Monday, October 31, 2016

UPDATED: Lament For A Vanishing World

Those who read this blog with any regularity probably know that nature is something near and dear to my heart. I defy people to watch well-made nature documentaries, walk among the creatures we share the world with, or even visit a well-run zoo (I highly recommend the one in San Diego!) and not be struck and moved, as I have been. by the energy and intelligence that pervades our world.

Sadly, much of that energy and intelligence is being lost, as reports show that we are facing drastic reductions in our wildlife populations. The most startling statistic suggests that by 2020, just more than three years from now, the numbers that existed in 1970 will be reduced by two-thirds!

For more hard truth about what looks like a pending mass extinction, check out a post by The Mound of Sound, who writes regularly about matters that affect all of us.

As well, take a look at these two brief video reports to better understand the peril we are responsible for:



The picture for marine life is hardly encouraging either.



These reports are difficult to watch, as they should be. We should all feel not only disheartened but ashamed as we view them, given that our actions as a species have led to this; we need to also urgently understand it is only by responsible and mindful action that we can reverse an increasingly ugly truth.

But do we care? Are we willing to confront our self-indulgence and egoism, modify our wasteful ways, and begin to respect the other creatures we share this world with?

Those are more than rhetorical questions, my friends.

UPDATE: The Star's editorial today suggests measures our government can take to slow this precipitous decline in our animal population, and Thomas Walkom talks about threats to our iconic moose.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Danger Of False Equivalency

In this morning's Star, Daniel Dale has a very interesting essay on why, despite the fact that it forks no lightning but provokes much outrage from his supporters, it is important to keep reporting on Donald Trump's shameless aversion to truth. Unfortunately, it is not yet available online, but if it becomes available, I will add a link here.

On a related matter, however, my friend Jonathan alerted me to a piece from Bill Maher that is well-worth watching in which he indicts not only the lying Trump but also excoriates the laziness and cynicism of those who embrace him:



And one more thing: it appears that Trump is right in claiming the election is rigged, just not in the way he meant.
A woman in Iowa was arrested this week on suspicion of voting twice in the general election, court and police records show.

Rote told Iowa Public Radio that she cast her first ballot for Donald Trump but feared it would be changed to a vote for Hillary Clinton.

"I wasn't planning on doing it twice — it was spur-of-the-moment," Rote told the radio station. "The polls are rigged."

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Star Readers Speak Out On CETA



Recently, my newspaper of record, The Toronto Star, wrote what I felt was an uncritical endorsement of CETA. The part that especially disturbed me was this:
In the case of CETA, the demonization focuses on one part of the agreement, involving a process for resolving disputes between investors and governments. The so-called Investor-State Dispute Settlement system would allow foreign firms to challenge European laws if they felt they were being unfairly discriminated against.

The critics portrayed this as a way for corporate interests to ride roughshod over local concerns. So the EU amended the deal early this year, with the Trudeau government happy to go along.

They changed the system for resolving disputes, proposing a permanent system closer to a permanent trade court. They added measures aimed at making arbitrators act impartially. And they affirmed the right of governments to regulate to achieve “legitimate policy objectives” in such areas as the environment, labour, health and culture – even if that damages investors’ expectations of profit. In other words, they made efforts to tip the balance away from corporations in favour of the broader public interest.
What the paper failed to acknowledge was that most of the above is more aspirational and cosmetic than it is legally binding.

As usual, Star readers are voicing their views strongly and unequivocally. Each letter is worth reading, but I am reproducing just a few of them below:
Re: Trade deal with Europe should be salvaged: Editorial, Oct. 25

The Star was absolutely correct in saying that CETA is a deal worth saving. Who can argue with something that provides more opportunities for our goods and services and gives Canadian consumers access to European goods at a reduced cost.

But the editorial completely missed the boat when it didn’t indicate what changes to CETA were needed in order to make it more acceptable to all participants and by glossing over the main sticking point, namely the ISDS provisions.

ISDS stands for Investor State Dispute Settlement. In a nutshell, ISDS is a process whereby a foreign corporation (not a domestic company) can sue a government (federal, provincial or municipal) when it feels that a regulation adversely affects its potential profit. The process completely bypasses the court system of the country being sued and the decisions (made by a tribunal of corporate lawyers instead of impartial judges) are final and cannot be overturned.

ISDS is an affront to the sovereignty of any country and should be eliminated from all trade agreements, particularly those involving countries with well-established and independent court systems.

Can CETA be improved? Yes, by eliminating all sections that provide a clear and significant advantage to multinational corporations, starting with ISDS.

Dennis Choptiany, Markham

It’s hard to believe the Star’s editorial board would be lamenting the death of a trade deal like CETA. This is the same type of deal as all the rest. It has been negotiated for the benefit of large corporations and even the best arguments in favour of it are a joke.

Desmond Fisher, Ottawa

I find it astounding that people are surprised that the people of Wallonia, who were informed about CETA’s contents and had the power to stop it initially, did so. I have met zero people who have gone to meetings about CETA or the TPP and felt they were in our best interests.

Harper sold the wheat board to foreign investors, while Wynne sold the well that a town wanted for drinking water to Nestlé to be bottled — both showing government favours profit over public interests.

Just wait until corporations have even more power, which is the real purpose of trade agreements.

