Thursday, December 31, 2009

Four soldiers plus reporter dead in Afghanistan

The end of another year ... and more deaths in Afghanistan; this time four soldiers and a reporter were killed by a roadside bomb. The death of Michelle Lang of the Calgary Herald is, far as I can find out, the first time a Canadian journalist has been killed in the line of duty since 1998 when Tara Singh Hayer was shot to death at his home, for courageously reporting about extremists in the Vancouver area Sikh community to which he belonged.

The price of war is a pretty steep one and as ever we need to consider the costs. It's understandable that soldiers, airmen and sailors will get caught up in the conflict but it is totally senseless when a journalist or a worker with an NGO is kidnapped or killed in cold blood. As long as we're there -- and frankly, propping up a corrupt government and a drug trade totally out of control are not reasons to stay there -- but as long as we are there, we need to do everything we can to ensure aid workers and embeds are to the maximum extent protected. War is war, but killing a civilian for no other reason than he or she is doing the job assigned should be treated as a war crime; and those responsible for killing Canadian journalists or foreign aid workers should be captured (if possible) and brought to justice -- in Canada. It might be different if there was even a semblence of a legal system in that part of the world; but where it can't be trusted to provide fair and due process then the need to have justice served where it actually exists becomes obvious.
As we head towards the 2011 deadline, here's hoping there are no more deaths either military or civilian although that may be, sadly, too much to hope for.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy holidays

Things are going to be pretty busy for me the next couple of weeks and besides which, it's the Christmas holidays anyway; so unless something big happens I'll be limiting my posts until the New Year. Enjoy the next couple of weeks the best you can.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Time Magazine's Man of the Year, 2009

I don't think I was expecting this announcement until Sunday, but Time Magazine has announced its Newsmaker of the Year (formerly the "Man of the Year") for 2009. It's none other than Ben Bernanke, the Chair of the US Federal Reserve; and by coincidence the announcement was made the same day that the Fed announced it's holding the line on interest rates banks charge each other (0 to ¼%).
Sorry, I just don't buy it; there are other people more worthy (such as Vaclav Klaus who held up the EU in the palm of his hands for nearly eleven months this year while stalling on signing the Lisbon Treaty until the last possible minute) -- but the criteria is the one who for better or for worse shaped the events of the last twelve months, and from the perspective of both progressives and conservatives Bernanke did so for much the worse. Joining the company of Vladimir Putin, Deng Xiaoping (twice), Ayatollah Khomeni, Joseph Stalin and Wallis Simpson as other villians deemed worthy of the prize must be a real honour.

The other four finalists, according to the once venerable magazine, are Gen. Stanley McChrystal, "the Chinese Worker," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and athlete Usain Bolt. Of the five, I would have picked Bolt, quite frankly. Bet the editors are happy Tiger Woods didn't make their short list!

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

RIP Oral Roberts

There's no question that Oral Roberts had a spontaneous remission from tuberculosis after an encounter with a travelling preacher -- it was confirmed medically -- but what followed in the next 74 years would prove to be the business of one of the most controversial figures of the last century. Roberts died today at the age of 91.

To be clear, I am very reluctant to call his remission, or any of the so-called "healings" at his crusades "miracles" because I don't believe God works like that. Too, Roberts was wrong on so many points of doctrine, and set a standard for extravagence that would be exceeded decades later by Benny Hinn; but he exploited television in its golden age and set the standard for other flamboyant televangelists to follow and for that he should be given a lot of credit. Famously, he was sought ought for religious counsel over Billy Graham -- by no less than the Catholic JFK.
May he rest in peace ... although I don't think a lot of people will forgive him for his 8 million or he dies stunt in 1987 or his continued adherence to the Word of Faith even after one of his students at his university exposed it for being not only unbiblical but also largely lifted from previously published works -- in particular his claim that "God" gave him the name "City of Faith" for his expensive and quickly defunct hospital.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Intensity, inshmensity

After all this talk about Canadian sovereignty, standing up for Canada -- we're just going to be following the US policy of cutting "intensity" of pollution by a wimpy 10% instead of real pollution cuts overall? The forests of Alberta (a carbon sink cutting pollution) are being destroyed arrogantly while emissions from the tar sands will increase 165% by 2020 as the area mined grows to an area larger than Nova Scotia. Unacceptable. It's even worse than the intensity cut suggested a couple of years ago. We need a real environment policy, one that defines Canada as its own country. No wonder why we're a joke at Copenhagen this week.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

This is a story?

