Politics and its Discontents

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Reflections, Observations, and Analyses Pertaining to the Canadian Political Scene
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Pathetic Political Posturing

jeu, 08/25/2016 - 07:47
Yesterday, I posted about the outrageous pillaging of our groundwater made possible by a government that seems oblivious to anything but its corporate clientele. It is a sad situation which I and many others have known about for a long time; it is the same knowledge that Premier Wynne has long been in possession of, since it is the system of permits her government grants that makes this kind of aquatic depredation possible. Yet to hear her political posturing, it is almost as if it is a revelation to her:
There is a difference between taking water for agricultural or industrial use and taking it to sell bottled water, Premier Kathleen Wynne said Wednesday. Some of the conditions of the permits for bottled water use are outdated, she said.

"There's the issue of the quantity of water that's taken, there's the issue of the cost of that water," Wynne said.Actually, that is not the issue for a lot of people, Ms. Wynne. The real issue, which you are studiously ignoring, is why your government issues such permits in the first place, given that it is yet another sop to your corporate friends and, as the saying goes, a licence to print money.
Environmental group Wellington Water Watchers is urging Ontario not to renew a permit for Nestle Waters in Aberfoyle, Ont., that expired on July 31. It's upset that the company has been allowed to keep extracting water from a local well in the midst of a severe drought in the province.

A water-taking permit remains in force if a renewal application is made at least 90 days before it expires.Wynne continued with her pathetic political posturing:
"Thirty years ago, we wouldn't have envisioned an industry that took water and put it in plastic bottles so that people could carry it around," Wynne said.

"I mean, we didn't drink water from plastic bottles 30 years ago. We turned on the tap and the fact is our tap water in Ontario is among the best in the world."If you have the stomach for it, you can watch the following news report that only underscores the political prostitution taking place at Queen's Park.

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Where Is The Outrage?

mer, 08/24/2016 - 06:51
Buy land, they're not making it anymore.
-Mark Twain

The above quote, attributed to Mark Twain, is self-evident. What doesn't appear to be self-evident is that the same applies to all the water that exists in the world. Water is not, as some seem to believe, a self-replenishing resource; it is merely one that gets shifted about, due to increasingly volatile storms, droughts, evaporation, etc. And yet the government of Ontario operates as if it were ignorant of these facts.

Consider its disdainful treatment of this precious resource.
In the middle of a severe drought in southern Ontario, the bottled water giant Nestle is buying up more groundwater sources and now has permits from the Ontario government to remove a total of over 20 million litres of water per day!To compound the ignominy of this flagrant commercialization of something that all citizens have a right to,
Ontario charges companies $3.71 for every million litres of water they extract- a total of less than $75 per day for their total permits of 20,000,000 litres of groundwater.That Nestle feels emboldened to continue with its depredations is not really the fault of the company. After all, it is doing what companies always do: maximizing its profits, consequences be damned. This imperative, of course, is made possible by the fact that governments do little to protect this resource, even in drought-stricken California.

And yet, as you will see in the following report from Global News, Nestle considers itself a responsible steward of the environment and a sterling corporate entity:

What bothers me about the above report is the insistence that, if governments charged more for the water, it could be classed as a commodity under NAFTA. While I am not a lawyer or trade specialist, my question would be that even in charging the paltry sums that governments currently do, isn't water already being treated as a commodity?

As well, despite the comparative statistic showing that Nestle only takes 1% of the water, its commercialization is distinct from the fact that almost all other permit holders in Ontario are municipalities drawing water for their citizens to drink. Hardly equivalent to what Nestle is doing.

In the best of all possible worlds, we could stop companies from taking our water by not purchasing their bottled water. Since that is never going to happen, the only thing concerned citizens (and we should all be concerned) can do is make their displeasure known to the provincial government. Kathleen Wynne already has her eye on the next election, and if this issue incites public discontent, as it well should, she is far less likely to take direction from our corporate overlords and start listening to those who ultimately hold her electoral fate in their hands.

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News Many Would Prefer Not To Know

mar, 08/23/2016 - 06:31

For anyone who knows anything about climate change, the news is not good. There is a large and growing crack in the fourth-largest Antarctic ice shelf, known as the Larsen C.
Larsen C, according to the British Antarctic Survey, is “slightly smaller than Scotland.” It’s called an ice “shelf” because the entirety of this country-sized area is covered by 350-meter-thick ice that is floating on top of deep ocean waters.

