28 February 2009

NDP About-Faces Another Position

Anyone who has studied traffic congestion knows that if you build a highway, the cars will come. And come. And come. Until you get what the highway was designed to prevent: traffic congestion.

Once upon a time, it appeared that the NDP knew that fundamental truth too. Well, not anymore. At least not enough to protest the replacement of Vancouver's Port Mann Bridge with a ten-lane, $3.3 billion "super-sized" highway.
In a phone interview, the Straight asked [BC NDP leader Carole] James if she was in favour of B.C. transportation minister Kevin Falcon's recent announcement that the bridge will be replaced by [the proposed] structure that will be financed through a public-private partnership.

“Yes,” James confirmed from Victoria. “You have to have a bridge. You have to have a crossing across there. It's very clear that the traffic is high enough that you need to have a bridge there.”

James is equivocating. "You need to have a bridge there" doesn't logically entail "you need to have THIS bridge there." Moreover, James has reversed the position she stated in a presentation to the Union of BC Municipalities in 2007.
Two days before the arrival of former U.S. vice president and environmental celebrity Al Gore in Vancouver, she was in opposition to the then-planned $800-million twinning of the Port Mann span that Falcon had announced in 2004.

At the time, she said: “If the objective is to reduce the traffic congestion that drives commuters crazy and reduce greenhouse gases that are ruining our planet, then transit, not blacktop, has to be the priority.”

People have noticed this bewildering reversal.
Opponents of the provincial Gateway program say they are disappointed that James has done a political about-face.

“It's definitely disappointing,” Eric Doherty of the Livable Region Coalition told the Georgia Straight by phone. “But it also raises questions about whether they [NDP] are serious about tackling climate change, and also whether they are really serious about creating jobs in B.C. Jobs in the automobile sector are about exporting jobs out of the country and out of the province.”

This reminds me of the NDP's Axe the Tax campaign which so infuriated environmentalists. That was a NDP position which surprised - and failed - too.

The article is a full page. I suggest reading the whole thing, also the follow-up piece.

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Gotta love the headline

Bell retweets on charge. I remember reading about Bell's plans to charge extra for Twitterers. Well now they have retweeted. Guess the recession is good for some things.

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Canada Apes US, Boycotts UN Racism Conference

While the Obama administration has stepped leftward in acknowledging the right of states to enact their own laws regarding medical marijuana, it has lurched rightward in boycotting the UN's Conference Against Racism, to be held in Geneva in April.

The rationale for the boycott: references to Israel in the draft resolution of the conference's final document.

Robert Wood, speaking on behalf of the US state department, said
the US would not participate in the conference unless its final statement does not criticise any one country or conflict. The US also did not want the document to take up the issue of reparations for slavery, which was another hot topic in the Durban 2001 conference.

Naturally, Tzipi Livni, Israel's foreign minister, is delighted.
"Under the fig leaf of combating racism, this conference is blatantly anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli," Livni said in a statement on Saturday.

"The decision of the United States should be an example to other countries that share our values."

Those values would include unstinting, unequivocal support for all things related in any way, shape or form to Israel. For to be otherwise is, of course, "anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli."

Naturally, pro-Israeli groups laud the US stern resolve.
"President [Barack] Obama's decision not to send US representation to the April event is the right thing to do and underscores America's unstinting commitment to combating intolerance and racism in all its forms and in all settings," the American Israel Public Affairs Committee said.

Ha ha ha ha ha ... canna catch my breath ... ha ha ha ha ha.

Canada, of course, obediently supports the boycott. Good boy, Harper, good boy.

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More Hardship as Food Prices Soar

Things are going beyond desperate for those already living at the bottom of the well. The grocery bill is the only discretionary item in their budget and it keeps going higher and higher and higher. Which means less and less and less food, and nutritious food increasingly falling off altogether.

A comparison of food prices tracked by Statistics Canada shows that from January 2008 to January 2009 food bought from Canadian stores rose by almost 9%. Fresh fruit went up by 16%, vegetables by 20%, breads and cereals by as much as 11% and non-alcoholic drinks by 12%.

"Food prices rose dramatically around the world last year and there is no one simple answer to it," said John Scott, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers.

Part of the answer is the principle of sticky pricing. Once prices go up, they tend to stay there, particularly prices on staples. Why? Well, just because.

However, there IS something people can do about the rising cost of food. Consider this:

"Canadians buy food from all over the world and those foods are traded in U.S. dollars so when our dollar goes down, relative to the U.S. dollar, food costs more," said Jack Carr, an economist at the University of Toronto.

Solution: Follow the 100 mile diet. Buy local.

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A Bummer on the Environment

Who would have thought that the lowly toilet paper could cause such damage to our environment? The fluffy, luxurious, designer TP that is sold is derived from old growth trees.
"This is a product that we use for less than three seconds and the ecological consequences of manufacturing it from trees is enormous," said Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defence Council.

The processing alone adds immensely to the degradation of our planet, to say nothing about the waste systems that must contend with it after use. And Americans use far more than our share.
Americans already consume vastly more paper than any other country — about three times more per person than the average European, and 100 times more than the average person in China.

Time to clean up our act, to use less and purchase, exclusively, TP made from recycled, non-bleached paper.

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A Step in the Left Direction

The Obama administration has come through and is forbidding the US DEA from any further raids on state sanctioned medical marijuana outlets.
In response to a question at a Wednesday news conference, US Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department will no longer raid medical marijuana dispensaries in states where they are legal under state law. The announcement marks the fulfillment of a President Obama campaign promise, and it marks the end of 13 years of stubborn federal resistance to state medical marijuana programs.

As the US Justice Department's stance on it's oppressive approach toward the use of medical marijuana heavily influences Canadian policy, this is good news for patients in both countries.

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27 February 2009

HarperCo RFPs favouring Big Business over Small

Corinne Pohlmann, of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, testified yesterday at the HOC Government Operations Committee. She reported to the MPs that

business relations between small business and the government have been steadily going downhill ... [and that] more firms aren't doing business with the government simply because it's too cumbersome and complicated. Others are getting shut out because the government is bundling more work into contracts, which are too big for small firms to bid on.

For example, a group representing Ottawa-area information-technology firms told MPs they would be cut out of billions of dollars in business if the government charges ahead with plans to bundle contracts in four large IT deals that could be worth up to $80 billion over 20 years.

Small businesses are the lifeblood of local economies. We need more of them and less of the monopolizing corporations. Yet the government's bidding process rewards big business - the bigger the better - and punishes small businesses, precisely because of their size.

Read the rest of the article. 'Tis worth reading.

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CanWest and HarperCo

If you've any doubt that the CanWest media group is the propaganda organ of the Harper Conservatives, you need look no further than this:

The sickness that is enveloping Canada's local television sector is causing concern for the well-being of one of Stephen Harper's chief electoral strategies - that of going over the national media's head to move his party up in the polls.

Sources say members of the PMO are becoming worried the tactic used by Mr. Harper to aim his message directly at local voters is threatened by the economic difficulties faced by the stations. On Wednesday, CTV announced it would close two Ontario stations in Windsor and Wingham rather than continue to absorb financial losses in those communities.

"Senior officials in the Prime Minister's Office are well aware of the importance to politics of private local television," a senior Tory told The Globe and Mail yesterday. "The government is very concerned of the closure of conventional television stations owned by CTV and Canwest, in particular."

Might we hear "Bailout!" sometime soon? And if not, might we espy - provided we can access the information - some underhanded government machinations designed to rescue CanWest from its own ineptitude?

Other CanWest stations on the chopping block include Victoria and Kelowna (BC), Red Deer (AB), Montreal and Hamilton.

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Support your Local Farmer

Food producing practices have changed drastically since the mid-1930s, having evolved from ma & pa operations into the mega Agri-business of today. The small farmer has been pushed to near extinction, with the result that the consumer has become wary of what they are eating, often wondering whether food is contaminated, cloned, genetically altered or less nutritious.
One can go vegetarian, buy organic, or avoid processed foods, but it is hard to truly avoid all of the dangers that lurk in our food. For these reasons and others, many choose to buy their food from local, sustainable farmers. But with economic trouble hitting seemingly every sector, how long will these farmers be able to hold on?

