Politics and its Discontents

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Reflections, Observations, and Analyses Pertaining to the Canadian Political Scene
Updated: 55 min 6 sec ago

Morally Weak, Intellectually Contemptuous

14 hours 49 min ago
That's how I regard the justifications for continuing with the Saudi arms deal offered by Stephane Dion and his puppet master, Justin Trudeau. I see I am not alone in that assessment:
Re: Approval of Saudi arms deal was illegal, lawyer argues, April 22

According to the Prime Minister, the Saudi arms deal must go forward, notwithstanding profound universal concern about the Saudi government’s cavalier attitude toward human rights.

According to Justin Trudeau, “We will continue to respect contracts signed because people around the world need to know that when Canada signs a deal it is respected.” That statement is odd and troubling on many different levels.

Does Mr. Trudeau believe himself to be Canada’s CEO or its head of government? Are we employees of Mr. Trudeau or are we citizen of this country? Is Mr. Trudeau our boss or our servant? Does Canada, as a political entity, sign commercial deals, or is it rather commercial enterprises within Canada that sign deals, and it is the government’s job to regulate those deals? Most importantly, perhaps: Is Canada a large commercial enterprise or a nation that calls itself a democracy?

A likely explanation of Mr. Trudeau’s statement is that he has a habit of improvising rationales that are at odds with rationality, such as his perplexing statements to the effect that Canada will use fossil fuel production to combat fossil-fuel-induced climate change.

Stephane Dion has turned into a quick study in the art of sophistical rhetoric and improvised rationales. On the subject of the Saudi arms sales, he says he had “reviewed the issue with ‘the utmost rigour’ and will continue to do so over the life of the 14-year deal.” It seems I have been under a false impression that his government had been elected for a four-year term.

Earlier, he had cleverly stated that the sale was justified because the Saudi government has promised not to use the armoured vehicles to suppress domestic dissent. Even if we were to believe the Saudi claim, what about the serious concern about the Saudi ruling family’s hobby of invading neighbouring countries and massacring their civilian populations? Do we need that blood on our hands?

Al Eslami, North York

Jobs worth killing for? Online video April 24

Full marks to Scott Vrooman for, like many other Canadians, pointing out the rank hypocrisy of Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government. Could there be a more blatant example of this than the Saudi Arms deal?

While our Prime Minister will happily show up at any photo op for a Pride Parade or similar event (as he should), he quite clearly has no problem selling arms to a regime that executes people for the crime of being gay. If he can’t see the hypocrisy of that, he’s a fool.

This government’s supposed fresh new approach (transparency and honesty and optimism) is looking more and more like a variation of the half truths and manipulated facts that contribute to many people’s default setting with politics and politicians: distrust and cynicism.

Paul Romanuk, Toronto

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And To Round Up The Week

Sat, 04/30/2016 - 05:54
Yet one more reminder of our collective folly:

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Four Days In A Wild Weather Week

Fri, 04/29/2016 - 06:16
I admit I am a bit of a weather geek. To witness nature's fury and our powerlessness in its face is truly humbling. However, the other reason for my fascination with our increasingly volatile and destructive weather is the rueful recognition of our collective refusal to make any changes that might mitigate the worst effects of climate change. If given the option of sacrifice (losing some convenience, changing our lifestyle, taming our bloodlust for beef, paying higher prices for energy, etc.) or enduring the destructive force of climate change, it seems that for almost everyone, both leaders and the led, the choice is lamentably clear.

We get what we deserve:

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A Rich Businessman's Humility

Wed, 04/27/2016 - 04:07
Far too many employers see their employees as disposable, fungible, or, even worse, targets to exploit. I am happy to report that the CEO of Chobani yogurt, Hamdi Ulukaya, is not one of them. He is giving his people a 10% share in his company, shares that they will be able to sell, once the company goes public. The money that these workers will soon receive means a lot, they say, but being appreciated means even more.

Watching this report, I couldn't help but wonder how different our world would be if more owners felt the same way about the people who make their success possible.

Should you want to read more about this remarkable gesture, click here.Recommend this Post

The Truth Is Not Out There- It's Right Here

Tue, 04/26/2016 - 06:54
Fox Mulder of the X-Files got it wrong. He believed that the truth was 'out there;' in fact, it is right here, but as the Mound of Sound said in a recent post, we live in "a world full of fact-resistant humans."

Our capacity for denial seems almost limitless, perhaps most tragically attested to by our ongoing nonchalance about climate change. Despite increasingly severe weather events, melting arctic ice and rising sea levels, we insist on whistling past the graveyard. The time is growing very late.

Consider what Gwynne Dyer had to say recently:
We cannot count on the average global temperature rising steadily but slowly as we pump more and more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It may do that -- but there may also be a sudden jump in the average global temperature that lands you in a world of hurt. That may be happening now.

