Friday, February 29, 2008

Perhaps Science Could Solve All Our Problems...if we had the time.

I don't want to sound like a cynic, actually I'm generally very optimistic, but I sometimes wonder if we'll have time to turn around our behaviours and actually save the planet from extinction.

The shocking rise in world temperatures is threatening as many as half of the worlds species...eventually the tipping point for our own species could also be reached. Disease continues to spread. Wars are no less frequent than ever in history, but with greater technology becoming ever more available, they are far more bloody. All of this sounds very grim, but every so often some new breakthrough seems to offer hope, whether it be a breakthrough in "green technology", medicine, or a new peace initiative.

This all came to mind as I was reading this latest discovery that brings more hope for a cure for HIV/Aids. This is but a string of breakthroughs that indeed do offer some degree of hope that we'll eventually be able to stop this disease that not only ruins lives, but is ruining a continent.

I do wonder though if the cure does come, will it be too late?

I also wonder if we have time to save the world from disease, famine, war, and the worst of these...climate change.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Can the NDP survive?

Two consecutive polls have the federal NDP at 12% and 13%. This is fairly consistent with how poor they have been polling since the 2006 election. NDP leader, Jack Layton has approached the situation by spending half of his time attacking the Liberals and half of his time attacking the Conservative government. Perhaps he has taken a lessen from the run-up to the 1988 election that had the NDP in the lead, briefly. It has often been said that if Ed Broadbent had have hit John Turner a little harder after the 1984 election and up until the '88 election, we could have been looking at a business/labour divide that is more common world wide.

Now, this is not 1988 and the strategy that Layton has taken hasn't really shown many results. Firstly, there is no mystery as to how Layton's NDP will vote on the budget, or just about any other confidence motion. Yes, Canadians want vigorous opposition but they also expect parties to work together to keep us from having early elections. Canadians seem to be very happy with the current minority Parliament, and want it to work. The NDP hasn't done anything since 2006's election to make this one work.

After the 2004 election which resulted in Paul Martin's ill-fated minority government, Layton's support was highly sought. That is not the case this time around. True, Liberals and NDP have a longer history of working together but the parties are (or at least were) far enough apart that the thought of working together was at one time no more outrageous than the thought of the NDP keeping the Conservatives alive.

It seems that Jack Layton hasn't done the party in favours since the 2006 election, and with the Green party now in striking distance of the NDP for the distant third party status, I'm left wondering if the federal NDP can even survive as a credible force.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

February 18 - February 24, 2008
Mike Smith / Las Vegas Sun / King Features Syndicate
Thanks to Jeff for the link.

Raul Castro has been confirmed as the new President of Cuba. The first change in power in 49 years when his elder brother, Fidel took over. Many predicted chaos should Fidel step down, that likely isn't going to happen but what about when Raul does?

Federal Budget Surprises

So, the Conservative government of Stephen Harper released its second budget since coming to power. Many thought they'd never see the day when Harper would even get one passed, let alone two...but from my perspective, it looks like that is exactly what will happen.

Minister of Finance, Jim Flaherty looks like a five year old who has just been told by his mommy that his etch-sketch mural is the nicest thing she's ever seen. But that aside, he certainly does have cause to celebrate if this budget does indeed pass, and from the smell of things, it likely will.

The real surprise in this budget is not the new tax free savings account (though with Canadians savings as low as they are it really is a good idea), nor is it the extra funding for police an public transit (both vote winners) but it is the lack of a bitter pill for the Liberals.

It was expected that Flaherty would throw in some sort of budget item in that the Liberals simply couldn't accept. That has not happened. It may not be the most exciting budget, and certainly the Liberals would like to see it juiced up a bit, but there is nothing particularly difficult for the Liberals here.

Perhaps Harper's government isn't so desperate for an election afterall. Perhaps it's because their economic forecast for Canada is going to be a lot more positive than was expected by many and the consequences will be that the Conservatives can claim that they avoided a world wide slow down with their fiscal management.

Again, Liberal leader Stephane Dion is the loser. The fact that the media seems to hardly be mentioning him in this debate is telling. Unless he finds some serious issues to use as a wedge against the Conservatives, he is finished.

