Thursday, January 26, 2012

Time For A Brief Break

Regg Cohn's Thoughts on Catterpillar Inc.

I don't have too much time this morning, but I highly recommend Martin Regg Cohn's piece, which offers, amongst other things, a contrast between how long-serving Conservative Ontario Premier Bill Davis treated labour, and the current do-nothing philosophies of Dalton McGuinty and Steven Harper:

The former Tory premier of Ontario wasn’t perfect, but he was always plugged in. He took labour seriously, listened closely to business and wooed foreign investors (remember Renault?). He knew how to leverage the power of the premier’s office to stand up for Ontario’s greater interests.

A phone call to Caterpillar’s corporate braintrust would show that Ontario’s premier is no pushover. If that didn’t work, a phone call to Harper — who is still trying to live down the tax breaks he gave the locomotive factory’s former owners a few years ago — might find a receptive ear.

While his suggestions are unlikely to move either McGuinty or Harper, who much prefer to offer platitudes such as "We urge negotiations to continue," and "This is a matter between private interests," or, as of January 1st, grant a further federal corporate tax reduction of 1.5%, no strings attached, we must, as a province and nation, keep current with such situations and urge action by communicating with our elected representatives.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Harper Government Identifies A New 'Enemy Of The People' - ForestEthics

Now this is just getting outrageous to the point of surrealism. The latest story in The Star reveals that the PMO has allegedly labelled an environmental group an “enemy” of Canada for opposing a proposed west coast oil pipeline and threatened retribution if its funding was not cut off, according to the affidavit of a former employee.

According to Andrew Frank, a former communications manager with ForestEthics, a group receiving funding from Tides Canada, a charitable group that funds initiatives that address poverty, climate change and social problems, senior federal officials referred to ForestEthics as an “enemy of the government of Canada” and an “enemy of the people of Canada” in a private meeting with the president of Tides Canada, Ross McMillan.

In that meeting, government officials apparently gave McMillan “a set time period … by which to ‘cut loose’ ForestEthics, or the government would ‘take down’ all of Tides’ charitable projects,” Frank said in his affidavit, which was accompanied by internal e-mail correspondence and transcripts of voice mails.

This kind of paranoid and demagogic bullying is unworthy of any democracy, even Harper's.

The Conservative Mantra: Statistics? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Statistics

The title of this post, meant to evoke the misquote of the Mexican bandits as they prepare to eliminate Fred Dobbs, the miscreant protagonist of The Treasure of the Seirra Madre played by Humphrey Bogart, seemed appropriate in light of the Harper government's contempt for the authoritative substance of statistics.

As reported in today's Star,

A new report shows that Canadian police services are using the firearms registry more than ever, relying on it more than 14,000 times a day rather than viewing it as an obsolete and unreliable database as the Conservative government claims.

Don't, of course, expect this striking data to fork any lightning with the right-wing set who, moved by reactionary ideology rather than logic, is still intent on destroying all of the information gleaned over the many years of the registry's existence.

As with the government's prohibition of government scientists speaking out without Harper's permission, as with the elimination of the mandatory long-form census, and as with the imposition of mandatory minimum jail terms and the building of expensive super-prisons at a time of declining crime, all indicators of a regime drunk on power and intent on absolute control, one can only bear witness to this dark period in Canadian history and hope that the slumber of the electorate ends soon.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Unions and Organizational Decay

As indicated in a post written last Sptember, I wholehearted support unions as the best path of resistance to the depredations inflicted by practitioners of unfettered capitalism. That support, however, doesn't mean that I ignore or accept the malfeasance and lack of true representative democracy frequently found in mature union organizations.

The latest incidence of such malfeasance was recently uncovered by The Star, in yet another example of the fine investigative work the paper does. On January 16, the newspaper reported how John Mandarino, a top Liuna executive, was rehired 13 months after having been terminated for misuse of union funds much to the consternation of many:

In a controversial comeback, trustees rehired John Mandarino last summer as the administrator for the training centre of the continent’s largest construction local, Toronto-based Labourers’ International Union of North America Local 183.

The centre’s board had unanimously dismissed him in June 2010 for breaching contract tendering rules, losing valuable government grants, regularly breaking cheque-signing policy and charging unauthorized personal expenses without proper accounting.

A few days later, The Star revealed that not only had Mandarino regained his former post, but was 'rewarded' with a second post:

The Labourers International Union of North America (LIUNA) appointed John Mandarino as director of its Canadian Tri-Fund after rehiring him to head a major training centre.

