Tuesday, September 28, 2004

What does this mean - really?

On CNN, George Bush is quoted as saying
"No, we've made it clear, our position is that they won't have a nuclear weapon."
Unusual for GWB is a statement that actually seems to acknowledge that the international community has a role here:

"We are working our hearts out so that they don't develop a nuclear weapon, and the best way to do so is to continue to keep international pressure on them."
The question I have is simple - if Iran's programme is reasonably advanced, chances are they already have the capability to create nuclear weapons. The basic technology is pretty well understood, and the only task for a nation to accomplish is to create the base facilities for refining various materials used in the bomb itself. I'd be guessing, but I don't imagine that Iran (or any of a dozen other countries not "officially" part of the A-Bomb club) is all that far from being there.

To me, the question quickly becomes one in which we must ask who, if anyone, on this world has the wisdom to be accorded the right to hold such weapons? I personally don't subscribe to the notion that any nation is "inherently good", and therefore will not make a mistake with these weapons.

If the worry is over having nuclear capability fall into "terrorist hands", then treat it as such. To a certain degree, the issue is no longer if a country is capable of developing nuclear weapons, but rather when. Since terrorist organizations do not possess the financial and infrastructure resources that a nation state has, one would have to presume that the only way they would be able to acquire any kind of nuclear capability would be through black market channels.

So - if Iran, or any other country, is developing nuclear capabilities, the question is no longer a matter of the capability, but rather of accountability. Are all of the materials accounted for? Are the procedures around the materials sufficiently rigorous to identify when something has gone missing? What we should be looking for is to ensure that paths into the black market have been closed out. If they aren't, we need to ensure that the country in question takes appropriate steps.

Simply stating that Iran cannot have nuclear weapons capability is silly. The fact is that a determined government will find a way to make it happen - openly or not. The sabre-rattling "not on my watch" attitude is missing the point - military intervention is the wrong answer. No nation in the world has sufficient militar resources to garrison all of the areas that are potential threats to it. Rome, the Ottoman Empire, and the British Empire all suffered the same basic fate in this regard.

The one thing that is true is that this is a new era. More than just 9/11 underscores that fact. The world is a 'smaller place' than it used to be - communications technology makes it easier for information to flow between nations; economies are now cross linked in ways that have never happened before. These things all speak to a new era. It is an era where military might is unlikely to 'rule the day' for any length of time. The nations of the world need to learn new ways to resolve disputes and move forward.

The United Nations was a good start - it at least opened the door to dialogue between nations. Today, it has begun to run into limitations that stem from it's pre-cold war structure, and needs to be reconsidered. The UN needs to evolve. In order for that to happen, countries like the US and France need to give up their "veto" powers; the so-called "Security Council" needs to be radically re-structured so that it reflects today's realities.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Just When I Think It's Getting Quiet

I was driving into work this morning, and listening to Rod Love and Ralph Klein expound on the lack of a need for a lobbyist registry in this province.

Says Rod Love - sometimes you can have "too much public scrutiny". (This is a quote from a debate broadcast on CBC last week)

Says Ralph - "I don't hear anybody clamoring for it"

This is near the top of my list of reasons why Ralph and his buddies need to go. For those not familiar with the relationship between Rod Love and Ralph Klein, Rod Love served as Klein's "right-hand man" dating back to his years as mayor of the city of Calgary, and was in a similar position when Klein moved into the Premier's office in Edmonton. He is now a 'consultant', apparently to both the government, and to groups that want access to the ears of the government.

I heard this, along with some very nicely done commentary from a University of Calgary professor that specializes in ethics (is there such a thing as an ethical politician???) , and I found myself thinking that Ralph, and his advisors, are even more clueless than I had initially expected. Basically, the government's position seems to be that if there's no law against something, it's not a problem. Wrong! Part of accountability is clarity - when there's a great wall of fog over the activities of the government, it becomes very difficult to understand what's going on up in Edmonton.

Along with a number of other items that Klein's bandits have been engaging in, this is part of a growing list that points to the overgrown, arrogant nature of the "Progressive Conservative" party in Alberta.

  • No lobbyist registry - the electorate doesn't have a right to know who's trying to influence government policy??? (Rod Love's comment is pure poppycock - King John said the same sort of thing when he was forced to sign the Magna Carta. Public scrutiny of that King did wonders for the people)
  • A shrinking amount of time spent in the legislature. (Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed the fall sitting shrinking to a laughable 10 days)
  • No real debate going on in the legislature. Even when the legislature is in session, there is precious little substantive debate going on. Part of this is the lack of opposition seats (only 10 this term), but the other part is an attitude on the part of the governing party that makes them feel they can belittle the issues raised by the opposition rather than answer to them.
I don't want to argue that we _need_ a lobbyist registry - I'm not actually sure it would buy us anything in particular. However, Ralph's response to the suggestion basically speaks to the underlying approach of his government. Leadership is not on the agenda. Ralph doesn't lead - he bends with the political winds. If there were a public outcry over this, he'd institute one as quick as possible. (Although, hobbled to the point of being useless, no doubt)

