Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Alberta's First Killer Tornado

Twenty years ago today was declared Black Friday in Edmonton, when an F4 Tornado hit the city killing 27 people. The majority of those killed lived in Evergreen Trailer park.

It was the worst natural disaster in the city and provinces history, and unexpected since Alberta never had Tornado's before that day.

Today we have an advanced province wide emergency weather reporting system, the only one of its kind in Canada, which operates through CKUA radio.

And it has been broadcasting last night and this morning about Tornado's in the south of the province.

Climate Change, nah nothing to worry about.

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Islamicists and Evangelical Christians

They share common right wing social conservative values; like a belief in creationism. Shhh don't tell them. They may get together and then all hell will break loose.

Turkey's election

From The Economist print edition

Secular suspicions of the AK government had already been fanned, not least by the controversial education minister, Huseyin Celik. Mr Celik, who is said to have close links to the powerful Islamic Nur fraternity, has been accused of injecting Islam by stealth. He has overseen a revision of textbooks to promote creationism and the recruitment, as teachers, of hundreds of graduates of imam hatip, Islamic clerical-training schools. There has also been “an explosion in enrolment at Koran lessons, especially among girls,” says Alattin Dincer, president of Turkey's largest teachers' union. No wonder Mr Celik had to explain himself in a meeting with the chief of the general staff, Yasar Buyukanit, shortly after the army's e-coup.

Attempts by a few AK mayors to create booze-free zones, as well as Mr Erdogan's own failed effort in 2005 to outlaw adultery, have not helped the party's image with secularists.


Secularism Vs. Fundamentalism

Michael Coren's Fatwa

Procreation To Save The White Race

Strange Bedfellows

American Polytheism

Marxism and Religion

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Soccer Not War

Once more the common people in Iraq make a poignant political point about the national solidarity created by sports. In this case the victory of the Iraqi Soccer Team winning the Asian Cup this weekend unites the Iraqi people as I pointed out the other day. Proving once again that sports are an alternative to war and a great national unifier.

"Those heroes have shown the real Iraq. They have done something useful for the people as opposed to the politicians and lawmakers," said Sabah Shaiyal, a 43-year-old policeman in Baghdad's main Shiite district of Sadr City. "The players have made us proud. Once again our national team has shown that there is only one, united Iraq."

Spontaneous celebrations broke out in religiously mixed Baghdad as well as in Basra and the holy Shiite city of Najaf in the south and northern Kurdish towns like Arbil and Kirkuk.

Fans cried and danced in the streets, waving their shirts in the air and hugging.

Soldiers with their rifles slung over their shoulders danced with ordinary Iraqis in Baghdad while children, their faces painted in the Iraqi colours, held up pictures of their heroes.

While mainly comprised of Shiites, the team was captained by a Sunni Turkman from Kirkuk — goal-scoring hero Younis Mahmoud — and also contained Sunni Arab and Kurdish players in a broad representation of Iraqi society.

In Baghdad's Sadr City, a sprawling Shiite slum, women threw sweets to gathering fans and poured water over crowds in sweltering summer heat.

"A thousand congratulations for all Iraqis," another fan said.

Television presenters, draped in the red, white and black Iraqi flag, dissolved into tears. One Iraqiya television reporter was engulfed by a crowd in Baghdad and re-emerged on the shoulders of chanting fans.

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Tories Green Hot Air Plan For Cars

Environment Minister John Baird loves to talk about how the Conservative Government in Ottawa is more than just talk when it comes to their hot air Green Plan. They take action. Well Canadians are still waiting for their kickback for buying a Green Car.

Environment Minister John Baird, right, gives the thumbs-up as Finance Minister Jim Flaherty looks on during an Ottawa news conference in  March to announce the  environmental rebate program. Fred Chartrand/CP

Ottawa can't shift green rebates into gear

More than four months after announcing rebates for those who buy fuel-sipping cars and trucks, the federal government has not paid a cent to buyers of 2006 and 2007 models that qualify, and automakers are voicing complaints as 2008 models flow on to dealers' lots.

The ecoAuto feebate program set up in the March federal budget, offers rebates of up to $2,000 and also slaps a maximum levy of $4,000 on gas guzzlers. But it is angering consumers and growing increasingly messy for the auto companies, associations representing the major automakers operating in Canada say in a letter to Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Environment Minister John Baird.

By contrast, Honda Canada Inc., began offering rebates on its Fit subcompact car and manual transmission Civic compact in May, made them retroactive to budget day, March 19, and is paying the money, senior vice-president Jim Miller said Monday.