What we need are deals that can be discussed with, and supported by, the public. Trudeau promised transparency but is just finishing what Harper started, still behind closed doors.

Well done Wallonia!

Stephen Albrecht, Toronto

I fear your editorial bad mouthing the EU is unfair. And so is Freeland’s tough-guy take-it-or-leave-it attitude.

The investor state dispute settlement mechanism has been problematic for many Canadians and clearly is for Europeans. Your editorial states that’s all been taken care of, but a recent column by Thomas Walkom says the renegotiated arrangement is “non-binding.”

Which is correct? Clear explanation of this has been fairly thin in Canadian media. But the Europeans are communicating quite openly and I feel their concerns about a Trojan horse of multi-national corporate interests using “nice” old Canada to take advantage of the deal should be taken seriously.

Ken Pyette, Toronto
As I have written before, one of the foremost duties of citizenship is to be informed and knowledgeable. It is the only chance we have of holding our elected representatives to account. Anything less is a betrayal of us all.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Thomas Walkom on CETA



While it is disappointing to see that Wallonia has dropped its opposition to the CETA deal, thus paving the way for signing and ultimate ratification, all may not be lost, at least for the Europeans, according to Thomas Walkom. Morever, this imbroglio has brought forth some interesting facts, facts that again raise questions about Canada's underlying motivation in so aggressively pursuing the deal.
... the deal as written contains a fundamental imbalance. European firms would be able to challenge, at special investment courts, Canadian laws and regulations that interfere with profit-making.

But Canadian firms would have the same rights only in those EU countries that specifically allow such challenges. That’s because the EU treats the proposed Investment Court System as a matter of national, rather than Pan-European, concern.

In Canada, on the other hand, investment courts need only the imprimatur of the federal government to come into effect.
Think about that for a moment. The EU has structural protections built in to permit or exclude such challenges, while our own federal government raises not one objection to them. Indeed, you may recall how International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeladn has described CETA as "gold-plated," after tinkering around the edges of the investor state dispute settlement process, tinkering that was, for all intents and purposes, cosmetic.

Walkom cites Osgoode Hall law professor and trade expert Gus Van Harten, who says,
Ottawa may want to put the investment court portion of the deal on ice until the EU nations decide which of them will agree to it.

The Guardian reports that as part of its deal with Wallonia, Belgium has agreed to ask the European Court of Justice whether the investment court dispute settlement proposal is even legal.
However, investor rights are only the most egregious part of a very flawed deal:
A 2010 study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimated that removing tariffs on European cars and trucks would cost the Canadian auto industry between 28,000 and 150,000 jobs.

According to one 2013 estimate, drug patent rules envisioned by the treaty would end up costing both individual consumers and provincial governments up to $1.6 billion each year, making it even more difficult to set up a national pharmacare plan.

Canadian dairy farmers would be hurt as would fish processors. Canadian beef and pork producers would probably benefit from exporting more to Europe — although the scale of this has been called into question.
So what does the deal come down to for Canadians?
The main economic benefit of CETA may be that it would allow Canadians to buy European luxury goods at marginally cheaper prices.

Otherwise, this never was a compelling deal. Even without CETA, the EU is already Canada’s second-largest trading partner.
Ordinary Canadians have every right to demand an explanation for why Canada is so content with protecting the investor rights that will so hamper our sovereignty, as has been our experience with NAFTA.

Government rhetoric and neoliberal enthusiasms notwithstanding, we all deserve much, much better from the people we elected to protect and advance our interests.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

UPDATED: CETA: The Real Deal



While it looks, unfortunately, like the Belgian opposition to CETA is dissolving, it is perhaps instructive to understand the core of Wallonia's concerns about it. While some of it revolves around the hit that some of its domestic industries will take if it is ratified, of much greater concern is the power it gives corporations through the investor state dispute settlement mechanism. They are objections that most reasonable Canadians, I believe, would share if they were more familiar with the 'trojan horse' that will compromise national sovereignty on a much wider scale than NAFTA already has.

Given that Canada has been sued many times under NAFTA, we should all be very, very wary of ensconcing those rights further, despite the unalloyed enthusiasm the Justin Trudeau government has for such deals.
1. RAGE AGAINST THE MULTINATIONAL CORPORATION
While the Walloons are worried their agriculture sector will suffer under the deal, they are increasingly concerned about the investor-state dispute settlement system (ISDS) as well. The region’s socialist government has adopted many of the concerns of the civil society groups that oppose the free trade deal: they say it gives multinational corporations too much power to sue governments if they make regulations that affect their ability to turn a profit.

2. TRANSPARENCY
The Walloons want changes to the ISDS provisions of the treaty, specifically the tribunals that would settle disputes. They want them to be more transparent to eliminate the possibility of bias or conflict of interests by the people appointed to adjudicate disputes.

3. CLOSING LOOPHOLES
The Walloons want to see loopholes closed that they say would allow U.S. multinationals with offices in Canada to use the treaty to sue governments in Europe, says Osgoode Hall law professor Gus Van Harten.

4. PRESERVING JURISDICTIONS OF DOMESTIC COURTS
Van Harten also says the Walloons want stronger language in the treaty that would preserve the jurisdiction of domestic courts in individual countries to hear disputes, instead of turning them over to the new tribunal system envisioned by the treaty.

