Not Just Here?

This my cousin Bill who lives, farms, cooks, does business and writes in the area around Burlington, Vermont. As with many of us, he is opinionated and not slow to make a comment when he feels it appropriate. Here’s his latest:










What Are We Thinking?

I’m struggling to reconcile the unfolding Jay Peak scandal and the “we did a great job” remarks of our elected administration officials. According to the SEC, the developers misused $200M.

Politicians are concerned about injuring Vermont “business reputation,” but reputation is founded on integrity – which is not about controlling information, but about acting on it to ensure integrity.
If proven, this would be the single largest fraud in Vermont’s 225-year history, involving 700 immigrants from 74 countries. The State’s potential liability approximates 5% of our annual $5.5B budget and could, when all the criminal and civil actions are tallied levy a $200+M liability on Vermont’s 325,000 taxpayers. A lot is at stake.

Two vital tenets of democracy are transparency and accountability of elected officials. Press efforts to rightfully obtain public records through FOIA requests are being met with delays and price tags designed to stonewall disclosure. This isn’t transparency. The open talk about destroying executive branch emails should send shivers down the spines of Vermonters. Precisely because politicians are elected to conduct the people’s business, the people have a right to know why, how, and when. Civic shrugs, administrative backpedaling, and legislative ignorance combine to form a Petri dish for corruption, and corruption is much harder to root out than it is to prevent.

Some of this alleged fraud occurred under Secretary Pat Moulton’s watch. For her to now blame the U.S. Immigration Service for not responding to her request that investors’ requests “…be met favorably when these investors apply for their green cards,” seems both arrogant and naïve.

The EB-5 program, with all its ethical ambiguities, is a matter of law. Efforts by Vermont politicians to lower the blowback on themselves by demanding the Feds circumvent the program’s legal process in order to relieve defrauded and angry investors is reprehensible.

The investors are not the only victims. Unpaid contractors await payment of $4.5 million and the citizens of Newport have a collection of cellar holes as the centerpiece of their new downtown.

I applaud the press corps for doing its job despite the administration’s urging to back off. Every Vermonter should want the press corps to succeed so we understand what happened and why. This is not punitive. It’s responsible democracy. And that democracy – beleaguered as it might be at the moment – is ours.

Here is part of what he is on about in the comment:


We can deduce that a passel of immigrants were admitted on an investor status and the money that they plowed in to a certain development hasn’t worked out as advertised. This has the same kind of stink all over it, including stalled FOI requests and deleted e-mails, that characterizes so much of our province’s dealings. Oh, the horror! Ours is not the only jurisdiction where such shenanigans are the centrepiece of an administration that frequently touts its ongoing efforts at openness and transparency, as well as insisting that it is the group best apt to bring sound fiscal policy to its constituents. Is it any wonder that our society is falling apart, not only at the seams, but in the unravelling of the whole cloth.

None So Blind As He Who Will Not See

3 monkeys 3


A couple of interesting reads at Common Dreams and DeSmog Canada stirred up the meninges this morning. The first outlines a choice that confronts shareholders at meetings of Exxon-Mobile and Chevron this coming Wednesday with regard to fossil fuels and climate disruption, the second outlines the somewhat disturbing message from Brad Wall’s recent Throne Speech in Saskatchewan as he undertakes another majority mandate.

It is sad that, following the application of major scientific resources to the question, including those of governments and fossil fuel companies, there are still legislators who can characterize climate change as “some misguided dogma that has no basis in reality.” The oil giants’ own documentation aligns closely with the reports of the IPCC, and given that these are the people who own so many governments, including, it would seem, that of Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C., who, even with the introduction of a possible carbon tax in Alberta, continue to push for the construction of major fossil fuel infrastructure, meaning that they intend to get the stuff out of the ground and sell it off as quickly as they can (or as their proponents in private business can).

