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Bob Broughton's Blog about British Columbia politics

The King of Versailles

I watched the documentary "The Queen of Versailles" when it was in the theatres. It's a powerful piece of work. I had several reactions to it, but I'm going to discuss only one of them here: that North America might not be that far away from a major torches and pitchforks scene.

The subjects of "The Queen of Versailles" are David and Jaqueline Siegel. Jaqueline is the trophy wife, and David made a fortune selling time-shares, but got burned badly during the 2007 crash.

David Siegel got his name in the news during this past week. At the request of Mitt Romney, he sent out a letter to his 7,000 employees telling them that if Obama wins, he will have to fire some of them.

Well, isn't that special? Siegel's buddy, George W. Bush, was President in 2007, when the same David Siegel laid off thousands of his employees. So, if you happen to be an employee of Westgate Resorts, it would be a good idea for you to be looking for alternative employment regardless of who wins the 2012 election.

And here's two more reality checks:

Anyone who would attempt to build a 90,000 square foot house is a fool.

Siegel made his fortune off suckers, so it's not surprise that he and Romney are buddies. If you don't believe this, go to Craigslist and check some resale prices for timeshares. For example, the asking price for timeshares in Punta Gorda, FL is $600. That's one-tenth of what units like this cost when they are new.

Fact of the matter is, Siegel is a scam artist, and he falls in the same category as Lehman Brothers. When they talk about limited government, what they really mean is, let's protect our right to fleece people. And Mitt Romney is totally on side with this.

Article by Edward Murray at Daily Kos: Obama Creating Unemployment Creators

Mitt Romney’s Bain Made Millions On Big Tobacco In U.S., Russia

Jason Cherkis and Zach Carter of Huffington Post put together this story from the University of California at San Francisco's Legacy Tobacco Documents library: Mitt Romney's Bain Made Millions On Big Tobacco In U.S., Russia

Romney has also said that Russia is the "number one geopolitical foe" of the United States. It seems that this is meaningless as long as there's money to be made from Russia. Or was this part of a secret plan to make Russia a weaker "geopolitical foe"?

Update on October 16: The same two authors have published another story about the United States' most prominent anti-smoker: Mitt Romney's Bain Helped Philip Morris Get U.S. High Schoolers Hooked On Cigarettes

What the Republicans really believe about abortions

The Republicans have stepped into it on the issue of abortion, and don't let the Republican down the street or the Republican at your office water cooler get away with saying, “Todd Akin doesn't reflect the views of the Republican Party”, or “Romney was pro-choice when he was Governor of Massachusetts.”

The fact is, the Republicans approved a platform at their national convention in Tampa, and in that platform, it says, “We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.” There's nothing in there about exceptions for rape or incest.

The same platform also includes this curious sentence: “The Pacific territories should have flexibility to determine the minimum wage, which has seriously restricted progress in the private sector.”

What's that about? It's about the Mariana Islands, which includes Saipan. The minimum wage there $5.05 an hour, and it is scheduled to increase to $5.55 on September 30. When the Republicans use the word “flexibility” here, they mean the flexibility to lower it.

And why do the Republicans think that this is important enough to put it in their platform? The Marianas are important because goods manufactured there are labeled “made in USA”, and can be sold as such by companies such as Tommy Hilfinger, Nortstrom, and Wal-Mart. The sweatshops are represented in Washington by Jack Abramoff, and Abramoff has been assisted in lobbying efforts by another Republican heavyweight, Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. Former House Majority Leader Tom Delay was their representative in the House of Representatives; he described the low-wage, anti-union conditions of the Marianas constituted "a perfect petri dish of capitalism. It's like my Galapagos Island." Their representative in the Senate was Rick Santorum.

There's a lot more to this than minimum wage, however. Women who work in these sweatshops have been forced into prostitution, and when they get pregnant, are forced to have abortions.

You read right: the same Republicans who believe that women shouldn't even be allowed to have abortions in cases of rape and incest have no problem with forced abortions if there's a few bucks to be made off cheap labour. And by putting the Mariana Islands plank in their platform, they've chosen to wear this on their shirtsleeves. The lesson we can learn from this is, Republicans don't want women to have control over their own bodies, period.

Article by Bill Moyers: Ralph Reed in the Marianas Trenches

Article by Rebecca Claren: Paradise Lost: Greed, Sex Slavery, Forced Abortions and Right-Wing Moralists

Book Review: The Darien Gap

In the 21st Century, we have maps of the Moon and Mars, with names assigned to mountains and canyons. In this era of Google Maps and GPS's, I find it refreshing that there are still areas of this planet that are as terra incognita now as before Columbus' voyages.

The Darién Gap is the area of Panama adjacent to the border with Colombia, and it is called a "gap" because of a 100-km. gap in the Pan-American Highway. Completion of the Pan-American Highway was a goal of the Kennedy Administration's Alliance for Progress, but construction stalled in the 1970's, due to escalating costs. The last extension in the 1990's caused severe environmental damage.

I first became aware of the Darién Gap at about the same time as my first visit to Peru in 1986. I read an account in the South American Explorers Club magazine by a person when went through the Darién Gap by bicycle, which was possible because he was able to use dugout canoes as ferries. During my travels, I have met many people who want to ride their motorcycle or drive their camper van to Tierra del Fuego, and I get a mild sadistic pleasure from telling them about the absence of a road. There has been on-again, off-again ferry service between Colon, Panama, and Cartagena, Colombia. (Currently on; see Expedition Portal.)

