Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Remember This Closed Door Meeting?

Back in September, there was there was a closed door meeting in Banff with an amazingly secretive list of attendees?

Well, it seems that Judicial Watch has managed to winkle some of the notes out of the US Government about that meeting here.

Read and shudder. (But let's not forget that Public Safety Minister Stockwell "Doris" Day was allegedly there - and refused to talk about it)

And, just to reinforce your confidence in our oh-so-open-and-honest government, Harper's appointed another croney to a government plum posting.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Character Assassination - Conservative Style

I see that the CPoC has their attack ads about Dion up. (I'm not going to link to that pile of spewage - it's easy enough to find if you really want to see them)

My own feeling is that it's a case of the "emperor's new clothes" (the Conservative lack of real policy on matters such as the environment) combined with an attempt to distract Canadians from the ineptitude of the CPoC on this matter.

Frankly, I'll sit back and see what unfolds, but I'm not going to be persuaded about Dion's merits by a bunch of advertisements - from either side.

[Update 18:00]
I see that the Conservatives are stuck in opposition mode. Instead of actually presenting real policy and direction, the CPoC seems to be insistent that "it's all the Liberal's fault". I see that Harper and Co. still haven't figured out that governing actually means doing something. As it turns out, the "nothing" that the Liberals had done is actually a lot of programs that the Conservatives immediately cut when they took office - and are now resurrecting piecemeal under the pressure of public opinion.

As I said earlier, it would seem our Conservative emperors have no clothes.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Right On Cue

I swear, it's possible to set a clock by the timing of the howling from the Right-Wing idiotsphere.

Via buckdog, I found Michael Coren's latest screed.

Generally, Coren's crap is more or less the intellectual equivalent of a McDonald's hamburger - mostly empty calories for the sofa-squash set. In fact, I've already pulled apart most of what Michael's whining about here, here, here and here.

However, take a close look at the following paragraph in Coren's rants, and then think back to what Stephen Harper said in the wake of the "failed" Gay Marriage debate motion last December:

Today it is John DiCicco or perhaps me. Tomorrow it could be you.

Do stand up for that which millions have fought and died.

Yes, Michael really does believe that there is a huge "gay conspiracy" to "suppress religious belief". I cannot even begin to describe how utterly brain dead that assertion is.

However, as I speculated here, this is yet another piece in the game of the religious right trying to plant the notion that "religious freedoms" are being unduly oppressed in Canada. While Landolt and REAL Women were first out of the gate, they are far from the last. I expect to see more of this kind of bleating as we move into the expected spring election.

Scared of Mr. Dion, Are We?

It appears that Mr. Dion has the CPoC scared. They are dragging out the attack ad tactics before an election has actually been called.

Apparently, the CPoC has figured out that the public isn't buying into their sudden veneer of "green" policy, so they've decided to engage in character assassination as a preemptive measure.

Unsurprisingly, we find MP Jason Kenney right at the center of the slagging campaign:

Sources have told The Globe and Mail that MP Jason Kenney will brief the media on the content of the ads Sunday. They are expected to include television commercials, sources said.

Frankly, this just tells us a great deal about how scared the CPoC is, and how hollow their actions really are. If there was real substance (other than that which comes out of the south end of a northbound cow) to their policy they could stand on their policy.

[Update Thought]
The last time a party bearing the name "conservative" ran "attack ads" while they were in power, their caucus was reduced by Canada's voters to 2 MPs...

Thin Skinned Conservatives

It seems that our Gnu Government is unusually thin-skinned for a bunch of lizards.

Last week, Lawrence Martin wrote of the latest thin skinned stupidity coming from our Conservative Party of Canada led government.

It seems that Senator LeBreton has demanded that an academic apologize for something that they wrote in an opinion piece in The Ottawa Citizen last November:

His article, which appeared in the Ottawa Citizen on Nov. 25, was highly critical of the Liberals, as well as the Harper Conservatives. It said Mr. Harper's decision to allow Quebec to have "nation" status would ultimately undermine national unity. In the offending paragraph, he added, "And you can bet the bank that Mr. Mulroney had a lot do with Harper's decision to make his move now. Mr. Mulroney and Conservative Senator Marjory LeBreton are now bragging about how they helped Mr. Harper pull off the coup."

This is hardly a significant slam of any sort. It is, in fact, the perfectly reasonable speculation of the backroom dealings that we all suspect go on in the rarified atmosphere of Ottawa's dustier corridors.

While some kind of apology was apparently printed by the newspaper, LeBreton still has her knickers in a twist, and is demanding some kind of disciplinary action be taken by the professor's employer - the University of Ottawa.

Apparently, Ms. LeBreton has written to the Chancellor of the University:

Senator LeBreton has gone so far as to write a toughly worded letter asking that the University of Ottawa have one of its professors, Michael Behiels, issue an apology for a newspaper analysis lambasting the government's position on Quebec. ...
The Citizen ran a small correction the next day saying Mr. Mulroney and Ms. LeBreton did not claim any credit for the Quebec nation motion and the paper said it "regrets the error." But Ms. LeBreton wanted more redress and fired off the missive to chancellor Labelle, who once worked in the Prime Minister's Office under Mr. Mulroney.

"I would ask you to ensure that one [an apology] is forthcoming from Professor Behiels." Referring to the professor's words, she wrote, "The claim is offensive and false but the fact that he wrote this clearly exposes his bias."

She continued: "Since he is identified as someone who is attached to the University of Ottawa, I believe it is incumbent upon you [the chancellor] to ensure that the University is not unfairly implicated by the writings of one of its professors." In an interview yesterday, Ms. LeBreton said she was in no way trying to interfere with freedom of speech, which she said she totally believes in.

Yes, Ms. LeBreton, you "believe" in freedom of speech, unless it becomes inconvenient to you and your political kin's grip on power. God forbid if someone should speculate on your involvement in various conversations. (Which, given the shrieking protest, I suspect is far too close to the truth - even if you can deny it)

In my view, this whole stupid incident is nothing more than a demonstration of how unsuited the current CPoC government is to holding power. Not only are they unable to deal with dissenting opinion, they seem to feel it is their right to demand retribution when someone speaks out critically of them.

Perhaps Ms. LeBreton should review and contemplate the following clause of Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms:

b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

Friday, January 26, 2007

Arar, $10 Million and an Apology

In various corners of the blogosphere, you can hear much gnashing of teeth over the apology and settlement reached with Maher Arar.

Why are we (the taxpayers) paying the man $10 Million dollars? Well, I'd say it falls into the same category as "punitive damages" awarded in court. In this case, Canada's law enforcement agencies acted improperly, and overstepped their authority in a way that at least contributed to Arar's arrest and deportation to Syria.

Now, many people will no doubt point out that it was the United States that did the actual arrest and deportation. While I completely understand that, the wake of the Arar Inquiry makes it quite clear that we cannot allow our investigative activities to run unmonitored, especially when anti-terrorism laws are being used both here and in the United States to justify restricting people's liberties without due process within the public legal system.

I believe that sooner or later the abuses of power that resulted in US authorities arresting and deporting Mr. Arar will be exposed, and the perpetrators called to account. It will, I suspect, require a change of government down there before this happens, but some thorny questions are beginning to be asked in the halls of Congress.

For those who believe in the power of due process, and the importance of civil liberties in a democratic society, the Arar case is a poster child for all of the things that can go awry when we allow our lawmakers and enforcement agencies to act out of fear.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Can We Afford This?

Our oh-so-clever Gnu Government(tm) seems to think that NATO should try to control the Afghanistan/Pakistan border.

I don't know what's more laughable - trying to "control" a mountainous border region like that, or the rather depressing reality that he's actually talking about committing more of Canada's troops to this debacle.

I wasn't impressed by the notion of arbitrarily expanding our presence in Afghanistan in the first place, and the longer this goes on, the more it confirms my worst fears of it turning into a quagmire that we are unlikely to succeed.

At the millions of dollars a month that this is costing Canadians (not to mention the hundreds of thousands wasted on cheezy photo-op tours of the region by our politicians), we have to ask ourselves if there is a reasonable chance of success in Afghanistan.

Citing False Authority

The wingnut crowd in Canada, like their compatriots south of the border love to point to all sorts of crappy research work to justify their bigotry.

In this case, we find American College of Pediatricians ranting on about how evil it is for gays to be parents.

According to the "American College of Pediatricians" (sounds impressive, doesn't it?):

The research literature on childrearing by homosexual parents is limited. The environment in which children are reared is absolutely critical to their development. Given the current body of research, the American College of Pediatricians believes it is inappropriate, potentially hazardous to children, and dangerously irresponsible to change the age-old prohibition on homosexual parenting, whether by adoption, foster care, or by reproductive manipulation. This position is rooted in the best available science.

