Thursday, October 31, 2013

What U.S. Steel Shutdown Reveals About Harper

While all of us continue to be riveted by the ever-deepening pit into which the duplicitous Prime Minister is digging himself over the Duffy scandal, other events are equally revelatory of Stephen Harper's dark psyche. One of them is the announcement by U.S. Steel that it is permanently shuttering its steel-making capacity in Hamilton.

Briefly, in 2007 the Harper government permitted the takeover of the troubled Stelco by U.S. Steel on the promise of certain undertakings, including employment guarantees, which I talked about in previous posts.
Those guarantees were never honoured, and despite the fact that the government took the company to court and won, it essentially gave a free pass to U.S. Steel, which then made new and unfulfilled promises to keep the plant going until 2015 and make capital investments of $50 million by the end of that time.

The charade of co-operation is now at an end, and as Thomas Walkom writes in today's Star,

From the federal government came a deafening silence.

A spokesperson for James Moore, the current industry minister, said only that the government doesn’t involve itself in the day-to-day business decisions of private companies.

And with that kiss-off, a steel-making operation that has defined manufacturing in Canada for 103 years came to an end.

Why should this be of broader concern to Canadians? In my view, it exemplifies the total disregard that the Harper regime has for the social and economic costs involved in industry betrayal. By dismissing such events as merely the result of implacable market forces, we perhaps have a window into what the so-far still secrecy-bound details of CETA have in store for even more employees and Canadian citizens in the near-future.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Rick Mercer's Disgust With Harper

The following video is self-explanatory, but if you would like to read more about it and the Harper clan's seemingly endless capacity to not answer questions, check out this link to The Huffington Post.

A Shocking And Inconvenient Truth

It is a statistic that should disturb even the most unflappable among us. It is also a window through which we see the bald lie in the Harper claim that his government is the best one to manage the nation's economy.

An RBC survey has revealed that three-quarters of Canadians are imprisoned by debt, exclusive of their mortgages, to the tune of an average $16,000.

That number reveals a myriad of truths. It reveals that good jobs are becoming increasingly scarce. It reveals that the precariat is extensive, and hardly limited to university grads carrying heavy debt and contending with contract work. The statistic attests to a world in which minimum wage jobs are proliferating, new jobs being created are largely part-time ones. food bank use is rising. and increasing numbers are facing retirement with little or no savings.

But of course, the wily Harper has a secret weapon at his disposal: people's greed and self-interest. Because deficit reduction continues apace, it is doubtlessly his strategy to go into the 2015 election with it eliminated so that he can make good on his promise to allow income-splitting for parents with children under 18; under the proposal, people would be allowed to split up to $50,000 of income with their partner. It is a scheme, as pointed out by Andrew Jackson and Jonathan Sas, that

will further shrink the federal tax base with little economic or social gain for most families. What it will achieve is the hamstringing of future federal governments, whose ability to make needed public investments and fund critical social programs like child care, parental leave, good pensions, or world-class public health care will be blunted.

As well, the authors go on to cite this study:

A detailed analysis for the C.D. Howe Institute calculates that 40 per cent of the benefits of family income-splitting would go to families earning more than $125,000. David Robinson of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives calculates that 61 per cent of the benefits would go to families earning more than $100,000.

And, as Thomas Walkom points out in today's Star, while the spectacle of the Prime Minister giving non-answers to Thomas Mulcair's probing inquiries about the Senate scandal is diverting, it masks a deeper rot which the Prime Minister refuses to acknowledge: his inept handling of our economy.

Quite a legacy the man will leave, when he is finally forced from office.

So Hauntingly Familiar

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Web Grows Ever More Tangled

They say that when he was a journalist, Mike Duffy would often regale his listeners with tales of political intrigue gleaned from his many sources. A raconteur at heart, Duffy is now turning his story-telling talents to narrate a tale of corruption, cover-ups and lies emanating from the PMO and, increasingly, by inference, from Stephen Harper himself.

It now seems ghoulishly appropriate that the Conservative Conference begins in Calgary on Halloween, given that attendees, during the public portions of the gathering, will have to be wearing masks of contentment with and approval for Mr. Harper's 'leadership' during this crisis, masks that will surely slip away to reveal something quite different during the private sessions. They may also have some questions over why Dear Leader is having an increasingly difficult time in keeping his stories straight.

Below is a nice summary of yesterday's revelations:

Monday, October 28, 2013

Harper Lies Multiplying

The trouble with lies is that after a time, they become hard to keep track of. The latest untruth from Mr. Harper came today during a radio interview with a 'friendly' who did not even bother to raise the fact of the discrepancy when the Prime Minister asserted, for the first time, that he had fired Nigel Wright.

Funny, up to this point I thought he had resigned. Perhaps Wright was simply resigned to his fate after he was fired?

He Has A Nice Smile

That's the highest praise I can think to extend to young Justin Trudeau, who many see as the best hope of unseating Mr. Harper in 2015. For those who enthusiastically back the young Liberal leader, I can only wonder, to what end? Do they want someone more polite and amiable than Harper? Because that is one of the few differences I see in the man who would be Canada's next Prime Minister.

Trudeau's questions in the House of Commons fail to impress, bloated affairs with lengthy preambles that, when finished, leave one wanting. This in sharp contrast to the precise, laser-like questioning Mr. Harper has had to endure under Thomas Mulcair's Nigel Wright scandal questions, to which the Prime Minister has had to rely on repetitive non-answers that raise even more questions about his involvement in the Mike Duffy payoff.

Probably one of the greatest disappointments for those who look to Trudeau for salvation is his unreserved enthusiasm for the Keystone XL pipeline, evidenced in his address Thursday in Washington to a group largely opposed to it, the Centre for American Progress. Said Trudeau:

“I’m actually supportive of the Keystone pipeline because it’s an extremely important energy infrastructure piece for both of our countries.”

