Thursday, December 31, 2015

Where Is Help To Be Found?



Over the past several weeks I have been reading a number of letters to the editor from 'concerned' citizens about the arrival of Syrian refugees in Canada. Some offer a racist perspective thinly disguised as concern for our fellow Canadians (Instead of helping those people, shouldn't we be dealing with our own homeless?) while others are genuine and heartfelt, happy that we are helping those who have suffered so much thanks to a civil war not of their own making, but also wondering why we can't be doing the same for our fellow Canadians who toil away in desperate situations, often despite their best efforts to get off the street, get jobs and housing, etc. And that is a good question indeed.

Contrary to what some would like to think, it is not simply the poorly educated who are often in fairly desperate straits. As I have written more than once on this blog, the precariat is growing in number, a fact that I was once again reminded of this morning in an article about Toronto's library workers:
Jobs have been slashed by 17 per cent since 1998, according to the city’s library worker union, despite a 30 per cent increase in circulation. And while the number of public library managers on the Sunshine List has skyrocketed, around 50 per cent of non-management library jobs are part time — leaving many strapped with irregular hours and limited access to benefits and pensions.

With good job creation a staple of the City of Toronto’s proposed poverty reduction strategy, library workers say the city needs to start by looking at its own standards.
While there will always be those who insist on disdaining unions, more out of envy than anything else, the above amply illustrates that having a unionized job offers only limited protection against privation and the vagaries of the workplace. So where does a possible answer lie?

The notion of a guaranteed annual income is once more gaining traction.
At a Montreal convention in 2014 when the Liberal party was a lowly third power in Parliament, its members passed Policy Resolution 100, pledging to create a “Basic Annual Income” to solve problems in the social safety net, from pension risk to seasonal worker benefits.

That promise, to guarantee a minimum income, has a new urgency entering 2016, as the new Liberal majority government brings that platform to life in a country clamouring for new ways to manage welfare and benefits.
While some see it as simply a program that would discourage people from working, the fact is that it has a myriad of benefits that makes it attractive to those on both ends of the political spectrum:
Evelyn Forget, one of the few researchers to have actually studied the policy in the wild, described guaranteed basic income as an idea whose time has come, and “definitely doable.”

One popular version of the idea works like a refundable tax credit. “If an individual has no income from any source at all, they receive a basic entitlement,” Forget wrote in an op-ed this year. “As earned income increases, the benefit declines, but less than proportionately. As a result, low-income earners receive partial benefits so that they aren’t worse off than they would have been if they had quit their jobs and relied solely on income assistance. This means that there is always an incentive to work, and people who work are always better off than they would be if they didn’t work.”
And there have been some surprising enthusiasts of the concept:
It has had proponents such as Milton Friedman, the iconic free marketeer who liked it as a simplification of welfare, and leading Canadian Tories from Robert Stanfield to Hugh Segal. No less a neo-con pair than Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney once oversaw a mincome pilot project for the Nixon White House, aimed at measuring labour market reactions.
Lest we forget, there was an experiment conducted in the 1970's in Dauphin, Manitoba which some very encouraging results. Evelyn Forget was
the University of Manitoba economist who analyzed data from a pilot program during the 1970s, where everyone in Dauphin, Man., was guaranteed a “mincome” as a test case. The program ended without an official final analysis, but Forget did her own and found minor decreases in work effort but larger benefits on various social indicators, from hospitalizations to educational attainment.

The results suggested to her that a national mincome could improve health and social outcomes at the community level.
Is a guaranteed annual income a means of addressing the growing income gap in Canada, a way of starting to rebalance the disproportionate transfer of wealth to the few at the expense of the many? Perhaps, although the one quibble I have with it is the possibility that it could ultimately work against the development of fairer minimum wages and labour laws to protect workers more than they are today. Indeed, would it become essentially a subsidy to business, who could justify ongoing low wages by pointing out the safety net provided by a guaranteed annual income?

I don't have the answers, but surely something other than the current sad status quo is needed.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

"It's A Trojan Horse In A Global Race To The Bottom"

That's how Former Secretary of Labour Robert Reich, in this brief but very illuminating explanation, describes the Trans Pacific Partnership, approved by the Harper government but not yet ratified. It will be the first real test of how well the new Trudeau government listens to people.

The True Voice Of Canada



As we well know after enduring almost 10 years of darkness, sometimes the loudest and ugliest voices are the ones that command the most attention, thereby skewering our perceptions of reality. If the Harper government had been the true voice of Canada, we would have had to resign ourselves to being an intolerant, suspicious, mean-spirited and xenophobic people, a people who despised logic, science and any whiff of 'the other.' A very similar scenario, of course, is playing out in the United States today under the demagoguery of Donald Trump. The American people have my deepest sympathies.

No, I much prefer the voice of tolerance, moderation and compassion, the voice that is surely being cultivated by the new Trudeau government these days. And it is heartening to know that that voice is not limited to government circles, as the following letters from today's Star heartily attest to.
Canada does well by immigrants, says integration study, Dec. 27

Some Canadians say Syrian refugees are not welcome because there may be terrorists among them. They need to relax. We must never fear accepting refugees. Even if there will be problems with this newest wave of refugees, and there are bound to be some, goodwill and compassion must always triumph over fear.

Even though we presently have problems meeting the needs of many poor Canadians, our doors for refugees must remain open. The larger problems this will produce will no doubt require our larger effort but we must not be afraid of this task.

We must never fear refugees or the challenges they will bring. Our freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes. Whenever we do make them, this is Canada and we will overcome them.

It would certainly be a real black mark on Canada, or any other country, that reduces or stops the process of helping refugees because of fear or a lack of compassion.

Canada is proud to be a country known for tolerance, goodwill, compassion and respect for others. Let’s hope that never changes, and let’s hope other countries will follow our lead.

Bob Hicks, St. Catharines

Love is batter than hate. How wonderful to be inclusive rather than exclusive. It’s the heart of all world religions. It’s the base to our understanding of who we are, and what our society aspires to. It’s a resolution of our conscience to accept those in need.

I’m proud that our Prime Minister welcomed Syrian refugees into Canadian society personally. Donald Trump’s rhetoric exposes his insecurity and feeds to the protectionist mindset of those with a need to hide in their homes with a gun.

Surely the citizens of the U.S. deserve the respect of a higher standard of conscience. He might note that our Prime Minister’s ratings have soared while he shot himself in the foot.

Our world society’s hope is that of acceptance, not rejection. Its populace needs to accept a basic love of each other, if we, as an international community, are to survive. A narrative of prejudice has no place in it.

Keep it up Mr. Trudeau. Make us proud to be Canadian.

John Wiggins, Collingwood

This holiday season has been eventful in its gift giving, spending quality time with family and enjoying a much needed break from our jobs, schooling and other commitments.

For myself personally, I’ve had the special privilege of enjoying dinner with a Syrian refugee family who just recently immigrated to Canada. After spending an evening learning about their experiences, I’ve realized that – despite our differences – we were all vocal in expressing our gratitude and loyalty to Canada, and shared the desire to be contributing and productive citizens in this great country.

I hold Canada’s value of freedom and liberty – irrespective of religion, culture or ethnicity – very important and ideal for any modern country. As Canadians, we must value our diversity, and realize that our differences make us unique.

Arslaan Khokhar, Brampton

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Tale Of Two Canadas



That is the title of a very interesting piece by Michael Valpy in today's Star that is well-worth reading. His thesis offers something of a challenge to a post I put up the other day talking about the fact that our core values as Canadians managed to survive 10 years of dark rule under the Harper Conservatives.

While admitting the recent election was a rejection of a policy direction that was simply alien to most Canadians, Valpy notes that it was the participation of a certain demagraphic that tipped the scales against Harper:
What shifted on Oct. 19 was the appearance of three million more voters than in the previous election of May 2011 — most of them young and wanting to declare that the Harper government was alien.

