Saturday, March 31, 2018

You Can Close The Open Book That Is Your Data

Now that it has been demonstrated Facebook is not the benign social media giant it has always claimed to be, people are becoming more conscious of how vulnerable and how valuable their data is to unscrupulous entities. Among those who are concerned, there will be a corp looking for ways to keep more of their information private. Fortunately, you don't have to be a technical wizard to take prophylactic measures.

Exactly what does Facebook have on you? It is easy to find out, and easy to change your privacy settings to frustrate those who 'want to get to know you better'.
In the Facebook settings for your account — right below the link to deactivate it — there’s an option to download a copy of all your Facebook data. The file can be a creepy wake-up call: All those years of browsing the News Feed, and sharing selfies, engagements and birthday wishes on Facebook have taught the company quite a lot about you. You, the user, are part of the reason that Facebook has become so good at targeting ads. You’re giving them everything they need to do it.

Here’s a link that will take you right to the settings page, if you’re logged in to your account. One there, click on the link to download your archive, and follow the prompts.
The following video offers further explanation:

Yesterday I downloaded my data and, after nine years on Facebook I was amazed at what is stored there: all manner of messages, posts, photos and likes. While most of what I put on the social media is not personal, as I prefer to use it to post links to articles and interesting blog posts, in the past I have included vacation photos and other such memorabilia, but for the most part have always kept this information either private (available only to me, or limited to my FB friends). Nonetheless, I am not at all confident that the data could not be taken and sold by FB anyway.

However, it is easy to change your settings, and something privacy experts agree is a good start.

On a related note, I have stopped using Google for my searches, because all of them are tracked and sold; instead, I am using another engine called DuckDuckGo, which does no such tracking. You can click on this link to find out more about it.

Finally, those who are cavalier about their data may want to think twice after reading this article about the "extreme vetting" the U.S. is subjecting visa applicants to, expected to affect 14.71 million applicants, including those who apply as students, for business trips, or on vacation.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

I Just Love This

I hope you do, too.

Your Apps Have Eyes

I am convinced that, like so many other traditional values, our right to, and desire for, privacy is quickly becoming but a vestige of an earlier era, We readily share information on Facebook, for example, most never checking their privacy settings, leaving ourselves open to all kinds of manipulations and intrusions and even giving potential employers ample reason not to hire us. When we download apps (since I don't have a smartphone, I am somewhat protected) we blithely check of the Accept Agreement that is mandatory before we get our 'free' new application that, after all, promises to make our life so much better given the promise of control literally at our fingertips.

However, as most of us know on some level, nothing is ever really free. At the very least, the following report should serve as a wake-up call to regularly check our privacy setting on all of our devices:

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A New Record In Canadian Debt

It is $1 trillion and counting. While I am by no means a fiscal hawk, such a high debt level should concern all of us, given the looming spectre of interest rate hikes, which means the cost of servicing that massive debt has only one way to go - up.

Sadly, Justin Trudeau's promise to grow the economy 'from the heart outwards' is turning out to be just another of his empty rhetorical flourishes. With no discernible plan to manage and pay down that debt, we should all be worried.

Go to the 8:33 mark for the full story:

Sunday, March 25, 2018

A Tonic For The Soul

Those who read this blog with any regularity would most likely describe me as an inveterate cynic. Indeed, it has become my default position. Nonetheless, when I see goodness and positive resolve in the world, my heart can still be touched, although not overwhelmed.

The massive anti-gun protests that swept the United States yesterday has occasioned a hopefulness that I haven't felt in a long time. Organized and led by young people, some of whom have been personally touched by gun violence, the Washington component of the massive demonstrations is estimated to have seen over 500,000 in attendance. And make n mistake about it - these were people with a strong and explicit message directed toward corrupted lawmakers: our lives are worth more than the money the NRA is paying for your deadly complicity in the deaths of far too many innocents.
“Vote them out!” they cried, over and over, on a dozen jam-packed blocks of Pennsylvania Ave., the street that connects Republican President Donald Trump’s White House with the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress. “Vote them out!”

Near the end of last night's NBC broadcast, two reporters were realistically positing the end of the massive coverage the media have given to this movement, news cycles being what they are. Apparently, the young people are undaunted by this reality; they intend to continue and deepen their campaign for sane gun laws through something they are very adept at: social media. I hope they succeed.

