January 2012 Archives

January 31, 2012

Fun with figures

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One of the hot topics of discussion right now involves the speculation that the Harper Government™ intends to raise the eligibility age for Old Age Security (OAS) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) from 65 to 67. And here's Brian Lee Crowley to argue that the real reason for doing so is that so many of us have secretly been hoping for just the kind of change that would force us to work even longer. We know we want to; we just need a little extra motivation and nothing motivates like the prospect of having to survive on cat food. What about that Harper Government™ eh? Always looking out for us.

Much of the argument in that column is based on this:

There was a time when 65 and retirement were closely linked for a compelling reason. A life of labour had left the average worker depleted. A few short years of decline was all they could expect before death. A Canadian male born in 1966, when the Canada Pension Plan was introduced, would only expect to live to age 68 or so. Today, it's 79.

And in the context of this discussion, that's just wrong.


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January 28, 2012

Just wondering

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What would make Stephen Harper think it's a good idea to go to Davos and tell other countries what he intends to do to us before he told us?

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January 27, 2012

Friday night unplugged

It's a low key, acoustic set this evening. The opening clip is from Peter Seeger's Rainbow Quest — Brownie McGhee performing solo on Don't Pity Me.


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January 26, 2012

A moral imperative

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Last March the Harper government characterized Canada's participation in hostilities in Libya as a moral imperative. Hopefully they'll look upon today's request by Amnesty International in the same way.

The Canadian leader of Amnesty International is calling on the Harper government to use its influence with Libya's new leadership to put an end to the torture of prisoners that the organization says has been taking place.

That article doesn't give us much in the way of detail about it but it seems the people we helped to put in charge in Libya have been behaving badly. This BBC article reports that over 8,000 people are being held in secret detention centres "amid reports of torture" and includes this:

The humanitarian medical organisation [Medecins Sans Frontieres] said it had stopped work in detention centres in the north-western city of Misrata because some patients were being brought in for care between interrogation sessions.

That story's descriptions of abuse mainly involve the independent militias but there are other reports that implicate Libya's regular army as well as the new government's security agency in the torture of detainees.

If Canadian involvement in Libya was all about protecting civilians then perhaps John Baird could drop by there again and apply some pressure to curb these abuses. It seems like the least we could do since we share responsibility for them.

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January 25, 2012

Transparency!

The House of Commons gets back to work next week and that means that parliamentary committees resume as well. In fact the Standing Committee on Health will meet tomorrow afternoon.

Kady O'Malley, as @kady on Twitter, was kind enough to link to this page which provides the schedule of upcoming meetings. O'Malley also took note of the number of padlocks associated with the entries which indicate when meetings will be held in camera — closed to the public.

Of the ten meetings currently listed, eight of them will be held in camera. Admittedly this isn't something I've kept track of but that seems high. It's worth noting that aside from preventing the press and public from viewing the proceedings, taking the meeting behind closed doors automatically binds the participants — including opposition MPs — to secrecy.

Eight out of ten would certainly suggest one of two things: either something is in the works that a lot of us won't like or keeping the public in the dark about what goes on in committees has become the default position of this government. Either way, democracy loses.

Update:

O'Malley has now posted on this herself. The relevant bit:

...this isn't an entirely unusual occurrence during the first few days of a new sitting -- there are, after all, various bits housekeeping business to which to attend, much of which is, in fact, traditionally done in private.

At the same time, given the frequency with which Conservative MPs were ejecting the public from previously open sessions before the House rose for the holidays, it may not be the most auspicious omen with which to start the New Year.

This isn't a new parliament. They're just getting back to work after the Christmas recess. So I'm not sure how much housekeeping they'd have to do before settling in to their normal duties. I think this bears watching.

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January 24, 2012

Not an auspicious beginning

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Today's Crown First Nations Gathering was supposed to be historic. It would mark the first occasion since he became prime minister in 2006 that Stephen Harper would meet with First Nations leaders. So there was quite a bit of negative publicity when it was learned that Harper intended to leave the summit early. In order to counter that, an extra meeting was hastily convened yesterday evening between Harper and his minister of aboriginal affairs and the most senior of First Nations leaders.

I don't think it accomplished what the government was hoping for. Here's the headline on the APTN story reporting on the meeting: Harper tells chiefs they should contact their MPs.

So a prime minister who has been happy to continue with the trend of recent decades — to concentrate power in the PMO and turn MPs into bit players who stand up on cue and vote the way they're told — has just told First Nations leaders to talk to the hand the bit players.

Here's how the meeting was reported by someone who attended.


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January 20, 2012

Friday night: RIP Etta James

Etta James passed away earlier today at the age of 73. So the set orginally planned for this evening gets bumped to next week.

Apparently the song that comes to mind for a lot of people when they think of James is At Last. But it was never a particular favorite of mine so we're not going to do that. Instead we'll start with Something's Got A Hold On Me.


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January 19, 2012

The NDP Leadership Debate in Toronto

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I came. I saw. I listened. And what I listened to was a lot of what MP Nathan Cullen characterized as "violent agreement".

The packed crowd (people had to be turned away) listened to candidates who agree, violently, on what government should do. Grow the economy sustainably, help the downtrodden, ensure equality, and so on.

The disagreements, with one exception, were subtle. They were either about political strategy, or about implementation. Everyone may agree on what to do, everyone does not agree on how to do it. But with only a minute or 30 seconds to answer each question you had to listen sharply to hear the differences.

With that one exception. Cullen proposed open primaries for all non Conservative parties with only the winning candidate running, so that there would be one candidate in each riding to oppose the Conservatives.

