Friday, February 5, 2016

It Isn't Just About Jobs



Although we live in a time that seems to demand almost constant preoccupation with the economy and jobs, sometimes there are more important considerations, such as a country's moral standing. Right now, that moral standing is in jeopardy thanks to the apparent inflexibility of the Trudeau government on the Saudi Arabian armaments deal. While it is worth a tremendous amount of money ($15 billion), many are saying it's just not worth it.

A poll released today is instructive:
Nearly six out of 10 Canadians surveyed by Nanos Research for The Globe and Mail say they feel it is more important to ensure arms exports go only to countries “that respect human rights” than it is to support 3,000 jobs by selling weaponized armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia.
Other countries are growing increasingly uneasy about dealing with the repressive Middle East kingdom that has little respect for human rights:
On Thursday, an all-party committee of U.K. MPs called for a suspension of British arms sales to Saudi Arabia pending a probe into Riyadh’s devastating military campaign in Yemen. A UN report last week said a Saudi-led Arab coalition has conducted “widespread and systematic” bombing of Yemeni civilians – killing more than 2,600.
Germany’s Minister of Economic Affairs and Energy Sigmar Gabriel recently signalled Berlin’s increasing unease over arms deals with Riyadh, saying in January the government needs to review future shipments. In the past 24 months, Berlin has denied key applications for arms exports to Saudi Arabia, including several hundred battle tanks and G36 rifles.
In Belgium, the head of the Flemish government, Minister President Geert Bourgeois, announced in January that he has refused an application for an export licence to ship weapons to Saudi Arabia and hinted he would continue to do so in the future.
While the Canadian government is adamant about the deal going ahead, pollster Nik Nanos believes the poll results provide an opportunity "... for the Liberals to cancel, stop, delay or modify the transaction”.

The question yet to be answered is whether Trudeau, especially in this case, is willing to put his money where his rhetoric about collaboration and transparency is.

Heartbreaking And Shameful

Given our membership in the species, all of us should feel deep shame over the actions of our fellow humans:
The town has been under attack for years by Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces, yet the rebel fighters in Moadamiyeh won't give up; so the whole town is being punished.

Pro-regime checkpoints ring Moadamiyeh, preventing food and medicine from being brought in. Cut off, the town has become filthy. Locals say disease is spreading. The power is dead.

Siege warfare is an ancient tactic. Christian crusaders did it to Muslim towns and cities. Muslim armies encircled and strangled Christian holdouts. Kings, dukes and princes besieged each other's town all across Europe.

Now, in Syria, this medieval form of warfare is making a bitter comeback. And it's not just the regime's forces who use the collective punishment of innocent civilians to achieve their military goals. Rebel forces are guilty of the same crimes.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

We Can Do (And Be) Better Than This



While I continue to have a guarded optimism about our new government, there are troubling signs that suggest that it has some conspicuous blind spots. Not only are the Trudeau Liberals showing every sign of carrying through with the very contentious Saudi arms deal, but it appears now they are expanding their Middle East customer base.
The Canadian government is busy promoting Canada’s defence industry in Kuwait even as a United Nations report accuses a Saudi-led coalition, which includes Kuwait, of “widespread and systematic” bombing of civilians in Yemen.
Essentially embroiled in a civil war between the Houthi and the elected government, Yemen has become part of a regional power struggle between Shia-ruled Iran and Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, which shares a long border with Yemen. Unfortunately, that power struggle is costing many, many civilian lives.
A leaked UN panel report last week attributed 60 per cent, or 2,682, civilian deaths and injuries in the Yemen conflict to air-launched explosive weapons and said the Saudi-led coalition’s actions are a “grave violation of the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution” and violate international law.

