Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Where In The World Is This?

What follows is a series of pictures, the link to which my son Matthew sent me. They are all pictures of the same country, the last one offering you the only real clue as to its identity. I urge you to look at each one slowly, and when you come to the end and discover its identity, ask yourself what your previous notion of its essential geography was, and consider why you have that notion.

I will have a few comments following the photos.

The last photo, of course, is the only real indication that these are pictures of Iran. What was your preconceived notion of the geography? If you are anything like me or my son, you probably thought of the country as a largely arid wasteland, a rather forbidding, uninviting and sterile country.

Continuing with my didactic tone, I have to pose one more question: Why do so many of us have that notion of Iran? A big part of the answer, it seems to me, is that, aided and abetted yet again by the bulk of the media, that is the image western governments want us to have. To view it thus is to predispose us to seeing Iran as the monster in the current drama being played out regarding its alleged nuclear weapons' program, upon which I have written two previous posts.

In any event, I regard these pictures as timely reminders for all of us to cultivate and practise the skill of critical thinking.

Should you wish to see more pictures of Iran, please click here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Now This Really Is Funny

It is a rare occasion when I experience a good belly laugh, but the following bogus media release, reported by the CBC's Allison Crawford, had that effect. While I doubt that the morose and ostensibly humourless Harper government will be amused, those with a degree of normalcy in their mental and emotional makeup probably will. Enjoy:

Harper Government Announces New Fitness Tax Credits for Seniors Shovelling Snow

OTTAWA - The Hon. Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of Health and Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency today announced a new Fitness Tax Credit for Seniors who shovel their own sidewalks, effective immediately.

Aglukkaq said that the new program is the first in a series of "preventive" health care measures from the Harper Government that will pare health care costs by encouraging Canadians to take greater responsibility for their health, while also supporting independent living and fitness in those 55 and over.

"Studies show that seniors can improve muscle mass and cardiovascular fitness through strenuous physical activity," said Aglukkaq. "By instituting a Seniors Fitness Tax Credit for Shoveling Snow, seniors on fixed incomes will not have to pay anyone to shovel their walks, they will be rewarded - even posthumously - for doing it themselves."

Aglukkaq said that seniors who mail in photographic or video proof that they shovel their own sidewalks will receive a crisp $50 Canadian bill in the mail. If the snow is heavy and wet, the amount rises to $100.

Concerns that shoveling snow might lead to heart attacks was unwarranted, said Aglukkaq.

"There is no scientific consensus on the link between shoveling snow and heart attacks," said Aglukkaq. "In fact, there is considerably more credible scientific evidence for climate change."

Aglukkaq said that if the program is widely adopted, it would actually save the government hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars by reducing overspending in CPP, the Guaranteed Income Supplement, and health care costs. The savings would be achieved mostly through attrition, she added.


Media Enquiries:

Health Canada

(613) 957-2983

Public Enquiries:

(613) 957-2991
1-866 225-0709

Sayed Shah Sharifi - The Toronto Star Continues Championing His Cause

Sayed Shah Sharifi, the brave Afghan interpreter, may have been betrayed by the Harper government and our contemptible Minister of Immigration, Jason Kenney, but he has the support of The Toronto Star, countless people worldwide, and the pro bono services of Lorne Waldman, one of the country’s leading immigration lawyers.

In his latest installment of this potentially tragic unfolding tale, Paul Watson reveals that outrage over Sharifi's mistreatment by our government is not limited to right-thinking Canadians. The lead in the latest article sums up the growing anger:

From Africa, through Europe to Mexico, the U.S. and across Canada, thousands of people are joining the outcry against the Canadian government’s refusal to give an Afghan war hero safe refuge.

The article goes on to discuss two petition sites, thepetitionsite.com and petitionbuzz.com, both of which permit one to add personal comments. But as my wise wife tells me, petitions are not nearly as effective as letters. Anyone who wishes to, can use the letter I sent to Jason Kenney as a template for their own efforts.

One final note, and it is hardly surprising: in apparent retaliation for the military speaking up as advocates for Sharifi, the Harper government [has] gag[ged] Canadian soldiers from speaking publicly about the case now.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Power of the Documentary

Although traditionally avoided as a rather staid and boring genre, the documentary has enjoyed a real resurgence in popularity over the past couple of decades, no doubt in part due to the important and provocative work by people such as Errol Morris, Michael Moore, and Velcro Ripper. A good documentary, for me, is one that provokes thought and provides knowledge and insights we often don't have the opportunity to encounter in our day-to-day lives.

Nature documentaries, when done right, can accomplish much. A series on the earth called Earth From Above, spectacular when viewed on blu-ray, but I'm sure almost as visually stunning on a regular DVD, has much wisdom to impart. In the episode I just finished watching, called Amazing Lands, the point is made that every impact humanity has on the earth, whether intentional or unintentional, has far-reaching ramifications.

For example, deforestation means the destruction of habitats to a myriad of species, oftentimes resulting ultimately in their extinction. It also means the loss of flora whose possible medicinal benefits to humanity will never be known. Another impact of that deforestation is land erosion that means heavy rains carry formerly fertile topsoil down in to the rivers, the mud killing the fish, etc. But while we may understand all of this as a series of abstract facts, a naturalist on the show reminds us that we have no ability to imagine what any of this really means. It is very similar to when we are talking about the magnitude of national debts. The numbers really don't mean anything to us.

