The Rants of Issachar

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Michael Ignatieff - Playing politics with abortions

I voted for the Conservatives in the last election. I thought St├ęphane Dion and his platform were just a bad idea. But I like the idea of a revived Liberal party. I want to be faced with a choice between two excellent parties with good candidates.

But Michael Ignatieff continues to disappoint. (Don't get me started on the fact that the Liberal candidate in my riding is now the famous but utterly unqualified Ross Rebagliati.)


The catalyst for Ignatieff's idiocy was Stephen Harper's plan to focus G8 efforts on improving maternal and infant health throughout the world. This is as non-controversial as topics come, but the man who would be Prime Minister decided that it was the opportunity to bring up abortion and play politics with it.

To begin with, Mr. Ignatieff is categorically wrong when he declares that Canada has had a pro-choice consensus for years. We don't. We have a consensus that we disagree and that our disagreement crosses political lines. We know that turning it into a national war will achieve nothing for anybody. We cannot agree. This is the polar opposite of a consensus.

Discussions about abortion in Canada largely take place outside of the political arena and are focussed on changing minds than on changing laws and this is a good thing. Many Liberals are pro-life and many Conservatives are pro-choice. Most of the public falls somewhere in between. We think that laws against early abortions would be extremely difficult to justify, but we also think that actually performing abortions late in pregnancy is also very hard to justify. This isn't a "pro-choice" or a "pro-life" stance.

Into this delicate topic and without any cause to do so, Mr. Ignatieff choose to "lay down a marker".

Why?

I can only think of two possibilities. The first is that he's an extreme supporter of abortion, holds a view of it far outside the Canadian mainstream and he has an agenda that he wants to push but hasn't told us about it yet. The other and more likely possibility is that he's trying to drag up the old "Harper has a hidden agenda" plank of the Liberal platform. Although this possibility is better than the first, it's still terribly worrisome. Mr. Ignatieff seems prepared to pull the pin on the abortion grenade all by himself in search of a few extra political points.


Honestly, I keep trying to find reasons to like Mr. Ignatieff. I want the Liberals to play the long game and give me a reason to vote for them rather than merely against another party. Michael Ignatieff has got to stop pulling stupid stunts like this one.


:: posted by Issachar, 12:48 PM | Permalink | 1 comments | Links to this post

Public health care and Danny Williams

It seems that Danny Williams, the Premier of Newfoundland went to the US for cardiac surgery. The Premier's office says that the procedure was not available in Newfoundland, but that's about all they're saying. They're pointedly not saying that the procedure wasn't available in Canada. This glaring ommission makes it rather obvious that the procedure was in fact available in Canada, but for his own reasons Mr. Williams chose to go to the United States rather than another province under Medicare.


I should begin by saying that I don't begrudge Mr. Williams' decision to forgo the Canadian option. Canadian health care is excellent, but if you've got the money for ultra-premium care it's possible to buy better or faster care in the US. That's the difference between the US and Canadian systems. The difference isn't in quality, it's the focus. Canada delivers excellent and universal coverage whereas the US delivers excellence and choice. Mr. Williams is apparently quite wealthy and if he chooses to spend his money on private health care that's up to him. I might well do the same, and I think that everyone should be allowed to choose to spend their own money on their care if they wish to. Some might choose it for convenience, some because while it might not be strictly necessary in their case, faster care would give them a peace of mind is worth more to them than a luxury car. The reasons aren't relevant.

The problem is that we can't do this. Not in Canada. In Canada it's illegal to provide any private health care for something the public system covers. So it's illegal to buy or sell "premium" health insurance and I think that's indefensible. Universal public health care is necessary due to our moral obligation to care for our fellow man, but it's no secret that if you've got millions of dollars to spend, superior care does exist. The catch is that we can't spend millions of dollars on every citizen. (Nor can an insurance company for that matter.) But making private care illegal does nothing to improve universal health care. It only denies premium health care to those who could afford it, and it does so on the indefensible premise that unless everyone can have something, everyone must be denied it.


