Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A One-Sided Game of Brinksmanship

Once again the Conservatives table some legislation that the Bloc and the NDP oppose. The Liberals oppose it too, but not enough to bring down the government over it. At this rate it appears that there is little that will push Dion into an election. Depending on who you talk to this either makes him a sage politician or a coward, but the net result is that we probably have no prospect for a federal election until the spring at the very earliest.

One wonders what Dion will finally agree is enough to bring down the government. It's not a mini-budget, it's not an extension of Afghanistan, what will it be? In the meantime the overall perception in the eyes of many voters may be that the man is too calculating.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Is Buzz Hargrove a sellout?

Not working in the manufacturing sector, I had not really paid that much attention to Buzz Hargrove's recent deal with Frank Stronach to unionize Magna. I was aware that there was a no-strike condition to the arrangement but according to Ed Broadbent the whole thing goes much further:
'Mr. Hargrove's proposal eliminates worker-selected shop stewards. Instead, he proposes "employee advocates." Management would play a key role in selecting these "advocates."'
That's actually astonishing, the idea that management would select the shop stewards really strikes me as going far beyond what Hargrove needed to concede in this arrangement. Broadbent's opinion-piece on the subject deserves a full read, it lays out just what the consequences are for these Hargrove concessions.

One wonders what the purpose is then for the CAW to set up union drives in plants where there can be no strikes and no workplace democracy. What exactly would unionized Magna workers get in return for their dues?

I'm a pretty conflict averse guy in real (non-blogging) life and so I'm not that big super-confrontational union bosses and needless workplace antagonism, but I still figure that unions ought to stand up for workers. Buzz Hargrove has decided he'd rather sit around with management.

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The Canadian Latte Pits (Part 3)

In the last installment of this series I asked about unions. Why isn't the retail sector better unionized? Part of it is an overall decline in unionization. Unions have been, in terms of numbers of members, on the decline for a while. Another part of the problem is that no one wants to stay in retail. Most people think of it as a stopgap measure until they can start their "real" career elsewhere. Those that do not look at retail that way are trying to use a retail position as way onto the corporate ladder.

Retail is composed therefore of people who see the solution to their working conditions as being working somewhere else as well as those whose career-path would be stopped in its tracks if they did attempt unionization. Of course the reality is that more people are spending more and more of their lives in retail or other service jobs. Asking for a union though seems to imply a sort of permanence at a given position. People aren't prepared to admit that kind of permanence working on the sales floor.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

The Canadian Latte Pits (Part 2)

Yesterday I sort of jumped off on a bit of a rant that was derived from a Rick Salutin column. I ended up talking about the working conditions in retail jobs. Rick was talking more about the global economic structure and I suppose I should clarify that what I'm saying doesn't necessarily go against what he's saying. Nonetheless, even if we recover some of our manufacturing jobs it seems inevitable that many more of us will spend more of our working lives in the service sector.

If you work in some areas of the service sector this does not exactly fill you with hope. We seem to have accepted this sort of cultural expectation that this kind of work has poor pay, inconsistent hours, little opportunity for advancement, and not much security. The companies that manage to buck this trend are out there, but they are rare. The "floor" for what you can expect in retail is quite low: minimum wage, no guarantee of benefits, no guarantee of hours - you get the picture. Those companies that are above this sort of floor are of their own volition. What we ought to do is find ways to raise that floor.

Some have called for increased union involvement in the service sector, and yet I don't see much evidence that unions are terribly interested in this (correct me if you know of a union that is). Should unions be a part of the solution here? Are they interested? Are retail workers interested?

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Canadian Latte Pits (Part 1)

Chris Tindal linked to this interesting column by Rick Salutin in which Mr. Salutin ponders the prospect of an all-retail economy. I do not think however we will be all retail, rather our economy will be shaped rather like a "V" with many jobs in resource-harvesting at one end at and many in service at the other. All of the refining and manufacturing, all the real "value-adding" will take place elsewhere. We will send our timber and oil to China and we will then sell Chinese-manufactured goods to each other.

Rick is gloomy about this, but there is one thing that he does not mention but which is broadly hinted at. Life in the retail/service sector is tough. I've slung espresso, I've worked in call centres, I've worked in electronic stores - the sort of thing that seems to be a rite of passage for my generation. My father paid for university in part through construction jobs, those of under 30 seem to have paid for it by life in retail. We know these jobs all too well. There are numerous things that we'd change about them if we could - more about that later.

A service-based economy need not be all bad. In one sense you could say that economies that run off of, say, banking are service-based. Banking is a service, in that sense a place like Switzerland is arguably service-based. The problem with retail/service economy as we now have it is in large part how those who work in it are treated. There are exceptions to be sure, but for many retail means unreliable hours (12 hours one week, 30 the next) not much in the way of job security and a general lack of respect.

More on this later...

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Just Can't Get Enough

Nouvelle Vague with Moby:

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Optimism on Toronto

My first impression of Richard Florida's new column in the Grope & Flail is that it's obvious that he hasn't been in Toronto long. Why? He's optimistic about this place in a way that we longer-term Torontonians do not permit ourselves to be in many ways. Is this because we've been let down by our city's inability to get top-flight events (Olympics, Expos) that other, smaller Canadian cities can attract? I don't know, but we've taken to shrugging about this place too much. We're happy when we can pay for our transit system.

