Sunday, March 31, 2013

Conservative Equilibrium

Ever wonder what would happen to the reactionary conservative sense of identity if it ever ran out of things to be outraged about? Happily for its psyche, that is not likely to happen anytime soon.

More On Harper's Dereliction of Environmental Responsibilites

As is so often the case, Star readers eloquently speak on issues close to the hearts of many. Reproduced below are two from this morning's edition that address the Harper regime's wholesale abandonment of environmental responsibility.

As well, here is a link to an Al Jazeera video report of our country's shameful closing of the Experimental Lakes Area in Northwestern Ontario. Intended for an international audience, it further solidifies our country's rapid decline into environmental infamy.

Canada quits anti-drought UN group, March 28

A recent study commissioned by 20 governments concluded that almost 400,000 people are dying each year from the effects of climate change. A disproportionate number of those are in the regions suffering most from drought and desertification.

Canada has just become the only country to withdraw from UN efforts to relieve this problem. Effectively, the present government is saying let them die: we have a deficit that is more important than human life.

This just adds to the contempt that Canada is earning in the world after its repeated sabotaging of international conferences to address the issue of climate change, and to being the only country in the world to withdraw from Kyoto.

Action on climate within Canada is a farce federally. If it were not for the concern of a few provinces, Canada would by actual measurement be the worst performing country in the world in mitigation efforts.

John Peate, Oshawa

The Canadian government seems to be preoccupied on so many fronts with cutting, withdrawing, obstructing and otherwise inhibiting concerted international action to help the world's environment. Since Stephen Harper formed a government, Canada is nothing but consistent in pursuing retrograde policies and misguided actions. This is further exemplified by its announced intention of unilaterally withdrawing from the 1994 United Nations convention to combat droughts.

Having been a full-fledged member for the past 18 years, this policy u-turn if implemented will leave Canada as being the only UN member not a party to the convention. Consequently, Canada will lose prestige and influence as it becomes further isolated in the world on matters concerning safeguarding the planet’s endangered environment. Is this really where we want to be?

Dorian M. Young, Minden

Saturday, March 30, 2013

We Are Not Alone

Those of us who write in the progressive blogosphere, I suspect, often have a 'dark night of the soul,' fearing that we are only preaching to the converted in our posts, and that those who share our bent for criticizing the status quo are in a decided minority. That is why I always find it heartening when I see indications of a large and varied repository of citizens who pine for a better government, a better country, and a better world.

One of the best sources of such affirming evidence is the letters-to-the-editor page of major daily newspapers. Today I offer a reproduction of missives from the Toronto Star highly critical of the ongoing assault by the Harper regime on science and the environment. There are several excellent letters, a direct response to a recent article by Professor Stephen Bede Scharper entitled Closure of Experimental Lakes Area part of assault on science.

You can access all of the letters here. A few I reproduce below:

Professor Stephen Bede Scharper highlights, as have many other scientists, the seemingly incomprehensible approach of the Harper government to climate change and to scientific investigations of the consequences of industrial-induced degradation of the environment.

Regarding the inexplicable, imminent closing of the world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) research facility, one might ask where does Peter Kent, the Minister of Pollution Apologetics, akak the Minister of the Environment,stand on this issue?

Joe Oliver, the Minister of Natural Resources, is the front man for both the down-playing of environmental consequences of tar sands development and its promotion. One wonders if the environment ministry portfolio should be shut down completely. At least then we would not be under the illusion that the environment is given anything but perfunctory consideration in resource development.

If Prime Minister Stephen Harper actually does believe in climate change, it certainly does not show. His government’s treatment of the environment does not reflect mere benign neglect, nor even mild resentment for the scientists, engineers and technologists studying environmental degradation and presenting (inconvenient) facts.

No. An explanation for his policies is that he genuinely strongly dislikes this research and the people undertaking it.

Much more harm can be inflicted on environmental research by this government in the coming two years. But from an environmental perspective, the prospect of yet another Harper government is genuinely (even pant-fillingly) scary.

Paul Gudjurgis, Brampton

Scharper argues that shutting down research at Canada’s Experimental Lakes Area would be devastating to our collective health, and, moreover, that “the vitality of our waters and our democracy are at stake.”

Of course he’s right, and if the federal Conservative government didn’t recognize our water’s great value, it wouldn’t be stifling research.

Shea Hoffmitz, Hamilton

I’m just an ordinary Canadian, but I am so outraged at the Harper government’s multi-pronged attack on science, I started a petition on change.org to protest. Tell all your friends.

I also emailed the Prime Minister’s Office to politely inquire how many signatures would be required on a petition to persuade the government to save the ELA by diverting some funds from their Economic Action Plan propaganda campaign.

Closing the Experimental Lakes Area is such an incredibly bad idea that there may be something else behind it. Isn’t anybody out there following the money? What minerals are buried under those pristine lakes, and what mining companies want them? What tour operators want to lift the restrictions on bringing high-paying anglers up from the U.S.?

If it turns out that some campaign contributor benfits from the closure of the ELA, criminal charges might be in warranted.

Heather O’Meara, Toronto

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Can We, In Good Conscience, Allow This To Continue?

There are, without doubt, many justifications and rationalizations that people have for being willfully ignorant of the larger world around them: work pressures, home stresses, lack of time, lack of sleep, etc., etc. I will readily admit that one of the luxuries of retirement is the gift of time and the concomitant freedom to pursue issues and interests as fully as I care to. Yet even in my teaching days, which made relentless demands on my time, I always carved out a bloc during which I read the paper and followed the news. For me, ignorance has never been an option.

It is probably the main reason that I am intolerant of those who bury their heads in the metaphorical sands which, not to be too clever, in the topic of this post. As reported by the CBC, Canada has very quietly, some would say secretly, withdrawn from a United Nations convention that fights droughts in Africa and elsewhere. Known as the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, in those Countries Experiencing Severe Drought and/or Desertification, particularly in Africa, its goal, as explained in Wikipedia, is to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought through national action programs that incorporate long-term strategies supported by international cooperation and partnership arrangements.

All members of the United Nations are currently a part of the convention, and Canada, increasingly the renegade outlier in so many international pacts, is the first and only member to withdraw from it. The stated reason? This terse response from the government is supposed to explain it:

International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino said in an emailed statement that "membership in this convention was costly for Canadians and showed few results, if any for the environment."

For those interested, the oppressive costs that have been such a 'burden' to Canadian taxpayers amount to a $283,000 grant to support the convention from 2010 to 2012.

Part of the reason it is so important to keep apprised of developments in the larger world is the fact that knowledge facilitates the detection of patterns. This latest affront to environmental concerns by the Harper regime is not, of course, an isolated one, but part of a much larger pattern that includes withdrawal from the Kyoto Accord, the muzzling of scientists, and the dismantling of environmental oversight through Omnibus Bill C-38.

I suppose that the question each of us ultimately has to ask and answer is this one: Do we live only for ourselves, or do we have greater obligations, not just to our children and grandchildren, but also to the much larger world around us?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Porter Air, Pension Funds, and Invisible Strikers

Many years ago, in the midst of my teaching career, there was a movement by a group of us to try to get the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan to divest itself from Maple Leaf Foods when it was in the process of reducing its workers' wages in Burlington by about one-third, the threat being that if they didn't get their way, they would close the facility, as they had earlier done in Edmonton.

