Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Towards Greater Clarity Of Language

A little something from the conservative lexicon:

H/t I don't like what Stephen Harper is doing to Canada

Pass the Puffer, Please

You probably know that dolphins are highly intelligent creatures, with brain sizes that are comparable to those of humans. And, like humans, they are self-aware creatures with the ability to solve problems.

I therefore suspect these magnificent creatures lead quite complex lives, and as we know, the ability to engage in complexity brings with it a great deal of stress. Without doubt, dolphins must contend with a great deal of environmental stress, including noise, pollutant or toxin exposure, presence of predators, loss of prey, and/or habitat changes.

So how do dolphins unwind and find some respite from the cares and worries they undoubtedly carry? They pass the puffer fish:

As reported in The Times of India, [i]n extraordinary scenes filmed for a new documentary, young dolphins were seen carefully manipulating a certain kind of puffer fish which, if provoked, releases a nerve toxin.

Their purpose? To get high.

You can read all about it here.

P.S. No word yet on whether the Harper government will be imposing stiff new penalties for use of this recreational drug.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Charlie Angus Sings 'The Reactionary Blues'

Kind of catchy, and makes for a great singalong, don't you think?

They're melting down the ice caps And raising up the trolls.
Putting shutters on the windows And burning all the notes.
The climate bell is ringing
But they've turned it back to snooze. I'm here a-singing the reactionary blues.
There's a war you never heard of
Better join the big parade
Or they'll cut off all your funding
That's how they play the game.
We ain't in this all together or don't you watch the news
They want you all singing the reactionary blues.

They're Thatcher's ugly children
And their world is black and white.
They're hunting down the rainbow
And spoiling for a fight.
They'll put you in a message box
Where nothing is really true
Leave you there a singing the reactionary blues.

It's about pressing all the buttons
And turning all the screws
It's about a Third World in the Northland
Where the children always lose
The fat cats are feasting on your future
Like they always do
While you’re left a singing the reactionary blues.

I saw a Maple leaf a-flying
That wasn't ripped or torn
I saw a world that needed healing
Where little dreams were born.
It's gonna take a lot of effort
To rebuild all the things they blew
And we’ll never sing again
The reactionary blues

No I don't want no more
of your reactionary blues.

H/t The Huffington Post

Sunday, December 29, 2013

All It Takes Is One Ant

H/t Occupy Canada

Another Indictment Of Police Leadership

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I am a regular critic of the police. While recognizing the at-times difficult job they have and the very real potential of becoming jaded because of the criminal element with which they must deal, I have never had any sympathy, understanding or tolerance for the abuse of power that some regularly engage in.

Similarly, I am frequently offended by those who lead institutions but refuse to take responsibility for the dysfunctions that occur under their watch. We have, for example, Stephen Harper's declarations that he knew nothing about the Nigel Wright payoff of Mile Duffy; while I do not believe the Prime Minister, even if it were true, responsibility, and blame, as they say, resides at the top.

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, about whom I have written many times, strikes me as one who enjoys the perks of power but refuses to accept responsibility when things go wrong with his troubled force. The G20 debacle is probably the most egregious, but hardly the only example of his failure as chief.

A story in this morning's Star offers the most recent indictment of Blair's leadership. The Supreme Court made a definitive ruling on police strip searches in 2001, forbidding the authorities to strip their suspects completely naked, declaring it a breach of Charter Rights. Despite this, however, Toronto Const. Sasa Sljivo declared during the trial of Lerondo Smith, charged with drug trafficking and breaching conditions ... that he has stripped “hundreds” of people completely naked as part of routine searches.

Two things are striking about this admission. First, Sljivo averred in court that he was unaware of the Supreme Court ruling, and second, he told the court that he was trained by his coach officer, a police mentor, to strip-search people fully naked.

The story goes on to say Toronto police adopted those rules (i.e., the prohibition laid out by the Supreme Court) in its procedure information sheet regarding “searches of person.”

My questions are few and simple:

If the rules have been clearly set out by the Toronto police, how is it that Const. Sljivo has carried out hundreds of improper searches, apparently endorsed by his training officer?

Does the Toronto constabulary regard the Supreme Court ruling as one more honoured in the breach than in the observance?

What kind of environment has the 'leadership' of Chief Blair fostered that this could happen not once, not twice, but hundreds of time?

How many others engage in this illegal practice?

Predictably, questions sent to police spokesman Mark Pugash about the pervasiveness of these searches and whether anyone has ever been disciplined for conducting them went unanswered.

Stripping prisoners naked is a time-honoured practice of torturers to break people down. It has no place in a democracy. Chief Blair has some serious police misconduct to answer for.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

"The Truth Must Be Told"

By substituting the name of your own country for 'America' and 'person' for 'man', I think you will agree that Martin Luther King's message in the following speech is timeless:

Who can stir us thus today? Who can help us find that moral compass so necessary to heal the world? We are all part of the solution, if we can rouse ourselves beyond the perennial self-interest that shackles us.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Rather Apt, Don't You Think?

h/t Canadians Rallying To Unseat Stephen Harper

The Responsibility We All Must Assume

In a column entitled A disheartening year in Canadian politics published on Dec. 20, The Globe's Jeffrey Simpson recounts the corruption, buffoonery and scandals that permeate our municipal, provincial and federal governments. Whether we look at the antics of Toronto's Rob Ford, the widespread venality, graft and ties to organized crime endemic to Montreal politics as revealed by the Charbonneau Commmision, the gas plant scandal in Ontario or the diseased mentality surrounding Senategate, there seems little from which the average citizen can take heart.

In response to that column, a Globe letter-writer, Caroline Wang from Vancouver, offers an antidote that I think all of us who write progressive political blogs would heartily agree with. Rather than letting our disgruntlement and disillusionment be a reason to disengage from the political process, it should prompt all of us to channel our anger and become part of the solution:

Re A Disheartening Year In Canadian Politics (Dec. 20):

So isn’t it up to the “plenty of honourable and hard-working people” of Canada to change the unacceptable “culture of deceit, backscratching and venality” that appears endemic in political life and that caused the annus horribilis?

Jeffrey Simpson asks a good question: “How was it, with so many people complicit in the corruption for so long, that no one blew the whistle?”

If we want to see a change to the way of doing business that will promote a culture and system of legality and honour, this can only be done by Canadians who are “mad and disillusioned.”

The answer is not turning off. It is becoming more involved in order to challenge what is wrong.

Working together to stamp out the disease of “widespread, prolonged and systemic corruption” wherever it happens to be in our society is the first step to recovery.

Electing exemplary leaders who will shape our future and create a legacy that reflects and defines our national character is the only way to create the best from Canadian politics.

May 2014 mark the year that increasing numbers of us channel our inner Peter Finch and use our anger and our passion for a better Canada by devoting at least part of each day to learning more about the people and parties who have betrayed the trust that the electoral system has given them.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Boxing Day Shopping

It's never enough, is it?

