Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Paranoia, Fear and the Irrationality of Blind Faith

Apparently, having a baby on June 6 of this year is a bad thing.

Sometimes mythology can be taken far, far too seriously.

Canada Takes The Low Road

Few things irritate me more than crap like this.

I don't really care who set out the policy that says that Taliban and al Qaeda members that are captured in Afghanistan aren't "really POWs" - it sophistry at it's worst:

Captured fighters don't deserve these rights because this isn't a war between countries, says Lieutenant-General Michel Gauthier, who commands the Canadian Expeditionary Forces Command and thus oversees all Canadian Forces deployed abroad.

“They are not entitled to prisoner-of-war status but they are entitled to prisoner-of-war treatment,” he said, asserting that all detainees are humanely treated.

“The regulations apply in an armed conflict between states, and what's happening in Afghanistan is not an armed conflict between states. And therefore there is no basis for making a determination of individuals being prisoners of war,” he said.


You know what? That distinction is such a farce it's not even funny. Using that same logic, anyone captured in a warzone that isn't wearing a recognizable uniform isn't _really_ a POW. Horsefeathers!

That's just playing semantics with language so you can do things that would otherwise result in court martials being convened. Along with George Bush's bullshit designation of "enemy combatant", this is nothing more than people hiding behind wording to justify actions that would otherwise violate numerous treaties around the world.

The notion that the Geneva Conventions don't apply in Afghanistan because we haven't declared war on that nation per se is a complete cop-out. Afghanistan is a warzone - anybody who has listened to the news has known that for a long time. Canada at the very least should show itself as being able to rise above the moronic sophistry that the White House has been using since 9/11.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Propaganda?

This strikes me a fear mongering for some reason.

Probably because it is. It echoes cries of looney tunes people like Senator Tancredo - a line that the current CPC party would dearly love us all to believe.

I'm more than a little bit suspicious of these kind of allegations. Along with the circus-arena farce that so-called "security certificates" have become, this smells like just another excuse to abrogate the civil rights of peaceful citizens, and to marginalize populations who are "visible minorities".

He says young Canadians from immigrant backgrounds are becoming radicalized through the internet and are looking for targets at home, not abroad.

"They are virtually indistinguishable from other youth. They blend in very well to our society, they speak our language and they appear to be - to all intents and purposes - well-assimilated," he said.


This seems to me to be mostly conjecture and assumption. Mr. Hooper is insinuating that people are engaged in malfeasance, but cannot substantiate it. Do I need to point out that prior to 9/11, the most significant terrorist act in the United States was the Oklahoma City bombing - the culprits were as "American as could be".

The Economics of Crime

There have been a couple of events in the last few weeks that have made me stop and think a little bit about crime. In one case, someone I know had their vehicle stolen (it was found a few days later), and then very close friend arrived at home to discover that some lowlife had broken in and ransacked the place this past weekend. (Readers who know me personally already know that story in more detail than I'll go into here).

Both of these crimes constitute what I call "petty property crime" - the people who commit it are interested in the "economic value" of what they steal - whether it is the short term use of a vehicle to get between point A and B, or the theft of a few items of apparent value that might be readily fenced.

However, petty property crime is precisely the form of crime I would expect to start seeing more of in Calgary lately. Calgary is an expensive city to live in these days - housing prices have exploded in the last year, and it appears that rental costs are making a similar leap upwards. Add to this the near impracticality of getting around Calgary without access to a car. Except for Downtown, most "work centers" in this city really do require a car to get in and out of. With gas prices over $1/L, and forecast to hit $1.30/L or so over the course of this summer, a lot of people are going to start finding their cars brutally expensive to operate.

Let's put this in perspective for a minute - at $0.65/L, a tank of gas in a car with a 60L tank (pretty average, and includes a lot of SUVs built since the 1990s) costs $39. At $1.00/L (pretty average recently), that same tank suddenly costs $60. It's not terribly difficult to burn through a tank a week - just driving to and from work in this city. So, getting to and from work has gone from costing $160/month to $240/month. For someone living "on the edge" - just paying the bills - rent, phone, heat, food and car, they start to find that they have to make a choice - steal in order to get to work, or not work. With rents pushing over $1000 for a modest place to live, $240 for gas starts to look like a lot of money when your take home pay is around $2000 each month.

I'm not condoning these kinds of crimes - there are other alternative courses of action - but I find it hard to ignore the reality that some people will find such a course of action "appealing" - especially if they feel that their choice is between a crime that they might get away with, and losing their job or home. It's the interesting second edge of the sword that is Alberta's economic boom.

(BTW - I don't _know_ the motives of the perpetrators in the two cases cited above - this discussion springs from my own musings on the subject)

Friday, May 26, 2006

The HarperCrit, Wingnuts and the Media

My, my, my - what stew the news is making this morning.

First off, we have Harper and Defense Minister O'Connor contradicting each other about the issue of media access to the return of the bodies of our fallen soldiers. One of you two twits is lying through your teeth - and I have a sneaking feeling it's not O'Connor.

Then, we move right along to more about the PM being utterly intransigent in his little temper tantrum with the media. What Harper's forgetting is that the Parliament Hill media will eat just about anyone alive - regardless of party stripe. Harper needs to grow up and realize that he's not in his "safe home ground" of Alberta any more, and it's a big ugly world out there where there's more opinions than his.

Lastly, we get a little more insight into the micromanager and wingnut struggle going on in the CPC: with the PMO giving a gag order to his MPs over two gay RCMP officers who are getting married. Apparently, Harper doesn't trust his MPs not to say something stupid. (Admittedly, after Vellacott making an idiot of himself, perhaps we can't entirely blame him for not trusting his people - it's not like the wingnuts aren't there, is it?

Next Time, Try Not Lying

So, the Brothers B (Bush and Blair) are having one of their mutual admiration festivals.

Of course, one of the topics du jour is the question of what worked (or didn't work) in Iraq. No matter how you wrap Iraq in the Cloak of Righteous Democracy(tm), underneath, you still have that ugly little hump-backed troll underneath that is the reaction of people who don't like foreign invasions, and really despise occupation - even if it did overthrow a strongman dictator like Hussein.

Expect today to hear Blair bleating about how the US and Britain had to "go it alone" in Iraq because the United Nations wouldn't go along with their fabrications. This will, of course, be used to argue that the United Nations needs to be massively overhauled.

Oddly, I would argue the reverse is true - while I think the United Nations needs to be restructured, it's not for the reasons that B & B are talking about. In fact, I might almost go as far as arguing that in the Iraq situation, the United Nations did exactly the right thing.

Collectively, the world's governments looked at the case for invading Iraq and found it lacking. Which left only a bellicose President and his lap-dog Prime Minister standing in favour of invading Iraq.

The real lesson for B & B out of this is to quit lying. Most of us learn that lesson while growing up - lying tends not to work so well. Apparently politicians lose that lesson in their transformation from "average citizens" to "lying bastards".

[Update 27/05/06]Well, what do you know - Blair stayed right on script, and called for UN reforms yesterday.

I don't know what kind of "reforms" Blair is suggesting - I'll go digging for that later.
[End Update]

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Slam!

Ouch!

