Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What if a bank failed in Canada?

The news is definitely not good for at least one of the regulators in the States. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or FDIC, which had about $45 billion in assets before the banking crisis began, said that they're going into the red this week and if they didn't act now it would be "illiquid" to the tune of $22 billion in no time flat -- so they're requiring banks to prepay deposit insurance premiums up to and including 2012 now.

It doesn't necessarily affect Joe and Jane Depositor necessarily, but this means that on top of the twelve to fifteen cents per $100 of deposits banks already pay into the trust fund, plus the five cent "special" tax they were "temporarily" paying they'll have to pay another three cents. This may replenish the fund for now, but it certainly won't stop more banks from failing before it's all over.
So the question I'd ask Canadian regulators here is: What about us? There's only so much cash on hand in the trust fund of the CDIC, plus so-called "reinsurance." Who pays if a major bank, either national or regional, goes belly up? Last time I checked, the cushion our deposit insurance slush fund had was barely $1.6 billion, or 0.35% of insured deposits in Canada, which even CDIC itself admits is way below the target of 0.50%. Likely, provincially chartered agencies providing similar benefits are not adequately funded as well.
What gives? I'm not an expert here, so someone out there and in the know, please help me out: Can the "full faith and credit" of the Canadian government be truly relied upon to prevent a major bank run in case there is a worst case scenario -- and to what extent would we the taxpayer be expected to bail out the banks? A bank or credit union failure is not out of the picture in Canada, contrary to what we may have been led to believe. There was last a failure in 1996 and three in 1995 (including a bank where I had stashed some money but pulled out just before the closure -- but I would have been covered, after 60 days.)
So would our "assets" (ahem) be really covered, and how much of a hit on our already high deficit could be incurred or would it be an "off the book" (whatever that means) accounting item?

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Banned Books Week, 2009

It's that time of year again -- the American Library Association holds its annual "Banned Books Week" to draw attention to the issue of censorship by the most dangerous special interest group of all: Narrow minded and bigoted parents. The ALA says last year of 2008 wasn't actually that bad, only 513 "challenges" were registered, one of the lowest in years -- but the issue is still very much there.

This isn't child pornography we're talking about. We don't prohibit people from reading Mein Kampf or The Anarchist's Cookbook -- so what is it the big hangup with so many books out there? Don't we want to instill in children the ability to think?

Here's the "Top Ten List" for last year of 2008 -- and you won't believe the reasons listed. Actually, these are the kinds of books I think children should be reading.

10. Flashcards of My Life, by Charise Mericle Harper

Reasons: sexually explicit and unsuited to age group

9. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group

8. Uncle Bobby's Wedding, by Sarah S. Brannen

Reasons: homosexuality and unsuited to age group

7. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar

Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group

6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

Reasons: drugs, hmosexuality, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, suicide, and unsuited to age group

5. Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya

Reasons: occult/satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, and violence

4. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz

Reasons: occult/satanism, religious viewpoint, and violence

3. TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series), by Lauren Myracle

Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group

2. His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman

Reasons: political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, and violence

And the most challenged library book of 2008 is:

1. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

Reasons: anti-ethnic, anti-family, homosexuality, religious viewpoint, and unsuited to age group

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Polanski finally busted

Noted film director Roman Polanski was arrested yesterday in Switzerland as he flew in to accept a lifetime achievement award from a movie festival in Zurich. This stems from a long standing warrant for extradition from a rape incident in 1977 with a minor, who has since identified herself as Samantha Geimer. Polanski plied Geimer with champagne and a Quaalude before having sex with her -- at Jack Nicholson's house.
The plea bargain was that Polanski's "evaluation period" of 42 days would constitute time served. The judge in the case, however, wanted to renege on the deal and demanded Polanksi show up for resentencing. Polanski, a victim of Nazi atrocities, fled to Europe and has since shuttled between France (the home of his birth) and Poland (where his family sought refuge until he was forced to escape the Krakow ghetto). Both countries are in the Schengen border-free zone and with much more lax views about statutory rape. Polanski must have presumed that since Switzerland is now in the border-free zone as well (although remaining outside of the European Union) it was perfectly safe for him to travel there too.

