why we love dogs, # 9,573,299

A blind dog with a guide dog! The guide dog volunteered for the job, on her own.

Thanks to imp strump.

globe and mail sinks to new depths to bash city workers

I tried to suspend home delivery of the Globe and Mail while we were away, but I guess my request didn't go through, as we came home to a small pile of newspapers.

That's how I saw not one, but two columns by union-basher Marcus Gee elevated to the front page. The G&M used Gee's columns as an excuse for giant, above-the-fold headlines for their one-sided stories.

On Tuesday, there was a litany of numbers ("36 days on strike, 4,425 cancelled day camps, lessons and programs..."), then "AND FOR WHAT?", in all caps.

Yesterday's headline "Miller alone in declaring victory for city" is accompanied by another Marcus Gee head: "The sick leave stays. Let the anger begin. The mayor will pay a price for the strike". Let the anger begin? Marcus Gee has been striking that match since day one.

Nothing like objective journalism. This is the same media that ridicules bloggers as all opinions and no facts. At least we're honest about what we do.

Congratulations to the CUPE workers for setting an example for all of us. It isn't easy to stand up for yourself in the face of such overwhelming negative public opinion. If all workers - all of us - were as strong and well organized, there wouldn't be such resentment of the city workers' benefits - because we'd all have what we deserve.

My fingers are crossed for today's vote in the City Council.

the boston report

jos1 scoreboard

We had a great little trip to Boston, marred only by the outcome of the baseball games. The Red Sox split a series with the Oakland A's, winning two games and losing two. Did they have to lose the two games we saw?

The first loss - the Joy of Sox gathering game - was particularly brutal, as the Sox were ahead and should have had the game well in hand, but our once-great closer blew the lead. The Sox lost 9-8 in 11 innings.

The second game was no picnic either. On the first pitch of the game, an Oakland hitter smashed a home run, and it was downhill from there. By the time the Sox came up to bat, they were already down 5-0. They clawed their way back, but too little, too late, and ended up losing 8-6.

Our first time at Fenway in four years, and who knows when the next time will be, and we see two losses. That's baseball for ya.

Other than that... It was amazingly wonderful and wonderfully amazing to meet in person good friends who we've known online through Joy of Sox, and for all of us to attend a game together. Allan and I had some surprises for the group - a commemorative program we made, and a Joy of Sox crossword puzzle made by another gamethreader, plus the group's name on the scoreboard (above).

Many of us gathered at a pub before the game, then some of us also went out after the game. We were all really happy. I hope it's the first of many games we attend together.

We also did a little walking and exploring in Boston, which we haven't done for a decade or so. From our hotel near Fenway Park, we walked down to the Charles River, across to the Cambridge side, down along the river, then back over to Beacon Hill, through Back Bay, and back to the hotel.

Time was, I would have brought along a guide of some sort, and checked out various architecture and landmarks along the way, something I like to do in whatever city we're in. But either I've been too busy or I've gotten lazy, as I'm much less inclined to do that kind of planning anymore. This may be a fallout of the constant information overload of the internet age: when we take a walk, I don't want mental stimulation, I want mental relaxation.

On the Cambridge side, however, I noticed we were passing MIT, and suddenly remembered there is a Frank Gehry building on the MIT campus, long on my list of things to see. We wandered onto the campus with no idea where to go, and the building practically appeared in front of us. I was all kinds of pleased with myself. It's the Stata Center: some online pics here, here, here and here. There also seems to be an abundance of public art on the MIT campus: in a few minutes, we passed sculptures by Henry Moore, Alexander Calder and Louise Nevelson.

The only reason this walk was pleasant - or even bearable - was its proximity to the river. It was very hot and humid, and as soon as we ventured a bit inland on the Boston side, we were collapsing. After resting a bit on Boston Common - the oldest park in the US, and one of the oldest settled places in North America - we continued on. We stopped at the Boston Public Library just to take a peek in and grab some air conditioning, but stumbled on an exhibit of old area maps, and spent a while with that. Old maps rock.

On the way back towards the hotel, we stumbled on something even more welcome: a lovely bistro, nearly empty, with very cold air conditioning. A cold glass of Reisling, chilled asparagus soup and rosemary-garlic frites, and I was much better. Back at the hotel, we needed showers and a nap before the game.

On our drive home, we learned David Ortiz's name is on "the steroid list" and the Toronto city workers won their battle, pending approval by the Toronto city council. It's also a big day for baseball fans: trade deadline day. I'm still catching up. See you later.


more later

As you may have guessed, I've had no internet access for the last four days, the latest chapter in a long line of hotels that say they have wireless internet but really do not.

I like a taking a break from the computer, but I also like to check my email when I need to!

Well, I'm back, happy to be online again, and ready to tell all. Talk to you soon.


bound for boston

This morning we are heading to Boston for two games at our beloved Fenway Park. We haven't been to Fenway since the summer before we moved to Canada, so this trip is long overdue.

But this isn't just any two games. Tuesday, July 28 is the highly-anticipated "JoS1", the game a group from our Red Sox community (from Allan's Joy of Sox) will attend together, most of us meeting in person for the first time. People are coming in from as far as North Carolina and Virginia - age range from 8 to baby boomers - bringing partners, children or parents, as the case may be. We are very excited!

By luck and coincidence, the Red Sox are retiring former Red Sox slugger Jim Rice's number 14 before the game. It promises to be a great day.

Also on Tuesday, we're taking the tour of Fenway Park, which Allan has done by I have not. On Wednesday Allan and I will do some city exploring around Boston, and see a second game that night. Then we drive back on Thursday.

Please take care of Canada while I'm gone. Don't let any war resisters get deported. CIC friend, rest up, because I'll have a lot to post when I get back.

war resisters in canada: a debate

This ran in both the Calgary and Toronto Sun papers.
Dodgy manoeuvres
Are American soldiers seeking to stay in Canada heroes or villains?

By Kerry Thompson and Lyn Cockburn

Should U.S. soldiers who flee to Canada to avoid fighting be allowed to stay? Columnist Lyn Cockburn says yes, in the spirit of Vietnam draft dodgers. But Sun Media's Kerry Thompson gives that argument a one-finger salute.

THOMPSON: A lot of people compare this situation to Vietnam, reminding us that Canada welcomed U.S. draft dodgers. What they forget to mention is that these most recent war resisters weren't drafted, they knew what they were signing on to and the consequences if they decided to leave their units.

COCKBURN: Rubbish. No one knew they were signing up for a war based on lies. George W. Bush promised weapons of mass destruction and there were none. This was an unjust war that prompted some soldiers to refuse to serve in Iraq. Some went to the stockade, some to Canada and we ought to have supported their decision.

THOMPSON: I'm not going to argue this wasn't an unjust war, but I don't think signing up for military duty means picking and choosing where you go. I would hope every person joining the military thinks about what they might be called on to do, and the consequences if they refuse.

COCKBURN: Volunteer soldiers are morally bound to go where they're told? I don't think so. Neither does Brandon Hughey, a deserter ordered deported from Canada. "I feel if a soldier is given an order he knows to not only be illegal, but immoral as well, then it is his responsibility to refuse that order," he said. Exactly.

THOMPSON: Fine, refuse the order, but accept the consequences and take responsibility for your actions in your own country. The "persecution" these deserters claim they'll face if they're sent back to the U.S., and not granted refugee status, is minor compared to what some refugee claimants would face if ordered home.

COCKBURN: Canada rightly did not send soldiers to Iraq, so logically, Canada ought to step up and support those American soldiers who refuse to participate in an immoral, if not criminal, war. It is disingenuous to suggest that it's OK to deport these Americans because they'll face less persecution than say, Iranians.

THOMPSON: If the deserters want to make their voices heard on the Iraq war, they can take a stand -- at home. There are guidelines that are in place for granting refugee status. The persecution the deserters say they'll face (jail, one deported deserter is already out after serving a 12-month sentence in the U.S.) does not meet the criteria.

COCKBURN: Bargain! If a soldier refuses duty in an immoral war he should man up and do 12 months in the slammer as penance. Something is missing here, it's called logic. Any soldier with the courage to say no to injustice should be given a medal -- or at least haven in another country!

THOMPSON: Then let an anti-war organization in the U.S. give them a medal -- when they return and accept responsibility for their decision. Again, they signed up, voluntarily, and would have known the consequences for deserting. There are plenty of other refugees who need our help and on whom resources would be better spent.

COCKBURN: Why is Canada wasting money trying to find and deport war resister Brad McCall, 23, who refused to go to Iraq to "commit war crimes." Now he's gone into hiding near Vancouver after seven RCMP officers showed up at his apartment. Is Canada a little too eager to appease our American big bro?

THOMPSON: Oh, so you'd rather we spend money providing services to deserters who have been ordered home after numerous fair hearings, court cases and every other avenue of appeal they could find? That doesn't sound much better. A deportation order is a deportation order.

