Friday, November 30, 2012

Mature Discussion About The Fiscal Cliff

Mature, that is, until CNBC's Rick Santelli opens his mouth:

From The Horse's Mouth

Actually, were I not committed to a certain level of decorum on this blog, the mouth is not the part of the horse's anatomy I would have chosen as the point of origin for young Tim Hudak's latest utterances that are simply a pathetic recycling of past demagogic platitudes that offer nothing in the way of enlightened policy.

Speaking to the Hamilton Spectator editorial board yesterday, the lad who would be Ontario's next premier had these 'visionary' insights to offer:

Hudak took aim at unions, saying a culture of entitlement on the part of union representatives has escalated McGuinty's conflict with teachers.

Hudak also hinted that his party's white paper will include some sort of privatization plan for the LCBO.

On balancing Ontario's books:

“I know the path forward. These decisions are going to be hard to do, but they're necessary if we're going to get out of the rut we're in as a province.”

“The best social program, I believe, as a conservative, is a job.”

On the Mike Harris legacy:

“Whether you agree with what we did or not, we did what we said we were going to do. We made promises we knew we could keep, and we kept them.”

So, nostalgia for a fictitious past, tired rhetoric about unions, and bromides about jobs seem to be at the core of Tory policy in Ontario. But to be fair to Mr. Never-Ready-For-Prime-Time-Politics, those vying for the leadership of the provincial Liberals have really said little to inspire hope either.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Perilous State of Democracy in Canada

Over the past year I have written several posts on the woeful state of democratic participation in Canada, a state I am convinced is at least in significant part due to the debasement of our traditions engineered by the Harper regime. Contempt of Parliament and disdain for those whose vision of Canada disagrees with their own are but two elements of that debasement.

I am old enough to remember when there was a measure of civility in politics which, probably not coincidentally, began to seriously erode with the introduction of cameras in the House of Commons in the 70's. At that point, it became the fashion for parliamentarians to begin to grandstand before their viewers, to the point today where poisoned partisanship takes precedence over enlightened and progressive policy-making.

In today's Star Bob Hepburn returns to this theme. His analysis, and his discussion of what seems to be taking the place of political engagement, makes for important reading for anyone concerned about this very worrisome pattern.

Pension Envy

That's what Martin Regg Cohn, in his column this morning, calls the resentment stoked by the right-wing towards those who enjoy defined-benefit pensions.

In what passes for debate in the debased arena we call contemporary politics, politicians of the right, most notably Tim Hudak, have declared public defined-benefit plans unaffordable and unfair:

“Our pension system should be fair, not gold-plated for some and non-existent for others,” he began (my italics). “Generous plans are the norm for many government employees while a majority of workers . . . have no access to a workplace pension at all.”

As Cohn points out, the alternative he is advocating, Pooled Registered Pension Plans, are

...merely glorified RRSPs — they make no pretense to paying a reliable pension. The only certainty is that they will make future retirees poorer and investment advisers richer (thanks to fat management fees), while leaving all of us more exposed to the inevitable social costs of dealing with a wave of financially exposed seniors.

Yet despite that, the public clamours to bring everyone down to the lowest level rather than putting pressure on politicians to implement an enhanced Canada Pension Plan, one that would allow participation by everyone. Such reform has been demanded by several provinces, but it would seem that pressure exerted by the powerful financial lobbies have scotched that possibility for the time being.

But of course, the fate of any reform, be it political, economic, or social, ultimately rests in the hands of the electorate, the same electorate that is currently engaged in sniping at fellow citizens thanks, in part, to being such easy and eager targets for manipulation by their political 'masters.'

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Updated: Another Reason To Despise Harper And His Minions

Or maybe I just don't understand the nuances of business and a right-wing mentality that will consign millions to early and unnecessary deaths.

H/t Andre Picard

Even that bastion of Harper support, the Globe and Mail, has written about how reprehensible this action is.

Rand Formula Under Attack

The other day I wrote a post about Bill C-377, ostensibly a private member's bill put forward by Conservative MP Russ Hiebert that would subject unions to unprecedented scrutiny. It is, in fact, a bill being guided by the Prime Minister's Office.

In his column today, The Star's Thomas Walkom says that the real target of the bill is the Rand Formula, which requires all employees in a bargaining unit that has democratically chosen a union to pay union dues.

Initiated in 1946, it was designed as a counterbalance to the power of the employer and as a means of ensuring that those receiving the advantage of union working conditions and pay could not simply opt out in order to avoid paying union dues. All in all, most would say it is balanced and desirable.

Everyone, that is, except the extreme right-wing, i.e., the Harperites, who are using this bill as a thinly disguised union-busting tactic. Writes Walkom:

On the face of it, Bill C-377 makes no sense. It argues that because workers can treat union dues as tax deductions, the general public has the right to know — in exacting detail — how unions spend their money.

Indeed, as drafted, the bill is remarkably intrusive. It would require the names and addresses of anyone who gives or receives more than $5,000 from a union. Unions would also have to categorize how and why they spent their funds.

As he goes on to point out, there are many tax breaks offered to professional organizations such as doctors and lawyers, as well as the executives paid in stock options, all of which cost the treasury countless sums. Yet none of them are being subjected to the kind of scrutiny Bill C-377 would impose on unions.

Walkom suggests the ultimate purpose behind the bill:

The unstated aim of this bill is to provide ammunition to politicians, like Ontario Tory Leader Tim Hudak, who would scrap the Rand formula and introduce U.S.-style right-to-work laws designed to sap unions.

The Conservatives’ working assumption is that once Canadians see how unions spend their money, they will be scandalized. It is another round in a sophisticated public relations war designed to portray union leaders as undemocratic pork-choppers.

Given the irrational contempt and envy much of the public feels toward unions, it seems likely that if passed, the bill will achieve its nefarious intent, and we will all literally be the poorer for it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Sad Spectacle

“This comes down to left-wing politics. The left wing wants me out of here and they’ll do anything in their power. I’m going to fight tooth and nail to hold on to my job. If they do for some reason get me out I’ll be running right back. As soon as the next election, if there’s a byelection, I’ll be the first name on the ballot.”

Thus spaketh Rob Ford, the soon-to-be former chief magistrate of the self-proclaimed 'world-class' city of Toronto. Although I do not live there, I have had an abiding interest in its political machinations since Ford was elected, and I retain that fascination in the reaction to his ouster.