What shifted were the significant numbers of small-l liberals who had voted NDP in 2011 and large-L Liberals who stayed home, but not this time. As well, in the last days of the campaign, what shifted was a significant chunk of the over-65 vote from Conservative to Liberal.
Citing pollster Frank Graves' analysis of the election, this past election differed from the one in 2011 thanks to values and emotional engagement,
values that said Harper’s-Canada-is-not-my-Canada and an emotional engagement largely absent in centre-left voters in 2011. Emotion is what gets people to the polls.

Whether it was tough-on-crime, the passivity toward climate change, the diminution of the federal state to an unprecedented 14 per cent of GDP, the shuttering of research and evidence-based decision making, or a much more militaristic foreign policy with an unblinking pro-Israel stance, collectively those positions were increasingly disconnected from what the majority of Canadians considered their country’s core values and the public interest, says Graves.
However, Valpy points out that there is another side to this picture:
The popular vote that gave Harper his majority in 2011 — 39.6 per cent — was almost identical to the popular vote that gave Trudeau his majority in 2015: 39.5 per cent.

Harper’s absolutist approach to government with the backing of not much more than one-third of ballots cast (and the support of only 24 per cent of all Canadian voters) was branded a debasement of democracy.
That assessment will likely not be made of the Liberals, Valpy suggests, because theirs are values represented by a larger proportion of Canadians. However, the fact is
the roughly one-third of voters who stuck with the Conservatives on Oct. 19 are real people, with a very distinct profile in terms of both demography and values. Conservative Canada is older, more likely to be male, less educated, rural, and focused to the west of the Ottawa River.
Valpy concludes that
there are two Canadas, each with seemingly irreconcilable values, maybe bringing us to the necessity of seeing the country in a new light — as a modern, pluralistic society with no national consensus, with only limited harmony at the political level, with tensions and contradictions cemented into the basic operating DNA of the country.
It means that while the positive response to the new Trudeau government is the highest this century, the idea of common values in Canada is a chimera, a fantasy.
While his last sentence may be a source of discomfort for some, and certainly challenges my notion about Canadian core values, the tension between opposing visions is also something that should remind all of us of the importance of political engagement and the nurturing of our voices and values. It should also prompt an acknowledgement that a competing vision and competition for our vote is an absolute necessity in a healthy and dynamic democracy, preventing to a degree both governments and voters from taking things for granted.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Geoengineering: A Technology Fraught With Consequences We Can't Anticipate, Or Saviour Of Humanity?

I was watching The National last night, which presented what I felt was a too-cheery piece on geoengineering, the process whereby climate is purposely altered through human intervention. The report looked at the aspect of climate intervention known as Solar Radiation Management, a process that involves putting materials into the air (often the stratosphere) to reflect sunlight and thus reduce global warming. The problem with the entire concept is that it has the potential to adversely affect billions of people.

One point that sticks in my mind from the report, however, is that the scientist interviewed stated, in answer to the objection that artificially altering our climate would be undesirable, that we are already doing so by the billions of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions that have already accumulated in the atmosphere since industrialization began.

Take a look and see what you think. Is geoengineering inevitable? Will it become a necessity? I would be especially interested in reading the thoughts of The Mound of Sound, whose recent post explored the fact that carbon being released from our soil is about to become a huge problem in our attempts to confront climate change.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Let's Not Feel Smug



After almost 10 years' dalliance with darkness, Canadians certainly have no reason to feel smug. That we survived with our core values intact, something I was far from certain would be the case should, however, be a source of pride. A story in today's Star makes the case quite nicely, I think.

Contrasting Canada and France's welcome and integration of Muslims is instructive:
Canada ranks among the best countries in the world for integration, according to the 2015 Migrant Integration Policy Index, a study of 38 developed countries. Canada scored highly — No. 6 — for its open job market, pathway to citizenship, investment in language training, settlement services, cultural diversity and training programs. The government has pilot programs in specialized language training, helping newcomers strengthen language skills in occupational areas so they can get jobs that reflect their qualifications.
Jeffrey Reitz, a University of Toronto sociologist, found that while employment rates for recently arrived Muslim women in Canada are low at first, and they are less likely to work outside the home, they catch up over time.

“Group differences fade for those with more than 10 years in Canada, and completely disappear for their children born here,” he noted. “This is not the case in France.”
The same cannot be said for France, a fact that some suggest is one of the causes of the country's homegrown jihadism.
In contrast, even French-born Muslim women in France are 13 per cent less likely to find work than the mainstream population, said Reitz. He attributes the discrepancy, in part, to the French ban on wearing head scarves in public. “The ban is punitive and ends up pushing more people into poverty,” he says.

The November terror attacks in France highlight again how vital it is for host societies to ensure newcomers and their families can succeed.

Success, in turn, may be the perfect antidote to second-generation Islamic radicalization.
A country must always guard against hubris, often a pathway to the kind of jingoistic imperialism that so hobbles countries like the United States. A modest national pride, however, is a totally different matter, and one we should all embrace.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

One Thing Is Clear



The older I get, the more I realize that there are no simple solutions to problems, be it world hunger, war and conflict, climate change, or something as seemingly straightforward as getting along with that difficult guy down the street. And while I have cast aside most of the facile answers I thought I had in my youth, one thing remains, for me, an immutable truth: the power of education.

In a world beset by extremism and creeping demagoguery, some of it very close to our doorstep, the only real inoculation, although hardly a foolproof one, is that which is conferred by being as well-educated as possible. Had I not believed this, I doubt that I could have managed 30 years in the classroom.

Knowing things, especially how to think critically, provides tools that can help prevent people from falling into an insularity that ignores the larger world and allows for the construction of a world based, not on reality, but rather the prejudices and values that appeal to the lowest instincts of humanity.

A well-considered letter in today's Toronto Star addresses this issue quite nicely, I think:
Re: Fear of Donald Trump is overblown, Dec. 18

Wondering why Donald Trump has so much support for his racist views?

Two anecdotes: In 1941, when I was four, my parents moved from Chicago to a suburb that had good schools. So by 1941, long before the documented flight of whites from U.S. cities, some U.S. school systems were in trouble.

Fast forward to the mid-1960s when I was the manager of Actors’ Theatre of Louisville, Ky., the local professional theatre company. In an attempt to sell tickets, I visited an official at the Jefferson County Board of Education, responsible for Louisville schools. When I suggested that the board consider buying play tickets for their students, the official told me that they had trouble finding dollars to buy chalk, paper and pencils, and couldn’t think about theatre tickets. He said that any increase in school funding had to be approved in a plebiscite, and citizens always voted “no.”

In addition to poor investment in education, many U.S. citizens have no experience outside of their country. In the far west and far east, near the coasts, people do travel, but in most of the U.S., including the giant midwest, people don’t even have passports. Plus, their slimmed-down, dumbed-down media are mostly controlled by big corporations whose civic responsibilities are thin.

So who better to respond to a demagogue’s simple, angry answers to complex questions than people who have been poorly educated, don’t know the rest of the world, are poorly informed by media, and have been fed a diet of myths about U.S. greatness. All this while their higher-paying union factory jobs have gone to low-wage countries.

Little was learned from the loss of the Vietnam War, other than learning not to allow the media unfettered access to what is really happening in U.S. wars. Little has been learned from the 1940s and 1950s McCarthy “Red Scare” blacklisting of supposed Communist sympathizers, another time in which politicians deliberately stoked U.S. citizens’ fears, ruining the lives of thousands.

And, most people are unaware that, beginning in the 1930s, large corporations deliberately and successfully courted U.S. Christian leaders in an attempt to counter Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. The message was, and is, that Christianity and capitalism have similar goals.