In addition to boycotting Maple Leaf products, many of us felt that it was unseemly, contradictory and hypocritical for our pension plan to be supporting a company with such egregiously offensive labour practices. Alas, we were told by the Pension Board that there would be no divestment, as the plan had a 'fiduciary responsibility to earn as much as possible for its members.'

Reading Thomas Walkom's column today about the Porter Air fuel handlers' strike in Toronto reminded me of that time, as the columnist writes about how, despite the fact that it is a unionized environment,

one of the key investors in privately-held Porter Aviation Holdings Inc. is the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS), the pension fund for unionized public sector workers.

In fact,

OMERS handles the pension funds of 1,189 members of the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, which represents Porter fuel handlers.

Walkom goes on to observe the irony of pension funds:

Employees struggle to win pensions. But once won, the pension funds that are established invariably follow the profit-maximizing rules of the financial marketplace.

Which in many case means these funds are used against unions.

Walkom makes two other disturbing points worth noting: the starting salary for the fuel handlers is a mere $12 per hour, the company having 'sweetened' the deal by offering a 25 cent hourly increase, which led to the strike and helps to explain the rapid turnover of its staff, something one perhaps might not want to dwell upon if one is navigating the friendly skies with Porter.

The second point is that, much to my incredulity, airline strikers have been charged with trespass for leafleting on the sidewalk outside the publicly owned terminal and are now consigned to picketing sight-unseen in a parking lot hidden from public view. I'm certainly no expert on the labour law, but to interdict demonstrations on public property strikes me as a gross violation of our freedom of expression and association.

But then, why am I so astounded? After all, the past seven years, which have seen a toxic social environment aggressively promoted by the Harper regime, have amply demonstrated how easy it is to turn people against people, the result being the steady unraveling of social cohesion and the steady exaltation of the corporate agenda.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Deteriorating Conditions at Walmart

Perhaps the land of low prices and deteriorating conditions could learn something from Costco, which believes in paying its employees a living wage.

It Certainly Took Him Long Enough

His Mad Face?

Seasoned cynic that I am, I can't help but think that Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair's denunciation of police misbehaviour is little more than a public relations exercise. Almost three years after the G20 debacle, in which over 1000 people were arrested and a mere handful of police hit with the most modest of sanctions for their egregious abuse of authority, the Chief has deemed it prudent to speak to both the public and his own troops on where he stands when 'good' cops go bad.

As reported in today's Star,

An angry Chief Bill Blair is slamming his own officers for “totally unacceptable behaviour,” including turning off dashboard cameras, being untruthful in court and racist remarks.

Included in his video message — which runs about five minutes and shows Blair in full uniform, set against a dark background and speaking directly to the camera — are two short video clips that make examples of individual officers on the force. It’s the first time the chief has used video in such a fashion.

The first clip was captured on a police dashboard camera three years ago, and shows Const. Christian Dobbs repeatedly striking Toronto cook Raymond Costain, who is face down and hidden from view, in front of the King Edward hotel.

I think I would have found this public condemnation much more credible were it coming from another police chief, given that Chief Blair was such an integral party to the abrogation of Charter rights during the G20, concealing, for example, the fact that the so-called emergency laws about 5-meter perimeters around fences were total fiction. This, of course, led to the unlawful searches, seizures and arrests of lawful protesters during that infamous weekend in June of 2010.

A real leader not only 'talks the talk' but also 'walks the walk.' I have seen no evidence of such ambulatory ability on the part of Bill Blair.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Cancer, E.I., and Government Hypocrisy

The Faces Of Common Humanity

Without doubt, to battle cancer must be a grueling and depleting experience. But to face rebuke and betrayal at the hands of one's government because of the circumstances of that battle must be almost as traumatic.

Such is the almost unbelievable tale of Jane Kittmer, diagnosed with breast cancer while on maternity leave and denied E.I sick benefits. Having fought a 2½-year appeal battle over those benefits, an E.I judge ruled in her favour last December, a month after Parliament voted unanimously to amend the Employment Insurance Act to ensure those on maternity and parental leave are also eligible for sickness benefits. Yet despite that ruling and that legislation, the Harper regime is appealing the decision to give the benefits to Kitmer.

This, despite the fact that the precedent for the legislative change in favour of people like Kitmer was established in 2011, when an E.I. judge ruled in favour of Toronto mother Natalyal Rougas, stating that government officials have been misinterpreting the spirit of the original 2002 law.

Rougas, who was diagnosed with breast cancer during maternity leave in 2010, was awarded the maximum 15 weeks of sickness benefits in addition to her combined 50 weeks of maternal and parental benefits. The award amounted to about $6,000, or $400 a week.

Ottawa did not appeal the Rougas decision and began working on a legislative fix, introduced last summer as Bill C-44.

But of course, one should never underestimate the Orwellian cant at which the Harper government has proven consistently adept:

In response to an inquiry from The Star,

... a spokesperson for Human Resources Minister Diane Finley would say only that the government is helping families “balance work and family responsibilities.”

The government is “offering new support measures to Canadian families at times when they need it most,” Alyson Queen added in an email Friday.

It has been said that a society can be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest and most vulnerable members. By that standard, the Harper regime is unquestionably beyond denunciation.

The Face of Uncommon Hypocrisy

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Dennis Kucinich: US An ‘Orwellian State’

Some refreshing honesty from an American politician - well-worth watching:

H/t Disinformation

Administrative Hypocrisy

I came across this letter in The Hamilton Spectator yesterday. I consider the topic of feckless school administrators, operating without integrity, to be quite appropriate for this blog, given how it is yet another example of corruption and decay that undermines all institutions, perhaps most egregiously our political ones. But just as the latter's landscape is littered with those who crave power and influence to the detriment of the collective good, so too, far too often, is education, again to the ultimate detriment of everyone.

The issue revolves around a disciplinary hearing involving Matthew John Chiarot, a science teacher at Bishop Ryan Catholic Secondary School. You can read the details of the allegations against Chiarot here, but the most salient aspect is the assertion that the teacher inaccurately recorded grades following a final exam in January 2007. Hermon Mayers, the school principal, is reported to have earlier said, “It’s just fundamentally wrong to give a mark that’s not correct to a student.”

Given my own personal experience, before I retired, of young teachers being increasingly pressured by administration to raise students' marks so as not to have a high failure rate, I found this letter of particular note:

Artificially high marks are nothing new

Accused teacher’s performance ‘good’ (March 21) The statement, “It’s just fundamentally wrong to give a mark that’s not correct to a student,” caught my attention. The school administrator is admonishing the teacher for this. We don’t know what this teacher is accused of doing with the marks, but in my high school teaching career, teachers were routinely ordered, by school administrators or their board bosses’ directives, to artificially change students marks.

This practice has steadily increased since the 1990s. I can only speak to a public board’s practice. In the race to lower the bar to feed the positive PR machine, we were told we weren’t to fail more than 20 per cent of a class, even deservedly. Marks would have to be artificially raised. Students achieving a failing mark of 46 to 49 per cent would have marks raised to 50 per cent.