COCKBURN: All three opposition immigration critics recently urged the government "to show compassion for those who have chosen not to participate in a war not sanctioned by the United Nations." Instead, the Tories prefer to waste time and money during a recession chasing after principled young people who are harming no one.

THOMPSON: And if we show compassion for the U.S. war deserters, who's going to deal with the other deportees who want to stay because we sympathize with their plight, even if they don't fit the bill for refugee status? Calls for compassion need to be directed to the U.S. military.

COCKBURN: And if we don't show compassion for war resisters, whom will we feel free to deny next? Czechs and Mexicans? Maybe we can find some fine print to keep out everyone we don't quite approve of. We have made exceptions to refugee rules in the past and we need to do so again.

THOMPSON: We can show compassion, and I do feel for these people, but their refugee claims simply don't fit the bill. We'd just be opening the door to every American soldier who doesn't want to serve anymore, because of a moral objection to whatever it is they've been asked to do. That's not our job.

COCKBURN: What good is compassion without action? Canada has a great opportunity here to take a moral stand and let these resisters stay -- if only as guests for a year or so. But no, we've already deported at least six and we're chasing a couple more. Seems vindictive, not to mention a waste of resources.

THOMPSON: What's the use of letting them stay for a year, so they can get even more comfortable here? Sorry, but it's time to shape up and ship out -- home.

COCKBURN: Rounding up those big bad deserters instead of acknowledging the Iraq war is based on lies and has resulted in countless needless deaths is so easy, so NIMBY. Instead of hiding behind our present arbitrary refugee policy, we ought to rethink it. Show some moral backbone, Canada!

Many thanks to Lyn Cockburn. Excellent stuff. Please take a moment to write supportive letters: cal-letters@calgarysun.com and torsun.editor@sunmedia.ca.


medical abuse meets the war on drugs meets the state's control of our bodies

Where does the unwinnable "war on drugs" end? Where does the state's right to your body end?

Do they intersect here?

Warning: I felt - literally - sick to my stomach and dizzy from reading this. I had to look away, as I'm at work. Some people may find this story triggering.

There is only one word for what happened to this man: torture. $125,000 doesn't even begin to compensate violating a human being in this way.

from the archives: on being childfree

Several wmtc readers will be interested in the cover story of the current issue of Maclean's: "No Kids, No Grief - A new manifesto argues that parenting is bad for your career, your marriage, your bank book and your love life".

The story, fortunately, is not as snark-laden as the title. It's a round-up of some books that are out and what Maclean's writer Anne Kingston calls "a tiny but growing minority challenging the final frontier of reproductive freedom: the right to say no to children without being labelled social misfits or selfish for something they don't want."

It's frustrating and a bit sad to me that, as the first decade of the 21st Century nears its end, adults who are childfree by choice are still thought to be challenging anything - still explaining themselves, still defending their choices.

As I near my own half-century mark, I'm amazed that some people think that there is anything - any life choice - that is appropriate for everyone. Aren't we each unique human beings? How could such an important life decision be one-size-fits-all?

But I've also learned that women will be criticized for their reproductive decisions no matter what they do - usually by other women. Having children too young, having children too old - having too many children, having only one child - having several children very close together in age, having children widely separated in age. And of course, not having any children at all. I have heard women criticized for every one of these choices, not once, but dozens of times. I'm sure men are sometimes criticized for reproductive choices, too, but I'd bet this year's tuition money that the comments directed at men are a teaspoon to the ocean of judgements directed at women.

I've never blogged about being childfree, because it's simply not an issue in my life. The decision not to have children is probably the best decision I've ever made, and the one I always have been most sure of.

Allan and I knew - both separately and together - that we didn't want to be parents. (Not of humans, anyway. Being a dog-parent is the perfect amount of parenting for me.) We've been fortunate to meet friends who are also happily child free. And, thankfully, I finally have aged out of that burning question: Why don't you have kids? It's the best part of getting older. No one asks anymore.

But people used to ask, and plenty. If blogs had existed in the 1980s and early 90s, I would have blogged about it all the time. After seeing the Maclean's story, I dug up an essay I wrote back then, probably in 1992 or 1993. If you're childfree, it might ring a bell.

The essay was never published, so it's a bit rough, but I think it holds up. And if you want to see the kind of judgements that are laid on childfree adults all the time, just look at the comments at that Maclean's story.
Mother (Not) To Be

At a friend's dinner party, my partner and I sat across the table from a couple expecting their first baby. As they talked about Lamaze classes and why they decided on a midwife, we struggled to appear interested. Eventually, perhaps feeling a little self-conscious for dominating the conversation, the woman asked me, "Do you two ever talk about having children?"

I didn't think this was an appropriate question from someone who I had known less than an hour, and I made light of it. "Yes, but we talk about not having children!"

"Are you serious?" she asked, incredulous. "You don't want kids?"

When I confirmed that was indeed the case, she said, "I never wanted children before, but now. . ." She put down her fork and squeezed her husband's arm. "Wanting a child came out of my love for Bill. When you really love someone, you want to have their baby." I still bristle when I think of her words. And I'm still gratified that, for once, the clever comeback arrived on my tongue at the right moment, and not on the way home. "Oh really," I said casually, "then what do lesbians do?"

My male partner and I do not want children. Our reasons are varied and complex, simple and emotional, and very clear to both of us. For many years, I kept my preference for remaining childless to myself, intuitively sensing other people's negative reactions. Now than I am more candid, those reactions have been very revealing.

While I don't open conversations with proclamations about my reproductive decisions, when you're over thirty and have been living with a man for many years, the subject does come up. Female casual acquaintances and virtual strangers feel free to ask me why I don"t have children yet. When I explain that it's not a matter of "yet," I open myself up to a polite barrage of criticism and disapproval. Over and over, I hear the same tired refrains.

"You'll see, when you're older, your biological clock will start ticking, you'll start to feel maternal. . ." I refuse to believe that biology is destiny. While I am angry that this is the case for millions of women the world over, I am fortunate that my circumstances afford me a little choice. And I've had "maternal' feelings all my life – if one insists on defining the desire to care for others as maternal.

"I didn't want children either, when I was your age, but you'll feel different when you're older." The woman who says this combines an arrogant assumption – that her own experience is universal – with the judgement that I am not mature enough to make my own decision. I thought when I turned thirty I would finally stop hearing this old cliche. As medical technology continues to stretch the age limits of fertility, I wonder when I will finally be deemed "old enough."

"What a shame – you would make such a good mother! The world needs people like you to be parents!" I suppose this is intended as a compliment. I must assume that whatever qualities of mine inspire this comment also mean I can be a good partner, a good sister, a good daughter or friend. Like many people, I think I would be good at many things. I once thought of becoming a lawyer, but I decided I'd rather be a writer, and sometimes a teacher. No one ever laments, "But you would have made such a good attorney!"

"But you'll never know what it's like to have a baby grow inside you, to look at a child and know she is biologically related to you." And perhaps this woman will never know what it's like to write a book, or climb a mountain, or perform brain surgery, or any one of the myriad things a woman might do in her lifetime. No one can experience everything. Last time I heard this remark, I wondered if it would be rude to say, "I'll never know what it's like to pay for day care, either."
Will I ever see a baby and feel wistful? Perhaps. Our friends who are parents frequently envy our freedom. It doesn't mean they wish they never had children.

"What does Allan have to say about all this?" This is not a neutral "How does Allan feel?"; the question is laced with a touch of alarm, even disgust. The speaker assumes that I arrived at this decision alone, then sprung it on my unsuspecting mate, who could not possibly share my unnatural desire. Now I have deceived him in the most treacherous way: my man has just learned that I am not a Real Woman.

These are all actual quotes, and I have heard each several times. All the speakers could be considered my peers – college-educated women between 30 and 50 years of age. They all had children, or are planning to, at a later age than their mothers did. Learning of my intentions to not have children, they were amazed, appalled, or simply mystified.

I frequently compare the attitudes of my contemporaries with those of my female students. Ranging in age from 16 to 24, my students did not finish high school and are now studying for their high-school equivalency exam. Almost all had children when they were teenagers.

The question is inevitable: "Miss Laura, do you have kids?" And then, "But are you going to? Do you want to?" Upon hearing the answer, the young woman is invariably shocked. I have grown accustomed to students openly marveling at me – a woman who, by their standards, is nearly old enough to be a grandparent, but has not had even one child. At 23, I was single, rootless, cultivating my career and my friendships. My twenty-three-year-old students often have two children, the oldest one in first grade.

Listening to the few young women in my classes who do not have children illuminates why the majority do. "I'm not ready for kids," says Tamika. "There's so much I want to do first." "I'm going to college," declares Kesha. "It'll be much easier if I don't have children to worry about." Tamika and Kesha have stretched beyond their insular world enough to discover that women can do things besides have children – that we can be happy, at least temporarily, without being mothers.