We in Canada, my chosen country, can’t be smug. We are the people that elected Rob Ford, and Stephen Harper three times, and “the base” in both countries is angry for real reasons, but instead of real solutions being offered, “the base” is fed fear and hatred of others by cynical opportunists. Unfortunately, hate boomerangs.

The solutions lie in better education and more opportunities for all, and in setting strict limits on how much wealth or power any person or corporation can amass.

A long, dangerous path is ahead of us. The enemy, and our better selves, are within each of us. In the words of W. H. Auden: “We must love one another or die.”

Douglas Buck, Toronto

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Illusion Of Separateness



Developed in the late 60's by British Scientist James Lovelock, the Gaia theory states
that the organic and inorganic components of Planet Earth have evolved together as a single living, self-regulating system. It suggests that this living system has automatically controlled global temperature, atmospheric content, ocean salinity, and other factors, that maintains its own habitability.
In other words, everything within this living breathing organism we call Earth is interconnected; make a change in one part of that organism, and those changes will reverberate throughout the system until a new equilibrium is reached. As we now know through the destructive forces unleashed by climate change, that new equilibrium is not necessarily hospitable to existing life, including that of our own species.

As I observed in a post a few years ago, every impact humanity has on the earth, whether intentional or unintentional, has far-reaching ramifications. I was reminded of that fact the other day while reading an article in Scientific American. Entitled Missing Tropical Animals Could Hasten Climate Change, the piece asserts that
the hunting and poaching of tropical animals could change the face of rainforests such as the Amazon, diminishing their ability to store global carbon dioxide emissions by up to 20 percent.
The study by scientists at Sao Paulo State University in Brazil presents solid evidence that the heedless activities of humans is exacerbating the almost out-of-control climate change we are already experiencing:
Hunting and poaching threatens 19 percent of all tropical forest vertebrates, with large vertebrates, including frugivores, disproportionately favored by hunters, the study says. As the frugivore population declines—a process called “defaunation”—fewer seeds of carbon-dense trees are spread throughout the forest, study co-author Mauro Galetti, a Sao Paulo State University ecologist, said.

“The result is a new forest dominated by smaller trees with milder woods which stock less carbon,” study lead author Carolina Bello, a Sao Paulo State University PhD student, said in a statement.
These two graphics amply illustrate the problem:



The equation is rather simple: killing the animals=reducing our longterm chances for survival.
José Maria Cardoso da Silva, an environmental geography professor at the University of Miami, said many studies, including some of his own research, have been published over the last 15 years showing that big, carbon-dense trees could go extinct without the large animals that spread their seeds.

“We demonstrated that by eliminating the big frugivorous birds, the big trees in the region will move towards extinction,” Silva said. “All studies afterwards have confirmed the trend. (Bello and Galetti’s) paper adds one more step to the chain. It shows that if the big trees go extinct, then the capacity of the forest to store carbon is reduced. If forests cannot store carbon in the way that they usually did, then the negative effects of climate change can be exacerbated.”
The folly of humanity continues apace.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

A Brief Programming Note



Although the right-wing would heartily disagree, as amply pointed out by Montreal Simon today, my sense is that the waters perpetually roiled by the Harper government and their spawn have finally settled down. While there will undoubtedly be countless times in the future when I take the Trudeau government to task, for now I am content to let things unfold in their natural course. Therefore, I suspect (although I may be wrong) that I will be blogging more sporadically in the next little while.

I shall continue to read and benefit from the contributions of others, however. Enjoy a good Christmas, everyone, although I shall likely post more before December 25.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Taking The Time To Get It Right

Rather than plunging headlong into the legalization of marijuana, it sounds like the Trudeau government is taking the time to ensure that the legislation achieves its stated goals: keeping it out of the hands of young people, diminishing the black market, and not using it as an opportunity to make windfall profits:
Trudeau promises to set up a task force with representatives from the three levels of government and, with input from experts in public health, substance abuse and policing, design a new system of marijuana sales and distribution.

It would include federal and provincial excise taxes. However, Trudeau cautioned against imposing steep levies designed to discourage its use.

"The fact is that, if you tax it too much as we saw with cigarettes, you end up with driving things towards a black market, which will not keep Canadians safe — particularly young Canadians."

Thursday, December 17, 2015

I Guess The Barbados Has An Open-Door Policy Toward Felons

Few Canadians will forget this scene:



The people of The Barbados, however, apparently hold no animus toward foreign felons:
Dean Del Mastro and his cousin David are establishing a $26-million solar technology manufacturing plant and solar farm in Barbados, according to a report Thursday in the online newspaper Barbados Today.

The Del Mastros' company is called the Deltro Group, and Barbados Today states that David Del Mastro is the president and Dean is company director.

The article states that Deltro Group is expected to represent “stiff competition” for Barbados Light and Power Company.

“We are not just excited for ourselves,” Dean Del Mastro told Barbados Today. “We are excited for Barbados because we believe it has potential to really transform the economy in Barbados.”

The plant is expected to hire more than 160 people by next June, the article states.

Dean Del Mastro is Peterborough's former MP. He is currently free on bail after he was sentenced to a month in jail for electoral fraud.

He spent one night in jail in June, and then was released on bail pending an appeal. The appeal is going to court Jan. 4 and 5 in Newmarket. He was convicted of having overspent on his electoral campaign in 2008.

David Del Mastro is the owner of Deltro Electric in Missisauga. He'll be on trial in February over allegations of wrongful contributions to his cousin's 2008 campaign.

He allegedly had 22 of his employees and their friends each contribute $1,000 to his cousin's campaign, and then reimbursed them with cheques from Deltro Electric for $1,050.

But Barbados Today doesn't mention any of that. It is reporting that the Del Mastros' solar plant will be operating by March or April, 2016.

It's expected to include a solar farm that will produce electricity for sale at rates less expensive than Barbados Light & Power Compan

David Del Mastro told the newspaper that Barbados was chosen as a location to establish the plant because the government there was “dedicated to incentivize us to come here.”
Out of either politeness or ignorance, the online newspaper, Barbados Today, made no reference to Del Maestro's criminal conviction. You can read their story here by going to page 2 and 3 of the publication.

Am I Wrong To Feel Contempt For The Unhinged Right-Wing?

You decide.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Sure Sounds Like Union-Busting To Me



Call it what you will, anything that circumvents union rights is odious, and it appears to have happened to Hamilton, Ontario. Independent television station station CHCH, a mainstay of the community for over 60 years, summarily fired all of its employees on Friday and filed for bankruptcy, despite the fact that its parent company, Channel Zero, is in good financial health. It then rehired less than half of the staff over the weekend under a new management company that in what appears to be a blatant case of contract-flipping, a practice that Pearson Airport seems to have popularized in recent years.

The Hamilton Spectator reported the following:
Nearly 130 full-time and almost 40 part-time employees of CHCH were left jobless Friday in the wake of Channel 11 Limited Partnership's stunning bankruptcy announcement.

Channel 11 LP, a subsidiary of Channel Zero, provided the news content to CHCH TV for the parent company and employed the on-air news personalities, producers and camera operators.

The bankrupt company listed nearly $4.5 million in liabilities versus just $60,000 in assets.

The largest liability, which was not secured, was about $1.6 million owed to the employees, which likely represents unpaid severance.

Shortly after the bankruptcy announcement, a privately held numbered company separate from Channel Zero offered 58 full-time jobs and 23 part-time jobs to some of the former CHCH news employees.
Many of the terminated, however, are not going gently into that good night. Long-time reporter Lauran Sabourin had this to say:
"We were told that Channel 11 was declaring bankruptcy and that our jobs were terminated," said Sabourin. "I was expecting that because we both [she and her cameraman] had seniority and are part of Unifor (their union), we would be protected because Dwight and I have been there for a number of years."

