Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sending more troops to Afghanistan unlikely to work.

Never mind that a British general back in October said that the Afghanistan war is not winnable (Brig. General Mark Careleton-Smith) and that the Taliban could be part of the country's long term solution (source here).   And never mind that the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper recently spoke to CNN and also stated that we aren't going to win the war simply by being there.  Never mind that the U.S alone currently has 142,000 soldiers in Iraq and is still not able to pacify that country.

History alone should be enough to tell us that Afghanistan just can't be turned into a democratic clone of a western state.  The Soviet Union tried for a decade, and as difficult as it was for them, it is even more difficult for the western countries now partly due to the experience that the Afghan fighters gathered (with U.S help) during the resistance to the Soviets.

As Samuel P. Huntington observed in his book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World order, Afghanistan was seen by the West as a victory for the free world, but for the Islamic world, it was a victory for Islam.  

The Islamic world successfully stood up to the Atheist Soviet Union and drove their forces out of Afghanistan.  Now, they are experienced at this and aren't ready to allow western Christian nations to "liberate" Afghanistan.

I'm sorry if I sound disloyal.  I'm not.  I support the idea of what Canadian forces are trying to do in Afghanistan, and much of what we are doing is actually really good for the local people.  But, that is beside the point.   Many  of the local people are seeing what we are doing as a threat to their Independence.  

In my view, we should be getting all of the parties at the table and try to get a peace agreement in place.  At the same time, we should begin pulling out.  Hopefully the rivalling groups can unite under a single leadership, and that is a question of concern, but the war is not going to be won.  

No amount of U.S soldiers will ever be enough and the more soldiers on the ground will just turn more and more of the locals off of the NATO forces and create more bitterness.

Barack Obama wants to increase the U.S presence in Afghanistan, while removing U.S presence from Iraq.  I think it's the wrong thing to do in the long run, though to pull out of the country safely, we'd probably need to increase the numbers in order to allow that to happen.

Obama is, whether we like it or not, forced to make some concessions to the military industrial complex.  I'm sure he knows what's happening in Afghanistan, but he can only fight so many battles at one time.  

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Could North Korean rhetoric be more than just threats?

While it's not unusual for North Korea to threaten it's neighbours, the talk issued from Pyongyang on Monday was harsh even for their standards. Not only did they state that any effort to prevent North Korea from launching a satellite into space (widely believed to be a cover for a nuclear test), but they threatened to shoot down South Korean passenger aircraft that approaches the demilitarized zone.

Yesterday, according to this article in the Globe and Mail , North Korea is vowing to take "every necessary measure" to protect itself against what it perceives as a U.S threat. Every year the United States and South Korea participate in military exercises that they claim are simply defensive in nature, but the North states are planning for an invasion of their Communist state.

What is really dangerous during this is that Pyongyang cut off all communications with Seoul. Every once in a while there are accidental firings across the border, usually not aimed at anyone in particular, but each one has the potential to escalate even in normal times. For it's part, South Korea has a standing policy to return every shot received with an equal response.

During the war games, even an accidental shot fired across the worlds most heavily armed border could spell absolute disaster. That is if the North doesn't decide to take the initiative and launch an attack on purpose.

Having lived in South Korea for several years, I realize that most people don't even expect that the possibility of conflict could happen, but I think that the perspective of the people in South Korea is very far from the perspective of the North Korean government.

South Korea is a prosperous, developed and peaceful country that has built itself up out of the ashes of Japanese occupation and a brutal internal war to become one of the world's largest economies in just a matter of decades. The North hasn't left the bunker mentality that they had since the war ended. They have not enjoyed the economic prosperity of the South; on the contrary. As the South grew, the North languished, especially after the fall of the Soviet Union. Their mentality must be affected by the mass starvation and utter reliance upon foreign oil given in exchange for talks.

With South Korea holding back it's oil gifts until Pyongyang disables its nuclear program, the North might be thinking that this is its last chance to fight. A country that can't feed it's people, can't sustain it's rustbelt industries, and can't get access to oil cannot be much of a threat for long. I hope that they don't do anything stupid, but they might be seeing this as their last, best chance.

From a number of South Korean and U.S military people with whom I've spoken, I gather that they very much expect that the South's lines would be overrun very quickly. That is until Northern forces were to reach the perimeter of Seoul when the North would begin to weaken. They could get off a good deal of explosives, but South Korean counter strikes could eliminate the North's ability to launch missiles and aircraft very quickly. Though the South has a much smaller military force, it's military is well equipped, modern and has fuel. The North's force simply could not endure a sustained conflict.

Perhaps they (North Korea) are thinking that the U.S is too busy in other places to respond, or that Barack Obama is a pacifist who wouldn't want to sacrifice lives in order to defend South Korea. On the contrary. Defence of South Korea is a top priority for the U.S and any administration which failed to honour it's commitment would risk alienating many U.S allies and much of the U.S public. It would be along the lines of the U.S failing to defend a NATO member.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Biological governance

Interested now in the concept of biologically based governance.  This stems from the ideas of Dee Hock (of Visa) who coined the term "chaordic" when talking of visa as having the maximum chaotic behaviour with the minimum of order needed to produce stability.  The idea is that nature is very chaotic, yet also has a certain level of order and left to itself is stable.  Without any order, there would be no stability, though with too much order, there would be nothing but creativeness, no diversity, no free thinking, no freedom, and non-sustainability in the long run.

Companies that are too hierarchical destroy human dignitity and create unhealthy governance structures while a pure anarchy would have trouble getting anything done.  The goal in building "organizations based on bilogical precepts, not mechanical concepts" is to create something with "infinite durability, malleability, and diversity" (Hock).  

Here is a link to the text of a presentation that I gave on this matter.  A bit complex and abstract, but interesting:

Below is the slide show presentation that went with the text:  

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Abhisit to U.S: Back off, or else...

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told a visiting U.S business declaration that if the U.S takes action on Thailand for what the U.S believes is Thailand's failure to protect intellectual property, there will be consequences.

He stated that the government pays close attention to WTO regulations and is in compliance.  The relevant section in WTO regulations deals with Compulsory Licences (CL).  CL allows for developing countries to bypass patents on prescription medication in order to purchase them from a generic manufacturer at a much lower price.  

As I mentioned earlier, Thailand has previously issued CLs for several HIV medications, and a cancer medication that it deems to costly to purchase at the regular price.  Thailand has also sought to negotiate lower prices from the intellectual property holding companies themselves.  According to Dr. Monkhol Na Songkla, in the interview I posted below, these companies were not even willing to negotiate until Thailand began issuing CLs.  

According to this article in the Bangkok Post, Prime Minister Abhisit stated that 
"I have sent a clear signal," Mr Abhisit said. "If the US decides that the situation has worsened, I think it will produce a negative impact."There will be pressure from our society to expand CL if they treat us that way."

From some research conducted by the World Bank, it's possible to get an idea of how much Thailand will be spending on the HIV medications within the next 25 years.  The numbers are very high, and for Thailand's anti-retroviral therapy for people living with HIV/AIDS to be sustainable, they need to find cheaper sources of medication.  

U.S diplomatic style is to push and push until you get what you want.  Unfortunately for  the U.S, they do not have the record of subtle coercion that made both Rome and Britain great.  Partly because the U.S often comes across as ignorant of local issues and unable to really act outside of a narrowly defined "war on terror".  

The U.S is risking it's position in South East Asia by not engaging with the most important local issues, and also by using strong tactics on a matter that could be seen as one with a humanitarian leaning.  

My solution for the U.S?  Enroll diplomats in a Chinese university or offer the Chinese government a contract to train them.  China's influence and soft power is record enough.  