The only real wisdom here is for all of us to remember that we are not above nature, but rather simply a part of it.

I therefore highly recommend the series as a way of helping us to start understanding what the environmental destruction wrought by an unfettered corporate agenda, aided and abetted both by our political 'masters' and our own rampant and very disposable consumerism, really means.

And since this is Sunday, I will not apologize for the preachy tone of this post, but instead leave you with two of my favourite poems, both written at different points in the nineteenth century; both resonate very strongly with our situation today:

The World Is Too Much with Us - William Wordsworth

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. --Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

God's Grandeur - Gerald Manley Hopkins

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; 5
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; 10
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Power of Non-Violence

Never an advocate of violence, I have been recently thinking of the power of its opposite, non-violence or passive resistance, especially in light of the contemptible yet very casual pepper-spraying of University of California - Davis students by campus police.

For me, the various pictures and stories circulating on the Internet of the ugly incident attest to two things: the wanton use of violence that is becoming increasingly common amongst authorities trying to quell the Occupy Movement, and the tremendous strength and spirit reflected in those who are willing to put their bodies on the line in pursuit of justice and balance in our society. To me, they are quickly becoming part of the iconography of past practitioners of non-violent resistance, including Jesus, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King. They all saw the way, and inspired countless millions to follow in their path.

In his weekly column in yesterday's Toronto Star, Rick Salutin offered some interesting reflections on the resurgence of non-violence in our time. If you haven't already done so, I hope that you will take the opportunity to read it.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Battle of Sayed Shah Sharifi Continues

The Star continues its excellent coverage of the plight of Sayed Shah Sharifi, the brave young Afghan interpreter who has been betrayed by the Harper government, despite glowing Canadian military reports supporting his application for emigration to Canada.

As his last hope after being rejected by faceless bureaucrats and abandoned by the spineless Jason Kenney, Canada's Immigration Minister, Sharifi is reluctantly accepting the offer of pro bono legal help from Lorne Waldman, a Toronto immigration and refugee lawyer who has successfully argued cases all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, who plans to ask the Federal Court of Canada for a judicial review of the government’s decision to reject Sharifi’s visa application.

The article, again by Paul Watson, concludes with the following:

Take heart that a growing number of Star readers haven’t been so timid about speaking up for Sharifi. I get new emails from them every day, often with copies of angry letters they have sent to Kenney and other MPs.

One has started an online petition at www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/canadianpatriotyes, hoping to channel enough public outrage to move Kenney to think again and do right by an Afghan who risked his life to support Canadian combat troops.

Those outraged by Sharifi's contemptible treatment may wish to add their name to the petition.

The Occupy Movement: More Wisdom From Star Readers

I wrote the other day that I normally refrain from excerpting large chunks of text from other sources, but here I go again, this time a reproduction of letters from perceptive Toronto Star readers on why we should be thankful for the Occupy Movement. I was especially struck by B Byron's reminder of the federal government’s plan to drop the corporate tax rate from the already low 18 per cent to 15 per cent in the new year, putting an additional $10 billion to $11.5 billion of public revenue back into corporate pockets.

Then, of course, there is the 2% cut in provincial corporate taxes coming in January from Dwight Duncan, whose government will block a private member's bill that would remove the provincial portion of the HST. Said Dalton McGuinty yesterday: Where are we going to get the $350 million? (the amount that would be lost were the bill to become law.)

The answer to that question seems pretty obvious to me and countless others.

In any event, here are the letters:

Re: Campaign must adapt or fade away, Editorial Nov. 22

Concerned that the Occupy movement is unfocused? “It’s time for them to move out of St. James Park and put a finer point on their concerns.”

Actually, they are focused. Their focus is to get the attention of the 99 per cent. Their focus is to prod that majority to flesh out the myriad issues that remain unaddressed by the growing economic divide.

Their job of Occupation is not done. It is not done until we get busy and do our job. It is our job to fix the democratic system; our job to fuel a peaceful, non-violent, creative revolution; our job to build an economic system that works for all people of this planet earth.

A revolution not distracted by a minor temporary inconvenience in St. James Park; but, fuelled by the idealism, compassion, creativity and courage demonstrated there. We owe the Occupiers nothing but gratitude.

The Rev. Philip Cable, Barrie

I would love more than anything to believe the Occupy Toronto movement has made a difference. However, in the same issue of the Star, we read that the Liberal government will go ahead with further corporate tax cuts along with massive program cuts; the Ford administration is looking to eliminate well-paid city employees in favour of a cheap, insecure workforce; not to mention the federal government’s plan to drop the corporate tax rate from the already low 18 per cent to 15 per cent in the new year, putting an additional $10 billion to $11.5 billion of public revenue back into corporate pockets.

Occupy Toronto is the gentlest and most articulate of warnings. What will it take for governments to listen?

G. Byron, Toronto

People should commend the courage and persistence of the Occupiers, most of whom are young people in their 20s across Canada and in many cities of the world. They bring attention to issues of economic inequality, poverty and how the actions of corporations and banks have failed many worldwide.