Why this should even be news is beyond me, but Houston has elected an openly lesbian woman to be its new mayor despite a massive mail and phone bot campaign led by the religious right (mostly from outside the state, of course). Maybe because it's Texas (a state that explicitly bans gay marriage), but this is certainly a positive step forward for a city that just a few years ago rejected by referendum giving spousal benefits to gay partners. Hopefully that latter ban would be the first thing to go under the new mayor, Annise Parker (currently the city controller) -- couples living common law should get those benefits regardless of gender.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

What's behind the blacked-out lines?

What is it that the Conservatives are trying to hide? What exactly constitutes national security anyway -- legitimate reasons to hold back information, or information that could embarrass the ruling minority government? Is is their lives, not the soldiers, that they are trying to protect?

I can only think of two examples where there were heavily redacted scripts that raised more questions than answers. The first was during the Watergate crisis, when Nixon initially refused to release tapes but offered up transcripts of the conversations. Of course, what was hidden was the evidence that was incriminating -- including the so-called Smoking Gun when the Supreme Court finally forced Nixon's hand.
The second was the 9/11 Commission report in 2004 which, while exposing a lot of the security faults that led to the tragedy (and whose recommendations were finally implemented when the Democrats took over Congress two years later), there's still the question of a 28 page chapter that was blacked out. Those familiar with its contents indicate that the government of Saudi Arabia had a direct hand in, or knowledge of, the attacks -- and names names, up to the highest levels of the al-Saud family. Of course, the State Department doesn't want us to know that because KSA is a "trusted" ally of the US. Not quite a "major non-NATO ally" like Australia, Argentina, and bizarrely Egypt and Pakistan -- but a "strategic partner."
Now if someone can explain to me why countries which regularly violate human rights should be in the same class as those which prosecute such violations quite strictly then there's something going on that I don't. However, the friendship between the Bush and Saud families is well known and we know members of the latter family were able to leave the States in the hours after the attacks even while airspace was closed to everyone else except military sweeps. Allowing people to get away with murder, even suggesting "diplomatic immunity" protects them, is no excuse. Those 28 pages should be released or leaked. It's time to name names and for those responsible to face war crimes prosecution in the Hague.
So on to Canada, and the vote on Thursday to order the government to release the briefing notes to the special Afghanistan committee, uncensored. Harper and Co. say that they are not bound to obey it. Actually, they are -- and to refuse to do so is contempt of Parliament. If one is given a sub poena to testify before a committee or to the bar of the House or the Senate and address the chamber as "committee of the whole" then it must be obeyed; every citizen understands that. Except the Conservatives. Do we really want a showdown between Parliament and the government in the courts? Usually, it's the government that enforces the will of the elected representatives. Are we next headed to "signing statements" where one signs a law but states his or her intent not to enforce it?
If security considerations are so important, why can there not be a compromise -- that the committee members take an oath of secrecy so they can review the documents while ensuring that they are not released to the public? Otherwise, the only option would be for a truly brave apparatchik at the Defence Department to post the docs to a document leak site; then there would be no secrets to keep.
Of course, like with most things about the Cons these days, I'm not holding my breath. Inconvenient truths need to be revealed in some fashion. Otherwise, it's Canada's credibility at stake.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Hannukah 2009

To paraphrase Adam Sandler, while we Christians get one day for presents, our Jewish brothers and sisters get "eight crazy nights"! Seriously, the events that happened 165 years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth and the miracle of the oil should be a reminder to all of us that God will never abandon us if we remain faithful to the Creator.

Happy Hannukah to my Jewish friends, colleagues and readers.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Indian move inspiration for Canada?

People in Northern Ontario, Cape Breton Island and Upstate New York have been agitating for their own autonomous regions for years. It looks like they may have gotten some inspiration: India, after years of protests, has agreed to carve out several districts from the north and northwest of Andhra Pradesh and create a new state called Telangana. The reason for the agitation: Complaints that the state government has ignored them.