Now teachers face disciplinary action and potential loss of career for something previously accepted by principals and boards. Teachers face further castigation by the more recently created, already bloated and blinkered bureaucratic organization, the College of Teachers. For this principal to come out with such a statement without looking in the mirror first is hypocrisy of the highest order, if the Catholic boards follow similar practices to the public.

Don Harrington, Smithville

Cross Posted at Education and Its Discontents

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Message from Noam Chomsky

As usual, Noam Chomsky addresses issues whose existence others refuse to acknowledge.

Kafka, The Toronto Police, and Toronto Community Housing

"Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning."

- The Trial, by Franz Kafka

Last evening, I made a brief post which included a quotation from George Orwell's 1984, linking it to a story from The Guardian that dealt with the suppression of freedom of expression rights being experienced by some British public servants. Today, he and another literary icon, Franz Kafka, came to mind as I read a story from the Star detailing a witch hunt conducted by the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) that resulted in the suspension of six employees, four of whom were ultimately terminated. Indeed, if one were to substitute the word fired for arrested in the above Kafka quotation, one would have a perfect summary of what happened to these workers.

Their problems began in the aftermath of a much publicized incident of racial profiling in which two Toronto police officers, attached to the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS), stopped four black youth, ages 15 and 16, in a public housing complex. Exercising his rights, one of the lads refused to answer any questions, and the situation quickly escalated to the point where one of the officers pulled a gun, and the teens were arrested. All of the trumped-up charges, including the standard resisting arrest charge police so frequently use against those who exercise their rights, were eventually dropped.

To the police department's chagrin, someone handed over a copy of the surveillance video to The Star that captured the events, which included an unprovoked assault on one of the youths by the police, as you will see in the video below:

The fact that this video and the original story of the police abuse of authority were published by The Star did not sit well with the resume builders and careerists at TCHC. In what I am sure they deemed a remarkably good use of their well-paid time, they set out to track down the heretics who had caused public embarrassment to the police, apparently more concerned with maintaining a cozy relationship with them than they were with the egregious violation of Charter Rights the video reveals.

To make a long story short, since you can read the details in the above links, interrogations took place, and despite an absence of evidence that anyone had leaked anything to The Star, (indeed, you will see stout denials in today's story by the putative 'culprits') terminations ensured.

The abuse of authority, whether at the hands of police, employers or individuals victimizing other individuals, has always outraged me. This case is no exception.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Score Another One For Orwell

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever. - George Orwell

As always, the writer had exceptional clarity about where Western society was headed.

H/t Steve Collett

Two Messages For Tim Hudak

I have a bit of a busy morning ahead, so just a brief post for now. I have written many times about young Tim Hudak, the lad who aspires to become Premier of Ontario through rhetoric that demonizes the public sector, public sector pensions, and unions. Apparently, constructive policy and breadth of vision are beyond his ken.

Here are two letters from today's Star that nicely capture the severe moral and intellectual limitations the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party labours under:

Re: Hudak takes aim at public sector pensions, March 18

I assume Hudak’s ambition is to ensure that no one has any money when they retire, except the rich, and of course the political whores who do their bidding. Hudak is on the same race to the bottom that the Republican Tea-Baggers advocate in the States.

Gerry Brown, Toronto

Ontario PC leader Tim Hudak shows so little interest in facts that I doubt he can be swayed by rational argument when it comes to public sector pensions. But the truth does matter, so here it is.

The pensions my members collect after a lifetime of work are far from lavish. In health care, the average retiree receives less than $19,100 a year. In the public service, it’s less than $21,800. In the colleges, it’s under $22,800. All three of these plans are in surplus. They have no unfunded liability.

Despite what Mr. Hudak says, talks between the government and pension plans cannot “fail” in our case, for the simple reason that they have already succeeded. The government asked us to keep premiums where they are over the medium term, and we were able to do that.

Public sector pension plans are a good deal for the citizens of Ontario. Through prudent investment, our plans provide more retirement security at less cost than private plans ever could.

Tim Hudak’s mistake is that he sees decent pensions as a problem when in fact they are a solution to the very real problem of seniors’ poverty. His attack on public plans masks the fact that he has no plan at all for retirement security for Ontarians — not even the private sector workers he claims to care about. Any fool can destroy a pension plan; it takes grown-up, long-term commitment to build one. Hudak should drop the right-wing blather and voice his support for expanding the best defined-benefit pension plan in the world, the Canada Pension Plan.

Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Please Forgive Me

Even though I am a man of mature years, I guess I'm really just a kid at heart. See if you can guess this ad's real purpose before you get to the 'end.' I am putting no tags on this post, so as not to give you any hints.

Another Face of Integrity

While we are witness to almost daily examples of greed, venality and dishonour (think of Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, Mac Harb and Patrick Braseau as but a few odious examples) in public life, we don't often get to see its obverse, personal integrity. That is why I take particular pleasure in posting this link to the story of Michael Houghton, who holds a $10-million Canada Excellence Research Chair in virology at the University of Alberta.

Dr Houghton has the singular distinction of being the only person in its 54-year history to turn down the Garnier Award, worth $100,000, given to him for his discovery and cloning of the hepatitis C virus. The reason? His two close collaborators, Qui-Lim Choo and George Kuo, were not being similarly recognized.

Enjoy the story, and think about all those in public life who offer such a stark contrast to Dr. Houghton

No Free Ride

I do hope young Tim Hudak enjoys this brief video, directed by Bruce McDonald:

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Face of Integrity

With a transcript of the extended interview.

H/t Alex Himelfarb

The War Crimes of Our Political Leaders

Recently I wrote a brief post directing readers to a story written by Chris Hedges. Hedges' piece, entitled The Crucifixion of Tomas Young, conveyed the very sad story, one that has probably been lived out many times, of a young man, paralyzed in Iraq in 2004, who has made the decision to die by refusing to take nourishment. His is an age-old tale of a naive but well-intentioned response to the patriotic call to war by a government adept at cynically manipulating its populace for its own immoral purposes (think access to oil as an example) and then ultimately washing its hands of the consequences of that manipulation.

Of course, war criminals like George Bush, Dick Cheney and Tony Blair continue on their self-promoting way, enveloped by and insulated within a bubble of self-righteous hypocrisy that few dare to puncture.

Yesterday, The Huffington Post wrote about Tomas Young and his impending death. One of his legacies will be this letter, addressed to Bush and Cheney, indicting them for the great evil they have committed. I am reproducing only a small part below, but I hope everyone will take the time to read the entire missive:

I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power. I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done. You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.

Your positions of authority, your millions of dollars of personal wealth, your public relations consultants, your privilege and your power cannot mask the hollowness of your character. You sent us to fight and die in Iraq after you, Mr. Cheney, dodged the draft in Vietnam, and you, Mr. Bush, went AWOL from your National Guard unit. Your cowardice and selfishness were established decades ago. You were not willing to risk yourselves for our nation but you sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women to be sacrificed in a senseless war with no more thought than it takes to put out the garbage.

It is, without question a letter that all political leaders need to read and consider before they so blithely and heedlessly consign another generation of young people to disfigurement and death. And that includes Messieurs Chretien and Harper, under whose watches 158 young Canadians lost their lives in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Parsing The Rhetoric

Oh, how I do love it when the rhetoric of the right-wing is exposed for what it is: hysterical hyperbole.