Monday, February 25, 2008

In the Laos P.D.R

This place always amazes me on so many levels. The friendliness of the people is surprising considering that it wasn't long ago at all that this country was absolutely devastated by American bombs. The people here seem to not remember that part of their history. The excellent quality of the food is also amazing, and the fact that the country remains so unchanged by globalization and other modernizing forces.

Laos is a fascinating place with a wide variety of curiosities. I personally enjoy little visits to state run stores such as The People's Model Pharmacy #10 and to the little French patisseries that can be found around the capital city of Vientianne. It really is an interesting place where the old Socialist word is mixing with low scale capitalism, large amounts of French and Japanese guilt money and foreign capital from the newly developing tourist industry.

Last time I checked, Vientianne had fewer than 600,000 people but it feels about the size of Saint John, New Brunswick (about 90,000). This is partly due to the fact that many of those living in the city are in scattered outskirts which are only technically in Vientianne. The downtown is much smaller.

Scattered French architecture mixes nicely with optimistic statues dedicated to the revolution. Billboards inform the people that "Good people don't ruin their country by littering", and the newspapers celebrate the economic progress that this little paradise is making.

For anyone who is interested in seeing Southeast Asian Socialism in a far more rural setting than that found in Vietnam would be interested in this place.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Hillary Clinton admitting defeat?

The more news I read, the more I want to comment on it. I suppose, that is a promising sign for my new career as a blogger (joking).

Anyway, did anyone watch the debate in Texas between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton? If so, you may have noticed that Clinton seem finally ready to indicate that she recognizes that Obama might just win.

At one point she said that she is "absolutely honoured" (actually she repeated the word honoured a number of times) to be standing on the stage together with Obama. Seems to me to be a very conciliatory attitude towards Obama who is now (obviously) the clear front runner.

Elsewhere in the debate she politely pointed out how her healthcare plan will not leave anyone uncovered, whereas his will. Not a bad idea for the now underdog Clinton to stick to policies, rather than bashing Obama for being to optimistic.

Perhaps Clinton is well aware that she is likely not going to win the Democratic nod and is attempting to get herself in as the Vice Presidential choice, or perhaps she realizes that if she tears Obama apart now, neither of them will win the election.

For More Impression on Barack Obama, Click Here.

Off to Laos

I just wanted to briefly post that I will be travelling tomorrow afternoon to the little agricultural nation of Laos. I assume that I will be able to use the Internet there (and this site won't be blocked) but who knows. I'll likely post again in the early hours of the 24th of February, but there is no guarantee. I see that I have a handful of readers now, so please leave comments after any entries that you find even remotely interesting. I'd love to hear some feedback. Also, don't be afraid to let me know if there is something you would like to hear more about.


Super Duper High Speed Japan and the Question of Government Intervention

So, Japan just launched it's "super high speed internet" space rocket. The technology, if it works would allow customers who are fitted for the technology to reach speeds of up to 1.2 gigabytes per second (this is all according to the Associated Press). Whenever we seem to reach some sort of technological bottle neck, something completely different comes along and challenges all of our previous notion of the technology. Read more about this here.

Now, I really do have a point in mentioning this here, other than the fact that technology is important to any blog. This high speed internet rocket carrying what is called the WINDS sateelite was built by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Why is this interesting? Well in Japan it's very normal for government sponsored agencies to work together with private business.

In fact, much of how countries like Japan and Korea have become some of the worlds top economies is through strong government partnerships in private business. There are some draw backs in this sort of economy, but there are also some great benefits.

Take for example the handful of companies operating in Korea that seem to dominate everything. To the average non Korean, companies like LG might appear to be only in the electronics market. Well, in Korea (until several years ago when the company split into several parts) LG not only makes electronics but also ran gas stations, convenience stores, apartment buildings and lots of other products you wouldn't normally see an electronics company produce. Also, Lotte makes everything from that chewing gum and chocolate which is beginning to appear around the world, but also some electronics, department stores, grocery marts and apartment buildings.

Hyundai isn't only the worlds best ship building company, and half decent car manufacturer, but it's a large chain of higher end department stores, makers of escalators and elevators and who knows what else.

Part of the reason why these companies control nearly everything in Korea...(wait, I left out Samsung...) is that they have been assisted along the way with favourable government policies and readily available capital.