The other thing that I find profoundly troubling lately has been a rash of legal challenges to candidate nominations that are popping up in the run up to an expected November provincial election. The Conservative party has had several nominations turn into court fights after prospective candidates were arbitrarily disqualified in favour of the incumbent. One of these kinds of battles would make me shrug it off as "normal politics". However, when we start seeing several such suits emerge, from across the province, I have to start suspecting that the rot that I believe has set in at the higher levels of the party is in fact pervasive through the entire structure. This kind of rot means that we have a group who not only believes they will be elected next time, but they are in fact presuming such to be the case. This is very bad news for the citizens of Alberta. Once a party starts to believe that they have a right to govern, the public interest will be usurped by the interests of the party members only.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

An Few Random Thoughts

It's been a few days since I last wrote anything - I've been a bit busy, and for the most part relatively little has been happening in the news. (Is that an election on the winds? Ralph's started to get quiet...hmmm)

Provincially, I see the governing Conservatives are starting to talk about issuing Bonds to finance major infrastructure projects. All I can say is "well, Duh!". Sometime back in the 1980's, the notion of government bonds became a 'bad word', and everything had to be financed out of General Revenues. (or so it seemed) I can only imagine that was a result of Don Getty's complete inability to understand the difference between infrastructure and day to day operations.

For the last 15 years, Ralph's bunch has been hammering away at deficit, and then at debt. Trying to wipe out both, claiming that the existence of either constitutes bad governance. While I agree that using long term debt to finance day to day operations of the government isn't the wisest path, I have never seen a problem with doing so to finance roads, hospitals and other infrastructure. I have to finance my house in order to afford it (like I, or anyone else can just write a cheque for $200,000+ dollars to purchase property!). The same thing applies to roads and other long term projects.

To hear this coming out of Ralph's people now is a combination of sad and funny at the same time. Floating bonds in the early 1990s to pay for desperately needed schools, hospitals and roads would have done wonders for our province's infrastructure. Instead, they have presided over the steady decline of our province's infrastructure while the government racks up huge amounts of money in "budgetary surpluses".

Okay, I have to give them some credit - at least they seem to be starting to consider how to deal with long term financing requirements as different from how they deal with operational financing. Does this make the current bunch in Edmonton ready to govern for another four years? No. I'm too skeptical of them to believe that this speaks to a real change in their thinking. We still need to send back a serious opposition to hold the next government to account. Ralph and his people aren't statesmen, and the current tussle with Ottawa over Health Care continues to demonstrate an emotional immaturity that I find profoundly disturbing.

In Iraq, I see the US/British "coalition" forces are busy trying to stabilize the situation in preparation for elections scheduled for early 2005. Meanwhile, casualties on all sides continue to mount at a rate that seems to exceed those incurred during the initial invasion. Kidnappings of foreigners in Iraq are happening at a pace that is truly disturbing; various militant forces seem to be rather successfully carrying out bomb attacks of one sort or another.

Is this a country ready to undertake open elections? I doubt it. I can't imagine how you could consider any vote valid in a country where signifcant regions of it are embroiled in violence, and various militias are continuing to press for their own agendas - mostly through military force. Any government elected under such conditions will not be seen as legitimate by the various factions, and will only stand as long as foreign military presence continues to be able to overwhelm the various militias.

Monday, September 20, 2004

What I'd Like In Health Care

Is a plan. Lately, we've had all of our various talking heads running about talking about pouring more and more money into our nation's health care system, and all of the premiers talking about how they have to retain individual control over the process of "delivering" the services.

From my standpoint, everyone is talking about money, but I see very few people talking about what our public health system is about. What are the objectives? What is the plan? Where do we want to go?

There is an enormous amount of emotionally loaded material being thrown around, and very little of it has anything to do with any common understanding of what the issues are, or what the objectives mean. I go absolutely numb every time I hear Ralph Klein babble about "sustainability" - what the hell does that mean anyhow? Does that mean that he doesn't want to spend the money, or does it mean something else? How does moving to a private, clinic-based delivery for day to day services improve that picture?

Money's fine, and the system certainly needs it. In the bigger picture, we need to stand back for a moment or two and determine what it is we want our health care system to be, and then describe it in reasonable terms. Nothing is going to happen overnight - nor should it. I believe that we can make an effective, and "sustainable" health care system that handles everybody equitably. We won't get there if we aren't speaking a common language, and understanding what each other are saying.

Ralph and crew seem hell-bent on one particular model of health care - what bothers me is that I have no clear idea what that model is, nor am I a particularly convinced that the real problems are being addressed by the direction being proposed. I imagine that similar problems exist in other provinces as well.

Let's create a dialogue on the subject - a common frame of reference is needed, and currently is sadly lacking.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

There are days ...

... where I wonder just how incredibly clueless our premier is.

Listening to CBC this morning, I heard Ralph Klein speak at possibly his most arrogant. He was commenting on "meaningful public consultation", and trying to slam the Alberta Liberals for "acting as if it can be done at the drop of a hat" {not a literal quote}.

