Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Perry doesn't know how to shut his big mouth

Less than a week to go before the Iowa caucuses.  And Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) has chosen to fan the flames.    First, by associating with the most unscrupulous of televangelists (which I wrote about a few months back).   Now he has come out (pardon the expression) against an entirely predictable but still unwisely chosen target.   Courtesy of Ginny Grimsley's News and Experts site comes this short piece from Shay Dawkins (thanks to Ginny for letting me and other bloggers use this column):

Gov. Perry’s Anti- Gay Christianity Is Not My ChristianityBy: Shay Dawkins
Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s anti-gay “Strong” TV advertisement has been getting a lot of air time in Iowa in the run up to the Jan. 3 Republican caucus. It’s also getting some surprising reaction among his fellow conservatives.
I, for one, am happy to see that his ad failed to win the endorsements of a couple of key anti-gay groups: the American Family Association and Family Leader. Because Perry’s Christianity is not my Christianity.
I’m a heterosexual raised in the Pentecostal and Baptist faiths deep in the Bible belt state of Alabama. I studied the Bible in search of the Scripture that commands Christians to judge homosexuals and I didn’t find it. Instead, I found just the opposite. For my book, The Good News: How Revealing Delusions in Christianity Will Bring Peace to All, (, I also looked for the biblical basis for other “Christian” beliefs, including opposing abortion. I didn’t find it.
In the “Strong” ad, Perry says, “I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian but you don’t need to be in a pew every Sunday to know there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military.”
Why would it matter whether a soldier is homosexual or heterosexual?  If he or she is ready, willing and able to defend us, our country and our freedoms – including Christians’ freedom to be Christian – isn’t that all that matters?  Perry’s Christianity brands gays as evil. It seeks to turn “God-fearing” heterosexuals against their fellow man. That is not my Christianity. The true message of Jesus and the Christian Bible is to bring people comfort, not misery; promote unity, not division; and bring hope, not fear. 
It’s not Jesus or the Bible that teaches Christians to be intolerant – it is other Christians. The Bible says that we should judge/condemn only people who act with the intent to hurt or harm other people (Romans 14: 13). It tells us to love our neighbors, welcome strangers, and even to love our enemies.
Jesus states that “his commandment is to love one another” (John 13: 34).  The Bible goes as far as stating that “all the law of the world is fulfilled in one command: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5: 14) and that “without love a person with everything has nothing” (1 Corinthians 13).
Perry likes to conclude his speaking engagements with “Here is what I want you to leave with: Somebody’s values are going to decide the issues of the day … somebody’s values are going to be installed. The question is going to be whose values? Is it going to be those of us of faith or somebody else’s values?”
He does not understand that his “religious beliefs/values” are based on other men’s beliefs and values; clergy often are taught what to believe in seminary.  Perry’s “faith” is based on man-made, false religious doctrine -- “somebody else’s values,” as he likes to say.  I’ve combed through the Scriptures and rather than finding support for Perry’s stand on homosexuality, I found a half-dozen verses that tell us homosexuality is not “sinful” for everyone.
No one should judge or condemn anyone else for being heterosexual or homosexual, atheist or believer, black or white, fat or skinny, attractive or unattractive.  The Bible instructs us to be slow to judge others as “you will be judged by the same amount that you judge others” (Matthew 7: 2) and “to not make snap judgments of others” (John 7: 24). 
Imagine a world where people judged and condemned only for how people treated others.  I’m not sure if peace on Earth is possible, but I do know the world would be a much happier place if everyone lived by the Golden Rule, “treat others as you would like to be treated” or as Jesus stated, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22: 39).

About Shay Dawkins: Shay Dawkins is a Tuscaloosa, Ala., businessman who grew up in Baptist and Pentecostal churches. His observances about how Christianity can be divisive despite being based on one book led to his analysis of the Bible. He is the author of “The Good News: How Revealing Delusions in Christianity Will Bring Peace to All” (

My comments:

While I have to say that I am not surprised, it is truly troubling that it has taken this long for the US to acquit itself of the issue of LGBT persons in the military.   Worse, that "Don't Ask Don't Tell" continues to be a talking point, and it still continues to be debated after DADT was repealed -- long after all its allies in NATO, with the exception of Turkey, declared it's not an issue at all nor should it be and that not only are such persons welcome in the military but to discriminate against them will come under the same scrutiny as discrimination on the basis of race, religion or sex.    

Here in Canada, for example, we lifted the ban in 1992, during the Mulroney administration.   That's right, it was Mulroney, not Chrétien or Martin.   And far as I can tell, Harper has no intention of making it an issue again.    Perry is a paleolithic guy on this one:   He'd turn the clock back to before DADT and send the "guilty" to a term in a military brig before being dishonourably discharged.    Now, he also wants to ban abortions even in cases of rape or incest.   And with nothing to offer women as an alternative either.    Perry wants to bitch about unfunded mandates.    Maybe someone should bitch to him about his being a "Christian" who only accepts fellow Christians who fit his definition of one.

What are America's top priorities?   A sane person would say, jobs, strong families, and making America respected.    Rick Perry seems to think America's priorities should be big business, letting televangelists continue to commit financial acts that would be considered tax evasion in the secular world, and making America a laughing stock.    Nice choice Iowa has.   No wonder why a loser like Newt Gingrich looks so much better by comparison.   Yikes.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

North Korea: Moving the doomsday clock closer to midnight

It's been a little over thirty six hours since North Korea revealed that Kim Jong Il died from an apparent heart attack on Saturday.    It was well known that Kim was in ill health for years but his passing poses a huge risk for the West.   Having dealt with Libya with mostly flying colours and disposing the world of Osama bin Laden, US President Obama now has to figure out how to deal with the new devil inside, whomever he might be -- and it is definitely a he; I can't imagine the military leadership of the PDRK ever taking orders from a woman.    It is by no means clear Kim's youngest son Kim Yong Un, has taken over notwithstanding the state propaganda.   (The country does have a prime minister but the post is as toothless as it was during the pre-Gorbachev USSR).

There's an old saying that danger presents both a crisis and an opportunity.    This may be one of the very few chances we ever get to disarm the North and to make it a democracy.   I have no doubt that one or more of three things will happen in the present uncertainty.   One, the North will detonate another nuclear missile to prove it's a serious world player.   Two, it will finally succeed in launching an unarmed three-stage rocket -- which means it can launch a payload, nuclear or not, at Alaska or Hawaii, making it not just America's business but all of its allies including Canada.   Three, it will go all out and go for what it has long threatened, a land attack at the South.

There can be no question who will win -- the South -- but it would come at a terrible price.   Easily, a million civilians would be "collateral damage" making Iraq II look like a picnic.   Second, the huge sums of money needed to rebuild the North would cripple the South even with aid from the IMF and the World Bank both of which are just about tapped out with the crises in Europe and saving the rainy day money for the inevitable bailout of the United States.

This isn't like when East Germany was annexed by the West or South Yemen by the North (the former in both cases the communist regime).   In both cases, the formerly socialist regimes had relatively well developed infrastructure and a well educated workforce; and both got a huge consolation prize when their respective capitals were ultimately chosen for the reunited country.    Korea is a different beast -- even Mainland China concedes that reunification will eventually have to happen and it will be a Seoul regime rather than a Pyongyang one (if WikiLeaks is to be believed).   Seems the only thing North and South can agree on is when reunification does happen the anglicized spelling of the country will be with a C instead of K (as in Corea).

The North has been rightly called the "hermit kingdom" because a) the people there have literally been starved to death, perhaps two million or more have died because of Mr Kim's zeal for the bomb; b) the North's people are on average four inches shorter than their much healthier Southern brethren; c) the supreme leadership is very much an elective monarchy.

I think that this could be THE issue that tests Obama's foreign policy credentials.   He may have had major successes this year in foreign  policy, but he also needs to avoid having a huge policy failure.    This is one he can't afford to lose.   Indeed the world can't.    A few years back, the "Doomsday Clock" in Chicago had gone all the way back to seventeen minutes to midnight with all the disarmament agreements that stuck.   Thanks mostly in part to the belligerence of three countries -- the US under Dubya in Iraq, an anti-Semitic maniac in Iran, and North Korea's politburo -- we're now at six minutes to doomsday in a proverbial sense.

