Friday, September 30, 2011

And You Wonder Why People Have Contempt For Politicians?

Watch/listen to this to find out one of the reasons:

More From Chris Hedges On The Occupy Wall Street Protest

'Stirring' and 'inspiring' are the most apt adjectives to describe Chris Hedges' latest piece on the occupation of Wall Street. It is a call to commitment and action, a reminder that sitting on the sidelines and doing nothing is tantamount to complicity at worst and surrender at best. Although the things he describes in the article are directed toward the United States, a country in a much more advanced state of decay and decline than Canada, we fool ourselves if we do not see the same pattern implacably at work in Canada and becoming stronger and stronger.

Below is the first paragraph from his article. I hope you will check out this link to read it in its entirety:

The Best Among Us
By Chris Hedges

There are no excuses left. Either you join the revolt taking place on Wall Street and in the financial districts of other cities across the country or you stand on the wrong side of history. Either you obstruct, in the only form left to us, which is civil disobedience, the plundering by the criminal class on Wall Street and accelerated destruction of the ecosystem that sustains the human species, or become the passive enabler of a monstrous evil. Either you taste, feel and smell the intoxication of freedom and revolt or sink into the miasma of despair and apathy. Either you are a rebel or a slave.

An Avaaz Asbestos Petition To Premier Charest

Canada's ongoing and unconscionable export of asbestos to developing countries continues to be a source of moral outrage to millions, not just in Canada but throughout much of the world. I have written many posts on the subject, always recognizing that my efforts are puny and will not result in any change in practice by a government that seems guided only by business imperatives that exist in a moral vacuum.

I am therefore heartened to see Avaaz now circulating a petition to try to persuade Quebec Premier Jean Charest to do the right thing on this issue. Please take a moment to read the full text below and consider signing the petition::

Dear friends Across Canada,

In two days, Quebec could give a $58 million loan guarantee to an asbestos mine -- allowing it to continue pumping out poison for export around the world. But our call now to keep public money out of poisonous mines could force Quebec's Premier to back off the deal.

Asbestos kills over 100,000 people every year and is practically banned in Canada, but Quebec Premier Charest continues to finance its extraction and export to countries like India -- poisoning the world's most vulnerable citizens. The cancer corporations who own these mines have run out of funds and banks wont lend to them without the backing of Quebec's government. Charest is on the verge of agreeing to help out, but our public money shouldn't be on the hook for a poisonous mine. By shining a light on this dirty deal, we can force Charest to back off the loan guarantee and close the asbestos mine for good.

Let's make sure cancer-causing asbestos is not a national export. Join in the call to end public finance of this poisonous mine. When we reach 50,000 signers we will deliver the petition directly to Charest. Sign below and forward to everyone:

Asbestos reserves in the Jeffrey Mine (located in Asbestos, Quebec) are dwindling and their cancer consortium needs financial backing from the Quebec government to unlock a new massive underground reserve that will let it produce its poison for another 50 years. If the Charest government agrees to help finance this project, over 200 million tonnes of asbestos will be unlocked, mined and exported, causing illness and death in countries like India -- the worlds largest importer of Canadian asbestos.

Asbestos is practically banned for use in Canada. It is so hazardous that it can only be used if no part of the substance is ever exposed to the open air. Federal politicians are currently spending $863 million to renovate and remove asbestos from Parliament’s West Block, yet its extraction and export to developing countries remains legal.Canadians only used 6,000 tonnes of the poisonous material in 2006. Still, we exported 153,000 tonnes of asbestos in 2009.

The asbestos lobby claims that Quebec’s financial support will help create 500 jobs. By signing this petition we can help save hundreds of thousands of lives by cutting off the funding needed to mine this deadly product. Sign this petition and tell Charest that Canadians from all provinces are against the mining and export of cancer-causing asbestos.

Avaaz members just won a major victory when we came together and urged the Ontario government to review the Highland Companies' mining application in Ontario that would have poisoned the province's water supply. Today we can stand united again and urge the Quebec government to immediately stop funding the asbestos industry and save millions of lives.

With hope,

Emma, Ari, Alice, Ricken, Shibayan, Morgan, and the entire Avaaz team


Meet Quebec's "Mr. Asbestos"

Canada's Breathtaking Hypocrisy on Asbestos

"Yes, we have the $25-million," Quebec firm says of asbestos plan

Asbestos Critics Refuse to be Converted After Meeting With Industry Power House

Support the Avaaz Community!

We're entirely funded by donations and receive no money from governments or corporations. Our dedicated team ensures even the smallest contributions go a long way. is a 9-million-person global campaign network that works to ensure that the views and values of the world's people shape global decision-making. ("Avaaz" means "voice" or "song" in many languages.) Avaaz members live in every nation of the world; our team is spread across 13 countries on 4 continents and operates in 14 languages. Learn about some of Avaaz's biggest campaigns here, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Velcro Ripper On The Occupy Wall Street Movement

A young black man named Hero, who had just been released from jail after being arrested at the September 24th march, shared his experience with me, "Someone pushed a little red button and the police turned into adrenaline packed zombies. I found myself in the middle, I saw my friend go down, and when I tried to help her a cop punched me in the face, then dragged me over the barrier and threw me to the ground and told me to stop resisting arrest, as I lay there. It was a crazy experience. But I'm here today, and I'm blessed. And I'm back, stronger than ever."

So writes well-known Canadian documentary filmmaker Velcro Ripper as he describes one man's experience of police violence which included the use of mace last Saturday during the ongoing Wall Street Occupation. In an article entitled The revolution will be tweeted, written for, Ripper offers his impressions of the movement and includes a short video, which can be seen below, following the video of the apparently unprovoked macing of young women BEHIND a barricade:

TruthDig For A Different Kind Of Truth

I recently wrote a couple of blog posts on Warren Buffett and the need for higher taxation of the very wealthy, an idea that is gaining currency in a number of countries, including France and Spain, the latter actually recently imposing a new tax on the wealthy. While conventional news formats are reluctant to pursue the issue in any depth, alternative sites for news and opinions like our own and Truthdig, an American-based site, are not shying away from this contentious topic.

A Truthdig article entitled Why They Hate Warren Buffett examines the backlash from the right provoked by Buffett's plea for higher taxation of people like him, and is well worth perusal.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Guardian Writes About The Occupy Wall Street Movement

For those interested, there is a thoughtful article on the implications of the Occupy Wall Street Protest found, not in an American newspaper, but in The Guardian. Entitled Occupy Wall Street rediscovers the radical imagination, it provides both the context of the movement and its implications for the future.

For anyone fed up with the status quo and the fact that nothing substantive changed after the 2008 meltdown, it is well-worth reading.

Chris Hedges On The Wall Street Occupation

Chris Hedges, whose purity of vision and integrity I deeply admire, has an interview posted in a series of parts on You Tube regarding the Occupy Wall Street Protest and why he is part of it. Below is the first part of that interview:

The Occupy Wall Street Protest

The Occupy Wall Street Protest, now in its 12th day, has received very little coverage in the mainstream press, for reasons that seem too obvious to state. As usual, The Real News Network informs us where corporate media fears to tread. The following video offers a useful primer on the movement which, despite the fact that it is a demonstration against the excesses of American capitalism, has equal application to our country. Other video links will follow soon.

