Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Governer General Jean

For all of the furore over Governer General Jean's alleged ties to Quebec separatists, it appears to me as though she has done more than simply turn the tables on her critics at her investiture ceremony. If this column from National Post columnist Andrew Coyne is any indication, she completely disarmed them.

Mme Jean has served notice on her critics, and the politicians whose advice she is supposed to enact. To her critics, she has said very clearly that she is a Canadian, and as passionate about this nation as any other. To the politicians, she seems to have said that it is time to put aside the myriad petty squabbles going on in the House of Commons, and between Ottawa and the provinces.

Canada as a nation must pull together and become cohesive once again. We must learn to look after our own, no matter where they may be, and what has befallen them. As a nation, we stand tall - rising above the petty and doing what Canadians do well - quietly building the best place we can imagine to live.

If Her Excellency's speech is any indication of our new vice-regal, Canadians can truly stand proud as a nation.

Thinking about it today, I came to the conclusion that Canada is eminently unique in the world - not only are we a nation of immigrants (a truism if there ever was one), but we are a nation that stands poised to move beyond the political shackles of the notion of "nation-state". We are by no means a monolith of a single culture, rather we are a mosaic of many cultures - all valued. Uniquely, Canada can justifiably say that it is more than a "nation", it is a collaboration between nations and cultures that stands unique in the world. While we will remain an identifiable "nation" in the world - certainly for my lifetime - I think Canada may well serve as a model for others as the world moves beyond "nation state" politics. Of course, that is assuming that those with lesser ambitions do not tear the place apart with their petty squabbling.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

So ... Where's the Chain of Command?

Okay, the United States Army has prosecuted and jailed all of the troops caught on film abusing prisoners at Abu-Ghraib - including Lynndie England.

What nobody seems to be asking is this: What happened to the chain of command? Why did unit discipline break down so badly? Who set the tone in the unit that allowed this to happen? Why have no officers been held to account for this?

I think the answer is fairly clear - the orders involved came from the highest ranks - with enough "plausible deniability" that nobody in the command structure can be held to account. With the US self-justifying indefinite detention of people both in its own jails and in Guantanamo Bay (Guano Bay), Cuba under the ambiguous weasel word term "Enemy Combatant", the political leaders have set the tone for the army - "the rules don't apply". In other words - if you can get away with it, do so.

While England, Graner and their compatriots certainly should have known better, and richly deserve the sentences they are now serving, the fact is that if discipline was being properly enforced in the unit at Abu Ghraib, the consequences of mistreating the prisoners would have started for them in the unit stockade in Iraq. Someone, somewhere, gave orders that opened the door to the events at Abu Ghraib. They should be held as culpable - or more so - as Graner, England et. al.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Return of the "ID" Debate

Once again, the debate over teaching "Intelligent Design" has flared back up in the United States.

Politely described, Intelligent Design doesn't even constitute bad science - after all to apply the term science to it would suggest a degree of rational methodology behind it. At best, ID is a cynical attempt to warp rational science into conformity with the models of the creation described in Christian legend. Although it professes to be agnostic, not bound to any particular religion, ID's strongest backers suspiciously seem to default to the Christian notion of God as the intelligence behind design.

More cynically, I suspect that this has more to do with an increasing "dumbing down" of public education systems in the United States (and indirectly, Canada). Public policy in the United States (and emulated badly in Alberta) has had the effect of increasing the gap between wealth and poverty. What does the "ruling class" gain from this? A minimally literate underclass who is limited by education, just educated enough to be "good little worker drones", reserving advancement to those who can afford an education in the "privately funded" realm.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

What is it about Conservatives?

I honestly don't understand what passes for "conservative" these days. They seem to have degenerated into a bunch of petty, whining people whose sole understanding of the world seems to be mean spirited and driven by an overdose of testosterone and social Darwinism.

What leads me to this conclusion? A rant I found on a "pseudo-conservative" aggregate blog this morning. A couple of things in this rant caught my attention - partly because they irritated me, partly because they were stunning in their absolute lack of comprehension of Canada.

Today Pettigrew berates, BERATES!, the UN for not taking a tougher stand on nuclear non-proliferation in its recent leaders summit declaration. Oh yeah, and aside from not fretting about radical islam or crazy commie induced nuclear winter, the UN forgot to get tougher on women’s rights and gender equality.


God willing Canada needs to fight a war or something, anything that requires real sacrifice again! It’s a country infested with losers, the high moralising intellectual type, those who would do well if shipped off to a front-line and shot at! At least that way they might, by chance, get a glorious death.


Just lovely...so because chief chimpanzee south of us thinks he's got a "war on terror" going, human rights, social justice etc. don't matter in Canada or the world? We "need" to fight a war? WTF? Being concerned about your fellow human being makes you a "loser" - fit only to be cannon fodder? If any of this is "logically true", then the terrorists have already won.

With nuts like this running around, it's not hard to see why much of Canada won't vote for the Conservative party. Their most vocal supporters are loons.

Paul Wells, of Maclean's, has a very good column about the difference between Brian Mulroney and Stockwell Day ... er - Stephen Harper. He points out that while Mulroney had some kind of longer term vision, Harper continues to sound like he's got no vision, and is mostly just whining. The closed mouths of the Conservative party "brass" {tarnished and corroding it may be) is leaving the doorway wide open for nutty logic like what I've quoted above to be heard as the voice of the party.

I'll grant the Conservatives this - there's no hidden agenda at all. The inmates are clearly still running the asylum.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Whoopee - Four Hundred Whole Dollars!

