Sunday, November 30, 2008

Didn't I Just Say That?

Thank you, Paul Wells:

Harper plays chess… while Rome burns

...So, drawing his inspiration from Jo Moore, the Downing Street spin doctor who thought 9/11 would be a “very good day” to get some embarrassing news releases out, Harper decided an economic crisis would be an excellent cover to use for a little political kneecapping. What could be more clever? That’ll show them he’s a serious guy.

So the real outrage of yesterday’s economic “update” is not that it seeks to impose on most parliamentarians a change to funding rules that most of them would never ordinarily accept; it’s that it accomplishes nothing else. It’s that in the most dangerous economic times Canada has faced in 20 years if not far longer, this prime minister can’t wipe the smirk off his face and grow up a little.

What comes next is beyond my ability to guess. The forces facing Harper do not look more encouraging, for me as a taxpayer, than the forces arrayed around Harper. But so what? Too much of our politics in recent years has been given over to warring camps who don’t care what their guy does as long as he’s their guy and he wins. A lot of the rest of us care less about the colour of the winning team so much as they desperately hope that whoever it is, he might take the job seriously.

At least since September, we have not been so lucky. Stephen Harper is my prime minister and for all I care he can go on being my prime minister as long as he cares and can win the little fantasy confrontations that so excite him. But he is acting like an idiot and I am ashamed of his behaviour.

BTW, I came home from work tonight to discover that my blog traffic had nearly tripled over the course of the day. I assumed that either Garth or KKK-Katie had given me some link-lurv that I was not aware of, but apparently this was merely the result of the entire progressive blogosphere going UTTERLY APESHIT.

This is fun!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Comment of the Day

The best thing about the leak of the PMO's "Talking Points for Dummies" memo is that most of the ConBots appear to have been struck dumb in the comments section for fear that they may be caught cribbing.

One conservative who did manage to find his own words had this to say:

Tom Radcliffe from Kingston, Canada writes: As a true conservative--that is, one who values the traditions of Canadian parliamentary democracy, which have proven sound in over a century of Canadian practise and many more centuries of practise and evolution in Britain before that--I am appalled by the Harper government's radical and innovative interpretation of our representative democratic process.

Governments must have the confidence of the House. If the government of the day loses the confidence of the House, the Governor General may ask any group of MPs who can plausibly claim to have the confidence of the House to form a new government. This is the traditional, conservative, way that Canadian parliamentary democracy works, and anyone who calls it undemocratic is either ignorant of Canadian history and politics, or some kind of wild-eyed, foaming-at-the-mouth radical who certainly does not deserve the name "conservative."

That the Harper government is choosing to engage in this kind of childish, anti-democratic, radical brinksmanship in a time of great economic uncertainty is clear proof that they are far more concerned with party than country, and it is a good thing that they are going to engage in a campaign this weekend to clearly announce that to Canadians.

Canadians aren't stupid. If we are forced back to the polls by this bizarre game of political chicken we will remember whose government created that situation, and why. That knowledge will quite probably be reflected in the election's outcome.

No More Games

Alway the curious type, I thought I'd take a look at what sort of reaction recent events were getting over in BT land. So I screwed up my courage and wandered over to That Other Steven's place.

I found this almost as amusing revolting as Peter MacKay's 'chicken' comment:

The trap is set

The latest news is that the potential of Bloc-Liberal-NDP coalition government in waiting is shrinking a bit now that the Conservatives have promised to remove required confidence from the party welfare issue.

This is bait of course.

If the BLN coalition backs down now, Canadians will understand that their opposition to the economic statement really wasn’t about the “lack of stimulus”, the rescue of Canadian jobs, or the “protection of rights of women and workers”. The opposition and brinkmanship that was threatening a fresh election or constitutional crisis would have been about parties that are so fresh out of ideas, so unable to inspire, that they were ready to go to political war over their $1.95-per-vote handout from the Canadian taxpayer.

Here's the thing, Steve. And Steve. THIS IS NOT A GAME.

As disgusted as we progressives are by Flaherty's refusal to take bold action to stimulate the economy, this is not just about money. As outraged as we are about Harper's blatant attempt to bankrupt his rivals, this not just about democracy. And as delighted as we are by the idea of Stephen Harper and the Conservatives being kicked to the curb by a progressive coalition, this is not even remotely about power.

Listen carefully.

By using the current economic crisis as an opportunity to gain permanent partisan advantage and ram through ideologically-based provisions that have nothing whatsoever to do with 'fiscal prudence', while at the same time ignoring the advise of both opposition parties and respected economists by doing absolutely nothing to help Canadians, Stephen Harper has finally proven that he is incapable of running our country like a grown-up.

For him, and apparently for his acolytes, politics is nothing but a game. I imagine he thinks of himself as a brilliant political chessmaster, but his behaviour is more like some twelve-year old boy with behavioural issues playing double-dare-you and bloody-knuckles and leaving burning bags of dog shit on the front porch at Stornoway.

It is now clear that even in the most dire circumstances, when hundreds of thousands of Canadians are suffering, our current Prime Minister cannot restrain himself from obfuscating, manipulating, and playing the most petty partisan games, even with something as important as a statement intended to update Canadians on the state of our imperilled economy.

To quote my favourite political movie, we've got serious problems, and we need serious people. Time for the grown-ups to take the toys away and send little Stevie to his room.

