Archive for October 2007

SHOULD HARPER HAVE CUT THE GST?

October 31, 2007

In the mini-budget yesterday, the Harper government announced on January 1 it will cut the GST again from seven per cent to six per cent at an annual cost to the treasury of $5 billion. Almost every economist in the country thinks this is the wrong way to go.

The reason is simple. Cutting the GST does absolutely nothing for the over-all economic well-being of the country. While cuts in personal and corporate taxes (there were some of those yesterday too) tend to stimulate savings and investment, which is what an economy needs to become more productive and competitive, thereby raising living standards for everybody.

So why does the Harper government cut the GST rather than go for deeper income tax cuts that would benefit everyone? As Jeffrey Simpson says in the Globe and Mail: “Politics, pure and simple. The GST cut is the triumph of base politics over sensible economics.”

The brains around Harper have concluded a visible cut in the GST is more politically rewarding than a moderate cut in income taxes which many voters hardly notice. But the fact is th GST is a regressive tax. If you buy a moderately priced blanket, you’ll save about 26 cents. A person who buys a luxury car will save more than a $1000.

Simpson goes so far as to argue the most sensible tax policy would be to raise the GST back to eight percent, introduce carbon taxes to reduce emissions, and then offset these new revenues by deeper reductions in personal and corporate taxes to make Canada more efficient, competititive, fair and green.

Should Harper have cut the GST again?

Would you favour raising the GST back to eight per cent in return for lower income taxes?

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SHOULD ATHEISTS HAVE MORE SPACE?

October 30, 2007

A week or so ago the CBC National aired a documentary on Canadian atheists showing them meeting in small groups in Whitby, Ontario.

Now the god-bashing Oxford professor, Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion) is setting up an organization to help atheists around the world. In a speech in the U.S. he put his case this way: “When you think how fantastically successful the Jewish lobby has been [although fewer in number than American atheists] yet they more or less monopolise American foreign policy. So if atheists could achieve a small fraction of that influence, the world would be a better place.”

What does Dawkins hope an atheistic bloc in the U.S. would achieve: I would free children from being indoctrinated with religion. I would like to free everyone from the assumption you have to be religious in order to be a decent person or be moral. Obviously the whole creationist interference with education should stop. I would like to see people rejoice in the world in which they find themselves and to take full advantage of the tiny slice of eternity they have been given.”

Does Professor Dawkins make sense?

Even if there were no God, does this world make sense?

Should atheists come out of the closet and be given more space?

DO WE NEED A QUEBEC CITIZENSHIP?

October 29, 2007

P.Q. leader, Pauline Marois, has stirred up a hornet’s next with her bill to establish a Quebec citizenship. Bill 195 proposes to make a working knowledge of French a requirement for Quebec citizenship for new arrivals from outside and from within Canada. If Quebec citizenship were not attained, the individaul could not petition the National Assembly with a grievance nor could her or she run for public office in the province.

Groups who object to the bill charge it would not only violate the constitution because citizenship is a federal matter, the measure would also violate the Canadian and Quebec charters of rights and freedoms by creating two classes of citizens, some without the same rights as others.

To some extent, support for the bill breaks down along linguistic lines. Overall, 52 per cent of francophones back the bill, 79 per cent of non-francophones oppose it.

My own view is that there’s a lot less here than meets the eye. This bill may not even be debated and it will certainly never become law with a federalist government in Quebec. So why did Marois introduce it? For tactical reasons. She has taken a referendum on sovereignty off the table. So she needs some raw meat for her militants. Presto, the Quebec Citizenship bill.

The problem is that Marois is playing with fire. Of course the St. Jean Baptiste Society supports the bill. Anglophone and Jewish groups oppose it. An English rights activist, Fo Niemi, says: “This bill, which remind of us measures advocated by extreme right-wing parties in Europe, are dangerous because they institutionalize xenophobia and intolerance”.

Do you think Marois and the P.Q. are being irresponsible advocating a Quebec citizenship?

Should Marois withdraw her bill on Quebec citizenship?

