Saturday, December 31, 2011

Michael Ignatieff calls for a new politics of fairness

By Michael Ignatieff, Globe and Mail, December 31, 2011
(Michael Ignatieff is a Senior Resident at Massey College, University of Toronto.)
It has taken three years of this recession for me to appreciate something my father, a Russian immigrant who came of age in the Depression, once told me about hard times. When I asked him what it was like in the Dirty Thirties, he said that if you had a job it was okay: In fact, it was like being in the heated parlour car in the front of the train, while the unemployed were in the unheated freight cars at the back.
The same is true today. Three years into our great Depression, the cardinal political fact of hard times is: We are not all in this together.

When the fallen (and unlamented) Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was asked how serious the economic crisis was, he replied, “What crisis?” The restaurants in Milan were full. Similarly in North America, restaurants in our cities are doing a brisk trade. For people with jobs – not just the 1 per cent – the guilty pleasures of recession include rising house prices, cheap money and good meals.
The recession is highly selective: a nightmare for some, no more than distant thunder for many. Unionized workers in the public sector are better protected than non-unionized workers in the private sector. Native-born workers are less likely to be fired than recently arrived immigrants. The skilled fare better than the unskilled, the educated better than the uneducated, and aboriginals worst of all.
The same holds true across the world. In Europe, Germans are better off than Greeks – northern countries are better off than southern ones. Common action to save the euro took so long because resentmenttowards their feckless southern partners blinded the Germans to their own interests. Or ask Brazilians: Crisis? What crisis? They’ve never had it so good.
Ask Canadians, too. Our unemployment rate is 2 per cent lower than south of the border and our banks are not about to fail. The struggles of high-tech champions such as Research in Motion are masked, for most, by the surging resource rents from commodities markets. The full burden falls on relatively few regions and few shoulders – aboriginals, young people without post-secondary education, older workers in declining resource sectors and recent immigrants.
Yet in the end no one escapes the great fear.
Even those with secure jobs understand that this is an epochal restructuring of the global economy, the first downturn in which the developing world is gaining power, wealth and jobs at the expense of the developed. In the emerging division of labour with Asia, jobs will not come back for millions of middle-class Westerners who grew up working in manufacturing and services. The jobs of the future will be in health and elder care, and in high-skill areas requiring either advanced computer literacy or doctorates. No one, especially workers in their 50s, can feel secure.
The political response is fragmented. In the United States, the Republicans defend tax cuts designed to render the new inequality permanent, while the Democrats want to hike taxes on the rich to save public services. Each party’s approach is less a solution than an attempt to entrench the privileges of the groups that support them.
The age is crying out for a different kind of politics, one that rallies people around the idea of fighting the great fear together. President Obama’s Osawatomie speech earlier this month – in which he denounced inequality and called for restoring middle-class security – can be the start for that new politics, but its success will come down to persuading the majority who are holding on that their future depends on doing something for those who are slipping back.
Recessions at first divide, but as they persist and deepen, even the rich discover that their own prosperity will be threatened. The Germans thought they could cut the Greeks and Italians loose: They’ve learned that the weak can bring down the strong. Societies torn apart by resentment, fear and anger are not much better for the rich than they are for the poor. The message the young people in Occupy Wall Street want us to hear is that societies that cannot face a crisis together are sick. Societies that cannot fix their injustices will eventually break down.

A company president who takes home a good salary plus bonuses tied to performance while providing employment to workers and dividends to investors ought not to be a problematic figure for anyone. The company president whose compensation package does not include any penalties for failure, and whose profit seeking exposes his employees to bankruptcy, his investors to loss and the economy to shock waves is another matter entirely.
Government regulators must be there to protect people from predatory profit-taking that puts the rest of us at risk. Regulating corporate governance will do more than reform the boardrooms. It will rebuild a good society’s most important asset – the sense that our system is fair.
Many of the worst excesses of the age of greed occurred in markets that were anything but free, anything but transparent. Government must be there to clean up markets riven by fraud, corruption, insider trading and toxic products that made risk systemic. Competition demands that governments are prepared to use their anti-trust, anti-monopoly functions to dismantle institutions that have become “too big to fail.”
We should tax the rich, not to punish them for their success or use them as a cash cow to fund social programs, but so that they pay for a fair portion of the public goods that account for so much of their private wealth – and so that we can reduce taxation on those who can least afford it. Fairness also means a simpler tax system with fewer exemptions. This would help remedy one of the cardinal reasons our society feels unfair – that some get all the breaks.
A politics of fairness is also a politics of growth. Fair societies are more dynamic and more innovative. In fair societies, people don’t think the game is rigged before it begins. Success goes by what you know, not who you know. And people don’t waste emotions and energy on resentment and anger. They are too busy thinking up the next big thing.
Nobody can say we are fair now. Anyone in the parlour car knows the freight cars behind are packed with cold and angry people. Realizing that we are actually on the same train would be a start.
Editor's note:
We hope this will not be the last time Canadians have the opportunity to hear from the fallen Liberal Party leader.
And we also hope that his call for a politics of "fairness" can find resonance in all political parties, in all countries around the world.


Friday, December 30, 2011

Maioni: Wish list from Quebec for 2012

By Antonia Maioni, Globe and Mail, December 28, 2011
Antonia Maioni is an associate professor of political science at McGill University.

Expect a government of grownups.
Reviewing the record on issues from climate change to gun control to Attawapiskat, many of us wonder what’s happening to our country.

And with the continued spectacle of ministerial blame avoidance on the one hand and sophomoric political high jinks on the other, we may also be wondering when Parliament will start behaving like the responsible institution we expect it to be.
Seek an opposition with a pulse: As a political scientist, I was intrigued to witness the election of Canada’s first social democratic opposition. As a Quebecker, I’m speechless at the weakness of the province’s voice in Ottawa.
Get more respect for the F-word: It’s incredible that, in an officially bilingual country, we now have open season on the French language. Bilingualism should be an opportunity that Canada offers to every Canadian; instead, it’s become the whipping child of anti-French sentiment across the land.

Get over 1812: Here’s the reality: that, in 2012, Canadians will face an economic situation that offers no measure of certainty for anyone, in an atmosphere of apprehension about the growing spectre of inequality – individual, generational, regional – and the costs associated with social programs that need revitalization.

Here’s the fantasy: that 1812 should be celebrated with pageants and parades as a monumental turning point in our collective lives. What we need are real-time nation-building projects that look to the future, not to the past, for inspiration.
Let God save the Queen: I’m about the closest thing Quebec has to a monarchist. As a child, I listened to the Queen’s Christmas broadcasts and, as a girl, I was entranced by Princess Diana. I remain a lifelong British history buff. But, like religion, an appreciation of the monarchy is best left to the personal sphere.

Canadians don’t need more superficial reminders of Her Majesty through colonial spectacles of pomp and circumstance. What we really need is to understand the relevance of the Crown to Canada’s history, and to think about whether this is still necessary to our political system in 2012 and beyond.
Thanks to Professor Maioni for a modest, yet penetrating piece from Quebec on our nation's "state of the union."
French is not as respected by this government as it once was, and one obvious reason is that they have garnered a majority without Quebec. The new Canadian political landscape says that with Ontario and the West, a majority is possible, and Quebec no longer commands the attention she once did. Hence, her linguistic and cultural aspirations are diminished on the national stage.
Replacing English-French relations with monarchy, the War of 1812 and ministerial "blame avoidance" or simply ministerial responsibility, in what was once called "responsible government"....these are the Harper answers.
And these public relations projects are surrogate for what others, including Ms Maioni and this scribe would call "nation-building" projects.
The nation, now conceived by Harper, is merely a reflection of his motivation to control through successive majority governments. It is a servant of his an his party's political ambitions, not a surge of truly national or even potentially national events, projects and aspirations that would see us build on our strengths and our tradition and our historical and cultural "compromises".
Micromanaging of the most basic political messages, and projects, by the PMO is merely short-term, narcissistic, power-seeking and power driven politics, certainly not nation building. Abandoning social policy, by arguing that the federal government can and will, for example, create the criminal code while the provinces will "pay for the administration of justice," as Finance Minister Flaherty did yesterday on CBC's Power and Politics, will not only enrage Quebec but all other provincial treasurers faced with mounting costs for the new "omnibus crime bill".
Once again, that is not nation building; it is more of the "pandering to the base" to ensure future electoral success.
As for an effective opposition "with a pulse," Canadians will have to await the selection of two party leaders, one for the NDP and the other for the Liberals to really be able to judge their potential to oppose, and to wrest political power from this government.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

"Human Dignity"...more not less important in today's world!

From Wikipedia
Human dignity is a central consideration of Protestantism and Catholicism.[8] The Catechism of the Catholic Church insists the "dignity of the human person is rooted in his or her creation in the image and likeness of God." "All human beings," says the Church, "in as much as they are created in the image of God, have the dignity of a person." The catechism says, "The right to the exercise of freedom belongs to everyone because it is inseparable from his or her dignity as a human person."[20] The Catholic Church's view of human dignity is like Kant's insofar as it springs from human agency and free will,[9] with the further understanding that free will in turn springs from human creation in the image of God.[21]

