Archive for March, 2009

Why you should never get your news from politicians, talk show hosts and late night comedians

March 25, 2009

Over the past number of weeks I have listened to politicians righteously blathering on about the bonuses being paid to AIG staff and I have listened to talk show hosts righteously blathering on about the bonuses being paid to AIG staff and I have listened to late night comedians righteously blathering on about the bonuses being paid to AIG staff.

I have read that regardless that these “bonuses'” were legal contracts they should be arbitrarily cancelled and one commentator even felt that they should all go to jail. Then came the brilliant idea that they could pass a law taxing these specific people in an amount that would recover all of the bonus money for the government. Some officials want these employees to be publicly named so they can be “shamed” in public. Some of the employees have received death threats.

It has become a witch hunt in the truest sense of the word.

None of these blathering people, most with large research staffs, apparently ever checked on what the real situation was with these employees.

Now some of those employees are leaving AIG, tired of the harassment and vitreol being directed at them.

One didn’t go quietly, sending a letter to Edward Libby, the appointed chief executor of AIG, pointing out the injustice that has been perpetrated. It’s exposes an exercise in public hysteria, where we are fed half-truths and untruths, witness politicians deflecting the the spotlight away from themselves, politicians using the hysteria to gain personal media time and media people spreading the story, unchecked, for audience reaction.

I am proud of everything I have done for the commodity and equity divisions of A.I.G.-F.P. I was in no way involved in — or responsible for — the credit default swap transactions that have hamstrung A.I.G. Nor were more than a handful of the 400 current employees of A.I.G.-F.P. Most of those responsible have left the company and have conspicuously escaped the public outrage.

After 12 months of hard work dismantling the company — during which A.I.G. reassured us many times we would be rewarded in March 2009 — we in the financial products unit have been betrayed by A.I.G. and are being unfairly persecuted by elected officials. In response to this, I will now leave the company and donate my entire post-tax retention payment to those suffering from the global economic downturn. My intent is to keep none of the money myself.

I take this action after 11 years of dedicated, honorable service to A.I.G. I can no longer effectively perform my duties in this dysfunctional environment, nor am I being paid to do so. Like you, I was asked to work for an annual salary of $1, and I agreed out of a sense of duty to the company and to the public officials who have come to its aid. Having now been let down by both, I can no longer justify spending 10, 12, 14 hours a day away from my family for the benefit of those who have let me down.

Read the whole thing. It just reconfirms the fact that you can never really trust what you read in the paper, see on TV or hear from the mouths of those who were elected, presumably to be leaders.

The truth is out there, it’s just not always easily accessible.

Thanks to Small Dead Animals for the pointer.

More Political Cynicism and Disappointment

March 25, 2009

The other day I felt as though I had a sharp knife thrust between my shoulder blades.

The reason? A posting on Yorkton-Melville MP Garry Breitkreuz‘ webpage.

FROM GARRY BREITKREUZ

March 19, 2009

Like many Canadians, I oppose the failed long gun registry as unfairly targeting law-abiding farmers and hunters, while not addressing the criminal use of firearms.

At the time of its introduction in 1995, the Liberal government estimated the net cost to taxpayers would only be $2 million. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation now estimate the cost to be in excess of $2 billion – an unprecedented waste of taxpayer money.

I have recently introduced a Private Member’s Bill (C-301) in the House of Commons to repeal the failed long gun registry. Bill C-301 contains a handful of other measures not directly related to the long gun registry itself. I do not see these measures as central to my long-standing goal of ending the long gun registry. When Parliament resumes, I will seek changes to remove these sections from my bill.

This coming after some early euphoria that this private members bill had a fairly decent chance of getting passed providing the opposition parties allowed a free vote for their members. It now appears that in order for Breitkreuz’ bill to be favourably received he is being forced to strip his bill down to its bare bones which means that the only thing left will be the section that speaks to getting rid of the long-gun registration.

The problem is that the “handful of other measures” that will be removed from Bill-301 includes a number of amendments that would alleviate some of the nastiness of the Federal Firearms Act.

Aside from the firearms registry, there are five other changes written into the original legislation.