I still believe we had a chance if the world had gone after Iran, not Iraq, first.   But now, the first order of business is North Korea.   I'm not exactly sure I like anticipating how the next few weeks are going to roll out especially with primary season in the States now upon us.    Canada's role?   Who knows -- we may be one of the few countries with direct ties with the North but even that's been on ice for quite some time, given the nature of the country.

With power comes responsibility.   Especially when your country can make weapons grade material like we in Canada can.   Not that we would ever make a bomb, but the more the number of rogue states that have it, the more legitimate countries will want one as a deterrent.  If more of our allies want one then there will be pressure for us to have our own rather than "hosting" allies' missiles too.   And that will mean open season for terrorists who will seek to attack any nuclear power plant to get the secret fuel to make a dirty bomb.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What's in YOUR drinking water? In Hamilton it could be Scotchgard ™

Several months ago, back in the spring of this year, Radio Canada ran an investigative report regarding the run-off of chemicals from John Munro International Airport at Mount Hope, the highest point in Hamilton.    This was prompted after a lot of fish and turtles were turning up dead downstream in Chippewa Creek which supplies Lake Niapenco and onward to the Welland River.   This water system is the drinking source of water for residents of the mostly rural Binbrook section of the city who haven't been hooked up to Lake Ontario's supply, but also for many rural residents in the Niagara Region.

What did the reporters find in the water?   Something called Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, or PFOS.   PFOS was until a couple years ago the active ingredient in Scotchgard ™ and was also used in flame retardant foam.   The kind you'd find in fire trucks.   Radio Canada discovered through lab tests that levels of PFOS were twenty times the legal limit of 10 parts per billion.    And what makes it worse, is that PFOS has a half life of five years.   Meaning it persists for years, and the concentrations add up the more you drink it.

Two years ago, the 3M ™ company, when it recognized the problem, reformulated what comes in the cans and barrels with another chemical that has a half life of only one month -- meaning it breaks down much faster over time.

It's not just the fish that have been affected.    In the States, there are PFOS excess levels in bald eagles, polar bears, minx and two species of the dolphin just to name a few.   And public health officials have found kidney cancer clusters from exposure to excess levels of PFOS; and it affects all age, sex, racial and ethnic groups who are exposed, equally.   Not to mention how it compromises the immune system.

The story was quickly picked up by the alternate media in town (View Magazine for instance) but it wasn't until this fall that mainstream outlets got on the story.   Two days ago, the local city council said it should be the feds who should pay for the cleanup.   This after it was learned that the provincial Environment department might slap the city with a cleanup order.      The argument the city makes is that the airport fire training facility was used not just by Hamilton but by fire departments in other cities -- that Hamilton only makes up for 10% of the total.

Well, shouldn't it be the company that made the stuff -- 3M -- in the first place, that has to pay, at least a large portion of the damages?   Maybe they didn't know what it was, at first.   But if it was causing problems, why wasn't anything done then?   It would not have been hard to recall the product.   And it wasn't like 3M was the only company making flame and fabric retardants in those days -- efficacious substitutes were available.

I lived out in the country for about three years as a kid.   My parents and I moved back to the city largely because of water quality issues -- even though ironically it meant the school I attended, the same school in fact, was actually now further away from me and I had to take a school bus.    That formerly country area has now been cemented over for suburban housing.   But barely 500 metres away, the country begins again (in part due to a hard urban boundary that is enforced).    Rural folk have the same right to clean drinking water as those in the urban landscape.    They shouldn't have to worry about what's in the water -- whether it's sewage run-off from a week ago, or persistent chemicals that stopped being used twenty years ago.   I thought the rule was, the party that caused the problem is the one that should pay to fix it.   That means 3M.

Someone once asked, what price progress?    Indeed.

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree (Justin edition)

I knew it was bound to happen sooner or later.   And it did yesterday when Justin Trudeau, son of Pierre, called Environment Minister Peter Kent "you piece of shit."    At least Justin apologized.

Of course there was no excuse for it -- but entirely understandable given that Kent was giving a patronizing answer to an NDP member when he was trying to explain why opposition members weren't invited in on the Canadian delegation for the Durban talks.

Frankly I don't think the elder Trudeau ever apologized for saying -- well, you know, "fuddle duddle," at least until years later when it was much too late to apologize.

I know it's coming close to Christmas when a lot of fuses need to be lit.  But there's a time and place for it.   Question Period isn't one of them -- even if it's the place the Exempt Media focuses on most.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Kyoto backlash

It's been over a week since my last post.   Too much has been going on but I did want to talk about Peter Kent announcing Canada is pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol, or rather forcing the world to pull out of Canada so we don't get fucked with $14 billion in penalties.    It's not too surprising the Conservatives doing this -- they said all along they would.    And the worldwide reaction is entirely deserved and proves just how out of step the dogmatists on the right are with reality or with public opinion.    But there are two things that are bothersome for me.

First is the messenger, Peter Kent, a former news anchor.    Back in 1978, he had the courage to resign the anchor chair at CBC English when Pierre Trudeau was deliberately interfering in the newsroom by Trudeau ordering the network to cancel the live broadcast of a speech by René Levesque in favour of one from Monsieur Pirouette himself.   The demotion Kent got -- Johannesburg, still reeling from the murder the previous year of Steven Biko and when people on this side of the planet were finally beginning to realize that segregation and state sponsored terrorism was alive and well.    Later, he came back to co-found The Journal with Barbara Frum and Mary Lou Finlay.    He also was distinguished in the media in other respects but he earned those credentials by having his own mind.

But now, Peter Kent is a total lackey for Stephen Harper.   He has even admitted, long before he got the environment portfolio, that he he only uses language pre-approved by the PMO.    My only conclusion from this is that he doesn't even try to convince Harper the times when he is patently wrong, even if it is behind closed doors.   A country where the Cabinet takes its instructions directly from the head of government rather than it being a group of senior advisors that tries to make decisions by consensus, no longer has a Cabinet.    It has instead a variation of a Central Committee.    Communist minded states call theirs a Politburo.   I don't know off hand what the term would be for a right wing government would be but I believe that is what we have here today in Canada.

I suppose the next thing is that the Weather Office, part of the Environment Department, will be ordered to stop issuing tornado or hurricane warnings, so as not to offend the "Christianites" who dominate the ruling party because the fact such storms are becoming more powerful because of global warming doesn't ... well, they just don't like facts, period.   Even if the storm is coming.

But the second thing, and what is more worrying, is how this action has further made the point that Canada can no longer be trusted to be an "honest broker" in world affairs.    That is to say, the sense that no matter where we stood with our allies (the US, the UK, Germany, Japan, etc.) we were also willing to bring often hostile sides together to some form of consensus, and in the process the often red hot tensions that this world often were cooled down before boiling over.    In some capacity we still have this in the fact that we "protect" Israel's interests in Cuba (as the two countries still do not have direct ties).

I'm not saying the Liberals were entirely blameless in this.   Actually, there should have been much more consultation with the provinces since natural resources and electrical production are, under Article 92A of the 1867 Constitution, the provinces' "province."

Nor am I saying the provinces should have had a veto (this is impossible for treaties anyway, and it would make the Balkanization of Canada even worse than it is in Belgium, where Dutch-speaking Flanders, French-speaking Wallonia, the small German-speaking community, and the city council in Brussels each have vetoes on changes to the EU structure.)

But Canada at the federal level, had they listened just a little more, could have set more realistic targets that could have been easily beaten and then exceeded.   In fact we could have quite conceivably achieved the Kyoto goals without having ever committed to doing so.

There was precedent for this happening at around the same time during the nineties -- when we put ourselves in a much stronger financial position by setting worst case scenario targets for fiscal balances; which led to strong surpluses, a big reduction in debt to GDP and an end to income tax bracket creep.   The provinces for the most part also benefited from better fiscal positions even after the shock 1995 poison pill budget that offloaded a lot of the cost for social programs to the provinces.

But Canada has in a fairly short period of time made itself look bad.   We are going to have to be held to account in some way or another for the fallout from the tar sands, clear cutting and strip mining.   Whether this is a penalty that Harper claims no longer has to be paid (I think it does, actually) or poorer relations even with democracies that share our values of basic human rights and free elections, this is unacceptable.    Pollution does make its way around the planet.    Don't forget that the fallout from Chernobyl, Ukraine was so widespread that every part of the permanently inhabitated planet experienced some trace levels of radioactive isotopes.   With only one exception -- the Falkland Islands, according to the CIA.