Human dignity, or kevod ha-beriyot, is also a central consideration of Judaism.[22] Talmud cautions against public charity to avoid offending the dignity of the recipient.[23] Medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides in his codification of Halakha cautioned judges to preserve the self-respect of people who came before them: "Let not human dignity be light in his eyes; for the respect due to man supersedes a negative rabbinical command".[23]
An Islamic view of dignity was set out by Mohammad-Ali Taskhiri, head of the Islamic Culture and Communications Organization in Iran, in 1994. According to Taskhiri, dignity is a state to which all humans have equal potential, but which can only be actualized by living a religious life pleasing to the eyes of God.[24] This is in keeping with the 1990 Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, which states that "True faith is the guarantee for enhancing such [basic human] dignity along the path to human perfection.
Created in the image of of the significant tenets of both Christianity and Judaism and apparently central to the words of Muslim teachings.
And yet?
When it comes to human interractions, whether motivated by political or economic considerations,  there seems to be a damn the consequences of any actions that will generate "victory" as we see it.
Are we a species who routinely mouths platitudes of high sounding rhetoric, while we blithely go about our destructive, vicious and low-reaching actions and attitudes? Sometimes it seems to be so.
Human dignity is often called out when human rights violations are documented in a repressive political regime.
Human dignity is often the focus of principles in bioethics conversations about the allocation of finite medical resources to infinite medical needs.
Human dignity is at the root of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, protected by a seb-set of the Canadian constitution.
Yet, one has to wonder if human dignity, a quality that, if we were to come to appreciate its fullest meaning and even fuller application to our lives, is central to the formal and informal teachings of our schools, churches, families and communities.
Are our educators focusing on the potential of the ever-expanding metaphor of individual human dignity, looking for its gift in every individual, students, peers and parents and  reaping the curricular and learning waves of benefit that come from such a perspective?
Or, are they doing an excellent job of pointing out the differences between one faith community and the others, in a not-so-hidden campaign to embed a higher regard and respect for "our" faith compared with the others?
 Is there not a palpable and imminent moment right now for all of us to begin to focus on the profound dignity of every human being, as a starting point, a mid-point and an end-point for all of our judgements, calculations, interpretations and associations with each other human being whose path crosses our's? This notion of individual human dignity needs the advocacy of all, the active pursuit of all, the intentional search for it by all of us, and the harvesting of the benefits of that search by each of us, individually and collectively, in order to take centre-stage in our relationships within our families, in our classrooms, in our churches, synagogues and mosques, and in our universities, corporations and political debates.
Dignity supercedes race, ethnicity, language, religion, geography, political ideology, economic status, social and political and corporate power....and by superceding all of these other qualities, human dignity could conceivably help to define our actions, attitudes and approaches to human relationships.
Once, in a discussion about the relationships between men and women, I wondered out loud if the political science department of a local university might be interested in such a subject. My partner in the conversation, an experienced lawyer, politician and man of considerable intellectual ability responded, "I really don't think that department would be interested in the subject of human relationships. They would more likely focus on political theory and the history of political theory."
While I could readily see his valid observation, I wondered how it was that such an important "file" and human relationships, of all kinds, did not constitute valid and cogent consideration by the political science department of the university.
Is human dignity merely a nice subject for religious scholars and ethicists?
Is human dignity merely a nice subject to be invoked by human rights organizations, when they note its abuse in political repressions around the world?
Or, rather, is human dignity something that we can all strive to comprehend, apply and enhance our interractions by bringing every human's fullness into the centre of our attitudinal and philosophic lenses, through which we establish our world views?
Is human dignity, albeit a somewhat vague and ill-defined notion until it is absent, when it becomes painfully obvious that it is missing, not more rather than less important in shaping our social, political, organizational and educational cultures and thereby our community foundations?
It was recently opined by Governor General, David Johnston, on CBC from Prague while attending the funeral of Vaclav Havel, that at the centre of Havel's life was the cornerstone of "human dignity" for which he life had both meaning and thereby significant loss in his passing.
It is a phrase that we would like to hear being able to be used when referencing the lives of more leaders like Vaclav Havel, and also more ordinary citizens from all ethnicities, languages, religions and educations, around the world.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Politics as War: the new political reality in Ottawa

By Gerald Caplan, Globe and Mail, December 16, 2011
The blending of sport and the military, with the government as the marching band, is part of the new nationalism the Conservatives are trying to instill. It is another example of how the state, under Stephen Harper’s governance, is becoming all-intrusive. … State controls are now at a highpoint in our modern history. There is every indication they will extend further. (From Lawrence Martin's column in the Globe and Mail.)

The University of Ottawa's Ralph Heintzman, who created and headed the federal Public Service Office of Values and Ethics, provides an important insight into what’s happening here: There is a “lack of sense of inner self-restraint on the part of the prime minister, a sense that it is some kind of war and therefore anything is legitimate, that it's quite acceptable for a prime minister to lie, for example, about how our parliamentary democracy works.”
Politics as war is exactly what former Harper strategist Tom Flanagan has long advocated. A Globe piece by Mr. Flanagan before the 2011 election was actually titled “An election is war by other means.” Mr. Flanagan also chose to compare the 2008 campaign to ancient wars in which Rome, the Conservatives, defeated Carthage, the Liberals, and “razed the city to the ground and sowed salt in the fields so nothing would grow there again”.
As Alan Whitehorn of the Royal Military College of Canada wrote: “This suggests a paradigm not of civil rivalry between fellow citizens of the same state, but all-out extended war to destroy and obliterate the opponent. This kind of malevolent vision and hostile tone seems antithetical to the democratic spirit, not to mention peace and stability.”
In fact like Mr. Harper, Prof. Flanagan seems to get a kick out of “destroying and obliterating” those he’s not fond of. When WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was making news, Prof. Flanagan commented: “Well, I think Assange should be assassinated, actually. I think Obama should put out a contract and maybe use a drone or something. … I would not feel unhappy if Assange ‘disappeared’.”
To a woman who e-mailed him objecting to his (presumed) flippancy, Prof. Flanagan responded: “Better be careful, we know where you live.” What would Freud have made of such kibitzing, I wonder? After all, the good professor has cited Machiavelli's odious comment that “fortune is a woman and it is necessary, if you wish to master her, to conquer her by force.”
Ironically, if you want to hear from the other Canada, the former Canada, the one so much admired by the world, you should (and still can) listen to last Sunday’s interview on CBC radio’s Sunday Edition between host Michael Enright and Iceland’s President, Olafur Grimmson. There, in Mr. Grimmson, was the voice of humanity, thoughtfulness, pragmatism and commonsense. He is the perfect Canadian and would make the perfect Canadian prime minister. No wonder the masterminds of Harperland want to disappear the CBC.
Thanks to Gerald Caplan and to Alan Whitehorn from RMC, for their blistering and accurate observations about the Harper government's perspective of "all-out-war" as the game in which they are involved. It is war on the Liberal party, so targeted, vicious and unrelenting that even the Liberals have not yet recovered from the onslaught. It is war on the environment, on the collaborative role established by decades of Canadian governments in foreign policy. It is war on the social policy files of the federal government, as an integral part of their view that in order to win successive elections, the Harper government has to be "teflon-clean" from any smirch of public opinion that would cast them as meddlers in federal provincial relations. Just tell the provinces how the funding, for example, of health care is going to work for the next decade, and stay out of the ensuing debate, by covering ourselves with the argument that "we have provided clear direction and stability" so that the provinces can plan, and let the chips fall where they may.
It is war on the facts, since engaging in war, as Sun Tsu put it so elegantly in his book, The Art of War, is primarily deception and bringing real empirical facts into the calculation is a distraction from the whole point of the exercise, winning at all costs.
However, one has to wonder out loud about the obvious incompatibility of military conflict and political conflict within a democracy, and just how long such a "game plan" will serve any political instrument that casts its eyes on the retention of power for the long term.
Hard edges to foreign policy, withdrawal from Kyoto, active engagements in both Afghanistan and Libya, foreign relations based primarily on an expression of "self-interest"....these are signs of a national narcissism that has frown from the hotbed of individual and corporate narcissism and greed that so infects the corporate culture, whose models and methods can be summed up in the absolutely un-Canadian clip of Kevin O'Leary in a PSA for his CBC program "Lang and O'Leary"..."All this stuff about a nanny state where the state looks after its old and its're going to have to forget about that; that's over!" which Amanda Lang replies: "You don't know what you are talking about!"
Frighteningly, just maybe he DOES know where this government is taking the country...and it is not where Canadians want to go.
Sewing salt in the ground so nothing can grow there again is hardly a metaphor for any evolved, insightful, compassionate and collaborative democracy of the twenty-first century.

Monday, December 26, 2011

How to Stop Boko Haram?

How to fashion a mature, responsible, effective and long-term response to Boko Haram?
This is the radical Islamist terrorist group that claimed responsibility for the bombing of 5 Roman Catholic churches in Nigeria on Christmas Day, killing at estimated 39 and injuring dozens more.
One Christian man on the scene, in a video broadcast by Detroit Public Television, shouted, "They kill Christians on Christmas Day...I am not going to take it any more!"
The Pope called the attacks "absurd" and in an address on Boxing Day said he was "one" with the victims of the heinous attack.
Other political leaders around the world condemned the attacks.
Linked to the Salifists, the same word used to describe the radical Islamists vying for power in Egypt, this religious scourge has to be neutralized.
One scholar who has been researching the group, indicated that the people of the northern part of Nigeria are very poor, without work and without hope. Interviewed on PBS, the professor from California indicated that the attacks are as much against the current political regime for failing to provide adequate support for those living in the North, and for inappropriate security measures, given that the leader of the north was defeated by the current president of Nigeria in the country's last elections.
So, is this assault on Roman Catholics really a religious war, primarily a religious war, or only secondarily a religious war? Are the political overtones of the attacks enough to neutralize the response of that lone Christian male say he was not going to take it any longer?
This is the second Christmas that Boko Haram has successful attacked Roman Catholic churches, and last August the group attacked the United Nations headquarters in the Nigerian capital.
I am not a Roman Catholic. There is much about the Roman Catholic church with which I cannot agree. However, their right, along with the right of all others to pursue their religious practices and convictions is something for which all of us will take action to defend and to protect. Religious persecution, whether it be of Christians, or of Jews, or of Muslims, or any of the other 9000 faiths that are practicing throughout the world, is a form of hatred, bigotry and violence that none of us should have to face.
Currently, the Salifists seek to impose Sharia Law on Nigeria, against the will of the Christians living in the southern part of that country.They say that the violence will not stop unless and until Sharia Law has been imposed, and the results of previous elections, including democracy itself is replaced.
Such a motive drives many of the other faces and bodies of Islamic radicals around the world.
It is such a motive that requires religious leaders of all faiths to bring to the consciousness of their faith leaders. It is such a motive that must be openly debated, confronted and vigorously defeated in every country in which the radical Islamists proposed to impose their will. Christians, especially those of a progressive and tolerant and moderate strain, have to re-examine their propensity for peace at all costs, in the light of these massacres, and  reconsider their positions of full acceptance of the demand for Sharia Law.
This is not a conflict to which there will be an easy or quick resolution.
This is not a conflict to which anyone of sound mind, spirit and body would rush to engage.
However, it is a conflict that faces the world, including the potential annihilation of the Jewish state from the world map, that no Christian can legitimately afford to walk away from, and to leave to the wisdom,  grace, tolerance and love of God, however, that God is envisaged.
It is precisely my faith and the right to practice that faith that drive me to ask these questions and to bring to the fore the global need for political, religious, academic and non-governmental agencies to engage this debate.
Hundreds, if not thousands, and perhaps millions of lives could be at stake. While the groups like Boko Baram are still small, they are virulent, committed, focused, funded and determined to achieve their goal.
To regard them as irrelevant, silly, absurd, and somewhat immature would be a grave mistake. They are a cancerous tumour on the safety, security and level of religious tolerance and "live-and-let-live" approach that has attended relations between various religious groups for decades.
It is not only lives that could be and will be lost; it is a legacy and a tradition and a history of religious tolerance that is at stake, and that achievement, albeit not perfect, is more than worth sustaining, enhancing and leaving as a legacy for our grandchildren and their heirs.
Virulent hatred, bigotry and contempt from any religious group is unacceptable, no matter the location of the bloodshed. Stopping this cancer may take all of us, but stopping it is certainly worthy the most valiant effort and commitment from all of us. And the clock continues to tick.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Thanks and Best Wishes to all our Readers for 2012