5. ‘A CAT IN A BAG’
In a parliamentary debate last week, Wallonian President Paul Magnette used an interesting metaphor to describe what he says is the opaque nature of the tribunals. He said it was like buying “a cat in a bag.”

Magnette has also said that “we have to say no so we can negotiate” better labour, environmental and legal standards.

Some have said that the five-page “joint interpretative declaration” that is to be added to the CETA text could be given the force of law and could clarify some of what the Walloons view as objectionable in the treaty.
As they say, stay tuned for further developments, but in the meantime, all of us as Canadian citizens have an obligation to educate ourselves on these issues and decide on them for themselves, rather than placing unearned confidence in Mr. Trudeau and his sunny smile.

UPDATE: Former MP Craig Scott has a lacerating look at our government's support for CETA in The Tyee, support that mirrors the agenda pushed by the former Harper government:
Based on a European negotiator’s briefing to NDP MPs during CETA negotiations (the Harper government refused to brief MPs), it was Canada that insisted on some of the most regressive and dangerous provisions in CETA.

The provisions in question were — and still are — the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) procedures. This part of the treaty takes CETA’s interpretation and, ultimately, enforcement out of the hands of national courts and places it in the hands of arbitrators.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Youth Voice is Our Voice

If ever there was ever any doubt about the neoliberal agenda being pursued by our 'new' government, Finance Minister Bill Morneau's recent comments removed all uncertainty. He asserted that precarious work is here to stay and Canadians must adapt to having a variety of jobs throughout their lives as they experience the euphemistically phrased 'job churn.' Never have I read a more bald admission of submission to the corporatocracy agenda.

The above was just one of the frustrations about the Trudeau government that a group of youth was voicing yesterday as a number of them turned their backs on the Prime Minister at the Canadian Labour Congress National Young Workers Summit in Ottawa. While precarious work is the problem they most immediately feel, they also did not forget about climate change, pipelines, and a litany of other issues that reveal the disparity between Trudeau's lofty rhetoric and the reality of the Harperesque policies the Liberals are following.

In my mind, we owe these young people a debt of gratitude for their refusal to be polite and pretending all is well. They are the voice of all who care about our world.



Monday, October 24, 2016

The Art Of The Deal: A Guest Post By John B.



In response to yesterday's post about free trade, John B. provided a detailed commentary that derves a separate posting. Below is what he wrote:

Are any Canadians asking?

I find the current tap dance we are witnessing reminiscent of the public displays of angst and pretense of desperation by Mulroney and Burney a generation ago over the possibility that the Canada-US deal was in peril because of American apprehension. I've always believed that we were the unwitting dupes of a ruse designed to seduce an uninformed public into assuming, without any further analysis and consideration of what it would occasion that, because a negotiating and simultaneously competing business partner had some reservations, the deal must certainly be much more beneficial to Canada than to its supposedly hesitant deal partner at whose expense the anticipated benefit was to be achieved.

On Saturday when I met up socially with a couple of old acquaintances, both university-educated persons, one of them initiated a discussion of the current CETA situation. They're not people who are generally uninformed: one has an honours degree in history; and the other is a retired police chief. Before I had said anything on the subject, one of them introduced a conversation expressing his displeasure that an insignificant region of a country that had been freed from oppression by Canadian efforts during the Second World War would dare to obstruct an enterprise beneficial to Canadian interests. As my grade eight history teacher would have said: "Shades of the CUSFTA." My pal had made the assumption, just as many other Canadians must have done when Mulroney submitted his star performance, that the other side was balking because the relative benefits of the deal were so heavily weighted in Canada's favour. (There must be a term that marketing specialists use for this baloney sales tactic. Maybe it's got its own chapter in "The Art of the Deal" or "Think and Grow Rich".) After listening to the others' comments, I interjected my opinions on the I-SDS and ICS factors, the enhanced corporate opportunity for achieving regulatory capture and the implications of transnational labour mobility, and briefly stated my view that an insignificant component of this and other "trade" deals actually has anything to do with trade and tariffs. Both of them looked at me as though they didn't speak English and then one of them said that he didn't remember whether he had ever even heard of the CETA prior to Friday. The other one then said that he thought he had heard the first mention of he could recall it earlier in the week.

Now consider what they've been putting on the TV regarding this subject since the hiccup in Belgium on broadcasts that purport to be political and economic analysis : Ed Fast lambasting the Liberals for possibly wrecking his deal when all they had to do was to get it signed; Kevin O'Leary, while Evan Solomon grins from the other side of the interview, ranting in full leadership campaign mode that, because of Freeland's apparent failure, we should now question the competence of all of Selfie-Boy Zoolander's cabinet choices; a private equity and derivatives exchange expert telling Michael Serapio that "trade deals are win-win deals" and that the uncertainty in Wallonia is "absolutely appalling"; and, as we should expect, no discussion dealing with the substance of the objections.

So what's my point? It's that there must certainly be some convergence of interests that has willed the Canadian public to be kept in the dark and cooked the pablum we are being served.