With maddeningly typical vagueness, he added,

“The challenge is to demonstrate that it can be done in the sense that we’re protecting our environment and making sure that we’re making the right gains toward sustainable energy sources in the long run”.

Like his platitudinous statements about the need to help the middle class, the above statement sounds good, but is decidedly lacking in any kind of detail that would give a serious thinker something to ponder.

Is Trudeau the Ted Baxter of politics? Who knows? But so far there is little to offer those seeking an alternative to Harper in the pronouncements of the lad who would be Prime Minister.

The following letter in today's Star from a Calgary reader addresses a key problem posed by Trudeau's leadership:

Justin Trudeau pitches Keystone to U.S. anti-oilsands crowd, Oct. 24

Justin Trudeau’s support for Keystone XL may elicit a handful of votes in Alberta, but at the cost of alienating many thousands of voters in the rest of Canada. Many Canadians, including some Albertans, recognize that Keystone XL is an economic disaster — never mind its environmental shortcomings and total failure to provide national energy security.

It’s a shame Trudeau doesn’t have the political smarts to understand that. He seems likable enough otherwise.

Federal and provincial Conservatives will attempt to reprise their usual electoral landslides in Alberta by selling the export of raw bitumen by foreign national oil companies and by foreign-owned multinationals at any cost to our economy and energy security. The NDP has already staked the moral high ground on Keystone XL, the west-east oil pipeline, national energy security, Canadian jobs and the environment.

So far, Trudeau has the Liberals positioned in a no man’s land in between, without a comprehensive plan or policy on the oilsands or a Canadian energy strategy. That makes it easy for Canadians, who will have only two serious parties and leaders to consider in the next federal election.

Mike Priaro, Calgary

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Spirited Discussion About Religion

Given that today is Sunday, it seems appropriate to post this spirited discussion as Bill Maher launches into his usual anti-Islamic tirade, countered by commentary from Michael Moore, Valerie Plame, and the Reverend Al Sharpton:

Saturday, October 26, 2013

UPDATED: Russell Brand's Frustrations

Although I do not subscribe to the 'tactic' of refusing to vote, much of what comedian Russell Brand says in this BBC interview with Jeremy Paxton is worth listening to as he articulates the frustrations that are felt by millions of us:

UPDATE: The Globe's Elizabeth Renzetti has an interesting commentary on Brand's expostulations.

Time For Pushback From The Public

Despite the fact that Stephen Harper is 'toughing it out' in The House of Commons under the relentless grilling of Thomas Mulcair, probably believing that the majority of Canadians are either incapable of or unwilling to follow the byzantine path of the Senate scandal, a wealth of letters in today's Star calls into doubt such a cynical assessment. I encourage you to personally check them out, as well as a link I place at the end of the post. I reproduce a few of the highlights below:

Scrappy PM denies role in Duffy coverup, Oct. 24

Stephen Harper now acknowledges that he told Duffy “he should repay his expenses” and that “It is not appropriate for people to claim an expense that they really did not incur even though they think they can technically argue it is somehow within the rules.”

By this statement, Harper is saying that Duffy lives in Ottawa and could only use a technicality to claim living expenses. Then is Harper not guilty of using the same technicality that Duffy owns a cottage in P.E.I. to appoint him as the senator representing P.E.I., when the Constitution says a senator appointed for a province must be a resident of that province?

The real scandal is that the prime minister acts as if he is above the law.

Charles Shrybman, Brampton

With his long foreshadowed and theatrical speech in the Senate, Mike Duffy has basically given voice to what many Canadians already believed was the truth. Stephen Harper’s reputation as prime minister is that of a control freak. Public perception is that elected officials are not allowed to speak without permission and then must restrict their remarks to PMO-approved talking points. Keeping underlings on message is a Harper tactic and he is not above micromanaging their portfolios. To believe that this prime minister could have senior staff in his office conducting affairs of this magnitude without him having the least inkling strains credulity.

Rory McRandall, Bancroft

Stephen Harper claimed that he had no knowledge of the plan concocted in his own office and carried out by Nigel Wright to repay Mike Duffy’s questionable expenses, because “I obviously would never have approved such a scheme.” Then why did Harper so vigorously defend Wright for this action for days after it became public? Why did he send Pierre Poilievre to the political talk shows to defend Wright’s writing of this cheque out of his own pocket, claiming that it was an almost heroic thing to do and that he was saving the taxpayers a lot of money? People don’t usually defend a scheme they wouldn’t approve of.

Margaret Perrault, North Bay

This pithy missive is perhaps the best one to end with:

Stephen Harper came into power promising to get rid of the Senate. It might just be the Senate that gets rid of Stephen Harper.

Edward Carson, Toronto

By the way, for more about how Stephen Harper and his ilk regard the general public, The Star's Susan Delacourt's piece is well-worth reading.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Vengeance Is Mine, Sayeth Harper Regime: An Update On Sylvie Therrien

This past July I wrote two posts on Sylvie Therrien, the government employee suspended because she leaked documents that revealed federal investigators were told to find $485,000 of Employment Insurance fraud every year.

An update on her fate, published in today's Star, reveals that she has been fired. The alleged reason?

According to Employment and Social Development Canada, Therrien had her “reliability status’ ... revoked, and therefore she no longer met the conditions for her job.

The real reason, I suspect, is that she dared to stand up to the bullying tactics of the Harper regime, and thus serves as a very public example of what can occur when integrity trumps the 'situational ethics' imposed by a cabal in which morality is a risible concept meant to be treated with the contempt that this government regularly shows to anyone or anything that impedes its debased journey.

Guest Post - The Salamander

A frequent contributor of provocative analyses and insights, The Salamander left a comment on one of yesterday's posts that I am taking the liberty of featuring here. I strongly recommend that you take a look at the Huffington Post link he provides at the outset, offering, as it does, some insights into the morally 'ambiguous' world of Harper cabinet minister Kellie Leith and her paid position with Dundee Reitt, which has large contracts with government tenants and widespread interests in the oil and resource industries.

