Tuesday, January 31, 2017

UPDATED: My Pledge

There is so much that I feel tempted to write about this morning, but I hope this post reflects a little of what is going on in the world these days.

On Sunday, I posted what follows on my Facebook page. It was something I wasn't especially keen to do, as the post makes clear, but I felt it important to make it 'public' as a means of giving me additional commitment to take an action that entails a personal cost. I hope you like it, and after you read it you might want to read this article which, rather serendipitously, appeared online last night.

Here Is My Pledge

It is coming up to a year since my son took us to Southern California. It was a trip of a lifetime for me, given that I have had a lifelong obsession with the state but somehow never managed to visit before. With its philosophical and environmental orientations, California continues to exert a very strong pull on my heart and in my imagination and, to be honest, I had hoped to make another visit sometime this year.

But as the saying goes, “Man plans and God laughs.” I have come to the difficult conclusion that I cannot in good conscience lend any legitimacy to the current American president and his racist, divisive and hate-filled policies by visiting and spending tourist dollars in his country. The final catalyst for this painful decision was the executive order forbidding citizens and dual-citizenship holders from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from travelling to the United Sates, a thinly-disguised attack on 218 million predominately Muslim people. If such vast numbers are to be excluded, who am I to simply ignore this fact, pretend I have no moral responsibility here, and merily indulge my own wants and travel inclinations.

It is easy to sign petitions and to write tweets saying that one stands with Muslims, but I have concluded it is time to put, if you will forgive the colloquialism, my money where my mouth is.

Why am I posting this? Contrary to what some might think, it is not to hold myself up as some kind of exemplar of rectitude and principle; rather, in all candour, it is to keep me strong in this undertaking, because if I break this pledge, everyone will be quite justified in dismissing me as a hypocrite who cannot be taken seriously. Because I do not believe in miracles, I assume that things are only going to get worse under the crazed administration of Donald Trump, so I also assume that my self-imposed travel ban will be for at least the next four years.

UPDATE: I see that writer Linwood Barclay has made a difficult decision to cancel his U.S. book tour:
I have no illusions about what the impact of my withdrawal will be. I don’t imagine Steve Bannon will say, “Whoa, Barclay’s not coming, we better rethink this.” As one Twitter follower said to me, “Your call, but we’ll get along fine without you.” I’ve no doubt. But this really wasn’t about trying to send a message. I just have to be able to look myself in the mirror.
We each must take the measures we most deem fit in these extraordinary times.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Out Of Respect

Out of respect for those lives tragically cut short or otherwise affected by hatred in Quebec last night, I don't feel it is appropriate to post on another topic today, so I shall simply add my voice here to the horror and outrage felt by all sane Canadians today. I can offer no words of comfort except to say we must all face this together and be strong.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

What Do Other Republicans Think Of Team Trump?

My wife suggested I take a look at a 'mainstream' Republican site, and this is what I found:
Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Conway railed against those who had pointed out her “alternative facts” comment, as she defended White House press secretary, Sean Spicer.

Said Conway:

“Who is cleaning house? Which one is going to be the first network to get rid of these people, the people who think things were just not true?” Conway asked on “Fox News Sunday.”

It’s as if Conway’s sole purpose, these days, is to put out fires and make sure somebody within the Trump camp is attacking the media, at all times.

“Not one network person has been let go. Not one silly political analyst and pundit who talked smack all day long about Donald Trump has been let go,” she added. “I’m too polite to mention their names, but they know who they are, and they are all wondering who will be the first to go. The election was three months ago. None of them have been let go.”

What is she talking about?

Is it her position that only those who have praised Trump should be allowed to speak?

It’s been an ongoing thing with Trump and his people versus the media.

I’ve said it here before, and I will continue to say it: When you have a leader who wants to be the source and sole voice the people hear from, you should worry.
And perhaps Team Trump might find it has underestimated some of its fellow Republicans, at least just a little bit.

Is Trumpland Prepared To Pay?

As the crazed Orange Ogre continues bringing his campaign screeds to fruition, his most ardent supporters will have to be prepared to put their money where their mouths are, both literally and figuratively. And although we are quickly moving into a euphemistically phrased 'post-fact' era, the Trump apparatchik, in their current anti-Mexico incarnation, will face real challenges in attempting to spin away some cold economic facts that go well beyond merely paying more for products of Mexican origin, if a 20% tariff is imposed:

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Proud Moment

Despite my frequent criticisms of the Trudeau government, this move by the Prime Minister makes me proud to be a Canadian:

Revisionism Run Amok

I have written ten previous posts about Chris Spence. the disgraced former Director of the Toronto District School Board, whose fall from professional grace was caused by his serial plagiarism. I hope readers will indulge me for my eleventh post, this one in response to a risible attempt at resurrecting his career.