Whatever shall I do with this newfound wealth?

Lessee - oh yeah - the Gas Company's going to get it - all of it. Probably around January. With Natural Gas trading around $13, my heating bills in the depths of this winter are going to be brutal. I'm guessing that $200 or more for gas alone is not going to be unusual.

Let's do the math here - Alberta has roughly 3 million residents. At $400 each, that's approximately 1.2 billion dollars that Ralph is throwing around. $400 is a nice little sum of money - but for most people it's enough to pay off a credit card bill, or go out for a decent night on the town. (By the time you pay for taxi, baby sitter, restaurant and a show - $400 vanishes pretty damn fast)

Kevin Taft, leader of the Alberta Liberals, has quite rightly said that this idiotic waste of taxpayer dollars demonstrates a complete lack of vision on the part of Ralph's Team. Lack of vision, hell, the man's clearly hallucinating.

With Natural Gas and Oil at all time highs, the costs for small businesses are skyrocketing; transportation costs are about to go through the roof for industry. Where's the Alberta Government in this? Rolling around in the cash from oil like a pig in a mud pit.

What is the government doing to ensure that our infrastructure is becoming more energy efficient? Nothing. Zip, zero, nada! Building more roads is not making a more efficient infrastructure. Where are the changes being made to improve Alberta's industrial capacity? What are we doing to enable Alberta's economy to grow beyond it's oil and agriculture basis? Where are the new rail lines being built to improve our ability to move heavy goods around efficiently? Who is watching out to make sure that Alberta's - and Canada's - energy needs are being met first? Where's the investment going to improve our electrical infrastructure? I can't leverage $400 into much of anything. $1.2 BILLION can be leveraged fifteen ways to sunday - all of them to the collective benefit of Alberta and Canada.

That sucking sound you hear is Alberta's future vanishing into the black hole of Kleinsian planning.

Mr. Klein - you are "all used up". Leave. NOW. Before you do any more damage to this province and this nation.

Monday, September 19, 2005

More on Alberta Separatism

Could it possibly be that the sudden emergence of "separatist" movements in Alberta (goodness, that sounds awfully close to bowel movement - doesn't it?) might just signal that the Conservative party is in fact shedding its radical factions?

Think about it for a moment - the radical wingnut cases in the province gravitated towards Preston Manning's "Reform" party like flies to a rotting carcass. Now, as the Conservative Party focuses its efforts on winning the pending federal election, we start seeing some signs of discipline in the party ranks. Like ragweed in a wheatfield, we spontaneously start seeing separatist parties emerging in Alberta. Makes one wonder, doesn't it?

The second bit about separatists that has always irritated me is the fact that they only seem to surface when times are boomingly good for Alberta. Where were these "separatists" agitating for change during the mid-1980s when our economy was struggling? Where were they during the 1990s, when our infrastructure was crumbling under Ralph's cutbacks? It seems to me that these are largely fairweather movements with no substantial roots to work from. (Like swamp grasses - very shallow roots, and they only come to life when the water table is high enough - a rare thing in the dryness of Alberta)

Sunday, September 18, 2005

What is it with Alberta and Separatism?

Let me be clear about one thing - I am not a separatist. Period. However, looking at the rumblings coming out of the various separatist/isolationist groups in Alberta is fascinating - it's the intellectual equivalent of a train wreck - one is fascinated by how the mess got made.

The latest collection of two bit nutjobs I just found are the "Alberta Republicans". What caught my attention was their proposed constitution.

I gave it a brief scan, and here's what I come up with in the department of colossal stupidity:

1) A government structure that is a legislative mangling of the US government mashed together with a bit of Westminster tradition. Great - so we're going cross-breed a platypus and an elephant.

2) The usual rants about the primacy of the individual. I just love this one. As usual, the nuttier side of the equation has gotten their hands into the cookie jar and created an enormous problem:

1. It is hereby declared that Albertans recognize as self-evident the following fundamental human rights and freedoms which exist independently of government, namely,

a) the right of the individual to Life, Liberty, Property, and Security of the person, and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of law;

b) the right of the individual to equality before the law and to protection of the law;

c) freedom of religion;

d) freedom of speech and expression;

e) freedom of assembly and association;

f) freedom of the press; and

g) freedom of movement.


That all sounds pretty reasonable. Until you read the preamble to the next part:

Every law of Alberta shall be so interpreted and applied as not to abrogate, abridge or infringe or to authorize the abrogation, abridgement or infringement of any of the rights or freedoms herein recognized and declared.


Lessee - logic 101 would suggest that just perhaps, there might be a few issues here where someone's "rights" of freedom might just impinge upon someone else's rights. Of course, any law that would draw such a boundary would immediately be unconstitutional based on this little section. Congratulations, people, you just rendered the legislative bodies utterly impotent when it comes to dealing with human rights issues.

3. Economics - this one just about killed me when I read it:

1. The National Legislature shall have no authority to borrow money without the consent of a majority of citizens voting in a public referendum.


Ah yes. The right wing extreme view of government - less is better, none is the best. Congratulations, through yet another completely brain damaged design, this constitution renders the very bodies of governance impotent to act when necessary. Emergencies happen, and you don't always have the money in the cash box. (Hmmm - Hurricane Katrina come to mind, anyone - or in Alberta's case, a severe cold snap that affects the electrical system, or gas delivery?)

Have you ever known a referendum to succeed - especially in Alberta? I can hear it now: "Dear God!, the government can't spend money - I want to buy beer tonight!"