UPDATE: Guest Post: The Salamander's Innovative Ideas For Bringing Down Harper

Come, my friends.
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
the sounding furrows;

- Ulysses - Alfred, Lord Tennyson

I awoke this morning with a renewed sense of optimism, in part owing to a post that The Salamamder left on my blog yesterday, which I am reproducing in its entirety below. His comments and suggestions made me think of the possibilities before us, and once more reminded me of the strength, comfort and inspiration I take from my fellow bloggers. Not only do they so frequently lead me to information and insights not easy to find in traditional media, but they also leave me with the knowledge that there are many, many people in Canada who believe in and ardently seek a better world for all of us. The fact that they continue to advocate so passionately is proof, to borrow from and to paraphrase John Steinbeck, that the human spirit is alive and will not be vanquished.

The Salamander, I think you will agree, has some very creative and exciting ideas to share; please feel free to distribute them widely.

.. remember Thomas Nast's cartoons re Tammany Hall & New York City corruption... William M. Tweed reportedly said about them.. "Stop them damned pictures. I don't care so much what the papers say about me.
My constituents don't know how to read, but they can't help seeing them damned pictures

.. remember that Stephen J. Harper's base are seemingly incapable of understanding the destructive values, policies, narcissism and entitlement inherent in Harper and all his political franchise.. but they too can understand simple pictures, cartoons and brief truthful & undeniable messages.

ie Linking Peter Kent with a wolf poisoned by airdropped strychnine to 'save' boreal & woodland caribou (see Canada 25 cent piece) whose habitat is being destroyed by tar sands, fracking and pipelines.

ie Stephen Harper (image) does not want Canada or countries we export to, to realize that we are shipping infected commercial salmon & killing off our wild salmon.

ie John Baird (image) thinks its OK to drive indigenous Bedouins off their tribal lands to make room for Israeli settlements

ie Jim Flaherty (image) is A-OK with Nigel Wright and Onex, managing the Canada Pension Plan & delaying when you receive your benefits (not by mail!)

ie ice covered F-35's being sniffed by curious polar bears
ie Benjamin Perrin (image) 'I swear to uphold solicitor/client privilege ..'
ie Jason Kenney is getting by just fine.. but then he lives with his mommy
ie Dean Del Mastro is getting smeared by himself and crying to us about it
ie Senator Gertstein.. too big, too important, to go to jail or tell the truth
ie Ray Novak (image) Just 'friends' with Stephen Harper.. Canada, not so much

The list is endless.. and could facilitate the 4 steps you defined ..
and that's just one type of campaign .. There are others ..... ....
How about videos on Youtube that go viral.. !!!
and gain International attention ??
and millions of views ??
Remember the farcical interview with Kathyn Hammond re 'ethical oil' funding ???
and the puppet version done later ?
How about 'Tell Vic Everything' ? That went big .. and his name is now mud

Spread a little funding among brilliant, patriotic and scathing artists
and you have political dynamite .. especially if you target that weird fragmented 10% of voters the Conservative Party is so desperate to recover or deceive

Merry Christmas ... !!

And this later addition from The Salamander:

.. Lorne .. I dream of how bright individuals, the power of groupthink or lateral thinking solutions could help initiate such campaigns. I always think about Franke James and how she reaches into public areas with her brilliant work.. I wonder how we can stimulate & promote hundreds, even a thousand like her. And how we can piggyback or point to articles and blogs such as yours, Simon, MoS and all the others with their varying approaches yet incisive, critical information..

Bottom line ? I cannot believe a farmer from Saskatchewan will vote for his local Conservative MP.. or a young Tamil in Pickering, or a fisherman in BC upon realizing their MP cannot explain why PM Harper, leader of The Conservative Party is litigating against wounded Canadian military veterans.. So the challenge is.. how do you get across a simple undeniable truth.. that mainstream media fails to deliver? Probably with humor, truth, hard work and good old real Canadian values and can do - will do - ingenuity..

.. from the icy flatlands.. Best wishes & thanks.. & A Merry Christmas

UPDATE: This just in from The Salamander:

.. inspired by indy Canadian bloggers like you, and so many others that present undeniable truths.. am beginning to tweet suggestions for PM Harper Commemorative CP One Dollar postage stamps. Well, actually one could stick them anywhere - can't cost much to produce limited runs of sheets, say 9 by 9 (81) stamps.

I've already tweeted a suggestion for a wonderful stamp..
a heroic Stephen Harper image with copy such as
'I've Been Very Clear - Spying On Canadians is Canadian Values'

Stamps like these would be great on telephones & computer screens

Organize - Resist - Challenge - Change can be driven in two directions at once in a McLuhanesque mischievous way..
More on that later.. plus the '#AskHarperWhy?' hashtag

.. and I do want to initiate the concept of 'the glowing hearts'

I dream of the day when Stephen Harper starts shouting in a bathroom.. 'those stamps are ruining me !!'

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Christmas Thought

While I was not going to post anything today, I offer the following brief thought:

During this season and throughout 2014, may our hearts be attuned to those who can inspire us rather than to those who seek to manipulate and subjugate. May we begin to rediscover, as our greatest moral heroes amply demonstrate, that it is possible to prevail over our natural selfishness and shortsightedness; we can be a much better people, and the world can still be a wondrous place in which to fulfill our potential.

And as we confront those who want us to believe only the worst about ourselves and our fellow human beings so as to make their policies easier to enact, we need to





Merry Christmas, everyone.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Good Question

But what is the answer?

Re: ‘Golden age’ for Poland caps 500 years of pain, Dec. 22

Seeing the statement “communism’s iron grip” was too much. What about capitalism’s iron grip? Communism has come and gone in Poland, Russia and many other countries. But we have endured capitalism for centuries and it shows no sign of abating.

It tells us that we live under democracy, when in fact we can do nothing to stop the actions of mean and disgusting people like Stephen Harper and Rob Ford, when binding treaties are negotiated without our knowledge, when we are not permitted to know when we are eating genetically modified food, when the poor get poorer while the rich get richer. Capitalism has resulted in climate change, of which there is no end in sight, other than the destruction of the world.

Our so-called “democratic” structures were set up centuries ago by the rich and powerful to attempt to make capitalism run smoothly, and, above all, to guarantee the system’s persistence. It has not run smoothly, but it has stayed in place.

How do we extricate ourselves from the iron grip of capitalism?

Ken Ranney, Peterborough

H/t The Toronto Star

Monday, December 23, 2013

Lessons Learned, Lessons Forgotten

H/t Catherin Bradbury

'God save thee, ancient Mariner!
From the fiends, that plague thee thus!—
Why look'st thou so?'—With my cross-bow
I shot the ALBATROSS.

-excerpted from The Rime of The Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Coleridge

In what may seem like a very long time ago but is, by historical standards, really but a blink of the eye, our forebears had a quite healthy respect for nature. They knew of its power and its fury, its capacity both to give and to take, and the rhythms of the seasons imposed their own kind of discipline on people. Whether setting off on a sea voyage or planting crops, there was an innate understanding of humanity's place in the scheme of things. We were not the masters and mistresses of our own fates. Although we were bold and took many chances, propelled by our curiosity about the world around us, we still recognized our limitations.

Sadly, that wisdom has been forgotten.

