Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Trashing We Will Go...Heigh Ho!

I just received the following e-mail:

So Harper would propose an Office of Public Prosecutions to charge politicians involved in scandals. But the procedure is there now, so what do we gain except another bureaucracy?

Presently the Auditor General can refer her/his report to the RCMP to determine if charges can be laid against certain persons named therein - hence, I think, charges against Guite and Brault.

Also, the PM has referred the Gomery Report to th RCMP to determine if further action is required. Possible charges against Chretien and Galiano?

Further, how would Harper deal with a situation where one or more politicians scheme to hide the facts of a programme from their fellow policiticians and hence the public. Until the Auditor General has done the necessary work this scheme would not be uncovered. And, if I guess right, the uncovering of the nefarious scheme is done by sheer good luck sometimes.

Politicans are just like any other twit who gets involved in a criminal activity, they can be charged and have to account for their actions. They cannot always get immunity from their fellows.

The idea of an Office of Public Prosecutions sounds good until you think about it for a minute. Strange people these Conservatives, they would cut government yet in the next breath they want to increase the bureaucracy.

The proposed "Office of Public Prosecutions" that Harper has put forth is lump of window dressing that looks like it fell out of the wrong end of a pigeon. As the author of that e-mail has pointed out, the Auditor General already has the authority to turn a report over to the RCMP for criminal investigation. What Harper has conveniently overlooked is a couple of basic realities of Canada's bureaucracy and legal system.

First, any "office" that is attached to the House of Commons is guaranteed to be politicized. Period. It's an unavoidable reality. No matter how you slice it, such an office has to be held at arms length from the legislative body, otherwise its every act is suspect.

Second, is the fact that we already have the required bodies: The RCMP and the Judiciary are deliberately held at arms length from the legislative components of our government. The reasons for such a distancing are so trivially obvious that I don't think I need to explain the utter irony of Harper's proposition.

I'm not against more accountability in government - goodness knows that former Prime Minister Mulroney's constant lawsuits against any investigation or inquiry into the now infamous Airbus affair leaves me deeply suspicious of how much he is trying to hide. Of course today, nearly 15 years later, the time for any meaningful prosecution of that fiasco is long past. We already have the appropriate mechanisms to chase malfeasance in the public service - another office of enforcement is mere political window dressing - demonstrative of a myopic party.

Strike one plank from the Conservative platform - it's suffering from dry rot before the nails are set in it.

When I got home tonight, I was treated to CBC interviewing both Bishop Henry and then Craig Chandler about Harper's latest gaffe on the subject of SGM.

Both of these nitwits completely missed a few points here. First - bill C-38 did not change the spiritual notion of marriage, only the legal, secular definition. Second, the legislation is quite clear about the issue of the Church's rights in the topic. Yes, there are challenges being raised against some churches on this matter, but the legislation is fairly clear on the matter, and the basic protections around individual religious freedom do serve as safeguards that the church clergy can fall back upon. (and I will not object to those refusals - that's a topic within the Churches themselves, and as long as the clergy doesn't try to make the secular world align with their specific beliefs, I don't much care).

Chandler then proceeded to divert the conversation from the bill C-38 discussion to bill C-250 (the hate crimes amendment), and went off on a tirade about how Christians were being prohibited from speaking their faith. He was quite shrill in his decryal of this "persecution" of Christians. I've pointed out before that personal freedoms are protected, and legitimate theological discussions are similarly protected. What "Christians" like Chandler cannot do is impose their faith upon others. My faith is not Mr. Chandler's faith - he has absolutely no right to judge - and condemn - others to a second tier life because of his faith.

With hardline cases like Bishop Henry and Craig Chandler cheering the CPC leader on, this topic serves as a warning for all who value civil rights and social equality. For these guys, equality is a matter of faith - if you don't match their faith model, you don't deserve to be treated equally.

Strike a second plank from the Conservative platform - this one's sat in swamp water for so long that nails just fall out of it, and when you put weight on it, well, it's rather like my deck last summer.

Next Plank Boys?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Problem With "Abstinence" Education Programs

The messages coming out of the "abstinence education" programs coming out of the United States are beginning to really bother me. This particular little gem struck me as particularly tasteless, as well as underscoring the problems with the whole "abstinence" movement.

First, understand one thing - I don't think abstinence is a bad idea - in fact I think it's a very prudent idea. But I'm also a realist. Teenagers are not fully rational human beings - they are walking, breathing collections of hormones whose rationality is suspect. Throughout the ages, once human adolescents reach a certain point in their development, they will start to experiment sexually - no matter what taboos society has established around the topic. Society is deeply mistaken if it naively believes that artificial taboos will make that behaviour change.

The photograph above really irritates me for a number of reasons - first, consider the message for young women especially. Sex becomes a tool of exchange - you exchange sex for a commitment (marriage). Pregnancy is shameful otherwise; sexual behaviour is a woman's problem - after all, men don't get pregnant. Oh yes, above all, sex is for procreation. (We won't go into the biology of why sex is wired into our brain's _pleasure centers_, will we? That might actually lead to some kind of logical understanding of reality)

While advocates of abstinence only approaches to sexuality like to claim that abstinence is the only "guaranteed way" to prevent pregnancy and the transmission of STIs, organizations like Planned Parenthood are quite right to decry this trivial truism.

In a perfect world, perhaps the arbitrary prohibitions of society would be followed by all its members. History has shown that this is seldom, if ever the case in any society larger than a small village. Teaching teenagers about sexuality in a calm, rational manner is not immoral, nor is it giving them a license to engage in sexual activity. I'd much rather have them aware of the consequences of their actions; knowledgeable about condoms and other contraceptive devices for one basic reason - parents cannot be there every time a teenager makes a decision - the best that they can do is make sure that the teen has the best possible knowledge, and hope that the teen makes a good decision on their own. In an era where AIDS exists, a bad decision can be fatal; a bad decision made in ignorance is not only fatal, but it becomes society's failure.

Abstinence programs don't teach about sexuality; they don't teach people about contraception and family planning (and no, the rhythm method is not contraception, no matter what the Catholic Church claims). Instead, they retreat into the shadowy world of making sexuality a taboo in the vain hope that they can shame people into "behaving". Honest knowledge does not guarantee good behaviour, but it makes it a lot easier to for people to make better decisions. We do the generations coming behind us no favours by denying them access to knowledge because it is seen by some as "immoral".

Besides, a society where people aren't ashamed of their sexuality is ultimately going to be much healthier than one where the topic is buried in the mire of taboo and shame.

I wonder where Stephen Harper and the CPC come down on this issue? (I can guess - anyone for a little candidate baiting?)

Conservatives: self.shoot(foot)

It took less than 24 hours for Stephen Harper's colours to show:

Harper vows free vote on gay marriage, would respect knots already tied

In the department of "we've already been through this", do you really want to reopen that discussion again?

Second, have you ever heard of "move on - there's nothing here to see"?

However, Harper doesn't appear to get it, does he? Instead, he opens his trap, and promptly demonstrates to the populus that he's quite nicely tied up with the social conservatives. How well do you think _that's_ going to play outside of Alberta?

At this rate, the conservatives will pass through the election day on the bloodied stumps of what used to be their legs - having shot more and more pieces off as time goes by.

[Update 18:43]:

In making this "free vote" comment, Harper has signalled something very important - if you can be marginalized, you will be. If you don't fit into the straightjacket mold of behaviour that social conservatives believe in, don't expect your rights to be upheld and backed by the government. If the "majority" think differently, the notwithstanding clause will be used to back that "majority" view.

