Friday, September 29, 2017

UPDATED:Finally, A Politician Speaking For Her People

You have had, I am sure, many experiences throughout your lives when you have met people and, based only on very limited contact, have concluded they are people of integrity, people you can trust, perhaps befriend, hire and/or otherwise do business with. It is a hard-to-qualify trait, but if you watch the following, I think you will see it in Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan.

H/t Mrs. Betty Bowers

UPDATE: The Toddler-in-Chief has another Twitter tantrum, prompted by the above:
The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017

…Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017

…want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017

The military and first responders, despite no electric, roads, phones etc., have
done an amazing job. Puerto Rico was totally destroyed.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017

Fake News CNN and NBC are going out of their way to disparage our great First Responders as a way to "get Trump." Not fair to FR or effort!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017

Thursday, September 28, 2017

UPDATED:The Last Refuge Of The Scoundrel.

It was Samuel Johnson who first coined the above phrase. Watch the brief video embedded below to see how germane it is today:

UPDATE: Pursuant to The Mound's timely observation in the comment section, here is what Mrs. Betty Bowers has to say about the American national anthem:

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Chill On Democracy?

I think it is indisputable that thanks to the online world of social media, civil discourse has been hobbled. If, for example, one reads comments in newspapers or in public Facebook posts, usually the second or third person will lapse into tired, unimaginative words and phrases such as libtard, social justice warrior, communist, cuck, etc. I, as I am sure many others, have received my share of such insults and even threats when voicing a view that inflames the rabid right. It is all part of the territory.

I have always shrugged off such 'commentary' mainly because I consider the sources of such reactionary vituperation unworthy of my time and emotions. What they lack in intellectual rigour and ideas they try to compensate for in juvenile disparagement. And I am also aware that when one writes publicly, one is 'fair game' for anyone with an opinion, no matter how benighted that opinion might be.

But what about those who allegedly serve the public, our politicians and journalists? Judging by what I read in the paper, the latter receive such abuse regularly and simply accept it, however odious it might be, as the cost of doing business. It appears, however, that the political class is starting to feel otherwise, and what they are considering, at least in Britain, should give us all pause.

The British Electoral Commission is suggesting a measure against those who harass or threaten politicians online. It is a suggestion with quite disturbing implications.
Banning social media trolls from voting could help reduce the amount of abuse faced by politicians, the election watchdog has said.

The Electoral Commission says legislation around elections should be reviewed and new offences could be introduced.

“In some instances electoral law does specify offences in respect of behaviour that could also amount to an offence under the general, criminal law. It may be that similar special electoral consequences could act as a deterrent to abusive behaviour in relation to candidates and campaigners,” it states.
Make no mistake about it. The abuse politicians are subjected to can be horrendous. Here are but a few examples:
Diane Abbott, Labour
The MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington receives sexist and racist abuse online on a daily basis.

Writing for the Guardian, Abbott said she had received “rape threats, death threats, and am referred to routinely as a bitch and/or nigger, and am sent horrible images on Twitter”.

The death threats include an EDL-affiliated account with the tag “burn Diane Abbott”, she said.

Luciana Berger, Labour
The MP for Liverpool Wavertree has been subjected to repeated antisemitic and misogynistic abuse online.

A man who harassed Berger was in December jailed for two years after a trial at the Old Bailey. Joshua Bonehill-Paine, 24, wrote five hate-filled blogs about Berger, calling her a “dominatrix” and “an evil money-grabber” with a “deep-rooted hatred of men”. In one, he claimed the number of Jewish Labour MPs was a “problem”.

Stella Creasy, Labour
Creasy, MP for Walthamstow, has been subjected to repeated misogynistic abuse.

Peter Nunn, 33, from Bristol, was in 2014 jailed for 18 weeks for bombarding Creasy with abusive tweets after she supported a successful campaign to put the image of Jane Austen on the £10 note. He retweeted menacing posts threatening to rape the MP and branding her a witch.
None of the above assaults on public servants can be either condoned or countenanced. However, in my view, the suggested 'cure,' removing an offender's right to vote, is in many ways worse than the disease. And given that legal remedies already exist (fines, jail terms) for the worst offenders, it is an overreach of gargantuan magnitude.

I won't insult my readers by discussing at length the obvious here, but can you imagine such a sanction taking hold and spreading to other jurisdictions? I wonder how a demagogue like Donald Trump, for example, would feel about the voting rights of those who openly question his sanity or oppose his agenda? Would he deem them abusers who should suffer the ultimate sanction against democratic free speech? Or what about those who 'show disrespect for the flag' by taking a knee during the anthem?

In other jurisdictions, would those who oppose neoliberal government policies such as austerity find that their online criticisms have rendered them impotent citizens? Could environmentalists who oppose pipeline expansions be deemed 'enemies of the economy' and thus unfit to cast a ballot? One only has to use a bit of imagination here to come up with an array of scenarios that ultimately could render societies far more dystopian than many are today.

While such concerns as the above might be dismissed by some as ludicrous, just consider how badly real democracy has suffered in the last few decades before dismissing them out of hand.

Many say that creeping fascism is on the rise today. The suggested British initiative, if it ever takes hold in the western world, will surely take us down a path so dark that any sane person would seek to avoid it at all costs.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

American Contempt For Health-Care Protesters

Nothing says more about the American political establishment's attitude on health care than this video of the handicapped being manhandled and ejected during a protest at a Senate committee hearing yesterday:


H/t Theo Moudakis

Meanwhile, sportscaster Dale Hansen offers this powerful meditation on protests:

Monday, September 25, 2017

Scenes From The Resistance: A Spreading Solidarity

Continuing with yesterday's theme, here are some scenes from Sunday's sports contests that show increasing numbers of players refusing to stand for Donald Trump and America's racism by either taking a knee or linking arms in solidarity.