Ms Leitch failed to reveal this relationship to the Federal Ethics Commissioner, despite the fact that she did not resign from the company until some five months after her election. Conflict of interest? You bet. At home in the world of Harper 'morality'? Right again:

.. I'm sure you've come across this bizarre info ..
The hits just keep on coming .. !

Since the Black Swans have arrived en masse
and are circling Stephen Harper
and dozens of his despicable lickspittles
I think it wise to consider who is the most dangerous person in Ottawa ?

No.. not the Duffster.. not Pammy..
and sorry, not 'The Distinguished' Globe n Mail's Yank, Tom Flanagan
Nope, not Ray Novak, Stephen Lecce or Fantino or Jenni Byrne
Conflict Oil Ezra ..? not even close..
Slack Jaw Joe Oliver ? Nope .. (thanks MoS)
the mysterious Quebecois Un F_ck Withable .. (maybe !! So watch out !!)

But.. how about an un-named IT geek or sysop or aide or contractor
tasked to search and delete n wipe all PMO email servers, drives
re ANY Wright/Duffy emails, comms
and ensure any hard copy binders, folders, memos, cc's
are gone, gone .. fried .. permanently redacted to black on black, dead !!

Now there's someone the RCMP can track and turn ..
After all .. somebody is paying them for that expertise .. and service
They have a name, a job description and hey !! An immediate supervisor !!
And that supervisor has someone above them ..
and likely, none of them will ever get to be on an ENERGY board of directors..
or be fabulously wealthy like the upper echelon of the Harper food chain

We can't identify this person (or team) who can blow Stephen Harper
out of the water.. and all his pompous trained n whipped seals ???

Any beat cop, detective would have ID'd such an obvious target
in the 1st 5 minutes..
So lets get real ..

This is Canada.. last time I took a breath ...
and if Stephen Harper has trouble recognizing that..
or has never understood us ..
c'est la vie ..
well that's his problem..

Thursday, October 24, 2013

No Comment Needed

Cowardly Stealth - UPDATED

It has been said that at their core, bullies are cowards. Usually they set their sights on weaker targets, and when the time is propitious, unleash their fury. Stealth is often the preferred tactic, given their reluctance to have their deeds exposed for what they are. It is hardly earth-shattering to observe that Stephen Harper is a classic bully, his cowardice and his bullying capacity existing in almost equal measure.

While those Canadians with even the slightest interest in politics have been understandably transfixed by the increasingly dark revelations about the government's efforts to subvert the Senate by exercising its oppressive influence, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty introduced another omnibus bill the other day, Bill C-4.

Following the pattern established in previous Harper omnibus bills, Bill C-4 covers a lot of territory that has nothing to do with budgetary matters. And like previous bills, it is massive at 321 pages, the better to confuse and obscure some of its more anti-democratic elements.

What are those elements? In today's Star, Thomas Walkom identifies one of its most sinister, designed to amaze and delight his core, another attack on unions:

The bill would give the government the unilateral power to determine which civil servants are essential workers and thus disqualified from striking.

However, the most insidious aspect follows:

But the real bite in the government’s proposed changes to Canada’s Public Service Labour Relations Act has to do with arbitration. Most federal public service labour disputes are settled by neutral arbitrators without the need for strike or lockout action. The new law would permit arbitration only when the government agreed.

Even in areas deemed essential, the government could veto arbitration unless it had designated at least 80 per cent of the workers as ineligible to strike.

This bill also ensures that the arbitration process is rigged:

... in those instances where arbitration was permitted, arbitrators would be required to give a “preponderance” of weight to the government’s claims as to what it could afford.

The abrogation of basic bargaining rights, no doubt appealing to those who hate and envy unions, is striking inasmuch as it upends the customs and practices that have worked reasonably well in labour relations for many many decades.

As pointed out in today's Star editorial, just this small part of the bill deserves its own separate bill:

Canada’s lawmakers ought to have the chance to carefully study and debate the merits of handing the government such power, and the Tories should have to make a compelling case for its necessity.

Instead, of course, this and a host of other non-budgetary items ranging from Supreme Court appointments to workplace safety to immigration policy have been hidden, as is the practice of the cowardly, from open view.

Cowards always like to conduct their nefarious activities by way of stealth lest the light of day expose them for what they are. So far, Stephen Harper and his cabal are adhering to that classic pattern without deviation.

UPDATE: The sneering contempt of Tony Clement in a CBC Ottawa radio interview tells you all you need to know about Conservative arrogance regarding their attack on public sector unions.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Puffster's Senate Speech

As much as I detest Mike Duffy and everything he stands for, I have to confess that in listening to his Senate speech yesterday I was much-taken with both its content and delivery. Thundering at his erstwhile allies and colleagues, Duffy rebuked the motion of suspension pending against him and Senators Brazeau and Wallin. While undoubtedly heavily self-serving, Duffy portrayed a PMO and, by extension, a Prime Minister who abandoned him despite earlier reassurances that all was kosher with both his expenses and residency, all for the sake of political expedience.

During a meeting with Nigel Wright and Harper, the latter is alleged to have told Duffy:

"'It's not about what you did. It's about the perception of what you did that's been created in the media. The rules are inexplicable to our base' …, after which he was ordered to pay back the money.

Hardly a smoking gun, but the unfolding portrait is one that promises to further erode Harper's credibility on claims of knowing nothing about anything pertaining to Wright's arrangements to write the $90,000 cheque to Duffy. I am sure more will be revealed in the forthcoming weeks and months.

Will Duffy's words be enough to circumvent the suspension? Today may provide the answer.

