Thursday, December 30, 2010

As 2010 ends ...

... my wishes to you for a good New Year and a prayer that common sense will finally prevail on any of a number of fronts.

To close the year, something that I saw a little while ago that really cracked me up, from The Muppets ™ -- too bad you couldn't get politicians in Canada into the same room for six minutes to do something like this, not any more anyway.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Loonie keeps on flying, US headed for disaster (maybe)

Is it a sign of the times that once again the Canadian dollar is flying above the greenback?   That despite ongoing pressures in Europe the Euro still remains a very viable currency against the Simply Ben for what can be foreseen to be quite some time to come (and growing, with Estonia joining the club on Saturday)?

I don't honestly know.   But according to the CIA (yes, that one), the US is now at about 83.5% debt to GDP -- Canada, by comparison, is at about 40%.   Despite some irresponsible deficits the last few years under "Steve" (not all of which can be explained away by the recession and a decline of revenues from income withholding tax) -- and the ongoing problems in Europe and Japan -- Canada will stop swapping currency with the EU sometime in 2014 and Japan in 2019 while swaps with The Fed will go on far as the eye can see.   That's how bad it is for the States, that they have to be bailed out not only by enemies like Red China but also by friends such as NATO!

Not that we should be in any way complacent.   The last time we hit parity three years ago it was actually a slap in the face as many companies rode the coattails of a low dollar and didn't make the proper investments to upgrade equipment for when the currency advantage eroded ... of course most of us have wizened up and are not so surprised this time.

I honestly don't think Americans still get it.   They usually don't unless they go to the currency exchange counter.  It wasn't that long ago, say a decade ago, when Americans were laughing at how cheap it was to travel to Europe -- with the Euro down to about 87 cents (when it was still a virtual currency) people were renting out entire villas in Provençe and the Apennines instead of instead of cramped shoe boxes in downtown Paris or Rome.   Now it's the Europeans who in spite of their many problems are having a ball when they travel to the States.   It'll be a while before the Euro gets back up to its high two years ago of $1.60 but right now it's at about $1.31, well up from the year's low of $1.19 when all hell broke out in Greece.

Don't believe for a second that any of the PIIGS will withdraw from the Euro.   When you're in you're in.   The fact Canada's central bank (along side those of other middle powers, such as Australia, Sweden and Switzerland) still sees the Euro, and not the greenback, as the future reserve currency for the world, should make it clear that we have our fundamentals generally right.   If we can get back to more reliable income streams (i.e. cut income taxes, shift to consumption -- while ensuring the lower and middle classes don't get shafted) we'll do even better.

Reminds me of the old joke from the 1980s, when Lee Iacocca allegedly said, "Talk of bailing out the government may be a bit premature."   He was only off by 28 years -- and he warned the world then that America was headed for disaster if it didn't get its financial house in order.   Will be interesting to see what the self described Tea Party tries to do -- my guess is once all the hype settles, they'll see how entrenched things are and will make the deficit even worse.  They should have stuck with tea baggers and sloppy seconds -- sexual innuendo aside, it would have been much more appropriate.

But Iacocca did say that his country needed to raise the revenues which while correct is the last thing anyone -- left or right -- wants to do right now.   They blew their chance when they had the chance, and it's just a matter of when, not if, the US goes cap in hand to the IMF for a loan.   They'll get it all right -- on condition that they lose their long time sole veto over it and the World Bank.   About damn time -- the rationale for the States having that kind of sway ended mere seconds after the ink dried at Bretton Woods in 1944 just a month after D-Day.

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bring it on, North Korea

With so much of our military resources tied up in Afghanistan it's hard to imagine anything more than a token role for Canada if as it is almost certain North Korea launches what it calls a "sacred war" against the South.   But if there was ever a time to speak out against the sixty year enslavement of over 24 million people it is now.   Canada and other democracies should be ready to take out the senior command of this vassal state on a moment's notice and have a slush fund ready for the massive reconstruction of the North -- not to mention a legion of deprogrammers to get the masses out of their unwilling and collective coma of submission.

We stood with the South all those decades ago.  It would be dereliction of duty to sit on our asses now.

Merry Christmas folks ... God willing, I'll be back with more thoughts next week.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Does this explain why Jim Prentice left (i.e. was fired)?

The departure a few weeks back of Jim Prentice, one of the last "Red" Tories in the Conservative government, may finally have a bit of an explanation.    Of course, it's about Big Oil, in particular the Tar Sands.

While at some levels I am troubled by what's being leaked by Wikileaks (some things which are potentially important such as, say, proof positive where Osama Bin Laden is hiding tonight, should not be public info -- since it only would make the search even more futile than it is already), I do think in general the best government is open government.

A newspaper in Norway has revealed that -- based on a cable from the American Ambassador in Ottawa -- Prentice was prepared to push for more stringent environmental regulations to get tough on oil companies that frequently flout the very weak (or otherwise unenforceable) rules set down by the province of Alberta.   He wasn't prepared to see the oil sands developments stop, seeing in fact a doubling of production to 4 million barrels per day, but he did say that someone had to act before it was too late.

The Norway connection was that Prentice was shocked at the huge level of opposition in that country to even a minor stake in "dirty oil" -- perhaps not realizing, unmentioned in the cable, that Norway's sovereign wealth fund is a locked box and not the open sand box the Alberta Heritage Fund was long ago turned into.   If he looked into it further he should not have been.   The second largest in the world after the United Arab Emirates, Norway's wealth fund is over USD 440 billion -- compared to Alberta's which is just a puny 13.8 billion.   And Norway's plan excludes companies that in its judgment flouts ethical practices such as Canada's Barrick Gold.   (No such no-scruples rule for Heritage, it would appear).  It should be pointed out too that Norway first found oil on the high seas at Gulfacks in 1979, landlocked Alberta at Leduc in 1947.

The cable goes on to say that Prentice and the ambassador had a rapport develop quite quickly and that Prentice was the most respected Cabinet member amongst all the diplomatic corps in Ottawa.

So was Prentice fired because he was actually willing to "Stand Up For Canada ™"?

Hard to say, but the fact there are STILL no federal regulations to govern air emissions across Canada -- that Alberta is effectively allowed to thumb its nose at such federal rules and not just mitigate but also reverse all the cuts all the other provinces combined have made in discharges to air and water, is simply unacceptable.   Yes, non-renewable natural resources and forests are the responsibility of the provinces as well as they should be -- but birds of the air and fishes of the streams do not respect provincial or international boundaries.   A scorched earth policy does not do any one any good.   Certainly not the people of Alberta who like the rest of us deserve to have clean air and water.

Heck, even Preston Manning said back in August it is time to "Think Big" and impose a carbon tax to make up the difference for what's extracted and the pittance of what's put back (something I wrote about).   But there are positive signs.   For example in Fort McMurray, people are fighting against Big Oil on what they are allowed to extract even more water from rivers, saying there are cleaner and better ways to do it than to even further parch the land -- after all, their water is glacial water and the glaciers are rapidly and permanently melting thanks to global warming (not like here in the centre and east of Canada where there are hundreds of thousands of lakes and rivers but even that's starting to slowly dry up).

Did PMS see in Prentice a potential rival that had to be quashed?   PMS has to answer that question himself.   But it is clear he cannot tolerate any form of dissension even if it is based on solid science as well as what is good for the country long-term and not just the short-term.  It's horrible that Prentice has had to choose the private sector from which to continue his fight, but sometimes more good can be done from the outside.   Given Alberta's long history of gerrymandering and propensity for picking parties that go further and further right over time (United Farmers of Alberta, Social Credit, Progressive Conservative and perhaps Wild Rose Alliance next -- even though its candidate for Premier, Danielle Smith, is actually an old style libertarian in the true sense, her party like the federal Cons has been hijacked by the religious right), it doesn't look good at least for now.   But sooner or later common sense has to prevail.