Monday, March 2, 2009

"Let them live a little bit longer...let them die with some dignity"

I've been attempting to do some HIV research over the past few months and every so often I dig up something which might be of interest to my reader(s).   Dr. Monkhol Na Songkla, of whom I've written before was interviewed in 2007 regarding his government's (the interim government appointed after the 2006 coup) decision to issue mandatory licenses for a few prescription medications.  I thought I'd include some parts of this interview, conducted by Nermeen Shaikh of the Asia Society:

Mongkol Na Songkhla is the Minister of Public Health in Thailand. He has served in the Ministry of Public Health since his appointment on October 9, 2006. Dr. Mongkol Na Songkhla spoke with Asia Society's Nermeen Shaikh during a visit to New York where he joined a press conference with President Bill Clinton and the Clinton Foundation to announce a global pooled procurement of anti-retroviral drugs.

Thailand has been at the center of a controversy over affordable access to medication because of its recent decision to pursue generic versions of patented pharmaceuticals. As a member of the World Trade Organization, Thailand is obligated to abide by the rules and regulations in the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). TRIPS sets a minimum international standard for forms of intellectual property such as patent pharmaceuticals. Compulsory licensing is a flexibility of TRIPS that permits all member countries to manufacture generic alternatives of patented pharmaceuticals to increase accessibility to affordable medicine. Thailand's universal healthcare system is one of the country's strengths, but the country lacks affordable access to high priced antiretroviral HIV treatment and medications for priority health conditions such as cancer, hypertension, and heart disease. Dr. Mongkol Na Songkhla defends his government's contentious policy and talks about the critical issues that plague Thailand's healthcare system.

Thank you very much, Your Excellency, for your time. I'd like to begin by asking you what the key issues are that you have confronted as you have assumed the leadership of the Ministry of Health. There are issues having to do with access to medicine, to clean water, and of course the spread of HIV/AIDS. Right now you just spoke about an aging population as well. What would you say are the highest priorities?

The highest priority right now is to respond to the top causes of death in the Thai population. The first one is HIV, the second one is cardiovascular disease, the third one is cancer, the fourth one is accidents, and the fifth one is chronic diseases associated with aging.

Moving to one of the initiatives that you have been responsible for, could you just explain for our audience, many of whom will not be familiar with this, what the importance of compulsory licensing is? First of all, what does it mean, and second of all, why is it relevant in terms of access to medicine for people in countries like Thailand?

Access to essential drugs is not possible for all people. There are problems with the national health insurance plan. We provide health services free of charge for the Thai people. There are three main schemes to achieve this. First, about 48 million people are under the Social Welfare scheme, and the budget is provided by the central government. Another five million are part of the Civil Servant Medical Benefit Scheme. The last group is the Social Security scheme, which includes nine million private and temporary public employees. In these three schemes, the budgets come mostly from the central government and are paid to private or public hospitals. However, in spite of increases in the budget, it is not enough to cope with the rapid increase in demand. For high-priced patented drugs, the central government cannot shoulder the costs, especially for some second line HIV drugs, cancer drugs, chronic disease medications, or even hemodialysis-they cannot shoulder it.

So you can see that even though we try to provide health services free of charge for people, it's actually not for everyone because the budget is not enough. Some people can use health services with payment from their own pocket. It is possible for rich people; they have access. But more than 80 per cent cannot access necessary drugs such as carcinoma drugs and second line HIV drugs. We know that the patent holder invests a lot for each medicine but actually the percentage who can access patented drugs is only 20 or 25 per cent. These are the groups of people who are paying for the research and development costs. The rest of the people who have no access do not contribute at all to the research and development cost, as they cannot pay for the patented drugs. How can we take care of the other 80 per cent of the people who are left behind? So we decided to try to find the generic alternative to serve these neglected people. Actually, we never disturbed the current consumer of patented drugs - those 20 per cent of people who can afford to pay out of pocket to get access to these drugs. They will never change, they will never switch from the original drug to a generic drug. These are well-off people who receive their services from the private sector and pay out of pocket, and also civil servants whom the government pays for their high price patented drugs, as well as about two million foreign patients a year.

But we only want to share the patent. We are very willing to buy the original drug for neglected people from patent holders if they want to compete with the generic drug in this new market for 80 per cent of Thais-paid by the government budget not out of pocket. We tried to negotiate with them officially for more than two years and unofficially for more than four years. But it's never a success.

Why is it not successful? What are the main problems?

Patent holders did not want to negotiate when we tried to find out their thoughts about making their drugs accessible to more people. They haven't agreed to talk. We have the paper to confirm that the negotiations fail every time. For the last two years they set up a subcommittee to negotiate officially and before that unofficially. Even officially during the last two years, the report back to the Ministry has shown failure because no company or patent holder wants to talk about lowering the price or sharing drugs with poor people. When they saw the report and after discussions with lawyers, many groups were concerned. So we decided to announce our intention to implement compulsory licensing on a few patented drugs. We made the first announcement for one first line anti-retroviral drug Efavirenz, and the second announcement for Lopinavir/Ritonavir (Kaletra), then the third one for an anti-platelet drug, Clopidogrel (Plavix). But actually right now after the announcement only one item was put into practice, Efavirenz. Negotiations are now going on: two years before they never wanted to sit down to talk with us and right now they are coming to sit and talk. But one of the companies requested that we abolish the compulsory licensing announcement before negotiations. We cannot go back on our announcement. An announcement is an announcement. Our announcement was not put into practice; it was made to allow for negotiations. The announcement will be put into action if and when the negotiations fail, and we need to buy the drugs.

Do you think that governments either in the North or in the South can play any role in persuading pharmaceutical companies to permit licensing under particular conditions? In other words, what role do you see for governments to play?

I think that we already have that under international law, namely the regulation under TRIPS flexibility. All member countries should try to strongly support every country to use the TRIPS flexibility in cases of necessity, in only some cases, even though there are so many patented drugs. There are very few items that need and can be implemented under compulsory licensing. Not more than that. Given the costs, we just really try to allow our low-income people to live a little bit longer and I think that no one wants to do compulsory licensing for a cosmetic drug or something like that. It's only for life saving drugs.

What has Thailand's experience been?

In Thailand, I do not think that we have enough people who can conduct comprehensive drug research. With malaria drugs they tried to do research for many years and the same with Dengue Hemorrhagic fever, but they only achieved some progress. They have to collaborate in research with other countries. We do not have enough scientists and budget for research and development.

So the last question Your Excellency: as my colleague Betsy mentioned, one of Thailand's leading HIV advocates and former Public Health Minister Mechai Viravaidya has just been appointed to design a new federal HIV prevention plan that will target the country's youth. Could you comment on the significance of this?

It is significant because he has so many tactics to tackle HIV/AIDS. He especially knows the nature of young people. I don't think that anyone knows a better way of dealing with young people than Senator Mechai. After his appointment he launched a condom for children. So many people were excited, but also criticized him for children condoms. Actually, children condoms are not really put into use, but I know he wants to educate the young people from the beginning.

From what age?

Six or seven. In kindergarten, everyone knows about condoms and the benefits of condoms. Children can become acquainted with prevention, which is very helpful for their life in the future.

That's extremely impressive at such a young age. Are there any countries that have started sex education at that age?

Not yet. You see that Senator Mechai Viravaidya has a lot of tactics! I am so glad that he accepted our invitation.

Is there anything else you would like to add before we close?

I would like to ask the rich countries from the North to cooperate with countries in the South-to take care of poor people. Let them live a little bit longer, save their lives, and let them die with some dignity. Don't let them die without any treatment. Especially in Thailand, there are so many cases of cancer when patients have to die without any medicine because the hospital refuses to treat them with very high priced patented drugs. For some chronic leukemia, a tablet per day costs 4,000 Thai Baht, and you can multiply it by 365 to get the figure for a year [$US 120 per day or $US 44,000 per year].

