Saturday, July 23, 2005

On recognizing the problem

Gerard Latortue may extend Haiti's voter registration deadline due to low turnout. But he figures the problem is late registration, rather than the obvious explanation:
Latortue said he was optimistic at least one million people would register by the end of July, adding his goal is to see at least 2.5 million registered.

"My experience in Haiti is that people always wait until the last moment to register," he said...

Aristide supporters have also suggested many citizens are not interested in voting because his Lavalas Family party has so far not agreed to participate, an argument the interim government has dismissed.

The reality is that the last man repeatedly elected by the Haitian populace is now in exile, and his party successor is now in jail based on demonstrations by his opponents rather than on anything resembling evidence:
Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste, who has emerged as a possible Lavalas presidential contender, was sent to prison and told he could be charged in connection with the slaying of a prominent Haitian journalist...

Authorities said they detained Jean-Juste for questioning because of a "public clamour" for his arrest by angry demonstrators at the journalist's funeral Thursday.

To Latortue's credit, he hasn't acted on the insane suggestion that Lavalas be formally banned. But it should be obvious that whatever comes out of the next Haitian poll, it won't in any meaningful way resemble "fair and representative elections". By Latortue's own standards, failure is inevitable - and extending the deadline won't change that.


Here's how well Iraq's constitutional process is working at the moment:
The now 14-person Sunni delegation suspended its participation in the constitution draft process after a 15th committee member, Mijbil Ali Hussein al-Sheikh Issa, was shot and killed in Baghdad earlier this week. Two other people, including a consultant to the committee, were also killed.

The delegation wants better security and an international probe into the deaths, said the Western official, who told reporters the Sunnis have expressed doubts about the credibility of an Interior Ministry probe.

Does anybody seriously think that genuine agreement on a constitution is close to happening when the entire Sunni delegation doubts the credibility of the current regime which is happily getting into bed with Iran? There may well be an "agreed" constitution by the deadline, but it's obvious that there's no real trust between even the major factions, and that's with both former Baathists and religious extremists mostly left out of the process. The mess keeps getting worse, and will keep doing so no matter how long the U.S. chooses to stick around.

Fair and balanced

Not that there's any surprise, but CanWest goes off the rails again. The National Post concludes that what Canada needs is a love letter to conservatism in general, framed around questions about Stephen Harper's leadership.

While a good chunk of the article is spent fawning over Harper or giving him tons of unopposed quote space, the more remarkable angle is that the article manages to include multiple dissenting voices against Harper without giving a word's worth of mention to non-Conservatives. Critical quotes come from Harper's recent biographer, a Conservative member saying that Harper hasn't mentioned policy enough, and another party member who notes that Harper managed to drive his wife and daughter out of the party. The undercurrent is that Harper's views are to be taken as correct; the only question posed is whether Harper can successfully impose those views on Canada.

But nowhere is there the slightest hint that there could be another alternative to the Liberals...nor even that the Liberals themselves are anything more than a placeholder waiting to be removed as soon as the chosen Con leads his party to victory.

Of course, if there's any party trying to fight against "stubborn polling numbers", it's the party which hasn't risen much in the polls despite having the country's most credible leader and a track record of accomplishing its goals in Parliament, not the one which has dropped in the polls because it's been embroiled in scandal while accomplishing nothing. Somehow I doubt the NDP will get the chance to make its case through the NP's featured story.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Foreign policy contradictions

Via Rabble, This Magazine has a rundown of Canada's allegedly two-faced foreign policy:
Situation: Vietnam War
What we said: Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson publicly called for a pause in bombing and a negotiated settlement to the Vietnam War.
What we did: The Canadian military participated in the conflict and also profited by supplying US forces with a range of lethal and non-lethal supplies, from boots and bombs to berets and Agent Orange.

The analysis is simplistic (as would tend to be the case given a ratio of two sentences per foreign policy issue), but the concept is one worth considering in more detail.

The most significant problem with the article is that it makes no distinction between government policy and private actors. In some cases such as Vietnam and Iraq, the hypocrisy was genuinely within the government itself; the same is probably true for South Africa where the calls for a boycott weren't backed by policy.

That said, there's no inherent contradiction in seeking to change a state's human rights record while at the same time allowing (or even encouraging) trade - particularly where the effect of that trade is to open up the society to at least some degree, which is a possibility in at least some circumstances.

Of course we shouldn't be looking to boost trade where the effect will be to prop up apartheid-type regimes or to fuel a civil war - and the article is able to mention a few such cases. But we should be aware of the potential for freer trade to bring with it a freer flow of ideas, and seek out opportunities to encourage both, through both our government and our private sector.