After all, most white people in the US South didn't get it on race relations, until two white "Freedom Riders" were murdered.   Maybe when Albertans see how much their comely land is being raped by foreign and hostile interests (and their wealth fund is nothing more than a slush fund) will they finally understand and they make sure that what's taken is put back.

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

The trouble with R and D

When the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development was created in 1989, its goal was precisely that what its name said -- and Brian Mulroney's decision to name Edward Broadbent as its first chair was no accident (although the fact it got up to speed during the Fall 1989 Revolutions in Eastern Europe certainly was) -- and Broadbent's nomination got quick ratification by Parliament.

By its very nature Rights and Democracy or R and D as it's come to be known was intended to be a non-partisan agency of Parliament and its leader an officer of Parliament in the same way the Auditor General, the Chief Electoral Officer and the Information and Privacy Commissioners are -- and as the other Parliamentary offices listed, intended to give independent advice to the executive branch, untainted even by the sometimes narrow interests of the Privy Council's Office.

To see the agency torn apart because some of its board members are Conservative hacks who have consistently denied funding requests to groups who question some of Israel's more hard-line policies in the West Bank and Gaza is quite alarming.   Conducting what some could quite rightly call a "witch hunt" against former board members is also disturbing as are suggestions R and D has "governance issues."   I don't consider stacking the deck to be merely a governance issue but contempt for Parliament itself.

Support of Israel should be a sine qua non, but using an agency of Parliament to promote a distorted agenda that is based on a false premise -- that criticism of Israel automatically should be equated with anti-Semitism -- is unacceptable.   Many people in Israel itself -- Jews! -- regularly criticize the ongoing presence of the Occupied Territories and what comes with it.   Does that make Jews themselves anti-Semitic?   A small number of rabbis outside Israel continue to hold to the position that no Jew has the right to "possess the land" until Moschiach comes.   Does that make them enemies of their own faith?

It is bad enough that those of us Christians who adhere to a "social gospel" view, or something like it, are denounced by the "Christianities" as not being Christian enough, or not their kind of Christian and therefore un-Christian period.   To bring in the controversy that exists within Judaism and use a taxpayer-funded and allegedly non-partisan agency to impose the views of a very narrow view of Christianity and Judaism violates the separation of church and state I thought we have here, what I believe we ought to have as part of the civilized society we call Canada.   Not to mention, the most enthusiastic "pro-Israel" politicians actually have a secret agenda:   the conversion of Jews at the end of the Age, under penalty of eternal damnation.   The Jews need not to be saved because they are already God's Chosen People.

It's going to take the wisdom of Solomon to fix the mess R and D got itself into -- wittingly or not.   The firewall between executive and legislative that statutes require for sui generis agencies of this type must be enforced.  I don't know if Broadbent wants his old job back, but surely there's someone one there in Canada with the kind of gravitas that genders respect from members of all four parties.   Otherwise, we need to de-fund the agency and create a new one that serves the purpose -- which is required to help Canada develop strong positions against those countries that aren't democracies or don't respect human rights:   Belarus, Fiji, Saudi Arabia and Singapore, just to name a few.

Methinks that Sinclair Lewis had a point when he wrote to the effect of "When facism comes to America, it will wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross."

UPDATE (Monday 2010/12/20 9:08 AM EST, 1408 GMT):   Much after I posted this, I realized there is another Parliamentary Officer that is supposed to be hands off but is someone the old Reformers have long wanted to get rid off:   the Official Languages Commissioner.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Where's the bud, Bud?

Some countries impose currency restrictions to ensure there isn't a run on their money.   Like most democracies, both Canada and the US do not, nor is there a restriction on how much you can carry across the border, although both insist that if you are entering or exiting the country with more than a specified amount -- currently $10,000 whether specie or cash equivalent instruments -- you must file a currency declaration.

Two morons tried to enter the US city of Blaine, just south of Vancouver, with -- wait for it -- $658,000 in US and Canadian currency.   Cash.

No way to tell if it is profits from BC Bud, although with several hundred kilometres of unpatrolled border they would have chosen one of the ditches or low level cattle fences to make their run, not an actual border crossing.   Heck, even Mulroney crossed the border with $75k without declaring and no one stopped him.

And to think, if they had just said they had the money, they would have been let go.   They could have come up with an excuse like "We're high rollers and going to Vegas for the weekend."   It would have been believeable.  Instead, all that money is headed straight for Fort Knox.   Not that it'll make that much of a dent in the dwindling reserves the States has in trying to keep its useless currency afloat as its debt continues to skyrocket.

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Open or looser borders? Debate it

Secrecy doesn't do anyone any good when it comes to borders.    If we're going to have a more open border with the US, fine -- I support the idea, actually -- but let's have proper debates in Parliament and Congress.   That the Cons are already crafting their media message on this one before an agreement is even initialed or properly debated, doesn't do anyone any good.

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

When Mr. Sexy meets -- Mr. Sexy

Nothing really on my mind, so let's have some fun for a change.

A few weeks back, Right Between the Ears (one of the most misunderstood but funniest shows on NPR) performed their latest twist on their Antonio Banderas gag -- this time, with Banderas meeting "The Most Interesting Man in the World" and a totally unexpected party crasher.   This one had me howling, I hope it gives you a laugh too.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pope meant both men and women -- so he says

Follow-up on my last post.   There was some confusion about Joe Ratzinger's remarks about condoms and AIDS and whether he meant that it only applied to male prostitutes.   Today, a Vatican official clarified further, saying that the point of the comment was the partners having sex have due consideration for the health of each other.   In other words, the new edict applies to both males and females.

Given that a majority of sexually active Catholics, at least in the developed world, do use contraceptives to begin with, it is as I said an important step forward.   Again it is being stressed that sex outside of marriage is wrong; but if one does so it's better to be safe than sorry.   Which is what many of us in the laity have been saying all along.

One does have to wonder ... could this put the kibosh on JP2's candidacy for sainthood (a saint, after all, is someone who never sinned in his or her human life)?   Or is the current Pope asking for trouble coming his way?   We all remember what happened to Albino Luciani (JP1) when he tried to clean up corruption at the Vatican Bank -- he was assassinated within one month of his election.   God forbid it should happen now, of course, but with Sark becoming a democracy two years ago Vatican City is the last feudal state left in Europe -- and the powers that be that really run things, want to keep it that way.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Vatican caves in on condoms -- sort of

This one, I'm having a hard time figuring out.

It's no secret that Pope Paul VI (real name Giovanni Montini) wanted to face the reality, even in the 1960s, that Catholics were using contraceptives.    He was prepared in fact to cave in and permit the practice.   But he faced a backlash from his senior advisors, one of them the Bishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyła (who of course later became Pope John Paul II).   In 1967, Montini's hand was forced and he issued the encyclical Humanae Vitae (actually ghostwritten by Wojtyła) which outright "banned" contraceptives -- not that Catholics, especially those outside the "10-40 window" were going to obey.

Just last year, the ex-"Rottweiler" of the Vatican, Joe Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) on a trip to Africa said that condoms only "worsened" the problem of AIDS, not improved it.   But this past weekend, he had a sudden if only partial change of heart.   Ratzinger said that it's actually okay for prostitutes to use condoms to help prevent the spread of AIDS and other blood-borne diseases.    Using the kind of logic similar to that used by the rationalist St. Thomas Aquinas, he said it's the lesser of two evils.

Well, duh.  No doubt some of the conservatives are going to try to rip this one apart, but at least someone's willing to chip the ice if not smash it all together.    Abstinence-only simply doesn't cut it -- people are too prepared to give into temptation, and every journey begins with a first step.    It's a welcome one, however tentative it may be.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Feds don't get it on "street walking"

The feds are complaining that there will be "chaos" if a judge's order striking down key parts of the prostitution laws has its stayed lifted next week, as widely expected, and that Ontario will become a "haven" for criminal elements while there will be uncertainty over the law elsewhere.

Message to feds:   The criminal element is already there.   The women who fought to strike down the laws in question did so, so that the criminal element could be more effectively dealt with while making the sex trade safe(r) for those who walk the streets.