When I was in the classroom, one of the works I delighted in teaching was Coleridge's The Rime of The Ancient Mariner. For me, the poem has always stood as a parable of humanity's willfulness; very briefly, it is the story of the humbling and horrible lesson a mariner must learn. The hubris informed by his own ego tells him that he is the pinnacle of creation and thus entitled to do as he pleases, with disastrous results.

In the early part of the poem, the Albatross is associated with good fortune, leading the sailors out of a dire predicament. After the crisis has passed, however, for reasons never directly explained, the Mariner, who is essentially the captain of the vessel, kills the albatross, an act that ultimately results in the death of his entire crew and the complete isolation, both physical and spiritual, of the Mariner. As I used to suggest to my students, he likely killed the Albatross simply because he could; in other words, it is one of those many heedless acts that seem to reflect so much of our human nature.

By the poem's end, the Mariner has learned his lesson, but at a horrible price. Unfortunately, in our time we seem, as a species, incapable of gaining such insights, the evidence of our willfulness so plentiful I will not insult you by pointing it out.

Every so often, even in our cossetted 'first-world' experience, we are reminded of our folly. In Southern Ontario, where I reside, yesterday's ice storm left parts of my community, including our house, without power for six hours, a minuscule inconvenience compared to the over 250,000 still without power in the Toronto area as I write this; some may even remain in the dark until at least Christmas Day.

Yet the storm, emblematic of a much more profound disturbance in the environment, will, as other countless disasters in recent years, go largely unremarked by the population at large and, of course, by those we entrust to lead us. Climate change amelioration? Carbon pricing? Valuing capital? Forget it. Adaptation? Maybe. But more likely our 'masters' will continue to say and do things that people want to hear: everything is fine, the economy is rebounding, and global warming is but a contentious 'theory'.

The Ancient Mariner learned a hard lesson that drastically altered the course of his life. It seems to be our fate as a short-sighted species never to learn ours.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Tory Policy-Making: The Dangers Of Simplistic Thinking

Fallacies of reasoning are easy traps to fall into. Whether it is absolutist thinking, straw man arguments or any number of other errors of thought, we are all prone to them, and I am sure that I am no exception. Our best defense against such faulty thinking is to try to cultivate our critical faculties as much as we can; one of the best ways of doing so is to read widely and deeply. There is no alternative, unless wants to make a virtue of simplistic and lazy cognition.

The latter, of course, is what the Harper regime has excelled at since it was first elected. Most issues have been reduced to an either/or option; perhaps the most infamous was the facile and inflammatory statement Vic Toews made over those who opposed his failed Internet surveillance bill, namely that people “can either stand with us or with the child pornographers.”

The Tory propensity for reducing issues to their simplest forms has done a grave disservice to the people of Canada, who have essentially been told time and again that they need not think deeply and engage vigorously with issues of public policy, but rather let an autocratic majority government decide instead what is best for them. People increasingly seem more and more passive when told, for example, that now is not the time to improve the CPP, OAS must be delayed to age 67, or home mail delivery must end, all due to cost constraints.

And yet, with critical thinking, there is always room for alternative approaches to public policy. One such instance can be found in Canada Post. Although a crown corporation with an ostensible degree of independence from government influence, the recent decision to end home mail delivery and raise stamps to $1 each has all the earmarks of a government bent on the erosion and ultimate dismantling of public programs and institutions. No compromises were seriously entertained, for example moving to three-day a week delivery to cut costs. It is a classically absolutist policy decision that will ultimately see the end of Canada Post.

In his column in Saturday's Star, Thomas Walkom introduces a notion that could, in fact, make Canada Post very profitable and facilitate the retention of delivery services: a postal savings bank, an idea that has been advocated by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.

Arguing that Canada Post has the technology and infrastructure to make such a venture both possible and highly profitable, Walkom points to New Zealand, France, Italy and Britain as successful examples of the concept:

New Zealand’s postal banking system, which was re-invigorated just eight years ago, now accounts for 70 per cent of the profit earned by that country’s post office. The comparable figure for Italy is 67 per cent.

France’s postal savings bank accounts for 36 per cent of its postal service’s pre-tax earnings. Britain is privatizing mail delivery. But it is not privatizing its system of post offices and postal savings banks. They’re too lucrative.

Indeed, as Walkom points out, former Canada Post CEO Moya Greene, who was hired away by Britain's Royal Mail, was an advocate of postal banking:

Speaking to a Senate committee three months before taking up her Royal Mail job, Greene said Canada Post was seriously considering the idea of offering full financial services.

“We . . . need to diversify the revenue stream and be in wholly different businesses than we are today,” she told the committee. “I note, for example, that many postal administrations have made a success of banking.”

Another compelling and potentially gratifying reason to offer such service resides in the conservative nature of our chartered banks which, many feel, should be shaken up a bit by competition. It is their conservative nature that is partly responsible for the fact that upwards of 15 per cent of Canadians are estimated to have no bank accounts at all, making them easy prey to the payday loan operations whose rates in Ontario can exceed 540 per cent.

So again, some reflection, analysis and good policy-making could solve two problems: the end of home delivery and the usurious interest rates that the poor without bank accounts must contend with.

But the Harper cabal is one that cares neither for nuance nor cerebration. After all, the solutions to problems are simple, reflected in just these mantras: privatization good, public ownership bad, and long live the 'free' market.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Another Timely Reminder From Canada Post

Perhaps the new levels of geriatric fitness to be achieved by ending home service will save government so much in health care costs that they can someday restore service? Just askin'

H/t The Toronto Star

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Affluenza Judge Seems To Have A Double Standard

Now why does this not surprise me?

Were This The Best Of All Possible Worlds...

Were I of Dr. Pangloss' rosy outlook and believed that this is the best of all possible worlds, I might have some sympathy for people like Industry Minister James Moore who, as most will probably have heard, recently opined that it is not his job to feed his neighbour's child, an inapt remark for which he subsequently apologized.

He did add, at the time of his original offending remarks, that "We’ve neven been wealthier as a country than we are right now. Never been wealthier,” and boasted of his government's job-creation program.

And therein lies the problem. Mr. Moore and his ilk (i.e., the Harper regime and the neoliberal agenda) seem to reside in a parallel universe, one where there are jobs just for the asking, and anyone who finds him/herself in straightened circumstances is there largely due to personal fecklessness. In his column yesterday, The Star's Thomas Walkom neatly summed up this mindset, tracing it back to nineteenth-century liberalism:

This belief holds that individuals are responsible for their own destinies, that markets distribute income fairly and that (with limited exceptions) governments should get out of the way to let people live their lives.

That means allowing individuals to marry whomever they will. It also means relying on parents to care for their children as best they can.

Walkom also suggests that this worldview explains the federal government's refusal to consider the much-touted idea of pension reform:

The real reason for axing CPP reform, I suspect, has more to do with belief. The Canada Pension Plan is a form of forced saving. It requires workers to put aside money whether they wish to or not.

To the 19th century liberals of Harper’s government, this is anathema. Under their view, individuals should be free to save or spend as they please.