In many ways, the family farmer is an endangered species in America, made even more precious by the daily influx of bad news about food produced by the alternative -- industrialized agriculture.

There is a burgeoning movement wherein committed individuals are returning to the land to farm. From backyard enterprises to small acreages, people of all ages are intent on sustainable farming to supply clean, wholesome food for their neighbours.

Support your local farmers, pay the asking price for fresh, quality grown food and be part of the solution in sustaining our food sources.

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26 February 2009

Hey Liberals! Wanna win the next election?

Concerned about Canadian unity? How 'bout western alienation?

Then go read what Danielle Takacs has to say.

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Braidwood Taser Inquiry: It gets more and more sick

Another changed testimony. From a second RCMP officer.

Constable Bill Bentley, wearing a bulletproof vest, and armed with gun, pepper spray and baton was accompanied by three other officers. As he approached Dziekanski, Bentley thought he

seemed calm and initially co-operative, but when Const. Kwesi Millington began talking to him, "he threw up his arms and began walking away from us," Bentley said.

The officers had been warned that Dziekanski couldn't speak English.

I don't blame the man for walking away! He couldn't understand a damn thing anyone was saying and that had been the case for ten-plus hours. In his position, I'd likely have done the same thing.

Bentley took Dziekanski's body language as being defiant. "That means someone doesn't want to listen to you."

How could he listen to you, you idiot?! What was the point in hearing a bunch of noises which had no meaning to him?

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25 February 2009

Tag-Team Tars Canada's Image Further

If the Alberta tar sands aren't bad enough we have the tag duo of Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and "Environment" Minister Jim Prentice further tarring Canada's reputation with their flawed logic.

Ignatieff: "National Geographic is not going to teach me any lessons about the oilsands.... This is a huge industry. It employs Canadians from coast to coast. We have oil reserves that are going to last for the whole of the 21st century. We are where we are. We've got to clean it up, and we've got make it a sustainable place to work and live."

Rather than questioning the social and environmental value, and so ultimately the economic value, of this dirty industry and applying forward-thinking to exploring new, innovative industries which could also "employ Canadians from coast to coast," we have business as usual.

Meanwhile, Prentice blew off the National Geographic feature as "just one article," and declared the tar sands a "strategic asset" for Canada.

Apparently, "strategic" refers only to immediate, short-term gain. Clearly, our leaders have learned nothing about the severe consequences which can follow from such paucity of vision.

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Development vs. "Development"

Oh joy, oh joy! "Development" is coming to a neighbourhood near you!

Of the 54,000 hectares of Vancouver Island TimberWest Forest Corp plans to sell, the company is eyeing ten parcels of land in the Cowichan Valley - that very same valley in which Daphne and I reside.

These parcels include Mount Prevost, Honeymoon Bay, Renfrew Road, Shawnigan Lake, the Malahat, Skutz Falls and an area described by the company as Paldi South.

Real estate whiz Bob Rennie, who made tons of cash when he brought the derelict Woodward's store in east Vancouver to a sellout conclusion during the great condo boom [can you tell this paper is pro-"development"?], is the man at the front of TimberWest’s ambitious plan to develop about 15,000 of the 55,000 hectares it plans to take out of island forest lands. TimberWest said the rest of the 55,000 hectares would be used as a green buffer to keep the new developments sustainable.

But Rennie said the island property will not lend itself to more condos.

"It's not about creating urban centres," he said. "It's about creating real land and real uses for homeowners, whether that's manufactured home parks or homesteading on one-acre or five-acre developments, farming; we're going to look at real needs."

First, you don't go about "creating" land or making it anymore "real" than it was before. You claim ownership of land which already exists sans human activity. Then you impute to it a monetary value.

As for TimberWest-claimed land being for "homeowners," what about the dearth of affordable housing in this Valley - not just to buy, but to rent? Our vacancy rate is below one percent and a disproportionate number of households fall within the lowest income level.

So yes, if you're going to talk about looking at "real" needs, then affordable housing must top the list. Perhaps that's what "manufactured home parks or homesteading" means. However, manufactured or mobile homes shot up in price just as regular housing did. Nothing suggests that prices will come down all the way to pre-boom times.

As for "homesteading," that sounds good, back when the term meant someone plonking themselves onto land and claiming it for their own without having to pay anyone for doing so. But I doubt that's the definition of 'homesteading' which TimberWest has in mind.

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24 February 2009

Legalize Street Drugs, Save Billions

Gang war killings, murder and mayhem resulting from the black market dealing of street drugs seems to be the norm these days.

Rafe Mair, in his article, has expressed an often stated solution: de-criminalization or, better yet, legalization. He points out that alcohol, a legal drug, is the cause of untold damage.
Our society is, of course, as hypocritical as hell as it peddles well-advertised alcohol, the most dangerous of all drugs. The cost of alcohol to society is in the billions and even then things like broken homes, single parent families, costs to business operations and so on make it impossible to even come up with an educated guess at the real cost of booze to society. Yet no one seriously says we should go back to Prohibition and bring back the illegal stills, bootleggers, rum runners and dives or speakeasies that do so well when their product is illegal.

Yet we are inundated with with media stories about the destruction caused by the myriad facets of the illegal drug trade. Decriminalizing or legalizing would go a long way to solving such criminal activity.

Were we to sanction the sale of these substances, billions of dollars would be saved.
While estimates vary, the United Nations believes that the annual global sales of illicit drugs are between $450 billion and $750 billion. In Canada, the government's estimates of sales range from $7 billion to $18 billion.

An estimated 125,000 people in Canada inject drugs. The economic costs, including health care (for example, HIV/AIDS and hepatitis), lost productivity, property crime and enforcement, are estimated to exceed $5 billion annually.

Wouldn't the money be better spent on social programs, education or saving our environment rather than battling this losing war on drugs?

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Encouraging Western Alienation

While the auto industry has received the largest share of attention from our federal politicians, it's the two westernmost provinces which have taken the greatest hit in terms of increased unemployment - as registered by EI rolls, that is.

You are also "unemployed," though not officially, if you don't qualify for EI or have given up in despair and stopped looking for work.
The number of British Columbians receiving Employment Insurance benefits in December 2008 was up 33.2 percent from the same month a year earlier.

The gain was the largest in Canada, with Alberta (30.3 percent) and Ontario (29.6 percent) close behind, according to figures released by Statistics Canada today.

Across Canada the average increase was 16.6 percent.

Of course, men disproportionately bolstered those numbers (21.7 percent more of them were on EI than the previous year), given that far more men are employed in situations which qualify them to collect EI if ever they need it. The number of women on EI increased by only 8.6 percent.
Of Canadian cities, Victoria had the fourth largest gain, with 49.1 percent more people receiving EI than a year earlier.

Once again "the West" has been paid little attention by the federal government. Sure, the HarperCons are taking care, somewhat, of their own backyard.

But British Columbia? We're nowhere on the radar. Except when times are booming and British Columbians' tax dollars flow to bulging federal coffers.

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On Taking Responsibility: Maple Leaf and listeria

I continue to be impressed with the handling by Maple Leaf CEO and president, Michael McCain, of the original listeria crisis, the subsequent settlement with those who were affected by it, and the new standards he put in place at his company.

McCain never tried to foist the responsibility onto someone else, although there were plenty of likely culprits, not least our own federal government whose function is to monitor food safety. Instead McCain took upon himself full blame for the sad events which unfolded.

Now, on learning a product shipment had not completed the company's new stringent safety controls, Maple Leaf has voluntarily recalled it.

I tell ya... If I wasn't a vegan, I'd be buying Maple Leaf meat products exclusively.

Would that other CEOs learned from Maple Leaf's top man and not be the gutless wonders and scam artists they are.

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23 February 2009

Divorce, Liberal-Style

UPDATED: So the federal and provincial wings of the Liberal party in Saskatchewan are going their separate ways.

Wish the same would happen here in BC. As for the NDP, I fervently wish it would do likewise - and that the provincial or federal wing change its name while it's at it.

ETA: Apparently the LPC did separate from the BC liberals. However, both parties retain the 'Liberal Party' moniker. Ergo, the confusion. And also the questionable notion that either party is truly liberal.

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Altered Stress Genes, Childhood Trauma and Poverty

A study confirms what common sense should have been telling us all along, that early childhood abuse affects the expression of stress-related genes. It also validates work done by WISE in 2005 on poverty and its unexpected conclusion.

