Sunday, April 30, 2017

Coastal Concerns

As I wrote earlier this year, I have pledged not to visit the United States until, at the very least, the Donald Trump presidency is history. That does not mean, however, that my attraction to the west coast, in particular, California, has diminished. Were these better times, I likely would have paid a second visit to a state that appeals to me on many levels.

It is therefore heartening to see that there is no lessening of resistance in the Golden State to Trump and his mad policies of unleashing more fossil fuels to generate economic growth. Long known for its progressive environmental policies, California has no intention of acquiescing in the Orange Ogre's mad plans:
President Donald Trump painted a golden future of “great wealth” and “great jobs” powered by oil pumped from the ocean floor as he signed an executive order on Friday to consider new offshore drilling around the country.

But his efforts could splash harmlessly against the hardened barricades that California has been fortifying for decades with regulation and legislation to prevent additional drilling along its treasured coast.
Traumatized by past oil spills, Californians are in no mood for Trump's disdain for the environment:
“We will fight to the end,” said Susan Jordan, executive director of the California Coastal Protection Network, an environmental group. “They will not get any new oil on these shores."

“Californians will not stand for this,” said Jennifer Savage, a spokeswoman for the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit conservation group. “We love our coast. It's our playground, the driving force of our economy, the place where we find solace, joy and sustenance.”

California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra, along with Gov. Jerry Brown and top lawmakers, promised to fight any oil drilling.

“Instead of taking us backward, the federal government should work with us to advance the clean energy economy that’s creating jobs, providing energy and preserving California’s natural beauty,” he said.

State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) quickly announced new legislation Friday that would bar state commissions from allowing any new oil infrastructure along the coast, from piers to pipelines.

The legislation, scheduled to be introduced next week, would buttress opposition to offshore drilling from the California Coastal Commission and the State Lands Commission, who have jurisdiction over the coastline and the waters stretching three miles into the ocean.

"California’s door is closed to President Trump’s Pacific oil and gas drilling,” said Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is chairman of the state’s lands commission.
While others, including our prime minister, suggest that exploitation of fossil fuels and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive, Californians, it would seem, are in no mood for either hollow rhetoric or risk-taking.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Simpsons Skewer Trump's First 100 Days

This little gem speaks for itself.

How Much Does That Plastic Bottle Really Cost?

For me, the plastic water bottle is an apt symbol for the mentality that encapsulates the western world today: the passion for convenience, abject, complete disregard for the environment, and the narcissistic drive for the satisfaction of personal wants no matter what the ultimate cost may be.

Star reader Paul A. Wilson of Toronto reminds us of the true cost of such indefensible egoism. We would all do well to heed his words:
Re: That plastic bottle you tossed is on its way to Arctic, April 22

The time has come for us to start dismantling the bottled-water industry. The Wellington Water Watchers and letter writers to the Star have convincingly argued that we need to protect our precious groundwater resources.

Now scientists are showing us we produce and throw away so many plastic products that we are destroying our oceans and the marine life. We should care less about the profits of huge multi-national companies like Nestlé and more about the long-term health of our planet and our children.

When we learned about environmental dangers in the past, our country often joined the international community to tackle problems such as acid rain, the use of DDT, lead in gasoline and the uncontrolled dumping of toxic chemicals in our waterways.

We should be able to apply the same resolve to this issue of sustainable water resources as we did when we became global leaders in the campaign to ban landmines.

We have the ability to make the necessary changes. We just have to stop procrastinating and act in ways designed to help our planet survive so our next generation will have a livable home.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Trump Strategy

I just read Owen's blog, which today talks about the wily Trump's real purpose behind his plan to reduce the corporate tax rate to 15%, from 35%. The following news item seems to complement Owen's post, especially when you learn one of the proposals to pay for this cut, which will add $2 trillion to the U.S. debt, is by making substantial changes to the 401k plan which, as I understand it, is roughly equivalent to Canada's RRSP.

Predictably, it looks like Trump's most ardent supporters, a.k.a. 'the little guys,' will be paying a very heavy price for their allegiance to the Orange Ogre.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

We Reap What We Sow, Eh?

The news is very bad, but that isn't really news for those of us who follow climate change:
A new international report shows that Arctic temperatures are rising higher and faster than expected, and the effects are already being felt around the world.

Among the findings in this year's report:

- The Arctic Ocean could be largely free of sea ice in the summer as early as 2030 or even before that.

- Arctic temperatures are rising twice as fast as the temperatures in the rest of the world. In the fall of 2016 mean temperatures were six degrees higher than average.

- Thawing permafrost that holds 50 per cent of the world's carbon is already affecting northern infrastructure and could release significant amounts of methane into the atmosphere.

- Polar bears, walruses and seals that rely on ice for survival are facing increased stress and disruption.

- Changes in the Arctic may be affecting weather as far away as Southeast Asia.
And those facts mean not only massive ecological and human disruption and dislocation in the near future due to sea level rise, but also massive costs:
The frigid region’s shift to warmer and wetter conditions, resulting in melting ice around the region, may cost the world economy trillions of dollars this century...

It is hard to have any hope these days, especially when our political 'leaders' continue to whistle, loudly and hubristically, past our looming collective graveyard.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Zelig, Anyone?

I don't know how many of you remember the 1983 Wood Allen film, Zelig, in which Allen plays an individual with the uncanny ability to take on the characteristics of those around him. The only problem, as I recall, was that there was no real individual at Leonard Zelig's core, just a skilled chameleon whose power was imitative and derivative, not original.

I'm beginning to think of Justin Trudeau as our version of Zelig. You may recall, for example, that he certainly supported Finance Minister Bill Morneau's comments last year that precarious work and job churn are here to stay, and that young Canadians will just have to get with the program. A short time later, however, when Trudeau was addressing politicians and elites in Germany, he had this to say:
“No more brushing aside the concerns of our workers and our citizens,” the prime minister said in prepared remarks. “We have to address the root cause of their worries, and get real about how the changing economy is impacting peoples’ lives.”

He even adopted some of the language of anti-trade movements. [Emphasis added.]

“When companies post record profits on the backs of workers consistently refused full-time work — and the job security that comes with it — people get defeated,” he said.
Trudeau said the anxiety of working people is turning into anger, and politicians and business leaders must take heed and take “long-term responsibility” for workers, their families, and the communities in which they operate.

“For business leaders, it’s about thinking beyond your short-term responsibility to your shareholders,” Trudeau said.

“It’s time to pay a living wage, to pay your taxes. And give your workers the benefits — and peace of mind — that come with stable, full-time contracts.” [Emphasis added]
Note the last sentence's jarring contrast with what Morneau/Trudeau told young people in the fall.

Why the change of tone? Perhaps it was due to the fact that Canada had just finished signing the CETA deal, and the neoliberal prime minister fears there will be few others unless the illusion of progress for workers is perpetrated. As well, his audience was really a world one, and we know how the man likes to bask in the reflected glow of his 'sunny ways' and international press adulation.

Which brings us to his latest Zelig move, which mirrors that of the Orange Ogre to the south:
Canada is going to put off for three years its plan to regulate cuts to methane emissions in the oil and gas sector.

The move comes less than a month after U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order that hits the pause button on matching American commitments to methane cuts -- and the timing is no coincidence.
Using lines only too familiar to us from the Harper era, we are told that the delay is so as not to put our businesses at a competitive disadvantage.