If anyone has been watching, Ralph's "public consultations" to date have qualified as leading at best, and fundamentally useless for gathering any meaningful consensus. The most recent attempt at such a "consultation" is the "It's your future" pre-election campaign. A quick survey of the questions shows them to be leading, superficial and overly simplistic. There are motherhood statements all over the place, and many things are simply not adequately qualified. (Just what is a "world class education system"???)

What really got me irritated was the Premier's closing statement - "The Liberals have no idea what's involved in government, and they never will, thank god". Mr. Klein appears to be a little to 'fat, dumb and happy' in power. He clearly believes that the Conservatives will automatically form another massive majority government in November.

Given the proclivity of the Alberta voter to act like a bunch of sheep, there's a good possibility of this. However, it is vitally important to the long term future of this province that the electorate start sending back something other than a Conservative. The absence of any effective opposition in the last ten years has allowed the Conservatives to become arrogant, and ideologically dogmatic. They do not feel they have to listen to their constituencies unless they feel like it.

In a perfect world, we'd all have fired Ralph about 5 years ago - largely for failing to do the job we've elected him to do - govern. Realistically, I'd be happy if we sent back a near-minority government this time. Give Klein his majority - by one or two seats - max! The rest needs to be opposition. In this province, we do ourselves no favours to continue electing what amounts to a dictatorship time and again.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

How Cluelesss Can Ralph Be???

All over the news today is Ralph wondering what all the fuss is over his departure from the First Ministers' Health Conference.

About all I can do is wonder at the incredible thickness of this province's premier. Ralph - you wonder what all the fuss is about - let me, and the voters of this province, tell you:

  • It's about commitment to good government. If Health Care issues are at or near the top of the list of priorities in this province, then why the hell aren't you FRONT AND CENTER when there is a discussion going on with the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT?
  • It's about galavanting off and playing around in a Casino when the people under your government are expecting, nay demanding, that you be a key player.
  • It's about showing up to a speech to the Heavy Oil Exhibition in Lloydminster, and engaging in electioneering when the job of governing has been left neglected.
  • It's about delegating to your ministers jobs that you should be front and center on. Gary Mar should be part of that discussion, but YOU have a job to do as well Mr. Klein.
  • It's about cuddling up to large corporate interests without paying attention to your oft-referred to "Mr. and Mrs. Grundy". I am one of those "Grundys", Ralph, and I'm damnably irritated with your arrogance now.
Perhaps, along with other recent shenanigans, such as showing up at publicity events, but not working with the other premiers in this country, this little escapade will further underscore to the citizens of this province that you ARE NOT FIT TO GOVERN any longer. When cuddling up with the oil patch takes precedence over dealing with issues that really do affect the public interests.

Or just maybe, your eagerness to hop in bed with private enterprise health care interests, and your evasiveness about what you want to "innovatively" change the health care system to look like, is a clue. You're not interested in the people of this province - people cost money, corporations with lots of cash donate it to your party. Hmmm...could it be that just maybe you have a few political debts, and you know that you have to repay them before your days as Premier expire? (Of course, this is wild speculation on my part, the PC party in this province guards its books more closely than the US guards what it is doing in Guantanamo Bay)

Ralph, I think you know what the issue is with your failure to be involved. As the 'Senior Premier' at the table, it is your job to build bridges, to help the other Premiers find a common path on which to ally, and to help find ways that the path can be aligned with the Federal Government. It is appalling to me that you have failed to even step up to the plate for that task. You have failed both the people of Alberta, and the people of Canada, Ralph.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Health Care Conferences...

It amazes me to no end - King Ralph has been one of the most vocal of our premiers about the issues of funding and structuring our national health care system for a long time. He has complained incessantly about it - lack of funding, overreaching costs, the need for "innovative" delivery etc. Yet, here we are, with a new Federal Government, under a new leader (Paul Martin), and Ralph's still playing the same petulant little games.

For the first time since Jean Chretien came to power, there seems to be a willingness on the part of the Federal Government to re-evaluate its own role in the health care game - one of the first things that the Martin government has done is put an open conference on. I don't for a minute believe that this conference is going to solve everything, but it is a start.

What's King Ralph's response? "I'll only be there for the first day" - claiming that he's got "other engagements". Is this like the "vacation" you were on during the recent First Minister's conference that you couldn't be bothered to attend, Ralph? You remember - the one where you suddenly turned up at all of these public ceremonies of one sort or another.

Of course, Ralph's been rumbling for some time about his government's own ideas for Health Care. Supposed "innovative" solutions which apparently keep dying out every time he puts them up to the litmus test of public opinion. There was a hospital to be built in south Calgary - as a "P3" project no less. For some reason, the P3 seems to have fizzled, and the CHR is busy setting itself up to build the hospital using more conventional strategies.

I think Ralph's real problem is that he's gotten so used to operating behind closed doors that an open meeting forum (particularly one with the media present...) scares him. As premier of this province, his governments do the vast majority of their work as 'order-in-council', and not in the forum of the Legislature. (One only has to look back over time to notice that the legislature sits two sessions - one in Spring, one in Fall - and the fall sitting has become laughably short. Meanwhile, all of the real announcements of what's going on seem to come out during the times the legislature isn't sitting.