What has happened during the CETA negotiations under both political parties seems to have taken it all up a notch. How did Canada become the headwaiter to and chief water carrier for the global investor-rights business lobby? What additional net benefit are we expected to assume will accrue to the country's economy through the adoption of this irregular national policy as a standard practice? Have we become the go-to guy for the transnational commerce management industry? I'll leave it up to someone smarter and better informed to consider those questions. But I'll suggest that an investigation into some revolving doors and the subsequent career choices of former negotiators and political leaders might provide some possible answers. Maybe Dominic Barton could make some explanation that relates to what's happening now under the Sunny Ways Corps.

With respect to Mound's comment on the possibility of abuses in investor claims, it seems that another innovative market has already emerged from the vibrancy and dynamism of the I-SDS protection racket:

http://theindependent.ca/2015/02/10/ceta-what-government-doesnt-want-you-to-know-about-isds-lawsuits/

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/financial-speculation-corps-vis-lawsuits-isds-court-part-martin-jr-

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Free Trade Is Never Free

While it is beginning to look like International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland's departure from CETA negotiations was more of a ploy than the end of talks, the hiatus at least gives Canadians the opportunity to once more reflect on its dangers, the same dangers that afflict other so-called free trade deals.

The fact is, free trade is never free. The surrender of sovereignty rights, about which I have written previously, is probably the most insidious aspect of such deals, given that corporations are granted the right to sue if national or subnational governments pass legislation that affects a corporation's right to make money. That includes legislation to protect the environment or mitigate climate change.

An analysis of the Trans Pacific Partnership yields this chilling truth:
"The Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism included in the TPP investment chapter grants foreign investors access to a secret tribunal if they believe actions taken by a government will affect their future profits. This provision is a ticking time-bomb for climate policy, because many government policies needed to address global warming are subject to suits brought before international investment tribunals. ...Other TPP chapters like the one covering trade in goods can be the basis for state-to-state suits challenging climate policies."
Here in Ontario, citizens were recently reminded of the consequences of corporate displeasure via the NAFTA investor dispute settlement provisions. Opting for some sober second thoughts, the province decided to put a moratorium on offshore wind turbine development, a pause that did not sit well with Windstream Energy LLC, the American company that had signed a $5.2 billion deal with Ontario. A fine of $25 million has been imposed after Windstream invoked its investor rights that were granted under NAFTA, but the fine is a mere precursor to future action.
At the end of September, a panel convened by the Netherlands-based Permanent Court of Arbitration awarded $25.2-million in damages and almost $3-million in legal costs to Windstream, saying the province broke rules under the North American free-trade agreement when it put a moratorium on offshore wind developments in February, 2011, effectively scuttling the Windstream project.
The deal is still considered to be in force, and Windstream has every intention of making sure it comes to fruition:
“We have a contract here, and contracts don’t go away,” [Windstream director David] Mars said, even though the moratorium on offshore wind is still in effect.
In other words, taxpayers will have to brace themselves for further, much deeper compensation to the company in the future, unless Ontario gives in to the extortion NAFTA has made possible.

And despite free-trade cheerleader Freeland's ceaseless chatter about making the investor dispute settlement process more transparent, the unalterable fact is that the right of corporations to sue governments remains solidly intact.

I'll leave the final word to Noam Chomsky who, in this brief video, reminds us of some inconvenient truths we would do well to never, ever forget:

Friday, October 21, 2016

This Is Good News

I'll have more to say about this in the future, but for now, some good news for those who oppose free trade deals that sacrifice national sovereignty and jobs so corporations can be further enriched:
Canadian Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland has walked out of negotiations to salvage a major trade deal with the European Union, saying she is returning home because she feels the 28-member bloc is unable to reach an accord with Canada.

In fact, she said she considers it “impossible” for an agreement to be clinched.

The development throws the future of the Canada-EU trade deal into doubt and, coming only months after the United Kingdom voted to quit the European Union, is a blow to the EU’s efforts to demonstrate it is still moving forward as a viable entity.

The European Council has been unable to reach a consensus on approving the Canada-EU deal because Belgium is unable to give its assent. Politically-decentralized Belgium requires the approval of regional governments on major international agreements and the French-speaking Wallonia region has opposed signing the agreement with Canada.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

This Sounds Promising

Whether this will turn out to be another idea that holds great promise but then comes to nothing will only be known, I guess, in the future, but it does sound promising:
The danger of the ever-increasing levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in Earth's atmosphere has become one of the most pressing issues of our age. As such, much research has been conducted to find ways not only to reduce it, but also in ways to remove it. This has led to many schemes that simply sequester CO2 underground, or store it in volcanic rocks. More ambitious schemes even aim to not only remove this gas, but to usefully employ it to create usable products, such as plastics and foam, or even to produce hydrocarbon fuels. Now scientists from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) claim to have produced one of the most usable of all chemicals – ethanol – in a process that is not only cheap, efficient, and scalable, but also conducted at room temperature.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A Festivus Moment

Like me, some of you were probably great fans of Seinfeld, the "show about nothing." As such, you may recall the Festivus airing of grievances:



Well, in that spirit I would like to use this blog to air a grievance, and that grievance involves one of Canada's putative icons, Wayne Gretsky, aka., The Great One. For me, the emperor has no clothes.

Readers may recall that last year, during our federal election campaign, Gretsky, a resident of the U.S., took it upon himself to extol Stephen Harper, pronouncing the latter as "wonderful to the country" and "one of the greatest prime ministers ever." Ever since then I have avoided all products associated with his name, most notably his wine label. I am happy to add his new whisky to my boycott list.


