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November 30, 2005

Another chance for Canada

I suppose I should write something about the upcoming election. I'm hopeful that people will finally find the courage and common sense to toss the Liberals out of office after twelve years, but not too hopeful. It seemed just as clear to me last time around that -- for the benefit of the country-- they had to go; but once again they were returned to power. They have used that time to continue to dilute and make irrelevant our country's institutions, and concentrate all decision-making power in the Prime Minister's Office. But Canadian's don't care, and so far it seems likely that Stephen Harper won't have to have new stationary made up in January.

And if Paul Martin wins again, I'm really worried about the future of this country. His strategy of provoking the separatists in Quebec and reinforcing stereotypes of Albertans works well in Ontario, but may unleash a backlash he won't be able to control.

But I'm going to be doing my little bit to try to change that outcome. Once again, I'll be working on the Conservative campaign in the Pontiac, this time with the Conservative's one great hope for Quebec, Lawrence Cannon. I'll be managing his website, putting up signs and doing whatever else I can to help. Quebec is still a lonely place for the Tories, but in this riding I think we have the best chance for a breakthrough.

I don't consider myself a 'party man' by any means. There's many things about the Conservatives I don't like. It's not that I find them 'scary'. It's that they're not scary enough.

The Liberals have maintained their hold on power by carefully cultivating a vast collection of special interests and client groups. These barnacles have multiplied and mutated over the past thirty years so that now they completely cover the ship of state and almost immobilize it. Many people think this baroque accumulation is the government. It will be near impossible to ever scrape them all off, but I wouldn't mind a party that at least recognizes the problem and proposes to try to stop the ship from capsizing. But no, the Conservatives have been very delicate about all this. The farmers will continue to get their handouts, the artists will continue to get their handouts, Bombardier will continue to get their handouts, etc, etc...

But whatever. The Tories will be better than what we have now, and might keep the country from flying apart. I'm going to be working to make it happen.

The first month of the campaign is just the warm-up. The real show starts in January.

November 25, 2005

Incompetence and corruption at Finance

In September, the Finance department announced that because income trusts were costing the government $300,000,000 a year in lost tax revenue (that was desperately needed to fund more vote-buying schemes), the government was investigating changing the rules as to how these investment vehicles worked. This caused a lot of churn in the markets as investors drove down the prices. On Wednesday this week, the government declared their intention to leave the trusts alone, and instead reduce the taxes on stock dividends to try and level the investment playing field.

This doesn't sound very bad, and lower taxes are always a good thing, but the way it was done (which I'm going to get into) indicates that the Finance department has no idea what it's doing.

It began Wednesday at 5:20 pm, when John McKay, the parliamentary secretary of Ralph Goodale, went on live television and casually announced a major tax policy as easily as he might have announced new funding for macramé training for immigrants in a too-close-too-call riding -- and didn't even have his facts straight:

Jaws dropped among Department of Finance officials on Wednesday night as they watched John McKay discuss details on national TV of how Ottawa would resolve the income trust tax debate.

The parliamentary secretary for the Minister of Finance told of plans to cut the tax rates on corporate dividends. Then, he disclosed details of a 5% tax to be applied to trusts held inside pension plan, starting in 2007.

Department officials wondered aloud why Mr. McKay was talking about a market-sensitive issue on television. Worse yet, he got the details wrong. About an hour later, Ralph Goodale, the Finance Minister, announced there was no trust tax in the offing.

So. A major financial policy was announced at a last-minute press conference with no documentation. It's possible that the income trust policy wasn't even fully worked out yet; Goodale just had to say something, so he made a hasty decision and went to the press.

If that was the worst of it, it would only indicate incompetence. The news came after the markets were closed, so no harm was done, right? But there's evidence that something shady has been going on this week. In the three days before the announcement that cleared the income trusts from the cloud they were operating under, their prices went up 3.61%! And of course they went up a lot more after Goodale stammered through his statement. Some people made a killing.