Rebukes from the environmental sector have been swift:
Dale Marshall, national program manager with Environmental Defence, told the Star that curbing methane gas is one of the easiest ways to reduce emissions that cause climate change. The fact that the government is putting off action on this low-hanging fruit in the climate fight demonstrates a “total” lack of leadership, Marshall said.
He accused Ottawa of showing “no backbone” on the issue.
Despite the government's protestations that they will still remove the same amount of methane over time, those who study such matters dismiss such self-serving rhetoric:
Andrew Read, a senior analyst with the Pembina Institute, called the new methane timeline a “real blow” that could hinder Canada’s goal to curb greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Read said that, even if the government still cuts methane emissions by 45 per cent, the delayed timeline translates to an estimated extra 55 megatonnes of the gas that will get released into the atmosphere. He added that methane is one of the most powerful greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
So there you have it - a prime minister as elusive a character as was Zelig, and sharing with him, apparently, one other 'quality': a complete absence of a moral and ethical core.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

In Praise Of Critical Thinking

At a time when darkness and ignorance seem to have become default positions for far too many people, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has made a four-minute video posted to his Facebook page that urges a renewal of critical thinking skills, the kind of skills that have enabled science to make such progress in the past several centuries.
The video begins with a reminder that the United States rose up from a "backwoods country," as Tyson calls it, to "one of the greatest nations the world has ever known," thanks to science. It was the United States that put humans on the moon and whose big thinkers created the personal computer and the internet.

"We pioneered industries," Tyson said. "Science is a fundamental part of the country that we are."

But in the 21st century, a disturbing trend took hold: "People have lost the ability to judge what is true and what is not," he said.

Tyson suggests that those who understand science the least are the people who are rising to power and denying it the loudest.

"That is a recipe for the complete dismantling of our informed democracy," he said.

You can watch the video here.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The World Needs More Rick Steves

The vast majority of you are undoubtedly familiar with Rick Steves, the peripatetic world traveller who has taken his PBS viewers and readers of his travel guides on some memorable adventures.

But there is much more to Steves than his wanderlust. It turns out he is also a very, very impressive philanthropist
Back home, one of my pet social causes has long been affordable housing. Twenty years ago, I devised a scheme where I could put my retirement savings not into a bank to get interest, but into cheap apartments to house struggling neighbors. I would retain my capital, my equity would grow as the apartment complex appreciated, and I would suffer none of the headaches that I would have if I had rented out the units as a landlord. Rather than collecting rent, my “income” would be the joy of housing otherwise desperate people. I found this a creative, compassionate and more enlightened way to “invest” while retaining my long-term security.

This project evolved until, eventually, I owned a 24-unit apartment complex that I provided to the YWCA. They used it to house single moms who were recovering hard-drug addicts and were now ready to get custody of their children back.
The election of Trump, with his mean-spirited, exclusionary billionaires-club policies, changed Steves' plans:
With the election of our president and the rise of a new, greed-is-good ethic in our government, I want to be more constructive than just complaining about how our society is once again embracing “trickle-down” ethics, and our remarkable ability to ignore the need in our communities even as so much wealth is accumulated within the top one percent of our populace. I’m heartbroken at how good people, dedicating their lives to helping others (through social organizations and non-profits across our society), are bracing for a new forced austerity under our government of billionaires.

So, inspired by what’s happening in our government and in an attempt to make a difference, I decided to take my personal affordable housing project one step further: I recently gave my 24-unit apartment complex to the YWCA. Now the YWCA can plan into the future knowing this facility is theirs. And I’ll forever enjoy knowing that, with this gift, I’m still helping them with their mission.

Ricks Steves: clearly a man who recognizes the real value of money.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Trudeau Dissected: A Guest Post By Pamela MacNeil

In response to yesterday's post on Justin Trudeau, frequent contributor Pamela MacNeil left the following response, which I am taking the liberty of featuring as a guest post today:

Bill McKibben is spot on in his assessment of Trudeau and his hypocritical betrayal of supporting climate change, Lorne. While climate change is one of the most important issues he has back tracked on, there are numerous others.

His full embrace of Harper's neoliberal agenda is a guarantee that his policies are being created to support the corporate/political/military domestic and global elite. In other words, he is giving away control of Canada's wealth to global corporations. In order to do this he must eliminate Canada's sovereignty as an independent nation. This is something he is happily proceeding with.

I say happily, because he bragged in an interview with the Guardian that Canada will become the first "post nation state." Governing for the interest of Canadians is not part of his neoliberal equation.

His asserting of Canada's foreign policy with what US policy dictates is deeply entrenched and it goes way beyond military demands, such as the intent of Bill C-51 bringing Canadian security and immigration more in line with those in the US.

There is actually a disturbing, but excellent article written in the Tyee titled "Anti-terror laws already eroding free speech debate." It is about an Italian philosopher barred from visiting Canada to speak at the UBC University of Calgary. His name is Antonio Negri. He has visited Canada before and is a major critic of global neoliberalism.

Trudeau completely supports any military, economic, or political action of the US.

Does the Canadian government speak for Canadians? Do Canadians really think it's okay that [people are] victims of US military violence which has obliterated their countries, had their wealth plundered, had millions of their lives lost and created millions of refugees, who for the most part wander aimlessly looking for a country that will give them refuge?

What does it mean that Canada supports this kind of military violence and injustice? It means we are complicit, complicit in the violence and in the injustice.

Trudeau's alleged support of human rights is a farce.

The US is a country that is an imperial power; its educational system has all but destroyed the conceptual foundation of learning, making knowledge almost impossible to pursue; it is a country where intelligence and ideas are replaced by scripture and myth making, a country whose government, whether Democrats or Republicans, is comprised mainly of thugs who are really just a criminal cabal. This is the country that Trudeau has most aligned Canada with, even if it means submerging Canadian identity in the process.

Because of Trudeau and his cronies, Canadians can very well lose their sovereign independent nation. Can we rebuild our country if the foundation of our democracy has been destroyed? No we can't!

Watch what Trudeau does with Bill C-51. His amendments will only be cosmetic. He and his government will want to keep it for their own use. After all, Canadians will figure out sooner or later, that they have been lied to and will start to protest and fight back. They will have to be stopped and Bill C-51 is just the legislation to do it.

There seems to be a rule of thumb evolving with Trudeau. Anything that involves the creation or reinforcement of the rights and freedoms of Canadians is either ignored or violated, such as in the corporate-controlled, sovereignty-destroying "trade deals" he so loves to promote and the anti-BDS motion he so dogmatically supported.

Harper's arrogant, vindictive personality was a reflection of his political authoritarianism. The authoritarianism is harder to see with someone like Trudeau, whose charm and oozing pseudo sincerity come across as being genuinely truthful and caring.

His continued ongoing authoritarian neoliberal policies that are a threat to Canadians' rights and freedoms, including the destruction of Canada's social democracy, pegs him as a tyrant to me.

Harper has not left the building. Trudeau's sunny-ways are going to lead to some very dark days.

Monday, April 17, 2017

When Is The Anti-Trump Not The Anti-Trump?

Answer: When you scratch beneath the surface of Justin Trudeau's soaring rhetoric.