"We are moving into uncharted territory with frightening speed," said Michel Jarraud, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, last November. He was referring to the fact that the warming is accelerating in an unprecedented way.

2014 was the hottest year ever, until 2015 beat it by a wide margin. 2016 may beat that record by an even wider margin. It was the hottest January ever and the average global temperature in February was a full fifth of a Celcius degree higher than January.To take solace by blaming recent event on El Niño is folly:
As for the frightening acceleration in the warming in the past three months, that has no precedent in any El Niño year, or indeed in any previous year. It could be some random short-term fluctuation in average global temperature, but coming on top of the record warming of 2014 and 2015 it feels a lot more like part of a trend.

Could this be non-linear change, an abrupt and irreversible change in the climate? Yes. And if it is, how far will it go before it stabilizes again at some higher average global temperature? Nobody knows.What was once thought to be many decades, if not centuries off, is now starting to materialize. Watch the following two videos to consider what may very well be in store for us, perhaps in the lifetime of some alive today, but almost certainly in that of our children and grandchildren:

Such scenarios are no longer in the realm of science fiction, but we continue to treat them as such, and it doesn't appear that anything will shake us and our 'leaders' from this state of denial. It therefore seems appropriate to end this post with Jimi Hendrix's version of Bob Dylan's All Along The Watchtower, a song that I have always interpreted as depicting impending doom:

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Guest Post: A Manitoban Reflects On His Province's Choice of Brian Pallister's Conservatives

Mon, 04/25/2016 - 06:30

I have a friend in Winnipeg with whom I regularly speak and correspond. Although he does not work in the field, he is possessed of a keen mind and a journalist's instincts and methodology that enable him to frequently uncover an array of misbehaviour on the part of public officials and organizations. I have urged him to devote himself to these pursuits when he retires, perhaps in a blog or some other forum.

He has given me permission to publish a missive he sent me about the recent Pallister victory in his province. For very good reasons he wishes anonymity, so he will remain unnamed, but here is, slightly edited, what he had to say:

Montreal Simon is a well-informed man and also knows the importance of history. If only people remembered things, especially political history.

The point that bothers me the most regarding the conservative victory here is that it is so large. I was hoping for a miracle such as a minority government but the unwashed have spoken. It will take more than one term to extinguish this government just because there are so many ridings held by it. Back in 1977 I remember when the Lyon government came to power. As a political rube at the time (I was a wet behind the ears high school student in grade 12) I had no idea how partisan politics could become. Manitoba was perhaps a more ‘balanced’ place at that time as Lyon only lasted one term before the electorate threw him out. Now no one seems to remember the legacy of the Filmon government.

In the late eighties came the Filmon government. Thanks to the spread of neo-liberal thought Gary was able to win three elections in a row. I remember his puckish grin during a news interview for the latest triumph. He called his third mandate a ‘threepeat’, echoing his competitive jock background (was a big basketball star at Sisler High). Nobody now remembers his lies (‘We have no plans to sell MTS”), bureaucratization of health care (creation of regional health authorities with resident bean counters who ‘manage’ care), big investments in casinos (great jobs, right) and cutting funding in education and healthcare (16-20 million for each department); also a bald attempt to privatize segments of provincial healthcare.

Meanwhile as cuts and austerity were implemented in the public sector no one paid much attention to the money showered on the private sector. Let’s see; 16 million gift to the Winnipeg Jets pro hockey team, increase in funding to private schools, subsidies for international companies: an American phone centre company called Fanueil and a Korean computer outfit call Wang. Both folded their tents within a couple years and quietly left the province with who knows how much government cash. I think the crowning financial toilet flush of public money occurred in the late nineties when the government was preparing to host the Pan American Games. The final price tag was never really pegged but of course to ask the total cost would cast a pall over the festivities enjoyed by Manitoba’s class conscious elite. They wanted this so bad that I remember one of the province’s leading plutocrats actually coming out into the public light of day and demanding that the Filmon government spend more money on the games (or else he would quit the organizing committee).

Ahh Lorne, memory is such a curse. Why do I torture myself? Guess I will be living through ‘interesting times’ as the Chinese say.

To cap it off the news brings word of more victory for the dark forces; Duffy acquitted, no one in the PMO even charged. The CBC continuing to ignore stories of importance and merit. Here is a link to the Huffington Post. It published an AP story on South Korea. Maybe CBC avoided publication because it might affect its bid for broadcast rights for the 2018 games?

P.S.: John Ralston Saul was right in that we are an ‘unconscious civilization.’Recommend this Post

Words, Words, Words

Sun, 04/24/2016 - 06:21
Talk, as they say, is indeed cheap.