Goldman Sachs Rules The World

At least it does according to trader Alessio Rastani who, in an interview with the BBC, confesses that he dreams of recessions, [and]sees Goldman ruling the world. Remember this interview the next time someone tells you that business knows best, and that governmental regulation unfairly fetters it.

UPDATE: It has now been revealed that Rastani is not exactly who he claimed to be in the interview. According to a story carried in today's Star, he bills himself on his website as "an experienced stock market and forex trader," and later confesssed to being an "attention seeker" for whom "trading is like a hobby."

Nonetheless, his demeanour and professed beliefs seem to mirror another story entitled Traders outperform psychopaths in egocentrism and lying – but not in making money, which finds many similarities between the two, except that psychopaths seem less consistently ruthless!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

One More Thought For Today.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on education, lamenting the fact that like just about everything else, it has become a commodity, measured almost exclusively by its ability to lead to a good-paying job. Last evening, while watching the local news, I once more had confirmation of this.

An economics professor from McMaster talked about how education gives you a much better return on the dollar than most 'financial instruments' such as stocks or RRSP's. The report went on to say that having a Masters will enhance your earning power 8 or 9% on top of a Bachelor's degree.

As I have written previously, there is nothing wrong with the idea of pursuing education for the economic benefits it can confer, but to have it considered purely in those terms, without any acknowledgement of the value of the critical thinking skills benefits than can also accrue, seems to me quite short-sighted and yet another indication of the shallowness of our times.

You can watch the full report here.

Will That Be One Smirk Or Two?

Watching the news last night, I was reminded once more of how personally repugnant my decision to vote for the McGuinty government is. I cited the reasons for my shift in yesterday's post, and although from my perspective there is no reasonable alternative in my riding, it still does not sit well with me.

During a news scrum yesterday, McGuinty was asked how much the decision to halt the still-ongoing construction of the Mississauga power plant (a decision the Premier insists was not prompted by electoral concerns) is going to cost taxpayers. His reply: “That is the subject of continuing conversation.”

He was then asked how much it had cost to halt the Oakville power plant last year after sustained demonstrations and representations by the people. His answer, this time with a smirk, was “That is the subject of continuing conversation.”

Now I realize that politicians never want to hand any ammunition to their opponents, especially during an election campaign, but the 'wink-wink, nudge-nudge' demeanour of the Premier makes us all complicit in the lie he is telling. To brazenly feign ignorance about such costs is in fact to lie to the electorate, the very people our government is supposed to be representing, and the saddest part is he realizes he can get away with it because of our natural passivity and ignorance.

My feelings of impotence and anger grow daily.

UPDATE: The Ontario Premier's professed ignorance notwithstanding, a story in today's Star puts the cost at shutting down both the Oakville and Mississauga power plant projects at about $1 billion.

Monday, September 26, 2011

As Usual, The CBC Is Under Attack By The Right-Wing

I have written before about how I feel that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has, in many ways, sold out to the Conservative Government. Undoubtedly not having understood the sad history of appeasement, they have pursued that profitless course, trying to convince the government of its bones fides by giving right-wing cranks like Kevin O'Leary his own show, and allowing Peter Mansbrige to play the role of the obeisant sycophant during his interviews with those who hold power.

Nonetheless, the Right is implacable. As is so widely evident in their destructive rhetoric, they cannot tolerate opposing views, even when they hold power. It is therefore not surprising that there is a concerted move afoot to defang ( I mean defund) the CBC even further.

As reported in a Globe story entitled CBC funding under microscope in Conservative survey:

Conservative Senator Irving Gerstein, who chairs the Conservative Party’s fundraising division, recently sent a letter to supporters that included a 10-question “National Critical Issues Survey” seeking input to help the government set its priorities for the fall and into 2012.

One question asks whether the more than $1-billion Ottawa spends on the CBC is “good value” or “bad value.”

Meanwhile, two Conservative MPs, Rob Anders and Ed Holder, are taking it a step further, asking their constituents in surveys whether the government should keep funding the CBC.

Mr. Anders, a Calgary MP who has always been a controversial maverick on the right wing of his party, now features a petition on his website calling on Parliament “to end public funding of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.”

Some may recall that Anders, who had an interesting previous life as a professional political heckler in the U.S., was also the moral and mental genius who was the sole parliamentarian to vote against Nelson Mandela being recognized as an honorary citizen of Canada, labeling him a communist and terrorist.

Need I add more?

Sometimes You Just Have To Hold Your Nose

I always try to be completely honest in everything that I write for this blog. If I see reason for praise, I acknowledge it, sadly a rare occurrence. Most commonly I am extremely critical of the issues and people that I write about. One of my most frequent targets has been Ontario Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty.

My contempt for the Premier arose out of the role he played in the G20 police-violence perpetrated against peaceful protestors last year in Toronto. As I have written previously and extensively, the McGuinty government was responsible for withholding crucial information from the public about the non-existence of expanded police powers, most notably the fiction that the authorities had the right to stop, question, and even arrest people who came within five meters of the security fence that had been erected to protect our visiting political 'masters.' I was, and I remain convinced, that that fictitious regulation emboldened the police to far exceed their authority, resulting in the mostly baseless arrest of over 1100 people, the vast majority of whom were later released without charge.

The other person I hold directly responsible is Chief Bill Blair, who, like the Premier, waited until the Summit was over before revealing the truth. The fact of collusion between the two is obvious, and the refusal of McGuinty to call an inquiry has allowed an ongoing distrust, cynicism and disillusionment to continue to fester, not a healthy situation for a democracy. And I remain convinced that Chief Blair should resign.

So what is my point here? Sadly, despite my publicly-stated repudiation of the McGuinty government and my resolve not to vote for them in this election, I have come to the onerous conclusion that I must go back on my word.

The are two reasons for my reversal: Tim Hudak, and the fact that the recent Star poll breakdown of ridings show that in mine, the Liberal and the PC candidates are virtually tied, with the NDP not even within shouting distance.

Having lived through the years of his mentor and predecessor Mike Harris, I know the emptiness of the recycled rhetoric which Hudak is fond of spouting: finding efficiencies, cutting taxes but not services, etc. etc., concepts that may find a ready audience with the simple-minded, but deeply insulting to the critical thinker. As well, the recent antics and attempts at dismantling Toronto by Mayor Rob/Doug Ford and their acolytes offer an effective preview of what is in store for the rest of the province should Mr. Hudak and his band gain entry to the Premier's office.

I find much to fault in Ontario's Liberal government, yet sadly at this juncture, I am preparing to hold my nose and vote for it, clearly the lesser of two evils from my perspective.

Please sign this petition urging Prime Minister Harper to stop threatening Michaela Keyserlingk and to stop exporting asbestos.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Fair Taxation

Democratic Senate hopeful Elizabeth Warren speaks on the topic of fair taxation:

Increased Taxation Of The Rich In Spain

Having written previously on the logic and desirability of increasing taxation on the wealthy, I was heartened to learn that Spain recently increased its rate for those with real estate assets (excluding their principal residences), stocks and bank holding of more than 700,000 Euros annually. It is expected to raise revenues of about €1.08 billion if applied uniformly.

