Monday, February 29, 2016

Bell's Contempt For Its Customers

For me, the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back came last year. Up to then, every three to six months I would play the game of calling my telephone and Internet service provider, Bell Canada, to renegotiate my charges, asking them what they could do for me since I was contemplating switching to the lower-priced services offered by Cogeco, my cable tv provider. The operator would check for special promotions since I had been "a loyal customer for so many years," and I would get a reduced price for both my phone and Internet. When the promotion ended, I would call again and perform the same dance.

This routine grew increasingly tiresome, and I finally decided that I had had enough of Bell's tawdry tactics when, after my final renegotiation, I looked at my bill the following month, noting that both my Internet and my phone bill had been increased by a couple of dollars from the renegotiated price. The assumption of my corporate overlords, I guess, was that, like the frog being slowing boiled alive, I wouldn't notice. But I did, and I walked.

This morning my thoughts turned to Bell upon reading a story about how it is handling the CRTC mandate for all television providers to offer a basic skinny package costing only $25. To call the corporation contemptuous is likely an understatement.
... experts say Bell’s stripped-down deal — devoid of U.S. channels — seems to veer further from the spirit of the new regulations than other carriers and changes little for most consumers, despite the CRTC’s aim “to give Canadians more choice.”

That choice is “things that we’ve never heard of,” said Dwayne Winseck, a professor at Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication.

Winseck noted the absence of American broadcast stalwarts like ABC, NBC and CBS, included in basic Canadian TV packages for decades.

“They’re working to give it a stillbirth,” he said of the roll-out, calling it “retrograde,” “begrudging” and “behind 1970s standards.”
So how, exactly, is Bell parading its disdain for those seeking to reduce their costs? By offering them an unpalatable selection of 'econo-channels':
Bell’s entry-level package, posted online without fanfare two days before deadline, costs $24.95 per month. It counts the Weather Network, TVO and 10 francophone channels among its 26 offerings, according to the Bell website.
And the insult is compounded by this:
Extra à la carte channels for $4 or $7 range from TSN to Discovery and CNN. Like other Bell cable packages, the Starter kit requires a Bell Internet subscription, starting at $64.95 per month, plus $15 monthly for PVR rental.
Thanks to a document leaked to the CBC, we also know that Bell staff is being told not to promote the package. Take a look at Bell's website and see how long it takes you to find any information about it. Our spy agencies could likely learn a trick or two from Ma Bell on effective concealment tactics.

Bell's ruse is not going unnoticed:

Being the target of a corporation's contempt is always always an unpalatable experience. When that contempt becomes egregious, it needs to be dealt with forcefully and with finality. Bell will never see me return to its fold. With its newest outrageous perversion of the spirit of the CRTC ruling, I hope others will follow suit.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Who Is To Blame?

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a staunch advocate of critical thinking, to me a foundation for any kind of meaningful life, and essential to a healthy democracy. And, as I often note with genuine humility, it is an ideal to which I constantly strive, realizing fully that I often miss the mark.

Recently there was an article in the Toronto Star calling for testing of basic skill levels of students when they enter and when they leave post-secondary education, this is response to complaints from the corporate community:
Executives in 20 recent employer surveys said they look to hire people with so-called “soft” or “essential skills” — communicating, problem-solving, critical thinking, teamwork — “yet this is where they see students being deficient,” said Harvey Weingarten, president of Ontario’s higher education think-tank.
There has been a very healthy and vigorous reaction to that article by Star readers. I reproduce the lead letter here for your consideration. I especially like his paragraph on talk radio:
I’ve taught at a Toronto community college for the past 10 years, and have come to the alarming conclusion that recent cohorts of students represent the first certifiably post-literate generation. At least, the first in several centuries.

A broad disinclination to pick up a book without being compelled to do so, alongside a stubborn disinterest in any concept of a shared general knowledge, might be blamed on any number of factors. But when a teacher has to pause to explain a passing reference to World War II, for example, since there will inevitability be people in the class who’ve never heard of it, despite their having spent almost 20 years in school already, an uneasiness begins to set in.

Perhaps these kids’ early schooling let them down, in which case we have a conveniently blameworthy excuse for the present epidemic of unconcerned know-nothingness that begins already to define our culture. Or perhaps their parents let them down, by never expressing an interest in literate pursuits themselves and consequently establishing the model of obliviousness that their children can’t help but emulate, since it’s the only example they know.

I believe, on the other hand, that it’s simply indicative of a process of atomization. How can we maintain a collective adherence to a hard-fought ideal like universal literacy when collective enterprises of any sort are routinely smeared by a ruling corporate media that’s hopelessly reliant on the dumbest common denominator for its profits and its successes?

Just listen to local talk radio for five minutes, or for at least as long as you can stand it. You’ll be treated predictably and in rapid order to a breathless rundown of the current hit parade of a carefully-tended backlash, all centred on a visceral dislike of unionism, pedestrians, bicyclists, teachers, general dissent, income redistribution, and any other concept redolent to any degree of collective social progress, even as it applies to the former generational achievements of our parents and grandparents, the fruits of whose efforts to establish an ethic of universal citizen potential and prosperity we can only thank for our own present, if now fading, economic privilege.

The motto for this cultivated fake outrage could very well be: I lash back; therefore I am.

If we want kids to start picking up books again, the only thing that might yet forestall our slide into what Jane Jacobs called the Dark Age Ahead, then we better do what grownups are supposed to do and lead by example.

Assuming we’re not all screwed already, that is.

George Higton, Toronto

Clearly, there is plenty of blame to go around.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

UPDATED: The Political Whoredom Of Mr. Christie

Not that he had any semblance of previous virtue, but yesterday former Republican presidential nomination contender Chris Christie confirmed his capacious political whoredom by endorsing Donald Trump, a man he had previously ridiculed:
“We are not electing an entertainer in chief. Showmanship is fun, but it is not the kind of leadership that will truly change America.”
His opinion changed yesterday.
He’s a good friend. He’s a strong and resolute leader and he is someone who is going to lead the Republican Party to victory in November.”
Although beaten to the altar of Baal by the never-virtuous but always befuddled Sarah Palin last month, Chrisitie tried to impart a greater dignity to his shame. Compare the following two performances:

Nonetheless, one cannot help but ascribe Christie's Damascene conversion to less than pure motives, especially given the fact that Trump has lately been publicly musing about his running mate, should he secure the Republican nomination.

Since Christie is but the tender age of 52, one must modify Brian Mulroney's 1984 assessment of Bryce Mackasey:

"There's no whore like a middle-aged whore."

Sorry for the rough language, but sometimes there is no way to euphemize ugly realities.

UPDATE: Thanks to The Mound of Sound for this, Some of the Meanest Things Chris Christie Has Said About Donald Trump.

Strange bedfellows indeed.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Put The Money Where It Will Do the Most Good

That's the advice of Dylan Marando, who, like many others, has come to the conclusion that tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations just means greater wealth accrual and dividend payouts, not job growth. The fact that corporations are currently sitting on over $500 billion is something no one should be proud of.
Mounting evidence demonstrates that measures like an increased minimum wage can be an effective means of boosting aggregate commercial activity, even when we take into account the potential negative effects on business investment.