When I taught, plagiarism was considered the worst academic crime one could commit. It still is. But according to Spence apologist Bruce Davis, former Chair of the Toronto District School Board and a trustee from 2000-2010, it is really much ado about nothing, and that the recent revocation of Spence's teaching certificate was an egregious injustice that must be rectified.

Davis writes:
I was gob-smacked last week when I learned of the Ontario College of Teachers’ decision to revoke Chris Spence’s teaching qualifications. Dumbfounded. Confused. Irritated. Angry.

I thought I was witnessing a professional lynching.
After launching into a protracted encomium that suggests Spence is a living saint, Davis makes this remarkable and quite inaccurate assertion:
Spence paid dearly for his acts of plagiarism first revealed by the Toronto Star, resulting in the loss of his professional stature, his salary, and his reputation in the community. But he took responsibility and owned up to his mistakes.
He neglects to add that Spence's 'owing up' took place only after he was caught, and in a desperate bid to salvage his job. But that matters not to Davis:
In the context of Spence’s clear remorse for his acts, I saw an opportunity for Spence to talk to kids about academic ethics, about putting in the hard work and not taking short-cuts, and about taking responsibility when you mess-up. I believe Spence’s fall from grace remains a teachable moment.
In a clever bit of misdirection, Davis looks at sanctions meted out to others who have run afoul of professional ethics, and suggests that Spence's punishment is disproportionate; Spece's personal apologist is apparently either oblivious to, or willfully ignorant of, the grave nature of the former educator's misdeeds. And he offers two very suspect conclusions:
In my view, to a reasonable person taking away Spence’s certification to teach is not proportional to the magnitude of his mistakes. On the contrary – it is patently unfair and heavy-handed.

I stand by Chris Spence. If the opportunity had been presented, I would have advocated on his behalf at his discipline hearing. I would have told the panel without equivocation or doubt: this man should still be teaching children and leading teachers.
This article was all too much for me, so I penned a letter of rebuttal to the Toronto Star, which I hope they print:

I must take strong issue with Bruce Davis's stout defence of Chris Spence, the disgraced former Director of Education for the Toronto District School Board. It would seem that his friendship with Spence has led him to minimize the gravity of the latter's misdeeds.

By all accounts a serial plagiarist whose ignoble acts go back at least as far as his PhD thesis, Spence has shown a consistent disregard for academic honesty, the sine qua non for all educators. The fact that his teaching licence has been revoked is simple justice, neither “patently unfair and heavy-handed,” nor a ”professional lynching” as described by Davis.

During my career as a high school teacher, there could be no greater betrayal than a student's theft of another's ideas or words. To have that same academic crime committed by someone purporting to be an educational leader and exemplar compounds the betrayal; by showing flagrant, egregious and repeated contempt for the staff, students and parents he was supposedly leading, Spence did not make 'mistakes' but rather revealed himself to be one who felt the rules were made for others, not him, to follow, and thus did grievous harm not only to public morale but also to the students under his leadership.

If that doesn't warrant the revocation of a teaching certificate, what does?

Friday, January 27, 2017

A Very Timely Reminder

In 1984, the Enemy of the State was the elusive Emmanuel Goldstein, likely a contrived figure upon whom the masses could hurl their hatred, while Big Brother, the real enemy, surveilled and controlled the same masses. In the noir world of Trumpland, it appears the first of what will likely be many official enemies of the state has been revealed. Probably to no one's surprise, it is the media.
Just days after President Trump spoke of a “running war’’ with the media, his chief White House strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, ratcheted up the attacks, arguing that news organizations had been “humiliated” by the election outcome and repeatedly describing the media as “the opposition party” of the current administration.

“The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while,” Mr. Bannon said in an interview on Wednesday.

“I want you to quote this,” Mr. Bannon added. “The media here is the opposition party.
The fraught times in which we live demand constant vigilance. Now would seem to be a good time for some crucial reminders via the ever-pertinent George Orwell. Special thanks to my friend and former colleague, Mary Ann, for bringing the following to my attention:

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Canada's Carnival Sideshow

While people with normal cognitive abilities likely see the farce in Kevin O'Leary's effort to become the next leader of the Conservative Party, it would be unwise to underestimate the power of less able and less stable people to influence the course of events. If nothing else, the Trump spectacle attests to the importance of such a caution. It is therefore incumbent upon those who want the best for the country to warn about the worst, as these letter-writers do today:
Blustering of days past: O'Leary's views, unadorned, Jan. 21

In the last week the Star has detailed two opposite Kevin O’Learys. One would like to bust unions (Jennifer Wells); the other says he would like to make unions more “efficient.”

Can we really believe O’Leary suddenly wants unions to better represent workers (i.e. more gains) while saving money through efficiency? Both would make his nemesis more powerful.