  • Merge Transport to Carry and Licence (PAL/POL)
  • Combining the POL and PAL.
  • 10 year licencing (change from the current 5 years).
  • 12/6 grandfathering dates.
  • Auditor General cost/benefit analysis every 5 years.

None of these items in any way affect public safety although the usual suspects immediately screamed to the media that this was the case – and the media unquestioningly reported it as so. In fact they are common sense items, some of which would actually save costs in the program, at the same time addressing some of the inequities built into the Firearms Act.

The catalyst for this turn of events was Mr. Breitkreuz’ acceptance of an invitation to speak at the annual general meeting of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, which in itself was no problem until it was discovered that – horror of horrors – the CSSA (a sports shooting group that has many handgun shooters in its membership) was going to raffle off a handgun at their event.

This immediately became an opportunity for the anti-gun crowd to spew their rhetoric to the media.

“We have got to be finding ways to get (handguns) off the streets, not handing them out as prizes,” Liberal MP Mark Holland (Ajax-Pickering) said yesterday.

“It really is an insult to a community that has seen so much gun violence and where so many people have been killed … to give that away as a (raffle) prize.”

and

A spokesperson for Toronto Mayor David Miller said giving away a handgun is “outrageous, inappropriate and insensitive, frankly, to all the families of victims of gun crime in Toronto and the GTA”.

Stuart Green, speaking for the vacationing mayor, said the so-called prize could easily find its way to the streets, as many privately owned handguns do.

“Statistics show that between 30 and 40 per cent of handguns that end up in the hand of criminals are obtained through one-time legal ways and are stolen and sold through the black market,” he said.

Green said the federal government should not be a party to an event where a handgun is being raffled off.

The raffle has left others in disbelief, including an official at Montreal’s Dawson College, where a gunman carrying a Beretta semi-automatic carbine opened fire on Sept. 13, 2006, killing one student and wounding 13 others.

“As someone who has seen first-hand the wounds – physical and mental – of people who have been victims of gun violence, (a gun giveaway) has no place in my Canada,” Donna Varrica, Dawson’s director of communications, told the Star.

NDP Leader Jack Layton (Toronto-Danforth) said he could not believe that any group would be so “callous” as to give away a handgun in the GTA, which has been plagued with gun problems.

Last year, there were more than 60 gun-related deaths in the GTA.”It’s the kind of thing you expect to hear south of the border … the fact you could pick one up in a raffle prize sends exactly the wrong message,” Layton said.

Just a question, but when did it become immoral or wrong or something evil for a law abiding Canadian citizen who is legally licenced – by the Canadian government no less – to buy, win or otherwise legally acquire a handgun for his or her own personal use? As I say, it’s just a question for which I doubt the dipsticks quoted above have a rational answer.

But, as they say, I digress.

Then it was reported that Prime Minister Stephen Harper was to attend the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) AGM where they were (more screams of outrage from the perennially outraged) raffling off 2 rifles.

However, apparently that was OK according to a spokesperson from the Prime Minister’s office as they were raffling off rifles and not a handgun.

For its part, the Prime Minister’s Office said it did not endorse the raffle. But Kory Teneycke, the prime minister’s chief spokesman, said Friday there is “clearly a distinction” between raffling off a handgun and a hunting rifle.

“There’s a serious problem with gun violence connected to drugs and gangs in some major Canadian cities, but that is really not a problem of people using hunting rifles or shotguns designed for duck hunting,” said Teneycke. “There’s no issue pertaining to the silent auction, from our perspective.”

That’s right, I forgot. Rifles and shotguns are good (or in the eyes of our usual suspects, merely misguided) and handguns are evil. Apparently even the PMO subscribes to that notion. And possibly the reason that we don’t hunt with handguns in Canada is because THE FRACKING FIREARMS ACT DOESN’T ALLOW FOR IT!

If Mr. Teneycke knew anything about the subject he would know that hunting with handguns is allowed in most of the US States. He would also know that at one time handgun hunting was allowed in the Province of Ontario and is another thing that we let slip away.

