Friday, September 30, 2011

Tony Clement and the Crime of the New Century

As Tony Clement sits in stony silence, like a petulant child, refusing to admit he was the one who stole the cookie, despite the crumbs on his face; others are having to defend the indefensible.

The 50 million dollars that was misappropriated and spent lavishly in his riding with little or no oversight.

Many of the projects were questionable, though John Baird claims to have approved everyone of them, and that everyone of them is backed up with the proper paperwork.

Nonetheless, a receipted lighthouse on a stump, is still just a lighthouse on a stump.

Not to diminish the veritable theft of taxpayers money, there is a more serious crime here that should not go unpunished.  This is the crime committed against the people of Parry Sound - Muskoka.  The ones that Tony Clement is supposed to be representing, and whose interests should be his concern.

The area's picturesque shorelines, captivating scenery and tranquil settings, provide a backdrop for one of the poorest regions in the country.

The District of Parry Sound Poverty Reduction Network, addresses issues that are in direct contrast to the extravagant lifestyles of the often  famous summer residents.

And as is often the case, in an economic downturn, those already suffering are further victimized by cuts to essential services.  Even those working full time often "cannot meet basic costs of safe shelter and healthy food".   And while housing costs in the area are comparable to many larger urban centres, the salaries are not.  Most work is seasonal, in the hospitality sector, serving the needs of the summer well to dos.

Yet the money spent by Clement went to the benefit of the temporary residents, not to those struggling to survive year round. 

How easy will it be for them to acquire additional funding, when they've already blown the bank on things that only favor an elite few?

What good is an expensive new sign to a parent out of work and out of options?  A gazebo to a family unable to secure adequate housing?  Or a paved road to nowhere, that could have at least been built to provide a more comfortable trip to the nearest food bank.

I spoke with Tami Boudreau of the DPSPRN, and she described the many hardships facing the people in her area.  But she also spoke of their enormous generosity and strength of character.  The anguish in her voice was palpable as she related the frustrations of trying to help so many with so little.

Boudreau is a "transplant" to Parry Sound-Muskoka, but you'd never know it.  Her soul is there.

The DPSPRN, has a website, where you can download a copy of  The District of Parry Sound Speaks Out on Poverty: A Call to Action.

The site is currently down for renovation, but I'm told will be up and running again soon.  Boudreau sent me a copy of their report and it's absolutely heartbreaking, making Clement's actions all the more appalling.

Watching him and Baird together, promising to do better and taking the report of the Auditor General under advisement, is deja vu for Ontario residents.  A similar scene played out when they were in the government of Mike Harris, and again the money was stolen from those who had so little of it.

When John Baird tried to privatize social services, money flowed to Anderson Consulting, the firm that destroyed Enron.  After they were exposed, Anderson quickly changed their name to Accenture, but their questionable actions in the name of profit continued.

In Ontario the money fell out of the holes in the pockets of those who needed it, and landed right in the pockets of the Valentino suits, of those who didn't.
For the third time since 1998, Ontario's provincial auditor has sharply criticized the government's dealings with Accenture. Auditor Erik Peters called the firm's social assistance system "seriously flawed" and "a bad deal for taxpayers." The contract has cost more than $400 million - and counting. The original cost was supposed to be capped at $180 million. Peters called payments to Accenture "questionable" because savings on which the payments were based "were exaggerated."  (1)
Yet those on social assistance were deemed to be the criminals.  Government posters sought help in tracking down "welfare fraud", and neighbours were encouraged to turn in neighbours.  Even the staff at social services were suspect, creating even bigger profits for Anderson/Accenture.
In early March 2000, the Ontario government fitted social services workers with tracking devices in a 16- week trial to track their activities virtually every minute of every day. These "Big Brotherish" boxes, the brainchild of Accenture, would beep several times every hour, and workers would have to punch in a code to indicate what they were doing at that moment. (1)
How could they possibly find the time to help those seeking help?

Under the Ontario Government's Business Transformation Project (privatizing of services), Auditor Erik Peters revealed that:
... the cost ratio of having Accenture do the work rather than public servants was 6 to 1 and that in 2000 the Province realized savings of $89.5 million [much of this from the continued gutting of access to welfare payments], but the government had paid Accenture $193 million. This statement of the Auditor General was part of a larger condemnation of the Tory government's overuse of private consultants throughout its Departments. (2)
(Some things never change).

The Harris government created no less than 800 new rules for welfare recipients, cutting thousands from its ranks.  Yet not only did Accenture keep the $89.5 million that should have gone to the disadvantaged, but charged us an additional $103.5 million to do it.

Peters noted that many of the expenditures were not only "questionable and unnecessary" but were "unreceipted".  He also complained of how slow it was for the Harris government to address the alarming situation, including the issue of the expensive computer that Accenture sold to us, that never worked. (3)

Of course, addressing these issues might have stopped the flow of money from Accenture to the Conservative re-election campaign. ("Tory Welfare Donations Under Fire", Hamilton Spectator,  October 25, 2001 and "Consulting Firm Boosts PC Coffers",  Richard Brennan, Toronto Star, October 25th, 2001)  Couldn't have that.

So just as Baird ignored the Auditor's report then, he will ignore the Auditor General's report now.

I'm glad that Charlie Angus is on top this, (though it was the NDP who blocked the release of the report before the election).  He knows how these guys operate.

He helped to expose a similar scandal involving a land deal with Adams Mine/Cortellucci Group.  Tony Clement was involved with that one as well, netting $40,000 from Cortellucci for his provincial leadership bid.  Jim Flaherty was paid $47,000.

Tim Hudak sat in the Ontario Legislature at the time, so is well aware of what "cronyism" really looks like.  He is promising to once again get tough on "welfare fraud", from the bottom, not the top, where it is actually perpetrated.

There is no honour in being poor, and most would prefer not to wear the label.  However, the real shame is in being someone in a position to help, but instead choose to simply add to the misery.

No, this scandal will not destroy the people of Parry Sound - Muskoka, but they have been victimized just the same, with the added burden of being labelled "greedy".

They didn't ask for the extravagance, but are paying for it in the worst possible way.


1. ACCENTURE: A snapshot of cost overruns job loss and dissatisfaction, CUPE, June 24, 2003

2. Anderson Consulting and Accenture, Polaris Institute, June 2003

3. Tories ignored computer warnings, By Trish Hennessey and Peter H. Sawchuk, University of Toronto Press, July 13, 2004

Thursday, September 29, 2011

If the Tax Man Cometh, Please Light the Lamp

On Tuesday night of this week, I took part in a town hall meeting, via the telephone, with John Gerretson, a cabinet minister in the McGuinty government.

Gerretson happens to be my MPP in Kingston, though his "wired" gathering was not for a Kingston audience, but was province wide. He was acting in his capacity as a senior provincial Liberal.

I had anticipated that the questions would relate to the economy, or healthcare, and of course the dreaded HST. In fact one caller spoke of the HST on Hydro bills, prompting Gerretson to point out that the HST was a federal tax and that rebates compensated most Ontarians for any extra tax burden.

However, many of the questions were about the state of our society. One woman was concerned with the plight of the homeless. She was obviously not homeless herself. There were questions about what could be done about the increase in the use of food banks.  About unemployment that was hurting families and why so many seniors were forced to live in poverty.

What was wrong with these people?

Why weren't they whining about high taxes, the debt or the deficit? Aren't they supposed to be our top priorities?

I generally tune out politicians, though I'm sure Gerretson's answers were just what the callers wanted to hear.

But I learned something about the Canadian people. We still care about the disadvantaged in our society, and more importantly, expect our government to do something for them.

And I learned that maybe we are smart enough to realize that if we lower taxes .... again .... our government would not have the means required to do what we expect them to do.

And maybe we now also realize that "lower taxes" is New Right speak for lowering the taxes on the wealthy, while offsetting them with reductions in services for everyone else.

The tired logic of lowering taxes, creating jobs, has been debunked.

I watch Bill Maher religiously, craving for a Canadian program promoting progressive ideas, and this week as a guest he had the lead singer from a group called Rage Against the Machine, Tom Morello.

I have to admit that I'd never heard of them, but I gathered that they may be a bit radical. However, Mr. Morello was intelligent and articulate, and absolutely captivating.

