Thursday, March 31, 2016

This Needs Little Comment

H/t Toronto Star

I do hope all of the equipment Trudeau is selling to the Saudis is stainless steel. You know how difficult it is to remove blood splatter.

The Id Of Trump

The id is an important part of our personality because as newborns, it allows us to get our basic needs met. Freud believed that the id is based on our pleasure principle. In other words, the id wants whatever feels good at the time, with no consideration for the reality of the situation.
H/t All Psych

Or expressed another way,

The id is the primitive and instinctive component of personality. It consists of all the inherited (i.e. biological) components of personality, including the sex (life) instinct – Eros (which contains the libido), and the aggressive (death) instinct - Thanatos.
H/t Simply Psychology

Although Montreal Simon does a far more comprehensive dissection of Donald Trump in his post today, last night's reports on NBC Nightly News seems to uncover some darkly infantile aspects of the would-be presidential nominee's psyche. Watch the the first clip in each of the following, and I think you will see that there are likely forces beyond the alleged billionaire's control that explain much of his 'musings.'

While his supporters may like the fact that he seems unscripted, saying what's on his mind, perhaps some will begin to get of sense of how dangerous such impulses could be were they granted free reign in the White House.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Some Disturbing Signs

I won't for a moment pretend that I am not glad to see Justin Trudeau's Liberals as our new government. But as happened with a vice-principal we teachers once welcomed with open arms as a relief from the previous administration, my early hopes for real change and integrity of purpose are being steadily eroded.

Let's start with Stephane Dion, our foreign affairs minister. As pointed out yesterday in a post by The Mound, he has quickly condemned the appointment of Canadian Michael Lynk as the United Nation's Special Rapporteur on human rights in Palestine following pressure brought to bear against him on apparently groundless accusations of being biased against Israel. So much for any hopes that Canada would take a more balanced, less reflexively supportive approach to Israel.

Then there is Dion's refusal to reconsider the Saudi arms deal, despite that country's abysmal human-rights record and terrible incursion in Yemen as it leads a coalition to stop the Shiite rebels known as Houthis. This has led to massive starvation resulting in the malnutrition and deaths of about 1.3 million children, including little Udai, who succumbed at the age of five months:

There are growing disappointments domestically as well. One of them, as The Star's Carol Goar points, is the failure to act expeditiously in ending the Harper-initiated CRA witch hunts against charities:
Trudeau pledged to “end the political harassment of charities” by the Canada Revenue Agency — not wind it down gradually, not keep hounding charities that ran afoul of the previous Conservative government to preserve the independence of the agency’s charities directorate.

Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier quietly changed the plan. She allowed the 24 ongoing audits to take their course in case “serious deficiencies” were found. When they were completed, she would end CRA’s political activities auditing program. The affected charities — which include Oxfam Canada, Environmental Defence and Canada Without Poverty — remain on tenterhooks.
As well, Tim Harper points out a reversal of a stance the Liberals took while in opposition:
When the former Conservative government agreed to hand over private banking information of Canadians to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, the Liberals led the growing chorus of indignation.

Their opposition started meekly but built. They tried to amend the law, which they portrayed as a loss of sovereignty and an unnecessary bow to American pressure. They accused Conservatives of breaching Canadians’ charter rights and unconstitutionally discriminating against Canadians based on their country of origin.
Now that they are the government, however, the Liberals are singing from a different hymn book:
Then they went silent. Then they were elected and now they defend the agreement they once vilified.

The first 155,000 information slips on Canadians with U.S. roots were shipped to the IRS on schedule last Sept. 30, in the middle of the election campaign when Washington told the Canada Revenue Agency it was not eligible to ask for an extension of the order.
And Canada's much-vilified temporary foreign workers program is getting new life under our new administration. Thomas Walkom reports
Justin Trudeau’s Liberals are tiptoeing back into the minefield that is Canada’s temporary foreign workers program.

They are doing so carefully. This month’s decision to relax the rules for seasonal industries wishing to hire cheap foreign labour was not publicly announced.

Instead, the information — that such industries will be able to hire unlimited numbers of temporary foreign workers for up to 180 days a year — seeped out through the media.
This move, of course, will simply facilitate and extend low-paying jobs that Canadians refuse to do instead of allowing pressure for better wages to mount on employers in fish-processing, child care (nannies in particular), and Canadian resorts.

There have been other disappointments as well, one of which I wrote about recently pertaining to Chrystia Freeland's thinly veiled enthusiasm for CETA, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. Disingenuously, the International Trade Minister extolled its benefits while ignoring the severe challenges it will pose to both our sovereignty and our workforce.

There is much that the Liberals have thus far accomplished; perhaps our proudest moment in recent history has been our remarkable achievement of bringing over so many Syrian refugees in such a short period of time, an achievement that has won world-wide admiration. But doubtless there is more disillusionment in store for Canadians as they rediscover ours is a world that too often inflicts both political and personal disenchantment upon even the most optimistic.

When all is said and done, our final evaluation of this government's first term in office will have to revolve around whether its accomplishments outweigh those disappointments.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Is Donald Trump An Idiot Savant?

If he is, I have yet to discover the one area he is good at, other than mendacious self-promotion. Witness his egregious and profound ignorance of everything beyond the very narrow domain of Trumpworld in the following:

The High Cost Of Free Trade

Despite the rhetoric by our political and corporate overlords about the wondrous benefits of free trade, multitudes of people on both sides of the border are becoming increasingly aware of its true costs.

In today's Star, readers weigh in with their usual penetrating insights:
Re: Next U.S. president won't nix trade pacts, March 19

As free trade deals are in the spotlight this U.S. election cycle most of the discussions are vague in details, often serving up false choices or straw men instead of pragmatic insight into the issue. This is common practice among politicians, I’m not surprised. Even Bernie Sanders is kind of vague, or when he is detailed the media cuts to commercial.

But I am very surprised at David Olive with comments like, “And that also has nothing to do with trade deals” in reference to low wages and anti-unionization practices in America. I believe that with free trade deals, employers have gained tremendous leverage over labour with the simple threat of “accept our offer of a low wage or we ship your job overseas.”

Empirical evidence sure leads us to this conclusion. I sure don’t see free trade bringing us tonnes more good paying jobs as was the selling feature a few decades ago. Now new trade deals are just presented as “good for the economy.”

Then after trying to justify current trade practices as good, David Olive suggests the poor economy “has almost everything to do with three decades of bipartisan public policy that has withheld economic fairness from the majority of the U.S. population.” Well please be specific. What exactly are those unfair economic policies? Perhaps labour outsourcing, which free trade enabled. Or union busting, again enabled by the tremendous leverage trade deals granted employers.

If the argument that technology has replaced many of the jobs, why did factories move to cheaper labour markets.

Don’t take me wrong, I agree with free trade. My maple syrup for your grapefruits duty free, no problem. I’m even happy with CCM skates on the retail shelf with Asia-branded and produced skates right beside them, duty free. Now that’s free trade.

Let’s compete for market share and the consumer wins. But anecdotally, CCM skates made in Asia and sold here is not in the implied spirit of free trade.
What we’re experiencing now is vastly advantageous to corporate owners, not at all for workers.

As Donald Trump offers up scenarios of China vs America in trade deals we see one of those false choices. It’s really ownership vs labour; China is just the benefactor. China did not dictate that American companies move to China; the American companies made those choices.

Another sidebar advantage for ownership under free trade is by having local jurisdictions offering up low property taxes and such incentives to attract manufacturing plants. These trade deals are sure looking lopsided.

