Tuesday, August 23, 2011

DSK walks

In probably his most humiliating moment since becoming Manhattan's DA, Cyrus Vance Jr has dropped all seven charges against Dominique Strauss Kahn in the allegation that he raped a hotel worker, now identified as Nafissatou Dialou -- and the courts have also denied Vance's request that a special prosecutor be appointed.

Whenever money or an immigration issue is involved, it always seems to be one of those cases where it could go one way or the other.   I honestly think that had it gone to trial, DSK would have beaten the charges.   But the fact he had to give up his job at the IMF as well as losing any chance to be the challenger to Nicolas Sarkozy in next's year's presidential race in France makes one wonder theses things.   First, if he is innocent why did he have to get hounded the way he did -- and if he did pay for sex, how much?   Second, if he was guilty, what does it say that he's the latest suspect to get off on a technicality?   And third, if DSK won't be running against Sarkozy, then who?   The Socialists and the other left-wing parties were finally getting their act together for once and prepared to have a unified front in the run-off round and bring an end to 16 years of Gaullist rule.

I shudder at the fact the daughter of the hated Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine, could actually lead the neo-Nazist National Front to a threshold of 20% or more of the popular vote.

On the other hand, France probably needs someone more than just a technocrat.   It has big problems and probably people there as well as Germany and the other relatively well-off Eurozone members are getting tired of bailing out the PIIGS.

In my next post, I'll write about who I think should lead the NDP and how I think the left, whether as a united party or a grand coalition (Orange-Red-Green) should prepare for the War of 2015.

Monday, August 22, 2011

RIP Jack Layton

Shocking news within the last hour, that Jack Layton, leader of the federal New Democrats, has died.

How this shakes down and what it means for Parliament is anyone's guess, but this is no time for a snark attack or schadenfreude

So long, Ka-Taffy!

Looks like the rebels have all but taken control of Tripoli.

Adieu, Moammar.  About the only good thing you ever did was dismantle your nuclear weapons (the only other country to have done so to date is South Africa).   Other than that, you'd better have a good explanation for running your country into the ground.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Trademark this ™ (part 473)

The federal Conservative Party ™ can't have it both ways.   It is going after a retired university professor who is using the party's logo within an ad banner on her website asking why it is Canada severely restricts and in the vast majority of cases outright bans the use of asbestos ™ in this country -- while continuing to provide corporate welfare (i.e. tax write-offs) to the asbestos industry in Québec.

Tim Harper (no relation to PMS ™, I presume) writes about this today in the Toronto Star ™ -- and as he notes, the Cons may have met their match.   Proving the adage that any publicity is good, the issue of asbestos has hit the top of the agenda as well as it should.   Any time someone manages to write the script for talking points and it's not the government dictating to Sun TV ™ and CTV ™ what is news today is a good day in my opinion.

It's worth pointing out the husband (Robert Keyserlingk) of the woman in question, Michaela, was a man who lived an extremely healthy lifestyle (he ran marathons and never smoked) but died from complications of mesothelioma, a result of his inhaling asbestos from a summer stint on board a Canadian Navy ship.   For her part she has said she would take down the so-called offending "C" if only someone in the government would explain to her the hypocritical stand the feds have taken.   She does concede the trademark infringement but points out that on "the human level" PMS has nothing to stand on.

Yet Team Harper seemingly has no issue with pro-life groups using the legally trademarked logo with the stylized Canada and maple leaf flag on its protest banners at the annual marches on Parliament Hill.

Nor does it seem that it's entirely willing to go after the multiple blatant misuses of the Red Cross ™ trademark in the public and private spheres, such trademark which along with the Red Crescent and the compromise "Red Crystal" have protection above all other trademarks in Canada -- even though our national Red Cross Society has a snitch page and lawyers more than prepared to go after offenders from the most innocent to the most blatant.   (The only people not related to the Red Cross movement who are allowed to use the symbol are military medics.)

The crazy thing?   Robert was a Conservative Party supporter -- in fact, he was chair of the Ottawa Centre district, the district that includes Parliament.

