Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Canadian Myths

Stephen Harper has changed... mellowed... become less stridently right wing.
David Orchard expressed it well: "The masters of spin around Harper knew that right-wing leaders don't win federal elections in Canada. And voilĂ , virtually overnight he ceased to be one – and the media appeared to swallow it all." Harper has stopped talking about some of his more radical views, but he hasn't repudiated them. You want to know what he really thinks? Read this.

The Conservatives and Liberals are similar.
Actually, the NDP and Liberals are very similar. The Liberals and Harper Conservatives are miles apart. The differences are both at the individual policy level and the level of their basic vision of Canada. I don't know how to argue this one in less than 10,000 words; see the Harper speech I link to just above, and compare it to the record of Chretien and Martin.

Bob Rae was a failure as Ontario premier.
Bob Rae had a learning curve, for sure. Nobody, including anyone in the NDP, expected him to win the 1990 provincial election. In fact, the expectation was that the NDP would lose seats and that Rae would resign following the election. When Rae won, he had a party with no governing experience and a lot of rookie MPPs. He had no experience. Plus, in the first few months of his government it was discovered that the previous government had been hiding a massive deficit. Nevertheless, Rae was a strong premier with a progressive vision, and had approval ratings as high as 70% in his first 6 months as premier. But by 1991 North America had fallen into the worst recession since the Great Depression, the Ontario deficit started to spiral out of control, and nobody is happy with a government forced to make cutbacks. Contrary to popular myth, Rae did not impose "Rae days" (unpaid holidays) on the civil service. He initiated a social contract process in which the civil service was able to decide how to impose cutbacks, and that process resulted in the concept of unpaid holidays. It was the civil service union that destroyed Rae. Never before or since have they mobilized so strongly. For a while it seemed that every lamppost in Toronto had "Wanted" posters with pictures of all NDP MPPs who supported Rae. The civil service was able to ensure that the NDP got only 6% of the popular vote in the 1995 election. They were responsible for the election of Conservative Mike Harris, and were strangely quiet as he gutted Rae's pro-Labor legislation and imposed mass layoffs of civil servants. Read more here.

Michael Ignatieff is a right winger, as shown by his support for the Iraq invasion.
Ignatieff is center-left. He didn't support the invasion so much as support the concept of military intervention to improve human rights. Go to the source. I don't always agree with Ignatieff, but I find his non-partisan approach to issues very refreshing. He is open to misinterpretation because his vision is complex and multifaceted. As to his vision as leader, he has stated it clearly: "As I see it, the Liberal party has three essential purposes. The first, to protect and to enhance the national unity of our country. Secondly, to preserve and to defend our national independence and sovereignty. And third, most fundamental perhaps, to advance the cause of social justice for all Canadians." and "Exporting peace, order, and good government has to be the core of a Canadian foreign policy."

Ed Broadbent was a great NDP leader.
I used to believe this, until I read James Laxer's article in the May 2006 issue of The Walrus, which inspired me to do further research and thinking on Broadbent's legacy. Laxer points out that it was Broadbent who was most responsible for moving the NDP from being a party of progressive ideas to being all about winning seats. In the 1988 federal election he opted to not campaign against Brian Mulroney and the free trade accord and instead attack the Liberals, a strategy that got him a big increase in the number of MPs but that helped the Conservatives win and helped bring in the free trade agreement - a policy that his base was completely against. Broadbent returned to parliament recently, and he seems to have exerted his influence on NDP leader Jack Layton to repeat the 1988 strategy. Broadbent was at the forefront; for example: "The NDP campaign began with Ed Broadbent declaring that Stephen Harper was no longer so scary.”

I disagree with everything the new Conservative government does.
Not so... I'm glad they voted against the UN resolution to force Israel to take back all Palestinians; it's a very delicate national security issue that cannot be dictated from outside Israel: in fact, with Hamas in power (Hamas still calls for the destruction of Israel), Israel can't do it, so we shouldn't be forcing them to ignore another UN resolution. I sort of agree with the cut in GST, or at least a cut in GST instead of a cut in income tax. In addition, I agree with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty that the special deals given to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia to exclude their oil and gas revenue from equalization payment calculations was unfortunate and should be reconsidered.


Sunday, April 23, 2006

World Class Fool

Stephen Harper squeaked through with a minority government in an election he couldn't have won a week earlier or a week later. His values and policies are abhorrent to me, but Harper is a very shrewd man, and he is assuring his future by splitting the center-left: he has apparently convinced NDP leader Jack Layton to form some sort of secret alliance. I was a Layton supporter for many years and I have always believed him to be an intelligent and principled man, but I have to say that in this Jack Layton is a traitor to his cause and a world class fool.

Harper killed the Liberal/NDP child care program and replaced it with crap. He stands for policies that are anathema to the NDP---anathema to everyone not on the far right. Layton is bolstering Harper because Layton believes he can destroy the Liberal party and take its place. Several prominent NDPers, including Ed Broadbent and Pat Martin, have said as much in recent weeks.

It's true that socialist parties were able to destroy Liberal parties in Manitoba and in Britain, but it's not going to work in this case. Liberal support is too healthy, the NDP is too weak, and Layton's tactics are too sleazy. All Layton is doing is helping to destroy Canada's social programs, take away a woman's right to a safe abortion, take away rights for gay couples, bring back uncontrolled guns, threaten universality of medicine and turn the Canadian military into a division of the United States army. People like to say that none of that is possible, but with Layton's help Harper is moving closer to the day that he will have a majority government. He will have the notwithstanding clause and he will have five long years in power. Sure, eventually Canadians will oust him (and the Conservatives will probably be so hated by then that they'll be reduced to even less than two seats), but just as with Mulroney's free trade agreement, things will never be the same again.

Layton is also recklessly endangering the NDP. He is abandoning 70 years of socialist principles in a futile attempt to destroy another party, and he will lose and be left with fewer supporters and zero credibility.

It's not just the NDP that is giving Harper a free pass these days. Harper seems to have made some sort of secret deal with the Bloc as well. The Liberals are taking too long (even given a temporary leader) to get their act together on opposing Harper and they seem to be spending way too much time worrying about the NDP.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Earth Day

It's earth day, and that makes me think of the great What Might Have Been, Al Gore. Gore was a strong promoter of the Kyoto Accord (along with many other environmental initiatives), and signed it in 1992. Had he become president, the US would have used its mighty influence to lead the world in reducing C02 emissions... instead of wielding its might to become an imperialist pariah.

