Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Perks of Driving a Hybrid Car

There was so much bad news to absorb this morning that it was pleasant to read one story that allowed me to step into my wife's office and put a smile on her face. It seems some people are complaining about hybrid vehicles. What we have heard most is that they are expensive or that they are "unproven" technology. But today's belly aching was something new... that hybrid drivers are getting special treatment with parking spots. It seems that IKEA has reserved two spots beside the front door, in front of eleven stores in Canada. One tag line I read whined "Niche consumers get special treatment."

My wife bought a Toyota Camry Hybrid six weeks ago and is very happy with it. Hell I'm happy with it! She's a busy realtor and burns gas like we have our own refinery in the back yard. Since she bought the hybrid she's only refilled the tank three times. That's terrific. The cream in the coffee took place when we took a trip into the U.S. last month. There was better than an hour waiting time to cross in each direction, but while we lost time we didn't lose money. As we inched along car length by car length, to get to the customs window, I was on battery power. Nice!

Buying a Toyota Camry Hybrid was almost as difficult in Vancouver as buying a Nintendo Wii. Originally I tried to persuade her on a RAV but the helpful Winson Wu, a salesman at Westminster Toyota, allowed us to demo his personal vehicle. We weren't even thinking of Hybrid in spite of the TV ads. We were hooked with a thorough examination of the vehicle, a test drive, and the salesman's informed responses to my hardest questions. None of the Toyota lots in town had one to sell her so in the end my wife ordered a car from Winson. It took three weeks to arrive from the factory in Kentucky but we're glad we waited. The environmental incentives were great too - a $3,500 purchase tax discount. $2,000 off B.C.'s PST and a further $1,500 rebate. Moreover Winson taught my wife every feature of the vehicle, allowing her to maximize on her investment. My first EVER car salesman recommendation - winson200601@hotmail.com

So what if we get a break on parking. They are plenty of people, great and small, who get parking breaks. Take the mayor of our city for instance. He has his own VIP parking stall and yet when I went over to pay my property tax in June I noticed that Mayor Derek Corrigan was parking at the front entrance where anyone else would get ticketed. The other thing I noticed is that he drives a big SUV - a robust Mazda Tribute, licence # 875-EEG.

Now Derek is not just a lawyer and a mayor, he's also a really big bug with the NDP - a man who is in the forefront of pushing big ticket, fully unionized mass transit networks and who professes to hate urban sprawl, ANY new highway construction and is dead against building new arterials and bridges ANYWHERE in Greater Vancouver. Now THAT is guy I would expect to see driving a hybrid or even a hydrogen powered car. After all, Burnaby is home to BALLARD POWER, makers of cutting edge (taxpayer funded) hydrogen fuel cell technology. But then BALLARD was in bed with the Liberal Party - Jean Chretien was their bosom buddy until the Grits got the heave ho in the last federal election. Maybe Derek holds a grudge. Politics here abouts is notoriously vicious.

Here's hoping that other companies start throwing hybrid owner's a few crumbs and maybe a few cities. Vancouver for instance is such a nasty anti-car municipality that the downtown has been losing business for five years running. Hybrid free parking zones might be the only way to draw back some of the exasperated people who now avoid going "downtown" at to shop.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Harper's Bogus Resolve to Protect Canada's North

RCAF Lancaster bomber on its belly, Resolute Bay, Aug. 1950

Did any of you get excited last week about the possibility of the Canadian Forces finally getting serious about our Northern Defence? I certainly did. Recall how Stephen Harper's staff scattered a trail of breadcrumbs in front of the Ottawa press corps, which gave the Tories a week of free headlines speculating about a huge military announcement in the offing. The Feds, the media brayed, were about to make a big commitment to enforcing Canada's Arctic sovereignty. The international media loved it and the BBC even suggesting "Rambo" was packing his snowshoes. Parliamentary staff leaked "training cenre" but the media predicted we would build an Arctic "base". What a load of crap! In fact we are going to build NOTHING.

Why Resolute Bay? Well we already have a gravel airstrip at Resolute, built just after WW2 to supply our weather station. 6,500 feet of its length is still in service. For years we also had an RCAF detachment on site and today the bones of several aircraft are still found scattered around the field. Currently the runway is controlled by the Nunavut aboriginal government and it is used by Air Canada to fly in the mail, frozen pizzas, the occasional clutch of scientists and oh yeah - politicians needing to make token announcements.

The existing Resolute Bay air terminal, 2004. Not much traffic.

This morning's Globe & Mail tells us: "The military training facility at Resolute Bay will house 100 Canadian Forces personnel. It will cost $4-million to refurbish the existing federal buildings, with a further $2-million a year to operate the centre that will employ 12 full-time staff." So that's it! They will "refurbish" an existing facility, get it? What they are talking about is the Polar Continental Shelf Project, established in 1958, and which operates an 80 bed hostelry for visiting scientists and adventure film crews.

This polar ice research center (photo) is now designated a "military training centre". It will be upgraded from an 80 bed hostel for scientists, to a 100 bed hostel for military trainees.