Of course, Ralph's rebuttal is going to be the obvious - "You don't understand - the public parts of politics aren't where the real work takes place, so the Health Conference is a sham". I suppose there's a certain truth value to that statement. Generally thieves don't like people seeing them doing their business either - they much prefer to rob houses when they are empty.

Realistically, useful policy changes aren't going to happen in 3 days - I know this, and I don't have any illusions about it. However, it disgusts me when the Premier of Alberta can't even make the effort to try and work with a new government in Ottawa. Alberta is in the best economic straights it's ever been in - period. Now is the time for Alberta and its government to step to the table as a major player and make a difference. Crawling off to sulk, as Klein seems wont to do when he knows he won't get his way, is non-productive.

I for one, am tired of Ralph's constant whinging about the "bad old Feds". Come on, Ralph, Alberta's old nemesis - Pierre Trudeau - is dead and buried. Let's leave the wounds of that era to heal. Alberta hasn't been a marginalized player on the Federal scene for years now. Let's step up to the table, and make it clear that we are a major player in this country - one on par with Ontario and Quebec in terms of economic clout. A Premier who behaves like a petulant little child will be treated as one - and this province may well find itself marginalized again if this doesn't change.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Ah - the truth emerges...

This week's presidential address to the nation is a most telling bit of speaking, and possibly the most candid that Bush and his administration have been since reaching the White House.

One does have to do a little bit of reading betwixt the words, but statements are made that are very clear about the intentions of Bush and his advisors:

As the September the 11th Commission concluded, our country is safer than we were three years ago, but we are not yet safe.
Ah - so, you are going to continue to introduce legislation that curtails individual rights and freedoms? (a la what was proposed for "Patriot II") Or, is this simply another one of those lines used to further spread fear and uncertainty among the people?

The United States is determined to stay on the offensive, and to pursue the terrorists wherever they train, or sleep, or attempt to set down roots. We have conducted this campaign from the mountains of Afghanistan, to the heart of the Middle East, to the horn of Africa, to the islands of the Philippines, to hidden cells within our own country.
Let's be honest here - what you're really saying is that you believe the United States has the right to impose its will on other sovereign nations - with or without their cooperation. More or less, the stance of the US since 9/11 has been that it is their right to invade countries at will, under the graceless excuse of 'excising terrorists' - regardless of any persuasive evidence to substantiate those allegations being put to the public?

The United States is also determined to advance democracy in the broader Middle East, because freedom will bring the peace and security we all want. When the peoples of that region are given new hope and lives of dignity, they will let go of old hatreds and resentments, and the terrorists will find fewer recruits.
I hate to point out the obvious, but it took the civilizations of 'Western European' tradition about a millenium and half for democracy to emerge. Even if the Middle East were willing to become democracies based on that tradition, it will take a minimum of 3 - 5 generations before the countries will truly be "democracies" in the sense that we are familiar with. Simply imposing a model of government is guaranteed to create the very conditions under which strongmen and madmen are able to eventually assert power. Imposing any government on a nation under military occupation guarantees a government that will only survive as long as its control over the military does.

I will grant that giving people legitimate hope and dignity will make it harder for shadow organizations like al Qaeda to find recruits - but it won't solve the issue entirely. In the United States itself, the liberty and opportunity of that land didn't stop Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols from setting off a huge truck-bomb in Oklahoma. It would be foolish to believe that the Arab world will "welcome" a cultural structure that is highly individualistic when they are still living in a loosely tribal mode that has survived since the collapse of the Roman Empire. Many will resent the changes, and will attempt to reverse them, or will carry their grievances to violent acts.

Our present work in Iraq and Afghanistan is difficult. It is also historic and essential. By our commitment and sacrifice today, we will help transform the Middle East, and increase the safety of our children and grandchildren.
Urk! Logical disconnect here. The chances of successful 'transformation' of the cultural context that exists in the Middle East is slim at best. Consider the history of the Middle East as a whole:

  1. The Roman Empire tried to occupy and tame the region, stretching almost into the Persian Gulf. Ultimately, they were unable to control it directly, and governors placed in the region were largely unsuccessful in their efforts.
  2. Various Popes tried to redefine the Middle East via the Crusades. Aside from creating a lot of dead bodies on both sides, neither really succeeded.
  3. The British Empire tried to remap the region into what it thought would improve the lot of their interests there. Needless to say, their success was limited at best.
  4. The Soviet Union tried to occupy and control Afghanistan - with a decided lack of success.
So...what would make any rational human being believe that this most recent foray into the Middle East by a "western power" is going to succeed where others have failed over the millenia?

So - is the objective really about making the world safer, or is it about placing a veneer of American values over the world, and believing that somehow this makes things "safer"?

Friday, September 10, 2004

Does Military Service Really Matter?

It seems that the topic of the week in the US Presidential election race is military service. For whatever reason, there seems to be a belief that someone's service in the military 30+ years ago has a bearing on their ability to serve as President of the United States today.

This week, the Democrats have been sliming Bush's brief tenure in the National Guard. Last week, it's been the Republicans trying to marginalize Kerry's tour of duty in Vietnam.