At retirement, the very poorest will be cared for by government at starkly minimal levels. The wealthiest can fall back on their inheritances.

So I might have some sympathy for the notion that people have to live within their means, save for their retirement, and essentially be as self-sufficient as possible IF we actually inhabited the world of Mr. Moore's imagination. However, the economic realities of the times, which sees an ever-growing precariat, a dearth of good-paying jobs, the erosion of company pension plans, and a massive proliferation of low-paying service jobs demand government compassion and involvement in the lives of people, something the Harper regime seems incapable of.

Let us hope 2015 sees the election of a party that has a better grasp of the economic realities of far too many Canadians than Harper's Conservatives do.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Now Here's An Interesting Idea

At a time when workers' rights are under constant attack, dangerous, Draconian, Orwellian and unconstitutional measures have been passed in Alberta that not only strip away the arbitration rights of public servants, but also limit their freedom of speech.

First, to the 'less contentious' of the two bills recently passed by Alison Redford's Conservative government. In Alberta, strikes by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, who have been without a contract since last March, are forbidden. However, recently passed Bill 46 removes the underpinnings enjoyed by most unions where strikes are prohibited: binding arbitration. With the removal of that right, Redford's government will now be able to impose the following after the negotiation deadline of January 31:

... a legislated four-year deal with no increases over the first two years and one-per-cent increases in each of the next two would come into effect.

However, there are even more grievous measures contained in companion Bill 45, ostensibly legislation to introduce a more comprehensive range of measures that can be applied when there is an illegal strike or threat of an illegal strike that goes much further.

As noted at Rabble.ca, the bill

... denies individuals the fundamental right to freedom of expression. Bill 45 introduces for the first time in Canada, a vague legal concept of "strike threat" which makes it illegal to canvass the opinion of "employees to determine whether they wish to strike" or to freely express a view which calls for or supports strike action.

So Bill 45 essentially attempts to strip away our constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech; it likely will not withstand a Charter challenge, but the bill's intent nonetheless provides a rather frightening look into the minds of legislators today, minds that seem to endorse the attack on essential rights and freedoms as somehow good and just. Even the Calgary Herald and Wild Rose leader Danielle Smith condemn such a worldview. The former describes the bills as marking a dark chapter in Alberta history.

How does one fight such a mentality? Writing in the Edmonton Journal, Lloyd Maybaum, an Alberta physician, draws upon his experience in 2012 during a period of protracted negotiations. He suggests an innovative strategy to combat this assault on basic rights: a virtual strike.

During a virtual strike, unlike an actual strike, there is no cessation or slowdown of work, and everyone earns their regular pay.

The power of the virtual strike lies in the strategic donation of earned income. In the case of a hostile, bullying government, one could follow the adage that the enemy of your enemy becomes your friend and donate income from virtual strike days to opposition parties in the legislature.

Every Wednesday, for instance, union leaders could encourage nurses from across the province to go online and donate $100 to the political party of their choice.

By so doing, the union would be taking its fight directly to the governing party, not allowing patients to become caught in the crossfire of negotiations.

And as Maybaum points out, every $100 donation would only cost $25 after the political donation deduction, and could prove a potent weapon in a jurisdiction that is apparently trying to cripple people's rights.

Should those of us not living in Alberta be concerned? Without question. Both federally and provincially, workers are increasingly seen as impediments to the unfettered profits of business. There is, for example, Tim Hudak in Ontario who wants to make the province a 'right to work' jurisdiction; the Harper cabal seeks to cripple unions through disclosure of expenditures via Bill C-377, legislation that has been weakened, fortunately, by a amendment in the Senate put forward by Hugh Segal.

Constant vigilance is required. Truly, the battle taking place in Alberta is everyone's fight.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


... I think of Canada's citizenry, in its willingness to take whatever the Harper regime dishes out in the way of mean-spirited, regressive and repressive legislation, as a beaten-down dog.

Chief Bill Blair And Secrecy

Presiding as he does over a very troubled organization, it is perhaps not surprising that Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair prefers a cloak of secrecy to cover how he manages his force. But it is difficult to see whose interests, other than those of the good chief, are served by refusing to share with the public how he deals with his officers when they abuse citizens.

One of the first casualties of this refusal to shed light is surely public trust, a fact attested to by letters to The Star, one of which you can read below:

Re: Cops used ‘torture’ to get confession, top court rules, Dec. 13

Thanks to the Star for reporting on the sickening story of police brutality. Torture is a crime; police are not authorized to use force to obtain “confessions.” Charges are supposed to rely on evidence of criminal activity by the suspects, not by the police.

We pay the police to uphold the laws of our society, which include our civil and human rights. When police impunity is such that police believe that brutalizing people (and telling them to lie) is “part of the job”, it’s (past) time for our governments and courts to start to protect Canadian rights.

They might start by giving the SIU real teeth; police should be forced to respond promptly and honestly to SIU requests for information. There were many police who violated police rules and the rights of Canadians at the G20 several years ago, yet only one or two seem to have been called to account. Every one of the police identified as having broken any rules (such as not wearing proper identification) should have been punished appropriately. The courts should make the police fully accountable for violations of people’s rights. The police violations of Canadian human and civil rights should no longer be tolerated.

Karin Brothers, Toronto

The general public is not the only segment harbouring grave misgivings about those who 'serve and protect.' A hard hitting Star editorial in this morning's edition, entitled Toronto police secrecy undermines public trust, makes clear that the chief's evasions and subterfuge have no place in a democracy:

Undue secrecy when police investigate their own only saps public confidence that justice is done when an officer breaks the law. For that reason, if no other, Toronto’s police board should reveal reports that Chief Bill Blair prefers to keep hidden.

The reports refer to a specific offence allegedly committed by Toronto police: failure to co-operate with Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit, the outside agency summoned whenever police are involved in a fatality or serious injury, or are accused of sexual assault.

The editorial goes on to observe that while Blair asserts that he has investigated all of the concerns brought forward by the SIU, he insists they remain confidential, only to be shared with the Toronto Police Services Board. Not even the SIU is privy to what he claims to have done. This stands in stark contrast to other police services that make the result of investigations public, excising only the most confidential information.

So who is Blair really protecting here?

There are many reasons I am glad not to be a resident of Toronto; the fact that it has a largely unaccountable police force led by a man who seems contemptuous of the public is among my chief ones.

Monday, December 16, 2013

In This Season Of Getting And Spending

... a timely reminder about the practices of the world's biggest retailer:

This article is also worthy of perusal.

A Lion In Winter

Like a bloated, aging and wounded lion who realizes his hold over his pride is at an end, Conrad Black is lashing out. Still licking his wounds from lacerations received at the hands of the CBC's Carol Off, Black used his column in Saturday's National Post (which as a rule I do not read, but more about that later) both to justify his journalistic ineptitude and to strike back at his growing list of adversaries who include Star editor Michael Cooke, Star columnist Rosie DiManno, The Star itself, and well, just about anyone else who finds fault with him.

