Friday, March 31, 2006

Sometimes, Headlines Say It All

Rice admits multiple Iraq errors.

Yeah - starting with invading the place...idiots.

How Long?

Until Harper starts talking with King George about merging Canada with the United States.

Harper's little love-in with Unca George was possibly the most revolting thing that Canadians have had foisted upon them in years.

At a news conference, we have George and Stephen practically fawning over each other's "wonderful virtues" and "steely resolve". *Gag* *Retch*

I've said for a long time that Canada won't get anything out of the United States until after BushCo has been replaced with something more moderate. I still stand by this. My guess is that whatever "agreement" gets cooked up by Harper on Softwood Lumber will be little more than a colossal cave-in to the demands of the American side. (Of course, completely ignoring the fact that no significant trade dispute ruling under NAFTA on the matter has gone the way the Americans want it to)

Oh yes, one of Harper's back-bench MP's popped up with this little gem about jailing reporters who write "distorted articles". Using that logic, we'd have to throw every reporter in prison - it's a little difficult to write anything without some kind of bias coming into the mix. (I suppose on the positive side, it would shut down Ezra Levant's Western Standard in short order...)

However, along with the recent muzzling of Harper's Cabinet, this kind of "suggestion" coming from the back benches merely reinforces my opinion that the CPC still has significant wing-nuts, and apparently doesn't like the public questioning them:

In his column, he writes that he was “perturbed” by the media's reaction to Mr. Harper's attitude to reporters.

“The media has blatantly painted a picture that our government is not open and transparent,” he writes. “We were elected just two months ago to run the affairs of the country for the people, not to accommodate the media.”


Newsflash for the bonehead that wrote this: The Media is how most of us assess and measure your government. If you aren't accessible to the media, you aren't open and transparent.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Putting the Mental Back in Fundamentalist

Even among the wingnuts, there are those nuttier than the rest.

The "Values Voter" organization has come up with a "contract" that they wish to impose upon the US Congress.

On the whole, it's pretty much standard claptrap from the religious reich wing set, but I must admit to finding a certain dark humour in the officious writing used, and the pervasive complaint of being "oppressed" and "persecuted" for being Christian.

Lessee - one is Christian, which I believe is the majority religion in the United States, not only the most practiced, but actually practiced by the vast majority of the population. How in the world can you possibly believe that you are being oppressed, marginalized or persecuted?

10. Judges who legislate from the bench subvert our republican form of government of the people, by the people, and for the people, and threaten all these legislative aims.

THEREFORE, WE URGENTLY CALL FOR Judicial Restraint, and an end to Judicial Activism.

* We call for the passage of the Judicial Conduct Act to hold federal judges accountable to the Constitution.


This would almost be funny, if these people weren't serious. Every time I hear this BS about judges "legislating from the bench", I laugh. 99% of the time, it's got absolutely nothing to do with any such thing (judges don't make the law, they interpret it - not once have I seen a judge write legislation from the bench) These twits need to be honest - they don't like the ruling, and want an excuse to whine about it. No more, no less.

Lurking in the rest of the document is your basic laundry list of whining - ranging from demands for legislation to "protect" their right to slam their religious beliefs down everybody else's throats; calls to prohibit abortion outright; and the usual collection of demands to legislate against "immorality".

Most notable is this line:
TO SECURE our God-granted liberties, we call for the passage of –

* Legislation to reverse the loss of religious liberty for churches concerning their involvement in moral and social issues;
* Legislation to ensure that speech and lawful religious expression are never punished as a “hate crime”;
* An amendment to the Higher Education Act to guarantee First Amendment rights of worship, speech, and association to students and employees as a condition of federal grants and student assistance;
* Legislation to complete the incarceration process through prisoner re-entry training and child mentoring; and
* Legislation or policies that call for continued rejection of the anti-family and deceptively-named “U.N. Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).


Clearly, these people have never read, or understood that convention, the first two articles of which, I have included here:

Article I

For the purposes of the present Convention, the term "discrimination against women" shall mean any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.

Article 2

States Parties condemn discrimination against women in all its forms, agree to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating discrimination against women and, to this end, undertake:

(a) To embody the principle of the equality of men and women in their national constitutions or other appropriate legislation if not yet incorporated therein and to ensure, through law and other appropriate means, the practical realization of this principle;

(b) To adopt appropriate legislative and other measures, including sanctions where appropriate, prohibiting all discrimination against women;

(c) To establish legal protection of the rights of women on an equal basis with men and to ensure through competent national tribunals and other public institutions the effective protection of women against any act of discrimination;

(d) To refrain from engaging in any act or practice of discrimination against women and to ensure that public authorities and institutions shall act in conformity with this obligation;

(e) To take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organization or enterprise;

(f) To take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices which constitute discrimination against women;

(g) To repeal all national penal provisions which constitute discrimination against women.


How is it a bad thing to remove gender-based discrimination? How in the world is that "anti-family"?

Of course, these are the same bright wits that still think that it is their moral obligation to convert everyone else to their way of thinking. The sheer audacity of using the term "values voter" is apalling. Do they believe that the rest of the voters have no values? How is second class citizen status for women, or non-christian minorities a positive "value"?

Shorter Western Standard...

Why am I being sued for being an ass?

This morning I was trolling through my e-mails, and I found this little letter from Ezra Levant begging for money to defend himself legally.


Dear Western Standard reader,

Our magazine has been sued for publishing the Danish cartoons, and I need your help to fight back!

As you know, the Western Standard was the only mainstream media organ in Canada to publish the Danish cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Mohammed.

We did so for a simple reason: the cartoons were the central fact in one of the largest news stories of the year, and we're a news magazine. We publish the facts and we let our readers make up their minds.

Advertisers stood with us. Readers loved the fact that we treated them like grown-ups. And we earned the respect of many other journalists in Canada who envied our independence. In fact, according to a COMPAS poll last month, fully 70% of Canada's working journalists supported our decision to publish the cartoons.