Points for brazenness

Now Bushco isn't even pretending to be the least bit accountable for anything:
The White House on Thursday threatened to veto a massive Senate bill for $442 billion in next year's defense programs if it moves to regulate the Pentagon's treatment of detainees or sets up a commission to investigate operations at Guantanamo Bay prison and elsewhere.

The Bush administration, under fire for the indefinite detention of enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and questions over whether its policies led to horrendous abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, put lawmakers on notice it did not want them legislating on the matter.

The Bush strategy is now clear: hire Halliburton to provide the world's largest rug on a no-bid, cost-plus basis, and start sweeping as frantically as humanly possible.

But with prominent Republicans refusing to play along (and neither McCain nor Graham was buying the White House line), this isn't going to work. As well it shouldn't.

(Via Kos and Digby.)

Flying under the radar

For those wondering whether coordination with the U.S.' no-fly list would be that big a deal from an information standpoint: yes, it would be:
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration violated privacy laws by secretly collecting personal information on at least 250,000 people, congressional investigators said Friday.

The Government Accountability Office sent a letter to Congress saying the collection violated the Privacy Act, which prohibits the government from compiling information on people without their knowledge...

The GAO letter noted the TSA also said originally it wouldn't use and store commercial data about airline passengers. It not only did that, it collected and stored information about the people with similar names.

The information-gathering might well have been reasonable if disclosed in advance, though the "similar names" part of the project seems like a ready recipe for a lot more Brandon Mayfields based on even less evidence.

More importantly, though, do we really need more examples of how much contempt the current U.S. administration has for both individual privacy and proper process in general?

Transit use

This press release doesn't give details of the nationwide increase, but this deserves some attention:
BC Transit's Municipal Systems Program carried a total of 18.6 million passengers in 2004/05, an increase of 841,000 (5%)over the previous year. This is more than double the 2.4% increase in ridership posted by transit systems across Canada. The program includes 69 transit systems across British Columbia outside Greater Vancouver and Victoria.

I'd be interested to see the source of the nationwide numbers, and of course a breakdown of where the increases were the greatest. In any event, it's great news that (even before the added money for transit this year) people are making better use of an environmentally-friendly option.

Just wondering...

Billmon slams the new and all-the-more-depraved Patriot Act. A good read.

In light of Harper's endorsement of every other current U.S. initiative, has anybody asked him whether he thinks Canada should follow this one?

About time

Ontario announces funding to allow for $4 billion in school repairs:
Under the "good places to learn" program, the province will provide $280 million over three years for school boards. That money will allow them to obtain $4 billion in loans to repair, upgrade and replace old schools.

The initiative and the funding was announced in February. Yesterday, Kennedy outlined how this year's money — $75 million from the province, to obtain $1 billion for repairs in 1,400 schools — would be spent.

But the funding doesn't come close to covering the backlog of needed repairs.

Toronto Catholic board chair Oliver Carroll recently told the Toronto Star that it would take $5 billion to $6 billion over 15 years just to make Toronto's 750 public and separate schools state-of-the-art buildings.

As important as it was to balance budgets in the '90s, this is the fallout, as needed capital expenditures are over a decade behind schedule. Fortunately, some provinces are using the spoils of good fiscal management to catch up on these projects. Kudos to McGuinty for joining the list.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The road behind

Jim Reed puts together a concise history of the Middle East, featuring reminders like this:
It was the British Empire that set the Muslim/Arab world on its course toward authoritarian, centralized rule. Powerful governments, under kings, emirs or tribal chieftains, were thought by the British to be easier to control than popular movements that might have given rise to some form of democracy.

The very idea of democracy in the Arab world was anathema to the British and, later, the Americans; any popular movement was seen as a potential threat to Western hegemony. This held especially true after the discovery of oil in the region.

The British government and its Colonial Office supported, we might even say invented, these centralized governments – Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States – and often maintained them in power through a combination of military support and financial subsidy.

Sadly, the policy has changed only to the extent of the U.S. and Britain trying to claim democratization while controlling governments in new ways. Needless to say, this isn't going to give the locals any reason to trust the new imperialists.

Not in anybody's backyard

Scott Piatkowski slams the NIMBY principle:
(N)o one should be expected to have to live with a toxic waste incinerator, a six-lane highway or a coal burning power plant in their backyard. Indeed in the case of the latter three examples, it doesn't matter whether the pollution is being spewed into the air from your own backyard. As we know from the seemingly permanent blanket of smog that has plagued Southern Ontario for the past few summers, pollution knows no boundaries.

