Thursday, October 29, 2009

Morning whip (2009-10-29)

Two stories on my mind this morning: The NB Power sell-out and the war crimes trial in Montréal.
1) NB Power has sold most of its core assets to Hydro-Québec for over $10 billion. New Brunswick gets to pay down a huge part of its debt ... but I cringe at this sale for two reasons. First, since it will be the concrete tower across from Montréal's Chinatown that will now control the transmission lines in two provinces it could effectively block Newfoundland and Labrador from its attempts to sell power from the next phase of Churchill River to the States. An argument can be made that this violates the free commerce provision of Article 121 of the 1867 Constitution but every province has ignored it since the founding of this country and courts have never even dared to enforce it.

But the bigger issue is my second reason: That you don't sell assets built with public money for firesale prices. Public assets should remain in the public domain unless there is a compelling reason to sell them -- and "net" or "straddled" debt is not good enough. Power should be produced and sold at cost, with all profits going back to the rate-users in the form of levelled or lowered usage rates. In this case, residents in NB will have their rates frozen for the next five years but what happens after that?
More ominously, what happens if Québec ever did separate? How to control the price of power then? Even if it doesn't happen, I think there's a heavy price to be paid down the road and people won't like it. Just look here in Ontario at 407, which is owned by a consortium of Spanish, Australian and Canadian interests. Tolls are about four times higher than the average across the E-Z Pass system and the asset (the highway) was sold for about a quarter of its true value. Yes, I do use the highway occasionally to get around rush-hour traffic, but I honestly can't wait until the carpool lanes on the QEW are completed.
We in Hamilton certainly didn't like it when our water utility was run for a time by Enron and then by British and German interests. Public power and water should mean that -- publicly owned, publicly administered, publicly accountable. A bunch of bureaucrats in a glass tower and in another province doesn't count.
2) Désiré Munyaneza of Rwanda became the first person to be convicted under Canadian of war crimes committed during the 1994 massacre back in June. Today Munyaneza got the maximum under our law: Twenty-five to life.

All well and good, but that it has taken fifteen years for justice to happen is simply unacceptable. Even more unacceptable is the banality of evil that existed in the highest corridors of power amongst the Western allies at the time, a refusal to stop the murder of a million people. Why aren't Chrétien and Major and Clinton being tried for their wilfull blindness? If those being killed were white, you can be damn sure the Security Council would have authorized deadly force for the "peacekeepers" under Roméo Dallaire who had terms of reference that made their job impossible -- and in the end, cost ten of the blue hats their lives because they were massacred as well.

Forget state immunity -- one forfeits his or her right to diplomatic immunity if his or her actions or lack thereof directly or indirectly leads to the death of a civilian in the course of a hate campaign conducted by one or more belligerents or irregulars.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Treasures on Planet Org

It hasn't been a good few days for the Church of Scientology.
1) In the last couple of days, a letter (which has proven genuine) became public. It was written by the Canadian-born director of the surprise winner at the Oscars ™ a couple of years back (Crash), Paul Haggis; who has quit Scientology over its support over Proposition 8, the anti-gay marriage ballot measure in California. Haggis also notes that in most churches the relationship between a confessor and penitent is considered sacrosanct (and it is protected by the criminal statutes) while Scientology has seen no problem with "leaking" confessions made to auditors in order to assassinate the characters of ex-members.

The only surprise is that the fact the fight has gone public. It's good to hear someone has principles in this day and age, especially in Los Angeles.
2) Today, a court in Paris fined Scientology € 600,000 for fraud (USD 900,000). The court stopped short of banning the church all together from France (owing to a legal technicality) but it was seen as a victory for two women who say they were manipulated One of the complainants said she paid € 20,000 (about USD 28,000) for life-improvement courses and vitamins.

