Monday, June 27, 2005

China in turmoil (continued)

Part three of Tony Perkin’s excellent series on China’s growing pains and the challenges it faces adapting to the economic and political transformation it is undergoing has now been posted.

You can read my first post on the series here. In part three, Perkins completes his list of China’s seven sins.

Sin #5 National Religion

Non-state-sanctioned religious worship is outlawed in China. Unlike the Soviets, however, the Communist Party doesn’t try to completely wipe out religious denominations. It nationalizes them instead.


Religious freedom is a society’s most basic human right. Any truly open and free society allows for religiously informed moral argument in public debate, or severs itself from thousands years of developed wisdom and culture. The best way to kill the spirit of a people and rob them of their culture is to outlaw or confiscate their religion.

Remember Tibet? Or how about the Falun Gong?

Sin #6 The One-Child Depopulation Strategy

Forced abortions are common. Also, sons tend to be more highly valued than daughters, and female infanticide has become prevalent, especially in rural China where government offi cials rarely take action against offenders. This female infanticide then creates a scarcity of women, so when Chinese men reach marrying age, they often turn to purchasing wives from slave-traders who traffic in women from throughout Asia (especially Vietnam).

We object to the one-child policy because it robs Chinese families and society from the very elemental choice to participate in the creation of future generations at the level that their spirits and hearts desire.

This policy also ensures a ready supply of Chinese babies for adoption by childless Canadian couples.

Sin #7 Internet Censorship

It would be strange enough to live in a country of state-controlled media outlets that painted only the best possible picture of its governmental leaders, but it would be completely outrageous to live in a country that completely controlled how you used and what you could find on the internet.

Apparently, Perkins has no experience with the media in Canada. But at least the Canadian government has not yet tried to control our internet surfing. Still, it would not surprise me if the CRTC is working on it.

A pox on both your houses

Norman Spector’s column in the Globe and Mail today notes that after taking a closer look at our leaders, Canadians may decide that neither Stephen Harper nor Paul Martin deserve to win the next election.

In the Prime Minister, notwithstanding high expectations that preceded him for a decade, we find there's no there, there — just a chequebook in search of a headline. The principal reason Mr. Martin wanted Jean Chrétien's job so badly, it appears, is that he badly wanted Jean Chrétien's job.


Yet, even Mr. Martin's mantra in the wake of the Supreme Court decision on Canadians' No. 1 priority — “We're not going to have a two-tier health-care system in this country” — provoked barely a ripple in the media pond. One CBC talking head rebuked a Conservative for mentioning that Mr. Martin's physician runs private clinics, observing that the Prime Minister, too, pays with his medicare card — one reason two-tier health care is surging in Canada, and it certainly is not the solution.

To capture the essence of Mr. Martin's rhetoric, you have to refer to Harry G. Frankfurt, emeritus professor of philosophy at Princeton University. “On Bullshit,” a reprint of an academic paper the eminent professor Frankfurt wrote nearly 20 years ago, is a hit of the U.S. publishing season.


“For most people, the fact that a statement is false constitutes a reason ... not to make the statement. For St. Augustine's pure liar, it is ... a reason for making it. For the bullshitter, it is in itself neither a reason in favour nor a reason against. ... The bullshitter ... does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does ... he pays no attention to it at all.”

Mr. Harper's mistake was to have gotten caught up in the strategies and tactics of Parliament Hill. From the minute he mistook that superheated atmosphere for the real country, he was on his own agenda, not the voters'.

Sadly for Mr. Harper, he had been making some progress in increasing Canadians' comfort level with him and with his party's policies. However, instead of patiently continuing to hit singles, he swung for the fences and struck out, as sometimes happens.

So it comes down to this: in the next election Canadians must choose between a bullshitter and a strike-out king.

Making the grade at Comfy Fur U

Lorrie Goldstein’s Paul Martin For Dummies test helps Comfy Fur University students clarify where Paul Martin stands on the issues.

