Friday, September 29, 2006

Since Ted Morton Opened His Yap...

The current talking point coming out people like Ted Morton on the subject of Same Gender Marriage is how it will affect children.

Personally, I can't quite wrap my head around this reasoning. Gays and Lesbians have been raising children for a long time. Since Mr. Morton seems to think that some kind of parliamentary committee needs to study the matter, perhaps we should point them to existing literature on the subject of homosexual parenting.

Or, perhaps more succinct is this piece of testimony , which is pretty blunt.

Switching over to the APA (American Psychology Association), we find this, which is a reasonably decent summary of some twenty years of research.

Guess what? Children raised in a home headed by a same gender couple turn out just fine. In fact, the APA paper has a very nicely worded conclusion:

In summary, there is no evidence to suggest that lesbians and gay men are unfit to be parents or that psychosocial development among children of gay men or lesbians is compromised in any respect relative to that among offspring of heterosexual parents. Not a single study has found children of gay or lesbian parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents.

So...just what is this "harm" that Morton and others are yapping about? (Besides their fevered imaginings of how GLBT people live)

Environmental Policy Revisited

It's no secret that the Liberals bungled implementing a plan to meet our Kyoto commitments. With the Conservatives trying to step away from Kyoto commitments, and making vague noises about addressing environmental policy issues, it's nice to see another voice stepping forth that approaches the obligations we are signed up to in Kyoto as a challenge.

A few days ago, The Green Party announced their strategy entitled GP2 Green Plan. While I certainly have questions in my mind about aspects of it, I like the underlying optimism it presents.

There's several interesting ways that the Green Party is proposing to implement:

1) A carbon tax, but counter balancing that by reducing other taxes such as income and payroll taxes. This will, no doubt, annoy Alberta politicians and oil companies, but overall, it's a strategy that balances two key issues in a positive fashion. It creates an interesting "positive" incentive for energy companies to act - by moving tax load off the payroll, and putting it in a place where the company can actually reduce its tax burden by reducing its emissions.

2) Aggressive involvement in the implementation of alternative power generation and fuel sources. I've always felt that we stand to gain a lot by moving of traditional power generation strategies. Making some of the technologies involved commercially viable is a difficult thing to do right now, and the Green Party is talking in terms of taking the risk factors down a notch or two.

3) An assortment of programs and restoration of programs such as Energuide and the R2000 strategies to make our consumer uses of energy more informed and reasonable. (I don't know about others, but I actually found the "energuide" information on appliances rather useful)

There are other aspects that I think are short sighted. The view taken of nuclear power troubles me. Whether or not I like it, nuclear power is likely to be a significant player in the world as the cost and practicality of oil, coal or natural gas generation becomes more questionable in the coming decades. I would have liked to see investment made in the direction of improving the key technologies as well as the handling of the waste.

Similarly, the one aspect of Kyoto that has always bothered me is the "emission credits" trading system. There's something about this piece that I've just never quite been able to reconcile with the objective of reducing the impact of human activity on the environment. It seems problematic to pay another nation money so that we can spew more pollutants. I can't say I was happy to see that part of Kyoto reflected so strongly in the GP2 policy paper.

Other aspects of their plan is clearly aggressive, but unlike the Conservative "non-policy policy", or the years-long dithering of the Liberals, they have tried to balance things off in a manner that attempts to achieve what seems to be a practical approach. Pleasantly, they seem to have thought about the overall balance of economy, people and environment issues and have proposed something that tries to be positive.

CPoC - Becoming TheoCon Party of Canada

Via Alison at Creekside, we learn that Rona Ambrose has just hired Darrel Reid as her new chief of staff in the environment ministry.

Reid used to run the Canadian arm of Dobson's "Focus on the Family" (I won't link to them - you can dig them up via Google if you really want). He ran in Richmond last election, and thankfully lost - badly. Here's a nice summary from last election.

So ... it appears that if you can't get elected as a TheoCon, don't worry, you'll still get hired into a patronage job by the party.

What was that principle of separating church and state about again?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Ted Morton's At It Again

How intriguing, Ted Morton's getting into bed with a bunch of "religious leaders" in his campaign to deny legal marriage recognition to gay couples.

Now his tack is to approach it as "damaging to children", and demand that a parliamentary committee be struck to 'study' that allegation. (I caught that on the radio driving home from work tonight - I'll try to find a corroborating print article over the next couple of days - this CP article is a bit more detailed than that off CBC, but not much.)

Personally, I fail to see how a legal same gender marriage has any effect on children of other couples. (It's not like there aren't gay couples around already, is it?)

However, the impact this will have on the Alberta PC party could be quite interesting. With Morton courting the religious conservative vote so openly, he stands to split the party along factional lines. We've already seen some early signs of divisions within the PC party as the leadership campaign went through the early months, and it strikes me that Morton could well serve as a polarizing force that ultimately splits the party.

This may well be what he wants to achieve. Morton has always been almost an "Alberta Nationalist" in his rhetoric, and his legislative behaviour more recently has demonstrated that he would be quite happy to take Alberta out of Canada. If he can do it and create his own little version of Gilead, he'd probably be quite happy.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

No, Mr. Harper - It IS About Your Policies

Harper is busy trying to accuse Martin of being inconsistent:

"When you make those kinds of decisions as a prime minister, you have to be able to take responsibility for them and stick with them," Harper said in Bucharest.

"The fact that Mr. Martin is unable to do that, in this and so many other cases, illustrates why he is no longer prime minister of our country."

No, Mr. Harper, that isn't the point at all. You know it, and I know it - so why don't you address the issue instead of trying to blame all of your incompetence on your predecessor.

Here's what Martin really said:

In an interview with the Toronto Star, Martin said he doesn't back away "one iota" from his decision to send soldiers to Kandahar. But Martin said there should be more focus on reconstruction efforts.

"You can't win the military war if you can't win the hearts and minds of the people," Martin said.

He said that he approved what military planners refer to as the "3-D" approach to the mission: diplomacy, defence and development.

"We are doing the defence," Martin said. "In fact, we are doing the defence quite aggressively — and you can't do it passively.

"But are we doing the amount of reconstruction, the amount of aid that I believe was part of the original mission? The answer unequivocally is that we're not. And I believe that we should."

Of course, in the usual fashion, Harper is trying to blame Martin for Harper's own bad decisions, while he takes credit for a $13 billion government surplus that was engineered by the Liberal governments. (Remember, when the Liberals came into power in 1992/93, the Federal Government was running substantial deficits every year - it was under Chretien that those deficits were brought under control)

At the rate the CPoC is going, next year or the year after, we will start seeing deficit budgets again - mostly because like George Bush, Harper wants to be able to puff up his chest on the world stage and brag about how muscular he is. While the Canadian taxpayer foots the bill for his hubris.

Why Broad Base Tax Cuts Are Bad Policy

It sounds good. Knock a few percent off the taxes I pay every paycheque, and I wind up with a few more pennies in my pocket, right?

According to a comment in my last post this should be absolutely true:

Actually, tax cuts - even those which do not directly advantage lower income earners - significantly improve the welfare of all citizens of a nation, whether they are wealthy or poor.

Well, let's take a look at this for a second.

Let's assume I take 1% off income taxes across the board. I'm not going to fiddle with the brackets, but just take the 1% off the taxation rate. I'll use the calculation on the CRA website to do a quick calculation for 3 different cases:

1) Taxable Income = $30,000
2) Taxable Income = $50,000
3) Taxable Income = $100,000

(Taxable income being your income less deductions for RRSPs and similar tax shelters and non-taxable "business costs")

Case #1: Taxable income = $30,000 (Lots of people earn less than this in total income)
((30,000 - 0) x 15.25%) + 0 = $4,575.00 taxes
After a 1% cut:
((30,000 - 0) x 14.25%) + 0 = $4,275.00 taxes - a total of $300 less in taxes.

Case #2: Taxable income = $50,000 (A modest professional salary)
((50,000 - 36,378) x 22%) + 5548 = $8544.84 taxes
After a 1% cut:
((50,000 - 36,378) x 21%) + 5183.87 = $8044.49 taxes - a total of $500.35

Case #3: Taxable income = $100,000 (nobody I know)
((100,000 - 72,756) x 26%) + 13,551 = 20634.44 taxes
After a 1% cut:
((100,000 - 72,756) x 25%) + 12,823.25 = 19634.25 taxes - a total of $1000.19

* note: The base tax amounts added to each are simply the sum of the maximum tax levied for the previous income bracket.

Remember, that those amounts are spread over the entire year, and appear fractionally on each paycheque. Since most people are paid either biweekly or semi-monthly, I worked it out based on either 24 or 26 pay periods.