Rob has been called many things: stupid, arrogant, willful, stubborn, and uncouth, to name a few. It seems to me that most of those qualities are evident in the above excerpt from this morning's Star; moreover, being an ardent student of human nature, I find his reaction emblematic of the mindset of the right-wing, echoing as it does the sentiments of brother Doug and other reactionaries who have made their way into politics.

To take a reductionist approach, those reactions seem to epitomize something ingrained in those inhabiting a certain part of the political spectrum: intolerance of those who have a different viewpoint. How else can one explain the absolute dismissal of a legal ruling by a respected judge? How else does one explain the following by brother Doug:

His and his ilk's inability to admit any wrong by Rob Ford, his dismissal of the proceedings as 'politically motivatated' and engineered by 'the social elites' and 'the unions' bespeaks a kind of contemptuous fanaticism dangerous to the collective good. Populist politics, I guess the Ford brothers' only real political currency, is better left in the history books with people like Huey Long.

We need and deserve better.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Not-So-Hidden-Hand of Harper

Although I believe unreservedly in the vital role that unions play in both protecting and promoting workers' rights, I make no apologies for the times that I have been critical of them. Cronyism, questionable expenditures, and corruption have no place in organizations meant to serve their members.

Nonetheless, the latest thinly-disguised attack against unions by the Harper regime goes beyond the pale, one that feeds into and exploits the inexplicable envy and antipathy felt by much of the public toward those responsible for helping their members earn a living wage.

Bill C-377, ostensibly a private member's bill put forward by Conservative MP Russ Hiebert, is getting help from the Prime Minister's office to modify measures that have touched off an unusual outpouring of concern from Canadians.

Denounced as a well-structured assault on trade union rights by MP Pat Martin, the bill,

...would require labour unions or any group involved in collective bargaining with an employer to provide Canada Revenue Agency with information annually on nearly all financial affairs, with the reports to be published on CRA’s website.

However, the information that would be required goes well beyond simple financial statements:

Required information includes every transaction or disbursement over $5,000 for conferences, collective bargaining activities, training, lobbying, political activity and payments to union officers and members. The same reporting requirement applies to all investment trusts and funds operated by unions on behalf of their members. The name and address of each person involved in any of these transactions would have to be reported to CRA and would be made public.

Especially vexing is the arrantly hypocritical Harper justification for this information, with Hiebert claiming

...the bill is in keeping with the Harper government’s attempt to promote transparency and the public has a right to know how unions spend their members’ dues, which are tax deductible and according to Hiebert cost Ottawa about $500 million in foregone revenues a year.

Transparency and lost tax revenue are concerns of this government?


Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Speech From Which We All Could Learn

I suspect, however, I know how the right-wing would react to this:

H/t William B Devitt III

From Platitude Central - Part 4

For part 4 in my examination of political platitudes that substitute for substantive policy pronouncements, I turn to the Ontario Liberal leadership race to replace Premier Dalton McGuinty, a race that thus far has been 'full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.' I don't expect that to change in the foreseeable future.

My source for this latest installment, Questions for the would-be leaders, is yesterday's print edition of The Toronto Star. Thus far it has not appeared online, so I will simply excerpt some of the 'gems' from the answers given by the aspirants. In this post, I examine their answers to the first question,

In the aftermath of Bill 115, what would you do to improve relations with Ontario teachers?

Sandra Pupatello, considered a frontrunner along with Kathleen Wynne, had this to say:

...I intend to do that by sitting down with teachers' federations and maintaining an ongoing conversation. One thing I would like to discuss is whether the current model for negotiations is the right one for the times.

Sufficiently vague and innocuous as to be above criticism, save for its lack of substance?

Kathleen Wynne:

I will sit down with our education partners to strengthen the bargaining process at both the provincial and, importantly, the local levels.

Dare I ask what it means and how one accomplishes this rather nebulous goal?

Eric Hoskins:

...If I'm premier, I'm confident we can rebuild our relationships based on mutual respect.

'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished, Eric.

Gerard Kennedy, the Energizer Bunny of politics, has what actually constitutes a policy statement, but can't resist tossing in a platitude afterwards:

I will restore full bargaining rights and I will not use the powers in Bill 115 ... Collaboration with our teachers is the key to helping our students succeed.

Glenn Murray, whose dearth of important political experience is really no excuse for policy vacuity, offers this:

I would build and maintain the same good negotiating environment as when I was recently minister of training, colleges and universities.

Charles Sousa:

... It is my sincere intention to re-establish trust and goodwill with our teachers.

Harindar Takhar, the latest and last to enter the race:

... Maintaining a positive dialogue with our public-sector labour partners is essential.

There are two other questions posted in this Q&A. Should it appear online, I will provide a link in an update.

Oh, and for the record, inspired as I am by the 'vision' of these leadership hopefuls, I would like to take the opportunity to announce that I am for world peace, the elimination of poverty, and truth and justice for all.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Heather Mallick On Alberta and Tory Hysteria

Given its abundance of tar, I'm betting that some Harperites, along with a generous helping of Albertans (often one and the same) would like to apply a liberal dose of bitumen and feathers to columnist Heather Mallick in light of her column today.

Entitled Calgary byelection should rise above old quarrels, her piece skewers the sensitivity of souls that take such umbrage over comments offering criticism of the oil-rich province which, in my post yesterday I described as our version of Israel (criticize at your peril.)

Mallick offers, among many others, the following observation:

Albertans know perfectly well they haven’t had a premier worthy of their province since Peter Lougheed left office. Ontario had the same problem. Recall Don Getty, Ralph Klein, Frank Miller, Ed Stelmach, Mike Harris, Ernie Eves. What a roll call of sophisticates.

Her thesis is that the recently uttered and earthed criticisms of Alberta offered by David McGuinty and Justin Trudeau, respectively, are justified, and that, of course, the reaction of the Harperites is strictly political, given the closeness of the impending by-election in Calgary-Centre.

In proof, she offers the following:

Alberta, a famously lucky and beautiful province, mismanaged its oil and its tar and allowed itself to be bullied by multinationals for a handful of coins compared to what Norway, for example, a tiny country of five million people, demanded for its offshore oil. As Alberta caved, Norway grew stubborn.