Doug Lata, Pickering

Re: TPP will put Canadian concerns up against U.S. demands, March 21

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has devastating potential in terms of our environment and our democracy. It gives big business and industry powers equal to or greater than that of our elected officials.

The people of Canada didn’t vote for international big business in our election; we voted for elected representation. The TPP would diminish our nation’s sovereignty and allow other nations to set our standards and pricing. International trade is a great idea but not at the cost of our nation and democracy.

Justin Trudeau must stand by his election promise and allow public consultation on this deal. This is a deal that will directly affect many Canadians and we need to be heard.

Barbara Rose, Toronto
With "Full speed ahead" the battle cry of our intrepid 'masters,' expect nothing to change in the foreseeable future.

Monday, March 28, 2016


Given that they are generally aimed at a younger demographic, I rarely watch movies these days. However, on the return leg of our trip, one of the films offered by Air Canada was the award-winning Spotlight, important for a few reasons. The winner of two Oscars, the movie
tells the riveting true story of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe investigation that would rock the city and cause a crisis in one of the world's oldest and most trusted institutions. When the newspaper's tenacious "Spotlight" team of reporters delves into allegations of abuse in the Catholic Church, their year-long investigation uncovers a decades-long cover-up at the highest levels of Boston's religious, legal, and government establishment, touching off a wave of revelations around the world.
I will engage in no spoilers for the film, but I have to say it resonated with me in two very important areas. The first involves my own history of being subjected to both verbal and physical abuse during my Catholic school days, abuse that began early in Grade One with the strap, progressing to being made to 'stand in the corner,' a common method of public shaming and ostracism in those days, to slaps across the face, all by the third grade. As I recall, my infractions usually involved, as they used to say, 'talking to my neighbour.'

Things got worse in high school, where the same methodology (minus the strap) was employed, but in a much more intensive way. Teachers, both lay and cleric, seemed almost demoniacally driven to wear down any sense of our self-worth, suggesting our worthlessness on a regular basis. The physical abuse escalated to being slammed over our heads with heavy books, more forceful slapping across the face, and outright mockery.

I vividly recall my Grade Eleven physics teacher being especially cruel one particular day. I did not know the answer to a question when called upon, so he asked someone else who, with his textbook open but concealed, read off the answer, at which point the teacher said, "Whoa, slow down, Potter, slow down. Warwick is kind of slow." His bon mot was met with a response of general hilarity throughout the classroom, and absolute humiliation on my part. But I was hardly the only victim. There was a lad in the same class who had a stutter, and I will always remember that same teacher trying to hide his amusement whenever he gave an answer.

I could tell you so many stories, but the above serves to illustrate, I hope, that even though I was never a victim of sexual abuse, what I did experience left a deep scar for many, many years, and an abiding hatred for those who had subjected us to such measures. It was a hatred I only managed to let go of well into my forties.

I often think that those experiences were the genesis of my own extremely strong aversion to abuse of power in its many shapes and forms. They helped make me what I am today, both the good and the bad.

However, beyond my own personal reasons for valuing the movie, there is a much greater lesson to be had from it. It underscores very effectively both the power and the importance of the press, the same press that we find in our time under constant financial barrage. Had it not been for the doggedness of the Boston Globe and its reporters, the scope of both the abuse and the concealment at the highest diocesan levels would never have come to light, and the priest would have continued to be relocated to other parishes, free to carry on their predations. The movie is both an indictment of the tawdriness, cowardice and complicity of the Catholic Church and its many prominent Boston lay supporters, and an extollment, in a very quiet way, of how the profession of journalism can often rise to noble heights.

So yes, I still subscribe to a print newspaper, despite the ever-rising costs, because I know that good work costs money and a great deal of time. Think of all the investigative stories you have read over the years, and the results that ensued. My own paper of choice, The Toronto Star, has a remarkable track record of getting things done, often to the point of affecting both and provincial governments to the point of inspiring remedial legislation in a number of areas.

The battle will never end, as long as we live in such an imperfect world.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Enlightened Leadership

Having just returned from Southern California, I have no intention of indulging myself in travel reminisces at the expense of my readers. I'll only say that thanks to my son Matthew, it was one of the best experiences of my life. It also yielded some very interesting insights.

As people who check my blog regularly may know, I tend to be very critical of politicians, police and big business. In their own way, each often massively abuse their authority. Yet I also try to balance my criticisms by acknowledging good practices when I find them. The California chain, In-N-Out Burger, is one business that epitomizes both respect and opportunity for its employees, something that, in an ideal world, would be the norm.

Begun in 1948 by Harry Snyder and his wife Esther, and still a family-run chain today, it is freed from the corporate demands that so often mean treating employees like dispensable and replaceable tools. Like the exceptional corporate-owned Costco, it knows that investing in its workers is key to its success. While all store employees start at the very bottom (cleaning tables, floors, etc. before they can even cook a burger), the job's potential is quite significant. Consider these facts:
In-N-Out starts their employees at $10.50 [now $11] an hour. That's the highest of any fast food chain in the country.

While the median wage for a manager of a fast food store is $48,000 per year, employees at In-N-Out can eventually work themselves up to $120,000. That's otherwise unheard of in the industry.
According to Carl Van Fleet, the current CEO, there are solid reasons behind being an industry leader:
Our founders, Harry and Esther Snyder, started In-N-Out Burger in 1948 and were focused on taking great care of our customers, taking great care of our associates and maintaining an intense focus on quality. That focus remains firmly in place today and paying our associates well helps us maintain it.

We strive to create a working environment that is upbeat, enthusiastic and customer-focused. A higher pay structure is helpful in making that happen but it is only part of our approach. It is equally important to treat our associates well and maintain that positive working environment in all of our restaurants.
So good remuneration is only part of In-N-Out's formula for success. It offers benefits that are indeed rare in so many workplaces today, and almost unheard of in the fast-food industry. The perks for full-time employees and their dependents include
- a package of medical, dental, and vision benefits
- a retirement plan with a Defined Contribution Profit Sharing Plan and 401(k) Plan
- company contributions made into the plan
Many part-time employees also qualify for the above, as well as the accrual of six days cumulative sick-leave days per year, flexible working hours to accommodate people's needs, chain-wide closure on Christmas Day, Easter, and Thanksgiving, and free meals on work days.

Oh, and one more thing. In response to consumer demand, the chain has committed to use only antibiotic-free beef, although no date for implementation has yet been announced.

We ate at one of the stores, and I can tell you four things: It was very busy, despite it being about 3:30 in the afternoon; all the employees were polite and appeared very positive; the food was quite good (everything, including the buns, are fresh and never frozen), and the prices were excellent.

All in all, In-N-Out Burger appears to be an industry leader in a field where so many shameful and demeaning practices abound. Too bad others refuse to acknowledge that healthy profits and respect for employees are not mutually exclusive.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

California Dreamin'

Thanks to a very generous Christmas gift from my son, who will be joining us from Edmonton, my wife and I are heading off to Southern California for a five-day trip. Ever since I was a teenager I have wanted to visit The Golden State, but for reasons that include my almost infinite capacity for procrastination, I have not. I think my son recognized if I was ever actually going to make the trip, he would have to give me a big push. Thank you, Matthew.

I should be back blogging in a less than a week. See you then.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Saying Goodbye To Alex For Up To One Year


Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I was a teacher for so many years; maybe it is because I have been a parent for even longer. But the fact is, I cannot get the killing of Alex Wettlaufer out of my mind. Unfortunately, however, although I will be thinking of him, I doubt that I will writing anything more about him for up to as much as one year. That is how long we may have to wait for the results of the SIU 'investigation' into his death at the hands of the Toronto police.