Scenario #1: Savings = $300
$300 / 24 = $12.50
$300 / 26 = $11.54

Scenario #2: Savings = $500.35
$500.35 / 24 = $20.85
$500.35 / 26 = $19.24

Scenario #3: Savings = $1000.19
$1000.19 / 24 = $41.68
$1000.19 / 26 = $38.47

Now, let's consider the economic realities behind these numbers. First of all, the ability of people in the higher income brackets to save money - and thus realize the total value of such a tax cut increases dramatically as you go up the income scale. In the lower brackets, just about every penny of take home pay is used for survival - paying rent, transportation and food.

While $12 each paycheque will no doubt be appreciated, $12 doesn't go that far these days. (It doesn't even cover the fresh produce needs of one person for a week!) Worse, while that money might be "in my pocket", and therefore I "have choice" about what happens with it, the fact is that a dental checkup is $300 these days, a trip to the physiotherapist is between $75 and $100 {an important point, since the lower paying jobs are often labour jobs with a higher probability of injury that requires treatment that is not covered by medicare}

With a taxable income that is approaching $100,000, unless you are really a spendthrift, your cost of living should still permit you to save quite a bit, and that thousand dollars is likely to be available for further investment at year's end. (My taxable income is nowhere near that, and I manage to save a fair bit each month even after paying my bills, and treating myself reasonably well)

In essence, we wind up doing little that actually helps the lower income people {as commenter JN pointed out, McJobs don't exactly pay a living wage}. We put a few nickels in their hand and think that we've "helped" - do we not gain far more as a society by making education more affordable, or health care more broadly accessible with those dollars? Especially when those dollars are brought in proportionately across the entire population?

Sadly, the commenter I mentioned first, also made the following assertion about the "benefits" of tax cuts:

The increase in domestic spending generated by tax cuts - even just a 1% GST cut - greatly assists in creating jobs. The more that wealthy people spend in the economy, the more likely that others will be able to find employment in the first place.

It is far from clear that Reagan-style Supply-side Economics (also often referred to as Reaganomics) actually have any such effect. First off, the wealthy spend a much smaller percentage of their available income; second, there is no clear relationship between the taxes of the wealthy and jobs.

The job growth under the Reagan administration was an average of 2.1% per year, which is in the middle of the pack of twentieth-century Presidents.

This is hardly a stellar recommendation for the notion that tax cuts of this form are actually a good thing from an economic stimulus point of view. (BTW - a 1% GST cut only makes a measurable difference on large purchases - such as cars - something most of us only do every 7-10 years)

Since the Harper government has made it quite clear that tax cuts will come at the expense of social programs that benefit Canadians on low incomes, while increasing spending and commitments to wars. Since Harper seems to feel that the $13 billion surplus absolutely must be used to pay off debt (and we are a long ways from paying it all off yet), I would have to imagine that simply cutting taxes only prolongs the payoff period for the debt.

Frankly, I'd rather have the taxes stay where they are, and the monies folded into such eminently useful areas as education and health care. (Which the provinces have screamed for years the Federal Government is underfunding - with some justification), and have a hope of being able to get medical treatment when I need it - regardless of what my income is.

Stephen Harper's Canada: Where the Rich Get Richer

In the wake of Stephen Harper's government announcing $1 billion in spending cuts, primarily aimed at disenfranchising people who might actually be critical of the CPoC, we find Finance Minister Flaherty musing about "further tax cuts".

The "tax cuts" that took effect in June this year were relatively small (1% GST cut, for example), and only really have a measurable effect on large purchases.

However, what most people overlook is the fact that "tax cuts" seldom materially benefit the average or low income earners - especially when implemented using the neo-Con "one size fits all" approach. If your individual income isn't in the low six figures, a 1% tax cut isn't a whole lot of anything, especially when it's spread across each paycheque.

In taking a page from their US neo-Con leaders currently in Washington, the CPoC is creating a taxation environment where the wealthiest of Canadians will pay less taxes, and the gap will further squeeze middle income Canadians down lower.

This is a government, that like Ralph Klein's in Alberta, fails to grasp the fundamental notion that governing a nation is about much more than the nation's fiscal balance sheet. It's also about the country's social balance sheet - how do we care for our seniors, bring people out of the margins of society and into the mainstream, care for the ill and so on.

As a footnote - there is some thought that the cuts announced ealrier won't affect CPoC support significantly. I can only hope that outside of Alberta, they're horribly wrong. (Alberta keeps re-electing Rob Anders and Jason Kenney - I don't have high hopes for change there just yet)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Defending the Indefensible

The pattern of the Harper government is clear now. They will only publicly discuss things that they think is palatable. Everything else will be done behind closed doors.

In the wake of yesterday's spending cuts announcements, we learn that these cuts directly affect the most vulnerable in Canada's society women, youth, first nations and illiterate adults disproportionately.

Minister Oda's attempts to defend the cuts to Status of Women Canada underscore the hostility the CPoC government holds towards those who advocate for equality, and that measure the government against those objectives.

But she made it clear that the agency's mandate and programs are under review, and how money is spent on women could be farmed out to other government departments if it's deemed more efficient.

"So if Status of Women is the agency to do this, so be it. If it's a Canadian pension plan, then maybe it should be the department that's delivering the Canadian pension plan program," Oda said.

The hint here, is that the CPoC is going to dismantle a department that is highly likely to not only be critical of their policies, but will have the studies done to back up that criticism.

Oda spelled out some of the areas that she saw as important, such as the nagging lack of women in upper management roles in Canadian business, the integration of immigrant women into Canadian society and the increasing rates of poverty among single mothers.

She also underlined concerns over violence against aboriginal women.

"The UN has identified that we could do better as a country on that issue, so now we can start doing something about it rather than having more studies tell us what we already know."

Two points here - you will never know whether you are making progress or not if you don't actually measure your efforts. This has been singularly one of the most valuable things that Status of Women Canada has done.

Second, if the government is truly concerned with the issues of poverty, integration and women in management, then why is this government taking money away from the agency whose mandate seems to be specifically to deal with and raise such issues?

If Oda's defense of these cuts seems tepid and feeble, it's because the cuts themselves are fundamentally a sop to silence the squirming mass of social and religious conservatives that are a core part of the CPoC.

Cutting funding to programs that are intended to address adult illiteracy merely demonstrates that the CPoC is more about keeping people "in their place" than giving them a helping hand to climb out of the pit they have landed in.

When the government is cutting programs that benefit citizens of Canada that are most likely to be marginalized, and in a year when we have a record surplus no less, one must conclude that the governing party's motives are something other than mere "fiscal prudence".

Monday, September 25, 2006

Social Conservatism By The Back Door

The Federal Government has just announced $1 Billion in spending cuts on the heels of a $13 billion surplus.

Now, re-evaluating government spending is not necessarily a bad idea, but in this case, it speaks quite loudly to how the HarperCrit government is going to go about implementing the socially conservative policies that have always been there, even if Steven doesn't want to talk about them.

A few of the "highlights" of these cuts that underscore my point:

Women's rights and equality: Administrative reductions to Status of Women: $5 million.

Considering that SoW is primarily a funding disbursements agency, I suspect that $5 million is a sizeable chunk of their staffing budget. Of course, you can't disburse funds if nobody's around to administer things, can you. In future years, we will see the CPoC declaring this department as "redundant" because they have "unused funds".

Medical Research: -End to medical marijuana science funding: $4 million.

Unsurprising - the CPoC thinks of marijuana as a criminal offense, and they aren't the least bit interested in understanding how it helps people with long term, debilitating diseases.

Environment: -Removal of unused funds for mountain pine beetle initiative: $11.7 million

I see - so the most dangerous creature to our forestry industry in Canada doesn't matter? Brilliant thinking there, but considering that Rona Ambrose thinks that 17 owls left doesn't constitute an endangered species, I'm not surprised.

Civil Rights: -Elimination of of Court Challenges Program: $5.6 million.

For women and minority groups, this is a significant cut. This program provided funding which enabled minority groups to challenge major injustices in legislation. This is a subtle, but nasty cut. Minority groups are often very small, and their ability to raise funds for such challenges independantly is limited.

In a broader view, this particular change signals that this is a government that is not willing to tolerate challenges to its legislative initiatives. They know that much of what they want to legislate cannot stand detailed scrutiny before the courts, so they want to make it as difficult as possible for the challenges to be launched and sustained through our legal processes.

Now, for all this, the government has achieved a $1 billion total cut in government program spending. This is less than 1% of the total government budget of some $212 billion in expenditures - kind of makes one wonder about the intentions of the government, doesn't it?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Well Duh

Apparently, an American report shows that the Iraq war has increased the threat from terrorism.

