Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Crooks Win Again...Secret Senator Blocks Whistle-blower Bill

The Washington Post reported last week that after 12 years of lobbying the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (S.372), which had already passed the House of Representatives, was put on hold by a single unnamed senator using a secret hold!

Somebody please, I beg you, explain to me HOW a bill that has already passed the House (and the Senate via voice vote in a more controversial form) failed because ONE cowardly senator objected to it? Do you need any further proof that the system is broken?

Here is what this bill was supposed to do, according to the Washington Post:

"The bill specifically protected disclosures related to unlawful acts, regulatory violations, abuses of authority, dangers to public health and any gross mismanagement or gross waste of funds, so long as the whistleblower had substantial evidence to back a claim. It would have reversed hundreds of legal rulings that advocates say have gutted whistleblower rights, including some that barred protection for disclosures to co-workers or the person responsible for wrongdoing.

It also contained provisions specifically meant to protect against retaliation for the disclosure of any manipulation of scientific data, and, for the first time, would have allowed those who suffer alleged retaliation to request a jury trial in federal courts across the country. They now can get a hearing only before a single court in Washington that many advocates view as hostile to federal workers rights."

Well no wonder it was blocked in secret, it increases transparency and accountability. Can't have that.

I wouldn't be surprised if everybody who voted for it publicly, railed against it in secret and devised this strategy that gives them the best of both worlds. They can claim they voted for this bill in front of their constituents and the media and , at the same time, are spared the ramifications of the bill actually becoming law. 

How else can you explain how one senator derailed all the other Senators' and Representatives' work and will? 

From the article:

"This holiday season Senate Republicans gave taxpayers a secret Scrooge. After unanimous House approval today, and unanimous Senate approval last month of a stronger bill, this evening an anonymous Senate Republican killed the reform through a secret hold," said Thomas Devine, legal director of the nonprofit Government Accountability Project.

"The senator who sabotaged this bill should come out of the closet. Good government groups want to give him the 2010 Friend of Fraud, Waste and Abuse Award," Devine said. He promised a "relentless search to find the politician who is a cowardly enemy of taxpayers."

Well said. I say don't bother searching, just give the award to all members of Congress, both House and Senate. They deserve it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

German Airports Want To Upstage US...Propose Passenger Profiling

Der Spiegel reported on Tuesday that designated President of the Federation of German Airports, Christoph Blume, is proposing Israeli-style passenger profiling in German airports.

Using this technique, passengers are checked with varying degrees of thoroughness depending on their age, sex, ethnic background, flight booking information and other metrics.

Profiling certainly has its advocates but I remain unconvinced. Leaving aside the obvious legal, racial and societal implications and focusing on security only, profiling is very flawed.

For one, it broadcasts to the world its points of weakness. If you're young, male,'re getting strip searched and humiliated so don't even bother. If you're middle aged, female, caucasian....we probably won't even bat an eyelid. Who do you think terrorist groups and , for that matter, drug smugglers would send on board?

Actually, you don't even need to find someone of a different age or ethnicity. Watch this:

So with a simple mask this passenger was able to pass the following stringent standard security checks at Hong Kong International Airport:

1- Boarding passes and passports checked by as many as two different guards before entering the "departure hall"

2- In the departure hall, boarding passes and passports are checked again while luggage goes through x-ray and people go through metal detectors.

3- Next passengers hand their passport over, individually, to a Hong Kong immigration official and, presumably, answer some questions before being allowed to proceed.

4- Finally, at the gate, passengers are asked to show their boarding pass and matching ID before physically boarding the plane.

The asylum seeker in the above video did all of this in A MASK!!! The only reason he was discovered is he intentionally took it off mid-flight. He did this because he knew, or was told, authorities would be waiting for him on the ground and he could immediately put in his asylum request whereby, under Canadian law, he cannot be deported until a court hears his case which can take 2-3 years.

Thank heavens this man meant no harm!

So, profiling?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Banks Try To Cover Up Fraud...Again

At the outset of the new millennium the banks had a problem. They were paying too much money compensating  consumers who were victims of fraud related to banking activity. Mail fraud, Cheque fraud and ID theft all placed the liability squarely on the shoulders of the banks and merchants. So they needed a "liability shift" that would allow them to escape responsibility for  insecure transactions.

Enter the EMV (named after Europay, Mastercard and Visa) protocol or "Chip and Pin".

This technology places a chip in every participating credit and/or debit card. The chip allows the user to digitally authorize a transaction at a point of sale terminal (POS) by using a pin number or signature. This feature was hailed as a panacea that would eliminate credit card fraud by adding another, digital, layer of complexity to the transaction.

To date there are over 1 billion EMV compliant smart cards in circulation worldwide. Here is a map of the areas in which EMV is deployed:

Great, so now over 1 billion card holders have bulletproof transactions right? WRONG.

In February 2010, Professor of Security Engineering Ross Anderson at Cambridge University, along with his colleagues, published and blogged about, a paper entitled "Chip and Pin is Broken".