It seems to me that the government hasn't even listened or even read the briefs of the women who challenged the law.    If they did, they would realize the women's case is structurally and legally sound.   (It was quite a long time ago when a young woman challenged the law banning frontal nudity and I had a hard time accepting the idea, until I read an op-ed written by the woman herself -- Gwen Jacob -- I and realized she had a point.)

So Harper:  Go after organized crime for once -- not the prostitutes.   If your government claims to be tough on crime, then it's time to prove it.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Blankety Blank ™ extends the mission

Even two years ago when Parliament voted to send a date certain for the Afghanistan mission to end as 2011, my fellow "progs" and I agreed that He Who Must Not Be Named would find a way to extend the mission.    We found out yesterday, yes he has.    But where did he make the announcement?   Not in Parliament as he should have.    Nor at any of the hundreds of cenotaphs across this fair land of Canada.    Nope.  He made it at a war memorial -- in Seoul, South Korea.

I can't remember the last time a Canadian PM was not in Ottawa for Remembrance Day.   In fact, traditionally, all the party leaders are together at the Cenotaph in the capital, one of the few times they stand together in solidarity.

This can't be decided by the executive alone contrary to what the PM thinks.  This needs to be properly debated in the House and a proper vote taken.   I think we have more than done our duty and sacrifice -- by the time next year rolls around we will have spent more time there than in both of the World Wars of the last century combined.   We can't go on and on like this.   Remember that it was 1945, after Hiroshima, that Truman sent "advisors" to help maintain a so-called ceasefire in Vietnam and that nightmare lasted another thirty years.

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Anti-Semitism and Harper

For whatever reason -- whether it's his personal ideology or his religious beliefs -- Stephen Harper has confused legitimate criticism of Israel's policies with anti-Semitism.   The latter, of course, is something we should be constantly vigilant against; God's Chosen People have a specific place in the world and in history.

But to suggest that to be against how the State of Israel treats Arabs not just in the occupied territories, but even within the internationally recognized boundaries (those who are are considered Israeli citizens, and they regard themselves as an indigenous people) to be anti-Semitic is trying to make black and white out of a very complicated situation.

It's not even clear if Harper supports a two-state solution (with free access to all holy sites on both sides of the border) as most countries officially do, or if he would go the route of the currently and rightly banned Kahane Chai - Kach and support the expulsion of all Arabs from Israel and the occupied lands.   Or is it a middle ground -- give Palestinians their country but have Israel remain in control of the airspace and the sub-surface (which would effectively make Palestine a vassal state with Israel the suzerain power over it).

As far as his claim that Canada's former stance as an "honest broker" made us weak, actually it did not.   We have long recognized Israel's right to exist -- since December 1948, about seven months after the British mandate ended.   We have long recognized Israel as an ally and in fact we even have a free trade agreement with the country.

But we have also played a major role in trying to keep a relative peace between Israel and its neighbours.    Remember that it was Canada that helped to negotiate a ceasefire over the Suez Canal crisis which involved Israel.    As well, owing to the fact that the status of Jerusalem hasn't been settled in the eyes of the world community, we from the beginning (1953 to be exact) have had our embassy in Tel Aviv.

Moreover, Canadians are actually quite divided over where they stand on the conflict -- roughly a third each are for Israel, for the Palestinians, or just plain don't care.

Being an "honest broker" means that while we make our allegiances clear, we are also willing to be a mediator between belligerent powers -- even if it's just "shuttle diplomacy" (running back and forth between neighbouring rooms because the two parties refuse to meet face to face).   Just because we were strongly on the side of France and West Germany and the United Kingdom during the Cold War didn't prevent us from reaching out to people behind the Iron Curtain; if anything relations with most of the client states in the Warsaw Pact were actually rather cordial, owing to the large ex-patriate communities here.    And we along with most of our NATO partners have had a long standing relationship with Cuba, much to the annoyance of the United States.

Canada will probably never be a superpower, unless there turns out to be even more oil and diamonds in "them thar hills" than currently proven.   But we can act responsibly in the eyes of the world and attempt to be more open-minded about world affairs.   Realpolitik is not weakness.   Being pragmatic actually demonstrates more hidden strength than just wielding the sword or sabre.   Perhaps Mr. Harper needs to remember outside of the UN Headquarters in New York City there is a monument where man "beats his swords into ploughshares and his spears into pruning hooks."   The statue specifically mentions the source, Isaiah 2:4.   The country that donated the statue?    The former Soviet Union.

Support Israel, I always will.   Seeking justice for the Palestinians -- provided they completely renounce violence once and for all -- I will also.    But carpet bombing an entire people to Kingdom Come, that is something I cannot support.   To have peace, you must sometimes wage war; but it must be measured and attack specific targets, not destroy entire infrastructures or force bombed out people on rations.

If he had just realized this simple fact, Canada might be in on the Security Council, the world's enforcement body ... and not sitting on the outside while the European Union now has four seats (five when Bosnia ends its term late next year) and effective control of the body.

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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Prentice, Olbermann

This week's sudden resignation of Jim Prentice is shocking because he somehow managed to negotiate a new job with the CIBC bank while apparently avoiding conflict of interest guidelines.    How?   But more ominously his departure means that there are only a handful of progressives left in the governing party -- maybe two or three in each of the House and the Senate.   The Conservative Party as it now stands is nowhere near some of the extremist parties we see in Europe -- think National Front in France, for instance -- but it's definitely now almost a carbon copy of the US Republicans minus the Cons' support for health care.

Meanwhile, listening to the BBC World Service last night, I was equally stunned to hear that NBC has suspended Keith Olbermann after it was learned he contributed to the campaigns of three Democrats in this week's election, contrary to network rules.   I don't exactly respect him that much anymore -- he's as bombastic as Bill O'Reilly at Fox -- but when was the last time someone at FNC was suspended for contributing to the Republican Party?   Exactly.

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

At least Moonbeam is back

Despite the losses the Democrats suffered in yesterday's mid-terms, there's at least one bright spot:   Jerry Brown, aka "Governor Moonbeam," is back 28 years after his last stint as the Governor of California.   I kind of feel bad for Meg Wittman, the founder of eBay -- hers is a genuine American success story.   But the fact remains she ran on Arnold Schwarzenegger's record, and it was not all roses and candy.

Will Hollywood welcome back The Terminator with open arms?   Is the media ready for another run with a Kennedy?   And will Linda Ronstadt be inspired to write another song about her one-time boyfriend?

Stay tuned.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The FIVE billion dollar boondoggle

No party in Canada, except for those who have never been elected, can get away with this one; and it's a disgrace.   Every building needs to be renovated sooner or later, even legislatures, but this one has gotten out of hand.

The Parliament of Canada, three Gothic Revival buildings on Wellington Street in Ottawa (actually it's four if you count the Confederation Building -- where most MPs have their offices -- next to the West Block ) have stood for many decades.   The West and East Blocks date prior to Confederation (when Parliament Hill was originally intended to be the capital for only what we now call Ontario and Québec), the Centre Block dates to the 1920s as a fire destroyed the original (except the Library) during World War I.

About twenty years ago a massive rebuild program was begun to restore the buildings and bring them up to current federal safety and environmental standards.   Original cost and time line:   $65 million and about ten years.    Present estimate:   Five billion dollars ... with twenty years gone and still counting.   Even more incredible, they still haven't gotten to the Senate and House of Commons, which will be in temporary quarters (the courtyards, covered of course, of the East and West Blocks respectively -- which will begin next year, we hope).

And this week we learned that the West Block renos have gone through three sets of stonemasons, and the job is still not done.

Jesus Christ, folks!   When Romania overthrew Nicolae Ceauşescu in 1989, one of the legacies he left behind was a colossal presidential palace, far larger than any executive building ever built anywhere on the planet -- even larger than Versailles.   The people took matters into their own hands and turned into their Parliament, the largest in floor yardage of its kind in the entire European Union if not the planet, and for way way less.   And while the job is still technically not completed yet, they have plenty of room to spare; in fact every MP and Senator there has the kind of office space reserved only for the four party leaders here in Canada.