In his scathing assessment of our prime minister, 350.og founder Bill McKibben says that Trudeau is, in fact, a fellow traveller with Donald Trump when it comes to climate change, something I suspect more and more thinking Canadians are discovering:
Trudeau says all the right things, over and over. He’s got no Scott Pruitts in his cabinet: everyone who works for him says the right things. Indeed, they specialize in getting others to say them too – it was Canadian diplomats, and the country’s environment minister Catharine McKenna, who pushed at the Paris climate talks for a tougher-than-expected goal: holding the planet’s rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

But those words are meaningless if you keep digging up more carbon and selling it to people to burn, and that’s exactly what Trudeau is doing. He’s hard at work pushing for new pipelines through Canada and the US to carry yet more oil out of Alberta’s tarsands, which is one of the greatest climate disasters on the planet.
Trudeau's rhetorical shape shifting capabilities were on full display last month in Houston as he received a standing ovation from a petroleum gathering when he said,
“No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there.”
And therein lies the crux of Trudeau's hypocrisy.
If Canada digs up that oil and sells it to people to burn, it will produce, according to the math whizzes at Oil Change International, 30% of the carbon necessary to take us past the 1.5 degree target that Canada helped set in Paris.
In that regard, we are certainly punching above our weight:
Canada, which represents one half of one percent of the planet’s population, is claiming the right to sell the oil that will use up a third of the earth’s remaining carbon budget.
Trudeau and his cabinet acolytes would have us believe that we can continue to pump out tarsands bitumen and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I have a theory as to why he thinks this kind of magical thinking can be credible to anyone with even a modicum of critical-thinking skills:

Justin Trudeau has fallen into the trap of believing his own press. The fawning hyperbolic language used to describe him in worldwide journals has, I suspect, led him to believe he can do no wrong or, if he does, Canadians will be too blinded by his 'radiance' to notice.

In this, I hope our young prime minster is badly mistaken.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Ready, Aye Ready

That noble motto of the Royal Canadian Navy can now perhaps perversely be described as the modus vivendi of Justin Trudeau in his ongoing efforts to get on the right side of Donald Trump. The alacrity with which he danced to the Orange Ogre's tune on Syria after the latter launched his Tomahawk missile attack following Syria's gas attack on its own people should be a source of grave concern to all. Appeasement never works.

More and more people are discovering that there is far less than meets the eye when it comes to Trudeau's intellect and leadership. And, as always, it is heartening to know that Star readers are not letting anything slip by them:
Re: Trudeau following Trump’s dangerous path on Syria, Walkom, April 12

Trudeau following Trump’s dangerous path on Syria, Walkom, April 12

I appreciated Thomas Walkom’s clear insights into the crisis in Syria. It is important to note that the U.S. missile attack was illegal. Unilateral attacks, without UN approval or without imminent fear of an attack, are illegal

But I have been astounded at the Trudeau government’s seemingly automatic approval of the U.S. action. While spokespeople for the U.K. government, the UN and even Trudeau himself had stated that the chemical attack required investigation, that cool-headed appraisal ended quickly with Trudeau’s supplication to the U.S. and his mind-boggling reference to supporting regime change.

Other attempts at regime change around the world have yielded many failures and led to the deaths of many innocent people. But it seems that, in order to appease an erratic and suddenly interventionist president, we have jumped in to support this ill-conceived and war-mongering U.S. position.

Who would we install? How will this end? I doubt anyone can say, since Syria is a mess. There are many actors on this stage and none offer a palatable alternative to Assad.

I am outraged by Trudeau’s knee-jerk reaction. But, if I hoped that the loyal opposition might provide some balance, I was sadly disappointed. I watched Conservative Peter Kent on CPAC describe Trump’s actions as “courageous.” Disgusting.

Bruce Van Dieten, Toronto

It’s fascinating to watch Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s lightning change of heart. A few days ago, he was publicly cautioning that there still wasn’t firm evidence about who was responsible for the gas attack in Syria.

Now, despite still having no firm evidence of culpability, he is stating that Syrian President Bashar Assad is responsible and that his regime must go.

You wonder whether Trudeau’s Washington handlers yanked his leash, whether he just decided — after watching U.S. President Donald Trump in action — that hysteria is a good enough basis for conducting international relations, or whether he thought that playing the tough guy could rescue his sagging poll numbers, as it seems to have done for Trump.

Whatever the case may be, how reassuring that bugbears like evidence aren’t tying his hands, even when it comes to fanning the flames in a conflict that could tip us over into a world war.

Andrew Brooks, Toronto

Dear Prime Minister: I suggest that before you so quickly decide that deposing Assad is the way to go, take a lesson from what happened in Iraq and Libya when their leaders were deposed. Things ended up much worse than they were before. Deposing Assad is tempting, but could give Daesh just what it’s looking for: an Islamic state to call their own. At the very least, you should know who/what will replace Assad before diving in.

Al Yolles, Toronto

Friday, April 14, 2017

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Our Surveillance Society

While we are both right and justified in our concerns over privacy compromises and violations that modern technology seems to have turned into a tsunami, sometimes that very technology can be an ally in our pursuit of truth and justice. As we saw in the recent United Airlines assault of Doctor David Dao, video can be the antidote to corporate spin.

Now, yet another video, both from a police dashcam and a citizen, demonstrates once more that minorities are often victimized by the authorities not because they have done anything wrong, but because of their ethnicity or their colour.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Sad State Of Affairs

While the fallout of United Airlines' ("Fly the friendly skies of United") forcible removal of a paying customer from an overbooked flight continues to reverberate, the ugly incident is reminding all of us of some ugly truths that now constitute our reality. Corporate power rules, and we are merely incidental casualties in its relentless march to profit.

Quoting one of his colleagues, Shawn Ryan sums up the situation: a blind pursuit of profit, United overbooked the flight, didn’t offer enough to entice anyone to get off the plane, then in order to get their own employees on the flight, they removed ticketed passengers, and when one wouldn’t comply with their orders, they called the cops to pull a supposed doctor off the plane—bloodying his face in the process.
Ryan sees much deeper significance here than a viral video that is doing tremendous damage to the airline's 'brand':
But let’s tell the deeper truth here—United made a dumb decision, but essentially they just got unlucky that the problem landed on their laps, and it was their dirty laundry that got aired. They are a cruel agent, without a doubt, but they are not some lone wolf—they are a product of an indifferent system that increasingly devalues individual life, and that system is called America.
Essentially, then, the forced removal of the doctor is only a symptom of an underlying systemic disease, much of which Canada is not immune to. What are some of the things we share with the rapidly unraveling U.S. of A.?
—The social safety net, once the strongest in the world, has been gradually dismantled by both major parties over three decades, leaving the poor and working classes vulnerable to increased poverty and immiseration.

—Labor unions, the only reliable form of protection for the American worker, have likewise been gutted as power amasses in the hands of corporations.

—Our economy is designed to transfer wealth and income into the pockets of those who need it least, and any opposition to this structural inequality is treated as political radicalism.

—Our police are empowered to shoot and kill our own citizens for dubious reasons, and—especially if the victim happens to be a minority—escape all prosecution.

—Harmful free trade agreements have been passed to milk profit from globalism, with no thought given to the loss of jobs, money, and dignity for American workers, or the slave wages and environmental destruction unleashed abroad.

The reality is plain: United Airlines is not the disease. United Airlines is a symptom of an infected country whose institutions of power no longer respect the dignity or the sanctity of the individual life. They don’t care about you
Soon, of course, the furor will subside, and all of us will return to our quotidian concerns, but perhaps we will remain at least a little shaken by having had many of our notions about fairness, equality and justice exposed for the delusions they often are.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

An Excellent Policy Initiative

Although perhaps less than perfect, New York state has taken a bold move in promising free college/university tuition for its residents whose families earn less than $100,000 per year. This will allow many more to secure higher education than would be possible without the bill; upwards of 80% of families will qualify.

Ontario has also promised some tuition relief for low-income families, but the details are still rather vague.

