Friday, August 29, 2008

A coherent argument for HRC reform

B'nai Brith has release its policy paper on review and reform of the Human Rights Commission process in the face of what it calls "political Islam". Written by Human Rights lawyer David Matas, it lacks the hysteria of much of what's been written on the issue. I'm not too comfortable with the term "political Islam", but even less so with the current system that allows self-appointed representatives of Muslims, or of any other groups in society, to make frivilous and vexatious complaints to Human Rights Commission, hoping to create an HRC chill in Canada.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Uppity black dudes

I dunno. I think if I was a law professor, community activist, brilliant public speaker, a US Senator, and the nominated Presidential candidate of a major political party, I'd feel a bit elitist. When you are at that level of accomplishment, you are in the elite.
Mike Huckabie was interviewed the other day. The former Republican Presidential candidate, who is now working for Fox News, said he did not support Obama but, having grown up in the South, he was very happy to see a black man win the nomination of a major party without race being a major issue.
I feel the same way. I would vote for McCain simply because I have followed his progress through the years when Bush and Karl Rowe tried to destroy his political career. I saw his grace and style, his self-deprecating humor on shows like Saturday Night Live and the Daily Show, and I heard him go head-to-head with left wing journalists on Air America who obviously respected McCain's intellect and courage. McCain is not Bush. He despises the stupidity of the Bush administration. And, I believe, of two very good candidates, he's the best to be president.
In the land of hate, there are so many people who trash Obama for the fact that he has quickly risen to be a bona fide celebrity and has amassed a dedicated following the likes of which has not been seen in America since 1960. Much of the criticism is based on some sort of idea that Obama has somehow risen above his station, has become, to the Winged Monkeys at Small Dead Animals, too "uppity".
My comment to them: we want a president who's better than us. Bush is what happens when you elected stupid people. Of course Obama is part of an elite. He's got a damn good shot at being president. He is not running for president of the Lowville, New York, Chamber of Commerce.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Do you think did all of them?

The author of 100 Things to Do Before You Die was killed in a household accident yesterday. He was only 41 years old.

Jamaica's troubles

I see Small Dead Animals and its mouth-breathing commenters are race bating again. This time, it's Jamaicans they're on about.
Jamaicans, they imply, are inherently violent people who used their idle time to commit murder.
Of course, and as usual, the truth is much more complex.
As you can see in this article, Jamaica and Jamaicans have a crime problem.
There are many reasons for it: the lack of mandatory schooling and post-elementary educational opportunities; a local recession; lousy and corrupt government; a steady flow of guns and drugs into the country; and an inept judiciary.
The biggest problem, however, is buried way down: Jamaica was divided into two armed camps in the 1970s by Edward Siega's rightists Jamaica National Party (which is now in power) and Michael Manley's Marxist Jamaica Labour Party. Both sides armed their followers, who fought running gun battles in the street as Siega pried Manley out of power.
That was quite an opportunity for Jamaica's gangsters. Both sides needed money to finance this little civil war. Fortunately, Jamaica not only produced drugs, but was also along the main cocaine trafficking route.
This fight gave a real hand-up to anyone who wanted to be a paramilitary thug. When the election was over, the politicians publicly washed their hands of involvement but the gang structures survived for the past two generations, as did the domestic and foreign drug and arms connections.
These gangs were recreated in the Jamaican enclaves that have arisen in London, New York and Toronto. They have sometimes been grafted onto American gang structures. Why? Because they give young men the best chance they'll get to acquire money and personal power. Gang activity is hell on the nuclear family, and Jamaican women have been left to raise kids who are likely to continue the pattern.
To hear fascists tell it, there's something wrong with black people. But in islands where there is a decent tax base, education opportunities and jobs, this gang activity is not a problem.
In Jamaica, there's no expectation of real change, so nothing will happen. Staying out of a gang is difficult for the great mass of poor young men. Meanwhile, those with government connections continue to pull in most of the country's wealth.
But not every Jamaican is a gangster. Jamaican gang activity has been a convenient took for racists to paint all Jamaicans as bad people. And what do people do when they are marginalized? What would any of us do if we were dirt poor and were the focus of hatred and suspicion? Maybe find some sympathetic friends, especially if they could provide jobs, protection and a chance for a better life.
The gangs may not be able to deliver on thses things, but right now they're about the only game in town.
So, why do Jamaicans run so fast? Because it beats joining a gang.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Yuppie Puppy