Natasha's words are especially telling: "I got nothing to prove." When asked to elaborate, she explains, "Guys will kill each other trying to prove they're men. Girls have babies."

These women encounter very few alternatives to having children at a young age; almost everyone they know did it. Having children is what you do. Having babies is part of growing up female. Indeed, it's what makes you female.

On the surface, this attitude is foreign to my peers. Certainly, many of us had sex at a young age, but we did our level best to avoid pregnancy, and those who were unsuccessful never considered having a baby. As girls and young women, we knew we had exciting, interesting futures ahead of us, and having a baby wasn't part of the plan. We didn't need babies to fill our lives or to prove ourselves.

Yet, as more mature women, these same people have warned me against loneliness, against missing the greatest experience of my life. They have implied motherhood was my social obligation. They have questioned my commitment to my partner. They have ominously cautioned me about the ceaseless ticking of Time. They have challenged my femininity.

For some women, becoming a mother at 16 or 17 is the norm. For others, motherhood may be delayed, meticulously planned, and may include only one child – but not omitted altogether. Across differences of race, class, income and education, this concept adheres: women are supposed to be mothers.

I have much in common with my female students, despite our different backgrounds and cultures. In this respect, however, my students and my peers are more alike, and I am a foreigner in both worlds. For most women, Womanhood is still inextricably linked to Motherhood. A woman who is childless by choice is a radical outsider.

To be fair, I have encountered a few individuals who did not respond negatively to my decision. I'll never forget the relief I felt when my sister, the wonderful mother of two wonderful children, said without hesitation, "I can understand that." And once in a while I meet a woman who says, "Me neither." And then: relieved laughter as our feelings are happily and unexpectedly revealed. "Do people act like you're crazy?" I ask her. She touches my arm and says, sarcastically, knowingly, "'You'll see, when you're older, you'll change your mind.'"

Nice to get this out there after 15 years.


why truth in advertising laws should apply to politics: health care edition

Several readers send me stories on the renewed US wingnut lie campaign against universal, single-payer health insurance, aka Canada Sucks. I just can't follow the blow-by-blow. Although the heat and the lies have escalated sharply in recent months, it's been going on for years - decades - and I burnt out on it long ago.

I'm glad the Canadian blogosphere is on it, though. Here's something important to read: The real story on Canadian Health Care Hater Shona Holmes, by Ross, The Gazetteer.

Also, don't forget to circulate this everywhere: "Debunking Canadian Health Care Myths", with more links and my commentary here.

abdelrazik et al: shame, disgust and a question for wmtc readers

The updated news in Abousfian Abdelrazik's case - yet more shameful revelations of the Harper Government's treatment of Canadian citizens (who are brown and have non-Anglo last names) - came as I was heading into a blogging lull. Lucky for wmtc, someone else always says what I'm thinking. (If you're not up on the story, follow the links.)

A letter to the editor in today's Globe and Mail:
I have been increasingly sickened and shamed by the revelations of the actions of my government in the case of Abousfian Abdelrazik. Before this came the news that Canadians diplomats were acting in a manner that arguably amounted to ever so softly enabling the murder of a Canadian citizen.

For the first time in 30 years, I regret being an atheist. If I weren't an atheist, I'd believe in God. And if I believed in God, I'd believe in hell. And if I believed in hell, I'd prefer Dante's version of inferno. And that is where I would delight to think of those bureaucrats spending eternity.

Mick Mallon, Iqaluit

Now, could enough people who feel this way all live in some key ridings and vote these bureaucrats out? And more to the point, will we ever get the chance?

I definitely need a new category name for these incidents: Arar, Khadr, Abdelrazik, Abdihakim Mohamed, Suaad Hagi Mohamud. What should I call it? Your suggestions welcome.

pip, street urchin and political blogger

I recently blogged about Mister Pip - a wonderful book that I highly recommend - and some Dickens-related blather. Little did I know that Pip himself has a political blog, and covered the 2008 US election!

Pip Dawkins, 19th Century street urchin and blogger

The US elections defy parody, having long ago devolved into parodies themselves. But leave it to The Onion to find a way.

parallels, anyone?

From Reuters, emphasis added.
ROME – A team of archaeologists using sonar technology to scan the seabed have discovered a "graveyard" of five pristine ancient Roman shipwrecks off the small Italian island of Ventotene.

The trading vessels, dating from the first century BC to the fifth century AD, lie more than 100 meters underwater and are amongst the deepest wrecks discovered in the Mediterranean in recent years, the researchers said on Thursday.

Part of an archipelago situated halfway between Rome and Naples on Italy's west coast, Ventotene historically served as a place of shelter during rough weather in the Tyrrhenian Sea.

"The ships appear to have been heading for safe anchorage, but they never made it," said Timmy Gambin, head of archaeology for the Aurora Trust (www.auroratrust.com). "So in a relatively small area we have five wrecks...a graveyard of ships."

The vessels were transporting wine from Italy, prized fish sauce from Spain and north Africa, and a mysterious cargo of metal ingots from Italy, possibly to be used in the construction of statues or weaponry.

Gambin said the wrecks revealed a pattern of trade in the empire: at first Rome exported its produce to its expanding provinces, but gradually it began to import from them more and more of the things it once produced.

Thanks to redsock.


canada continues to tighten its borders to refugees

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney continues to make Canada less welcoming to immigrants and refugees.

The latest move comes hot on the heels of his imposition of sudden visa restrictions on travelers from Mexico and the Czech Republic, which itself was the latest in a long list of Tory anti-immigration moves. It's very sad.

Sadder still is that we are stuck with this interminable Conservative government, thanks to spineless, capitulating, self-serving, unprincipled Liberals.

Directly from the horse's mouth:
A change related to the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement was announced today by Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney. The change removes one of Canada's exceptions to the Agreement and is another step toward improving Canada's asylum system.

The Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement was signed on December 5, 2002, and implemented on December 29, 2004. Under the Agreement, refugee claimants arriving in North America must make a claim in the first safe country they reach - either Canada or the United States.

One of Canada's exceptions to this agreement allowed individuals from countries under a temporary suspension of removals (TSR) coming through the Canada-U.S. land border to make a refugee claim in Canada, even though they already had the opportunity to make one in the United States. Effective today, this exception has been removed.

Unless they qualify for another exception under the Safe Third Country Agreement, nationals from TSR countries (Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Iraq and Zimbabwe) arriving at a Canada-U.S. land border will be ineligible to make a refugee claim in Canada and will be turned back to the United States. Nationals from these countries already in Canada or arriving at a port of entry that is not a land border with the U.S. will not be affected by this measure and will continue to have access to Canada's asylum system.

More here.

In case you missed it, here's some important reaction to Kenney's "improvements": former irb chair says political interference is crippling canada's refugee board, and harming innocent people.

please sign petition in support of war resister chris vassey

If you support US war resisters in Canada, and you haven't signed this yet, please do.

Petition in support of Chris Vassey.

Chris served five years in the US military, including a decorated combat tour. After returning from Afghanistan, with deployment to Iraq looming, Chris decided he could no longer participate in a mismanaged war of aggression. All he wanted was to separate honourably from the US military. But he was not allowed to do so.

Now Chris asks nothing more than to stay in Canada - to work, to live in peace, to settle into his new life. Some friends of his, also resisters, started this petition, to show public support for Chris and other war resisters.

Chris had to leave his family and friends, he had to come to a new place where he didn't know anybody, he had to start all over. He must go through the Immigration and Refugee Board process, and probably to court. If there is no change of government or change of heart in Canada, Chris may one day be court martialed and go to jail.

All we have to do is sign this.

Please sign and circulate. Thanks.


brief update on deported war resisters cliff cornell and robin long

At last night's Campaign meeting, we were joined by a Quaker activist from the southern US who has been visiting war resister Cliff Cornell - deported by the Harper government and jailed by its US counterpart - in military prison.

It sounds like Cliff is doing all right, but he misses Canada a lot. He can receive visitors without a lot of advanced planning, and some of us are hoping to go down there before the year is out.

As you may imagine, Cliff loves to receive mail from supporters. You can write to him at this address:
Clifford Cornell
Building 1041
PSC Box # 20140
Camp Lejeune, NC 28542

We also got an update on Robin Long from one of his war resister friends. As you know, Robin has been released from military custody. He's doing really well. He has big plans and is headed in a good direction. Hopefully, one day, that direction will be north. We hope that Robin can be reunited with his Canadian-born son at some future date.

[CIC: I mean that in a purely theoretical sense, not that Robin plans to sneak back into Canada. He'll be attending school in Seattle. No need to alert anyone. Go back to your solitaire game.]

Courage To Resist on Cliff Cornell

obama admin green lights destruction of old-growth forest

Change we can believe in? Some things don't change, no matter how much "belief" one throws at them.
The Obama administration has approved the sale of timber from the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. The 17-million acre forest is the largest stand of continuous temperate rain forest in the U.S. and contains a lot of old-growth trees. It's basically a snapshot of what the world looked like before we rolled heavy onto the scene.