This is totally different from the Red Cross ™ (which of course should be protected)   This also isn't Barbie ™ (the name of a doll as well as a restaurant chain) or even Mikes ™ (a vodka lemonade brand and several unrelated restaurant chains, all of which seem to have an informal look the other way approach to the situation).   Heck it's not even Ray's Pizza ™ in New York City (there are about 46 of them at last count, none of which are related to each other in any sense).   The next thing we'll are networks getting sued for using the Cons' logo (as well as that of all other parties) in their newscasts.

Rather than threaten a lawsuit, Canada's Not So New Government ™ should just admit they're wrong about asbestos ™, shut down the mines ™ once and for all, and find another way to employ the people left in the Eastern Townships ™ that still work in the pits

Trademark ™ that ™, PMS ™ ! ™

(PS  In other news, CBC ™ has gotten a one year reprieve to go all-digital in 18 smaller markets -- another victory for the little guy especially in rural areas where CBC is all there is with rabbit ears.  After all, the CBC is the only government owned company that the feds can't directly manipulate its editorial content over, without facing repercussions from we the people.   It also gives Mother a chance to sell the soon to be vacated bandwidth to the highest bidder and not necessarily whom the CRTC deems appropriate -- the corp could use the money.)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Enter stage right -- WAY right -- Rick Perry

Just as former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty -- probably the only guy who's close enough to the centre that he could actually beat Barack Obama in next year's presidential race -- withdrew his candidacy, current Texas governor Rick Perry announced he's running for President.   If you thought Dubya was a nut for believing God actually spoke to him and speaks to him still, fasten your seat belts.

Perry has some really out there beliefs, proven by the fact he hosted a so-called "non-demoninational, apolitical Christian prayer meeting."   All of the following statements were made by some of the worst of the religious right, all unchallenged by Perry:
  • Oprah is a sign of the Apocalypse.  -- Mike Bickle
  • Blackbirds are dying because of gay soldiers. -- Dr Cindy Jacobs (she also two women kissing a "plague on society")
  • The Statue of Liberty is a demonic idol. -- John Benefil (he also thinks homosexuality is an Illuminati plot to control population growth)
  • Hurricane Katrina was retribution for New Orleans' "sins" -- John "I still believe Bill Clinton murdered Vince Foster" Hagee.   This long-time champion of Israel actually had the temerity to say Jews only have themselves to blame for the Holocaust!
  • Gay rights movement "from the pit of hell" -- Dwight McKissic, denouncing comparisons between gay rights activists and the civil rights struggle of the 1960s.
  • Jesus opposed the minimum wage -- David Barton, also a gay hater.
  • Children of gay people are like the orphans of 9/11 -- Jim Garlow, who also thinks black America is the reason the so-called "gay rights agenda" has not gotten much traction.
  • It's okay to have a "faith based" militia -- Jay Swallow (he also wants tribal casinos to be shut down)
  • Black Americans are "cursed by homosexuals" -- Willie Wooten
Oh, and did I also mention that Rick Perry is known to be anti-Catholic (in a country where 25% of people are nominally of the Catholic faith, and in Texas it's 28% -- not a monolithic pack but certainly an influential one)?   And he's managed to anger conservative Catholics for requiring all teenage girls in Texas to get the HPV vaccine, while infuriating liberal Catholics by saying he doesn't care if gets any votes from Catholics.

Or the fact his governor's office has repeatedly blocked an investigation into the possibility, which now seems better than just probable, that an innocent person may have been executed on Dubya's watch?

Funny, there are wildfire and tornadoes in Bible Belt Alley, but you never hear anyone on TV's Bibleland say anything about "God's punishment" regarding that.    Or the fact that Judge Kenneth Starr reviewed the Foster file -- twice -- and told Congress what five other investigations had found out:   Foster committed suicide, plain and simple.