This guy allegedly robbed the bank in the Glebe where I keep all my money.
For those of you familiar with Ottawa neighbourhoods, doesn't this guy look exactly like a Glebe bank robber should?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Beach access

Twenty years ago, I was writing in the Toronto Star about the issue of public access to Georgian Bay shoreline beaches. At issue was the right to even walk on the 30 kilometres of beautiful sand beach on Nottawasaga Bay, north of the Wasaga Beach Provincial Park.
The water is very clean, the beaches are powdery golden sand, and the shoreline faces Nottawasaga Bay and the Niagara Escarpment across the bay. It's a ninety-minute drive from Toronto, but it's another world.
I said back then that the owners of waterfront cottages were using their economic, political and legal clout to effectively seize control of a huge amount of important recreational land within easy driving distance of Toronto. I argued this was something that would spread along the entire Canadian shore of the Great Lakes. Waterfront cottage owners vehemently denied this. They claimed their fight was for a 1000-metre stretch of shoreline that had special property rights. They said they had no intention of preventing public use of the rest of the shore.
They worked very hard to get me fired. They sent letters to the editor and complaints to the Ombud. I was also working for a small local newspaper and the cottagers wined and dined the owner of the paper to try to get me off the story.
They also put out their own newspaper, edited by the local mayor. Let's say the things they wrote about me were not particularly flattering and leave it at that.
It was a fun and interesting time to be a reporter. The Star and my assignment editors Kathleen Kenna, Kate Harries and Steve Tustin did not give in to the pressure. Neither did Ombud Don Sellar.
The Toronto Star has a pretty good update here.
You want to walk a beach in Ontario? Better do it soon, or you'll never be able to do it at all, outside of one of the minuscule provincial parks along the shore of the Great Lakes.
Here's what the Star reporter missed. Cottagers used Ontario's municipal election rules to seize control of local councils. (You can vote everywhere you own property . These folks started holding all-candidates meetings in Toronto and collected proxy votes). Once they did that, they kept "day trippers" away from undeniably public shoreline land (road allowances, small parks) by putting up No Parking - Tow Away signs along any road with walking distance.
They used Ontario's scandalous deed rules to seize public beach property. If someone issues you a deed, even to land that isn't theirs, and you get it registered, the land is yours. Every so often, someone's house is sold out from under them that way.
In other words, if someone steals your car and the cops find it, you get your car back. Someone sells your house and a clerk registers the deed, you're out on your ass, even though the registry office registers any deeds presented to it. You can sue, but you can only go after the thief, who is unlikely to cough up your money. And what does a lawsuit cost? Every once in a while, the papers write a sob story about this happening to some poor chump and everyone seems to be surprised. The government keeps promising to change this but never does.
The "cottagers" along the south Georgian Bay shore include judges, lawyers, politicians, very senior journalists, well-connected academics, and members of provincial tribunals, including the Ontario Municipal Board. They have effectively stolen 30 kilometres of shoreline, worth, as vacant land, (if you can find any), about $20,000 a metre. As the land has been privatized, the prices have skyrocketed. There are quite a few people with money and not much sandy beach.
There is another factor the Star reporter missed. For every waterfront cottager along the shore, there are about a dozen in "backlot" cottagees who bought or built when they had (or thought they had) access to the beach. A cottage anywhere without water access is a useless thing, even more so when the people inside can hear the waves but not see them. The enjoyment and equity of the people in these backlot cottages has plummeted, and they're the people making most of the squawk in this Georgian Bay beach area. People like you and me, who have no real estate near the beach, simply stay away and take our vacation somewhere else. Now, with the publicity from Balm Beach, even more of us will simply find some other place, one that's not as nice but that wants our business. This summer, we went to Grand Bend, a crowded beach area, but one that encourages people to visit.
That's what the waterfront cottagers want. Bad publicity for this formerly important tourist area is good for them.
The answer is a provincial law to take back the shoreline of all the Great Lakes to the high water mark. But Ontarians only care about this issue two months of the year. The cottagers, however, work on this every month.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bush is Right: Wall Street is Drunk... and Stupid

Today from CNBC:

Fannie and Freddie provide a vital role in the mortgage process by buying mortgages from lenders that don't want the loans on their books for the long term. With Fannie and Freddie struggling with capital and perception issues, they aren't buying as many loans and are thus crimping banks' ability to write mortgages, which in turn chills buying in the housing market.

