Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Simpsons Skewer Trump's First 100 Days

This little gem speaks for itself.

How Much Does That Plastic Bottle Really Cost?



For me, the plastic water bottle is an apt symbol for the mentality that encapsulates the western world today: the passion for convenience, abject, complete disregard for the environment, and the narcissistic drive for the satisfaction of personal wants no matter what the ultimate cost may be.

Star reader Paul A. Wilson of Toronto reminds us of the true cost of such indefensible egoism. We would all do well to heed his words:
Re: That plastic bottle you tossed is on its way to Arctic, April 22

The time has come for us to start dismantling the bottled-water industry. The Wellington Water Watchers and letter writers to the Star have convincingly argued that we need to protect our precious groundwater resources.

Now scientists are showing us we produce and throw away so many plastic products that we are destroying our oceans and the marine life. We should care less about the profits of huge multi-national companies like Nestlé and more about the long-term health of our planet and our children.

When we learned about environmental dangers in the past, our country often joined the international community to tackle problems such as acid rain, the use of DDT, lead in gasoline and the uncontrolled dumping of toxic chemicals in our waterways.

We should be able to apply the same resolve to this issue of sustainable water resources as we did when we became global leaders in the campaign to ban landmines.

We have the ability to make the necessary changes. We just have to stop procrastinating and act in ways designed to help our planet survive so our next generation will have a livable home.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Trump Strategy



I just read Owen's blog, which today talks about the wily Trump's real purpose behind his plan to reduce the corporate tax rate to 15%, from 35%. The following news item seems to complement Owen's post, especially when you learn one of the proposals to pay for this cut, which will add $2 trillion to the U.S. debt, is by making substantial changes to the 401k plan which, as I understand it, is roughly equivalent to Canada's RRSP.

Predictably, it looks like Trump's most ardent supporters, a.k.a. 'the little guys,' will be paying a very heavy price for their allegiance to the Orange Ogre.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

We Reap What We Sow, Eh?



The news is very bad, but that isn't really news for those of us who follow climate change:
A new international report shows that Arctic temperatures are rising higher and faster than expected, and the effects are already being felt around the world.

Among the findings in this year's report:

- The Arctic Ocean could be largely free of sea ice in the summer as early as 2030 or even before that.

- Arctic temperatures are rising twice as fast as the temperatures in the rest of the world. In the fall of 2016 mean temperatures were six degrees higher than average.

- Thawing permafrost that holds 50 per cent of the world's carbon is already affecting northern infrastructure and could release significant amounts of methane into the atmosphere.

- Polar bears, walruses and seals that rely on ice for survival are facing increased stress and disruption.

- Changes in the Arctic may be affecting weather as far away as Southeast Asia.
And those facts mean not only massive ecological and human disruption and dislocation in the near future due to sea level rise, but also massive costs:
The frigid region’s shift to warmer and wetter conditions, resulting in melting ice around the region, may cost the world economy trillions of dollars this century...



It is hard to have any hope these days, especially when our political 'leaders' continue to whistle, loudly and hubristically, past our looming collective graveyard.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Zelig, Anyone?



I don't know how many of you remember the 1983 Wood Allen film, Zelig, in which Allen plays an individual with the uncanny ability to take on the characteristics of those around him. The only problem, as I recall, was that there was no real individual at Leonard Zelig's core, just a skilled chameleon whose power was imitative and derivative, not original.

I'm beginning to think of Justin Trudeau as our version of Zelig. You may recall, for example, that he certainly supported Finance Minister Bill Morneau's comments last year that precarious work and job churn are here to stay, and that young Canadians will just have to get with the program. A short time later, however, when Trudeau was addressing politicians and elites in Germany, he had this to say:
“No more brushing aside the concerns of our workers and our citizens,” the prime minister said in prepared remarks. “We have to address the root cause of their worries, and get real about how the changing economy is impacting peoples’ lives.”

He even adopted some of the language of anti-trade movements. [Emphasis added.]

“When companies post record profits on the backs of workers consistently refused full-time work — and the job security that comes with it — people get defeated,” he said.
Trudeau said the anxiety of working people is turning into anger, and politicians and business leaders must take heed and take “long-term responsibility” for workers, their families, and the communities in which they operate.