Vindictive and petty? Perhaps. But it is also immensely satisfying to exercise my power as a consumer.

Wayne is dead to me.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A Love Note To The U.S.

From my jaundiced perspective, Canadians sending a 'love note' to America will only add to its unbearable hubris, seen regularly in its conduct on the world stage and in its claims to be the greatest country on earth.

Yet that is exactly what a Toronto firm called the Garden Collective is suggesting we do in a campaign entitled #TellAmericaItsGreat:
According to the Garden’s blog, the digital pep talk is meant as a balm to the “pretty scary realities” and “tremendous amount of negativity” exposed by the campaign, which continues for another three weeks.
However, given my low threshold for nausea-inducing saccharine sentiments, I shall refrain from uploading an inspirational video to buck up our neighbours to the south and stick with my core philosophy, which I think you might infer if you are a regular reader of this blog: "Better a bitter truth than a sweet lie."

Monday, October 17, 2016

The World We Ignore

I suppose it is the curse of consciousness that leads humans to see themselves as distinct from, and superior to, nature. It is a hubris that the natural world is paying a heavy price for, as we insist on placing our wants and needs above those of other forms of life. New research is showing how misplaced and misguided our sense of ourselves really is.

Those who read this blog regularly may know that I have written fairly often on nature and nature documentaries, the latter surely the easiest way for us, if we take the time from our busy lives, to reconnect with the wonders of the world around us. Moreover, if viewed seriously, such films can make us ask some hard questions of the lives we lead and the impact our acquisitiveness and self-centeredness have on the other creatures we share this planet with.

Last night I was reminded of these things as I watched the latest Nature of Things, entitled Conversations With Dolphins. Highly intelligent and self-aware, these creatures seem to possess amazing capabilities that, until recently, were believed to be the exclusive domain of human beings. Tool use, a teaching culture, precise communications and deductive reasoning are but four of the wondrous things these mammals are capable of.

What follows is a brief clip from the documentary, but I hope you take the opportunity to view the entire program. It may change your perspective on many, many things.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Kelie Leitch - Savant Extraodinaire

I see that Kellie Leitch has officially launched her leadership campaign:



As the campaign heats up, she can expect more of this:



And if that doesn't sate your appetite for this strange lady who would lead the CPC through bigotry and xenophobia, try this from Frank Magazine.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Arc d'Trump?

Thanks to Jonathan once again for alerting me to some clips from the 1957 movie, A Face in the Crowd, starring Andy Griffith in a role so diametrically opposed to his later persona as Sheriff Andy Taylor that he seems positively demonic at times. That the director, Elia Kazan, was able to draw the link between television stardom and political power is a testament to his prescience.

I think you will agree that the film eerily echoes the future rise of Donald Trump. Hopefully, a similar downfall ensues.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

UPDATED: Why Is the Mainstream Press Ignoring This Story About Donald Trump?

I was alerted to this story by my friend Jonathan; it is profoundly disturbing, even though, because it involves an alleged rape committed by Donald Trump, it probably should not shock or astound anyone.

Tomorrow, October 14, may be a stressful day for the Republican nominee, in that he has a 10:00 a.m. appointment at the Thurgood Marshall Court House, Lower Manhattan, in response to a suit launched by Katie Johnson, who claims she was raped by Trump in 1994, when she was but 13 years old:



You can view the plaintiff's complete complaint here, but here is the essence of it. The details may not be suitable for everyone:
A federal lawsuit filed in New York accuses Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump of repeatedly raping a 13-year-old girl more than 20 years ago, at several Upper East Side parties hosted by convicted sex offender and notorious billionaire investor Jeffrey Epstein.

The suit, first reported by the Real Deal, accuses Trump and Epstein of luring the anonymous plaintiff and other young women to four parties at Epstein's so-called Wexner Mansion at 9 East 71st Street. Epstein allegedly lured the plaintiff, identified in the suit only as Jane Doe, with promises of a modeling career and cash.

Another anonymous woman, identified in additional testimony as Tiffany Doe, corroborates Jane's allegations, testifying that she met Epstein at Port Authority, where he hired her to recruit other young girls for his parties. Trump had known Epstein for seven years in 1994 when he attended the parties at Wexner, according to the suit. He also allegedly knew that the plaintiff was 13 years old.

Jane Doe filed a similar suit in California in April, under the name Katie Johnson, also accusing Trump and Epstein of rape. That suit was dismissed on the grounds of improper paperwork — the address affiliated with her name was found to be abandoned. Today's suit confirms that the plaintiffs are one and the same.
Here is what allegedly happened, in Johnson's own words:
I traveled by bus to New York City in June 1994 in the hope of starting a modeling career. I went to several modeling agencies but was told that I needed to put together a modeling portfolio before I would be considered. I then went to the Port Authority in New York City to start to make my way back home. There I met a woman who introduced herself to me as Tiffany. She told me about the parties and said that, if I would join her at the parties, I would be introduced to people who could get me into the modeling profession. Tiffany also told me I would be paid for attending.

The parties were held at a New York City residence that was being used by Defendant Jeffrey Epstein. Each of the parties had other minor females and a number of guests of Mr. Epstein, including Defendant Donald Trump at four of the parties I attended. I understood that both Mr. Trump and Mr. Epstein knew I was 13 years old.