The U.S. Forest Service gave the green light for the sale after approval from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who stated in May that he would be the final gatekeeper on all decisions to sell timber from roadless areas of the national forests.

This first sale will come after seven miles of roads are built for the 381-acre clear-cut.

From NRDC's Save BioGems, not updated, but interesting background, in retrospect:
Stretching 500 miles along the southeast coast of Alaska, the Tongass National Forest lies at the heart of the world's largest remaining temperate rainforest. With its towering groves of ancient trees, the Tongass supports vibrant populations of eagles, grizzlies, wolves and salmon.

At the behest of the logging industry, the Forest Service has repeatedly tried to sacrifice this vast wilderness to clearcut logging. The Bush administration illegally exempted the forest from the landmark 2001 "roadless rule," which bans logging and road construction in the most pristine areas of our national forests.

In 2009, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that any road building or logging in some 50 million roadless acres of national forest, including the Tongass, would require his personal approval. But unless the Obama administration immediately reverses the exemption and restores full protection for the Tongass, timber sales could take place as early as the summer of 2009, threatening many of the old-growth stands that form the wild heart of this magnificent forest.

Vilsack said he approved the clear-cut in order to save jobs. It's the usual jobs-versus-environment frame, and it's a false choice. Cutting down old-growth forest isn't a viable solution to saving jobs: it's a boondoggle for the forest industry.

According to the Juneau Empire, Earthjustice's Tom Waldo claims that "building the road will cost four times as much revenue as the Forest Service is going to get from the timber sale." For more on how this deal was struck and who profits from it, read more here.

If you want to send letters or postcards, or donate to fight this kind of short-term, earth-unfriendly thinking, NRDC is probably your best bet.

For ideas on how to create jobs without destroying our natural heritage, see the Blue Green Alliance, a coalition of labour unions and environmental organizations "dedicated to expanding the number and quality of jobs in the green economy".


former irb chair says political interference is crippling canada's refugee board, and harming innocent people

I can't write right now, but I can pass things along. If you are care about justice, and you want a Canada that is a fair and safe haven for refugees, please read this story in its entirety. Emphasis added throughout.

You can supply your own commentary. Here's mine: Jason Kenney must resign.

From Embassy, Canada's foreign policy magazine.
Political Interference Crippling Refugee Board: Former Chair

Jason Kenney's comments are bringing personal harm to refugee claimants and may have overstepped the legal line between politics and independent refugee decisions, say several immigration experts.

by Michelle Collins
Published July 22, 2009

Jason Kenney has compromised his position as immigration minister by repeatedly slamming the validity of various refugee claims and blatantly undermining the independence of Canada's refugee tribunal, legal and immigration experts, including former IRB chairman Peter Showler, are charging.

Over the past several months, Mr. Kenney has publicly declared asylum claims by U.S. war deserters to be "bogus," accused would-be Mexican refugees of systematically abusing the system, and questioned the legitimacy of refugee claims by Roma from the Czech Republic.

Mr. Kenney has said that the Roma face no state persecution in the Czech Republic—where attacks on their communities by radical groups are said to be on the rise—in spite of the fact that the Immigration and Refugee Board has approved nearly all such claims. In 2008, 94 per cent of Czech Roma claims were accepted, while in the first six months of 2009, 72 of the 90 cases heard were accepted.

"There are a lot of concerns here," said Toronto immigration lawyer Max Berger. "The minister has to strike a delicate balance, on the one hand preserving the integrity of our refugee program, and on the other hand not making public pronouncements that could be seen as political interference in the operation of his own refugee board."

In June, Mr. Kenney referred to a report on the Czech Republic, conducted by IRB researchers, as proof the Czech government was committed to improving the legal and economic opportunities for Roma, and suggested this was evidence that Czech Roma face no real risk.

"If someone comes in and says the police have been beating the crap out of them, the IRB panelists can then go to their report and say, 'Well, actually, there's been no evidence of police brutality,'" Mr. Kenney told the Toronto Star on June 24.

The appearance of political interference by the minister has led Roma Canadians to launch a lawsuit against Mr. Kenney and the Immigration and Refugee Board, alleging "institutional biases" against Czech Roma refugees. Lawyer Rocco Galati told the Toronto Star that the suit will focus on the IRB's report about Czech Roma, which the community says is discriminatory.

Peter Showler, a former chairman of the IRB and director of the Refugee Forum at the Human Rights Research and Education Centre at the University of Ottawa, said Mr. Kenney has absolutely introduced institutional bias into the refugee board's decision-making. He said Mr. Kenney's comments have caused a "significant amount of damage" to individual refugee claimants from Mexico and the Czech Republic, as well as to the judicial process.

"I am not aware of a single previous minister of immigration who has made such remarks, who has intruded on the judicial process in this way; not one," Mr. Showler said. "This is extraordinary and I think he has overstepped the line, and I think the courts are going to tell him that he's overstepped the line."

The Refugee Lawyers' Association of Ontario has also spoken out against Mr. Kenney's comments, which they say undermines the IRB's independence and tarnishes its integrity.

"The Canadian public should be shocked that a minister would interfere so blatantly in the work of an independent body," Geraldine MacDonald, president of the association, said in a July 13 press release.

Members of the Immigration and Refugee Board are responsible for hearing refugee claims, analyzing the evidence of each case, and ultimately approving or rejecting the claim. The IRB is an independent agency, however its members are appointed by Governor in Council (Cabinet) decisions, based largely on recommendations from the immigration minister.

Experts say Mr. Kenney's disrespect of the principle of independence is of grave concern because it introduces external political factors into the members' decision-making process.

"The people who are members of the IRB ultimately depend on the minister of citizenship and immigration, and more generally the government, to keep them in their jobs," said Audrey Macklin, an associate professor at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Law. "When the minister pronounces on the validity, or lack thereof, of refugee claimants from any country without having heard the particular case and knowing the individual circumstances, there is the risk that individual decision makers whose jobs ultimately depend on the minister's decision to appoint and reappoint them, will be unduly influenced. They might be fearful when their time comes up for reappointment that he will examine their acceptance rates from the countries where he has deemed refugee claimants to be bogus, and penalize them."

The perception of such inappropriate control by Mr. Kenney has become so prevalent that numerous immigration lawyers are turning to the courts for recourse. Mr. Berger said he and a number of other lawyers in Toronto now have applications in federal court alleging "an apprehension of bias" regarding Czech refugee claims.

"You have board members who are called upon to decide these refugee claims, and at the same time these board members are looking to this minister for reappointment at the board," Mr. Berger said.

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said it is inappropriate for the immigration minister to publicly prejudge cases
and that in doing so he has disrespected the proper divisions of responsibilities.

"It's extraordinary how often you hear public figures say 'I can't comment on this because it's before a tribunal,' somehow Jason Kenney doesn't seem to be applying that rule to the cases of refugees," Ms. Dench said.

By publicly stating his personal opinions on what he thinks the outcome of determinations should be puts the IRB into "a very vulnerable position" and slights refugees, she said.

"It just treats refugees of being so undeserving of even the most basic consideration... like the refugee system is just about trying to deal as quickly as possible with an inconvenience rather than taking seriously the rights of refugees," Ms. Dench said.

Errol Mendes, a professor of international law at the University of Ottawa, said Mr. Kenney's "blanket statements" about claimants from other countries, such as Mexico and the Czech Republic, are dangerous. As the most senior person in the immigration department, the onus is on Mr. Kenney to respect the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, Mr. Mendes said, adding there is nothing in the '51 convention which suggests claimants from democratic countries, such as the Czech Republic and Mexico, are not entitled to a fair hearing.

"Given all that, at least in terms of the spirit of the rule of law, I think he has abdicated his responsibility to be a responsible minister of immigration and citizenship," Mr. Mendes said. "And we could add to that multiculturalism too, because this certainly goes against the spirit of multiculturalism, to basically stereotype entire peoples as potential fraudsters."

Liberal Immigration critic Maurizio Bevilacqua advised Mr. Kenney to take heed of such concerns.

"I think the minister has to be very careful and balanced in his comments," Mr. Bevilacqua said. "He must of course state his opinion about Canada's immigration system because that is his job, but he has to do it in a manner that doesn't unduly influence people's decisions on the cases that they're dealing with."

Breaking the System, Blaming the Refugees

Particularly frustrating for many close observers has been the lack of government attention to addressing the refugee problem systematically, rather than politically.

Mr. Showler, in two recent op-eds for the Ottawa Citizen, has outlined the challenges facing the Immigration and Refugee Board. He lambasted the government for neglecting to avert the present crisis, which led to Mr. Kenney imposing visa requirements on all citizens of Mexico and the Czech Republic, and subsequently calling for an overhaul of Canada's refugee system.

