Friday, May 18, 2007

Tanks for Nothin'

Monte Solberg has been taking some heat lately. Turns out that his Ministry of Human Resources hasn't been providing resources for some very needy humans.

In one of their usual bait-and-switch manoevers, the Conservatives slashed the previous Liberal Summer Career Placement Program, then replaced it with a plan of their own that included revised criteria for funding. Stephane Dion maintains that the new program was underfunded to the tune of $11 million dollars relative to its Liberal predecessor (although Solberg denies this). In any case, dozens upon dozens of worthy community organizations across the country have, for the first time in years, found their funding requests denied. Some of these undeserving organizations included the "Yes I Can" camp for autistic children, the Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Center, and a little league baseball league for disabled children.

Happily though, Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor was able to find $1.3 billion dollars to fund the purchase of 100 'gently used' Leopard 2A6 battle tanks. If that figure seems a little high, thats because it is - roughly twice as expensive as the Conservatives' initial public estimate. But hey bleeding heart Taliban-lovers, used tanks cost money! So even though its been a bad week for a number of disabled and disenfranchised Canadians, Stephen Harper can sleep easy knowing that he's at least put a big smile on the face of his number one fan, General Rick Hillier.

Addendum: So as not to end this post on a sour note, there is a little bit of good news to report. The Government of Ontario has decided to intervene on behalf of the "Yes I Can" camp for autistic children.

Mary Anne Chambers, Ontario's minister of children and youth services, said she was moved to act after reading in yesterday's Star that Ottawa had rejected the camp's funding request..."We, the government of Ontario, will invest the $38,000 that they have lost in order to ensure that these kids can continue to have a summer camp," she said.

Lone Wolf

Well, the inevitable has finally happened. Paul Wolfowitz, the embattled head of the World Bank, agreed to resign yesterday amid allegations of impropriety and conflict of interest. But in true Loyal Bushie fashion, he didn't do so without a fight. You see, he negotiated the terms of his departure. One of these terms included the Bank's Board stating"He assured us that he acted ethically and in good faith in what he believed were the best interests of the institution and we accept that". If such a laughably hollow pat on the head helps Wolfie sleep at night, so be it.

The final outcome of this spectacle was never really in question after Wolfowitz' girlfriend, Shaha Riza, became the lucky beneficiary of a $60,000 a year pay raise and a new job at the State Department after Wolfowitz was appointed President of the Bank. By last week, things had become so bad for Wolfowitz, his only remaining supporters were the White House, Canada (yes, Canada), and a few Asian and African nations. When you look around a room and find that your only allies are George W Bush and Jim Flaherty, you know it's time to get outta Dodge.

And so he resigned. The Bank's board noted yesterday that "the bank's systems did not prove robust to the strain under which they were placed". And by "strain", I can only assume they meant the shameless self-interest of a neoconservative git like Paul Wolfowitz.

Good riddance.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Falwell That Ends Well

First, to my faithful reader(s), apologies for my brief 2 day absence. I've been miserably ill, and could barely rouse myself from bed, let alone blog.

Despite my suffering, it didn't escape my attention that noted American evangelist and founder of the Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell, died a couple of days ago. Given the proclivities of some of his compatriots (Ted Haggard, Jim Bakker etc), that he didn't pass away in the bed of a transgendered crack addict is in itself something of a minor miracle.

And it didn't take long for the 2008 Republican presidential nominees to start lining up and proffering their condolences and admirations for a man who embodied the American Christian conservative movement (and its accompanying votes). Senator John McCain in particular said "Dr. Falwell was a man of distinguished accomplishment who devoted his life to serving his faith and country". I'll let John Nichols of The Nation respond:

Distinguished accomplishment? Would that be when Falwell regularly featured segregationists Lester Maddox and George Wallace on his Old Time Gospel Hour television program in the 1960s? When he condemned the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and referred to the civil rights movement as "the civil wrongs movement"? When he opposed sanctions against South Africa's apartheid regime in the 1980s? When he produced an infomercial in the 1990s accusing President Clinton of
orchestrating murders of journalists and political critics, even though he would eventually admit that "I do not know the accuracy of the claims"? When he attacked Teletubbies character Tinky Winky as a gay recruitment tool? When he asserted that the Antichrist "must be, of necessity, a Jewish male"?