What a comedown from the 1990s, when we led the world in banning CFCs and leaded gasoline, and pushing a convention to ban all land mines.    When we pushed the US to adopt clean environment policies -- in the 1970s, about the only thing Trudeau was able to convince Nixon on.   And on it goes.

I'm not going to say I'm ashamed to be a Canadian.   Of course I'm proud to be one.   But the definition of what it is to be Canadian has undergone a huge redefinition this week.   And for that, I am embarrassed.

UPDATE (2:50 pm EST, 1950 GMT):   Minor corrections and clarifications.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Channeling the Mad Man of the Airwaves

No sooner did a "third party" manager come to take control of the financial affairs of Attawapiskat than he was told to get the hell out of Dodge.   Chief Theresa Spence must have channeled Howard Beale when she said that her band of 2800 Cree were "not going to taking it no more."   Surprised she didn't add, "We're as mad as hell."   Because the events of the last few days have been as outrageous as what has happened -- or not happened rather -- over the years.

Of course it is perfectly reasonable for us to demand what happened with $80 million over the last few years.    I for one would like to know that.  But sending in a white "manager" in a grey suit is as insulting as when Britain kept sending Governors General to Canada a full 21 years after we became formally independent in 1931.   The band is more than capable of hiring its own auditor and if there is funny business going on the band members can vote out the chief and the council and hire people who will do the job right.

Most places, if a new school is needed, it can go from blueprint to finished product in a year or less.   Attawapiskat has waited eleven years, and counting (so the Liberals have a lot to answer for on this too).   Most places that get flooded out are abandoned as the population is moved to higher ground.   This place and others like it keep getting flooded out, and what happens is squat.

Of course, it also doesn't help that all of James and Hudson Bays are severed from the North American road network.   This can be a problem not just for getting supplies in during an emergency but also people out.

There is a small hospital there but serious medical emergencies require MEDEVAC transport -- flying sometimes several hours to an available bed in a far away city.   $1200 an hour -- to start.   It's supposed to be covered by insurance but there is always that nasty co-payment which is a lot higher than for a land ambulance.  ($125 or more)    And the acute shortage of doctors is especially acute on tribal lands.   The bonuses offered to have doctors work full time and on an extended stay basis just don't seem to be enough incentive -- and while we should be opening up opportunities for more aboriginal doctors many teens commit suicide before finishing high school.

And lastly, there is that piece of legislation called the Far North Act which was written and passed by the provincial legislature with very little consultation with the aboriginal and non-aboriginal people north of Algonquin Park.   Our northern resources need to be better managed to ensure prosperity for people of all races, to make the North less dependent on the South while helping the South with balancing the books.   But not at the expense of exploiting the good nature of miners and forestry workers as well as making a mockery of Treaty 9.   It's interesting that this legislation managed to unite natives and non-natives, business and the labour movement but that didn't seem matter to Pointy Head.   And as far as the feds go, as long as they have the veto power who cares what the little people think?

How much blame can be pinned on poor management of transfers by community leaders?    Hard to say.   But a presumption of guilt, that is a reverse onus, is contrary to our system of laws.   I'd put my foot down too.

For a so called fresh start on the aboriginal file, both Harper and McGuinty have failed Canadians big time.

A pinhole light of hope

Despite the deliberate ballot stuffing and other dirty tricks that Vladimir Putin tried to pull in this week's elections to the Duma, Russia's Parliament, the "United Russia" party fell well way below the two-thirds majority needed to unilaterally change the country's constitution.   In fact it couldn't even muster a simple majority.   Maybe the people of that far-off land woke up and said that they wanted to have no part of Putin getting yet another six or even twelve years in office (the term for President was recently extended from four to six years).

There are protests on the streets of Moscow tonight despite an official ban.   Maybe an ominous sign of things to come, or maybe (one hopes) the next step of the people getting their country back from the apparatchiks and the Mafia.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Cain identity

Yesterday's decision by Herman Cain to drop out of the GOP Presidential stakes (technically, suspending, a legal loophole that allows him to reallocate donations made to him to another candidate or a PAC) really wasn't surprising nor was the timing.    But it was inevitable.    If it was just one woman making sexual harassment complaints it may have raised some eyebrows.   Two, three, four ... there was a problem.   Then a fifth claiming to have had a consentual affair with Cain, game over.    Pretty sad for a man who built an entire pizza chain (Godfather's ™) from the ground up, then was elected by his peers to run the restaurant lobby in DC.

Sexual harassment is, perhaps needless to say, a serious charge.   If made falsely, the women should be charged with perjury.   If true, Cain is lucky just to been able to write a cheque and make it "go away."

The comparisons to Clarence Thomas, however, are perplexing.   That was about a man accused of harassing one woman, Anita Hill, while he was chair of -- of all things -- the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and right at the time when it was arguing in the courts that such harassment amounted to discrimination (which it was eventually successful at so persuading).   Such bad talk at a government agency should have been flagged before Thomas was allowed to sit on any bench, let alone the Supreme Court of the United States.

Of course, judges don't get paid a lot compared to the huge responsibilities they carry, including rendering judgments that could send a person to jail or death row and forcing corporations into bankruptcy.     But a businessman with that kind of influence, who had a great deal of respect from blacks as well as whites, to risk throwing it all away with remarks or conduct that was anything but cute ... would Americans want to trust that kind of man with a button?

It's not his denials, but the way he denied it.   Frankly, paying off someone to drop a lawsuit, even if the payer is innocent, doesn't leave a good impression.   He could have been a serious challenger to President Obama but he let it slip away by not regaining control of the discussion.   With money comes power and, if not exercised properly, arrogance.

His exit probably means that America won't have a discussion about a national sales tax, the only major democracy that doesn't but almost certainly should.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Harper's "Office for Relgious Freedom": Another Newspeak front?

Dubya got into a lot of hot water in many circles with his so-called "faith based initiative" (which President Obama has actually continued and broadened to include people of faith who are LGBT) and now Harper appears to want to go down the same path with something called the "Office for Religious Freedom."    Internal memos obtained by the CBC through a FOIA request indicate that Team Harper wants to sidestep the obvious question, whether "promoting religious freedom around the world" is just a way to masquerade a true intent to let Con-friendly denominations dictate the national agenda.    Just like the Department of War became the Department of Defence and "Welfare" became Human Resources Development, this is potentially a new front in the game of Newspeak.

I absolutely agree that you can't have religious freedom without free speech and vice versa.    But I also happen to believe that when one is elected to government he or she has a duty to the community at large and not just specific interests, to work for the liberty of all and not just for some.    Specifically, to understand that the "Great Commission" does not mean refusing to take no for an answer.

I note that two lines were blacked out in the disclosure, regarding how the government chose who to consult with on how the Office should be set up.    All that was left was a smarmy line about picking people dedicated to freedom of religion.    Naturally, what was censored should leave one asking who they chose -- was it those who favour their own freedom of religion at the expense of others who don't have the same religion?    You can't avoid the televangelists in late night or the weekends.    The way most rail against Muslims is a concern.    Most televangelists shamelessly support the Jewish cause when their own grandparents most likely supported the Holocaust (without explaining the change of heart), but some through weasel words show their contempt for the Chosen People.    And yes, many also rail against Catholicism, in a country where a plurality, 42% or thereabout, are Catholics.

I have said before and I'll say again that while I accept the fact faith based groups are part of the delivery end of social services, that is because I and others who accept that fact do so because such groups make a clear distinction between service and proselytizing.   Blurring that line violates the accepted separation of church and state.    Harper is playing a dangerous game if he thinks he can start a war of words between religious groups based on religion.    Wars have started over such fighting words.   Just look at Yugoslavia.

Besides which, the Office isn't needed.    We already have the "Rights and Democracy" bureau which while somewhat tainted over the years is serving this purpose among many others.    Why waste money with duplication?   I thought Harper was a provincial rights advocate; this seems to go against that kind of thinking.  He was supposed to have been for openness but the censorship even at this level makes me ask what needs to be hid.