The question in my mind - does it really matter? I find it's a bit of a 'yes-and-no' thing. Yes it matters, but not because it demonstrates that one or the other is fit to take on an executive command role. At most, I think it may speak somewhat to the character of the candidates. Kerry went into a dangerous situation, and apparently performed well - or at least so the written record shows. Bush spent a short tour in the National Guard, but the records are perhaps less than complete, and the reports are somewhat less than glowing in their praise of his commitment to the endeavor.

The mud-slinging over military service thirty odd years ago seems petty and foolish. Would such a big issue of military service be made if the candidates were women? I doubt it. If the discussion has any relevance at all, it is purely in the realm of their character 30 years ago. In as much as leopards seldom change their spots, past behaviour is perhaps the best indicator of future habits.

Both men have significant track records in public life - Bush as Governor of Texas; Kerry as a Senator.

Where Kerry can be accused of 'flip-flopping' on issues; Bush can be equally accused of being rigid and inflexible.

If Kerry bends with the winds as he sees them, Bush seems unwilling and unable to compromise - it's his way or no way.

I don't know enough about Kerry's alleged 'flip-flops' to really know if they are truly significant or not. I'll assume that they are not (were there riders on those bills that he wanted to pass?), just as I assume that Bush's service in the National Guard is fundamentally irrelevant to today.

Ideally, I like to feel that the politicians leading a country are basically honest. So far, anything that Kerry has been openly challenged on has left me with the impression that he fulfils that criteria - at least as far as I can tell.

Bush on the other hand, I have a much harder time accepting as "honest". I will point to his track record as President:

  1. Where was the honesty in the run up to invading Iraq? The story changed more often than the dunes of the desert.
  2. When challenged today on that subject, we get a 'well we still did the right thing, Saddam's out of power now' answer. (Ah - so the ends justify the means do they?)
  3. On the handling of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay and other locales, we are told that they are 'outside' of the rule of law. Even as the US court system asserts that those prisoners are in fact subject to the rule of law, Bush continues to insist that 'executive privilege' trumps all.
  4. Take a long look at the Patriot Act, and what was proposed as Patriot II. Do these pieces of legislation have anything to do with security, or is it just a way to roll back civil and individual rights?
  5. Look at Bush on so-called "moral" issues. His stance is obstructive at best. On stem cell research, he has effectively stale-mated any real progress; on gay marriage, he advocates admending the constitution to ban it; on the Death Penalty, he granted clemency a total of once during his time as Governor - even when it was recommended; on abortion, he would cheerfully ban it if he thought he would get away with it.
Bush's own record speaks for itself. He appears to be rigid and inflexible. Either unable or unwilling to see that other perspectives have a validity. Worse, since 9/11, he has cloaked himself in the mantle of 'War President'. I'll give him some credit - after the crisis of 9/11/01, he took some clear, and decisive action. What's unfortunate is that he has used the war in Iraq as a distraction - signing into law bits of legislation that enact parts of the Patriot II proposals while the public has been looking towards Iraq. Is that honest?

Does his legislative agenda show us a man willing to compromise? Not really. It shows us a man whose ideology and concepts of the world are so strongly entrenched that he will not bend. Even the mightiest oak must bend somewhat to the wind, or the wind will break it. I would argue that the winds are blowing rather hard right now.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

What do Harper and Bush have in common?

Besides being ideological brethren, Harper seems to share GWB's absolute cluelessness when it comes to foreign affairs.

In today's Globe and Mail, there is this article in which Harper is basically blaming Martin for the lack of resolution of the BSE crisis.

I don't want to get into a "but he started it" argument, but from my perspective, relations with the US nosedived the day that GWB elected. Bush made it abundantly clear that he had little interest in anything outside of the US at that time, and then proceeded to rather blatantly snub the leader of his largest trading partner.

Since then, little has happened to ameliorate anything. The protectionist lobby groups in the US continue to push for more and more blockages in the trade system; Bush and his inner circle seem quite content to ignore anything outside of empire building.

I'm pretty sure that even if Harper was our elected Prime Minister, anything short of surrendering Canada to American whim would be ignored. (The only reason that the former proposition might be considered is for access to Canada's significant resources - particularly oil and fresh water)

Harper seems to think that the Prime Minister has been inert, and inactive on the BSE discussion. Martin certainly hasn't had any "breakthrough successes" with the US government, but given that this is a Presidential Election year, that's hardly any big surprise. Their focus right now is entirely on convincing Americans that _their_ interests are being protected and furthered. The interests of a trading partner such as Canada don't even register on the radar.

A brief look at the headlines on CNN this morning underscores this:

Kerry Blasts Bush Deficit
Cheney: Kerry Win Risks Another Attack

Let's face it, It doesn't matter who is in charge down there right now - they aren't paying attention to anything that doesn't register on the voter opinion polls. (And since the US still has meat on the store shelves, BSE doesn't register)

Mr. Harper needs to get a grip on reality and start being constructive - within Canada. How about removing the inter-provincial trade barriers that force much of our beef production into the US? Where is the obvious initiatives to broaden Canada's market access around the world? Where are his proposals for made in Canada solutions?