The rest of the document is left as an exercise to the reader to dissect.

As for me, thanks, but no thanks. Flawed as it is, I'll take Canada over what would rise out of a constitution like this.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Ralph's Imagination Is All Used Up

King Ralph has demonstrated yet again why it's time for Ralph to go.

Today, he is complaining because municipalities in Alberta are now looking for monies to rebuild and upgrade infrastructure that is creaking under the load of 15 years of decay and increasing population.

This after musing out loud about a "prosperity dividend" to individual Albertans. Hello, Ralph! Is there anybody home, or has the brain been vacated by stupidity?

If you've got billions to waste on a "dividend", why not redirect those funds constructively - into public infrastructure? Schools, water/sewer treatment facilities, transportation, wind power generation - I can think of dozens of uses for that money that will do a lot more long term good than a couple of hundred dollars in everyone's pocket.

Ralph has gotten so hooked on preserving his public popularity that he has lost all sight of what the public needs are. While Ralph was microfocusing on eliminating the province's deficit and then debt, he had a semi-plausible argument to work with - the big ticket projects were simply "out of reach". Fine - I disagree, but I'll grant the argument as having at least a superficial validity. Today, he engages in buying votes in the most blatant of ways - gas rebates, and now a "prosperity dividend". Give me a break - that is pissing away money, when we should be investing in our futures while the money is available.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Conservative Unity

The yawning ideological chasms that split the Conservative Party into squabbling factions have come to the surface once again. Apparently, some Conservative members in Quebec are demanding Stephen Harper's head - metaphorically or otherwise.

Yes, it's "only" 4 members from Quebec - a province that hasn't been overly friendly to anything bearing the "Conservative" banner since Brian Mulroney left office. (Can't say I blame them after that experience)

Once again, it underscores the key problem with that party today. To date, no leader has come forward that is able to placate the hard-line social conservatives and the former "progressive" conservatives. Harper never looked like that leader to me - and nothing in the "Harper's Summer Adventures" BBQ Tour this summer was particularly persuasive to me that he was the man to unite the factions of the party.

Of course, party officials are being dismissive - various people blaming "Belinda Tories" and other factions in the party. No - there's no factionalism here.

Peter Mackay's duplicitous actions in agreeing to merge with the Alliance party cannot have made long time PCs very happy - and since then, the party has continued to make it look like the "merger" was a corporate takeover by the Alliance. To the public, this means that the top two leaders of the new party are about as credible as your average thief.

Ultimately, two things need to happen to convince "soft" Conservative voters (people who might vote for them - if they believed the party was more middle of the road). First, a leader has to be found that doesn't have any significant baggage with either of the major factions. Belinda could have been that leader - in a few years.

Second, the party needs to have a rather publicly visible cleansing of the truly extreme elements. To date, every time one of the hard-line types opens their mouth, we get a leader prevaricating over the statements made. The result is a response that looks mushy and inconclusive - and leaves the public wondering just what the party does in fact represent.

In the meantime, the federal Liberal party continues to win election after election - why - because in spite of the known problems in the party, voters feel much more comfortable that they know what the party represents. Although Alberta Conservative supporters like to accuse Ontario voters of being wilfully blind, the reality is that the Conservatives continue to make the mistake of assuming that voters will turn to them in preference to the obviously corrupt Liberals. Wrong - we know the Liberals are corrupt, but we don't know what the Conservatives _are_. (And sadly, past history suggests that the Conservatives remain home to some pretty ugly sub-groups of political belief in this nation.

That demands for Harper's head are once again becoming public knowledge comes as little surprise, and merely reinforces the sense of doubt that many voters have expressed about this party.

How's This For Short Sighted?

Apparently failing vision isn't merely an affliction of old age - it strikes aging political parties as well.

Yesterday, Premier Klein mused aloud about a "prosperity dividend" for Albertans.

While I'm not so sure I agree with Dave "Build More Roads" Bronconnier's view that the money should be turned over to the cities to use for infrastructure, I am less than impressed with yet another cheap buy-out of voter loyalty.

King Ralph continues to snipe at other provinces, claiming some kind of moral high ground because Alberta is now (theoretically) debt free. It won't be for long unless somebody does serious surgery to repair the PC party's vision - the organ appears to be suffering from pure atrophy due to a lack of use.

Times are good - we've paid off our debts, and the economy is booming. Time to make a bit of hay. It's a good time to reinvest surplus monies in the Heritage Savings Trust fund. (Remember the multi-billion dollar fund that former Premier Lougheed started in the 1970's? - the one that Getty & crew ignored and Klein has been steadily draining for the last decade)

Alberta needs to invest in Alberta, and then in the rest of Canada. Alberta's prosperity has come about because Albertans and Canadians have invested in Alberta for much of the last century. Alberta prospers, it is time for this province to step into a leadership role in the nation that is Canada.

Handing out a few hundred dollars to individual citizens sounds like a good idea - but it is myopic in the extreme. Most people will parley that windfall into a few beer, and it will be flushed down the sewers shortly afterwards. Let's do some real planning in this province, and accomplish something that our grandchildren will be proud of.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Dear God - They're Already Making Excuses

... in advance of the next election.

Apparently Senator Marjory LeBreton wants a nice long lockout at the CBC because she doesn't want the CBC to cover the next election.

Newsflash for Ms. LeBreton - the reason the Conservatives lost the last election had diddly squat to do with CBC coverage.

