Friday, November 17, 2017

A Political Shakespeare?



Looking back at the pleasure I always took in teaching Shakespeare's tragedies, I realize my attraction to The Bard had a great deal to do with his eerily penetrating insights into human nature, arrived at long before the advent of modern psychology. Similarly, for a non-fiction titan, I have long looked to George Orwell for his ability to pierce the patina of civility that hides what are often monstrous political realities.

On Literary Hub, Kristian Williams has published an essay discussing Orwell's Notes on Nationalism, which he wrote in 1945. Considering the fraught nature of political discourse and alliances we see today at both ends of the political spectrum, Orwell's insights, like those of Shakespeare, seem timeless.

First, Orwell defined his term:
By “nationalism” I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled “good” or “bad.” But secondly—and this is much more important—I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests.
That definition alone paves the way for his theme.
Elsewhere he describes nationalism more simply as “the lunatic modern habit of identifying oneself with large power units and seeing everything in terms of competitive prestige.”
In nationalism, Orwell was considering ties that go beyond state affiliation:
... “the emotion I am speaking about does not always attach itself to what is called a nation. . . . It can attach itself to a church or a class, or it may work in a merely negative sense, against something or other and without the need for any positive object of loyalty.”
Clearly, one does not have to look far in the world today to see why those can be such poisonous allegiances.
Within this framework, Orwell lists three “principal characteristics of nationalist thought”:

1. “Obsession. As nearly as possible, no nationalist ever thinks, talks or writes about anything except the superiority of his own power unit.” His special mission is to prove that his chosen nation is in all respects better than its rivals. Therefore, even to the outer limits of plausibility, any question may be traced back to this central issue. No detail is indifferent, no fact is neutral.

2. “Instability.” The content of the nationalist’s belief, and even the object of his devotion, is liable to change as circumstances do. “What remains constant in the nationalist is his own state of mind”—the relentless, reductive, uncompromising fervor. The point is to keep oneself always in a frenzied state concerning vicarious contests of honor, whether indulging in spasms of rage over perceived insults or in sadistic ecstasies celebrating some new triumph. It is the single-minded intensity that matters, not the ostensible cause.

3. “Indifference to Reality.” Nationalists achieve by instinct the kind of doublethink that the denizens of Airstrip One cultivated by conscious effort: “Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception. Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is also—since he is conscious of serving something bigger than himself—unshakably certain of being in the right.” His fundamental belief, he feels sure, must be true; therefore, the facts will have to be made to fit it.
I won't insult you by pointing out the obvious truth of these observations, but one needs only check out social media, the blogosphere and online commentary to get some quick and easy examples.

There is much, much more to essay, but I will end with this powerful paragraph, which could have been written yesterday, taken from Orwell's diary:
We are all drowning in filth. When I talk to anyone or read the writings of anyone who has any axe to grind, I feel that intellectual honesty and balanced judgment have simply disappeared from the face of the earth. Everyone’s thought is forensic, everyone is simply putting [forward] a “case” with deliberate suppression of his opponent’s point of view, and, what is more, with complete insensitiveness to any sufferings except those of himself and his friends. . . One notices this in the case of people one disagrees with, such as Fascists or pacifists, but in fact everyone is the same, at least everyone who has definite opinions. Everyone is dishonest, and everyone is utterly heartless toward people who are outside the immediate range of his own interests and sympathies. What is most striking of all is the way sympathy can be turned on or off like a tap according to political expediency. . . . I am not thinking of lying for political ends, but of actual changes in subjective feeling. But is there no one who has both firm opinions and a balanced outlook? Actually there are plenty, but they are powerless. All power is in the hands of paranoiacs.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

UPDATED: A Pro Forma Response



While Justin Trudeau will undoubtedly be praised by some for his polite reaction to these activists, his perfunctory response tells all you need to know about the disparity between his usual soaring rhetoric and his increasingly disappointing environmental performance.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thanked a pair of environmental protesters for their "activism" after they interrupted a press conference in Vancouver to question his commitment to fighting climate change.

Hayley Zacks, 20, and Jake Hubley, 24, rose from their seats to ask the prime minister for a "moment of his time" so that he might explain why he approved the contentious Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

The prime minister let the protesters say their piece but did not defend his position on resource projects.
Zacks noted the project will run through unceded First Nations territories and said young Canadians are scared the planet will become "unlivable" because of climate change.

"The Kinder Morgan pipeline is going to increase emissions from the tarsands, it is going to poison our water, our lands, and everything that we hold dear," she said before being escorted away by security members.

"Thank you for your questions, for your activism. Keep up the activism please," Trudeau said. "It's great to see young people stepping forward and sharing their concerns and views. We certainly take those very seriously."




UPDATE: This is the kind of environmental disaster that seems inevitable, Mr. Trudeau's enthusiasm for pipelines notwithstanding:
TransCanada Corp. said its Keystone pipeline has leaked an estimated 795,000 litres of oil in Marshall County, S.D., just days before Nebraska is set to decide the fate of its Keystone XL pipeline.

The company said its crews shut down the Keystone pipeline system early this morning between Hardisty, Alta., and Cushing, Okla., and a line to Patoka, Ill., and that the line is expected to remain shut while it responds to the spill.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Theatre Of The Absurd

Any facile defence of Roy Moore's creepy predilections has to be regarded thus. His attorney, Trenton Garmon, even tried to draw Canadian Ali Velshi into the fray.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

UPDATED:Engagement Is Always Preferable



There is a strong argument to be made for engagement rather than confrontation. Until we are willing to show at least a modicum of tolerance for the views of others, however regnant, all we are really doing is shouting at one another. However, I suspect that it is impossible to follow such a strategy when dealing with the supremely stupid, the woefully ignorant, the rancidly racist and the perniciously partisan, to name but four qualifiers.

Assign what category you will to Brandon Mosely, a writer for the Alabama Political Reporter and staunch supporter of Senate aspirant Roy Moore, whose apparent predilection for exploiting young girls is the source of the most recent ructions in the good ole U.S. of A.


UPDATE:
The New York Daily News is reporting that consummate consumer Moore was banned from the Gadsden Mall in his hometown for his, er, shopping habits:
The former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice reportedly cruised the mall for dates, both AL.com and New Yorker reported Monday.

Blake Usry said Friday and Saturday nights was prime time for Moore to visit the shopping hub.

“Like the kids did,” Usry told the Alabama paper.

A police officer named J.D. Thomas told mall employees to be on the lookout for Moore because he was “banned from the mall,” Legat said.

“If you see Moore here, tell me. I’ll take care of him,” the cop reportedly told Legat.

Police officers who spoke with the New Yorker said Moore’s presence at the mall was a problem.

“The general knowledge at the time when I moved here was that this guy is a lawyer cruising the mall for high-school dates,” one of the officers said.

“I was told by a girl who worked at the mall that he’d been run off from there, from a number of stores,” another cop recalled.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Impossible To Ignore

I have noticed a shift lately on the part of the ultra-right. Instead of denying climate change, increasing numbers are 'admitting' that the climate may be changing, but they have no idea why.

The following may help to open the eyes of such willfully ignorant souls:

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sounds About Right



I don't suppose it should surprise anyone that an egregiously incompetent President Trump has nominated as a federal court judge for Alabama the egregiously unqualified Brett J. Talley. He
has never tried a case, was unanimously rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Assn.’s judicial rating committee, has practiced law for only three years and, as a blogger last year, displayed a degree of partisanship unusual for a judicial nominee, denouncing “Hillary Rotten Clinton” and pledging support for the National Rifle Assn.
The Senate judiciary committee has approved his nomination.

Sounds about right.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Seeing The Light

This is nothing like a reformed evangelical who has seen the light:
Appearing on MSNBC’s AM Joy, former evangelical – and son a a famous pastor — angrily tore into the Republican party for backing “rape, child molesting and neo-Nazis,” in a furious broadside.

