Friday, August 31, 2012
A few months ago I wrote a post about Lynden Dorval, the Edmonton physics teacher who was suspended for giving zeroes on uncompleted assignments or exams in contravention of his school's (Ross Sheppard High School) 'no-zero' policy that was designed to avoid discouraging students.
The public outcry of support for this teacher who dared to say that the emperor has no clothes, a defiance that few career-driven school administrators would tolerate, has apparently not deterred the board from beginning proceedings for his termination:
...on Tuesday, the letter from the superintendent of Edmonton Public Schools informed him his principal, Ron Bradley, requested his termination for “his obvious neglect of duty as a professional teacher, his repeated insubordination and his continued refusal to obey lawful orders.”
As is often the case with politicians who masquerade as school principals, Ron Bradley is attempting to conceal his vendetta against a teacher with professional integrity by claiming other reasons for calling for Dorval's termination:
...the principal said Mr. Dorval was repeatedly absence in staff meetings — a claim Mr. Dorval says is untrue.
The veteran teacher also sent a staff-wide email condemning the no zero policy, Mr. Bradley said.
“I advised Mr. Dorval that I was not disputing his professional right to express his opinion but … I found his tone and method of communication insubordinate,” Mr. Bradley wrote.
Following the suspension, the principal reported that Mr. Dorval entered the school without requesting permission — part of the terms of his suspension — twice to return unmarked quizzes and assignments, and once to voice concerns about his replacement teacher, Mr. Bradley wrote.
While politics is a fundamental part of our society, it is truly regrettable that its seamier side cannot be kept out of education.
It would be comforting to think that the disdain for facts apparent in the current U.S. Presidential campaign ads were confined to that country. Unfortunately, experience with the Harper propaganda machine suggests otherwise.
H/t Ryan McGreal
Re: Canada’s idle threat, Business Aug. 25
It’s time to reverse corporate tax cuts. David Olive’s article was proof positive that tax cuts don’t work. Weren’t tax cuts for corporations supposed to make them “competitive” and create lots of job for Canadians? We’ve been conned. The only thing tax cuts created was massive wealth for corporations and the top 1 per cent.
Corporate tax cuts have been one of the main contributors to the $526 billion of profits sitting idle in their bank accounts. Right now provincial and federal deficits are running at about $65 billion a year. All governments are crying poor and say they can’t afford to pay for public services like health care, education and infrastructure like water, sewage roads and bridges. Baloney.
We don’t have a deficit problem. We have a distribution of wealth problem. Governments need to tax that money back and get on with the job of building this country with good jobs.
And all of us need to stop voting foolishly for politicians who keep promising us tax cuts.
Thursday, August 30, 2012
Interesting, isn't it, that despite the propaganda coming out of both Alberta and the Prime Minister's Office about oil being the economic engine and saviour of Canada, that our Western friends are finding themselves experiencing some economic malaise?
There is no evidence of a slow-down in the craven practices of Ontario's slickster premier, Dalton McGuinty. With some uncertainty over whether his gambit to buy his way to a majority government by bribing Liz Witmer to vacate her seat to become head of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, thus opening the way for a September 6 byelection, dauntless Dalton is relentless in his efforts to impress upon the public his ability to be a tough guy when it comes to public service workers.
His latest musings about ending bankable sick days for firefighters and police, a benefit he is currently legislating way from teachers, is especially transparent and disingenuous. This will occur to those rational enough to think straight after the 'education premier's' latest embrace of the politics of division and his goal of public outrage if they remember that police and firefighters are under municipal, not provincial jurisdiction.
Of course, facts apparently are intended to play little role in this demagogue's thirst for majority government.
Just don’t tell me teachers are overpaid
Don’t make savings on our backs: End Catholic school funding This opinion article is in response to Ontario’s Liberal government as it attacks public school teachers in an attempt to alleviate some fiscal problems and increase their chances in two byelections. It is also in response to those praising Catholic teachers for accepting unreasonable demands from the provincial government.
It comes from the perspective of a retired teacher who has a reasonable pension because I paid for it my entire career. I believe my teaching career was relatively routine and will use examples from it to illustrate.
Teachers are not well paid given the academic requirements, responsibilities, and stress of the job. They are required, as a bare minimum, to have at least five years of university. Most have more. In addition, any of the considerable numbers of teachers that I know work far more than the standard 2,000 hours per year. Any of their male friends in industry, with comparable responsibilities and academic qualifications, have far greater salaries. This income disparity is not as obvious with women because teaching is one of the few areas in which salaries are not gender-dependent.
I knew salaries in teaching were not great when I entered the profession, so I am not whining about it. Just do not tell me that I was well paid.
After graduating from McMaster University, I worked in the hourly personnel department at Ford Motor Company for nine and a half months. It was not until my fifth year of teaching that my salary equalled my earnings at Ford. This income disparity is the reason that it is very difficult to attract technical teachers. Most tradesmen/women are not willing to accept a decrease in their salary of approximately 50 per cent.
Just as I was retiring, I was kidded by a pick-up hockey teammate, who works in management in industry, with the often-used “overpaid, underworked school teacher” line.
I replied: “I just retired as a vice-principal of a school of 1,600 people (including students, teachers, secretaries, caretakers, cafeteria staff). My salary was $75,000. If I were assistant plant manager of some factory that has 1,600 employees, would I have made $75,000?” He replied that I would have been paid at least double that.
Again, I am not whining because I knew what I was getting into when I started teaching.
Retirement gratuities are common in industry, as are sick leave plans. My golfing buddies who retired from industry have their benefits paid, most until death. The minute I retired, I had to pay for all benefits. Because of cost, I did not pick up a dental plan. Again, I am not whining. However, if teaching is to be compared to industry, make a fair comparison.
It should be noted that teaching is considered more stressful than almost any other job in society.
Also, much of the media mislead the public because, I believe, they are afraid to raise the issue of public funding for separate schools.