It's obvious that some people were in the know as to what was about to happen. In Barry Critchley's column in today's National Post, he talks to an investment banker that didn't get a chance to be 'consulted' by the Finance department before it made its decision:

"I was talking to some prominent lawyers and bankers and they were up there in Ottawa earlier this week and they were basically told this was going to happen," added the banker, who over the years has won his share of the deals that are up for grabs. "It's all over the street. All the people are talking about who had a heads up and who didn't."

The events left the banker wondering whether Ottawa was interested in consultation or more interested in passing on inside information.

In this banker's mind, "It pays to consult. The government has leaked this out to their friends and cronies in the business community and [in so doing] panicked the little investors who sold.

"It's brutal. It's third world. It's unbelievable," he said.

And this banker wasn't just referring to the events of last Wednesday. Indeed, the process got off to a good start in early September, when Ottawa announced it was planning a consultation process on income trusts. A week or so later, the process reached amateur-hour proportions when the government announced it would not be giving any more advance tax rulings on trust conversions. More importantly, what did that decision mean for the process, which was kicked off with a 50-page report that indicated that everything was being analyzed?

Since then, it has been full-scale panic as Ottawa dealt with all sorts of anger from all sorts of people -- market participants, industry executives, retail investors and pension funds.

And the final straw: "The government then tells a bunch of Bay Street insiders what it is going to do so they can profit. And then it does it. It's insane," added the banker.

Small Canadian investors have possibly lost billions of dollars over this make-it-up-as-you-go-along policy making, and friends of the Liberals have been the beneficiaries. In the US, there would be insider trading investigations to determine who knew what, and when. But here in Canada, expect it all to be swept under the rug.

November 24, 2005

Well, that was fun...

After much, much cursing, I am back to where I started with this blog. Upgrading to MT 3.2 is not as painless as some of their documentation suggests. The final straw was after their export tool only exported half my posts (without giving me any indication of this) and the import tool refused to import them. Rrrr. I still want to upgrade, but I'm going to have to be better prepared next time. But I'm not even going to think about it for a week.

Welcome back spammers! It looks like you still have a home here...

November 22, 2005

Still here

And still possessing some measure of the urge to blog. But the present setup of the blog has become irritating to an unacceptable degree. I am being deluged by spam from some of the crudest bottom-feeding scum that exist on the internet. And if you've ever taken a wrong turn on the internet, you'll know how just how crude that can be. They've become much more creative (read:irritating) at how they tag my website with their garbage, requiring more and more of my time to get rid of it. I'm sick of it, and it makes me sick of the blog.

But there is hope. Movable Type has a new -- and free -- version that promises effective spam prevention. I have no shortage of faith that the bottom-feeding scum will find ways around this, but it has to be better than what I've got now.

So I'm updating the software that runs this site. And I'm probably going to make numerous mistakes that will take me a while to nail down. I ask the few readers I have left to be patient as I work on the renovations. Be back soon, I hope.

November 12, 2005

More apologies for the lameness

Blogging has been curtailed lately mostly due to that damn game (and the kids, never forget the kids). BoneyBruce has become much more powerful and can travel throughout much of Azeroth without fearing for his life. He's even taking on dragons:

Okay, it's not a dragon, it's a dragonkin. And if I didn't have four other players backing me up I'd be an undead smear on the stone floor. But still, BoneyBruce is now starting to become an undead warlock to be feared.

And thus I compensate for the ineffectiveness of my own life.

Blogging will continue to be lame this weekend our family journeys to Montreal to see the Santa Claus parade, eat dim sum, and watch some football. Back Monday. I hope.

November 06, 2005

Some childcare tips for M. de Villepin

As usual, ˇNo Pasarŕn! has the evening's damage report for France under seige:

29 cops injured by gunfire in Grigny (2 CRS riot police seriously hurt).