Speaking with host Joy Reid, former Christian evangelical Frank Schaeffer was clearly enraged at the continued candidacy of Judge Roy Moore who has been accused of sexually assaulting four women when they were in their teens and he was in his thirties.


Canadians React To The Paradise Papers



If you aren't yet outraged over recent revelations, check your pulse to make sure you are still amongst the living.

Happily, signs of life are plentiful among Toronto Star readers:
Liberal Party fundraisers held family millions in offshore trust, Nov. 6

Coverage of the Paradise Papers’ celebrity tax evaders has tended to revolve around the potential illegality of their actions. For example: how “blind” the offshore trusts of Stephen Bronfman and Leo Kolber actually are. I imagine most Canadians could care less whether Bronfman’s $60-million, tax-free snowball is being managed from home or from offshore. The real issue is, why is it legal in the first place?

The answer, which these leaks are revealing, is that our federal leaders are so beholden to Canada’s richest men — their chief fundraisers — that substantive crackdowns on these schemes are being prorogued. [Emphasis added]

These tax evasions are a spit in the eye to the Liberals’ fabled “middle class,” let alone to the 12 million Canadians who collectively own less than our richest 100 families.

Jeremy Withers, PhD student, University of Toronto

Thank you again for enlightening us on the machinations of the 1 per cent to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. An outstanding editorial. Surely, I am not the only one thinking of voting for the NDP in the next federal election.

Norma Martinez, Toronto


One of the main reasons for U.S. President Donald Trump’s victory was the snail-pace change to the status quo. People are fed up with the failure of governments to act. Whether the Paradise Papers news is based on legal or illegal actions of wealthy people or organizations is irrelevant. We must find ways to finance the needs of the populace and it is evident that this must come from those who have. Unless the current government acts decisively to outlaw these types of actions, Canadians, too, will either not vote or seek alternative populist methods. Justin Trudeau, be warned. [Emphasis added]

Harry Coupland, Etobicoke

This four-page article about offshore tax havens proves the point of American billionaire hotelier Leona Helmsley, who famously said: “We don’t pay taxes; only the little people pay taxes.”

It seems that democracy is on sale. The rich families finance politicians to fight elections and, as a quid pro quo, politicians protect their wealth through favourable legislation.

The article shows how Leo Kolber, a wealthy man who had accounts in offshore money centres, was appointed senator and then became chairman of the Senate’s powerful banking committee. He held back proposed unfavourable legislation on offshore trusts for 14 years.

These multimillionaires are not paying their share of taxes, forcing government to cut back on social services, health care, education, affordable housing, etc. It is estimated that the Canadian government is losing $6 to $8 billion per year in tax revenue. [Emphasis added]

Is it too difficult to force countries like Panama and British protectorates like Grand Cayman, Isle of Man and the British Virgin Islands to stop hiding money for wealthy Canadians.

Anis Zuberi, Mississauga

It is in the public’s interest to take tax avoidance seriously because we now know this is not a one-shot deal carried out by the odd, cunning billionaire, but rather a widespread scheme common among the wealthy.

We can no longer consider tax dodging and offshore accounts to be trivial, when everyone from the Queen to U.S. President Donald Trump’s cabinet are benefitting from them.

It is especially important for lower- and median-income households to care about this epidemic because it is they who suffer from the increased taxation and lack of public funding caused by the millions lost in tax revenue from offshore holdings. [Emphasis added]

It is the vulnerable and the poor who get the short end after this game is played out and it is time they force this issue into the public sphere and demand it be made a talking point.

Benjamin Rawlings, Ottawa

Friday, November 10, 2017

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Point Is



In her latest iPolitics article, Kady O'Maley offers the view that the revelations of The Paradise Papers do not constitute a scandal for Justin Trudeau and his government. And while the Scheer-led Opposition is making every predictable effort to connect non-existent dots, few are suggesting that Trudeau had any personal knowledge of the alleged offences committed by chief fundraiser Stephen Bronfman, who has stoutly denied any wrongdoing.

However, to assert Trudeau's blamelessness in all of this is to look only at the immediate situation, one that Justin undoubtedly made worse with his unseemly and ready acceptance of Bronfman's innocence, about which I posted last evening. The larger implications of the ease with which the ultra rich transfer their money to jurisdictions beyond the reach of the tax man constitute the real threat to our democracy and our way of life.

Recently, I wrote this:
The revelations now in the public arena thanks to the collective efforts of hardworking journalists reinforce a perception that many, many people have held for a long time: the tax system is gamed, and talk of tax fairness is simply convenient posturing that ultimately means nothing. This perception/reality is very damaging to public morale; those who believe in paying their taxes are now being shown that they are, in fact, the patsies for their betters.

Nothing could be worse for those who believe in a society where all of us pay to maintain a social safety net, programs to help the disadvantaged, and a public medical system where no one is turned away because their wallet is too thin. Just more fodder for the rabid right wing, and governments have no one but themselves to blame.
It is a sentiment recently echoed by Thomas Walkom:
... tax havens have proved so embarrassing that they put the entire government revenue-raising machine at risk.

The cost to Canada’s federal treasury of offshore tax havens is estimated at between $6 billion and $8 billion a year. While that may seem a lot of money, when compared to the roughly $300 billion that Ottawa pulls in each year, it is relatively small.

Most tax revenue comes from the broad middle-classes — people who are willing to pay as long as they deem the system fair. Revelations, like those in the Paradise Papers, which detail at an individual level how the wealthy and well-connected get special treatment, break that trust. This threatens the entire fiscal basis of the state.
Put succinctly, no one wants to be played for a fool. And it is that fact that makes the cossetting of the utra rich by governments so dangerous.

In its editorial today, The Star offers this:
The latest revelations from the leak of the Paradise Papers raise troubling questions, not only about government’s failure to collect what’s owed, but also about the power of money to subvert our democracy.

They serve as a reminder that those who can afford to hide income from the taxman can also afford to hire the very best lobbyists to help ensure that, whatever the public interest, governments don’t close the loopholes that allow tax avoiders to get away with it.
There is, of course, a solution to all of this, one that I am not holding my breath waiting for:
The Paradise Papers are doing nothing to soothe those who worry about the unseemly intertwining of money and power in politics or about the extent to which the economy is rigged by the few against the many. The government can do something about that. It can, for instance, close unfair and ineffective tax loopholes and collect what’s owed. Or it can sit back, defend the current arrangements and watch the cynicism grow.
It would be nice to believe that The Paradise Papers will lance the massive carbuncle of complicity that exists between government and business, but like its predecessor, The Panama Papers, it will likely last only for a few more news cycles before being replaced by a feat of political legerdemain that suggests we just move along, as there is nothing to see here.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Not Good Enough

PM Justin Trudeau says he's satisfied with Liberal fundraiser Stephen Bronfman's explanation of his ties to offshore accounts, but Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer calls those remarks inappropriate.

The Prime Minister is either tone deaf, intellectually challenged, or truly and inextricably linked to the values represented by the world of the Bronfmans that he can so facilely accept the reassurance of scion Stephen that everything is above board.

Surely the Conservative Opposition, which I loathe, has a valid point here:


Nothing to see here, indeed.

A Change Of Pace

With all of the tawdry tales of corruption, tax avoidance and tax evasion going on right now thanks to the Paradise Papers, I feel like lightening the mood a bit. I hope you enjoy these, especially if you have ever been fortunate enough to share companionship with a dog:



Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Behind The Curtain



Ah, Star letter writers rarely disappoint. Truth, rather than political spin, always improves my mood.
Liberal Party fundraisers held family millions in offshore trust, Nov. 6

From Panama to Paradise, we have a tiny glimpse into the realities dictating our lives: aristocrats and power brokers taking aim at record profits while burying the booty in faraway jurisdictions. I remember voting for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, drinking his Kool-Aid about helping us commoners. Meantime, Trudeau’s friends in high places helped the multi-generational political star with the winning script.