A study from the National Bureau of Economic Research demonstrates the stimulative benefit of concentrating tax breaks on lower-income groups versus those in top income categories. The Reserve Bank of Australia and the Congressional Budget Office offer similarly encouraging analyses of low-income households’ marginal propensity to consume as the result of income shocks like tax cuts, rebates, or lump-sum transfers.
Despite the popular stereotype of the poor spending their money on alcohol and cigarettes, a study conducted last years suggests something quite different. Examining the Canadian Child Tax Benefit and the National Child Benefit, a group of Canadian economists found
that receipt of these programs coincides with increased expenditure on things like food, child care and education for low-income families, as well as large declines in alcohol and tobacco use in the all families sampled.
While hardly discounting big-spending items like infrastructure improvements to boost the economy, Marando suggests that perhaps the biggest stimulatory 'bang for the buck' may indeed lie in quieter, progressive improvements where they are needed most: the poor among us.

It may not be the message the business agenda wants us to hear, but perhaps it is time that we all thought outside the increasingly narrow and confining corporate box.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Groceries As Luxuries?

Apparently they are in Fox world.
In an open letter to Yelp CEO last week, a 25-year-old woman who identified herself as Talia Jane explained that she had not “bought groceries since I started this job” at Yelp’s Eat24 food delivery network.

After 29-year-old Stefanie Williams posted a rebuttal claiming Jane “believes she deserves these things that most of us would call luxuries,” she was invited on Fox & Friends to explain her rant:

What's Their Excuse This Time?

Some years ago, Rick Mercer had a special called Talking To Americans, its purpose being to satirize the profound ignorance many of our U.S. cousins have regarding Canada. Here is a brief clip:

Given their chronic conviction that the United States is the centre of the universe, Americans could perhaps be excused for not knowing anything about their northern neighbours. However, it does not explain the following, in which actors pretending to be Fox News reporters asked people about some outrageous things their politicians allegedly said or did:

At a time when people are beginning to take seriously the possibility of a Trump presidency, it seems that widespread ignorance and credulity could have some far-reaching consequences.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Highlighting Corporate Failure

There are two lead letters in today's Star that bear reproducing. Expect no admission of a flawed ideology on the part of the neoliberals among us, however:
Re: House of Harper quickly crumbling, Feb. 22

Suddenly a lot of people from banks and corporations are in favour of the Liberals running infrastructure-investment-driven deficits from $30 billion to as high as $50 billion. In other words, they want government to do the really heavy lifting in stimulating the economy along with assuming, on behalf of the Canadian taxpayer, all of the financial as well as political risk.

This is the same group that for years has said governments really don’t create jobs, but rather are responsible for creating the right “environment and supports for investment,” by which they usually mean taxes.

Over the last decade, Canada’s corporations were given some of the deepest tax discounts in the world, and yet they have utterly failed to do anything other than mostly pocket the rewards.

We need to remember that those same corporations also failed to reinvest their tax windfalls in new Canadian jobs (ex-Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney’s “dead money”). Recent data from Statistics Canada also suggests many of the corporations were in fact investing their tax windfalls outside of the country.

Canada’s books for 2013–14 show personal taxes accounted for 48 per cent of total federal revenues, while corporate taxes accounted for a mere 13.5 per cent of that total.

So yes, Canada should indeed invest heavily in infrastructure investment in the coming years, but the question remains: Why can’t those corporations assume a larger financial input and responsibility in the country’s job and economic future?

Edward Carson, Toronto

In response to the CBC Power & Politics Ballot Box question, “How big should the deficit be?” 77 per cent responded “whatever is needed.” These voters understand that the deficit should be judged by results and not by arbitrary targets such as budget balances or debt-to-GDP limits.

The practical limit on spending for a sovereign country with a floating currency is the availability of domestic resources unused by the private sector. A reasonable measure of these resources is unemployment. When infrastructure, program spending and direct job creation measures result in jobs for all Canadians who want one, then government must either limit expenditures or increase taxes so as to prevent inflation.

But the Canadian economy is far from experiencing inflation, and there are 1.3 million Canadians who could be doing productive work. The federal government must challenge the conventional wisdom and spend whatever is needed.

There is no question it can do so, because it owns the Bank of Canada, which allows the federal government to run deficits of any size for as long as required.

Larry Kazdan, Vancouver

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

How Will Dion Justify This?

Given the ongoing contention surrounding Canada's decision to sell $15 billion worth of armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, one wonders what sort of dance moves Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion will engage in to explain his government's ongoing support for the Middle East kingdom in light of this:
Canadian-made armoured vehicles appear to be embroiled in Saudi Arabia’s war against Yemeni-based Houthi rebels – caught up in cross-border hostilities that critics say should force Ottawa to reconsider a $15-billion deal to sell Riyadh more of these weapons.

The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis – who are aligned with Iran – has already been accused by a United Nations panel of major human-rights violations for what its report called “widespread and systematic” air-strike attacks on civilian targets. Along the Saudi-Yemen border, constant skirmishes pit Houthi fighters against Saudi ground forces such as the Saudi Arabian National Guard.

The Saudi Arabian National Guard, a buyer of many Canadian-made light armoured vehicles (LAVs) in the past decade, has published photos on its official Twitter account showing how in late 2015 it moved columns of combat vehicles to Najran, a southwestern Saudi town near the border with Yemen that is in the thick of the conflict.

A significant number of vehicles in the photos have the triangular front corners, the eight wheels and the headlamps fixed above these triangles that are familiar features in earlier LAV models made in Canada.
It would appear that this government, like the last, places a high priority on corporate profits:
Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion’s department refused comment Monday when pressed on whether it is concerned about the armoured vehicle shipments, saying it’s bound to secrecy on anything to do with arms sales to the Saudis.

“In regards to your request, please see our response: For reasons of commercial confidentiality, specific contractual details cannot be shared,” Tania Assaly, a spokeswoman for Global Affairs said in a prepared statement.
Somehow I doubt that there is sufficient money in the world to clean the blood off of the Trudeau administration's hands in this matter.

Star Readers On The Guaranteed Annual Income

I write periodically in this blog on the concept of the guaranteed annual income; it seems it would be an effective way of helping to address many of the socio-economic problems we face. As you will see in the first of four letters on the subject from Star readers, not everyone sees it as a desirable measure.

Responding to a recent editorial exploring the notion of a GAI, Steen Petersen of Nanaimo, B.C. writes:
A guaranteed annual income (GAI) sounds like a good idea but when Denmark tried providing it many people were quite happy not having to work. To stop the hemorrhaging of government funds, they had to implement a rule that if you refused three job offers, all benefits were cut off.

Sadly, when you have a GAI, a lot of people feel the fruits of their labour is the difference between the GAI and their working paycheque and often that difference isn’t worth the effort. Also, if the government uses the GAI to subsidize low-paying jobs, the result will be more low-paying jobs.