While including real estate holdings in the calculation may strike some as excessive, the measure at least cuts through the deafening silence with which the suggestion to increase taxation levels is met by all three of Canada's major political parties, not to mention the scorn that was heaped on Warren Buffet by the American right-wing for advocating such measures.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fair Game - The Things Politicians Do While We Sleep

I rarely watch films today, preferring some of the edgier fare offered by cable television series such as Justified, Nurse Jackie, Trueblood and Breaking Bad. Nonetheless, with my son visiting last evening, we sat down to watch Fair Game, a 2010 film starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn playing Valierie Plame and Joe Wilson respectively.

Many will recall that Joe Wilson is the former U.S. diplomat who, after being sent to Niger to determine whether it was selling 'yellowcake' uranium to Iraq as part of the latter's development of alleged weapons of mass destruction, definitively concluded that this wasn't occurring. He wrote a report to that effect, one that was promptly ignored by the Bush administration in its inexorable march toward war with Iraq.

When Wilson learned that the Bush administration was using the fictitious yellowcake sale as one of the major pretexts for invading Iraq, he wrote a piece for the New York Times entitled “What I Didn't Find in Africa”, concluding “that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.

It was at this point that the administration turned its full fury against Wilson by 'outing' his wife as a CIA operative, an illegal act for which the former adviser to Vice-President Dick Cheney, 'Scooter' Libbby, took the fall. (He was later quickly pardoned by George Bush.) However, the revelation about Plame's CIA employment was just the beginning of a campaign to discredit both of them.

The film relays the various stresses and strains their marriage suffered, almost to the point of dissolution thanks to the barrage of harassing calls, death threats, the destruction of Plame's CIA career, etc. As well, Wilson's consulting business suffered deep losses.

For me, Fair Game's greatest strength lies in its unromanticized celebration of the passionate pursuit of truth and justice embodied in Sean Penn's portrayal of Wilson, and the vindication that ultimately accrues to both Wilson and his wife. As well, there is a line in the film that resonated with me; Wilson is talking to a a group of young people, and he observes something to the effect that democracy isn't free; it requires hard work, vigilance, and citizen engagement.

If only we could take that lesson to heart.

Friday, September 23, 2011

VIDEO: Police in London, Ont., use Taser on 17-year-old boy

Watch this video and decide if the tasering was warranted:

Undoubtedly, the SIU will find nothing wrong here.

UPDATE: Circling the wagons as they are wont to do, the London Police Chief had the following justification for the use of this 'conducted energy weapon':

The sergeant was justified in deploying the Taser without giving a verbal warning, London's chief of police said Friday.

The teen had wrapped a belt around his fist, punched the other teen and then used a chair to strike the other teen about his head, Chief Brad Duncan said.

"Clearly here it was unfolding very, very quickly," he said.

"In fact, when one views the video, it's about a second between the use of force by this individual and then the application of the conducted energy weapon," Duncan said.

"Clearly at the time that the device was deployed, he was the aggressor."

Is he watching the same video the rest of us are?

What Is A Hero?

Having completed at my wife's urgent behest the always onerous task of vacuuming, I sat down a short time ago to peruse The Toronto Star. In it there is another story about Anthony Marco, the Hamilton-area NDP candidate running in Tim Hudak's riding. Already under fire for so-called controversial remarks about nazism, he has again offended someone (i.e. police and firefighters)by sharing his insights publicly.

The story, in the Star's Campaign Notebook but not available online, conveys how Marco said, just before Remembrance Day last year: “I think we throw the term ‘hero’ around a little bit too loosely these days . . . I’m tired of hearing, and no offence to doctors or firefighters or policemen, but automatically calling occupations as heroic . . . you don’t automatically become a hero just because you put on a uniform of some sort or have a title before or after your name,”

To me, what he says makes perfect sense, especially given the misdeeds of the police that are now coming to light on a regular basis. Despite that fact, Jim Christie, president of the Ontario Provincial Police Association, said he found Marco’s comment, especially from a provincial candidate, “very disturbing.”

The blind deference and obeisance to authority is a dangerous thing in a democracy. If nothing else, the police abuses at last year's G20 Summit in Toronto taught us that unless tightly monitored and always questioned, authority can be so easily abused, with very dire consequences to innocent people.

As well, I wonder if police association president Jim Christie also finds "very disturbing" the conviction and sentencing of a former Vancouver police officer, Peter Hodson, for dealing drugs on the job.

Righteous indignation should be directed at those who truly deserve it.

Please sign this petition urging Prime Minister Harper to stop threatening Michaela Keyserlingk and to stop exporting asbestos.

From The Police Beat: More Police Brutality

Not given to monomania, I really hope that at some point in the (perhaps distant) future, I will be able to completely move on from commenting about police misdeeds. It's just that I have a real thing against the abuse of authority, and every time they come to my attention, I feel compelled to offer my observations.

I have written previously about Ontario Court Justice Lesley Baldwin and her brave comments that 'contempt of cop is not a crime'. Unlike the SIU, which has proven both toothless and feckless in fulfilling their mandate of investigating the police, Justice Baldwin has clearly seen through the barrier of the 'blue wall' that police tend to erect whenever one of their own is under fire.

She is once more in the news in a Toronto Star article entitled ‘Courageous’ judge takes on Halton cops. In part, the piece summarizes her previous ruling that prompted her 'contempt of cop' comments as she dismissed charges against Kyle Davidson of assaulting a peace officer, resisting arrest and being intoxicated in public in connection with a June 2009 arrest.

According to Davidson in an interview I saw last night on TV, a police car sped by him, narrowly missing him, at which point he mouthed an obscentiy. The police car came to a sudden stop and Davidson was told he was under arrest. Incredulous at the turn of events, he asked "For what?" after which Const. Erich Paroshy broke his arm.

Justice Baldwin's observations were as follows:

"I do find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Officer Paroshy used excessive force and broke Kyle Davidson’s arm in this case,” said Justice Baldwin in her 16-page ruling, making clear that “contempt of cop” is not a justification for an arrest.

Davidson said he has read the ruling “like 75 times” and added that he “feels absolutely vindicated. I really doubted the system.”

Baldwin went further in her ruling, calling police conduct in the case “harsh and callous.” She added: “I sensed no empathy on the part of either officer for the injuries Kyle Davidson sustained in this matter.”

In a related Star story, Justice Baldwin recommended to Crown prosecutors that they “carefully screen cases where an accused is brought before the Court on charges that arise from circumstances of suspected ‘contempt of cop’ before they proceed to prosecute the matter.” In the Dyrda case, she recommended screening “where no underlying charges accompany ‘assault resist arrest’ and ‘obstruct police’ charges.”

The above reference to the Dryda case, interestingly enough, also involved Erich Paroshy, the officer who broke Davidson's arm. The details of that case are as follows:

Baldwin acquitted brothers Bogumil and Stanislaw Dyrda of all charges, including assaulting a peace officer, stemming from an incident in January 2009.

According to court documents, Stanislaw was returning from dropping his daughter off at university in Ottawa when his car swerved off the road into a pile of rocks, deploying the airbag.

Constables Paroshy and Blair Egerter responded to a dispatch around 10 p.m. and alleged that when they tried to get information from Stanislaw he responded by saying “no.”

As they escorted him back to the cruiser, the officers testified they suspected Stanislaw was intoxicated and that he pushed himself away from Paroshy.

