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Friday, August 13, 2004

George W Bush and the Big Lie on Iraq

“We were given these ideas that there were weapons of mass destruction...It was just a lie. That wasn't a proper use of American troops. It wasn't a proper use of my life, or my friends' lives, or the marines who I've seen die around me." –Lee Buttrill, Veteran, U.S. Marines”

“…in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily, and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation…” - Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf

Okay I admit it, I got duped. Like CIA Director George Tenet I thought it would be a “slam dunk” that the Americans would find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The fact is that Saddam Hussein did use chemical weapons in his war with Iran and he did gas thousands of his own citizens after the first Gulf War.

I even remember when twenty or so years ago the Israelis launched an air strike to destroy the nuclear power station that Iraq was building near Baghdad because they were convinced that Saddam would use the facility to build nuclear weapons.

Although the Iraq Baath Party that Saddam Hussein led owes its genesis to those Arabs who sympathized with the Nazis during the Second World War, Saddam’s personal role model was Joseph Stalin.

Like Stalin, Hussein is a sociopath who was quite willing to imprison, torture and murder millions of his own citizens in order to maintain a firm grip on power. Saddam’s sons were even worse. So to tell you the truth I was pleased to see the American forces send those two evil creatures to an early grave.

The trouble is that in pursuing an agenda that likely had more to do with payback on Saddam Hussein’s attempt to assassinate George Bush Sr. when he visited Kuwait, than any pressing security threat, George W. has done more to aid than hurt Osama Bin Laden.

The Big Lie that George W’s administration has continued to perpetuate to the American people is that Saddam Hussein was in league with Osama Bin Laden. The fact is that Osama Bin Laden hated Saddam Hussein because Saddam was the leader of a secular party and established a brutal dictatorship rather than the brutal Islamic theocracy Osama and his followers dream of.

Having Osama in league with Saddam would be as unlikely as having George W. in league with the ACLU. And speaking of civil liberties I have been deeply troubled by the increasingly anti-democratic rhetoric and actions coming out of the Bush administration.

In July Newsweek reported that Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge had asked the Justice Department to examine what legal steps would be needed in order to postpone the November 2nd Presidential election in the event of a terrorist attack.

Let’s keep in mind that the United States had a Presidential election in the middle of their Civil War when the outcome of that conflict was still very much in doubt. Also during the middle of the United States’ involvement in the Second World War a US Presidential election was held. In both instances the incumbent President (Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, respectively) were re-elected.

If, god forbid, another terrorist attack does occur and George W. does cancel or postpone the Presidential elections then the terrorists truly will have won. That the Bush administration would even consider such a move shows how shallow their democratic values truly are. But then again even a cursory glance of the so called US Patriot Act would tell you that.

It is too bad that the religious right that now holds such sway over the Republican Party could not bring themselves four years ago to nominate Senator John McCain. But McCain was just a war hero whereas George W. was a party hearty frat boy who had sobered up and found god. So frat boy got the nomination and he was what the United States was stuck with as a Commander in Chief when 9/11 happened.

In terms of the upcoming Presidential elections this time it is the American people and not just the Republican Party who get to choose between another Vietnam War Veteran, Senator John Kerry, and the incumbent Texan who all too often has come across as all hat and no cattle. It will be interesting to see if this time it is actually the US people rather than the US Supreme Court that gets to decide the outcome.

Closer to home I was extremely pleased to see our own Prime Minister Paul Martin taking a trip up north to demonstrate that Canada does in fact extend to the Arctic Ocean. Now if only his government can scrape together enough money from the paper clip allocation budget in order to land a few troops on Hans Island and plant the Canadian flag there.

And if the Danes have the temerity to protest then I say we rename the Danish we buy at Tim Horton’s “freedom buns” and start tossing them at the Danish consulates. Or if the Danes get really uppity and land their own troops again on Hans Island we should fly a squadron of Sea King Helicopters over them.