How familiar this must sound. Northwest and Northeast Ontario: Their timber, gold and diamond resources are exploited by the south and most of the north is still covered by substandard two lane highways (most places in other countries and at similar latitudes have full dual carriageways). Cape Breton Island: They've complained that the mainland part of Nova Scotia has taken advantage of them for years, "Down with the Causeway!" is a familiar refrain. And, yes, Upstate New York: Similar issues to north Ontario -- except that they're more conservative as opposed to their mostly socialist cousins, plus there's that nagging issue that tax dollars and toll revenues are diverted to subways in New York City while the rest of the state suffers, not to mention that the NYS legislature is arguably the least efficient and most corrupt state body in the country with the possible exception of the legislature in Louisiana. (Imagine a constitution 120 pages long -- that's even longer than India's for heaven's sake!)
We tend to be a much more peaceable bunch in Canada and secession of this type is extremely rare -- New Brunswick separated from Nova Scotia in 1784, the Yukon from the NWT in 1898 and Nunavut was created ten years ago, also severed from the NWT. But hey -- if the areas north and west of Algonquin want to leave and form their own province, go ahead. They just might do a better job managing the resources than we do. Just don't come crawling back if you screw it up.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

About face by Canada's top brass on torture claims

Today's surprising (although not entirely) admission by Canada's top military person, Gen. Walter Natynczyk, that some of those captured were indeed likely tortured casts a pall on Canada's reputation as a force for good in the world. It's irrelevant that some were so-called "unlawful combatants" or that they may have been caught in the act of committing crimes. If Canadians had even the slightest suspicion that prisoners of war might be tortured after being turned over to Afghan authorities but did so anyway, that in itself is a war crime -- just as refusing to provide the names of captured detainees to the Red Cross is also a war crime.

I really have no compassion for or tolerance of terrorists and their supporters -- either military or financial. The same principle applies whether it's al Qaeda or the IRA.
But we Canadians have incorporated, by law, the Geneva Conventions and their protocols into the body of Canadian law and therefore we are bound by the rules. We just can't pick and choose what rules we will follow. If we have no intention of following the rules, then the Conservatives should actually stand up in Parliament and say that Canada is withdrawing from the Conventions -- and have a vote on it to remove our obligations from the law books.
I have joined at least one online petition calling for a public inquiry -- but I say again that we need a special prosecutor, independent of any level of government and who can investigate this matter with an open eye. As far as the Parliamentary hearings go, if ministers have not testified under oath they should be forced to do so. Canadians need answers and we need them now -- otherwise, everything we have fought for the last eight years has been for nothing. In no way should this and previous comments on this issue be construed as an attack on the military; rather it is one on the government. It's a tired question, but it bears repeating: What did they know (both the Conservatives AND the Liberals before them) and when did they know it?

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Black's "final" day in court

The law is a very convenient tool for those who make the laws, or shape opinion towards making it; and if courts nullify the laws then it is claimed that the judicial branch is usurping legislative power. Yet when the chips are down, the very same people want the laws they helped to write or promote to be tossed out by the courts saying the legislature has failed them. Or the courts become a refuge for bad behaviour, period. In brief -- the courts are the bad guy until the politicians or the media become the crooks.

Take today's hearing at the US Supreme Court regarding the "noble" Conrad Black, convicted some time back of abuse of power at the Hollinger Corporation -- specifically, that he and two other executives took $6.1 million in unearned bonuses and pocketed the money for themselves -- and sentenced to 6½ years in a federal prison cell. Nearly two years to the day he was sentenced, Black is challenging his conviction citing a 1988 law that makes it illegal for corporate officials "to commit fraud by depriving those they work for of 'the intangible right to honest services.'"
The claim? That the law is "void for vagueness." That is to say, the wording is so broad that it could be applied to any circumstance, therefore the law is unenforceable since it is not directed to a specific purpose and thus deprives a suspect of due process. Now, I've heard of the "void for vagueness" principle used to challenge anti-abortion laws and flag desecration statutues, but not to my knowledge has it been used for a white collar crime.
Both the conservative and liberal wings of SCOTUS appeared, at least on oral argument today, to be surprisingly empathetic to Black's claims. A decision will probably be delayed until it can hear a similar appeal from Jeffrey Skilling, one of the kingpins at ENRON. If this harebrained idea actually holds up, there are two possibilities -- at best, Black could get an outright acquittal; at worst, the case could be remanded back to Chicago where Judge Amy St. Eve would be forced to re sentence Black to a lesser term, possibly time served.
Two areas of concern bother me about that: First, there is no question that over $6 million disappeared. If it wasn't Black and his co-defendants, then who? And let's presume he is telling the truth and that he is actually innocent -- that doesn't change the fact he is one of the most hated men in Canada. Many haven't forgiven Black for what he did to Massey-Ferguson or Dominion Supermarkets, let alone how he changed the newspaper business (pretty much for the worse even by conservative standards).
Second, many people on both sides of the border still remember that incident where files were "borrowed" from Black's Toronto offices over a weekend, caught on camera. Were they photocopied? Shredded? Or simply made to disappear? We simply don't know -- and it seems securities regulators in Canada were quite content to let the SEC in the States do the dirty work for them in pursuing the case.
Regardless of the outcome of the appeal, there is one thing that is beyond question: Canada needs a national securities regulator, one with teeth and real law enforcement capabilities. Under the current situation, one can just take the alligator and run to another province and force investigators to start all over again -- not to mention our American neighbours need not one liaison here but thirteen (and there are thirteen of our people down there instead of just one).
Oh, yeah -- Black also wants his Canadian citizenship back. Sorry, Baron -- you picked your country and it's the United Kingdom. The US should deport him there; hopefully very quickly, with wifey Barbara Amiel in tow. Not that they should complain -- as UK citizens, they should take advantage of the right of abode in any other state in the EU they hate so much, while they can. Frankly, I don't think even the British and Northern Irish want them back.