As the title suggests, they found a fatal flaw in the current iteration of EMV. In their words:

"The flaw is that when you put a card into a terminal, a negotiation takes place about how the cardholder should be authenticated: using a PIN, using a signature or not at all. This particular subprotocol is not authenticated, so you can trick the card into thinking it’s doing a chip-and-signature transaction while the terminal thinks it’s chip-and-PIN. The upshot is that you can buy stuff using a stolen card and a PIN of 0000 (or anything you want). We did so, on camera, using various journalists’ cards. The transactions went through fine and the receipts say “Verified by PIN”.

It’s no surprise to us or bankers that this attack works offline (when the merchant cannot contact the bank) — in fact Steven blogged about it here last August.
But the real shocker is that it works online too: even when the bank authorisation system has all the transaction data sent back to it for verification. The reason why it works can be quite subtle and convoluted: bank authorisation systems are complex beasts, including cryptographic checks, account checks, database checks, and interfaces with fraud detection systems which might apply a points-scoring system to the output of all the above. In theory all the data you need to spot the wedge attack will be present, but in practice? And most of all, how can you spot it if you’re not even looking? The banks didn’t even realise they needed to check."

In order to prove their point, they built a test rig that would allow them to exploit this flaw in a real life situation, and they asked the BBC to tag along. Here are the results:

Isn't it funny how all the banks contacted by the BBC said EXACTLY THE SAME THING?!

Basically it's an industry problem, we're not the only ones using this technology. What is this Kindergarten?

So instead of apologizing profusely, alerting their customers and immediately fixing the problem, what do they do? They try to suppress the work done by the Cambridge team!

Here is a letter sent by the UK Cards Association to Cambridge. Here's a key quote:

"Our key concern, therefore, is that this type of research was ever considered suitable for publication by the University. It gives us cause to worry that future research, which may potentially be more damaging, may also be published in this level of detail."


"Consequently we would ask that this research be removed from public access immediately and would hope that you are able to give us comfort about your policy towards future disclosures."

Do you see the arrogance?

In other words they are saying: we know you exposed a serious flaw in our technology that consumers will end up paying for, but we don't want to do anything about it and bullying you into removing this information from the public domain is easier than fixing the problem.

Luckily, Professor Anderson is no pushover. He responded with a scathing letter back to the UK Cards Association. Some highlights:

"Cambridge is the University of Erasmus, of Newton, and of Darwin; censoring writings that offend the powerful is offensive to our deepest values. Thus even though the decision to put the thesis online was Omar’s, we have no choice but to back him. That would hold even if we did not agree with the material! Accordingly I have authorised the thesis to be issued as a Computer Laboratory Technical Report. This will make it easier for people to find and to cite, and will ensure that its presence on our web site is permanent."


"You complain that our work may undermine public confidence in the payments system. What will
support public confidence in the payments system is evidence that the banks are frank and honest in
admitting its weaknesses when they are exposed, and diligent in effecting the necessary remedies. Your
letter shows that, instead, your member banks do their lamentable best to deprecate the work of those
outside their cosy club, and indeed to censor it."

I say we give a standing ovation to Professor Ross and his team, not only for doing excellent research in exposing this flaw, but also for standing their ground and refusing to be bullied by these incompetent and arrogant banksters.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Patriot App

A company by the name of Patriot Applications LLC, has released an iPhone Application called PatriotApp TM. This app, shown to the left, allows users to report:

 National Security Threats, Crime, Product Safety, Environmental Safety, Government Waste, Pandemic, Employee Whistle Blower, Most Wanted and suspicious activity

 related information to a host of government authorities like the FBI, EPA, GAO, CDC and social media sites.

My initial reaction was to recoil in horror at the thought of the millions of iPhone owners running around snitching on everything and everyone.

I thought great, here comes more police/surveillance state.

On second thought, however, it appears I may have been hasty. 

Let's imagine some alternative uses for this app that actually help us fight crime, terror and vanquish evil:

So as you can see the potential of this new app is limited only by the imagination of the user!

Feel free to suggest other uses for this wonderful new app :)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Nigel Farage: Euro Crisis "Is Like Watching A Slow Motion Car Crash"

Here is the eloquent Nigel Farage, MEP and leader of the UK Independence Party, in top form at a European Council Meeting on the Financial Stability of The Euro Area in Strasbourg, December 15th , 2010.

Two things I would like to highlight:

1- I personally found it extremely insulting how Jose Barroso, President of the European Commission, was laughing at the end of Farage's devastating speech. He should have been hiding under his desk in shame.

He served as the Portugese Prime Minister from 2002-2004 and was partly responsible for that nation's decade long slide into the current financial and economic quagmire it finds itself in. The Economist reported back in 2007:
                         Since 2000 the Czech Republic, Greece, Malta and Slovenia have all overtaken Portugal in terms of GDP per head. And Portuguese GDP per head has fallen from just over 80% of the EU 25 average in 1999 to just over 70% last year.