Here’s a sample question:

When Paul Martin voted in favour of the following motion in Parliament, "That, in the opinion of this House, it is necessary, in light of the public debate about recent court decisions, to state that marriage is and should remain the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, and that Parliament will take all necessary steps to preserve this definition of marriage in Canada," did he mean that:

(a) Marriage is the union of one man and one woman?

(b) Marriage is the union of one man and one woman, unless I have my fingers crossed?

(c) "Marriage" is such a vague term?

(d) What motion?
As Goldstein says, "Don't worry...there are no wrong answers."

h/t: Bourque Newswatch

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Experimenting with Blogger

This is a test to see how Blogger works. Sorry about the colours, but I am having a hell of a time editing the Blogger template.

I already have a blog called Random Notes. The service I use for that blog does have its shortcomings.

I have been moving over some of my recent posts. If I like this test, I will probably switch over.

Update: It's a go. I will be using this blog from now on.

Friday, June 24, 2005

China in turmoil?

Tony Perkins at Always On reflects on the rapid transformation of China and enumerates the seven sins which threaten peasant revolution and heighten risk for foreign investors.

In part one and part two of a three part series, he outlines the following sins:

Sin #1 Corporate and State Corruption and Thievery

Corruption is pervasive in China. Many state-owned companies have simply been stripped clean. In 2003 alone, officials said that the equivalent of nearly $8 billion was pilfered from state-owned enterprises.


Something is not right when a public market declines while GDP is exploding at 9.5%. The nation’s glaring cases of fraud, bribery, and embezzlement are also badly hindering the development of the China’s banking and financialsystems, which desperately need to be modernized for China to become a full-fledged economic superpower.

Sin #2 Weak Regulation and Inconsistent Legal Systems

Weak regulation and oversight, deep-seated government corruption, and poor risk-management practices are allowing fraud artists and looters to run off long before the investigators show up.


The “rule of law” concept, which in America includes ideas like criminal defense, runs contrary to China’s authoritarian roots.

Sin #3 Pirating Intellectual Property

Infringement of intellectual property has been rampant in China for many years. The International Intellectual Property Alliance in Washington states that about 95% of the DVDs sold in China are illegal copies. The latest Star Wars movie is already available on the streets of China for as low as 96 cents. Sellers do not even try to hide their trade, openly flaunting their wares in well-stocked storefronts. Steve Jobs tells a story of begging then-chief of Disney Michael Eisner to distribute and sell Jobs’s Pixar films in China for $1.00 a copy. “At least we would make some money,” Jobs said with exasperation.


It is a sad truth that media and software piracy is so entrenched in Chinese culture that it doesn’t feel like stealing. But it is, and as long as proper laws and IP enforcement mechanisms are absent, many foreign companies will remain reluctant to invest in China.

It is rather revealing, though, that Steve Jobs, once again, proposes a practical solution to the problem in contrast to the general intransigence of the media to changing their business models to adapt to the digital age.

Sin #4 China’s Bleak Environmental Outlook

In downtown Shanghai, the smog is sometimes so thick you can’t make out the building across the street. A World Bank report says that today, China is home to seven of the world’s 10 most polluted cities. In China’s heartland, the Yellow River, once known as the cradle of Chinese civilization, has in some areas been reduced to a trickle. According to the United Nations Development Program, for some 980 million Chinese, their main supply of drinking water is at least partially polluted.


The World Bank estimates that air pollution alone costs the Chinese economy $25 billion in health-care costs and lost working hours. It is also estimated that 8 to 10% of China’s GDP is offset by environmental damage. These rising costs, and the pilfering of natural resources, threaten to cancel out China’s future economic gains.

With part three yet to come, it has thus far been a very interesting read. I highly recommend the series.

In this age of globalization, low-cost Chinese production is integral to the economic activities of the western economies. Any disruption in China could have a profound impact on the global economy. For example, most consumer electronics products, as well as electronic components, are manufactured in China. Trouble in China could result to great turmoil in the global electronics industry and all that depend on it.