The New England Patriots:

The Oakland Raiders:

The Jacksonville Jaguars:

Perhaps Bruce Maxwell, the first MLB player to take a knee, said it best:
The point of my kneeling is not to disrespect our military. It's not to disrespect our constitution. It's not to disrespect our country. My hand was over my heart because I love this country. I've had plenty of family members, including my father, that have bled for this country, that continue to serve for this country. At the end of the day, this is the best country on the planet. My hand over my heart symbolized the fact that I am and will forever be an American citizen, and I'm ore than forever grateful for being here. But my kneeling is what is getting the attention, because I'm kneeling for the people that don't have a voice. This goes beyond the black community. This goes beyond the Hispanic community. Because right now we're having a racial divide in all types of people. It's being practices from the highest power that we have in this country, and he's basically saying that it's O.K. to treat people differently. My kneeling, the way I did it, was to symbolize the fact that I'm kneeling for a cause, but I'm in no way or form disrespecting my country or my flag.

With examples like the above, these are days when I can almost believe there is hope for a better world.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

UPDATED: Time For A Cost-Benefit Analysis

Only the supremely naive would think that the extollment of athleticism is a central operating principle in professional sports. While at one time there might have been some purity to the contests, today it is all about making money, often obscene amounts, for the owners and agents of these present-day gladiators, or, as some have called them, slaves, albeit well-compensated ones.

Slaves, of course, are regarded as property, and one only has to look at the more violent sports to see that the analogy holds true. Football, despite the increasingly well-known risks of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) caused by repeated concussions, continues apace, as do hockey, boxing and a myriad of other sports that leave a legacy of early dementia, violent behaviour, and even suicide.

None of these facts will change the nature or the practice of these sports. Business is business, violence is violence, and fans would not have it any other way.

But in light of the great physical and mental consequences of such contests, it occurs to me that players can make their shortened lives and intellectual diminishment mean something. They can all take a stand by taking a knee. They can all be Colin Kaepernick and much, much more.

There are a few hopeful signs on the horizon. A few weeks ago, in a preseason game between the Cleveland Browns and the New York Giants, a white player, for the first time, took a knee.

As the anthem sounded, several Browns players knelt in what they later said was prayer. Among them was Seth DeValve, who is white and whose wife is African-American.

"I wanted to support my African-American teammates today who wanted to take a knee," he said in a post-game interview. "We wanted to draw attention to the fact that there's things in this country that still need to change."

Up to this point, taking the knee has been an act, not to disrespect the American anthem, but to protest the racism Blacks regularly experience at the hands of the authorities. Now, in light of Donald Trump's absolutely disgraceful remarks about sports figures, both at his Huntsville cult-gathering, and his childish and ongoing tweets afterwards, I believe the gesture needs to spread to all altheles and take on new meaning as a protest against the toddler in the White House whose only mission seems to be to spread division and discord.

And there are some hopeful signs in that more and more athletes are starting to speak out. Lebron James, in response to Trumpian tweets about NBA champion Stephen Curry's refusal to join his team at the White House, had this to say in a tweet directed at the Trump:
U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain't going! So therefore ain't no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!
James then explained why he wrote it:

Sports have often been looked upon as helping to unite countries. The fact that little unity exists in the United States is ample testament to the simple-mindedness of that idea. But, I believe there is a window of opportunity here in which athleticism can transcend itself.

What I have written here is probably mere wishful thinking and will likely, for various reasons, never have a hope in hell of being realized. Nonetheless, can you imagine the effect that such demonstrations of cross-cultural and cross-racial solidarity might have? At the very least, it could provoke some much-needed discussion about the state of America, and at the most, it could help increasing numbers understand that the madman they put in the White House has no place there.

This is a cost-benefit analysis surely worth undertaking.

UPDATE: Bravo, Steve Kerr. The Golden State Warriors' coach had some harsh words for Donald Trump yesterday:
“The idea of civil discourse with a guy who is tweeting and demeaning people and saying the things he’s saying is sort of far-fetched,” Kerr stated. “Can you picture us really having a civil discourse with him?”

“How about the irony of, ‘Free speech is fine if you’re a neo-Nazi chanting hate slogans, but free speech is not allowed to kneel in protest?'” Kerr added. “No matter how many times a football player says, ‘I honor our military, but I’m protesting police brutality and racial inequality,’ it doesn’t matter. Nationalists are saying, ‘You’re disrespecting our flag.’ Well, you know what else is disrespectful to our flag? Racism. And one’s way worse than the other.”

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Perfect Word

When Kim Jong-Un recently labelled Donald Trump a "dotard," not only did it demonstrate that the North Korean madman has a better vocabulary than the American Toddler-in-Chief, it also served as an apt description of a man intent on making the world in general, and the United States in particular, an increasingly perilous place to reside. Here is a man whose stream-of-consciousness tweets and rants serve only the interests of chaos and destruction.

Take, for example, Trump's 'thoughts' on Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback that I recently wrote about. Because he chose to kneel last season instead of stand for the American national anthem to protest American racism, he has been subjected to a form of economic terrorism as punishment. After declaring himself a free agent after last season, he has not been hired by any other team.

Not content to bring the world closer to nuclear war, Trump now has Kaeperniak in his sights. Here is what the dotard had to say at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama last night:
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He is fired. He’s fired!,'” Trump shouted to a cheering audience.

Trump's contemptuous message is simply: Americans have nothing to apologize for, and they need not examine either their past or their present racism, because all is right with the world as long as you respect the flag.

As my old literary friend, Hamlet, said,
Lay not that flattering unction to your soul
That not your trespass but my madness speaks.
It will but skin and film the ulcerous place
Whilst rank corruption, mining all within,
Infects unseen.
In other words, to ignore the cancer of racism and to simply see Kapernik's taking the knee as egregious disrespect for a national symbol ensures only that the cancer continues to grow and ultimately destroys the body politic.