It is just plain wrong to fund Roman Catholic schools but deny that funding to all others. The United Nations has twice condemned the Province of Ontario for this discriminatory practice.
As well, the duplication of services squanders billions of dollars annually. William J. Phillips of the Federation of Urban Neighbourhoods of Ontario (urbanneighbourhoods.ca) presented a study estimating the duplication of services costs Ontario taxpayers between 1.27 and 1.59 billion extra dollars annually.
In addition, separate school students cost more. Using Ministry of Education figures for 2009-10, Catholic students use 38 per cent of education funding, but comprise only 32 per cent of the total of students in Ontario. Each separate school student costs $12,4440.42 while each public school student costs $9,468.46, a difference of $2,971.96. For the 659,392 separate school students in Ontario, that is an annual $2 billion ($1,959,686,648) more than would be spent if they were public school students.
Combining those two facets, and because some of the extra per pupil cost for separate schools is included in the figures in Phillips’ study, we could save approximately $2.5 billion to $3 billion annually by having one publicly funded, secular school system while maintaining the same quality of education. That saving would negate the need to attack teacher contracts.
Anyone who feels the need to have their child attend a religious school can do it on their own dime, as is done with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim schools, among others.
Is it possible that Catholic teachers are willing to give up so much in order to retain their privileged position?
Tom Roden lives in Grimsby.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Given the province's rather fanatical conviction that its tarsands projects should be subject to little or no oversight, it might be useful to bear in mind another kind of fanaticism it embraced between 1928 and 1972: eugenics.
Between 1929 and 1972, 4785 cases [for sterilizations] were presented to the board, and 99% of these cases were approved. The 60 cases that were not approved were deferred cases that were later re-considered, and 14 of them were eventually passed. Only 60% of all cases that were sanctioned by the Board were actually completed, resulting in 2832 sterilization procedures performed in Alberta during the 43 years that the Alberta Eugenics Board was in power.
The majority of the Board’s activities were conducted in secrecy, away from the criticism of the public eye, and even away from legislative inquiry.
Apples and oranges, you say? I'm not so sure. At the very least, it attests to the power of government to abuse its authority.
In this complicated world filled with dire threats ranging from rapidly-escalating climatic disasters to unprecedented rates of marital discord to street (and theatre) violence that leaves everyone feeling more vulnerable than ever, I'm sure many Americans pine for the halcyon days of tranquility and simplicity epitomized by that classic family show, Leave It To Beaver.
You know the world I mean, where everyone owned a house on a quiet street, Mom was at home to provide a wholesome snack for the kids as they returned each day from their segregated schools, a world where even the biggest problems ('Beave ditched school today') were no match for the patriarchal wisdom of that archetype of fatherhood, Ward Cleaver, always ready to dispense sometimes severe but always loving solutions to wayward behaviour.
The only problem, of course, is that this world never existed, except in the fictional world of the television universe.
It is a fact apparently lost on the extreme right that now dominates the U.S. Republican Party. In his column today, The Star's Tim Harper casts some light on the reactionary platform that was endorsed and adopted at the RNC this week:
The platform adopted here would outlaw abortion, including in cases of rape and incest.
It backs a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman and affirms the rights of states and the federal government to refuse to recognize same-sex marriage.
Same-sex marriage, it says, is an “assault on the foundations of our society.”
The platform says the party would overturn any bid to limit the capacity of clips or magazines for weapons and oppose any move to restore the ban on assault weapons.
It would aggressively pursue anti-union right-to-work legislation at the state level.
It backs energy exploration and development of the Outer Continental Shelf and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
It would overturn any immigration amnesty, and advocates making English the official national language.
It would reject the use of taxation to redistribute income or fund “unnecessary or ineffective” programs.
It is, in short, a platform that would win enthusiastic approval from even the darkest of hearts found amongst the Taliban and the theocratic regime in Iran, who would no doubt recognize kindred spirits in the country they now call "The Great Satan.'
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
As I recently observed in a post, Ontario's Premier Dalton McGuinty has refused to testify before the legislative committee investigating the Ornge air ambulance scandal.
Rather than try to help ferret out the wrongdoing that has cost Ontario taxpayers untold millions, enriched the accounts of high-placed Ornge executives, and engendered widespread doubts about the competence of his government, this pusillanimous politician who seems to enjoy the prestige of leadership while disregarding its responsibilities apparently prefers political expediency over public integrity.
A letter appearing in today's print edition of The Star succinctly sums up the situation McGuinty's dereliction of duty:
Re: McGuinty won't testify at ORNGE hearings, Aug. 26
Premier Dalton McGuinty’s refusal to testify at the hearings into the ORNGE scandal, where millions of Ontarians’ tax dollars have been misappropriated, is in itself a scandal. Nobody in the McGuinty government has ever taken responsibility for this, or any of the other countless fiscal mismanagement scandals that have constantly plagued his government.
As premier, Mr. McGuinty needs to realize the buck stops with him and we taxpayers need answers why he and his ministers refuse to be held accountable.
Larry Comeau, Ottawa
I have long believed it is not so much the 'genius' of the extreme right as it is their financial backing that makes them powerful propagandists. Their domination of the media and their captivation of politicians' ears give them advantages very difficult to surmount.
Read letters to the editor throughout the country and it seems that no matter where we look, the politics of envy, stoked by that right-wing power, permeates the attitudes of disadvantaged workers who look at what other workers have (good wages, benefits, and pensions)and dismiss them as unfair and unaffordable. Instead of working towards achieving those same kinds of benefits through unionization, they want to tear away what their fellow-toilers enjoy.
And while people go about this self-destructive behaviour, they give little thought to the real source of their discontent, corporate greed that sees its workers only as fungible commodities to be pitted against one another.
In her column today, Linda McQuaig offers some interesting reflections on the current landscape.
Monday, August 27, 2012
"The more wealth you have, the more focused on your own self and your own needs you become, and the less attuned to the needs of other people you also become."
As a companion to my previous post about Carol Goar's article on worker exploitation, it makes for some thought-provoking comparative reading.