No such luck, of course, as Switzerland's extradition treaty with the US does cover statutory rape.
For what it's worth, Geimer long ago settled out of court with Polanski for an undisclosed sum, has said she has forgiven him, and for that reason she is opposed to the continuation of the extradition demand -- and that the charges should simply be dropped.

If only it were that simple -- the criminal law does not deal with torts (private wrongs), nor does it acknowledge the concept of forgiveness. Polanski may have made Geimer a victim, but his crime is officially against the state and not an individual. Both individuals do have a point, to a certain extent. A deal is a deal. Polanski is correct in his assertion that he served his time and he should be allowed to return to the States, unfettered.
But that's just the matter with the State of California. An argument can be made that Polanski violated Geimer's civil rights, which is a federal crime. This does not violate the double jeopardy rule, as the police brutality that surrounded the Rodney King case clearly established.
I believe that new charges should be filed on that basis, presuming the statute of limitations hasn't expired. The maximum sentence for that is 10 years. I don't think he'd get that, but given the severity of his actions more than three decades ago and similar sentences for such similar circumstances at the time, a five year sentence not entirely unreasonable. Neither his achievements before and after his raping Geimer, nor the fact that he was a Holocaust survivor, nor having suffered the injury of having his pregnant wife Sharon Tate being murdered by the "Manson family" should excuse Polanski from having to pay the consequences.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Iran can build the bomb: Tell us something we don't know

Yesterday's shocking news that Iran has a second, and underground, nuclear facility that is nuclear weapons capable, in fact whose sole purpose is to make the fuel for bombs (and too small for electricity) isn't really too much of a surprise at all. The fact that pretty much all the world's leaders stood up to condemn something that has been quite well known for some time is the surprise; in particular Russia and Mainland China, who even for them patience may have finally worn out.

I have to wonder if the pre-knowledge of this was the reason for the mass walkout at the UN General Assembly earlier this week, as Mamoud Ahmadninejad rose to address the body -- not merely his anti-Semitism and his open desire to wipe Israel off the map. Or why Obama withdrew, at least for now, the land based missile shield from Eastern Europe, to be replaced by a sea-based system.
Mad Mad must have been taken aback when he was confronted by this; that we know what they know. Tough noogies. I'm all for the concept of "atoms for peace," but the fact that my country of Canada has the ability to make nuclear weapons (even though we haven't) is a constant concern for security. Back at my time at McMaster University more than a decade, one could have easily walked into the nuclear reactor without any security checks. Not that I did, of course, but there were no swipe cards and easily defeatable door locks. What were they thinking (or were they at all)?
This is one time when an ultimatum is absolutely required. Personally I don't like the idea of military intervention; but if it achieves the goal of disarming Iran as well as freeing the people of Iran from the tyranny of the self-styled "Guardians," then so be it. I still think that it's the country the US and its allies should have invaded in the first place, not Iraq. To that end, maybe a land-based missile shield may not be such a bad idea after all; after all, Iran and North Korea aren't the only countries with ambitions to rule the world.
Sorry about the lack of blog notes this week, folks ... I've been too busy with other things.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Taliban, times three

By the standards of the US military, it's a stunning admission but not a surprising one. The head of the US Cental Command, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, said that Afghanistan can still be won but doubling down isn't going to be enough to "win the hearts and minds" of the Afghan people and the next twelve months will decide if the war can be won. Even more disturbing, as WaPo's legendary investigative reporter Bob Woodward points out, is that there are now not just one but three different rebel factions that are battling NATO and they definitely have the upper hand -- and the Taliban is just one of them.

The report, even heavily redacted as it is, is sobering reading. If only our military leaders in Canada were so frank -- or if they are behind closed doors, Harper is doing a good job of stifling the public dissent. Having a healthy debate is not unpatriotic or showing a lack of support for our troops. It's making sure that our troops actually have the resources to get the job done and to be successful.

