Thursday, September 27, 2007

Surpluses, and The Price We Pay

Harper's bragging about the Federal budget Surplus.

Taking a page out of Ralph Klein's playbook, we find PMSH bragging:

Harper cited an old expression about the inevitability of death and taxes: "In Canada for far too long the same thing could be said about debt and taxes," he said.

He said paying down the debt is an investment in Canada's future, and serves as good news "for the taxpayers of our future, our children and grandchildren."


But is it really? Alberta paid off its debt in record time - due largely to a booming economy. But the province suffers from a variety of ailments from a decade and a half or more of parsimonious underspending on the part of the provincial government.

In Calgary, we have major, and in some cases historic, schools that are falling apart for want of a new roof. The city is in desperate need of at least two new hospitals; our transportation infrastructure is clogged with traffic; public transit in Calgary is a bad joke on a good day and goodness knows there's a plethora of other topics where a government bent on reducing the debt has done so by swapping one form of debt for another.

Before Canadians get all excited about Mr. Harper's "financial prowess", they should look long and hard at the situation that has been wrought in Alberta.

Perhaps more concerning is the fact that nearly 10% of this surplus comes straight out of programs that benefit society's vulnerable. In essence, 10% of this comes on the backs of literacy programs, minority rights, and we should not forget the massive commitments to military spending that the Con$ have made, which are not necessarily reflected in this number.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Now This Takes The Cake!

Okay, the Catholic Church doesn't like people using condoms - I get that.

However, it's one thing to make moral pronouncements about using condoms - another altogether to outright lie about them.

Says the Archbishop of Mozambique:

"Condoms are not sure because I know that there are two countries in Europe, they are making condoms with the virus on purpose," he alleged, refusing to name the countries.


Besides invoking the bogeyman of the unknown, the Bishop is also relying on the ignorance of people as to the transmissibility of the AIDS retrovirus. By implying that condoms can be manufactured with the virus "embedded", he is ignoring the cold, hard science that the virus is spread through bodily fluids exchange, and does not remain viable outside the body for any great length of time.

For a man who is ostensibly highly educated, the Archbishop's statements reflect either an astonishing depth of ignorance, or they are outright lies.

In the first case, the Archbishop needs to be educated, in the second case, he should be held accountable for his actions. It is one thing to preach against something, it is another matter altogether to lie about it in order to reinforce your position.

Is SES Push Polling?

Yesterday, when I looked at my e-mail, I found a poll summary from SES Research that when I thought about, I found it quite troubling.

Not for what the poll found, but rather the structure of the poll itself. Something about the questions struck me as odd.

The poll was touted as showing that Canadians want "limits on accomodation of minorities". Superficially, one could look at it and say "So? What's the big deal?" - but if the questions are either leading or ambiguous, then the results of the poll are highly questionable.

Consider the questions in this poll:

QUESTION 1. HAVE YOU HEARD OR NOT HEARD OF REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION?
Yes
No

QUESTION 2. WHICH OF THESE TWO STATEMENTS BEST REFLECTS YOUR PERSONAL VIEW?
Responses:
It is reasonable to accomodate religious and cultural minorities.
Immigrants should adapt fully to culture in Canada
Don't agree with either statement
Unsure

QUESTION 3. SHOULD THE MENU REQUIREMENTS OF RELIGIOUS AND CULTURAL GROUPS ALWAYS BE ACCOMMODATED?
Responses:
Accommodated all of the time
Accommodated most of the time
Accommodated some of the time
Never
Unsure

QUESTION 4. DO YOU SUPPORT, SOMEWHAT SUPPORT, SOMEWHAT OPPOSE OR OPPOSE PRAYER SPACES BEING PROVIDED FREE OF CHARGE IN PUBLIC FACILITIES TO ACCOMMODATE RELIGIOUS MINORITIES?
Responses:
Support
Somewhat Support
Somewhat Oppose
Oppose
Unsure

QUESTION 5. ON A SCALE OF 1 TO 5, RATE EACH OF THE FOLLOWING VENUES AND HOW MUCH THEY SHOULD ACCOMMODATE OR NOT ACCOMMODATE RELIGIOUS AND CULTURAL MINORITIES:
A. PUBLIC PLACES LIKE SCHOOLS, HOSPITALS AND GOVERNMENT BUILDINGS
B. THE WORKPLACE
C. AMATEUR SPORT AND LEISURE ACTIVITIES


There's a couple of key problems that start to emerge here. First, the entire poll hinges on the respondent's understanding of the notion of "reasonable accommodation". In Canada, there are specific legal concepts involved, such as Duty to Accommodate, as well as the legal frameworks of provincial human rights laws and the Charter of Rights. Additionally, the concept of "Reasonable Accommodation" has specific meanings in the context of human rights law in Canada.

So, beyond asking if the respondent has heard of the concept, the poll fails utterly to raise the obvious question as to whether or not the respondent's understanding of that concept is clear.

The subsequent questions in the survey then rely upon the respondents having the same notion as to what "accommodate" means. While the word is fairly well understood, in the context of law, most words pick up additional meanings that most people miss, and even worse, misunderstand.

Because the poll itself fails to frame its questions adequately, and there are some aspects of the questions which are clearly aimed at specific measures which would primarily benefit an individual faith (such as Islam), it could be argued that the poll fails the initial design principle of starting from a "null hypothesis". That is to say its designers started with something in mind that they were seeking to confirm and the questions reflect an overall leaning on the part of the poll's designers. The subtlety of language is why any of the statistical gathering for the social sciences relies on surveys that are not only quite large, but the questions themselves provide means to cross-check responses - while most "opinion polls" are based on the notion that you can derive meaning from a handful of limited questions.

Push polling is a particularly dangerous little political game. Politicians commission polls that look legitimate, and often the results are framed as "good research" in order to plant a seed in the public imagination. Knowing that the current lot of Con$ in Ottawa have all kinds of objections to the interpretation of human rights law in Canada, I can well imagine some of the backroom boys cooking up a series of push-polls to plant ideas which would make rights-limiting legislation more palatable to Canadians.

Although SES has not in the past been known for "push-polling", money talks and the Con$ have been throwing it around pretty extravagantly lately. (From virtually "buying up" Pierre Bourque's headlines, to sponsoring his NASCAR endeavors)

Regardless, I don't think this poll is terribly meaningful - it hinges upon some key assumptions about the common understanding of certain language that I doubt most people share. (In fact, I think the fact that the poll results for the first question invalidate the rest of the poll results - if we don't have a common framework of understanding the notion of "reasonable accommodation", then the rest of the poll's results are essentially meaningless as the understanding of the questions will vary quite dramatically between respondents.

Monday, September 24, 2007

PMSH and the Pesky Thing Called Reality

There's Stephen Harper's version of "Environment Policy", and then there's the reality of what his policies actually accomplish.

Once again, we find Harper the denialist coming out, and proposing what amount to "do nothing" policies that are so far in the future his involvement will be long forgotten:

Canada, which signed Kyoto under a previous Liberal government, is not poised to meet its target. Instead, the Conservative government has pledged to reduce the country's overall emissions to 20 per cent lower than 2006 levels by 2020.


Of course, we can't leave along the denialist in Harper - his letter to the UN underscores it:

In contrast to the repeated doomsday pronouncements of other leaders, Mr. Harper's letter appears to insert some doubt as to whether global warming is the most important environmental issue.

Climate change is perhaps the biggest environmental threat faced by our planet today, and Canada is committed to achieving significant reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions over the coming years,” the Prime Minister wrote.


Perhaps? Perhaps?! This underscores that Harper continues to listen not to the science, but to a handful of nihilists whose objectives are tied tightly to big money industry. Of course, Harper's been fumbling the Environment Portfolio since day one - why should Canadians expect anything to change?

And, as if to reinforce Harper's denial, he's in the process of shutting down the very programs that monitor the situation from various perspectives. Like the discussion of around women's issues, if you aren't monitoring and measuring, how do you know that what you claim is happening is happening? (Or not, as the case may be)

Canada's Gnu Government - Doing Little and Accomplishing Less Every Day

Ted Byfield Takes a Swing at Reality

Occasionally, Ted Byfield comes astonishingly close to reality, and then veers away from it at breakneck speeds.

This week, we find Ted musing about the "collapse of church" in Canada:

Where Canada was, if anything, more loyal to its churches in the first half of the 20th century, it now lags far behind, and church attendance in the U.S. is considerably more than double the Canadian average.