So - if you find yourself sick, and the "majority" don't think that your illness is real, do you get treatment - or will it have to be a charter challenge in the courts?

The Opposite of Right is ???

Traipsing about some of Craig Chandler's comments on the Project Alberta message board, I noticed his tag line read "The Opposite of Right is ... Wrong!"

So - I thought I'd do the obvious - go through various "Right-Wing" policies implemented around the world, and examine them:

Flat Tax Regimes:

This is a classic piece of right-wing position. Along with poll taxes and medicare "premiums", they effectively punish those at the bottom end of the income spectrum, and have little impact on the higher income earners. Since governments exist, in principle, for the benefit of all citizens, it seems unreasonable for the government to disproportionately impact the weakest of society's members.

Implemented: In Alberta.

Impact: Try living on less than $35,000/year in this province - you'll figure it out soon enough.

Free Trade:

It sounds so good on paper, doesn't it? Take down trade barriers, enable commerce unfettered access to each other's markets. Until you realize that one of the parties to the agreement thinks it's a one-way deal. Canada's involvement in the NAFTA agreement underscores the problems with blind free trade. Constant disputes with the United States over one issue or another, and rulings that are routinely ignored by the United States government. (Which - ideologically speaking should be among the biggest proponents of free trade)

The European model, as implemented by the EU, although filled with incessant squabbling seems to be designed to succeed. Only time will tell, but it appears that for the most part, the EU member nations ultimately wind up coming to some kind of workable comprimise. (Notably, the European countries are typically much more socialist than North American nations)

The point? The very people for whom free trade should be an ideologically obvious thing are on the right wing, and yet, they are the biggest obstacles to it working. Today, NAFTA is arguably a failure.

Implemented: Canada, Mexico and United States

Impact: Lots - starting with the concentration of resource ownership in foreign hands.

Follow-Me Funding:

Often discussed in Alberta with respect to topics such as health care and education. The problem I have with "follow-me" funding is that it tends to divert public funding into private sector enterprise. Along with so-called "charter schools", these models simply dilute the public system to the point of inneffectiveness. The result? A public education system so strapped that only the poor will use it (and only if they must).

The problem? Once you starve the public system to this degree, it rapidly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The mantra is that public services provided by the government don't work. Meanwhile, the same government parties starve the service for funding to the point where it ultimately collapses. Usually the politicians will throw around terms like "unsustainable" without ever defining what that means.

Implemented: Alberta, Ontario (sort of - I'm not sure how far Harris got in imitating Ralph on that front)

In the United States, the problems with chronic underfunding of the public education system is demonstrated by the punitive nature of the "No Child Left Behind" act that George W. Bush brought into play, where "underperforming" school districts are punished (presumably by witholding federal funding).

Social Conservativism

Whether we are talking about gay rights, abortion rights, or immigration policy, social conservativism seems to ultimately be based on ignorance, superstition and pure concentrated stupidity.

Propogating misinformation doesn't solve societal problems; nor does stigmatization and marginalization of people.

Implemented: United States; Alberta

My point? Not that the "Right Wing" of the political spectrum lacks anything to contribute to the political dialogue in this nation, but rather that it is foolish to assume that "Right" in the context of politics means "correct".

There Goes Half the Priesthood

Gay Priests To Be Banned scream the headlines.

Cynically, I kind of go "yeah, so what?" in the back of my mind - until the irony of it struck me.

Here we have the Roman Catholic Church going out of its way to make sure that no gays are in the clergy - or if they are, they're definitely celibate. This is the same church that is struggling to find enough clergy as it is, especially in the developed world.

The real irony comes to us from history. For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church was the only "respectable" employ that a homosexual person could often find. I don't know if any of the gay priesthood rose much above the level of the parish priest - only that there were lots of them in the hierarchy Annotated Bibliography. Of course, they were expected to regularly flog themselves or otherwise do penance for their "weaknesses".

In fairness, the church has generously decreed that if a homosexual has remained celibate for three years before entering the seminary, that they can become priests. (Rather like banning divorce, but oddly managing to find ways to grant annulments...) A bar like that is almost laughable. Periods of celibacy happen in people's lives all the time - sometimes by choice, sometimes by circumstance. Why such a bar exists for homosexuals entering the clergy, but not so for a heterosexual candidate is beyond me. Does the church not teach that extra-marital sex is a sin?

Personally, I think the Church would do itself a huge favour if it focused on expunging those that commit crimes from the clergy instead of moving them from parish to parish until the stink of their deeds overpowers even those outside the clergy. But, of course, that would be rational - and Pope Benedict XVI appears to be anything but.

Monday, November 28, 2005

And So An Election Begins

The Liberal minority government has fallen. This comes as no surprise.

Paul Martin signalled a few bits of the Liberal election strategy. It appears that it will be a nasty campaign, with leaders attacking each other on nearly personal grounds. Martin did signal running on party record of accomplishments. If Martin can focus things on the last 18 months of accomplishments, that might not be a bad thing - I wouldn't recommend leaning on the Chretien era record, though.

From Stephen Harper's speech to the Conservative Caucus. In referring to improving the lot of Canadians: "Under a Conservative Government we will tell them they will be better off". The subtle nuances of this one sentence are fascinating:

"So, you won't actually improve my lot?"
"You'll tell me I'm going to be better off - after you do what???"

Like the computer in the game "Paranoia" the CPC wants us to believe that we are going to be "happy" under their rule.

In many respects, this election is Harper's to win or lose. Can he (and his party) convey a coherent vision for Canada, or will some wingnut start musing out loud once again.

Friday, November 25, 2005

On the Cusp

Canada finds itself teetering on the edge of a Christmas Election campaign. Ugh - just what I need to round out the season of cheer - a bunch of politicians running around hurling insults at one another.

Stephen Harper set the tone for the pending election in the House of Commons when he introduced a non-confidence motion. In suggesting that the Liberal party is somehow linked to organized crime, Harper just set the tone for a campaign that looks to be filled with accusations and acrimony.

Cynically, I might well agree that much of what was done in the Sponsorship Program bears some resemblance to the money laundering activities that organized crime like the mafia are (in)famous for. However, if Mr. Harper thinks that continuing to tell the voters "how corrupt the evil Liberals are" is going to win him this election, he is likely to be sorely mistaken. Didn't Harper learn anything from his "BBQ Tour" this past summer? (and last sitting's backlash to his "Angry White Guy" routine.

Harper could have spent the next couple of months showing Canadians alternatives to the Liberals from the opposition benches. Whether that is comes in the form of dramatically amending bills - either in comittee, or through private members' bills. In an minority parliament, there is far more opportunity to do such things - and make them stick - than there is when sitting as opposition in a majority parliament.

Instead, in his rush to achieve power, Harper has once again missed the concept entirely.

First he's forcing an election at the worst possible time. While it's possible that he is doing this with the hope that only the "politicized" members of his party will get out to vote, he is overestimating the size of that part of the electorate, as well as underestimating the consequences of dragging people out to the polls around a major holiday season.

Second, I think most people had bought into Martin's promise to call an election thirty days after the second part of the Gomery Report was delivered. Instead, Harper wants an election now, even though the first part of the Gomery Report's effects on voters has long since lapsed into distant memory.