But Gore hasn't given up and continues as an environmental crusader. In terms of the Kyoto Accord, he is working to get Americans to commit to the US target of 7% emission reduction without federal government input. So far 219 US cities have signed on, representing 44 million Americans.

Gore was in Seattle last month congratulating the city on its adoption of Kyoto. The approach of municipal adoption is laudable, and Seattle shows some of the strengths and weaknesses of this approach. Seattle is focusing on more efficient vehicles and household appliances, lower thermostats, better public transportation, and the use of biofuels to reduce emissions from diesel trucks, trains and ships. For decades Seattle has implemented a brilliant and simple way to reduce traffic downtown: transit is free within the downtown area.

So how is Canada doing on our Kyoto commitments? Back in 1998 we pledged to reduce emissions by 6% from 1990 to 2012. By 2003, our emissions since 1990 had risen by 23%.

Over half of the increase in emissions is in Alberta. In part, this is because the population is rising in Alberta, and Alberta relies largely on coal for electricity. But the biggest cause of the emissions is the tar sands. Two-thirds of the energy extracted from the tar sands is used up in the extraction process, and the process generates an enormous amount of pollution. There is a glimmer of hope on the horizon in the person of Jim Dinning, Alberta Premier Ralph Klein's heir apparent, who is a proponent of clean coal technologies and of carbon sequestration, a technology for capturing C02 emissions either artificially or with natural carbon dioxide sinks.

The electricity and petroleum sector has the worst environmental record in Canada, but no sector is doing well: we have made some progress in vehicle emissions, but these gains have been more than offset by the increased use of vans, SUVs and trucks. The manufacturing sector has also made improvements in its emissions but overall it has grown so much that it hasn't led to any overall decrease. Agriculture continues to be a carbon-intensive activity. (Another reason for the rise in emissions is simply that our population has increased.)

Last year my town spent upwards of a million dollars installing a green roof on our city hall, which seems to be missing the point entirely. The time for expensive and impractical symbols is over. We need to start making some progress. What are our tools? Public education, grassroots mobilization, regulation, taxation, subsidies, emissions trading, research, and government policies regulating its own projects. Paul Martin put a plan in place last year, but it's not clear whether the new conservative government will allow it to continue.

For environmental initiatives to be effective, there should be a lag time between announcement of government initiatives and their enaction. This is because efficient adoption of policies means that less polluting equipment should replace current equipment when it wears out. It won't help the environment if manufacturers throw out machines that have 10 years life left in them, or if drivable SUVs go to the junk yard.

We are pathetically far behind, both in government initiative and in public awareness. I include myself in the latter failure. For example, someone told me this week that GTO and Sunoco gas stations sell gas with much lower sulphur content than other gas stations. So far I have been unable to verify it. We need more information about things like that so we can make intelligent consumer and political decisions or nothing will ever get done.


Sunday, April 16, 2006

Employee Protection

Since my last blog in praise of regulations, I have been thinking about what might happen if a movement started to promote stronger regulations in favor of employees.

We might think of this movement as an evolution of unionism from favoring a few groups of employees to a fair and universal system of employment standards. That this is overdue is clear from something I wrote a few weeks ago about the plight of upcoming retirees who aren't employed by government. While those who work for governments either directly (civil servants) or indirectly (school and university employees) have guaranteed, indexed, and very generous retirement pensions and benefits, virtually nobody else in society does. Those in private industry unions who thought they had pensions are finding that there's a movement in the corporate world to reduce or eliminate them, and those who have relied on the stock market to increase their savings have learned how quickly their savings can evaporate. And many just can't afford to save for retirement. As the baby boomers start to retire, we will see a sharp divide of haves and have-nots that I have described as a looming humanitarian disaster.

So point one in my employment standards package is going to have something to do with retirement benefits. Perhaps it will be as small as continuing employee health benefits when an employee retires (defined as quitting after the age of 65) and providing a severance package to retiring employees. Perhaps it will be more. Perhaps it should be structurally different: have employers contribute more to unemployment insurance or the government pension plan to cover retirement.

Point two might address the issue of layoffs. Since the 1980s, layoffs have become a fixture in the white collar working world. This kind of layoff is very different from the temporary laying off of factory workers when there's no work to do. Here's an example of the problem. In my town there is a company that lays off a lot of employees every year or two. In between they are active hirers and they hire for the same sorts of job that they lay off. The CEO recently boasted that his stock price does so well because he is responsive to market forces. In other words, he hires a worker (who probably is quitting another job to go there) knowing that if the stock slips he will put the person out of work, get a price boost, and rehire someone else.

Currently, severance laws do not have much teeth for employees. They could be improved. For example, a laid-off employee could get a minimum three month's salary (not overly generous when you consider how long it takes to find a job in the white collar world) plus health benefits extended for a certain amount of time. Perhaps companies should also have to prove that certain conditions exist to lay people off.

Some may counter that companies use layoffs to rid the company of deadwood employees who are reducing productivity. But if the employees really are unproductive, then this should be dealt with more fairly, following existing laws for firing. Layoffs are widely used to circumvent the laws of dismissal, often with minimal severance. Employers are frequently lax in their hiring process because they know that they can easily rid themselves of the employee if they don't work out.

A third issue is job contracts. I am forced to sign a job contract if I want to work, and the employer does not allow any negotiation of what it contains. I may have to agree to not work in the same industry for two years after I leave the company. Employees need some legal protection in what they are forced to sign.

Other than retirement, layoffs and job contracts, I'm not sure what our new employment standards should contain. I come from the white collar high tech world and would expect that representatives of other industries and employment types would need to contribute their own priorities. We should look at protections that are provided in union contracts and European laws as a start for our list of protections that should be universally applied.

But say we have a package of employment standards that we want to be enshrined in law. Step two is the political process of getting this proposal accepted. Again, I'm just sketching out some ideas here, but it's a fair guess that the main counter-argument is going to be that such a law will lead to companies moving jobs to other countries, thereby increasing unemployment.