The Fit did not qualify under the federal scheme because it uses 6.6 litres of gas to travel 100 kilometres, just missing the cut-off line for rebates on 2007 and 2006 vehicles, which is set at 6.5 litres per 100 kilometres.

People who bought Toyota Yaris subcompacts, ethanol-powered Chevrolet Impalas and Chrysler Sebrings, diesel-powered Smart cars and other alternative -technology vehicles after March 19 are eligible for rebates.

But consumers kicking tires on 2008 models, assuming they will get a rebate, may be out of luck because Transport Canada still hasn't announced what vehicles from the new model year are eligible.

Although sales of Toyota's Yaris jumped in April and May after the program was introduced, they fell in June.

Industry analyst Dennis DesRosiers, who heads DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc., said an analysis of subcompact sales for the past two years shows the so-called feebate program has had little impact on sales.

“We said on day one that the feebate would fail miserably, four months into the program we are being proven to be right,” Mr. DesRosiers said in a note to clients last week.


Corporate America Greener Than Harper


Capitalism Creates Global Warming

Harpers Alberta Green Plan

John Baird In Exxons Pocket?

"C '" Car Go

Junk Science: Ethanol

Chocolate and Cars

Chrysler Made In Canada?

Chrysler Inc. vs. Liberal Inc.

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Ex Pat Attacks Medicare

In their summer issue of City Magazine; American Nativist Right Wing Think Tank; The Manhattan Institute has published an attack on Canadian Medicare,in response to Michael Moores Sicko. And they have an ex Canadian write it for them.

The Ugly Truth About Canadian Health Care
David Gratzer

Socialized medicine has meant rationed care and lack of innovation. Small wonder Canadians are looking to the market.

Once again the American Right carts out the slander of long waiting lines in Canada, confusing as they do 'wait times' for waiting lines, conjuring up as they do images of lines of folks in the Soviet Union waiting for weekly rations of meat and bread.

And while giving examples of the right wing attempt to privatize health care in Canada, the writer misses the underlying point. While Canadians may accept a certain level of privatized services, for delivery of Workers Compensation for instance, they rely upon socialized medicine for the majority of their health care and they like it. Which of course just goes to prove we are socialists.

He is not the only ex-pat shilling for the right wing anti-Medicare lobby in the U.S.

Of course the ideal of a universal health care system that then allows for alternative delivery of some treatments, those too expensive, or experimental, or those needed for workplace injuries, is the basis of health care in Canada and Britain not for some citizens but for all, and finds a supporter in the very voice of Adam Smiths Capitalism; The Economist.

Nobody denies that the insecurity in America has been sharpened by the absence of a comprehensive health-care system. Most Americans still get their health care from their companies: lose your job, and you lose your insurance cover with it. All the main Democrats, but none of the leading Republicans, have promised to provide universal, affordable health care. Interestingly, even the most radical of the Democrats' health plans, that of Mr Edwards (see article), is hardly extremist stuff, relying on the private sector but tweaking the system to make sure that no one falls through the cracks and that costs are controlled.

“WE'RE right at the cusp of an ideological truce on health care,” declares a beaming Ron Wyden. The Democratic senator has reason to be pleased. A version of his Healthy Americans Act, an ambitious health-reform bill aimed at universal coverage that he has already introduced into the Senate, was due to go to the House this week. At that point, his bill will become the first bipartisan, bicameral congressional effort in over a decade to tackle the issue of extending health care to the country's growing legion of uninsured.

Today, though, Americans are increasingly unhappy with the health system. Congressman Brian Baird, a co-sponsor of the House version of the universal-care bill, argues that many millions have lost their employer-provided insurance since the failure of the Clinton plan and even more fear they might. Such widespread insecurity has breathed new life into reform.

That appeals to businesses, which, like individuals, are feeling increasingly insecure as the cost of employee health benefits continues to soar well above the rate of inflation. Wal-Mart, America's biggest retailer, has been loudly pushing for universal coverage, and the current bipartisan efforts in Congress have won praise from General Mills, a big cereal manufacturer, Aetna, an insurance giant, and other firms.

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Albertans Left Blown' In The Wind

You Don't Need A Weatherman To Know Which Way the Wind Blows. Not in Alberta home of the free market. No rent controls here says our Premier. No changes in Building Codes till 2010. No need to revise our pork barrel health boards.

But Steady Eddie will keep a cap on wind energy.

Wind power advocates are unhappy with the Alberta government for suggesting that the current cap on wind energy in the province might be raised, rather than eliminated completely.

And not let Albertans develop their own home based energy to reduce their energy bills and produce locally based micro green energy whose excess can be put into the provinces utility grid. So much for his much lauded free market politics.