When she asked about the seniority, she was told that because this is a bankruptcy, the usual seniority rights do not apply.

And when she asked about severance, she was told once again that because this is a bankruptcy, if anyone wanted severance they would have to apply for it, but with a long list of creditors, employees usually end up near the bottom of that list.

Sabourin said 58 employees were made an offer by the company to work, but neither her or Penner were part of that group.

What appears to have happened, she adds, is that all the employees of the company were terminated under the bankruptcy rules, a separate company has been set up and they have rehired some of the former employees.

"I never expected something like this. I always thought that I would leave CH on my own terms," said Sabourin. "I never expected to be kicked to the curb like this. I loved working in Niagara and have loved the people here.
Long-time weatherman, Matt Hayes, who you will see in the clip below, offered this:
"It happens. But I think the thing that really stung in all that was there is no severance. And, you know, especially at this time of year, that's really hard."
Is there a smoking gun in all of this? While station owners deny it, it would seem that there is evidence of a coldly-crafted scheme to do an end-run around the union:
A leaked email by a CHCH TV account manager suggests that a subsidiary company was taken into bankruptcy Friday to help the television station avoid its contractual obligations to unionized employees under the collective bargaining agreement.

The email, apparently sent to a prospective advertising client by Kathleen Marks, stated "we just needed to disband the previous company and form a new one where changes could be made, free from old Union employees and their demands and free from carry-over debt of CanWest."



Will the terminated employees see any form of justice? Given the many loopholes that current labour laws allow in Ontario, my guess is that the prospects for redress are very dim indeed.

Monday, December 14, 2015

A Time To Bask



After so many years spent in darkness, Canadians can, perhaps, be forgiven for feeling exuberantly good about themselves once again and letting the world know it. And, according to Martin Regg Cohn, there is more to what is happening than narcissistic indulgence.
As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged to jet-lagged refugees early Friday morning, “We get to show not just a planeload of new Canadians what Canada is all about, but we get to show the world how to open our hearts and welcome people.”

There is much to be said for a nation-state self-consciously showcasing its treatment of stateless refugees. Far from being empty symbolism, it serves as a defiant testament of Canadians coming to the aid of people a world away.
For far too long a country denigrated far and wide for what the Harper regime did in our name, we are now not only rehabilitating our reputation but also trying to offer the world a better way:
At a time when much of the world is stooping to new lows, Canadians are cheerfully rising to the occasion. Not because we are better than anyone else, but because our leaders — political, ecumenical and civil — are belatedly bringing out the best in us.
Lest we fall into hubris, however, some stark realities need to be remembered:
We have not been tested like Germany or Greece, both brimming with migrants of indeterminate origin. By virtue of our splendid geographic isolation, we are largely spared the waves of boat people who risk drowning at sea, or the stampedes at border crossings that wreak havoc with sovereignty.

We can afford to take our time, consider our options and select refugees with our own timelines linked to the latest headlines. We get to “cherry-pick” families in remote Middle Eastern camps, where families are pre-vetted by the United Nations as bona fide refugees.
Despite these facts, however, perhaps our ability to reach out may have additional benefits, especially for our cousins to the south, many of whom are currently in the thrall of a demagogue:
It is a well-timed counterpoint to the fear and frothing that has swept the U.S., a country 10 times larger than ours that is taking but 10,000 refugees (a mere 40 per cent of our target).

As the New York Times noted Saturday, “The Canadian public’s widespread embrace of a plan to accept thousands of Syrians stands in stark contrast to the controversy over the issue in the United States.”
And who can watch the following clip, from last night's NBC Nightly News, without feeling good about our country?



As we all know, politicians come and go, and countless policies are born and often die. But something tells me that despite all of the evil we are capable of as a species, there will always be a goodness that resides within us, ready to respond when it is called upon by the right people and the right circumstances.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

"It Is Good To Help Everyone In Need"

So says a Calgary homeless person in answer to those expressing outrage over the assistance being given to the Syrian refugees.



Looks like the extreme right-wing will have to find another target for its hateful abuse.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Setting The Record Straight



Every so often I receive forwarded emails apparently designed to expose some unpalatable truths about how Canadians are being treated inequitably by their government vis-à-vis the financial support it metes out to 'the other.' The Star's public editor, Kathy English, attempts to set the record straight in today's paper.
As we open our borders to welcome Syrian refugees to our country, let this be perfectly clear: Refugees to Canada do not get more financial help from the federal government than Canadian pensioners do.

Unfortunately, the myth that they do is rooted in a mistake in a Toronto Star letter to the editor published in 2004.

Indeed, this mistake has now come full circle. The Star itself republished this misinformation last week– once again, in a letter to the editor.

The Dec. 2 letter, entitled, “Let’s help ourselves first” stated “Canadian seniors who worked and paid taxes all of their lives are worth only $550 a month, but soon-to-be-voting refugees will get $2,500 a month plus benefits.”
The truth, it turns out, is something quite different.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the Canadian Council for Refugees and CARP, the advocacy organization that represents Canada’s seniors, all confirm that it is a myth that refugees get more assistance than seniors.

First, privately sponsored refugees are not eligible for government assistance — support is the sponsors’ responsibility.

When they arrive in Canada, government-assisted refugees are eligible for monthly support aligned with provincial social assistance rates – in Ontario, less than $800 monthly. They are also eligible for a one-time — not monthly — payment to help set up their households. That’s estimated to be about $2,500 for a family of four and $950 for an individual. Monthly income support for government-assisted refugees is provided during their first year in Canada only – less time, if they become self-sufficient sooner.

According to CARP, Canadian seniors currently receive $569.95 a month in Old Age Security upon reaching age 65, for life. Lower income pensioners are also eligible for the Guaranteed Income Supplement (an additional maximum $772 a month, reduced depending on other income.) None of this takes into account what is paid by the Canada Pension Plan to those who have contributed through their earnings years.
The vast majority of Canadians welcome this opportunity to help relieve a little of the suffering that is so pervasive in this world. The small minority that does not has a responsibility to at least get their facts straight.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

When The Crazed Are Given Airtime

.... the results aren't pretty.



If you have the stomach, you can watch a brief video of Susan DeLemus expressing her fealty to Donald Trump by clicking here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Sordid Tale



I want to tell you a story. It is a story I wish I didn't have to tell, given its sordid nature, and it is one that reflects badly on my own judgment.

Sometimes the world really is too much with us. As some will know, we just returned from a week in Cuba where we stayed at a 3-star resort half-way between Varadero and Havana that we visited once before, in 2010. During the second part of the trip I fell ill with a bug, likely from something I ate. My activities were therefore somewhat limited after that, a detail that seems relevant to the story.

A couple of days into our holiday, my sister-in-law, who accompanied us, told me that she had seen a man, likely in his fifties, with a young Cuban girl who appeared to be about 12 years old. They were sharing a bungalow. I did not actually see them until the day before our departure for home, when I ventured out to a barbecue being held nearby. The girl indeed looked to be about 12, but she could have been, I suppose, as old as 13 or 14. The age of consent in Cuba is 16.

While prostitution is fairly common in Cuba, the girls I have seen in resorts accompanying Canadian and European men have always been at least 18 or older. This is a terrible example of what appears to be child sexual exploitation, something I have never before actually witnessed. I do not blame the Cubans, a resourceful people, some of whom will do almost anything to survive economically. I do, however, blame people like the adult I saw who, I fear, may very-well be Canadian, and someone, likely the management at the resort, who is clearly complicit in this alleged crime, given that the girl was wearing a resort wristband.