He was then placed under arrest, and as an altercation ensued, Paroshy alleged that Bogumil, having arrived on the scene after receiving a call from his brother, interfered by pulling off his bulletproof vest.

Stanislaw was punched by the officers, taken to the ground by Egerter and pepper-sprayed by Paroshy.

The brothers said that Stanislaw was not intoxicated, but exhausted from driving 17 hours and disoriented from the car crash; also, that Bogumil was trying to diffuse the situation by offering to translate for his brother, who speaks little English. He denied trying to take off Paroshy’s vest.

“Their duty as officers was to determine if this man needed some help. Help was not what Stanislaw Dyrda got that evening. He got beaten,” said Justice Baldwin in a 32-page ruling. “At the end of this long trial, it was clear that this case involved the excessive use of police force.”

Predictably, the Halton Police Association is offended and defensive about the judge's comments.

Police association president Duncan Foot slammed the judge for her decision in a letter to a local paper.

Trying to conceal rather than root out the problems is not a strategy that will restore public confidence, nor will it do anything to curb what seems to be the rising number of reported incidents of police brutality and excessive use of force.

Added to that, to paraphrase a subject popular with the Harper government, we can only wonder about the number of unreported crimes committed by police in their overzealous pursuit of their public safety duties.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Let's Hope We Never Sink To This Level

While the Harper government is no stranger to fear-mongering, its tactics look both brilliant and subtle compared to the following two American political ads:

Please sign this petition urging Prime Minister Harper to stop threatening Michaela Keyserlingk and to stop exporting asbestos.

Another Police Embarrassment

I really take no pleasure in reading about police who are charged with crimes. Sadly, that kind of misbehavior, which seems to be alarmingly on the increase, reflects badly on all officers, which is patently unfair. Nonetheless, it is crucial that we hold to a very high standard these guardians of our security, as any abuse of their considerable authority has quite serious implications for society. Transparency, not secrecy, is the key. If our police services want to restore and maintain our trust, they surely will have to behave better than the Peel Police did recently.

In a story that has come to light only through the doggedness of the Toronto Star, we learn that Peel tried to conceal from the public some serious allegations facing one of its members, Darrell Beck, 32, of Lisle, Ont., who was arrested at 8:48 p.m. Friday on suspicion of impaired driving and possession for the purpose of trafficking. They did everything in their power to keep the fact that he is an officer from the public. Check out the full story to learn the disturbing details.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Voice of Integrity: Munir Sheikh

Those not seduced by the siren call of simplicity promoted by the Harper government will be pleased to learn that Munir Sheikh, the former head of Statistics Canada who resigned his post rather than give his stamp of approval to the Tory elimination of the mandatory long-form census, is in the news, keeping the face and voice of integrity alive.

An article in The Star entitled Ex-chief statistician picks apart cancellation of long census, reveals that a 26-page essay written by Sheikh, his contribution to a volume on “intelligent government” published by the Centre for the Study of Living Standards, is very critical of the Harper government, saying that "the census decision has shaken Statistics Canada’s neutrality and independence, and put at risk the government’s own work in many areas."

In the essay, Sheikh warns statisticians working at the federal agency to “guard against political intervention” until better solutions are found.

Sheikh also raises concerns over poor data on aboriginal populations, especially housing on reserves, and about the government making key decisions on pension reform without having reliable information on wealth in Canadian households.

He also issue this stinging observation: “No country can be among the league of civilized societies without intelligent policy development. And, intelligent policy development is not possible without good data”

For those interested, a link to the essay is also found in the Star article.

Unions' Self-Inflicted Problems

Allow me to be unequivocal from the start: I am a strong believer in unions as virtually the only effective means of countering the depredations that employers would inflict upon their workers if given the opportunity. However, I also believe that in some ways, unions are their own worst enemies, an opinion I formed as a member of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation during my teaching career.

Like many if not most institutions, unions have become highly political in both their structure and their treatment of members. My own experience with my former union was that they had little time or respect for those, like me, who expressed opinions that challenged their positions, especially if they were not a member of the executive. I suspect it is this refusal to both respect and to cultivate the 'ordinary' union member that poses a threat to the union movement's future greater than any that might emerge from so-called 'right-to-work' legislation that is becoming increasingly popular in the United States.

I was prompted to reflect on the topic this morning during breakfast as I read The Toronto Star. A story entitled Construction union pays $10 million to buy off employees reveals a curious kind of union-busting tactic within a union framework that has been employed by the Labourers’ International Union of North America in Toronto.

The first four paragraphs of the story read as follows:

The continent’s biggest construction local is spending more than $10 million to muscle out its own staff and their new union.

In a twist to the explosive political infighting that occasionally flares up in the labour movement, the Toronto-based Labourers’ International Union of North America Local 183 is buying out about 80 employees with lucrative financial packages after they joined another union.

Several insiders say the move will effectively snuff out the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 2, which represents Local 183 staff, because replacement members won’t have any allegiances and will eventually decertify it.

“It’s disgusting what Local 183 has done to get rid of them and the union,” one insider said Tuesday. “It’s a good example for non-union companies. If you don’t want a union, just buy off the employees.”

The rest of the story describes the political machinations within the local and how the staff joined a rival union to try to circumvent revenge firings that regularly ensue when staff has backed the wrong candidates for union elections. Indeed, there is even a tactic discussed in the story reminiscent of the show-trials popularized by Joseph Stalin during the 1930's.

I hope you will read the entire article to get the full flavor of union politics.

Please sign this petition urging Prime Minister Harper to stop threatening Michaela Keyserlingk and to stop exporting asbestos.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Power of the People

Despite our almost legendary passivity as a people, one small part of Canada is offering an example of what can happen when citizens shed the mantle of political disengagement that our politicians have long cultivated and counted on in order to push through their misguided policies unchecked.

The small part of Canada to which I refer is the City of Toronto whose people, it is becoming increasingly apparent, now realize the ghastly mistake they made in electing a mayor who told them what they wanted to hear during the campaign and uncritically accepted his lies, only to be faced now with the cost of that misplaced trust.

As most people know, Rob Ford won the Toronto mayoralty race by promising low taxes and no service cuts, miracles that would be wrought by elimination of the 'gravy' that his profligate predecessors had swilled with abandon. Hundreds of millions of dollars in savings would thus be available. Of course, it turned out that there was almost no gravy, unless one were to reclassify services regarded as vital to a well-functioning city under that designation.

Earlier in the summer, impassioned citizens made public representations protesting many of the proposed cuts. Yesterday and early this morning, they did the same in a 20-hour executive committee session in which the delegates were allowed only two minutes each to make their case, down from the previous five minute allotment in the first confrontation. Nonetheless, it is clear that their voices have been heard.

In an online Star report entitled Ford backs down from cuts, for now, we are told that by the end of the marathon session,  Ford voted .... to reject some proposed cuts and to put off decisions on almost all of the others to the 2012 budget process, which begins in November and ends in mid-January.

While the issue of service cuts is not dead by any means, I suspect that as long as public anger and political engagement continues over the prospect of living in a city robbed of its vitality and habitability by philistines like Ford and his council supporters, the citizens of Toronto will have the influence they should have over forthcoming budget deliberations.

Now if we could only export that engagement to the federal level .....

