Monday, June 30, 2014

Avoiding Another Imbroglio: A Mound Of Sound Guest Post

This note from the Mound of Sound accompanied the post that follows:

Some of the course material I’ve been going through lately got me thinking about the conflicts raging in Syria and Iraq. I got thinking about them in the context of water and food security as well as climate change. Our corporate media really drops the ball in these situations. They look for one convenient villain, give it the pack journalism treatment, and then serve it up for public consumption. I have been writing for some time about growing tensions between Iraq and its upstream neighbours, Turkey and Syria, over conflicting demands to the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates. Today I got out the maps and looked at water security in the context of the anticipated breakup of Iraq. The map that I have appended reveals how a hostile, Sunni breakaway state could wreak havoc on the Shiite south.

NATO’s former Supreme Commander Europe (Saceur) recently urged NATO states to come to the rescue in the turbulent Middle East. He didn’t overtly suggest that NATO forces be deployed on the ground in Syria or Iraq but he did argue that we need to reinforce and secure our fellow NATO partner Turkey against the insurgent forces just over its borders.

Two words that need to be kept in mind today – “mission creep.” Yes we have a clear duty to Turkey under the NATO charter, at least if it actually is attacked, but we must not allow that to extend into military campaigns beyond Turkey’s borders. The Middle East is becoming a cauldron of unrest and instability that they’re just going to have to sort out for themselves. As Western forces demonstrated so clearly in Afghanistan and Iraq, deploying “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” into that theatre yields lousy results and may even make the situation worse in the long term.

The Middle East appears to be at full boil with civil war raging in Syria and Iraq, suppression of democracy in the Gulf States, the reinstatement of military rule in Egypt, insurgencies blossoming across North Africa. Appearances, however, can be deceiving. Unrest in the region could get far worse before it gets any better and the worst could last for generations, especially if outside states begin manipulating proxies in the region to expand their own geo-political spheres of influence. Cold War II could be waged along the Sunni-Shiite divide. No thank you.

Religious extremism is just one of the stressors fuelling instability across the greater Muslim world. Add to that the Iranian Shiite and Saudi Sunni sectarian rivalry. These religious tensions are compounded by the ongoing impacts of Western meddling in the wake of WWI when Britain and France carved up the Ottoman empire according to their European interests without regard to ethnic, tribal and religious realities on the ground. It never worked except at the muzzle of a gun. We needed monarchs, royalty real or imagined, and tinpot dictators to wield the sort of brutality needed to keep our newly demarcated states under control. Syria, Iraq and Iran are all products of Western meddling in the Middle East just as India, Pakistan and Afghanistan are all Britain’s doing in South Asia.

We get a lot of news reports about the civil war raging in Syria and Iraq today. The situation is so confused that it’s unclear whether it’s actually two civil wars or just one civil war being waged against two state actors. Our focus is drawn to Sunni Islamist radicals alternately known as ISIS or ISIL or al Qaeda in Iraq. Today the narrative of Western choice is that this is really all about the long-festering religious dispute between the Shiite and Sunni factions of Islam and today it’s the Sunni extremists poised to destroy Christendom (see, it really is all about us).

Back in 2003, the Muslims we feared were the Shia. Remember Muqtada al Sadr and his Mahdi Army? Remember the Badr Brigades? They were the intractable nasty shits that absolutely, positively needed to be wiped out if we were ever again to have a peaceful night’s sleep. So what happened? Well, the majority Shia got control of the Iraqi government and Muqtada decided to go back to his real passion – eating. His gang got absorbed into the new government’s security apparatus and got busy oppressing their former Sunni masters. Another squall in a much larger, more powerful storm yet to pass through.

Climate change is also playing a big role in destabilizing the Middle East. The crowds of young people who flocked to Cairo’s Tahrir Square might have been after democracy and an end to military dictatorship but they probably would have been crushed pretty quickly if it hadn’t been for a lot of their countrymen being furious at the government over high food prices and food insecurity, nepotism and the lack of opportunity, and various other complaints. Grievances are like a bag full of magnets. They attract and become attached. We look at the top magnet and say, “well, see, there’s the problem.”

Climate change actually sparked the brutal civil war in Syria that continues to rage. Drought triggered famine that triggered unrest among Syria’s Sunni majority. They weren’t getting a fair deal from the Alawite (Shia) government of Assad and they finally had enough. The al Qaeda bunch joined in after the uprising was already well underway. They piggybacked their religious war atop what was really a food security-driven civil war.

It should come as no surprise that climate change is also a significant stressor in the unrest in Iraq. The ‘fertile crescent’ of Iraq depends on the waters of two rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates. From those rivers was born the ‘cradle of civilization,’ ancient Mesopotamia. It is from their waters that Iraq irrigates its farmland. Those rivers are fed from the mountains of eastern Turkey, an area also hit with drought. The rivers pass through both Turkey and Syria and, when a region is plunged into drought, it’s never good news for the downstream countries, in this case Iraq. The Euphrates leaves Turkey to bisect Syria before passing into Iraq. The Tigris enters Iraq where Turkey and Syria meet Iraq. Within Iraq, the rivers pass through the Kurdish north and the Sunni central part of the country. The majority Shia are concentrated in the south, the end of the line for the Tigris and Euphrates. This map should give a pretty good hint at what could lie in store for the Shiite south if the Sunni extremists in central Iraq get control of that territory.



If, as many expect, Iraq dissolves along sectarian lines, this could leave the Shiite south at the mercy of their historic, Sunni nemesis in central Iraq. It could go pretty hard for the Shia at the bargaining table. Shiite Iraqis might have no choice but to seek the protection (and muscle) of Iran and, should that happen, all bets are off. The Shiite-Sunni divide could just be the next Iron Curtain for Cold War II between the Russians and Chinese backing Iran, Shiite Iraq and Syria versus the West as reluctant defender of a gaggle of rapidly destabilizing Sunni states. No good can come to us or them by allowing ourselves to be drawn into that sort of quagmire.

The conflicts underway and those to come in the Middle East will likely be multi-generational, another good reason for us to keep our distance. As we showed in Iraq, Afghanistan and, before that, Vietnam, we don’t do wars without end. To us, ten years is a stretch. and, if we ever needed a reason to wean ourselves off our addiction to fossil fuels, this one’s a dandy.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Well Said!



The other day I wrote a post critical of the 'blame game' being played by the NDP's Andrea Horwath to excuse her lack of progress during the recent Ontario provincial election. In a similar vein, Star letter-writer Michael Foley of Toronto offers his excoriating assessment of her rationalization:

Re: Liberal scare tactics cost party at polls, NDP leader says, June 26

I want to make this very clear, Andrea Horwath. I did not, nor have I ever voted out of fear. I vote for the leader who offers the best ideas for all Ontarians.
Horwath apparently lost because of an electorate that approached voting stations on wobbly knees, casting ballots with shaky hands, nervous sweat beading on worried brows. Not because of any missteps that she may have taken.

She lost and it was her own doing. She insults me and all who turned out to vote. It was her who abandoned her party’s founding principles not me. It was her who turned her back on core party supporters and values, not me.

Be an adult and accept the voters decision for what it is, with grace, and not with petulance and wrath.


.......................................................................................................................................

Canadians have recently been witness to the sad and now seemingly irreversible devolution of the CBC, fueled both by ongoing and deep government funding cuts and betrayal from within. Star reader Kevin Caners of Brockville reflects on the implications of this Harper-led assault on Canadian icons in this perceptive letter:

Re: CBC plan could cripple public broadcaster, June 25

As someone who cares deeply about this country, I can’t fully express how much despair it fills me with to watch as the CBC — one of the few forums we have as Canadians to both connect and reflect our culture and society — is systematically dismantled.

From the CBC to Canada Post, isn’t it symbolic that as we tear up the few remaining avenues we have as Canadians to communicate literally and metaphorically with each other, the Conservatives are busy with their vision of what it means to build a country — namely constructing pipelines to pump oil from one part of the country to another.