One of the most important aspects of these demonstrations, from my point of view, is that they have spawned a sense of unity, cohesion and oneness that is anomalous in a nation as fractured as the United States is. And that growing unity, that recognition of the commonalities that bind us together can transcend the things that separate us, is what the powers of darkness (for want of a better phrase) truly fear. The reactionary right is well aware their hold is facilitated by sowing division, discord and animus. As Abraham Lincoln famously said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

To that end, the NRA is bringing its mighty guns to bear in order to try to disrupt this growing unity. For example, while it maintained 'radio silence,' so to speak, for four days after the Parkland shootings (surely tactical move rather than a gesture of respect), after that brief period it strengthened its digital presence:
The NRA was already spending an average of $11,300 per day for online ads alone before the school shooting on February 14. Since February 18, online ad spending has more than quadrupled with a daily average of $47,300.

The majority of this increase was spent on Facebook in advertisements that were targeted to Florida residents. The National Rifle Association also jumped into the top 100 advertisers on YouTube and has maintained this new status since February 21.
But that is but one of their tactics. Consider Colion Noir,
a pseudonym for Collins Iyare Idehen Jr., a lawyer and gun rights activist from Houston who has nearly 650,000 subscribers on YouTube.

I imagine there are few things the NRA would not do to continue its stranglehold on America's soul. It is now up to those who have seen and experienced so much violence and death in their young lives to do mighty and sustained battle against a seemingly implacable foe.

Friday, March 23, 2018

A Broad Canvas

If, like me, you are a retired senior to whom the fates have been reasonably kind, you have the luxury to contemplate the world around you at your leisure. If you are at all engaged in the larger world, however, that contemplation is rarely relaxing or enjoyable. You have seen too much in your lifetime.

A clear benefit and curse of advancing years is the context it confers. Without succumbing to mindless sentiment or nostalgia, I can remember earlier days when our society, although frequently roiled with major problems, was able to preserve and nourish something that now seems to be rapidly receding into the realm of the notionally quaint: the common good. People who ran for political office, it seems to me, more often than not, ran with a mind to represent the entire country or province, not a narrow or divisive constituency nursing some nebulous sense of grievance.

Today, that seems rarely the case. Nationally, of course, that 'narrowcasting' was most obvious during the foul reign of Stephen Harper, its main justification being to secure and retain power. His replacement, Justin Trudeau, while bearing the accouterments of a progressive populist, has disappointed deeply, purveying a neoliberal agenda and readily abandoning his election promises, an electoral reform that could have rejuvenated our waning democratic participation, and his pushing through pipelines without the 'social licence' he averred was sacred. Meanwhile, the Conservatives leader, Andrew Scheer, in true populist style in order to convince the electorate he is 'one of us,' dons a plaid short-sleeved shirt and bluejeans, while NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, courting the press, seeks to fashion himself as a Justin 2.0:

Here in Ontario, things are no better. We have a desperate Kathleen Wynne promising everything to everyone in a proposed spending spree which, should she be returned to power, would ensure at the very least another sale of public assets, the most likely immediate target being the LCBO. Her recent appointment of privatization czar Ed Clark as its chair was a barely concealed hint of a further implementation of the neoliberal agenda.

As a retiree, I am particularly offended at Wynne playing to the stereotype of the selfish senior by promising to remove the deductibles and co-payments under the Ontario Drug Benefit program, which provides seniors with free drugs. This will save the average person $240 per year. My vote really can't be bought, Kathleen.

Then, of course, there is the rise of the reactionary populist Doug Ford, promising to find 'new efficiencies' to save $6 billion with, wait for it, no job loss or government cuts! Shame on anyone who lived through the Mike Harris years for believing such patent malarkey.

Finally, we have the NDP's Andrea Horwath who, in a bald and venal play, gave up her balance of power leverage and triggered the last election, the same one that gave Wynne her majority, thereby allowing her to sell off 60% of Hydro One, a sale Horwath now promises to reverse by buying back the shares and lower hydro rates by 30%.

The contemporary canvas I contemplate is a bleak one. In Voltaire's Candide, Professor Pangloss avers "all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds". Notably, the work is a satire. Perhaps it is time for a new generation of readers.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Whose Democracy Is It, Anyway?

While the Mound has been giving comprehensive coverage of the Cambridge Analytica assault on democracy, I am taking this opportunity to supplement his work with the following. I hope it sheds further light on the ongoing subversion of politics and citizens' rights, all for the sake of facilitating victory for those who have no goal other than to attain power for its own sake.