If you would like to hear Duffy's speech, click here.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Pat Robertson Rarely Disappoints

Whenever I want a little theatre of the absurd, I turn to Pat Robertson. He rarely disappoints:

The Virtues Of Restraint

I suspect if teachers were to be completely completely honest, almost all would admit that at some point in their careers they felt like lashing out, either verbally or physically, at a student or two. That was certainly my experience a few times during my 30 years in the classroom, but two things stopped me from ever being physically aggressive: the likelihood that I would lose my job, and, more importantly, the knowledge that I occupied a position of authority that carried with it profound responsibilities; to abuse that authority would have been a violation of the trust placed in me and also a repudiation of my own moral code.

Unfortunately, some police do not seem to be troubled in the least by such considerations. Deluded into thinking that their word and version of events is virtually sacrosanct, countless allegations have arisen over the years of police beatings of civilians; in the majority of instances, absent of corroborating evidence, the offending officers' versions of events have carried the day.

With the advent of camera-equipped cellphones and the proliferation of public surveillance cameras, that dynamic has been slowly changing, each publicly-posted video eroding both police credibility and public confidence in the job they are entrusted with. Two of a myriad of examples include the 2010 G20 Summit in Toronto and the recent killing of Sammy Yatim.

In the print edition of today's Star (I'll provide the link when the online column becomes available), Rosie Dimanno excoriates disgraced Barrie cop Jason Neville, recently sentenced to a one-year jail term for the unprovoked beating of Jason Stern outside of a Barrie mall on November 20, 2010. A public surveillance video (shown below) captures both the senselessness and the brutality of the beating inflicted by Nevill on what appears to be a totally passive and compliant Stern.

It also makes clear how extensively he perjured himself in his claims that Stern kneed him in the groin and was 'extensively intoxicated'.

What was at the root of this senseless attack? An ornament atop the mall's Christmas tree, accidentally broken by a friend of Stern.

I'll leave you with the video and a few choice word from Rosie's column to describe the guilty cop:

Thug. Liar. Bully. Disgrace. Felon.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Another Refreshing Perspective From Pope Francis

I am finding more and more to like about the new Pope everyday. I am certain his distinction between faith and ideology will enrage some on the right - that is, if they even listen to anyone anymore.

Uh Oh - The Big Boy's Mad

One cannot help but wonder if Toronto's Chief Buffoon, Rob Ford, had been 'over served' in some capacity (take your pick of mind/mood altering substances) before making this call to Sun reporter Joe Warmington last night.

Abandoning Ship?

Perhaps the Puffster will receive another lifeline soon?

H/t The Globe and Mail

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Peak Behind the Political Curtain

If, like me, you are of the firm suspicion that governments regard the needs of its citizens as largely secondary to those of its corporate backers, you will derive much from Martin Regg Cohn's column in this morning's Star. Entitled How corporate Ontario gets its way at Queen’s Park, the piece confirms the subversion of the people's interests at the hands of money, powerful lobbying, and venal politicians.

As discussed in an earlier blog entry, construction giant EllisDon has been engaged in an intense lobbying effort to get the Ontario legislature to rescind a 1958 agreement that binds them to using only union labour which, they assert, puts them at a competitive disadvantage. As part of what Cohn terms the lobbyist-industrialist complex that lubricates Ontario politics, the company, a contributor of massive sums of money to the Liberal Party and, to a lesser extent, the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario (with promises of more in exchange for their legislative support), attempted to 'call in its markers' through a Conservative private member's bill geared specifically to freeing it from its union obligations.

Thanks to some deft lobbying by StrategyCorp, EllisDon was able to secure Liberal backing for the Tory MPP’s proposal — a conspicuous display of bipartisan co-operation. The two rival parties went even further by agreeing to prioritize the controversial EllisDon bill, speeding it through the legislature.

Premier Kathleen Wynne publicly defended the bill as a necessary corrective for EllisDon. It was an unusually passionate defence of a bill circumscribing union rights, coming from a premier widely viewed as a labour-friendly progressive.

The motivation for such generous Liberal cooperation? Perhaps it had something to do with EllisDon's own 'generosity':

... EllisDon, its subsidiaries and executives, have been shockingly generous donors to her [Wynne's] party: more than $125,000 to the Liberals in 2012 and more than $40,000 so far in 2013.

And what the Tories didn’t say publicly was that EllisDon had given them a still-generous $32,000 last year and some $14,000 so far in 2013. Now, they were hoping for even bigger contributions if they went to bat for the company. Indeed, the latter was confirmed by an email from Conservative Randy Hillier in September.

Interestingly, all of these acts of political prostitution were ultimately unnecessary. Because the company had appealed an Ontario Labour Relations Board ruling that had granted it a two-year exemption from its union obligations, last month Ontario’s Divisional Court granted it a permanent exemption.

But the political hijinks and corruption didn't end there:

Seizing the opportunity, Wynne ducked. In light of the latest court ruling, she publicly dropped her support for the EllisDon bill — provided, she noted, there were no further court appeals from the unions.

Alas, the union has launched an appeal, but, because further legislative support of the company would have made her lack of principle obvious to even the most benighted, Wynne has decided to offer no further support to EllisDon.

All in all, a tawdry affair that shows the massive role that money and corporatism plays in Ontario politics, protests of principled purity by all participants notwithstanding.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Who Do You Trust?

Two seeming unrelated stories, both connected by one pernicious element: unwarranted government secrecy.

In this morning's Hamilton Spectator is the sad tale of Marit McKenzie, an 18-year-old Calgarian who died after taking an anti-acne drug known as Diane-35. Often prescribed off-label as a birth-control pill, the drug's side effects can include formation of blood clots, a contingency that led to the girls's death.

Bruce McKenzie would like to know how a controversial acne drug suspected of killing his healthy teenage daughter this year has, in Health Canada's words, "benefits" that "continue to outweigh the risks."

But the report that could explain how the federal agency arrived at this conclusion is a secret. It's one of more than 150 classified safety reviews completed by Health Canada this year alone.