This is truly unbelievable.   Even the Auditor General says she can't figure out how things got out of control with no checks or balances; neither could her predecessor in the office who warned this was coming a decade ago.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Local voting day in Ontario

I was delayed a few minutes yesterday on the way to church because, of all things, a police-escorted military parade.   Pipes, drums, everything.   Naturally, I saluted ... my guess these are mostly reserve troops but many of them have been for a fact been deployed to Afghanistan.

Maybe it was just a coincidence but it was just a day before today's local elections in Ontario.   It's easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of offices -- in some counties people vote for a mayor, a deputy mayor, a city councillor, a county superintendent / regional chair, a regional councillor, and a school board trustee.    And it's still first past the post rather than a preferential ballot like I think it should be.

But it's local government that affects us the most directly.    Public transit, public works, police, emergency services, parks and recreation.    It's also the one that gets the lowest turnout -- maybe because there are too many choices or because everyone runs as independents rather than as a party slate candidate as in the States or the UK.

But if you love your freedom, vote.    You can even register on election day.    Just call city hall to find out where to vote.    As long as you can prove you have a place where you're picking up a cheque for anything, you can vote.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pension for serial killer / rapist?

I really haven't had much to think about the last few days ... too busy at work, I guess.

But the revelations about the depraved  life of Col. Russell Williams, who has pleaded guilty to two counts of murder one, two of aggravated sexual assault and 84 other charges under the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act, are simply mind-boggling.   I thought Paul Bernardo was a sicko, but this guy who was on the public payroll takes the cake.    And the worst part -- he's still entitled to his military pension even if he is designated as a dangerous offender and gets life without parole (he's already facing a minimum of 25 to life).   $60k per year, indexed for life -- plus he gets CPP / RRQ and perhaps Old Age Security when he turns 65?

This is insane.   Put the guy in Supermax -- and no pension, period.    Anyone who brings that kind of disgrace upon the vast majority of men and women who put their lives on the line to defend our country shouldn't be entitled to entitlements.    The only thing I give him credit for is he pleaded guilty and spared all of us an unnecessary trial that would have turned our stomachs inside out -- as the Bernardo trial did 15 years ago.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"Eyes on the floor! Eyes down on God's fabulous parquet floor!"

It's hard not to laugh at this one, but this seems to be one of those times when the law of positive attraction really wasn't compatible with religion.    The Crystal Cathedral of the Reformed Church in America, better known to Sunday morning devotees as the "Hour of Power," has filed for Chapter 11.   Apparently the church owes about $43 million, including a $34 million plus mortgage.

While the current pastor, the Rev. Sheila Schuller Coleman, has vowed the congregation will overcome and fight back, it may finally offer an explanation as to why her brother Robert Schuller Jr. was fired so quickly after he was named their father's successor -- because he realized the church's finances were in such a mess he couldn't cope (not to mention Junior's approach to his sermons was actually much more Biblically based and sound than his father's -- which didn't sit well with the Health and Wealth crowd).

Touchy feely religion has never really appealed to me ... nor does the high flying lifestyle of many televangelists.   Remember a few years back Schuller Sr. got lucky to get off after an incident of air rage.   But the whole thing seems to prove that there really is no business like show business, especially in religion.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Canada drops ball on Security Council bid

It actually happened.    Canada lost its bid to be on the UN Security Council for the first time -- ever.   We've had six previous stints over the last six decades.   But not this coming one.

The United Nations conveniently divides the non-permanent seats on a geographic basis to ensure a global perspective to balance the original five nuclear powers which also happen to have vetoes.   For example, one seat always goes to an Arab League member to ensure the interests of the whole bloc and not just the individual country is represented.

The Western Europe and "Others" group (Others being the Caribbean, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) get two of the non-permanent seats for a two year term.   Traditionally, a non-European country is one of the two chosen to ensure the European Union doesn't have effective control of the UN's enforcement body.   A ⅔ vote of the General Assembly is required to grab one of the seats.   Yesterday, after being in last place after the first ballot but with no hope of catching up to Portugal (Germany was on the verge of winning the other seat anyway) Canada conceded -- and then PM Harper promptly blamed Michael Ignatieff for ensuring there wasn't a "united" front from Parliament.

Excuse me?

Just months after winning a minority government, Harper openly supported the carpet bombing of Lebanon.   He's ripped up virtually every environmental agreement we've signed.   He's cut foreign aid to Africa substantially while boosting it to Latin America (mostly to, again, corrupt government - à la the US).    And last year, on the opening day of the annual General Assembly, he skips the session to open up Manhattan's first Tim Hortons ™.    And he thinks bottles of maple syrup will make up for all of that?

Keep in mind that at the start of the Oslo Round of the Middle East peace talks, Canada (under Mulroney, a Progressive Conservative) offered to deal with the strand that is coping with the most contentious issue of all -- housing and the right of return for Palestinians to Israel proper.   This was continued under Campbell, Chrétien and Martin, but thanks to Harper we've had that taken away from us and with just cause.   We are no longer seen as a fair arbiter when it comes to that part of the world -- supporting Israel while insisting on justice for the dispossessed Palestinians (Muslims and Christians).

At present, no country I am aware of has their embassy to Israel in Jerusalem simply because the final status has not been determined.   In fact, if one was born in Jerusalem, a Canadian passport will only denote the city, not Israel.  But the religious groups that Harper panders to have repeatedly demanded that Canada move its embassy in Tel Aviv back to Jerusalem.   If not Harper, then perhaps someone with an even greater ideological bent than he will make that move.   Then whatever is left of Canada's supposed fair mindedness will be shattered forever.   Oh, and with that, any hopes of a free trade agreement with the EU also goes out the window.

As for dumping Africa off his foreign policy priorities -- well, imagine if Harper had been Prime Minister instead of Mulroney some twenty-five years ago.   I'm not saying that Lying Brian was the only person responsible for the freeing of Nelson Mandela, but his standing up to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and the evil policy of "constructive engagement" was a major turning point -- many countries followed our example and imposed crushing sanctions on South Africa that forced it to reform.    Harper might have just shrugged his shoulders and said, "Why should we support a convicted terrorist?"   Apartheid might have lingered a lot longer -- perhaps forever.

And it was Mulroney that pushed Reagan towards a toughened Clean Water Act in the States that benefited cross-boundary waters.

And oh yes -- the current spat over landing rights for the airlines from Abu Dhabi and Dubai which has cost us our air force base in the United Arab Emirates.   Something which has managed to divide the Harper caucus over something, perhaps for the first time since he took power.

Oh for those days -- pragmatism over ideology.

Harper has only himself to blame that Canada is the world's laughing stock, instead of a beacon of hope and reason.   And all of this, under a minority Parliament.

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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

October 1970 ... plus 40

It was forty years ago today that the October Crisis started when James Cross, a British diplomat, was kidnapped and held for 59 days.    (Cross was interviewed today on CBC Radio One about the experience.)  A few days later Pierre Laporte, a Québec cabinet minister, was also kidnapped and later assassinated.   The brazen acts led to the first time ever imposition during peacetime of martial law in Canada.

While we may continue to debate the virtues of whether it was the right thing for Trudeau to do (Tommy Douglas famously said Trudeau was "using a sledgehammer to crack a peanut"), or what the real motivations for the unprecedented action, there remains no question that the FLQ were terrorists plain and simple and the full force of the law needed to be dealt upon the criminals.    That the kidnappers were allowed to live in Cuba and were eventually welcomed back by some quarters as "heroes" is still rather bizarre.

But it's also a reminder that dangerous elements live among us, and where we least expect them.    Any ethnic group, any religion, can sometimes resort to desperate measures and even cross the line.   To borrow a common phrase, we need to practise constant vigilance.