Consequently, it is of great concern as to how China deals with issues such as working conditions, child labour, environmental degradation, human rights, property rights, etc. China’s ability to responsibly and effectively cope with its growing pains affects us all.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The fur is starting to fly

Earlier today I left the following comment in response to Warren Kinsella respects Stephen Harper at Reasonable and Right:

Kinsella will always be a Liberal, but never a Martin Liberal.

The real story here is the underlying conflict within the Liberal Party. While we see fabricated stories about dumping Harper, there is a civil war going on in the Liberal Party.

The likes of Kinsella, Sheila Copps and Justin Trudeau are hoping that Martin loses the next election, so they can come out in the open and dump him. Giving advice (and it is good advice) to Harper is part of this plan. This [is] a struggle for control between the Chretien/Trudeau wing of the party and the Martinites.

Does the media pick up on this? Not a chance.

Of course we all know about Warren’s distaste for the Martin gang. But later I surfed over to Cherniak on Politics and read his piece The Board needs a shakeup, which is highly critical of the people surrounding Martin.

All that nice comfy fur really starts to fly when you get to the comments, with none other than Warren K leading them off. Evidently a lot of Liberals are not happy with Martin and his gang. What is it going to take for the MSM to run with this story – an open declaration of war?

The CPC and universal health care

Andrew at Bound By Gravity notes that the Conservatives have thus far been largely silent in the health care debate. Unfortunately, he suggests that you “[c]all Stephen Harper's office today and tell him that you're sick of the single tier medicare system, and that you want to hear the Conservative solution to our health care woes.”

In my view, the Conservatives should be vociferously supporting universal health care, not two-tier health care. Andrew is right, though, in arguing that the worst thing they can do is keep quiet. Ideally, the Conservatives should be talking about how they will make sure that all Canadians get the health care they need.

The fact that private health care is now an attractive option speaks to how the current system has been mismanaged and nothing more. While private care provides an important safety valve, it is not the answer to our problems.

There is a fundamental advantage to having a single-payer, universal health insurance system. The advantage is economic and moral.

Nonetheless, we should not preclude private options for those who so choose, but they must pay the full shot as do parents who choose to send their children to private schools (with the exception of Quebec which subsidizes private schools). I would add that doctors, who get much of their training at public expense, should also reimburse the government for the full costs of their training if they opt out of the public insurance system.

That said, the system we have now is clearly unsustainable. We need to explore other health care options. In particular, we must question the de facto monopoly public institutions have with respect to health care delivery. I believe we could realize significant economies with open competition between public and private providers for these services. No one would argue that a doctor in private practice is any worse or less efficient than a doctor in a public clinic. Similarly, why not encourage a little competition from the private sector for procedures such as hip replacements to keep the public sector honest?

Unfortunately, health care is a very emotional subject. While there are many things to discuss (nurse practitioners, co-payments, user fees, private medical accounts, etc.), the fact that it is a provincial jurisdiction is a possible reason for the federal Conservatives to steer clear of the debate. In reality, given the significant federal presence in funding the health care system, it is a debate that they cannot avoid without arousing very real suspicions about the CPC agenda.

In supporting universal health care, such suspicions about the Conservatives would be partly allayed. While it may not be necessary to get into the nuts and bolts of possible reforms, Canadians need to be reassured that they will get the health care they need under a Conservative government. Staying silent is the worst thing they can do.

Get out your credit cards

Private health care in Canada is now out of the closet. The highest standard of private medical care is now available to ordinary Canadians, at least to those who can pay for it.

For example, Paul “Two-tier” Martin has long received his medical care at a private clinic run by Medisys in Montreal. The company operates executive health clinics in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver, as well as more than a dozen medical imaging clinics.

Now that the genie is out of the bottle, we can expect to see a higher profile for private clinics and diagnostic services in the months ahead. Already, they are beginning to make their pitch directly to the public for new business.

Just the other day, Ville Marie PET/CT Centre placed an advertisement on page three in the Montreal Gazette. Unwittingly, the Gazette supplied the endorsement used by the company on its web page from an article published earlier this year:

“This is a matter of life and death. I’m not rolling in money, but why wait three months when you can have the PET scan done privately the next day?”