Friday, November 28, 2008

When Chickens Attack

Peter MacKay: "When they play chicken, they wind up looking up like chickens"

That just speaks volumes about the attitude of the Conservative Party, doesn't it?

It's really remarkable how badly Harper and Flaherty have miscalculated here. So much for the Conservatives' legendary "psychic powers". You know - the ones that enabled them to intuitively know what actions to take to simulate the economy way back when they are now insisting that nobody could possibly have known that a crisis was coming and had no reason to think they needed to do anything but purely by coincidence ended up doing exactly the right thing anyway?

Ta da!

And for his next trick, Jim Flaherty will pull a deficit out of... wait... Jim? Jim? Where'd he go?!

Fine. I'm in. Just make it stop.

I've been tossing around all day between outrage, exhilaration, and a feeling of impending doom. Mostly, it's that weird, scary, excited feeling that you get when you realize that you have absolutely no idea what is going to happen next.

It's certainly interesting. In that "oh God oh God we're all going to die" sort of way.

To focus my thoughts, and to give myself something to do besides making inaccurate predictions and contemplating the simultaneous implosion of our economy and our government, I've decided to jump on this bandwagon:

I'm still not sure how or if this could possibly work on a practical level (word is that 'Prime Minister Dion' is not an option), but whatever. They can draw straws. I'm beyond caring.

What I do care about is this: that whoever ends up running the government stop playing silly buggers, stop constantly manoeuvring for political advantage, stop using every crisis as an open door to sneak in otherwise unacceptable bullshit (a ban on union strikes? seriously?!?), and RUN THE GODDAMNED COUNTRY ALREADY!!

Today, Stephen Harper proved himself utterly incapable. Time to try something radical.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Flaherty Fiddles While the Economy Burns

Unbelievable. Our economy is going down in flames, our manufacturing industry is at death's door, tens of thousands of people are facing unemployment - largely in Jim Flaherty's own riding - and THIS is what our finance minister has for us?
Tories expected to slash party funding

Symbolic cuts to politicians' perks, temporary relief for pension plans and a political grenade – ending the $30 million public subsidy to parties – are expected highlights of Thursday's federal economic statement.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will ask the five political parties to give up the $1.95-per-vote subsidy they get to pay for staff and expenses.

...Stephen Harper's Conservatives, who won the most votes, stand to lose $10 million.

But proportional to revenues raised last year, the taxpayer subsidy represents 37 per cent of the totals raised by the Tories.

That's far less than the 63 per cent chop for Liberal coffers, 86 per cent for the Bloc and 57 per cent for the NDP. The Greens stand to lose 65 per cent of total revenues.

This is such an obvious, cynical ploy to screw the opposition parties and gain permanent political advantage that even Stephen Taylor cannot restrain himself from gloating. And yet, the Conservatives are painting this as 'an austerity measure'; 'leading by example'; 'tightening our belts' - despite the fact that none of this would come into effect for at least a year anyway, by which time the current financial crisis will be well past the point where a lousy $27 million will have the slightest effect.

Just for the record, here are five reasons why public funding of political parties is a good idea:

- Chretien brought this in for the same reason he brought in the donation limits: to reduce the influence of money in politics. That's a good thing.

- Public funding takes the pressure off MPs and parties from having to spend all their time begging for cash and puts more emphasis on their performance.

- It adds an element of proportionality to the system, allowing smaller parties like the Green Party to participate more fully than they would otherwise be able to.

- It encourages people to vote by making sure that their vote counts for something even if their chosen candidate has no chance of winning.

- As Mark Francis pointed out, the government already subsidizes political donations to the tune of 75% for donations up to $400, and 50% for someone donating the $1275 maximum would get half their money back (how much does that cost?). But that's only if they could afford to donate that much, and only if they actually made enough money to get this non-refundable credit back. Therefore, relying on donations only gives advantage to parties that appeal to the wealthy. Public funding, on the other hand, allows all voters regardless of income to financially support their party of choice simply by voting for them.

In any case, electoral reform is a debate for another day. Right now, all of the opposition parties must demand that this item be removed from the economic statement. If it is not, they must vote against it and consider approaching the Governor General about forming a new government.

If this is allowed to stand, there will be no end to it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tuesday Night Toon Blogging

I can't remember why, but I was suddenly inspired to go and look up my all time favourite Warner Brothers / Merry Melodies cartoon:

Oh, YouTube - is there nothing you cannot do?

And then there's that one WB/MM toon that I absolutely cannot stand to even think about so don't get me started because it will give me bad, bad dreams.

You know. The one with the frog.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Bald Faced Fibbers

Even Don Martin is having a hard time swallowing this one:

Technically speaking, he either fibbed or flip-flopped. But the best-case explanation for the most startling about-face of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's career is that he simply failed to see bad times coming, even with hundreds of fiscal gurus on the payroll and Canada's best economists on call.

No really, I think we should stick with that 'fibbing' theory. Except we really should call it for what it is:


Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty knew full well that the global economy was going to tank at least a year ago. They bought their first election by promising billions in cash and tax cuts they knew would eat up the surplus and put us on the thin edge. They knew that they would have no choice but to rack up a deficit when everything went south.

So they broke their own law, called an early election, and swore from here to Sunday that they would NOT run a deficit, knowing full well that they would. And beat the tar out of Dion for not promising to do the same.