The crack in Larsen C grew around 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) in length between 2011 and 2015. And as it grew, also became wider — by 2015, yawning some 200 meters in length. Since then, growth has only continued — and now, a team of researchers monitoring Larsen C say that with the intense winter polar night over Antarctica coming to an end, they’ve been able to catch of glimpse of what happened to the crack during the time when it could not be observed by satellite.What they found is deeply disturbing:
The rift had grown another 22 kilometers (13.67 miles) since it was last observed in March 2016, and has widened to about 350 meters, ... The full length of the rift is now 130 km, or over 80 miles.This means that at some time, likely in the next few years, another major chunk of ice will be lost, and ultimately that will be bad news for rising sea levels:
Researchers have estimated that the loss of all the ice that the Larsen C ice shelf currently holds back would raise global sea levels by 10 centimeters, or just under 4 inches.At least equal in consequence is the loss of reflective surface area, meaning that more and more heat will be absorbed by the ocean, adding to an already warming planet, the release of methane, etc. An ugly feedback loop.

Closer to home, there are these worrisome images of a world in the grips of dangerous, if not yet runaway, climate change:

Why do I continue to post such material? In many ways, considering who reads my blog, I am preaching to the converted. But on the other hand, perhaps someone will send a link to a skeptic, at least causing him or her a moment or two of introspection. If that is too far-fetched an aspiration, it at least provides, I hope, a little bit more information for those keen to understand how our world is being destroyed while our 'leaders' mouth platitudes and we blithely continue our indulgent, self-destructive and heedless ways.Recommend this Post

A Lesson In Living

dim, 08/21/2016 - 07:02
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

-Dylan Thomas

Although I am of an earlier time musically, and cannot say that outside of about two songs I am familiar with the Tragically Hip's oeuvre, I watched almost all of last night's concert from Kingston, televised by the CBC. I watched because I wanted to see how a man deals with the knowledge of impending death, and I wanted to partake in something that, no matter where we live, links all of us together. The latter is a fact that the CBC clearly recognized, broadcasting the show entirely commercial free, doing exactly what a public broadcaster should do, promoting the kind of experience that unites a country, breaking down some of the silly barriers that separate far too many of us.

Like Gord Downie, my brother-in-law suffered from glioblastoma, succumbing to the disease almost eight years ago. He lived the last year of his life with grace, refusing to succumb to the kind of self-pity that I think many of us would be all too prone to. And like my brother-in-law, Gord Downie showed the same resilience and strength of spirit in his final performance. He showed us what dying with dignity really means; he showed us the awesome strength that human beings can muster in the face of tragedy.

What he is contending with is perhaps epitomized here:

So I watched to be part of a pan-Canadian event, and I watched, not out of morbid curiosity or disrespect for the man's mortality, but to take a lesson in living life until the end. May I have at least a small amount of Downie's fortitude, class and strength of spirit when my time comes.
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Pillaging The Public Purse: On Hydro One's Privatization

sam, 08/20/2016 - 06:43

I have written in the past on my strong opposition to Kathleen Wynne's selloff of 60% of Hydro One. She has no mandate for this pillaging of the public purse, and no good reason for it except her politically and ideologically-driven obsession with balancing the budget before Ontario's next provincial election. She will not be getting my vote.

Recently, Linda McQuaig wrote a column that came out strongly against this sale, offering an historical perspective showing the public good that accrues from public ownership of such a utility.

In today's Star, readers offer their own insights on this issue, one that is likely a big contributing factor in the Liberals' current poor showing in the polls:
Re: The case against privatizing Hydro One, Opinion Aug. 4

What’s most disturbing about reading Linda McQuaig’s strong case against privatizing Hydro One is that it reveals clearly that Premier Wynne seems to be selling it for no worthwhile reason.

When 73 per cent of Ontarians disagree with the sale and she insists on it, then she is not serving the public will. Further, to trade off the long-term benefits of Hydro One for a short-lived infusion of cash for infrastructure is economically incomprehensible.

With this kind of foolish, arbitrary decision, which is symptomatic of the disconnect between the public will and its leadership, Wynne will certainly join the infamous ranks of other failed premiers of Ontario, such as Mike Harris and Dalton McGuinty, who also carried out their personal agenda while forsaking the common good of the electorate.

Pity the serious voters.

Tony D’Andrea, Toronto

Timing is everything. Currently, along with a several other Ontarians, I am particularly interested in the timing of the Ontario Liberals’ Climate Change Action Plan.

Last Nov. 15, the Ontario Liberals privatized Hydro One when they sold off 15 per cent of the former Crown Corporation. Sad but true.

In April, they sold off another 15 per cent. The following month, Ontario’s Minister of the Environment and Climate Change let the world know that Ontario is moving away from natural-gas home heating. Some back-peddling followed. Shortly after that, the Liberals released their official Climate Change Action Plan.