With false leonine pride, in his column Black maintains the fiction that it was not journalistic ineptitude but rather the show's format that explains his toothless interview with disgraced Toronto pretend-mayor Rob Ford:

As co-host of the Vision Channel television program Zoomer, I invite people to sit down with me in civilized conversation, which often included unwelcome questions. But I do not conduct an antagonistic debate. This is a format that viewers seem to enjoy, and it was on this basis that guests — including Mayor Ford, last week — have agreed to speak with me.

He goes on to dismiss the controversy over Ford implying that Daniel Dale is a pedophile as a sideshow, and then launches into what can only be described as a screed against The Star and its staff, most notably its most prolific and acerbic writer, Rosie DiManno, whom he describes as a feminoid who is so disconcerted by my wife’s timeless appearance that she refers to the frequent praise of her as a form of “necrophilia.”

Which brings me to how I wound up reading Black's piece. This morning, The Star's own lioness, Rosie Dimanno, still apparently in her prime, extrudes her own claws as she responds to the Black attack.

Here is her opening salvo:

Mrs. Conrad Black is the most gorgeous septuagenarian on the planet.

And, while hardly a kitten with a whip any longer, Barbara Amiel remains quite the dominatrix in print, a polished writer who can stick a stiletto heel into any subject’s jugular. A far better wordsmith than her husband, too. Indeed, Black isn’t even the best writer from among her five spouses.

I mention the Baroness only because hubby has specifically accused me of not appreciating her timeless beauty. I do. And maybe at some future date, Amiel can give me the name of her plastic surgeon.

Lest you think her column is simply a catty attack on Mrs. Black, she soon turns her attention to her real target:

We now know also why disgraced newspaper baron and felon Connie (Con, for short) devotes himself to producing remainder-bin biographical doorstoppers about dead people — because he doesn’t have to interview them. His singular lack of skill in this most basic reportorial function was on grotesque display last week whilst “chatting” — Black doesn’t call these puffball exchanges interviews — with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford on his Zoomer show, an excruciatingly embarrassing episode that should be shown to J-students as instructive lesson on how not to do it.

There is much more in her piece which, depending upon the exigencies of time and interests, you may wish to check out.

While there are admittedly much bigger issues that need to be addressed and pursued in the world today, sometimes there is an innate satisfaction to be had when bullies, whether of the physical or verbal kind, are soundly and roundly put in their place. And while many may lament the fact that age eventually diminishes all of us, we do no one any service by using that to excuse the effete roaring of a lion in winter.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

It Always Seems Like A Good Idea At The Time

...but who can forget the Borg and the Cylons?

Will Google eventually forget its motto, "Don't be evil"?

Pension Reform

More of the white stuff has fallen, and I can ignore the importunate call of the snow shovel no longer, so I will make this brief with two reading recommendations for your Sunday morning discernment.

In today's Star, Martin Regg Cohn writes convincingly on the need for real pension reform, but he predicts that the provinces' finance ministers, who will be meeting today and tomorrow, will get nothing from federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. The latter will trot out the standard 'now is not the time- the economy is too fragile' line, but with more and more people destined to retire in relative poverty, the time for delay is over.

The fragility-of-the-economy-argument is given short shrift in another Star article by C. Scott Clark, a former Federal Deputy Minister of Finance, and Peter Devries, who was Director of Fiscal Policy when CPP was last reformed in 1998. The writers show how that tired argument has been used repeatedly to try to stop past measures:

The last significant structural changes to the CPP (and Quebec Pension Plan) were made in the late 1990s. At that time, CPP contribution rates were doubled, an independent investment board was established and the program was put on a sustainable basis. The arguments now being used by the government are not unlike those made by anti-reformers in 1997. Opponents argued that doubling the CPP premium rates would have a major negative impact on economic growth and job creation. This did not happen.

They go on to cite how the the economy was deemed too fragile when the government replaced the federal manufacturer's sales tax with the GST in 1991, and when the mid-90s saw the Liberals impose tough fiscal measures to deal with the deficit. In neither case did the economic sky fall in.

I'm convinced that we Canadians are far too passive, giving free reign to a government that makes its lack of responsiveness to the needs of Canadians a virtue. Until that changes, all we can likely expect is more of the same blather and inaction on the part of the Harper cabal.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Police Torturers And Their Enablers

It is heartening to know that the Hamilton police are discharging their duties responsibly, as attested to by a video that went viral this week. However, to believe that all is well in policeland would be but a comforting illusion.

Yesterday, Kev reported on the 'excesses' of some Toronto police whose actions, described by the Court of Appeals' judge as 'torture under the Criminal Code', led to the staying of a conviction against the victim. Incidentally, two of the officers involved in the abuse, Jamie Clark and Donald Belange, received promotions, no doubt rewards for their 'exemplary' work.

Where does responsibility for the rot reside? As in all institutions, it must be placed on the shoulders of the leadership, in this case the office of Chief Bill Blair, who frequently seems more adept as a politicians than he does as Toronto's top cop. And the Toronto Police Services Board, led by Alok Mukherjee, has to be seen as one of the chiefs chief enablers.

A report by former Special Investigations Unit director Ian Scott suggests that Blair virtually ignored over 100 letters Scott sent to him alleging that officers repeatedly violated their legal duty to co-operate with the provincial watchdog. Blair's spokesperson and pet poodle, Mark Pugash, disputes this, asserting: “All of the points he raised were dealt with..."

Where the truth resides is something the public is not allowed to know. As reported in today's Star, the Toronto Police Services Board refuses to make this information public:

Chair Alok Mukherjee said Thursday the board has “considered” publishing the reports, but has not because certain information must be kept confidential under the Police Services Act, such as the names of officers involved in disciplinary matters or classified police procedures.

This stands in contrast with several other police services boards in the province, which release the chief’s reports at public board meetings, with confidential details removed.

Ottawa, for example, publishes its reports online, leaving out only the names of the officers involved. [I]n Durham, reports are only kept secret if their disclosure would threaten public safety or personal privacy.

Meanwhile, the good people of Toronto are expected to remain content with this from Chief Blair:

“In every single case without exception, I have reported to the oversight authority that the statute says I’m supposed to, which is the police services board.”

But the chief said he doesn’t think those reports should be made public.

“That is at the discretion of the board, and there are aspects of those reports which quite frankly deal with issues of personnel, which are not appropriate to be made public.”

We live in a troubling time when, on many levels, the Canadian public is being treated with an indifference that borders on absolute disdain, even contempt. However, despite the best efforts of the Harper cabal to establish a Canada that is more secretive and repressive society, a process that seems to be infecting all levels of governance, we still enjoy basic freedoms as a putative democracy; full disclosure of police misconduct is required and demanded unless the police motto "to protect and serve' is to be seen as little more than a cruel irony.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Canada's Sad Devolution

What was once Canada the cool, the country a 1991 Economist cover story called the "post-modern nation-state", has now devolved into a rightwing hellhole.

So says The Guardian in an article entitled Sadly, Rob Ford epitomises what Canada has become. Using Toronto's Chief Oaf Rob Ford and the hard-right policies of Stephen Harper as exemplars, the writer, Matthew Hays, concludes that our country has lost its way.