But not Syed Soharwardy, a radical Calgary Muslim imam.

He asked the police to arrest me for publishing the cartoons. They calmly explained to him that's not what police in Canada do.

So then he went to a far less liberal institution than the police: the Alberta Human Rights Commission. Unlike the Calgary Police Service, they didn't have the common sense to show him the door.


Earlier this month, I received a copy of Soharwardy's rambling, hand-scrawled complaint. It is truly an embarrassing document. He briefly complains that we published the Danish cartoons. But the bulk of his complaint is that we dared to try to justify it - that we dared to disagree with him.

Think about that: In Soharwardy's view, not only should the Canadian media be banned from publishing the cartoons, but we should be banned from defending our right to publish them. Perhaps the Charter of Rights that guarantees our freedom of the press should be banned, too.

Soharwardy's complaint goes further than just the cartoons. It refers to news articles we published about Hamas, a group labelled a terrorist organization by the Canadian government. By including those other articles, he shows his real agenda: censoring any criticism of Muslim extremists.

Perhaps the most embarrassing thing about Soharwardy's complaint is that he claims our cartoons caused him to receive hate mail. Indeed, his complaint includes copies of a few e-mails from strangers to him. Some of those e-mails even go so far as to call him "humourless" and tell him to "lighten up". Perhaps that's hateful. But all of those e-mails were sent to him before our magazine even published the cartoons. Soharwardy isn't even pretending that this is a legitimate complaint. He's not even trying to hide that this is a nuisance suit.

Soharwardy's complaint should have been thrown out immediately by the Alberta Human Rights Commission, just like the police did. But it wasn't. Which is why I'm writing to you today.

According to our lawyers, we will win this case. It's an infantile complaint, without basis in facts or law. Frankly, it's an embarrassment to the government of Alberta that their tribunal is open to abuse like this.

Our lawyers tell us we're going to win. But not before we have to spend hundreds of hours and up to $75,000 fighting this thing, at our own expense. Soharwardy doesn't have to spend a dime - now that his complaint has been filed, Alberta tax dollars will pay for the prosecution of his complaint. We have to pay for this on our own.

Look, $75,000 isn't going to bankrupt us. But it will sting. We're a small, independent magazine, not a huge company with deep pockets. All of our money is needed to produce the best possible editorial product, not to fight legal battles. This is clearly an abuse of process designed to punish us and deter other media from daring to cross that angry imam in the future.

One of the leaders in Canadian human rights law, Alan Borovoy, was so disturbed by Soharwardy's abuse of the human rights commission that he wrote a public letter about it in the Calgary Herald on March 16th. "During the years when my colleagues and I were labouring to create such commissions, we never imagined that they might ultimately be used against freedom of speech," wrote Borovoy, who is general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. Censorship was "hardly the role we had envisioned for human rights commissions. There should be no question of the right to publish the impugned cartoons," he wrote.

Borovoy went even further - he said that the human rights laws should be changed to avoid this sort of abuse in the future. "It would be best, therefore, to change the provisions of the Human Rights Act to remove any such ambiguities of interpretation," he wrote. That's an amazing statement, coming from one of the fathers of the Canadian human rights movement.

I agree with Borovoy: the law should be changed to stop future abuses. But those changes will come too late for us - we're already under attack. The human rights laws, designed as a shield, are being used against us as a sword.

We will file our legal response to Soharwardy's shakedown this week. And we will fight this battle to the end - not just for our own sake, but to defend freedom of the press for all Canadians.

Do you believe that's important? If so, I'd ask you to help us defray our costs. We're accepting donations through our website. It's fast, easy and secure. Just click on http://www.westernstandard.ca/freedom

You can donate any amount from $10 to $10,000. Please help the Western Standard today - and protect freedom for all Canadians for years to come.

Yours gratefully,

Ezra Levant
Publisher

P.S. Remember, Soharwardy's complaint will be prosecuted using tax dollars and government lawyers. We have to rely on our own funds - and the generous support of readers like you.

P.P.S. Please help us now, at http://www.westernstandard.ca/freedom


Lessee - last month, Levant stirs the pot by publishing a series of mostly irrelevant editorial cartoons that anyone with a web browser had seen a long time ago. Yeah, whatever, Ezra - it was stirring the pot, and you knew that when you made that decision to publish.

Just after Western Standard published the cartoons, I received a similar e-mail begging for money because their circulation numbers were falling because major resellers wouldn't carry the issue.

Some of the whining in Levant's letter is positively laughable. Consider:
But not Syed Soharwardy, a radical Calgary Muslim imam.


It's amazing how someone becomes a "radical" the moment that they complain about what Ezra does, isn't it? I don't hear Soharwardy running around calling for "jihad" over the cartoons. While his logic in complaining to the AHRC might be questionable, I don't think he qualifies as "radical".

So then he went to a far less liberal institution than the police: the Alberta Human Rights Commission.


Hmmm - so the Alberta Human Rights Commission is conservative? Fascinating, especially coming from Levant, a man who sings the praises of conservatism day after day (usually off-key).

Last time he talked about the AHRC, he was whining because they were too liberal, and likely to prosecute Bishop Henry for some of his statements about GLBT people. (Which at least one of the complaints has been resolved by nothing further than a meeting)

the law should be changed to stop future abuses.


My, my, my. So, when the complaint is against you, Ezra, it's suddenly an abuse of the system? What makes you so infallible?

Ezra made his bed, and now he gets to lie in it. I can't say I'm feeling terribly sympathetic to his sudden "financial woes". Ezra is nothing more than a b-grade button pushing moron. I don't expect Soharwardy's complaint to really go anywhere, Frankly it is a predictable reaction to Levant's grandstanding and probably of limited merit in its own right. If he had wanted to really kick Levant in the nuts, he should have left it lie. All Levant wants is public attention, and the breeze whistling past is hardly an adulating audience.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Stranger Things Have Happened

Generally speaking, I don't agree with Calgary's Bishop Fred Henry on much of anything.