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Keeping the TTC in Toronto's Hands

The Star has an editorial today that suggests that it may not be so bad to have the province (in the form of the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority) take over the TTC. They appear to praise local control and then turn around and say this:
"The TTC's celebrated "intimacy" with people making local demands might not always prove beneficial. Parochial pressures could well result in misguided transit decisions that benefit a loud and local few at the expense of many more transit riders. Such inefficiency only causes gridlock to worsen and service to others to be adversely affected."
Unfortunately parochial pressures could still apply to a region-wide system. I suspect that the term "parochial pressures" is probably a veiled reference to Mel Lastman's ability to force through a truncated Sheppard Subway. The problem with a regional board on which Toronto has a minority of votes is that the area over which some politician could place a pet project is ever expanded. Under regional control would the TTC have to compete for funds with ever local bus service in outlying areas of York Region or Peel or Durham? By placing all tranist under regional control we surely run the risk of simply encouraging sprawl by creating a transit system that is designed to serve such sprawl. I have no idea why a region-wide body would be less parochial.

There are however legitimate concerns raised in editorial such as connections between the various transit systems currently in operation. Buying multiple types of tickets and trying to go from transit system to another can be annoying. That said what the GTTA ought to do is create some sort of region-wide fare system as well as a package of incentives for those transit systems that participate. This would address the major concerns of many commuters while avoiding a drastic and unnecessary experiment in transit management.

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Ten years? Just kidding!

Hillier now says that he completely agrees with Harper and that when he was saying that Afghanistan would take ten years, well, you, know, uhhhhhh, no, it won't. I don't know if this is Hillier's attempt at a trial balloon on a ten year mission or whether he's attempting to shift the centre on the issue.

One of the things a number of conservative in the US have admitted to doing is deliberately taking extreme positions on issues not because that's what they believe, but in order to shift the "centre" of the debate rightward. If Hillier says 2017 and the current mission is set to be done in 2009, all of sudden 2011 looks less like a questionable extension of a mission about which many remain skeptical and more like a nice compromise position.

Maybe I'm being too cynical, but it appears that thus far Hillier seems to be able to get what he wants and he's used the media to do so rather often. I don't think this is beyond him.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Creating New Enemies in Afghanistan

I think that has to be the net effect of poppy-eradication in Afghanistan. Barnett Rubin continues his excellent series of posts on the matter. This insistence (mainly on the part of the US according to Rubin) on bringing the drug war to Afghanistan and making it a significant part of the West's policy for the country will surely be one of the things that undoes whatever goodwill NATO has left among the Afghans. By eradicating poppy crops in country where there is precious little that can be grown is surely a way to turn a farmer into a terrorist or terrorist-sympathizer.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Ceasing Publication has not Stopped the Idiocy

The Western Standard may be dead, but its asinine blog continues. An example? Sure, they're clamouring with barely contained excitement at their own ludicrous speculation that some random assaults in Toronto constitute "random jihad." I shit you not - these sick bastards sometimes seem ecstatic at the prospect of some - any - kind of terror attack in Toronto. I suppose they reckon it would galvanize the populace behind their political policies and stick it to Toronto. To the Ezra Levants of the world there is simply no downside. The comment section has at least one depiction of Toronto as an open air asylum. Well, fuck you too, Shlockgun. I happen to like this place.

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Is Facebook Really Worth $15 Billion?

Apparently Microsoft believes that it is. I'm not sure whether this is a testament to the power of the social networking site or whether this is just the beginnings of another internet bubble. Facebook exploded so fast that I wonder whether it may end up being just a fad. Yes, it's exciting to encounter all these people you haven't seen in ages, it makes the first couple months of a Facebook membership fun. Inevitably though, the rate of finding friends wanes once you get closer to adding everyone you've ever known. This is not to say that it isn't still without its appeal, I just wonder what we'll think about Facebook in a couple years.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Navel Gazing

Sometime tonight or tomorrow this site will pass the 10 000-visits mark. At least 10 000 since I installed Sitemeter late last year. So, uh, thank you for visiting!

Pictured: Site, uh, mascot, Fyodor Dostoevsky.

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The TTC as a provincial body?

According to this story in the Star this morning, there's talk about having the province take over the TTC. The thinking comes out of an extension of the idea of the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority:
"The Greater Toronto Transportation Authority already has the province's mandate to plan the entire transportation network for the Golden Horseshoe. Its report is expected in spring.

It's also poised to take over GO Transit, fuelling suggestions that it could be the vehicle the province needs to co-opt all or part of the TTC as part of a harmonized GTA transit system that would garner provincial resources, parcel out service fairly across what is now nine transit systems, and make it simpler for commuters to travel across city borders."

The idea of having GO Transit in the hands of a provincial body is sensible as the service runs all over the Golden Horseshoe. The same cannot be said for the TTC or any of the other municipal transit services. The reality is that things like smaller residential-area bus routes would be far more vulnerable to cuts if the system is provincially controlled. The GTTA does have a role to play, but outside of managing GO Transit, I think they are best suited to harmonizing fares and acting as a go-between for local services so that the whole system operates seamlessly.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Late Night

For some reason I thought of this song the other day. I love the video, it reminds me of my parents driving through the country when I was a kid (not that we had anything as kickass as a 1960s Lincoln with suicide rear doors). I don't know that I'm obeservant enough to prove it, but there something unmistakably southern-Ontario about the landscapes of this video. Anyway, enjoy:


Jim Flaherty vs. Market Forces: Round 2 or Take Your Own Advice

CBC's reports on this subject this evening mentioned that Flaherty said that consumers also need to do their part by - wait for this - shopping around and comparing prices!