Ted thinks he's found quite the treasure trove of insight:

Mark A. Noll, the historian of American religion most distinguished for his celebrated book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, (the scandal being too many Evangelicals don't use the gray matter God gave them, and many think it wrong to even try) confesses himself mystified of late by a country called Canada.

"What Happened to Christian Canada?" he asks, and that's the title of his little booklet published this year by Regent College Publishing in Vancouver.


Amusingly, in the criticism applied to Evangelical faith in the United States lies the germ of reality that Ted then does his level best to ignore:

too many Evangelicals don't use the gray matter God gave them


He then goes on to try and lay the blame at the feet of political leaders past (and now dead):

In Quebec, he finds an explanation in the rise of Catholic Action, a movement that gained great momentum after the Second World War and recruited platoons of talented young people -- like Pierre Trudeau, Marc Lalonde and Gerard Pelletier.
...
The United Church, created in the 1920s by the union of the Methodists, Congregationalists and most Presbyterians, sought to combine the socialistic reforms of the social gospel with the spiritual message of evangelicalism. This had much the same result. When the government itself legislated the social gospel, the church was left with no message at all.

But all this is an inadequate summation of a brief but very observant analysis of Canada's religious collapse.


Or, perhaps there is an even simpler explanation. Canadians started looking critically at what had been wrought in the name of "the church"(™). One need look no further than the Quiet Revolution in Quebec - born of the policies of Maurice Duplessis and the unreasonable degree of power the Catholic Church held during that time.

The other point that Byfield misses (or chooses to ignore) is that as Canada's education system flourished, individuals found it less necessary to be outwardly religious. That isn't to say that carrying faith ceased, but rather the need to attend church services diminished.

One can draw discrete parallels between the Reagan administration dismantling public education in the 1980s and the rise of evangelical christianity. This comes as little surprise - evangelical christianity does not encourage critical thought - it demands obedience. In general, the less educated the population, the more willingly they will follow strict edicts from religious leaders.

Intriguingly, the HarperCon$ have also taken a series of moves that devalue and weaken Canada's educational infrastructure.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Campaigning by the Children

It seems that Richard Evans' idea of "campaigning" is to sit around trying to slag his opponent by making silly little videos of them.

Oh, how amusing - try to "humiliate" Bob Hawkesworth by casting him in the female role to Jack Layton - using a cheezy little framework put together by JibJab. Oh, the humiliation that Bob H. must be feeling right now.

Frankly, this kind of juvenile crap is about what I would have expected out of "student council" elections - when I was in grade 7.

But, coming from a small man who laughs at victims of rape, cybersquats on domains to make other bloggers "look bad", and doesn't actually respond to criticism of his notions, but instead descends into attacking the author, I don't suppose we should be overly surprised.

Let me give you a little hint, Richard - there's a little more to being a politician than simply trying to slag your opponents with childish ad-hominem attacks. You might actually want to put forward real ideas...that haven't already passed their "best before" date.

What Are Alberta's Priorities?

Alberta, land of the "pseudo-Texan" and "minimalist government" in Canada...right?

Well - that depends on just whose priorities you are talking about. Albertans - and especially the conservative backers - love to spout off about how much less tax we pay, or how much less intrusive our governments are.

But, recent events really do have to make you wonder just what the Stelmach government's priorities are, and just how "minimal" the government really is.

Consider - Ted Morton's decision to allow seismic exploration on Marie Lake (a decision which Premier Stelmach subsequently had to overturn after residents continued to object). One could almost understand Morton's thinking here - after all why would he want to stand in the way of the "goose that laid the golden egg" in Alberta? Wouldn't that be undue government interference?

Then we encounter Alberta Hunting Day - another Ted Morton sponsored bit of stupidity. So, in Ted's mind, it's a bad thing for government to interfere with industry (at all, apparently), but the government should be telling us how we should spend our recreation time? WTF? I don't much care if somebody hunts - as long as they actually live on the meat they "bag", and only catch enough for their own needs for a year. I object to trophy hunting - if you want to brag about an animal, shoot them with a camera.

But, more egregious is Bill 41, quietly introduced to the Legislature just before it stood for summer recess. It's a tedious bit of reading - mostly a rather lengthy series of amendments to the Alberta Health Profession Statutes legislation. (I hope I've linked to the correct document here - the Queen's printer isn't exactly the most helpfully designed I've ever seen). This little turd of legislative "wisdom" appears to put our politicians smack in the midst of the complexities of the Alberta College of Physicians - the body which regulates the activities of our Doctors. Quite rightly, our doctors should be worried about this - The Alberta Con$ervatives have a long track record of taking control out of the hands of various groups and leaving them with untenable obligations.

For example, in the mid-90s, Ralph Klein's government took over gathering municipal and educational property taxes, and have subsequently proceeded to choke the access of those agencies to the funds involved. As a result, school boards are left with the responsibility for reaching salary agreements with teachers, and repairing schools - but are unable to levy the funds necessary to do so. Even worse, the government has taken it upon itself to impose settlements that are unfunded and then tell the school boards to "get creative" about it.

If I was the AMA, I'd be very worried about letting this bunch of ham-fisted lunks have more direct control than they already do over a regulatory body that has to date done its job quite reasonably. Allowing politicians to dictate who should be at the helm of these organizations, or control over policies and directives is extremely dangerous indeed. A reasoned regulatory framework must exist for good reasons, but at the same time, that framework must be held separate from direct interference from politicians (who are seldom qualified to speak to the ethical particulars of disciplines such as medicine).

There is a grand irony in this. Alberta has the most secretive government in the country, and the minister introducing the bill claims it will provide for greater accountability. Coming from this government, that's almost funny. In the greater picture of things, it really does make one wonder just what this government's priorities really are.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Dollars, Parity and Consumer Goods

With the Canadian dollar hovering near parity with the US greenback, we are starting to hear the inevitable "why do Canadians pay so much more for books/cars/whatever?" questions.

I'm not going to comment on the pricing disparities that emerged as the Canadian dollar sagged through much of the 1990s. Those are simply a fact of life.

Many people have wondered aloud why, for example, we see anywhere from a 25% to 50% difference in book prices between Canada and US editions. (Admittedly, I've wondered myself - especially in light of the fact that the C$ has hovered around 10% below the US$ for a couple of years now)

I suspect that we will experience a change in the difference in pricing between Canadian and US retailers in the coming few years. The gap will close, but not because the prices drop dramatically (I don't know too many businesses willing to accept a 20% drop in their raw revenues).

More likely is that we will see the US experience a dramatic level of consumer price inflation. A weakened dollar, combined with a staggering trade deficit, will make it harder for US firms to purchase the manufactured goods that they have been selling. The net result will be a significant increase in US consumer prices in the next couple of years. (Unless a miracle occurs and the current White House (or Congress) sees past the end of their own noses and actually does something constructive with the collapsing mortgage market)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Another "Government == Business" Candidate

In Calgary's civic election this year, we have another nitwit seeking the Mayor's chair that blithely equates business and government:

“A city is no different than a business: it has an annual operating budget of $2 billion, 12 thousand employees and 1 million customers.” His vision is as unique as his approach: let Calgarians determine priorities by sharing their concerns, streamline processes, eliminate waste, and focus on the issues that are important to “customers” – the people of Calgary.


This is flawed on a dozen different levels, but it ultimately comes back to one fundamental point: Government does not have the same objectives as Business.

Businesses exist to make money - period. In truth, most businesses are run by people who try their best to do so "well" - with some sense of moral and ethical balance - but ultimately no business exists without making money from its customers. Although challenging, the single minded goal of making money is quite different from the role government must play.

Governments on the other hand are held to account for a much more complex set of obligations than any business. Not only must government (even civic) balance its books between revenues and expenditures, but it carries the burden of paying for a whole host of services that we depend upon - from police and fire to water and sewage treatment. Complicating the picture, the city also winds up having to deal with all of the problems that most of us don't know what to do with - the homeless, effects of poverty, insane growth and the stresses placed on infrastructure by that growth. Government is also obliged to balance the interests of citizens with the demands of business. (If one does not remember incidents such as The Love Canal in the states, or Lynnwood Ridge in Calgary, it is easy to lose track of the need for government to provide a regulatory environment for businesses as well to keep their activities balanced with the collective interests of the citizens...such as not having their homes built on toxic waste sites)

The "balance sheet" for government is complex and multi-faceted. The simplistic view that there is an equivalence with government demonstrates a lack of understanding of topics that cannot readily be understood in terms of finances, and people can seldom be understood in terms of money or numbers.