Watch Robert Reich first as he punctures the myths regarding the 'dangers' of raising the minimum wage:

The look at Elizabeth Warren's take on the same topic:

Egomania, Not Trudeaumania: Updated

Checking my Twitter feed this morning, I came upon a link to a story appearing in Sun News, an organization for which I usually refuse to spare the time of day, given its rather robust roster of strident, often hysterical voices desperately seeking to emulate the tone of Fox News. Nonetheless, I can recommend something that strikes me as balanced and fairly reasonable, terms I never thought I would use to describe anything emanating from the lair of people like Brian Lilley and Ezra Levant.

Writing on the subject of a merger between the Liberals and the NDP, a subject upon which I have previously posted in its more benign form, a co-operative pact for the next election, Warren Kinsella reminds us that a year ago, Justin Trudeau seemed open to the possibility of working more closely with the NDP. However, that has now all changed:

A year later, Trudeau doesn't talk like that anymore. He and his team dismiss any talk of cooperation between Liberals and New Democrats. The only Liberal leadership candidate who favours one-time cooperation is Liberal MP Joyce Murray, and she is routinely dismissed as a defeatist crackpot for her trouble.

Ditto for the NDP:

The same thing happened to Nathan Cullen when he ran for the NDP leadership - he favoured bringing together the progressive majority, too. The front-runner, Thomas Mulcair, didn't. End of Cullen's idea.

Kinsella goes on to predict the consequence of this intransigence - another Harper victory in 2015, after which, he wonders, whether ego and nostalgia will be trumped by more practical politics and cooperation/merger will proceed.

Perhaps Kinsella's piece is neither innovative nor particularly insightful; it is, however, another reminder of just how much the leaders of the Liberal Party and the NDP are willing to gamble on Canada's future going into the 2015 election, all for the sake of their lust for power and dominance.

H/t #canpoli

UPDATE: Here is a link to a thoughtful piece by James Heath on the need for cooperation among progressives.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Patterns

Hmm... do I detect a pattern emerging here and here and maybe here? Just wondering.

More On Harper's Censorship of Science

The other day I wrote a post about the Harper regime's ongoing efforts and measures designed to thwart government transparency; the Prime Minister's abuse of power is most flagrant in his suppression of the voice of science, thereby effectively denying information vital if citizens are to have any hope of evaluating government policy. Unfortunately, in a regime driven by ideology, as Harper's is, the end justifies the means, no matter how much those means might violate the basic underlying principles of democratic government.

I am taking the liberty of reproducing the editorial appearing in today's Star that rebukes the regime for this dangerous drift toward an autocratic rule that promotes and extols ignorance over knowledge and manipulation over meaningful deliberation. The bolded parts are mine, added for emphasis:

Apparently Stephen Harper is unmoved by the embarrassment of international reprobation.

It has been a year since Nature, one of the world’s leading scientific journals, chided the federal Conservatives for their antagonism to openness and declared, “It is time for the Canadian government to set its scientists free.”

Since then, other major international publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, have followed suit, calling on our government to take a more enlightened, democratic approach to scientific findings. Yet clearly not much has changed: the federal information commissioner is now considering a request to investigate the persistent and worsening problem of the government’s so-called muzzling of Canadian scientists.

Since the Conservatives took power in 2006, Canadian media have had little direct access to government scientists. In Friday’s Star, Kate Allen reported on the difficulty this paper has had working around the government’s unusual restrictions. Requests for information are usually routed through communications officials, yielding either perfunctory, inexpert responses, or circumscribed interviews with scientists often days past deadline. One way or another, scientists are kept from sharing their work with the public.

This silencing poses a significant democratic problem. How are Canadians supposed to evaluate energy or fisheries policies, for instance, when we aren’t exposed to even the most basic information about their environmental consequences? Moreover, the muzzling creates a problem for science itself, an endeavour that depends on the widespread dissemination, scrutiny and discussion of data. As Dalhousie University ecologist Jeffrey Hutchings wrote on thestar.com last week, “When you inhibit the communication of science, you inhibit science.”

That ought to be unacceptable. But as the thousands of scientists who gathered in protest on Parliament Hill last summer made clear, this government seems to regard evidence as worse than irrelevant. It regards it as a hindrance. Why else scrap the Experimental Lakes Area, the world’s leading freshwater research centre, despite the steep economic and scientific cost of that decision? Why else do away with the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, the national science adviser or the long-form census, among other integral parts of our scientific infrastructure lost in recent years?

Keeping Canadians in the dark is undemocratic; governing in the dark is reckless. Good government needs good science, and good science needs a level of openness this government may be incapable of.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

What People Want From Leaders

Part of the neoconservative agenda, I suspect, is based on encouraging everyone to see life as a zero-sum game, where the world is a place in which there are only winners and losers; the implicit message is that if we are smart, we will be the winners at the expense of others. For example, my enjoying a generous tax cut that permits me to keep more of my money must come at the expense of something else, perhaps the proper funding of a programme such as Employment Insurance. Never will such choices be so baldly articulated, but they are real.

Another term that is sometimes used to discuss and promote this imperative is homo economicus or economic man, another rather soulless perspective in which a person is characterized as a rational person who pursues wealth for his own self-interest.

Or, as Gordon Gecko once said, "Greed is good."

Of course, those with the ability to think know that such a constricted and blinkered view of humanity is patent nonsense. Yes, we are selfish, yes we are greedy, but that is only part of the human equation, a part that ignores the nobler impulses we have, our concern for others, our compassion for the poor and suffering, our desire for a better life for everyone.

One can see how that side of human nature can interfere with the ardent 'messaging' of the extreme right-wing agenda.

I found myself thinking about these things this past week or so as worldwide interest in the selection of a new Pope peaked. The other catalyst was a thoughtful column by the Star's Royson James.

First, to the Pope. As one who is very cynical about the politics of the Catholic Church, and it is a cynicism and disaffection felt by millions worldwide, I was quite surprised to see the wide-ranging and comprehensive media coverage of the conclave. If the Church, because of its restrictive policies, arrant hypocrisy and egregious homophobia, has indeed become increasingly irrelevant to people, as I believe it has, why so much interest? Is it possibly the expression of an innate hope that a new Pope will somehow provide a purity of leadership that is so sorely lacking in the public arena? Do we pine for someone who will feel empathy and oneness with people?

Then I read Royson James. Although his column, entitled The mayor Toronto needs will start by loving us, is directed at the qualities Torontonians seek and need in a mayor, it occurred to me that they are the very qualities we yearn for in all of our leaders, both religious and secular, qualities that are, for example, largely lacking in municipal, provincial and federal politicians, no matter their stripe.

As you read the following excerpts, simply replace mayor for the position of your choice. James begins by talking about the desire to have a leader

to embrace and welcome; a leader to inspire and motivate; someone to make us proud ....who challenges us and inspires us to do better ourselves and improve our city. And do so by setting the right example.

We are not “taxpayers” only. Everything does not begin and end with the desire to reduce government and taxes. We are neighbours, fellow travelers, citizens of a metropolis whose people, natural charms, and agglomeration of dreams and strivings have created a bit of magic in our lives.

A leader, as opposed to a selfish manipulator, cultivates the things that bind us together so as to foster greater social cohesion:

We feel a kinship, share special memories, from Hurricane Hazel to oft-forgotten Stanley Cup parades; army patrols on a snowy day; the blackout; the Ex; the hole up Yonge St. to make way for the first subway.