Wait a second here - on the one hand, they admit that the research is limited in this domain. Then, they turn around and claim that it's a "bad thing" to allow gays to be active parents because of the science?? Excuse me? But that's little more than a classic creationist "lack of absolute proof is disproof" argument.

They try to base their argument in a review of "available research":

Data on long-term outcomes for children placed in homosexual households are very limited and the available evidence reveals grave concerns. Those current studies that appear to indicate neutral to favorable results from homosexual parenting have critical flaws such as non-longitudinal design, inadequate sample size, biased sample selection, lack of proper controls, and failure to account for confounding variables.

They base this on comments in the following literature:

Robert Lerner, Ph.D., Althea Nagai, Ph.D. No Basis: What the Studies Don't Tell Us About Same Sex Parenting, Washington DC; Marriage Law Project/Ethics and Public Policy Center, 2001.

3 P. Morgan, Children as Trophies? Examining the Evidence on Same-sex Parenting, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK; Christian Institute, 2002.

4 J. Paul Guiliani and Dwight G. Duncan, "Brief of Amici Curiae Massachusetts Family Institute and National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality," Appeal to the Supreme Court of Vermont, Docket No. S1009-97CnC.

I've added linkage to the websites of the various publishing organizations. All of them are either religious and anti-gay, or just outright anti-gay. None has exactly got a wonderful track record for producing good research. (Goodness knows most of what is published in NARTH's name hardly constitutes 'peer review' quality research!)

I will agree that studies of gay parents are going to suffer from a variety of problems, especially around the issue of sample size - we are after all talking about a very small minority to begin with, and social pressures would cause a fair number of people to be uneasy about participating in any study, but that does not render the study itself entirely invalid. (Which is, of course, what they are trying to insinuate)

A little bit of superficial searching turns up the fact that American College of Pediatricians is a small, relatively recent startup organization created by a handful of pediatricians who are social conservatives. Unsurprisingly, their research is
clearly biased

Meanwhile, if one looks around at what the mental health professionals are saying, we get a whole different picture:

Canadian Psychology Association
American Psychology Association

I imagine there are lots of studies were I inclined to go digging through the journal literature in the domain. (I'm not, but I am a darn sight more likely to believe the APA or the CPA have taken a position based on the research, rather than what they want the research to say (e.g. NARTH).

That Would Be a Mistake

I'm a little surprised to hear Dion musing about readmitting former Liberals disgraced in the Adscam scandal.

Very politely put, that would be a horrendous tactical error at this time.

As much as Dion is a new leader, there is still a need for him to keep his distance from that past in his party. If the "return" of these people becomes public (or public enough), as the musings are, it gives Dion's opponents a major club to beat him about with.

This particular issue is all about optics - and in this case, the optics would be horrendous.

[Update 08:40]
It appears that Dion has decided that wouldn't be so wise.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Lying To The Public

Politicians lie. We actually have come to expect it. However, when our own government starts lying to Commons committees established to ensure reasonable oversight over what our government is doing, they are well beyond the realm of "expected deceit".

Yet, that is obviously what is being done with the Commons Defense Committee trip to Afghanistan. They are to be kept safely ensconced in the Kandahar base that the NATO troops are working out of, with nice fluffy, safe powerpoint presentations being the primary information to be provided. No, they won't be shown the ugly, dirty side of this guerilla war. In fact the worst they might experience is a bad case of powerpoint poisoning.

Our army's presence in Afghanistan is costing taxpayers millions, if not billions of dollars. Do we not have a right to know that those dollars are being spent in a reasonable and constructive fashion? Does the Harper government honestly believe that such a transparent attempt to sugar coat the reality will get the buyin of a public made all the more cynical of politicians motives by the very scandal that brought them to power in the first place? Do they really think that we believe a powerpoint presentation is an honest view of what is going on?

The first thought that went through my mind when I heard about this outlandish farce of a trip (costing some $150,000 of our money!), is that it is nothing more than a "feel good" propaganda campaign on the part of Harper's conservatives. A sad attempt to mislead Canadians (at our own expense), and attempt to foster some "goodwill" towards a government whose sole policy seems to be marching in lockstep with BushCo.

Last election, Conservative campaign signs read "Conservative - Demand Better" - and I'm demanding better than this government's short sighted, dishonest propaganda campaigns!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Canada's Gnu Government - Not Getting Things Done

Just to underscore the utter bullfeathers line about how Conservatives are "getting things done" for Canadians, we find out just how ineffective they are in persuading the Americans of anything.

Arar has been arrested, detained, tortured and abused by the Americans, who now have him on a "no-fly" list. Canada has gone through every possible avenue of investigation and found no evidence that Arar is even mildly associated with anything criminal or suspect.

According to the Americans:

"Our conclusion in this regard is supported by information developed by U.S. law enforcement agencies that is independent of that provided to us by Canada regarding Mr. Arar."

Chertoff and Gonzales say they want to ensure the information is shared with Canada and welcome a confidential meeting with Canadian officials.

I have two problems with this:

1) The "no fly" list is a list with no due process, no appeals, and no burden of proof. All you have to do is "look funny" and presto! you're on the no fly list, and it's damn near impossible to get your name off that list.

2) Secret evidence is non-evidence. If you cannot put that evidence forward in some reasonable court of law, it is utterly unreasonable and immoral to use that information to justify limiting someone's mobility - regardless of their ethnicity or legal nationality.

Anytime governments start creating "secret lists", and then using those lists to go after private citizens without using due process to demonstrate the validity of their accusations, it seems to me that the government has crossed the line into the realm of despotism.

As for the Canada's "Gnu" Government, we should bear in mind just how authentic the "warm" relations with Washington are - the warmth goes just as far as is ideologically convenient to Washington.

Dear Mr. O'Connor

Quit lying and distorting the truth. Afghanistan was not about "retribution", you arrogant ass.

The world understanding about invading Afghanistan was all about hunting down Osama Bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. In short, it was about hunting down a suspected criminal, and his allies.

Afghanistan's government at the time was thought to be among his allies, and toppling the Taliban was a fairly obvious consequence. It is notable that in the particular light of capturing Bin Laden and bringing him to some form of justice was conveniently dropped from the right-wingnut lexicon as the attentions of George W. Bush shifted to the oilfields of Iraq, and his wounded pride over an "incomplete" job in 1990.

Emerging Police State

While religious fundamentalists on both sides of the border whine and cry about "hate crimes" laws and rights for GLBT citizens - claiming that it infringes upon their religious freedom, the mere act of political criticism is becoming grounds for someone to be investigated:

BETHLEHEM, Pa. (AP) - An elderly man who wrote in a letter to the editor about Saddam Hussein's execution that "they hanged the wrong man" got a visit from Secret Service agents concerned he was threatening U.S. President George W. Bush.

The letter by Dan Tilli, 81, was published in Monday's edition of The Express-Times of Easton, Pa. It ended with the line, "I still believe they hanged the wrong man."

Even in my wildest imaginings, I can't derive a threat from what Mr. Tilli wrote - but apparently the Secret Service in the US is so paranoid that they are knocking on the doors of people that write letters to the editor that might contain a germ of hostility towards "The Decider"(tm).

Somehow laws that protect the rights of citizens to live their lives in peace are a far lesser threat to life and liberty than police organizations taking it upon themselves to implicitly threaten people for criticizing their political leaders.

One Sided "Diplomacy"

So, while MacKay prances about Israel garnering all manner of praise from Israel, he's also blithely ignoring the other half of the Israel discussion, the Palestinians.

Brilliant - and this clown thinks that he can play "neutral broker"? The man is clearly delusional. After the Harper government's punitive response to Palestinian elections earlier this year, and the "Measured Resonse" invasion of Lebanon, the Conservatives have done in whatever credibility Canada may have had with the Arab world in general.

Basking in the glow of Israeli admiration without asking pointed questions about Israeli policy towards the Palestinian people, not to mention the highly questionable West Bank Wall itself leaves the unpleasant impression that MacKay is busy trying to build up his street cred with BushCo.

Whether or not I like the election of Hamas is immaterial. The fact is that the election was as free and fair as any we are used to in Canada. Since western powers have been insistent that Palestinians have "free and fair elections", we do not have a right to act all upset when the results are something we don't like. Deal with it.