The Conservatives were outmaneuvered by the Liberals, who managed to successfully sow doubt in voters' minds about the Conservatives. The Conservative campaign then missed - repeatedly opportunities to clarify things for voters.

Of course, it didn't help that certain prospective MPs opened their traps and mused out loud about topics such as abortion and private health care. (Or, King Ralph trying to start a pissing match over health care mid-election, for that matter)

I dare say that the constant "cuddle up with the US" stance of the more vocal Conservatives didn't help matters either. George Bush is hardly a leader that I'd want Canada to get cozy with - and I dare say most Canadians feel similarly uncomfortable.

The other thing that cost the Conservatives dearly last election was a complete lack of vision. I'm not going to vote _for_ the Conservatives because the Liberals are corrupt.

I watch quite a range of media outlets, and if you can accuse the CBC of a bias - it's primarily a "central Canada" bias. That is to say, if it isn't important in T.O., then it probably doesn't register. If there is shouting bias in media, it is from outlets like the Asper-controlled papers such as the Calgary Herald, and pseudo-newspapers like the Calgary Sun. Biased towards the Liberals or NDP? Not really - of all the nations media outlets, the CBC works very hard to try and be neutral in their wording and coverage of politics. They are second - in my view - only to the Globe and Mail.

Ms. LeBreton's comments speak to a Conservative Party that has tried and failed so many times to win elections that it is looking for scapegoats to explain its losses - quite pathetic really.

Matter, Anti Matter and Enlightened Self Interest

A friend of mine has used the title as part of his e-mail signature for some time - I'm starting to believe that it applies to US government policy under BushCo.

Two nasty little things came to my attention today:

1. The first round of contracts for Hurricane Katrina mop-up are going to "BushCo" political friends and allies.

2. An article in the Washington Post indicates that BushCo is moving towards a 'first strike' stance - with nuclear weapons!.

The third thing that I just finished reading is the Globe and Mail's "Focus" section from Saturday. It's a long article (3 full pages of the section were devoted to it, but it is very insightful and affirms some of what I've suspected for some time about the United States and its "Empire"

When the governers of a nation begin to milk its own catastrophes to enrich their political friends and allies, the government has become the enemy of the people's best interests. As others have observed, there are signs of the US government slowly sliding into despotism as the leadership becomes addicted to power, and needs ever increasing degrees of control over what people see and hear in order to cover up their own obvious incompetence and ineptitude.

The fact that we are seeing extensions to the Wolfowitz Doctrine coming along that expand the aggressive stance of the United States to include serious expansion of their military use of nuclear weapons is merely another sign of how clueless the BushCo administration is. Not only are they wasting taxpayer dollars on studies that presuppose the enemy (whoever that is) is nuclear capable, and highly sophisticated, but they also are utterly clueless when it comes to dealing with their issues at home.

The failure of the US Federal Government to respond effectively and quickly to the disaster unfolding in New Orleans confirms the suspicion that this is a government quite detached from its citizenry. Expanding their military capability at this time carries with it echoes of a crumbling Rome trying to control Gaul, Northern Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean at the same time.

By comparison, Marie Antoinette was a stateswoman of some note.


washingtonpost.com

Pentagon Revises Nuclear Strike Plan
Strategy Includes Preemptive Use Against Banned Weapons

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 11, 2005; A01


The Pentagon has drafted a revised doctrine for the use of nuclear weapons that envisions commanders requesting presidential approval to use them to preempt an attack by a nation or a terrorist group using weapons of mass destruction. The draft also includes the option of using nuclear arms to destroy known enemy stockpiles of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

The document, written by the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs staff but not yet finally approved by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, would update rules and procedures governing use of nuclear weapons to reflect a preemption strategy first announced by the Bush White House in December 2002. The strategy was outlined in more detail at the time in classified national security directives.

At a White House briefing that year, a spokesman said the United States would "respond with overwhelming force" to the use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States, its forces or allies, and said "all options" would be available to the president.

The draft, dated March 15, would provide authoritative guidance for commanders to request presidential approval for using nuclear weapons, and represents the Pentagon's first attempt to revise procedures to reflect the Bush preemption doctrine. A previous version, completed in 1995 during the Clinton administration, contains no mention of using nuclear weapons preemptively or specifically against threats from weapons of mass destruction.

Titled "Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations" and written under the direction of Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the draft document is unclassified and available on a Pentagon Web site. It is expected to be signed within a few weeks by Air Force Lt. Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, director of the Joint Staff, according to Navy Cmdr. Dawn Cutler, a public affairs officer in Myers's office. Meanwhile, the draft is going through final coordination with the military services, the combatant commanders, Pentagon legal authorities and Rumsfeld's office, Cutler said in a written statement.

A "summary of changes" included in the draft identifies differences from the 1995 doctrine, and says the new document "revises the discussion of nuclear weapons use across the range of military operations."

The first example for potential nuclear weapon use listed in the draft is against an enemy that is using "or intending to use WMD" against U.S. or allied, multinational military forces or civilian populations.

Another scenario for a possible nuclear preemptive strike is in case of an "imminent attack from adversary biological weapons that only effects from nuclear weapons can safely destroy."

That and other provisions in the document appear to refer to nuclear initiatives proposed by the administration that Congress has thus far declined to fully support.

Last year, for example, Congress refused to fund research toward development of nuclear weapons that could destroy biological or chemical weapons materials without dispersing them into the atmosphere.

The draft document also envisions the use of atomic weapons for "attacks on adversary installations including WMD, deep, hardened bunkers containing chemical or biological weapons."