That’s why Norway’s savings account will hit a trillion dollars this decade. Alberta has $15.9 billion in a piggy bank its mom broke open years ago. Will it even be doubled by 2020?

Mallick has much more to say, including an excoriation of the Liberals' grovelling apologies after McGuinty's 'misstep.' I hope you will take a few moments to savour the entire column.

Friday, November 23, 2012

But Isn't This Like Saying You Are A Little Bit Pregnant?

You decide.

H/t aaronwherry

Canada's Domestic Israeli State

I have purposely stayed out of the blogosphere discussion of the latest atrocities between Israel and Gaza, atrocities that both sides must bear responsibility for. I have done so simply because I don't feel I have anything new or startling to add to the discussion.

However, I have always been troubled by the reflexive and unwavering support accorded to Israel, no matter what actions it takes in response to attacks, even those involving 'collective punishment," something explicitly forbidden under the Geneva Conventions. No matter what, both the Harper regime and the U.S. President repeat that tired refrain about Israel's right to defend itself (as if that were ever in question). As politicians and commentators well know, to offer any overt criticism is to risk being labelled anti-Semitic.

However, it occurs to me amidst this politically-motivated hysteria that Canada has its own version of a sacred state beyond criticism. That would be the province of Alberta.

Being the repository of Conservative support, it is hardly surprising that Mr. Harper seeks political advantage while denouncing any criticism of his adopted province. To hear him speak would be to believe the sun rises and sets there, it is the sole key to Canada's economic future, and that anyone who proffers criticism is essentially an enemy of Canada unfit to hold political office.

Recall, for example, the outrage that was provoked when Thomas Mulcair raised the spectre of Dutch disease with the headlong extraction of tarsand oil in the holy province. The Harper regime's response was as swift as it was predictable.

And now Justin Trudeau, whose leadership potential I have grave doubts about, is being targeted by the right-wing for a comment he made two years ago. Dredged up by the always reliable champion of all things Canadian, Sun Media reports that he once said in a French-language interview the following:

“Canada isn’t doing well right now because it’s Albertans who control our community and socio-democratic agenda.

Predictably, the Conservative propaganda machine was galvanized by such temerity:

“This is the worst kind of divisiveness, the worst kind of arrogance of the Liberal Party and it brings back for many Westerners the kind of arrogance of the national energy program which of course devastated the Western economy,” Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told reporters.

And so this silly dance goes on and on, affronting and alienating more and more from the political process. The only question is whether Canadians will continue to allow their thinking to be done for them by such patently dishonest and manipulative tactics.

P.S. If you want to see all the tut-tutting going on over Trudeau's remark at that national bastion of Harper appeasement, the CBC, check out the At Issue Panel on last night's National:

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Worried About That Burgeoning Waistline?

If you are an American, empress of empathy Andrea Tantaros, a Fox presenter, has the answer.

H/t norwind

Resistance Is NOT Futile

In the various incarnations that the series Star Trek has enjoyed, The Next Generation was my favorite. Starring the well-known Shakespearean actor Patrick Stewart, whose regal commands propelled The Enterprise into inter-stellar adventures each week, the series was both imaginative and in many ways prescient.

One of its most original creations was the Federation's ultimate nemesis, The Borg, defined in Wikipedia as

...a collection of species that have been turned into cybernetic organisms functioning as drones of the collective or the hive ... [who] take other species by force into the collective and connect them to "the hive mind"; the act is called assimilation and entails violence, abductions, and injections of cybernetic implants. The Borg's ultimate goal is "achieving perfection".

The catchphrase of The Borg was, 'Resistance is futile.' It is a message that, in my deep political cynicism, I strongly believe is an integral agenda item of both the extreme right-wing in general, and the Harper regime in particular. By relentlessly promulgating such a message they are, amongst other things, discouraging democratic participation so as to achieve an unobstructed field for their polices of low levels of taxation, low levels of government regulation, and low, some would say non-existent, aspirations for a better society and world.

Every so often, however, something occurs to remind all of us of the things that are possible when we rise above those forces of manipulation. As outlined in today's Star, one such development occurred yesterday. In what is described as a David over Goliath victory, the people of Melancthon Township are celebrating the triumph of their activism over Highland Companies, which has now abandoned its efforts to build a mega-quarry that would have been the second-largest in North America and would have obliterated hundreds of acres of some of Ontario’s richest farmland.

To read how a coalition of citizens from various backgrounds accomplished this feat, click here.

Oh, and for your viewing pleasure, The Borg credo:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Sensible Taxation

If we lived in Dr. Pangloss's "best of all possible worlds," I suspect that I would be a fairly conservative fellow. After all, in such a world those who worked hard would always get ahead; poverty, other than the self-induced kind, would be non-existent, and we would all be well on the road to self-perfection.

Yet, with all due respect to the eternal optimists of this world, life is not like that for countless millions of people, a fact that, thanks to our wealth of news sources, most of us are well-aware of. However, thanks to the unrelenting propaganda of the far right, many of us, I suspect, are largely ignorant of the inequities built into our tax system.

Of course, most of us would like to keep more of our money, but the question ultimately becomes, "At what cost?" Is it a fair trade for us to have more tax breaks thanks to our station in life at the expense, say, of the working poor? Should our individualistic impulses trump the collective good?

A story in today's Star highlights a problem faced by many. Entitled Campaign 2000 urges Ottawa to eliminate child tax credits and use money to fight poverty, it discusses a campaign by a coalition called Campaign 2000:

On the 23rd anniversary of a unanimous House of Commons pledge to eradicate child poverty by the year 2000, the national coalition is once again calling for a federal plan with goals and timelines to get the job done.

With one in seven Canadian children — including one in four in First Nations communities — still living in poverty, this year’s progress report goes after Ottawa’s “inefficient” tax system

Among other things, the group calls for the elimination of certain tax credits and benefits that tend to favour the middle (or at least what's left of it) and upper classes, with the resources saved going toward boosting the National Child Benefit to a maximum of $5,400 a year, up from the current maximum of $3,485:

At $5,400, a single parent with one child who is working full-time at $11 an hour would be able to escape poverty.

More broadly, it would cut Canada’s child poverty rate by 15 per cent and lift 174,000 children out of poverty.