Third, the first major statement Harper makes in his opening volley tries to link the Liberals to organized crime. For crying out loud, didn't the drubbing your party took this spring make it painfully obvious to you that Canadians are not interested in hyperbole?

Apparently the Conservative Party still thinks that all of the outrage at the Liberals will magically translate into votes for the CPC. What a mistake.

[Update:] I just heard Jay Hill on the CBC news talking about the government having lost the "moral authority" to govern. Last I checked, a government's authority to govern comes from the throne in this country, not the pin-headed brains of the conservative party's moral penguins.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Update - David Crutcher, Alberta Alliance Leadership

It's been irritating me all week that I haven't been able to pin down where I recognize David Crutcher's name from.

A little bit of digging (Google is a truly amazing tool, some days), and I turn up the following:

Ran for Alberta Alliance in Calgary Egmont
PGIB's National Fundraising Chair

Well - that explains a few things.

Oh yes - if you dig around (and I did), you find that Craig Chandler hangs out on the Project Alberta message boards. His written style is as obnoxious as his personal presence...(go looking for some of the commentary about the Alberta Alliance campaign...

Dear God! - Ralph Said Something I Agree With?

Well ... one sentence at least...

Sez Ralph: "Klein said while he views Harper as a "bright, articulate individual, perhaps he's seen as too much on the right.""

Everything else he said was the usual backpedalling tripe.

In some respects, it's not just Harper that is "too much on the right" that bothers me - it's the ties that too many senior CPC MPs have to the Religious Right and other hard-line right-wing groups (such as the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the The Fraser Institute and other groups that appear to idolize our neighbor to the south.

I've said it before, and I'll say it now - until the CPC loses its ties to what many Canadians see as right-wing hardliners they have little real credibility as a governing party.

That means that some tangible changes need to happen. Lose MPs like Kenney, Anders, Hanger, Merrifield and others. Visibly distance yourself from outfits like the "Fraser Institute" (which seems to have become a retirement home for former Reform/Alliance leadership of late).

Then show voters something that resembles real vision for Canada.

Meanwhile, voters should sit back and watch the show in Ottawa today. If nothing else, it should be humorous.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Assorted Lunacy ... and Why I Won't Be Voting Conservative This Election

Usually, I wait until the election campaigns are in full swing before I make any final decisions on parties/candidates that I'm going to vote for.

What follows is a "six degrees of separation" travel through the terrain of Alberta politics and the intellectual lunacy that calls itself the CPC.

The Alberta Alliance Party just selected a new leader this past weekend - Paul Hinman, their sole elected MLA took the job.

I know nothing about Paul Hinman, so I won't spend too much energy slagging him. What caught my interest was a few other bits from the Calgary Herald article that was in the clippings file from the Alberta Liberals:

David Crutcher was the Calgary hopeful. His supporters wore T-shirts emblazoned with Media, Manpower, Money. "I have an army behind me," Crutcher told the crowd, claiming a network of fundraisers and media contacts unrivalled by anyone else seeking the top job.

Media contacts? Not at the Herald. Not to sound self-important, but I've never heard from the man, nor in fact heard of him until a few weeks back.

Jason Fekete, the Herald's earnest and intense young political reporter, talked to him once.

"Every time you write something, it's a jab," says Craig Chandler, Crutcher's hulking campaign manager. OK, here's something nice about Chandler. He's a gregarious sort. There.

Chandler has some history, handling the nomination campaign for Tory MLA Art Johnston, where he cranked up a little conservative Christian froth to help Johnston beat well-known restaurateur Al Browne. Browne should have won, plugged in to the Tories as he is.
He didn't, partly because Chandler and his types played up that Browne owned a Hooters restaurant. Women's breasts and A-1 chicken wings are evil, and the Bible-thumpers helped Johnston to the legislature.

Hmmm - I've heard the name David Crutcher before...I'm not sure where (yet)...sure enough, after about five minutes with Google, I hit paydirt. Unquestionably, I've heard of Craig Chandler - and I really don't want to hear of him again - but like a bad smell, he keeps reappearing.

Chandler's the man behind quite a few random groups out there now: Concerned Christians Canada; PGIB; and Free To Speak and Freedom Radio Network. Having seen him run Alderman Ric McIver's campaign against Sue Higgins a few years ago, Chandler is a goon. Period.

A brief read through Chandler's bio turns up this little gem:

Mr. Chandler has also debated many political representatives such as former Ontario Attorney General and Ontario NDP leader Howard Hampton, MP Stan Keyes, MP Beth Phinney, MP Jason Kenney,

Ah - there's the link I was looking for. We've now (at least partially) linked Jason Kenney (my MP) back to the Christian Reich that has been a seething horror in the bowels of the CPC. Just for giggles, I decided to see if I could find more linking Jason Kenney to Mr. Chandler's efforts.

Sure enough, I start digging and I find plenty that links Jason Kenney to the intolerant side of the Religious Reich:

Donating items to a fundraiser

Of course, LifeSite's reporters like him: Alliance Leadership Race, but I think I've made my point about Lifesite's credibility already.

and he's apparently still quite active in the so-called "Pro Life" lobby in Alberta:

Life 2005 Conference

Granted - I've never liked Jason Kenney in the first place. Not when he first appeared on the scene along with Rob Anders and several other complete nitwits running under the Reform banner. The man's links to organizations that I simply disagree with from stem to stern serve to reinforce my mistrust of the man as an MP. If you believe that the Religious Conservatives are no longer a "major force" in the CPC, I strongly suggest you look again.

And then consider Harper's "mushy" stances on things like abortion - where he's left the door open to having a private member's bill introduced:

June 3 — Stephen Harper says he would allow a free vote on abortion if an MP introduced a private member's bill. "Absolutely ... I would generally continue the practice of allowing free votes on all private member's legislation." He also says he wouldn't rule out using the notwithstanding clause to prohibit gay marriage.

In other words, while Harper will have "plausible deniability" with regards to legislation of "social conservative" topics (e.g. they won't be introduced by cabinet members), you can bet that there would be a lot of legislation being "written by back bench MPs" that just happens to get support from the cabinet MPs.

Monday, November 21, 2005

(dis)Honest Journalism

I realize that journalists are like everyone else - their beliefs will inevitably trickle into the articles that they write. However, i do believe that anyone who is engaging in journalism (that is reporting on the world's events) has an obligation to be intellectually honest with their readers.

In my travels through the web today, I encountered - a rleigious "current affairs" website. On it, I found this article screaming Homosexuality Triggering HIV Escalation. Knowing that even under the Bush administration, the CDC remains fastidiously methodical in their studies, I was a little astonished to read something drawing such an absolute conclusion coming from them. So, I opened the study that Lifesite's reporter had referred to and started to read.

As I read through the document, I found what had the reporter was so excited:

Although a statistically significant increase occurred from 2003 to 2004 in the number of diagnosed infections among MSM, the overall annual average percentage change from 2001 to 2004 was not significant. Flat trends in diagnoses were observed among white, black, and Hispanic MSM. The small upturn in diagnoses in 2003--2004 occurred for all racial/ethnic MSM populations. Increases in HIV diagnoses during this period are more difficult to interpret because of increasing emphasis on the benefits of increased testing among persons at high risk. Whereas increases among MSM might reflect increases in HIV incidence, consistent with increases in syphilis and other risk behaviors, they might also reflect increases in HIV testing among MSM. Increasing HIV testing among MSM is critical in light of a study of MSM aged 15--29 years in six U.S. cities, which reported that the proportion of unrecognized HIV infection was as high as 77% (7). Although a significant increase occurred in HIV/AIDS diagnoses among Asian/Pacific Islanders from 2001 to 2004, this population continues to have the lowest HIV/AIDS rates of any racial/ethnic population in the United States.