If one judges someone by the company they keep, then we're not just dealing with the totally off-base "Name It and Claim It" (i.e. Blab It and Grab It) crowd.   We're dealing with a Kingdom Now cabal that wants to tear down over 200 years of the separation of church and state.    One thing many has admired about America is that while it is generally religious it does not place church above state, or state above church.

It's sad that it takes "straw polls" (which don't even count for any delegates at conventions) to whittle out reasonable candidates and bring forward the crazy ones.   This is 2000 all over again, except there's general gloom about the economy, multiple wars and a population that is bereft of hope but still angry enough they don't want a return to fear and loathing.    If Perry somehow manages to come on top of the GOP race, I think Obama is going to whip his butt big time.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Adieu, Wendy

It's hard to imagine a world without Wendy Babcock.   She died three days ago at the age of 32.   After a truly horrible life including life on the streets as a sex trade worker, she fought back by getting her GED and then winning admission to York U's Osgoode Hall Law School.   She was getting ready for her third and final year.   I think she would have been a sensational lawyer.

I cannot express adequately what so many others have far more eloquently.   I can say that I am privileged to have met her and to have had her as a friend.    There has been so much said about what we can do as a legacy to her.

Frankly the best thing that can happen in terms of "legacy" is for the feds to admit they're wrong and instead of fighting to keep the laws that impede the sex trade against the workers and treats perpetrators favourably, to rewrite the laws so that those in the profession are protected and it's the predators -- those who would harm street walkers and their children -- who face the legal consequences.   There is little doubt in my mind that when this reaches the bench of the Supreme Court of Canada the decision of the trial judge in Toronto will be upheld and a legal vacuum will exist nationwide unless it is plugged up fast.

It's never easy to admit one is wrong on something.    Wendy changed a lot of people's minds on the subject -- including mine.   Rest in peace, sister.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Latest Fed decision, and de Tocqueville on bombastic simpletons

The US Fed dropped its usual pretentiousness and the technocratic language often used in its statements on interest rate decisions and was remarkably clear in yesterday's decision, in which it pledged (by a vote of  7 to 3 with two abstentions) to keep the rate banks charge each other at the previously stated target of 0 to ¼% for at least the next two years.   Short version:  The economy in the States is growing but much slower than anticipated.   How bad is it?   I was shocked to learn the other day that over 50 million people in America are on food stamps -- one in six!

The rationale for a target zone is that banks can't really charge zero interest.   Otherwise the administration fees on money market funds would actually cause the safest paper equivalents to lose the principal.   But in the wake of yesterday's decision, the actual target rate for interbank loans was at 0.17%, even lower than the long term loan rate in Japan which is 0.3%.   And the rate in London is at 0.2%.   When money is that cheap and no one is borrowing. not even banks from each other, something is wrong with our fundamentals.   And given how interconnected our economies are, long term slag in the US or the EU is bound to affect Canada -- our AAA rating is not in danger by a long shot but we'll need to get more creative and not just rely on resources or a low dollar like we used to.

How was it possible that things have gotten to this?   Well a lot of it has to do with politicians and media pundits offering simplistic solutions to the most complex problems and stripping off people who might find appeal in one concept or policy plank, but would retch if they knew what the whole platform was.   Add up enough peels and you get a majority and carte blanche.   And what should be priorities get shackled off for other things of less importance.   Eventually, the chickens come home to roost.

Certainly investing in the military industrial complex and law enforcement over and above the priorities of ordinary people who don't have the power to object or fight back (and the power brokers banking that they never will) is part of the problem.   But so is the problem of charisma.

There are people out there who remember when Mrs Thatcher was called "Scrooge with a painted face" -- a reference to her slashing school lunch programs in the UK.    Investing in education is meaningless if kids or teenagers go to school hungry.

Similarly, it's hypocritical for the "pro-life" crowd to fight to restrict or even ban abortions while at the same time slashing funding to programs such as WIC (the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program) -- in effect telling women, you have to have the baby and you're on your own raising it.   That is the exact opposite of humanity -- and why while I'm pro-life I will never join any pro-life group that undermines parents' rights to raise their children with dignity.