To aggravate matters, Trump exults in the role he thinks has has played in Kaepernik's stalled career:
“It was reported that NFL owners don’t want to pick him up because they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump,” Trump told a cheering crowd in Kentucky this July. “Do you believe that? I just saw that. I just saw that.”
I will leave the final word here to Minnesota Right Back Bishop Sankey, who last night tweeted:

"It's a shame and disgrace when you have the President of the US calling citizens of the country sons of a bitches."

About sums it up, doesn't it?

Friday, September 22, 2017

This is Excellent

Pillorying pretensions, political buffoonery and language abuse are all commendable goals. However, Mrs. Betty Bowers brings this much-needed service to a whole other level. Enjoy:

Thursday, September 21, 2017

UPDATED: Not A Hopeful Sign

As much as I have long been an advocate for the development and honing of critical thinking skills (while readily admitting that I often fall short of the mark - for me, it is always a work in progress), I regret to report, via the CBC, that there is much, much work still to be done. In fact, many Canadians are having a great deal of difficulty distinguishing between facts and opinion, fake news and science fact. In our fraught times, that is surely a recipe for disaster.
Are scientific findings a matter of opinion? Forty-three per cent of Canadians agree that they are, suggests a new poll.
47 per cent (up from 40 per cent last year) agreed that "the science behind global warming is still unclear," despite what scientists have been calling for years "unequivocal" evidence.

19 per cent agree "there is a link between vaccinations and autism," even though the study that made the link was found years ago to be "an elaborate fraud."
The poll, commissioned by Ontario Science Centre, has results that should worry all of us. Maurice Bitran, chief executive officer of the Ontario Science Centre, had this to say:
"If you think that climate change is one of the main issues that we face as a society, and almost half of us think that the science is still unclear when there's a pretty broad scientific consensus about it, this affects the chances that we have to act in a unified way about it."
He is concerned about some of the findings that suggest a lack of trust in science and media coverage of scientific issues such as:
68 per cent agree that media coverage of scientific issues is "reported selectively to support news media objectives."

59 per cent agree that media coverage of scientific issues is "presented to support a political position."
Such conspiratorial views of the media when it comes to fact-based science should give us all pause to consider, among other things, the role media themselves play in this perception:
Kelly Bronson, a University of Ottawa professor who has studied and written about science communication, said people are confused about where to go for reliable information and how to tell facts from beliefs.

She thinks the media are partly to blame for focusing too much on telling both sides of the story: "It doesn't help the public learn how to distinguish true knowledge from mere opinion, if both are given equal weight in a news story."
An excellent illustration of this is to be found in a recent Hamilton Spectator letter to the editor:
RE: Republicans in denial (Sept. 13)

This article calls climate change skeptics "deniers", but is itself a denier. To accomplish this clever trick of contradicting itself, the Washington Post (WAPO) cunningly suppresses the huge hidden assumption behind their "denier" pejorative, which is that man-made climate change is settled science, which it isn't.

An example of the bad science behind "man-made climate change" is CO2, an essential component of all life including ours. In fact we likely need more of it. Reduce pollution, yes, but reduce CO2, no. We emphatically do not have a link between climate change and human-generated CO2.

Pedlars of bad science like Michael Mann are quoted supporting this unproven man-made climate change hypothesis. Natural phenomena like sea level rise are dragged in as proof of it, when actually the sea level is simply rising as it has been for thousands of years. Further, we should note that the climate change industry yields nice personal profits for its promoters, such as writers of columns like "Republicans in denial?"

It is difficult to connect these dots into a picture that warrants calling skeptics of man-made climate change "deniers", particularly when WAPO itself denies much.

Frank Gue, Burlington
Mr. Gue, and all others of his ilk, try to peddle the opinion that the science of climate change is not settled. The fact that it has been settled is but an inconvenience people like Gue circumvent by exploiting people's ignorance and prejudices. Are newspapers doing anyone a service by publishing such arrant nonsense?

Ignorance, sloppy thinking, mindless chatter and misdirection continue apace, but here is an incontrovertible fact: The time is growing very late, and the window to mitigation is rapidly closing.

UPDATE: Pursuant to the comments about online polls (one was used in the above Leger poll,) made by Jay and UU4077, it was not a poll in which just anyone could contribute. Here is an excerpt detailing its methodology:

A survey of 1,514 Canadians was completed online between August 15th to 16th, 2017 using Leger’s online panel, LegerWeb.

A probability sample of the same size would yield a margin of error of +/-2.5%, 19 times out of 20.


Leger’s online panel has approximately 475,000 members nationally – with between 10,000 and 20,000 new members added each month, and has a retention rate of 90%.


Stringent quality assurance measures allow Leger to achieve the high-quality standards set by the company. As a result, its methods of data collection and storage outperform the norms set by WAPOR (The World Association for Public Opinion Research). These measures are applied at every stage of the project: from data collection to processing, through to analysis. We aim to answer our clients’ needs with honesty, total confidentiality, and integrity.
My wife is part of a large online polling group. Originally responding to a telephone poll by EKOS, she was later contacted by the pollster asking her to become part of an online polling panel, as they needed someone in her demographic. My understanding is that such groups are meant to represent a large cross-section of Canadians, and therefore does not have the notorious self-selection and skewing that open online polls do.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Matter Of Trust

I doubt there are many who would deny how precipitously the reputation of the United States has fallen since Donald Trump ascended to the White House. Each day seems to bring forth new and outrageous stream-of-consciousness pronouncements from the Infant-in Chief, and certainly, his speech to the United Nations was no different other than the fact that this time it was scripted. The world, except for chief-cheerleader Benjamin Netanyahu, was singularly unimpressed.