The Salvation Army, World Vision, the Kairos partnership -- those are great examples of faith based groups who serve the community at home and around the world, and who promote freedom of religion at the same time without rubbing our faces in it.   The government should certainly promote that freedom as well, but they should follow the lead of the groups who have figured out where the line is drawn.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Déjà vu 2011 style

If this is déjà vu all over again, well it is.   Fearing another crisis like the one in 2008, during the US election no less, those who control the supply of money are again swinging into action.   And once again it's making me ask about our complacency about these things in Canada.

In the last hour as I write this, the central banks of Canadam the US, the Eurozone, the UK, Switzerland and Japan are once again coordinating currency swaps to prevent runs on the euro and the greenback.   The rate the central banks are charging each other will be Fed Funds plus 0.5% -- or just under 0.7%; as well swaps that were due to expire in August of next year have been extended until February 2013.   It seems to have had its intended effect at least short term -- the Euro went up nearly a cent and a half in the last hour and short term bonds in the US have increased their yields to just over 2% for the first time in quite a while.

So far this year, 90 banks have failed in the United States.   The rate has slowed down considerably from the peak of 157 for all of last year which is a good sign, but it's a constant reminder that while we may have a structrually much more sound banking system in Canada we're not entirely immune.    A lot of our banks' capitalization is still denominated in greenbacks and euros as are future debt obligations.    A huge devaluation or revaluation (one way or the other) could have huge effects on a bank's stability.   The Superintendent of Financial Institutions has the right to seize a bank, trust or insurance company if it is teetering, but even short term effects while that bank is being flipped to a more stable one can cause a panic.

Yes deposit insurance is supposed to stop a run on the banks, but there are a lot of people who don't even know such a thing exists, and they could either go postal or drop dead from the shock of a failure.   Even in the best case scenario for a failure, it would be a huge headache to change payment authorizations for expected deposits from entitlements and pay cheques as well as withdrawals for bill payments.    You just can't write an old cheque on a new bank account even if it is the same physical plant; and far as I know, although there is competition for B2B cheques, there is only one company that makes personal cheques in Canada and it can take two weeks to get the new wallet book (hello, Competition Bureau???)

Any time a central bank prints more money, or even creates it virtually, it makes me ask if things will get worse before they get better.    Somehow Canada this morning found it was able to extend the loans it gave to the US for a few more months -- a couple years after it found $30 billion out of nothing at all.    Is something wrong with this picture?   If we were Joe or Jane Blow, our asses would have been foreclosed ages ago.   State immunity my ass.   The is real money we're talking about, money that shouldn't even exist.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Attawapiskat Outrage

It is simply inexcusable that people should have to live in third world conditions in Canada.    Yet that is how people in many First Nations (FN) communities across Canada do live.    And it gotten so bad in Attawapiskat FN, Ontario -- 694 km (432 miles) northeast of Thunder Bay, and which can only be reached by plane from places such as Timmins and Kapuskasing as well as Ottawa -- a reservation on about the same latitude as Red Deer, Alberta is so bad that even the Red Cross doesn't know what to do and has asked for help from other NGOs.

Bad enough that everything has to be shipped in which increases costs.  (The Northern residents deduction, which reduces taxable income by about $3000 per person plus eligible travel costs, doesn't begin to cover the gap between what we pay for food in the South and those in the Great White North do.)  Bad enough there is a huge unemployment rate there and despair to the level that nearly 40% of youth choose to end their own lives.    The notion that any home could be uninsulated or could have no running potable water is outrageous and disgusting.

How can this be tolerated in a country of plenty, especially in a part of Ontario that is within a new "Northern ring of fire" with vast supplies of diamonds (clean, non-conflict diamonds), nickel, copper, palladium, platinum and possibly new sources of gold, silver and cobalt?   As the original owners of the land, Aboriginals are entitled to at least a fair share of the royalties.   Whatever the rate is, a fairer share would be a huge first step in and of itself to lifting people up there out of despair.

(The rate of the royalties which is as much as joke to begin with, isn't as bad as the fact that the royalties are going into general revenues rather than into a real sovereign wealth fund to compete with those in Norway and Mainland China, and the fact such a fund should continue to have inflows as long as the mines and forests haven't been totally exhausted -- but I digress, that's for an upcoming post.)

Instead, Pointy Head McGuinty creates "Five Year Plans" for Northern Ontario (yes, 5YPs, like Eva Perón did for Argentina, no wonder they still think she's a goddess -- as did Mao for Red China and Stalin for the USSR), and the feds shirk their responsibilities also especially with education.   Still no plans for a permanent school rather than one in a moulding portable structure.   Oh sure, they can say they have spent $80 million in the town over the last few years.    If that's the case why is the community still $16 million in debt?    If mining encampments can be built up rapidly and with much more humane living conditions a relative stone's throw away, then what is the problem?

And not to forget the media's role in their shirking of responsibility as well:   The community like so many "up north" only has repeaters, or translators, of big city TV stations which rarely if ever cover issues of import to the First Nations, focusing only on events in the larger and more accessible towns.    And the networks wanted to put these communities into everlasting darkness with the transition to digital earlier this year -- but were ordered by the regulators to give the "little people" a reprieve.   I have to admit I'm surprised that Attawapiskat has high speed internet -- many other FNs still have only 56k dial up.

It's not just Attawapiskat.   This is just the tip of the iceberg.    There are reserves here in the South that are pretty bad -- Six Nations just south of Hamilton is one example -- but that is nowhere compared to this monstrosity.   Even the still non-gentrified sections of South Central LA or Harlem, Manhattan are better than this.  Seriously.

And I think this is the first true test of how much of a "compassionate conservative" Stephen Harper thinks that he is.   Words are trite.   Actions, however constituted, are the real truth.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

When you can see the rebar sticking out, you have a problem

The idea behind reinforcing concrete with steel rebar is to ensure the concrete doesn't rip itself out during the expansion and contraction caused by temperature swings.

Yet just walk or drive around Hamilton.   You can easily see one or more rebar lines sticking out of light standards, overpasses, tunnels and so forth.   It could just take one bad weather event, or a major spike or crasg of temperature (say, in the order of 20 degrees Celsius) over a few hours for one of them to go Timber.   The city couldn't claim force majeure on this one, because they are supposed to be maintaining the infrastructure to a good standard.   Just as it is responsible for potholes, it too would be if a poorly maintained light pole comes tumbling down.

This is am embarrassment and an accident just waiting to happen, just as it has on several occasions in Montréal.   We pay some of the highest property taxes in the country and this is what we get?   Would it hurt too much to strengthen what's there if it is too much just to replace it all?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Who's protecting YOUR water?

This should really make us all wake up: Someone from Russia (it could have been the government or a private interest, we don't know yet) was able to remotely shut off then back on a second later a pump in Springfield, the capital of the state of Illinois -- and in so doing destroyed it.    While the other pumps kicked in for backup and there was never any real danger that the water in that city would become non-potable, the question is:  What was protecting the system?

According to the US Department of Homeland Security:   A three digit password.   That's it.   Presuming each character was one of the 256 possible in ASCII, there would be 256^3 possibilities, or 16,777,216.   A simple P3 250 MHz processor (like, over 10 years old), could crack the code in less than 0.07 seconds just by running through the possibilities one at a time.

Even in the age of the Tea Party, there is general agreement that there should be a basic standard for safe drinking water -- and that it needs to be protected at all costs necessary.   Does this make you feel safe?   We spend billions fighting wars overseas to no discernible end and yet we can't make ourselves safe from the interconnections that could threaten us.     Red China threw out the lights in Rio de Janeiro some time ago -- purposely.   If Russia or China were to do the same to us, should that not be considered an act of war?

Water should be no different.    We need to draw the line and say our water is ours and we mean to protect it.

A three digit password ... really.    Like we protect our treatment plants any more securely.   Isn't there a case to be made that some of our most important infrastructure should be completely off line permanently so they can't be hacked?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A reply to my tar sands entries

In response to some of my recent posts about the tar sands, I got an e-mail the other day in reply that was quite compelling enough that I asked the writer if I could use it here.   He agreed provided I not use his last name.   I am okay with that, so here are some thoughts from Jared:


Dear Robert: 

I'm a long-time reader, first time contacter of your blog posts. I really enjoy your blog in general, particularly in that you aren't rigidly left- or right-wing, something that I really like a lot. As an Albertan, I would however like to comment on what you said about the oilsands:
One of the funny things is that, for all that Alberta is the most conservative province in Canada, even we can become economic nationalists when we feel it's in our interests to do so. The royalty rate review we had a few years back in Alberta was convened because a lot of people weren't convinced that enough of our oil wealth was staying in Alberta. I somehow doubt it would have been convened if the Alberta Liberal and NDP parties were the only ones who wanted it. There's also a considerable movement in Alberta to have more of our bitumen refined here in Alberta, or at least in Canada, rather than shipping the raw material to the U.S. Even our former Premier Ed Stelmach likened it to selling off the raw topsoil on the family farm! 