I don't know who the speaker is, but he's got it pretty much right where D.C. is concerned these days.

Shorter Stephen Harper: Wah!

Boo frigging Hoo. Apparently, Stephen Harper has decided that the Ottawa Press Corps is biased against him and he's going to "pack up his marbles and go somewhere else.

Jeepers, this guy's even more thin-skinned than Ralph Klein is. Apparently the press that work out of Parliament Hill are refusing to play along with his office's latest attempt to micromanage the message coming out:

Since becoming prime minister in January, Harper has had a testy relationship with the national media in Ottawa. His staff has tried to manage news conferences by saying they will decide which reporters get to ask questions.

The press gallery has refused to play by those rules. "We can't accept that the Prime Minister's Office would decide who gets to ask questions," Yves Malo, a TVA reporter and president of the press gallery, told CP on Tuesday. "Does that mean that when there's a crisis they'll only call upon journalists they expect softball questions from?"


What is it with Conservatives - especially the HarperCrit and his lot? Do they think that because they are in government that they don't have to answer questions? Do they honestly believe that Canadians gave them carte blanche to play dictator?

Like Ralph Klein and the George Bush Rethuglikans in the United States, tight control over the media is necessary for these twits - not just because they are thin skinned, but otherwise it's damnably easy to get caught out in lies.

Canadians should be absolutely outraged with Stephen Harper's government right now. Not only is a free press a vital part of democracy, but that press is the primary point of access to government affairs. So far, in his totalitarian zeal to "control the message", Harper has muzzled his ministers, cut the press gallery off from cabinet, and now is isolating himself from the press on the hill.

How, pray tell, is this "open, honest and transparent" governance? It looks more like an iron curtain descending around Parliament Hill and Harper's limousine.

[Update 15:20 25/05/06] Over at CBC, we have people's opinions emerging - and unsurprisingly, they aren't exactly flattering where Mr. HarperCrit is concerned. (There are a few supporting Harper, but by far the majority seem to be saying what I've said all along)
[End Update]

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Remember the Iran "Marking the Jews Story"?

Late last week, the National (com)Post made huge waves by publishing a front page story about how Iran was supposedly going to require their religious minorities to wear identifying badges. The story was fishy from the start - the shadings of Nazi Germany were just a little too profound. Sure enough, later in the day, the story quietly vanished from the National Post's website - consigned to the oubliette of recycled electrons forever.

Since then, some people have done some fairly decent sleuthing trying to track down the source of the article, and one of the best bits of analysis I've seen is here at The Galloping Beaver. If the author has their facts straight - and I have no reason to disbelieve the trail put forward, it leads back to the warmongering neo-thugs that want the US to invade Iran.

I think it's a pretty clear warning for all of us to be very cautious and skeptical about any claims that are made about Iran in the months to come. Clearly, the propaganda machine is winding up. (anybody else remember the "mobile weapons labs" that Iraq supposedly had?)

Harper Goose Stepping To Washington's Tune

I don't know how Stephen Harper could possibly be any more blatant about his undying love for the current lot infesting the White House these days.

Last week, we were treated to Australian Prime Minister John Howard singing the praises of BushCo to the Canadian Parliament. Of course, this is with Stephen Harper smiling away at his side.

At the same time, we start getting signals about moving towards the "Asia Pacific Partnership" instead of Kyoto. (Which is basically the countries that "don't like Kyoto"). The "Asia Pacific Partnership" is a joke - and not even a particularly funny one at that. It has no process, no penalties, no objectives. At most it is a polite handshake agreement to "exchange technology that might help with climate change issues".

Yes, Kyoto is flawed, and I don't believe its objectives are overly realistic (for starters, they overlooked the impact of economic growth in setting the goals), but it's better than nothing. However, the other problem I have with Harper suddenly showing all this interest in the pseudo-alternative that BushCo cooked up is that he has just signalled to the world that Canada's signature on treaties is worth about as much as the United States right now (not much - considering the US has walked away from quite a number of treaties since BushCo came to power).

And just in case you had any delusions about HarperCrit taking his orders from Washington, take a look at the emerging story of a bombing of a village in Afghanistan. There's a misperception among many Canadians that "Canada is in Charge" in Afghanistan - wrong - we are in charge of the NATO MISSION in ONE PROVINCE of Afghanistan. Recent changes to the NATO terms of engagement leave the US once again in overall command in that country. Consulting with the Canadian command is mostly a formality - one of making sure that the Canadian troops aren't where the bombs are going to land.

What does all this mean? First, it should be much clearer now that Canada's troops are playing to a tune being fiddled in Washington, and we are serving as an "auxilary legion", freeing US troops up to fight and occupy other lands (like - say - Iraq). Second, it is becoming more and more clear to me that Harper is taking his orders from Washington - especially when it comes to "Foreign Affairs". (not too terribly smart, when BushCo's idea of "Foreign Affairs" is talking to California Governor Schwarzenegger)

The price of Stephen Harper's dogma is Canada's credibility - think about it.

[Update 15:45 24/05/06]:
Over at AP's news line, we learn that the Taliban is regaining its strength in Afghanistan. Somebody remind me why Harper just committed us to a minimum of two more years in that place?
[End Update]

Monday, May 22, 2006

Having Completely Bungled Iraq...

We find BushCo setting the stage for invading Iran. Knowing that Bush himself has about zero credibility, the assorted chickenhawks in Washington are arm-twisting Tel Aviv to become their mouthpiece so that they can justify invading Iran.

Ahmadinejad is famous for his threats to "wipe Israel from the face of the earth",but he is far from the first leader to threaten Israel in the Middle East, and I doubt he'll be the last.

While I don't like any country having nuclear weapons (or any of the other "WMD"s), the current round of threats against Iran are particularly galling. First of all, I have to raise the point that both India and Pakistan reached nuclear capabilities in the late 1990s - where are the demands that they disarm? Do I need to point out that of all the nations with nuclear capabilities, only the United States has ever actually used those weapons? (which very much raises the question about the motives of a US government demanding that everyone else disarm, doesn't it?)

This comes in the shadow of ongoing violence in Iraq, and Afghanistan unravelling into all out war - hardly a situation that makes adding a third war in the region a particularly appealing.

I'm not about to become an apologist for the Iranian government - I disagree with much of what they represent, but I also do not believe that western style democracy can be imposed at gunpoint.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Taking It Way Too Seriously

The recent release of The DaVinci Code movie, based on the book by Dan Brown has the religious nuts tied up in knots one way or another.

The Catholic Church despises, some evangelicals love it, and the critics like Mark Steyn utterly miss the point.

I read the book a couple of years ago, and was somewhat underwhelmed by it. The premise was cute, but hardly particularly original. It dabbled lightly in topics related to Christian Mysticism from the Middle Ages - pulling on the legends around the Knights Templar, Opus Dei and other semi-secretive sects that have woven into the historical fabric of Christianity. Throw in for good measure a bunch of speculation based around the notion that the bible is some kind of cipher to be decoded mathematically, and Brown came up with a basis for a fast moving, but mediocre piece of fiction.