Stelmach and the Royalty Review

Ed Stelmach has just been handed his first leadership challenge as Premier of Alberta - a Royalty Review Report that has the oilpatch getting positively "scared" (read - they are dragging out the "nobody will invest" zombie from the closet). You'd have to be the village idiot to believe that one. Alberta's oilsands represent one of the largest sets of reserves for fossil hydrocarbons in the world - the world's need for that energy in the short to medium term is such that it cannot afford to not invest.

Stelmach has a bit of a sticky problem though. If he overhauls things too radically, he will annoy the oilpatch which has been rather generous in its funding of the Alberta PC's. On the other hand, if he doesn't stop the perceived giveaway of resource revenues into foreign-held oil firm coffers, Stelmach stands to look as though he is beholden to the oilpatch and not to Albertans.

Alberta's royalty regime has long been one of the cheapest in the world for oil companies, and in recent months people have started to ask (rightly so) whether or not we are getting our collective "fair share" in this province.

A lot of what I've seen in the reports on the royalty review leaves one particularly vile little wart in the mix - keeping the 1% royalty in place on tar sands projects until "capital costs" have been recouped. The problem with doing this is simple - it's far too easy for the accounting to be juggled and shuffled in order to make it look as though there is a great deal of unrecovered "capital cost" for a very long time. Unless oil prices suddenly crash to pre-1990 levels, which seems quite unlikely, the tar sands remain profitable - even at full royalty costs.

There is a fundamental dishonesty in the claim that "investors won't invest" - it's a form of threat that has little or no validity. While a change in the royalty regime might cause some ripples for a while, it's not like the province can't do with a small slowdown right now.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Ted Byfield: Quick! - Into The Time Machine!

Reading Ted Byfield is usually a good way to find out just how thoroughly irrational people can be - and his latest tirade is no exception.

According Byfield, most Canadians are being "disenfranchised" by legal rulings of one sort or another that conflict with their religion:

Therefore our opinions as to what should and should not go into the law will be religiously grounded opinions, because that's the only source of authority we know.
...
Probably 90% of the country is being disfranchised.


There's a couple of points that must be made, and that Byfield clearly fails to understand. Freedom of religion is an individual freedom. The Charter speaks of individual rights and freedoms as part of the contract between the Canadian Government and its individual citizens. Ted has no more right to impose his religion upon me than I do mine upon him. Why should his religious views drive the creation or tone of law in Canada? (and, given the oh-so-lovely things that have been done in the name of Christianity at one time or another, I question the moral authority of that faith to dictate anything to me ... but that's my opinion)

Most of Byfield's argument boils down to "but even laws derive from some moral authority - and for most people that authority is religious".

I'll grant Byfield this much - most of the moral framework that our laws are set in has its roots in Judeo-Christian traditions. What Byfield forgets, or chooses to ignore, is that he is talking about scriptures that range in age between 1500 and 4000 years old, and reflect social and legal attitudes of those eras. (The dramatic differences between the Old Testament and New Testament reflect shifting societal attitudes and values) Surely in the last 1500 years or so we've had enough change to the face of society (and knowledge) that we might recognize that the "moral framework" that was codified so long ago is gradually unravelling, like a much loved, but well-worn rug.

Of course, most of Byfield's real argument is pure assertion, with a healthy dose of distortion thrown in for good measure. (It's almost like he spent his time researching his stories at Lifesite)

A teacher has been fired for daring to criticize -- not in school but in public debate -- certain sexual practices not long ago regarded as criminal.


Oh? Lessee, I'm going guess that Byfield's referring to homosexuality. Which was decriminalized some forty years ago - people born then are reaching their middle years today - real recent. As for the teacher who was fired, I can't even find references to a story like that on Lifesite - one would have to presume that the story has a grain of truth, but since he doesn't cite anything verifiable, it's assertion.

Books have been forced into school libraries over the objections of parents and school boards.

Christian schools have been forbidden to prohibit activity they regard as perverted at school dances.

Newspapers have been prosecuted for running biblical verses denouncing certain sexual practices.

If such despotism does not constitute a prohibition of "the free exercise of religion," it's hard to imagine what would.


More argument by assertion. Byfield fails to cite a single tangible case that can be examined - which leads me to suspect that what he's really beaking off about are relatively minor cases where some bible beater got their knickers in a twist over something small, and went screaming to the media about it.

We believe we should behave fairly, honestly, truthfully because the Bible or the Church or the Qur'an or our pastor or priest tells us so.

Therefore our opinions as to what should and should not go into the law will be religiously grounded opinions, because that's the only source of authority we know.


Finally, we come to the crux of the matter. Byfield simply cannot imagine that we might be able to derive our own sense of "right and wrong" without referring to something that was supposedly, but unverifably divinely inspired. It seems far more probable that scripture was a human construct in the first place, just as the laws of Hammurabi were (in fact big tracts of Old Testament legalisms sound decidedly similar to his laws.)

As much as the fundies like to accuse more secular people of being "amoral" (or worse) because of a lack of explicit tie to some concrete moral framework, they fail to recognize that their own "moral framework" is extremely relativistic as well - but it merely happens to be relative to the era in which the scriptures they believe so fervently in were written. Society ultimately codifies its morality relative to the times in which it exists. There are some universal truths, but then again, some supposed truths turn out to be amazingly false. It wasn't so long ago (using Byfield's rubber ruler of time) that being left-handed meant you were marked by the devil.

[Update 14:00]
Speaking of imposing one's religion upon others, we have some loon trying to censor the public library.

An aside - it also occurs to me that Byfield would be among those who scream the loudest if someone were to demand that he adopt the moral sensibilities of a different faith...
[/Update]

Quebec ByElection Results

Interesting - in spite of the hoopla in the media, I'm not so convinced that anybody actually "won".

The more I look at the outcomes, it almost seems like the overall picture is that voters were voting "against the status quo". A long-time Liberal "safe" riding swung to the NDP, the Con$ picked up a Bloc seat, and while the Bloc hung onto a seat it had held in the past, it doesn't sound like a particularly strong victory for them either. While Layton's NDP gained a seat, it's not clear that the NDP actually made gains, or was the vote more a matter of "not voting for the other parties"? (I doubt very much that the NDP will hold that seat after the next Federal election)

Perhaps this statement captured in this mornings Globe and Mail reflects the unsettled mood of politics in Quebec, and large portions of Canada as well:

Another voter leaving the polls, Phil Koropotkin, said he's not impressed with Mr. Dion, and switched from past elections: “I've always voted Liberal, but it's time for a change. There's nobody there that stimulates me,” he said. “I think the leadership is in for a rude awakening.”


In other words, all of the parties have a lot of work to do - last night's byelections seem to reinforce the malaise that voters in Canada as a whole seem to be feeling. (Notable by the utter lack of real traction for any of the major parties in the polls for the last 24 months or more)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Iraq to Blackwater: LEAVE NOW!

It seems that there is a pattern here. In its latter years, Rome began creating legions out of non-Romans - often by extending the "honor" of Roman citizenship to people who had served in the legions. The Romans needed these "new Romans" just to be able to do the bare minimum of defending Rome's borders - and these legions collapsed pretty quickly under the pressure of Germanic invaders.

The United States couldn't "justify" the spending needed for the forces it needed in Iraq, so it pulled in a mercenary army called "Blackwater" to supplement the regular military forces.

Today, the Iraqi puppet government told Blackwater to get lost - immediately. This comes as little surprise - sooner or later, someone in the mercenary army was going to do something that was unacceptable to the locals - and would no doubt have merited a court-martial in the regular army.

Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul-Karim Khalaf said eight civilians were killed and 13 were wounded when contractors believed to be working for Blackwater USA opened fire on civilians Sunday in the predominantly Sunni neighbourhood of Mansour in western Baghdad.

“We have cancelled the license of Blackwater and prevented them from working all over Iraqi territory. We will also refer those involved to Iraqi judicial authorities,” Mr. Khalaf said.


When the local government, which right now is essentially a puppet of the BushCo administration tells you to get lost, you've really overstepped your bounds. In my limited little mind, this is a significant clue to just how badly BushCo thought things through. Not only did they hire what amounts to a mercenary army to provide security for government personnel, but they failed to bind those people to US military discipline - even though there is a military occupation in place.