A champion of social causes, he told the story of a group of workers, who made guitars for companies like Gibson and Fender. The work had been outsourced to Seoul, Korea, where working conditions and wages were so deplorable, they would have been shut down in the U.S.

So the workers tried to unionize, and instead of hearing them out, the American based industry simply moved the factory to China, leaving many families destitute.

So they pooled their resources, sending three delegates, the 6,000 miles to the United States, hoping someone would take up their cause. As a result, Morello's group offered to perform a benefit concert, with all proceeds going to the struggling Korean workers.

However, the day before the concert was to take place, the earthquake hit Haiti. What happened next is nothing short of a miracle.

All of the affected Korean workers asked Morello to instead give the proceeds to the Haitian Disaster Relief Fund.

If people with nothing can be so generous, what is wrong with us? Why has lowering our taxes taken precedence over doing what is right?

The "Tax Man" theme is played out across the United States, mostly by Republicans against their Democrat opponents. It's getting old.

Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendall Holmes, once said that "Taxes are what we pay for civilized society".

What is a civilized society worth to you?

Are we being impoverished by taxes, or is cutting taxes impoverishing our society?

I find that those who scream the loudest about taxes, are also those who scream the loudest about potholes, or rant, "where are the police when we need them?", or complain about standing in line at government service offices.

How do you think those things are paid for?

So if the "Tax Man" cometh, I'm lighting the lamp and putting on a pot of coffee. We need to talk. I don't want him to lower my taxes, only to make better use of them.

And if that makes me a "leftie, tree-hugging liberal", I'll wear the title with pride.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Canadian Manifesto 11: God, Guns and Gays

Throughout the 1990s, especially the early years, the Canadian Reform Party and the American Republican Party were forging ties, that have proven to be lasting.

They share policies, initiatives, staff, and even financing.

One name that comes up often is Morton Blackwell, founder of the Washington based Leadership Institute, where young conservatives are trained in the art of political guerrilla warfare.  Karl Rove, Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed are all graduates of his program.

Blackwell was co-founder of the Moral Majority, and was Ronald Reagan's liaison with the Religious Right.  He once claimed that the Evangelical community was "the greatest tract of virgin timber on the political landscape."

It was Blackwell who invited Stephen Harper to speak at the Montreal conference of the Council for National Policy, an organization where foreign affairs and religion are mixed, and made to fit the Old Testament.  In other words, they promote perpetual war.

Blackwell was also called upon by Preston Manning to help him establish a Canadian branch of the Leadership Institute, giving birth to the Manning Centre For Building Democracy.  A dubious title for a training centre that teaches the art of undermining democracy.

His U.S. counterpart was more than happy to help out, saying that he offers his services for free, to any groups "trying to be conservative in the U.S. sense of the word". (1)

About God's Love of Guns

One of the advisers at the Leadership Institute is James Inhofe, the Republican senator from Oklahoma.  In 1994, the Republicans were determined to sweep the mid-term election, so pulled out all the stops.  Frank Luntz left the Reform Party and helped to draft the Contract With America, while Republican leader Newt Gingrich, studied Preston Manning's anti-government campaigning

The Evangelical army that had put Ronald Reagan on the throne, were once again mobilized for action and every right-wing group in the country was on speed dial.

But perhaps the most important factor in the success of the Republicans then, was when they put a gun in God's hands and changed the profile of a religious activist, from one wanting to do what was right, to one so filled with hatred that it now consumes them.

Because 1994 was the year when the National Rifle Association found a loophole in the election financing laws, and began to interfere in the democratic process.  They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to target Democrats who supported gun control, in particular, the Brady Act.

One campaign that was fought with NRA ammo was that of Inhofe, who was running against the incumbent Dave McCurdy.  With graduates from the Leadership Institute, including our own Rob Anders, McCurdy was shell shocked.
The NRA’s PAC spent more than $150,000 in independent expenditures to run television and newspaper advertisements and put up billboards denouncing McCurdy in addition to the $9,900 it gave directly to Inhofe, just under the maximum $10,000 allowable under FEC regulations. The NRA also spent thousands of dollars more urging its Oklahoma members to turn out for Inhofe. It was an all-out attack that turned the tide against McCurdy. (2)
Inhofe ran on a campaign of 'God, Guns and Gays', a slogan later borrowed by the Republican National Committee.  However, most NRA sponsored ads did not mention guns at all.  In one TV spot, they showed McCurdy at a distance and then zoomed in to reveal that he was wearing an Aids ribbon.

The same kind of gunfight took place across the country, as the NRA took up the cause for Republican hopefuls.  Christine Todd Whitman, the woman who loaned out her Common Sense Revolution to Mike Harris in Ontario,  garnered $ 200,000 in free ads.

Recognizing a good thing when they saw it, Harris's team then sent a letter to the Canadian branch of the NRA, the National Firearms Association, promising to do what he could to kill Bill C-68, and the Gun Registry.  The NFA published the letter as an encouragement for their members to get out and vote.

This was not the organization's only foray into conservative politics.  They had been active supporters of the Reform Party, and made a huge impact in 1997, when Reform became the official opposition.  According to the book Rebuilding Canadian Party Politics:
During the campaign, the NFA's political clout was put at the disposal of the Reform Party. In a memo to supporters, NFA president David Tomlinson noted that the only party offering a "trustworthy promise of an immediate turn toward dumping the Liberal game plan, revoking Bill C-68 and bringing in a completely tweeked firearms control system that will ... favor our firearms community is the Reform Party." Using images of war and battle, Tomlinson exhorted any member who was not a political activist to "get off your butt and become one".

During the 1997 election, signs bearing the somewhat ambiguous message "Remember Bill C-68 When You Vote" were a common sight in rural areas where gun ownership is concentrated. Part of the National Firearms Association's (NFA) extensive and ambitious campaign to defeat the Liberal government and the gun-control legislation it had supported. These signs signalled widespread discontent over firearms legislation in parts of the country.

He [Tomlinson]called on NFA supporters to work for, donate money, goods and services to, and promote the Reform Party". Tomlinson himself was president of a Reform Party constituency association in Edmonton. NFA activists apparently heeded Tomlinsons call. Messages posted on the organization's website throughout the election reflected considerable involvement in Reform campaigns,. Activists compared notes about the travails of keeping Reform signs in place, boasted about their campaign activity and contributions, and called for volunteers to help at local Reform offices.
The New Right movement has many "signals" and according to David Kuo, the term "believers' is assigned to anyone believing in three things: the end of abortion, the end of gay rights, and the right to carry a gun. In an oped piece Harper wrote in 1995, he claimed that Reform was about "Gays, Guns and Government Grants".

He was a "believer".

Gun Control is Not a Liberal Issue

In their effort to make everything liberal evil, the New Right has called gun control, besides a feminist plot to destroy their masculinity (honest), a 'liberal folly'.  However, the idea of gun control, was actually a conservative priority.

Richard Nixon once said that "guns are an abomination," and went on to confess that  "Free from fear of gun owners' retaliation at the polls, he favored making handguns illegal and requiring licenses for hunting rifles."

George Bush, Sr. banned the import of "assault weapons" in 1989, and promoted the view that Americans should only be allowed to own weapons suitable for "sporting purposes."

When Ronald Reagan was Governor of California, he signed the Mulford Act in 1967, "prohibiting the carrying of firearms on one's person or in a vehicle, in any public place or on any public street." 

Twenty-four years later, Reagan was still pushing gun control. "I support the Brady Bill," he said in a March 28, 1991 speech, "and I urge the Congress to enact it without further delay." 

After all, the act was put in place because he was shot, and named after the man who died protecting him.

Republican Rudolph Giuliani, former mayor of New York City, actually sued 26 gun manufacturers in June 2000, and his police commissioner, Howard Safir, proposed a nationwide plan for gun licensing, complete with yearly "safety" inspections.