That's not fibbing, Don. That's a cynical, calculated, bald-faced LIE.

But that's not even the worst part. The worst part is that they won the election on that lie. Because people believed them, despite Flaherty's track record - despite the track record of every conservative government over the past quarter century. They bought it, and now they appear to be buying the pleas of "wow, gee guys, we're really sorry but who could possibly have seen all this coming?"

Oh, yes - and they lied about the recession too.

September 15, 2008: "My own belief is if we were going to have some kind of big crash or recession, we probably would have had it by now." — Prime Minister Stephen Harper

November 25, 2008: Canada's economy entering deep recession — OECD

If they were actually that stupid it would almost be a comfort.

A Question Regarding CAW vs. UAW Benefits

I clearly don't know enough about auto industry labour relations, and my quickie internet research has failed to yield any answers, so I thought I would put this out there.

I had always assumed that, given the enormous amounts that U.S. automakers pay out to their employees in the form of health care benefits ('more than they spend on steel' is the usual estimation), it would be far more profitable for them to make cars at plants here in Canada since most of our health care is paid for by the government.

And yet, I read here that Canadian Workers actually make significantly more in pay plus benefits than their American counterparts.

Is that true? Why is that? Do Canadian workers get that much more per hour? Do they get hot stone massages as part of their benefits package? Does this have anything to do with the two-tier wage system I keep reading about but do not fully understand?

Please explain. Thank you in advance.

In the meantime, I feel that I gained a much greater understanding of the Big Three Bailout situation by reading Andrew Coyne's recent essay in MacLean's. Call it "The Auto Industry for Dummies". Here's a sample:

The real reason a Big Three bailout is a bad idea
The hope is that billions of dollars will succeed where hundreds of millions failed

...Anyone proposing to bail out the auto industry, in whatever amount, is obliged at the least to answer the question: where does the money come from? The answer is not simply “the taxpayer.” If that were all, the immediate objection—why should taxpayers be dragooned into paying for cars that consumers won’t?—might be answered: because the alternative is worse. Indeed, bailout proponents argue, not bailing out the auto industry might cost the taxpayer even more.

But the cost of such subsidies is not borne only or even primarily by the taxpayer, but by all those industries and firms that don’t get bailed out. It’s what economists call the opportunity cost: all the capital that subsidy traps in one industry is capital denied to other industries; all the sales diverted to one firm are sales diverted from its rivals; all the jobs “created” in one part of the economy are jobs destroyed elsewhere. Indeed, the cost of subsidy grows rather worse the more the subsidy “succeeds.” For then the diversion, from the efficient and competitive to the inefficient and uncompetitive, is made permanent.

...But even in the worst-case of liquidation, the factories do not simply go up in smoke. Somebody would have to fill the demand that Detroit had previously supplied, and the fastest and cheapest way for other manufacturers, foreign or domestic, to ramp up production would be to buy up all that unused capacity.

Interesting. And I would be the first to write this off as back-handed way of advocating a hands-off, free-market approach that end up screwing workers, except... workers are already being screwed. Not the ones who still work for GM and Ford and Chrysler who make more in a day than I make in a week, but the tens of thousands who were promised jobs for life and suddenly found themselves sans employment.

I'm just not sure the job situation would be any better under our new Asian overlords. So perhaps we should be looking seriously at building these. Or maybe these.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Repo! The Genetic Opera

You probably won't like this movie. Then again, you might just love it.

I make that statement based solely on demographics and the law of averages. If you get queasy at the sight of blood, or you hate musicals, or you think opera belongs in an opera house, or you have no idea why any adult person would dress up in a costume unless they were getting paid to do so, then 'Repo!' is definitely not for you. That leaves out my parents, my sister, most of the people I work with, and everybody in my choir except possibly Harold.

Nah, Harold probably wouldn't like it either.

For the rest of you freaks, 'Repo! The Genetic Opera' might just become your new favourite movie.

The film takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where mankind has been decimated by a mysterious plague causing mass organ failures. A corporation called GeneCo, run by the devious Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino) saves the day by creating genetically engineered organs, but at a hefty price. No worries, though - you can finance your new liver and kidneys through their easy installment plan.

Just don't miss a payment or the Repo Man will come to take them back. And he's not especially concerned about whether or not you survive the procedure.

Enter into this scenario a sickly teenaged girl who longs to be normal (Alexa Vega), her overprotective father with a secret life (Anthony Head), the three obnoxious miscreants who hope to inherit their father's GeneCo empire (Bill Moseley, Paris Hilton, and Ogre), and the formerly blind opera singer whose new eyes came at the price of eternal servitude (Sarah Brightman).

Then it gets complicated.

The story behind the film is almost as convoluted. 'Repo!' started life as a ten minute club act by Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich, and was eventually expanded into a full length stage play. At that point, Darren Lynn Bousman got involved. Darren, as fans of the genre all know, is the director of three of the wildly successful 'Saw' films. Having made millions for the studio, they told him he could do whatever he wanted for his next project.

He wanted to do this.

The studio execs suddenly became less enthusiastic. They loved the story and the gore - they just didn't like the singing bits. Bousman soldiered on, though, and despite having little support and no budget, he made his rock opera. And then the really hard part came - getting it seen. The studio had no idea what to do with it and just wanted to send it direct to DVD. But Bousman knew his audience and had other plans.