The church says they'll appeal that one, indicating that their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (as well as the French Declaration of Rights of 1789, still a part of the country's constitution) have been violated. But on a continent where most people (not just judges) understand the difference between a religion and a business, one has to wonder how far that will fly. I'm not saying the church will lose as a matter of course, but a much more sophisticated population usually has less tolerance for "flim-flam" than Americans do.
Maybe it's that castle in LA that annoys a lot of people, or the fact that there are centres that cater to celebrities in the first place ... but there's that line in the Bible that one should lay up treasures in Heaven, not on Earth.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Dare to be a Daniel, Obama

This past week, the White House came out quite openly with its reason why it's relcutant to give interviews to Fox News -- because it's a syncophant for the Republican Party.
Yeah, like we knew that already. But the Obama Administration is wrong in its attitude.
There's that old Christian hymn, "Dare to Be a Daniel." If you believe in your message, you have to be willing to defend it in the lion's den. If you don't you're no longer a lion, but a chicken.
When America is this close to having real health care reform, boycotting the enemies of change is not the way to get the legislation passed. You have to fight in every corner, face every opponent. To do any less is to throw in the towel before the opening bell has rung.
Sorry about the lack of posts this week -- my computer has really gone nuts. It's a dinosaur and I'm going to have to replace it, soon. When security patches now cover a quarter of the hard drive, well you get the idea.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Canada still holding out on aboriginal treaty

It's been some time since the UN Convention on Aboriginal Persons was signed. With Australia and New Zealand ratifying earlier this year, there are now only two holdouts. One is the United States. The other -- surprise! -- is Canada.

The spurious claim by Team Harper is -- well, actually, they have no comment. The suggestion that the reason for the official reticence is because some Latin American countries have had their land claims processes thrown up in the air as natives have asserted their aboriginal title; and ratification could screw things up here.

But the fact is our land claims system in Canada is a complete joke to begin with. There is no will to streamline or amend the process and if that's bad enough, the fact that there is no mechanism to ratify the treaty so long as it's not tabled before Parliament -- and only the ruling party can do that -- makes it that much worse.

Racism? I might not go that far. Fear? Yeah, there's plenty of that.

Just sign the treaty, damn it. It's way past time that our aboriginal peoples stopped being wards of the state and started being full citizens which in the end is what this is all about.

Besides which, we have much to learn about living with the land from the real founders of this country. For one thing, if it was Aboriginals mining the tar sands and not the white oil companies we wouldn't be seeing the wanton destruction of the forests which belong to all of us and which help absorb the very pollution that's destroying Alberta as much as smog started killing those of us in the St. Lawrence Basin decades ago.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Pakistan joins war on terrorist, eight years in

While it was necessary at the time of the 9/11 attacks to go after the Taliban government of Afghanistan which was harbouring Al Qaeda elements responsible, the other requirement was for Pakistan to deal with the nastiest elements of the group within its country. But no thanks to a very lacksadasical military president in Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, AQ was allowed to thrive; and the border between the two countries, officially controlled but de facto open, became a migration road for the terrorist group and its allies. Musharraf is gone but Pakistan is still a powder keg; meanwhile Harmid Karzai of Afghanistan attempted to steal a third term in office but leaving NATO which is trying to "take the country back" is left with no effective alternatives.
Yesterday, a democratically elected (or so we're told) Pakistani government began a military offensive against the AQ / Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan. Eight years too late.

Naturally I support the principle of state sovereignty. I also believe that even our enemies have to get serious and help us get rid of a common enemy, the terrorists, provided that the rule of law is pursued and military action a last resort. That does not excuse giving the evil doers an eight year head start to set up a base, run a somewhat competent government, and to give time to recruit minions who might be brainwashed into joining an effectively evil institution.
It's almost embarrassing to think that this country, a nuclear power, is an "ally." And the West is thinking about sending another 40,000 plus troops to secure the border, something that Pakistan should have done in the first place by itself? With friends like that, it's a wonder there hasn't been a significant attack against the West since 2005/7/7.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Flying saucer stunt not funny

I have to ask after yesterday's weird incident with the homemade "flying saucer" (more like a helium balloon) whether it was all a setup; especially after the six year old kid involved hinted that it may have been all just that, all for show no more or less.