The truth matters not in politics, at least when it comes to speeches. We’re fed lines about a political spectrum, then we are asked to pick a team. The problem is that the rhetoric is irrelevant, it exists only to grease a discourse designed to secure votes. Once power is secured, anything is possible for the people that backed the winners. I’m now of the opinion our prime minister was born into a scheme, his life part of a plan to milk the system.

Mike Johnston, Peterborough, Ont.

The revelations of the Paradise Papers strike deep into the machinations of those corporations and individuals seeking to avoid taxation in Canada. It is estimated that billions per year are lost to the Canadian economy through these tax dodges. The Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) has to close the loopholes that allow this drain of wealth to happen.

There are so many areas of the Canadian social and economic infrastructure that would benefit from the end of these tax dodges. Now is the time for federal and provincial governments to close the loopholes and bring back Canadian money to Canada.

Don Kossick, Saskatoon, Sask.

First, we had the Panama Papers. Now the Paradise Papers. What we need is the Purgatory Papers: a public list of tax monies recovered and fines levied from persons nefariously using offshore trusts for tax evasion. Otherwise Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise of tax fairness is simply hollow electioneering.

Peter Pinch, Toronto

Monday, November 6, 2017

Paradise Lost

“We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.”
-Leona Helmsley

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
- Mark 10:25



This morning's Star gives comprehensive and very comprehensible coverage of the latest peak behind the tax curtain controlled by the ultra wealthy, and it is not a pretty picture, unless you think that greed and tax evasion make for a pleasing tableau.

Distilled to its essence, if I understand the situation correctly, the Bronfman family, through trusted consigliere Leon Kolber, established an offshore trust in the Cayman Islands in Kolber's name. All monies sent were deemed to be 'loans' by the Bronfmans, thereby allowing them to invest in Israeli interests tax free. Kolber's son Charles, now a citizen of Israel, handled things from that end and was rewarded lavishly for those efforts through trust disbursements.

Some will insist, as do the Bronfman lawyers, that there was nothing illegal about this but merely an astute use of extant tax loopholes. However, that explanation doesn't wash because the decisions about the trust (i.e., investment decisions) were made in Canada, not the Caymans, and thus should have been taxed as a Canadian trust.

Why should any of this matter to us? Well, the obvious reason is that our federal coffers were denied much-needed tax revenue, but unfortunately the implications of this scheme, no doubt practised by many of Canada's elite, go well beyond lost tax revenue. What the Paradise Papers essentially show is that the days of the Family Compact are far from over, and that the real levers of power are still being exercised behind closed doors.

To get a sense of that power, one has to go back to the nineties, when Edgar Bronfman was allowed to take $2 billion out of Canada tax free:
...a controversial tax ruling by Revenue Canada in 1991 ... allowed the Bronfmans to move more than $2 billion worth of Seagram Co. stock, held in two family trusts, to the United States without paying capital gains tax. The decision allowed the family to avoid as much as $700 million in taxes.
If you go to the 39-minute mark on last night's National, the disturbing mechanics behind this scandalous ruling are revealed, as Revenue Canada's efforts to block the deal gave way to pressure from the Bronfmans, who threatened to "go over their heads." The stench of political interference and corruption by the Mulroney government of the day is hard to ignore:



The revelations now in the public arena thanks to the collective efforts of hardworking journalists reinforce a perception that many, many people have held for a long time: the tax system is gamed, and talk of tax fairness is simply convenient posturing that ultimately means nothing. This perception/reality is very damaging to public morale; those who believe in paying their taxes are now being shown that they are, in fact, the patsies for their betters.

Nothing could be worse for those who believe in a society where all of us pay to maintain a social safety net, programs to help the disadvantaged, and a public medical system where no one is turned away because their wallet is too thin. Just more fodder for the rabid right wing, and governments have no one but themselves to blame.

I began this post with two quotes. The one by Leona Helmsley encapsulates something far too common amongst the monied: an abject contempt for the larger society within which they prosper, and a complete absence of any sense of obligation toward that society. They really believe that they are our betters.

The second quote, from The Bible, is reflective of the distance that great wealth can create from "the kingdom of God," that kingdom, in my interpretation, being a state of spiritual attunement with our fellow human beings. If we are not aligned with other people and have a sense of shared humanity, we cannot hope to have access to transcendent reality, whatever it ultimately is.

The ultra rich may have great wealth, but in other ways they are deeply and fatally impoverished.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Spectacular!

This is what real journalism looks like:




The Paradise Papers



The prospect of real tax reform in Canada just got a lot dimmer. Today's release of the Paradise Papers suggests why.

CBC News is reporting this about Justin Trudeau's chief fundraiser, Stephen Bronfman:
In the early summer of 2015, Justin Trudeau was the star attraction at a private fundraiser in Montreal hosted by philanthropist and financier Stephen Bronfman.

Bronfman, an heir to the Seagram family fortune and a close Trudeau family friend, was revenue chair of the Liberal Party. That day, according to news reports, the two men raised $250,000 in under two hours.

Within weeks, the Liberals would launch their federal election campaign, sweeping to power on a "Real Change" platform that focused on the middle class and a promise to tax the rich.

"Our government has long known — indeed, we got elected — on a promise to make sure that people were paying their fair share of taxes," Trudeau said shortly after his election victory. "Tax avoidance, tax evasion is something we take very seriously."

But an investigation by the CBC, Radio-Canada and the Toronto Star has found that Bronfman and his Montreal-based investment company, Claridge Inc., were key players linked to a $60-million US offshore trust in the Cayman Islands that may have cost Canadians millions in unpaid taxes.

It's a 24-year paper trail of confidential memos and private records involving two prominent families with Liberal Party ties that experts say appear to show exploitation of legal tax loopholes, disguised payments and possible "sham" transactions.
You can read much more at the above links.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

A Governor General To Be Proud Of

While the traditional role of the Governor General is to play the mute on any issues that may upset some, smile engagingly at state functions and mouth sanctimonious platitudes upon demand, Julie Payette has a different take on her function. I applaud her for it.

It is difficult to understand how, in the 21st century, we are supposed to acknowledge the importance of science, yet refrain from any scientific references that may offend those who are doctrinally obstinate, adhere to junk science, or demand that religious tenets be taken literally. Truths may be unpalatable to some, but they are still truths.

For that reason I am having a hard time understanding the outrage that Julie Payette's comments in the above video have provoked.

In a CBC essay, opinion columnist Robyn Urback, while agreeing with the truths Payette uttered, finds them wholly inappropriate:
This is a column, rather, on whether the Queen's representative in Canada — someone who is supposed to be uncontroversial and apolitical in her role as steward of the functioning of the government of Canada — should be deriding people for their beliefs on issues like climate change, religion and alternative medicine.
Urback's justification for polite silence goes beyond the impartial role the Governor General has historically played:
The role of the Governor General is apolitical by design; as a representative of the Crown, she is expected to use her executive powers in the interest of Canada, and not a single party, or group or administration. The integrity of the role falls apart if the governor general is perceived to be of one camp or another.

For that reason, some will argue that the Governor General should never weigh in on topics that are even remotely political. They argue that while some people have decided that, for example, the science is settled on climate change, the very fact that debate still exists on the topic should preclude the Governor General from inserting herself in the conversation, lest she appear to be of a certain allegiance.
The fact that Payette's comments can in any way be construed as political says perhaps more than we would like to admit about the state of discourse today. Have we now descended to being influenced by the lowest denominator, the schoolboy bully or the one who threatens to inform on us to the teacher? Those afflicted with benighted thinking may be offended; but that possibility must surely not be the determinant of what is considered fit for public consumption.

A race to the bottom is an easy one to win. Coming in last takes real effort, courage and integrity.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Sickness Unto Death



Cognitive dissonance might be one way to describe how we conduct our lives in the face of climate change and environmental degradation. Willful ignorance might be another. Or, perhaps most damning of all, willful self-indulgence, in which we exult our passion for convenience and comfort over their cost to the larger society, and the world, around us.