Defendant Trump had sexual contact with me at four different parties in the summer of 1994. On the fourth and fnial sexual encounter with Defendant Trump, Defendant Trump tied me to a bed, exposed himself to me, and then proceeded to forcibly rape me. During the course of this savage sexual attack, I loudly pleaded with Defendant Trump to stop but he did not. Defendant Trump responded to my pleas by violently striking me in the face with his open hand and screaming that he would do whatever he wanted,

Immediately following this rape, Defendant Trump threatened me that, were I ever to reveal any of the details of Defendant Trump's sexual and physical abuse of me, my family and I wold be physically harmed if not killed.

Here is a video statement Johnson made:



The filing also includes a statement by Tiffany Doe, the woman who brought Johnson to the party:
I personally witnessed four sexual encounters that the Plaintiff was forced to have with Mr. Trump during this period, including the fourth of these encounters where Mr. Trump forcibly raped her despite her pleas to stop.

I personally witnessed the one occasion where Mr. Trump forced the Plaintiff and a 12-year-old female named Maria [to] perform oral sex on Mr. Trump and witnessed his physical abuse of both minors when they finished the act.

It was my job to personally witness and supervise encounters between the underage girls that Mr. Epstein hired and his guests.
It is important to note that Jeffrey Epstein, also named in the suit and the host of the party, is a registered sex offender who has faced a series of such allegations, and was convicted in 2008 of sex with an underage girl. Unfortunately, owing to his powerful connections, he 'served a one-year term under house arrest at his Palm Beach home.

The entire story sickens me, but you can read further details in the links provided. However, it seems to me that the larger story is the strange quiescence of the mainstream media. Surely this is a story that deserves the full attention and scrutiny of all American voters.

UPDATE: Thanks to Dana for providing a link to The Guardian, which sheds some light on why the mainstream media may be reluctant to report on this suit.

Meanwhile, Closer To Home

Much of the climate-change video material I post on my blog shows the devastation being wrought in the United States. I feature such material because it receives extensive coverage on American networks. It would, of course, be foolish to assume that such effects are confined to that country. Climate change is being felt worldwide through droughts, tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding and killer heatwaves.

Closer to home, the impact of Hurricane Mathew is being experienced in the Maritimes, as the following amply demonstrates:

Monday, October 10, 2016

It's Official: Trump Won The Debate

So declares America's favourite crazed evangelical, Pat Robertson. Presumably, his assessment came from on high.

What You Don't Know Will Hurt You



While much of western society enjoys living in willful ignorance about climate change, the fact is, what you don't know can hurt you. Tim Wallace of the New York Times reports that much of the heat of our rapidly warming world is being absorbed by oceans, and the long-term effects will be devastating.
Ocean temperatures have been consistently rising for at least three decades. Scientists believe that global sea surface temperatures will continue to increase over the next decade as greenhouse gases build up in the atmosphere.

Last year, nearly all observed ocean surface temperatures registered above average because naturally occurring conditions caused by El Niño combined with human-induced warming. About a quarter of those observations broke record highs.
This excess energy has largely been sucked up by the oceans, which have a huge capacity to store heat. As the oceans store more heat, however, they expand. Scientists have shown that over the past decade, this thermal expansion has caused about one-third of the rise in sea levels.
But what is happening below the surface?
The near-surface ocean takes only decades to warm in response to elevated greenhouse gas concentrations, but the deep ocean will take centuries to millenniums, raising sea level all the while. In the meantime, warmer ocean temperatures may also increase the destructive potential of extreme weather, like cyclones and hurricanes.
Out of sight, out of mind is no longer a viable strategy, as we are now seeing, and far, far worse is yet to come.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Star Readers Write


These days, my faith in the future is quite limited. The proliferation of war and the ongoing reluctance of governments to do anything substantive about climate change, despite its increasingly obvious effects, both speak to the refusal of our species to rise above our base animal impulses and use the consciousness that supposedly separates us from other animals for the common good. A few letters from today's Star on carbon pricing help illustrate our shortcomings.

I'll begin with two reasonable missives, followed by what I take to be the majority view:
Provinces have till 2018 to price carbon pollution, Oct. 4

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall predicts that the national rising minimum carbon price the federal government announced will damage his province’s economy and send businesses fleeing to the U.S. Happily, his prediction will not happen for two reasons. First, B.C.’s carbon tax rose annually for five years and its economy remained one of the strongest in the country. The revenue neutral tax also proved to be stimulative. Sales of the province’s clean-tech companies increased by 48 per cent in the two years following the tax’s introduction.

Second, the federal government can impose border tax adjustments, which is why it is essential for the Canadian government to get involved in carbon pricing. Only our national government can impose the tax on products from carbon-intense and trade-exposed industries without similar carbon pricing measures to ensure Canadian companies are protected from unfair competition. Border carbon tax adjustments are sanctioned by the World Trade Organization.

Contrary to Mr. Wall’s unfounded fears, I predict the rising carbon price will help diversify Saskatchewan’s economy as it will all provinces and territories, so long as the price keeps rising and the revenue is returned to the people.

Cheryl McNamara, Toronto

Conservative MP Denis Lebel thinks the federal government should “get out of the way and let the provinces do their job” dealing with climate change. Does he really expect action from Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall, whose government has described climate change as “a misguided dogma that has no basis in reality”?