Unless Paul “It’s the charter stupid” Martin plans on using the notwithstanding clause to override the Supreme Court, there is no stuffing this genie back in the bottle.

Tombstone image generated at Tombstone Generator.
Hat tip: Warren K.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Help elect the next Parti Quebecois leader

Montreal Gazette columnist Don MacPherson raises the possibility of a federalist takeover of the Parti Québecois.

The next leader of the PQ will be elected by a vote of all its members. And it's easy to join; it costs only $5, and you can (sign up on the PQ's Web site ( or download a mail-in membership form.

Membership is open to anyone over the age of 16. You don't even have to be a Quebec resident, and you need to understand only enough French to fill out the membership form.

And there's no way the PQ could stop federalists from joining – or a federalist candidate from running for the leadership.

In fact, the last time the PQ elected its leader by a vote of its members, in 1985, some Pequistes worried about just such a possible infiltration of their party by federalists.

The more legitimate candidates there are to split the vote of the real sovereignists in the PQ, the more it becomes possible for a federalist candidate supported by a block of federalist "instant Pequistes" to slip up the middle.

If I put my name in the ring, can I count on your support?

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Fed pot a bust

Despite Canada’s international reputation for growing some of the most potent pot on the planet, CTV reports the federal government cannot quite get the hang of it.
In 2001, Ottawa awarded a company called Prairie Plant Systems an experimental contract to grow pot in the old mine shaft. The program was launched with a beaming Allan Rock, then the federal health minister, touring the facility.

"It's a great operation," Rock said at the time.

But four years, and $24 million worth of taxpayers' money later, critics say Ottawa's experiment in medicinal marijuana has been a disaster.

In that time, the federal program has harvested about 1,800 kilos of pot. Almost half of that is not up to standard for human consumption, according to Health Canada. So the unmarketable pot is sitting on ice, with your tax dollars being used to study the "long term stability of the product under storage conditions."

In the meantime, registered users of medical marijuana are sourcing their supplies through “compassion clubs” scattered throughout the country.

Before they waste another $24 million, the feds might consider hiring some local talent. Otherwise, they should watch a few episodes of Marijuana Man Grow Show on, produced out of Vancouver.

Friday, June 10, 2005

The verdict is in

According to Decima CEO Bruce Anderson "Conservative strategy and broad public opinion preferences have recently been somewhat out of sync on election timing and on the Liberal-NDP budget changes. And, in the last week, the Grewal tapes have raised doubt about Conservative credibility and focus."

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Cassette culture

A new book, Mix Tape: The Art of Cassette Culture, edited by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, explores the mix tape art form and laments its demise. Check out the review at (you may have to watch an ad first).

In the days of my youth, I was an inveterate, mix-tape connoisseur, regularly mixing tapes of the best music from my record collection for my friends. Quite often they would return the favour. Sometimes the motivation was musical evangelism, other times it was to impress a girl.

Nowadays, the music I listen to is almost exclusively digital. For the most part, the core albums of my record collection have been upgraded to CD, some of them more than once, as the record companies repeatedly milk the upgrade cycle for all its worth by releasing a continuing stream of remasters and special editions.

After picking up a cassette deck at a garage sale last Saturday, I was looking forward to listening to some of my old mix tapes. Unfortunately, despite the assurances of the vendor, the tape deck did not work when I got it home.

In my view, the mix tape is a lost art form. A lot of love and attention goes into a good mix tape. From the careful selection of the music, to ensuring the right sentiments, to the song flow, to the transitions and finally to the packaging, whether it be a cool magazine photo montage, calligraphic script or chicken-scratch lettering. Dragging MP3s to an iPod list or burning them to a CD is not quite the same.

Although my best work has all been given away, I do have several mix tapes on hand. The set list of one of them follows below – a veritable musical time capsule.