Political parties in the most recent Canadian elections, which often claimed to be supporting the average person or average family, are noticeably absent from the locations of the Occupiers, who are addressing the tough issues that should be discussed by governments.

How shameful that the government response to these youth is annoyance, eviction and the threat of violence. These youth deserve support for speaking up about issues that most people with power would rather not discuss.

Diane Sullivan, Toronto

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Former Goldman Sachs Partner Pontificates on the Real Reason for Our Sorry Financial State

For those who can stomach hypocrisy, I highly recommend this video in which we are told by a wealthy banker that the true source of our troubles is socialism:

The Globe and Mail Reports on Asbestos

I have written many times on one of Canada's biggest shames, the export of asbestos, something of grave concern to all right-thinking Canadians. It is therefore gratifying to see that, despite what I regard as the failed leadership of editor-in-chief John Stackhouse, The Globe and Mail recently devoted some resources to the issue. Entitled Canada's chronic asbestos problem, the article, by John Gary and Stephanie Nolen, is well-worth perusal for those concerned about our country's immoral practice.

Star Readers and Harper Government's Injustice to Sayed Shah Sharifi's

While I rarely excerpt long passages from other sources fro my blog, I am making an exception today to print the reactions of Toronto Star readers to the cruel abandonment by the Harper government of Sayed Shah Sharifi, the brave Afghan interpreter who served our troops so valiantly:

I was appalled, disgusted and angry as I read Paul Watson’s accounts of the Afghan interpreter Sayed Shah Sharifi’s rejection for the special visa programme by our immigration department. The bafflegab response to the Star from Immigration Minister Jason Kenney should not surprise me as it is typical of the Conservative dictatorial approach to governing.

The suspicion that Sharifi was rejected because he had the timerity to speak out to the Star is probably correct. If it is, it demonstrates that Kenney abnd his immigration “henchmen” are morally bankrupt.

This applicant has no fewer than 13 Canadian officials who worked closely with him on the battlefield and all declared him not only an upstanding young man, but also a hero. Their word should certainly trump the unfounded suspicions of a few bureaucrats. Sharifi sounds like exactly the kind of immigrant Canada needs.

Kenney should do the right thing and admit this man to Canada immediately before something happens to him or any of his family at the hands of the Taliban. If it does, I certainly know where I will be laying the blame.

As Watson writes, “The most inconvertible proof of Sharifi’s risk would be his corpse.” We can only hope and pray this does not happen before Kenney et al come to their senses.

Penny Preston, Blue Mountains

The Star is to be highly commended for its coverage of the Afghanistan interpreter’s plight.The position adopted by the Canadian government on this matter is disgraceful and one can only hope that the death threats received by this gentleman do not come to pass. Shame, Shame, Shame on you Canada.

Oh and by the way, the silence emanating from the other two major Toronto daily papers regarding Ottawa’s stance on this matter is deafening.

Peter Blunt, Richmond Hill

While I am surprised neither by the incredible immorality of this decision nor the insouciance of Jason Kenney, I must say that I am somewhat unsettled by the staggering stupidity involved. At the same time as they are spending billions on “national security,” the government is ensuring that it is all for naught.

As a recruitment strategy for the Taliban, there cannot be a more effective tool than being able to exploit the fact that a member-nation of the ISAF abandoned those who risked everything to assist them.

Jason Kenney has never been a minister that any caring Canadian could point to with pride, but he may have surpassed his previous efforts with this unconscionable act. I hope that sufficient Canadians rally around this young man that Kenney will reverse his decision.

Many thanks to Paul Watson and the Star for this excellent article.

Lois A. Airth, Renfrew

We know the current Canadian government is cold hearted and mean, but to leave a friend in danger has to be the most dispicable thing. Our ideal on this mission was to help others including our “friends,” the U.S. and the people of Afghanistan. When we get to the end we now abandom not only the country but also those that believed in us and put their lives at risk for us. I would ask our leader where in his Bible does he find this instruction?

Terry Robert, Winnipeg

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Umbrella Man - A Cautionary Tale

Germane to nothing in particular, I highly recommend this six-minute documentary by Errol Morris, made for the 48th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It explores the story behind the one man seen standing under an open black umbrella on a clear and sunny Dallas day at the exact moment the shots rang out. The resolution of the mystery will surprise you.

Today's Globe Editorial on Occupiers

Ever the arbiter of all things significant, it is hardly surprising that in its latest editorial, The Globe and Mail has the arrogance to assume to speak for all when it says that "the [Occupy] movement has tried everyone's patience." Nonetheless, it should put aside its very conservative prejudices to acknowledge the real achievement of the occupiers, which has been to end the isolation and hopelessness felt by the many who aspire to a better world, despite all of the obstructions posed by those who purport to represent our interests in government.

While I agree that the issue of the right to pitch tents has a diversionary effect on the conversation the movement has sparked, to suggest, as the editorial does, that the occupy protests are only a response to the excesses (not to mention criminality) that contributed to the world financial crisis is to betray a shockingly shallow understanding of the issues the occupiers are drawing attention to worldwide.