No fooling! I've said it before - you cannot fight shadows with heavy armour - you fight shadows with shadows.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

From the "Open and Honest" Government

We find still more outright dishonesty from the Harper Government coming to light this week:

First, let me introduce you how the Conservatives are implementing socially conservative policy behind closed doors. Instead of being open and honest about things, the CPoC government is simply starving programs for funding. This is unsurprising - it's a tactic straight out of Ralph Klein's book - he doesn't like being held accountable for his policies either. Using the "starvation" tactic, the minister(s) involved can claim that the problem happened in the bureaucracy.

Then, consider the veil of secrecy that has descended upon Ottawa. Not only is HarperCrit micromanaging the message from his ministers, but suddenly a great deal of information that used to be publicly available is suddenly secret. (Including crime statistics in some regions - what's with that?)

In an effort to deflect criticism, we find the Conservatives accusing the former Liberal government of similar breaches. This is a classic right-wingnut tactic, and one that thoroughly irritates me. The issue is not the previous government anymore - the issue is the current government's secrecy and evasiveness.

For a party that ran on a platform of "Open, Honest and Accountable" government, it's amazing the litany of outright lies and deception that we have been subjected to since this government was sworn in last February:

Harper's unelected cabinet members
Not working with the Ethics Commissioner because he was "a liberal appointee".
Loaded survey "questions".
Secret "flag waving" trips to Afghanistan - to convince us that being involved in a civil war is a good thing.
Muzzling his cabinet - because he can't trust them not to shoot the party in the foot.
Paranoid fantasies about the "biased" media
Musing about changing the constitution - oblique, but when you have a government as secretive as this lot, everything has to be considered.
Mandatory "minimum sentences" - a disastrous experiment from the United States that has done nothing to curb crime and increased the costs of the criminal justice system enormously.
Muzzling their own employees - even when they write a piece of science fiction.
Appointing committee chairs, because now that he's in power, he wants to stay there.
$0.60/hr for childcare - a brain dead policy that fritters money away like there's no tomorrow, and does few any real good.

Trying to conceal dead soldier's coffins from public view. (And he LIED when he claimed that it was done at family request.

A softwood lumber deal that is looking more and more like fresh cow pattie than anything else. This being the same bunch of morons that have to make the softwood deal a confidence vote in order to get it rammed through parliament. Why? So they can ensure a $450 million donation to BushCo will arrive in White House coffers in time.

A budget that spoke quite loudly to Harper's hidden agenda - one which will direct more and more resources into the military, and away from social issues which desperately need to be dealt with.
Repeating BushCo talking points about the "War on Terror".
An arbitrary extension of the Afghanistan mission - spawned without giving Parliament the time to debate the issues clearly and coherently.
Shutting out the media - because they won't guarantee softball questions and flattering commentary.
Denying that prisoners taken in Afghanistan deserve to be (at least) handled under the rules of the Geneva Conventions on Prisoners of War.
Playing the fear card in the wake of the "Toronto 17" arrests - wherein Canada arrested 17 of the most bungling would-be terrorists that could possibly exist - and then using that to lead into more legislation that will erode your rights and privacy.
Claiming that Canadians are too stupid to understand government policy.
Non tax cuts
Hiding things - and lying about the handling of the Lebanon disaster.
Hiding Defense procurement behind a veil of "national security".
Refusing to acknowledge the World AIDS Conference - because some of what is discussed is contrary to standard conservathink.
Protecting Rob Anders, when the CPoC is supposedly a "grass roots" party.

... oh yes, and where's that health care wait times guarantee got to, Mr. Harper?

Friday, September 22, 2006

More Government In Secret

I'm not sure which is worse - the CPoC's ham-handed policies, or their secretive approach to everything.

There's been some loud rumbling around the blogosphere from "conservative" bloggers backing REAL Women Canada, which has been agitating with the HarperCrit government to defund Status of Women Canada, on the grounds that Status of Women is too liberal. (REAL Women is essentially "anti-feminist"). In the last day, find the topic is in fact bubbling about Ottawa rather more actively than I had expected. The fact that Minister Bev Oda is not saying anything means that chances are the CPoC has already decided what they are going to do, and just doesn't want the public to know.

Guard Towers and Border Security

Earlier this week, we learned that the US is building "guard towers" along the Mexico and Canada borders.

Okay, it's not Tancredo's concrete fence notion, but close enough. (especially when you realize that Canada is not exactly a hotbed of people trying to sneak into the United States)

There's a few points about this thing that I'd like to point out.

First, fences can be as much about keeping people in as out. Although this is being sold as a "security" measure to keep the "evil bastards" out of the United States, I can't help but think it has a lot to do with traffic the other way.

Second, I question the effectiveness of such a scheme, especially along the Canadian border. As one looks across the breadth of the Canada-US border, there are some significant impediments to "fencing off" the border - even with just simple surveillance.

Even using the "state of the art" along the border from the BC coast through to the Crowsnest Pass in Alberta, I doubt that the "vision range" of any tower is going to cover a single valley. Consider the complexity of using, for example, thermal sensors to pick up someone moving across the border. The system is going to spend a lot of its time picking up the local wildlife. (Was that a person or a bear that crossed the border?)

In practical terms, the creation of this fence starts to remind me of the creation of the so-called "Iron Curtain" of the cold-war era.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Dear Stephen:

Canadians are not idiots. You would do well to start thinking in those terms. On CBC radio this morning, I found myself listening to you answering questions about why public support for Canada's involvement in Afghanistan was dwindling away.

You answered that you thought that people were just responding to the deaths of our troops. Wrong. You are so vastly mistaken in this regard it's apalling to consider just how vastly mistaken you are.

Canadians have had a lot of time to consider the context of our commitments in Afghanistan. Even before we deployed troops a few months ago, it was quite clear that the situation in Afghanistan was not amenable to "stabilization and reconstruction". The "elected" government's reach doesn't reach beyond Kabul, and it's fairly obvious that the Taliban and warlords had reasserted their power in the absence of any coherent government.

Afghanistan is not a simple situation. No foreign power that has attempted to control that region has ever been successful in the long run. The turmoil in that nation today is a direct result of post 9/11 actions, and a 'cut-and-run' on the part of the United States when they decided that Iraq was a far more interesting target.

The region is a moral conundrum today. On one side of the coin, Canada's involvement in the early post-9/11 invasion of the country obliges us to be an active part in putting it back together. Yet, in contrast, the country has clearly degenerated into a state of civil war. I'm not at all sure that we can be an effective force to stabilize and help rebuild under the current conditions.

Speaking as a Canadian citizen, I have some serious questions about the validity of our involvement in Afghanistan. Should Canadians be involved in what amounts to a civil war? (especially in a context where we seem to be 'taking sides'?)

Just what are we accomplishing over there? [Here's a little snippet from a former UK soldier] The claim is made that we are "flushing out the Taliban", and yet somehow this rings hollow to me. The "Taliban" are among the people that live in the region, so unless we are emptying the lands and herding people into prison camps of some sort, I doubt that we are doing much more than creating more resistance. (Remember the Soviet experience - for every villager they killed, they made ten more sworn enemies?)

Why was your government in such a big damned rush to extend our commitment in that nation two full years? Just what games were you playing (besides cuddling up with the cactus bush in Washington) ? A mere few months before, your government was claiming that Canada couldn't possibly take on any more commitments, and then you turn around and arbitrarily extend (and expand) our involvement in Afghanistan?

What is it costing our government to have troops in that mess? Are you, like your idol in Washington, going to rack up enormous debt for this nation simply to satisfy your need to go play soldiers in some far off land?

No, Mr. Harper, it's not just about the distaste I have for seeing our soldiers returning in coffins that makes me question my support for our involvement in Afghanistan - it is far more than that, and I think you would do well to start answering some of those questions instead of puffing up your chest and bragging about "how Canada will be a player on the world stage".

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Could HarperCrit Sound Any More Like BushCo?

So, Harper's been talking to a "business club" audience in New York. The speech itself hints loudly at further integration with the United States on fronts such as trade and immigration - shades of this conference last week, perhaps?

He urged those in attendance to help push for a border initiative that is pragmatic and not rushed.

"Our border must not be seen as a fence where one country's national security stops and the other's begins," said Harper. "It's not like that in the real world."

Harper's comments came on a day when a U.S. government official told the Associated Press that Boeing has been offered an $80-million US contract that will use high-tech means, including towers, to stop illegal immigrants from entering across the country's north and south borders.