We need success, but if we're not going to make sure the resources are there then there is no point at all in the exercise and the troops should come home.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

No linkage

This past week, after President Obama announced that he was not going to go ahead with plans for a radar and missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic, opting instead for a "marine-based" and "portable" deterrent, Russia responded by saying it will scrap plans to base missiles in its enclave of Kaliningrad. Sounds like good news, right? After all, both the US and Russia are concerned about an even bigger problem -- the stubborness of Iran and its push for a nuclear weapons program of its own that could target much of Europe.

No, it's not good news. It's appeasement, and at a time when the world can ill afford it. Iran is not trustworthy, but neither is Russia. Its slide back from democracy and into dictatorship should alarm anyone and everyone who is familiar with Moscow. While ostensibly aimed at Iran and other wannabe crackpots in the Middle East, the system would also have ensured that Russia doesn't keep pushing it with the EU and the tools Moscow has at its disposal to cripple further the European economy, especially with natural resources.
The world is safer when more countries are democratic. But democracies can only be protected when they stand up against those which oppose democracy and free speech. So until Russia gets back in line itself and restores the kind of openness and freedom that existed under Gorbachev Yeltsin (but was stripped away piece by piece after the rise of Putin) and returns, then unfortunately there needs to be a deterrent against rogue elements within Russia itself who may force that country's leadership to push the button.
Obama may have bought the West some time, for now -- but he will have no choice but to have some kind of strategy to have a land-based system on European soil at some later date. Short term expediency can have long term ramifications.

Just as the world agreed there could be no linkage between the Palestinian issue and Kuwait two decades ago, we must also agree there can be no linkage between defending free Europe and deterring Iran. Period. When Western Europe, Canada and the US took its hard line stance against the Soviets during the 1980s, communism fell and the Warsaw Pact ceased to exist. By being just as hard against Russia, the only conceivable result is freedom for the Russians. A free West and a free Russia working together to contain Iran will have much more credibility and chance of success long term, than a ragtag marriage of convenience without conditions.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Victory? What victory?

Last night's huge by-election win by the Ontario Liberals in the Toronto district of St. Paul's should not be seen as a vindication for the coming Harmonized Sales Tax, nor forgiveness for the scandals at eHealth and the OLG. It should be seen as a defeat for democracy. Only 25% of voters could be bothered to come out for the vote. 25%. This is a disgrace for the country that proved that parliamentary democracy and federalism could work together.

Of course I congratulate Dr. Eric Hoskins -- a co-founder of the Canadian arm of War Child, the late Luciano Pavarotti's charity -- on the win, but I'd tell him, not to get too comfortable.

We're nowhere near out of the woods yet economically and there's no proof that business savings when the two sales taxes are combined next year will be passed down to the consumer, not in the short term anyway -- after all, companies have to pay their debts and banks are only so much patient. But Canadians can't vote against corporations except to take their business elsewhere. They can vote against governments.
Does this mean that the HST will be gone if McGuinty is defeated in 2011? Don't make me laugh.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

RIP Mary Travers

The NYT asks this morning, quite correctly sadly, if this has been a "summer of celebrity deaths." Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Walter Cronkite, Les Paul, Ellie Greenwich, Robert Novak, Don Hewitt, Edward Kennedy ... and on and on. Late last night, and as the North Hemisphere summer of 2009 comes to its setting, we learned that Mary Travers, one-third of Peter, Paul and Mary, died at 72 after a very long and public battle with leukemia.

No, the number of celebrities was probably the same as in any season. It's the impact that all of these individuals had on society, individually and collectively, that has made this a miserable summer on top of the mostly upside down weather we had -- scorching in the Yukon and Alaska, relatively cool in the Northeast.