Steyn's critique in Macleans spends most of its time bitching about Dan Brown's literary style, but then gets into slagging him for his "lightweight research". Well, duh! The book is a work of fiction that was obviously intended to be turned into a screenplay at some point in the future. If I wanted something that was seriously researched, I'll go read Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, or Foucault's Mindfuck - er Pendulum - both of which play with similar material, and are much, much better works from both literary and research standpoints.

Steyn goes on to criticize how Brown uses "footnotes" for dramatic effect in setting the tone. If you've ever read anything by Terry Pratchett, you'll quickly realize that in fiction, footnotes are great dramatic devices for an author to set the tone of a scene - the micro print at the bottom of the page draws the eye quite quickly, and then the reader has the "footnote in mind" while reading the page. If you take it seriously in a work of fiction, you've utterly missed the point. (Mind you, Steyn misses most points - but that's another topic)

With websites like Jesus Decoded set up to "debunk" the book, one can only sit back a laugh at the utter paranoia that is being reflected over a book that is a work of fiction. If churches can get themselves this worked up over a mere book, perhaps it's time for them to do a little "introspection" and start looking at their own reactions to events.

Friday, May 19, 2006

FanDOM Gone Awry

Via BoingBoing, we are introduced to a handful of Gor Fans who got a few rather odd ideas in their heads.

It seems that after reading one too many Gor Novels, they decided that they wanted to live out their fantasy lives.

*Urgh!*

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Wingnuts ...

Talk about abusing tragedy. Yesterday, one of Canada's soldiers was killed in Afghanistan.

Today, I find Lifesite trying to politicize this soldier's death by claiming it was all the fault of the feminists.

I can't even begin to describe how utterly offensive that is. (I will leave dissecting the utter illogic of Lifesite's article as an exercise for the reader - I'm to utterly disgusted with it to foul this space with their offal)

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Hacking Away At Government Transparency

In Alberta, I suspect that the Klein government wants to bury some of its more odious activities. Bill 20 has just been railroaded through the legislature, placing all kinds of arbitrary limits on the access of the public to government records. In fact, some of the clauses in the amendments appear to give the government the right to shred documents older than 5 years if they so choose.

Given Ralph's attitude over the years, I'd put pretty good odds that there's a shredding party going on in Edmonton that makes Ollie North's infamous "shredding parties" look pretty tame.

Albertans should be outraged at this bill, and Canadians should take a close look at what Ralph is doing, because when Stephen Harper isn't taking his cues from George W. Bush in Washington, he looks to Edmonton for ideas. Neither being prize winning examples of "open, transparent government".

Damned Autocrats

It's been quite a revealing few days in Ottawa. It's rare that a government and its leader reveal their strips so clearly in such a compressed timeframe.

We start the week off with Gwynn Morgan's rejection by the parliamentary committee setting up the Conservative's committee responsible for government appointments. Complaining that this is some kind of partisan assassination, Harper goes into a sulk:

The show of opposition muscle sparked an angry response from the Prime Minister.

Mr. Harper said he would not put forward another candidate until his party holds a majority of seats in Parliament and can control the process of fulfilling the Tories' promise to change how appointments are made.

"The opposition parties don't want to do that, so what that tells us is we won't be able to clean up the process in this minority Parliament," he told reporters.


The first stripe: "I can't get it all my way, so I'm going to go sulk" - kind of reminds me of the grade school squabbles over a game of marbles. In other words, Harper doesn't have a clue what compromise looks like. He could easily achieve this goal by putting someone else forward after working with the other parties to identify a candidate that is agreeable. So what if the person isn't a long time party fundraiser.

The second stripe: "It's not my fault - it was those other bullies" - expect to see this card played a lot - every time the CPC loses a vote on something it

Moving along, we are introduced to the slow evisceration of the Federal Gun Registry, starting with removing so-called long-guns (rifles, shotguns etc.) from the list of weapons that must be registered. Knowing that getting the registry decomissioned by an act of Parliament would be difficult, if not impossible, the CPC has chosen to undermine it by "government policy" instead.

The classic argument is that the Gun Registry does nothing to stop criminals from using an illegal gun. What people who make this argument forget is that the Gun Registry stems from the actions of Marc Lepine in the late 1980s. Registered firearms have more to do with domestic violence than crime. The requirement to register the gun, as well as ensure it is stored appropriately dramatically reduces the chance that someone will try to use a gun "in the heat of the moment" during a dispute. Similarly, the act of registering a car dramatically increases the odds that someone in an accident will actually have valid insurance. Of course a registered firearm is less likely to be used in a crime - that goes without saying. Domestic violence on the other hand is one of the worst crimes possible because it is often perpetrated in a fit of rage, rather than the cold desperation of someone trying to survive on the streets.

Stripe #3: When they know they can't get their own way in the House of Commons, Harper turns his party not to negotiation and settlement with the other parties, but instead to legislative subterfuge. He'll do more and more of this - he started the day he was sworn in as Prime Minister.

I don't know about you, but to me, this is little different than George W. Bush asserting that his spying programs are perfectly legal because of the powers granted to him after 9/11. While technically true, it is still an egregious abuse of the very notion of a democratically elected governance.

Then we move into today's debate on extending the Afghanistan Mission. I have a couple of problems with this particular little motion and the "debate" around it:

1. Harper announced today that regardless of what the house votes, he's going to extend the Canadian troop commitment in Afghanistan by at least a full year.

2. The situation in Afghanistan is clearly very dangerous, and it is arguable that we are getting sucked into a local civil war in the position of having to take sides.

3. 48 hours is not enough time to gather domain knowledge as to the practicality of Canada's involvement in such a situation, much less actually debate it reasonably. Few MPs have actual military experience, much less an appreciation for the costs, risks and limitations of military intervention in such a situation.

Stripe #4: Harper the Autocrat. Again, today's announcement is a signal to the rest of Canada - do it Harper's Way, because he's not going to pay one iota of attention to anything he didn't think of himself. (classic micro management tactics)

[Update: 18/05/06 06:45]:

We are treated to yet another insight into Harper's cheezy tactics - if you vote with him, you are voting on "principle", but if you vote against him, you must be just "playing partisan political games":

Mr. Harper acknowledged that he was worried throughout the day. He accused the Bloc Québécois of playing political games over the issue, and attributed his narrow victory to Conservatives and "certain Liberals who acted on principle." He said the Bloc was flip-flopping in response to polls.


What utter crap - as if he's the only politician with "principles" (which mostly seem to be Mulroney-esque lies and deceit so far)

[End Update]

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Womb Control ...

The right-wing extremism that continues to spew itself forth from the BushCo government in the United States is now being reflected in the CDC's recommendations.

While much of what is "recommended" is mostly common sense - things that amount to "looking after yourself", but the motives seem a trifle suspect. Why is it so important all of a sudden that a woman keep herself in a "nearly ready to be pregnant" state for her entire reproductive life? Something about this strikes me as shades of Margaret Atwood's Republic of Gilead, where any woman capable of bearing children is obliged to do so.

Just In Case You Needed Reminding

About how "glorious" war is this essay from the New England Medical Journal should bring you back to earth.

It would appear that HarperCrit needs a reminder. Perhaps next time he and mini-Darth decide to "visit" Afghanistan, our troops should drag them through the field hospitals - preferably just after an intake of casualties.