Targets in Yemen, the UN report found, have included refugee camps; weddings; civilian vehicles, such as buses; homes; medical facilities; schools; mosques; factories and civilian infrastructure.
Like many countries in the Middle East, Kuwait has a sorry human-rights record:
According to Amnesty International, even peaceful criticism of Islam and the emir, the ruling head of state, remains criminalized. The rights watchdog says human-rights activists and political reformers are among those targeted for arrest, detention and prosecution. Authorities have prosecuted and imprisoned critics who express dissent through social media and they have curtailed the right to public assembly, Amnesty says.
Although sales to Kuwait at this point seem to be limited to a flight simulator, the problem is Canada's openness to other military sales to the country. The head of the business Council of Canada, John Manley,
cautioned that blocking trade with foreign countries is a decision that should not be made lightly.

“It’s grounds to have a conversation,” he said of the UN report, adding, however, that “you’re not going to get the next deal if you can’t be relied upon.”
For its part, the Trudeau government is pleading both ignorance (the Foreign Affairs depart claims not to have read the UN report) and a historical relationship with Kuwait:
... department of Global Affairs spokeswoman Rachna Mishra said, “Kuwait has been a strategic partner for Canada in the Middle East for over 50 years, and we value our close relationship with them.”
So there we have it: a bit of obfuscation, some corporate influence/pressure and a vague departmental justification - not exactly a recipe to inspire confidence in our new government.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Thinking Beyond The Conventional



We are regularly told, both by governments and their corporate confederates, that these are tough times, and that only patience and a freer hand for business will bring about eventual relief. To the seasoned observer, such a prescription is utter nonsense, of course. Neither an expansion in good-paying jobs nor a contraction of the income gap has occurred under that roadmap.

The fact is there are solutions to many of the problems we face today, whether it be climate change, the grinding poverty that so many contend with, or the sad plight of our native peoples, to name but three. Yet these solutions, while well-known and well-researched, always seem just over the next horizon, never to be realized.

Consider the matter of the guaranteed annual income, which I have written about previously on this blog. A recent piece by Glen Hodgson and Hugh Segal suggests the time is right for such a program, especially since countries in Europe are giving it serious consideration.
How does a guaranteed annual income system work? Basic income support would be delivered as a tax credit (or transfer), administered as part of the income tax system. Existing social welfare programs could be streamlined into this single universal system, thereby reducing public administration and intervention. Earned income for GAI recipients could be taxed at low marginal rates, thereby lowering the existing “welfare wall” of high marginal tax rates for welfare recipients who try to break out of welfare by working and providing a stronger incentive for recipients to work and increase their income.
The benefits of such a program would be many: poverty reduction, better health outcomes, greater labour force engagement, etc. And to top it all off, it would likely save money since it would replace the siloed benefit programs that currently exist, thereby significantly reducing administrative costs.

Even if you don't believe that a guaranteed annual income would be cost effective, there are other untapped sources of revenue that could fill the gaps and do much, much more. One of those sources is a form of the Tobin Tax, a tax on financial transactions.

The New York Times writes:
A financial transaction tax — a per-trade charge on the buying and selling of stocks, bonds and derivatives — is an idea whose time has finally come.

A well-designed financial transaction tax — one that applies a tiny tax rate to an array of transactions and is split between buyers and sellers — would be a progressive way to raise substantial revenue without damaging the markets. A new study by researchers at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has found that a 0.1 percent tax rate could bring in $66 billion a year, with 40 percent coming from the top 1 percent of income earners and 75 percent from the top 20 percent. As the rate rises, however, traders would most likely curtail their activity. The tax could bring in $76 billion a year if it was set at 0.3 percent, but above that rate, trading would probably decrease and the total revenue raised would start to fall.
As the editorial points out, it is already being applied in a limited number of countries:
There are already financial transaction taxes in Britain, Switzerland and South Korea as well as in Hong Kong and other developed markets and emerging nations, generally at rates of 0.1 percent to 0.5 percent on stock transfers. In addition, 10 countries in the European Union, including Germany and France, have agreed to apply a common financial transaction tax starting in 2017, though relentless lobbying by investment banks and hedge funds threatens to delay and even derail the effort.
That last sentence, of course, epitomizes the main obstacle to implementation, the opposition of the moneyed forces who seem to see any taxation as a capitulation to some kind of socialist scheme. Unfortunately, those forces seem to almost always have the ear of government.