But Congress last year halted funding of a study to determine the viability of the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator warhead (RNEP) -- commonly called the bunker buster -- that the Pentagon has said is needed to attack hardened, deeply buried weapons sites.

The Joint Staff draft doctrine explains that despite the end of the Cold War, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction "raises the danger of nuclear weapons use." It says that there are "about thirty nations with WMD programs" along with "nonstate actors [terrorists] either independently or as sponsored by an adversarial state."

To meet that situation, the document says that "responsible security planning requires preparation for threats that are possible, though perhaps unlikely today."

To deter the use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States, the Pentagon paper says preparations must be made to use nuclear weapons and show determination to use them "if necessary to prevent or retaliate against WMD use."

The draft says that to deter a potential adversary from using such weapons, that adversary's leadership must "believe the United States has both the ability and will to pre-empt or retaliate promptly with responses that are credible and effective." The draft also notes that U.S. policy in the past has "repeatedly rejected calls for adoption of 'no first use' policy of nuclear weapons since this policy could undermine deterrence."

Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee who has been a leading opponent of the bunker-buster program, said yesterday the draft was "apparently a follow-through on their nuclear posture review and they seem to bypass the idea that Congress had doubts about the program." She added that members "certainly don't want the administration to move forward with a [nuclear] preemption policy" without hearings, closed door if necessary.

A spokesman for Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said yesterday the panel has not yet received a copy of the draft.

Hans M. Kristensen, a consultant to the Natural Resources Defense Council, who discovered the document on the Pentagon Web site, said yesterday that it "emphasizes the need for a robust nuclear arsenal ready to strike on short notice including new missions."

Kristensen, who has specialized for more than a decade in nuclear weapons research, said a final version of the doctrine was due in August but has not yet appeared.

"This doctrine does not deliver on the Bush administration pledge of a reduced role for nuclear weapons," Kristensen said. "It provides justification for contentious concepts not proven and implies the need for RNEP."

One reason for the delay may be concern about raising publicly the possibility of preemptive use of nuclear weapons, or concern that it might interfere with attempts to persuade Congress to finance the bunker buster and other specialized nuclear weapons.

In April, Rumsfeld appeared before the Senate Armed Services panel and asked for the bunker buster study to be funded. He said the money was for research and not to begin production on any particular warhead. "The only thing we have is very large, very dirty, big nuclear weapons," Rumsfeld said. "It seems to me studying it [the RNEP] makes all the sense in the world."
© 2005 The Washington Post Company

Friday, September 09, 2005

Of Polls, Purges and Conservatives

Apparently the Conservative Party of Canada has developed the organizational equivalent of Bulemia. In the last few days, senior layers of the party have been (and are being) purged. I can only imagine that after the astonishing results of the "Stephen Harper BBQ Tour" this summer that there is some internal party bickering over the results. (or lack of them)

More laughable is this quote from Mr. Harper:

But the Conservative Leader played down the dissent and his party's poor showing in popularity polls done for media outlets.

"The polls will always reflect the views of the papers that sponsor them," he said during a stop at a Nova Scotia fishing village where he announced his plan to help the country's fishing families.

"If the Liberal Party thinks they've got great polls, call an election. We've got the money, we've got the candidates, so ask them what the problem is."


Wasn't this the same man who last spring was so angry that the Liberals HAD TO COME DOWN NOW! that he tried to shut down parliament after losing a couple of confidence votes? Seems to me at the time, he was all happy about what the polls were showing. Now, of course, they aren't in his favour, so he tries to dismiss them as "biased". Sure, Stephen - whatever you say.

The last statement basically challenges the Liberals to drop the writ now. Hasn't Martin been absolutely clear that an election will be called after the Gomery report is released? Besides, last time a conservative leader made a challenge like that it was Stockwell Day daring then-Prime Minister Chretien to call an early election. As I recall, the Liberals won an even bigger majority that time...

Parliament reconvenes next week - I anticipate more "angry white guy" exhibitions from Mr. Harper and crew - and a remarkably unproductive session overall as the parties jockey for position for a much anticipated - and irritating - election early in 2006.

Consequences

Many people feel that government is far too remote to their day to day lives. "What does foreign policy have to do with food on my table?", they ask.

Government policy affects us all, and as this rant underscores, sometimes more immediately than others.

So next time you hear about some policy and you can't see how it affects you, it's probably a good time to step back and reevaluate the question.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Debate Over Sharia Law In Canada

Sharia Law puzzles me at the best of times. To my eyes it seems to be arbitrary, and somewhat ad-hoc in nature. It seems as though the meaning of Sharia is far from unified, with specific meanings being drawn largely on the assumptions of the religious leaders involved.

There has been a debate raging in Canada for quite some time as to whether or not we should allow the Muslim community to practice Sharia law within the context of civil disputes and topics such as divorce. After reading this article in The Globe and Mail today, it occurs to me that this debate is perhaps much more important than it appears at first glance.

Proponents of Sharia argue that several religious traditions have had the right to practice their unique belief systems within the context of civil law in Canada for a long time. For example, Jewish traditions have long been granted the privilege of being legally binding agreements, and there are others as well.

The first thought that goes through my mind is this - to date, we have never had to deal with a situation where the cultural underpinnings of the "alternative" legal system are at such odds with the legal guarantees of our constitution and framework laws.