We should remember that the current Canadian maternity benefits standards did not have such an effect, even though in many companies women are now entitled to over a year's leave at fully salary, with a shorter paternity leave also included. Also, while France arguably has over-the-top employee protections, the unemployment rate is less than 10%, and is partly caused by other structural factors. For example, French productivity is much lower, largely because on average American workers work 1,822 hours a year, while French workers work 1,431 hours a year.

Also, in the last 35 years the remuneration of the directors and officers of corporations has increased dramatically. Compensation of CEOs has increased 1300% in that time, versus a 13% increase in average employee compensation. When we're talking about the compensation of directors and officers of corporations, salary is only part of the mix. We got a rare peak into executive perks during the divorce proceedings of General Electric CEO Jack Welch, which revealed a slew of enormous perks in addition to salary, bonus, stocks, and pension. There are tricks that make compensation difficult to measure, such as huge loans that are forgiven when the CEO leaves the company. To get an idea of the money value of stock options to head honchos, go to, type a stock symbol or company name in the "Get quotes" box, and then scroll down the page and click on "Insider Transactions" in the left column. (Pure off-topic gossip here: if you type in the stock symbol MSFT you'll see that in February 2006 Bill Gates sold $1 billion of Microsoft stocks. Yikes.) For example, if you look up the stock symbol SY (for Sybase), you'll see a lot of transactions where high-ups exercised options at far below market value.

The dramatic rise in CEO compensation shows that companies can be competitive and increase payouts. In a company of 1,000 employees, a $1 million increase to the CEO is equivalent to a $1,000 rise in remuneration to each employee.

This leads me to think of another kind of citizen protection we should have in place: annual reports should be required to include a financial ratio that shows total remuneration of officers and directors as a percentage of profits. Perhaps there should also be regulations governing how they remunerate themselves.


Thursday, April 13, 2006

In Praise of Regulation

Reading about the French protesting their government's attempt to lighten the employment regulations for workers under 26, I started thinking... why don't we in North America have more regulations that protect citizens from corporate interests? I like regulations. I think regulations and public education are the two things that make society work.

There are areas of our society that are heavily regulated. The investment industry makes very very sure that there is a ton of regulation and enforcement so that everyone can keep raking in the bucks. Industries like real estate and banking also make sure there's a lot of government regulation when it helps them do business.

There are, of course, all kinds of good regulations that we never think about, like city planning, food and drug regulations, consumer safety laws, rules of the road, etc.

But there could be a lot more regulations to help individuals interact with two related groups: entities that have a disproportionate amount of power and money-making interests. It seems that we need some catalyst to create the public will to push that kind of regulation through (otherwise, government defaults to protecting corporate interests). In Canada, we seem to have the will to address some issues (maternity leave was an easy sell, gun control was not) and in the US there seems to be will to create regulations that keep business running smoothly.

In the US, the stock market crash of 1929 created a public will to regulate corporations, and a similar will arose in 2002 after some corporate scandals led to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Canada's anti-corruption regulations are 75 years behind the US. Arguably the most important difference in US and Canadian corporate regulation is that in the US a publicly traded company that owns another publicly traded company has to pay income tax on the dividends it gets from the company it owns. This discourages corporate structures like the one Conrad Black set up in Canada, where he owned a company that owned 10% of a company that owned 10% of a company and so on for about 10 companies deep, and he could tunnel finances from a low-down company up to himself. It's a scandal that Canada allows so much corporate corruption (Conrad Black would never have been prosecuted under Canadian law, but is facing massive fines and serious jail time in the US) and yet there is zippo public discourse about it. In fact, thousands of people invest in those low-down companies without having any idea how horrible an investment they are. (That's where the need for public education comes in.)

In terms of regulations protecting citizens from money-making interests, we have consumer regulations convering fairness in advertising, but sometimes it seems that the rules are designed to con the public into thinking that ads are true while being completely insufficient to ensure that they are. In that sense (which isn't wholly fair), the regulations are designed to benefit the money-making interests more than the consumers.

There are a lot of conusmer protection regulations I remember from 20 years ago that quietly slipped away. There used to be a law (perhaps municipal) that magazine racks couldn't display pornographic magazines except in the top rack with the photographs hidden. The pop bottling industry used to have to offer a certain percentage of bottles that were refillable. Planes weren't allowed to land or take off between 11 PM and 7 AM. Magazines couldn't run liquor ads. Billboards were almost completely outlawed in Ontario.

Sweden is known as a highly regulated country. Their agricultural sector didn't collapse when they created stringent regulations governing treatment of animals. Europe in general has been much more progressive in forcing money-making interests to adhere to community standards.

France isn't doing so well economically so their employment regulations are a bit of a tough sell, and anyway I think they probably go too far, but the French show that a country can give some teeth to employee protection. In France, federal employee laws surpass the protection of the strongest unions in North America. It's very difficult to fire a French worker, workers can take their employer to court over all sorts of issues, they get lots of holidays and so on. I think it is also France that has extremely strong regulations in favor of renters. You see the pattern here: citizens are forcing their government to give citizens more power in their relationships with employers and landlords. Hmmm... we could do that.


Monday, April 10, 2006

The Cartoon Controversy

The cartoon controversy is one of those things that might not bear close inspection. In previous blogs I have tried to understand the Muslim perspective and think my way into a happy solution. After spending more time reading and thinking about it, I am starting to back away from my previous tolerant stance. I think sometimes we have to stand up and say that something is wrong.

It's wrong that people are in hiding fearing for their lives over these cartoons. It's wrong that almost every media outlet is afraid to publish them for fear of violent reprisal. It's wrong that violent protests have destroyed embassies and killed people. It's wrong that book editors, film makers and politicians are being murdered because Muslims are offended by something they said. It's wrong that Danish imams published a booklet about the cartoons that included fake cartoons that are offensive and there's no scandal. It's wrong that moderate Muslims are condoning the violence.

I went to a lecture today called "Interfaith Dialogue & Diplomacy: The Cartoon Controversy" given by a PoliSci professor (who is from Pakistan) at the Centre for International Governance Innovation.

She said that the belief in freedom of speech is not big "T" truth because it is not accepted by all. She argued that when we claim free speech we are claiming that our view of what is sacred is more important than another person's, and we can't do that. Now, there might be some justification for this argument within Muslim countries, although I'm dubious. There might even be some slight justification in the international community. But within western countries, freedom of speech is the law. It isn't some relativistic notion that we can choose to ignore if we have religious faith.

