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Political Musings

Mill Closure Hangs Over Opening

…By Duane Hicks, for the Fort Frances Times

The reality of the recent closure of the local paper mill, and hopes of what the future might hold for Fort Frances, loomed large last Wednesday during the official opening of a new museum exhibit chronicling the past 100 years of logging and paper-making here.

Fort Frances Museum curator Sherry George said that when the committee which put together the new exhibit first started planning the exhibit, as well as the May 14 celebration to give the past its proper send-off, the mill was still open and running.

But now it’s not.

“Although we should be celebrating that 100th anniversary of that first roll of paper, we came up a bit short,” she acknowledged.

“As much as our planning committee wanted our exhibit to be a positive experience, with the mill closing only a week ago, it’s been very difficult to ignore that big elephant in this room,” George added.

“And it’s understandable. The mill and this town have grown up together, so it’s hard to imagine that one shall continue without the other.

“As the mill is at the very heart of our community, how do we just go on around it?” she wondered.

George lost her job with the mill in 2009 and for long afterwards, each time she would drive by the property, she would feel a horrible sense of loss; of exclusion.

“I’d belonged to the best club in town, and then one day I did not,” she recalled.

“Somehow I had been found wanting and all of my privileges revoked.

“As much as I tried to drum up anger about being let go, I was mostly just sad,” George added.

“Clearly I was grieving.

“When the museum closed last night [May 13] and the students left for home, I walked around our exhibit,” George said.

“I looked at all the photos of the many people who had worked in the mill or in logging, and it made me realize something.

“Whether an old-time logger or today’s equipment operator, whether a newbie picking wood in the groundwood mill or a seasoned worker wrapping rolls in finishing and shipping, every one of us has more in common than not,” she remarked.

George said Fort Frances is, first and foremost, a community of hard-working people.

“We take pride in a job well-done,” she noted. “Maybe it’s the way we’ve been raised? A small-town trait, perhaps?

“But because we’ve seen tough times, live with uncertainty as to what the future will bring and have been forced to do more with a lot less, we’ve become extremely resilient and resourceful.

“We are not going to make any missteps going forward because we have already landed on our feet,” George reasoned.

“We might be grieving a little for what could have been, but we’re more than prepared to meet the future head on.

“We’re ready.”

George said she was one of 10 employees who were let go in 2009 and every one of them has moved on to better things.

“The mill experience gave me many skills, some amazing opportunities,” she noted. “But most of all, it has given me a wonderful network of contacts and great friends that I will not only cherish always but who have been a huge support to me.

“My experience is not unlike many others out there, and if you will allow me to say so, has many similarities to what now faces Fort Frances,” George continued.

“We need to see the mill closing as just a hiccup, a small pause for reflection, before we move forward again.

“Our community’s future is out there, and the best is yet to come,” she said.

Fort Frances Mayor Roy Avis said the forest industry always has played a role in Fort Frances, and he hopes it will continue to in one way or another.

“There are many third- and fourth-generation families whose ancestors were attracted here by the logging industry,” the mayor noted.

“My family is one . . . my grandfather came here for the logging industry.

“I remember the days of the Ontario-Minnesota Pulp & Paper Company, the sale of the paper mill to Boise Cascade, and then the sale to Rainy River Forest Products,” Mayor Avis added.

“I kind of call that the end of the good old days.

“It is hard to believe where we are today,” the mayor conceded. “I, for one, thought that the closure of this mill would never come.”

Mayor Avis said the town appreciates all those who worked in the mill or logging industry over the past 100 years.

“These were the people who shaped our future and helped make Fort Frances what it is today,” he stressed.

On Happiness

Over the last couple of years I have had the opportunity to spend some time in Guatemala and El Salvador. The way of living is different from ours. Most of the people I met would be considered poor by our standards and they definitely don’t have the disposable income we have. In fact the head of the family I lived with in Guatemala reminded me of my grandfather in that he would follow me around turning off lights because electricity was so expensive. He even interrupted me in the shower to tell me to turn off the water while I soaped up. However, it is fair to say he was a happy man.

In El Salvador I lived on an island that didn’t have any electricity. Most of the people on the island were squatters. They didn’t own the land but lived in a little community of shacks with corrugated tin roofs and whatever they could find for walls. Six or seven kids would share a room. They would eke out a living by selling things they could make at home like tamales (wrapped with banana leaves that they got free from the friend I was living with) or fruit drinks they would sell for next to nothing. The men would go fishing when the season was right or pick up a labourers job when they could. They too were happy.

So I have concluded that happiness is universal. What wealthy countries don’t understand very well is that we don’t have any more insights into what makes people happy than anyone else in this world yet we often think that if those people were more like us they would be happier and better off than they are now.

I like the story of the weaver in Guatemala who knew better. An NGO (nongovernmental organization) worker from Canada upon seeing a woman with several kids in tow, making hammocks realized he could help her make more if she had a loom. She produced two hammocks a week before the loom arrived and would be able increase her productivity to 10 hammocks with a new loom. The worker happened to be back in this ladies area a year later and asked her how the new loom was working out. The woman was so grateful. She said it was the best thing ever. The worker asked how many hammocks she was making in a week now. The woman said, “Oh, still two but I am so happy because I can now spend more time with my family and friends.”

There are things we can do that impair a society’s happiness. When societies innovations focus more on making things we can consume and less on things that make us more humane, I think we impair our happiness. When the next quarter on the stock market is seen as the best way to ensure a happy country we may be making a mistake. When lobby groups impede universal dental care then they are definitely impeding happiness. Few would argue that having bad teeth can play havoc with one’s happiness. When we believe that it is better to pay less taxes than it is to educate our kids, build our health care system, find ways to improve our environment or look after our infrastructure than we are impairing our happiness.