Unfortunately, with their roots in single-party Alberta, the CPoC tends to see things in absolute terms. The subtlety and nuance of dealing with foreign powers eludes them. The current "Israel good, Hamas bad" line is just one of a series of stupidities we will have visited upon Canada's good name at the hands of clods who have no idea what they are doing on the world stage.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Paul Jackson - Stuck on Stupid

Granted, Paul Jackson is seldom terribly rational or logical, but this week's prognostication is particularly stupid.

He's back on his favorite second topic - when it's not idolizing nutjobs like Ted Morton, it's whining as loud as he can about newly selected Liberal Leader Stephane Dion.

It is this: The man who holds foreign nationality and who did a stint in his beloved France at the Laboratoire d' economie publique de Paris will be a talking, walking disaster who will make fumbling Paul Martin look sharp.

Now, if he just inflicts his incompetence and zany ideas on the Liberal party that will be fine, but should he win the next election he'd lead our nation into economic and social disaster.

Oh for crying out loud, Mr. Jackson. Surely you are are better man than that. Dion holds foreign citizenship as do a great many Canadians. Grow up and park your half baked bigotry somewhere else. You keep claiming that there's a problem here, but you seem amazingly willing to give people like Ted Morton a pass on the subject.

After not understanding what the fuss was about over revelations he sought out French citizenship, Dion urged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to kill the second part of his GST reduction cutting the tax to 5%.

Since this was one of Harper's most successful campaign planks, why would the prime minister be so reckless as not to follow through in the next budget?

Oh, I don't know Paul, how about funding PMSH's little project in Afghanistan, which seems to be in grave danger of pushing the federal government into deficit.

Then we have his plan for punitive tax measures for Alberta's energy sector.

He calls this the "carrot and stick" approach, but I'm betting there'll be more sticks than carrots.

What does Dion actually know about the workings of the energy sector?

My guess: Nothing at all.

Such brain-addled interference will bring on another National Energy Program that will destroy our province's economy and send shock waves across the nation. Since Alberta's buoyant economy is the engine driving, to a large extent, the Ontario and Quebec economies, watch for an economic collapse in Eastern Canada.

Jeepers! Can this pint-sized idiot come up with something even vaguely original? The second anyone suggests regulating anything in the energy patch, or possibly insisting that producers actually be accountable for more than just next quarter's profits, it's suddenly "The NEP all over!" line.

Coming from Mr. Jackson, I'd have to guess that he and cubicle buddy Ezra Levant are busy working each other into a lather as they begin to panic over the dwindling fortunes of PMSH and his fumbling sycophant ministers.

[Update 22/01/07]It appears that Ezra's similarly panicked ... or are there things going on between him and Jackson that most of us would rather not know about?

Seriously, boys, it's time to grow up and quit whining all the time - it's really quite unbecoming to grown men.

"Green" Tories...

In a desperate attempt to create some "street cred" on environmental issues, we find the Conservatives resurrecting another of the "ineffective, wasteful" programs that the Liberal government had started, and the CPC cancelled/stalled on when they took power last winter.

I'll give some credit for the CPoC taking steps to change their direction on the environmental issues that we face. However, like a lot of things done by governments panicking over imminent elections, this is beginning (?) to look decidedly haphazard and unplanned - demonstrating a lack of coherence in planning. (Of course, what do you expect when the PMO is micromanaging every word that the various ministers say?)

The interesting note is that the biggest polluting industries in Canada are not being held by the Conservatives to anything significant. Any kind of measurement has been shut down, and the CPC seems bound and determined not to demand the Oil Patch or heavy manufacturing industries improve their environmental impact records. I've heard a few apologists claim that the shareholders in those companies are where that initiative has to come from, but I know all too well that shareholders are interested in exactly one thing - profits. While individual Canadians can do a great deal to reduce their ecological "footprint", you cannot push down the entire burden to individuals. That just won't work when we are looking at Canada's overall emissions.

Which leads me to Dion's "carrot-and-stick" approach. To me this makes a great deal of sense. It provides incentives, but also carries with it consequences for a failure to act. Like I find in the workplace, responsibility must bring with it authority and accountability. Anything less is a license for abuse.

Mackay - The Disappearing Foreign Minister

With Peter Mackay roaming about the Middle East on a US-styled tour, one would think that our reporters would have pretty good access to him.

However, while the stories in the print media are relatively tame, on the broadcast media, it's clear that reporters are getting quite frustrated and angry. MacKay's itinerary is conveniently omitting things that he is doing, and outside of carefully controlled "photo op" moments, MacKay's not saying anything.

Now, granted, so far he and his master, Stephen Harper, haven't exactly been the dynamic duo on the world stage. Nuance and subtlety are not their strong suits. However, it appears that instead of learning from past mistakes and becoming a bit more of a diplomat, Peter MacKay has taken a page out of the Micromanager's Handbook and is simply not saying anything that might get back to his public.

At a visit today to a Palestinian school surrounded by barriers and Israeli checkpoints, we learned more about the visit from the School's Principal than from Mr. MacKay - who was ushered into the facility, given a tour and ushered away without talking to Canada's media.

Now, think about this. Here's MacKay trying to do the same style of regional tour that we have seen US Secretary of State Rice do before, only the difference here is Rice manages to make herself appear accessible. MacKay is acting as though he is afraid of the press - and by extension, Canada's voters.

Why the obsession with secrecy, Mr. MacKay? Do you perceive yourself to be so much better than the rabble of Canadians that we couldn't possibly comprehend the awesome subtlety of your activities? Or are you just trying to hide your incompetence?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Canada's Interests and Harper's Foreign Policy

Why is it that every time something happens in the world, we hear Harper playing "Me Too" to whatever Washington says?

While I recognize that the United States is currently Canada's primary trading partner, that doesn't mean that Washington gets to define our foreign policy for us. In fact, we have an obligation to ourselves to ensure that Washington is NOT defining Canada for us.

In the past, Canadian Prime Ministers have been very cautious about "following Washington's lead". There are good reasons for this. Canada has to be seen to be more than just an extension of Washington on the world stage for both trade and diplomatic reasons.

With regards to China, we have a careful line to walk. Whether or not the US is our "biggest" trading partner, we must recognize that the US economy is in grave danger of either stagnating or shrinking in the short to medium term, meanwhile, the Chinese economy is growing in the near 10%/year annual rate. In terms of trade opportunities, China is suddenly very important - far more important than our neo-American government realizes.

Yes, I realize that Emerson is currently trying to "mend" things in China, but that is just dealing with the breakages that Harper created at APEC, and I don't think the puppy-dog like "follow the Washington ball" response to China's latest venture into military hardware is exactly helpful.

I'm not saying you "pussyfoot" around China, but one handles them very carefully with a great deal of nuance and subtlety.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Conservative Envrionmental Policy

After cutting 90% of the government's programs related to studying and dealing with Climate Change issues last year, our oh-so-green Conservative government demonstrated that the blue colour of their logo comes from oxygen deprivation to the brain.

Today, We find Harper announcing the resurrection of funding for environmental programs - or at least for "alternative power" sources.

Having removed any programs that actually study anything, one wonders how taxpayers can have any confidence that this $1.3 billion in funding is actually buying us anything.

Spin, Spin, Spin That Issue

Back in December, I commented that I fully expected the wingnut crowd to start formulating an argument that "religious freedom" is being suppressed in Canada.

Wandering through the wingnut news part of the web, I found this article which contains more carefully crafted spin than the best dodging to come out of Karl Rove.

It starts with the headline:

Canadian City Councillor Fined $1000 for Saying Homosexuality “not Normal or Natural”

and leads almost immediately with an "editorial byline" just below the headline:

Catholic Councillor had his business door vandalized with graffiti - “Homophobia Die”

I'm not going to condone the actions of those who vandalized his door, but notice the careful crafting of words to imply that he is being persecuted. After all, he didn't say anything much, other than the opinion that being gay is neither "natural or normal" ... or did he?

A Catholic city councillor in Kamloops, British Columbia, who was himself the victim of the crime of vandalism due to his faith, has been forced to apologize and pay a homosexual activist couple $1000.

The use of wording here is fascinating. First, he is "A Catholic city councillor", while the couple who lodged a complaint is "a homosexual activist couple", as if standing and demanding to be treated with a degree of dignity is making someone an evil "activist". Like the "reporting" the Byfield family used to engage in while running the "Alberta Report" magazine, this is a classic way of trying to twist the story.

Strangely, it was councillor who was shown true discrimination worthy of a human rights complaint. In June, the councillor opposed a homosexual pride proclamation, after which his barber shop was vandalized with "Homophobia Die" scrawled on the door of his business.