Hmmm...given the current US government, the only way a "pragmatic" solution is going to happen involves Canada swallowing whatever BushCo comes up with.

(Is it just me, or is it mighty convenient that Mini-Shrub is busy travelling about while Parliament is sitting? - taking a page out of Ralph's book perhaps?)

In the next chapter of the "can we afford 'Conservative Justice' saga", we are introduced to Vic Toews' 3 Strikes law. I'm not at all sure we can afford this kind of law in Canada (nor am I convinced that it is necessary). We already have provisions in law for declaring someone a "dangerous offender", which if the crown can demonstrate how the accused is a persistent threat to a judge results in an indefinite sentence.

Toews argues that a 3 strikes law will act as a deterrent, and yet the California experience is far from clear on the matter, with different groups finding that it increases costs and prison population, meanwhile the state republicans published claiming all kinds of success. Clearly neither side has a monopoly on compelling evidence.

Personally, I don't think it will do much good in Canada. I simply do not accept the conserva-think assertion that harsh sentences are a deterrent. Consider that Texas has the death penalty - about as harsh a sentence as you can think of, for murder. Yet, the Texas murder rate hasn't improved substantially. Which leads me to suspect that harsh penalties really don't make a difference to violent offenders (most of whom, I suspect, aren't thinking about consequences when they commit their crimes).

I do not believe that Canada will benefit by following in the footsteps of California on this one, and really what we are doing is setting up a scenario where billions more of Canadian taxpayer dollars will have to be funnelled into the creation of prisons, paying guards and looking after the offenders incaracerated. The only people that will benefit from this will be industrial providers that service the "punishment industry".

Before someone jumps on the obvious argument that I'd respond differently if it was a member of my family that was the victim. That's probably true - I imagine that I would experience a very visceral emotional state where I would want the offender's scrawny neck between my hands. However, I'm also smart enough to realize that there's a big difference between justice and revenge. Our criminal system is about justice, not retribution.

Now It's Officially Not "Ralph's World"

Premier Ralph Klein resigned officially today, officially launching the "not a leadership race" that has been going since spring this year.

Of course, Alberta media is busy singing his praises, especially about deficit and debt destruction. We should remember that his 'accomplishments' have come at with a price, and one that we will be paying off for decades to come.

Consider Ralph's "legacy":

- No Deficit - Check
- No Debt - Check
- No Plan - Ding Ding Ding !

One thing that has been painfully clear through Ralph's political career - planning is not something he does well. His approach from day one has been to take a sledgehammer to everything in sight, with little or no regard for the consequences of his actions.

What price have we paid for Ralph's legacy?

- A multi-billion dollar infrastructure deficit. This ranges from crumbling public buildings to roadways and underfunded public transportation.

- The cheapest royalty regime in North America, meaning that the public coffers are receiving the lowest return for allowing corporations to profit from our resources.

- Deregulated Utilities. I cannot even begin to describe how much of a giant fubar this has been. My utility costs as a consumer in Alberta are among the highest in Canada. The so-called "competition" that was supposed to give me a myriad of choices and reduce my costs has simply colluded to create noxious contracts, horrendous service charges, and tied us to commodities exchange prices that go up when New Orleans floods, a world leader sneezes hard or whatever.

- The most abusive welfare regime in Canada. Under Ralph's leadership, Alberta has become the harshest province in Canada for the poor.

- Public school systems that have been deliberately starved for resources. Ralph's sole "innovation" in public education was to introduce "charter schools", which are nothing more than incubators for what will ultimately morph into private schools.

By taking over collecting property taxes for school boards, the provincial government has imposed a parsimonious regime of funding that has starved school boards for the funds to pay contractually obligated salaries, much less repair existing schools or build new ones.

- Public Health systems that have been deliberately starved to make poly tier private medicine look good. Secondary services such as physiotherapy have been axed to the point that post-surgical treatment is coming directly out of the patient's pocket - regardless of whether they can afford it. Who is affected by this the most? Low income earners, seniors and others who must forgo surgery that would in fact improve their life considerably because they can't afford the post surgical costs.

- Combining the Departments of Environment and Natural Resources (now suspiciously called "Alberta Resources"). At first this seems almost reasonable, until you realize that the Environment department's mandate was to protect our environment, Natural Resources was all about the exploitation of resources (especially oil). Today, we find the entire weight is all about resource exploitation.

- Post Secondary education that has become more and more expensive - often at rates that far exceed the rate of inflation. This started under Don Getty, but Ralph's horde have hardly held education in high regard.

- A province which implements civil equality rights only when they have been dragged through every level of court in Canada, and then only doing so like a petulant child ordered to clean up their room.

I'm sure there's more, but that's what I can remember. So when you think about "Ralph's Legacy", remember that there's more to a government than its fiscal balance sheet.

Beware The Closed Door Meeting

Closed door meetings have always concerned me. It seems that secret meetings around North American Integration took place in Banff recently.

I'm actually disturbed by the list of participants:

Former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed co-chaired the event alongside former U.S. secretary of state George Shultz and former Mexican finance minister Pedro Aspe. Canadians scheduled to attend included Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day, Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier and Alberta Energy Minister Greg Melchin.

American invitees included Rumsfeld, his assistant, Lt. Gen. Gene Renuart and former secretary of energy and defence James Schlesinger.

The list also includes businessmen such as Roger Gibbins, president and CEO of Canada West Foundation, and Ron T. Covais, president of the Lockheed Martin Corporation, which is the largest weapons manufacturer in the United States.

I'm a little surprised to see Lougheed and Schultz chairing the event. I can only hope that they might provide a moderating influence to some of the other players. But something as significant as integration is a significant topic, and one that should not be held "in private".

Considering the US abuse of NAFTA, I'm not all that keen on the idea of further "deep integration" with the United States until such times as they start living up to agreements they've already made.

Canadians Starting To Catch On

In the news this morning, I caught one small, but rather irritating comment from Harper where he tried to pin something back on the previous Liberal government when a question was raised about his own government's actions. This is a fairly classic tactic for the Conservative government, and it is irritating as hell because it tells me that the CPoC government won't accept responsibility for their own actions.

Fortunately, Canadians seem to be starting to clue in, and Harper's rankings are slipping.

In an interesting follow up to the exoneration of Maher Arar, we now find Ottawa wanting to overhaul the RCMP. How interesting. As I pointed out a few days ago, a big part of the problem is not the RCMP, but the "anti terrorism" legislation that set out very lax rules around sharing information with the United States. If you do not require the information to be well validated before it gets out, then you can expect problems like this. This is sadly exactly what I had expected from the CPoC government. It is inconceivable for them to think that the US might abuse information.

In a similarly thick-headed comment, Harper thinks the fatalities in Afghanistan have "strengthened" the military. I'm not at all sure what his reasoning is, but I imagine the friends, family and colleagues of the deceased might think a little differently. If he's thinking in the rather medieval headspace of "blooding your troops" (hardening them to the awfulness of battle by being in battle), I think he needs his head examined.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Why We Cannot Suspend Due Process

If we take anything from the Maher Arar case, it must be that the right to due process of law is not only mandatory, but essential.

Sections 7 through 14 of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms clearly stipulate the following tenets:

7. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.

8. Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.

9. Everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.

In Maher Arar's case, it's clear that these basic tenets have been violated. In passing unverified information to a foreign power, the RCMP has acted, in effect, as judge, jury and executioner. They may have done it 'by proxy', merely by enabling a foreign government to do their dirty work, but they did it nontheless.

As a result, the United States effectively arrested an innocent man, and sent him to Syria to be "interrogated".

It strikes me that what this underscores is that when a foreign power demands "information" on someone, that Canada is obliged to do the following:

1) Verify that all information to be provided is correct and substantiated to a degree that would make plausible evidence in court.

2) Demand the immediate extradition of that person to Canada, pending evaluation of the information.

3) Inform the accused of the suspicions raised, and provide a reasonable opportunity to respond to those accusations. If necessary, before a court of law.

Anything less is a direct abuse of the person's rights as guaranteed under Canadian Law.

Of course, a government hell-bent on turning Canada into the 51st state, is unlikely to pay real heed to this gross abuse of government power. Stephen Harper is busy trumpeting how Afghanistan has put Canada's Military back on the world stage. The only people to be truly impressed by Harper's "get tough" approach to things are going to be George Bush and cronies.

The myopia of conserva-think these days is painfully clear, with Harper prattling on as follows about the gun registry:

But Prime Minister Stephen Harper argued that the shooting at Dawson College demonstrated that the current laws don't serve to protect the public.

"This government is determined to have more effective laws that would prevent such a tragedy in the future," he said.