What? Are you saying just taking the first thing you see isn't a good idea?! Wow, Jim, you better run that down to DND so they can stop buying all that military hardware on no-bid contracts! Brilliant!

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Flaherty Struggles to Understand Market Forces

Poor Jim Flaherty, he's on a "crusade" to pass the savings from the high dollar on to consumers. Unfortunately manufacturers and retailers aren't particularly interesting in passing along saving when they can stall, bullshit, and maximize shareholder profits by doing so.

It's annoying that companies are doing this, and as a consumer it frustrates me, but I figure that the only thing that will really make a difference given how our economy is structured, is being persistent in ordering things from the US (along with lots of other Canadians) until Canadian retailers relent and lower prices.

In the meantime, Canadian retailers (and manufacturers, and distributors) will drag out any process that cuts prices for at least a few quarters in order to fill up their own coffers. Being that they allege to be such great fans of free markets, you'd think that the Conservatives would understand how this would work.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Harper vs. Local Democracy: Lessons for Electoral Reform

Decentralization, local control. I had been led to believe by conservatives that these are conservative values. Perhaps, but they are not Conservative values. After nominating Bill Casey, the Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley Conservative riding association executive was suspended. The Liberals have been criticized in the past for using central control to force riding associations to nominate "star" candidates - it would seem though that both parties are prepared to override local control in certain situations.

The next time that electoral reform is proposed some will inevitably say that it will take away local control of candidates. Once again we see that there is no local control of candidates.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Somebody Got Murdered

Sandinista! is too long and rather uneven, but damn, that was some of the best stuff The Clash ever did:

Okay, so this live version isn't the best vocal performance in the history of music, but still, what a kick-ass song.


Bill Maher vs. Conspiracy Nuts

Maher is fed up with them:

Personally, I've always thought that satirical mockery works better though:

But you know, whatever works for you, Bill.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Michael Moore of the Right?

It appears that Ben Stein of all people is angling for that title. I was vaguely aware that Stein was a right winger (he worked for Nixon, among other things), but I had no idea that he was a fan of intelligent design. Nonetheless Stein stars in a documentary claiming that ID proponents have been shunted out of academia.

Now, I know there has been a great variety of opinion on Michael Moore. I've seen, and laughed at, a bunch of his movies. A great many of his public detractors come off as humourless twits at times. That said, I have grown steadily disillusioned with the man's methods - even if I agree with a number of his fairly sensible premises (e.g.: the US public was mislead about Iraq), I suspect his methods now. If I am honest with myself the man remains at best a guilty pleasure - that someone like Ann Coulter is far more horrible does not excuse Moore's methods.

It would seem though that the producers of Stein's movie, Expelled is not beneath being deceptive in pursuing their aims. Let's let that irony sink in for a second, people pleading for openness in academia are secretive about their ends when they interview potentially hostile subjects like above-linked biologist and atheist, P.Z. Myers. Myers points out:
"I mean, seriously, not telling one of the sides in a debate about what the subject might be and then leading him around randomly to various topics, with the intent of later editing it down to the parts that just make the points you want, is the video version of quote-mining and is fundamentally dishonest."
I don't even know that this Moore level, this is more the Borat-school interviewing. I assume that Stein doesn't want to be compare to a caricature of an ill-educated central-Asian.

As for me, I was raised on both the Good News Bible and a steady subscription to National Geographic. At various times I've tried to do away with one or the other of these influences but - for better or worse - they both remain. That being the case, I've always found the need for religious groups to assault science to preserve their beliefs to be, well, a bit of a waste of time. Spend that film budget preventing malaria. Please.

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Canada's Own MacArthur has a fan club

I've made this MacArthur analogy about Hillier before. Apparently some people like him that way:
"Almost begrudging respect is paid to the intellect and skill of current Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier, who it says, single-handedly bamboozled the best minds in Ottawa into adopting Canada’s International Policy statement. That should come as no surprise, given that Lang was quoted in The Globe and Mail on Aug. 10, 2006, saying: “The problem is, there isn’t anyone who can take him (Hillier) on with a counterworld view. He blows them away.” The problem wasn’t Rick Hillier: the problem was with the Liberals who were supposed to exercise informed oversight over him..."
No one in the military command structure should be "bamboozling" their civilian overseers. The military works for civilians, Hillier needs to understand this. One can only wonder what the Torch gang would say if Hillier made an end run around Harper.

It just boggles my mind that the military essentially selected its own mission in Afghanistan. I'm not sure whether it was Hillier's war-is-a-force-that-gives-us-meaning mentality or Martin's indecisiveness or combination thereof, but it seems as though it was far from inevitable that we got stuck with the worst assignment in Afghanistan.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Scared Conservative

As an urban voter, apparently I'm supposed to be thankful about the crime bill that the Conservatives are introducing because I'm supposedly living in fear of crime all the time. Consider this wonderful wording by Harper as pointed out by Carol Goar today:
"Canadians feel less safe today and rightly worry about the security of their neighbourhoods and country,"
Of course one cannot truthfully say that Canadians are less safe today, so instead tell us that we feel less safe. Brilliant. The effect to the casual listener is exactly the same, hearing about things being "less safe" and worries about "security." The values of the Conservative party are, by and large, not my values, so I suppose they are hoping that I can at least be frightened into supporting them.