Which is to say that we would hunt with handguns if we were given the opportunity and that for all of the calls for handgun bans because they have no practical use, trappers, prospectors and guide-outfitters in British Columbia can carry handguns for survival and protection as can others – except for individuals who pack into the  wilderness and who would have good practical reasons to carry a handgun except for the fact that the Federal Firearms Act denies them that opportunity.

I think I’ll go pound my head against a wall.

No, wait – just one more rant.

This from the Association of Chiefs of Police:

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, which supports the long-gun registry, said Breitkreuz’s bill, up for second reading vote on April 22, “would seriously compromise” public safety.

The police association warns it relaxes the control on machine guns by allowing the transport of fully automatic and semi-automatic assault weapons to civilian shooting ranges and relaxes the current restrictions on handguns, semi-automatic assault and tactical weapons.

“We are proud of Canada’s international reputation as a country with effective gun control legislation, and strenuously oppose any weakening of Canada’s current firearms control regime,” president Steven Chabot said in a March 9 letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“All guns are potentially dangerous, all guns owners need to be licensed, all guns need to be registered and gun owners need to be accountable for their firearms.”

Chabot described Breitkreuz’s bill as a “retrogressive proposal that cannot, in any way, benefit the safety and security of Canadians.”

With an eye on full disclosure I have to admit that I have never had much respect for the Association of Police Chiefs, having always considered them to be a bunch of political hacks, at least at the upper level of the organization. Unfortunately, statements such those made above by their president, Steven Chabot, only serve to solidify that opinion.

I suspect that the good Chief has not read a word of the bill and if he has, I would love to know where in the bill he finds the language that is going to allow machine guns (full-auto) on civilian shooting ranges.

Surely the Chief would know that the use of full-auto firearms is restricted to Department of National Defence (military) shooting ranges and not at all on any civilian shooting ranges. As well it’s not as though civilian ownership of full-auto firearms – or machine guns, being the word picture the Chief likes to draw – is on the upswing as there have been no new licences issued to individuals for the acquisition of full-autos since 1977, so there is no large pool of civilian full-auto owners  chomping at the bit to demolish some targets at their local gun range. Just a very small number of aging collectors who, if they eventually wish to dispose of those guns, will either have to donate them to a museum, have them destroyed or try and sell them into the diminishing pool of other aging collectors.

And as to his scare words about “semi-auto assault rifles”, if the Chief or anyone else can explain to me the functional difference between a semi-auto hunting rifle such as a Remington Mod. 742 or a Browning BAR and what he calls an “assault rifle”, other than looks, I would love to be so informed.

There was also this authoritative statement reported in the Toronto Star.

“As it’s written right now I certainly couldn’t support it,” said Liberal MP Mark Holland, the party’s public safety and national security critic, who also contends the bill would gut the registry.

But then a couple of days ago on a radio show he candidly admitted that he hadn’t read the bill.

Maybe he and the Chief could sit down and read it together.

Maybe now I’ll go bang my head on the wall.

The incompetence of the elected

March 20, 2009

I have noted on occasion that before anyone is allowed to run for government they should be given some kind of intelligence test. But even that might not save us from the stupidity of elected officials as common sense and intelligence don’t necessarily go hand in hand anyway.

As long as the world is in reasonable shape our system of electing people, who may know how to talk but not necessarily how to think, works reasonably well. But when the bottom falls out of the bucket we find that our legislators really don’t measure up.

It happens everywhere, but unfortunately it really shows up in the U.S. where everything is bigger than life.

Like when you vote for a $787 billion stimulus bill without reading it and then find that companies that are getting government money are paying out contracted bonuses to senior employees. When you rise up in righteous anger over this terrible wrong you discover that you in fact have effectively approved those payments when you voted for the bill. But of course you – the representative of the people – have no responsibility here, it is those evil people with valid employment contracts who need to be demonized.

But I like this one.

When the U.S. closed the southern border to Mexican trucking last week — in violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement — Mexico promised to retaliate. Yesterday it did, releasing a list of 89 U.S. products that will face new tariffs of 10% to 45%.