So back to Mr. Williams. While his choices are his own, he's a provincial premier and an outspoken defender of Canada's single payer system. That's the same single-payer system that denies Canadians the legal right to buy extra insurance or care if they feel it's necessary. Mr. Williams' surgery clearly demonstrates this ban doesn't stop more fortunate Canadians from buying premium care. It only drives up the cost and unnecessarily denies it to some who could otherwise afford it.


This presents Mr. Williams with an opportunity. When he's recovered from his surgery he can tell Canadians that while he could have received excellent care in Canada, he's fortunate enough to be able to afford the private option and he choose it for his own reasons. So he's going to continue to support universal publicly funded health care as it changes to stay viable, but he will end the disgraceful ban on a parallel private system in his province and use his considerable influence to encourage other Premiers to do the same.


Excellent universal health care coverage is a moral obligation on any modern country. (As an aside, I think it's disgraceful that a country as great as the United States lacks it.) Unfortunately, Canadians fear that a parallel private health care would mean the end of universal coverage. Such a fear is small minded. The dual systems of modern democracies all over the world show this isn't true. We must stop letting the flaws in American health care stop us from improving our own.


:: posted by Issachar, 12:01 AM | Permalink | 0 comments | Links to this post

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Kindle vs. iPad - You still can't buy the book.

The Globe and Mail's Report on Business reported today that shares of Amazon.com have dropped in part due to fears that the iPad represents a threat to the sales of the Kindle and ebooks.

I could write about the iPad being a lousy book reader because unlike the Kindle's screen, the iPad's performs abysmally in sunlight. I could write about the iPad having fundamental flaws like the lack of a webcam or the inability to display common web pages. I could write about the fact that Apple won't let people install any software except the stuff they approve of and are thus trying to turn computers into phones when what we really want is computers in our pockets.

But I'd rather write about the false perception that Amazon actually sells books on the Kindle and that Apple wants to sell books on the iPad. They don't sell books. They don't even sell electronic books. They sell you a license to read text displayed on a specific device and that's not the same thing.

Consider the fact that you can't buy a used e-book. It's not that it's technologically impossible. It has been deliberately made technically difficult to transfer an e-book to another person, but it's completely possible. But it's also illegal because you don't own the book. You never bought the book.

You might ask what difference the license makes if you can read the book anyway. After all, isn't that the point? The difference is that the assumptions you have about what you're allowed to do with your "ebook license" are wrong. You're thinking of books and this is licensing. You are only allowed to do things specifically allowed in the license.

Here's a brief list of the things you're legally forbidden to do. You can't sell the book when you're done. You can't give the book to someone else when you're done. You can't donate the book to the library when you're done. You can't loan the book to your friend for a month or two. (No, this isn't an unavoidable technological problem. It's a legal restriction not a technical one.) But here's the real kicker for most people; you can't transfer your so-called "books" to your new reader and use it instead. Amazon or Apple might let you transfer the license to a new version of their reader, but that's entirely up to them. Do you think they'll be inclined to let you transfer it to a competitors reader?


You never bought the book.


None of these are necessary drawbacks to an electronic device. They're deliberate decisions on the part of vendors to try to build a particular business model which has no benefits for you. I enjoy physical books, but I could easily find myself enjoying electronic books as well if anyone ever decides to sell such a thing.


:: posted by Issachar, 11:04 PM | Permalink | 0 comments | Links to this post

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Canadian Justice and the 'Faint Hope' clause

The National Post's Full Comment podcast had a post back in October about the section 745.6 of the criminal code, better known as the 'Faint Hope' clause.

The clause allows prisoners who have been sentenced to life in prison and are not eligible to apply for parole for a period greater than 15 years the chance to apply for parole after only 15 years. In short, the clause exists to allow the possibility of shortening the period of parole ineligibility.

However, parole is not automatically granted simply because an offender is eligible. The function of a parole board is to determine if an offender should be granted parole. This leads me to wonder what function the faint hope clause serves other than to add another layer of bureaucracy and complexity to the parole system. The clause seems to be little more than an "except in this scenario" add-on to the law. It serves no function other than to act as an added step for parole applications after 15 years in prison.