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Creativity in planning

I'm still waiting for someone to try the "naked streets" concept somewhere in Toronto. In the meantime though they are going to try this:
"Often called the Barnes Dance (after traffic engineer Henry Barnes, who introduced the idea to Denver), such intersections use red lights to stop traffic in all directions at once so pedestrians can cross any way they like, even diagonally. Then pedestrians are stopped while cars take their turns on the green."
Additionally they are talking about putting in some roundabouts. I'm not sure how well the roundabouts will work with a street system that is essentially a grid. There are a few intersections that might benefit though. Off the top of my head I think the Dundas-Annette-Old Weston-Dupont intersection would be a good place to try it:

View Larger Map


Thursday, October 18, 2007

How not to set a trap

This is a summary of what Harper and his ministers have said about the new crime bill over the last day or so:

Vote for it! No amendments! We would be terribly upset if you VOTE AGAINST IT!

Please, whatever you do, don't VOTE AGAINST IT!

We would hate to fight an election where we get to accuse the opposition of being soft on crime!

There's a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon where Calvin tries rather awkwardly to lay a "trap" for Susie by loudly announcing that it would be terrible for him if his secret coded message fell into her hands. He then proceeds to drop it in front of her more or less. Susie obviously sees through this plan as I suspect the opposition has with Harper's.

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Mencken, Nietzsche, and the onset of WWI

As a diversion from current events:

The Atlantic has posted an old H. L. Mencken article on its website about Nietzsche and the psyche of the German people that was written in November 1914 during the early days of World War I. It's a fascinating glimpse into how at least some in the US must have viewed a European conflict that many of them were certain their country would never join. Mencken is decidedly bullish on the prospects of the new German Empire of the supermen.

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Let slip the dogs of war (again)

Turkey (now with the support of Syria!) is authorizing its military to conduct incursions into the Kurdish areas of Iraq. I don't know what to say, but Turkey may be at the vanguard of far more open involvement of other regional powers in pursuing their interests in Iraq.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Make no mistake, Harper wants an election

He played footsie with the idea with the throne speech, but now the Conservatives want to make their super-duper omnibus crime bill both a confidence vote and an all-or-nothing affair. Apparently Steve doesn't want any amendments or anything, take it or leave it. One wonders what (if anything) Steve will try to slip in there to make it unpalatable so that he can go to the polls hollering about a soft-on-crime opposition.

I'm not sure why this is a big priority for the Conservatives given that crime is on the decline. One of their spokespeople/strategists or what-have-you remarked that this would show that the Conservatives understood urban voters. This is of course based on an idiotic stereotype of urban life and the threat of crime in big cities. Toronto is not early-1980s New York, it's actually a fairly safe place compared to many other parts of Canada.

In related news, at least some Tory-sympathizers are upset that Dion didn't bring down the government. According to this post, this somehow renders Stephane Dion undemocratic. It ought to be plain now which side wants an election.

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All sound and fury signifying nothing

The net result of this throne speech was not much more than this. It said everything that it was expected to say, and one of opposition parties will once again sustain the government. The longer we allow the Conservatives stay in power, the more accepting the country becomes of this bunch, though they are restrained by their minority status. This restraint keeps them cautious on whole range of ideological issues but it gets Canadians comfortable with idea of Harper in charge of the country.

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Unleash the Weasels!

Harper (to the surprise of no one) didn't make the throne speech so blatantly intolerable that a vote against it is inevitable. Instead, this morning his opponents are stuck dealing with a number of weasel-y statements that will trouble opposition.

He wants to leave Afghanistan but he needs just two more years until democracy rainbows shoot out of Karzai's eyes bringing peace and freedom to all Afghans. Come on! Just two years!

He's giving up on Kyoto because it can't be met anyway. Harper will really, really, totally fix this "so-called" problem. Soon. For real.

In both cases Harper did not go radical on anyone (he's keeping the crazy Reformers quiet - for now), yet even these still are opposite to positions already stated by the Liberals. So no, I don't think that were any poison pills per se. But Harper has weaseled in a number of ideas that may either force the hand of the Liberals or make them look like a bunch of flip-floppers.

Incidentally, Red Tory points out that the Conservative website had a very electionesque makeover.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Two More Years!

That's what the throne speech just proposed for Afghanistan. No reasons were given why we need to keep going until 2011 or what we will accomplish in that time, but we apparently we need just that much more time. Or Harper's just playing for time.

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Throne Speech

The introduction to this thing is rather long and drawn out. I was not aware we had to have all these people walk back and forth and repeat these archaic procedures. I do not think though that the Throne Speech has ever been held this late in the day.

Why is the Throne Speech late in the day? My feeling is that this may be an attempt - conscious or otherwise to ape the American State of the Union address (no offense, Americans, but we have our own traditions). The job Harper really wants is President of Canada.

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The Shoe Store Project

It's fascinating that the same government that cannot afford the court-challenges program is able to sink all kinds of money into some kind of government-controlled press-briefing room.

Between control the press and having a panel of people who already agree with him decide on Afghanistan, it once again shows that Harper cannot handle any kind of conflict. One can imagine that kind of press room Harper would create. It would be filled with National Post reporters asking softball questions to Harper and his sock-puppet ministers.