In an inspired bit of marketing genius, Bousman set up a kick-ass website and released the soundtrack one song at a time even before the film had finished shooting. By the time the first clips started hitting YouTube, 'Repo!' had a veritable army of fans clamouring to see this thing in a theatre.

By the time it sold out at the After Dark Film Festival in Toronto last month, they were showing up in costume, singing along with all the songs.

Last night was the first 'regular' showing in Toronto, marking the beginning of a limited one-week engagement at the Bloor Cinema, and they nearly sold out again. It's part of Bousman's privately financed Repo Road Tour with which he hopes to convince the distributors that this movie really does have an audience.

If it sounds like I'm avoiding writing an actual review, it's because judging 'Repo!' in conventional terms seems pretty pointless. It would be like trying to decide if Andy Warhol's portrait of Marilyn is a 'good painting'.

The story is unique and entertaining. The visuals are very, very stylish, although some moments suffer from budgetary constraints - notably the big opera finale which looks like it was filmed in a theatre smaller than the Bloor Cinema. The music is a bit uneven - some songs are a little painful, others you'll find yourself humming the next day. The cast is terrific, and all of them are excellent singers with the exception of Bill Moseley. Who knew that Paul Sorvino was an accomplished operatic tenor?

Which brings me to Paris. Yes, Paris Hilton plays Amber Sweet, the spoiled, superficial, surgery-addicted daughter of Rotti Largo. In other words, she's playing Paris Hilton. However, from everything I've heard from people who worked with her on this production, the Paris Hilton we see on tabloid TV is nothing more than a character, and the real Paris is a very smart, very savvy woman. Just look what she did to John McCain.

And yes, she can sing. But if you really can't stand the idea of seeing Paris Hilton in a movie, don't worry - she has a relatively minor role.

None of this really matters, though, or at least it didn't to me. I just found the whole thing immensely entertaining and just a whole lot of gory, campy fun. Most critics hated - hated! - it, and others had a great time. The Star and The National Post ran some pretty positive reviews yesterday for what it's worth.

Ultimately, this is a movie that needs to be seen in a theatre with a crowd of fans. Don't wait for the DVD. Do check out the website, watch the clips, and if you think you might be one of those rare birds who might enjoy this sort of thing (and you live in the GTA), make a point of going down to the Bloor Cinema this week and check it out. After this Thursday, who knows when you'll have another chance? If you want to meet some of the people responsible for the costumes and props (including my husband)*, they'll be at the 9:30 showing tonight doing a Q&A afterwards.

I'll have a pile of photos from last night that I'll post later tonight, including shots of Bousman surrounded by throngs of fans at the pub after he invited the whole theatre over for a pint after the show.

* In the interest of full disclosure, my husband did quite a bit of the leatherwork on this production, including Repo Man's iconic mask. He was a rock star last night once people found out who he was. He even got asked for an autograph. So where's his screen credit, Darren?

UPDATE: As promised, here are some shots from Friday at the Bloor.

'Genterns' waiting in line. They and everyone else in costume were eventually pulled out of line and given preferred seating.

All the media were there! Oh, and the hundreds of fans lined up around the block.

My man, posing with director Darren Lynn Bousman

The hardcore fans

Q&A with the director, MC'd by film critic Richard Crouse

Darren explaining the difference between 'musical' and 'opera'

Darren with his fans at the pub. He's engaged. Really.

Costume designer extraordinaire Alex Kavanagh

Friday, November 21, 2008

Passchendaele: Review #2

I managed to talk Murray Townsend - who claims to hate all Canadian movies - into seeing and reviewing 'Passchendaele' for our monthly review for the Milton Champion. I had already reviewed the film here, so I just had to edit it down to our 3-4 paragraph limit.

I don't get to see Murray's reviews until the day they're published in the paper, so I've been anxiously awaiting his verdict. Here's what he said:

If nobody said a word in Passchendaele, I would have thought it was one of the most beautifully filmed movies I’d ever seen.

The cinematography was amazing. From the scenery to the mood setting, everything about it was good enough for Academy Award consideration as far as I’m concerned.

But then, as with all Canadian movies, somebody has to go open their mouth and ruin things. And there’s no doubt this is a Canadian movie, even if it’s possibly one of the best ever made. Some of the acting is weak, at times it feels like a Hallmark production and some of the climatic scenes are eye-rolling — even laughable. The cross-carrying scene is just ridiculous.

I give it four-and-a-half stars for a Canadian movie and three stars in general. And stick around for the final credits, where the pictures create a more realistic emotional impact.

I know it's hard to tell, but that is actually glowing praise from this guy. Which means that I WIN!!! I finally found a Canadian movie that Murray LIKES! And by 'likes', I mean 'gave more than 2 1/2 stars to'.


(Both our reviews are in today's Champion)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

No wonder they wanted to shut this guy up

Bhaha ha ha ha!

Somehow, "I told you so" just doesn't cut it...

Budget officer blames Tories for coming deficits
GST cut, spending driving Canada into red: Page

OTTAWA - Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page told MPs Thursday that Canada will go into deficit not because of global economic conditions, but because of Conservative government decisions to cut the GST and raise government spending.

"The weak fiscal performance to date is largely attributable to previous policy decisions as opposed to weakened economic conditions," Page wrote in his first report to parliamentarians on the government's economic and fiscal position.