Due to human nature, of both employers and workers, a GAI for everybody for life is simply unsustainable, as Denmark discovered. To make matters worse, since any earnings are deducted from the GAI people receive, the underground economy becomes even more attractive, which further drains government coffers.
While I cannot speak to the Danish experience Petersen describes, despite being an advocate of the GAI I must admit that I have worried that its implementation might simply amount to another subsidy for business, in that there would hardly be the same pressures on governments to raise minimum wages if everyone enjoyed a minimum guaranteed income.

Regarding his other point about it being a disincentive to work, that would surely depend on the form the GAI took. For example, a recent article in The Globe by Noralou Roos, director of and professor in the University of Manitoba’s Department of Community Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, posits one version that would perhaps mitigate that likelihood:
One version works like a refundable tax credit. If an individual has no income from any source at all, they receive a basic entitlement. As earned income increases, the benefit declines, but less than proportionately. As a result, low-income earners receive partial benefits so that they aren’t worse off than they would have been if they had quit their jobs and relied solely on income assistance.

This means that there is always an incentive to work, and people who work are always better off than they would be if they didn’t work.
Here are the other three Star letters for your consideration:
The idea of a guaranteed annual income in Canada — where the necessities of life are a citizen’s right and where it is no longer necessary to step over the homeless on the way to work — has been around for decades. However, it has rested in the realms of dreams, of aspirations and wishful thinking — as an idea too complex to be realized.

Now there is plenty of evidence that a guaranteed annual income can give legs to the possibility of a Canada where there are no poor people.

Ottawa has a responsibility to prioritize the implementation of a GAI. Canada without poverty, just think of it. It would be like a rising sun to thaw a frozen land.

Bill Endress, Toronto

Of course a basic income will backfire on the dwindling percentage who still create wealth and pay fresh taxes. Why would anyone with low skills or low job prospects seek work if the basics are covered adequately? Recirculating taxes in the social net does not create any new public income.

We need to tread with caution as it is so hard to undo errors due by the pride, ambition and egos of the politicians.

Nick Bird, Richmond Hill

No matter how governments act or whether they are conservative or socialist, there will always be people who are unable to work due to lack of jobs, lack of physical or mental ability, lack of training, etc. Jobs that were common two generations ago do not exist in today’s world — jobs that allowed people to make a minimum wage and some that allowed workers to own a home and raise a family.

These jobs are gone and will never be again in the industrialized world unless the captains of industry and the shareholders are willing to take a little less, and do away with much of the automation that has made thousands of jobs redundant.

A national minimum wage for every citizen of the age of majority will not be in the platform of any party in the near future. I and many others have benefited from the days of dishwashers, service station attendants, car washers and many other service jobs that have disappeared and are continuing to disappear.

When the mass of the unemployed grows to an unmanageable problem, what then?

Allan McPherson, Newmarket

Monday, February 22, 2016

UPDATED: The Police - Reluctant Learners In Our Midst

In many ways it is regrettable that the police apparently are not Spiderman fans. If they were, perhaps they would understand an early and painful lesson learned by Peter Parker, his alter ego: With great power comes great responsibility.

Unfortunately, some police seem to love the power, but want nothing to do with its responsible discharge, as my many posts on their abuse of authority attest to. In fact, when it is pointed out to them, they get downright outraged. Consider, for example, how they have gotten their kevlars in a twist over Beyonce's Superbowl half-time performance. (Start at about the 1:40 mark on the video.):

Whereas you and I might see an energetic celebration honouring and extolling black culture, police unions see a threat to their authority and respect, so much so that they are urging their members to boycott her upcoming concerts by refusing to provide security. To their credit, Toronto police are refusing to take part in such a boycott.

Looking deeply into the mirror to see one's shortcomings is never a pleasant experience, and having those shortcomings pointed out by others seems intolerable to some members of the American constabulary. To be reminded that Black Lives Matter by an impertinent songstress and her troupe, adorned in costumes recalling the black power movement, is more than these sensitive souls seem able to bear.

All of which inspired a spirited piece by Rosie DiManno in today's Star. She begins with these sobering facts:
People killed by the six law enforcement agencies that operate within Miami-Dade County: 14.

Seven were black. Five were Hispanic.

One of the victims was 15 years old.

The first Miami-Dade Police fatality — Feb. 15 — was a bipolar schizophrenic who swung a broom handle at officers. In a July fatal shooting by a Homestead officer (also within Miami-Dade), the same cop had shot and killed two other suspects since 2005 in separate incidents.
In each instance, officers claimed they feared for their lives.

Being a police officer seems to mean never having to say you're sorry. Indeed, it appears that their best defence is a strong offence.
... union president Javier Ortiz has called for a boycott of Beyoncé when the hitmaker kicks off her upcoming world tour in Miami on April 27, already sold out.

Ortiz slammed Beyoncé for her purported anti-police messaging — in a country where, according to comprehensive yearlong tracking by The Guardian into use of deadly force by police, 1,134 black individuals died at the hands of law enforcement in 2015. Despite making up only two per cent of the total U.S. population, African-American males between the ages of 15 and 34 comprised more than 15 per cent of all police-involved death logged by the newspaper’s investigation. Their rate of police-involved deaths was five times higher than for white men of the same age bracket.
Move along. Nothing to see here seems to be the uniform response to such statistics.
...a lot of cops — or at least their union leaders — are jumping on the trash- Beyoncé bandwagon, claiming, on zero evidence, that such populist messaging threatens police lives. Of course, that’s the shut-up admonition they’ve always employed when confronted by perceived enemies of the thin blue line, notably against hip-hop and rap artists they’ve vilified, but more generally against any individual or group that challenges their authority.
Meanwhile, despite the fact that policing is not even listed in the top 10 of dangerous professions as determined by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,
the National Sheriffs’ Association [blames] Beyoncé for four officer deaths last week. And a Tennessee sheriff who held a press conference after shots were fired near his home claimed Beyoncé’s video may have been partly responsible.
All of which may strike many as self-serving rhetoric from an institution that seems to lack any capacity for introspection and self-criticism.

Contrary to what some may think, I am not anti-police. What I am vehemently opposed to, however, is unbridled power that feels it should be answerable to no one.

UPDATE: Many thanks to Anon for providing this link to a Guardian database tracking people killed in the U.S. by the police. Accompanying pictures of the victims are quite revealing.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Price We Pay


WARNING: This is one of those blog posts that is more philosophical than it is political. However, in another sense, it pertains to a worldview that, if more people were open to it, could perhaps help change how we relate to each other and our planet. If that cryptic introduction has hooked you, please read on.

I came across a fascinating article recently in the New York Times about a German forest ranger, Peter Wohlleben, who asserts something quite remarkable: trees have social networks.

The author of The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries From a Secret World, has made an impression:
[T]he matter-of-fact Mr. Wohlleben has delighted readers and talk-show audiences alike with the news — long known to biologists — that trees in the forest are social beings. They can count, learn and remember; nurse sick neighbors; warn each other of danger by sending electrical signals across a fungal network known as the “Wood Wide Web”; and, for reasons unknown, keep the ancient stumps of long-felled companions alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through their roots.
Why is this so important? For me, it reflects my belief that there is something in existence, which I like to refer to as "the transcendent," that animates and links all living things. This is hardly an insight original to me, but it is one I am convinced if we really took seriously would force us to treat the world around us, and all of its members, with greater respect and consideration. Unfortunately, however, today so much emphasis is placed upon the fulfillment of the individual that the collective experience is given short shrift.