In a weird way though this is a reason to hope that the government falls after this upcoming throne speech. On the campaign trail it is that much more difficult to control the message. The longer that Harper is ensconced in the Langevin Block, the more he will be able to create his propaganda machine. Once this machine is established, it is unlikely that any subsequent government of any stripe will dismantle it.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

If only this situation was occuring a few weeks earlier!

One of the principle benefits of first-past-the-post in eyes of its supporters is that there is local control over local candidates in a way that they claim there could not be with list candidates. And yet today we have the controversy over Bill Casey and the Conservatives. His local riding association wants him as their candidate but the central party apparatus isn't buying it. On the radio this morning they pointed out that Harper could simply refuse to sign Casey's nomination papers and that would be that. Casey's situation is high-profile enough that there is at least a chance the party apparatus might blink, but given Harper's penchant for control, I doubt it.

One can only imagine how party bosses can manipulate the situation in the hundreds of lesser-publicized nominations all across the country.

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Dion, don't sell out

I was meaning to do a post on this topic, but my thoughts have been captured fairly well here. If Dion wants to fight the "not a leader" meme, he should not back down from opposing the throne speech.

I know he will be rapped with the idea that he is wasting taxpayer's money by "causing" an election. This is the new talking point that the Conservatives are pushing - they want to govern and if there is an election, it's the fault of the opposition.

This is ridiculous. The Conservatives can count (I hope) and surely they are aware that they are in a minority situation. If they make a confidence bill that is unpalatable to the opposition, they will trigger an election. Dion needs to hit them hard on this point if he does trigger an election.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

More Harper's Afghan Mission Panel

You can find the goods on these people here. They are all tied to Harper's party, explicit hawks, or both. Moreover none of them appear to have any specific background on central Asia (yes John Manley was a Foreign Affairs but that's broader than what I have in mind), they are all white, mostly male, mostly Anglophone, none appear to have much (or any) military experience and all appear to be middle-aged or older.

So Harper's panel is a group of older white (mostly) guys with no specific experience in Afghan affairs or the military but who are almost all on record as supporting the mission. It's a wonder Harper didn't appoint himself to the committee.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

There's so much say...

...more to see and do, I'm going out.

I'll be back tomorrow...


Harper's Afghan Panel to be given commemorative T-shirts

What else would you expect for a Liberal hawk leading a gaggle of former Conservative ministers and appointees (and Pamela Wallin - WTF).

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Search Terms of the Day

Someone came to my site after querying "randy hillier asshole" in Google. Oh well, it made me laugh, okay?

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Afghanistan: What the hell is the mission anyway?

It now appears that the Canadian government "respects" the Afghan government's decision to reinstate mass executions. The very same Afghan government is now reaching out to the Taliban. In what way are NATO forces actually improving the country? If these sorts of things are allowed to happen, one wonders where the limit is. What would be so bad that NATO would actually threaten to withdraw or take some other serious measure?

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Ann Coulter's design for the Jews

This would be it, or so it seems:

Next? Springtime for Coulter?

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Deep Blue Something

Last week this was my speculation on what would become of the Ontario PCs should they lose the election and should John Tory lose his seat:
"Right now I'm wondering if the mentality of the PCs will be that a moderate (Tory) didn't work nearly as well as a hardliner (Harris) and in light of that, they may go hunting for another deep blue type of leader."
Well, it appears that at least Stephen Taylor is thinking along those lines - and almost gleefully:
"If there's any hope that can come from the results of this election for conservatives, it is that PCs in Ontario will rebuild around offering Ontario clear and articulated conservative policies just in time for what may be a strong desire for change after four more years of McGuinty."
One can only wonder what those "clear and articulated conservative policies" might be - perhaps some sort of private healthcare (a Frank Klees favourite) or a more radical education platform, maybe a flat tax - but if the Liberals are starting to look a little shopworn in 2011, they may be coming to a Queen's Park near you.

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MMP: Where did it all go wrong?

A couple theories:

It was overwhelmed by the election
Holding the referendum at the same time as the provincial election meant that it was overshadowed from the get-go. Most news coverage over the course of the election had a package on what each leader did on that day and then maybe - maybe - there would be a little bit tacked on about there being a referendum. We were too busy worrying about Tory's faith-based schools to really have a conversation about this.

It could have been explained much better
Most of the official government material was scrupulously neutral as well as vague. There were big full page ads saying things like "Make sure you understand your choice" or something like that. Of course it didn't explain very much what the choice was. I wonder how many people thought that it was just a reminder about there being a general election. When they proposed electoral reform in BC, every household got a copy of the report. We got a few vague full-page ads.

Yes the pro-MMP forces blogged up a fury, yes we killed in the Facebook group race, but even in this new media age, more people probably based their decision on the Toronto Star's fearmongering editorials. The MSM still dominates political debate for most people.

Ontario's Political Culture
It seems that we are inherently cautious in this province. Most of the major political protest movements (CCF/NDP, Social Credit, The Progressive Party, Reform) came out of the West. We elected the Progressive Conservatives continuously for some 40 years. The first province to give the vote to women was Manitoba. When some form of PR breaks through in Canada, my prediction is that it will take place in the West.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Electoral Reform Will Have to Wait

Right now it does not look good for MMP this time around. What went wrong? I have some theories that I hope to post on tomorrow. This is not over though, there is still a good prospect for MMP or some other form of PR to break through somewhere in Canada.