Mostly, it's a matter of I just don't happen to subscribe to his rather uniquely dogmatic interpretation of scripture, and what he derives from it in the context of modern society.

However, when he chooses to, the man is capable of actually being quite reasonable. His take on Ralph's so-called "Third Way" reflects much of what I have believed for a long time - it's nice to see someone reflect my own thoughts on the matter.

Hyperlinks in Posts and Comments

A commenter left a comment about not being able to make hyperlinks work correctly using Blogger's editor.

I use about three different browsers, and Blogger's editor supports each one to a different degree. The result being that I often find myself hand-coding things like hyperlinks - not because it's easier, but I've simply memorized the pattern.

The basic form of a hyperlink looks like this:

<a href="http://crystalgaze2.blogspot.com">Cracked Crystal Ball II</a>


The quoted string after "href=" is the actual URL (this MUST be contained in quotes, or the browser will have a hissy fit about it)

The text between the > symbol and the </a> (anchor tag close) will appear as the link itself when the viewer looks at the page.

It's a basic HTML anchor tag, and most blog comment engines will let you slide them into your comments and postings quite freely. (Certainly blogger, haloscan and typepad all allow this)

Stephen Harper - Control Freak

Prime Minister Harper is beginning to make Brian Mulroney's government look positively transparent.

Remember, this is the man who for the last several years has whined incessantly about how much political power has been concentrated in the PMO under former Prime Ministers Jean Chretien and Paul Martin.

Here we are less than two months into Stephen Harper's tenure in that office, and he's clamped things down even tighter than has ever been seen before.

Here, the CBC points out "Cabinet meetings are private," Harper said, but "I'm available on a regular basis to answer questions.".

Bullsh!t, Stephen. From day one, you've demonstrated that you are no different than any of your predecessors, and possibly more like Hypocrite-in-Chief Bush Jr.

Harper's little photo-op jaunt to Afghanistan was carefully orchestrated to minimize the flexibility of the media to report on the overall picture. Then, he returns to Canada and muzzles his cabinet ministers. Do the math, people. Harper is busy setting up the walls around his government so that he doesn't have to be accountable to the public. More cautiously, he's positioning himself to be the only mouthpiece for the government's actions.

Why? Because he knows damn good and well that what he wants to do will piss off a maximum number of Canadians if they find out about it before the fact, and he's got enough loose-lipped, narrow-minded dimwits in both cabinet and caucus that he can't afford the political cost of having any one of them open their flaps without it being vetted first. (Can one imagine Minister Day going off about young earth creationism again?)

Far too much of Harper's rhetoric sounds like it has been spun out of the White House by the likes of Karl "Turdblossom" Rove for me to believe that Harper wants to do anything more than cuddle up with the Bush administration in its apparently dying days.

Harper has claimed he was going to deliver "more transparent, accountable government", and not one of his actions to date speaks to that. Every action he has taken speaks to control, cutting off debate and generally doing everything he can to subvert legitimate democratic debate. (Remember, he's already said that debating our involvement in Afghanistan is "unpatriotic" and "demoralizing to the troops" - as if that makes the discussion irrelevant)

Mr. Harper is making himself out to be the sole public face of the Conservative Party in a desperate effort to hang onto power as long as possible. It's already well known that like Ralph Klein, Harper doesn't like to be challenged. I can only imagine that he will get more and more objectionable once the Parliament is actually in session.

I might not have especially liked Paul Martin, but more and more is coming out of Harper that makes me even less happy with him. Perhaps its time to vote Green Party en masse in this country. Tory blue just doesn't cut it.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

So Much For Meat

SPAM may have just found a whole new low.

It appears that someone has been trying to grow meat in a vat - and succeeded to some degree.

Where Robert Heinlein predicted something close to this in Methuselah's Children, scientists are actually attempting to make it happen.

Fortunately for most of us, the idea of harvesting a steak from the food vat is a ways off:

Australian researchers have grown muscle tissue from a frog, which they served with Calvados sauce at an exhibition in France in 2003. The frog steaks, they said, tasted like jelly on fabric.


SPAM may just take on a new meaning "Something Posing As Meat" (and you really won't be too sure just what is posing)

I don't think I'll ever look at a breakfast sausage the same way...

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Culture of Fear

Ever since 9/11 happened, the BushCo administration has done just about everything in its power to make the American public afraid. Afraid of the bogeyman of terrorism, afraid of illegal immigrants, open borders, whatever.

The most recent reports from the GAO will no doubt be spun further into the topic of the porous borders into the US (instead of pointing out how utterly laughable the various "security" initiatives actually are).

Goons like Tancredo will use this as an excuse to fence the US in on itself along all its frontiers. Meanwhile Bush will yap on still more about tightening up the Mexican border. (an effort that has gone on for decades - and has yet to stem the flow of illegal immigrants from Mexico)

Along with the recent posturing towards Iran, and the fear campaign about "porous borders", this little revelation will no doubt be spun as fast as possible into massive conspiracies being seen all around the US.

Why do this? Political power - no more, no less. The Republicans are coming up on mid-term elections, and desperately don't want to lose control over the legislative houses. They've discovered that if you can scare people badly enough, even someone as utterly incompetent and mean-spirited as BushCo has proven to be can be sold to the public. So, scare them they will.

The Hollow Economy

The US Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates in the United States again today. One might look and say that's a good thing. It means that the economy has recovered nicely and they are now taking steps to level things off, right?

Not necessarily. The US economy is in a very fragile place right now. With the foreign trade deficits increasing rather alarmingly, foreign debt holdings against the US are also alarmingly large - some some two trillion dollars, and increasing on a nearly daily basis.

With the US dollar slipping in value recently against the C$, and more importantly when compared to currencies like the Euro, the US is in a nasty little place. The trade deficit is the what is keeping the US economy moving at all. (Noticed the $30 DVD players in the stores lately, not to mention the nearly cancerous expansion of Wal-Mart stores?) The US economy is currently being driven not by its manufacturing base, not by its high-tech, but by consumer spending - much fuelled by consumer debt.