He has started off following his idol’s path: he and Trump believe in lying big to fool ordinary workers. Let’s take a lesson from Trump and put the label “lying Kevin” on this impostor.

Will Presley, North Bay

It is wonderful to learn that Mr. O’Leary’s primary goal is to “go to bed richer than when he woke up in the morning.” The question now is: how many Canadians will be going to bed poorer because of Mr. O’Leary’s obsession with putting more money into his own already bulging pocket?

Herb Alexander, Thornhill

O’Leary espouses on corporate social responsibility, “Social consciousness, that’s ridiculous. Businesses do not have a social conscience” (like most people do).

It explains Citizens United (corporations with equal rights as citizens), and why the leaders of many of these corporations have no social conscience, to be polite.

So, as Mr. O-so-Leary clearly states, Citizens United is just a con, and why under their newly crowned “Orange Hitler” the U.S. should repeal Citizens United immediately.

He’s an astute U.S. businessman. The U.S. business elites should listen to him.

Richard Kadziewicz, Scarborough

I read with concern Kevin O’Leary’s decision to run. My fervent hope is that the media does not treat his campaign as a joke and give him excess coverage that he so craves. We see how that worked out in the U.S where Trump used that free publicity to prey on the fears and prejudices of people who bought into his fake message of doom and gloom and false promises.

Canadians should never allow opportunistic politicians whose messages of divide and conquer and racial overtures to gain a foot hold in our political system. The media has a responsible role to play and should not promote sensationalism and lies at the expense of truth.

Mort Achaia, Brampton

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Clarity From Robert Reich

Robert Reich simply and brilliantly deconstructs Trump's construction plans. Lest Canadians feel tempted toward complacency, check out Trudeau's infrastructure bank plans, which will likely have the same effect of enriching corporate investors at our collective expense.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

And So It Begins

For those millions of Canadians who chafed under the information embargo by Stephen Trump, this will be all too familiar:
Donald Trump wants to be known as the president who tweets, but his administration is prohibiting government researchers from sharing their findings with the Americans who pay for their work.

The president signed executive orders Tuesday that cut off all new contracts and grants for the Environmental Protection Agency — and he also banned the agency’s employees from providing updates on social media or to journalists, the Associated Press reported.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture sent an email Monday morning, which was obtained by BuzzFeed News, prohibiting its employees from communicating with the public about their taxpayer-funded work.

Those “public-facing documents” include news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds and social media content, said Sharon Drumm, chief of staff of the Agricultural Research Service.

The U.S. Department of the Interior reportedly ordered employees to stop posting messages on government Twitter accounts after the National Park Service a post comparing the size of Trump’s inauguration with President Barack Obama’s in 2009.
Dark, dark days ahead, my friends. Very dark days.

Eerily Prescient

This is what former Supreme Court Justice David Souter said four years ago. I think you will quickly see the reason for the post's title:

A Hoax With Impact

Even though global temperature records are being set, it must be reassuring to many in Trumpland that climate change is but a Chinese hoax. Now, if only Mother Nature would read the memo:

And now, scenes from the apocalypse in California:

Monday, January 23, 2017

Facts Are Clearly Overrated

Thanks to my friend Jonathan for sending this along:

The Haves Certainly Have It

This from today's Letters To The Editor, to which I have nothing to add:
Re: Two richest men as wealthy as poorest 30 per cent, Jan. 16

It is telling that this news report was not a front-page headline in the Star.

As if the world needed any more data on the abject failure of capitalism and the neoliberal free market experiment, Oxfam has released yet another report once again documenting the egregious and unconscionable wealth of a minuscule number of individuals in Canada and around the world.

Report after report has documented the skyrocketing expansion of inequality around the globe and the inexorable march of wealth to the top of the social ladder. If capitalism were a new drug being developed to cure cancer and it failed in all but a few cases out of billions it would be abandoned immediately but we continue to prescribe the economic thalidomide of capitalism to the world’s population without remorse.

However, despite this overwhelming and incontrovertible evidence, the world media, economists and politicians seem blasé regarding its dismal and destabilizing failures and the deep and comprehensive reforms that are needed to ensure that global wealth is shared equitably. There are no front-page hue-and-cry headlines calling this an economic crisis or extended coverage of this issue on the news channels. This gross status quo inequality seems to be accepted and normalized as an inherent part of capitalism that cannot be changed.

In fact, with the election of Donald Trump in the United States, the American public has decided to firmly put on its rose-coloured glasses and double-down on the neoliberal nightmare of “cancer capitalism.”