What is Mesothelioma? A Question I Am Sure The Harpur Government Well Knows The Answer To

Think of Stephen Harper and his minions when you watch this video. He and his government are directly responsible for cases of this dread disease in developing countries such as India.

Please sign this petition urging Prime Minister Harper to stop threatening Michaela Keyserlingk and to stop exporting asbestos.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Forbidden Tory Video Available Here

Thanks to Impolitical for the link to this video:

The Scourge of Phantom Crime

Readers of this blog may know that I place a great deal of stock in critical thinking. Although I am sure that I stray from it on a regular basis, to be a consistent critical thinker is the ideal toward which I strive. It is therefore disheartening, though hardly surprising, that an internal memo circulated Sunday to Conservative Members of Parliament gives insight into a Harper political agenda that seems largely predicated on contempt for the electorate.

An article in today's Star entitled Crime crackdown tops Harper agenda reveals, to no one's surprise, that the Fall parliamentary session is to be dominated by law and order legislation:

While it’s not known for sure what measures will be in the legislation, they could include adult sentences for youths convicted of serious crimes, expanded surveillance powers for police, curbing house arrest for property crimes and ending pardons for serious crimes.

Not to be deterred by the fact of falling crime rates, the government has an interesting, but hardly novel way to justify its promise of more incarceration time for more Canadians, who will need to be quartered in the new prisons that will be built at a cost of over $6 billion:

"Quite simply, people are not reporting to the police that they are a victim of crime,” the memo says. “More needs to be done.”

The key word in the above excerpt is simply, which, in my view, reveals how the Harper government looks at issues, never allowing hard data to get in the way of its ideological imperatives. However, what I do resent is the assumption about the citizens of Canada implicit in such an assertion. Clearly, we are perceived as lacking either the fortitude or the intelligence to collectively challenge groundless claims about issues like phantom crime.

Time will tell whether they are correct in making that assumption.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Reminder to My MP

I am a great believer in holding our politicians to account. Even though they may prove to be ultimately meaningless gestures, letters to our elected representatives at the very least remind them that their opposition is not simply going to give up and accept the atrocities they commit in our names.

The following is the latest letter I sent to my Member of Parliament, David Sweet:

Dear Mr. Sweet,

Given your government’s refusal to end the export of asbestos, and given the fact that your government was the sole nation to oppose the labeling of asbestos as a toxic substance under Annex 111 of the Rotterdam Convention which would have required the inclusion of explicit instructions in the handling of this deadly material, perhaps you can prevail upon your leader to include the following with all subsequent shipments:

At the very least, the inhabitants of countries like India should know the future that awaits them, thanks to your government’s insistence on elevating economics over morality and human decency.

Lorne Warwick

Please sign this petition urging Prime Minister Harper to stop threatening Michaela Keyserlingk and to stop exporting asbestos.

The Ford Gang Stays True To Form

Although I don't live in Toronto, it has become an object of fascination for me since the election of Mayor Rob and Doug Ford. Within their fiefdom resides a psychology that provides fascinating examples of and insights into the darker aspects of human nature: our propensity for selfishness and short-shortsightedness, our fear of ideas that conflict with our worldview, our tendency to demonize those who disagree with us, our happy reliance on propaganda and absolutism, and our elevation of ideologies over critical thinking.

I may return to each of these aspects in future posts, but I have time for just one short illustration now. As predicted in a previous post, while some councillors are feeling the heat, Team Ford is officially dismissing the results of a recent poll showing an overwhelming majority of Torontonians strongly opposed to the cuts in city services under current consideration because it was paid for by CUPE Local 79.

You can read the full story here.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Lest We Forget Those Who Die For Canada's Economy

Although the following video was made to protect B.C. workers, perhaps it could be included as a warning to all the unprotected workers who are exposed to the asbestos that Stephen Harper refuses to stop exporting to countries such as India, insisting that it is safe if handled properly, conveniently ignoring the fact that he has also obstructed any labeling of asbestos as a toxic material.

Please sign this petition urging Prime Minister Harper to stop threatening Michaela Keyserlingk and to stop exporting asbestos.

Taxpayers Versus Citizens

It probably doesn't take a genius to understand the basic philosophical and fiscal difference between the moderate and the right-wing is that the moderate recognizes the needs of the collective, i.e., the entire society, while the right-wing gives precedence to, indeed exalts, the individual.

The traditional moderate's view on taxation accepts the progressive model, whereby the amount of taxes we pay escalates with our economic standing; by contrast, the right talks only of low taxes so that the individual can decide how to spend his or her hard-earned money. The latter, of course, totally ignores the fact that “no man (woman) is an island,” that we are all part of a larger community, with both collective rights and collective responsibilities.

Yesterday's Star had an excellent column by Edmund Pries, a professor at Wilfrid Laurier University on this distinction. Entitled Taxpayers vs. citizens, it is well worth a few minutes of your time today.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Score Another One For Rick Salutin

Consistently able to 'think outside the box' of the current North American mindset, Rick Salutin, one of my favorite critical thinkers, has a column in today's Star well-worth perusal. Entitled The sector that dares not speak its name, the thesis of his argument can be summed up by the following excerpt:

"We are a society that has largely lost sight of the fact that there is anything to debate in politics except how to save money."

Using examples from the cost-cutting crusade of Toronto Mayors Rob and Doug Ford, Salutin amply demonstrates how we have forgotten that there are dimensions to civil society that transcend the dollars-and-cents-mentality of the extreme right wing.

I hope you have time to check out the entire column.

Willful Ignorance in the Ford Administration

Toronto Mayors Rob and Doug Ford and their minions, like so many of the extreme right, tend not to let facts, reason, and data interfere with the purity of their ideological vision. Someone who describes city employees as 'the gravy' and denies that eliminating daycare subsidies are cuts, but rather 'efficiencies' will likely be unfazed by the latest poll showing Torontonians overwhelmingly opposed to service cuts.

Published in today's Star, the "Forum Research telephone survey of nearly 13,000 people reveals that more than three-quarters of Torontonians want their local councillor to protect services rather than comply with the mayor’s wishes. And only 27 per cent of residents say they would vote for Rob Ford if an election was held tomorrow."

Particularly interesting is that the results involve a ward-by-ward analysis, with wards of some of the most extreme right-wing councillors showing the strongest opposition to service cuts.

But for an administration that refuses any interview requests from The Toronto Star and excludes them from invitation-only events, the poll results, despite the very large sampling, will likely be dismissed.

After all, it was commissioned by CUPE Local 79, one of two major unions at city hall. Sometimes hard data isn't hard data, especially when your opponents are involved in its collection.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tell People In the Maldives That Climate-Change Is A Hoax

In a story that even the most unthinking extreme right-winger would find hard to refute, The Star today reports that the world's lowest country is sinking under rising water levels. Entitled People forced to move as world’s lowest country sinks under rising seas, it describes how entire communities have had to be moved on some islands in the Maldives.

Climate change skeptics only have to look at his country, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, and other sea-level nations to see its horrific effects on the environment, Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam said.

"In the past two to three decades, we have relocated entire populations from one island to the other simply because life wasn't sustainable in those islands," he told an Asian Development Bank conference on climate induced migration.