Consider the case of a man convicted of first degree murder. It is of no value to say that he cannot apply for parole until he has served 25 years because this simply is not true. He might not be be able to apply for parole until he has served 25 years. At the time of his sentence, no one knows when he will be able to apply for parole.


The clause was added when we (correctly) abolished the death penalty. I suspect that the clause was created solely because politicians were not willing to try to convince the public that 15 year parole eligibility for murderers was a good thing.

I find it almost self-evident then that the faint hope clause should be abolished so that stated parole eligibility will accurate reflect when a prisoner may apply for parole. If parole for some prisoners makes sense after only 15 years, then the law should be changed so that they may be given sentences that permit this in the first place.



:: posted by Issachar, 9:12 AM | Permalink | 0 comments | Links to this post

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Supreme Court and the Omar Khadr issue

The Globe and Mail reports on the supreme court's recent ruling on the Omar Khadr case.

I reread my old post on Omar Khadr and while I still think as I did then, I think that there's more to say.


Firstly, I can see good points both for and against the court's intrusion into foreign policy. Foreign policy is correctly the domain of the federal government. Courts are not elected bodies and should not typically have any voice in foreign policy. At the same time however, the whole point of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is to place restrictions on the power of government over citizens. And Omar Khard IS a citizen. In retrospect, it's obvious that his parents should never have been allowed to immigrate to our country, much less be made citizens, but Omar Khadr was born in Toronto and he is a citizen.

So while I appreciate that the federal government should be the sole determiner of foreign policy, the court does have a legitimate interest in this case.


But there's an elephant in the room. The federal government does not want to bring Khadr back to Canada because they believe that the Canadian justice system cannot deal with him appropriately; and I think the reason they have not been forced by public opinion to act is that many Canadians agree with them. To put it another way, the federal government thinks that the standards of a Canadian court room are not appropriate for a traitor to our country. They believe, (and they may well be right), that the court will decide that the evidence against Khadr was improperly obtained and release him entirely, even if that evidence shows that he should be convicted. As they don't believe that Canada can deal with Khadr appropriately, they choose have the Americans deal with him instead.


But even assuming that the government is correct, letting the Americans deal with him isn't a solution. It's a refusal to deal with a larger problem because it's a difficult one.


So on to the larger problem. It is likely that most of the evidence against Khadr was improperly obtained according to the standards of a Canadian court. But let us assume, (although we should never do this in any court), that he is guilty of treason and murder. Should he walk free?

Perhaps it's easier to consider that question apart from his case. What if a Canadian murders a someone in Canada, (and he really did), but the evidence that proves this was improperly obtained by the police? Should a murderer walk free because of the misdeeds of the police? I don't think he should. I think he should be punished for his crime, and the police should be punished separately for their misdeeds. (I am obviously assuming that the evidence is not false or planted, but rather was only illegally obtained as in the case of an illegal wiretap or physical evidence obtained after a cross examination where the accused was denied an attorney.) In such a case, the evidence still proves the guilt of the accused and he should not walk free to punish the police for violating the law. This would not be justice.

Whether such a scenario is likely with Mr. Khadr, there is a widespread perception that it is.

We give convicted felons "double credit" for time served awaiting trial. Why is this? If they are guilty, should they not serve their full sentence? If the crown unnecessarily lengthens the trial of a man who is proven innocent, does a reduced for sentence for a different and actually guilty man somehow reduce the harm done to the wrongly accused?

And we dismiss evidence that is tainted not by falsehood, by only by police actions not related to the truth of that evidence.

Is this justice?


Is it things like this that make much of the public largely accept or ignore the Canadian governments refusal to insist on Canadian standards of justice for a traitor? If we trusted Canadian standards of justice would we have any problem with applying them to Omar Khadr?

I think this is ultimately a larger problem than the entire Khadr family.




:: posted by Issachar, 9:02 AM | Permalink | 6 comments | Links to this post

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Trinity Western University attacked over academic freedom

A friend of mine sent me a link to this article today.

It seems that the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), which I had not heard of before today, doesn't believe that Trinity Western University (TWU) has academic freedom for it's professors. Furthermore, CAUT thinks that the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) should "rethink TWU's membership". Now that's rather chilling for academic freedom isn't it?