As for Travers herself -- wow, what a voice. Her threesome with Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow wrote or covered the music that defined defiance against civil rights violations in the South and the insanity of the Vietnamese Conflict. In school, my classmates and I learned their songs. Concerts they performed in later years would often have three generations of "kids" showing up; I think only the Rolling Stones can also claim that distinction on a consistent basis. Long after people ask, "Who the heck were Kanye West and Britney Spears?" -- they will still know who PP&M were and what they did.

Rest in peace, ma'am -- you've now joined "one hell of a band" on the other side, as Bill Medley would say.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Changes to lottery rules in Ontario -- not far enough

It doesn't solve the whole problem of "insider wins," but the decision coming today to forbid lottery retailers in Ontario from buying tickets at their own stores is a step in the right direction. However, there also has to be greater surveillance, including random "sting" operations like in California (for example, a series of $1000 instant lose tickets are printed and "secret shoppers" are sent in to see if suspect retailers actually inform the customer of the win and its size). This sorts out the honest retailers (the vast majority, I should point out) from the crooked ones.

In many States, "insiders" are shut out of the game all together. They can't bet anywhere -- not their own stores or anywhere else in the state (although it doesn't stop them from buying out of state, especially for the multi-state super games); or if they do win they have to donate the money to charity. But in exchange, they get much bigger payouts in case of a "major win" from a ticket purchased at their outlet -- a 1% commission on jackpots over a certain amount upon the ticket's redemption. Maybe that's what needs to be done here. Seriously; when the corner store in my former neighbourhood sold a $2 million winner and the owner of the store told me she only got $2000 as a thank you, I thought she was the one getting ripped off.

She should have gotten ten times that.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Thatcher opposed German unity

It can be said without exaggeration that the world changed forever eight years ago today. But we are also approaching the 20th anniversary of another pivotal event -- the fall of the Berlin Wall that completely surrounded West Berlin for twenty-eight years. Poignantly, and perhaps not too ironically, it happened on November 9th, exactly fifty-one years after Kristallnacht.
Today, however, quite a bit of a shock. Newly declassified documents show that Margaret Thatcher, the then PM of the United Kingdom and in effect the supreme governor of the "British sector" of West Berlin, was delighted with the fall of communism. But, Thatcher also worried that a too rapid reunification of West and East Germany would lead to a Europe heavily dominated by a single Germany and might eventually fall back into the "bad habits" that led to the partition of the country in the first place after World War II. Not only that, she also worried that a rapid union of East and West would undermine the authority of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. She and then French President François Mitterand fought bitterly against German reunification behind the scenes but eventually came to the realization that without either's support (France was also an occupier of West Berlin, the other state being the US) the Berlin question could never be resolved. However, neither could convince their fellow NATO partners on the issue; even Thatcher's own Cabinet objected to her position.