She admitted that each cartoon on its own was not offensive, but argued that the publication was offensive because the article was titled "Mohammed". She said that naming the article after the prophet was akin to walking into a church naked and constituted a great impropriety. She didn't really make the leap from impropriety to violence; in fact, she didn't really explain this whole bizarre line of reasoning at all. But she claimed that it explained (and implied that it justified?) the violent reaction.

I thought the speaker, Dr. Samina Yasmeen, said some offensive things. She described herself as an enlightened feminist, but she talked about the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh as if it were completely understandable. She didn't outright condone it but she described the murder as a reasonable reaction.

And yet some in the audience seemed to think that she was too soft on the issue. One said that dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims would never solve anything as long as atrocities were being perpetrated against Muslims. Just in case we didn't get who he was talking about, he added, "...atrocities which have been committed since 1948..." Now let's look at what he's saying: Palestinians are in conflict with Israelis, and that means that there's no point in any dialogue between any Muslims (about a billion of whom are not Palestinian) and anyone else. It is exactly when there is conflict that dialogue is most needed.

Another guy who identified himself as head of a local Muslim organization said that people in the west say they're open-minded but if they're truly open-minded then they must be open-minded about people who are closed-minded. I think he meant that westerners are a bunch of patsies who are so liberal that all the tolerance must come from them and none from anyone else, and to be liberal they must accept everything without question.

Around this point it dawned on me that if I keep backing up on these issues, I will be pushed and pushed and pushed until there is nowhere to go.

I had a question I wanted to ask but I was afraid to. I've read too many stories about people who spoke out and then got hurt. Jyllands-Posten originally published the cartoons to spark a dialogue about self-censorship due to fear of Muslim violence. And that's what we've got. And that's why we have to speak up and say it's wrong, and that's why sometimes we've got to do it anonymously.

I know this is a very sensitive topic, and I apologise if I've offended anyone.

The fake cartoons
When Danish imams wanted to stir up a reaction in Muslim communities, they created a pamphlet about the cartoons that included several fake ones (fake in the sense that they hadn't been published by Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper that solicited and published the cartoons). One of the fake cartoons shows a dog humping a man who is praying with his bum in the air, and the caption reads, "This is why Muslims pray." Another fake cartoon is a very crude drawing of a horned man exposing himself and holding children in his hands, with the caption, "A sketch of Mohammed as a demonic pedophile." You can easily pick out the fake cartoons because they are dark and fuzzy, as if someone ripped them out of a newspaper and scanned them, except in one case where the quality of drawing is no better than a child's. The real cartoons were drawn by professional cartoonists and look it. Also, the real cartoons aren't offensive.

The cartoons are reprinted here.


Sunday, April 09, 2006

Report on the Kitchener-Waterloo Federal Liberal Association Annual General Meeting

For those who aren't up to date on my political allegiance, I have moved from the NDP to the Liberals. I still like the NDP. I started moving away from them a long time ago, and made my departure after the political cannibalism of Ontario Premier Bob Rae and when the federal party switched from being the party of ideas to a party that bashed the government no matter what the government proposed. I've always liked the Liberal party. I think at heart I'm a pragmatic leftist and fiscal conservative. Anyway, I started working for the Liberals a few years ago and now I've officially signed up.

Today I went to my local Liberal riding's AGM. It was a much more lively and interesting meeting than I expected. I didn't agree with everything, but overall I was very impressed with the quality of the discussion and friendliness of the people. There were about 35 people there.

Our local MP, Andrew Telegdi, gave an interesting talk about being in opposition. He noted that in last week's throne speech, Harper didn't mention a number of important things: R&D, post-secondary education, the Kelowna accord between provinces and aboriginals (he noted, "Finally we were starting to make some progress!"), Kyoto and the charter of rights and freedom.

Telegdi said that the party is going to circulate a petition about the Conservative government's plan to scrap the Martin income tax cuts and instead reduce GST by 1%. (I'm not sure I support that. Income tax, which is progressive, is generally better than consumption tax, which is not. Critics say that the GST cut will not do as much to stimulate the economy as an income tax cut, but do we really need to stimulate the economy right now? Telegdi said that the GST cut will benefit Conrad Black buying a $300,000 boat more than an average person buying a $30,000 car, but since lower income people spend a higher percentage of their income on taxable items than the rich do, another way of putting it is that the GST represents a higher percentage of income for poor than for rich. I'm on the fence on this one.)

Telegdi also mentioned that we need to address the issue of China. He cited the local barbecue-maker Broil King as an example: while they make the highest quality barbecues, China is threatening them by dumping cheap barbecues on the market.

He also said that the Liberal Party civil war must be put to rest. (Hear, hear!)

Then Carolyn Bennett was introduced. A GP, she's the MP for Toronto's St. Paul riding, was Minister of State for Public Health in the last government, and now is Critic for Social Development. She was described as being on a national tour "kicking tires" to see if she should throw her hat in the ring for the leadership race.

Bennett has a lot of passion and great ideas. However, she talks really fast and bounces around from idea to idea quite a lot. I'm a fast thinker but I had trouble following her. I also didn't agree with a lot of what she had to say, not that that means much.

She started by saying that she thought the most important issue for our society and one that greatly affects seniors as well as families is early childhood education. I lost interest for a few minutes at this point.

She then started talking about something of greater interest to me, the remaking of the Liberal party. She said that Liberals have been frustrated by "father knows best executive style old fashioned kind of leadership" and said she wants to bring a more modern style of leadership where the leader is the center of a circle and not the top of a pyramid. She suggested that the biannual policy forum be moved to an online forum. She said that she comes from Women's College Hospital where the motto is "It's not what you do but how."

Then she started talking about health care vs health and sort of lost me again. I caught up when she paraphrased HL Mencken: "For every complex problem there's a neat simple solution. It's just that it's wrong." She said her guru is Ursula Francis, who said, "Good governance is fair, transparent, and takes people seriously."

The first question from the floor was, "We are getting sidelined by the NDP who keep saying you had years in power to do this. We need a good response. The NDP are going against the opposition Liberals instead of the ruling Conservatives." (I think this is an excellent and extremely important question.) Bennett didn't really have an answer. She said that she as Minister she had a lot of good stuff in the works that got canned when the election was called. She said that Olivia Chow got out front with a day care plan that won't fly because the Bloc won't support it.