The Stelmach government foresees nearly doubling the amount of wind-power generation allowed in Alberta, even as the province remains the only jurisdiction in Canada to cap the production of wind energy.

Alberta's Electric System Operator introduced last year a limit of 900 megawatts of wind-energy generation, saying it was uncertain about whether wind conditions and patterns could be properly forecast -- something needed to produce a reliable stream of power.

The decision enraged wind-energy producers, which have thousands of megawatts in the queue. The rules made Alberta the only jurisdiction in Canada to impose such a cap.

"Replacing it with a higher cap is not a preferred option," said Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association. "A cap sends a signal that a door is closed, and for investors in the industry, that sends a negative signal."

NDP environment critic David Eggen, who's long been lobbying the government to axe the cap, said more wind power will help slash greenhouse gas emissions spewed by coal-fired electricity plants.

The Tory government's priority for building transmission lines has gone to the carbon-based energy suppliers, he argued, which has further hindered wind-energy generation.

"If these guys (the government) are free marketers, get out of the way and let the renewable energy groups into the market," Eggen said. "There are so many delaying tactics to prevent renewable energy from getting a foothold in this province."

Of course there never was a free market in utilities in Alberta. They are either private monopolies like ATCO Frontenac, or TransAlta, or they are publicly owned like EPCOR and Enmax.

The former being influential supporters of the Tory government and their boards are retirement homes for former PC cabinet ministers.

Deregulation was done for their bottom line not for expansion of alternative utility services such as wind energy or home based green energy production.

Wind energy companies are all private small entrepreneurs.

Cowley Ridge in southwestern Alberta is the site of Canada's first commercial wind farm. The turbines generate enough electricity to power 7,000 homes. When it was launched in 1998, 3,000 households were signed up. Now, it has more than doubled with each home paying an extra $7.50 on average for using wind power.
While big utility monopolies like TransAlta are a dumping ground for ex Tory cabinet ministers their coal and gas powered hydro monopolies must be protected by their pals like Eddie.

The provincial government wants to insure those who control the grid, do not face competition from independent johnny come lately's promoting green energy nor from home based micro energy production.

H/T to Pierre Trudeau Is My Home Boy


Power Failure

Heat Not Light

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Tornado In Southern Alberta

CKUA is reporting that a Tornado has touched down in Crossfield, Alberta, and is moving east at 40 clicks per hour. We have severe weather warnings across the province and Tornado watches in the south; Wheatland, Ardrie, Rockyview, Strathmore, Vulcan, Drumheller, etc.

The Alberta Emergency Public Warning System was created following the 1987 Edmonton Tornado as a joint public alerting initiative with CKUA funded by the Alberta Government.

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Made In U.S.A. Food Recall

Reports in the media are saying that stores in the U.S. have still not removed all the Castlebury Chili and canned food products that have been tainted with botulism, from their shelves, despite last weeks recall by the company and warnings from the FDA and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The FDA is reporting that Castelbury has increased the products being recalled including both human food and pet food.

The source of botulism was poor product inspection due to the volunteer privatized food inspection process used in the U.S.

Chinese food products or additives were not identified as being involved as was the case in the recent pet food recall scandal.

And like the pet food scandal Castlebury is owned by an Income Trust.

Cans of chili contaminated with botulism could be in the homes of unwitting Canadian consumers despite a countrywide recall from Wal-Mart stores, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency warned yesterday.

Health officials are asking Canadians to scour their homes for two products - Great Value Original Chili With Beans and Great Value Hot Chili With Beans - after four people fell ill in the U.S.

Cans of recalled food are bursting, swollen with bacteria that cause botulism.

The bursting cans were among those being held by Castleberry's Food Co., which last week announced a massive recall that now includes more than 90 potentially contaminated products, including chili sauces and dog foods.

News about the bursting cans gives new urgency to warnings from federal health officials to get rid of the recalled cans from pantries and store shelves.

Spot checks by the Food and Drug Administration and state officials continue to turn up recalled products for sale in convenience stores, gas stations and family run groceries, from Florida to Alaska. The FDA alone has found them in roughly 250 of the more than 3,700 stores visited in nationwide checks, according to figures the agency provided to The Associated Press.

Yet food and other product recalls remain a voluntary process instigated by manufacturers. And there are no federal fines or penalties levied against companies whose products are subject to recall, said Amanda Eamich, spokesperson for the Food Safety and Inspection Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"There is no such thing as a mandatory recall," said Eamich. "However, no company has ever refused a recall for FSIS."