We make room on the street for the Pride Parade and Caribana and Santa Claus and John Clarke and OCAP. And bikes.

We love the streetcar.

Emblematically, what we are not, according to James, is Mike Harris or any other rampaging, marauding magnate seeking to smash and burn the careful creation of our civic artisans.

And so it would seem that our deeper and better impulses direct us, with hope, to a world that can be much better than it is. They direct us to look for the kind of leadership, both secular and spiritual, that does not exploit our weakness and our selfishness, but instead demands that we all participate in the renewal of a broken world.

So far, sadly, I see no one on the horizon willing to challenge us in this way. The search continues.

UPDATE: For an indication of how short of the mark leadership in Ottawa falls, this article is worth checking out.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Unpaid Internships: Updated

I wrote a brief post the other day on the proliferation of unpaid internships, whose ostensible purpose is to give young people experience in a field, open up networking opportunities, and possibly lead to gainful employment in the not-too-distant future. Unfortunately, the chasm between the ideal and the reality is ever-widening, the result being that in many cases internships are devolving into a form of modern-day slavery.

My own ungainfully underemployed daughter, who has a master's degree yet works part-time in discount retail, has had three internships, only one of which might have led to a contract had circumstances been more propitious. The one she is currently completing has her performing such 'educational' tasks as inputting computer information, signing her boss' signature when she is 'too busy', etc., the sorts of labour that would have once been performed by an entry-level paid employee.

Many in the media are recognizing what is happening, people like Carol Goar at The Star, who wrote a solid piece the other day on the problem, as did Marco Oved, also of the Star.

Also by Oved is a story in today's paper, reporting that Ontario NDP MPP Taras Natyshak is calling on the Wynne government to properly regulate the field. My own research suggests that the problem exists largely because all parties (the 'employer', the intern, and the government) are prone to turning a blind eye to the letter of the legislation that currently govern internships, rules that can be accessed here. Although it is the law that all six rules have to be observed to allow unpaid internships, the fact is that that requirement is being widely overlooked. And the article makes clear why this is happening:

“Sure, interns have paper protections, but no intern is going to endanger their future by complaining,” said employment lawyer Andrew Langille, who writes a blog about abuses of unpaid interns. “The problem is that there’s no pro-active enforcement.”

“If the government of the day is not prepared to mandate that intern work be paid work, these workers should at least be afforded other basic rights of employment, such as a maximum on the hours of work, the ability to refuse unsafe work, etc.,” said Ottawa-based employment lawyer Sean Bawden.

While there may be some truth in Labour Minister Yasir Naqvi's assertions that sufficient protections already exist, and that anyone who feels their employment standards rights have been contravened can file a complaint ... and it will be investigated, the fact of a desperate young workforce eager curry favour in the hope of landing a job militates against that solution.

If this is allowed to continue unchecked, the insatiable work-world propensity for labour exploitation may be emboldened even further in the future.

UPDATE: For a series of thoughtful letters on the issue from Star readers, click here.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Police Workout Video

No need to join a gym, I guess, when police have so many on-the-job-workout opportunities.

Raymond Costain, afterwards.

H/t trapdinawrpool

The Quasi-Police State In Our Midst: UPDATED

He who controls the media controls the minds of the public. - Noam Chomsky

In some ways, it is very much reminiscent of what occurred during the time of the Soviet Union, when athletic or cultural figures would visit the West, always accompanied by 'escorts' whose ostensible purpose was to act as facilitators and translators, but whose real purpose was to keep a very close eye on their fellow citizens lest they bolt for freedom or say something 'unscripted', thereby causing the homeland some embarrassment. Control of information was paramount.

And ironclad control would seem to be both the guiding model and ethos governing the Harper regime. Already infamous for its war on transparency, about which I have written before, Canada is now ranked 55th in the world for upholding freedom of information, a designation Harper disputes (black is white, freedom is slavery, etc. etc.). Another ongoing international embarrassment and affront to democracy is the muzzling of our scientists. But perhaps a measure of relief from that oppression is possible.

A story appearing in today's Star reveals the following:

Federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault is being asked to investigate the “muzzling” of Canadian government scientists in a request backed by a 128-page report detailing “systemic efforts” to obstruct access to researchers.

“She is uniquely positioned, and she has the resources and the legal mandate, to get to the bottom of this,” says Chris Tollefson. Tollefson is executive director of the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre, which issued the request with the non-partisan Democracy Watch.

And make no mistake about it. This regime is desperate to control the flow of information that is at odds with, among many other things, its current propaganda campaign to convince the world of how environmentally 'progressive' it is. Readers may recall, for example, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver's recent trip to Chicago on behalf of the Keystone XL pipeline in which he touted Canada’s unmatched environmental record. This was quickly followed up by Oliver's attempt to repudiate Thomas Mulcair's comments in the U.S. about Keystone and the tarsands.

The stakes are indeed high, which may explain the extraordinary lengths to which the 'Canadian Kremlin' is going to censor and control information. The piece in The Star goes on to describe the ease and with which an information request on how climate change is affecting the Arctic and Antarctic was answered by NASA scientists, usually the same day and with offers to talk in person or by phone.

However, the same request to scientists at Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada,

led to apologetic responses that the request would have to be routed through public relations officials. Public relations staff asked for a list of questions in advance, and then set boundaries for what subjects the interview could touch upon. Approval to interview the scientists was given days later. In all cases, a PR staffer asked to listen in on the interviews. (italics mine)

I wish Democracy Watch and the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre the best of luck in its attempts to break the embargo on unfiltered information through Information Commissioner Legault. Yet I can't help regret that Canada has sunk so low that now the efforts of non-governmental agents are so desperately needed in a country that was once a proud and open democracy.

UPDATE: For those who feel strongly about this government control over information, here is a petition worth considering.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Heresy Alert!

Hmm, it seems someone from the Office Of Corporate Orthodoxy needs to have a chat with this fellow:

H/t Daniel Tseghay

Just Another Pretty Face

Those of a certain age will remember the much beloved 1970's sitcom, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Set in a television newsroom in Minneapolis, the series chronicled life both inside and outside the studio of its many and varied employees, who ranged from the gruff but ultimately lovable Lou Grant, played by Ed Asner, to the vapid but ultimately harmless news anchor, Ted Baxter, played by the late Ted Knight. The handsome broadcaster was essentially a sendup of all those 'pretty faces' one sees on TV who in reality are as sharp as the proverbial bag of hammers.

Reading Thomas Walkom's piece in today's Star about Justin Trudeau and his now unimpeded march to the Liberal leadership, I couldn't help but think of good old Ted. Walkom makes the following tart observations about Justin:

That Trudeau has such charisma is a given. In public, he is confident and engaging — earnest but with a sense of humor.

He presents himself as genuinely likeable, a trait that should serve him well against Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

But the fault for which Garneau once chided him is real. Trudeau’s public utterances don’t have much content. To listen to him at, say, a university campus event is to emerge disappointed.

He sounds and looks fine but doesn’t say much.