But then again, that seems to be the typically blinkered perspective disseminated by the bulk of the mainstream media today (The Toronto Star excepted!), doesn't it?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bill O'Reilly on UC-Davis Pepper-Spraying: No Big Deal

I don't think the following video needs any commentary on my part:

A Message From the UC -Davis Faculty of English

The following can be found on the UC - Davis website, a followup to the brave letter written by untenured Assistant Professor Nathan Brown.

The faculty of the UC Davis English Department supports the Board of the Davis Faculty Association in calling for Chancellor Katehi’s immediate resignation and for “a policy that will end the practice of forcibly removing non-violent student, faculty, staff, and community protesters by police on the UC Davis campus.” Further, given the demonstrable threat posed by the University of California Police Department and other law enforcement agencies to the safety of students, faculty, staff, and community members on our campus and others in the UC system, we propose that such a policy include the disbanding of the UCPD and the institution of an ordinance against the presence of police forces on the UC Davis campus, unless their presence is specifically requested by a member of the campus community. This will initiate a genuinely collective effort to determine how best to ensure the health and safety of the campus community at UC Davis.

Such fortitude, I suspect, is yet another tangible benefit of the Occupy Movement.

Two Monday Morning Links

There are two pieces on the Occupy Toronto situation that are worth reading in today's paper. The first is the editorial in the Toronto Star examining the possibilities for the future now that the occupiers will soon be decamping from St. James Park due to a judicial decision just handed down. It is a decision that need hardly sound the death knell of a movement that is resonating with millions of people.

The second piece, by Linda McQuaig, accords the Occupy Movement high praise indeed. Says McQuaig:

[T]hey’ve managed to change the public discourse, putting inequality front and centre — something activists and writers, myself included, have failed to accomplish despite decades of trying.

I'm hoping, and betting, that this is only the end of the beginning.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The roots of the UC-Davis pepper-spraying

That's the title of a searing and insightful analysis by Glenn Greenwald as he examines both the mentality and the effects, both intended and unintended, of the excessive and brutal force used against Occupy demonstrators and others.

Amongst his findings are the following:

- excessive police force against non-violent protest is not a new phenomenon;

- that excessive force has been emboldened since 9/11;

- this disproportionate use of force is not having the desired effect, in that it is galvanizing, not deterring people to join in activist acts.

I hope yoiu will take the time to read the entire article, which includes video of Greenwald speaking about Badley Manning and WikiLeaks.

A Blogger's Blogger

Although I have made reference to him before, Dr. Dawg continues to inspire my admiration. Although most of you probably read him already, I especially recommend his recent posts on the outrage at UCDavis, where campus police callously pepper-sprayed students who had linked arms on and sat on the pavement. He also provides excoriating coverage of the university's Chancellor, Linda Katehi, as well as a follow-up of her leaving the campus in silence.

Dr. Dawg is providing the kind of coverage that is difficult, if not impossible, to find in the mainstream media.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Premeditated Act of Police Brutality

In this video, a group of college students are huddled on the ground in a defensive position at UC Davis on November 18. An officer, later identified as UC police Lt. John Pike, then casually douses them with a chemical agent. You’ll note that a number of bystanders who were simply watching what was going on are also exposed.

The reaction of the bystanders, however, is to their credit: total non-violence. A moral victory for the oppressed 99%.

More From Paul Watson on Sayed Shah Sharifi

The older I get, the longer I live, the more I realize that true justice is uncommon, and that evil frequently prevails over good. The case of Sayed Shah Sharifi, the Afghan interpreter whose work was so highly-prized by the Canadian military, is only the latest example of this fact.

Continuing his series in The Toronto Star on the plight of this young man, Paul Watson today offers proof that Sharifi's life is in danger from the Taliban for his work with the Canadian military, a claim that has been flatly rejected by immigration officials who have denied him a visa to emigrate to Canada. There is speculation that the rejection was prompted by the fact that the interpreter went public about how he was being treated by officials, an assertion that certainly has plenty of precedent with the Harper government, which has time and time again demonstrated its intolerance for those who disagree with it.

In today's article, Hunter cites the eyewitness account of Philip Hunter, a medic in Canada’s army reserves, who worked closely with Sharifi:

Hunter recalls at least three occasions when he witnessed Sharifi receive threats from insurgents.

Once, Hunter was at Forward Operating Base Wilson, in Kandahar province’s bloodied Zhari district, then roiling with Taliban activity.

The two were drinking tea when Sharifi’s cellphone rang.

“He spoke for a few minutes with the other party before hanging up,” Hunter told me from Ottawa, where he is training to be a civilian paramedic. “While my Pashto is limited, I could tell that there was a bit of a confrontational tone to the conversation.

“When he closed his phone he told me, with a shrug of his shoulders and a half-smile, that it was a local Taliban commander calling him to remind him that he had his phone number, and that he was going to kill him when he got the chance.”

In a similar incident at Masum Ghar, near the front line with territory completely under Taliban control, Sharifi arrived with a platoon on a two-week stint with the Canadian battle group’s quick reaction force, Hunter said.

“When we were chatting outside the medical clinic his phone rang, and it was another Taliban commander calling to tell him that he knew he was now at Masum Ghar, and if he saw Sayed with his troops in the Panjwaii bazaar, the foreigners (us) would not be able to protect him,” Hunter recalled.