The Danes know those damn things could drop out of the sky at any minute and will be running for cover less they get hit by the falling debris. Or as a good little vassal state that has utterly abdicated its responsibilities to provide for its own national defense, we could remind our American big brother of the Monroe doctrine and get them to tell the Danes to bugger off.

Of course it was not that many decades ago when no European Power would have dared pulled such a stunt against Canada. During both World Wars German troops learned to fear the tough as nails Canadian farm boys that knew how to shoot to kill and live off the land. But those tough as nails farm boys are now few and far between, so I’m sure we’ll just pucker up our courage and prepare a briefing note and a legal submission and fire it at some international tribunal while the Danes marvel at what a nation of urbanized sissies we have become.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Indecision 2004 in Canada

Based on the fawning coverage by the CBC on election night, you would have thought that Jack Layton won the election. When Jack gave his victory speech the numbers showed 23 NDP MPs elected. Hardly a record for the NDP, but it did at that point clearly leave the NDP holding the balance of power. “Now we’ll find out how Paul Martin actually feels about proportional representation,” crowed an exultant Layton.

But for once it paid for the rest of Canada to stay up late and watch the final returns come in from BC, because when the dust had settled the NDP had slumped back to just 19 seats. Fueled on by a very strong showing in Atlantic Canada and Ontario and modest gains in BC, the federal Liberals elected 135 seats. In fact if not for the resurgence of the BQ in Quebec, who elected 54 MPs, the Liberals would have easily romped to another majority government.

The Conservatives meanwhile have nothing to be ashamed about. Seven months ago they weren’t even a contender and on election night they elected 99 MPs. It is perhaps possible to say they elected 100 MPs when you count the fact that former Alliance MP Chuck Cadman, who lost his Tory nomination to an upstart interloper, romped to a first place victory as an independent while the interloper finished fourth behind both the Liberals and NDP.

If this election was about anything it was about fear versus anger. Anger got the support of people who were mad at Liberal waste and corruption, sick of paying too much in taxes, mad at the multi-billion dollar boondoggle called Canada’s gun registry program, appalled at candidates who play the race card to knock off popular incumbent MPs, and infuriated about growing surgical wait lists. Fear got the support of people who were afraid of change, afraid of Randy White’s asinine comments and the Conservative Party’s “secret agenda” and afraid that a change in government might make our crumbling public health care system even worse.

So when all the votes had been counted, Fear elected 154 MPs and Anger also elected 154 MPs. So not only do we have a minority government we have a hung parliament. Although the Liberals will govern as if they have a majority, they will for the first time in almost 30 years actually have to pay attention to the views of other parliamentarians especially that of now Independent MP Chuck Cadman. It should make for a very interesting year or two in federal politics and who knows we may even have some good governance come out of it.

Another point I want to touch on is the fact that this election, despite being a close race saw another decline in voter turn out. Only 60.5% of eligible Canadians bothered to cast a ballot. Voter participation rates amongst young people were particularly low. All the aging baby boomers out there will of course tut tut about how apathetic young people are today, but those aging boomers are wrong.

That fact is that young people today are very politically active, but unlike their boomer grandparents they are not politically naive. They know that Ottawa is politically irrelevant not just on the world stage but locally as well. How can anyone get excited about electing a bunch of politicians whose main job is to rubber stamp whatever the Prime Ministers Office decides and most of those decisions only serve to further empower a bunch of passive aggressive bureaucrats.

I mean I could barely bring myself to vote and I did more out of habit than any sense of enthusiasm. The only reason my wife voted was because our kids wanted to tag along to the polling station see what all the fuss was about. So more out of a sense of parental obligation than any sense of civic duty we did our bit for democracy and marked our ballots.

So where are the young people today? Well many of them are at the movies. But not just any movie they are lined up to see Fahrenheit 9/11. After the election I snuck off to the pictures to see Michael Moore’s latest in your face documentary and I was stunned to see that the audience was full of young men and woman all between the ages of 18 and 22. The number of people in that audience who were over age 30 I would estimate at less than 5%.