Some of them have to turn to herbal medicine that has no proven effectiveness. There are no studies, just only believing or faith that it can help. Finally they die without any modern medicine. There are so many cases like this. I used to work in the rural areas, and I saw so many cases. I just ask for kindness from rich countries to pay some attention to granting humanity to poor people. That's all.

Thank you very much.

Thank you.

What do Thailand and Visa have in common?

I've been reading some material regarding corporate governance (which has some connection to public administration).  One of the case studies was on Visa International and how it developed into something almost like a cooperative.  

The writer stated that Visa operates as a "chaord" meaning the maximum level of chaos and the minimum level of order to achieve stability.

In many ways, that is exactly what Thailand is.  Even when the airports and government offices were seized last year and no one knew who, if anyone was in charge, the country kept functioning.  The civil service kept going to work, even though they didn't really have ministers in charge of their departments, and the wheels kept turning.  

In so many other ways the image of Thailand as chaordic really fits.  The roads are wild, but most people get to their destination at some point.  The police take bribes, but crime is usually kept under control with serious offenders arrested eventually, and the education system seems to work, even though it appers to lack coordination.  

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The stigma of HIV costs lives (and economic output)

I heard two shocking stories regarding HIV this week from two friends.  The first was from a Thai friend of mine who had a female Thai coworker who was HIV positive, quickly fell into sickness, was ostracized from her coworkers, didn't receive treatment (even though it is free) and died.  

The second story is from a coworker of mine who's friend is a foreigner in Thailand who didn't know why he was so sick, got sick, had no way to receive treatment, ended up in jail and is assumed to have been deported. 
I think the reason why these stories disturb me so much is that those with HIV live with such a stigma attached to them.  They are so often in denial and ashamed and treated like dirties that they don't get the treatment that they need so badly.  Average life expectancy with HIV is only 8 years without any treatment, but with optimal treatment that number balloons to over 33 years.  Even with less than optimal treatment, a person with HIV can have many good years, usually well over a decade before even falling sick.  

Beyond compassion and humanitarian reasons, HIV treatment is also a matter of economics.  Sick people are bad for the economy.  HIV infected persons do not need to be sick if they receive proper treatment.  With proper treatment they are able to carry on with their normal working lives and remain a part of the economy.  That treatment, if publicly funded costs the tax payer money, but the pay off is greater because that person continues looking after his or her family and contributing to the economy.  Without treatment, they can't work and require help from either the public purse or from private groups.  

I'm going to look into what solutions an HIV positive foreigner with no money has in this country.  All Thais can receive anti-retroviral treatment for free, but many foreigners here do not have insurance and do not earn enough to pay for these medications.  There must be some sort of charity that helps them.  

I think we really need to get people talking about HIV in polite company.  Get people to realize that it's not a death sentence or a statement on a persons morals.  From a Christian perspective, he who is without sin, you throw the stone first and judge not because if you do your father in heaven will also judge you.  I'm sure other religions have appropriate lines to insert as well.  

Monday, February 23, 2009

Dr. Pongsan's Global Media Theory

In my class the other day, the professor quoted his earlier work on his global media theory.  In 1980 while at Rockefeller College in New york he stated:

"Who controls the information controls knowledge.  Who controls knowledge controls the media.  Who controls the media and the airwaves controls the world" (Dr. Pongsan Pantularp,  Faculty of Political Science, Ramkhamhaeng University).  

He later presented the same argument at the School of Oriental and African studies and later again at the U.S embassy in Bangkok in 2006.  He was explaining to the U.S forces that they would not be able to win wars without controlling the media and that their aircraft were useless in winning without controlling the message.

I'd say that he's very right.  All of the money and equipment that the U.S has was not able to pacify Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq.  Their superior technology could not change the minds of the public.  

If anyone is reading this, I'd really like to hear some thoughts on whether or not, or to what degree this is true.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Thai PM admits that Navy sent refugees out to sea

I was thinking about Burma over the past two days, partly because I had to go downtown on some business and I walked past the Embassy of Myanmar.  What a dive that place is.  The rumours I've heard from my Burmese friends are spot on.  The place looks like the government it represents.  I snarled at the building for a moment and then wondered what would happen if it were to be attacked.  Anyway, those were just the thoughts that went through my head as I was passing bye.

I see that Abhisit (the Thai PM) admits that most likely some of those Burmese boat people were forced out to sea by Thai military, in spite of government denials.  I'm happy that he admitted that.  I would have trouble respecting him if he didn't.  There is absolutely no point in denying something that everyone knows to be true.  He does insist that they were given enough food and water.  Oh shut up.  Clearly he's wrong.  But, at least he admitted the basic fact.  

In case you haven't been following, the Thai Navy sent Burmese refugees out on a boat to starve to death.  That's not an exageration.  If one sends a boat out to sea without an engine and with minimal food what does one expect is going to happen?  It would take a pretty thick headed buffalo of a man to not think through what the logical consequence of such an action would be.  Boat - engine - food  + ocean = starvation.  So, by that simple logic, the Navy must have meant for these people to die.   I think it takes a special kind of evil to trample upon those who have nothing and have risked their lives to to go someplace they thought would at least have food.  As David Adams Richards put it, for those who hunt the wounded down.  

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Campbell suddenly cares about the homeless? Convenient.

So, Premier of British Columbia, Gordon Campbell is going to take on homelessness in his province. 
Doesn't it seem a bit convenient that he has just jumped on the problem a year before the winter Olympics come to Vancouver?

He's going to create a homeless strategy and build more low cost housing.  Exactly what advocates, including Jack Layton, have been advocating for...oh, two decades now.  Isn't cleaning up the homeless fairly similar to what China was doing right before it's own Olympics?  Yes, the methods are different (to a degree) but the goal is the same.  Sweep them away so that they don't make us look bad on TV.  If I were Campbell I would be afraid of Carole James's provincial NDP .  BC is being hit hard economically, violence in Vancouver is intensifying, jobs are being lost, provincial budget is strained and there is the high cost of the Olympics to focus on as well.  Will anyone even be able to afford to go to them by next year?  All of this makes for fertile ground for the NDP to storm to victory in BC's May 12 election.  

Does Premier Campbell really thing that his latest focus on the Downtown Eastside which just happens to be the poorest part of the whole damn country and one of the most violent on the continent a few months before an election, and a year before an Olympic games is really fooling anyone?  

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Obama to visit Canada: Prentice's big chance

President Barack Obama will be visiting Canada for the first time next week and this report from The Calgary Herald predicts that one big topic on the agenda will be cutting greenhouse-gas emissions.  

Needless to say, Environment Minister Jim Prentice (pictured upper right) has been assigned the difficult task of finding some way to engage the new U.S administration and the environment is certainly one area that Canada can work together with the United States.  Canada's Conservative lead government needs to be seen as making progress on the environmental front and also needs to be seen as having a workable relationship with the new U.S president.  

Given that new Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff (pictured left) was recently flaunting his connections to the Obama administration (Ignatieff rides wave of interest in his Obama connections) the Conservatives are smart to do everything they can to get relations off to a positive early start.  

Something else to consider is that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is not only losing popularity with the Canadian public (not that he was ever very popular except for a few days at the beginning of the last election campaign), but he has also lost a great deal of respect from within his own party.  Most Conservatives I talk to are discusted by last November's partisan economic update and the crisis that followed.  Jim Prentice is one name that is getting passed around as a suitable replacement.  He's from the West, he's a Conservative, he's not nearly as partisan as Stephen Harper, and he looks better.  