It indicated their intention to move to a more electricity-based society. Once complete, Ontario is to have far more electric vehicles, electric charging hubs, electric home initiatives, etc.

In summary, the Liberals are moving Ontario to a more electricity-based society after privatizing our province’s transmission grid and largest local distribution company! That means Hydro One will now go on to make record profits and a huge amount of potential income is being stripped away from Ontarians.

But why? To balance the current Liberal budget and dangle some shiny gifts ahead of the 2018 election. All this at the expense of Ontarians.

The whole thing reeks of corruption. Just waiting for the smoking gun to be revealed. Timing is everything.

Joel Usher, Newcastle

Thanks to Linda McQuaig for detailing the long history of support in Ontario for a public monopoly on electricity — right up to today. The public instinct is right: it is best to keep this rare and valuable asset so that profits go back to our treasury, and to avoid the risk of the monopoly control falling into the hands of those who would maximize their returns at the expense of consumers and the environment.

Ms. McQuaig could have added that selling off Hydro One is a bad deal, as concluded by Ontario’s Financial Accountability Officer. After all, investors are not stupid.

They will not pay full price for the value of the future Hydro One profits they would get as minority shareholders, due to the risk, because key decisions affecting profits are taken by government. The monopoly is worth more to the government as the decision-maker.

If you must sell an asset, this is a particularly bad one to sell.

Kim Jarvi, Toronto
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A Time For Some Critical Thinking

ven, 08/19/2016 - 06:34

With Canada's police chiefs clamoring for new powers that would allow for a massive invasion of our collective privacy, Canadians need to take some time to think critically about our rights and freedoms. As you will see in the following, the first commentator, Rich van Abbe of Toronto, has done just that:
Re: Police chiefs pushing for your passwords, Aug. 17

It’s a bedrock principle of our justice system that no one should be compelled to give evidence against him- or herself.

That makes the demand by Canada’s police chiefs that a law be enacted to force citizens to divulge their computer and phone passwords such an odious suggestion.

There’s no question that authorities engaged in a lawful investigation should be able to obtain warrants from the courts to search suspects’ homes or businesses to seek evidence — even to bust down a locked door if necessary.

But no law requires that a subject of a search tell the cops where evidence may be concealed, or help them retrieve it. Finding it is what detectives are paid to do.

The law the chiefs are demanding might make investigators’ jobs easier, but it would enshrine a perverse violation of the principle of no self-incrimination, one of our most cherished legal protections.

The federal government should slap down this foray against Canadians’ rights in no uncertain terms.The second letter-writer, Claude Gannon of Markham, is quite happy to surrender his privacy, because he has "nothing to hide":
The police want my password? Here it is. I have nothing to hide.

The Internet has given criminals and radicalized individuals the possibility to operate anonymously, so the police and other law-enforcement bodies must be given the tools to curtail their activities. If this involves getting a hold of someone’s password, then so be it. Honest citizens have nothing to hide and will support the police.

Of course, civil libertarians and constitutional lawyers are very quick to cite privacy concerns, but safety and security should come first. Look around you: do people really care about privacy? Most of us are quite happy sharing our lives with banks, credit card companies, major retailers, rental companies…and the list goes on. Some people even display their whole lives on Facebook.

Let’s face it, we live in an increasingly dangerous world, and we need to give law-enforcement agencies all the help they need to combat crime and terrorism. If this means the occasional breach of privacy, then so be it!Finally, some fitting irony from Randy Gostlin of Oshawa:
Perhaps we should just assume everyone’s guilty until proven innocent —except, of course, for police. They’re always innocent.Recommend this Post

We Should All Be Very Concerned

mer, 08/17/2016 - 08:03

Given the authorities' recent success in thwarting Aaron Driver's plans for a terrorist attack, I suspect that most Canadians are not too concerned about protecting their privacy rights. The fact that existing laws, legal surveillance and a timely tip from the FBI were responsible for stopping him should, however, be uppermost in our minds as a recent resolution by Canada's police chiefs and technology that allows for indiscriminate eavesdropping are now in the news.
Canada’s police chiefs want a new law that would force people to hand over their electronic passwords with a judge’s consent.

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has passed a resolution calling for the legal measure to unlock digital evidence, saying criminals increasingly use encryption to hide illicit activities.This law, by the way, would involve unfettered access to all electronic devices that are password-protected, including computers, tablets and cellphones, something that many would argue the state has absolutely no right to.