Fortunately, this sordid tale has a somewhat happy ending, in that today The Star reports that Manadarino has resigned from one of those positions, that of administrator of the Liuna Local 183 training centre, as a result of Star investigation. No word, however, about his position as director of the Tri-Fund.

While the kinds of incestuous relationships suggested by these developments are relatively common within organizations, rarely do they reek of such egregious wrongdoing and contempt for rank and file union members, who surely deserve better use of their hard-earned dues, and should not have to rely on explosive exposes by crusading journalists.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Man Is Not A Piece of Fruit

"I put 34 years into this firm, Howard, and now I can't pay my insurance. You can't eat an orange and then throw the peel away - a man is not a piece of fruit" - Willie Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.

In the play, Willy Loman lives in a world of illusion, a world in which loyalty and long-term service are rewarded by one's employer. Of course, even when the play was written, that ideal was already on the wane to the point that we are now witness to the return of unfettered capitalism worldwide, where workers are yet just another disposable commodity.

In her column today, Heather Mallick writes about how all of the electronic tools that we so highly prize for both our productivity and our diversion are made in China under conditions that are eerily reminiscent of those that gave the Victorian Era such a bad name.

About Foxconn, the electronic company that makes about one-third of all of the electronic devices we use today, she writes:

Cameras watch the line workers and supervisors throughout non-stop shifts of 12 to 16 hours ... the workers wear uniforms. They are not allowed to speak to each other at work. After a recent string of suicides, Foxconn installed nets on the upper floors and made workers sign documents promising not to kill themselves.

When you work as hard as Foxconn employees do for dimes an hour, the joints in your hand disintegrate ... Workers don’t switch from job to job, as Canadian workplace standards would demand. They make the same motion hundreds of thousands of thousands of times until their hands are used up. “When you start working at 15 or 16, by the time you are 26, 27, your hands are ruined.”

And finally, in a slip that reveals much about how the workers are regarded, the head of Hon Hai (Foxconn) last week said:

“Hon Hai has a workforce of over one million worldwide . . . to manage one million animals gives me a headache.”

It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Sometimes, however, words are just as effective.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Voice of Labour Roars

Although those in the embrace of neo-liberalism would have us believe that unions and worker solidarity are but a quaint historical artifact, the size of yesterday's rally in London, Ontario protesting the predatory practices of Catterpillar Inc. suggests otherwise.

In response to the company's attempt to halve the wages of its workers at Electro-Motive Canada and severely reduce pensions and other benefits,

A crowd of more than 10,000 descended upon this city’s Victoria Park to support local workers who have been locked out of their jobs since the new year. They came from all over, from Timmins, Sudbury, and Pennsylvania in scores of buses. They came to protest corporate greed and Stephen Harper.

Ken Lewenza, president of Canadian Auto Workers, offered a sobering warning to the Harper government, which permitted the sale of the company to U.S.-based Caterpillar, and now seems egregiously unconcerned about the disastrous consequences that decision has wrought:

“If the government doesn’t step in, Canada will become a low-paid workforce .... We need to protect the middle class if we want a more equal society.”

Apparently any concern for the fate of the middle class is trumped by Mr. Harper's ideology, an ideology which seems to believe that unfettered capitalism can do no wrong.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

One Step Closer To The Totalitarian State: Chris Hedges On The National Defense Authorization Act

Although I have a somewhat jaundiced view of the intellectual capacity of many Americans, one who I consistently hold in high esteem is Chris Hedges. Please watch the following video in which he offers his objections to Obama's enthusiasm for the National Defense Authorization Act, a law that allows for the indefinite detention, without charge or trial, of anyone suspected of terrorism. As has become the pattern for this so-called progressive President, Obama, who initially threatened to veto the bill, in that great spirit of illusory compromise, suddenly found it quite acceptable.

For accompanying text, please click here.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The G20 Beating of Adam Nobody: Toronto Constable Michael Adams and His Thuggish Colleagues

Despite the impotence of the SIU in pursuing criminal charges against the police thugs who beat Adam Nobody during the G20 Summit held in Toronto in June of 2010, The Globe and Mail reports today that upon the recommendation of an arm’s-length watchdog agency, the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, five Toronto constables will face disciplinary charges under the Police Services Act for their misconduct.

The Globe reports the following:

The OIPRD report says that constables Adams, Babak Andalib-Goortani, David Donaldson, Geoffrey Fardell and Oliver Simpson committed misconduct when they tackled, punched and kneed Mr. Nobody outside the Ontario legislature.

It also discloses the following:

One of those officers whose name is now made public, Constable Michael Adams, was involved two months before the G20 protests in another controversial incident, the arrest of 18-year-old Junior Manon, who died after a struggle while officers tried to arrest him.

