Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The foot which rocks the (Con) cradle

I know, that's a terrible pun.   But the fact that two body parts which were hacked off a torso found in Montréal and then mailed to Conservative Party HQ -- one actually got there, the other was intercepted in the mail -- makes me wonder what message was being sent.

It's worth pointing out the addressee.   Not PMS, but his party.   Any mail being sent to the Prime Minister and the "recognized" opposition leaders (and one would hope, all Senators and MPs as well) is run through a dedicated and high security facility (with x-rays and bomb detector scanners).   But the storefronts for the parties -- they're fair game.   The party leaders all get a car and driver, and 24/7 security from the Mounties.   The party secretaries -- none.

Is somethings wrong with this picture?

Did the mailer really think that no one would notice?   And what if it had not been a body part, but anthrax?    It would take months to decontaminate the floor.

This is not the way to protest the policies of the ruling party.    As much as I don't like the Conservatives as they are now constituted (i.e. a rehash of the old Social Credit movement) no one should abide this truly sick stunt.    Even I would support the maximum possible sentence.

UPDATE (7:18 PM EDT, 2318 GMT):    The second package which was pulled was mailed to Liberal Party HQ.    Now it gets really interesting.    And this is one time the parties, divided as they may be, should close ranks and put their collective foot down.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Deny, deny, deny -- Syria edition (and why sanctions aren't enough)

This past weekend's massacre in Houla, Syria was so uncommonly cruel in its scope that even Russia and Mainland China, which have been vetoing several resolutions due to their arms sales to Damascus, finally said enough is enough.   At least 108 are dead, and quite a few Western states have suspended ties to the Assad régime -- Canada, for instance, kicked out the Syrian legation to this country today, while Hungary is acting as "protecting power" for Canada in that country, for now anyway (as many of the EU states are also telling Syria to take a hike).

Yet unbelievably, when the Security Council voted unanimously to condemn the events in Houla, the Syrian Ambassador to the UN totally denied that anything happened in Houla and that videotapes that documented the massacre had been faked.    Interesting ... except that in the aftermath it was demonstrated that those who had been murdered had been hit with munitions only available to military and police forces.   Meaning it was a government job, or it had been outsourced to al-Qaeda or another terrorist alliance.

It's not we didn't see it coming.  When the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi were assassinated in 1994 at the same time it didn't take a genius to figure out that a major disaster was coming, which is what precisely happened.   After the "Black Hawk Down" incident in Mogadishu, Clinton couldn't even be bothered to send a mere ten Americans to don the blue cap -- and even a token American presence just might, might, have stopped the murder of 800,000.   And the attitude of the Hutu majority -- "What massacre?"

Srebenica.  Just a few months before the Dayton agreement, the town was cleared out of women and children, with "fighting men" told to stay.   It took just a few days to kill 8000.    The UN knew what was going to happen, but thanks to restrictive standing orders could do nothing.   Nothing.   And there were other cities and towns in the three way war where people of Serbian (mostly Orthodox), Croatian (mostly Catholic) and Bosnians (primarily Muslim) were systematically wiped out because of their ethnicity which could often be identified merely by surname.   And amazingly, Milošević denied Serbian troops were doing anything wrong and likewise Franjo Tuđman denied Croatian troops were doing anything wrong (oh yeah, the guy also was a Holocaust "revisionist" -- much to the embarrassment of many of Croatian descent, myself included).

In the above cases, the same "deny" machine quickly kicked in, even with independently verifiable video evidence, followed by retroactive introspection once the worst possible thing happened.   Yeah -- we admit we were wrong after the fact.   Familiar?

I mentioned this a short while ago, but does anyone believe the Civil Rights movement in the States would have been successful were it not for national news coverage?   Even local affiliates of the networks made sure the story got told of police orchestrated massacres, church bombings and lynching -- and the white "Citizens Councils" (read:   the KKK) came up with their own names for the networks:   the Nigger Broadcasting Company, the  Coon Broadcasting System, etc. (you can't make this up) to get the word around "not to trust the networks".    Ignorance is bliss, but knowledge is power and when you have power there comes a point when you're mad as hell (you know the rest).   What finally turned things around?   The 16th Street Church bombing in September 1963 ... when four young children were murdered simply because of the colour of their skin, that's when the civil rights legislation got traction.

If the world had imposed trade sanctions on the US, you can be damn sure that blacks would have gotten their freedom ten years earlier, maybe more.   There's a reason for that -- sanctions only work against government who honestly believe they are working in the best interests of their citizens, or more correctly their constituency.   A travel and trade embargo would have shut the States down -- especially if tourists boycotted the country in mass numbers.

Simply stated, when the home-bound people get fed up and turn against the powers that be, that's when the government reforms.  You lose your power base, you lose your power.