While federal oversight agencies cannot instigate a recall, they do have the legal authority to detain and seize products in order to protect the public from health problems or possible death. They also can enforce product safety requirements at the manufacturing plant, said Eamich.

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Pension Fraud Brings Down Japans Government

In a society that once had cradle to grave employment for its workers Japan for the past twenty years has been in an economic downward spiral. Each attempt to follow American recommendations to privatize their economy has exposed Japan's political establishment as incompetent if not downright criminal.

This weekends election exposed the weakness of such reforms in Japan as well as other existing capitalist economies as they rely on looting public pension funds for venture capital.

However, voters on Sunday were obviously far more concerned with bread-and-butter issues that directly affect their daily lives.

Key among those issues was concern about the state of the public pension system.

Even though the government passed legislation to reorganize the scandal-tainted Social Insurance Agency, the public was clearly not convinced that everything had been done to address their concerns about 50 million or so missing pension accounts or whether the new entity would operate in an efficient manner that would ease their fears about retirement.

Abe learned late last year about the pension debacle, but did nothing to deal with the matter until Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) raised this issue in the Diet, triggering a public uproar this spring.

Abe had no alternative but to come up with measures at the last minute to placate the public.

Abe promised to sort out every single pension account and notify individuals by next March at the latest about the status of their payments.

However, opinion surveys showed that the public had not yet forgiven the government for its handling of the problem.

In contrast, Minshuto focused on the pension issue by again proposing a minimum pension program. It also proposed other livelihood measures, such as steps to bridge the growing disparity in incomes as well as moves to help Japan's farmers and child-rearing families with direct subsidies.

Sunday's results left no doubt that Minshuto's policies resonated with voters. The major political question now is whether Abe will continue as prime minister.


Japanese State Capitalism

Gambling On Your Future

Public Pensions Fund Private Partnerships

The Importance of Savings

Social Insecurity The Phony Pension Crisis

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The New Imperial Age

China's Imperialism. In Africa, the Ugly American has been replaced by the equally ugly Chinese trader.

The People's Republic has been so shameless in its wooing of other nations that it now receives the type of anti-imperialist criticisms once reserved for America. It stands accused of exploiting foreign populations for economic gain; of stacking the international political deck in its own favour; of ploughing forward with no regard for environmental sustainability.

As trade and diplomacy between China and other countries in the developing world has skyrocketed, America's relationship with poor countries has crumbled – nurtured by years of unpopular wars, military interventions and one-sided economic policies.

In East Asia, where many of China's new friends are located, the animosity toward the U.S. veers on cartoonish. In Seoul, roughly half of young people polled said their country should support North Korea in a nuclear war with America. Kurlantzick doesn't say this may have been a knee-jerk reaction to a fresh outrage – U.S. soldiers crushed two 14-year-old South Korean girls in an armoured vehicle – but the sentiment is widespread.

In Africa, a continent wooed intensely by Chinese officials, the U.S. has likewise soiled its reputation to China's benefit. America even threatened poor, famished Niger with sanctions when it tried to support the International Criminal Court, which the U.S. opposes.

As America rolls back from Africa, cutting aid, China has moved – straight into the worst neighbourhoods. China now controls about 40 per cent of Sudan's oil consortium and regularly courts mass murderers such as Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe.

But China's support of African despots is well documented. Kurlantzick is valuable because he traces, first-hand, the cutthroat romp of Chinese industry all the way to Latin America.

Kurlantzick notes, though, that China's efforts haven't been seamless: There is anger at hollow trade deals; resentment at the huge trade deficits; protests by Africans upset by Chinese firms' preference for exported Chinese labour.


China Burps Greenspan Farts Dow Hiccups

Neo-Liberal State Capitalism In Asia

China: The Triumph of State Capitalism

US vs China for Global Hegemony

China No Longer Red Nor In The Red

Free Trade Not Aid

Bureaucratic Collectivist Capitalism

Russian Oligarchy

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Whose Arctic

Twenty years ago it was proposed that Canada needed a nuclear powered submarine fleet to defend Arctic Sovereignty. Post War Canada once boasted the lead in submarine hunter killer helicopters and planes to protect its sovereignty. Along comes Harper with much sturm and drang about protecting the Arctic with Ice Breakers. But then the Russians challenge his bluff.

In the next day or two a mini submarine will plant a Russian flag
hewn from titanium 14,000ft beneath the North Pole, along with the country's coat of arms.

Although it will be a symbolic gesture and carries no legal weight, it is designed to send the West a clear message: Russia has shrugged off its post-cold war weakness and will be aggressively defending and pushing its national interests from now on.

