Friday, April 29, 2016

Four Days In A Wild Weather Week

I admit I am a bit of a weather geek. To witness nature's fury and our powerlessness in its face is truly humbling. However, the other reason for my fascination with our increasingly volatile and destructive weather is the rueful recognition of our collective refusal to make any changes that might mitigate the worst effects of climate change. If given the option of sacrifice (losing some convenience, changing our lifestyle, taming our bloodlust for beef, paying higher prices for energy, etc.) or enduring the destructive force of climate change, it seems that for almost everyone, both leaders and the led, the choice is lamentably clear.

We get what we deserve:







Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Rich Businessman's Humility

Far too many employers see their employees as disposable, fungible, or, even worse, targets to exploit. I am happy to report that the CEO of Chobani yogurt, Hamdi Ulukaya, is not one of them. He is giving his people a 10% share in his company, shares that they will be able to sell, once the company goes public. The money that these workers will soon receive means a lot, they say, but being appreciated means even more.

Watching this report, I couldn't help but wonder how different our world would be if more owners felt the same way about the people who make their success possible.



Should you want to read more about this remarkable gesture, click here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Truth Is Not Out There - It's Right Here

Fox Mulder of the X-Files got it wrong. He believed that the truth was 'out there;' in fact, it is right here, but as the Mound of Sound said in a recent post, we live in "a world full of fact-resistant humans."

Our capacity for denial seems almost limitless, perhaps most tragically attested to by our ongoing nonchalance about climate change. Despite increasingly severe weather events, melting arctic ice and rising sea levels, we insist on whistling past the graveyard. The time is growing very late.

Consider what Gwynne Dyer had to say recently:
We cannot count on the average global temperature rising steadily but slowly as we pump more and more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It may do that -- but there may also be a sudden jump in the average global temperature that lands you in a world of hurt. That may be happening now.

"We are moving into uncharted territory with frightening speed," said Michel Jarraud, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, last November. He was referring to the fact that the warming is accelerating in an unprecedented way.

2014 was the hottest year ever, until 2015 beat it by a wide margin. 2016 may beat that record by an even wider margin. It was the hottest January ever and the average global temperature in February was a full fifth of a Celcius degree higher than January.
To take solace by blaming recent event on El Niño is folly:
As for the frightening acceleration in the warming in the past three months, that has no precedent in any El Niño year, or indeed in any previous year. It could be some random short-term fluctuation in average global temperature, but coming on top of the record warming of 2014 and 2015 it feels a lot more like part of a trend.

Could this be non-linear change, an abrupt and irreversible change in the climate? Yes. And if it is, how far will it go before it stabilizes again at some higher average global temperature? Nobody knows.
What was once thought to be many decades, if not centuries off, is now starting to materialize. Watch the following two videos to consider what may very well be in store for us, perhaps in the lifetime of some alive today, but almost certainly in that of our children and grandchildren:





Such scenarios are no longer in the realm of science fiction, but we continue to treat them as such, and it doesn't appear that anything will shake us and our 'leaders' from this state of denial. It therefore seems appropriate to end this post with Jimi Hendrix's version of Bob Dylan's All Along The Watchtower, a song that I have always interpreted as depicting impending doom:

Monday, April 25, 2016

Guest Post: A Manitoban Reflects On His Province's Choice of Brian Pallister's Conservatives



I have a friend in Winnipeg with whom I regularly speak and correspond. Although he does not work in the field, he is possessed of a keen mind and a journalist's instincts and methodology that enable him to frequently uncover an array of misbehaviour on the part of public officials and organizations. I have urged him to devote himself to these pursuits when he retires, perhaps in a blog or some other forum.

He has given me permission to publish a missive he sent me about the recent Pallister victory in his province. For very good reasons he wishes anonymity, so he will remain unnamed, but here is, slightly edited, what he had to say:

Montreal Simon is a well-informed man and also knows the importance of history. If only people remembered things, especially political history.

The point that bothers me the most regarding the conservative victory here is that it is so large. I was hoping for a miracle such as a minority government but the unwashed have spoken. It will take more than one term to extinguish this government just because there are so many ridings held by it. Back in 1977 I remember when the Lyon government came to power. As a political rube at the time (I was a wet behind the ears high school student in grade 12) I had no idea how partisan politics could become. Manitoba was perhaps a more ‘balanced’ place at that time as Lyon only lasted one term before the electorate threw him out. Now no one seems to remember the legacy of the Filmon government.

In the late eighties came the Filmon government. Thanks to the spread of neo-liberal thought Gary was able to win three elections in a row. I remember his puckish grin during a news interview for the latest triumph. He called his third mandate a ‘threepeat’, echoing his competitive jock background (was a big basketball star at Sisler High). Nobody now remembers his lies (‘We have no plans to sell MTS”), bureaucratization of health care (creation of regional health authorities with resident bean counters who ‘manage’ care), big investments in casinos (great jobs, right) and cutting funding in education and healthcare (16-20 million for each department); also a bald attempt to privatize segments of provincial healthcare.

Meanwhile as cuts and austerity were implemented in the public sector no one paid much attention to the money showered on the private sector. Let’s see; 16 million gift to the Winnipeg Jets pro hockey team, increase in funding to private schools, subsidies for international companies: an American phone centre company called Fanueil and a Korean computer outfit call Wang. Both folded their tents within a couple years and quietly left the province with who knows how much government cash. I think the crowning financial toilet flush of public money occurred in the late nineties when the government was preparing to host the Pan American Games. The final price tag was never really pegged but of course to ask the total cost would cast a pall over the festivities enjoyed by Manitoba’s class conscious elite. They wanted this so bad that I remember one of the province’s leading plutocrats actually coming out into the public light of day and demanding that the Filmon government spend more money on the games (or else he would quit the organizing committee).

Ahh Lorne, memory is such a curse. Why do I torture myself? Guess I will be living through ‘interesting times’ as the Chinese say.

To cap it off the news brings word of more victory for the dark forces; Duffy acquitted, no one in the PMO even charged. The CBC continuing to ignore stories of importance and merit. Here is a link to the Huffington Post. It published an AP story on South Korea. Maybe CBC avoided publication because it might affect its bid for broadcast rights for the 2018 games?

P.S.: John Ralston Saul was right in that we are an ‘unconscious civilization.’

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Words, Words, Words

Talk, as they say, is indeed cheap.



During his New York trip, the prime minister touted an all-of-the-above approach where additional oil production can coexist with cleaner technology, and more wealth gets spent on energy innovation.
Not so sure that passes the smell test.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Rationalizations: The Slippery Slope To Hell?*

In response to a recent post on the Liberals' refusal to re-examine the $15 billion arms deal originally struck by the Harper regime with the repressive human-rights violator Saudi Arabia, an anonymous commentator wrote:

Who will tell the 5,000 workers and their families that they are going to lose their jobs? Will you contribute money from your fatty pensions to put food on their table so their children don't go hungry? Or don't you care?