CBC calls it for Dalton McGuinty

This comes as no surprise - at least not to me. What remains to be seen:
Will John Tory have a seat?
What of MMP?

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Vote MMP - So Your Vote Will Always Count

I can't think of anything else to say about MMP that I haven't said over the past month or so. Every critique offered up against MMP been answered by a whole a host of pro-MMP bloggers. It's been tiring because it seems to have been the same one or two scare tactics (Unstable governments! Small parties holding the balance of power!) that were tossed out repeatedly.

MMP is simple, every vote counts. I'm going to go and vote in a riding where one candidate is absolutely expected to annihilate the competition. If I vote for this candidate, it will only add to a huge majority, if I vote against it won't matter. Why even vote? With MMP my vote will still count. Chances are you may well be in the same position. If you want your vote, and every other citizen's vote to count every time, choose MMP.

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The Gospel According to LOLcat

(From Cathie) There's a project underway to translate the Bible into the language of LOLcat. A sample:
"So liek teh Ceiling Cat lieks teh ppl lots and he sez 'Oh hai I givez u my only son and ifs u beleevs in him u wont evr diez no moar, k?'"

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Our Own MacArthur

Maclean's (hardly some pinko anti-war magazine) has an interesting bit on how Rick Hillier pushed to have us take on the worst assignment in Afghanistan (so it wasn't a result of Liberal dithering that we got this assignment) in order to pursue his personal agenda. A sample:
"He wanted a deployment that would get Canada deeper and deeper into the most troubled part of Afghanistan. It was heavy lifting. And it was an initiative that would impress the Pentagon and even George Bush."
Oh, so we didn't do this out of concern for the Afghans or because we felt some grand moral obligations. We did this so that we could make friends at the Pentagon! Why would we do that?
"A new consensus, led by DND, was rapidly emerging in Ottawa: Canada, and in particular the Canadian Forces, needed to do something significant for Washington -- something that the Pentagon really valued -- to compensate for the refusal to participate in BMD."
In other words the DND felt bad for the Pentagon. The last time I checked we were a sovereign state that does not need to impress the Pentagon. How about just telling the Pentagon that BMD isn't particularly effective? I mean it can shoot down missiles that it's told to shoot down in advance, I still wouldn't bet on it in a real scenario.

But this wasn't the only reason that Hillier put Kandahar out there as our mission:
"Canadians would be justifiably proud of their government and their military for undertaking a difficult and important assignment."
Oh swell, a self-esteem boost. The proudest I have been of our government in the past decade was when Jean Chretien declined to participate in the morass of Iraq. We took a principled stance and went against traditional allies like the US and UK. And we were right. It is one thing to undertake a "difficult" assignment, I fear what we have in Afghanistan is an impossible assignment exacerbated by the US fixation with the opium trade.

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MMP: Get your ass out and vote tomorrow

Vote for MMP
Some final links on the topic of MMP:
And finally, MMP is endorsed by Stompin' Tom Connors! How can you say no to the man that wrote this song:

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Is it 1997 again?

The Spice Girls sold out Wembley Stadium and Matchbox 20 have a huge hit on the radio?! What next, a new Third Eye Blind album? Will Puff Daddy sample The Police again?

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A particularly bad (but probably not uncommon) reason not to support MMP

Heard the other night:
"If this thing passes then we'll be the only province doing this you know."
Yes, that was the argument against MMP. It may seem silly to a political junkie, but that may be a fairly common sentiment to those unfamiliar with the topic. Talk to everyone you know if you support MMP, people may hold to reasoning like this. Once you take the time to explain the benefits of MMP though, they often come around.

MMP is, I think at least, fairly simple, but it is new and perhaps unfamiliar to many in Ontario. If people have the "it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitude (perhaps not realizing how FPTP is broken since it gives majorities to parties that have lost the popular vote), then they may not be interested in changing the current system for something that is new.

MMP is simple and effective, let's let people know.

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Eric Margolis on Burma

This is an interesting piece on the ethnic division and other complexities in Burma. Though you wouldn't know it from most news reports, Margolis says getting rid of the junta may be more difficult than we in the west might envision:
"Burma indeed is a nasty police state. Its generals have plundered resources and kept this magnificent nation in direst poverty. Myanmar is often called a `jewel’ and `unspoiled Asia of 1940’s.’ True enough. But that’s because the junta and its predecessor, mad dictator, Gen. Ne Win, turned Burma into a weird hermit kingdom and one of the world’s poorest countries.

But extreme caution is advised in dealing with Myanmar. If things go wrong there, it could turn into an Southeast Asian version of Iraq, Yugoslavia or Afghanistan."

Read the whole thing. It seems as though the choice in all too many places is between a bunch of Very Bad Men (mostly men at least) repressing people or an all-out civil war.

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How'd you like jail?

David Letterman and Paris Hilton in case you (like me) missed it:

Maybe now she can fade away... But I doubt it.

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Culture Wars

There's a menace out there afflicting our youth. Kids miss school and when they do bother to show their eyes are bloodshot and they appear as they are in a trance. What's worse, some people claim this menace leads to youth violence. Oh sure I remember dabbling in the same sort of thing when I was younger, but the new stuff is far more powerful and far more addictive. Sure some people might be able to manage their habit, but many fall into addiction and become hopeless burnouts and losers living at home into their 30s spending all their time and money feeding their addiction. All the while, our complacent culture promotes this evil, glorifying it to those most vulnerable - our teenagers and even our pre-teens.

