Thursday, February 23, 2012

What passes for road maintenance -- in Hamilton (Part 1 of an unending series)

If this is what passes for a good roads program, then whoever runs the Public Works Department needs to be fired. Can you imagine the chaos if this happened during a snow event (like we're supposed to get this weekend)? We pay the highest property taxes in Central Canada and this is what's happening with our money?

Long ago, Pittsburgh, a city with a similar topography, had a solution for the routes going up and down the hill – they buried them. Why can't we do that here? It might cost a bit up front but at least the roads would stay open.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

It's called ministerial responsibility, Toews!

"Sit down, my son.   We don't read most of the bills.  Do you really know what that would entail -- if we were to read every bill that we passed?   Well, the good thing, it would slow down the legislative process."  Rep. John Conyers (D -- MI 14) to Michael Moore on the rush passage of the Patriot Act.

Good to be back after taking a bit of a break.   Hope my postings will become much more regular going forward.

Seems we learn nothing from the Americans because don't need to, or perhaps we should.  No sooner does our Attorney General, Vic Toews, accuses the Opposition of supporting child pornography because the Opposition is concerned about possible Charter violations on police searches of Internet Service Providers than Toews admits that he actually hadn't read the bill before tabling it in Parliament for first reading last week.

A minister who introduces legislation on behalf of the government is responsible for the content.   He or she can't blame it on government lawyers.   Especially when it's the head of the Justice Department itself, the Attorney General.   Vic Toews is our chief law enforcement officer, for heaven's sake.    Wouldn't it be nice for him to say that he screwed up and is open to introducing amendments to fix the major concerns we have about the bill, even before it goes to the Justice Committee after second reading?    Frankly, this should actually be read by Committee of the Whole.

This situation almost sounds like the rush job on the anti-terrorism provisions that were passed by Parliament in the wake of 9/11.    Most of the bill had actually been ready for tabling before the outrages that befell our American friends (and killed 24 of our own) since the then Liberal government wanted to come down hard on biker gangs and other organized crime elements; but the provisions dealing with preventative detention and secrecy of classified information which were drafted after that horrible day weren't really thought through.   Even the "Official Secrets Act" had its name changed to the "Security of Information Act" -- as much a whitewash as when the "War Measures Act" became the "Emergency Measures Act"; martial law by any other name is still martial law.

Regarding the bill itself, the fact any police officer could without a warrant check on my purchasing patterns or my library records -- not to mention what I post here and my Facebook ™ and LinkedIn ™ accounts -- is frightening.   It's really no one's business if I want to read Mein Kampf (because I'm not a racist) or The Anarchist's Cookbook (because I have no intention of making a bomb).   The government would better spend its time going after rampant identity thieves or unlicensed online "lotteries."

I stand next to no one in my opposition to child porn.   The slime-bags who produce and distribute it should be locked up in a deep, dank hole for a very long time.

But what ever happened to legitimately opposing legislation without being branded this or that?    This is something learned from the Americans that we never really should have.    For that matter, why is it that the only acceptable point of reference on how legislation should be written or enforced is the American way?   If we look at other liberal democracies our sentences are already relatively harsh -- in much of the EU sentences for most crimes are substantially lighter for first offences (with the exception of DUI, where a reading of .05 is usually a misdemeanor and .08 is a felony).

 Be that as it may, I have to break with many of my fellow progressives in saying the online campaign to air out Toews' dirty laundry (i.e. his divorce) really isn't that polite.   Sure what he initially said about the Opposition was wrong, but two wrongs don't exactly make a right unless Toews himself has trafficked in the very kind of atrocity he wants to stamp out (and there is no indication of course that he has ever done that).   If we're going to argue for civility and the right to privacy, then we should practice what we preach.    There are still rumours about Bytown about another politician facing a family crisis; until we know for sure it really is him or her there's no point spreading rumours.

I support getting tough on crime, especially when there is virtually no chance of redemption as with the disgusting filth the law is intended to address at base.   But when the government overreaches, it's the Opposition's duty to presume the "right to advise, to consult and to warn."   In this case, we need to go by what we always have done -- probable cause to obtain a warrant.   I thought that was what one of the components of habeas corpus was about.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Prop 8 struck down again

I have only had enough time to skim through the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in California's Proposition 8, the gay marriage ban.    As we all know, the appeals panel upheld the lower court ruling striking down the measure as violating the federal constitution.    It did stop short of saying sexual orientation is a "suspect class" entitled to Fourteenth Amendment scrutiny but that on the face of it the proposition nevertheless violates that amendment.