To "western eyes", Sharia appears to be fundamentally unequal in its rules between genders; it can arguably be held that the woman is relegated to a secondary role within that framework. The rights and control granted to men under some practices of Sharia are troubling when approached from a cultural context that sees men and women as peers in all aspects of life. (I'm not saying that there aren't counter balances in the system, merely that the cultural assumptions under Sharia do not reflect equality in the sense that Canadian law is designed for)

The consideration that needs to come into play affects the application of all "culture-specific" civil law. Should such law be held as "equal to" written law, or should it be subject to review under our legal system. In other words, should an agreement for a divorce be drawn up under the auspices of Sharia law (or other "law" systems) be subject to scrutiny before the courts.

For example, if the man were to walk away from his wife and remarry (as described in the article), would it be reasonable for the wife to agree to hand over all of the family assets to him? (Or should he be charged and tried for bigamy?)

It seems to me that where these pseudo-legal systems are permitted exist under the umbrella of Canadian Law, they should be subject to review or appeal before the courts. While that could result in a lot of cases before the courts, it would provide a safeguard or escape hatch for the participants who may not realize the implications of what is happening during the process. For example, during a divorce, it is easy to lose track entirely of one's personal needs and stake in the defunct marriage. A woman looking to escape a dangerous or abusive situation may agree to just about anything simply to "start over". A year or so later, she may start to realize that the other parties involved actually acted in a manner contrary to her best interests. In such a situation, the "cultural law" agreement should be subject to appeal before the courts.

The assumptions that permeate our laws derive from the Judeo-Christian, and Western European traditions. When we encounter cultural norms that are dramatically different, such as Islam, or many of the Asian cultures, we need a legal system in place that provides relief for situations where those traditions may actually conflict with our laws, and the parties have "agreed" to something under pressure.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

You can't have it both ways

I see that Canada's equivalent of the RIAA, the CRIA, wants Canada to overhaul its copyright laws to make internet file sharing illegal.

Hmmm. Lessee I already pay a "tax" of sorts on every blank CD/DVD I purchase for my computer systems, regardless of what I put on them. Those dollars are funnelled back to CRIA on the presupposition that I am using those CDs for bootleg copies of music.

About the only thing I will agree with them on is the notion that our current copyright / patent law system is dangerously antiquated and is terminally unable to deal with the issues that digital media and the internet present.

Any such overhaul of the copyright system needs to also revoke or acknowledge the reality of the taxes being levied on CRIA's behalf. Put simply, if I'm already paying the fine, then the copying of files is not a crime. If CRIA wants their precious little cash cow as well as the right to sue every person who downloads a file, then we have a serious problem. It's sort of like a prepaid speeding ticket. If I had to prepay a certain amount in speeding tickets based on the car I drove, or some other arbitrary measurement, then I would feel perfectly in my rights to get caught speeding a few times a year.

You can't punish me for the crime (the tax) pre-emptively, and prosecute me for the same thing. That isn't just. I respect the rights of artists to be paid for their work - I don't have any respect for CRIA's latest attempt to imitate the RIAA's bully tactics. Frankly, the RIAA seems to think that suing their customers is good business practice (hmmm - anyone else thinking of the SCO Lawsuit currently rippling around the computer industry?). Newsflash - suing the people that pay your bills is called bad for business.

What the CRIA, along with other industry groups of one sort or another (the BSAA for example) continue to miss is the reality that digital theft has been around for as long as computers. Making punitive laws against it isn't going to make it go away. Further, these groups estimate their respective industry losses using rulers so elastic that even M.C. Escher would shudder.

If we are going to address the challenges and issues that digital media have introduced for our patent and copyright schemes, we must act positively and decisively:

1. Strike down the laws that give pre-emptive punititive damages to these organizations.
2. Restructure our copyright and patent systems so that they usefully reflect the reality of modern media and intellectual property.
3. Reflect the reality that there are more players than just corporations in the IP game.
4. Recognize that theft exists, and should be punished. However, there must also be a counter balancing "fair use" doctrine in place. Like a photocopy of a chapter of a book, possession of a copy of a piece of IP doesn't necessarily constitute an offense on the part of the possessor.
5. What about reverse engineering techniques? (A common, and legitimate practice in software)
6. Independently derived, commonly held, solutions. In software, there are a myriad of ways to arrive at logically equivalent answers. (For that matter, Alonzo Church and Alan Turing did the same thing in mathematics in the 1930s) The "first to file" shouldn't own the exclusive rights to such a solution. Further, many algorithms in common use in industry are "commonly held" (for example Quicksort), and extensively reused on a daily basis.
7. What about digitally published books? How should those be handled?
8. How are we to define the notion of public domain?

There are many interesting, and potentially valuable examples that we could consider - for example the LGPL, the Creative Commons notion (which applies to prose and other "freely accessible" creative arts. These are intriguing, and constructive, structures that we should evaluate carefully as part of any review and restructure of the copyright/patent law structures of our nation. It would be folly indeed to allow our patent laws to be rewritten by such hostile and pugilistic forces as the RIAA and its offspring.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Future of New Orleans

Driving home today, it dawned on me that New Orleans could very easily become the first time in modern history that a major urban city is effectively abandoned by its residents.

Consider this - in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the city has been evacuated in order to allow cleanup efforts to take place. A few diehard souls remain in the city, but for the most part, the population of the city probably only numbers a few thousand right now - most of them existing in little pockets, forming small tribal societies.

The real question is how many of New Orleans' evacuees will return to the city once it starts to be habitable again. Consider the trauma that they have experienced - their homes literally blown or washed away; a breakdown of urban infrastructure in the wake of the storm; social collapse; and finally evacuation to other cities. Those that stayed the longest saw the worst side of things - bodies floating in the streets, gangs of thugs and rapists, starvation, desperation and the very human survival response to those pressures.