Any way you define it, the picture is grim.

It is clear why our governments make only token gestures to mitigate the damage we are doing to the world. Real action would require sacrifice, a virtue that seems to have largely disappeared from our modern age. Any politician who tries to do what must be done would pay a very heavy price indeed. And despite new reports about the dire health impacts already underway due to climate change, dealt with in today's Star and in a post by The Mound the other day, I think we all know that there will be no restorative measures pursued by our 'leaders.'

That inaction provides for all of us a convenient shield from an inconvenient and very unpalatable truth: our collective refusal to act as individuals (I hope that's not an oxymoron) to slow the pace of our rapidly deteriorating world. I know that sounds like a massive over generalization, and that in fact many individuals and groups are dedicated to doing what they can in the face of the existential crisis we have created. But their efforts, as noble as they are, seem to fork little lightning among the general populace, who seem hellbent on continuing their wasteful and destructive ways.

If you want an illustration of this, you need look no further than the massive popularity that coffee pods, and to a lesser extent, tea pods, enjoy. An extremely wasteful and expensive technology unless you live on your own and drink one cup a day, the majority of these pods are not even compostable, something Ontario PC MPP Norm Miller is trying to do something about via a private member's bill:
He’s pushing for all parties at Queens’ Park to support a law requiring every single-use coffee pods sold in Ontario to be compostable within four years so they can be tossed into the green bin as soon as the cup of Joe is brewed.

The goal is to keep more of the 1.5 billion pods used annually in Canada out of garbage dumps.

“Ontario has a waste problem,” said Miller (Parry Sound-Muskoka) Wednesday before presenting his private members’ bill. He cited a recent warning from the province’s environmental commissioner.

While some companies, including Loblaw, McDonald’s and Muskoka Roastery Coffee Co., sell java in compostable Keurig-style pods, the majority of pods sold in Ontario are made elsewhere and are not recyclable or compostable, Miller said.
However, there is that pesky problem of the consumer's addiction to convenience, which limits even recycling of the pods:
Recyclable pods are “finicky” to deal with because the cap must be torn off and the coffee grounds rinsed out and the plastic cup thrown in the blue bin, Miller said.
Precisely the reason I suspect that Miller's initiative is doomed to failure. Imagine the 'extra' effort putting compostable pods into a green bin would entail for the harried and selfish consumer.

What is my point here? Clearly, non-compostable coffee pods are not the worst environmental problem we face today. Their massive popularity, however, is a symptom of the larger problem fueling our increasingly debased planet. As Walt Kelly in his famous comic strip Pogo wrote:

“WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND HE IS US.”

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Dear Justin

Stand.earth, formerly Forest Ethics, has this message for Justin Trudeau. You can help spread the message by clicking here.

Guest Post: A Response To Flying Blind



Yesterday's post
dealt with the announcement that a degree of self-regulation is to be conferred on the airline industry by the Trudeau government. Given the fraught history of self-regulation in this country, it is alarming news. BM, a frequent commentator, offered an analysis of the situation as well as an interesting perspective on what is driving that change. I am taking the liberty of featuring his insights as a guest post:

Well, it would certainly argue against flying Air Canada to San Fran, where the existing pilots seem to be having a tough job as it is. That second incident where the pilot ignored 6 request/orders to go around and couldn't see the flashing red light either was a doozy. The short interview I heard with the pilot, equipped with a plummy British accent, was revealing. Radio trouble. Oh yes? With at least three radios available, according to other pilots in various pilots' online forums. Not mentioned - blindness to flashing red lights from the control tower.

In a proper quality assurance system, amply documented and thus verifiable to process under an outside audit, where procedures are detailed to a very fine degree, letting the industry "run" itself is just fine. Electricity and Gas meters are inspected under this regime in Canada - I was involved in setting such a system up. In the 1990s, not now. It does require that company executives be part of the system as well, and part of the audit. Everyone has procedures they must know inside out, no excuses. There are avenues for considering improvements, and documentation of everyone's training and ability to follow the system. In other words, some shop foreman in a lousy mood cannot come in one morning and change what everyone does, just because HE/SHE feels like it, or there is a recorded miscompliance report which anyone can make without fear of retribution. Keeps 'em all sane.

When it comes to meatcutting or piloting, you are dealing with situations that are not boringly standard, like instrument testing. Turnover of personnel is highly likely in the meat business, and low wages with perhaps poor English skills only exacerbate problems with written procedures. Oversight is necessary. And pilots, well they all believe they know what's best and which SOPs they can disregard. You just have to go to the TSB's website and read accident analyses to see that.

The driving force for self-regulation in industry is no doubt driven by the same Public Service pointy-heads who cannot see the difference between an ordered industrial process and situations where the humans require continual oversight. The politicians are merely attracted by the promise of saving money given them by their public service advisers, so I cannot blame either Liberals or Conservatives myself. Politicians sometimes have trouble tieing their own shoelaces, let alone understanding anything complicated. And the average person hasn't a clue about the difference between quality inspection and quality assurance, the latter being the self-regulation system, the first where outsiders check every bit. You don't need to inspect every single widget if the process is under control. That's the way cars are made these days, with the possible exception of FCA.

Lack of commonsense is the problem. One process is not the same as another and may not be amenable to auditable self-regulation.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Flying Blind



Many will recall that during the Harper era, our country moved toward greater self-regulation in various industries, often with disastrous results. From tainted meat to railway disasters, the lesson is clear: leaving safety up to the corporate sector, whose prime directive is to maximize profit for their shareholders, is a dangerous gamble with the health and lives of Canadians.

Now the neoliberal Trudeau government is taking a page out of the Harper agenda, a move that will put those who fly at greater risk.
Transport Canada is planning to stop evaluating pilots who perform checks on their counterparts at the country’s largest airlines and will instead give the responsibility to the operators, a change critics say erodes oversight and public safety.
The current practice of having Transport Canada evaluate those pilots who evaluate other pilots in the airline industry will stop as of April 1 for airlines with planes that fly more than 50 passengers. This, as reported today, is a drastic departure from accepted practices in other countries, which stipulates that pilots be evaluated twice a year.
Greg McConnell, chairman of the pilots association, said the changes are pushing Canada’s aviation safety system onto the industry itself.

“I think it’s very, very important that people understand we are getting closer to self-regulation all the time.” he said in an interview. “It’s just more cutting, more dismantling of the safety net.”
The safety compromise inherent in this decision is not going unnoticed:
New Democrat MP Robert Aubin, the committee’s other vice-chair, said the decision was “curious” because Transport Canada said it was doing more oversight, not less.

“I have concerns if the pilots who evaluate their pilots are not evaluated by Transport Canada. We have to have the same standards,” he said in an interview. “We have to increase the resources at Transport Canada to make sure we can do that job.”
For the Star article carrying this story, no Liberals were available for comment, hardly a surprise given the shameful nature of their decision here.

The fear of progressive taxation that the current government has shown seems to working its way through the system. It cannot be a comforting thought for those planning their next trip by air.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Not A Dirty Word



In his column the other day, Rick Salutin wrote a stout defence of taxes, making it very clear that for him and many others, the word and the concept are hardly obscenities.

Public programs need to be adequately funded and expanded, the opposite of the American mentality:
Take tax reform. To U.S. Republicans, it means one thing: cuts. It’s their ultimate “reason for existing” (Financial Times). They staggered into the light this week to say (again) that Americans should keep their hard-earned money to pay their medical and university bills. Ha ha ha. There’s no way tax cuts will cover most such costs, though you might be able to repave your carport. What would help? More taxes. That could fund national “free” health care or tuition. But it would mean bigger government, levying higher taxes.
Here in Canada, the need for an expansion, not a contraction, of government intervention in people's lives is becoming increasingly obvious. Salutin cites the sad situation of dismissed Sears workers who are facing loss of severance and reduced pensions as a result of the chain's bankruptcy. This dire situation is mirrored in larger society by the growth of precarious work and the fact that company pensions are fast becoming relics of an earlier era. Echoing a sentiment recently expressed by his colleague, Thomas Walkom, he offers this:
The obvious solution is the health-care model: public programs like CPP not to supplement private pensions but to replace and amplify them — i.e., bigger government.