But then again, we all know how well US Army discipline dealt with Abu Ghraib, don't we?

The Next Arms Race...has begun

In 2003, the United States quietly tested a device called a Thermobaric Bomb.

This week, Russia tested its answer to the US weapon.

The destructive capability of these devices is impressive to say the least:

The U.S. bomb has a destructive force equivalent to 10 tonnes of TNT, while Russia says its bomb is equivalent to 40 tonnes.


Not quite in the range of what nuclear weapons produce, but that doesn't minimize the destructive capability either:

The two countries say such bombs are capable of massive destruction yet do not harm the environment as nuclear weapons do. They are also useful for attacking underground and hidden targets because the explosive blast can spread through tunnels. While a deeply buried target may be immune to traditional bombs, a thermobaric weapon can penetrate through a tunnel system and damage any equipment or systems, thus effectively neutralizing — if not actually destroying — the target.


However, the nuts and bolts of these things aren't the point. The context within which the US developed its thermobaric device is Afghanistan, now Russia, China and India have these weapons, a development that signals the emergence of a new arms race that will live on long after the storms of Afghanistan and Iraq have passed. I wonder if Dubya and crew are cackling gleefully about this, or did they simply forget about the long term impact of starting another arms race?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Fundamental Flaws in Modern Conservatism

I've felt for a long time that the philosophical stream of conservatism suffers from some pretty fundamental flaws in its current incarnation (as embodied by the so-called "neo-cons" on both sides of the Canada-US border).

As a historical note, we didn't arrive at the modern variety of conservatism overnight - it has its roots in the rise of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the late 1970s. Ever since then, we have seen governments become increasingly focused on money matters, and gradually losing sight of the fact that governments exist to govern people, and that the public purse exists to fund that governance.

More or less, starting with Reagan and Thatcher, the idea of government as business became a core part of the ethos of the conservative movement. The argument became that government spending of any sort was bad, and debt was even worse. Key programs such as education or health care came under scrutiny and massive cuts as these governments worked towards their utopia. It is at this point that conservatism lost its soul in my view.

Topics like education and health care are expensive, whether individually funded or publicly funded. Effective use of available financial resources is essential to enable those programs to achieve the broader social and economic goals they are intended for.

However, while expensive, education and health care represent more than mere numbers on the balance sheet. They are in fact investments in the population for the future. A healthy population, with adequate access to health care is ultimately more economically productive; similarly, an educated and generally literate populus is going to be capable of greater productivity. The policies of Thatcher and Reagan started a process of dismantling key public infrastructure programs by starvation.

Like any shrub, bureaucracy tends to grow out of control unless regularly pruned and directed. Pruning a shrub is one thing, you still have to tend to its basic needs such as water, or ensuring that it gets enough sunlight. The same is true for key public programs. Starving them at the roots is guaranteed to kill them - and in the case of education and health care, that starvation happens primarily in the form of funding cuts.

We've experienced this first hand in Alberta over the course of Ralph Klein's tenure in Edmonton. Calgary stands as a testament to the penny-wise, pound-foolish approach to the public. In Ralph's Alberta, it became all about eliminating both deficit and debt. In the process, the Alberta government reduced everything to dollars and cents - people and their needs really got lost in the process.

The consequences? Today, Calgary is grappling with existing schools that are overcrowded and in serious decay; we are at least two hospitals short of what we need - and then there's the people costs. A parsimonious attitude towards funding has resulted in wages for professionals such as doctors, nurses and teachers that have not kept up with inflation in Alberta's urban areas - making it difficult to attract new people, and retain those that we already have. Key programs such as AISH have languished, leaving some of society's most vulnerable members in dire straights trying to make ends meet when their ability to earn a living is severely impaired for whatever reason.

So, while Ralph Klein achieved his much sought-after goal of no debt/deficit, and surplus budgets in Alberta, he only did so on the fiscal front - and left Albertans with a different kind of debt - one related to infrastructure and people. To me, this means that government has lost sight of its true strengths - namely providing good governance to the people.

Which brings me to more recent parts of the picture - the emergence of a uniquely loud, strident conservative that almost seems to believe that in a place like Alberta, that they have a right to govern.

People like Craig Chandler, whose recent tirade against non-conservatives in Alberta has garnered him undeserved attention. Chandler's insistence that there should be some sort of political hive-mind in Alberta is reprehensible to say the least, but is merely reflective of a mindset that has passed from ideas into inflexibility. Chandler's brash assertions ( and subsequent attempts at evasion and denial ) do little other than to reinforce the perception that conservatives have become rigid, inflexible ideologues incapable of dealing with anything other than the relatively simple perspective of dollars on a balance sheet.

Then there's aldermanic hopeful, Richard Evans, whose snide condescension in the comments section back here invokes some of the worst of 19th century industrial era thinking:

Solutions? Yup! They include placing the mentally disabled in facilities where they can be properly cared for, workfare programs, allowing secondary suites and getting the city bureaucracy the hell out of the charity business.


Institutionalization? Brilliant. Only the most expensive possible solution, and often the least effective. The most severely disabled can benefit from institutionalization, but beyond those cases there are other options that don't involve resurrecting the notion of the asylum.

As for workfare, that's little more than a form of institutionalized slavery, and the results aren't exactly compelling where it's been tried.

His "get government out of charity business" line smacks of George W. Bush's "faith based initiatives" where Bush has tried to turn over social services to local charitable organizations. Unfortunately, what that does is often hand over the distribution of public support funds to the whim of self-appointed moral police.

As one of the commenters before points out, these solutions sound more Dickensian than anything else - when the wealthy "dealt with" problems by putting them where they couldn't be seen, or simply blithely ignoring the reality of the problems entirely - assuming that "someone else" owns them.

In the previously linked comments section, you find that Evans is bitching about the $6 million or so a year Calgary expends on homeless issues. That sounds like a lot when you have an average salary, but one cannot lose sight of the fact that the $6 million is coming out of a budget of some $2 billion - making it about 0.3% of the city's total budget - that's a smaller fraction than most people making $50,000 spend on entertainment such as cable television and internet ($60/month = $720/year = 1.4% of gross income) $6 million sounds like a lot, until you put it in perspective relative to normal expenditures that many people make without even blinking.

Government in general is ultimately about compromise. There are few absolutes that can be applied, and even fewer that don't have to be bent or compromised at some point or another. Today's conservatives have lost sight of basic people issues, as well as longer term questions of investments that produce long term benefits. Governments are responsible for taxpayer dollars, but they are also responsible to the social construct called society - there are two balance sheets - one fiscal, the other human that must be understood. You cannot reduce people to mere numbers and have a government that is truly successful.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Tale of Veils, Votes and Lies

With the Con$ waggling their fingers at Elections Canada for "not following the "will" of Parliament", it's time to take a second look at Harper's hypocrisy in the matter.

Please, examine what the Globe and Mail has pointed out:

1) Parliament was told explicitly that the revised Elections Act allowed voters to vote - with their veils in place - by Elections Canada bureaucrats:

However, a senior bureaucrat told senators last May that the Elections Act, which was going through Parliament at the time, indeed allows voters to keep facial coverings if they have two non-picture IDs or someone else to vouch for them.

"Neither requires removal of a veil," Matthew King, assistant secretary for legislation at the Privy Council Office, told senators.


2) Harper, and house goon - er leader - Peter Van Loan keep insisting otherwise:

Mr. Van Loan insisted yesterday that Parliament never expected that voters would be allowed to cast a ballot wearing a niqab or burka.

"The intent of the bill was clear: A person would have to demonstrate their identity before they could vote," Mr. Van Loan said. "Basic common sense dictates that it is impossible for a person to demonstrate their identity if their face is covered," he added.


and ...

Prime Minister Stephen Harper attacked Elections Canada for stating that voters do not have to remove facial coverings.

"The role of Elections Canada is not to make its own laws, it's to put into place the laws that Parliament has passed. So, I hope they'll reconsider this decision," Mr. Harper said.


In short, Harper is lying through his teeth, and Van Loan is parroting what the PMO tells him to say. The government knew last May that there was nothing in the revised Elections Act compelling a voter with their face covered to uncover it. Period. It's time for them to take some responsibility, and place amending legislation before the house that has the intent clearly stated.