Despite the fact that France has banned the drug, and despite the fact that even the bastion of free enterprise, the U.S., along with the European Medicines Agency, routinely publish details of post-market safety reviews of drugs as a basic accountability measure, Health Canada refuses to provide any details about its alleged efficacy. The reason? According to our government, it is due to "confidential business information."

The implications of this stance are indeed frightening for anyone in Canada on long-term medication, given that the current database for adverse reactions is simply based on voluntary reports from doctors and patients. But at least the health of our pharmaceutical industry will be protected, the obvious priority with the Haper cabal.

On a similar, though ostensibly unrelated corporate note, is the CETA agreement that Stephen Harper is crowing about. Will it be a net benefit or a net detractor of Canadian jobs? Will it be an impediment to environmental protection and other matters crucial to our sovereignty? Who knows? As Tim Harper points out in today's Star,

But no one can say that definitively right now ...This was an agreement in principle, but there was no fine print.

Despite Harper's claim that these negotiations were the most “transparent and inclusive in Canada’s history”, the truth is that they have carried out in a cloak of secrecy that perhaps rivals that which shrouded the development of the atomic bomb. Secrecy, that is, for everyone but business groups who have been in a position to dictate their demands for quite some time.

And as for Harper's promise that affected sectors will be compensated for any losses, such as the probable $2 billion extra that the provinces will have to come up with due to increased drug costs thanks to another gift to the pharmaceuticals, a two-year patent extension on drugs, I leave that to the overly credulous to believe.

Who do you trust? Not this government, and not this Prime Minister who has proven countless times that truth and honesty are merely quaint notions that sound nice on paper, but have little to do with the debased elements by which he operates.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Being Mike Duffy

I really have nothing insightful to offer today, merely a brief reflection on what it must be like to live a life devoid of even a shred of honour.

By now, most will have learned that the Senate has moved to suspend without pay Senators Brazeau, Duffy and Wallin for the duration of this session, which could be up to two years. The motion, introduced by Sen. Claude Carignan, the government leader in the Senate, is undoubtedly a mere ploy to convince the public that the Harper regime is as outraged by the excesses of this terrible trio as the rest of Canada. I doubt that such subterfuge will succeed, given the widespread knowledge that each of them was handpicked by Dear Leader both to promote the regime's agenda and enrich the Conservative Party's coffers.

Yet such political machinations are nothing new, and are, at this point, only of secondary interest to me. No, my fascination is with the rotund Cavendish Cottager (a sobriquet penned by The Disaffected Lib), the disgraced Mike Duffy.

How does it feel to be the object of such widespread odium that you have virtually disappeared from public view? Do you have some grand internal justification for your alleged larceny and pork barreling? Do you, like your elected Conservative colleagues, dismiss all of this as a mere conspiracy of the leftist elite media?

Perhaps you take comfort from having at least one friend left in high places, the one who tipped you off about your impending Senate suspension so that you could, like an errant schoolboy seeking to avoid his day of reckoning, gets his doctor to write a note allowing for a sick leave?

Or did you, in a moment of wistful fancy, think that such a medical leave would somehow engender a measure of sympathy from a seething public that, to put it delicately, cares not a whit for the state of your health? Indeed, some might unkindly suggest that cardiac trouble is the almost inevitable consequence of feeding too heartily at the public trough.

Always remember, Mike, that delusional thinking, no matter how momentarily comforting, is unhealthy in the extreme. Better a bitter truth than a sweet lie.

And please remember this, Michael: Nothing you can do, no steadfast denial, no mea culpa, no act of contrition, no public penance, will ever atone for the ignominy of being Mike Duffy.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Another Non-Event From The Harper Regime

Because yesterday's Throne Speech is being covered abundantly both in the mainstream press and in the blogosphere, I will keep this post brief to make but a few observations.

Unbelievably lacking in anything that could be called vision, the speech, it seems to me, is predicated on the totally false notion that all is well in our country, and a little bit of tinkering around the edges, via more 'get tough on crime' promises and the liberation of consumers from enslavement to bundled television packages, are all that is needed to carry the Harper cabal to election victory in 2015.

Singularly uninspiring, it has the soul of the penny-pinching accountant at its core, and an attempt at the magician's capacity for misdirection from the many challenges we face as a country.

Not a word about measures to ameliorate the environmental catastrophe towards which the world is lurching ever closer daily.

Nothing about the persistently high unemployment rate faced by Canadians.

No measure to increase retirement security for the majority who have no workplace pensions.

Nothing for what is becoming our lost generation of young people.

No word on measures to curb the government's abuse of the democratic process and the rampant corruption which the Harper regime has excelled at and reveled in.

I could go on, but I trust I have made my point.

Perhaps there is method to Harper's madness here. Does he believe that after seven years in power, he has convinced Canadians to expect little from government, and that the true arbiters of their fates are market forces beyond government control? Has he, like his evil provincial predecessor, Ontario's former premier Mike Harris, tacitly arranged things so that his government is in the business of eliminating most government?

The throne speech had been billed as a 'reset' for the regime. Seems to me it is simply more of the same blatant contempt for the country the Conservatives have shown since they were elected in 2006.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Do Police Have The 'Right Stuff'?

Given the killing of people like Sammy Yatim and Steve Mesic and the taser takedown of Iole Pasquale, it would seem a legitimate question to ask, as Star readers offer their views:

SIU ruling on Tasered senior yet another shock, Oct. 11

Maybe Toronto Police Service just needs to hire tougher cops or send them for martial arts training.

I’m having a hard time imagining a confused, feeble 80-year-old woman rushing three physically fit officers with the speed and fury of a Ninja while flashing and twirling a bread knife and doing flying drop kicks. Maybe these guys should transfer to the TTC and work as fare collectors.

