Politics and its Discontents

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Reflections, Observations, and Analyses Pertaining to the Canadian Political Scene
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On Hiatus

ven, 01/23/2015 - 00:19

Time to head back to our favourite island before it is infiltrated by the Americans.

See you in about a week.Recommend this Post

Another Compelling Video From Operation Maple

jeu, 01/22/2015 - 07:56
Operation Maple (Take Canada Back) is continuing its fine job of reminding us of the terrible way we are governed, offering us frequent and compelling evidence that demonstrates how the neo-liberal agenda, pursued with such diabolical glee by the Harper regime, is continuing to undermine our country. I suspect its resources, and others (the Salamander, for example, has some interesting ideas in this regard which I shall soon write about) will become increasingly important as we move ever closer to the next federal election. Please visit their site and disseminate their material as you see fit.

The following video explores the history of the free trade agreement and its costly consequences, consequences that continue to this day and promise to grow even more grave under the Canada-China Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) and the Canada-Eu (CETA) deal.

Our sovereignty as a nation continues to erode thanks to these agreements, brokered with such secrecy, with the only true beneficiaries the corporate elites and the multinationals.

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Rick's Latest

jeu, 01/22/2015 - 05:55
As usual, Mr. Mercer does us all proud as he yet again lambastes the obdurate, arrogant Mr. Harper, this time over the fact that he doesn't play well with others (a.k.a. the provincial premiers).

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The Real Problem With Contemporary Journalism

mer, 01/21/2015 - 09:52

The current scandal engulfing the CBC and Amanda Lang has made its way overseas into the cross-hairs of The Guardian's George Monbiot.

After providing a summary, with appropriate links, of the sordid Lang tale that encompasses massive conflict of interest and management collusion, Monbiot has this to say:
CBC refused to answer my questions, and I have not had a response from Lang. It amazes me that she remains employed by CBC, which has so far done nothing but bluster and berate its critics.But the CBC's indefensible stance is not the real subject of Monbiot's essay, merely part of the context for his thesis:
[T]hose who are supposed to scrutinise the financial and political elite are embedded within it. Many belong to a service-sector aristocracy, wedded metaphorically (sometimes literally) to finance. Often unwittingly, they amplify the voices of the elite, while muffling those raised against it.Studies and statistic prove his point:
A study by academics at the Cardiff School of Journalism examined the BBC Today programme’s reporting of the bank bailouts in 2008. It discovered that the contributors it chose were “almost completely dominated by stockbrokers, investment bankers, hedge fund managers and other City voices. Civil society voices or commentators who questioned the benefits of having such a large finance sector were almost completely absent from coverage.” The financiers who had caused the crisis were asked to interpret it.The heavily biased reporting on that catastrophe, however, was only representative of a deeper malaise:
The same goes for discussions about the deficit and the perceived need for austerity. The debate has been dominated by political and economic elites, while alternative voices – arguing that the crisis has been exaggerated, or that instead of cuts, the government should respond with Keynesian spending programmes or taxes on financial transactions, wealth or land – have scarcely been heard. Those priorities have changed your life: the BBC helped to shape the political consensus under which so many are now suffering.And what about fair and balanced reporting? A fiction, according to Monbiot:
The BBC’s business reporting breaks its editorial guidelines every day by failing to provide alternative viewpoints. Every weekday morning, the Today programme grovels to business leaders for 10 minutes. It might occasionally challenge them on the value or viability of their companies, but hardly ever on their ethics. Corporate critics are shut out of its business coverage – and almost all the rest.

On BBC News at Six, the Cardiff researchers found, business representatives outnumbered trade union representatives by 19 to one. “The BBC tends to reproduce a Conservative, Eurosceptic, pro-business version of the world,” the study said. This, remember, is where people turn when they don’t trust the corporate press.He ends by listing the media's myriad failures, and the grave consequence of those failures:
...their failure to expose the claims of the haut monde, their failure to enlist a diversity of opinion, their failure to permit the audience to see that another world is possible. If even the public sector broadcasters parrot the talking points of the elite, what hope is there for informed democratic choice?
Monbiot's piece should be required reading for all concerned about the condition of that great protector of democracy, the fifth estate. As well, we would be indeed foolish if we failed to understand that the insights he offers apply, not just to Great Britain, but to Canada and much of the rest of western world, as well.Recommend this Post

Harper Intimidation Tactic Backfires

mer, 01/21/2015 - 06:39

As noted yesterday, the Harper-led CRA attacks on charities inimical to the base continues apace, the latest 'victim' being Dying With Dignity Canada, which is having its charitable status 'annulled.' However, this time it appears that the bully's strategy has backfired.