It's almost impossible to listen to talk radio these days without laughing.   Most shows on the right and even many on the left are so out to lunch they don't even take five minutes to check all of the facts.  If they did, their positions could be mollified just enough that there could be the beginnings of some kind of consensus that could bridge the chasm that now exists.

Reading through the classic tome Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, I found this interesting section about what is often called style over substance or being just plain bombastic.    One paragraph that explains such morons as Glen Beck or Rob Ford on the right; Keith Olbermann or Dick Daley on the left:

[T]hey hope to catch the eye of the crowd at once and easily keep it fixed on themselves, an object in which they often succeed.   For the crowd seeks nothing in poetry but objects of vast dimensions; it has neither the time to measure the object set before it accurately nor the trained taste to sense how easily they are out of proportion.   Writer and public join in corrupting each other.  (Vol II, Part I, Ch. 18)
 The second volume was written in 1840 (Part I was 1835).   Over 170 years later, it adequately explains the sinkhole politics have become in much of the free world.

At least there is some satisfaction that at long last cuts in military procurement is actually on the table and will take place in drastic form in the US if the poison pill kicks in on December 23rd.   It will no doubt anger the right but one has to start somewhere and it needs to be in the areas where both the right and left find "third rail" issues.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

UK lights up -- is Canada next?

While no act of law enforcement, and no austerity measure, can justify the kind of rioting that has happened in the UK the last few days, one cannot help but appreciate the need to vent.   These are not easy times and budget cutbacks can only fuel that frustration.   It also doesn't help when an alleged gang member (and these are only allegations right now) who is also the father of four is the target of racial profiling and ends up dead in a shootout.

There is a difference, though, between peaceful assembly and "going postal".   When you damage people's places of business and even disrupt public transit (one of the trams in London's south side has gone offline due to vandalism to the power lines), you affect the lives of those who may initially empathize with the cause but then turn against it because of the violence it entails.

One sees that the British PM has cut short his vacation and recalled Parliament for an emergency session to deal with the riots, while 15,000 extra cops have been called back from their vacations to patrol the streets of London.    One also cannot help but think of the Amadou Diallo fiasco, which we now know was a case of mistaken identity -- and, if it happens to be the case here, will prove to be a huge black eye for both David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson, the latter of whom was actually born in NYC).

What started as a peaceful protest in London's Tottenham section has spread to 32 of the 33 boroughs with "The City" (i.e. the financial district) due in line as well as several other cities.   When "the cure" is worse than the disease, none of us are better of.   I support the "broken windows" concept of fighting crime, but not at the expense of civil rights.   At the same time, there can never be a just cause for wanton violence and those responsible for such acts should and must be held accountable.

Is Canada next?   I certainly hope not.   But in the age of instant communication, images like what we're seeing across the pond will certainly rub off the minds of some in these of  "The Colonies."    Policies that divide rather than unite are bound to make people angry.   And it will take only a spark to get the fire going.   It may happen sooner than we think or hope.

Monday, August 8, 2011

When "Free Trade" ain't free

In the absence of any long term prospect for a Free Trade Area of the Americas, Canada has decided to go it alone and try for bilateral agreements.    This started with the Chrétien Liberals but has continued under PMS.

To date, we've signed agreements with Chile, Costa Rica, Panama, and Peru.   Of these, Costa Rica was the most ill advised because of its refusal to do anything to stop the child sex trade and continuing to admit into the country as "tourists" people who have solely as their purpose for their visit exploiting minors.    A new agreement is due to come into effect with Colombia but that too was a terrible decision because of Colombia's appalling human rights record and a still ongoing drug war.

Now the PM is visiting Brazil promoting the start of talks for a free trade agreement with it (and quite possibly the other countries in the Mercosur grouping:  Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay -- Venezuela's pending membership is on ice because of objections from Paraguay), and also another FTA with the "Central America Four" of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

I've often written here in my space that Canada should not limit its sights only on the US and Mexico, that we need to have looser restrictions on trade with other countries as long as they have a record of generally playing by the commonly accepted trade rules.   That explains our agreement with EFTA (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland) and the pending comprehensive trade and labour agreement with the EU.   And why we have also signed bilateral agreements with Israel and Chile.