“For business leaders, it’s about thinking beyond your short-term responsibility to your shareholders,” Trudeau said.

“It’s time to pay a living wage, to pay your taxes. And give your workers the benefits — and peace of mind — that come with stable, full-time contracts.” [Emphasis added]
Note the last sentence's jarring contrast with what Morneau/Trudeau told young people in the fall.

Why the change of tone? Perhaps it was due to the fact that Canada had just finished signing the CETA deal, and the neoliberal prime minister fears there will be few others unless the illusion of progress for workers is perpetrated. As well, his audience was really a world one, and we know how the man likes to bask in the reflected glow of his 'sunny ways' and international press adulation.

Which brings us to his latest Zelig move, which mirrors that of the Orange Ogre to the south:
Canada is going to put off for three years its plan to regulate cuts to methane emissions in the oil and gas sector.

The move comes less than a month after U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order that hits the pause button on matching American commitments to methane cuts -- and the timing is no coincidence.
Using lines only too familiar to us from the Harper era, we are told that the delay is so as not to put our businesses at a competitive disadvantage.

Rebukes from the environmental sector have been swift:
Dale Marshall, national program manager with Environmental Defence, told the Star that curbing methane gas is one of the easiest ways to reduce emissions that cause climate change. The fact that the government is putting off action on this low-hanging fruit in the climate fight demonstrates a “total” lack of leadership, Marshall said.
He accused Ottawa of showing “no backbone” on the issue.
Despite the government's protestations that they will still remove the same amount of methane over time, those who study such matters dismiss such self-serving rhetoric:
Andrew Read, a senior analyst with the Pembina Institute, called the new methane timeline a “real blow” that could hinder Canada’s goal to curb greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Read said that, even if the government still cuts methane emissions by 45 per cent, the delayed timeline translates to an estimated extra 55 megatonnes of the gas that will get released into the atmosphere. He added that methane is one of the most powerful greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
So there you have it - a prime minister as elusive a character as was Zelig, and sharing with him, apparently, one other 'quality': a complete absence of a moral and ethical core.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

In Praise Of Critical Thinking



At a time when darkness and ignorance seem to have become default positions for far too many people, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has made a four-minute video posted to his Facebook page that urges a renewal of critical thinking skills, the kind of skills that have enabled science to make such progress in the past several centuries.
The video begins with a reminder that the United States rose up from a "backwoods country," as Tyson calls it, to "one of the greatest nations the world has ever known," thanks to science. It was the United States that put humans on the moon and whose big thinkers created the personal computer and the internet.

"We pioneered industries," Tyson said. "Science is a fundamental part of the country that we are."

But in the 21st century, a disturbing trend took hold: "People have lost the ability to judge what is true and what is not," he said.

Tyson suggests that those who understand science the least are the people who are rising to power and denying it the loudest.

"That is a recipe for the complete dismantling of our informed democracy," he said.

You can watch the video here.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The World Needs More Rick Steves

The vast majority of you are undoubtedly familiar with Rick Steves, the peripatetic world traveller who has taken his PBS viewers and readers of his travel guides on some memorable adventures.

But there is much more to Steves than his wanderlust. It turns out he is also a very, very impressive philanthropist
Back home, one of my pet social causes has long been affordable housing. Twenty years ago, I devised a scheme where I could put my retirement savings not into a bank to get interest, but into cheap apartments to house struggling neighbors. I would retain my capital, my equity would grow as the apartment complex appreciated, and I would suffer none of the headaches that I would have if I had rented out the units as a landlord. Rather than collecting rent, my “income” would be the joy of housing otherwise desperate people. I found this a creative, compassionate and more enlightened way to “invest” while retaining my long-term security.