Thanks to some sleuthing done by my son, who sent me a series of links, you might also be shocked to know that our privacy rights are already being regularly violated by police in what would, in the old days, be called 'fishing expeditions.'

Motherboard reports the following:
The Edmonton Police Service owns a controversial surveillance device called a “Stingray” that indiscriminately surveils any cellphone within its multi-kilometre range, a police spokesperson confirmed on Thursday to Motherboard.Previously the exclusive domain of the RCMP, these devices
force any phones within a target radius [usually several kilometers] to connect to the device and transmit identifying information. When a phone is caught by a Stingray, the police obtain the phone and SIM card IDs, as well as its location and service carrier. More recent Stingray devices are capable of intercepting voice and text communications. Stingrays surveil phones indiscriminately, leading some commentators to label them as “mass surveillance” devices.Queries to a several other major police services were met with refusals to acknowledge their use, and now the Edmonton police are trying to backtrack. Police spokeswoman Anna Batchelor has issued a'retraction,' saying that
“there was some miscommunication/misunderstanding internally surrounding the information obtained on whether the EPS owns a StingRay, and in fact, the EPS does not own a StingRay device.”

She said it was police policy not to comment on “equipment used in electronic surveillance or on investigative techniques, therefore EPS cannot provide any further information on this topic.”This feeble attempt at damage control should fool no one, nor should it lull us into a false sense of our privacy security. The problem is that we are currently dependent only on the honesty and goodwill of police departments to use such devices properly. For example, the Vancouver Police admit to using it only once, and records indicate that use was legitimate and authorized. But there are almost no legal safeguards to its legitimate deployment, as
we have absolutely no policy or regulatory response to police and intelligence agencies’ use of Stingrays despite the RCMP having had Stingrays for over a decade.Contrast this lackadaisical approach with Germany, which has had federal regulation over such devices since 2002, stipulating the following:-a warrant is required;

-Stingrays can only be used for investigation of serious crimes;

-Stingrays can only be used to determine suspects’ geo-location (not interception of communication’s content);

-the process must limit the collection of non-suspects’ data;

-non-suspects’ data cannot be used for any purpose other than confirming that it is non-suspects’ data and that this incidentally captured data must be deleted without delay;

-police use of Stingray is subject to reporting requirements for oversight and review.Canadians, meanwhile, are being kept in the dark:
WE DO NOT KNOW whether warrants are always being sought or the nature of the warrants being applied for;

-WE DO NOT KNOW what judges are being told about the capacities of Stingrays with respect to the warrants being applied for;

-WE DO NOT KNOW if any minimization techniques are used to limit the collection of data of people who are not the targets of surveillance;

-WE DO NOT KNOW what is being done with the personal information of the thousands of people who are not the targets of legitimate police investigation.Over the years I have tried to chronicle the myriad abuses of authority the police regularly engage in. In these fraught times, the temptation to take shortcuts, violate charter rights and generally abuse the citizenry is high. Now is not the time to give police even greater opportunity for intrusion into and violation of our lives. They need to work within tight and responsible constraints. To do otherwise should be unacceptable to all Canadians.Recommend this Post

Finally, Some Relief ....

mar, 08/16/2016 - 07:01
The months-long drought where I live appears finally to be at end. However, any relief I feel is tempered by the knowledge that the weather system responsible for it is also part of the one that has wrought so much devastation in Louisiana:

Meanwhile, in the West, the years-long drought and all that that entails, continues:

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Guest Commentary On Trump's Supporters

lun, 08/15/2016 - 06:17

Receiving and responding to the comments of thoughtful and well-informed people is one of the reasons I maintain this blog. Yesterday I put up a post entitled, How Stupid Are Trump Supporters? It featured a Hulu show in which a convener pretends to be conducting a focus group study into the effectiveness of ads Trump is considering for his campaign. In light of comments from The Mound of Sound and Pamela MacNeil, I realize that mine was a superficial effort at best. I am therefore taking the liberty of reposting their insights, and my responses to them, here.

First, The Mound of Sound:
I think, Lorne, that a large segment of any people fed a constant diet of half-truths and outright falsehoods will eventually succumb.

I regularly write how the corporate media cartel has gone from watchdog of government to government's lap dog, especially when the government is right wing. Here's an example. When Dion and Layton were toying with the idea of a coalition majority government to displace a Harper minority, Canada's corporate media cartel spread the idea that this would be a constitutional coup d'etat, fiendish, the end of democracy. It was an outright lie. In fact that was how Harper's then BFF, John Howard, formed his government. As this utter lie circulated I was surprised at how many people I spoke with believed it.