Fittingly, for Facebook's pivotal role in this monstrous scheme, its shares lost 7% of their value for a whopping market value loss of $40 billion.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Simpsons Have His Number

Those whose memories extend beyond last night's hockey scores may recall that in 2011, while he was a Toronto city councillor, Doug Ford proposed an 'exciting' vision for that city's waterfront: a monorail, a megamall, and a giant Ferris wheel,:
“What we’d like to do is have a monorail system that’s running right from the Pan Am Games (site) right along the lakefront and stops at Union Station and Ontario Place and right across the front of the lake,” Ford said.
To complement this 'vision,' the megamall
“... would be 1.6 million square feet of one of the most prestigious malls in Canada. We’d try to attract Nordstrom and Bloomingdales and Macy’s".
The above 'magnificence' would be topped off by this 'gem':
The councillor said he hopes to have looming over all of it the world’s biggest Ferris wheel, similar to England’s London Eye, but that would be “just a cash cow.”
If you see nothing wrong with this scheme, please read no further, as you will only be offended.

Several years ago, The Simpsons tapped into this curious zeitgeist:

Notice how the huckster even bears a more-than-passing resemblance to the conman who now leads the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party and will, according to the latest poll, be Ontario's next Premier.

Fortunately, some are able to see through the facade and understand that all of Ford's faux populism is something that needs to be soundly rejected if one cares anything about an inclusive and progressive society. The lead letter in yesterday's Star amply reflects the need, not to embrace empty rhetoric, but rather to engage in one of responsible citizenship's harder duties: critical thinking:
Doug Ford purports to denounce the “elites” and stand up for the “little guy.” I’m not sure who these groups are.

Are these elites the Liberals who have introduced progressive initiatives such as labour reform and increased minimum wages? And does the little guy refer to those who have been subsisting on precarious employment and low wages? As premier, Ford would cancel the next minimum-wage increase, surely a blow to the working poor.

Are these elites the Liberals who brought in the beginnings of a pharmacare program for those under 25 and is the little guy all of those who previously couldn’t afford necessary medicines but now have access?

Are the elites the Liberals (and the PCs under Patrick Brown) who have embraced carbon taxes for assuming some responsibility for our planet? The federally mandated carbon tax is not something Ford can ignore. Is he not being disingenuous in suggesting otherwise?

As a wealthy business owner, is Ford not an elite whose pro-business and anti-tax policies meet his needs and not necessarily those of the little guy?

It is truly disheartening to see polls predict a PC win in June’s election when there is no platform — only promises to scrap the sex-ed curriculum, revisit abortion policies, cancel a much-needed minimum-wage increase and cut taxes.

We can’t go back to the 20th century. Times have changed and continue to change rapidly. We desperately need a truly progressive government.

Norah Downey, Midland, Ont.
So will it be the monorail or responsible government? You will literally have to decide which future best reflects the quality of your character.

Friday, March 16, 2018

America's Answer To The Homeless Problem

Call it thinking outside the box, but a U.S. candidate for the Senate has a novel idea about the homeless problem: arm them with shotguns.

Here is Libertarian Brian Ellison's plan, borne, no doubt, out of deep compassion:
... homeless people are “constantly victims of violent crime” and providing them with firearms would provide a deterrent.

[He] said he had settled on pump-action shotguns for practicality purposes.

“Frankly I think the ideal weapon would be a pistol,” he told the Guardian, “but due to the licensing requirements in the state we’re going to have a hard enough time getting homeless people shotguns as it is.

“Getting them pistols is probably next to impossible. The pistols need to be registered, people have to have addresses.”

Carrying a concealed pistol is illegal without a permit, Ellison said, “whereas open-carrying a long gun is completely legal”.
I can't help but wonder if it also occurs to Ellison that he may also have hit upon a cost effective plan to reduce the number of homeless people in America's midst.

Kind of a reversion to Hobbes' state of nature, eh?

And The United States Considers Itself A Civilized Country?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Enough To Warm A Cynic's Heart

No matter how bleak and pessimistic I may sometimes feel about my species, something always comes along to lighten my heart:

May they thrive, and may their momentum be unstoppable.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Seeking Sanctuary

Sometimes, living in Canada's most populous province is embarrassing. Anyone know a remote mountain top I can retreat to?