Best to keep a thick layer of plexiglass between them and those dangerous pugnacious seniors. Then if an armed robber tries to hold up the booth, they can utilize their use-of-force skills on a more deserving citizen.

Douglas Porter, Peterborough

Is it not ironic that health-care workers in long-term care are able to help Alzheimer’s patients without resorting to violence while a group of police officers were so frightened, maybe even terrified, that they Tasered an 80-year-old woman to protect themselves.

Our highly paid police officers could take a lesson in dealing with the elderly from our health-care workers, often immigrants women working for minium wages. Anyone who is so nervous and easily frightened should not be police officers working on the front line.

Howard Wilson, Toronto

Breaking News! No Relief In Sight For Unpaid Internships!

Like the proverbial hot potato being passed around as rapidly as possible, the Ontario Government, true to their corporate puppet masters, has vowed to do nothing about the growing problem of unpaid internships, preferring instead to palm the problem off to the education industry.

As reported in a followup story in today's Star, critics of this egregious exploitation are calling on government to review current labour laws; in its beneficent wisdom, Ontario is declining this opportunity to remediate the situation:

In a statement Tuesday, Labour Minister Yasir Naqvi had this to say:

“While most workers are covered by the Employment Standards Act, there is a narrow exemption that exists for co-op students. It allows for accredited university and college programs to give their students valuable workplace experience while pursuing their degree,” he said.

It is, Naqvi added, the responsibility of the colleges and universities that administer the programs [to provide] a rewarding educational experience.

If the Labour Minister won't soil his hands with this issue, perhaps the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, Brad Duguid, might be moved to intervene?

There are no plans to review Ontario’s academic internships, said Emily Hedges, press secretary to Brad Duguid.

So the abuse continues, corporate profits given that extra boost that only serfdom can provide.

In a related story, The Star has taken 12 readers' comments on the issue from its website. Here are two of them:

For my degree, we had to do a nine-month internship. My degree is not related to the hospitality field; instead I am in the healthcare field. I picked a place that was related to my degree and I thought I would learn a lot. Before accepting me as an “intern student,” they knew what was required and what the purpose of me being there was. Not two weeks after starting, instead of teaching me anything, they had me doing dishes (for 80+ people a day) and cleaning. I am somewhat ashamed I continued with that day in and day out. Nine months of free work and the only thing I learned in the process is we are so vulnerable to being taken advantage of by these companies. jess.polloa

Well said! . . . Scrubbing floors and toilets should be part of an internship, perhaps, paid or unpaid. But businesses who hire interns strictly to make them slaves isn’t right either. Many post-secondary interns, once they get to the work-related parts of their programs, have already slaved away in numerous part-time, summer jobs since high school and know what it’s like to mow grass, clean toilets, etc. Assuming that they have a sense of entitlement is just that — assuming. I’m sure some do, but (I) would put my faith in the fact that the majority do not. bjax1977

As in so many other issues, I suspect it is going to take a critical mass of outrage before this, or any other government, is prepared to actually govern on behalf of the people.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Not-So-Sweet Nothings

While I have written about unpaid internships briefly in the past, now seems a good time to revisit this predatory practice so eagerly imposed by the corporately conscienceless. While at one time internships were seen as a legitimate and constructive way to gain both valuable work experience and contacts for future employment, the system has, in many cases, devolved into mere serfdom, aided and abetted by government legislation that is more honoured in the breach than in its observance.

Today, two newspapers, The National Post and The Toronto Star, have articles detailing the sad state that desperate students seeing work and constructive experience find themselves in.

In Toronto, there is this story:

Samantha May, now 21, found herself cleaning rooms, including toilets, at an airport hotel for three months in 2011. She was required to clean 16 rooms a day, just like paid housekeeping staff.

“There were days I didn’t want to get up in the morning, mostly because I wasn’t getting paid. It’s like, ‘I don’t have to do this.’ ”

“Some men are very disgusting. Some ladies just don’t care about hair all over the place. I found a used condom in the bed once. That wasn’t very pretty,” she said. May was still in high school when she started as an intern, but her peers were in college.

Samantha received nary an honorarium for her labours.

John Moore, in The National Post, offers this:

In today’s job market internships are a means of squeezing free labour out of qualified workers whose only other option is making $8 an hour serving $4 coffees at Starbucks. When interns dare suggest their labour might be worth something their “employers” scold them about having a bad attitude and insist there’s a line up outside their door of people who would do anything for the same opportunity. Sadly, those managers are often right — interns are expendable, thanks to a dire economy for which today’s youth are blameless.

Moore goes on to illustrate his thesis with two examples. There is Frank, who had an internship at a major telecom in its “Professional Management Program.” He worked Monday to Friday, eight hours a day, and was supervised by another intern. At the end of four months he quit after being told that there were “no immediate hiring opportunities,” but the company wanted him to stay on as unpaid labour.

There are also, it seems, unanticipated perils to unpaid internships. Moore tells the story of Helen, who worked without pay for six months in a major company until a job position became available. Sadly, she was told that volunteers could not apply for 'real' positions. As a further insult, with 14 months of unpaid work on her resume, Helen was told by a potential employer:

“I can’t justify giving a job to someone who values their time so little that they would work for free”.

This would be considered humour in the Monty Python vein were it not so sad.

Perhaps even sadder is the almost indisputable fact that our governments, both provincial and federal, are so much in the thrall of their corporate overlords that nothing will change, no new legislation nor enforcement of current legislation will occur.

It is time for people to get very, very angry.

Not For The Faint Of Heart

Be careful who you open the door to this Halloween:

H/t The Toronto Star

Monday, October 14, 2013

How Much For That Bauble In The Window?

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Today, on our national holiday, most will be giving thanks for what they treasure in their lives, whether it be a loving family, good friends, a solid roof over their heads, good food on the table, etc.