Apoplexy about Germany has been a historical constant for several hundred years. However, there is a major difference between pre-World War II Germany and now. In the past, various German emperors (and later, President Adolf Hitler) was in league with the Vatican either by mutual agreement or by blind ignorance of each other. And of course, all were dictatorships. Today, with Germany's economy fully integrated with its European neighbours in the EU, including a common currency for most states, and with democracy fully entrenched from the Mediterranean to the Arctic Ocean, such concerns seem to be misplaced on the surface. Not to mention the full separation of church and state in most countries, freedom of religion in all, and a great reluctance to pay any of the pronouncements of the Holy See any creed; especially given its collusion on the sex abuse issue.
As well, the East German economy was left in such tatters after decades of Communist rule that the massive reconstruction costs to bring the East's infrastructure in line with the West was a drag for the Deutschemark and the Euro which subsumed it and 11 other currencies in 2002. Germany was in no position to dictate terms to its partners and even if it was, its neighbours would have strongly objected. Even now, people in Germany speak of an invisible curtain which divides not just the "East" and "West" states, but even inside the capital of Berlin -- it is quite common to say that one is from East or West Berlin, rather than Berlin as a whole. It's hard to see twenty years on how Germany wants to go back to the so-called "glory days." Such would require, first off, withdrawal from the Euro and resumption of the DM, and while there is support in some quarters of Germany for this it's a minority position.
The fact is, by a forced pooling of the resources of war, war has become impossible within Western and Central Europe; and the collective of NATO, most of the ex-Warsaw Pact and a handful of neutral countries is actually stronger -- and both the UK and Germany are better off financially as well as militarily by being allies and not rivals. Their main enemy is not each other, but an increasingly resurgent and more dictatorial Russian Federation.
As far as Gorbachev was concerned ... once he renounced the Brezhnev Doctrine and replaced it with the so-called "Sinatra Doctrine" (i.e. the Warsaw Pact states could "do it their way" and no longer had to submit to Moscow's foreign policy) the only issue was who was going to pay for the 300,000 Soviet troops stationed in the East. It turned out to be West Germany, and they stayed another four years until their withdrawal in 1993. And in any case, Gorby was gone by the end of 1991 not because the Warsaw Pact was history but because he waited too long to disavow Communism.
Naturally ethnic pride is bound to come forth, but there are enough safeguards in the individual countries as well as the collective nature of the system to ensure no one country can ever come to dominate the continent as a whole. In my humble opinion, Thatcher was wrong. Keeping the two Germanies apart was untenable -- once the border was gone, the point of having two separate governments was also moot and reunification was just a matter of time. However, there is a point to be made that the process happened way too fast; a couple of years more might have been preferable to ensure that it wasn't the shotgun takeover of the East by the West as it turned out, but rather a marriage of equals as the Allies intended it to be.

By the way, don't get me started on the whole "British Israelism" thing. It's not only a racist ideology, but its self-styled proponents are also false prophets. The man I refer to only by his initials, HWA, said that the UK would never join the EU -- five years before it did. Several months later, he predicted it would rapidly withdraw. It's still in 26 years later, and I think the British presence has only advanced the cause of democracy across Europe and not derogated from it.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Who's the "liar," Mr. Wilson?

An overnight poll suggests that after President Barack Obama's speech to the US Congress last night about health care reform, about ⅔ of Americans now support at least the broad outlines of his proposals. As to the idea of a so-called government takeover, Obama suggested that at most 5% of Americans would be eligible for the "fall back" government plan -- that is, if there is even one at all.

In general, a principled and well thought out presentation. The result: Obama is proposing something that is not quite "pay or play" as in Massachusetts or Hawai'i, nor HMO "Plus" as in Minnesota -- somewhere in between. However, there was a very low moment when Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC 2) yelled out, "You lie!" to Obama when the President made it clear that illegal immigrants would not qualify under his plan. And very interestingly, this interjection came just before Obama's next point in his script, that the Hyde Amendment that prohibits federal funding of abortions (a law dating back to the Ford Administration and maintained under every President, Republican and Democrat, since then) would remain the law of the land.
Wilson later apologized to Obama, but that's not the point. When anyone has the floor, he or she has the floor and is entitled to be listened to. The time for argument comes when the arguer has his or her turn. Besides which, calling someone a liar is completely unparliamentary in any democracy even if it is the truth that it is a lie.
Needless to say, Wilson got rebuked by both sides of the aisle as he so deserved to be. Even Sen. John McCain, Obama's opponent last year (and some of whose ideas have now been incorporated into the Obama plan) said it was uncalled for. And Wilson's Democratic opponent in next year's election, Rob Miller, has already raised $100,000 in new contributions just the last twelve hours.
Personally, I would have waited for the speech to end then posted a rebuttal on my web page or YouTube -- then pointed to chapter and verse as to where the inconsistency was. In fact, by so interjecting, he may have given Obama the boost he needs to push the legislation through.
One last point: Obama noted that there is agreement on 80% of the principles. Why not pass legislation dealing with where the agreement is now, then hammer out a compromise on the rest by the end of the year? It would be far better than doing nothing at all. Every President since TR has tried something, anything, to have a greater public role for the government in terms of health care -- even if it's just a matter of regulating insurance premiums. Isn't 101 years long enough?