As much as I am able to enjoy my retirement, travel, read, take part in plays, buy toys, I am quite sure I am no happier than the woman who only makes two hammocks a week so she can have more time for her kids, her parents and her friends.

Ontario’s HST is a Tax Grab! Or is It? 

I have been receiving a lot of mail deccrying the new harmonized sales tax that Ontario’s Liberal government is set to implement next July. It was announced last March but for some reason the “smelly brown stuff” is hitting the fan again. Seems it is going to hurt the poor, the rich and all of us in between.
Well, the truth is, it is a consumption tax which means that we are taxed on what we consume. Most economists agree that this type of tax is better than income tax because it is fairer. The more you consume, the more you pay. Supposedly, you have control over how much you buy. If you buy lots, you pay more taxes than those who don’t.

It is also called a Value Added Tax or VAT. In Norway, Sweden and Denmark, while different items are taxed at different rates, they each have a 25% VAT tax rate. I can’t help but think that this may be the reason they have universal dental care. Ontario’s rate will be a maximum of 13% which brings me to a concern I have.

In Canada, probably because we are so influenced by American business, we have developed this cultural distaste for taxes. Taxes are seen as bad. It seems no one is willing to stand up and say, “I like our tax system. We get great value for our taxes.” Our health care system, our roads, our hockey rinks all depend on us paying taxes.

How much money did you save when the Federal Conservatives cut the GST by 1%? If you are like me you probably don’t have a clue and if the truth be told you’d have to agree that it probably didn’t impact your life style. It did, however, take 6 billion dollars out of the federal coffers. One can’t help but wonder about where that money could have gone; healthcare, roads, other infrastructure, how about providing shelter and food for the homeless. Maybe it could have been set aside to help the forest industry or for some unexpected crisis like a financial meltdown.

I think it is time we got rid of the ‘taxes are bad’ attitude we have.

Oh yeah! Back to the question of tax grab or not? Well, it really comes down to whether or not it is going to better the lives of folks in Ontario. Based on my reading I think it will. So I support it.

 

In El Salvador I lived on an island that didn’t have any electricity. Most of the people on the island were squatters. They didn’t own the land but lived in a little community of shacks with corrugated tin roofs and whatever they could find for walls. Six or seven kids would share a room. They would eke out a living by selling things they could make at home like tamales (wrapped with banana leaves that they got free from the friend I was living with) or fruit drinks they would sell for next to nothing. The men would go fishing when the season was right or pick up a labourers job when they could. They too were happy.

So I have concluded that happiness is universal. What wealthy countries don’t understand very well is that we don’t have any more insights into what makes people happy than anyone else in this world yet we often think that if those people were more like us they would be happier and better off than they are now.

I like the story of the weaver in Guatemala who knew better. An NGO (nongovernmental organization) worker from Canada upon seeing a woman with several kids in tow, making hammocks realized he could help her make more if she had a loom. She produced two hammocks a week before the loom arrived and would be able increase her productivity to 10 hammocks with a new loom. The worker happened to be back in this ladies area a year later and asked her how the new loom was working out. The woman was so grateful. She said it was the best thing ever. The worker asked how many hammocks she was making in a week now. The woman said, “Oh, still two but I am so happy because I can now spend more time with my family and friends.”

There are things we can do that impair a society’s happiness. When societies innovations focus more on making things we can consume and less on things that make us more humane, I think we impair our happiness. When the next quarter on the stock market is seen as the best way to ensure a happy country we may be making a mistake. When lobby groups impede universal dental care then they are definitely impeding happiness. Few would argue that having bad teeth can play havoc with one’s happiness. When we believe that it is better to pay less taxes than it is to educate our kids, build our health care system, find ways to improve our environment or look after our infrastructure than we are impairing our happiness.

As much as I am able to enjoy my retirement, travel, read, take part in plays, buy toys, I am quite sure I am no happier than the woman who only makes two hammocks a week so she can have more time for her kids, her parents and her friends.

On Happiness

Over the last couple of years I have had the opportunity to spend some time in Guatemala and El Salvador. The way of living is different from ours. Most of the people I met would be considered poor by our standards and they definitely don’t have the disposable income we have. In fact the head of the family I lived with in Guatemala reminded me of my grandfather in that he would follow me around turning off lights because electricity was so expensive. He even interrupted me in the shower to tell me to turn off the water while I soaped up. However, it is fair to say he was a happy man.

In El Salvador I lived on an island that didn’t have any electricity. Most of the people on the island were squatters. They didn’t own the land but lived in a little community of shacks with corrugated tin roofs and whatever they could find for walls. Six or seven kids would share a room. They would eke out a living by selling things they could make at home like tamales (wrapped with banana leaves that they got free from the friend I was living with) or fruit drinks they would sell for next to nothing. The men would go fishing when the season was right or pick up a labourers job when they could. They too were happy.

So I have concluded that happiness is universal. What wealthy countries don’t understand very well is that we don’t have any more insights into what makes people happy than anyone else in this world yet we often think that if those people were more like us they would be happier and better off than they are now.