I am of course referring to video games. When will Harper curb this horrible scourge on our society?

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Happy Thanksgiving



McKay: Only Conservatives may have Afghan photo-ops

First the government stonewall opposition defence critic Denis Coderre's requests to go to Afghanistan through officially sanctioned channels, and now the Defence Minister is slagging Coderre for taking matters into his own hands.

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Friday, October 05, 2007

MMP Will Cause Nazis?!

Yes, the Toronto Star is just that desperate to vilify MMP that it allowed Brian Henry to make essentially that assertion today (second column). After Henry repeats the tired nostrums about unstable governments he raises the spectre of hate groups trying to organize a party and then being allowed into a coalition government:
"According to an Association for Canadian Studies survey released Sept. 11, 12 per cent of Canadians don't like Jews. This is better than most places in the world, especially as only 4 per cent have a 'very unfavourable' opinion of Jews. But even 4 per cent is over the threshold a party would need to gain seats under the MMP system."
His preferred alternative would be a one party state, really:
"It might be more fair – that is, it might better reflect the will of the large majority – if we could have a blend of the two centre parties. But that won't happen."
After weeks of poorly-researched fear-mongering the Star has had to resort to someone who prefers one-party rule threatening us with neo-Nazis at the government table if we vote MMP!

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Get Naked!

Naked streets that is, from the CBC:
Right now, speed limits, red lights and clearly marked and separated areas for cars and pedestrians are the norm in cities all over the world. But that thinking is "all wrong" according to Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman, who says it is much safer to build what he calls "naked streets."

"We removed anything referring to the traffic, made it just a square and please find your own way. This is the middle of the city. This is social space, and in social space we don't want to interfere as government," he said.

For some reason this appeals to me on an almost intuitive level. I suspect that many drivers treat signs and lights as a challenge. I hope Toronto gives this a try somewhere in the city core.

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The Opening Shots in a Long War

I have this feeling that Harper has managed to shed the scary "hidden agenda" tag in the eyes of a great many Canadians once he got his free vote on same-sex-marriage handily defeated in the House of Commons. Perhaps it's too much attention paid to the American culture wars, but we in Canada have come to equate the term with gays and abortion. Harper made a half-hearted run at the former and has not touched the latter.

Not only have we adopted a very narrow view of a culture war, we have also grown accustomed (especially in Ontario) to Conservatives governing in a hurry. Mike Harris rushed through reems of legislation in the first couple years of his first mandate. I suspect this is in part because hard right-wingers seem to be aware that they do not enjoy much of a natural constituency in Canada - and that's according to their godfather, Tom Flanagan:
"Canada is not yet a conservative or Conservative country. The [Conservative] party can't win if it veers too far to the right of the average voter."
Harper and Flanagan seem to have taken the view that this political dynamic means that Conservatives need to go slow rather than try to rush through things in a term or two before the Liberals regroup.

For these guys this is a long war to remake Canada as a conservative country (not how Flanagan says "not yet"). They may well be anticipating that this will be a 20-year process. They are starting small, killing the Court Challenges Program and launching a war on drugs. Taken individually, you might have an austerity measure and a crime policy. Taken together, in the context of things that Flanagan and others have said, these are part of a long culture war, a conservative push-back. I suspect that the average voters isn't even aware of the Court Challenges Program (though they may have benefited from it) and the anti-drug policy can be sold as "tough-on-crime" or something of that ilk.

Expect a long, incremental attempt to build a conservative consensus on whole range of cultural and economic issues. These are not individual policies tacked together, these are pieces in a much larger puzzle for Harper.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Repeat as Necessary

Can you tell what war David Frum is talking about?
"You want realism? It's this: The emerging US-____ confrontation is a confrontation of ___'s choice and ____'s making. It is ____ that has determined to seek nuclear weapons, ____ that has declared it will use those weapons aggressively against its neighbors, and ____ that has made a nonsense of the long negotiations with the UK, France, and Germany. We are rapidly reaching the point - maybe we have reached it already - where ____ has succeeded in reducing our choices to two: acquiesce in a nuclear bomb or stop it by force. As for the idea that the present ____ regime can be a negotiating partner - a constructive force in the region - or anything other than a menace to its neighbors or its own people, well we need another term for that. How about "fantasy"?"
(HT) I pretty much have nothing more to add to that. That said, George Bush thinks an old saying applies here:

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I'm gonna make them a throne speech they can't refuse

Isn't this just precious, Stephen Harper is putting on some kind of Godfather face in this picture. I suppose the ever-sympathetic National Post published this photo because it fits with the sort of stance that Harper is trying to project.

Once again I get the impression that Harper really wants an election sooner rather than later. I suspect he feels as though this is the time to hit the opposition parties. The fact that the Liberal party machine has turned into a bit of a gong show as of late probably gives Harper the impression that he has an opportunity to exploit right now.

He also has to be worried that his party has not been to pull away from the Liberals despite the Grits' very public woes. Nonetheless, I suspect his party figures now is the time to go. The only question is what will Harper do in the throne speech to render it unsupportable for all of the opposition parties. Of course the Post presents this as a "no-lose" strategy for Harper but that presumes that he would kill in any fall election. Given that he cannot put any daylight between himself and the Liberals I don't know that he can improve his standing in the parliament.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Tories After Tory(?)