I responded:

What you are arguing here, Anon, is that jobs are more important than people's lives. It is an argument that likely holds sway during a time when the neoliberal agenda prevails, but it is, at bottom, a totally amoral position, in my view. If followed to its natural conclusion, perhaps we should be attempting to offer incentives for handgun manufacturers to set up shop here as well. They would certainly provide jobs, but at what social and moral cost? As well, should we stop all efforts at mitigating global warming since they will inevitably lead to unemployment in the oil patch and all the industries that supply it?

Short-term gain for long-term misery is a devil's bargain.


In a similar vein, Scott Vrooman recently asked Canadians this question: "Are jobs worth killing for?"




Clearly, many would like to equivocate and take the issue outside of the arena of morality. Are such rationalizations the slippery road to hell?



* For the literalists out there, I am using hell in a metaphorical, not a literal sense.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Thursday, April 21, 2016

UPDATED: Obama: On Bended Knee To The Saudis

I'll defer to others much better versed than I am in the vagaries of international politics to offer a more informed analysis, but the recent deference of the U.S. toward Saudi Arabia warrants a closer look. Despite, or perhaps because of, an unfortunate recent characterization by Barack Obama of the repressive Middle East kingdom as free riders eager to drag others into the region's sectarian conflicts, he has made a 'mea culpa trip there to soothe over tensions.

But why the apparent deference? The obvious answer involves the Saudis' massive oil deposits as well as their strategic location, but another issue has arisen in which the American president is acting as a hindrance to those 9/11 survivors who want to sue Saudi Arabia:



As you can see, a real fear is the Saudis' threat to liquidate $750 billion in American holdings. That fear has likely prompted this deferential visit by an American president. Better, it seems, to deny your citizens justice than to face an economic upheaval.

The argument that Obama gives for trying to impede the bipartisan bill that would allow citizens to sue the Saudi Arabian government seems weak to me. He claims it could open the floodgates to other countries suing the U.S., but as far as I know, there is nothing to prevent such action now. The following report probably offers the most realistic assessment of the sorry situation:



The Saudis have consistently received special and deferential treatment from the U.S. Some will recall that shortly after 9/11, when all air traffic in the U.S. was grounded, a group of Saudis, including relatives of bin Laden, was whisked back to their kingdom. And as indicated in the above video, now it is trying to keep classified 28 pages of a congressional report into the attack.

Vox says this:
In 2002, shortly after a Joint Congressional Inquiry into the 9/11 attacks concluded its report, the Bush administration ordered that the inquiry permanently seal a 28-page section that investigated possible Saudi government links to the attack. It has remained sealed ever since.

Some members of Congress who have read the report, but are barred from revealing its contents, describe it as potentially damning. An unnamed member of Congress told the New Yorker, "The real question is whether it was sanctioned at the royal-family level or beneath that, and whether these leads were followed through."

"The 28 pages primarily relate to who financed 9/11, and they point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier," former Sen. Bob Graham, who is leading the charge to release the document, said in February.
It is an unwarranted protection of Saudi interests that must end, according to Andrew C. McCarthy, who, as described in a Wikipedia entry, led
the 1995 terrorism prosecution against Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and eleven others. The defendants were convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and planning a series of attacks against New York City landmarks.[4] He also contributed to the prosecutions of terrorists who bombed US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He resigned from the Justice Department in 2003.
Says McCarthy,
it is long, long past time — for the United States government to come clean with the American people, and with the families of Americans slaughtered on 9/11 by 19 jihadists, 15 of them Saudis. The government must disclose the 28 pages of the 2002 congressional report on the 9/11 attacks that it has shamefully withheld from the public for 14 years. Those pages outline Saudi complicity in the jihad.

It is nothing short of disgraceful that the Bush and Obama administrations, relying on the president’s constitutional authority over foreign intelligence and the conduct of foreign affairs, have concealed these materials.

Injustice frequently prevails in our fractured world. Despite all of the public clamour, I somehow doubt anything will soon change for those victims of terrorism currently seeking redress.

UPDATE: Thanks to Alison for providing this link:
Award-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh talked in a wide-ranging interview with journalist Ken Klipperstein about the complex relationship between the United States, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, which he reported on extensively in his new book, The Killing of Osama Bin Laden.

Among other things, Hersh said in the exclusive AlterNet interview that the Saudi government bribed Pakistan with “hush money” to hide Osama bin Laden from the U.S. because the Saudis didn’t want the Americans to interrogate him.

“The money was from the government … what the Saudis were doing, so I’ve been told, by reasonable people (I haven’t written this) is that they were also passing along tankers of oil for the Pakistanis to resell. That’s really a lot of money,” Hersh told Klipperstein.

The bribe, in the form of money and tankers of oil, was in the amount of “hundreds of millions [of dollars],” but he didn’t have solid figures to share.
As well, be sure to check out Alison's post on the history of Canada's cozy arms-dealing relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

No Simple Solutions

Over the years, I have learned to be wary of those who promise simple solutions or argue issues within a black and white framework. People who embrace, for example, Donald Trump's promises to 'bring jobs back to America' without asking the key question, 'How?' are acting like those religious fundamentalists who accept The Bible as literal truth. Similarly, when a particularly contentious issue arises in public policy, to reflexively embrace or reject it based on personal values, beliefs or ideologies is to negate the crucial role that critical thinking must play in informed and effective policy formulation.

Such, I believe, is happening in the assisted-suicide legislation introduced by the Liberal government. It is, admittedly, very cautious and conservative legislation:



The government’s proposal is more restrictive than some proponents of legal assisted suicide had sought. It does not include provisions for minors who may be capable of making decisions about their own medical care to choose to end their lives, nor does it allow for people in the early stages of illnesses like dementia to request an assisted death while they are still competent.

As The Star's Tim Harper points out, this compromise legislation satisfies few:
It created a void that is rapidly being filled by progressives who are understandably upset that the rights of those suffering grievously from mental illness, mature minors, or those who wish to provide advance directives have not been respected in this legislation, providing two tiers of those who are eligible to die with dignity.

It also left enough holes in the legislation for conservative opponents, in this case, many of Canada’s churches, to exploit concerns from their perspective.
In other words, almost no one seems satisfied with the proposal as it stands, including many Liberal senators, who want a bill that grants far greater accessibility.

But I am satisfied with the bill as it now stands.

I have given the issue a lot of thought, and although my position is perhaps no more valid than that of others who have devoted similar time to considering the notion of assisted death, allow me to state my view, for whatever it is worth.

First, I am totally in favour of the right to choose death for those who have terminal conditions and are facing a great deal of suffering as their disease progresses. ALS is one of the cruel diseases that comes to mind. Without any effective treatment or symptomatic relief, its terminal stages are terrible to even contemplate.

That said, I am also in favour of the very cautious approach evident in the proposed legislation. I have surprised myself by also being in agreement at this point not to allow those in the early stages of dementia to request assisted suicide after their disease has progressed.

This position, which I have come to after much thought, is not the one I thought I would hold.

I suspect that the majority of us fear dementia more than almost anything else. I certainly do, and for a long time I agreed with the notion that it would be good to be able to prearrange one's exit from a hopeless situation. However, two experiences, upon reflection, have altered my view and caused me to ask a fundamental question: Whose interests are really being served by allowing a dignified demise to the demented?