And it is, of course, this latter observation that should be of concern to those who see Trudeau fils as the one who will lead them out of the political wilderness. A man long on platitudes (he, along with the other contenders, as Walkom notes, is in favour of youth employment, transparency, openness and democracy,) but shockingly short on specifics, Trudeau and his supporters may come to realize that the so-called 'wow-factor' associated with his 'leadership' will wear thin very quickly, given that today's citizens, when they bother to vote at all, are a far more cynical lot than those who existed in the sixties and pledged their fealty to his father.

Yes, on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, everyone loved Ted Baxter but few, I suspect, would have wanted him to sit in news director Lou Grant's chair.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Unions Are To Blame For Impeding Consumer Access To Low Prices

At least Fox News believes that is true.

H/t Media Matters

The New Pope

The new Pope, the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, has a very interesting past; I can't help but wonder if our press will want to resurrect it.

H/t Nickie

A Corporate Fantasy Fulfilled

While much has been written of late about the proliferation of precarious work and unpaid internships, the latter the perfect opportunity for employers to exploit the desperation of young people, it may come as a surprise to some that even The Atlantic is expecting the same from many of its writers.

The Manning Doctrine: I Won't Let My People Go

By now, those who follow such things will be aware that the Manning Networking Conference was held last weekend in Ottawa, during which the main message seemed to have been, if I may use the old cliche, "Loose lips sink ships." Conservatives, apparently not content to censor the flow of government information to its citizens, are now being urged to monitor their own thoughts and words, lest they do damage to 'the brand.'

Given that others have already reported on other aspects of the conference, including Owen over at Northern Reflections, and Andrew Coyne at The National Post, I shall take the liberty of reproducing a letter from today's Star that offers an additional insight:

Know when to shut up, Tories told, March 10

How convenient for Preston Manning and his Alliance, er, Conservative cohorts that by only subscribing to a subset of core values, anyone able to win a seat in parliament is welcome into their fold. Sorry Pres, it doesn’t work that way.

We need to know, by allowing these people the freedom to speak freely and expose their beliefs, what kind of integrity they possess. Those of us who have been paying attention know that there has always been a muzzle of sorts put on the Alliance, er, Conservative caucus.

Perhaps, comfortable with power, some of these caucus members feel emboldened to share some of their beliefs with us. Come on Pres, let them speak. Surely you don’t condone the censorship of free speech? What do you have to lose . . . oh.

David Ottenbrite, Mississauga

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Consequences Of Corruption And Venality

Although his is a painful story, I think we owe Tomas Young the respect he deserves by reading it. And while we read it, we might want to remember the corrupt, venal and craven politicians who are responsible for his fate.

Gated Democracy in Calgary

Last June, I wrote a series of posts about the lack of constituency representation I and many others were receiving from our local Conservative M.P. David Sweet, the catalyst being his obsequious though not unexpected uncritical acceptance of the budget Omnibus Bill C-38. As a consequence, we conducted demonstrations at his constituency office until the police were called and interdicted our entrance into the strip mall where the office is located.

It seems that that anti-democratic trend is spreading westward, right to the strip mall housing our Prime Minister's constituency office:

Just one more very obvious sign of something I think the majority of Canadians are coming to realize: the absolute contempt in which the federal government holds both ordinary citizens and their 'rights.'

H/t Ugottabekiddin

A Brief Reflection On Irony

Given the rather limited scope of the conservative mind, few, I have observed, seem in possession of anything remotely resembling a sense of the ironic.

Sparked by Stephen Harper's recent insensitive 'condolences' to the people of Venezuela on the passing of Hugo Chavez, I was pleased to see a letter in The Star demonstrates that recognizing the ironic has not been lost on those outside the Conservative fold:

Re: Hugo Chavez: Venezuelans can build a better future now, says Prime Minister Stephen Harper, March 5

Our Prime Minister said on the death of Hugo Chavez: “I hope the people of Venezuela can now build for themselves a better, brighter future.” I would first remind Stephen Harper that Venezuela elected Chavez with a 54 per cent majority. Harper rules with a measly 40 per cent and acts as if he has a majority. Chavez improved the lives of the poor in his country, whereas Harper has rarely mentioned the poor let alone tried to improve their lot. The big corporate guns and Washington did everything in their power to oust Chavez and yet he prevailed until now. I think that what Harper is really speaking of when he speaks of “people” are the rich people who ran Venezuela like a private enterprise before Chavez was elected. I hope Canadians are listening to Harper when he speaks of democracy and people and freedom because it doesn't include the poor.

Larry Bruce, Georgetown

On second thought, maybe the above letter is less an observation of irony than it is of our Prime Minister's arrant hypocrisy.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

On Kettles and Teapots

With apologies, this timeworn metaphor was the only one that came to mind upon reading about this singular example of Church hypocrisy.

Pining For A Non-Existent Past

It occurs to me that perhaps the limited appeal of young Tim Hudak, the increasingly out-of-touch leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, might be related to the retro mentality that periodically pops up in North America. You know, that nostalgic pining for a non-existent past where everyone lived harmoniously in a semi-suburban environment, when men would daily don their work attire (usually a suit and tie), go forth bravely to earn the family's bread, and then return home to be greeted by the loving, doting wife, clad, in the mode of June Cleaver, in apron and pearls. And, of course, there was the malt shop, were teens had good clean fun.

Perhaps that era's main appeal lies in its alleged lack of ambiguity. The answers were there for all who cared to look: good-paying jobs, the car as king, and clearly-defined roles for all. Environment and ecology were words used only by specialists who had little to do with their time.

That is the kind of fictitious past that young Tim seems to be drawing upon for policy formulation, and it is that kind of simplistic thinking that fewer and fewer people, I believe, are willing to uncritically accept, at least if this letter from The Hamilton Spectator is any indication:

Build new Fort Erie-to-Hamilton highway: Hudak (thespec.com, March 7)

I have just read the article wherein Tim Hudak is again quoted as saying he will go ahead with a new highway between Fort Erie and Hamilton.

I am a retired Ontario ministry of transportation employee who was involved in the mid-peninsula highway project and the later Niagara-GTA corridor study project. I am also a resident of Flamborough.

Tim Hudak scares the bejabers out of me.

All the studies have shown that the type of highway he wants is not needed in the foreseeable future. Why can’t he accept this fact?

I don’t think he is an uneducated man, but he seems to be unable to read or to comprehend. He is willing … no … he is anxious, to bulldoze through sensitive wetlands and prime farmland because he thinks it might get him more votes in the Niagara area.

Hudak appears to be a small-thinking man who cannot accept that his ideas just don’t work in today’s society. Most of his comments about jobs are red herrings when it comes to a new highway. While he talks about well-paying skilled trades jobs, he is also talking about getting rid of the unions that helped ensure those types of jobs are well-paid. Again, he doesn’t see the disconnect in his statements.

Although I lean to the right politically, I could never vote for the Ontario Conservative Party with Hudak as its leader. It is incredibly sad that those of us who do lean slightly to the right have no one to vote for.

Will MacKenzie, Flamborough

UPDATE: Perhaps young Tim would be wise to heed this advice from the father of the new conservatism, Preston Manning.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Strange Economics of Stephen Harper

Even though he only has a Master's degree in economics, our Prime Minister likes to present himself as an economist. And, like the myriad other untruths propagated by his regime, perhaps the biggest lie is that resource extraction, especially tarsands oil, is the most prudent activity around which the Canadian economy should revolve. Indeed, the Harper propaganda machine is so powerful that when anyone dares question the wisdom of such a narrow approach, he or she is automatically labelled anti-Alberta, anti-growth, and profoundly un-Canadian. One doesn't have to search too far back in memory for the pilloring Thomas Mulcair endured over his 'dutch disease' remarks.