The last time the US was in a place like this was the 1970s. At the time, they could increase interest rates fairly easily, thus making the dollar an attractive investment by way of government bond issues. Today, they have a much bigger problem because people have been leveraging the equity in their homes to finance all sorts of purchases - cars, home theater systems, computers and the like. Increase interest rates too much, and people won't be able to afford the mortgages on their homes. (The popping sound you hear is the housing bubble letting go)

Worse, sooner or later, the government is going to have to go to the world to finance its military spending for its lovely little wars in the Middle East. Although they could simply print more money, they can't do that for any length of time without seriously devaluing the dollar (and triggering an inflation cycle not unlike what happened in Germany around WWII - where a wheelbarrow full of Marks was required to purchase a loaf of bread). Similarly, the cost of borrowing on the world stage will be increasing quite dramatically over the coming months and years as the total amount of US foreign obligations increases.

In either case, the US is walking an increasingly delicate financial tightrope. With BushCo staging up a third war in the Middle East, the probability of a disastrous economic crunch happening on the streets in the US grows. Apply the wrong kind of pressure somewhere, and the whole house of cards will collapse.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Leadership Races

In Canada, we have two major political leadership races going on - and the stakes in both cases are very high for the candidates.

In Alberta, it is the struggle to replace Ralph Klein, who has said he will submit his resignation in 18 months, and step aside six months later. In a sad attempt to not become a "lame duck" in the intervening months, Ralph has tried to guarantee that his cabinet is filled with sycophants who have no immediate designs on the leadership. Sadly for the PC's, this is more likely to result in the party being broken into squabbling factions as the various leadership campaigns kick into high gear. Eighteen months is a long time in politics, and I think that Ralph has badly underestimated how much can happen in that time. Nor do I think that the party has really thought out the succession of what has become a charismatic dictatorship.

On the Federal scene, we have the leadership race for the Liberal party. Superficially, with the Liberals wandering in the political opposition forests, one might believe that the "Race for Stornoway" is a mere yawn - oh dear, yet another Leader of the Opposition character. Certainly, there are only a handful of candidates that have formally put their names forward, and they are mostly no-names outside the Liberal party circles.

There is much speculation around possible candidates, ranging from Scott Brison and Belinda Stronach to Michael Ignatieff. While both Stronach and Brison are in some respects "damaged goods", having crossed the floor from the Conservative benches in the last parliament or two, they are both very powerful personalities, with impressive capabilities to play a room full of people quite handily.

What I'm hoping for is someone to emerge that can raise the level of debate in the Parliament above the rather pathetic depths to which it has degenerated in recent years. Where we have no debate in Alberta, only sycophantic compliance with Ralph's whims, on the Federal scene, we have been inundated with politicians whose idea of persuasion is to scream louder than their opponents.

On that front, although I am concerned about his lack of practical political experience, I must admit that Michael Ignatieff looks to be the best hope for bringing a vision to the Liberal party that reaches beyond the immediate concerns of whatever the "squabble du jour" happens to be.

We'll have to see how Ignatieff plays his hand in the coming Parliament, as well as on the campaign trail, but right now, he stands to be the first politician in a good long time that may be able to don the cloak of statesman, and revitalize the discussion not merely of day to day policy, but what should Canada be in ten, twenty or thirty years. Something which we desperately need to be considering, for the sake of our children if nothing else.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Ralph - It's Time To _LEAVE_

It's been quite a week. Early in the week, we were treated to Ralph's latest attempt at a budget. The result was predictable - lots of money being thrown around at high visibility projects (roads, bridges, hospital buildings etc.), but no real vision for the province 20, 30 years down the road. Other than a relatively small endowment fund for Cancer prevention research, no real commitments were made to invest in the people of the province.

Granted, under the Klein government's blinding zeal to wipe out the debt in this province, we've paid an enormous price in terms of our public infrastructure. With a population ballooning at a rate not seen since the mid-1970s, the big cities of Calgary and Edmonton have struggled with infrastructure being outstripped by population demands. However, throwing money at "big building projects" is quite different from planning the future of the province - because the future of the province isn't buildings and roads - it's the people that live in and utilize these facilities. This budget, like most things that have come out of the ruling party in Alberta these past few years is an amazingly myopic attempt at a good news budget from a government that is far too used to claiming poverty, and no longer can.

Then, we were treated to the first signs of what is likely to come during Ralph's Long Goodbye - Lyle Oberg's firing from cabinet and suspension from caucus. Now, whether or not I like Oberg is irrelevant. When Ralph said that cabinet ministers had to resign by June if they wanted to run for party leadership, I think we learned a couple of things. First, that there are significant factions evolving within the Alberta PC's. Second, Ralph being the thin-skinned twit that he is won't brook any kind of dissent from his caucus in his twilight days.

In one sense, you can argue that Ralph is merely trying to avoid the "lame-duck" effect. In reality he's trying to retain control over the reins of power as long as possible. More or less it boils down to Ralph doesn't want someone in caucus muddying the waters by actually putting forth ideas that Ralph hasn't thought of.

Long leadership races are damaging to political parties. The decade long war within the Federal Liberal Party between Martin and Chretien's factions left the party a mass of squabbling factions that couldn't produce a coherent message in two elections. Martin's long-run strategy to gain the leadership seriously damaged the party's cohesiveness, and Chretien's nearly 2 year long departure appears to have been little more than a spiteful maneuver intended to annoy Martin's backers as much as possible.

Ralph's 18 month departure leaves the new leader with a very short period of time in which to "make a name" for themselves with the electorate. Heavy handed tactics like firing Oberg are merely going to inflame the divisions that have already started as the various "undeclared, but popularly known" candidates have spent the last couple of years building their campaign organizations up. At this point, we have 18 months pending where we get to watch the Alberta PC's squabble over leadership.

