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In the current climate of media hysteria where drama trumps information, the Senate expense scandal is perfect fodder. Even though no-one got seriously hurt (other than taxpayer wallets), the scandal offers an exposé of power, privilege and just maybe some cheating and a cover-up at the highest levels of Canadian government.

Looks like a real media field day!

I don't mean to imply there is not some substance to this thing, however a bit of expense account fiddling is so inconsequential to the lives of the average Canadian that, while it deserves some commentary, it is far more about the drama than the substance.

 Clearly there has been a long-standing culture in the Senate of being very loosey-goosey on expense reporting, which has, no doubt, encouraged some to pad the account a bit. After all, you just ask for it and you get it with precious little oversight. The solution is to tighten up the reporting requirements, is it not? After all its not like this expense fiddling has not be around for a long time.

What is far more interesting is how the Conservative party is handling all of this (i.e. badly!). I could only wish to have a buddy like Nigel Wright who cuts big cheques when things go sideways. Nigel, I could use a few of those bucks myself.

Even if the cheque was entirely innocent it smells more like payola than acting in the public interest as the Conservative talking points would have us believe. Cut the cheque, make it all go away... a done deal. Unfortunately that gambit backfired, resulting in a cascade of resignations including Nigel Wright from the PMOs office and Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin from the conservative caucus.

So the scandal rolls on and where is Stephen Harper in all of this? ... out of the country! Well played! When the sh*t hits the fan, best to get the heck out of the way. I assume the PM will return when this all blows over.

As to the opposition, best to keep a low profile. When the other guys are falling on their faces, best to just let them lie there and not draw attention away from their predicament! Just smile and pretend your gang would never pad their expenses... never!

Updated May 23, 2013

Wow, just when I thought this whole thing was a done deal. The Conservative party has continued to demonstrate that they would rather obstruct and cover up   than deal with any wrongdoing. Unfortunately the cover-up is now a more egregious wrong-doing than the original apparent expense fiddling.  Stop hiding, admit what was done, clean up the mess and move on!

Much of the world economic travails are based on a single factor. Almost all currencies now are fiat currnencies. A fiat currency is money that has no intrinsic value. In the old days, money was backed by gold, not now, it has no backing.

Worse still, money now equals debt.  Money comes into existence when someone borrows money. For example, the US government creates money by borrowing from the Federal Reserve Bank. This money is born as debt owed to the Federal Reserve Bank! Most currencies of the world come into existence by the same process... borrowing. Since each unit of currency created is a debt that must be repaid with interest, more money needs to be created to service the interest on the debt, but if money can only be created by borrowing  the debt can never be repaid. This means that debt must continue to grow to expand the money supply. If all debts were paid off and without new borrowing there is no money!

Hopefully, you can appreciate the absurdity of this system. The only way out is to unhinge money from debt. Money should be representative of the total volume of good and services in an economy. Borrowing should not be used to create money. The ability to borrow does help to grease the wheels of the econonmy. Unfortunately, in most of the large world economies, debt has become the wheel! As long as this continues we are hopelessly stuck spinning this wheel of debt that can never stop or the economy stops.

leftorrightThe problem is not with right wing views. The problem is not with left wing views. The problem is the view that there are only two possible views, left or right. This is a mindset that polarizes and denies our basic common human values. It is a mindset that sees strength in ideology and often sees those who assume the most extreme ideology as the strongest, since the proponents of most extreme views offer the most certitude that they are correct. This “correctness” has nothing to do with how well the views impact the real world, but how well the proponent of the views clings to them in spite of reality demonstrating the failure of their practical application.

Limiting one’s view of the world to left or right is a kin to using only one eye and deliberating blinding the other. One eyed people lack stereo vision and depth perception. Left or right wing ideologues demonstrate the same lack of “visual” ability in their observations of the world and their prescriptions for how to deal with the problems of the world. They offer neither a complete view, nor depth in their perceptions. And worse still, they vilify the other one-eyed viewers of the world who use the opposing eye.

So we are beset with these one-eyed wonders who claim to have the ideological answers for those of us who insist on using both eyes and seeing the world as neither right nor left, but as diverse and varied as it should be. Diversity in all of its expressions is a good thing and should be celebrated for the marvels it offers us. The one-eyed ideologues offer us an impoverished view of reality and insist we choose one or the other.

The polarity mindset has given us very little of value. We have news media that either support one view or the other or provide both views side by side as if that offers some sort of balance. Two unbalanced views do not add up to one balanced view.

The act of labelling dissenting views and individuals for the purposes of marginalizing them is an unwholesome habit that has become all too common. Often the criticism of an alternative view, is not criticism at all, it is simply an attempt to delegitimize opposing views by character assassination or being dismissive without looking at the substance of what is being represented by an opposing view.