Despite this political St. Vitas Dance, there is a desperate need for a government regulated, moderated and managed economic system that is actively structured to serve the needs of all in society as the historian and economist Karl Polanyi asserted. Such a system places clear limits on wealth accumulation and claws back excess wealth and profits through progressive taxation.

If we were smart enough to invent capitalism, we are smart enough to invent its replacement.

It is time to radically change our global economic system to serve the needs of humanity, not a few humans.

Robert Bahlieda, Newmarket

Do you find it amusing that we the public anxiously follow the media to be aware of the daily interaction between nations, cultures, religions, terrorists, politics and, oh yes, economies? Such a multitude of players in mankind’s unfolding history and future.

But perhaps there’s really only 16 – based upon the knowledge (and fact) that eight men own half the world’s wealth. Perhaps there are 16 players served by millions who accommodate them for reward while billions of others live in war and death and poverty and the rest of us are relegated to being blocks of pieces on an endless series of game boards that lead to millions of winners and billions of losers — just sayin’, perhaps.

But history says nations fade as empires rise. And our supposed representatives in governments are silenced by their parties who serve the players and their accommodators. Global democracy with globalization is sadly our “paradise lost” because globalization without global democracy is the globalization of poverty.

Ask yourself this. When it comes to big banks, big business, big oil, big money (non-pursuit of offshore accounts) and big talk, is Justin Trudeau really that much different than Stephen Harper?

Randy Gostlin, Oshawa

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Another Perspective: A Guest Post By Pamela MacNeil

I received two very thoughtful reactions to my post the other day on the decision of the Gay Pride organizers to accede to the demand by Black Lives Matter to exclude the Toronto Police from future participation in the festivities. It is not a decision I agree with, as I outlined in the post.

Both Kirby Evans, one of our top-shelf bloggers, and Pamela MacNeil took issue with my position, and both provided me with alternative perspectives and much food for thought. Because Pamela does not have her own blog, I am taking the liberty, as I have in the past, of featuring her commentary today as a guest post. I think you will find it insightful:

Kirby brings up a really interesting point Lorne that white people like yourself and me have never been victims of racism, so we really can't understand how it affects those who are its victims.

This is an issue I have given a lot of thought to, but have not yet been able to fully answer. I do not really understand racism. I understand it intellectually and even at times emotionally, but I do not understand it as a personal experience.

This leaves me on the outside looking in when wanting to understand racism and those who are its victims. No matter how much I read, and I have read a lot on racism, including slavery, there is a part of me that feels out of the loop when I try to connect with the real victims of racism.

I asked a friend of mine over dinner one night what is it like to be a black man. He said to picture a world where everyday you are confronted mainly from whites, with the nuances of racism. He said this nuance can be from a look, a stereotype statement made about being black, a gesture like a woman holding her purse tighter when she passes a black man. He went on to say that because racism is not explicitly vocalized today, black men and woman have become experts at detecting nuanced racism.

He also said he is not sure about how the racism directed at him as a black man has affected his view of himself. He said he would like to think that it is he himself who defines his self-worth, but he wasn't completely sure that was the case.

I think, Lorne, we are living in a pre-civilization. The fact that racism is still a view that one race of people impose on another is indicative of humankind, for the most part, not intellectually, socially, psychologically, philosophically or spiritually advancing and becoming a civilization. We still have a long way to go.

Having said all that, I disagree with the gay community excluding the police at the behest of Black Lives Matter. I think when you isolate a group, you close the door on being able to communicate with them and communicating is the number one tool for change.

First Nations who have been subjected to past genocidal abuse and racism, which exists up to the present day, have always believed in inclusion. In fact, John Ralston Saul has said the root idea of our multicultural society comes from the First Nations belief in the Inclusive circle.

Inclusion is an important part of First Nations philosophy, and they have always practised it amongst different tribes to stop the warring between these tribes. They also welcomed the new settlers to Canada before confederation. They did this by welcoming these settlers into what they called the inclusive circle. They are still doing this inclusive circle with others in the present day.

It has and still does take enormous strength and courage to be inclusive with the very people who set out to obliterate or, at the very least, contain them. In the First Nations long road to reconciliation, they have understood the need for inclusion, even when the extent of abuse by white people, who were nothing short of barbarians, was at its most violent. It was the whites who tried to separate and isolate First Nations. It was First Nations who brought those same whites into their inclusive circle and as a result made reconciliation possible. There is still a long way to go in recognizing the sovereign rights of First Nations and maybe, just maybe, we will be sharing political power with them one day.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Black Lives Matter, But Bullying Is Still Bullying

Just back last evening from our Cuban sojourn, it will take a little while to get my blogging and political legs back up to speed, given that I was peacefully unconnected for a week. However, an item in today's paper caught my attention that I feel moved to comment on.

Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that I take great exception to the abuse of power, whether political, economic, or social. However, none of that exempts victims from criticism, not as victims, of course, but as members of our larger society. It is in that spirit that I offer my criticism of what looks to be an affirmation of the decision to exclude the Toronto Police from future participation in the annual Gay Pride Parade.

First, some background:
Black Lives Matter brought the 2016 parade to a standstill for more than half an hour in July, refusing to move until Pride officials agreed to a list of nine demands.
The most contentious of those extortionate demands, in my view, was the total removal of all police floats/booths in all Pride marches/parades/community booths.

I always felt it was not Black Pride Toronto's call to make, and that they had in fact abused the invitation they had been given to join the parade; of course, ultimately that judgement and the decision on whether or not to honour the hastily-agreed upon deal by then-executive director Mathieu Chantelois to get the parade moving again had to be made by the membership. And according to the article referenced above, they have done so.

This strikes me as a huge mistake. No one would argue that the police have, historically, abused the gay population, the infamous bathhouse raids of 1981 being perhaps the most public and egregious example, when patrons were mocked, humiliated — and arrested by the hundreds. A brief video found here affords a glimpse of the mindset that pervaded the times.

But this is no longer 1981, and last July Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders made an historic apology for this flagrant abuse of authority, an apology that was an important repudiation of such repugnant tactics. I like to think that the intervening 36 years have seen some evolution in the authorities' attitudes.

Why jeopardize those advances and the understanding between the two communities that both the passage of time and the participation in the Gay Pride festivities have helped make possible? To shut off such an important line of communication between the gay community and police culture seems to be counterproductive at the very least, given that the cultivation of such positive ties can only serve to strengthen understanding and empathy.

As neither a black nor a gay man, by what right do I offer an opinion on this issue? To suggest that this is only a black issue or a gay issue overlooks a larger point. They are all part of something bigger, Canadian society as a whole, so my expressed view is as a member of that society. To assert that only gays or blacks have any right to opine here would be to ghettoize and, to some extent, dehumanize, them as occupying special categories of citizenship.

We surely do not want to return to such prejudicial thinking, I hope.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A Brief Programming Note

The winds were blowing. The snow was falling. The telephone rang. Cuba was calling with an offer we couldn't refuse.

See you in about a week.

Monday, January 9, 2017

How To Think, Not What To Think

I have been retired from teaching for 10 years now, and I can say that since departing, I have not missed the classroom for a single day. I say this despite the fact that every few weeks I dream about being back on the job, usually with about two weeks before final exams, and there is something critical that I have failed to teach. In the dream I excoriate myself for having failed my students, and myself, in a crucial way.

I'm not sure why that dream and its regular permutations haunt me so long into retirement, since I know I did the job to the best of my ability throughout my career. But there is always that sense that there was something left undone, perhaps a fitting metaphor for what education really is, a life-long process we all have a moral responsibility to pursue, whether through courses, reading independently, or engaging deeply in issues of import.

Probably the greatest unfinished goal, a perpetual work in progress, is the journey toward critical thinking, about which I have written many times on this blog. Without that capacity, people are not only enslaved to their emotions, biases and prejudices, but also vulnerable to the crass manipulation of those around them, including the media and their political 'leaders'. Never has it been more important to strive to be an independent, critical parser of the world around us.

The other day I happened upon an interesting article by an educator and consultant, Catherine Little, discussing this invaluable skill within the context of the classroom:
Critical thinking might be defined as the process of analyzing and evaluating an issue in order to form a judgment. It is much more difficult to do than define and even harder to teach. However, it is an essential skill and necessary for citizens to effectively exercise their rights and responsibilities.
Teaching students to think critically often results in lively debate as they come to realize people think differently. Teachers must model how to disagree productively and empower students to defend their beliefs passionately but respectfully while working toward change.

By focusing on big ideas and skills, teachers empower students to use what they learn beyond school.
I might quibble at this point and suggest that teachers do not so much teach critical thinking as they do provide the knowledge and the environment within which critical thinking can arise. For example, when I used to teach The Grapes of Wrath, a fine classic about the consequences of the dustbowl in the thirties, I would often ask how John Steinbeck manipulates our sympathies toward the dispossessed Okies and against the landowners, and thereby have them realize that all novels, no matter how noble, are subversive in their intent. We would also do simulations whereby a large camp of dispossessed had suddenly set up in their community, and explore how the community would deal with it from the perspective of a real estate brokerage, local store owners, the ministry, PTA, school board, etc. Each role required thought and deliberation, preconditions to any attempt at critical thinking.

Ms. Little's experience was not dissimilar:
As a student, I experienced a masterful example of teaching for critical thinking when I studied the two World Wars in a high school history class. My teacher planned her lessons to enable us to respond to this final exam question: “It has been said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Discuss using examples from this course.”