My mother suffered from dementia for the last five years of her life. Additionally, due to protracted stays in the hospital, she developed gangrene, first in one leg and then the other, both requiring amputation. During her full-blown dementia, which seemed to manifest itself with her first hospital stay for a broken hip, she was quite delusional, never really aware, it seemed to me, of her actual situation. Objectively speaking, by most people's standards, she had little quality of life - bedridden, confused, a mere shell of who she had been.

Yet she was sufficiently aware, until the last few months of her life, to know us whenever we visited her, and I like to think that those visits brought her some pleasure. Although she had been having earlier memory problems, my mother's abrupt transition into dementia seems to have also protected her from any awareness that would have produced profound suffering. If anything, she seemed always to be in good cheer.

Unlike my mother, my mother-in-law was aware that she was developing dementia, something she had always feared. Her descent was gradual, as is usually the case. It caused her some distress for a time as she realized what she was losing. Yet again, after being in assisted living and eventually a nursing home, as her disease progressed, she no longer seemed in distress, as her awareness of what was happening decreased to the point where it was ultimately non-existent. Again, I can't say that she was suffering, except perhaps due to what she once told me was her discomfort over 'communal living.'

Eventually, at some level, my mother-in-law decided it was time to die; she no longer ate, and drank very little. Quite rightfully, the family respected her wishes and allowed her a dignified exit without imposing a feeding tube, etc. to keep her alive. It was the right choice.

So I now return to my earlier question about whose interests are being served by allowing a dignified demise to those suffering from dementia. As my two examples suggest, it is not necessarily for the one suffering such a terrible fate. Could it not, at least in some cases, be for those loved ones who are distressed to see a parent, husband, wife, brother or sister in such a broken state, assuming theirs are lives no longer worth living?

My point in writing this is a simple one: while currently in our right minds, we may indeed feel that it would be best to prearrange our assisted death to avoid a protracted and undesirable demise. However, can we really know what we will feel like once the acute awareness stage of early dementia passes? If we cannot answer that question with any degree of certainty, it is best, I believe, to err on the side of caution, as the Trudeau government is currently doing.

Monday, April 18, 2016

I'm Just A Poor Boy, Nobody Loves Me

That famous line from Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody might have been the inspiration, and is certainly the subtext, for James Forcillo and his lawyer's pleas that poor baby James be allowed to serve whatever sentence is passed down to the killer of Sammy Yatim as house arrest.


The officer’s acquittal on a charge of second-degree murder means his use of lethal force was justified and the mandatory minimum penalty he faces is grossly disproportionate to his conduct, his lawyers argue in written submissions filed in Ontario Superior Court.

“The moral culpability of the applicant [Constable Forcillo] is at the lowest end that can be reasonably contemplated for an attempted murder conviction and there was no attendant harm to Mr. Yatim,” writes lead defence lawyer Peter Brauti.
In analyzing the verdict and the actions of Constable Forcillo, his lawyers maintain that it is not appropriate to impose a prison sentence. “The logical and legal effect of the jury’s verdict is that they accepted it was reasonable and necessary to kill Mr. Yatim,” states Mr. Brauti. “The second volley did not accelerate death in any way; it had no meaningful impact on Mr. Yatim’s health and it was incapable of causing Mr. Yatim any pain,” he adds.

Constable Forcillo’s lawyers also intend to appeal the actual verdict, but can not do so until after the sentencing.
Incidentally, unless he goes to jail, I assume Forcillo will continue drawing his police salary, as he is now.

Since I started with Queen lyrics, I'll end with them too, again from Bohemian Rhapsody:

Essy come, easy go, will you let me go?
Bismillah! No, we will not let you go. (Let him go!)
Bismillah! We will not let you go. (Let him go!)
Bismillah! We will not let you go. (Let me go!)
Will not let you go. (Let me go!)
Never, never let you go
Never let me go, oh.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no.
Oh, mama mia, mama mia (Mama mia, let me go.)

Come to think of it, the entire song seems applicable to Forcillo:




Not An Obsession



Looking at the sidebar that lists the tags on my blog posts, I see I have written well over 100 entries on the police, most of them dealing with their abuse of authority; some of those abuses include the murder of unarmed or barely armed people, others the senseless beating of people. All of them attest to a constabulary, whether Canadian or American, out of control and contemptuous of any efforts to bring them to accountability of justice.

Some might say I am obsessed with the topic, but they would be wrong. What I think I am obsessed with is the desire for fairness and justice and an utter and complete contempt for those who abuse their power and authority.

Here in Ontario, that abuse is rampant, and true accountability is rare. The responsibility for such a sad state of affairs resides largely with the provincial government.

Governments seem loathe to incur the ill-will of those sworn to protect and serve us. With their 'us against them mentality,' the police have proven to be formidable forces to fear when politicians and other prominent people incur their wrath.

Legislators are failing us, and it has to change.

Consider, for example, the secrecy that surrounds SIU investigations of police actions. When their investigations are complete and they exonerate, as they almost always do, police officers who have either beaten, shot or killed a person, the public is not allowed to know the basis for exoneration, the names of the officers involved, or anything else that might provide an inkling of how the investigatory body reached its conclusion. What I didn't know until the other day is that such secrecy is not mandated under the Police Services Act.

As revealed in The Star,
the report prepared by the director of the SIU, the agency that probes deaths, serious injuries and allegations of sexual assault involving police in Ontario, goes straight to the desk of the Attorney General — and nowhere else.

The Police Services Act, the law that governs the SIU, says the watchdog’s director must report the results of investigations to the Attorney General. It doesn’t state the reports cannot be sent elsewhere or made public.
So what is stopping a wider release of SIU reports?
The spokesperson for Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur [says] the reports contain information protected under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, “including information relating to affected persons (e.g. persons seriously injured), witnesses and officers under investigation.”
According to Brian Beamish, Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, this is a bit of an evasion:
“While the name of a police officer who has been the subject of an investigation by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) would likely be personal information, there may be circumstances of significant public interest where the SIU may disclose the name or other information associated with its completed investigations for the purposes of fostering accountability and public confidence in police services, and ensuring transparency in its operations,” Beamish told the Star in a statement.
While public consultations will soon be announced by the Wynne government into Ontario's police oversight mechanisms, there really is nothing that exists in current legislation to either encourage or prevent much greater public accountability and scrutiny right now.

The bright light of public scrutiny is something the police themselves seem to fear, and while our political 'leaders' allow themselves to be bullied by our public 'protectors,' horrible situations like the killing of Rodrigo Gonzalez at the hands of police will continue:



Clearly, the dire situation demands strong, unambiguous and immediate remediation.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Andrea's Damascene Moment



In the Book of Luke, Jesus is reported to have said the following:
I tell you that ... there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
In Acts of the Apostles, Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus is described:
As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The pure of heart might indeed feel that those passages resonate when contemplating Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath's recent conversion to the belief that the minimum wage should be $15 per hour, latching on to a movement that has been gaining a great deal of traction over the past few years.