What an utterly sad thought that our message to our children, and the world, is that the thing we care most about connecting as a nation is not our communities, our aspirations, and our citizens, but our dirty oil, with export markets. Surely we have the imagination and confidence to see ourselves as something more than climate change deniers and hewers of bitumen.

I hardly recognize this Canada any longer. And it pains me to recognize what we’ve already lost in our haste. My only hope is that we Canadians who still believe in this country, start organizing now to make sure that the Conservatives’ sad impoverished vision for this country, comes to an end as of April 2015.

And then the true work of building a society — through our arts, culture and understanding of one another — can start anew. Time to get working.





Saturday, June 28, 2014

Motor City Madness: A Mound of Sound Guest Post



The City of Detroit is the poster child for municipal meltdown. It’s generally known that Detroit is bankrupt after decades of steady decline and the flight of most of its wealthy (white) citizens. There is no shortage of graphic photographs of abandoned and derelict buildings, the remnants of once viable neighbourhoods.

Not everyone could afford to flee Detroit. Poverty was their invitation to stay put. However staying put in a city in collapse ain’t cheap. With businesses gone and wealthy residents gone someone still has to pay for basic infrastructure and that someone would be the poor who can’t afford to leave.

Enter Maude Barlow the head of the Council of Canadians and world renowned expert on water issues. Ms. Barlow wears many hats. In her capacity as founder of the Blue Planet Project and chair of Food and Water Watch, she has written a wrenching report to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Water on the plight of Detroit’s left behind residents.

Barlow complains that Detroit’s austerity proconsul, appointed by the state governor, is breaching the human rights of Detroit residents by denying them access to clean, safe water. At the moment, water utility crews are being kept busy, very busy, cutting off water service to 3,000 homes each week. The city needs $5-billion in water service repairs and upgrades. Meanwhile the utility continues to lose water from broken pipes in abandoned homes and buildings. Someone has to pay for that lost water. Someone must pay.

Barlow isn’t pulling any punches. She’s directly accusing the government of using the water crisis to drive poor black people out of the city, to cleanse it in order to facilitate gentrification.

The case of water cut-offs in the City of Detroit speaks to the deep racial divides and intractable economic and social inequality in access to services within the United States. The burden of paying for city services has fallen onto the residents who have stayed in the economically depressed city, most of whom are African-American. These residents have seen water rates rise by 119 per cent within the last decade. With official, understated unemployment rates at a record high and the official, understated poverty rate at about 40 per cent, Detroit water bills are unaffordable to a significant portion of the population.

The City of Detroit declared bankruptcy in the summer of 2013. A high-priced bankruptcy lawyer was named its Emergency Manager with a mandate to get the city back on its feet financially by imposing a savage austerity regime. within the United States. Noting is off the chopping block, including water utilities, which are being considered for regionalization, sale, lease, and/or a public-private partnership and are currently subject to mediation by a federal district judge. The Detroit People’s Water Board fears that authorities see people’s unpaid water bills as a “bad debt” and want to sweeten the pot for a private investor by imposing even more of the costs of the system on those least able to bear them. The service cut-offs for anyone more than two months behind in payments appear to be the city’s last-ditch attempt to make up for lost revenues. A contract with a private operator seeking profits will only lead to greater hikes in service fees and even less affordable, more unjust barriers to equitable access to vital water. That this massive human rights atrocity is occurring near the largest group of freshwater lakes on the planet, with very little media attention, is a foreboding sign of the times.

The Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (MWRO) argues that these water cut-offs to poor Detroit households need to be understood within a broader context of Detroit’s appeal in the real estate market. With its proximity to the Great Lakes and the Canadian border, the city is considered prime real estate, and is available at fire sale prices. People’s overdue water bills are being transferred to their property taxes and people are losing their homes as a result. Given the utility’s lack of interest in cutting costs or generating revenues by collecting on the arrears of business users, fixing leaking pipes, and cutting off services to abandoned homes, the organization sees the crackdown as a ploy to drive poor people of color out of the city to facilitate gentrification – what the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization refers to as a “land-grab.”


Barlow writes of residents who cannot bathe their children and who have no water for cooking, no water for sanitation. She writes of parents fearing the loss of their children due to child welfare authorities acting on state policy there by working utilities in all homes housing children.

It is a nightmare. Imagine living in a society where the poor cannot secure access to clean water. This isn’t some impoverished failed state. It’s the United States. If it can happen there, is any place really secure?

Friday, June 27, 2014

Lisa MacLeod Revisited



The other day I wrote a commentary on recently re-elected Nepean-Carlton Ontario Progressive Conservative Lisa MacLeod. In a thinly-disguised job application/op-ed piece for the Star, Ms. MacLeod talked about what is needed for revitalized leadership of her party, brought to electoral ruin by the soon-to-be-departed leader Tim Hudak. Perhaps not surprisingly, MacLeod's prescription for renewal seemed to reflect her 'skillset.'

It is a self-assessment with which not everyone agrees. In today's Toronto Star, two letter-writers point out what the party needs, and their prescriptions do not seem to include Ms. MacLeod:

Re: Ontario Tories need fresh leadership, Opinion June 24

When I read drivel such as this penned by Lisa MacLeod, it is difficult to drum up any optimism about the futures of Ontario, or its Progressive Conservative Party.

The Tories lost the election for one reason: incompetence on a massive scale. Instead of running with a few things that would have resonated with the vast majority of voters (hydro rates, and debt load on our children’s shoulders), true to form they handed their opponents coils of rope and voluntarily built the scaffolds.
It is quite apparent that Lisa MacLeod is positioning herself for a run at the leadership of the party, and I would extend a caution to anyone who might be under the impression that her fresh face is the ticket to party rejuvenation.

I met Ms MacLeod several years ago at a public meeting in rural Ottawa. Her personal brand of politics differs little from the all-too-familiar version: politics is nothing but the acquisition and retention of power — decency and concern be damned.
And the fact that she ran away from a discussion about our declining property rights shows that she really isn’t much different from Mr. Hudak, or the Liberals and the NDP, for that matter.


Jamie MacMaster, North Glengarry

MPP Lisa MacLeod could have saved a lot of ink and space by simply writing: pick me, pick me!

She is already looking to the next election. Listen up Tories: Ontarians don’t like elections. They cost money. Our money.

What we want for the Ontario Tories is a leader with intelligence, integrity, candour, honesty, a social conscience, and especially, the ability to work with all parties, to find the best solutions for Ontarians’ needs. Not your party’s needs.

That pretty much rules out all the old baggage carriers from the Mike Harris years – like Tony Clement and the neocons/Tea Partiers like Lisa Raitt.
Oh, and Lisa MacLeod.

“Red” Tories it’s time to take back the party.

Susan Ruddle, Waterdown

The Blame Game



The fact that I experienced physical and verbal abuse at the hands of my teachers during my Catholic education probably has a lot to do with my visceral response to arrogance. Having someone presume to sit in judgement on another is both a humiliating and ultimately enraging experience, one that most of us have probably experienced at some point in our lives; however, even that realization does not not in any way make the experience more acceptable or palatable.

It is therefore within the above context that I take great exception to politicians who presume to lecture us on our shortcomings as voters. Either we are the victims of 'the politics of fear,' according to Andrea Horwath, or the dupe of unions, or the failure of Tim Hudak's leadership, both of which are popular views of the Progressive Conservative Party.

Consider what a truculent, unrepentant Horwath had to say after finally emerging from hiding on Wednesday:

The NDP leader insisted Wednesday her party lost on June 12 because the Liberals frightened Ontarians into voting against the Progressive Conservatives.
“Look, the people in this province, they made a decision to basically choose fear — or to vote out of fear — as opposed to choose positive change,” she said.


Just in case we might prove resistant to such a simplistic and insulting analysis, the NDP leader repeated and expanded upon her insights:

“Out of fear, the people of Ontario voted. They strategically voted to keep Mr. Hudak’s plan off of the books . . . . That’s their decision to make,” she said of the PC leader who will step down July 2.

“That means we have a lot of work to do around the strategic voting issue.”


Apparently not given to much introspection, she has not considered stepping down as leader, telling all assembled that it was “absolutely not” a bad idea to force the election by rejecting the May 1 budget.