Both the mass media and our political leaders are complicit in the polarity mindset. They offer no alternative vision and merrily proceed to “inform” us and debate with each other from within the boundaries this mindset offers. The apathy of the general public in regard to politics is a byproduct of the polarity mindset. Since you are being offered no real choice, how can you choose?

Since the polarity mindset is so pervasive and it rears its ugly head so regularly and persistently, how can we escape it? I would suggest we look at how we manage our own lives. We certainly don’t make our day to day decisions based on ideology, we make decisions based on what we feel will work best. We take a practical approach. We use common sense.

Here are a few helpful antidotes to the polarity mindset
 

  • Insist on thinking for yourself.
  • Don’t buy into a decision based on ideology alone.
  • Look at the substance of what is being said and not who is saying it.
  • Do your own research (the Internet is your friend).
  • Don’t give up your rights or your power, use your own common sense.

Edmontonians have noticed that the weather isn't what it used to be. Even our favorite Edmonton weather mantra "If you don't like the weather just wait a few minutes" seems to be an inadequate description of how our weather has arrived in recent years.

Winters seem to start later and finish later, as if the entire season has shifted by a month. Octobers seem balmier and Marchs nastier,

Another odd apparent change is that Septembers have delivered some of the warmest days of the summer!

This past winter started late and March was a misery with huge snowfalls. April was much colder than usual and we had a freakishly warm day on May 6th, which topped out at 30 degrees Celsius! A new all time record high for that day.

It seems, we are overall neither warmer nor colder, we are just experiencing climate derangement!

 

That's the sound of our social safety nets being cut away. The self-described "Harper Government" is busy carrying out its ideological agenda.
The agenda is elitist and anti-democratic and is characterized by:
  • Reducing or eliminating social safety nets
  • Increased "security" which means more monitoring and policing of Canadians
  • Increased jail populations as a method of social control
  • Supporting special interest while reducing support for the public interest
  • Globalizing currency and trade at the cost of Canadian jobs

None of the ideological agenda above addresses the basic problems of our current economic slow-down. Higher unemployement and higher crime rates are directly related to a poorly performing economy. The solution that is most often proposed to solve this is austerity for individuals and making sure banks and corporation are profitable. This is the solution our neighbours to the south adopted at the end of 2008. Now almost four years later they have insured the survival and profitability of their largest corporate entities while the average citizen continues to suffer economic hardship.

 

A recent Federal court ruling has directed the Canadian Government to stop clawing back benefits from disabled veterans.

That sentence alone should make us all wonder how our government treats those who have sacrificed the most for our country.

While I would rather see none of our military put in harms way, when they are called to serve and they are wounded during their acts of service, it is outrageous that they have to resort to a lawsuit against the government to get fair treatment. Clearly, the government has put dollars ahead of valuing the service of our military personnel.

Our Minister of National Defence, Peter MacKay made a statement in the house that the government would be reviewing the decision. Really? That's all you have for these veterans? Why not do the right thing and give these veterans what the clearly deserve.

For a govenment that is hawkish on the military, they have clearly shown that when it comes to supporting those who need it they are behaving like sheep. It is small-minded and cowardly to cheap out on giving our most serioiusly wouned vets a fair deal.

Postscript:

In a rather ironic twist, the Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney and Jim Flaherty Minister of Finance, mugged for the cameras holding the new Canadian 20 dollar bill which features an image commemorating the contribution of Canadian men and women in military conflicts. There seems to be a place for our veterans on our money, but money for veterans..... apparently not!

Why is Canada facing drug shortages?

It looks like most of the shortage issues in Canada are related to a single source of many generic drugs produced by Sandoz Canada, which has a manufacturing plant located in Boucherville, Québec. Sandoz Canada is part of Sandoz International GmbH which in turn is a subsidiary of pharmaceutical giant Novartis.

According to the recent financial results from Novartis, Sandoz had a "Core Operating Income" of 1.9 Billion USD for the year 2011. Operating income can be seen as profit before taxes. Their operating income represented about 20% of their sales. So they seem to be doing pretty well. These numbers are for all of Sandoz which includes the Canadian operations.

The cynic in me wonders why these shortages are mostly around the lower cost generics? Are we being squeezed for more money? Clearly when there is a single source for a lot of these generics we are vulnerable to any shortage regardless of the cause.