Ultimately Sharifi quit his job as interpreter after the Taliban threatened to kill his entire family for his continued work.

The Harper government has a reputation of never backing down on anything. Unfortunately, this jejeune characteristic may very well end up costing the life of a young man who would be a real asset to Canadian society.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Jason Kenney Responds to His Critics

In a move that can hardly be described as surprising, Jason Kenney is fiercely defending his immigration officials and their decision to refuse a Canadian visa to Sayed Shah Sharifi, the brave Afghan interpreter who risked the wrath of Taliban insurgents to assist our forces in his country. Despite a program in place to help such individuals, officials have deemed Sharifi ineligible, inexplicably discounting his stories of threats from the insurgents because of his collaboration with the West.

As well, and equally predictably, Kenney, in a letter to the Toronto Star, which has brought to public attention and championed Sharifi's cause, indirectly blames the paper for creating mischief:

“The Government does not make decisions about individual cases based on political considerations,” Kenney asserts. “Nor does the editorial board of the Toronto Star, which does not have the benefit of all the relevant facts, get to decide who qualifies for government programs.

“We leave such decisions to highly-trained and competent civil servants. They have decided that Mr. Sharifi is not eligible under this program.”

Perhaps we should applaud Kenney for having renewed faith in the beaurcrats employed by our government, given the earlier crisis of confidence when it did everything in its power to discredit the judgment of Richard Colvin, the Canadian diplomat who alleged that Canadian soldiers were handing over captured Afghan insurgents to be tortured.

But then again, since this government has shown a pattern of acting with expedience to quell embarrassments whenever they arise, perhaps we should not.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My Letter to Jason Kenney Re: Sayed Shah Sharifi

Dear Minister Kenney,

I am writing to express both my shock and my disappointment over Canada's failure to honour its word to Sayed Shah Sharifi, the brave Afghan interpreter who risked the wrath of Taliban insurgents to assist our forces in his country. By all accounts a very brave and competent individual, he, along with other interpreters, was promised sanctuary for himself and his family because of service to our military.

As has been widely reported, despite the fact that he continues to be at risk, our immigration officials have turned down his application for emigration to Canada, the speculation being that it is retaliation for his having made his plight public, thereby embarrassing your government.

I implore you to do the right thing, reverse this decision, and expedite his and his family's passage to Canada. To do anything less can only be seen as a callous and immoral abdication of the promises previously made.


Lorne Warwick

Canada's International Reputation Continues to Deteriorate

Once looked upon as an honest-broker middle power which enjoyed the respect of almost the entire world, Canada in recent years has seen a steady deterioration in its reputation for many reasons, its unreserved and uncritical support of all things Israeli, the obstructionist role it plays on climate-change, and its on-going export of deadly asbestos to third-world nations that offer no protection to its workers but three of the reasons for this sad decline.

The most recent cause to look with suspicion and disfavour upon our country is found in a story first reported on in Sunday's Toronto Star, with followups in Monday and Tuesday's online editions.

The stories all revolve around an Afghan interpreter, Sayed Shah Sharifi, who by all accounts did exemplary work for the Canadian forces in Afghanistan despite great risk to himself and his family from the Taliban, a risk that continues to this day, with the promise that afterwards he would qualify under a special program to emigrate to Canada for his service.

Unfortunately, Canada has gone back on its word to Sharifi, the suspected reason being that he had brought the failure of our government to fulfill its promise to the press, an embarrassing revelation that seems to have been on the minds of those immigration officials deciding his fate.

I hope you will take some time to read the provided links, and take whatever action you think appropriate to try to right this injustice, including a letter to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

This Is What Revolution Looks Like

That is the title of Chris Hedges' latest column on truthdig.org. Despite the attempts to dismantle the Occupy encampments, attempts that seem eerily coordinated, Hedges suggests that this is only the end of the first stage of a revolution by people who have seen the truth and refuse to go back to the way they were, maxing out their credit cards and watching mindless television; in short, they are refusing to continue to follow the corporate agenda, which demands passivity and uncritical acceptance of its debased imperatives.

As with most of Hedges' work, this is a piece well-worth reading.

Occupy Wall Street Police Breakup

News has spread quickly about the cowardly breakup of the Zucotti Park Wall Street Occupiers. Here is a link to a livestream covering the protesters as they move throughout the streets of New York

Andrea Horwath, Tim Hudak: Unlikely Allies

“Outrageous proposals for new spending and reckless tax giveaways like these are unacceptable.” So says Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, in high dudgeon over the intention of NDP leader Andrea Horwath, and supported by Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak, to introduce a private member's bill to remove the provincial portion of the HST from home heating bills.

According to Duncan, the proposal would cut provincial revenues by nearly $350 million a year and that raising corporate taxes — as the NDP would like to do — is no answer to lost revenue.

