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 mind...as 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.