Anything that provides a little light during these exceedingly dark times is to be welcomed:

Saturday, April 8, 2017

A Cost-Benefit Analysis Of Air Travel, Or Am I Just Another Hypocrite?

Having just returned from a 10-day visit to England, my first and my wife's third, the hypocrisy of my use of air travel is not lost on me. Well-known as the worst carbon-emitting form of transportation, jets pose a moral dilemma for all of us who claim to care about the environment. However, despite recognizing how personally and environmentally compromising such travel is, I doubt that this will be my last trip abroad.

I could argue that my infrequent use of airplanes is compensated by the measured steps I take in my daily life to reduce my carbon footprint, but they hardly balance the equation. In many ways, I guess I am no different from those who refuse to use their cars sparingly, who profligately and heedlessly make discretionary energy-intensive purchases, and who put their own comforts, conveniences and wishes above all others.

Ah, but the benefits and perspectives conferred by travel are ones that I cannot resist. I will likely address some of them in the future.

Perhaps to assuage my conscience, I would like to direct you to Star ethicist Ken Gallinger's column in today's paper.

A reader writes:
I lie awake thinking about climate change and air travel. As a means of transport, planes create the worst carbon footprint, yet no one cares. Carbon emissions are destroying the earth, yet friends feel entitled to warm vacations or unnecessary business travel. Years ago I committed to flying as rarely as possible, but it’s hard. For Canada’s 150th, we want to visit the new Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. Is it ever ethically defensible to fly?
Gallinger attempts to put the question into a wider perspective, one that may not actually fully address the morality of optional travel:
Sometimes this column puts me in a conflict of interest. Since “retiring,” my wife and I travel a lot, so I won’t pretend this is a disinterested response.

Having confessed to frequent flying, I invite you to join me on a “fantasy flight,” perhaps from Toronto to London, England. Let me introduce our fellow travellers.

See those 30 teenagers in the front rows? They’re small-town high school kids, on their way to Vimy Ridge. They’ll be stunned by the monument, but more to the point, they’ll be brought to tears by the sacrifice, dignity and sheer valour of Canadian kids not much older than themselves.

Observe the couple in 33B and C. His arm’s wrapped around her? Well, her mum is dying over in Jolly Ol’, and she’s praying to arrive in time for a final goodbye. It’s a particularly long flight, though she’s made it many times.

Look over there: 24F. He’s a worldfamous cellist, returning to Vienna after a sold-out performance at Roy Thomson. The thunderous ovation still rings in his ears — or maybe that’s just pressure at 33,000 feet. 18G? The nervous-looking young woman? She’s a nurse from Yellowknife, working with Médecins Sans Frontières and heading for her first assignment in Pakistan. She’s never been away from home before.

The quiet man in 27C? He’s connecting at Heathrow, flying to his ancestral home in Kenya. He’s Canadian, but he returns regularly to this tiny community, helping build a school for girls. A Scarborough church helps out financially; others do, too. But he’s the one who goes, and without his journey of hope, the project would die.
Can the broadening effects of travel be an ample justification and an effective counterbalance to the ignorance that so many seem to embrace today?
Is it ever ethically defensibly to fly? Of course it is. We live in an interconnected world.

Our stories, our families, our hopes and fears are interlaced with faraway places, and despite the occasional backwash of parochialism such as south of the border, there’s no turning back. The globe is our workshop, playground, farm — our heritage and our home.

That doesn’t mean we can ignore environmental implications of air travel, any more than the costs of recreational boating, going for a Sunday drive, bearing children or eating a steak. Air travel is costly, so we need to weigh decisions carefully, avoid flying when feasible and support attempts to mitigate environmental damage. But history shows that living in silos of national, ethnic or religious isolation has a cost too — a cost that is, perhaps, even greater.

Fly to Winnipeg. See the museum. Walk the Forks. Wave to the Golden Boy. Eat Real Perogies.

Just wait till the ice melts, the Jets have again missed the playoffs, the floods recede and the mosquitoes die. There are three or four days in August when the ’Peg is a lovely city.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Brief Pause

The metaphorical road beckons. See you in a bit.

Fortress Amerika Begins To Pay A Heavy Price

Now that the parody of a president selected by the American people has infected the U.S. national psyche with more than its usual quotient of paranoia and xenophobia, those same people are beginning to get the message that there is a high price to be paid for their irresponsibility. And I, for one, can muster little pity for those sectors that are suffering as a result of their fellow-citizens' choice.

Many are choosing to avoid Amerika for at least the next four years, from individuals to educational institutions. And it is beginning to have a financial impact, as these statistics make clear:
-Tourists spend $108.1 million an hour in the USA.

-Tourists spend $2.1 trillion in the USA every year, half of which goes to secondary small businesses like bars, restaurants, theaters, and so on.

-All of this generates $147.9 billion in annual tax revenue at the city, state, and federal levels.

-Travel ranks as the seventh largest industry in the USA.

Granted these figures represent domestic travelers as well as international ones. If you just look at international travelers, they still supported 1.1 million jobs and $28.4 billion in wages in 2015 alone. And in a divided America, will we see less internal travel, too? Almost certainly.

And as the following report makes clear, the financial health of universities is also in jeopardy:

All of these developments must be humbling indeed for the country that has the hubris to call itself 'the greatest nation on earth."

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Star Letter-Writers Seldom Disappoint

Whenever I am feeling a bit down about the world around me and the passivity with which so many 'face' it, I know I can go to the letters section of The Toronto Star to buoy my spirits. Today is no exception, as readers render judgement on the disgraced Senator Don Meredith and roundly reject his groundless, cowardly claim of being a victim of racism.
Re: Racism at play in criticisms of Don Meredith, senator's lawyer says, March 19

I am fed up with the cry of “racism,” which is being broken out once again by Senator Don Meredith in the affair involving a minor child.

Our disgust has nothing to do with the fact that he is a man of colour. His confession of “moral failing” does not begin to excuse the use of his positions of power and prestige to engage in the grooming and exploitation of a child.

The sexual exploitation of children is one of society's greatest taboos. In our universal rejection, the colour of the perpetrator has nothing to do with our perception of the grievousness of his behaviour or our concern for the probable lasting effect on the victim.

Senator Meredith's actions are those of a man without any moral compass whatsoever. And we as a community must be clear that our rejection of his actions have nothing to do with his colour.

He has crossed a line for which there is no possible excuse. If he has any honour or courage left, he must resign the Senate immediately

Robert Kent, Mississauga

This saga of indecent behaviour by Sen. Meredith has become utterly disgusting. After the Senator's failed attempt to mitigate his situation by blaming the victim, and by claiming that racism is the reason that he is being scrutinized, his (now former) lawyer has brought the situation to greater heights of disbelief.

Selwyn Pieters equates Meredith's sexual involvement with a 17-year-old girl to Senators Wallin and Duffy being investigated for improper use of expense accounts. They were not forced to resign. So he suggests there is racism at play.

Meredith's behaviour was bad enough. His continued attempt to blame everyone and everything else, and his lawyer's ridiculous statements, have reached a pinnacle requiring the Senate to deal with him.

Mike Faye, Toronto

For Senator Meredith to claim racism is rich. He got caught doing something he knew very well he should not have been doing and now that his world is imploding, he is blaming everyone else.

For him to make this whole thing go away would be to resign, and the fact that the Senate cannot force him to do so is sad. He is an embarrassment to everything that he stands for as a father, husband, minister and senator.