As reported in yesterday's Star, the only paper, by the way, that seems to be showing continued interest, the deeply flawed Ontario Police Services Act says
officers “shall not, during the course of an investigation by the SIU into an incident, disclose to any person any information with respect to the incident or the investigation.”

The regulation is intended to ensure the integrity of the independent investigation, but some critics say it creates a situation where the public is left in the dark about a high-profile issue, often for months at a time.
This means, according to the SIU, that
it cannot reveal whether Wettlaufer was armed because the investigation is ongoing. The vital piece of information may not be provided until the probe is completed, a process that typically takes several months, or up to a year.
In other words, there will be no information forthcoming on anything that will either confirm or refute growing public suspicion that another Sammy Yatim tragedy has occurred, nothing to suggest that people needn't be increasingly fearful of a force that is sworn to protect and serve them.

The Wettlaufer family, which hotly contests the suggestion that Alex was armed, is not willing to wait for this drawn-out and inexcusably long process to play out.
They are now hoping to find a lawyer to help obtain any surveillance video that may have captured parts of the incident, Timothy [Wettlaufer] said. They want to obtain as much information as possible that could help explain how his “soft-hearted” brother wound up fatally shot by police.

The family is hopeful TTC cameras may have captured some of the initial altercation, which began near Leslie station. However, Timothy said he is concerned there may be little independent evidence — such as witness accounts or video evidence — from the dark ravine where the shooting occurred.
From the broader community, there have been calls for much-need reform to the act that is preventing the release of any information:
Darryl Davies, a criminology instructor at Carleton University, said the province should consider changing the Police Act, currently under review by the ministry of community safety. Davies says there is far more information about fatal shootings when they don’t involve police, and that’s not they way it should be.

“There is no justification for treating the cases differently. In fact one could argue that because the shooting is by a person employed, trained and paid by a government entity that there should in fact be more transparency and not less,” Davies said.
Even some police are frustrated by the constraints of the act:
Mark Valois, a former Toronto Police officer and retired use-of-force training officer, said the legal gag-order ... can be “very frustrating.”

“Absolutely there’s times when things happen, and things are hitting the news, there’s rumours and you might read something and say, ‘that’s not what happened, but I can’t say anything,’ ” he said.
Secrecy inevitably invites suspicions of coverups, sanitization of facts, the illegal fabrication of police notes and the development of 'plausible deniability.'

So goodbye for now, Alex. You may be tragically gone, but you are not forgotten.

ONE FINAL NOTE: The gofundme campaign to raise funds for Alex's funeral is ongoing. So far 29 people have contributed just under $1700. Should you care to lend a helping hand to the family at this very difficult time, please click here.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

In A World Where Truth Mattered

....this might be significant. Unfortunately, the more Donald Trump lies, the more popular he seems to become with his acolytes, who laud him for his 'authenticity'. Too bad so many Americans seem to have slipped into a parallel universe.

The Tyranny Of Conformity

Yesterday, KirbyCairo wrote another of his thought-provoking posts, this one on the current plight of the federal NDP and its search for renewal. That prospect is dim, Kirby says, unless the party can break free from what he calls the top-down party structure and its inability to address issues that matter to Canadians. It is a plaint that was also echoed, but with a different emphasis, in a piece by Thomas Walkon in yesterday's Star. And now, the former NDP candidate for Toronto Centre, Linda McQuaig, writes about the tyranny of conformity imposed upon political candidates.

First, some background. You may remember this moment of frankness from the last federal campaign, (start at the five-minute mark on the video) and the fireworks that ensued:

In her column today, McQuaig discusses why she entered the political arena:
I ran (unsuccessfully) as the federal NDP candidate in Toronto Centre in the 2013 byelection and again in 2015, with the dream of putting into action progressive ideas I’d championed as a journalist. In jumping into politics, I realized I was giving up some of the freedom I’d enjoyed as a columnist and author to become part of a team with a collective message.
What conclusions did she draw from those experiences?
... it strikes me that the iron hand of party discipline — by which all three of our major political parties keep tight control on their messaging — can also have the effect of limiting debate and discouraging independent thinking, to the detriment of our democratic system.
It was a fact brought home to her by her experience depicted in the above video showing how her honesty was used against her:
Out of the blue, ... [Michelle] Rempel was trying to goad me into saying something negative about the oilsands.

I knew I was supposed to “pivot” — that is, deftly switch to something in line with party messaging.

Host Rosemary Barton sided with Rempel and pushed me for an answer.

So — to pivot or not to pivot? If I didn’t pivot, I knew I’d be stepping into a trap laid by Conservative strategists to portray the NDP as anti-development. But if I did pivot, I felt somehow I’d be betraying the planet.

After a split second in which I saw my political life pass in front of me, I decided to side with the planet, saying “a lot of the oilsands oil may have to stay in the ground if we’re going to meet our climate change targets.”
The ensuing ado included being predictably pounced upon by Harper, as well as other Conservatives and Liberals, including future prime minister Justin Trudeau, who denounced my “extreme” position.

Others recognized it as a mere statement of fact, but, of course, facts seem to have little relevance or value in political campaigns.

Citing Susan Delacourt, McQuaig says the experience
seemed to reinforce the case for tight political messaging based on the rule, as reported by Susan Delacourt in her book Shopping for Votes: “Do not talk of sacrifice, collective good, facts, problems or debate.”

In other words, avoid complexity and controversy — or anything else that assumes the voter is capable of accepting the responsibility of citizenship.
Much to her credit, the journalist questions whether this is the right way to go.

The pressure to conform and adopt a 'group-think' mentality is one of the chief reasons I have avoided being involved in groups for most of my life. I am glad that Linda McQuaig recognizes that such constraints are not for her. Her voice is much stronger, more appreciated and more effective as a journalist seeking to be a constructive contributor to some much-needed national debate than as a mouthpiece for a political party. We are all the better for it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

UPDATED: More On Alex Wettlaufer, Toronto's Latest Young Person Killed By Police

If we are given to even modest introspection, it seems inevitable that the longer we live, the more we develop an increasing appreciation not only for the wonder of life but also its shortness and fragility. The older we get, the more we are witness to a parade of people who enter and leave our orbits, sometimes by choice, but more often by the cold fact of mortality. The exits that hurt us the most, of course, are of those we have known and loved. Yet the latter represent only a minute part of the larger human experience, but if we watch, listen and read carefully, even those we don't know touch us in some ways. I feel that way about Alex Wettlaufer, the young man killed Sunday night by Toronto police, about whom I wrote yesterday.

Unlike his friend Sammy Yatim, who met the same fate as he did, Wettlaufer will likely not occupy a large part of public consciousness, owing to the singular absence of video documenting his demise. I suppose that is why there was absolutely no followup on last night's news; the media were consumed instead by the attack on two soldiers by Ayanle Hassan Ali at a recruitment centre, an attack that Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders was only to happy to hold a press conference about, despite the usual official reticence 'because the investigation is ongoing.' Silence thus far is the only official response to the killing of Alex.

But one media outlet has not forgotten the young man whose life was so cruelly cut short. Today's Toronto Star, in a solid editorial, bears witness to that life and discusses, as I tried to do yesterday, the implications of his death. I am taking this opportunity to reproduce the entire piece, one that I hope you will read:
Another police shooting can’t be brushed aside

We’ll have to wait weeks or months for the official version of what exactly went down late Sunday night in a park in North York. But even before all the facts are known, there are serious questions about the circumstances surrounding the death of Alex Wettlaufer.

He’s the 21-year-old man who was shot dead by Toronto police just before midnight on Sunday. The province’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) is on the case, so the usual veil of silence has been drawn over the incident.