This project evolved until, eventually, I owned a 24-unit apartment complex that I provided to the YWCA. They used it to house single moms who were recovering hard-drug addicts and were now ready to get custody of their children back.
The election of Trump, with his mean-spirited, exclusionary billionaires-club policies, changed Steves' plans:
With the election of our president and the rise of a new, greed-is-good ethic in our government, I want to be more constructive than just complaining about how our society is once again embracing “trickle-down” ethics, and our remarkable ability to ignore the need in our communities even as so much wealth is accumulated within the top one percent of our populace. I’m heartbroken at how good people, dedicating their lives to helping others (through social organizations and non-profits across our society), are bracing for a new forced austerity under our government of billionaires.

So, inspired by what’s happening in our government and in an attempt to make a difference, I decided to take my personal affordable housing project one step further: I recently gave my 24-unit apartment complex to the YWCA. Now the YWCA can plan into the future knowing this facility is theirs. And I’ll forever enjoy knowing that, with this gift, I’m still helping them with their mission.



Ricks Steves: clearly a man who recognizes the real value of money.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Trudeau Dissected: A Guest Post By Pamela MacNeil



In response to yesterday's post on Justin Trudeau, frequent contributor Pamela MacNeil left the following response, which I am taking the liberty of featuring as a guest post today:

Bill McKibben is spot on in his assessment of Trudeau and his hypocritical betrayal of supporting climate change, Lorne. While climate change is one of the most important issues he has back tracked on, there are numerous others.

His full embrace of Harper's neoliberal agenda is a guarantee that his policies are being created to support the corporate/political/military domestic and global elite. In other words, he is giving away control of Canada's wealth to global corporations. In order to do this he must eliminate Canada's sovereignty as an independent nation. This is something he is happily proceeding with.

I say happily, because he bragged in an interview with the Guardian that Canada will become the first "post nation state." Governing for the interest of Canadians is not part of his neoliberal equation.

His asserting of Canada's foreign policy with what US policy dictates is deeply entrenched and it goes way beyond military demands, such as the intent of Bill C-51 bringing Canadian security and immigration more in line with those in the US.

There is actually a disturbing, but excellent article written in the Tyee titled "Anti-terror laws already eroding free speech debate." It is about an Italian philosopher barred from visiting Canada to speak at the UBC University of Calgary. His name is Antonio Negri. He has visited Canada before and is a major critic of global neoliberalism.

Trudeau completely supports any military, economic, or political action of the US.

Does the Canadian government speak for Canadians? Do Canadians really think it's okay that [people are] victims of US military violence which has obliterated their countries, had their wealth plundered, had millions of their lives lost and created millions of refugees, who for the most part wander aimlessly looking for a country that will give them refuge?

What does it mean that Canada supports this kind of military violence and injustice? It means we are complicit, complicit in the violence and in the injustice.

Trudeau's alleged support of human rights is a farce.

The US is a country that is an imperial power; its educational system has all but destroyed the conceptual foundation of learning, making knowledge almost impossible to pursue; it is a country where intelligence and ideas are replaced by scripture and myth making, a country whose government, whether Democrats or Republicans, is comprised mainly of thugs who are really just a criminal cabal. This is the country that Trudeau has most aligned Canada with, even if it means submerging Canadian identity in the process.

Because of Trudeau and his cronies, Canadians can very well lose their sovereign independent nation. Can we rebuild our country if the foundation of our democracy has been destroyed? No we can't!

Watch what Trudeau does with Bill C-51. His amendments will only be cosmetic. He and his government will want to keep it for their own use. After all, Canadians will figure out sooner or later, that they have been lied to and will start to protest and fight back. They will have to be stopped and Bill C-51 is just the legislation to do it.

There seems to be a rule of thumb evolving with Trudeau. Anything that involves the creation or reinforcement of the rights and freedoms of Canadians is either ignored or violated, such as in the corporate-controlled, sovereignty-destroying "trade deals" he so loves to promote and the anti-BDS motion he so dogmatically supported.

Harper's arrogant, vindictive personality was a reflection of his political authoritarianism. The authoritarianism is harder to see with someone like Trudeau, whose charm and oozing pseudo sincerity come across as being genuinely truthful and caring.

His continued ongoing authoritarian neoliberal policies that are a threat to Canadians' rights and freedoms, including the destruction of Canada's social democracy, pegs him as a tyrant to me.

Harper has not left the building. Trudeau's sunny-ways are going to lead to some very dark days.