I'm happy to see Ignatieff as Liberal leader, I'm tiring of Jack Layton in the NDP and wouldn't mind seeing someone fresh there as well.  I don't plan on voting Conservative, but if they had a more reasonable leader, I might consider it.  As for poor old Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc Quebecois, I like him well enough but I think his party is going to get back on the track that it was on before the sponsorship scandal, and that is a gradual sunset just like the Ralliement Créditiste before them.  

In closing, this could be Jim Prentice's real chance to shine.  He could look diplomatic, on the ball and outshine his crazy boss.  It could steal some spotlight away from Ignatieff, but Harper will probably hog all the light for himself, make it backfire and put another nail into his party's partially built coffin.  

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Violent crime "out of control".

According to this article in the Globe and Mail gang related shootings are quickly becoming a very serious problem in Vancouver.  Few could...

( I'm going to interrupt this for a moment to mention that as I was writing a series of explosives went off not far from my house, my first thought was, well this is ironic, but then I quickly realized it was fireworks.  Thais like to celebrate, especially in the country side and my apartment is almost literally on the limits of where city becomes country.  I can look to the right from my balcony and see city.  If I look left, I see country with all of the shanties, old style Thai bars, and lots of old Thai music.  It's fun living here because of the two worlds thing.  Anyway, the fireworks were nice.  Back on track)... 
Few could forget the shootings in Toronto over the last few years, like the guy just putting his fruit out to sell and was killed by a stray bullet.  American cities certainly know what horror gang violence can bring.  

What can be done?  If it would solve anything, I would advocate imposing the War Measures Act (I know, it's been softened but I'm sure it could be done) and rounding up everyone who might have the vaguest connection to a criminal gang and prosecuting to the fullest extent.  But, I don't think that would solve anything.  Punishment is not as much a deterrent to criminal groups as it is to generally law abiding people.  I don't steel because I think it's bad, but when I'm poor I would steel a little but I don't because I don't want to be punished.  If it was not illegal, I would justify taking a little of something from a store now and again.  But, for those who have joined a criminal syndicate or other organization, I don't think they really care so much about living within the bounds of law.  I don't think they think much about punishment.  Though, in Thailand the shoot first, ask later policy that was used a few years ago did seem to get rid of a lot of the drugs for a while.  Obviously that policy is just not going to fly in Canada, and I don't think anything less than that is going to be sufficient deterrent.  

That leaves us with the question of what can be done.  I think that we, as a country and we can include the U.S and a lot of other countries on this as well.  We as a society, Canadian, American, or whatever, have to evaluate what is going right and what is going wrong.   Why are young people falling into crime?  Why are murders happening in ever younger groups?  

I think these kids just don't feel engaged with society.  They don't feel that they are stake holders in the political and legal process.  They don't have strong connections with the greater community and they don't have the social structure and extended family support that Asians have.  Asian Canadian gangs have become a problem.  In their country of birth (or their parents birth) they had a place in society.  In Canada, they are living out the dream of their parents, but it's not their dream.  In short, they feel powerless and without a culture so they go out and join illegal groups and get all of those warm family feelings, and feelings of belonging from their gang.

I had an old psychology professor once (Dr. Charles F. Preston).  He was really one of the early psychologists  at the university of Toronto and he once commented to me that he believes some of the problems in Western society are caused by the lack of male to male affection.  I commented that it's viewed as homo-erotic in Canada for men to hold hands etc, and he replied "that's because Western society is sick".  I think he might be right.  

My mother blames it on the television.  She recalls how when she was young the people in the town would all get together to listen to the election on the radio...and continued to do so with the TV for the first number of years.  She recalled everyone sitting around the living room waiting to see if Diefenbaker would get back in.  Tough being a Tory in those years.  She told me about how differently people behaved towards their neighbours at that time.  Now, the last time I lived in Canada I could hardly imagine my street all having a common party.  If we were to, it would be slanted in a really Bree Van de Kamp  sort of way.  

Tony Blair was right (as always...when one doesn't take a stand either way, one is seldom very wrong), we need to fight crime and the causes of crime but I think the causes of crime are very complex.  

Jack Layton, I want a Divorce.

I never thought this day would come, but I am divorcing myself from the NDP for as long as they hold protectionist policies.  What I'm speaking of is Jack Layton's demands that the government put in place protections to assist/save our business.  Yes, it sounds good and sounds like something that would win support but it's absolutely the worst thing that could be done to the economy at this moment.  Perhaps (as former Liberal Minister of Finance, Paul Martin recently said) economic stimulus will not end the recession, but at least it will keep some aspects of the economy turning until things correct themselves.  That kind of intervention, I'm okay with (in theory, not necessarily with all of the expenditures themselves) but putting up tariffs to help our local business would backfire.

If we were to do so, there is every chance that the United States would respond in kind and they can afford to starve us out and there is little we could do about it.  Much of our history as country has been marked by trade relations with the United States.  As a country, we should know full well what U.S trade restrictions feel like to our economy.  Picture the softwood lumber issue magnified by a million and felt in every town and city in the country.  

I know that our overall trade with the U.S is dropping, yes indeed it has gone down from somewhere like 90% (nearly) to less than 80% (77% I recently read), but even if the trade with the U.S was only 10% of our total exports, it would cripple us if we were to face tariffs.  We simply cannot take any action that might result in a U.S retaliation.

Beyond that, open trade is good for business.  For those of you confused, the reasons that I'm against NAFTA, deep integration (SPP), the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank is not because I'm against open trade, but exactly because of it.  

NAFTA and the ongoing Security and Prosperity Partnership talks are instruments of U.S domination on the continent.  The WTO, IMF and WB are instruments of G 7 control over the rest of the planet.  These deals, frameworks and agencies are not instruments of free/fair trade and open borders, they are just as imperialistic as the Roman armies were.  

So, I believe that if markets were actually really open, the poor wouldn't be so poor.  Developing countries would be developing faster and non- developing countries (LDC level 4 and especially 5) would have started developing a long time ago.  How often do you see "made in Somalia" on a package?  Yes, we rape their land, take their produce for cheap (often through farms owned by a company based in a G-8 country (or China) and force their people into semi slavery.  Yes, their country does get a little money for the rape of their land, but not nearly as much as if they were allowed to sell manufactured products.  

In closing, I believe in fair trade.  It's good to have fewer trade barriers and protections.  There is a role for some protectionism for poor countries, certainly so.  But for Canada to impose a "Buy Canadian" Jack Layton scheme would, as Gordon Brown recently stated: would be "the road to ruin".  

I can't support a party with such a policy.  I might still vote for them, but I'm dropping the T-shirt (kidding, never had one).  

Monday, February 9, 2009

Section 13 of the Human Rights Act should be reviewed.

I just read in the Globe and Mail that the House of Commons Justice Committee is going to review section 13 of the Human Rights Act.  The act deals with hate messages.  There have been many suggestions that the Canadian Human Rights Commission has been overzealous in it's application of this law and some claim it is an infringement on free speech.

Opponents of section 13 (The governing Conservative party among them) claim that the sections in the Criminal Code on hate speech are more than sufficient and that the Human Rights Commission should not be covering hate speech at all.  They say there is plenty of protection in the Criminal Code and that this section 13 simply is overkill.

Other groups say that it isn't.  Namely the Canadian Jewish Congress.  They argue that more protection is better.  

Others, such as New Democratic Justice Critic Joe Comartin say that the section should be kept but he admits that the application of that section has been overzealous.  

My point of view is that we should review the legislation and how it is enforced to determine if we are striking a fair balance between freedom of expression and speech likely to incite violence.  The latter is covered convincingly under the Criminal Code (I don't have the section off the top of my head) but there is not a whole lot stopping hateful speech which is not likely to cause violence or incite genocide.  