World No Tobacco Day 2012

May 31 is World No Tobacco Day. For people in British Columbia, the issues that initially come to mind on the subject of tobacco are smoking in multi-unit dwellings, smoking in parks and beaches, and sidewalk litter.

One of the themes for World No Tobacco Day for 2012 is how the tobacco industry has stepped up their efforts to have their way with national governments. A high-profile example of this is plain packaging for cigarettes, which is enacted in Australia, and under consideration in the United Kingdom. You can read more about it here.

Here's another one for British Columbians: child labour. Marty Otañez, a friend of Airspace, has published a paper about the tobacco industry's use of child labour in Malawi, the country that has gotten the most publicity in this regard. The tobacco industry's use of child labour is also widespread in The Philippines, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and India.

This is serious. Children that are exploited like this don't go to school or do other things that children normally do. Children that work in tobacco fields are beaten, sexually abused, and poisoned by the high exposure to nicotine.

OK, so you don't shop at WalMart, or buy cigarettes. Sorry, you're still not off the hook on this. Your Provincial government, through the agency British Columbia Investment Management Corporation (BCIMC), holds shares in at least seven tobacco companies, at last count. They hold $103 million worth of British American Tobacco (BAT), one of the biggest customers of child labour-produced tobacco. They also hold shares in Sousa Cruz, the Brazilian subsidiary of BAT and another major offender.

BCIMC is supposed to operate at arms length from the Provincial government, and they tend to fly below the public radar screen. However, BCIMC has standards that they are supposed to operate by; you can read them here. Yes, these standards include the fundamental standards of the International Labour Organization. For that reason, investment in the tobacco industry by BCIMC should be an automatic “fail.”

It's time to get your MLA, cabinet ministers, and the Official Opposition interested in this.

A Berlin-based organization, www.unfairtobacco.org, is taking on the larger issue of tobacco cultivation. Not just the labour standards, but damage caused by deforestation and pesticides.

This article was also published on the Airspace Action on Smoking and Health site.

W. Somerset Maugham on theocracy

From The Razor's Edge, published in 1944:

"D'you remember how Jesus was led into the wilderness and fasted forty days? Then, when he was a-hungered, the devil came to him and said: If thou be the son of God, command these stones be made bread. But Jesus resisted the temptation. Then the devil set him on a pinnacle of the temple and said to him: If thou be the son of God, cast thyself down. For angels had charge of him and would bear him up. But again Jesus resisted. Then the devil took him into a high mountain and showed him the kingdoms of the world and said that he would give them to him if he would fall down and worship him. But Jesus said: Get thee hence, Satan. That's the end of the story according to the good simple Matthew. But it wasn't. The devil was sly and he came to Jesus once more and said: If thou wilt accept shame and disgrace, scourging, a crown of thorns and death on the cross, thou shalt save the human race, for greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Jesus fell. The devil laughed till his sides ached, for he knew the evil men would commit in the name of their redeemer."

And, on the next page of the same book:

"I couldn't but surmise that the devil, looking at the cruel wars that Christianity has occasioned, the persecutions, the tortures that Christian has inflicted on Christian, the unkindness, the hypocrisy, the intolerance, must consider the balance sheet with complacency. And when he remembers that it has laid upon mankind the bitter burden of the sense of sin that has darkened the beauty of the starry night and cast a baleful shadow on the passing pleasures of a world to be enjoyed, he must chuckle as he murmurs: Give the devil his due."

Dominionism, Ralph Reed, Glenn Beck, and Santorum didn't exist when Maugham wrote this.

Most of what you've heard about Mexico is wrong, part II

Playa Panteon, Puerto AngelLast week, I needed to take a taxi out to the suburbs of Oaxaca City to play some tennis. The place where I'm staying is close to the main bus station, and that's a good place to catch a taxi.

When I got there, I asked the first taxi driver in line to take me to "Deportivo Brenamiel, Carretera Internacional". This turned out to be a problem, because I mis-pronounced both "Brenamiel" and "carretera". The driver understood me to say "deportivo internacional" which, for all I know, could be in Huatulco.

There was a group of three people waiting for a taxi, so I thought, I'll just let these people take this taxi, and I'll get the next one. However, a young woman in this group of three observed what was happening, and said "Deportivo Brenamiel" to the driver, with the proper pronunciation. (You have to roll the "r" in "Brenamiel", which is something we English speakers aren't very good at.) The driver said, "Oh, Deportivo BRENAMIEL". I got in the cab, and we were on our way.

However, for all I know, those three people had just gotten off a long bus ride, and would have liked to be on their way home. Instead, they gave up a chance to get in a taxi right away in order to help me out.

As was the case in previous incidents like this, documented on this blog, I thanked these people profusely, but my limited ability to speak Spanish is an obstacle to communication, so I've taken the trouble to write this as another way of expressing my gratitude.

Now, the former Senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum, said last week that President Obama should not have sent his daughter Malia to Oaxaca City. (No, I didn't cross paths with her group.) Here's a message especially for you, Rick: There's no need for you to ever go to Mexico. There are plenty of mental institutions in the United States that are capable of taking care of you.

Click here for more pictures I've taken along the way.