The result? Korea went from a destitute nation ravaged by war in the 1950's to one of the worlds largest economies by the late 1990's. While it's true that between the 1930's and the 1980's, Canada also transformed from a primarily agricultural and resource based economy to one of the worlds most advanced technological economies, we started out from a position of relative stability. In short, our country was never levelled by massive bombing campaigns, nor did we have over half of our population starving in even the darkest periods of the Great Depression.

Canada and the U.S have always been prosperous in comparison to the rest of the world. Korea built an economy from the ground up in only 50 years. Japan built an economy from little in a few decades. This massive growth just didn't happen on it's own, rather it happened because the governments of these two countries were not afraid to interfere in the economy at times.

If we in the West want to see similar levels of technological innovation and economic expansion, perhaps our governments need to realize that important things don't just build themselves. A free market economy is important but regulation to smooth out the hard capitalist edges, and public investment and ownership are also important.

Take a look at our own history in Canada. The railroad that transformed Canada in so many ways, not limited to our sustainability as a country covering such vast and underpopulated regions, was not a product of free market forces. Today, public transport is seldom profitable yet without it our cities would jam to a halt. Electricity production is often a big money loser, and with newer greener technologies still in development, will be a money loser for the foreseeable future...but we need it, don't we?

My point is is that our economy would be well served by a little bit more government intervention from time to time. I bet the people at Chrysler wish the U.S had have interfered just a bit more in healthcare over the years, but more on that later.

The Dinosaur, Jean Chretien

Every so often something happens that reminds me of how new our country really is. If it's not a look into the supreme court, and the fact that for most of our country's history it carried very little respect or weight, it's the fact that a single man who only recently left office could have had such an impact on something as important as the nations constitution.

If there are any Americans reading this, and perhaps there are a few, your perspective on constitutional matters is probably very different than what the average Canadian's ideas would be. You see, for us constitutions are mostly unwritten sets of precedent, but the parts that are written are still very controversial amongst many Canadians. Anyway, I digress...frequently.

The man I am talking about is none other than Jean Chretien, or as he is more commonly known amongst many in the White House, The Dinosaur. This derision was aimed at the fact that he's been around forever (Prime Minister for 10 years, but also a central figure in the government for much of the past 40 years) but perhaps the term could also be used to describe the thickness of his political skin, and the size of the shadow he still casts on the political landscape. Well, and the fact that he sort of looks like a dinosaur.

The Great Minimizer, as Larry Zolf put it was just honoured with the Order of Canada Medal. This would be nothing short of the highest civilian honour available. The reasons? Well, he was Justice Minister when the constitution was written, and personally had a large hand in its drafting. That, and the fact that he held no less than 12 cabinet posts, won three majority governments, legalized same-sex marriage, limited the amount of money that can be donated to a political party to only a $1,000 per entity (human or corporate) and choked a protester. Read all about it here.

--I'm still getting used to how this software works, so I'll attempt to leave you with a few photos of The Dinosaur himself.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Dion: Doing the Right Thing, or Ducking an Election?

So, what's behind this new attitude of cooperation on the Afghanistan file by Liberal leader Stephane Dion and Conservative Prime Minister Stephan Harper? Well, the question would be better phrased as "what's going on in Dion's head"? Either it's a slick way to avoid an election or he genuinely feels that he is doing the right thing.

Certainly Dion is an intelligent, articulate man...well articulate might be a stretch (at least in English), but intelligent is certainly a good adjective to describe him. So, with that in mind why did he give up on the out of Afghanistan by 2009 policy that he's been so proudly talking up since taking over the leadership of the Liberal party?

Could it be that Dion is simply searching for a way to avoid an election without damaging his already damaged credibility? Alternately (and a far less cynical way of reading the situation), he could be taking the issue out of play because he actually believes that the mission will need more time than the 2009 deadline would allow.

Either way, it appears that the only real winner in this debate is Harper. According to CTV ( Dion is now likely going to vote for Harper's motion to extend the Afghanistan mission to the end of 2011.

Yes, the new motion has been influenced by the Liberals position on the matter. After all it does call for the mission to be primarily focused around "training and reconstruction" (and that could easily change by the time the current mandate runs out), but that is not what people will remember about this debate. People will remember that Dion threatened to bring down the Conservative government over Afghanistan (along with the Bloc and the NDP) and then caved in to Harper's position to remain well past 2009 in order to avoid an election.

