New Carnival of Observations on Life

April 21, 2008

The latest edition of the Carnival of Observations on Life, which includes a post by me, is out at:

http://anjamerret.com/?p=357

Great job, Anja.

Advertisements

Blame Canada!

April 20, 2008

Normally, I try not to get too caught up in American politics.  I don’t want to follow every development in Washington.  There are some things you can’t ignore, of course, but I don’t need to know everything that goes on.  I don’t watch American news, particularly the cable news channels.  Even so, we get plenty of American political coverage on Canadian TV – more than is necessary, in my opinion.  Two of the funniest shows on television also happen to poke fun at American politics, providing me with all the knowledge I need.

The current presidential primary campaigns in the U.S. are a perfect example of too much foreign coverage.  Canadian networks have followed every step of the year long run up to the next election.  I try not to pay attention to all of it.  A periodic update on the races, results of major primaries, and reports of major gaffes would probably suffice.  One story has caught my attention, though.

NAFTA has become an issue in the campaign, with both Democratic candidates claiming that it is costing Americans.  Hillary Clinton even mentioned Canada by name, saying she will renegotiate the trade pact because American companies can’t get their products into Canada due to invisible barriers.

She’s right.  I just can’t find an American product anywhere in Canada.  I hunt high and low for American brands, but they’re just not there.  They’ve been squeezed out by Canadian brands like…. uh…. you know…  Well, I can’t think of them at the moment, but they’re pretty ubiquitous and have so much clout that they can actually get the government to prevent American brands from entering Canada.

Really?  You think we put bogus barriers in place?  How about American refusal to accept NAFTA panel rulings on softwood lumber and imposing tariffs?  They use the Canadian stumpage fee system as an excuse but stumpage fees apply to trees cut down, or raw logs.  Yet, there seems to be no limit to the number of raw logs they’ll import from Canada for their mills to process.  They apply the tariff to processed wood, not logs.  Where do stumpage fees figure in that?  Looks like an excuse to protect American mills and reduce the Canadian forestry industry to a primary one.

American farmers are directly subsidized.  Canadian farmers aren’t.

There was also the U.S. cattle and meat packing industries exploiting the Canadian industry during the BSE crisis.  American producers picked up young Canadian cattle for a song from desperate ranchers while the U.S. border remained closed to older Canadian animals for longer than was necessary.  This was despite the fact that there had been cases of victims of mad cow disease in the U.S. (in New Jersey, for example) that were not related to Canadian cattle.

How about security restrictions, even against their friends and allies?  Why did MDA have to try and sell its space division to an American military contractor for a chance to sell some satellites to the U.S. government?  Both Democratic candidates should remember that they have stated the need to mend relationships with friends and allies that have been damaged by the Bush administration.  Sen. Clinton’s comment sounds a bit like more of the same foreign policy derived from ‘South Park: The Movie’.

Are there some protectionist practices on this side of the border, too?  Probably.  The CBC reported that some agricultural shenanigans are used by both sides.  But, if NAFTA is opened up, it works both ways.  Both sides will have things they want to change.   That won’t address the American tendency to flout the rules and ignore rulings they don’t like, though.

Tickets Please – Or Else

April 18, 2008

Vancouver and British Columbia are gaining a reputation for having taser-happy cops.  Recent statistics show that you’re much more likely to be tasered in Western Canada than in the rest of the country.  BC has the highest number of taser incidents in the country, with over 500, followed by Alberta, with over 400.  The drop off to the next province is a steep one.  Ontario and Quebec, with larger populations, have had only a small fraction of those numbers.

By now, the Robert Dziekanski incident at Vancouver International Airport is world famous.  “Welcome to Canada.”  ZAP.  Maybe it’s something about transportation facilities that puts cops and security officers on edge, because now we’re finding out that Transit Police on the Skytrain are using them on people, too.  No, not on suspected terrorists.  Believe it or not, at least five fare dodgers have been tasered.  Fare dodgers!  Call me soft on crime, if you must, but that strikes me as rather harsh.