Wall isn’t the only Canadian premier putting off effective action to fight climate change. Apparently the heat waves, droughts, forest fires and storms haven’t got bad enough yet. Are they planning to wait until our coastal cities are flooded?

It’s impossible to negotiate a climate change action plan with a climate change denier. Wall and other apologists for Big Oil have stalled and obfuscated far too long, selling out our children’s future. The scientific debate is over and climate experts agree we must act now. Our country needs strong federal leadership on an effective national carbon tax strategy.

Norm Beach, Toronto

Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s imposition of his National Energy Program in 1980 was aimed squarely at Alberta. I know. I was there.

Today, Justin Trudeau’s threatened unilateral imposition of a national carbon tax, his “national environmental program,” is also aimed squarely at Alberta where its results will be equally inequitable and devastating.

Ill-thought out, PET soon had to back off from some of the more onerous fiscal terms of his National Energy Program. I expect the same to happen with Justin Trudeau’s version of putting his boot on Alberta’s throat.

“Like father, like son,” and “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Trite but true!

Mike Priaro, Calgary

Why not simply call Trudeau’s carbon pricing plan for what it is? Another Liberal inspired tax to bolster government (in this case, provincial government) coffers. Perhaps the federal government will also benefit? Trudeau will probably do what Chrétien did — reduce transfer payments.

I recall another Liberal, Dalton McGuinty, who also introduced something called the Ontario Health Premium. The province’s health-care system promptly declined and many previously OHIP-covered services were de-listed.

What we can ascertain by all this is that, ultimately, the taxpaying public is going to suffer — again.

J. Brunins, Britt, Ont.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ignorance Is Strength

That seems to be what Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party presidential candidate, seems to be arguing in yet another interview in which he makes Dondald Trump, by contrast, look like Mensa material:
...the former New Mexico governor appears to have stumbled into yet another gaffe by suggesting that somehow his ignorance of foreign policy is actually an advantage. After all, Johnson argued, you can't engage in war with a country you can't accurately locate. He also claimed that the geographical knowledge of our leaders puts "our military in harm's way."



Some Symptoms Can't Be Ignored

As temperatures continue their worldwide inexorable climb, Think Progress has published some graphics showing the effects of climate change on health. You can read the details and see more readable versions of the graphics here.







Monday, October 3, 2016

What Comes Out Of Our Tap


In the age we live in, many things are taken for granted: the power that lights up our house, the Internet that facilitates our communications and satiates our curiosity, and the water that comes from our taps, to name but three. The fragility of these resources is only appreciated when they fail us through storms, cable problems, and boil-water alerts. Suddenly, the things that we take for granted aren't as secure as we like to think.

Much public attention, at least in Ontario, has recently and rightly been focused on water-taking permits that allow companies like Nestlé to take millions of litres of water daily for a mere pittance. Indeed, few would argue with opposition parties calling for public input into the whole issue of the commercialization of our groundwater. However, the problems confronting our most precious resource go well beyond a single issue, and they pose grave challenges for the entire world.

A new study offers some troubling news. One of the main impediments to clean drinking water comes from agriculture:
Agriculture is a huge contributor to water pollution, from fertilizers used for row crops to the manure created by large-scale animal agriculture. In Washington state, a 2015 lawsuit found that a huge dairy operation had been polluting groundwater in a nearby community, causing the level of nitrates in residents’ drinking water to spike to unsafe levels. Nitrates, when found in high levels, can cause serious health problems for both infants and adults with compromised immune systems.

Elsewhere, industrial production of crops like corn and soy, which rely heavily on fertilizers to increase yields, can lead to dangerous algal blooms which, when toxic, can shut down drinking water for entire cities.
Fossil fuel production is another source of pollution:
With fracking — also known as hydraulic fracturing, when high pressure water, sand, and chemicals are used to break open subsurface shale in order to liberate the natural gas trapped therein — water is a massive component of the entire process. Each fracked well requires somewhere between 1 million and 6 million gallons of water per well, which can place strain on surface water resources.
But in addition to massive water wastage,
fracking can also impact water quality well after the actual fracking itself has finished, when waste fluids are injected back underground for disposal. In some cases, that cocktail of wastewater and chemicals can leach into aquifers, polluting the groundwater near fracking operations. That’s what happened in Dimock, Pennsylvania in 2009, when two families sued Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. for polluting their wells with methane. That’s also what happened in 2008, in Pavillion, Wyoming.
Development is another villain in this story:
Development is a massive driver of that pollution — when urbanization or agriculture comes into a watershed, land that was previously covered with native vegetation is cleared. That means that the soil that was once bound by root systems is free to run into waterways when a storm comes along, choking waterways with sediments and damaging both drinking water quality and ecosystems that depend on clean water.

Deforestation — which often occurs to make way for agriculture or development — is also a huge contributor to sediment pollution. Wildfires can also increase sediment pollution, by burning away vegetation that kept soil intact.
A myriad of other contributing factors also pose grave threats to our water, including climate change, pharmaceuticals and sewage, all of which you can read about in detail in the source article.