The team of scientists found early child abuse changed the expression of a gene that is important for responding to stress.

If children are abused early, they are flooded with stress-related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, said Louise Newman, a professor of perinatal and infant psychiatry at the University of Newcastle in Australia.

"This impacts directly on how the brain develops and the stress regulation mechanism. It becomes highly stressed so it's like setting the thermostat on high, setting up a system which regulates stress less efficiently," Newman said. "Also it impacts on the area which controls feelings, so they're more likely to be highly stressed, have difficulties with anger and emotions, and be prone to self-harm, anxiety, suicide and depression."

In 2005, WISE encouraged 21 low-income women to tell their personal stories of living in poverty, and to begin their accounts at any point they chose. With a single exception, the women began their stories with their childhood.

After all the stories were completed and compiled, the storytellers uncovered two major long-term predictors of, or early forecasts for their future poverty.

The #1 predictor of future poverty was overwhelmingly an event, more often a course of events, that traumatized us during childhood. The events mentioned in the greatest number of our stories were abuse, neglect, or exploitation by a guardian or family member. Fourteen of us report having had experiences of this sort. In several cases of abuse, other family members or the community knew about it and did nothing, which increased our isolation....

Combine the study done by the 21 women of WISE with the report that childhood abuse can cause permanent changes to gene expression. The "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" crowd has a problem.

The bootstraps (genes) of some people living in poverty have been seriously deformed due to childhood experience. To tell such people to "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" is equivalent to telling them to "walk on your broken leg to heal it."

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Male Fertility Control: What's the Hold-up?

So, men really do want to take personal responsibility for birth control.
While only two male contraceptive options (vasectomy and condoms) are available, they are both widely used, making it clear that men are willing to accept responsibility for birth control. In fact, one study assessed the responsiveness of men from four continents and nine countries to the possibility of "male fertility control," and found that on average more than half of those surveyed were willing to use such a method. The legal responsibility associated with fathering a child is also motivating men to take control of their reproductive fate.

What's the hold-up?
Most private industries are no longer interested in funding male contraceptive research, for multiple reasons, including a complicated FDA approval process due to lack of previous experience with male birth control, reduced insurance coverage of contraceptives in general, and a high development cost for a product that would be ideally of low purchase cost, especially in developing countries. This leaves the public sector as the sole source of funding, which comes with it both budget and experimental constraints. But despite this shortage of financial support, many innovative scientists around the world are working to make male contraception a reality.

A readily available male contraceptive would certainly ease women's burden. It just may advance equality between the sexes while offering another method for ensuring a choice in becoming parents.

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21 February 2009

The Rail Alternative

Twice a day I hear a whistle announcing the train's passage through my community. As the sound carries over the lake I wonder, once again, why is it going the wrong way.

Ever since I arrived on the east coast of Vancouver Island in the late 70's, the E&N Line hurtles one lonely passenger car from Victoria to points north in the morning, returning in the early evening. It has been a source of puzzlement and frustration for many who would ride the daily train to work in the province's capital region, except that it runs from south to north, catering mostly to tourists.

A group of dedicated volunteers have offered many solutions over the years. But at long last, two NDP MLA's, one Liberal MP and a number of Capital Region mayors have come together to support an upgrade to the E&N Line.
Several capital region mayors joined forces with New Democrat MLAs Maurine Karagianis and John Horgan and Liberal MP Keith Martin, who called transforming the E&N into a viable commuter line one of the most pressing infrastructure needs in the area.

Federal and Provincial funding is available for infrastructure, although the E&N wasn't specifically mentioned in either of the budgets.

What better way to stimulate the economy? Everyone would benefit, through increased employment to a dramatic decrease in traffic congestion as commuters and freight take to the rails.

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Atheism, deism, theism, consumerism...

...environmentalism, capitalism.

How fundamentally different are these in terms of shaping how we perceive the world and our role in it?

Atheism, deism and theism each posit an unique position with respect to the notion of a omniscient, omnipresent supreme creator.

Professional religionists work to sell their favourite flavour of theism.

Atheists don't so much try to sell rationalism as attempt to defend it against theism, particularly blind faith.

The raison d'ĂȘtre of the Wee Three (formerly Big Three) is to sell people not only individual cars but an entire culture in which the North American automobile rides dominant.

Sellers of televisions, iPods, "homes" (how can you sell or buy a HOME?) strive to sell people not just their products but a whole way of life. Typically, new houses are built in suburbia. New transportation arteries accompany development. The new homeowners cannot walk or cycle to and from work since their place of employment is, conveniently for the auto makers, kilometres away from their new bedroom community.

Selling society on the philosophy of consumerism - on selling it to accept a transformation in which certain products and services become needs - is fundamentally no different than selling society on a way of looking at the world and the human role in it.

Is not environmentalism a worldview? Is not capitalism?

If the makers of cars, iPods, television sets, can collectively promote their consumerist ideology through advertising, then no valid argument exists which warrants barring atheists from buying ads to sell rationalism.

Were atheists to sell rationalism it might end the sale of religion.

If rationalism captured the imaginations and hearts of the people, perhaps we'd reduce the greed driving us to destroy our planet, greed driven in the names of "free" trade, perpetual "economic growth," and "competition."

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20 February 2009

BC Govt privatizes BC Ferries to save money

Then the new company raises fares and subsequently loses ridership and money - which was predicted in a study done years before.
Fares have increased by roughly 50 percent since the B.C. Liberal government privatized the former Crown corporation in 2003.

A 1997 B.C. Ferries study found that on the minor routes a bump in fares of 10 per cent would decrease the number of users by three per cent. On the major routes the decrease would be five per cent....

Looks like the predictions were just about right. According to the company's press release issued late today (another late Friday media release!), over the nine-month period ending December 31, vehicle and passenger levels were down 5.1 and 4.5 percent, respectively.

Of greater importance, the privatization of BC Ferries meant turning over a necessary public service to the "free" market. This has meant fewer businesses able to ship goods, and fewer people able to travel among the islands or to and from the mainland and Vancouver Island.

(The ferry routes are our watery equivalent to a highway between major centres.)

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Ocean's Idea turns up in UK!

Well I DID openly muse to friend Daphne when we were in Victoria two summers ago that it made sense to me to have governments use the land they own to grow crops, rather than have them spend huge amounts to maintain pristine landscapes and - lots of grass.

I even ventured to suggest that allowing members of the public to garden on these lands would reduce substantially the cost of landscaping. Fruit trees and veggie gardens can be attractive in their own right, after all.

AND, I suggested, there could be free lunch provided from the publicly grown food on the days during which legislatures and Parliament are in session.

Well, at least some of that is going to get done if the UK's National Trust has its way!
The National Trust is seeking to persuade every household, office and company to grow its own vegetables in a campaign that will create 1,000 allotments on its own land.

Gordon Brown is being urged to plant a vegetable patch at 10 Downing Street, and down the road the trust is to practise what it preaches by letting staff dig up the garden of its Westminster premises.

Could it happen on the pristine lawns of Victoria's Legislature?

And should it?

Yes, and yes. But likely there'd be no support from the powers-that-be for such a practical idea.

Which makes this one of those examples in which could should imply should.

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"Majority" Support Stimulus Package?

That would be the conclusion drawn (as one blogger has) of the most recent Gallup poll regarding public support for the US stimulus package.

The conclusion may well be true. The US package appears to throw at least some crumbs to just about everyone.

On this side of the 49th parallel, however, such is not the case. Therefore, if Canadian polls exist which indicate a majority support for the Harper "stimulus package" (and no doubt they do exist), I'd beg to ask a few questions:
  1. What newspapers do survey participants read regularly?
  2. Do they watch television and if so, what stations do they prefer?
  3. Do they have a phone and/or work two or more part-time jobs at minimum wage?
I'd like to ask these questions because many people at the lowest two income levels with whom I'm in touch don't support the government's rescue package for corporateers.

But then, not a lot of the people I know get to participate in telephone surveys. Some haven't phones. Others are out earning minimum wage at two or three part-time jobs which provide them no additional benefits, including the benefit of collecting Employment Insurance should they become unemployed.