Just how they justify tasering fare dodgers is beyond me.  How great a threat do they really  represent?  If that doesn’t demonstrate that tasers are being used as a first response rather than a final measure for potentially dangerous assailants, what does?  This is just lazy policing, at best.  “I can’t be bothered wrestling him to the ground, so I’ll just zap ‘im.”  Maybe it’s worse.  Maybe it’s, “I can get away with zappin’ ‘im cuz he tried to get away”.  Give some people a uniform…

There are supposed to be guidelines for the use of these things.  The RCMP and local police forces like the VPD are supposed to have policies, anyway.  The transit police aren’t real police, though.  Who knows what policies and guidelines they have, if any?  They’ve been accused of using excessive force in the past, even before they started carrying tasers.

I don’t know if there are provincial or national guidelines governing all use of tasers.  If there aren’t, there should be.  News reports about the statistics seem to indicate that there are.  If those rules do exist, they need to be enforced.  Otherwise, we’ll have cops and pseudo-cops tasering anyone they like, for whatever reason – or just because they can.

Pope Ropes a Dope, Does Boffo Box Tax Free

April 17, 2008

The pope is in North America on his latest concert tour.  This is one tour I won’t complain about not coming to Vancouver, as it covers the U.S. only.  The easily impressed flock to see him so that they may feel graced by his presence.  They buy up all the souvenirs and concert T-shirts and hold up their lighters shouting, “Yaaaaahhhh!”

Seriously, this is big business.  A papal tour is worth hundreds of millions.  I mean, $695 for a porcelain statue of the guy?  The mark up on these mass produced mementos is – dare I say it – a sin.  Well, it would be if there was a god for it to qualify as a crime against, but, you get the idea.  The pope has criticized Canada in the recent past for not doing enough to narrow the gap between rich and poor.  Then the church gouges its own followers like this?  Talk about excessive profits.  Is a ‘toy pope with your Happy Meal’ McDonald’s deal next?

Ever since they were introduced by his predecessor, papal tours have been a nice little earner for the Catholic church.  Souvenirs of all kinds have been sold at extortionate prices to the suckers – I mean, faithful.  Remember the famous John Paul II pope-on-a-rope soap?  I wonder if it washed away sins.  His tours turned him into a larger than life personality – rivaling Jesus, himself – that the church capitalized on.  Well, who could blame them?  There was a lot of money to be made.

But, what about all that money?  Couldn’t all those good Catholics have used it to feed hungry people instead of the church and their own pride?  Let’s face it, those souvenirs will be shown off as proof that they’ve seen the pope.  Bragging rights will be theirs.  Bragging will ensue.  Some might say the profits are used to feed the hungry.  Are they?  I’m not so certain of that.  The Catholic church is a large organisation with broad financial interests.  They invest on the stock market and are probably one of the great institutional investors of the world.  At one point, I believe,  they were the largest – possibly the majority – shareholder of Coca Cola.  That’s pretty big.

They know how to market the pope like a rock star.  Pretty savvy.  They know how to exploit their star to turn a healthy profit.  That’s entertainment.  They know how to invest and manage huge sums of money.  That’s rich.  And, they don’t pay a penny in taxes.  That’s really rich.  Even Hollywood couldn’t hide profits that well.

I’ve written before about how the church doesn’t use nearly all the money it takes in for charity.  In fact, the crumbs they give out to the truly needy along with their prayers are probably nothing compared to what they have available to them.  This is a very large corporation with vast assets that generates huge revenues and profits, but doesn’t pay tax.  It’s time that came to an end.

Post-Season Affective Disorder

April 16, 2008

OK, let’s talk some hockey.  I’ve avoided it so far because I’ve been sick, dealing with the littany of mistakes that various organizations have made at my financial expense, and adjusting to new nocturnal hours.  The disappointment of the Canucks’ late season collapse and failure to make the playoffs was just too much to deal with on top of all that.  Now, I think I can write about it.