Oh...waitasec...so he didn't just "express an opinion" at all. Instead, he expressed that opinion in his capacity as a public person. You know, there's quite a difference between something expressed in conversation, and something that is said by a public official, acting in their public role.

In an attempt a diversion (a quite typical tactic of the wingnut crowd), the article's authors immediately point out that his business was vandalized after that proclamation, as if that somehow equalizes the discussion.

It's not the event itself that I take exception to, it's the blatant spin that is being used here. The writers are obviously insinuating that "homosexual activists" are busily conspiring to "suppress the right to express religious views". Somehow, I doubt that the councillor cited any biblical passage in making his statements, rather he simply made his assertions as "fact".

It's on schedule, with the blatantly obvious intent of creating the "crisis" of rights that Harper alluded to after the motion put forward in December was defeated.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Ouch! ... More Polls

Via The Galloping Beaver, another poll came out today showing The Conservatives Losing Ground - at least outside of Alberta:

But when Alberta respondents are taken out of the poll, the Liberals are seven percentage points ahead of the Conservatives in the rest of the country.

So, think about this a little. Alberta accounts for about 28 seats in the House of Commons. A little less than 10% of the house. In the rest of Canada, (the remaining 90% of the seats) the Liberals are 7% ahead (on a poll with a 3% margin of error).

Unsurprising when one considers how blatantly Harper plays political games, and then whines when the favour is returned. (Baird, Kahn, and numerous other bits) He almost makes Mulroney look good.

Steps In An Economic War

In a world where the war in the Middle East is unfolding not as a war of either ideology or territory, but as a war of economics, we get a fascinating bit of insight into how economy plays into it.

China has used a missile to destroy a satellite.

Okay, not entirely a terribly difficult feat, really. Satellites tend to be on nice regular orbits and are fairly easy targets to figure out where they are going to be. I'm not going to take anything away from China's technological accomplishment though. For a nation that has only just recently "entered space", they've made important strides.

This is a cross between a "bow shot" and thumbing their nose at the United States. Essentially, China has just put the United States on notice that there is another power in the world - one that should not be ignored. The Chinese economy is growing in leaps and bounds, and has plenty of room to accommodate major military developments if they so choose. (It's a particular slap in the face to BushCo and the "Wolfowitz Doctrine" where the US claimed it would prevent any other nation from "rising to be a rival to American power"). Suspended against a backdrop of a US economy that is gradually slowing down as the "housing bubble" collapses, we get a picture of just how dramatic China's actions are.

In the context of the current tensions regarding Iran, China has tacitly put the Americans on notice not to make any obvious mistakes - like invading Iran.

We also should note that China has taken a page straight out of how the US provoked the USSR into bankruptcy by escalating an arms race in the 1980s while Russia was well tied up with Afghanistan - sounds kind of familiar, doesn't it?

Of course, Harper has obediently stepped in line with the United States in responding "with concern" about China's actions. (How this is any different than the US testing their weapons systems is quite beyond me, but what do I know?)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

China Relations and Electoral Polls

We have a bit of a grab bag from the news this morning.

1) Canada - China Relations

After doing his best to completely piss off China at the APEC summit in November, we now find Harper trying to kiss and make up with the Chinese.

To me, this underscores one of the key problems with Harper - the man doesn't listen. He'll blunder along like his idol in the White House today until someone slaps him about and points out just how incredibly asinine he's behaving. (The difference is that Harper's at least capable of comprehending when he's being spanked verbally, and occasionally tries to change his tune)

He maintained that his government can improve economic relations with China while retaining the right to criticize its human-rights record.

“As Canadians, we do carry our values and perspectives beyond Canada to the rest of the world,” he said. “We talk candidly about democratic governance, about the importance of the rule of law. ... Open discussion and engagement in these broader issues should not conflict with commercial interests.”

But China watchers warn that Ottawa cannot continue to publicly hector Beijing on human rights and assume that trade won't be affected.

China has shown clearly over the last fifty years that it is far more likely to change as a result of engagement rather than pressure from outside. Historically, China has always been a "cultural island" nation that stands very much on its own. While the outside world can influence Chinese government, it will do so by engaging and fostering change gradually. The testosterone laden approach favored by Harper and his gang is unlikely to succeed.

2) Election Polls

After some rather inconclusive looking polls done over the Christmas period, we have the first New Years' Poll.

While it shows both parties pretty closely matched, the pollster makes a few interesting comments:

"It's almost exactly like 2004, which doesn't augur very well for the Conservatives," Mr. Gregg said. "It continues to show they have not made any inroads in the key constituencies that they have to, in order to get a majority."
Mr. Gregg attributed most of the Tory drop to the party's performance in Quebec. In that province, 15 per cent of voters said they support the Conservatives, down from 25 per cent on election day, when the party won 10 seats. The Liberals would get 25 per cent of Quebec votes were an election held today, up from 21 per cent at the election, while the Bloc Québécois would win 46 per cent, up four points.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper must also find a way to appeal to Canadian voters between the ages of 18 and 34, with whom he is not popular, Mr. Gregg said.

The poll also suggests Ontario's view of the Tories is worsening. In that key battleground, the Liberals lead the Tories 45 per cent to 32 per cent, a gap that has grown from five points on election day. The New Democrats have dropped four points from election day to 15 per cent. The Greens are at 9 per cent, up from five at the election.

I'm not completely surprised by this. Having had more than a few opportunities to observe Harper as both lobbyist and later as a politician, he fits in well with the classical Reform/Alliance mentality from Alberta. No matter how you look at it, that particular political stance has very limited traction outside of Alberta. (and I wonder just how much traction it really has in Alberta, and how much is simply a hangover "fear vote" against whatever Central Canada is likely to vote for?)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Looking For Suggestions

Some of my regular readers have been having less than satisfactory experiences with commenting under Blogger.

I write this blog mostly because I enjoy the thinking experience, and it obliges me to carefully examine the news and events going on in the world more critically than I might otherwise do. However, I also enjoy the feedback and comments come in from the readers of this space.

I have several possible options, and I'd like some feedback from you as to what you'd like to see. I've listed the options I can think of below, but I'm sure there's others that I haven't thought of, so feel free to put them forward:

Option 1: Disable the "catchme" option in the blogger comment handler. This is the part of the comment page where blogger insists that you type in the text from a graphic of distorted text. (The idea is to shut out spam bots)

If I do this, I'll have to enable comment moderation (I review comments before they appear) so that I can delete any spam that arrives. I don't especially want you to have to read about the latest in rude sites, or "personal enhancement" ads.

Option 2: Try a different commenting engine like HaloScan. (Preferences, thoughts about Haloscan?)

Option 3: Move to another blog hosting service like TypePad.com? (Any suggestions - I'm not wildly familiar with other blog hosting services, so your experiences can tell me a lot)

Option 4: Self Host the blog on one of my own servers. This probably means me taking on an additional maintenance task that I'm a little reluctant to tackle right now - I barely manage to keep my "motley crew" network running at the best of times. Carries a modest cost of a domain name registration - $60/year or so. Also could be a little slow at times since my link is not blindingly fast on uplink (256 Mbps, I think)

Option 5: Purchase domain and hosting time on a commercial hosting service like DotEasy. A little bit of setup time, but modest, and relatively easy for me to do. Like option 4, carries a cost with it.

Option 6: Leave it where it is? Blogger's had a bit of a bumpy ride through the transition from "Blogger Beta" to "New Blogger". Is it worth riding it out and seeing what happens?

Post a comment, or you can e-mail me at crystalgaze04 at yahoo dot ca.

Note: I will delete this post after this coming weekend.

The Difference Between Harper and Dion

Take a look at Harper on the environment. Everything has been "can't do", negative and all cynical about it - to the point of it took Unca Brian slapping PMSH around before he gave any kind of credence to environmental considerations at all. (and putting Baird in play tells me that Harper doesn't really want to _do_ anything, just posture about it)

Meanwhile, we find Dion putting forward constructive ideas that are actually positive. Dion may be taking a page out of the Green Party's platform last election, but that is just fine with me - what I liked in that platform was the "can-do" approach. Yes, we have to make changes, but those changes bring with them opportunity.

It's about time that we started getting some positive talk again. I'm sick and tired of the "can't do" followed by "we're doing more than Martin" - both lines are absolute crap, and simply demonstrate that the CPC is still operating in "opposition" mode.