The more cynical might be inclined to see Ms. Horwath's new stance as rank political opportunism. Consider, for example, how she felt about such matters just two years ago:
"Well, look, I respect the work of the grassroots movements that have been calling for the $14 minimum wage, but I think that what our role is right now is to consult with families that are affected, as well as small business particularly that’s also affected”.
At about the same time, Ms Horwath was calling for the Ontario minimum raise to rise only to $12 per hour in 2016.

Apparently, however, she has some people fooled by her newfound allegiance to the working poor, as is evident from this Star reader's letter:
Raise the minimum wage, Letter April 11

At a recent speech for the Broadbent Institute, Andrea Horwath publicly demonstrated that her party has finally seen the light on a $15 living wage.

Her announcement is all the more noteworthy in a week when the North American Fight For $15 campaign had some rather momentous victories south of the border.

Governor Jerry Brown stared down the powerful business lobby within his own California Democratic Party to sign into law a path to $15 per hour. In New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stood up to Wall Street fear-mongering and signed the Empire State’s own $15 minimum wage law.

So the question for Ontarians, in a week awash in reforms and revelations, is whether any other party leader in Ontario will stand up to Bay Street bullies and bring Ontario standards into the 21st century by finally ending the shameful institution of government sanctioned working poverty.

If we can trade carbon with California can’t we also trade good ideas or will Ontario, California beat our Ontario to $15?

Mike Vorobej, Ottawa
I have never been a member of a political party. Perhaps if the day ever comes when I detect a leader acting out of principle and integrity instead of rank political expediency, I may join one.

Friday, April 15, 2016

A Shameful Exploitation



At the risk of overgeneralizing, it is easy to see why a reactionary institution like the police occupies a Manichean, bifurcated world, where the law of the jungle demands, "You are either for us, or you are against us." Even though such a world view depicts a lamentably shallow mentality, the frontline people who we rely on for our protection can perhaps be forgiven for that shortcoming. It is cowardly, indefensible and reprehensible, however, when those same protectors, in response to criticism that is not only valid but absolutely essential for a healthy functioning democracy, exploit both those criticisms and police tragedies, for their own selfish institutionalized reasons.

Consider, for example, this fact:
Black Lives Matter recently ended a two-week protest outside Toronto police headquarters protesting the SIU’s decision not to lay charges in the July 2015 death of Andrew Loku. The South Sudanese man, who lived in an apartment building rented to people with mental health difficulties, was shot dead by Toronto police while holding a hammer.
Because that sit-in resulted in some much-needed but most unwelcome (in the view of Toronto Police) attention to systemic racism within the force, Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack mounted a counter-offensive that forced this show of support from Toronto mayor John Tory:
"I strongly support the men and women of our police service and the job they do day in and day out for us,” Tory said from China, where he’s leading a delegation of business and academic leaders. “It’s a difficult and complicated job.”
What forced this avowal of fealty from Toronto's chief magistrate?
Tory was responding to a Toronto Police Association internal memo to the rank-and-file, issued Tuesday, that raised concerns about new provincial regulations limiting the use of street checks and “broad scale lack of police support from provincial and local politicians and other public leaders.”
The TPA leadership also criticized a city council motion that passed unanimously earlier this month calling for a provincial review of Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) “with an anti-black racism lens.” The SIU is the province’s police watchdog, which investigates incidents of serious injury or death involving police.

If the motion is acted upon, TPA president Mike McCormack and his board warned in the memo, “officers risk judgment based on political considerations and agendas driven by special interest groups.”
So in other words, the very legitimate grievances against the police are reduced to 'agendas driven by special interest groups'? Clever, but disingenuous and despicable. And also futile. The protest over the Loku killing has led to a decision to call an inquest, one that will force both the identities of the officers involved and the details of their shooting to become part of the public record, where such things belong.

But the above police efforts at deflection are pretty mild indeed compared to what follows.

No one but the depraved would wish a police officer killed, but when such tragedies occur, no intelligent, sensitive and critical-thinking individual would countenance the police taking advantage for the purposes of propaganda. Watch the following report to the end, and you will see what I mean:



In the above, Craig Floyd, National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund spokesman, explicitly places the blame for such shootings on the criticism of police, criticism that has become increasingly vocal thanks to their well-publicized murders of unarmed civilians, many captured on camera, like this one:



The police would much prefer that citizens turn a blind eye to their sometimes murderous tactics and worry only about themselves. Sorry, but this is not the way of democracy, and it is not the way a healthy society responds when their legal protectors go rogue. My advice to the police is simple: learn from your egregious mistakes, and don't try to justify or conceal them. Otherwise, much tighter restrictions will have to be imposed upon you. Somehow, I don't think you would like that, eh?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Reader's Response



In response to yesterday's blog post, a reader had some well-considered commentary and observations that I am offering as today's post. I hope you enjoy them. Here is what BM wrote:
Many years ago in the late 1980s, I was asked to comment on the Brundtland Commission Report insofar as it related to our company.

That report talked about sustainable development. Within a couple of months, that sobriquet had already been changed to sustainable "economic" development by the various talking heads of the time. I criticized this co-opting of the terms compared to what Brundtland had actually said in my essay. Economics as such were not part of the report, sustainable development was, but none of the nitwits could see the difference.

BTW, there is a decent enough article on Wikipedia about the commission, the main point(s) being this"

""...the "environment" is where we live; and "development" is what we all do in attempting to improve our lot within that abode. The two are inseparable."

The Brundtland Commission insists upon the environment being something beyond physicality, going beyond that traditional school of thought to include social and political atmospheres and circumstances. It also insists that development is not just about how poor countries can ameliorate their situation, but what the entire world, including developed countries, can do to ameliorate our common situation."

This degree of cerebral thought went right past the heads of nearly everyone, including all I read in commentary about the report at the time. No, it was instead taken as a signal to rape and pillage the earth, because the new buzzwords were "sustainable economic development", which is a completely different thing to mere "sustainable development."

By 1993 I had become convinced that there was no chance that anyone would voluntarily cut back, sitting as I did one day on a plane to Ottawa next to David Suzuki sucking back his champagne and orange juice, wasting jet fuel.

The way I saw it then was that we had only the one chance to really cut back and examine what we were really up to on this earth, and we had better get down to it right away.

I also sickeningly realized that there wasn't the slightest hope in hell that anything would actually get done. Man doesn't exist like that. The selfish gene means that as biological entities we go on reproducing without limit come what may. Furthermore, any state control of child numbers to one per couple a la China still meant population increase, as mathematics will easily show if a generation is assumed to be 20 or 25 years. And in our primitive basic selves, government control of something as basic as the reproductive urge will never work.

So we are basically effed as a species. I don't think I've ever become despondent other than in an intellectual way about this. Back in the 1970s, I had worked out that the ideal world population was about 200 million humans. Then everyone could enjoy a reasonably comfortable physical and cerebral existence basically for ever. But the shrill environmentalists of the time turned me off. Just as today, everything has to be done IMMEDIATELY, frightening the general population, who just want to get by with a job, shelter and food.

It's too late now, but the same tactics are still being used. Panic, panic, you're either with us or agin us and thus an almighty fool. I really don't know if there is an answer, but am pretty convinced that the general population is highly unlikely to be swayed by logic of the LeaP variety, no matter what we may all would like to think.