If capitalism is going to be forced on everyone, no matter how good or bad the times are for any of us, then let it be forced on EVERYONE. Don't, when profits are plummeting due to corporateers' massive errors in judgement suddenly allow the system to morph into something else that permits corporate welfare.

Many of us at the bottom of the well looking up know that the return to free-market capitalism will happen once the corporateers are happy again. In the meantime, nothing at all will have changed for us except that our lives will have become harder.

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19 February 2009

US "Personhood Law" Inching Forward

I'll tell you straight away that Ocean and I are pro-choice on the abortion issue and vehemently against the State of North Dakota legislators attempting to pass the Personhood of Children Act.
Pro-choice groups have warned that a law passed by legislators in the US state of North Dakota recognizing the "personhood" of a fetus would not only outlaw abortion but could also bar access to birth control.

Lawmakers in the North Dakota lower house voted 51 to 41 on Tuesday to pass the Personhood of Children Act, which confers the same basic rights on "all human beings from the beginning of their biological development, including the pre-born, partially born."

The bill is expected to go before the state senate in around two weeks.

If passed, it would be used to challenge the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe versus Wade decision that legalized abortion in the United States and gave the country some of the least restrictive abortion laws in the world, experts said.

The actions being taken by lawmakers in North Dakota to restrict a woman's autonomy are regressive, oppressive, controlling, inane and downright morally incomprehensible.

Imagine the outcry if nine men in ten would be required, by law, to be sterilized. Imagine men having that decision forced upon them, whether they agreed or not.

You may not concur with this comparison but we can think of nothing else that would give pause for thought, as North Dakota lawmakers inch toward such a despicable decision.

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NDP "Axe the Tax" campaign has a problem

Remember all the alarmist rhetoric spewed from the likes of Carole James concerning the BC government's carbon tax?

Remember how low income British Columbians were going to be worse off?

Remember the accusations that the carbon tax, despite being legislated to do so, would NOT be revenue neutral?

Well, this pretty much nullifies that campaign.

If you don't believe the contents of the Times Colonist article, then go read the Budget 2009 document, p72. Included is the report on the neutrality of the carbon tax by deputy finance minister Chris Trumpy.

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Atheist Ad "grates on" you, Ms. Wilkinson?

How do you think atheists feel, Ms. Wilkinson, when surrounded by religionists who would - and do - impose their beliefs on all society?

And how is it that your faith cannot bear something as innocuous as "There is probably no God"?

Or that you would find the ad "demeaning"?

Ms Wilkinson, THIS ISSUE ISN'T ALL ABOUT YOU and your hurt feelings.

It's about a large and growing minority in this country that doesn't believe in your God. It's about the alienation THEY feel.

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Now Hiring: Acute care and social service industries

'Tis no surprise that things are booming for the professionalized needs sectors.

Of course, the acute care system is thriving. Of course, the social service sector is experiencing a boom.

This sick, capitalist society creates the conditions these industries need to sustain themselves and flourish. This society of survival-of-the-fittest doesn't believe in wiping out the conditions which make it necessary for people to access the acute care and social service industries.

Why would it? Where would the profit be in that?

The irony isn't missed by people at the lowest level of income. Everyone is expected to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, regardless of the social conditions surrounding us. And most of us do, against all odds.

But capitalism rapidly takes a turn when its failures result in massive profit losses for big corporations. THEN the plebes are expected to support the rich in yet one more way, by means of corporate welfare.

Which means we continue to bear a vastly unequal amount of society's stressors.

The circle closes. And round and round we go again.

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With Google Earth, we can all become spies

That's what this article suggests, about the use of Google Earth to uncover a US (formerly) secret operation.

Shamsi airbase in 2006 with three drones apparently visible (The Times)

The US was secretly flying unmanned drones from the Shamsi airbase in Pakistan's southwestern province of Baluchistan as early as 2006, according to an image of the base from Google Earth.

The image - that is no longer on the site but which was obtained by The News, Pakistan's English language daily newspaper - shows what appear to be three Predator drones outside a hangar at the end of the runway. The Times also obtained a copy of the image, whose co-ordinates confirm that it is the Shamsi airfield, also known as Bandari, about 200 miles southwest of the Pakistani city of Quetta.

Wanna bet there'll be more cries for control of the Internet?

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18 February 2009

Where the Hell have these "researchers" been?!

That the quality of life between women and men differs as they age and that women's health disproportionately deteriorates with age comes as no surprise to the hundreds of researchers who have been crying the clarion call for decades about the social determinants of health.

Yet politicians continue to ignore the facts. The results of this ostrich attitude include an overburdened acute care system and people suffering from poor health needlessly.

Any SDOH researcher will tell you that i) poverty is associated with poor health and ii) more women than men are poor. Women's health researchers have provided countless reasons why the latter is the case.

Given these well-known facts, a study examining the quality of life between women and men is bound to show women to report being less healthy as they reach their sixties than are men.

It therefore comes as a shock to learn of researchers who, working on behalf of Statistics Canada, never appear to have heard of the SDOH or, more particularly, the association of poverty to health and to women.
[A]t age 65, more women than men said they had more than one chronic condition and women were more likely to need help with activities of daily living, Heather Orpana, a senior researcher at Statistics Canada, and her colleagues found.

"We were interested in this result because men didn't show a similar important decline in that early decade," said Orpana, also an adjunct professor in health psychology at the University of Ottawa.

This study did not look at why, but followup research is exploring whether physical activity levels, life stress, social support or access to health care make a difference....

"It's always interesting when you start to analyze men and women separately," said Orpana. "Quite often you do find important differences that you could not have anticipated."

While the researchers were not expecting to find a difference between the two genders, women tend to report more health conditions than men, she noted.

The SDOH is a huge field, the UN created a Commission on the Social Determinants of Health and Canada is a leader in research on the SDOH.1 Where the hell have these researchers been? On Pluto?

1 As usual, we KNOW a heck of a lot. We're a country swamped in research. Our politicians just don't DO anything about it.

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Retailer desperation

... encourages headlines like this:

Just add hot water - Starbucks to sell instant coffee

at $2.95 for three packets (hot water provided for free) or $1.00 per packet.

Let's see...

The average cup of instant coffee made from a jar of instant coffee sold in grocery stores, costs about $0.20. Now, if that doesn't work for you - cuz of the going out to buy coffee culture - then how 'bout asking for a cup of hot water, then pouring into the cup instant coffee from a packet which you bought in bulk? Such packets go for about $0.18 wholesale. Am sure, what with hard times and all, retail customers wouldn't be shunned.

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Conscientious Meat Eating? BAH!

Whether an animal has been raised on a farm in your community or by multi-national corporations in the Agri-business, butchering an animal for human consumption is unnecessary, a detriment to the environment and overall human health. Trying to justify killing animals for food makes no sense when we can easily survive eating a plant based diet.

.....almost all support the idea that cruelty to animals is wrong and that factory-produced meat is unjustifiably bad for the environment. However, they are not opposed to meat in and of itself, they are simply opposed to industrial meat.

.....more and more, people are also realizing the troubling connections between human starvation and eating animal products. It takes approximately 16 pounds of grain and 2,500 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat (thus feeding one or two people on meat versus approximately 16 people on grain). Much of this grain is grown in developing countries, where a large percentage of their land is used for cattle-raising for export to the United States, instead of being used to grow staple crops, which could feed local people directly. In a world where a child starves to death every 2 seconds, it seems impossible to justify such waste.

Slandering the minority of people who have chosen a meat free diet is common.
.....the words "animal rights," "vegetarian," and "vegan" are some of the most mocked and emotionally loaded terms in our language, even in very liberal circles. One has to wonder if a multibillion dollar meat industry hasn't had a part in making these words and the ideals behind them seem so laughable to so many people.

Soy has become the new evil food, and it is often said that vegans and vegetarians are hypocrites because they eat processed foods that are bad for the environment, and their diets are pretentious.

In fact, many of the studies that show negative effectives of soy are funded by the meat industry, and it is often ignored that the reason soy is so damaging environmentally is because the vast majority of it is grown to feed factory farm animals -- this is the soy that is destroying the rain forest.

As a vegan, I am appalled and amused at the same time when I encounter arguments from meat eaters that some animals can be killed more 'humanely' than others. BAH!