A closed border _is_ a Canadian problem. Let's solve it in Canada. If the US doesn't want to trade with Canada's beef, then let's get out there and find someone who does. The pre-BSE crisis status quo was foolishly tied to the Americans actually respecting the border and free trade. Since that's clearly not the case, let's move forward.

Whether Bush or Kerry gets elected this November doesn't matter - Canada has a problem with selling Beef to the US. Let's work on expanding our capabilities in Canada (hmmm - lessee - creates jobs, opportunity etc.), and find countries that are interested in our trade. The EU, Mexico and much of South America are very realistic trading allies, let's work on those markets instead of worrying about the lack of progress with the US.

Mr. Harper seems to think the world revolves around the United States. It doesn't, and Canada should be positioning itself so that we aren't put into crisis by the American proclivity for protectionism.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

As the pot calleth the kettle black...

In today's Calgary Sun, columnist Paul Jackson gives us this perspective on the GOP nomination convention this past week.

Ordinarily, I can't be bothered to give this nitwit the time of day - his attitude is sneering and condescending, his arguments are filled with holes you could drive a truck through. Like his compatriot in silliness, Ezra Levant, Jackson is amazingly blind to how the accusations he levels at the "Lib-Left" apply to him:

Liberals and socialists are smug and hypocritical.

On the flipside of the political coin, Conservatives believe in assessing opposing viewpoints and countering them on an intelligent and intellectual basis.

This is exactly the opposite of my experience in this country. That Jackson would be so bold as to accuse left-leaning people of being "smug and hypocrytical", and yet I've encountered more rude smugness from so-called "conservatives" the last ten years or so than I have ever seen from those left-leaning people I know.

In general, I have found what passes for a "Conservative" these days is more likely to fall back on arguments based on a particularly nasty interpretation of the Holy Bible where social issues are concerned; and seems to be blindly unaware of the negative effects of privatization and globalization on people in the middle and lower economic strata.

Further, I will point out that Jackson has never bothered to counter a rational argument that I have seen. His arguments are typically emotionally loaded, and sneering in tone at best. (Read a few of his columns, I'm sure it will speak for itself) For someone who purports to be a proponent of intellectual debate, Jackson slams the door on any such discussion by his tone and vapid arguments.

Bush, always scorned by the Liberal-Left media, academia and the pseudo-intellectual crowd -- as was Ronald Reagan, one of the greatest presidents of the last century -- also gave a measured, quietly patriotic speech. He's leading America at one of the most dangerous times in history, and leading it with a steady hand.
Perhaps, just maybe, Jackson should take a look at _WHY_ Bush is seen in such a poor light by those people. He might come to understand that there is a significant proportion of the population that perceives Bush as having engaged in some of the worst forms of statecraft that we have seen for quite some time. I wouldn't care to compare Bush to Reagan - Reagan never did enough to particularly impress me; Bush has only served to infuriate me. Bush may well be "patriotic", but patriotism does not ensure good governance. Balance, wisdom and a willingness to listen to all points of view do. Bush has demonstrated little of any of those qualities.

The Liberal-Left, who haven't any idea how to fight terrorism, ridicules Bush with rhetoric, but not with any substance.

Ah, the Lib-Left has no idea how to fight terrorism? And Bush does? He has been successful in reducing the risk in the world how? Afghanistan remains a country whose government is on the edge of collapse; warlords still control much of rural Afghanistan, people who have known sympathies for Osama bin Laden. Iraq is a country on the verge of civil war, and the US has yet to bring much that resembles order to it. Instead, at Abu-Ghraib, their troops come up with more ways to humiliate and infuriate the Iraqis. My, such a track record of success. The arguments I have seen from the left reflect my own intuition - if you want to dismantle terrorist organizations, you do so by infiltration and sabotage, not with tanks. These are borderless organizations which do not conform to the kind of military model that the US has been using to wage war.
In Canada, several parties, still two philosophies.
If you believe that there are only two philosophies in Canada (or the US), then you are even more intellectually blinded than I first thought you to be. The Right-Left spectrum is at best a simplistic convenience, and hardly one that reflects the diversity of political opinion and thought that is expressed in either nation.

So we have it: Two parties, two philosophies. In Canada, several parties, still two philosophies.

In each country, personalities who stand on principle; personalities who stand for what they can get.

Look in the mirror, pal. Bush's cronies are the ones benefitting from tax cuts, not the poor. The poor struggle to pay their rent from one month to the next, and cannot afford the extra capital required to make investments. Their investment is entirely in survival.

The wealthiest can afford whatever health care they need or desire - what about the schmoe working at McDonald's for $6.50 an hour?

Where's the respect for legality and human rights? The US currently has many prisoners at facilities like Guantanamo Bay, where the prisoners are held outside of law, outside of any recourse or representation? The so-called Patriot Act and its derivitives increase the rights of the US government to engage in unbridled surveillance and seizure without adequate judicial oversight. How does this make anyone safer?

Yes, Mr. Jackson, there are those who stand on principle, and those who are out 'for what they can get'. I suggest that you may have them switched in your mind. The right-wing in the US that you so admire is far from perfect. Before you get so smug about the inferiority and hypocrisy of the lib-left, I suggest strongly you be damned sure that your own house is clean.