As we go about our daily lives, the majority of us, I suspect, share a hierarchy of concerns ranging in priority from the health and well-being of our loved ones, to ourselves, and to our fellow humans. It is probably the latter than many of us pay only lip service to, not necessarily just because we may not feel a real emotional connection to strangers, but also because we are often perplexed as to how we can have a meaningful impact on the lives of those who may be less fortunate. True, as a nation we tend to give generously to causes with our wallets, perhaps more aware than other countries, thanks to our values of collectivism over individualism, of our interconnectedness.
But sometimes real help can only be possible after a lengthy time spent becoming aware of and researching issues and policy choices that we entrust to our government representatives who, at least in theory, represent us.
I was prompted to think about these things today as I read a thought-provoking piece by The Star's Carol Goar entitled Ontario neglecting its most vulnerable workers.
Her first two paragraphs were provocative:
Roughly 1.7 million workers in the province — 1 out of 5 — have little or no protection from bosses who pay them less than the minimum wage, compel them to work on statutory holidays without overtime and don’t allow them time off for illness, a family emergency or the death of a loved one.
Some of these inhumane practices happen within the bounds of Ontario’s gap-ridden Employment Standards Act. Some happen illegally because the rules are so poorly enforced.
She goes on to discuss some of the improvements made in 2009 under Dalton McGuinty's poverty reduction strategy, improvements that were undermined a year later by the same government's passage of the “Open for Business Act” that heightened the risk of reprisals if exploited workers sought redress.
There is a glimmer of hope, reports Goar:
Fortunately there is a new thrust for reform. The Law Commission of Ontario has just released the first draft of a report entitled Vulnerable Workers and Precarious Work. It is a response to the plight of the lowest paid, least protected members of the labour force — typically immigrants, ethno-racial minorities and single parents — and to employment lawyers who lack the tools to help them.
Unfortunately, as she also reports, Dalton McGuinty's government will be under no obligation to accept the suggested reforms that the report addresses.
Which is why an informed citizenry, aware of the injustices and involved enough to try to exert some influence on the government, is paramount. To be sure, such a hope may be very idealistic, but I cannot help but ask what other avenues are there in a democracy such as ours?
Sunday, August 26, 2012
Canada is cursed with a Prime Minister who pretends to be an economist, one apparently intent on returning us to an era when the country was primarily a hewer of wood and drawer of water thanks to his enthusiastic endorsement of a shortsighted prosperity achieved through oil and gas exports.
Is it really surprising then that Corporate Canada is sitting on $526 billion that it refuses to invest in worthwhile and necessary pursuits like research and development, plant expansion, new equipment, etc. etc.?
In his Star column this morning, Martin Regg Cohn offers a good analysis of the politics motivating Mr. McGuinty as the legislature prepares to resume tomorrow to deal with something called the Putting Students First Act, a patently manipulative title confirming all that Mr. Orwell warned us about when he wrote his seminal essay Politics and the English Language.
While arguing that the legislation is little more than political theater designed to bolster the image of the Liberals, Cohn lays some of the blame at the feet of the federations that refused to negotiate. The problem with such a position, as I have previously argued, is the fact that the government never offered even the semblance of bargaining in good faith, essentially saying that the teacher groups had a choice: either accept the terms or have them legislated, the only flexibility being in how the stipulated savings would be effected, as seen in the OECTA deal that will now apparently form the basis of the legislation.
So what is my point here? Despite those who claim unions' intransigence has led to this pending legislation, from my perspective a capitulation to the gun put to their heads would have more seriously impaired faith in the efficacy of unions. To sell out its membership, as OECTA did by legitimizing a process that needlessly violates all good-faith concepts with which I am familiar, would have done far more damage than a steadfast refusal to return to the negotiating table.
And, of course, one thing the public needs to remember in this highly-charged political circus is the fact that a wage-freeze is something that teacher unions were amenable to almost from the beginning.
Just another one of those inconvenient truths, I guess, as Mr. McGuinty urges everyone to pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Saturday, August 25, 2012
The above title, a quotation from my favorite Shakespearean play, Hamlet, is, I suppose, something of a truism in today's age of cynical politics. Yet it was the line that immediately occurred to me as I read this story from today's Star that reveals Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty's refusal to testify before the committee looking into the Ornge air ambulance scandal, a scandal that draws a number of bureaucrats, party functionaries, and government ministers into its web of deceit and self-aggrandizement.
Despite McGuinty's public posturing about wanting to get to the full truth about this tale of personal greed and government ineptitude, his refusal to testify raises even more questions.
For example did he, as he claims, meet with Ornge head Dr. Chris Mazza only once, or was it perhaps three times, as the latter claims?
If McGuinty has his way, we will never know the answer to this and many other troubling aspects of this sad tale.
Friday, August 24, 2012
Sunday, August 19, 2012
Ultimately, the critical thinker has an obligation to educate him/herself. To simply accept government 'assurances' that all is well is to surrender the responsibilities inherent in being a citizen in a democracy.
HARPER SAYS: CETA and free trade deals do not allow foreign investors and foreign companies to challenge Canadian laws and regulations.
WE SAY: NAFTA’s chapter 11 protections for foreign investors have allowed corporations to challenge dozens of Canadian laws and regulations simply because they interfere with profits. Canada is the sixth most sued country under the investor-state dispute settlement regime, which exists in around 3,000 bilateral investment treaties globally. Those corporate lawsuits have attacked environmental assessments, the failure to get approval for unpopular or environmentally dangerous quarries and dumpsites, measures to reduce the use of pesticides, research and development payments from offshore oil and gas production, the way hunting and fishing licences are distributed, and local content quotas in Ontario’s Green Energy Act. Canada has had to pay out or is on the hook for over $200 million in settlements or losses to investors under these extreme investor rights which countries such as Australia are now avoiding in their trade deals.
HARPER SAYS: CETA has been the most open and transparent trade negotiation in Canadian history.