The problem is that "free trade" is a misnomer.   The more accurate name is a "permanent most favoured nation status" treaty -- that is, a country that is granted MFN status by a third country will be treated no worse or better than any other country also given MFN by the same third country.

Real free trade, as commonly understood (the truly free movement of goods, services, capital, people and information between member states) only exists in two zones in the world -- the Mercosur and the EU.   And it's the EU that has really taken it to levels even its founders could not have imagined not just with open borders and a common refugee asylum policy but also a common currency (for most), agriculture and sales tax collection policy.   It even allows for hot police pursuits across national borders with limits.

But things certainly aren't perfect.   Take mobile communications.  We Canadians are all too familiar with what happens when we get too close to the border with the US -- our cell phones may already think they are in the US and we get charged with huge roaming charges.   But this gets worse in Europe because it is possible to cross many borders without even noticing within mere hours.   It is especially bad in Northern Ireland, roughly the size of Connecticut, where as many as one third of calls can be routed through the South.    It gets pretty annoying having to constantly swap SIM cards. 

More important is that the EU has long insisted new members abide by certain human rights policies.    There are some hypocracies in this such as how some countries within the block treat ethnic minorities, such as the Roma.   But it does insist that general respect for humans for potential new members is a must, as is respect for generally accepted national boundaries    This explains what is holding Turkey's membership up on two fronts:   Its illegal occupation of North Cyprus, and its continued persecution of Kurds and Armenians.

In my opinion, it was wrong to negotiate a trade deal with Mexico not because of its low wages but because of its bad record on police procedures as well as a never ending drug war which has gotten only more intense in the last few years.   And to be bald, no thinking person should have even contemplated talking to Costa Rica or Colombia until they showed signs they were genuinely interested in cleaning up their acts.    Looser trade restrictions over time should be linked to progress in areas of justice and basic human rights, with permanent MFN the end of the road.   Then and only then can real restriction loosening can begin -- starting with a customs union and slowly progressing towards the final goal of monetary union and unrestricted movement of peoples.

Brazil has come a long way in this regard as have the other countries in Mercosur.   But the Central America Four?   The Soccer War between Honduras and El Salvador was forty years ago and the border between the two still has not been fully demarcated.   Daniel Ortega is back in power in Nicaragua and he has severely restricted the rights of women.   The ceasefire has held in Guatemala but just barely and not long enough (it's just been four years) to demonstrate it has changed its ways for good.

So, I say -- if a country has proven its worth, then yes.   If not, then no.   Don't just open the barn door and expect only fresh air to come in if the apple core is rotten.   That's why it was a mistake to grant MFN to Mainland China.   Free trade ain't so free if it means compromising our principles.   Any country that doesn't acknowledge their misdeeds and tries to bully its away should not be given the time of day.   And that also applies to Canada -- beginning by finally shutting down the asbestos mines.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The other shoe drops in the States

Finally, at least one of the bond rating agencies in the United States has owned up to its hypocrisies -- and slapped down the country's long standing credit rating, from AAA to AA+.    The press release indicates that the agency, Standard and Poors, apparently reconfirmed its decision even after running the numbers a second time at Obama's insistence, this time using the purported $2 trillion in budget cuts that are supposed to be negotiated by a special blue ribbon committee to be struck by both houses of Congress any day now.    And S&P has also given a "negative outlook" warning meaning it reserves the right to downgrade the rating again any time within the next 24 months.

