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Dreams only, no resolutions...

 My resolutions are reviewed daily and, because they are scheduled, often get completed. Meanwhile, I have these hopes, these dreams:
  • Let's distinguish between hopes and reasonable expectations.
  • The religious bullies need to let up and let live.
  • Why do we continue to honour the war machine and its greedy adherents?
  • We must protect ourselves with a national securities regulator.
  • Our federal government must start taking care of Canadians in difficulty abroad.
  • If we closed more prisons we could take better care of those with ARND in the appropriate training residential  facilities.
  • When will the beverage alcohol industry learn to take responsibility for its products?
  • What a rich nation we would be if shareholders would realize that the high cost of doing business  is not the cost of labour but the obscene amounts given to senior management.
  • A child dies every 3 seconds around the world for lack of clean water and we can't even manage that for our aboriginal reserves.
  • When will we establish a clear cut purpose and mission trajectory for our Canadian Armed Forces?
  • Politicians need to make the fundamental shift from what is best for their parties to what is best for society.
  • Finally, let's get rid of 1st past the post elections.

  • If there is anything in the above you don't understand, I'll be glad to elaborate.

WikiLeaks: Bombshell or Sparklers?

Now that those diplomatic cables have been made public there has been a surge of protest from the regressive elements in the West. I’m referring here to the Krauthammers, Limboughs and the others from the reactionary right who seem to flood the unfettered airways of America with invective about how WikiLeaks is releasing the truth about classic diplomatic hypocrisy – all in the name of free speech, of course.

However, a thoughtful number of individuals have acknowledged that the recent revelations by WikiLeaks is certainly not of the caliber of Daniel Ellsberg’s revelations known as the Pentagon Papers. From what I have read so far appears to suggest what we’ve already thought is actually true. Blogger David Michael Green (The Regressive Antidote) notes, “This is not the Reagan administration demanding that the world embargo Iran even while secretly selling them missiles, or constantly evoking the great cause of democracy while even more constantly undermining it everywhere on the planet.”

What puzzles me is how there can be such moral outrage over recent WikiLeaks when there was little or no coverage, much less condemnation, when the Downing Street Memos were released in England back in 2005. These memos were minutes from meetings between the top British and American officials as they planned their war in Iraq and their war of lies to cover for it.

What I don’t understand is why it’s OK to kill and maim innocents through lies and chicanery but criminally irresponsible to let the world know about it.

The Obama administration has been a huge disappointment as a result of its ineffective management of the political agenda over the last two years. It has not negotiated effectively with the minority Republicans, usually giving concessions before getting anything in return. While some progressive legislation has been passed, the overall impression is that the GOP (Grand Old Prevaricators) has been the party in control.

So, if you are as powerful and rich as the US, even if the wall street barons, banks and insurance companies have brought the world to the brink of insolvency, you can still let the worst criminals get away, literally, with murder. There is no reason why G.W.Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and the rest of that cabal should not face justice.

Of course, we should never forget that, governments are the creatures of the corporatist lust for power. Oh, you thought we had democracies at work here in the West -- well, disabuse yourself of that naive notion. Whether the legislators are in Canada, the UK or the US, they would limit the power of corporations to be totally self-interested at their peril. A corporation has , apart from legal constraints, no other responsibility except to its shareholders -- not to its employees, its customers and not to the society in which it thrives.

So, is it any wonder we see how big oil, big pharma, big finance (Wall Street, banks, insurance companies), big agra and big war control congress in the US? And are we surprised to discover how our Canadian governments behave like such sycophantic acolytes to the American beast?

And while I’m at it, let’s stop trying to be a petty version of the US and thinking we could have a democratic influence on a tribal country that has resisted the influence of foreigners for centuries. In other words, let’s get our Canadian troops out of Afghanistan now. Not in two years. Now.


 My brother Paul & I have agreed to disagree about a number of issues, primarily those relating to war, the military and who should govern our country. Paul spent his adult life as a career officer in the Canadian Army, ostensibly as a tank commander but he carried out many other roles as well.

For a while I found it difficult to have a reasonable conversation with him because of his perspective on these issues but more recently, as we are both retired now, our conversations take on a more moderate tone and our longstanding affection remains in the fore. We can still talk about politics and the role of our armed forces but without getting pig-headed about our relative positions on these matters. Recently, we spoke about who the real heroes were in our contemporary world and he wrote back the following:

My definition of a HERO:
A hero is someone who consciously embarks on a course of action which is more than likely going to result in their own death, but they carry on regardless. There is no such thing as "sports" heroes or any other such drivel.