Very well put. Read it.

Edit: to actually include the link.

Tobin taxed

I'm a huge fan of Talking Points Memo, but Josh Marshall's approval of a post mocking the Tobin tax concept shows that it isn't just the right in the U.S. that sees no place for world standards. From the Note:
Just an hour ago, I mentioned that Frank Gaffney made a wrong-headed linkage between the Gaza pull-out and the London bombings.

Now, Gaffney is asserting that we are all at risk from the United Nations imposing a global tax on unsuspecting citizens everywhere. Talk about playing to the black helicopter crowd!

As bad as the post is, some of the comments are much, much worse:
"The "global tax" is Bonkers. How would such a thing happen? it's completely insane. There is no reasonanble theory in existence about how such a thing could even be done, or anyone who even might suggest so other than residents of State Instutions and the Center For Security Policy..."


"The idea of any "global tax" would have to take the form of a treaty, negotiations for which would never even start, because it's too lunkheaded to waste time on."

So who does support a Tobin tax? The Canadian Parliament, for one. France and Belgium, for others. The AFL-CIO and World Council of Churches, among other NGOs.

And the idea is based on a perfectly sound principle: that a small tax on currency trades can serve two key purposes - preventing currency speculation which can lead to economic meltdowns, and raising money for global goals such as third-world development.
Naturally, there are difficulties in getting such a tax organized, and nobody can realistically expect the current American administration to listen to reason.

None of the above is to say that Gaffney's anti-UN hysteria is anything but laughable. The point missed by the Note is that the position is laughable because it's so wrong-headed, not because it's reacting to an implausible policy suggestion.

Trying to hide the leaking elephant

Bush did his best to bury the Rove story - but the effort has failed miserably:
A classified State Department memorandum central to a federal leak investigation contained information about CIA officer Valerie Plame in a paragraph marked "(S)" for secret, a clear indication that any Bush administration official who read it should have been aware the information was classified, according to current and former government officials...

The paragraph identifying her as the wife of former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV was clearly marked to show that it contained classified material at the "secret" level, two sources said. The CIA classifies as "secret" the names of officers whose identities are covert, according to former senior agency officials.

As Kos points out, this is the Washington Post's top story today.

The interesting part will be to see Bush's strategy from here on in. The administration tried spinning, but the press wouldn't take "I won't talk about that" for an answer. Now the best diversion available has proven ineffective - and frankly the Dems deserve credit for not overblowing Roberts as an issue such as to distract attention from Rove.

Is there anything else in the Republican arsenal, aside from trying to discredit the entire CIA as well as Fitzgerald personally? And are they crazy enough to give that a go?

Spiralling into control

Reasonably good news from StatsCan:
Statistics Canada report says Canada's crime rate fell a marginal one per cent last year...

Except for an increase in 2003, the crime rate has generally been falling since it peaked in 1991, StatsCan said. Police reported about 2.6 million offences in 2004, resulting in a crime rate that was 12 per cent lower than a decade ago.

Even if progress is slow, the crime rate continues to go in the right direction - no matter what your friendly neighbourhood wingnut has to say.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Reason for optimism?

If nothing else, Rich Coleman deserves credit for looking on the bright side now that softwood lumber talks have (predictably) gone nowhere:
B.C. Forests Minister Rich Coleman, whose province accounts for half of Canadian softwood lumber exports to the United States, said he was encouraged another meeting has been tentatively set for Aug. 22 in Ottawa.

But based on a report from B.C. delegates at the Washington session, it's clear the Americans didn't come prepared to talk, he said.

While I admire Coleman's effort to find a bright side, I'm not sure that more meetings where the U.S. refuses to talk are necessarily the best means of making a deal. Unless Coleman is counting on their being so bored about saying nothing that they'll sign a new deal just to avoid further non-talks.

Come to think of it, that may not be any less productive than the past strategy to deal with this mess.

Settling claims

While this article criticizes Manitoba more than it praises Saskatchewan, let's note that Saskatchewan has at least managed a good start to getting land claims dealt with:
The Southern Chiefs Organization in Manitoba is calling on the federal and provincial government to help First Nations get the land they are owed.

The province owes more than 400,000 hectares (1 million acres) of land to 27 First Nations, but less than 2,500 hectares of land has been converted to reserve land so far.