The senate has had enough embarrassment in the past year or so with Brazeau, Wallin and Duffy. That we taxpayers do not have a way of getting rid of them is a problem that has to be fixed.

Allan Mantel, Victoria Harbour, Ont.

One thing for certain, If Meredith was a member of the “old white boys country club,” he wouldn't be able to “play the race card.” Anyone, regardless of race, committing such an egregious act, should not only be thrown out of the Senate, but should also should be criminally prosecuted.

Warren Dalton

Friday, March 24, 2017

Setting The Record Straight

Now that Senator Don Meridith, about whom I have previously posted, has switched lawyers, it is gratifying to see that his cowardly cries of racism as a factor in the calls his dismissal are being put to rest.

Meredith's new lawyer had this to say yesterday:
Disgraced Sen. Don Meredith’s new lawyer says racism doesn’t play into the widespread condemnations of his client’s affair with a teenage girl, after the senator and his previous lawyer claimed he was being treated unfairly in the wake of the sex scandal.

“It’s not my approach, nor is it my opinion, that there is any racial bias or issue here in relation to the matter, or how the Senate has been dealing with it,” Bill Trudell, a Toronto defence lawyer, said in an interview Thursday.
While the Senate ethics committee still faces an uphill battle on ejecting him from the Upper Chamber, at least we now have a small victory for truth and a blow to self-serving and morally reprehensible hyperbole.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Just A Couple Of Questions

Given that I have no background in economics, I will leave it to more finely-tuned minds to debate the merits of yesterday's federal budget. However, there are a couple of things that, from my perspective, need to be answered, and they both relate to the Infrastructure Bank the Liberal government is touting.

Introduced in last fall's economic update, the goal of the Bank, according to Finance Minister Bill Morneau, is
to attract private sector dollars at a ratio of $4 to $5 in private funding for every $1 of federal money.
While that sounds fine on the surface, the question about the returns that will prompt private investors, including institutional ones, to invest in infrastructure projects the bank will help fund needs to be answered. And it is here that things becoming a tad murky.

In yesterday's budget, Morneau had no real details to provide about it, other than a motherhood statement:
Ottawa has said it wants to leverage every dollar it puts in its infrastructure bank into $4 of investment, the balance kicked in by private-sector investors. The government thus hopes to fund $140 billion in infrastructure projects with an upfront Ottawa investment of just $35 billion.
Sound too good to be true? Perhaps it is:
The catch here is that only infrastructure projects with revenue streams will attract private investment. To be sure, that includes a lot of infrastructure, including toll roads and bridges; alternative-energy suppliers that reap revenues from power consumers; and water and transit systems that earn back their cost of capital through mill rates and Metropasses.
One can't help but wonder, like the idea to sell off our airports, this is just another neoliberal ploy, thinly disguised, that will redirect revenue from the public to the private domain.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has released a study that suggests we will all be paying more for this largess gifting the private sector:
This study finds that private financing of the proposed Canada Infrastructure Bank could double the cost of infrastructure projects—adding $150 billion or more in additional financing costs on the $140 billion of anticipated investments. It would amount to about $4,000 per Canadian, and about $5 billion more per year (assuming an average 30-year asset life). The higher costs would ultimately mean that less public funding would be available for public services or for additional public infrastructure investments in future years.
The full study, which you can obtain here, suggests there is a better way:
There’s no reason the federal government can’t make the Canada Infrastructure Bank a truly Public Infrastructure Bank, with a mandate to provide low-cost loans (or other “innovative financial tools”) for large public infrastructure projects. The federal government already has banks and lending institutions that provide low-cost loans, financing, credit, and loan guarantees for housing, for entrepreneurs and for exporters. So why not also provide low-cost loans and other financing for public infrastructure projects? This bank could be established as a crown corporation with initial capital contributions from the federal government (and perhaps other levels of government) and backed by a federal government guarantee. It could then leverage its assets and borrow directly on financial markets at low rates and then use this capital to invest in new infrastructure projects.

This approach would involve a slightly higher cost of financing than direct federal government borrowing, but it would be considerably below the cost of private finance.
And finally, is it simply a coincidence that one of the government's tools for borrowing at ultra-low rates is ending?
The federal government is phasing out the Canada Savings Bond, a popular savings vehicle introduced after The Second World War.

The Liberals’ 2017 budget stated the bond program peaked in the late 1980s and has been in a prolonged decline since.

“The program is no longer a cost-effective source of funds for the government, compared to (other) funding options,” the budget document reads.
Perhaps it is naive of me to suggest, but wouldn't paying a higher rate of return on savings bonds that average citizens can benefit from also be a source of much-needed cash for infrastructure?

Just wondering.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Not Like His Father At All

A few days ago I posted a letter by Star reader Cathy Allen in which she discussed what it would take for her to regain her pride as a Canadian. It was outstanding, and if you haven't read it, click on the link before proceeding.

In yesterday's Star, Randy Gostling of Oshawa offered some of his own thoughts on the subject, contrasting Canada's past leadership with its current incarnation:
Re: What it will take to restore my pride, March 17

On behalf of what I would expect to be thousands of like-minded war babies, I want to sincerely thank Cathy Allen for so eloquently presenting the concerns of “we the forgotten” in the lead letter of March 17.

It’s equally nice to be reminded that much of what is right in this nation today began with Pierre Trudeau and “we the young” who believed in him. But as Ms. Allen suggests, our faith is gone.

I honestly believe Pierre Trudeau’s motivation was essentially a commitment he made to himself to do something special with his life. His son talks as if he has a similar commitment, but instead sings it like a tune while doing the beggar’s waltz for the “bigs” and next to nothing for or about indigenous grievances, refugees escaping the U.S., the environment, unemployed youth, election reform, Bill C-51 vs. constitutional rights, a corrupt Senate, child poverty, housing, child care for single moms or the CRA’s reluctance to enforce laws against or even expose or punish wealthy and corrupt citizens, corporations and banks.

Pierre created Petro-Canada to resist Big Oil, while Justin approves pipelines and further development and transportation (through pristine areas) for some of the dirtiest, most destructive oil on Earth, even as the world is running out of clean air and water. Pierre delivered on promises while Justin chose to simply make them long enough to get elected.

Cathy Allen speaks for many in saying we are disappointed. We miss who and what we were and what our nation used to be. It’s still held in esteem by the world — but it seems because the world has gotten worse, not because we got better.

Like Allen says, at least we’re not American. But that’s not nearly good enough for us or Pierre.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Circumstantial Noose

In his opening statement before James Comey's testimony yesterday in front of the House Intelligence Committee probing Trump ties to Russia, Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff (CA) laid out of all of the circumstantial evidence that has built up so far connecting the Trump campaign to Russian state actors seeking the intervene in the election.

I think you will find his chronology fascinating, leaving little doubt that "something wicked this way came" on the road to Trump's capture of The White House:

Monday, March 20, 2017

An Ally Of Ignorance

What is a man
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more.

- Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 4.

Some of the greatest foes of ignorance are knowledge, awareness and critical thinking. Key tools in the cultivation of our humanity, without them we would exist in a perpetual present, lacking any kind of contextual ability with which to resist the the dark forces that constantly threaten. Each of us would be, as Hamlet says, A beast, no more.