Harper noted that his government has already introduced legislation that would mean greater penalties for violent crime, including mandatory minimum sentences.

As I pointed out here, no matter what the conservative mind-think might be, the numbers are clear - gun control is unquestionably effective. I have no complaint whatsoever with the notion that firearms must be registered. (Hell, I have to register my car every year, and my car isn't intended to be dangerous, and I dare say over the years, we've sunk a lot more than a couple of billion into the various automotive registries in this nation).

Did the registry stop a disaffected youth from going off the deep end? No. The real question that you have to ask is what the impact of the gun registration has been on two things: the gun crime rate in Canada; and the availability of firearms to fall into criminal hands. Of course, the conservative argument is that it is an "infringement" of "their rights", one that constrains law-abiding citizens and does nothing to stop the criminals - which is, of course, completely false. Harper is bound and determined to dismantle the gun registry because that has become standard conservative dogma in this land.

I don't think Harper is a man who has much use for civil rights and due process. His government is among the most secretive in Canada's history, and he has already signalled his willingness to follow in lock-step with the current US government, which has promulgated and abused civil rights to an unprecedented degree in the "PATRIOT Act". I fully expect that whatever Harper comes up with in response the Arar case will be mealy-mouthed and evasive.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

"I was quoted out of context"

Or at least so Pope Ratz in this "apology", which comes on the heels of giving this speech at the University of Regensburg.

Here is a snapshot of the controversial part of the Pope's speech. I've provided a fair bit of context around it so that you can start to assimilate the Pope's line of argument:

It is not the quote itself that I see as the problem. A quote of anything from several centuries ago is going to ring quite differently in modern ears. It is certainly a phrase that in today's world is little more than a ringing condemnation of a particular faith. I find myself much more troubled by the way in which the Pope has paraphrased the source material he is referring to. In paraphrasing the way that he has, the Pope has created the impression that he is in fact adopting the argument itself.

Typical of this Pope, reading his writing is like going back to some of the Medieval era writings I studied in an undergraduate course on the evolution of science. The arguments are often quite circuituous. (Basically, the arguments often depend on citing some other authority who cites numerous predecessor authorities - often with the appearance that those authorities are necessarily correct because of who they are). While his intent may not have been to offend Islam, when he turfed out Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald from a position running a department that fostered inter-faith communication, the Pope certainly removed one of his faith's authorities on Islam. The very man who could, and likely would, have pointed out the danger of the Pope's speech.

I'm not so sure that this was an "out of context" thing for the Pope. He has shown himself on other matters to be something of an absolutist. It's his way or no way on quite a number of issues, something that suggests that this is more of a "slip of the veil", letting us see what he would otherwise attempt to hide.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Bad Marketing Decisions

Given that Ford is slowly imploding, I thought I'd take a quick look at how Ford got themselves into their current spot.

Part of what inspired me to write this was a rolling bit of irony that I spotted driving home this morning. At a stop light, a little Mercury Cougar rolled up alongside me. All over the back windows and the rear glass were some very elegant looking Mary Kay logos. On a dark gray car, the near luminous pink of the logos really stood out to good effect. Sitting in the driver's seat was possibly the hairiest man I've seen in a long time. Thick black hair, bushy eyebrows and a beard that was so dense a lawn mower would be needed to shave it. (It was trim enough, just extremely thick) I'm sure he was driving his wife's car, but I couldn't overlook the juxtaposition.

Anyhow, that brings me to a parade of marketing errors that Ford has made in the last number of years.


1) Killing the Mercury brand. This was a huge error, and one that started in the late 1970s, when Ford started insisting that the Mercury be little more than a rebadged Ford. At that point, Ford started to compete with itself.

2) A series of "misfires" in launching new models:

a. The Ford Contour/Mercury Mystique - built on the Ford of Europe Mondeo frame, these were a rather nice mid-size car, and probably had the best road manners of any mid-90s Ford product. Nice car, but Ford priced it almost identically to the Ford Taurus, which they sold heavily in the fleet market (rentals, etc).

Sadly, Ford completely blew the marketing of the Contour. They under-marketed the car, and it languished in the shadow of the horrendously awful boat called the Taurus. Had Ford quietly placed the Taurus on "hiatus", the Contour would have done much better - as it was ideally positioned to compete with Honda's Accord or Toyota's Camry.

b. The Ford Focus. Another Ford of Europe design - and actually a whole lot of fun to drive. The first year they sold it, Ford did a nice job of marketing the thing, and then they let it languish in obscurity. Aside from the "SVT" version a couple of years ago, they've done little to hype the Focus, and a series of production changes cheapened the interior of the car to make it a pale imitator of its Japanese-built competitors like the Toyota Corolla.

Yet another case of under-marketing of the product, in favour of oversized, overweight SUV and large car offerings.

c. The Ford Taurus. Although innovative in the late 1980s when the Taurus made its debut, by the mid-90s it was a wallowing monster vastly outclassed by its competitors. Its popularity with the "fleet" market meant a lot of them are to be had for cheap today, but with a mediocre reliability record, and handling that is sub-par, even compared to the LTD of the mid-70s they would have done everybody a favor by terminating this model around 1995. (A series of problems like biodegradable transmissions didn't help the model)

d. SUV's. Take a look at Ford's website - nearly half of their offerings are SUVs and trucks - the "Bigger is Better" type. Yes, through the 1990s, they sold huge numbers of Explorers and F150s, but they all but dropped the "small body" offerings - the Explorer grew to nearly the size of an 1980s F150, and the trucks just got huge.

The Ford Escape (aka Mazda Tribute) was a nice little "small body" offering, but once again, Ford priced it so that they were competing with themselves. The Escape's pricing overlapped heavily with the bigger Explorer, and the Escape was an "urban SUV" - AWD meant to compensate for bad urban conditions. The Explorer was seen by most purchasers as "more robust".

e. Mercury Cougar. Based on the Contour chassis, this was a really slick looking little car when it came out - lots of sharp lines and graceful curves. The driving experience was apparently comparable to the Toyota Celica, but a bit more gentle. They had a car that was flashy, a decent ride to drive. It would have competed quite nicely with the Accord Coupe, and the Toyota Celica. Again, Ford's marketing department went underground. After an initial burst of 'launch' advertising, they did basically nothing to promote the car. By 2002, when I went looking for my current car, Ford dealers were just about denying that they had the Cougar in the lineup. (Which is primarily why I didn't buy it - knowing that they are going to kill it off, I was worried about parts availability and service)

f. Ford Fusion. When I saw this thing, I thought "Bleah! They've done another Granada") The styling is boring beyond belief, and it looks ponderous, rather than light and agile. It sort of embodies all of the worst attributes of Ford's designs from the 1990s, just shrinks them a little. Even more distressing is the fact that they are still selling the Taurus in the same pricing bracket.

g. Ford Windstar. Intended to replace an amazingly successful Mercury Villager/Nissan Quest joint venture vehicle, this lumbering error shared far too many parts with the Ford Taurus, and suffered similarly with poor handling, mediocre reliability and disappointing design. Unlike the innovative Villager, the Windstar wound up looking cheap. Worn soapbar styling and horrid seating that was neither "plush" nor supportive left the impression that Ford's design team built this thing using the "built by the lowest bidder model". The transmissions on Windstars are notorious for having the "sun gear" fall off its shaft - a rather catastrophic failure, to say the least)

After a couple of years of anemic marketing, Ford appeared to give up on the Windstar and has been trying to dump the remaining stock. (Granted, I'm not at all sure that any marketing could have saved this wretched vehicle)

3. Near incompetence in the dealer network.

My experiences with Ford service have been near disasters. It took them three tries to get the correct seat belt parts in for my Ranger a few years ago. A close friend had a Mercury Villager that started having problems with oxygen sensors getting cooked alive, and the Ford dealer couldn't diagnose that correctly to save their lives.

Along with a not so memorable experience getting a thermostat replaced on an Escort in the early '90s (3 trips to replace a $2.50 piece of brass and spring steel!) because the nitwits kept testing the in-car heater, not the the engine thermostat - I eventually had to tell the dealer what was to be replaced.

4. Two model marketing.

Somewhere along the way, Ford seems to have decided that their buyers want two kinds of car - either a Mustang or a F150 truck. Everything else has been let languish in the model lines. This is a huge mistake, because it means that Ford has been unable to position itself as a company with offerings that are looking forward. The image of them has become that of a company that builds gas guzzling monsters with mediocre reliability.

They made a couple of "muscle car" retro attempts - bringing back the "Mercury Marauder" name for a year or two, but really not much else, certainly nothing that I could call "aggressive". While Chrysler was carving out a neat little niche market for themselves selling "image" cars, and GM has been successfully reinventing their line, Ford seems to have been floundering with mediocrity and a lack of focus.