While people are so busy accumulating more 'stuff', it is easy to forget the struggles that define the day-to-day existences of far too many. Campaign 2000 at least has a plan to ease those burdens.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Progressive Voice In The Mainstream Media

Although her views are not radically different from those found at alternative news sites such as The Raw Story, Truthdig or Alternet, jounalist Linda McQuaig is always a treat to read, if for no other reason than the fact that her views make it into the mainstream media, so often the mere repository and purveyor of 'establishment' views.'

In today's Star, where she writes a monthly column, this former Globe and Mail writer b.p (before the purges) points out a truth that concerned citizens may be very much aware of, but which rarely sees print. Entitled Fight against climate change blocked by Luddites at Big Oil, McQuaig explores why Big Oil stoutly resists and fights efforts to combat climate change, despite the tremendous environmental, human, social and economic costs that are becoming increasingly evident with each passing season.

Her piece is yet one more arrow in the quiver of knowledge all of us need if things are ever going to improve.

Some Questions Leadership Aspirants Need To Answer

I have recently written some posts bemoaning the paucity of policy undergirding the campaigns of those who would become the next leader of the Liberal Party, both on the provincial (Ontario) and federal level. Substituting for substance are tired bromides and platitudes that, in an earlier, less cynical age might have been sufficient to inspire, but now fill the seasoned observer with ennui and suspicion.

I was pleased to see Martin Regg Cohn addressing the issue in this morning's Toronto Star. Lamenting the lack of substance in the provincial leadership race, his piece lists six questions he says aspirants need to answer:

1. With unemployment hovering at 8.3 per cent, what’s your concrete plan to not just create but keep well-paying jobs?

2. Should motorists pay for driving on congested roadways? (road tolls, congestion fees, etc.)

3. Can you make future pensions a present-day priority?

4. Do you have the political stamina to tackle welfare reform?

5. As a rookie premier, will you stay green?

6. How do you persuade people to back you, while you’re cutting back on what you give them?

While these are all excellent questions, I hope Mr. Cohn remembers that it is the responsibility of journalists not only to ask these questions, but also to ensure the politicos don't simply fob off non-answers in response.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Nothing New Here

In a valiant effort to not be forgotten by a fickle public, Tim Hudak is at it again, advocating a policy that is guaranteed to find favour with the public: going after the pension plans of civil servants.

Unfortunately for young Tim, this repetition of his rather tiresome refrain is also an implicit indictment of the paucity of thought, imagination, and policy infecting the Conservative Party at both the provincial and federal level.

Perhaps public floggings for those who are paid from the public purse might capture greater attention?

From Platitude Central - Part 3

Well, it would be nice to report that things are progressing well in terms of specific policy announcements in both the Ontario and federal Liberal leadership campaigns, but sadly, that is not the case. As has been previously reported, the great parade of platitudes continues unabated.

For today's installment, I offer Gerard Kennedy's You Tube appeal for support of his candidacy. While I suspect you will need no help from me in isolating his 'sweet nothings,' allow me to 'prime the pump' (sorry, I can't listen to this stuff without falling into cliches myself) by identifying just one:

"Like many of you, I believe public service is a privilege."

It deteriorates from that 'high point'.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A New Warning About CETA

While much has already been written about the economic threats to Canada inherent in the Canada-European Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement currently being negotiated in secret by the Harper regime, a new development in those negotiations has come to light that will cost all of us dearly.

In a piece entitled Harper government caves in to Big Pharma, Michael McBane reports the following:

Ottawa is prepared to give the Europeans, and the pharmaceutical industry, at least part of what they asked for on drug patents – a move that could cost Canadians up to $1 billion a year.

As McBane points out, thanks to a deal brokered by Brian Mulroney in the 1980's, Canada already pays 15 to 20 per cent more than the international average for new brand name drugs; at the time, the justification was the promise by the pharmaceuticals to invest 10 per cent of R&D (Research and Development)-to-sales in Canada, a figure that has never been realized. In fact, it currently stands at only 5.6 per cent of R&D-to-sales.

Yet despite pharma's betrayal of its undertaking, Canada is once more preparing to give away more of the shop through CETA; reports indicate

Canada will extend monopoly drug patents from 20 to 21 years. This patent extension will come without any conditions. In other words, we get nothing in return for this major concession. No jobs, no research, no innovation, no benefits whatsoever – only higher drug bills.

Prime Minister Harper is found of promoting the message that Canada is open for business. What he doesn't tell us is that it is the business of plundering and pillaging, hardly the basis for a domestic economic revival.

Why Do Those With So Little Prize Democracy So Much?

As I am sure is the case with most passionate political observers, our increasingly dismal turnout at electoral polls is a source of great personal dismay. While our political 'leaders' are busy taking us down an increasingly dark path that promotes the corporate agenda at the expense of the people and the environment, more and more people seem to be opting out of the political process entirely, justifying their non-choices with feeble excuses that include "All politicians lie" and "I'm just not interested in politics."

Perhaps they should take a lesson from the people of Sierra Leone, who recognize that however faint, the hope for a better society can come only from democratic participation.

After enduring a devastating civil war that took place from 1991–2002 at a cost of over 50,000 lives and the recruitment of untold numbers of child soldiers, the country has gradually been resurrecting itself. A good part of that resurrection is attributable to its return to democracy; although the road ahead is still fraught with obstacles, it seems that the the people's faith and participation in that democracy is playing a crucial role.

The Star reports a large turnout in yesterday's election, where people lined up as early as 2 a.m. to ensure that they get the opportunity to vote, the choice being between an incumbent president who has expanded health care and paved roads or an opposition candidate to lead this war-scarred nation still recovering a decade later despite its mineral riches.

Despite the fact that they have so little, the people of Sierra Leone are compelling examples of the richness of a society that takes its politics seriously and holds its representatives to account.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

From Platitude Central - Part 2

“This country has entered some very choppy waters. If elected leader, I will provide a firm hand at the helm to bring the economy safely back to shore.”

“Canada has a greatness that has barely been tapped. I am confident that I have the vision and the plan to mine that greatness.”

"Recognizing the forgotten middle class and the vital role it plays in a healthy economy is probably one of the greatest strengths that I bring to this leadership race.”