How many of those people will want to return to New Orleans? It is now a city of buildings, but with no soul. Even though the port and oil refinery facilities can be restarted easily, the supporting economy in the city is gone. The myriad small businesses that coexist and support the larger economic engines are all gone. Either destroyed by the storm, or a lack of cash flow in the storm's wake. Few businesses can weather a complete shutdown that will be months in duration. Retail shops will be the first victims, but there will be many others who return to find their businesses effectively dead - either because the business itself has been destroyed, or their clientele have fled the region.

Few but those who see opportunity in trying to restore New Orleans, or those with deep emotional roots in the place will have much desire to return. Even those who will return will find a city very different from what they left. Consider your home town with 30% - 50% of the population missing. It would be eerie, disconcerting to say the least.

I expect New Orleans will be revived, but it will not be anything like its former self.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Crrrrack!

You could probably count the number of times I've agreed with Paul Jackson of the Calgary Sun on one hand - with most of the digits amputated.

Of course, one should never say never - strange things happen in this world. In this week's column, I'm surprised to see Paul Jackson actually taking Ralph Klein's government to task for its inept handling of our government's finances lately.

The Alberta Government is rolling money right now - so much so that other provinces are beginning to eye up our wealth and are wondering where "their cut" is.

Jackson winds up arguing for the following:

1. Rollbacks of assorted taxes and user fees.
2. Reduction or cancellation of medicare "premiums"

Okay - tax reductions are often a fictitious creature at the best of times, but certainly rolling back some of the user fees that the government imposed in the heyday of Ralph's "team" cutting everything in sight is a good idea. Along with Medicare premiums, these are essentially head taxes that should have been chopped out and restructured out of existence years ago.

I'm not in the least bit sure I would agree with Jackson's use of economic theorists as the basis for his arguments - much less the mish-mash of Keynes, Freidman and Laffer (the latter two having much to do with what became Reaganomics in the 1980s). Generally speaking, the only thing I agree with most economic theorists on is that the economy is a measurable system. What constitutes a successful economic policy is a matter of interpretation, and few of them seem to have the foggiest notion of how to account for the human side of their equations. (Anyone else remember just how ugly things got during the 1980s, as Reagan's government, and Thatcher in the UK, devolved to a wierd combination of Supply Side economics and "trickle down" theory in their policy?)

Personally, after living through the disaster of the 1980s, and the ham-handed policies of Klein in the 1990s, I'd like to see our governments take a turn at actually dealing with the people side of governance for a change. In my view, good government has to account for people's lives and such vague intangibles as quality of life. People are about much more than the blind dollar figures on the balance sheet.

This coming winter, we look to be staring down the business end of a lot of really ugly energy costs - last I looked on the NYMEX, natural gas is running up around $11/US. Yikes - that's several times higher than it peaked at in the depths of last winter. What are we doing as a society to protect the poor and those on fixed incomes? What are the effects of these out of control prices on society's vulnerable? Will we have people turning off their furnaces because they can't pay the bills?

For once, I will give Jackson credit for at least taking the Klein government to task for their handling of the massive surpluses they currently enjoy. What we really need in this province is a government that has a clue about the people, and much more than the merely passing familiarity achieved during an election campaign. (Such as there is any campaigning in Alberta)

Friday, September 02, 2005

Guns, Anarchy and New Orleans

Some slightly less than brilliant arguments are being put forward lately arguing that the situation in New Orleans (which is slowly descending into a "Lord of the Flies" anarchy in the wake of Hurricane Katrina) is a reason that Canada's gun laws are bad.

Apparently New Orleans has begun to collapse into a state where roving bands of armed thugs have control, and are exercising it in brutal ways. This ranges from muggings and rapes to emptying shops out of their goods. A few shopkeepers are armed and using their weapons to deter the looters.

The argument being bandied around is that Canada's gun laws don't allow you to own guns, therefore, it puts all of the control in the hands of criminals who do have guns. (I mean gun in the personal firearms sense, not the military munitions sense of the term) Apparently, if you don't object to the gun laws in Canada, you must be some kind of cowardly, weak-kneed liberal with no spine - or so the gun lobby in Canada would like to believe.

Let's examine the logic these clowns use. First - Canada's gun laws do not prohibit the ownership of firearms. There are specific classes of weapon which are prohibited from private ownership, but the average law-abiding citizen certainly has the right to own firearms. Acquiring the necessary licenses is little more difficult than getting a drivers license.

The next argument raised is that the gun registry is an invasion of privacy, and gives the government "too much control". Again, this is patently false. In my view, registering a gun is little different from registering a car. Yes, it obliges one to secure the weapon where it is difficult to access; to report its theft immediately, should it be stolen, and to keep it in a "not readily usable" state. I have to insure myself and my car as a driver, and I am obliged to ensure my car is in reasonable repair - otherwise I can be charged - especially if an accident occurs. These laws are little more than ensuring that due diligence is taken on the part of firearms owners in much the same way that registration brings a certain accountability with respect to my car.

Ah, argues the gun lobby, but the criminals still have guns and will use them in the commission of crimes. So what? Criminals use guns, knives, rocks, stolen cars and other things in the commission of crimes - that's why they are criminals. You walking down the street with a .45 stuffed in your pants isn't going to change that, nor is it going to change how a criminal sees you. You remain a target. Possibly a bigger one if the criminal wants your gun. Relaxing the gun laws is like removing speed limits because people speed. True enough, people still drive beyond the road and their abilities, even with speed limits. That doesn't make speed limits a bad idea per se.