Maybe the kid's just six years old, and maybe he gets a sense of adventure from his father who is a well known (at least on the Net) as a storm chaser. However, our air defence system in North America was designed to handle real emergencies and not publicity stunts. When we found out after the balloon landed that no one was in there after all and there was no possibility anyone could have been in there at all, and later when we found out the kid had been hiding out all this time, I'm sure we all breathed a sigh of relief.
But what if this had been the real deal, a terrorist attack or worse? Or while the world was distracted by this a terror attack happened somewhere else. I can't say I was all too impressed by the response. The fact that this may have been all fake is outrageous, but if it was such a stunt then the joke was on us and it wasn't funny at all.
If this was nothing more than a minor's cry for attention, it was done in one of the most bizarre ways imaginable. If this was, however, a publicity stunt, then the family should be sent the bill for the "rescue" which is certainly into the tens of thousands. This looks like a grouping that could afford it but that's not the point. It makes a mockery of what the phrase "breaking news" should mean.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Michael Jackson single was a rip-off of Paul Anka

Michael Jackson is proving to be just as controversial in death as in life. Yesterday as Jackson's first posthumous single, This is It, was released, the estate of the late singer was forced to admit that much of the material was lifted from a composition by Canadian singer-songwriter Paul Anka -- and agreed to split the royalties 50-50.

What is it with Canadian songs that Americans think they can just run and get away with it? Many are familiar with how the songwriters of the Whitney Houston hit The Greatest Love of All got caught with their pants down when it was discovered that a large section of the song was a rip-off of Gordon Lightfoot's If You Could Read My Mind.

I kind of wish that this had gone to court. Reports were that Jackson was a half billion in debt before his sudden passing although a lot of that has been paid off with the upsurge in sales of the back catalog ... oh yeah, "the children, won't somebody please think of the children?" (From The Simpsons, a long running gag.)

Paul Anka? I could laugh if it was Tom Green or Stompin' Tom Connors or even Gilles Vigneault. Mike really must have done it his way, if he thought he could get away with it. At least his estate is more graceful in his death than his company would have been if he was still alive.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Maybe Canada needs its own expenses row

The row over MPs expense accounts in the UK has reached even the sitting Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. With this week the deadline for MPs to pay back "innappropriate" expenses before the matter is turned over to the cops, Brown agreed to pay back over £12,400 (about USD 20,000) for "cleaning and gardening" even though such expenses were actually legal at the time they were billed to the taxpayers of Britain and Northern Ireland. Conservative leader David Cameron is apparently still asking for clarification about how much he owes as I write this, while Liberal Democratic leader Nick Clegg will pay back £910 for "gardening."

Obviously, as is the case in Canada, MPs from outside the capital region do need to have a second home and to pay for upkeep so it's reasonable to have one at taxpayer's expense -- provided it is in fact reasonable. The stories we heard from the UK this year, about one MP who expensed a moat and another who refinanced a mortgage but still billed for the higher interest payments are the most egregious examples.
I wouldn't begrudge a hair cut or a perm every once in a while, but there's a difference between a $20 snipping or a $50 setting and a $500 extravaganza. I don't mind a downtown apartment, but a luxury hotel I would. Trimming the hedges of a townhouse is fine, building a moat is of course ridiculous.
Here in Canada, every MP gets a base salary of $155,400 -- fully taxable and which is expected to cover living expenses. However, last time I checked, MPs can still get 64 round trips per year on scheduled airline flights (and they don't all have to be back home) plus free or heavily discounted travel on Via Rail. If there is an expense account, we need to know what it is -- after all these are the people who should be leading us and they need to set an example. Given our pride in the "British system" here as opposed to the American one I can't help but wonder if there's a lot of schenangians going on here too, and it would be a disgrace no matter the stripe of the MP in question if their expenses were anything but "reasonable."
Maybe the only thing that will shake things up here, and force real reforms to our electoral system, is if we had an expenses scandal in Canada. I just don't trust that things are that much different here.

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Friday, October 9, 2009

Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize.

There is no way -- no way -- I was expecting this. The whole of the media are in complete shock this morning. But it's true, Barack Obama is the 2009 winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace.

I'm ... there's no words.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

eHealth, eScam, e-i-e-i-dough

When the health care tax was introduced five years ago, we in Ontario were told that it would be used to improve front line services as well as to reduce wait times significantly. One of the most obvious ways to cut times was with the introduction of standardized and electronic health records so that a patient's file would be instantly accessible by any physician, nurse, pharmacist or paramedic anywhere in the province -- thus cutting on errors such as drug interactions.