Yet somehow, the most potent criticism hurled against Hugo Chavez as President of Venezuela, his reliance on oil exports to the exclusion of a more diversified economy, is supposed to have no application to Canada in Harperworld.

In today's Star, Thomas Walkom attempts to set the record straight. Entitled Alberta’s oil woes mean trouble ahead for Canada, his piece observes that oil, the unilateral basis of the federal government's trade policies, is in trouble. Citing Alberta's deficit budget in which spending will be slashed, he examines the similarities between Alberta and Venezuela:

Curiously, Alberta has much in common with the Venezuela that Hugo Chavez bequeathed to the world. Both rely on heavy oil exports to the U.S. Both are one-party states (Alberta more so than Venezuela). Both are utterly dependent on the price of oil and both have economies that, in different ways, have been deformed as a result of this dependence.

Venezuela faces a reckoning and so does Alberta. So, indeed, does Canada as a whole.

Echoing the 'dutch disease' currency inflation problem articulated earlier by Mulcair, Walkom says, as a result of the decline in oil prices for the tarsand product,

We are already seeing a decline in the Canadian dollar as a result of the resource slowdown. In the long run, this should be good news for Canadian manufacturers who export their goods. In the short run, it means all of us are a little poorer.

Where we don’t see any change is in the federal government’s approach to the economy. The Harper Conservatives remain dazzled by resources. They believe that if the markets want Canadians to hew wood and draw water, that’s what we should do.

But markets are notoriously fickle. This is a fact the entire country will have to face. Alberta is just getting there first.

As Walkom's piece suggests, expect no new understanding or economic insights in the world that Stephen Harper and his cabal inhabit.

Some Thoughts on 'Tea Party Tim'

I wish I could take credit for the title sobriquet describing Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, but that distinction lies with Val Patrick of Hamilton whose letter, along with several others that appear in today's Star, I am taking the liberty of reproducing below. Enjoy!

Tea Party Tim Hudak has launched into another round of union-bashing. This time he is focused on the thousands who have no right to strike and are required by law to have wage and benefit disputes settled by arbitration. His target this day was the firefighters of Stratford.

Attacking the decision in their case, he asserts a need for new legislation requiring arbitrators to “factor in the ability to pay.” Either Mr. Hudak is actively misleading the people of Ontario, or is too lazy to read the current legislation.

The Fire Protection and Prevention Act already requires arbitrators to consider: 1. The employer’s ability to pay in light of its fiscal situation; 2. The extent to which services may have to be reduced, in light of the decision, if current funding and taxation levels are not increased; 3. The economic situation in Ontario and in the municipality; 4. A comparison, as between the firefighters and other comparable employees in the public and private sectors, of the terms and conditions of employment and the nature of the work performed; and 5. The employer’s ability to attract and retain qualified firefighters. Similar requirements exist in the legislation covering others who are denied the right to strike.

Mr. Hudak is simply on a Republican-style campaign seeking to mislead and divide enough people to let him squeak to power. The only pay that needs legislating is that of the corporate CEOs who bankroll Mr. Hudak’s attack on workers and their unions.

Val Patrick, Hamilton

Tim Hudak has become a crashing bore. It’s always the same tired old right-wing bromides from this guy: unions bad, business good, cut, slash, burn.

We’ve been there, done that in the 1990s and what did we get? Longer wait times at hospitals, an education system more focused on test scores than critical thinking, a shredded social safety net that tosses the poor and disabled on the scrap heap of society and imprisoned them there financially.

Blind faith in business landed us in the worst recession since the Great Depression. The only good thing about an election now would be the end of Hudak’s tenure as party leader. So he should be careful what he wishes for, he just might get it.

John Bruce, Niagara Falls

Tim Hudak’s claim that unions are stalling Ontario’s economic recovery is factually incorrect. Corporations and their CEOs are making historical profits and salaries on the backs of Ontario’s workers.

Making such inflammatory statements only fosters resentment and anger; clearly, a more substantive and logically articulated policy is warranted. Inflating unemployment ranks, selling off profitable crown corporations and killing unions is mediocre thinking. Ontarians experienced that same kind of neocon economic policy during the Mike Harris era, we don’t need another dose of revisionist history.

As a retired pensioner, please don’t give me any guff about corporations being abused by union bosses, I pay a higher rate of tax than your corporate friends and I don’t have the luxury of tax loopholes.

RBC chief Gordon Nixon took a million dollar salary cut in 2011, but he rebounded to make $12.6 million the following year. Somehow I don’t feel sorry for him. What could he possibly have in his head that’s worth more than $12 million a year?

Hudak’s former boss, Mr. Harris, attended 18 corporate meetings last year and earned $780,000; that’s obscene. With that as a backdrop, Hudak wants to deny Ontarians a decent standard of living?

Nicholas Kostiak, Tottenham

So Mr. Hudak is once again attacking members of unions and environmentalists, blaming them for Ontario’s economic woes. If he is truly concerned about controlling spending and reducing debt he should look at himself, his party and the very wealthy, many of whom suppot his party.

Instead of attacking unions, that made many workers middle class, and those who believe that companies need to be part of the solution to our environmental problems, Hudak should do the following: cut his own salary, benefits and perks; increase his short working year; make the wealthiest pay their fair share of taxes; and close loopholes that allow the wealthy to financially benefit in ways that the average Ontarian cannot.

These suggestions, though supported by many, would never be supported by Hudak and the Conservatives because they would adversely affect many of those who support his party. Mr. Hudak should stop putting profit ahead of people and recognize the real pro-family beliefs of earning a livable wage and saving our planet.

Ken Walters, Toronto

Friday, March 8, 2013

A Portrait of Ambition

While even I can reach my saturation point when it comes to tales of Senate fraud and corruption, I found this portrait of Senator Pam Wallin in today's Toronto Star rather interesting. Apparently the former broadcaster is known for her political ambitions, having unseated and replaced Liberal Colin Kenney from the chairmanship of the powerful Senate committee on national security and defence.

The article notes that since her elevation, the committee has become far less critical of government policy. As well,

The ascendancy has fuelled speculation in some circles in the red chamber that she has her eye on the top job, government leader in the Senate, a position that means she would be a member of cabinet.

Tim Harper has more to say about the prospect of Wallin taking over the position, currently occupied by Marjory LeBreton, in his column, also found in today's edition.

Expect this soap opera known as the Senate to continue playing on indefinitely.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Graphic Depiction of Unfettered Capitalism

The true believers in unfettered capitalism will not like this video:

H/t Alex Himelfarb

Absolutely!

For me, one of the biggest offenses against logical thinking is absolutism, which essentially says there is only one right answer, that everything is black or white, with no gradations of gray. An example would be Vic Toews infamous assertion, when controversy erupted over his deeply flawed Internet surveillance bill, that those who opposed the legislation were siding with child pornographers. Another would be George Bush's claim, after 9/11, that 'You are either with us, or with the terrorists.'