While Trump was content to rail against North Korea, Cuba, Iran and Venezuela as unworthy of trust, the President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, offered some key observations about the U.S., observations that cut to the heart of a crucial consequence of having a giant id on the world stage. Americans are not generally receptive to being lectured to by other nations, especially when the lecture is delivered by a leader who says he would not be willing to sit down with Trump under the current circumstances. However, they would be very wise to listen carefully to his view of what will happen if the U.S. exits from the Iran nuclear deal.

Monday, September 18, 2017

An Ugly And Growing Reality

Although I have written before about the terrible problem of plastic pollution that is strangling the world in general, and our oceans and marine life in particular, it seems that we can never be reminded too often about the terrible toll our self-indulgent lifestyles exact.

While it is true to some extent that we are victims of the packaging imposed upon us by manufacturers (for example, you will find it fairly difficult to buy salad dressing that comes in actual glass bottles) one of the biggest sources of plastic pollution is the ubiquitous water bottle, an accessory almost none of us needs to use. Yet people tell themselves comforting lies such as, I don't trust the water from the tap, bottled water tastes better, I recycle, so what's the big deal? etc. Add to that our incessant reliance on plastic grocery bags, and the threat of environmental and health catastrophe increases even more. These same users refuse to confront the tremendous harm their demand for convenience exacts. Indeed, there is now evidence that microplastics are infiltrating our very cells.

When I look at pictures of shores littered with plastic, I think of what apt metaphors they are for the fact that, without question, we treat our world like a massive waste disposal facility. As to the effects of that attitude on the creatures of the world, graphic imagery abounds but apparently is insufficiently shocking to move people out of their complacency.

Fortunately, there is some basis for hope. If you start the following video at about the 16-minute mark, you will learn that Canada has become the 26th country out of 32 that has has now signed on to the Clean Seas initiative. Take a moment to visit their site, which will give additional insight into the problem as well as what all of us can do to contribute to the solution.

None of us can be passive bystanders here. We all have a role to play in remediation.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

When It Serves Economic Interests, Ignorance Is A National Policy

Burying their heads in rapidly disappearing sand is something of a national characteristic of Americans when it comes to climate change. However, when it is aided, abetted and promoted by monied interests, all should be concerned.

I think it is reasonably well-known that several states have banned any references to climate change or global warming in official government documents. Florida, recently pummeled by monster Hurricane Irma, was one of the first to take such measures back in 2011, when current governor Rick Scott took office. Earlier this year, the state of Idaho stripped any references to it in its revised K-12 science standards. In 2012, North Carolina banned the state from basing coastal policies on the latest scientific predictions of how much the sea level will rise.

Of course, on the federal level, since Trump took office, intensive scrubbing worthy of Mr. Clean has taken place on the White House website. Predictably, that ardour has infected many federal departments. Even those researchers seeking grants from the US Department of Energy are being asked (?} to excise references to 'climate change' and 'global warming' from their proposals.

The mechanism behind this censorship is fascinating and worthy of deep study, but I will offer only a brief overview of the influence being wielded by powerful interests to suppress scientific fact. Not surprisingly, lobbyists for the real estate and housing development industries are leading the charge, striving to keep as quiet as possible some very, very inconvenient truths:
... a storm of scientific information about sea-level rise that threatens the most lucrative, commission-boosting properties ... warn[s] that Florida, the Carolinas and other southeastern states face the nation’s fastest-growing rates of sea-level rise and coastal erosion — as much as three feet by the year 2100, depending on how quickly Antarctic ice sheets melt. In a recent report, researchers for Zillow estimated that nearly two million U.S. homes could be literally underwater by 2100.
Given the rapid progression of climate change, I suspect the 2100 date is far too optimistic. I believe I may see some of the worst within my own lifetime, even though I am admittedly getting a tad long in the tooth.

Truth is frequently unpalatable, and realtors and developers are proving especially resistant to it:
Some are teaming up with climate-change skeptics and small government advocates to block public release of sea-level rise predictions and ensure that coastal planning is not based on them.
And they are getting some assistance from the top:
Last month, U.S. President Donald Trump rescinded an Obama-era executive order that required the federal government to account for climate change and sea-level rise when building infrastructure, such as highways, levees and floodwalls. Trump’s move came after lobbying from the National Association of Home Builders, which called the Obama directive “an overreaching environmental rule that needlessly hurt housing affordability.”
Back in North Carolina, Willo Kelly, who represents both the Outer Banks Home Builders Association and the Outer Banks Association of Realtors
... teamed up with homebuilders and realtors to pass state legislation in 2012 that prevented coastal planners from basing policies on a benchmark of a 39-inch sea-level rise by 2100.

The legislation, authored by Republican Rep. Pat McElraft, a coastal realtor, banned the state from using scientific projections of future sea-level rise for a period of four years. It resulted in the state later adopting a 30-year forecast, which projects the sea rising a mere eight inches.
In South Carolina, the state Department of Natural Resources in 2013 was accused of keeping secret a draft report on climate-change impacts. In Texas, the 2016 platform of the state Republican Party states that climate change “is a political agenda promoted to control every aspect of our lives.”
Fortunately, not everyone is wallowing in, and extolling, ignorance:
In eastern North Carolina, geologist Riggs resigned from the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission’s science panel in 2016, citing legislative interference. He has since teamed up with local governments on the Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds to address problems of flooding, windblown tides and saltwater intrusion, a threat to local farming.

Further east, the Hyde County town of Swan Quarter has built a 27-kilometre dike around homes and farms to protect $62 million in flood-threatened property. The dike helped prevent windblown flooding during recent storms, but county officials have some concerns about the future.
Climate change is growing increasingly dire, and it is clearly not the time for citizens to cede control and authority to those whose only interest seems to be squeezing out as much profit as possible in the finite time ahead.

Indeed, some might call such massive venality a massive crime against humanity.