The hissing was immediate. A heartbeat later, the clapping began. Because the NDP wants to be government, wants it bad. They've been in the wilderness for too long, and they sure don't trust the Liberals to do the right things. But NDP supporters also understand that Harper is a transformational Prime Minister--in the worst way possible. He is making a Canada which is less equal, less prosperous and far, far meaner. He is undermining medicare, undermining small farms and plans to center Canada's economy around resource extraction of the kind which leaves behind only a legacy of ruin. (Every resource boom ends. Every single one.) So defeating Harper is important.

That aside, there was so much agreement that I began doing what I prefer not to do in American politics: I started considering electability.

There were only three candidates on that stage, in my opinion, who had the raw charisma and polished speaking skills necessary to lead the NDP to victory. Thomas Mulcair, Nathan Cullen and Peggy Nash. The NDP cannot afford a leader who is not charismatic, and the others simply don't have the ability to hold attention. Nash and Mulcair are bilingual, Cullen's french is weaker, but getting better.

Below I'm going to go through my observations on all eight, starting with the three I feel have the charisma for the job.


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January 17, 2012

For all that the recent IAEA report on Iran dragged evidence out of the trash bin that had previously been found to be too unreliable to take seriously, it still stopped short of stating definitively that Iran has an active nuclear weapons program. Recent reports from the combined intelligence agencies of the United States have consistently found that there is no evidence of an active nuclear weapons program in Iran. The U.S. Secretary of Defense stated earlier this month that he doesn't believe the Iranians have an active nuclear weapons program.

But Stephen Harper is insisting that not only does he know better but that the moment Iranians have nukes, they'll use them.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says a consensus is growing among world leaders that Iran would have no hesitation using nuclear arms once they develop the weapons and the capability to deliver them.

"I've watched and listened to what the leadership in the Iran regime says, and it frightens me," Mr. Harper said in a CBC interview.

"In my judgment, these are people who have a particular, you know, fanatically religious worldview, and their statements imply to me no hesitation of using nuclear weapons if they see them achieving their religious or political purposes," he said.

This is classic demonization.


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January 13, 2012

Friday night

Tonight's opener features the same group of musicians who held down the middle slot in last week's episode: Lou Ann Barton and Omar Kent Dykes on vocals, James Cotton on harp and Jimmie Vaughan on first guitar. This is another Jimmy Reed tune called Good Lover.


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Shorter Lorne Gunter: Murdering scientists is okay as long as it's our side that does it. And look at the craftsmanship on the part of the assassins!

Gunter thinks I'm naive. I guess that's fair because I think he's contemptible. Meanwhile, people who are better informed on the subject than either of us continue to question the merits of the recent IAEA report. And let's bear in mind that even that report didn't state definitively that Iran has an active nuclear weapons program. In fact, the U.S. Secretary of Defense recently admitted that he doesn't think they do.

But let's not let little things like due process or actual evidence stand in the way of a perfectly good assassination.

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January 12, 2012

Dear Colin Carrie

I'm in receipt of your latest mailing to your constituents. I wish I could say I was surprised at the way you continue to use taxpayer-funded mailings to direct people to your party's website but it's actually what I've come to expect. (Though I must say the incorporation of the QR code technology is a nice touch — if I scan the code with my phone I would be instantly taken to the Conservative party website, ready to take the survey. Just as soon as I supply my name and mailing address for your party's database. It's not gonna happen.)

Spokespeople for your party have been fond of assuring us of late that Conservative values are Canadian values. So they — and you — must feel that a willingness to continually misappropriate public funds for partisan purposes represents a Canadian value. Speaking as a Canadian, I wanted you to know how insulted I am.

Signed,
Unimpressed in Oshawa

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January 6, 2012

Friday night

To begin, Eric Bibb teams up with some serious instrumental talent on a traditional country blues: Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad.


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Conservative values are Canadian values

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And once again Conservatives will lead by example.

When confronted with the fact that many of our fellow citizens have little or nothing in the way of pensions and may live out their golden years in relative poverty, apparently the Canadian thing to do isn't to try and improve their position. Instead, the Canadian thing to do is to try and reduce the retirement income of those people who can look forward to a decent income in retirement. The fact that those pensions came about through a perfectly legitimate collective bargaining process is entirely beside the point.

It's now the Canadian way to ensure that everyone shares in the misery. Except for the CEOs of large corporations, of course. (And MPs, but perhaps we should just skip over that part.)

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Mostly competent government

When the plight of the First Nations community at Attawapiskat became front page news, the first concern expressed publicly by Prime Minister Harper was the possibility that money wasn't being managed properly. He neglected to mention that it was his own government he was worried about.

Two government audits show Ottawa is earmarking about a billion dollars a year to build and repair First Nations infrastructure, but its myriad of officials are not keeping proper tabs on how the money is spent.

Even as Prime Minister Stephen Harper accuses the Attawapiskat First Nations of mismanaging federal funds, the internal audits posted recently suggest the criticism could apply to the federal bureaucracy as well.

The audits say there are "significant gaps" in how the on-reserve infrastructure funding is controlled, and that the financial reporting system is riddled with inconsistencies.

The article goes on to describe targets and systems that are "often ignored or inconsistently applied." Meanwhile, the same government that's guilty of mismanagement itself has only managed to slow down the community's access to its own money by inserting a third party manager into the process and then continuing to blame the victims because the emergency drags on.


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January 5, 2012

Conservative values are Canadian values

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Or so we've been hearing more and more lately — Canadians are increasingly embracing the values espoused by Conservatives. I guess that means we can look to our Conservative neighbours to serve as guides to show us the way forward.

So the next time you have a disagreement with someone and you have an opportunity to make your case in front of a television camera, tell your opponent to go fuck his mother. Apparently that's the way real Conservatives do it.

And in this case, I absolutely refuse to employ any euphemisms. Levant didn't.

Yes, we're back. And we're not impressed.

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