Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Peek Behind the Curtain

As usual, Star readers get it:

Re: Doubling is troubling, April 11
Eleven million people with TFSAs seems like a lot of lost tax revenue. It is simply another way to avoid taxes and should be stopped, not increased. Of course under Harper it will only increase and continue to decimate our social programs.

The opposition must be united in campaigning against this blatant tax cut and revenue loss.

Elaine Purdie, Toronto

The Conservative government seems to think they are doing such a great service to Canadian families by providing its Universal Child Care Benefit and by increasing the TFSA contributions to $11,000.

Social Development Minister Candice Bergen actually thinks that the Child Care Benefit gives families an equal choice. And Finance Minister Joe Oliver believes that the TFSA is somehow equally beneficial to all.

Are they deliberately blind to the plight of middle and lower income families? Do they not understand the situation of single parent families? What percentage of families have a stay-at-home parent? Who can afford a properly licensed daycare facility? Who has the disposable income to put away $5,000 a year let alone $11,000?

It’s obvious that Oliver, Bergen and company do not know or care to know the real financial situation for the vast majority of Canadian families and they certainly do not want to hear what the experts are saying. They might have had a better understanding had they not cancelled the long-form census, but why bother with data when you can make policies out of ideology?

It really is time to unseat this incredible bunch of no-nothing ideologues.

Stephen L. Bloom, Toronto

There is an underlying aspect to the various tax cuts the Harper Conservatives have implemented or will be implementing – increased TFSA contributions, GST cuts, income splitting, etc. – that has fallen below the radar. The commitments Joe Oliver is talking about are ways to destroy the federal government’s ability to raise revenues for generations to come and impede the ability of progressive future governments to repair the social safety net Stephen Harper has been slashing since 2006.

What voters fail to see is that for every 50 cents of tax breaks they get from Harper, they face a dollar in increased fees or lost coverage at every level of government because federal transfers are disappearing.

The extra cup of Timmy’s they can now buy every week means fewer meat inspectors, transportation safety checks, fiery tank-car derailments, or uninvestigated chemical spills in our lakes and rivers.

Sure, the rich will benefit more now, but in the end, everybody loses.

Mark Jessop, Barrie

Given that the doubling of the TFSA maximum will cost future governments billions in revenue, any measure that ties governments hands regarding running any deficit would inevitably result in massive cuts to programming, which could prove politically toxic.

It remains to be seen how firm the “no deficits” language will be, but if the current government really does intend to tie the hands of future governments, one has to assume that the Conservatives are thinking that those future governments will not be Conservative.

Let’s not disappoint them.

Steve Soloman, Toronto

Friday, April 17, 2015

What Are The Limits?

Humans, and other primates, it appears, have an innate sense of fairness. We expect, for example, in times requiring sacrifice, that no member of society will be exempted. When we are part of a long queue, for example, we expect everyone to bide their time and wait as well; someone attempting to jump the queue is rightfully deeply resented and scorned.

Of course, rules and expectations of fairness and equality are broken everyday by those with the means. If you are willing to pay for the privilege, you can buy into express lines, such as those that exist at Universal Express and Disney World FASTPASS. If you are in need of a new kidney fast, there are brokers who can arrange such transactions with dispatch.

Are there things that money cannot or should not be able to buy? That was the central question Michael J. Sandel posed in a book I read several months ago called What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. A very thought-provoking work, it explores the fundamentally alienating effects that some purchases can have, as in the above-mentioned kidney transactions, that leave us with less regard for our fellow-travellers in life. Indeed, there are some cases that really reduce them to mere commodities.

I couldn't help but think of such things this morning as I read about how some people are circumventing the tough water-rationing measures recently imposed in California, a state now in its fourth year of extreme drought.
Gardens stayed lush and lawns verdant as citizens paid tanker trucks to deliver thousands of gallons to homes in the seaside suburb of Santa Barbara. They drilled in back yards, driving the county’s tally of new wells to a record. Some simply paid fines for exceeding allocations, padding the water district’s budget by more than $2 million.

“People feel strongly about their landscaping and want to keep their homes beautiful,” said Patrick Nesbitt, who drilled a well to hydrate parts of his 70-acre estate but let his polo field go dry. “Why should anybody object?”
Actually, there are many reasons to object. One is the fact that money is being used here to opt out of good citizenship, which a healthy society requires. Why should certain parties be exempt from turf-removing initiatives that others are following as they substitute drought-tolerant plants for thirsty lawns?