I therefore declare myself as a fatalist rather than a defeatist.

BM
Here is what I wrote in response to BM's comments:
Thank you for your informed and insightful comments, BM. I can't disagree with your assertions, and, like you, the selfishness that seems to permeate our natures will surely be our undoing. Here are two small examples that I observe every day attesting to selfishness and egoism that goes beyond biological imperatives:

So many people are still driving huge vehicles that they don't need, be they trucks o SUVs. Indeed, every time the cost of gas drops, their sales increase.

People continue to spew greenhouse gas emissions through idling of their vehicles, whether they are waiting for a spouse in winter and keeping warm in their vehicle or in summer, when they keep the engine going for air conditioning.

If people cannot even make wise choices in these two very small matters, the big ones are obviously well beyond their capacity.

You are absolutely right: humanity is screwed.


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Seeing Is Believing

While on the official level there is much todo about the best way to keep the world's temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius, those who follow such things closely make it clear that that is likely a forlorn hope, given the feedback loops that seem to now be in play. And we are reminded almost daily not only of the destructive weather that climate change is bringing about, but also our powerlessness in its face:




So the uproar about real measures to ameliorate the situation, as found, for example, in the Leap Manifesto, seems almost quaint and is clearly indicative of our collective failure to truly contemplate our extinction as a species. In today's Star, Thomas Walkom tries to put that uproar into perspective:
Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley has called its centrepiece recommendations naive and ill-informed.

Writing in the Star, former party official Robin Sears has dismissed it as the product of “loony leapers.”

In the media, it is usually described as radical. When delegates at the NDP’s Edmonton convention last weekend voted to debate the manifesto at the riding level, some fretted that the party was about to ride off into a Quixotic dead end.

In fact, the Leap Manifesto, which first surfaced last fall, is neither radical nor uniquely left-wing.
Authored by Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis, the central premise of the manifesto is that carbon emissions can be reduced to zero by 2050. One of the cornerstones of that goal is an end to new gas and oil pipelines, something that naturally is vehemently opposed in Alberta, but not so much in almost all of the rest of the country. Additionally,
[l]ike Ottawa and virtually every provincial government, the manifesto calls for investment in clean energy projects. As Ontario has found with its windmill policy, this isn’t always a politically painless process. But except for the manifesto’s suggestion that, (as in Germany and Denmark) such projects be community-controlled, it is hardly novel.

Like Ottawa and virtually every provincial government, the manifesto calls for investment in clean energy projects. As Ontario has found with its windmill policy, this isn’t always a politically painless process. But except for the manifesto’s suggestion that, (as in Germany and Denmark) such projects be community-controlled, it is hardly novel.

Like the federal NDP (sometimes) and both U.S. Democratic presidential candidates, the manifesto opposes trade deals that limit government’s ability to regulate in the public interest.

Like former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin, the authors favour imposing a financial transaction tax to help pay for all of this.
They also call for a carbon tax (like that levied by British Columbia’s right-of-centre government), higher taxes on the wealthy (like those imposed by the Trudeau Liberals) and higher corporate taxes (as suggested by the federal NDP).

Workers displaced by the move away from the carbon economy would be retrained.
Walkom's point is clear: these are hardly radical or outrageous proposals, but rather ones that ultimately are necessary if we are to have any hope at all of saving ourselves.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Where Ignorance And Racism Reign Supreme

Yep, that would be Fox News. Watch the following 'deep' sociological discussion between Bill O'Reilly and Donald Trump as the former discusses why black youth are unemployable. How many stereotypes can you spot?

Start at about the 3:50 mark:

Panama Papers Aftermath



While the revelations thus far about offshore holdings for the purpose of tax avoidance or evasion have provided us with a glimpse into the lives of those well beyond our pay grade, whether or not they have any lasting effect depends largely, not on the reactions of you and me, but rather those of the world's governments. And while public outrage may be high right now, whether those governments will simply ride out that outrage with sanctimonious promises to "go after the tax cheats" and do little, or enact substantive measures to curb this most foul and unpatriotic practice, remains to be seen.

Canada seems to be promising action, with National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier promising substantial resources to go after those who put their own extreme personal wealth above the common good:
With an extra $444 million promised in the March budget, the CRA plans to hire additional staff to target what it dubs “high-risk” taxpayers and corporations. In return, the agency expects to collect an additional $2.6 billion in tax revenues over the next five years.

It also plans to boost its information technology capabilities to better sort the overseas financial transactions to detect tax fraud. The agency already tracks all financial transactions worth more than $10,000 — about a million a month.

Now it plans to focus its attention on all transactions involving individual jurisdictions known to be tax shelters — starting with the Isle of Man, off the west coast of England. Three other jurisdictions will also be targeted this year but agency officials refused to say which ones.
While all of this appears to be a good start, a couple of things puzzle me. It is estimated that between $6 and 7.8 billion is lost to our treasury annually through undeclared offshore holding. Yet, our government is promising only that the initiatives announced will collect an additional $2.6 billion in tax revenues over the next five years. Huh?

Secondly, our government has announced which offshore haven it will be examining first, the Isle of Man:
The first is the Isle of Man, which past transactions involving some KPMG clients have already been flagged by the agency. Quebec Liberal MP François-Philippe Champagne said $860 million in funds were transferred there in the last year along. Sixty audits already underway in relation to investments held in the Isle of Man. The CRA intends to contact another 800 taxpayers and corporations to obtain more information about their holdings.
Now, I know nothing about the arcane world of tax evasion and avoidance, but is it possible that by signaling its intent, the government is also giving the fiscal malefactors an opportunity to move their lucre to other havens not currently under the CRA's scrutiny?

I think these are legitimate questions to ask, given the fact that the CRA has previously treated tax scofflaws with great consideration. A Star editorial provides reasons we should be a bit cynical:
...while agencies such as the CRA and the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) are happy to name the small fish they catch breaking the laws and regulations, that hasn’t always been the case with bigger fish.

Just last week FINTRAC, which tracks money laundering and terrorist financing among other things, announced it had levied a stiff $1.1-million penalty on a Canadian bank for failing to report a suspicious transaction and various money transfers. But it declined to name the institution involved. Meanwhile it is busy naming players who have been slapped with fines of $15,000 or less.

And CRA has drawn criticism for quietly offering an amnesty deal to unnamed multi-millionaire clients of the KPMG accounting firm who were allegedly involved in tax avoidance on the Isle of Man. The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported that the group was required by CRA only to pay back the taxes they owed, plus interest. Yet the CRA routinely prosecutes and names people who fail to file tax returns or otherwise run afoul of the law.
For more details about how the CRA has one approach for most of us and another for the monied class, click here; you may also want to watch the following video:



To close, I'll leave you with this excerpt from the Star editorial that likely sums up how so many of us feel:
If the government hopes to “give Canadians greater confidence that the tax system is fair to everyone,” its agencies should be prepared to publicly name offenders. Cutting deals to spare Ottawa the trouble of prosecuting, or to preserve the “good name” of financial institutions and their wealthy clients, isn’t going to reassure anyone other than the scofflaws themselves.

