Archive for August, 2011

Forget the London Olympics.

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Are you headed to London next year?  It is a city rich with the depths of its endless past.  The Olympics in London will be particularly exciting.  Too bad the Brits are going to kill the enjoyment.  After the recent riots in England, Prime Minister David Cameron wants to turn the country into a police state.  He intends to get his revenge on those rioting hoodlums and savage Britain’s tradition of human rights in the process.

Just like his fellow Conservative Prime Minister, Canada’s Stephen Harper, Cameron would rather spend a pound on maximum security prisons than give ten pence to a community support group.  He and his fellow travellers are dominating the tely across the United Kingdom, spewing hate for the dark and disadvantaged of their society.  It might have been a bit of a lark for some of those buckos but the Conservatives will make them—and everyone else–pay and pay.

The man in the middle on this is Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister in Britain’s Coalition Government.  After losing his bid for a form of proportional representation in the recent referendum, Clegg is hard to read on this issue.  While he claims his Liberal Democrats are centre left politically, he has not been as firm on individual rights as he might.  While quick on the scene to look at the Tottenham damage, Clegg made no statements that would affront either the right-wing ‘hang-em-high’ voters seeking retribution or the human rights activist who would want to address the cause of the riots.

That was left for the Prime Minister.  And he made a right good job of it, to!  Cameron wasted no time in making it clear that the youth of offenders or other factors were not to be considered.  He wants the courts to be harsh on those charged and they are certainly passing stiff sentences.  What Britain’s need to fear is what draconian laws will the coalition present to the House of Commons.

The Brits are very concerned that tourism will suffer around the Olympics and that the expense of the event will not be recovered.  If security needs for the Olympics gives the disadvantaged in British society an opportunity to run amuck, the country ends up with a black eye.  At the same time, the image of a heavily armed constable at every street corner is not about to attract many North American tourists either

It makes for an interesting conundrum for Cameron’s Conservatives.  It makes an even more interesting challenge for Clegg and his Liberal Democrats.


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Harper heads for the past.

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

It was 44 years ago, on an Air Canada flight to Toronto from Ottawa, Group Captain Bill Lee, sitting in the adjacent seat, explained his idea of how to combine the Canadian military.  Bill was, at the time, Defence Minister Paul Hellyer’s executive assistant.  As far as national issues went, it did not seem to be of much urgency.

Bill saw the move as an attention getter to make Paul Hellyer the next Prime Minister at the 1968 Liberal Party convention.  Bill had not factored in the role Pierre Trudeau would play in that convention.  Mind you, Paul went a good ten rounds against the more recalcitrant of Canada’s admirals until he forced some retirements and the Canadian Forces became unified.

Now, four decades later, Prime Minister Harper wants to restore the Canadian Forces to their supposed former glory as the Royal Canadian Navy, The Royal Canadian Air Force and a stand-alone Canadian Army with its various ‘Royal’ regiments.  Just who he is going to impress with this is not clear.  We are not even sure that the Monarchist League really care about it.

Frankly, it is our observation that people in the Canadian Forces will hardly give a damn.  With the small sample of Base Borden military personnel we have talked with in recent years, we find no interest in the history of the separate forces.  A person, for example, in a blue air element uniform said he was a major, when we identified the two wide stripes and one narrow stripe on his uniform sleeve as being a squadron leader.  He had no idea what a squadron leader’s rank meant.

Mind you, this simplified rank structure can deceive someone who has served in the military.  Once, at a cocktail party in Ottawa, we had a pleasant chat with a fellow who was introduced as a lieutenant general.  Having previously served in the Canadian Air Force, it would have been a much more awkward conversation if he had been introduced in his Air Force rank as an Air Vice-Marshall.

Bill Lee and Paul Hellyer told us that it would save money to combine the Canadian forces more than 40 years ago.  When the silliness is officially announced later this month, Harper and his Defence Minister are going to tell the Canadian public that it will not cost very much to have three separate military services.  It will be just like when we were told that it would not cost very much to host the G8 and G20 last year.


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The argument is not about human rights.

Monday, August 15th, 2011

When Conservative Leader Tim Hudak and Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty argue about Ontario’s Human Rights Tribunal system, they are hardly arguing about human rights.  While it is confusing trying to follow Tim Hudak’s various flip-flops on the issue, they appear to be arguing over who is best at looking after the province’s lawyers.

In his earlier and more simplistic stance to get rid of the Human Rights Tribunal, Hudak was taking the Libertarian approach to please the extremists on the far right of his party.  In suggesting, at the time, that the courts should handle human rights cases, he was offering fatter, longer running and profitable cases for lawyers.  Even with his ill-defined offer to fix the existing ‘kangaroo court’ tribunals, it sounds as though he might be suggesting they be a more restrictive, legalized process.

There is no question that McGuinty’s approach is also legal aid for lawyers.  As a lawyer, himself, he understands that with all the lawyers in Ontario, they need help to make a living.  McGuinty sees nothing wrong with hiring a law professor to ensure that the human rights system is protecting people in Ontario.  What is wrong is that the system is already too much of a legal system.  What it really needs to be is a fair system.  There is a difference between the law and fairness.  People mistakenly refer to the law as justice.  They are two different things.

If someone is seeking compensation for their wounded feelings for a real or supposed discriminatory act, they probably should have a lawyer represent them.

But the province needs to ensure that people can have easy access to Human Rights Tribunals without being forced to hire a lawyer.  They need to shut down these quasi-judicial hearing and assess a complaint for what it is.  Tribunals held over a telephone connection are intimidating and unfair.  Hearings chaired by lawyers, playing at being a judge, are neither satisfactory nor necessarily trustworthy.   There also needs to be an easy appeal process for people who feel they have been denied fairness.

The problem is that the law fails to keep up to what society recognizes as fair.  For example, there is still rampant discrimination in Ontario based on age.  We can hardly forgive this discrimination just because the law has not caught up.

We have no choice but to choose the McGuinty approach over Hudak’s in these circumstances.  It is just too bad that McGuinty thinks like a lawyer.


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The G20 excesses were crimes against humanity.

Saturday, August 13th, 2011

By now, the onion skin layers of the Toronto G20 case have been peeled back to the rotten core.  We know the who and whys of what was the most egregious abuse of human rights in Canada since the signing of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  The culpability of those responsible cannot be denied.

But who will charge those responsible?  Who will bring them to justice?  Who will ensure the proper punishment?  Will the punishment be sufficient to dissuade those who think of repeating these heinous crimes?  Should we charge them at the World Court in The Hague for crimes against humanity?

Then we could start with Prime Minister Harper.  It was his cavalier and excessive approach to the G8 and G20 that caused the trouble that followed.  Mind you, Tony Clement can probably be charged under the Criminal Code for his abuse of government funding in his electoral district.

Harper initiated the problems by trying to cocoon his G8 and G20 buddies.  He could have held the meetings in Iqualuit and they would not have seen anything different.  (Other than the make believe Muskoka lake might have been frozen.)

Premier Dalton McGuinty is a co-conspirator.  His Attorney General, at the time, shares the blame. As chief law officer for the province, he issued, through the Ontario Cabinet, an outdated, 1939 war-time law that did not apply to the circumstances.  His government remained silent and culpable when the police were improperly enforcing the wrong law.

And that leaves the final culprit: Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair.  The man should have been fired immediately.  In asking the Attorney General for the appropriate law, he knew what he was given was wrong.  He did not question a law that was obviously superseded by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  He did not even seek clarification of a law that was not what he asked about.

Blair earned a black eye for the Toronto Police that the force did not deserve.  It is assuring to know that the police follow orders so well but they also had the right to question orders such as they were given.  Individual officers who did not question their orders can be charged with brutality, abuse of rights, illegal incarceration and a myriad of other affronts to their fellow citizens.

Mr. Harper, Mr. McGuinty and Mr. Blair cannot be allowed to sweep this under the rug.  It must be made clear that this can never be allowed to happen in our Canada.


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A friendly note from a whiny left-wing griper.

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

This note is for Toronto Councillor Giogio Mammoliti. He complained to the news media that he is tired of the “whiny left-wing gripers’ and “communists” who contact him.  No, this is not from a communist, Mr. Mammoliti.  Far from it.  The only real communists we have ever met were totalitarian.  They did not believe in democracy.  They saw people such as you as corrupted by a weak, self-indulgent society.

But if you want to think of this writer as a ‘whiny left-wing griper,’ that is fair comment.  Mind you, we will resist the temptation to refer to you as one of Mayor Rob Ford’s ‘storm troopers.’  Name calling is not our game.

When Don Cherry made his silly speech about ‘left-wing pinkos’ back at Ford’s inauguration, everyone recognized that Cherry was just trying to be entertaining.  In very small doses, he can be amusing.  Sorry, you do not have the élan of a Don Cherry.

It is good to see that you are using the new Internet media.  It proves that you are not entirely the Neanderthal that you make yourself out as.  We can only assume that your new Facebook page is an attempt at humour.  In analyzing Facebook when it was first popular, we tested a few concepts and came to the conclusion that any idiot can use  Facebook and often does.  It is not our favourite venue for intellectual discourse.

But the problem with Facebook, Twitter and other social media is the time it takes to edit an active page.  A cost-benefit analysis can show that the time spent is worth maybe 72 cents per hour.  As long as millions of people are willing to contribute their labour, we keep creating more dot-com millionaires.  As you have told the media that you can smell the wrong people on your page, you have an obvious advantage.

But getting back to us whiny left-wing gripers:  If you think we whine too much, we will try to do better.  We will henceforth be straightforward and keep our baritone at a reasonable pitch.

We cannot do anything about being left-wing.  It is our nature.  Frankly, we should envy you your ability to ignore and disparage the poor and disadvantaged in our society.  It must be so refreshing for you not to be concerned for any of those poor souls who voted for you.  No doubt they will correct their error in judgement, next time around.

And we promise to try not to gripe.  It is probably a waste of time anyway.  We will continue to make the case for politics of caring.  We believe that a man can only stand tall if he is not standing on others.


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The anatomy of rage.

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

Do we really understand the causes of riots?  For all the analysis we do, can we really fathom the minds and attitudes of anarchists?  Why are Tottenham and other parts of England burning?  Why did the letdown of the Stanley Cup finals produce lawlessness in Vancouver?  What does smashing store windows have to do with the G20 in Toronto?  Why did Greeks riot against their government in Athens?  What formula is producing the Arab Spring?

Isolating and questioning an individual participant, after the infusion of endorphins has subsided, leaves us with fewer answers than questions. Is it the mob mentality that prevails?  Though some answers are obvious.  Watching a television interview with a British politician about the growing unrest in England, you have a bloody good idea of part of their problem—politicians who have no understanding of the desperation among those they are supposed to represent.  The invasive racism in that country is a constant stepping stone to troubles.  The mouldering class structure of the English themselves leaves you wondering at such a dysfunctional society.  Admire England’s past if you wish, but with so many of them living in that past, you stand back aghast at its present.

Social despair is a quagmire from which few can pull free.  Even among the riches of Vancouver, the social outcasts of the Gas Town scene spoil for a chance to fight back.  In the black mood and disappointment of the Stanley Cup finals, it was the few who lit the fuse on the emotions of others.

At the G20, it was the easily identified anarchists who chivvied a few street people to join their fun and they did their damage while the police let us down.  When they did act, the police took out their rage on the gawkers and justice was brutalized.

The Greeks are more of a challenge to understand.  Nobody wants to take their medicine—especially when you lack trust in the prescribing doctor.  When their autocratic leaders acquiesced to the European Community’s fiscal demands, the Greeks got mad.  It is hard to lay blame in that one.

The Arab Spring, as it has been dubbed, is actually easier to understand.  The Arabs of North Africa, for example, were more than aware of the differences of life style between their countries and Europe.  They want more.  Throughout the Middle East, their news media taunt the subjugated.  They are rebelling against their opressors.  Just bear in mind that revolutions are a process, not an end.  There will be much to watch for in the following Arab seasons.

But Canadians are hardly benign subjects of the Queen.  In John Porter’s Vertical Mosaic, some 50 years ago, he said we are complacent because we can ship our disaffected to the United States.  That is certainly no longer the case.  We have to learn to live with each other.  We have to understand ourselves.  Next time you see someone drive away from a gas station without paying, are you going to say, under your breath, ‘Good for you. Fuck the greedy oil companies!’?


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Did you think the CIA did not care?

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

Back in the midst of Cold War concerns in North America, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency was hardly going to ignore Canada.  Why are people surprised about some of their reports on Canada of the time coming to light?  They were probably well reasoned, in depth and nothing new.  Canada hardly made it difficult to gather the information.

What made the difference in the reports of the American CIA and the Russian KGB operatives of the time, we expect was just the perspective.  In a rambling, cocktail-type conversation with the CIA Station Chief in Quebec City in the late 1970s, we asked him what gave him a particular insight.  He answered simply that it was in a local newspaper. We came away from that session with the impression that the CIA was doing a better job reporting on Quebec than any of our English-language news media groups.  The CIA could be objective.  We cannot.

The CIA did not need to spy back in the 1970s and 1980s.  Their Royal Canadian Mounted Police counterparts of that time were, in the main, relaxed and cooperative.  Even the British Secret Intelligence Service obviously kept a relaxed eye on specific areas of interest.  Why not?  Canada is a relatively open society and there is no need for the cloak and dagger stuff that carried on during the Second World War.  Of course, we could not be unaware of the growing problems of industrial espionage but that was carried out in a generally gentlemanly fashion.

But the relaxed attitude went into the dumpster after 9/11.  The World Trade Center came tumbling down and paranoia replaced it.  Canada had already given the counter-intelligence role of the RCMP to the new Canadian Security Intelligence Service.   Cee-Sis, as it is called, has hardly endeared itself to Canadians.  Homeland Security in the United States has also acted irrationally and with a heavy hand and Canadians have been convenient scapegoats for their ineptness.

What we can expect in future releases of CIA documents on Canada is a certain circumspectness that was not in the earlier documents.  When you know that what you write might come to light eventually, you write to your audience.


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Busker Bob battles on.

Monday, August 8th, 2011

The buskers who entertain us on the streets while we wait for the heavy hitters have a tough job.  Even getting a little attention is encouraging for them.  Imagine how Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae feels out on the summer barbeque circuit.  In the midst of backyards full of local Liberals, a reformed New Democrat can feel lonely.

In the doldrums of summer, a little interest from the news media can be a godsend.  The media tend to act like lawyers in a courtroom and do not ask any questions to which they do not know the answers.  It saves having to write down what the interviewee is saying.

The first question is predictably about the NDP’s Jack Layton and cancer, MP Nycole Turmel and the Bloc Quebecoise.  The answer calls for the right level of concern for Jack Layton’s health and the right level of indignation about Jack’s hand-picked stand-in.  Consider the nerve of that woman to play footsie with the separatists as well as the NDP.  It is not as though Bob knows nothing of flitting between parties.

The turmoil around Turmel is also opening the door for Rae to address Prime Minister Harper’s gaffs.  He gets to make scathing comments about Mr. Harper and Harper’s friend Toronto Mayor Rob Ford to the delight of Liberal audiences.  Whether this helps Bob’s friend Dalton McGuinty remains to be seen.

If Bob could just redirect a little of that media stardom that he is presently enjoying to what Mr. Harper is currently doing in Brazil, it would be even more helpful to Canadians.  After ignoring South America, in fact, everything in the America’s south of Mexico over the past five years, Harper has a lot of catching up to do.  Not that the Liberals have a much better record in the southern half of our hemisphere.  There are economies down there that are defying the global trends and we can gain much by making more friends and doing more business.

It is just that international affairs are supposed to be Bob Rae’s specialty and he should head to that opening.  He has to remember that he is a caretaker and, if nothing else, he should keep things looking operational.


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The American angst of the summer of 2011.

Sunday, August 7th, 2011

What is going on south of that Canada-United States of America border?  Democrats are turning on Obama.  Republicans are disavowing their motley leadership. The rock that used to be Standard and Poors has turned thumbs down on the American economy.

With the plunging stock market, those of us on fixed incomes have just seen our retirement savings go south again.  The stock market does not crash these days, it just bounces like a perpetual motion India rubber ball—not higher and higher, just lower and lower.  We are all getting mad as hell and we are not going to take this any more.  (You might have heard that before but so what?)

Americans are telling their politicians how mad they are and you can hardly blame them.  It is bad enough that the greed of Wall Street drove us all into recession three years ago.  For the American politicians to create a stupid, destructive, ignorant artificial crisis such as an arbitrary, unfounded debt limit was a vicious and flagrant disregard for the people they were supposed to serve.  They should all be spanked and sent home and the voters should replace them with adults.

One of the obstacles we repeatedly run into calling for a Canadian Constitutional Conference is the people who are deathly afraid that you want a system of government similar to the Americans.  Good grief no!  Canadians have indirectly suffered the worst effects of the American Constitution for over two hundred years and hardly deserve such a flawed system of government themselves.

But as has been said many times, democracy itself is hardly perfect.  It is just much better than the alternatives.  The basic problem of the American Constitution is that it is based on a union of states and not a union of people.  Even the subsequent civil war that the country suffered only produced necessary band-aids to the problems rather than solutions.

This writer would not have the temerity to suggest what the Americans should do to clean up their act.  What they might do is reflect long and hard on the original objectives of their constitutional congress.  They were supposed to assure Americans of the individual rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Concentrating on making that happen would be a damn good start.


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Dalton McGuinty goes to war.

Saturday, August 6th, 2011

It is amazing.  Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has gone to war.  It is a smart war.  It is strategic.  Why are we so surprised?

The opening salvos have been lobs.  They are firing for effect.  When McGuinty claimed Harper’s focus was on Western Canada, Harper, with few words, brushed it aside.  Harper later retaliated by saying that he wants the provincial Conservatives to win the Ontario election on October 6.  He used the analogy of a hockey hat trick.  Thinking he was speaking to a solely Conservative audience, Harper went too far by saying the ‘left-wing mess’ that he inherited in 2006 and that Rob Ford inherited in Toronto last year will be the same for (Provincial Conservative Leader) Tim Hudak in October.

This could launch a war of words that will carry through the election.  And it will be a war that Dalton McGuinty can fight alone.  Stephen Harper has stated his position and that was all that was needed from him.  Harper is now the straw man that Dalton can fight instead of Hudak.  Why fight lesser players when you can take on the Federal Conservative Leader?

It is a major strategic coup.  It denigrates Hudak to the lesser role of someone yapping from the cheap seats but not allowed in the ring with the big kids.  At the same time, it elevates McGuinty to the federal level where his federal counterparts are, at the moment, laying low.  McGuinty is more than free to attack Harper on the long-term funding needs of Medicare and on Harper’s poor stance on environmental issues.  The federal Liberals will appreciate the help.

The only risk in this for McGuinty is the NDP.  For every vote he gains in this attack on Harper, he is siphoning off some support to the Provincial NDP.  The federal and provincial members of that party are used to working together and the lack of Jack Layton’s leadership can benefit Andrea Horwath as she is the next most prominent spokesperson for the party.

The battle of Ontario is a three-way fight.  Nobody is forecasting an NDP breakthrough but it has happened before.  Nobody really believes the polls that show Tim Hudak in the lead but some people could not believe the Rob Ford would win in Toronto last year.  If you make any bets on this election today, you had better hold out for long odds.


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