As reported in The Star, Dying With Dignity Canada is not going to appeal the decision, instead seeing it as a real opportunity:
“We won’t be opposing it, simply because it would be lengthy, time consuming, costly and a distraction from our core work,’’ Morris said in a telephone interview from Toronto.

She hinted strongly that once her group’s status is officially gone, it will use its website to begin endorsing politicians and parties who support the physician-assisted suicide position.

“We’ll be able to say here’s a candidate, come look,’’ Morris said.

“It’s unfortunate we’ll no longer be able to issue tax receipts, but it will also be a real freeing from constraints, because as a charity we’ve really had to follow careful guidelines from the (revenue agency). We’ll no longer need to do that,’’ Morris added.A visit to their website shows a wealth of information on the topic of dying with dignity, surely fulfilling the educational component that comprises a good part of CRA-conferred charitable status, and solidly giving the lie to the Agency's alleged reason for revoking that status.

Nonetheless, as a result of Harper's sleazy intolerance of opposing views, I suspect that the profile of Dying With Dignity Canada has been considerably enhanced.

Sorry it didn't work out for you this time, Stephen.Recommend this Post

The Harper Attack On Charities Continues

mar, 01/20/2015 - 13:17

Following a well-established pattern, the Harper regime has once again used the offices of Canada Revenue Agency to go after a charity that it deems ideologically inimical to its base. This time, it is Dying With Dignity Canada:
The federal government is stripping Dying with Dignity Canada of its charitable tax status following a political activity audit by the Canada Revenue Agency.

The organization, a registered charity since 1982, advocates for choice and dignity at the end of life, including providing information about patient rights, advance planning and education on the case for physician-assisted death.Despite the fact that it has been a registered charity for over 30 years,
Dying with Dignity says the revenue agency has informed it that the organization never should have received charitable status in the first place because it does not advance education in the charitable sense.That was some oversight, eh? Recommend this Post

Health Canada Fails Us Yet Again

mar, 01/20/2015 - 07:12

On this blog I have frequently extolled the fine investigative journalism practised by The Toronto Star. Whether on issues of municipal, provincial, or federal significance, The Star, as it frequently proclaims, "gets action."

From the standpoint of average Canadians, probably one of its most important investigations in recent times has been into Health Canada and its all too cozy relationship with the pharmaceutical industry, an industry protectorate seems to treat more as an equal than as an activity to be regulated. its relationship with the generic company Apotex is especially troubling.

Despite previous avowals by Health Minister Rona Ambrose that things would improve, it seems that business as usual prevails at Apotex. Yesterday, The Star reported that problems have again been uncovered, this time at its Brantford palant, information that, as in the past, comes not from Health Canada, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:
At the Brantford facility in November, FDA inspectors found the company launched an internal review in 2013 to ensure it was effectively cleaning the equipment used to make drug products. Three swab tests of the equipment found unacceptable levels of contamination.

But Apotex shelved its internal review “until (an) effective cleaning procedure is developed,” according to an Apotex memo reviewed by FDA inspectors.

Then, in September 2014, the company made multiple batches “using the same equipment cleaning methods that failed the cleaning validation,” FDA inspectors found.

The company then released the drug products “based on a less stringent” quality-control requirement.What were the possible contaminants?
An industry expert said the most common contamination from improperly cleaned equipment would be bacteria or trace amounts of another drug or antibiotic made using the same machines.So where was Health Canada in all of this?

The agency, which had conducted its own inspection in July with similar discoveries, tagged along with the FDA in its November inspection. But that's where common ground diverges. While the FDA made the result of the inspection publicly available, Health Canada says it is still finalizing the report from its July inspection.

A hard-hitting editorial in today's Star makes it abundantly clear that this kind of cavalier foot-dragging is unacceptable:
That’s not good enough. It’s January and drugs that could possibly be contaminated are on the market.

Health Canada must move a lot more quickly to ensure consumer safety. And it clearly needs to take a much more rigorous look into Apotex’s manufacturing practices. The company has a long history of safety issues at its plants.The editorial ends with sentiments that few Canadians could disagree with:
In the end, consumers are dependent on Health Canada — not the FDA — to ensure that drugs on the Canadian market are safe and effective. Health Canada should immediately identify the drugs in question and issue its report on Apotex’s Brantford plant. And it needs to have a good hard look at all of Apotex’s manufacturing practices.