Monday, April 17, 2017

When Is The Anti-Trump Not The Anti-Trump?

Answer: When you scratch beneath the surface of Justin Trudeau's soaring rhetoric.



In his scathing assessment of our prime minister, 350.og founder Bill McKibben says that Trudeau is, in fact, a fellow traveller with Donald Trump when it comes to climate change, something I suspect more and more thinking Canadians are discovering:
Trudeau says all the right things, over and over. He’s got no Scott Pruitts in his cabinet: everyone who works for him says the right things. Indeed, they specialize in getting others to say them too – it was Canadian diplomats, and the country’s environment minister Catharine McKenna, who pushed at the Paris climate talks for a tougher-than-expected goal: holding the planet’s rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

But those words are meaningless if you keep digging up more carbon and selling it to people to burn, and that’s exactly what Trudeau is doing. He’s hard at work pushing for new pipelines through Canada and the US to carry yet more oil out of Alberta’s tarsands, which is one of the greatest climate disasters on the planet.
Trudeau's rhetorical shape shifting capabilities were on full display last month in Houston as he received a standing ovation from a petroleum gathering when he said,
“No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there.”
And therein lies the crux of Trudeau's hypocrisy.
If Canada digs up that oil and sells it to people to burn, it will produce, according to the math whizzes at Oil Change International, 30% of the carbon necessary to take us past the 1.5 degree target that Canada helped set in Paris.
In that regard, we are certainly punching above our weight:
Canada, which represents one half of one percent of the planet’s population, is claiming the right to sell the oil that will use up a third of the earth’s remaining carbon budget.
Trudeau and his cabinet acolytes would have us believe that we can continue to pump out tarsands bitumen and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I have a theory as to why he thinks this kind of magical thinking can be credible to anyone with even a modicum of critical-thinking skills:

Justin Trudeau has fallen into the trap of believing his own press. The fawning hyperbolic language used to describe him in worldwide journals has, I suspect, led him to believe he can do no wrong or, if he does, Canadians will be too blinded by his 'radiance' to notice.

In this, I hope our young prime minster is badly mistaken.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Ready, Aye Ready

That noble motto of the Royal Canadian Navy can now perhaps perversely be described as the modus vivendi of Justin Trudeau in his ongoing efforts to get on the right side of Donald Trump. The alacrity with which he danced to the Orange Ogre's tune on Syria after the latter launched his Tomahawk missile attack following Syria's gas attack on its own people should be a source of grave concern to all. Appeasement never works.





More and more people are discovering that there is far less than meets the eye when it comes to Trudeau's intellect and leadership. And, as always, it is heartening to know that Star readers are not letting anything slip by them:
Re: Trudeau following Trump’s dangerous path on Syria, Walkom, April 12

Trudeau following Trump’s dangerous path on Syria, Walkom, April 12


I appreciated Thomas Walkom’s clear insights into the crisis in Syria. It is important to note that the U.S. missile attack was illegal. Unilateral attacks, without UN approval or without imminent fear of an attack, are illegal

But I have been astounded at the Trudeau government’s seemingly automatic approval of the U.S. action. While spokespeople for the U.K. government, the UN and even Trudeau himself had stated that the chemical attack required investigation, that cool-headed appraisal ended quickly with Trudeau’s supplication to the U.S. and his mind-boggling reference to supporting regime change.

Other attempts at regime change around the world have yielded many failures and led to the deaths of many innocent people. But it seems that, in order to appease an erratic and suddenly interventionist president, we have jumped in to support this ill-conceived and war-mongering U.S. position.

Who would we install? How will this end? I doubt anyone can say, since Syria is a mess. There are many actors on this stage and none offer a palatable alternative to Assad.

I am outraged by Trudeau’s knee-jerk reaction. But, if I hoped that the loyal opposition might provide some balance, I was sadly disappointed. I watched Conservative Peter Kent on CPAC describe Trump’s actions as “courageous.” Disgusting.

Bruce Van Dieten, Toronto

It’s fascinating to watch Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s lightning change of heart. A few days ago, he was publicly cautioning that there still wasn’t firm evidence about who was responsible for the gas attack in Syria.