And here is where my bad judgment comes into play. Should I have complained to the management? In retrospect, I sincerely wish that I had. My thought at the time was that such a complaint would have yielded nothing, for the above-stated reason. As well, about two years ago we met a Canadian couple at a resort in Holguin we have visited several times, and they told me a story that was quite instructive. The resort's previous manager had come upon a guest and his 'companion' who was clearly underage. She phoned both the girl's parents and the Cuban police. When the parents arrived, they were outraged by the manager's actions, as they had sanctioned their daughter's involvement with the man. The manager was later rebuked by her superiors and told to never do something like that again. As I stated, she is no longer the manager there.

These things, along with what we were told a few years ago by two Holguin friends who we got to know fairly well, convinced me that reporting would have been futile. I realize now that I should have nonetheless gone ahead and done so. To have drawn the conclusion I did was a failure of critical thinking and a failure of my moral duty.

So what did I do instead? Well, I took photos of the 'couple' at the barbecue; my thought was to post them, with the girl's face blurred out, on social media in the hope that someone wold recognize him. I had also intended to post them here for the same purpose, but I have come to realize that the Internet as such is not the answer, and could have set in motion an unfortunate chain of events. I do not want to compound my irresponsibility.

However, I did post a very truncated version of this story both on Tripadvisor and the closed Facebook group devoted to Cameleon Villas Jibacoa. Given the fury that I provoked on the latter, I now wonder exactly what it was I hoped to achieve in that venue. However, one person on that forum chose to offer not his abuse but his help in trying to identify the offender, as he has some contacts among the staff. He was a rare bright light in the midst of some very dark suggestions from others about my character and motives.

On Monday I contacted the RCMP, but got a disappointing response. The local detachment officer told me that the federal force's main mandates right now involve domestic security and organized crime. He suggested I contact our local police force, which, of course, lacks both the authority and the resources to pursue such matters. This morning I was able to reach the appropriate detective on my local police force, and he expressed shock that the RCMP was not interested, as it is their jurisdiction, and they have facial recognition software that might be able to identify the man I took pictures of. Nonetheless, he was quite helpful and is passing on my information to the local human trafficking division, and I am awaiting a call from them.

You might also wonder what the purpose of this post is, other than to serve a somewhat cathartic function for my own failure in this matter. The trajectory of this Cuban child's life is probably set, and nothing will likely change it. However, if this story has any value, it may serve simply as a reminder that we all have responsibilities whether we are at home or travelling outside the country. Since my return, I have tried to educate myself about the problem of child sex tourism, and I recommend the following two links to get you started, should you be interested:

http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/03/16/canadians_are_major_customers_in_cubas_child_sex_market.html

http://www.ibcr.org/images/contenu/publications/Tourisme-sexuel-int-lowres-en.pdf

Thanks for reading this story, and I would appreciate it if you not write any comments that suggest I did my best. I know I did not, and ultimately this story is about a much bigger problem than how I might feel about my own bad judgment.

Monday, December 7, 2015

On Divine Wrath

Two posts by the Mound of Sound during my absence amply demonstrated the ongoing derangement of the religious right. One suggested that God was not happy with the good folks of San Bernadinao and hence declined to intervene to save those massacred there last week. The other was a suggestion by Jerry Falwell Jr. on how to deal with the Muslim 'problem.'

One can only fear and tremble then, anticipating what form Yahweh's wrath will take in response to this latest 'affront' to His Son's personal dignity.

Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

Ah, But Will They?

Were they truly public-spirited citizens, the dozens of people recently appointed by Stephen Harper to government agencies and crown corporations would step aside if so requested by Justin Trudeau.
The previous government under former prime minister Stephen Harper made the last-minute patronage appointments in the run-up to October’s federal election, which saw the Tories defeated by the Liberals.

On Monday, the Liberal government plans to send out letters to dozens of appointees who were assigned the posts or had prior contracts renewed in the twilight of Harper's government.

Many of the positions command six-figure salaries, and it could cost the government up to $18.5 million to buy them out should they refuse to step aside.

Liberals say that Harper's patronage appointments make it difficult for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to put his stamp on the country's crucial agencies.

Traditionally, governments have avoided awarding the positions before their mandate has been renewed.



My guess is that given the choice between doing the right thing and sacrificing handsome remuneration, the majority of these public 'servants' will choose the latter.

Perhaps some public shaming is in order?

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Pensee Du Jour

We returned from Cuba yesterday morning around 4:00; without an optimal amount of sleep thus far, complicated by an intestinal bug I probably picked up from the buffet, I have not yet quite recovered from our island holiday. Nonetheless, I hope to be back up and running (perhaps an unfortunate choice of words) by tomorrow.

I think I'll spend today getting caught up on the blogs and the news, the latter of which was in short supply where we stayed. The CNN channel, which we don't subscribe to here, seemed to have made the tragedy in San Bernadino into a full-time series, thereby depriving me of any knowledge of what might be happening in the rest of the world.

I am especially keen to learn about progress at the Paris Climate Change Summit, as there was barely a peep about it on the above-mentioned network. If the following is any indication, however, it sounds like we shouldn't be hoping for a breakthrough on our last chance to save the world:


Friday, November 27, 2015

Some Downtime



We are heading off for an inexpensive week in Cuba. It really pays to travel before high season kicks in. I'll be back at the computer in about a week.

See you then.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Fear And Loathing



I remember very vividly when I was a young fellow how much the police seemed to be a part of the community. When I was in high school, I had a weekend job in a restaurant that often saw me walking home about 2 a.m., and more times than not I would see an officer walking the beat; to exchange brief nods of hello was not unknown. Since then, much rhetoric about community policing notwithstanding, it seems that police, ensconced in their cruisers, hidden away by body armour and increasingly presented as a paramilitary presence, that connection with the community seems to be quite frayed and in many instances lost.

Today, it would seem, police in many jurisdictions seem more intent on stilling fear than in inculcating trust. Says Michael Spratt, a Canadian legal expert,
"... there’s no question that Canadian police sometimes look more like post-apocalyptic military mercenaries than protectors of the peace. Our police services have been acquiring more and more military toys — a dangerous trend that’s gotten little in the way of critical analysis in the mainstream media."[16]

Growing numbers of Canadian police agencies have acquired armored vehicles in recent years.[17] In 2010 the Ottawa Police Service bought a Lenco G3 BearCat armored personnel carrier for $340,000, which has "half-inch-thick military steel armoured bodywork, .50 caliber-rated ballistic glass, blast-resistant floors, custom-designed gun ports and... a roof turret."[18]

The G20 protests in Toronto in 2010 showed that the militarization of protest policing is not only occurring in the United States. Police used a sound cannon, or Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) -- a weapon that was developed for use in conflicts in the Middle East, as well as barricades, pre-emptive arrests and riot units.[19]

The Lenco BearCat Armored Personnel Carrier
According to Kevin Walby, an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Winnipeg, "the more interesting aspect of the militarization of the police is actually on the strategy side"; police are "increasingly training with military-style tacticians, especially when it comes to situations like crowd control and, increasingly, surveillance."[20]

And yet police seem deeply offended that their motives are increasingly being impugned as more and more stories of their abuse of citizens emerge, and it becomes increasingly evident that those who should be controlling them, police services boards, are rarely showing the backbone to challenge their thuggery.

The authorities will just have to learn to live with public criticism and condemnation. As the following two letters from The Star make clear, it is wholly justified:

No excuse for violent police assault, Letters Nov. 23
Unfortunately this result of interaction between police forces and the public is becoming increasingly prevalent – perhaps a direct result of the justice system’s seemingly complacent attitude towards it. It is further aggravated by a change in attitude amongst the police forces with respect to the image they choose to project.

In my youth a typical police officer was neatly dressed, clean shaven and noticeably respectful of the public they served. I can point to the police force serving my community as an example of the changes made to that image. Their staff, both civilian and constabulary seems to have been infused with an attitude of disdain for the public.

The officer of my youth has been replaced with an outwardly authoritarian figure sporting one of those closely trimmed “macho” beards to augment his display of tattoos. No longer is he dressed down, but openly displays his array of offensive weaponry topped off with body armour portraying an image of intimidation and fear rather than being ready to be of assistance.