Mexico’s decision wasn’t taken lightly. Since 1995, three successive Mexican administrations have worked to get the U.S. to respect its Nafta obligation of allowing long-haul trucks across the border. In 2007 the two countries agreed to a pilot program that permitted a limited number of Mexican carriers into the U.S. under rigid safety regulations. After 18 months that program proved that Mexican carriers are as safe as their U.S. counterparts. That was bad news for the anti-competition Teamsters union, and last week it got Congress to kill the pilot program. Yesterday Mexico fired back.

Trade wars are never pretty. But given the downturn in demand that already exists in the U.S. economy, this one could be ugly, and dangerous. Mexico is the U.S.’s third largest trading partner and the new tariffs will affect some $2.4 billion in goods across 40 states.

California, an important supplier of fresh fruits, dried fruits and nuts to Mexico, will be hit hard. Table grapes will face a 45% duty at the Mexican border; wine, almonds and juices among other agricultural products will pay 20%. Some 90% of Christmas-tree exports from California and 65% from Oregon go to Mexico. It’s doubtful volumes will hold up beneath a 20% tariff.

Alongside Oregon, Washington state will pay dearly to protect the Teamsters. Four out of 10 pears that the U.S. exports go to Mexico and half of those come from Washington. Under the new rules, American pears now face a 20% tariff, as do a host of paper products from the Pacific Northwest and Wisconsin.

Wisconsin’s scrap battery industry, which exports $128 million annually to Mexico, won’t be as competitive after it pays a 20% tariff. Nor will New York’s $24 million annual exports in personal hygiene products or its exports of $250 million in precious-metals jewelry. President Obama’s home state of Illinois can’t be happy to learn it will lose competitiveness under a 20% tariff on its plastic tableware and kitchenware exports to Mexico ($57 million annually) and on its printed leaflets and brochures ($68.7 million).

North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan sponsored the amendment that closed the border and his constituents will pay. North Dakota only exports $1 million in oil seeds annually but 80% of that goes to Mexico. They now face a 15% tariff.

Like, what were they thinking?

The Cynicism of Politics

March 18, 2009

Dealing with politics, politicians and bureaucrats, it is impossible not to become cynical about the process and the people.

My current descent into cynicism comes with the federal government’s budget implementation Act, Bill C-10.

The government – or probably more specifically Prime Minister Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty along with whatever bureaucrats and other advisers as were part of the process – put together their stimulus bill which is supposed to save our collective financial asses.

But they had other fish to fry in addition to their budget package.

So, knowing that the Liberal opposition was in no position to force a confidence vote on budget legislation, the government embedded some little goodies within the bill that had nothing to do with stimulus and everything to do with some other agendas.

As follows:

  1. Changes which would end the right of federal civil servants to take pay equity complaints to the federal human rights commission, instead, forcing them to be dealt with as part of the normal bargaining process between union and management.
  2. A cap on wage increases for federal government workers for the next two years at 1.5 per cent annually. Additionally the caps are retroactive to 2006 which may mean wage rollbacks for some workers.
  3. Raising the threshold for a government review on foreign takeovers from $295 million to $1 billion. Also gives the government new powers enabling them to refuse any foreign takeover on the grounds of “national security”
  4. The ceiling on the amount of foreign ownership allowed in domestic airlines (read as Air Canada) from 25% to 49%.
  5. Amendment to the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA).

All of these items had their detractors who were offended and angry that they had been slipped into a budget bill where there was no real chance or inclination to debate the issues. My involvement was #5, the amendments to the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

The NWPA was originally passed in 1882, making it one of the oldest pieces of legislation on Canada’s books and the intent of the Act, then and now, was to protect the integrity of navigable waters across the country while also allowing projects on those waterways, even those that interfered “substanially” if the project was approved by the Minister of Transport. The irritant was that the Minister’s approval automatically triggered an environmental assessment that tied projects up in a great deal of red tape. Therefore, in our new era of encouraging development at any cost the NWPA – in the eyes of both federal and provincial governments – had to be weakened, and weaken it they did.

To detail the problem with these amendment would make this blog far too long, but for anyone wanting the details you can start here and here.