The Southern Chiefs issued a report Tuesday comparing Manitoba's track record on settling treaty land entitlements (TLEs) with Saskatchewan's record. Saskatchewan, the report says, is "much more efficient" at settling claims, noting that more than half First Nations with treaty entitlements in that province have obtained the land owed to them.

Obviously there's a good ways to go in Saskatchewan as well. But Calvert and company are headed in the right direction.

Worth cooperating

It's been mentioned on a few other blogs, but the daylight savings time issue seems to be the day's big one, so here's my two cents' worth.

While it's odd for the U.S. to make the change without consulting Canada and Mexico (who are both very obviously affected by the move), this is one of the situations where there's no value in fighting the U.S.' move, and indeed if there are energy savings to be had then it's more than worthwhile for Canada to follow along as well.

Of course it'll be the provinces who have to decide, but the federal government should do its best to coordinate the move. There's no real benefit to maintaining a distinct policy on DST (and I'll acknowledge that this probably applies to Saskatchewan's avoiding DST as well), and tons of costs to having a less standardized system across the continent.

On thinking through one's plans

As little confidence as I had when the Liberals' Kyoto plan was first announced, this makes the lack of organization look many times worse than before:
Almost half the members of a team working on a national emissions trading system quit, rather than transfer to Environment Canada from the Department of Natural Resources, officials at the two departments say...

The now-depleted team is responsible for securing the reduction of emissions from 700 companies in mining and manufacturing, oil and gas, and thermal electricity, which account for almost half of Canada's greenhouse emissions...

Howard Brown, assistant deputy minister of natural resources, who built the team over the past two years, is one of those not moving to Environment.

Those who quit the team included two co-leaders with the rank of director-general, and "four or five" experts at the officer level, said Mike Beale, a director general at Environment Canada who now is in charge of the effort. He said the team originally comprised "15 to 20" people.

Ah yes, nothing like a team loaded with inexperienced members to make sure a new policy works. Supposedly there's been bureaucratic infighting for some time over the departmental switch - but shouldn't somebody be paying attention and coordinating to make sure these sorts of mass resignations don't happen?

More good news on beef

At the very least, Judge Cebull is paying attention to the appeals court ruling:
An order delaying the Billings hearing was received by the Montana district court Wednesday, said deputy clerk Heather McLean.

"They just vacated the hearing and didn't reset it," she said.

The order said the court and Cebull were awaiting the written comment from the appeal judges on their reasoning for reversing the preliminary ruling.

"To date, no opinion has been filed and therefore it is hereby ordered that the oral arguments be vacated until further order. After receipt of the court of appeals opinions, this court will determine whether further hearings are necessary," the document states.

As noted in the CP article, this has two main effects.

First, it confirms that Judge Cebull will take a close look at an appellate precedent which found that R-CALF's claims were insufficient for a lower class of injunction.

Second, it gives more time for Canadian beef to keep flowing across the border, and accordingly alters the definition of the status quo which formed a large part of Cebull's original reasoning.

This may not be officially over, and R-CALF never seems to give up, but the end appears to be in sight.

Will they never learn?

Buried in the current news item on Iraq is this gem:
(A)n official confirmed that nine staff members of the Iraqi special tribunal preparing to try Saddam Hussein have been dismissed because of links to the ousted dictator's Baath party.

The cases of 19 others, including the chief investigative judge, are under review.

The executive director of the Supreme National Commission for de-Baathification, Ali al-Lami, said the nine dismissed staffers held administrative jobs such as the witness security protection program and tribunal security.

Al-Lami said that the committee is preparing another list for 19 persons, mostly judges, for possible dismissal. They include chief judge Raid Juhi, he said.

The head of the government committee in charge of purging former Baath officials is Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, a former Pentagon favourite.

So the puppet regime's means of bringing integrity to the court process is by putting a possible Iranian spy who encouraged cronies to lie about WMDs in charge of determining who's eligible to participate.

A confidence-inspiring choice indeed.

Tobacco Litigation II

So much for the old canard that you can't raise tobacco taxes for fear that it'll increase smuggling. Now several provinces are holding tobacco companies accountable for their role in smuggling in the past. First up is JTI:
Ottawa and the provinces are demanding about $10-billion in compensation from one of Canada's largest tobacco companies for tax revenues lost when cigarettes were being smuggled into Canada in the early 1990s.

The suit, which was originally launched by the federal government, claims taxes owed on both the smuggled cigarettes and additional money lost because governments had to lower taxes to compete with the smuggled smokes.

I'm disappointed to see that Saskatchewan isn't participating in this one, but it's a plus to see it going ahead.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

On motivations

Pulled out of context, this would be great news:
The federal government has promised to spend $500 million over 10 years to address the socio-economic issues of the northern First Nations.

