Target Canada Fails To Hit The Mark


Target Canada launchA mere 681 days since Target Corp. arrived in Canada, the discount retailer announced that the Canadian experiment has been a disaster – they’re taking their finery and going back to the United States.

Fashionistas are torn; on the one hand, Canadians who had enjoyed shopping in “Tar-zhay” in U.S. outlets were delighted to have the option to purchase brands like Merona, Xhiliration, Mossimo, and Up and Up. On the other hand, customers complained that the prices were too high, and selection was limited. Target never really seemed to make an effort to update the former Zellers locations they operated, and failed to include an e-commerce site for Canadian deliveries.

Target, after just two years and an overall $7-billion investment, expects to close all 133 stores within 16 to 20 weeks, with 17,600 employees losing their jobs.

walmart cartsDon’t look to Wal-Mart to pick up the stores; on Thursday it was announced that Wal-Mart would be closing 127 under-performing stores in Canada, 33% of their 382 stores. At least 525 people will become unemployed during this “revamp.”

Target had a shaky start-up, losing nearly $1-billion in just its first fiscal year in Canada. By the end of January 2015, their pre-tax operating losses will exceed $5.4-billion (U.S.), from an opening investment of more than $7-billion since 2011.

Beyond the inconvenience to those who need their shopping fix, that’s a lot of people – over 18,000 – who are going to be looking for new jobs by the beginning of summer … when students will be competing for those same jobs.

wal-mart-sad_-face_When you consider that Canada created fewer than 175,000 net jobs in all of 2013 (not including December 2013,) I wouldn’t be counting on seeing a lot of Wal-Mart happy faces come May 2015.

 

Added Jan. 21/15:

Before firing Gregg Steinhafel as CEO earlier in 2014, Target’s board cut his pay and slashed his severance package. He would only get $15.9 million as a golden handshake, or so said a recent regulatory filing. But according to Fortune magazine, his actual severance, which includes profit sharing and stock, will amount to $61 million USD, greater than the severance package for all 17,000+ Canadian Target employees combined ($58 million USD).

Both Sony and Mexx have announced they will be shutting down their retail operations. Sony is, closing all the Canadian stores over the next 6 to 8 weeks, involving 90 layoffs, while Mexx, the fashion chain, are liquidating all 95 of their stores. Reitmans announced in November 2014 that it would close 107 Smart Set stores, but will convert 76 locations into other banners. Jacob, the womens’ store , announced in October 2014 it would abandon restructuring efforts and close 92 stores across the country. Holt Renfrew, a luxury retailer, will be closing stores in Ottawa and Quebec City at the end of January 2015. (no figures yet given for the soon to be unemployed.at Mexx, Smart Set, Jacob or Holt Renfrew)

Should Obama Veto the Keystone XL Pipeline?


kpIn the United States, the battle has raged for 6 years over the Keystone XL pipeline, meant to carry crude oil over 1700 miles from the Alberta tar sands to Nebraska. Canada, and especially Prime Minister Steven Harper, has held its breath as the Democrats, led by President Obama, and the Republicans, have debated the issue.

With the Republicans now holding a majority in the Senate, they’ve decided to make the decision a top priority. Obama has already threatened to veto any such action.

The Keystone would not be the only pipeline Canada has that crosses from Canada to the United States … there are already four major pipelines in existence, with lots of other smaller pipelines crisscrossing through most of the country.

So why the long deliberations? Could it be the ‘dirty oil’ being wrenched from the earth is worse than both the crude oil and tar sand oil already being conveyed?

Wet-tar-sands-537x358Environmentalists have protested Keystone since 2011. The Republicans have told us that having energy coming down from Canada instead of from other oil rich nations prevents the States being held hostage for oil. The Democrats, on the side of the environmentalists have dubbed the tar sands “Extra Lethal.”

But the demand is there. Despite the existing pipelines, oil is being distributed by other means as well – trucks, trains and barges traverse both countries. So, why not this pipeline?

Well, amongst other things, the government has already stopped the North American Free Trade Alliance (NAFTA’s) environmental oversight commission from investigating environmental damage caused by tailings ponds in Alberta’s oil sands twice, this past year alone. Public complaints that Canada is ignoring its own fishery laws have brought the trade organization’s environmental oversight commission on board in an attempt to protect the Athabasca River from industry pollution.

Dale Marshall of Environmental Defence says the Harper government is “blocking” science from getting out information about the oil industry’s harm to the watershed.

watershed“There’s compelling evidence that [industry contamination] is happening and that the federal government is denying it, and not allowing that information to be known to Canadians and the people who live in that area. “It’s disheartening. The Canadian government is more interested in protecting oil sands companies,”

So, it would seem that oil sand protestors, whether led by Canadian musician Neil Young or not, have valid points that are not being addressed, but rather, suppressed.

Recently, Mark Little of Suncor, one of Canada’s largest oil sands producers, denied that the company’s tailings ponds were leaking into the Athabasca River. The executive even referenced historic “Voyageur” accounts of naturally occurring oil seeping into the river to back up his position.

“Oh, no. Oil goes into the Athabasca River, and it has been for hundreds of years.  There is an enormous amount of oil in the sand, and the river runs across the sand.”

But renowned water scientist, Dr. David Schindler of the University of Alberta begged to differ.