The only real beneficiary from this will be Alberta's opposition parties. Ralph would do far better to table his resignation immediately, and move on. Sadly his ego - or his wife's - won't let that happen. {Which no doubt has to be making Kevin Taft and Brian Mason very happy these days}

Personally, I think that after 35 years, the PC's could do with a few years in the opposition benches, or even better the political wilderness. Last election, Stephen Harper talked of the "Culture of Entitlement that had evolved in the Federal Liberals after only a decade, can you imagine what the internal workings of the Alberta PC party must resemble after 35 years of unchallenged power?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Oh God - This is Revolting!

If there was ever an argument for removing US troops from Iraq this is it.

I'm not sure which is worse - this, or the absolute screw-up that became Abu-Ghraib.

...I'm going to go quietly be ill now.

The Alberta Budget - Abbreviated Edition

Today is "Budget Day" in Alberta.

At a wild guess, I suspect it's going to boil down to this:

We have more money than we know what to do with, but Health Care is still unsustainable.

I'm no financial genius - I count myself lucky to have a few investments that have grown in the last year or two - but I do have some concept of what a buck is worth, and how a little bit of strategic investing can make it grow.

The constant refrain from the Ralph Klein government is that Health Care is "unsustainable", and they love to trot out a graph that shows a straight line growth in spending between 1996 or so and today. Projecting that line forward, they claim that Health Care will simply grow to exceed all reasonable proportion of provincial expenditures.

This is one of the most ridiculous bits of illogic ever put forward. Two points on a graph is not enough data to even begin making a best fit curve approximation. Using that theory, back around 1979, Health Care must have been making the government money! (after all, if the costs can escalate in an unbounded fashion, I must point out the converse of that analysis)

The fact is that Health Care, along with Education, are investments in the people. A healthy, educated population is simply capable of being much more productive. People who aren't worrying about what happens if they fall ill have less stres in their lives - and hey guess what? - less stress = less illness.

We have to remember that the current state of both the Health Care and Education systems is not purely a matter of money added in the last ten years. The decline started under Don Getty, with funding to both domains slashed enormously. When Ralph Klein became Premier in 1993, he embarked on an even more vicious round of cuts to public funding of anything - more or less stalling any significant investment in public services and infrastructure for almost a full decade.

Calgary lost not one, but three, hospitals, and the one new hospital that was built in the NorthEast sat mostly mothballed for the first years of its existence. Yes, there have been expansions and renovations to the Foothills and Rockyview facilities recently, but that is relatively recent spending that has happened since 1998.

This line of increased spending is nothing more than the short-sighted thinking of the Klein government coming home to roost. In his party's zeal to wipe out first the deficit and then the provincial debt, they lost sight of something called infrastructure, and we are now paying the costs of neglecting our infrastructure for such a long period of time.

On "sustainability", the government has a number of tools at its disposal that would help to manage the ongoing costs:

1) Distinguish between capital costs (buildings, equipment etc.) and operating costs (salaries, consumable materials etc.) in the numbers.

2) Put in place a policy that treats operating costs as a % of government revenues. (Please note, this must factor in the changing population)

3) Similarly, amortize capital expenditures over the useful life of the equipment and finance with a variation on what used to be called a 'sinking bond fund'. Again, capital expenditures should be planned for and carefully managed as a % of revenues.

4) Put into place endowment funds to feed the "day to day" operating needs. With multi-billion dollar surpluses, taking a few billion and putting it into a well-managed endowment fund (which the government can't cannibalize for other purposes) should create a financial foundation upon which the public health (and education) systems can run for decades with minimal additional drain on variable government revenues. (Please note that Ivy League universities in the states have demonstrated that such a model can be made to work quite effectively)

Whether I am talking about education or health care, we must move away from the language of "expenditure" and "cost" and towards the language of "investment" and "return". To talk of these areas as "expenses" is misleading and disingenuous, as it overlooks the intangible returns that come from investing in people.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Rambling Through The News

My, my - it's been a busy few days in the news - and sadly, I haven't had time to actually write so much.

First, this past weekend marks the third anniversary of BushCo's invasion of Iraq. In the days leading up to the anniversary, we've heard every senior member of the BushCo cabinet justifying their idiotic adventure into Iraq.

Then today, we are treated King George the Burning Bush threatening to invade Iran. In the past I've claimed that BushCo would go after Iran or Syria after they got bored with Iraq. Sure enough, here we are just about three years later, and what do we get to hear?

Closer to home, in the ongoing saga of the recently elected Mini-Bush in Canada, we are treated to The Ethics Commissioner giving Emerson and Harper a "clean bill of health". Which, of course, completely misses the point. Emerson and Harper didn't do anything that broke Parliamentary rules of ethics, but that doesn't make Emerson's actions (or Harper's morally acceptable.

I don't think it takes a leap to figure out where I stand on the moral (and ethical) behaviour of either Harper or BushCo. They are both about as deceptive as they come - honesty is not their strong suit, these are people who are all about ideology, and when ideology fails them, it's purely a matter of ego playing out.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Allow Me To Introduce...

Stephen Harper, Dictator.

Taking a page out of Ralph Klein's playbook, Stephen Harper is muzzling his cabinet.

Before you go off telling me how the Liberals did this all the time, and it's really nothing more than "Party Discipline" being applied, I need to point out a few things:

1) Harper is an autocrat. He doesn't like people challenging him, and he very much likes to retain control of the situation.

2) Take a look at his response to calls for a Parliamentary Debate around Canada's mission in Afghanistan - it's twofold:

a. a flat "no" answer, with other verbage suggesting that such a thing would be "unpatriotic".

b. a mysterious "secret trip" which turns out to be a photo-op run into Kandahar. (Please note the way the media was handled severely limited their ability to report objectively on what happened)

3) David Emerson and Michael Fortier. Remember, these appointments come from the same man who spent months whining incessantly about the Liberals doing the same things.

If you thought that Jean Chretien was "The Little Dictator", I submit that Stephen Harper is even more autocratic than Chretien was.