Over a billion has been spent for absolutely nothing, and today Ontario's Auditor General, Jim McCarter, dressed down Team Pointy Head for letting this "eHealth" agency get out of hand. To be fair, Dalton McGuinty, Ontario's Premier, has apologized and the Health Minister, Dave Caplan, was sacked and Deb Matthews appointed in place; but the fact is a billion dollars is gone. Up in smoke. Some would suggest even the money was embezzled or at least misspent on frivolities -- and this is four times worse than AdScam was and involves only one province that was supposed to set the benchmark for other provinces to follow -- perhaps to the point records could have been made available to health pros nationally and ensuring true reciprocity for the disparate health systems we have right now.

eHealth should have been set up by now. Instead, electronic health records in Canada are at least five years away (except for one province, Alberta); meanwhile, most countries in Europe have already made the transition -- the NHS in the UK will be all electronic by next year, for example; with the savings being put back into primary health care, where it should go. And in the US, Veteran's Affairs has successfully implemented a system, thus improving a form of state run medical care and so has the Bureau of Indian Affairs (are you listening, Limbaugh and Beck???).

So what's our freaking problem?

There is a provincial election in two years time, and at the halfway point this week McGuinty has not shown the kind of accountability that he accepted in his first term. He knew breaking the no new taxes promise in his first term hurt, but he skated around it by making the issue of public education the priority for the 2007 election -- or more correctly, the opposition defined it for him. He then broke another promise this year by harmonizing the sales taxes, and by all industry indications prices won't drop by the 7.2% average we were initially told, but by less than 1% -- and we're now learning that having the HST applied on required services will actually make things so much worse; that is, we'll be paying more than just an extra eight dollars per hundred on such things as cable TV, utilities and legal fees. 
Add to that the scuttlebutt we heard for a time, that the sticker prices we see might incorporate the taxes so what we saw was what we paid. Remember the confusion this caused in the early 1990s, when some stores included the GST in their prices but still had to charge PST. Price incorporation might be accepted in Europe, but here we expect to see a sticker price before taxes then decide whether it's worth the trip across a provincial boundary or even to the States where there's a lower tax rate. McGuinty totally mishandled that discussion too.
I'm all for dedicated health taxes as long as it's being used properly. I would support a harmonized tax as long as the money goes towards deficit reduction -- and once that is eliminated, into social services.
What I am not for, is wasting public money on personal spending sprees, and not being accountable when the chips are down. If the election was tomorrow and not two years hence, McGuinty would not be getting my vote for a third term. We need leadership, now, especially during a recession. We're not getting it, and today's report is just one proof of that.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

On CanWest's slide and Letterman's sleaze

A couple of things on my mind today ... I'll get to David Letterman. But first, the news today that CanWest Media which includes Global TV and the ex-Southam papers, including the National Post, filed for creditor protection (i.e. bankruptcy).