On the one hand, I think society must have good values and there is a role for the justice system in ensuring that people are free from discrimination.  On the other hand, curtailing freedom of speech has to be treated with great caution.  So, I'm very much in favour of a Parliamentary review.  Reasonable non-partisans like Joe Comartin will help to ensure that it's done properly.  He is the guy who actually stood up for the Liberals a bit right before the last election because the Conservatives were lying, and Joe doesn't like lies even if they benefit his party.  

For your reading pleasure, I've included the section that is to be review.  For the full document from the Justice department, click here.

Hate messages

13. (1) It is a discriminatory practice for a person or a group of persons acting in concert to communicate telephonically or to cause to be so communicated, repeatedly, in whole or in part by means of the facilities of a telecommunication undertaking within the legislative authority of Parliament, any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.


(2) For greater certainty, subsection (1) applies in respect of a matter that is communicated by means of a computer or a group of interconnected or related computers, including the Internet, or any similar means of communication, but does not apply in respect of a matter that is communicated in whole or in part by means of the facilities of a broadcasting undertaking.


(3) For the purposes of this section, no owner or operator of a telecommunication undertaking communicates or causes to be communicated any matter described in subsection (1) by reason only that the facilities of a telecommunication undertaking owned or operated by that person are used by other persons for the transmission of that matter.

R.S., 1985, c. H-6, s. 13; 2001, c. 41, s. 88.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Barack Obama's Big Test

Whether or not he can successfully meet his own aims over the stimulus package will set the tone on Bararck Obama's presidency.  At least for the first few years of it.  The late night and Saturday negotiations between the President and the Senate will certainly test Obama's negotiating abilities and will have ramifications for his overall ability to lead.  He was perhaps correct when he said something about Republicans having lost the last election and therefore they should follow the Democrats, but the Republicans can't simply be expected to say "okay, you won we give up".  

I do wonder though about some aspects of this stimulus package.  Firstly, I think the $40 billion in aid to the states was too good to let go as they did.  I suppose though that the Democrat perspective would  be that if they didn't budge on that, they'd risk losing the package and that would be worse.  Though, why are they offering $650 million to help people to receive digital television signals through their old TV sets and a billion on fixing the 2010 census?  I know those sums aren't huge, but these little things add up and if they are in a stimulus package, they should stimulate, right?  How does the 2010 census, or digital cable signals in old television sets stimulate?  In fact, wouldn't it be better for the economy to encourage people to buy new TV sets rather than allow them to use their old one's?  I don't know, but that money would be better off going to states to allow them to meet their massive need.  

I don't think very many presidents have walked into such a mess and have had to take care of it so quickly after coming into office.  The economy could very well destroy Obama's Presidency, but a faster than expected recovery could also give him a great deal of credibility and influence that a President doesn't necessarily enjoy.  

He could end up completely isolating his base without winning support from others by extending so many olive branches, but he could also win draw in a great deal of support with those olive branches and extend his base.  I think he's either going to be regarded as a total flop or one of the greatest leaders in recent history.  I'm not sure if he'll have much room for squeezing somewhere into the mediocre range.  

Saturday, February 7, 2009

End of the Flag Wars: Quebec's looming engagement

Recently, Chantal Hébert, whom I believe to be one of the clearest political thinkers in the country (Canada) wrote in the Star (Toronto Star) that Michael Ignatieff would do well to avoid "flag wars" in Quebec as "(n)ot only is that a contest that sovereignists cannot lose but it is also a sideshow and it amounts to re-fighting a war when peace has broken out" (Star).   Hébert wrote that "When Ignatieff spoke of the strategic importance of the Alberta oil sands on a daylong visit to Montreal last month, I could not think of the last time a federal leader had spoken of Canada in Quebec, or at least done so outside the narrow confines of what more the federation could do for Quebecers" (Star).  So, that's good for Ignatieff and the Federal Liberal party, but it seems to me to be a very important development for Canada.

This got me wondering about just how Francophone Quebec views Canada and its place within Canada and what changes are occurring there that would explain the low pro-separatist support.  According to a friend of mine who is soon to be practicing law in Quebec, French speaking Quebecois really are taking a new look at Canada and beginning to become interested in Canada.  I'd say that this might be the start of something that we have not seen before.  

I don't think that there was ever a point in time in which Quebec had so many reasons to be upset, but yet is so positive in it's view of Canada.  That disastrous November Economic Update that nearly created a Dion lead coalition of the separatist Bloc, the semi-social Democrat NDP and the Liberals created a massive anti-Quebec sentiment in the Western part of the country.  Stephen Harper went out of his way to play up that resentment and bombed much of the last parts of a bridge that he still had leading him to the Quebec electoral promise land (and truly national party stature).  Yet, in spite of this, French Speaking Quebecers, a majority of them don't want to separate!  I know those numbers were from November, but still.  The point remains that more and more Quebecois are getting used to the idea of being in Canada.

I think that we might very well look back upon these days as the days were Quebec's full engagement with Canada began.  I'm really excited about this, not only because I'm from New Brunswick and would be geographically separated from most of Canada if Quebec were to separate, but because I think Quebec adds so much to the country.  Everywhere in the world that I go people point out that I live in "the French part" of the country and I get to tell them about New Brunswick and bilingualism and our peculiar neighbour Quebec.  I think it is cool (for lack of a better word) that Quebec is such a world onto itself and I think it is a shining example of how not every nation needs to be independent in order to feel happy and engaged as a true stakeholder in the process.  

I hope that we are moving past the days of handing out ceremonial carrots in order to appease Quebec and into the days where Quebec's place in the country (perhaps a Canada with a multi-national concept in place) is simply a given.  

For English Canada (of which I myself am a member) Quebec has done us a service as well.  We'd likely not have our own flag if it weren't for Quebec being unable to accept the old one, and something similar could be said about the anthem  Canada gains a lot from Quebec, and Quebec gains a lot being in Canada.  Perhaps soon when Quebecois look at the Canadian flag they will think of it more as their own, rather than the flag of the other.  

Friday, February 6, 2009

U.S Protectionist? Surely you jest.

Amidst my general state of confusion brought about from working five days and attending 7 hours of classes on the other two days, I have, from time to time actually peered out through my virtual window to see what is going on in the world.  Nothing there, time to shut the blinds.  Joking.  Actually, I've been watching the developments on the Buy American thing and the fear that it has created in Canada and in the U.S (among those who believe free markets are good) and I have to just say that a great deal of fuss is being made over something we already should know.  The U.S is going back to protectionism with stuff like Buy American.  It already is protectionist.

Wasn't it just a few years ago that Canadian companies challenged the U.S over something to do with wood and repeatedly lost? Wasn't NAFTA simply a tool to throw upon the Canadian market and get rid of the Canadian advantage in certain industries?  Canadian generic medication comes to one is is in favour of generic drugs, that's been one aspect of NAFTA I've been against.  Hasn't the U.S also used NAFTA to flood the Mexican market with grain?  Yes, all of this happened before the recent Buy American thing and all of it happened before the U.S supposedly "went back" to protectionism.

Dear reader, the U.S is protectionist.  It likes institutions like the World Bank and the IMF because they allow the U.S and friends to ride roughshod over the likes of the developing world.  They use international institutions and agencies to their own advantage.  They ignore international bodies when those same bodies do not create an advantage for them.  This is nothing new.  

I'm not against free trade deals in principle, but are deals like NAFTA worthy of the title "free"?  Are the instruments of Western domination (IMF, WB, WTO) really creating free and open markets or are they just perpetuating G8 hegemoney?  I argue the latter.  