Most shocking of all these young people were not the earnest Birkenstock clad people that we saw ten years ago climbing trees to try and shut down BC’s logging industry. These were instead your every day disaffected, party hearty youth. For example the young woman sitting behind me was a self-described “Coors Whore” who makes $100 a day parading around in a Coors Beer Bikini handing out cans of beer to leering males at golf tournaments.

The three guys sitting next to her were also chatting away about the last golf tournament they had been at where they got drunk on Crown Royal when they found out the free beer at that particular tournament was limited to only one person each. Another nubile young woman sitting in the same row as me then turned around recognized one of the guys and in a matter of minutes had got his phone number, promptly stored it on her cell phone and talked about “hooking up” for Canada Day.

So besides feeling really, really old and wishing I had been born in 1985 instead of 1965 I was impressed. Here are everyday young people and they are closely watching what is going on in the world, especially what is happening in the United States. In other words they are paying attention to what is important and relevant and when it comes to world affairs they have correctly surmised that Ottawa is utterly irrelevant and unimportant.

Even Canada’s once vaunted role as an international peacekeeper has now deteriorated to that of a pathetic joke and our young people know it. For those that lament the fact that very few young men and women are willing to join the Canadian Armed Forces my response is, the rest of us in Canada don’t make our military a priority so why should they?

In Canada we are constantly searching for our national character. Well one character trait I would submit we Canadians have in abundance is that of being one of the most passive aggressive nations in the Western World. Our government bureaucracies exemplify that character trait and we carry it out as policy when we sneer at the United States and yet blithely expect them to provide our national security for us.

For anyone who goes to see Fahrenheit 9/11 and I strongly recommend that all of you do, you should start to understand why leaving our security in the hands of the country we so love to feel so superior to may not be in our own best interests. Because whether you agree or disagree with Michael Moore’s selective take on the Bush administration you leave the theatre with a sense that it is certainly not wise to leave the fate of our nation in the hands of people in Washington.

If one day, when pigs fly, we ever do elect a government that undertakes some real parliamentary reform, a top to bottom house cleaning of the federal civil service and the re-establishment of a viable Canadian military, Ottawa will once again become relevant and Canada may actually restore both its sovereignty and credibility on the world stage.

But meanwhile this summer I’m busy playing golf and asking the nice young lady in the Coors swimsuit to pass me another beer while she gives me her take on why George Bush’s foreign policy has gone so disastrously wrong.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

HEU strike a sympton of Canada's collapsing health care system

Canada’s health care system is not only sick, it is dying. More specifically it is dying of old age. The problem is particularly acute here in B.C.

Having travelled to every province in Canada as well as the Yukon, when it comes to having a benign climate nothing beats beautiful British Columbia. Believe me anyone who has lived in Manitoba knows they only have two seasons, with one being hot and infested with mosquitoes and the other being bitterly cold and marked by blizzards.

Ever spent a summer in Toronto? The muggy air makes you feel like someone dipped a rag in a bog and then wiped it across your face. As for Newfoundland it has lots of character but thanks to the salt laden Atlantic gales you can measure the life expectancy of your vehicle in months rather than years.

So when it comes time to retire nothing beats good old B.C. The problem is that many of the fine elderly folk retiring here spent all their healthy working years paying taxes to some other province but are now using up far more in health care services than they contribute each year in taxes. A fact which the Government of Canada makes absolutely no allowance for when it calculates transfer payments to the provinces.

And lest anyone accuse me of granny bashing let me mention that my dear sweet mother is 78 and lives in Penticton. I have nothing against old people; in fact I very much hope I live long enough to be one myself. But here’s the problem, an 18 year old costs BC’s health care system on average $800 per year, while an 80 year old costs the BC health care system on average $21,000 per year.