                    Portugal was the first country threatened with sanctions by the European Commission for breaching the euro zone's stability and growth pact, which sets ceilings for euro members' budget deficits. The commission thinks Portugal's sin was to let public spending soar out of control, pushing the forecast deficit in early 2005 up to 6.8% of GDP, the highest in the euro zone. Ironically the commission is now headed by José Manuel Barroso, a former Portuguese prime minister who ought to shoulder some of the fiscal blame.
Now this same man is warning that unless everybody takes a bailout from the EU/IMF "Democracy could disappear" in Greece, Spain and Portugal.

This sounds familiar doesn't it? It sounds like the threat of martial law that Hank Paulson and the Bush administration made to congress to get them to vote for the TARP $ 700 billion bailout.

Same threat. Different day.

2- The hilarious Farage quote of the night on Belgium: "here we have a non-nation trying to abolish our nation, it truly is an absolute farce"

Friday, December 17, 2010

Canada "Beware of Coming Police State"

As many readers know, the G20 met in Toronto this past June of 2010. Canada's largest city was playing hostess to some very influential people and they wanted to pull out all the stops. Of course when a select few meet behind closed doors to formulate economic policy that affects everyone, protesters show up to make sure their voices are heard. After all, they weren't invited to the party.

What followed was not pretty. Canadians, glued to their TV's, watched in horror as over 10,000 uniformed soldiers and 1,000 private security guards descended on downtown Toronto, many of them dressed in civilian clothes. They were guarding a veritable fortress formerly known as the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Its perimeter included a 10 foot high and 2.2 mile long concrete and metal fence. Here is the map of the closed off area:

This whole production cost a cool $ 1.1 Billion, 90% of which was for "security". This is also over 5% of Canada's 2010 budget deficit to date!

This miniature army was then unleashed onto the, initially, peaceful protesters. They proceeded to beat, intimidate, humiliate, abuse and, literally, snatch people! Don't believe me? Here is one of many videos available on YouTube that come up when you search for Toronto G20:

Watch this video very carefully. The people holding the camera and the ones filmed look and sound like average normal people. They sound like you and me. They were unarmed. They weren't doing anything wrong. They weren't violent. They were in a public street, paid for by their tax money no less. They were asking for a way to leave peacefully after the police surrounded them. They were making peace signs with their hands for #$&*'s sake!!!

As a result they were beaten and intimidated. Some of them abducted by plain clothes officers!

Did you hear the girl scream at the end? Didn't she sound terrified?

Did you hear them saying "Peaceful protest" over and over?

Did you feel how brutal and inhuman these "police" were?

Now getting back to the point behind this post. It turns out the Ontario Legislature passed a regulation on June 2nd, 2010 that empowers police to arrest anyone near the G20 security zone who refuses to identify themselves or agree to a police search. The regulation was designed to expire on June 28th, 2010, one day after the end of the G20.This special regulation was not debated in the Legislature and wasn't officially published in the Ontario Gazette until July 3rd!

So basically, Ontario's elected officials passed a law in secret, without debate and didn't tell anyone about it. This law gave them sweeping powers that by-passes and overrides such annoying civil liberties as the right to assembly, the right to free speech, the right to not be searched without a warrant, the right to not be stopped without probable cause and finally the right not to be kidnapped and beaten!

If this isn't what a police state is then I would be terrified to learn what is. This is a slippery slope folks. Special laws, search and arrest without warrant, etc...What's next detention camps?

Oh right I forgot, they did have a detention camp.

I will leave you with this video interview of Clayton Ruby, a lawyer who specializes in constitutional and civil rights law in Canada.

Wake up everybody. Let's hope it's not too late.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Banks Threatening Homeowners Who Ask : " Where's The Note?"

Barry Ritholtz, of The Big Picture Blog fame, broke the news yesterday about receiving a note from one of his readers stating:

“FYI Just to let you know I ended up doing Where’s the Note and it resulted in this for me, see the 2 reported disputes in the attached screenshots below for my Jumbo 1st mortgage. 40 point hit on my scores. I will be speaking with an attorney soon. We need to get a warning out (SEIU has not responded).”

Of course "ended up doing Where's the Note" is a reference to the now famous web based service of the same name hosted by the Service Employees International Union. The site generates a formal request to the bank to provide a copy of the original mortgage note based on information entered by the user.

As many of you already know, many mortgage notes have been forwarded or lost in the multi-party securitization orgy that led up to the financial collapse of '08. This has been documented very well by Karl Denninger over at The Market Ticker.

Now we see this warning on the Where's The Note website:

Update: Homeowners are sending us reports of banks responding with threats and intimidation. It is your legal right to demand to see your original, signed mortgage note. It is illegal for banks to negatively report to your credit file during the 60 day period after requesting your note simply because you made a request to see it. If you received a response that you feel is threatening or intimidating in nature, contact your state’s Attorney General and push them to hold the banks accountable under the law:

So if I was a bank and one of my clients asked to see a note I didn't have, I might panic and try to bully and intimidate said client by hurting his credit score. Nice. Sound management.