So, when all is said and done, Barack Obama gets too look like a fighter.  Doris Day and Stephanie Harper get to look like real Canadian heroes and the rest is business as usual.  

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Should Ignatieff have allowed MPs to break ranks?

I'm just reading that Newfoundland Liberal MP's were given permission to break ranks and vote against Harper's budget because it "breaks a promise" to Newfoundland. Caucus discipline is important, but I think we've taken it too far. So, I'm in favour of his decision and remain a fan.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

WTO, IMF and others: Instruments of control?

Hello, sorry for the long delay in posting. Unfortunately that delay will continue into the next few weeks as I simply do not have enough time to work, study and blog everyday. So, I very much do want to find more time for blogging but for the moment I'm going to only try to blog ever few days or so and make it of some degree of quality if possible.

The only thing on my mind that is vaguely relevant that is not to do with Thai health care or HIV coverage (or about my grade 1, 2 and 3 students) is international monetary organizations such as the WTO, IMF, the World Bank and others. Question came up in my class last Sunday about whether or not these organizations are used to keep the developing world under the thumbs of the developed world. As the name of this blog came from a song written on the IMF, I thought it appropriate that I do comment on it, at least once.

It is my belief that these organizations are aware of the role that they play in keeping the poor poor. It is my opinion that these organizations and the world leaders who support them do so out of a power politics, realist desire to ensure the dominance of the Washington Consensus and to prevent other, dangerous systems or a change in the domination/sub ordinance world structure. China presents a real danger to the Washington consensus hegemoney because normally countries are too afraid of sanctions and having cash lines frozen to ignore the IMF and friends, but China doesn't rely upon western capital.

Okay, brief, rambling and full of errors, but that's all the time I've got now.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

President Obama's First Day

President (it's so nice to say that without putting "elect" in front of it) Barack Obama certainly waisted no time in changing the direction of the U.S federal administration. In contrast to the former president, President Obama today instructed the Washington bureaucracy to be more open to requests for information. He also included himself by stating that any requests for information that the President does not wish to release will be referred to the attorney-general and to the White House legal counsel who will determine whether or not the President is permitted to keep the requested information private.

President Bush and Vice-President Cheney (can we please use the prenomial ex, just this one time?) routinely invoked executive privilege when faced with requests from Congress, from the media or from agencies. Not so under President Obama (at least not today). In one of the many memoranda to come out of his office today, one stated "The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails"(Time). The President (I can't believe how much I suddenly like that word, I'm not even American) stated that "“Let me say it as simply as I can. Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency..." (The Globe and Mail). Contrast this to when Dick (Vader) Cheney once said that he "alone may determine what constitutes vice-presidential records or personal records" (Ibid.)

Well, hold my coat and give me a rock. The President is going to follow the law! Not as some loophole allows him to, but as it was actually intended to be! Imagine if Barack Obama actually lives up to what he set out today just on that matter alone. So, less secretive, that's one thing that President Obama got up to today.

The President's office was "was flooded" with calls from world leaders offering "best wishes" (L.A Times). The President also made a number of calls around the world. One of which, the very first call to come from the new president "stunned Palestinians and Israelis alike". '“We were not expecting such a quick call from President Obama, but we knew how serious he is about the Palestinian problem,' said a very excited Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior adviser to Mr. Abbas." (Globe and Mail, in a different article).

According to that article there is a great deal of excitement among Muslim nations that the U.S will begin moving in a new direction. Also excitement from the Christian world as Pope Benedict XVI told Obama to be "the promoter of peace and cooperation between nations"(IranVNC).

It's also expected that the President will close Guantanamo Bay prison soon. Some news sources are reporting that the order has already come, others are saying it is expected in a week or so.

So, I'd say that this day marks a promising beginning. That call to Palestine was exactly the right thing for him to do at that moment and his executive orders instantly signal a change in direction without actually having to do anything. The more substantive matters will certainly have to follow, but for a first day I give him an A+.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Polygamy is a very different matter

An article appearing in the online version of The Globe and Mail talks about gay marriage being used as a legal defence in the BC polygamy trial.

The basics are that a religious cult person by the name of Winston Blackmore is accused of having 19 wives. None of them are minors, but the point is more about whether or not these women really made a choice to be with him in marriage or not. So, in terms of law he broke the Parliament's current version of marriage which is a union between two people whether they be one man and one man, one man and one woman, or between two women, or even between two people with alternative genders. Gender doesn't matter so much now, but the number of people does matter.

Anyway, the Globe article states that experts on both sides of the "gay marriage" debate have anticipated that this could be used as a defence of polygamy. The article cites a political scientist who says that he doesn't think the argument will work as the legal view is that there is a restriction on the number of people who can be married to each other.

I don't really want to defend polygamy but I would like to separate this kind of polygamy from other sorts, just to be fair. Some time ago I watched some program (I think on Oprah) that had several polygamous families speaking about their lives (couldn't find the link, but did find this) The woman and men that Oprah brought on gave a very different impression of what polygamy can be. One of the women said that the current laws were written (in the U.S in this case) to prevent abuse of woman. She argued that the laws are not relevant to the happy union that she has with her husband and with his other wife. She claims it makes all sorts of personal and financial sense as they can share expenses and raise the children together. Also, she said that when she is tired, it's nice to be able to get the other wife to cook and look after their husband.

I don't want to come across as someone trying to push the marriage debate to extremes, but I can see the validity of the argument that these people are making. I can also see that this case in BC is nothing of the sort. What is happening among these extreme religious groups is, in my opinion abusive and I don't think that it should necessarily be put into the same category as what some of the guests on the Oprah show were talking about.

That leaves open the question of how to stop polygamy that is abusive if polygamy itself is legalized. That would be difficult, I think. Perhaps it is better to just leave it illegal but focus police efforts on cases that are believed to be abusive while ignoring situations that show no signs of abuse. Also, there is really nothing stopping three or more people from living together outside of legal marriage.

That argument could also be used against "equal marriage". One could say that "there is nothing stopping two men from living together and living like they are married without actually getting married". My answer to that would be that as a society we give men and women equal legal standing. As such, we have created a legal system where gender does not have much relevance. Therefore, if gender does not have legal relevance than there is no justification for not allowing two people of the same sex to enjoy all of the same legal protections, benefits and duties as those of opposite genders. Society does not view men and woman as being the same, and biologically speaking men and women are clearly different in many ways (not only anatomy), though most of these differences could likely be attributed to environment, some appear to be deeply ingrained (perhaps at the chromosomal level). Those factors though are not very relevant to law, and marriage is a legal matter. Of course there is a religious aspect to marriage, and marriage began as a religious matter (as did science and education), but marriage has long since entered into the world of legal contracts and as such, in our system, it should not be based on gender.

In conclusion, I think we shouldn't adjust polygamy laws unless we can find a way to ensure that we have the tools to deal with abusive religious cults. Also, I think that the "slippery slope" argument is flawed because our legal system doesn't recognize gender differences as being valid reason for discrimination, but does allow discrimination based on other factors. For example, I cannot practice medicine, not because of my sexual preferences, race, religion, language et cetera, but because I am not a medical doctor. I did not go to medical school therefore the state discriminates between myself and someone who is a doctor. The quantity and quality of education is a factor in employment and is entirely legal. I know this sounds so elementary, but I'm trying to get to my point which is that quantity and quality (that is to say the nature of something) are legally relevant. Who a person is is not as relevant as what a person can do. Likewise, contracts between two entities to the exclusion of others are a basic legal concept. Contracts between parties that I am not associated with, by necessity exclude me.