Disappearing are the white cruisers with red and blue identification; replaced by black and white vehicles – again with the connotation of intimidation. The supposedly “unmarked” vehicles are dark gray “muscle” cars complete with deeply tinted windows and black rims. All this helps to instill an image of fear of the police in the public’s eye and I believe that is exactly what is intended.

Some serious training in public relations would certainly seem warranted. The phrase “respect must be earned” was never more appropriate.

Don Macmillan, Oakville

The video of this incident was brutal as well as shocking. The police, whose motto is “To serve and protect,” are doing neither. Three officers are seen punching a defenceless man who is face-down on the ground. They continue their assault as the victim pleads with them to stop, to no avail.

In the end, the man is placed in a cruiser for a time, then released without any charges being laid.

This incident is not being investigated by the SIU because there were no “serious” injuries incurred by the victim.

These officers are emulating some of their American counterparts who have been seen on video shooting a fleeing, unarmed man in the back, and choking another unarmed man, to name a couple of similar instances of police brutality.

If three citizens assaulted someone in this manner, they would be charged and jailed. Because this involves police officers, it will probably be “swept under the rug.”

Already the police are preparing for this process by refusing to release the names of those officers who were involved.

Warren Dalton, Scarborough

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

And Speaking Of Perspective

...along with xenophobia, bigotry and demagoguery, the folks at Fox News would seem to be quite ignorant about their country's own history.

Here is a timely festive reminder of that history for those soon to be celebrating American Thanksgiving:
Thanksgiving is a refugee’s narrative. The first Thanksgiving (or at least, the event we now remember as Thanksgiving) was celebrated in 1621 at the Plymouth Plantation colony in modern-day Massachusetts. It was attended by both native inhabitants and newcomers—the latter having fled England, by way of the Low Countries, due to religious persecution.

Syrian refugees today are fleeing warfare and the political oppression of both a secular dictatorship and an extremist theocracy. But in attempting to find safe haven in the United States—a country that owes a great deal of its success to immigrants, from all over the world—they are now being met with persecution in another form.
What is that special persecution? This clip from Fox says it all:



Although the above commentators might be viewed as egregious examples of a failed U.S. education system, they are at least providing reassurance to their special audience, who no doubt take great solace knowing that such giants are on the job and protecting Americans' interests.

My favourite line from the clip?
“It is always interesting to listen to a condescending British person tell you about colonialism,” co-host Dana Perino said. “The British were so much better at colonialism than the Pilgrims.”

Putting Things Into Perspective

The bigoted backlash against Muslims in light of the recent ISIS attacks is given short shrift by This Hour Has 22 Minutes:







Should the time come when we no longer have a sense of humour, we will know that the terrorists have won.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Critical Thinking - Yes. Fear Mongering - No.



Last week I wrote a post critical of Rex Murphy's CBC opinion about how the Syrian refugee situation should be handled by Justin Trudeau. At first blush, his view that more time should be taken in admitting 25,000 to Canada seemed reasonable. However, digging beneath the surface of those comments, one could see that Rex was really trying to inject fear and suspicion of them into the equation. I ended the post by saying that the timelines for bringing the refugees to Canada are a fit topic for debate, but Rex's subtly subversive cant is not.

Always an advocate of critical thinking, I offer as a contrast some comments by the Star's Martin Regg Cohn, who, while questioning those very same timelines that Rex seemed to, does so in a forthright and responsible way, without resorting to the demagoguery that Murphy did. Whereas Murphy plays the fear card in urging a slowdown, Cohn argues that the evacuation of 25,000 refugees is quite doable, but having them all come here by the end of this year will put huge strains on the infrastructure needed to accomodate them:
Thanks to the prime minister’s gambit, the Ontario government is scrambling to find every square metre of provincially owned property that it can place at the disposal of refugees arriving in the December cold. That means a couple of recently decommissioned hospitals in the GTA, schools with space to spare and other safe havens that Infrastructure Ontario can ferret out from its portfolio of barren buildings across Ontario, according to a senior provincial source.
Cohn attributes political motivations to the rush:
Meeting the December deadline is about electoral credibility, not practicality.

Bluntly speaking, it’s an easy deliverable for a newly elected government trying to show its mastery of events during its first 100 days in power. The question isn’t whether it’s workable, but wise.
The above perspective certain offers a positive contribution to the debate, but Cohn also sharply distinguishes himself from xenophobes and fear mongers like Murphy with the following:
Much has been said about the need to delay resettlement in light of heightened security fears after the Paris terrorist attacks. The impulse is understandable but unfounded. To be clear, Canada is drawing upon a pool of the Middle East’s most vulnerable refugees — mostly women and children — who have been languishing in UN-vetted camps for years, not secretly infiltrating Europe’s porous borders.

The bigger uncertainty isn’t security but capacity — the exigencies of timing, the shortages of accommodation and the harshness of the Canadian climate in late December.
Responsible journalism versus cleverly-disguised prejudice. Sometimes they are not the easiest to distinguish.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Star Readers Respond To Toronto Police Thuggery



Whether justice will ever be achieved in the terrible death of Rodrigo Gonsalez or the vicious beating of Santokh Bola remains an open question. However, given some compelling video evidence, there seems little doubt in the minds of Toronto Star readers that something is seriously amiss within the Toronto Police Force. Here are some of their views:
Man sues Toronto police for $5M over violent arrest, Nov. 19

I recently had the opportunity to watch a number of officers violently and repeatedly assault Santokh Bola, an unarmed man who was posing no risk to the public, or the officers in question.

Toronto Police Service spokesman Mark Pugash later admitted that the individual in question was wrongfully arrested, and that he was discharged from custody without charges. It later became apparent that the young man, who was begging for his parents throughout the assault, was intellectually disabled.

The officers made no attempt to question the individual, ascertain his identity, level of awareness of the situation or threat to the officers and community. The TPS’s recent behaviour in relation to the disabled, mentally ill and other vulnerable individuals is shocking and disgusting.

These officers are disgusting, and a culture that legitimizes police brutality while further marginalizing the minority community and mentally ill is disgusting. Police officers do not have a right to assault citizens. Their job is to protect these vulnerable people from attack, not be their aggressors.

As a physician and care-giver for vulnerable people, especially intellectually disabled individuals, I find the conduct of the officers in question to be shameful. Police officers are not above the law. Please stop behaving as if you are.

Dr. Colin Blair Meyer-Macaulay, Pediatrics, B.C. Children’s Hospital, University of British Columbia

Mark Pugash says that “the context of the arrest is important.” Indeed it is. I was assuming that Mr. Pugash was referring to the fact that Santokh Bola, the man who was assaulted by the police, is (surprise surprise) a person of colour.

But no, as usual Mr. Pugash was busy making excuses for police violence, this time with the oh-so-familiar “his description matched that of a suspect.” From this, we are left to infer that police violence is A-OK if the victim is a suspect.

You know, Mr. Pugash, we have a name for a state where the police are empowered to make summary judgment and mete out punishment on the fly: a police state. I’m pretty sure that Canada isn’t one.

Scott Welch, Richmond Hill

To serve and protect? Why do we need so many mouthpieces cleaning up afterwards?

Recently a Brantford boy, come big-city-lawyer, filed a $5 million brutality suit against Toronto police. For innocent Santokh Bola, citizen video played like a Brown-shirt massacre. Wordsmiths usually clear officers criminally so why waste our taxes on SIU investigations? Money settles civil suits silently.

But silence deafens Brantford. Anyone recall the name of the cop who patrolled our kids and killed multiple times since 2006? Finally reopened last January, SIU investigations linger silently. How much must they feign blindness, those we trust to watch our watchers?