There was immediate pressure from a wide range of groups and individuals to decouple the amendments to the NWPA from Bill C-10 and at least discuss the proposed changes openly as an independent piece of legislation. The government showed no inclination to do that and of course the Liberal opposition was not prepared to defeat the legislation and after 3rd reading the budget bill was sent to the Senate for review.

The Senate was apparently inundated with e-mails, phone calls and letters in opposition to the amendments to the NWPA – reportedly far more than they had ever received on any previous piece of legislation. E-mails came back from Senators stating their own concerns but then it went to the Senate Fiance committee who listened to a presentation by a senior government bureaucrat who informed them that everyone opposing the amendments was misinformed – presumably, I suppose, including outside lawyers who had looked at the legislation – and that there was no threat at all to the status of navigable waters in Canada.

So the Senate dutifully send the budget bill back to the government intact and unchanged, where it now goes to the Governor General for ratification.

I am cynical because the government embedded these separate pieces of legislation within Bill C-10 in the first place, knowing that they would not get open and fair discussion.

I am cynical because the opposition parties paid lip service to the concerns that were directed to them but in the end voted for the politics of the situation because, the Liberals in particular, were not prepared to defeat the government on a budget bill and force an election at this time.

I am cynical because the Senate talked a good game but despite the overwhelming response from the public against the amendments to the NWPA and their opportunity to decouple the NWPA amendments from the budget bill they also played the political game and sent the bill back to parliament with no changes. The Conservative Senators voted for the bill to support their political counterparts in the House. The Liberal Senators voted for it because they didn’t want to risk bringing down the government on a non confidence vote and trigger an election that their counterparts in the House weren’t ready for.

And I am cynical and even embarrassed for all of them when during the Senatate Finance committee it was belatedly discovered that if Bill C-10 was not approved before March 31st unemployed individuals would lose 5 extra weeks of employment insurance benefits. Whether this was a devious insertion by the government to ensure speedy passage of the budget bill, and damn all of the other considerations, or just incompetence on some bureaucrat’s part, but it did give the Senate and the loyal opposition the opportunity to bail out.

As e-mails from Senators said:

Stephen Harper’s Conservative budget included not only matters relating to the economic situation, but also made amendments to 42 non-budget related acts.  While the Liberal caucus does not believe that these amendments are necessary, we passed Bill C-10 in order to ensure that unemployed Canadians would receive five extra weeks of employment insurance benefits.  Hidden in the Conservative budget was a two week retro-active provision, which provided for these benefits and which would not have been available to a great many workers and their families had we not acted swiftly to allow the bill to pass when it did.

So there you go. It was all done for noble reasons.

I’m probably being a bit too hard on them, as most of this (as US President Obama has been known to say) is above their pay scale – although god knows their pay scale is pretty good. But shouldn’t someone have noticed this problem long before it even got to the Senate? Did any of the opposition MPs or their staff even read the bill? Did the government even know that the bill was written in this manner?

Nice to know that the country is in good hands.

Tiger on the comeback trail

March 17, 2009

A tie for 9th place and two weekend 68s at the WGC-CA tournament would indicate to me that Woods is on target to be a factor at the Masters.

One thing that went sideways for some of the commentators was the hype that Tiger could be knocked out of his place as the number 1 ranked golfer – provided Sergio Garcia won the WGC-CA and Tiger placed something like 27th or lower. Unfortunately Tiger and Sergio didn’t co-operate, with Tiger placing in the top 10 and Sergio tied for 31st. So much for that drama.

Watching the WGC-CA it was apparent that even if Tiger isn’t in contention, the Masters has the potential to be compelling with Mickelsen playing well and Villegas and McIlroy looking good – even though McIlroy did fade on the weekend at Doral.

There is a lot of great talent on the tour these days. It will be interesting to see if Woods can maintain his intimidation factor.

Is the Tiger comeback delayed?

March 13, 2009

Watching the 2nd round of the WGC – CA championship at Doral and so far Tiger Woods is not a factor – 8 strokes behind the leaders half way in.

Although past history indicates that you can never sell Woods short, I have had some skepticism about whether he could come back at his best following the surgery to his knee and then the long lay-off. So far, the WGC Match championships included, Woods hasn’t shown the old intimidation factor.