“That’s totally untrue. One reason I know industry is responsible for some of [the river pollution] is there’s a 1982 well documented spill for Suncor. They watched as it made its way down the Athabasca to Athabasca Lake and caused the fisheries to be closed for two years.”

deformed fish AthabascaAfter the incident, highly deformed fish, never before seen by locals or scientists, began appearing in the watershed.

Schindler also believes that the Canadian government is likely opposed to the NAFTA‘s investigation because it is “worried about more bad press.”

So, with environmentalists and scientists opposed to the project, it’s fair to think that the United States should be worried about possible spills involved with the proposed pipeline.

From CBC News Canada, “Through an access-to-information request, CBC News obtained a data set of every pipeline safety incident reported to the federal regulator in the past 12 years. The National Energy Board oversees cross-border pipelines. The data doesn’t include smaller pipelines within provincial boundaries. The documents reveal details about more than 1,000 incidents that have happened across the country from 2000 until late 2012 and suggest the rate of overall incidents has doubled in the past decade.” (http://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/pipeline-incidents/)

But meanwhile, the federal government has essentially gone all in on the promise of oil. Natural Resources Canada spent $438.3 million on programs to support the oil and gas industry — it spent $41.6 million more, or nearly 10 per cent extra, than the amount it was allotted for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. As well, an additional $24 million went for an ad blitz in the U.S. Yep, bullish on oil.

environment-1-612x336But what about the $300 million for “environmentally responsible” programs Parliament approved last year? Somehow, Natural Resources Canada failed to spend $298.6-million on programs for “green” programs such as renewable energy development and technology innovation.

The government put all of Canada’s precious eggs in one basket.

And, in Alberta, “the economic promise of the oil sands and their accelerating development are coupled with a curse. The waste gases are flared into the atmosphere, while the waste fluids are pumped into immense tailing ponds. These waste streams contain significant quantities of heavy metals and persistent aromatic hydrocarbons.

As a consequence, human health and local pollution issues are starting to become evident. Democratic governments are entrusted to ensure human health. Economic growth and environmental impacts are balanced in a pragmatic and evidence based manner. But our post-democratic society permits corporations to dictate policy and our government has acquiesced. Laws are now repealed,  allowing low cost development, free from environmental safeguards and at the lowest royalty rates in the world.” (read more here: http://www.vancouverobserver.com/opinion/oil-sands-promise-and-curse)

With the recent drop in oil and gas prices, Ottawa is also expected to lose $5 billion in revenue, and the provinces even more. OPEC, in a zero sum game, is dropping the price of oil, and that drop is creating a net loss for Canada.

Research, education, public broadcasting, and the future of national health lie in the balance as energy subsidies in Canada top an incredible $34 billion each year in direct support to producers and uncollected tax on externalized costs. And still the price of oil drops, down 57 per cent since last June.

The pipeline is truly a lose/lose proposition.

boehner-ryanBUT – the Republicans will push forward on making it happen. Not because it is a good idea, or good for the United States. But because 6 years ago, on the night of Obama’s inauguration, a group of top GOP luminaries gathered to create the outline of a plan for how to deal with the incoming administration. They would fight Obama on everything. And after three hours of strategizing, Senate power brokers Jim DeMint, Jon Kyl and Tom Coburn, and conservative congressmen Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan vowed that none of Obama’s presidential aspirations would succeed, if they had anything to do with it.

For Americans, the road to a national health care plan was nearly derailed, and the work may still be demolished, should these politicians continue to follow their path. The pipeline, also potentially lethal to citizens, will be steam-rollered through, regardless of environmental effects. All to stop one man, President Obama. Whether you are a Democratic or a fan of Obama, it must be admitted that this relentless attack on a legally elected sitting leader is abhorrent and incredibly self-indulgent.

Six years later, America and the world still dangles from these puppeteers’ strings.

generation against oil

Running On Empty


It’s minus -21C today – that’s 5 below zero in Fahrenheit – and it’s so cold my cats have cat I has a sadgone beyond being angry and have become despondent, either staring sadly into space or denying the existence of the world with their heads smacked up against a wall. I’m sitting at my desk, wrapped in a black flannel poncho, and wondering where I’ve left my fingerless gloves.

I sprang from my bed this morning, rested and brimming with ideas of ‘great social and political import,’ but instead of researching, I’m waiting for oatmeal to cook – this is not the sort of day you face on an empty stomach.

On days like this I am very grateful for the science and technology that allows me to stay warm. I’m over the moon that I can flip a switch and have light to see by, and flip another switch to start up my computer and read mail and messages from family and friends. I’m really pleased that I have warm clothing that just rests in my closet until I want to wear it, and I’m grateful for the closet being part of a house that has walls and a roof that keep out the worst of the cold.

Silly-HolidaysWe often take for granted what less fortunate people would consider luxuries. We set aside a day here and a day there to give lip service to the giving of thanks, the honouring of lovers, parents, veterans and a host of others to whom we see fit to throw a bone. “Here you go, secretaries. It’s not much, but we’re calling today National Secretary Day! As soon as you’ve read that card, I’ll have a coffee with two sugars. Thanks for being you!”

Our culture has moulded us into people that can never have enough. Everywhere we turn we’re told that we’re missing out on something – a new power drill, an iPhone6, a bigger or tidier home, a more luxurious car, vacations in the sun, and most importantly … money, money, money!

and then we'll get himEven though studies have definitively shown that those with heaps of money are not significantly happier than those with enough to comfortably cover their needs, we’re still told that it is only with the amassing of wealth that we can really be content.