But this much is known: Police say they had “preliminary information” that two men were fighting at the Leslie subway station and one of them had a gun. Investigators say one man fled into the nearby park. There was a confrontation with police, and Wettlaufer was fatally shot.

Wettlaufer’s family, however, tells a very different story. They describe him as a quiet man with a full-time job whose ambition was to join the military. His mother, Wendy, says he was on his cellphone in the park, talking to a family member, at the moment he was shot. “He was crying, saying that he’s being surrounded,” she told CP24. “They kept telling him to put the weapon down, and he kept hollering telling them he didn’t have a weapon.”

Did Wettlaufer have a gun? Or did police mistake his cellphone for a weapon? These are among the questions that SIU investigators, who look into all deaths involving police, must try and answer amid the disturbing claims from Wettlaufer’s family.

Without video or other independent evidence, though, they will have to rely mainly on the version provided by police themselves. Wettlaufer cannot give his side. And in the wake of the Sammy Yatim shooting, many people will be understandably skeptical of the story told by police.

Yatim’s death in 2013 was captured on video from multiple angles. It showed a Toronto policeman, Const. James Forcillo, shooting Yatim eight times on an empty, stopped streetcar. In January, Forcillo was convicted of attempted murder – but there’s little doubt that without the video evidence he would have gone free. That’s what happened with every other officer charged with murder or manslaughter.

Ironically, Wettlaufer attended the same school as Sammy Yatim and they were said to be friends. The public was shocked by Yatim’s death because the video showed conclusively that it simply didn’t have to happen. He was trapped alone on the streetcar and there was no good reason to shoot him. Chief Mark Saunders himself acknowledged at the time that his force had lost public trust.

After that, Torontonians are in no mood to quietly accept the death of yet another young man in questionable circumstances. His shooting is another argument for all officers to wear body cameras, so there would be independent confirmation of how the confrontation developed.

In the absence of that, the public will expect a thorough investigation that does not take the official explanation at face value.
Doesn't Alex Wettlaufer deserve to be remembered by all of us, not just his devatated family and friends?

UPDATE: There is a gogundme campaign to help cover Alex's funeral. If you might be interested in contributing, please click here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

"I'm Angry! So I'm Voting For Donald Trump"

So says Andrew Klavan. Watch his video to find out why:

Now Sammy Yatim's Friend Has Been Killed By The Police

I have long held to the belief that had there been no video evidence, there would have been no charges, no trial and certainly no conviction of James Forcillo in the police murder of Sammy Yatim. The well-know blue line would have made sure of that. I cannot help but wonder if we will see that alternative reality play out in the latest Toronto police killing, this one, eerily, of Sammy Yatim's friend, Alex Wettlaufer.

While it is still very early in the investigation, and I am very mindful of the pitfalls of jumping to conclusions, what I have read and seen thus far is not encouraging, and I am left with a sadness over the loss of another young person, this one but 21 years old. Here is what we know so far:
The incident began just after 11:15 p.m. Sunday, when officers arrived at the Leslie subway station at Leslie St. and Sheppard Ave. E. to investigate reports of a fight between two men. Toronto police tweeted late Sunday that one of them had a gun.

Investigators say one of the men fled to the nearby park, where there was a confrontation with Toronto police, including members of the Emergency Task Force, that resulted in police fatally shooting Wettlaufer. At 11:34 p.m., paramedics were called to the scene. They transported the man to Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, where he was pronounced dead.

Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which probes incidents of death, serious injury and allegations of sexual assault involving police, was called in early Monday morning to investigate. SIU spokeswoman Jasbir Dhillon said the probe is still in the early stages, and investigators cannot yet say if Wettlaufer was carrying a gun.

It’s part of the investigation, whether or not he was carrying a weapon,” she said.
That last line, to which I have added emphasis, raises questions. In most early investigations, whether a weapon was found is part of the basic information released to the public; given the egregious incompetence of the SIU, about which I have written many times, I have no confidence the truth will necessarily emerge.

As well, if police insist that he had a gun, will forensics tests be done to look for gunpowder residue to determine if it had been fired? If none is found, or he did not have a gun, how will the police explain killing him? Will we be given the kind of contemptuous lie that likely would have been given about Sammy Yatim had there been no video evidence, i.e., that he was lunging at police, menacing them in such a way that they had no choice? If so, I think we would be fools to uncritically accept such self-serving pap.

Perhaps some truth can be found in the news reports carried on local television.

In this first video, you will hear the shots fired by the police. There is no indication that they had been fired upon:

Here is Alex's sister:

Other family members are also speaking out:

Given the contempt for transparency that many police services seem to be showing these days, we, the public, have every right to be asking hard questions and demanding answers and accountability. I make no apologies for my own cynicism and suspicions.

For a parting context, perhaps the final word for today should be given to Lilieth Rankine, a neighbour who knows the family well:
“He’s a good kid, went to school, finished school,” she said. “I don’t get it . . . What happened? Can you imagine what the community is going through?”

Monday, March 14, 2016

Sometimes Progressives Can Be As Dogmatic As Their Right-Wing Counterparts

I recently wrote the following:
One of the things that I think distinguishes progressives from rabid reactionaries is that the latter tend to have reflexive positions on key issues, while the former can appreciate nuance.
I do believe in the general validity of that thesis, but it is also true that some who embrace the progressive title can be as inflexible, dogmatic and reactive as their far-right counterparts. A very interesting story in The New York Times about the repurposing of old oil rigs amply demonstrates this.

Dr. Milton Love, a professor of marine biology at the University of California Santa Barbara, has researched marine life at offshore drilling sites, and says that
the location of these rigs — in marine-protected areas in a cold current that swoops down from British Columbia — have made them perfect habitats for fish and other sea life.

“They are more productive than coral reefs, more productive than estuaries,” ... “It just turns out by chance that platforms have a lot of animals that are growing really quickly.”

Most stunning of all is that Dr. Love's research has determined that most of the life was actually created at the rig rather than having come from other parts of the ocean and settled around the massive concrete pylons.

While there is growing momentum to leave large sections of the decommissioned rigs intact (80 feet below the surface so as not to impede shipping lanes) after wells have been capped and cemented, the concept has also provoked strong opposition from some surprising quarters:
“It’s seen as something which benefits the oil industry, and opposing the oil industry is the role taken by many environmental groups,” said George Steinbach, the executive director of the California Artificial Reef Enhancement program, a nonprofit advocacy organization funded by the oil industry.
“People here have been waiting for these oil platforms to go away,” said Linda Krop, an environmental lawyer with the Environmental Defense Center, an advocacy group based in Santa Barbara, where several offshore rigs can be easily seen from shore.

Ms. Krop disagreed that the science is settled on the role of the rigs in fostering marine life. Regardless, she said, leaving the rigs up would be tantamount to rewarding polluters with the windfall of not having to pay to remove them.

“When they built those platforms, that was a cost that they took into effect,” she said.
The savings to the oil industry cited by Ms. Krop is something of a red herring. While it is true that only partial decommissioning would save big oil an estimated $1 billion,
under the law, oil companies would be required to put at least half of the money they save into state coffers to fund conservation programs.
Many would view that as a happy compromise.

Personally, I find the kind of dogmatism expressed by Linda Krop and the Environmental Defense Center a little hard to understand, given the obvious benefits research has shown would accrue by keeping the rigs intact. While one may have genuine reasons for opposing views, adamantine ideology cannot qualify as one of them.

In any event, treat yourself to some stunning images of the marine life to be found around these rigs which have, for all intents and purposes, become artificial reefs:

Sunday, March 13, 2016

This Speaks Rather Loudly, Eh?