As for the notion that one is a coward or otherwise weak of character because they do not have - or want - guns, that's just silly. Bravery, or cowardice has nothing to do with the ownership of firearms - those are character traits. Frankly, most of the people whose idea of bravery is being able to point a gun at someone else is likely to be sufficiently cowardly that they wouldn't know when to use a gun in the first place.

For the most part, Canada's gun laws are about trying to prevent the use of firearms in household arguments; to protect children from their parents' more dangerous hobbies, etc. With a little luck, when someone "goes over the edge" and starts to think about using a gun, the process of preparing the gun for use will cool them off. If it doesn't then they have just become the very kind of criminal that should be behind bars.

Criminal use of weapons is just that - criminal. I have no illusions that a gun registry, or other restrictions on firearms stops criminals. On the other hand, I have few problems with insisting that those who choose to own firearms take responsibility for the weapon, and its use.

To assert that Canada's gun laws are flawed based on the anarchy currently unfolding in New Orleans is an amazing leap of illogic. The real-life rendition of "Lord of the Flies" we are witnessing is a reminder of how short the distance between civil society and anarchy is. When it becomes a matter of survival, humanity will sink to depths that few can comprehend.

Canada's gun laws are predicated upon the notion of civil society. New Orleans is currently neither civil, nor social. The very infrastructure of cooperation that is part of urban society has been ripped away in a few short hours, rebuilding it will take years. One does not legislate on the basis of anarchy, but on the basis of civil society.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Tragedy has struck the city of New Orleans (and other Gulf of Mexico state areas) to a degree that we simply could not have imagined. Quite literally, the city of New Orleans is no longer habitable, and it will be months before that changes.

Today, President Bush announced two things:

1. $10 Billion Dollars in emergency funding to pay "expenses"
2. Bill Clinton and George Bush Senior would head up a private relief fund raising effort to aid victims.

Okay, all of that is well and fine. I really can't criticize it, can I? However, I think it underscores several key differentiators between how Canada is structured and the United States.

First of all, the $10 Billion in aid is to pay "expenses" - in this situation, that's cleanup crews, military costs, emergency repairs to get oil platforms and refineries working again, etc. I completely understand the urgency of all this, and the practical realities of it. (or at least as well as I am able to - from the relatively arid Alberta prairies)

It's the second part of Bush Jr's initiative that piques my curiousity. Certainly, involving the last two presidents in a fund raising endeavor will raise the profile of that effort immensely, and should make it much more effective.

However, philosophically, it's rather intriguing. Basically, the government is saying that it isn't in the business of caring about its people, that's their job. Along with other moves that Bush Jr. has made since he came to office, it's quite clear that the Republicans (at least under neo-con control) are all about money and small government (except for the military, of course). The people and their needs don't register on their radar. As long as the people are "fat-dumb-and happy", the Republicans could care less; and with a strong military, it would take a major armed insurrection to catch their interest.

So - where does that leave the elderly grandmother whose pension was minimal at best, and who just had her house levelled by Hurricane Katrina? Stuck - if she has supporting relatives, great; otherwise, she's in for a really rough ride until this public fund raiser starts to deliver funds and rebuilding gets going.

The question going through my head right now is "where's the US government for the individual citizens?" It appears not only to be in absentia, but determined to remain there.

While Canada's government wouldn't fare much better under the circumstances, there are aspects of the picture that are quite different. The prairie provinces experienced a significant amount of abnormal flooding this June. Among other things that kicked in almost immediately after the floods began to subside were programs to assist those whose losses could not - or would not - be covered through private insurance.

The difference is the understanding that there are times that a government can, and should, make investments in its citizens. Whether that is educational, medical or disaster relief doesn't matter. To be seen to be helping the individual citizen as well as the economic engine is not only good PR, but good government.

To assume that the "community will provide" for those that are profoundly disrupted by a disaster is to assume that communities can absorb a disaster of this scale, and that the people affected are still part of a community. Disaster disrupts social structures as much as it does physical structures. People are uprooted with no warning, dispatched to wherever "safe ground" can be had. Their community may or may not be anywhere around them.

To treat the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina like the aftermath of the Tsunami that flattened parts of Indonesia last year shows the Bush government as viewing its own citizens in the same light as disaster victims thousands of miles away. Sad really.

Talk About Clueless

In the wake of the dispute over softwood lumber returning to the forefront of US-Canada politics, it appears that the Conservatives would like us all to start calling the White House to express our displeasure with President Bush.

After the new US Ambassador to Canada opened his flap about softwood lumber and accused Canada of "emotional tirades" for complaining about the fact that the US seems less than interested in actually playing by the very rules they signed up to in the first place. (and are oh-so-interested in imposing on the rest of the world...)

Is the Conservative Party really so clueless as to believe that Bush gives a damn about Canada, or the treaties that he has signed with us? This is the president who has unilaterally walked away from more international agreements than any other president in US history. Calling George Bush directly is going to achieve nothing - less than Cindy Sheehan has achieved. Trust me.

It's not a matter of negotiating with the Americans any more. It's time that Canada grew a spine and started trading with the rest of the world. We should send Washington a shredded copy of NAFTA, and turn our backs for a while. Canada's interests are not served in any meaningful way by pandering to the US Government.

Of course, much of the CPC is so "pro-American" that they forget that they are Canadians regularly.