Friday, September 15, 2017

UPDATED: More On Neoliberal Extortion

I admit that at one time, I worshiped at the altar of the NHL, this during the time of the Original Six. But then something happened. I grew up.

I know the above might be offensive to those who still take their sports seriously, but let me make plain I have nothing against such passions, but they are passions that should never cloud our thinking about other, much more important, matters, like the neoliberal gladiator games now being staged in the public arena.

The latest round comes to us from Calgary, where the owners of the Calgary Flames, like the feudal lords they fancy themselves to be, are demanding service from their vassals:
The owners of the Calgary Flames are demanding Alberta's largest city pay for a significant chunk of a proposed new arena and exempt the NHL club from property taxes and rent, all while refusing to open their books as the two sides negotiate, according to a municipal insider.

The club's proposal does not include sharing profits or repaying the city for any contribution it may make toward building a new facility in Calgary's Victoria Park, the source said. The new facility will cost around $500-million, multiple city hall sources said. The Flames asked the city to cover well more than one-third of the bill, the source told The Globe and Mail. Victoria Park is near the Scotiabank Saddledome, where the Flames play now.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, a man who has always struck me as eminently sensible and reasonable, is resisting this extortionate play.
Calgary has offered to finance one-third of the arena, providing cash instalments over a number of years, a source told The Globe and Mail on Tuesday. That money would have to be repaid, the source said. The Flames, according to this plan, would cover another third and the final chunk would come from ticket surcharges. Nenshi, on Wednesday, confirmed this structure is "part" of the deal.
Because a new arena to replace the old Saddledome is integral to Calagary's 2026 Winter Olympic aspirations, the city is taking the situation seriously, but is not prepared to offer carte blanche to the billionaire oilman, Murray Edwards, who is the Flames' primary owner. Being challenged, I imagine, is not part of Edwards' life experience, but he would do well to heed Mayor Nenshi's restrained and sensible comments:

Similarly, a Globe editorial has this to offer:
If the Flames' owners, six of Canada's wealthiest people, want a new arena they can pay for it.

As usual, the NHL cartel and its apologists are counting on Calgarians' succumbing to a wave of me-too feelings when they gaze at taxpayer-funded arenas elsewhere. But using past bad decisions to justify terrible future decisions does not qualify as logic. And governments in cash-strapped Alberta can't afford to capitulate.
All Canadians, if they pay attention, can now see the offensive and egregious nature of the neoloiberalism that is taking over more and more aspects of our lives. The question now, as always, is whether they are content to simply shrug their shoulders and go back to their IPhones and similar such diversions to shut out the real world, or will they finally start taking steps to vociferously resist this steady and ongoing encroachment of the public good?

UPDATE: The city of Calgary has just released the offer that it made to the Flames regarding building the new arena:
Calgary offered to chip in the equivalent of $185-million to cover the cost of a new $555-million arena ...

The offer demands the Flames remain in Alberta's largest city for at least 35 years and the Flames ownership group pay the property taxes. The team's owners would, in turn, collect all revenue in exchange for putting up $185-million, according to the city's proposal.

The city's contribution to the proposed arena is not pure cash. It would hand over land valued at $30-million and pay the $25-million it would cost to demolish the Saddledome, which is 34 years old. Its remaining $130-million obligation would be in the form of "non-property tax sources" according to the proposal.

Municipal taxpayers would be on the hook for "indirect" costs as well. Expenses associated with infrastructure, such as the 17th Avenue extension, total $150-million, according to the plan... the city will pay for a new transit station on a yet-unbuilt expansion of the city's light rail system and utility upgrades, although the price tag on those elements has yet to be determined.
Ken King, who is the president of the group that controls the Flames, described the negotiations, which included this offer, as "spectacularly unproductive."

Draw what conclusions you will.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A Low-Risk Takedown

If you read my post from yesterday, you will know who Nick Shcherban is. Watch the following brief video, and ask yourself this: Have you ever heard of a noise complaint being answered by three police officers, an arrest, and handcuffs?

A powerful indictment, in my view, of the neoliberalism enveloping all of us.

For further insight into the predatory practices of film crews working for corporate behemoths, Star reader Ken Pyette of Toronto offers this:
Re: Man arrested for disrupting HBO production in Riverdale, Sept. 12

Enough already! I have just survived a film shoot next door to my home — the second this year. The first instance left my property a garbage-strewn shambles. In the latest invasion, I was given hours notice and chose to cancel the first few days of a planned vacation to protect my property.

It was a good decision. The neighbour on the other side of the shoot went away and I watched as the crew arrogantly placed equipment on their deck, held production meetings on it and completely took over the front yard with equipment and a control-room tent. The neighbour, upon her return, said no permission had been granted for the trespass and she had found damage. She has since been told there is nothing she can do about it. All of this is done with the blessing of the city of Toronto.

Today, I read in the paper that a man has been arrested and lead away in handcuffs for expressing his frustration over much worse experiences. I sympathize with the man.

Having self-important, inconsiderate people invade your street and community is not something residents want. The crew’s condescending attitude that they are bringing a bit of glamour to our benighted little lives is offensive. The usual comeback from the film industry is as quoted in your article: “We’ve pumped billions into Toronto.” I don’t believe this.

Someone should explain to our city council that the film business has a long and well-documented history of taking advantage of suckers.
And if I may be permitted a brief personal anecdote, last year I was picking up some desserts from my wife's church for a charity dinner they were putting on. When I pulled up to the entrance, I was told by someone with a walkie-talkie and a vest that I couldn't park there, as a movie shoot was going on in the area. I replied that I would only be a couple of minutes, but when I came back out of the church, I was told to move along, and someone else radioed that I wasn't complying.