If it goes smoothly, the flag planting, reminiscent of the kind of propaganda coup beloved by the Soviets, will feed a rising state-orchestrated sense of patriotism and national pride.

It will also be the beginning of what is likely to be a lengthy international struggle for the Arctic Ocean's riches, with Canada, Denmark, Norway, the United States and Russia all having competing interests in the hydrocarbon-stuffed area.

The 1987 military review highlighted Canada's abysmal capabilities of enforcing sovereignty on its Arctic coast. It was therefore announced that MARCOM would receive a fleet of 10-12 nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSN) suitable for operating for extended periods under the Arctic ice. The proposed SSN fleet would force any nation, friend or foe, to possibly think twice before using Canada's territorial seas in the Arctic for operating nuclear submarines. During 1987-1988, MARCOM examined several British and French SSN designs. The planned procurement, however, was cancelled in 1988-1989 during a time of increased defence cuts.

In 1998, the Canadian government made a deal with the United Kingdom to acquire four mothballed, but state-of-the-art Upholder-class diesel-electric submarines that were made surplus by the Royal Navy's decision to operate only nuclear-powered submarines such as the Trafalgar-class boats. The Upholders were considered too valuable and technologically advanced by the Royal and US navies to allow them to fall into the hands of a non-allied nation. Therefore Canada was encouraged through significant discounts to acquire the Upholders. The four submarines were eventually purchased after much foot-dragging by the federal government for $750 million CAD.

The transaction was supposed to have included some reciprocal rights for British forces to continue using CFB Suffield for armoured-unit training and CFB Goose Bay for low-level flight training, while Canada received four well-built and very lightly used high-technology submarines to replace the 1960s-era Oberon class. (It was later revealed that there were no reciprocal rights. It was a plain lease-to-buy arrangement.) After a costly update program which took longer than expected, along with several public and highly embarrassing equipment failures, the Upholders are being successfully reactivated following a decade of mothballing and are now being integrated into the Canadian navy as the Victoria class. Technical problems still seem to plague the fleet however. Part of this deal will see MARPAC receive its first submarine in four decades and returning an active submarine presence to Canada's west coast.


Polar Bears Threaten Tories Arctic Sovereignty

Tories Ignore Arctic Climate Change

Petrocan's Arctic Sovereignty

US Declares War For The Arctic

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Summer of Love

It is the fortieth anniversary of the Summer of Love, which led to a social revolution around the world. One that we are still experiencing and which the Right Wing loves to blame for all of modern societies ills.

Summer love-in summer -in


Events nationwide mark the 40th anniversary of 'Summer of Love'

Events are being held around the country this summer to mark the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love, when thousands of young people descended on San Francisco to experience the hippie counterculture in 1967. Here are some highlights.

Ongoing: ''Summer of Love: Art of the Psychedelic Era'' at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York through Sept. 16. Through light shows, album covers, posters and music, the show explores the era's cultural impact. http://www.whitney.org .

Ongoing: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum exhibit dedicated to the 40th anniversary of the Monterey International Pop Festival. Highlights include telegrams from Jemi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead and The Who regarding their attendance at the festival; Paul Simon's guitar; the dress worn by Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas,and many pohotographs. The museum is in Cleveland, Ohio. http://www.rockhall.com .

Various dates: Jefferson Starship, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Big Brother and the Holding Company and other bands reunite for a Summer of Love 40th anniversary tour, including the Monterey Pop 40th anniversary festival at Monterey Fairgrounds, Monterey, Calif. http://www.genxentertainment.us .

Concludes today: Monterey Summer of Love Festival, featuring dozens of bands performing from the same exact stage as the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. On stage: Riders on the Storm, Robbie Krieger's & Ray Manzarek's latest version of The Doors; Electric Flag; tributes to The Mamas and the Papas, and The Who. http://www.summer67.com .

American soldiers are fighting an unpopular war halfway around the world; peace groups protest and Congress is embroiled in a bitter, divisive debate.

At home, radios play the Doors, the Beatles, the Who and the Moody Blues. People flock to open-air concerts to see Eric Burdon and the Animals, Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother and the Holding Company. Concern grows for the environment and people feel good when they can buy organic food directly from growers.

It’s cool to get in touch with your feelings. Fashionable women wear flower power minidresses and empire-waisted tops. Jeans, of course, are everywhere. Is it 1967 or 2007? It’s both.

Forty years after the Summer of Love that signaled a seismic shift in our culture, many of the concerns and issues – even the looks – are back again.

And as for the areas where we’re not re-experiencing 1967 – the sexual revolution, the drug culture, the civil rights movement, the civil unrest – that’s because the subculture has now become the culture, says Robert J. Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University.