Ottawa shouldn’t be in the business of shielding those who have gone to extraordinary lengths to insulate themselves and their assets from public scrutiny.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Policing: A Contrast In Methodologies

We've all seen the videos depicting the murder of Sammy Yatim at the hands of Toronto police officer James Forcillio. Although Forcillo has been held to partial account for his foul deed, most realize, I think, that things didn't have to end the tragic way they did.



And with new and disturbing allegations of police misconduct being perpetrated against the family of Alex Wettlaufer, the public has every right to be gravely concerned about a constabulary that appears to regard itself as a sovereign power, meting out punishment and death at will with little or no real oversight or control.

But it doesn't have to be that way. The Toronto Star carries a story contrasting the execution of Yatim with the far more measured approach of an Ohio police officer, Joshua Hilling who, despite immediate peril, fires his weapon only once on knife-wielding suspect Javier Aleman and pleads with the suspect to drop his weapon in a protracted encounter that speaks so well of him. Unlike Forcillo, Hillman sought to deescalate the situation in order to save Aleman's life.



You can read a full analysis of the differences between the Yatim and Aleman cases in how the officers handled the situation here. One can only rue the fact that someone like Officer Hilling was not present when Sammy Yatim had his crisis. Had he been, the odds are that the young man would still be very much alive today.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Are The Toronto Police Re-Victimizing The Family Of Alex Wettlaufer?



I cannot imagine the ongoing pain that the family of Alex Wettlaufer is experiencing. Less than a month ago, 21-year-old Alex was killed by police under suspicious and troubling circumstances, details of which will be withheld from the public for up to a year as the SIU carries out its investigation.

However, the loss of a young family member may not be the only grief the family is currently experiencing. According to an anonymous message I received last night, the police are compounding that pain in ways which, if true, offers us a deeply troubling and frightening insight into a force that may be totally out of control.

It is common knowledge that when the police feel in any way threatened, either by the courts or by individuals, they make their intimidating presence felt. Their past harassment of former Toronto Police Services Board Chair Susan Eng and an array of civic representatives attests to the long and vindictive memory of the Toronto Police. And when their own credibility is on the line in court cases, a wall of blue dominates and intimidates witnesses and lawyers.

I cannot attest to the veracity of what follows, but this anonymous source brings forth allegations so disturbing in nature that they surely merit further investigation.
I have heard so much about this incident from a friend I've known for 20 years, who themselves has known the family for decades, and watched all the kids grow up. Details that DO NOT match up with what is being reported.

Alex was only dropping his girlfriend off at the subway, because he didn't want her walking there at night by herself. Afterwards he took the usual shortcut home along the ravine, as many of the kids from the neighbourhood have for generations. It would seem this was a case of mistaken identity, and Alex died because of this mistake! The family was told he was shot by 3 different officers after the autopsy was complete. And the strangest part... the cellphone he was using to call his family when he was shot was apparently NOT recovered by the police!

And to add to this bullshit, the family home has been raided, not once but twice. Three of Alex's siblings have been arrested and charged for things like mischief and threats because of angry posts on Facebook. The raids were conducted under the pretense of looking for drugs and weapons, but of course nothing was found. The family is scared, as they are being harassed by the police to the point that they are afraid to say anything.

These details should be all over the media, and it pisses me off so much to hear what this poor family is going through because the police made a mistake and are making their life a living hell to save their own asses! Now I can't speak to the veracity of any of these details, as we all know how personal bias can change things that are said as they are shared between people, but something is definitely not right here. The travesty of this incident and the subsequent actions by the police should be all over the news.

This is much worse than the Yatim shooting if the police are truly guilty here. It makes me so sick thinking the police will likely get away with this shooting.
I have urged my anonymous correspondent to take the appropriate measures to ensure that these allegations get a full and very public investigation.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Now This Is The Kind Of Story I Like To Read About



The opportunity to report about something positive in the kind of blog I write is rare. For example, while reports abound of corporate theft and paltry remuneration for the workers that make big profits possible, less common is a story about a business doing the right thing. Well, here is one such story.
All through the night, the workers at Nebraskaland Inc., a meat distributor in the Bronx, roam the alleys of a cavernous warehouse, piling boxes of beef and chicken onto pallets in subzero temperatures. Until last year, many were paid $10 (U.S.) an hour, a little above the minimum mandated by New York State.

Then Richard Romanoff, the company’s owner, saw a news segment about a movement started by fast-food workers to push the minimum wage to $15 an hour. “I’m going to speak straight with you, my managers wanted to get people as cheap as they could,” Mr. Romanoff said. But something about the idea “really clicked,” he said. Last summer, Nebraskaland began gradually increasing the lowest hourly wage at the company, which will hit $15 at the end of this year.
One can rightly ask if we are witnessing a growing momentum in the movement toward raising minimum wages, a movement that captured not only Romanoff's but also national attention a few years ago when marches and strikes began in the fast-food industry to raise wages to $15 per hour. And it seems to be getting results:
In the past week, two of the most populous states in the country – California and New York – enacted legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 within six years. Major cities, such as Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco, have pledged to increase their minimum wage to $15 in steps. In Portland, Ore., the minimum hourly pay will rise to $14.75.
It would seem that some employers are starting to get the message, and they are putting the issue into propoer perspective:
At Nebraskaland in the Bronx, Mr. Romanoff said roughly half of his 250 workers are benefiting from the wage increases, at a yearly cost to his company of about $350,000. “You pretend it’s an increase in rent, or electricity – you deal with it, one way or another,” he said.

Meanwhile, the number of applicants for job openings has quadrupled as news of the pay hikes spread.

Mr. Romanoff acknowledged that for some industries – including some of his customers, like supermarkets – such increases would be a challenge. “I just know for me, why wouldn’t I do it if I can afford it?”
Enlightened business leadership is a term I usually use ironically. I am happy that at least for today, I can speak of it literally.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

What Are They Hiding?



You tell me.
The federal agency that levied a $1.1-million fine against a Canadian bank for failing to report a suspicious transaction had intended the hefty penalty to send a stern message to the financial sector. Instead, it has fuelled an outcry over why the name of the penalized bank has been kept a secret.

On Wednesday, all of the Big Six Canadian banks said they were not fined by Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada, or FinTRAC, leading to speculation that the offending bank is a smaller entity or the Canadian branch of a foreign institution.

FinTRAC said that the fine, the first of its kind levied against a Canadian bank and paid two weeks ago, was supposed to act as a deterrent against taking a loose approach to reporting standards. Rules have been toughened up in recent years in response to money laundering and terrorism financing activities.

But it is unclear how this deterrent is supposed to work when the offender is granted anonymity and whether an unintended consequence of the fine is that it casts suspicions upon the entire financial sector.
While FinTrac has been happy in the past to name names, its reluctance to identify a big player is perhaps best explained this way:
Michael Baumbach is director of Toronto-based Diamond Exchange Toronto Inc. which was fined $12,750 and named by Fintrac in March. He says the agency is unfairly punishing smaller firms like his jewelry business, which is trying hard to comply, while letting bigger players with deeper pockets off the hook.