By law, despite his blithe earlier dismissal of Mr. Nobody's allegations, Toronto Police Chief bill Blair is now tasked with appointing someone to preside over the proceedings against the accused.

Because of the obvious conflict of interest, let's hope the Chief is forced to pick someone whose impartiality is above reproach. Somehow I'm not counting on that happening.

UPDATE: Police Union Vows To Block G20 Charges

More Joy in Heaven

The above title, taken from both The Bible and the title of a Morley Callaghan novel, suggests the possibility of redemption. There was a report in yesterday's Star amply demonstrating that potential.

When 37-year-old Maxwell Beech was facing sentencing for gun and drug-related charges seven years ago, he expected the worst. The veteran of youth court offences was assuming he would be receiving a sentence of at least four years when the Judge, Hugh Atwood, did something he hadn't anticipated.

“I could see you're a changed man,” Beech remembers the judge told him. He repeats this phrase like a badge of honour.

Atwood sentenced Beech to serve just 90 days on weekends, reporting to Metro West detention centre on Fridays and released Monday mornings, to go home, and raise his son.

“This man gave me another shot. Another opportunity at life,” Beech said.

On Tuesday, Beech returned to Judge Atwood's court to thank him for his mercy, something that set him on a corrective life course, resulting in his now running his own business installing blinds and home security systems.

I mention this not because I do not believe in harsh sentencing for serious and violent offenses (I do), but because a followup story in today's Star discusses how the discretion used by Judge Atwood in Beech's case will no longer be an option because Bill C10, expected to pass into law in Canada by the end of March, will make second chances a thing of the past. Instead, the bill’s mandatory minimum sentences will make sure that people like Maxwell Beech go to jail.

Bill C10, one may recall, is being enacted at a time of sharply declining rates of crime, something the ideologically-drive Harper government seems to think is irrelevant.

The article serves to remind us that to acknowledge the humanity in others, as did Judge Atwell, is also to experience it within ourselves.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Another Politician's Attempt To Suppress Democratic Participation

My previous blog entry dealt with attempts by Giorgio Mammoliti to discourage people from partaking in the democratic process in Toronto. Essentially concurrent with that outrageous behaviour is something equally untenable taking place in Mississauga; this time the villain of the piece is none other than the indefatigable icon of the pro-development set, Mayor Hazel McCallion.

Hurricane Hazel, a sobriquet she perhaps earned for her at-times tempestuous behaviour, has issued a directive forbidding a former resident’s association president from contacting anyone at City Hall but the mayor with her concerns, which range from bylaw violations to the city’s 311 service.

According to McCallion, Jean Overell, the target of this fatwa, has been disrespectful to city staff while filing her numerous complaints. The mayor had said earlier that Overell’s calls to city staff and her ward councillor, Pat Mullin, were “far too numerous,” kept them from dealing with other work, and that Overell’s behaviour violated the city’s Respectful Workplace policy.

Interestingly enough, when Overell made a call to McCallion in December to air a complaint, she said, McCallion “bullied and intimidated” her for calling.

Hazel, now in her 34th year as Mississauga's mayor, has said that this is her last term in office. One wonders if, with her anti-democratic fiat against a citizen of her fair city, she has perhaps already overstayed her welcome?

Why Don't Politicians Like Democratic Participation?

Yesterday I opined on why democratic participation in our country is so muted, and offered two examples of what can be accomplished when people are willing to get involved.

One of the obstacles to greater participation is surely the belief that we have little chance of making an impact because our elected representatives do not listen to us, indeed, seem to actively discourage us from becoming involved.

I definitely got them impression while following the budget debate in Toronto, which saw a record number of citizens making deputations on the cuts that were being proposed. One of the city's most obnoxious councillors, Giorgio Mammoliti, a man quite happy to belittle anyone who questions him, a man who seems to have changed political stripes for the allure of power offered by conversion to the Ford agenda, is now getting his shorts in a twist over ' repeat deputers,' those citizens who have the temerity to make more than one deputation to City Council.

In a story appearing in today's Star, Catherine Porter reports how Mammoliti takes grave exception to people like Mary T. Hynes, a retired teacher whom he lumps into a group he has decided are exercising their democratic duties far too much.

Perhaps the best answer to Mammoliti's carping criticisms comes from Ms Hynes herself:

“I learned that people can make a difference, if they struggle long and hard and respectfully,” she says. “If people hadn’t come down to city hall, what would have happened?”

I suspect there is a lesson for all of us in her words.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

If This Is The Best They've Got...