“Our entire lifestyle in the early 21st century significantly carries the genetic code of the revolutions and cultural and social changes in the late 1960s. And we don’t consider them at all revolutionary,” says Thompson.

Nineteen sixty-seven was when the journey began, but where, and when, did it end? Or has it? What really happened during those portentous few months of the Summer of Love that caused many of us to mutate physically, emotionally and spiritually? Did it really cause a seismic shift in the values, sensibilities and moralities of our culture, as many suggest? And are we still living in the afterglow of it intense culture-transforming heat?

Critics on the right would also like to deep-six the buzz about a better, happier time. A psychedelic Shangri-La. As the Chicago Tribune recently noted:

"In the nation's culture wars, the 1960s are a rallying cry for conservatives who view the decade as the source of social trends they oppose, such as a high divorce rate, legalized abortion and, more recently, the drive for same-sex marriage." (Strange, you make that sound like it's a bad thing.) For Jason Fine, deputy managing editor of Rolling Stone, "A lot of what happened in the summer of '67 wasn't about politics, or even antiwar, it was much more personal. And those kinds of developments have certainly stuck around. Our attitudes about sex, drugs and spirituality are all rooted in that time. That wasn't a blip."



A Little Eros For Valentine's Day

CIA Conspiracies Are Real

Psychedelic Saskatchewan



Marx on Bigamy

Passover Song

Year of the Pig

Black and Redmonton

Celebrating Capitalism

Soul of a City

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Soccer Surge A Success In Iraq

It is not the U.S. Military surge, nor the Iraqi government, nor the Shia, Sunnis or Kurd politicians and imams, its not Al Qaida in Iraq, it is soccer that is a success and unifier in Iraq. And the irony is they beat the terror state Saudi Arabia, which funds the Sunni insurgents, in the Asia Cup.

So perhaps the U.S. congress should fund the Iraq Soccer Team instead of more money for Iraqi politicians and George Bush's surges. Certainly it is the only successful thing to come out of the Iraq war.

Iraq's triumph in the Asia Cup signals a soccer program rising from the ashes, even as the country descends deeper into civil conflict. The resurgence of Iraqi soccer is one of the few untainted pieces of good news to emerge from post-invasion Iraq. A powerhouse in the 60s and 70s, the national team faded in the 1980s as Iraq's young men were killed and maimed by the hundreds of thousands in Saddam Hussein's war with Iran. Saddam's son Uday vented his sadism on soccer players and other athletes, forcing them to kick immovable stones and imprisoning them in medieval torture devices. Says Abu Ahmad: "I can't express my feelings. We are so happy, those 25 men brought happiness and hope to 25 million Iraqis, the thing our politicians couldn't do."

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Iraq knocks off favored Saudi Arabia to win Asian Cup

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Legacy Of The Ralph Revolution

All those gold stars and awards the Fraser Institute gave Ralph Klein for his neo-con revolution in the nineties are revealed to be bronze.

Ten years after his cuts to health care and public sector workers the chickens have come home to roost.

A scandal has erupted in Alberta CEO' Ed Stelmachs backyard. The Hospital Authority and the local hospital in his hometown of Vegreville have not had adequate sterilization procedures in place since 2003. For four years it had been ignored until this spring when scandal broke.

The government has fired its appointed health board, claiming that the Premier and his Ministers did not know of the crisis in his backyard.

Premier Ed Stelmach and Health Minister Dave Hancock both suggested yesterday the government couldn't have done more to prevent a four-year outbreak of infectious disease at St. Joseph's Hospital in Vegreville because they weren't aware it was going on.
He is of course fibbing.

But area resident Connie Marcinkoski doesn't buy the province's promise to swoop in and save the day.

Marcinkoski is currently suing the hospital for allegedly exposing her father to a fatal infection a few years ago.

"The province, in fact Premier Ed Stelmach himself as our MLA, knew about the ongoing issues here years ago. I called him personally when he was our MLA to alert him to this issue and he never called me back," she said.

"The Conservative government has known about this problem for years and now wants to come in and look like they are everybody's saviour.

The government has brought in an old buddy who promotes the privatization of health care to oversee the board and hospital.

Effective immediately, Jim Saunders, of J.L. Saunders and Associates Inc., and Paddy Meade, deputy health minister, will serve as official administrators for East Central Health, replacing the board.

It has talked about hiring risk managers to assess how to avoid this kind of thing in the future.

The region is also looking to hire more staff in risk management.

What it failed to do was hire more cleaning staff, those folks who were either laid off or contracted out during the Ralph Revolution.