Do these people read ANY financial blogs? Don't they know they're being commonly referred to as "banksters"? A chainsaw could do a better PR job! Instead of bringing their clients closer and working with them (whatever happened to the client is always right?) they are doing their best to reinforce all the negative perceptions people, rightfully, have of them.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Fareed Zakaria Owns Glenn Beck

This is highly entertaining if you're tired of  "Fair & Balanced" reporting. In this clip Fareed Zakaria of CNN performs a mathematical take down of Glenn Beck.

In order to preempt any readers who think I am some sort of leftist wing-nut for criticizing Glenn Beck, even though he has been proven mathematically wrong, here is another clip of Glenn Beck implying that Ron Paul supporters are terrorists.

It seems the only thing Glenn Beck is good at is obtaining ratings by inspiring fear in his audience. Facts be damned.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hayek vs. Keynes Rap - Post Bailout

Great live economics rap at the Buttonwood conference. Enjoy.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Defense v.s. Wall Street : A Cost Comparison

Being an avid documentary film fan, I recently re-watched an excellent one called "Why We Fight" by Eugene Jarecki. For those who haven't seen it, it tackles the topic of the military industrial complex in post WWII America.

While watching this film I had a sudden flashback to September 10, 2001, the day before the infamous and horrific attacks on the twin towers and the pentagon. The image that I saw was that of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld standing at a podium and telling the reporters in the press conference:

"According to some estimates we cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions"

I instantly remembered how stunned I was at hearing the word trillion in an era before the financial crisis had made us desensitized to the enormity of the number. Back then a billion was a lot of money!

So I decided to do a quick cost comparison between the wall street induced cost burden to the US federal budget and those induced by the lost funds admitted to by Rumsfeld on that day. Considering the outrage directed at Wall Street in the post TARP era, I was very curious to see the results.

Note: This is simply a comparison of inefficiencies and/or possible foul play by wall street and the pentagon. This is not an indictment of either nor is it a discussion about the relative worth of the functions they serve.

Based on data publicly available from the website of the Office of Management & Budget  (OMB), I compiled the following chart of Defense spending from 1980 - 2010:

As you can see, defense spending has skyrocketed over the past 30 years in nominal terms. However, what interests us is the period leading up to Rumsfeld's announcement. The red colored trend line shows us the annual defense spending in 2001 dollars, which, after peaking in the late 80's, returned to levels near that of 1980 by the late 90's.

In nominal terms, the average (arithmetic mean) annual defense outlay from 1980 - 2001 is
$ 249.8 billion.

If we make the assumption that the $2.3 trillion in transactions that could not be tracked, in 2001, are a result of "losses" (for lack of a better term) accumulated over the 22 years from 1980 - 2001 (inclusive) then the average annual amount that could not be tracked, or was lost, would be $ 104.5 billion or 41.8 % of the Defense budget!!!

I find this a little bit hard to believe. The IRS regularly issues audits based on discrepancies of thousands of dollars, let alone billions. In addition to that the Congressional Appropriations Committees in the house and senate would have had to approve each year's budget while "not being able to track" 41.8 % of the prior year's budget. Hard to believe.

The amount of outstanding US federal debt in 2001 stood at $ 5.674 trillion. So the $ 2.3 trillion amount disclosed by Rumsfeld then constituted an unbelievable 40.5 % !!! Indeed it constitutes 16.9 % of the 2010 debt outstanding in nominal terms and 20.5 % in inflation adjusted terms (again using the GDP Deflator).

Note, the above scenario is extremely generous considering I spread the losses, arbitrarily, over a 22 year period.

Wall Street on the other hand, received a $ 700 billion dollar bailout in the form of TARP in 2008*. That constitutes 5.1 % of the 2010 debt outstanding in nominal terms and  5.2 % in inflation adjusted terms. That seems paltry in comparison.

I will go a step further. Let's blame the recession solely on Wall Street, as some do. Then let's take the total debt added to the US federal debt in '08-'09 and '09-'10 and assume the federal government wouldn't have spent it had Wall Street not imploded the economy.

The deficits in '08-'09 and '09-'10 are $ 1.412 trillion and 1.555 trillion respectively (source OMB). Using these numbers we can attribute 21.9 % of the 2010 federal debt to Wall Street!

Final Score:

Defense: 20.5%

Wall Street: 21.9%

*I am well aware of the various Federal Reserve programs and backstops that were also provided. However since we are comparing apples to apples, I will stick to the impact on the US federal debt outstanding. I would welcome any contributions that wish to expand the scope further.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Palin on the Economy

So Sarah Palin woke up this past Thanksgiving and realized there is a genuine popular movement out there that she has yet to hijack and bastardize for her own political gain like she did with the Tea Party.

Here she is in top form explaining to us why the Fed's monetary policy is bad and is causing inflation:

In the words of those great political analysts, the Stereo MC's: I see through you...I see through you

While she is correct in saying an increase in the fiat money supply will (is) cause price inflation, I couldn't help but laugh at the absurdity of the situation. Could it be? Sarah Palin is trying to advocate something positive?

After all, this is the same woman who kills moose for political gain. On TV no less.