I like the story of the weaver in Guatemala who knew better. An NGO (nongovernmental organization) worker from Canada upon seeing a woman with several kids in tow, making hammocks realized he could help her make more if she had a loom. She produced two hammocks a week before the loom arrived and would be able increase her productivity to 10 hammocks with a new loom. The worker happened to be back in this ladies area a year later and asked her how the new loom was working out. The woman was so grateful. She said it was the best thing ever. The worker asked how many hammocks she was making in a week now. The woman said, “Oh, still two but I am so happy because I can now spend more time with my family and friends.”

There are things we can do that impair a society’s happiness. When societies innovations focus more on making things we can consume and less on things that make us more humane, I think we impair our happiness. When the next quarter on the stock market is seen as the best way to ensure a happy country we may be making a mistake. When lobby groups impede universal dental care then they are definitely impeding happiness. Few would argue that having bad teeth can play havoc with one’s happiness. When we believe that it is better to pay less taxes than it is to educate our kids, build our health care system, find ways to improve our environment or look after our infrastructure than we are impairing our happiness.

As much as I am able to enjoy my retirement, travel, read, take part in plays, buy toys, I am quite sure I am no happier than the woman who only makes two hammocks a week so she can have more time for her kids, her parents and her friends.

PROROGATION OF PARLIAMENT

 
The prorogation of Parliament ends a session. This is done by the Governor General, on the advice of the Prime Minister, either by means of a special ceremony in the Senate Chamber, or by the issuing of a proclamation published in the Canada Gazette. Both the Senate and the House of Commons stand prorogued until the opening of the next session.
During a period of prorogation (or recess), the Speaker, the Prime Minister, Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries remain in office and all Members of the House retain their full rights and privileges.

The principal effect of ending a session by prorogation is to end business. All government bills that have not received Royal Assent prior to prorogation cease to exist; committee activity also ceases. Thus, no committee can sit after a prorogation.

In order for government bills to be proceeded with in a new session, they must be reintroduced as new bills or they may be reinstated, if the House agrees to this.

The Standing Orders provide for the automatic reinstatement of all items of Private Members’ Business in a new session. Committee work may also be revived either by motion in the House, or in committee, depending upon the nature of the study.

Prorogation does not affect Orders or Addresses of the House for the tabling government reports required to be tabled by statute. Requests for responses to committee reports or petitions are still valid following a prorogation. These continue in force from one session to another, but are ended by dissolution.

 

Last time the Conservatives prorogued it seems the government was pretty scared. This time I can’t quite figure out what the reason is. Most folks say they are running from the Afghan detainee torturing debacle but somehow I don’t think that is true. Want to know what I think? I think the Conservative government is made up of a lot of fat cats who are wimping out because it is winter and they want to spend January in Florida and February at the Olympics. Sure wish I had a job like that. Maybe it’s time this procedure was eliminated. After all it’s our nickel they’re holidaying on.

Floride and Dental Care

 

 
I have to wonder if we are being irresponsible by not fluoridating city water. 70% of Ontarions have fluoride in their water. We don’t. The Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Dental Association, the Canadian Chief Dental Officer of Health Canada all recommend the use of fluoride in municipal drinking water. Toothpaste companies put it in their toothpaste. They all recognise it reduces cavities. Sudbury has fluoridated its drinking water for over 50 years and it shows in the teeth of their 5 year old children. Their decay rates go down every year while Thunder Bay rates go up. Are we blowing it for our kids?
I write this political musing after spending a day at Steven Paikin and the TVO crew’s Agenda Camp.

The TVO Agenda Camp was basically a series of discussions on The Aboriginal Economy. It took place at the Fort William Band’s Community Centre. No speakers, no lectures (except by impassioned small group members) and no goals or outcomes. TVO just wanted us to talk about the first nation’s economy and explore what is and what might be.

I sat in on three sessions. One titled ‘What is the Aboriginal Economy’ another ‘Partnerships – how do we begin to engage industry and government to seriously sit down and discuss issues?’ The third was learning about the technology used during the day.

Here’s what stood out for me. Leadership in First Nations communities is really important. The Pic River spokesperson I heard was energized and enthusiastic about his community. “You have to have grade twelve if you want to work for the community and if you don’t have it we will help you go to school to get it.” I got excited when I heard him. I asked if the band was afraid of losing their culture. I had heard that some aboriginals worry that this kind of success will jeopardize their traditional culture. He said that their success has allowed them more opportunity to focus on aboriginal culture.

I asked others why they thought Pic River was such a success. One person said that embracing education was important. Another said that Pic River has had the same chief for many years and that that has provided continuity. She continued that too often when band chiefs change the new chief brings his or her friends and relatives into positions of power. This creates two major problems for the community. There is very limited consistency and ability doesn’t play as important a role as it should. It makes it very difficult to establish guidelines or policies that carry over from one chief to the next.

Land and territorial rights was another area of discussion. There was lots of talk about the interference of government. Michael Gravelle and John Rafferty were both there and they had their work cut out for them. Some comments I heard, “If only the government would stay out of the way and let us negotiate agreements with the mining companies”, and “If we could get the go ahead to build dams on the rivers in the north we could help our communities.” I thought I would play the devil’s advocate. I asked the question “Who is going to look after my rights, as a white guy, if it isn’t the government?” Which brought the response, “What makes you think that the aboriginal government isn’t capable of looking after your needs?” There are a lot of plusses to the Aboriginal way of doing things. Their decision making processes seem to be more inclusive, gentler and less adversarial than ours.

A number of people spoke about the need for the native community to take responsibility for its well being. That blaming and depending on the non aboriginal community hasn’t been successful. Being equal partners in business and in relations with government is key to building a healthy society. We all need to have something we can be proud of. Something that motivates us and gives us a reason to get up in the morning. Moving from a state of dependence to a state of strength and independence is hard but it is happening and can be done.