She then said that the Liberals have to make the Conservatives continue with projects started by the Liberals. (Pulleeze... is that possible?)

Then Telegdi, who throughout the meeting sounded the voice of reason, provided a pretty good come-back to the NDP. He said, "If childcare goes down, Layton is as responsible as Harper."

The next question to Bennett was, "You said we should get in touch with you. But how do we do this? I write emails to party officials and get no response and I've been a party insider since 1968." (I'm afraid I didn't take any notes on her response and can't remember it.)

The next question was, "Is there a Plan B in finding a way to take down the duplicitous nature of the NDP?" The questioner said that NDP voters are sometimes not even Canadian citizens and used the example of Timmins, where he/she said 5,000 NDP votes in the last election are suspect.

At this point I thought the discussion got off on a really unfortunate tangent. We Liberals should be worrying about the Conservative government, not the smallest caucus in Parliament, the NDP. In the next few minutes Olivia Chow was mentioned four or five times, but she's a nobody. It shows how bitter people are that she beat Liberal veteran Tony Ianno.

Bennett said that 10,000 voters signed up on election day in Tony Ianno's riding. She said that Elections Canada isn't taking rumors of fraud seriously enough and we need private investigators to look into it. Someone said, "I thought this couldn't happen in Canada." Bennett said, "They glue-gunned my campaign office door shut!" She said that one woman in Ianno's riding boasted that she voted 4 or 7 times in different polls. She suggested that Liberals need to demand that photo ID be shown to vote, and then there was a long discussion about photo ID. Bennett said that the Liberals lost four or five seats due to voter fraud. Someone said that the Liberals should have done something about this when they were in power and cited voter fraud in the 1992 election.

The next question was about the democratic deficit in the Liberal party: "How do we get to the circle of people working together as opposed to the PM at the top of the pyramid?" Bennett said, "The brand of the Liberal party must be owned by the party and not just the leader's office. Paid organizers have more power than party members." She cited gun control as one area where there should have been more opinion gathering, especially in rural areas.

The last question was a real shocker. A guy asked, "You mentioned top-down vs grassroots. For years the public has complained that penalties are too light for criminals, and the Liberals refused to listen. Now Harper is listening. How do we respond?"

Bennett and Telegdi had no hesitation on this one. Bennett said, "Sometimes we have to provide leadership and provide education. Canada has the lowest rate of recidivism in the world. We need to provide leadership around the facts. Crime rates are way down but people think they're going up." Telegdi added that Harper is advocating the George Bush-style solution, which leads to situations like California, which spends more money on prisons than it does on education. He also noted that the Bush/Harper approach to using the death penalty and three strikes rules does not make the US any safer---just the opposite.

That was about it, at least according to my notes. I was interested to hear that my friend Herb Lefcourt, with whom I have been organizing a local chapter of Democrats Abroad, had put his name forward to be on the board of the riding association. I also had an interesting chat with a party official about the leadership race. He asked me who I wanted to be the next leader, and I said my mind was still open but I liked Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff. He got all hot under the collar about Bob Rae, saying that after Rae became Premier he stopped taking his phone calls about an environmental issue that Rae had previously supported. He seemed to be favoring Gerard Kennedy... I'm keeping an open mind, but Kennedy is not my favorite person since my days volunteering at the Daily Bread Food Bank when he ran it... but that is a blog for another day.


Some Thoughts on Transit

I'm not a fan of urban sprawl, but it's here to stay. People have valid reasons for wanting to live in new subdivisions: low traffic, nearby schools, no rooming houses, sense of community, finished basements, modern home design, double garages, less house maintenance, little noise, neighborhood swimming pools, less dangerous places close by. It's no conincidence that most people who live in subdivisions are families with kids.

How do we make our sprawling city work?

The solution that comes up always seems to be transit. If there isn't adequate transit, then we get big ugly roads, traffic jams and pollution. We keep trying to make transit work, but it seems that 90% of the time buses are practically empty and people complain that service is too infrequent.

Sometimes it seems hopeless that transit routes will ever be practical in subdivisions, leading to the downward spiral of less buses > less convenience > less riders. The solution that is always raised is to increase density in subdivisions to make transit routes more practical.

But is there any hope of decreasing the miles driven by subdivision dwellers even with higher density? Given the demographics of subdivisions, will enough people ever commute by transit to make smaller roads? I doubt it. New subdivision houses are very expensive, so people who live there can afford cars. If you maintain a car, then it's more expensive to take transit, as well as being slower, less convenient for running errands and less comfortable in inclement weather. This is doubly true for people who have kids.

A solution would be to move people who tend not to have cars out to subdivisions: students, eldery, low income housing. But that just inconveniences those people by taking them farther away from shopping, the library, government offices, etc. Subdivisions aren't the best place for people without cars. It will never be as convenient to live on the outskirts of town without a car as it will to live closer in.

Also, if we increase density then we might be taking away features of the subdivision that caused people to move there in the first place by making the subdivision more congested and more like downtown, while the people who live there are car drivers who don't want to use transit in the first place.

To a certain extent, the subdivision controversy is driven by ideology. For example, people who live in the country (either rural or small towns) do much more driving than people in subdivisions, but country living isn't targeted as problematic.

In terms of driving time, the people who are doing the most are those who commute from one city to another to work. We tend not to target them either, because it's a freedom of choice issue about where they live and where they work and whether they want to move when they change jobs, and I agree with that... but maybe we should lay off the subdivision dwellers too. (I'm questioning my own biases here.)

Of course, a healthy city needs a good transit system for other reasons: so people can still get around if they can't afford a car or are too old or young to drive, or who choose not to. In subdivisions, the demographic that uses transit is probably teenagers in a narrow age category: old enough to go out on their own but too young to drive. If a subdivision has a demand for transit, then by all means there should be transit to it, but if it doesn't, then maybe scarce transit dollars should be spent somewhere else.

There is a cost in terms of pollution, expense and gas usage to running huge buses on routes with low ridership. Over ten years ago Canadian environment minister David Anderson called for more small buses and vans in transit systems, and it still hasn't happened. I don't understand why... unless the driver's union is blocking it. It would be interesting to see some stats on how many riders are carried by a gallon of gas on average in our transit system, and compare that to the average "riders per gallon" for private cars. The numbers might not look that good for some routes. I have read about routes that carry an average of three people a day.