That's exactly what happened in South Africa.   When the UK (because of a backbench revolt against Thatcher) and the US (thanks to a Congressional override of Reagan's veto) turned the screws on the Pretoria government and the economy went into free fall, the ruling party finally had enough of P.W. "Crocodile" Botha and forced him out.

Unfortunately, however, sanctions do not work against governments who are only in it for themselves and their cronies.   Thirteen years of sanctions didn't force out Saddam Hussein, thirty years haven't twisted Iran's hand one bit -- and what a joke North Korea has been; it managed to detonate at least two bombs with the help of Pakistan (supposedly a Western "ally" that still refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist) while still managing to steal food aid and then sell it on the black market; not to mention it can make banknotes of any of the top ten currencies that are obviously counterfeit but can pass for a clean bill and thus undermine the foreign exchange system as well as the trust we have in the "full faith and credit" of our governments.

I'm not the only one who feels things have gone too far.   Sadly, the Syrian government is well stockpiled to keep the civil war going on for months, perhaps years -- even with an ironclad trade embargo and travel ban.  The only plausible solution is outside military intervention and that would mean a limited tactical strike campaign to out (pardon the expression) the Syrian government and finish them off just as NATO did to get rid of Qaddafi in Libya.

Then there are other governments that need to get what they deserve with similar force -- let's see, Sudan and Equatorial Guinea, to name just two.

I don't exactly support extrajudicial executions -- the OBL take down last year would have been more meaningful if he had just surrendered without a fight and gone on trial so he could have be held to account.

But sometimes the only way to get rid of a truly evil government is to take it out by force.   I would, of course, prefer a live capture and trial in the Hague, followed by a life sentence at Scheveningen Prison.

But if any of the heads of state or government happened to get killed in the process -- well, I certainly wouldn't miss them and I suspect a lot of others would not either.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Since when did one need a permit to demonstrate?

Consider:    During the American civil rights struggle in the 1950s and 60s, virtually every southern state tried every trick in the book to maintain the racist status quo.    One was a more than frequent law that said that one had to get a permit to have a demonstration.    Since blacks knew that they would never get a permit by virtue of the colour of their skin, they had no choice but to break the law.    After all, as Saint Augustine said, an unjust law is no law at all.   Eventually, those who were allegedly the violators won the debate in part due to television where whites in the North finally saw for themselves the truth of Jim Crow.

With this in mind, the following thoughts about the tuition debate in Québec.   And as before, this is being played out on television -- in this case, all of the French-language news channels and also getting prominent play in English Canada.   The province's legislation to get the students "back to school" may have cut some slack in that this year will not have been wasted.    But the portions of "Bill 78" (actually, Statute 2012 chapter12) that require permits for protests smacks of Jim Crow.  This includes fines of $5000 per day per demonstrator, $35,000 per day for student union leaders, and $125,000 per day for student associations, for each day the protests continue.

I am not saying Jean Charest is any way like Eugene "Bull" Conner, probably the most hate-filled man who ever lived in America.   I am saying that constraining people from the right to peacefully assemble is prima facie a violation of §3 of the Québec Charter and § 2 of the federal Charter.   Those who vandalize or otherwise breach the peace must face the consequences.   But to presume everyone guilty before proven innocent, as Revenu Québec does par exemple, smacks of authoritarianism.   And the fines are way too disproportionate -- it violates the well established principle in Canada that the cure should not be worse than the disease.

There is no doubt the province, like the other provinces and territories, have been in financial straits to various degrees -- even Alberta whose revenues are way too dependent on royalties from energy, timber and mining and which could take a turn downward if there is a major correction.

But I find it interesting that as recently as three years ago, the province, in the provincial tax packages mailed out or available for filling online (the other provinces, remember, let Ottawa collect provincial income taxes for them) trumpeted the fact that tuition for universities and CEGEPs was way lower than anywhere else in Canada and that income taxes supported that fact.   Even with the major income tax cut that finally happened there around 2009, the money was still there.

If the tuition rates are so out of whack with the rest of the country that an upwards "correction" is needed, then there are far better ways to do it than to impose it on high.   There should have been a process of negotiation at the front end before the provincial budget was passed, not at the back.

I used to have a great deal of respect for Charest.    But casting students in the lion's den, separatist and federalist alike, is no way to govern the most progressive jurisdiction in North America.    His time is up, and the sooner he leaves the better for all of Canada.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Obama's flip-flop for the good

I never thought I'd live to see the day, but finally a sitting US President -- Barack Obama -- has stated the obvious:   Gays and lesbians should have the right to get married.  While he is still a bit cautious about nationalizing the issue, saying it should also be an issue for each state and territory to decide, this is an incredible turnabout from just a decade and a half ago, when Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act which defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman.  It is also a huge 180 for Obama, who until recently, was only prepared to go as far as "civil unions".