(BTW - I'm not wishing that our soldiers get hurt - but it's a reality of war that seems lost on some people - namely its proponents)

Monday, May 15, 2006

Some Days The Mind Fairly Boggles

Writer Vox Day waxes poetic about illegal immigrants in the United States. (Take note - the link is to Wingnut Daily, so be warned...)

Argues Day, it is possible to rid the United States of some 12 million illegal migrants:

Not only will it work, but one can easily estimate how long it would take. If it took the Germans less than four years to rid themselves of 6 million Jews, many of whom spoke German and were fully integrated into German society, it couldn't possibly take more than eight years to deport 12 million illegal aliens, many of whom don't speak English and are not integrated into American society.


Now - I won't even go into the astonishing level of ignorance it takes to compare illegal immigrants in the US with the Nazi treatment of Jews in Germany.

The complete absurdity of stating that enforcement of the national immigration laws is unrealistic,


Uh - some 12,000,000 people who are quasi-assimilated (living, working in the country is a much bigger logistical problem in a relatively open society than this nut thinks. Finding a few thousand deportees is difficult enough, without turning the place into a police state. Where Vox Day misses the point entirely is the fact that there are now a lot of those "illegal aliens" who are raising children. Children who were born in the United States - and by the very laws of that country, are entitled to the benefits of citizenship. Just maybe, there's a much larger constituency of legal Americans who are descended from illegal migrants than he thinks - and more and more of them are of legal age to vote.

Instant deportation policies, employer fines and bounty programs combined with the denial of all social services to non-citizens would suffice to settle the matter without the need to imprison the American citizenry.


Yes, such well-informed policies - that will ultimately gut the service jobs part of the US economy - you know the people who are doing all the jobs that Americans have avoided for decades. Cleaning out buildings, doing grunt work in factories (oh - wait - most of the manufacturing is done in China these days, isn't it?). Not to mention the impact of such policies on people who _are_ American Citizens - children born on US soil - even if their parents are illegal migrants. Such a small detail - like pissing off the fastest growing population in the United States - brilliant thinking.

As the Minutemen have proven, again, unleashing the power of motivated private citizens is far more efficient than relying on government bureaucrats.


Ah yes, the classic argument of the extreme libertarian viewpoint - all government is evil, and should be replaced with motivated individual groups. A lovely fantasy world that results in the tribalistic warfare that ravaged Europe for centuries, and still runs rampant through other regions of the world. Newsflash - most of the comforts you enjoy today wouldn't exist were it not for societies larger and more complex than the average agrarian village circa 1200 AD.

It amazes me that anyone that is at least half sentient (and I presume that someone capable of operating a keyboard qualifies as such) could come up with a "round-em-up-and-deport-em" approach to illegal immigrants. When decades of American governments have turned a blind eye to those same migrants for decades if not longer, the definition of "illegal migrant" and "dispossessed citizen" become pretty blurry. One certainly couldn't work on the basis of ethnicity, and demanding "proof of citizenship" documentation would result in "deportation" of just about every homeless person in the country - because most of them can't prove their citizenship either.

Referencing Hitler's handling of Jews in Nazi Germany merely sets the tone for "Vox Day"'s enlightened outlook on the world. And this guy's supposedly "Christian" ... *shudder*

Creation vs Evolution - The Simpsons Take

Go here, watch the video.

Smart People Can Admit They Goofed

On CBC's The Sunday Edition show yesterday, they had an interview with Francis Fukuyama, one of the "founding fathers" of "NeoConservativism".

While I had no expectation of actually agreeing with Fukuyama on much of anything - having been less than overwhelmed by the BushCo neoCons, I was rather intrigued by the discussion of his latest book America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy. I haven't read it, but the direction of the interview focused on the much abused state of neoConservatism today. While Fukuyama isn't backing away from what he advocated in The End of History and the Last Man, he is clearly stepping away from the implementation of neoconservative ideas the way that BushCo has pursued it.

He doesn't say "mea culpa, mea maxima culpa" about it - he's not apologetic for his beliefs, but he does say that the whole mess in Iraq ultimately was misguided and has served to highlight how power has come to undermine the good aspects of his personal philosophies. (Yes, and I'm quite sure that Karl Marx would have been quite horrified at what Lenin, or Stalin did with Communism...but that's another rant).

I have to give Fukuyama credit for having the insight to recognize that things are off the rails, and to criticize those who have perverted a political ideology in the name of power.

What I do understand of Fukuyama's political ideology I tend not to agree with - he's trying to draw a "post-humanist" world view, and to me it comes off as a disturbing cross between the world that L. Ron Hubbard described in BattleField Earth and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. It's not a combination I believe reflects the realities of the human experience on this world.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mangled Terminology

In the last number of years, the political landscape of Canada has been thoroughly abused by the adoption of catch-phrase terminology - little pithy phrases that are adopted to encapsulate the positions that people are taking.

"Pro-Life" - largely anti abortion, and more recently, anti-contraception as well

"Pro-Choice" - pro abortion access, and sex education

"Pro-Family" - this has become the watchword of the anti-gay rights crowd, as well as the anti-sex ed groups.

After reading Alberta Legislature Bill 208 written by Ted "Family Values" Morton this past week, I have found myself contemplating just what "pro family" really means.

The phrase itself is essentially meaningless in any real sense. I don't know anyone that is openly hostile to the notion of 'family' in any practical sense. Certainly, I don't see anyone running around saying that families shouldn't exist, nor should they be allowed to. So, just what is "pro family" actually about?

Well, for a start, let's take a look at what Ted Morton says, shall we?

Assertion #1:

The public consecration of marriage is based on an enduring social fact: children need both a mother and a father if they are to enjoy the best opportunity to prosper. It is the nurturing of children that has been the purpose of the family and the laws of marriage.


There's enough assumptions in here to sink a battle ship:

1) The assumption that both parents are required when raising children has been proven time and again to be suspect. There are practical reasons why this is a good idea, but the assertions around "prospering" (whatever that happens to mean in this context) are not borne out - there are always plenty of children raised in single-parent homes, or situations where work takes one parent to another country for extended periods of time - there's no significant evidence that the long term outcomes for those children are any different than others. The economic challenges of raising a child in a single parent household are significant, and there is a demonstrated link between poverty and social/economic adjustment (of course, Morton wouldn't know poverty if it bit him on the nose)

2) The laws of marriage (at least in Canada) have nothing to do with raising children. Zero. Zip. Nada. Look in the statutes, and tell me where there is one word in the marriage laws of this land that make any such assertion. The legal definition of marriage (secular, not its religious counterpart) speaks to the legal entity that is created, and how the participants in that entity are seen with respect to the government. No more, no less.

Second Assertion:

Despite overwhelming empirical evidence from the social sciences on the importance of marriage and the family, the federal Liberals have passed policy after policy weakening both. The most recent and notorious is Bill C-38, Paul Martin’s Same-Sex Marriage law.


Ah - now we start to come to the point - it's about bill C-38 - the Same Sex Marriage amendment. I have yet to figure out how any two people getting married affects anyone else's marriage. I know straight couples that are happily married, and not raising any children whatsoever by choice, and lesbian couples that are married and raising children - just fine, thank you very much. Has anyone's world stopped as a result? No. So I fail to see how one can argue that Bill C-38 "weakened" either the notion of marriage, or the notion of family.