While one may not agree with all of the conclusions drawn, it is once again sobering to see ourselves as other see us, thanks to the misbegotten policies and contemptuous behaviour of our democratically-elected 'leaders.'

A Lesson In Humility For The Good Lord?

While I readily admit to not having wasted my time watching Conrad Black's interview with Toronto's pretend-mayor, I did take special delight in the dressing-down he received at the hands of As It Happens' Carol Off, as noted yesterday. One hopes that he learned something about real journalism from the encounter.

Today, two Star letter-writers offer their comments on the actual interview. Short version: they were not impressed. And given the fact that Star reporter Daniel Dale has decided to sue Vision TV, Zoomer Media, and Rob Ford, perhaps Moses Znaimer will have reason to reconsider his decision to employ Conrad and give the job to a qualified Canadian citizen?

Ford stands by on-air comments to Black, Dec. 11

I guess the all-consuming nature of the Rob Ford fixation is responsible for the fact that there appears to have been almost no comment on Conrad Black’s own performance during his so-called interview with the mayor on ZoomerTV. This was presumably an opportunity for Rob Ford to give his side of the controversy, but did anyone notice that if that was the purpose, the mayor needn’t even have been there. Black was doing the job more than adequately on his own. Indeed, he seemed so intent on whitewashing the mayor’s questionable, often bizarre behaviour that he barely let Ford respond to his oh-so-gentle questions and took to answering most of them himself — and in a manner that made Ford seem a victim. In fact, Black frequently laid the blame for the Ford fiasco on the media and the police, missing no opportunity to beat up on those institutions that he blames most for his own clashes with the law. No, this certainly was not an “interview.” A satire of one, perhaps, rendered all the more laughable by the smarmy, onscreen follow-up in which Black’s co-host proclaimed ZoomerTV’s commitment to the highest standards of journalism.

Marvin Schiff, Toronto

What a disappointment to watch Conrad Black throw lob balls to our disgraced mayor. It has become obvious that Black was not a wise choice to interview Rob Ford and he clearly chose to not ask any difficult questions of relevance. Perhaps they should have re-aired the Matt Lauer interview. At least that was informative and entertaining.I am disappointed in Moses Znaimer for allowing this to air on his network. His audiences deserve better content. That was 30 minutes of my life I’m not getting back.

Tome Brazier, Unionville

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Noam Chomsky On Pope Francis And Liberation Theology

Given past American behaviour, Pope Francis had better be careful if he begins to practise what he preaches, considering what Noam Chomsky says here:

The Good Lord Gets His Comeuppance

Those who, over the years, have grown weary of the pretentious blather of Conrad Black, the lord and baron much put upon by the requirement that he be subject to the same laws that bind mere mortals, may take some delight in the lesson in real journalism given him by As It Happens' Carol Off.

The former Lord Tubby, much slimmed down following his six-and-a-half years as a guest of the U.S. justice system (prison, I guess, imposes all kinds of disciplines including, one assumes, those of a dietary nature) received his rebukes as Off took him to task for his softball interview of Toronto Mayor-in-name-only Rob Ford in which he permitted the offish civic embarrassment to imply that The Star's Daniel Dale is a pedophile and that Chief Blair has orchestrated a massive conspiracy against him because of police budget restrictions led by the gravy-train foe.

Taking exception to having his talents called into question by a mere public servant, Black grew somewhat testy as the interview proceeded. Clearly, Ms Off doesn't know her place in the world of the gods.

If, like me, you take a certain delight in seeing the arrogant chastised, you can enjoy a transcript of the interview here or listen to the actual interview here.

P.S. No word on how Black is able to work and be paid by Zoomer for his interview work, given his temporary residence status. Then again, perhaps he is part of some kind of work-release program, given the $3 million that he owes Canada Revenue.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

This'll Sure Teach Him

Won't it?

Not In My Name, Please

In a regime rife with duplicity, one of the most dishonest aspects of the Harper cabal is its endless capacity to pretend that the decisions it makes and the legislation it enacts are being done 'for the people'. One of most recent examples of this egregious misrepresentation is the decision by the federal government last year to cut off medical care for failed refugee claimants when

it amended the interim federal health program to reduce coverage for most refugees and discontinue basic care to asylum seekers from so-called “safe countries, failed refugees and others sponsored by community groups such as churches to resettle here from overseas camps.

The federal government said the cuts could save taxpayers $100 million over five years and genuine refugees continue to receive comprehensive health care coverage on par with what Canadians receive.

Not only was this an anti-humanitarian measure wholly at odds with our country's former and proud tradition of helping the disadvantaged, it was done dishonestly, the Harper cabal employing the fiction that it was simply responding to public demand:

“Canadians have been clear that they do not want failed asylum claimants and asylum claimants from safe countries receiving better health-care benefits than Canadian taxpayers,” Alexis Pavlich, spokesperson for Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, said in an email.

“Our government listened and acted with regard to Canadian taxpayers’ concerns on this issue, and we remain committed in our effort to preserve the integrity of our immigration system.”

I don't recall being polled on such an issue. Was the government deluged with demands that we enact such an odious measure? I would like to see the statistics behind this alleged demand.

That of course is not going to happen because, in all likelihood, it is like the 'thousands' the Tories claimed complained about the privacy intrusions posed by the mandatory long-form census questionaire that led to the decision to kill it. In truth, there was little more than a handful who objected.

By claiming to act in our name, this government is slandering all of us in its attempt to remake Canada into a leaner, meaner, and more American environment where individualism reigns surpreme. Fortunately, the provinces are fighting back. Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and Quebec have all stepped up to provide coverage, with Ontario vowing to send the bills to Ottawa.

It would seem that Canadians' characteristic compassion is not yet dead despite the ongoing and concerted efforts by the neoconservatives to kill it.

Monday, December 9, 2013

When The Elites Aren't Happy

I will readily admit that political perturbations abroad command much less interest from me than those that occur domestically on both the federal and provincial level. Nonetheless, the upheavals currently underway in Thailand provide a rather fascinating lesson into what can happen when the elites (aka the rich) experience a democratically-elected government that does not do their bidding. They simply declare it 'illegitimate.'

A story in today's Star reveals that Thailand’s prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, has announced her intention to dissolve the lower house of Parliament and call a snap election, the decision precipitated by increasingly restive protests in the street and the fact that the Democrat party, led by a former premier, Abhisit Vejjajiva, has pulled out of the lower house. The reason, according to Vejjajiva, is that Yingluck’s government has become illegitimate, this despite the fact that her party came to power in a landslide vote in 2011 that observers said was free and fair.

So what is the problem? The official reason is that she tried to obtain amnesty for her brother, the former prime minister, but the real catalyst is something much darker, and has nothing to do with the legitimacy of her reign. The truth is, the elites of the country don't like the fact that too much has been given to the country's poor.

An analysis by Gwynne Dyer establishes some inconvenient truths that few in the mainstream media seem willing to address. Entitled The war on democracy in Thailand, the article reveals the true nature of the protestors' discontent:

The main thing that distinguishes the Civil Movement for Democracy is its profound dislike for democracy. In the mass demonstrations that have shaken Thailand since November 24, its supporters have been trying to remove a prime minister who was elected only two years ago—and their goal is not another election.