Two put it more simply; two is not one. Two people cannot be re-interpreted as three people. There is no slippery slope toward polygamy. To allow polygamy would be an entirely separate discussion from the one that already occurred (in Canada) regarding "gay/equal marriage". Perhaps that debate will happen at some point, but that in and of itself would require many years of a very different social and legal paradigm from the one that we have now. In our current paradigm, the differences between numbers of parties to a contract are significant...certainly more significant. Not that we do not allow for some personal discrimination based on some matters (such as legal age). I hope that some of this is making sense and that the careful reader can distill (through this very unorganized blog entry) what it is that I'm trying to say.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

How much change can Obama really bring?

It's been well noted that one of the biggest problems soon to be (in only a matter of hours now) President Barack Obama will face is the incredibly high expectations that people have for him. That being said, I think it is also easy to go the other way and to think that nothing will really change. Personally, I'm optimistic that he'll be able to get some good things done but I also realize that some of the expectations that people have are not entirely realistic.

The United States certainly has some very big problems that are not soon to go away. The U.S federal debt is one of those factors and in the current economic problems, it is not likely that major spending cuts or tax increases will happen anytime soon.

Another problem is that the President just doesn't have the power to do some of the things that need to be done. Congress needs to do what it is responsible for and many other problems occur within various agencies and within states. An example of that would be the problems in California. Years and years of ballot measures have tied the hands of the state's legislature and the governator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) himself has been struggling to get action to take on that state's approaching bankruptcy.

The U.S has not been well governed for some time time. I don't think it was really well governed during the Clinton years (though again some of the blame should be placed on Congress and State governments) and under Bush it was much worse.

The one area (and a very important area at that) where we are likely to see significant change is in the U.S foreign policy. The President has much more control over that and a new U.S approach will go a long way in winning over the hearts and minds of the world's people. Under Clinton, the U.S disengaged from much of the world (clearly evident here in Asia) and when the U.S did reengage under Bush, it was through invasion and coercion.

China has benefited greatly from what Joshua Kurlantzick refers to as a decline in U.S soft power in the region. China's system of government and corporatism allows it to make rapid decisions and take rapid actions that the U.S system simply doesn't allow for. Everyone knows that the U.S moves much more slowly than China, but many in Asia also fear a Chinese hegemony. A think a lot of people would start to warm back up to the U.S if the U.S actually dropped the "war on terror" bit. Think of it, if you are a government official in Cambodia and every meeting that you have with the U.S results in a request for your country to participate in some way, in some 'war on terror" that is nearly irrelevant to your country's problems, meanwhile there is a professional Chinese diplomat just down the hall who is ready to make trade deals and offer aid, who do you think you'd rather talk to? Add on top of that the fact that Chinese officials seem to know their jobs more than their American counterparts, and it's no mystery why China's image is far more positive than the U.S image in so many Asian countries.

Now, I don't mean to suggest that the U.S has become irrelevant. It most certainly has not, but it really has fallen far in just a decade and a half. Lots of Pew research that backs that up, but I'm too lazy to dig it up right now.

So, in the foreign policy realm I think we should expect a major change with Barack Obama. But, on the domestic side there will be a great deal of resistance from some quarters and we should think more of this being the beginning of a long road rather than the destination.

Monday, January 19, 2009

So, this is what deflation feels like.

I thought it was just my imagination, but I really think it's true. No one has any money! All of my friends are poorer now than they used to be. Some have lost jobs due to cutbacks resulting from the airports being seized by the PAD mobs, others have lost savings and investments on the stock markets. Than there are those, like this writer who have simply picked a bad time to change jobs. The feeling seems to be there on the street though. Everyone seems reluctant to buy. Prices seem to be dropping. Actually, some have dropped. The price of public transportation has recently gone back down to where it was a year ago or so. My university tuition has dropped considerably (and it's retroactive) and the going rate for private tuition also seems to be much lower than what it was a year ago.

So, this is what it is like to live in a period of deflation. I save on transportation costs, and tuition so in that way it's good for me. Also, a while back I bought some clothes...real name-brand stuff from a department store for cheaper than the fake stuff on the street! They were unsold items from the U.S. I don't think I've ever seen that before. Yes, the sales can be good at times but name brand stuff in obvious U.S sizes are not that easy to find at such a huge discount. I'm not a fan of American Eagle particularly, but I'm fairly sure that $5 for on of their shirts is a good deal And, the material is better than the usual $5 shirt so it will probably last me more than a month. I think I might be benefiting from the breakdown in the financial system.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Thai Navy accused of sending asylum seekers out to sea.

Front page of today's Bangkok paper, The Nation reported today that the Thai Navy is being accused of sending hundred's of ethnic minority Rohingya Muslims from Burma out to sea to die. India has been finding boatloads of half dead or dead people washing up on islands who claim that the Thai Navy stuck them on boats with only two days worth of food and water. It took these people two weeks to wash up on an island. Many died. Some reported that some were attacked by sharks.
"They said they were taken to an island off the Thai coast and beaten up before being forced into boats and pushed into the high seas," said Ranjit Narayan, a police official on India's remote Andaman and Nicobar islands.

Indian coast guard commander S.P. Sharma told AFP news that " We fear several hundred are still missing," coast guard commander S.P. Sharma told AFP. He said India had rescued 446 refugees from four boats since the end of December.

The Hong Kong Morning Post reports that 538 people are dead or reported missing. According to Sharma: "Some survivors also said their boat was towed out to sea by the Thai navy and given two sacks of boiled rice and two gallons of water before being abandoned in the middle of the sea," he said.

The Bangkok Post paper today reported some accounts of survivors
"We were tied up and put into a boat without an engine... we were then towed into the high seas by a motor boat and set adrift," a man named as Zaw Min said.

The BBC reported that amidst these allegations, the Thai Navy has detained more refugees. Thai military officials privately indicated to the BBC that they are worried of a "security risk".
Navy chief Khamthon Phumhiran denied the allegations, as reported by The Bangkok Post in this online article.
These allegations appear to be true, judging from the variety of sources reporting and the very clear pictures from reliable sources. My professor asked an important question today, which I will paraphrase. What was the purpose of sending them out on the ocean to die? From a public policy perspective, how does it make any sense? What were they thinking?
I hope that the Prime Minister, now in the South to meet Human rights groups, will properly deal with this.
It also makes me wonder if Thailand is purposely sabotaging it's image. I know that the government doesn't have a lot of control over some aspects of the country, but every item of news that comes out of Thailand these days seems to be painting a very negative picture. In this blog I've spoken of the Human Zoo, that being 18 refugees that have been accepted to move to New Zealand whom Thailand will not release because the tourists like to look at them. I've also talked about the lack of fire safely.
The big question mark really is the new Prime Minister. So far, I'm feeling very positive that he'll be able to clean up some of these human rights violations. At least he seems willing to hear about these problems whereas the previous "red shirts" generally dismissed them.

Updated numbers on HIV infection in Thailand

According to this article in The Bangkok Post, 1.2 million Thais contracted HIV between 1984 and September 2008. Of those 92,111 have already died. Included in the numbers of the infected include 10,728 government officers. 90% of the total number contracted HIV, the virus that can lead to AIDS, through sexual intercourse.

As I wrote earlier, the HIV infection rate in Thailand presents great challenges to the current government and a great deal of attention needs to be paid regarding how to provide anti-retroviral medications to all of these people, as Thailand currently does.

A topic of much debate (at least at my university) is regarding the overall health care system in Thailand. The government of Thaksin Shinawatra created a 30Baht (.90 cents U.S) universal health scheme. Many middle class Thais feel that they already pay way too much tax to a government that redistributes it disproportionately to the poor. I tend to disagree and personally am happy to pay tax here knowing that it is going to helping people who really have nothing.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Canadian Federal Budget 2009, Nationalization and Economic Nationalism

This is certainly a federal budget that is gaining a great deal of attention. Reason being that Canada's economy is suffering the effects of the world-wide economic breakdown and that the government of Stephen Harper is on very shakey ground. Since taking over the Liberal party leadership, Michael Ignatieff has been able to recover much of the Liberals lost territory and it now appears that they have a slight lead on the governing Conservatives. So, any response in this budget that is seen to be inadequate might be enough for the Liberals to justify taking Harper's government down. We'll have to see the budget first.