Of course, that would demonstrate the underlying bigotry of the Con$, as it is only one fairly identifiable population group that would be affected by such a law.

Oh The Irony ... Conservatives Use The Constitution

Predictably, Stephen Harper has come out and said that Canada will not support the UN Declaration on Aboriginal Rights.

This comes as no surprise, really. There has been a long standing ethos within the Con$ervative Party and its predecessors that speaks against explicit rights declarations that recognize the validity of minorities in Canada.

The great irony is that coming from a party that has loudly screamed about how the Constitution protects the rights of various groups, we find the HarperCrit government now hiding behind the constitution to justify their position:

Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl and Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier say Canada opposes the declaration because it lacks clear guidance for implementation and goes against Canada's Constitution.


The complaint about a "lack of guidance" is utter crap - a UN declaration has only marginally more weight than a motion in the General Assembly, and carries only "moral weight" on the world stage. As for "conflicting with Canada's Constitution", I can't imagine what the perceived conflict would be. (I'm guessing, but it would probably invalidate much of what is in Canada's Indian Act...)

A brief perusal of the Indian Affairs and Foreign Affairs websites does not show a copy of the "statement" made by Ministers Strahl and Bernier, suggesting that the government wishes to cause this issue to vanish into the memory hole as quickly as possible.

The non-binding declaration is expected to be easily approved, with only Canada, New Zealand, the United States and Australia dissenting.

Human rights groups have slammed Canada's bid to derail the declaration, saying Ottawa is trying to keep control of the vast resources on land claimed by aboriginal communities.


Yet again, the Harper government makes Canada look bad on the world stage - mostly by being a bunch of arrogant twits who cannot see beyond the ends of their ideological noses. After his comments this past week in Australia, about all I can think is that the HarperCon$ are as damaging to Canada on the world stage as Bush II has been for the US reputation.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Harper Shows Us What He Really Thinks

... and it's contempt for Canada - or at least our Parliament:

“As one Canadian political scientist I know likes to say, when we look at Australia, we suffer from ‘Senate envy,' ” Mr. Harper told Australian senators and members of Parliament, to their great amusement, in the opening lines of his speech this morning.

“In Canada, senators remain appointed, not elected. They don't have to retire until age 75, and may warm their seats for as long as 45 years. By the nature of the system, they're not accountable to voters.”


Please Mr. Harper, STFU! If you wish to reform the Senate, I suggest you begin by putting forward a proposal that doesn't royally screw up the balance of power and responsibility in our government's houses, and doesn't emulate the system of perpetual conflict that we see in Washington.

In the meantime, you might gain some traction at home by demonstrating a degree of respect for your colleagues in both houses of Parliament.

Of course, Harper's contempt for anything other than toadying sycophants has been demonstrated repeatedly - during the last election, and now in his international stage sniping at his colleagues in Canada's parliament. This is not a man who is ready to reform anything - he has neither the breadth or depth of vision to see beyond his own blinding ideology.

It is unusual for world leaders to wade into domestic squabbles when they have been given an international podium. But Mr. Harper regularly criticizes his opposition while abroad, and the Senate is one of his favourite targets.

Liberal senators, who hold a majority in the chamber, decided not to vote on a bill that calls for eight-year limits on Senate terms until its constitutionality had been tested in the courts.

But that bill and another that would create a process for electing senators were killed by Mr. Harper's decision to prorogue Parliament.


Take note here - Harper's pending bills WERE NOT killed by the Senate - they were killed BY MR. HARPER'S DECISION to prorogue parliament.

When the Con$ start braying about how the bad old Senate killed their legislation, remember to slap them around with that little fact.

[Update 11/9/07]
A few people are speculating that Harper may move to eliminate the Canadian Senate if he can't have his way with it.

It should be noted that doing so would be an extremely complicated thing to do, as the existence of the Senate is written into the core of the Canadian Constitution.

In fact, any legislative changes to the role and structure of the Senate would ultimately be bounded by the roles and responsibilities set forth in the Constitution of this nation. I doubt that Canadians as a whole have much appetite for another Con$ervative Prime Minister attempting to monkey with that document. (anybody else remember the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords?)

So far anything Harper has done to effect "democratic reform" has ultimately been little more than poorly disguised window dressing.
[/Update]

More Thin-Skinned Conservatives - The Chandler Edition

It seems that Mr. Chandler is a trifle peeved with the "Lib-Left" media for writing about him.

Apparently, Chandler's not so happy with the editorial of one Graham Thomson who writes:

If you've never heard of Chandler, it's not because he hasn't been trying to get your attention. Over the past decade or so, he has run unsuccessfully for the federal Reform Party, the provincial Social Credit Party and the leadership of the now-defunct federal Progressive Conservative party.


And then goes on to point out some of Craig's antics over the last few years - from his statements on Freedom Radio Network to various events he has sponsored/hosted, ending up on Chandler's "if you aren't conservative, leave Alberta" tirade.

In response, we find a bunch of letters to the editor written by Craig and his minions on his campaign team expressing their outrage over this "attack" on Craig:

I am responding to the shocking and cowardly anti-Chandler attack piece by Graham Thomson.

Thomson goes out of his way to point out that I was an “un-successful” candidate for the federal Reform Party and how I lost the leadership of the former Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.


Oh dear - pointed out reality, did we? Chandler then goes on to spout some real gems:

I was asked by the Canadian Alliance (CA) to run for leader of the federal PC Party, as they needed someone that was well positioned to run and deliver a message. The message was that we needed to merge parties or we would become a debating society.


Not like any of us are surprised by this revelation - Chandler running for the PC leadership didn't make any sense at the time except at the prompting of allies in the old Alliance - and merely goes further to demonstrate that the "merger" was more of a takeover.

I am deeply disturbed with Thomson's attack on my personal religious beliefs. His comments that I use “inflammatory language... often aimed at homosexuals under the guise of freedom of speech” is appalling and hateful.

Does Thomson know that I have homosexual friends? I took part in a documentary on CBC called “God Only Knows Same Sex Marriage” where I went to live with two gay men and then one of them came to live with my family. These friends understood that I disagreed with same sex marriage, but that I had no issues with extending all the benefits shared by heterosexual couples. Most of them agreed with me that marriage should be left to the churches to decide and that the government should stop trying to legislate morality.


Oh dear - the old "but I have gay friends" argument. The intellectual dishonesty of that statement is highlighted in the Minutes of Settlement from the Canadian Human Rights Commission posted on the Concerned Christians Canada website - in regards to statements and postings made by Chandler and his cohorts about the Boissoin complaint. The appendixes also show the kinds of statements made by Chandler in an effort to get Rob Wells to drop his complaints. I might also point out that a Broadcast Standards Council ruling went against him on this matter, as well as the longer range Canadian Human Rights Commission negotiation. (Note - Chandler resigned as head of Concerned Christians Canada this spring - ostensibly to free up time to run for public office.)

If Craig has gay friends, and I take him at his word that he does, he treats them in his public utterances in a manner that I can only call condescending and crass.

- Oh yes - We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that there is a legal construct around marriage - not merely a moral or religious construct ... which has been the core point of the debate since day one.

Mr. Thomson’s attack then shifted to my thoughts relating to our conservative culture. I made clear in my comments that I was not referring to a particular party. Here is an excerpt from the article in question: “To those of you who have come to our great land from out of province, you need to remember that you came here to our home and we vote conservative (meaning Social Credit, Alberta Alliance, Wildrose or the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party)”

The small 'c' conservative culture of Alberta embraces less government, lower taxes and not spending more then you take in. We are debt free and need to remain that way.


Again, Chandler misses the mark badly. He seems to think that Alberta is a monolith of belief and that this is a good thing. He's wrong. While a lot of people might have voted for Ralph Klein personally, that doesn't make them ideological conservatives. Second, even if a lot of Alberta is ideologically conservative, that does not invalidate the beliefs of those who do not vote conservative.

As for not referring to a specific party, I will point to the following comment in his original tirade:

...even understand the history of this province or the relationship with the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party.


That's a pretty specific party to me - but frankly, even the claim that it's not a "specific party" is a pretty limp attempt at deflection from what Chandler actually said - and clearly meant to say ... even though we ostensibly live in a democracy which should value a variety of ideas and discourse.

