Friday, July 31, 2009

Residents try to keep children's room out of library...

... unbelievably, because the wrong kids might use it:
Library Director Dennis Fabiszak has said that the East Hampton Village Board of Zoning Appeals has expressed concern that an expanded children’s collection would lead to more library usage by those who live in the less affluent areas of Springs and Wainscott.
From here. Only in America you say? Probably not, I'm afraid; I'm told that a few years ago residents in Waterloo's upscale Beechwood neighbourhood were up in arms when the regional transit authority put a bus route through their area. Apparently they also wanted the city to remove the signs saying where the parks were... no prize for guessing why.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Whither electoral reform?

The latest Harris-Decima poll is probably bad news for those of us who want electoral reform in this country. In this poll, 64% of respondents said they prefer a majority to a minority government. Unfortunately, this will make the job of selling electoral reform harder, since under proportional representation majority governments are almost unheard of. There are still ways to do it (for instance, pointing out that if no party has any realistic hope of a majority, the parties will have to change their strategies and perhaps be less acrimonius) but I have my doubts about PR coming in in the next couple of decades. Declan at Crawl Across the Ocean seems a bit more optimistic, but I'm not sure I like all of his solutions either. For instance, he advocates instant-runoff voting as a step in the direction of PR. Others, though, fear that IRV would make the situation worse; it would tend to favour the party that is the second choice of a lot of voters... thus likely cementing the Liberals' role as "Canada's natural governing party" for a long time to come.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Harper allegedly desecrates body of Christ

He's accused of improperly taking Communion at Romeo LeBlanc's funeral, and possibly pocketing the magic cookie:

A senior New Brunswick Roman Catholic priest is demanding the Prime Minister's Office explain what happened to the sacramental communion wafer Stephen Harper was given at Roméo LeBlanc's funeral mass.

During communion at the solemn and dignified service held last Friday in Memramcook for the former governor general, the prime minister slipped the thin wafer that Catholics call "the host" into his jacket pocket.

In Catholic understanding, the host - once consecrated by a priest for the Eucharist - becomes the body and blood of Jesus Christ. It is crucial that the small wafer be consumed when it is received.

Monsignor Brian Henneberry, vicar general and chancellor in the Diocese of Saint John, wants to know whether the prime minister consumed the host and, if not, what happened to it.

If Harper accepted the host but did not consume it, "it's worse than a faux pas, it's a scandal from the Catholic point of view," he said.

Henneberry said a statement from the Prime Minister's Office is in order.

"If I were the prime minister, I would at least offer an explanation to say no offence was meant, and then (clarifying) what happened to the consecrated host is in order," he said. "I would hope the Prime Minister's Office would have enough respect for the Catholic Church and for faith in general to make clear whatever happened."

On Friday, during the mass, Harper reached out with his right hand and accepted the wafer from a priest.

A television camera lingered long enough to show New Brunswick Lt.-Gov. Herménégilde Chiasson, the next person to receive the host, raise his to his mouth.

But the tape shows that Harper does not consume the wafer before the camera cuts away several seconds later.

If Harper was unclear about what was appropriate during the funeral mass, said Henneberry, it "would say to me it's time to get new protocol people."

From the Telegraph-Journal, via babble. From my point of view, this is pretty minor compared to Harper's real sins; however, from the point of view of right-wing Catholics, it could come as a bit of a shock. Looking at this issue in isolation I could have some sympathy for him; he may well have meant no offense and simply not known the protocol. But heck, even I know that non-Catholics aren't supposed to take the cookie, and I'm not Prime Minister, nor even one of his advisors. You'd think someone would have briefed him about it.

Then again, maybe he really did palm the wafer instead of eating it, perhaps as a result of reading this.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

State-owned bank succeeds -- in an unlikely place

Apparently 46 out of 50 US states are more or less insolvent. One of the ones that isn't is a bit of a surprise:
California [has] avoided bankruptcy for the time being, but 46 of 50 states are insolvent and could be filing Chapter 9 bankruptcy proceedings in the next two years.

One of the four states that is not insolvent is an unlikely candidate for the distinction - North Dakota. . .

What does the State of North Dakota have that other states don't? The answer seems to be: its own bank. In fact, North Dakota has the only state-owned bank in the nation. The state legislature established the Bank of North Dakota in 1919. Fleetham writes that the bank was set up to free farmers and small businessmen from the clutches of out-of-state bankers and railroad men. By law, the state must deposit all its funds in the bank, and the state guarantees its deposits. Three elected officials oversee the bank: the governor, the attorney general, and the commissioner of agriculture. The bank's stated mission is to deliver sound financial services that promote agriculture, commerce and industry in North Dakota. The bank operates as a bankers' bank, partnering with private banks to loan money to farmers, real estate developers, schools and small businesses. It loans money to students (over 184,000 outstanding loans), and it purchases municipal bonds from public institutions.

Still, you may ask, how does that solve the solvency problem? Isn't the state still limited to spending only the money it has? The answer is no. Certified, card-carrying bankers are allowed to do something nobody else can do: they can create "credit" with accounting entries on their books.
From here. A publicly owned bank is something us lefties have been calling for since long before I was born, but I had no idea that this was in practice in the US, much less in that state. Maybe I should stop making fun of North Dakota. Meanwhile, California is reduced to paying their state employees with IOUs...

Monday, July 6, 2009

Calls grow to supplant dollar as global currency

The call to find an alternative to the U.S dollar as the global reserve currency is gaining momentum as France joined calls by China, India and Russia for a review of the world's currency practices.

French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde challenged the dollar's supremacy “in a world that has changed because of the crisis and the growing role of emerging countries.”

The questioning of the U.S. dollar as the key currency for central banks by a leader of a major European economy gives renewed life to the issue at this week's Group of Eight summit meeting in L'Aquila, Italy. The U.S. dollar has long served as the dominant medium of exchange, and tends to dominate the official money reserves that countries hold through their governments and at their central banks.

In the first quarter of 2009, 65 per cent of the world's allocated foreign exchange holdings were held in U.S. dollars, according to the International Monetary Fund. That's the highest in seven quarters.

The push for an alternative is being driven in large part by concern over the weakened state of the U.S. economy.

The country is forecasting fiscal deficits for the next decade.

That's leading large holders of U.S. debt such as China to worry that the U.S. dollar may not be as safe as it once was. In addition, the dollar has been volatile on international currency markets, and the U.S. is running ongoing trade deficits.

Diversification would likely take years, because unwinding large reserve positions of U.S. dollars too quickly would devalue them. And despite concerns about the greenback, it has maintained its international appeal, in part because investors need the value of their U.S. dollar holdings to stay high.

From the Globe and Mail. Predictably, though, our Yankee-loving government is having none of it:
The U.S. dollar as the global reserve currency of choice has been a stabilizing force during the current financial crisis, Canada said on Friday, downplaying calls to debate the greenback's dominant status.

Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty told reporters he did not know whether the U.S. dollar's role as the global reserve currency would be included in the final communique of a meeting between the Group of Eight leaders and a heads of emerging nations in Italy next week.

"It's an issue that we have not addressed other than to say that, in the midst of what is still a significant global recession, it's important that we aim for stability, and stability has been based on the U.S. dollar as the global currency," Mr. Flaherty said via teleconference from Chile.

From the National Post. To be fair to Flaherty (gasp! Did I just say that??) the transition away from the US dollar would be rather difficult for Canada, particularly if it happened quickly. I think we're going to have to consider this, though; the US can't get away with their irresponsibility forever.