In reality, rich people are not all tanning by their dollar-shaped pools while chatting casually with the men and women we’ve elevated to media stardom. They’re far more likely to be spending their time trying to get yet more money, in any way possible, and are probably more anxious and hostile than you are when trying to decide whether to go with a name brand tin of peas or the generic house brand.

Scrooge-PorpoiseBeing addicted to money is like being addicted to drugs; at first, a small amount gives you a buzz, but as time goes by, you need higher and higher doses to maintain the high. And if money is your drug, that upward spiral contains another component – a need to have more than anyone else, to have it all, regardless of whom it damages. Exorbitant, mindless wealth precludes empathy towards those who struggle to survive on minimum wage or government assistance.

“The peasants have no bread!” “Then let them eat cake,” tittered Queen Marie Antoinette. Her joke, rather than having them rolling in the aisles, soon had heads rolling from the guillotine instead.

That anecdote is likely only the fabrication of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his autobiographical, “Confessions,” but has been used ever since as a cautionary tale of the perils of great wealth and self-indulgence in the face of social unrest. One would think the lesson would be self-explanatory, but apparently the accumulation of wealth does not always translate to the accumulation of historical knowledge.

In Canada, we can point to arriviste Kevin O’Leary, who, with a net worth of US$300 million that the true 1% would consider pocket change, can’t seem to stop patting himself on the back. When he’s not crowing over his own wealth, he’s exhorting the poor of the world to pull themselves up by their socks – even if they don’t own any socks.

But of course, that’s the dream we’ve been sold since the Industrial Revolution. “Come, work for me, make me wealthy and I will share my largesse. You too can be like me, all you need do is work hard, save your money, and keep your nose to the grindstone.” And we bought it, for decades. We called it the Protestant work ethic, and called anyone who didn’t agree lazy and stupid.

scrooge silly pleasures“The Protestant work ethic (or the Puritan work ethic) is a concept in theology, sociology, economics and history which emphasizes hard work, frugality and diligence as a constant display of a person’s salvation in the Christian faith, in contrast to the focus upon religious attendance, confession, and ceremonial sacrament in the Catholic tradition.

The phrase was initially coined in 1904–5 by Max Weber in his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.” (Wikipedia.org)

We forget that his essay was his observations on the Germany of his time, and not a ‘how-to’ manual. Weber considered himself agnostic. His argument was that Catholicism, with its emphasis on doing good works in the hope of eternal salvation, rather than pursuing wealth for its own sake, impeded the development of the capitalist economy in the West.

Capitalism depends upon everyone in the society believing in the same goals. When the West had a booming middle class, there was room within the prosperity to dream of a country free of traditional constraints. We could reach out a hand to those who needed help, be they poor or infirm, or young or old. That sense of community resulted in government safety nets and a surge of infrastructure building that connected and included all of the people, regardless of their economic place.

North America looked at what they had wrought in the 1940’s and ‘50’s, and found it good. Good enough to not make a priority again until it started to collapse around us.

glittering TorontoIt’s been decades since the roads and bridges and communities were put in place, decades in which the needs of the wealthy became more important in politics than the needs of the tax payer. In Toronto, once Canada’s most glittering city, our highways are clogged with commuters, while our transit system is woefully inadequate to shuttle workers from their homes to their jobs. The local politicians have been arguing about whether to tear down the eastern end of the Gardiner Expressway since the 1990’s. And the majority of our subway system, which opened in 1954, is held together with patches and prayers.

business and politicsThere’s blame enough for everyone at this sorry state. Although we love to complain about ‘the system,’ every aspiring politician has to present a platform that will be seen to not only address community issues, but cost the tax payer less. Once in office, the newly elected official can point to budgetary concerns, and remind us all that there aren’t any funds since he’s cut taxes, just as we requested. Or that they are working on a solution, but we mustn’t hope to see real change until some year in the future where they will hopefully no longer be held accountable for the project and the additional costs incurred during the delay.

Politics on crosswordFor corporations, political concerns are less about the community, and more about expediting the accumulation of more wealth. Despite needing an infrastructure that allows workers to arrive at the work place on time, and roads and other delivery systems to get product to consumers, the emphasis is placed squarely on tax cuts that they have convinced politicians, and even many consumers, will result in a more equitable distribution of wealth.

Corporations spend billions on pushing forward measures that will deny workers fair wages and benefits, and will spend yet more on media essentially blackmailing consumers into giving them what they demand. Health care, no. More tax cuts, yes. Or we’ll take our ball (company, franchise) and go home. Many even believe that we have no other alternative but to agree.

The last several decades of austerity for the general public, but unheard of wealth for the few, is slowly shaping us into a timid, obedient mass, who are only valued as long as we are able to further enrich business through our labour and consumption of goods and services.

hedonic-treadmillThe pursuit of happiness has become a joyless pursuit of money, dooming its followers to an endless treadmill of greed and desperation. You’ll never catch up to the 1%, no matter how hard you try, but real happiness and satisfaction can be had in a life that encompasses empathy, generosity, and gratitude for what you’ve achieved.

Has Democracy Become A Luxury?


With the onset of computers and advanced technology, the lines separating the haves and the have-nots have grown so far apart that 1% One Percentof the wealthy elite essentially controls the fate of 99% of the rest of the planet. The development of robotic manufacturing techniques has reduced the number of people necessary to run factories and plants. Access to cheaper labour in third world countries increases a corporation’s bottom line, at the expense of jobs in the corporations location. The rich get richer. But at the expense of the middle and lower classes.