The Moral Obligation of Politicians to Tell The Truth

I ran across this small, but rather interesting article on CNN.

Superficially, this article speaks about Arnold's "historical accuracy" in his speech to the recent Republican National Convention. However, it raises a very interesting, and important question for us to consider - to what degree should politicians be held to speak the truth?

Those with a sense of absolute "rightness" will no doubt argue that the politicians should be held to a higher standard of truthfulness than the rest of the population. Others, will argue that "it's fine for a politician to bend the truth a bit", recognizing that there are occasions where a specific presentation of facts will allow the speaker to be more persuasive in arguing their position.

Arnold states:
"I saw tanks in the streets. I saw communism with my own eyes."
There's a couple of points here - I think -

The historians can argue until they are blue in the face about whether Arnold in fact saw those tanks. Perhaps he did; perhaps not - beyond being a mild exaggeration of his experiences, I'm not too worried about it.

The spin that is much more worrisome is the second sentence - "I saw communism with my own eyes". No, you didn't, Arnold. If you saw anything, it was the occupation of a country by a military, totalitarian regime. Communism, even in the "Marxist-Leninist" form that the Soviets followed is not necessarily either.

A brief investigation of the various US military occupations of countries around the world could easily lead one to make the same argument about "Capitalism" - especially in various countries in Central/South America (Chile; El Salvador; Panama to name a few)

Arnold has engaged in a very simple, but trivial argument - the pot calling the kettle black. A critical review of the other side of the equation.

Did Arnold lie? Perhaps not intentionally. The measure of truthfulness that we must apply to our politicians must be tempered by a careful evaluation of their motives. The Republicans are trying to retain their grip on the White House - they will say just about anything that they believe the public will accept as "reasonable".

In Alberta, Ralph Klein recently declared Alberta "Debt Free". That was perhaps a much more blatant lie. Alberta will be debt free if, and only if a series of preconditions come true:

  1. The revenue surplus at the end of the year is in excess of $3 billion.
  2. The government in fact applies all of that $3 billion dollars towards the debt
  3. Interest charges accrued between now and then do not push the net sum over the size of the surplus.
There is a good chance of those preconditions occurring next March or so, but those are preconditions, not facts. What was Ralph's motivation in making such a declaration? Given the timing, and a few other things, one has to suspect that it is a matter of Ralph wanting to set the stage for his next election campaign. Given that the election is likely to occur before next March, I would say that Ralph has engaged in the most cynical form of political lie - he didn't say that the debt _would_ be paid off, he declared it was. Most people are likely to take such words at face value.

George W. Bush has made many statements about the reasons for invading Iraq. As time has gone by, the various reasons have apparently evaporated into the desert winds. Did Bush lie? Perhaps - he may have believed that he had accurate information. I don't know. However, as time has gone on, and the justifications presented have lost any substance, Bush has fallen back onto arguments where the 'end justifies the means'. (Basically, "we deposed a nasty dictator, things can only improve now") I worry about such sophistry coming from politicians. Not only does it suggest to me that the speaker knew they were full of fiction earlier on in the saga, but it also suggests that they believe that the public is largely a bunch of idiots that won't see through the fiction.

So - what is the standard we should hold our politicians to? I would argue that as citizens, we cannot expect much better from our politicians than we currently get. The corridors of power create an environment where it is often easier to lie in the name of retaining power than it is to deal with the truth. It is our job as the electorate to view the pronouncements of our politicians with caution. Look between the lines of what is said, and try to determine what underlying motives influence the statements. If we find our political leaders are engaging in egregious lies, it is up to us to vote those people out of power. Voting along partisan lines is foolish many times. No matter how fervently one may believe in the goals of a party, if its leadership is filling the population with falsehoods, that party will never fulfil its stated goals.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Leadership? what Leadership?!

So, King Ralph skips out of this week's Premiers' Conference, pleading that he "will be on vacation".

He has previously stated that he wasn't going to attend any more than the first day of the First Ministers Conference with Paul Martin - the one intended to get the discussion going with the provinces over Health Care.

I may not agree with what Paul Martin wants to do any more than Ralph does - I really haven't seen enough to have a clear impression one way or the other. However, I think I'd like to see what it was for myself. Martin is making a clear, and public, attempt to open lines of discourse between Ottawa and the Provinces. I applaud that.

So - what's Ralph in a snit about? Basically, because the press will be there, and the meetings will be open sessions, it won't be Ralph's favorite playground - 'Behind Closed Doors'. This means he can't play his usual hardball cards in the meetings - it won't play well on camera, and Ralph knows it. He also knows that he wants to call a provincial election - soon.

The excuse Ralph gave for this week is such an obvious crock of steer manure it's not even funny. For a man on 'vacation', he seems to have an amazingly busy agenda galavanting around the province to speaking engagements, ceremonies and goodness knows what else. If this is Ralph's idea of a vacation, he's suddenly become a lot more "Type A" than he has been in the past.

Frankly, I see it as yet another lie from a man who has slowly lost his ability to distinguish what the public will believe from an obvious crock.