Something tells me, however, that given the recent record number and intensity of hurricanes and tornadoes that have caused great damage in North America without arousing any corporate or governmental interest in the abatement of emissions, the plight of people so far away will mean even less to the powers that be.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Memo From Mohawk College On How To Become A Scab

All of my adult life, I have had nothing but absolute contempt for scabs, or, as these more sensitive times describe them, 'replacement workers'. Whether crossing a picket line to work inside an operation that has been struck in order to earn some extra cash, or deserting the union to return to work, the decision to become a scab bespeaks an indefensible exaltation of the self over the interests of the collective.

In the current college support workers' strike, Mohawk College is demonstrating its willingness to take on the role of scab encourager, as the following memo from Karen Pashleigh, Mohawk's Chief Human Resources & Organizational Development Officer, makes clear. The discerning reader will undoubtedly note the manipulative nature of the letter as the writer disguises her true purpose by feigning interest in the well-being of the worker:


To: All Full-time Support Staff Employees
From: Karen Pashleigh
Date: September 6, 2011

Re: Your right to work during a strike

During a work stoppage you are faced with choices. Whatever decision you make, whether it is to serve on the picket line, come into work or just stay at home, as your employer we fully respect that choice. You have the right to continue to work during a strike, provided the College has work available for you. The law specifically gives you that right.

Should you return to work, the wages and benefits applicable to such work will be as set out in the Collective Agreement which expired on August 31, 2011. When a new collective agreement is entered into, its terms will then begin to apply to the work being done by you at that time.

We have been informed that the Union has been threatening employees with fines and penalties if they choose to exercise their legal right to work. This is wrong. We have consulted our legal advisors and have been informed that such fines would be unenforceable. Threatening employees in an effort to prevent them from exercising their legal rights also amounts to an unfair labour practice under the Colleges Collective Bargaining Act.

In the event you choose to exercise your right to work and OPSEU attempts to impose a fine on you, the College will refuse to implement such a fine. If OPSEU attempts to recover this money from you through the Court system we will provide you with legal counsel for your defense at our expense. In the unlikely event that the Courts uphold these “fines” we will pay them. You have the right to continue to work and we are disappointed that OPSEU would try to impede these rights.

If you wish to exercise your right to return to work at any time during the strike, please contact the Human Resources Hotline at 905-575-2354. Please leave your name, position held, department worked, manager’s name and a telephone number where you can be reached. A representative from the Human Resources department will be in contact with you.

Again, whatever your choice, we will fully respect that decision.


Karen Pashleigh
Chief Human Resources &
Organizational Development

Please sign this petition urging Prime Minister Harper to stop threatening Michaela Keyserlingk and to stop exporting asbestos.

What We Can Accomplish When We Work Together

While the gospel of the right-wing extols selfish individualism in which we worry only about our own well-being, this video of a dramatic rescue by a group of ordinary citizens shows up what we can accomplish together:

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Christopher Hume On Ignorance

As usual, The Toronto Star seems replete with thought-provoking articles and ideas. In a column by Christopher Hume entitled, If ignorance is no excuse, how do leaders manage to get elected? published yesterday, Hume reflects on the current crop of politicians for whom ignorance of facts and disdain for expert analysis is endemic.

He observes that Rick Perry, a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination "responded to devastating forest fires in his state by asking everyone to pray."

In a similar vein Michelle Bachmann muses "about whether America’s recent spate of natural disasters wasn’t really a sign from God of His great displeasure."

No matter what your view may be on the power of petitionary prayer, one does hope for something a little more from politicians than an infantile view of God as either a cosmic Santa Claus or a cosmic smiter.

Hume's piece, well-worth reading in its entirety, does not spare our Prime Minister from his withering analysis, describing him as one who "has made great strides pushing aside the facts to pander to Canadians’ lowest instincts and greatest fears." Hence the elimination of the mandatory long-form census with its hard data, the commitment to spend billions on prisons we don't need, and the gutting of environmental oversight when it is most needed.

Both Tim Hudak (he "won the race to the bottom long ago")and the Mayor of Toronto and his brother("Toronto’s great contribution to political vacuity") also come under Hume's scrutiny.

I hope people will find the time to read the entire column.

Please sign this petition urging Prime Minister Harper to stop threatening Michaela Keyserlingk and to stop exporting asbestos.

Time For A War On Error

Although I rarely reprint items from the newspaper in their entirety on this blog, occasionally someone says something so succinct and insightful that I can't resist. Roman Haluszka from Newmarket has the lead letter in today's Star that underscores the crucial role of critical thinking skills in today's world. Here it is:

Time for a War on Error

What we desperately need is a War on Error. We face these errors today economically, scientifically, historically, and socially.

Our economic errors are centered around budgetary issues as we spend far too much in providing subsidies to industries that don’t need them, from computer game makers to the oil and gas industry to agro-conglomerates and, of course, our wealthy elites (who pay far too little in taxes).

To pay for these errors we have been over-taxing the middle class, and are now engaged in dismanteling the “social safety net” that mainly benefits the middle class and the poor.

In the scientific realms we have allowed fundamentalist religious cranks the freedom to claim that Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is false, and substitute the utter nonsense of Creationism in its place.

We also allow (mainly conservative cranks tied to the oil and gas corporatocracy) to challenge climate change and the impact of human-caused pollution on it.

History is constantly being revised in Orwellian ways to justify invasions of other countries, territorial grabs from subjugated peoples; and the careful omission of facts is used to misplace focus on one group of people for all acts of terrorism, despite that group having ties to only 3 per cent of all terrorist acts around the globe.

Socially, we have allowed error to lead too many people to misjudgment of others, from Mike Harris claiming unemployed single mothers would spend welfare cheques on beer, and that teachers only work 4.25 hours per day, to Stephen Harper’s claim that Canada’s biggest terrorist threat is Islamicism.

Society is becoming more racist in its views, thanks to these politicians and the likes of Fox News and Sun TV.

An attack on error is not only overdue, it is essential to our well-being as a society.

Please sign this petition urging Prime Minister Harper to stop threatening Michaela Keyserlingk and to stop exporting asbestos.

The Timidity Of The Ontario NDP

I wrote earlier this month about the growing call from certain monied sectors for an increase in their personal taxation rates, arguing that they are not paying their fair share to support the country in which they grew and prospered. That plea, as noted earlier, is being egregiously ignored by all political parties, including Ontario's NDP, led by Andrea Horwath, a politician who is becoming increasing difficult to distinguish from the leaders of the other parties.

My observation, and I don't think it is a particularly startling or perceptive one, is that slowly and inevitably, the party, both at the federal and provincial levels, is becoming very 'mainstream' as the prospects for increasing their electoral success improve.

Take, for example, Ms. Horwath's position on corporate taxation. As reported last May in The Toronto Star, the NDP would raise corporate taxes by a mere 2%, to 14% from the current 12%. As well, as reported in today's Star, the party would cancel the entertainment tax breaks enjoyed by corporations, such as being able to write off some of the costs of a corporate box at the Air Canada Centre.

While I do not dispute that these would be useful measures that would hardly send corporations fleeing to other jurisdictions, they also strike me as extraordinarily timid, a kind of nipping around the edges of fiscal policy. I do realize there is an argument to be made for proceeding slowly in a compromised economy, but I worry that the stated policy direction suggests that should they ever regain power, the NDP would once again make the same kinds of mistakes that were made during the disastrous Bob Rae years, when the now interim federal Liberal Leader bent over backwards to placate business at the expense of party policy and principles.