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17 February 2009

Greedy Burger King Owners Bite Employees

Goldman Sachs, US owners of the Burger King chain has tapped into the economic bail out, are paying their financial staff huge bonuses and this all on the backs of the underpaid, hourly employees.
Goldman Sachs, where former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson was once CEO, switched from an investment bank to a bank holding company last year so it could qualify for $10 billion in bailout funds. They then spent $6.5 billion on bonuses for their financial staff. Goldman's recklessness is one of several scandalous stories of Wall Street giants abusing the bailout at the expense of taxpayers and the economy. But in this case, Goldman's excessive spending has had an immediate and profound impact on the American work force....

The average Burger King salary is $14,000 a year--three grand less than the federal poverty line. According to the SEIU and a new campaign from Brave New Films, had Goldman used the $6.5 billion blown on bonuses to help Burger King's woefully underpaid employees, each BK worker would have received an extra $18,000 last year.

Employees are struggling to stay alive in a declining economic market, dishing up tax dollars to assist funding bailout packages and find they are being treated as though they were slaves.

And in Canada?

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16 February 2009

When you celebrate your charity

... think of the other side.

Am always struck by the propensity of media (my local media are a case in point) to plaster photos on front pages or websites with the accompanying names of people who have donated to this or that cause, whilst the donees remain nameless, faceless and merely part of the amorphous horde of "the poor," "the needy," "the less fortunate," etc., etc., etc.

Friend Daphne and I are deemed to be among said horde.

We have names. We have faces. We have uppity opinions about how 'the poor', 'the needy', 'the less fortunate' should be treated. And none of those labels do we accept for ourselves.

We also rue the passing of the age in which giving to charity was an exceptionally private affair and boasting of a charitable act marked you as a boor.

ETA: Lillian comments below about Maimonides' eight levels of charity. Here they are, as provided in an archival snapshot of the New York Times, December 10, 1922.

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Dairy Industry Going Tits Up?

Dairy cows are being done in as the demand for milk and cheese drops off.

Dairy farmers say they have little choice but to sell part of their herds for slaughter because they face a perfect storm of destructive economic forces. At home, feed prices are rising and cash-strapped consumers are eating out less often. Abroad, the global recession has cut into demand for butter and cheese exported from the U.S.

Prices for milk now are about half what it costs farmers to produce the staple, and consumer prices are falling. Unless the market can be bolstered, industry officials project that more than 1.5 million of the nation's 9.3 million milking cows could be slaughtered this year as dairy operators look to cut costs and generate cash.

"This could destroy our dairy infrastructure," said Mike Marsh, CEO of the United Western Dairymen trade association.

This may be bad news to the dairy industry but not to vegans and animal activists who decry the wont for dairy in the human diet. Our overall health would improve vastly, as would the environment, should we find ourselves adopting a dairy free diet.

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CRTC - Still Guarding the Gate of Western Propaganda

Have written previously about the CRTC's predilection for guarding the gate of Western propaganda.
Apparently, the illustrious personages of the CRTC fear that Canadians might be done irreparable harm if they were subjected to Al-Jazeera news reports. Such care for Canadians' moral health and fortitude does not extend to the propaganda spewed forth by the likes of Bill O'Reilly.

In this excellent interview with The Tyee, Tony Burman, new head of Al Jazeera English, describes the rapid rise of Al Jazeera Arabic's reputation in the Arab world and the respected acceptance of Al Jazeera English everywhere but in North America, where it continues to be blocked from airing.

The loss to Canadian viewers due to our exposure only to the protected media is considerable. For example, do you recall reading anything about this story?

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15 February 2009

Our Lousy Residential Tenancy Act

... would be better named the BC Landlord Act. It allows things like this to happen, over and over and over again.
Residents of a mobile home park in Sooke are preparing to move out after a government-approved arbitrator ruled their eviction is legal.

It's the latest in a string of evictions from mobile home parks. Evictions are also underway in Ladysmith and Metchosin as landowner Oak Bay Marine Group moves in to redevelop properties.

In the Sooke case, landowner Jeff Zigay has given residents of 17 mobile homes at Seaview Mobile Home Park near Sooke's downtown until Oct. 31 to move out. The landlord will pay the tenants back 12 months' rent, the minimum required under the law.

Secela Dutton, an 89-year-old widow who has lived in the park for 20 years, says she doesn't know where she will go, and might have to move in with her grown children. "I'll have to leave Sooke no matter what."

In other words, she'll have to leave the community in which she has developed friendships and other valuable connections. If she has to move in with her children, she'll lose her independence. And if she loses both, her health will become compromised.

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What the Hell are the Religionists afraid of?!

Can your 'God' not handle a little competition?

Are you so fearful of your world view being challenged that you deny others their freedom of NON religion?

And the freedom to say so? Publicly? In ad campaigns? As your religious institutions do?
The City of Ottawa has rejected a "no God" bus ad campaign, a move that organizers hope will serve as a rallying cry for proponents of free speech across the country.

"We need to get people as offended about censorship as they are by the ad," said Justin Trottier, president of the Freethought Association of Canada...

The [group] had been hoping the posters would soon plaster the sides of OC Transpo buses in Ottawa, but their advertising request was denied last week as "offensive."

"It's not the first rejection we had," Trottier said. "We got rejected in Halifax a week or two ago."


Gawd, I'm sick of religionists and their crap.

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A Personal Request

proForm exercise bike Have tried all sorts of resources - for years now - and still nothing, so am putting this request on my blog with the hope of connecting with someone who can help.

The request is going to sound frivolous unless you read further into the post.

It is simply for this: one used upright (non-elliptical) exercise bike, similar to the ProForm XP185 U pictured. I've not the means to pay for a new one, even the cheapest models which wouldn't be appropriate for me anyway. Therefore, I've posted flyers around town and used sites like Cowichan Valley Recycle and UsedCowichan.

Nothing. And I've been looking for over six years.

Why specifically an exercise bike? Why not some other exercise machine? Why not simply go jogging or walk more? Why not do yoga or pilates or ...? And what makes me think I'd use an exercise bike anyway?

I've scoliosis and problems in both hips. The right hip and leg injury happened when I was 13 years old; was hit by a car and thrown 50 yards. The result was a compound fracture of the right femur and six months of surgery and casts. Doctors feared they may not be able to save the leg.

They did; and I'm enormously grateful. However, the leg never set properly into the hip socket and is almost one inch shorter than the left leg. Ergo, I developed scoliosis (curvature of the spine) and, recently, the left hip also began grinding painfully when I walk. (It's a wonder that hip bore my unbalanced gait for four decades before protesting.)

That's why I don't walk more or jog to get the exercise I need. I've no choice but to walk to do the things that need doing. However, my days of long walks (and dancing and letter carrying - yea, I pushed it) are behind me.

Why not yoga or pilates or ...? Because they don't work for me. My mood has become closely associated with my level of cardiovascular fitness and it has been going down, down, down. I desperately need a cardio component to get the old endorphins going. Due to my physical limitations, floor exercises can't do that.

Which also answers, Why an exercise bike? Pumping bicycle pedals gets the blood pumping and increases respiration.

Why do I think I'd use an exercise bike? Because I had one for several years and used it almost every day. In fact, I came to associate feeling depressed or angry with an urge to jump on the bike - like Pavlov's dog. When I moved here I couldn't bring the bike with me.

So... Do you live in or near the Cowichan Valley? And have you an exercise bike you're not using? It needs to be a better-quality bike that is in good condition - fancy programs not required -, have a comfortable adjustable seat, to ease discomfort in the back, and a smooth ride (magnetic resistance).

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Create your own bus slogan!

Like those "There is no God" ads? Wanna create your own? Well venture over here.

H/t Gordo's Brain.

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14 February 2009

BC "Gag" Law

We are in favour of the new election law brought in by Bill 42. With one qualification. We reject the new ID provisions.

As for the substance of the Bill - to restrict third party advertising within the 90-day period before an election - we applaud it.

Certain freedom of speech enthusiasts bark that the law amounts to censorship. Well, we would argue that powerful unions, non-profits and for-profits, none of which have voting rights in elections, also haven't the right to freedom of speech.

Rights and responsibilities belong to individual citizens, not to organizations. (Which brings up a whole other problem re organized religion but hey, that's an entirely different topic.)

