters is not my way of capturing power, it's a recipe for losing it. And people have the right to fly a Tamil flag (which just happens to have a tiger on it) as much as one can fly the flag of the Viet Cong or the Confederate States -- just as people have the right to burn a flag of any country, subnational jurisdiction, or ethnic minority.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

The truth, the WHOLE truth and nothing BUT the truth

As I have been watching the hearings into the Mulroney - Schreiber affair this week, and seeing former PM Brian Mulroney testify, it has occurred to me that this man, a distinguished lawyer, seems to have forgotten what it means to testify under oath -- that one is supposed to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Plenty of reference has been made to his Airbus lawsuit a number of years ago. He was asked if he had ever met Karlheinz Schreiber. He said "only once or twice." He now claims that he was being truthful because he thought he was responding only to how many times he met Herr Schreiber regarding the Air Canada / Airbus contract. But that really wasn't the question at all. And we now know that their dealing go back quite some time.
It is a matter of fact, for instance, that Schreiber flew in jetloads of PC delegates to Winnipeg for that party's policy convention that led to Joe Clark deciding he didn't have enough support -- even though he got 67%, more than plenty to stay on. There is simply no way Schreiber would have done this if he knew it wouldn't work, nor if Mulroney had no intention of running for the party leadership.
There is also the business of Mulroney and Schreiber meeting for the exchange of monies. Mulroney now says it was a huge mistake not to insist on payment in the form of a cheque, rather than cash. Mulroney also says that even though he received the money in 1993, he did not claim the income until 1999, saying the money was a retainer and not meant for his own consumption, but for services to be rendered in the future.
While that may be technically accurate, it is rather interesting he would have waited a full six years before reporting the income, at a tax rate that would have been more favourable to him (remembering that both the federal Liberals and the PQ in Québec had slashed income taxes, in particular in the upper brackets).
I really don't think Schreiber has told the whole truth. But Mulroney has sure chosen a convenient way to justify his actions. This is so like Bill Clinton when he defined sexual relations as what Monica Lewinsky did to him and not what he did to her -- in other words, by saying she "serviced" him he was telling the truth. No one bought it then and no one still buys it now. Along the way, he made some pretty unsavoury friends that only now we're getting around to fighting.
And quite frankly, no one's buying it from Mulroney either now. It's time for him to set the record straight once and for all. What was the money for, did he actually render the services he was paid for as a lobbyist, and why would he even want to deal with a man long under investigation in Germany for tax fraud? And don't forget, Mulroney during his time in office heaped loads of praise on Robert Mugabe. That should say something in itself.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

EU ends seal hunt as Harper goes to Prague

Just as PMS goes to Prague to formally begin free trade talks with the European Union -- something which is long overdue for Canada, in my opinion -- the EU's Parliament voted overwhelmingly to ban the importation of nearly all seal products and derivatives into the 27 nation area. Harper can't claim he was caught by surprise by this, this ban has been long sought and seriously considered by the EU for nearly the whole time Harper has been Prime Minister. He can say he's going to appeal to the World Trade Organization but he's said nothing about what he'll do to help seal hunters in the short term.

As usual, Canada is claiming the hunt is "humane" and not at all like the horror stories that Brigitte Bardot and Sir Paul McCartney have made famous. That is as specious reasoning as continuing to tolerate the mining and export of a "safer" type of asbestos even though we know about the link between the mineral and mesothelioma.

There are two ways to see this. On the one hand is the fact that the seals are voracious eaters, especially of the northern cod, and while commercial overfishing is mostly to blame for the collapse of the Newfoundland fishery, seals do have some share of the blame. But instinct is not necessarily a reason to hunt them. On the other hand, there is the concern that seals do provide useful products -- not so much the seal pelts, but the seal oils including Omega 3 which is known to have health benefits.

There is also the need to consider the fact seal hunting is a part of the traditional way of life for many people, including the Inuit. The proposed EU ban does provide an exception for them, but as currently drawn is so narrow that one may as well declare an end to the hunt all together.

It has been noted that seal exports only account for about $5 million of trade with Europe. This is in contrast to the well over $12 billion and tens of thousands of new jobs that could be created if Canada and the EU sign a free trade deal. I have mixed feelings about this -- while the jobs provided by the hunt are important, the trade is about as senseless as the hunt for whales. The fact is Europe is moving towards a greener and sustainable economic model, and I think Canada should be part of that.

As for the hunt, I suppose we can continue to be hypocrites as we are on asbestos and sell the products to the third world, where the ruling classes still have a demand for the stuff with no safeguards in place. This is indeed an untenable position to take, but it's worth remembering that most EU states allow corporations to deduct bribes to foreign officials as "the cost of doing business," and our position on the issue (they're not deductible) hasn't budged the Europeans one inch in any of the tax treaties we've signed with individual member states in the EU.

Frankly, I don't think seals are going to be a deal breaker. Canada needs a fairly reliable export market, and with an area with strong traditions of democracy and general respect for human rights. I think both Harper and Ignatieff see the benefits of free trade with Western and Central Europe. I'd rather sign a deal with Brussels than Bogota which is basically a drug-run economy and a human rights disaster and to think we'd give the fast track to Colombia but insist on clause-by-clause with Europe is just insanity runk amok.

It's good to be back ... sorry for the absence but I have had too many things on my mind.

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