This is the same woman that used to sneak across the border to get Canadian Health Care. Of course now she claims to be a champion of free markets and a sworn enemy of socialized medicine.

This is the same woman that couldn't name a single newspaper or magazine she reads.

Enough? How about one more:

This is the same woman that invented the word "Refudiate" and when called on it compared herself to Shakespeare!

Sure enough, towards the end of the segment, Palin shows us her true colors. She launches into how America is penalizing the productive, how it is prejudiced against the job creators and the wealth owners instead of rewarding them, how Obama and Pelosi are eroding the work ethic of our children.

While I agree that there has been a significant amount of vitriol aimed at the private sector, at the wealthy, its not without good cause. After all, it was Hank Paulson, former Treasury Secretary and CEO of Goldman Sachs, that put a gun to the head of congress and extorted $700 billion dollars. Of course people are angry. Privatizing gains and socializing losses tends to have that effect.

Major economists like Joseph Stiglitz, George Akerlof, William Black and even Alan Greenspan all admit that moral hazard and fraud are the main problems and the economy cannot recover unless this fraud is prosecuted and the perpetrators are brought to justice. (hat tip to George Washington's Blog)

Palin, if she truly wanted to be a champion of the free market, would advocate the same thing. Alas, like her peers on the left, all she is after is the protection of her patrons. Here are the top 5 contributors to the 2008 McCain / Palin campaign:

Merrill Lynch$373,595
Citigroup Inc$322,051
Morgan Stanley$273,452
Goldman Sachs$230,095
JPMorgan Chase & Co$228,107

That tells you all you need to know about Sarah Palin. 

Wake up America. You're being robbed.

Following Dave's suggestion in his comment on this post, here are the top 7 contributors to Obama's campaign:

University of California$1,591,395
Goldman Sachs$994,795
Harvard University$854,747
Microsoft Corp$833,617
Google Inc$803,436
Citigroup Inc$701,290
JPMorgan Chase & Co$695,132
It's not different on the left side of the aisle is it?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

U Calgary Ignores Ethics Code : No Reprimand for Flanagan

 The story that just won't go away, no matter how many threats Professor Flanagan makes.

So far, and despite the urging of many alumni and staff, the University of Calgary has refused to reprimand Flanagan for calling for the assassination of Wikileaks' Julian Assange, despite having received "a lot of feedback on the issue".

Instead, they take the easy way out by claiming:

"The University of Calgary's stance is that Dr. Flanagan's comments...last week were made as an individual and don't represent the views of the university"

Well, luckily, the University of Calgary publishes its code of professional ethics online. After going through it, it is clear there is ample cause to at least reprimand him. Namely:

                      4.33  Academic staff must not engage in behaviour that constitutes 
                               harassment. Harassment means oral, written or physical behaviour 
                               or visual display that is abusive or is intended to persistently annoy 
                               others and which the instigator knows, or ought to know, creates an 
                               intimidating, hostile or offensive working, learning or living 

Need I say more? Yes I think I do.

The criminal code of Canada ,  section 464(a), states that incitement to commit a crime is a crime:

464. Except where otherwise expressly provided by law, the following provisions apply in   respect of persons who counsel other persons to commit offences, namely,
(a) every one who counsels another person to commit an indictable offence is, if the offence is not committed, guilty of an indictable offence and liable to the same punishment to which a person who attempts to commit that offence is liable;

So the police should be investigating this matter, which they are, and the crown prosecutor(s) should look into the facts and make a decision on whether to file suit. Good, they're doing their job at least, regardless of the outcome.

Now will the University of Calgary do its job?

U Calgary - Political Science - Head of Dept: David Stewart
U Calgary - Dean: Kevin McQuillan

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

U Calgary Prof is a Thug : Threatens Woman

University of Calgary Professor Tom Flanagan, a former senior advisor to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, continues to show us his true colors.

Flanagan last week called for the assassination of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on national television. Well that wasn't enough, he has now sent a threatening email to a Toronto woman.

Janet Reymond, of Toronto, sent Flanagan an email criticizing him after she saw him calling for Assange's assassination on TV. What was the esteemed professor's one line response?

                        “Better be careful, we know where you live.”

The poor woman was so distraught she couldn't sleep and called the police at 1:30 am to file a report. Imagine if it was your mother...

So this is how far we've sunk in Canada? This is the man that had the Prime Minister's ear? What a disgrace.

That email would fit in very well in Nazi Germany or coming from a workstation at the KGB or Mossad.

The police should investigate and there should be a restraining order issued against this man. Furthermore, the University should distance itself from his comments and take disciplinary action.

U Calgary - Political Science - Head of Dept: David Stewart
U Calgary - Dean: Kevin McQuillan

Privacy Underwear

How ironic that underwear is now being used to protest invasions of privacy. If you're one of the people that is upset, as I certainly am, about appearing naked on the monitors of TSA officials while passing through airport security in the US, then this product might be for you.

4thamendmentwear offers various pieces of underwear with the fourth amendment to the US constitution imprinted in metallic ink for the viewing pleasure of the TSA officials.

I love this idea, instead of staring at some poor person's naked image, they get a stark reminder of that person's privacy rights that they're violating.

