Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Islamism and the Toronto Star

An email to Toronto Star columnist Haroon Siddiqui, and his reply. 

Dear Haroon Siddiqui:

In your column of February 14, you attempt to neutralize Islamic violence by pointing out the violence of non-Islamic people. Your observation "given Christian European history" does not excuse Islamic history. My bad behaviour does not justify the bad behaviour of my neighbour.

You state that Pope Benedict's "pronouncements are all the more shocking coming from an otherwise well-regarded religious scholar."  Damning with feint praise is high school rhetoric gleaned from Mark Anthony's "honourable men" funeral oration. Attacking the messenger does not produce quality argument. Perhaps the Pope had in mind the Christians being persecuted in many Muslim countries today. Follow this for a few weeks: www.persecution.net.

You describe the Pope's statement as a "bigoted view of Islam." Nor does name calling further any discussion. In his Regensburg speech (to which I presume you refer), Benedict quoted the Byzantine emperor Manuel II. The emperor feared another Ottoman invasion (they had failed twice already), and was pleading for European assistance, when he said, "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

What could have motivated Manual to say that? Starting with Mohammed's command to conquer (Qu'ran passim), and up to Manuel's time (1391), Muslims had invaded, occupied, colonized, pillaged or raided for slaves, Christian Palestine, Egypt, North Africa, Spain, France, Cyprus, Crete, Rhodes, Sicily, Malta, Sardinia, Cartage, Pisa, Armenia, Anatolia, Gallipoli, Kosovo, Southern Italy, Rome, and Thessalonica where they captured 30,000 Christians for their slave markets.

You object to the police "spying on law-abiding Muslims." During World War Two, law-abiding Germans, Austrians, Italians and suspected sympathizers, were spied on, investigated, finger printed, and interrogated at home and at places of employment. The government used its authority to detain anyone acting "in any manner prejudicial to the public safety or the safety of the state." As a result, many law-abiding citizens, some Canadian-born, were interned for the duration of the war.

The work of CSIS cannot be dismissed as uncovering only "few dozen at best" jihadists in Canada. It is fewer than "a few dozen"  who are currently in jail for conspiracy to blow up buildings in downtown Toronto. It was fewer that "a few dozen" who destroyed the World Trade Center and attacked the Pentagon. It was fewer than "a few dozen" who blew up the Madrid and London subways. 

Given recent history, death is more than an "infinitesimal" possibility.

Yes, let's rid ourselves of "clichés and misconceptions," and be welcoming, but keeping history in mind. 

Siddiqui's verbatim reply: "It is not an excuse. It is a fact of European history. You defending the Pope's statement that he himself has recanted and apologized for and mostly reversed himself on? But I do thank you for reading."

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Entrepreneurial Stealth

Average citizens have the means of expressing disapproval should they believe their government is corrupt or over-taxing them.

 In Spain, there is a growing stealth economy, that is, out of government sight. Clandestine restaurants are springing up in hidden places, such as basements, garages, lofts and warehouses.

In one case, the proprietor buys his supplies in bulk from friends in wholesale markets. All transactions are in cash. Diners are warned, should the police raid the place, to clap hands and sing Happy Birthday, thus creating the illusion of a gathering of friends. To enhance the deception, family photographs grace the walls, and there's a toothbrush in the bathroom. He numbers among his clientele bargain-hunting police officers.

Other Spaniards have converted their apartments into jazz clubs. They have no listed address, and are found only through word of mouth, Facebook or Twitter.

Economists estimate these unlicenced places are depriving the already financially battered government of some 30 billion Euros ($50 billion) in taxes each year. That amounts to 20 percent of Spain's gross domestic product.

Meanwhile, in tax-strapped Greece, citizens have resorted to scavenging for wood for their fireplaces. All that to avoid the taxes on heating oil which the government increased last fall by 450 percent. It's not working as planned. Heating oil sales have plunged 70 percent from a year earlier. The cost to the government is about $190 million.