P.S.  Spare the technicalities that Trudeau only "invoked the War Measures Act" and since Parliament was still in session and it was the civilian courts and not the military courts martial administering justice it wasn't martial law.   If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it is a duck.   The troops were on the streets as a posse comitatus.    Therefore, it was martial law, period.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sex crimes laws struck down

A big victory for civil rights as three sections of the Criminal Code of Canada which actually made it impossible for legal sex workers to do their trade were struck down by a lower court.   Judge Susan Himel, ruling in Bedford v. Attorney General of Canada, has invalidated the provisions regarding operating a "common bawdy-house," living off the avails of prostitution, and communication for the purposes of prostitution.   It's important to remember that hiring a sex worker under the age of eighteen remains totally illegal, as it should be.

As troubling as the sex trade is for me, what's worse in my consideration is what happens to those who become victims through no fault of their own.   If you don't believe that, ask the women who were lucky enough to survive being tortured by Robert Pickton.   (Decision in PDF here).

Rather than just gut check and appeal this and short-circuit what's a win for both women and men, let's fix the laws so that those who walk the streets are safe and those who prey on the workers with ill intent are the ones who are punished.

Kudos to fellow blogger Wendy Babcock, who among other women helped me change my mind on this issue.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The registry lives, for now

Now that the bill to eliminate the gun registry has been voted down, can we all get on to more important things ... like the economy, for instance?

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Fix the registry, don't abolish it

If as expected the "private member's" bill to abolish the long gun registry goes down to defeat (as I hope it does), then I think it's up to the Opposition parties not just to explain why they voted it down but how they're going to fix the remaining problems with the system while balancing rural and urban interests in advancing gun control.    The Conservatives calling those who support the registry "Toronto elites" is pretty rich, especially considering Harper went to a high school in -- oh my God -- TORONTO!

Perhaps Harper has forgotten that many of those so-called elites actually go hunting on the weekends or for week long outfitting trips?   Actually helping out their rural brothers and sisters in developing their economy?   Oh, I guess he has forgotten about that.   Or the huge license fees that the provinces and territories collect from legal hunters.

Rather than just talking tough on crime, how about also fighting its causes and actually putting money in to fix the broken windows to reduce the number of places criminals have to hide?

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

"Sun" issues rare retraction for Soros slander

There was a time when newspapers never printed retractions.    This was for one of two reasons:   One, the owners had definite political leanings and to admit even the slightest error (even when yellow journalism had been engaged in) would be tantamount to admitting the publisher's philosophy was wrong, eg. William Randolph Hearst.   Two, the reporters actually did fact checking through multiple sources to ensure there was no error -- even having in house lawyers do a double check, eg. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein during Watergate (and even when they briefly fouled up on one attribution in their series of stories, they quickly found another reliable source that backed up the underlying point of that article).

When I briefly worked for a newspaper (not reporting, it was another department) we were taken to the actual newsroom and were introduced both to the cartoonist (who did a very good publishable caricature of Jean Chrétien in less than two minutes) as well as the counsel who told us the paper had recently had to settle with a disgruntled subject for a million and a half because of a missing comma that completely changed the meaning of the story.

So it was a bit satisfying to read today that Quebecor Media Inc. (aka the "Sun" newspapers) has issued an apology to George Soros the Hungarian-born and now American citizen currency speculator and liberal activist.   Soros became infamous when he successfully and single-handedly devalued the pound sterling in 1992 ensuring the UK would not enter the Euro for a very long time to come.

Back on September 5, Ezra Levant wrote a column about Soros that suggested that he survived being exterminated in the Holocaust by collaborating with the Nazis.   Not only inflammatory but outrageously false especially based on a cleverly re-edited interview that Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes did with Soros some years ago.   QMI claims they offered a written apology to Soros' lawyer as early as September 13th in an attempt to head off a lawsuit, but the negotiations have gone nowhere.

Unfortunately, a pre-emptive strike like this, and wiping the Suns and Mr. Levant's websites of the column is insufficient.   It was in print, and the damage has been done.    Soros deserves more than an apology.   He is entitled to every penny a libel suit might draw.

I don't like currency speculators (and personally support the idea of a "Tobin tax" -- having a service charge on currency transactions to deter deliberate manipulation of one currency against another; oddly Soros actually does support the idea in principle).    But no matter how low one's business morals may be, being besmirched as a "Nazi collaborator" when one wasn't is the worst insult of all.    When we are still hunting down the last surviving participants in the worst slaughter in human history, to be falsely called one of them is unspeakable.

No one, Jewish, Christian or "other" needs to be reminded of the command not to bear false witness against one's neighbour -- and neighbour does mean everyone as dozens of giants from Moses to Billy Graham have constantly pointed out.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Stand for "Rand"

Since this is my birthday today, I'm going to keep it short and simple.    The other day, two analysts with the Fraser Institute opined in the National Post and suggested that Canada should drop the "Rand Formula" and adopt a "right to work" (READ:  Right to employ the way the employer wants) regime to regain our competitiveness, as 22 US States have done.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Much as I have a beef with unions, they're the reason why so many people -- unionized or not -- have fringe benefits and pay scales better than minimum.   We don't want a race to the bottom.   We need a race to the top.   Besides which, employees do have a choice already whether they want to join or not in most circumstances (those opting out pay an amount equivalent to dues but have the amount donated to charity) -- since everyone gets the benefits, then everyone should pay for them.   If you don't want the benefits, then you should be willing to work for a lower wage (and of course, the vast majority do not want to do this).

I support the Rand Formula (or agency shop, as it's properly called); however the major changes I would make are 1) Union certification votes must be done by written secret ballot, even where a majority have already signed union cards, to give people a second chance to think it over; 2) Since all people pay the dues or the like they should have a say in the contracts, also by written secret ballot; and 3) No more closed shops (you must join whether you like it or not, for obvious reasons some may not want to join).

There need not be a conflict between labour and employer.   If both have a reason to work together then there will be every reason to be more competitive.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Spadina E-way resurrected?

One would have thought the Spadina Expressway died when Bill Davis canned the project all the way back in 1971.   But it's not like the dream has died, after all the exit numbers on the 400 (based on kilometre posts) are numbered such in anticipation of the day when such were to happen (the highway runs from the north end of Toronto up to Parry Sound, and eventually it will to Sudbury as the old #69 is twinned.

But now a Toronto councillor has resurrected the idea.   Well sort of, just a few kilometres east:   Mayoral candidate, Rocco Rossi says, just extend and bury Allen Road south of where it ends at Eglinton and run it more or less parallel to the Spadina Subway to Bloor then under the streetcar tracks down to Harbord.

I've heard of insane ideas, but this is just Looney Tunes.   Remember the chaos a number of years back when two subway trains crashed near Casa Loma?    Now imagine a car crash a hundred metres below ground.

Toronto needs more public transit ... it doesn't need more highways.

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

9/12: Koran burning postponed but echoes continue

I suppose we should be thankful that the Koran burning planned for yesterday didn't happen ... yet.    Oddly, the mere announcement that the idiot pastor was just thinking about it at all in the first place got precisely the opposite reaction he hoped for -- the vast majority of Americans, including Jews and Christians, said, "No, not in our country."

But attacks against Christians who wanted no part of this hate are themselves the victims of hatred this weekend, in Indonesia for example.   An argument can be made that Terry Jones should face prosecution for inciting politically motivated violence outside the United States.   American courts don't take that lightly -- they were pretty tough on those who aided and abetted apartheid in the late 1980s.

Maybe it would have been just better if we had ignored the guy all together.   This was entirely about getting attention just like Fred Phelps' anti-gay hate group in Topeka, Kansas.   If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it ... well, since it hits the ground and the ground vibrates it does makes the sound, but if no one hears the sound then it's out of sight and mind.

We aren't born hating, we acquire it.   If the haters have no audience then they will only speak to themselves.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Memo to Koran-burning "pastor"

Hey, "Pastor" Terry Jones.   Wanna burn some Korans, eh?