* Note: MSM apparently is the CDC's abbreviation for Men who have sex with men.

Ah - of course, even when you read it, it's fairly apparent that the reporter has rather badly missed a bunch of qualifying points:

Whereas increases among MSM might reflect increases in HIV incidence, consistent with increases in syphilis and other risk behaviors, they might also reflect increases in HIV testing among MSM. Increasing HIV testing among MSM is critical in light of a study of MSM aged 15--29 years in six U.S. cities, which reported that the proportion of unrecognized HIV infection was as high as 77% (7).

In other words, the statistics themselves are inconclusive. The precise causes of an increase in diagnosed cases is far from clear. The interpretation of the results is ambiguous at best.

The report goes on to say:

The findings in this report are subject to at least two limitations.

First, although AIDS is a reportable condition in all 50 states, name-based HIV data are not reportable in all states.

Second, classification of cases with no identified risk factor was based on follow-up investigations; those cases were assumed to constitute a representative sample of all cases initially reported without a risk factor.

Really, how much effort would it have taken Lifesite's reporter to read the CDC report (and supporting reports - which are heavily cross-referenced) and report honestly on the ambiguity of the results? Deriving causal relationships between axis of statistical analysis is a mug's game at the best of time - even more so when topics of human behaviour are involved.

However, if you are going to report on something as if it is fact, then you really should make sure you actually read the sources that you are citing.

Of course, like Ezra Levant's "Western Standard" and the Byfields' now-defunct "Alberta Report", LifeSite isn't actually interested in facts. They have a political action agenda, and they'll cheerfully twist anything available to suit their agenda.

On the other hand, it tells those who stand in opposition to the rabid anti-womens/gay/abortion/contraception rights of the Religious Reich some very important information - you aren't dealing with a rational opposition, but instead with a form of opponent who will bend, fold and mutilate rationality to fit their preconceptions.

Consider the implications of this Pope's Address to Health Conference, which LifeSite's reporters distilled to this. The implications for women are deeply disturbing in a plethora of ways. Not the least of which, it further self-justifies standard Catholic dogma about contraception, and theoretically implies that women should be happy to get pregnant at any time. Of course, when you believe that women have no place in the direct line of communication with God, it's hardly any surprise that women become subjugated to the whims of men by virtue of biology. When this kind of theologically derived illogic is driving policy decisions, people should become very worried indeed.

Innovative and Legal?

Bafflespeak has replaced English as the language du jour in Washington. CIA Chief Porter Goss (one of Bush's appointees) is claiming that Interrogation Techniques Used Strictly Obey the Prohibitions on Torture.

Uh-huh. Sure. Just like the US is "obeying the terms of the Geneva Conventions" that it is signatory to. Or does Mr. Goss think that the world has forgotten about Guantanamo Bay, extraordinary rendition", Abu Ghraib and other assorted ghastliness that has gone on in recent years?

When I see terms like "innovative", "unique" and "strictly legal" in the same sentence as interrogation, I get very worried. In other words, if the technique used wasn't specifically spelled out in law as prohibited, they're probably using it. Strict interpretation of law usually means a rather literal interpretation - especially when you are dealing with agencies that often operate just on the edges of the law as part of their day to day routine.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Of Democratic Deficits

Conservatives in Alberta are fond of complaining about the evils of the Ottawa Hegemony that they claim is constantly conspiring to hose Albertans.

Yet, looking closer to home, we have a far more serious problem. Alberta has essentially been living under a single party dictatorship for nearly thirty years. It is rare that the opposition in the Alberta legislature is big enough to make itself heard or felt by the governing party. Ralph Klein has exacerbated things dramatically in the last few years. An increasing amount of government business is carried out by "Premier's Fiat" - either as "Order-in-Council" or some arbitrary edict in a speech.

The budget for the province for the 2005 fiscal year totalled some $25.8 Billion. In the past few months, the Alberta Government has announced billions being spent over and above the budget based on enormous surplus amounts:

$1.3 Billion in resource rebates to defray heating costs for Albertans
$1.4 Billion in "one time rebate cheques"
$10 Million for post secondary spaces
$140 Million for seniors and low-income rural Albertans

Has there been any substantive debate of this spending spree on the part of the Government? Is there so much as ten words of substantive debate in the Legislature's Hansard on the topics? No. In fact, we find a premier who is dismissive and cynical reflected in his answers to questions raised by Liberal Leader Kevin Taft:

Dr. Taft: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Last year the Premier drew the
ire of Albertans when he claimed that there was a major problem
with undeserving recipients getting AISH payments. Now, just
yesterday in this Assembly the Premier stated to the leader of the
third party that he was feigning sickness and then said, “That is
precisely what puts pressure on the health care system.” To the
Premier: can the Premier tell this Assembly the basis for his position
that Albertans feigning sickness are putting pressure on the health
care system? Does he have examples?

Mr. Klein: Mr. Speaker, I find it strange, to say the least, that the
hon. Leader of the Official Opposition would allude to what the
leader of the third party said to try to make a point. This is like
Pinocchio. The point is being stretched beyond all reasonable limits.

The Speaker: The hon. leader.

Dr. Taft: Thank you. Again to the Premier: does the Premier hold
the position that Albertans feigning sickness are putting pressure on
Alberta’s health care system?

Mr. Klein: No. Mr. Speaker, I would like to have the Blues in front
of me because what I said was that, first of all, the hon. leader of the
third party opposition said that he is sick.

Mr. Mason: Of your answers.

Mr. Klein: He is sick of our answers.
I said that if he is really sick, then we’ll call an ambulance for
him, and he will be treated under the public health system, but if he
is feigning sickness, then that is one of the problems that we face
with our health care system, people who are not sick attending
emergency wards. If he is truly sick, we’ll call an ambulance for

The Speaker: The hon. leader.

Dr. Taft: Thank you. Well, given that the Premier just said that he
thinks one of the problems in Alberta’s health care system is people
feigning sickness, does he have examples? Can he tell us the basis
for that position?

Mr. Klein: Mr. Speaker, again he is stretching, stretching, stretching,
and it indicates to me that they have nothing else to criticize.

King Ralph seems bored, disengaged and uninterested in the point here. You can be quite sure that his mind is on his upcoming speaking tour in Ontario. A trip that conspicuously removes Ralph from the legislature for the bulk of the fall session. I don't buy the BS that Ralph gives about it "already being planned". He knows damn good and well when the legislature is scheduled to sit.

Ralph has found it remarkably easy to be absent from the legislature - in 2003, he found some excuse to be out of the legislature, in 2004 he called an early election for the fall - effectively liquidating any chance of a fall session.

Simply put, Ralph is no longer interested in anything resembling debate over his policies (has he ever been?), but seems to have progressed into being a blatant dictator with no regard for even the forms of democratic government, much less the reality of actually implementing it.

Conservatives in Alberta should be howling in protest over their Premier's arrogant disregard for policy and rational debate.

Is the CPC Really This Clueless?

I've been listening to CBC's Sunday Edition program, and the topic du jour was Conservative party chances in the next election.

They had two people on - Conservative Senator Hugh Segal and Tasha Kheiridden, co-author of Rescuing Canada's Right: Blueprint for A Conservative Revolution.