Updates:

Today Stephen Harper met the Dalai Lama on government property, the first Canadian prime minister to do so.   In remarks in Gatineau on Sunday, the Dalai Lama said that before there can be external disarmament there must be “internal disarmament”,  a very striking phrase.

UN nuclear disarmament chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, has accused Israel of taking “the law into their own hands” with their bombing raid on Syria last month: “To bomb first and then ask questions later, I think it undermines the system and it doesn’t lead to any solution ….”

SHOULD PRICES REFLECT THE DOLLAR’S RISE?

October 28, 2007

Try this experiment. Go to your friendly bank and pick up $100 U.S. Then go into your nearest Chapters. Pick up a book by Oprah Winfrey called O’s Guide to Life. The price is on the cover: $29.95 U.S., or $37.95 Canadian. Hand over $30 U.S. The cashier won’t take your American money. The vague excuse is that inventory was ordered and paid for before the dollar hit parity. A cashier at another store punts the problem off to the manufacturer. If the manufacturer sent a rebate, then yes, we’d lower the price.

And this policy is not just in book stores. It’s all across the board. Which is why Finance Minister Flaherty is out there trying to convince Canadian retailers to lower their prices to reflect the rise in the dollar. (It hit $1.04 relative to the American dollar Friday.) Flaherty says we should shop around for the best prices.

Shouldn’t the Canadian consumer get any benefit from this situation?

What’s your experience with the favourable Canadian exchange rate?

IS THE CATHOLIC CHURCH FAIR TO GAYS?

October 27, 2007

You may remember the Catholic peace activist, James Loney. In 2005 he and his group went to Iraq where he and three others were kidnapped on the streets of Baghdad, held in close confinement under threat of death for four months, when they were rescued by a team of British commandos.

James Loney is openly gay and lives with his partner, Dan Hunt. He is continually sought after by social justice groups to speak of faith, foregiveness and reconciliation. (He has publicly foregiven his captors.)

In this context he was invited to speak at a social justice conference in Winnipeg to be held in a Catholic church. However Catholic Archbishop James Weisgerber of Winnipeg rescinded the invitation because of his past criticism of the Church’s stance on homosexuality.

Somewhat ironically one of the other participants will be able to speak. He is Bill Blaikie, a long time NDP member of parliament, who supports same-sex marriage and abortion.

In your opinion, does the Catholic church treat gays fairly?

SHOULD FOREIGN MDs BE ABLE TO PRACTISE HERE?

October 26, 2007

Did you know there are 800,000 Quebeckers without a family physician? 800,000!!

And the medical authorities keep telling us every day there’s no quick fix to this situation. Well, there’s a partial fix. It begins with the hundreds of foreign trained doctors reduced to driving cabs because the College of Physicians and Surgeons is still dragging its feet on recognizing foreign medical degrees.

The current situation is that MDs from other countries, who have passed exams, must still do a residency at a Quebec hospital. These residencies are very hard to get. Some 63 were unfilled as of last July.

Couldn’t the College speed up the system whereby foreign MDs are allowed to practise in Quebec and so reduce the critical shortage of family physicians?

Shouldn’t the Charest government press the College so that it becomes more than a trade union for local doctors?

IS THE MORNING-AFTER PILL OK?

October 25, 2007

It was my understanding that Catholic authorities condemned use of the morning-after pill (Plan B contraceptive pill) because they considered it an abortofacient i.e. inducing abortion.

Not so, apparently, the Catholic bishops in Connecticutt. They have agreed to let the state’s Catholic hospitals abide by a new law requiring that the morning-after pill be available to the victims of rape. The new law requires a pregnancy test for rape victims prior to administering the pill but does not allow for an ovulation test. For two years the bishops fought for the ovulation test.

Finally, however, the bishops concluded that because of uncertainty about how the contraceptive works and about the effectiveness of these ovulation tests “to administer plan B pills without an ovulation test is not an intrinsically evil act.”

Bishop William Lord of Bridgeport explained: “What’s really at issue here is how much testing is appropriate to ensure that plan B does not induce the chemical abortion of fertilized ovum.”

The National Catholic Bioethics Centre issued a statement supporting the bishops’ decision.