Despite what the above examples might suggest, such thinking, sadly, is not the exclusive domain of those with limited intelligence; we all have the potential to fall into the absolutist trap. I am no exception, despite the fact that I try as much as possible to practise critical thinking.

Yet sometimes, there seems to be only one ineluctable conclusion to be drawn, as absolutist as it may appear. Such is the way I felt this morning upon reading Tim Harper's latest column. Entitled A hand stretched across the aisle in the print edition of the paper, the piece details the efforts of the NDP's Nathan Cullen and Liberal leadership candidate Joyce Murray to promote a one-time co-operative pact among the three parties in order to unseat Stephen Harper in the next federal election. Elegant in its simplicity, the plan would work as follows:

... seats held by the Conservatives in which the governing party received less than 50 per cent of the vote would be targeted for co-operation... Each of the three parties would nominate their own candidates and, assuming all three parties backed co-operation, the single candidate would be chosen in a run-off.

This way, of course, the centre and left would not be siphoning off votes from each other, which is what occurred in the last election, allowing Stephen Harper's crew to come up the middle and form a majority government despite being supported by only a minority of voters.

Joyce Murray avers that the majority within the three parties (this includes the Greens) support the notion, but what is telling is the reaction of the party leaders and leadership aspirants: NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has forbidden his MPs from responding to a letter from Green Party leader Elizabeth May championing the notion. Montreal MP Marc Garneau accused [Murray] of giving up on her party. And Justin Trudeau, of no fixed ideology, and, who once flirted with the idea of co-operation, has slammed the door on the prospect.

For me, there are no shades of gray, no nuances, in their flat rejection of the one strategy that could break Harper's stranglehold on Canada. Each is consumed with the bald lust for power. All other considerations, including what is best for the country, are secondary. I can see no other explanation.

So whether I am guilty of absolutist thinking or have drawn the only reasonable conclusion possible, I leave to the reader to decide.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Why Companies Love 'Guest' Workers

But sometimes, as in the case of Hershey's Chocolates, they bite off more than they can chew:

H/t Oh Canada... Speak Up

He Was A Man...

While many in the so-called liberal blogosphere tend to see the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as an unalloyed saint striding far above the corruption that infested that country's politics before his arrival on the scene, the truth is far more nuanced. A man who had a genuine empathy for the poor and did much to relieve their most egregious suffering through education, healthy care, land reform, etc., he also had the vindictiveness of the autocrat toward those he perceived as his enemies, and, like our Albertan cousins, did little to diversify his economy, preferring to rest on the largess brought about through his country's oil reserves.

However, I am writing this post neither to praise Chavez nor to bury him, but to simply point out probably one of the best sources for balanced news coverage, both of Chavez's legacy and all other world events. Available online, Al Jazeera's work makes me pine for the days when our national broadcaster, The CBC, could be counted on for in-depth reportage that made all Canadians proud. Neither seeking to curry favor with political masters nor beholden to ratings, Al Jazeera last night provided very balanced and extensive coverage of Chavez's life and legacy.

That's all for now.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Intelligent Thoughts on Intelligent Design

While I firmly believe in a transcendent reality, I have no patience or tolerance for the promotion of ignorance in the guise of religious freedom in education. This intelligent and articulate young man sets the record straight:

'Master of the Universe' Tim Speaks Again

And, as usual, has nothing to say to anyone with the capacity to think.

H/t Kev

A Tale of Two Moralities

A message from your Harper Government to all E.I. claimants:

A message from your Harper Government to all Canadians regarding allegations of fraud in the Senate:

Fortunately, the NDP didn't get the memo.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Incorrigible Deb Matthews

That Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews, who presided over the Ornge scandal, remains in her portfolio in the new Wynne government is unfathomable to me. A woman of breathtaking incompetence who steadfastly refused all calls for her resignation as each sordid detail of corruption and sybaritic spending within the air ambulance was revealed, Matthews continues to oversee the agency with her consistently deftless hand.

The latest revelation comes in today's Star, which further solidifies Matthews' reputation for ineptitude:

Ontario Ombudsman André Marin warns there will be no “credible accountability” at ORNGE unless long-awaited new legislation to reform the troubled air ambulance service gives him oversight powers.

Instead, Matthews has opted for a patient advocate's post which, according to Marin,

will be seen as toothless because the patient advocate’s office reports to the health ministry.

“They would not be independent of government. Far from being watchdogs, they would operate on a ministerial dog leash,” Marin wrote in the two-page letter. “The ombudsman is a fully independent officer of parliament . . . by contrast, the patient advocate reports to an ORNGE vice-president, not even the board of directors.”

And exactly what will be the function of this patient advocate? Apparently, according to the job description posted last year, the advocates’ office will “investigate, resolve, document and report organization-specific patient and visitor compliments and concerns.”

As Marin tartly observes, “... a position that involves reporting compliments back to management ought not to be confused with the role of the Ombudsman.”

So, brickbats and bouquets, rather than substantive legislative oversight of the deeply-flawed ambulance service with the profligate misspending problem, seems to be the order of the day.

With regard to Health Minister Deb Matthews, I rest my case.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

An Eloquent Plea

Even though her speech isn't completely clear, Cathy Jordan, who has been suffering from ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) for 20 years, issues an eloquent plea for the use of medical marijuana, the drug she believes is responsible for her atypical longevity with the disease; ALS kills the majority within two to five years of diagnosis.

What makes Cathy's story so compelling is that despite the apparent efficacy of the drug, her home in Florida was recently raided by the Manatee County Sheriff's Department. With black ski masks and guns drawn in an intimidating fashion that has become all-too familiar for medical cannabis patients across the country, sheriff's deputies came into their home and seized all 23 of Cathy's plants.

You can read the full story here, and watch the video below:

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Ongoing Outrage

The host of letters appearing in today's Star attests to the ongoing public outrage over the Senate porkbarrellers. Although in many ways a mere sideshow to the endemic and systemic problems that face our governance, it nonetheless illustrates that Canadian anger, when it can be aroused, can be formidable.

I am taking the liberty of reproducing a few of the shorter missives below, and I also highly recommend Thomas Walkom's column, in which he lambastes the almost jesuitical reasoning being propounded by defenders of this Senate malfeascence:

They preach austerity but secretly practice gluttony, stealing from the poorest of the poor to pad their many mattresses. For those Senators their day is nigh.

Richard Kadziewicz, Scarborough

Always the outspoken critic of everyone else, I think it’s time that Mike Duffy and his Cheshire Cat smile disappear and head back to Blunderland.

Dave Lower, Brampton

If you have lost your job and are collecting EI, the government might send someone to your home to check if you are cheating the taxpayers.

If you are a senator, the prime minister and government House leader will defend your expenses in the House of Commons.

Why the difference? Because they know where you live, but they do not know where the senators live.

Keith Parkinson, Cambridge

Surely smart people like Ms Wallin and Mr Duffy had some question in their minds as to the validity of their expenses and residency status as they completed their expense forms and filed their residence confirmation documents. These actions from our appointed leaders are disgusting and Canadians do not deserve this treatemnt.. Let’s boot them out of the Senate now.

Doug Gameroff, Toronto

If Mike Duffy was unable to read the rules and understand them when most of the senators did, then it follows he is too dumb to be in the Senate. Shame! Resign!

Stella Watson, Toronto