Consumer safety is at stake.That, strangely enough, does not seem to be a priority with Health Canada.Recommend this Post

The Triumph of Ideology Over Truth

lun, 01/19/2015 - 07:13

None of us, of course, is free of prejudices, biases, and ideological/philosophical leanings. It is part of being human. But those of us who strive for critical thinking at least make an effort to recognize the aforementioned in our own thinking, and take measures to try to counteract their at-times destructive effects. I like to think that is what separates progressives from the reflexive ranters à la Fox News who substitute blather, invective and demagoguery for reason.

The New York Times' Paul Krugman has written a very interesting piece examining this issue, entitled Hating Good Government.

Krugman starts out by looking at climate change, and the fact that 2014 was the warmest year on record, a fact, however, that will make no difference in the 'debate.'
Evidence doesn’t matter for the “debate” over climate policy, where I put scare quotes around “debate” because, given the obvious irrelevance of logic and evidence, it’s not really a debate in any normal sense. And this situation is by no means unique. Indeed, at this point it’s hard to think of a major policy dispute where facts actually do matter; it’s unshakable dogma, across the board. And the real question is why.To fully establish his premise, he next looks at the right's most prized article of faith, that tax cuts promote growth:
First, consider the Kansas experiment. Back in 2012 Sam Brownback, the state’s right-wing governor, went all in on supply-side economics: He drastically cut taxes, assuring everyone that the resulting boom would make up for the initial loss in revenues. Unfortunately for his constituents, his experiment has been a resounding failure. The economy of Kansas, far from booming, has lagged the economies of neighboring states, and Kansas is now in fiscal crisis.So will we see conservatives scaling back their claims about the magical efficacy of tax cuts as a form of economic stimulus? Of course not. If evidence mattered, supply-side economics would have faded into obscurity decades ago. Next, Krugman turns to health care reform, regarded by the right as an unspeakable evil promoted by the satanic Obama:
...the news on health reform keeps coming in, and it keeps being more favorable than even the supporters expected. We already knew that the number of Americans without insurance is dropping fast, even as the growth in health care costs moderates. Now we have evidence that the number of Americans experiencing financial distress due to medical expenses is also dropping fast.Those facts, of course, will matter not a whit to the 'true believers' on the right.

Krugman then gets to the heart of the matter, the reason for this intractability that is impervious to facts:
Well, it strikes me that the immovable position in each of these cases is bound up with rejecting any role for government that serves the public interest. If you don’t want the government to impose controls or fees on polluters, you want to deny that there is any reason to limit emissions. If you don’t want the combination of regulation, mandates and subsidies that is needed to extend coverage to the uninsured, you want to deny that expanding coverage is even possible. And claims about the magical powers of tax cuts are often little more than a mask for the real agenda of crippling government by starving it of revenue.And why this hatred of government in the public interest? Well, the political scientist Corey Robin argues that most self-proclaimed conservatives are actually reactionaries. That is, they’re defenders of traditional hierarchy — the kind of hierarchy that is threatened by any expansion of government, even (or perhaps especially) when that expansion makes the lives of ordinary citizens better and more secure. We would be indeed foolish to think that such forces are not at work in Canada as well. One only has to look at the Harper regime's near-constant vilification of 'enemies, its suppression of science, its general demagoguery substituting for reasoned policy to see our sad domestic truths echo those of the U.S.

Not a time to be smug here, there, or anywhere.

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How Does Stephen Harper Get Away With It?

lun, 01/19/2015 - 05:43

Because we let him. That is the question asked and answered by a Toronto Star letter-writer in response to a column on democracy by Bob Hepburn, which I posted about last week.

There is an array of excellent letters on this topic, one that could serve as a primer for those who are disengaged. I hope you will check out the full page and share with those who might benefit from the insights offered.

Election best chance to restore faith in democracy, Opinion Jan. 11
This summary is brilliant and speaks to the heart of Canada’s challenge. Poor choices, decisions based on an ideology that excludes more voters than it includes, an arrogant blindness to the growing collateral damage caused by policies made within a narrow context – all of these and more can be reviewed and changed.

This column is a cry and pledge for change driven by the phrase, “How does Stephen Harper get away with it?” At the first step of the democratic ladder, the answer is “we let him get away with it.”

Perhaps it’s time for us (the voter) to ask, “How do we stop this erosion of our democracy?” And then set about a plan to do it, acknowledging that perhaps Mr. Harper’s strongest asset is the diversity and size of Canada making joint projects a geographic nightmare, a land where divide and conquer can be accomplished with our own money ($2.5 million in TV ads) not to mention the overriding complacency of the voter (the fiddle is playing while Ottawa burns). This summary challenges the voter.