Page concluded that Ottawa could run a deficit as high as $13.8 billion next year, in 2009-10. Deficits could remain higher than $11 billion each year through to 2013, adding nearly $50-billion to Canada's debt over the next five years.

I've said it before - Kevin Page is my hero. But I suspect his job is about to get a whole lot more... interesting.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Auto Industry CEOs: Curing the Company by Killing the Jobs

The Big 3 CEOs have been testifying before Congress about why they deserve a big fat piece of the taxpayer-funded bailout pie. They have been voicing the very real concern that if they go under it would be an economic disaster for the entire continent and result in the loss of millions of jobs. But their principle argument seems to be that they are already doing their level best to be 'more competitive' and 'restore profitability'.

Here's Ford CEO Alan Mulally on his company's "Competitive Transformation":

Few companies in the history of our country have restructured more aggressively. I can tell you that in my experience, the union under Ron Gettelfinger is working with us as part of the solution.

In a very short period of time, working together, we have reduced excess capacity, closing 17 plants in North America – including more than one-third of our assembly plants – in the past five years. We have also reduced our workforce by 51,000 employees in the past three years, shrinking our hourly workforce from 83,000 to 44,000 and reducing salaried headcount by around 12,000 from a base of 33,000.

...Our agreement with the union also established an entry level wage that reduces future costs and will make us more competitive going forward longer-term. And, for the first time ever, it included no base wage increase during the four-year period covered by the agreement.

...We also will continue the ongoing consolidation of our dealer and supplier network. Our plans call for reducing our supplier network by more than 60 percent and thereby improving supplier capacity utilization and financial viability.

...We have announced plans to further reduce employment and cut benefits and compensation at all levels. We have eliminated merit raises and bonuses in 2009, and we continue not to pay any dividends to our shareholders.

Of course, all of this admirable belt-tightening doesn't apply to the private jets they flew in on so they could appear before Congress in a timely and efficient manner. But hey, at least they're willing to make some other personal sacrifices to help their ailing companies - like giving up their multi-million dollar salaries. Except, apparently, Mr. Mulally.

Chrysler was bailed out by the federal government once before, in 1979, with $1.2 billion in loan guarantees. The company repaid the loan, plus interest, ahead of schedule. Back then, former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca reduced his salary to $1.

Under questioning from Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., Mulally didn't join the other two executives in saying he'd do the same now.

"I sure respect the intent of it, but the most important thing is that we not degrade our ability to be competitive and deliver this plan," Mulally said.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Wrong Side of History

I nearly choked yesterday when I heard the following delusional nonsense come out of Georgie's mouth in his speech to the Manhattan Institute in New York yesterday:

"The crisis was not a failure of the free market system," Bush said. "And the answer is not to try to reinvent that system."

"History has shown that the greater threat to economic prosperity is not too little government involvement in the market, but too much."

Blink. Really? Wow. Who knew? I guess he must be reading out of that OTHER history book - you know, the one where America single handedly won every war it's fought, humans walked with the dinosaurs, and Herbert Hoover was the greatest president of all time.

That same day, Stephen Harper was busy exhorting his base not to become mired in ideology, raising hopes that he might finally be prying himself (and us) loose from the dying, toxic carcass of the Bush administration and it's thoroughly discredited economic policies.

This morning, there's this:

Harper lines up with Bush on reform
Two leaders balk at calls by other leaders for far-reaching new financial regulations

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to join U.S. President George W. Bush in a defence of free-market capitalism and resistance to international calls for dramatic re-regulation of financial markets.

On the eve of a meeting in Washington of leaders from the 20 largest economies, Mr. Bush argued yesterday against drawing the wrong lessons from the global financial meltdown.

In doing so, he rejected the view of leaders like France's Nicolas Sarkozy, Australia's Kevin Rudd, Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and even many U.S. Democrats, who have argued the root of the crisis lay in deregulation, greed and unchecked speculation.

...German Chancellor Angela Merkel last month attacked "greed, speculation and mismanagement" as the root causes of the crisis, while Australia's Mr. Rudd slammed the "obscene" failures of financial oversight.

French President Sarkozy yesterday defended capitalism but slammed what the French typically describe as the Anglo-American approach that "everything will be solved by deregulation, free competition and the market."

But in a comment article in Britain's Financial Times yesterday, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty supported Mr. Bush's view that free markets - properly regulated - remain the best approach for encouraging global economic growth and prosperity. "The open market system did not fail in this crisis."

It's like listening to the parishioners of some discredited minister trying to cling to their faith even as their leader is hauled off in handcuffs.

I almost feel sorry for them.

My New Favourite GLBT Blog

I'm not sure why I had never paid much attention to Montreal Simon before, but between Prop 8 and this story, I've been reading his blog so often lately that I thought I'd give him a bit of a shout out.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Iggy: Less Horrible Than Last Time?

I am overwhelmed by ambivalence.

I just finished watching Michael Ignatieff announce his not so secret intention to run for the leadership of the Liberal Party, and... I dunno. He seems to be saying all the right things: renewal, a 308 strategy, grassroots participation, laying the groundwork for generational change in the party. He even invoked Mike Pearson and (gasp!) the Kingston Conference.

I'm still trying to decide if I believe him or not.