There are 11 million people in Ontario who have a stake in what happens in the north and while most may not be actively involved you can bet there are those who are watching closely. Politicians on both sides need to remember this if much needed change is to happen successfully.

The healing and success of the Aboriginal people will depend on tough negotiations, thoughtful agreements and give and take on both sides.

Building a solid economic base will go a long way to supporting native communities. Having responsibility for the success of those businesses will build pride. The mining act is being revised and agreements are being made with companies. There is a lot to be positive about.

For my money there should be Agenda Camps every six months with a different focus each session. I learned a lot and valued the experience.

February 09  

 
The problem with publishing a monthly paper is it seems that everything has been said before I get a chance to say my piece… and so it is with the election of Barack Hussein Obama.
So … I’m going to write about some of the things I heard people say that really had meaning for me and I will, of course, include some of my thoughts. John Ralston Saul spoke about meeting Obama at a conference in 2003. (Saul is arguably one of Canada’s greatest philosophers.) He said he was invited to be on a panel of speakers for an audience of about 1000. There were 7 or 8 speakers on the stage and he was positioned by the only empty chair. The topic had to do with taxes and it wasn’t long before the speakers had the audience believing that taxes were the bane of society. Just then this black fellow slipped into the seat beside him. It was of course Obama. Saul said when Obama spoke he was able to turn the whole crowd around and to explain the importance of taxes to a society. He so impressed Saul that Saul predicted he would become President.

I also found it clarifying when another person said that really two things happened with the election of Obama. The first was the symbolic election of black man to be the President of the United States. No matter how Obama did in government this was historical and could never be taken away. The other significant happening is that Americans elected a man who has given a lot of thought to what is really needed in the USA. He is intelligent and experienced in working both in the streets of Chicago and in the US senate. The dream that anyone can become the President of the US is being played out to the excitement of the nation.

George W. Bush’s administration had given a lot of thought to what they wanted to do when Bush got elected as well. The big difference, it seems to me, is that Bush didn’t consult. For the Bush people it was a “my way or the highway” big corporation approach. They believed they knew what was best for the United States. Obama seems to be making every effort to consult although in doing so he places high value on his own experience and values. This will no doubt leave many constituencies feeling uneasy not the least of which will be the gay community. The fact that California voted to ban gay marriages and that Obama doesn’t believe in gay marriage probably means that he will not be very responsive to the lobby of the gay community on that subject.

Someone once said that the American people would never elect a smart man to the Presidency. That person has been proven wrong, certainly in the case of Obama, if not in case of past Presidents. The cartoonists will miss President Bush because he was such an easy target for humour. Although I can see a caricature in the photos that are circulating of Obama. I don’t think he will be painted as stupid.

With some pretty serious regulation on corporations and the generation of capital, the USA may survive for a few more years as the world’s super power and this is alright with me. The system may be flawed but one can’t argue with the fact that a black man got elected to the highest position available in the States when, what feels like just a few years ago, he would have had to ride in the back of the bus.

January 09

December has been quite a month. The quintessential strategist tries to bully parliament and finds his government faced with a no confidence vote. Tucking tail, Harper gets the Governor General to prorogue parliament in order to avoid an election or a coalition government. Pretty heady stuff for political pundits!

The Taliban in Afghanistan seem ever more determined to defeat the occupiers putting ever increasing pressure on our government to do a very careful assessment of the situation to which we are sending our young men and women. It seems that rarely a week goes by without casualties.

Job losses in many parts of Canada are starting to equal those of Northwestern Ontario. As more and more people find themselves out of work the rhetoric that more jobs are being created than are being lost falls on deaf ears. Do our elected officials know what they are doing? I sure hope so!

Those of us with mutual fund savings and RRSP’s are at a loss as to what to do to save the little we have. Get out: Get in: Stay put? Who do we believe? What is the best plan? Have I lost my retirement safety net? Will Canadian Banks survive the recession/depression? Who can I blame? The CEO’s of Ford, GM and Chrysler fly in their private planes to Washington to ask for billions in government support. Can’t really blame them! If they had taken Air Canada they may have been left sitting on the tarmac for 12 hours and missed the whole show just like a bunch of Christmas holidayers did!

What is the outlook for 2009? I guess it is fair to say that a lot of people are putting their hope in God and Barack Obama. Without a doubt, getting rid of the most wrong minded administration in the history of the United States is a positive. I am certain that the International Criminal Court in The Hague has been swamped with requests to prosecute members of the Bush administration. It won’t happen. Not just yet!

Perhaps one of the most important things that Obama brings is hope. People in the world need something to buoy the spirit and hope is at least a start. He has a degree of independence from large corporations that other President’s haven’t had. He has charisma and appears to have the inner strength to follow his convictions, not all of which we will all agree with. He is a listener. He has firsthand knowledge of what it is to be poor. He believes that government’s job is to serve the people. (This is a big change from the previous government.) He wants to do bring in a universal health care system for Americans and build some kind of a social safety net. This is a tough job in a country where the rights of the individual trump the rights of the collective.

I worry that 42% of Americans voted against him when he had so much going for him. While a belief in a supreme being can be a great asset, Obama will find himself struggling with the God of others. The Christian right will cause him as many headaches as the Muslim right.

For me he brings hope. That’s a good start.