Who creates this stuff, the media (yah, let's blame them again) pandering to all the bleeding heart sentimentalists out there? You know, the ones who set up memorials at the side of the road or where somebody got shot, like all the fools that cried over Diana, or the ones from the Ontario Legislature who renamed the 401 the highway of heroes. I doubt if any of the 151 dead coming home from Afghanistan were heroes. They were just soldiers doing their duty and were unlucky.

Fortunately, soldiers know better and don't buy into what's being sold here. They are mostly embarrassed when called heroes. I was no hero, but I was lucky and that makes all the difference.

I agree with Paul -- 'hero' coinage has been debased and we should not impute false rhetoric into descriptions of those who are simply doing the job they signed up for. Soldiers, police, firefighters and ordinary citizens can all be heroes but not simply for dying on the job.

Remembrance Day, Nov. 11/10

This is the day we honour those valiant citizens who responded to the call of duty in World Wars I & II and subsequently in Korea. Those conflicts appeared to demand our participation in order to protect our national interests. Recent wars don't strike me as having the same kind of need. 

We have sent our troops to Afghanistan in support of the US goal of finding Bin Laden, the self-proclaimed instigator of the Sept. 11/01 attacks on the twin towers in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, DC and the commandeered airliner that crashed in Pennsylvania. The Americans under President George W. Bush subsequently diverted most of their military resources to a fraudulent attack on Iraq. Our Canadian contingent was scheduled to pull out of Afghanistan in February 2009. Our current Prime Minister, Stephan Harper extended this fruitless mission to February 2011.

So far we have accomplished no significant gains against an amorphous enemy we call the Taliban who are called insurgents by our side and the corrupt Karzai government. If foreign troops were in my country I suspect that I would be an "insurgent" too except I would call myself a 'freedom fighter'.

Now Harper wants to extend our troop presence in Afghanistan again beyond the Feb. 2011 deadline on the pretext that the remaining soldiers would be out of combat and have strictly a training role for the Afghan army. In fact, the Canadian army is already in a training role for the Afghans and this role takes those troops into harm's way in the process and that would certainly continue. In fact, our "peacekeeping" missions also resulted in casualties too.This new gambit is perpetrating a fraud on our soldiers and the rest of Canada. Anyway, the Afghans have been at war with intruders for centuries and certainly know how to fight. But why are we surprised when they don't want to fight for the corrupt leaders that are propped up by the West?

We need a careful review of the role of our Canadian Armed Forces. We continue to operate under a false premise that the need for our military is just another variation of the job our men and women undertook in previous conflicts going back over half a century. We have no business indulging in wars perpetrated by the likes of a corporatist USA. Our responsibilities as a member of the community of nations is to protect our citizens from all threats, whether natural or imposed, and not to go off adventuring abroad on behalf of some other nation's corporate interests.

Let's call for an intensive, comprehensive analysis of what our country really needs in terms of protecting and nurturing our best interests. This may be difficult for those who like to revel in some kind of a warrior fantasy dream but outdated attitudes are a total waste of our resources, especially our young and valiant soldiers.

Remember, when you have to declare war, you know you have lost the battle.

What were they thinking...?

 "You can lead a horse's ass to the polls but you can't make him think."

he vote is in and the plutocracy in the USA has overwhelmed a gullible electorate. The pundits keep talking about how the Democrats squandered their 'control' of the congress over the past two years but, upon reflection, any student of US politics must realize that the Republican minority in the US Senate blocked Democratic initiatives in the most single-minded fashion in its history.

The level of misinformation in this election reached mind-boggling levels and listening to the so-called 'Tea-Party' candidates was enough to exasperate even the most indifferent here in Canada. In spite of the fact that our less than perfect health system here is more cost effective and operates at a higher level of effectiveness than the US model, the conservatives there still seem to believe that their health system is the best in the world.

What has become so clear to me over the past several years is that Americans in general truly believe their own mythology. The reactionary right continues to tell their followers that America is the best, most powerful, most peaceful, most generous and most accommodating nation in the world. In fact, while the US is one of the wealthier nations in the world, over 90% of the wealth is concentrating among less than 10% of the population. The power brokers, that is the corporatist elite, can now manipulate the message reaching the general public through unlimited spending without revealing the source of those messages. Unlike Canada, there is no equivalent to the CRTC which can shut down media outlets that broadcast false or misleading messages. Americans appear to have a very high tolerance for fake stories couched in terms of patriotism, especially if cross-referenced to the US Constitution.