American Paranoia and Canadian Business

A regular commenter pointed out a story on CBC where The Royal Bank is refusing to open American Fund accounts for Canadians with certain backgrounds. (It also mentions the Bell Helicopter contract as well, but that's a different kettle of fish)

Apparently, if you hold citizenship in
Iran, Iraq, Cuba, Sudan, North Korea or Myanmar
, the US Treasury Dept. doesn't want you holding US Dollar investments.

Now, I can fully appreciate that were I to go into a Wells Fargo branch somewhere in the lower 48 states that whatever rules are in force from the Treasury Board regarding my ability / right to open a bank account would be applied - no matter how racist, stupid or otherwise idiotic they may be.

However, walking into a Canadian Bank (in Canada), and opening a US Dollar account is a different discussion altogether. This is Canada, and the contract for services is being established in Canada, subject to Canadian Law. Canadian law does not permit us to discriminate against people based on their ethnicity - PERIOD. Why the Royal Bank is allow the United States to export its unique brand of paranoid bigotry into Canada is beyond me. The fact that an account is measured in US Dollars is a bookkeeping trick, not a statement of where the account in fact resides. (Or, if it is, then I really have major objections to Royal Bank's handling of foreign currency accounts!)

Remember, the US policy is based on someone being born in those countries. (Most of whom have no concept of allowing people to renounce their citizenship - if you were born in Iran, I doubt that the country would acknowledge either renouncement or dual citizenship - remember the journalist they tortured and killed a couple of years ago?) So, essentially, under this policy, someone is guilty by birth. These people have not necessarily been convicted of (or even associated with) anything even remotely criminal, yet because the Royal Bank is implementing US government policy outside of US territory, we find certain Canadian citizens being treated as second class citizens simply because of their ethnicity.

This is not only running against the grain of Canadian law and society, it is arguably as illegal as it is immoral.

One minor differentiator with the Bell Helicopter situation: The Bell Helicopter case involves a specific contract with the US Government. Presumably, the terms of that contract include the imposition of numerous US Government policies on the contractor. As long as Bell is will to ensure that the staff in question will remain gainfully employed, I'm somewhat less concerned about this situation. (although it annoys me on general principles)

Monday, January 15, 2007

There Is No Honor Amongst ...

...Politicians it would seem. Apparently Khan is of that stripe of politician most of us would call "opportunist".

It seems that Mr. Khan's election financing has been a little shadowy - or possibly even downright dishonest. Unsurprising, really. Mr. Khan showed us his "integrity" when he agreed to work as "special advisor" to PMSH on quasi secret reports about Middle East affairs - apparently without relaying the same information back to his own caucus.

While I won't say that this makes either the Liberals or the CPC look good, it certainly doesn't impress me with Mr. Harper's "principles" as a leader. Like Mr. Khan, it strikes me that Harper is a political opportunist who lusts after power for its own sake and will do anything he can to hold onto power as long as possible.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Bush: Pouring Gas On A Fire

I cannot believe this. If BushCo was any more blatant about turning turning the Middle East into a conflagration that will take decades to settle down, I don't know how they'd do it.

Yes, Bush, your threats to invade Iran are sounding only slightly less insane than Ahmadinejad's rantings about Israel.

Invading Iran would be fatal for both Bush and the American economy. Not only is the American economy in no shape to sustain war in yet another country (even if invading Iran turns the two front war in Iraq/Afghanistan effectively into a single contiguous war zone), but Iran is not a nation to be trifled with.

Since the end of the Iran-Iraq war, Iran's been fairly peaceful and prosperous. Although I don't know the current state of Iranian military readiness, I imagine that their army has been substantially rejuvenated after that war - funded by natural resource sales. Add to that a geography that is considerably less controllable than Iraq's...

The second aspect of Iran's position that makes it a very dangerous country to invade is the economic ties with China. Invade Iraq, and you bring China into the mix - China has significant contracts and investments in Iran, and would not be terribly pleased to see the United States messing about with those interests.

However, that point aside, consider invading Iran - a country of some 70 million souls, as compared to Iraq (28 million) or Afghanistan (29 million) - when that country has not exactly been "suffering" from either economic sanctions or military strife for a rather long time.

Iran's president may be a loon, but he's starting to almost look sane alongside a President who seems determined to launch the biggest war the world has seen since the first half of the 20th century.

Vatican Cover-ups

No, I'm not talking about the dresses that R/C priesthood wear, either.

Via Kalamalka Rainbow, I found the following story describing the Vatican's orders to cover up criminal wrongdoing on the part of clergy members.

Perhaps the most vile aspect of it is this document written in 1962, and reinforced as recently as 2001 by then-Cardinal Ratzinger:

Lawyers point to a letter the Vatican sent to bishops in May 2001 clearly stating the 1962 instruction was in force until then. The letter is signed by Cardinal Ratzinger, the most powerful man in Rome beside the Pope and who heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - the office which ran the Inquisition in the Middle Ages.

There are two aspects to this document that disturb me greatly. First is the fairly clear instructions it makes with respect to "covering things up" - either by oaths of silence, or quietly moving the accused elsewhere. The moral justification of this kind of action is nonexistent. In any other situation, it is called callusion, or "accessory after the fact" - whatever. For all intents and purposes, it appears to instruct senior members of the R/C hierarchy to cover up a criminal act.

The second aspect of the whole thing that really smells rotten is the presupposition that the R/C church is somehow above the laws in the lands where it is operating. In North America, and most of Europe, for example, molesting children is a crime - and quite rightly so. Here we have the Vatican instructing its hierarchy not only to conceal the crime from the lawful authorities in those lands, but worse it then goes on to describe a quasi-judicial process to be applied within the church in such situations.

I cannot even begin to express my outrage at the arrogance that this shows. Not only has the church effectively declared itself outside 'secular law', they have then tried to cover up that nonsense with a tepid attempt at creating their own "law" to be exercised within the church - outside of the public eye.

Judging from this, just about every Bishop (or higher) that moved a priest after allegations of abuse started to surface is at the very least an accomplice in a crime so reprehensible that they, as well as the perpetrators, should face the full force of the law for their actions, and the actions of those they attempted to protect.

Can, or should, the world take seriously the "moral teachings" of Pope Ratz, or the rest of the church hierarchy when they are so full of their own hypocrisy that they cover up and ignore the criminality of their own members?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Julie Ryan - Columnist _and_ Idiot

I'm used to slapping columnists for Sun Media like Paul Jackson and Michael Coren about for being such partisan idiots that they can't even reason their way out of a wet paper bag without making utterly bogus assertions. But that's rather like sandblasting a soda cracker.

Today, we are introduced to The London Free Press columnist Julie Ryan, and a column that is written in the shadow of ignorance.

According to Ms. Ryan, Nut Allergies are "low risk allergies":

Peanut butter is a cheap, easy, healthy lunch for kids, and nuts are ingredients in many foods kids love. Banning them from the classroom ought to be as rare as the actual incidence of the serious allergy.

Let's talk about "rare" here. According to Anaphylaxis Canada:

Approximately 1-2 percent of Canadians live with the risk of an anaphylactic reaction. More than 50 percent of Canadians know someone with a life-threatening allergy.

That doesn't mean that 50% of Canadians know someone with a nut allergy, but that 50% of Canadians know somebody who has an anaphylaxis risk.

These allergies change over time, and you don't get any warning when your body's reaction is going to "go over the top" and kill you. If you are lucky, you have enough awareness to call for help before the reaction knocks you out. If you aren't so lucky, there's a funeral in your family's future.

Ms. Ryan may believe that these allergies are "rare", and therefore don't warrant precautions and attention.

My experience leads me to a different conclusion.

Looking around my circle of family and friends - three people in my immediate family have varying degrees of sensitivity to nuts and one is allergic to bee stings; a very dear friend is in the "violently allergic reaction" category when nuts are involved; and I have known more than a few others who cannot eat mushrooms or seafood because of the reactions they have. And that's just in my relatively small circle of friends and family.

It's not as "uncommon" as Ms. Ryan likes to think, and I'd much rather have the precautions taken before we find out the hard way that someone had an undiagnosed allergy.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Bush, Iraq and The Democrats

Unless I miss my guess, Bush is setting things up so that when the Rethuglicans are punted from office in 2008 (an increasing probability), whoever the Democrats replace him with will be well and truly embroiled in a firestorm that they have no way to succeed.

As I commented before, I don't believe that an additional 20,000 troops on the ground is anywhere near what is needed to be effective in Iraq.

Second, we see BushCo threatening Iraq's government - deflecting the consequences for the US invasion and disruption of the country significantly.