Philosophically, I'm not likely to agree with either of them. I'm simply not a conservative (small-c or big-C). However, the discussion was very revealing. If one looks at Segal as "old guard" conservative, and Ms. Kheiridden as the next generation, it underscores the yawning chasm between the party and many people.

According to Mr. Segal, the party is doing a good job of differentiating itself from the Liberals. However, he made several statements that tell me that the CPC hasn't figured much of anything out yet. First, he thinks that the party has a clear policy set that differentiates them from the Liberals. Yet, when I go reading what passes for policy on the CPC website, it's all focused on the "evils of the Liberals".

Clue number two from Mr. Segal as to the cluelessness of the CPC came out in a statement about "poking the pinata of anti-Americanism". What a clueless twit! I know a lot of people who are terminally opposed to current American foreign policy. They don't support war in Iraq, they don't support the Bush Administrations pugilistic approach to world affairs, and they don't like the rising "faith-based" model of social services that BushCo. is pushing. Now, having said that, criticism of the American government is not 'anti-Americanism'. News flash for CPC members - Canada is not the United States, and most of us don't especially want to see Canada blindly tie its wagon to the US. Grow a spine and start telling Canadians how you will represent Canada as a nation, not the "next US state".

Ms. Kheiridden made a number of points that reflect my comments elsewhere on this blog in the past. First and foremost, she kept on hammering at the point that the CPC has done little to convey to Canadians any kind of vision for the nation.

Of course, they both tried to skate around the problem of the radical social conservatives that make up a rather powerful faction in the party. For a lot of Canadians, including me, this group is the key problem with the party. Until the CPC distances itself effectively from these people (and having Stephen Harper as a leader doesn't help - his roots are in that very group), there will always remain a lingering sense of doubt in voters minds about the direction and intentions of the party.

While I don't agree with the philosophy of either of the speakers this morning, if a few people like Ms. Kheiridden can make their way into the circles of influence, there's a chance that a version of the CPC may emerge in five or ten years that might actually be viable. It requires the party to make some big changes though. Policy has to become somewhat more than "we aren't the Liberals" combined with "Let's follow the United States". Show Canadians a vision for Canada, and make it clear that you aren't tied to the utterly insane extremist elements that have held sway in the past.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Yawning in the ArmChair

While Canadians doze in their armchairs, waiting for our current collection of clowns in Ottawa to decide when they are going to trigger an election, I thought I'd divert away from my usual tirades about politics.

I was just listening to a very interesting piece on CBC's Quirks and Quarks program that was discussing the practicalities and realities of human space exploration. It seems that there is a growing, active debate over whether it is practical to have people going into space, and whether that particular activity has any "scientific merit".

Basically, the argument boils down to this:

Right now, on a "dollar for dollar" basis, we get more productive science out of remote control / robotic technology used for space exploration than we do out of putting a human out there. In fact, the ISS (International Space Station) has had its budget for research trimmed to nearly nothing. The crews staying on that station are essentially "maintenance crews".

On the other side of the argument, proponents of human spaceflight argue that we need to have humanity reaching off-planet - and of course, that there is no substitute for human ingenuity.

My thoughts? I think space flight is at a junction point just as naval exploration was at in the days of Magellan and Champlain. From a pure science point of view, I suspect that the proponents of robotics are correct. We can no doubt build a device that will tolerate hostile conditions that is robotic far easier than we can achieve something which will protect a human being in those same conditions.

However, I also think that as human space flight moves from being "pure science" to an "engineering discipline", that it will come to play a vital role in our society. The trick is that it is time for human space flight to become a commercial enterprise (a la Robert Heinlein's Jubal Harshaw character). It will take many years and billions of dollars for humanity to start colonizing space, but I think that human space flight is going to move forward most positively in the commercial arena as it moves out of the realm of "pure research" and "international competition".

Space travel is a big dollar game - the chances are that few will have their own "space runabouts" in the sense that the Jetsons or that Popular Science once suggested. Even a scenario similar to Firefly/Serenity is probably a bit far fetched for the forseeable future. Like the ocean liner, the first few hundred years of commercial, human spaceflight will be economical only on a huge scale. I suspect that the underlying economics won't make a lot of sense until we learn how to process and manufacture materials in orbit. (All of which is valid engineering research, but hardly "pure science" in any sense of the word).

Essentially, we are reaching a point where we need to establish an independant economy that exists "in orbit" around earth. Once that economy is viable and solid, we will start to see real gains in human space travel. For the next hundred years or so, the people on that frontier are going to have lives that will make the life a Hudson's Bay Company trapper look pretty soft.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Conservative Arrogance

I live in Calgary SouthEast, MP Jason Kenney's riding.

I will freely admit that I think Kenney is a twit, and has the reasoning skills commensurate with being a twit. I've never made any bones about it - He's essentially Rob Anders with a little more tact.

However, I was talking to one of my colleagues at work this morning, and he tells me that he's been receiving - almost quarterly - newsletters from Jason Kenney in the mail. These things come as unaddressed admail, paid for by taxpayer dollars, and are intended to be a vehicle of communication by which an MP can tell his constituency what's happening in Ottawa. I haven't seen one of these little 'gestures' from Mr. Kenney's office in the high side of 18 months or more. (In fact, the last thing I saw from the Conservatives was one of their little "conveniently loaded" surveys - you know, the ones with the "have you stopped beating your spouse yet?" questions.

The neighborhood I live in is not particularly wealthy - it's kind of "middle of the road" - neither rich nor poor really. Certainly, it's not an area where any politician is going to find a lot of donor dollars - most people have their hands full with their mortgages and other day to day costs. Certainly, the average income in my area is a lot lower than you get in some other wealthier areas.

Granted, Kenney hasn't had the intestinal fortitude to actually answer any communications from his constituency (me, my neighbors or anyone else I know that has attempted to contact his office gets a wall of stoned silence). I can only conclude that unless you are among his known donors and supporters, Mr. Kenney is not interested in you at all.

The arrogance of the man and his supporters astounds me beyond words. Unless you are among the "wealthy" classes (e.g. live in a "rich" neighborhood), he can't be bothered with you? This, coming from a man who is part of a supposedly populist, grass roots party? The arrogance of Jason Kenney reaches heights that I thought only the oxygen starved brain of George Bush had experienced.

Next Lie!

If the war in Iraq didn't disgust me enough, the lies that have surrounded it, and seemingly every major action the US has taken with respect to Iraq certainly do.

Today, we are treated to the spectacle of the US Army ADMITTING that it has used White Phosphorus as a weapon in the seige of Fallujah. In the past, they had denied this, claiming that they were using it "only for illumination at night". Bullfeathers - starburst shells use Magnesium Oxide, not White Phosphorus.

At this rate, we should have the truth about the invasion of Iraq around about the time that Patrick Fitzgerald finishes writing his indictments up for the lies that various members of Bush's cabinet and senior advisors have told around the Valerie Plame affair.

The question in my mind is this - how long is it going to take for the hermetically sealed minds of the Republicans to wake enough to come out in open revolt against the lying bunch of scumbags that are currently running the country? Every time someone denies something, it turns out that there's more truth to the allegation than in the denial. (Lessee - WMDs, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, Fallujah, Valerie Plame - what's next?)

Note for Stephen Harper: Do you really want to align yourself with this kind of crap? Really? Do you think Canadians are _that_ stupid?