What was most interesting to me is what he didn't say. He didn't talk about Afghanistan or his intentions for the role of Canada's military - something he wouldn't shut up about last time and put me off of him completely. He also didn't talk much about his overall views on economics and trade policy, except as they specifically pertain to the current crisis and the auto industry. Where is he on NAFTA and other international trade agreements? Where is he on tax policy? Where is he on market regulation? These are things I will want to know.

Still, I am less horrified at the prospect of Michael Ignatieff as Liberal leader than I was. My first choice would probably have been Gerard Kennedy; my current inclination is towards Rae. But if Iggy were to win (and at this point that's looking likely), I think I could live with that.

Maybe. It's early days.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


In honour of my ancestors and family members who served. Here are a few.

Modern portrait of Thomas Freeman, Loyalist, Jessup's Rangers.
He and his father John scouted for Gen. Burgoyne during the Battles of Saratoga, 1777. He was thirteen years old.

Alfred Jaques ('Yie') Truax (1897-1964), encamped at Niagara (standing in back?).
Served as army medic in WWI; later became a medical doctor.

William Frederick Holding (1897-1970)
With his parents and brother at home in the Bronx. Served in the U.S. Navy, WWI.

William Frederick Holding, Canadian Army Reserves, WWII

Gladys (Truax) Holding (1893-1976)
With her sisters picking fruit in the Niagara Peninsula as part of the Farm Service Corps ("The Farmerettes"), WWI

Alfred Warwick (1890 - 11 Aug 1918), with brother James who survived the War. Another brother, William, did not.

Olbermann on Prop 8

Twice now I've seen this guy get choked up, both in the past week. Once last Tuesday when he called the election for Obama, and again today talking about Prop 8.

You are a fine, decent man Mr. Olbermann.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Thoughts on Bob, the NDP, and Big Labour

There was a marvellous op-ed in the Star yesterday that reminded me a) why I like Bob Rae, and b) why I don't vote NDP so much any more.

Go. Read. I'll wait.

One of the earliest votes I ever cast was for Bob Rae (my very first was for John Sewell, I'm proud to say). I did it partly to piss off my very conservative dad, but mostly because I believed, and still believe, in most of the policies and ideals espoused by the New Democratic Party of Canada.

The sticking point for me, and especially after Bob Rae's rather rocky stewardship of Ontario, has been the implementation of those ideals.

As reported in Rae Days, columnist Thomas Walkom's informative book, one of Rae's closest advisers, David Reville, said they had "the passion and the theory. But we didn't have any fu**ing idea how to make things work."

Rae tried to implement the ideas he'd presented during the campaign but the recession was ravaging the economy. He wasn't the only one who misjudged the severity of that recession; hundreds of once healthy companies and skilled entrepreneurs went broke.

That's the first part of Rae's legacy, but he revealed his true political stature once he realized his policies were outdated and decided to do something about it.

That's why I like Bob. He isn't married to ideology, and he learns from his mistakes.

But then there's this:

Union boss Bob White called a meeting with all the NDP premiers to give them their marching orders on how to cope with the economic crisis. As Rae recalls in his book From Protest to Power, White suggested the provinces keep spending; if they couldn't pay their debts, they could declare bankruptcy "like the Reichmanns." Roy Romanow, the then premier of Saskatchewan, led the charge against White along with Rae. "After that exchange," Rae writes, "there was nothing more to be said."

And that's another sticking point for me.

I support the labour movement on general principles. Workers' rights, fair wages, all that. In practice... well, I have heard too many tales from too many friends and family who are union members to have many illusions about the benefits of most modern unions.

One fundamental question for me is this: at what point do the interests of the Big Labour unions coincide with those of the corporations that employ their members?

One example in my own neighbourhood is Loblaws. Some time in the mid-nineties, Loblaws decided that they were facing an imminent threat from Wal-Mart, which had been opening grocery sections in many of their stores in the U.S. Assuming that it was only a matter of time before Canadian Wal-Marts followed suit, they pressured their main labour union - the UFCW - to accept some pretty draconian measures in order to ensure that their employers could remain 'competitive'.

The result was union employees working for barely above minimum wage, and the near total elimination of full time positions in favour of even lower paid part-time jobs with no security and no benefits for three years.

But of course they still have to cough up their union dues. And their boss is still in business.

I look at that and think about the Canadian Auto Workers Union and wonder: at what point do the short term interests of their union members, linked as they are with the fate of the big auto makers, begin to conflict with the interests of... well, the planet? And what about the oil workers' unions? Or coal miners' unions? Or... ?

To me, this is the fundamental problem with the relationship between the NDP and labour. A union's responsibility is to look after the best interests of its members, however they interpret those interests. As it should be. But the responsibility of a political party or, potentially, a government, is to look after the interests of all of its constituents.

So, what happens when there is a conflict? What happens when what is good for the environment isn't so good for Ford and GM's car sales? What happens when what is good for the majority of Canadians is maybe not so good for, say, the workers in the Alberta oil sands, or the forestry industry?

This concerns me, and I think it is question that both the NDP and the Liberals would do well to ask of themselves, their party and their leaders.

Who do you serve?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Tragic Irony of Prop 8

Many people in the U.S. and Canada had their hopes dashed and their elation deflated yesterday with the news that, in all likelihood, California's Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage had passed.