In terms of reducing the number of miles driven by subdivision dwellers, a better alternative than transit might be ensuring there are facilities in subdivisions within walking distance or a short drive. Density isn't always the answer in terms of shopping, because people like the convenience of large stores and retailers look for low real estate costs and big parking lots, so I think we're stuck with megamalls on the outskirts of town. But it would make a lot of sense if city planners forced developers to provide a shopping area in every subdivision (corner store, video store, pizza outlet?), just as they have to provide green space. However, the stores wouldn't stay open unless there was enough business, which is a matter both of density and traffic flow.

I don't know what the solution is, but I'm starting to talk myself around to the idea that we should change our thinking about transit to subdivisions, and have more emphasis on providing local shopping and other facilities, and less transit service---certainly smaller buses, but also less complete coverage, with better transit in areas where there's a chance people will use it.

What I haven't considered is planning for a future that might include much higher gas prices and even gas shortages. I have been waiting for that to happen all my adult life, and it hasn't. Gas prices have gone up a lot in the last 10 years, but it hasn't reduced consumption at all: that period saw the boom of the gas-guzzling SUV. Insofar as there has been evolution in car use, it seems to be towards the development of cars that use less gas (hybrids, Smart cars and the new Beetle being the preiminent ones)---but not towards reducing mileage. Anyway, if the gasoline situation ever changes enough to create demand in subdivisions for transit, then we can consider providing it then. For now it seems a waste of money, gas, and smog.


Saturday, April 08, 2006

What's Wrong with Proportional Representation

1. More elections. Lots more elections. It will be very expensive. It can lead to voter apathy.

2. Strange coalitions. At the federal level, we could very well be governed by a coalition including a Quebec separatist party. In other countries, it's not uncommon for extremes of the left and right to join up against the centrist party. (For example, in Ireland.)

3. The election of fringe party MPs. I'm not talking about more NDP and a few Greens, but single-interest and extremist candidates.

4. Loss of local focus. Instead of our current small ridings where we know the issues and can meet the candidates, we will be voting in much larger ridings and have much less understanding of the candidates or the issues. Depending on what form of PR is in place, there may not even be the concept of a local representative.

5. More instability in governance. With the creation of temporary alliances to form coalition governments, there will be greater swings in policy approach. It will be more difficult for the government to have a strong vision.

6. Undemocratic. Coalitions are created between members of the political elite, without any input from voters. Nobody voted for the coalition. A party that got few votes can wield a disproportionate amount of power.

I decided that proportional representation wasn't a great idea back in the late 1970s when I wrote an undergraduate PoliSci paper about it. I was motivated to jot down this list because lately in Canada all you hear is the advantages of PR over our current first-past-the-post electoral system. I agree that in the current system it's not fair that the NDP gets a way higher percentage of the popular vote than is reflected in the number of MPs they get elected. But we need to think through the downsides of changing our electoral system. As some famous guy said, Canada's political system works, except in theory.


Thursday, April 06, 2006

Top 10 Non-Fiction Books

As with my list of Top 10 Fiction Books, these are sentimental favorites... books that are important to me more than books I think are of universal importance. That's not to say that they aren't all really, really good.

1. The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, Roberto Calasso
2. The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power, Robert Caro
3. Religion and the Decline of Magic, Keith Thomas
4. The Book of J, Harold Bloom
5. The Inmates are Running the Asylum, Alan Cooper
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
7. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself, Harriet Jacobs
8. From Beirut to Jerusalem, Thomas Friedman
9. Land of Lost Content, Ian Smillie
10. A Theory of Econometrics, Anna Koutsoyiannis

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Wheat Field

In the chaotic world of African aid, where rights and ownership are often not clear and there are equally persuasive yet completely conflicting viewpoints for every decision, I often use as my litmus test the question, What would we do in Canada? Another way of phrasing this is: How would a population with full empowerment react to this situation---how would it play out in the court of public opinion and halls of power?

For example, in the 1990s two Canadian aid organizations, CUSO and CIDA, carried on a feud over a wheat field that CIDA had funded in Tanzania. CIDA considered the wheat field a successful program that improved Tanzania’s food self-sufficiency. CUSO considered the wheat field a major human rights abuse because of its displacement of the Barabaig tribe. For many years, much of CUSO's resources were devoted to a bitter legal and public relations battle.

In the 1970s Tanzania had a food shortage and so was forced to import a lot of grain, thereby depleting its foreign exchange reserves and forcing it to rely on foreign aid. By 1980 foreign aid accounted for 70% of the Tanzanian GNP. In an effort to address the food shortage, after meetings between Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Tanzanian President Julius Nyere, CIDA and the Tanzanian government started the Tanzania Canada Wheat Programme, a large-scale wheat growing operation in the Hanang District. Tanzanians were trained in wheat farming techniques by Canadian wheat farmers. By 1989 the Hanang wheat field was supplying over half of Tanzania’s needs, and it didn't use any chemical fertilizers. It was one of the most successful aid programs ever enacted.

However, the semi-nomadic Barabaig, a tribe that numbers about 40,000, had been using the land to graze their cattle. They weren’t completely displaced, but their grazing land was curtailed by the wheat. Their livelihood was threatened and some of them were forced to accept aid. There were protests and a Barabaig man was killed.

CUSO took up the Barabaig cause, providing them with cars and buildings, recruiting lawyers to argue their case in court, and publicizing the human rights abuses of the CIDA project. CIDA was portrayed as a murderous pack of insensitive bureaucrats who were destroying indigenous culture by inflicting capitalist practices on the country. During my years in Tanzania it was not uncommon for Tanzanians and foreigners to complain to me that my country was a human rights abuser because of the wheat field.

Despite government support, CIDA was eventually forced to withdraw from the project. When CIDA managers left, local corruption quickly doomed the wheat fields to nonproductivity and bankruptcy. The land claim battle, as far as I know, continues.

But back to my litmus test. What would we do in Canada? I doubt that in Canada an industry of vital importance to the economy would be destroyed by land claims. We can complain about our capitalist, consumerist economy, but there are benefits to adhering to the goal of prosperity. For example, municipal government decisions always consider the impact on the local tax base, a criterion that has many times infuriated me but that keeps us economically healthy. Public support tends to maintain an element of self-interest, even when conflicting moral values arise.