While the woman in the above photo, Birgitt Peterson, claims she was provoked and that her Nazi salute has been misinterpreted (I'm sure such mistakes happen all the time), and a right-wing site offers a lamentably lame spin on her, as they say, actions speak louder than words, eh?

That is not to say, however, that Toronto Star readers' words fork no lightning as they discuss their views of the the U.S. descent into fascism via Donald Trump. All of the missives are excellent, but I reproduce only a few of them below:
The Trump phenom might be ugly, as your editorial states, but it says a lot about the anti-intellectual stream that exists in American society. It’s not just Trump, but most of the Republican candidates for president are worse. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are downright scary. They look like characters in a bad Hollywood movie.

This is the country that put a Man on the moon and developed the Internet, but a good chunk of America is quite ignorant and knows nothing about the rest of the world. And in many ways, why should it? It has a huge domestic economy where internal trade is more important than external trade. They don’t need to look outside their borders.

But saying that, there is no excuse for ignorance. Let’s face it, many Americans, including most Republicans, still believe in Creationism. They believe the world was created in six days and many deny climate change. Even though cities like Miami and New York will be under water in a hundred years.

Obviously, Donald Trump plays to the anger many feel over their lot in life; lost jobs due to globalization and the hollowing out of the American manufacturing sector. Trump speaks to their fears, even though he has no real solutions. Crazy American elections aren’t new, just look at 1968 with the likes of Richard Nixon, George Wallace and Hubert Humphrey. But what is consistent in American life, despite their immense power, is their parochialism and small mindedness.

That is dangerous and sad.

Andrew van Velzen, Toronto

I have read literally hundreds of negative reports on Trump campaign, yet not one article mentions why he is so popular. Although the average American does not know for sure why things are so bad regarding wages, job opportunities or how the 2008 Wall Street fiasco screwed them out of millions of homes, they instinctively know they are being lied to. It would be nice if the schools taught the real history of what has been happening and what led to World War II, but somehow I doubt that is going to happen.

Add to that the “dumbing down of America” that has been in full swing since the mid 1970s and this is what America has become.

All we have to do is look at Germany in the 1930s. They were probably the most educated and advanced society in the early 20th century, yet they allowed a tyrant into power who led the world to a world war.

And why did this tyrant get into power? The economy had collapsed, the German dollar had collapsed and people were desperate for help. Now we see America with cities in ruin, poison water, jobless people living in tent cities and they do not have the social net we have in Canada.

Let’s be honest. The so called 1 per cent has put us in this position and Trump is the answer the Americans have come up with.

If we do not wake up and realize that without a solid middle class, we are doomed to repeat history, then people like Trump will rule.

Gary Brigden, Toronto

Perhaps a significant block of American voters are responding to Donald Trump not because they admire a bully, but because in one respect at least he’s finally speaking to something that no North American politician, and few elsewhere, have dared to speak to in a generation, something that has detrimentally affected and continues to affect virtually every working-class person on the continent.
The so-called “free trade” deals that have been imposed continentally for the past 30 years were calculated to wipe out domestic manufacturing, simply and solely for the sake of somebody else’s bottom line. Although new deals in the offing still persist in callously promising us the moon, they only ever leave a decimated economy at street-level, and diminished opportunities to prosper for succeeding generations. This is clear to anyone who has experienced life in such an economy, such as the current generation of Canadians.

Trump speaks to the fraudulent nature of these multiple ersatz trade deals, which plainly have always had more to do, even in the latest proposals, with investor rights than with broad economic advancements.

If Trump is finally talking turkey about the daily lived fraud that North American workers have endured for too long, and if his message in this respect is resonating with workers, then perhaps his opponents and his critics might take a lesson from his strategy and finally start talking real cases themselves.

Justin Trudeau, are you listening?

George Higton, Toronto

To borrow sardonically from The Bard, who seems to have seen it all,

O brave new world / That has such people in't!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Friday, March 11, 2016

A Walk In The Neighbourhood

Having pretty much recovered from a nasty stomach bug that laid me low for about 24 hours, I thought it might be a good time to take a brief walk to the local plaza, situated about seven minutes from my house. The first part of my perambulation depressed me; one of the homeowners on my route decided, for reasons not apparent to me, to cut down an old fir tree enisled in their circular driveway. At least 50 feet high, its desecration thus far had left it with only the top three or four feet of branches, the rest already consigned to a shredder.

Aesthetics aside, I saw this termination as yet another flagrant example of how we like to mouth the right platitudes about climate change, but whenever doing something to mitigate it encroaches upon our personal freedoms and choices, our truer, more selfish natures come to the fore. I wondered, as I passed by, if they had given any thought to the stored carbon that this tree's termination will see released into the atmosphere. Even if it is relatively little, the choice to cut it down does not, in my view, reflect mindful stewardship of our environment.

The same could be said of other aspects of my community. Although it is a very walkable one (e.g., a pedestrian trek to our library takes about 10 minutes at a brisk pace), I would classify only a handful of people in my neighbourhood as walkers: the young couple who moved in next door, having abandoned the dream of home ownership in Toronto where they were renting, are out and about on a regular basis, often with their little girl in her stroller. I suspect their sojourn in Toronto taught them that walking is often the best way to get about. The other person, on the street over from mine, regularly walks to the plaza. And, of course, my wife and I do much walking as well.

Only five people, living in a very walkable community, regularly walk. What is wrong with this picture?

My own affection for the pedestrian way is long-standing; however, as I get older I think more and more of my father who was a lifelong walker, frequently perambulating to his place of work which must have been at least 40 minutes from where we lived. Despite two heart attacks and crippling pain in his later years, he still got about with his walker. When he died four years ago at the age of 90, he was still compos mentis, a fact that I believe had a lot to do with his walking habits. Indeed, research tends to support that hypothesis.

Perhaps I am rambling a bit here. My point here is not to suggest that I am some kind of exemplar of environmental consciousness; indeed, in my working years I drove pretty much every day (about a 15-minute car-trip) to the school where I taught; I could probably have arranged car pooling, but I never felt it would work very well, given that teachers operate on different after-school schedules, some staying late to mark, others leaving earlier. But the point is I never even tried unless my car was not working.

Is this our fate, to live in our own closed universes where our needs and wants take precedence over the most pressing of issues?

Time Grows Short

As The Mound of Sound points out, it is getting very late on the climate-change front. The goal of keeping global warming at below 2 degrees Celsius by 2100 seems a fool's errand, given that it is now predicted to be reached by 2030. A bitter truth that too many wish to ignore, some people are facing up to it, as reflected in the following two letters from yesterday's Toronto Star:
Re: Climate change to wilt food supply, March 6

This story makes it clear that those scientists predicting the end of planet Earth in a few hundred years are more accurate than many would believe. Climate change, rising sea levels, deforestation, fishing the oceans bare, the slaughter of our wildlife, the ongoing pollution of air, land and water, new diseases emerging, overpopulation, global terrorism, the real threat of a major world war, etc. should make all those denying the grim reality pull their heads out of the sand.

Sadly, it’s too late. Man’s ignorance has placed this world on the “fast track” to its doom.

I am nearly 70 and can honestly say that I am glad to be “on the way out.” I weep for those now being born.

Planet Earth could have been a paradise. Corporate greed (profits trump the environment) and the lust for power will bring it to an end.

I think of an old saying. “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.”

Robert Trowell, Ingersoll

Congratulations to the Star for its stand on climate change. In addition to its March 6 editorial (“Going green no time soon”), there were four great letters under the headline: “Feeling hopeless over climate change.” On the previous page, A9, there is yet another article supporting attempts to roll back climate change: “Climate change will wilt food supply.”