Lastly, Thomson insulted again with the comment “you have to wonder if they want to be on the same level as the likes of Craig Chandler”. The reality is that I have now signed up more members to the Alberta PC Party in Calgary Egmont then the Liberals had votes in the last election in this area.


Thomson's clearly not impressed with Chandler's antics, and it was an editorial - fair enough. As for the number of "convenience conservatives" he's recruited, I think Chandler is being a trifle optimistic about what kind of votes he'll garner next election - as the Calgary Elbow byelection experience should have long since told him. (Whether Calgary Egmont voters will vote for Chandler remains to be seen, even if he wins the nomination contest)

Telling people to leave Alberta because they don't happen to vote the way he wants them to remains, as Thomson put it, "undemocratic, mean-spirited and head-shakingly stupid." - screaming outrage when you are called on it in the public media merely reinforces the notion that conservatives like Chandler are astoundingly thin-skinned.

As If You Needed More Evidence

To convince you that Harper's interest in democracy only goes as far as his ideology and lock-step with G. W. Bush allow:

Harper to delay troop vote until assured of result

Oh yes - wasn't it just recently that Peter Mackay said that the current mission in Afghanistan would be over in 2009? Which simply tells us that the HarperCon$ are trying to tell us whatever they think we want to hear.

and ...

PM signals Canada unlikely to back UN declaration

... a declaration that Canada has been one of the key authors of - even if it does put us in an awkward position in some respects. (and BushCo has been adamantly opposed to)

The Conservatives in this country say the declaration could undermine Canada's Constitution and harm existing land deals.

“There have been some changes to the document that improve it slightly,” said Mr. Harper. “They don't meet all of our objections and we are going to have to take a careful look at that.”


I can only imagine what their 'objections' might be. (Probably that they didn't think of it, or worse, that it actually recognizes that aboriginal peoples actually have rights)

If this man was any more in lock-step with the US Rethuglicans, I don't know how he'd do it.

Religious Freedom ... Only If You Conform ...

There are days where I could swear that the supposedly "individualist" Conservatives are among those who demand the greatest degree of societal conformity.

Last week, Harper's government blasted Elections Canada over veiled voters. According to Harper, Parliament's will is being undermined by the Elections Canada decision.

Of course, there's Harper's position and then there's reality:

Elections Canada said this week that current rules do not force women wearing niqabs or burkas to show their faces at the voting booth, as long as they show two government-issued IDs or have another voter vouch for their identity.

“There are several ways that electors can choose to prove their identity and residential address, some of which do not entail having to remove face coverings,” the statement said.

A spokesman for Elections Canada later explained that all parties were informed in July of the policy on face coverings.


Then there's what the Con$ have to say about it (and I'm not exactly impressed with the Liberals on this one either):

“Common sense is being trumped by political correctness. It's the kind of thing that results in ordinary people just shaking their heads,” said Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan, who is the minister responsible for the country's electoral laws.


Then in this morning's news, we find PMSH resorting to veiled threats against Elections Canada personnel:

"And I have to say that it concerns me greatly because the role of Elections Canada is not to make its own laws, it's to put into place the laws that Parliament has passed. So, I hope they'll reconsider this decision, but in the meantime if that doesn't happen, Parliament will have to consider what actions it's going to take to make sure that its intentions are put into place."


I won't profess to understanding the proscription against removing a veil - at least in the context of voting - but then again I won't claim that I agree with the proscription either. The point that is beginning to emerge here is rather interesting. On one hand, we have a party whose membership has long advocated that "Religious Freedom" is being trumped by the courts as well as various laws passed by the Chretien era government, and yet on a topic which is so clearly a matter related to someone's faith, we find them intransigent.

Apparently, to the Con$, "Freedom of Religion" only applies if you happen to follow a faith that doesn't oblige you to wear a veil. (Or, perhaps I should say - an interpretation of a faith that obliges one to wear a veil in public)

ReInterpreting Headlines

When the headline reads "Bin Laden called 'Impotent'", you should probably assume that it means that Osama Bin Laden's utterances no longer serve as a form of viagra for George W. Bush's soggy polling numbers.

George W. Bush is rapidly descending into the realm of the irrelevant himself, and historians are already writing the epitaph for his presidency - one that although memorable, may well be like Richard Nixon's - not exactly remembered in a positive light.

Bin Laden's latest missives are a rehash of the same old stewing crap that we've heard for years. As far as I'm concerned, the man is merely trying to push buttons like an adolescent boy often will with his teachers.

But...Bin Laden depends as much on Bush as Bush has ultimately come to depend on Bin Laden.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

APEC Agreement ... to do nothing

Harper is busy bragging about persuading APEC leaders to an agreement on climate change. Superficially, this might even be impressive ... until you look a little closer:

“Canada, Japan and others have articulated a specific goal we would like to see,” he said, adding that they had suggested reducing emissions by half by 2050. The agreement calls for a reduction of 25 per cent by 2030.

The Prime Minister said any agreement that involved countries such as China and the United States that have not signed on to the Kyoto accord would be a success.


Waitasec - I've heard this before...oh yes Rona Ambrose put it before the House of Commons as "The Clean Air Act" - a do nothing piece of legislative puffery intended to sweep an issue under the carpet.

Once again, Stephen Harper shows us his true colours - his position on climate issues hasn't moved one iota - he's just quit talking about it in Canada because he knows he'll get swatted about for lying.

This time, he's trying to make himself out to be a "foreign affairs genius" by "forging an agreement" to do absolutely nothing.

Friday, September 07, 2007

If We're Safer, Why Resurrect Bad Laws?

According to Stockwell "Doris" Day, Canada is safer than it ever was before 9/11.

I'm not so sure about that, but then again, 90% of what has been presented as "security" enhancement has been little more than window dressing in the first place as far as I'm concerned.

However, Mr. Day wants to attack civil liberties and freedoms by extending police powers once again:

Opposition parties banded together to refuse parliamentary approval for renewing two controversial provisions of the act dealing with investigative hearings and preventive arrest. Those controversial measures gave police the power to compel witness testimony and to hold possible terrorist suspects for up to 72 hours without bail.

As well, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down key provisions of the national security certificate process, used to detain suspected terrorists and other potential threats to national security. The court said the process violated the Charter of Rights because detainees were not allowed access to the evidence against them.

Mr. Day said Friday that he wants to resurrect all three provisions.


Waitasec - in the "shock" following 9/11, I can understand a certain amount of overreaction. Our lawmakers were smart last time - they put in sunset clauses on the most egregious parts of the "Anti-Terrorism Act". Clauses that in five years were not used once by law enforcement agencies - in spite of numerous arrests that ostensibly were related to "terrorism". Arrests accomplished within the framework of laws that existed long before 9/11.

The only piece of "anti-terrorism" law that has been used in Canada was the so-called "security certificates" - which the government abused by using them to indefinitely imprison someone without providing any form of recourse.

So...if Canada is in fact safer than it used to be, why would we want to resurrect badly written and considered laws that were either abused or never exercised by law enforcement agencies?

Innovation In House Construction

I've mused many times before about different ways that homes could be built - as have others.

The idea of a "construction factory" to do most of the major work in erecting a house is an intriguing cross between conventional construction and the approaches used in modular and manufactured home construction.

... most interesting, indeed.

And The Truth Emerges...

Remember an MP by the name of Wajid Khan, who crossed the floor some months after being appointed "PM Harper's Special Advisor on The Middle East and South Asia" - while sitting as a Liberal MP?

I suspected at the time that at least part of the picture was related to the Harper government's desire to sweep under the rug just how badly they were botching the Foreign Affairs portfolio in the Middle East.

Sure enough, wait long enough and the truth emerges:

A heavily censored series of summaries of meetings drafted by Foreign Affairs official Sam Hanson showed that Mr. Khan was told in meetings that Canada had lost credibility in the region because Mr. Harper's government had become too pro-Israel.
...
Mr. Hanson, the Foreign Affairs official who accompanied Mr. Khan on the trip, reported that several of the officials and academics they met - the precise source of each statement was censored - complained of a pro-Israel shift in Canadian policy.

"There was a consensus view that, diplomatically, Canada is well-placed to play a constructive role, but also that Canada's credibility in the region has recently been damaged by a perceived shift in Canadian rhetoric on the Middle East ..." Mr. Hanson wrote.