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Monday, September 7, 2009

Only in America, y'all!

Only in America would a plea by a President to children to stay in school be viewed by many as "indoctrination." Only in America would health care be considered a privilege and not a right -- to the point it has massive overhead and tens of millions of uninsured. Only in America -- one of the few countries that guarantees the personal right to bear arms -- would people actively and purposely abuse that right.

Maybe not only in America. Because the longer Americans continue to abrogate the moral imperative of collective responsibility, the faster it will take for other countries with cash-strapped budgets to cut what little social programs they have. Which will lead to greater chaos and more violence.
This is the world we live in today. And this is the Age of Aquarius that began earlier this year? Man.

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Sunday, September 6, 2009

More nukes for Québec? Non

When I heard this on the radio, I thought this is crazy. But it's not. Nuclear power is actually being considered for a very remote region of Québec; by private concerns.

If only we had the kind of supply here in Ontario for power that they do in Québec, we would never have to import a single watt of electricity from another jurisdiction ever again. Over 36,000 megawatts are produced by the Québec system at any one time, compared to 22,000 MW by the Ontario system. The system in La Belle Province is so great that much of it is exported to the power-hungry Americans -- New York City is basically lit up by plants more than 1600 kilometres to the north.

Québec built these plants, of course, to power the plants which process primary materials -- aluminum, steel and pulp and paper; all of which require tremendous amounts of electricity. They have plenty of capacity to spare (even considering most people in Québec use electricity instead of gas or oil to heat their homes); so how to explain that a mining company wants to build a 10 MW "mini" nuclear plant to power a new operation about 200 km northeast of Chibougamau -- which in turn is nearly 500 km way from Montréal.

Wouldn't it be cheaper to pay for a tranmission line and pay for the power than to build something intended to be "off the grid"? Or to build a dam (after working out something with the natives) and sell surplus power back to the grid when not needed? Not to mention all the problems nuclear power can cause. And even assuming no accidents or so-called "incidents", about the only people who seem to get it right when it comes to the nuclear option are those in Western Europe -- and their "off the shelf" technology is priced through the roof, as we in Ontario recently found out when Pointy Head thought he could build a couple of new nukes to replace thermal energy on the cheap.

This one really does need scrutiny. I'm pro business, but I'm also pro sustainability. Having a nuclear power plant in or near an urban area is one thing. Having one in the middle of nowhere -- well, I may as well buy that "miracle spring water" that Peter Popoff allegedly procures from Chernobyl, Ukraine to protect myself.

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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Double Exposure is back!

After a hiatus of several years, the brilliant Vancouver impressionists Bob Robertson and Linda Cullen made a comeback a few months ago and resumed their weekly comedy show on mp3 podcast -- and I discovered it by accident this week. Fortunately, it's free! To find out how to subscribe, visit the Double Exposure website. With the new format, they're of course free from standards and practices so you might not want to let pre-teens listen to it -- oh what the heck, most of us talk like that anyway so let it rip!

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Russian ship's "secret stash"?

The case of a ship carrying lumber that went missing for three weeks -- presumably hijacked by pirates -- took a rather weird twist today when a Russian journalist named Mikhail Voitenko said he was forced to flee his homeland because he felt it was his duty to tell the truth; that the Arctic Sea was carrying a secret illegal arms cargo.

Many people have suspected that there was more to the story all along. How could a ship travelling through EU waters, the most heavily monitored on the planet, just disappear like that; and why would pirates want just €1 million of lumber? Wouldn't oil, or gold, or some other commodity, be more worth the trouble?
We need more truth tellers like Voitenko. Let's not forget it's been three years since a Russian journalist was gunned down, many think under direct orders from Vladimir Putin. Russia needs democracy and free speech back, and the sooner the better as far as I'm concerned.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Message to Obama on health care: KISS

Even I have to admit this is a pretty desperate move for Obama, but he announced tonight he wants to address Congress in a week's time so he can discuss first hand his ideas for health care reform. It also appears that, since the Democrats can't get their act together on drafting legislation, he'll put forward a simplified plan of his own -- one that includes a so-called "public option."