Another Republican, New York State Governor George Pataki, on August 10, 2000, signed into law what The New York Times called "the nation’s strictest gun controls," a radical program mandating trigger locks, background checks at gun shows and "ballistic fingerprinting" of guns sold in the state. It also raised the legal age to buy a handgun to 21 and banned "assault weapons," the sale or possession of which would now be punishable by seven years in prison. (4)

In Canada, the first aggressive gun control, was at the request of then Ontario Conservative Premier William Davis.   After a student opened fire at the school his daughters attended, killing one teacher and injuring 13 students, he sent his attorney general, John Clement, to Ottawa to meet with the Liberal government.
Armed with a petition bearing thousands of names of Brampton residents, demanding better gun control, Clement met with federal Justice Minister Otto Lang and Solicitor General Warren Allmand to review possible amendments to the Criminal code. (5)
Though Clement failed to get re-elected, he is credited with the passing of  Bill C-51 in 1977, that came into affect on January 1, 1978:
The two biggest changes included requirements for Firearms Acquisition Certificates (FACs) and requirements for Firearms and Ammunition Business Permits. Other changes included provisions dealing with new offences, search and seizure powers, increased penalties, and new definitions for prohibited and restricted weapons. Fully automatic weapons became classified as prohibited firearms unless they had been registered as restricted weapons before January 1, 1978. Individuals could no longer carry a restricted weapon to protect property. Mandatory minimum sentences were re-introduced. This time, they were in the form of a 1-14 year consecutive sentence for the actual use (not mere possession) of a firearm to commit an indictable offence. (Wikipedia)
And for the record, John Clement is Tony Clement's stepfather.

Gun control is not a partisan issue.  It is a Canadian issue.

This past election, gun lobbyists were again out in full force.  Mark Holland, former Liberal MP for Ajax-Pickering, was targeted by several groups, including Gun Nutz.  The Conservatives wanted him gone because he had been a vocal supporter of both the Prison Farms and the Gun Registry.

What does it say for the future of our democracy, when those wanting to create a Canadian "Gun Culture", can affect the outcome of an election?  And what does it say for Christianity, when the devout are behind them?

Using Romans 13 that establishes the "boundaries of governments", they are now advocating that we all should be armed.  And they wonder why people are leaving churches in droves.  How is this inspiring to anyone?

The truth of the matter is, that the New Right saw an opportunity for support from gun lobbyists, who are financed by gun manufacturers.  The potential outcome of the end of gun control, is not important.  Only the money and the power.

Conservative insider, Tom Flanagan, said that Stephen Harper wrote the Reform Party gun policy, only stopping short at calling it a right to bear arms.  This has nothing to do with long guns, or farmers, but is to appease those who want bigger and more lethal handguns, and want the right to carry them anywhere.

They claim that the streets will be safer.

If that were the case than the United States would be the safest country in the world.

It's not.


1. The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada, By: Marci McDonald, Random House Canada, 2010, ISBN: 978-0-307-35646-8 3, p. 104-105

2. Political Snipers, By Robert Dreyfuss, American Prospect, September 21, 1995

3. Rebuilding Canadian Party Politics, By R. Kenneth Carty, William Paul Cross, Lisa Young, UBC Press, 2000, ISBN: 978 0774 807784, p. 99-100

4. Don't Blame the Liberals for Gun Controlby Richard Poe, Studies in Reformed Theology, Volume 11, 2001

5.  Another School Shooting, Thoughts From up Here, March 22, 2005

The CBC on the Chopping Block is No Surprise to Anyone

I came across this image for the CBC.  I think it was for an event that was sold out.  However, as soon as I saw it, I thought how appropriate.

There is a bit of angst over the future of the CBC, with poor Stephen Harper losing sleep over the country's finances.

At least that's the way the story is being sold.

Anyone who read his speech at the Reform Party assembly, more than two decades ago, stumped to thunderous applause; know that the CBC was history from the day he was named prime minister.

Although, I believe they wrote their own death warrant the first time they called the Reform-Alliance Party, 'Tories'.

They helped Harper keep up the facade, and are now worried that his success, means their demise.

They should have thought of that.  Public broadcasting, belongs to us, the public, and CBC is no doubt looking to the public to save them.  But where were they when we needed saving?

Evan Solomon went so far to the right, he may be too radical for Fox News, and after Lloyd Mansbridge's infomercial for Harper during the last election campaign, what is there left for us to fight for?

Another right-wing entertainment station?  We need an alternative to Fox News North, not an instant replay.  The only thing I watch on CBC now is the Rick Mercer Show.  Everything else is just blah, blah, blah.

I am very sad about this, but I'm also mad as hell.  The majority of Canadians do not support the Right-Wing Revolution, yet we have no one speaking for us.  A few columnists now and then, but their work is lost in the drone of the same old, same old.

"Harper wore out another pair of shoes today.  He's got to quit walking on water".

For anyone interested, in Harper's speech he promised to also get rid of EI, The Canada Pension Plan (already shot through the heart by Jim Flaherty), Old Age Security, the Canada Health Act ....

Everything put in place to help Canadians.

I will sign a petition to keep the CBC alive, but only on the condition that they start acting like a "public" institution, and not another Harper communication vehicle.

We need a program warning Canadians of our Religious Right, especially since most of them are American based.  We need a program promoting progressive ideas.  We need a program raising awareness to the income disparity that is hurting the most vulnerable in our society.

If the CBC can provide that kind of programming, I'm in.  If not, count me out.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Canadian Manifesto 10: The Exploitation of Religion Has Many Victims

David Kuo was a foot soldier in the Evangelical army that stormed the White House for George W. Bush. He eventually came to realize that his role was purely political, and that the Bush administration had no intention of honouring their promises.

At a particularly bad time, when his spirits were at their lowest, Kuo was asked by a senior official what they could do to fix things.

"For starters", Kuo said, "you could stop calling us the faith-based group". They had been reduced to an annoyance and diminished through profanity.

Kuo, like many others, had been led into politics by people like Ralph Reed and Karl Rove, believing that he could make a difference.  His "faith-based" priority was to end abortion, but he also wanted to eradicate poverty, improve education and set higher moral standards for politicians.

Instead he spent his time polishing Bush's halo and fundraising for the Republicans.  So he resigned and wrote a book of his experiences; Tempting Faith: An inside Story of Political Seduction.

Kuo advises that Evangelicals need to take a time-out from political activism, and re-connect with their faith. 
I have seen what happens when well-meaning Christians are seduced into thinking deliverance can come from the Oval Office, a Supreme Court chamber, or the floor of the United States Congress. They are easily manipulated by politicians who use them for their votes, seduced by trinkets of power, and tempted to turn a mission field (politics) into a battlefield, leaving the impression Jesus' main goal was advancing a particular policy agenda. I know: I've seen it, I've done it, I've lived it, and I've learned from it. (1)
"Little Platoons" of Soldiers for Christ
“To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed toward a love to our country and to mankind."  Edmund Burke (1729-1797)
One of Kuo's bosses and mentors was Chuck Colson, who rallied his troops under the battle cry:  "Storm the battlements for Christ!" 

Using Edmund Burke as inspiration, an army of political Evangelists would have to create "little platoons" that could be easily mobilized to bring down the enemy.

Of course, this meant different things to different people, and for David Kuo, an enemy he was inspired to destroy was poverty.  What he found instead was that he had been inducted into an army trained to attack the poor.  He referred to them as "little platoons against the welfare state".

Using terms not unlike those used by Harrisites (Mike Harris) and Harperites, he had allowed himself to be convinced that only "tough love" would heal the nation, and that the only way to get people off welfare was to make them work.  (2)

When Mike Harris first ran in Ontario, he promoted the same thing, prompting many on social assistance to vote for him, believing that he would help them find a job.  Instead they had their benefits slashed by 22% and were left to their own devises, looking for jobs that never existed, and would never exist.

More "tough love" was aimed at single mothers, especially those who had children out of wedlock.  "Welfare needed to stop paying people to have illegitimate children and needed to be a much tougher way of life". (2)  Spoken by someone who has never had to live as a single mom on the meagre welfare "hand out".  It doesn't get much tougher than that.

In Ontario under Harris, John Baird became so ruthless that it resulted in the death of a singe mom, who was trying desperately to claw her way out from under the welfare system.  His reaction:  Oops!

The "faith-based" crew saw the government undermining God, by providing services that ought to be left to the Church and their "little platoons".  Yet churches and poverty have co-existed for centuries, so clearly that strategy wasn't working.

Conservative activists love to quote Edmund Burke as inspiration, often citing:  "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing".  However, that quote cannot be found in any of Burke's writings.  The closest attribution comes from Tolstoy's War and Peace.