The vote in the 9th Circuit  was 2-1, but what is more important is that all three judges on the panel also dismissed out of hand the so called "family values" claim that the district judge was prejudiced in favour of striking down because he happens to be gay himself.    This is patently ridiculous.   A judge is sworn to uphold the law and to render equal justice to all.   His or her own personal beliefs can be described in obiter if that judge so chooses but he or she still has to settle the case, in this case a request for a restraining order, based on the facts.   And that's precisely what Judge Vaughn Walker did in the district court case in Prop 8, the last significant one he rendered prior to his retirement.

Canada took a huge lead in recognizing same sex couples, first at common law (or "partners in fact" as the relationship is known in Québec) then recognizing marriages.   The act of marriage and even common law relationships carry with them legal responsibilities.   In fighting for the right to marry, the LGBT population was asking for nothing less than to also accept the responsibilities that come with marriage -- including how taxes are paid and child-parent relationships are structured.

And it's not as if the rights of the First Estate have been damaged.   No minister is required to act as the arbiter of a same sex marriage ceremony in any jurisdiction where it is now legal -- any more than that minister would be forced to marry a mixed race couple (there are bigots like that still out there, but their freedom of religion in that regard does remain protected even in the new status quo).

Whatever my personal convictions are, I state again that just as it is now considered unthinkable to ban interracial marriage or an inter-faith marriage, there's no reason whatsoever to stop gays and lesbians from marrying.    And for one simple reason:   It's none of my business.   Frankly resources could be better spent fighting polygamist communities where women are swapped several times over and teenage boys abandoned like so much human garbage, than gay or lesbian couples who want nothing more than to live and let live -- which one of the two in the end is, after all, a bigger threat to the social fabric?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Where is the politically independent bureacracy? Going, going ...

There's still quite a bit of fallout from last week's rather surprising admission that employees on the federal government's payroll, the permanent civil service, were recruited to take part in a citizenship "reaffirmation" ceremony -- and broadcast on the Conservative's semi-official organ, Sun News TV.   Seems that some of the new Canadians saw the stunt for what it was, a stunt, so six bureaucrats were "conscripted" to take their place.

Set aside the fact that so many new Canadians, perhaps as many as 3000, were phoned in hopes of finding any ten willing to.   And it was handled by communications people, not actual citizenship clerks.  That's a major invasion of privacy since a citizenship application should only be used for that purpose; just as we all expect our tax returns whether filed electronically or by snail mail to be used to calculate only what is owed and by whom and not to find out who's running "X" grow op, "Y" chop shop or "Z" brothel.   After all, if the government is getting its revenues, it really should not matter to them if income is being reported from whatever source even if it is being laundered.  The police may want to know what illegal activity is going on, of course, but one would think they have other investigative modes at their disposal.

It's not just the charade demeans the naturalization process as we understand it.   It's a big deal to assume a citizenship, and when it's by choice and not by birth it carries with it major rights as well as responsibilities -- the same in fact as for native-born Canadians.    My family in the two generations before me have at least several "new" Canadians and I am sure they would be quite appalled by the Con / Sun ploy.

It also makes me want to ask a much more ominous question -- what is the point of having a permanent civil service if it only serves to carry out the will of the governing party?   Or promoting from within based on skill, if those skills aren't necessary after all?

The existence of a public service based on merit and not on who one knows is one of the things which helps push back against possible influence peddling.    The rules may change from time to time based on what the law is, but the same people can be depended upon to act in the interests of all people and not for a chosen few.   It also ensures, in theory, there are no "press opportunities" where the people get one message but those tasked to put policies into place know what the real rules are.    After all, if you are telling the truth there is no need to repeat the story.

Many governments of all stripes have no doubt been guilty of this.

But it is the brazenness of this stunt that I find worrisome as it it marks a trend towards those who are willing to pay for the message and twist it for their own ends.    When it comes to citizenship in particular, I have been under the impression that one does not take the oath as a conservative Canadian or a liberal Canadian or a socialist Canadian but a Canadian, period.   To use the taxpayer funded bureaucracy to spread this kind of propaganda is unacceptable.

There should not only be a ban on this kind of politicking.    There should also be a ban on all propaganda ads crafted by the party in power promoting X "Action Plan" or Y "De-register this" but labelled "A message from the Government of Canada" -- such seal of approval ads should only apply to legitimate public service announcements, such as (for an example) how to access the SAME codes for programmable weather radios.

The Cons have a huge warchest.   Let them rely on that for their smears and propaganda on what tax "cuts" (really "expenditures") they've implemented, and that will allow the other parties to compete on a level playing field.

I say the same should apply to names for acts of Parliament.   No sloganeering in the long or short titles, just something neutral so there is no confusion.

Let the public service do what they were hired to do -- serve the public, the whole public, not one specific party.    After all there is only one pool of money to draw income from.