Of course, if somebody questions you as to why you're wearing that. You can remind them of that other amendment. The one that protects an individual's freedom of speech. You know the FIRST one.

Protect the FOURTH amendment by exercising the FIRST.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Spanish Air Traffic Controllers Should Be Fired

As many people know, Spain isn't doing too well these days. They are still reeling from the effects of the financial crisis. The unemployment rate is over 20% and the government has a budget deficit equal to 11.2 % of GDP. As a result the government is forced to reduce its expenditure and become more efficient. This includes cutting the salaries of public workers.

With this in mind, I was horrified to hear about the strike of Spain's air traffic controllers, who all decided to call in sick on Friday in protest to cuts to their benefits. As a result tens of thousands of stranded travellers were forced to sleep in airports at the beginning of a long holiday weekend, at a cost of millions of euros to already anemic economy.

What were they complaining about?

Well Spanish air traffic controllers were being paid triple their regular wage for overtime hours with the result being they earned, on average, $ 463,600 per year! The government, rightfully, saw this as an area where they can cut costs, and limited the amount of overtime hours available to each controller. This resulted in their pay being cut in half.

Poor air traffic controllers are now making "only" $ 230k on average now. That's still three times more than what the Prime Minister of Spain makes and eight times what the average Spaniard makes ($26,500).

In response to this outrageous strike, the government placed all the nation's airports under military control and ordered all of the air traffic controllers back to work under the threat of disobeying a military command, an offence punishable by up to 2 years in prison.

I don't think they went far enough. The Spanish government should have done what Regan did to the striking members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization in 1981...He fired them. Not only that, he also banned them for life from Federal government service and de-certified their union.

Call me particular but according to my bizarre logic if 20% of the workforce is unemployed and the 80% who are employed pay you EIGHT times what they make and you go ahead and disrupt the nation's airports on a long weekend stranding thousands of people and costing the economy millions in losses...YOU'RE FIRED.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

How Canada Treats Its Soldiers

At a press conference today in Ottawa, Canada's military ombudsperson, Pierre Daigle, joined the chorus of voices coming from the families of Canada's fallen soldiers. Apparently, we treat the families of soldiers who give their lives in the course of duty quite poorly.

How poorly?

Take, for example, the case of Cpl. Stephen Gibson who died when a tractor trailer crushed his car near a base in Alberta. It was his first day on the job, September 23rd, 2003.

More than seven years later, his parents have still not been allowed to see the 1300 page report on the military's investigation into his death, which was completed in 2005.

How would you feel, if federal employees, who's salaries you fund with your taxes, who are sworn to uphold the law and defend this country, tell you that you're not allowed to read a report into the death of your own son!

Have we lost our collective minds in this country?

Furthermore, after quickly browsing through the Canadian Forces website, I came across this statement:

"Caring is a priority. In the Canadian Forces, we have to care about everything - about our missions, our equipment, our domestic operations, recruiting and retention, our family services. Most of all, it's about caring for our people and their families."
General Natynczyk, Chief of Defence Staff

Such hypocrisy!

In response to the criticism by the military ombudsman, Defense Minister Peter MacKay said "Investigations take time". What a silly comment. He's addressing the Canadian public with the tone of a kindergarten teacher, all while these families are mourning their dead.

Apparently investigations take time, but issuing an extension to our troops' presence in Afghanistan until 2014 and, thus, avoiding a vote in the House of Commons on the subject, doesn't take any time at all!

That they can get done in a jiffy. Throwing soldiers into combat is quick. Honoring them after they're no longer useful to you and your minions...tedious.

Enough nonsense, treat these people with the respect they have earned. They have clearly given more than what you deserve.

Please contact our insightful Minister and let him know what you think:

The Honourable Peter MacKay
Minister of National Defence
National Defence Headquarters
Major-General George R. Pearkes Building
101 Colonel By Drive
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
K1A 0K2

Phone: 613-996-3100
Facsimile: 613-995-8189

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Canada Prof calls for Wikileaks Assassination!

University of Calgary Professor Tom Flanagan has openly called for the assassination of Julian Assange, of Wikileaks on CBC Television yesterday.

From the interview:

                                  "Well I think Assange should be assassinated actually. I think Obama should put out a contract and maybe use a drone or something."

Flanagan, is a well known senior advisor to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He is credited as being the architect of the successful Conservative election campaign in 2006. He is also the author of a book on his time on Harper's staff.

Flanagan was so instrumental to Harper's success that Walrus Magazine call him "The Man Behind Stephen Harper".

Now this Professor and senior advisor to Harper has a new, and dubious, honor to tack onto his resume' . He  has joined the ranks of Sarah Palin, who has called for Assange to be "hunted down" just like the US military is hunting down Al-Qaeda. A dubious honor indeed.

Do we have to remind Flanagan that Canada doesn't have a death penalty? What about the right to a fair trial and due process? You know, that annoying concept of innocent until proven guilty.

Do we need to remind him that whistle blowers have, throughout history, been responsible for keeping power and greed in check?

