Friday, November 30, 2012

Too much irony and careless insouciance...or not?

The ironic frame functions as a shield against criticism. The same goes for ironic living. Irony is the most self-defensive mode, as it allows a person to dodge responsibility for his or her choices, aesthetic and otherwise. To live ironically is to hide in public. It is flagrantly indirect, a form of subterfuge, which means etymologically to “secretly flee” (subter + fuge). Somehow, directness has become unbearable to us.....This kind of defensive living works as a pre-emptive surrender and takes the form of reaction rather than action....
While we have gained some skill sets (multitasking, technological savvy), other skills have suffered: the art of conversation, the art of looking at people, the art of being seen, the art of being present. Our conduct is no longer governed by subtlety, finesse, grace and attention, all qualities more esteemed in earlier decades. Inwardness and narcissism now hold sway....
I, too, exhibit ironic tendencies. For example, I find it difficult to give sincere gifts. Instead, I often give what in the past would have been accepted only at a White Elephant gift exchange: a kitschy painting from a thrift store, a coffee mug with flashy images of “Texas, the Lone Star State,” plastic Mexican wrestler figures. Good for a chuckle in the moment, but worth little in the long term. Something about the responsibility of choosing a personal, meaningful gift for a friend feels too intimate, too momentous. I somehow cannot bear the thought of a friend disliking a gift I’d chosen with sincerity. The simple act of noticing my self-defensive behavior has made me think deeply about how potentially toxic ironic posturing could be.
First, it signals a deep aversion to risk. As a function of fear and pre-emptive shame, ironic living bespeaks cultural numbness, resignation and defeat. If life has become merely a clutter of kitsch objects, an endless series of sarcastic jokes and pop references, a competition to see who can care the least (or, at minimum, a performance of such a competition), it seems we’ve made a collective misstep. (from Christy Wampole's opinion piece in New York Times, on NPR's On Point website, November 30, 2012, below)
I encountered something akin to Ms Wampole's irony when working with a colleague who, when he made an error at work merely said, "I didn't do it!" Both he and I knew that he had, indeed, "done it" but he was more than content, in fact needed to disclaim and disown responsibility or was he merely detaching from his error? Being a "old fogie," I found his responses distasteful, even unacceptable, and mistakenly attributed them to a culture of a local region with which I was slowly becoming familiar.
Yet, there is an all-too familiar note of ironic "detachment" or "disinterest" in what we might call potentially "sand-paper situations" in which the encounter might be conflicted even troublesome, perhaps even inflicting a mortal wound to the relationship.
Living ironically is "to hide in public" something we all notice around us, all the time. First, we rode in "sealed capsules" those cars we chose to ride to and from work in, by ourselves, disconnected from the hurly-burly of whatever is going on outside the bubble. Then, we created "cocoons" in our homes, narcissistically padding every corner, soothing the atmosphere with elevator music in stereo, and then dolby, then we added fifty-inch television screens, imitating the movie theatre in our own space, adding whatever luxurious amenities we could afford, like hot-tubs, spas, bars, jet tubs, and digitized electronics. Then we began to hide behind, or in front of, the computer screen, "connecting" with the world through digitized images, and then we added the hand-held devices that "command" our fixed gaze, in some "electronic apparel" that we have permitted to speak for our identity. "What kind of cell phone is your's?" "How fast is your network?" "Is it 4G yet?" "Oh, mine is!" "What a shame your's isn't!"
We listen to what are called political debates, knowing, as does every participant, that they are all "political theatre," and certainly not to be taken seriously, either by the speaker nor by the audience. And, so there is another profound example of ironic detachment from reality, under the rubric of "informing the public" when, in most cases, the experience shelters and clouds and separates the public from the truth and the reality of the situation. And now, with electronic devices, we have all become pundits, and we have all abrogated the language and the stance of the political leader whose capacity to "entertain" is one of the more important criteria for election, certainly not his/her capacity to lead.
Reactive living, along with the failure to actually see and be seen, and the failure or refusal to engage fully in conversation permits us to "flip off" virtually all aspects of our lives, including those that might actually have some deep and lasting meaning.
And with that comes an arrogant insouciance (the cheerful feeling you have when nothing is troubling you) as if you virtually and literally could care less about everything. It's called "cool" and I believe it was Marshall McLuhan who considered television the "cool medium" while radio was considered "hot"....and we have been increasingly our capacity and our addiction to becoming cool and more cool ever since.
A personal, intimate gift for a friend seeming too momentous, as Ms Wampole sees it, is another sign of the resistance to closeness, to being misinterpreted and considered "out-of-step" or "too intense"...and being, potentially, taken for granted, something that is akin to rape, for the contemporary ironists.
Fortunately, I have been considered "too much," and "too intense" and "too direct" all of my seven decades, through many social and cultural stages and masks to now revert to "ironic cool" one would believe it anyway, and I certainly would not sleep nights, if I even tried.
Risk aversion, however, is neither driven by, nor sourced in, irony, exclusively.
Risk aversion is wanting so much to be liked that one takes on the "protective colouration" of the environment, (in the case of humans that is the social-cultural-political environment, whereas with our four-legged friends, that usually means the vegetation). It comes with all ages, ethnicities, religions and generations. And it has since the beginning of recorded history. There are moments, however, when humans pull away from the conventional, and the comfortable, and throw off the expected, if only to demonstrate that they can to themselves, if not also to others, when something important seems to be "on the line" and then irony is no longer acceptable. For example men and women serving in Afghanistan peeled off their ironic mask the moment they landed in the war zone, as witnessed by the emails they sent to Ms Wampole in response to her articulate and provocative piece. When anyone comes face to face with a truth, perhaps a truth that might have been hitting them on the head, without their being either able or willing to name it, and then, suddenly, 'the light goes on' in their consciousness, there is, then no room, time or need for is like facing the loaded rifle of the enemy, and it is time to come clean with one's self. A gun, of any kind, pointed to the head, as the saying goes, does tend to focus the mind. That could be the gun of a potential loss of a marriage, or the gun of a potential firing, or the gun of a potential bankruptcy, or the gun of an iminent car crash....and while such moments are the sine qua non of most dramatic theater, they are not the stuff of "ordinary" daily bread and butter.
Religious leaders tend, too often, to try to paint conversion experiences in terms similar to the pointed gun, leading inevitably to "hell" or damnation or a closed door to eternal life....if the individual who is living "in sin" does not change his/her ways.
It may well be a metaphoric method of "focusing the mind" (on where the individual wishes to spend eternity) but is smacks of a complete and utter distortion and dissembling of anything that any God worthy of worship and trust would respect.
There is another "irony" in all this: that is that underneath our "carelessness insouciance" we are in fact, more caring and more compassionate and more willing to express that compassion, provided it is not merely another "staged" loading of the resume, for the corporate purposes of "personal aggrandizement" and another step up the ladder of "corporate, political and social success"....
And that just might be indicated in the plethora of non-profits that have sprung up in the last decade-plus, all over the world, conceived and executed by young people of all nationalities and cultures, on behalf of the millions we all know are struggling merely to survive, where irony is an insult to their very existence.
This is a highly sophisticated society of well-informed, and insightful young people, more highly educated then any of their predecessor generations, and also living in and through one of the most turbulent, even revolutionary times in memory, when more information is being generated, stored, disseminated, and analysed than previously, more and more subtle films are being written, produced, directed, acted and distributed, more books and periodicals being written and read and analysed and at the same time, there is a feeling of powerlessness that accompanies us, like our underwear, every time we leave home and enter the public arena.
Perhaps, this generation will be the ones to harness that powerless, bring their own creativity and imaginations to the task and generate models of collaboration that include the full range of literary, human, social, political and cultural expression, not to mention the inclusion of all races, ethnicities and religions...and that millennium would be one  which we would all choose to visit, if not move into permanently.
I prefer the view of the second guest on Tom's On Point, Jonathan Fitzgerald, author of the forthcoming Not Your Mother’s Morals: How the New Sincerity Is Changing Pop Culture for the Better and the editor of
Fitzgerald, while agreeing that irony is not a sustaining ethos for an authentic life, nevertheless, does not have the serious concerns that contemporary culture and society is drowning irreparably in irony. Neither do I!
How to live without irony
By Christy Wampole, New York Times, from NPR's On Point website, November 30, 2012
Ms Wampole teaches French adn Italian at Princeton University, where, she says, her students do not use irony in any of their exchanges with her.
If irony is the ethos of our age — and it is — then the hipster is our archetype of ironic living.
The hipster haunts every city street and university town. Manifesting a nostalgia for times he never lived himself, this contemporary urban harlequin appropriates outmoded fashions (the mustache, the tiny shorts), mechanisms (fixed-gear bicycles, portable record players) and hobbies (home brewing, playing trombone). He harvests awkwardness and self-consciousness. Before he makes any choice, he has proceeded through several stages of self-scrutiny. The hipster is a scholar of social forms, a student of cool. He studies relentlessly, foraging for what has yet to be found by the mainstream. He is a walking citation; his clothes refer to much more than themselves. He tries to negotiate the age-old problem of individuality, not with concepts, but with material things.
He is an easy target for mockery. However, scoffing at the hipster is only a diluted form of his own affliction. He is merely a symptom and the most extreme manifestation of ironic living. For many Americans born in the 1980s and 1990s — members of Generation Y, or Millennials — particularly middle-class Caucasians, irony is the primary mode with which daily life is dealt. One need only dwell in public space, virtual or concrete, to see how pervasive this phenomenon has become. Advertising, politics, fashion, television: almost every category of contemporary reality exhibits this will to irony.
Take, for example, an ad that calls itself an ad, makes fun of its own format, and attempts to lure its target market to laugh at and with it. It pre-emptively acknowledges its own failure to accomplish anything meaningful. No attack can be set against it, as it has already conquered itself. The ironic frame functions as a shield against criticism. The same goes for ironic living. Irony is the most self-defensive mode, as it allows a person to dodge responsibility for his or her choices, aesthetic and otherwise. To live ironically is to hide in public. It is flagrantly indirect, a form of subterfuge, which means etymologically to “secretly flee” (subter + fuge). Somehow, directness has become unbearable to us.
How did this happen? It stems in part from the belief that this generation has little to offer in terms of culture, that everything has already been done, or that serious commitment to any belief will eventually be subsumed by an opposing belief, rendering the first laughable at best and contemptible at worst. This kind of defensive living works as a pre-emptive surrender and takes the form of reaction rather than action.
Life in the Internet age has undoubtedly helped a certain ironic sensibility to flourish. An ethos can be disseminated quickly and widely through this medium. Our incapacity to deal with the things at hand is evident in our use of, and increasing reliance on, digital technology. Prioritizing what is remote over what is immediate, the virtual over the actual, we are absorbed in the public and private sphere by the little devices that take us elsewhere.
Furthermore, the nostalgia cycles have become so short that we even try to inject the present moment with sentimentality, for example, by using certain digital filters to “pre-wash” photos with an aura of historicity. Nostalgia needs time. One cannot accelerate meaningful remembrance.
While we have gained some skill sets (multitasking, technological savvy), other skills have suffered: the art of conversation, the art of looking at people, the art of being seen, the art of being present. Our conduct is no longer governed by subtlety, finesse, grace and attention, all qualities more esteemed in earlier decades. Inwardness and narcissism now hold sway.
Born in 1977, at the tail end of Generation X, I came of age in the 1990s, a decade that, bracketed neatly by two architectural crumblings — of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the Twin Towers in 2001 — now seems relatively irony-free. The grunge movement was serious in its aesthetics and its attitude, with a combative stance against authority, which the punk movement had also embraced. In my perhaps over-nostalgic memory, feminism reached an unprecedented peak, environmentalist concerns gained widespread attention, questions of race were more openly addressed: all of these stirrings contained within them the same electricity and euphoria touching generations that witness a centennial or millennial changeover.
But Y2K came and went without disaster. We were hopeful throughout the ’90s, but hope is such a vulnerable emotion; we needed a self-defense mechanism, for every generation has one. For Gen Xers, it was a kind of diligent apathy. We actively did not care. Our archetype was the slacker who slouched through life in plaid flannel, alone in his room, misunderstood. And when we were bored with not caring, we were vaguely angry and melancholic, eating anti-depressants like they were candy.
FROM this vantage, the ironic clique appears simply too comfortable, too brainlessly compliant. Ironic living is a first-world problem. For the relatively well educated and financially secure, irony functions as a kind of credit card you never have to pay back. In other words, the hipster can frivolously invest in sham social capital without ever paying back one sincere dime. He doesn’t own anything he possesses.
Obviously, hipsters (male or female) produce a distinct irritation in me, one that until recently I could not explain. They provoke me, I realized, because they are, despite the distance from which I observe them, an amplified version of me.
I, too, exhibit ironic tendencies. For example, I find it difficult to give sincere gifts. Instead, I often give what in the past would have been accepted only at a White Elephant gift exchange: a kitschy painting from a thrift store, a coffee mug with flashy images of “Texas, the Lone Star State,” plastic Mexican wrestler figures. Good for a chuckle in the moment, but worth little in the long term. Something about the responsibility of choosing a personal, meaningful gift for a friend feels too intimate, too momentous. I somehow cannot bear the thought of a friend disliking a gift I’d chosen with sincerity. The simple act of noticing my self-defensive behavior has made me think deeply about how potentially toxic ironic posturing could be.
First, it signals a deep aversion to risk. As a function of fear and pre-emptive shame, ironic living bespeaks cultural numbness, resignation and defeat. If life has become merely a clutter of kitsch objects, an endless series of sarcastic jokes and pop references, a competition to see who can care the least (or, at minimum, a performance of such a competition), it seems we’ve made a collective misstep. Could this be the cause of our emptiness and existential malaise? Or a symptom?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Questions for Ms Timson...on gender equality

If women are rising, it doesn’t mean men are declining

By Judith Timson, Toronto Star, November 29, 2012

But what about the war on men? We hear dire warnings about boys failing and how we are failing them by trying to make them more like girls, about how men are psychologically diminished by the “feminization” of the workplace, and how quotas for women in science will erode excellence.

We read, in provocative books like Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men, that many women are earning more than their male partners, creating a new ruthless matriarchy in which men are left in the dust.

But of course it’s far more nuanced than that. Male psyches have been more damaged by the collapse of the manufacturing industry and the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs than they have been by a campaign to lure young women to the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines.
Still, I don’t doubt the concern of a twentysomething man who says, “if I am up for a job and an equally accomplished woman is, she will most likely get it.”
Women of my generation would mutter, welcome to what our world used to look like. But of course we want our husbands, our sons, our daughters’ partners — to succeed.
It doesn’t have to be binary. It’s a retro conservative notion that if women are on the rise, men must flail and fail.
Yes, men have to adjust psychologically — they have to walk back a sense of entitlement that has been nurtured in them up to and including this current young adult generation.
The difference is, this new crop of young men know in their hearts that it’s b.s. and that they can’t get what they want any more just because they are men.
That’s what equality looks like. Imagine that.
What would Ms Timson say to the guidance teacher, recently retired, who noted, sadly, that boys, upon learning that there were (and are) different admission standards for male and female students entering engineering in some universities, shut down their ambitions, because they knew they were not playing on an level playing field?
What would Ms Timson say to the indisputable evidence that far more boys are administered drugs for ADHD, too often because they do not "comply" with the classroom culture that is designed by female teachers for female students?
What would Ms Timson say to the comparative drop-out rates for male and female students....just that boys are both lazy and undirected?
Telling males to "adjust psychologically" is one of the most arrogant and presumptuous, parental admonishments I have heard or read in the last several years....and with respect, it merits a retraction, which, of course, it will not get....
Some women actually believe that men were actively and co-ordinatedly conspiring against women over the last two thousand if the many generations of men could be herded, like sheep, into a single and pure point of view about either superiority or inferiority. Ms Timson must be one such female.
And the perspective of such women is anathema to any hope for gender equality, now or in the long-term future. It SUCKS!

Hope for Homeless man, from NYPD officer DePrimo

Officer gives boots to homeless man; kindness sparks online sensation

From The Associated Press in Toronto Star, November 29, 2012

NEW YORK— A tourist’s snapshot of a New York City police officer giving new boots to a barefoot homeless man in Times Square has created an online sensation.
Jennifer Foster, of Florence, Ariz., was visiting New York with her husband on Nov. 14, when she came across the shoeless man asking for change in Times Square.
As she was about to approach him, she said the officer — identified as Larry DePrimo — came up to the man with a pair of all-weather boots and thermal socks on the frigid night. She recorded his generosity on her cellphone.
It was posted Tuesday night to the NYPD’s official Facebook page and became an instant hit. More than 325,000 users “liked” it as of Thursday morning, and over 79,000 shared it.
Thousands of people commented, including one person who praised him as “An officer AND a Gentleman.”
The photo shows the officer kneeling beside the man with the boots at his feet. A shoe store is seen in the background.
The NYPD Facebook page on Thursday posted a comment from DePrimo saying “I didn’t think anything of it” and updated it with a photo of DePrimo taken in 2011.
“’I have these size 12 boots for you, they are all-weather. Let’s put them on and take care of you,’” Foster quoted DePrimo as saying to the homeless man. “The officer squatted down on the ground and proceeded to put socks and the new boots on this man. The officer expected NOTHING in return and did not know I was watching.”
Foster said she’s worked in law enforcement for 17 years and has never been more impressed.
“His presentation of human kindness has not been lost on myself or any of the Arizona law enforcement officials with whom this story has been shared,” Foster wrote on Facebook. She said she never got the officer’s name.
DePrimo, who is assigned to the Sixth Precinct and lives on Long Island, told Newsday that the homeless man “smiled from ear to ear” after getting the boots.
“It was like you gave him a million dollars,” he added.
He told The New York Times that he keeps the receipt for the boots in his vest to remind him “that sometimes people have it worse.”

UPDATE: General Assembly gives Palestine non-member observer status

Palestinians win historic UN vote over Canada’s objections

By Olivia Ward, Toronto Star, Novembebr 29, 2012
Did the Earth move?

For the Palestinians, who won a historic 138-9 vote at the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday — with 41 abstentions — upgrading their UN status from observer to “non-member observer state” was a seismic shift.
Not so for Canada, which stood stolidly on the sidelines, weighing in against the move as destructive to a negotiated peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, and warning that “we will be considering all available next steps” in response.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
In about two hours, the General Assembly of the United Nations is likely to vote overwhelmingly in favour of increased Palestinian status as a member state of the United Nations. While not earth-shaking, it will give Palestine under Abbas the right to take Israel to the Interational Court charged with war crimes.
Canada and the United Sates will vote against, while many European states will either vote in favour or abstain. Germany, in particular, has announced it will abstain, a significant move against the United States. Great Britain's intentions are a little unclear, although the Foreign Secretary has indicated that, should Britain receive the kind of assurances it seeks, it would be prepared to vote in favour of the resolution.
We believe that both Canada and the U.S. are on the wrong side on this vote. There are several reasons:
  • For Israel to continue negotiating with Hamas, and snub Abbas who has all along sought a peaceful negotiated settlement and a two-state solution with Israel, seems hypocritical, especially since the most recent conflict against Hamas effectively sidelined Abbas and the Palestinians on the West Bank.
  • Increased stature for the Palestinians under Abbas would provide some United Nations impetus for both Israel and Palestine to return to the negotiating table
  • It would demonstrate that the world does not support what has turned out to be the Hamas view of healthy relations with Israel, that is open military conflict, especially given its most recent 8-day war, in which it claims least the moral victory of enhanced respect among the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt, Turkey, Quatar and considerable financial support from these quarters.
  • It would demonstrate that there is not a "block" of unanimity among the worlds major powers, opening up leverage in many quarters, to push and shove both Israel and Palestine back to the negotiating table
There is, however, another view, yesterday expressed on WHYY's Fresh Air, with Terry Gross. Her guest was Robert Malley, a program director for the International Crisis Group, who expressed the view that any alliance in the Middle East is "convenient" and hardly engraved in stone. He also pointed listeners to the possibility that Israel might prefer a "period of no open hostilities with the Palestinians, including Hamas, rather than a two-state resolution, since it might provide greater security, however ambiguous, for the Israeli people.
Following the Arab Spring, the recent truce negotiations choreographer by Morsi, the new Muslim Brotherhood president of Egypt, and the extreme fluidity in the Middle East, Israel's best interests may well be protected through a more complex and less dogmatic and dramatic resolution, one that included a commitment to peaceful co-existence, something that Hamas, Hezbollah and certainly Iran would not welcome.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Machiavellian PMO choreographs Bill C-377 to "gut unions

(T)he bill (C-377) is remarkably intrusive. It would require the names and addresses of anyone who gives or receives more than $5,000 from a union. Unions would also have to categorize how and why they spent their funds.

Yet neither Hiebert nor his backers would extend that oversight to others claiming similar tax deductions.
Finance department figures show that the tax exemption for union and professional dues does indeed cost the federal treasury $795 million in lost revenue annually. How much is attributed to unionists and how much to others unaffected by this bill, such as doctors and lawyers, is not stated.
But the same figures show plenty of other revenue losses attributable to tax breaks. High rollers paid in stock options cost the treasury $725 million. Those claiming capital gains deductions cost $3.7 billion. So-called carrying-cost deductions reduce federal revenues by $1 billion.
Yet neither Hiebert nor any other Conservative is demanding a public accounting of how these taxpayer-subsidized moneys are spent.
From Thomas Walkom's column, "Walkom: Bill C-377 and the right’s stealth attack on union funding," Toronto Star, November 28, 2012, below)

Since when is the government the parent to the unions and their membership and leadership, as to where their money comes from or goes to? With voices like those of REAL WOMEN, admitting their grievance with unions is that they spend money on "left-wing causes" like a woman's right to decide what happens to her own body, through, if necessary, a therapeutic abortion, gay rights, an anti-poverty cook book. Should it become clear that union dues were, indeed, spent in support of Quebec separation, and that information is available without resorting to Bill C-377, as a federalist union member, I would take my union leadership to task for such a decision. Similarly, union dues in support of Palestine, also available without resort to this bill, would require a intra-union debate, even a motion of censure, if necessary, but the government has no business in the business of the unions. And to demonstrate the blatant political ideology of the bill, look at the list of those who benefit from tax loopholes, who are not targetted:
  • professional dues: $795 million
  • pay in stock options: $725 million
  • capital gains deductions: $3.7 billion
  • carrying cost deductions:$1 billion
Clearly, this is a deliberate, planned and carefully choreographed political "war on labour" at the core of its existence, in a clearly Machieavellian method. And it will take more than an angry labour movement, and a "fired-up and ready to go" Official Opposition, and all the legal instruments available to delay, derail, "stay" and finally defeat this bill in the House of Commons.
If the Labour movement, joined with the NDP and any other members in the House were to prepare a joint legal brief to the Supreme Court, prior to the bill's getting to the floor, and at least prior to the second reading, (remember the Conservatives have a majority that means they can pass this thing, willynilly, without the public even uttering  whimper. And that is precisely what Harper is counting on. Like Thatcher and Reagan, Harper is determined to destroy both the Liberal Party and the Labour Movement, as his legacy to Canadians.

Walkom: Bill C-377 and the right’s stealth attack on union funding

By Thomas Walkom, Toronto Star, November 28, 2012
The Conservative government’s latest salvo against labour unions is disguised as a plea for openness. In reality, it is something quite different.
The real target of Conservative MP Russ Hiebert’s private member’s bill is union financing.
To be precise, the target is the automatic check-off — also known as the Rand formula. Mandated by law in six provinces (including Ontario), it requires all employees in a bargaining unit that has democratically chosen a union to pay union dues.
It’s a particularly Canadian solution and is named after Ivan Rand, the Supreme Court justice who pioneered the idea in 1946.
Rand was unwilling to force all workers in a unionized operation to join that union. But he did agree that those represented by a legally certified union, whether members or not, should help defray the costs — that is, pay dues.
“The power of organized labour, the necessary co-partner of capital, must be available to address the balance of what is called social justice,” Rand wrote.
For decades, all three major political parties implicitly accepted this notion of an equitable, free-enterprise society in which unions were co-equals of business. Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, however, have moved on.
Which is where Hiebert’s bill comes in.
In fact, it is not really the British Columbia MP’s bill. As my colleague Les Whittington has written, Bill C-377 is being quietly quarterbacked by the Prime Minister’s Office.
On the face of it, Bill C-377 makes no sense. It argues that because workers can treat union dues as tax deductions, the general public has the right to know — in exacting detail — how unions spend their money.
Indeed, as drafted, the bill is remarkably intrusive. It would require the names and addresses of anyone who gives or receives more than $5,000 from a union. Unions would also have to categorize how and why they spent their funds.
Yet neither Hiebert nor his backers would extend that oversight to others claiming similar tax deductions.
Finance department figures show that the tax exemption for union and professional dues does indeed cost the federal treasury $795 million in lost revenue annually. How much is attributed to unionists and how much to others unaffected by this bill, such as doctors and lawyers, is not stated.
But the same figures show plenty of other revenue losses attributable to tax breaks. High rollers paid in stock options cost the treasury $725 million. Those claiming capital gains deductions cost $3.7 billion. So-called carrying-cost deductions reduce federal revenues by $1 billion.
Yet neither Hiebert nor any other Conservative is demanding a public accounting of how these taxpayer-subsidized moneys are spent.
Why focus on unions? In his remarks to the Commons, Hiebert has never given a plausible explanation. Some who submitted briefs on the bill, however, have.
The organization REAL Women, for instance, told MPs that unions use their money improperly to support “left-wing causes” such as abortion, feminism, homosexuality, Quebec separatism and Palestinians.
Canadian Labour Watch Association, another C-377 supporter, noted that some unions funded democracy in Burma, the Vancouver Film Festival and an anti-poverty cookbook.
The point of Hiebert’s bill is not just to strangle unions and their locals with red tape. Nor is it simply to limit their political activity. Beyond all of this, as REAL Women acknowledged, is compulsory check-off.
The unstated aim of this bill is to provide ammunition to politicians, like Ontario Tory Leader Tim Hudak, who would scrap the Rand formula and introduce U.S.-style right-to-work laws designed to sap unions.
The Conservatives’ working assumption is that once Canadians see how unions spend their money, they will be scandalized. It is another round in a sophisticated public relations war designed to portray union leaders as undemocratic pork-choppers.
If the unions want to weather this, they will find it’s not enough to be outraged. They will have to be clever.

Wright: Is Hamas really a surrogate for Iran?

Is Hamas really a surrogate for Iran?
By Robert Wright, The Atlantic, November 27, 2012
Is Hamas a puppet of the Iranian regime? An affirmative answer to this question is, from the point of view of Bibi Netanyahu, a dual-use rhetorical technology: (1) It helps justify the recent bombardment of Gaza (since one goal of the operation was to deplete an Iranian-supplied missile stock that Iran could in theory activate against Israel in the event of war). (2) It helps justify Netanyahu's uncompromising stance toward Iran (since, the more pervasively threatening Iran seems to Israelis, the easier it is to convince them that the Iranian regime is beyond the reach of negotiation).

The Hamas-as-Iranian-puppet narrative gets help from American media. Consider, for example, this week's New York Times piece by David Sanger and Thom Shanker asking what the recent Israel-Gaza conflict tells us about how a possible war with Iran might play out. Referring to Netanyahu and President Obama, Sanger and Shanker write:
And one key to their war-gaming has been cutting off Iran's ability to slip next-generation missiles into the Gaza Strip or Lebanon, where they could be launched by Iran's surrogates, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad, during any crisis over sanctions or an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.
The confident assertion that Hamas is an Iranian "surrogate"--a claim Sanger and Shanker never get around to substantiating--is oddly out of touch with recent developments in the region.
It's certainly true that Hamas had, and still has, lots of Iranian-supplied missiles, the product of a close relationship that goes back years. But this past year has seen developments that changed the relationship.
First, Hamas ended its relationship with the Syrian regime and moved its leadership out of Syria--a move that not only strained relations with Syrian ally Iran but may have deeply altered them. In March, a Hamas official said Hamas would not serve as Iran's retaliatory surrogate in the event of an Israeli attack on Iran and would not get involved in an Israel-Iran war.
Second, the sudden slack in Hamas's relationship with Iran seems to have been taken up by Qatar, which is now bankrolling Hamas, and, in a different way, by Egypt, which is closer to Hamas under President Morsi than it was under Hosni Mubarek. This shift in Hamas's source of support--from Iran and Syria toward Qatar and Egypt--could prove constructive in the long run, since both Qatar and Egypt are members of the global establishment and seem to want to stay that way.
None of this means Hamas's relationship with Iran is over. Indeed, with Hamas now basking in the glow of what it's calling a victory over Israel, gratitude for the missiles Iran sent to Gaza is on conspicuous display. Still, Hamas's behavior during the conflict with Israel may say more about its relationship with Iran than any niceties emanating from Gaza afterwards. On this point it's worth reading Meir Javedanfar, an Israeli academic of Iranian descent who teaches a course on Iranian politics. His take:
Apart from supplying weapons, Iran did not have any other influence. If it did, and Hamas was acting as its proxy, the latter would not have agreed to a cease-fire and instead done everything to force Israel to launch a land invasion in Gaza. Such an outcome would have many benefits for Iran and, in fact, this is what Iran's military and political leaders wanted. They wanted to see Israel stuck in a quagmire in Gaza, with its economy and diplomatic standing suffering heavily while its relations with Egypt reached breaking point. Unfortunately for the Iranian regime, it did not get its wish precisely because Hamas is not its proxy, nor does it have any political influence over Hamas. Otherwise, the story would have been different.
The Hamas-as-Iran's-surrogate motif has dramatic appeal, and journalists, like the rest of us, like drama. But dramatization often means simplification. And when the prospect of war is real--as it was with Iraq in 2002, as it is with Iran now--journalists have a particular responsibility to resist incendiary oversimplification.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Confessions of an "outsider"

I just finished watching a video of Martha Hall Findlay's announcement of her leadership bid for the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.
Impressive for her academic record, high school graduation at 15, degrees in International Relations and Law, executive and leadership positions in private business, as well as in the corporate sector, at home and abroad (Europe), and her athletic career as a downhill ski racer, her bilingualism, and her "gutsy" and courageous approach to most challenges, she points to how she got to the starting gate in competitive downhill skiiing: by working with a team!
A perfectly qualified, perfectly admirable, perfectly bilingual, perfectly intellectually competent and perfectly trained, educated and experienced candidate for leadership of a national political party in 2012. Were there no "Shadows" and no references to anything smacking of failure, and vulnerability except the reference to knowing about cutting hotdogs and mixing them with Kraft Dinner?
Following her speech, I decided to enjoy the November afternoon sunshine and cool temperatures with a walk through the neighbourhood.
Walking along Helen Street, (means little to anyone not living in Kingston) I discovered something: my life seems to have been a statement of bucking the expected, of bucking power and authority, of living outside the box (if there even is a box!), almost without fully being aware of what I was doing.
Precisely opposite to the kind of platinum achievements of one Ms Hall Findlay!
There is a small button attached to the lamp shade in our kitchen bow-window that reads, "Question Authority" that I received from a former professor of theology at Trinity College. But the button could have been emblazoned on my forehead decades earlier.
Elsewhere I have documented my long-running conflict with my Hollywood-ambitious and hard-driving mother trained by nuns at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.
Suffice, here, to record some of many other conflicts, on the one hand subtle and covert, and on the other, the more public and overt variety, both self-sabotage and exposing others' pomposity, hypocrisy, alcoholism, inconsistency and spiritual arrogance, among other pet targets.
I really despise being treated in a manner that does not challenge me and those who, too, are targets of the directives from others, that require, for example, perfect notebooks, mere copies of the textbooks, so that the teacher could "mark" that perfection. I "forgot" my history notebook in grade eleven history class, for weeks, months, perhaps even the whole school year, although those classes were conducted extremely professionally by Ted Mitchell and I paid close attention to the requirements for tests and exams, scoring successfully, I guess, enough to convince him to turn the other way when marking notebooks. I simply could never see the benefit of copying a textbook, even perfectly and perfectly neatly, to please a very good teacher!
And then, in grade twelve, we had another strict History teacher, Isobel Marshall, trained by the nuns at Brescia Hall at the University of Western Ontario. Her routine was to instruct all students, at the beginning of class, to close their note and text books, so that she could interrogate her class on last night's assignment. What were the terms of the treaty of X?" she would ask, her hand cupped at her spindle waist, her physical and emotional control, even dominance, of the moment so complete that many generations literally feared even entering her classroom. And then she would speak the name of the next "victim" who either "performed" as expected or remained silent, in embarrassed but silent derision for failing to 'do his homework.' As one of those whose parents were on a very friendly relationship with Miss Marshall, I brazenly left my textbook open on my desk at the appropriate page, surreptitiously of course, and without mentioning my gall to any classmate, and when called upon, provided a semblance of an answer that seemed to "pass muster" for Miss Marshall, uttered while glancing at the words I was mouthing orally.
In grade thirteen, I recall, in her class, I asked a question about the United Nations, about "why" it did or did not do something. Her response, "We do not have time for that question; we have to prepare for a final departmental examination in June." And the matter of my question was dropped...forever, except in my memory!
At university (U.W.O.), having never learned to "spot" important themes in a first-year multi-century history course, in order to prepare for final examinations, I attempted, unsuccessfully of course, to memorize all the details of all the incidents and documents from 300 to 1300 A.D. in European History and scored a poor "D". I had originally enrolled in Honours History and now seemed to be making a slight turn, in the direction of English Literature, primarily because of a lecturer named John Wichello Graham, of whom I have written elsewhere in this blog.
However, after diligently attaining a "B" average in first year, primarily out of fear of my mother, had I returned home with anything less, I decided in the summer between first and second year that "I was not getting a degree for anyone else, including my mother," (hence dump the fear of failure that drove me in first year) and took out membership in a local fraternity, with two other sophomores, one from Windsor, Jerry Dimmick, and the other from Woodstock, Grant Geall.
Also, nearing the end of first year, there were elections for Residence Council at Medway Hall, then in its first year of operation, with Warden Milton Gregg, former Liberal Member of Parliament, and a distinguished presence in the beautiful new men's residence.
Feeling a little energy in my gait, I submitted my name as a candidate for Vice-president. The nomination meeting, including speechs of the candidates and their introducers/nominators/supporters was held following dinner in the Medway dining room. Earlier, I had fortunately secured the commitment of a fourth-year ROTC student, Don Milne, an aristocrat in both demeanour and intellect, who delivered, not unexpectedly, one of the more authentic and hearty nominations anyone could have expected...on the strength of his speech alone, I won the election.
Having 'shed' the umbilical cord of fear of physical punishment, and secured the election, I also reflected on the many students who were obviously getting A's and B's, from my perspective, for repeating their professors' lecture notes on tests and exams, something I found quite distasteful, especially given the new environment of the university, where, I thought, believed, perceived...(and I have no idea where this comes from!) that we were engaged in a process of discovery, not one of regurgitation. This was 1960, when the student protests, and anti-establishment activities had not really taken hold, yet I was attempting to find new ways to "get an education" that was different from the regurgitation of high school.
So, in second year, I put my name up in nomination for class president, at University College, at Western, and without any other nominees, secured the post.
In the spring of second year, after studying some fourteen hours on an April Sunday, a friend and I went out for pizza, to what was then Bondi's in the east end of London. We drove down Richmond, and entered the turn at Central, where there was a traffic island. It was about 11.30 p.m. and large wet flakes of snow were falling, as I pulled the recently purchased Volkswagen out into the northbound lane of Richmond, and was struck by an on-coming car whose lights I did not see, if they were even on.
I was charged with careless driving, appeared in a London court, following final exams, pled guilty, after which the Magistrate commented, "Just another absent-minded college student on his way for pizza"...and levied a fine. The car was badly damaged, towed to the body shop, and I was in some shock. Final exams were but a week or two away! I had no money for repairs, and although I told my father early Monday morning, I never did tell my mother about the accident.
Needless to say, exam results were not sufficient to remain in Honours English Language and Literature where I had been taking 3 English courses (Romantic, Elizabethan non dramatic, and Literary Criticism), 2 French courses (Seventeenth Century Literature and an Oral Laboratory with Grammar), 2 Latin (one prose and the other poetry) and 1 Greek course in translation for the school year.
In third year, I was required to enrol in General Arts, a significant "humbling" from the Honours program of the previous year.
Nevertheless, I had the Student Council, and the Arts and Science Ball to think about, so I would be fully occupied.
It was as UCC (University College Council) member that I was invited, along with another member of the UCC, Sheila Tweedie, to co-host the Arts and Science Ball, on February 2, 1962. The campus formal had gone by the name, UC Ball previously, but expanded in name and in venue for our year. Previously it had been held in the John Metras gym with a 'big name band' providing the music.
Our committee wanted it moved to the more formal campus dining room, in Stephenson Hall. In order to secure permission for the change of venue, Ms Tweedie and I made the appropriate appointment with the then President of the University, Dr. G. Edward Hall, who received us in his well-furnished office, with his Buckingham cigarettes on the coffee table, grey three-piece suit and  impeccably combed hair, befitting the aristocracy of the colony, of the day.
We made our pitch, to which Dr. Hall responded, "You have made a very compelling case. We will be in touch. Thank you for coming."
And he showed us out.
About one week later, we received his letter of approval.
Next it was onto the details of the formal, and how to put our "stamp" on a tradition, without merely repeating the past.
"A Flight to the Sun" was chosen as the theme, complete with mock Air Canada tickets as passes to the dance, maracas originating from the Caribbean as favours, painted with U.C. Ball '62 (note the transition to the new name was 'in progress' and not fully completed) and the music would be provided by a CBC band of some regional repute, but certainly not in the league of Tommy or Jimmy Dorsey, The Elgarts, Ray Conniff, or Glen Miller. The band was conducted by Chico Valle (pronounced Bai'yay), and had a distinctively Latin beat and sound.
One of my fraternity brothers, Geoff Stevens, then editor of the Western Gazette, chose the "ears" on the day of the long-awaited announcement of the band, to include in his highly visible box, the words, "Who the hell is Chico Valle?" as his own inimitable imprint of sardonic wit.
I feared a drop in ticket sales, but was gratified that the occasion was well attended.
For the "throne" on which to crown the "Queen of the Ball," one of the ten candidates who were vying for the honour, John Blackwell, in charge of decorations, had chosen a "shell" of some ten to twelve feet in height and perhaps eight to ten feet in width, composed of shaped re-bar steel welded to a flat iron base, with aluminum foil covering the massive shell and coloured spot lights beamed up the 'shell' from the floor. There may even be a photo in the Western yearbook of 1962.
During the last month prior to the "event," I had missed several classes, one in particular conducted by Dr. Helen Battle (that is not a misprint!) in Zoology, who had marked my absents from the lecture hall of 150 students, and forwarded a note of censure to the Dean of Arts, Dr. Stirling. Upon entering the Dean's Office, I was greeted thusly by Dr. Stirling: "You put on one helluva dance. Now go and make your peace with Dr. Battle."
Seemed reasonable to me, and not an affront either to the university's standards, nor to Dr. Battle.
Still nagging me as I watched many peers prepare for tests and exams, (not essays which required original research, some considerable thought, and some considerable planning, organizing and editing, not to mention writing, complete with footnotes, bibliography, formal typing, usually by hiring a near-campus typist), was that "regurgigating" theme, of which I was sadly, even tragically disdainful. If a college degree meant little more than mastery of a new set of definitions, new vocabulary and little or no new reading and, with most professors themselves reading from worn, tattered, decades old lecture notes, including tests and examinations that also enhanced the repetition process, then I guess I had grown less than respectful of the process, or so my behaviour seemed to indicate.
This same disdain accompanied me following graduation into the classroom of an Ontario private school, where I began teaching Grade 5 and coaching basketball and football. A thwarted athlete, first following the clipped front teeth in a minor hockey game at twelve, and then because of a sizeable commitment to piano studies through grade twelve, I finally 'tried out' for the basketball team when I entered grade thirteen, made the junior team because of my age, and made a very insignificant contribution to that effort, lacking the necessary skills and training that would have accompanied four years of team play. Not surprisingly I took to coaching like a fish to water.
At the private school I also took the opportunity to learn to play squash, that rough-and-tumble racket game in a white concrete cell with a small rubber ball. I have never been in a squash court, as a competitor, that I did not feel completely comfortable, although I had no formal training and coaching in the sport.
And when I transitioned from private school to the public system, there was considerable pressure to upgrade my qualifications, encourage both by the administration and by the OSSTF, the teachers' union, whose negotiated salary grid rewarded those with additional subject credits in their chosen speciality. I resisted, preferring a more "educational" and general Master's program, believing then, (and I am not so sure now!) that more subject training did not necessarily lead to improved teaching. Once again, I watched many of my colleagues who had "category four" qualifications, some of whom were not exactly what I would call inspiring teachers. Being stubbornly on a different page, preferring the M.Ed. (for which there was a much smaller incentive in salary) I also resisted any pressure to apply for consideration as a candidate for the Vice-principal's course, the most obvious "promotion" in the secondary school system outside of Department Head and Assistant. This pressure came mostly from my then spouse, whose perception was that I could serve in that capacity, that it would mean a significant increase in salary, and what was holding me back?
I saw those already in the post staying long hours after school, returning to school early following abbreviated summer vacations to design the timetable for the upcoming school year, attending many meetings at the board offices, running through hours of delinquent students and dispensing "punishments" (often some form of English essay which I deeply resented) during the school days and showing up as part of their job description for school games, partly as interested observers and partly as "crowd control" agents. In short, their work, like that of the principal, was never finished, and rarely rewarded either formally or informally unless and until they "moved up" to the principal's office.
I genuinely liked teaching too much to give it up for that kind of professional life.
When the opportunity presented itself, to enter the world of television journalism, I volunteered my name, without knowing or caring about the financial prospects, or even the chances of acceptance. It seemed, although a little unconventional, I belived then, and still do today, that demonstrating the use of the English language through television reporting and interviewing was one way to demonstrate the utility of learning its use, to those students, many of whom considered Engish class to be little more than BS, if that!
Television, then radio, and then print opportunities gave me a Walter Mitty playfield, in which I could ask questions, read about interesting issues at city hall, meet and converse with some very interesting and intelligent local, provincial and national political actors. I used to tell others, "Reporting is my fishing and hunting; I don't carry a gun, just a pen and a microphone, and I troll for interesting stories about interesting my  Walter Mitty hobby."
Like Martha Findlay, I was a little younger than my classmates when I graduated high school. However, unlike her in so many other ways, I nearly failed to graduate from university, took two additional degrees later in life, regrettably     never became fluently bilingual, coached some entrepreneurs, yet never really opened my own business, and never competed at the national level in anything including piano, even attempting and not completing the associateship degree from the Royal Conservatory in Toronto, at the same, inappropriate time as I was studying for grade thirteen departmentals.
My teaching career, while interesting does not command either high recognition nor high achievment, and while journalism nourished my soul, in so many different ways, I never even applied for a national position in any media nor did I envy those who held them.
I publicly scorned the peripheral development of a shopping mall on the bypass of the city where I lived, preferring and openly campaigning for a similar development in the downtown core, as part of my belief that the downtowns of too many Ontario cities and towns were being sacificed and literally and metaphorically destroyed with the inception of the chain-store-anchored peripheral mall.
In the community college, where I served in the president's office as his "assistant" (not the Vice-president), I became appalled at the sycophancy of the bureaucracy, the refusal to make waves, to ask questions, to overturn sacred cows, to innovate and to challenge the status quo. I could not then, and cannot today, some twenty years later, reconcile the politically correct sycophancy with an "educational institution." While I campaigned for enhanced opportunities in leadership for women, enhanced learning opportunities for French-language instruction, and limits to the opportunities for students and staff to smoke nicotine products, before public approval of such limits became conventional, and attempted to write staff and faculty profiles that would help the 500-plus employees of the college get to know each other a little more personally, I never made any real waves of tidal proportions, knowing that there were clear and strong limits to the changes that were feasible.
The president of the college often reminded me, "I will send you anywhere they will teach you patience!" And while I know his assessment was warranted, I nevertheless wear it with a comfort and an ease today that was not available when he pinned it to my lapel.
Later in the church, I opposed the kind of "rote" immaturity of many of the rules, expectations and military discipline which treated clergy and laity alike as infants or, at best, mere children. I never espoused either the mind-set nor the positions of the conservative side of politics, nor the Republican side, inside or outside the church (and often church and politics are indisinguishable!) preferring instead, the far-left kind of rebellion that I could not or did not express in my youth and mid-life.
 Protest(ant) and protest(or) to the end, I have invariably found myself outside looking in to the seats and board rooms of power, of influence, of sanctimony, of party membership, preferring to find a place, based on my assessment of the available information, ingested and digested as carefully and completely as seemed possible given the available time and energy, that I feel comfortable sitting in, always ready to adjust that position if and when new information becomes available, from reliable sources, and from responsible thought leaders.
And therein lies the "rub"...reliable sources, and responsible thought leaders....
I find it almost impossible to trust completely other sources, especially if and when I know that their agenda is merely transactional, as it is in too many cases today.
I hold an opinion, or express a view, because it is a view I have come to consider reasonable....however tenuously or assertively I might either express or hold that view.
I do not believe, unless I have to impart an agenda as a part of other duties and responsibilities, that I really care whether or not the reader, listener observer thinks favourably about my opinion or not. I offer it, to the universe, in the hope that it might spark some reflection, some thought, some reading and even occasionally some heartfelt conversation that might, in turn, bring about a different perspective for those engaged.
I do not wish to become involved in conversations based on some idle gossip about another human being, or in some coversations that would pass as "politically correct" or merely for appearances. I seek out others whose unconventionality supports and reinforces my own, and I find most interesting those whom many would consider "eccentric" if and when such people dare to make themselves known in a world that worships conventionality, political correctness and risk-aversion.
And I feel, on reflection, that this position has accompanied me for seven decades, through both delightful rhapsodic times and the darkest dungeons of other times.

Potsdam Institute ..dire warnings for global planet

Prepare for the Apocalypse
By Chris Hedges,, November 26, 2012
Humans must immediately implement a series of radical measures to halt carbon emissions or prepare for the collapse of entire ecosystems and the displacement, suffering and death of hundreds of millions of the globe’s inhabitants, according to a report commissioned by the World Bank. The continued failure to respond aggressively to climate change, the report warns, will mean that the planet will inevitably warm by at least 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, ushering in an apocalypse.
The 84-page document,“Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must Be Avoided,” was written for the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics and published last week. The picture it paints of a world convulsed by rising temperatures is a mixture of mass chaos, systems collapse and medical suffering like that of the worst of the Black Plague, which in the 14th century killed 30 to 60 percent of Europe’s population. The report comes as the annual United Nations Conference on Climate Change begins this Monday [Nov. 26] in Doha, Qatar.
A planetwide temperature rise of 4 degrees C—and the report notes that the tepidness of the emission pledges and commitments of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will make such an increase almost inevitable—will cause a precipitous drop in crop yields, along with the loss of many fish species, resulting in widespread hunger and starvation. Hundreds of millions of people will be forced to abandon their homes in coastal areas and on islands that will be submerged as the sea rises. There will be an explosion in diseases such as malaria, cholera and dengue fever. Devastating heat waves and droughts, as well as floods, especially in the tropics, will render parts of the Earth uninhabitable. The rain forest covering the Amazon basin will disappear. Coral reefs will vanish. Numerous animal and plant species, many of which are vital to sustaining human populations, will become extinct. Monstrous storms will eradicate biodiversity, along with whole cities and communities. And as these extreme events begin to occur simultaneously in different regions of the world, the report finds, there will be “unprecedented stresses on human systems.” Global agricultural production will eventually not be able to compensate. Health and emergency systems, as well as institutions designed to maintain social cohesion and law and order, will crumble. The world’s poor, at first, will suffer the most. But we all will succumb in the end to the folly and hubris of the Industrial Age. And yet, we do nothing.
“It is useful to recall that a global mean temperature increase of 4°C approaches the difference between temperatures today and those of the last ice age, when much of central Europe and the northern United States were covered with kilometers of ice and global mean temperatures were about 4.5°C to 7°C lower,” the report reads. “And this magnitude of climate change—human induced—is occurring over a century, not millennia.”
The political and corporate elites in the industrialized world continue, in spite of overwhelming scientific data, to place short-term corporate profit and expediency before the protection of human life and the ecosystem. The fossil fuel industry is permitted to determine our relationship to the natural world, dooming future generations. Carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas, increased from its pre-industrial concentration of about 278 parts per million (ppm) to more than 391 ppm in September 2012, with the rate of rise now at 1.8 ppm per year. We have already passed the tipping point of 350 ppm; above that level, life as we have known it cannot be sustained. The CO2 concentration is higher now than at any time in the last 15 million years. The emissions of CO2, currently about 35 billion metric tons per year, are projected to climb to 41 billion metric tons per year by 2020.
Because about 90 percent of the excess heat trapped by the greenhouse effect since 1955 is momentarily in the oceans, we have begun a process that, even if we halted all carbon emissions today, will ensure rising sea levels and major climate disruptions, including the continued melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets as well as the acidification of the oceans. The report estimates that if warming accelerates toward 4 degrees Celsius, sea levels will rise 0.5 to 1 meter, possibly more, by 2100. Sea levels will increase several meters more in the coming centuries. If warming can be kept to 2 degrees or below, sea levels will still rise, by about 20 centimeters by 2100, and probably will continue to rise between 1.5 and 4 meters above present-day levels by the year 2300. Sea-level rise, the report concludes, is likely to be below 2 meters only if warming is kept to well below 1.5 degrees. The rise in sea levels will not be uniform. Coastal areas in tropical regions will be inundated by sea-level rises that are up to 20 percent higher than those in higher latitudes.
“In particular, the melting of the ice sheets will reduce the gravitational pull on the ocean toward the ice sheets and, as a consequence, ocean water will tend to gravitate toward the Equator,” the report reads. “Changes in wind and ocean currents due to global warming and other factors will also affect regional sea-level rise, as will patterns of ocean heat uptake and warming. Sea-level rise impacts are projected to be asymmetrical even within regions and countries. Of the impacts projected for 31 developing countries, only 10 cities account for two-thirds of the total exposure to extreme floods. Highly vulnerable cities are to be found in Mozambique, Madagascar, Mexico, Venezuela, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. For small island states and river delta regions, rising sea levels are likely to have far ranging adverse consequences, especially when combined with the projected increased intensity of tropical cyclones in many tropical regions, other extreme weather events, and climate change-induced effects on oceanic ecosystems (for example, loss of protective reefs due to temperature increases and ocean acidification).”
“By the time the concentration reaches around 550 ppm (corresponding to a warming of about 2.4°C in the 2060s), it is likely that coral reefs in many areas would start to dissolve,” the report reads. “The combination of thermally induced bleaching events, ocean acidification, and sea-level rise threatens large fractions of coral reefs even at 1.5°C global warming. The regional extinction of entire coral reef eco-systems, which could occur well before 4°C is reached, would have profound consequences for their dependent species and for the people who depend on them for food, income, tourism, and shoreline protection.” The report projects that the rates of change in ocean acidity over the next century will be “unparalleled in Earth’s history.”
The global production of maize and wheat has, because of rising temperatures, been in steady decline since the 1980s. But these crop declines will be vastly accelerated in the coming years, with rising temperatures resulting in widespread malnutrition and starvation. It will mean that the poor, and especially children, will endure chronic hunger and malnutrition. There will be an increase in a variety of deadly epidemic diseases. Persistent flooding will contaminate drinking water, spreading diarrheal and respiratory illnesses. The 2012 drought, which affected 80 percent of the agricultural land in the United States, will become the norm. Tropical South America, Central Africa and all tropical islands in the Pacific are, the report says, likely to regularly experience heat waves of unprecedented magnitude, making human life in these areas difficult if not impossible to sustain.
“In this new high-temperature climate regime, the coolest months are likely to be substantially warmer than the warmest months at the end of the 20th century,” the report reads. “In regions such as the Mediterranean, North Africa, the Middle East, and the Tibetan plateau, almost all summer months are likely to be warmer than the most extreme heat waves presently experienced. For example, the warmest July in the Mediterranean region could be 9°C warmer than today’s warmest July.” It notes that these changes “potentially exceed the adaptive capacities of many societies and natural systems.”
The stress and insecurity caused by the breakdown in the climate will, the report says, “have negative effects on psychological and mental health.” It will lead to an increase in “levels of conflict and violence.” These changes “will have ramifications for national identification and alter the dynamics of traditional cultures.”
The report calls on the leaders of the industrial world to immediately institute radical steps—including a halt to the dependence on fossil fuels—to keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees C, although the report concedes that even an increase of less than 2 degrees would result in serious damage to the environment and human populations. Without a massive investment in green infrastructure that can adapt to the heat and other new extreme weather, and in the building of efficient public transportation networks and renewable energy systems to minimize carbon emissions, we will succumb to our own stupidity.
A failure to respond will assure an ecological nightmare that will most probably be accompanied by an economic, social and political breakdown. The human species, the report says, will cross “critical social system thresholds,” and “existing institutions that would have supported adaptation actions would likely become much less effective or even collapse.” The “stresses on human health, such as heat waves, malnutrition, and decreasing quality of drinking water due to seawater intrusion, have the potential to overburden health-care systems to a point where adaptation is no longer possible, and dislocation is forced.”
“There is also no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible,” it goes on. “A 4°C world is likely to be one in which communities, cities and countries would experience severe disruptions, damage, and dislocation, with many of these risks spread unequally. It is likely that the poor will suffer most and the global community could become more fractured, and unequal than today. The projected 4°C warming simply must not be allowed to occur—the heat must be turned down.”

Monday, November 26, 2012

News Flash: Mark Carney named next head of the Bank of England

In a press conference Monday morning, Mark Carney said: “I’m honoured to accept this important and demanding role.”

Carney said he would be taking on the biggest challenge going when he heads up the British central bank next year. (Mark Carney, speaking at a press conference, Monday, November 26, 2012 at which he announced his acceptance of the position of Governor of the Bank of England.)
Leave it to others to parse his motivations:
  • a detour to eventually become leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, after his five-year stint at the helm of the Bank of England.
  • a return to his wife's home country, where he also studied for his Masters and Doctorate in Economics at Oxford
  • a step onto the global stage, to test his professional, intellectual and diplomatic mettle
  • boredom with his current position as Governor of the Bank of Canada, and Canada generally.....
Suffice it to say that Mr. Carney is entering one of the hotest political posts at a time when Great Britain is struggling with both debt/deficit and also austerity measures not exactly tolerable to many Britons. He will have to calm those domestic waters with a balanced, and diplomatic presentation of alternatives for the Cameron Conservative government to consider, and he will have his own powers to implement as Governor.
Replacing Mr. Carney at the Bank of Canada, while somewhat difficult given his platinum reputation that could serve as an unwelcome foil for his successor, will require considerable insight and acumen from those responsible for the recommendation.
Watching the arc of his international career will be millions of Canadians whose pride will mount that arc with his every speech, challenge met and overcome, and retrospective following his five-year appointment. And then, who knows what the political landscape will be in Canada and around the world. Who knows if he might not be suitably positioned, in five years, to succeed Madame Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund?
Should the western world move finally out of the fiscal crisis that has beset too many of its governments since 2008, and should Mr. Carney be able to demonstrate that he has played a significant and positive role in that move forward, as indicated by dropping unemployment rates, in the leading countries including Great Britain, increased economic growth and enhanced stability in the financial markets, he will be more that admirably positioned to accept whatever offers are forthcoming, and from this desk, the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada would not likely be among his top choices.

Mark Carney named next head of the Bank of England

By Scott Hamilton and Svenja O'Donnell, Bloomberg News, in National Post, November 26, 2012
Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney was unexpectedly appointed as the next head of the Bank of England, succeeding Mervyn King.
Carney, 47, takes the helm of a 318-year-old institution that’s preparing to become the most powerful central bank in the world as it absorbs broad new powers to oversee the financial system and prevent another crisis. He’ll also have to guide the Monetary Policy Committee as it implements unconventional tools to stoke a recovery and battles to protect the inflation-fighting credibility earned since it won independence in 1997.
In a press conference Monday morning, Mark Carney said: “I’m honoured to accept this important and demanding role.”
Carney said he would be taking on the biggest challenge going when he heads up the British central bank next year.
“I’m going to where the challenges are greatest,” Carney the Ottawa news conference, adding he would not be moving if he did not feel the Canadian financial system was in top shape.
“We have a system that works very well. It’s been tested under the biggest economic shock and financial shock that any of us will ever see in our lifetime, and it has passed that test.
“I have served to the best of my abilities and am humbled by the support I have received from my colleagues at the Bank of Canada and Canadians,” he said.
“It was a difficult decision, but I think it was the right decision.”

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Segal: Pleads for income "floor" (Part 1) (Guaranteed Annual Income)

Listening to Hugh Segal, Conservative Senator from Kingston and the Islands, deliver his homily on behalf of "doing something about poverty" on TVO's Big Ideas, I had mixed emotions.
On one hand, a Red Tory, in today's political landscape must be a lonely existence, especially on Parliament Hill, where the "blue" variety dominates, holds the Prime Minister's Officer, the Minister of Finance, The Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Treasury Board, Public Works, Industry, Environment and undoubtedly others.
The lone 'red Tory' left is the hapless Peter McKay, Minister of Defence, whose department has lost control and oversight of the government's purchase of some fighter jet, originally the touted F-35, and now, who knows which substitute.
On the other hand, this space and indeed much of my life's argument has been, and will continue to be dedicated to some kind of "guaranteed annual income" having seen the issue from both sides, from being "dirt poor," dependent on chicken noodle soup and oatmeal porridge for nearly nine months while both unemployed and in graduate school, and also taking home tens of thousands of dollars in a senior executive position. So I heartily endorse, support and indeed give this space to the Senator's pleadings enthusiastically!
Back to Segal, singing a lonely, wolf-cry song from the depth of the Canadian political wilderness, for what used to be termed a "guaranteed annual income" and is now more often referred to as an "income floor" below which no Canadian would, or should fall, if his ideas were to be implemented.
With roughly 12% of Canadians living in poverty, nevertheless, according to Segal, Canada ranks 18th, by the OECD, in terms of the severity of the problem, behind even countries like Hungary.
Segal suggests that given the various "excuses" as to why little to nothing is being done, complexity, bureaucracy, and the more potent "invested public service" whose job it is to enlarge and enhance the responsibilities of their respective ministers thereby rendering them "structurally opposed" to the elimination or reduction of the work of their respective departments, what really happens is a plethora of band-aids targetting at "helping" those living below the poverty line, without achieving much in the way of results of a sustainable or meaningful kind.
"We spend billions on programs that "help" to reduce drop-outs, to reduce drug dependency, substance abuse, safe houses for victims of domestic violence, in effect treating the poor as children, and almost universally never bring them up above the poverty line.
All these billions are being spent on the "causes of poverty" but, in Segal's view, poverty is a core problem, and needs to be seen in that light, not as a series of mere symptoms.
While there is not enough money in the treasury of any country to eliminate literacy, or homelessness, there is enough to eliminate poverty. And Segal's take on why we do not do it focuses on the extremes on the right and left of the political spectrum.
On the right, giving people money for doing nothing violates "some primordial angst" among those on the right, as expressed in the abhorrent phrase, "beer and popcorn"...And this inspite of the fact that the majority of people living in poverty are working, some at more than one job, but failing to earn enough to pay their basic bills.
While on the left, there is a preference for highly organized programs designed and delivered by high paid union members and civil servants. While Segal supports the public service unions, and well paid civil servants, he also believes we have to find the appropriate balance to address poverty in our current circumstances.
Segal cites the example of former Ontario Premier Bill Davis and his Treasurer, D'Arcy McKeough, who, in the 1970's introduced the Guaranteed Income Supplement, which without complicated forms and bureaucracy and no welfare office requiring proof that a better diet was required, reduced poverty among single women from 30+% to 3% in two years! Simply by filling out the tax form, "you got topped up," as Segal puts it.
He continues: If this were a national policy in Canada today, there would be no one who would qualify for welfare because their income would be too high.
And that would free up millions, if not billions in funds provincial governments could use for other important programs, like home care, early childhood education, and maybe even more physical education and music in our schools, for which there is currently 'not enough money'.
Importantly, in addition, people who are now considered clients, or part of a caseload, would revert to become "citizens" in a new, more healthy relationship with the rest of the society. Gone would be the requirement that they plead for more money through plexiglass windows, or that they be excluded from education funding support. Gone too would be the "spider-web of rules that is strong enough to entangle, but not strong enough to support." They would then be able to "spend money as wisely as anyone else."
No longer would they take places in our homeless shelters, prisons, hospitals in numbers that are disproportionate to their numbers in society because they would no longer be embroiled in the "poverty-caused pathologies".
They would, then, like the rest of us, file tax returns. Their confidentiality would be protected by law, as it is for the rest of us.
Being poor for a period of time would be a problem, then, that we all would buffer, in the same way we do with health care. And we also know that the largest
predicter of getting sick earlier is being poor.
What we do now with all our forms, bureaucracy and questions indicates that we want to institutionalize poverty and not eradicate it.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Reflections on "Lincoln" the movie...ends and means

My wife and I viewed the latest Spielberg film, Lincoln, last evening.
Set in the last few months of his presidency in 1865, in the turbulence of the Civil War, the film focuses on his attempt to pass the Thirteenth Amendment abolising slavery in the House of Representatives. Promises of patronage appointments were needed to 'encourage' the last few Democrat hold-outs to vote "yes" on the amendment, succeeding in passing the bill in what today we would call a bi-partisan basis.
The lighting, sound and music, costumes, writing (it is based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's exhaustive biography of Lincoln, Team of Rivals) and both casting and acting rank the movie as an obvious and legitimate contender for several Oscar nominations. Daniel Day Lewis plays Lincoln, and Sally Field
plays his passionate and devoted wife, Mary Todd.
However, it is the anatomy of the politics that draws attention to the process from this viewer. Lincoln goes anywhere, anytime of day or night to twist arms for more yes votes. He even surprises his agents in their late-night poker game, in some dark and dungy low-ceilinged room, when they have been imbibing and clearly are taken aback and embarrassed by his arrival. He conducts his cabinet meetings with a degree of passion, conviction and authenticity that brings both a dramatic definition to his performance as an actor, and to his capacity to persuade as president. Of course, there are doubters among the cabinet, among his party and certainly among the opposition Democrats. Perhaps Mary Todd's warning that he will "rue the day" if he loses the vote, given her deep and profound fear for her son's safety should the war wound or kill him, after his determined enlistment, haunts his determination, having already lost one other son to death, deeply scarring his wife, and mother of the deceased son.
Kearns-Goodwin's portrait, a century and a half after the events themselves, and after the research and writing and publication of multiple volumes on Lincoln by many historians of considerable repute, continues to add flesh, sinew and insight to one of the icons of American history. His legendary story-telling, often with a twist of amusing wit and told to break the tension of a serious discussion that seemed to be sliding deep into the bog of a wet ditch from which there might be no exit, demonstrated both his human capacity for connecting with other human beings and his wisdom and intuition in his choice of timing.
His explanation, for example, of Euclid's first notion that "things equal to the same thing are equal to each other" puts a kind of rustic, metaphysical, poetic lens to his proposition of abolishing slavery, for his two young engineer aids. John Donne's geometric compass connecting two lovers who have to travel and be apart, but never disconnected, comes to mind. Lincoln's intimate knowledge of the law, and his courage to bend it to the breaking point, without, he hopes, actually crossing that line, lend credence to his unlimited capacity to lead, and to inspire his compatriots. His rough-hewn honesty, borne of hundreds of miles and untold hours of travel, talk, reading and reflecting, from his previous career as an itinerant defence lawyer not only gird his intellect with intimate details of real human lives with real human problems, but steep his soul and spirit in the kind of compassion that rises 'head and shoulders' above the normal, just as does his towering physique and unruly hair. ("My last barber committed suicide and left me his scissors!" is just another moment of his self-defamatory understatment.)
We all know the outcome of the drama, before we enter the theatre; yet we are enthralled by the unfolding of the story, of the human drama that drives the plot forward, through its many twists and turns, mind and heart searching and changing for all the participants, in what was to become a turning point in American history, that even the Speaker of the House wished to join by casting his own vote, in an unconventional move, just because "this is history".
The recent presidential election, in which Mr. Obama was soundly defeated in the 'confederate states' demonstrates how deeply the issue of black-white race relations defines the American culture and world view, a century and a half after the abolition amendment was passed, and after hundreds of thousands of warriors were killed and maimed on both sides of the fight for and against equality. "Food-Stamp President" and "lazy" and "angry" and "detached" and "gifts" to minority voters...these are just some of the epithets pointing to the racial divide that continues to plague the American culture, and American politics, only now it is Republicans who are hurling those daggers at the black president.
Lincoln was murdered while sitting in a theatre, shortly after his political success in passing the Constitutional Amendment abolishing slavery, in spite of the level of hope and promise that his leadership brought to the former black slaves, then referred to as "people of colour" politely, and "nigger"s in contempt and bigotry.
Status, rank and power, in American culture have always had physical definition whether that definition included skin colour, uniform decorations, athletic trophies, graduation degrees, or executive offices, boardrooms, luxurious cars and homes, exotic vacations and "appropriate church attendance" to sanctify the underbelly of "success" and achievement. Grasping some of the metaphors that signify "success" in the material world, has become the mantra of "climbing into the middle class" as a demonstration of some kind of national achievment, along with the parallel of "world dominance" in hard power terms, in geopolitical engagements.
Lincoln's achievement, however, could not then, and cannot not now, be reduced to some baubles, some discounted fifty-inch television purchase on Black Friday, as a sign of the kind of freedom and equality he sought for those living in slavery.
His passionate commitment to fight for the freeing of those slaves, including a war waged for that specific purpose, yields not only lessons of leadership and authenticy for today's political leaders who might seem at times to be flirting with issues of power and equality through tentative debates about deficits and debt, but also a degree of tenacity and drivenness for an honourable cause, the promise of which continues to echo on every street corner in every town and village in the nation today.
It is not mere infrastructure that our forefathers built, (as Rachel Maddow likes to remind us) but a society that stretches, and reaches beyond its myopia, beyond its neurosis, beyond its apocryphal fears and demons and into the heavens of genuine achievment of higher purpose than the mere acquisition of baubles. If it were possible in 1865, what part of reaching and stretching have today's leaders missed, lost, denied, missed in their personal developmental curriculum, or overlooked, in their seemingly ditch-mired debates of "Seinfeld" proportions of nothingness, as some pundits have characterized the recent election campaign.
Or, has the electorate grown so complacent, so over-fed and under-nourished, so catered to and under-delivered on real substance, so cynical and disillusioned that only one person in one thousand read the fine print on most public issues, including the privacy policies of most internet sites.
Is our addiction to sugar, to salt and to processed foods, not to mention the chairs in which we fight our mythical digital battles for entertainment with the proverbial "joy-stick" firmly grasped in our "power grip" so overwhelming that we have lost sight of the difference between what is real and what is illusory, and care only minimally, when, for instance, some politial operatives determined to 'win at all costs' attempt to remove the right to vote from those they know will not vote for their party, and then, WHAM! BANG!...we are not going to let that happen!
Reactivity, however, will never replace pro-activity. The latter takes vision, courage, determination and perseverance; the former, a mere knee-jerk response, once, to demonstrate.
Nations are not built on reactivity but on pro-activity.
It was Martin Luther King who reminded us that "when we have found that for which we are willing to die, we will have found a reason for our lives"....
And no one will ever die shoving a "joy-stick" around in some made-up battle for heroism, on a screen, nor will those playing the games advance beyond the skills necessary to master the 'stick'....and those are not nation-building skills.

Friday, November 23, 2012

"Provincial intransigence" threatens national energy plan

A few of the premiers have rethought their opposition to Redford’s scheme. Others don’t want Alberta’s crumbs.

Their intransigence is costing Canadian the chance to make the best of a bad situation. (From "Alberta's national energy strategy looks good in hindhsight:Goar," by Carol Goar, Toronto Star, November 22, 2012, below)
Sometimes, and too often, this country seems unwilling to be a country.
For decades, interprovincial trade, including access to needed workers from one region when work was available in another, was a faint glimmer, compared to the north-south bountiful trade with the U.S. In politics, there is a saying, "follow the money" and discover what's going on.
Simply put, there is more money, more people and more opportunity in trading with the U.S., from a business perspective. However, from a national perspective, there is a need to think differently about the country, from too many perspectives.
Provincial permiers now meet, without the Prime Minister, who, according to former aid, Tom Flanagan appearing yesterday on CBC's Power and Politics, "does not like being the whipping boy of the premiers when they don't get their way." The brother of the retiring Ontario Premier, David McGuinty Liberal MP for Ottawa Centre, has dropped a proverbial regional, parochial bomb in Ottawa
by telling the Alberta members of the House of Commons to go back to Alberta.
Sun Media has just yesterday dug up some similar comments by Justin Trudeau, when, in a french-language interview in Quebec in 2010, he noticed that the Alberta view of Canada was not as good as the traditional view of Quebec prime minsters, including, naturally, his father, Pierre Trudeau. And, in the middle of a by-election in Calgary Centre, where the Liberal candidate is running a potentially successful campaign, neither of these comments is making his run any easier.
The younger Trudeau has already appeared in Alberta several times in his own quest for the Liberal leadership mantle, apologizing for his father's National Energy Plan of the 1970's as a mistake, in hopes of building some bridges between his own province, Quebec and Alberta, bridges that have never been more than the rope kind, and never lasting for more than the length of a leisurely dinner at the Windsor Arms Hotel, (as between Alberta and Ontario Premiers recently).
Quebec has just elected a sovereignist government under Premier Pauline Marois, whose political agenda includes some form of referendum to separate, if she can find a nano-second window for a favourable vote. The Maritime Provinces have collecctively and historically been the "poor" provinces, historically supported with transfer payments from Alberta and Ontario, the energy and manufacturing hobs of the country.
But that is changing and Ms Goar continues to argue for a national energy strategy that would benefit the whole country economically, but more importantly, would provide a metaphor for keeping the length and breadth of the country in clear view.
Canada is a country of regional variety, as former Prime Minister Joe Clark would say, a community of communities, with intrenched regional values, cultural habits and rituals and very little awareness of or regard for the rest of the country.
We do not have a national education office, department or minister, since health and education are strictly provincial powers, under the constitution. We do not have a national approach to very many policies, as, for example, health care, where now the federal government is strictly writing the cheque and the provinces are individually operating the systems, as they see fit, without national standards, expectations, benchmarks or even shared treatment modalities. We do not have a National Institute of Health, as the U.S. does, and with "provincial rights" trumping the national interest, federal politicians are much more able to and likely to plum the micro-mining of niche voting blocks, for their re-election, without anything more than "economic security and jobs" as a national vision and campaign slogan, without ever having to demonstrate their national success in achieving reasonable, transparent goals, in that single file.
"Provincial intransigence" is just another way of saying "the country isn't working as an integrated unity, not that every province and region has to do everything the same way, but there is such a thing as national priorities, and if the provincial premiers and the federal government are not interested in even talking about such a subject, there is little to no chance of a national energy approach which would benefit all regions of the country, demonstrate a degree of collaboration and co-operation and provide a national model of co-existence that is slightly more in depth than a common loonie, and a post office.
We are in danger of losing sight of a national treasure, "the entity called Canada," with an all-out attack by Ottawa, for budgetary cutting purposes, on the CBC, one of the few institutions, outside of the Supreme Court, that takes stitching the various component regions, and cultures and histories into something resembling what used to be an effective federal-provincial state
Alberta’s national energy strategy looks good in hindsight: Goar

By Carol Goar, Toronto Star, November 22, 2012
Canada’s premiers gave Alison Redford the cold shoulder when she proposed a national energy strategy 10 months ago. They saw no value in an alliance in which Alberta was the big player and they were all bit players. Some wanted nothing to do with the West’s “dirty oil.”
No one was more dismissive than Dalton McGuinty. “If I had my preference as to whether we have a rapidly growing oil and gas sector in the West or a lower dollar benefitting Ontario, I’ll tell you where I’d stand — with the lower dollar,” the premier said curtly.
A few months later, McGuinty’s innate courtesy prevailed. He hosted a two-hour working dinner for Redford at Toronto’s Windsor Arms Hotel and emerged to say the two were back on a friendly footing. “We have found a lot of common ground,” he said. “Among other things we are determined to ensure that Ontarians understand that they have a vested interest in the continuing growth and prosperity of Alberta.”
But it was too late to save Redford’s vision of a cross-Canada energy framework in which each region capitalized on its strengths — oil and gas, hydro, renewable power, refining capacity, manufacturing of high-tech equipment — and steered business to its neighbours. Too many obstacles had loomed, too much ill will had accumulated.
With the benefit of hindsight, the Alberta premier’s proposal looks more prescient than presumptuous.
Redford understood the boom-and-bust economy of the oilpatch better than her peers (and Prime Minister Stephen Harper). She knew the good times won’t last forever. She wanted to prepare for the day when the royalty revenues stopped pouring into her province’s coffers and Canada could no longer rely on its status as an “energy superpower” to guarantee unlimited economic growth.
The day hasn’t arrived, but Alberta’s prospects have dimmed. Demand for oil has fallen because of the global economic contraction, reducing both the price and the province’s royalty revenues. It is no longer clear when — or even whether — the United States will approve the Keystone XL pipeline. The odds of the Northern Gateway pipeline through British Columbia ever getting built are extremely long. Several major oil companies have cancelled planned investments in the oilsands. And the Paris-based International Energy Agency predicts that the U.S. — which absorbs most of Canada’s oil exports — will be the world’s largest energy producer by 2020.
The impact of these forces is already being felt in Edmonton and Ottawa. Revenues have declined and deficit reduction timetables have been stretched out. Both governments are staring at the possibility that Alberta’s bitumen will remain landlocked.
Seen in this context, Redford’s national energy strategy — designed to sell Alberta’s oil in Canada — is a sensible backup plan.
But her province wouldn’t be the only beneficiary, as she tried to convince her peers in February:
• A steady inflow of western oil — which would be less expensive than imported petroleum — would make refineries in central and eastern Canada more competitive, inducing them to ramp up production and create jobs. A trans-Canada pipeline already exists (although the east-to-west flow would have to be reversed). New Brunswick Premier David Alward has endorsed the idea.
• Western oil producers, who already spend billions of dollars on equipment manufactured in Ontario, would need new and upgraded mining technology, experts to diagnose and fix problems, more trucks, tires, pumps, gauges and valves. According to the Conference Board of Canada, Ontario will reap an additional 10,000 oilsands-related jobs every year until 2035.
• The oilsands industry would look to every region for help in cleaning up its environmental record.
• And until the rest of the economy pulls out its four-year malaise, Alberta would supply a disproportionate share of the nation’s revenues.
A few of the premiers have rethought their opposition to Redford’s scheme. Others don’t want Alberta’s crumbs.
Their intransigence is costing Canadian the chance to make the best of a bad situation