On Monday, Canucks general manager Dave Nonis was “relieved of his duties”.  That’s fired, to you and me.  The team had missed the playoffs for the second time in three years.  Last year they made it to the second round, only to be eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Anaheim Ducks.  Everyone expected this year to be a step forward from that, even though there wasn’t much change last summer.  It didn’t work out that way.

The Canucks suffered a neverending string of injuries throughout the season.  Their solid defence – some said the best starting six in the league – never played a single game as a complete unit.  Key forwards also suffered injuries.  Some players had multiple injuries.  To their credit, the players never used injuries as an excuse.  They said they should find a way to win, anyway.  They have to say that and keep trying.  Now that their season is over, however, Hockey Night In Canada’s Kelly Hrudey seems to be saying it is part of the explanation.

To make matters worse, star goalie Roberto Luongo wasn’t his usual spectacular self, mainly because his pregnant wife was thousands of miles away in Florida so that she could stay near her doctor.  There was the potential for complications.  I guess that could make you lose focus, occasionally.

So, why fire the GM?  Because, in this case, two out of three IS bad.  On paper, this team was good enough to be in the playoffs.  People in Vancouver want a winner.  This team has threatened greatness for about seven years, now.  But, it’s always something.  Former goalie Dan Cloutier let’s in a bad one.  The next two years, he’s injured at playoff time.  Director – sorry – referee Kerry Fraser and video goal officials in Toronto make bad calls that cost them games in a first round series they lose in seven games.  Then, the lockout writes off a season.  Then, the Bertuzzi incident and they miss the playoffs.  They bounce back the next year, but now – this.

Francesco Aquilini, the team owner, said the word “leadership” repeatedly at a press conference announcing the change.  Does that mean the coaching staff are next?  What about leadership on the ice?  It was widely believed that captain Markus Naslund, and possibly Brendan Morrison, would not have been re-signed under Nonis.  Will that still be the case?  Will there be a complete clearout of the old leadership on the ice, behind the bench, and in the head office?  That might be the easiest way to deal with the problem because, you see, nobody really knows what is wrong with this team.  Everybody has their favourite target to blame.

Me – I just don’t know.  Maybe it’s just the injuries and Luongo’s temporary distraction.  Maybe the problem would have fixed itself by next year.  Maybe the coach didn’t make the best use of the players he had.  Some people think the owners overreacted, in an emotional manner, because they are also fans.  Maybe.

Now, the talk is about who will be his replacement.  There is speculation that Brian Burke will come back.  Not likely.  He has a year left on his contract with Anaheim.  I seriously doubt the owners there would let him out of it early, considering they just won the Stanley Cup last year.  Pat Quinn’s name has been mentioned.  Then there’s current assistant manager Steve Tambellini, who has also worked with Team Canada.  Trevor Linden’s name has been mentioned as a possible member of the management team, if not the GM.  His experience with the NHL Players Association could help him.

Whoever they hire, and whatever they do, I hope it gets results.  It’s bad enough that I watch the Stanley Cup final every year without really caring who wins – but the entire playoffs?

I Am Canada and So Can You

April 11, 2008

Don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t make a difference.  Don’t ever allow yourself to fall into the trap of fatalistic defeatist bullshit thinking that says, “What can I do?  I’m just one person.”  This one person made a difference.  In fact, I may have changed the course of a nation.

Almost three months ago I wrote about the proposed sale of MDA‘s space division to an American defence contractor and how the transfer of its Radarsat2 to American control represented a threat to Canadian sovereignty.  I also urged people to write to the Prime Minister, other relevant cabinet ministers, and their MPs.  A couple weeks later, I reported that some of you must have paid attention and spread the word because Industry Minister Jim Prentice had just announced that he would review the sale.

On March 18th, in an email to me and cc’d to Defence Minister Peter MacKay, he wrote that he was continuing his review and mentioned the criteria he takes into account.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, because security considerations were pretty vaguely defined.