Hard to say if this will affect the "get out the vote" machines on both sides.   But if he reversed Don't Ask Don't Tell, then today's pronouncement was inevitable -- especially after Vice President Biden and the heads of the Housing and Education Departments also took their stands in favour in just the last week.

It could very well be that Obama is just going along with public opinion, which has shifted decidedly in favour of same sex marriage in the last few years.   But it takes guts to take a position that is unpopular in many quarters.   Thumbs up from me.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Who's pulling Romney's strings?

Today, David Frum in a column for CNN said the obvious, what most of us in the progressive movement have been saying -- that Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican challenger to incumbent US President and Democrat Barack Obama, has allowed himself to cave in to the extremist elements of the GOP (i.e. the self styled "Tea Party".)   Just a few days ago, notes Frum, Romney was pretty much forced to fire his foreign affairs advisor and replaced that advisor with a former aid to John Bolton.   (Remember him?)

It is worth pointing out that in any other democratic country, a movement or a party with these über kinds of views on such things as immigration, birth control and foreign policy would be coloured on the political maps on TV and in newspapers black -- as in Black Shirts or facists.   In some countries like Austria and Italy, some coalition governments have been built with support of the far right not out of choice but absolute necessity.  In others, like France and the UK, the mainstream parties want absolutely nothing to do with the neo-fascists at the national level, even though such do manage to control some local councils as well as getting seats in the European Parliament in Strasbourg (and presumably has a slight hand in selecting some nominees to the European High Courts in Luxembourg City).

Sadly, the GOP is no longer the party of Lincoln.   It's not the party of Hoover and Eisenhower, or even Nixon and Ford.   Even Reagan would be appalled at what the party has become, with the rightists demonizing the moderates (and thus disobeying The Gipper's Twelfth Commandment, "Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican.")

Even a couple of weeks back, I was of the sense that Obama would win re-election though by not nearly as much as he did four years ago.   The rate things are going, Romney may not even come close -- I wouldn't be surprised if Obama not only holds on to the battleground states he won last time, he may even peel off marginal states like Missouri and North Dakota and just possibly even gain some upsets such as Arizona which is no longer a truly solid GOP state.

The Tea Party will no doubt blame Romney for fucking things up, but it'll be the tea-baggers who will only have themselves to blame (and each other's short and curlies to lick).   Romney is no doubt more competent to handle the business side of things in government but that may not be enough.   On the other hand, I think it would do well for Obama if, presuming he does win, taps Romney to run a blue ribbon panel on government reorganization -- such as Truman did when he hired Herbert Hoover after World War II to do the same -- and which is certainly needed given the huge budget challenges America faces now.   The Hoover Commission made nearly 300 recommendations, roughly 200 of them were implemented and is still remembered today for actually doing something to solve a big problem.

2012 is not 1947 and the executive is in need of a shakeup.   In such an office like Hoover had, Romney would be free to make proposals without the interference of the TBs -- and then present it as an all or nothing proposition to Congress, just as trade agreements are.   Hoover had no problem getting his way last time.   Maybe that was because many people remembered how he handled things when the lower Mississippi basin had flooded in 1928 -- he got government agencies and NGOs to work together.   I think if given a chance, Romney would be able to use the same kind of rationality -- and put the TBs out of their self-inflicted foot in mouth misery once and for all.

But in the present state, Romney is being pushed further and further back.   He's no Le Pen, not by any means, but those who run the GOP at this time would like him to be.   And that's a shame.   He should have the chance to run as the real him, not the marionette that he's become.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Special treatment for Conrad?

So Conrad Black ... um, Baron Conrad Black is out of jail.   On the one hand it's good to see his time in prison has mellowed His Lordship out somewhat and that he's actually starting to see some of the issues of a day with a much more open and thoughtful frame of mind, if Black's running commentary at Huffington Post  does reflect his true views nowadays.   Getting the sense of real people with real views -- i.e. inmates doing time for federal drug charges -- does have a tendency to do that to those who've lived too long in an ivory tower and suddenly had to face reality, whether one believes the charges made against Black himself are actually true, or not.

On the other hand, I find it more than just a bit suspicious he was able to get a temporary resident permit to Canada so quickly.    Many people wait for months and even years for such a pass.   And even if he does get deported to the UK it won't be long before he shows up here anyway -- after all the UK could include any overseas territory including the Caymans, Turks and Caicos, or Bermuda and all have direct flights to Canada.

There is a good reason why immigration and refugee files are usually secret -- because the régimes many flee from have a penchant for torture, bribery, intimidation and so forth.    Not that most democracies are innocent of those practices either but the tolerance level for them is much lower in "The West".   But it's hard to justify secrecy for someone on the A list.   And we're not talking Baryshnikov who defected to the US by way of Canada with the famous help of David Peterson.