Capitalism is a funny thing; at its best, capitalism should promote economic growth, as measured by a standard of living enjoyed across the whole of its extended reach. Proponents would argue that this give and take would bring about a better availability of food, housing, clothing, and health care, better education for children, and the ability to provide for the elderly and less fortunate. Capitalism assumes a level playing field, where more opportunities exist for individuals to create their own businesses or new professions.

99 percentBut in practice, “capitalist economies prioritize profits and capital accumulation over the social needs of communities, and capitalist enterprises rarely include the workers in the basic decisions of the enterprise.” (Tom Brass, author and academic, University of Cambridge.)

Modern day capitalism has its origins in slavery and indentured servants; “when historians talk about the Atlantic market revolution, they are talking about capitalism. And when they are talking about capitalism, they are talking about slavery.” (Greg Grandin, Historian.)

Politicians have pandered to the wealthy for decades. “Reaganomics,” or “the trickle-down theory,” posited that “tax breaks or other economic benefits for businesses and upper income levels will benefit poorer members of society by improving the economy as a whole. “ (Wikipedia)Trickle Down

It’s a lovely thought, but just a theory, I’m afraid. Corporate and personal greed eclipsed the high-minded ideals, and by 2008, after the spectacular 2007 global collapse of the banking system, economist Alan Greenspan admitted to the United States Congress that, “The whole intellectual edifice collapsed. I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders. … I was shocked.”

In 2013, Pope Francis issued an 84-page paper describing unfettered capitalism as “a new tyranny” and calling upon world leaders to fight rising poverty and inequality: “Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.” (Wikipedia)

crashSo, on the one hand, capitalism has the potential to benefit both the job creators and the workers, while raising the overall standard of living for society. On the other hand, capitalism can create economic and social instability, fiscal inequality, endanger or destroy the natural resources of its own or other countries, and has only to hold its own self accountable for how profits are distributed throughout that society, whether through payrolls, donations, or taxation.

Ah, what to do, what to do? In 2010, in the United States, politicians decided that giving even more power to corporations would benefit their parties.

“Still, for decades, candidate elections remained free of direct corporate influence under federal law. Only money from individuals and groups of individuals — political action committees — were permitted in federal elections.

citizensunitedThen came Citizens United, the Supreme Court’s 5-4 First Amendment decision in 2010 that extended to corporations for the first time full rights to spend money as they wish in candidate elections — federal, state and local. The decision reversed a century of legal understanding, unleashed a flood of campaign cash and created a crescendo of controversy that continues to build today.

It matters not, the court said just this year, that some speakers (corporations), because of the money they spend on elections, may have undue influence on public policy; what is important is that the First Amendment protects both speech and speaker, and the ideas that flow from each.” (http://www.npr.org/2014/07/28/335288388/when-did-companies-become-people-excavating-the-legal-evolution)

CRONYISMIn exchange for receiving personhood, corporations sponsor politicians. And the politicians slash tax rates and offer tax credits and benefits in response. It’s a perpetual motion machinery that keeps power and money in the hands of those already in politics or corporate businesses, and gives an unfair monetary advantage to the wishes of the wealthy, while muffling the voices of socially conscious citizens who believe in a democratic government.

In Canada, under the law, a corporation has the same rights and obligations as a natural person. It can acquire assets, go into debt, enter into contracts, sue or be sued, and even be found guilty of committing a crime. A corporation’s money and other assets belong to the corporation and not to its shareholders.

Our politicians, well aware that corporations have money to burn, have adopted similar tax cuts and incentives. Corporations are taxed at 38% of taxable income, which drops to 28% after federal tax abatement, and then drops again after general tax reductions. The net tax rate for corporations keeps falling, from 18% (2010,) to 16.5% (2011,) to 15% ( 2012,) For Canadian-controlled private corporations claiming the small business deduction, the net tax rate is 11%.

taxesContrast that with your personal tax rate for this year, which is 15% on the first $44,701 of taxable income, 22% on the next $44,700, 26% up to $138,586, and 29% of taxable income over $138,586.

Most Canadians believe that those with higher incomes ought to share a bit more of the tax burden than those with low incomes, especially businesses and corporations which rely on public infrastructure to do business. Taxation lawyers argue, however, that wealthy corporations taxed more than poorer ones will simply split themselves into smaller entities to avoid the higher taxation. And a smart high-income person with good lawyers and accountants will form small corporations to shelter their income.

The harsh reality is that Harper’s government has given businesses an extra $50 billion in tax cuts and credits in the last few years. And due to cuts to the GST, personal and corporate taxes, Ottawa now collects about $45 billion less revenue per year. Meanwhile, plans are in place to cut public health funding by $36 billion over the next 10 years. Retirement age will be raised to the age of 67. Education and child care are low priorities, and our veterans are disrespected by the very people they protected during foreign wars.

InfrastructureThe rate of economic growth, government revenues and employment could be raised by investing in infrastructure like mass transit, but where can you find the funds to do so when you’ve already spent the taxpayer’s funds on corporate incentives, security, policing, corrections, spy agencies and multimillion-dollar taxpayer-funded ad campaigns designed to get Canadians to vote Conservative in the next federal.election?

Capitalism appears to be trumping the objectives of democracy; the voices of the people are unheard, while money and power remain in the hands of the rich and the powerful.

It would seem that true democracy cannot co-exist with unrestrained Capitalism.

buyDemocracyStrip

But Does CANADA Have Freedom of Expression?