Until I hear someone talk about raising the personal income tax rate on the ultra-wealthy, I shall remain dubious of the integrity of NDP principles.

Please sign this petition urging Prime Minister Harper to stop threatening Michaela Keyserlingk and to stop exporting asbestos.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Chris Hedges on the Aftermath of 9/11

I refused to watch any of yesterday's ceremonies honouring those who were killed 10 years ago in New York. I refused, not out of disrespect for those who lost their lives and for all who still suffer tremendously as a result of that horrible attack. I did not watch because of how those senseless deaths and that tremendous suffering have been used over the years as an excuse to kill hundreds of thousands of others, sacrifice some of our best young people, and impose unspeakable suffering on untold others.

Things could have been so much different. To get a sense of how different, I encourage you to read an essay by one of my favorite critical thinkers, the iconoclastic Chris Hedges. The piece, entitled A Decade After 9/11: We Are What We Loathe, offers some insights that rarely make their way into the mainstream press.

Please sign this petition urging Prime Minister Harper to stop threatening Michaela Keyserlingk and to stop exporting asbestos.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Another Way to Remember 9/11

While the loss of lives in the 9/11 attacks was tragic and, for me, profoundly shocking at the time, let's not forget the countless lives, not just North American but also Iraqi and Afghani, that have been subsequently lost in two totally unnecessary on-going wars. And, at the risk of sounding crass, there are also the financial costs of this perpetual war on terrorism that I was reminded of in an email from

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Tip of the Hat to Two Bloggers

Since joining the Progressive Bloggers' website, the daily listings of progressive posts have enhanced the depth and breadth of my understanding of social and political issues. Through their commentary and links, I have learned of things that would have eluded me entirely had I relied only on newspapers and television news.

In my humble view, there is an array of bloggers well-worth reading on a regular basis. Two of my favorites are individuals whose passionate sense of justice and outrage, whose refusal to "go gently into that good night" confirm for me that the human spirit is alive and well, as are critical thinking and the willingness to challenge authority.

If you haven't already done so, be sure to check out the latest offerings from Dawg's Blog and Orwell's Bastard.

Please sign this petition urging Prime Minister Harper to stop threatening Michaela Keyserlingk and to stop exporting asbestos.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Things Go Better With Coke (Except Taxes)

People of a certain age will remember the old ad slogan, "Things Go Better With Coke." Apparently France disagrees, as it seeks to impose a minuscule tax on the sale of sugary sodas.

In an unusually bald and public attempt to pervert government policy, the Coca-Cola corporation is suspending plans for a $24 million dollar investment in France, pending the outcome of the proposed legislation. As well, it is embarking on a propaganda campaign questioning the relationship between the consumption of high-calorie sugar-laden sodas and obesity.

Perhaps we can only infer that by targeting France in this way, the mighty cola corporation is sending a message to all countries who might have the temerity to in any way compromise Coke's unquenchable thirst for profit.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

My New Anti-Asbestos T-Shirt

Obsessed and outraged as I am over the Harper government's ongoing sowing of death and disease through the export of asbestos to countries such as India, and inspired by the example of Michaela Keyserlingk in her efforts to promote a ban, despite the Conservative threat of a lawsuit against her, the other day I looked into how I could get a t-shirt sporting the anti-asbestos banners incorporating the Conservative Party logo that have sprung up in the blogosphere.

I found a company that allows you to design your own t-shirt by simply uploading the desired imagery, placing it virtually as you want it to appear on the shirt, and then ordering the end result. I am pleased with how mine turned out, as the photos below demonstrate:

Please sign this petition urging Prime Minister Harper to stop threatening Michaela Keyserlingk and to stop exporting asbestos.

Sometimes The Tools Of Police Intimidation Are Not Physical

I have written twice before about the ordeal suffered by Po La Hay, the Burmese immigrant living in Hamilton who was both the emotional and physical victim of police after they forcefully entered his apartment in search of a drug dealer. Unfortunately, they had the wrong address.

The officer who was alleged to have inflicted the most serious injuries on Hay, Ryan Tocher, was charged with his assault but later had those charges dismissed, despite the fact that the presiding judge believed police had engaged in a coverup.

As reported in today's Spectator, Hay initiated a lawsuit against "more than 20 Hamilton police officers, Chief Glenn De Caire and the police board in August. His statement of claim alleges he was falsely arrested, imprisoned and hurt by police using excessive force. The short, slender man claims he still suffers from “debilitating” injuries sustained during the raid."

The Hamilton Police Force is asking the court to dismiss the suit, claiming that "Hay “provoked the application of force” by police during the raid." As I recall, Po's 'provocation' was to try to resist an unwarranted arrest, a resistance no doubt quite limited by his slight 59-year-old frame. This attempt to blame the victim for his injuries is especially odious, given how it harkens back to a time when women were often said to have been 'asking for it' when they were brutally raped.

However, the Hamilton Police are attempting to cover all of their bases. Should this request to have the suit tossed fail, they are also asking "the court to order the [currently unemployed] 59-year-old to pay legal costs for the defendants."

Not all tools of intimidation are physical.

Please sign this petition urging Prime Minister Harper to stop threatening Michaela Keyserlingk and to stop exporting asbestos.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Breaking 'News'

There is a story posted on the Globe website entitled, E-mails cite ‘directive’ to re-brand government in Harper’s name, which reveals that Dimitri Soudas lied when he denied a story circulating that orders went out to some civil servants last fall mandating that they use the term “Harper Government” in official government of Canada communications.

This is news?

An Incredible Video

A friend of mine sent me this link. I urge you to watch it, as it is a potent reminder of our greatest strengths and our greatest weaknesses!

Political Partisanship Masquerading As Political Analysis

With the Ontario provincial election pending, more and more opinion pieces will find their way into both national and local papers. I certainly welcome a broad range of views to read and react to. However, it strikes me as the epitome of dishonesty for a columnist to pretend he or she is writing a political analysis when in fact the purpose is to advocate for a specific party or candidate.

Such is the case with Andrew Dreschel's column in today's Hamilton Spectator. Entitled Ontario could face coalition government, the article, by invoking the prospect of a coalition, transparently attempts to invoke the same kind of reactionary fear that Stephen Harper so effectively exploited on his road to a majority government. While I encourage everyone to read the piece, here are a couple of snippets that illustrate Dreschel's larger purpose:

Hudak might end up leading a minority government.

If so, the idea of an alternative governing coalition or at least an alliance between the Liberals and New Democrats may very well be in the cards.

He then goes on to remind the reader of the alliance that took place between Liberal David Petersen and then NDP leader Bob Rae that ultimately led to the disastrous Ontario NDP government, suggesting that Dalton McGuinty and Andrea Horvath could find sufficient common ground to partner:

As with Peterson, McGuinty’s generally seen as progressive — if you take the word to mean left of centre.

The sowing of fear has begun.

Please sign this petition urging Prime Minister Harper to stop threatening Michaela Keyserlingk and to stop exporting asbestos.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A New School Year Begins

There is no doubt in my mind that education is not what it once was. And no, this is not about to become a screed about the lowering of academic standards. Rather, it is only a recognition that like just about everything else, education has become a commodity, its value measured almost exclusively by its ability to lead to a good-paying job.

