Thursday, September 30, 2010

Calgary's Mayoralty Race

I think I've made my decision about who I will be voting for on October 18.

We have an interesting, if somewhat bewildering array of candidates for the mayor's chair this year.

At the moment, there are really three that seem to matter - Ric McIver, Barb Higgins and Naheed Nenshi.

I've read all of their respective websites, listened to the soundbites on various news sources and so on.

Where McIver is concerned, I simply don't have any confidence in the man. He has been a force of division and polarization on a council that desperately needed unification and leadership. I simply cannot see how a man who made his mark by being "Doctor No" for the last nine years is suddenly going to be able to lead that same body without falling into the politics of division.

In a similar vein, I remember well his first two election campaigns - managed by none other than this man. The campaign against former Alderman Sue Higgins was filled with disrespect for both Ms. Higgins as well as the simple rules of good conduct in a campaign. How much access/influence McIver's former campaign manager might have on McIver is unknown to me - any is far too much given some of his antics in the years since that first campaign. (Yes, I remember him playing "audience plant" and trying to trap Higgins with leading, loaded (and irrelevant) questions ... even when he had been standing at the door passing out McIver's literature as a campaign worker)

Ms. Higgins I simply cannot fathom why she's running. So far she has gone out of her way to avoid saying anything meaningful. She's a pretty face, but frankly doesn't seem to have any opinions of her own. It seems to me that she's running on her public profile, and does not represent any new ideas or concepts in government. Sure, she's not from the current council, but I'm not in the least bit convinced that she would be any different in how she handled council and policy.

Naheed Nenshi represents just about everything that the other two front runners do not.

He has actual ideas about what needs to change, and how to change it reasonably. He's clearly paid attention to both the way the current council has been working (or not working, as the case may be), and has some pretty sensible ideas about how it should be approached.

On top of all that, he's actually managed to reach out to the disengaged voters in this city. He's not just doing the usual beat of forums, fundraisers and debates. He has used social media tools effectively (and honestly - it's actually him that answers on twitter, not an aide).

I had the opportunity to attend a "Coffee Meeting" with Nenshi at a friend's place this past week. It was a smallish group - only about 8 of us. But Nenshi still showed up, and we all had a very engaging time talking about the politics and policy. Nenshi might not be as slick as Bronconnier was, or as polished as McIver tries to be, but he's clear and articulate ... and more importantly he has ideas that show that he's actually thought about things and is aware of the realities of the extent of city council's authority.

Above all, he comes across as pragmatic. Nenshi doesn't label himself as a "conservative" or a "liberal" ... or any other stripe. He seems to be willing to draw from the valuable ideas of any perspective and use to solve problems. We've had too much of people confining themselves to a particular notion of a given political ideology in this province - a pragmatist would be good for Calgary.

I'm sold. Calgary's city council needs a change. That isn't going to come from someone who has been on council for the last ten years; nor is it going to come from any of the former councillors who have come forward as candidates for the mayor's chair. As for the rest of the candidates - as usual, they remain complete unknowns for most of Calgary's citizens and their share of the vote will no doubt reflect that.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How Effective Are "Texting Bans"?

With Alberta following on the heels of other states in attempting to ban drivers from "texting" on their mobile phones, it is of some importance that we pay attention to the effectiveness of such bans implemented in other jurisdictions.

Apparently they aren't as effective as you might expect - in fact collision rates have gone up in some areas.

"Texting bans haven't reduced crashes at all. In a perverse twist, crashes increased in 3 of the 4 states we studied after bans were enacted. It's an indication that texting bans might even increase the risk of texting for drivers who continue to do so despite the laws," says Adrian Lund, president of both HLDI and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.


Now, can we get away from ever more ridiculous "distracted driving laws", and start finding real solutions to the issues involved? I don't know what the solutions are for this issue, but it doesn't live in the realm of ever increasing police powers.

I'm not saying that texting (or other activity) while driving is a smart thing to do - far from it in fact. The fact is that there is a whole new generation of drivers out there, and they grew up with this technology. Driving requires that you pay attention to what's on the road - this is indisputable. However, if the laws criminalizing "texting" result in an increase in collisions, they are clearly the wrong solution.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Chilling

I don't like Harper as PM - I never have. However, G&M columnist Rick Salutin has just done a summarization of Harper's style that deserves some attention.

Salutin describes Harper as a disciple of Leo Strauss - a man whose ideas are central to the NeoCons - especially the Bush II NeoCons.

A little more digging on the subject turned up a rather lengthy discussion of Straussian politics which further reinforces much of what has disturbed/angered me about Harper's actions as PM since day one.

Most disturbing is this:

While professing deep respect for American democracy, Strauss believed that societies should be hierarchical – divided between an elite who should lead, and the masses who should follow. But unlike fellow elitists like Plato, he was less concerned with the moral character of these leaders. According to Shadia Drury, who teaches politics at the University of Calgary, Strauss believed that "those who are fit to rule are those who realize there is no morality and that there is only one natural right – the right of the superior to rule over the inferior."


Unsurprisingly, this is directly consistent with just about every action that Harper has taken, and it plays equally well when held up against his statements about government policy discussions such as the public debate around Afghanistan - where Harper has stated that the public "doesn't understand" these complex issues. (I won't even begin to describe how this kind of attitude from our politicians angers me)

Many neoconservatives like Paul Wolfowitz are disciples of a philosopher who believed that the elite should use deception, religious fervor and perpetual war to control the ignorant masses.