WE SAY: So why did it take the government three years to try to explain the agreement to the public? The fact that the provinces are negotiating a trade deal for the first time says nothing about transparency since the provinces are being even more tight-lipped than the Harper government. There have been and will not be any opportunities to see or modify CETA before it is signed, perhaps as early as this winter. Once it is signed, the Harper government will block attempts to modify it in parliament. This is the antithesis of transparency. If CETA and agreements like it are supposed to be 21st century or “next-generation” free trade deals, they should be negotiated in 21st century ways — openly, transparently, and with broad public input.
Saturday, August 18, 2012
Here are two more CETA myths being perpetuated by the Harper regime, according to the Council of Canadians, that we should be aware of:
HARPER SAYS: Free trade deals like CETA do not prevent governments from regulating standards that protect the public, including in the areas of the environment, labour, health care and safety.
WE SAY: CETA and free trade deals like it are designed specifically to limit opportunities for governments to introduce new rules and regulations that have an impact on trade and investment flows, even if the intention of the rules was to protect the environment or public health. The United States has just lost three World Trade Organization disputes involving meat labelling, a ban on flavoured cigarettes to discourage smoking among children, and voluntary measures designed to protect dolphins from tuna fishing. CETA and other trade deals include language on avoiding new regulation as the best and least trade-distorting option. CETA will provide Canada and the EU with tools to frustrate or delay the introduction of new standards. It will give corporations the right to sue governments in the event that regulations interfere with their profits.
HARPER SAYS: Canada’s FTAs do not force governments to privatize, contract out or deregulate water-related services.
WE SAY: European member states are so concerned about how CETA might affect their ability to deliver public water services that they have proposed to exclude drinking water from their side of the bargain. With only one exception in Yukon, federal government, provinces and territories have not asked for the same protection for water services, which leaves Canada’s public water systems vulnerable to claims by the EU or its large private water companies that their investment opportunities are being undermined either by local water monopolies, or, where there is already some level of privatization, by new water use or other standards.
Free trade? Everything about the CETA deal carries a very heavy cost.
Yesterday, Dr. Dawg provided a link to a story in The National Post written by Karen Selick, who discusses how it is becoming increasing the illegal practice of the authorities to prevent citizens from videotaping their actions and confiscating their equipment when these orders are ignored, some even being charged with obstructing police.
As Selick, the litigation director for the Canadian Constitution Foundation, points out, There is no law in Canada that prohibits people from openly photographing police.
Last week, Corey Maygard of Edmonton fell afoul of the constabulary there when he refused to stop filming an arrest they were making. He asserted his right to be present with his phone camera, but his knowledge of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms earned him a charge of police obstruction and the confiscation of his phone. The charges were withdrawn last Monday, and his phone was returned yesterday, after an initial song-and-dance about it being lost.
There are those who say we should never refuse a police officer's orders. I obviously do not share that sentiment because in my view, such blind compliance is simply one of the steps on the descent into tyranny.
Friday, August 17, 2012
Peter Mansbridge, are you listening?
H/t Roger Ebert
See also Andy Ostroy's thoughts on The Huffington Post.
As a retired high school teacher, I follow educational developments within Ontario but only occasionally write about them, my bias making most such posts rather predictable. That being said, however, I feel compelled to add to the commentary I have previously made about the 'education premier,' Dalton McGuinty and his henchwoman, Education Minister Laurel Broten.
Perhaps desperate to appear tough in anticipation of the two byelections coming up in September, McGuinty and Broten have been ratcheting up their confrontational and demagogic language as they try to create a sense of crisis about the upcoming school year.
As reported in The Star, yesterday Minister Broten offered a preview of the legislation the Liberals are prepared to introduce should contracts not be in place before school opens. Not only do I object to the crisis atmosphere such a preview creates but also, and more especially, the demagogic language that plays to the worst prejudices the general public has about teachers:
“I don’t believe the average Ontario worker would expect to get a 5.5 per cent pay increase after taking the summer off and refusing to negotiate,” Broten said in a shot at unions representing elementary and high school teachers that walked away from bargaining with the province.
The figure dangled is misleading, since teachers have already offered a two-year wage freeze, and only refers to an average figure that less-experienced teachers would receive as they move up the grid, where the number of years in the classroom is recognized with established salary increases.
Once again, despite its occasional lofty rhetoric, the McGuinty cabal, in its willingness to be deeply divisive, has revealed its unfitness to govern.
As reported in today's Star, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, after meeting with Stephen Harper, has promised to push for early completion of the gruelling negotiations for a Canada-European Union free trade pact.
While that may hearten those who believe the pact would be an unalloyed blessing for Canada's economy, there are many others, including Canadian municipal governments, that are not so sure:
HARPER SAYS: It’s a myth that CETA would prevent Canada’s municipal governments from sourcing goods and services locally.
WE SAY: The procurement rules in CETA will prohibit any covered government or public agency from preferring one bidding firm over another based on the amount of Canadian or local content in the goods or services that firm is offering. Already procurement, or public spending, is open and transparent in Canada. Already European firms bid on and win major construction and other projects. The only thing CETA does is lock municipalities into one way of spending, where the lowest bid wins every time. It means giving up the right to use procurement as a sustainable development or job creation tool.
Wayne Easter, the Liberal Party's critic for International Trade, expresses similar misgivings about CETA in an article for iPolitics.
Thursday, August 16, 2012
As I get older, I sometimes feel like a character from the X-Files, one of the recurring motifs of which was "Trust No One.'
I think I have lived long enough and read widely enough to know that things purported to be the truth are often the exact opposite. Such is the case, I believe, with the Harper government propaganda surrounding the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement CETA) currently being negotiated.
While much has been written about it, it has a relatively low public profile, and even lower public understanding of its implications, thanks largely, I suspect, to the kind of breathless endorsement of its 'potential' from the MSM, including The Financial Post.
Happily, as always, there are organizations that challenge this rosy depiction, not the least of which is The Council of Canadians.