Needless to say, Ford has a long hill to climb before they will restore themselves to their past "glory". I think they can do it, but they desperately need to shed some truly awful products and bring out some new product that is competitive. They have a good start in platforms like the Focus, but they need to spend some serious effort rejuvenating the product. Additionally, a track record of dubious quality means that they need to spend some serious time building confidence up. (No more Windstars, please!) Back in the '70s, Ford had a very aggressive "Quality is Job 1" campaign internally and externally. Now would be a good time to resurrect that effort which seems to have been long ago waylaid.

In the meantime, Ford plants will close and the communities around them will suffer the consequences.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Stealing Elections...

There have been other articles on the web that demonstrate how easy it is to open a Diebold voting machine, but this demonstration from a group a Princeton University is positively chilling.

More details are here.

As a software professional, I've had concerns about electronic voting systems for some time, but the more that comes out here, I'm beginning to fear that the US elections are being hijacked. (and I'll scream blue murder if HarperCrit suggests adopting this technology for Canada ... )

You Cannot Export Democracy

On the CBC news tonight, I hear Stephen Harper calling Afghanistan a "war", and the only exit strategy is "success".

With the DoD sending more troops and heavy armor to Afghanistan, I for one would like to know just what the terms of engagement really are.

It seems to me that you can't define success if you don't have clear objectives, preferably objectives that are practical.

Harper spoke of "fostering democracy" in Afghanistan - once again sounding like a miniature George W. Bush, and he is equally deluded. Democracy cannot be "imposed" at the end of a gun barrel. Democracy, at least as we understand it, depends on the presence of a stable, civil society that respects the rights and freedoms of its citizens. Otherwise, all that you create is a breeding ground for strongman dictators, who will quite ruthlessly kill their opponents if they cannot sway them.

Contrary to conserva-think these days, democracy is not an exportable commodity.

Repeating Scripts

Apparently, nothing succeeds like success. In the twisted thinking going on in the US government these days, BushCo's lies about Iraq's "weapons programs" were successful.

So, we find them repeating exactly the same pattern with respect to Iran. Not only is the US ranting on about Iran "pursuing nuclear weapons" (and if they are, so what?), just reinforce their position, a senate subcommittee report that insinuates that the IAEA is in cahoots with Tehran to cover things up. This is exactly the same tactic that BushCo used in the leadup to invading Iraq - they tried to discredit the IAEA to bolster their argument.

Given the outright lies that were told repeatedly about Iraq, I think the world would do well to treat the latest rantings by BushCo with more than a little skepticism.

Does Gun Control Work?

In the wake of this week's tragedy at Dawson College in Montreal, we are hearing the CPoC bleating once again about how the current gun laws don't "work".

Since the Gun Registry came into existence in the 1990s, it's been in force, along with other measures of our country's Gun Control regime for quite some time. The CPoC talking point is, of course, well this guy's guns were all registered, and it didn't stop _him_ from committing a crime.

First, let's be practical. Canada has guns, and will have guns seeping across the border from the United States. No regime of gun control is going to be 100% effective, nor will it guarantee that someone won't use their firearms in a crime.

Second, one cannot take a 'single' case and claim that therefore the gun control regime is utterly ineffective. In order to assess whether gun control is effective, one has to examine that statistical incidence of gun related crimes.

So, I went digging. Finding long term studies that track the use of guns in crime is difficult - it's not been a vector that Statistics Canada appears to track regularly.

I found two important studies, one quite current, the other a fair bit older.

The first study tracks gun fatalities from 1979 through to 2002. Here it is in PDF (The report itself starts on p. 37). It contains the following synopsis of gun control in Canada:

I think this is pretty clear - the trend overall has been downwards. Is it at zero? No, of course not.

The second study is a comparison between Canada and US crime rates involving firearms from 1989 to 1996. Again, I will point out that Canada has a lower crime rate than the United States, it's significantly lower (Canada having less than 20% the rate of firearm homicide than its neighbor to the south).

So, can we argue that "gun control doesn't work"? No - of course not. It's quite clear that in 25 years of gun control that Canada's violent incidence rate is not only in steady decline, but it is also a fraction of the rate seen south of the 49th parallel.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Breaking News...

What is it with Guys in trenchcoats and guns?

This story is still unfolding, so we don't know a lot of details. Right now, we don't know who the gunmen are/were, nor anything about their motives.

The one thought that crosses my mind is this: 'So, we need more people with access to guns how?'

[Update 18:40]
The good news, there was only one gunman. The bad news - he's dead, so we are left to guess at his motives for now.

Now, Mr. Toews, please explain to me how your "tougher minimum sentences" are going to convince some nearly suicidal 20 year old not to get a gun? (For bonus points, please explain how your reasoning will apply to someone whose psychological state is unlikely to map well into the understanding of a middle aged lawyer cum politician)

More Religious Irrationality

It seems that the good bigot ... er Bishop ... Henry is at it again in another of his so-called "pastoral letters" (which has become another code phrase for political screed lately)

Since Lifesite is notorious for bending and twisting things out of shape, I'll have to find a copy of this latest screed from Henry.

The Lifesite synopsis starts off with the usual bunch of absolute crap:

"The homosexual lifestyle must now be treated as wholesome and legitimate, when in reality, it is unwholesome and immoral."

What is this "lifestyle" these clowns keep yapping about? It's amazing to me that they claim to "know" all about how the gay and lesbian people live, and yet those that I know live amazingly pedestrian lives. The lurid intimations that the Bishop and other wingnuts use must be based on watching some really bad late night porn flicks. It's rather akin to going into a popular nightclub (say Cowboys in Calgary), and walking out assuming you now understand the straight dating scene - the picture you get from a meat market bar is quite different from the reality most people know.

"many . . . are unaware of the adverse effects already posed by our current legislation."

In addition to the above mentioned adverse effect, Bishop Henry noted that:
"The traditional family has its status and necessary privileges questioned
"Freedom of speech is threatened for those who oppose same-sex 'marriage' in public."
"Civil servants unwilling to cooperate with same sex 'marriage' -- such as marriage commissioners in B.C., Saskatchewan and other provinces -- are dismissed."
"Adoption of children by 'gays' and lesbians is 'legal.'
"'Gay' activists have now demanded successfully in B.C. that the curriculum be changed to suit their agenda."

This list of talking points is getting really old, if not downright ancient. I've debunked most of them at various times in the past, so let's fast forward to Henry's conclusions:

1. The polls confirm that the majority of Canadians do not favour same-sex “marriage” because there is no gender complementarity and it is closed to procreation. It is contrary to the natural law.

2. The new legislation undermines the legal status of marriage by undermining its unique and exclusive nature. In the last session of government a private members bill called for the recognition and equality of what are called transgendered and transvestite people. Other bills can be expected that clamour for the acceptance of polygamy (more than one wife) and polyandry (more than one husband).

In December 2005 (in Labaye vs. the Attorney General) the Supreme Court ruled that swingers clubs, which include the swapping of partners and public orgies, are perfectly legal. The Justices no longer recognize the existence of “community standards.”

3. The legal acceptance of so-called same sex "marriage" should be seen in the light of many years of agitation for the promotion of the homosexual lifestyle.

I see. Fundamentally, the Bishop is arguing for a continuation of systemic discrimination on a number of fronts. Worse, he is comingling unrelated issues. In spite of numerous arguments, nobody has ever put forth a line of reasoning that links SGM to polygamy or polyandry coherently. Most such arguments are based on a "slippery slope" argument, and utterly fail to draw any relationship between them - rendering the implied association quite vacant, in my view.

He complains that "In the last session of government a private members bill called for the recognition and equality of what are called transgendered and transvestite people". To which I can only guess how recognizing that transgendered people are subject to discrimination on a variety of fronts is harmful to the notion of marriage. Of course, the Bishop is desperate in his desire to hang onto having a few groups that are convenient to demonize for the ills in society, instead of actually addressing issues.

I can't possibly leave his little quip "It is against natural law" alone. Consider this, if homosexuality was "against natural law", do you really think it would have been a persistent feature of human societies throughout our recorded history? It strikes me that the very notion of "natural law" implies a respect for that which is quite natural. How, then, can you possibly argue that encouraging systemic discrimination against these people is "enforcing" natural law?

We now find ourselves confronted by a false way of thinking, which has weakened the moral fabric of our society, and attacked the social primacy of the family. It is time to push back.

1. Make a commitment to pray every day for the institution of traditional marriage in Canada.

2. Contact your MP: write a letter; better still, make an appointment to see him or her personally. Communicate the continuing importance of this issue to your elected representatives. Insist that the traditional definition of marriage be re-opened.