A key ally and promoter of ignorance is Donald Trump, whose installment in the White House has provided the means by which the bestial aspect of our collective nature is ascendant, and the things that help define and cultivate our humanity are under grave attack, examples of which are painfully evident in the following:

Sunday, March 19, 2017

More On The Rogue Senator And Moral Coward, Don Meredith

On Friday's Power and Politics, host Rosemary Barton was her usual relentless self, evident in her sharp questioning of Selwyn Pieters, the attorney representing disgraced Senator Don Meredith, about whom I posted on Friday. It seems to me that the only point she overlooked was when Pieters insisted that Meredith did not use his position of authority to influence the unnamed 16-year-old into a sexual relationship. In fact, the moral coward promised to get the young woman a Senate internship.

Meanwhile, Toronto Star letter-writers are unanimous in their opinion of the miscreant-senator: Disgraced senator must resign or be sacked.

I offer but one of several missives that tell us why he must go:
I am disappointed with the leniency your editorial treated the senator by asking him to resign. He should be sacked. His resignation should not be accepted.

How could a senator, an ordained pastor and a married father be allowed to get away with this serious offence by allowing him to resign? First, he denied, then he tried to derail the investigation, and when the report was ready he apparently requested two versions: a sanitized report for public consumption, the other for the Senate.

Is our red chamber so rotten?

Muri B. Abdurrahman, Thornhill

Saturday, March 18, 2017

An Outstanding Letter!

While I have always considered myself an able letter-to-the-editor writer, I have also developed ability over the years to recognize superior work when I see it. The following letter from Cathy Allen of Toronto is emblematic of such work. She inspires me, as a Canadian, by her vision of what our country could be:
When I was 18, I attended Expo 67 and voted for Justin Trudeau’s father. Now that I am a widowed senior and disabled and I can’t afford to pay my rent without my son’s help, I find that I am not as proud as I once was to be a Canadian.

When will I be proud to be a Canadian again?

When we build more geared-to-income housing and repair the ones we have so every Canadian can afford a roof over their heads that costs less than 50 per cent of their income.

When nursing homes are given more than $8 dollars and change for a daily food allowance and residents can have a bath when they want.

When no one in Canada is homeless and living on the street and we can afford to bring the minimum wage and pensions above the poverty line because we’ve closed the loopholes and made the corporations that do business in this country pay their fair share of taxes.

When we restore the environmental laws that protect our rivers and lakes and enforce them.

When we stop trampling on our indigenous peoples’ sacred sites and respect their culture and land rights and pay them the compensation due them so they can build decent housing and hospitals and recreation centres and libraries, or their children can move anywhere they want and no longer feel they are not part of our society.

When working-class women with children under the age of 3 are not forced to work but may, if they wish, because we have an affordable daycare system up and running.

And, finally, when we stop calling waging war “peacekeeping” and no longer ship tanks and guns and instead send aid.

That will be the day I will be proud to be a Canadian again. Right now, all I am is relieved that I am not an American.

Friday, March 17, 2017

A Moral Coward

Every so often, I happen upon a news item that, for want of a better word, inflames me; it is usually something so patently outrageous that my capacity for calm desserts me, and I launch into a semi-tirade. This morning was one of those moments.

Now some may say that because I am not black, I have no right to pass judgement on Senator Don Meredith, the reprobate who used his positions of power (as pastor of his church and as a Harper-appointed senator) to 'groom' an underage member of his congregation for a totally inappropriate and morally reprehensible sexual relationship. Anyone who reads my blog knows that injustice, especially the abuse of power, is something that offends me to the core, and a person's race or colour can never exempt him or her from condemnation.

Yet Don Meredith begs to differ. First of all, the coward is thus far refusing to resign, despite pressure from his senate colleagues to do so, instead opting to take a leave of absence "on the advice of his doctor".

Perhaps he is hoping for the storm to blow over? Meredith seems perplexed as to the calls for his resignation. In his mind, he has owned up to his 'mistake.'
"This is a moral failing on my part," a grim-faced Meredith said in a wide-ranging interview, with his wife Michelle quietly at his side. "As a human being, I made a grave error in judgment, in my interactions. For that I am deeply sorry."

Meredith, 52, repeatedly apologized to his wife, children, his fellow senators and "all Canadians" for the relationship that took place with the woman known only as Ms. M.

His wife and children have forgiven him, he said, and he asked for the same forgiveness from his Senate colleagues and Ms. M herself.

"I believe in the power of forgiveness and reconciliation," he said as his Toronto lawyer looked on. "We're humans, and humans make mistakes."
But neither his public mea culpa nor his refusal to resign are what set me off. It was this:
The senator said Wednesday he believes he has been the victim of racism since the allegations about his affair first surfaced in the summer of 2015. Where individuals of colour rise, he said, somehow they're taken down — whether it's "self-inflicted or orchestrated."

"Absolutely, racism has played a role in this," Meredith said. "This is nothing new to me. There is always a double standard that exists in this country."

Pieters said his client was being portrayed as a "sexual predator" because he is an imposing black man — but that clearly was not the case.
For Meredith to 'play the race card' not only compounds his moral cowardice, but also indirectly impugns all those who have been actual victims of racism. His claim, in my view, demonstrates not only his unfitness to hold public office, but also his ongoing position as executive director of the GTA Faith Alliance.

And I am hardly alone in my umbrage:

There is no question in my mind that if we are to have even a modicum of respect for the failing Senate, Don Meredith must go.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Absolutely Spellbinding

It is hardly an insight to state that we have largely wasted and abused the intelligence that evolution has conferred on us. Instead of nurturing and protecting our own species and all the others that abound in our world, our human story seems to be one of ruthless exploitation and degradation, a short-sighted philosophy that will likely end in collective destruction.

The latest iteration of that selfishness is evident, for example, in Donald Trump's intention to undo the advances made during the Obama administration on climate change mitigation. That such is ideological madness is evident in the latest report on massive Artic permafrost melting, which will ultimately serve to accelerate global warming.

But grim as our choices have been and still are, I always harbour a faint hope, despite all the contraindications, that we can still achieve some of our natural potential before it is entirely too late. As I have written in the past, I believe that nature documentaries hold the key if we are ever to overcome even a little of our innate selfishness. To see the larger and the smaller world around us, a world we give little thought to in our day-to-day lives ("So what if another species is going extinct? I'm never likely to see a Sumatran Tiger anyway."), is to be both humbled and infected with awe. This is especially true given the latest techniques in natural cinematography that can be described as little less than magical.

It is in this spirit that I urge you to see Planet Earth 11, which is currently being broadcast in free preview on BBC Earth in my neck of the woods. So far I have seen two episodes, one on islands and the other on deserts. Neither, as you will see if you watch, are static environments, but rather ones teeming with life and constant change.

Believe me, you will not be disappointed; I suspect you will come away from the experience a changed person.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

More Reasons To Boycott U.S Travel

I have no regrets about my recent decision to boycott travel to the United States as long as the Trump regime, dominated as it is by paranoid exclusions and hate-mongering policies, continues in office. An item on last night's NBC News amply demonstrates that for some people, border crossings are becoming risks not worth taking.

Two American citizens encountered quite a bit of land turbulence upon returning from visits to Canada:
When Buffalo, New York couple Akram Shibly and Kelly McCormick returned to the U.S. from a trip to Toronto on Jan. 1, 2017, U.S. Customs & Border Protection officers held them for two hours, took their cellphones and demanded their passwords.

"It just felt like a gross violation of our rights," said Shibly, a 23-year-old filmmaker born and raised in New York. But he and McCormick complied, and their phones were searched.
But the story doesn't end there:
Three days later, they returned from another trip to Canada and were stopped again by CBP.

"One of the officers calls out to me and says, 'Hey, give me your phone,'" recalled Shibly. "And I said, 'No, because I already went through this.'"