Hmm... as I have mentioned before, the key to critical thinking is to have access to an extensive array of information and a willingness to digest and incorporate that information into one's worldview. Here is some information that is vital in assessing Duncan's denunciation:

Despite the fact that Ontario faces a very large deficit and debt, the following tax regimen attends to the business world:

Ontario Corporate Income Tax Rates, 2010 - 2013

General Corporate Income Tax Rate
2010 2011 2012 2013
Jan 1 July 1 Jan 1 July 1 Jan 1 July 1 Jan 1 July 1
Federal 18 16.5 15
Provincial 14 12 11.5 11 10
Combined 32 30 28.5 28 26.5 26 25

Corporate Income Tax Rate for Income from Manufacturing and Processing*
2010 2011 2012 2013
Jan 1 July 1 Jan 1 July 1 Jan 1 July 1 Jan 1 July 1
Federal 18 16.5 15
Provincial 12 10
Combined 30 28 26.5 25
* Also applies to income from farming, mining, logging and fishing

Small Business Corporate Income Tax Rate*
2010 2011 2012 2013
Jan 1 July 1 Jan 1 July 1 Jan 1 July 1 Jan 1 July 1
Federal 11
Provincial 5.5 4.5
Combined 16.5 15.5

You will note in the above chart, taken from the Ontario government's website, that despite Duncan's denunciation of a measure that would benefit untold numbers of ordinary citizens, he is more than willing to cut provincial revenues by as much as 2% to benefit the corporate world.

Oh, I know it would be easy to justify this ongoing and seemingly ineluctable drive to subsidize business as the price of remaining a competitive regime that is attractive to corporate entities, but the problem with that reasoning is that Ontario, as is Canada as a whole, is already very competitive in its rates vis a vis the United States, and offers singular advantages over the latter jurisdiction in terms of infrastructure, an educated workforce, and basic healthcare for all. According to KPMG's 2010 Competitive Alternatives study of international business costs confirmed it again in 2010: Canadian business costs are once again the lowest in the G7.

Perhaps one of the most telling and, from my perspective, damning detail is this one:

Ontario’s corporate income tax rate (provincial and federal combined) is lower than that of any U.S. state, Japan or France and will drop to 10% by 2013.

So, it seems to me that we have a real obligation to critically assess and, when warranted, challenge this government in all of its assertions. To do anything less is to allow a corporate-driven and influenced elected body to make a mockery of democratic principles.

Monday, November 14, 2011

More on Iran's 'Nuclear Program'

Yesterday I wrote a post linking to an article by Gwynne Dyer that suggests the rush to judgement about Iran's alleged nuclear-weapons' program needs to include the facts and not just recycled data and hysteria.

In a similar vein, I recommend a piece called Another nuclear shell game, written by Ramesh Thakur, the director of the Centre for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament at Australian National University. Published in today's Toronto Star, like Dyer, Thakur warns that there is no new evidence of nuclear-weapons development in Iraq, despite what the International Atomic Energy Agency is warning.

Says Thakur:

The new report lists efforts by Iran’s military to procure nuclear-related and dual-use material and equipment; to develop ways and means of producing undeclared nuclear material; to tap into clandestine networks for obtaining weapons-related information and documentation; and to work on an indigenous nuclear weapons design.

Importantly, however, all these activities took place before 2003. There is no fresh revelation. Even the pre-2003 assessment referred to weapons-relevant research by Iranian scientists, not to constructing a bomb factory. Hence the startlingly wimpish conclusion: There are “indications that some activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device continued after 2003, and that some may still be ongoing.”

Of special significance for the critical thinker trying to objectively analyse the information is the fact that the leadership of the International Atomic Energy Agency has changed. Despite the fact that it is supposed to be a neutral agency, as it was under the leadership of Mohamed ElBaradei and chief weapons inspector Hans Blix who, you may recall during the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction there, the agency is now run by Yukio Amano, described in the article as Washington’s choice because he was “solidly in the U.S. court” on Iran, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable.

As if demonstrating his allegiance to his political master, Amano adds that there is no conclusive proof that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful and he “has serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program.”

How do you prove a negative? For U.S. and Israeli forces, the answer is a convenient, "You can't."

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Timely Warning From Gwynne Dyer

Author, historian and journalist Gwynne Dyer is offering a timely warning as the world seems to be going down the same uncritical path to bombing Iran as it did with Iraq and its non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

Says Dyer, in an article entitled Iran: Here We Go Again?

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. The same intelligence agencies are producing the same sort of reports about Iran that we heard eight years ago about Iraq’s nuclear ambitions, and interpreting the information in the same highly prejudiced way.

Critical thinking is possible only with extensive access to information and the willingness to digest that information, something the popular media either refuse to do or are incapable of. I recommend a perusal of Dyer's article to those who want more than propaganda to guide their thinking.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Occupy Movement and Christianity's Core Message

Gene Robinson, the ninth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, addresses the relationship between the Occupy Movement and the central message of Christianity:

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Blow Against Public Morality

Despite the conviction of the Conservative Party of Canada for the illegal financing of its 2006 campaign that brought it to power, a blow has been struck against, not for, public morality.

As reported in The Star, the sophisticated in-and-out scheme, masterminded by the likes of now-Senator Doug Findley, saw the Conservatives shifting "national advertising money, through wire transfers into and immediately out of local riding campaign accounts, in order to claim national ad spending as local." This illegal tactic allowed the party to far exceed legal limits on campaign spending, probably a factor in its electoral victory.