One thing we must know is where we should be heading in this struggle. Unless we get our carbon dioxide emissions down to the level that the world’s vegetation can assimilate, we are doomed.

Canada’s part in this process, according to our population, is 42 megatonnes of carbon dioxide annually. In 2014 we produced 699 megatonnes.

We have a long way to go. Let’s make sure that we know the destination. Let’s hope that the Star will continue to guide us.

Ken Ranney, Peterborough
Sadly, these periodic recognitions of climate doom are likely be too little, too late, but at least we will recognize, when the time comes, that we were collectively responsible for our demise.

And as a graphic illustration of our peril, you might want to take a look at this:

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Remembrances Of Things Past (And Present)

I suspect it is only the very young and the profoundly naive who believe that justice is blind, that all are treated equaly under the law. While a pleasing fiction that governments like to perpetuate, nothing could be further from the truth.

Consider the latest revelations about the Canadian Revenue Agency's shoddy hypocrisy, begun under the Harper regime but showing no signs of abatement under the Trudeau government.
The Canada Revenue Agency offered amnesty to multi-millionaire clients caught using what's been called an offshore tax "sham" on the Isle of Man — a reprieve that was supposed to remain secret and out of the public eye until it was uncovered by a CBC News/Radio-Canada investigation.

Canada Revenue officials demanded, and offered, secrecy in a no-penalty, no-prosecution deal to high net worth clients of accounting giant KPMG involved in a dodgy offshore tax scheme.

The amnesty allows for "high net worth" clients of the accounting giant KPMG to be free from any future civil or criminal prosecution — as well as any penalties or fines — for their involvement in the controversial scheme.

The clients simply had to agree to pay their back taxes and modest interest on these offshore investments, which they had failed to report on their income tax returns.
While this might come as no surprise to many, what compounds this egregious injustice is the fact that the CRA is far less forgiving of ordinary people, many of whom, through no fault of their own, found themselves the victims of very punitive CRA action:
Toronto tax lawyer Duane Milot, who represents middle-income Canadians in disputes with the CRA, says his clients are routinely dragged through the courts for years by Canada Revenue.

"It's outrageous," he told CBC News after reading the leaked document. "The CRA appears to be saying to Canadians, 'If you're rich and wealthy, you get a second chance, but if you're not, you're stuck.'"
Just how much contempt the CRA feels for non-wealthy people is evident in the first four minutes of the following report:

Will relief for such iniquitous inequity be forthcoming from our 'new' government? In his finely-honed prosecutorial style, Thomas Mulcair asked some hard questions of the Prime Minister in the House. I was less than reassured by the answers he was given:

I couldn't help but note that in the response he gave, Mr. Trudeau sounded alarmingly like his predecessor, deflecting the questions by criticizing the questioner and then launching into some pious platitudes.

It seems that in some ways, our new government is getting old very quickly. Consequently, the CRA's foul practices continue apace.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Archbishop And Assisted Dying

One of the things that I think distinguishes progressives from rabid reactionaries is that the latter tend to have reflexive positions on key issues, while the former can appreciate nuance. I hope the following helps to reflect that difference.

The other day, the Archbishop of Toronto, Cardinal Thomas Collins, issued a statement and a video about assisted dying, read and shown in over 200 churches in the Archdiocese of Toronto:

If you watch the above video, you will note that Collins is citing from a 70-page report tabled Thursday, called "Medical Assistance in Dying: A Patient-Centred Approach," a report that sets out the recommendations of a special committee of MPs and senators on who should be eligible to request assisted suicide. When I first heard what he had to say, I thought that Collins was engaging in some dishonest fear-mongering, but closer examination shows that, for the most part, he was not.

The report includes the following recommendations:

- the right to assisted death should not be limited to physical conditions, and that Canadians with psychiatric conditions should not be excluded from doctor assistance to end suffering.

- a two-stage legislative process. The first would apply to competent adults 18 years or older to be followed by a second stage with competent mature "minors" to come in to force no later than three years later.

- establish a process to respect health care practitioners' freedom of conscience.

- doctors opposed to assisted suicide would have to recommend someone willing to perform it.

While there is much more to the report, including safeguards against abuse, I must confess that I feel deeply ambivalent about the anticipated legislation for a number of reasons. I am cautiously supportive of its overall goal, to offer a way to end intractable suffering, but it is the parameters of how that suffering will be defined that bothers me.

For example, when one ventures into mental suffering, one cannot help but wonder if such a request for termination would spring from a failure of all treatment modalities, or an inability of the sufferer to access those modalities. Waiting lists for treatment can be very long indeed. Can a person truly be deemed competent to choose death over life in the midst of crippling mental illness?

The proposal to lower the age of consent to include minors also troubles me deeply, especially if we are talking about suffering that is not strictly physical. As well, can a minor, no matter how mature, truly make such a momentous decision. I can't help but think, for example of the 11-year-old girl, Makayla Sault, who, with her parents' support, opted to end treatment for her leukemia, treatment that would have likely resulted in a cure. She died as a consequence of that decision.

The matter of a doctor's conscience also causes me some concern, While some go so far as to argue that a publicly-financed hospital should provide a completer suite of services, including assisted suicide, most seem satisfied that they provide a referral to someone who will. However, I can see that in such a contentious issue, even that might be too much for some medical practitioners. What will be the consequences of a refusal to refer?

As you can see, I have but scratched the surface of this issue. While I have no window into the suffering that others experience, I do believe that much more vigorous debate is needed on this question. It demands that we examine our own values, and the values we think are important in our country, so that we don't plunge headlong into a practice that, once begun, could lead to consequences that none of us desire.

Monday, March 7, 2016

More On Freelands's Double-Speak

Recently, I wrote a post about CETA, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement; part of it examined the double-speak of Chrystia Freeland when she talked about both the protection of investor rights and the benefits of the deal that will redound to Canada. To me, the two are mutually incompatible, especially since the former allows for the virtual abrogation of our sovereignty rights over any issue that could adversely affect corporate profits.

Reading this morning's Star, I was glad to see that others are rightfully suspicious of our International Trade Minister's claims. Here is what reader Mary Crosato of Burlington had to say:
Re: Canada-EU trade deal could take effect in 2017, March 1

International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland says, “This is a gold-plated deal. It’s going to bring tremendous benefits to Canada.”

Please show us in black and white what benefits Canadians will receive from this agreement. What manufactured goods are we going to be exporting to create more jobs here, in our country? Are we just going to keep importing substandard products and clothing, some of which are made by underaged children in Third World countries?

We must start taxing companies that choose to manufacture goods offshore and continue making billions of dollars to increase their bottom line. We have to create a level playing field for companies that want to manufacture in Canada.

I hope Ms Freeland will not be bullied into accepting any agreement that is not fair or beneficial to Canadians.
I'm not so sure it is bullying that we have to worry about so much as the seduction of Ms. Freeland by the siren call of neoliberalism.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Looking In The Mirror

A recent Toronto Star piece about climate change chose to explore, not the well-known physical peril it poses, but rather the mental one. Citing a 2012 report from the U.S. National Wildlife Federation, it offered the following grim predictions:
... cases of mental and social disorders will rise steeply as the signs of climate change become clearer and more frequent, and as more people are directly affected by heat waves, drought and other extreme events that put pressure on clean water resources, food prices and public infrastructure.

“These will include depressive and anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, substance abuse, suicides and widespread outbreaks of violence,” predicted the report. It singled out children, the poor, the elderly and those with existing mental health problems as those likely to be hardest hit.
It is an article well-worth reading in its entirety.