Meanwhile, we see increasing threats that Israel will attack Iran in some kind of pre-emptive action intended to "disable" Iran's nuclear weapons capabilities. (Whatever those might be)

Now, if Israel attacks Iran, the entire region will turn into an inferno that few of us really want to contemplate. Iran is well armed, and will retaliate against Israel. Like it or not, that will take the "gloves off" with regards to the insurgencies in both Iraq and Afghanistan. If Iran is not currently an active participant in those two conflicts, it will become one quite quickly, turning everything from Iraq through to Afghanistan into a war zone.

If the States can convince Israel to make the 'pre-emptive' strike, the fallout will polarize things quite strongly. The US will find itself pushed by the relatively powerful Israeli lobby in the US to stand with Israel against Iran, and most of the Arab world will side with Iran/Iraq/Afghanistan in an effort to push "western" powers out of the region.

This will not be a small conflagration on the world stage, but rather one big enough to create two key problems - first the American military, for all of its might, will not be big enough to settle things down. Second, it will be a big enough conflagration to push the US government into a state of near bankruptcy as it tries to settle things down with military force.

In either case, whoever is in power in the White House will not be able to easily extricate themselves from the mess. The Rethuglicans, if not in power, will be play on how they "had it in the bag" if it weren't for an "obstructive" Democrat majority in the legislative houses.

Accountability Act, and Government Appointments

According to CBC this morning (sorry, the story link isn't up yet), the Conservatives made 118 to 120 appointments just before their vaunted Accountability Act received Royal Assent.

[Update]Here's the news article

Meanwhile, the government appointed 118 people to various government jobs in December alone.

But the prime minister continues to emphasize the importance of the act.

"Canada now has a cleaner, more accountable government, thanks to the passage of the toughest anticorruption measures in Canadian history, the Federal Accountabilty Act," he said at an event on Thursday in Mississauga, Ont.

Harper's full of his own baloney - if this act really mean anything to him, he would have made a show of actually implementing the process publicly instead of making a pile of "under the covers" appointments.


A few of those appointments made it out into the media, but the vast majority did not. Now, I'm not going to question the quality of the appointees - I frankly know nothing about them since our oh-so-accountable government chose to make the appointments WITHOUT ANY VISIBILITY.

I urge you to think about this carefully. The party in power ran on a platform of bringing Canadians "open, honest and accountable government" (God knows we all heard that meme enough times last winter!), and then they turn around and do as much as they can "under the radar". It strikes me as the deepest kind of hypocrisy, and makes Harper look completely insincere.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

NewsFlash: Yoga Is Evil!

From Quesnel, B.C., we learn that some people think that Yoga is an evil religion.

"Yoga isn't just a stretch," she said. "It's an ancient Hindu religion that has been practised for a few thousand years. There's a strong spiritual belief which accompanies these stretches or poses."

Mrs. Brears said she finds it offensive that Christ has been taken out of Christmas concerts and no one is allowed to say prayers in schools. Yet yoga teaches reincarnation and being in a trance-like state.

Really? Yoga is a "Hindu religion"? Wow, someone needs a course or two on comparative religion. No, it is an expression of Hindu Philosophy, and Hindu is the religion.

While Yoga is highly tied into meditation and other aspects of religion, in North America, it can hardly be called "religion" in its own right. (Most people do it as a form of exercise and mind calming) Meditation can be any kind of thought pattern that you find relaxing.

The yoga poses are not part of the school curriculum, but are part of a supplemental program designed to combat obesity. The program is sponsored by the provincial government and 2010 Legacies Now, a funding body of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games to promote programs in the communities.

Now we come to the reality of the situation - it's an extension of the Physical Education aspects of schooling, and intended to encourage fitness. Pretty simple and innocuous.

Audrey Cummings, who holds a fellowship meeting each afternoon at her Quesnel area ranch, said she hopes more people write in to convince school officials that yoga is a religion.

"When we kicked God out of schools, there was no absolute standard of right. Now there's only relativism," said Mrs. Cummings, whose children were home-schooled. "This is not right to bring it in and not advise parents we're introducing an Eastern religion into our schools."

Mrs. Cummings said she knows there are Christians who practise yoga, but she said they haven't looked into the basis of the practice, and the postures and breathing are part of the mystic discipline.

Yeah - whatever people. To judge from the increasing rotundness of Canadians, it seems to me that Christianity doesn't exactly encourage physical fitness, does it? Besides, what's wrong with adopting a set of practices that encourage strength, flexibility and balance - even if it isn't "explicitly Christian".

Of course, considering that Quesnel has also foisted upon Canadians homobigot Chris Kempling, I don't suppose I should be surprised at this latest demonstration of wingnuttery. In the meantime, I don't think I'll worry too much about being sucked into a vortex of evil every time I do an hour or so of Yoga as part of my normal exercise routine.

Conservatives and non - Child Care

The usual mantra that comes out of the Reform/Alliance/Conservative pseudo-Republican crowd is "let the market decide". More or less, the half-baked thinking that they were applying when they announced their "child care allowance" of $1200 / child boiled down to handing the money to parents and assuming that magically businesses would step to the plate to grab their share of that money by putting place child care spaces.

Unsurprisingly, here we find ourselves coming to the end of the first year of the Conservative government, and no new child care spaces appear to have been created by the much vaunted "marketplace".

The CPC has argued that by handing the money directly to parents they have created "choice" for parents. What kind of choice is $100/month for most urban parents? Especially if they are already near the edge by the time they pay for food, shelter and clothing - in markets where the baseline for childcare in a month is running $600+ / month. Unless the parents have a spare $500 or so to fill in the gap, they're screwed.

I'm not saying that the individual parents involved have "frittered the money away", or anything else like that. The simple reality is that on an individual level, $100 is a pittance. Those who could already afford the child care costs can defray them somewhat, and those who cannot are still stuck in the same old rut, with no way out.

As with the mantra of Bush's "compassionate conservatism", we find our bunch of neo-Rethuglicans saying "a hand up not a hand out", and "the market will provide". Well, the market sure as hell isn't providing, and they've put forward a hand-out whether they want to admit it or not. The only difference is that the only people who really benefit from the "intended" use of this handout are those who could already afford the child care costs in the first place.

Yep, that's PMSH for ya - "Gettin' things done" ... just nobody can ever figure out what "things" is!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Alrighty Then...

Remember James Kopp? The certifiable nutcase that demonstrated just how far over the top people can go when they suspend rational thought by killing Dr. Barnett Slepian.

Along with fellow felon Eric Rudolph, Kopp represents just how far out of whack people can get in a religious fervor - descending into the depths of murder and violence in the name of their "just cause".

Mr. Kopp has once again found his way into the news, this time as he represents himself on charges peripheral to, but related to his murder of Dr. Slepian.

An anti-abortion extremist defending himself against charges related to a doctor's slaying decided not to cross-examine the man's widow.

Instead, he gave her an apology.

"Mrs. Slepian, I just wanted to say I'm sorry. I respect you and your family," James Kopp, 52, said quietly to Lynne Slepian, wife of Dr. Barnett Slepian, after her testimony Tuesday at the start of Kopp's federal trial.

Yes, you "respect" them Mr. Kopp - after committing murder and fleeing the country so you could avoid facing the charges you would inevitably have to face. What a lying hypocrite.

He then turns around and tries to lessen his own culpability in the outcome of his actions:

Kopp used his opening statement to tell jurors that Slepian's death was "a full-bore, 100 percent tragedy" but was not murder because it was not malicious or premeditated.

He has acknowledged planning the shooting for a year and then firing a high-powered military rifle with telescopic sights from the woods behind the Slepian home, but he has said he meant only to wound the doctor to prevent him from performing abortions.

"Shoot them in the head, blow up a car, riddle their body with bullets like they do in the movies. That's how you kill someone" with premeditation, Kopp said.

He urged jurors to look for evidence of premeditation or malice toward Slepian. "If you don't see it, that's me proving my case," he said.

It wasn't so bad, he didn't mean to kill the doctor. No, I'm sure he didn't - Kopp shot him through the kitchen window of his own home. Unless Kopp is some kind of genius sharpshooter on an off day, the intent was to kill, or at the very least maim. Give me a break.

Just in case you think these guys are "isolated nutjobs", take a look here or here. These guys are portrayed as "heroes" by the people behind these neo-terrorist groups.

Why Bush's "Surge" is Doomed To Fail

No, I'm not referring to the Democrats opposing Bush adding some 20,000 troops in Iraq, but to the cold reality that a 20,000 troop increase is virtually nothing. With 135,000 troops already on the ground in Iraq, 20,000 is about a 15% increase in the number of Self Mobile Target Units for Iraqi resistance fighters to shoot at.