Well, yesterday, it paid off.  It looks like the government is going to stop the sale, as reported in this news story.  As Stephen Colbert would say, “I did it!”  You can thank me for saving the country later.  I’m considering changing the subtitle of this blog to “Saving the Nation One Post at a Time”.  And any goalkeeper, the last line of defence, will tell you that posts are his best friend.

Now, of course, I’m not the only one who was against the deal but, if I can toot my own horn for a bit, no one else seemed to notice or care about the security and sovereignty considerations until I brought it up.  I wrote emails to the media, too.  One sour note in the news yesterday was that NDP leader Jack Layton was trying to take credit for it and claiming that the government was coming around to his way of thinking.  I must have missed those speeches.  Maybe he expressed concerns about losing Canadarm, but I didn’t hear a word about Radarsat2 or security concerns from him.

The scale of this achievement shouldn’t be underestimated.  The network news reporters are saying this is unprecedented.  It’s the first time a cross-border acquisition has ever been overturned by the government for security reasons.  That it was done by a Conservative government whose priorities seem to be to guarantee and increase the flow of capital into the country and maintaining friendly relations with a security obsessed administration in Washington is even more noteworthy.  It is an indication that they are aware that there is something called Canada that is more important than any business transaction.  That is not a principle most Canadian governments could convincingly say they upheld.

I want to make it clear, I’m no commie.  I have no problem with companies making an honest profit, and I generally don’t like taxes.  But, there was a higher principle at stake, here.  It’s amazing what you can do with a blog, an email account, and knowing how to speak someone’s language.

Take a Gander, Why Don’t Ya?

April 9, 2008

I watched the movie ‘Flight Plan’ on TV last night.  Well, most of it, anyway.  I missed the beginning.  Normally, Jodie Foster’s presence in a movie automatically lends it a certain quality.  It can usually be assumed to be a cut above.  Not this time.  There was a glaring mistake so bad it insulted both my intelligence and my national pride.

If you aren’t familiar with it, the story is about a woman whose daughter goes missing in a passenger jet mid-flight over the Atlantic Ocean and her subsequent struggle to find her and convince everyone else on board that she was ever there.  The plot thickens as it twists and turns then at some point the decision is made to make a premature landing in Newfoundland.

Initially, I was impressed by how perfectly the characters pronounced “Newfoundland”, with the emphasis on the last syllable and virtually eliminating any vowel sound from the second syllable.  Most Canadians west of the Gulf of St. Lawrence don’t even say it right, enunciating and emphasizing the middle syllable instead.   Gander was later mentioned by name.  “Well”, I thought, “they seem to know their stuff.  Here are some Hollywood types who actually took the time to find something out about Canada.  At last, a little respect”.

All that came to an abrupt end when the plane landed at Gander, Newfoundland,  and dozens of FBI agents were waiting for it.  FBI agents!  What are FBI agents doing in Gander, Newfoundland in the middle of the night?  What country is Newfoundland a part of?  And what country is the FBI an agency of?

This is cultural imperialism aimed at Canada, plain and simple – a complete and utter lack of respect.  You know as well as I do that if the plane had landed in Britain, MI5 or MI6 or MIwhatever agents would have been waiting.  But, we don’t even rate our own federal agents in the movies.  What, they’ve never heard of the RCMP?  Everybody’s heard of the mounties.  And, when it comes to airport showdowns, they taser with the best of them.  They always get their man, necessary or not.

Maybe the producers went even further and simply annexed Newfoundland and Labrador for the U.S.  Maybe they figured that would make the plot simpler.  Maybe they’re not even aware it’s in another country.  The movie industry already considers Canada a part of the U.S.  We’re included in the ‘domestic’ market by distributors.  Why not just extend that into the plots of movies?

Ms. Foster, I’m officially over my ‘Taxi Driver’ crush.  Having said that, if you’re ready to respect me… call me.