When I told them they didn't own the street, the reply, with the sneering condescension often uttered by those who think they have authority, was, "Sir, we have a permit." I lost my temper at that point and, in a 'strongly worded' excoriation, I repeated my assertion that they didn't own the street, and that I had every right to be picking up the desserts, and that I would move when I was finished.

A small story, but I hope indicative of the kind of supine surrender our municipalities have made to the corporate agenda. I have little doubt that had I tarried further, I would have experienced something very similar to what what was inflicted upon Nick Shcherban.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Slouching Toward A City Near You

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

- W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming

The man pictured above is Nick Shcherban, a Toronto resident who was arrested, hauled off to jail and is now awaiting a bail hearing for reasons I will explain later in this post. For now, it might be useful to think of him as a David who has just lost his battle with Goliath. Kind of like the battle we all seem to have lost to the forces of neoliberalism.

A curious term, neoliberalism, one that sounds innocent enough and is fondly embraced by politicians of all stripes, including the much-photographed Justin Trudeau. But what does it really mean?

Probably the best definition I have read is one offered by Naomi Klein in her latest book, No Is Not Enough:
Neoliberalism is shorthand for an economic project that vilifies the public sphere and anything that's not either the workings of the market or the decisions of individual consumers. ... governments exist in order to create the optimal conditions for private interests to maximize their profits and wealth, based on the theory that the profits and economic growth that follow will benefit everyone in the trickle down from the top - eventually.

The primary tools of this project are all too familiar: privatization of the public sphere, deregulation of the corporate sphere, and low taxes paid for by cuts to public services, and all of this locked in under corporate friendly trade deals. [Think, for example, of Investor-State Dispute Settlement provisions in NAFTA and CETA.]
For anyone paying attention, there can be little doubt that the forces of neoliberalism are in the driver's seat, despite growing recognition of how destructive it is to the common good.

The latest example is to be found in Amazon's search for a second headquarters. In my mind, it represents the ultimate expression of neoliberalism, one in which a very powerful and extremely profitable corporate entity is demanding massive subsidization by the taxpayer in exchange for bestowing jobs. All of this from a company that has already received well over $1 billion in the form of subsidies and tax breaks.

Consider some of the telling elements of its Request For Proposals, one that leaves little doubt that the more taxpayer-funded 'freebies' a jurisdiction offers Amazon, the more kindly disposed it will be to locating there.

Please read the following carefully for both the explicit and the implied expectations of the jurisdiction that 'wins' their approval.
Incentives – Identify incentive programs available for the Project at the state/province and local levels. Outline the type of incentive (i.e. land, site preparation, tax credits/exemptions, relocation grants, workforce grants, utility incentives/grants, permitting, and fee reductions) and the amount.The initial cost and ongoing cost of doing business are critical decision drivers.[Italics mine]

Please provide a summary of total incentives offered for the Project by the state/province and local community. In this summary, please provide a brief description of the incentive item, the timing of incentive payment/realization, and a calculation of the incentive amount. Please describe any specific or unique eligibility requirements mandated by each incentive item. With respect to tax credits, please indicate whether credits are refundable, transferable, or may be carried forward for a specific period of time. If the incentive includes free or reduced land costs, include the mechanism and approvals that will be required. Please also include all timelines associated with the approvals of each incentive. We acknowledge a Project of this magnitude may require special incentive legislation in order for the state/province to achieve a competitive incentive proposal. [Italics mine] As such, please indicate if any incentives or programs will require legislation or other approval methods. Ideally, your submittal includes a total value of incentives, including the specified benefit time period.
I think we can see where this may be going. It is hard not to imagine a day in the very near future when mega corporations will demand to be relieved of all taxation in exchange for the jobs they provide. A kind of corporate, neoliberal extortion disguised as munifescence, no?

So where does Nick Shcherban fit into this picture? Well, Nick was taught a lesson on Monday about who really rules the world, and that includes the 'world-class' city of Toronto. Tired of the almost non-stop use of a neighbouring house for filming purposes, he decided to take some action:
Two speakers and an amplifier was [sic] set up in his backyard where a radio was blasting in the direction of 450 Pape Ave. during the production of the HBO movie Fahrenheit 451, starring Michael B. Jordan and Scarborough-born YouTube star Lilly Singh.

Shcherban said in an interview earlier on Monday that 450 Pape is exclusively and constantly used for filming movies, commercials, and having photo shoots, causing disruptions like excessive noise and blocking access to a TTC bus stop.
His act of resistance did not go unnoticed:
When Shcherban concluded his interview with the Star, a police officer approached him to discuss a noise complaint against him. Shcherban told the officer that they would need a warrant to do anything about it, and within 30 minutes, three [italics mine] detectives appeared at his door, warrant in hand.

It took more than 15 minutes for Shcherban to respond to the detectives after receiving multiple warnings that his door would be broken down if necessary.

He was escorted out of his home and into a police car, as the film crew watched the dramatic scene.
Perhaps most indicative of the mindset that corporate behemoths like HBO deserve unqualified obeisance, a film crew member had this to say about
Shcherban's arrest:
“Serves him right ... We’ve put billions into the Toronto film industry in the last decade.”
Some may say that Nick Sahcherban is getting exactly what he deserves. After all, who is he to try to interfere in something that is providing much-needed jobs and other economic boosts, just because his personal peace is compromised? And, I guess, that is exactly my point in this post. We have become so used to accepting orts from the corporate table that we have reached the point where the public's well-being is only a secondary consideration, if, indeed, it is considered at all, in the greater scheme of things.

Not nearly good enough, in my book.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Monday, September 11, 2017

On Systemic Police Racism

I have avoided writing on incidents of police brutality and racism for some time now, not because they are on the decline (check out some of their recent antics, and you will find that, for example, Toronto and area abounds with them) but, quite frankly, because I find it so dispiriting to deal with such egregious abuses of power and authority. I realize that is hardly a reasonable or viable excuse, especially given the kind of suffering the victims themselves experience at the hands of those police who I hesitate to describe as rogue, since they seem to represent an ethos permeating many police departments.