Uh huh - not surprising. When you have a hard line ideologue in control, they tend to blind to the problems that their decisions create - and Harper is not only the most rigid ideologue this nation has ever seen in the PMO, he's also about the most thin-skinned occupant of that office - possibly even making Brian Mulroney look positively hospitable to the press and critics. Might that play a role in the fate of Mr. Khan's report? Why yes, it does:

Mr. Harper's aides said the MP submitted a report to the Prime Minister from his 16-day, $38,000 trip with an aide and a bureaucrat, but Foreign Affairs access-to-information officers confirmed yesterday that no one in their department - which handles relations with the region - received it.


and ...

"The report would be critical of Mr. Harper's policies in the Middle East, and Mr. Harper doesn't want to share an adviser's report that would criticized his policies. And I believe that's purely a political consideration," Liberal foreign affairs critic Ujjal Dosanjh said.

The New Democratic Party's foreign affairs critic said she still doubts whether Mr. Khan completed a report, despite assertions by the Prime Minister's aides that one was submitted.

"If they intended for him to write a report in the first place, when they started to learn what he was hearing on this mission, they probably refused to let him write a report," Alexa McDonough said.


The denials from the Con$ aside, I'd put even money that Harper killed the report itself because it would have forced him to answer some pretty tough questions if it ever became public. (Which, I recall, was originally promised when Khan was appointed "special advisor")

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Mulroney Slams Trudeau

[Update 07/09/07]:
A lovely tongue-in-cheek synopsis of why Mulroney slammed Trudeau the way he did is here.
[/Update]
Why anyone would speak ill of the dead is beyond me ... at first.

Then it dawned on me - Mulroney never really left party politics. In fact, he's been a key advisor and strategy player behind the scenes in Stephen Harper's government.

Which leads to the delightfully fishy timing of "The Chin" making this latest pronouncement about his former adversary. What does he gain by slamming a now-deceased Prime Minister? Well, Mulroney doesn't gain anything, but the HarperCon$ do.

By accusing Trudeau of a lack of "moral fibre":

The late Pierre Trudeau wasn't morally fit as a leader because of his failure to support the war against Nazi Germany, says former prime minister Brian Mulroney.

In an interview to promote his soon-to-be-published memoirs, Mr. Mulroney takes direct aim at his long-time foe, whose intervention is widely considered to have derailed Mr. Mulroney's Meech Lake constitutional accord.

"[Mr. Trudeau] is far from a perfect man," Mr. Mulroney said in an interview with CTV News.

"This is a man who questioned the Allies when the Jews were being sacrificed, and when the great extermination program was on, he was marching around Outremont [Montreal] on the other side of the issue."


Mulroney has simply replayed the "Dion is not a leader" meme that the HarperCon$ have been playing for some time. This is simply part of a broader play to try and plant the idea that the Liberal party as a whole simply is filled by bad leaders - especially if they can make such an allegation stick to Trudeau's memory. (Good luck with that, boys - outside of Alberta, you'll need it)

With Harper playing games around when Parliament will sit again (and putting a new throne speech forward in October), the timing of this plays quite strongly into a fall election call. Mulroney's book will make a bit of a splash for a few weeks, just long enough to be a useful tool in the upcoming election - from Harper's perspective.

That said, I personally think Mulroney's comments are small-minded, petty and quite irrelevant today. The young Pierre Trudeau that existed in WW II grew and changed dramatically over the decades before he sat as an MP in Ottawa. Mulroney is merely falling in line with the generally nasty spirit that pervades the current Conservative party - where the ethos is no longer about a better Canada, but rather it's about power at all costs - and if you blacken someone else's name in the process, that's just a bonus.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Harper's Game...

Is looking more and more like Ralph Klein - minus whatever attribute it was that made Ralph "untouchable" to Alberta voters.

Like Ralph, Harper is obviously rather thin-skinned, and would much rather govern by decree than actually be held accountable in the House of Commons. Yesterday, it came to light that Harper was asking the Governor General to prorogue parliament until sometime in October.

Now, I could accuse Harper of trying to subvert democracy (he is), but the real question is what is his game?

I'd be more than a little surprised if he needs another four weeks to finish writing his script for the fall sitting of Parliament.

If his purpose is to trigger an election (by way of a throne speech so noxious the rest of the parties won't work with it at all), that would seem a trifle out of character for a man whose lust for power has been overshadowed only by his desperation to retain it.

While the Liberals under Dion haven't made huge gains in the polls, it's not like Harper has gained anything either. In fact, we appear to have something of a political stalemate right now.

Triggering an election right now likely results in another minority government, and frankly it's a crap-shoot whether Harper would wind up in the PMO again or not.

(Over at Impolitical, there's a rather interesting read on the prorogue as a means for Harper to avoid spillover from Ontario's provincial election (and possibly to have his MPs help his Ontario ideological soulmates in their campaign?)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Abusing "Freedom of Religion"

This is very troubling. A school in Quebec is ordered to shut down to shut down because it doesn't meet provincial standards.

The response? Well, instead of fixing the deficiencies (eg. following basic curriculum standards and having certified teachers), the people whose students attend the school decide to move to another province.

These events are examples of the key problems that I have with any private school that tries to separate itself entirely from the public standards and regulation. I have no problems with schools exceeding that standard, however, not meeting those standards is another thing altogether.

Unfortunately, many people seem to believe that their religious views take precedence over everything else in the secular world. This is demonstrably poor logic, and in the long run impairs the options open to their children.

For example, let us assume that this school chooses to teach a "theologically correct" version of physics (perhaps one that refutes any non-Newtonian mechanics). Up to a point, this might be fine, but for the fact that there is no "theologically correct" physics. When an unexplainable phenomenon is found, specialists in that domain seek an explanation that they can model, they don't simply sit back and say "God made it that way" as a pat explanation.

Now, let's consider a student who has graduated from a school teaching "theological physics", and walks into a first year physics course in college. They will likely be functioning with a significant knowledge deficit because they will have not been exposed to entire significant aspects of the discipline simply because someone decided it wasn't "appropriate" on religious grounds. (Or worse, simply taught badly by well-meaning but untrained educators who would not qualify for certification as teachers)

I'm not saying that these students shouldn't be educated within the context of their faith, but rather that there are compelling reasons that private schools can and should be held accountable to certain basic standards - regardless of ideology.

GNEP - Another Facet of SPP?

Until recently, I doubt that most Canadians had ever heard of GNEP, much less thought about it.

But then again, this is another one of Bush's bright ideas, which if you look at it puts Canada squarely in the field of play. Not only are we the United States' biggest trading partner, but we are one of the largest Uranium producers in the world as well.

But, then again, I didn't expect it to pop up as a under the table topic at APEC this week either. In general, I'm a trifle suspicious of our politicians on good days, Harper has always struck me as less trustworthy than most.

Sure enough, CTV observes the following:

Both Harper and Howard could see the GNEP become a major election issue, but to date, the Canadian government's position on the agreement has been a closely guarded secret.

At a briefing last week, one of the prime minister's most senior officials skirted a question on the GNEP.

"It doesn't feature on the APEC agenda, per se,'' said the official. "Whether the initiative has disappeared off the global agenda or the U.S. agenda, I really can't say.''


So ... the short answer is likely that Canada's government is engaging in secretive talks with the United States on this matter, just as they have been doing with the SPP - talks which they either categorically deny, or simply refuse to talk about. Like small children, when politicians go silent on something, you can pretty much bet that they are up to something - and they don't want you to know about it.

A brief perusal of the DOE GNEP site raises some interesting risks. The implication is that countries that produce Uranium would be responsible not just for mining and processing it into nuclear fuel, but also for accepting spent reactor fuel and subsequent reprocessing. This would mean that Canada would wind up accepting the return of a great deal of spent fuel from US reactors - when we have enough difficulties dealing with the waste from our own reactors.

Second, while transporting nuclear fuel rods is dangerous enough, it's comparatively safe when one considers the risk that transporting spent fuel poses.

This "partnership", like so many other things out of the current White House, is not a partnership, but a way for the US to get out of dealing with its own energy waste - by making it somebody else's problem. Even with the potential for positive research and revenue related to developing appropriate technologies, this vaguely spelled out plan raises more questions than it answers.

The silence of the Conservative government in Canada on this matter is neither acceptable or appropriate.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Richard Evans Is Channeling Chandler

What is it with these people?