The German forester
found that, in nature, trees operate less like individuals and more as communal beings. Working together in networks and sharing resources, they increase their resistance.
A perfect metaphor for what is so frequently lacking in today's world, isn't it?

And what is one to make of the latest discoveries that shed some light on the heretofore secret world of animals?
While we pride ourselves on our uniqueness, a number of recent studies reveal that our animal friends are more like us—or at least more attuned to our ways—than might be expected. Here are some of the most fascinating finds.
The list includes birds purposely starting fires to flush out their prey, wolves engaging in complex vocalizations, and birds demonstrating Theory of Mind, i.e., the ability to attribute mental states, including vision, to others. In other words, as an example, if they think they are being watched by other birds they will take measures to hide their food and not visit it too often. Self-awareness, anyone?

For conventional, conservative Christianity, such evidence is contrary to their beliefs that God created humanity and invested that humanity with uniqueness. I certainly do not believe that, but I do believe that we live in a world of potential which, for me, ultimately has a transcendent source.

Even without necessarily sharing my spiritual beliefs, people cannot, if truly examining the world around them, escape the remarkable resilience, mystery and vitality of nature and its mechanisms. While our sense of wonder may today be blunted through the isolation that our digital connectedness ironically makes possible, it doesn't in any way negate the truth to be found in the natural world. Indeed, perhaps we need a new mythology or metaphor to conceptualize that truth.

Our contemporary condition of disconnectedness seems to be the price we pay for choosing the temporal over the mysterious eternal. It is choosing this sentiment while ignoring this one. Our world is thus a poorer place.

* Just as the hand, held before the eye, can hide the tallest mountain, so the routine of everyday life can keep us from seeing the vast radiance and the secret wonders that fill the world.

— Chasidic saying, eighteenth century

Friday, February 19, 2016

A Fox In The Henhouse: Alberta's School Helpers

In response to a recent blog entry that discussed Rex Murphy's most recent oil-shilling efforts, The Salamander alerted me to a Desmog Canada story going back almost two years. It is a story with profoundly disturbing implications, dealing as it does with the infiltration by oil interests of Alberta's education system under the guise of corporate benevolence:
The province of Alberta has recently released a development plan for public schools that enlists Suncor Energy and Syncrude Canada in the creation of future Kindergarten to grade three curriculum. Oil giant Cenovus will partner in developing curriculum for grades four to 12.
Critics of this move are fierce:
Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner Mike Hudema said “it’s definitely very disturbing that the Alberta government would see oil giants Syncrude and Suncor as key partners in designing Alberta’s K to three curriculum. Big oil doesn’t belong in Alberta’s schools.

He added, “It’s time that the Alberta government realizes that what’s good for the oil industry isn’t what’s good for the rest of Alberta and especially not our children. While oil may run our cars for now it shouldn’t run our government or our schools. Ever.”
This Trojan horse tactic is nothing new for the oil industry.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), the country’s largest oil and gas lobby body, caused uproar last year when it partnered with the Royal Canadian Geographic Society in the creation of ‘Energy IQ,’ described as “an energy education resource for all Canadians…to engage Canadian teachers and students through curriculum-linked in-class learning tools, and to increase energy knowledge among the general public and community leaders.”
Cameron Fenton, national director for the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, wrote the partnership was “dangerous” and granted CAPP access to not only young and impressionable minds, but to the credibility of a trusted educational institution like the Royal Canadian Geographic Society.
The fact that CAPP aligned itself with Canadian Geographic, perhaps as cover, does nothing for the latter's reputation, subsequently sullied last year over Franklin Expedition controversy.
“What's potentially more concerning is the role that Canadian Geographic is playing. As a respected educational resource and publisher, their reputation is providing political cover for CAPP to present a dangerous and disturbing narrative and vision of the future of energy and climate change in Canada. Were CAPP to be taking this project forward on their own they would be the subject of great scrutiny by teachers, students and the public, something they probably hoped to avoid by using Canadian Geographic to take their industry spin into classrooms from grade 3 on up.”
While one hopes that the new Notley government will reassess CAPP's unwholesome relationship with education, the fact is that it is already well-entrenched:
CAPP has led Energy in Action programs in Alberta since 2004 to teach children about the petroleum industry and its role in environmental stewardship. In 2011 Alberta awarded CAPP the Friends of Education Award for the program. More than 59 oil and gas companies have participated in the outreach program which has run through more than 80 schools across Canada.
Given the scientific consensus that we have little time left to mitigate the worse effects of climate change and that upwards of 80% of fossil fuels must remain in the ground, it is surely past time to clear the henhouse of the all the foxes encircling it.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Ignorance Is Not Bliss

As a retired person with no financial pressures, I realize that I am probably part of a comfortable minority. Many across a wide demographic range struggle with daily life, leaving little time for what some might call the luxury of reflection and critical thinking. However, there are also many others who simply don't care about the wider society and world around them, preferring to make a virtue of their ignorance. It is the latter segment for whom I reserve both my concern and my scorn.

The other day I wrote a post about the steady declines in readership and revenues confronting newspapers today; as I suggested in that post, this has very serious implications for the health of democracy. An ignorant populace is easy prey for the unscrupulous manipulations too frequently practised by those in power and those seeking power. In response to that post, Montreal Simon sent me a link, which I included in an update, to a Press Progress piece with these disturbing statistics:
According to Statscan, the number of Canadians who follow the news on a daily basis dropped from 68% in 2003 to 60% in 2013.

Meanwhile, over the last decade, the number of Canadians who "rarely or never" follow the news nearly doubled from 7% in 2003 to 13% in 2013.
Curious, I wondered how American statistics compare:

As you can see, over a period of 15 years, American newspaper readership has fallen drastically in each demographic, from young to old. This got me thinking, and from that thinking I offer a thesis I realize is hardly a profound insight: There is a relationship between declines in consumption of traditional media (newspapers, network news, etc.) and the rise of the politics of division and demagoguery that has plagued both Canada and the United States in recent years.

Consider the evidence. In the world we once inhabited, pre-Internet and pre-Fox News, people got their information from what used to be termed 'trusted sources': network news and long-established newspapers. Today, with those sources in decline, people are cherry-picking their information sources, sources that all too frequently merely reinforce prejudices and ignorance. Indeed, in this view online materials do not function as part of the great equalizing function many ascribe to the Internet, but allow for even more isolation from the larger world we are all part of. Climate denialism is one illustration that comes readily to mind, and no amount of reason will derail the skeptics thanks to their selective consultation of sources. For a further and more nuanced discussion of this notion, I recommend an excellent and thought-provoking essay that Kirby Cairo wrote the other day.

As we in Canada well know, the longer the Harper cabal remained in office, the more divisive, contemptuous and racist it became. The last election campaign, with its race-baiting and profound denigration of all those who remained outside the narrow tent of their exclusionary practices, reached an historical nadir in our country. Achieving social consensus under that regime was regarded as a weakness, and so it doubled down in appealing to its base.