I suppose it's not quite time to speculate about things like this, but what the hell. Suppose the numbers we are seeing now, in the very last days of the campaign hold until October 10th. In his first outing, John Tory will have had his ass handed to him. Sometimes a leader can shake this kind of thing off and have a second go at it - witness Dalton McGuinty. In John Tory's case though there is the additional prospect of him not winning a seat for himself in the legislature, if this came to pass it is hard to picture him continuing as leader of the PC Party.

Now assuming those two events come to pass, where do the Tories go from there. This is significant because in the past couple of decades provided you don't really make a mess of things, Ontario voters are prepared to give you a second term. No one party has pulled off more than two terms in government since the long reign of the big blue machine from the 1940s to the 1980s. What I'm getting at is that I always felt that Dalton's prospects were pretty good for a second term. Other than the health tax, he hasn't really done anything to piss off the voters. Getting third term though may be more difficult. Because of that reality, it's worth considering what kind of leader could replace Tory.

Right now I'm wondering if the mentality of the PCs will be that a moderate (Tory) didn't work nearly as well as a hardliner (Harris) and in light of that, they may go hunting for another deep blue type of leader. It may not be that way, hell, everything I said here is complete speculation. But it is worth considering what the progressive voters of this province may be up against in 2011.

Of course with MMP, the likelihood of this hypothetical hardliner getting a majority would be significantly reduced... But you knew I'd say that, didn't you?

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MMP Will Clean Up Nominations

Here's a quote from Andrew Coyne this morning (HT) on the worries about list MPPs under MMP:
"Have you had a look at how candidates are chosen now? Where they are not appointed by the leader, they are typically chosen by busloads of instant members."
If anything, the selection of list members on a province-wide level would open up this process. A really crooked nomination process at the riding level usually does not merit attention in major media. Party hacks and friends of the leadership currently have little or no trouble getting riding nominations I suspect. An open nomination process such those proposed by all the major parties in Ontario would remove a great deal of that backroom influence.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Keep Insite Open

I'm still hearing about this big fancy new war on drugs policy proposed by the Conservatives. The worst part of it (and there are a lot of very bad parts) is the bit about shutting down Insite and destroying the prospect of any similar plan in another city.

Today it appears that Insite will have a reprieve until next June. In reality though, the evidence suggests that they ought to keep it open indefinitely. I cannot understand the idiots who are always ready with a sound-bite about how this constitutes government endorsement of hard drug use. This is so stupid, as if people will suddenly take up heroin use because of safe injection sites. Safe injection sites don't glamourize heroin, Lou Reed does:

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More Observations on MMP

I'd posted about conversations I'd had regarding MMP with some friends of mine. One opinion that I thought indicative was "I vote for the party anyway." While politics junkies are more attuned to the particular candidates and are aware how Randy Hillier is a different kind of PC candidate than David Shiner, I suspect that a great many voters just pick the party they prefer anyway. If more people are just voting for the party anyway (anyone have stats on that? Greg?) MMP allows them to what they'd rather do anyway. In addition it may cause them to pay a bit more attention to the local candidates - since they can vote for their party and then see who might best represent their riding.

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Oh Ontario, oh Jennifer Jason Leigh

I've been busy blogging MMP and every other sort of thing that I overlooked the fact that I just picked up the new Weakerthans album. This is the third of three albums I was really looking forward to this fall (the others being from the New Pornographers and Stars). For those of you that dug Reconstruction Site, and the saga of Virtue the cat continues.


Monday, October 01, 2007

A Good Compromise Leaves Everyone Angry

That seems to have been the prevailing wisdom that guided John Tory's new half-step back from faith-based funding. This is worse for him now than where he was before. Those opposed to faith-based funding are not going to rush to embrace the idea that it might not pass a free vote. Those supporting faith-based funding are now witness to the readiness of Tory to walk away from them. Tory just dug himself a deeper hole. He has now lost everyone on the schools issue. If he has a prayer (no pun intended) he's going to have to change the channel quickly.

In the end I think this was an incredibly poorly conceived plan, regardless of what you think of the objectives. For many parents the idea of putting their children in a faith-based school is to get away from the Ontario curriculum in one way or another. Tory would have brought faith-based schools further under the purview of the Ministry of Education, and while some faith-based school parents (FBSPs?) would have endorsed that, for others that was precisely the wrong thing to do.

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My vote in this election probably won't count

Not because of electoral fraud, or because my hand is too shaky to make an "x" or anything else like that. But rather, my riding is a enough of an NDP stronghold that nothing I do will make a difference. Rosario Marchese is, according to local wisdom as well as my unscientific observation of signs in the riding just going to kill in Trinity-Spadina. If I chose to support the NDP, my vote would just add to a landslide (so it appears), if I chose the Liberals or the Greens or even *gasp* the Tories, it wouldn't matter. You see, it's a smallish cadre of voters in key swing ridings that are going to matter on October 10th.

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Tory's Backpedaling

This is clever: On CBC Radio the story this morning is that John Tory knows that the faith-based funding issue is killing his party's election prospects. He also knows that he'd never live down the "flip-flopper" tag if he just reversed his stance. The solution? He looks set to say that the issue would be decided by a free vote in the legislature.

Given that more and more people in his own party are not thrilled with this part of the platform, this is Tory's way to essentially kill this issue without actually changing his position. Clever, it worked for Harper on same-sex marriage. Tory can't alienate mainstream voters, but he's gotta have faith(-based votes).

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