This has spawned a new businesses of selling wood.The source of some of the wood is illegal logging in national parks, and thefts of trees and limbs from city parks. Air pollution has been measured at three times normal levels. The deforestation is occurring at a rate not seen since the German occupation in the Second World War. (Source, The New York Times, Feb. 10, 2013)

In less harassed France, le systèm D thrives. "D" for se débrouiller which means to work it out for yourself. The citizenry do it in spades. Inventive Parisians we once knew did it this way.

To avoid paying for a licence for his television, the existence of which was disclosed by an aerial on the roof, (or possibly to avoid the cost of the aerial itself), the owner installed a wire mesh covering the entire ceiling of his bedroom. Somehow, this gave him adequate reception.

Another "D" neighbour,  from time to time drove to Germany to purchase exotic fish eggs. These he hatched in his apartment by placing the eggs in receptacles that filled almost every flat surface of his home. When grown, the fish were sold to local collectors, for cash, of course.

Meanwhile, his wife operated a knitting machine. The clothing she produced was exchanged for groceries with the merchant down the street.

The neighbour across the street worked for the post office. I regularly saw him stop his post office truck, and deposit his wife and a load of groceries.

And so the big wheel keeps turning under the government radar.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Think Before You Lend

Do not lend to anyone stronger than yourself. If you do, resign yourself to loss -- Ecclesiasticus 8:13.

To wage war against England, Phillip IV of France became deeply indebted to the Knights Templar in 1307. To shed the debt, Phillip accused the knights of heresy, and ordered them burned at the stake.

To wage war against France, Edward III of England borrowed money from the banks of the Bardi and Peruzzi families. His defaults in 1343 and 1346 destroyed both banks, and that brought down a third bank. (Later, to borrow money, Edward had to leave his queen and children as security.)

In 15th century France, merchant and financier Jacques Coeur of Bourges was believed to be the richest man in the world. Charles VII and other powerful people were indebted to him. To rid themselves of this burden, Charles and his associates falsely accused Coeur of various crimes, including the murder of the king's mistress. Wrongly convicted, he was fined, and his property confiscated, mostly by the king.

The London bank of the Medici closed in 1472 because it could not recoup its loan to King Edward IV. (Pesky bunch, those Edwards.) The Medici family bank in Bruges lost money because Charles the Bold of Burgundy refused to repay. Other defaulted loans to the powerful caused this bank to be liquidated. As a bank manager of the time said, "No ever become embroiled with great lords without losing his feathers in the end."

We have today's version of this type of financing. The client lends money to a bank through a Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC). Its fixed-period allows the bank to arrange its affairs to its own schedule and needs.

On the other hand, a bank lends money by way of a call loan. The borrowed money must be returned immediately the bank demands it. Whether borrowing or lending, the bank is in control, not the client.

It gets worse. By way of financial legerdemain, the Government of Cyprus, in 2013, shifted the enormous debt of the nation's banks onto the shoulders of depositors. According to the Toronto Star, the Canadian version of this manoeuvre entails the government placing a bank's debt on not just stockholders, but on anyone who has made a loan such as a GIC, paid into a mutual fund, or even deposited money into a savings account.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Rights case exposes yet another legal defect

Letter to the Toronto Star published January 31, 2013

Re Human rights tribunal probes illegal 'rent deposits,' Jan. 28:

This case points out a serious flaw in our human rights legislation. The complainant, a would-be tenant, was asked to pay a year's rent in advance. This violated the Ontario Residential Tenancies Act. Rather than bring court action against the landlord, the complainant appealed to the Human Rights Tribunal.

In this way, the complainant's costs will be borne by taxpayers, while the defendant must pay for his own defence. Should the complaint fail, the defendant cannot claim costs from the complainant. Should the complaint succeed, the defendant must pay at least the $10,000 the complainant demands.

The defect in this procedure lies in the financial incentive to bring such actions to the Human Rights Tribunal rather than to court where they belong. Also, if the awards were paid to the government, many complaints would wither away.

On March 7, a settlement announced, but not the details. Such secrecy exposes one more defect. The tribunal decision should not be secret. It affects all landlords.

For more examples of misguided thinking, click "human rights" below.