The same, of course, is happening right now in the United States in the Republican race for the presidential nomination:

Ted Cruz is no better. Watch his thoughts on climate change:

Especially rich in the above is Cruz's suggestion that people question the professors who spout climate change and think for themselves, the last thing he really wants. If you would like to read a refutation of Cruz's posturing, click here.

One must always be wary of oversimplifications, and I realize that what I have discussed here is only one part of the explanation for the deterioration of contemporary politics. Another big factor, of course, is the increasingly large proportion of people who are becoming the modern-day dispossessed. Justifiably angry and estranged, they want answers to the causes of their discontent that today's demagogues are only too eager to 'provide' on their road to power. Ignorance is their coin of the realm, and antidotes are desperately needed.

Increased news consumption can be part of the solution, but only if we have the will not to revel in our ignorance.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Friends In High Places: The NEB Continues Its Bromance With Enbridge

Last week I posted a story about the National Energy Board taking pity on Enbridge, reducing a fine levied against the energy delivery giant for the damage it caused to private property in Manitoba. Unfortunately, we now learn that this was just the start of a flurry of absolutions granted the company.

The National Observer's Mike De Souza reports the following:
For the second week in a row, politically-appointed members of Canada’s pipeline safety enforcement agency have agreed to reverse penalties imposed by inspectors against Enbridge Inc. for alleged violations, citing a lack of evidence.

The National Energy Board sent two letters last Friday, Feb. 12 to Enbridge, Canada’s largest pipeline company, confirming that it was rescinding two fines, worth $104,000, explaining that its inspector or inspectors failed to make strong enough cases to uphold the proposed penalties.

The letters were published on the NEB website one week after the regulator announced it had reduced two other separate fines, worth $200,000, down to a single fine for $76,000 for environmental and property damage.
While mere mortals (i.e., you and me) are expected to pay for their mistakes, apparently a different standard is being applied to companies with friends in high places (a.k.a., Harper NEB appointees):
In both of the two newest cases, the inspector or inspectors who proposed the fines maintained that the evidence indicated — on a balance of probabilities — that Enbridge had committed the violations by not respecting mandatory conditions of its operations, the letters said.

In one of the cases, a previous letter from the NEB alleged that Enbridge had changed design specifications, such as wall thickness and maximum operation pressure of a pipeline, without getting permission.

But three members of the NEB, two of which were appointed by the previous Conservative government of former prime minister Stephen Harper, disagreed. These board members, led by the NEB chair, Peter Watson, said that they agreed with Enbridge’s arguments that there was not enough evidence to confirm that it deserved the fines.
At a time where it seems to be increasingly common for companies to thumb their noses at financial penalties, the message is becoming clear: corporate malfeasance isn't such a bad thing, no matter what you and I might think.

Monday, February 15, 2016

UPDATED: Democracy's Lifeblood Is Slowing Draining Away

There are a number of blogs that I read on a regular basis. There is Owen with his superb synopses and wry, informed commentary. There is The Mound of Sound, whose deep research and informed commentary provide much-needed information on both domestic and international issues, helping us to better understand our troubled times. Another must-read is Dr Dawg, whose superb analyses reflect a very keen mind indeed. Then there is Montreal Simon, with his excoriating graphics and merciless pillories of the reactionary right, a.k.a, the Conservative Party of Canada. Not to be forgotten is Alison at Creekside, whose work often includes the kind of sleuthing and connecting of dots that has traditionally been the domain of the journalists. Rural has provided a real public service in his long series on the Harper years, reminding us of things that we had either forgotten or pushed out of our conscious mind. And then there is Kirby Cairo, whose original essays always provide much food for thought.

While the above are not the only blogs I read, they, as well as my own, serve to underscore a crucial point about the blogging world. Almost all of us are dependent upon the work of journalistic publications, both paper and online, for what we attempt to do. My own modest efforts, for example, often entail essentially being an aggregator or curator of material I have come across that I find interesting or noteworthy and want to share. Without those resources, I could probably still write a blog, but I doubt very many would care to read it.

Which brings me to the point of this post - as people well-know, traditional journalism is under dire threat thanks to declining revenues. Stories abound of journals being shut down or becoming strictly online presences, the latest being The Independent, which will cease publishing paper editions next month. It, and the larger implications of today's contracting world of news gathering, is the topic of an interesting column by Rosie DiManno in today's Star which you may want to check out.

More immediately relevant, however, is a piece that John Honderich had in The Star the other day. In an edited version of a speech given recently to students at the Queen’s Model Parliament in Ottawa, the chair of Torstar Corporation writes of the crucial relationship between democracy and a well-informed citizenry; it is a relationship in which newspapers play a crucial role:
To my mind, the quality of public debate, if not the very quality of life in any community, is a direct function of the information people have on which to make informed decisions.

Indeed, I go further. The functioning of a healthy democracy is predicated on a well-informed population. You can’t have one without the other.

The great French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville, who wrote the historic book Democracy in America, put it this way: “The power of the press is second only to that of the people.”

He understood that governmental power flows up from our local towns and cities. That is where true democracy begins.
One of the things we must not forget is that while the online world of 'free' information seems almost utopian, it really doesn't come free. Consider what the traditional press does:
... in my view, newspapers — both in print and online — have always played a unique and leading role in this informing process.

They have traditionally done this through groundbreaking investigative projects, searing features, sharp commentaries, insightful columns and hard-hitting editorials.

Indeed, I still believe it is newspapers that set the agenda for public discussion. When well done, great serious reporting provides the means for a society to examine itself, to ferret out lies, abuse and corruption, and — very importantly — provide a voice to those whose voices are not often heard.

And where does this serious journalism take place?

The answer is still in newspapers, where most reporters are employed.
He goes on to cite the crucial role of investigative journalism in uncovering the truth about former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, as well as the racial profiling conducted by the Toronto police that has been the source of much contention.
Will newspapers in the future be able to do this kind of story? And if not, who will? And what will that mean to Canadians being appropriately informed?

More and more young people have already switched to the web, where blogs and websites flood the space with up-to-the minute news and commentary. And it is done for free.

There are some who rhapsodize this trend as a democratization of information — allowing one and all to participate in news gathering and commentary. They hail this as the welcome disarming of journalists as the gatekeepers of news and information.

I do not share this view.

These same bloggers and instant commentators rarely do the hard reporting work. They don’t dig deep or launch in-depth investigations. You know only too well that speed and instantaneous reaction are the bywords of the net. And in the process accuracy is often lost.

Meanwhile, as newsrooms shrink, both the resources and reporters required to do serious journalism are in shorter and shorter supply.

Who today has those millions to investigate a Rob Ford or examine racial profiling? Precious few.
While Honderich is certain that the future will include traditional journalism, he does worry about what its capacities will be:
... it is the fate of serious journalism that I worry about — and its impact on our democracy.

The last time I checked neither Google nor Facebook had any fact-checking staff.

How about Twitter? One hundred and forty characters to do an inquiry into racial profiling? I think not. Instagram? Give me a break.
His advice to his youthful audience is equally applicable to the rest of us:
So be demanding in what you expect from your media. Remember you always have a vested interest in being well informed and making sure quality journalism survives.