These letter-writers define my problem:
In light of the recent PC leadership convention that saw the resurrection of the anti-abortion faction, the denial of climate change, the renewal of the “no tax is good tax” fallacy, an anti-gay bias and the assertion that only parents undertake sex education of their children, I would propose that the party change its name from Progressive Conservative to Regressive Conservative — taking a giant step backward for all Ontarians.

Peter Lower, Scarborough

A mere two days after we observed International Women’s Day, the Ontario PC party membership decided to bypass a strong, highly qualified, intelligent woman in favour of a dense, inexperienced, impudent man who rode the populist wave to victory much like another well-known politician did south of the border over a year ago. For a man who doesn’t have an original idea in his head, Doug Ford certainly has a lot of people betting on his ability to beat Premier Kathleen Wynne in the upcoming election. Let’s hope this time the electorate chooses the strong, highly qualified, intelligent candidate.

John Fraser, Toronto

Columnist Martin Regg Cohn tells us that we should not rule out the possibility of Doug Ford being elected Ontario premier, and he may well be right. It is possible that Ford’s populist appeal will be sufficient to propel the PC party into government. However, it is also possible that Ford’s election will revitalize Liberal party fortunes and give Premier Kathleen Wynne a fighting chance of clinging to power. In electing Ford, PC party members chose to roll the dice with the future of both their party and the province, and they apparently did this with their eyes wide open. On June 7, we will know whether those who voted for Ford allowed Wynne to once again beat the odds.

Jonathan Household, Niagara on the Lake

Monday, March 12, 2018

Curbing An Addiction

A recent post outlined the terrible toll plastic pollution is exacting on the world's oceans and wildlife. We pay a very high price for personal convenience, but our addiction to plastic runs very, very deep, as you will see in just a moment.

But first, Tim Gray makes a plea for Canada to take a lead in the battle against this scourge, and for a very good reason:
Canadians are among the most wasteful people in the world, with 25 million tonnes of waste, including plastic, ending up in landfills in 2014. Of course, millions of plastic bottles and other plastic waste never even make it to the landfill, but instead end up in our streets and environment.

In our oceans, our plastic joins the waste of other countries to kill a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals every year, according to the UN Environment Program.
And just how can we work towards taming this monumental problem?
Provinces set the legislative frame for how waste is tackled. For example, all but two provinces and one territory have plastic beverage bottle deposit return programs that achieve high recovery rates. Ottawa could mandate that all provinces achieve at least a 90-per-cent recovery and let each of them design its own system.

This would ensure that the laggards in Manitoba and Ontario (which throws away 1.5 billion plastic bottles every year) get their acts together. If provinces don’t achieve the target, the federal government could impose a tax on the bottles and give the funds to municipalities for waste abatement programs.

The federal government could also require that major multinational corporations — like Coca-Cola, Nestlé, Pepsi and McDonald’s — increase the amount of recycled material in their products and packaging to 100 per cent by 2023. High recycled content targets create market demand for recycled materials. They also make companies more likely to support collection systems that provide high volumes of high quality plastics, like deposit return programs.
Although Gray doesn't mention it, another avenue would be for us to wean ourselves off our heavy use of plastic. That, however, is easier said than done, as you will learn in the following video:

You can read about the above initiative here.

Just because something is difficult does not make it beyond our means to achieve. By educating ourselves about the problem and taking steps to reduce our reliance on plastic (through cloth shopping bags, reusable water bottles, etc.), we can all contribute to the reduction of one of humanity and nature's biggest blights.

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Neoliberal Creep - Part 2

While Part 1 dealt with the neoliberal agenda influencing Bill Morneau's retraction of his pharmacare promise, today's post deals with that same influence, this time on Canada's 'evolving' position on foreign aid.
International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau says she wants to use the new $2 billion in extra aid dollars in the new budget to attract insurance and pension funds to invest in fight against global poverty.

Bibeau said her priority is going after wealthy private-sector investors, because governments can’t provide the level of spending needed to do development in a world where conflicts are lasting longer and displacing people for decades at a time.
Given the aversion too many people have to taxes and government expenditures, on the surface this proposal would seem to spread out the costs of doing good. A win-win situation, right?

Maybe. Maybe not.

The need for foreign aid is beyond question, both for the well-being of the recipient countries and the security of the larger world. Those who are suffering and disenfranchised today are the recruits for terrorist organization tomorrow. However, if improving the well being of those in the targeted countries is the overall goal, one has to ask a fundamental question: Is private investment the best vehicle by which to accomplish it?