In the short term it may not mean that much -- perhaps a quarter to half a percent hike in the overnight rate banks charge each other, to about 0.50%.    But as S&P points out, it's not just the fact the US debt to GDP ratio has now hit 100% (the agency says 74% but it pushes up to a hundred when you consider long term obligations for social services), which means the economy will have to grow at at least that rate for the foreseeable future until it gets its books balanced again.   It's also the fact the current budget process and the game of chicken that both parties but especially the self-identified "Tea Party" but more properly called Tea Bagger faction of the GOP was so irresponsible that it pushed to the indefinite future not just cuts to non-discretionary programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security (which will eventually have to be done) but also the much harder decisions on raising new revenues (i.e. tax hikes).

While the agency says it takes "no position" on the proper revenue and spending mix, it does nevertheless frown on what the process has degenerated to.   And it also points out that compared to similar fully developed countries, Canada is at about 35% of debt-to-GDP and even France has managed to contain its ratio to about 83% with a long term plan to bring it down.   With that kind of math, it's no wonder the US was due to lose its rating.

I think we're going to see a significant correction in the markets in the week forthcoming.   I also think that both parties do have themselves to blame.    It's not just the ticking time bomb of entitlements which need not have been if some had been willing to touch the third rail and tinkered just enough to ensure stability of payments as well as growth in the trust funds (incredibly, the US is the only country that still forbids the trusts from investing in the markets -- unlike Canada where we have the Caisse de Dépôt and the CPP Investment Board.   I'm not talking privatization, I'm talking about getting the best of the best from the investment community to ensure long term growth.

The other big problem is that the US is the only country that spends more on military procurement and salaries than it does on its own people, both military and civilian.    Other countries (and democracies no less!) have strong militarism but also a strong sense of social solidarity, that it's "all of us or none of us."    This has never existed in the US and has always been dismissed as "socialism."

While the present budget deal contains a poison pill of sorts, that fifty percent of future cuts will have to come from the Pentagon if no new appropriations settlement is reached by February 2012, it still lets both the Tea Baggers as well as the labourites get away with murder and the same games that have existed since the present shape of government was set up by the Hoover Commission (as in Herbert Hoover) in 1947.   Not to mention the ever encroaching growth of the military industrial complex that Eisenhower warned of fifty years ago and will continue to exist if the TBs don't realize that it's hypocritical to demand cuts to funding for the arts and public broadcasting but not to the bases or armouries in their home districts.

The markets have made their decision.   The elected officials had better get their act together and super fast if we're going to avoid a double dip recession that was entirely their own making.   And it also makes the case for new trade and monetary arrangements that don't involve the intrusion of the United States.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

$10 million is the new $137 million

Only in Hamilton.    When Ontario deregulated power in 2002 (huge mistake still, in my opinion) it was left to the local utilities on what to do with the new local power companies which legally had to incorporate separately from the cities they were in.    In our case, the book value was set at $137 million which went into a trust fund.   That fund, appropriately the Hamilton Futures Fund, was only intended to support sustainable community projects with a net payback that over time would increase the nest egg, not diminish it.

What have our city fathers and mothers done?

Let's see -- refurbishing Ferguson Avenue (once an awful street with a rail line going through it but now a pleasant cobblestone path).   Rebuilding the Art Gallery.   Pitching in towards the Dieppe Memorial on the beachfront.   And some money for local food banks.    Okay, some worth in that.

But since that time, the money has eroded for projects of no worth whatsoever or even worse to contact local property tax increases.    Uh sorry.   That $137 million was our money, the goodwill we put into the local utility, one of the best run of its kind in the country when it was city run.   Now ... [signing something between so-so and meh]

The city of Hamilton has finally dropped the ball by approving a $50 million withdrawal from the Future Fund for the local Pan Am Games projects (or what few we have left).    And the money is a giveaway, not a loan, and it has been made clear we will never get it back.

If this was most countries, it would be considered vigorish, a bribe.   Here, we just call it a handout to Billionaire Bob Young, owner of the Tiger Cats.   This is the quid pro quo for the "compromise" of renovating Ivor Wynne.   We just give him most or all of the fifty mill and never see it again.   Balance left in the account:   $10 million give or take.

What crap.    Soon as I am able to, I'm leaving this town.   I'll admit to many faults, but this is corruption to the nth degree.