What do you think? Am I ready for prime-time politics? Need a bit more work, perhaps? Well, in all candour, I simply made up the above-three cliched platitudes about two minutes ago as I sat down to the computer. Presumably, those who are vying for leadership of the Liberal Party, either on the federal level or the provincial level here in Ontario, have given some thought to their positions and pronouncements before declaring their candidacy, yet their utterances have thus far not risen above the banal triteness of my three spur-of-the-moment declarations above.

In this second of what I hope will be a series of posts on the platitudes that plague our politics, I would like to take a closer look at what the leading Liberal candidate, Justin Trudeau, has been saying:

In his most recent public appearance, young Justin offered the following as he addressed the party faithful in Ottawa last evening (I have taken the liberty of highlighting the egregiously cliched parts:

While offering no specific policy plans to members of the Carleton-Mississippi Mills Liberals, Trudeau talked about it being easy to divide people into various socio-economic classes and regions; that it is much harder to unite a people. He frequently balanced oft-used conservative terms like “hardworking families” with protecting social programs coveted by progressives, sometimes reaching poetic heights of first-person oration.

“It was always the case that if you worked hard, you could make a better life for yourself in Canada. You could progress and have a chance if you left your persecutions and class divisions back home. That shaped us,” he said. “If you worked hard you could succeed. But when winter happens - as it often happens in this country - when winter happens: this country is too big to not lean on each other.” (Okay, the metaphor about winter is kind of nice, but its cliched sentiment breaks no new ground.)

He then went on to talk about young people no longer expected to have a better life than their parents and the ever-increasing wealth gap.

As an appetizer, maybe these words serve a purpose. However, if they are in fact the main course, I must confess to a deep and abiding hunger for something more substantial.

POSTSCRIPT: As an exercise in platitude-parsing and political rhetoric analysis, be sure to check out the text of young Justin speech in which he announces his candidacy for the leadership of the Liberal Party.

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Harper Message To The Citizens Of Canada

Citizens, pay no attention to those who would tear down the environmental accomplishments of your government.*

*This message paid for by the generous taxpayers of Canada ($9 million and rising)

Foreign Investment Rights Versus Canadian Provinces

That the corporate world is ruled by only one imperative, to maximize profits, is self-evident. That it almost always gets its way, no matter what the environmental and social costs, is another truth that our current right-wing political 'leaders' would have us believe is a fiction that exists only in the fevered imaginations of paranoid left-wingers. Fortunately, certain facts are undeniable, no matter how much political spin is administered.

A story appearing in today's Star is quite instructive in this reality. Entitled Ottawa faces $250-million suit over Quebec environmental stance, it discusses how Lone Star Resources Ltd is suing under NAFTA:

Lone Pine contends it deserves $250 million in compensation by Ottawa for the Quebec government’s expropriation of its drilling permit, which it says violates Canada’s obligations to treat foreign investors from other NAFTA countries fairly.

The problem stems from Quebec's moratorium on fracking, a controversial drilling technique for releasing oil and natural gas from underground shale rock formations as it studies its environmental impact,

which some say consumes unacceptable volumes of water and may be contaminating groundwater. Quebec also passed legislation in June banning drilling below the St. Lawrence River.

Indeed, the challenge is yet another reminder of the dangers posed by Stephen Harper's current dalliance with China and the recent signing of the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement. Many claim that the pact, which the Prime Minister has refused to allow Parliament to scrutinize, will in fact open Canada up to the same kinds of challenges that have repeatedly occurred under the NAFTA agreement.

Mr, Harper's hollow reassurances notwithstanding, extreme caution before proceeding seems to be more than warranted.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

From Platitude Central

Kim Campbell once famously said that  "an election is no time to discuss serious issues." Given the paucity of substance emerging thus far from declared candidates in both the Ontario and federal Liberal leadership races, I suspect that same 'wisdom' applies to leadership aspirants.

In the time leading up to selection of the next round of political saviours, it is my intention to track those platitudes regularly in order to chronicle the sad state of political discourse in this country; regrettably, it is a discourse debased not only by the ever-ready opportunistic attacks by opposition parties, but also by our own refusal as citizens to face up to unpleasant realities.

To begin this series, may I recommend perusal of Thomas Walkom's column in today's Toronto Star? In it, Walkom explores the utterances of young Justin Trudeau, the likely soon-to-be anointed next messiah to lead the federal Liberals out of the political wilderness (please forgive the cliche - it just seems so apt here).

The gist of Walkom's criticism is the platitudinous nature of Trudeau's utterances thus far, and of course it is a criticism that too readily applies to all current leadership aspirants on both levels of government:

Youth unemployment? Trudeau spoke firmly against it and said something must be done. It’s only when the reporter checked his notes later that he realized the candidate had never quite said what.

Medicare? The existing system, said Trudeau, is not sustainable. A serious conversation is needed. Otherwise medicare will die from benign neglect.

The most specific he got was in talking of the need for [m]ore emphasis on prevention. More home care. But all without more federal money.

And so the dance of triteness goes on, I suspect with more than a small cadre of media members and the electorate willing to have 'sweet nothings' whispered in their ears.

Whither Goest Democracy?

This thoughtful Star reader provides his answer:

As I attended the Remembrance Day ceremony on Sunday, I thought of all those who died and suffered for our democracy. It made me very sad, sadder than in past years, to think of the current state of democracy in Canada and how our government seems to have so little respect for it.

It makes me sad when our prime minister, with disdain, avoids the democratic process with his omnibus bills. There is more to passing a bill than the vote in the legislature. It makes me sad when federal scientists are ordered not to discuss their research in public forums because it does not support the prime minister’s agenda. Giving scientists government scripts to read was used by the communists and Nazis.

It makes me sad when our elected representatives are ordered to read from scripts prepared by the Prime Minister’s Office. Even our federal employees must direct simple questions from the public to the PMO to further control agenda communications.

Signing secret trade agreements with other governments without discussion or debate make me sad and very nervous. It makes me sad when our government closes an internationally celebrated research facility because it produces science that interferes with government agendas. Experimental Lakes Area, near Kenora, costs taxpayers $2 million a year. It will cost $50 million to shut it down and the feds are apparently trying to secretly sell the property.