The other thing I wanted to mention was the discussion about Alberta requiring improved oil extraction processes and the notion of Alberta's oil being "dirty". Although Ezra Levant and others are making an effort to promote the idea of Ethical Oil, what they seem to forget is how much Eastern Canada relies on "dirty" oil from overseas. One thing I'd like to know is what Levant et al. have to say about this question-I personally would love to see stronger energy links between Eastern and Western Canada if it benefited both parts of the country. And judging by the reaction among many Nebraska landowners-people who aren't known for their left wing sympathies-to Keystone XL it's clear that there are still a lot of questions still in the air about how oil is extracted and developed in North America, and it'd be a big mistake to assume otherwise. 

Of course, although there are still issues we need to resolve over oil and gas development, the idea of shutting down the Alberta oilsands is absolutely ridiculous. Doing that would destroy Alberta's economy and give Canadian unity a major kick in the teeth, to say nothing of all the problems it would cause for the Easterners who come out here to work on the rigs and then send money back to their communities. Besides which, it should be pointed out that many of the better players in the oil industry are making a commendable effort to develop the tarsands in a more sustainable fashion. Many of those oilmen are probably avid outdoorsmen themselves, and have friends or family working in the agriculture and ranching industries. They have a vested interest in a healthy environment too. Unfortunately, some anti-oilsands activists seem more interested in portraying the energy industry and its workers as evil moustache-twirling villains who seem to wake up every morning plotting about how they're going to pollute the land today, when all they really are is people who are just trying to make a living. 

The danger here is that we end up with a polarized debate where you're either with someone, or you're against them. On the one hand, any pertinent questions about oil and gas development are dismissed out of hand and the people who ask them are insulted and mocked, or those who try to defend the need for the oilsands are condemned as corporate sellouts and stooges. I don't know what the answers to the debate are myself, but I do know that blithely dismissing concerns over development out of hand or trying to shut down the tarsands aren't going to get us anywhere. 

All the best,

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Railway bridges are falling down in Hamilton

You'd think that if a bridge carries a railway then it should be the railroad company that pays for repairs and/or replacement.    Not necessarily.   Hamilton has about 400 bridges across the vast city, many of them downloaded to the city years ago.   And there are seven, all of them for the steel wheels, where no one is sure who owns them.    Another, the underpass that carries Centennial Parkway away from the QEW, is a rail bridge but is actually owned by the city -- and is crumbling fast to the point where it will have to be replaced for at least $12 million, even more if a third line is in fact built for the extension of commuter rail to Saint Catherines.   It's supposed to be 85% to the city, but the older a bridge gets the more it costs to replace; guess who pays for that.

(A larger map of the railway bridges in question is here -- when we say Hamilton megacity this is what I'm talking about -- the inner city is mostly pedestrian friendly but the outer areas are vast distances and not served by any public transit at all; and infrastructure costs both in and out are paid by everyone.   One of the most notorious is Kenilworth, where four lanes narrow down to two on each side and it keeps flooding during major storms causing traffic tie-ups.)

So much air has been spent on amalgamation and deamalgamation (the latter of which will never, ever happen -- with the exception that maybe the northwest of Flamborough could go to Cambridge and the northeast of same to any of Burlington, Halton Hills or Puslinch -- or a split, based on telephone boundaries -- but that's it) that we have failed to spend the basic money to fix what we have.   It's outrageous that ownership hadn't been determined long ago.   And even so, I'd much rather have my tax dollars spent on fixing those bridges so we can improve freight and passenger rail, as well as eliminating all level crossings (with adequate flood protection) to speed up road traffic, including public transit ... rather than all the money we're spending just to keep the Tiger Cats in town (i.e. a new Ivor Wynne stadium or whatever it'll be called when the naming rights go up for sale.)

How will DSK beat off this one? ... pardon the expression

No sooner did Dominique Strauss Kahn manage to stave off sexual assault charges in Manhattan than he now faces allegations he has ties to ... a call girl.   In northern France.   For €500 to 1500 -- a night.   (The French newspaper L'Express has much much more in their article published last night -- sorry, it's only in French.   Over 20,000 sent and 10,000 received SMS messages as well.    Even more remarkable -- he had his flings with the call girl while negotiating high stakes bailouts in his role as then IMF chief, including a €25 billion lifeboat to Ireland.

And he thought he wouldn't get caught?   And incredible he was able to fuck a woman not his wife and fuck a once great country not his homeland at the same time -- and not give anything away.   (Or did he fill the spare not just with wild oats but also super secret information that even most financial insiders would give their gold fillings for?   If he did he betrayed a heck of a lot of countries as well.)

I thought American politicians were stupid when it came to their tabs and slots.   But this goes way beyond the foibles we see south of 49 and north of the Rio Grande.    If DSK had any outside chance of still getting the Socialist nod to challenge Sarkozy next year, this will have finished that once and for all.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

From the drive-in to the Crystal Cathedral ... and back again

The in-Chapter 11 Hour of Power Ministry is so over its head that it reluctantly decided to sell off its flagship piece of real estate in Garden Grove, California.   The bidding war for the Crystal Cathedral has come down to three candidates, but only two of them are really credible, reports the LA Times:   the Disciples of Christ affiliated Chapman University, which would buy the property (essentially wiping out its debts) and then leasing the building back for a buck a month; and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County which would promptly turn it into its new cathedral (after giving the church formerly run by Robert Schuller Sr a three year stay of execution).

The Times story suggests that the Chapman proposal would only be delaying the inevitable complete shut down of the ministry; besides which, Rev Schuller is also in court fighting for what he claims is a contracted $350k per year allowance for his and his wife's rest of their lives as well as the copyrights to all his sermons and video and radio appearances.   (The Chapman proposal offers to buy out the family for a lump sum $2 million.)   It should be pointed out that while Chapman U is one of the things keeping the OC afloat, other than Disneyworld ™, it has also managed to attract faculty that gathers scorn from both the right and the left.   I'm not too sure what's left of the church would want an association like that.

As for the RC proposal -- well, Schuller has long come off as a proponent of the ecumenical movement, pointing out the similarities of Christianity rather than what divides the global Church.   During the 1970s, he even had Archbishop Fulton J Sheen ("Life is Worth Living") on his show on several occasions, and numerous Catholic guests (ministry and lay) since.   Some of Schuller's parishioners however aren't necessarily that open minded.   Getting the "get" would be a jackpot prize for the Roman Church without question (although with all the sex abuse scandals, you have to ask where they can get the money).   There would also be an irony too -- the reason why newer churches of all denominations have used regular glass instead of stained is to show that that church is looking out into the world; however, it also means the world is looking in and holding it accountable.

Perhaps Schuller forgot about that which is why his former ministry is now in the fix it's in.

I wonder too, whichever way the bankruptcy court rules, if the sale of the Crystal Cathedral might also mean the end of the spectacular annual Christmas Pageant the HoP puts on every Yuletide -- the biggest one of all.   It has never failed to sell out and competes for prima donna with the series of concerts at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah.   But seemingly lost in the message is that to give of your excess, not build up more and more of it -- to lay up treasures not on earth but in heaven (Matthew 6:20).

I'll give my donation money to those who actually give back to the community, openly -- or who practices the "reverse tithe," that is giving 90% of one's gross to charity and living off the remaining 10.   Rick Warren, also an OCer, lives by this principle (since he earns so much from book and podcast royalties, he can afford to live just off his church's stipend while handing over the royalties to medical mission and AIDS prevention causes).   Billy Graham, too, has long chosen to live a very simple life despite raking in $89 million last year and sitting on a foundation with $341 million in assets.   Compare that to Frederick KC Price who drives a Rolls-Royce ™ (because "that's what Jesus would drive if he was here today") or Benny Hinn -- don't get me started again on him.    As far as Schuller -- well, until the financials were forced open in bankruptcy court we weren't even allowed to know about what finer things he chose to live off of.   And remember his air rage incident?