A brief tangent before I get started, are there any S.M. Stirling fans out here who almost read that acronym as CUT? Funny that CAUT would make me think of a cult that I read about in a novel. (And I'm also surprised to learn that Stirling didn't invent it for his novels.)

Anyway, back to the real CAUT and TWU.

It seems that the basis of CAUT's argument is that a university can't put Christian beliefs first. But by extension, this means that according to CAUT, you cannot have a Christian University because Christian beliefs ARE that Christian beliefs come first. One almost wonders if CAUT would accept the idea of a Christian academic who put his Christian beliefs first.

And of course there hasn't been a single complaint against TWU over academic freedom. This is little more than a drive-by smearing. Not that TWU isn't correct to take this very seriously. TWU is an excellent university, but attacks like this can damage an otherwise stellar reputation.


CAUT claims to support academic freedom. And yet they would use their influence to marginalize voices that they don't agree with.


:: posted by Issachar, 5:05 PM | Permalink | 2 comments | Links to this post

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Sarah Palin, Samaritan's Purse, Private Planes & Christian Charity

Parts of the blog world are still obsessed with Sarah Palin in a way that I find quite annoying. If I was hoping she'd fade into obscurity after the last US election I was doomed to disappointment. So it's a bit disconcerting that my first blog post in over a year begins with Sarah Palin. Still, I found it interesting that she was apparently flown a private plane to an (apparently) much touted dinner with Billy & Franklin Graham.

Now I find the crass partisanship that pervades the "Official Christian" culture of the United States irritating on a good day and somewhat short of blasphemous on a bad day, but I'd like to leave that issue aside for now. (With thanks to Ezra Levant for giving me the idea for the term.)

The question I want to ask is this: Why does Samaritan's Purse have a private aircraft in the United States?

I sent this to the informal e-mail group I'm in and I got some interesting information back. One of the group actually looked up the Samaritan's Purse financial statements from last year and found out the entries for "Ministry and missionary aircraft" on pages 46 & 47. (Isn't the internet great? Could we have had a discussion like this 20 years ago?) Assuming that that entry includes the aircraft flying Ms. Palin to dinner one might ask"How does flying a polarizing political candidate to a dinner constitute "Ministry?".


But again, I don't want to focus on the politics, but on the question of why Samaritan's Purse owns this plane in the first place. I don't know about anyone else, but the term "ministry and missionary aircraft" conjures up images of missionaries flying into corners of faraway countries unreachable by other means. Alternately I might think about them flying into areas of countries without commercial flights available and paved runways. (You know, like you see in this picture on their website.) I certainly don't think about flying around in the middle of the United States.

So why does a Christian charity dedicated to "providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world", spend money donated to that cause on a private plane to fly around a country that just might have the best system of commercial flights in the entire world?

Not for any justifiable reason that I can think of.


There's a growing feeling among some people that Christianity is the religion of convenience for the rich and powerful and only gives hypocritical lip service to helping the poor. Of course that's absolutely ridiculous, but when organizations like Samaritan's Purse, (which do good work otherwise), spend money on flying around the US in private planes instead of flying lugguage class like most people it feeds this false perception. The false theology of the so-called "Prosperity Gospel" is growing, and much of "official Christian" culture feeds this false and thoroughly anti-Christian belief that wealth is next to godliness.


I'm sure that this isn't the image that Franklin Graham wants people to have of Samaritan's Purse, but the ease of money is more that a little corrupting. If he and other Samaritan's Purse leaders were to fly coach, they would surely spend a lot more time in airports. They could well be late to at least a few speaking engagements because someone tried to bring a bottle of water onto the plane. More worryingly, donations could even drop because the big stars of the organization might not be able to go to as many meet and greets to drive up pledges.

But they wouldn't be giving off the impression of being the people who get rich from peddling religion which I think is ultimately more dangerous to their mission to help the oppressed.


:: posted by Issachar, 7:13 PM | Permalink | 11 comments | Links to this post

Saturday, November 29, 2008

You have GOT to be kidding - Parliament opts for idiocy...