"In addition to creating significant delays and spiralling new costs in our refugee programme, the sheer volume of these claims is undermining our ability to help people fleeing real persecution," Mr. Kenney said in announcing visas for Mexico and the Czech Republic on July 13. "All too often, people who really need Canada's protection find themselves in a long line, waiting for months and sometimes years to have their claims heard. This is unacceptable."

Just four years ago however, Mr. Showler points out that the IRB had an inventory of approximately 21,000 claims, with a capacity to decide 25,000 claims annually. But because the government has failed to reappoint experienced members and fill vacancies left by departed members, the IRB is now saddled with a backlog that exceeds 65,000 claims.

Indeed, the IRB was functioning, Ms. Macklin agreed, until the government starved it of its main resource—decision makers.

"[The government] manufactured the backlog,"
Ms. Macklin said. "You have a situation where the government took a system that was functioning, broke it, blamed asylum seekers for breaking it, and is now using that as an excuse to dismantle the entire system. There's something pernicious about that, and disingenuous at best."

Without enough members, the processing time has slowed—something the Mexican government points to as the root cause of the multiplying number of cases from Mexico in recent years. In 2008, more than 9,400 Mexicans filed refugee claims in Canada, making it the number one source country for refugee claims.

"Organizations have taken advantage of Canadian response times to assess refugee claims, where excessive delays have become appealing in the filing of illegitimate cases," the Mexican government said in a statement on July 13.

Acknowledging that there are indeed fraudulent claims made, Mr. Berger also pointed to systematic problems as the cause. Effectively addressing such problems, he said, is a viable alternative to Mr. Kenney's drastic measure of imposing visas.

"The reason bogus claims come to Canada is because they know that after their refugee claim is refused...they know that they will be able to stay in Canada for seven, eight, 10 years, until the immigration department gets around to removing them," Mr. Berger said. "Now if the minister took the removal process seriously and removed claimants properly after their appeals have concluded, then these people wouldn't be coming here in the first place and we wouldn't have come to this position."

much to say, but not right now

I have many things to blog about, but a poorly functioning brain. I'll take a short break while I wait for the fog to lift.


rabble: city disinformation campaign turning public against striking workers

John Bonnar has an excellent piece on Rabble about the CUPE strike, and the misinformation - one might say disinformation - surrounding it. Well worth reading.
...Workers said they're upset about the misinformation that's been put out to the mainstream media by the Mayor's office. They told me that 416 and 79 had been budgeted to receive the same contract (with no concessions) as other city workers received this year, yet at the last minute the Mayor presented them with over 100 pages of takeaways. They don’t think it's right for the City to settle with other locals, increase councilor's pay and then turn around and say they can’t do the same for locals 416 and 79 because we’re in the midst of a recession.

For these workers, the issue is about fairness and equity. They want the same deal as everyone else: no more, no less.

As for the sick bank, everyone is entitled to 18 days a year that can be carried over. However, due to an arbitrated decision many years ago, the average number of sick days allowed is determined by the employer. The City allows its employees, on average, 12 days off in a year. But if employees exceed the 12 days, they can be reassigned, demoted or fired, even if they have 200 days in their sick bank.

Employees don't want to exceed the 12 days for fear of being placed in a City program, where they are monitored every three months for the next two years. As for the sick bank carryover, seriously sick employees have to wait six months before they can apply for long term disability. But you have to use up your entire sick bank first.

Once employees apply for long term disability, nine times out of ten the union has to get involved to fight on their behalf. There have been cases where employees had to wait up to 2 years before they received long term disability benefits. And the current contract offer doesn't give any short term disability before the long term benefits kick in. But with the current sick bank, employees get 100 per cent of their salary.

Miller's recent offer of a new short term disability plan might only provide an employee 75 per cent of his salary. Then he has to dip into his sick bank. Over a twenty or thirty year period, his sick bank could be depleted leaving the him with no payout upon retirement.

Full story here.

kim and katie fight for justice

Russell, stalwart peace activist from Western New York State, attended the most recent federal court hearing in Toronto for war resister Kim Rivera. I thought his post about the experience was beautiful: Kim (and Katie) fight against the war and deportation from Canada.

I know Russell also attended a ground-breaking conference in Chicago: Stopping The War Where It Begins: Organizing Against Militarism in Our Schools.

Anti-recruitment efforts are such a crucial part of the peace movement. Almost all the war resisters I know grew up with military recruitment as a permanent fixture in their public schools. The lies and entrapment start early, especially when other options are few and bleak.

I'm sure the conference was a lot to process, but I hope Russell will tell us about it soon!


toronto strike blogs (upperdated with more links)

Here are two three of the strike blogs that I know about.

City of Toronto Strike Blog is excellent, and written by a striker.

City of Toronto Strike 2009 is written by a thoughtful observer.

Hogtown Striker is also on strike her- or himself. I don't know if Hogtown is still blogging. I hope so, since as we move into week five, these voices need to be heard.

Also, some pointed sarcasm in the Globe and Mail letters today:
Ben Dachis correctly points out that allowing private companies to compete with public unions for garbage collection in Toronto will lower costs to the consumer (Set The Garbage Hostages Free – July 18). Those efficiencies will be achieved by forcing union employees to take wage cuts in order to compete, in the race to the bottom, with private firms.

To reduce the risk of annoying labour unrest all we need to do is take wages and benefits away from a few thousand people. Let's not stop with the city workers, though; for every service we privatize, and every union we bust, we can rid ourselves of additional annoyances. The only drawback is the gradual erosion of our collective standard of living.

Michael Stacey, Toronto

Also, a story on a Toronto couple who are both on strike.
Sandra Sproviero was supposed to be planning her wedding right now.

Instead, she's trolling grocery store aisles for discounts, maxing out credit cards and using her painstakingly saved-up wedding funds to pay the mortgage.

Ms. Sproviero and her partner, Jay Higginson, have been on strike with the city's 24,000 indoor and outdoor workers for almost 30 days now. This is their second pay period sans paycheque, and they're feeling the pinch.

. . . .

"We would never go back to work unless that was in the best interest of everybody, not just ourselves. If that was the decision and we went back, that's great - we're ready to go back to work. However, we're not ready to go back as a scab."

She has no idea what comes next, or how long this will last. Both unions have rejected the latest offer - posted on the city's website last week - but say negotiations are continuing.

Ms. Sproviero doesn't think workers will be abandoning their pickets any time soon.

"We'll do whatever it takes. I mean, if we have to cut back even more, we'll cut back even more," she said. "I believe in the value of why we're out there ... People will stay out regardless of whether we can afford it. We can't afford not to be out there."

forgetting to breathe

But you know, Matilda, you cannot pretend to read a book. Your eyes will give you away. So will your breathing. A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe. The house can catch alight and a reader deep in a book will not look up until the wallpaper is in flames. For me, Matilda, Great Expectations is such a book. It gave me permission to change my life.

-- Lloyd Jones, Mister Pip

mr pip again

It seems I blogged about this book too early. I sat down to read today - day off, outside, on my patio, ahhhh... - and the book is suddenly so much better than I thought.

As the backdrop of war and violence intersects with the foreground story of Matilda and the two adults in her life, all the themes deepen and intersect. Mister Pip is about trust and betrayal, memory and forgetting, safety and fear, obedience and resistance, our sense of self, our sense of otherness, the creation of art, and what part of us cannot be destroyed.

Excellent book. Technically "young adult fiction," I think, but the best of that genre always works for not-so-young adults, as well.

another july 20

Allan and I met 24 years ago today.



how the u.s. can learn from canada, and why nurses are great

A little Canadian history in The Nation. As always, best enjoyed comment-free.
Canada did not establish its national health care program with a bold, immediate political move by the federal government.

The initial progress came at the provincial level, led by the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation's Tommy Douglas when he served from 1941 to 1960 premier of Saskatchewan. The universal, publicly-funded "single-payer" health care system that Douglas and his socialist allies developed in Saskatchewan proved to be so successful and so popular that it was eventually adopted by other provinces and, ultimately, by Canada's federal government.

For his efforts, Douglas would be hailed in a national survey as "The Greatest Canadian" of all time. But Douglas' regional initiative also offers a lesson for Americans.

Those of us who know that the only real cure for what ails the U.S. health care system is a universal public plan that provides health care for all Americans while controlling costs recognize the frustrating reality that there are many economic and political barriers to the federal action that would create a single-payer system. This makes clearing the way experimentation at the state level all the more important.

And, remarkably, the forces of real reform have won a congressional victory on that front, a victory that ought not be underestimated.

By a 25-19 vote, the House Committee on Education and Labor on Friday approved an amendment to the House's health-care reform bill allowing states to create single-payer health care systems if they so choose.