While the full piece is available at the above link, I am going to post parts of it tonight and tomorrow in the belief that small amounts of information, especially when read online, are more readily digested than large ones:
In April 2012, the Harper government launched a propaganda campaign in response to growing criticism of the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). The campaign material, housed on a new DFAIT webpage , attempts to respond to several claims about CETA which the government believes to be myths. Unfortunately, in answering these claims, the Harper government introduces even more misleading and even false information about the impacts that “next generation” trade agreements like CETA will have in a number of social and public policy areas.
HARPER SAYS: Canada’s free trade agreements exclude health care, public education and other social services maintained for a public purpose.
WE SAY: Public pressure forced the Canadian government to seek better protections for health care in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) but CETA could undermine those protections. As private, for-profit activity increases in health care, education and other social services, it’s not clear a trade or investment panel would agree that these are services “maintained for a public purpose.” As proposed by Scott Sinclair , senior trade expert with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Canada should negotiate a new exemption, modeled on the cultural exemption in Canadian trade deals, which assures that nothing in CETA “shall be construed to apply to measures adopted or maintained by a party with respect to health care, public health insurance, public education and other social services.”
More to come tomorrow.
After many setbacks, Sayed Shah Sarifi, the brave young Afghan interpreter who recently arrived in Toronto thanks to his own tenacity and the efforts of people of goodwill, has landed his first Canadian job.
You can read this good-news story here.
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
As contract talks with the Big Three automakers get underway, CAW president Ken Lewenza has issued this warning:
Canada's 24,000 auto workers deserve to share in the gains the auto makers have made since 2009 when a multi-million dollar government bailout and worker concessions helped keep a struggling industry in business, he said.
“The companies have profited because of our members' sacrifices. They have no economic or ethical right to demand further concessions,” Lewenza told a press conference Tuesday at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Toronto.
Of course, the big hammer the automakers wield is the threat of relocating their operations to jurisdictions where labour costs are lower, and workers are deemed 'expendable'.
Places like Colombia, where on-the-job-injury results in dismissal.
But the workers there are not going "quietly into that good night."
Nine days into a hunger strike in which he has sewn shut his mouth, Jorge Parra, a former worker for General Motors in Colombia, says his condition is deteriorating. “I have terrible pains in my stomach, my lips are swollen and sore, and I am having problems sleeping,” he says. “But I will not give up.”
The 35-year-old is one of a group of men who say they were fired after suffering severe workplace injuries at GM’s Bogota factory, Colmotores, and have taken drastic action to demand compensation.
After protesting for a year outside the United States embassy with no results, four of the ex-workers sewed shut their mouths on August 1, followed by another three men a week later. More will undergo the procedure every week until their complaints are answered, they say.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
It is the only word that seems remotely appropriate to describe the view of human nature implicit in this article, published in the National Post, dealing with the Pope's butler, Paolo Gabriele, the man who leaked embarrassing documents to the media with the intent of exposing Vatican corruption he hopes public scrutiny will ensure an end to.
In other words, the man acted out of conscience; his integrity wouldn't allow him to continue to be a party to concealment of wrongdoing.
If you read through the article, however, towards the end you might be unsettled to learn that the butler's integrity is seen as fit fodder for psychological examination.
I guess because it truly seems to be a rare phenomenon these days, it is considered a potential abnormality.
Faith can be a marvelous thing, one that people take strength from as they go about their daily lives. One meaning of faith, as offered by Oxford Dictionaries online, encapsulates this idea:
strong belief in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof.
However, there is another definition of faith that is not necessarily so benign:
complete trust or confidence in someone or something.
It is this second definition of faith that many would have us place in the integrity and purpose of unfettered capitalism, usually accompanied by the mantra that private enterprise is always more efficient and productive than public ownership/direction/influence. I suppose for some, that faith does take on religious dimensions and fervour if we listen to some well-known right-wing ranters. (I'll let you fill in the blanks here.)
The first story, Watchdog orders Brampton to reveal details of huge contract, revolves around a massive downtown redevelopment project, the financial details of which both the citizens and the councillors have been denied access to up to now.
Councillors and residents have tried unsuccessfully for more than a year to learn more about the pricing of the winning bid by Dominus Construction, which could cost taxpayers more than half a billion dollars for all three phases. Only the first phase was approved by council last August, at a construction cost of $94 million for a nine-storey building, parking and a two-storey expansion of city hall.
Brampton resident Chris Bejnar was one of many who tried to get details about the Dominus bid, one of only two considered by the city for the project. He asked city staff for the exact square footage of each part of the project and the cost per square foot, but was denied. He then filed a freedom of information request, but it was also denied.
Finally, he appealed to the Ontario Information and Privacy Commission. In her decision, dated July 31, adjudicator Cathy Hamilton writes: “In my view, the city has provided speculative, unsupported assertions of economic and financial harms in the event the information in the record is disclosed. The suggestion that disclosure will place a chill over (bidders) when they consider participating in future (bids) and that future bids will be higher as a result of disclosure is self-serving” and unsubstantiated, she concludes.
Similarly, the rights of taxpayers and councillors to know the costs of public projects is being scrutinized in Hamilton regarding the rebuilding of Ivor Wynne Stadium for the Pan Am Games:
Councillors frustrated by stadium secrecy - Infrastructure Ontario keeping details under wraps
City staff were asking for council's approval to enter into discussions with Infrastructure Ontario to determine the “roles, relationships, joint and separate responsibilities, authorizations and obligations” for the Pam Am stadium.
According to the report, the capital cost for the stadium is $145.6 million. The operating costs for 2012 are $340,300. However, the staff report offered few details about how the costs and operating responsibilities of the stadium will be shared.
The story goes on to reveal that if councillors want that information from Infrastructure Ontario, they must sign confidentiality agreements. The 'explanation' for this secrecy?
Infrastructure Ontario has said that keeping details of the stadium proposals under wraps protects taxpayers by making sure developers are not unduly influenced by public scrutiny.