Her approach forced us to analyze and evaluate the events we had studied in order to form a judgment about the effects power might have on any leader — a skill that has come in handy on many occasions.
Clearly, these are not skills that have a place only in the classroom:
Recently, I wondered how the leader of a revolution to overthrow a dictator might come to be regarded as a dictator himself? I have also been contemplating how the effects of power might be influencing our own government’s attitude toward electoral reform and cash — for — access fundraisers.

When in third place, The Liberal Party campaigned on the need for electoral reform and promised that if elected, 2015 would be the last under the first-past-the-post voting system. After they were elected to a majority government under this system, they seemed to backtrack. Might a party’s preference for an electoral system be influenced by how much power it has?

When taking power, Prime Minister Trudeau promised his party would “ … uphold the highest standards of integrity and impartiality both in our public and private affairs.” Might being in power affect how a government defines integrity and impartiality?
She ends her essay, as I will this post, reflecting on the relevance and crucial role critical thinking must play today:
Thankfully, my teachers believed in the importance of critical thinking and were able to find ways to use their subject matter to encourage it by asking big questions and teaching students the skills that enabled them to think about those questions critically. By doing this, they made sure I had the skills to question the words and actions of any leader — no matter how popular — and act accordingly.

It seems to me that in this “fake news” and “post-truth” age, the need to teach critical thinking is only growing in urgency.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

An Inconvenient Truth The Corporate Agenda Would Like To Keep Hidden

Their protests notwithstanding, the truth is that raising the minimum wage is good for business. And it isn't just the behemoths depicted above who benefit.
The CEO of a popular fast food chain said this week that he was “stunned” to see profits soar each time California passed minimum wage increases.

In an interview with KQED on Tuesday, Wetzel’s Pretzels CEO Bill Phelps admitted that his investors were worried about how a 2014 wage hike would impact the business.

“Like most business people I was concerned about it,” Phelps said.

For years, opponents of minimum wage increases have argued that wage hikes mean fewer jobs because businesses have to raise prices and cut hours to cover the additional expenses. But Phelps said that his sales skyrocketed after a California law forced businesses to raise wages in 2014.
While business reflexively condemns any wage increases as devastating job-killers, Phelps came to understand a basic economic truth: when people, especially those in the lower echelons of society, have more money in their pocket, they tend to spend it.
Mike Jacobs, owner of a Wetzel’s Pretzels franchise in Concord’s Sunvalley Shopping Center, told KQED that the increased business can be attributed to the fact that his customers are making more money.

“My overall sales were something like 15 percent ahead after the first minimum wage bump, and now they’re about 12 percent ahead this year,” Jacobs explained. “It isn’t because I’m such a great manager or smart guy, but the buying public has more money in their pocket.”
Expect this information to fork no lightning with the neoliberal set, who hew to scare stories that support their greed. And in that pursuit, they have a strong ally in Andrew F. Puzder, Trump's pick for secretary of labour and a staunch opponent of minimum wage increases, who says,
I’m opposed to raising it to the point where lower-skilled workers, working-class Americans, young people, minorities, are losing the jobs they need to get on the ladder of success.”
Try telling that to the employees at places like Wetzel’s Pretzels and In-N-Out Burger, which I wrote about last March after our visit to Southern California.

But of course, I forget myself. We are about to enter, with the Trump presidency, an era where truth and facts mean little.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Just The Beginning

I think we all know that this story, and many others like it, will not end well.
A long-running rift in the Larsen C ice shelf grew suddenly in December and now just 20km of ice is keeping the 5,000 sq km piece from floating away.

Larsen C is the most northern major ice shelf in Antarctica.
Says researcher Prof Adrian Luckman, from Swansea University,
"We would expect in the ensuing months to years further calving events, and maybe an eventual collapse - but it's a very hard thing to predict, and our models say it will be less stable; not that it will immediately collapse or anything like that."

As it floats on the sea, the resulting iceberg from the shelf will not raise sea levels. But if the shelf breaks up even more, it could result in glaciers that flow off the land behind it to speed up their passage towards the ocean. This non-floating ice would have an impact on sea levels.

According to estimates, if all the ice that the Larsen C shelf currently holds back entered the sea, global waters would rise by 10cm[emphasis added].

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Next Four Years Should Be Interesting Indeed

It doesn't seem to matter to America's rabid right wing that they got what they wanted: a man in the White House who they believe will magically solve all the problems bedeviling their crumbling empire. No, for them that is only the beginning. Until all bow before them in abject and utter obeisance, victory is not total and nor really all that sweet.

Such would appear to be the current bee in the mad bonnet of one of their chief spokesmen, television demagogue Bill O'Reilly, who is now taking extreme exception to those performers (and there are apparently plenty of them) who are refusing the invitation to perform at the Orange One's inauguration.