At home here in Canada I am not as hopeful. Michael Ignatieff needs to be strong. Unfortunately he doesn’t inspire me. A majority conservative government scares me. The current government’s policies on climate change, social issues and world order are at odds with so much of the rest of the world. We don’t need more corporate governing. We need a solid social network that will look after Canadians and not one that is corporately driven. It’s a myth that business people are better thinkers, planners & doers than people in the public sector. Having to meet the bottom line by the next quarter doesn’t work when it comes to safety nets. Let corporations do what they do best: create jobs and build capital. The Bush conservatives believed that leaving everything up to the private sector would be best for the people of the US. It didn’t work. I’m not sure the Harper conservatives have got that message yet.

The oil sands development is going to slow substantially. Alberta’s bust/boom cycle will continue based on the price of oil. To me it looks like the boom is over. Canada’s natural resources will be eyed with envy by those who lack them. Will governments be able to manage them in a way that benefits Canadians? Newfoundland’s premier Danny Williams is trying. He has challenged the NAFTA trade agreement by refuting Abitibi’s rights to mineral and power rights if they are no longer operating mills in the province. This will be watched very carefully by all levels of government and could have major repercussions for the way government and business relate.

Despite the potential for disaster, I am hopeful. How can one not be! We are so much more fortunate than so many people in this world of ours.

Patents: the Beauty and the Beast

 
…by Massimo Marchiori
Nowaday, everybody who is seriously working in Computer Science and Technology is familiar with the (in)famous word “patent”. Patents are usually a theme that divides, as there are at least two major communities: The Beast: The community of people who see patents as pure hell: they undermine progress, they are just done to suck money off others, they are a plague. The Beauty: The community of people who see patents as a necessary safeguard: patents enable protection of intellectual property, and as such, of the research undertaken in a commercial environment. Without patents, commercial research would fall apart.My view is different: patents per se are not necessarily pure evil: in fact, I can well understand the reasons of whose who claim that they are a great incentive to commercial research (which, otherwise, would have to behave in a totally different way, not the case in our economic model today). As I see it, the problem is not so much of the patents per se, but of the fact that often, too often, a patent is just not a patent. The Patents-Not-Patents

 

 
Patents are a way to preserve innovative reserch in a commercial environment. If a company put lots of money and effort in developing something innovative, here comes a patent that allows some protection for a number of years. But the real problem is, a patent must protect innovation: and, it is my personal experience that a huge lot of patents are just not about innovation, but more about re-inventing the wheel. Real innovation is extremely hard to achieve, and the greatest majority of the currently awarded patents (at least in the fields I know) are just recycling old things: maybe not knowingly, maybe in good faith, but the fact stands: the big majority of patents are not about innovation, but rather about embellished prior art. And at that point, such patents-not-patents just become a way to slow down progress, to deprive people of innovation, to turn a competitive market into a viced game of money and courts.
The big cancer of progress and innovation is not patents, it is the patents-not-patents. Therefore, the big blame is not really for those filing a patent, it is for those people who grant it. That is where our high screams should go first. The Money, The Society

That said, I personally dislike patents, for the following simple and easy reason: patents are an awkward way to make money. If you file a patent, you are putting progress and innovation of society later, and money first. As discussed earlier, you might have good reasons to do so (you work for a company, and money is really what you need). If you are savvy, you might even try some compromise, like granting patents in a non-discriminatory way, for a very small fee. However, this doesn’t change the fact, that money is coming first, and society later. Personally, I put society and progress first. Sure, my minimal work income does not depend on patents: but, that is the route I chose, consciously putting society in the first place, wanting to do research for the progress (however little) of humanity. Not to put some grands in my bank account.

I am glad I didn’t patent hypersearch, because if I had done that, now maybe Google would have to pay fees, and I would be limiting someone else to go beyond and build a better search engine. Increasing my bank account, but limiting progress. This sounds so ridicolous to me.

So, really, it’s all a matter of priorities: do you put money, or society first? How does your conscience react to this question? Do you work for passion and fun, or to have more money?

Anyway, this is a matter of opinions, and I respect every choice concerning patents (while, I hate the cancer of the patents-not-patents). Whatever choice you do make, just remind yourself: money passes, you pass, society and our sons will stay. There is no “beast”, just a matter of priorities. Whatever choice you do, just, please, don’t put society too low.

 
 
 

 

 

AMY GOODMAN, HOST OF DEMOCRACY NOW!, FIRST JOURNALIST TO RECEIVE RIGHT LIVELIHOOD AWARD

Amy Goodman

New York City, NY – Award-winning journalist and host of Democracy Now! Amy Goodman is the first journalist to receive the Right Livelihood Award, widely recognized as the world’s premier award for personal courage and social transformation. The annual prize, also known as the Alternative Nobel, will be awarded in the Swedish Parliament on December 8, 2008.The Right Livelihood Award was established in 1980 to honor and support those “offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today”.

The media is sometimes called the fourth power in a democracy. But in many countries of the world, the media is today no longer willing or able to play this role. Instead it defers to commercial and political interests, thus eroding democracy. With Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman has shown what the alternative to this dangerous trend can look like. Democracy Now! is the largest public media collaboration in the U.S. which is now available to people seeking alternative viewpoints around the globe. Democracy Now! – Facts and figures

Democracy Now! is the fastest growing independent news program in the USA. The show is now syndicated to more than 700 radio and TV, satellite and cable TV networks in North America reaching millions of people worldwide.I included this article on Democracy Now! because I think it is fair to say that the media have not provided balanced coverage of events around the world. There have been serious errors, more by way of omission perhaps, than outright misleading news — although some would say that that is giving the mainstream media the benefit of the doubt. At any rate if you go on line to Democracy Now! you will find an attempt being made to cover what vested interests don’t cover or don’t want covered. I turn to Democracy Now! for a differnt perspective.