If you live in a small town of a few thousand people, 20,000 troops probably sounds like a lot. If you live in New York City, that probably sounds like the number of people living in a city block.

Think about it. Iraq is a country of approximately 28,000,000 inhabitants - and you are trying to "bring peace" by controlling it with 135,000 troops - if you crank that up to 155,000 or so troops, it's still a pretty small number to be attempting to control the country with (especially with a well funded, and very active resistance fight going on).

The problem is that you cannot win a war of attrition when you are the invading force. The Iraqis live there - they don't have to go anywhere, and are quite likely somewhat less than interested in doing so. Any fool with half a brain will have long since figured out that it's costing the US government huge dollars to have the forces sitting there trying to secure the territory (and they've barely got the "Green Zone" in truth) - so, all the resistance has to do is keep things "off balance" until the US decides it can't afford to be there any more.

Even worse for American troops is the fact that the longer that they are in Iraq, the more they become the occupiers, not the liberators. Unless something big changes - and fast - there is very little chance for American troops to win over the "hearts and minds" of Iraqis - no matter what their feelings towards Saddam Hussein might have been.

Rumour has it that Bush will try blaming the problems in Iraq on the "small deployment" - but we should not lose sight of the fact that it was this same genius who stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier with a banner reading "Mission Accomplished" behind him shortly after Hussein was captured, and subsequently started reducing the troop counts. Sadly, what he and his advisors failed to understand is that what needed to happen was to reconfigure the army to facilitate the stabilization of Iraq - instead, they left it as a heavy assault force that happens to be garrisoned in Iraq - albeit a bit smaller in size.

The reality is that once you have toppled a government, it will likely take more troops, not fewer, to stabilize things for the next civilian government to take over from. (Especially when there are major cultural differences to cope with)

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Now That's Optimistic...

Is MacKay really this stupid?

Telling Pakistan to fence off its border with Afghanistan is almost funny - if it wasn't so pathetically stupid.

Apparently Mr. MacKay never got the memo about border fences as metaphor rather than reality. (Is anybody else thinking of how wonderfully ineffective the fence the US has been building along the Mexican border is?)

When this statement was made, I'm sure that Minister Kasuri was trying very hard to keep a straight face:

Kasuri welcomed Canada's offer of help to devise of system of border security that would avoid laying minefields.

Because, as is correctly pointed out:
Afghanistan opposes fencing and mining as the frontier is disputed and it argues that such steps would penalize tribal communities that straddle both sides of the border.

In other words, it's not really a border, is it. In fact, I'd put very good odds that most of the people living there view the "border" as something of a bad joke, and would be all to happy to subvert, undermine and sabotage any fence building exercise in their vicinity.

Next up, Peter MacKay ends the war in Afghanistan by declaring peace in a speech.

The Difference Between Push Polling and Honest Polling

After trashing the most recent bit of Conservative push polling, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at a much more honest poll.

According to Environics, as of December, the Liberals and Conservatives are within 2% of each other nationally, and the supported as distributed nationally.

The Conservatives are ahead overall, but not by much, and behind in both Ontario and Quebec.

On the Prairies, except for Alberta, although the CPC is ahead of the Liberals and NDP, it's not the overwhelming support one might expect, and in BC, it's pretty much a dead heat with a minor difference between the Liberals and the CPC.

Of particular interest is the finding that Stephen Harper still gets fairly high marks as candidate for Prime Minister outside of Quebec, but is not as strong in Quebec.

The key thing that this poll shows is not that one party or another has a definitive lead, or high approval ratings, but rather that there is some signs of voter shift happening already, with Liberal party gains coming from both the CPC and NDP parties, and a little bit of drift from the undecided vote as well.

Unlike a push poll, this doesn't show a 'spin-doctored' view of the numbers, instead it simply tells the story through the numbers. Yes, the CPC government is a bit ahead, but no, they aren't all that strong nationally. I suspect that if you take Alberta out of the mix, the overall balance may not even be 2%, and the CPC desperately needs to make significant gains outside of Alberta - and they don't appear to be doing so.

More Push Polling...

I see the CPC's media mouthpiece over at Canwest Global has dropped another push poll turd in the public sphere.

Via Big City Lib's blog, we find out that
While 38 per cent of the respondents believed the Liberals would be no different, 21 per cent said the Liberals could do a better job,

From that point forward, the article goes on to sing the praises of the otherwise abysmal Conservative attempts at "environmental policy" by claiming that overwhelming numbers of Canadians support the initiatives. News Flash for the Conservatives - some movement is better than none, but that doesn't make the movement anywhere close to adequate or creating the perception that anything significant is being done. 5% biofuel content would mean something - if it came into effect in 2008, not 2010!

As if to make the quality of this poll even more suspect, the polling firm behind it is an obscure outfit called Praxicus - someone I've never heard of. Right on their website's main page, we find Praxicus bragging as follows:

Conservative Perspective -

Praxicus is the pollster of record to the Conservative Party of Canada and the Leader of the Opposition. While this is not important to all of our clients, this position provides us a unique perspective on issues to which no other public opinion research company can lay claim.

So, your polls start off with a bias, and you're bragging about it. Jeepers. If I want polls, I want them to tell me what I'm missing, not what I expect. Oh - waitasec - Conservatives don't care what they're "missing" - they want to dictate to the rest of us what we should be thinking.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Difference Between Photo Op and Policy

Apparently, PMSH is trying very hard to convince us that he's serious about climate change now by sending Minister Baird out to Vancouver to inspect the mess made out of Stanley Park.

Okay, symbolically, severe weather is something that people can wrap their minds around, as opposed to climate change which is a somewhat different issue. Fair enough.

However, let's not ignore the fact that Harper and Ambrose tried their best to outright ignore the environment portfolio from the beginning. Since then, a thoroughly embarrassing performance by Ms. Ambrose at a climate conference in Africa, Harper and Ambrose have put forth a few rather tepid initiatives ( such as a 5% biofuel requirement - in a few years... ) that at best are poor attempts at addressing a problem that is rather pervasive in the world.

The argument is often made that because nations like India and China are ignoring climate change, or are adopting "grow it yourself" strategies based on the BushCo "do it yourself" model which have few or no real measurements or checks in them.

The problem is that climate change is an issue that is very tricky - it involves major initiatives both within the nation and externally. Canada is one of the top per-capita resource consuming nations in the world, and it will be a long uphill climb for us to reduce our per-person "footprint". Not only must we make huge changes internally (and in this regard, I believe that The Green Party platform has a lot of positive ideas that are worth considering), but we must be seen to "walk the talk" on the world stage in order to be a persuasive voice to encourage other countries to make changes.

Sadly, PMSH is so tied into the Alberta oil patch that it is unlikely that his government will do anything materially significant, for fear of pissing off the huge (party donation) dollars currently flooding the Alberta economy - PMSH's turf.

Can't-Do Government

Normally, I expect our governments to be "can-do" organizations. That is to say that when presented with a policy challenge - anticipated or not, that they tackle it as constructively as possible.

The Harper government has been an amazing "can't-do" group. We can't meet Kyoto, we can't be involved in Africa, etc.

Once again, after "making the environment a priority", we find PMSH saying that we "can't" about the environment issues. Of course, why is it that it takes the word of former Prime Minister Mulroney to get PMSH to give the topic priority is another question - who's really running the show here?

"The plain fact is the targets the Liberals set under Kyoto are unachievable," she wrote. "It's taken quite a while to get to where we are. The Prime Minister has said that there is no switch to instantly lower [greenhouse gases] and therefore, time will be needed to reverse the momentum that started under the Liberals and caused by their inaction."

Oh yes, let's blame it all on the Liberals. No, Stephen - you're in power now, it's your job, your responsibility. You weren't elected to keep bitching about how the evil Liberals did all these nasty things, you were elected to do a job - and that job involves solving problems.

For a party that's amazingly quick to demand that we rewrite the rules to suit their standards, one wonders just why they are seemingly unable to be as creative in policy and problem solving as they are in accounting.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Ted Byfield - Getting It All Wrong

It must be hard for Ted Byfield these days, it seems like every time he opens his yap, he gets it wrong. Very wrong:

If a child can have three legal parents, how can we deny that the parents -- all three of them -- can be legally married?

Multiple parenthood will lead logically to multiple marriage.

No, Ted. You have it so wrong, it's painful. You haven't even bothered to read the judgement in question, or really consider the case before the courts, have you?