The mystery is why anyone ever thought private companies were the way to cover huge costs like health or pensions. It’s costly and patchwork; public programs make far more sense. They’re stabler, better funded and include some democratic oversight.
The rub in all of this is that such transformation requires something far too many have become allergic to: increased taxation.
Public programs, however, mean you need revenues to fund them. And presto, you’re back to taxes...to run national programs, taxes must be accumulated, not just endlessly cut.

It’s a simple picture and it’s amazing how Finance Minister Bill Morneau managed not to paint it with his summer tax “reform” rollout: get more tax revenues from the rich, who can afford it, to fund big programs; and give cuts to those who’ll spend to stimulate the economy, generating more revenues.
Salutin ends his piece by a personal testament to the need for properly-funded programs:
In recent weeks I’ve had (public sector) fire trucks at the house twice — for a fallen branch on power lines, then two false CO alarms in two days. They came swiftly, cheerily and competently, unlike my private gas provider, who effectively said, from wherever on the globe, that they didn’t give a flying leap.
I will close with a letter from today's Star that echoes Salutin's sentiments:
The big government era isn’t over. It may just be getting started, Salutin, Oct. 27

For the love of our aging and long-lived demographic, Rick Salutin has nailed it. We need to reframe the tax conversation. I don’t know where we’ve lost our way about this as a country or even as a society, but I remain confused when people say such things as, “but taxes will increase,” like a venomous accusation, rather than recognizing what it means to enjoy things such as clean drinking water and not having to build in a $50,000 rainy-day fund just in case we slip and break our hip (in the middle of the forest, no less, with no one to sue).

It scares me to think that if Canada had tried to socialize health care in this day and age, society is at a point where we would have said no and cried out for “lower taxes, not my money” instead.

If all we ever hear about is scandals and corruption, it’s little wonder why no one trusts government to handle the public purse anymore. I say keep at it, let’s talk about the privileges our society gets to enjoy for the value of its tax money and how much we’re going to need it in the decades to come.

Jennifer Ng, Richmond Hill

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Time To Put Away Childish Things



For a nation that calls itself the greatest country on earth, the United States has a lot of growing up to do. That is the trenchant opinion offered by Heather Mallick in today's Star, one that is likely to earn her more than her usual quotient of hate mail from the usual suspects.

Mallick's evidence is both telling and vastly amusing:
The U.S. is — how can I put this tactfully? — childish, with all the charm and menace that entails. American adults dress like kids in baseball caps, sneakers and comfy pants, but add a semi-automatic rifle to the outfit and it’s... troubling.
As well, their eating habits and table practices cry out for correction:
Their cuisine is childish too, with huge servings of fried food loaded with high-fructose corn syrup and trans fat. Even their implements are primitive. “Consider the plastic drinking straw. Why do we suck so much?” the Washington Post asked this week of citizens unable to drink from the rim of a glass.

The reason must lie in the “shared psyche” of Americans, but what could it be, the Post wondered. “Laziness? Clumsiness? Germaphobia?” Infantilism went unmentioned. The drinking straw is the adult equivalent of a sippy cup.
Even their fantasies are jejeune and conceal some unpleasant truths:
And why the Disney fetish? “Americans long for a closed society in which everything can be bought, where labourers are either hidden away or dressed up as non-humans so as not to be disconcerting. This place is called Disney World,” was the journalist Adam Gopnik’s explanation. But he is an adult.
According to Mallick, American travel also shares in this puerile quality:
The cruise industry offers daycare for grown-ups, crass all-you-can-eat vacations with all the adventure of a car seat. Have you ever been on an island and seen American tourists flood at you off a ship? It’s not the mercilessness of the crowd that scares you, it’s the smiling.
Consider as well the culturally imperialistic but infantile institution known as the American film industry:
U.S. movies are aimed at childish audiences. They are quite literally cartoons — such movie franchises are worth gold — or computer-animation with renderings of extraordinary violence that never seem real, part of the reason the Sandy Hook child slaughter had no effect on U.S. gun laws. American culture is literal, with a poor grasp of irony and complication. It would be taboo to show photos of the dead victims but not taboo to have let them be shot.
Mallick has much more to say on this topic, and she expresses gratitude that despite our proximity to the southern lumbering giant, we as Canadians seem to be far more adult in our daily endeavours. However, that is something none of us can take too much comfort in, given that Americans still wield more might than any other nation on earth.

Picture a toddler armed with a Kalashnikov, and I think you get the troubling picture.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Corporate Greed and Political Collusion

If you haven't already done so, be sure to check out Owen's post on the Sears Canada bankruptcy. In it, he cite's Linda McQuaig's article in today's Star that deals with our wholly inadequate bankruptcy laws that leave many workers, in this case those losing their jobs with the 65-yeear-old department store chain, holding an almost empty bag.

Last night's report from Global National demonstrates both the human tragedy behind the bankruptcy, and the fact that unlike countries such as Britain and the U.S., Canada offers little protection for those who should qualify for both severance pay and pensions. And despite the usual platitudinous lamentations from the political class, it is obvious that the federal government is not interested in changing our regulations in order to protect the truly vulnerable.




Corporate bankruptcy is not a new Canadian phenomenon. Despite that, it seems that our neoliberal masters are intent only on protecting the corporate sector, not the citizens of this country.

You can read about the private members' bills seeking to address the situation here. However, bear in mind that such bills are almost always doomed to failure.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A Glimmer Of Integrity

Although the denunciations of Donald Trump from members of the GOP are welcome, the fact that they come from Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, two U.S. senators not seeking re-election, mutes the impact of their words. Unqualified integrity, in my view, would be shown if those seeking re-election were to speak out as forthrightly.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Time For Reflection

Last evening, I received this beatifically-expressed post from The Salamander:

.. calm .. strong .. get there

slip aside from the words
he said or he said or someone else said..

feel that Canadian wind in your face
and take it as your fresh new reference point
and let the words fall like the leaves of autumn
& let em lie.. just let them lie ..

Bury your swords .. too
we're adults now.. eh ?

It was after reading the above that I realized, through the unfortunate nastiness that resulted from my post the other day, that I had seriously deviated from one of the principles I have tried to rigourly hew to on my blog: to treat people with respect. That principle is obviously not one I apply to the public targets of my blog entries. Most of them are politicians and other public figures who, through their misconduct, invite rebuke and derision from many sides. It is an essential part of holding our 'leaders' and their minions to account.

No, what I am talking about here is my belief that it is important to treat all who take the time to comment on my blog with a measure of respect. If one were to check through the years I have written this blog, I doubt that you would find me overreacting to the most egregious provocations, including one a few years ago that felt swearing at me was a just retort to my piece on those who violate strike actions. I published the comment with the observation that there was nothing of substance in the rebuke that would in any way cause me to rethink my contempt for scabs.

Obviously, in my exchanges with Simon, I abandoned those principles and saw an aspect of my personality I thought I had left behind long ago. I hope it will not happen again, and I want to take this opportunity to apologize to all readers I have offended by this serious breach of ethics and decorum.

Not to wear a hair shirt about this, but I have decided to spend a few days on the bench over this. It will give me an opportunity for further reflection, reading, and concentrating on the other things I do when not writing this blog. This self-imposed hiatus is not something I take lightly, as writing is a very important part of my life. Yet it is because I have had a lifelong respect both for words and their power that I am taking a short break.

I never want to repeat the mistakes I have so recently made.