[Update: 18:15 16/11/05]:

As I drove home, listening to the news, it struck me the duplicity of invading a nation allegedly because it had "WMDs", and then using that very class of weapons against that nation. Yes, I know that the US is not signatory to any convention that calls White Phosphorous a "Chemical Weapon", but given the type of injuries and death it can inflict, it's pretty hard to argue that it's anything other than a WMD. The moral double standard is disgusting.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Creepy Legislation - Your First Introduction

In the rather debatable logic of "better security in the post-9/11 era", the Liberal Government has introduced Bill C-74 as an amendment to the telecommunications act.

In many respects, this legislation is a long overdue reworking of what we used to know as "wiretap". The old wiretap rules had some pretty strict boundaries that meant that enforcement authorities had to convince a judge that they had probable cause before they could demand access to a telephone company's facilities in order to tap a particular phone line.

In today's world, the rather 'wire-centred' view of the old act really don't work. People have cell phones; e-mail is pervasive, and travels paths that we can't possibly guess; wireless network access is steadily becoming commonplace. The number of ways to nest a signal within other signals and communications is amazing. With a little bit of creativity, it is possible to open "tunnels" in the internet where protocols are nested one atop the other to bury a signal before someone can do anything with it.

My worry about this legislation, in its current form, is I don't think it provides adequate provisions for CSIS or the RCMP to show reasonable cause before they get access to communications data. It obliges ISPs and cellular providers to have very advanced logging and tracking capabilities, and to make those records available to the law enforcement officials "on demand". This is very bothersome for several reasons:

1. The costs incurred in gathering and archiving this data will become my direct cost as a consumer. The law enforcement agencies are not financing this expense, and the ISP world (or cell providers) sure as heck won't.

2. Ministerial approval/appeal is not an adequate protection for private citizens. I am deeply worried that there doesn't appear to be any reasonable appeal through the courts in this legislation. Just as giving the police "carte-blanche" rights to tap telephone lines is an unreasonable invasion of privacy, providing unfettered access to our digital communications is similarly troubling.

I will admit that I've only given the bill a cursory read, and I may well have misunderstood or missed entirely some of the counter balancing clauses, but a first pass reading gives far too much latitude to the law enforcement agencies without providing the private citizen with notification and recourse to unreasonable search and seizure of our communications.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Now That Was Predictable

Harper has turned down the "February Election Proposal" that Jack Layton and the other opposition party leaders put forth last week.

I'm far from shocked by this revelation. When you sit down and look at it, the February proposal makes no sense for the Liberals. With Gomery II due to release in early February, the Layton proposal guarantees that voters are going to the polls at a time when they are maximally irritated about having the scab peeled once more. Martin isn't that stupid.

As the response to the first Gomery report has made clear, it's got a shelf life of a little over a week - maybe. After that, the public as a whole will be looking for something else.

Of course Stephen Harper has to say something, and as usual it's about as dense as the rock that makes up the Canadian Shield:

"What the prime minister doesn't seem to face is the election is either going to occur now or it's going to occur in January," said Harper. "We're not going to wait another four months."

Think about this Harper:

Force an election for Christmas, and the public is not going to be happy having their Christmas celebrations interrupted by the idiot rantings of politicians crying in the snow bound wilderness.

Force an election in January, and the public will quite rightly slap you silly for dragging them to the polls a couple of months early. (What, couldn't you wait for that report?)

In both cases, the opposition parties will be the "bad guys" that triggered the election. Do you really think that Canadians are _that_ eager for another election? Martin's already promised one 30 days after Gomery II is delivered. Forcing an early election is not to the opposition's advantage. (And if the slavering moronity I'm seeing in the "Conservative Blogosphere" is any indication, Harper's going to need a lot of "nice white I love me jackets" to keep the nut-cases in his party quiet during an election) Of course, Klein could stump for Harper - between the two of them, they are the best people the Liberal party has working for them.

Update - 15:10 14/11/05

While the Conservatives are going to play the "Corrupt Liberal Party" card incessantly throughout the coming weeks - and any election campaign, don't be too surprised if the now notorious Grewal Tapes (and the oh-so-talentless editing thereof) resurface. Yes, the Liberals are corrupt - we even have some idea how corrupt. Now, the Conservatives...well just how "honest" are they really? Doubt is a very strong card for the Liberals to play, and I expect that it will get played for all it's worth in a coming election - especially if Martin's advisors are on their game.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Hope For Alberta's Future?

Many times in the past, I have expressed my disgust with Alberta's current Premier. Ralph Klein has yet to do anything that strikes me as either good or intelligent policy. He seems to have turned into a wannabe Republican in the mould of George Bush and his merry band of Neo/TheoCons.

The Alberta political scene is not by any means moribund. We have a number of new parties emerging (mostly isolationist/pseudo-separatist - like the Separation Party of Alberta. Along with the "Alberta Alliance", these parties seem to mostly reflect a sense of disaffection with the fortunes of the Reform/Alliance/Conservative party over the last 15 years or so. Simply put, they appear to mostly be composed of 'bitter failed Reformers' still seeking "instant gratification" reforms.

As much as I admire the persistence and intelligence of the Alberta NDP caucus, I just can't say I'm overly impressed with Brian Mason as a speaker. Unlike Raj Pannu, Mason just hasn't been able to get his message out to the voters regularly. Also, with the last echoes of the McArthy era still rattling through the minds of baby boom voters, the odds of Alberta's NDP forming a government are slim at best.

Alberta's other opposition party, The Alberta Liberal Party, has made some significant improvements. Kevin Taft, the party leader is becoming much more successful at projecting his party and their message into the media. I don't know if Taft writes his own speeches, but he seems to be not merely articulate, but able to play to his home audience as well as articulate a vision for this province.

The next provincial election is unlikely to have Ralph Klein at the head of the Progressive Conservative Party. This is good news for those of us less who are less than impressed with Ralph's reign of late. Where Ralph seems to be able to produce some allegedly charismatic connection with voters - turning any election away from being a vote on issues, and turns it into a war of personalities. None of the PC contenders for Ralph's job have the kind of personality that engenders a connection with the voters. For the first time in fifteen years or so, we might actually see an election where issues such as "where should Alberta be headed?" are the topic of discussion, not "what a nice guy Ralph is" {he isn't - but that's a different problem}

Friday, November 11, 2005

How Much of an Idiot is Bush?

Apparenty in today's Veteran's Day speech, George W. Bush took the opportunity to accuse his critics of rewriting history.

Of course, it's the usual about how criticizing the justification given for invading Iraq is somehow "failing to support the troops" and sending "the wrong message" to them. Once again, Bush tied 9/11 to Iraq in his speech, meanwhile it's been painfully obvious for ages that there was exactly no relation between 9/11 and Iraq. If any country had a direct tie to 9/11 outside of Afghanistan it was Saudi Arabia - y'know - the country that bin Laden is from.

Hello? Is anybody home in the White House these days? Do you really think that your critics give a damn about whether or not the WMD intelligence was good, bad, distorted or indifferent? Frankly, the WMD intelligence had nothing to do with invading Iraq - the shifting sands of your story made that painfully clear. WMD's were just a convenient excuse for you to send your tanks in. When we went from a bad correlation between Hussein and 9/11, to doomsday scenarios involving WMDs; accusations that Hussein was "sponsoring terrorism" (whatever that means) and a plethora of other accusations.