I suspect a sizable number will also be giving thanks, indeed perhaps even salivating (giving much-needed competition to that clichéd turkey) over the announcement that the upcoming throne speech will see the Harper cabal transforming itself into a 'consumer-first' government.

Apparently, one of the first crumbs it will toss to the masses is greater freedom to customize their bank of cable channels. According to Industry Minister James Moore, soon the misery of having to include unwanted channels in your cable selection will be a thing of the past. Say goodbye to the Shampoo Network, the Dog Grooming Channel, the Party Favours Channel, etc. (unless you really want them) and prepare to watch only what you choose to watch, thus ensuring that your hard-earned and increasingly scarce dollars (thanks to the abysmal record at job creation of our self-proclaimed economist Prime Minister) are spent on your viewing preferences.

Says our bespectacled savior, James Moore:

“We don’t think people should be forced to buy bundled television channels when they’re not interested in watching those channels and those shows”.

It is good to know that this regime has its head screwed on right. Bread and circuses, all day, every day, seven days a week. A fine strategy as a lead-up to the 2015 federal election where the newly-empowered may be coached off their couches to cast a ballot for a government that is finally giving the people what they want.

Can the legalization of other opiates be far behind?

How much for that bauble in the window? Too much, is my dark and pessimistic suspicion.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Predator At Our Doorstep

I've just finished reading Confessions of a Sociopath, written by the pseudonymous M.E. Thomas, a law professor who confesses herself to be a sociopath who has integrated fairly well into mainstream society. The book offers a chilling if somewhat annoyingly self-aggrandizing portrait of the mind of a person lacking the normal constraints that conscience and empathy impose on most of us. Her goal in writing the book was to show that lacking the conventional tools to successfully navigate life doesn't automatically make one a 'monster.'

I will take M.E. Thomas at her word. Less likely, however, am I to feel even a modicum of sympathy for the worst of all contemporary psychopaths/sociopaths (as far as I understand it, the terms are interchangeable) known as the corporation. Accorded personhood status in the United States but something less than that in Canada, the corporate mentality is such that it has virtually no imperative beyond making money for its shareholders, no matter the extent of its immoral albeit legal exploitation of anyone and anything in pursuit of that goal.

A letter in today's Star reminds us all of the some of the terrible costs of having such predators within our midst:

Our youth deserve more mental health support, Opinion Oct. 7; and Offer hope to troubled kids, Editorial Oct. 4

I find both Michael Kirby’s campaign and your support of it to be superficial. Certainly kids with problems should be helped, but it seems that there are more and more of them as time goes on, hence the appalling incidence of suicide among young people. Why should this be?

I have just read a wonderful article by John McMurtry in the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) Monitor for October. Its headline is “Profit-driven system exploits, mistreats vulnerable youth.” Corporations, it says, are profit-driven psychopaths, with no regard for anything at all but money, and they are exploiting our children.

Young people are sold junk foods and beverages, poisoned by untested chemicals and drugs and an increasingly toxic environment, addicted to junk commodities, and exposed to media, which induce aggressive and violent thought, create artificial, harmful, needs, and discourage rational thought, decency, or the search for real knowledge. They are supposed to become unthinking consumers and cheap labour for corporations.

We do really know what is good for children — whatever helps them to grow to be their best selves. With so many young people living in an environment that is physically, mentally, and emotionally toxic, it is easy to understand why our children are in trouble.

We need a caring society to elect a caring government that will pass laws and regulations to prevent the harming of the young. Michael Kirby wants to pull the drowning children out of the river. I suggest we stop pushing them in.

Jenny Carter, Peterborough

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Advice From Pat Robertson On How To Get 'A Leg Up' In Life

If you are feeling a bit down, I hope Robertson's unintentional humour cheers you up:

Will History Repeat Itself?

Jeff Rubin, the former CIBC economist turned author, has suggested in his books that as energy costs rise, some manufacturing will return to North America. Indeed, there are growing signs that his prognostication will prove to be accurate.

An article in the online edition of the Hamilton Spectator offers this assessment:

Manufacturers are lining up to come back to North America, but a desperate labour shortage is hobbling their efforts.

Dubbed "reshoring" in industrial jargon, the trend sees companies that fled North America for low-wage countries such as China and India drifting back as Chinese wages rise and the costs of moving their products from the other side of the world becomes a burden.

While the situation may be grounds for guarded optimism, one part of the piece, in discussing why a return to North America is becoming increasingly feasible, must give one pause:

Other factors making North America attractive again are continuous innovation that has dramatically improved the cost performance of some companies, and wage erosion during the recent financial crisis. (Emphasis mine)

"There has been a sharp wage correction since 2009," said John Rose, chief economist of the City of Edmonton. "The positive note there is that it allows you to position yourself to move forward. When you come out of the downturn your cost structure is closer to what it should have been."

The fact that the 'cost structure is closer to what it should have been' has, I think, rather disturbing implications. Is the assumption underlying the statement that a severely chastened and disciplined workforce is one that will be willing to work in manufacturing for, say $12 an hour to start, so grateful will it be for the chance of reemployment?

If that is indeed the scenario fated to unfold as costs for overseas manufacturing continue to rise, will we eventually see a reechoing of labour history? Given the current low rate of unionization in this country, will we see, as workers once more become dissatisfied with being exploited, a resurgence in union drives so that once again, as in the days of yore, the employer will be forced to share more generously the profits made possible by the worker?

One can only hope for a return to both prosperity and equity in the workplace.

Friday, October 11, 2013

I Guess This Is What Resisting Police Looks Like

No doubt, the SIU would have given this one another pass had it happened in Canada.

For Those Who Don't Know Their Place

What do you do when citizens believe that democratic rights should be more than an illusion? Call in the authorities to remind them of their true place in the foodchain.

On a related topic, The Star's Rosie DiManno has an excoriating assessment of yet another free pass given by the SIU to the officers involved in the 'high-risk' takedown of 80-year-old Iole Pasquale, the dementia sufferer who was tasered, not once but twice, while meandering down the street in the middle of the night in late August holding a bread knife.