Then you'd also better burn a book that describes in pretty graphic detail brutal rapes, as well as erotic poetry to make some romance writers squirm.  A book where God makes a bet with Satan.   A book where a guy whacks a giant, marries the daughter of the high priest, then commits adultery with not just one but seven women all in the royal court.  A book where an entire generation of first-born were slaughtered with God's permission yet to this day we must not question why they were murdered even though some if not most of their parents had nothing to do or wanted nothing to do with their king's rule.   Finally, even though the eventual hero of the saga tells his posse to abandon their wives and children, most don't -- in fact his immediate successor raises his mother-in-law from death.

The Holy Bible.  PASTOR.   BURN THAT, TOO!!!!   You fucking hypocrite.

Oh and for what it's worth ... Shana Tov and Eid Mubarak.   If you don't know what they mean, run it on a search engine.   You certainly know how to post on YouTube.

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

BREAKING: Tom Clark quits CTV

After four decades with Canada's largest private network, Clark suddenly quit today, according to The Hollywood Reporter.   The network confirmed this in a "terse" statement.   Apparently Clark was miffed that he was passed over the anchor job he had been groomed for years, for former Kitchener anchor Lisa LaFlamme.

Just yesterday, THR (the main rival to Variety) and with an assist from the Canadian Press noted that Harper had a secret meeting with Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes back in March 2009 to discuss -- well, we don't know.  But the meeting did take place.  Also there -- Mr. Keneycke.

Hmm ... Peter Mansbridge has been the anchor at Mother for 22 years.   Could the CBC be using the chance to get rid of him and bring in someone with "gravitas" to bring its ratings back up?   Or maybe he's going to go to Fox News North.

As for the meeting ... could Fox be asking for "must carry" carriage n Canada for its US network the same as for CNN-US?   Just as a fallback, in case SunTV fails in its bid?   (Remember that Fox News originally applied for extended basic availability back around 2003 in a joint application with Global -- it got turned down; Global then withdrew and Fox reapplied on its own to be a digital channel which got clearance without a fuss.)

Stay tuned.

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It's Gillard, just

After more than two weeks, the stalemate in Australia is finally over with Julia Gillard getting three of the five indies plus the one Green to her side.   Her challenger, Tony Abbott, got only the other two "crossbenchers."

So Gillard wins, but just barely, 76-74.   As usual it was money that did it -- she promised a roughly AUD 10 billion (CAD 9.5 billion) increase in transfer payments for health, education and the all-encompassing "infrastructure."   (Sound familiar, fellow Canadians?)   Mind you, Oz can afford to do it -- with a mass sale of assets during the 1990s the country has a debt load per capita about less than a quarter of ours, less than a tenth of the States.  But while I am glad she won, I don't like the idea of bribes no matter how constituted.

With such a narrow margin, and with the usual attrition that occurs during any parliamentary term (death, illness, resignation -- any of which triggers a by-election), I give Ms Gillard 18 months before she calls another poll (Parliaments Down Under are usually three years) or she herself is ousted in a party coup.

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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Happy Labour Day

Off until Tuesday.   To all my readers in Canada and the US, Happy Labour Day ... for many of us this is the start of our "real" year so let's hope it's a good one.

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Friday, September 3, 2010

Isn't it time we got this coward out of Canada?

With all the talk about refugees as of late, and how many on both the right and the left are trying to make this a political issue and about shaping the kind of country we ought to be and the people we ought to admit, there is one example of a very well known terrorist who has been making a joke out of our refugee appeals process for over twenty years:   Mahmoud Mohammad Issa Mohammed.

Even though we know for a fact he hijacked an El-Al plane in Greece, an incident that led to the death of an Israeli mechanic and got a lengthy sentence (commuted due to a prisoner swap / blackmail), he roamed between several Arab countries and eventually managed to get into Canada in 1987.   When it became obvious who he was -- it was shown that he did not disclose his affiliation with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, he was ordered deported.  In 1988.   He's still here.

He has used the standard canard that he was not a terrorist but a "freedom fighter" (like the Provisional IRA) and that he was fighting his enemy, Israel, "the enemy of his people."  [his words, not mine]   He also says that if he was sent back to the last country where he apparently came from, Lebanon, he would face almost certain death in a refugee camp -- and in any case, he has been an idea citizen, his daughters have established roots here and it would be a violation of his human rights to be deprived of citizenship due to an "oversight."

Frankly, I do not consider omitting a previous criminal conviction, especially a terrorist act (even if one was pardoned for it) to be an oversight.   Further, the PFLP is a listed terrorist group by Canada, the US and the EU.   It also backed away just a few months ago from endorsing a "two state solution" and has now gone to a "one state solution" which of course would mean the end of Israel as we know it.

While we grant asylum to people who have been convicted of crimes that would never be considered crimes here (such as advocating for a free press or proselytizing) there should be a no brainer on this one:    MMIM is a menace to society.    It doesn't matter he has a family here.    We have a hard enough time hunting down terrorists and organized crime figures who were born here.    We should not be sending a message that we welcome terrorists from foreign shores.

How many "pre-removal risk assessments" do we have to do to figure out the obvious?   The last time I checked, a potential refugee is entitled to go through a Singh process once from application to final appeal once, not five or six times.  MMIM has made a mockery out of habeas corpus -- the evidence against him is overwhelming and proven.   Kick the bum out, now.

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Diesel tanker runs aground north of 60, 9 million litres may spill

What a surprise.   And keep in mind, this is a supply ship that's run aground in the Northwest Passage -- these are the very ships that keep communities in the High Arctic alive.

Just a week or so ago it was a cruise ship, and it entered our waters undetected.   How is this possible?

Imagine when terrorists figure out how to get through and southward, undetected.  Or they spill toxic materials into the Beaufort Sea, also undetected.   "Use it or lose it," eh?   Then maybe we should bite the bullet, purchase and re-flag some used Coast Guard vessels from other countries who no longer need them, and actually start defending the entrances to the Passage until we get the Canadian-built ships ready -- and make naval inspections at sea for all ships who want to enter for their seaworthiness, mandatory and at the expense of those who enter.   Just like canals charge tolls for everyone from recreational boaters to aircraft carriers.

Annual visits up North by Harper, or military exercises for the media, just isn't enough.

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Somalia -- lost opportunity

Sometimes it's not the friends you keep, but your enemies.   This week's column by public security analyst Gwynne Dyer discusses the situation in Somalia and how the US and its allies missed an opportunity to reconcile with one significant branch of Islam.   Somehow, the long warring tribes in Southern Somalia managed to get along under the rule of law and there was however briefly economic prosperity.   Perhaps even a hope of reuniting with the northern part of the country, the rather prosperous Somaliland (which operates as a de facto country but is almost totally unrecognized, not even the token recognition most countries give to Taiwan despite the "One China" policy that is generally respected.

What happened?   NATO and other countries with "interests" in the Horn of Africa got cold feet over the idea over the very concept of "Islamic courts" even if this was a rare case where they actually worked   Oh, and "The West" wanted to appease Ethiopia which sees Somalia as a strategic threat to its security and its leading role in the Northeast of Africa.

Somalia is therefore right back where it started.   The South is at war again, the African Union peacekeepers have no peace to keep (sound familiar, say Kandahar City?) and the North remains an unrecognized entity.

I don't always agree with the writer, but most of the time Dyer's right on the money, just as he was earlier this year with the real reasons the UK decided to protect a huge area of the Indian Ocean it owns for "environmental" reasons -- it was really to kiss ass with the US Air Force, which wants to keep its air base at Diego Garcia.

Nice going, Bush, Harper and the rest of the scumbags.    To favour one country over another in the name of the so-called "war on terror", you also gave a victory to the televangelists and in turn made the misery of millions even worse.

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Can't trust Clements

Until the Big Four sports in North America (baseball, basketball, football and ice hockey) as well as NASCAR ™ irrevocably adopts the World Anti-Doping Code, rather than a limited list agreed to with the so-called "players' associations", one can never truly believe any athlete who says they were "clean" when the drug policies were a joke.   Particularly with Roger Clemens and the so-called "home run king" Sammy Sosa.    It is important to remember Clemens is charged with perjury, not with being juiced up.