Nobody cares whether your abuse of the intelligence indicating WMDs in Iraq was intentional, or merely a cynical abuse of your time. I can only guess at your intentions in launching an invasion of Iraq - but I suspect it has a lot more to do with control over some natural resources, and taking steps to make your older nemesis, Iran, more uncomfortable.

I support the troops - they are doing a job I wouldn't want to do even in the most valid of wars. The war itself - now that I feel quite free to condemn, along with the political masters of the army that saw fit to start it. Iraq has as much to do with 9/11 as the mess in my house has to do with the price of groceries in the store.

I cannot believe that while Bush's own pugilistic stupidity continues to create more dead bodies and permanently wounded veterans in Iraq, he turns around and uses a day intended to honor the troops to play out his own cheap political games.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A Potpourri of Randomness

A number of things have caught my attention recently, but none of them have had enough to make me write about them individually.

[Education and Evolution]:

While Kansas has decided that they will redefine the term science to allow the notion of Intelligent Design to be taught in science classes, Dover County in Pennsylvania has punted out the board that was behind the Kitzmiller lawsuit that arose after they imposed ID as part of the science curriculum.

Two steps forward, one step back?

[The Sagging Fortunes of Bush and Blair]

While George Bush has suffered a series of setbacks in recent weeks, including the indictment of advisors, we should also take note that the British are not being completely blind either.

I'm beginning to suspect that Bush is going to leave office under a cloud that only Brian Mulroney could appreciate.

[Meanwhile, at home]

Our new Governer General stuck her stilettoed foot in her mouth. Today, Jack Layton put forth a plan for an election in February - a move that only plays into the hands of the Conservative Party. The second half of the Gomery report is due in February, and as the first half has shown, voter outrage appears to only shift the polls for a few short days.

Dear R@t B@$t@rd...

I'd like to know just how much AON Corp and its affiliates in the private health care gig have "donated" to your party in the last ten years or so. Is it just me, or does it strike anyone else as perhaps a trifle self-serving that the biggest health care insurance broker in North America is being hired to examine further "privatization" (politely called restructuring) in Alberta?

Then, yesterday, a set of so-called "working papers" comes out that shows us a cynical, ugly side to King Ralph's plans. Whether the leak was intentional or not - one of Ralph's infamous "trial balloons", it's consistent with this man's attitude, arrogance and gross overestimation of his own self-importance.

When the leaked documents (I'll link to them if I can ever find a set on the Web) indicate that Ralph is willing to have his government violate the Canada Health Act, I get very, very angry. Health Care, contrary to the neo-Conservative view, is not an expense, it is an investment. A healthy population is part of the Alberta Advantage. The fact that treatment is available, and it's not likely to bankrupt a family is also part of that advantage. If you take that away, the cost of doing business in Alberta will skyrocket. We only have to look to the United States for unequivocal proof of this. The economics of private health care in the US are crumbling - more and more small businesses cannot offer employees health insurance access. Why? Because the premiums are too high. HMOs make treatment decisions based not on what's best for the patient, but what's best for their god forsaken bottom line.

Seniors, low income earners, the self-employed. All of these people are living day by day as it is. Now Ralph comes along and wants to take one more peg out of the supports that society provides. News Flash Ralph! Society is about more than the people in their 20's and 30's. When we pass into our 40's and older, the body starts to change, and health care becomes more critical. In case you haven't heard, we don't have enough young people coming into the workforce these days. The more experienced workers are the best bet we've got! Keep them healthy, and you'll keep getting wealthy.

Myself, I may just move to Saskatchewan or B.C. if some of what is rumoured to be in those working papers is true. Fortunately for Albertans, there is a rising option - Kevin Taft and the Alberta Liberal Party. At least he is articulating a vision for Alberta that looks beyond just dollars on the government balance sheet.

- Oh yes - please do campaign for the Federal Conservatives this election. It'll give me a reason to call Stephen Harper out on his mushy platforms on health care and other social services that are little more than a thinly disguised plan to privatize everything in sight. You'll do wonders for their fortunes outside of Alberta.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Grrralph! - The return of the grump

I opened my front door to retrieve my mail this morning, only to find that the Alberta Government's latest waste of my time and money.

Folded in amongst the assorted admail that is the bulk of what Canada Post seems to deliver to my door these days, I found a shiny, full color brochure extolling the virtues of Ralph's non-plan for wasting the Alberta Government's surplus.

Of course, the geniuses in Edmonton are busy extolling how they've increased spending on Education and Health Care since 1997. Of course, this merely conceals the fact that all they've done is restore things to the levels they were at prior to starting the blind cutbacks of the late 1980's and early '90s.

I've ranted before at how I disagree with King Ralph's use of government surplus monies. Today, I what I received was confirmation of my suspicions. The government went all out on this thing - it's a full process colour job done on a fairly heavy weight gloss paper. This isn't cheap work people. If the Government needs to spend money like that to convince me that it's doing the "right thing" with our money, then they aren't doing "the right thing". A good idea needs no selling.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Demonstrated Cluelessness

I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry. Stephen Harper has just released the "What He'd Do To Clean Up Government" plan.

Superficially, it doesn't sound all bad:

The three main planks of Harper's proposed accountability act are:

* Eliminating all remaining corporate and union donations to federal political parties, and restricting individual donations to $1,000 per person.
* Banning all ministers and their political aides from becoming government lobbyists for at least five years from the date they leave their political positions.
* Giving the auditor general the power to "follow the money to the end recipients" as she or he undertakes a review of the $30 billion handed out each year in the form of federal grants, contributions and contracts.

Except that none of those are the problem areas. This does exactly nothing to ensure that the senior civil servants are appropriately managed; it does nothing to shuffle people within the civil service so that they do not become overly entrenched in a role. Look at who has been fingered as a result of the Gomery Report - beside Chretien, all the rest of them are senior bureaucrats and people in industry.

The only thing that Harper has done is address some of the blatant garbage that goes on in Alberta (E.g. Rod Love - who alternates roles between Klein's Chief-of-Stiff and Industry-Lobbyist depending on what day of the week it is.)

Did Harper read the same Gomery Report that the rest of us saw? Or was there the special "Stephen Harper Autographed Fantasy Edition" that only he got?!

In The Minds Of Idiots

Recently, I've seen a number of people claiming that BushCo didn't lie to the people in the run-up to Iraq. This is mostly based on the slightly flawed notion that various reports have come out criticizing the intelligence gathering agencies rather than the policy makers using that intelligence.

There's more than a few problems with absolving BushCo of mistruths in the rhetoric leading up to invading Iraq in 2003.

First, is a matter of the shifting story. Initially, Bush tried to tie invading Iraq to 9/11. When that failed, Bush changed tactics and began to wave the bogey-man "Weapons of Mass Destruction" around. By this time, a few people were getting more than a little suspicious that just maybe there was a problem with this concept. Sure enough, following the invasion and demise of the Iraqi government, it became quite clear that whatever WMD's Hussein had were no longer in existence. There were a few other feints made, vague allegations that Hussein and al-Qaeda were in cahoots on various topics, but none of those allegations have ever been demonstrated in any concrete and reasonable form.

If BushCo didn't lie in the run up to Iraq, they certainly changed their story enough times. Politicians are like small children - every time you catch them in a lie, they change their story. Let's suppose for a minute that Bush was telling the "truth" as presented to him by his advisors. Surely, he could have seen through the transparency of the problems with the scenarios being alleged? It's hard to imagine that any nominally sentient being could not see the inconsistencies of the story that they are spinning. If Bush didn't lie, he certainly failed horribly to apply the most basic critical thinking techniques to what was being presented to him by his inner circle.