Seriously... What on earth are they thinking?

I've only seen a couple of things on this, but it seems as though the mutterings from some areas of the left about defeating the Conservatives in the House and asking the Governor General to allow a progressive coalition are coming to a head. Apparently what set it off was the Conservatives ill-conceived plan to make the elimination of political subsidies a confidence issue.

Seriously? Are you kidding me? THIS is the issue you're going to risk toppling the government over and force an election on?

The very idea that that should be a confidence motion is ridiculous. The more I think about it, the more the fact that the Conservatives initially said they were going to make it a confidence motion smacks of incompetence and a ridiculous desire to play political chicken. They've reversed themselves now and are only going to introduce it later as a normal motion, but I'm still highly unimpressed.

Now that this isn't going to be a confidence motion I'm going to separate my comments about the virtue of eliminating the subsidy.

It still looks like the Liberals are fantasizing about a coalition government. I'll grant that it is entirely constitutional for them to create one if they can put together a stable coalition. But it's still a terrible idea.

If you combine the Liberal and the NDP seats, they still have 29 fewer seats than the Conservatives. That's not a small number. They absolutely need to rely on the Bloc for it's help. The Bloc wants to break up the country and cares only about the interests of Quebec separatists. And if you want their support, you're going to have to give them something. And it will have to be a big "something" because Gilles Duceppe is no fool and knows that you need him far more than he needs you.

Then there's the differences between the Liberals and the NDP. Being anti-Harper is not a platform. The differences between the Liberals and the NDP are massive and are disguised only by the fact that they both seem to loathe Stephen Harper. If the Liberals want to cede the political centre to the Conservatives and move left this is a good way to do it. There are plenty of people who vote Liberal because they are centrists, not leftists. If you move to the left, you risk losing those people to the Conservatives.

The there's the question of whether or not the coalition would be good for the Liberal party. I just can't see it. The Liberals haven't selected a new leader and Layton and Duceppe will skate circles around Dion.

If you topple the government and get a Liberal Prime Minister over this, you had better do a fantastic job. And I mean the kind of "hands-down fantastic" job that gets you a majority in the next election. If you do this, you're doing something very unusual in Canadian politics. All will be forgiven if you do a fantastic job. But if you do even a mediocre job you'll pay for it.


:: posted by Issachar, 10:46 AM | Permalink | 3 comments | Links to this post

Cutting poltical subsidies...

I decided to separate out my criticism of the Liberals and the political subsidies out from my other post on this little fiasco in parliament.

The opposition was threatening to topple the government over it's attempt to kill the political subsidies. What on earth is the opposition thinking? And by opposition I mean the Liberals.

What line precisely are you going to use to justify this as your issue to go to the wall over? Here's the few that I can think of:
We need to be paid millions out of tax revenue to make up for the fact that we can't get paid off by big business and big labour anymore.

We can't convince enough people to give us $1.95, so we need to force people to donate by taking it out taxes.

The new donation limits mean that we can't get our funding from a few rich donors, and people with normal incomes don't want to give us money, so again we need to take it out of taxes.
More likely they'll bleat on about how evil Harper is just trying to hurt them, while completely ignoring the fact that if a political party has to force people to give money, that is a problem all by itself.

Let's not kid ourselves. The Prime Minister is obviously aware that this move will seriously hurt the Liberals. But it will also save 30 million dollars every single year. That makes it a good thing. The fact is that the Liberals are against it because it will hurt the Liberal party, and not for any other reason. I won't be surprised if the opposition votes this motion down when it comes up, nor will I blame them. But I'm disgusted that they were willing to risk another election over this.

The very idea that tax revenue should be diverted from any department, (health, education, defense, the arts, you name it), to subsidize a political party's war chest is disgusting.


:: posted by Issachar, 10:14 AM | Permalink | 0 comments | Links to this post

Saturday, October 25, 2008

I'm a Christian and I would prefer an Obama Presidency

My friend Caleb said he'd be interested to read a post on how I reconcile reconciling my support for Obama and your faith, so here it is.

The short answer is "fairly easily".