The public immorality resides not just in the act, but also in the punishment, the reason for the punishment, and the spin being placed on that sanction by Conservative Party operatives.

First, the punishment - a mere $52,000 fine.

The reason for that paltry punishment, which made no effort to hold the architects of the fraud, Doug Finley and Irving Gerstein, then-party director Michael Donison, and then-chief financial officer Susan Kehoe. criminally responsible, was explained by Crown attorney Richard Roy. He suggested to Judge Célynne Dorval that it was in the “public interest” to strike the deal that withdrew charges against them. The judge agreed, saying that an expected six-month trial “would not have made any difference” even if there had been convictions because the fines amounted to the maximum penalties that could have been imposed.

Legally, what the judge said may be true, but that failure to prosecute the perpetrators of the crime allows for the following, the spin being placed on the results by the Conservative Party apparatus, who call it a “big victory.”

“Every single Conservative accused of wrongdoing has been cleared today,” said spokesman Fred DeLorey, in a written statement afterwards.

Conservative party lawyer Mark Sandler said the party’s guilty plea is only an admission of “inadvertent negligence” and not an outright or deliberate attempt to flout the law.

The hubris of the Conservatives is such that even this judicial slap on the wrist is contentious as the Conservative party and the Crown still disagree on the exact amount that was involved. The Crown says the national party failed to report $1.24 million spent, while the Conservatives admit only to $680,000.

The biggest victim in all of this sordid mess is the Canadian public, once more being shown by example that immorality and illegality aren't really immorality and illegality, as long as you remain truculent and defiant in legal defeat.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Are Canadians as Fed Up as the People in Ohio?

This past Tuesday, the voters in Ohio told their state legislature that they have had enough. In response to a law enacted with the help of the wealthy Koch Brothers that essentially stripped all collective bargaining rights from public-sector workers, and despite efforts by the wealthy right to suppress their voice, citizens got busy collecting signatures to put [that law] to the test of the ballot box. On Tuesday night, the people defeated the anti-worker law, Senate Bill 5, by a resounding 61 percent majority.

You can read the full story here, but the question I can't help asking myself is whether or not Canadians would have been so vigorous in their defense of workers' rights here. We seem to place as our highest priority our own convenience, and when labour disruptions loom, as they did last summer with the the postal workers and more recently with Air Canada flight attendants, there is nary a word of protest from the general public when the government acts unethically by either imposing a settlement, as it did with the posties, or prevents the attendants from striking a private company by referring the dispute to the Industrial Relations Board (on the flimsy pretext of health and safety concerns) that ultimately led to a binding arbitration contract, the same contract, by the way, that the attendants had already rejected.

Given the ability of our own government to stir up envy and resentment amongst those who are struggling, I don't doubt that we will see a broadening of the definition of 'essential service' in the future.

And that, despite the demagogic rhetoric of our government, will ultimately serve the interests of only a very narrow band of Canadians.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Trial of Goldman Sachs

Even if you only have time to watch the opening statements by Chris Hedges and philosopher, activist and professor Cornell West, this video, a mock trial of Goldman Sachs by members of Occupy Wall Street, is well-worth watching. The array of 'crimes' committed by the investment banker and the absence of any meaningful penalty for those crimes are an ample illustration of the core truth being promoted by the Occupy Movement.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Why the Occupy Movement Has Relevance in Canada

Thee are many who assert that the Occupy Movement has no relevance in Canada because we have a social safety net and other measures that provide a modicum of protection to the most vulnerable. They also argue for the superiority of our banking system, which required no government bailouts because it is more tightly regulated than in the United States and other jurisdictions. However, those espousing this perspective ignore a larger truth about the relationship between the powerful wealthy and government policy:

As long as provincial governments and the federal government continue to lower corporate tax rates despite the fact that current rates are more than competitive with those in the U.S. and despite the fact that we have a growing national debt;

As long as government tells its citizens that some hard choices are going to have to be made (i.e., health care spending, federal transfers to the provinces, etc.) because of that debt and deficit;

As long as the poor are made to pay by living on benefits that keep them well below the poverty line;

As long as government refuses to even consider increasing taxes on the ultra wealthy;

And as long as the working and middle classes are made to subsidize the lifestyle of the power elite while suffering a steady decline in their own standard of living, job and retirement prospects, there will be a need for an Occupy Movement that attempts to speak for those who have lost their voice.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Finding Freedom in Handcuffs

That is the title of Chris Hedges' latest column at truthdig.org, written after his arrest for sitting on the sidewalk in front of Goldman Sachs in New York. It is a powerful indictment of the immorality that pervades the ethos of unfettered capitalism, and a poignant reflection on some of the experiences that led Hedges to support and be part of the Occupy Movement.

While some may recoil from his evocative but strong imagery, his words help bring us to a truth that few are willing to truly confront as we go about our daily lives, ensconced in our layers of identity that insulate and isolate us from the true meaning of humanity.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Chris Hedges' Indictment of Goldman Sachs

Prior to his arrest the other day for sitting on the sidewalk in front of Goldman Sachs, Chris Hedges issued the following indictment of the investment banking and securities firm:

Goldman Sachs, which received more subsidies and bailout-related funds than any other investment bank because the Federal Reserve permitted it to become a bank holding company under its “emergency situation,” has used billions in taxpayer money to enrich itself and reward its top executives. It handed its senior employees a staggering $18 billion in 2009, $16 billion in 2010 and $10 billion in 2011 in mega-bonuses. This massive transfer of wealth upwards by the Bush and Obama administrations, now estimated at $13 trillion to $14 trillion, went into the pockets of those who carried out fraud and criminal activity rather than the victims who lost their jobs, their savings and often their homes.