Watch below as the "No Spin" meister fulminates, characterizing as Un-American those who are now exercising their extant but perhaps endangered democratic right not to respond positively to Donald Trump's invitation. It gets really entertaining when conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer doesn't play along with O'Reilly:

Thursday, January 5, 2017

UPDATE: Outsourcing Has Its Costs

The Toronto Star used to have its own production facilities, but as a cost-cutting measure, last year it outsourced that responsibility. Since then there have been numerous problems with the paper, including sections left out, sections appearing in the midst of other sections, and, one day recently, no paper at all. The worst example of the failure of this new plan was evident in the print edition of January 3 where the following appeared on E1:

So far, I have read no acknowledgement of the offending subheading, either in the Corrections page or anywhere else.

I wonder if the paper is aware of the notion of a 'false economy.'

UPDATE: I brought my concerns to The Star's Public Editor, Kathy English, and this is what she wrote:
Dear Mr. Warwick:

Thank you for your email pointing out this unfortunate production error. It sure hit a chord with our readers and I have spent much of this week communicating with many of them. As well, my Saturday column addresses how this occurred. As you will see if you read it, this matter was not connected to the outsourcing of print production.

It was a somewhat inexplicable human error made by a Star copy editor.

Best Regards,
Kathy English

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Lifeblood Of Democracy - A Guest Post By Pamela MacNeil

In response to my post yesterday on rebellion, Pamela MacNeil had this commentary, which I am featuring as a guest post:

Rebels Lorne, especially intellectual rebels, are the life blood of democracy.

From the time we are born or at the very least from the time we start school, we eventually learn that conformity is much more valued than independence, particularly independent thinking.

In almost every area of our society, education, work, relationships, sexual identity, etc. we are pressured to conform, to be like everyone else. It's like there is an underlying code everyone absorbs that, when translated, means keep your mouth shut and your mind closed.

Every great advancement and change in humankind has been instigated by a rebel. Men and woman who question the established concepts can mean speaking out against racism, as did Martin Luther King. Speaking out against the accepted norms of women's very identity: Betty Friedan. The earth does revolve around the sun: Galileo. The origin of the human species is evolutionary: Charles Darwin. Hiding Jews from German Nazis: anyone with courage and integrity, even at the risk of losing their own lives.

Conformity breeds obedience. Once a person has abandoned critical thinking, all they have left is obedience. Conformity also creates a power dynamic.This dynamic consists of those who want to rule and those who want to be ruled.The independent person wants neither to rule nor be ruled. Ultimately they just want to live their life in freedom. They do not recognize anyone having authority over their life.

Men and woman like Chris Hedges speak out against power and are an inspiration to all of those, especially the young, who are starting to question the accepted ideas of their day.

The anti-intellectualism that so permeates American culture today has been evolving for over 50 years. The U.S. is in the final stages of that evolution, so much so that one no longer need ask why Johnny can't read, but rather more fundamentally why Johnny can't think.

The intellectually bankrupt wasteland called American culture has reached its pinnacle. The battle for ideas, such as freedom and democracy, will be left for the rebels to fight, because with Donald Trump in the Oval Office, there will be no right to peaceful protest, no freedom of speech, and there will be no due process. Trump will double down on dissent, permitting his military and police forces as much violence as needed to stop the American people from saying NO.

Every dictator rules by force. Donald Trump is no different.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

UPDATED: Donald Trump Delivers His Punchline

But outside the wealthy minority whose interests he serves, few of the masses who supported his candidacy will find much to laugh about. Go to about the 1:25 minute mark of the following video to find out why:

His pronouncements about lowering corporate taxes and eliminating regulations, as you can see, brought hearty but predictable responses from the audience, but the fact that they cheered most lustily over his announcement that he will repeal Obamacare, for which they have no skin in the game, is the clearest indictment of both their ideological and moral bankruptcy.

It reminds me of this old Internet meme:

I envy them not a whit.

UPDATE: Thanks to Anon pointing it out, we now now that the follicly-challenged fellow looking so pleased as he stands beside Trump is Joseph "Joey No Socks" Cinque — a convicted felon with ties to notorious Gambino crime family boss John Gotti.
Beyond a 1989 felony conviction for possessing nearly $100,000 worth of stolen artwork, Cinque "used to be friends with John Gotti," according to a New York Magazine profile from 1995.

Cinque was also "shot three times and left for dead" in a 1980 incident that authorities described as "a hit," according to the profile.
Hmmm, seems I remember Mom telling me that one is judged by the company they keep. By that measure alone, given his appearance onstage with the president-elect, Joey No Socks must be condemned.