My daughter just sent me this link. After reading a few of the comments, I couldn't help but remember Charlton Heston's famous line from the original Planet of the Apes:

“Look on the bright side: if this is the best they’ve got around here, in six months, we’ll be running this planet.”

Two Bright Spots For Democracy

I have to admit that on most days, I am darkly pessimistic about the efficacy of democracy. With a federal government whose members are but drones of a martinet Prime Minister, and a domestic populace that seems to be asleep, indifferent, easily manipulated, divided or defeatist the majority of time, I see little basis for optimism. Two events in the news today, however, help to counter that gloomy assessment, just a little.

The first comes from Toronto. Although I do not live there, the size of its municipal government makes it of special interest, especially given that until yesterday right-wing forces, led by Mayor Rob Ford, seemed to control the agenda.

Politics has been defined as the art of the possible. In other words, dictates seldom work as effectively as compromise and consensus. Neither concept held any meaning for Ford who, like the bulldozer he resembles, maintained an attitude that it was "my way or the highway" as he insisted upon deep cuts to programs and services in the 2012 budget. That is, until constituents, roused from their torpor, engaged in what should be a model of participatory democracy. They lobbied their council representatives en masse and filled City Hall with their deputations against the severe cuts championed by the right, thereby prompting left-leaning, centrist, and even a few right-wingers to form a coalition that eliminated the worst of the cuts through an omnibus bill presented by Josh Colle. The final vote: 23-21 in support of the bill.

The second example of democracy's potential power comes from Wisconsin, the home of Governor Scott Walker, the tool of the Koch brothers who did so much damage last year after passing legislation that stripped public employees of their collective bargaining rights.

CNN reports the following:

More than a million people have signed a petition to recall Wisconsin's governor, the state's Democratic Party said Tuesday.

That's nearly twice the 540,208 signatures required to seek a recall of first-term Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who drew the ire of labor unions and public school teachers after he stripped public employees of their collective bargaining rights.

All of us need to take heart from these two examples of what can happen when people mobilize to overcome the forces arrayed against their interests.

Such actions are both our right and our responsibility.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Linda McQuaig on Harper's Anti-Labour Policies

Drawing comparisons between Republican animus toward labour and Harper government policies that permit the kind of outrageous corporate behaviour unfolding at Electro-Motive Canada, Linda McQuaig's column in today's Star warns us of what is ahead for workers in Canada.

Two key excerpts provide the tone of her piece:

Harper played a key role in bringing about this disaster for the London workers by approving the sale of the company, Electro-Motive Diesel, to foreign-owned Caterpillar in 2010, after supposedly investigating whether the deal was in Canada’s interests.

Harper is of course staunchly pro-capitalist, and has aggressively lowered corporate tax rates, while refusing to link lower taxes to investment or job creation.

But his anti-union stance, evident in disputes at Air Canada and the post office last summer, has been particularly provocative. He seems determined to turn Canada into an anti-union paradise

As usual, McQuaig's analysis is well-worth perusing in full.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Self-Serving Rhetoric From The Toronto Police

As one who strives to be a critical thinker, I am loathe to make absolutist or ill-informed statements and assertions, even as I admit to frequently falling short of the mark. Nonetheless, after the debacle of the G20 Summit of June 2010 held in Toronto, I find myself frequently dubious of statements from the police that may serve to conceal or excuse instances of brutality and blatant violation of our Charter Rights.

It is for this reason that I am very skeptical of assertions by the Toronto Police, as reported in today's Star about Sean Salvati.

Readers may recall that Salvati, a paralegal, was arrested, stripped naked, paraded in front of a female officer and left without his clothing in a jail cell in June of 2010, allegedly for public intoxication, a claim he vigorously denies. According to him, his humiliating treatment was prompted by an innocuous remark to a couple of RCMP officers about the task that lay ahead of them the next day, the Saturday of the G20 Summit.

Even if one chooses to disbelieve Salvati's claim, his lawyer's protracted and frequently frustrated efforts to obtain some basic documentation and the video of his client's ordeal is a testament to police obstructionism.

I hope you can spare a few moments to read the entire article.

A Star Reader's Perspective On Caterpillar Inc.

I have been offline for the past several days, the reason for which I may write about later. For now, I am taking the liberty of reproducing the excellent lead letter appearing in the print edition of today's Star in which the writer, Dr. Robert Bahlieda, offers some penetrating insights into the significance of what is happening at the Electo-Motive plant in London, Ontario.

The lockout of the Caterpillar workers in London, Ont. reflects the brave new world of neoliberalism, an extreme right-wing ideology that has taken over Western and global society in the last 25 years.