During his New York trip, the prime minister touted an all-of-the-above approach where additional oil production can coexist with cleaner technology, and more wealth gets spent on energy innovation.Not so sure that passes the smell test.Recommend this Post

Rationalizations: The Slippery Slope To Hell?*

Sat, 04/23/2016 - 06:16
In response to a recent post on the Liberals' refusal to re-examine the $15 billion arms deal originally struck by the Harper regime with the repressive human-rights violator Saudi Arabia, an anonymous commentator wrote:

Who will tell the 5,000 workers and their families that they are going to lose their jobs? Will you contribute money from your fatty pensions to put food on their table so their children don't go hungry? Or don't you care?

I responded:

What you are arguing here, Anon, is that jobs are more important than people's lives. It is an argument that likely holds sway during a time when the neoliberal agenda prevails, but it is, at bottom, a totally amoral position, in my view. If followed to its natural conclusion, perhaps we should be attempting to offer incentives for handgun manufacturers to set up shop here as well. They would certainly provide jobs, but at what social and moral cost? As well, should we stop all efforts at mitigating global warming since they will inevitably lead to unemployment in the oil patch and all the industries that supply it?

Short-term gain for long-term misery is a devil's bargain.

In a similar vein, Scott Vrooman recently asked Canadians this question: "Are jobs worth killing for?"

Clearly, many would like to equivocate and take the issue outside of the arena of morality. Are such rationalizations the slippery road to hell?

* For the literalists out there, I am using hell in a metaphorical, not a literal sense.
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Oh, That Ben Carson

Fri, 04/22/2016 - 08:18
Perhaps someone should tell the medical savant that the $2 bill no longer exists in the U.S.?

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Obama: On Bended Knee To The Saudis

Thu, 04/21/2016 - 07:12
I'll defer to others much better versed than I am in the vagaries of international politics to offer a more informed analysis, but the recent deference of the U.S. toward Saudi Arabia warrants a closer look. Despite, or perhaps because of, an unfortunate recent characterization by Barack Obama of the repressive Middle East kingdom as free riders eager to drag others into the region's sectarian conflicts, he has made a 'mea culpa trip there to soothe over tensions.

But why the apparent deference? The obvious answer involves the Saudis' massive oil deposits as well as their strategic location, but another issue has arisen in which the American president is acting as a hindrance to those 9/11 survivors who want to sue Saudi Arabia:

As you can see, a real fear is the Saudis' threat to liquidate $750 billion in American holdings. That fear has likely prompted this deferential visit by an American president. Better, it seems, to deny your citizens justice than to face an economic upheaval.

The argument that Obama gives for trying to impede the bipartisan bill that would allow citizens to sue the Saudi Arabian government seems weak to me. He claims it could open the floodgates to other countries suing the U.S., but as far as I know, there is nothing to prevent such action now. The following report probably offers the most realistic assessment of the sorry situation:

The Saudis have consistently received special and deferential treatment from the U.S. Some will recall that shortly after 9/11, when all air traffic in the U.S. was grounded, a group of Saudis, including relatives of bin Laden, was whisked back to their kingdom. And as indicated in the above video, now it is trying to keep classified 28 pages of a congressional report into the attack.

Vox says this:
In 2002, shortly after a Joint Congressional Inquiry into the 9/11 attacks concluded its report, the Bush administration ordered that the inquiry permanently seal a 28-page section that investigated possible Saudi government links to the attack. It has remained sealed ever since.

Some members of Congress who have read the report, but are barred from revealing its contents, describe it as potentially damning. An unnamed member of Congress told the New Yorker, "The real question is whether it was sanctioned at the royal-family level or beneath that, and whether these leads were followed through."

"The 28 pages primarily relate to who financed 9/11, and they point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier," former Sen. Bob Graham, who is leading the charge to release the document, said in February.It is an unwarranted protection of Saudi interests that must end, according to Andrew C. McCarthy, who, as described in a Wikipedia entry, led
the 1995 terrorism prosecution against Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and eleven others. The defendants were convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and planning a series of attacks against New York City landmarks.[4] He also contributed to the prosecutions of terrorists who bombed US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He resigned from the Justice Department in 2003.Says McCarthy,
it is long, long past time — for the United States government to come clean with the American people, and with the families of Americans slaughtered on 9/11 by 19 jihadists, 15 of them Saudis. The government must disclose the 28 pages of the 2002 congressional report on the 9/11 attacks that it has shamefully withheld from the public for 14 years. Those pages outline Saudi complicity in the jihad.