I don't begrudge anyone their religious views. Even closed-minded fatheads like Jerry Falwell. But I am a firm believer in the concept of separation of church and state, one of the principles of American governance. Falwell was the embodiment of a concerted effort by evangelicals to narrow, even ablate, that gap. Their contribution to the Bush presidency cannot be underestimated. In 2004, Falwell himself stated that the GOP would be unable to win without the support of Christian conservatives. Virtually all of Bush's policy decisions (opposing stem cell research, federally funded abstinence programs, even the war in Iraq) have been the direct result of his ideological commitment to Christian conservative groups to which he is politically beholden.

Aside from the obvious philosophical and constitutional consequences of this behaviour, GOP presidential candidates would be well advised to note that the Bush strategy has not been a resounding political success. Despite "winning" 2 terms, Bush's approval rating sits just under 30%, and the country is as politically divided as it has ever been. Rather than pandering to extreme right wing crackpots like Falwell, Republicans should instead focus on more mundane, say...good governance. Just a thought.

And as my little obituary to the good Reverend, here are some of his more thoughtful observations:

"The idea that religion and politics don't mix was invented by the Devil to keep Christians from running their own country."

"The ACLU is to Christians what the American Nazi party is to Jews."

"AIDS is the wrath of a just God against homosexuals. To oppose it would be like an Israelite jumping in the Red Sea to save one of Pharaoh's charioteers... AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals."

"Grown men should not be having sex with prostitutes unless they are married to them."

Here endeth the sermon.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Strange Days for Sovereignty

I just watched Gilles Duceppe's press conference regarding his clownish Texas 2-step in and out of the PQ leadership race. He called his decision to enter the race "a mistake". Most of what he said was pretty lame, the expected fallout from his embarassing decision. But he also made a curious comment about agreeing with Pauline Marois that separatist politicians in Quebec must make an effort to "reposition sovereignty".

None of the follow-up questions addressed this interesting turn of phrase. I must confess, it left me a little puzzled. How does one go about "repositioning" sovereignty? What does that mean exactly? It seems to me that the idea of Quebec separation is fundamentally a yes/no proposition. There is little doubt that support for the concept of outright separation has slipped recently. A CROP poll on the subject in January 2006 showed that 58% of Quebecers would vote to keep Quebec in Canada. The writing was on the wall heading into the most recent Quebec provincial elections, in which the PQ suffered humiliating losses.

The major beneficiary in those elections was Mario Dumont, a man who by all appearances has already successfully cornered the market on "repositioning" sovereignty. Oh but wait. Dumont isn't a "sovereigntist", he's an "autonomist". As far as I can tell, this makes him a little more sovereigntist than a Quebec Liberal, and a little less sovereigntist than a PQiste. He exists happily in the mushy middle ground. Dumont has thus already cast his autonomist reel into the sea. Eager for Quebec votes, the vacuous Stephen Harper has greedily taken the bait, turning his back on his Western base and Reform roots, and he now appears willing to follow Dumont into uncharted decentralist waters. If the latest election results are to be believed, Quebecers are also buying into the ADQ and their message - whatever that may be.

So where does all this leave Pauline Marois, Gilles Duceppe and the other sovereigntists? Marois has already stated that she intends to shelf plans for another referendum, should she win the upcoming PQ coronation/nomination.

"A political party that does not appear to be necessary (for the people), condemns itself to being marginal and could even condemn itself to disappearing," Ms. Marois said in her speech.
Duceppe meanwhile seems to have the support of his caucus to return as leader of the Bloc. Does anyone care? The BQ is as irrelevant as it has ever been, its major fuction at the present time being to prop up the rudderless Harper government.

I must confess I have never understood the sovereignty movement. Perceived disenfranchisement of French Quebecers notwithstanding, no one has ever convinced me that there are logical reasons to go through the effort of dividing a nation that exists in relative peace. I was an admirer of Pierre Trudeau's Quebec policy - namely that all Canadians should consider themselves equal (or equally distinct). In today's political climate, that makes me a constitutional dinosaur (and at age 33 no less). Still, I can't help but wonder if the sovereigntists in Quebec are starting to tire of their own rhetoric. It's hard to exist on rhetoric alone. Just ask our Prime Minister.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Hello, Goodbye

"Duceppe joins race for PQ leadership" May 12, 2007

And so it ends. To the PQ: Gilles Duceppe, we hardly knew ye. And to the BQ: meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
In what may be the shortest leadership run in Canadian history, Gilles Duceppe dropped out of the PQ race, essentially handing the reins to Pauline Marois (herself a 2-time loser of said race). Mario Dumont must be smiling broadly at this evolving gong show. I know I am.

And in the spirit of the occasion, a warm Happy Mother's Day to all moms, and to one in particular. She is much loved.