The conclusion drawn is that although bleak, the situation does not have to be dire. A rapid switching to more green energy would
not only ... keep ... fracking wastewater out of groundwater, but it would slow the impacts of climate change on other parts of the water system, as well.
The ball is now squarely in our collective court.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Canadian Judicial Council Responds To My Complaint

Regular readers of this blog may recall a post I wrote this past June about an unsettling experience I had at a local grocery story. It was there that my wife and I witnessed the shocking and distasteful behaviour of Ontario Superior Court of Justice Antonio (Toni) Skarica, who was proudly sportng a pro-Trump t-shirt that read, Donald Trump - Make America Great Again - 2016.


Given the rules of impartiality that govern justices in this country, I wrote a letter of complaint to the Canadian Judicial Council describing the experience in full. Since some of the content of that letter is included in the Council's decision, I will not reproduce it here, but what follows is the Council's response to my complaint, which was delayed because they also required that my wife write a letter attesting to the fact that it was indeed Skarica before they deigned to investigate.

In converting this letter from the PDF original, some of the formatting was lost; I have done my best to restore it here:

Personal and Confidential

CJC File: 16-0160

2 September 2016

Dear Mr Warwick:

I am responding to your correspondence dated 12 June 2016 in which you make a complaint against the Honourable Antonio Skarica of the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario.

In accordance with the Review Procedures of the Canadian Judicial Council (Council) I referred your letter to the Honourable J. Michael MacDonald, Chief Justice of Nova Scotia and Chairperson of the Judicial Conduct Committee. Chief Justice MacDonald requested comments from Justice Skarica and from the Honourable Heather J. Smith, Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario. After carefully reviewing your complaint, Chief Justice MacDonald has directed me to provide you with this response.

The mandate of the Council in matters of judicial conduct is to determine whether a recommendation should be made to the Minister of Justice, after a formal investigation, that a judge be removed from office by Parliament. The reasons for removal are set out in the Judges Act and address situations where a judge has become incapacitated or disabled from performing the duties of a judge. This can be as a result of age or infirmity, misconduct, a failure to execute the duties of the position, or being in a position incompatible with the functions of a judge.

It is important to note that the Councll is not a court and cannot intervene in the court process.

In your correspondence, you indicate that you saw Justice Skarica wearing a t-shirt promoting Donald Trump’s candidacy and that you were both shocked and appalled. You
allege that Justice Skarica is clearly advocating for a man who is a serial liar, racist and demagogue, which raises a number of concerns. You ask how can a man who embraces a politician opposed to Muslims and Mexicans, a man who believes in dividing society into 'winners and losers,' be seen as an impartial arbiter of human lives as he renders judgment on them from the bench.

In commenting the complaint, Justice Skarica indicates that he has not endorsed Mr Trump either publicly or privately in any way and does not know him. Justice Skarica has not contributed any monies to his campaign either directly or indirectly. He has not been involved in the Trump campaign in any manner whatsoever. He writes that he is, however, a student of history and on occasion, have collected memorabilia items over the years that he considers to be turning points in history. It is in that context that Justice Skarica received the t-shirt from his brother who had visited Washington. It was never Justice Skarica’s intention to make the shirt a standard part of his wardrobe but rather to keep it as an item of memorabilia. At one point, Justice Skarica put the shirt on earlier in the day to show a friend and later that day went shopping without thinking too much about it. He does not intend to wear the t-shirt in public in any meaningful way. Moreover, Justice Skarica vehemently denies any suggestion that he is racist.

Chief Justice MacDonald notes that Council’s publication Ethical Principles for Judges provides that judges should refrain from conduct such as membership in groups or organizations or participation in public discussion which, in the mind of a reasonable, fair minded and informed person, would undermine confidence in a judge’s impartiality with respect to issues that could come before the courts. The issue is therefore the extent of the involvement of Justice Skarica in Donald Trump’s campaign to the US presidency, if any, and whether it could reasonably “put in question the judge’s impartiality on an issue that could come before the court.”

First, Chief Justice MacDonald advises that impartiality is key to the judicial process and is presumed. As pointed out by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Cojocaru v. British Columbia Women’s Hospital and Health Centre case, this presumption of impartiality carries considerable weight, and the law does not easily evoke the possibility of bias in a judge, whose authority depends upon that presumption. Second, Chief Justice MacDonald is satisfied with the response of Justice Skarica indicating that he has no involvement whatsoever with Mr Trump or the Republican, that he has not contributed any monies to his campaign either directly or indirectly, and that he is not involved in any way, shape or form in Donald Trump’s campaign for the US presidency. Chief Justice MacDonald also accepts that Justice Skarica has no intention of wearing this or similar shirts in public again. Chief Justice MacDonald is therefore satisfied that there is nothing that could put in question Justice Skarica's impartiality on an issue that could come before his court. Chief Justice MacDonald concludes that your complaint is unfounded. Chief Justice MacDonald is of the view that the issues you raise do not warrant further consideration by the Canadian Judicial Council pursuant to its mandate under the Judges Act. Accordingly, he has directed me to close your file with this reply.

Yours sincerely,

Norman Sabourin
Executive Director and Senior General Council

While I did not really expect a result different from the decision rendered by the Canadian Judicial Council, I am gratified that at least justice Skarica had to account for his strange behaviour, and I think it is safe to say he has learned a valuable lesson from my complaint. I think it likely that henceforth, the Trump t-shirt will be brought out only for gatherings of close family and ultra-conservative friends.