My friends in the US have not been able to influence the progressive elements in the political spectrum so I have watched as the reactionary right has brain-washed the unthinking through the most blatant demagoguery seen since the era of the mercantile robber barons. There appears to be some pervasive amnesia about the Republican administration that squandered the surplus left by the Clinton administration, that started a multibillion dollar war in Iraq killing hundreds of thousands of innocents, eliminated the regulations that would have kept the financial community in check, allowed polluters to ravage the environment and let poverty and homelessness have a growth spurt in the name of 'freedom'.

Is the US an its way to becoming a northern version of Mexico with no middle class, lots of poor at the poverty level and a handful of super-rich who will tell the peons what to think?

The Fall of Our Discontent

 Torontonians have just elected a member of the well-fed, affluent elite of this city as our next mayor. Yes, Im referring to that porcine gent, Rob Ford. He is rich enough as the CFO of his family's printing business that he didn't need to spend any of the allocated expense money he was entitled to as a city councillor. Did I mention that he is also a university graduate? So, how come he is the darling of the downtrodden masses who are just scraping by in this beleaguered economy? 

I think I know how he did it. He told us that the current city administration was getting away with gross misbehaviour and he wasn't going to put up with it any longer. It was an instructive lesson in basic political chicanery whereby the message was repeated over and over that that this city was going nowhere because the spending of the Miller regime was out of control and his fellow councillors were riding a 'gravy train' at the expense of taxpayers. The truth of the matter was never really covered by the media.

Residents in the downtown core (i.e. the original city of Toronto) were not fooled as they had watched development and renewal everywhere they looked. If the TTC was not perfect it was on the cusp of new developments that were intended to improve the system. In the suburban regions voters looked to Ford to rectify all the failings that he had described -- especially the despised vehicle registration tax. Suburbanites love their cars and hate the gridlock commute in and out of the core area but don't want to have to pay to have that problem fixed. The equivalent of the population of the city of Winnipeg comes in and out of the city core every business day -- the detritus from which the core population has to deal with.

Ford's fixation with subway extensions sounds fine until you come to grips with the cost of implementation. Scrapping the Metrolinx project would be costly and set the commuter issues back for years. His focus on cutting out discretionary spending by councillors was an attention-grabber for a substantive number of the electorate who did not see beyond the pettiness of that argument. Personally, I would love to take the TTC downtown or anywhere else in the city if there were more direct transit links from my location in Scarborough village.

What is truly sad is the fact that Ford was elected mayor for the next 4 years by 24% of the electorate (52% of those eligible voted and he garnered 47% of those) So my next bumper sticker is going to say: "Don't blame me... I voted".

Writer's Block: Breaking the food chain

Which one food would you choose to ban from existence, and why?

chicken feet or any toasted insects.

Sophistry Galore

 I used to think of sophistry* as the purview of the Jesuits and the Trudeau Liberals. Of course, I now realize that it is the stock in trade for all religionists and political parties among other con artists.

Recently, months after making the decision and now just before it's too late to do anything about it, the Harper Government has decided to announce that it will junk the mandatory aspect of the long census form. Harper and his Ministry of Industry Clement have decided, against all professional advice and the needs of business, industry and academia to make the long form voluntary. This is a prescription for useless info that will inhibit all kinds of planning and research. 

Without reliable data, governments cannot make valid policy decisions. As Stuart Soroka, Director of the Canadian Opinion Research Archive at Queen's University wrote in the Globe and Mail, "Recent decisions about the mandatory long-form census are not as much of an unforeseen development as many seem to suggest. They are part of a general trend in government away from the kind of of data gathering that can be critical to good policy-making... Dropping the long-form census is a mistake... Data gathering is a central component of policy-making, policy implementation and policy evaluation. Governments, and Canadians, should think seriously  before making changes that will have a pronounced effect on governments' capacity to deliver good public policy."

The Conservatives' argument is that we should not have to put up with this kind of personal intrusion into our lives. Yet this data is totally confidential and does not expose individuals to anyone. I've heard that Clement and his cabinet colleague Stockwell Day claim that it's none of our business what is going on in the household next door and it is intimidating to new Canadians to be threatened with fines or jail terms for non-compliance. The point is the information does not reveal the individual source and there has never been a jail term imposed for non-compliance. If the government feels that the penalties are too onerous, then they ought to change the nature of the penalties.

Just because the penalty seems too harsh -- although this has not been a problem so far -- should we throw out the mandatory aspect of the long survey, the primary reason that the survey is authoritative? Why not claim that penalties for speeding in your car are too much to bear and we should then abolish mandatory speeding limits. After all, Canadians are good people who would comply with speeding limits on a voluntary basis, wouldn't they?

*Sophistry: unsound reasoning; a clever but misleading argument.

Societal Economics

  Our political elites keep talking about the economy. The pundits talk about the economy. Business leaders say, "It's the economy, stupid." And the financial institutions keep racking up the profits while the rest of us are frustrated by ever-increasing social costs.  Ronald Reagan, a former President of the United States, used to espouse something called trickle-down economics -- the theory being that if we let the rich flourish the spin-offs will benefit the lesser among us eventually. So far, I've seen a few get very rich and the rest of us stay much the same or worse. 

Since 1979, US statistics tell us that the lowest income stratum has improved by 16%; the middle income group has improved by 25%; the top or richest level has grown by 265%! What's wrong with this picture?
Instead of 'trickle-down' economics, why not have 'trickle-up' economics. Now that it's summer, let me try out a gardening analogy for you. We plant, we fertilize and water -- we wait -- then we harvest the abundance.

Why not:
  1. Give the poor some money (plant the seed) through an allowance program (modify Ont. works/ODSP/welfare, etc.) that has no clawbacks and does not cease until the individual is fully employed at above LICO (low income cutoff) level. Treat this money like a pension  -- taxable but like a guaranteed income.
  2. Provide suitable training programs (fertilize) that will nurture the the individuals involved, guide them into programs where they can exploit their competencies and develop self-esteem. I thinking primarily of hands-on types of programs like carpentry, general construction, landscaping, gardening, food preparation, hospitality industry and so on. Of course, you must give these same individuals the skills to seek and hold employment.
  3. Most of these individuals will require ongoing counselling (watering) to keep them on track and to avoid discouragement  when everything doesn't work out as hoped.

  4. The Outcomes (
    the harvest):
1. We will create a much-needed, stronger, more versatile workforce for jobs in high demand.
2. Individuals will gradually move into jobs that will allow them to move off the allowance track and onto the       income track.
3. The allowances paid out will flow directly back into the economy generating necessary productive                   economic activity (sometimes called 'stimulus').
4. This "hand-out" becomes a "hand-up" by the fact that it is an integrated program and does not allow                  individuals to get lost or fall through society's cracks.
5. Because there will be fewer below LICO and more of us consuming goods and services, the entire                    economy will thrive. This is good news for entrepreneurs and corporations alike who will benefit
     the most.

Foster Parents - the great volunteers

 Bonnie & I have recently given full day workshops on FASD to foster parents here in Ontario. Often maligned in the media because of sensational stories about exceptional incidents relating to neglectful or abusive situations, our experience has been quite the contrary. The foster parents we have encountered reflect that generosity of spirit that has brought so many committed and caring families to the noble service of fostering children. 

Raising any child is difficult. A foster child is likely to have much baggage, often exacerbated  by an innate sense of abandonment and one or more moves in and out of households. Sometimes these children are taken into care because of dysfunctional birth parents. Often there are attempts to return these children to the birth family, even to birth mothers on their own. Too often these attempts to reunite families fail, usually for the same reasons the children were taken into custody in the first place. So what kind of family continuity is there for the child?

And that's what foster families have to deal with when the child is whole and healthy. What if that child struggles with some form of FASD? This is what Bonnie and I did training for with the Foster Parents Society of Ontario this month and the combined members of Bridgeway and Carpe Diem last month. although many of the parents knew about FASD and many had even had some exposure to FASD workshops, their knowledge was scanty at best. In fact, we have met some parents who, once they have had our workshop, realize that some of the difficulties they have had with their own children may have come from their maternal drinking in pregnancy.

We will continue to train parents and professionals in the dangers of drinking during pregnancy and provide them with strategies to cope with the children they have in their care. But our efforts will never be enough. Education about the dangers of drinking in pregnancy must start at an early age, preferably as part of an ongoing mandatory parenting education program starting in grade 5 when the children are 9 or 10 years of age. Boys as well as girls must be aware of the ramifications of alcohol use during the critical months of pregnancy. If we wait until the kids are in high school we may well be too late to inculcate attitudes and habits that should come as second nature.

The personal stories that foster, adoptive and birth parents share with us are heart-breaking. Life is difficult enough without burdening our kids with mental disabilities that, so far, can't be fixed. As a society we must take responsibility for educating parents and professionals alike about the most common, most expensive, yet most preventable of all mental disorders in the industrialized world. But it's not going to happen without the concerted efforts of educators, politicians and various professionals.

And they aren't going to do anything about this issue unless we make them. Aren't we the ones we've been waiting for?