The Virtue Of Rebellion

"Perhaps in our lifetime we will not succeed. Perhaps things will only get worse. But this does not invalidate our efforts. Rebellion - which is different from revolution because it is perpetual alienation from power rather than the replacement of one power system with another - should be our natural state."

-Chris Hedges

There is something brave, honest and bracing about those words, and although I cannot call myself a rebel in any meaningful way, I envy and am attracted to the kind of intractable commitment that Chris Hedges has to fighting the shackles of corrupt economic, social and political systems that hold us all captive in one form or another. As the next part of this century unfolds, there will likely need to be much more of such spirit.

Although it may not exactly constitute rebellion, the students and faculty of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York seem prepared for the worst from the incoming Trump administration and are making a commitment that may have no legal force, but whose moral dimensions are clear:
At Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y., more than 2,000 students and professors signed a petition asking the university to join other institutions and declare itself a sanctuary, or safe haven, for undocumented students.

“I am frightened,” said one literature student, who asked not to be identified for fear she could be deported. “But I am also encouraged to see people mobilizing and organizing and preparing for Trump to carry out his threat to deport millions of illegals.”
Four years ago, Obama signed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which provided temporary amnesty for over three-quarters of a million children and teenagers whose parents had entered the U.S. illegally.
Now these “DREAMers” — named after an earlier version of the act which was not passed — fear they, or their parents, will be targeted if they come out of the shadows.

“My parents brought me from Mexico to Los Angeles when I was 8. They worked hard and paid taxes and put me and my two siblings through college,” said the Cornell student, who attended a recent campus rally. “I registered in DACA, and gave authorities my fingerprints. The threat is serious now that I could be deported. It is stressful not knowing when this could happen.”
Their fears would seem justified:
Trump, who takes office Jan. 20, has said that during his first 100 days he plans to “cancel every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama.” The president-elect has not listed the specific actions he plans to cancel to back up his hyperbole, but his campaign website singled out the amnesty law, which was passed by executive action in 2012.
So is Cornell's moral and ethical choice an isolated phenomenon, or is it a signal that none of us should yet abandon all hope?

Sunday, January 1, 2017

UPDATED: Fearless Journalism, Or Presidential Appeasement?

Happy New Year, everyone.

And now, a return to regular programming.

As 2017 dawns and the Trump presidency draws near, I have been wondering if the MSM will show any real backbone and fulfill the role traditionally ascribed to them as bulwarks of democracy. Or will they simply continue to be the abject failures that journalist and social prophet Chris Hedges calls them, sell-outs as part of the liberal class he takes to task in his book Death of the Liberal Class?

One of the prizes that journalists, on behalf of their corporate employers, hold most sacred is access. Given the unbridled contempt Trump has shown toward criticism, will there now be an effort at appeasement of the temperamental one? Indeed, Will both external and internal factors influence the media's approach to political coverage?

Early signs offer cause for concern. Take, for example, this report from The Guardian:
A journalist was temporarily banned from Facebook after a post in which he called Trump supporters “a nasty fascistic lot”, in the latest example of the social media platform’s censorship of journalists.
The social media giant later reversed its decision and apologized, but the trouble began when writer Kevin Sessums shared a post by
ABC political analyst Matthew Dowd that read: “In the last few hours I have been called by lovely ‘christian’ Trump fans: a jew, faggot, retard. To set record straight: divorced Catholic.”

Sessums added his own commentary, writing:

But as those who do hold Trump to the standards of any other person have found out on Twitter and other social media outlets these Trump followers are a nasty fascistic lot. Dowd is lucky he didn’t get death threats like Kurt Eichenwald. Or maybe he did and refuses to acknowledge them. If you voted for Trump and continue to support him and you think you are better than these bigoted virulent trolls, you’re not. Your silence enables them just as it did in the racist campaign that Trump and Bannon ran. In fact, hiding behind a civilized veneer in your support of fascism I consider more dangerous. We’re past describing you as collaborators at this point. That lets you off the hook. You’re Russo-American oligarchical theocratic fascists.
Seesums was initially informed that his post violated FB's community standards, a curious justification given much of what it deems to be consistent with those standards.

The writer's reaction was swift and excoriating:
It’s chilling. It’s arbitrary censorship ... Do I have to be careful about what I say about Trump now?
That does become the central question, doesn't it? And that leads to this concern: will mainstream journalists now practice a kind of prophylactic self-censorship? They might be wise to heed the advice of Newsweek reporter Kurt Eichenwald, who said on Saturday that
journalists needed to “grow a backbone” to deal with President-elect Donald Trump.

With a Republican-controlled House and Senate, expect the usual checks and balances of the American political system to completely fail. Let us all hope that mainstream journalism doesn't have to be consigned to the same category as well.

UPDATE: This Washington Post piece, replete with links, gets to the journalistic heart of the matter.