Keep this in mind: the Canadian Forces once had as as many as 6,000 to 10,000 personnel in the Arctic, depending on the scale of annual exercises using our military installations, and also NORAD's evolving early warning operations. The village of Resolute Bay, created by our military, once had a weather station and added the aforementioned Polar Ice Shelf project. The RCAF operated the airfield with an ATC detachment and it was also host to the old Airforce Arctic Survival School. What happened? Well the military pulled out of Resolute when the politicians decided the Arctic had little strategic value. Hell, they even gave the Northwest Territories away to the aboriginals, renamed it Nunavut and informed Canadian schoolkids that it's now "there land". No wonder the Kremlin has become emboldened. They're taking their cues from Ottawa. Expect Mr. Putin or his successor to open negotiations with his real northern neighbors - the Inuit.

So now our DND is authorized to assume the annual operating costs of feeding the white elephant, and to "refurbish" the existing facility, which was always seldom used. The military will ADD 20 BEDS and guarantee the payroll for twelve full-time caretakers. Big deal! And this is the exciting force projection which the Prime Minister has the gall to term a "training facility," - a super-hostel that won't have enough beds to accommodate an infantry rifle company??? What sort of deployment are they thinking of to intimidate Mr. Putin? In fact the message to the Russkies is "Please don't embarrass us, and we won't harass your Arctic operations".

Oh yes, our Arctic phalanx does include troops of sorts. The G&M reports:

"As well as the two military posts, the 4,100-member Canadian Rangers patrol – the rifle-toting Inuit volunteer force – will be increased by 900 members. The expanded Rangers program will cost $240-million over 20 years, an average $12-million a year. The program will take on new patrol routes and have its equipment – which consists of trademark red uniforms and antique rifles modernized."

Well I discussed this very issue in June. The truth is that the Ranger program is tapped out. Experts here in Vancouver who work among the Inuit, say the tiny communities simply cannot offer any more bodies to the program. They prefer high paying mine jobs, and the holiday trips to Toronto which high wages can buy.What are we going to get for $12 Million per year? Nothing.

What the Rangers will get is cool new snow mobiles, satellite phones and M16s. Good for them, but the Russians know the truth. If Ottawa is unwilling to position genuine military units in the north, (and that seems to be the case) then Canada is signaling our response to the Kremlin's territorial claims. The Tory government's political posturing will scarcely annoy the Russians or delay their industrial deployment to the polar sea. What the Americans initiate in Alaska will be more significant to any geopolitical wrestling match at the North Pole, and generate the kind of hard news stories we are waiting for.

A local landmark greets aircraft decending to Resolute Bay strip.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Release of 1,500 “Secret” words propel ARAR back into the Spotlight

Politically expedient decisions have a way of coming back to bite a government in the ass. Yes it's true the Tories didn't trigger the Arar fiasco, but they made it much worse by trying to buy their way out of it. If we thought that their headlong rush to fill the swag bag of Syrian-Canadian Maher Arar with $10.5 million taxpayer dollars would be sufficient to make him go away, we were dead wrong.

You recall this guy, the media darling whom Peter Mackay claimed was “exonerated” of all guilt or even suspicion of guilt. Well this morning’s release of a paltry 1,500 words which had been redacted from the version of Justice Dennis O’Connor final report published in 2006, had media swooning all over the country. Amazing !

At 3:30 pm Pacific time, Google News showed 50 stories on this dangle of formerly “classified” information.

One of the first news stories to flash through the Net was written by a reporter with CanWest News Service. Her summary of the case states blandly that “Arar was jailed and tortured for a year in Syria” as a result of collusion between Canadian and U.S. intelligence services. From descriptions I have read of what the Syrian secret police inflict on men and women they really insist on making talk, I have never been convinced of the testimony of Arar. For a guy who was “tortured” for a year, he was in amazingly pristine condition on return to Canada. He hadn’t even developed a stutter or a twitch. Don't we all recall his trademark toothy grin? Such human resilience!

The redactions in O'Connor's report had removed approximately 1% from O’Conner’s 1,200 page report. The following are big revelations, it seems:

In October 2002, CSIS officials knew that the United States might have sent Mr. Arar to a country where he could be questioned in a “firm manner.” Ouch!

In a report to his superiors dated October 11, 2002, the CSIS security liaison officer (SLO) in Washington spoke of a trend they had noted lately that when the CIA or FBI cannot legally hold a terrorist subject, or wish a target questioned in a firm manner, they have them rendered to countries willing to fulfill that role. He said Mr. Arar was a case in point.”

On October 10, 2002, Mr. [Jack] Hooper stated in a memorandum: “I think the U.S. would like to get Arar to Jordan where they can have their way with him.” Mr. Arar’s whereabouts were unknown at the time.”

- A Jihad on the family of the infidel Hooper!

In my January 26, 2007 Blog, “Why is Maher Arar Torturing Us?” I did express some doubt about the veracity of Arar's claims of torture, especially the severity. In expressing my outrage over the financial settlement I added, “Hell, for $10 million you can cut my balls off.” I have not changed my view because investigation data is continuing to pile up in the United States which may yet put buddy boy behind the 8 ball. Then maybe Arar really would stop torturing us.