We in the rich countries frequently impose a double standard on poor countries. For example, we get all worked up about the Brazilian rain forest with not nearly as much concern about our own clear cutting. We deplore all poaching of African animals while we allow culls of deer and bear in our own back yards. Elephants are a big problem in parts of East Africa: there are a lot of them, they're not controllable, and they destroy lives and property. If it were North America we wouldn't let them rampage around human settlements, but Africa is flooded with foreign wildlife conservationists who protect animals over people. I don't know if it actually happened, but a conservationist group in Tanzania was even planning to re-introduce deadly tsetse flies into an area to keep poor Africans from moving in and disturbing the wildlife.

The interest group model of civil society works well in rich countries where rights are protected and all people are able to speak up. It is a laudable goal of international organizations to build civil society in poor countries, but in the early development of a civil society lobbying is often dominated by the agenda of foreigners and debates can become lopsided very fast.

In highlighting the wheat field controversy I deliberately used an example involving human rights abuses because it isn't easy. On the one hand there is a large group of people that is being displaced. On the other hand there is a country that can't afford medical care or education for its 30 million people. Many aid workers consider the wheat field to be an infamous example of the failure of top-down aid: instead of building on the wishes of local residents, a large-scale agribusiness project was conceived by government and imposed on the people. I saw it quite differently, as an example of how meddling ideologues are holding back African countries from becoming self-sufficient.

PS: I worked for CUSO.

See also: Peanut Butter Jars


Peanut Butter Jars

Back in the 1960s an aunt and uncle of mine were Peace Corps volunteers in a remote village in the Himalayas. This small village had no electricity, no manufacturing and no stores. My aunt and uncle had a garden plot, but other than that they had to carry all their food and other supplies in from the nearest town, which was a long hike.

Every once in a while they carried up a jar of peanut butter. When they finished the jar, they washed it out and gave it to one of their friends.

One day they came back to the village after being away to get supplies, and they found that their garden had been completely destroyed. When they asked their friends what happened, they were told to talk to the village elders.

The village elders told them that they had destroyed their garden as punishment for the peanut butter jars. They explained that the peanut butter jars were very precious in the village, and by handing them out to their friends they were disrupting the structure of the community. From now on, peanut butter jars would be distributed by the village elders, or my aunt and uncle would not be welcome in the village.

When I did aid work in Africa in the 1990s a lot of peanut butter jars were being handed out by foreigners and there was nobody to monitor the disruption at all.

For example, in villages nearly as remote as my aunt and uncle’s Himalayan one, all of a sudden one small interest group would get money, an office building, and a vehicle and driver. Talk about destroying the structure of the community.

In East Africa, it is the semi-nomadic cattle herding pastoralists who are the darling of leftist aid workers. (That's not terribly surprising, as the pastoralists are the coolest people I have ever met in the entire world.) These pastoralists, such as the Maasai and Barabaig, migrated into East Africa in the 1900s and so are by no means the indigenous peoples of the area, but western aid workers equate them with the indigenous North American Indians, so they treat them as indigenous. In Tanzania, the pastoralists even have an NGO called PINGO: Pastoralist Indigenous NGO.

The reason the bogus indigenous claim is so important is that pastoralists need lots of land, and pastoralist aid work is all about land claims. Pastoralists and their cattle migrate over large areas during the year, and their land needs butt up against other Africans---even poorer---who try to eke out a living farming. Aid workers have been trying for decades to displace the farmers.

In the same area as the Barabaig there is the Hadzabe tribe, which is related to the Kalahari Bushmen. Hadzabe are short in stature and speak a click-language, and are among the most primitive people left on the earth: they are hunter-gatherers not dissimilar (it is believed) to prehistoric man. The Hadzabe, who now number only about 200, are both the most exotic and the most vulnerable of people. Anthropologists love them.

I met an anthropologist who lived with the Hadzabe for a year, itemizing and measuring everything they ate. He didn’t want to take advantage of them so he handed out hunting knives as parting gifts---thereby forever changing the diet of the community. Of all people, you'd think an anthropologist might have realized the repercussions of such an act in a community that literally lives hand to mouth, surviving mostly on berries and roots. What if the use of knives causes the food sources to be deplenished, or leads to youngsters not learning traditional bow and arrow techniques? I think, sadly, that this is now moot, based on the number of tour operators advertising that tourists can now visit the "primitive bushmen".

Part of the reason there are so few Hadza left has to do with a meddling NGO who tried to help them out a couple of decades ago by building houses for the community. Traditionally, the Hadza sleep in the open. When they were made to sleep in houses, mysteriously and quickly many of them died. It was never understood why they died, unless it had to do with hygiene problems.

I met a Hadzabe man who had once been the leader of his community. Aid workers often believe that international conferences should include everyone who is affected by aid, so some NGO plucked him from his hunter-gatherer life and sent him to a conference in Geneva, from which he returned a dysfunctional alcoholic.

Call it politically correct insensitivity. Call it careless distribution of peanut butter jars. I left Africa feeling that aid was doing more harm than good.

There is noone to stop the mammoth presence of the Catholic church from telling people in an AIDS-racked country that they'll go to hell if they use condoms, or to stop Habitat for Humanity from demanding religious conversion from the destitute in exchange for a house for their children. There are foreigners at all levels---UN, governmental, NGO, religious, academic, and individual---all operating on their own agendas, all thinking up ways to help the poor Africans and in many cases buggering off before the results become clear.

Even when projects are good, the very presence of foreign aid often hinders local progress. I dread the current plan to ship massive quantities of $100 PCs to the third world because it may wipe out fledgling computer industries, alienate children from their culture, create unsustainable expectations, and who knows what else. It's another do-gooder plan that sounds wonderful till you start to think through the repercussions.

The head of AIDS in Tanzania for the World Health Organization told me that ten or more unemployed Tanzanian doctors could have been hired for his salary and would probably do as good a job. The counter-argument is that when local doctors administer programs there tend to be corruption problems. But maybe we focus too much on corruption; we ignore a ton of "profit taking" in our own society but deplore all "corruption" in the third world. On the other hand, there are lots of clinics where almost all of the medicine is stolen and sold privately, and they don't do much good.

I'll write more on one possible way to sort this out in my next entry.