Given how eager Harper appears to be to get all cuddly and cozy with this warmonger, who is busy trying to start a war with Iran, when the mess he made over in Iraq has yet to be cleaned up, leadership like this scares the bejeezus out of me.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Ralph's "Third Way" - Analysis

Back here, I promised to give a detailed analysis of the working paper on Health Policy that Ralph Klein foisted upon us just recently.

My first thought upon printing out the thirty odd pages is that it was going to take some serious time to put all the pieces into place and figure out what Ralph was trying to put forward. After reading the thing back and forth a few times, I've realized that the document is amazingly evasive, and really doesn't say anything that you can pin the government down to.

For the most part, it is an empty shell into which you can read almost anything you like. In their desperate attempt to not say what they really want to do, RalphCo has instead turned to the terminally vague language of evasion. I still suspect that Ralph's "Third Way" is really just an evasive term for the disastrous attempts at mixed public/private health care systems attempted in Thatcher era UK, and more recently in New Zealand - but that's been obvious from Ralphs rumblings for a long time.

However, with this announcement, I have to wonder if Ralph's "Third Way" isn't somewhat stillborn. In order to turn this into anything resembling intelligent legislation, there's months or more worth of work ahead of the government. In real terms, with a leadership contest effectively kicked off now (and due to run for the next 18 - 24 months (a duration only exceeded by Paul Martin's 10 year long bid to take the reins of power in the federal Liberal party. I think the document released a few weeks ago ultimately sets an outer boundary which will define the debate field among the leadership candidates.

In short, the document isn't worth the paper its printed on. It is far from detailed enough to allow for reasonable critical analysis, and may simply be irrelevant in the long run.

Those Who Do Not Know The Past

...are doomed to repeat it.

Over here we have a bunch of recently declassified documents that the US government created in the analysis of what could happen in Iraq after dismantling Saddam Hussein's government. Unsurprisingly, it more or less says the country will collapse into civil war - much like it did following WWI and the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire.

Notably, BushCo ignored all this study done on their behalf and went ahead with an ill-planned war. The world is seeing the price of that now.

I'm not sure which is more apalling - the war itself, or the fact that BushCo were warned of the consequences and they chose to ignore them. I hate to think what Iran will look like in a few years' time at the current rate.

[Update 16/03/06]:

Just to put things into perspective, Chimpanzee-in-Chief is defending his "pre-emptive war" policy.

Not only does he not understand basic history, he can't even learn from his own mistakes. Jeepers - a goldfish does better than that!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Stephen Harper's "Secret Mission"

So, Stephen Harper is going on Secret Trips Abroad(tm), which turns out to be a rally the troops (and hopefully Canada) trip to Afghanistan.

In a move that has the rotting corpse odour of Karl "Turdblossom" Rove's Whitehouse spin-doctoring, the Conservative leader has taken the approach that questioning our involvement in Afghanistan is undermining our troops. In short, Harper is emulating George Bush in this - "don't question me, I know better than you do".

As it happens, I actually think that Canada's involvement in Afghanistan is at least partially valid (we did, after all, help break the place in 2001). Where there is a reasonable point of debate is whether or not Afghanistan is sliding into a cycle of tribal strife. If that is the case, there is good reason to debate whether it is time to be attempting to "bring peace" to an area which is still sorting out its own internal power structures.

More cynically, I think that Harper's trip to Afghanistan has more to do with Michael Wilson being installed as Ambassador in Washington. Harper is busy trying to suck up to the imploding Bush administration. With Bush working to justify invading Iran, and disable the UN by opposing reforms to the Human Rights Council, the only reason I can see for Harper trying to cuddle up with this administration is pure ideology.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Bigotry Gone Wild

The United States is gearing up for Midterm Elections. In theory, they serve as something of a barometer of how the incumbent president is doing - but then, so do "opinion polls".

As a Canadian, I must admit to finding election campaigns in the United States rather bleakly amusing. The constant haranguing with attack ads denigrating your opponents - mostly for breathing as far as I can tell - is mind-bogglingly stupid. It's rare that an individual candidate deserves that kind of abuse (although, it does happen from time to time in either country).

However, this ad (here it is in in quicktime) this piece of button pushing ignorance would make this moron proud.

In a single thirty second spot, this goon from North Carolina manages to demonstrate a level of bigotry against just about anything you can imagine - blacks, gays, feminism, abortion, "liberal judges" - that would make these guys look positively moderate. (I don't even think the wing-nuttiest of the CPC would put out an ad like this)

It's kind of eye-popping, jaw-dropping stupidity - but it attracts attention like a car wreck. What's next?

(Ironically, Vernon Robinson is black - one can only imagine how much self-loathing he must have stoking his inner fires to feel good about some of the crap he spews forth)

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The "Have You Stopped Beating Your Wife Yet" Survey

For years, Conservative MPs like Jason Kenney have been bombarding their constituencies with bogus "policy surveys" as part of their "community contact" programs.

Usually quarterly - at least in theory - constituents are sent a copy of something like this in the mail. (all at taxpayer expense, of course). {notably - I haven't seen one of these in quite some time - like since I last lambasted Kenney for being an utter twit on some topic or another. Apparently my street has been taken off the delivery routes that they send things to.

Usually these things are little more than button pushing exercises - for example, take a look at the "results" in Art Hanger's latest edition. (any sentient person should be able to see the garden path logic of the questions - which conveniently ignores dealing with any really complex issues).

I've always referred to these as the "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" surveys - mostly because if you answer them within the confines of the questions, there's a very limited subset of answers that make any sense - you can't answer in the negative to one and the positive to another subsequent question without introducing an inconsistency.

Well then, where do you suppose our good friends in the CPC come up with their ideas? (Knowing that none of them are capable of an original thought this side of creation) Sure enough - they are taking their cues from the GOP in the United States. Over here, we have copies of a survey sent out from the GOP to their registered voter list.