The only problem is that the money would never have been offered if the First Nations in question weren't now blocking construction of the MacKenzie pipeline:
The money will go into a fund to address socio-economic issues linked with the project. Ottawa announced the deal with the Northwest Territories and the Gwich'in, Kahsho Got'ine, Inuvialuit, Tulita/Deline and Dehcho First Nations late Monday.

It's great for some progress to be made on the living conditions of First Nations - but how many others are currently being neglected entirely (at least until the NDP budget is implemented) since they don't have a pipeline to block for leverage?

Bad faith negotiations

It doesn't look like the softwood lumber dispute is going away anytime soon:
Chances of a compromise resolution to the longstanding Canada-U.S. softwood lumber dispute appeared to dwindle on Tuesday after the U.S. side tabled a tough new proposal at talks in Washington, D.C.

The package includes a lumber export tax to replace U.S. duties, which Canada has previously accepted in principle. But it's pegged far higher than Canadian lumber-producing would deem acceptable, a source told The Canadian Press.

The U.S. proposal also puts a ceiling on lumber exports from British Columbia. American producers apparently fear their domestic market would be flooded with high volumes of wood from the B.C. Interior, where accelerated logging is underway to quell a massive pine-beetle infestation.

The Americans also have not budged on a previous demand to keep about half the $5 billion in lumber duties already paid by Canadian producers since tariffs were imposed in May 2002.

The U.S. proposal's so-called "exit ramp'' to get out from under tariffs permanently would require provinces to institute market-based reforms to their forest policies that would raise stumpage anywhere from 100 to 230 per cent, with no provision for future reductions in the Crown timber-cutting fee...

Just for a refresher: when it comes to softwood lumber, the U.S. wants mandated export taxes, import quotas, dictated changes to Canadian policy, and the ability to retain the spoils of past trade obstruction. And all this while American consumer groups want the tariff lifted since it's adding $1500 to the cost of a new house.

When it comes to CAFTA, the U.S. wants Central America to buy into free trade agreements in order to stabilize trade and open markets.

I wonder if the CAFTA partners are paying attention to what's coming out of the other side of the administration's mouth.

Reasonable demands

While the government's process goes nowhere, Canada's aboriginal leaders are making sure that victims of residential schools aren't forgotten:
The three-day conference brings together those who endured the residential school process, First Nations leaders and experts to talk about the political agreement on residential schools the Assembly of First Nations signed with the federal government in May...

In the keynote address Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine laid out a series of conditions that need to be met to allow the remaining natives who were forced into the schools to forgive...

Fontaine said the horrendous physical and sexual abuse and the attempt to erase First Nations culture at the schools must never be forgotten.

But he warned that First Nations must "take the burden off ourselves so we don't place in our the shoulders of our children."

Fontaine called for a national truth-telling process so both natives and Canadians can learn of the "tragic chapter" in Canadian history.

He also wants a national apology from the prime minister to all of Canada.

"We're not talking about a statement of regret. We're not talking about a statement of reconcilation. . .we're talking about a full apology presented to the survivors."

This would seem to be an eminently reasonably request. And an earlier speech from Fontaine seemed to suggest that Martin had made such a commitment, though the article cited suggests that he was still publicly dithering. This needs to get done.

As an interesting aside, a Canadian Google search for "Martin residential schools apology" turns up both NDP Martins demanding an apology as the top two items, with only tangential references to PMPM later in the list. Just in case there was any doubt which party is standing up for Canada's First Nations.

Harper = Bush - Rove

The Calgary Observer noted earlier that Harper plans to defend Canada's distinctiveness through a Department of Homeland Security similar to that in the States. But in the department of "wanting to be Bush's lapdog", this seems even worse:
Opposition Leader Stephen Harper said he talked briefly Tuesday with President George W. Bush about trade and security issues, including his own willingness to consider the U.S. missile defence project rejected by federal Liberals.

"I've said all along a Conservative government's prepared to entertain discussions on that if the Americans make a proposal to Canada," said Harper.

Now while 34% support may be better than the Cons have generally had lately, it's still another example of Harper deliberately taking a stance contrary to that of most Canadian people.

Does he really think Fox News and Focus on the Family can give him that much of a bump before the next election?

Exporting sanity

Some good news from Iraq for once: the rest of the world is learning from the U.S.' mistakes:
Although couching criticism in diplomatic language, officials from the World Bank and the U.N. made it clear that the international community's $13.5-billion rebuilding effort would differ from the U.S. approach.