So despite the propaganda, there are ways to bridge the yawning gulf that separates those who have a lot, and those who have little. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Monday, February 1, 2016

A Well Of Humanity

Sometimes the world seems to be a cold and uncaring place. But at other times, it proves itself to be anything but:

Sunday, January 31, 2016

This Does Not Sound Good

Given that the government of Justin Trudeau is in favour of trade deals such as the TPP, its approval seems a foregone conclusion, despite its many grave potential drawbacks:



For a fuller discussion of the above graphic, please click here for both text and links.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

To Serve And Protect Who?



Were I so inclined, I could probably devote this blog solely to police misconduct, so extensive does it seem. Perhaps it is due to the Forcillo conviction for the attempted murder of the late Sammy Yatim that we are more sensitive to the issue, but each day seems to bring new information about police behaving badly. A crisis of public confidence is not too strong a phrase to describe the public's growing distrust of those sworn to protect and serve.

And to make matters worse, as I observed in a post earlier this week, the police, or at least their unions, are reacting with outrage rather than humility at these charges and convictions, a fact that does not bode well for changing the culture and profile of our protectors.

In its letters section today, The Toronto Star features an entire page of public reactions to the Forcillo conviction. Each letter is worth reading, but I reproduce just a few below to offer you a sampling of sentiments:
.... Police spokespeople have publicly worried that the verdict will “send a chill through the force.” But if a chill is what it takes to soothe the itchy trigger fingers of cops like Forcillo, then it’s exactly what we need. These men and women are given public permission to patrol our streets armed with increasingly deadly force. It’s time they understood that public scrutiny is part of that privilege – scrutiny that will become a bit uncomfortable now and then. Or are we supposed to look the other way when a citizen is killed?

As your editorial notes, the verdict will be small comfort to the Yatim family, but at least it’s something. And the Star deserves credit for its excellent series on police abuse and accountability in the GTA, “Breaking badge.” I believe that it has helped to shift our outdated attitudes towards the police.

Andrew van Velzen, Toronto

The TPS police union boss, Mike McCormack said he is “disappointed with the guilty finding and it sends a chilling message to other cops.” I agree. Indeed, disappointing the original charge was reduced and chilling that the blue wall choose to close ranks to protect a criminal in their midst rather than “serve and protect” the public.

Time for handlers at the senior police levels and politicians to take note. No more impunity for bad cops who have previously executed the emotionally or mentally upset among us. Rather than deescalating the situation. A overdue message to any cop who may wish to play fast and loose with civilian lives. Now consequences attached.

This is the first time in Ontario history a out of line cop actually has been convicted. Now the question is, will his legal weasels continue to attempt to subvert justice by their gyrations allowing this soon to be ex-thug in blue to escape?

Paul Coulter, Kincardine

Forcillo’s lawyer spoke of “trial by YouTube.” How about “trial by seeing is believing” or “trial by a picture is worth a thousand words.”‎

Let’s be clear here; no video, no conviction. All on-site police testifying in court would have backed and supported their brother’s need to use the excessive force repeatedly delivered on a dead or dying individual.

Tim Strevett, Hamilton

As in countless other trials, no one has emerged a winner here. Both Forcillo and Yatim’s family have lost.

I have to wonder, however, at the defence decrying the video shot that night, and suggesting it precluded a fair trial. When the police install cameras in the city and seek greater powers to snoop, we are told, if you are not doing anything wrong, you should not fear this surveillance. It seems, in this unhappy case, the police have learned they, too, are being watched and recorded.

Video evidence is virtually unrefutable; that’s why law enforcement wants it. Now, however, it seems the shoe is on the other foot.

G.P. Wowchuk, Toronto

...what should be most disturbing to the public is Mike McCormack’s reaction that the verdict is sending a “chilling message” to the police. The police still don’t get it. This reaction is itself sending a cold blooded warning to the public.

Torontonians have reason to beware the police when their spokesperson insists on their right to remain above the law.

Tony D’Andrea, Toronto