Of particular note are some of the questions on the survey:

Survey Pg 1

Survey Pg 2

Notice the vague wording, and deliberate "yes/no" answers on questions such as human cloning research. (a topic which few people actually understand, and most people only have the vaguest Aldous Huxley understanding)

Weaseling Around The Word Theocracy

By "Executive Order", George W. Bush has created a Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives at the Department of Homeland Security.

Think about this for a minute - within what amounts to the most augmented spy agency in the world - with powers that make the former Soviet Union's state police agency, the KGB look like small time pikers by comparison.

Remember, this is the agency charged with "securing" the United States. What the hell does religion have to do with national security? (Oh wait - I'm being rational about this)

Coming soon - The Republic of Gilead - in all it's horrorifying stupidity.

[I'm really getting the cold, uneasy feeling that Atwood accidentally wrote prophecy rather than fiction when she wrote that book]

Monday, March 06, 2006

Back to the Dark Ages

South Dakota Abortion Law Signed.

I ranted about this bit of legislative stupidity back here. At that time, I didn't happen to have a copy of the text of the legislation at hand - it's here, and omigod is it ever nasty.

Just a few excerpts for your enjoyment:

Section 2. That chapter 22-17 be amended by adding thereto a NEW SECTION to read as follows:

No person may knowingly administer to, prescribe for, or procure for, or sell to any pregnant woman any medicine, drug, or other substance with the specific intent of causing or abetting the termination of the life of an unborn human being. No person may knowingly use or employ any instrument or procedure upon a pregnant woman with the specific intent of causing or abetting the termination of the life of an unborn human being.

Any violation of this section is a Class 5 felony.


Oh my - put in simple terms, not only is an abortion illegal now in S. Dakota, apparently anything close to it is. This could have some significat impact on women's health issues - for example Plan B which prevents the zygote from implanting in the womb could be considered "illegal", and RU-486 certainly would be. (Not to mention a whole raft of herbal concoctions that are known to induce miscarriages).

Some might even go as far as arguing that The Pill falls under this broadly worded definition.

"Unborn human being," an individual living member of the species, homo sapiens, throughout the entire embryonic and fetal ages of the unborn child from fertilization to full gestation and childbirth;


Notice the subtle, slippery attempt at defining the fetus as an "unborn human", and the broad sweeping attempt to capture the notion "that life begins at conception".

Section 12. This Act shall be known, and may be cited, as the Women's Health and Human Life Protection Act. An Act to establish certain legislative findings, to reinstate the prohibition against certain acts causing the termination of an unborn human life, to prescribe a penalty therefor, and to provide for the implementation of such provisions under certain circumstances.


Notice the name here "Women's Health and Human Life Protection Act". Yet, what does it do? It takes away from women the very right to control their own destiny. It presupposes that a woman cannot make an intelligent, moral and ethical decision about her fertility, or the well-being of her baby. It's not about women's health - it's about controlling women as if they were non-sentient machines whose sole purpose is to propogate the human race. (ref. Frank Herbert's Tleilaxu and their Axlotl Tanks - which were essentially females with no upper brain function kept alive to 'grow' their various creations - the image is hideous, but perhaps most appropriate) {Have the Bene Tleilax taken up residence in S. Dakota's legislature?}

I shudder to think just what is in store for the women of S. Dakota, and elsewhere in the United States if this law should stand.

What is it With Alleged Scientists These Days???

I'm not an MD, nor do I possess any particular knowledge about the science of autopsies, but this line of reasoning seems to be missing a few things:

Girl Didn't Die From Peanut Butter

"Elements of the investigation tell us peanut butter was not responsible," Miron told the AP. Miron said clinical indicators have eliminated peanut as the cause for her death and said it appeared the girl suffered from "cerebral anoxia," or lack of oxygen to the brain, which caused serious damage.

When asked to comment on reports that the girl also suffered from asthma and believed she was suffering from an asthma attack before she collapsed, Miron said this was part of the investigation that he could not discuss.

Symptoms of peanut allergies can include hives, plunging blood pressure and swelling of the face and throat, which can block breathing.


Without actually seeing the coroner's report, it seems to me that the coroner here has missed something here - anaphylaxis happens to have not so minor side effects like constricting the airways. Which, can result in precisely the kind of death he mentions. If it happened to compound with an asthma attack, I can only imagine what the results might be.

It sounds too much like someone with a case of "allergies are all in your head" trying to prove their point with the same kind of "deductive logic" that young earth creationists use.

I'm also more than a little irritated with him taking his statements public, but not making a complete analysis available at the same time. If the death wasn't due to the anaphylaxis, what was the cause? How do we know it wasn't an aggravating factor? (e.g. Where the hell is the science behind his statements?)

People with life-threatening allergies don't need someone running around making "half-claims" about their condition. If anaphylaxis contributed to the girl's death, it would hardly be the first time it's happened. If not, let's get the facts out there. The "it won't hurt you" attitude towards these allergies is still far too common out there, and this coroner's comments only seem to muddy the picture further.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Good Grief - Do They EVER Learn?

With Afghanistan slowly degenerating, and Iraq on the verge of civil war, the U.S. administration is busy flapping its yap at at Iran.

For crying out loud, they've already got open conflict on two fronts, and they want to add a third?? Bolton and his masters aren't merely dense, they seem to be adding a whole new definition to the term. The US economy cannot afford to open conflict on another front, even if they have allies from other nations involved.

(Of course, looking at the US political scene, the Republicans may well like this notion just fine. The next president is doomed to overseeing the US as it starts to recover from the mess that Bush Jr. has left in his wake - no matter the party stripe. Extracting themselves from Iraq will be an expensive and messy process, and I can only imagine what the state of the economy will be after two more years of these sabre-rattling clowns)

Excoriating Columnists

Back here I shredded Michael Coren's little "women should stay home" diatribe for the idiocy it is. Today, we are treated to Licia Corbella dissecting Mr. Coren with the pages of his oh-so-vaunted scripture. - Enjoy...