3. Study the teachings of the Church on marriage, consult the Canadian bishops web site, and be faithful to this teaching in your own lives and marriages. Teach and stress it to your children, grandchildren, and friends. Tell others to do the same.

After reading this, I seriously question whether the Bishop is writing to the ministry of his congregations, or is he engaging in politics.

I have a suggestion for the Bishop - rather than worrying about who boffs who, why don't you focus your energies somewhere that is actually productive - like helping Calgary's homeless.

Of course, like much of the Bishop's rantings on the subject, he's arguing purely by assertion, and little of what he says can actually be backed up with rational facts. His claims are based on dragging multiple, rather unrelated issues together and then claiming that they are in fact the same issue.

Civil Rights and Weapons Testing

Ever since 9/11, George Bush's government has engaged in a steady relentless attack on civil liberties and rights. From the PATRIOT act through to a series of illegal (and immoral) spying programs, the US government has engaged in a steady erosion of civil rights and liberties in the name of "The War on Terror" (tm).

I've thought for a while that the United States was headed down a slippery path towards a totalitarian state. Any country that operates "secret" prisons, and holds people outside of the due process of law is already well on the road there. Recent immigration idiocy where natural born US citizens have been denied entry to the United States are indicators of a government that no longer see their citizens as "real people".

When a government official can suggest "testing" weapons systems on civilians, you know that they have lost all perspective on the very people that they are responsible to. When I read this, my jaw dropped - I'm still picking pieces of it up off the floor.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Dear Pope Ratz:

Since you seem to feel it is your position and right to complain incessantly about the very world that you have chosen to hold yourself aloof from, allow me to take you to task on a few points.

A few days ago, you were busily berating Canada for its laws, especially on marriage and reproductive rights.

Today, I read that you are complaining about Germany's "science and reason make it “deaf” to God".

“Put simply, we are no longer able to hear God ­ there are too many frequencies filling our ears,” he told the crowd, at a former airport on the outskirts of this city where he once served as archbishop. “What is said about God strikes us as pre-scientific, no longer suited for our age.”

You're close Pope, but not quite close enough. It is the words of people like you that render the "word of God" irrelevant. It is ironic to me that a man who has spent most of his life in contemplation argues against "reason". In effect, your own arguments further expand the rift between rationalists who have turned away from theistic belief and followers of theism. Science is not inherently anti-religion, in fact many scientists are religious.

The problem is that while our rational knowledge of the world we live in has blossomed in a variety of fronts, your interpretation of scripture has become ever narrower. Instead of embracing knowledge, and using the interpretation of scripture to guide people, you fight the knowledge itself.

On social issues, you continue to make absolute pronouncements that might have fit in the early 20th Century, but your positions fail to acknowledge that women are people, not objects; that gays and lesbians are contributing members of society, not pariahs.

You continue to argue that "family values" mean that women should never have abortions, that contraception is evil and so on. The argument about contraception might have made sense a century and a half in the past when a sizable percentage of babies didn't survive to adulthood, and we lost a lot more people to "accidents".

Instead of incorporating new knowledge into your interpretation of scripture, you have attempted to hold scripture apart from the world and context in which it must live. The factual discrepancies between what we can rationally know and what scripture claims is enough to tell me that scripture can only be interpreted as "metaphor", not literal fact. Until you and your church learn this reality, you can expect the educated world to turn its back on you.

Softwood Lumber - From the US Perspective

I've been suspicious about the softwood lumber agreement ever since it came out that a sizable chunk was landing in BushCo's hands without any real oversight.

Over at Correntwire, we have a detailed analysis of that aspect of the agreement, along with a chilling analysis of how Bush may well use those dollars to continue his "rat on your neighbors" programs of illegal surveillance.

Anyone for asking our government why they are giving the US White House half a billion dollars to abuse the rights and freedoms of their own citizens?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

So, what was that about Afghanistan

...being a "peace enforcement mission" last spring?

Is it just me or is there something wrong when we need to deploy heavy armour as part of a mission that is supposed to be about peacekeeping?

When HarperCrit rammed his little "extension" of the mission through Parliament this spring, we were only just starting to see the degree of chaos that is Afghanistan. No doubt, he had in mind an escalation of Canada's involvement in Shrub's little "War on Terror" at the time, and like the dishonest liar that he is, kept his mouth shut.

Just for fun, I see that Boeing is already bragging about being awarded some $8 billion of the government's procurement contracts for aircraft. (I'd love to see the bid process for _that_ contract) Remember, the government took these purchase contracts off the "open tender" system in June/July, not long after rumours started to swirl about the US "letting us have" a few of their C-17 class production run currently in progress to speed up the acquisition cycle.

So, what else is HarperCrit going to unveil in the coming weeks and months that he hasn't admitted to?

- Remember, this is coming from a party that ran on a platform of "open, accountable government".

Saturday, September 09, 2006

More On Michael Coren

Last week, I took Michael Coren's idiocy about Iran apart.

This week, we are treated to Coren whining about the response to his stupidity.

Let's take a closer look at his complaints shall we?

As regrettable as such an attack would be, I argued, it would save countless lives in the long run. A conventional attack could fail and, anyway, not provide a sufficient shock to the torturers and serial killers who rule the Persian state.

I see, the opening volley is of course to claim that he was massively misunderstood. Horsefeathers - Coren argued quite unequivocally in favour of unleashing one of the most horrifying weapons systems mankind has ever created on another nation - plain and simple. There is no "mitigating" that by claiming that it would save "other lives".

The hysterical websites immediately went into action and told their readers to write and complain. I've been warned I could be taken to the Human Rights Commission and the Press Council. A campaign has been launched to pressure hosts of my forthcoming speaking engagements to cancel me and my family has been threatened.

Oh dear, annoyed a few people, did we? I will not condone the threats of physical violence that appear to have been made - those kinds of threats are simple thuggery and are of no redeeming value. On the other hand, did you really think, Mr. Coren, that given your public profile that people wouldn't try to go after your precious speaking engagements? Hello? I'm sorry to say, but that cannot come as a surprise, and frankly, if it were me that was hiring you to speak, I'd be seriously reconsidering that decision - fast.

Actually, I've been a strong supporter of justice for Muslims. I wrote a column during the Danish cartoon controversy urging people to understand why Muslims were so angry. I've called for funding for Muslim schools, spoken in mosques, won awards for my work in inter-faith dialogue.

Oh yes, the classic, condescending "some of my best friends are ..." defense. Newsflash - after making the statements you did, just about everyone in Canada who is of Middle Eastern descent should be asking themselves just how sincere your overtures really are. Clearly you aren't willing or able to even attempt to understand the cultural and political dynamics of that nation.

... I'm just a newspaper columnist giving an opinion about geo-politics and international peace in what is still, one hopes, a free country.

I keep hearing that "freedom of speech" thing being bandied about every time some wingnut case starts arguing for destruction of other people. Suddenly, they turn around and decide that it's a matter of "free speech" for them to be able spew whatever misguided, ill-informed vitriol that they choose.

I've seen Coren spew some amazingly ill-informed tripe over the years, and other than taking him to task on what he has written, I am more or less content to let him dribble his idiocy onto the pages of the Sun Media newspapers. However, he needs to realize that his right to "free speech" is not unbounded, and I can quite understand why people with relatives in Iran would be utterly horrified at Mr. Coren's suggestion.

If the Sun Media chain wakes up and drops this loon, I won't feel too terribly sad about it. I'm sure there's quite a business to be had speaking at the various "christian" white supremacist "militia" compounds in Montana...

Friday, September 08, 2006

Memo To Pope Ratz:

Get your nose out of my nation's politics - NOW!

According to the Pope, Canada is suffering from the pervasive effects of secularism” and pointed to “the plummeting birth rate” as proof..

Perhaps the best evidence possible of this being the Pope playing at politics is this statement itself. It's a classic "talking point" style from the political right wing - take two topics that are utterly unrelated and then presuppose a connection between them. The argument that the declining birth rate in "Western" countries is connected to secularism is deeply flawed. First of all, it supposes that secular society discourages children - it does not. Second, the argument quickly degenerates into a line of thinking that supposes that a woman's primary value in society is to give birth to children, and does not value them as children. Such arbitrary valuations arise not out of enlightenment, but out of the ignorance of those who have a need to perpetuate a "masculine hierarchy" of power. (Take a close look at the RC Church and its long held stance with respect to female clergy)

There's a few things about this that really irritate me - first of all is the blind presupposition that the Pope has that he can dictate law and political policy to entire nations - nations that he has never lived in, nor attempted to understand. Just as I think it is deeply flawed thinking on BushCo's part to "export democracy", I take similar umbrage at the Pope's attempt to export his morality to the rest of the world.