The "slippery slope" you are claiming we will descend uncontrollably towards as a result of this ruling is simply not even in the picture. Unlike you, most Canadians have awoke to the reality that there are more ways to constitute a family than the idealized model you advocate as being sacrosanct.

No, your "outrage" comes from two things - your horror that a lesbian couple is successfully raising a happy, well adjusted child, and your utter inability to consider the prospect that things have changed while you were busy beating on your bible.

Oh yes, it seems to me that this ruling very specifically was about the best interests of the child...one of your pet arguments against SGM. So much for that argument, Ted.

Conservatives: "Gettin Things Done"...

In the parlance of the Conservative government, they keep claiming to be "getting things done" for Canadians, but every time I turn around I keep finding that what they are "getting done" is much different from what they claim.

The latest chapter in this track record of "not quite getting it done" comes to us in the form of The Children's Fitness Tax Credit. While the Dept of Finance press release above is the usual ego stroking nonsense we expect from our politicians, I suspect that a lot of people haven't looked at the rules too closely.

While the tax credit sounds good initially - after all $500/child/year isn't chicken feed. For a lot of families, that's anywhere from $1000-$2000 taken off their income tax, right?

So...I started to investigate further. While the definition of programs presented in the news release is quite broad, I wonder just how the government is going to keep track of "qualifying" programs. Without some kind of tracking, it seems to me that this program is as ripe for exploitation as the now-infamous "Sponsorship Program".

A further look around at the Canada Revenue Agency website turns up the real rules that you must abide by when submitting your tax returns.

The first notable wart appears with the rules around how the credit is applied:

The proposed children's fitness tax credit will allow parents to claim a maximum of $500 per year for eligible fees paid for each child who is under 16 at any time during the year. As with most other non-refundable tax credits, the credit is calculated by multiplying the eligible amount by the lowest marginal tax rate (15.5% in 2007).

Oh - so, looking at the example that the CRA puts forward:

Mary registered her three children, Julie (9 years old), Samantha (10 years old), and Eric (15 years old) in an eligible program of physical activity and paid fees of $750 for each child on January 16, 2007. To calculate the amount that she can deduct from her taxes owing on her 2007 income tax return, she uses the following formula:

Step 1:
$500 (maximum allowable amount per child)

x 3
(number of children enrolled in an eligible program of physical activity)
$1,500 (total allowable amount eligible for the tax credit)

Step 2:
$1,500 (total allowable amount eligible for the tax credit)

x 15.5%
(lowest marginal tax rate for 2007)
$232.50 (total amount that can be used to reduce the taxes owing on Mary's 2007 income tax return)

Oh, now I see. An expenditure of $1500 results in a $232.50 reduction in the taxes owing.

The rules for what can be claimed in the 2007 taxation year are, well, baroque to say the least. (They're all there on the CRA website), and a lot of people are going to have a rude awakening come tax time.

I see two significant problems with this program. First off, it assumes that the parents have the available funds to enroll their children in some kind of organized sports activity. As we all know, this is not necessarily true; and perhaps more worrisome is the oft-reported fact that physical health among the poor is often much worse than among the wealthier for precisely this reason. The Conservative Tax Credit does little to address this, instead providing limited benefit at all, reserved purely for those who have the spare dollars to enroll their children.

Like the GST cuts, and the "Child Care Allowance" programs, the only people that really benefit are those with significant disposable incomes already. These people already have their children's lives booked fifteen ways to Sunday with activities - and a $200 tap on their income taxes, while no doubt appreciated, isn't a huge amount. The government could have accomplished a great deal more by increasing funding to physical education programs in our schools.

Instead, they have created another Frankenstein program that will either have no validation of the submissions, or if there is any attempt to track and audit the validity of the programs claimed it will rapidly turn into a bureaucracy of its own that will make the costs of the oft-criticized long gun registry.

Yep, they're sure "getting things done"...

Friday, January 05, 2007

Of Floor Crossings and Conservative Standards

Okay, so Wajid Kahn has crossed the floor to sit as a member of the Conservative Caucus. Unlike what happened when Belinda Stronach crossed the floor, I'm not going to dwell on Mr. Kahn's allegiances, lack of them, or the morality of his sex life. In fact, I'll congratulate Mr. Harper on a well executed recruitment of Mr. Kahn. It was subtle, well planned, and a well done piece of political maneuvering.

However, the double standard of the Harper Conservatives amazes me. For a party that claims to be "more principled" than everybody else, and swore up and down last election to "bring a more honest, open and accountable" government to Canadians, it amazes me that he can stand up and brag about floor crossing MPs - especially after the to-do made about Belinda Stronach's defection.

Please, Mr. Harper, can you tell us the fairy tale about "Honest Politicians" again?

Of Cabinets Shuffled Or Not

There was very little about yesterdays Cabinet Shuffle in Ottawa that I would call surprising.

The full list of cabinet is here.

For a Prime Minister who whines and snivels about the opposition parties "playing politics", I'm disappointed that he put Baird into the environment portfolio. Although Baird is a more experienced politician than Ambrose, he doesn't have any more background in the politics of the field. (Which tells me that this is fundamentally a political move in the first place).

He's left a lot of really bad ministers in place (Bev Oda for one), to continue implementing destructive policies. In an extension of that, we find Jason Kenney has oozed his way into the "Secretary for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity". This one really worries me in much the same way that Oda does. Kenney is part of the old Reform/Alliance crowd that always used to claim that "the government shouldn't fund multiculturalism". I fully expect that the next round of "spending efficiencies" to come out of Harper's government will hit that area quite hard.

In the asinine headline department, the Calgary Herald this morning had the headline "Harper goes green in cabinet shuffle" splashed across the front page.

Just to be absolutely clear, Harper DID NOT "go green". There isn't a single person in that cabinet with a serious background in the issues of the environment, and putting Baird into place as the minister responsible doesn't automagically make Baird even remotely close to be a domain expert.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Stockwell Day - Lies like a bad rug

Over in his most recent column for Okanagan newspapers, we find Stockwell Day demonstrating once again the utter dishonesty and hackery of the CPC government.

According to Stockwell Day, it'll be all the evil opposition's fault if we go to the polls early, because after all the magnanamous Stephen Harper "gave up" his power to call elections when he wants:

Last June Prime Minister Harper did what no other federal leader in Canada's history has done. He relinquished his power to jerk the public around like others have done by calling surprise elections.

He tabled a Bill in the House of Commons saying the next federal election would be on a fixed date, in October 2009.

Of course, this is a complete crock of horse manure. Stockwell is talking about Bill C-16, the so-called "fixed election dates" act.

However, once again, reviewing the act itself we find the following open loophole at the very top:

56.1 (1) Nothing in this section affects the powers of the Governor General, including the power to dissolve Parliament at the Governor General’s discretion.

Right, so, the "honest" answer is that the Prime Minister - or others - can petition the Governor General at any time to dissolve parliament. In other words, there is no real change. If the government falls on a confidence motion, it still falls; if the Prime Minister decides on a whim that he wants a "snap election", he can still do it.

Of course, the CPC doesn't want you to believe this, but it's the case.

In order to actually "relinquish" that power, changes would be required to Canada's Constitution:

Duration of House of Commons 50. Every House of Commons shall continue for Five Years from the Day of the Return of the Writs for choosing the House (subject to be sooner dissolved by the Governor General), and no longer. (26)

There is absolutely NOTHING in bill C-16 that constrains the Prime Minister from petitioning the Governor General at any time to call an election. In other words, it is a fundamentally meaningless piece of legislative drivel.

I Won't Hold My Breath

A poll published in this morning's Globe and Mail suggests that the Liberals and Conservatives are all but tied.

Given that the poll was taken in the last week of December, I'll be a little skeptical about the quality of the results. Most people don't think too much about politicians over the Christmas break.

Of note however is are some of the regionalized numbers:

The poll gave the Liberals 40 per cent support in Ontario, compared with 35 per cent for the Conservatives, 13 per cent for the NDP and 11 per cent for the Greens. In Quebec, the Bloc had 41 per cent, compared with 27 per cent for the Liberals, 14 per cent for the Tories, 11 per cent for the NDP and five per cent for the Greens. The margins of error are higher for regional samples.

Which suggests two things to me:

1) Liberal gains are being made heavily on the back of the NDP. (Unsurprising - "soft" votes that went to the NDP in a "not Liberal" move will be starting to move back)

2) The CPC is not gaining ground in key areas of Ontario and Quebec - which, like it or not, have a significant weight in any election.

However, I question the overall results at this time - any poll taken near Christmas time is not being done when people are willing to think about the situation.

The Cass Review and the WPATH SOC

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