It is sad that our government is spending $16 million tax dollars for a media propaganda campaign cloaked as the Canada’s Economic Action Plan. It must be propaganda because the “action plan” program no longer exists — it’s over.

As I stood there on Remembrance Day, my sadness turned to anger. You may be surprised to read that I consider myself a conservative, having never voted Liberal at any level of government. For the next federal election (unless we lose that right as well), I will be working for which ever party has the best chance of beating our local Conservative puppet.

We will have to fight to preserve whatever is left of our democracy after the Harper government term. Democracy is for more important than any economic vision. Canadian’s died for it.

Rick Geater, Beeton

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

This Just In

I've got a bit of a busy morning ahead, so just a brief post for now.

In a study reported in this morning's Star, geneticist Dr. Gerald Crabtree offers his view

... that human intelligence peaked at the time of hunter-gatherers and has since declined as a result of “genetic mutations” that have slowly eroded the human brain’s intellectual and emotional abilities.

Judging by who the electorate has been putting at the helm in Ottawa since 2006, I find the good doctor's thesis difficult to dispute.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

More Hypocrisy from the Far Right

To say that the extreme right is often hypocritical is tantamount to saying that when the sky is clear, it is blue. Nonetheless, I can't help but feel more than my usual disdain when that hypocrisy is especially overt and egregious.

This morning, while waiting for my wife at the dentist's office, I picked up a copy of The Globe and Mail to read one of the few columnists I actually miss from the days that I subscribed, television critic John Doyle. In his column today, entitled Warning: This column contains scary Sun News scenes unsuitable for some readers, he reports that the Sun News channel, which enjoys what could most charitably described as a miniscule audience,

... has put in for mandatory carriage on basic cable in Canada. The elusive, lucrative 9(1)(h) category, as it is called by CRTC wonks. What it means for us is that if you purchase a basic cable package, Sun News would be part of it, whether you bloody well like it or not.

As Doyle points out, this desperate measure to save the station runs completely counter to its notion of freedom:

... isn’t Sun News anti-mandatory on everything? Watching Sun News doesn’t bring many surprises; you’re more likely to get variations on a theme watching the Fireplace Channel. So, mere minutes spent watching its continuing hilarity confirm that it’s against folks being obliged to do anything they don’t wanna do. Like, you’d think, pay for a TV channel they don’t want to watch. On the day Sun News went on the air, Levant declared, “We’re talking about truth and freedom. If you love freedom like I do, it’s a pretty happy day.” Well, sunshine, “freedom,” also means freedom from not having to pay for your channel.

Yet one more reason to hold the extreme right-wing in the contempt they so roundly deserve.

Another Insight From A Star Reader

Whenever I fall into the trap of thinking that the Canadian public is indifferent to the things that are going on both within our own country and abroad, I turn to the letters section of The Toronto Star. Admittedly, the majority of the sentiments expressed accord with my own, especially in their criticisms of the Harper regime and its support for all things corporate, no matter how excessive or immoral.

Today was one such day to draw inspiration. After all of the recent shameless government exploitation of our war dead, many of whom died for noble reasons in the past, and many of who have sacrificed their lives or wholeness of body and mind to unknowingly serve unsavory agendas, an observation from Vincent Colucci of Aurora was most welcome.

I reproduce his entire letter below:

On my way to the cemetery Sunday, I drove by several gasoline stations. Last night the price of gas was $1.20 per litre; this morning it was $1.25.

I looked at the handful of poppies on the passenger seat I was taking to the cemetery, thought of the 5-cent overnight increase that coincided with this particular day, and felt disgusted.

To all those insensitive and egotistical CEOs, to those uncaring members of same corporate boards and to those self-serving shareholders of the petroleum conglomerates: may you all choke on the profits you made Sunday. These profits were made on the backs of all those whose lifeless bodies washed ashore on foreign beaches, were buried in mud-filled trenches, were never found, whose bodies are now only small white crosses in fields throughout the world and whose lives are sadly, for many of us, only a distant memory.

Those lives were readily sacrificed to protect all that is right, just and decent in societies everywhere. Little did the fallen know that their lives also disappeared from the arms of their loved ones to protect the freedom of corporations to exploit and gouge, and provide governments with the licence to oppress their citizenry and straightjacket their rights.

Regrettably we also live in a global society where substance has given way to fluff, where values are determined by the size of bank accounts and where hope continues to fall to the ground along with our tears. This current world state, however, is just fine with the power elite.

There are now, and there have always been, viable options for people to exercize. Unfortunately we live in a global society that fears fear itself, where complacency is the order of the day and where we can’t wait to rush home and lock the door behind us at night.

The bells toll, but there is no one left to bravely confront the cold wall that is corporate and political. The French may have been on to something more than 200 years ago.

Lest we forget.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Glimmer of Hope?

Perhaps the Canadian electorate is salvageable, after all.

The Failures of Our Political Representatives

The other day over at Trapped in a Whirlpool, blogger Kev wrote a post entitled Irrelevant by Choice. In it, he lamented the failure ofParliamentary-backbenchers to do the job they were entrusted with, the representation of their constituents. He wrote:

I choose to believe that the vast majority got involved in politics for the right reasons, because they believed strongly in something and felt they could make a contribution. However, somewhere along the way they were convinced that the only role they could play was to defend the party, tossing away any principles they may have had.

Although our political system is based on what is known as party discipline, like Kev, I have been dismayed by the failure of Conservative backbenchers to show any moral fiber, choosing instead to support the most odious of legislation and propaganda spewed out by a government that evidences little concern with anything save its own ideological agenda, no matter what the cost to the environment, ordinary people's lives, or faith in the democratic process.

My assumption is that in many cases, the siren call of a Parliamentary secretariatship or, the ultimate prize, a seat at the 'adult table' via a cabinet post, overwhelms any residual morality of the people's representatives.

Nonetheless, occasionally the slightest ray shines through on a dark contemporary political landscape. As reported in the print edition of this morning's Star, that ray is to be found on Toronto city council.

Michelle Bernardinetti, one of two women (Jayne Robinson is the other) on Rob Ford's 13-member executive committee, has decided not to seek reappointment to the cabinet-like body, saying, "I'm a Liberal. I'd like to focus on the values that I hold.... It's a great opportunity just to be an independent councillor."