The United States in early 2004 awarded contracts to a handful of U.S.-based multinational firms such as Halliburton Co., Bechtel Corp. and Perini Corp. for massive infrastructure projects such as building power plants, hospitals and clinics and refurbishing water treatment facilities.

But many of the firms have had difficulty completing projects in the face of insurgent attacks, logistical difficulties and complicated U.S. contracting guidelines. At least one contractor, Contrack International Inc., has pulled out. Perini and Pasadena-based Parsons Corp. have had jobs taken away from them over concerns about rising costs.

The international officials said they had learned from the U.S. experience and would rely on Iraqi contractors. Besides being cheaper, Iraqi contractors often face fewer security concerns, said Michael Bell, a Canadian official overseeing part of the international reconstruction effort.

It's amazing that this late in the process, it takes international involvement to point out that reconstruction money is poorly spent when it:

- isn't providing local employment;
- isn't addressing immediate needs in a war zone; and
- is building megaprojects which Iraq can't maintain or operate on a long-term basis.

Amazingly, a U.S. negotiator commented that it was "a very successful day" without addressing the criticisms. I suppose the bad news is that if the U.S. sees other countries filling the need to spend money on useful projects, it can devote itself full-time to lavishing windfalls on American contractors.

But even if that's the U.S. position at this point, at least somebody's doing some good for a change.

Grinding to a halt

Apparently what we need first is a vaccine against shortsightedness:
A national network of researchers working on groundbreaking clinical trials of vaccines for such diseases as AIDS and SARS has had its federal funding pulled.

The Canadian Network for Vaccines and Immunotherapeutics, a group in the federal government's prestigious Networks of Centres of Excellence, learned last week it won't get the $34 million it was requesting from Ottawa next March.

"We could have been the first in the world with clinical trials with new vaccines for cancer, HIV-AIDS and hep C," said the vaccine network's chair, Dr. Michael Klein.

"That's gone. It's really damaging for Canada."

While the networks' head won't say why the funding was cancelled, Klein believes an independent review committee thought the vaccine network wouldn't generate enough profit to make the investment worthwhile.

I'm not sure where to begin on how bad a decision this is.

The article questions even the "lack of profit" premise - and with good reason, as it seems fairly intuitive that new vaccines would be in great demand.

But more importantly, there are other concerns here that could have far more impact that any profit (or lack thereof) off the vaccines themselves.

One of the network's upcoming projects was to be a study on SARS. Remember that disease whose outbreak may have cost $1 billion in tourism alone?

And then of course there's the added long-term cost to the health-care system of having to administer expensive treatments for diseases which could potentially have been prevented.

Apparently there isn't a formal appeal process - the court of public opinion may be the only means of changing the decision. This should be an easy one.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Well put

E.J. Dionne on how most of the programs that Bush wants to slash have done their job perfectly in lessening poverty:
The fact is that every year 27 million Americans are lifted from poverty by our system of public benefits. More than 80 million Americans receive health insurance through a government program -- Medicaid, Medicare or the State Children's Health Insurance Program, known as SCHIP. Without these programs, tens of millions would be unable to afford access to medical care. As the center notes, government programs reduce both the extent and the depth of poverty.

Does all this cost a fortune? Not by any fair reckoning. Federal spending on Medicaid and SCHIP represents 1.5 percent of gross domestic product. Federal financing for the rest of the low-income programs consumes just 2.3 percent of GDP. For a sense of comparison, consider that defense spending consumes 4 percent of GDP and interest on the national debt gobbles up 1.5 percent. President Bush's tax cuts -- which go in large part to the wealthiest Americans -- will consume roughly 2 percent of GDP.

So true. Read it.

(Edit: Typo.)

On the farm

There's been ample talk about how tough the past few years have been for agriculture in general - and not just for beef exporters. But, all jinxes aside, it looks like everything may be falling into place this year:
Despite the blustery weather of recent weeks, a bumper crop is shaping up, according to the latest crop report from the provincial agriculture department.

The weekly report says 90 per cent of fall and spring cereals are in good to excellent condition.

And 83 per cent of oilseed crops are estimated to be in good or excellent condition.

Naturally, the crops are never going to be perfect. But this sounds like a great start for this year. The centennial takes another turn for the better.

Reducing omissions

The Tyee points out a Kyoto strategy that would do a lot more good than the current plan:
Feebates are a novel combination of fees and rebates, designed to continuously tug the entire car and truck market toward better fuel efficiency. The basic idea is elegant in its simplicity: vehicles that are more efficient than average come to the showroom carrying a rebate for their buyers. Those rebates are proportional to the efficiency of the vehicle, so superefficient vehicles come with whopping big rebates.