It'll be interesting to see how this turns out.   Because either way, no amount of "possibility thinking" will get the Schullers their church back, or the wholeness of their family which had been ripped apart even before Chapter 11.  (I was going to type "positive thinking / living" but that was Norman Vincent Peale, who also practiced what he preached.)

UPDATE (6:26 PM EST, 2326 GMT):  A couple of points -- first, the bid from the diocese also offers a campus swap -- cathedral for cathedral -- so the Schullers wouldn't be totally out of the cold.   But that would be quite the spectacle, a mass desanctification and rededication ceremony for both buildings.   Many are already speculating that, even if Chapman wins, after a few years it would just kick out its "tenants" anyway and sell the CC to the RC of OC for a profit.

Second, in case you were wondering about the drive in reference -- that's how the church got started, at a drive in theatre and the fact people can still drive right up to the glass of the complex itself.

I have to wonder if everything started going downhill after the brutal rape and murder in 2002 of a little 5 year old girl who was a parishioner there, Samantha Runion; or the 2004 on-campus suicide of Johnnie Carl Jr, the music director (remember when that was breaking news on CNN -- the gunshots being fired in the empty sanctuary during a pageant rehersal?).   And while the church has traditionally stuck to a form of "blab it and grab it" it has really ratcheted that up since daughter Sheila took over.   Not a good sign ... and definitely against the ethic of Chapman's parent church, the Disciples of Christ, which appears on the face of it to support the principles of the Social Gospel, the exact opposite of the Word of Faith.

Bottom line ... again, it will be the Diocese that gets the Crystal Cathedral.   Not if, but when.

Monday, November 14, 2011

If you can't track the guns, you can't track the criminals

The Brady Law in the States, which is supposed to ensure felons don't have access to guns (they are supposed to be flagged by a background check), has proven to be a joke, the NYT reports today.   In just one state -- the State of Washington -- nearly 3300 convicts have had their "right to bear arms" that they forfeited, restored.   In one case, a man out of jail for just two months shot dead his girlfriend's lover -- then forced the dead man's fiancée to dump him into a river.     How did he get the gun?   They were in safekeeping through another friend while the guy was doing time in jail; and the judge who paroled the man said he had no choice under state law even though the judge knew the suspect was a ticking time bomb.

Here in Canada, of course, gun ownership is a privilege and not a right.   I know of some people who are perfectly law abiding but would never be allowed to get a gun license because of various mental health issues.    But it raises a question -- with the Cons bent on abolishing the long gun registry, are we about to become the outlaw country that the United States is -- and an increasingly woman hating one, thanks to the mostly white supremacist religious right and the even more non-white hating and misogynist Tea Party (two sides of the same coin)?

Or that Switzerland is?   While some of its very lax gun laws have been somewhat tightened to comply with general policies in the Schengen open border area that it joined in 2008 after much internal resistance (trade and tourism were the deciding factors in finally giving in), the fact is that most domestic violence incidents that result in death are the result of mandatory firearms possession (every male in Switzerland must possess a rifle until they are at least 30, 34 if they have served as officers).   The rate of firearms ownership there is about 50% higher than Canada (per capita) but only half in turn as that in the United States.    Part of the history is a long standing fear of invasion from its "enemies" but since every country that surrounds Switzerland is a fully fledged democracy and all of which are trustworthy enough to have open borders with, it's more an anachronism than anything else -- albeit a lethal one.

However, one of the reasons Switzerland has a higher conviction rate is that all guns, regardless of size, must be registered and provided with a unique ID number.   That makes guns easier to track and to finger the shooter (since missing weapons must also be reported).   It is true that there are quite a few unregistered weapons there, but if you get caught there you will more likely than not forfeit the right to possess a legal weapon.

Some in this country of Canada go to the old canard that we were trying to make criminals out of legal gun owners, and that a lot of unregistered weapons were making it across the border anyway, which is why the registry has to be abolished.   I agree that some of the penalties for non-registry are ridiculous and need to be revisited; but if we're getting rid of a $2 billion tool that police rely on, doesn't getting rid of the bathwater actually make their job more difficult and make the Harper government guilty of dereliction of duty -- not to mention it actually goes against their promise to be tough on crime?

You can't have it both ways.   Either you get tough on crime and increase the penalties for misuse of a firearm or the illegal possession of one, or you relax the rules on both.   Going at cross purposes (getting "tough" on one but easing up on the other) is a recipe for disaster.   The provinces and territories are well within their rights to say, if the feds want to get rid of the registry, they'll maintain their own -- and this I would support provided that they maintain a unified system rather than a "Balkanized" one.  The jurisdictions would also have every right to demand just and timely compensation for what would be another unfunded mandate on top of the one the Cons are creating with their "crime" bill.

Put it this way:   It makes as much sense as having capitalism in a country with a dictatorship -- sooner or later the regime must fall.   It happened in Yugoslavia, it's happening across the Middle East and eventually Mainland China too will rise up against its communist masters and usher in democracy.   I would welcome that day.   But then we'd better be prepared, because if we can't keep our own country safe from lead paint imports from "over there" heaven help us when we let people through with their firearms and rifles, in full view and not merely concealed, because we said it's okay for our own people.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Keystone XL delayed; and how many Wal-Marts does Hamilton need?

It was a big surprise but also a delight to hear that Hillary Clinton's State Department has ordered Trans Canada Pipelines to reconsider the proposed route of the Keystone XL project, in particular the section that would have gone through Nebraska's Sandhills.   As a result final approval has been put off until sometime in 2013, a year after the next presidential election; but it also means TCP has to go back to the drawing board and write a whole new environmental assessment.

The States won't be off its addiction to oil for a long time to come; but while I as a Canadian would welcome our American cousins ending its purchases of OPEC oil and buying more of ours (which would also, in turn, improve the national security of both countries), that does not automatically make tar sands oil "ethical" by any means, no matter what Ezra Levant has to say about it.    There are absolutely cleaner ways to extract the liquid gold from the bitumen but these projects only account for maybe 1 or 2% of the total.   Unless Alberta forces the issue by increasing royalty rates or requiring improved processes, I think the US is well within its rights to defer the issue.


Also this week but little reported, Wal-Mart ™ got approval to build yet another store in Hamilton, this time at Fifty Road (so called because it's fifty miles from the US border) and the QEW at the far eastern edge of the city (the Winona district).  Ah yes, the sleepy community that gave us the Thomas Brothers (Dave and Ian) will be home to a "supercentre" when there are already WM hyper-marts on Upper James, Wilson Avenue West and Rymal Road East.   (The fifth, a conventional department store at Eastgate, is scheduled to close and move up Centennial to the QEW, two interchanges west of the Fifty Road store; and the new store will also be a hyper-mart; and if reports are to be believed, there will also be a sixth at Centre Mall in the next year or two and it could very well be a hypermart too).

Yes.   The Hamilton mega-city, an area double the size of Toronto, will have six WMs compared to Toronto which with five times the population gets by with just eight.

To be fair part of the project does include a transit hub -- this part of Hamilton is poorly served at present by public transit; one presumes both local bus service as well as commuter bus and rail (GO) will improve a great deal.   If it gets people to carpool then transit, that would be great -- it certainly has helped Toronto which has long had transit hubs in the outer 'burbs.   And there is talk that this store will have a "green" format like the location across the harbour in Burlington (solar and wind power and recycling water on site -- an "off the grid" store if one will).   A measure of long overdue corporate responsibility -- but it doesn't excuse its anti-union sentiments.

I plead guilty to shopping at Wal-Mart, especially the one stop shopping stores (there is actually local food and the price makes it worth the drive) -- but come on.   Six?    In most parts of the States there is nowhere near that kind of saturation.   A quick search shows down the highway in Buffalo they have five locations (with double the population of Hamilton).   Niagara Falls (both side) has a total of three and they get WAY more tourist traffic than either Hamilton or Buffalo.

I don't know what to make of this but I have to consider that the road signs at the entrance to Hamilton says "One City, Many Communities" and "City of Waterfalls" (125+, although about twenty or so of them don't really count because they're drainage overflows that spill over the Niagara Escarpment that slices through the city).