It is nothing short of disgraceful that the Bush and Obama administrations, relying on the president’s constitutional authority over foreign intelligence and the conduct of foreign affairs, have concealed these materials.
Injustice frequently prevails in our fractured world. Despite all of the public clamour, I somehow doubt anything will soon change for those victims of terrorism currently seeking redress.
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No Simple Solutions

Wed, 04/20/2016 - 09:46
Over the years, I have learned to be wary of those who promise simple solutions or argue issues within a black and white framework. People who embrace, for example, Donald Trump's promises to 'bring jobs back to America' without asking the key question, 'How?' are acting like those religious fundamentalists who accept The Bible as literal truth. Similarly, when a particularly contentious issue arises in public policy, to reflexively embrace or reject it based on personal values, beliefs or ideologies is to negate the crucial role that critical thinking must play in informed and effective policy formulation.

Such, I believe, is happening in the assisted-suicide legislation introduced by the Liberal government. It is, admittedly, very cautious and conservative legislation:

The government’s proposal is more restrictive than some proponents of legal assisted suicide had sought. It does not include provisions for minors who may be capable of making decisions about their own medical care to choose to end their lives, nor does it allow for people in the early stages of illnesses like dementia to request an assisted death while they are still competent.
As The Star's Tim Harper points out, this compromise legislation satisfies few:
It created a void that is rapidly being filled by progressives who are understandably upset that the rights of those suffering grievously from mental illness, mature minors, or those who wish to provide advance directives have not been respected in this legislation, providing two tiers of those who are eligible to die with dignity.

It also left enough holes in the legislation for conservative opponents, in this case, many of Canada’s churches, to exploit concerns from their perspective.In other words, almost no one seems satisfied with the proposal as it stands, including many Liberal senators, who want a bill that grants far greater accessibility.

But I am satisfied with the bill as it now stands.

I have given the issue a lot of thought, and although my position is perhaps no more valid than that of others who have devoted similar time to considering the notion of assisted death, allow me to state my view, for whatever it is worth.

First, I am totally in favour of the right to choose death for those who have terminal conditions and are facing a great deal of suffering as their disease progresses. ALS is one of the cruel diseases that comes to mind. Without any effective treatment or symptomatic relief, its terminal stages are terrible to even contemplate.

That said, I am also in favour of the very cautious approach evident in the proposed legislation. I have surprised myself by also being in agreement at this point not to allow those in the early stages of dementia to request assisted suicide after their disease has progressed.

This position, which I have come to after much thought, is not the one I thought I would hold.

I suspect that the majority of us fear dementia more than almost anything else. I certainly do, and for a long time I agreed with the notion that it would be good to be able to prearrange one's exit from a hopeless situation. However, two experiences, upon reflection, have altered my view and caused me to ask a fundamental question: Whose interests are really being served by allowing a dignified demise to the demented?

My mother suffered from dementia for the last five years of her life. Additionally, due to protracted stays in the hospital, she developed gangrene, first in one leg and then the other, both requiring amputation. During her full-blown dementia, which seemed to manifest itself with her first hospital stay for a broken hip, she was quite delusional, never really aware, it seemed to me, of her actual situation. Objectively speaking, by most people's standards, she had little quality of life - bedridden, confused, a mere shell of who she had been.

Yet she was sufficiently aware, until the last few months of her life, to know us whenever we visited her, and I like to think that those visits brought her some pleasure. Although she had been having earlier memory problems, my mother's abrupt transition into dementia seems to have also protected her from any awareness that would have produced profound suffering. If anything, she seemed always to be in good cheer.

Unlike my mother, my mother-in-law was aware that she was developing dementia, something she had always feared. Her descent was gradual, as is usually the case. It caused her some distress for a time as she realized what she was losing. Yet again, after being in assisted living and eventually a nursing home, as her disease progressed, she no longer seemed in distress, as her awareness of what was happening decreased to the point where it was ultimately non-existent. Again, I can't say that she was suffering, except perhaps due to what she once told me was her discomfort over 'communal living.'

Eventually, at some level, my mother-in-law decided it was time to die; she no longer ate, and drank very little. Quite rightfully, the family respected her wishes and allowed her a dignified exit without imposing a feeding tube, etc. to keep her alive. It was the right choice.

So I now return to my earlier question about whose interests are being served by allowing a dignified demise to those suffering from dementia. As my two examples suggest, it is not necessarily for the one suffering such a terrible fate. Could it not, at least in some cases, be for those loved ones who are distressed to see a parent, husband, wife, brother or sister in such a broken state, assuming theirs are lives no longer worth living?

My point in writing this is a simple one: while currently in our right minds, we may indeed feel that it would be best to prearrange our assisted death to avoid a protracted and undesirable demise. However, can we really know what we will feel like once the acute awareness stage of early dementia passes? If we cannot answer that question with any degree of certainty, it is best, I believe, to err on the side of caution, as the Trudeau government is currently doing.Recommend this Post