Secrecy about how taxpayers' dollars are being used, in order to protect developers?
For one of little faith in right-wing ideology, all I can say is thanks for the peak behind the curtain.
Monday, August 13, 2012
*Doctors, teachers, and most other public servants need not apply.
My sentiments exactly, Steve:
Re: A G20 cop’s close call, Aug. 10
I am a 59-year-old middle-class law-abiding person. That said, I cannot help but remark on the juxtaposition of the description of George Horton's “crimes” with the picture of police activity during the G20.
Horton is accused of wearing a disguise and mischief. The police officer in the picture accompanying the article has deliberately removed his name tag and any other identifying badges, is wearing a mask and is kicking the body of a protester. The police officer in question is clearly attempting to disguise himself in order to engage in mischief/misconduct. Until the police at both the individual and very senior level face discipline (beyond losing pay), I think it would be a gross miscarriage of justice for Horton to face jail time.
I have great sympathy for Staff Sgt. Graham Queen. He was, however, able to take refuge in a locked cruiser and was armed and able to defend himself. The same cannot be said for the people on the receiving end of a police boot.
Sunday, August 12, 2012
Although I have written on this topic before, I think it merits a return visit, given the environmental disasters currently engulfing the world.
Were it within my power, I would legislate that all people in both elementary and high school, and in the world's corporate boardrooms, be required to watch nature documentaries on a regular basis. That way, they would quickly become disabused of the notion that we are somehow outside of or above nature, rather than simply a part of it.
Last night I watched one entitled, Big Sur: Wild California, featuring stunning images of the flora and fauna that area of the West Coast is famous for. And I was once more reminded, as I always am when watching such documentaries, of the interconnectedness of nature, and the delicate balance that exists when left unmolested.
For example, sharks are vital to our survival because of the role they play in protecting the oxygen-producing capacities of the oceans, and while last night's film did not deal with such dramatic realities, there was a very vivid if implicit reminder of how dangerous human activity can be to the earth's ecosystems. The sea otter, once almost wiped out thanks to trade in their furs, are quite fond of sea urchins. Sea urchins have a rather voracious capacity for kelp, underwater forests of which grow in the Pacific off of Big Sur. Were it not for the otters' presence, the urchins would have full reign, and the kelp would be no more. Just one small example of a truth that permeates the natural world.
This morning at breakfast, I was telling my wife about some of the nature arcana I gleaned from the video, stressing the delicate balance I have just referred to. I said that everything has a role to play, after which she asked rhetorically, "Then what role do humans play in this scheme of things?"
Sadly, the answer is all too clear. With our 'superior intelligence,' the destruction we have wrought in nature we are being reminded of on an almost daily basis.
And, as the meteorologists are fond of saying, "There is no relief in sight."
It is Sunday, and the sermon is now ended.
Saturday, August 11, 2012
Although I am a man with spiritual beliefs, I have little but contempt for religious institutions, given as they are to making rules and interpretations that serve only to inhibit inquiry and honest discussion about the true nature of reality as they desperately try to maintain their waning political power.
Particularly guilty of this is the Catholic Church, the mother church of Christianity, and the religion in which I was raised.
Even now, well into the twenty-first century, the Vatican tries to carry on as if the Middle Ages had never ended.
The latest in a myriad of insults to intelligence, progressive theology, and human equality comes in its battle with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the organization that represents 80 per cent of American nuns, all seeking dialogue with the intractable institution that they serve.
Last April, the group was ordered to put itself under the authority of Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain. Their crimes?
Officially, the Vatican’s criticism focuses on accusations that the nuns are too vocal on social justice issues and too silent on backing church doctrine opposing birth control, abortion and homosexuality. They are also accused of dissenting on all-male priesthood and taking positions with “radical feminist themes.”
Just imagine the audacity of these women who willingly and radically altered the course of their lives to pursue Christ's injunctions about justice, love, and acceptance. What were they thinking, confronting an institution that, through its historical and contemporary propensity for corruption, the concealing and condoning child abuse just one example, cares nothing about those ideals?
You can read the full story of these brave women confronting the wanton abuse of authority here.
UPDATE: For more information about theses nuns and the repressive reaction they have elicited from the male hierarchy of the Church, Alternet.org has a good article.
In many ways, as the cliche goes, laughter is the best medicine. I often think that within the media and the blogosphere, far too much serious attention is paid to the most outrageous people, whose utterances are so preposterous that they probably should be ignored or justifiably ridiculed. After all, where would people like Ezra Levant and Brian Lilley be without an audience (and I'm not talking here about the minuscule minority that actually subscribes to Sun TV.)
So it was with a certain delight that I read Heather Mallick's column in today's Star as she riffs on the Nose Hill event in which Officer Walt Wawra reminded us of how alien American values and sensibilities are.
I confess, I have freely chatted to people walking in Nose Hill Park in Calgary. “Nice dog,” I’ll say, even when it isn’t a nice dog at all. “Gorgeous day,” I’ll offer, even when it’s not.
It’s just my harmless Toronto-type blither. I had no idea I was risking being shot to death by an excitable visiting cop from Kalamazoo who thinks “Have you been to the Stampede yet?” is a coded invitation to join the choir invisible. I would have eaten extensive American lead.
For both a laugh and some sobering social commentary, be sure to check out Mallick's piece, a weapon of a different kind, today.
Friday, August 10, 2012
As noted recently, the Harper regime, in its bottomless contempt and disregard for the environment, recently opened up the possibility of drilling for oil in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, another unpleasant fact hidden deep within the arcana of Omnibus Bill C-38. Happily, this fact was brought to the public's attention by the Toronto Star, whose readers invariably offer some insights worth preserving and spreading through the blogosphere.
Here are two from today's edition:
Re: Drilling for oil without a clue, Editorial Aug. 6
Thanks for drawing our attention to yet another major concern about the current federal government’s budget bill: highlighting the potential for oil exploration in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and amendments to the Coasting Trade Act that give oil companies greater access to exploration.