It is a white, elitist, winner-take-all philosophy that emphasizes tax cuts, competition, de-regulated free markets, toothless labour protections, sharply reduced wages and limited social program funding. This has become the new normal under the mantra of globalization.

In this theory, according to its propaganda, North American working people are always to blame for the economy’s problems through their unwillingness to work for paltry wages without benefits, pensions or full-time jobs. They are also viewed as ingrates who scoff at low-paid work and foolishly demand civil and human rights as employees.

They hold the deluded belief that the world should be a place where society works for the well-being of all rather than the few. They are socialists.

Huge multinational corporations like Caterpillar on the other hand are the true aggrieved party in society, always struggling to increase market share and margins for demanding shareholders in order to create more jobs and grow the economy.

Emboldened by a litany of economic crises in the past two decades, the conservative right smells blood in the water and have ramped up their rhetoric, extremism and attacks on working people, minorities and the poor all over the world.

In the Darwinian universe they envision and believe in governments should drop the charade of democracy and allow business to take over the running of the world. Effectively this is already happening through globalization and free trade agreements, while governments have been left to play the roles of castrated eunuchs ministering to the demands of free-enterprise and wringing their conveniently tied hands.

It is a world where any job is a good job and those who fight for living wages are branded obstructionists or left-wing radicals. It is a world where anyone who resists authority is demonized. It is a world where the private-sector media takes on the social conscience and investigative roles that are the responsibility of democratic governments to protect citizens from the rapacious greed of free marketeers and others who would exploit society for their own gain. It is a world where the many toil for the few and are thankful for doing so.

Instead of being outraged by this situation and giving broad public support to movements like the Occupy flash protests, we sit passively by while we celebrate these corporate titans as though they were mythical gods benevolently dispensing wise, paternal advice to us all.

It is a Milton Friedman world of democracy through capitalism. In the 1960s this situation would have induced millions of people of all ages, colours and backgrounds to occupy every public space around the world — and politicians and governments would have been compelled to listen.

Instead, today we change the channel and move on. Democracy is going away with a whimper. It is the world of the Tea Party, the federal Conservatives and Mayor Rob Ford. Welcome to the brave new world of the London, Ont. Caterpillar workers.

Dr. Robert Bahlieda, Newmarket

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Will The Legendary Harper Vindictiveness Rear Its Head Again?

A report in today's Globe suggests we could soon be seeing another instance of Harper bullying and intimidation tactics.

Well-known for his intolerance of and disdain for dissent, and given his Natural Resources' Minister's recent musings about radicals having infiltrated the environmental opposition to the proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline, Mr. Harper, environmentalists fear, "is planning to limit their advocacy role."

The story goes on to say:

The Conservative-dominated Commons finance committee is set to begin a review of the charity sector, and several activists say government MPs have told business groups that the committee will look at the environmental sector’s transparency, its advocacy role and the flow of funds from outside the country.

Given his autocratic nature and the fact that he has a majority government, there seems little to stop the dark lord from doing as he pleases, except perhaps a clamorous and widespread expression of public indignation over his thuggish tactics.

Given our legendary passivity and docility, I'm not expecting too much of that.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Bob Rae's March toward Coronation

In a development that will likely surprise few, it seems that steps are being prepared to permit Bob Rae, the Liberal Party's interim leader, to run for the permanent leadership. I have little doubt, despite his initial denial that he was seeking the position, that this was Rae's plan all along.

His messiah complex, so evident in his efforts to blame everyone (unions, Buzz Hargrove, the economy) except himself following his loss after one term as NDP Premier of Ontario, is obviously very much alive.

Should they choose Rae, I think the Liberals will find that something else is very much alive as well in Ontario: people's memories of his disastrous rule in which he quite blithely abandoned many of the principles that had guided the NDP for a very long time, choosing instead to placate business interests at the expense of the common good.

Harper To Strike Another Blow Against Democracy To Ease His Frustration

The other day I wrote a post about the dark lord's frustration over the democratic expression of opposition to the Northern Gateway oilsands pipeline. It seems 'dear leader' feels that environmental groups appearing at public hearings are in the sway of 'foreign money' out to hijack the process. It appears that Harper will now abrogate another democratic safeguard to end his pout.

According to a story in The Globe and Mail, because the hearings have been infiltrated by 'radical groups':

The Conservative government will bring forward new rules to greatly shorten environmental reviews of pipelines and other major projects, arguing that “radical groups” are exploiting the reviews to block proposals vital to Canada’s economic future.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver has written a letter, released to the Globe (Hmm, I wonder why that particular organ of big business?) warning of “environmental and other radical groups” including “jet-setting celebrities” funded by foreign special interest groups who “threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological ends.