In today's Star, readers respond to it with their usual perspicacity. While I reproduce only a few below, all are worth reading:
Thanks to David Ouchterlony for expressing what many of us must feel about the lack of concern over climate change. I find my sense of hopelessness and despair is directly related to my increase in knowledge of our situation.

I refuse, however, to buffer my mental well being by “disengaging” my concern over the future of our planet. I do not know what type of a catastrophe it will take to bring climate “delayers” and “deniers” into acceptance of the dire situation all living creatures now face, but I know I must continue to try. For me, inaction will only increase my anxiety.

We must all confront this issue now before it is too late, and perhaps in numbers we can create the political will to mitigate this disaster.

Sue Braiden, Erin

I am sure I am not alone in having suffered from environmental anxiety since I was a teenager in the 1960s, when the Cuyahoga River caught fire, among other unbelievable events. In my 50 years of adulthood I have watched humans double and triple our world population, dump toxins and plastics into the air and water, pave everything around major cities, deplete animals and plants, and generally behave badly as citizens of the world.

We don’t seem to be able to stop ruining everything, despite both evidence and predictions. We seem to think Mars is the more beautiful planet, which Earth should emulate.

Martha Gould, North Bay

Climate change is destroying our coastal cities, causing unprecedented chaotic floods and now we are learning how this is wreaking havoc on our mental health. This mounting evidence should be a wake-up call.

However, the wealth of evidence that environmental change is caused by global “greed versus need” does not seem to have resulted in drastic changes that each of us are called upon to make – urgently.

Are we pushing our governments, and especially ourselves, to take tough measures to counter climate change and save planet Earth?

Rudy Fernandes, Mississauga
No government can fix global warming and stay popular, but we Canadians can reduce our CO2 emissions by burning less gas, eating less meat, and turning off the heat and lights when we’re out. If we each do our part, there’s no need for despair. Everything will cost a bit more, but not as much as doing nothing.

Canada should lead, not wait for Americans to change their thinking.

Simon Leigh, Toronto
As the letter-writers make abundantly clear, we all have a responsibility here, both in the creation of the catastrophe, and in the measures that must be taken to mitigate it. The ball is indeed in our collective court.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Apparently, Size Does Matter

Given its increasing preoccupation with boyish concerns, the Republican 'presidential' debates are turning out to be anything but magisterial. With a persona carried over from his reality show, Donald Trump is apparently managing to convince a lot of people that it would be great fun to have a president who would be their own 24-hour-a-day, 365-days-a-year reality program. And in what I imagine reality shows demand (I'm sorry, but I am not an aficionado of the genre), at least a soupçon of vulgarity is de rigueur:

Clearly, he represents a bargain for the American public: demagoguery, mockery, and an opportunity to "make America great again."

Not to be outdone on the size front, a stout proponent of states' rights, Tennessee, has adopted this as its 'official state rifle':

The Barrett .50 caliber rifle is a powerful gun. Widely used in the military, its rounds can "penetrate light armor, down helicopters, destroy commercial aircraft, and blast through rail cars".
At least now we know that both nationally and statewide, size does indeed matter.

Don't Confuse Me With Facts

That does seem to be the attitude of Mr. Trump's ardent supporters, doesn't it?

Friday, March 4, 2016

A Bold Experiment Or A Necessary Support?

The concept of a guaranteed annual income just won't go away. It is regarded by some as an effective way of addressing the increasingly wide disparities afflicting our society, and reviled by others as an affront to individualism and a disincentive to work. I fall into the former camp, and empirical evidence appears to be on my side.

Here is a brief backgrounder:

A certain momentum seems to be building. Senator Art Eggleton, for example, is calling upon the federal government to initiate a pilot program:
“Quite frankly, the social welfare system that we have throughout this country, mainly run by provinces, it’s just not working,” said Eggleton. “We have one in seven people living in poverty in this country. That’s a shameful thing in a country as rich as Canada.”

Instead of pouring billions into a system that doesn’t help lift people out of poverty, he said, “I think it’s time to try a new approach. And I think a basic income could be that approach.”
There is interest in other jurisdictions as well. Quebec is onboard with the idea, and Ontario has announced plans for a pilot project, the details of which are yet to come.

A recent opinion piece written by Laura Anderson and Dr. Danielle Martin argues that considering the many possible positive outcomes, such a pilot program needs to be designed carefully. A past flirtation with the idea can be instructive.

Labour market outcomes were a major consideration in the 1970's Dauphin, Manitoba experiment with a guaranteed annual income. No one wants a plan that discourages people from working. Anderson and Martin point out that the Dauphin experiment did not discourage participation, with but two exceptions:
The first was women with infants at home, who effectively used the BIG [basic income guarantee] to purchase maternity leave. We should expect a different response from women in modern-day Canada, where maternity leave benefits are much more extensive. But where child care and other supports for working parents are insufficient, we may see responses to a BIG that will show us those cracks in the system.

The other group whose employment levels decreased under Mincome was teenage boys. A closer look reveals that with a basic income guarantee, male high school students were more likely to make the decision to stay in school until graduation. Given the Ontario government’s aim of increasing graduation rates and the need for a highly educated population, it will be important to understand how people’s labour market decisions interact with other important choices.
Perhaps the biggest changes that would come with the elimination of poverty are to be found in healthcare outcomes:
Poverty is the biggest determinant of health. As such, we should expect to see significant improvements in health among recipients of a basic income. For example, the Mincome data showed that under a BIG, hospital visits dropped by 8.5 per cent. This included fewer emergency room visits from car crashes and domestic abuse, and fewer mental health visits. In Ontario today, these indicators along with others — such as low birth weight, avoidable hospitalizations, and health system expenditures — are already measured, and a close look at the impact of a BIG on those metrics must be included in a basic income pilot.
The connection between poverty and poor health worldwide is a well-established one. Impediments such as low education levels, poor diets, smoking and sporadic contact with healthcare providers are all factors contributing to this relationship, a fact brought home recently by The Hamilton Spectator's Steve Buist:
An analysis of provincial data shows cancer in patients from poorer parts of Hamilton is more advanced by the time the disease is detected. The findings raise questions about access to health care, patient education, screening programs and the gap between rich and poor.
The statistics are telling:
The Spectator's data analysis shows that the lower part of the former City of Hamilton had 20 per cent more diagnoses than would be expected based on population.

Meanwhile, the five suburbs of Stoney Creek, Ancaster, Dundas, Flamborough and Glanbrook had about 12 per cent fewer Stage IV cancers than would be expected based on population.
The reason for this disparity is not hard to fathom. Says lung cancer specialist Dr. Peter Ellis:
"We know in general that people who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds have delayed access to health care," said Ellis. "These people tend to delay seeing a doctor, they don't necessarily understand some of the symptoms they see, they may be less inclined to undertake screening behaviour.

"If you don't necessarily have access to a family doctor, if your way of dealing with problems is to present to the emergency department or some sort of urgent care — which certainly happens more in those lower socioeconomic areas — then you're not going to get the continuity of care.
While a guaranteed annual income would hardly be an instant panacea, over time, as evidenced by the Dauphin data, improvements in a variety of outcomes would, it appears, be inevitable. All that is missing so far is a consistent political will.

Can our 'leaders' rise to the occasion?