It seems that biggest objection Bernardinetti has to the committee is one that parallels the nature of federal and provincial politics: the whipped vote wherein members face "intense...pressure from Ford's staff" to vote a specific way, supporting even the most inane of the chief magistrate's directives.

Says Bernardinetti: "I'm elected by the 60,000 people in Ward 35, and I have to listen to my residents.

A pity 'tis that our provincial and federal representatives show such deep contempt for such a lofty concept.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

From The Salamander

Lately, I guess as a response to the rhetoric that comes pouring forth every year as Remembrance Day approaches, I have made several critical posts directed against those who find it so easy to don the mantle of patriotism while paying only lip service to the lives lost in war.

In response to one of those posts, the salamander left a poem. With his permission, I am showcasing it here, as I think it very effectively captures some of the motivation behind those who so willingly consign others to the risk of injury or death while fighting wars that hardly serve the purposes their propaganda suggests.

Here it is:

on armchair warriors.. and their ilk ....

--------------------------------- the Theocrats ... assorted aborted Bureaucrats the ethically dead, and marching ants of zombie conservative reform rants

The toxic loutpack ministry of lord Stephan Harper Baird, - Mackay, Oliver and Clement, Kenney, Fantino.. Flattery .. the noisy others

All of them piss-poor pro war hissing cowards sycophant jowly pigmaids in lipstick waiting.. lords of flies, electoral lies and the live and oily robocall

Guided by invisible heavenly white angel noise boot lick back-room - blackberry electro twits and sneery war-room phone call cabin boyz

To their mission-vision calling they must whore.. all wrapped in petro power F-35 bomblet games steeped in wet red dreams of good old fashioned war

And kneeling to their woofing Rapture Beast in Heat in holy Israel.. they inhale their precious time in the trough Wallow Baby.. Wallow.. squeal from your Commons seat

When hobnailed real Canadian boots kick yer stinkin filthy arses high n heavenwards then and only then, will you behold

The filthy Rapture You Deserve.. and Earned

I look forward to hearing much more from the salamander.

And Another Thing ....

When It Comes To Our Veterans

... the Canadian government knows that talk is cheap.

Friday, November 9, 2012

But Would They Be So Enthusiastic

... if they knew anything about their northern neigbour? You decide:

After Cutting Through The Sanctimonious Rhetoric is apparent that, like most governments, the Harper regime has been quite content to recruit, exploit and ultimately abandon those who, in good faith, joined the armed forces to support a 'muscular adventurism' that has both tarnished and diminished Canada's standing in the real (i.e., excluding the U.S.) international community.

Ample evidence of this abandonment is to be found in the words of those veterans and military widows who gathered on Parliament Hill just prior to Remembrance Day, words that paint a stark picture of bureaucratic indifference and red tape that flies in the face of reassurances from the government, which says the care of military families is a top priority.

Retired master corporal Dave Desjardins, who was "proud to serve his country" and is paralyzed from the waist down, had the following to offer:

“What I’m not proud of, however, is how our government officials and senior military leadership can look directly into the camera (and) speak to the Canadian public about honouring our veterans at this time of year with implied conviction when they’ve clearly turned their back on us and continue to demonstrate (that) on a daily basis,” said Desjardins.

He challenged Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney to look him in the eye “and tell me you really care.”

You can read the complete sad story, posted in today's Star, here.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Canadians: Dear Leader Requires Your Uncritical Attention

To absorb and spread this message. Watch, learn, and heed:

Ignore the ugly rumours spread by enemies of the state that Dear Leader advocated this policy in 2008.

As The Republicans Desperately Seek A New Political Religion

...they would be well-advised to read what, in my view (and I know many would disagree) is one of the greatest American novels ever written, John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, the story of dispossessed Mid-West farmers seeking a new life in California. Like all truly significant works, the novel offers penetrating insights into the human condition that the right wing, were it less disdainful of such 'soft' pursuits as the perusal of literature, would do well to heed.

The U.S. Republican Party will soon embark on a necessary process of renewal and the search for a new constituency in its efforts to eventually recapture the White House; as has already been widely reported, those efforts will be grounded in the recognition that their current constituency, thanks to its historically recent capitulation to extremists, largely consists of angry older white men whose numbers and influence are dwindling, thanks both to nature's inexorable course and the growing proportion of Latino voters who, along with other 'minorities,' are strangely unreceptive to the politics of division and disenfranchisement currently peddled by the Republican 'brain trust.'

One of the great strengths of The Grapes of Wrath is its unflinching examination of the dialectic of history. In Chapter 19, Steinbeck offers the following warning to those who refuse to recognize new realities, a message that the privileged few in the U.S. (and elsewhere) would be wise to consider:

Once California belonged to Mexico and its land to Mexicans; and a horde of tattered feverish Americans poured in. And such was their hunger for land that they took the land - stole Sutter's land, Guerrero's land, took the grants and broke them up and growled and quarreled over them, those frantic hungry men; and they guarded with guns the land they had stolen… And as time went on, the business men had the farms, and the farms grew larger, but there were fewer of them.

Now farming became industry, and the owners followed Rome, although they did not know it. They imported slaves, although they did not call them slaves: Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans, Filipinos. They live on rice and beans, the business men said. They don't need much. They wouldn't know what to do with good wages. Why, look how they live. Why, look what they eat. And if they get funny - deport them.

… And then the dispossessed were drawn west - from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico; from Nevada and Arkansas families, tribes, dusted out, tractored out. Caravans, carloads, homeless and hungry; twenty thousand and fifty thousand and a hundred thousand and two hundred thousand. They streamed over the mountains, hungry and restless - restless as ants, scurrying to find work to do - to lift, to push, to pull, to pick, to cut - anything, any burden to bear, for food. The kids are hungry. We got no place to live…. Like ants scurrying for work, for food, and most of all for land.

... They had hoped to find a home, and they found only hatred. Okies - the owners hated them. And in the town, the storekeepers hated them because they had no money to spend.… The town men, little bankers, hated Okies because there was nothing to gain from them. They had nothing. And the laboring people hated Okies because a hungry man must work, and if he must work, if he has to work, the wage payer automatically gives him less for his work; and then no one can get more. (pp. 315-318, The Grapes of Wrath, Penguin Books, 1992)

While many in Steinbeck's day felt both outraged and threatened by his assertion of revolution's inevitability as a reaction to oppression, his message has never been more relevant. Foolish indeed are those who believe they can ignore the lessons of history.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A New Threat To Seniors

I think we are all aware, at least on an intellectual level, that the gift of a relatively long life comes at a cost: physical and sometimes cognitive diminishment, myriad aches and pains, both physical and emotional, and susceptibility to scams and unethical relatives.