An actual quote of Burke's, is the one they should be paying attention to:
"The interest of that portion of social arrangement is a trust in the hands of all those who compose it; and as none but bad men would justify it in abuse, none but traitors would barter it away for their own personal advantage.”
"Faith-based" Organized Crime

One area in which George Bush's "faith-based" group hoped to have an impact, was in the allocation of government grants.
Conservative Republicans were in the midst of derailing carefully laid plans. One thing they wanted was more Charitable Choice—that is, a broader range of religious charities eligible government grants ...  Now, with a conservative evangelical president in the Oval Office, with Republicans controlling the House and nearly the Senate, some conservatives thought it time to allow "real" faith-based groups to receive federal funding. In short, they wanted to allow groups that aimed to convert people [my emphasis] to a particular faith to be able to receive direct federal grants which was far beyond what Charitable Choice was actually intended to do.

They also wanted numerous large federal grant programs converted to vouchers so that grant recipients could have access to plainly religious groups. Finally, they wanted to give religious groups receiving public funds an unfettered right to hire and fire people based not only on their professed religion but on whether they lived according to the "rules" of their religion ( no gay Catholics, pork-eating Orthodox Jews, bug-killing Jainists, leather-wearing Buddhists, or drinking Christian fundamentalists). They wove these objectives together into a single, highly partisan bill. It wasn't exactly the legislation-free bipartisanship that Brother John had hoped for. (3)
This was not charity, but proselytizing, and taxpayers were being asked to fund it, despite the fact that unless they adhered to the stringent requirements, they would see no benefits.  Only the corporate sector and the "God for the creation of personal wealth" elite few, would cash in.  A perfect example of this, is one I already provided, that is taking place in private (for-profit) corporate prisons.

Hundreds of millions of dollars to "save" instead of rehabilitate prisoners.*  Cha ching, cha ching.

Another priority for "faith-based" was a change in the tax laws that would make it more appealing to donate to charities.  That too got lost in the shuffle.
In my third day on the job, President Bush signed the tax cut that had been one of his top priorities .... There were cuts in capital gains taxes (p: from the sale of stocks and land). The inheritance tax was with the exemption slowly increasing to $3.5 million ($7 million for couples) .... But something was missing: the president's promised $6 billion per year in tax credits for groups helping the poor. Those tax credits had been the centerpiece of compassionate-conservative efforts for years and the centerpiece of the president's own compassion agenda during the campaign. The best estimates projected that the proposal would create more than 11.7 million new givers throughout the country, stimulate an additional $14.6 billion in charitable giving in the first year and more than $160 billion over ten years, and increase current giving levels by 11 percent.  Unfortunately, those charity tax credits weren't listed by the White House as must-haves, so the House skipped over them. (3)
Bush's changes only benefited the already wealthy, or soon to be wealthy, as couples could now inherit up to seven million dollars without paying a dime.  This hurt charities, because it meant that there would be no incentive to give some of it away, as a means to avoid paying tax.  The wealthy recipients could just keep it all, and usually did.

The National Council of Churches spoke out against the 2001 Bush tax cuts, that favoured the rich as a means to "balance the budget".  Their General Secretary Rev. Dr. Bob Edgarru, said that "There’s no budget surplus if there are still people living in poverty."
As millions of people – parents and children, the elderly, people with disabilities and the working poor – are driven to seek charity to meet their most basic needs, we are appalled that the focus of attention in this Congressional session is not on meeting their needs; rather, it is on tax cuts that will mostly benefit the affluent."  (4)
The tax cuts and changes to tax laws, actually hurt legitimate charities, because the corporate sector only found a new way to not only avoid paying taxes, but also to obtain government grants.  What I like to call "Faith-based organized crime".

And those "little platoons" were demobilized, only to be called to action again, when they were needed to fight another election.

So Again, What Does This Have to do With Us?

Kuo tells us that prominent Republican pollsters like Frank Luntz and John MacLaughlin, advised that issues should be framed in such a way as to appeal to "religious conservative voters".

Frank Luntz has worked with the Reform-Alliance-Conservative Party for many years, and was the one who told Stephen Harper to talk about hockey as much as possible, to sell himself as a man of the people. (5)

John McLaughlin is the ad man who handled campaigns for the National Citizens Coalition (where Harper was president) and according to his 2004 bio:
John McLaughlin has worked professionally as a strategic consultant and pollster for twenty years. During this time he has earned a reputation for helping to guide underdog Republicans and conservative challengers to victory. He has worked across America and internationally in hundreds of campaigns.  Within the past year, John McLaughlin has helped elect Iain Duncan Smith, the leader of the Conservative Party (United Kingdom); Stephen Harper, the leader of the Canadian Alliance Party (Canada); Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore; and a historic 30-seat Republican majority in the Virginia House of Delegates. (6)
Stephen Harper digested the "Bible according to Republican strategists", and has tapped into the vote-rich and cash-rich, Religious Right.

He has also tapped into the Bush Doctrine, not only when it comes to an aggressive foreign policy, but also in the creation of tax measures designed for the well-to-do.

However, there may be something else on the horizon, when it comes to corporate run and taxpayer funded charities.

Well known Reform-Alliance-Conservative insider, Gerry Chipeur, (also a Republican insider), wrote an op-ed piece for the National Post, soon after the Harper government announced that they would be taking their lead from George Bush's "cutting red tape" initiative (massive de-regulation), and resurrecting Mike Harris's "Red Tape Commission".

Without mentioning that the sweat on his brow came from a backroom meeting with the Harperites, hammering out their plan of attack, he outlined ten ways that Harper could cut the public out of public policy.

Targeted was Health Canada, Agriculture Canada, the CRTC, The Canadian Wheat Board (already gone), Canada Border Services (being handed over to the Americans), Fisheries and Oceans, Parks Canada ....

But one mentioned by Chipeur was removing Revenue Canada's oversight from charitable organizations.  This no doubt comes from complaints by people like Faytene Grasseschi Kryskow, who was turned down for charitable status because prayer gatherings are not classed as charity.   Apparently there have been many quasi-religious groups with the same complaints.

What Chipeaur suggested was that only CIDA should be involved with charities.  We all know how that works, when Bev Oda altered a contract AFTER it was duly signed. 

However, I see this as being a major problem.  Without Revenue Canada being involved, how do we know what are legitimate charities and what aren't?  Corporations could set up their own charities, with the money going right back into the corporation.

They could also donate to AstroTurf groups, and receive a charitable donation, despite the fact that the AstroTurf group was created by them to promote their own interests.

The National Citizens Coalition could not only apply for charitable status, but receive CIDA grants for questionable activities.

And all of this could be funnelled to the Conservative Party.

The media and the Opposition have to stay on top on this before we end up a one party/one religion state.

And the public have to separate the legitimate charities and community churches, from the Religious Right money machine. Many Christians who got involved in the associated political activism, may not yet realize as  David Kuo did, that they are being used.

According to Lloyd Mackey, in The Pilgrimage of Stephen Harper, our PM was "saved" after being introduced to the writings of C.S. Lewis.  This claim is made by many in the New Right movement.  However, Kuo found a passage in a Lewis book, that frightened him, and helped to make him realize that what he was doing was sinful.

If the Tea Partiers could read, they might learn something here too.

The passage is from the Screwtape Letters, near the end when Screwtape advises his cousin:   
Let him begin by treating patriotism ... as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely a part of the "cause," in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce ... Once he's made the world an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. (7)

 *I was told recently that an old cell block at Collins Bay Pen/Frontenac Institute, that was destroyed during a riot years ago, is being renovated to possibly be used as a "repent or regret for profit" rehabilitation centre, to replace the Prison Farms.  I hope not.


1. Tempting Faith: An inside Story of Political Seduction, By David Kuo, Free Press, 2006, ISBN: 13: 978-0 7432-8712-8, p. xii

2. Kuo, 2006, p. 59

3. Kuo, 2006, p. 160-165


5. American Strategist teaches Tories tips on keeping power, Canwest News Service, May 7, 2006

6. Catholic Citizen Announcement, February 10, 2004

7. Kuo, 2006, p.57

Friday, September 23, 2011

Another Word Tim Hudak Should Avoid on the Campaign Trail: Cronyism

Tim Hudak is on the campaign trail accusing the McGuinty government of "cronyism". I thought this was a dangerous path for Hudak to take, given the fact that his former boss and current mentor, Mike Harris, had made cronyism an art form.