You can read the rest of the indictment, which includes its unconscionable food profiteering practices, here.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Sticks and Stones...

Emboldened and enraged by the demagogic politics that substitute for reasoned discussion in the United States, an unemployed man is shown misdirecting his anger at Democratic Massachusetts' Senate hopeful Elizabeth Warren in the following video. Calling her a 'socialist whore,' he adds that she is in the service of a 'foreign-born boss,' President Obama.

As long as the right is able to engender fear, anger and hatred instead of real hope, the Occupy Movement will have a steep upward battle in convincing that member of the 99% that progressives are not his enemy.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Arrest of Chris Hedges

If you advance to the 30 minute mark of this video, you will see Pulitzer Prize winner, author, and activist Chris Hedges, along with other Occupy Wall Street protesters, being arrested by the NYPD for sitting down on the sidewalk in front of Goldman Sachs, one of the chief architects behind the global collapse of 2008.

Ironic does not begin to describe this travesty.

More On Toronto G20 Incarceration Conditions

As human beings, there is really no way that we can dispute our deeply-flawed natures. Overlooking the terrible depths to which we can sink, the unspeakable cruelties each of us is capable of, and seeking to justify or rationalize away those shortcomings is to choose to remain in a state of willful ignorance that only makes our failures worse.

That is one of the reasons I am glad that the abuses of the Toronto G20 are not being forgotten, despite the fact that time is moving on. The patent violation of our Charter Rights by those in whom we entrust our safety and those in whom we entrust high political office should never be forgotten or minimized. That is why I am glad for newspapers like The Toronto Star which yesterday provided video footage of the terrible conditions under which 1100 mostly innocent people were incarcerated, and today has a story suggesting that those conditions may have violated the United Nations’ “Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.”

You can read the entire story "G20 jail photos raise ‘alarm bells’ for police chair" here.

Noam Chomsky Addresses The Occupation Movement

While some may wonder about the practical utility of the Occupy Movement and where it is headed, I believe that in its current form, its chief value lies in the raising of consciousness about the gross inequities that exist in the world today, and ending the isolation and separateness that people feel in their disaffection with the status quo.

Renowned thinker and activist Noam Chomsky, whose voice is rarely heard in the mainstream media these days, offered some encouragement and realistic advice for the Occupy Movement in a recent speech to Occupy Boston. His message: build and educate first, think about striking later. You can read the full text of that speech here.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Toronto G20 and the Vindication of Michael Puddy

Kafkaesque is a term loosely and regularly bandied about, usually denoting a process whereby an innocent person is subjected to unfathomable persecution/arrest. It seems an apt word to describe what Michael Puddy endured in Toronto during the G20 protests of June 2010. Not even a part of the protest, Puddy was swept up in a nightmare that saw him incarcerated for two days and charged with possession of a prohibited weapon.

Despite what was the largest mass arrest and violation of Charter Rights in Canadian history, those chiefly responsible for it, Toronto Chief Bill Blair, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper remain completely unaccountable, refusing to consider a full inquiry into it.

You can read the full story and see a video here.

Canada Continues to Export Death

The NDP motion read as follows:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) ban the use and export of asbestos; (b) support international efforts to add chrysotile asbestos to the list of hazardous chemical products under the Rotterdam Convention; (c) assist affected workers by developing a Just Transition Plan with measures to accommodate their re-entry into the workforce; (d) introduce measures dedicated to affected older workers, through the employment insurance program, to assure them of a decent standard of living until retirement; and (e) support communities and municipalities in asbestos producing regions through an investment fund for regional economic diversification.

Predictably, the Harper-led Conservative majority defeated the motion, with a final vote of 152-123. No report on how Conservative M.P Dr. Kellie Leitch voted, but my guess is with her government.

The immorality continues; Canada continues to kill in our name.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Tax on Financial Transactions

The Globe and Mail has an online story reporting Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan's adamant opposition to any consideration of a tax on financial transactions at the G20. Although the article doesn't provide details, most of what I have read about such a measure would involve the following: 0.1 per cent tax on transactions of stocks and bonds and 0.01 per cent on derivatives.

While the advocates of unfettered capitalism are always reluctant to share, given the preferential tax treatment capital gains and dividends receive, such a measure would hardly be punitive, and would contribute substantially to efforts to relieve the grinding poverty in which much of the world lives. In the West, the revenues from the tax could be used for many purposes, including better funding for healthcare, climate change adaptation and costs, etc.

However, just as with proposals to combat climate change, I suspect that nothing will come of the G20 discussion for the same reason, namely that without universal application of such a tax, it would be unfair and counterproductive, or so we are told.

Clearly the North American powers-that-be have not been paying attention to the the needs of the people, as recently reflected in the Occupy Movement.