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Monday, December 7, 2009

Blame the air traffic controllers?

Rather than bitch about the Copenhagen meetings on climate change -- we all pretty know how much nothing's going to come out of that thanks to Harper and other skeptics like him determined to scuttle any meaningful treaty -- I wanted to make note of another example of the pot calling the kettle black. In this case, it's about the Northwest pilots flying from San Diego to Minneapolis who overshot their destination because they were distracted by their laptop computers. Quite rightly, the FAA stripped them of their licenses. Then they claimed they were discussing new flight rules implemented by the company and they simply lost track of the time.

But now it seems the pilots, Cheney (no relation, far as I know) and Cole, are blaming the air traffic controllers and the airline. In statements filed on November 24th and released to the media today the airmen say that air traffic rules were violated by ground crew and personnel from the airline, and if they had been followed the mistake wouldn't have been made.
Yeah, right!
Maybe it's me, but if someone's trying to contact you repeatedly by radio and by the onboard computer that relays real time urgent messages and you don't respond to them, then there's one of two possibilities. Either you're so distracted you're not doing the job you're supposed to; or you're a terrorist who has no intention of responding because you have a "God-given" mission to "kill the infidels."
It's amazing the plane landed safely at all -- a few minutes more and it would have been necessary to scramble US and Canadian fighter jets to escort it to safety, and if necessary possibly have shot it down. Remember, when the pilots finally did contact the controllers the pilots were ordered to conduct a series of evasive manouvers first to prove it wasn't a hijacking. In this day and age, we need our pilots to absolutely pay attention. We need more pilots like Sullenberger and Skiles than Cheney and Cole, with all due respect. As for laptops, PDAs and the like, they may be necessary in the cockpit but there should be technology to ensure that while in flight the computers are locked so that they only process relevant flight information and nothing else.

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

In memoriam: Montréal Massacre

Twenty years ago today, a mad but equally rational man named Marc Lépine (born Gamil Gharbi) wrote a suicide note blaming all his problems on "feminists," signed it Alea iacta est (The die is cast), walked into the engineering building at the University of Montréal and systematically murdered fourteen women (twelve of whom were studying engineering, one studying nursing and the last who was a university employee) and injured ten more women and four men before killing himself.
The names of those who died:
Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student
Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique's finance department
Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student
Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student
Today, as a man, I remember this despicable act of terrorism and the disgrace it brought upon all men, and again commit that I will not stand for any act of violence against women. This includes continuing to fight for compulsory gun registration.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Automated -- prescription drug machines?

Filed under the "Why didn't I think about that?" department comes the story that after very successful pilot projects at Sunnybrook in Toronto and Cambridge Memorial (and now that they've been given official legal approval), an Oakville based company is getting ready to roll out the next new wave in self-serve machines. First came automated tellers, then the automated DMV / hunting / fishing license machines, and then self-service checkouts at supermarkets and department stores. Now will come a self-service machine that dispenses up to 2000 of the most popular prescription drugs.
The company insists that for security reasons some of the more dangerous drugs, i.e. those with street value, such as Oxycontin ™, will not be available through the machines -- you'll still have to go to a regular drug store for that. Also, having electronic drug records (which we're still way behind on, to our shame) is essential to ensure no negative drug interactions. Still, the ability to feed in one's prescription and have it ready in two to five minutes is, I think, a brilliant concept, especially since you'll still be able to consult with a real pharmacist via videoconference.
My main concerns -- First, the obvious privacy issues (even with a handset, who's to stop someone from eavesdropping unless it is in an enclosed space; as well as hacking). Second, more than ever this will require physicians to write prescriptions that are actually legible. On that end, the technology is there -- a doctor can and should type in a few keywords and have a computer printed Rx that is legible so there is no confusion.
Will this replace the neighbourhood drug store? No, nor should it.