“We don't want new elections because we will lose anyway,” one protester told Reuters. “We want (the prime minister’s family) to leave the country.” If they succeeded in driving Yingluck from power, they would skip the whole business of elections and hand the country over to an appointed “People’s Council” made up of “good men”.

What is the source of their disdain for democracy? According to protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, the majority of the Thai people are too ignorant and flighty to be trusted with the vote. The basis for this distrust of democracy, he says, is that elections in Thailand do not represent people’s (real) choices because their votes are bought.”

It is important here to note, as Dyer points out, that there is no bribery or corruption involved here. No, the truth is votes were 'bought' by Thaksin Shinawatra, the current Prime Minister's brother, through policies that most would deem progressive:

He set up programs like village-managed micro-credit development funds and low-interest agricultural loans.

He created a universal healthcare system and provided low-cost access to anti-HIV medications.

Between 2001 and 2006, the year a military coup ousted him, the GDP grew by 30 percent, public sector debt fell from 57 percent of GDP to 41 percent, and foreign exchange reserves doubled .

Income in the north-east, the poorest part of the country, rose by 41 percent.

Poverty nationwide dropped from 21 percent to 11 percent, and the prevalence of HIV/AIDS declined.

He even managed to balance the budget.

So one can see what is really bothering the elites of the country. Enlightened policy means they have to share some of the pie, something the rich never seem to be very good at.

Of course, there is little danger of such upheavals in North America. Both Canada and the United States, as we know, serve their elites very, very well.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Something To Rejuvenate The Human Spirit

I suspect that as a lot of us get older, especially with the context that the years behind us provide, it is difficult not to submit to deep cynicism, even despair. Words that may sound fresh to some are ones that we have heard enough times before to interpret as the platitudes they frequently are. And yet, there is always something or someone that comes along to rescue us from absolute, soul-numbing despair. Nelson Mandela was one such person, and I believe Pope Francis is becoming another such individual.

On this Sunday morning I offer you two letters from today's Star on Mandela's legacy, and an excerpt of a piece by Daniel Baird on the Pope. I hope they provide you, as they did me, a measure of solace.

Africa’s icon of freedom and justice, Editorial Dec. 6

Most exceptional about Mandela’s tenure as president of South Africa was his refusal to punish white South Africans for the power they had unjustly wielded for so many years. For him, reconciliation trumped revenge. A lifelong defender of sovereignty for oppressed peoples and marginalized nations, Mandela used his global stature to defend various independence movements in Africa and around the world. At times, Mandela has also been a severe critic of the United States and the United Kingdom, accusing both of interfering in the affairs of other countries.

He will be remembered as one of the world’s greatest politicians, champion of human rights and one of the most inspiring figures of this century. His death will be mourned for years to come. While the dark clouds of racism, bloody conflicts and violence swell ominously on the horizon today, Mandela’s heartening message is more timely than ever: “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Javed Akbar, Ajax

We are constantly bombarded by reports of the evil deeds of tyrant-dictators, suicide bombers, serial killers, drug lords, etc., so it’s good to be reminded from time to time that there are also great role models like Nelson Mandela for our children to look up to. Mandela could have become a dictator, instead he became a democratically elected president who spread hope instead of despair, forgiveness instead of revenge and love instead of hate. Never have so many Africans, and many non-Africans, owed so much to one man. Nelson Mandela was a great leader for all reasons.

William Bedford, Toronto

Daniel Baird writes of a pope who seems to practice what Christ preached: humility, compassion, and the avoidance of those things that take us from our true humanity and spirituality:

Francis, in his first Apostolic Exhortation, entitled Evangelli Gaudium, issues the following observation and warning:

“To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed,” he writes. “Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us.”

Coming from a man who reportedly sneaks out at night in the guise of a regular priest in order to visit Rome's homeless, it is the kind of message I think we can all positively respond to.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Ingenuity And Goodwill

Sometimes, seemingly intractable problems can be solved through a combination of ingenuity and goodwill. This story, about a solar lamp that initially seemed out of the financial reach of African villagers, is one such example:

Tim Hudak's Vacuous Vision

Young Tim's Mad Face

Readers of this blog will know that I have no use for Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak, an acolyte of Mike Harris who learned the essence of that hated leader's philosophy when he served in his cabinet in the 1990s: divide, conquer, sow dissension, lambaste instead of lead, etc., etc.

In yesterday's print edition of The Toronto Star, the lead letter neatly summed up young Tim's vacuity of vision and his vicious vilification of unions. I have taken the liberty of copying it from the paper's digital edition for your consideration:

Re Hudak targets government employees, Dec. 5

Tim Hudak, the master of the politics of resentment, professes to advocate for, in his words, “the hard-working taxpaying families of Ontario.” His is a cynical approach that rankles the very fibres of a caring society. His demagoguery is clothed in phrases purporting to support the financially struggling working poor and the middle class. As a disciple of Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution, his proposals will have the opposite effect and prove, should he win the next election, a pathway to economic disaster for the middle class and further increase the already historical profits and salaries of corporations and their CEOs.

Hudak states, “We need to act on behalf of the 85 per cent of Ontarians who aren’t on the government payroll and made far more sacrifices in these difficult times.” By pitting one group of Ontarians against another, he is hoping to abolish unions because they are an impediment to Ontario’s economic progress. He would like Ontario to become a “right to work” province. Doesn’t that have an innocent ring to it? Who could possibly be against your right to work? It is no secret that folks in right to work jurisdictions in the U.S. are earning slightly better than minimum wage and are having difficulty supporting their families. Caterpillar moved to Indiana, a right to work jurisdiction, and cut their workforce salary in half along with their benefits. That’s what Hudak would like to achieve in Ontario. Such wilful manipulation of an electorate is both crass and unscrupulous.

For a man who aspires to be chief public servant, you would think his main purpose would be the common weal. Strange indeed that he would display such distaste for other public servants wanting to help all Ontarians. Dear Mr. Hudak, if you can’t find it in your heart to represent 100 per cent of Ontarians, do the right thing and step aside. I am sure someone in the Conservative party will embrace all Ontarians.

Nicholas Kostiak, Tottenham

Friday, December 6, 2013

Back To Earth

I had planned this to be my first piece post-holiday, but Nelson Mandela's passing yesterday prompted my post about that giant who walked among us. I purposely kept it brief, since thousands upon thousands of words will be written about him in the days to come, a testament not only to his stature throughout the world but also, I suspect, to the rarity of such dignity, integrity, and moral greatness.

On to other matters.

One of the advantages to a week-long sojourn in Cuba, from which we returned late Wednesday night, is the fact that the Internet there is both slow and expensive; although I compulsively check my email at home several times a day, I feel no such urge when on the island nation. Consequently, I tend to catch up on the reading that I never seem to have enough time for while in Canada - retirement seems to impose its own disciplines, demands, and routines.