In the West, it is December 25, the day on which the Christian faith celebrates the birth of the Christ Child, the humble and humbling baby-in-a-manger, very different from the gold and sumptuously ornate object-d'art that adorn many of the Christian cathedrals around the world, including St. Peter's in Rome.
Today, we also learn that two Christian churches are bombed, with considerable loss of life, in the African country of Nigeria. Radical Islamists are taking responsibility for the carnage, once again.
The Queen, speaking from Buckingham Palace, delivering her traditional Christmas greeting, proudly invoked the Birth of the Christ Child directly, the source of the inspiration, holiness and unity of her family's religious tradition, now deferrning to a more "neutral" and less specific religious symbol to underline her message of forgiveness, through which families are restored and friendships formed and reformed.
For some box stores in Canada, their Boxing Day sales will begin before midnight tonight, grasping and grabbing all the money they can possibly extort from willing accomplices. Laws, apparently, no longer make such greed ilegal; so, merchants take whatever advantage they can find.
Many news organizations are compiling their "best" and  "worst" news stories of 2011, their estimates of the "game changers," the "winners" and "losers" of the past twleve months.
A  short list of obvious losers:
  • Osama bin Laden,
  • Ghadafi,
  • Mubarak,
  • Syrian President Assad,
  • Berlusconi
  • Yemen's president about to depart for the U.S. after continual street protests demanding his ouster,
  • Vladimir Putin, the self-proclaimed life president of Russia is under considerable pressure from his people for fixing his own elections, and those of the Russian parliament
Some of those who have survived the tectonic shifts of political power so far, although their long-term future cannot be guessed because it is too soon would include:
  • David Cameron,
  • President Sarkozy
  • Stephen Harper
  • Dalton McGuinty
And then there are those whose organizations are struggling mightily for relevance and leverage:
  • The United Nations
  • The U.S. Congress
  • NGO's attempting to meet prodigous human suffering...such as the Red Cross, Unicef, World Vision, USC and many others too numerous to mention, whose coffers need our cheques.
Earlier today I had the opportunity to listen to American historian David McCulloch, speaking about President Obama. He likes and respects the current U.S. president, and notes the kind of "hand" he was dealt upon his inauguration. Given that "hand" and the situation around the world, MCculloch gives him a positive review, while noting that only long after any presidency can the judgement of history really be discerned.
Who would have thought, he wondered, that Harry Truman would have become one of the country's best presidents? He certainly did not have the rhetoric of a Lincoln or an F.D.R. He certainly did not have the formal education of an Obama. He did, however, never foget what he came from, who his "poeple" were and where he was going to return to after his stint in the White House. McCulloch comments, "He was a man who knew deeply who he was, and was not about to be swayed by the temptations of Washington and of power!"
For all those pundits, even those inside the Democratic Party who are and have been disappointed by President Obama's first term in the White House, they really do have much for which to be grateful, and much to admire in the first black occupant of the White House in history.
Let's hope that 2012 provides Obama with a second term; given the rantings and ravings by the Republican candidates to oppose his candidacy, the world will be a better place with Obama serving a second term.
To our many readers in so many different countries (some 90 and still counting),we want to thank you for your interest in our pieces, and to wish you and your loved ones all the peace, prosperity and health for 2012. If you have any reflections to share on any of these pieces, please do not hesitate to share them with the rest of the community of readers at

Friday, December 23, 2011

Canadian Supreme Court: "Co-operation is the animating force of federalism"

By John Ibbitson, Globe and Mail, December 23, 2011
In striking down the Conservative government’s proposed national securities regulator, Canada’s highest court has reminded Stephen Harper that, even with a majority government, there must be limits to his ambitions for reshaping the federation.

The Supreme Court decided the government overstepped in its legislation, which invited the provinces to surrender control over regulating securities.

“The ‘dominant tide’ of flexible federalism, however strong its pull may be, cannot sweep designated powers out to sea, nor erode the constitutional balance inherent in the Canadian federal state,” the judges declared in their collectively written, unanimous decision.
The federal government argued that the 13 provincial and territorial commissions that regulate securities in Canada had become increasingly anachronistic in a globalized marketplace, impeding investment and increasing the risk of fraud.
The Constitution’s trade and commerce clause gave Ottawa the authority to regulate what had clearly become a national securities market, federal lawyers told the court. The court disagreed.
“As important as the preservation of capital markets and the maintenance of Canada’s financial stability are, they do not justify a wholesale takeover of the regulation of the securities industry,” the judges ruled...
The constitutional scholar Patrick Monahan believes the ruling opens the door for a more limited regulator responsible only for interprovincial and international capital markets.

“That seems the only realistic option left to the federal government in the wake of this major defeat at the hands of the Supreme Court,” the provost of York University wrote in an article for The Globe and Mail.
The judges did note that “a co-operative approach” between Ottawa and the provinces to create a national regulator might meet the constitutional test...
Until Thursday, the Conservatives had been using their majority government to pursue their agenda with little regard to critics or even courts – dismantling, for example, the monopoly powers of the Wheat Board despite a judicial ruling that it must first hold a plebiscite among affected farmers.

Thursday’s Supreme Court decision doesn’t mean the Conservatives cannot continue their efforts to retreat from social policy while advancing the economic union. But as the judges concluded: “Co-operation is the animating force. The federalism principle upon which Canada’s constitutional framework rests demands nothing less.”

Co-operation is the animating force. The federalism principle upon which Canada's constitutional framework rests demands nothing less.
Square this text with your recent "dump the Wheat Board without the required plebescite," Mr. Harper.
Square this text, too, with your Finance Minister's fiat that the provinces will have 6% annual increase in funding for health care for three years, and then 4% based roughly on provincial GDP for the balance of the decade.
Square this text, too, with your withdrawal from social policy, one of the animating themes of Canadian historical legistlation, leaving the field exclusively to the provinces, in what amounts to an abdication of the role of the federal government in social policy, when we all know that the funds, and the national attributes for each program have emanated from Ottawa, with the provinces accepting modest national characteristics.
Co-operation, the animating force, demands that both levels of government work together, sitting at the same table at the same time, with the same agenda, and even setting that agenda can be a complicated issue. But it is the complications and the nuances and the shades of meaning that are ascribed to the words and the ideas and the applications of all ideas that surely make up the Canadian fabric and the Canadian culture.
However, it must be Mr. Harper's impatience with these minuscule details that forces him to withdraw, petty as those differences seem. After all, only economics, and fiscal and monetary policy, matters in the world of Stephen Harper, certainly nothing as important as whether people have adequate shelter, food, water and health care.
Devolving both fiscal responisbility and policy formation to the provinces, may be a great way to avoid political controversy about issues that matter to Canadians, and thereby remain "teflon clean" when it comes time for a federal election. However, it removes the voice of PEI voters, for example, from the national social policy agenda, something that every Canadian does not wish to happen.
"States rights" has long been a theme in the U.S. especially when contentious issues like abortion are faced. "That matter must be left to the states" is a cry of the right for the obvious reason that it is far more likely they can and will have their way in a state legislature, without the national spotlight glaring into the debate and exposing the implications of no national approach.
Harper's attempt to separate the provinces and federal government, in areas of his choice, especially the economy and trade, negates the historic and legal framework of the country, leaving him with the most favourable conditions for a permanent Conservative government for the next several decades.
Thanks, sincerely, to the Supreme Court, for their decision, limiting the audacious will of the Prime Minister.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Apocalytic virus now available? Should public be informed? More questions than answers!

From "On Point" with Tom Ashbrook website, December 22, 2011
Bird flu was bad enough. What if it came back worse? Way more deadly. Super-lethal. Government-funded research into just that question found an answer. With just a few mutations, it could be far worse. A global killer. Scientists proved the point by creating a sample of that killer.

Now, for the first time ever, the U.S. government is asking that this non-classified scientific research be buttoned up. Locked away. Put in a new category of secret science. This is new.
From Tom’s Reading List
The New York Times “For the first time ever, a government advisory board is asking scientific journals not to publish details of certain biomedical experiments, for fear that the information could be used by terrorists to create deadly viruses and touch off epidemics. ”
The Guardian “The chicken cull took place after the deadly H5N1 virus was discovered in birds at Hong Kong’s biggest poultry wholesale market. The virus was found in a dead chicken and in two wild birds. The Hong Kong government suspended trade in live chickens for 21 days and banned live imports from mainland China in a bid to prevent the disease from spreading.”
BBC “In a darkened conference room in Malta in September, a Dutch scientist announced to a virology meeting that he had created a mutated strain of H5N1 bird flu which had the potential to spread between humans.”
With his expert witness guests, including a Science publisher, a bio-ethicist and another scientist, Ashbrook explored some very penetrating and provoking questions:
  • Should such science be conducted and publicly disclosed, even though the purpose of the research is to "get out ahead" of the potential for such a virus being used against the U.S.?
  • How much public disclosure is ethical? How much unethical?
  • Is the scientific potential of a dealy virus, spread through a form of aerosol making it possible to kill millions, the appropriate subject for scientific research, even from a defensive perspective?
  • Are we living on the cusp of the ultimate terrorist weapon, potentially defenceless against its horrors?
As a listener to the program, one could not help but be rivetted by the  grave tones and attitude of all three guests, as well as the host. This was, in short, one of the most frightening radio discussions I have ever heard.
Living, for the most part, in a bubble of innocence and ignorance, one tends not to bring such subjects and their potential impacts into the front range of consciousness. Perhaps that is a good thing; daily focus on such issues could render one somewhat if not completely paralyzed.
We can all expect much more information and public debate as this issue receives more public coverage, starting in the middle of January 2011, when Science magazine is expected to publish its first venture into the file.
Stay tuned! We certainly will!