One's hopes that things will improve got dashed with the news that Donald Fehr will now be running the NHL Player's Assocation.   Remember he was absolutely opposed to any kind of drug testing while he was kingpin for the baseball players until forced to cave in under huge political pressure.

Sad thing number one:  If the charges are true, Clemens could get more time in jail than he would have if he had just told the truth in the first place.

Sad thing number two:   Some of the sports not sanctioned by the Olympics but which have mandatory drug testing include:   Angling, Body Building (after decades of resistance), Bridge, Checkers, Cheerleading, Darts, Dragon Boating, Go, Karate, Minigolf, Skateboarding, and Sleddogging.    What do they understand that the millionaires in the locker rooms cannot even begin to comprehend?  Oh, that YOU CAN'T CHEAT????

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Bring 'em on (the stock cars, that is)

Yes we can.   We CAN have a real NASCAR race in Canada.   Besides, we probably have as many rednecks as America does ... if not more.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Nailbiter in Australia -- if only this happened in Canada

Talk about a nail-biter!   A week after the 2010 Aussie elections, we finally have some preliminary results.   With 83.2% of the votes counted and a magic number of 76, the challenger Tony Abbott of the Liberal / National coalition has 73, the "incumbent" (if you ignore she shoved out Kevin Rudd in a coup) Julia Gillard of Labour has 72, the Greens 1 and 4 independents    One "National" from Western Australia has already pulled out of the caucus and will sit as an independent as well so it's actually a dead tie at 72 each.

Both Gillard and Abbott are claiming they won but for different reasons.  Gillard claims she won and has the right to govern based on leading in the two party preference percentage (Australia uses a preferential instant run-off ballot for the lower house and she is presumably in the lead after votes for minor parties have been redistributed after being knocked out).   Abbott claims that on the popular vote on the first round, he was in the lead by at least 800,000 votes and therefore he has the right to be the PM.

Oh to be one of the six MPs who now hold the balance of power.   The concessions they can wring out to be king or queen-maker.

Not to mention the chaos in the Australian Senate (where voters either choose one party list, or ranks all candidates in order of preference from 1 to x even if x runs into the low hundreds) -- with the Green Party now holding the balance of power there by a wide margin.

So unlike Canada where a minority party can rule as if it was the majority and does as long as it retains the "confidence" of the house.    Oh yeah, we have first past the post.   So many winners aren't really that, just the ones who got the plurality (not the majority) of votes.

If we ever got our act straight and have real election reform in Canada, imagine how fun we'd have on election night .. or week.

Mind you, there is one huge difference between their federation and ours.   We have an entrenched bill of rights.   They don't at the federal level (although the national capital, Canberra, and the state of Victoria have in their basic laws).   Even the British, which have experimented with one for a dozen years (when they merely adopted the European Charter as domestic legislation), were thinking of limiting its application or withdrawing from the treaty all together (although at present the law allows both the courts as well as Parliament or the devolved legislatures to adopt a "declaration of incompatibility") but the coalition ruling there now says they'll leave well enough alone for the time being; and by next year the country will have a national version of PR anyway, as they do now for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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Avril Lavigne wannabe, a terrorist?

They come from where you'd least expect them.    But I would never have guessed a former contestant on the karaoke / lip-synching contest called Canadian Idol would now be a suspect in a cross-Canada terrorist plot.

Unfortunately, this is a reminder that we need to remain constantly vigilant to ensure that a 9 / 11 or a 7/7 doesn't happen on our soil.   But we all know it will sooner or later.

By the way, Dr. Khurram Sher could use some singing lessons.    (Click to  Sher's audition video here.)  He sounded like a male Florence Foster Jenkins, and by the way that was not a compliment  if you know who "Flo Fo" was.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cabbie stabbing: Did debate over "mosque" really have to get to this?

When the name "Michael Enright" was coming up as a top search term yesterday, you could have been mistaken as I was in thinking the reference was to the long-time broadcaster at CBC Radio One.   Instead, this Michael Enright is a coward who -- if the reports are correct -- stabbed a Muslim cab driver in NYC.   Enright has been charged with three counts, the most serious being attempt murder two with the aggravating circumstance of a hate crime, which carries up to 25 years in prison.   Even crazier is that this Enright may be the same one who was a volunteer at Intersections International, a Manhattan group that promotes religious tolerance.

Thankfully, the driver, Ahmed H. Sharif, is okay although certainly he is going to have to cope with PTSD maybe for the rest of his life.

So far, Sarah Palin, John Boehner and Rush Limbaugh have been amazing silent about this.   Strangely though Bill O'Reilly wasn't.

I realize passions are running high over the proposed Corboda Center near Ground Zero, but did it really have to get to this?   Since when did we hallow ground over a military defeat?   Oh yeah, been there done that.   Kosovo (battled over by Serbians and Albanians for as long as anyone can remember), the Plains of Abraham (now a federal park, no doubt to the angst of the Québec separatists), Anteitam (a Confederate victory on Union ground) ...

Just an observation.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

TO neighbourhood stands up for gay couple

You'd think this kind of confrontation would happen in the Deep South, or the Bible Belt in the Mid-West.   Not in Toronto.   But it's time somebody stood up and said, not here.   People certainly have a right to pray, even publicly.   But there's a fine line between persuasion and being a bully.   

Here's a link to the video.

Judge for yourself.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Is it time to clean housse at Hamilton City Hall? Yes

Only in Hamilton could they screw something up like a stadium. It's official – the track and field events for the Toronto Pan Am Games in 2015, the “glamour” events as it were – will now be held at York University instead. And their facility just needs a bit of upgrading for cheap which will no doubt come as a relief to the federal and provincial governments worried about cost overruns that inevitably happen with multi-sports extravaganzas.    With that, we're left with soccer and cycling, and at the rate things are going soccer is gone by next week -- which means no new stadium and the local football team will be gone by the end of next year.

A couple weeks ago, under very suspicious circumstances, and not reported at all by the mainstream media, council approved without any debate a two for one public for private land swap around Hamilton Airport with -- get this -- Senator David Braley, the auto parts magnate and owner of 2 CFL teams, who is widely suspected of being the source of the brief rumour that Hamilton would get any federal funding pulled if it did not kowtow to the current Hamilton Tiger Cats ownership and go with East Mountain as the site of the new stadium instead of the West Harbour which is what council decided on regardless.

Keep in mind, this all going on while we're debating the merits of the so-called "Aerotropolis" which would put commercial development on pristine farmland.

We can't get it straight when it comes to projects that come with the promise of money.   Whether it's public transit or sports facilities or whatever else, we take too long to debate these things -- meanwhile, other cities are shovel ready and the shovels go in the ground the moment the green light is given.   Or we swap land under very suspicious circumstances even if everything is above board and legal.

City government may be government, but many cities in Ontario like Cambridge and Missisauga are run like businesses.   Here it's like a mom and pop shoppe and accounting is done as if we're still on a cash system instead of accrual (i.e. transactions are recorded when they happen, not when cash or equivalent changes hands) as it's supposed to be.

Perhaps there is an argument to be made that there should be a wholesale cleaning of house when the local elections are held October 25th.  The Mayor (Fred Eisenberger) I like.   Some of the councillors -- in fact most of them -- not so much.   But with FPTP, instead of alternative vote (ranking candidates 1, 2, 3 and so on) there isn't much hope unless enough voters wake up; and with only 39% turnout last time I don't see it happening.

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Are our veterans really that expendible?

Yesterday, Impolitical asked the question a lot of us have been asking privately:   Is Stephen Harper a wanabee Maurice Duplessis?    She was writing about how some in the Cabinet want to force out Judge Konrad von Finkenstein from the CRTC and get a new crony that will require cable companies to carry Sun News -- um, Fox News North -- even if we don't want to pay for it.

I have to ask if the same attitude applies to our veterans, especially those who served in Afghanistan or in peacekeeping missions and are fighting like crazy to collect LTD, which Impolitical also wrote about in her space two days ago.   If the comment being circulated was corrected quoted and attributed, that our veterans are better off dead than alive, then Harper and Co. can, I believe, expect the collective wrath at the ballot box equal to that of a single woman scorned.