Private investors, whether institutional or individual, are seeking a decent return on their money. If the goal of foreign aid is better the recipients' lives, how, exactly, is entering into partnerships with pension and insurance funds going to accomplish that? Unfortunately, Ms. Claude-Bibeau leaves that question unanswered. Perhaps she felt that given most Canadians' shallow engagement on public policy, simply making an announcement on cost-saving measures would satisfy them. But the key question to ask is whether or not the goals of private profit and foreign aid are compatible.

A report by the OECD-DAC sheds some much-needed light on this issue:

As you can see in the above, the first unspoken 'rule' is that 70% of the private investor's funds are guaranteed against loss. Guranteed by whom? The taxpayer, of course.

But surely that is not enough to attract such investment. There must also be the prospect of earning a healthy return on investment. And therein lies the tension and potential conflict between development and private sector goals. A 2013 study into the American experience with PPPs (Public-Private Partnerships) may shed some light:
Some development officials are concerned that opportunities to access private resources through partnerships can pull mission staff away from established country plan priorities. The availability of private funding, they argue, is hard to ignore, even when a proposed partnership does not fit well within an established mission priority. Given very limited staff resources at many USAID missions, the opportunity cost of following through on PPPs that are not necessarily aligned with stated mission priorities can be high.
In other words, the prospect of 'free money' can subvert a government's development goals.

There is a host of other problems associated with these partnerships, including overlooking needier countries in favour of more-developed ones so as to provide greater opportunities for the private sector to profit. This issue and many more you read about in the above report.

Will Canadian go blindly into this brave new world of foreign aid PPPs? Given the decidedly neoliberal bent of the Trudeau government, I think that is a distinct possibility.

Canada, and its foreign-aid recipients, deserve much, much better than this.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

A Species Under Indictment

The species: the human race. The charge: depraved indifference.

Watch the following to see for yourself whether conviction is a forgone conclusion:

If you would like to learn more about this ubiquitous problem, click here for a good primer.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

A Heedless Nation

One of our much-vaunted attributes as a species is our resilience. Our ability to recover from trauma, tragedy and setbacks is the stuff of legend. People devastated by wildfires rebuild; parents who lose a child to disease, accident or mayhem have another child; widows and widowers carry on with their lives; even crippling injury and maiming is not enough to stop us from looking forward to a better day.

Sometimes, however, that resilience and adaptability can work against us. I believe that is what is occurring under the presidency of Donald Trump. The Orange Ogre seems to have redefined what is acceptable or, at the very least, tolerable, in public life. Forget his serial philandering, his outright and ongoing mendacity, and his manifest unfitness for office, all of which, in an earlier time, would have provoked strong reaction and demands for remediation. Perhaps because Trump came from reality programming, and the United States, now more than ever in its history, subsists on a diet of illusion and false promise, it appears that widespread condemnation over what he does or does not do is largely absent, a 'perk of office' that his predecessor, Obama, did not enjoy.

Consider the following report, which begins at the 7:52 mark, and then ask yourself this question: If times were normal, what logical conclusion would most draw about Donald Trump vis-à-vis Russia?

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Grand Plan of Obfuscation: A Guest Post

In response to Saturday's post about the increasing momentum of the neoliberal creep evident in the Trudeau government, frequent commentator BM offered his detailed take on this sorry situation:

It's all part of the Grand Plan of Obfuscation.

Put in a haphazard system of Pharmacare, so that no citizen knows what is covered and by whom. Allow the private sector like Morneau Sheppell to set up systems to track every citizen to make sure they're covered by the eclectic mix of public and private schemes for pills, because it's so complicated, and thus skim off management fees for their "services".

Big Pharma rejoices. Not having a national scheme means nobody is going to bargain for cheap pill prices on a national scale. So drug prices stay high, and the financial corporatists skim off the cream for services rendered tracking all the mush with ZERO value-added for anyone but themselves. All the public has to do is pay over the odds for all the shenanigans, while the politicians issue glib statements as to how they've helped everyone. It'll all cost more overall than what we have now, you can be sure.

Then, at Bay Street banquets, the corporatists will toast each other as to how well they sold the citizenry that piece of goods. The talking will of course be in business code and jargon, the obfuscation of our age. Financial mags will feature glowing articles on how some "genius" spotted a service "missing" from the "market", and worked out a scheme to profit from it. All hail a new "business" Titan! And if you believe all that guff, you'll believe the BS from corporate media on war reporting too.