A friend shared a 2004 article with me, one of many from the day, giving us some idea of how this was done.  The piece did not come from the CBC or the Toronto Star, but the National Post.  Hardly a "leftie rag".

Hudak recently warned the opposition to keep his wife out of any of their attacks.  For those who don't know, his wife Deb Hutton was Mike Harris's gatekeeper, who took her job so seriously that she earned the nickname, 'Jabba the Hutt'.

Hudak's protection of his family might seem more sincere, if he wasn't dragging them around for the cameras, painting himself as a "family man" simply because he has one.

Back to the National Post article.  We can't leave his wife out of it, because she was the centre point of the exposé .
New documents show Hydro One paid more than $400,000 to the consultancy run by former Conservative campaign co-chair Jaime Watt, as the list of Ontario Tories who received lucrative contracts from the utility continues to expand .... Documents obtained by CanWest News Service through freedom of information legislation show Navigator's bills, worth a total of $400,374 between October, 2001, and October, 2003, were for services that included company surveys, strategic counsel and communications planning.

In August, 2002, the utility paid $64,200 for an annual subscription to Current Opinion, Navigator's syndicated study of public opinion on electricity issues.  Almost all of Navgator's bills were directed to the attention of Deb Hutton, a senior advisor to both Mr. Eves and his predecessor, Mike Harris. For most of the period in question, Ms. Hutton was Hydro One's vice-president of corporate relations.

The Navigator deals bring the latest total for contracts awarded to senior Tories by the power distribution company to $6-million.
Six million dollars.  Yet Hudak is blaming Jim Flaherty's HST for the increase in Hydro bills.

The cronies involved, included Jaime Watt, former Conservative campaign co-chair.  Watt is still running Navigator.  You might remember the name from an investigation conducted over the relationship between the firm and the Harper government.

Another was Leslie Noble, former college pal of Tony Panayi Clement.  Noble was a top lobbyist who helped to run Mike Harris's campaigns, resulting in an undefined position of power within his government.  It is said that she often taunted elected MPPs, knowing how impotent they were.
One pipeline Noble has to influence government decision-makers is the unelected cadre of political aides in the offices of the Premier and his top ministers. These aides, many of whom report to Noble during the election campaign, wield tremendous power in government, a reality acknowledged by some Tory MPPs.

Tory backbencher Bill Murdoch says they openly flaunt their power. ``They say, `Hey Murdoch, we didn't even have to go through an election and we're running the place.' '' Queen's Park Speaker Chris Stockwell, a Tory MPP, calls them a "cabal'' and says they make decisions without input from elected politicians. (1)
And she wielded her power unabashed.
When Mike Harris was elected Premier, Leslie Noble became the hottest power broker in Ontario. The 37-year-old is one of Harris' closest advisers and runs the leading lobbying firm dealing with the Ontario government. No other lobbyist has Noble's access to Harris. And no other top political adviser to Harris is a lobbyist. Noble helped write the Common Sense Revolution, ran Harris' successful 1995 election campaign and will run the Tories' next campaign, expected later this year. Noble has no official job with government but regularly briefs Harris, his cabinet ministers and Tory MPPs on what needs to be done politically to stay in power. In corporate circles, Noble is the lobbyist Ontario business executives hire when they want the Harris government's ear.  (1)
Her involvement with the Common Sense Revolution, leads us to another name mentioned in the 2004 National Post offering.  Said April Lindgren:
Also a beneficiary was Tom Long, a senior Conservative strategist. The headhunting firm at which he is a senior official at one point was paid $88,000 to recruit Ms. Hutton - who was working in the premier's office with Mr. Harris - for her job as vice-president.
Long was another Clement pal, and the man who met with American publisher Steve Forbes and Republican strategist Mike Murphy, to draft the CSR, borrowed from then New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman.
Hudak has to be careful about generalizations like "cronyism", when attacking his Liberal opponent.  His party's history is one he'd be wise to keep buried.  If there are two words that can still put many Ontarians into the fetal position, they are "Mike" and "Harris".
NDP leader Andrea Horwath, is running a nice clean campaign, sticking to the issues.  The Liberals are hoping that their record will keep them in power.  The Conservatives need to stick to issues that define who they hope to be, not remind us of who they were.
1. Queen of the Park: She's the Premier's adviser and Ontario's leading lobbyist. Should taxpayers be concerned?  By Kevin Donovan and Moira Welsh, 1999

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Look Out! Tim Hudak is Running With Scissors

If there are three words that will warm the blood of the New Right and their corporate pals, they are "cutting red tape".
The picture to the left was published on June 3, 2003, with the caption:
Determined to cut red tape and reduce the regulatory burden are (l-r), Office of Thrift Supervision Director James Gilleran, Jim McLaughlin of the American Bankers Association, Harry Doherty of America's Community Bankers, FDIC Vice Chairman John Reich and Ken Guenther of the Independent Community Bankers of America"
This was during the Bush administration when they allowed the banking industry to write their own regulations, and as a result, that industry deregulated themselves into a global economic meltdown.

The notion of "cutting red tape", is a wonderful populist sentiment, attacking the bureaucracy that can slow down the processing of licenses, etc.

But to the new religion of "Market Fundamentalism", a coin termed by George Soros, "cutting red tape" has an entirely different meaning.  Industry lobbies hard to take the scissors to the tape, but they're not concerned with licenses or any of the other menial government functions that can become a minor annoyance.

Removing red tape actually means removing the public from public policy.

Fundamentalists believe that if the marketeers can regulate themselves, the profit margin will guide them to eternal salvation.  In other words, if they sell a tainted product and it kills people, they could lose sales, so it's in their best interest not to sell products that kill people, unless they're making bullets or bombs.

The theology worked well when Stephen Harper allowed meat processors to inspect themselves, resulting in the listeriosis outbreak that killed 23 Canadians.

A leaked cabinet document outlined a plan to save money at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) by shifting federal meat inspectors into an oversight role and leaving companies to implement their own methods of making sure that their products aren't lethal.

That's cutting red tape.

And cutting red tape also resulted in the 2000 Walkerton Tragedy in Ontario, when cattle manure leaked into the town's drinking water, killing seven people and making half of the town's population violently ill.  Their grief turned to anger when they learned that Premier Mike Harris's Red Tape Commission had deliberately dismantled vital parts of the public health infrastructure in the name of cutting red tape. They knowingly ignored repeated warnings from their own experts who stated that cutbacks in environmental and health protection could have a disastrous impact on public health.

But free market dogma has no room for such considerations, so instead they cut inspection staff, shut down testing labs, and eliminated reporting and enforcement procedures.

As an MPP Tim Hudak claims to have been a strong supporter of Harris's Red Tape Commission, but I notice perusing Hansard, that he failed to show up on the day that a group of high school students from Walkerton visited the Ontario Legislature, telling their story of what cutting red tape meant to them.

Hudak must have taken a prayer day.

"Bless me Ronald Reagan for I have sinned.  I almost let my emotions get in the way of carrying out your mission.  But the holy mother, Margaret Thatcher, appeared to me in a vision.  I am now cleansed, and will never again believe that public interest should get in the way of corporate profit."

In the UK, there is concern over a review conducted by their market fundamentalist government, that is “ part of a package of changes to Britain’s health and safety system to support the government’s growth agenda and cut red tape.”  They see it as a workplace death wish.

The Harper government has resurrected the Red Tape Commission, and are looking at removing public protection from all areas of business.

On the campaign trail, Hudak is also blessing us with the red tape creed, even promising to reduce his cabinet by 20%.  Concentrating power, giving us even less of a voice.

We need to change the dialogue.  This is not about cutting red tape, but cutting us out, in favour of those we need protection from.  Hudak refuses to say where he will make his cuts, but it could very well be in employment standards, including minimum wage.  Or workplace safety, product inspection.  The list is endless.

Yet he claims that by cutting red tape it will create jobs, and not just for morticians.

Food tasters for the rich.  Overseers for slave camps, also known as your place of employment.  Whip makers.  Enormous opportunities.