Having money to buy ads to promote your favorite party is not about free speech. It's about spending copious amounts of money to influence people to vote your way.

What if we, as members of a union, don't want our union dues spent on promoting a particular party? - something which has happened to one of us. With Bill 42, it's still possible for individuals in the unions or corporations to talk it up all they want to anyone who will listen.

It would appear that many progressives (most?) don't like this bill and we, among progressives, have said we deplore the new ID rules. However, we remain adamantly in favour of the principle of limiting advertising by third parties for 90 days before an election.

The bill doesn't eliminate advertising altogether; less expensive ways of getting the word out - other than through the purchase of TV or radio air time or glitzy mailers - is still possible.

This so-called "gag" legislation encourages individuals to talk to one another. If union, advocacy and environmental organizations are so gung-ho, then they can rally their volunteers and ask them to start knocking on doors and speaking to people one-on-one. Or they can design their own flyers, print them up mom-and-pop style and distribute them in their neighbourhoods.

All that aside one site provides food for thought - and it did give us pause. For example, we have a lot of respect for civil liberties organizations generally, although we know little about our own BC Civil Liberties Association.

The BCLA has also come out against Bill 42. In the their media release of May 27, 2008, they state:
Given the cost of advertising in major radio, TV and print media, the advertising restrictions would effectively prevent any individual or group from conducting any effective advertising campaign regarding the election. In the last provincial election, the BC Teachers Federation spent $1.55 million on ads, the Hospital Employees Union spent $550,000 and the B.C. Nurses' Union $250,000. [our emphasis]

Which only convinces us that the new restrictions are appropriate.

We observe that those writing for corporate media don't like the Bill either, people writing for giants such as CTVglobemedia - which owns the Globe and Mail - and CanWest - which saturates the BC market with its ownership of the Vancouver Sun, Victoria Times Colonist, The Province and Global TV.

Now why might media types be alarmed? Is it so much a concern for "free speech" as it is the loss of advertising revenue?

One has to wonder how many 'ordinary' citizens may have commented in favour of the legislation but never got their opinions into print or onto the airwaves.

[Co-authored by Daphne and Ocean.]

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On Patriotism and Its Trappings

Iain Hunter scores some good points regarding the national anthem kerfuffle:
New Brunswick's education minister wants to make the singing of O Canada every day compulsory in all the province's schools. That'll teach [Eric] Millett something, I suppose; it won't teach the kids a thing.

In B.C. the singing of the national anthem is compulsory at assemblies, which seems a bit more reasonable. I don't imagine little Quebecers have to sing it often.

Our kids aren't kamikaze pilots heading out on suicide missions: Their true, patriot love doesn't need to be commanded so early and so often.

Far better to teach them in history class what has made their country what it is today. Far better to make them understand the unique, internal differences that a nation must overcome to survive as a nation and, perhaps, achieve greatness.

Sounds reasonable to me.

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GM to File Bankruptcy?

That's one idea being floated by the company.
General Motors Corp, nearing a Tuesday deadline to present a viability plan to the U.S. government, is considering as one option a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing that would create a new company, the Wall Street Journal said in its Saturday edition.

"One plan includes a Chapter 11 filing that would assemble all of GM's viable assets, including some U.S. brands and international operations, into a new company," the newspaper said. "The undesirable assets would be liquidated or sold under protection of a bankruptcy court. Contracts with bondholders, unions, dealers and suppliers would also be reworked."

Hmmm: "reworked."

Not good news for all these people, is it? Shareholders should be happy though, what with dumping all those "undesirable assets."

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13 February 2009

$6B infrastructure package enough to shovel a molehill

It's $232 billion short. That's right, the Harper government's $6 billion infrastructure "stimulus" package is TWO HUNDRED AND THIRTY-TWO BILLION dollars short, when you add together the funds required to repair existing facilities to those needed for future growth.

Jean Crowder is the (NDP) MP for my riding. In an article she writes in one of today's local papers, she cites several problems with the Harper shovels-in-the-ground budget.
Since 2007, three major flaws ensured that the $33 billion Building Canada Fund has flowed very few dollars: an excess of red tape, reliance on private-public partnerships (P3s), and the fund's reimbursement model, rather than upfront funding.

Even if the first two could somehow be managed, the last means that the poorest communities and hence the ones most needing help will be unable to access these "stimulus" dollars.

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Don't blow your smoke in my face

A huge study suggests a 44 percent likelihood of developing dementia in people subjected to second-hand smoke.
Researchers with the universities of Cambridge and Michigan tested saliva samples of nearly 5,000 non-smokers over age 50. They were looking for cotinine - a product of nicotine that can be found in saliva for about a day after exposure to smoke. Participants were also assessed for brain function and cognitive impairment.

The study found people with the highest cotinine levels had a 44 per cent increased risk of cognitive impairment, compared to people with the lowest cotinine levels.

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Hot Air Blowing from BC's Liberal MPs

To those who might wonder about the priorities of these MPs, this should make it obvious.
One after another, four Liberals stood in the Commons this week to decry the treatment that British Columbia has received at the hands of the Conservative government in the face of a recession.

Ujjal Dosanjh ... wanted to know why Prime Minister Stephen Harper was "incapable" of providing hope to British Columbians who have lost jobs and home equity. Joyce Murray ... asked if the federal government failed to understand the depth of the economic problem and its effect on B.C. Hedy Fry ... said Ottawa has promised hundreds of millions of dollars to deal with pine-beetle devastation, but only a quarter of the money has flowed. And Keith Martin ... asked why British Columbians pay the same Employment Insurance premiums as other Canadians but are entitled to fewer benefits.

The criticism from the B.C. Liberals rings with some of the same anger expressed by Liberals in Newfoundland and Labrador.... But, unlike their colleagues ... B.C. Liberals have not asked leader Michael Ignatieff for a one-time dispensation to express their displeasure by voting against the Conservative economic plan....

First, voters choose MPs to represent THEM, not the candidate's damn PARTY. MPs don't have to ASK PERMISSION to vote according to their conscience and on behalf of their constituents.

Second, this abysmal demonstration of BC Liberals "standing up" for those they're supposed to be representing in Ottawa makes a lousy argument for voting in those four, let alone, more Liberals come the next election.

And, by the way, those Liberals who stood up - once - on behalf of Newfoundland and Labrador? Their obedience to their leader by voting in favour of the budget implementation bill rendered their earlier flounce null.

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CanWest Watch! - Part Umpteen

Oooohhh, they're using the B-word now.
Debt-laden Canwest Global Communications Corp (CGS.TO), Canada's biggest media company, may face bankruptcy as the weak economy wreaks havoc on its stable of television stations and newspapers, and buyers for its assets fail to materialize.

Canwest, publisher of the National Post daily newspaper, has said it will try to exit non-core businesses and is considering the sale of five conventional TV stations. But analysts say there may not be any prospective purchasers waiting in the wings...

"They're on the verge of bankruptcy," CIBC World Markets analyst Bob Bek said of the company. "The equity has been reflecting that for some time."

Couldn't happen to a more deserving broadcaster - well, their USian cousin comes to mind but hey, this could start a domino effect!

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CTVglobemedia, CanWest - Back to CRTC

... with caps in hands and hoping for more regulatory tweaks to save their sorry financial asses.
The CRTC could ... decide to revisit its television policy, a move that may open the door for networks to revisit their proposal to charge cable firms fees for their signals. The networks want to be able to charge monthly fees, as cable channels do, including many specialties owned by CTVglobemedia Inc. and Global.

However, the proposal has met much resistance from the regulator, the cable industry and consumer groups. Cable firms, including Rogers Communications, have called the proposal a cash grab.

A cash grab indeed and a foolish one. Again and again, CanWest (which owns Global) and CTVglobemedia have shown themselves clueless about the key cause of their financial woes.

It's not loss of advertising revenue, it's lack of quality - not imported, canned, one size fits all - programming. Study results make clear that people, especially young people, are turning off their televisions (if they own one at all) and turning on to the Internet. This cannot all be due to the Internet's attractions, e.g., being able to choose what one reads or views, often without commercial interruption.