Paying tanker trucks to bring in water simply postpones dealing with the drought, and one can't help but wonder where that water is coming from. Are other jurisdictions selling water for short-term profit? And what about this statistic from wealthy Montecito, California?
The top three users for Montecito in 2012/13 guzzled close to 30 million gallons alone... enough water to provide the needs of a small town
Even the drilling of wells that the well-heeled can afford are acts of massive disrespect of the greater good. The aquifers, quite frankly, cannot take it:
Measurements of water levels in wells throughout the state show that aquifers are being significantly depleted in many areas as more water is drained out than seeps back into the ground.

An analysis of groundwater data provided by the U.S. Geological Survey and two other agencies has found that, of 3,394 wells across the state, water levels declined in about 62 percent of the wells between 2000 and 2013.

As noted by Dennis Dimick in National Geographic
As drought worsens groundwater depletion, water supplies for people and farming shrink.
I am not offering any fresh insights here about the contradictory impulses of human nature; the fact that "some animals are more equal than others" was noted a long time ago by George Orwell and many others. But given the times in which we live, such behaviour does merit increased scrutiny and perhaps even condemnation.

Lest all of the above prove too dispiriting to readers, allow me to leave you with something that should leave us all feeling a mixture of both shame and hope, a captive orangutan sharing its treats with other primates:

Thursday, April 16, 2015


It seems that a candidate for Alberta's Wildrose party, Rick Strankman, has made a bit of a faux pas, one that he blames, as politicians are wont to do, on a volunteer:
A Wildrose candidate was forced to apologize and retract a poster Thursday that called on party supporters to bring their wives’ pies to a meet-and-greet.

The poster encouraged constituents in Drumheller-Stettler to attend an “old fashioned pie auction” next week and “BYWP (Bring Your Wife’s Pie!!)”

Meanwhile, rumours abound that Strankman has hired a new campaign manager:

Must Be His Eton Background

In the lead-up the May 7 British election, Prime Minister David Cameron, I guess, thought it was time to masquerade as 'one of the people.' He was photographed at a barbecue eating a hot dog:

His mode of consumption elicited a flurry of responses from some Twitter wags:
Hahhaa, David Cameron eating a hot dog with a knife and fork. Silver service only for the privileged!" was typical of the comments on Twitter Tuesday, 30 days ahead of Britain's general election.

"What kind of monster eats a hot dog with a knife and fork?" asked another.
Cameron eating a hot dog with knife & fork has echoes of when rich Mr Pitt did same with a Snickers bar in Seinfeld:

Unlike Mr. Pitt, I somehow doubt that Mr. Cameron will be establishing any new consumption trends in the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Pastor David Berzins Is A Disappointed Man

It seems that one of Berzins' fellow pastors does not hold with putting LGBT people to death, a fate another right-wing crazed evangelical named Steve Anderson enthusiastically advocates.
The pastor in question asked to have his congregation’s listing removed from Anderson’s church directory, a decision which Pastor David Berzins of Word of Truth Baptist Church condemned as the act of a traitor to his faith, even though the offending clergyman is a personal friend of his.

Here is Berzins in full rhetorical fury:

And Speaking Of Fanatics

While right-wing religious zealots like Pat Robertson and Gordon Klingenschmitt are the two crazed evangelicals I most frequently highlight in my blog, we would all be very naive to believe we lack home grown examples of the corrupting influence the bully pulpit can bestow. Here in Ontario, for example, the 'Rev.' Charles McVety is a leading exemplar of such madness.

Yesterday, McVety was in his glory at a rally held outside of the Ontario legislature to protest the revamped Ontario sex-ed curriculum which, despite widespread consultation, doesn't sit well with some.

Many of the protesters were new Canadians, some obviously from very conservative societies in which sex is not openly discussed nor countenanced. While they have every right to protest, of course, they and everyone else have to understand that living in a society such as ours entails ongoing compromises; there is always a tension between individual sentiments and the state's laws, but that is one of the things that makes a healthy democracy dynamic.

Parenthetically I must confess, however, that when some of the protesters aver that they will remove their kids from school over the issue, I don't know where they will go other than to be schooled at home. Some said they would send them to private schools, but they seem unaware of the fact that private schools are not exempted from fulfilling curriculum requirements either.

Against this background, there are the self-aggrandizers like McVety who only add fuel to the fire in order to promote their peculiar religious doctrines of hatred, exclusion and condemnation. Deeply homophobic, the crazed evangelical sees dark motives behind the new curriculum, given that Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is gay. In a thinly veiled allusion to Wynne, he talks, as you will see, of her not having a right to 'force [her] idea of sexuality' on two million children.

Fortunately, enjoying a majority, the Ontario government has no intention of caving in to such extremists.