Now, despite still having no firm evidence of culpability, he is stating that Syrian President Bashar Assad is responsible and that his regime must go.

You wonder whether Trudeau’s Washington handlers yanked his leash, whether he just decided — after watching U.S. President Donald Trump in action — that hysteria is a good enough basis for conducting international relations, or whether he thought that playing the tough guy could rescue his sagging poll numbers, as it seems to have done for Trump.

Whatever the case may be, how reassuring that bugbears like evidence aren’t tying his hands, even when it comes to fanning the flames in a conflict that could tip us over into a world war.

Andrew Brooks, Toronto

Dear Prime Minister: I suggest that before you so quickly decide that deposing Assad is the way to go, take a lesson from what happened in Iraq and Libya when their leaders were deposed. Things ended up much worse than they were before. Deposing Assad is tempting, but could give Daesh just what it’s looking for: an Islamic state to call their own. At the very least, you should know who/what will replace Assad before diving in.

Al Yolles, Toronto

Friday, April 14, 2017

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Our Surveillance Society

While we are both right and justified in our concerns over privacy compromises and violations that modern technology seems to have turned into a tsunami, sometimes that very technology can be an ally in our pursuit of truth and justice. As we saw in the recent United Airlines assault of Doctor David Dao, video can be the antidote to corporate spin.

Now, yet another video, both from a police dashcam and a citizen, demonstrates once more that minorities are often victimized by the authorities not because they have done anything wrong, but because of their ethnicity or their colour.



Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Sad State Of Affairs



While the fallout of United Airlines' ("Fly the friendly skies of United") forcible removal of a paying customer from an overbooked flight continues to reverberate, the ugly incident is reminding all of us of some ugly truths that now constitute our reality. Corporate power rules, and we are merely incidental casualties in its relentless march to profit.

Quoting one of his colleagues, Shawn Ryan sums up the situation:
...in a blind pursuit of profit, United overbooked the flight, didn’t offer enough to entice anyone to get off the plane, then in order to get their own employees on the flight, they removed ticketed passengers, and when one wouldn’t comply with their orders, they called the cops to pull a supposed doctor off the plane—bloodying his face in the process.
Ryan sees much deeper significance here than a viral video that is doing tremendous damage to the airline's 'brand':
But let’s tell the deeper truth here—United made a dumb decision, but essentially they just got unlucky that the problem landed on their laps, and it was their dirty laundry that got aired. They are a cruel agent, without a doubt, but they are not some lone wolf—they are a product of an indifferent system that increasingly devalues individual life, and that system is called America.
Essentially, then, the forced removal of the doctor is only a symptom of an underlying systemic disease, much of which Canada is not immune to. What are some of the things we share with the rapidly unraveling U.S. of A.?
—The social safety net, once the strongest in the world, has been gradually dismantled by both major parties over three decades, leaving the poor and working classes vulnerable to increased poverty and immiseration.

—Labor unions, the only reliable form of protection for the American worker, have likewise been gutted as power amasses in the hands of corporations.

—Our economy is designed to transfer wealth and income into the pockets of those who need it least, and any opposition to this structural inequality is treated as political radicalism.

—Our police are empowered to shoot and kill our own citizens for dubious reasons, and—especially if the victim happens to be a minority—escape all prosecution.

—Harmful free trade agreements have been passed to milk profit from globalism, with no thought given to the loss of jobs, money, and dignity for American workers, or the slave wages and environmental destruction unleashed abroad.

The reality is plain: United Airlines is not the disease. United Airlines is a symptom of an infected country whose institutions of power no longer respect the dignity or the sanctity of the individual life. They don’t care about you
Soon, of course, the furor will subside, and all of us will return to our quotidian concerns, but perhaps we will remain at least a little shaken by having had many of our notions about fairness, equality and justice exposed for the delusions they often are.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

An Excellent Policy Initiative

Although perhaps less than perfect, New York state has taken a bold move in promising free college/university tuition for its residents whose families earn less than $100,000 per year. This will allow many more to secure higher education than would be possible without the bill; upwards of 80% of families will qualify.