Despite the Harper propaganda, the story reveals that it isn’t outside interests who are raising the greatest objection to the project. Canadian environmental and aboriginal groups are also strongly opposed, claiming that spills from the pipeline and from ships carrying the oil from B.C. could wreak enormous environmental damage to fish and wildlife.

Natural Resources Minister Oliver concludes his letter by saying that the environmental hearings system “is broken,” ... “It’s time to take a look at it.”

Oliver is right about one thing. The system is broken, but it's not the one that he and his master are so upset about.

Update: Environmentalists sound alarm over Tory stand on pipeline review

The Star's Gloomy Assessment of Corporate Depradations

Today's Star editorial offers a gloomy but apparently realistic assessment of the direction Canada's manufacturing is headed in. Abetted by the federal and Ontario McGuinty provincial governments' seeming indifference to the corporate depredations underway, the most recent occurring at Electro-Motive Canada, and unions that are hamstrung by the refusal of companies to negotiate reasonable contracts, the outlook seems very bleak.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sunday Insight From A Star Reader

I'm reproducing another insightful letter from a Star reader, this time from Edward Carson of Toronto, who writes about how ideology reigns supreme over reality in the Harper government:

The Harper government’s “tough on crime” agenda through Bill C-10 is a policy and fiscal disaster in the making.

A government so focused on this country’s financial resources is putting into place an already discredited solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, one that is certain to strain those very resources. And yet all the evidence is simply being ignored.

The reason is rooted in Harper's adherence to ideology over common sense, but driving that ideology is a mix of easily recognized personal psychology and organizational behaviour resulting in a habit of going to great lengths to avoid a perceived loss — a win-at-all-costs mentality, not unlike that found in sports, that refuses to re-evaluate strategies, ideas or actions inconsistent with the facts.

We see this tendency to undermine rational action or thought in a range of things the Harper government does, from responding to questions in Parliament or media interviews with predigested answers that bear no relation to the questions asked, to larger issues such as their rejection of the long-form census or refusal to adequately address the actual cost of new jets. The initial, often ideological perspective is maintained in the face of empirical evidence to the contrary or the wisdom of a wider collective experience.

Edward Carson, Toronto

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Sad Case of Lucene Charles

Because she failed to complete the paperwork to achieve permanent residency status when she married a Canadian 15 years ago, St. Vincent native Lucene Charles, the mother of four children, three of whom were born in Canada, faces deportation. Please watch the following video and consider signing this petition to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.

Being Stephen Harper Must Be Frustrating At Times

Were I a more compassionate and empathetic man, I suppose I could at times muster a modicum of sympathy for our dark lord, Stephen Harper. Why, you may ask - doesn't he now enjoy a majority government that allows him to impose his will throughout our once fair land? Doesn't he already exert a wholly unholy influence over our once robust structures of democracy? Doesn't he regularly show contempt for the truth, both inside and outside Parliament?

Of course he does, but consider the almost unbearable frustration he must be experiencing now, one that may lead him to a new assault on democracy, not because his will is being thwarted, but because it is being slowed down by those pesky environmentalists he alleges are in the sway of 'foreign interests.' According to today's Star,

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says environmentalists funded by “foreign money” are trying to hijack public hearings on the controversial Northern Gateway oilsands pipeline — and the government would like to put a stop to such activities.

In high demagogic dudgeon, Mr. Harper warns about dark foreign forces arrayed against us, a threat to both our economy and our way of life, as more than 70 native groups oppose the project and 4,300 people have signed up to give evidence at the hearings on the environmental and economic impact of the proposed $5.5 billion pipeline. Our dear leader decries the use of foreign money to really overload the public consultation phase of regulatory hearings just for the purpose of slowing down the process.

“This is something that is not good for the Canadian economy and the government of Canada will be taking a close look at how we can ensure that our regulatory processes are effective and deliver decisions in a reasonable amount of time,” he said after a government announcement in Edmonton.

Annie Roy, a spokesperson for the Northern Gateway review panel, responded by reminding Harper that the panel “is an independent body, mandated by the Minister of the Environment and the National Energy Board,” to hold public hearings.

But since Harper is a man not the least bit deterred by the once powerful traditions of Parliamentary democracy, expect him to find a way to shorten, even abrogate this environmental process.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Ottawa Police Chief (Do You Remember Tracy Bonds?) Appointed to Senate

Despite the CBC puff piece interview of Ottawa Police Chief Vern White on his appointment by the Harper government to the Senate, many will remember him as the chief presiding over infamous police prisoner abuse cases in Ottawa, especially the one involving Tracy Bonds.