It would be more honest to call Hamilton "City of Wal-Marts."   Steeltown is no longer true and "Art is the new steel" is catchy but only applies to a few gentrified areas of the city where the arts has taken off.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Perry's brain freeze

Last night, Rick Perry, the most bloodthirsty governor in American history (he has permitted 234 legal murders and counting) had a major big time brain freeze when asked what three agencies he would try to cut from the US government (presuming of course Congress agreed).    It's not just how he stalled but what he stalled on.   He named Commerce (which would mean the end of official weather forecasts, time keeping, issuing of patents, and the constitutionally mandated census), Education (no more federal loan guarantees for students, just leave it to the morally corrupt banks), ... then stalled for 53 seconds, saying he couldn't think of the third one, before he finally named the Environmental Protection Agency (part of Interior, like national parks are, but so huge that it probably merits being a separate department all together).

This, broadcast on worldwide television.   Set aside his totally stupid policy proposals, his bloody hands or the fact he coddles the worst televangelists.   Does someone who can't answer a simple question rapidly deserve to have his fingers on The Button?   What if a nuclear missile was aimed at the US or one of its allies, would he pause long enough until it was too late; and even if he didn't what would his retaliatory option be (rare, medium or well done -- those have been the actual code names of minimum, medium and maximum strike back choices)?

Okay, so Obama referred to the 57 states back in 2008 (he meant of course, 51 races in 50 states -- Texas had both a primary and caucus -- DC, the territories and American Dem expats living abroad).   Reagan said the Russians had no word for freedom (anyone who knows any Slavic language knows the word is svoboda).    The elder Bush put his foot in it when he said he doesn't like broccoli.    And of course, we all remember Clinton saying, "It depends on what your definition of 'is', is."

But these were caught in the moment twists of phrase that could easily be forgiven and usually were.   Pausing that long in a live debate?     Way back in 1980 when the great Roger Mudd asked Ted Kennedy why he was challenging then President Carter for the Democratic nomination, "Teddy Bear" gave such a rambling answer (350+ words, with the "answer" only beginning around word 240) it became clear he didn't know why, and that was the end of his chances -- forget the Chappaquiddick affair.   I was seven at the time and even then I thought, what an idiot.   (At least he did more good in the Senate than he ever could have done in the White House.)

I'm amazed Perry was even allowed to govern Texas at all.   Then again, they did vote out a very smart woman (Ann Richards) in favour of ... um, what is the right word to describe Bush 43; simpleton is too kind.

Perry needs to throw in the towel and let the serious people run.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Dems kick back at Tea Party

The Tea Party in the States got a huge slap in the face in yesterday's off-year elections in the States.    Among the biggest ones:

Voters in Ohio rejected by a huge margin a law that effectively placed public servants in a "right to work state" situation.

Maine voters approved same day voting registration, making it a "normal" democracy like Canada (this principle is opposed by Tea Partiers as an "open door to fraud" -- and in this state, the tea-baggers actually ran ads saying that it's a "gay" idea.   Like that will work in a libertarian state).

In Mississippi, voters in the mostly pro-life state slammed down a "personhood" measure so vaguely worded that the morning after pill and the IUD would have been outlawed.   (Voters there, however, did approve tighter voter identification requirements.)

In Arizona, the person responsible for that state's anti-immigration law was recalled.

Most high profile incumbents for local and state office appeared to survive, although in Erie County, New York (which includes Buffalo) the GOP county executive was bounced for a Democratic labour operative.

Hard to say what this means for the Congressional elections next year, but if people's appetites for change were worsened by what the Tea Party was really up to once they got in, it could be a torrent that runs all the way downticket.   People want less government, they just don't want their rights taken away and they want migrants to have a fighting chance.    Common sense tends to win out overall and it's good to see there was plenty of it stateside yesterday.

Berlusconi out, not because of "bunga bunga" but bonda bonda

After sticking around what seemed like forever, and beating off one sleaze scandal after another, the world's most powerful womanizer, Silvio Berlusconi, has finally said he's going to resign after bond markets pushed up the yield of Italy's 10 year bonds to 7.25% (according to Bloomberg).   Compare that huge rate with fellow euro traveller Germany with a yield of just 1.7% -- practically giving it away.

This of course is because Germany has since World War II operated mostly on a pay as you go basis -- revenues match expenditures and borrowings if necessary are short term and paid back as quickly as possible.   Long term bonds are issued but it's not uncommon for Germany to retire them early.

For a populist, even a right wing one like Silvio, making every one live like a king means doing some truly irresponsible things on the backs of first the taxpayers and then the bondholders.    The difference of course is that the taxpayers, the citizens of a country, can always get rid of their rulers.   Bondholders often have little recourse but to dump their bonds, often at a loss or break-even if they get lucky.    The break-even point right this morning, for Italy to avoid default, sez Bloomberg, is 5.62%.

It's easy to forget that it could happen here.   We went through one round of austerity measures in Canada in the 1990s.    We could again unless we build a few firewalls here and there to stop the contagion from spreading here.   America's credit is at the breaking point as well, and the sneeze from them and Europe will make us catch cold big time.

For now, in any case, I say good riddance to the king of bunga.  It was bad enough he disgraced himself, now he may have taken an entire civilization back to the Dark Ages for another 1400 years.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Immigrants and "states' rights"

Among the most commonly held misconceptions about immigrants:   They don't pay taxes, they steal jobs, they are criminals, they're a burden on our social safety net.    All four are demonstrably false -- they do pay taxes at the same rates as the rest of us, they create jobs, they are more law abiding than native-born citizens, they tend overall not to rely on social services.    This past week, the Alabama Attorney General actually dared to do something no one has tried to do since 1964 -- challenge the federal government over the validity of a law that on the surface runs afoul of the Civil Rights Act.

Simply stated, since this law -- probably the most anti-immigrant law of any state -- took effect, a lot of parents have been keeping their kids out of school for fear of harassment, even the children of legal immigrants.   The federal Department of Justice wrote a letter requesting school attendance records.   The state AG wrote back demanding to know what authority gives the feds that right.    The response from the feds cites not just the Civil Rights Act but also the Fair Housing Act, the Safe Streets Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, etc.

Alabama, along with a number of states, seems to be of the opinion it has the right to craft immigration policy.   My research on the subject, limited as it is, indicates there is one -- only one -- federal country on the planet where subnational governments have authority on the inflow of foreign nationals and that country is Canada.   This owes primarily due to the fact that while there are categories of jobs that never change from one province to another such as migrant farmers and lumberjacks, each province may also have different and specific labour demands -- oil and gas workers in Alberta, high tech workers for the auto parts and assembly industries in Ontario and Québec, etc. -- so rightly should have a say in who is the best qualified.  All the other federations have immigration handled by the federal government for the simple reason that most see immigration, quite rightly to an extent, as a law and order issue that affects everyone -- immigration is usually handled, therefore, by the justice department of that country.

The sense I get is that since it is no longer acceptable to pick on blacks, it's okay to pick on what's left to pick on and that would be those who are "different" than the rest of the population.   Yet there seems to be such hypocrisy.    A racist will think it's perfectly okay to use a racist slur against someone from, say, Mainland China, yet barely a half hour later have takeout at a Chinese food outlet.    Or one will rail against "The Mexicans" but pump gas at a station managed by a Latino.

Rather than lashing out against the feds for "interfering in state affairs" the states should be working with each other as well as the feds to find out the real criminals who may be ripping off migrants who don't know what rights they are entitled to, so those who haven't broken laws can regularize their status, start paying taxes and help all three levels of government with their massive debt loads.    Otherwise, Alabama and other similarly minded states could be facing an economic and travel boycott which winds up hurting everyone, does no one any good, and only exacerbates the problem.    If Lady Liberty could speak, she'd light her torch and fire it with dead aim at the Alabama State Capitol, and with just cause.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Greece and the game of chicken

It is truly unbelievable the game of chicken we've seen played this week in Europe.   Just one week ago, Greece's PM George Papandreou, was handed the deal of the millennium - a write off of 50% of his country's debts -- and he caused havoc when he wanted to put the sweetheart arrangement to a referendum.   He came dangerously close to being overthrown by an internal putsch just this morning but has survived by backing off on the plebiscite.  (This summary from the BBC, twitted in real time, shows just how crazy it was today.)    Making it an even nuttier day, Europe's central bank cut its overnight rate to 1¼%, cutting the spread with the States back to the traditional 1%.