I think he does need a reminder, and some context.

In 1972, five men were arrested for breaking and entering into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, DC. The White House, from President Nixon on down denied knowledge and involvement in the affair. That is until two brave journalists, Bob Woodward and  Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post, famously published information from anonymous sources claiming knowledge of the break-in and attempts to cover it up came directly from the Justice Department, the FBI, the CIA and the White House.

The source was referred to as Deep Throat in the reports. Only in 2005 was it revealed that Deep Throat is in fact Deputy Director of the FBI William Mark Felt Sr. It is he who met secretly with Woodward. Without both their courage none of this would have been uncovered. The scandal ultimately resulted in the impeachment and resignation of President Nixon as a result of his involvement in the affair.

Would the illustrious Professor call for the assassination of Bob Woodward? I think not.

It's really a shame that one of the most senior advisors to the head of the Canadian government is espousing opinions that are so decidedly un-Canadian.

Not only should he not be an advisor to the PM but his position at the, publicly subsidized, University of Calgary should be reviewed. Do we want our tax dollars to pay people like him to teach our best and brightest?

I'm not sure, that's why I will give him the benefit of the doubt and ask for a review. That's much more than he is giving Mr. Assange...

U Calgary - Political Science - Head of Dept: David Stewart
U Calgary - Dean: Kevin McQuillan

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Shame on you Ignatieff

It is a sad sign of how far our representatives in Ottawa have drifted from doing their job, namely representing the will of the Canadian electorate, when the Bloc Quebecois is the party tabling a motion condemning the extension of Canada's presence and asking for a vote on the Canadian involvement in the war in Afghanistan.

Not the Liberals and certainly not the Conservatives. In fact the Conservatives, led by Harper, have instead proposed an "extension" of the mission till 2014. This political gimmick allows them to keep our men and women in Afghanistan without requiring a vote in the House of Commons.

Not to be outdone, the Liberals, are planning on voting against the Bloc motion!

Meanwhile, the Vancouver Sun reported that over 80% of Canadians want to end the mission by 2011 !!!

Meanwhile the extension till 2014 will cost $ 1.6 billion dollars that we don't have.

Meanwhile 867,948 Canadians are assisted by food banks!

What is wrong with this picture? When are these politicians going to do what we want them to do? What they're supposed to do?

I can't believe that the two largest political parties, the Conservatives and the Liberals, are both so eager to act against the wishes of 80% of the Canadian population, while the Bloc Quebecois, who's voter base is limited to Quebec, are the ones trying to save the lives of our soldiers and bring them home.

Shame on you Ignatieff. You had an opportunity to show us that you're different. That you would, miracle of miracles, represent us. I guess we were wrong.

Bravo Bloc Quebecois!

Please contact your MP and tell them what you think! If they don't vote the way you want, make it clear to them you will not vote for them ever again.

Enough Canadian blood has soaked the sand in Afghanistan...

Monday, November 29, 2010

First 220 "Cablegate" documents released by Wikileaks

True to their word, Wikileaks has just released 220/251,287 documents in what is now being called Cablegate. After quickly browsing through this initial set, some interesting things pop up. Namely:

  • King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia frequently requested the US attack Iran to "cut off the head of the snake". This will severely damage the already strained relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran to say the least. However, a senior member of the Saudi Foreign Ministry cautioned the US against using the military option with Iran.
  • Abu Dhabi (U.A.E.) Crown Prince discusses using the military option against Iran with US military officials, declaring "It will take ground forces!"
  • The US ordered all of its diplomats to spy on United Nations officials. Not surprising but not a team builder either.
  • The US orders its diplomats in the middle east to send vehicle registrations and travel routes of senior Palestinian Authority and Hamas officials. You know, the kind of information that can be useful in a friendly neighborhood targeted assassination.
  • Hillary Clinton issued a directive to US diplomats ordering them to collect DNA, iris scans, fingerprints, language skills and many other things from key and emerging political, military , intelligence, opposition, religious and business leaders in certain African countries.
  • President Aliyev of Azerbaijan makes a crude joke to a US diplomat when referring to the relationship between Russian President Medvedev and Russian Prime Minister Putin saying " You can't boil two heads in one pot", implying that Putin really runs the show. Not a very smart thing to say when you're the president of a small country on the underbelly of a former, and now rising, superpower.
  • Libyan leader Qaddafi has a thing for his buxom blonde Ukrainian nurse. Too funny!
Also from the Wikileaks website:

Are all the embassy cables being released at once?
No. Instead of publishing the documents all at once, the organisation will be releasing the embassy files in stages.
Why not release everything now?
The embassy cables will be released in stages over the next few months. The subject matter of these cables is of such importance, and the geographical spread so broad, that to do otherwise would not do this material justice.
We owe it to the people who entrusted us with the documents to ensure that there is time for them to be written about, commented on and discussed widely in public, something that is impossible if hundreds of thousands of documents are released at once. We will therefore be releasing the documents gradually over the coming weeks and months.
Ouch. This is going to be painful for the US government to manage. It's death by a thousand diplomatic paper cuts!

