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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