…Keith

The legacy of the George W. Bush Administration

 
A week or so ago I went to see “W” at Silver City and then, the same evening, watched the CBC documentary by Terence McKenna called “The Bush Years.” Yep, I am a bit of a political junkie.
Oliver Stone directed the movies “Nixon” and “JFK” so it was a natural for him to do the George W. Bush movie “W” as well. I was disappointed. It may be because I had read a lot of pretty positive reviews beforehand (funny how that can influences ones feelings negatively) but I really think it is more because the story didn’t address the consequences of the Bush years as well as I would have liked. It did a great job of showing Bush as a human with his obsessions, weaknesses and convictions.

McKenna’s documentary was far better. While Stone’s film focused more on the personality of George, McKenna’s looked at the impact and to a certain degree the consequences of Bushes years in office.

That’s not to say that “W” wasn’t factual or at times punchy. The scene where the Presidents inner cabinet was debating about going to war with Iraq was probably the most poignant. When Rumsfeld stepped to the Middle Eastern wall map and stated something to the effect that the USA uses 25% of the world’s oil and that Iraq had 30 % of the world’s oil it became pretty clear what the result was going to be. The debate was over. The majority of the people around the table believed that their country came first and that their job was to look after their country and that the opportunity provided by 9/11 was too good to pass up. They would secure the oil the USA needed by force under the pretense of looking for terrorists and weapons of mass destruction. They had no intentions of ever giving up occupation of Iraq.

What we learn from both movies is that might doesn’t cut it anymore. The US may be the lone super power but it doesn’t mean they can dictate and through force successfully have their way. Over 4000 American soldiers and 30,000 Iraq citizens have lost their lives in this unjust war. American has alienated much of the world. And still they haven’t done what they set out to do.

In fact the American people are much worse off as a result of this war. They no longer have the basic rules of law that protect an individual’s privacy in their own country. The average American has been led to believe that the threat of terrorism is so great that they need to give up the rights guaranteed in their constitution in order to be protected. They can be tortured, held without trial, eavesdropped on and wiretapped without recourse. I would not be surprised if historians look back at the Bush years as years when America was a police state.

It is a tough lesson for the American people to learn and a real insight into what can happen even in a democratic country. George W Bush believed that he was doing the right thing. So did his advisors. He wasn’t. Neither were they.

 

Homeland Security .. Gotch Ya!

 

 
There are times when I wish I wasn’t so slow. Have you ever experienced a situation where you are not sure what someone is thinking and you just wish you knew where the conversation was going so you could say something appropriate and not look too foolish.
I went to a family reunion in Minneapolis at the beginning of September. My cousin from Norway was going to be there for the Republican Convention and I hadn’t seen him in well over 30 years. I also have other cousins who live around Minneapolis and they offered to host a small reunion.

I have made many trips to the States. Michael, my son, plays soccer so I have taken a van load of kids to Blaine for soccer tournaments. Three or four times a year I buy stuff on EBay and have it shipped to Ryden’s store and, like most other Thunder Bay folk, we enjoy an occasional trip to Grand Marais.

So, on this recent trip to Minneapolis, when I was asked to pull over and come into the Pigeon River Border Crossing Station I was a little surprised but not overly concerned.

A young woman approached me and asked me to fill out the form she put in front of me. Before filling it out she clearly stated that I was to read the top and bottom paragraphs first. The line that caught my attention went something like this. “Giving false information on this form will result in you not being allowed to enter the United States of America for 5 years.” I felt my testicles tighten.. Somehow I knew I wasn’t going to like the questions. My immediate reaction was “What have I done?”

The form had the usual questions. Name, address, nationality and have you ever been arrested, charged, convicted, spent time in jail etc.

40 years ago, this year, I was arrested in Vancouver. I was in a car that the RCMP pulled over. One of the occupants dropped an aspirin size container of marijuana seeds onto the floor of the car. As a result we all got arrested and I actually spent two weeks in jail before I got bail and finally let off.

“Surely they don’t know about that.” I thought. “I open a whole can of worms if I mention that one.” I decided to answer the question with a no. When I indicated I had finished, the young lady looked at the paper and asked me to re read the first and last paragraphs while she stood there. Then she asked me to answer each of the questions on the paper one by one. Name, address, nationality… When we got to the dreaded, “Have you ever been arrested question? I stuck to my guns. “No!” I stated. She then asked me to read the first and last paragraph again. By now I knew something was up and as much as I dislike the current American administration I was starting to worry that I might be refused entry to the States for 5 years.

“We have information that contradicts what you have written on the paper,” she said. She tapped a piece of paper that was turned upside down on the counter. Problem was that she wasn’t saying what it was. “Umm, do you mean the time 40 years ago when I was arrested in Vancouver for marijuana seeds?” She was stone faced. “I was acquitted.” I said. “Another guy was charged for that.”

“Write that down,” she said. I did.

“Please have a seat.” Away she went to do some research on her computer. “I can’t believe they are going to stop me for something that happened forty years ago… that I didn’t even actually do, I thought.

She came back. She pointed to the form again and asked if I had anything else I wanted to say. I managed to squeak out that I just wanted to go to Minneapolis for the family reunion. “My cousin is the Norwegian Ambassador to the United States and he is going to be there and I haven’t seen him in years.” “Please sit down.” she said. Off she went to do some more research. She then asked if it was ok that she search my car. I wasn’t about to say “No!”