Second, I'd love to know what this "overwhelming empirical evidence" is. I have yet to see a paper which suggests that single parent families, gay parented families are any worse off than "traditional" families - outside of the stigma and discrimination that the parents may encounter under a variety of circumstances.

Third Assertion:

We can and must enact an Alberta Marriage Bill of Rights that protects the freedoms of speech, association, religion and conscience of the large majority of Albertans who disagree with same-sex marriage. This Bill of Rights would also extend protection to students, parents and teachers in public, separate and private schools to ensure no Albertan is forced to promote or teach any aspects of the same-sex agenda.


Well, this is pretty much what Morton put before the legislature this last session. It's not about protecting anyone's rights - it's about creating a right for someone to be a bigot and treat others as lesser citizens.

Of course, Morton pulls out the mythical "same-sex agenda" - which as far as I have ever been able to determine is no more an "agenda" than women's rights, racial equality or religious freedoms. (Admittedly, I've never actually found the mystical "Gay Agenda" documented anywhere - perhaps Mr. Morton has a copy he'd like to make available to enlighten the rest of us?)

If the "Pro-Family" crowd were intellectually honest, they'd simply say that they were "anti-gay rights" and be done with it. Instead, they stand on this soapbox and preach about how evil this or that behaviour is, and how it is "damaging" to the institution of family. Frankly, I've seen plenty of cases where the "traditional" institution of family is sufficiently dysfunctional that the result is far more damaging to any offspring than a non-traditional setting that was stable and loving would be.

The real question to ask these people is why they think it's "okay" to treat others as lesser citizens than themselves? What would they do if Ted Morton's bill had been about mixed-race marriage, or non-Christian marriage?

Death By Micromanagement

Micromanagement is one of the most destructive forces that can emerge in an organization. So, what happens when a government is run by a micromanager like Stephen Harper?

Sooner or later the business of governance will grind to a halt. When everything has to be vetted through the PMO before it gets out, that means there's a lot of blind spots coming up. If it's not on Harper's personal radar, he's not going to deal with it effectively - and running one of the most prosperous economies in the G8 is a big job, with a lot of facets.

Harper's renowned distaste for the media in general doesn't help - here's a man with not only a chip on his should where the media is concerned, but also a man whose attitude in general is very similar to other micromanager types - ideas that aren't "his vision", will get ignored.

Ultimately, the inflexible, distant attitude of Harper will work against him - I think he is hoping to be able to hold "the message" together long enough to get to the next election without too many loose lips escaping his grasp. Only when Harper has his goal of a majority government will there be any chance of Canadians finding out what HarperCrit's real agenda is. (Frankly, I'm not at all sure I want to find out)

Rigid, inflexible approaches to leadership mean that the leadership feels it cannot changes its decisions for fear of being accused of weakness. Harper is demonstrating not only a rigid approach to things, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that Harper isn't interested at all in Canadians finding out just what exactly his government is up to. Most things are being announced "after the fact" (e.g. the NORAD agreement), and Harper isn't asking for a debate, so much as he is defying people to challenge his authority.

Go read any decent book on management strategies, and you will quickly learn that Harper's approaches to things are guaranteed to fail.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Accounting 101

I think Congress as a whole FAILED this course.

How can you justify tax cuts, when your government is racking up record high deficits (and debt)?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Bye, Bye Maurice

Unsurprisingly, it got a little too warm for Maurice Vellacott once people started to scrutinize his positions on things.

Mr. Vellacott has gone out of his way to tell everybody where he stands on various topics, and to act all shocked and outraged by the furore that he created is ridiculous.

In his statement, Mr. Vellacott demonstrates one of my favourite complaints with the CPC - the "it's not my fault" syndrome:

Regrettably, I see displayed a more reckless partisan nature by the Liberals on the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Committee than I have in all my 9 years as a Member of Parliament.


He then turns around - after rambling on interminably about all sorts of things, and ends off with the following whine:

On the surface, it appears that my views on the necessity of judicial restraint by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and the other judges on the Supreme Court precipitated the non-confidence motion. However, in recent days, other issues have been pointed out in which I have attempted to give voice to the voiceless and vulnerable. I have no regrets about speaking out for equal justice for aboriginals, proportionate justice for policemen Ken Munson and Dan Hatchen, and basic justice for expectant women and their pre-born children.


Like most of the wingnut factions of the CPC, not only does Vellacott think that he has a monopoly on being right, he can't possibly begin to understand that others might see him for what he is - inflexible, narrow and amazingly bone-headed.

Of course, I will add Maurice's website to my list of nutcases to watch - he'll serve as a very interesting barometer of the extremist elements of the CPC, I'm sure.

Tell Me That Harper Isn't Following BushCo

Just in case you had any doubt about where Harper is taking his directives from, please review the following:

1. Mini-Darth's comments in Afghanistan today. According to Mr. Mackay, it's going to take a while longer to meet our "objectives".

“We recognize that it is going to take perhaps a longer period of time than was first envisioned,” he said.

“We did not discuss specific time frames or time limits or just how lengthy this mission will be, but I assured the President that Canada is here and intends to continue to work with our international partners and with the Afghan people to achieve results.”


The first question that goes through my mind is this - just what are our "objectives" in Afghanistan, pray tell? How do the Canadian people know when those objectives have been met?

Mackay's "morale boosting" trip to Afghanistan is one of the most blatant bits of propaganda I've seen since Bush Jr. did his "Mission Accomplished" speech on an aircraft carrier a couple of years ago.

2. Following on the heels of the "Military Propaganda Mission" I just mentioned, we have this piece of fearmongering. First of all, let's define probable here - are we talking probable as in "I probably will drive to work tomorrow", or probable as in "Lightning will strike the Calgary Tower tomorrow at sunrise"? This is nothing more than the same kind of irrational fear-mongering that the US "Department of Homeland Security" engages in with its "Terror Threat Alerts". (Several of which have gone to the "highest possible" level, and strangely nothing has happened.

Last week's budget set aside $95 million for a fund to let rail and public transit operators pay for measures designed to protect passengers from the kind of carnage caused in 2005 when militants bombed the transit system in London, England.

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, which handles airport security across the country, is also getting more money for its operations -- $133 million this fiscal year.


Please note that the recent budget just handed a pile more money to various agencies for "security" purposes - echoing the utter paranoia that has taken over the United States in recent years.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

It won't do much good...

But, here's the letter I just sent to my MLA about Ted Morton's private member's bill:

It has recently become public that MLA Ted Morton has put Bill 208 "Protection of Fundamental Freedoms (Marriage) Statutes Amendment Act, 2006 (Morton)" before the legislature during the Spring 2006 sitting.

I am writing to protest in the strongest terms the ill-conceived nature of this bill. Instead of protecting the rights of Albertans, this law effectively creates an environment where a couple can be verbally harassed by someone with no recourse.
The amendments to the "Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act" are so broadly worded that a legally married couple in this province could be subjected to unreasonable harassment in the guise of "criticizing" their marriage. This bill, in its current form, will give many people the inappropriate impression that as long as they mention "marriage", they can say anything they want about sexual minority populations in this province.
This is apalling to me as a citizen of Alberta - we need to be making all of our citizens feel welcome, not subjecting some of them to government sanctioned harassment.