Ontario has also promised some tuition relief for low-income families, but the details are still rather vague.

Anything that provides a little light during these exceedingly dark times is to be welcomed:






Saturday, April 8, 2017

A Cost-Benefit Analysis Of Air Travel, Or Am I Just Another Hypocrite?



Having just returned from a 10-day visit to England, my first and my wife's third, the hypocrisy of my use of air travel is not lost on me. Well-known as the worst carbon-emitting form of transportation, jets pose a moral dilemma for all of us who claim to care about the environment. However, despite recognizing how personally and environmentally compromising such travel is, I doubt that this will be my last trip abroad.

I could argue that my infrequent use of airplanes is compensated by the measured steps I take in my daily life to reduce my carbon footprint, but they hardly balance the equation. In many ways, I guess I am no different from those who refuse to use their cars sparingly, who profligately and heedlessly make discretionary energy-intensive purchases, and who put their own comforts, conveniences and wishes above all others.

Ah, but the benefits and perspectives conferred by travel are ones that I cannot resist. I will likely address some of them in the future.

Perhaps to assuage my conscience, I would like to direct you to Star ethicist Ken Gallinger's column in today's paper.

A reader writes:
I lie awake thinking about climate change and air travel. As a means of transport, planes create the worst carbon footprint, yet no one cares. Carbon emissions are destroying the earth, yet friends feel entitled to warm vacations or unnecessary business travel. Years ago I committed to flying as rarely as possible, but it’s hard. For Canada’s 150th, we want to visit the new Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. Is it ever ethically defensible to fly?
Gallinger attempts to put the question into a wider perspective, one that may not actually fully address the morality of optional travel:
Sometimes this column puts me in a conflict of interest. Since “retiring,” my wife and I travel a lot, so I won’t pretend this is a disinterested response.

Having confessed to frequent flying, I invite you to join me on a “fantasy flight,” perhaps from Toronto to London, England. Let me introduce our fellow travellers.

See those 30 teenagers in the front rows? They’re small-town high school kids, on their way to Vimy Ridge. They’ll be stunned by the monument, but more to the point, they’ll be brought to tears by the sacrifice, dignity and sheer valour of Canadian kids not much older than themselves.

Observe the couple in 33B and C. His arm’s wrapped around her? Well, her mum is dying over in Jolly Ol’, and she’s praying to arrive in time for a final goodbye. It’s a particularly long flight, though she’s made it many times.

Look over there: 24F. He’s a worldfamous cellist, returning to Vienna after a sold-out performance at Roy Thomson. The thunderous ovation still rings in his ears — or maybe that’s just pressure at 33,000 feet. 18G? The nervous-looking young woman? She’s a nurse from Yellowknife, working with Médecins Sans Frontières and heading for her first assignment in Pakistan. She’s never been away from home before.

The quiet man in 27C? He’s connecting at Heathrow, flying to his ancestral home in Kenya. He’s Canadian, but he returns regularly to this tiny community, helping build a school for girls. A Scarborough church helps out financially; others do, too. But he’s the one who goes, and without his journey of hope, the project would die.
Can the broadening effects of travel be an ample justification and an effective counterbalance to the ignorance that so many seem to embrace today?
Is it ever ethically defensibly to fly? Of course it is. We live in an interconnected world.

Our stories, our families, our hopes and fears are interlaced with faraway places, and despite the occasional backwash of parochialism such as south of the border, there’s no turning back. The globe is our workshop, playground, farm — our heritage and our home.

That doesn’t mean we can ignore environmental implications of air travel, any more than the costs of recreational boating, going for a Sunday drive, bearing children or eating a steak. Air travel is costly, so we need to weigh decisions carefully, avoid flying when feasible and support attempts to mitigate environmental damage. But history shows that living in silos of national, ethnic or religious isolation has a cost too — a cost that is, perhaps, even greater.

Fly to Winnipeg. See the museum. Walk the Forks. Wave to the Golden Boy. Eat Real Perogies.

Just wait till the ice melts, the Jets have again missed the playoffs, the floods recede and the mosquitoes die. There are three or four days in August when the ’Peg is a lovely city.