Blood & Guts mix tape circa 1985

Side A

  1. Too Much Blood (Rolling Stones)
  2. Fun It (Queen)
  3. Smile Away (Paul McCartney)
  4. Panic in Detroit (David Bowie)
  5. Dangerous Rhythm (Ultravox)
  6. China Girl (Iggy Pop)
  7. Perspective (Peter Gabriel)
  8. Road To Nowhere (Talking Heads)
  9. This World Over (XTC)

Side B

  1. Night Train (James Brown)
  2. D.M.S.R. (Prince)
  3. Tenderness (General Public)
  4. E=mc2 (Big Audio Dynamite)
  5. Another Sad Story (The Boomtown Rats)
  6. Concrete Jungle (The Specials)
  7. Spiritual Healing (Toots & The Maytals)
  8. Close To Me (The Cure)
  9. Passion (Tulpa)
  10. One World (Dire Straits)

If you have a good mix tape kicking around, why not share the set list with us in the comment section.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Break the mould: legalize pot

If the Conservatives really wanted to break the mould, they would take Milton Friedman’s advice and legalize pot.

Milton Friedman leads a list of more than 500 economists from around the U.S. who today will publicly endorse a Harvard University economist's report on the costs of marijuana prohibition and the potential revenue gains from the U.S. government instead legalizing it and taxing its sale. Ending prohibition enforcement would save $7.7 billion in combined state and federal spending, the report says, while taxation would yield up to $6.2 billion a year.

Let’s face it, prohibition does not work. It did not work for alcohol in the 1920s and it has never worked for pot. By keeping marijuana illegal, we are only enriching the criminal organizations that supply the demand.

There is a strong conservative tradition supporting the legalization of marijuana. The economists endorsing the recent report from the Marijuana Policy Project merely add to the chorus. The Economist has long argued the case for legalization. Even Canada’s Fraser Institute, while not officially endorsing the position, published a report last year by Simon Fraser University economist Stephen T. Easton advocating the end of prohibition.

Admittedly, it would be a bold move for the Conservatives to come out in favour of legalizing marijuana. But in a stroke, it would cause a fundamental shift in the perception of the Conservative party on so-called social issues, as well as on its alleged willingness to take orders from the United States.

There is a large constituency of fiscal conservatives uncomfortable with elements of the Conservatives’ social agenda who would welcome a new approach to Canada’s marijuana laws. Many baby boomers still partake on occasion. Moreover, pot consumption among young adults, many who would not otherwise vote Conservative, is at all-time record highs.

One particularly interesting effect of supporting the legalization of pot is it would make turncoat, moderate Belinda Stronach look like a hard liner. Stronach is a staunch opponent of decriminalizing marijuana, largely out of concern about U.S. disapproval. By supporting a policy that is true to conservative principles, the Conservatives would neutralize the effect of Stronach’s defection, while encouraging Canadians to take a closer look at an agenda which is neither hidden nor scary.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

“The Mount Everest of arrogance”

With even the Toronto Star now seeming to take notice of the Liberal Party’s ethical lapses, we may indeed be nearing the tipping point at which Canadians finally reject Paul Martin’s Liberal government, en masse.

Two recent columns, by Star columnists Jim Travers and Chantal Hébert, have come down particularly harshly on Paul Martin.

Jim Travers argues that the Liberals have become arrogant and their culture of corruption stems from being in power for too long.

Paul Martin insists his new Liberals are attacking the problem at its roots by ending sponsorships, ordering the inquiry and pursuing criminals into court. Bunk.

Culture and structure are this problem's twin pillars and Liberal hegemony suggests neither one will crack soon.

For that to happen, a party that prides itself on being the Western world's most successful must first concede that the country is strong enough to survive a few years under other guidance and then ensure the civil service answers to Canadians, not its political masters.

Instead, Martin's clique is weakening the federation by widening regional divisions even as it prepares to fight another election, arguing that there is something worse than corrupt government: Conservatives. Meanwhile, the next election will come and go before anyone fixes what's so obviously wrong.

He concludes:

Hard as it is for Liberals to accept, sponsorship corruption, ethical failings and the crass determination to hold power by any means all find their genesis in the arrogance of a party that believes that it not only has the answers, it is the answer.