These business people strike me as the lowest of human life forms, sucking and siphoning money into their pockets from the masses, while maintaining what they have helped society out, but in reality being parasites on the body politic. There is no shame left for those people. They believe their own lies, and act all patrician like Morneau, a man so apparently ill-informed and dim-witted, he'd never heard of business divestiture for holding public office, or if he had, regarded himself as so honest, ethics policies simply didn't apply to him.

Does anyone trust Bell and their ripoff cell phone and cable/internet plans? How about the banks? - Nah, they don't try and flog useless services to little old ladies over the phone, do they? Upstanding corporate citizens, the lot of 'em. The execs claim the moral high ground - "That's not our company policy!" Meanwhile, they incentivize middle management with bonuses to get more and more business, and leave that rapacious class to work out the details on the QT, while issuing highly moral company "policy", and tut-tutting their lowest-ranked employees' behaviour. Then doing bugger all to change things. It's all utter and complete bollocks from beginning to end.

Is anyone honest these days? I find precious little evidence of it. Everyone is trying to rip off everyone else just to make a living. It didn't use to be so obviously bent. But big business with the federal government in their pockets seem intent on ruining the ethics of the average citizen by lying, innuendo and complex ripoff schemes like National Pharma, and allowing it to be just obvious enough that we all turn into scheming thieves ourselves because it's the norm. You can't trust anyone these days - we're all stealthily trained to be greedy. Everyone is out for their own advantage.

A population ruined like this has no empathy, couldn't care less about anyone else, and if you expect them to really care about the environment, well good luck. Thus the brain dead cheer lower "taxes" as if it were some sort of universal truism, and society gradually turns into sh*t, with no hope of altruism whatsoever.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Star Readers Are Not Impressed

Star readers can spot a corrupt policy process when they see one, an acuity they make known as they opine on Bill Morneau's pharmacare plans:
Morneau’s unwise decision to backtrack pharmacare, Walkom, March 2

Every parent knows this: If you aren’t really going to take your kids to the zoo, don’t mention it at all.

When we heard details included in the Liberal’s budget this week, we were delighted. That evening’s conversation around our dining-room table with our adult children was animated and optimistic. One of the most exciting elements in the budget was the announcement of the government’s commitment to pharmacare.

Then, came Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s near-immediate dialing back: not a “plan” exactly, more of a “strategy,” and other weasely sounding words. What a colossal disappointment.

I reluctantly excused the Liberal’s backtrack from their promise to reform our electoral system. Please don’t let the pharmacare “promise” go the same way. We need to hear their clarification and recommitment — and soon. Just be straight with us. Are we going to the zoo or aren’t we?

Jeannie Mackintosh, St. Catherines, Ont.

I was even encouraged by the enlistment of former Ontario health minister Eric Hoskins, whose provincial government recently implemented a long-overdue pharmacare program, albeit one only covering residents under age 25. It was a start and I hoped that coverage would increase eventually to provide coverage for all.

My feelings of elation and hope were soon dashed when Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced it wouldn’t be universal but would amount to a patchwork of coverage, with some people included in the government plan and others not.

This is unacceptable. We don’t need some mish-mash of a program. Let’s do it right and make a universal plan and, as the research indicated, the overall cost to health care should see a reduction. Perhaps Australia’s government could advise how best to meet this goal.

Norah Downey, Midland, Ont.

Drug-policy experts were stunned. Canada is the only advanced country with a medicare system that lacks pharmacare. Canadians spend so much on drugs because we don’t have a pharmacare program: drug prices are too high and too many intermediaries like insurance companies and benefit consultants drain money from the system.

Morneau’s approach would leave all that waste in place. The obstacle is that every dollar wasted is somebody’s income and the affected industries — drug manufacturers, drug insurers and drug benefits managers — fight back.

The minister effectively pointed to a potential conflict of interest and then restricted the mandate of the advisory council. I hope the minister will step back and let the council do its work.