A scathing report issued this week found that the hospital and health board practices were a result of the 'culture of fugality', that is as Ralphs appointed buddies they knew that they had to keep costs down, which meant contracting out laundry services and cutting back house keeping services while paying big bucks to a top heavy administration. Now they want to bring in more management to resolve the crisis when what they need is more hospital cleaners.

In a “culture of frugality” the facility did not even have the proper equipment to sterilize laboratory gear, and ignored requests from the authority because of a turf war caused by fuzzy provincial legislation.

It also says the testing procedure for those potentially infected has been slowed by a lack of provincial support.

The sterilization area of the hospital was actually a converted portion of the laundry room. It wasn’t isolated from other areas. Basic procedures for sterilizing equipment were ignored as well, including using properly sterilized water instead of attempting to sterilize hospital tap water. The authority, meanwhile, did not follow up to ensure its requests were followed.

The Stelmach governments response has been more of the same. Which will not solve the problem.

In an era when hand-sanitizing stations can be found metres apart in places like the Capital Ex fair grounds, it is appalling to learn that the healthcare facilities that people in east-central Alberta count on have ignored or neglected even the most basic hygiene measures because of turf wars, confusion or because administrators were just too cheap.

Despite an outbreak of wildly contagious Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) at St. Joseph's that lasted years, neither hospital officials nor the provincially appointed health board took the crucial steps to bring the situation under control.

The public only learned about the problems in St. Joseph's and East Central Health when the region's Medical Officer of Health ordered the hospital closed to new admissions in March due to concern about the facility's central sterilization room and bits of flesh on hospital tools.

One of the key problems the Health Quality Council identified in its investigation is the fact that the province's varying pieces of health legislation have set up a system of rival bosses. That same conflict potentially exists throughout the province.

Despite the chilling report on East Central Health, Hancock rejected the notion this his government bears any responsibility for the problem. "This is not an issue that can be thrown back on the budget process," he said.

Hancock is ignoring the fact that when the Tory government he now represents first introduced its draconian cuts to health-care funding and decentralized the province's medical system to a series of regional boards, there were public demonstrations against the moves. Anyone with concerns was ignored by the then premier and his cabinet or portrayed as a Liberal crank.

The people overseeing the health authorities also were in a bind. If they didn't play ball, they were either turfed from their jobs or the region was simply disbanded. When budgets are everything, how can anyone be confident that a rigid budget allows administrators to spend extra for the best cleaning fluid or to buy the appropriate sterilization equipment when faced with a huge list of competing needs?

Vegreville's problems likely widespread: doctor

'These things happen everywhere'

Frank noted cardboard boxes were found in sterilization rooms in Tofield, Lamont, Two Hills and other health centres, creating concern for the buildup of fungus. Staff at St. Mary's hospital in Camrose wore jewelry while sterilizing. Frank said the cardboard could have been taken out and the jewelry removed in one day to prevent closure of the units.

But other problems were clearly more major, Frank said. Tables in the Lamont hospital's operating room weren't wiped down between patients, the report found. The sterilization room at Viking's hospital had holes in the wall and ceiling that hadn't been fixed in several years. In Provost, nail care supplies from community health clinics weren't being sterilized, only cleaned.

No sterilization records were being kept in Killam, and a January audit revealed that single-use cautery devices were being re-used after wiping the tip, even though they were meant to be disposed of after one use.

Frank, who doesn't work at these other centres, acknowledged such safety gaps may suggest a lack of a safety culture, which the report pointed out.

But he said, "I don't think there has ever been a don't-care attitude (among health care workers)."

He said such problems are likely happening across Alberta, especially since many centres are struggling with short staffing like St. Joseph's.

Self-evaluation of sterilization practices -- done by all Alberta health regions earlier this year after the health minister ordered them to -- isn't enough, he said. Government inspections and document reviews will also be needed.

Sterilization and cleanliness problems aren't limited to hospitals in Vegreville and the East Central Health Region, says the president of the union representing surgical processors.

Doug Knight, Alberta Union of Provincial Employees president, said a "culture of cutbacks" in the provincial government and health regions dating back to the mid-1990s has led to unfilled vacancies in surgical processing and cleaning departments across Alberta.

He has heard cases of Calgary licensed practical nurses getting their scrubs back from the washers with mop strings in the pockets.

"That means they're washing their scrubs with the mops," he told Sun Media.

Knight disapproves of hospitals sending their linens out to private cleaners where the hospital has little control of the cleaning process. He suggests immediately returning privatized cleaning and laundry services to the control of health regions.

Ed Stelmach--in good times and bad - has certainly been the recipient of Ralph Klein's legacy.