Dion may very well have done what he considers to be the right thing, but that is not what most Canadians will remember when voting.

Harper certainly benefits from this more than anyone. The issue will no longer be a wedge which the Liberals could use to pry away swing voter support and Harper will be seen as the stronger of the two in leadership quality.

As the only two parties (with seats in the Commons) who are against the motion, the Bloc and NDP could also stand to pick up some extra support from Liberals who are against the extension.

Whether or not we have an early election, (which is seeming less likely after this news) will likely be clear sometime next week when the government introduces the budget to the House of Commons.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

No Sunshine for Harper or Dion

If the recent poll conducted by the Canadian Press Harris-Decima poll is correct, there is very little hope for either the Conservatives or the Liberals in forming a majority government were an election to be held today. The news is equally bad for Jack Layton's NDP who are continuing to slip, now to 13% nationally, in spite of his best efforts to keep his party on the radar. Gilles Duceppe's Bloc Quebec maintains it's lead of 35% in Quebec, but that is still down 7% from the 2006 general election.

Normally, we'd just have to say that it will likely be an election campaign that will make all the difference but in this case their doesn't appear to be a high profile issue where any one party has a clear advantage. Harper is coming off as even colder and more distant than he did in the last two elections, Dion looks like the victim in some melodrama, Layton has long ago alienated urban/industrial base that Broadbent nearly won an election with , and Gilles Duceppe is leading a party that doesn't seem to have a reason to exist.

It's hard to imagine any of these parties suddenly emerging as a big winner in a campaign. If any one of them is going to take a sudden surge, I'd have to say it would be the Bloc and NDP. Firstly, the NDP support is very soft in most parts of the country, but they are still the second choice of many Liberals in Ontario, Tories in the West (not that that will really matter in most ridings) and the Bloc in Quebec. That could result in Layton holding onto as many seats as he's got now, if and only if he runs a perfect campaign.

The Bloc could surge back up and hold onto the seats they've got, perhaps stealing a few along the way. Last time around, Harper caught Duceppe completely off-guard by winning seats in what only months before appeared to be a permanent Tory wasteland. This time around, Duceppe will be able to focus his attacks on Dion's personal unpopularity, and the unpopularity of Harper's policies on issues like the environment.

The other wild card is Elizabeth May's Green party, which is polling at about 9%. Though her party may win a seat or two, it is unlikely. It is more likely that the votes she pulls away will cause other effects that are not currently being widely predicted.

With no clear defining issue for any party, this election could turn out to be one of the dullest in years or alternately one of the most interesting.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Election? No thanks, We're Canadian

If Stephane Dion's recent move on the Afghanistan issue is any indication, there will likely not be a Canadian Federal election this coming spring. Dion effectively removed Afghanistan from the possible list of election issues by compromising his position on removing troops from Afghanistan by 2009.

The impact of this decision will not only be a neutralization of this issue in any possible spring election, but could very well make Dion take a step back from his hawkish desire for an early election. Certainly many in his party will be pleased about that.

This does leave one question though, what about Jean Chretien's advice to Dion on an early election call? It stands to reason that Dion would still appreciate the advice of his long time boss, and the last Liberal to win majorities, but Chretien himself might agree that without Afghanistan in the cards, there simply isn't many issues for the federal Liberals to run on.

Let's take a look at possible choices that the Liberal leader might have. Well, there is the environment issue for one. Polling has consistently shown that Canadians are becoming increasingly concerned with global warming, and increasing cold to Stephen Harper's position on climate change (but that is better suited for another article all together). The problem with the climate change issue is that the Harper people are more than keen to fight out an election based on Dion's record on that issue and many others. Also, the Liberals have to share the environmental issue with the NDP, the Bloc and the ascendant Greens under Elizabeth May.

As for any other issues, how does "Respecting the Independence of the Senate" sound, or "Standing up for a Thoughtful Approach on Crime" resound with voters? My guess is that neither of these issues would serve Dion's Liberals in an early election campaign. That being said, there are some voters, like myself that care about those smaller issues a great deal.