There is general dissatisfaction with what is delivered via the boob tube or idiot box. Even the CRTC seems to acknowledge some of this.
Earlier this week, the CRTC published its annual financial figures for the industry, showing that profits at Canada's major commercial TV networks had fallen more than 90 per cent last year. Several factors led to the declines, including the migration of TV audiences and revenue to the Internet and to cable, and the impact of the TV writers strike last year.

If broadcasters begin charging cable companies monthly fees for airing their programs, those fees will in turn be charged to consumers.

Way to go! You're already experiencing a loss in viewers. How do you suppose charging the viewers who remain will help retain your current number?

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12 February 2009

BC NDP float plan for Environment Savings Bonds

... but there are less expensive ways for the provincial government to raise the funds for environmental refits.

The NDP's campaign to "axe the tax" flew in the face of BC and other environmentalists' recommendations. Placing a price on carbon is one key method of reducing carbon emissions. There are others but for any environmental plan to have credibility, a carbon tax must be included.

Since the NDP disagrees, then voters are unlikely to find such an important ingredient in the party's yet-to-be-disclosed full environmental plan.

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Tom Zytaruk, it's time to sue the Prime Minister

From Aaron Wherry's blog:
Mr. Bill Siksay (Burnaby—Douglas, NDP): Mr. Speaker, dramatic allegations of attempts to bribe former MP Chuck Cadman raised very serious questions and led to unprecedented actions. Now it seems questions about the scandal will not be answered because Conservatives and Liberals have huddled together in the cone of silence. However, there is another victim. According to an expert hired by the Conservatives, journalist Tom Zytaruk was falsely accused of tampering with his audiotape of his interview with the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister and the government withdraw their allegations that he doctored the tape and apologize to Mr. Zytaruk?

Mr. Pierre Poilievre (Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, CPC): Mr. Speaker, it is clear, in fact, that the tape was tampered. The matter is now settled and both parties are pleased with that settlement.

Before Mr. Poilievre offered that answer, Mr. Harper could be seen leaning over to have a word with him.

"Both parties"? Isn't there at least a third party involved? One, Mr. Tom Zytaruk whose good name and reputation has been, once again, sullied by the Harper Conservatives?

Bully Harper has demonstrated a fondness for using the courts to settle his disputes. It's past time, methinks, that someone took a suit out against him.

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To MSM, which need a lesson

... on how to parse their own articles and political spin contained therein.

To wit, I present the following for the examiner's attention (bolding mine):

Energy Minister Blair Lekstrom, or the government employees who write letters to the editor on his behalf, took exception to a recent opinion column that said a B.C. energy "gold rush" has been underway as companies applied for river and wind rights.

The minister took offense at such a purportedly outrageous claim.

"Despite the claims of a 'gold rush' in new independent power projects, only 46 such projects are in operation; almost half were started under the previous NDP government," Lekstrom complained.

After which, the Times Colonist perceives a gotcha! moment.

A few days later, his government sent out a news release on a ceremony to recognize exceptional work by government employees. Among those honoured were "the independent power project transition team."

"The team was brought together in response to a phenomenal increase over five years of 1,140 per cent in independent power project applications," the release said. "Without a corresponding increase in resources, agency staff looked for new ways to do business. They came up with an integrated and co-ordinated inter-agency approach to application management."

And now the paper's master stroke in the form of two questions which, apparently, are of urgent import:

What is the difference between a "gold rush" and a "phenomenal increase?"

Er, very little?

When does political spin end and outright misinformation begin?

To which I respond with two questions of my own:
  1. What is the difference between an application for the rights to do X and an operation which in fact does X?
  2. When does a major newspaper recognize its own spin and misinformation? Or is it that Minister Lekstrom pulled one over on you?

(OK, that's three questions.)

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Darwin Bashing

It seems the really religious members of society are still refuting Darwin's theory of evolution.
Throughout much of the 20th century, opponents of evolution (many of them theologically conservative Protestants) either tried to eliminate the teaching of Darwin's theory from public school science curricula or urged science instructors also to teach a version of the creation story found in the biblical book of Genesis.
But beginning in the 1960s, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a number of decisions that imposed severe restrictions on those state governments that opposed the teaching of evolution. As a result of these rulings, school boards, legislatures and government bodies are now barred from prohibiting the teaching of evolution. Teaching creation science, either along with evolutionary theory or in place of it, is also banned.
Recent public opinion polls indicate that challenges to Darwinian evolution have substantial support among the American people.

Why is it that religiously minded individuals, who believe in a god without a shred of proof are so ready to dismiss scientific facts?
This view is not shared by the nation's scientists, most of whom contend that evolution is a well-established scientific theory that convincingly explains the origins and development of life on earth. Moreover, they say, a scientific theory is not a hunch or a guess but is instead an established explanation for a natural phenomenon, like gravity, that has repeatedly been tested through observation and experimentation. Indeed, most scientists argue that, for all practical purposes, evolution through natural selection is a fact.

Having been brought up by a "good Christian family", it took some time to extricate myself from dogmatic religion. The weight of guilt, the feeling that god was watching my every move and the fear of a life in hell has dissipated.

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11 February 2009

BC Housing Minister: "We have the most aggressive housing strategy in this country"

Er, no. You have the worst housing strategy in the country.

The numbers don't lie. This, no matter how much the BC government may spin the facts into an alternate reality and then try selling that to the people.

In a study done by the Wellesley Institute, whose report is about to be released, this is how BC stacks up to the rest of the provinces, in terms of amount spent on housing per capita.

Saskatchewan: $186

Newfoundland: $138

Nova Scotia: $155

Alberta: $130

New Brunswick: $96

Manitoba: $74

Quebec: $57

Ontario: $56

Prince Edward Island: $50

British Columbia: $48

Still, according to housing minister Rich Coleman, “we've done more on that particular file than any jurisdiction in Canada, and we're doing more. We have more going in the ground than anyone else in Canada and we're actually more aggressive than anyone else in Canada.”

I don't know what world he lives in, but it's certainly not mine.

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Squeezed into Budget Implementation Bill

... are among the following choice items - courtesy Macleans, courtesy LeDevoir.
Competition law. "The last profound reform of this law was more than 20 years ago and resulted from years of consultation," Manon writes. "The government's current project is nearly as substantial. The amendments cover 31 pages and are highly complex....”

Wage equity in public service. Twenty-eight pages of amendments, which change the threshold at which employees will be able to seek an evaluation of the pay levels for their group.

Foreign investment. New, high and rising threshold for investment review, with government given a veto over acquisitions in cases of "national security."

Relaxing or eliminating the requirement for environmental-impact review before proceeding with certain infrastructure projects.

'Tis no surprise. We were all expecting the HarperCon cons to sneak stuff into the budget, right? So either the Liberals were a) unaware of these amendments or b) they agree with said amendments or c) they don't give a damn either way. My guess is number 2 or 3.

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Nortel CEO hasn't had a raise in three years

The poor man must be suffering tremendously, given the increases in the price of such basics as food and housing.

Clearly, living on only $1.2 million a year, which reflects 20 percent of Mike Zafirovski's "pay package," he cannot be expected to cut back. True, Nortel's bankruptcy protection wrecks havoc on the company's suppliers, laid-off and pensioned employees, and other creditors. But Zafirovsky is already sharing the pain. For three whole years he has been stuck on that salary.

... which would fairly adequately1 support, based on 2006 figures,
  • 40 families composed of two adults, two children or
  • 47 families composed of one adult, two children or
  • 80 seniors who live alone.
1 Daphne, yours truly and many others can and do live on substantially less than the amounts given in Canada's Lowest Income Cutoffs. Not that there's a whole lotta a choice.

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Money, Money

... makes the world go round, and in bad times, more money goes to some than to others. Among those profiting from economic bad times are the money marts.
Last week, Edmonton-based the Cash Store Financial Services Inc., which has 415 stores across Canada, announced it had a "stellar" quarter, with branch revenues up 11 per cent compared to the same period last year. "We haven't seen anything really negatively impact our business," says CEO Gordon Reykdal, adding that the company plans to open 70 new stores this year. Dollar Financial Corp., the U.S. company that owns Money Mart, has been on a roll too. It recently reported that its total revenue was up 17 per cent last quarter—a company record.

From whom do the money marketeers profit the most? The lowest economic classes, of course. Without whom rich people could not get richer.