The blow was made worse not only by the closeness of the vote (a smaller margin than Obama won by), but by the tragic irony that it happened on the same night that America elected a man whose parents would have found their own marriage deemed illegal in many states before 1967.

Worse - it was apparently the black community who voted in favour of Prop 8 in the greatest numbers and are credited with pushing it over the top.

(UPDATE: I would like to amend that last statement in light of the arguments and numbers presented in this excellent DailyKos diary. Yes, African-Americans voted in favour of Prop 8 by a high percentage, but given the relatively low number of black voters in California, that was not nearly enough to account for the final result even with the higher turnout. I apologize for perpetuating this unsubstantiated conclusion.)

This business of state-by-state rulings must stop. The U.S. needs a federal Supreme Court ruling to decide this once and for all, and with a few more progressive appointments to the bench it could happen during this new administration. My hope is that, even though Barack Obama stopped short of publicly supporting same-sex marriage during the election, he will do what Paul Martin did - put aside his personal religious misgivings and support what is right and fair for all.

I cannot think of a more fitting legacy.

"No brutality, no infamy, no degradation in all the years of southern slavery, possessed such villainious character and such atrocious qualities as the provision of the laws of Illinois, Massachusetts, and other states which allow the marriage of the negro, Jack Johnson, to a woman of Caucasian strain. [applause]. Gentleman, I offer this resolution ... that the States of the Union may have an opportunity to ratifty it. ... Intermarriage between whites and blacks is repulsive and averse to every sentiment of pure American spirit. It is abhorrent and repugnant to the very principles of Saxon government. It is subversive of social peace. It is destructive of moral supremacy, and ultimately this slavery of white women to black beasts will bring this nation a conflict as fatal as ever reddened the soil of Virginia or crimsoned the mountain paths of Pennsylvania. ... Let us uproot and exterminate now this debasing, ultra-demoralizing, un-American and inhuman leprosy"

- Rep. Seaborn Roddenbery (D), 1912

"Even political rights, like the right to vote, and nearly all other rights enumerated in the Constitution, are secondary to the inalienable human rights to 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence; and to this category the right to home and marriage unquestionably belongs."

- Hannah Arendt, 1958

"Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don't think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the "wrong kind of person" for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people's religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people's civil rights.

"I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard's and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That's what Loving, and loving, are all about."

- Mildred Loving, 2007

UPDATE: And one more...

"Slavery could not be compromised in the 19th century because slavery was finally understood as a moral issue. Homosexuality cannot be compromised in the 21st century because it too is a moral issue. To the threats of parts of the Christian Church to leave if homosexual people are welcomed fully without any distinction, the body of Christ must be prepared to say, "That is your choice but we do not compromise truth to comfort you in your prejudice. The Church's doors will be open when your consciousness is finally formed and you decide to return, but we will not reject homosexuals now to avoid offending you. If the essence of our Christ is summed up in words that John's Gospel attributes to him, "I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly," then the choice is clear. Homophobia diminishes life; it does not make it more abundant. It must be ended; it cannot be tolerated even by making it kinder and gentler."

- Bishop John Spong

(H/T to Montreal Simon for the photo and the outrage)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

President Obama

I am not actively religious. I am not a Christian. I'm not even a monotheist. And all I can say is


Now, can we please do something about OUR government?!

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Real Story Tomorrow

When I was working at our campaign office on our election day, we heard complaints from a few people that they faced line-ups of half an hour to 45 minutes at their polling station. Most of those people got fed up and went home without casting a ballot.

I think of those people when I read stories coming out of the U.S. about people waiting in line for 3, 4, even six hours or more to vote in advance polls, and I am embarrassed. And humbled.

I have said it before: the most remarkable thing about the Obama campaign is not the man himself - it's the people and the movement he has inspired. In a country where voter turnout for the past forty years has averaged just under 53%, they are suddenly faced with the prospect of 60 or even 70 percent or more of eligible voters making their voices heard.

Those millions of dollars Obama has raised and spent don't come from business connections or corporate donors. They represent millions of individual people who have donated 5, 10, or 50 dollars, many of whom had never donated to a political campaign before. That high-tech website he's set up isn't just a political billboard - it is actually used by a significant percentage of voters to inform themselves about his policies, to discuss those policies with one another, to sign up to volunteer as door knockers or retrieve lists of phone numbers to call, and lately to report voter suppression tactics and advise voters of their rights.

All of this represents a level of political engagement that hasn't been seen in America since the 1960s.

And so, for me, the real story of the 2008 U.S. Presidential campaign is not the election of the first African-American President. It is the re-awakening of the American electorate, and the potential rebirth of American democracy.

I am, of course, an optimist, and this all may well prove to be a passing fad. It remains to be seen whether or not this engagement will last beyond tomorrow's election, or beyond the inauguration of President Obama. But just imagine if it did! Imagine if all those millions of informed, aware, empowered voters really kept at it and demanded that their President and other representatives actually follow through on their promises, lest they be removed from power.

And what if these voters were to use their new found voice to demand even more? Like real, universal, publicly funded health care? Or the dismantling of the corporate/lobbyist machine that has run Washington for the past three decades or more? Or the end of America's reliance on all fossil fuels and not just those from unfriendly nations? Or an end to the use of America's military as a tool of conservative political and economic ideology? Or an end to child poverty?