At issue is nothing less than the vibrancy and health of our democracy.
As I indicated at the start of this post, my own life is enriched by the blogging world. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that democracy's lifeblood is under assault and is slowing draining away.

UPDATE: Thanks to Montreal Simon for this link
to a Press Progress article with some quite disturbing implications:
They say democracy relies on an informed citizenry.

So what does it say when an increasing number of Canadians don't even follow the news?

New data released by Statistics Canada shines a light on changing patterns in how Canadians follow the news and current affairs – and maybe the biggest change is a growing number aren't paying any attention to the news.

According to Statscan, the number of Canadians who follow the news on a daily basis dropped from 68% in 2003 to 60% in 2013.
You may be surprised by some parts of the report, especially information pertaining to the demographics and educational levels of those who are and aren't keeping up with daily news.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Right-Wing Umbrage

The right wing seems to have its knickers perpetually in a twist. It's amazing any of them ever make it to adulthood, what with all that adrenaline-fueled outrage.

More On The Guaranteed Annual Income

Responding to a recent opinion piece advocating for a guaranteed annual income, Star reader David Gladstone of Toronto has this to offer the crucial role it can play in a world of tremendous change and increasingly precarious employment:
It seems the world is never proactive when it comes to preparing for a disaster, whether it is economic, environmental or societal. We just wait for the “tsunami” to occur and then we spring into action, always too late and largely ineffective.

The timely proactive argument for a basic income is a case in point.

Artificial intelligence has arrived and in the next decade or two will be performing a vast array of jobs that will cause serious social reorganization.

A guaranteed income will provide a basic financial security for everyone, which may allay the fear that the future holds no hope.

The industrialized nations of the world will exploit the many advantages of artificial intelligence, but at the same time those nations will be more secure with a guaranteed income for their citizens. The alternative is a large class of people living in poverty who will, out of desperation, seek economic justice through social upheaval.

It is in the interests of all parties that a guaranteed income be put in place before the full impact of computer generated services and materials flood the market.

Will Canada be proactive and position itself for the 21st century through a guaranteed income? Any bets?

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Demagogue Speaks Again

Won't anyone tell him just to shut up?

Recently, the CBC, which has an ongoing yet inexplicable and wholly unwholesome relationship with Rex Murphy, gave him yet another opportunity to spew his denigration and venom about those who criticize Alberta and its moribund oil industry. It seems that the rest of Canada is not recognizing its debt to Alberta for being the country's former economic engine of growth.

You may wish to read the original piece, linked above, or move on to The National Observer's dissection of good Rex's cant. To whet your appetite, here are a few excerpts from that dissection, that cuts through the pretext of Rex's article to get to its real purpose: shilling, par excellance, for the oil industry as he vigorously denies climate change.:
After weeping crocodile tears for Alberta and Calgary, Murphy sets about his real work, tearing down anyone who believes fossil fuels have had their day and that climate change is a genuine concern.

David Suzuki and Neil Young are characterized as “dim-minded celebrities that took their jaunts to the oil sands to mewl over its planet-destroying potential.”

Murphy contends that the “critics bark without scrutiny, never receive the zealous oversight they impose on the industry. Environmental reporting is heinously one-sided and close-minded.”

Tell that to the many fine journalists in Canada and abroad - at the New York Times, the Guardian and many, many others - who do their best to tell the complex stories of energy and environment in a balanced, nuanced way.
Like his spiritual brother Conrad Black, Rex Murphy is quite adept at hiding his paucity of worthwhile thought with an elevated and clever use of words. Perhaps it is time someone told him the veneer is wearing thin.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Chill, Baby, Chill

After spending a rather stressful past day-and-a-half on personal matters, I found the advice of Clive Weighill, President of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and Saskatoon's police chief, rather appealing:

Thursday, February 11, 2016

An Idea Gaining Traction

The concept of a guaranteed annual income, a subject I have written about previously on this blog, seems to be gaining traction. A relatively simple way of uplifting countless people from poverty and in the process ultimately saving money through a streamlining of our fragmented systems of social programs, it is now finding interest within the halls of power.

Recently, the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, Jean-Yves Duclos, told the Globe and Mail
the concept has merit as a policy to consider after the government implements more immediate reforms promised during the election campaign.

The general concept is that a guaranteed income would cover basic needs and reduce demand on existing social programs. However, proposals vary widely on whether it should be paired with a drastic reduction in social programs such as welfare and unemployment insurance or complement them.

This means versions of the idea have appeal across the political spectrum, as it could lead to a larger or smaller role for government depending on the model.
Support for the idea seems to cross party lines.
Conservative MP and finance critic Lisa Raitt said she would like the House of Commons finance committee to study the idea. She also said she raised the issue with Finance Minister Bill Morneau recently during a private pre-budget meeting.

“He seemed favourable,” she said. “I have an open mind on it. I know that there’s been progress made on it around the world in terms of how people are viewing it. I don’t know if it will work in Canada but the work of the committee will help us figure out whether or not it is something that is good or not good.”

And across Canada, momentum is building. François Blais, Quebec minister of employment and social solidarity, has been asked by Premier Philippe Couillard to look into how that provinces social supports can move in the direction of a guaranteed annual income. But that's not all:
The political cast includes Calgary’s Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Edmonton’s Mayor Don Iveson and Halifax’s Mike Savage. In fact, no less than nine provincial and territorial capital leaders support basic income or at least pilot projects, with innumerable smaller city and town mayors across the nation declaring their support as well. They know — as government leaders who are closest to the people — that a guaranteed income would reduce inequities in their communities, reduce crime, improve health outcomes, and strengthen social cohesion.
Are we reaching critical mass? Long observation of politics suggests that is not yet the case, but clearly we seem to be moving in the right direction.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Enbridge Shirks Its Moral Responsibility

The National Observer reports the following:
Enbridge Inc. will save $22,000 after convincing Canada's pipeline enforcement agency that it shouldn't have been punished for failing to help neighbouring landowners with property damage.

The savings will come after the National Energy Board agreed to water down a $100,000 penalty for significant damage that Alberta-based Enbridge, Canada's largest pipeline company, caused to farmland property in southwestern Manitoba during replacement work on its Line 3 pipeline in 2014.

In a newly-released decision posted on its website, the National Energy Board confirmed that it was reducing the $100,000 fine - related to the damage caused by Enbridge — to $78,000, agreeing that the rules used to impose the fine only require pipeline operators to provide "reasonable assistance" to the regulator and not the private landowners.
I'm sure all Canadians will rest easier tonight, knowing that our beleaguered oil industry is getting special consideration during these most difficult times.

Such A Delicate Balance

One of nature's most intelligent creatures, elephants, are facing an uncertain future in Burma thanks to government efforts to halt deforestation, a crucial step in trying to restore some semblance of ecological balance. However, as with all things in nature, each change, whether for good or ill, has consequences, as you will see in the following brief video.

Also, please read the accompanying story to appreciate how, like humans, when they lose their sense of purpose elephants live shorter lives and often suffer from obesity. Sound familiar?