You can browse through some of these cables on sites of the NY Times , Der Spiegel, Le Monde and The Guardian, which has a great interactive search tool.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Decarie gets the Bronze!

U.S. traffic data firm NAVTEQ has published  a list of the 10 slowest freeways in North America:

Freeways with the Slowest Typical Rush Hour
(Traffic direction in parentheses)
1. New York City – Brooklyn Battery TUNL (NB)
2. New York City – Washington BRG (EB)
3. Montreal – AUT-15 (EB)
4. Philadelphia – US-202 (SB)
5. Montreal – RTE-138 (WB)
6. New York City – Washington BRG (WB)
7. Los Angeles – 1-10 (EB)
8. Boston – US-1 (NB)
9. Dallas – TX-366 (EB)
10. Toronto – Don Valley PKWY (NB)
Now that's impressive! Coming in third after NYC is no mean feat in a continent that includes LA, Chicago and Dallas.
This list doesn't even take population into account. Speaking of which:
Fed Up Montrealer's Freeways with the Slowest Typical Rush Hour
(Metro area population in millions of people, Source Wikipedia)
1. New York City – Brooklyn Battery TUNL (19.069)
2. New York City – Washington BRG (19.069)
3. Montreal – AUT-15 (3.814)
4. Philadelphia – US-202 (5.8)
5. Montreal – RTE-138 (3.814)
6. New York City – Washington BRG (19.069)
7. Los Angeles – 1-10 (17.786)
8. Boston – US-1 (4.522)
9. Dallas – TX-366 (6.447)
10. Toronto – Don Valley PKWY (6.539)
Well, at least we beat Toronto as usual :)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Canada: Symptoms of a Banana Republic

If you are prone to getting angry when reading how our elected officials willfully sabotage our system of governance, you may want to sit down before continuing.

The BC Liberal party announced in 2009 the adoption of the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), which came into effect in BC on July 1st, 2010. The 12% HST now applies to new houses, cars, clothing, furniture and haircuts (among other things), all of which previously had only the 5% GST tax applied to them. Mind you this is being applied in a province where people are financially stretched to the limit because of astronomical real estate prices.

So the good people of BC decided to do something about it and let the Liberals know they won't stand for this and created the Fight HST organization. Fight HST started collecting signatures for a petition to repeal the HST in BC. They were wildly successful and have collected over 500,000 signatures to date! Not only that, the Fight HST group started organizing campaigns to recall several elected MLA's (Members of the Legislative Assembly) that voted in favor of the HST. This is EXACTLY what an active, alert and intelligent citizenry is supposed to do in a representative democracy. Without checks and balances the politicians get away with anything.

The first of the recalls planned was that of Liberal MLA Ida Chong of the Oak Bay-Gordon Head riding in suburban Victoria, who is the BC minister of science and universities and also now the minister for economic skills and development. They planned to canvas the area with 600 volunteers over 4-6 weeks to collect the 18,000 signatures (40% of registered voters) needed to successfully recall Ms. Chong from her post. According to Elections BC regulations, before commencing a recall petition, and application must be filed. Fight HST filed their application according to the rules on Monday November 22nd.

One of the rules regarding the petition application is that it have 200 words or less. This is clearly shown in the Google cached copy of the Elections BC Recall website which we have courtesy of the great work done by the Globe and Mail. However, on Wednesday Elections BC rejected the application because it had "too many words". They subsequently went on to explain that the acronyms MLA and HST, when read out loud, counted for 8 words instead of 2 and that put the application over the 200 word limit! Then, on Wednesday November 24th in the afternoon they published the new rules and guidelines where they had inserted, in the 3rd paragraph of section B, the following:

                         If the application is complete and meets the requirements of the Recall and Initiative Act...

They then published the Recall and Initiative Act which is a silly document explaining how different acronyms, abbreviations and the like are to be treated when counting words.

They changed the rules after the application had been filed! This is a violation of the ex post facto legal concept which says you cannot change a law after the fact, i.e. after the act was committed. While expressly prohibited by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms when it comes to criminal law, it is also advisable to follow this concept for all other laws as well. Otherwise nobody would know what to do! This ridiculous rule change should have only applied to applications filed AFTER the date on which the new rules were made public.

Here is a video of Mike Hayes of Fight HST reacting to the news.

This is a disgusting attempt to thwart and frustrate the Fight HST group. Not only was their application to petition rejected but also 150 volunteer applications as well. Now they have to resubmit all of the paperwork and pay the application fees all over again.

The Chief Electoral Officer should resign immediately or be removed from his office. Shame on him! These are public employees whose salaries are paid for by the very people they are attempting to stifle! Do we pay a chief electoral officer to sit around and think how many words an acronym should count for instead of facilitating the desire of these registered voters to exercise their rights?!

This is something we expect from a mayoral election in Angola, not in beautiful BC.

I hope the Fight HST movement overcomes this obstacle and continues to toss each of these MLA's that voted for the HST out of office! They should also hold the chief electoral officer Craig James responsible for his actions.