He believes the bank’s name was kept secret because it has resources at its disposal to give Fintrac a legal headache. Meanwhile, he feels powerless when trying to get answers about why it fined his company, which now faces bankruptcy over what he says is an unjust fine.

“The banks are not just going to sit back and have their names slipped, but a small company — we can’t do anything,” he said.

“All they’re doing is putting the smaller businesses out of business and the bigger businesses who have the legal clout to contest it, obviously they’re not naming names because of the fact that these companies will do something.”
Yet another reminder that the thing we call justice can too frequently be a fluid and elusive concept, more honoured in the breach than in the observance.

A Little Hard To Swallow



Despite the fact that I think and write a great deal about the disparities and inequities that plague our society, I am almost embarrassed to admit that until now, I had never heard of something called The Big Mac Index, launched, according to a recent article in The Star, in 1986 as a “lighthearted guide” to global purchasing power.

While its original purpose was as a tool to make exchange-rate theory more digestible, it has also become a barometer of purchasing power. In Britain, for example, which currently has a minimum hourly wage of ₤6.70, it would take 26 minutes of minimum wage labour to buy a Big Mac. That country has a target minimum wage of ₤9 by 2020, at which level it would take only 18 minutes to make the purchase. How does this compare with other countries?
Denmark is well ahead of the pack at a current 16 minutes. Australia: 18 minutes. France: 25 minutes.

Canada? A chart in the Financial Times shows our country at 33 minutes, which closely equates to a minimum-wage worker in Toronto, at $11.25 an hour, paying $6.10 for two all-beef patties, special sauce, etc. That same worker can look forward to a Dickensian 15-cent-an-hour increase come October.
This is not good, and our country could ultimately become an unenviable outlier when it comes to fair compensation, since the movement for increasing the minimum wage is gaining momentum in many jurisdictions:
Last Thursday, California passed a six-year phase-in to a $15-an-hour minimum wage — a landmark achievement as it’s the first state-wide success in the country. Seattle started its phase-in a year ago, with a $15-an-hour target set for Jan. 1, 2017. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who spent part of the winter travelling around in a “Fight for $15” branded bus, saw his push for a statewide $15 minimum watered down Thursday, but scored significant gains nonetheless, including a three-year phase in to $15 in New York City from the current $9.
Such increases are to be embraced, not opposed. As I noted recently, California's goal of increasing its wage will raise the incomes of 30 to 40% of workers in that state.

But what about all those fraught cries that such moves will result in massive job loss? According to Britain's Low Pay Commission, and as reported by The Star,
the commission wrestled with the predictable “job killer” charge — that businesses facing increased costs will flee or retrench, hurting vulnerable workers the most.

The “range of evidence,” the commission found from more than 140 research projects, was that the national minimum wage “has succeeded in raising pay for workers without damaging employment or the economy.”
While most past increases have admittedly been more gradual and modest in scope, the Commission
points out that businesses have previously worked around increased payroll costs by a variety of measures, including reducing non-wage costs or increasing productivity.
And there is one more thing that neither the Commission nor critics consider: the likelihood that the vast majority of people will not object to paying a little more for their products since it will allow their fellow-citizens the opportunity to conduct their lives with a little more dignity and a little more security.

Who could argue with that?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Lord May Move In Mysterious Ways

... but I wish He would choose better messengers:

The Outrage Continues



In the weekend Star, Tony Burman gave five reasons that Canada should cancel the Saudi arms deal, an immoral agreement which the Trudeau government refuses to budge on. I will simply give the headings of his arguments here:

1. Canadians oppose it

2. Canada is being bought off

3. Saudi Arabia is an awful regime

4. Canadian arms are undoubtedly killing innocent people

5. Canada’s arguments have no moral core


In response to that column, Star readers offer their views:
Canada must cancel the contract selling armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia. Yes, let's pay the agreed upon penalties. Canadians are not so venal as to be ready to sell the lives of thousands of people, and in the process, sell their souls for a handful of coins.

Better to pay the penalty for cancelling the sale than the ones implicit in the ratifying of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In the latter case Canada will be liable to pay corporations that deem to be shortchanged by enacting legislation to redress old wrongs, like First Nations inequalities or environmental protection.

Canada should cancel this deal with Saudi Arabia and not ratify the TPP. We expect this government to deliver on the profound human values that have been a hallmark of Canada.

Bruna Nota, Toronto

Once again Tony Burman masterfully and succinctly provides us with an excellent and well-reasoned article on this very serious and important topic. Is our government listening?

As a Canadian and member of the Liberal party I call upon the government to reconsider the Saudi arms deal. Do we really want the blood of those weapons when used on our hands? Is this what Canada stands for? I think not. While this is a complex issue, there is a line to be drawn in the sand.

Canada is not “back” when it sells out its moral fiber with such a deal.

Janice Meighan, Toronto

Mr. Burman provides five compelling reasons why Canada should kill the $15 billion arms agreement with Saudi Arabia. Here are two more:

1. Canada may have bypassed its own tough weapons export control laws to ink this deal. In doing so it circumventing its own rule of law and due process.

2. Canada needs to bring Saudi Arabia's extremist theological and financial support for groups like Daesh, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and the like to light rather than trying to gain from it.

Ali Manji, Thornhill
Unfortunately, given the obdurate stance of the Trudeau government, it is doubtful that any of these compelling points will move any of our representatives' hearts and minds on this very important issue.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

A Little Bit Of Justice

Just when I fall into despair that justice will ever prevail, the gods send me a small bone:



Former Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro lost his appeal of his election overspending case and was taken away to jail Tuesday, after an Ontario judge found he had committed offences that “strike at the heart” of the democratic process.

Del Mastro was convicted in the fall of 2014 for violating the Canada Elections Act during the 2008 election and was sentenced last summer to a month in jail.
Justice Bryan Shaughnessy, who heard Del Mastro’s appeal in Oshawa, offered this grave assessment of the latter's sins:
“Violations of the election spending limits and deliberate and concerted efforts to evade compliance with the honest and truthful reporting of contributions and expenses, such as occurred in this case, is a serious affront to our democratic system of government and fairness of our election process,” he said.

“The offences that Dean Del Mastro committed … are serious and do strike at the heart of our democratic electoral process.”
Never, I suspect, has there been a better poster boy for the morally-depraved universe of the Conservative Party that existed under Harper, a legacy that may well-resist the party's current attempts at renewal.

Lest We Forget

The Star's Tim Harper reports that Kellie Leitch, one of the robotic but very malleable mainstays of the former Harper regime, has become the first declared candidate for the Conservative Party's leadership.

I hope no one forgets her appearance with Immigration Minister Chris Alexander during the Conservatives' desperate and divisive bid to hold on to power during the last election. She and Alexander made a good team, given that both are singularly devoid of even a shred of personal integrity:

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Panama Papers



Marie over at A Puff of Absurdity offers a very good overview of something that is certain to have long-lasting reverberations, The Panama Papers. Be sure to check out her post.