Given Stephen Harper's diversionary crackdown-on-declining-crime-legislation, his choice makes perfect sense.

Pension Fund Shuns Walmart

Years ago, when Maple Leaf Foods was demanding deep concessions from its workers in Burlington, Ontario, many teachers tried to get the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan to divest itself from the company. We were unsuccessful, the response being that the Plan had a fiduciary responsibility to its members to maximize earnings, so ethical considerations could not be an influence in investment decisions.

It is good to know that not all pension funds think this way. The €239bn Dutch civil servants and teachers pension fund ABP has announced that it will no longer invest in U.S. retail giant Walmart, arguing that it persists "in behaviour that runs counter to the UN Global Compact's principles in the areas of human rights, labour, anti-corruption and the environment."

One of the reasons for the divestiture is Walmart's well-known anti-union stance, coupled with tactics that punish, usually by dismissal, those who try to unionize a store, and in extreme cases, by store closures:

ABP has excluded Walmart over of its personnel policy, which "violates international directives, particularly with regard to working conditions and the opportunity for employees to unionise."

It's sad that taking a principled stand against corporations that exploit their workers makes the news because such ethical behaviour is the exception, not the rule, in investment decisions.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

From a Star Reader: Welcome to Harper’s Harsh New World

A particularly insightful lead letter is found in today's Toronto Star. Because most letters seem to be available online for but a short time, I am reproducing writer Stephen Douglas' thoughts on the folly of our pseudo-economist Prime Minister's tax giveaways to the corporate sector, which continues its relentless mission of eradicating good-paying jobs from Canada:

On Jan. 1, 2012 the last of five annual corporate tax cuts took effect, reducing the federal rate by another 1.5 points to 15 per cent, now among the lowest rates in the industrialized world. This amounts to a total $2.85 billion in tax savings for the most profitable of Canadian business.

The notion that this will spur new jobs is a fallacy; tax breaks don’t benefit those businesses starting up who are not yet in a profitable position. Nor will it lead to increased capital expenditure by those business who do receive it; Stephen Harper himself was recently complaining about all the private business money “sitting on the sidelines” in Canada during these recent difficult times. His solution? Give them more.

At the same time, Harper’s government is proceeding with increases in employment insurance premiums. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, representing those small- and medium-sized businesses least likely to benefit from the new lower corporate tax rate, are protesting loudly with a 15,000 signature petition that this will, in fact, deter the hiring of any new employees. It is completely without merit, they add, as they have been overpaying into EI for years. As evidence, Employment Insurance currently has a robust surplus of $57 billion (2009-10), which our own auditor general has described as excessive.

The net effect of Harper’s New Year 2012 package is yet another transfer of several billion dollars in annual income from Canadian workers and small business to the largest of corporations, which are already reaping the highest profits. To add salt to the wound, these big players that Harper is generously rewarding are also significantly held by foreign-ownership (some estimates are that foreign ownership holds more than 50 per cent of the petroleum and gas industry shares and more than 50 per cent of all manufacturing in Canada).

Without any justification, for there is no economic analysis pointing toward any type of capital exodus out of Canada (to the contrary, we are traditionally considered a safe haven in turbulent periods), this New Year’s Day package pinches hard-earned dollars out of the pockets of low- and middle-class workers and pads the war chest of corporations and the wallets of their shareholders, among whom disproportionately are the wealthy, the elite and the foreign financiers.

For the last 25 years in the U.S. and Canada — under both Conservative and Liberal administrations — economic policy has been dominated by the economic philosophy of neoliberalism, emphasizing the primacy of market competition while vilifying government intervention and regulation of markets. Neoliberals insist that price adjustments ensure full employment.

In contrast, to quote Thomas Palley, what we have witnessed has seen “a slip between the cup and the lip” as the wealthiest have concentrated their power; a fall in real wages, the undermining of unions and the erosion of workers’ rights, and growing problems of poverty alongside an increase in wealth amassed by a very small minority. What neoliberalism has failed to account for is the abuse of power that accompanies the control of media and the funding of politicians.

Money does not have a conscience, and those who act to increase their personal wealth at the expense of their neighbour will find their rationalization within neoliberalism.

Harper and his cadre of conservative ideologues share this collective denial. In these hard economic times where concern is growing about the disparity of wealth, when one in nine Canadian children live below the poverty line while fewer than 4 per cent of the households hold 67 per cent of our total financial wealth (estimated total holdings of $1.8 trillion), he is thrusting us back toward a harsh Dickensian world and hopes we will be grateful for the crumbs we receive.