It really is no time to gloat as real people with real jobs are going to be affected and the already skimpy regional programming (compared to the vast commitment to local content even just ten years ago, at least in non-prime time hours) will be cut back even more. However even the simplest person without a shred of knowledge about the media market could have figured out that the particular formula for media consolidation, banning columnists who disagreed with the ownership's stances (a violation of the long-standing tradition of editorial independence), failure to disclose conflicts of interest, making coverage of entertainment more newsworthy than hard news, and last but not least just shear arrogance -- all of these were going to add up to a colossal failure.
Many were warning there was no way that the Asper brothers were squandering their father's legacy and success of building a third national TV network despite opposition from CBC, CTV as well as the CRTC -- and then putting all their eggs into a newspaper that had no realistic chance in an already saturated market (namely, Toronto). All the profits that could have gone towards improving local programming instead went into a money pit.
What was once a fine paper -- the Financial Post, which is still very solid content for its money markets coverage -- became a total disaster once news content was wrapped around it, and for what?
It's not like other cities really have a choice -- people in the lower mainland of BC basically have three right-wing papers to choose from; any left wing papers are considered "radical" or even Marxist with circulations in the low thousands if at all. Most other cities, especially out West, have basically the "Sun" (basically, a newsworthy version of the National Enquirer) and two CanWest papers -- the local one, and the National Post, where nary you will ever hear a sympathetic word for the Palestinian cause.
The company was running on the edge for years, with revenues from advertising running very close to the edge against debt obligations (a certain percentage ratio had to be maintained every year). When the economy tanked, of course it was going to dive off the deep end.
Shareholders who bought the stock in good faith are left in the cold; and bondholders get pennies on the dollar. Meanwhile, the Aspers get to keep their cushy jobs and keep spewing their neo-Con drivel. Global needs a new start, with new management and a new attitude, one that actually gives viewers and readers what they want -- not what managers think they want. Maybe Canadians in general have moved to the right over the years, but the media does have a big role in that -- "the medium is the message," as the saying goes.
Now, on to Letterman.
First off, the extortion attempts against him are just plain wrong, if they are true. No one should have to pay hush money, especially to an Emmy-winning news producer with as much experience as the accused in the case.
As for Letterman himself ... I have always found him a darker character than Jay Leno. I do respect Dave, or at least I thought I did until his shocking admission last week that he had sex with female staffers on his show; thus, cheating on his long time girlfriend and now wife.
Would he have made this admission if the pressure had been not put on him? Highly unlikely.
But the obvious question has to be asked, did what Letterman do constitute sexual harassment -- which would take it from extortion (a state matter) to a violation of another's civil rights (a federal matter)?
If that is the case, then Letterman is no better than the scum that populates many of the corporate and government offices around the world -- men as well as women who slept their way to the top or kept their places at the top by doing so, while forcing those they did sleep with to stay on the bottom. Not just monetary damages could be contemplated, but time in jail as well.
If he did not break the law, then Letterman is guilty (as he is willing to admit) of very poor judgment, and the man we've come to know on television the last thirty years is not who we thought he was. Since he sells his show to CBS, rather than being a direct employee of the network, all that can really be done is to suspend the airing of the show for a few weeks but I'm sure that his agents have ensured that he gets a penalty award when that happens -- making sure he wins even if he loses. Meanwhile, real people have been hurt and they get nothing.

I'm sorry, but there's no justice in that. If the collective bargaining agreement that actors belong to includes a morals cause, then it should be invoked. If not, then other actors and other media personalities owe it to themselves and the greater good to boycott the show for an indefinite period. Shunning may be, at this point, the only appropriate penalty. Yes, he's sorry, but that doesn't change the fact he did a wrong thing in the first place.

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Friday, October 2, 2009

Rio gets 2016, Chicago dead last

I expected Rio de Janeiro would win the 2016 Summer Olympic Games and that's exactly what happened at this week's meeting of the International Olympic Committee in Copenhagen -- even though Brazil is also staging the 2014 World Cup of Soccer with Rio expected to be the host city for that as well.

What I didn't expect was for Chicago to drop off after the first ballot -- I was listening to CNN in the car and when this bomb dropped, my friend and I were absolutely stunned. A mutual friend of ours, who lived for a year in Chicagoland, was also surprised; she thought "my kind of town" was perfect, especially with Lake Michigan for the sailing and rowing events.
A number of sources have suggested a falling out recently between the International Committee and the USOC may have been to blame. I don't think it's that simple.
My sense is that the recent upsurge in violence in President Obama's adopted hometown as well as the epic corruption in Chicago and its suburbs as well as in the Illinois state capital of Springfield may have weighed heavily on the voters, more than the fact South America was the only permanently populated continent never to host either a Summer or Winter Games.
Also, since Rio is usually one or two hours ahead of Eastern time in North America (depending on the time of year), it won't be that hard to broadcast the marquee events live to Europe and Africa as well as the Americas. Besides, Chicago had Oprah. Rio had Pelé. Who would you prefer to have coffee or a beer with?

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

When we can't even trust the bishops ... "Here's your sign!"

What kind of world do we live in, where we can't even trust our bishops anymore?

A Catholic bishop? Child pornography on his laptop (or, so the police say)?

The same bishop who managed to negotiate an out of court settlement with sex abuse victims just weeks ago?

Then becomes one of Canada's most wanted when the real reason for his surprise resignation last weekend leaks out?
And then people have the audacity to ask why are the pews empty on Sunday?
Maybe if they walked the talk ...
Yeah, as Bill Engvall would say, "Here's your sign ... ™"
A sign we're living in the end times.

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