Richard Chmura, Brantford

What the heck is going on with our police? The video does not lie. Three cops beat the crap out of someone — pounded in the poor guy’s head, kicked him, then punched him some more. And, from what I can see, he was not even resisting arrest.

This is what one expects from “mall cops,” not from those who are specially trained, and paid very well, to enforce our laws. “To serve and protect” we’re told.

The police say that one has to consider the “context” of the situation before jumping to conclusions. Seriously? In what context is it OK for the police to beat someone up? I thought they were trained to subdue someone, not beat them up. This was not the G20 after all.

The fact that they arrested, and beat up the wrong guy, is to them, a minor detail. And they just got their budget increase, for what, higher insurance premiums?

Jeff Green, Toronto

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Chrystia Freeland Challenges Bill Maher's Islamophobia

While Bill Maher likes to present his views as reasonable and moderate, he clearly fails to recognize the inflammatory nature of his remarks. Chrystia Freeland tries to point out they are are counter-productive, serving only to demonize Muslims, alienating them even further from the West.



For an in-depth look at how turning against the Muslim world is to play into the hands of ISIS, take a look at Michael Ignatieff's essay on the issue of Syria and the refugees.

Media Manipulation: Astroturfers And Propagandists

I have frequently written on this blog about the importance of critical thinking; it is truly the only way that we can navigate through the thickets of information with which we are constantly bombarded today. I have also admitted that it is an ideal toward which I strive, frequently falling short of the mark due to the cultural, political and social contexts within which I and everyone else interpret things.

One of the strengths of the Internet is that it gives all of us access to almost limitless information from a multitude of sources, one of the key methods by which we can evaluate what we hear and read about. Nonetheless, placing too much faith in only a few "trusted" sources, such as Wikipedia, can short circuit our quest for solid and deep thinking. As you will see in the following Ted Talk, investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson makes some very surprising observations about how both the old and the new media can manipulate us in ways we may not realize.

Wondering about the term astroturfer used in my title? Watch the video to find out its rather insidious implications:

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Time To Reject Magical Thinking



Canadians, along with the West in general, have been fed a neoliberal diet of propaganda and policy for so long that far too many have succumbed to magical thinking, the belief that we can have it all with only minimal pain, the later in the form of low taxation rates. A steady barrage of government waste stories, coupled with the extolment of the individualist giants who walk among us, all, as the mythology goes, self-made men and women, has created the unfortunate but quite intentional effect of equating taxation with government theft of its citizenry.

All of which, of course, is arrant nonsense.

As my friend Dom says about capitalist titans who 'made it on their own,' "Oh, and did they build their owns roads? Were they educated by universities they built? Did they personally educate their skilled employees?

And as one of our finest Canadian thinkers, Alex Himelfarb, has repeatedly asserted, the concept of taxation is not a profanity but an absolutely integral part of a fair, just and balanced democracy. If you haven't read or heard him, be sure to check out my blog links to some of his work.

There is no substitute for critical thinking about such matters, but the cost of riding the low-tax bandwagon can be very high, as this Star letter writer reminds us:
What do Montreal sewage, the Gardiner expressway, the Lac-Mégantic derailment and Walkerton water have in common?

They are the legacy of cynical politicians elected by gullible voters. For decades, the likes of Mike Harris, Rob Ford and Stephen Harper have peddled the Thatcher-Reagan lie that government budgets can be pared without limit until we all live tax-free in Eden North and the wealth trickles down for the good of all.

The troublesome truth is, no matter what book-keeping tricks we use, public debts inevitably come due in the form of failed infrastructure, lowered quality of life, disease and death.

Perhaps the most heartening implication of the Harper Party’s ouster is that most voters now accept that there is a price for being Canadian – one that is well worth paying for the privilege of living in what is still one of the best countries on earth.

Paul Collier, Toronto

Friday, November 20, 2015

Rex Murphy On Canada's Refugee Plans

While I am hardly dismissive of those who are expressing concerns about the speed with which the Liberal government is planning to bring in Syrian refugees, those concerns, I believe, are being exploited by some for less than noble purposes. Take, for example, Rec Murphy's point of view, expressed on last night's National news broadcast, my critique of which follows the video:


At first blush, as is often the case with Murphy's pontifications, his position sounds quite reasonable. However, if you listen to it carefully, moving past his gratuitous endorsements of Brad Wall and the former Harper regime, the subtext of his message is that there is much to fear from the Syrian influx that might be bearing within its midst ISIS agents coolly biding their time while they plot our destruction.

Such a jaundiced view is at variance with the facts of Canada's refugee plans. Murphy chooses to conflate the Paris attacks and Syrian refugee situation in Europe, which has seen massive numbers enter with little or no documentation, with Canada's plan:
They will most likely come from Jordan, Turkey or Lebanon, where almost all have been registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Jihadis interested in violence are not going to sit in a refugee camp for months — sometimes years — waiting for an interview with a visa officer, say experts.

“The idea that ISIS would use the refugee system to infiltrate Canada is vastly overblown. There is no history of this,” said Wesley Wark, a security expert and professor at the University of Ottawa. “You could never be certain your jihadi would even arrive.”
Some of the refugees in the camps have been there since 2011, when the civil war in Syria began.
Normally, government-sponsored refugees go through three levels of intense screening for criminality, war crimes and medical needs. UNHCR officials conduct detailed interviews and identity checks in the country of first asylum. Even if Syrians don’t have passports, most carry national identity cards with bar codes.

“We question them about past or current military activities or affiliations, including their future plans. We have a number of biometric security and anti-fraud measures including iris scanning,” said a UNHCR spokesperson. The registration data is entered into an interconnected global system.

The UNHCR then triages the refugees, and selects a very small number (about 1 per cent) who would make good candidates for resettlement by countries such as Canada. Women with children, unaccompanied minors, the elderly, sick and vulnerable are given priority.
More details about the process can be accessed here.

The wisdom of bringing in 25,000 refugees on a very compressed schedule is certainly a fit topic for debate. Rex Murphy's pandering to fears and prejudices is not.

UPDATE: A Police Or An Occupation Force?

Last night, the CBC reported on the case of Rodrigo Gonzalez, the subject of yesterday's post and the latest to die at the hands of Toronto Police. while the report perhaps sheds no further light on what occurred, it at least graphically brings to the public's attention something everyone should be very, very disturbed by:

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Police Or An Occupation Force?

While I realize there is an element of hyperbole in the title of this post, I cannot help but think that for many vulnerable people, the Toronto Police might be viewed more as oppressors than as protectors. Yesterday I posted about the beating at their hands of Santokh Bola, a 21-year-old intellectually challenged man falsely arrested on Nov. 1. Police say he matched the description of a man armed with a knife, but perhaps significantly, they have not released that description, nor have they named the officers involved in the brutality.

Today's Star has yet another report of a man's unfortunate encounter with police that led, not just to injuries, but to his death. Since police apologist Mark Pugash insists that context is always important, here it is:
More than ten police officers, including a tactical squad carrying shields and a battering ram, responded to a 911 call to a family apartment in the city’s west end.

In the Nov. 6 incident that is only now coming to light, there was an altercation, two Tasers were used, and shortly after, the resident, Rodrigo Hector Almonacid Gonzalez was rolled out on a stretcher. His head was rapidly moving from side to side, according to time-stamped surveillance footage from the building provided to the Toronto Star by his family.