"There are many models of health care reform from which to choose around the world – the vast majority of which perform far better than ours. The one that has been the most tested here and abroad is single-payer," explained Congressman Dennis Kucinich, the Ohio Democrat who proposed the amendment. "Under a single-payer system everyone in the U.S. would get a card that would allow access to any doctor at virtually any hospital. Doctors and hospitals would continue to be privately run, but the insurance payments would be in the public hands. By getting rid of the for-profit insurance companies, we can save $400 billion per year and provide coverage for all medically necessary services for everyone in the U.S."

Votes for the amendment came from progressive Democrats who favor single-payer -- such as Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Lynn Woolsey, of California, and Raul Grijalva, of Arizona -- as well as conservative Republicans who have no taste for single-payer but want states to be able to set their own agendas.

Opposition to the amendment came mainly from Democrats such as committee chair George Miller, of California, who have resisted moves to create more flexible, innovation-friendly legislation.

The Education and Labor Committee -- one of three in the House with jurisdiction over health care -- then approved the amended America's Affordable Health Choices Act, H.R. 3200, by a vote of 26-22.

The campaign for to add the amendment was advanced by a number of groups, in particular Progressive Democratic of America, which mounted a last-minute campaign to sway Democratic members of the House committee. PDA Tim Carpenter is right when he says: "This is a victory for single-payer advocates. Our job in the ensuing weeks will be to ensure that this amendment does not get stripped from the final legislation."

And they will have powerful allies who will fight to preserve the amendment.

After the committee vote, Rose Ann DeMoro, the executive director of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, said, "This is a historic moment for patients, for American families, and for the tens of thousands of nurses and other single-payer activists from coast to coast who can now work in state capitols to pass single-payer bills, the strongest, most effective solution of all to our healthcare crisis."

De Moro gets it.

Allowing states to do what is necessary to provide high-quality yet affordable health care for all -- even as a federal plan falls short of that goal -- opens up vital new avenues for promoting, and actually implementing, single-payer systems.

why we need good jobs in our communities

Another great pro-labour post from Impudent Strumpet: The other other problem with all this anti-labour sentiment.

The other problem: here.

The problem: here. (I think. She might have meant a different post.)

what i'm reading: mr pip, and others to follow

I'm in the middle of a surprise novel, something not plucked from my endless To-Read List, but that Allan included in my birthday loot: Mister Pip, by New Zealand author Lloyd Jones. The story is told by a 13-year-old narrator and involves Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. Teenage narrator? Dickens? Good call.

Mister Pip won the Commonwealth Prize in 2006, and was nominated for the Booker Prize the following year. In my experience, both those awards mean excellent books. I'll read any book that won either a Commonwealth or a Booker, and I've never been disappointed.

This is no exception: an excellent book. The main story involves a girl discovering the power of fiction - for solace, for escape, and to understand her world. Matilda also discovers an unexpected teacher and a father-figure, and her relationship with her mother begins to change. Those are standard elements for a teenage-narrated book, but Jones is subtle and skillful, and his young narrator's voice rings true for me. (I'm very tough that way. If it doesn't really feel like a teenager is narrating, I can't read the book.)

The coming-of-age story is set against a backdrop of war and terror. Most of that is hidden from Matilda and the other young people on their South Pacific island, but what seeps through - what their parents can't protect them from - sears their memories, and it sears the readers' mind, too. A few images go a long way.

* * * *

As Matilda discovers Charles Dickens, I find myself compelled to re-read Great Expectations.

In university, I was an English major (of course) and 19th Century British was my strongest area of interest, especially Dickens. Later on, out of school, I made an interesting observation. If I read something by Dickens in a public place - on a bus, or in a park - or was just walking around carrying a Dickens novel, people would ask if I was in school. "What are you reading? Oh, is that for a class?"

After seeing a PBS production of Martin Chuzzlewit, I wanted to read the novel. I was teaching at the time, and all my colleagues made the same assumption. "Why are you reading that, are you school?"

Dickens is the only author this has ever happened with. Interesting.

Recently, one night after work, I caught a bit of a Masterpiece Theatre production of Little Dorrit, a Dickens novel I've never read. I only saw one episode but I was instantly hooked, and bought a copy.

So now I feel a Dickens binge coming on: I want to read both Great Expectations and Little Dorrit. The start of grad school and a big schedule change looms in September, so I'm not sure how realistic this is, but after Mister Pip, I'll start and see how it goes.

I picked up a used copy of Great Expectations in Stratford, only to discover I already owned a copy at home. The copy I bought was nicer, and only five bucks, so I'll donate the extra copy to the Mississauga Library for one of their many book sales.

* * * *

A couple of years before we moved to Canada, I discovered these wonderful little editions of Shakespeare plays published by Pelican.

I love the cover designs, each play with a different abstract painting, and a similar icon on the spine. There's an excellent series introduction and the intro for the specific play is usually very solid. And they're $5 each! I usually buy them in the US, but even in Canada, they're not more than $7.

Finding these books in 2003, I decided to use them as an excuse to collect and read all 36* plays - to re-read the ones I've already read, and read the rest for the first time. (I have a Complete Shakespeare, but that tome is hardly conducive to a pleasurable reading experience.)

It's a project I forget about for huge periods of time, but then come back to and read another one or two. I've only read nine plays since making this decision, which isn't much. But on the other hand, that's a quarter of the full 36, and a lot more than I would have read without the project.

In Stratford we saw a bunch of Pelican Shakespeare editions, used and in good shape, and scooped up a handful. I used to keep a list of what I already owned on my iPAQ, for just this reason. Now I see I'd better add that to my Blackberry, because one of the four we bought was already on our shelf. So the Mississauga Library will get another Winter's Tale along with Great Expectations.

* I'm not counting the "lost plays," Pericles and Two Noble Kinsmen, but I might get to those, too.


petition in support of war resister chris vassey

Support US war resisters in Canada? Sign for Chris.

Spread it around.

greenwald on cronkite

Celebrating Cronkite While Ignoring What He Did, by Glenn Greenwald.

Go read.

wendell potter continues to speak out, and americans must listen

Remember Wendell Potter? He's the former head of corporate communications (i.e., PR) for Cigna, the fourth largest insurer in the US, and he's been speaking openly about the dirty tricks the insurance industry employs to deny coverage to paying customers. I blogged about him here; if you missed it, you might want to check it out.

Potter is still speaking out. He sat down with the great progressive journalist-activist Bill Moyers. You can watch their conversation or read a transcript here.

Through Moyers, Potter makes it very clear he is not a disgruntled former employee bad-mouthing a company that wronged him. He is a man wracked by conscience, and determined to speak the truth. Here's an excerpt.
WENDELL POTTER: Well, I was beginning to question what I was doing as the industry shifted from selling primarily managed care plans, to what they refer to as consumer-driven plans. And they're really plans that have very high deductibles, meaning that they're shifting a lot of the cost off health care from employers and insurers, insurance companies, to individuals. And a lot of people can't even afford to make their co-payments when they go get care, as a result of this. But it really took a trip back home to Tennessee for me to see exactly what is happening to so many Americans. I--

BILL MOYERS: When was this?

WENDELL POTTER: This was in July of 2007.

BILL MOYERS: You were still working for Cigna?

WENDELL POTTER: I was. I went home, to visit relatives. And I picked up the local newspaper and I saw that a health care expedition was being held a few miles up the road, in Wise, Virginia. And I was intrigued.

BILL MOYERS: So you drove there?

WENDELL POTTER: I did. I borrowed my dad's car and drove up 50 miles up the road to Wise, Virginia. It was being held at a Wise County Fairground. I took my camera. I took some pictures. It was a very cloudy, misty day, it was raining that day, and I walked through the fairground gates. And I didn't know what to expect. I just assumed that it would be, you know, like a health-- booths set up and people just getting their blood pressure checked and things like that.

But what I saw were doctors who were set up to provide care in animal stalls. Or they'd erected tents, to care for people. I mean, there was no privacy. In some cases-- and I've got some pictures of people being treated on gurneys, on rain-soaked pavement.

And I saw people lined up, standing in line or sitting in these long, long lines, waiting to get care. People drove from South Carolina and Georgia and Kentucky, Tennessee-- all over the region, because they knew that this was being done. A lot of them heard about it from word of mouth.

There could have been people and probably were people that I had grown up with. They could have been people who grew up at the house down the road, in the house down the road from me. And that made it real to me.

BILL MOYERS: What did you think?

WENDELL POTTER: It was absolutely stunning. It was like being hit by lightning. It was almost-- what country am I in? I just it just didn't seem to be a possibility that I was in the United States. It was like a lightning bolt had hit me.

BILL MOYERS: People are going to say, "How can Wendell Potter sit here and say he was just finding out that there were a lot of Americans who didn't have adequate insurance and needed health care? He'd been in the industry for over 15 years."

WENDELL POTTER: And that was my problem. I had been in the industry and I'd risen up in the ranks. And I had a great job. And I had a terrific office in a high-rise building in Philadelphia. I was insulated. I didn't really see what was going on. I saw the data. I knew that 47 million people were uninsured, but I didn't put faces with that number.