Sandoz has faced lawsuits in the US for over-charging its customers. On September 24, 2009 Sandoz Pharmaceuticals was found guilty of Medicaid fraud and required to repay the State of Alabama $28.4 million in compenstory damages and an additional $50 million in punitive damages. In another lawsuit filed by Ven-A-Care of the  Florida Keys Inc. Sandoz agreed to pay $66 million to resolve claims that they had defrauded the U.S and state governments. Sandoz agreed to pay in September 2011 to resolve the claim but admitted no wrongdoing.

I would have more confidence in the pharmaceutical industry if there were not repeated claims that they have gauged their customers. It is also clear that Novartis and Sandoz are doing very well at their core function which is to produce profits and increase shareholder value. I have no argument here, profits are not evil, however there should be some guiding corporate principles to ensure fair treatment of customers. Ultimately the customers are those who are in need of these drugs for their personal health.

To resolve our shortages we must become more vigilant on drug manufacturers and ensure we can access supplies from multiple sources. It is clear that the pharmaceutical companies do a very good job of taking care of their interests, we must do the same.

 For more in depth information you can see the youtube presentation by Dr. Marcia Angell entitled The Truth about Drug Companies

 

 

A few days ago I browsed to the official Government of Canada website and was amazed to see on the features flipping by on the front page, a number of references to 'The Harper Government". I felt obliged to message the site and ask them if the name of the country had been changed when I wasn't looking. As far as I know, our government has, and always should be referred to as the "Government of Canada". It makes me wonder if those from outside our country who are looking at the official Government of Canada website are confused as to who we are. Or is it us that is confused?

While the re-branding of some of our government identity may seem a rather trivial complaint, it is symptomatic of a government that  has little respect for Canadians in general and is more concerned about their own ideological agenda than they are about the needs of the average Canadian. The act of re-branding our government is indicative of arrogance and lack of respect for Canadians and their institutions.

If this re-branding was my only complaint this editorial would end here, however there is much more to be concerned about.

  • On March 2nd 2012, the Conservative Party of Canada notified the Supreme Court of Canada that it would not continue to contest Elections Canada on the so called "in and out" election financing dispute. This dispute involved monies used in the 2006 federal election for local advertising campaigns. The party has agreed to re-pay Canadian taxpayers  $230,198 rather than contest this issue in court.
  • The current robocall scandal (misdirection of voters to non-existent polling stations) continues to develop. What looked initially like the acts of a few outsiders is now appearing to be much more widespread and may well have influenced the outcome of the 2011 federal election. Until there is a full investigation of these calls we cannot be satisfied that our government is looking out for Canadians to guarantee the sanctity of the electoral process.
  • Vic Toews, the Minister of Public safety introduced bill C-30 in the House of Commons, somewhat cynically named "Protecting Children From Internet Predators Act" and then announced on the floor of the house that those who would oppose the bill are effectively standing with child pornographers. This bill would have fundamentally changed the structure of the Internet in Canada by requiring Internet service providers (ISPs) to build in a spying infrastructure (at taxpayer expense) that would be available with little oversight to government bodies. Even if we assume there would be no current misuse of such a system, it's very existence becomes a threat to personal privacy going forward. These kinds of spying structures would be the envy of totalitarian regimes that wish to shutdown those who would oppose them.
  • The Omnibus crime bill is currently working its way through our houses of parliament. The difficulty of opposing these kinds of legislation is doing so without becoming an apologist for criminals. However, adopting the failed policies of other governments to put more and more people in jail has been a disaster in the USA where they maintain a prison population equivalent to 1% of their entire population! This has created the need for private prisons and a huge increase in the costs of keeping all of these individuals in jail. This makes little sense for non-violent crimes such as marijuana usage/growing. The ideological background on the "get tough on crime" approach is sold as protecting the average citizen but in fact becomes an instrument of population control with little benefit in reducing crime. To make matters worse, the costs of ballooning prison infrastructures has to come from somewhere which can mean a reduction in government services which we all pay for. Here is a quote from the Canadian Bar Association: "The Bill’s approach is contrary to what is known to lead to a safer society. The CBA is also concerned about how this omnibus process is likely to limit appropriate careful parliamentary study of the Bill’s component parts."
  • On February 9th 2012 our Minister of Human Resources Diane Finley stated: "We know there's a coming crisis, that's in Old Age Security, that's why we're taking steps now before it's too late because we do not want to burden future generations with massive, massive tax increases to support OAS.". Interestingly enough the Parliamentary Budget Office has calculated the costs of these programs and concluded they are affordable and there is no crisis. So what is going on here?

Is it possible we have a government with an ideological agenda that values elitism and population control and devalues individual rights and freedoms? While the jury may still be out on that proposition, it is incumbent on all of us to keep a very close eye on those with their hands on the levers of power.