I'm sorry, but Black renounced his citizenship here in Canada.   Even if he does have family here he needs to start at the back of the line just like everyone else who wants to come here, whether it's for a work permit or "temporary" residency.   And The Government in power right now needs to give us a reasonable answer as to why he got fast tracked.   Normally only defecting athletes who want to change their flag in time for an upcoming world championship or even the Olympics gets that kind of privilege; and even sports governing bodies have clamped down on this one -- especially FIFA (the International Soccer Federation).

The other option is to come here as a "visitor" which he can do, for up to six months before applying for an extension at a Customs office in any major Canadian city, such extension which is usually given as a matter of course except for those who pose a national security threat; and fighting words uttered orally or cursively in the past don't necessarily always constitute that.

Is Black a changed man?   I'd have to say more likely than not.   Does that mean he deserves a quick welcome back?   Not unless he appreciates the gravity of the offense to which he was convicted, even after the "honest services" law on which basis Black was convicted was rightly emaciated by the US Supreme Court and he got a lesser sentence.   Whether he committed the crime or not (depending on your point of view) his conduct was still rather quite unconventional for standard business practices.   For a country (Canada) that mostly has better B2B transparency laws than even the United States, we have every right to demand answers.   If he knew Hollinger had become a runaway train to disaster, when did he know and what if anything did he do to try to stop the train wreck?

Much too soon, and much too fast.   Give the file to a truly impartial immigration clerk, with a clear firewall between Black and the executive.   Put a time certain on a decision (six months at most) but give Black the same treatment as anyone else who wants to repatriate to Canada.

No more, no less.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Entitled to entitlements: Ornge ™ edition

So today, a former exec at Ornge ™ was disputing the idea that her rapid rise from an ex-lifeguard to a top executive position there had nothing to do with her relationship with her boyfriend who ran the company.   Perhaps she is telling the truth, but one can't help but be skeptical -- and wonder if life is imitating art.

Case in point:

The 1985 comedy film Head Office was a farce starring an all star cast led by Judge Reinhold and Edward Albert, about a slacker business college graduate who inexplicably rises in a cross-industry conglomerate to executive vice president in a matter of weeks simply because he is the son of a corrupt US Senator.   His star is partly guided, however, by his simple honesty such as when he tells the people of a town whose plant is closing that it's because his bosses' greed.    It's only when he gets to the top that he discovers the company which is moving the plant to a Latin American country, trying to help get rid of that country's "totalitarian" dictator for an "authoritarian" one more friendly to the United States.

Where have we heard that one before?

Most companies have clearly defined boundaries about intra-office relationships and even ones between corporate employees and those of their suppliers or their delivery providers.   Specifically, if a relationship is getting a bit too serious that could compromise impartiality then both should agreed to report independently to separate bosses with a clear firewall between the two    When it's the head of the company and one of his immediate subordinates, however, it's sexual harassment at its worse and cronyism at its best.   If "best" can actually count as ethical.

The provincial Liberal government has a lot to answer for on how a private contract could have gotten so out of hand like this.   A medical service of this importance should be owned by and run for the public.   If that sounds socialistic, I make no apologies because there are some things private enterprise simply should not be allowed to handle.

For what it's worth, I think it's also unacceptable that the head of this company, whose almost only client was the Government of Ontario, was making $1.4 million per year.    By comparison, the chief coroner -- literally the province's top physician -- made a paltry $405,000 (give or take).   And the Premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty makes only  $158,000.

And then we get a girlfriend cum communications director cum lifeguard who also rakes in the dough.

What ever happened to accountability, and paying people what they actually deserve, not an amount deliberately concocted to keep key assets from fleeing to the private sector?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Cowards of Oxford County

There really is no other way to describe the killers of Tori Stafford.   And I use the plural because it takes at least two to engage in a conspiracy that leads to the death of a minor.

It's hard to think of another word other than "coward" to describe an accused like Michael Rafferty -- even if he didn't commit the final act of killing of Miss Stafford and it was the other party (Terri-Lynne McClintic) who did, the fact he elected not to testify is disturbing even if it is his right.   If one is on trial for his freedom, especially for a heinous crime like this, it would appear more than obvious that he would call out his partner in crime and point the finger at her    If he at least "manned up" and at least openly admitted to kidnapping and raping Tori that might have given the people of Woodstock a measure of satisfaction (of sorts).   His silence, however, speaks volumes.

The only thing we know for sure is the verdict will be either Murder One or Murder Two.   Even if it's the latter (meaning a crime of passion rather than premeditated murder) it will mean it was indeed McClintic who ultimately acted alone in assassinating Tori Stafford but it will also be no excuse for Rafferty doing the other things he did  to her.