Then, we are treated to John Crosbie singing Stephen Harper's praises for the last few weeks bungling - starting here, stumbling through to last week's idiocy about "accountable" government.

I think Mr. Crosbie may be losing his grip on reality here. I fail to see how you can bitch and moan about Belinda Stronach crossing the floor and then turn around and defend David Emerson as some kind of act of political genius. I always thought that Crosbie was smarter than this - but recently he has turned into a nearly blind apologist for Stephen Harper's brand of CPC.

Sorry, Mr. Crosbie, but you got it wrong in the worst way. So far, Harper's first few stumbling weeks have made Joe Clark's tenure in the PMO look like it was sheer genius.

On a more positive note, Linda Williamson is one of the few people to have apparently read the recent Supreme Court ruling on the carrying of a Kirpan in school. As she points out, even though the object is a knife, and therefore a weapon of sorts, one has never been used in a violent offense in Canada's history. (If this starts to change, then I'll start advocating for a change)

Dissecting Ralph - Open Thread

Since Ralph claims that he wants to hear what Albertans think about health care reform, I thought I'd open this thread as a "catch bag" for any ideas about health care that readers of this space may come up with.

Over the next few days or even weeks, I will be taking the Health Policy Framework in detail - but like most such documents, it's not what's written as what has been omitted that I have to deal with.

For reference, I suggest the following related bits of documentation:

Alberta Health Policy Framework
Romanow Report
Alberta Liberal Party Health Care Policy
Alberta NDP 2004 Election Platform

I may well add to this list as I proceed with my analysis of the current Policy Framework document.

Friday, March 03, 2006

This is More "Open" and "Accountable" Government?

Lessee, throughout the last election Harper was constantly beaking on about how a Conservative government would be more transparent and accountable than the Liberals.

Then we get Mr. Harper refusing to work with the Ethics Commissioner when he is about to investigate the Emerson Affair.

"This Liberal appointee's actions have strengthened the Prime Minister's resolve to create a truly non-partisan ethics commissioner, who is accountable to Parliament."


Oh - I see - so now that the shoe's on the other foot, suddenly the Ethics Commissioner is a mere political appointee.

I call bullshit on this one. There can be little doubt that Harper offered Emerson something to cross the floor - especially when he is appointed immediately to cabinet on the first day of Harper's assumption of power. {and to a relatively significant portfolio as well}

This is "open" and "accountable" government HOW?

This and That

While I'm still digesting - and researching - Ralph's "Third Way" policy paper and it's implications for Alberta citizens, here's an assortment of random bits:

Guantanamo Bay Update

As if we didn't expect these allegations to come out, the interview transcript is positively revolting.

Guantanamo Bay has been called "America's Gulag" before, and it appears that the characterization is quite - well - fitting.

Emerging Theocracy

A "Pizza Magnate" is trying to start a town which will adhere to "strict Catholic values". Just in case you thought this might be a joke, here's the development website.

Some of what they are talking about makes it sound like it's going to turn into The Stepford Wives or something much, much darker.

More cynically, I note that all of the commercial properties will be held by the clowns starting this thing up. The resulting social structure should be near feudal - with only the "lords" {and possibly the Priests} getting richer from it.

Overanxious Conservatives

Apparently, the CPC thinks that they won't be in power for too long. They're chomping at the bit to do all sorts of things to Canada and it's laws - apparently without actually thinking about the consequences.

1) Mandatory Minimum Sentences: Great - you not only shackle the judge's hands in terms of sentencing criminals, you increase the prison population for no good reason. While I accept incarceration as one of the sanctions we can use, it is also one of the best breeding grounds for hardened criminals.

2) Raising the "Age of Consent". This one just irritates me - it really doesn't address anything. If you want to shut down the "sexual predator" thing, then it's far more important to strengthen the sanctions against the predators. (Not to mention defining just what that term actually means)

3) Gutting the Gun Registry. Sorry - it's there. Deal with it. I have to license my car, I see no reason why registering a gun should be a problem.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

King Ralph and Health Care Reform

I've been musing for a couple of days about Alberta's Health Care Policy Framework.

Philosophically, I don't like a lot of what I see, and will no doubt spend a fair bit of time in the coming days dissecting the policy direction and the likely impact - it's going to take me some digging to put my arguments together - largely because I'm going to have to do some research on what happened in Thatcher-era UK and more recently New Zealand to substantiate some of my suspicions. (or, possibly invalidate them - we'll see)

What grabbed my attention was Ralph's lovely little temper tantrum in the Legislature yesterday. We've known for years that Ralph has a thin skin, and doesn't especially like to be sitting in the legislature - especially during question period. After claiming to want to hear what Albertans think, what the hell did he expect?

The opposition Liberal Party sent across the floor a copy of Their Health Policy Plan - which last I looked did a far better job of reflecting the results of last springs Symposium on health care policy. (Which RalphCo seems to have blithely ignored in their plans.

Me - I'd love to get my grubby little paws on the donor lists for Ralph & party for the last fifteen years. I have sneaking suspicions that parts of that list read like a "who's who" of big dollar medicine in the United States. Why do I say this? First, Ralph has been on the Health Care line for a long time, and he keeps trying to come up with something every couple of years. I suspect that there's a few "debts" to be paid before he retires.

Right now, Ralph is in the perfect place to do what the heck he pleases - he has an overwhelming majority, a Conservative government in Ottawa and a $10bn budget surplus this year. Even if the Federal Gov't was to decide to cut the transfer payments for Health Care, Ralph couldn't care less.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ugly...Downright Ugly

I intended to write about King Ralphs 'Turd Way today, but I'm still in "gathering mode" trying to put a mental picture around things.

In the meantime, here's a bit of linkage that points to just how hideously the propaganda program in the US has distorted things around Iraq, and more generally with respect to anything Arab (and by inference - particularly Islamic):

Introduction

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

They're longish posts each, but they paint a very disturbing picture.