Just a few weeks later though, I was back in Philadelphia and I would often fly on a corporate aircraft to go to meetings.

And I just thought that was a great way to travel. It is a great way to travel. You're sitting in a luxurious corporate jet, leather seats, very spacious. And I was served my lunch by a flight attendant who brought my lunch on a gold-rimmed plate. And she handed me gold-plated silverware to eat it with. And then I remembered the people that I had seen in Wise County. Undoubtedly, they had no idea that this went on, at the corporate levels of health insurance companies.

BILL MOYERS: But you had, all these years, seen premiums rising. People purged from the rolls, people who couldn't afford the health care that Cigna and other companies were offering. This is the first time you came face to face with it?

WENDELL POTTER: Yeah, it was. You know, certainly, I knew people, and I talked to people who were uninsured. But when you're in the executive offices, when you're getting prepared for a call with an analyst, in the financial medium, what you think about are the numbers. You don't think about individual people. You think about the numbers, and whether or not you're going to meet Wall Street's expectations. That's what you think about, at that level. And it helps to think that way. That's why you-- that enables you to stay there, if you don't really think that you're talking about and dealing with real human beings.

BILL MOYERS: Did you go back to corporate headquarters and tell them what you had seen?

WENDELL POTTER: I went back to corporate headquarters. I was trying to process all this, and trying to figure out what I should do. I did tell many of them about the experience I had. And the trip. I showed them some pictures I took while I was down there. But I didn't know exactly what I should do.

You know, I had bills of my own. And it was hard to just figure out. How do I step away from this? What do I do? And this was one of those things that made me decide, "Okay, I can't do this. I can't keep-- I can't." One of the books I read as I was trying to make up my mind here was President Kennedy's "Profiles in Courage."

And in the forward, Robert Kennedy said that one of the president's, one of his favorite quotes was a Dante quote that, "The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of moral crisis, maintain a neutrality." And when I read that, I said, "Oh, jeez, I-- you know. I'm headed for that hottest place in hell, unless I say something."

I really admire this man. I've always been on this side of the fence. I never had to choose between comfort and sacrifice to speak out. What he did isn't easy: it requires a working moral compass, and a good supply of moral courage. Looking around us at the world of corporate profit and the governments that support it, it's clear these qualities are not in large supply.

As activists, as progressive people, we should support the journey of anyone who makes a choice to fight the good fight.

Here's more.
BILL MOYERS: You were also involved in the campaign by the industry to discredit Michael Moore and his film "Sicko" in 2007. In that film Moore went to several countries around the world, and reported that their health care system was better than our health care system, in particular, Canada and England. Take a look at this.

. . . . [clip from "Sicko"]

BILL MOYERS: We obtained a copy of the game plan that was adopted by the industry's trade association, AHIP. And it spells out the industry strategies in gold letters. It says, "Highlight horror stories of government-run systems." What was that about?

[Note: You can download the documents by clicking here and here (PDFs)]

WENDELL POTTER: The industry has always tried to make Americans think that government-run systems are the worst thing that could possibly happen to them, that if you even consider that, you're heading down on the slippery slope towards socialism. So they have used scare tactics for years and years and years, to keep that from happening. If there were a broader program like our Medicare program, it could potentially reduce the profits of these big companies. So that is their biggest concern.

BILL MOYERS: And there was a political strategy. "Position Sicko as a threat to Democrats' larger agenda." What does that mean?

WENDELL POTTER: That means that part of the effort to discredit this film was to use lobbyists and their own staff to go onto Capitol Hill and say, "Look, you don't want to believe this movie. You don't want to talk about it. You don't want to endorse it. And if you do, we can make things tough for you."


WENDELL POTTER: By running ads, commercials in your home district when you're running for reelection, not contributing to your campaigns again, or contributing to your competitor.

BILL MOYERS: This is fascinating. You know, "Build awareness among centrist Democratic policy organizations--"


BILL MOYERS: "--including the Democratic Leadership Council."


BILL MOYERS: Then it says, "Message to Democratic insiders. Embracing Moore is one-way ticket back to minority party status."

. . .

WENDELL POTTER: In memos that would go back within the industry — he was never, by the way, mentioned by name in any memos, because we didn't want to inadvertently write something that would wind up in his hands. So the memos would usually-- the subject line would be-- the emails would be, "Hollywood." And as we would do the media training, we would always have someone refer to him as Hollywood entertainer or Hollywood moviemaker Michael Moore.


WENDELL POTTER: Well, just to-- Hollywood, I think people think that's entertainment, that's movie-making. That's not real documentary. They don't want you to think that it was a documentary that had some truth. They would want you to see this as just some fantasy that a Hollywood filmmaker had come up with. That's part of the strategy.

. . . .

BILL MOYERS: I have a memo, from Frank Luntz. I have a memo written by Frank Luntz. He's the Republican strategist who we discovered, in the spring, has written the script for opponents of health care reform. "First," he says, "you have to pretend to support it. Then use phrases like, "government takeover," "delayed care is denied care," "consequences of rationing," "bureaucrats, not doctors prescribing medicine."

. . . .

BILL MOYERS: Back in 1993, the Republican propagandist, William Kristol, urged his party to block any health care proposal, in order to prevent the Democrats from being seen as the quote, "generous protector of the middle class." But today, you've got some Democrats who are going along with the industry.

Max Baucus, the senator from Montana, for example, the most important figure right now in this health care legislation that's being written in the Senate. He's resisted including a public insurance option in the reform bill, right?

WENDELL POTTER: That's right.

BILL MOYERS: Why is the industry so powerful on both sides of the aisle?

WENDELL POTTER: Well, money and relationships, ideology. The relationships-- an insurance company can hire and does hire many different lobbying firms. And they hire firms that are predominantly Republican and predominantly Democrat. And they do this because they know they need to reach influential members of Congress like Max Baucus. So there are people who used to work for Max Baucus who are in lobbying firms or on the staff of companies like Cigna or the association itself.

. . . .

BILL MOYERS: Why is public insurance, a public option, so fiercely opposed by the industry?

WENDELL POTTER: The industry doesn't want to have any competitor. In fact, over the course of the last few years, has been shrinking the number of competitors through a lot of acquisitions and mergers. So first of all, they don't want any more competition period. They certainly don't want it from a government plan that might be operating more efficiently than they are, that they operate. The Medicare program that we have here is a government-run program that has administrative expenses that are like three percent or so.

BILL MOYERS: Compared to the industry's--

WENDELL POTTER: They spend about 20 cents of every premium dollar on overhead, which is administrative expense or profit. So they don't want to compete against a more efficient competitor.

BILL MOYERS: You told Congress that the industry has hijacked our health care system and turned it into a giant ATM for Wall Street. You said, "I saw how they confuse their customers and dump the sick, all so they can satisfy their Wall Street investors." How do they satisfy their Wall Street investors?

WENDELL POTTER: Well, there's a measure of profitability that investors look to, and it's called a medical loss ratio. And it's unique to the health insurance industry. And by medical loss ratio, I mean that it's a measure that tells investors or anyone else how much of a premium dollar is used by the insurance company to actually pay medical claims. And that has been shrinking, over the years, since the industry's been dominated by, or become dominated by for-profit insurance companies. Back in the early '90s, or back during the time that the Clinton plan was being debated, 95 cents out of every dollar was sent, you know, on average was used by the insurance companies to pay claims. Last year, it was down to just slightly above 80 percent.

So, investors want that to keep shrinking. And if they see that an insurance company has not done what they think meets their expectations with the medical loss ratio, they'll punish them. Investors will start leaving in droves.

I've seen a company stock price fall 20 percent in a single day, when it did not meet Wall Street's expectations with this medical loss ratio.

For example, if one company's medical loss ratio was 77.9 percent, for example, in one quarter, and the next quarter, it was 78.2 percent. It seems like a small movement. But investors will think that's ridiculous. And it's horrible.

BILL MOYERS: That they're spending more money for medical claims.


BILL MOYERS: And less money on profits?

WENDELL POTTER: Exactly. And they think that this company has not done a good job of managing medical expenses. It has not denied enough claims. It has not kicked enough people off the rolls. And that's what-- that is what happens, what these companies do, to make sure that they satisfy Wall Street's expectations with the medical loss ratio.

BILL MOYERS: And they do what to make sure that they keep diminishing the medical loss ratio?

WENDELL POTTER: Rescission is one thing. Denying claims is another. Being, you know, really careful as they review claims, particularly for things like liver transplants, to make sure, from their point of view, that it really is medically necessary and not experimental. That's one thing. And that was that issue in the Nataline Sarkisyan case.

But another way is to purge employer accounts, that-- if a small business has an employee, for example, who suddenly has have a lot of treatment, or is in an accident. And medical bills are piling up, and this employee is filing claims with the insurance company. That'll be noticed by the insurance company.