When she came back she said, “Mr. Nymark, I am going to allow you to go to your reunion but before you will be allowed entry into the States again you will have to prove that you weren’t charged for the incident in Vancouver.”

It wasn’t until I got home and called the RCMP to see if they could get me information that proved I wasn’t charged in Vancouver that I realized I had been caught in the Homeland Security’s fishing net.

The RCMP search of their data base turned up nothing. According to them I had no criminal record. In fact I had no record at all. It was then that I remembered the time, 44 years ago, that I had been charged in California. We had just graduated from high school and a buddy and I had painted a Volkswagen Beetle pink and left to see the world. That was back in the days when California was the dream destination of all young people, The Beach Boys, surfing, beautiful girls, and so that’s where we headed. We bought some beer in Oregon to celebrate our entry to the sunshine state. It was there that I had been charged with something (possession of beer under the age of 21) when I rolled the Volkswagen into the ditch.

I had completely forgotten about that incident. I realize now that that was what the lady at the border knew about. I had been caught in the net she had thrown. She hadn’t known about Vancouver at all. Now she does. Since that incident I have met 4 people who have restricted entry into the States because of minor things they did 30 or 40 years ago. While I appreciate the trap they set, I resent the possibility that I may be refused entry for something I didn’t do 40 years ago….and yes! Sometimes I just wish I wasn’t so slow.

 

 

The Universal Soldier

 

 
This summer Cathy and I were in Ottawa for the Ottawa folk Festival. We got to hear Kris Kristofferson and Buffy St. Marie on the same stage together. A real treat for a guy who has fond memories of the 60’s. Buffy sang her song A Universal Soldier. You know the one. It goes
He’s five feet two and he’s six feet four

He fights with missiles and with spears

He’s all of 31 and he’s only 17

He’s been a soldier for a thousand years

He’s a Catholic, a Hindu, an atheist, a Jain,

a Buddhist and a Baptist and a Jew

and he knows he shouldn’t kill

and he knows he always will

kill you for me my friend and me for you

Etc.

It goes on to lay a pretty heavy responsibility on individuals who join the forces saying that if no one joined up how could there ever be wars and killing.

It gave me pause this summer and I thought about it a lot. While it’s true it’s pretty unrealistic.

Last week I went to hear Valdy at the Finlandia club and he sang it again. It stayed with me again and while I couldn’t see how it would ever become a reality it did get me thinking. This is going to be a stretch but stay with me. What if Canada decided that the most important thing we could do to further peace in the world was to eliminate our forces. What if we were to set an example as a country by saying we believe it is time in our evolution as a world to get rid of our armed forces rather then build them. Costa Rica doesn’t have an armed forces so it is possible.

We know that war and violence, imperialism and aggression don’t work. As weapons and technology get more and more sophisticated we in the west are going to become more and more vulnerable. It seems to me that at some point it will become impossible to stop attacks in Canada and North America.

Maybe it is time for a change. As much as we would like to think our military would be missed on the international war front I don’t think it would be. Oh there would be the initial protests and objections but so many countries are in the business of war someone would fill the gap. None seem to willing to take the risk of doing something as very different as eliminating their armies. Is it suicide? Maybe. But as I see it, it is only a matter of time before the Al Qaeda’s of the world develop the where withal to inflict serious damage on North America. So do we have so much to lose? And just think of how great it would be if it worked. I can’t see any terrorist group targeting Canada if we weren’t targeting them. What would be the point?

I can hear the protests now. How would we defend ourselves? Would we get rid of the police as well? There are violent people in this world! Like I said this is a real stretch and I certainly don’t have the answers but I can’t help but think that we really need a major shift in how things are done if we are to make it through the next 100 years. Maybe Canada could be a leader in a more peaceful alternative. Seems to me something needs to be done.

Platinex and the KI Band 

On March 17 I went to Superior Court to observe the proceedings as 6 respected native leaders from Kitchenuhmaykiisib Inninuwug (KI) were sent to jail for 6 months each. This is my take on what is happening.

As I see it the KI band made a formal Treaty Land Entitlement claim to the Federal and Provincial governments in May of 2000. While the Band has been turned down by the Province, until the Federal Government responds, they don’t want any mining on the contested properties without their consent. They also have a fairly legitimate concern that any mining exploration could be the thin edge of the wedge that could lead to bigger things. Given the power of corporations and the track record of some provincial governments they may be correct. In my opinion, the strip mining in the Tar Sands is unforgivable.

Platinex Inc., the mining exploration company, is being painted as the bad guy and I can understand why. They have made some pretty major blunders and have tried to play corporate hard ball with the band and province.

Based on the current Mining Act and Treaty Nine, the province can grant mining rights in the lands contested by KI. Under this Act, the provincial government gave Platinex a license allowing them to drill exploratory holes. The Supreme Court while supporting both the Treaty and the Mining Act, made it a bit more challenging for the mining companies by saying that government and companies needed to consult and accommodate native communities to a reasonable extent (my words) when the mining companies impact the traditional hunting, fishing and trapping lands of these communities. They didn’t say that mining wasn’t to occur on these lands or that the Bands had control over development. They said that consultations and reasonable accommodations were in order.