The amendments to the School Act are similarly offensive in my view. Denying that homosexuals exist, or that they have relationships is putting one's head in the sand and does no favours to the students. Denial of reality means that we are lying to our students - a disingenuous thing to do indeed. Again, the wording used is so broad that it quickly becomes abused. High School classes that discuss the topic as part of the study of Canada and its laws suddenly become controversial. Again, many will twist these broadly worded clauses to demand that their children be "excluded" from any class that discusses topics they find "morally difficult" for whatever reasons.

For the most part, this bill is rooted in fear and ignorance, and those are not values that this province should be promoting.

I urge you to vote against this bill, or any similar bill which is so ill conceived that it can result in further harassment of people who wish to live their lives in relative peace.


I know the bill itself is pretty much "dead" in the legislature, but I would be remiss if I did not at least communicate my objections to my MLA anyhow.

Shorter Stephen Harper ...

To anyone who is a part of a minority population:

Screw off!

After Maurice Vellacott has repeatedly demonstrated that he is ignorant, bigoted and narrow minded.

On police abusing Natives - well the police were too harshly judged.

On Supreme Court justices, Mr. Vellacott is perfectly willing to put words in other people's mouths to support his assertions.

and on the topic of SGM, he's demonstrated ignorance of the law, Canada's History and the fact he's a narrow-minded twit.

Now, I realize that Harper can't afford to punt Vellacott out of caucus, but he certainly should take the symbolic step of asking Vellacott to step aside as chair of the Native Affairs and Northern Development committee. By backing Vellacott, Harper is signalling to Canada just how rigid he really is - and how powerful the wingnut factions of his party really are.

Conservative Arrogance and Annoyances

Today is turning into tap-dance on the CPC day:

First, in the wake of the budget, Adam Radwanski has a very interesting handle on a document that was quietly released the same day as the budget which is quite revealing of the CPC's real agenda. (I haven't found the source document Radwanski's talking about yet - if you have the link, let me know) No great surprises here, it's basically a recycle of the right-wing "smaller government better" approach that the CPC has adopted from the Republicans in the United States.

Then, we get some insight into just how effective Harper's adoption of US-style "get tough" laws will actually be - from the Americans who actually have to live with the fallout of enforcing these laws. The message? Don't do it, Canada. It's expensive and pointless.

Just to add to the mix, we learn that the CPC MPs in Ottawa are behaving in exactly the same way as the Liberals they used to criticize. For a minority government that claims to be "doing politics differently", this is a rather sad indictment indeed - even if it is predictable. (You could have waited a couple of years before sinking into the mire of the incentives trough)

In what will no doubt become one of many outbursts from impatient nutcases lurking in the CPC, we have Maurice Vellacott opening his flap about "Judicial Activism". He then turns around - after being slammed by the Supreme Court's chief justice - and issues a mealy-mouthed apology. If you want an idea just what kind of nutbar Vellacott is, here's a page of his own words. (I'll also point out that Vellacott is one of the nutcases that asked Harper to be left out of cabinet so he would be "freer" to speak his opinions - one doesn't need a very fertile imagination to guess where that leads)

Mini-Darth Goes to Afghanistan

Following in the steps of the mini-Shrub, we find that his right hand twit mini-Darth has "spontaneously" gone to Afghanistan to "rally the troops".

What the heck is this? We have Harper and Mackay acting like Bush and Cheney. Jesus, somebody give the CPC a quick lesson in Canadian civics - this is Canada, not the United States.

Note: A few readers of this blog are less in touch with pop-culture than I am - the "Darth" reference refers to Darth Maul - a nasty looking villain from the recent Star Wars movies - some American bloggers have been referring to Dick Cheney as "Darth Maul".

Monday, May 08, 2006

Ralph, Quit Fucking Lying To Us

I'm not sure which pisses me off more - this piece moronic crap introduced by Ted Morton, or King Ralph's assinine comments about it on CBC news this afternoon.

Says Ralph "I don't want to be called a gay basher or anything like that". This is right up there with the old canard from the US during the early days of the civil rights movements - "I'm not a bigot, some of my best friends are black", inevitably followed by some idiotic bunch of tripe. I can just imagine the gay people that Ralph claims are his friends running for cover after hearing condescending statements like that. Ralph has directed the government to fight gay rights in this province tooth and nail ever since he was elected. Alberta has made few changes without being dragged through the courts repeatedly (and losing at every step of the way)

As others have assessed, this bill is rooted in the politics of fear and ignorance. Coming from Ted "Fire Wall" Morton, this doesn't surprise me.

A brief examination of this astonishing bit of homobigotry reveals some pretty evil garbage:

1) On the topic of Alberta's Bill of Rights legislation:

1.1 No person or organization shall be deprived of any benefit, or be subject to any obligation or sanction, under this or any law of Alberta, solely by reason of their exercise, in respect of marriage between persons of the same sex, of the freedom of conscience and religion guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Alberta Bill of Rights, or the expression or exercise of their beliefs in respect of marriage as the union of a man and woman to the exclusion of all others based on that guaranteed freedom.


Please note the utter lack of boundaries on it. Basically, it protects the rights of the anti-gay crowd to say pretty much anything they want, as long as they include some phrase about marriage in it. Further, it would allow the government to direct its agencies not to acknowledge gay marriages, and in theory this law would protect them.

2) On Alberta's Marriage Act:

3.1(1) Notwithstanding any other enactment, a member of the clergy or a marriage commissioner may refuse to solemnize a marriage where the marriage is between persons of the same sex where to solemnize the marriage would violate the person's religious beliefs or moral values.

(2) No action lies against a member of the clergy or a marriage commissioner who refuses to solemnize a marriage between persons of the same sex.


This is largely redundant, as the federal legislation already covers these topics. About the only question mark would be the notion of civil marriage, wherein, I argue that a civil marriage commissioner is in fact legally obliged under the tradition that all citizens of this nation are equal before the law.

3) On the Education Act:

3.1(1) No student shall be required to attend and no teacher shall be required to teach that part of a course that has in its curriculum that marriage may be a union between persons of the same sex.

(2) Where part of the curriculum for a course consists of teaching that marriage may be between persons of the same sex, the school must advise the parents of the students enrolled in the course prior to the material being taught.

(3) A student who does not attend for moral or religious reasons that part of a course where the subject of marriage between persons of the same sex is taught shall not be penalized.

(4) A teacher who refuses to teach for moral or religious reasons that part of a course concerning marriage between persons of the same sex shall not be penalized.


This is possibly the most offensive part of the legislation. Morton claims that it is merely protecting the "legal rights" of those that object to SGM. This is utter bullshit - it is a 'foot in the door wedge' approach to moral legislation. This is the same kind of "protection" that Pharmacists in the United States have been claiming so that they can avoid filling prescriptions.

For example, what about a course on civics which happens to cross the legal grounds of the definition of marriage with respect to Federal/Provincial responsibility? Such a course would no doubt end up touching on the topic of SGM since that is part of the current legislation.