Thursday, March 3, 2016

His Master's Voice

Readers of a certain vintage will remember the old RCA Victor logo, "His Master's Voice," shown above. It depicts a loyal dog dutifully listening to what he believes is that actual voice, although it is emanating from a facsimile, i.e., a record. I couldn't help but think of that ad as I saw this picture:

I believe that Mr. Christie has fooled himself into thinking he is hearing the real Donald Trump, now his master, but like the RCA logo, he is being misled. And he is paying a heavy price.

The New York Times has had a field day reporting on the reactions Christie's servility is provoking:
Six New Jersey newspapers issued a joint editorial calling for Mr. Christie’s resignation on Tuesday, an extraordinary show of disgust on the same day that the publisher of a major newspaper in New Hampshire took the unusual (and seemingly unnecessary) step of rescinding its previous pledge of support for him as a presidential candidate.

“Boy, were we wrong,” read the scalding essay in The New Hampshire Union Leader, which lamented that “rather than stand up to the bully, Christie bent his knee” to Mr. Trump.
Ridicule is pervasive, with the NYT dismissing him as just an overgrown 'fanboy.' But that seems mild compared to some of the pictures making the Internet rounds:
Digitally altered images rendered Mr. Christie as a docile doorman at Trump Tower and compared him, uncharitably, to a panting dog standing beside its master.
From my perspective, however, this non-altered image says it all:

Christie's self-debasement is without doubt motivated by an overweening desire to be selected as Trump's running mate; however, my belief is that Trump is merely providing a platform for the New Jersey governor to 'show his stuff' and attract more mainstream Republicans to his side. After that is accomplished, Mr. Christie will likely find himself meeting the same fate as so many others did on the show that made the short-fingered vulgarian such a household name, The Apprentice:

Probably a fitting fate for a man who has reminded all of us that politics is the world's second-oldest profession.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A Note Of Thanks To The Europeans

When I think about him at all, and it is admittedly only rarely, I imagine that Stephen Harper is spending some angry days and nights, probably silently seething. Not only is much of his 'legacy' being systematically dismantled by the new Trudeau government, but it seems that some of his much-cherished beliefs and passions are under attack from an unlikely source, the European Union.

Stephen Harper, I suspect, never met a trade deal he didn't like; the extollment of the corporate agenda through trade deals was and is something very close to his heart, certainly much closer than any concerns about loss of national sovereignty through investment dispute settlement mechanisms. His enthusiastic embrace of CETA, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, provides perhaps one of the best windows into his dark soul, inasmuch as it would further erode signatory countries' abilities to pass, for example, environmental legislation that would result in a loss of corporate profits.

Like his predecessor, Justin Trudeau seems to have a Pavlovian fondness for trade deals, evidenced by his enthusiastic support for CETA, even when he was in opposition. He cannot be looked to for national salvation. However, a ray of hope has emerged from European countries to be affected by CETA. Always seemingly more aware of, engaged in and vocal about democratic threats, critics on the Continent have forced a revision of the investment dispute settlement system:
CETA establishes a permanent Tribunal of fifteen Members which will be competent to hear claims for violation of the investment protection standards established in the agreement. The Members of the Tribunal competent to hear investment disputes will be appointed by the EU and Canada and will be highly qualified and beyond reproach in terms of ethics. Divisions of the Tribunal consisting of three Members will hear each particular case. The CETA text now follows the EU's new approach as set out in the recently concluded EU-Vietnam FTA and the EU’s TTIP proposal.
The above represents a departure from what had been originally intended. Writes Thomas Walkom that in Europe,
politicians and interest groups were horrified by the idea of a trade regime that would allow foreign companies to override domestic environmental, animal welfare or labour laws.
Under intense political pressure at home, the European side forced Canada to renegotiate a controversial part of the agreement that would allow private firms to challenge and ultimately strike down laws that might interfere with profit-making.

Under the renegotiated terms, companies would still have this right. But the adjudicators who heard such cases would not be chosen, as originally envisioned, by the disputants. Instead they would come from a 15-member permanent trade tribunal appointed by governments.

There would also be a right of appeal. As well, the renegotiated text gives more leeway to governments to regulate in the public interest.
While a definite improvement, it may be far less than the gold-plated trade deal claimed by International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, who proudly announced
that some amendments have been made to a controversial investment protection clause which had become a sticking point in negotiations between the two countries.

"I'm absolutely confident that Canadian investors and Canadian businesses will have their rights fully protected in this agreement," Freeland said.
What she fails to mention, of course, is that those same protections will be accorded to all the signatories, meaning that the often-litigious corporate world will still enjoy many field days either eroding our sovereign legislation or being paid billions in compensation.

Freeland's press conference, if you have four minutes to watch, seems, through my layman's eyes, to be an exercise in double-speak:

One, I believe, can honestly ask whether her claims of sovereignty protection and investor-rights protection aren't a tad contradictory.

It appears that Maude Barlow sees through this charade:
Not only do the proposed changes fail to address concerns about the investor-state provisions, they actually make them worse. The reforms enshrine extra rights for foreign investors that everyone else -- including domestic investors -- don't have. They allow foreign corporations to circumvent a country's own courts, giving them special status to challenge laws that apply equally to everyone through a court system exclusively for their use.

Even to call the new arbitrators "judges" is a misnomer, as these tribunals will not be taking into account environmental protection, human rights or other non-corporate considerations that a regular judge usually has to balance.
No doubt, our new government is counting on continued apathy and ignorance about this deal. A truly informed electorate, in my view, would never sanction it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

UPDATED: Donald Trump - Equivocator-In-Chief?

Synonym Discussion of equivocate

lie, prevaricate, equivocate, palter, fib mean to tell an untruth. lie is the blunt term, imputing dishonesty . prevaricate softens the bluntness of lie by implying quibbling or confusing the issue . equivocate implies using words having more than one sense so as to seem to say one thing but intend another . palter implies making unreliable statements of fact or intention or insincere promises . fib applies to a telling of a trivial untruth .

Miriam-Webster Online Dictionary

Probably my second-favourite Shakespearean tragedy, Macbeth delves darkly into the theme of equivocation. The word and the theme recur throughout the play as a way of exploring the evil that envelops and ultimately destroys the usurper king. From the moment he admits to his desire to be king, through to his cruel murder of his monarch, Duncan, and carrying through the bloody reign that ensues, Macbeth tries to present an innocent face while embracing mayhem. As his predator-partner Lady Macbeth counsels him, Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under't (1.5.74-5)

Some would argue that there is no equivocation when it comes to Donald Trump, that what you see is what you get. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If you haven't seen it, check out John Oliver's splendid takedown of Trump, available on The Mounds' blog. Oliver very skillfully demonstrates that to hear Trump talk is to listen to a flood of falsehoods, half-truths and self-important nonsense.

If you don't have the 21 minutes required to watch Oliver, you can take a look at the following much briefer report from NBC Nightly News. You will see quite clearly, as he temporizes and lies about the circumstances surrounding his refusal to disavow white supremacist David Duke, that you are watching vintage Trump as he blames others for his own lack of character and barely concealed racism.

The facts about Donald Trump, and the truth behind his self-propagated fiction about being a masterful businessman, is readily available for anyone who cares to look. But the question is, do Trump's supporters, and they are legion, even care that they are embracing someone who is so profoundly unworthy of national trust?

UPDATE: Over at the Toronto Star, Darren Thorne argues that the Trump blight is the logical outcome of the Republican Party's politics:
In reality, despite what is now being said, Trump is not a foreign entity executing a hostile takeover of the Republican Party. Rather, he is the tip of the spear; the sharpest point and the ultimate extension of the way Republicans have practiced politics in recent times. The lack of serious policy engagement, and the normalizing of corrosive rhetoric, anger and resentment that has become the norm have primed the electorate for a candidate like Trump.