When a notion that false and arrogant becomes entrenched in a partisan psyche, any offence, all rules broken, every dollar stolen are excusable as the cost of pursuing the greater good. In that black-is-white universe, a government whose simplistic policies and thieving practices restoked separatism's fires positions itself as all that stands between unity and chaos.

That's the Mount Everest of arrogance and the deadliest of political sins.

Similarly, Chantal Hébert questions Paul Martin’s lack of moral fibre and whether his government would have acted any differently than Chrétien if faced with another national unity crisis.

The fact is, over the past few months the Prime Minister has compounded the damage wreaked on the credibility of Canada's political class by his predecessor.

Bridges between the government and the opposition were ordered burned as part of a parliamentary procedural war. Merit was shown to come a poor second to naked partisan interest in the allocation of government responsibilities. Deniability was given precedence over accountability.

The democratic deficit Martin so likes to wax lyrical about has been compounded into an ethical one. And past sins of omission and/or commission have been overshadowed by current, in-your-face transgressions.

If the Prime Minister is willing to fudge so many lines as part of a mere parliamentary showdown, what of a full-fledged unity crisis?

Some of Martin's cabinet loyalists are now quietly questioning whether their loyalty to him is in conflict with their duty to the country — and so probably should the rest of us.

The cracks in Martin’s leadership are widening. He may have won the last battle, but more and more it is looking like he is losing the war.

Friday, June 03, 2005

When the bubble bursts

Housing markets go through cycles. And the Canadian housing market has been on an upcycle for some time now. The risk of the bubble bursting is greater than some people think.

First, the run up in house prices has been driven largely by low interest rates. Any significant uptick in interest rates will have an immediate impact on affordability and will signal that the upcycle is over.

It is at this point that speculators will desert the market. Sellers, previously waiting for even higher prices, will rush to market realizing it is now or never, while potential home buyers will no longer feel the pressure to get into the market before it gets away from them. If interest rates do rise, then some sort of correction is all but inevitable.

Second, affordability in Canada is not all that good at present, despite protestations to the contrary. According to the Royal Bank’s latest Housing Affordability Index, the median household in Canada would be ineligible for a mortgage, on the basis of income, for a standard 1,200 square-foot bungalow, assuming they could come up with the 25% down payment in the first place.

Finally, I find it rather curious that Royal Bank now sees fit to expand its affordability index to include condos and townhouses, as if to prove that the market is still affordable. Nevertheless, our mythical median household would still be priced out the market for a 1,000 square-foot townhouse in Toronto and Vancouver. With their large mortgage portfolio, this attempt to massage the numbers to show the market is still affordable can only be interpreted as yet another sign that the market is peaking.

Distracted by corruption

Enough already. If Canadians have not figured out that the current Liberal government is corrupt, they don’t want to figure it out. There is more than enough evidence for any rational person to make up their mind about it. It is time to move on to other things.

The last thing the Conservatives need is to be making stuff up. All the credibility they have earned on the corruption issue is down the drain if the Grewal tapes have been doctored. All those tasty tidbits implicating Tim Murphy and Ujjal Dosanjh will be forgotten if it is true.

Once again the ball was in the Conservatives court and they hit it straight into the net. The Harper team is proving to be a bunch of amateurs. You cannot score points like that.

In my view, the Conservatives’ preoccupation with corruption is a big distraction. Sure, Canadians are concerned about Liberal corruption. But they also want good government.

Not being Liberal is not enough to get elected. Canadians want to know what you will do if you are elected – what you will do for Canadian families, what you will do to restore democracy and stop corruption, what you will do to deliver value for our tax dollars.

Given that more than half the electorate somehow considers the Conservatives to be “scary,” it is all the more imperative that you communicate your vision for the country. So what if the Liberals steal a few of your policies. If they adopt your policies, they can hardly accuse you of being scary.

It is going to take time for Canadians to become comfortable with the Conservatives. However, there will not be enough time if you wait for an election before telling Canadians what you are about. You have established that the Liberals are corrupt. Now is the time to talk about how you would govern.