What's wrong with that, one might ask? While having a job that remunerates well is a desirable outcome, in my view, as a retired high school teacher, it should be one of the end results of a good education, not education's raison d'etre.

The classical notion of education, as a process whereby we gain the tools with which to interpret the world, is now considered a quaint notion, one that may be pursued by the wealthy, but one that has no practical place in the 'real world'. In other words, acquiring the tools for critical thinking, as opposed to the learning how to design something or to enter the business world, is largely considered to be a time-waster, something that will not serve one in good stead. That is how far we have deviated from and declined from real education.

And, at the risk of sounding like a wild-eyed radical, that departure serves the corporate agenda very well. Universities, once a breeding ground fermenting new ideas whose goal was to make us better as a society and as a species, has become so debased that it is now largely there to maintain the status quo, not to rock the boat. It no longer holds the potential for infusing society with new intellectual blood, but rather has become the silent enabler of the corporate aim, to serve the god of unfettered capitalism that masquerades as the friend to all.

So, on this first day back to school for so many, what can the average person do, hungry for change and challenge to what has become the status quo that has betrayed countless millions of North Americans? She and he can become educated and acquire critical thinking skills through the rigours of reading and informed discussion.

Here are a few suggestions to start off:

The Trouble with Billionaires – Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks
The Shock Doctrine – Naomi Klein
The Death of the Liberal Class – Chris Hedges

One warning to those who haven't read these works: approaching them with an open mind will inevitably lead to agitation, outrage, and a changed world view. Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, you will now begin to see 'the man behind the curtain.' I do not advise perusal at bedtime, unless the prospect of insomnia inspires no fear.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Dalton McGuinty And The Politics of Education

I just made this posting on my other blog, but thought it might be of interest to some readers of this blog, as it really deals with the politics of education:

Recently, the McGuinty-led Liberal government of Ontario has proposed extending to two years from one the training of new teachers. The logic seems to be that the additional training will make for better teachers AND reduce the number of unemployed new graduates.

While I can't really address the efficacy of such a proposal in turning out better-qualified teachers, my own memory of teacher training being that it was only during the practicum that I learned anything useful, I can address its second purpose with considerable confidence.

As a retired teacher who has long opposed teachers doing supply and contract work post-retirement, one part of the solution to unemployment amongst new graduates is to ban this practice, something neither the teacher federations nor the government have shown any appetite for. It has always seemed manifestly unjust and selfish to me for retired colleagues to be denying new grads the opportunity to gain some experience and make some contacts within the crucible of supply and contract work.

However, the proposed lengthening of teacher training to two years from one as a solution to teacher unemployment is only a way of avoiding political risks. Several years ago, in anticipation of a teacher shortage that never materialized, the Ontario government significantly increased the number of university spots to train teachers. Rather than now reducing that number to realistic levels, (which would also reduce education faculties' revenues,) the McGuinty government has once more opted to play politics instead of showing real leadership.

And speaking of politics, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, of which I am a former member, by immediately and reflexively supporting this two-year initiative, has demonstrated that it is more interested in supporting the objectives of the Liberal government than it is in representing the interests of its members.

Happy Labour Day

A few child labour images from the past are perhaps useful reminders of the destructive power of unregulated market forces, not to mention where we would likely be without progressive politicians and unions.

Happy Labour Day

Please sign this petition urging Prime Minister Harper to stop threatening Michaela Keyserlingk and to stop exporting asbestos.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Two Sunday Morning Links

Echoing some of the sentiments I expressed the other day, this morning's Star editorial endorses the Toronto Police Services Board's decision to deny promotions to nine officers recommended by Police Chief Bill Blair. Is it possible that these officers, who behaved illegally by removing their name tags during last year's G20 Summit, were chosen by Chief Blair to be rewarded for their initiative? After all, if they couldn't be identified while violating people's Charter Rights, wouldn't they have in fact spared the good Chief more serious embarrassment and questions about his flawed leadership during the Summit?

Also in today's paper, Martin Regg Cohn's column, entitled Will Tory Trojan Horse hurt Hudak’s crusade? offers some interesting insight into an extreme right-wing faction of Tim Hudak's Ontario Progressive Conservative Party whose tactics, according to the article, "make the U.S. Tea Party look like … well, a tea party by comparison."

Enjoy the day.

Please sign this petition urging Prime Minister Harper to stop threatening Michaela Keyserlingk and to stop exporting asbestos.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Brand Obama

While I do not usually wade into American politics on this blog, I am going to make a rare exception tonight. The posting will be brief, as the link I will provide says things much better than I could.

Almost two years ago, my wife and I attended a talk by Chris Hedges, who was promoting his book, Empire of Illusion. Deeply pessimistic about the future of the United States, Hedges saw little hope for change with Obama as President. Dismissively, he referred to him as "Brand Obama," asserting that he was no different from other brands such as "Brand Bush, pere et fils."

At the time, I was deeply offended and thought Hedges extraordinarily cynical. Time, of course, has demonstrated his prescience.

And with that thought in mind, please follow my link to an essay by Robert Redford entitled, Is the Obama Administration Putting Corporate Profits Above Public Health?, in which the actor offers his thoughts on Obama turning his back on promised environmental legislation that would have saved about 12,000 lives per year in the United States.

Star Exclusive Reveals Harper Government Collaborated With U.S. In Framing Legislation

A shocking Star exclusive today, one that will probably be met for the most part with typical Canadian complacency and passivity ('Peace, order and good government, and may I please go back to sleep now?') reveals that the Harper Government collaborated with, took direction from, and leaked information to U.S. legislators while framing a new copyright bill.

The first sentence of the article provides a concise summary of the issue:

Secret U.S. government cables show a stunning willingness by senior Canadian officials to appease American demands for a U.S.-style copyright law here.

My use of the word 'collaborated' in my post title is not meant to connote something positive, but rather to invoke the odium associated with those who worked with Germany during World War Two to betray their own countries' interests. Like those collaborators, the policy director for Tony Clement, when he was Minister of Trade, suggested that American demands for tough copyright law might be aided "if Canada were placed among the worst offenders on an international piracy watch list."

"Days later, the U.S. placed Canada alongside China and Russia on the list."

A chief collaborator seems to have been Maxime Bernier, who was the Industry Minister prior to his public disgrace and worked closely with American Ambassador David Wilkins.

“Bernier promised to keep the Ambassador informed on the copyright bill's progress, and indicated that US (government) officials might see the legislation after it is approved by Cabinet, but before it is introduced in Parliament,” the cable adds.

Bernier also “encouraged the Ambassador to speak publicly about the importance of (intellectual property rights) to the United States, saying such efforts would improve the chances of Cabinet and Parliament approving a good copyright bill,” the cable says.

The contentious copyright bill was not passed due to the dissolution of Parliament prior to the last election. It is expected to be reintroduced this fall.

I can only hope that two things precede the opening of the fall Parliamentary session: that this story has 'legs' and provokes outrage, and that the opposition parties have the stomach to pursue it.

Both long shots indeed.

Please sign this petition urging Prime Minister Harper to stop threatening Michaela Keyserlingk and to stop exporting asbestos.