Kim Jarvi, Toronto

Saturday, March 3, 2018

The Neoliberal Creep - An Update

I'm not sure what I find more offensive. Is it the fact that Bill Morneau, despite all that he has said about his limited vision regarding pharmacare, is apparently lying when he now says he is open to all ideas regarding a national drug-coverage program? Or is it that he holds the Canadian people in such contempt that he thinks we are either too stupid or too inattentive to see through his dissembling?
Finance Minister Bill Morneau now says he’s “agnostic” on proposals for a pharmacare plan after criticism that he was trying to dial back ambitions for a new program to ensure Canadians get the prescription drugs they need.

Morneau said Friday that he’s not seeking to prejudge the outcome of a newly created advisory council that will be looking at the idea or dampen the scope of their recommendations.

“What’s really clear to us is we need to get expert advice on how to do this best,” Morneau said during a visit to Montreal to discuss the budget measures.
What might account for his faux 'come to Jesus' reversal? Could it be that he has outraged influential groups?
... the Canadian Federation of Nurses, Canadian Doctors for Medicare and the Canadian Labour Congress [have written] an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau demanding Morneau be removed from the file.

They said Morneau has already decided it will not be a universal “plan” that covers all workers — to the detriment of Canadians, and the benefit of insurance and pharmaceutical companies, and, they suggested, Morneau Shepell.

They said it contradicts “overwhelming evidence” on the need for a universal program and undermines the work of Hoskins’ council before it begins.

“It is our hope that insurance industry and pharmaceutical industry interests will not play a role in the implementation of universal public pharmacare,” the letter to Trudeau stated.
Some will say we should not prejudge the process, and that we must give Morneau and his team a chance to get things right. To take such a position, in my view, would be to harbor a political naivete that I am incapable of.

More realistic, to me, is to see the truth of this entire charade, the truth made known when Mr. Morneau, in a moment of carelessness, let his mask slip, revealing what lies beneath - a living, breathing, neoliberal creep.

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Neoliberal Creep

The above title epitomizes both the direction of the entire Trudeau government and the character of specific high-profile individuals within it, most notably Finance Minister Bill Morneau and International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau. The latter two are using their offices, not to promote the public good, but to do the bidding of their corporate masters.

Let's start with Morneau and what has to be one of the most rapid turnarounds/reversals I have ever witnessed in politics. On Monday, I was delighted to learn that Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins had resigned his post to head an Ottawa study into pharmacare, a universal program covering drug costs for all, a feature of all countries with universal health care save Canada. Then, less than two days later, Morneau 'clarified' his intention (doubtless after hearing from the pharmaceutical and private insurance companies) that
a new national pharmacare program will be "fiscally responsible" and designed to fill in gaps, not provide prescription drugs for Canadians already covered by existing plans.

Why the walkback/misdirection? Well, part of the allure of real pharmacare is the fact that bulk-buying of drugs means massive savings. This, however, does not sit well with the powerful pharmaceutical industry.
Traditionally, they have threatened to stop manufacturing drugs in jurisdictions that engage aggressively in bulk buying.
Consequently, Morneau is now facing conflict of interest accusations on the pharmacare file.
The Canadian Federation of Nurses, Canadian Doctors for Medicare and the Canadian Labour Congress wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau demanding Morneau be removed from the file.

They said he has already decided it will not be a universal “plan” that covers all workers, merely a “strategy” to fill in the gaps for those who currently don’t have coverage — to the detriment of Canadians, and the benefit of insurance and pharmaceutical companies, and, they suggested, Morneau Shepell.

They said it contradicts “overwhelming evidence” on the need for a universal program and undermines the work of Hoskins’ council before it begins.

“It is our hope that insurance industry and pharmaceutical industry interests will not play a role in the implementation of universal public pharmacare,” the letter to Trudeau states.
Moneau's cowardice has earned the scorn of The Toronto Star:
...the projected savings that have made comprehensive drug coverage such a popular proposal in policy circles depend in large part upon the program’s universality. Most of the savings created by a pharmacare program would be achieved through the bulk-buying of drugs and the elimination of bureaucracies – potential benefits at least partly forgone by the sort of means-tested approach that Morneau is hinting at.

Morneau doesn’t really mean “fiscally responsible.” He means politically palatable. With no plan to return to a balanced budget, the finance minister wants nothing to do with the inevitable initial costs of such a project, even if avoiding these means forgoing enormous long-term savings.
Increasingly, the Trudeau government is proving itself to be a massive disappointment to progressives in Canada who, unlike some, demand substance, not just the vapid photo-ops that are coming to define this government.

In Part 2, I will look at International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau's plans to cut the private sector in for a piece of the foreign aid action.