Now guess what is that fastest growing sector of BC’s population? That’s right, it is people aged 80 and above. Now add to this trend the fact that the front end of the demographic bulge called the baby boom are now approaching their retirement years and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the demands being placed on our public health care system are rapidly outstripping our collective ability as taxpayers to pay for it.

Let me put it another way, right now 40 cents of every dollar the provincial government spends is on health care.

Within 10 years it will be 50 cents and if current trends continue by 2030 it will be 100 cents. That means no money for road maintenance, no money for public schools, no money for anything other than health care. Of course long before then or health care system will have collapsed. In fact it is in the process of doing that right now. Oh and for all those who want to stick their head in the sand and believe that it’s all Gordon Campbell’s fault, let me remind you of the following: one of the first things the Gordon Campbell government did was put an extra billion dollars into BC’s health care system.

That’s right if good old Glen Clark were re-elected, the health care system would have a billion dollars less money in it. So why didn’t this extra billion dollars shorten surgery waiting lists, well mostly because it was promptly hoovered up by doctors and nurses in the form of fee and wage rate increases.

Now I’m not saying that the doctors and nurses didn’t deserve these increases, I’m just saying you might want to remember that the next time a doctor informs you that you will have to wait 14 months for your hip replacement and starts blaming the government.

But the rationale that led to the doctors and nurses receiving more money has also directly led to members of the Hospital Employees Union getting a 15% wage cut. In both instances these wage adjustments occurred in order to put them in line with what the going rate is in the private sector.

I have a lot of sympathy for the single mother who works as a janitor or kitchen worker who must now try to struggle by on 15% less take home pay or worse yet now finds herself unemployed because their job has been contracted out. But with the health care system in the midst of collapse, there simply is no room to pay lower skilled workers anything significantly above the going market rate.

The sad fact is that this collapse of our public health care system will continue regardless of who wins the next provincial election. It will also continue regardless of who wins the current federal election.

So is there anything, short of some draconian “Soylent Green” solution that will save Canada’s health care system? Well yes there is. First of all, notwithstanding the Bill Clintonesque denials by nearly all federal and provincial politicians the fact is that Canada does have a burgeoning private health care system. If you have a WCB claim and need surgery you will get it in weeks through a private facility while the rest of us wait months or even years. If you are wealthy or sufficiently desperate you can also make use of the increasing number of private surgical facilities that are being established in the Lower mainland.

So the first step towards saving Canada’s public health care system is joining the rest of the western world and allowing for the full development of a parallel private health care system. Right away that gets all the rich out of the queue and all of us less affluent folk get to move up by at least a few thousand spaces.

The second step is overhauling Canada’s immigration system and actively recruiting skilled and healthy young people to move to Canada. Whether they come from Latin America, Asia or India we need as many young people who are going to work, invest and pay oodles of taxes that will help prop up our public health care system and keep all the aging boomers as well as us Generation Xers feeling groovy well into our golden years.

The third and final thing we need to do is get serious and start focussing on economic growth. The raging grannies here in Victoria love to rage against things like offshore oil exploration and clear cut logging but they rage even louder when they find out that they have to wait over a year for a hip replacement. The two things are connected, no economic growth, no tax revenue growth. No tax revenue growth, no additional funds available to spend on health care.

But the NDPers amongst you will say, “but all we need to do is raise taxes.” Okay now if you actually think that this approach would work take your right hand and give yourself a good hard slap up the side of the head. If you drive up taxes you drive away investment, and as you drive away investment you increase unemployment and thus reduce overall tax revenue.

So to sum up, if you don’t want to see your mother or yourself sitting in a hospital broom closet when you are sick or injured you need to demand three things from your federal and provincial politicians:
1. Amend the Canada Health Act to allow Canada’s private health care system to fully develop.
2. Increase immigration and focus primarily on skilled (i.e. readily employable) young people.
3. Make economic growth and investment a top priority.

Please note that this column was originally posted at Medical News Today