Says DiManno:

... as SIU head Ian Scott noted in his reasons for not laying a charge, the cops had no knowledge of Pasquale’s mental condition, although they suspected there might be synapses misfiring in the poor woman’s brain. And Pasquale was non-compliant, which is the de facto rationale just about any time an officer resorts to escalating forcefulness.

Clearly not the finest hour for either the Peel Police or the SIU, if the latter has indeed ever had one.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Dependency Worse Than Drugs

At least Fox thinks so:

No word yet on whether a followup report will explore the perils of corporate welfare.

Once In A While Their Voice Is Heard

It is a truism to state that the poor have little power to influence the political discussion. Those toiling away at minimum wage jobs, our silent serfs, for want of choice, are one of the invisible minorities (perhaps soon to be a majority?) seemingly easy to ignore.

This was baldly demonstrated last week when the infamously consultative Premier Kathleen Wynne chose the default position so near and dear to politicos everywhere: political pandering. Despite the fact that she struck a panel to study how to raise the minimum wage, she reassured a nervous questioner in Simcoe that a major hike in the minimum wage is not 'on the table.'

Yet sometimes serfs refuse to be ignored. It was with some satisfaction that I watched the following video of a Chicago McDonalds worker challenge the President of U.S. operations as he addressed the Union League Club in that city. While her temerity, doubtlessly borne of both courage and desperation, was not without consequences, she did a service for all who work in obscurity and ignominy:

Returning to Ontario, Star readers in today's edition offer their version of comeuppetance to Ms Wynne:

Re: Infrastructure key to Wynne restoring faith in Liberals, Oct. 6

It is discouraging to read Premier Kathleen Wynne’s assertion that a “major hike” in the minimum wage is “off the table.”

Ever ready to converse, consult and discuss options like the future of wind turbines with Ontarians before making definitive policy statements, the Premier doesn’t hesitate to be declarative on minimum wage policy even though she has a panel of experts touring the province to consult with the public on the issue.
The evidence for a strong social justice position on the minimum wage is stronger than for the pros and cons of wind turbines. Currently, a full-time, full-year worker on minimum wage earns more than $1,000 below the province’s official poverty line. How can the “social justice” Premier morally justify that disparity so quickly?

The Premier missed the opportunity presented by the question in Simcoe to educate the larger public about the inadequacy and injustice of current minimum wage policy and to commit her government to a basic minimum wage above poverty as a social justice priority.
Peter Clutterbuck, Poverty Free Ontario, Toronto

Wynn cool to raising minimum wage to $14, Oct. 8

Our seen-to-be-doing-something premier has got herself on the wrong side of the issue. She eagerly defends her fat-cat friends at the Pan Am games and their salary bonuses (“Wynne backs Pan Am’s $7M bonuses for executives,” Oct. 8) while 9 per cent of all Ontario workers toil at the minimum wage level (having skyrocketed from 4.3 per cent in 2003) of $10.25 per hour.

Oh, she is doing something — the Liberals appointed a panel last summer to study how best to set future minimum wage increases. We don’t need more study. We need prompt and meaningful action. If you’re not prepared to do something, please call an election and let’s get someone in who can.

R. Scott Marsh, Oakville

Our tax system greatly favours the rich. Where are the considerations for people living on poverty and many of them are working?

We have become a sick province when we no longer care about our fellow man. How can anyone call this social justice?

Premier Kathleen Wynne would like everyone to work and stay poor. She should get a life and look at the real picture.

Mary Beth Anger, Toronto

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Wading Back Into The Fray

Having spent yesterday recovering from the temporal vicissitudes imposed by trans-Atlantic travel, my first post back will be brief and on one of my favorite subjects, The Man Who Would Be King, a.k.a. Dear Leader, the ersatz head of a country whose government, thanks to his contemptuous and heavy-hand ministrations, is at least as democratically dysfunctional as the one I just visited, Italy.

While away, I read about his office's attempt to ban CTV cameraman Dave Ellis from boarding Herr Harper's plane leaving for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for daring to try to pose a question to the Exulted One in New York, thereby running the risk of puncturing his carefully cultivated, orchestrated and, of course, completely false public persona while out of the country.

As usual, Toronto Star readers confront the issue with their usual perspicacity:

Re: When shot at, messenger fights back, Oct. 3

It is laughable that Prime Minister Stephen Harper thinks he can “set the rules” for engagement with the press, and pitiful that we’re letting him get away with it. Mr. Harper is our employee. He is bound to answer any question we ask, at any time or place, about anything at all.

He is not in charge. He is in service. And as a civil servant, his conduct is open to constant scrutiny.

When we can’t be in Ottawa, the investigators of the press are our stand-ins. And they may ask anything they please, on our behalf.

Mr. Harper and his claque have become overweeningly arrogant, imperial and dismissive of the citizenry and our press. We are his employers. He doesn’t set the rules of engagement. We do.

Here’s to this paper, and rest of our ink-stained wretches, for working to puncture Mr. Harper’s self-regard and hold his feet to the fire.

Peter Ferguson, Kimberley

Tim Harper’s report that Stephen Harper wanted to ban the sole TV cameraman from boarding the prime minister’s plane (more appropriately, our plane) for the trip to Asia, because he asked him a question, is appalling but not surprising.
Stephen Harper has a long history of threatening to sue journalists, avoids unscripted contact with Canadians at all costs and spends millions of tax dollars on Action Plan propaganda.

During a recent trip to U.K., I was amazed and impressed to see that David Cameron has the guts and ability to vigorously discuss and debate his policy, on TV, with an interviewer who was asking intelligent and aggressive questions.

This was not the “conversations with a deity” that pass for interviews with Stephen Harper.

Geoffrey Kemp, Mississauga