We elect people to represent our interests, not work against them.  We need to keep our red tape, before it turns into yellow tape, and we all become victims of corporate greed and government crime.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Canadian Manifesto 9: Retribution and the Bottom Line

William Wilberforce (1759-1833) was a British politician, best known for his work to abolish the slave trade. He helped to pass legislation that imposed fines of £100 on shipowners, for each slave found on board.

It backfired, because when these men saw authorities approaching, they simply threw the slaves overboard.

However, he is said to have been a hero of Abraham Lincoln's, and instrumental in putting an end to slavery in both the United States and across the pond.

Wilberforce is now a favourite of the American Religious Right for several reasons. One being the fact that he was a conservative, the second that he had devoted his life to prayer, and of course the whole anti-slavery thing suggesting that prayer and conservatism are positive influences on society.

However, much of the success of this New Right movement, has been based on their ability to rewrite history.

Wilberforce was involved in the anti-slave movement, but not because of his Christian charity, but rather that it was politically expedient. Prime Minister William Pitt was under a lot of pressure by the abolitionists, and needed a cover.
Interestingly imperialism’s ‘great saviour and hero’ Wilberforce was not amongst the original grouping. Nor did he end up joining the society of his own volition or as a matter of conscience. Instead he was ‘recruited’ and sent into the abolition movement by the then Prime Minister William Pitt. The fake cover story about his moral and religious conviction compelling him to work for the abolition of slavery was made up later. (1)
In fact, in 2010 the historian Stephen Tomkins discovered documents that suggested Wilberforce actually permitted the buying and selling of slaves, despite new regulations he helped to pass.
"After abolition, the British navy patrolled the Atlantic seizing slave ships. The crew were arrested, but what to do with the African captives? With the knowledge and consent of Wilberforce and friends, they were taken to Sierra Leone and put to slave labour in Freetown." (2)
Wilberforce really had little to do with the end of slavery in the British colonies. Most slaves freed themselves in a series of revolts.

However, there is another reason why the Republicans like Wilberforce so much. He was one of them, profiting off the misfortune of others. The Wilberforce family made their money in the wool and cotton business, so raising the possibility of slavery coming to an end, drove up the price of their commodities. (3)

Today he would be a Wall Street banker.

Chuck Colson: From Watergate to "Faith Based" Justice

Charles "Chuck" Colson, was a former member of the Nixon Administration, and one of the "plumbers" of the Watergate break-in.  For his role in the crime, he was sent to prison, serving just seven months.  For a man who had earned the reputation as Nixon's "hatchet man", and was known to keep "enemy lists" as a Washington power broker, this was a devastating blow.

Not only was he pushed out of the inner circle, but he was reduced to playing the role of a common criminal.

The story goes that a corporate buddy of his gave him a copy of C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity, and after reading it, Colson gave his life over to Jesus.  The media was not convinced, seeing it as a ploy to garner a lighter sentence.

I'll tell you his story and you can be the judge.

Using William Wilberforce as his guiding light, Colson created the Wilberforce Forum, a conservative Christian think tank, promoting the teaching of Intelligent Design (Creationism as opposed to Evolution), and established the Evangelical Prison Fellowship, to "save" his fellow man.  Or so we are told.

Please read on.

Stephen Harper and Corrections Corporation of America

After taking an interest in the Save the Prison Farm movement, I began to attend lectures and information seminars, dealing with the rise of corporate, for-profit prisons.  There is a consensus that the Harper government's new "law and order" strategy is geared toward the privatization of our prison system.

The way it works is that taxpayers fund the construction and/or expansion of jails and penitentiaries, which when completed, are then turned over to the corporate sector to operate. The government grants them so much for each prisoner they incarcerate on our behalf.

One name that comes up regularly, is the Corrections Corporation of America, the largest stakeholder in the business of Penance for Profit.

In 2007, Craig Jones of the John Howard Society, said in an interview, that he feared that Stephen Harper was moving in that direction.  He had hired Robert Sampson, former correctional minister under Mike Harris in Ontario, who opened the door to the privatization of the province's jails.  The experiment was a disaster.  His Penetanguishene "super jail" was closed after revelations of flawed security, inadequate prisoner health care, and higher reoffending rates. (4)

And the money taxpayers were supposed to save?  It cost us $80 million to build and the promised jobs were all low paying, minimum wage, that did nothing to "pay for itself", from accelerated income tax revenue. (5)

But this won't stop Stephen Harper.  Once he makes a decision, he sticks with it, come hell or high water.  He was elected to promote corporate interests and corporate interests he will promote, especially if they are  those of American corporations.

But let's take a closer look at Corrections Corporation of America, to decide whether or not we want to replicate their business here.

In June of 2000, Ken Silverstein wrote in Prison Legal News. 
What is the most profitable industry in America? Weapons, oil and computer technology all offer high rates of return, but there is probably no sector of the economy so abloom with money as the privately run prison industry.

Consider the growth of the Corrections Corporation of America, the industry leader whose stock price has climbed from $8 a share in 1992 to about $30 today and whose revenue rose by 81 per cent in 1995 alone. Investors in Wackenhut Corrections Corp. have enjoyed an average return of 18 per cent during the past five years and the company is rated by Forbes as one of the top 200 small businesses in the country. At Esmor, another big private prison contractor, revenues have soared from $4.6 million in 1990 to more than $25 million in 1995. (6)
And what of the product they are offering?
Roughly half of the industry is controlled by the Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America, which runs 46 penal institutions in 11 states. It took ten years for the company to reach 10,000 beds; it is now growing by that same number every year ....

To be profitable, private prison firms must ensure that prisons are not only built but also filled. Industry experts say a 90-95 per cent capacity rate is needed to guarantee the hefty rates of return needed to lure investors. Prudential Securities issued a wildly bullish report on CCA a few years ago but cautioned, "It takes time to bring inmate population levels up to where they cover costs. Low occupancy is a drag on profits." Still, said the report, company earnings would be strong if CCA succeeded in ramp(ing) up population levels in its new facilities at an acceptable rate". (6)
This explains the Harper government's horrendous crime bills, that will put people behind bars for the slightest of offenses, and keep them there.    According to the ACLU's National Prison Project:  "Private prison companies have also begun to push, even if discreetly, for the type of get-tough policies needed to ensure their continued growth. All the major firms in the field have hired big-time lobbyists."

Crime and punishment is no longer decided by criminologists or the justice system, but by corporate lobbyists, who in the United States are now also pushing for "chain gangs".  According to Rev. Edward Pinkney in Michigan:  "In many states there is a move to remove gov. administration of prisons and privatize them for corporate profit. The labor of the prisoners belongs to the state but when the state transfers their interest to a private corporation, the labor of prisoners belong to the corporation. A corporation will run the lives of prisoners and decide how they shall labor and what they shall labor at. Do you see chances for profit here?" (7)

Kind of puts Tim Hudak's meanderings into perspective, doesn't it?

Several videos reveal the way that these private prisons operate.  Many are now being investigated for promoting criminal activity behind bars, inadequate health care, high reoffending rates, and lax security.

Fight- Corrections Corporation of America

Sex abuse

Privatization of Punishment

Exposed Prison Big Business

Oh But it Gets Worse.  Back to Chuck Colson

Conditions in these prisons are deplorable, but a new scheme appears to be making an attempt to change that.  Prison Fellowship, started and run by Chuck Colson, advocates for prisoners and their families, with a faith-based alternative.

One experiment in Unit E at the state prison outside Newton, Iowa; gives a country club feel to a facility notorious for horrendous living conditions.
The cells in Unit E had real wooden doors and doorknobs, with locks.  More books and computers were available, and inmates were kept busy with classes, chores, music practice and discussions.  There were occasional movies and events with live bands and real-world food, like pizza or sandwiches from Subway.  Best of all, there were opportunities to see loved ones in an environment quieter and more intimate than the typical visiting rooms. (8)
They even have private baths with porcelain sinks.  Just like home.