I assume that the real issue behind his question is how I can reconcile Obama's stance on abortion with my faith. To be sure Obama has one of the most extreme positions on abortion in US politics. (And that's saying something). As far as I can tell he has yet to support any restriction on abortion at any time for any reason. This leads me to conclude that he believes that abortion is legitimate at any time for any reason. I disagree, and I don't think many people (American or Canadian) agree with Obama on this. All other things being equal I would prefer a candidate who did not have such extreme views.

By contrast, McCain has more moderate views. (I believe he supports some restrictions on abortion, but not outlawing it entirely, someone please correct me if I'm wrong).

But will a McCain Presidency make any difference to abortion law in the US compared with an Obama one? I suspect that it would not. McCain has explicitly stated that he will not apply an abortion litmus test on Supreme court appointments. If this is the case Roe vs. Wade will not be overturned. Where Obama's Presidency might make a difference is if he were to veto a bill restricting abortion. But I don't think this should be a concern if congress actually passed a reasonable law. Obama's main stated reason for not voting for abortion laws is when they don't contain exceptions for "the health of the mother". Many point out that "health of the mother" could mean anything. That's true, but who's fault is that? A 21 year old intern could write a bill that explicitly laid out acceptable health risks for which late term abortions could be allowed or not allowed. If congress can't get it's act together enough to write a bill that lays this out clearly, then I think the fault for that lies with congress. And if a bill comes up that outlaws abortion regardless of any risks to a woman's health, then any Christian should vote against it. I think that President Obama would have difficulty vetoing a bill that had wide public support. Especially in his first term.

So as far as abortion goes, I suspect that there would be no practical difference between an Obama Presidency and a McCain one. I'm sure there would be huge rhetorical difference, but I'm not interested in that.


Caleb also sent me a link to what he described as the best objections to Obama in one place. I don't think they really related to "reconcilling my faith and my support of Obama, but here's my reaction:

Abortion
Already discussed.

Taxes
Not terribly relevant as a "faith objection to Obama". Obama's tax proposals are consistent with Christian faith.

Radical Associations.
Again, not terribly relevant, but Obama has stated that he does not agree with Jeremiah Wright's anti-white preaching. I see no reason not to believe him. I think the Bill Ayers thing says more about Palin than it does about Obama. Palin implies fairly regularly that Obama supports terrorists. Really, talking about "radical associations" is nothing more than an attempt at guilt by association. "These people are bad, Obama knows them, therefore he's bad". I expect more.

ACORN
I know very little about the ACORN thing. What I do know is that Americans have an absolutely ridiculous system of running elections. It's not that hard. Canada does it quite well. Have people register. Let them register at the polls if they can show ID that shows where they live and have photo ID or if someone who meets those requirements will vouch for them. Keep track of the registrations, and go after people who violate the voting laws using the information they provide when they vote. And for crying out loud, use paper ballots! Run your elections properly and you won't have problems like ACORN. And stop gerrymandering the districts.

As I understand it, the issue with ACORN surrounds getting voters registered and people registering non-existent voters. I'd be a lot more sympathetic if both parties hadn't both tried to make voter registration difficult in areas less likely to vote for them. Until the Republicans & Democrats clean up their acts, it's a plague on both their houses for me.


Foreign Policy
Admittedly this is one of my concerns about Obama and one reason I initially supported McCain. It's obvious by now that invading Iraq was a mistake overall, but just picking up and leaving would be a bad idea too. Two errors do not cancel each other out. Fortunately that's not Obama's position and while I'm not completely convinced that Obama has it right, I don't think McCain knows what to do either. Given how much the will of the American people to prosecute the war properly was damaged by the Abu Ghraib thing and the Guantanamo mess, McCain's flip flopping over torture is more than a little troubling. The US can win the war. It can't win it if it loses heart of the American public. Torture is immoral, and water boarding is torture. Handing people over to be tortured along with a list of questions to be asked is also immoral. The US public knows this, and I'm a tad concerned that McCain doesn't.

That pretty much covers it.


:: posted by Issachar, 1:35 PM | Permalink | 2 comments | Links to this post