On Thursday, while discussing the world’s response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre, I said, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, however, did not focus on freedom of expression, instead taking a militant stance on the terrorist aspect.”

Canada freedom of Expression3I need to correct that, as in fact, Mr. Harper did later add, When a trio of hooded men struck at some of our most cherished democratic principles – freedom of expression, freedom of the press – they assaulted democracy everywhere.”

His original official statement released Wednesday morning, however, lacked those sentiments.

Which is why I was not at all surprised to hear that the Conservatives immediately doubled down on the macho, creating a web page that asked for Canadian support, i.e. a continued dependence upon the Conservative Party in general, and Stephen Harper specifically.

Cons web pageAgainst a background of sepia toned armed men, and headed “Standing Up Against Terrorism,” the message reads, in part, “Canadians can count on Prime Minister Harper and our Conservative Government to ensure the safety of Canadians while protecting their rights. Add your name to support strong leadership:”

Until Liberal foreign affairs critic Marc Garneau took to Twitter to complain that “Conservatives fundraising off an ongoing terrorist act is offensive and totally crass,” the page also included a large “Donate Now” button.

When interviewed, NDP MP Charlie Angus added, “They are using for their own political advantage the deaths of innocent people in other countries.”

The button has since been removed, “to avoid confusion,” according to Cory Hann, the Tories director of communications. “This was not, and is not, a fundraising campaign,” he added. “This was to inform Canadians about the Prime Minister’s strong remarks yesterday against the despicable terrorism in Paris.”

To be fair, both the Liberal and NDP main pages also featured donation request buttons above their leaders’ words on the tragedy, although those were quickly removed after the outcry. Yes, all three parties took the opportunity to beg for support and donations for their own cause as the world mourned the dead, and Canadian politicians pumped up their mailing lists for the next election.

But lost in all of the rhetoric over the tempest in a Twitter cup is the hypocrisy of the government in rushing to be seen to protect the rights of people anywhere in the world while denying those same rights to their own citizens.

Harper You Won't Recognize CanadaHarper has consistently used the court system to silence his foes and critics, while implementing funding cuts to groups that would allow ordinary Canadians to have access to legal representation. The national press corps have been controlled and managed, and any dissenters that might shed light on opposing views silenced and arrested. His own cabinet know that to disagree with the Party is to court reprisal.

In 2013, under Harper, Canada removed Section 13(1), the anti-hate provision of the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA), which prohibited hate speech on grounds of race, religion, ethnicity, etc., in the name of Freedom of Expression. Canada has stood by while the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) ruled that Al-Jazeera Arabic TV could not be shown in Canada without a censorship mechanism to censor unacceptable or anti-Semitic speech, despite the fact that the service is broadcast in 50 nations, including Israel, without such restrictions.

In 2014, Harper addressed the Israeli Knesset, and equated criticisms of the Israeli state and its policies with anti-Semitism, which raises serious concerns about his government’s commitment to protecting political speech in Canada.

Under the Harper government, Canada freedom of expression2media policies were introduced to tightly control access to Canada’s federal scientists. Once allowed to openly discuss their work with the media and public, interviews must now be approved ahead of time, the scientists’ responses monitored, and in several documented cases, researchers have been prevented from giving interviews on the order of ministers office’s.

The Canadian Science Writers Association (CSWA) and the Association des communicateurs scientifiques won the 14th annual Press Freedom Award in 2012 for their work in exposing how the government has silenced scientists.

PQ Quebec CharterIn Quebec, free speech is a joke under the guise of the Charter of Quebec Values. It’s the Canadian French as decided by the Parti Québécois Way or the highway.

For Harper to declare, as Canada’s representative, Canada freedom of expressionthat he will fight for freedom of speech and freedom of expression, while denying Canadians such rights, is hypocritical and self-serving.

And ultimately, what is happening in Canada and around the world proves that it is the rich and the powerful that have true freedoms. Those vulnerable groups who need it the most just can’t afford it.

Writing? Me Arse!


Some days I wake up charged with ideas and passion, unable to sleep as I mentally write the day’s blog. Other days, I’m like the Marion Keyes’ character in “The Woman Who Stole My Life,” who, while trying to begin a woman who stole my lifesecond book, finds herself spending hours in front of the keyboard, only to finally type just one word … arse.

This is an arse day.

charlie-hebdo-cartoon2Oh, I have lots of thoughts reeling through my mind, on many subjects. I’m trying to parse my feelings about the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and reading compelling follow up articles that have different takes on the ongoing siege and tragedy. I’m listening to what others have to say, whether they come from a militant or pacifist angle.

I’m receiving mail and messages commenting on the role of empathy in a democratic society, and decrying the position the Far Right has taken in regards to the less fortunate. The loudest voices always seem to demand more for those that already have so much, and less for those with basic needs.

I’m contemplating the ‘bad eggs’ in society, those who continually get away with actions that would land an ordinary citizen in jail, but whose allegiances with corporate or political factions keep them safe and in powerful positions. speak the truthAnd, despite the world’s embracing of the “I Am Charlie” manifesto, and the vaunted demand for freedom of expression, I’m a little frightened myself to talk against those in power, for fear of reprisals.

I’m inwardly chuckling over people who use their 15 seconds sarah palin ebolaof fame to insert their feet so thoughtfully into their mouths. What would we do without the Rob Fords, Sarah Palins and Kardashians of the world? They seem to exist solely to play the role of court jester in the mainstream media.

I’m mulling over how easy it is to be misunderstood when presenting one’s ideas. MISUNDERSTANDING-facebookWith few cues in the printed word beyond exclamation marks and emoticons, communication can become muddied through what is written, and how it is perceived. A simple sentence, tossed away in easy face to face conversation, can be taken in social media as a declaration of war. Perhaps the pen is indeed mightier than the sword. wink smiley

Certainly there are days when a winky smiley face can defuse a hothead.

I’m also feeling very grateful that I can count so many intelligent, creative and fascinating people amongst my friends, both on social media and in real life. Not everyone agrees with what I have to say, but that’s a good thing – if we all spent time in complete agreement on every subject, we would soon be bored. The key to understanding any part of life is listening to all sides of the story. As long as we can listen to other viewpoints without losing our tempers and stalking away, we keep the dialogue open and let fresh air into our minds.

So perhaps it’s not so much an ‘arse’ day as it is a day to regroup one’s thoughts, and decide where energies should be concentrated. mental-health-dayWriting clarifies thinking, and concentrates random concepts so that they can hopefully be understood both by the writer and the reader. In order to present ideas that are ideally both important and well-expressed, the odd ‘arse’ day may be as necessary to a writer as a mental health day to those more gainfully employed.

At least that’s today’s excuse. (insert winky smiley face.)

ThinkingClearly Mitch Blunt

We Are Charlie


As many a politician and popular figure has discovered the hard way, the right to free speech is a double-edged sword.

Certainly, every democratic country guarantees your right to speak your mind. It does not, however, protect you from being ridiculed or despised by those who disagree with your opinions. free speech

I had an entirely different blog in mind for today, but the events in France yesterday preclude anyone who values freedom of expression from talking about anything but the murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo. (‘hebdo’ is a term used in French to mean weekly journal.)

On January 7, two masked gunmen carrying Kalashnikovs, and identifying themselves as al-Qaeda, entered the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine, opened fire on an editorial meeting, and murdered 12 people – eight journalists, two office staff, and two police officers.

Among the dead are some of France’s most beloveJe Suis Charlied and well-known cartoonists and writers, including Stephane ‘Charb’ Charbonnier, 47, artist and publisher of Charlie Hebdo, and Jean ‘Cabu’ Cabut, 76, Charlie Hebdo’s lead cartoonist, who was given the Legion of Honour, France’s highest decoration, in 2005.

Also slain were Georges Wolinski, 80, previously of Hara-Kiri, a satirical magazine; Bernard ‘Tignous’ Verlhac, 57, a member of a group of artists called ‘Cartoonists for Peace’; Bernard Maris – known as ‘Uncle Bernard’, 68, economic journalist; Phillipe ‘Honore’ Honore, 73, cartoonist, for Charlie Hebdo since 1992; Michel Renaud, former journalist and political staffer; Mustapha Ourrad, copy editor; and Elsa Cayat, analyst and columnist. hebdo weapons

This was not the first time Charlie Hebdo had come under attack. Its offices were firebombed in November of 2011, after the magazine published a caricature of the Prophet Mohammed, and even French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius once famously asked the magazine, “Is it really sensible or intelligent to pour oil on the fire?”

France, with a Muslim population of 5 million, the largest in Europe, has faced decades of internal tensions. Charlie Hebdo’s satirical covers and cartoons were famous for provocatively lampooning religion, with a special emphasis on Muslim extremism.

Regardless of the gunmen’s religious views, 12 people were murdered, and the men who committed the crime need to be caught and punished. And certainly, no one in a democratic country should fear a penalty of death for speaking their mind.

The national motto of France originates from the French Revolution. Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.)  charlie-hebdo-3On Wednesday night, thousands of Parisians showed solidarity with the victims by attending a vigil on the Place de la Republique, holding up homemade signs with the word, “Je Suis Charlie,” (I am Charlie) and spelling out the words in votive candles.

French police continue to search for the gunmen, one of whom has confirmed jihadist links. It is feared the fugitives could be planning another terrorist attack.

The world is in shock. Tributes and support have flooded into France as the Free World mourns the vicious attack. John Kerry, US Secretary of State, joined the outcry, saying, “freedom of expression is not able to be killed by this kind of act of terror.” Je Suis Charlie2

German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the murders as an attack on “freedom of expression — a key component of our free democratic culture.”

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, however, did not focus on freedom of expression, instead taking a militant stance on the terrorist aspect. “Canada and its allies will not be intimidated and will continue to stand firmly together against terrorists who would threaten the peace, freedom and democracy our countries so dearly value.”

Freedom of Expression is not just a North American or European belief.  human rightsThe United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, says: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

The response to offensive but non-violent speech is more speech, not violence or legal reprisals. The response to unprovoked violence is legal pursuit and justice being served upon the perpetrators.

Despite our horror and condemnation of this act, we must understand that murdering innocent people in the name of some ‘noble cause’ is still murder. A few madmen extremists who hope to be martyred in the name of their religion cannot take away our rights. But it is down to every citizen of every democratic country to continue to demand the right to freedom of expression, and to never take that right for granted.

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Empathy By Degrees


My cats hate each other, but they hate winter more. cats fightingBoth Big Blonde and the Black Whiner have finally come to one agreement; cold and snow are not to be tolerated.

My cats are very lucky. They live lives of relative luxury; they are loved, well-fed, and taken care of when they are ill or needy.

The two homeless men that died in Toronto during the cold snap of this week were not so lucky. As temperatures plummeted, the men – one found dead in a downtown bus shelter wearing only jeans, a T-shirt, and a hospital bracelet; the other found dead in an abandoned delivery truck parked in the city’s west end on Monday – were 55 and 60 years old.

There hasn’t been a lot of information released yet on these men’s backgrounds. homeless in toronto winterIt seems they’ve already been filed underhomeless,’ and for many people, that’s enough to make a judgment. “Those” people – those that have fallen through society’s cracks and who bother us by begging for spare change, or whom we step over as they sleep on heating grates in one of North America’s richest cities – rarely elicit more than a ‘tsk’ from those who have jobs, families, friends, and societal approval.

In Toronto, the Mayor’s office issues an extreme cold weather alert when the temperature plummets to –15 C, (5 below, in Fahrenheit,) or when Environment Canada‘s forecast includes factors like wind chill and precipitation. The city has to do so, as even if there were enough shelters to hold our most vulnerable residents, there are many who would still brave the cold rather than seek shelter. The cold weather alert releases additional resources, like warming centres, in those cases. homelessDSC00414

Despite the cold snap that descended on Toronto on Monday morning, the city did not call an alert. On Tuesday morning, temperatures reached -20 C with wind chill, but the actual temperature was -14 C, just above the range. Imagine being outside and homeless, chilled to the bone, teeth rattling as you shiver, and contemplating that one degree of separation.

Even though an extreme cold weather alert had not been issued by Toronto Public Health (TPH,) Mayor John Tory requested last night that the city manager open Toronto’s two 24-hour warming centres.

toronto-homeless1-622x414TWO warming centres, in a city with an estimated population of more than 2800 people living on the streets on any given night.

On the bright side, during an extreme cold weather alert, shelters are directed to relax service restrictions, allowing some homeless, known to be mentally unstable or disruptive, a chance to “warm up.” Transit tokens are made available at drop-in centres so that people can reach shelters, additional shelter spaces are made available, and there is an increase in street outreach and transportation services.

Gaetan Heroux, a member of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, organized a protest at City Hall yesterday, as the hashtag #CallTheAlert trended on Twitter. Toronto residents calling for action gathered outside the Mayor’s office criticized the city’s policy of 15C below. With two dead in two days, Toronto Public Health (TPH) still defended the -15 C threshold, saying that their conclusions are appropriate, and based on science.

Meanwhile, local radio and television statements urged pet owners to be diligent in keeping their furry friends indoors, as the cold could lead to frostbite and long-term health problems.

Environment Canada has issued an extreme cold weather warning for today, forecasting that the wind chill will make it feel like close to –30 in the afternoon and overnight.

My cats are lucky; they’ll be safe and warm, well-fed, and being cared for by people that love them. homeless in Toronto2But for the homeless in Toronto, there’ll be two warming shelters, begrudgingly allowing its citizens with physical, emotional or financial problems to “warm up,” – but only when it’s below 15C.

From the City of Toronto’s website: “If you see someone whom you think requires street outreach assistance, call 311. Note that 311 is not an emergency number. In an emergency, dial 911.”

The Short-Sightedness of Corporate Greed


In the midst of those post-holiday, January credit card blues, the Toronto Star business section headline on New Year’s Day trumpeted, “CEO pay returns to ‘glory days.’ Canada’s top 100 CEOs earned an average of $9.2 million in 2013, hitting pre-recession highs.”

While I’m sure the 100 families who benefited from those riches preened in delight, I thought the timing a little harsh for the rest of the country. The average Canadian worker has received little to no raises in the last ten years, and even those on a yearly review schedule can rarely bank on more than a pitiable 2-4% increase.

The average Canadian earned $47,358 in 2013.  ceo-salary-cdn

“The list of high-flying executives was led by Gerald Schwarz, CEO of Onex Corp., who earned $87.9 million in 2013, most of it in stock options. Nadir Mohamed, who was then CEO of Rogers Communications Inc., earned $26.7 million. Michael M. Wilson, of Agrium Inc., earned $23.8 million. All five CEOs of Canada’s biggest banks were in the top 30.(Toronto Star, Jan 1, 2015)

I don’t begrudge anyone a good income. But these figures are insane by any measure. While it must be said that the CEO’s earning these high wages did so through stock options, and hopefully, good corporate leadership, there is another side to their recompense; the people who work – or used to work – in the companies they manage.

“Canada’s highest-paid CEOs earned 195 times the average Canadian in 2013. That’s up from 105 times in 1998, the oldest date for which comparable figures are available. … However, even the lowest-paid CEO on the list earned more in 2013 than in 2008. While little data is available on CEO pay prior to the 1990s, it is generally accepted that the ratio of executive pay to average pay in the late 1980s was 40:1 in the U.S. and somewhat lower in Canada.” (Toronto Star)

There are only a few ways that a business can continually increase profit over previous years, which increases the value of the stock, and thereby compels the Board of Directors to approve a CEO’s earnings (which include options and bonuses); by introducing a new product so fantastic and coveted that consumers flock to purchase the item, or by reducing assets and/or staff and/or increasing prices.

That’s where the human toll comes in.

(In the 1990’s) “compensation experts came up with the idea of granting a portion of CEO pay in stock options, in which executives are granted options to buy shares at a “strike” price, usually the current market value of the share. Executives can’t “exercise” the option until a future date, at which time the share might be worth more or less than the original strike price. If the shares are worth more, the executive can opt to “buy” the stock and then immediately sell it at the new, higher value. If they are worth less, he or she can simply let the option expire at no cost to them.

Boards of directors were sold on the idea that options would more closely link executive pay to company performance. Instead, the practice encouraged share price volatility at the expense of long-term value, critics say. Among other things, they say, stock options have encouraged executives to cut costs, lay off staff, sell assets and merge with other firms — all to boost the share price in the short term, often at the expense of the company’s future value. They have also led to the rise of activist investors and hedge funds that buy shares in companies with the goal of splitting them up in order to unlock shareholder value.” (Toronto Star)

I suppose the greed is understandable, even though at that level, money becomes little more than paper to be shuffled about. Greed, accompanied by hubris and a massive sense of self-satisfaction, coupled with a belief that the party will never end, and bolstered by his/her cronies in the same tax bracket, good lawyers and accountants, and a taxation system that treats stock options as capital gains, despite stock options carrying none of the risk associated with normal stock purchases.

A dollar earned through a stock option is worth two dollars of salary income. The difference amounts to a public subsidy paid to these already highly compensated executives.” (author, economist Hugh Mackenzie, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives)

These executives would also have superior benefits, perks befitting their pedestaled positions, and a golden handshake agreement that would see them being even better recompensed should they ever be asked to leave the corporation. In contrast, the staff remaining after deep cuts and asset sales would find themselves clinging desperately to their jobs, despite usually having to shoulder the additional responsibilities of their now dispatched former co-workers.

In the long term, that corporate greed that has created such high unemployment in Canada (about 6.6% as of November of 2014, which will drop after seasonal positions are gone,) translates to nearly 1.3 million potential clients and customers who no longer have the income to purchase goods or services from the purveyors. 90% off store

(That figure only includes Canadians who continue to actively seek employment. It does not include those who are underemployed, or who have given up on ever finding another salaried position. To put it yet another way, in a population of 35.16 million, only 17.7 million have jobs.)

Between the shrinking job force, smaller cash reserves available for purchases, and an aging population, the wealthier of whom may move to a warmer country or the poorer who may have to rely solely on government support during their old age, it soon becomes clear that the highest paid executives are playing a zero-sum game.

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(added Jan. 7/15 – from Huffington Post: “Some 70 per cent of businesses expect growth this year, but only half of them will hire. The result? Stress and burnout for workers…

National Bank chief economist Stefane Marion says Ontario’s growth will be slowed by the fact that the manufacturing sector was gutted during the financial crisis and recession. During previous economic recoveries, Ontario had excess capacity in its factories and could quickly benefit from an increased demand for exports.However, much of that capacity was lost after the last recession and will take some time to rebuild, Marion says.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/01/06/hiring-canada-employee-burnout-hays_n_6424332.html

Complacency In A World Gone Mad Is Madness


Some people think I’m too political, too easily angered by social inequality, and the machinations of Machiavellian leaders, both politically and in the corporate world. Some think I should stop getting myself all wound up when I read news or statistics that scream injustice is being done – to anyone, anywhere. After all, they say, what can YOU do about it anyway? May as well play another game of Sudoku, have a nap, or scroll through Facebook looking for pictures of cute kittens and puppies.  Relaxing-GIF-2015_1

Keep your head down, they say. Keep your voice down. If you personally are not ready to throw your own hat into the ring, shut up and eat the gruel. Otherwise you and your family may find yourself targeted by those in power, who have the ability to investigate your words and actions, make life difficult for you through quasi-legal measures, and/or arrest you for speaking your mind.

Welcome to George Orwell’s 1984, finally here in 2015. Big Brother IS watching you. He’s trolling social media, and tapping the phones of anyone he pleases. He’s quashing peaceful protests and jailing innocent bystanders. And using the resources of a ‘grateful nation’s’ tax dollars to do so.

We’ve been lulled into complacency. Broadcast and social media keep tossing the inconsequential, the absurd, and the petty transgressions of pop stars into our daily lives, neatly obscuring revelations of injustice and criminal misdeeds.

In reference to the dismantling of Canada’s national broadcaster, the CBC, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been quoted as saying, “Well, first we’re going to get them on their knees and then we’re going to restructure them.” This could just as easily be applied to how the civilized world has been broken, and is indeed being restructured, into a nation of people too addled by frivolity and too frightened of consequences, to demand justice and social change.

Those who oppose the new status quo find themselves ridiculed, even reviled, for daring to speak up. Is it any wonder that peaceful protests are so rare, in the face of rogue policing, corporate manipulation and outright legalized disparagement?  police brutalityThose who question find themselves shouted down by the louder voices of those who firmly believe that it is only through brute force that the masses can be contained. Those louder voices need to keep the money and the power flowing through the right veins.

We must ask ourselves, why have we let politicians and corporations carve up the planet and remake it to best serve their own interests? And when did the pursuit of triviality overcome our own basic need for justice? Yes, it’s tiresome to react to the horrors, both legal and non, that we read about daily. But the situation is only going to get worse if we don’t demand answers. We need leaders with global vision that goes beyond their own narrow beliefs and lust for power.

And in order to get those leaders, we have to get our heads out of our own backsides, and demand more of ourselves and of those we’ve put into power.

(for more info on the destruction of the CBC, here’s a blog I wrote in November 2014 that might be of interest:)

https://bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2014/11/23/roxanne-tellier-death-by-a-thousand-cuts-why-you-should-care-about-the-cbc/