Stephen Douglas, Toronto

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Caterpillar, Inc. - A Reprehensible Corporate 'Citizen'

When I think of caterpillars (which, until recently, I have to admit, has been rarely), I think of a slow-moving yet determined creature on its way to metamorphosis, often into something quite beautiful. Unfortunately, that gentle imagery must be cast aside when considering Caterpillar Inc., an ugly corporate entity intent on wreaking havoc to those in its employ.

As previously noted, Electro-Motive Canada, a subsidiary of the company, has made untenable demands of its workers, resulting in a lockout at its London plant. In The Star today, David Olive writes on how the gutting of contracts is a practice well-documented in Caterpillar''s American operations, employing a tactic best described as a war of attrition against its employees:

The firm has a practiced skill at “taking a strike” for as long as required until workers straggle back to work across their own picket lines.

Indeed, the usual excuse of seeking increased productivity during difficult times doesn't even apply to its ruthless tactics:

Well ahead of the Great Recession, during a banner year for the world’s largest maker of construction and mining equipment, Cat insisted that its managers gird for a worst-case scenario of an 80 per cent plunge in sales over two years.

And on a single day in 2009, Caterpillar blithely laid off 11,000 employees, or 9 per cent of its global workforce. Like most U.S. employers, Cat has a hair-trigger for layoffs at the first sign of tough times.

Despite this well-documented practice, it was given permission by Industry Canada in 2010 to purchase Electro-Motive Canada in London, for generations the North American locomotive arm of General Motors Corp.

And yet silence over this outrageous corporate behaviour, which would assumes violates the terms of the foreign takeover, ensues from both the Harper government in general, and Industry Canada is particular.

Where is the outrage?

What were the terms, if any, that Industry Canada stipulated for Electro-Motive's purchase?

Where are the leaders of the opposition parties, who have thus far observed the same stony silence as the government?

Who will speak up in defense of good-paying Canadian jobs?

One shudders to consider the answers.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

More Good News For the Corporate Sector

While corporations continue the arduous task of union-busting and contract-gutting, their efforts are being amply rewarded. Not only has a beneficent and ideologically-driven Harper government cossetted them with a record-low tax rate, but the captains of industry who lead these voracious job-destroying entities are also prospering quite nicely thanks to compliant and obsequious boards. To put their good fortune into perspective, according to a report published Tuesday by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, by lunchtime today, Jan. 3, the highest-paid chief executives officers in Canada will have earned as much as the average Canadian makes in an entire year.

As announced in The Star today, while the majority of Canadian workers are struggling with either stagnant, eroding or minimum wages, in 2010 those toiling as corporate CEO's, regardless of company performance, garnered an average 27% increase in remuneration over the previous year, while by comparison, the average Canadian earned $44,366 that year, or 1.1 per cent more than in 2009.

I ardently await the renewal of the Occupy Movement.

Monday, January 2, 2012

American 'Rocket Scientist' Pronounces on The Electric Car

[Sigh,] and some say this is the best the Republicans have to offer in the next election.

Our Prime Minister's Great Economic Plan Seems To Be Working .... For the Corporate Sector

In light of the ongoing dismantling of our industrial base by our corporate 'masters,' coupled with the latest reduction in the corporate tax rate engineered by the pseudo-economist Stephen Harper, this video is worth viewing:

Caterpillar Locks Out Employees at London Plant

After unilaterally imposing the terms of its last contract offer on its workers, terms of which entail the halving of wages and a substantial reduction in benefits, Electro-Motive Canada, a subsidiary of U.S. industrial giant Caterpillar Inc., has locked out its Lomdon-based workers.

The Harper government, which permitted the company's sale to an American corporate entity through Industry Canada, remains silent on the performance guarantees given by Caterpillar as a condition of the sale.

A great beginning to 2012, one that follows a pattern well-established in 2011.

One final note: Caterpillar's earnings for the third quarter ending Sept. 30 totaled US$1.14 billion, up 44% from a year earlier.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Michael Ignatieff on the Politics of Fairness

Many of the worst excesses of the age of greed occurred in markets that were anything but free, anything but transparent. Government must be there to clean up markets riven by fraud, corruption, insider trading and toxic products that made risk systemic. Competition demands that governments are prepared to use their anti-trust, anti-monopoly functions to dismantle institutions that have become “too big to fail.”

The above excerpt, taken from a piece recently written by Michael Ignatieff, sounds great, doesn't it?

Unfortunately, like his other suggestions found in the article, none will ever become reality for one simply reason: Today's political parties and their leaders are usually much more concerned about their own fortunes than they are about those of the larger society they govern or aspire to govern.

A safe prediction for 2012: Nothing will change.