My guess is that Dion will likely try his best to avoid the pointed gun firmly pressed on his temple by Harper. The risk of fighting an election with no defining wedge seems to be greater than the risk of appearing any weaker than he has already appeared. Things couldn't get much worse for Dion, so he'd probably do better to wait a little longer. In another year, the economy will likely have slowed, perhaps even to the point of recession and that would make for a much stronger Liberal campaign.

The Liberals may not own any other issue, but at least in difficult economic circumstances they can always fall back on the old "Tory Times are Tough Times" line.

Hope for Change

I must admit that I haven't really listened to very many of Barack Obama's speeches but from the parts that I have heard it can only be said that the man is inspiring. Does this mean that he'll really be able to change the way that Washington works? Maybe yes, maybe no. One thing I think that can be said is that he is probably the most likely to try out of any of the current contenders.
Now, that being said we should look at what sort of change Obama is talking about. As a Canadian, living in Thailand I must say that I'm probably more concerned about what any presidential candidate has to say about foreign policy than most Americans would be. I do care about what happens in the U.S but it is the matters of foreign policy that would effect me the most, and since I'm writing this blog I'm the only one that matters...that was a joke, dear reader.

What does Obama really believe when it comes to foreign policy? Will he lead the U.S out of it's current Bush Doctrine of rapid preemptive strikes, and the long held U.S policy of "democracy promotion"? Could he do that even if he wanted to? Is he really different?

These are all legitimate questions, and as the immortal Kim Campbell reportedly said during her own disastrous election campaign, elections are no time to be talking about serious issues. Well what are the serious foreign policy issues?

Certainly, top on every one's mind is the war in Iraq. Can it be won? What will change? I don't think anyone seriously believes that any president could really make the "victory" process happen any faster, and that is ignoring the definition of what victory would look like.

What about the issue of Israel and Palestine? U.S.A today's March 11 2007 edition quoted Obama as stating: " "Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people." So, he recognizes that there is a problem. Does he offer a solution, or rather can he offer a solution? His idea seems to be that the Palestinians must take the lead role on the matter, as he stated on CNN last summer.

Obama stated that "resolution [to the conflict] and a better life for all people" "is something that can be achieved, but it's going to require some soul-searching on the Palestinian side. They have to recognize Israel's right to exist; they have to renounce violence and terrorism as a tool to achieve their political ends; they have to abide by agreements. In that context, I think the Israelis will gladly say, 'Let's move forward negotiations that would allow them to live side by side with the Palestinians in peace and security."

Indeed, a hopeful sentiment but it is also one that assumes that the bulk of the blame lays squarely at the feet of the Palestinians. I tend to disagree with Obama's reading of the situation. Israel is in no way prepared to recognize Palestine, regardless of anything they might be saying to the Americans, the U.N or anyone else, rather they are systematically destroying Palestine by dividing it into poor, unsustainable sections of territory that are entirely disconnected from one another. I'll get into this more later, but let me just say that I am not anti-Israel. Of course Israel has a right to exist and it's people have a right to live in peace and security but the people of Palestine also have a right and it is a rather sad statement on the world that the voice of the Palestinians is almost entirely ignored, and by everyone.

When I think of change, real change I think of the issue of what is happening in Palestine by a U.S ally. I think of the chaos that has engulfed Iraq after the toppling of a dictator that was partly in power due to American support for him in the early days. I think of the democratic governments that have been overthrown around the world and the often brutal dictatorships set up in their place. I think of Iran, Honduras, Guatemala, Brazil, Chile and Haiti, countries that have all been victims of the U.S version of democracy promotion.

There is also the matter of domestic change. There is the issue of semi-automatic weapons; which most Americans believe should be illegal but yet the ban on them was allowed to expire by a Congress held at gun point by an overactive NRA. There is also the fact that a majority of Americans, since at least the late 80's believe that "it's a good idea to guarantee health care for all U.S. citizens..." (Business Week 16 May 2005) even going so far as to support tax increases to support healthcare ( Pew Research Center, public divided on Origins of Life, 30 August 2005). Many other studies show other, shocking lack of will for change on issues where there exists majority support.

Now, with healthcare being an issue of rising importance, perhaps we will see change on that. Perhaps Obama, Clinton or even McCain would attempt to change things, perhaps they even will. Here's hoping.