Platinex got in hot water by issuing an Initial Public Offering (IPO) on the stock exchange based on the explorations they were going to be doing on KI traditional hunting, fishing and trapping lands. They raised a lot of money and then found themselves in trouble when KI said they weren’t going to let them drill. This was the first mistake. The second mistake was that intitially they didn’t consult with the band the way they should have and the third was when they sued the KI band for 10 billion dollars (that’s not a typo. It is 10 billion.) This cost the band $650.000 in legal fees ($500.000 of which you and I paid). It basically bankrupted the band. Not a great way to build a relationship with the band. While it could be said that Platinex was not exactly politically wise in its dealings with KI the fact remains that it is a business that is at risk of going out of business if they aren’t allowed to do the exploratory drilling.

The Provincial Government is in a bit of a pickle as well. They sent the company in to consult with the band on its own hoping things would work themselves out, knowing full well that if they didn’t, the Province would be on the hook to deal with the fall out. They really should have been at that table given the potential for a struggle. The band feels that the Supreme Court’s ‘Duty to Consult’ ruling falls more heavily on the Province because the Province gives the approval to mining companies who work on crown lands that overlap with their hunting and trapping lands.

All of this has led to the band digging in its heels and saying that they don’t want to consult with Platinex. In fact they are now saying they won’t talk with anyone until their band members are released from jail.

As in a messy divorce the only hope for any kind of an impartial agreement lies in the courts. And so it is in this case. Over the last two and a bit years Superior Court Justice Patrick Smith has tried to set the stage for negotiations and an amicable agreement. He took Platinex to task for their insensitivity, told the Provincial government they should never have left the consultations up to Platinex and recognized KI’s right to be consulted and accommodated/ He did this while being clear that they were to negotiate a deal that would allow Platinex to drill exploratory holes.

He then gave the three parties the chance to consult and come to an agreement. They came back saying they couldn’t reach an agreement. In fact what appeared to have been happening was that the band put up so many blocks to consultation that the Province and Platinex couldn’t initiate any movement. At the same time the band is still saying that the Province is failing in its duty to consult. To me, it looks as though the KI band wants to be able to control everything that is done on all the lands of their traditional hunting, fishing and trapping, regardless of what is laid out in Treaty 9 or the Mining Act. This is at least until the Land Entitlement Claim is settled. But is it fair to Platinex given that these Claims tend to take forwever to settle? Also if the courts agree to a moratorium on these lands until the claim is settled there is no reason for the band to settle given that the moratorium gives them what they want. This put the court in the position of laying down the guidelines that would impact all parties. The court ruled that Platinex could drill 24, two inch exploratory holes with clear direction on how KI would be accommodated. The court also laid out a provision for ongoing consultations with the court if concerns arose.

Initially KI said they weren’t against mining but that they wanted to be a partner and consulted before anything happened. It should also again be noted that according to Treaty 9 and Mining Act, KI cannot legally stop the exploration or mining. When KI refused to allow Platinex to proceed as directed by the court they found themselves in contempt of court and Chief Morris and 5 band members were sent to jail.

What makes all this more interesting and tough is that whatever happens in this case has an impact on all the other Treaties.

Until the KI band, the Federal Government and the Province sit down and resolve the bigger issues, the KI band is legally bound by the current Treaty and the Mining Act and will probably continue to be punished for not adhering to them. I worry that this civil disobedience will lead to more incarcerations and even violence. If KI doesn’t agree with the Treaty their elders signed, then perhaps they should push to have the treaty renegotiated.

Civil disobedience is a great way to draw attention to your problems and it is working. However, when push comes to shove the resolution lies in having meaningful discussions.

Corporations and Politics

You may have noticed over the last couple of papers I have written and included more political articles.  I had a person email saying “There is no place in a senior’s paper for political articles.” Well, I disagree. I am very concerned about Canada but I am also concerned about the USA and the rest of the world. It’s not good for Canada when people around the world turn on the US. I think neo conservatives are a real threat to our way of life. The problem is that they buy into the corporate ideals of a market driven utopian dream. As a result policy is developed that is in the best interest of the next corporate quarter with the belief that it is in the best interests of people and it just isn’t. Canada has had a market driven economy balanced with a social safety net and it has worked well. An uncontrolled market is proving too strong and the safety net is being dismantled in order to allow for-profit business to have control. The balance is being lost and those who need the communities collective support are suffering more than necessary.
Last month a couple of Professors from York University (PhD candidate Marc-André Gagnon, who led the study with Joel Lexchin, a long-time researcher of pharmaceutical promotion, Toronto physician, and Associate Chair of York’s School of Health Policy & Management in the Faculty of Health) published a research paper detailing the spending of US pharmaceutical companies. The authors pointed out that US$57.5 billion was the total amount spent on pharmaceutical promotion in 2004. At the same time the amount of money spent on Research and Development was 31.5 billion. Only a bit more than half the amount spent on promotion.
The industry spent approximately US$61,000 in promotion per physician during 2004.
What this means is that the drug companies are charging you and I inflated costs for our medicine so they will have money to convince doctors their product is better than their competitors. In many cases we are not getting the best drugs for our problems; we are getting the drugs of the company with the best sales pitch, at an inflated price.
What is the solution? For you and I at this time the best solution is to ask the pharmacist for their suggestion as to what is best at a more reasonable price. I find more often than not they will often point to the generic product which can be much less expensive. In the long term though, we need to recognize that there are some services, such as health care and health related goods and services that need to have be free of the control of the market place. We should be electing a government that will ensure that you and I get good value for our dollar and more importantly government should ensure the Canadian safety net is chain link secure. We elect politicians with the understanding that they will spend our money in a way that is in the best interest of all Canadians. We should want and demand a balance. Business can and should be part of the equation; they just shouldn’t be in the driver’s seat.