Part of the problem so far this week is that the putts haven’t been falling. They’re very close but not at the bottom of the cup.

The commentary on the Golf Channel coverage right now is muted regarding Tiger. I think they expected him to at least challenging at this point.(Now 10 shots off the lead).

However they do have Phil Mickelson to hype on at the moment as he is playing very well and just – as I type – dropped off the lead.

One thing that will make the advertisers happy this week is that it is a no-cut tournament and Tiger will be there for the weekend regardless of his position.

Still stinking winter!

March 9, 2009

It is Sunday March 8th and it was -10 centigrade this morning. It snowed again yesterday. My golf course had planned (optimistically) to open on March 13th but has now succumbed to reality and left their planned opening up to the vagaries of nature.

I refuse to shovel my driveway anymore. Winter is supposed to be over and I refuse to acknowledge its existence.

And if anyone approaches me to tell me of the evils of global warming they are at serious risk of being struck squarely between the eyes.

And that’s the truth.

Charles Barkley swings

March 8, 2009

Last week I watched the first episode of The Haney Project on the Golf Channel.

The premise of the series sounds like a bit of a yawn with swing guru Hank Haney working with Charles Barkley in an attempt to resurrect Barkley’s golf swing. Now anyone who watches much golf on TV has seen clips of Barkley’s bizarre golf swing and resurrection is probably the operative word and someone certainly needs to help him out.  But a TV series?

As it turns out, I found the first show quite entertaining, in no small part due to Barkley himself who is a naturally very funny man.

Barkley at one time was a pretty decent golfer but his mind took over from his body and the contortions that he puts his body through in order to get the club head to the ball are astounding. And funny to a point until you watch it enough times and then it starts to get sad.

So I’ll be watching again this coming Monday to see if Sir Charles maintains his sense of humour and if a televised golf lesson can hold my attention for weeks on end.

Part of the fascination may be to see if Barkley can take a new and improved swing from the practice range to the golf course. Most golfers know how tough that is.

Go Charles!

Never having to say ‘Please’

March 6, 2009

A Canadian crossing the border into the US discovered to his dismay that you can’t expect polite discourse from border guards.

A British Columbian man has learned the hard way that you don’t ask a U.S. border guard to be polite when he asks you to turn off your vehicle’s engine.

Desiderio Fortunato, of Coquitlam, B.C., asked the guard to say please and instead received a face full of pepper spray.

“I just said please,” Mr. Fortunato explained Thursday. “He said ‘get out of the car or I spray you’ and … I thought he was just trying to scare me off or something and I was pepper sprayed from a foot or two away.”

He said it was then that five or six border guards jumped on him, placed him in handcuffs and questioned him for three hours last Monday afternoon.

“I felt like I was attacked by a bunch of wolves. They jumped on me, they threw me to the ground and they kneeled on me.”

Good thing that he didn’t tell the border guard to ‘take a hike’ or something less civilized or they might have shot him.

Seeing as the gentleman crosses the border on a regular basis you would think that by now he would have learned that customs officials, Canadian and US, have the power of God and in fact may even have God on their stop and search list.

But the question that comes to mind is: When a government agency issues uniforms to their personnel do they include a training course in thuggery at the same time? It sometimes appears to be the only explanation.

And to think it used to be called the “friendly” border.

Law-making 101

March 4, 2009

Problem:
Gang members shooting each other with semi-auto firearms
Proposed law:
Ban all semi-auto firearms (while talking about them as if they are full auto guns).

Problem:
Gang members shooting each other with handguns.
Proposed law:
Ban all handguns.

Problem:
Thugs stabbing each other with knives.
Proposed law:
Ban large/pointy knives.

Problem:
Graffiti artists defacing public property.
Proposed law:
Ban spray paint cans.

Problem:
Gangs members using nunchaku.
New York law:
Ban nunchaku.

Problem
Dog shit in public places.
Proposed law:
Have all dog owners register DNA samples for their dog’s shit. (And you thought the gun registry was a mess).

The solutions are simple. But then so are the people who propose them.


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