But there's a catch.  You have to be "saved".
... the only way an inmate could qualify for this kinder mutation of prison life was to enter an intensely religious rehabilitation program and satisfy the evangelical Christians running it that he was making acceptable spiritual progress. The program — which grew from a project started in 1997 at a Texas prison with the support of George W. Bush, who was governor at the time — says on its Web site that it seeks "to ‘cure’ prisoners by identifying sin as the root of their problems" and showing inmates "how God can heal them permanently, if they turn from their sinful past." (8)
And before you light the lamps and sing Hallelujah, the program appears to be just another way to get taxpayers to pad the pockets of the corporate sector, and the Corrections Corporation of America is ready to elevate Colson to sainthood.
... the Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest prison management company, with 65 facilities and 71,000 inmates under its control, is substantially expanding its religion-based curriculum and now has 22 institutions offering residential programs similar to the one in Iowa. And the federal Bureau of Prisons, which runs at least five multifaith programs at its facilities, is preparing to seek bids for a single-faith prison program as well. (8)
What was revealed in these prison programs, was just another abuse of taxpayers money.  Using government grants to establish the InnerChange, Prison Fellowship was sued by Iowa taxpayers and inmates.
In ruling on that case, Judge Pratt noted that the born-again Christian staff was the sole judge of an inmate’s spiritual transformation. If an inmate did not join in the religious activities that were part of his "treatment," the staff could write up disciplinary reports, generating demerits the inmate’s parole board might see. Or they could expel the inmate.

And while the program was supposedly open to all, in practice its content was "a substantial disincentive" for inmates of other faiths to join, the judge noted. Although the ministry itself does not condone hostility toward Catholics, Roman Catholic inmates heard their faith criticized by staff members and volunteers from local evangelical churches, the judge found. And Jews and Muslims in the program would have been required to participate in Christian worship services even if that deeply offended their own religious beliefs. (8)
These religious organizations, operate with little or no scrutiny, despite the fact that they received hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money.

And What Does This Have to Do With Us?

Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship has gone international, and though operating in Canada for several years, it would appear that their activities are being accelerated.  News from Offenders Aid and Rehabilitation Services (OARS) in South Australia:
Local media has been covering the proposal by Prison Fellowship SA to develop an overtly Christian wing in one of the South Australia prisons.   Whilst this may seem a good idea on the surface of it, OARS SA is not generally supportive of this notion.   Prison Fellowship International has been advocating this approach for many years and a number of such services have been implemented in the United States and Canada.  The evidence about the success of this approach is not strong, and some Governments appear to have used Churches and or their associated NGO's to fund services that should rightly be funded by themselves.   In advocating for such a prison wing in Canada recently, Prison Fellowship Canada, among other things, suggested that "We would not require someone to be a professing Christian to enter but we certainly would expect them to be respecting the values and principles that we would be engaged in." 
This underscores the essential dilemma for me.   It is the clear experience of OARS SA that one needs to be very careful about offering redemption to people who are incarcerated and have very few alternatives or hope.  It can be be potentially very damaging in the long term, and it is possible that false conversions happen simply to get some support.   Another potentially negative factor is the damage caused when an elite or special wing is structured in any prison that provides opportunities not available to everyone. (9)
When the Harper government closed the Prison Farms, they claimed that they had other rehabilitation programs in mind.  Is this what they meant?

In Canada, Prison Fellowship does a lot of good work, but they can't be an alternative to time tested rehabilitation programs.  And they should only be one of several other initiatives.

During the last election campaign, the Conservatives focused on Human Trafficking, even suggesting that Michael Ignatieff was in favour of the horrendous practice.  However, what Ignatieff was opposed to was the part of the bill allowing those 'rescued" to be incarcerated for up to a year, including women and children.

Researching private prisons and Chuck Colson, I discovered that even immigrant detention centres are going corporate.   Immigrants for sale, while reports of wholesale abuse, sexual and physical, in these facilities are on the rise.

And Corrections Corporation of America run several of them

All part of the Prison Industrial Complex.

So is Chuck Colson a saint or a sinner?  He has certainly wormed his way back into the halls of power.

Some have compared him to Francis Schaeffer, the unwitting architect of the Religious Right, but Schaeffer's son disagrees.  He says that Colson is nothing like his father, and is just another opportunist cashing in on religion.

We have to remember that everything Stephen Harper does is motivated by the profit margin, for those who have put him in power.  (He still refuses to tell us who financed his leadership bid to take over the Alliance Party, Now the CPC)  And the majority of his policies are not only motivated by Republican policies, but many are also written in the USA.

It shouldn't be this hard for the Canadian media to keep us informed.  Why do I  have to let my fingers travel around the world, just to try and figure out what Stephen Harper and his Christian Right is up to?

The crime of media silence.  Is there a corporate run detention centre for those guys?


1. The Story of the Caribbean People, By James Ferguson, Randle Publishers, 1998, ISBN-10: 976812377X, p. 132

2. William Wilberforce was complicit in slavery, Stephen Tomkins, The UK Guardian, August 3, 2010

3, Will the Real William Wilberforce Please Stand Up, Pan-Afrikan Society of London South Bank University, 2007

4. Stephen Harper opens door to prison privatization, By Alex Roslin, Straight Goods,

5. Experiment in private prison, Penetanguishene, By Mirko Petricevic, Kitchener Waterloo Record, September, 13, 2000

6. US: America's Private Gulag, by Ken SilversteinPrison Legal News, June 1st, 2000

7. For profit chain gangs in Michigan? Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, December 17, 2008

8. In God's Name: Religion for Captive Audience, with taxpayers Footing the Bill, By Diana B. Henriques and Andrew Lehren, New York Times, December 10, 2006

9. OARS SA, CEO Blog, December 16, 2009

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Will Rob Ford Put an End to Blissful Ignorance?

On February 15, 1983, the New York Times ran a headline: Reagan Misstatements Getting Less Attention.

Ronald Reagan was not only the first American President to bring the Religious Right into his administration, but he also launched an era of stupid in politics.

The man dubbed "The Great Communicator" could barely string two coherent sentences together, and after spending three years trying to make some sense of his ramblings, the media had clearly given up.

I have to laugh at how the Right have now canonized him, but during his tenure he was never that popular. I think his highest polling was right after he was shot.

Unfortunately "idiots" is now a term often used to describe the Republicans, as they've capitalized on incomprehension, and it hasn't hurt them one bit.

Their esoteric boys club has learned that there is a fortune to be made in the mining of ignorance.

Glenn Beck is not a moron, he just played one on TV.

When Stephen Harper's Reform Party had its first real political success in 1993, we were shell shocked with their constant firing of racial slurs and half witticisms.  The Toronto Sun called them "a bunch of dung kicking rednecks".  Now the Sun is among their strongest supporters, pitching the dung they once hoped to duck.

And they have cleverly made the reaction to stupidity, the story, instead of the actual stupidity.

Sun TV often runs a banner reading "We're on your side".  Those "leftist elitist pinkos" don't understand you, but we do.  Then they run to their own elitist friends and say "watch the puppets dance".  Both groups come away with a feeling of superiority.

Neoconservatism 101.

Which brings us to Toronto mayor Rob Ford.  When he first appeared on the scene he created quite a sensation.  Acting as though he would be more comfortable in Animal House than City Hall, he became the favourite of Canadian conservatives.  The more we "lefties" sounded the alarm, the more popular he was.

From Jim Flaherty to Tim Hudak, they couldn't wait to have their photo taken with this new iconic symbol of absurdity.  Stephen Harper touted him around the campaign trail, and the two are now BFFs.

However, they may have a problem.

It would appear that Torontonians have awakened to the fact that there is a reason why you don't elect someone like Rob Ford to run the largest city in Canada.  His foolishness was not an act.  He's really a fool.

According to Royson James in the Star:
His political honeymoon long over, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has lost the public’s confidence. And now, he’s about to lose council’s as well.  The Ford revolution may be aborted before it takes root.

Torontonians are not impressed with Ford’s confrontational style, his lone-wolf approach to leadership and his threats to gut city services after guaranteeing during the election that he’d cut the “gravy” and not cut a single service.
His poll numbers are slipping fast, and in the middle of a provincial election, where Toronto is key, will this hurt Tim Hudak?  Memories of Mike Harris's slash and burn policies, and broken promises, are already proving to be a hindrance. 

And Hudak has been playing the stupid card with his "chain gang" musings and attacks on "foreigners".

If you've been following the Republican debates, you would have to think that they have finally hit bottom.  Cheers when contender Rick Perry stated with pride, the number of people he sent to death, and refrains of "let him die", when a scenario was presented to Ron Paul of a young man in a coma with no health insurance.