In the Tarteręts housing project in Corbeil-Essonnes, 50 masked rioters attempted to rollover a vehicle onto riot police situated on a highway below them. A school was torched in Savigny-sur-Orge. The Public Treasury in Trappes was targeted by an arson (Trappe is the home of French comic Jamel Debbouze -- young punk who has already had run-ins with French police due to his gangsta lifestyle -- he likes to make believe he is Moroccan even though he's just a stinking French). Bus service is irregular throughout the northern Parisian suburbs.

Other regions of the country are seeing increased violence. Numerous vehicles were torched in Nantes, Rouen, and Le Havre. A police station was smashed by a vehicle in a suburb of Rouen. In Toulouse, 30 French youths squared off against police in the area of Mirail. A pre-school was torched in Saint-Etienne and 8 18-wheelers were burned in Roanne. In Blois and Tours, torched cars and arson attacks of building basements were reported early in the evening.

As an experienced Executive Family Manager, I have learned how to act when faced with unreasoning rage from people that have never had to deal with the real world and always expect to get their own way. I also have some insight into what causes the 'little emperor' syndrome that makes these outbursts more frequent, and how it can be avoided. It all seems very obvious to me, but too often I see other parents falling into the same traps as the French government has. Here is my advice:

First, when faced with a tantrum: ignore the cause. They may even have a good reason. You may find that you regret doing or not doing whatever was the trigger for the episode and wish you had done things differently. It doesn't matter. The child must learn that this kind of behavior doesn't get results. You must express disapproval and refuse to discuss anything until the shrieking stops. So long as the child isn't damaging anything or anyone, you can let him go on as long as he likes, but if he is you must restrain him until he calms down. After the incident is over, you should demand the child apologize before any discussion can begin on addressing the concern the tantrum was about. But then you must listen to him and deal with him fairly -- which does not generally mean giving him what he wants, but finding a compromise or explaining why things are as they are.

This teaches the child that he is not the center of the universe, and teaches him that following his rage is not going to get him anywhere. But it also teaches him that he can gain some control over his situation without it. Children can be pretty passionate, however, so it may take many 'lessons' before it starts to sink in.

Tantrums are more frequent in children who have never had to do much for themselves and are accustomed to having their needs met quickly. To prevent this, it's important for parents to teach their children at an early age to do things for themselves. Things such as putting their toys away, eating food with a spoon by themselves, and hanging up their coats when they come in from outside. It's not much and it's largely symbolic -- but it creates the foundations for their sense of responsibility. The difficult part is that it's always easier for the parent to do these tasks for the child or let lapses slip. But for the child's benefit, the parent has to be steadfast.

I'm not suggesting that I always follow my own advice. I try to, but sometimes it's just to easy to give in or look the other way. But making no attempt to control bad behavior just makes more it more likely to recur. And if you let it go on too long you run the risk of losing any influence over the child at all. Then you're screwed...

November 03, 2005

Anti-Canadian Propaganda

As the spouse of a health-care professional, I get to hear many stories of bureaucratic ineptitude, massive waste, shortages and perverse incentives. I hear them not only from my wife, but from many of our friends who are also doctors. It's all part of the complicated mess that is Canada's defining institution. It's not a total disaster as some might claim, but the credit for that should go to the people who endeavor to do the work, despite the restrictions the government enforces. But things are bad, there's no question about it.

Publius at Gods of the Copybook Headings has discovered a film on the perils of the Canadian health care system being promoted on the web. It's called Dead Meat. It's 25 minutes long and is available for viewing online. While a little hokey at times, it effectively blows a few good-sized holes in the largest contributor to Canada's overall smugness. Everyone should see it. Publius' post is well worth reading as well, including the comments.

A penetrating look into what's happening in France

The endless riots in the citiés that ring Paris are finally starting to be covered in the mainstream media. Via Lileks, I found an eye-opening City Journal article from a couple of years ago that looks at the background to this violence and the offensive statist philosophies that led to it.