I always make sure to bring with me The Walrus magazine, a publication that does not shy away from longer forms of journalism. An article from a few months back made for some interesting reading. Entitled Repairing the House, now available online, its author, Andrew Coyne, offers an overview of the dysfunctional and essentially impotent Parliament we are all familiar with, a Parliament where backbenchers are little more than the proverbial trained seals doing the bidding of the party leader. Never has this been more evident than in the Harper administration, where all utterances are tightly scripted, predictable ('The Prime Minister has been very clear...') and limited. One has only to watch the incessant parroting that poses as answers both in Question Period or on shows such as Power and Politics to see this sad truth.

Yet Coyne suggests it needn't be this way.

Here are his observations and ideas for reform:

Prior to the 1919 Liberal national convention that elected Mackenzie King as its leader, party leaders in Canada had been chosen as they are in the classic Westminster model, still in force in Australia, for instance: by a vote of the caucus. It is this model, Coyne observes, that keeps the power of leaders from being overwhelming. It is what enabled, for example, the removal of Margaret Thatcher in Britain and Kevin Rudd and his successor, Julia Gillard, in Australia. If practised in Canada it would, in Coyne's view, make party leaders more attentive to the concerns of ordinary MPs.

A related reform, lest a potentially rebellious member be subdued, is to the nomination of party candidates. In Canada, as a matter of law, no candidate may run for Parliament under a party banner without the signature of the leader on his or her nomination papers. It is therefore very easy for the leader to veto a nomination by withholding his/her signature. Coyne suggests leaving this process to the riding association.

A concomitant and necessary reform for this to work is in the riding association's nomination process:

It is beyond strange that in Canada, in the twenty-first century, nominations can still be decided by stacking meetings with instant members, hastily recruited for the occasion. A cleaned-up process for selecting candidates—if not formal voter registration, as in the United States, then at least a requirement that voters must have been party members for some decent interval—would seem therefore to be a third part of the solution.

Because of the reality of craven desire for power and advancement among our politicos, a fourth reform is necessary, argues Coyne - reducing the size of cabinet and changing the appointment process for key parliamentary positions.
Because cabinet is bloated at 39 positions (Coyne contrasts that with the U.S. at 16, about the same as Japan and Germany) it means MPs on the government side, if they keep their noses clean, have about a one in four chance of making it to cabinet (compare that to Britain, where the odds are more like one in twenty).

There is much more to the article, which I hope you will take the opportunity to read when time allows, but Coyne's ideas surely offer hope that things can be much better than they currently are, and would perhaps have the effect of renewing some faith in the democratic process and convincing more people to turn out at the polls, although I doubt that is something Harper and his cabal would like to see happen.

And yet some of these ideas may have the potential to be achieved, given that Michael Chong, conspicuous among Conservatives for his integrity, has introduced a private member's bill called the Reform Act. While limited in scope, it is nonetheless an encouraging sign.

So I am back on the political beat, where, regardless of whether I take a short or a long holiday, little ever seems to change for the better.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Rest In Peace

We are all the poorer today. Nelson Mandela has died at the age of 95.

My personal hero, his greatness of soul will not be seen again for a very long time, if ever. He was the antithesis of all that people find repugnant in our 'leaders'.

May the world not quickly forget the hopes for a better world and a better humanity his lifelong example inspired.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Getting Out Of Dodge

The Marshall (aka my wife) has spoken. We're getting out of Dodge for a week and heading to warmer climes.

I've sent the comment button on automatic. See you soon.

A Refreshing Perspective

For the first time in decades, I feel a modicum of optimism about organized religion. The new Pope, Francis, is breaking the centuries-long stultification of the Church through the kinds of pronouncements that reflect its founder's beliefs and are long overdue. But with views like these, in which he lacerates the conventional wisdom about capitalism, I can only hope that he has a trusted taster for both his food and his drink.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Harper Lies: The Dismal Truth About Corporate Tax Evasion

My friend Gary recently alerted me to this, which should sicken all Canadian citizens. It is a story of corporate greed, massive amounts of lost tax revenues, and a government that aids and abets both. After viewing it, be sure to read the missive from Star letter-writer Robert Bahlieda that follows, and think about it when you hear the empty rhetoric from the Harper cabal about its 'tough on crime' agenda:

Recently, a Global TV investigative report on offshore tax havens indicated that as much as $20 billion of uncollected taxes are owed by major Canadian corporations and other wealthy individuals who employ these tax loopholes to evade/avoid taxes in Canada.

To add insult to injury these same individuals are given generous tax credits for moving their businesses offshore, leading many corporations like Gildan and the Toronto-Dominion Bank to pay little or no taxes year after year while making millions and billions in profits. This is not new — it has been going on for decades and there are thousands of companies doing this.

In effect, the Canadian government is subsidizing Canadian companies for moving jobs offshore to other countries, killing jobs in Canada and raising everyone else’s taxes in the process while implementing austerity measures here to supposedly stimulate the economy.

The final insult is all this is legal. While federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty talks a good game on tax cheats, it appears he has intentional blindness about these egregious abuses of his own tax policy and no interest in pursuing his corporate friends.

Even more disturbing is the complete lack of interest and deafening silence on this important issue by government, business, academia or the public and particularly the media as indicated by the recent headlines. The antics of Rob Ford, senators like Mike Duffy who have evaded a few thousand dollars or selected abuses by a few nursing homes are deemed to be a more salacious and newsworthy headline than $20 billion in missing tax money owed by the corporate elite of Canada.

The self-righteous opposition parties are also silent on this issue. Better not to bite the hand that feeds them. Academics and economists who regularly opine on the abuses of unions have nothing to say about this unrealized multi-billion dollar tax windfall.

The massive amount of money owed by these upstanding Canadian tax cheats is a serious issue and should be top of the agendas of all in Canadian society. It is unfair, unjust and illegal despite what the tax law says. These “loopholes” (a polite term for legal corporate tax fraud) are quietly put in place and ignored by governments of all stripes to maintain their cozy relationships with powerful big business interests who have them in their hip pockets.

This is how capitalist democracy works. Powerful special interests lobby the government to get special treatment that ensures they remain powerful special interests. Meanwhile we prevaricate about increasing the Canada pension by a niggling amount or introducing a Guaranteed Income Supplement that would massively reduce social support costs in the long run, saving taxpayers additional billions.

Capitalist economics isn’t about making democracy work better, its about making it work better for the select few. Let’s start getting angry and take action on things that really matter in this world and relegate Rob Ford and the Senate scandal to the comics section.

Robert Bahlieda, Newmarket

Monday, November 25, 2013

In His Master's Voice?

I didn't realize that John Baird and Benjamin Netanyahu were so close:

The 2:20 mark especially shows their affinity:

"I Know Nothing"

It seems I am not the only one to have connected the dots between Harper and Sgt Schultz:

RCMP allege PMO played greater role, Nov. 21

Quoting from this news item, “On Wednesday, (Stephen) Harper repeatedly told the Commons the RCMP had found ‘no evidence’ he knew of the Wright repayment plan.” I am reminded of Sgt. Schultz (of Hogan’s Heroes) who frequently claimed: “I know nothing.”

Jaggi Tandan, Hamilton