Do you see anything morally wrong with using the morning-after pill?

SHOULD A NOBEL WINNER CALL BLACKS INFERIOR?

October 24, 2007

Remember James Watson. He won a Nobel Prize for his part in unravelling DNA.

He has just caused a furore in Britain. In a newspaper interview he said Western policies toward African countries were wrongly based on an assumption that that black people were as clever as their white counterparts when “testing” suggested the contrary. He told The Times of London that there is a natural desire that all human beings should be equal but “people who have to deal with black employees know this is not true.”

In a book just published Watson writes: “There is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so.”

Many groups in England were outraged by Watson’s remarks. The spokesperson for a black human rights group said: “It is astonishing that a man of such distinction should make comments that seem to perpetuate racism in this way. It amounts to fuelling bigotry and we would like it to be looked at for grounds of legal complaint.” The remainder of Dr. Watson’s British book tour has been cancelled.

Do you consider Dr. Watson’s comments racist?

Should they be part of an academic debate or should they be prohibited?

Update

Today (Oct. 25) it was announced that Dr. Watson has resigned as Chancellor of the prestigious scientific laboratory on Long Island that he put on the academic map.

IS THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT DANGEROUS?

October 23, 2007

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize winner at the New York Times. He has written a new book called The Christian Right and the War on America. He calls the American Christian Right Dominionism i.e. a movement which seeks politcal power.

Hedges says that since the 1980’s people like Pat Robertson, the late Jerry Falwell and Gary Bauer have exploited the despair of the American working class (and a good part of the middle class) at the same time they promise them that Jesus is looking over them and has a plan for them: “Once these people become removed from a reality-based world, they become impossible to reach in terms of rational discussion.”

Hedge argues when you break down fascism into its many elements, we will find many of those elements within the radical Christian right, within the Dominionists.

These elements would include … the attack on any kind of critical spirit or self-criticism as a form of heresy; the fight against diversity; the fact that it draws from social frustration; the fact that it recruits people who have been deprived of a clear social identity …. the notion that once you join the movement you automatically can achieve a kind of heroism; the fact that the final aesthetic of the movment is violent: “I mean the hard Christian right is apocalyptic and believes that massive violence is going to cleanse and purge the world. And these are all fundamental beliefs of fascist governments.”

The Dominionists are taught not to think but to obey. That is why they advocate the rigid hierarchy of the family with the male dominant, the woman subservient and the children obedient. And the want to insert that family hierachy into the Church and eventually into the nation. This is a movement that has identified American imperialism with the Christian state. It fuses the iconography and language of Christianity with the iconography and language of American nationalism.

Hedges says we are talking about tens of millions of households. The Dominionists control Christian radio and broadcasting. They form about 25 per cent of the base of the Republican party.

Should we be concerned by the growth of the Christian Right in the United States and its equivalent in Canada located, among other places, in the programs of the old Reform party?

Would the old Reformer Stephen Harper be tempted by any of this if he had a majority government?

SHOULD CANADA REFUSE REFUGEES?

October 22, 2007

The United Nations charges Canadian border officials are summarily sending refugee claimants back to the United States in breach of Canada’s duty to let them seek asylum. In the latest incident five refugees from Haiti and El Salvador were sent back from the Lacolle Que. border point. Two of these people were later detained by American authorities.

Another bizarre incident at the border involves the head of an American ecumenical group, Janet Hinshaw-Thomas, the niece of Washington Cardinal Avery Dulles. She was arrested at the Lacolle station where she was assisting 12 Haitians seeking refugee status in Canada. She has been working with refugees since 1984. Miss Hinshaw-Thomas was charged by the Canadian authorities with trafficking in humans, held in jail over night and she is scheduled to appear in court on November 30. Cardinal Dulles has defended his niece’s actions and has offered to come to Canada and testify on her behalf.

The Canadian Council of Refugees says these incidents “strengthen the impression that the Canadian government is becoming increasingly hostile to refugees and unwilling to uphold its international commitments.”

Is this the kind of refugee policy you would be comfortable supporting?