The Star's Martin Regg Cohn takes a less enthusiastic view of Horwath's 'achievement.' In his article, entitled Andrea Horwath shows hubris over humility, Cohn points out an objective truth:

News flash for New Democrats: The NDP lost three key Toronto MPPs and elected three rookies in smaller cities, winding up right where it started — in third place with 21 of the legislature’s 107 seats. .... Horwath lost the balance of power she’d wielded since 2011. No longer can New Democrats influence a minority government agenda.

Cohn is puzzled by the oddly triumphant tone that Horwath has adopted in light of her non-achievement:

And what has she learned? Party members and union leaders “have all said to me you’re doing great, you’re a good leader, stay on.”

Reporter: “You said you have no regrets with the campaign, but are there any mistakes that you might have made during this campaign?”

Horwath: “We were able to connect with a whole bunch of people that decided to vote NDP for the first time ever. We’re excited about that.”

Mistakes? She can’t think of any.


It would appear that Ms Horwath may have to await the mandatory leadership review at her party's convention in November to be brought down from her current lofty perch of hubris.

In case you are interested in how the Progressive Conservatives rationalize their loss, Steve Paikin's The Agenda is worth a view as well:


Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Sad Record Of Our Last Parliamentary Session



Star reader David Buckna, of Kelowna, B.C., offers a searing and accurate assessment of our latest session of Parliament:

Federal MPs are back in their ridings for the summer, and will be out hitting the barbecue circuit. When I think back to the second session of the 41st Parliament (January to June), the following things come to mind:

1. The Orwellian-sounding Fair Elections Act. More than 150 university professors signed a petition stating that the Fair Elections Act “would damage the institution at the heart of our country’s democracy: voting in federal elections.” On April 25, Minister of State for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre begrudgingly submitted 45 changes to the bill in a bid to quell opposition to it.

2. Tory attacks on Chief Elections Officer Marc Mayrand, former auditor general of Canada Sheila Fraser, and Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.

3. Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino’s haughty manner in dealing with veterans and their families.

4. Speaker of the House of Commons Andrew Scheer finding Conservative MP Brad Butt’s Feb. 6 remarks prima facie grounds of breach of parliamentary privilege. On Feb. 6, Butt said in the House: “I have actually witnessed other people picking up the voter cards, going to the campaign office of whatever candidate they support and handing out these voter cards to other individuals, who then walk into voting stations with friends who vouch for them with no ID.” On Feb. 24 Butt told the House that his earlier statement was “not accurate.”

5. The Temporary Foreign Worker Program fiasco, in which Employment Minister Jason Kenney had allowed it be abused too often by employers.

6. The deafening silence of Conservative MPs after the government announced on June 17 that it has given conditional approval to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. The Sierra Club B.C. called the approval a “slap in the face” for British Columbians. “But ultimately, it changes nothing: the Enbridge pipeline will not get built,” said spokeswoman Caitlyn Vernon.

On June 18 NDP MP Nathan Cullen said on CBC’s Power & Politics: “Where are the Conservatives? And we know that 21 B.C. Conservatives that represent — allegedly — their constituents have been under their desks on this thing because they know back home the recent polling says 1 in 5 people in the last election who voted Conservative are switching their vote on this issue. They know that they’re in trouble.”

This is going to be a ballot box issue in 2015.

A Guest Post From The Mound Of Sound


Steve Harper and his chums have transformed cognitive dissonance from an affliction into an art form. Harper’s prime directive, his overarching quest, is to get as much Athabasca bitumen as possible to foreign buyers as quickly as pipelines and tanker ports can be built. Now square that single-minded purpose with the report just released by Beelzebub’s own government that “Canada faces greater frequency and intensity of extreme weather as a result of climate change, as well as increased risks to human health from pollution and the spread of disease-carrying insects.”

“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is necessary to lessen the magnitude and rate of climate change, but additional impacts are unavoidable, even with aggressive global mitigation efforts, due to inertia in the climate system” the report said. “Therefore, we also need to adapt – make adjustments in our activities and decisions in order to reduce risks, moderate harm or take advantage of new opportunities.”

It may strike you as odd, this dire warning coming from a government intent on increasing Canadian emissions through a targeted five fold expansion of the Tar Sands while spending next to nothing on adaptation initiatives and risk reduction. As Calgary languished underwater last summer, the World Council on Disaster Management held its annual conference in Toronto. One speaker was Dr. Saeed Mirza, professor emeritus at McGill University. Focusing on what he called decades of neglect of Canadian infrastructure, Dr. Mirza said that Canada needs to invest hundreds of billions of dollars, possibly upwards of a trillion dollars, on repair and replacement of our essential infrastructure. Like most of these warnings, it comes with the added caution that, if we don’t overhaul our core infrastructure soon, we will pay dearly for our neglect later.

It’s important to bear in mind that, while early onset climate change is already here, as even the Harper government’s report admits, it is going to worsen through the remainder of this century and, quite probably, for a good era past that. The extreme weather we’re seeing today is expected to become more extreme – in frequency, duration and intensity – with each passing decade. A report released Tuesday by Risky Business, a climate change research initiative established by Michael Bloomberg, Hank Paulson and Tom Steyer, put a physiological dimension on what we’re facing. “As temperatures rise, towards the end of the century, less than an hour of activity outdoors in the shade could cause a moderately fit individual to suffer heat stroke,” said climatologist Robert Kopp of Rutgers University, lead scientific author of the report. “That’s something that doesn’t exist anywhere in the world today.”

The body’s capacity to cool down in hot weather depends on the evaporation of sweat. That keeps skin temperature below 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 Celsius). Above that, core temperature rises past 98.6F. But if humidity is also high, sweat cannot evaporate and core temperatures can increase until the person collapses from heat stroke. “If it’s humid you can’t sweat, and if you can’t sweat you can’t maintain core body temperature in the heat, and you die,” said Dr. Al Sommer, dean emeritus of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at John Hopkins University and author of a chapter on health effects in the new report.

While climate change is plainly the greatest threat facing mankind this century, a genuinely existential threat, it’s one that triggers indifference, acquiescence or resignation in far too many of us. The potential enormity of climate change in all its dimensions – environmental, economic, political, societal, military – is almost too much to grasp. This saps us of the collective will needed for timely action on adaptation and mitigation initiatives. We are firmly immersed in the “boiling frog” syndrome. We don’t like to dwell on the future or hear accounts of what we have in store for our grandkids and their children. The burden of rising to the challenge, even if we don’t really know what that burden is, seems inconvenient, something that can surely be deferred for now. Yet if we don’t rise to this challenge, if we don’t begin to understand climate change in all its dimensions, we probably won’t be able to take advantage of the best remaining options available to us before they’re foreclosed. And that would be cowardice and an utter betrayal of our grandchildren and the generations to follow. We may have limited powers to make life better for them but we still have enormous powers to make their lives vastly worse.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

An Effective Counter To Oil Companies' Greenwash Propaganda

The following definition of greenwashing is offered by Wikipedia: Greenwashing (a compound word modelled on "whitewash"), or "green sheen,"[1][2] is a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organization's products, aims or policies are environmentally friendly.

Most of us, I am sure, have seen commercials on television that, as they start, seem to be environmental in nature. We are treated to scenes of trees, fresh water, children paying in the clean outdoors, etc., images that relax and inspire; then it is made clear that the oil industry is the real subject, those images serving to manipulate viewers into believing that the companies exploiting our oil resources and despoiling our environment are quite benevolent presences that have a deep respect for nature.

Here is one such shameless effort from Suncor:



Happily, not all of us have succumbed to the group think so avidly desired by our corporate and political overlords. Whatyescando.org has created an outstanding response ad that pierces and skewers the shameless hypocrisy of oil giants.

Watch it, and please consider clicking on this link to add your name to a petition asking Suncor to respect our water:

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Lisa MacLeod's Ambition

I'll say right off the top that I am no fan of recently re-elected Ontario Progressive Conservative Lisa MacLeod, and not just because she is a member of what has become an extremist party. Her embrace of the politics of division, her strident hyper-partisanship, and now, post-election, her hypocrisy, rankle.