This seems to be a long way from his promise last year that if elected he would ensure that the uninsured got the same gold-plated plan that members of Congress get, along with the bulk of the federal public service (military and civilian). And it appears to fall short on covering every American.
If you want proof, just look at Massachusetts where health care insurance is now compulsory. Even there, about 200 thousand people in the land where the American Revolution began are still not covered. Extrapolate the numbers nationwide if a "pay or play" system does go national, 9.3 million would still go uninsured. Okay, maybe that means that 97% are covered, but what about the remaining 3%? That would never be tolerated in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or anywhere in Europe. No one should be allowed to slip through the cracks. Not one.
Whether it's private with a public option, the reverse or a public-private mix doesn't matter. What matters is that every American gets the health care they need, that the extensive overhead that exists in the private system is eliminated or substantially reduced, and that in the United States health care is seen as a bedrock to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Obama needs to keep it short and simple: You have health care, you keep it. If you don't have it, you get what we get. End stop. That's not socialism, it's justice. Schools, the library, law enforcement and fire protection, water filtration -- they're socialized and no one complains about the principle there. If America has enough money to kill people with their armed forces, they sure as hell have enough to ensure public health at a fraction of the price.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"This is the end, my only friend ... " Yeah, really Iggy?

More than 3½ years into Conservative rule, we've seen what has become the state of our economy with a minority right-wing government. Certainly, global circumstances have played a lot into the recession; but imagine what spot Canada would be in if Stephen Harper actually had a majority.
So when we hear that Canada may be going to the polls this fall just a year after the last election, I have to be a bit skeptical. Yes, Harper has to go but the Liberals had plenty of chances to bring down the government under Stéphane Dion and when Harper called an early election -- breaking his own law -- he took advantage of a hapless leader and complete falsehoods about the carbon tax even though nearly all living precedessors in the PMO supported the concept in principle.
When there was the possibility of a coalition government forming, Harper prorogued Parliament and the alliance essentially collapsed on its face.
Michael Ignatieff is a much more substantial leader than Dion but apart from a few isolated appearances he has been nearly quiet all summer, and he waits six days before Labour Day to finally announce enough is enough? Where has the Liberal Party leader been all summer? It's like he disappeared off the radar screen. And Harper can make hay of that by replaying the "just visiting" ads over and over.
Make no mistake, Harper will do whatever it takes to stay in power -- including lies, half-truths and innuendo -- and yes he will definitely take advantage of a vulnerable Governor General and prorogue Parliament before the next supply vote if the possibility exists. After all, the House of Commons need only sit once -- just once -- every twelve months. And a quorum consists of just 20 members out of 308. Just keep proroguing, make the House sit out in the cold, and wait until the fall of 2013 to call an election and all the while rule the country as a dictatorship relying on Governor General's Warrants for appropriations.
No excuses. If Harper is bent on making even a simple procedural vote a matter of confidence, then every single member of the opposition has to show up, every single day for all votes; and it takes just one to demand a vote to adjourn which must be immediately voted upon without debate under the Standing Orders. Make committee work grind down to a crawl by sticking to strict procedures rather than handshake agreements.
Or just sit out the government on a vote and let the bells ring and ring and ring (or chime, as they do nowadays) like the old PCs did back in 1983 on the Crow Rate issue. If it happens enough times, maybe that's what it will take for Harper to avoid the humiliation of a non-confidence vote and call a snap election. Canadians are cranky about the economy, and they will let their crankiness known with votes. So if Ignatieff is serious, he shouldn't even have to wait until a regular scheduled sitting -- he and the other opposition leaders should demand the Speaker recall the House of Commons early for an emergency debate and then strike.
At this rate, a Liberal-NDP alliance would be better than a Conservative minority that rules and acts as if they have a majority. My sense is if the vote is this fall, we'll have yet another minority one way or the other.

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