Assad must be removed...quickly, effectively and sooner than later

By Kareem Fahim, New York Times, Service, in Globe and Mail, December 22, 2011
Syrian rights activists and opposition groups said on Wednesday that forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad had killed at least 160 defecting soldiers, civilians and anti-government activists over the past three days in northwestern Syria.

If confirmed, the killings would constitute one of the worst spasms of violence in the nine-month-old uprising.
Word of the killings, which the activists and opposition groups said had taken place near the city of Idlib near the Turkish border, was reported a day before observers from the Arab League are to visit Syria for the first time to monitor pledges by Mr. al-Assad’s government to withdraw its troops from besieged areas.

Some activists said the President’s forces had intensified a campaign of deadly violence and intimidation partly because the impending arrival of Arab League monitors may prevent such action in coming days.
“I fear the security forces may be trying to crush this thing before the monitors get in,” said Murhaf Jouejati, a member of the Syrian National Council, an opposition group.
The Syrian government, which has sought to characterize the anti-Assad uprising as a Western-backed insurrection by terrorist gangs and thugs, has not commented on reports of the killings. But the official Syrian Arab News Agency said on its website that Syrian authorities in the cities of Idlib, Homs and Daraa had “stormed dens of armed terrorist groups, arresting tens of wanted men who committed crimes of killing, attacked and sabotaged private and public properties.”
The agency said “a number of the terrorists have been killed and others wounded,” and that “big quantities of weapons, ammunitions, explosives and night goggles, in addition to modern communication sets, have been seized.”
It was impossible to corroborate the conflicting accounts because of restrictions on foreign press access in Syria, where, according to a United Nations estimate, more than 5,000 people have been killed since March. But in a statement, the secretary-general of the Arab League, Nabil al-Araby, suggested the reports by the opposition groups were credible, expressing concern about them and urging the Syrian government to “protect civilians.”
"Protesters" versus "terrorists and gangs"...the former to the people, the latter to President Assad and his forces.
Depending on how one defines the enemy, one determines the limits to which one will go to "oppose" that enemy.
If holding onto power, in a family-dominated regime, where multiple executions have been conducted by the father of the current president, in a different insurrection, is the name of the game, it will take more than economic sanctions to remove this dictator.
The Arab League is to visit today, to inspect the events from the ground, and the west is holding her breath that perhaps, just maybe, they might be able to talk some sense into the dictator's head.
Defections from both the army and the government itself have grown in number and frequency, as have the number and frequency of the attacks on the innocents, as the western news agencies report it.
And yet, Assad prohibits the entry of foreign journalists into "his" country, in another attempt to control the news that reaches the outside world, Barbara Walters being one prominent exception, with her ABC interview last week. Even in that interview, Assad denied any wrongdoing, characterizing the conflict as one of the terrorists' making and himself and the government as victims to their violence.
However, you can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time. Surely, this week it is time to end both the deceptions and the killings, and for Assad to step aside, into exile, in some friendly foreign territory, perhaps with an extradition agreement to bring him back for trial, as Egypt has done with Mubarak in another "show trial."
Are the hands of the UN tied from taking effective action, for example, with the insertion of ground troops, as observers, and potentially as separators between the combatants? With veto votes, are China and Russia holding the poeple of Syria hostage to their loyalty to the Syrian president?
Is this another file where geopolitics is impeding effective international intervention on behalf of the Syrian people, in the move to remove Assad? It looks a lot like that, from this corner of the world.
Is the world unwilling or unable to arrest Assad for crimes against humanity, something everyone everywhere seems to agree his government is guilty of committing? Perhaps the world needs a strike force that could enter Syria, arrest the dictator, remove him from the country, and bring this atrocity to an end. Of course, that sounds like a naive and simplistic and even silly recommendation. However, there are times for the removal of a dictator, such as was the case in Entebbe, Uganda, when Idi Amin had to be removed. In that instance, the Israeli commado unit was deployed, and successfully removed the monster. Is this another case similar to that one?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Remove the editors, publishers, directors and producers...and let the hounds loose!

By Allan Gregg, Chairman of Harris-Decima, in Globe and Mail, December 19, 2011
For most of my adult life, I’ve worked with political leaders and marvelled at how otherwise funny, thoughtful men and women can be transformed at the podium into blustering B.S. machines. They pillory opponents with hyperventilated allegations, feign outrage at modest grievances and take exaggerated credit for shared accomplishments. Especially painful is their complete lack of appreciation of the public’s incredulous response.

Polling backs this up: Most Canadians no longer believe their leaders speak the truth; they expect little of government and feel disengaged from the whole political process. Asked this year how often a typical politician would tell the absolute truth when making public statements, four out of 10 claimed less than 50 per cent of the time. Put another way, almost half believe that, any time politicians speak, there’s only a 50/50 chance they’ll be told the truth.
Yet, it’s the truth and authenticity we crave, more than anything. Citizens have become saturated with authenticity in their day-to-day lives. Consider the explosion of technologies and the freedom and control they provide: We’re no longer limited to “banker’s hours,” can access video on demand and get breaking news in real time. TripAdvisor and Chowhound have replaced travel agents and restaurant critics, while Facebook and Twitter have increased the intimacy and immediacy of our connections with one another.
Feeling more knowledgeable, connected and in control of our personal lives has also directly reduced our reliance on authority. As a result, we have little incentive to uncritically swallow the claims of political leaders who don’t seem to understand our concerns, share our experiences or speak in a way we find authentic. Our political leaders have not only failed to adjust to this new reality, they also avoid honestly and directly engaging on our most pressing issues. And that’s what we desperately need.
What if someone stood up and said: “Because our treasured health-care system is not sustainable in its present form, we need to offer more services through the private sector.” Or: “Although we must invest in green technologies and alternative energy, for the foreseeable future, our responsibility to the planet and future generations requires us to monetize and tax carbon.” Or: “New Canadians are falling behind; their sense of ‘belonging as Canadians’ is shrinking and cracks are beginning to show in our multicultural fabric.”
Based on experience, I think I can safely predict that such statements would be roundly pilloried by journalists and opponents alike – even though those very critics also know that current approaches are unsustainable.
And yet I believe that, in today’s environment, telling the naked truth can be good politics. How else do you explain a socially progressive Muslim being elected the mayor of Cowtown (Calgary, Alberta), and a leather-lunged know-nothing capturing the imagination of Canada’s cultural and intellectual epicentre (Toronto, Ontario)?
It was the unapologetic uniqueness of Naheed Nenshi and Rob Ford that made them seem more authentic and believable. Even more remarkably, in both Calgary and Toronto, the percentage of eligible voters who went to the polls increased by almost two-thirds over the previous municipal election. In fact, low turnout is a rational voter response to choices that matter little. If politicians stand for nothing and avoid the truth, why would you bother voting? When politics is made to matter by politicians who represent an authentic alternative to the other available choices, the evidence suggests that voters engage.
We could do worse than to echo the prescription offered by Rex Murphy during the last federal election. In a vintage rant, he exhorted politicians to throw out the scripts and really talk to people. End the ads and deal with the three most important issues at length. And tell us why your party is right, not why the others are wrong and evil.
Authenticate truth-telling in a country so anal and change-resistant as Canada, would be like telling a six-year-old there really is No Santa Claus. We fret over the most minuscule of pettiness and we bumble on when dealing with real crises. Former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson is pilloried for taking 50 prominent Canadians on a tour through "northern countries, at taxpayer expense, when seeking common ground, common markets, common interests in community-building and social programs would predictably converge in such countries. Demonstrating to leading Canadians, too, that we are indeed a northern country, is more than worth doing, given its neglect for the last century.
Currently, with over 100 First Nation communities suffering the indignity of inadequate or unavailable housing, health care, education, clean water and employment, we send in another bureaucratic accountant, putting the reserve under 'third party management'....and shift the conversation to the $90 million already spent on that reserve.
Our media, including our pollsters, our lobbyists and our political elite are so incestuously entwined that no member of the elite would dare to "bring truth to power" in a "gloves-off" kind of way, a condition necessary for the mold to be broken, in order for a new one to have a chance to find fertile ground. Long-time media talking heads now sit in the Senate, at Harper's pleasure; those are the same people whose grooming included decades on public and private television where "conventionality, and respectability, and moderation" are the glue fastening any talking head to his/her anchor chair.
Evan Solomon (CBC's Power and Politics) even brags about never been "unfair" while touting his "toughness" if to say that CBC refuses to have an opinion lest it lose the confidence of the Harper gang, and thereby its funding. We want to know your opinion on "X" but we will never offer our own!
Because to do so would be to violate some unwritten charter of "mediocrity" rather than to cross the line into calling spades, shovels.
Sun television will be immediately referenced to disprove my point. And we all know that the heads there are filled with straw so what emerges will be little more than straw-dust.
When those teaching journalism demand "balance" in their students, when they cover stories, that is a good thing. One opinion, in favour, requires the balancing of another that opposes.
However, articulate writers, and editorialists, constitute an integral organ of the public discourse. They are dedicated to sharing opinions that do not swim well with the establishment; they are leading a discourse from both research and courage, the research that brings little known or unknown facts to the table, and sees them through a lens that is also unavailable in conventional political discourse.
We will not have truth-telling, and authenticate political discourse unless and until the editors, publishers and show directors and producers regain their individual and collective spines, enabling them to call a spade a shovel even if and when it makes some people squirm.
Certainly there is a current government that is offering a forest of unpicked apples of "material" for journalists and editorialists and interviewers and radio and television hosts to feast upon. And we should not have to rely on Ron James, and formerly Dave Broadfoot, and intermittently, Rick Mercer in his outstanding Rant, to provide the meagre diet of controversial opinion, in a country starved for both healthy political debate and an integral part of a healthy citizen diet.

People as digits on balance sheet in health care announcement

Editorial, Globe and Mail, December 21, 2011
The government is throwing the ball of innovation into the provinces’ court, where it belongs. The plan is generous (six per cent in each of the first three years, at least three per cent thereafter, and possibly more, depending on economic conditions), but not so generous that the provinces can sit back and attempt to do business as usual. The deal is to last 10 years, so the provinces can plan....
Six per cent a year is unsustainable. The provinces’ budgets would eventually be swallowed by Medicare. All that cash was the wrong kind of “fix” – it induced reliance, not change. The federal government is asserting, not abdicating, its role in maintaining a public health system. Now the provinces need to get to work.
"Asserting" by telling the provinces only the dollars available, will not assure Canadians of a common national set of standards, for wait times, for available procedures, for a single-payer system, for universal access and standards that are not determined by geography or economic development.
Tying the health care dollars to a per capita formula, dependent on the GDP of the province in the future, could result in dramatically divergent federal dollars, thereby devolving to a very uneven, and thereby unfair virtually non-system.
Health care tied to economic development...that is a concept born in the bowels of hell. There is no reason for a government, any government, to link the two. People get sick, often with or without sound economic prospects in their families, their towns and villages, and their provinces. Doctors will be more attracted to those provinces that boast  a high GDP where incomes are high and poverty and homeless are lower than other provinces.
By this arrangement, the federal government is signally, under the rainbow banner of "provincial autonomy and innovation," that only the economic output is and will be the determining factor in health care funding. So, now, we see the government's footprints, of the ideological, corporate, private enterprise, profit-centred approach to everything as the determining criterion for health care funding.
Innovation is certainly required in the provision of health care. Reducing costs, and providing alternative models for care, for example increased home care for the elderly along with nurse and doctor visits, and incentivizing preventive health care delivery by all practitioners are just some obvious examples. However, setting the provinces to compete with one another, when the macro-economic conditions in one region could have a significant impact on the "economic" health of the province, without any specific government holding the "blame" card for such a development, could result in significant "punishment" of that province for no reason other than macro-economic trends.
Furthermore, "asserting" is just another more polite word for "dictating"...and the Globe is wrong to call the announcement leadership.
This government cannot, simply cannot, see or bring into focus, the people of this country, whether they live in Attawapiskat or Kelowna. This government sees them (us) only as digits on a budget sheet, not as breathing and autonomous individuals, and this reduction is part of the spill-off from a globalized economy in which all bow to the corporate, for-profit, monocular....ignoring the plight, and the potential plight of families and individuals.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mourning the loss of Vaclav Havel

By Timothy Garton Ash, Globe and Mail, December 19, 2011
Timothy Garton Ash, professor of European studies at Oxford University, is the author of The Magic Lantern, an eyewitness account of the velvet revolutions of 1989, and several other books about central Europe’s journey from communism to the present.

Mr. Havel was a defining figure of late 20th-century Europe. He was not just a dissident; he was the epitome of the dissident, as we came to understand that novel term. He was not just the leader of a velvet revolution; he was the leader of the original velvet revolution, the one that gave us a label applied to many other successful non-violent mass protests since 1989. (He always insisted that a Western journalist coined the term.) He was not just a president; he was the founding president of what is now the Czech Republic. He was not just a European; he was a European who, with the eloquence of a professional playwright and the authority of a former political prisoner, reminded us of the historical and moral dimensions of the European project. Looking at the mess that project is in today, I can only cry, “Havel! thou should’st be living at this hour: Europe hath need of thee.”

He was also one of the most engaging human beings I have ever known. I first met him in the early 1980s, when he had just emerged from several years in prison. We spoke in his riverside apartment, with its large writer’s tables and tableau view of Prague. Although the communist secret police then assessed the active core of the Charter 77 movement – probably realistically – at just a few hundred people, he insisted that silent popular support was growing. One day, the flickering candles would burn through the ice. It’s important to remember that no one knew when that day would come. In the event, it came just six years later.
The dissident’s honour does not come from the political victor’s crown. Mr. Havel was the epitome of a dissident because he persisted in this struggle, patiently, non-violently, with dignity and wit, not knowing when or even if the outward victory would come. The success was already in that persistence, in the practice of “antipolitics” – or politics as the art of the impossible. Meanwhile, he analyzed the communist system in profound but also down-to-earth essays, and in letters from prison to his first wife, Olga. In his famous parable of the Schweikian greengrocer who puts a sign in his shop window, among the apples and onions, saying, “Workers of all countries, Unite!” – although of course the man doesn’t believe a word of it – Mr. Havel captured the essential insight on which all civil resistance draws: That even the most oppressive regimes depend on some minimal compliance by the people they govern. In a seminal essay, he talked of “the power of the powerless.”
When the chance came to practise civil resistance himself, Mr. Havel turned this into political theatre of an electrifying kind. Prague’s Wenceslas Square was the stage. A cast of 300,000 people spoke as one. Cry your eyes out, Cecil B. DeMille. No one who was there will ever forget the sight of Mr. Havel and Aleksander Dubcek, the hero of ’89 and the hero of ’68, appearing side by side on the balcony: ‘Dubcek-Havel! Dubcek-Havel!’ Or the sound of 300,000 key rings being shaken together, like Chinese bells. Rarely if ever has a tiny minority so rapidly become a large majority.

But Czechoslovakia – as it then still was – had the benefit of coming late to the 1989 party. The Poles, East Germans and Hungarians had done most of the hard work already, seizing the chance Mikhail Gorbachev offered. When I arrived in Prague and sought Mr. Havel out in his favourite basement pub, I joked that in Poland it had taken 10 years, in Hungary 10 months, in East Germany 10 weeks; perhaps here it would take 10 days. He immediately got me to repeat the quip to an underground video team. In the event, he was president within seven weeks. I vividly remember the moment when home-made badges appeared saying “Havel for president.” “May I take one?” he politely asked the student badge-peddler.
“People, your government has returned to you!” he declared in his 1990 New Year’s address as newly inaugurated head of state, echoing the first president of Czechoslovakia, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk. Those first weeks in Prague Castle were manic, hilarious, uplifting and chaotic. He showed me the original torture chamber: “I think we will use it for negotiations.” But then the hard slog of undoing communism began. All the poison accumulated over 40 years came seeping out. Harder-nosed political operators, such as Vaclav Klaus, thrust to the fore. So did nationalism, Slovak and eventually also Czech. Mr. Havel fought with all his eloquence to keep together Masaryk’s dream of a civic, multinational republic – in vain.
He came back as the founding president of today’s Czech Republic, which emerged from the so-called velvet divorce from Slovakia. He felt, with good reason, that he had to be present at the creation. I think he stayed on too long in this role. Less would have been more. In diminished health, he was exhausted by the ceaseless round of ceremonial duties and petty political infighting, and, in time, his people became weary of him.
The dissident who actually gains power, makes signficiant change possible. It is the stuff of the dream of everyone living under conditions that are unacceptable, intolerable and unjust. The man of letters becomes the leader of his country, after having seved prison time, detention time, and then bringing his people out of the darkness that Europe knows so well and that we in North America only read about.
His loss is more than a moment to reflect. His loss is a page turning, associated as his name and life are with the velvet revolution, the velvet divorce of the Czech Republic from Slovakia.
On a day and in a week when some European leaders now refuse to speak in English, "because English is out of style" Europe needs a Vaclav Havel to bring her to a new perspective on herself. She needs to work with a single currency, a single fiscal and monetary policy, a central bank with muscle and teeth and also the support of all of its members, including the Brits.
We recall the Polish electrician, Lech Walesa, who rose to the presidency of his country from 1990 through 1995, and shook off the shackles of Communism. We also recall the shining beacon of Nelson Mandela whose perseverance and tenacity, after serving 27 years in prison in an apartheid South Africa, helped to bring justice and at least a glimmer of equality to his people. We now mourn, with the Czechs, the death of Vaclav Havel, whose name will forever be associated with peaceful, yet revolutionary change in his native country. A man who could have become a Hollywood screen writer, and turned his back on the plight of his country and people, chose to stay and to resist and to champion the people. For that, we all owe him a deep and profound and probably unpayable debt.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Health Care Funding down to 4% when 6% was promised, and equalization to be gutted

By John Ibbitson, Globe and Mail, December 18, 2011
(F)inance ministers meeting in Victoria on Monday will receive a stark message from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty: The second decade of the 21st century is turning into a mess. Everyone is going to suffer; no government can afford to spend more money; every government must instead spend less.

Canada will endure this foul weather better than most other developed countries, thanks to its well-capitalized banks, ample natural resources and sound finances at the federal level. But the weather will still be foul.
The provinces already know that Ottawa is looking to cut growth in health-care funding from the current level of 6 per cent annually to something like the nominal increase in gross domestic product – say about 4 per cent – after 2016.
Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan figures that would cost the provinces $25-billion over 10 years in lost health transfers.
“This would damage health care and make it more difficult to transform the system,” he wrote to Mr. Flaherty in protest. The two men met Sunday night to discuss it.
The fact remains that Ottawa simply doesn’t have the money to continue funding health care at present levels. The Harper government now confronts projections of economic stagnation as far as the eye can see.
The Economist Intelligence Unit recently lowered Canada’s growth projections for 2012 to 1.7 per cent, “to reflect the deteriorating external outlook.” The outlook includes a deepening recession in Europe that could drag down the United States, taking Canada with it.
Growth of 1.7 per cent is not enough to lower unemployment or significantly increase government revenues, which is why the Tories will take an axe to every department in February, cutting them by 5 per cent or 10 per cent without exception.
The provinces can hardly expect Ottawa to boost transfers to them even as it slashes its own spending. They will have to fend for themselves. Thanks to another Harper government policy that is receiving far too little attention, some will fend better than others.
The Prime Minister is no fan of equalization, which is the policy of weighting federal transfers in favour of smaller and poorer provinces. He hails from the West, and all western provinces except Manitoba send out rather than receive equalization funding.
The Conservatives are determined that all future health care or other social transfers must be funded on a strictly per-capita basis, with any existing equalization component stripped out.
And Mr. Harper has made it clear that when the equalization program itself comes up for renegotiation in 2014, the Tories don’t envision any significant growth in the funding envelope.
Even worse for the Maritime provinces and Quebec, unless all sides can agree to a different formula, Ontario threatens to suck up much of whatever money is available, since the Moody-plagued giant is slowly but implacably turning into the sick man of Confederation as its manufacturing base continues to erode. Ontario is already the second-largest recipient of equalization, which makes no sense, since it is also the biggest contributor.
So whether it is finance ministers meeting in Victoria this week, or premiers meeting in Victoria in January, the message will be the same.
Provinces looking to fund health care while paying down their deficit before Moody’s comes knocking on their door should not look to Ottawa for help. The feds have got enough problems of their own.
Reducing transfer payments to the provinces from 6% to 4% for health care, plus gutting equalization payments and putting the country on a "per-capita" formula is another of Harper's dramatic transformations for this country.
The notion of sharing, when provinces are struggling, and when individuals are struggling, by those who have more than they need is central to the psychic and cultural infrastructure of the nation. It is a concept widely believed to have made this country a model of compassion, shared interests and inclusion, as opposed to the raw "survival of the fittest" that we can see in such dramatic tension everywhere in the U.S.
It is a quaint concept, this idea of sharing among the family, upheld by decades of successful and supporting governments of all stripes and colours. The fact that the West has resented having to make such payments, for example, to less rich Maritime provinces, does not take into account the celebrations in Newfoundland and Labrador when that province moved into a "have" position and out of a "have-not" position.
Hatred and contempt for anything Ontario, is a culturally embedded attitude, belief, perception and political ideology. Now that Ontario, having lost some 300,000 manufacturing jobs over the last three years or so, is confirmed as a "have-not" province, with Moody's just this morning threatening to downgrade the province's credit rating, and with it, that of Ontario cities, hospitals and school boards whose finances are directly tied to the province's, is not the time for the federal government to pull another "thumb-up-the-nose" approach to the funding proposals for national health care.
The federal government's capacity to find lots of cash for those purchases like Fighter Jets, and armed and unarmed ships is well documented. Funds for gazebo's, while a mere thorn in the side and not an item that would or could save the health care funding formula, along with funds for unneeded prisons...these are all available, and will be used to serve the government's short-sighted picture of the optimum future for the country.
How long will it be before Canadians, like our American neighbours, will face the stark choice between buying needed medicines and paying the rent or the mortgage?
How long will it be before Canadians wake up to the direction, and the destination planned for this country, by those in the majority in Ottawa and start to really understand that the interests of the Conservative government are not the national interests. They are not the kind of aspiration to which Canadians have become both accustomed and reliant. They are an agenda forged in the foundaries of corporatism and capitalism and fed by globalization none of which gives a whit about the real character of this country, as neither do the Harper conservatives.

Vaclav Havel on Kim Jong Il..on the date his death is announced by North Korea

By Vaclav Havel, Globe and Mail, December 17, 2011
(Poet and playwright Vaclav Havel is a former president of the Czech Republic.)
 It is exactly 60 years since Rudolf Vrba's and Alfred Wetzler's successful escape from Auschwitz, an escape that brought to light accounts of Hitler's extermination camps.
The testimony given by Messrs. Vrba and Wetzler forced representatives of the democratic world to face facts that many did not want to believe, even after the end of the war. Thanks to them and countless numbers of other witnesses, the horrors and extent of the Nazi final solution are universally known.
Like the Nazi Holocaust, the crimes and brutal reality of Soviet communism were also outlined and understood, thanks to the writings of Arthur Koestler, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and others.
Fortunately, people who use direct eyewitness testimony in attempts to expose the greatest crimes against humanity can be found in each era and all over the world. Rithy Panh described the terror of the Khmer Rouge, Kanan Makiya detailed the brutal prisons of Saddam Hussein and Harry Wu has tried to show the perversion of the Laogai system of Chinese forced labour camps.
Today, the testimony of thousands of North Korean refugees, who have survived the miserable journey through Communist China to free South Korea, tell of the criminal nature of the North Korean dictatorship. Accounts of repression are supported and verified by modern satellite images, and clearly illustrate that North Korea has a functioning system of concentration camps. The Kwan-li-so, or the political penal-labour colony, holds as many as 200,000 prisoners who are barely surviving day-to-day or are dying in the same conditions as did the millions of prisoners in the Soviet gulag system in the past.
The Northern part of the Korean peninsula is governed by the world's worst totalitarian dictator, who is responsible for taking millions of human lives. Kim Jong-il inherited the extensive Communist regime following the death of his father Kim Il-sung, and has shamelessly continued to strengthen the cult of personality.
He sustains one of the largest armies in the world and is producing weapons of mass destruction. The centrally planned economy and the state ideology of juche have led the country into famine. The victims of the North Korean regime number in the millions.
Despite the ever-present army and police, tens of thousands of desperate North Koreans have escaped to China. In defiance of international treaties, the Chinese government does not recognize the status of these people as refugees, and Chinese officials have prevented the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees from having access to any North Korean in China.
The Chinese government hunts the refugees in the woods along the border and deports them back to North Korea, where the journey ends in the Kwan-li-so. All of this is happening right now, and the world is standing idly by.
Some refugees are fortunate enough to make it successfully to South Korea. But their existence in South Korea flies in the face of that country's official Sunshine Policy, which however well-intentioned, is based on constant concessions and appeasement. The policy costs South Korea hundreds of millions of dollars, but it is not helping to reach a solution to the overall problem or saving innocent human lives. In the end, the policy only keeps the leader of Pyongyang in power.
Kim Jong-il is able to blackmail the entire world with the help of his million-man army, nuclear weapons, long-range rockets and the export of weaponry and military technology to like-minded dictators around the world.
Kim Jong-il wants to be respected and feared abroad, and he wants to be recognized as one of the most powerful leaders in today's world. He is willing to let his own people die of hunger, and uses famine to liquidate any sign of wavering loyalty to his rule.
Through blackmail, Kim Jong-il receives food and oil, which he distributes among those loyal to him (first in line being the army), while the international community has no way to ascertain who is receiving aid inside North Korea.
This year, at the UN Commission for Human Rights in Geneva, a resolution was passed condemning the practices of the North Korean government. Even with this condemnation, it is difficult to believe the commission has criticized the North Korean regime for gross violations of human rights on only two occasions since the commission was founded.
Less shocking, but equally disturbing, is the fact that the North Korean government has yet to fulfill any of the concrete recommendations included in the resolution from the previous year.
Innocent North Koreans are dying of hunger or are closed in concentration camps, as Kim Jong-il continues to blackmail the world.
Now is the time for the democratic countries of the world - the European Union, the United States, Japan and, last but not least, South Korea - to unify under a common position. These countries must make it perfectly clear that they will not make concessions to a totalitarian dictator.
They must state that respect for basic human rights is an integral part of any future discussions with Pyongyang. Decisiveness, perseverance and negotiations from a position of strength are the only things that Kim Jong-il and those similar to him understand.
Let's hope that the world does not need any more horrifying testimony to realize this.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mendacity and hypocrisy in film and in government...

By Jeffrey Simpson, Globe and Mail, December 17, 2011
Canada mocked its own greenhouse-gas reduction targets before, and it’s mocking them again. The Harper government has a target of a 17-per-cent reduction from 2005 by 2020. The Environment Department’s own figures, released in July, showed that emissions have risen by 7 per cent since the Conservatives took office.

No one – not senior civil servants, not foreign diplomats, not academics, not even people in the oil and gas industry – believes Canada will bring down its emissions by 24 per cent (17 per cent plus 7 per cent) in the next eight years. Canada struts on the world stage, naked as a newt, and can’t fool those who know what’s really going on.
It’s easy to mock Kyoto. It failed to halt the upward surge in emissions for many reasons, the most important being that global warming represents the classic example of the tragedy of the commons. That tragedy – well-known to students of human psychology, international relations and economics – means that, when all degrade something held in common, the temptation exists for none to accept responsibility. Every contributor to the degradation finds reasons for inaction.
It’s said, for example, that since Canada “only” contributes 2 per cent of total emissions (while being among the largest per capita emitters), it should really do very little. Ponder that argument. Has it ever been seriously advanced – in war or peace – that Canada isn’t doing its part in world affairs? Did Canada say in two world wars, “Sorry, since we can’t be the decisive actor alone, we’ll take a pass”? Should Canada refuse to give foreign aid because its aid alone can’t eliminate poverty? Should Canada withdraw from a multitude of international institutions because it’s smaller than other member countries and thus can’t do much by itself?
To put the argument this way is to see how false it rings against our traditions of responsible international participation.
This is akin to the pernicious folly of the “ethical oil” argument now embraced by the Harper government (and the oil industry, of course) to justify doing little to reduce emissions from the oil in the tar sands.
In secular philosophy and organized religion, ethics has been about defining and pursuing the notion of the “good.” This “good” is usually set as an optimum, never attained but always kept as a goal. Ethics is not about claiming virtue because behaviour is better than the worst possible behaviour, but rather it’s measured against the nominal sense of the “good.”
The argument that Canada’s oil comes from a more virtuous place than Libya under Moammar Gadhafi or Venezuela under Hugo Chavez would be like saying Canada’s human-rights records is “ethical” because it is better than North Korea’s, or our economy is “ethical” because it’s fairer and more productive than Zimbabwe’s.
The 2-per-cent and “ethical” oil arguments, therefore, represent perversions of principles on which to base international participation. They insult Canada’s history and traditions, but they play exceptionally well with a certain segment of the Canadian public.
According to a recent international poll, Canada has the highest number of citizens (22 per cent) of any economically advanced country who deny that human activity causes global warming. We can fairly presume the vast majority of this 22 per cent are in what we might loosely call the conservative world in Canada. They read the anti-global-warming newspapers and commentators, and they rely on the handful of academics who debunk global warming.
The poll numbers suggest that about half of Stephen Harper’s supporters are climate-change deniers and skeptics. His government pays heed to this core, the world and its climate be damned.
"Ethical oil" as if it were more "good" than that coming from Venezuela, is nothing more than "spin".
We only contritbute 2% so we are not "that bad" is more of the same "spin."
The "tragedy of the commons" as a protective shield against preventive and corrective measures, is another mask of spin, enabling those who choose it to avoid responsibility and action.
"Denial" of human activity causing global warming is part of the "ostrich" head-in-the-sand of both denial and avoidance.
Yesterday, by conincidence, my wife and I happened to watch a 1958 film in which Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman and Burl Ives starred, entitled, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. At its core, the movie attempted to unravel some of the complexities of the human tendency to lie. It paraded the word mendacity, along with hypocrisy as if they were real people with whom others had to cope."Brick" (Newman) a former football hero and more recently a sports announcer is a full-fledged, active and acidic drunk. His father, "Big Daddy" (Ives) is near death with cancer, as the owner of a 28,000 acre estate, and the husband of a forty-year marriage to a woman for whom he has no love. His other son, "Gruber" is a lawyer by profession who seeks to inherit, with his pre-adolescent wife, the full 28,000 acres.
It is the conversation between Big Daddy and Brick, alone, that seems to be a missing ingredient in many of the political conversations today, some 53 years later.
"Why are you an alcoholic?" demands Big Daddy of Brick.
"I am ashamed of myself," answers Brick.
"What are you ashamed of?" probes BD.
"I let my best friend down," answers Brick.
And through some well-woven conversations that include the estranged "Maggie" (Taylor) about how she attempted to win back her estranged husband by sleeping with Brick's best friend, but got cold feet and stopped, and yet he had learned that the "coitus" had actually occurred, so that when a desperate call came from the friend, Brick hung up and later learned of the suicide that followed.
"Killing the pain" by medicating it with booze had taken over Brick's life, and his father desperately wanted the addiction to stop before he died.
Desperate situations can produce significant removals of the masks of "spin," or "excuses" or of denials or the complexes of the many layers of lies that underpin a life of avoidance, and often addiction.
With Big Daddy's unpretentious removal of the "excuses" like mendacity and hypocrisy behind which Brick attempts to hide, Brick's life is turned around and his drinking stopped.
Who will play "Big Daddy" to the Harper "Brick" in the case of the environment? Twisting the arguments so that those already committed to the same self-deceptions is just another case of misleading, self-imposed denial.
No matter the "spin" and no matter how many of his corporate loyalists buy the spin, for their own self-interest, it is still a case of denial, and a form of an addiction to the denial.
"Of which part of the truth is the government "ashamed?" we are moved to wonder.
The truth that emissions have risen by 7% since it took power? The truth that they are now so embedded in the spin that it has become their reality, and they can see no way out of the blindness, and the arrogance and the denial? The truth that so many of their party continues to deny the human contributions to global warming?
Or the larger truth that they know better, and can not bring themselves to face their own hubris and the shame of that enounter?
Only if and when the self-deceptions are ripped off as the masks they have become will the government finally come "clean" with the truth and the policies it ought to have been endorsing and introducing and only then will the file take on the public respect and demand the accountability and transparency it so profoundly deserves.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Quebec announces "cap-and-trade" to start in 2013 for big emitters!

By Philippe Teisceira-Lessard, The Canadian Press, in Globe and Mail, December 16, 2011

With global climate-change talks in limbo, Quebec is the first province to push ahead with its own cap-and-trade program.

The province says it's emulating California as it becomes the first Canadian province to start enforcing cap-and-trade regulations for carbon emissions.
Starting on Jan. 1, there will be a one-year transition period to help large emitters adjust to the new system, which will officially kick in at the start of 2013.
Provincial Environment Minister Pierre Arcand made the announcement Thursday as he criticized the federal government for withdrawing from the Kyoto accord.

“I think Canada should absolutely be showing more leadership, be showing more ambition,” Mr. Arcand said.
“I find it altogether unacceptable that the Canadian position still be tied to the American position.”
The federal government has said it won't enter a carbon market without the United States, Canada's main trading partner, and any short-term prospects for that appear to have been snuffed out in the U.S. Congress.
But Mr. Arcand expressed his belief there will be a global carbon market eventually, and he said Quebec wanted to be proactive.
The new provincial program applies to large industrial emitters and will require them to reduce their carbon footprint or buy clean-air credits at $10 per tonne of greenhouse gases.
It is being run in conjunction with the Western Climate Initiative, whose stated objective is to reduce emissions 15 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. Quebec's own target is significantly stricter, with a planned 20 per cent reduction from 1990 levels by the end of this decade.
All Quebecers and all Candians can be proud of this announcement, especially in the wake  of the condemnation of Canada following the Durban Conference on climate change. Pulling out of Kyoto after the conference has done nothing to enhance the Canadian position on the world stage, on this file. For the Harper government, it seems as if they are unable to walk and chew gum at the same time.  While remaining focused on jobs and the economy,  they have been unable or unwilling to include the environment's protection under that umbrella, believing instead that protecting the environment would "cost Canada jobs," as Harper put it in the House this week.
What is especially ironic is that the Premier of Quebec, Jean  Charest, has been declared politically "dead" for several years now, and yet he continues to defy his critics by returning with another "new life" ....and here is another instance in which he has done it again. He knows that the Quebec electorate is supportive of government action on global warming and climate change, and while this may be another 'houdini' act to save his political life, we will take it on whatever terms the Quebec government offers it.
Congratulations, to the government of Quebec, on this announcement; hopefully it will have the desired effect of embarrassing the Harper government, although that prospect seems remote.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Trudeau's verbal "S-bomb" speaks for many Canadians, including this one!

Justin Trudeau exploded in indignation yesterday in the House of Commons, calling Minister of the Environment Peter Kent a "piece of shit"....largely for berating NDP Environment Critic, Megan Leslie for not attending the UN Durban environment conference, after having been barred from the conference by the same minister who was berating her for not attending. Also excluded from the Canadian delegation were the Leader of the Green Party, Elizabeth May, who attended after securing credentials by other means, and any other members of parliament who might have presented a more moderate view than the one offered by Kent for the Canadian government.
Trudeau expressed honest and sincere apology for his unparliamentary outburst, and withdrew his remark, immediately after the incident.
However, many Canadians, including your current scribe, have been boiling inside for months at the outright arrogance, downright deception and virtual impunity from exposure by the national media for their lies, deceptions and talking points, which rarely, if ever, answer reporters' questions. It is as if this government is above all that mundane stuff of  truth, full disclosure and collaborative listening to the opinions of others, given their adamant and incessant assertion of their most repeated line,"We were given a strong mandate to do precisely what we are doing by the Canadian people"....and therefore we are supposed to accept whatever it is they wish to do.
Trudeau spoke for thousands, perhaps millions, of angered, frustrated and dispossessed Canadians in breaking through the veil of assumed holiness with which the government has wrapped itself.
Listening to the responses to the outburst being read on CBC television this morning, with emails from western Canada deeply critical of Trudeau, probably more displaced anger at his father than over the current incident, one is struck by the deep divide that exists between the west and the central part of this country and the potential for the government to ride its own windfall, in the proposal for new seats in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario. They will likely assure themselves of another majority government in 2015, simply by refusing to answer questions, refusing to disclose normal parliamentary information, and by creating some 30-plus new seats.
Meanwhile, we are left wondering how many other outbursts (NDP Patrick Martin blew a verbal gasket on an email just last month at the government's abuse of parliament and has not apologized.) there will be before the government is forced to change their attitude, if ever.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"The Protester" TIME Magazine's Person of the Year for 2011

Associated Press, in Globe and Mail, December 14, 2011
The Protester” has been named Time's “Person of the Year” for 2011.

The selection was announced Wednesday on NBC's “The Today Show.”
The magazine cited dissent across the Middle East that has spread to Europe and the United States, and says these protesters are reshaping global politics....
Time said it is recognizing protesters because they are “redefining people power” around the world.

Last year, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg got the honor.

Time's “Person of the Year” is the person or thing that has most influenced the culture and the news during the past year for good or for ill. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke received the honor in 2009. The 2008 winner was then-President-elect Barack Obama. Other previous winners have included Bono, President George W. Bush, and CEO and founder Jeff Bezos.
"The Protester" is an excellent choice, and the waves of influence continue to roll in Moscow, in the U.S., and still those courageous citizens of several countries in the Middle East are still being struck down (yesterday, reports tols of 8 killed by the Syrian authorities in their protest to bring down their president, Assad.)
Even in Canada, where the authorities have virtually forced the encampments into exile, there are clear indications that the theme of "income disparity" has taken on a face of its own, currently the Attawapiskat housing crisis.
And there are reported to be at least 100 more First Nations housing crises across the country, waiting for the public, the media and the politicians to bring their eye lenses into focus in order to see them clearly.
Protesting, especially in a "politically correct" culture takes considerable courage, imagination and perserverance.
It draws on those most committed to shifting the power structure from the elite to the bottom 99%.
People in the streets in Moscow have been very careful to tell reporters interviewing them that "we do no want a revolution, we just want our votes to count". So even Vladimir Putin is now having to deal with a protest movement that questions the legitimacy of his own election. Incidentally, Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, also chimed in to question the legitimacy of the voting in Russia, that is a mighty strong political voice in support of the people in Russia.
The Occupy Movement could, conceivably, shape the Presidential election in the U.S. in 2011, with President Obama already sending out signals that "fairness" and shared opportunity are cornerstones of the American bargain, if the society is to function effectively for everyone. The Republicans are still advocating lower taxes for the rich, and less government, and the destruction and removal of the Obama Health Reform Act.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Ibbitson: Laurentian Consensus is "dead"...let's wait and watch before concurring

Speaking on TVO'sBig Ideas this weekend, john Ibbitson, Ottawa Bureau Chief for the Globe and Mail, described the May 2nd election of 2011 as the defeat of the Lautentian Consensus.
He defines the Laurentian Consensus this way: for the history of Canada, the politics and policies of the country were the result of elites in academia, culture, media, the arts from the cities of Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and the smaller centres along the St. Lawrence. Their focus was primarily to Europe, to European immigrants, to relations between Quebec and the rest of Canada; Immigrants to Canada voted primarily for the Liberal Party. And the west was virtually excluded from the "inner circle" of the discussion.
The Laurentian Consensus considered it axiomatic that in order to win a majority government, a political party had to win majorities in both Quebec and Ontario.
Now, according to Ibbitson, the voters of Ontario have aligned themselves with the voters of the west, and question of Quebec no longer dominates our political discussion or debate. Increasingly, immigrants have been recepting to the "family values" policies of the Harper Conservatives, and have voted a majority government without Quebec, and now, instead of looking to Europe, Canada, led by the perspective of westerners, look to the Far East, to China, Japan, Singapore, the Philippines, as potential trading partners, and Ontario's voting pattern, led by voters in this province in both the 905 donut and the small towns and villages have joined to give their support to Harper. Additionally, Ibbitson points out, poignantly, that the previously manufacturing "have province" of Ontario is now a recipient of equalization payments from Ottawa, while it is also the largest contributor to that national fund.
With this thesis, Ibbitson considers the May 2 vote both significant and historically important for Canada, although he concedes that there are many variables that could reverse the process. Some of the variables he lists include:
  • the rise of a political force in Quebec, potentially even the federal Liberal Party to prominence
  • the collapse of the NDP in Quebec
  • the rise of another separatist or sovereignist party in Quebec
  • a shift away from the Harperites among urban dwellers in Ontario
  • the potential of the Conservatives to self-sabotage
  • a new, united progressive political party to challenge the Conservatives
He points out that "patriotism" of the "heart-on-your-sleeve" variety was anathema to the Laurentian Consensus, whereas under Harper, patriotism is declared with both volume and vigour, including the word 'royal'.
A self-styled conservative columnist in the Globe and Mail, Ibbitson is clearly trumping the victory of his 'team' over the previous and despised Liberal governments.
Does he believe that the current government is about to dismantle the "good" that made this country Canada, previously accomplished by the Liberal governments of the last 150 years? No.
Does he worry that social programs will be gutted under the Harper government? Again, No.
Is he right about the demise of the Laurentian Consensus? An interesting political theory and analysis of voting patterns, especially where the conservatives picked up seats from the Liberals in ridings where the immigrant vote reaches the mid-forties or higher.
We will all be watching to see if the Ibbitson 'theory' is validated by the next few years of Canadian cultural and attitudinal shifts as demonstrated by shifting voting patterns, shifting national agendas and shifting power blocks.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Leaders fiddling while Rome (and others) burn...Nero is alive and well!

By Susan Sachs, Globe and Mail, December 10, 2011
Germany and France, the two biggest economies in the euro zone, were the driving force behind the move for greater EU fiscal regulation.

Just 23 of the 27 EU countries signed on outright to draft a new treaty binding them to a uniform regime of deficit controls and budget regulation. Only one country said no: Britain. Three more say they are open to the idea.
The splintered decision raised the obvious question of whether EU solidarity has been gutted for good.
At one post-summit news conference, a journalist jokingly wondered how many members the EU really has. Jerzy Buzek, the Polish president of the European Parliament, stumbled for an answer. “Certainly one member state wouldn’t agree on further European integration,” he said, but the others are in favour or might be.
“That’s 26 versus one,” said Mr. Buzek, “so we have good results.”
All 17 countries that use the euro currency, signed on outright to draft a new treaty binding them to a uniform regime of deficit limits and budget monitoring.
So did another six countries that were on track to join the euro zone, most of them in Eastern Europe. The Czech Republic and Hungary, where antipathy to euro-meddling is strong, went along reluctantly.
Three others, including economically robust Sweden, which fears contamination from the euro-zone problems, conditionally accepted the fiscal compact although they have no plans to switch to the euro.
Britain, after failing to win an exception for its financial sector, refused to join at all. Prime Minister David Cameron, declaring his country would never adopt the euro, said he could not accept a treaty that might eventually give the EU power to regulate financial services.
The summit agreement also pledged up to €200-million in bilateral loans from EU countries to the International Monetary Fund for propping up the most debt-ridden countries, like Italy, in the euro zone.
And this by Doug Saunders, Globe and Mail, December 10, 2011
But most of all, David Cameron failed. The British Prime Minister will be applauded by his more isolationist backbenchers for his decision to pull out of Friday’s euro-rescue treaty, making Britain probably alone among the 27 European Union countries in refusing to participate in the pooling of resources and common sacrifice necessary to put the continent’s finances back on track.

His withdrawal is a serious blow to Europe, the world’s largest single economy – making a collapse of investor confidence in the continent far more likely, and forcing the bloc into an imposed Franco-German solution rather than the sort of larger arrangement that Britain could have helped organize, if it had been constructive instead of destructive.
This is not a localized matter: All major economies, including Canada’s, are highly exposed to the euro; a fall could collapse banks in North America, too. This was the worst imaginable moment for nationalist isolation. Yet, that was what we got.
So it’s almost certainly a disaster for Britain. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where, in the wake of a 26-country agreement to create a fiscal and financial regulatory union with one dissenter, Britain doesn’t end up more isolated from Europe.
While Mr. Cameron’s Euro-skeptic MPs argue that Britain should withdraw into a trade-only relationship with Europe along the lines of Norway or Switzerland, they don’t understand: Britain’s trade ties with the continent are built on six decades of common laws, standards and regulations, all of which are now jeopardized. The British exemption could only result in less trade, not more.
The stakes are huge. This is a country, remember, whose annual trade with its 26 EU neighbours is between £140-billion and £185-billion, somewhere between 50 per cent and 60 per cent of all imports and exports. By comparison, it does £33.5-billion in business with the United States (15 per cent), £5.1-billion with China (2.3 per cent) and £3.6-billion with Canada (1.6 per cent).
The crippling of that relationship – the rejection of a country of 60 million by a continent of 500 million – would be a noticeable loss for Europe’s exporters, but a near total one for Britain’s. As every British prime minister learns within days of taking office, almost everything depends on good relations with the European neighbours.
Within Britain, Mr. Cameron will get a warm response: Europe is unpopular with voters, and there’s constant talk of Mr. Cameron’s facing a challenge from his party’s anti-Europe starboard flank. That’s pretty implausible. While many Tory MPs call themselves Euro-skeptics (and who, these days, isn’t somewhat skeptical about the euro?), the caucus of MPs that actually wants Britain to pull out of the EU, the “Better Off Out” group, has only 10 members. Let’s presume there’s a similar number hiding in the closet. In a party with 306 seats, that’s hardly a challenge.
The idea that this was necessary to protect the City of London from European regulations also holds no water. The threats will be worse with Britain outside, as it won’t be able to veto them (and they can still be imposed).
The threat of an emergency financial services tax imposed by the EU was also non-existent: Britain already has such a tax, the only one in Europe (its stamp duty), and it hasn’t prevented the Square Mile from becoming the world’s premier trading destination.
Reports suggest Mr. Cameron had genuinely wanted a 27-country pact but froze at the prospect of facing voters with an agreement that didn’t offer exemptions to Britain. His country has always been the European exception, ever since Margaret Thatcher negotiated lower EU membership fees in 1984. In this case, Mr. Cameron knew full well he was trading a momentary political gain for a long-term loss.
“I think I did the right thing for Britain,” Mr. Cameron told the BBC on Friday, claiming that Britain could take or leave pieces of the EU – a cafeteria common market. No serious observer believed him. Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister, certainly didn’t: “Any Euro-skeptic who might be rubbing their hands in glee about the outcome of the summit should be careful for what they wish for.”
What is especially distressing, to this observer, is the reluctance to interfere with the Financial Services sector of the economy on both sides of the Atlantic.
In the U.S. legislators seem to be virtually "in bed" with the financial services sector, bailing out large financial service companies that sold bundles of bogus mortgages to investors around the world, thereby seriously disabling the world's fragile economy, still strugging to adapt to the vagaries of globalization. Subsequently, there have been no prosecutions, no arrests and no court hearings for those responsible. Meanwhile, the Republicans and Tea Partiers in Congress continue to block any attempt to remove the Bush tax cuts for the rich, while also taking a hands-off approach to serious financial regulations. They are even withholding approval for the White House nominee to head the Consumer Protection Bureau that seeks some leverage for ordinary Americans.
Now we learn that David Cameron, Prime Minister of Great Britain (however ironic that name has now become), has withdrawn from the new EU negotiations which will require member countries to limit their debt and deficit spending, in a continental approach to the problem, following the recent near collapse of more than one member country...Greece, Italy, potentially Portugal, Ireland, and some even suspect Great Britain herself.
Are we witnessing the capitulation of governments to the financial services sector's power and influence over their "political puppets"? Is this another indication that politicians are afraid to "bite the hand that feeds them"?
Do we have an emasculation of the "truth-to-power" axiom on which all democracies depend?
When presidents, prime ministers and chief executives of governments bow to the will of the financial services sector, who is in charge of the hen-house?
If the large economies of the western world are now under the thumb of right-wing politicians and their financial services sector cheque-writing backers, leaving the latter controlling the political actors, then what hope is there for the 99% who do not belong to the world's power cabal?
Fortunately, both Merkel and Sarkozy are trying to provide leadership, but without Cameron and the UK on side, their hands are tied behind their backs. Obama has tried on several occasions, but his hands, too, are in hand-cuffs bearing Tea Party monikers, behind his back.
In Canada, where a right-wing conservative government has no effective opposition, except one that rants and raves loudly, without holding enough votes to restrain government stupidity, there is no Merkel and no Sarkozy.
And then behind the financial services sector, looming with their "bond ratings" like a piano examiner waiting to pounce on tiny children who did not practice enough, Standard and Poors bond raters salivate to bring a tripple A rating down to a Double A or even lower.
Is the world now beholden to both the financial services behemoths, and their libertarian deregulation-fighters, with their impotent political Charlie McCarthy's and their script-writing Standard and Poors?
The reason for the question is that at the core of this industry is a single human motivation: GREED!
And contrary to the words spoken by Michael Douglas in the movie Wall Street, we do not agree that "Greed is good!"
When personal self-interest trumps the good of a nation, or in this case the European Union, or the United States, or Canada, then hope for equality of opportunity for all flies out the window, like the moths that have accumulated over the winter, when windows are opened first in Spring.
In 1912, Teddy Roosevelt told us the same story in the speech in Iowa.
This week, Obama told us the same story in the same small town in Iowa.
In Brussels, by his intransigence, David Cameron beamed another light on the same story.
A week or two ago, the former leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, Michael Ignatieff, repeated the same story, on a TVO interview on Big Ideas.
We all know the truth of the story. And we all watch, virtually in silent disgust, powerless, as leaders trample on the larger truth, missing in our political discourse.
Reminds one of the completely emasculated Durban Conference this week on the Environment....
Powerless leaders, frightened leaders, emasculated leaders....fiddling while Rome and many other cities "burn"...