An oil spill in the Gulf of St. Lawrence would be disastrous as Green Party Leader Elizabeth May warns. The spill would not only affect the five eastern provinces of Canada but also the eastern U.S. states.
And it would become an additional potential threat to the Great Lakes ecosystem on which all of us on both sides of the border depend for water, for fish and for recreation. If citizens on both sides of the border were to unite around this concern, would Stephen Harper listen?
Anne Mitchell, Toronto
Once again, more surprises are oozing out of the federal omnibus bill. This time, it’s the potential for ecological and economic disasters as a result of drilling for oil in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Through amendments to the Coasting Trade Act and the removal of the requirements for environmental assessments for experimental offshore drilling, this backdoor approval of the federal budget bill has left Canadians astonished, bewildered and decidedly uneasy.
One can only imagine what other surprises are lurking down the road.
Bill Wensley, Cobourg
So said Crown attorney Elizabeth Jackson, who is seeking a sentence of 18 months in jail and three years’ probation at the sentencing hearing of George Horton, 24, whose crime during the 2010 Toronto G20 Summit was kicking the scout car of Staff. Sgt. Graham Queen as well as another cruiser and a CBC van.
The officer “wasn’t just anybody,” Jackson told court. “This was an attack on the rule of the law.”
While I in no way condone violence in any way, shape or form, it seems to me that insisting on a separate sentencing criterion because a police officer was traumatized by what was essentially a property crime does a grave disservice to, if not the rule of law, then respect for that law, given that thousands of protesters demonstrating democratically and peacefully were assaulted, traumatized and violated in myriad ways by the very police who are now suddenly such sensitive souls.
But, of course, I need to remind myself that Canada under attack is what our Prime Autocrat and his lieutenant Vic Toews want us to believe is the reality today as they continue to carry out their destruction of our traditions.
Thursday, August 9, 2012
Just a few reminders about the moral thugs within our midst:
Tides Canada's charity status attacked Pro-oilsands group accuses it of illegal political activity
Justice minister won't send Del Mastro file to prosecutors Inappropriate to do so: Nicholson
Conservatives ask court challengers for $250,000 deposit Council of Canadians backs voters who want 7 MPs' election wins overturned
Despite recent toned-down rhetoric, I suspect Harper and his minions are fooling very few people.
Take, for example, the recent words of our Anti-Environment Minister, the integrity-challenged Peter Kent:
Confronted by a looming 2020 deadline for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, the Harper government will ramp up its efforts to reduce climate change pollutants, Environment Minister Peter Kent said Wednesday.
In fact, as the article points out, the Harper regime has contributed almost nothing to achieve current reductions which take us halfway to the target; that has been wrought primarily by the combined efforts of environmentally conscious consumers and actions taken by provincial governments.
To further undermine any semblance of veracity, it was recently revealed that last year, this contemptible Harper mouthpiece presided over a department that
tried to minimize Canadian media coverage of its contribution to a major international scientific assessment report that highlighted evidence linking human activity to extreme weather events, according to a newly released federal memorandum obtained by Postmedia News.
Actions, as they say, do speak louder than words.
And of course, it is only words we are getting from our Prime Prevaricator, the man who has amply demonstrated through the actions of his micro-managed government nothing but withering contempt for science, data, and facts in general, doing everything he can to neutralize their threat along with those who dare to challenge his stunted and regressive world-view.
Take this rather rich statement Harper recently made, apparently with a straight face:
“The only way governments can handle controversial projects of this manner is to ensure that things are evaluated on an independent basis scientifically, and not simply on political criteria,” Harper told reporters during a visit to B.C.
“And as I’ve said repeatedly, the government does not pick and choose particular projects,” the prime minister said. “The government obviously wants to see British Columbia’s export trade continue to grow and diversify, that’s important. But projects have to be evaluated on their own merits.”
I guess that explains why he neutered the National Energy Board, robbing it of its ability to make a decision on the Northern Gateway Project, a power now residing solely in the hands of Harper and his cronies.
In his column today, which I hope you will get a chance to read, Thomas Walkom has much to say on some of these issues.
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Please note: no journalism degree needed or wanted.
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Coming up with the right stories for Ezra, Adler and Brian isn't rocket science...but you can bet your average CBC producer wouldn't be able to deliver that magic.
So, if you think you've got what it takes (only a select few do)...send us your resume. Send us your demo reel. Send us a must-read e-mail on why we should hire you over that stuffy, know-it-all from Columbia University with nine degrees in advanced journalism studies.
We're always looking for the right people, so if you'd like to join the team submit your resume here or email SunMedia.Careers@sunmedia.ca.
In this time of unprecedented climate change, I think most people realize that Stephen Harper has an unhealthy addiction to oil, one that marks him as truly retrogressive as he seeks to return Canada to its traditional role as primarily an exporter of resources, all the while couching that backward movement with the use of muscular language, calling us, for example, an energy superpower.
And of course, when that language fails to convince, there is always the vilification of opponents, the muzzling of scientists, etc., all arrows in the quiver of this fatuous autocrat.
Yet despite all of those weapons and propaganda efforts, resistance to sending Alberta tarsands to the west coast via pipeline is growing. Thomas Walkom has some interesting insights to offer about the Harper strategy in today's Star, which you can read here.
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Judging by both past events and current practices, I think it is safe to say that neither Premier Dalton McGuinty nor Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, along with his underlings, have a great deal of respect for Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
First, of course, there are the well-documented violations of those rights that took place during the Toronto G20 Summit of June 2010, a summit in which both the above-mentioned conspired to deprive thousands of their charter rights throuh illegal arrests, detentions, and search and seizures, both 'leaders' fully aware of their complicity in illegal behaviour.
Unfortunately, however, these Charter violations continue on a daily basis. There is a program in Toronto called Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS), fully endorsed by both McGuinty and Blair and recently guaranteed permanent funding by the Premier, that aims to reduce gang violence in The Big Smoke which this summer has been beset by gun violence.