This combined with the recent "what should we do with the surplus" survey makes it pretty clear that the Alberta Conservatives don't have a clue any more. They've run out of gas - they have no vision for Alberta that extends beyond the next opinion poll to be published. A recent 'first quarter' analysis released by the Government claims that spending will be much higher, and that will eat up most of the surplus, leaving conveniently around 3 billion to wipe out the debt. Far too convenient. With oil prices staying well over $40/bbl, I just don't see that 3 billion dollar surplus staying at 3 billion - even with what the Tories have proposed to throw into the mix.

The survey about 'future' surpluses is no more than cheap electioneering - basically the Conservatives are doing an opinion poll on taxpayer coin. What's the outcome of this poll? They want to use it to decide which way the political winds are blowing in the province. No more, and no less. Don't waste your time on the survey, spend it more wisely - inform yourself about the other options in the province, and on voting day - whenever that is - go to the ballot box with a clear idea of what Alberta can be - look beyond Ralph and his Henchmen.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Fool me once, shame on you; Fool me twice?

I hope not!

I had started a rant about King Ralph's latest attempt at electioneering - then a friend sent me this as an e-mail:

Dear Cracked,

I wanted to share with you my disgust with the Klein government's latest attempt at campaigning using taxpayer dollars under the guise of "government business".

Of course, I am referring to the latest mailing that was circulated to some three million Albertans - at our own cost of course. This thinly veiled campaign spreads the message that the current government of Alberta has done many great things for us (with the obvious focus on being debt-free), and identifying some of the, ahem, "challenges and opportunities" that we as Albertans face. They identify improving the health care system and investing in education among other options.

Now, this is where the pamphlet gets interesting - the survey. It is obviously engineered to engender the responses that the government wants by pushing our hot buttons and wording the questions in a very one-sided manner. Who among us would claim that a "quality, affordable Alberta health care system" is a low priority, or that we don't want an "outstanding education system" or that it is not important to "build a more diverse, innovative economy" or indeed "provide support to Albertans who need help". Forgive me, by my eye is tearing up at the obvious concern and compassion that OUR Alberta government has for our wellbeing after they have slashed education budgets, tried to privatize health care and don't even let me START in on my opinion on privatized utilities.

I can HEAR the violins playing in the background and can't help but wonder how many sheep, er, um, I mean voters are going to read the pamphlet, and decide that the government is showing care and concern for THEIR well-being, is asking for THEIR opinion, and wants to help THEM! It makes me want to stand up on the podium and explain gently that this is the same government who by their actions has proven time and time again that the opinions and voice of Albertans does NOT count, that they do NOT care about our well-being, and that if they truly believe that Klein cares about THEM that I have a choice piece of waterfront property in Arizona that they might be interested in purchasing.

But, I digress - continuing on the survey, the Klein government goes so far as to state that "Now that the unexpected windfall money no longer has to go to pay down the debt, what priority would you place on...". There is a rather large tasty carrot offered to us in the very first option "Provide a REFUND to EVERY Albertan". Ah, visions of dollar signs and sugarplums dance in the heads of Albertans, they TOO can receive a windfall from the government - imagine, free money! And all they have to do is ASK Klein nicely - that and hope that he gets voted in again so that the promised money actually magically appears in their mailbox. Bah!

As I recall, Klein pulled a similar stunt with the LAST election - he sold off our utilities, and gave each Albertan of voting age a trifling sum of money, a "refund" - or, as I prefer to call it "a bribe". Come on - who among us are so naive that we cannot see his refund as a pitiful attempt to buy more votes? And what is the state of our Utilities now? How much of that bribe money have we had to put into increased rates - face it, we paid the bribe out of our own pocket; and somehow I don't feel a lot of sympathy for a government who wrote me a check out of my own bank account.

Do you want to take a sucker bet? How much do you want to bet that one of two scenarios will take place:

#1. The Klein government announces that an overwhelming number of Albertans have shared their opinions and have asked for a refund. No big surprise there. And - of course - the KLEIN government will hold out as a tasty carrot - er, I mean election promise - that they will continue to listen to Albertans, and out of the goodness of their own hearts , they will send out the refunds just as soon as they are voted back in.


#2. The Klein government makes the same announcement as #1, and SENDS out a paltry sum to each Albertan, and puts out an election promise that they will continue to, ahem, "refund" any more windfall monies just as long as they are in power.

I have very little patience for this thinly veiled bribery on the part of our elected officials - and, indeed, I am a little disgusted with the favourable timing timing of this "survey" (and I'm not even sure if I am willing to give it the name "survey" as that would imply that it was a scientifically crafted questionnaire with the intent to poll Albertans in an unbiased manner to determine their views, rather than leading them around using a ring through their noses).

Read the survey for yourself. And recognize it for what it really is - a series of statements designed to lead us into false security that our health care, education system and infrastructure remains in good shape, and that there is hope for the future. False hope - perhaps. Bah!

Thanks, but this election I'll De-Klein.

I think that says it all...

Perhaps, this election we should all go to the polls, but not as the drugged sacrificial bull of Roman sacrifice.

On Coded Language and Political Policy

In the last few years, coded language has become a significant factor in how political parties present themselves.  This is especially preva...