"Unless we find a way to continue Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in their current form we don't have a mortgage market," Howard Glaser, a mortgage industry consultant, said on CNBC.

The seemingly inevitable move by the federal government to rescue Fannie-Freddie initially would shake the market.

Common stock shareholders likely would get wiped out, while those holding subordinated bonds also likely would be hurt because recapitalization likely would come in the issuance of preferred shares.

But once the dust clears and Fannie and Freddie can get back to lending again, that would likely be a catalyst to send the market higher. Combine that with a possible takeover of Lehman Brothers, which also could hurt shareholders, there would be greater clarity on Wall Street.

"The scenario is the cross feelings of when are we going to get this behind us, versus once we do how much better will it be, versus how much more we still don't know," says Michael Kresh, president of M.D. Kresh Financial Services. "Those events would bring us much closer to a final washout. I still think as we go forward if these banks don't put everything on the table, everything that's ugly, we could have another six months to two years of this bleeding in the financials."

Let's see if I got this straight. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two privatized Federal mortgage guarantee agencies similar to Canada's CMHC, need to be bailed out by the government. Their shareholders and bond holders should be stiffed. That way, Freddie and Fannie can quickly get back to buying the shitty mortgages that the banks want to give to deadbeats, thus maintaining the fiction of solvency and prosperity. And the US taxpayer will pick up the tab.
Anyone who doesn't see where this is going should lay off the sauce for a while.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

War Crimes

I would really like to see the people who do these kinds of things brought to justice. That will never happen until Americans learn they can't have tax cuts and a war at the same time and make a real commitment to either win this thing or get out. The West needs to stop turning a blind eye to the atrocities committed by Iraqi "insurgents". By "winning", I mean generating the best possible outcome: installing a strong central government and military that operates under a real rule of law. The Americans don't need to prop up such a regime with money. It just needs to know that backsliding will bring catastrophic consequences.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Today in Hooey

Whaddya want, Shakespeare? Actually, by this guy's reckoning, the bard would really have to dumb it down and shorten it up. By the way, why does this guy have a turn in his mouth?

Num nums... open wide

I suppose I should talk, since I've eaten just about any weird animals that I can get my hands on, but I'm still glad I live in Canada.
I bet most car salesmen are, too.

Attn Facebook freaks

I can read my Facebook page but when I try to answer e-mails or change anything I get the message "error on page". Anyone know what causes that and how to fix it?

Friday, August 15, 2008

The bear's claws

Maybe I spoke too soon. Now it does seem like August, 1939, after all.
Attacking a country that is in the armpit of Russia, a place that has barely known independence and was heavily colonized by Russia for hundreds of years, is one thing. Attacking Poland, a member of the EU and NATO, presumably by first crossing the territory of the independent Ukraine, is a different matter entirely. That would mean war with the West.
If Putin's generals actually reflect the thinking of the Kremlin, we're facing the most dangerous crisis of the post-war era.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

How would "she" know?

Maybe it's time for a few DNA tests for our fencing team.
Having been a fencer, I must agree that it's very easy to lose a match. It's a game of physical conditioning, but it's also very much a sport of psychology and will. I think it's a bit over the top to criticize people who scrape by on a few thousand a year to compete in a sport that no one will pay to see, to win medals that will not earn any endorsements.

Great Power Realities

Do the words "Monroe Doctrine" mean anything to George W. Bush? Yes, too bad for the Georgians, but we Canadians understand what it's like to live next to a superpower. Russia may not have legitimate interests in South Ossetia, but, unfortunately, them's the breaks. This is not Czechoslovakia in 1938. Except for the past 18 years, the entire Caucasus was been part of the Russian Empire since the days of Catherine the Great, when they were pried out of the hands of the Turks. Now, they're strategically important to Russia. Russia has good reason to feel humiliated and encircled by events of the past two decades.
The mistake of Munich went back to 1919, when the Allies foisted a humiliating peace on Germany and thereby condemned the Weimar republic. That's the mistake that we should not make again. The West has already abandoned the democrats within Russia. Since it made that mistake, it has compounded the danger by playing power games along Russia's frontiers. That's a reckless thing to do to a country that lost 30 million people in two invasions in the past century.
In many ways, it would be like China nailing down alliances with all the countries of Latin America. Cuba in the 1960s and Nicaragua in the 1980s showed what the American reponse would be to any foreign meddling in its sphere of influence.