If he didn't lie about Iraq, his advisors did. In either case, Bush failed his country and launched a war which the world will be paying for in the decades to come.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Alberta's Puritans

The timing of this just amazes me. A day or so after I write a rant about the moral double standards of the far right, we get a little glimpse into the Alberta Government's position and directions.

It seems that our Minister of Justice, Ron Stevens, wants to make it possible for children to sue their mothers if they are injured in automotive accidents while mom is pregnant.

Superficially, this almost seems reasonable in a tragic situation where a baby is born severely disabled as a result of an automobile accident. Right now, if the mother was the 'at fault' party in the accident, the unborn child cannot sue their parents for their negligence. Ostensibly, this law would open up the ability for the mother's insurance company to be held financially liable for the costs incurred as result of the child's disabilities.

I'm sympathetic, it's always tragic when a child is born with serious disabilities, all the more so when those disabilities are the result of an accident. The burden that families of disabled people bear are huge - both financially and emotionally.

However, this particular law raises other alarms for me. It opens doors for a few other things. First, no matter how narrowly the law itself is written, it opens the door for mothers to be held financially responsible for whatever happens to their unborn children. I can't imagine such a non-sequitur. The mother is going to be raising their child (unless they give the baby up for adoption) - they are already going to bear the price of anything they do while pregnant, and in ways that are far deeper than mere dollars.

The second problem I see is that this law, along with some other laws in Alberta, is that it provides the unborn child with a significant degree of legal status. It is this status that worries me far more than the basic law proposed itself. In doing this, the Alberta Government is going down the path that would allow the anti-abortion crowd to argue that a fetus is in legal fact a person. Effectively, that would open the door for a woman to be sued, or held criminally responsible for the death of her unborn child as a result of an abortion (naturally occurring, or by medical procedure).

The implications of laws like this are often subtle. The anti-abortion crowd has been angling for years for a law to be introduced that provides an implicit declaration of the unborn as legal entities which deserve protections under the law. In authoring this law, Mr. Stevens has no doubt created just such a situation. This opens up all sorts of implications for women's rights and health issues. In a sense, it once again revokes a woman's control over her body once she becomes pregnant. Parents already bear the full responsibility for their actions where their children are involved. It seems positively insane to me to introduce the adverserial legal system into what is already an emotional mess.

Whether this suggests that Alberta's legislature is riddled with theo-conservatives or not is a matter of some discussion. Superficially, one would say not; and yet the obvious implications of this law certainly play into classic theo-conservative thinking. If it were Ralph Klein proposing the legislation, I'd say that it was pure coincidence - Ralph's not capable of the subtlety required. Ron Stevens and other MLAs are a different issue altogether.

[Update 3/11/2005-18:00]: A commentator on CBC just spun another intriguing counter interpretation of this law that I think bears considering. It may also signal another attempt by the Klein government to further download long term health care costs. An intriguing prospect, and one that I hadn't thought of...

Chilling...positively Chilling

- and I'm not talking about the weather.

In the latest sordid tale to escape from the White House, it seems that the US is operating covert prisons abroad. Per se, this isn't really a big surprise. Once BushCo established their extraterritorial prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, it became quite clear that any reasonable treatment of POW's arising from the "War on Terror" was going to be suspended until after BushCo leave office.

The allegation has been made that the CIA is using old Soviet-era compounds in central Europe. I don't suppose it is surprising that a regime that is showing even less regard for legitimate civil rights than its former rival is using facilities that its rival once constructed for that very purpose.

Meanwhile, the behaviour of the FBI in the US continues to reinforce the notion that this is not a "war on terrorism", but a war on Islam. When the headlines themselves are emphasizing the ethnic/religious origins of the persons arrested, that's a not-so-subtle clue as to just what is really going on.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Ah, The Puritan Mind

Every so often, my random wanderings through the web lead down some rather odd little paths. This morning was one such day. I had started out thinking I was going to write a bit of an analysis of the Gomery Report this morning, but that got sidetracked by an article that another blog pointed me to.

Shakespeare's Sister had a rather interesting rant that pointed to this article in the New Yorker. It turns out that "Scooter Libby" is every bit as bent as those that his party brethren would condemn. (an interesting insight into the mind of Cheney's right-hand advisor)

One of the things that has always bothered me with "conservatives" (or at least the theo-con variety running around these days) is their predeliction for proscriptive legislation on topics of morality. Whether it is Bishop Henry on homosexuality (or sexuality in general), or the anti-abortion crowd, they all seem to have this idealized fantasy world where morality is uniform (and biblical) that they want to legislate into being.

Closer to home, conservatives in Canada have begun to express worry that cases like this could become topics of Charter challenge in light of the recent changes to our marriage laws to allow for same gender marriage.

The rationale goes like this: Since we have removed the concept of reproduction as a criteria for marriage, it is quite reasonable to assert that an incestuous relationship should be treated as a legal marriage.

The flaw in this line of reasoning is the black-and-white view they take of the picture. They miss the subtle notion that rights are legitimately bounded by the rights of others.

Their relationship only came to light after their third child, a 2-year-old girl, was rushed to hospital under suspicious circumstances in June 2001. The girl died from dehydration.
Her illness was later linked to an underlying medical condition -- common to children of incest -- called adrenal gland atrophy.

In this situation, we have a classic example of the issues that incestuous relationships bring to any offspring that may result.

The second point is that of individual equality. In broad terms incestuous relationships are inherently unequal. A marriage is a partnership between equals. Incest is typically - like rape - about power and control.

Regardless of the ability of the victim to consent, both of these seriously breach aspects of our charter and criminal laws. I simply cannot see any reasonable judge accepting the blind argument that ignores the harm to various parties.

I find it fascinating that on one hand, they worry incessantly that any change in social structures and rights could enable others, and yet, they can be the same people whose written works and deeds seem to include those that they are so dead set against.

Perhaps looking in the mirror is more discomforting for them than we might originally think. (A bit of "do as I say, not as I do"?)

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Post Gomery Report - Day 0

Volume 1 of the Gomery Report landed in the House of Commons today.

As much as the Gomery report is a damning condemnation of the Liberal Party of Canada (in Quebec at least), I don't think it will fatally injure the Liberals. More damaging is the renewed fighting between the Chretien and Martin factions of the party. This is probably far more damaging to the Liberals than any allegations of corruption.

If allegations of corruption were such a big deal, the Conservatives should have rocketed to an easy victory last election. That didn't happen, and the Conservatives have lurked in the basement of the polls in recent months.
Realistically, I don't think the Gomery Report really means all that much by itself. At this point, most voters are sick of hearing about it. Any damage that was going to be done has already been done. The parties are once again competing for access to the "undecided" vote.

In the department of "not getting the concept", both Harper and Duceppe are demanding an immediate election. NDP Leader Jack Layton continues to be the leading politician of the current parliament, craftily sidestepping the obvious calls for Martin to resign, and instead weighing what he can do to further his agenda.

Regardless of whether you agree with Layton's policies, you have to admire how effectively he has leveraged an underdog position in the house to make significant gains. (Much to the howls of indignation from the Conservative benches)

The Cass Review and the WPATH SOC

The Cass Review draws some astonishing conclusions about the WPATH Standards of Care (SOC) . More or less, the basic upshot of the Cass Rev...