Years ago 60 Minutes ran a segment about the Republican misinformation machine. Two key Repugs behind it openly described the system used to gain public acceptance of complete falsehood. It progressed through three stages.

The first stage was the open mouth radio shows - Limbaugh and others. They would float a rumour such as the stories about John Kerry's service in VietNam. From there it would be picked up by cable news - FOX in particular, first on their opinion shows (Hannity/O'Reilly) before migrating to the news department. Eventually it worked its way through the cable news milieu.

What began with the Limbaugh-bottom dwellers achieved a critical mass as it became established in cable news. From there it reached a point where the mainstream media - NYT,WaPo - could no longer ignore it and had to run the story or appear out of it. This was the formula used for the effective SwiftBoating of John Kerry.

The public, meanwhile, kept hearing the same lie over and over through progressively credible news services until they were getting it from the gold standard news outlets at the very top. Naturally many of them were conditioned to believe it.

The whole process is an insult to democracy, one that can quickly fester into something far worse.

Lies and half-truths are powerful weapons the unscrupulous wield invariably against their own. They use it to set the hook with those somewhat disposed to support them. Invariably they bait their hooks with generous amounts of fear and appeals to their prey's basest instincts. Harper did it. It works. We had a decade to see that in action.My response:
Thanks for your in-depth analysis here, Mound. The failure of the media is manifest. In Dan Rather's memoir, he recounts something very similar happening around the time that he incurred right-wing wrath over calling out George Bush's military record. There was irrefutable proof that Bush was AWOL for a year, but the fledgling Internet quoted an early blogger (who was, in fact, a Republican operative) focusing on a particular document that must have been false because, he alleged, proportional spacing did not exist on the typewriters of that time. Proportional spacing did, in fact, exist, but once this blogger's words were in the air, it became a 'fact' that the document was false. The proof? The blogger's allegation and nothing more. It took off from there, ultimately resulting in Rather's dismissal from CBS.Now, Pamela MacNeil:
No presidential candidate in any past campaign has ever intentionally focused on these people. Whether it was democrats or Republicans these people were not even a thought in the minds of either candidates.Trump has given them life and continues to manipulate them under the disguise of fighting for them.

Trump has made them believe, many for the first time in their lives ,that what they think and what they have to say matters.
They are not aware that now that they are visible, we are witnessing how pathetic they really are.Stupid yes, but pathetically so.

I almost feel sorry for them when I see them responding to the attention they get from Trump and his team. Something they have lived their whole lives without.

These guys have been ignored and dismissed politically, socially and culturally their whole lives. Now their being asked what they think. Living at the bottom of the intellectual ladder, this a moment where they think they can shine in an all too dreary life.

Listening and watching them is cringe worthy. Now they have been able collectively as Trump supporters to come together as a force. They are also an example of Mounds posting the other day on authoritarianism existing with the people not just their politicians, even when they are the mindless and the powerless.

I wonder what their numbers are.My response:
Thanks for your thoughtful response, Pamela. I think you have identified a very important reason for Trump's support. While I have reacted largely with contempt to his acolytes, seeing them simply as responding to the racism he regularly appeals to, you have looked for a deeper underlying motivation.Recommend this Post

How Stupid Are Trump Supporters?

dim, 08/14/2016 - 11:37
If you watch this, the answer should become abundantly clear in about three minutes:

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Food Security: A Comforting Delusion

dim, 08/14/2016 - 06:33
Here in the eastern part of Canada, especially at this time of year, we delight in seasonal produce, especially that which can be purchased locally. Living close to the Niagara area, we enjoy such seasonal treats as cherries, strawberries, cantaloupe and corn. And despite some years of scarcity due to bad weather, we tend, I think, to take our largesse for granted. In some ways, it is as if we believe that our food grows in supermarkets.

This is not, however, a time for smugness. The fact that we Canadians take the security of our food supply as a given does not make it so. Climate change and the terrible volatility and variability that it entails should make us all the more humble and determined to do what we can to abate the worst, but there is no sign of this happening.

Watch the following and see if it doesn't shake your confidence. Start at the 7:55 mark:

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Some Good News For A Change

sam, 08/13/2016 - 09:22
Perhaps I follow the ways of the world too closely, but lately I have been feeling a deep disenchantment with everything. Time to change the channel and feature a story that highlights not only the human capacity for resilience, but also a community's capacity to embrace newcomers:

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Why A Tax On Financial Transactions Makes Sense

ven, 08/12/2016 - 08:10
Robert Reich, for whom I have a great deal of respect, offers this succinct explanation:

You can read more about this issue, also often referred to as the Tobin tax, here.Recommend this Post