Conversely, cars and trucks that are less efficient than average, come with a fee-a fee that, as you guessed, grows with the vehicle's inefficiency. Gas guzzlers, therefore, pay big fees. (Still, the fees are unlikely to be as large as the massive, $4,000 rebates car makers have lavished on purchasers of their largest trucks.) The fees pay for the rebates each year, so feebates are self-financing.

So far, Martin's willing to "consider" feebates. This should be something that moves well beyond the idea stage in a hurry - especially when it's already being done elsewhere.

Strong medicine

At the U.N., Maurice Strong has been let go for allegations of nepotism and tangential involvement in the Oil-for-Food scandal.

In the U.S., the president won't fire a crony who leaked information related to national security unless he's proven to have committed a felony.

Now which of these institutions has a right to demand reform in the other?


What Iraqis are concerned with:
Some senior elected officials and civic and religious leaders spoke out on Sunday, condemning the attack, one of a wave of suicide bombings that has shaken the greater Baghdad area in the past eight days. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered Shiite cleric in Iraq, asked the government "to defend this country against the mass annihilation," according to Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi, who led a delegation that visited the ayatollah on Sunday.

What the puppet regime is focusing on:
Iraq wants to launch a privatization program that would end state monopolies over industry, an Iraqi official said Sunday on the eve of an international meeting to assess reconstruction activities.

Call it a hunch, but might the government be seen as slightly more legitimate (and the insurgency seen as less so) if the cash grabs were a bit less blatant?

(Via Daily Kos and the Suburban Guerrilla.)

And now for something completely obvious

From the AP:
Britain's close alliance with the United States has put it at particular risk of terrorist attack, two leading think tanks said Monday...

The Royal Institute of International Affairs and the Economic and Social Research Council said the situation in Iraq had given "a boost to the al-Qaida network's propaganda, recruitment and fund-raising" and provided an ideal training ground for al-Qaida-linked terrorists.

The response from Defence Secretary John Reid was the usual blather about standing up to bullies. It's always reassuring to see foreign policy drafted on a second-grade level.

New poll results

From the Globe and Mail:
Canadians do not want their political leaders to undo historic legislation allowing gays to legally marry in the wake of a pledge from the Conservatives that they would do just that if elected.

In a new poll conducted for The Globe and Mail/CTV, 55 per cent of Canadians surveyed say the next government should let same-sex legislation stand, while 39 per cent would like to see an attempt made to repeal it. A further 6 per cent said they did not know.

Is it now time for a referendum just to stick it to the Cons?

Sunday, July 17, 2005

What of the true North?

The CP reported today on Canada's failure to contribute both funds and leadership to international research on the Arctic:
Canada has already missed one target for announcing its intentions for 2007's International Polar Year, one of two years of global scientific focus expected to quadruple the number of international researchers in Canada's Arctic.

As a final September deadline approaches, officials admit they're trying to cobble together whatever funding they can, likely to be much less than originally hoped.

And they warn the delay is already hampering Canadian access to up to $1 billion in matching funds from international sources...

Canada's contribution will be nowhere near the $350 million scientists had hoped would be earmarked for research and infrastructure...

(Expected) spending could range from a low of $20 million to just over $100 million, he said.

The lack of involvement on this issue is bizarre from the federal government's standpoint. Canada is affected by the issues under study more than almost any other state; it has developments in progress to try to bring more people to its northern regions; and it's supposedly trying to push research and development generally. Yet scientists interested in Arctic research don't know how much money (if any) is available, and Canada is missing a chance to build up a good amount of infrastructure to encourage future growth in the North.

Reclaiming religion

The LA Times reports on how the AFL-CIO is pushing to bring religion and labour back into line:
Labor leaders are responding with programs to overhaul their image. They want unions to be seen as a dynamic force for social justice, not as a stodgy special interest.

That's where the seminary students come in.

For $300 a week, they're organizing security guards in metropolitan Washington, carpenters in Boston, hotel maids in Chicago, meatpackers in Los Angeles. Some spend their days with the workers, trying to give them courage to mobilize. Others visit local congregations to urge solidarity with the union cause.

This was probably an inevitable backlash against the current Republican coalition, and it seems to be an example of how unions can still be a leading force on the left. A job well started by the AFL-CIO...which will hopefully lead to much better things for both the union movement, and for progressivism generally.