The officer asked a second time..

Within seconds, he was surrounded: one man held his legs, another squeezed his throat from behind. A third reached into his pocket, pulling out his phone. McCormick watched her boyfriend's face turn red as the officer's chokehold tightened.

Then they asked McCormick for her phone.

"I was not about to get tackled," she said. She handed it over.

This kind of racial profiling and 'lawful' seizure of telephones should give all of us pause; any Canadians travelling to the U.S. are its potential victims, although clearly, if you are white and have a non-Arabic name, your chances of passing through unmolested are greater. But I come back to a fundamental question that prompted me to start my personal travel boycott: Do we really want to patronize a country that once welcomed foreigners but now stigmatizes, bullies and excludes them?

Finally, it is worth noting that Girl Guides of Canada has decided to cancel trips to the U.S.
"While the United States is a frequent destination for Guiding trips, the ability of all our members to equally enter this country is currently uncertain," international commissioner Sharron Callahan and director of provincial operations Holly Thompson wrote in a joint advisory issued Monday afternoon.

"This includes both trips that are over or under 72 hours and any travel that includes a connecting flight through an American airport," the advisory says.

The statement does not directly mention — but appears to be a reaction to — the executive orders U. S. President Donald Trump has signed restricting travel to the United States.
This decision comes amidst many other groups and Canadian school boards contemplating trip cancellations for the same reason.

The American love of money is well-known. It seems only logical that they should now learn via commercial interdiction the price to be paid for choosing a racist, paranoid demagogue as their president. Many of them may love the Trump message, but worldwide, far more do not.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Part Political Theatre and Part Schoolyard Bully

And probably the saddest thing is that far too many people take this kind of clown seriously:

Laughing At Absurdity

I believe that the older we get, the more important it is not only to recognize and acknowledge the tragedies of life, be they social, economic, political or environmental, but also the many absurdities that abound within those realms. Call it dark humour, whistling past the graveyard, or just being politically incorrect, seeing the absurd is a coping mechanism that allows for the release of at least a modicum of the despair that envelops us in the twenty-first century.

I therefore have little sympathy with those who are easily offended. Consider the following political cartoon that appeared recently in the Toronto Star:

As the heading suggests, it is the cartoonist's take on the fact that many are vying to become the next leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, one that looks headed for the Opposition benches after next year's election, in no small part due to the spectacularly unpopular Kathleen Wynne, our current premier.

Yet the cartoon was too much for at least one Star reader, who penned his outrage in the following missive:

Re: Cartoon, March 8

The Star cartoon by Theo Moudakis depicting a plot to assassinate Premier Wynne is obscene and unforgivable. What was the intention here by the Star to its readers?

Showing her cabinet attempting to hide, with knives, suggesting to do away with the premier, is not what you should be preaching to your readers. Truly, there must be another answer on matters of opinion.

Dennis Dineno, Oakville
I've known people like Dennis throughout my life. They are often quite good people, but overly earnest in their pursuit of justice and rectitude. There is little in their lives to leaven the oppression that life regularly metes out. They can be a trial for those around them. Indeed, just reading his umbrage tasks me.

So, from the perspective granted by my years, my advice is to embrace the oddly funny moments life has to offer. To rebuke them prevents what little light there is to shine through and keep us from total darkness.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Energy Democracy

Sure, many will dismiss this as a Utopian socialist dream, especially given the neoliberal tenor of the times, but are there any other viable alternatives to global degradation and destruction?

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

UPDATED: What The Racists Ignore

I realize that it is essentially pointless to try to argue against those Canadians who harbour fear or hatred of 'the other.' The latest iteration of that debased mental and moral condition is, of course, reflected in demonstrations and hate crimes against the Muslim community, with some pretty vile declarations being made suggesting that they should either die or 'go back to their own country.'

Were I so inclined and the opportunity arose, here is what I would say to those who live in fear that things like sharia law will soon be imposed on all of us, and that they are 'taking over our country.'

I would start with two anecdotes drawn from my teaching career. One, which involved a Christian, occurred many years ago, vivid still in my memory because it was a Parents' Night on the evening following the birth of my son. The other happened many years later, and involved a Muslim.

The Chrisian, who I shall refer to as Mrs. J., was the wife of a Baptist minister, and she came to the meeting in high dudgeon over the fact that her daughter was reading a novel by Robertson Davies entitled Fifth Business. The book was part of an independent reading project in which students made their selection from a wide range of titles. Mrs. J. told me her brother-in-law had given her the book as a gift, something, she said, he should have known better than to do since it dealt with what she felt was a disrespectful depiction of a Baptist's minister's wife.

What was that disrespectful treatment? At the novels's beginning, a boy who turns out to be the protagonist sets into motion a series of events when a snowball he throws hits the minister's wife, the shock of which affects her mentally and induces premature labour.

Mrs. J. then went on to declare that no students should be permitted to read such books, at which point I told her that while she had every right as a parent to request a change of book for her daughter, no one has the right to dictate what others may or may not read.

Fast forward many years to another school, and a phone call from an aggrieved parent. The book in question this time was Flowers For Algernon, upon which the movie Charly was based. There is one small part in the novel that has rather subtle sexual content. The same scenario played out, with a Muslim father objecting to his daughter reading the book (again, it was her own independent selection from a long list of titles). He went on, as had the Baptist Mrs. J.,to declare that no students should have access to such material, and I told him exactly the same thing I had told Mrs. J. all those years before.

What is my point here? In both cases, the children of these strict parents had no problem with the material they had selected. It was, I believe, largely the result of living in a healthy, dynamic, pluralistic society, a society that is bound to exert far more influence and moderation on next generation people than it does on an older generation with more entrenched and often inflexible notions. It is a fact that those who rail against newcomers either choose to ignore or whose profound ignorance prevents them from understanding.

So please spare me the hysteria. I have no patience with those who think of Canada as a society whose values (whatever they may be) and institutions will be overtaken by a particular group or ideology. It is that fear, of course, that propels political opportunists like Kellie Leitch to blow her dog whistle, and it is a fear that, when given voice, is an insult to all of us, whether native born or new Canadians.

UPDATE: In today's Star, Azeezah Kanji writes about people's unfounded fear of sharia law.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Americans Had Their Wells Fargo Scandal ....

Now we have our own, thanks to TD Canada Trust's duplicitous practices:

Another Pending Betrayal

As we become increasingly disillusioned about the growing disparity between the Trudeau promise and its reality, another betrayal of that promise is pending. Like his neoliberal soul sister in Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, who insists that selling off 60% of the provincial crown jewel known as Hydro One is a no-brainer, Mr. Trudeau apparently thinks it is a keen idea to consider delivering our national airports over to profiteers, a.k.a. the private sector, to raise money for his 'national vision.' The upcoming federal budget looks to begin the process:
The budget is expected to signal the government’s interest in finding a way to tap the value of airports with a process, perhaps led by Transport Minister Marc Garneau, to more formally explore selling them off, the Star has learned.

The potential benefit for Ottawa is huge. One study done by the Vancouver airport authority estimated that the federal government could reap between $8.7 billion and $40.1 billion by selling off the country’s eight largest airports, including Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.
That may be good news for a government with a burgeoning deficit, but bad news for the rest of us:
Yet the privatization scheme is ringing alarm bells among airlines, airport operators and some municipalities who warn that handing over Canada’s airports to owners with a profit motive sets the stage for rising fees that will force travellers to pay more.

Vancouver airport has teamed with those in Ottawa and Calgary on a public information campaign to oppose privatization.