The Government Giveth and the Government Taketh Away

April 8, 2008

A couple weeks ago, I received a very unwelcome letter from the government.  More specifically, it was from the Canada Revenue Agency, that branch of the government that is just one word short of a really funny acronym.  The ones formerly known as Revenue Canada.  You know, the people you pay taxes to.

Anyway, the Canada Revenue Agency people told me they had reassessed my tax return from 2006 and that I now owed them money, PLUS INTEREST, for the year or so that I hadn’t paid them, even though I had just been informed.  They said they had adjusted my Canada Pension Plan contributions downwards and that I now owe them $114.26.

I phoned the CRA and it was clear the person on the other end of the phone didn’t have a clue.  That didn’t stop him from being adamant the mighty agency employing him was right, even though he couldn’t tell me why I owed them money.  He put me on hold while he checked.  He came back and said the “system” said I had claimed more than I actually had.  He didn’t have my actual return in front of him.  If he did, he would have seen the correct amount.  Well, I did have my copy of the return in front of me – a photocopy  of the relevant page I had sent, as it happens.  He conceded that it was probably a clerical or data entry error that led to the wrong number being entered but maintained that I still owed them the $107.73.  The good news, though, was that I could probably appeal the interest of $6.53.  Yay.

I was sick with the flu at the time so my brain just wasn’t putting things together.  Fortunately, when I was in better shape to walk all the way up that hill to the mailbox to mail the bastards a cheque, I was also more mentally alert.  Something wasn’t right and I knew it.

I dug out the letter they sent and the reassessment notice.  I also dug out my tax return and supporting documents, including the original assessment that didn’t find this ‘underpayment’.  I added up the CPP contributions on the T4s.  Yep.  They added up to exactly what I claimed.  No overstatement on my part.  Then I looked at the reassessment.  Wait a minute.  This doesn’t say I claimed more than the amount on my return.  It says they adjusted it down from that number.  How can they do that?  I did actually make the contributions and I’ve got the documents to prove it.  They can’t just say I didn’t.  And, why does the “system” have a completely different number?  They can’t seem to get their facts straight and they don’t seem to be able to tell me why I owe this money.  The only thing they seem to be certain of is that I do.  Rather than sending a check, I sent a letter pointing out all of this and stating that if they still claim I owe them money they’ll have to give me a detailed explanation and justification for it.

Just a mistake?  Maybe, or maybe the government was spending money when they were swimming in it but, now that things have turned sour south of the border and there are signs of a slowdown on this side of it, there just isn’t as much money coming in as expected this year so they’re looking for ways to get some of it back.  So, maybe they’re sending out reassessments hoping people won’t question the government and just pay up.  That should help the books.

You may be thinking I’m a conspiracy theorist, but this isn’t the first time something’s gone wrong with the tax people and me.  A few years ago I decided to try their new direct deposit payment method for my refund.  After six to eight weeks, when it still hadn’t been deposited, I phoned them.  I was told it had been deposited into my account weeks earlier.  After telling the person that it hadn’t he checked my account details.  They had the right account number, but it had been deposited into a different account number entirely – one that wasn’t mine.  This happened about the time the financial scandals broke out in Ottawa, which only fuelled my suspicions further.  Either they get up to some fishy stuff with our taxes in that agency, or they make an awful lot of mistakes – with my money.

The Canada Revenue Agency People.

Recent Carnivals

April 7, 2008

In addition to the European Travel Blog Carnival mentioned in my previous post, I’ve also recently had posts included in several other carnivals, including:

The Carnival of Ethics, Values, and Personal Finance

The Carnival of Observations on Life

The Carnival of Consumer Focused Real Estate

The Carnival of the Godless #87

The Carnival of Fraud

 Check them out.

European Travel Blog Carnival April 7, 2008

April 7, 2008

The new European Travel Blog Carnival, including one of my posts, is out at:

http://www.europealacarte.co.uk/blog/2008/04/07/europe-travel-blog-carnival-7-april-2008/

If you like Europe, you’ll enjoy it.  Great job, Karen.