Tim and Lisa in happier times


Ostensibly a staunch supporter of her leader up to and during the election, now Ms. MacLeod, a rumoured leadership hopeful, has dramatically changed her tune. In an op-ed in today's Toronto Star, entitled Ontario Tories need fresh leadership, she offers the following observation:

...we let Ontario down by not offering an alternative that more voters were prepared to accept. We have a lot of work to do over the next four years. The party needs renewal, a new direction, and most important, fresh leadership.

In what could very well be the rudiments of a pre-leadership manifesto, she talks about the need to prepare for the next election, telling us what the next leader must be capable of:

We need a person who understands urban, suburban and rural concerns, one who gets the complex makeup of this province.

But wait. Could that someone be her?

In my own riding of Nepean-Carleton, I represent new immigrant communities, expanding suburbs and a large rural area. I also take the lead on the urban issues that affect Ottawa, our second largest city. Nepean-Carleton is a microcosm of the growing and changing Ontario that our party must represent.

While not entirely disavowing the campaign under Hudak's leadership, she observes its shortcomings and includes information about herself that serves to offer redress:

Our most recent PC platform has been criticized for talking too much about numbers and not enough about people. Fact-based decision making is important, but we can’t overlook the human side. I’m a suburban soccer mom. I care about my child’s school, our local hospital and whether our community is safe, just like so many other Ontarians do. (emphasis mine)

And to drive home the point for those dullards among us, she adds:

Ontarians need a party that knows how to make their lives better in measurable ways. For example, the Schools First policy that I put forward as education critic would ensure that schools get built sooner in our rapidly expanding suburbs. (emphasis mine)

MacLeod ends her exercise in self-extolment, however, on a note with which I agree:

The PC Party has a responsibility to deliver a strong and broadly acceptable choice the next time.

It is in everyone's best interests to have strong and credible opposition parties. Such entities act as necessary checks in healthy democracies, standing at the ready to offer viable alternatives to governments that becomes stale, tired, complacent or arrogant.

Setting The Record Straight

Is the oleaginous Pierre Poilivre really the best the Harper regime can do in its propaganda efforts?




h/t Press Progress

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Long Reach Of Partisan Politics

h/t Montreal Simon

In Ontario, we noticed the long federal reach of divisive partisan politics during our recent election. Joe Oliver, our alleged finance minister, interposed his views, lamenting the fiscal state of Ontario that, according to him, is bringing down the rest of Canada. Of course, the disingenuous Uncle Joe denied trying to interfere in our electoral contest. Indeed, he kept up his unsolicited advice post-election, suggesting the following to Premier Kathleen Wynne:

“We hope that her government will follow our lead toward a balanced budget,” he said. “Canada cannot arrive at its potential if the biggest province remains in difficulty.”

In her column today, The Star's Carol Goar offers a pungent rebuttal and some advice to the minister and his government:

He ignored the fact that Ontarians had just rejected his formula, championed by defeated Conservative leader Tim Hudak. He ignored the fact that Ontario is struggling to replace its manufacturing base. And he ignored the fact that Ontario, unlike Ottawa, doesn’t have resource revenues pouring into its coffers.

Compounding the problem, observes Goar, is the fact that the Harper regime is doing nothing to help the province regenerate its economy. In my view, this sad state is the result both of partisan prejudice and a paucity of ideas from the regime's braintrust, Nonetheless, The Star offers some suggestions that we can be certain will be ignored:

- Close the multitude of tax loopholes that allow the country’s wealthy elite to stash income in shell companies that pay low corporate taxes; hide assets in offshore tax havens; write off personal expenses and exploit all the tax credits, deductions, refunds and allowances in Canada’s 3,236-page Income Tax Act.

While the late Jim Flahety closed some loopholes, much more needs to be done.

- Restore Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.’s original purpose.... If the federal government made it clear that CMHC’s first job is to make housing affordable, it would alleviate the need to build social housing, remove some of the risk from the real estate market, encourage residential construction and boost employment — all of which would benefit Ontario.

- Pay as much attention to Ontario’s mineral wealth as Alberta’s oil reserves.

While the regime can't do enough to promote and develop the tarsands, it has shown no interest in helping Ontario finance the infrastructure needed to mine the Ring of Fire and its rich chromite reserves.

- Fix Ottawa’s unfair equalization system.

Oliver ignored Ontario’s claims that it was being shortchanged by hundreds of millions under the convoluted formula Ottawa uses to ensure the financial burdens of all the provinces are comparable. But now Parliamentary Budget Officer Jean-Denis Frechette has confirmed Ontario is being underpaid by $640 million this year. That revenue would allow the province to knock 5 per cent off its deficit.

I expect that little attention will be paid to these sensible suggestions. As we have all learned over the years, Harper and company have developed a long list of enemies. Given its ideology and its resounding recent rejection of Harperesque medicine through his surrogate, Tim Hudak, there is little doubt that Ontario has a prominent place in that pantheon of distinguished Canadians.

Calling Stephen Harper

It is always heartening when young people get involved in issues that should matter to everyone:

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Making Church Relevant?

Somehow, I think Pastor Heath Mooneyham of Joplin, Missouri took the wrong religion marketing course:

Gay Pride: A Proviso



Yesterday I wrote about the considerable pride that we should all take in the progress we are making as a society, World Pride in Toronto being a sterling example. However, as Star letter-writer Blair Bigham of Toronto points out in today's edition, there is still room for improvement:

Political stripes aside, Ontario (population 13.5 million) elected the first gay premier in Canada. Other than Iceland (population 300,000), no other people has elected a gay leader.

The fact that Kathleen Wynne’s sexuality was not even an issue throughout the campaign speaks to the equity and inclusivity Ontario offers. What a place for gay people to grow up in.

And yet, despite living in one of the most gay-friendly places on earth, I learned being gay was wrong long before I learned it wasn’t. Still today slurs are thrown my way by strangers, words are chosen carefully in new social settings, and there is the perpetual evaluation of every person I come in contact with, a super-subconscious Gestalt judgment about how welcoming they would be if they “could tell.” Like the annoying buzz-hum of a wonky fluorescent bulb, barely noticeable, but oh so persistent.

The constant stress that we face here, rarely acknowledged because it shames us that we can’t just accept ourselves, cannot compare to what people feel elsewhere. Minority stress affects me, and surely as an Ontarian I have it better than nearly everyone else.

So while I offer Ms Wynne and all of Ontario accolades for making history and demonstrable progress, I pause to think of the rest of the world, and check my privilege. If anything, it recommits me to spread the amazing agency I have as a gay person in Ontario with those elsewhere and take nothing for granted.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

World Pride: Our Pride

While it is never good to feel smug or self-satisfied (we've seen where that takes the right wing), there are things about which we should feel very good. Although I do not live in Toronto, as I was watching the news last night covering the opening of the 10-day World Pride Festival being hosted in that city, I said to my wife that it really is something that we should all feel proud about. The fact that Toronto, and indeed Canada as a whole, is looked upon as a place where diversity is embraced is a measure of our potential for growth as a species.

I was struck by the essential truth in the words of Mr. Gay World, Christopher Olwage, who said, "It should just be a matter of being human and respecting that fact."

As well, those of Christopher Wee, Mr. Gay Canada: “It shows how progressive we are in Canada and in Toronto about our human rights direction and the LGBT direction.”



No one would dispute that we are deeply flawed. A recent trip to The Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta reminded me once again of what an incredibly small space we occupy on the timeline of earth's evolution. So many species came before us, and so many will continue after we are gone. Yet there are days when I think that were our world not so environmentally imperiled, making our own continuation very questionable, we really could evolve into something quite special.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Guest Post: The Mound Of Sound



Yesterday, inspired by a link sent to me by The Mound of Sound, I wrote a post on some of the dire implications of the surveillance state and the preparations being made by The Pentagon to deal with mass civil breakdown.
Today, a guest post by The Mound offers a sharp counterpoint to the pessimism of that post:


I thought I was a pessimist until I began delving into online courses on war studies, globalization, global food security, etc.