But it gives us a choice. And in an era (my lifetime, actually) where we used to have six or seven chains but now we're effectively down to three or even two in some provinces (meaning higher prices), choice will drive down costs for everyone, which also saves money for the public system that pays drugs for indigents.
The big plus: This is a Canadian invention, that was done without interference from the "socialized bureaucracy that stifles innovation" the American opponents of universal coverage keep complaining about. Take that, HMOs -- or as Helen Hunt called you, Fucking Bastards.

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Friday, December 4, 2009

Cons pondering GST hike???

Just one other thing for today ... the National Post, the semi-official organ of the Conservative Party, suggested Ottawa's finances are in such a big mess that the unthinkable is actually being considered -- the 5% GST may go back up "temporarily" (meaning permanently) to 7%.

The 2% cut has cost the feds about $13 billion per year. Not only was it short-sighted, as a value-added tax taxes consumption rather than income (and since we all consume on a regular basis it means a steady stream of cash for the government) it also was ill-timed -- since the GST was basically paying for Old Age Security and related supplements with plenty of cash to spare, the Cons were shooting themselves in the foot since the first cohort of the "baby boom" starts collecting in 2011 -- just thirteen months from now.
The argument would be, the boomers will have plenty of disposable income so the money will be made up somehow. How, exactly? Not all boomers worked, so they didn't pay into the CPP or RRQ; OAS and supplements will be all they have. More importantly, the strain on long term facilities will become almost unbearable in the next few years. Since seniors don't pay as much in income taxes (because of increased exemptions) someone has to pick up the remainder. And we can't keep borrowing the money -- certainly not from enemies like Mainland China, like the US has had to do.
A government shouldn't do things that are popular, they should do things that are for the common good no matter how unpopular. Mulroney and Wilson were excoriated for introducing the GST in the first place but it was smart policy. Increase consumption taxes and lower income taxes -- not the other way around. If people have more in their wallet at the end of the week, they will spend it and that will raise the revenues overall. Eventually you go back into surplus and overall debt can be paid down.

I do not believe, simply can't believe, that Team Harper would give all provinces authority to have a harmonized sales tax (as they did this week) or plowing those which opt in with "transition money" unless they're planning behind the scenes an about face about the federal sales tax and the level at which it is charged. If they approve even a half point hike, I'm not going to be smug in saying "I told you so."

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Refugees triple under "Steve"

On this Friday night, here's some rather comforting news: The Conservatives, which promised to eliminate the huge backlog of those claiming refugee status, even won votes saying there would be no tolerance for "bogus" claims, now faces a situation where the number of filers has increased in the nearly four years since they took power. In fact, it has more than tripled.

One of the reasons is that as board members have had their terms expire, the posts haven't been filled. There are now so few panelists that the average wait time to hear a claim has increased -- by 44%. Moreover, the government's response to alleged threats has been iffy to say the least, for instance earlier this demanding visas for tourists from Mexico and the Czech Republic -- neither group which has ever posed a serious security threat to our national interests and which leaves Canadians vulnerable to possible retaliatory measures. Imagine if the EU decides to require us Canadians to have a visa to travel to Europe, even for short stay vacations. Imagine what that will do to trade.
Meanwhile, the provinces are left holding the bill for social services while the applications are processed, almost never with compensation. Immigration is supposed to be a shared responsibility between Ottawa and the provinces -- has been since our federation was formed 142 years ago -- but even Québec which has the richest deal of all in this department of immigrant transition funding (for those who come in through the regular process) are saying their costs have doubled with nothing to show for it on the refugee side.
Also, by using the old canard "bogus refugee," those in power open up the door to having tolerance for racial and ethnic profiling which should have no play at all in determining the legitimacy of a "well founded fear of persection." Some other countries had a "whites first" policy for years, including Canada -- and look where that got us before we finally understood the doors should be open to all.
As the son and nephew of refugees, I say again I have no tolerance for those who would appeal to the better side of our virtues under false pretenses. But if we are to truly be a home for those who seek refuge for true reasons, then we should not be impeding the process. Competent people -- not party hacks -- should be named to the Refugee Board to eliminate the backlog, and the provinces and territories should get transition funding for refugees on the same basis as those under the regular class.