First this week, we get Craig Chandler ranting about how you must vote Conservative or LEAVE Alberta!. Chandler's hard-nosed tirade was nothing more than a mean spirited tirade against people who dare disagree with his perception of Alberta's politics. (which may well be in the process of swinging away from the PC's)

Then we get Richard Evans complaining about all the money we spend on the homeless in Calgary.

According to Mr. Evans' thinking, 13% of the homeless moved here moved here to specifically suck off the public teat.

Why does he claim this? Because the statistics he's been looking at show the following:

Among absolutely homeless individuals who were surveyed, the most frequently cited reasons for coming to Calgary were:

[…]

7% - better access to services (health or social services, including schools)

6% - more / better shelter accommodations

[…]


Of course, what he fails to admit is that these reasons may well be one of many reasons that drew someone to Calgary, second he assumes that the reasons are mutually exclusive. (I don't have the study's questionnaire at hand, so I'm going to guess that they probably aren't mutually exclusive) That aside, I think the other end of Richard's statistics is equally important - by far the vast majority of homeless people are there for reasons other than intentionally being a drain on public resources.

So, according to Mr. Evans, the money required to look after these people is approximately 110 new police officers. While I think there is merit in expanding Calgary's law enforcement agency, I don't think it's exactly wise - or appropriate - to do so by punishing the homeless further. Poverty is not a problem that you deal with by putting more police on the streets.

Both Chandler and Evans exhibit the worst attributes of modern-day conservative ethos - a hostile mean-spiritedness that brooks no opposition, and is devoid of compassion for others whose lot in life is less fortunate.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Catching LifeSite In A Lie

Actually, not so much Lifesite as PFOX.

Last week, PFOX posted this press release claiming that volunteers at their booth had been assaulted by gay activists, and Lifesite dutifully parrotted the story.

Since Lifesite has a history of lies and distortion, I spent some time trying to find corroborating stories that would substantiate the PFOX claims - I came up empty-handed, which I thought to be a little strange. Normally something like this at a county fair would at least have been picked up by the Arlington media - especially since PFOX claims that police were involved, but since I couldn't substantiate the story from a second source, I chose to leave it alone.

Well, the people over at Ex-Gay Watch (an organization that tracks...and calls out...the lies and distortions from groups like PFOX and Lifesite) have tried to do the same kind of research I was doing - only they went further:

We contacted the Arlington PD and ended up speaking with John Lisle of the Media Relations/Legislative Affairs Office. He had no initial knowledge of such an incident. After checking briefly, he again said that no one was aware of such an incident. So we sent a copy of the PFOX statement to him at which time he agreed to check more thoroughly. After over two days of research, there was nothing he could add to his statement; no report exists and no one recalls such an incident.


So...if there was an altercation, it appears that either Arlington police weren't involved, or PFOX is lying through their proverbial teeth about involving them.

Of course, the right-wing anti-gay rights crowd thinks little of resorting to blatant lies and distortion to justify their narrow minded stance.

The Ethics of Afghanistan

While our Con$ervative government prepares the feel-good propganda machine to sell Canadians on all the wonderful things our troops are "accomplishing" over there, it seems a good time to take a look at the insanity of Canada trying to intervene in that country.

The ostensible argument is that Canada is present in Afghanistan to help establish a democracy. Fine, fair enough.

First, we must recognize that the geography of the region has resulted in a region which is aligned along traditional tribal lines. The very concept of a nation-state called Afghanistan is somewhat suspect at this level, much less having a coherent sense of equality. Inter-tribal rivalry stems not just from competition for resources, but also from the more subtle issue of the tribes treating one another as "The Others" instead of as equals.

Second, it is also important to recognize that the social norms of the region simply do not correspond well with Western social norms. Western society has moved away from the extended family and/or tribal notion of society into a much more individualistic model which substantially influences our notions of civil rights, and what "civil society" should look like. This view of society is dramatically at odds with the perspective held through much of the Arab world.

Third, even though we may see the trappings of democracy, we should be cautious about assuming that those trappings are in truth only the surface features of a western-style democracy. The very model itself makes some very strong suppositions about equality among citizens, and substantially less rigid social hierarchy than is common in Afghanistan.

From my perspective, we have to be cognizant of the simple reality that even though our politicians may naively claim that they are "bringing democracy to Afghanistan", the odds of any short term intervention producing anything close to a recognizable democracy. It will take generations to effect the kinds of changes to society that will result in a sustainable democratic society. (I will point to the steady degradation of democratic principles in Putin's Russia as an example of the problems that "spontaneous democracy" faces)

So, what does that mean for any military occupation in the area? Two things. First, we must recognize that our forces will become the focal target for groups that would otherwise be rivals for political control. Second, the other key point to recognize is that while our troops attempt to control geography, they are unable to become part of the local society. The very structure of military garrisons places the military forces at a psychological distance from the people, which further complicates the issue of influencing society in the desired direction.

Moving along, we must then begin to address the question of Canada's involvement in Afghanistan. The simple point is that right now, our forces are the focus of the various power brokers that are seeking to fill the power void that is echoing around in Afghanistan. Second, it's likely to take several generations to establish any recognizable democracy in Afghanistan. (As an example, I will point to India, which was occupied by the British Empire for over a century)

The questions that echo through my mind at this point are multiple:

1) Should Canada be involved in taking sides in what now amounts to being a civil war?

2) Can Canada afford the kind of resources that must be committed in order to maintain what amounts to an "empire-style" intervention in the region that will last not years, but decades?

3) Is there any reasonable expectation that the direction that tribal Afghanistan and the culture of Islam will adapt well to the kind of democracy that we are trying to foster?

Our current involvement in Afghanistan is social engineering of the most dramatic form. We are attempting to radically alter an entire society and its mores to enable a form of government that we understand to function.

Do we have any right to attempt such a radical intervention, or are we simply "tilting at windmills"?

Personally, I suspect the real answer is that just as the United States found in Vietnam, or is now finding in Iraq, that we do not have any right to impose such a dramatic change upon another society. We arrogantly assume that we are "moving things forward", but we do not appear to have the backing of the people whom we are supposedly "helping" - which means that changes will remain superficial - doomed to vanish with the departure of the last troops.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Statistics Don't Match Fantasy

Or, at least that's how the latest from Richard Evans reads.

Basically, Richard is getting upset because the definition of homelessness includes people who 'couch surf' because they have no fixed address, or are in the midst of some kind of personal crisis - as well as including those who live on the street and quite literally have no home.

On one level, I can sort of appreciate that Richard is attempting to criticize the existing statistics for not be adequately precise in their definition. (and, based on his snarky, but otherwise vacuous, comments he believes that any argument built on the existing statistics is by definition invalid):

Here’s the point: the current stats are skewed. They’re bunk. Without a proper breakdown between the number of “really homeless” vs the “homeless but not really homeless”, they’re not providing any real information on the actual number of people on our streets.

Period.

Keep that in mind when the candidates and social activists start throwing “homeless” numbers around in the run up to the civic election…


Actually, what Mr. Evans clearly is failing to comprehend is that homelessness, like a variety of other human conditions is expressed in a wide range of different ways. Some people have "family resources" that they can draw upon that rescue them from the truly destructive aspects of living on the streets (such as sleeping outside in sub-zero temperatures).

He is also failing to recognize that all of these people collectively place pressures on the housing and social support networks in the city. People who, for any of a dozen different reasons cannot find a place to call home - whether that is a temporary or long-term situation are an indication of problems within the city.

In Calgary, someone living in the city is going to have a struggle to find any kind of home that they can afford if their income is much below $2,000 / month - at least not if they want to be able to eat. (Calgary's rental market is running at record low vacancy rates, and rental of even a small apartment is pushing over $1000 in most of the city. (I'm sure that there are a few exceptions, but not many)

Someone who is "couch surfing" between friends is still homeless - no matter what hallucinations Mr. Evans may have to the contrary. They don't have the basics - like a stable mailing address or telephone number - which makes it considerably harder to access the very social programs that can help break the cycle.

Perhaps more disturbing is the observation that homeless people often suffer greatly increased rates of mental illness - ranging from relatively manageable conditions such as stress to more serious conditions like schizophrenia. The first thing that most mentally ill people need is stability - and being homeless is guaranteed instability in life.

The condition of homelessness tells us a great deal about the threshold at which someone is living in poverty because of their income (or lack of it). Right now, in Calgary, that bar's gotten pretty high.

But then again, poverty is just a matter of "poor decisions" ... at least in Mr. Evans' mind.