And while I don't pretend to know what the answer to this problem is, I hardly think it makes sense to go out of one's way to alienate the black community, which already has ample reason to be suspicious of the authorities.
Today's Toronto Star has a disturbing story with accompanying video about four young black men, ages 15 and 16, who decided to assert their rights against arbitrary police stops by refusing to identify themselves and attempting to walk away from the authorities. As you will read in the story, that attempt to enforce their charter rights had a very unpleasant consequence that could have ended in fatalities.
So my question is this: has anyone ever checked on the constitutional legitimacy of programs such as TAVIS? Indeed, would they withstand a Charter challenge?
Monday, August 6, 2012
Yet even I was both shocked and appalled at what I learned reading The Toronto Star's editorial this morning.
The headline tells it all: Drilling for oil in the Gulf of St. Lawrence without a clue:
Buried within the more than 400 pages of this spring’s federal omnibus budget bill is an invitation for resource companies to open a new frontier in Canadian oil: the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The gulf, which touches the coastlines of Canada’s five easternmost provinces, is the world’s largest estuary. It’s home to more than 2,000 species of marine wildlife — an ecosystem integral to the health of our Atlantic and Great Lakes fisheries.
Now, due to measures deep in the federal budget, that ecosystem may be under threat. The bill explicitly highlights the region’s potential for petroleum extraction and includes amendments to the Coasting Trade Act that give oil companies greater access to exploration vessels.
The editorial reveals that a company called Corridor Resources Inc. has applied to drill the first-ever deep-water well in the gulf, a development with dire environmental implications. Even without an oil spill, the seismic drilling will have profoundly negative effects on marine life, and to compound the environmental crime, there will be no way to measure those effects:
The budget rescinded the requirement for environmental assessments of exploratory drilling and crippled the Centre for Offshore Oil, Gas and Energy Research, the federal agency best equipped to deliver such assessments.
In a world already in the midst of the biggest disaster ever experienced by humanity, climate change, the Harper regime is unbowed in its headlong rush to give the corporate sector every opportunity to 'live for the moment," something it has historically proven to be very adept at.
Sunday, August 5, 2012
James E. Hansen has some very impressive credentials. Not only has he headed the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies for 31 years, he is also an adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University.
But wait, there's more:
Hansen is best known for his research in the field of climatology, his testimony on climate change to congressional committees in 1988 that helped raise broad awareness of global warming, and his advocacy of action to avoid dangerous climate change. In recent years, Hansen has become an activist for action to mitigate the effects of climate change, which on a few occasions has led to his arrest.
In other words, here is a man eminently qualified to pronounce on the environmental catastrophes currently overtaking the earth. He is also the bane of the benighted, a.k.a., climate-change deniers.
In a piece appearing in The Washington Post entitled Climate change is here — and worse than we thought, Hansen offers some startling conclusions about his1988 Congressional testimony:
I was too optimistic.
My projections about increasing global temperature have been proved true. But I failed to fully explore how quickly that average rise would drive an increase in extreme weather.
In a new analysis of the past six decades of global temperatures, which will be published Monday, my colleagues and I have revealed a stunning increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers, with deeply troubling ramifications for not only our future but also for our present.
He goes on to detail some very alarming truths about the speed with which climate change has taken hold:
... the extremes are actually becoming much more frequent and more intense worldwide.
I hope you will take the time to read the entire article, and peruse some of the many responses to it that also show there is no convincing some of our present peril, including these nuggets:
Climate-Change is voodoo science and Ronal [sic] Reagan proved it....except Bill Clinton and A Gore destroyed the evidence.
All these Leftist-Marxist Climate-Changers are just trying to shut down more and more American industries to "re-distribute" the wealth to their favorite "poor countries"....Climate Change is as serious as collecting "beanie-babies"....
And here's my personal favourite:
It was warmer in the world during the time of Christ, 2000 years ago. How do you account for that?
H/t Alex Himelfarb
Saturday, August 4, 2012
Personally, I think we all give far too much attention to that parody-of-news-organization known as Sun TV. From the puerile rants of Ezra Levant to the sanctimonious pronouncements of religious hypocrites like Michael Coren, Sun TV is an egregious insult to anyone with a modicum of critical-thinking skills.
Yet here I am, adding to the cacophonous denunciations of this propaganda wing of the Harper Conservatives. Oh well, I will blame my lapse on the oppressively humid weather outside (now 41 degrees with the humidex). That, and this blistering article from Rabble.ca exposing the organization for what it is.
Yesterday, I wrote a post expressing cynicism about Heritage Minister James Moore's tough talk concerning Enbridge, expressing the view that it was just more political posturing on the part of Harper Inc. since the company has come under much media scrutiny due to its record of oil spills.
Reading another story today about the time limits and restrictions placed on the NEB hearings into the pipeline, and the fact that it will be the Harper regime that makes the final determination about the pipeline, made me think back to my teaching days.
I always regarded school committee with disdain, and rarely sat on them, since they were generally gatherings characterized by a lot of talk and a paucity of action. On a few occasions I broke my embargo, each time coming away from the experience realizing I had thrown away many hours of my life for nought.
The very last time I sat on one (and I forget what it was for), the end result was that the principal entirely ignored our recommendations, imposing the decisions that he had hoped we would recommend.
Why even go through a charade of democratic participation when the end result is preordained, and the role of the committee is only to lend the air of legitimacy to the autocrat?
That is precisely what I believe is going to happen with the NEB hearings - after all of the applicants are heard, and thousands of hours of testimony are given, no matter the recommendation, the pipeline will go ahead. The best indicator of the future is found, of course, in this little nugget:
The government [has] formalized new rules that for the first time give the Harper cabinet the final word on whether the pipeline should go ahead, even if the arms-length NEB-led panel concludes the project is environmentally unsound.
Were the hearings anything but an empty public-relations exercise, would such a stipulation exist?
Friday, August 3, 2012