As Doyle’s Holmes said, “the game’s afoot.” Stuff that would have been considered alarming a generation ago now occurs daily and almost without notice. Our privacy, that one right to which all others are anchored, is gone. Instead of fighting to protect us, our governments increasingly employ the latest technology to intrude on our daily lives. By stripping away our privacy, governments are able to redefine democratic dissent as subversion, even treason.

There’s talk of revolution seemingly everywhere. It may be the inevitable end result of the world paradigm shift enacted by Reagan, Thatcher and Mulroney. Today the Pentagon is preparing for ‘mass civil breakdown’ and preparing to use military force within the United States against civilians in flagrant violation of that country’s posse comitatus rule. Open the link, read it and see if it doesn’t make your stomach churn.

In yesterday’s Guardian there’s an exploration of ‘open source revolution.’ It’s an idea from former CIA spy, Robert David Steele, and it’s an idea worth considering. It may even be our kids’ last, best hope.

Last month, Steele presented a startling paper at the Libtech conference in New York, sponsored by the Internet Society and Reclaim. Drawing on principles set out in his latest book, The Open-Source Everything Manifesto: Transparency, Truth and Trust, he told the audience that all the major preconditions for revolution – set out in his 1976 graduate thesis – were now present in the United States and Britain.

Steele's book is a must-read, a powerful yet still pragmatic roadmap to a new civilisational paradigm that simultaneously offers a trenchant, unrelenting critique of the prevailing global order. His interdisciplinary 'whole systems' approach dramatically connects up the increasing corruption, inefficiency and unaccountability of the intelligence system and its political and financial masters with escalating inequalities and environmental crises. But he also offers a comprehensive vision of hope that activist networks like Reclaim are implementing today.

"We are at the end of a five-thousand-year-plus historical process during which human society grew in scale while it abandoned the early indigenous wisdom councils and communal decision-making," he writes in The Open Source Everything Manifesto. "Power was centralised in the hands of increasingly specialised 'elites' and 'experts' who not only failed to achieve all they promised but used secrecy and the control of information to deceive the public into allowing them to retain power over community resources that they ultimately looted."

Today's capitalism, he argues, is inherently predatory and destructive:


"Over the course of the last centuries, the commons was fenced, and everything from agriculture to water was commoditised without regard to the true cost in non-renewable resources. Human beings, who had spent centuries evolving away from slavery, were re-commoditised by the Industrial Era."

Open source everything, in this context, offers us the chance to build on what we've learned through industrialisation, to learn from our mistakes, and catalyse the re-opening of the commons, in the process breaking the grip of defunct power structures and enabling the possibility of prosperity for all.

"Sharing, not secrecy, is the means by which we realise such a lofty destiny as well as create infinite wealth. The wealth of networks, the wealth of knowledge, revolutionary wealth - all can create a nonzero win-win Earth that works for one hundred percent of humanity. This is the 'utopia' that Buckminster Fuller foresaw, now within our reach."


The goal, he concludes, is to reject:

"... concentrated illicitly aggregated and largely phantom wealth in favor of community wealth defined by community knowledge, community sharing of information, and community definition of truth derived in transparency and authenticity, the latter being the ultimate arbiter of shared wealth."

This is the stuff of the ‘social contagion’ that so worries the Pentagon. Whether it will be anywhere near as utopian as Steele envisions is far from clear. If so, it certainly won’t be democratic if it’s to be truly benevolent.

It’s obvious that Steele supports Steady State economics and the rejection of neo-classical economics models of the type still taught in our universities. We will shift to steady state principles because it’s what is demanded when the world runs out of stuff – and we are. It is a transition from a perpetual, exponential growth-based system to an allocation-based system, the sort of thing we have resorted to during wartime. The only alternative to that is a fairly-brutal neo-feudalism but the peasantry is too well armed this time around.

I don’t know if I’ll see this in my lifetime but I expect many of you will. History has shown that, while revolutions can be foreseen (as the Pentagon is doing right now), there’s no way to determine when the actual tipping point will occur. These things usually take everyone at least somewhat by surprise which explains, in part, why they often become ugly, brutal and confused.

Let’s hope Steele is right because what he foresees is not revolution as much as a massive reformation that overthrows our political, social and economic models. Bliss.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Not Good, Not Good At All

The following requires no commentary from me:

UPDATED: They'll Be Watching You

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I'll be watching you.


-The Police - Every Breath You Take

Recent revelations, some of which I have written about, should make us all acutely aware that in the surveillance state, which now describes much of the world, our privacy is more a cherished illusion than it is a reality. Not only has the Canadian federal government been enjoying easy access to our digital information but also, as we recently learned, it has sent out a directive to all federal departments to report any demonstrations, however big or small, to the Government Operations Centre. Chillingly, a leaked email said, "We will compile this information and make this information available to our partners..."

But it turns out that the above only shows the tip of a very large iceberg.

Yesterday, The Mound of Sound sent me this link from The Guardian. Entitled Pentagon preparing for mass civil breakdown, the piece should give all of us, no matter where we live, profound pause:

A US Department of Defense (DoD) research programme is funding universities to model the dynamics, risks and tipping points for large-scale civil unrest across the world, under the supervision of various US military agencies. The multi-million dollar programme is designed to develop immediate and long-term "warfighter-relevant insights" for senior officials and decision makers in "the defense policy community," and to inform policy implemented by "combatant commands."

Launched in 2008 – the year of the global banking crisis (emphasis added) – the DoD 'Minerva Research Initiative' partners with universities "to improve DoD's basic understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral, and political forces that shape regions of the world of strategic importance to the US."

The above would seem to provide an ominous clue as to its larger purpose. The fact that the Minerva Project was launched the same year as the banking crisis, a crisis that led to deep and extensive civil unrest, suggests that its purpose is control and containment and, by extension, maintenance of the status quo. Back to that in a moment.

Wide-scale surveillance is a given in this quest for 'understanding':

Twitter posts and conversations will be examined "to identify individuals mobilised in a social contagion and when they become mobilised."

Basic tenets of democracy appear to be of no concern to The Pentagon. Indeed, protests to bring about political and economic change are viewed as palpable threats:

Another project awarded this year to the University of Washington "seeks to uncover the conditions under which political movements aimed at large-scale political and economic change originate," along with their "characteristics and consequences." The project, managed by the US Army Research Office, focuses on "large-scale movements involving more than 1,000 participants in enduring activity," and will cover 58 countries in total.

The narrow perspective of the military, which sees all disruptive activity as a threat to the status quo, is confirmed by Prof David Price, a cultural anthropologist at St Martin's University in Washington DC. who previously exposed some truths about the Pentagon's Human Terrain Systems (HTS) programme, whose scenarios

"adapted COIN [counterinsurgency] for Afghanistan/Iraq" to domestic situations "in the USA where the local population was seen from the military perspective as threatening the established balance of power and influence, and challenging law and order."

One war-game, said Price, involved environmental activists protesting pollution from a coal-fired plant near Missouri, some of whom were members of the well-known environmental NGO Sierra Club.

Such war-games are consistent with a raft of Pentagon planning documents which suggest that National Security Agency (NSA) mass surveillance is partially motivated to prepare for the destabilising impact of coming environmental, energy and economic shocks.

To say that this entire mentality is a deep affront to basic tenets of democracy is to state the obvious. To think that this is only a theoretical construct is to be unspeakably naive. Although examples of state repression as a response to protest and unrest abound, one need only remember what happened when the Occupy Movement hit its stride. Closer to home, of course, was the June 2010 G20 Summit debacle in Toronto. Or take a look at how Brazil is currently dealing with protests during the World Cup.

And things will not be getting any better. Climate change, probably our greatest threat, will spark more and more unrest, as will the Harper government's sanctioning of the Northern Gateway Project.

From all of this, one thing is abundantly clear. Rather than constructively responding to citizen concerns, the state will do everything in its power to protect the interests of those who really matter to it. Hint: it isn't us.