Don't believe it?   In 1932, American veterans of World War I, sideswiped as many others were by the Great Depression, demanded up-front payment of deferred benefits that were not due until 1945.   The then current Army responded by firing chemicals at the veterans.   President Hoover actually ordered the response to be stopped but General MacArthur ordered a new attack believing the veterans to be Communists.   (Posse comitatus does not apply, it seems, to Washington DC.)  Ordinary people were so outraged when they saw the newsreel footage that they turned out to the polls in droves and ensured FDR got an even larger win than he would have otherwise.    Ultimately the bonuses were paid in 1936, and fresh thinking during World War II led to the GI Bill, which ensures UI benefits and a university education for veterans to this day.

We don't have a draft here in Canada -- our armed service is all volunteer and we try to make sure those we recruit are the very best men and women.   Don't we owe it to them to make sure they're taken care of if they get injured before they complete their twenty?    Judging by the number of veterans' plates, there are a lot more people to whom we owe our gratitude than we may think.    Those who are disabled should get payments indefinitely until they can work again -- not a lump sum and a "slam, bam, thank you ma'am" shove-off.

So what of the analogy?

Duplessis dealt with the unions with a heavy hand; opposed urban development (highways were improved in rural areas to just before city limits -- often right at where riding boundaries were where someone from the opposition had been elected); attempted a legal form of a "Final Solution" for the Jehovah's Witnesses; and stood idly by while Wilbert Coffin was lynched.   All while having an incestuous relationship with the Catholic Church and big business.   (Priests got away with saying "Heaven is blue, hell is red" during election campaigns, ensuring win after win for the Union Nationale.)  The only thing that ensured the end of the "Great Darkness" was television, when people in Québec finally saw the outside world and just how much they were being ripped off.

Change a few players in the present day and we see history repeating itself -- with the proviso that media concentration means fewer media voices and not more.   Harper knows the bread that butters him and he will kowtow.   Judging by the news archives of TVA, Québec's largest network and owned by the same kingpins of the Sun Newspaper Group, veterans are not that important to Kory Teneycke and his scribes either -- the item about the ombudsman at Veterans' Affairs not having his term renewed was at the very bottom of the national news items from Wednesday.   If QMI is the official organ of the Conservative Party just as Fox News is of the Republican National Committee, then we know who's dictating policy and determines what should be news.    And not just the QMI outlets -- even independent outlets owned by Con-friendly interests make their allegiances known on-air at great risk to their tax-exempt status.

A sign of things to come?   I hope not.    Even those of us who are Catholic are not subjects of the Vatican but citizens of Canada.    We should owe no allegiances to the head office of any evangelical religion either -- but it seems that there, too, is where a lot of the hare-brained ideas are coming from these days as well.

UPDATE (1:49 PM EDT, 1749 GMT):   Yeah, I know, I misspelt Duplessis' name.  I corrected it.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

US draws down last of combat troops.

It all started with a lie from GWB and Tony Blair -- about so-called weapons of mass destruction, that were never in Iraq.   It was always about ensuring permanent American and European access to Middle East oil.   Early this morning, the last American combat brigade left Iraq.    There are still about 50,000 troops left ostensibly to "retrain" Iraqi troops to fight against paramilitaries and terrorists but at least this is one election promise Obama managed to keep -- sort of.

The US dramatically increased its forces in Vietnam after the faked Gulf of Tonkin incident.   Remember in school when they talked about the so-called "Domino theory" that pervaded Western policy right up to the 1980s?  The claim that if one country went Communist, others would fall unless we contained it?    Hmm ...  Vietnam is still communist.   So is Laos.   Cambodia, while its constitutional monarchy has been restored, is still heavily influenced by the successors to the genocidal Khmer Rouge.   And there is virtually no hope for Burma ... led by a kleptocratic military junta funded by Mainland China.   The only bright spot in the region, other than Japan, is India -- and even there the Communists (some Marxist, others Maoist) hold power in several states.

Make no mistake ... twenty, thirty years down the road another American President, be he or she Democrat or Republican, will come up with another lie to get Americans into a war that is unnecessary and costly and creates another enemy that lasts for decades.   Don't forget in the early part of the last century, the US forced the so-called "Platt Amendment" on Cuba.   While FDR largely repealed it in the 1930s as part of the so-called "Good Neighbor" policy, latent resentment against what was left of the prior policy (especially over Gitmo) led to the rise of Fidel Castro in the 1950s.

We Canadians value America as an ally, and I hope we remain friendly with them until the end of time.    But the Pentagon -- and the civilians who boss them around -- just seem to have a propensity of constantly shooting itself in the foot.   So today's news of withdrawal is not a time to celebrate, but to pause.   4415 KIA.   31,905 WIA.   655k + civilians killed.    All over a lie.

Speaking of which, the annual memorial ceremony re the Dieppe Raid in 1942 is being held in Hamilton today, about an hour from when I write this.   That too, was based on a lie -- that taking over that beachhead would be a piece of cake.    The Nazis were ready, killing 913 Canadians, 275 Brits and 3 Americans.   True, the lessons we learned set the stage for D-Day, but the fact is the fiasco should never have happened in the first place.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Preston Manning's refreshing view on the oil sands

During the summer, CBC Radio One has been running an excellent series about environment and business called The Bottom Line, hosted by no less than David Suzuki.   The last three episodes were about the Tar Sands, and surprisingly Suzuki actually got a warm welcome in Fort McMurray and many who work in the oil patch that Suzuki interviewed have the same concerns as he does -- especially about the amount of water being used to get the oil out of the bitumen that has about the same consistency as peanut butter.

The third installment about the sands included an interview with Preston Manning -- you remember, "I love that word, Reeefoooooorm!"    To my amazement, this larger than life guy said things that would make our current PM, Stephen Harper and the Alberta Premier, Edward Stelmach, very angry.    Not the least of which was his response to one of the alternatives being suggested on how to extract the oil -- the natural gas that will be piped in from the Beaufort Sea once the Mackenzie Pipeline is built.

Manning pointed out correctly the original purpose of the pipeline was to serve heat homes and power industries in the United States while ensuring a steady stream of income for the Northwest Territories government and the area's nine First Nations (and making them less reliant on federal transfer payments).    It makes absolutely no sense, he said, for one of the cleanest fuels to be used to pump out one of the dirtiest.

To be clear, Manning wasn't saying shut down the tar sands all together.   He was saying, if we're going to mine the stuff, do so in a responsible way and one that returns as much to the environment as we take away.

Keep in mind, this is a very pro-business, small-c conservative guy, the man who basically revived the Social Credit movement that is now the "Conservative" government in Ottawa.   And yet he is a deeply religious man (long ago he hosted the Canadian edition of the "Back to the Bible" radio broadcasts) and one who cares for the environment, someone who understands "dominion" over the earth does not mean "domination" unlike what some others in the religious right think.

Sustainable development means just that.    Creating tailings ponds and replanting only a handful of trees for every hundred or so cut down to strip mine bitumen sure isn't sustainable.   And while new licenses call for underground mining, as for gold or copper, the methods being used to get that oil out aren't all that pleasant either.

The ancients once said there were four elements -- earth, air, water and fire.   We take from the earth, pollute the air, put contaminants in the water and create the perfect conditions for forest fires.   I thought the Heritage Fund that Alberta had was supposed to help diversify the province's economy.    Instead they go into the province's general revenues to maintain its no sales tax and flat income tax status.   The North of the province needs better roads, but if all they're doing is carrying out dirty oil for processing then piped for export to a sworn enemy of Canada -- Mainland China -- then we're shooting ourselves in the foot.    And sooner or later, the oil will run out, even if they are the second largest reserves on the planet after Saudi Arabia (because of the voracious appetite of China and India).

Manning is on to something.   I have to ask why Harper won't heed his predecessor's wisdom.

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