I'm not a real camp follower of the ins and outs of the Eurozone, much less the EU as a whole; but this is no way to run any country, especially one that is part of a multinational currency.   The drachma is as dead as the dodo and the euro is here to stay.  But gone too is the fact that a lot of the entitlements people across Europe have become so attached to will have to go and the others cut back to a sustainable level.    Many of us on this side of the pond get by just fine with two weeks vacation -- six to eight weeks from year one seems quite extravagant unless one is in the military and needs the leave to decompress.    One can understand the protests against entitlement cuts, but where else is there to cut realistically?   And the retirement age has to be 65 to 70 -- people are living longer and the current pension structures can't handle "Freedom 50."

Also dead is the idea of easy credit -- the world got shot in 1929 over sub-prime mortgages and it did again in 2008; haven't we learned anything?    (Canada's exposure may have been far less in that area, maybe 5% of the total but sub-prime mortgages are still to be had.)  Some things like six months maternity leave paid of course should remain, but what about increasing co-pays and actually cracking down on tax cheats?

Future EU candidates as well as present EU countries due to join the Euro next should be subjected to a truly independent forensic audit to show they meet the "stress tests" that a common currency demands.   It's not just Europe that's at stake.     With Canada due to sign a free trade and labour agreement with the bloc in the near future, it's vital we know what we're getting into.   Including the weird characters who can hold the world at bay like a puppet master manipulating a marionette.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

There are overprotective trademark lawyers, and then ... there's the Legion

It is just me, or has the Royal Canadian Legion become a laughing stock for calling in the trademark lawyers to go after -- ready for this -- a group of veteran bikers who raise awareness about the sacrifices the men and uniform make for those of us who don't have the courage to.   Why?  Because of the group's emblem -- a soldier kneeling, rifle in hand, with a helmet on which is emblazoned a poppy; against the maple leaf in background.   Seems that the poppy is legally trademarked and the RCL is flipping mad about that.

A few things.   First, the poppy the group uses isn't the one familiar to most Canadians -- a felt four petal poppy with a black centre.   The bikers are using the British poppy, which looks more free-form in style and is made of plastic.   (There too the style changes depending on where you are -- in Scotland it's a curled four petal; in England, Wales and Northern Ireland it's a flat two petal with a green stem.)

Second -- the bikers are veterans themselves and are trying to raise awareness for the cause of remembrance as well as supporting our troops overseas.    They're not in it for themselves

Third, this isn't the Red Cross, the Red Crescent or the Red Crystal (which all refer to the same general international neutral humanitarian movement).    All of these, along with the currently dormant Red Lion and Sun (for Iran, until the coming of Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979 when he replaced it with the Red Crescent), have the highest level of protection under Canadian law -- in fact the Trademark Act refers to those symbols quite specifically.   Any commercial use of the red symbols that might confuse people into thinking a product or service is endorsed by the Red Cross should of course be addressed.

There are a few other symbols that get specific protection under  law -- royal crests, the coats of arms of Canada, the provinces and cities, current and past Governors General, the Mounties and so forth.   So is the poppy under its articles of incorporation (to be clear, the one specific poppy design we're familiar with in Canada and its reverse colours), but I don't think Parliament ever intended the RCL to become the equivalent of the Tongue Troopers -- um, L'Office québécois de la langue française.   There can be no confusing this poppy (the British poppy) with the poppy used in Canada.   And remembrance is a civic duty for all, it is not the sole monopoly of the Legion.

Does this mean if I post a poppy, along with the poem "In Flanders Fields" on Remembrance Day, as do so many bloggers worldwide, I am breaking copyright law?    I mean, get real.   I can understand now why a growing number of people wear the white poppy as a sign of protest against all wars.   This custom has been going on since 1926 but it has increasingly curried favour among many.

Should the bikers have asked for permission?   Technically, yes, perhaps.   But a sledgehammer strategy does no good for anyone.    We honour the dead by trying to live lives of peace even as we prepare for wars we may not want to fight; but that does not mean sending in the Fourth Mechanized Lawyers' Battalion.   Overreacting over "religious headgear" is what brought disrepute to the Legion a number of years ago, and now this.   No wonder so many veterans don't want anything to do with the RCL and I can't blame them one jot.

Just shake hands and leave well enough alone, guys.   After all, you fought for all of us, not the party in power when you fought.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Rick Mercer: "It gets better" isn't enough

Frankly, Rick says it way better than most of us.    The crap that leads 300 students in this country to commit suicide every year because they can't stand the bullying over their being LGBT has got to stop.

(Transcript here, thanks Rick for saving a lot of us having to speed transcribe)

As much as we should support the "It Gets Better" campaign, it simply isn't enough to say we're against bullying LGBT persons, in fact any one straight or not, we have to mean it in our words and actions.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

CBC v Quebecor -- at least wrastling's fake

The ongoing between Quebecor Media and the CBC has gotten really intense this week, if the Toronto Star is to be believed.   I agree that the CBC has some issues with transparency and that it would be wise to answer at least some, if not necessarily all, of the Freedom of Information requests that have been filed on how the state broadcaster spends our money.    Short of that I think it may be time to end the grant, go to a licensing model (probably $16 per month per address using TV to make it revenue neutral)  and have a truly accountable board of directors, not one that only answers to the Prime Minister.

But the question I would ask Sun News Network and the Sun Newspapers is -- how do you have a conscience waving the Canadian flag and claiming to want to "save" (read:  kill) the CBC, knowing you're owned by group that has many, many people on staff who have long promoted the breakup of Canada (TVA, Journal de Montréal, etc)?    Seriously, this is a contradiction I have never been able to figure out.   (M. Péladeau can explain this away by claiming that he doesn't actually support separatists but wouldn't be surprised if Québec became independent -- but the fact is, you either fight for Canada or you really don't care about this country's future.)

Setting that aside, frankly, I can barely count the days when SNN forgoes its terrestrial transmitters in Toronto, Hamilton and London at the end of the month -- it left Ottawa at the end of the summer.   Then SNN will be left only as a Category B service, which means it has to negotiate with every cable and satellite company individually for carriage, rather than Category A which gets mandatory pickup on digital and pricing bargained with the entire block of cable companies in Canada en masse.   So SNN now will have to compete on its own, often on a pick and pay basis, and if some industry insiders are to be believed the network is already hemorrhaging money from the profitable Quebecor properties.    Those cable and satellite companies that do carry "Project Levant-istan" are pushing it way up the dial, to Channel 140 and beyond (around where the irrelevant basic cable channels usually begin.   Even the ethically vapid Fox News gets a higher priority, which tells me a lot).  Back when the local Toronto channel was known as Toronto One, it bled so much money from Craig Media that the once successful family had to sell out its entire mini-network of stations.

Maybe Quebecor has forgotten that the Toronto Sun long ago promised that if it ever went belly-up, it would turn over its entire archive, including those of its predecessor the Toronto Telegram (1876-1971), to York University.   (Actually, YorkU already has the ToTel archive but Sun uses it on exclusive license).    Pretty nice piece of history to lose, just because you have issues with an opposing network.

And of course, Quebecor will not report that it takes about $4 million in federal subsidies every year to offset the cost of delivering its periodicals.   Not to mention it threatened to sue the fed's Media Fund when it refused to subsidize the production of Star Académie, perhaps because on the show (a cross between Idol and Big Brother) nearly all the contestants every year are very proud separatists (when did you ever see a Canadian flag flown on the show -- they only fly the Québec flag on that show even though it is broadcast across Canada).    For what it is worth, I only watched the final a few years back because the special guest was James Taylor, who surprisingly (for a guy born in western Massachusetts and grew up in North Carolina) speaks very fluent French.

Yes, I agree the CBC should be more accountable.   The two ombudsmen (French and English) should be given more oversight in that regard also.    And since it is our state broadcaster, I also think separatists in the midst should of course be booted out.

But it's high time Quebecor's reporters and management were held to the same standard.   I would not be the least bit surprised if some of those on the other side acting so moral and mighty have skeletons in their own closet.   It would be even bolder for the CBC to air it as their top story on the nightly news, provided the facts were irrefutable.    That would be something worth watching.