And when that business is up for renewal, and it typically is up, once a year, up for renewal, the underwriters will look at that. And they'll say, "We need to jack up the rates here, because the experience was," when I say experience, the claim experience, the number of claims filed was more than we anticipated. So we need to jack up the price. Jack up the premiums. Often they'll do this, knowing that the employer will have no alternative but to leave. And that happens all the time.

They'll resort to things like the rescissions that we saw earlier. Or dumping, actually dumping employer groups from the rolls. So the more of my premium that goes to my health claims, pays for my medical coverage, the less money the company makes.

No matter what states like Massachusetts rig up for their uninsured residents, no matter what schemes are advanced to include more people on private policies, until the profit motive is removed, no health care system will ever work. As long as the private insurers are involved, there can be no meaningful reform.

Read or watch the full interview here, and spread it around.

Many thanks to James, via BoingBoing.

"only hatred will be left here": his name is ezra nawi and he needs our help

A courageous human rights and peace activist named Ezra Nawi is in prison in Israel, awaiting sentencing.

Nawi, a Jewish Israeli, was arrested when he tried to stop a military bulldozer from destroying the homes of Palestinians in the South Hebron region. Please watch this moving video of the army's action and Nawi's arrest. I find it extremely disturbing.

Nawi's actions threaten the Israeli Government because they call attention to its immoral and illegal actions in the Hebron region. Yet he represents the best of Israel: Jewish citizens fighting for justice. From a New York Times profile of Nawi:
His family has trouble understanding his priorities. His mother says she thinks he is wasting his time. And many Israelis, when told of his work, wonder why he is not helping his own. Mr. Nawi has an answer.

"I don't consider my work political," he said between phone calls as he drove. "I don't have a solution to this dispute. I just know that what is going on here is wrong. This is not about ideology. It is about decency."

You can read the whole profile here.

People all over the world are writing to the Israeli Consulate where they live, and spreading the word.

Nawi is scheduled to be sentenced on August 16. If nothing else, we must show Israel that the world is watching.

Please join Naomi Klein, Neve Gordon, Noam Chomsky and thousands of others trying to shine a light on injustice. Go to FreeEzra.org, watch the video, read more, write a letter.


walter cronkite, 1916 - 2009

Long-time CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite is dead at age 92.

When I was growing up, Walter Cronkite was the nightly voice that helped end the Vietnam War.

The media was very different then. Network newscasts had enormous clout, and each network had a distinct political viewpoint. CBS wasn't radical by any means, but it was generally liberal. And of course, it was independent. It wasn't trying to entertain, and it took the appropriate adversarial relationship to government that journalism is meant to have.

Cronkite showed us the blood, the napalm, the amputations, the burned villages. He showed us the flag-draped coffins and the endless body counts.

I watched the news every night with my father, who would repeat, "What a waste. What a terrible waste."

My brother was draft age. My father and he explored their options, like a bad knee or Quaker meetings. Ultimately, my brother got a "good number" in the draft lottery, but my father always said that if it came to that, they would go to Canada together.

My father and I went to Washington on a bus from his union, and chanted "All We Are Saying Is Give Peace A Chance". It was my first demonstration.

Thinking of Walter Cronkite brings all that back for me.

Cronkite knew Iraq was just as wrong as Vietnam. You can read about that here on Common Dreams.

Rest In Peace.

our first trip to stratford: a report

In brief: absolutely lovely.

The town itself, in the central "Heritage District," is a sweet tourist town almost absent of kitsch and cutesy. Both sides of the Avon River are parkland with walking and biking paths, and you can rent paddle boats. Swan and ducks paddle by, many with their little puffball babies in tow. (The swans are cared for by the city itself.) The gardens are all immaculate. The town of Stratford obviously takes pride in its physical appearance and works hard to groom and maintain it. Good for business, sure, but also just good.

(I'm really sorry I didn't bring a camera. I would have liked to add Stratford to my Ontario collection on Flickr. I thought of the camera as we pulled onto the 401.)

All four theatres are in walking distance from the "heritage district". One theatre is best reached by the riverside walking path, which seems really special to me. Once we parked at the B&B, we didn't drive again until we left.

* * * *

The Across the Bridge Bed & Breakfast is a fabulous place. Although this time our stay was by invitation, from the incredible generosity of Eric and Kelly, when we return to Stratford, we won't stay anywhere else.

There are four guest rooms, all appointed with immaculate, comfortable washrooms; one room is a suite with a sitting area. The hosts have thought of their guests' every need, from toiletries you may have forgotten to pack, to earplugs for a loud show, to a vast selection of teas for morning or afternoon. What is it about white pure-cotton sheets that is so inviting and luxurious?

Across the Bridge doubles as an art gallery. Eric and Kelly are both artists and have experience running galleries. Throughout the house, the walls are hung with original paintings, lithographs and photographs, and there are a few objects displayed on the furniture. The art is all for sale, but also just there for you to enjoy. As they settle into their new life, Eric and Kelly hope to include their own art on display, too. The art's presence makes the house so much more alive and interesting than an ordinary B&B.

Breakfast is sumptuous. One morning there was homemade banana-poppy bread and poached eggs with pesto and fresh mozzarella. Another morning it was fresh-baked scones, potato pancakes and light, crepe-like omelets. And every morning, there is freshly prepared fruit salad, freshly squeezed orange juice and all the finishing touches that make a special breakfast.

Eric and Kelly are excellent hosts - attentive and friendly but never intrusive.

* * * *

Both the productions we saw were superb.

I was fairly neutral about seeing Julius Caesar but I got a lot more out of it than I expected to. The production highlighted the play's many themes that are as relevant in our time as they were in Shakespeare's: the quest for power, the questionable morality of justifying violence by the ends it may achieve, the re-packaging of power and violence to win public support, and indeed, the ease of winning that public support with a golden tongue. I found it very stirring, and very relevant.

I remember when I mentioned to my friend M@ that we were seeing Julius Caesar, M@ said it was his favourite Shakespeare. I was surprised, but now I completely understand why.

I enjoyed the creativity and ingenuity of the production, but we later found out that it was controversial - many audiences have hated it. The director and designers emphasized the play's modern parallels and classical roots with a combination of modern and classical dress. Caesar wore a ceremonial tunic, as did the Senators when in their formal capacity, but men also wore suit jackets with their skirts, and the plebeians were in modern dress. In the battle scenes, soldiers wore modern-day camouflage and bandoleers, and carried guns, even though death comes by dagger. When Cassius hands around the conspiratorial knives, he brings them in a steel briefcase.

I find this kind of production fresh and inventive. As long as the language is unchanged, I regard it as an enhancement. I'm also certain Shakespeare and the other actors of his day would have loved it. But some people can't watch Shakespeare unless everyone is running around in tights and doublets. It's a shame. I think it speaks to a certain close-mindedness and rigidity around art.

The acting was very good - although the next day's play would make it look pedestrian by comparison. And the script... well, that is genius.

Cyrano de Bergerac was dominated by the performance of Colm Feore, a towering tour de force that was by turns hilarious, moving and heartbreaking, and always riveting. It's an extremely demanding role - relentlessly verbal, but also very physical, with swordplay and fight scenes. (Those were excellently choreographed.) Feore held the audience completely enraptured. It was a truly memorable performance of an excellent play.

And get this: Feore is also playing Macbeth in Stratford this season!

* * * *

Other than theatre, we browsed (and bought) in bookstores, I picked up a new pair of earrings (ever my quest), we had two nice dinners, and were generally very relaxed and happy.

After Julius Caesar, we went out for a drink and the pub had the All-Star Game on TV. So we got the score (go AL!) and saw a couple of our guys play. We're never completely baseball-free!

One morning after breakfast we chatted with our hosts, and learned more about their decision to leave the US for Canada, and their long journey to get here. (It took them a full year longer than it took us.) And one evening, coming home from dinner, they invited us out to their deck for a sip of wine and conversation. A neighbour of theirs joined us, and many glasses of wine and some single-malt scotch later, we finally said good night. It was a fun evening, and I felt like a nice friendship had formed.

* * * *

Note that this post is titled "our first trip to Stratford". If we can afford it, I'd love to make it an annual All-Star Break tradition. It's less than two hours away, it practically guarantees me some very high quality theatre at least once a year, and the ASB is the perfect time for us to go. Here's hoping we can make that happen.

Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Stratford, Ontario

canada wil deserteurs vs niet meer

This piece from Dutch television about US war resisters in Canada seems to be very supportive. I don't understand Dutch, but the gist is easy to catch. If you speak Dutch, perhaps you will translate some highlights in comments.

Either way, please watch: Canada wil deserteurs VS niet meer.

Here's a US story about Josh Randall.

Josh's own statement is here.

Many thanks to David for sending.

Update. Translation now in comments!