And finally, this warning from Dwight Eisenhower, spoken over 50 years ago as he prepared to depart from the U.S. presidency, seems eerily prescient:



Thanks to Anon, who provided the link to the following video, which significantly updates things:

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Fundamentalists Strike a Blow Against Censorship

And I, along with countless others, am so, so glad.

This Speaks For Me



H/t Michelle Mainwaring

Thomas Walkom Misses The Mark



One of the reasons I subscribe to The Toronto Star is the quality of its columnists. Tim Harper, Martin Regg Cohn, Thomas Walkom, Heather Mallick, etc. rarely disappoint. However, no one is perfect, and today's column by Walkom is not up to his usual critical standards.

Entitled Conservatives’ downfall could be Stephen Harper’s dismissive tone, the piece seems to suggest that if Harper were nicer, people wouldn't perceive his government in nearly as bad a light as they do:

When the obituary is finally written on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government, it is the tone that will stand out.

Most of his actions will not. With some notable exceptions (such as gutting environmental regulations), they have not been extreme.


As illustration of the regime's mean-spirited nature, he cites the increasingly antagonistic and divisive tone of Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, (a once well-regarded foreign diplomat whose moral decline since joining the cabinet has been precipitous, egregious and Dorian-Gray like). Responding to criticism of his bill that would give the government the power to strip citizenship away from native-born Canadians who hold dual citizenship, Alexander called into question former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who, he said, had eliminated treason as grounds for citizenship revocation “at a time when the Liberal Party was playing footsie with Moscow.”

To be sure, the tone of the regime has been relentlessly harsh toward all who question or oppose its policies. It is on daily display during Question Period, where civility and respect were long ago replaced by sneering derision, not only for opposition members, but also for the institution of Parliament and its officers. Well-documented in the blogosphere, such debasement, I have opined in the past, has been intentional so as to discourage an already discouraged electorate from political participation.

Voter alienation is one of the highest costs we are paying with this cabal, but of course, it has wrought much destruction in so many other areas as well.

A very brief overview will amply underscore some of the things Walkom has blithely overlooked:

- a war on science, resulting in the muzzling of scientists and dismantling of world-class research

- an antipathy toward climate change mitigation. As we saw last weak, Harper and Australia's Tony Abbott are true soul mates in this domain.

- the starving of the beast. Every measure to reduce federal revenues, be they through direct cutting of taxes, expansion of Tax-Free Savings Accounts, income-splitting, etc. is consistent with the conservatism espoused by Harperites. The less money there is, the less 'social engineering', as they would call it, the federal government can do. This kind of economic Darwinism, of course, ignores the needs of the many while rewarding and encouraging the indulges of the few.

- harsh mandatory sentencing in a time of declining crime rates.

- the loss of Canada's international recognition as an honest broker. The government's unflinching support of Israel in all matters, and its increasing contempt for bodies like the U.N., betray long-standing traditions that served us and the world so well.

- contempt for privacy. Only now are we waking up to the realization of widespread domestic surveillance sanctioned by the regime, including warrantless requests for information from our ISPs.


Obviously, I have touched on but a few of shortcomings of the current regime. To be fair to Walkom, no one column could be expected to address them. But suggesting the main problem for the government is one of tone does seem to woefully underestimate the damage done by this hateful regime.




Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What Would Jesus Do?

Surely not what California Pastor John MacArthur suggests here.

Who Is Invading Your Privacy?



Like many bloggers, I 'enjoy' frequent visits to this blog from the federal government. While I have no idea whether a profile of me exists within the dark bowels of the Harper regime, in my more grandiose moments I like to think that my ruminations are a source of some digestive distress for the federal government.

For those concerned about the Harperites' propensity for domestic surveillance, a new tool has been developed that allows you to very quickly generate a letter to the privacy ombudsman for your ISP.

The new tool, developed by some of the country’s top privacy experts, makes it easier for Canadians to force their provider to disclose their practices.
“What we’re trying to do as researchers is identify what kind of data telecommunications companies in Canada collect, obtain and process, and disclose to third parties,” said Dr. Christopher Parsons, a fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs’ Citizen Lab.

“But we also wanted to make it easier for Canadians individually to engage in the same sort of action.”


Here is the link that will take you to the site, hosted by openmedia.ca. I used it this morning to generate a letter that I then sent off by email. My service provider is now required by law to provide a response within 30 days.

I shall keep you posted of any developments.

Mansbridge Revisited



The other day I posted a report on Peter Mansbridge speaking out against cuts to the CBC and the unprecedented secrecy that pervades public institutions under the current federal government. I gave some praise to the broadcaster for finally speaking out about important issues that potentially affect all of us.

My friend Dave, from Winnipeg, sent me an email last night that offers a different perspective on Mr. Mansbridge's foray into important commentary. With his permission, I am posting it below:

Hi Lorne,

Caught your blog piece about the recent conference in Winnipeg. While the theme was important and more public discussion needs to be generated I was disappointed by my alma mater’s staging of the conference.

Why is Canada’s most ‘famous lost luggage announcer’ and several other fellow CBC employees, no doubt all champions of the public good, speaking at what can only be described as a private function? I wonder how many students shelled out $300 (guess it’s a bargain at $100 a day) to hear Pastor Mansbridge say things he avoids on air? Apparently if you are a student and could only attend one day there was a reduced rate of $50. Guess Petey and fellow public servants speaking fees had to be covered somehow.

If Pete felt so strongly about the issue I’m sure he might have waived the costs (Christ, he makes over 900K a year) and stayed at his family's place here in Winnipeg so more students could have participated.

I am more disappointed with the UofW though for commodifying what should have been an open forum for students, staff and the community to hear and discuss a very pressing issue.

Steaming mad,

Dave

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Better Angels of Our Nature



Like many who follow politics closely, I consider myself to be deeply cynical. Probably the best window into the human soul, politics is the arena where often the worst aspects of our natures prevail; greed, selfishness, abuse of power all have ample opportunity to find expression in this venue.

Yet despite many years of observing these terrible truths about ourselves, I have never completely abandoned hope for the possibility of something better. Recent events have provided some basis for that hope, despite the best efforts of the Harper neoconservatives to remake us in their own image and accept them as Canada's natural governing party and all that that implies.

In this vein, a couple of articles are worth perusal. The first, Seven things Kathleen Wynne's victory tells us about ourselves, offers two especially important insights:

It’s about character.

“It shows that Ontarians don’t vote first for platforms or policies,” says political consultant Randi Rahamim with the Toronto-based firm Navigator Ltd. What people sense is bred in the bone proved more important than the Liberal scandal over gas plants or the ORNGE air ambulance fiasco. “Character matters most and people have a gut feeling about that. Who do they want to have a coffee with?”


I regard this as especially important, inasmuch it suggests that we have not totally lost the ability to relate to politicians as fellow human beings, regarding them as more than just stereotypes of self-interest and corruption. To see the face of human integrity in our leaders implies we are able to look beyond those who can best serve our own narrow interests through more tax cuts, tax credits, and continued erosion of the traditional role of government.


She makes us feel good about who we are as a community and, on a wider scale, a province.

[Peter] Donolo compares her appeal to U.S. President Barack Obama’s effect on Americans in his first campaign in 2008. “There’s a real sense of optimism that they see reflected in her,” says Donolo.

There’s so much to get us down, starting with the lack of jobs and the way a dollar doesn’t stretch anymore. That could have been lethal for Wynne; her own party has been in power since 2003.

Instead, she included her definition of government as part of her stump speech, stressing that people pay taxes to cover social services. She also made it clear the government must respect the value of hard-earned dollars.


Clearly this is related to the issue of character. People's response to Wynne was, once again, a human response that includes concern about the larger community, something the federal government has been working steadily and consistently to undermine, and mirrored in Tim Hudak's gleeful blood lust for cuts.

In her column today, Heather Mallick writes on a similar theme of optimism. Entitled Liberals won because voters aren’t cynics, she reflects on Wynne's election win as a victory for the inclusiveness that progressives fight hard for:

We elected a woman premier, imagine that. I spent years worrying that the advance of gay rights had seemed to sidestep women, with lesbians as hidden in the shadows as ever.