Another good step would be to eliminate visa restrictions on those remaining countries which pose no real problem in terms of trade or immigration but insisting those who want to file a refugee claim from those countries need to do so at our embassies in a safe third country, not at our borders. For those countries for which visas are necessary, a case should be made why restrictions are necessary and what steps need to be achieved to upgrade to visa-free status.

Finally, for regular immigrants, there shouldn't have to be an indeterminate waiting period; and those who have job qualifications for any position, not a pre-determined list, should not only get passage to Canada but also the ability to get their license in a reasonable period. Every country needs to update their migration policies, but all I have seen as of late is regression to the dark ages.

Even Mulroney wouldn't have let the refugee backlog get this big.

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

HST: Passes, but too fast

Not to too much surprise, the House of Commons passed a Ways and Means Motion today on the HST that is worded in such a way that any province -- not just Ontario and British Columbia as the media has reported -- can now convert a provincial sales tax to a multi-stage value added tax that is harmonized with the federal GST. As many readers are aware, currently the HST operates in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland-Labrador; Québec has one de facto as well. Saskatchewan did have an HST briefly in 1991 but when Grant Devine was defeated by Roy Romanow it was promptly cancelled.

There is no question an HST makes good economic sense from the business side, but implementing one in the middle of a massive recession is rather questionable. My beef is not with the combined tax itself, but the fact the income tax cuts will nowhere near make up for the short-term hit in our pocketbooks. A one percent drop in the lowest bracket at the provincial level in Ontario is simply not good enough. It should have been two percent in the first bracket and one each at the second and third. Also, there simply hasn't been enough time to make the adjustments -- barely a year to get ready for the deadline of July 1, 2010; and only seven months with the official go-ahead. The GST was proposed a year and a half ahead and passed with only a couple weeks to spare for the 1991 deadline -- and only when Mulroney stacked the Senate with "the Queen's appointees."
At least there was advance warning an HST might happen here. Out on the West Coast, it was like a bolt from the blue, not even included in the budget; in fact I found out about it by accident while channel surfing through the time zones one night. Perhaps the thought is, with two such large provinces joining a harmonized regime, it will put pressure on the remaining provinces to do so. It will probably even encourage Alberta, which has long prided itself for having no provincial sales tax, to put one in as uncertainty over the oil patch continues and pressure is brought to become the first province to completely eliminate income taxes.
Also, the issue regarding native people not taxed is a legitimate concern. Treaty Indians not taxed should get a point of sale exemption; it's not all that clear that will continue to be the case despite Ottawa's promises.
It's not the tax itself, it's the way it's being done and the speed ... not to mention the almost complete lack of public consultation. And for that both Harper and McGuinty get thumbs down from me.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

In and out in 18 months ...

... that is essentially what President Obama told the cadets at West Point tonight, when he announced a "mega-surge" of 30,000 troops to begin next month. As before, he also called upon NATO and other allies to start pulling more weight.

I noticed the strategy map they were using on CNN, and it is troubling. Countries like Germany, Lithuania, France, Sweden -- all have troops in the north of the country where there isn't as much trouble as there is in the south and along the border with Pakistan. There where the US, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Turkey and some others have troops -- that's where the war is the toughest and the slog the longest. One can appreciate the apprehension of sending troops into harm's way but isn't that what they were trained for? Isn't Al Qaeda a danger to lesser powers as much as to the middle and large ones?
A few thousand troops in Kandahar will certainly take the pressure off of Canada for a while as we can get out of Kandahar City and out into the back country where the Taliban is hiding out. But I have to say that 18 months to get out not just the surge but all combat troops is a very ambitious schedule. It's timed smartly, for July 2011 which is just at the edge point for a Democrat who might want to challenge Obama for the nomination in 2012.
I do agree that unlike Vietnam, the US has a lot of allies on side. But that is no match for knowledge of the land, and even with satellite mapping closing the advantage in the last few years we're going to need human intelligence and to win the trust of local tribal leaders if we have any chance of ensuring that Afghanistan is not a failed state. Not to mention the security threat if command and control of Pakistan's nukes ever fell into the wrong hands.

What is Canada being asked for? We have, what, 3000 there already. We might be able to spare a few hundred more but we're stretched to the limit. We and the States can't do it alone. It's time for those who haven't put in troops to do so, and for those who have to move them to where they're actually needed. If we have only 18 months, let's get it done right once and for all. But if Karzai doesn't move to actually clean up the corruption within the country, then the exit strategy and an immediate pull out is required.

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