The second thing that annoys me is this bit of blatant stupidity:

“In the name of tolerance your country has had to endure the folly of the redefinition of spouse, and in the name of freedom of choice it is confronted with the daily destruction of unborn children,” the Pope said.

Both of these are arguments buried in the logic of ignorance and a dramatic failure to comprehend the legal structures of this nation.

The legal notion of spouse changed in this country as soon as common-law couples became "equivalent to married" for the purposes of property and divorce. I didn't hear the Popes complaining about this since over the years, largely because that one small change in law was something that specifically works to the benefit of women and children - who otherwise found themselves left destitute should the relationship collapse. The second aspect of the error in the Pope's argument is the failure to recognize the distinction between personal morality and legal relationships. There are many places where secular law is obliged to diverge from the desires of individual faiths. In fact, the very fact that Canada has no "official" religion means necessarily that our laws cannot legislate based upon the arbitrary moral declarations of a religious leader.

The second part of the Pope's comments is the classic whinge about abortion rights for women. I find this particularly offensive on several levels. First, the Catholic Church's prohibitions against abortion ignore the risks that a woman takes when she is pregnant. Second, it ignores the consequences of rape and incest on women. Last, it reduces women to being little more than baby bearers who are held hostage to the "madonna/whore" contradiction by their husbands. In the last century or so, women have become much more in control of their fertility. We understand the biology of conception fairly well, and women have availed themselves of that knowledge quite actively to gain a degree of control over their own destinies.

While there are aspects of abortion that disturb me, I think that the Pope errs in assuming that a woman is unable to make an intelligent, moral decision for herself. Unwanted pregnancy impacts women disproportionately to men, and in the past condemned the woman to both poverty and social ostracization - for the "sin" of getting pregnant. It seems to me utterly reasonable that a woman can make a moral decision on such a matter, in either direction.

If the Pope is so worried about the "evils" of secularism, I suggest that he focus his attentions upon the decision making that goes on in the boardrooms of the corporate world. Business has become amoral to a degree that should positively frighten the pope, and it has done so in ways that are truly damaging to people's well being. It strikes me that attempting to regulate people's sex lives, and reproductive lives, is not merely foolish, it is doomed to fail.

The "Decider"

Harper's tact filter must be nearly nonexistent. Yesterday, we heard Mr. Harper before a Senate committee blathering on about how he's going to introduce a bill to "reform" Canada's upper chamber.

The bill itself doesn't strike me as terribly interesting - especially since it is mostly in the form of politcal vaporware known as rhetoric. I'll discuss my thoughts on whatever Harper proposes when the legislation is actually tabled in the house and I can review it.

What I found striking were a few other things that Harper said during and after his meeting with the Senate:

Liberal Senator Jim Munson questioned Harper about the possibility that he would "fight an election on the backs of the Senate."

"Well, don't give me the opportunity," Harper replied. He said there would be political consequences if Canadians become convinced that any kind of Senate reform became impossible.

How typical of the bully - if you can't persuade people to think your way, your undermine and threaten them with vague "consequences".

It's amazing how "top-down" this supposedly "grass roots" Conservative party has become. For something that is supposedly driven by its membership at the grass roots, it's a serious non-sequitur to see Harper making such dictatorial statements. But it's not that surprising either.

Bubbling out of the cesspit of The United States right wing, we have a book being published by DoubleDay that argues that the reason for the current "war on terror" that Bush is waging is really the fault of "liberal" values and social change. The author's thesis is that women's rights, gay rights, no fault divorce law, etc. enrage not only Islamic, but other religious cultures around the world, thus making the the United States a target for their outrage.

Besides being horribly misguided thinking (he might take a look at the track record of US "interventionism" in the world for a few clues), the author is basically arguing for a rollback of civil rights.

Now, how is this significant? It's quite simple - the Neo/Theo-Cons are not conservatives at all. The are in fact social regressives. They idealize a social structure and society that existed at the peak of the 19th century, and had a mild rebirth after WWII with the "nuclear family".

When you look at how Harper is acting (very top-down, hierarchical), and you examine the Neo/Theo-Con view of society, the "liberalization" that they are so critical of takes away their ability to control the "lesser power" players in society. The sexual revolution of the 1960s stripped them of their ability to "control" women's destinies; liberalized divorce laws further weakened their power grip.

The civil rights movement that boiled over with Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King removed the notion that civil society needed to be segregated along racial lines {oh yes, do I need to point out the obvious that society has not yet crumbled from that change?} Who did this affect - wealthy, white, male, power brokers. The people whose political and economic interests were dependent upon their control over a subjugated underclass of "colored" people.

This leads me back to Harper and his governance. Why is he so top down? Simple - the particlar brand of "conservatism" he subscribes to idealizes hierarchy, and works on the notion that control is power. Harper's made it clear that he doesn't like being questioned (other than flattering questions - like "Gee, Mr. Harper, why's your deficit so big?") Along with his ideological companions, he is threatened by the notion that someone he perceives as "lesser" on the totem pole might possibly rise out of his direct or indirect control.

Such thinking is positively archaic, and it ultimately relies upon the ability of these people to have a target group to marginalize. The more target groups they have, the better - that way the misery they inflict is "spread about", and is less likely to result in a violent uprising. (until the groups being marginalized figure out what is happening, of course)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Speaking of Media Bias...

Remember back in May, Stephen Harper had a major temper tantrum over the Parliamentary Press Corps?

On CBC's As It Happens tonight, I learned that the first cracks in the Press Corps solidarity have emerged - in the form of CanWest Global's people being ordered to put themselves on "Harper's List of Approved Questioners" (any resemblance to Ko Ko's "Little List" in The Mikado is purely coincidental, I'm sure...).

My first thought was a "WTF?". This doesn't make sense. Then the interviewee mentioned that the new Chairman of the Board at Canwest happens to be one of Harper's friends. A quick dig through Canwest's corporate website turned up this little gem which announces that Derek H. Burney was taking over the Chairman's role in CanWest Global.

Okay, who the hell is Derek Burney in the first place? It turns out that he has roots in politics that date back to Mr. Mulroney's government. As for being close to Stephen Harper, well, I'd say that heading up Harper's transition team is plenty cozy a relationship.

So, if that doesn't speak to someone attempting to control the media in a Ralph Klein style, I don't know what does. Days after assuming the Chairmanship of Canwest Global, the Canwest members of the Parliamentary Press Corps are suddenly ordered to sign up on Harper's little list of "known to be safe" questioners. (We all know the kind - they don't dare ask a hardball question for fear of being struck from the list - much like a backbench MLA in Alberta doesn't ask too many pointy questions of Cabinet if they wish to advance beyond the back benches).

Now, what was that I keep hearing about the "Liberal biased media", again?

It's beginning to look like a good time in Canada to start up a Canadian version of Alternet.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Conservative Negotiators Need Viagra

If for no other reason than to ensure that they stand upright. The more we find out about the Softwood Lumber "deal" that Harper and Emerson have been bragging about, the worse it gets.

The NDP has been researching the deal's clauses, and has discovered that Harper's "wonderful deal" that will save taxpayers millions of dollars leaves the Canadian Taxpayer on the hook for any shortfall resulting from lumber companies refusing to sign onto this deal.

We aren't talking about a few million dollars, either, but hundreds of millions of dollars:

The call comes one week after the announcement by the Harper government that it fell short on the number of softwood industry approvals needed for a buy-in – but refused to release the vote totals. Julian estimates that the Canadian government will have to send a cheque to Washington for at least $152 million (m) if the Minister misses his mark by 15 % and that number will rise dramatically with each company unwilling to drop their softwood-lawsuits.

Let me see if I understand this - for every company that doesn't "sign on" to this deal by dropping its litigation in the United States, the Canadian Taxpayer is on the hook.

Now, let's talk about principles, Mr. Jackson. So far, Conservative "principles" seem to have become an aggregation of arrogance, entitlement and bad government. We have a party that claims a "made in Canada" environment policy that so far is the policy equivalent of vaporware; a trade "deal" with the United States that must have BushCo laughing all the way to the bank, while Canadian taxpayers carry the freight; a "peace mission" in Afghanistan that was extended by Conservative fiat; Military purchases being taken out of the public accountability and open bid processes in the name of "security". Yes Mr. Jackson, you support a wonderfully "principled" party - sadly the key principle appears to corruption and dishonesty on a scale that make Brian Mulroney look like an honest broker.

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...