“We think it’s a bad idea,” Craig Richmond, the chief executive officer of the Vancouver Airport Authority, told the Star.

“This idea of a one-time payment, that’s like selling the family jewels and then regretting it forever,” he said in an interview.
The consequences of such a sale will be far-reaching and costly for those who fly:
... the authority concludes that privatization would add “hundreds of millions of extra costs” that would have to be recovered through cost-cutting, increased fees and reduced investment in airport infrastructure.

“It would be too costly for a for-profit buyer to acquire an airport such as YVR without reducing services and passing these costs on to airport users through higher fees and charges,” the report states.
So while the private sector may salivate over the prospect of windfall profits, as is the norm in the neoloiberal vision embraced by people like Trudeau and his fellow travellers, the rest of us, the mere peons in this 'grand' vision, will be left to pay the price.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

How Must It Feel?

Since the installation of Donald Trump in the White House, I have wondered how it must feel to the average American who is neither unhinged nor incapable of critical thought to have a man so obviously deranged leading their country. This latest episode of Trump's paranoid demagoguery surely must be a source of deep consternation to such people:

Saturday, March 4, 2017

A Stellar Analysis: Kellyanne Conway's Interview Tricks, Explained

Vox offers this deconstruction of the slippery and morally repugnant Kellyanne Conway.

A Coward, Pure And Simple

When I was young, we had a term for certain individuals. We called them "gutless wonders." It still seems like the most apt term today. Watch this video and you'll see why:

Friday, March 3, 2017

UPDATED: A Deluded Woman

That very strange lady, CPC leadership candidate Kellie Leitch, insists that the widespread 'popularity' of her online video is proof of the popularity of her platform against immigrants, She ignores the fact that the basis for its viral spread is mockery, not admiration, over its bizarre production values and patent insincerity. If you haven't yet seen it, the above link will take you to it.

Meanwhile, CTV's Don Martin has this incisive assessment of her efforts:

And as to her claim that her immigration stance is resonating with the public, well, Star readers have a different view, and are especially pained that her pandering to the extreme right has led her to advertise on Breitbart, about which I recently posted:
Re: Conservative MP Leitch runs ads on Breitbart site, Feb. 25

When conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch runs ads on the U.S. Breitbart News website, it is time to screen Leitch for her “Canadian values.”

The ultra-conservative and white supremacist views expressed and promoted by the Breitbart News organization bear no relation to and are not synonymous with “Canadian values.” Since “Canadian values” is what Leitch is claiming to protect, it is only fair — and possibly urgent — that her views be scrutinized, i.e. “screened.”

Peter Krysmanski, Oakville

I am so disgusted to see that Kellie Leitch has bought advertising on Breitbart News. What Canadian values does that organization represent? Absolutely none.

The alt-right is not my Canada and obviously does not represent the majority of Canadians given support for Justin Trudeau. Kellie has no place in my Canada.

Tom Byers, Cambridge, Ont.
The soul of a nation is not something to be trifled with, a fact that Kellie Leitch seems wholly incapable of appreciating.

UPDATE: Mark Critch of This Hour Has 22 Minutes clearly has Ms Leitch's number:

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A Dangerous VOICE

First, please watch the following very brief video from The Independent. (If you have trouble playing it, simply click on the above link):

The Star's Daniel Dale, our Canadian journalist expert on all things Trump, writes today that the creation of VOICE is an alarming escalation in the Trump war against immigrants.
Claudia Koonz, a historian at Duke University, wrote a book about how the Nazis prepared Germans to accept genocide.

One of their tactics was portraying average Jews, who were overwhelmingly law-abiding, as a menace to society. In the 1930s, for example, a Nazi newspaper published a weekly list of Jews’ alleged crimes.

In January, U.S. President Donald Trump ordered his government to publish a weekly list of crimes committed by illegal immigrants, who are overwhelmingly law-abiding, in most of the country’s biggest cities.

Trump’s order also established a government office solely dedicated to helping victims of crimes committed by undocumented people. On Tuesday, he promoted the office — VOICE, for Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement — in a prime-time address to Congress.
Even though crime statistics show that illegal immigrants are less likely to engage in crime than legal residents, both the inflammatory rhetoric favoured by Trump and the above decisions serve to effectively demonize 'the other' and essentially institutionalize the Orange Ogre's racism.

Ruben G. Rumbaut, a sociologist at the University of California, Irvine, says,
“The function of this program will be, one, to further scapegoat immigrants and portray them as deadly threats, and, two, to use the perception of threat to rally and rile the ‘base’ for political gain, relying now the power and prestige of the presidency."
And as reported by The independent, the publication of a weekly list of crimes by 'aliens' echoes a prominent feature of Breitbart News, which has a section called
"black crime" ... which publishe[s] a list of offences committed by African-Americans.
Given the increasing incidents of hate crimes, including what appears to be the racially-motivated shooting last week in Kansas, I think we can all see where this is going. The question is, are there enough people of goodwill, both inside and outside of politics, to fight this rapidly escalating madness?

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Bill Nye Attempts To School Tucker Carlson

... but finds he is not an apt student.

This Is Why Journalism Is Vital To Healthy Democracies

At a time when traditional journalism is weathering both economic and political storms, we should all take a moment to reflect on the vital role it plays in healthy democracies. The following story, about a joint investigation by The Toronto Star and The National Observer of FINTRAC, (Canada’s money laundering and terrorist financing enforcement agency), is illustrative of this truth.

As I previously wrote, FINTRAC chose to keep secret the identity of a bank that it penalized for failing to report a suspicious transaction and committing hundreds of other violations in its dealings with a controversial client. Thanks to journalism's dogged determination (which is not cheap, by the way), the mystery is over.
It took 10 months of media scrutiny and public outrage before Canadians learned Manulife Bank of Canada was the mysterious financial institution behind a $1.2-million fine for money-laundering violations.
The decision to confer anonymity upon this giant financial institution was puzzling, given that the same day in April, a handful of much smaller companies — facing far less severe fines — were publicly named by FINTRAC. This is all part of a pattern:
Over the past eight years, FINTRAC has named 40 companies for violating the law while keeping secret another 55.
Left unanswered is the reason for this double-standard, especially disturbing given the scope of Manulife's malfeasance:
-Manulife’s fine, which was reduced twice from an initial $1.8 million, was for five different types of violations of anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism financing law, involving a failure to report transfers totalling at least $12.2 million.

-The bank failed to report one suspicious transaction to FINTRAC — labelled a “very serious” violation that experts say undermines Canada’s system to detect financial crimes and trace dirty money.

-Manulife also failed to report 1,174 outgoing international electronic transfers of $10,000 or more, 45 deposits of $10,000 or more in cash and four incoming international electronic transfers of $10,000 or more.

-The bank was also fined for failing to “develop and apply compliance policies and procedures.”
Curiously, for much less serious violations, FINTRAC showed no such penchant for secrecy. Those named and shamed included one whose misdeeds seem relatively minor:
Mahdi Al-Saady, CEO of Altaif Inc., an Ottawa-based money exchange and transfer company, was hit with a $42,600 FINTRAC fine — and publicly named — in 2014.

The violations for which Altaif was fined included failing to report the sending and receipt of money transfers of more than $10,000 — two of the same violations the unnamed bank was found to have committed.
The fact that Altaif was named is, of course, not the issue. The real question is why all who run afoul of FINTRAC are not treated the same, with the rules rigidly applied.

I have my own suspicions, but I leave it to informed readers to draw their own conclusions.