Gonzalez, 43, died in hospital the following day, and his family wants to know what happened in the apartment and why it took the province’s police oversight agency, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), five days to show up at the apartment. Nobody told the family to preserve the scene in the bathroom. Vital evidence may have been lost during this time, the family’s lawyer says.
Gonzalez, for whatever reason, had locked himself in the bathroom, and his concerned wife, Sosana Chavarian, called 911. No weapons, no drugs, nothing except a man in distress who locked himself in the bathroom.
Photographs taken by Gonzalez’s wife at the hospital show a head injury wrapped in bloody gauze, as well as a black eye, bruising on a limb and shoulder, and what the family suspects is a Taser mark near his groin.
Why it took more than 10 officers, some from the tactical unit and armed with shields, a battering ram and three tasers, has not been addressed, but the results were deadly. Gonzalez died in hospital, presumably from injuries suffered in the police overreaction.



Gonzalez's wife blames herself for his death because she was the one who placed the 911 call. However, based on the story, blame would seem to lie elsewhere.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

“There’s always a context in which these things take place.”

So says Toronto police spokesman and perennial apologist Mark Pugash about the beating administered by the police to Santokh Bola, a victim of what the authorities admit was a 'mistaken arrest.'

Sure looks to me like just another case of police brutality, something the Toronto constabulary is becoming notorious for:

Bola’s lawyer, Michael Smitiuch, told a news conference Wednesday that the video shows police delivering 11 punches to Bola in quick succession, and a total of 20 blows to his head.

“Officer, please, officer,” Santokh can be heard saying in the video. “Let me go, please let me.”

The incident took place by Bola’s car in the rear parking lot of his family’s store on Islington Ave., according to the lawsuit.

In the video, Bola can be heard begging to speak to his grandfather and twice says, “Let me talk to my parents.”

He also pleads, “Sir, I beg you.”

When the beating was over, Bola was held briefly in a police cruiser and then set free, Smitiuch said. No charges were laid.

He was taken to Etobicoke General Hospital by his grandfather, where he was treated for head and facial injuries.

On Prudent Spending



Now that the former fiscal masters of the universe, a.k.a. the Harper government, has left us with a structural deficit that will mean $3 billion to $5 billion in each of the next five years, the usual ideologues are suggesting that Justin Trudeau needs to reign in his deficit-spending plan. Financial probity is nothing to be lightly dismissed, but The Star's Carol Goar has some suggestions on how that deficit can be made more manageable:
... clean up the tax credits, deductions, exemptions and deferrals (known collectively as “tax expenditures”) that cost Ottawa billions of dollars. The Conservatives brought in at least 70 of them. But past Liberal governments created them, too.

These hidden expenditures cost approximately $150 billion a year in foregone revenue.

A second alternative is to stop spending money on Conservative priorities. The Liberals were never in favour of jailing young offenders for drug possession and other non-violent crimes; detaining unsuccessful refugee claimants; building mega prisons; auditing charities whose leaders spoke out against government policies; buying top-of-the-line stealth fighter jets; or airing prime-time government ads.

A third choice is to terminate, or substantially scale back, corporate subsidies. Right now, there is a request for $1 billion from Bombardier sitting on the prime minister’s desk. Chrysler came calling last year. Over the last half century, Industry Canada has disbursed $22 billion to businesses ranging from oilsands developers to ice cream parlours, high tech manufacturers to pizzerias. The assumption is that these handouts boost growth and create jobs, but no government has provided credible evidence to back up this proposition.

The cupboards need not be bare as long as ideology no longer trumps strategic expenditures that will benefit the many instead of the favoured few so slavishly courted by the former regime.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

They Shame Us All

Canadians like to regard themselves as fair-minded people. It is for precisely that reason that we need to denounce strongly those who attempt to subvert those values by hateful speech and acts:
An unprovoked attack on a Muslim woman near an elementary school in Toronto appeared to be “motivated by hate,” police said Tuesday as they investigated the incident that was swiftly denounced by local politicians.

The attack came two days after a mosque in Peterborough, Ont., was set ablaze in the aftermath of last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris that left 129 people dead.

Peterborough police are investigating the fire as a hate crime and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau assured Muslim Canadians the federal government would work hard to find those responsible.

The Toronto assault took place around 3 p.m. on Monday near the mid-town Grenoble Public School while a woman was on her way to pick up her son.

Police said the woman, who was wearing a hijab, was approached by two men and attacked.

“It was a completely unprovoked attack,” said Const. Victor Kwong. “She was punched all over and kicked.”

The two men hurled slurs that were “bigoted in nature” at the woman and tried to rip off her hijab, Kwong said.

The woman fell to the ground and was robbed of her cellphone and some money before the two men fled the area, he said.


We can only hope the perpetrators are caught and punished appropriately.

Meanwhile, in the case of the mosque arson, people have taken matters into their own hands:
A crowdfunding campaign to raise money for repairs to mosque in Peterborough, Ont., that was damaged in a fire set deliberately on Saturday has hit its goal of $80,000.

The mosque was damaged in a fire late Saturday night. An entry on the fundraising website FundRazr set a goal of $80,000, the estimated cost to repair the Kawartha Muslim Religious Association's mosque. That total was reached just after noon today.

Association president Kenzu Abdella said members of the congregation had been inside 784 Parkhill Rd. to celebrate the birth of a new baby just an hour before the fire broke out. He said the fire was "clearly a hate crime."


Such cowardly hatred will never prevail as long as people of goodwill loudly and passionately make their voices heard.

On Keeping Perspective



With the cacophony of voices calling for Canada to continue to "Bomb, Baby, Bomb." and Canadian miscreants retaliating against Muslims by setting fires to mosques, it is crucial for voices of reason to be heard above the din of destructive rhetoric and behaviour that is emerging in the wake of the Paris massacre. Now is not the time for the default absolutist thinking so favoured by the fearful and the vengeful, who somehow believe that you cannot deplore and combat terrorism without uncritically endorsing military action that seems not to quell the threat of ISIS, but only embolden and strengthen it.

One such voice of reason is Trevor Amon of Victoria, B.C. In today's Toronto Star, he writes the following:
Paris has suffered a terrible tragedy. More than 100 people were killed, and many more were injured. How various countries should respond to this tragedy is the question to be answered going forward.

There are four of five permanent members in the UN Security Council involved militarily in Syria, and all four have long been nuclear weapon states. Any one of these five nations could make the choice of wiping Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Yemen off of the map within the next 24 hours, but none is willing to do so. None of these four nations is apparently willing to commit to making the much smaller choice of putting significant troops on the ground either.

And of course, China is doing absolutely nothing about this terrorist situation, and you do not seem to hear very much criticism from any source about China’s inaction and apathy.
Ah, but what should Canada do? Is Canada a nuclear power? No. Does Canada have one of the top 10, or even top 20 militaries in the world? No. Canada has spent over $500 million in the last 12 months on a bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria, but are we any safer from ISIS in Canada as a result? No.

Stephen Harper found the money for a bombing campaign, but he cut money from the RCMP in an attempt to balance his budget when millions of dollars more were and are needed for the Mounties to keep Canadians safe at home.

Furthermore, the sole terrorist at the Parliament buildings in Ottawa left us with a video that explained his motivation for his actions: He was angry that Canada was military involved in the Middle East. How does our continued military involvement in the Middle East keep other radicals at home less likely to attack targets on Canadian soil?

What is our national interest here? What are our obligations to our allies? What are we trying to achieve? When will we know that we have achieved our goals?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be under pressure from many corners to do this or that in the coming days based on what has just happened in Paris. We need to take a step back here.

The Paris attacks were not of the magnitude of the Nazis marching into Poland in 1939, or the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbour in 1941, or even Al Qaeda hijacking four planes with devastating consequences on 9/11. Lots of nasty things are going on in Syria and Iraq, but there are also lots of nasty things going on in Nigeria that don’t seem all that 24/7 newsworthy, and therefore it seems that we just don’t care all that much about what is going on there.

Maybe Canada should do something in the light of the recent Paris attacks. Maybe Canada should not. Whatever Canada does or does not do there should be a reason, and the reason should be arrived at through reasoned discussion and not simply by way of emotion, ideology or perceived obligation.