In any event, the following video is most instructive. The fact that it takes place in the U.S. should provide none of us with any comfort, as it just as easily could be depicting a roadside stop here. The language may offend some, but it is indeed a powerful indictment of a systemic problem.

Closer to home, in a Toronto housing project, the infamous Neptune Four police crime unfolded:

Two separate countries. The same mindset. In my view, there is little doubt that systemic police racism is no respecter of national boundaries.

Well, Well, Well

Quelle surprise.

H/t Tomthunkit

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Bill Morneau's Tax Reforms

I have been following with interest the current discussion, sometimes waxing into hysteria, over Finance Minister Bill Morneau's plan to close small-business loopholes that allow such 'mom and pop' operators as lawyers, doctors and dentists to evade paying their full share by "sprinkling income" to family members who do not actually work for these incorporated entities.

If this is just one of many reforms being planned, it is a good start. If it is to be the only reform, it is a paltry effort, as it will yield only $250 million annually, and perhaps only intended as a form of 'bread and circuses' for the masses.

While the usual suspects are calling it a tax grab and predicting dire consequences, I am happy to report that many others see it as simple justice and have a more mature view of taxation in general.

The following two letters from The Toronto Star illustrate views that are anything but reflexive denunciations.
Re: Morneau not swayed by tax-plan backlash, Sept. 6

I am writing in regard to the well-funded backlash against amendments to our tax laws that will finally close a fraction of the loopholes that unduly benefit Canada’s wealthiest citizens.

I am a middle-aged, median-income wage earner who pays his full tax bill every second Thursday. I come from a family of business people and I possess no particular bias against productive entrepreneurs or the genuine spirit of entrepreneurship.

In my experience, business owners are primarily motivated by a desire to be their own boss. As proud and independent operators, they would be the last people to come looking for a crutch from government. But that is exactly what successive Liberal and Conservative governments have provided.

Our tax system has become the ultimate insider deal, in which the well-connected consistently rewrite the rules to escape the rational and just responsibilities that should be placed upon them by a progressive income-tax system in a democratic nation.

It is beyond any doubt that we have a two-tier income-tax system, in which wage and salary earners are routinely expected to pay their full share. Meanwhile, far too many entrepreneurs play by a set of rules concocted for their own benefit, with the exclusive goal of shifting the tax burden to others who can afford it less.

The Liberal Party ran on a platform of respecting the middle class and I cannot imagine a better opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to that platform than by tackling the egregious and entirely undemocratic imbalance in our tax system.

I am not underestimating the amount of guts it will take to tackle the monstrously dysfunctional and distorted tax laws of this country but a refusal by the Liberals to do so will leave the door open for others to champion the cause.

We need a tax system that puts the needs of the country ahead of the needs of the country club. Will you actually take on that challenge?

If middle-class Canadians had the same attitude toward paying taxes that the people at the top did, our country would be just another bankrupt, basket-case banana republic.

Democracy is not free, nor is it particularly cheap. Please share that information with those who are panicking at the prospect of finally paying their fair share.

Mike Vorobej, Ottawa

Canada has finally got economics right. I am seeing more and more Mercedes, BMWs, Lexus, Audis, Range Rovers, Maseratis and Teslas, along with the increasingly frequent Bentleys, Ferraris and Lamborghinis. According to BMO, luxury car sales have increased 37 per cent since 2013.

Just think, years ago, all that money would have been redistributed — wasted! — through a progressive tax system to provide resources for kids with disabilities in school, to reduce health-care wait times, to fight poverty, to support the elderly and so on.

If this is what a free society looks like, then our fiscal policies are right on track. Tax cuts since 2006 redirect $43 billion per year from social programs to individuals, and the top 20 per cent of income earners take 36 per cent of that.

Canada has been lowering the corporate tax rate for years, arguing it stimulates growth. Meanwhile, corporate divestment increases as taxes get lower.

The upside is that those billions of dollars go to wealthy shareholders who pay a fraction of the tax rate on that income than those who actually work for a living.

Which brings us back to the increased number of luxury cars on the road. Well, that and borrowing against home equity, but let’s not burst that bubble.

Mark Davidson, Toronto

Friday, September 8, 2017

Simply Shameful

The other day I noted the difference between Canadian and American coverage of natural disasters. Canadian news does not shy away from references to, and analyses of, climate change, while American news, doubtlessly due to corporate decree, treats it as a theoretical/ideological/political construct not to be mentioned. Apparently, not running afoul of the powers-that-be and influential network sponsors takes precedence over the truth.

If you go to the three-minute mark of the following NBC Nightly News report, Al Roker gives Lester Holt his morally bankrupt version of the meteorological facts of life.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

He Takes A Nice Selfie, But Secrecy Is His Real Forté

Those of us who follow politics fairly closely know that there is frequently less than meets the eye in the Trudeau government. Certainly, the Prime Minister talks a reasonably good game, and his selfies are world-renowned, but scratch the surface and you will find increasing evidence that the emperor is, at the very least, scantily-clad.

There is, of course, Trudeau's widely-known betrayal of his election-campaign commitment to electoral reform. We were told that there just was no consensus, a claim widely ridiculed since the government never asked Canadians what new voting system they preferred.

But even more worrying than that lie is the disparity that exists between his rhetoric about climate change and the reality of what he is pursuing in relative secrecy, one that seems to be very close to what we often euphemistically call 'industry self-regulation'. Gloria Galloway writes:
Environmental groups say they are surprised to learn that the federal Liberal government has been rewriting and consolidating the regulations governing offshore oil and gas drilling for more than a year without informing them or obtaining much input beyond that of the petroleum industry.