While I suspect that Ted Morton's legislation would fail any challenge in front of the Charter of Rights in the Federal court system, it amazes me that this moron has the gall to propose such legislation. It's such a blatant attempt to legalize bigotry as to be utterly offensive through and through.

In case you haven't noticed, Canada hasn't crumbled because a few same-gender couples have gotten married in the last year. The quiet pair of lesbians that share a house at the end of the block haven't damaged society because they are now legally married. It's time for the Ridiculous Right to get over it, and move on. The legislation in the federal statutes protects their faith communities, and none of them are obliged to perform SGM ceremonies. I'm sure that there will be one or two challenges of this, but they are unlikely to get very far, since the legislation is clearly consistent with the Charter of Rights.

I can only imagine that Ted Moron is trying to play to what he perceives to be his "base of support" in the provincial PC party leadership race. Regardless, it is an offensive piece of legislation, and one that should be used to thoroughly castigate Morton throughout the coming campaign.

[Update]: As if reading my mind, CNN Publishes this article which shows definite biological differences between the brain responses of straight women and lesbian women. Although far from conclusive, evidence like this, along with the vast body of history which shows that homosexuals have been part of human society for as long as we have recorded history, suggests strongly that the bigotry and fear with which they are often treated is far from justified in any rational sense.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Of Borrowing From Other's Playbooks

The more I see, the more convinced I become that the current CPC is getting coached from Washington. Far too many of Harper's tactics have wound up looking like they came from the George W. Bush school of governance.

Whether that was Harper's highly orchestrated "Inspire the Troops" trip to Afghanistan, trying to muzzle/control the media access to his government, or how Harper is treating Ontario's Dalton McGuinty.

If you look at it through the lens of Washington, that's basically how BushCo treated both Chretien and Martin. They ignored them, and did everything they could to make it difficult for the Liberal government of the day to make any progress with issues between Canada and the US. The effort was basically partisan in nature - it boils down to a childish unwillingness to discuss issues with the other parties involved.

McGuinty isn't a big-C conservative, (I'm not even sure he's a small-c conservative - I don't know much about him other than the odd bit I read in The Globe and Mail) Regardless of that, when Harper makes it quite clear that he's uninterested in working with McGuinty, and then turns around and makes exactly the opposite noises towards Quebec's Charest, you have to know that there's something fishy afoot.

The Conservatives think that Ontario is likely to elect a Conservative government next election, and therefore they can ignore it in the meantime. They know damn good and well that they have to be seen to make a significant difference in Quebec, or they'll lose the gains they made last election.

Hopefully, Ontario voters will be a little more canny about this than - say Alberta voters - and see this sham for what it is. Marginalizing Ontario is politically foolish, acting like you don't care about Ontario is not just foolish in Canada, it's bad strategy.

Taking your playbook from the US is not smart planning, no matter what Brian Mulroney may claim. (Especially not when the role model you are borrowing from is in a tailspin, dropping below the lowest ratings that Richard Nixon suffered!)

It would be nice to see the Conservatives present something that looked like a practical view of Canada and policy in Canada. Instead, they are so focused on looking southwards, that they don't seem to be able to recognize what's happening there, much less how Canada will ultimately see their disingenuous games.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Guilt, Greed and Manipulation

I don't know which disgusts me more, the priest or the woman in this story.

Churches are ostensibly charitable organizations. If someone walks in with a cheque for money, few congregations will turn it down, no matter the amount.

This pastor could easily be the prize-winning salesman for Guilt Trips Inc. My god - what manipulative line of crap he spewed. He knew, somehow, that she had come into a significant chunk of money, and decided he wanted a bigger chunk of her winnings. So like the inevitable obscure relative that crops up when someone wins a big chunk of money, he tries to guilt her into handing over 5% of it to the church.

The fact he succeeded only speaks to the woman's gullibility, in my opinion. Charity is just that - charity - it's what people feel they can give up. Depending on her prior economic circumstances, that $5000 cheque might have been a lot of money in her mind.

More cynically, I think the priest saw dollar signs, and decided that he would play on the woman's emotional insecurities to guilt her into donating more money.

Greed is amongst the basest of human emotions, and I'd hazard a guess that in this case, the priest succumbed to it himself. I have no idea where the 5% rule he came up with derived from, and frankly I don't much care - basically he accused her of the sin of greed and put a price on atonement.

His actions were calculated, manipulative and offensive. Yes, he got his $80,000 - but would the woman have felt any the worse for donating $5,000 had he not played the guilt trip card?

Conservative Justice - Reprise

So, now we get to see the nuts and bolts of the CPC government's ideas about crime and punishment.

First, the primary sources: Bill C-9, Bill C-10 - and peripherally, Bill C-7 {The last one being unpublicized in the media, but I spotted it digging up the other bits}

As the Globe and Mail points out, basically what the CPC has done is twofold:

1) Imposed harsher penalties for crimes involving the use of guns.

2) Removed the ability for the courts to impose a conditional sentence such as house arrest.

The circumstances appear relatively constrained to the most serious of offenses. However, it is often the preamble to these bills that is the interesting bit:

WHEREAS Canadians are entitled to live their lives in peace, freedom and security;


WHEREAS acts of violence involving the use of firearms, including ones by street gangs, are increasingly threatening the safety of Canadians in their communities;


WHEREAS the Parliament of Canada is committed to taking measures to protect Canadians from this threat while continuing to respect and promote the values reflected in, and the rights and freedoms guaranteed by, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms;


AND WHEREAS these measures include legislation to impose higher minimum penalties on those who commit serious or repeat offences involving firearms;


Let us consider for a moment the stated objectives - namely to provide Canadians with an increased level of security in their private lives.

Here is where the first error of reasoning occurs. The conservative mind seems to routinely assume that a more severe penalty will act as a deterrant. Perhaps for the "average, law abiding citizen", this is true enough. But, we aren't talking about people who are "average, law abiding citizens", are we?

Without getting deep into the psychology of criminal behaviour (a topic that others are no doubt far more qualified than I am to speak on), I'd say it's a safe bet that the criminal types who are engaged in organized crime (for whom the gun is a "tool of the trade") aren't persuaded by the harshness of the sentences meted out in the courts.

Further, I think it's fairly well demonstrated in the American example that harsher sentencing has little impact - other than raising the costs incurred in our prison systems. Throwing people in jail is the "disposable society" model of handling criminality. Basically what we are doing is asserting that these people aren't worth our time, and we try to forget that they exist.

What are real policy alternatives?

1) Give police the resources needed to investigate and enforce the existing laws that deal with organized crime. Piddling around with harsher sentencing doesn't mean a thing when the police don't have adequate resources to hunt down and shut down criminal operations.

2) If we really need to, refine the definitions in law that allow organized crime to operate. (Of course, we might wind up making politicians illegal - but that's a different problem)

3) Address the issues that result in "youth gangs" as best as we can. Youth gangs are difficult to understand, but their roots are in societal challenges more than criminal justice issues. Poverty, old ethnic/tribal grudges and goodness knows what else play into this. It may be that we desperately need to invest heavily in our school systems in order to bring them out of the era of decay that started in the early 1980s.