The Toronto Star reports the following:
In the largest media collaboration ever undertaken, more than 370 journalists working in 25 languages dug into 11.5 million documents that revealed Mossack Fonseca’s [a Panamanian law firm renowned internationally for establishing shell companies] inner workings and traced the secret dealings of the firm’s customers. The more than 100 news organizations involved shared information and hunted down leads generated by the leaked files using corporate filings, property records, financial disclosures, court documents and interviews with money laundering experts and law-enforcement officials.
Significantly, the only Canadian media organizations to participate in the consortium undertaking this massive investigation are The Toronto Star and the CBC/Radio Canada. At least someone in our country is concerned about the public good.

Why is this such an important investigation? First and foremost, it identifies a panoply of individuals and companies whose main motivation is tax avoidance. Their allegiance to themselves and, in the case of corporations, their shareholders, is paramount.

It should be stressed here that the vast majority of those involved in these schemes are doing nothing illegal, merely taking advantage of loose tax laws that permit such avoidance. But to me, this points to an incontrovertible truth about some wealthy individuals and many corporations: they feel no obligation to pay the country of their residence their fair share of taxes. In other words, they are putting their own financial security and profits above the land that nourishes and hosts them, the land that provides them with an educated workforce and the infrastructure that make their wealth possible.

And that should serve as a cautionary tale of great magnitude as we contemplate, for example, signing both the CETA and TPP free trade deals. The Investor-State Dispute Settlement provisions of such trade agreements give priority to corporations over state sovereignty so that should a country's laws impinge upon a company's profits, that company can sue the government. Given that The Panama Papers will confirm that loyalty and patriotism are concepts foreign, indeed, inimical, to those who pursue profit at almost any cost, there is surely reason for real caution.

The investigation is a wake-up call for governments to amend tax laws that in fact aid and abet theft from national treasuries. Here at home,
... Canadians have declared $199 billion in offshore tax haven investments around the world, according to Statistics Canada.But experts say that figure is a small fraction of the Canadian offshore wealth that goes undeclared.

The precise annual cost to Canadian tax coffers is unknowable. But credible estimates peg Canada’s tax losses to offshore havens at between $6 billion and $7.8 billion each year.
One need not have an especially rich imagination to consider how an increase in federal coffers of that size could be used for the benefit of all.

Every so often, thanks to circumstance and the indefatigable efforts of investigative journalists, the curtain is pulled aside and we are able to get a peek at an underlying and ugly reality. Ours is a world in which selfishness and evil often prevail, thanks to the complicity of far too many and the shield of darkness behind which much of this takes place.

Perhaps The Panama Papers can help to bring some much-needed light and eventual reform to this shameful and unjust state of affairs.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

UPDATED: Pondering The Precariat



California, as you have likely heard, is raising its minimum wage to $15 by 2022. Although the efficacy of the increase is being hotly contested, with some claiming it will lead to substantial job loss and others citing studies that show just the opposite, the fact is that it will raise the incomes of 30 to 40% of workers in that state. And that statistic alone underscores the plight of the working poor and the precariously employed, not just in the U.S., but also in Canada. In the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area, for example, those employed in part-time, contract and temporary work is an astonishing 52%.

Those are statistics we can no longer ignore.

In a good and prescriptive editorial, The Toronto Star makes some solid arguments for both governments and unions to be much more involved in ameliorating this abysmal situation. It suggests that the federal government needs to do the following:
- Enhance the Canada Pension Plan. Precarious workers at the bottom of the rung have little opportunity to save for retirement.

- Make Employment Insurance benefits easier to get. Precarious workers may not work long enough in temporary jobs to receive them, or the benefits may run out long before they have found a new job.

- Create a national pharmacare program. Canada is the only country with a universal health-care system that fails to cover the cost of prescription medicine. Right now 85 per cent of those earning less than $10,000 and 70 per cent of those earning between $10,000 and $20,000 — in other words, precarious workers on the bottom employment rung — don’t have an employer-provided health plan.

- Create a national, affordable child care system that will enable parents to take on new jobs when they’re offered.
There is a role for provincial governments as well. Ontario, where one in eight workers makes the minimum wage, can do the following:
- Raise the minimum wage to at least $12 an hour, and aim for $15. As one economist put it, the current minimum wage of $11.25 “falls far short of any suggested benchmark: productivity gains, the average industrial wage, the living wage, or the poverty line.”

- Beef up the Employment Standards Act to require employers to give paid sick days, ensure temporary workers are paid the same rate as fulltime workers doing the same job, and follow the example of Australia, where casual employees must be paid 15 to 25 per cent above minimum wage to compensate for having fewer benefits.

- Enforce the Employment Standards Act with more inspections and follow-up fines and charges. Companies in violation of the act should be ineligible for government contracts.
Unions can help as well, by reaching
out to precarious workers in temporary and part time positions and represent them on issues from wages and scheduling to minimum hours per week.
There are all kinds of arguments brought forth on a regular basis to oppose many progressive measures such as minimum wage increases, ranging from job loss to having to pay more for goods and services. The issue of job loss has been studied, with some finding it decreases employment and others finding no such effect.

However, it seems to me that there is only real question to be asked, and Canadians are in a unique position to answer:

Are all of us are willing to pay a little more, be it through taxes or the cost of goods and services, to ensure that all of our fellow citizens' lives are defined by much more than quiet but deep desperation?

UPDATE: Although not discussed in this post, another redistributive policy approach gaining a fair amount of traction is the guaranteed annual income, about which I have written many times on this blog. Canadian Dimension has a very interesting piece on the concept and its possible negative consequences if not implemented correctly. Click here to read it.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Will The Trudeau Government Ignore The Warnings?



As pointed out by The Mound, Joseph Stigliz has issued a dire warning to Canada about the dangers of the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership); essentially, it will enrich the few at the expense of the many. As well, he has warned about two other grave dangers the pact poses for our country:
The controversial but not-yet-ratified trade agreement could tie the hands of the Trudeau Liberals on two key parts of its agenda — fighting climate change and repairing relations with aboriginal people, the Nobel-winning professor warned Friday.
During the recent World Economic Forum in Davros, he spoke to his old friend and now International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland about his concerns, perhaps best summing up its impact on the daily lives of a great many working people this way:
... the deal benefits big business at the expense of working people, driving down the bargaining power of workers, including their wages.
Despite Freeland's openly-professed enthusiasm for another trade agreement, CETA, which carriess with it similar perils, one can only hope that she listens to her old friend with open ears and has influence with our new prime minister. So far, the signs are ambiguous:
Freeland’s spokesman Alex Lawrence said the government is keeping an open mind about the deal and is following through on its promise to consult widely with Canadians.

“Many Canadians still have not made up their minds and many more still have questions,” Lawrence said.

The House of Commons trade committee is studying the TPP — a process that Freeland has said could take up to nine months.
Lawrence said the committee would travel across the country as part of its outreach to Canadians.

After that, Freeland has promised that only a vote in Parliament would ratify the deal, which was negotiated under the former Conservative government.
When an economist of Stiglitz's stature speaks, none of us can afford to turn a deaf ear.

For a more detailed discussion of this issue, here is a Q&A with Stiglitz.