Ummmm, good idea, huh? Like the Psycho re-make, only, um, campy

In Canada, they pay big bucks to the people who sign the contracts to import American TV. In the States, they enrich a "creative" class of people who think this is worth doing.
I hope they lose their shirts. I suspect they will.

Such a pretty little police state

From "digitalized" fireworks to using "flawless" children on stage at the behest of the gargoyles in the Politburo, the Chinese Communist government continues to give me the willies.
We just pretend the Chinese state is less malignant than Nazi Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union because our corporations need cheap labor and the US government needs Chinese money to finance the national debt and keep America's fake economy going -- for a while.
I'm glad Canada is boycotting the medals podium.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

What talent...

You've got to love a country like Canada, where a broadcast executive's success is measured in her ability to buy US TV shows.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Home at Last

A few notes after an exhausting eight hour drive in a car full of kids:

* While it's been raining all the time in Toronto and Ottawa, the weather has been perfect in Ontario south of London. In fact, some lawns are dry. Seems the storm systems have been following the same track all summer.

* The zebra mussel scourge is over in Lake Erie. The lake was full of them five years ago. This year, there don't seem to be any. Friends along the lake say the animals' shells got soft and the fish ate them. There are lots of shells of dead mussels mixed with sand and pebbles along the coast but the boulders along the shore that used to be covered with mussels are now back to being green with seaweed. I wonder if this will be the case in the other lakes and rivers where zebra mussels took over? Lake Erie now has a large trout and salmon fishery, along with the perch and pickerel. There are far fewer cormorants, also a pest a decade ago. The ecosystem has, again, found its own equilibrium.

* Pelee Island is beautiful. I was greeted upon arrival by the sight of a bald eagle landing in a tree. The former mayor loaned us his car and we went all over the island, including to the very busy winery. I must have a real soft spot for islands. I could live there. It's a gorgeous place with a slow pace of life, interesting marshland, a huge winery and spectacular coastal views. From the west side, you you see the 350' monument to Oliver Hazard Perry at Put-In Bay

* I have never seen so much land in southern Ontario in cash crops. There are (barring a disaster) going to be huge harvests of corn and soya beans in a few weeks. All the people dooming and glooming about a corn shortage or, like Jeffrey Simpson, trashing the ethanol industry never reckoned with farmers putting every acre possible under cultivation.

* Along the shore of Lake Erie south of Chatham, enterprizing people have set up quite a few windmills. "Environmentalists" in the area say they are a threat to birds. I wonder if these are the same environmentalists who squawk about the need for alternate energy? The wind mills turn faorly slowly. A bird would have to be pretty stupid to get hit by a blade.
The area south and west of Chatham must be nearly self-sufficient in natural gas and oil. People often forget there's an oilfield in that part of the country and farther north, in Lambton County. Some farmers have oil wells sitting in the middle of parcels of the best agricultural land in Canada. In fact, some lucky families use small natural gas wells to heat their homes. Larger gas wells are used to heat the hundreds of greenhouses, some taking up twenty acres or more.

* I heard ghastly stories about the "plastic plantations" in Essex County, south of Windsor. The local greenhouse operators now have hundreds of acres under glass and plastic and import temporary workers from Mexico who earn a lower minimum wage and, I'm told, are often exposed to chemicals used to control insects and fungus. The wolrk is back-breaking, the hours are long, and no one complains because they immediately get sent back to Mexico. The Mexican government has a consulate in Leamington that "handles" the money of these migrant workers, most of whom are desperately poor. Their situation in Canada is no better than it is in California.

* I didn't meet anyone who wants a federal election, but I did meet some people in the Point Pelee area who wonder how the CAW became a "company union". Buzz's support won't be worth much to the Liberals, at least in the Windsor area. Casino workers and people who are employed in other non-auto industries unionized by the CAW seem especially disappointed in the union.

* Coming from a town that has Larry O'Brien as mayor, it's easy to find common ground with Detroiters who are embarrased by Kwame Kilpatrick. No one was talking about John Edwards, but the Americans I met, mostly from Michigan, were chatty with Kwame stories and hoped he's be kept in jail. Kwame's misdeeds are too lengthy to recount here, but his latest offence involves violating his bail conditions to visit Niagara Falls. Niagara Falls? Must have been on the SFH tour route.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Gone fishing

Yup. Staying on a farm near Leamington and fishing for pickerel in Lake Erie.
Be nice while I'm away.