Has Canada's new conservative movement finally hit bottom with Ford?

I'd like to think so, but I'm not so sure.  There is now an arrogance in the ignorance that is driving this movement.  They could never handle bliss.  They're just too damned angry. An anger fuelled by the New Right.
"A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep."  Saul Bellow (Canadian-born writer and winner of both the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes) 

Friday, September 16, 2011

First We Take New Jersey ... Then On-tar-i-o! Tim Hudak's New Theme Song?

Martin Regg Cohn had an excellent column in the Star on Monday: Hudak’s taking Ontarians for a ride.

In it he questions the logistics of the Ontario Conservative's Changebook Platform. I perused that and it reminded me of another questionable platform. That of Mike Harris's Common Sense Revolution.

For Ontarians with short memories or those not biting their nails to the quick and developing a nervous tremor at the mention of Mike Harris, maybe it's time for a little history lesson.

I don't need to tell you the damage that Harris did to this province, so will instead lay the foundation for the 1995 manifesto, that made no more sense, than the 2011 redux.

So grab a coffee and pull up a chair.

The 'Long' and the Short of it

One of the engineers of Ontario's so-called Common Sense Revolution, was Tom Long, former president of the Ontario Conservative party.  Long had worked on the campaign of Ronald Reagan and returned to his home and native land, to practice his recently acquired neoconservative skills.

His first big campaign was that of Kim Campbell.  If you're asking yourself Kim who (?), she took over the party leadership of the federal PCs, after Brian Mulroney stepped down, and led them to their disastrous showing in 1993, when they were reduced to two seats and lost official party status. (Soon to be gobbled up by the Reform-Alliance)

With the help of several Tory staffers, including John Baird, who was then working for the Campbell government, Long created several personal attacks on Jean Chrétien, including one making fun of his face (the result of Bell's Palsy), that turned the nation off.

Undaunted, Long then turned his attention to Ontario, while Baird went to work as a lobbyist.

Meanwhile Back in New Jersey

Then governor of New Jersey, Jim Florio, was reeling from a report, revealing that his state contained  five of the ten poorest cities in the United States, while also the home to some of the country's wealthiest citizens.

Access to education was considered to be one of the stumbling blocks for the poor, prompting a Supreme Court judgement, demanding that Florio raise billions in revenue to turn this around.

So he raised the income tax rate on the wealthiest and all hell broke loose.

His future Republican opponent, Christine Todd Whitman, helped to create Republicans for Responsible Government, organizing mass protests against this "Tax and Spend" Democrat.  One of their slogans.  How original.

Whitman, a former classmate of neocon guru, Steve Forbes (he handpicked her to run as Governor), then challenged Florio, running on a platform of "Common Sense".

Meanwhile Back in Ontario

Whitman's platform was drafted by Republican strategist, Mike Murphy, a friend of Tom Long's.  With wounds licked clean from the Campbell trouncing, he visited Murphy to discuss a new strategy for the next provincial election.

Soon after, the National Citizens Coalition, created Ontarians for Responsible Government, a carbon copy of Whitman's 'advocacy for the rich' group.  While Campbell's defeat was devastating for Long, the NCC were actually rejoicing.  They had spent $50,000 on the successful campaign of a newly minted Reform Party MP, who they knew would work for corporate interests.

His name:  Stephen Joseph Harper.

So while OFRG poured $560,000 into attack ads on NDP Premier Bob Rae, the "Whiz Kids" (including Tony Clement and Guy Giorno), also known as the "cut and paste" crew, copied Whitman's platform, which was highlighted by a promised 30% reduction in income tax rates.

In the 1996 Fall edition of Canadian Dimension, there was a piece by Jason Ziedenberg, entitled First, we'll take New Jersey: The real roots of common sense.  In it he says: 
In November, 1993, Tom Long, the former president of the Ontario Tories and manager of the last federal PC's campaign, went down to New Jersey to find out if the first shots in America's Republican revolution could echo up here  ... After organizing Kim Campbell's disastrous campaign, Long needed a good idea to redeem his name as political king-maker. What Long found in New Jersey wasn't a good idea; but he did find the raison d'etre for Canadian neoconservatism in the 1990s.

That November, against the conventional wisdom of American pundits and pollsters, Republican gubernatorial candidate Christine Todd Whitman narrowly defeated Democratic Governor Jim Florio

Few knew that Long and Murphy's friendship would produce Ontario's "made in New Jersey" nightmare. (1)
Monkey See, Monkey Do

Los Angeles Times staff writer, Craig Turner, also wrote of the Ontario/Republican connection, instead comparing Harris to Newt Gingrich.
There is more at work here than the tendency of some Canadians to seek a dark cloud behind every silver lining.  The debate reflects the ongoing controversy over Ontario Premier Mike Harris' political and economic agenda, which reminds many of the approach of the U.S. Republicans, especially House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Harris was elected last June on promises to eliminate the province's burgeoning budget deficit and cut income tax rates by 30%. His enthusiastic budget-slashing--particularly when targeted on the poor, as in a 21.6% reduction in welfare grants--quickly earned him the nickname "Newt of the North," a sobriquet seized on by both admirers and detractors.

Harris' knife has cut a wide swath, leading to $5.88 billion in spending reductions over the next three years. As a result, tuition has risen 15% to 20% at most universities. Dozens of public hospitals are expected to close or consolidate. The cost of prescription medicine in the government-funded health care system is increasing for the elderly. Fares on the Toronto transit system are among the highest on the continent. More than 10,000 of the province's 81,000 government jobs are marked for elimination. (2)
What Turner may not have realized, was that Reform Party leader, Preston Manning, had played a role in Gingrich's 1994 victory.  The same Preston Manning who worked on Harris's campaign, even using their Ontario riding associations to give the budding Neocons a boost.

However, this "Newt of the North" was more of a "Whitman of the North", as he not only copied her platform, but also her actions.   Let's compare.

Back to Ziedenberg:
Whitman has spent the last three years cutting and fudging the state budget of $16 billion (US) to find the $1.2 billion needed to deliver her tax cut. She saved $26 million by robbing 30,000 senior citizens of their subsidized drug benefit plan. Twelve hundred of the state's 60,000 public sector workers were given their pink slips: Of the first 744 people to lose their jobs, 75 per cent of them were women, and 44 per cent were minorities. State aid to most school boards has been frozen. Trenton's Education Law Centre, a New Jersey public interest legal research group, is pressing the state courts to force Whitman to increase aid to poor schools by $400 million to fulfil commitments made by Gov. Florio. But under her tight-fisted, tax-cut induced budget priorities, no one knows where this money could come from. As well, tuition at New Jersey's public universities will rise by between 10 to 30 per cent.  (1)
Whitman introduced "Workfare", calling it "tough love", and holy cow if Harris didn't lap at her heels with his own tough love.

On May 31, 1995; Mike Harris told the Toronto Star "If I don't live up to anything that I have promised to do and committed to do, I will resign."  After promising not to reduce money for healthcare or reduce welfare benefits (page 7 of the Common Sense Revolution), he failed to keep his promise to step down.

Tim Hudak is now telling the Star pretty much the same thing, but how can we believe him?  He's learned from the master.

Canada's Neoconservatives like to think they're so clever, with their "new" ideas.  But there is nothing clever, nothing revolutionary, and nothing "new".  Every word and action comes from their American counterparts, who with the help of the corporate funded Tea Party and demonic Religious Right, have destroyed politics in the United States.
Ah you loved me as a loser, but now you're worried that I just might win

You know the way to stop me, but you don't have the discipline

How many nights I prayed for this, to let my work begin (
Leonard Cohen: First we Take Manhattan, Then We'll Take Berlin)
First I took New Jersey.  But not On-tar-i-o (Tim Hudak's Swan Song)

To fellow Leonard Cohen fans, enjoy the video.  It will help take your mind off the rash you're developing, symptom of the Fear of Harris Lapdog Syndrome.  You won't get the song out of your head, but at least the itching will subside.


1. First, we'll take New Jersey: The real roots of common sense, By Jason Ziedenberg, The Canadian Dimension, Sept/Oct 1996

2. CANADA : Ontario Gets a Tax Break, By Craig Turner, The Los Angeles Times, May 11, 1996