And now, on this election eve, a few words from Al Gore about democracy, from his book "The Assault on Reason":

“When the operations of a government are open to full examination by its citizens and subjected to vigorous discussion and debate, then the corrupt misuse of public power for private gain becomes more difficult to conceal. If the rule of reason is the standard by which every use of official power is evaluated, then even the most complex schemes to violate the public’s trust can be uncovered and policed by a well informed citizenry. Moreover, when ideas rise or fall according to merit, reason tends to drive us toward decisions that reflect the best available wisdom of the group as a whole.

But reason alone is not enough. There must be a public forum accessible to all within which individuals can communicate freely to illuminate unwise as well as illegitimate uses of power. Hannah Arendt, who wrote about totalitarianism in the twentieth century, emphasized the importance of the public realm to this process: "The only remedies against the misuse of public power by private individuals lie in the public realm itself, in the light which exhibits each deed enacted within its boundaries, in the very visibility to which it exposes all those who entered it".

If the forum is not fully open, then those who control access become gatekeepers. If they charge money in return for access, then those with more money have a greater ability to participate. Good ideas in the minds of men and women who cannot afford the price of admission to the public forum are then no longer available for consideration. When their opinions are blocked, the meritocracy of ideas that has always been the beating heart of democratic theory begins to suffer damage. The conversation of democracy then comes untethered from the rule of reason and can be manipulated.

That is exactly was has been happening in America. The replacement of an easily accessible, print-based marketplace of ideas with a restricted-access, television based realm has lead to a radical transformation of the nature and operation for the marketplace of ideas in the United States.

When only those who have wealth can afford to enter the principal forum in which the majority of the people receive their information, then those who can pay the price of admission automatically become more influential. Their opinions become more important then the opinions of others. The nation’s priorities then change".

And a few more from Cousin Teddy:

Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to befoul the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics, is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.

- Theodore Roosevelt, 1906

Sunday, November 2, 2008

2008 Canadian Blog Awards

Nominations are now open. Feel free to nominate your favourite blogs. Like... I dunno... MINE!

And don't forget, I have two other blogs: HaltonWatch and Sprawlville.

Seriously, though, any of the fine blogs I have listed in my blogroll would be worthy recipients of a Canadian Blog Award, so take a moment to nominate one today.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Time to Talk About NAFTA

With Barack Obama and the Democrats looking more and more likely to sweep the U.S. election on Tuesday (knock on wood), we are faced with the real possibility that they will follow through on their promise to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. They will, of course, be looking to gain further advantage for the U.S., and particularly for U.S. workers.

But what about Canada?

The fatal flaw in NAFTA, as in most other free trade agreements, is that it tends to favour corporate interests above all other considerations. One result of this has been the string of lawsuits filed under NAFTA's Chapter 11 over the past 15 years by transnational corporations against governments who presume to implement policies or pass regulations that interfere with their 'investors rights' (i.e. profits). While many of these suits have been brought against the U.S. and Mexican governments (with several aimed specifically at California), Canada has always been a favourite target because of our more stringent regulatory regime and our fondness for keeping things like health care out of private hands.

Two cases which have made the news recently illustrate the danger:
NAFTA-based suit threatens Canada's medicare
Suit seeks to open Canadian health care to privatizers

... a group of 200 private investors led by Arizona businessman Melvin J. Howard is planning to use the NAFTA national treatment mechanism to pry open Canadian medicare — often described by neoconservatives as “the last great uncracked oyster in the North American marketplace.”

Howard and his partners want to open a private surgical centre in B.C. similar to the Cambie Clinic owned by Dr. Brian Day, past-president of the Canadian Medical Association, but are facing what they call anti-American roadblocks in several municipalities.

And even more recently:
Quebec herbicide ban violates NAFTA, pesticide maker alleges

A company that makes the commonly used herbicide ingredient 2,4-D is challenging the Quebec government under the North American Free Trade Agreement for banning its product.

The Canadian unit of Dow AgroSciences alleges the prohibition of the weed killer is without any scientific basis and in violation of the trade agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico.

Other NAFTA-based corporate lawsuits and trade actions against Canada have involved the Wheat Board, Canada Post, a ban on a toxic gasoline additive, (we lost that one), and perhaps most disturbing - repeated demands for commercial bulk water exports.

If Obama really is serious about re-negotiating NAFTA, we must demand that our government use the opportunity to protect the public interest and remove Chapter 11.

It won't fix everything that is wrong with NAFTA, but it's a start.

(cross-posted from Canada's World)

Happy Halloween, You Ungrateful Little Bastards

I may have mentioned that my husband does props and wardrobe work for the movies. This means that we have the most kick-ass Halloween display in all of Milton every year. None of that store-bought crap, either - it's all either made or modified by him.

He was a little pressed for time this year, but he still managed to put all this together:


Now, our house is across the street from a park, so we usually don't get a lot of traffic on Halloween despite the way cool decorations. Maybe ten or twelve Trick-or-Treaters - twenty on a good year. But some.


Oh, sure, I get it. You're all going for the high-yield neighbourhoods. The townhouses, or maybe even the new developments. No sense bothering with that house across from the park with the deaf couple next door who don't shell out. And that driveway is soooo long...

Screw 'em. Next year, we're just going to set up in front of some other house where Adam's work can be appreciated. See if you get any candy from us then, assholes.