The Wheat Field


Sunday, April 02, 2006

April menu: Asian-inspired brunch

Ginger Salmon

20 oz. salmon fillets (about), cut into serving-size pieces
2 green onions
1 T fresh ginger root, grated
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 T light soya sauce
1 T lemon juice
1 tsp lemon rind, grated
1 tsp sugar
1 T sesame oil

Arrange raw salmon in one layer in an oven-proof dish. Pour remaining ingredients over top. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes or in the refrigerator for one hour. (The marinade partially cooks the salmon, so don't exceed this time by too much.) Bake in a 425 degree oven until the salmon is done---about 15 minutes. Cool and store in the remaining juices. Serve cold.

Fragrant Beef

2.5 pounds (about) boneless beef chuck, shoulder or shin
2 cups water
1 tsp star anise
3 T dry sherry
3 T soya sauce
3 slices fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, halved
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar

Combine all in a large pot. You can marinate the meat or cook it immediately. Bring it to a boil, cover, and simmer for about 2 hours, turning the meat at least once during cooking. Slice the meat and return it to the marinade. Chill. To serve, shake the marinade off the meat and arrange on a platter.

Rice Noodles

Buy the wide rice noodles that are cooked by sitting in hot water for a short period. Rinse the cooked noodles with hot water and drain well; then add to a frying pan in which you have fried some onion wedges in dark sesame oil and stir to coat the noodles completely with the oil. Optionally, you can also add:

- tiny slices of ginger about 1/4 the size of a match stick
- cooked shrimp
- strips of red and yellow sweet pepper
- eggs beaten with chives and salt and then cooked in a thin layer in a frying pan and cut into strips
- a topping of fresh coriander and chopped peanuts

Sweet & Sour Zucchini

4 lb zucchini
1/2 cup olive oil (about)
2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1.5 T sugar

Slice zucchini into rounds 1/4" thick (which is quite thin). Put a little oil in a heavy frying pan; add one layer of zucchini with none of the pieces touching. Cook over medium-high heat until dark brown blisters form on the zucchini; turn the pieces and cook until the other side blisters. The zucchini should be dense and chewy. Repeat with rest of zucchini. As the zucchini is done, place in a serving bowl in layers. On each layer sprinkle a little of the oregano. Mix the red wine, garlic and sugar and boil for 3 minutes; pour over the zucchini. Chill.

Baby Bok choy

Wash baby bok choy well and chop into bite-sized pieces. Separate the leaves from the rest. Put some sesame oil in a frying pan. Add the bottoms of the bok choy and cook, stirring rapidly, for a minute or two. Add the leaves and cook another minute. Salt to taste. Serve hot.

Fruit Salad with Coconut Gelatin

Cantaloupe and blueberries (or other assorted fruit)
2 cups milk
1/2 cup dessicated coconut
4 cardamom pods: hulls removed, seeds crushed
2 T sugar
1/4 tsp almond extract
1 package unflavored gelatin (about 1T)

Reserve 1/4 cup of cold milk. In the rest of the milk, mix the coconut, cardamom, sugar and almond flavoring. Bring to a boil (you can do this in the microwave), cover and let sit at least 15 minutes. Heat to the boiling point again, and then strain through a coffee filter, or through a strainer lined with a paper towel.

Pour the gelatin into the 1/4 cup cold milk and let it sit at least 5 minutes. Mix the dissolved gelatin with the very hot strained milk and stir for one minute. Pour into ice cube trays and chill in the refrigerator.

To serve, put the fruit in a serving bowl and upturn the jelled coconut cubes over the fruit. (The cubes break apart easily so should not be stirred.)

Indian Almond Fudge

3/4 cup sugar
5 T water
3/4 cup ground almonds
1/4 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
pinch of saffron
6 whole cardamom pods

Boil sugar and water to the soft ball stage, 240 degrees. Lower heat and add almonds. Add butter, a tablespoon at a time, stirring constantly. Add saffron and taste: you may want to add more, depending on the strength of your saffron. Spoon into a shallow buttered dish. Crush the cardamoms and discard the hulls. Press the crushed seeds into the top of the mixture. Chill. Cut into diamond shapes.


Saturday, April 01, 2006

Exit strategy

The mess in Iraq seems hopeless... another Vietnam, a cycle of death and destruction.

According to the Iraqi blogger Baghdad Burning, Iraqi TV is now broadcasting the following warning: “The Ministry of Defense requests that civilians do not comply with the orders of the army or police on nightly patrols unless they are accompanied by American coalition forces working in that area.”

She adds, "They’ve been finding corpses all over Baghdad for weeks now---and it’s always the same: holes drilled in the head, multiple shots or strangulation, like the victims were hung. Execution, militia style. Many of the people were taken from their homes by security forces---police or special army brigades..."

The US can't just pull out and leave the country in this condition. But by remaining it is fomenting more rebellion and destruction. What's to do? I think it's up to all of us to put on our collective thinking hats and figure this out.

Here's a suggestion: Look to how South Africa survived after it ended apartheid. The US could hold Truth & Reconciliation hearings; apologize and make restitution to the Iraqi people; formulate principles on how the US should proceed responsibly as the world's sole superpower; and enact those principles in law.


Worries of Mass Dementia

Boffo set of articles by Murray Waas (link) about the Bush administration's knowledge of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction before they invaded Iraq, and their cover-up since then.

One problem with all this: This was all out in the open before Bush invaded and occupied Iraq. Joe Wilson was not the lone whistle-blower. Chief United Nations weapons inspector Hans Blix told us over and over that Sadaam Hussein had no WMD. UN chief nuclear inspector Mohamed El Baradei told us that there was no evidence Iraq had a nuclear weapons development program. The yellow-tail uranium story was debunked long before the invasion. Back in the period when Republicans were flooding the news networks with the catchy slogan that an invasion would be in "weeks, not months"---when Colin Powell made his allegations in the UN, when Bush laid out his rationale for war in his State of the Union address---it was clear (at least in the international press) that they were lying.

I recently watched the most brazen and bare-faced liar of our age, Condoleeza Rice, claim on the Sunday morning news shows that in 2002-3 everyone thought that Sadaam had WMD. It's infuriating to see the Republican smokescreen strategy work yet again, as we debate the details of why they should have known when the truth is that they did know, they lied, and they killed tens of thousands of people for no remotely justifiable reason.

And while I'm on the subject, one great big whopping US apology is still owed to the French.