There was a time when a divorced woman who had fallen in love with another woman would have been shut out of public life. Welcome, Premier Wynne.

Wynne’s budget was left-wing in that it had goals that can only be accomplished by government. The job of government is to be visionary, to plan for the future. The private sector can’t do that because it isn’t built into their structure.

And there was Wynne winning votes partly with the sheer force of her obvious decency, warmth and humour, a Canadian version of another much-loved politician, Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

While I am far from certain that the Liberals deserved the majority they achieved, and while I have been around long enough not to get too swept up in a self-congratulatory mood, this election experience does give hope that "the better angels of our nature" Abraham Lincoln referred to in his inaugural speech more than 100 years ago have not deserted us; rather, it seems more likely they have lain dormant, awaiting someone to reawaken us to their reality.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

It's Not Either/Or



Those who have more than a passing acquaintance with federal politics are likely aware of the false premises and logical fallacies Stephen Harper and his wrecking crew regularly use to advance their mad agenda. There was, of course, the famous Vic Toews' declaration about either standing with the government or with the child pornographers. Of course that kind of absolutism, the assertion that choices are black and white, no nuanced thinking required, betrays a deep contempt for the electorate, clearly an indicator the regime views us as simpletons fit only for the manipulation that such reductionist thinking cultivates.

It was recently on display once again when Stephen Harper met with his climate soul mate, Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Both agreed they would take no action against climate change that would imperil their respective economies, implying, of course, that the choices are stark.

Fortunately, as is regularly the case, there was ample criticism of this fallacious approach to the world's most pressing and dire crisis; and as usual, Star readers weighed in with their acerbic and insightful comments on Harper's nonsense. All of the letters are excellent, and I hope you will have an opportunity to read each one. Below, I reproduce just a few of them:

Re: PM lauds Australia for fighting carbon tax, June 10

Our prime minister seems to think that jobs and economic growth will trump any serious attempt to tackle climate change. This is a great example of no leadership and a complete dismissal of job creation and growth in new technologies that will happen as we move to a more sustainable situation.
One thing is certain: there will be job creation in casket making if we do not get serious soon about carbon emissions. Where are the leaders who will stop living in the past and embrace the future!


J.B. Ross, Orangeville

It’s a shame that our prime minister believes that a carbon tax will hurt the economy and cost jobs. B.C.’s carbon tax has clearly shown that this is not the case. And the U.S. Congressional Budget Office recently concluded that a carbon tax could benefit the U.S. economy.

But even if the government has an aversion to a carbon tax, from building renewable energy to increasing energy efficiency to building modern transit systems, there are so many ways to cut emissions and create jobs.

The prime minister is setting up a false choice. We do not need to choose between action on carbon and a strong economy. We need to choose both and get on with it.


Keith Brooks, Toronto

The Conservative lack of action on climate change will hurt jobs and the economy. When discussing climate change, Harper said that no country is going to take actions that will deliberately destroy jobs and growth. He, like Tim Hudak in Ontario, has his head in the sand.

Look at Germany, the economic powerhouse of Europe. Its fight against climate change has increased its renewable electrical energy from about 6 per cent in 2000 to 25 per cent in 2012, with 370,000 jobs in that sector. Two-thirds of these are due to government legislation on renewables.

Nearer home, B.C. reduced CO2 emissions by 17 per cent in five years, through a carbon tax that returned the money to the taxpayers, without hurting jobs or growth.

The National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy has stated that if nothing is done immediately to address climate change, a Canadian family of four will be paying up to $10,000 per year in weather damage by 2050. This will cause enormous human suffering and take money and jobs away from productive employment.

All parties except the Conservatives have policies to address climate change. The economy cannot afford a Conservative government in either Ontario or Canada.


Linda and Alan Slavin, Otonabee

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Peter Mansbridge Speaks Out



Readers of this blog will know that I am a frequent critic of both the CBC and Peter Mansbridge. Both 'institutions,' in my view, often fail to live up to the standards ethical and brave journalism demands. They have been far too passive, even complicit in, the Harper regime's scorn for the so-called 'state-broadcaster.' And of course this disdain has culminated in a series of deep and devastating funding cuts to the CBC that threaten the very nature of its existence.

A new dynamic is perhaps now at work. Stung by the latest cuts, have both the corporation and its chief correspondent decided there is little to lose by speaking truth to power?

On Friday, at a conference co-sponsored by the CBC and the University of Winnipeg called “Holding Power to Account,” an international conference on investigative journalism, democracy, and human rights, Mansbridge decried a “culture of secrecy” within Canada’s public institutions.

He recalled a headline in the Toronto Star back in April that read, “What the public is not allowed to know. Public information being kept secret.” That headline, he said, was not about blocked access to public information in countries notorious for their secrecy, but about his own country.

“Not China. Not North Korea. Canada,” he said.


While not directly naming the regime responsible, Mansbridge also said:

“My company, my corporation, the CBC, the public broadcaster who has a mandated interest in investigative journalism. Who boasts that we have more investigative journalists that any media organization. This is where we’re cutting back?” he asked.

“We should be investing more in these programs. Not cutting them.”


Perhaps there is some hope, after all, for both 'institutions'?

The Right Wing Instructs Us On Our Errors In Thinking

Benighted soul that I am, I did not realize the myriad errors of thinking I have fallen prey to. Happily, University of Toronto geography professor Pierre Desrochers has set me straight on a few things:

Friday, June 13, 2014

A Post-Election Reflection



I don't want to comment directly about last night's Ontario election, given that it has been incisively and very competently observed by others already. However, I want to address a comment my friend Tom, who voted Liberal, made on Facebook:

And here's why the system is broken: @51% voter turnout -- up marginally from the historic low of the 2007 provincial election. The winning party gets 38.6 % of those who voted, which means in the neighborhood of 19-20 % of the eligible vote -- but they have a comfortable, some have said overwhelming, majority!

I replied:

What you say is true, Tom, but barring electoral reform, the easiest way to remedy this problem is for more people to vote. As you may know, I have no sympathy for those who say they don't vote because there is no one to vote for, or they don't 'do' politics, etc. Laziness and inertia and apathy are poor reasons not to participate in the rights and responsibility of citizenship. In fact, to be quite honest, I have little respect for the kind of self-absorption that breeds such behaviour.

We are, of course, well aware of the fact that Harper achieved his majority government with minority support from the electorate, something that has apparently never bothered either that regime or its supporters. However, I suspect we will now be subjected to a barrage of right-wing commentary that will include the claim that because Kathleen Wynne was elected by a minority of eligible voters, she did not really get a mandate from the people. Such hypocrisy, however, is nothing new, but those who are truly distressed by the Ontario results need to look to themselves to blame if, in fact, they are among the 50% who did not vote.

Such is the price of indifference, sloth, and disengagement.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Timely Reminder Of Tim Hudak's Magical Thinking




While we should be back from our trip tomorrow in time to catch the Ontario election news coverage, this seems an opportune time to remind readers of the kind of magical thinking so favoured by extreme right enthusiasts such as young Tim Hudak. Tim, as you may recall, has made even lower corporate taxes a major part of his plan to create one million jobs, despite the fact that Ontario's rates are among the lowest in North American, and despite the fact that no apparent empirical data supports the equation that lower business taxes create jobs.

Here is a letter from today's Star that I think makes the point rather nicely:

Leaders make one last push as campaign winds down, June 10

The Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. recorded $1.08 trillion in profits last year. That was an increase of 31.7 per cent over the year before. During that time, these same companies increased employment increases of 0.7 per cent.

A similar picture exists on Canada. In 2001 corporate tax rates were 22 per cent. Today they stand at 15 per cent. We’ve lost $6.1 billion in government revenue while corporate profits have skyrocketed to $625 billion.

Tim Hudak talks about creating one million jobs through a lower tax rate. During the Mike Harris years in Ontario this philosophy did not work out very well. The provincial debt during the Harris years went from $90.7 billion in 1994-95 to $130.6 billion is 2002-03. This, while cutting many jobs and services and giving the province the legacy of Walkerton among other atrocities.