Has anyone else noticed Harper playing both of these cards on a regular basis? Whether it is using Canada's troops abroad for photo-ops, or having Canadian fighters "repel" Russian "patrols" over the arctic - he's been consistently the most militaristic PM that Canada has had since the Second World War. (and nobody back then was glorifying war - it was seen as a nasty, necessary evil - Harper glorifies it)

As for the religious fervor thing - I only need refer you to the works of Harper's "backbench" MPs who keep tabling the TheoCon legislation that his "base" cries out for, and the consequences for front bench MPs like Diane Ablonczy when they offend that base.

Strauss' approach to things describes perfectly why Harper sees nothing wrong at all with simply shutting down parliament when things get too hot for him, or his government looks about to fall. It also explains much about the government's legislation (as brain damaged as much of it is - such as "get tough on crime" legislation which will cost taxpayers billions of dollars yet.

Make no mistake about it, Harper is a Straussian - and he's a particularly unpleasant example of what can happen when someone takes any philosophy to extremes. When you hear John Baird - or Harper - talking snidely about "Toronto Elites", one has to wonder just what kind of Elites they are themselves ...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bill C-391 Is A Government Bill

With all of the shenanigans going on around the "Private Member's Bill" C-391 An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act (repeal of long-gun registry), I think it's time to examine the government's actions more carefully.

Theoretically, as a Private Member's Bill, C-391 doesn't represent the government's official policy or direction. However, there's an old saying about actions speaking louder than words.

This article is a veritable compendium of how Harper has mobilized his front bench to garner support for this bill. (I'd put good odds that the upcoming vote will be a whipped vote on Conservative benches - and we all know what happens to MPs who defy Dear Leader's orders ...) The amount of money the HarperCon$ are spending on attack ads to slag MPs that they want to bully into voting for C-391 is also telling.

If this is "just a private member's bill", then we might just want to ask Mr. Harper and his goons why they are acting as if it is in fact a government bill?

The point here is not just that this is a government bill, but that Harper is throwing the entire weight of the government front benches behind it. This is not new for Harper. Every time there's an issue that is in the least bit controversial, he has his back bench MPs introduce it through the Private Member's bill. Then, mysteriously, the vast majority of Harper's caucus votes for it ... in particular the front benches. This has happened with other private member's bills, and I'll put money that a careful review of Hansard votes will show that every time a TheoCon "private member's" bill is tabled, the front benches of Harper's team voted for it.

Back bench bills, like prorogation, are part of Harper's bag of tricks - because he knows damn good and well that if he tabled this legislation as government bills, he'd find himself losing a confidence vote rather quickly.

As for the opposition parties - if you haven't figured this out yet, it's time that you got the message and start kicking the HarperCon$ out of Ottawa.

[Update 17/09/10]
Just how much are the HarperCon$ wasting on a supposedly "private members bill"?

Oh yes, as Ms. Taber points out Harper hails from Toronto himself in the first place ... a good point to consider when parsing Baird's asinine comment about "Toronto elites". I wonder what he'd make of the fact that this writer is blogging from the CPoC stronghold of Alberta (and is mysteriously opposed to Bill C-391)?
[/Update]

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Whining Illogic About Registering Long Guns

It makes no sense. Listen to people who oppose the long gun registry, and you get all of these brainless platitudes about "lifestyle" and "heritage" ... or how farmers need to have guns to deal with wildlife like coyotes raiding their livestock.

The gun registry changes none of those things. Not one.

Yet, none of these vocal opponents will answer one simple question: "How is registering a gun any different than registering your car?"

Think about it for a moment. Our cars are every bit as much a part of our culture these days. We all register our cars willingly - acknowledging the validity of the government's claim to regulate our use of motor vehicles.

Yet, when you point this out to opponents of the gun registry, they ignore the underlying point entirely. Somewhere, somehow, it gets twisted into an argument about "their right" to have firearms, as if it's any different from registering a car.

The criminals still steal cars and use them for crimes. How is this different from criminal use of firearms? It isn't.

What differentiates long guns from cars? Not much ... except their use in domestic violence:

In 2008, in Ontario the RCMP’s Annual Report on the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee (DVDRC) stated there were 165 women and children were killed in domestic violence. The figure increases to 230 when you add male victims of domestic violence – the majority of which were suicides by the domestic violence perpetrator.


To what purpose is registering a firearm? It serves the same purpose as registering a car. If one gets stolen, it can be traced when it turns up; if one gets used in a crime, it becomes easier to link the registered firearm's disappearance.

But, above all, it's about accountability. Just as I am obliged as a car owner to keep my vehicle in reasonable repair and to operate it as safely as possible - so is a gun owner obliged to store their guns safely, and to use them only when safe to do so.

In truth, it is my opinion that gun owners should be required not only to register the guns, but also to carry liability insurance. This isn't about "big brother" government, it's about personal responsibility and accountability. Plain and simple.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Where The Immovable Lobbies The Intransigent

I don't really know whether to laugh or cry about the Vatican's rumoured intervention in the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.

But seriously, given the rigid adherence to dogma that Pope Benedict XVI has demonstrated - even when there's concrete evidence that calls the dogma into question - doesn't it seem a trifle ridiculous to be intervening in a case in Iran which is based on religious law that is just as rooted in the intransigence of a few to consider reason in the first place?

Really - what kind of logic arrives at stoning someone to death for supposed adultery? ... and is that logic any different than the reasoning that demands that only men be priests and calls GLBT people "objectively disordered"?

Assuming the Vatican even opens such a conversation with Iran, I can only imagine the laughter of the Ayatollahs who control the puppet strings of power behind the scenes after the phone call.

(That said, I consider the sentence on Ms. Ashtiani's head barbaric and a ridiculous overreaction to the situation in the first place)