Stifling dissent

The UK blocks publication of a book by its former ambassador to the UN:
Publication of The Costs of War by Sir Jeremy Greenstock, UK ambassador to the UN during the build-up to the 2003 war and the Prime Minister's special envoy to Iraq in its aftermath, has been halted. In an extract seen by The Observer, Greenstock describes the American decision to go to war as 'politically illegitimate' and says that UN negotiations 'never rose over the level of awkward diversion for the US administration'. Although he admits that 'honourable decisions' were made to remove the threat of Saddam, the opportunities of the post-conflict period were 'dissipated in poor policy analysis and narrow-minded execution'...

Greenstock's British publishers, Random House, were remaining tight-lipped but it is thought that the book is almost certain not to be published in the autumn as planned. It was also to be serialised in a British newspaper.

In fairness, the block on publication is based on the revelation of privileged conversations with Blair, Straw and others. The problem is that those conversations should tell precisely the story that we'll need to hear in order to figure out how the Iraq debacle was allowed to happen from the UK's perspective.

In contrast to Rove's leaks against a devoted CIA agent for political gain, this is precisely the kind of inner knowledge that actually improves the population's ability to evaluate its leaders. Hopefully the book will come out fairly soon one way or another, but if Blair wants to be any better than his partner in crime on Iraq, he needs to let Greenstock tell something resembling the whole story.

Agreeing only to disagree

Another reminder of why we should be skeptical about new free trade agreements:
Canadian officials want to keep down expectations about another round of talks aimed at resolving the endless Canada-U.S. softwood lumber trade war...

Lumber exporters are paying about 21 per cent in combined countervailing and anti-dumping duties, first imposed in May 2002 after the U.S. Commerce Department accepted American lumber producers' claims Canadian softwood was unfairly subsidized.

The figure was as high as 27 per cent but has been revised downward after a series of reviews.

Ottawa and the lumber-producing provinces have always denied exports are subsidized and challenged the duties under the North American Free Trade Agreement and before the World Trade Organization.

Canada has claimed victory in a series of WTO and NAFTA rulings but must still deposit the money with U.S. Customs until the issue is resolved...

Hanging over the whole discussion is a threat by the United States, based on a legal interpretation, to keep much of the money collected in duties so far no matter the outcome of Canada's legal challenges.

The reward for our current free trade agreements is that we now have a bunch of favourable rulings which the U.S. feels free to disregard for protectionist reasons. So now we're headed back into additional talks, with no realistic prospect of an agreement, and with the knowledge that the U.S. will likely end up with a financial windfall from its obstructionism.

And this is from the country that's supposedly one of the main proponents of free trade (at least when CAFTA is the topic of conversation).

Is there any reason to think that future agreements will be any more effective in removing trade barriers toward other markets? And if not, then why are such agreements supposed to be worth our time?

Creating Flies

As if the insanity of "flypaper" wasn't readily apparent, new studies show that the vast majority of the foreigners entering Iraq to fight against the U.S. were only radicalized by the war itself:
(I)nterrogations of nearly 300 Saudis captured trying to sneak into Iraq and case studies of more than three dozen others who blew themselves up in suicide attacks show that most were heeding calls to drive infidels out of Arab land, according to a study by Saudi investigator Nawaf Obaid...

An analysis of 154 foreign fighters compiled by a leading terrorism researcher found that despite the presence of some senior al-Qaida operatives, "the vast majority of non-Iraqi Arabs killed in Iraq have never taken part in any terrorist activity prior to their arrival in Iraq."

Note also that the two studies were both by U.S. allies - one by the Saudi government, one by an Israeli think tank. These are sources with a strong motivation to present accurate conclusions, not to make the Bush administration look bad.

But then, the truth does the latter job perfectly well on its own.

(Via the Suburban Guerrilla.)

Making medicine available

Based on this story, let's give due credit to Apotex for giving public need some role in its production levels:
Canada's largest generic pharmaceutical company, Apotex Inc., wants to produce a thyroid drug that is no longer available to cancer patients in Canada, even though it's made here. And Apotex hopes to put it on the market at half of its former price...

"We are wholly Canadian-owned and part of our philosophy is to do what's best for this country," said (Apotex's CEO)..."I don't expect the volume will ever be there for this drug but when (Dr. Paul) Walfish phones, I feel a duty."

Naturally, there likely will be some market benefits - the article points out that thyroid cancer (which the drug treats) is spreading faster than any other type of cancer. But those suffering from it now and in the near future could be a lot better off if Apotex begins production.