The current draft of the regulations requires the oil and gas industry to implement the safety measures that companies determine to be "reasonably practicable," but the environmentalists say it imposes no minimum standards.

[This suggests that] the proposed changes would allow the industry to decide what safety measures can be reasonably and practicably implemented, the environmentalists say. They suggest oil and gas companies would be able to argue that some are too expensive or too difficult.
Known as the Frontier and Offshore Regulatory Renewal Initiative (FORRI), consultations began last year and are now in their final stages. And the excluded groups are not only environmental organizations, but also indigenous groups, quite remarkable given the Trudeau government's blather about reconciliation.
... while the FORRI website includes many responses to the draft regulations from the petroleum industry, the only Indigenous feedback is from the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC), an Inuit company that manages a land claim in the western Arctic. The IRC expressed significant concerns about the initiative and the consultations.

Other Inuit groups, including the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, which represents Inuit on Baffin Island, say they got no opportunity to give input.
Make of all of this what you will, but I don't think one has to be especially cynical to be very, very concerned about giving the oil and gas industry more freedom, worried as we all should be about our collective future, especially given the global climate disruptions we are currently in the midst of.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Evidence And The Explanation

One of the big differences I have noticed between Canadian and American news is that while the former frequently addresses and uses the term climate change in their coverage of 'natural' disasters,' the latter almost never employs the phrase nor attempts any meaningful analysis of the underlying causes of catastrophes they commonly report on.

Last night, Global National addressed climate change head-on in relation to Hurricane Harvey. However, if you watch to the end of the report, you will see how deeply and shockingly ingrained denialism is in the psyches of many, many people.

Meanwhile, Matthew Hoffmann writes that the time is long past when we can think of climate change as something separate from our everyday lives:
The gulf between the enormity of the climate change challenge and our readiness to undertake it is staggering. This is painfully obvious when climate change is visible, when we are faced with the evidence that the impacts of climate change are happening now with devastating consequences. But this gulf is also evident in society’s failure to internalize climate awareness and concern. As a society we are simply not fully “woke” to the idea that climate change is not some discrete problem to solve; it is, as characterized by climate scientist Mike Hulme, a part of the modern condition. Addressing and living with climate change requires serious transformation of society. We have a lot of work to do and it will not be easy.
Unless and until we are able to honestly confront climate change and the role we all play in its ever-worsening effects, we can expect ever-more frequent reports of its increasingly devastating consequences for the entire world.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

*Echoes Of History - Part 111: Contemporary Economic Terrorism

I must confess that I continue to feel the impact of reading The Blood of Emmett Till. This is a good thing, as it has made me much more aware of the long road involved in the journey to civil rights in the United States, a journey that was regularly punctuated, not just by physical violence but also by violence of the economic kind.

In 1955, these threats were potent weapons to stop Black people from registering to vote, something the racists of the time feared would lead to them exerting electoral power and attaining political office. Nipping such efforts in the bud was the default position of the time.

One of the most insidious mechanisms for this operated through the White Citizens' Councils, a less violent version, if you will, of the KKK, their goal being to silence leaders in the Black movement through economic pressure. A prominent doctor and entrepreneur, T.R.M. Morton, founder of Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL) in 1951, was a crucial leader in the fight for civil rights as well as justice in the murder of Till. As a result of his activism, he faced a situation where banks would no longer extend credit to him, suppliers severed their relationship with him, etc., the goal being to financially hobble him into silence, a quest that failed badly.

Black store owners were also victims in this battle to stop the civil rights movement. They lost their customers as the White Citizens Councils made it known that anyone doing business with them would face their wrath, including job loss. Tremendous economic cudgels were wielded, but many still resisted, despite the peril.

When you juxtapose the depth of character required for someone to risk life. limb and livelihood in the pursuit of justice and equality for all with the supremacists' claim to superiority because of the mere color of their skin, the sheer emptiness of their claims is laid bare. People who hide behind sheets, march in angry groups and preach hatred are hardly what most of us would label as people of character.

Sadly, economic weapons are still being today. Consider the situation of NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers for three seasons who rose to fame (notoriety if you are of a certain bent) by refusing to stand for the American national anthem, opting to instead kneel, motivated by what he viewed as the oppression of people of color in the U.S.

Kaepernick opted out of his contract at the end of 2016 season to become a free agent. Despite the fact that there are 32 NFL teams, not one has even offered him a tryout. This fact recently occasioned a protest outside of NFL headquarters.

ABC Breaking News | Latest News Videos

Scott Stinson puts to the lie the non-racist reasons cited for not giving Kapernik a new football opportunity:
The idea that all the NFL rosters are filled out with quarterbacks who are better than Kaepernick at the skills required is simply nonsense. Over his five seasons of mostly full-time work, the 29-year-old has a career rating of 88.9. That is 17th ALL TIME. Sorry for yelling. Kaepernick’s career rating is better than those of Dan Marino, Brett Favre, and Troy Aikman. Also, John Elway and Warren Moon. And Dan Fouts. Phil Simms, Joe Theismann. I’ll stop now. Jim Kelly and Johnny Unitas. OK, now.
The past cannot be changed, and the future has not yet been written. Confronting the racism of both past and contemporary society is something the Americans have a great deal of difficulty doing, and to be sure, it is no easy task. Only now is Canada coming to grips with our abuse of Indigenous peoples, and the road to reconciliation will undoubtedly be a long one. Until Americans are willing to walk the same path, things will only continue to deteriorate for all.

* If you are interested, Echoes of History, Part One, can be accessed here, and Part 11, here.

Friday, September 1, 2017

There Is A Lesson Here For All Of Us

While no rational person could fail to see ever-worsening climate change as a major contributor to the Houston flooding, there is a compounding problem, as the following report makes clear.

Surely there is a lesson here for all of us.

As to how urban engineering can help address this problem, my thanks to Things Are Good for this: