Archive for March, 2018

Keep the Russians, Kick out the Yankees.

Saturday, March 31st, 2018

Public safety minister Ralph Goodale got some television coverage the other day. He was enjoying himself. He was being asked about the Russian spies being told to leave the country. In his usual enigmatic style Goodale was explaining that he could not say anything about what these spies were doing in Canada. He was implying that he knew everything and all the while you were thinking neither he nor the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) had any idea what the Russians were doing.

Igor Gouzenko, a Russian cypher clerk who defected after the Second World War, made every effort to make spying exciting. He was never as imaginative though as his contemporary Ian Fleming, who wrote the Bond 007 books after working for the United Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Service. Spying never has been much of the cloak and dagger machinations in the shadows. The reality is that it is dull, dreary work and most spies end their days with liver failure from too much vodka rather than bullets.

I remember one time at a break in a business conference in Quebec City chatting with the station head of the Central Intelligence Agency (the American CIA). Yes, he was real and we had an amusing conversation. It started out with him asking what a spook should look like. We answered that the spy should look like any business person in the room. And that was where he did his work. He admitted that most of his reports to Langley, Virginia were gleaned from our daily newspapers.

Frankly, I do not think we have any secrets from the Americans anyway. Our manufacturing is so integrated with the U.S., there are no trade secrets left. We manufacture aircraft parts and assemblies for each other, firing controllers for tanks, armoured scout cars and a myriad of other defence items under our cooperative defence production sharing.

What we really need in these current North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiations is some secrets. And the only way we can keep those secrets is to keep the Americans from reading our newspapers.

We need something other than water and other natural resources to sweeten the NAFTA deal. We need to have some trade secrets—something more than how you get the caramel into the candy bar.

We really should let more Russians come here at the expense of their government. They can read our newspapers and learn about the good life in Canada. If they are doing anything serious, someone will tell us.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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Would you buy a used Ford from Ford?

Friday, March 30th, 2018

We have a good thing going in Ontario. Our economy is healthy. Unemployment is down. We have a government in place that is doing the right things about the environment, raising our standard of living without undue pressure on inflation and is looking at people’s needs in a relatively progressive manner. This needs to be taken into account before considering the possibilities in the coming Ontario election.

A gentleman named Doug Ford has pushed himself forward and proposed that we elect him and a conservative government. Some people think this is a good idea because they think we need a change.

A change to what?

If Mr. Ford was a job applicant, do you think you would give him much consideration? His work experience involves a stint with his late father’s company printing labels and a single term as a Toronto city councillor in the council seat his brother had vacated to become mayor. Much of his time in that position was spent trying to keep his brother sober and off crack cocaine.

He lost his subsequent effort to win the mayoralty when his brother became too ill to run. Always eager for opportunities, he saw a chance to be leader of the opposition party and he grabbed at the brass ring.

Ford broke all the rules of the leadership race. He signed a promise to accept the carefully constructed party policy program—the People’s Guarantee—and spent the campaign time dumping on it. He ridiculed the party’s support for a carbon tax to replace the Liberal’s confusing Cap and Trade. He has no respect for our environment.

Under the confused rules of the leadership race, Ford won with fewer individual party votes and the support of fewer electoral districts. In a truly democratic (one-person, one-vote) contest, Christine Elliott would have won.

But it was the angry and the bitter and the anti-women’s rights crowd who turned to Ford. It was the shallowness of what remains of Rob Ford’s Ford Nation that contributed the numbers. It was the gun advocates of the Ontario Landowners. It was the anti-wind turbine cranks. It was greed and avarice that won for Doug Ford.

If you want Doug Ford in control in Ontario, God help you.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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The Beatification of Bill Blair?

Thursday, March 29th, 2018

It took the questionable memory of Toronto Police Services Board chair Alok Mukherjee to relate it and the writing skills of Toronto Star writer Tim Harper to forge it. And it took them over seven years to prepare it for publication. It purports to be an explanation of what took the G20 Summit in Toronto in 2010 off the rails. The book is titled Excessive Force.

But any farmer could tell them that when you play road hockey with frozen horse droppings in the barnyard, you end up splattered as the puck melts. And those pucks sure get warmed as this team spins their tale.

First of all, they can hardly suggest that former police chief Bill Blair is a saint because, as he reports, he thinks he was responsible for nothing. The first question we would ask, if we were foolish enough to believe him, is what new communications systems did he acquire for that $14 million he supposedly got from Toronto taxpayers? And why did the police communications fail at times when communications were really needed?

What is very strange in this book is the reported arrangement between the chief of police and the police services board. It seems the board is not allowed to ask questions regarding operational matters. We are told operations matters are the purview of the chief. If you follow that thinking, the board, who hires him or her, is at the mercy of the chief of police. The board is therefore a sham that hires gunfighters to keep their town safe according to some ancient code.

What makes absolutely no sense in this story is the operational hierarchy in place for the Toronto summit. Mukherjee tells us that Blair was not responsible but his underlings were. Blair is reported to have told him that all orders originated from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Integrated Security Unit in Barrie. This operational centre had been established in Barrie to cover the earlier G7 near Huntsville, Ontario as well as the G20 in Toronto. From a technical communications view, Barrie made a lot of sense. From a street view, it was idiotic.

Good security systems for international events are built in rings. Typically, the inner ring of an event such as the G20 is covered by highly trained federal representatives such as the RCMP. The surrounding ring is handled by local people who know the site and its surroundings. Mukherjee and Harper make it sound like many of the police borrowed from other parts of Canada spent most of their time in Toronto learning their way about.

Mukherjee tells us that Blair’s preparations for the G20 were ridiculous and quickly found to be hollow. Blair sniped at his underlings instead of leading them. The tactics of the anarchist group the Black Bloc had been studied but not prepared for. Blair goaded his troops into retaliating on the innocent. He broke all the rules of effective policing.

Why should Toronto take pride in that?


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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The failing Facebook fiasco.

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018

After 14 years, Facebook is still just a teenager. It was early in its existence that, out of curiosity, I test drove the program, created a page with minimal information and studied the developing interaction. What annoyed me about the program was that, when tiring of the experiment, I was unable to get rid of the test page. It goes on forever like something lost in space.

But it was obvious from its rough beginnings that Facebook was an invasive tool to be easily manipulated. It is like a vast pool of koi for predators. It is there to massage your ego, display your life in pictures and challenges you to win friends and “likes.” It profiles you and produces a commodity that Facebook can sell to those with the price. It has become a bottomless pit of commercial treasure.

You should think seriously sometimes about how much you want others to look in on your life. It is not just friends who are interested in your planned trip or your children or their friends.

I have always laughed at the rewards programs used by large retail organizations so that they can better tailor their directed marketing efforts. I was puzzled once that the drug store chain that we frequently use was sending me advertising and enticements to buy their cosmetics. The simple answer was that I had been taking the wife’s cosmetic purchases to the cashier for her.

But it made me think about how credit cards can tell the tale of your travels, your interests, your weaknesses. In our consumer societies, there are those who want us to become an open book.

It might not have been the original idea for Facebook. That appeared to have started because Mark Zuckerberg and his geek friends at Harvard University had problems getting dates. Today Zuckerberg is worth billions and he is still just a geek.

Rather than worry too much about those who exploit social media for commercial gain, the real concern today is the international hacking into government and other programs to influence political choices. Elections and referenda are constantly trying to reduce costs by using more and more computer services. These services need to be protected or they can be hacked to serve the needs of others.

Orwell described the situation in the book 1984. The actual year has come and gone but, if we are not careful, Big Brother will become reality.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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Trump should not bully China.

Tuesday, March 27th, 2018

U.S. President Donald Trump is a bully. That is how he negotiates his way through life. He bullies women for sex. As a developer, he bullied politicians for building rights. He bullies lawyers and courtiers, underlings and peers, wives and children, and lately, countries and their leaders. It is his nature.

But he probably should not try to bully the People’s Republic of China. Xi Jinping has just been made president for life in that country and he might just want to show off by stomping on that upstart Trump.

And as much as many of us would enjoy watching the stomping, it would not turn out well. Everyone loses in a trade war. A trade war is the application of onerous duties on each other’s products by two or more countries. It adds to the cost of specific products from each country. When each country reciprocates with duties of its own, it tends to stifle trade between the two countries.

In addition, companies who also make the tariffed products in the country charging the tariffs, can now charge more for their products because the tariff items become much more expensive. Check softwood lumber prices in the western U.S. and you will see the new reality.

Basic economics tells us that free trade is good for the economy and heavy tariffs are bad for the economy. And the object lesson is that trade wars are bad for all the participants. Nobody can really win. And if it is a case of outlasting your opponent, there is some reality to face here.

The Chinese tend to be more disciplined than Americans. They have suffered hardships and famines over the years. They can be more stoical.

Americans, by way of contrast, are liable to be annoyed by hardships brought on by bad management of the economy. They can be resentful. Heck, it was the way the people in London were managing their economy that set off the American Revolution. And they have not been all that amenable to the politicians who screw things up ever since.

What we can be confident of is that the Americans will have a regime change long before the Chinese. And that is why it would be really stupid for the Americans to have a trade war with the Chinese.

But, then, nobody ever accused Mr. Trump of being practical.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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Choosing champions.

Monday, March 26th, 2018

One of the aspects of populism that confuses people is that they can come from the left or the right or any other part of the political spectrum. Typically, the populist rises from the environment that generated the specific populist movement. This is why Donald Trump in the United States is not considered a populist. He just had the ego and enough money to take advantage of the opportunity. He is a narcissist, a womanizer, ignorant and incompetent and those are just some of the polite words used to describe him.

But Donald Trump’s arrogance, simplistic message and racism attracted a following among a broad swath of mainly apolitical Americans ranging from neighbourhood bigots and bikers to the Klu Klux Klan and the National Rifle Association. Not even Trump had any idea how effective those people would be at the polls. When Hillary Clinton called some of Trump’s supporters “deplorables” it helped drive them to the polls to vote against her.

In America’s red states that dominate middle America, the God-fearing, embittered and concerned right had no one else to vote for as president. It was this odd coalition of the holy and the unholy who won the electoral college to make Trump president.

In Canada, we are seeing a somewhat similar situation developing in the planned June election in Ontario. Nobody is suggesting that Doug Ford is as racist and incompetent as Mr. Trump but there is some confusion between Ford and his late brother Rob Ford, the crack-cocaine smoking and plain-spoken populist mayor of Toronto for one term.

Rob Ford was the get-even mayor of Toronto. His one term as mayor created chaos. It held the city up for ridicule on late night television in the United States and in British tabloids.

While Doug Ford, the older brother, served one term in his brother’s former council seat, it was Rob who was the populist. Since the forced amalgamation of the city by the Harris Conservatives, there has been a serious schism growing in Toronto between the downtown inner city and its suburbs. Without their local politicians and councils, the suburbs have felt isolated.

What made matters worse in a city of 630 square kilometers, that rises from the downtown up steep hills, the inner-city politicians declared war on the automobile. The suburbs saw their routes to downtown congested with restricted bicycle lanes and no better public transportation services in the offing. Enter populist Rob Ford to save the day.

But Rob Ford is dead and his brother Doug failed to replace him as mayor. Doug Ford is no populist.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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Teaching our youth to hate.

Sunday, March 25th, 2018

Conservative MP John Brassard from Barrie-Innisfil has a problem. He thinks it is alright to teach our youth to hate and to work against our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The people in his electoral district might like to ask him about this before mistakenly re-electing him next year.

John Brassard used to be a fireman, not a lawyer nor any kind of expert on Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He has a right to his opinion on the subject of abortions, as we all do. What we do not have is the right to confront women who might be seeking an abortion and to harass them. Neither should our youth be paid with government money to distribute hate literature in the form of purported pictures of aborted human embryos.

It seems John Brassard is objecting to the large number of faith-based organizations that are being refused funding under the Canada Summer Jobs program. As I understand it, the government wants an attestation from these organizations that they will respect the reproductive rights of Canadians as per Canadian law. If they are not willing to promise not to use government funds to work against the legal rights of Canadians, they will not be given government funds.

John Brassard says this is in conflict with the Canadian Charter rights of Rights and Freedoms. Mr. Brassard has it backwards. The charter protects his co-religionists in their right to their beliefs. The only thing they are being asked is for them to respect the rights of others.

He is adding further insult to this situation by suggesting that the attestation being asked for is in effect the Liberal party’s position. He should check the various votes in the House of Commons for years back and he will find our present reproductive rights in this country are there because of the votes of fair-minded people of all parties, who helped make Canada a more liveable and open society, where everyone’s rights are respected.

If Mr. Brassard was running next year in my electoral district, I would make it a personal project to help ensure that he and his mean-spirited political attitude are defeated.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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To be murdered in Mali.

Saturday, March 24th, 2018

Our government wants us to send some Canadians in harms way in Mali in West Africa. As the country with the highest mortality rate for peace keepers, we are not going to enjoy Mali. “Don’t worry” our defence minister tells us, “We are only going to send a few helicopters, pilots, ground crews and people to do training.” We have time to get some fresh flags for the Highway of Heroes before the casualties start arriving.

You do know that being one of the larger countries in Africa does not make Mali any more hospitable? The French deserted the country after the Second World War and it has been in turmoil since. Between the isolation of the Tuaregs, the radicalism of the Islamists and the total incompetence of the southern tribes to run things, the country goes back and forth from totalitarianism to chaos quite quickly.

The poorly trained and ill-equipped West African troops trying to keep the peace in Mali have already had some 162 of their people killed by heavily armed brigands, Islamist terrorists and an alphabet soup of causes.

And do not be surprised when the Islamic extremists suddenly have ground-to-air missiles to welcome the Canadian helicopters. Thankfully, it is hard to find good cover in the Sahara north of Timbuktu.

The basic problem with Mali is that there is no peace keeping involved. First you have to have some peace to keep. And even in a country where our troops who speak French will have an immediate advantage, it is very difficult to tell a friend from an enemy. The land is the enemy.

And we are not making the task any easier when Canada and the U.S.A. are throwing billions of dollars every year into the Mali economy. Everyone wants their turn at being a politician so that they can rip off some of this money for themselves.  Meanwhile, the cotton economy of the south is dwindling, the fundamentalist Islamists of the north are funded by the middle-east supporters if ISIL and Al-Quaeda and the Tuaregs just keep working their salt mines.

Why Canada’s government feels it has to make a statement of support to the United Nations this way is beyond us. A seat on the Security Council for our dead is not worth it.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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Can you put it on a hat?

Friday, March 23rd, 2018

We used to use bumper stickers but cars do not have bumpers any more. Now we are running campaigns that you can put on a hat. We are producing hats that say “Ontario drives with Ford” or “Win with Wynne” or “Horwath or horror.” That is the general view of political campaigns these days.

Just look at Doug Ford’s Trump-like rally for the lumpen proletariat the other day at a Toronto area convention centre. It was a disappointing turn out, but then, all the attendees got was candidate Ford.

He had promised that his rival for the leadership, Christine Elliott, would introduce him. The lady must have had one of those political attacks of laryngitis. Ford was introduced by his current campaign manager. Elliott was there but probably not in spirit.

It was a small but easy to please crowd. What is left of Ford Nation came for the free lunch and the conservatives came to commiserate with each other. Nobody expected to learn anything. Nothing was learned. The news media were wondering why they were there? There was nothing for them to report.

A candidate for any office that speaks in words you can put on a hat, does not provide much copy for think pieces. A story that begins and ends with the single thought on a hat, such as ‘Lynch the Liberals,’ is hardly loaded with usable news copy.

This keeps reminding us of North Bay’s favourite golf pro and former Ontario premier Mike Harris. He was the premier who said something like “Will nobody rid me of those meddlesome Indians?” He got his wish when the Ontario Provincial Police went and shot one of them. An unarmed protestor, Dudley George, was dead and premier Mike Harris’ problems at Ipperwash Park went away.

But give Harris the credit for promising more, even if it was just the “Common Sense Revolution” on a hat. Harris, like Ford, stupidly insisted in cutting everything. He even cut the provincial inspectors who made sure we had clean drinking water. In Walkertown, Ontario an E.coli outbreak killed five Ontario citizens and made many more seriously ill. Harris saved us taxpayers a few dollars and ended up costing us many millions. Now there are foolish people in this province who want to give someone like Doug Ford the same opportunity.

The good thing for the Wynne Liberals in all of this is that they do not have to keep promising to spend on a myriad of promises. All they really need is better writers for their hats.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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Trudeau has to dump Morneau.

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018

We have been waiting. We have been patient but it has not happened. Prime minister Justin Trudeau still has that millstone Bill Morneau dragging him down to the depths of neoliberalism. It is not 2018 for this government until finance minister Bill Morneau is gone.

It is the story of Jean Chrétien’s government revisited. It was not the prime minister, at that time, who laid the table for Stephen Harper; it was the ego of his finance minister Paul Martin that did the liberals in. Paul loved to tell people that you could run to the left but you had to rule to the right. Canadians saw a neo-conservative in Martin and finally chose the real thing with Harper.

These liberals who consider themselves economic conservatives and social liberals are fooling nobody but themselves. Various studies have shown that Canada can save in excess of $4 billion a year with a national Pharmacare system. Morneau cannot salve his economic meanness with some kind of a patchwork system.

Frankly, Morneau seems to know less about the need than the man-on-the-street. He does not seem to understand that what we have now is a system that fails the sick and the dying. Are we going to remain the only major country with a Medicare program that does not have an equally accessible Pharmacare program included?

Morneau represents the same area in Toronto that would have been part of Mitchell Sharp’s riding back in 1966. As a young liberal from the area I happened to be seated next to Mitch at the plenary of the Liberal convention in Ottawa that year. We were arguing about Medicare. Mitch—as Mr. Pearson’s finance minister at the time—was using all his wiles to stop or at least slow Medicare happening in Canada.

When it came to the final vote on Mitch’s motion to delay implementation to July 1, 1968, I stood to vote for implementation in Centennial Year 1967. Mitch gave me an annoyed look. You could see him wondering what this communist was doing in his riding?

It continues to amaze me to this day what people such as the late Mitch Sharp and then Paul Martin and now Bill Morneau consider their duty. Their fiscal responsibility is nothing more than a mean-spirited, father-knows-best attitude. They throw barriers in the way of implementing services for people instead of finding creative solutions. They prefer the accolades of their peers at their club to the applause from the hoi-polloi for a job well done.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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