P.S. While I will publish comments on this post, during my hiatus I will not reply to them.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Seeing With Clear Vision


H/t Toronto Star

Those who believe analysis must trump hyper-partisanship will enjoy this backgrounder provided in today's Star as part of its transparency series. The piece makes the point that The Star is guided by the progressive Atkinson principles and has endorsed in the 12 federal elections between 1968 and 2008 ... the Liberals nine times, the Progressive Conservatives twice, and the NDP once.

Those endorsements, however, do not give free reign to winning governments of the day:
Andrew Phillips is the Star’s editorial page editor. He and his team of writers and editors craft endorsements at election time.

“(While) it’s more likely that a Liberal or NDP government will be closer to the Star’s values than a Conservative one, all governments fall short,” he said. “We don’t let Liberal governments off the hook when they don’t live up to what we believe they should be doing.”
Speaking truth to power is the guiding ethos at the newspaper:
...a review of 180 editorials dealing with political matters written in the first half of 2017 shows that the Star’s editorial board is usually critical of the current provincial and federal governments.

While not exhaustive, the review found that 37 of 60 editorials dealing with Kathleen Wynne’s provincial Liberal government — 62 per cent — were overtly critical. Of 120 editorials concerning Justin Trudeau’s federal Liberals, 70 — or 58 per cent — were overtly critical.
To ignore the wrongdoing of a government with whom one is ideologically akin would be an abdication of its responsibilities:
“Most of the editorials we write about the Liberal governments in Ottawa and Queen’s Park are critical, even though we endorsed the party in both cases,” said Phillips. “But governments have to earn the trust of voters every day, not just on voting day, and we reserved the right to call them out when they fall short. They have plenty of PR folks and spokespeople to defend them every day. That isn’t our job.”
The editorial board has come down hard on the federal Liberals on a range of issues, from the government’s retreat from an election promise to end the first-past-the-post system of voting, to its handling of “cash-for-access” fundraisers. The board wrote that the government’s “fumblings and reversals” on the electoral reform will likely do “democratic damage,” and called on the Liberals to end cash-for-access events entirely.

The board has also been critical of the federal government’s handling of First Nations issues, including calling out the Liberals for taking too long to fund mental health supports on reserves.
Now more than ever, having a newspaper of record present its views in logical and coherent analysis is crucial. Otherwise, we are left only with the strident ideologues who know only one truth: their own.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Blindness Of Some



Were Bill Morneau the Conservative Minister of Finance, you can rest assured that 'progressives' would be howling for his political blood. However, because he is part of Team Trudeau, some choose to entirely ignore his massive conflict of interest and instead distort my views for their own twisted purposes. One such misrepresentation is the claim that I have said Trudeau is worse than Harper, a complete fabrication.

Were I another sort of person, the offending blogger's many libelous comments about me would result in legal action. But I am a self-assured person who can take criticism; what I steadfastly reject, however, are outright lies about me, the only reason I am making any reference at all to his overwrought posts.

I also realize now that there is likely something quite pathological in his rants and attempts at online bullying, and he is more to be pitied than rebuked. I will speak no more of him or his screeds; he is not worth more than the two minutes it took to write these opening paragraphs.

Those who are willing to examine the facts of Bill Morneau's ethical mess clearly see the damage he has done to his and his government's credibility. Tim Harper writes:
One is left with the unmistakable sense that he got caught by some enterprising reporting. What if the Globe and Mail had not found that Morneau’s substantial holdings were not in a blind trust?

One could easily believe that Morneau would have continued on his path, using a loophole in the conflict-of-interest legislation that allowed him to hold shares in the family company through an arm’s-length holding company.

When Morneau introduced Bill C-27, legislation to make it easier for federal employees to move to a targeted benefit pension, a move that would benefit Morneau Shepell, the company’s stock went up 4.8 per cent within days, Cullen says. Morneau, he said, would have made $2 million in five days from that jump. But it’s not known if Morneau was holding or selling stock at that time.
And Justin Trudeau's 'defence' of Morneau was to attack those with legitimate questions.
A day earlier, Trudeau seemed to wilt while taking 30 questions on Morneau, falling back on familiar tropes — referring to opposition questions as “mud-slinging,” accusing Conservatives of trying to sully Morneau’s good name, of “shrieking,” and playing “petty politics.”

Accusing opponents of getting down in the mud doesn’t work here. The charges against Morneau were sufficiently serious that they deserved more substantive answers.
This entire fiasco makes the Liberal government look very bad and has seriously undermined whatever agenda it has, as pointed out in today's Star editorial:
Over the last week, Morneau has retreated from the small-business tax-reform fiasco that no doubt ruined his summer. In an effort to quiet the uproar over the initiative, the government will drop or scale-back several of the proposed measures and significantly cut the small-business tax rate.

The result is that the push for reform will have had the opposite of its intended effect. The government started out with at least two important aims: reduce incentives for professionals to incorporate as a way to pay less tax on income; and increase government revenue at a time of rising debt. But in the end, Morneau will have, on balance, increased the incentives to incorporate and cost the government significant revenues.
Finally, last night's At Issue panel discussed both Morneau and the larger record of the Trudeau government thus far. It starts just after the one-minute mark:


Engagement with the political process is crucial for a healthy democracy. Willful blindness to its shortcomings is in no one's best interests.


Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Foundering Ship Of State: A Followup



Following up on last evening's post, I am adding the comments of Gyor, who listed several more failures of the Trudeau government thus far:
You forgot Trudeau's attempt to increasingly centralize power in Parliament.

Many parliamentary posts still go unfilled 2 years in, the filling of which Chantal Herbert called the governmental equivant of tying ones shoe laces.

His questionable trip with the Aga Khan.

Minister Joly's Netflix boondoogle pissing off Quebec and the RoCs TV and Movie industry.

His MMWI is a mess, and should have included FN men, who are murdered and missing more often then FN women and who cases go unsolved more often.

Morneau's Villa in France in the name of a Corporation.

Trudeau's idea of boosting Foreign Aid was to take it from a general pool for all in need to give to only women, leaving men in need to die.

Lying about the combat role in Iraq, remember the Sniper shot that set a record.

Boosting military spending massively to appease Trump, while mismanaging the C-18 procurement.

NAFTA negiotations, period. Disaster.

The infrastructure bank he never promised, that will transfer wealth to the rich.

Oh and recently ambushing the Premiers recently with the idea for a special weed tax that they were not prepared for especially when the stated goal was to underprice criminal organizations.

Meanwhile, both the optics and the 'ethics' of Finance Minister Bill Morneau's situation continue to reverberate. Martin Patriquin offers this withering assessment:
Morneau, a multimillionaire banker married to a multimillionaire heiress, owns a villa in southern France. He also owns millions of shares in Morneau Shepell, the pension services behemoth founded by his father. Let us peruse how our finance minister has handled these particular assets.

Morneau’s French villa is owned by a holding company in which Morneau and his wife Nancy McCain are partners. Morneau neglected to mention the existence of this corporation to Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson until after the CBC’s Elizabeth Thompson started asking questions about it. Such corporations are particularly useful in France, where the inheritance tax is an expensive burden for the country’s wealthy landowners. Using a corporation to avoid said taxes is entirely legal — much like the loopholes Morneau wishes to close for a certain class of Canadian tax-avoiders.

Next, there is the matter of those shares. Morneau’s shares, which earn upwards of $2 million in yearly dividends, are owned by a corporation controlled by Morneau and his family. This set of circumstances, unearthed by CTV News, allows Morneau to deke the federal conflict-of-interest ethics laws. Because they are owned by a corporation, not a human being named Bill Morneau, the finance minister didn’t have to get rid of them when he took office. Again, it’s perfectly legal. It’s also a loophole to hold onto extremely valuable assets he otherwise would need to sell.
Finally, Global National gives us some insight into Morneau's conflicts of interest/hypocrisy:



In today's Star, Chantal Hebert blames much of the Liberals' misfortune on rookie ministers like Morneau. I would say that the problem with the Trudeau government runs much, much deeper. Platitudinous rhetoric, arrogance and ethical blindness do not make for government people can trust and respect.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Foundering Ship Of State



Were you to examine my blog posts prior to the last election, you would see that I had grave reservations about the fitness of Justin Trudeau for Canada's top office. He seemed wedded to platitudes, and there was little to indicate anything substantive in his thinking.