The Globe and Mail's Andrew Steele wrote an excellent entry on his suggestions for Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty. Steele states that the Canadian consensus that simply fixing old infrastructure will help is flawed. He states that it might even take more of the banks cash thus making them even more "tight-fisted" than what they are now. According to Steele, this will take even more cash away from cash starved Canadian business.

He suggests that Flaherty calls the head of the chartered banks (yes, there are only 5) into his office and tell them that he is going to create a $5 billion dollar loan guarantee fund. The government will secure 25% of it. If the banks don't hand out that cash by a fixed date than Flaherty should tell them that he will nationalize the banks and hand out the money himself. According to Steele "That will inject some money into the economy faster a speeding bullet. "

He's right. The Canadian banks were not allowed to take the risks that the U.S banks did and are now actually all profitable. Their desire for caution is good, but we are not going to get out of these problems by allowing the money supply to dry-up. If anything, I would argue that now is the time for the banks to extend themselves.

I would like to add to Steele's argument, though I'm sure he wouldn't agree with my next point. I think we should use the Canadian banks (threaten them with nationalization even) to promote Canadian economic interests. Think of how much we could end up owning that we didn't own before if the Canadian banks were to adopt some sort of Canadian business first policy. This could help Canadian companies to buy up pieces of foreign business operating in Canada at a discounted rate. Problem with this is though that that could anger our foreign partners and cause them to do similar things to our industries. Another question that would need to be addressed is how much do we actually still own and what is the number of Canadian companies that are operating abroad.

There might be an advantage, from a national perspective to having stable banks with money reserves backed up by the federal government at a time when many other banks are not so stable.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Rant on the economy

I've got this illness. I suppose it is called optimism. I tend to be optimistic to the point of being naive. So, when I look at the world-wide economic crisis I do see opportunity. Not that I think Harper should have said that this presents good buying opportunities for Canadians (even though he's actually right) but in that I think something really good is going to come out of all of this.

I think it is possible that we could develop a much nicer way of doing things in the future. The way things have been is not always an indicator of how things will become. I mean that though we have certain expectations and understandings of how economics run we have those ideas based only upon what we have seen in our short lives and not upon any other sort of higher power. We really have no idea what the future will hold and we are too frequently limiting what we expect is possible. Someone said that the difference between fiction and fact is that fiction has to be credible, or something along those lines. Who said that, anyone know?

Anyway, I think there is a chance that a new economic system could arise. That economic system could be more just than the one we have now. I think people are really angry at the simple fact that those who caused the economic problems are not suffering but the average person is. I think people are upset by this whole "privatize profits and subsidize losses" thing that we have been going with. I think the Washington consensus is quickly becoming part of history and that something new is going to take shape.

I don't think it's going to look anything like what the old Socialist systems looked like, but I think it might be a bit closer to what Marx prescribed than what Locke did. I can see the basic outline beginning to take shape and I think I would like to do some in depth research on this once things begin to settle a bit.

There is never any reason to think things are going to always stay the same and I think people should be aware that this economic situation could, and likely will have some benefits. It's hard to think like that when you can't pay the bills...I for one had a rough couple of months partly over the economic problems in Thailand and it seems to me that no one has any money here now, but this needed to happen. We've all been living in this sort of economic bubble and it had to break. There are interesting historical parallels that take into account the wealth of the average person and the overall strength of the economy.

One book I'd like to read soon is what Margaret Atwood recently wrote on debt. She is by no means an economist, but why should economics be only the realm of economists? Perhaps we need more art in economics.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Thailand's battle to provide for HIV patients

Sometimes good things happen under military appointed regimes. Take the case of Dr. Mongkol Na Songkhla (a minor royal here in Thailand). After the 2006 coup that took out the elected government of Thaksin Shinawatra, the Thai coup leaders installed a civilian government. No one really expected Dr. Mongkol to make many waves. He was, after all about as "establishment" as they come. He was a retired civil servant, a royal and was appointed as Minister of Health in a regime full of old time royalists and bureaucrats dubbed by the Thai media as the "Old Ginger" cabinet for it's "seasoned, staunchly conservative members, many of them unschooled in modern politics" (Simon Montlake: Thailand's IP Gamble).

A seat-warmer Dr. Mongkol would soon prove to not be. Not only did he preserve Thaksin's 30 baht (about a dollar) healthcare system for the poor, but he actually made it entirely free. Not ony did he do that, but he also fought for more funding for the program (though some of it was later removed). And, not only did he do those things but he also did something far more controversial.

Dr. Mongkol in November of 2006 ( I think) sent a letter to the Thai branch of Merck & Co. to tell them that their HIV drug, Efavirenz is "highly effective" but costs too much for Thailand to afford, so Thailand would break the patent and begin buying generic varieties produced in India. With this one letter, Dr. Mongkol began "war over the use of compulsory licenses" (Montlake).

According to the WTO, only 28% of the world's 7.1 million (as of 2006) HIV infected people in low and middle income countries are able to get the antiretroviral drugs that they so desperately need. Thailand is unusual in that everyone who needs them, gets them...for free. The number of Thais on antiretroviral medication was at 100,000 in 2006 (sorry that I don't have any more recent numbers...I'll look around in the next few days to see if I can find some figures for last year) and the number is expected to increase as more people become ill from HIV.

The problem that Dr. Mongkol took on was that the bill for these drugs was so high that at some point it might have become impossible to provide all of the medication required by the infected. first-line antiretrovirals such as Efavirenz are expensive but as time passes HIV infected patients may require second-line (and highly expensive) medications such as Kaletra. The latter, sold by Abbott's negotiated a deal to provide a year's worth of medication for Thai patients at the discounted price of $1,000 per year.

According to Simon Montlakes article, The World Bank has already concluded that Thailand's provision of antiretrovirals has had a positive economic impact as breadwinners are able to keep providing for their families for much, much longer while doing so more productively.
Importance of treatment

Without treatment, 9 out of 10 infected people survive for 10-15 years. With optimal treatment, that number balloons to 32 years. So, yes HIV research has had amazing results and it is realistic to expect a cure. It is also clearly important, economically speaking, to provide these antiretrovirals.

Going beyond what is simply economic, we should also think about the human side of this. The suffering that HIV infected people endure is high. They are often socially isolated, depressed and too sick to look after their families. The progression to full blown AIDS can sometimes happen very quickly (without proper treatment) and, well you only have to do a quick web search to see how these people live.

Those with HIV here in Thailand should be thankful that Dr. Mongkol Na Songkta didn't think of himself as just an interim Minister, but instead took action that will help ensure that everyone who needs these pills is able to get them.

For me, this is personal. I have a number of friends who are HIV positive and at least they know that they can get the medication that they need. For just a moment, try to imagine going for a test and finding out you are HIV positive. Just picture yourself suddenly finding that out. Think of your families, think of your friends, think of the people you've had sex with. Now imagine finding this out and also knowing that you have absolutely no financial means and that you have a family that will starve if you can't go out and earn money. Imagine that you have no means to buy these pills that will keep your family from starving and that you might only have a few years before you can no longer work. What do you do? Where do you go? Who do you turn to? In many countries, you have no one to turn to. You have no help. So, for countries that do provide this help, they are indeed doing something really admirable.

Sometimes good things do happen from military appointed regimes.