In the case of the staphylococcus infection at St. Joseph's General Hospital in Vegreville, the premier clearly got the dirty end of the stick.

Health Quality Council CEO Dr. John Cowell's damning report into the incident revealed that anomalies began showing up in East Central Health authority stats as early as 2003.

By the time Cowell's team finished their investigation, they found serious breaches of sterilization standards throughout the region.

The problem was so extensive that Alberta Health Minister Dave Hancock placed the region under direct government administration and fired the board.

But somewhere along the way, a fundamental aspect of the system - proper sanitation - has been allowed to slide.

This was clearly the case in the East Central Health region.

It also puts a spotlight on the role and responsibilities of health boards, which were partially elected at one time.

They have now deteriorated into Buddy Boards that are liberally stocked with friends of the PC Party as a reward for loyal service and dedication to the cause.

As part of his mandate from Stelmach, Hancock is now charged with reviewing the governance of health boards.

But even before it began, he ruled out a return to elected health boards.

Opposition parties say Premier Ed Stelmach must should some of the blame for the hospital sterilization scandal that has rocked Alberta's health care system and forced three-thousand former patients to be tested for HIV and hepatitis.

Liberal health critic Laurie Blakeman says it's ironic that the same Tory politicians who helped created this sterilization crisis now want people to believe they're in the best position to fix the problems.

NDP Leader Brian Mason said Stelmach must shoulder some of the blame for the "mess" that is now affecting thousands of Albertans.

"This is a legacy of neglect that has affected the health of Albertans and Premier Stelmach bears significant responsibility," said Mason.

The auditor general pointed out three years ago that the committee that checks Alberta hospitals is unqualified, yet the premier has done nothing to change this, said Mason.

The premier also confirmed Thursday that the government is reviewing a master agreement for Alberta's so-called faith-based hospitals.

The controversial deal more than a decade ago kept boards in place at hospitals with religious ties at a time when other hospital boards were being dismantled as the province created health regions with new boards that would run all health facilities in the region.

The facility is run by volunteers and is known as a faith-based hospital. It works under a separate master agreement with the province. The East Central Health Region, however, also has responsibility under different legislation to run the hospital.

That was the wellspring of the problem, said Dr. John Cowell of the Health Quality Council.

He told a news conference in Calgary there there was acrimony and bureacuratic turf wars between the hospital board and the health region board. The health region didn't feel like it could step in unless asked and the hospital treated orders from the region as requests that could be acted on or ignored.

"There was a problem of two bosses and no bosses," said Cowell.

"At certain levels of both organizations there seemed to be much more focus on turf and not a focus on patient safety."

That problem flowed to people on the front line, he said. Nobody knew whom to report to, problems weren't getting solved, doctors declined to step in, morale dropped and health and safety practices spiralled out of control.

Then Cowell took aim at the board which he said had a "dysfunctional" relationship with the hospital, and did not show a "clear understanding of the seriousness of the MSRA situation and did not take action to improve the situation."

For that and much more, they are gone. But how they got there in the first place, Cowell chose to pin the tail on the political donkey.

"In terms of how these individuals are discovered and chosen and appointed," Cowell winked, "I think that's a question you should place right to the minister."

So I did.

Hancock quickly confessed that since these folks get their jobs from the government "these are political appointees."

They weren't always appointed, of course. For a brief moment in Tory time, a portion of health boards were elected.

That means you can de-elect them if they step out of line, unlike Hancock's Buddy Boards.

Part of Hancock's damage control is to develop a "culture of excellence." Including something he calls a "governance review and accountability framework."

You mean like elected health boards?

That's where Hancock started getting nervous and making Freudian slips like calling health care "haircut."

"No," the health minister blurted. "I don't foresee that."

"I'm elected and my colleagues in the legislature are elected to help set health policy for the province."

If they got their jobs in a vote, those regional health boarders would almost certainly go wild. Just like elected school board trustees do. Except they don't.

"I don't believe there has been pork barrelling of the health authorities," Hancock insisted, even though as the Minister Responsible for Edmonton, Hancock is the Grand Poopah of Pork for the Capital Region.

"In making appointments, we've always had to make sure we appoint good people," he said.

And now he's had to fire "good" people too.

Hancock calls the sideshow "irreparable and untenable" and boots the provincially appointed board. He is also expected to can a couple suits with the health region.He says he will put in provincial standards for infection prevention and control and he says he will make sure health regions know they are the boss. He also doesn't feel the health region board is clueless because they are Tory appointees.

"I don't believe there has been pork barrelling," insists the health minister. Couldn't that be cleared up if the health boards were elected as they were supposed to be?


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