After he and his merry men and women were elected, I was cautiously optimistic, so glad was I to see the end of the Harper era. Indeed, to that end, I voted for the Liberals. Now it seems, my earlier reservations are being realized. The Trudeau government has little to show for its two years in office.

Granted, they made the right move by admitting so many Syrian refugees, a moment that made me proud as a Canadian. And their desire to achieve reconciliation with aboriginals is commendable; however, their efforts at achieving it have been ill-executed and unlikely to bear fruit in the foreseeable future.

Of the environmental file I will not even speak. Trudeau's insistence that pipelines and climate-change mitigation are compatible is simply contemptible.

Then there was the cruel charade of promised electoral reform, something I now believe was doomed the moment the Liberals achieved a majority government. Moreover, it may ultimately prove to be a Pyrrhic victory, given the widespread disillusionment and cynicism their betrayal has engendered.

Add to that the latest information about Bill Morneau and the fact that his shares in the family company, Morneau Shepell, are not even being held in a blind trust, thanks to a loophole in the ethics law that Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson says she flagged long ago.

Compounding the Finance Minister's woes is his ineptitude in bringing in tax reform that was to net a paltry $250 million. As of today, it appears it will be much less:
Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced changes to his proposed tax reforms for private corporations on Wednesday, saying they will now target only the "unfair" tax advantages used by the wealthiest Canadians.

The vast majority of private corporations — about 97 per cent — will not be affected by the changes, Morneau said during an event in Hampton, N.B.
And as far as I can determine, this is to be the extent of reform, meaning the large corporations and those with shell companies will be able to continue evading their fair of taxes. All in all, pretty pathetic for a majority government whose rhetoric promised soaring improvements to so many files. You can bet that the ever-increasing deficit will haunt us in the future, likely necessitating substantial cuts in spending; this neoliberal government lacks the will to raise taxes or close loopholes on corporations.

Perhaps Janice Kennedy best sums up the sad situation we see today:
Campaign promises broken or unfulfilled, bungling, displays of ineptitude, fiscal recklessness – all defiantly wrapped in a banner of staggeringly misguided self-congratulation, as if the sun were still shining – have left countless 2015 Liberal voters disillusioned with a government that has a genius for optics and rhetoric.
There will always be those so-called progressives ready to reflexively defend Team Trudeau because they are not Stephen Harper and his foul apostles. To do so, however, is to suggest that the present government is the best Canada can expect. That is to sell woefully short both our democracy and our citizens, and it is a position I shall never, ever accept.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

UPDATED: Sometimes It Doesn't Go Their Way


Upon the re-election of Naheed Nenshi, the neoliberals have a message for Canadians who haven't gotten with the program:
Not everyone was happy about Naheed Nenshi being re-elected to a third term as Calgary's mayor Monday night — including some members of the Calgary Flames organization, which recently broke off talks with the city regarding construction of a new arena for the NHL team.
Sean Kelso, director of communications and media relations for the Flames, voiced his ire on Twitter soon after the results were made public, saying Nenshi being re-elected mayor is worse than Donald Trump being president of the United States.

The tweet was deleted minutes later, but not before being captured and shared widely on social media.


Now what is that old saying? Vive la resistance.

UPDATE: Brent Rathgeber has some interesting reflections on the changing nature of Alberta politics:
The Flames organization wants a new arena. Talks with the city on building one haven’t gone well; the team’s ownership organization pulled out of what it claimed were “spectacularly unproductive” negotiations within days of Nenshi announcing his campaign for a third term. Nenshi’s just one vote on council but his public disagreements with Flames ownership over who should pay how much to replace the Saddledome made him a political target in the eyes of many.

Flames vice-president of marketing Gordon Norrie actually urged people on his Twitter account to vote for Smith. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman publicly suggested that the mayor would be indifferent if the team were to relocate to Seattle or Quebec City. After Nenshi won, Flames communications director Sean Kelso issued a tweet (later deleted) that said Nenshi as mayor was “worse than Donald Trump being president.”
Despite those efforts, Nenshi won a decisive victory:
It all proves what I’ve been saying for years: Alberta is changing. The province’s population is increasingly urban and demographically mixed — and much more progressive than many outsiders believe. That said, there’s still tremendous brand recognition in the name ‘Conservative’ and many Albertans still believe that’s what we are — even though that may not be as true as it once was.

Truly, Madly, Deeply Deranged

That is the only appropriate description of that old deranged felon and adulterer/alleged rapist, (a.k.a., the standard hypocritical misconduct for the unhinged evangelical set) Jim Bakker.
Not mentioning his time in the wilderness, after he spent time in prison after bilking his followers out of $158 million, Bakker boasted that he has made many predictions — including 9/11 — that have come true, and that he is not being treated like the prophet he is.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Fighting Back



Colin Kaepernick, the young NFL quarterback about whom I have previously posted, has shown remarkable integrity and fortitude dealing with the furor following his decision to 'take a knee' rather than stand for the U.S. national anthem. His action, to protest the brutalization of Black people at the hands of the authorities, has been roundly condemned by reactionaries for 'disrespecting the flag'. (The fact that 'taking a knee' has been a traditional show of respect by those entering Catholic church pews, I guess, is neither here nor there in this fraught environment.)

That Kaepernick no longer has a team to play for reveals much about systemic racism, both in the league and throughout America. Now, he has decided to fight back. He has filed a grievance against the NFL on Sunday, alleging that he remains unsigned as a result of collusion by owners following his protests during the national anthem.


It would take mental gymnastics worthy of a denizen of Nineteen Eight-Four not to be able to see the cause-and-effect at work in the erstwhile quarterback's ongoing unemployment:
Kaepernick's supporters believe he's being punished for protesting police brutality by refusing to stand during the national anthem last season. This movement has spread throughout the NFL this season, drawing sharp criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

Last week, CBS Sports reporter Jason La Canfora said that Kaepernick would be willing to go anywhere to work out for a team and wanted to be judged solely on his football ability.
While a difficult grievance to actually prove, all the evidence points in the direction of the NFL owners blackballing him:
San Francisco safety Eric Reid, Kaepernick's former teammate, has been kneeling during the anthem before games, including Sunday's 26-24 loss at the Washington Redskins.

"I'll have to follow up with him," Reid said after the game. "It sure does seem like he's being blackballed. I think all the stats prove that he's an NFL-worthy quarterback. So that's his choice and I support his decision. We'll just have to see what comes of it."

The NFL players' union said it would support the grievance, which was filed through the arbitration system that's part of the league's collective bargaining agreement.
Colin Kaepernick is clearly a deeply principled person who is likely running a real risk of further repercussions as he pursues this grievance. But that is often how the finest manifestations of personal integrity work, isn't it?

Sunday, October 15, 2017

What A Great Legacy

Jimmy Carter will not be remembered as one of the great U.S. presidents, but when his long life ends, he will be remembered for something much more meaningful: great humanitarian and environmentalist:


On Human Resilience

In a world growing increasingly grim, it is easy to succumb to cynicism and defeatism. That is why stories like the following need to be told, to remind us that there is much, much more to human nature than the darkness we so regularly see. Young Tori Brinkman attests to this:

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Apocalypse Explained

American news likes to focus only on the human drama that ensues when disaster strikes. In contrast, Global National, clearly less fettered by corporate fiat, takes the time to analyse the reasons behind the disaster. The following report by Eric Sorenson explains the science behind the apocalypse engulfing California, and yes, that science includes the use of a term one almost never hears in mainstream media south of the border, climate change.