The state, while concerning itself with the details of their housing, their education, their medical care, and the payment of subsidies for them to do nothing, abrogates its responsibility completely in the one area in which the state’s responsibility is absolutely inalienable: law and order. In order to placate, or at least not to inflame, disaffected youth, the ministry of the interior has instructed the police to tread softly (that is to say, virtually not at all, except by occasional raiding parties when inaction is impossible) in the more than 800 zones sensibles—sensitive areas—that surround French cities and that are known collectively as la Zone.

But human society, like nature, abhors a vacuum, and so authority of a kind, with its own set of values, occupies the space where law and order should be—the authority and brutal values of psychopathic criminals and drug dealers. The absence of a real economy and of law means, in practice, an economy and an informal legal system based on theft and drug-trafficking.

It's a long article, but all of it is well worth reading. My wife and I love France, and have been there many times, but something ugly is happening and there are no easy solutions to stop it.

November 02, 2005

Lying by omission

I'm constantly shaking my head at the press services' coverage of Iraq. The incessant negative tone is reinforcing the terrorists' aims of undermining the emerging Iraqi democracy and demoralizing the American forces. I don't want the press to tell lies about what's happening, but it would be helpful if they managed to report on the remarkable progress that has been made in only two and a half years.

Most of the press bias is pretty subtle. One method they use frequently is to write a news piece about some recent event, then pad the rest of the story with a litany of all the bad news of the last few weeks. The effect on the reader is of general despair.

But occasionally -- and unfortunately not rarely -- they just ignore the facts and write what they want people to hear. And there's no better example than this, where the NY Times took the words of a dead soldier and edited them to make their point. Here's part of the Times' piece:

But he died in a firefight in Ramadi on April 30 during his third tour in Iraq. He was 22.

Sifting through Corporal Starr's laptop computer after his death, his father found a letter to be delivered to the marine's girlfriend. ''I kind of predicted this,'' Corporal Starr wrote of his own death. ''A third time just seemed like I'm pushing my chances."

Get it? Pessimism. Fatalism. Futility. Damn that George Bush! But here's the full text of the letter:
Obviously if you are reading this then I have died in Iraq. I kind of predicted this, that is why I'm writing this in November. A third time just seemed like I'm pushing my chances. I don't regret going, everybody dies but few get to do it for something as important as freedom. It may seem confusing why we are in Iraq, it's not to me. I'm here helping these people, so that they can live the way we live. Not have to worry about tyrants or vicious dictators. To do what they want with their lives. To me that is why I died. Others have died for my freedom, now this is my mark.
During the Second World War, propagandists for the enemy like Lord Haw Haw and Tokyo Rose were based in enemy territory. In the War on Terror, they're working just a few miles from Ground Zero.

UPDATE: More on the relentlessnessly negative mainstream media -- in the Boston Globe of all places (via NealeNews):

Hostile to the war and to the administration conducting it, the nation's leading news outlets harp on the negative and pessimistic, consistently underplaying all that is going right in Iraq. Their fixation on the number of troops who have died outweighs their interest in the cause for which those fallen heroes fought -- a cause that advanced with the ratification of the new constitution.
RTWT.

November 01, 2005

Chavez insanity watch

Hugo believes Halloween is part of the American's great plan to destroy him:

Venezuela's president has called on his people to ignore Hallowe'en, which he described as an American "game of terror".

Hugo Chavez claimed it was part of the US culture of "putting fear into other nations, putting fear into their own people".

Speaking during his weekly radio and television show, he described Hallowe'en as a "gringa", or North American, custom." Families disguise their children as witches," he said. "That is contrary to our ways."

One of the worst things about 'socialist revolutions' of the sort Chavez is promoting -- aside from the mass killings -- is that they're run by people with no sense of fun.

Halloweenies

A note to the teenagers sprinting between houses wearing hockey jerseys or funny hats as costumes: It's all about the cuteness. Just because you're able to cover more houses faster, doesn't mean you get more loot. Max and Talia received huge handfuls of chocolate bars from each of the 2 dozen houses they visited, while you probably got an abundance of tiny lollipops and those dreadful taffies in the orange and black wrappers. You're who they make those inedible things for, you know...