Former Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney tried to convince Canadian corporations to spend some of the “dead money” they have been sitting on after accumulating such large profits over the years. To date, the corporations have not responded.

For years, right-wing government leaders from Margaret Thatcher to Ronald Reagan to Mike Harris have been selling the supply-side economic lie. It didn’t work for them and it won’t work for Tim Hudak. A first-year economics student could tell you the reason for this. The rich don’t tend to spend additions to their revenue. The poor do. The rich accululate this money as the corporations in Canada have been doing for years.

In the Conservative attack on Kathleen Wynne on the radio, they end by asking, “Can you afford to vote for Kathleen Wynne?” I am wondering if I can afford not to.


Carl Nelson, Huntsville

Monday, June 9, 2014

Canaries In The Coal Mine, Dinosaurs On The Hill

We are still out West, but I can't resist putting up a few letters from The Star that raise awareness not only of environmental perils but also, concomitantly, of the dangers of saurian political representation, as epitomized by the current regime in Ottawa:



U.S. coal cut tests Harper, Editorial June 3

Agreed, it’s time for Canada to take action too, and not continue our vague intention to regulate.

Our government’s commitment to the premise of regulating emissions sector by sector seems directly in opposition to traditional conservative values. It requires more legislation to enact, and more bureaucracy to monitor, than any other system for reducing emissions. Economists, environmentalists, even oil firms, as noted in this editorial, all agree that pricing carbon is the correct move.

The carbon fee and dividend system is revenue neutral, would require very little bureaucracy to enforce, and would allow the market to power a change. Doesn’t this seem like ideal environmental legislation for a conservative government?

It’s enactment would certainly show the U.S. that we’re taking serious action alongside them. Now is the time to get on board with reducing emissions, or soon we’ll be playing catch up in the energy sector, with no one to sell our high-emission oil to.

Jack Morton, Toronto

Thanks for your article on U.S. President Barack Obama’s carbon regulations aiming to reduce CO2 from power plants in the U.S. by 30 per cent by 2030. This is a good start, however it’s nowhere near where we need to go.

We need to cut fossil fuel dependency by 80 per cent by 2050 — for all sources, not just power plants. We have used up our carbon budget, and the rising temperature of the earth does threaten the survival of humanity, and many other species.

It would really help the transition to a sustainable future if a fee and dividend carbon pricing system were implemented. This would put a price on the pollution of carbon and would encourage the development of clean tech, renewables, and conservation.

I urge Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair to say this is what they will do, and then work together to do this when a new government is formed. As informed citizens we must let our politicians know this is what we want them to do.

Lyn Adamson, Toronto

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Some Real Hope For Renewables

I only have time for this quick post, but allow me to direct you to this story about what appears to be a breakthrough in solar power generation and this story that opens up a range of possibilities for electric cars.

Here is some video to accompany the stories:










Saturday, June 7, 2014

On Harper's Hateful Hypocricsy



There is little doubt that Alana Westwood will now be joining that ever-growing pantheon of proud Canadians inscribed on Harper's Enemies List. The PhD Candidate at Dalhousie University and volunteer coordinator at Evidence for Democracy has written a fine piece in today's Toronto Star entitled Stephen Harper’s blatant hypocrisy on science which merits reading.

Her starting point is what she describes as a rare one-on-one interview this past Thursday with the CBC (surely an act of hypocrisy in itself, given his abiding contempt for and constant cost-cutting of the public broadcaster). Out of deference to those delicately constituted, I shall provide no link to the interview - that are certain things no one should have to subject him or herself to, and watching Dear Leader is one of them, in my view. From past exposure, I know that I always have, shall we say, a Pavlovian response to him that is not pleasant to behold.

During said interview, in which Harper espoused his enthusiasm for vaccines, he chided Canadians, “Don’t indulge your theories; think of your children and listen to the experts.”

He added, for good effect, that “it’s a tragedy when people start to go off on their own theories and not listen to scientific evidence.”

The irony, as she calls it, is not lost on Ms. Westwood:

The PM’s sudden endorsement of science is a peculiar turn in the wake of systemic and sustained affronts to Canadian scientists, statisticians and record keepers. Just recently, we have seen announcements of cuts to research funding for the Department of Justice, massive closures of libraries (including consolidation and loss of collections from Health Canada) and even restrictions on the ability of meteorologists to say the words “climate change.”

She goes on to enumerate other examples of Harper's manifest hypocrisy and unfitness to lead the country:

- over 2,000 federal scientists dismissed since 2009

- the cut/closure of about 200 scientific research and monitoring institutions, many dealing with issues of monitoring food safety, environmental contaminants and other domains directly affecting the health of Canadians.

While Harper apparently extolled the crucial role of good baseline data during the interview, Westwood reminds us of this inconsistent and inconvenient truth:

How long after the axing of the mandatory long-form census will Canada hit the wall? From the drastically insufficient national household survey, we won’t even have appropriate baseline data about the basic demographics of our own country to plan hospital locations.

And of course, as has been noted previously, the avidity with which the Harper regime muzzles its scientists is behaviour worthy only of a third-world martinent.

To be sure, none of this is new or shocking to those of us who follow the downward trajectory of our country. It is only the latest reminder of the urgency with which each of us must convey, in whatever means are at our disposal, the truth of this autocratic regime so that as many as possbile are as engaged as possible, in 2015.

Friday, June 6, 2014

On Harper's Unhealthy Interest in Us



Even though we are away, I arose early enough to peruse The Toronto Star, and offer the following as additional evidence of its readers' perspicacity:

Re: Harper nominates next privacy watchdog, May 29

Keep an eye on our spies, Editorial June 1

I applaud the Star for taking a robust stand against the systematic corrosion of Canadians’ privacy rights under the proposed Tory legislation, as well as standing against revelations of already widespread snooping into our private data without proper oversight. This activity is the definition of governmental abuse, and reeks of opportunism of the vilest sort in a democracy.

That this very nightmarish matter is being confronted and denounced robustly by the opposition parties, with their call for an official, mandated panel of oversight that reports to parliament, is reassuring. As is Hugh Segal’s Bill S-220, which seeks to legislate this very type of panel.

I can’t help but see an analogy in the 2000 movie The Perfect Storm, the story of an ill-fated voyage where an unusually intense storm pattern catches some commercial fishermen unaware and puts them in mortal danger.

In a key scene, the crew has battled the first phase of the storm all night, but are buoyed when they see a break in the dark skies and a ray of sun penetrating. Unfortunately, there is worse to come.

Senator Segal’s Bill S-220, and the loud denunciations of opposition members, privacy commissioners, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and ordinary Canadians alike from coast to coast are analogous to that ray of light and hope amid the intensifying storm of surveillance mania unfolding today.
Will we consolidate this opportunity to save freedom, or will our tired, demoralized and broken ship of state sail to its doom in the face of madness and the ascendancy of Big Brother?


Ted Nasmith, Bradford

Harper nominates next privacy watchdog, May 29

It’s now official. “Following a rigorous process,” the fox has been nominated to guard the henhouse.
Why is it that I am losing investor confidence in my poultry and egg futures?

David Klarer, Oakville


And on another aspect of Dear Leader's psyche:



Temper? PM's isolation is the bigger issue, May 30

Bruce Carson, who served as a senior aide to Stephen Harper from 2004 to 2009, is only the latest ex-insider to write an unflattering book about Canada’s current prime minister. Apparently Mister “My-Way-or-the-Highway” Harper has an insatiable appetite for gnawing off the hands of those he once employed to help him scale the ladder to the pinnacle of political power in this country.

Megalomaniacs are known to demand unquestioning loyalty without giving any in return. Inevitably megalomaniacs surround themselves with deferential toadies. Obviously that kind of environment would not be an agreeable workplace for any intelligent well-seasoned advisor who sincerely believes in discussion and debate as well as competency and ethics.

No wonder Stephen Harper’s present team of unseasoned advisors is dismissively referred to as the “boys in short pants.”

Lloyd Atkins, Vernon, B.C.