Friday, October 13, 2017

Lest We Forget

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz reminds us of some unpleasant truths:


Responding To "Suppressing Dissent" - A Guest Post



This morning I received a comprehensive commentary from BM, who was responding to my post Suppressing Dissent, which expressed criticism of the visit by Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins' visit to the Donald Trump White House. If you missed it, you may wish to read it before enjoying BM's post below.

Following his comments, I reproduce my response. As always, I welcome a diversity of views:

This is about the most ridiculous post I've seen here. It's outright stupid. And mean-spirited to boot.

Immersed as we are in US culture, apparently Canadians think we are Americans. That is the only explanation I can come up with that eplains the moaning that Crosby should have snubbed the White House visit to in effect tell Trump off.

In what strange reality do you live? Seriously. Crosby, like any foreigner earning a living overseas remains in that foreign country at the forebearance of its government. He has no "right" to be there. And anyone with a thinking brain would realize that he has no right to insert himself in that foreign country's domestic affairs. Unless he wishes to commit career suicide.

The fuzzy thinking I've been exposed to in the media and now here on this matter is to me beyond belief. I'll say it again, neither we or Crosby are American. Therefore, he did what was necessary which was to sidestep the issue. Does Trudeau do any better?

To project your hopes and aspirations onto Crosby is ridiculous, and carries not one penny's worth of logical weight. To compound your profound disappointment, you slyly and snidely suggest he didn't stand up like the man you wish him to be because he is susceptible to concussion. That, I'm afraid, is contemptible.

Then we get the usual mishmash of snobby Upper Canadian finger-pointing about the way Nova Scotia was some 90 or more years ago. Yessir, we're all dumb racist hayseeds down here. We've got a lot to answer for, to be sure, about the way we have and still do treat blacks, but that requires no preachy lectures from Ontario pseudo intellectuals. Is Ontario blame free on its treatment of the indigenous population, or the current way blacks are treated in the GTA? I think not.

There is even a factual error about Africville. The "government" did not move Africville, the City of Halifax did. It has issued an apology to former Africville residents redolent of the same half-hearted and certainly not heartfelt apologies that Harper and Trudeau have given to indigenous people. Not good enough. We can and should do better.

The Coloured Hockey League's existence came back to light in 2012 locally. I'd never heard of it myself, and can think of no reason that Crosby growing up in Cole Harbour, a newish Dartmouth suburb should have either. Is it the responsibility of sentient citizens to continually check the historical record for signs of past societal sins and having found one, immediately do abject penance?

Furthermore, with the more recent ramp-up on the Coloured Hockey League, it comes to light that many prominent black citizens here missed the 2012 announcements when a book on the matter was published. On CBC Radio and TV, we have seen such people interviewed who were as ignorant of the CHL as anyone else, but glad to see it come to light again. What chance did Crosby have of knowing this story as he grew up, or me for that matter? Maybe we're both concussed.

I can detail what I and others did for the black community near the town I lived in here in NS way back in the early 1960s. With no internet, not a soul was running around brimming with knowledge of past injustices province-wide. We acted on what we saw, and we prevailed against prejudice.

This business of judging past history by today's standards without a thought to interpretation is surely the curse of the modern age. To compound the ignorance with the ruminations and innuendo you present here is poor work indeed.

My Response:

Clearly, my post struck a nerve here, BM, and you are certainly not alone in thinking that Crosby in particular, and Canadians in general, have no business opining on American politics. Former CBC News executive producer Mark Bulgutch penned an opinion piece in the Star on the weekend suggesting Canadians should restrict our observations and actions to our own backyard.

Again, because there really is no precedent for the kind of lunacy we are currently witnessing south of the border, I maintain that everyone has, at the very least, a moral obligation not to lend even a scintilla of legitimacy to such a dysfunctional administration.

Because I always welcome diverse views and opinions, I am taking the liberty, BM, of featuring your commentary as a guest post.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Too High A Price To Pay



This year, The Star has been running an Atkinson Series entitled The New Newsroom, which looks at both the challenges and the possibilities facing journalism in this age of Internet freebies. It is an excellent series that I hope you get a chance to check out. Here is an excerpt from a recent installment and the theme of today's post:
When the news industry and its supporters seek government funding to give it time to find a new business model, it’s because of the role news plays in maintaining a strong society — protecting democracy, in the phrase often used. If we don’t know what our governments are doing, we don’t control them. If we don’t know that hospitals have long waiting lists, we can’t find a solution. If we don’t know a development is planned, we can’t fight to protect the green space instead. Without information, we can’t have knowledgeable conversations with each other. We don’t have a voice. Our communities then belong to the powerful.
It is one of the key reasons I subscribe to The Toronto Star, which has a remarkable record in effecting change at the local, provincial and federal levels thanks to its many investigative reports. Without those investigations, public awareness of problems and injustices would have been quite limited.

To read a daily newspaper is to facilitate something all citizens should have: critical thinking skills. Without those skills, and without the information needed to inform those skills, we really are at the mercy of forces that would prefer us to be in darkness so they can carry out their agendas, agendas that rarely coincide with the public good. A column today on increases to the provincial minimum wage by provincial affairs reporter Martin Regg Cohn amply illustrates this fact.
Despite the scare stories, a proposed $15 hourly wage in 2019 is proving wildly popular. By all accounts, it is a vote-winner.

The usual suspects are upset: TD Bank, Loblaws, Metro, the Chamber of Commerce and the small business lobby are warning higher wages will hit hard, and hurt the working poor by costing them jobs.

It’s a recurring tale of two competing victimhoods — businesses at risk and jobs in jeopardy — but people aren’t buying it. The old fable about the boy (or business) who cried wolf is a hard sell when few believe the wolf is at the door.
Were the business perspective our sole source on this issue, we would likely be inclined to believe the hike is going to wreck our economy. Having a countervailing view assists us in making a more measured judgement. And, as Cohn points out, there are other factors to consider here, such as societal consensus:
Perhaps people are waking up to the impact of poverty amidst plenty. And are prepared to pay more at their local Dollarama — rebrand it Toonierama if need be.

Canadians who were content to live alongside the working poor are increasingly sensitized to the argument for a living wage. Times change.
For the longest time, people put up with second-hand cigarette smoke, drove while drunk, forgot their seat belts, or sneered at nerds who wore helmets for motorcycling, cycling, hockey or skiing. Now, cigarettes are taboo, drunk driving is anathema, seat belts are the law, and helmets are de rigeur.
Add to that some hard facts that demonstrate the one-sidedness of the business argument that the sky will soon fall:
A previous column about the business lobby pointed to the flaws in outdated econometric modelling that vainly tries to foretell future job losses from doomsday scenarios. Their conclusions are contradicted by more advanced research that looks retrospectively at recent history, showing negligible or unmeasurable impacts from minimum wage hikes.

Yet major retailers keep warning that automation is the inevitable result of higher wages. Been to a Loblaws, Sobeys, or Canadian Tire recently? Seen those automated check-out counters, even at today’s minimal minimum wage?

Automation is inevitable. Lowering the minimum wage won’t bring back full-service gas station attendants, or persuade the banks to remove automated tellers from your local branch.

Economic disruptions are also unpredictable. Even if business scaremongering about a wage hike were remotely true (at the margins), the reality is that a rapid increase in interest rates would have far more impact, as would a collapse in the housing market.
We all have our biases and values. The fact that I subscribe to The Star attests to mine. However, I also am free to reading countervailing views from conservative and pro-business organs like the National Post and The Globe and Mail, and frequently I will not dismiss out-of-hand some of their perspectives. The point is, however, that the more information I acquire from a legitimate news source, as opposed to fringe Internet sites that feel no obligation to abide by the rules of evidence and reason, the more equipped I am to draw reasoned conclusions.

Journalists do the heavy lifting for all of us. To lose them would be to lose any chance to have a healthy and sustainable democracy. That is surely too high a price to pay.