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Magical Thinking, No; Progress, Yes

As every critically-aware person well knows, we are facing some pretty daunting challenges; the most pressing is clearly climate change, more urgent with each passing day as we are regularly reminded of the ravages it is wreaking around the world. Responses continue to range from denial, complacence and magical thinking to outright proclamations of doom.

While I remain deeply pessimistic about our chances here, I am willing to embrace neither surrender nor the perspective of the pollyannas in our midst who uncritically await a technological solution or, as I like to describe it, a deus ex machina. Nonetheless, technological progress is being made, progress that will surely be part of the arsenal in our survival kit.

Now that renewable energy costs are fast approaching parity, and in some cases below parity, with fossil fuels, the next major challenge is the engineering of storage capacity so that energy can be tapped into as needed. On that front, I am happy to report that things are moving ahead at an exciting pace.

First, there is the Tesla Powerwall, a home and industrial power storage device that can store power both from renewable sources and conventional utility sources when rates are low. It has the potential, given its pricing, to ultimately supplant home generators and help curb greenhouse gas emissions in the process. And there are other similar products with various price points on the market, each with its own advantages and disadvantages and most with both domestic and industrial applications.

Battery storage is but one of several technologies that can aid in the transition to greater reliance on renewable energy sources. And the beauty of energy-storage technology is that in many cases it will obviate the need to build costly mew power stations, as it will be doing essentially the same things they do: provide power on demand.
In the UK, the first plant to store electricity by squashing air into a liquid is due to open in March, while the first steps have been taken towards a virtual power station comprised of a network of home batteries.

In case the jurisdiction does not have mountains, as required in the above system, another method would seem to effect the same benefits:

Its new £8m demonstration plant, at Pilsworth, near Manchester, and funded by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc), is set to start in March. By compressing air 700 times into a cold liquid, it stores power which is released by evaporating the liquid air into a high pressure gas to turn a turbine. The 5MW system will be able to power many thousands of homes for a few hours. Gareth Brett, CEO of Highview, says it is like pumped storage, but can be sited wherever it is needed.
There are other storage approaches being implemented as well, including using the degraded batteries of electric cars, all of which you can read about here.

I think the point demonstrated by these emerging systems is that we really can be on the verge of dramatic changes in the way we secure and store our power that will contribute to a significant lowering of the greenhouse gases that are so imperiling our world. But both imagination AND political leadership are necessary for successful transition. I am confident about the former but not so much about the latter, despite the fact that the future of our world is at stake.

Monday, February 8, 2016

UPDATED: Some Americans Sure Do Love Their Ignorance

Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz says we should follow the scientific evidence about climate change, and then goes on to ignore it with confabulation and obfuscation. In Cruz world, it is all just a cover for the government's desire to have total control over everyone's lives.

Some Americans sure do love and embrace their ignorance, don't they?

Cruz is a fellow traveller with the other main contenders for the Republican nomination, Donald Trump and Marco Rubio, the latter denying that climate change has anything to do with human activity. All of which serves as prelude to the acerbic Bill Maher, who offers up his own assessment of such ignorance:

UPDATE: If the above doesn't sate your political hunger, perhaps an explanation for Ted Cruz will:
Two men with mirrors and a wooden cross interrupted a campaign event in Raymond, New Hampshire to perform an exorcism on Ted Cruz on Monday, saying that the Republican presidential candidate was “possessed by a demon.”

“He’s possessed by a demon!” the man yelled. “The demon has to leave. That’s why the body is so disgusting to look at!”

A second man holding a mirror urged Cruz to look at himself so “the evil can confront itself.”

“Evil body! Evil spirit. Look yourself in the mirror!” the man said.
This is as good an explanation as any I have heard thus far for the more than passing strange nature of current U.S. politics.

ABC Breaking News | Latest News Videos

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Will Any Woman Do?

There's a special place in hell for women who don't help each other.

So said the first woman to become the United States Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, at a rally for Hillary Clinton. Surely I am not the only one disgusted by the implication of that statement, that every woman has a moral obligation to support one of their own gender in her quest for the presidency, no matter how odious or inappropriate that woman might be:
While introducing Mrs. Clinton at a rally in New Hampshire on Saturday, Madeleine Albright, the first female secretary of state, talked about the importance of electing the first female president. In a dig at the “revolution” that Mr. Sanders often speaks of, she said that the first female commander in chief would be a true revolution. And she scolded any woman who felt otherwise.

“We can tell our story of how we climbed the ladder, and a lot of you younger women think it’s done. It’s not done,” Ms. Albright said of the broader fight for women’s equality. “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!”

Not to be outdone, veteran feminist Gloria Steinem got into the act, somewhat ironically, on Bill Maher's show:
Explaining how women tend to become more active in politics as they become older, she suggested younger women were just backing Mr. Sanders so that they could meet young men.

“When you’re young, you’re thinking, ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie,’ ” Ms. Steinem said.

Realizing that this was potentially offensive, Mr. Maher recoiled. “Oh. Now if I said that, ‘They’re for Bernie because that’s where the boys are,’ you’d swat me.”

But Ms. Steinem laughed it off, replying, “How well do you know me?”
Take a look, starting at about the 4:00 minute mark:

One hopes, as one does with men, that critical-thinking will determine how a woman votes, not gender-identification.

Friday, February 5, 2016

UPDATED: It Isn't Just About Jobs

Although we live in a time that seems to demand almost constant preoccupation with the economy and jobs, sometimes there are more important considerations, such as a country's moral standing. Right now, that moral standing is in jeopardy thanks to the apparent inflexibility of the Trudeau government on the Saudi Arabian armaments deal. While it is worth a tremendous amount of money ($15 billion), many are saying it's just not worth it.

A poll released today is instructive:
Nearly six out of 10 Canadians surveyed by Nanos Research for The Globe and Mail say they feel it is more important to ensure arms exports go only to countries “that respect human rights” than it is to support 3,000 jobs by selling weaponized armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia.
Other countries are growing increasingly uneasy about dealing with the repressive Middle East kingdom that has little respect for human rights:
On Thursday, an all-party committee of U.K. MPs called for a suspension of British arms sales to Saudi Arabia pending a probe into Riyadh’s devastating military campaign in Yemen. A UN report last week said a Saudi-led Arab coalition has conducted “widespread and systematic” bombing of Yemeni civilians – killing more than 2,600.
Germany’s Minister of Economic Affairs and Energy Sigmar Gabriel recently signalled Berlin’s increasing unease over arms deals with Riyadh, saying in January the government needs to review future shipments. In the past 24 months, Berlin has denied key applications for arms exports to Saudi Arabia, including several hundred battle tanks and G36 rifles.
In Belgium, the head of the Flemish government, Minister President Geert Bourgeois, announced in January that he has refused an application for an export licence to ship weapons to Saudi Arabia and hinted he would continue to do so in the future.
While the Canadian government is adamant about the deal going ahead, pollster Nik Nanos believes the poll results provide an opportunity "... for the Liberals to cancel, stop, delay or modify the transaction”.

The question yet to be answered is whether Trudeau, especially in this case, is willing to put his money where his rhetoric about collaboration and transparency is.