The Star has done its job with strong and factual, canary in the mine reporting. We need to respond. Each Harper candidate needs voters to ask them all of these “how does” questions and stand our ground until we get the facts from each and every candidate who wants our vote.

And each voter must look inside her or his soul to discover again the value of our democracy is worth more than ideology.

Don Graves, BurlingtonRecommend this Post

Fox Apologizes?

dim, 01/18/2015 - 13:36
Surely the end is nigh.

In case you have the interest and the stomach, this is what the apologies were all about:

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And Speaking Of Ethics

dim, 01/18/2015 - 10:18
Or, more accurately, the lack of them at the CBC, letter-writer John Page of Toronto offers this thought:
Re: Minimal mindset of CBC managers, Jan. 16

As a faithful listener and hard-core supporter of the CBC for over 42 years, I recently changed the channel — literally. The story on the conduct of Amanda Lang and CBC management brings home the reality of the decline and likely extinction of the CBC.

Maybe I am naive to think that Harry Brown, Joe Cote, Barbara Frum, and Knowlton Nash would have ever placed themselves in the ethically grey areas that your article touches.

Hoping the Star and other media can do some more investigation and reporting on this important subject.

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Egg On His Car

dim, 01/18/2015 - 06:05
... but not on his face. Yes, our peripatetic and staunch, uncritical supporter of all things Israeli, Foreign Minister John baird, was spared the ultimate humiliation during a visit to the West Bank city of Ramallah today to meet with Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki.

The protesters, who were waiting as Baird left Malki's office, were kept well back and Baird was not hit, authorities say. One media report says only one of the eggs landed on the roof of his car.

Protesters held signs reading: "Baird you are not welcome in Palestine."Here is some raw footage of the event, which many Canadians will look upon rather wistfully, I suspect, given that at home, members of the Harper regime have a far more nuanced relationship with the public, appearing only before carefully vetted, friendly groups:

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More On The Amanda Lang Imbroglio

sam, 01/17/2015 - 05:46
The Star's John Semley offers his thoughts on the inadequacy and ineptitude of the CBC's response to the Amanda Lang scandal:

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Accountability, Whither Thou Goest?

ven, 01/16/2015 - 07:01

If there is one good thing to be said about the Leslie Roberts scandal, it is that privately owned Global Television has acted with dispatch both in its investigation of the newsman/PR firm co-owner's terrible breach of ethics, and its subsequent actions. While the official 'story' is that Roberts has resigned, there is little doubt in my mind that he was given that option by management lest he be unceremoniously turfed.

This decisive behaviour stands in sharp contrast to the inaction of other media outlets. Perhaps the most notorious example of patently unethical choices is Margaret Wente's much-reported serial plagiarism which the Globe and Mail treated as some form of pecadillo that merited exactly what? All we know is that the editor at the time, John Stackhouse, said she had been disciplined; the terms of that discipline were private.

More recently, of course, we have had the sad spectacle of the CBC's Amanda Lang who, it is alleged, tried to stop a story exposing the RBC's use of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program to train and replace permanent employees; Lang's was a clear conflict-of-interest violation given the nature of her relationship with an RBC board member and the fact that she has accepted paying gigs from the bank.

As of this writing, the CBC continues to insist that Lang did nothing wrong, essentially the same approach that it took with conflict allegations against Peter Mansbridge and Rex Murphy.

These are hardly decisions that inspire confidence in the public broadcaster.

In his column today, Rick Salutin explores who is to blame for the sad state of affairs at the CBC (it is the managers, who cower in the shadows behind their “stars”) and remembers a time when when public institutions adhered to public values for the benefit of all:
Canada’s other main public cultural institution, the National Film Board, was built by John Grierson in the 1940s. He was a titan of global film. He acted imperiously. He recruited young Canadians and dazzled them with his ego and vision. One said, “A day never passed at the Board that Grierson didn’t remind us we were there to serve the people of Canada.”

Among his recruits was Sidney Newman. Newman went to the UK and worked in private TV, creating The Avengers. Then the (public) BBC hired him as head of drama. He revelled. He created Doctor Who, now in its 51st brilliant year. For the 50th anniversary, BBC did a film about Newman! He was its superhero.Today, we regularly read reports of the death of traditional media, reports that, if I may borrow from Mark Twain, seem greatly exaggerated. However, those media do themselves no favours by trying to rationalize and justify failures when they occur. We, the news-consuming public, deserve much better.

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