In spite of the efforts that Corrections Canada makes to rehabilitate people, incarceration is a punishment that has a limited impact. Some have referred to prisons as "Colleges for Criminals", a reflection of the fact that many enter prison for the first time, and become repeat offenders or get involved in organized crime while behind bars. To me this suggests that more prisons, and longer incarcerative sentences is unlikely to have the protective effect desired. We may in fact be creating nothing more than state-sponsored incubators for the Mafia.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

As I Suspected...

The budget doesn't have as much to do with the reality of the CPC government's plans as it should.

Massive Defense Spending Planned. So, let's see if I understand this - the budget delivered 1/5 of what the Conservatives claimed they were going to do for the military in terms of both capital and operational spending, but the Minister of Defence is running around planning billions of expenditures that aren't currently on the budget books? Uh huh. I'd put pretty good odds that as things "heat up" (pardon the pun) in the Middle East (especially Iran), there will be a sudden redirection of funds that will happen as Order in Council sometime this summer. At the same time, this concept will no doubt receive a bit of black budget funding.

Don't make the mistake of assuming that I'm not in favour of upgrading our troops equipment, and (to some extent) increasing the manpower of our forces. I am. I am not, however, in favour of the government going about doing these things behind closed doors.

Also on CBC radio this morning (I'm watching to see which news website picks this up first), was indications that the "get tough on crime" bills are due to hit the House of Commons in the next few days. Again, the Conservatives are "starting to look at" the additional prison space that these bills are going to require. Yet again, this is another area where the budget didn't put a lot aside for this area. Meaning that it will have to wait until either the next budget bill comes down, or funding will be done again as "Order in Council".

Anyone with a modicum of awareness of what goes on in "Ralph's World" (Alberta), will recognize this as a basic tactic in the arsenal of those who lust after power, but really don't want the accountability of governing openly.

[Update 16:47 04/05/06]Here's the link to the new Get Tough on Crime bills introduced today.

It's the usual conservative response to such issues - lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key.

[End Update]

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

First Impressions of the Budget

Late yesterday, I made some guesses about the content of the CPC budget. Today, the the budget was delivered in the House of Commons.

On the surface, the budget doesn't look as ideomatic as I was expecting - but as is often the case with what amounts to policy documents, one has to look carefully at both the overall picture as well as the details.

A quick review of my "guesses":

1) GST Cut.

This didn't take a genius to forecast. Although the GST is probably the most visible tax that we deal with, and hence the most hated, a 1% GST cut really isn't a big deal. Think about it - if you go to Wal-Mart and spend $100 on product, the GST drops from $7 to $6 - a whole $1 difference on a $100 purchase. The government's example is $300 on a $30,000 car purchase. That's nice - if you have $30,000 to drop on a car. Most people I know can't afford to do that.

It's good public relations to cut the GST, but really the only people that benefit from it are those with significant amounts of disposable income. (The people who can afford to drop $5,000 on part of their new "home theatre" system and not notice it)

2) Rollback of Liberal Tax Cuts

Sure enough, they undid as much of this as they dared, and then tried to compensate by adding a slew of peripheral tax changes - the impact of which I am unsure of at this time. (As with all such things, it takes a while to "see the overall picture", and I'm going to have to wait and see what the "Employment Tax Credit" actually means.

3) Huge money dumped into the military

I missed on this one - the increases to military spending were relatively modest in relation to the claims that were made during the election campaign. Knowing the CPC's love affair with military hardware, I expect the "real expenditures" will occur when a sufficiently large emergency is looming on the horizon.

4) More money spent on prisons

Apparently, they haven't thought through their "get tough on crime" notion of imposing "mandatory minimum sentences". This one will probably emerge in a year or two's time, when the changes are starting to overcrowd our prisons to the point that they become powderkegs for the government.

5) Massive Government Program Cuts

Apparently, they've opted to go for this in stages. The "small government" mentality of the CPC has been reined in a bit, with program spending to be cut by $2 billion over two years, on a case by case basis. This doesn't sound "bad" up front, but I have the uneasy feeling it is a foreshadowing of things to come later.

6) $0.65/hour for parents raising children

Hey, guess what? They did exactly what they said they would. We'll have to wait and see exactly what happens to the tax law provisions here, but I don't expect most families will see the entire amount at all. As I've commented before, this program is utterly ineffective in dealing with the challenges that face parents every day. In reality, it's a sop to the "family values" crowd that idealizes the 1950's notion of the "nuclear family" - it's a policy "tip" intended to signal other parts of the yet-to-be-unveiled agenda. Realistically, the $1200 simply doesn't go much of anywhere in terms of childcare. It's unlikely to actually create any real change in the availability of spaces, nor in their affordability.

Other Thoughts:

I am very concerned by the significant changes being made to corporate taxation. As it is, under Chretien a huge amount of this nation's tax burden was downloaded onto individual Canadian taxpayers during the 1990s. The Conservatives have continued that with even more drastic cuts which essentially dump more of the burden onto the middle-income individual taxpayers. (This in an era when the economy is booming, and corporate profits are at all time highs - especially in the resources sectors) I disagreed with massive corporate tax cuts in the 1990s under previous Liberal governments, and I disagree with them today under the CPC. Again, the large corporations are the ones who benefit the most from these tax cuts, and the the Canadian people are left carrying the resulting burden.

There are a number of tax credits and other pseudo tax cuts in here which I'm afraid I'll have to take a "wait-and-see" stance on. The documents published today are simply too sketchy to put any real meaning on them. Some of them are superficially good ideas, but until I see the "ground rules" in the form of the revised income rules, I'm going to have to remain a bit skeptical as to their actual benefits. Like the $1200 "child care" issue, the devil is in the details.

Overall, what I've read so far isn't as radical as what I've seen the CPC talk about in the past, but I think much of the "moderation" has more to do with Harper hoping that he can hang on after the next election.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Budget Guesses

It's the eve before the first budget from the CPC minority government. I'll take a few wild guess tonight at what's coming down the line:

1) GST tax cut

More or less, this is a no-brainer. The Conservatives have been babbling about this for ages. It really doesn't do a lot of good when you look at it - the people that benefit the most have the high disposable incomes.

2) Rollback of Previous Liberal Tax Cuts

In a fit of partisan spite, the Conservatives will actually increase taxes for Canada's lowest earning people - simply because according to them, everybody should benefit from tax cuts - no matter how piddling the benefit actually is

3) Huge money dumped into the military

The signals are all there - the CPC will invest in lots of expensive, flashy hardware for the military. The reasons for this are yet to be clear

4) More money spent on prisons

They're going to have to do this in order to have anywhere near enough room for the extra people incarcerated because of the "mandatory minimum sentences" they want to impose.

5) Massive Government Program Cuts

After spending billions on tax cuts and the military, they're going to plead poverty for everything else. Especially if its a program that might help people on the economic margins.

6) $0.65/hour for parents raising children - with tax clawbacks built into the system, minimizing the actual benefit to Canadian families to a nearly microscopic amount. Rather like trying to bleed someone dry through a mosquito probiscus.

Of course, this is just a guess - but we'll know tomorrow just how many cracks are in my crystal ball, won't we?