UPDATE: Things are getting very interesting on this file:
Opponents of Canada’s $15-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia are taking Ottawa to court in an attempt to block shipments of the combat vehicles, a move that could force the governing Liberals to explain how they justify the sale to a human-rights pariah under weapon-export restrictions.

Daniel Turp, a professor of international and constitutional law at the University of Montreal, is leading the effort, supported by students and a Montreal law firm with a record of class-action work and anti-tobacco litigation.
Turpin gives voice to what many Canadians undoubtedly feel:
“The idea that military equipment made in Canada could contribute to human-rights violations against civilians in Saudi Arabia and neighbouring countries is immoral. But we also believe that the authorization to export armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia is illegal”.
One can only hope that at the very least, the government will be forced to lift the cloak of secrecy around whether an actual assessment of the deal was done as required by law, and if it was, what that assessment revealed.

Heartbreaking And Shameful

Given our membership in the species, all of us should feel deep shame over the actions of our fellow humans:
The town has been under attack for years by Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces, yet the rebel fighters in Moadamiyeh won't give up; so the whole town is being punished.

Pro-regime checkpoints ring Moadamiyeh, preventing food and medicine from being brought in. Cut off, the town has become filthy. Locals say disease is spreading. The power is dead.

Siege warfare is an ancient tactic. Christian crusaders did it to Muslim towns and cities. Muslim armies encircled and strangled Christian holdouts. Kings, dukes and princes besieged each other's town all across Europe.

Now, in Syria, this medieval form of warfare is making a bitter comeback. And it's not just the regime's forces who use the collective punishment of innocent civilians to achieve their military goals. Rebel forces are guilty of the same crimes.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

We Can Do (And Be) Better Than This

While I continue to have a guarded optimism about our new government, there are troubling signs that suggest that it has some conspicuous blind spots. Not only are the Trudeau Liberals showing every sign of carrying through with the very contentious Saudi arms deal, but it appears now they are expanding their Middle East customer base.
The Canadian government is busy promoting Canada’s defence industry in Kuwait even as a United Nations report accuses a Saudi-led coalition, which includes Kuwait, of “widespread and systematic” bombing of civilians in Yemen.
Essentially embroiled in a civil war between the Houthi and the elected government, Yemen has become part of a regional power struggle between Shia-ruled Iran and Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, which shares a long border with Yemen. Unfortunately, that power struggle is costing many, many civilian lives.
A leaked UN panel report last week attributed 60 per cent, or 2,682, civilian deaths and injuries in the Yemen conflict to air-launched explosive weapons and said the Saudi-led coalition’s actions are a “grave violation of the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution” and violate international law.

Targets in Yemen, the UN report found, have included refugee camps; weddings; civilian vehicles, such as buses; homes; medical facilities; schools; mosques; factories and civilian infrastructure.
Like many countries in the Middle East, Kuwait has a sorry human-rights record:
According to Amnesty International, even peaceful criticism of Islam and the emir, the ruling head of state, remains criminalized. The rights watchdog says human-rights activists and political reformers are among those targeted for arrest, detention and prosecution. Authorities have prosecuted and imprisoned critics who express dissent through social media and they have curtailed the right to public assembly, Amnesty says.
Although sales to Kuwait at this point seem to be limited to a flight simulator, the problem is Canada's openness to other military sales to the country. The head of the business Council of Canada, John Manley,
cautioned that blocking trade with foreign countries is a decision that should not be made lightly.

“It’s grounds to have a conversation,” he said of the UN report, adding, however, that “you’re not going to get the next deal if you can’t be relied upon.”
For its part, the Trudeau government is pleading both ignorance (the Foreign Affairs depart claims not to have read the UN report) and a historical relationship with Kuwait:
... department of Global Affairs spokeswoman Rachna Mishra said, “Kuwait has been a strategic partner for Canada in the Middle East for over 50 years, and we value our close relationship with them.”
So there we have it: a bit of obfuscation, some corporate influence/pressure and a vague departmental justification - not exactly a recipe to inspire confidence in our new government.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Thinking Beyond The Conventional

We are regularly told, both by governments and their corporate confederates, that these are tough times, and that only patience and a freer hand for business will bring about eventual relief. To the seasoned observer, such a prescription is utter nonsense, of course. Neither an expansion in good-paying jobs nor a contraction of the income gap has occurred under that roadmap.

The fact is there are solutions to many of the problems we face today, whether it be climate change, the grinding poverty that so many contend with, or the sad plight of our native peoples, to name but three. Yet these solutions, while well-known and well-researched, always seem just over the next horizon, never to be realized.

Consider the matter of the guaranteed annual income, which I have written about previously on this blog. A recent piece by Glen Hodgson and Hugh Segal suggests the time is right for such a program, especially since countries in Europe are giving it serious consideration.
How does a guaranteed annual income system work? Basic income support would be delivered as a tax credit (or transfer), administered as part of the income tax system. Existing social welfare programs could be streamlined into this single universal system, thereby reducing public administration and intervention. Earned income for GAI recipients could be taxed at low marginal rates, thereby lowering the existing “welfare wall” of high marginal tax rates for welfare recipients who try to break out of welfare by working and providing a stronger incentive for recipients to work and increase their income.
The benefits of such a program would be many: poverty reduction, better health outcomes, greater labour force engagement, etc. And to top it all off, it would likely save money since it would replace the siloed benefit programs that currently exist, thereby significantly reducing administrative costs.

Even if you don't believe that a guaranteed annual income would be cost effective, there are other untapped sources of revenue that could fill the gaps and do much, much more. One of those sources is a form of the Tobin Tax, a tax on financial transactions.

The New York Times writes:
A financial transaction tax — a per-trade charge on the buying and selling of stocks, bonds and derivatives — is an idea whose time has finally come.

A well-designed financial transaction tax — one that applies a tiny tax rate to an array of transactions and is split between buyers and sellers — would be a progressive way to raise substantial revenue without damaging the markets. A new study by researchers at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has found that a 0.1 percent tax rate could bring in $66 billion a year, with 40 percent coming from the top 1 percent of income earners and 75 percent from the top 20 percent. As the rate rises, however, traders would most likely curtail their activity. The tax could bring in $76 billion a year if it was set at 0.3 percent, but above that rate, trading would probably decrease and the total revenue raised would start to fall.
As the editorial points out, it is already being applied in a limited number of countries:
There are already financial transaction taxes in Britain, Switzerland and South Korea as well as in Hong Kong and other developed markets and emerging nations, generally at rates of 0.1 percent to 0.5 percent on stock transfers. In addition, 10 countries in the European Union, including Germany and France, have agreed to apply a common financial transaction tax starting in 2017, though relentless lobbying by investment banks and hedge funds threatens to delay and even derail the effort.
That last sentence, of course, epitomizes the main obstacle to implementation, the opposition of the moneyed forces who seem to see any taxation as a capitulation to some kind of socialist scheme. Unfortunately, those forces seem to almost always have the ear of government.

So despite the propaganda, there are ways to bridge the yawning gulf that separates those who have a lot, and those who have little. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Monday, February 1, 2016

A Well Of Humanity

Sometimes the world seems to be a cold and uncaring place. But at other times, it proves itself to be anything but: