Elizabeth May – unlikely (?) heroine

First, let me point out who Elizabeth May is not.

She is not Stephen Harper. She is not the source of bill C-38.

She is in the difficult position of being the point person in trying to delay this bill.

I think the Harper Tories should be ashamed of themselves. They have been found in contempt of parliament, see links here and here. If you do your own search you will find many strange missteps by this government, including stonewalling on the costs of the F-35, breaking their own fixed-date election law, proroguing parliament for convenience, apparently using robocalls to win the last election, and in general treating the House of Commons and Canadians-not-in-the-oil-business, with contempt.

Now these same Tories are trying to rewrite a large number (reportedly more than 70) of federal laws, covering environmental assessment, food inspection, retirement funding, and goodness knows what else. I don’t have the full picture as the 450 page bill is not available on my computer. I doubt many of the representatives voting on this have had time to read all of it, but by splitting the workload they have discovered the depths of subtlety and craft that it represents.

By saying that it is a budget bill, they claim we need it for the economy. Much that is included in the bill does not really fit that last sentence. The bill is a Machiavellian manoeuvre.

What to do? The Tories refuse to break the bill into smaller pieces. The Speaker conveniently helps limit debate.

Enter Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party (in case you did not know this). With the help of the other opposition parties, she is leading the charge, bringing in amendment after amendment and keeping the debate going as long as is physically possible.That she is a heroine is certain. From her past actions, this doesn’t seem out of character or unlikely.

In the United States this combined cross-opposition-party action would be called a filibuster. It is designed to hold up the passage of a bill. In some cases it can succeed in getting significant alterations to the offending legislation.

What happens next depends on you.

Call your MP. eMail your MP. eMail Stephen Harper. eMail your newspaper. Give all of them the same basic message:

Omnibus bills should not be used. Significant items should be voted on separately, and debated separately. Bill C-38 should be scrapped and the pieces voted on in a logical and open manner, with debate on every single issue of importance.

Think Tanks, and their Opinions

Ontario’s ‘rich tax’ risks making the country poorer”. This is front page news in the Business Section of the Star of June 14. The source of this information is the C.D.Howe Institute. You can find the Wikipedia article on this Institute here.

If you go to this link you will find that the institute is independent, and funded by “individual and corporate members”. If you happen to be a member of this Institute, please let me know. I can assure you that I am not so blessed.

The threat, to which they are responding, is a tax increase of 2% on incomes over $500,000. May I make a point with some personal numbers.

I believe the maximum combined individual tax rate in Canada / Ontario is now 48%. In about 1995 that maximum rate was 52%, and it cut in well below $100,000 per year. Some almost-ordinary people paid that rate. Today those making more than five times that income are balking at paying 50%, on the excess over $500,000.

If you follow the link given above, you’ll learn that this institute has proudly lobbied for lower business taxes, pension “reform”, and other social boons. It is, imho, a lobby group funded by and for the rich and their corporations.

I’ll bet some of their wonderful, independent ideas are part of the current Bill C-38, with its 450 pages of obfuscation and 70 changes to federal laws.

I think all publications that quote named, supposedly authoritative sources, should be forced to provide a sidebar describing that source.

You have a right to know whose opinion is being stated as fact.

Where did the Money Go?

We are witnessing yet another series of large bailouts of financial firms. The banks of Spain are being bailed out so they don’t default on debts owed elsewhere in the Euro zone. The financial institutions in the USA were bailed out earlier so they would not default on debts, which mostly appeared to be owed to each other, and to European institutions.

In between we sort-of bailed out Ireland, Greece, Portugal. That we know about.

A very large amount of money has gone missing. The number for Spain seems to be about $125 Billion USD. The amount in the USA was, from memory, about $787 Billion USD (in fact I think it really was over a trillion dollars, done partly in less-visible ways).

Overall, I suspect something like five or ten trillion dollars is missing. It is owed by institutions to other institutions, to governments, and to individuals.

Imagine we were able to track the movement of every dollar (and Euro and British Pound and Chinese Yuan and on and on) since well before the crash of 2008. Maybe we go back to 2000. It is impossible to create more debt than there is money; if you lend it to me I do have it to spend. So, with our imaginary miraculous tracking knowledge, we would be able to say where all the money went that is now owed.

Put another way, who, net net, is the beneficial debtor?

Somebody has all that lovely missing cash. Who?

Is it those corporations that, after the bailout, gave their top performers multi-million dollar bonuses? Is it the winning banks in Germany? in China?

I suspect that it is some combination of these. What do you think?

GM Crops: some downsides

I am against the wholesale introduction of GM (Genetically Modified) crops.

I realize that under specific situations those crops create larger yields or are cheaper to weed or insecticide (as they are resistant to, say, Roundup ™). Here are some of the potential downsides of GM crops:

  • Many are sterile. You have to buy new seeds every year.
  • Monocultures (which they all are) have no genetic variability. If there is a drift, or gradient, of conditions across a field or across a country, small variations in natural plants allow some optimization for differing conditions (light, heat, water, soil quality, and so on). As climate change continues, monocultures will uniformly find themselves with yesterday’s optimization to today’s real world.
  • Monocultures are frequently self-sterile. You cannot fertilize a Bosc pear with another Bosc pear, as both trees think it’s their own pollen. Flowering plants in general implement strategies for self-sterility as crosses are the secret to remixing genes and staying ahead of parasites. See W.D.Hamilton, The Narrow Roads of Gene Land, Volume II for details. Or later researchers.
  • Gene flow from engineeered plants to nearby plants does happen. There was an experiment in Nature whereby they put genes into the chloroplasts of a plant, with promoters that work in the chloroplast and with ones that work in the nucleus. The point was, if the gene showed up in a chloroplast, it might (for example) fluoresce green, and if the nearby gene showed up in a cell nucleus, it might fluoresce yellow. The idea was to see if these genes, theoretically trapped in the chloroplast and thus not included in the pollen, could somehow get into nearby fields. They could. The frequency was low, but when you consider the enormous amount of pollen and nearby fields, obviously inserted genes are going to escape. That means our genetically engineered invulnerability to Roundup (TM) could spread to noxious weeds, despite GM companies telling us that it cannot.
  • I distrust monopolies. Remember the Haitian pigs, which could forage for themselves and live off the land. We North Americans introduced our pigs, which cannot do these things, and in addition require antibiotics and food and water in abundance. The Haitians called them Princess Pigs. However, once the Haitian pigs were replaced, the need was to buy our, splendid, fatter, but more poorly adapted pigs. I fear that, once all wheat in an area (country, say) is from a GM seed that has to be made (and bought) every year, that the monopoly power of the GM seed maker will maximize profits. Really.

Gun Ban: How?

I am appalled by the shootings in Toronto. I am also appalled by the response: Ban All Hand Guns. We have no possible way of doing this.To shout it as a solution is to ensure failure.

First, the guns used in shootings are often illegally obtained. Some are imported (from the US and elsewhere) and the rest are stolen here.

Guns legally owned here are made more vulnerable to theft by the keeping of records of ammunition purchases in sporting goods stores, where a careless clerk or unscrupulous customer can, easily, find out who has a specific handgun and where they live.

(I won’t go into the long gun registry except to comment on the alleged frequency of its being referenced. If you do a little long division, you’ll discover that dozens of law enforcement personnel are doing hundreds of man-hours monthly supposedly looking up what guns are in specific addresses. I somehow doubt these numbers.)

In any case, the last handful of reckless shootings were all done with hand guns. In some cases the perpetrators were under surveillance, court order, or bail. These people are not going to obey a ban on their weapons any more than they obey the other laws that should govern their conduct.

I would like to ask anyone with a decent idea to post a reply here. The dumb question is, How could we, as a city or as a citizenry, reduce the number of carelessly held hand guns in our midst?

Ten Things that Don’t Work

There are some things that simply don’t work. I am reminded that one definition of insanity is, repeating the same action while expecting a different outcome. This means that, if we put up with these things that don’t work, we’re crazy for expecting them to change. Here’s today’s list:

  1. The DoNotCall list. I get scam calls, and marketing calls, all the time. Everyone does. There is a law against this for registered numbers. My phone line is registered. An egregious offender was fined something like $30K, which for that huge company is like asking me for a postage stamp. Meanwhile the calls go on. One company calls, waits for you to answer, then says “Good Bye” and hangs up.
  2. SIU Investigations. Rarely, an officer might lose a day’s pay. An officer who has already quit the force faces no penalty whatever, apparently. Check up on the penalties paid by the G20 officers who removed their badges, kettled innocents, roughed up peaceful demonstrators. If a non-officer did any of those things, jail time would result.
  3. LCD viewfinders on cameras. This “arms out” posture makes decent unblurred pictures unlikely, unless high shutter speeds, and thus high ISO and noise, settings are used. Note: the “tunnel” viewfinders on the older point-and-shoots are better, but not compositionally very accurate. sigh. We all need SLRs or electronic viewfinders. In the meantime, compact cameras will produce ill-composed and shaky images. We deserve better.
  4. Provincial equalization payments. We had a formula once that allowed East Coast fishermen to collect EI half the year, and fish half the year, and have their provinces reimbursed via the generosity of Ontario. Now Ontario has no means with which to be generous, but the payments haven’t reversed direction. Quebec’s special status we won’t discuss here, nor Alberta with the tax breaks for tar sands and other oil production.
  5. Scam Information Dissemination. I first heard public warning of Microsoft-staff impersonators the other day. I’ve had at least a dozen such calls, and it’s been going on for months, if not years. Two intelligent people I know had their machines infected with an eMail program that lures you to a website to make money, lots of it, working from home with no skills nor equipment. Maybe some public-service minded vendor will put up a website with a list of current scams of all types, computer and telephone and mail. Maybe.
  6. Personal Settings Retention, on upgrade. I recently upgraded ZoneAlarm after being dunned repeatedly with an offer of firewall-plus-antivirus which I continuously refused. Finally the offer included a firewall-only upgrade, with the threat that my old version would be unsupported. So I upgraded. Then I looked at the permitted-programs list and discovered many added permissions, including super, supersuper, and supersupersuper permissions (which are not adequately explained). I thought my firewall was to protect my computer from the same programs it protected from, before the upgrade. So why so many, and so generous, new program permissions? Does this not allow Microsoft components to take incoming commands from the Internet, and act on them?
  7. High Interest Rates. Spain is now paying about five percent more on government debt than Germany is. This guarantees that Spain’s economy will be ruined, as they have no independent currency to devalue, but must borrow the Euro at rates nobody else can afford. Greece need not be mentioned here.
  8. International Trade Sanctions. Iran and Syria are good current examples. Both regimes are heavily trade sanctioned right now. Syria continues the massacres of its citizens. Iran continues whatever it is doing with all those centrifuges. I might mention Cuba, which has been under sanctions for about forty years. Cuba has a lower infant mortality rate than the USA. Cuba has the largest medical school in the world, and accepts students from many countries.
  9. The Peace Process. Noam Chomsky tested a group of reporters by saying that The Peace Process was whatever the USA was doing at that particular time. He challenged any of them to say that any one of them had ever reported that the USA was acting in discordance with The Peace Process. The Palestinian problem will be solved when Israel has bottled them all up in enclaves and taken virtually all the land and all the resources. Alternatively, the Palestinian problem will be solved by some unthinkable program of violence that causes even Israel (and the USA and the UN) to rethink The Peace Process. I expect the former, but remembering Robert Frost’s poem, Fire and Ice, I accept the latter as a possible outcome.
  10. The Federal Canadian Government, as being representative of the Canadian people. In the current omnibus bill are sections gutting environmental regulations, among other things. This is not a representative government, it is a pro-Alberta government. Note the recent increase in allowable goods brought back after short trips to the USA. Where are such trips commonly made? Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Cornwall. Meanwhile the Pearson airport charges fees based on a cut, making this airport one of the most expensive to fly from in the world. The result: people drive to Buffalo (for example) and fly from there. Again, the loss is in Ontario, not Alberta.

What should we do about this? I suggest each one of you invent some way of getting to your MP, your MPP, your municipal councillor, your mayor, your church group, whatever, and asking them to help with a campaign to stop or fix as many of these things that don’t work as we can.

Doing what we have been doing is insane: we know it doesn’t work.