From the lyrics:

If you happen to be rich, and you feel like a night's entertainment,
You can pay for a gay escapade.
If you happen to be rich, and alone and you need a companion,
You can ring ting-a-ling for the maid.
If you happen to be rich and you find you are left by your lover,
Tho you moan and you groan quite a lot,
You can take it on the chin,
call a cab and begin to recover on your fourteen carat yacht.

... chorus ...

When you haven't any coal in the stove and you freeze in the winter
And you curse to the wind at your fate.
When you haven't any shoes on your feet and your coat's thin as paper
And you look thirty pounds underweight,
When you go to get a word of advice from the fat little pastor,
he will tell you to love evermore.
But when hunger comes to rap, rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat, at the window
At the window. Who's there? Hunger! Ooh, hunger!
See how love flies out the door

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Essay: USian angst turned into commodity

Outstanding on many fronts, this essay highlights the connections between the (North) American individuation of uniquely (North) American human suffering and its promotion and perpetuation by the state. The essay should be read in its entirety.
The pathology of Americanness is entirely about human consciousness, a taboo subject in our declining industrial super state.

The subject has been officially smothered, or even demonized, by authority since it was first openly broached in the '60s. However, those running the industrial government complex learned a few things, too, in the process. Particularly about the efficacy of dope.

Being authoritarian and capitalist, they of course preferred downers over the mind-expanding drugs. And ever since then, corporately produced biochemicals, tranqs, mind-numbing antidepressants and the like have been successfully used privately on individuals to squelch the psychic anguish produced in the Darwinian workhouse America has become.

Not that I'm entirely opposed... Hell, I'm an American -- instant gratification works for me, too. But an anesthetic to workhouse burnout just ain't enough incentive...

Seriously though, back in the '60s, along with LSD, nature and Buddhism, I looked to psychology for answers... But who'd have guessed it would become a massive and officially sanctioned ideological control arm of the state? A form of social control and containment of the citizenry through a governmental and corporately sponsored "mental heath system"? And the way it does so is this: It refuses to acknowledge that our aggregate society holds any responsibility for the conditions it produces in our fellow individual members.

Now, collective societal responsibility is common sense for, say, a Dane or a Frenchman. Most of them anyway. For Americans though, it's an explosive issue. Because if we acknowledged collective responsibilities to the individual members of our society, then we would have to deal with the issue of class in this country.

Unaware we were doing it, Daphne and I each wrote a post on this essay, and each interpreted it in a different way. So we decided to let both posts stand.

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Psychic Poverty: A North American Epidemic

Joe Bageant's article may be written with a hint of humour, but the message I get is that those of us living in the wealthy nations are suffering unnecessarily. Is it lack of personal spirituality? And I do not mean the man-ufactured religious kind.
......it causes me to wonder why is there enough pain and alienation to sustain America's umpteen-billion-dollar mental health business and its 400-plus specialties, not to mention the inner self-help industry and Deepak Chopra's royal court. Why is it that during the months I spend in America, I meet so many obviously sick fuckers, some successfully practicing law or politics, others homeless and schizophrenic?

It would seem were are stupified by having too much stuff with access to more, anytime we want it. Or become ill because we don't have the money to obtain more.

...this psychic poverty has been around so long that it has become something of a norm. Despite that we have not resorted to cannibalism, single-payer health care, or god forbid, socialism, we long ago passed into the realm of what we like to call an "unhealthy society."

Might not America's psychological malaise be the result of knowing deep inside that life can hold more meaning -- be more joyful? More emotionally rewarding and fulfilling? In a word, healthier?

As I read Joe's ruminative narrative, I considered my own impoverishment. I am poor in the material sense, only. My health is excellent, visiting the doctor but yearly for a physical check-up. I am vegan and have chosen to live simply. My spiritual aim is to live in the present moment, a constant challenge.

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10 February 2009

More bad news from broadcast industry

Profits from TV broadcasters plunged by 93 percent last year, from $113 million in 2007 to only $8 million in 2008.
Apart from the recession, many private broadcasters have seen the profitability of conventional TV stations squeezed by competition for advertisers and viewers from specialty channels and the Internet.

More people, especially young people, are turning off TV altogether. It's not merely the attraction of the Internet but the lack of quality news and programming delivered by broadcasters.

Ironically, what do viewers get for this loss in quality? More commercials.

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BC Politicians: Listen Up!

BC's politicians have outdone themselves in ignoring the poor of this province.

By any measure, B.C. has the highest rate of poverty in Canada. B.C. has recorded the highest child poverty rate for five years running. Despite years of strong economic growth and record low unemployment, more than half a million British Columbians -- 13 per cent of the total population -- live in poverty, and homelessness continues to rise. As we head into a global economic downturn, poverty risks getting worse unless action is taken.
We all pay for poverty. Study after study links poverty with poorer health, higher justice system costs, more demands on social and community services, more stress on family members and diminished school success. Effective poverty reduction will require the efforts of all segments of society (all levels of government, the private sector, non-profits, and citizens generally), but the provincial government must take the lead.

With an election looming, large groups of outraged citizens are demanding some positive action be taken to alleviate poverty in this province.

Organizations and community leaders from across the province, including faith leaders, health organizations, doctors, businesses, First Nations and Aboriginal groups, labour unions, immigrant and refugee organizations, community service agencies, municipal councils, women's groups, and many more.

As I am one of those living below the poverty line in BC, I will be listening very carefully to what each party will commit to doing to ease the anguish, before I cast my vote.

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Something Fishy Here

Genetically modified fish, anyone?
The advantage Aqua Bounty's fish offers fish farmers is the speed with which it grows. It normally takes about three years to raise Atlantic salmon on a fish farm, but with the addition of a couple of genes from the cold-water Chinook salmon, Aqua Bounty's fish grow twice as fast. The breeder is hoping to sell its eggs and smolts to other fish farms in North America.

The main concern with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is that they could escape into the wild and breed with wild populations. Stotish said that's why Aqua Bounty will only sell sterile salmon, and only females.

Murphy's Law says "If something can go wrong, it will". Aqua Bounty's fish could escape and breed with wild populations, but they don't say exactly what the outcome of that may be.

Fish farms have already proven disastrous to free fish yet we continue experimenting. None of these things can be undone.

The audacity with which humans will go to generate profit leave me reeling.

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Study: Rich ruder, plebes more attentive in conversations

[Iggy take note - see below.]

From Scientific American, we learn of a study which tells us plebes what we already know: that rich people tend to be aloof and disengaged when in conversation with us lesser mortals.

Still, it's nice to have our lowly opinions confirmed by science, no?
[I]ndividuals who are low on traditional measures of socioeconomic status (SES) ... demonstrate more “engagement cues” in conversations than do their wealthier peers.

The engagement cues include head nods, eyebrow raises, laughter and gazes at the partner. Disengagement cues include self-grooming, fidgeting with objects and doodling.

While the rich, with resources aplenty, have nothing to lose by being aloof with their minions, such is not the case for we common folk whose "negative equity" makes more attentive communication a necessity.

At least, it's a necessity if we want to be liked. And most of us do, since being liked tends to have a direct effect on our upward mobility - assuming we have a foothold on the ladder to begin with, of course.
Kraus and Keltner asked over 100 undergraduate students to engage in a ... five-minute “get-acquainted” conversational exchange with a complete stranger. Seated in chairs and facing each other about 3 ft apart, students were told to describe themselves to this other student, then to converse freely for the remaining five-minutes...

[H]igher SES significantly predicted disengagement cues. The students from wealthier backgrounds were more likely than their poorer cohorts to exhibit ... “rude” displays of relative indifference...

What’s more, the authors asked a group of other undergraduate students to watch the tape and to make their best guess about the SES of the people shown on the video. Based only on the participants’ nonverbal behaviors in these brief videotaped exchanges, the observers were able to make better-than-chance estimates of the participants’ family income and even their mother’s level of education, an indirect measure of SES... Kraus and Keltner conclude ... that “SES imbues the briefest interactions, influencing both what people signal nonverbally and how they are perceived.”

As I read this article I couldn't help but think of His Royal Igginess. The non-verbal cues he conveys to me suggest he and his Martinite cohorts haven't a clue how to relate to the commons. Which may be one explanation for the obliviousness displayed in the LPC's strategy for winning BC.

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