Sadly, a new endangerment is on the horizon. Former Ontario Premier Mike Harris and his lovely and youthful third wife, Laura, have hatched a scheme to 'help' their aging fellow citizens. According to a report in today's Star, the duo

...announced Tuesday they are starting a home-care franchise called “Nurse Next Door” to help seniors — pointing out the over-65 crowd comprises 15 per cent of Toronto’s population.

“It’s about helping our seniors celebrate aging and getting them back to doing the things they love,” Harris said in a statement, noting his wife was a registered nurse before joining the business world.

Laura Harris, who will run the day-to-day operations, promised everything from “a few hours of friendly companionship through to round-the-clock nursing care.”

Given the massive hospital layoffs that occurred as a result of Harris's slash-and-burn policies during what was arguably Ontario's worst government, and the complete callousness with which Harris engineered and enacted them, this new venture would seem to be one in which caveat emptor takes on a new and urgent significance.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

On Rembrance Day

After reading a fine piece in today's Star entitled Politics shapes how we commemorate Canada’s wars, by journalist Jamie Swift and history professor Ian McKay, I couldn't help but think back over my time in the classroom, and how I dealt with the subject of war.

It was rare for a year to go by without spending some time with probably the greatest anti-war poem ever composed. Written by Wilfrid Owen, a soldier who died in the Great War shortly before its end, Dulce Et Decorum Est is a searing condemnation of all the countries and all the individuals over the centuries who have trumpeted the propaganda about the nobility and necessity of war. Given the Harper regime's attempts during its tenure to boost the profile of the Canadian military, pursue a 'muscular' foreign policy and trap our young soldiers in an unwinnable war that cost far too many their lives and their health, Owen's work has never seemed more relevant.

Describing the horrific effects of a gas attack, the poem lays down imagery far too vivid to easily forget:

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs, And towards our distant rest began to trudge. Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots, But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time, But someone still was yelling out and stumbling And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.— Dim through the misty panes and thick green light, As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace Behind the wagon that we flung him in, And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin; If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,— My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.

NOTES: Latin phrase is from the Roman poet Horace: “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”

Monday, November 5, 2012

Food Banks: The Art of Enabling

Few rational people would deny the contemporary need for food banks. Begun in Canada largely as a temporary anodyne to recession-induced job losses in the 1980's, they have grown in size and scope, becoming a seemingly permanent fixture on our socio-economic landscape.

The annual study by Food Banks Canada reports the following:

More than 882,000 Canadians used a food bank in March 2012, up 2.4 per cent from last year, says the annual study by Food Banks Canada.

The number of people using meal programs — where meals are prepared and served —also jumped 23 per cent from last year, the study found. It says food bank usage is up 31 per cent since the start of the 2008 recession.

Sadly, increasing numbers of clients are in fact employed but working at jobs that do not provide a living wage.

Having volunteered at a local food bank for over five years, I have found myself increasingly uncomfortable over the fact that I am part of the problem; by helping with their operations, I am in fact aiding and abetting the morally indefensible abandonment of the poor by both provincial and federal governments; by ensuring that the problem is bandaged over by distributing goods high in sodium, sugar and fats, and deficient in nutritional value save for seasonal fruits and vegetables provided by community gardens, in the larger scheme of things I am doing no one any real favours.

It is time to demand more from our governments, who seem almost exclusively focused on the commercial class, whilst ordinary citizens, despite being the putative recipients of economic policy, are relegated to literally accepting scraps from the table.

This dichotomy between Canadian citizens and our corporate overlords is amply drawn in a column this morning by the Star's Carol Goar. Its title, Corporations prosper while food banks overwhelmed, says it all.

We have become a cowed people, too afraid to insist that government take care of its people lest we chase away the chance of a corporation setting up shop here to exploit people at near-minimum wage. After all, as the narrative goes, there are plenty in the developing world happy to work for five dollars a day.

I don't pretend to have the answers, but living in fearful submission and depending on the private goodwill of people cannot be one of them.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Thomas Friedman on What Being Pro-Life Should Really Mean

Still convalescing from food-poisoning, I realized today that my re-entry into regular blogging will likely be slower than I had anticipated. Nonetheless, as the situation has permitted, I have been spending some time getting caught up in my newspaper reading, and would like to recommend a fine piece by Thomas Friedman entitled, Why I Am Pro-Life.

In it, the new York Times columnist pillories the hypocrisy of the arch-conservatives who proclaim pro-life stances and reverence for 'the sanctity of life' while ignoring or actively opposing all those things that would, in fact, help guarantee quality and longevity of life outside of the womb, including measures like gun-control, accessible health-care, and educational opportunity.

As usual, Fridemen has some very worthwhile observations well-worth perusing.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Rick Salutin on Universities

Back from a two-week vacation and almost another week recovering from what I suspect was a food-borne illness acquired from a chicken sandwich I bought in the Rome airport, today's post will be brief, its purpose to direct you to Rick Salutin's latest column.

Entitled Universities are not job-training factories, the piece, while hardly breaking new ground, is a good reminder that there is still a very important role that university education can play in people's lives outside of what seems to have become its primary purpose, at least in the minds of our political and business 'leaders,' job training. Salutin opines the following values:

Students get to read widely and gain a sense of what human beings have been up to over the millennia. This expands their awareness and readies them to appreciate their own lives while contributing to enhancing the lives of others. Plus they learn to think critically, which is important to functioning as citizens rather than social cogs.

He goes on to argue that in this time, when job-sharing and shortened work weeks make sense, we need an educated and articulate population to entertain and discuss such matters. And, of course, if we think about it, having extra time on our hands, whether through unemployment, underemployment or, as in my case, retirement, possessing the tools with which to think critically and deeply really become invaluable assets and resources to draw upon as ways of enriching and deepening the experience we call life.

To me, that is surely a better alternative to the narcotizing effects of 'reality' television and other flights from the quotidian world available to us.