The fossil fuel industry continues to justify its existence on the basis of the economic activity it generates without mentioning that, for all the dollars it has spent on financing sales of trucks, RVs, ATVs, McMansions, and extended holidays in remote and romantic locations, it has taken out more than it has left. Despite the bleatings about the heavy burden of taxation imposed on fossil fuels, the corporations involved, as well as their executive suites, have made out like bandits, and the least subscribed beneficiary has been the public weal as a succession of federal and provincial régimes has deferred taxes and subsidized both directly and indirectly, those corporations who make such large withdrawals from the common resource. This doesn’t count the costs of remediation of the devastated landscapes of the Athabaska region, oil installations in Saskatchewan, Northeast B.C., along with coal mines hither and thither across the Canadian landscape and the potential for offshore spills in Atlantic Canada. The only reason this economic activity hasn’t been replaced with reconstruction and refinement of public infrastructure and the transition to sustainable energy is the set of close links between business and our various governments, leaving said governments to protect the privileged economic and social position of Bay Street and its equivalents in Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary and elsewhere. It has become abundantly clear that those in the executive suite have known for decades how harmful their activities are and have pursued those activities in spite of the message that they are literally destroying the common living space in a headlong rush to amass wealth before the whole show goes up in smoke. They have essentially taken out a mortgage on the future of humanity (and much of the rest of life on Earth) without having the least hope of paying it back.


The rest of us bear much of the responsibility for allowing this to happen. Just as the rise of idiot candidates for high office in many jurisdictions shows a lack of education and the fortitude to call out the insanity that fuels the inane behaviour of the political and mercantile classes, we, as a society, have in large part drunk the Kool-Ade, taken out loans even when we know that we likely won’t be able to pay them back, accumulated material wealth and the trappings of wealth without consideration for the consequences. Perhaps we can excuse ourselves with the idea that everyone around us is doing it: it’s difficult to live frugally in a society that prides itself on freewheeling because there’s always more where that came from, where the cultural norms are modelled around a high level of consumption. Like Cassandra in Greek mythology, telling unpleasant truths brings either disbelief or an unwillingness to act on the consequences of our actions. Repeated warnings about the dire consequences of our inaction on our climate (along with social and economic inequality, water shortages, myriad sources of pollution, toxic diet, nuclear weapons, epidemic outbreaks, genetic roulette, and the headlong rush into technologies whose outcomes are utterly unknown) have met by ordinary citizens (taxpayers, consumers, and the like) with the same contempt, deflection and denial that comes from our elected and mercantile representatives, as well as a sizeable portion of our spiritual advisers.

Over the last four or five decades, we have built an economic system that is willing to pretend that growth can continue uninterrupted ad infinitum and that money can create money. This is particularly evident in the need for people to save money to buffer their economic well-being through times of uncertainty and to ensure that there will be some sort of retirement available when work is no longer feasible for desirable. Both savings and pensions rely on investment, especially where the generation of serious gains is most achievable. The result is that many pension funds and investment vehicles are loaded up with, you guessed it, fossil fuel stocks, as well as arms manufacturers, tobacco, pharmaceuticals and investments in the financial institutions that promote overconsumption, excessive borrowing, occult financial dealings and tax avoidance, and the suborning of the electoral process. The idea that someone might act in the interest of society as a whole is a quaint anachronism, it appears, while it is accepted that doing anything for profit is the new norm, even if that profit derives from cost analysis that excludes “externalities”, including the possibility that the downstream effects of the activity in question might be deleterious to multitudes and span decades. Our work at reprogramming the Universe holds grave risks where it might better suit our purposes to sit back and contemplate the ramifications before charging ahead with all the genetics and  AI that might have disastrous results for life on the planet. The outlook is pretty bleak for those who take the time to connect the dots, and a lot of the bleakness stems from the willful ignorance of those who have taken the whole of humanity down the path toward an early exit from the rolls of the living.





(Don’t remember if I’ve used this before, but it seems apocalyptically appropriate)


Bennett Redux


Evidently, we’re not done praising Mr. Bennett. A memorial gathering was held this past weekend in Kelowna and much praise was heaped on the now-deceased Premier. I know this from hearing some tasty clips on CBC Radio’s On The Island, clips from a couple of my favourite people, Pattison and Spector, commenting that Bennett seemed tough, but that it was tough love and that he always had the interests of the people of BC at heart, in addition to which, he had a knack for telling the truth. Yes, yes he did care about keeping the people of BC in their place as contributors to the Pattison economy, and yes, yes he did tell the truth, exactly as dictated by folks like Pattison and Spector (Spector who worked tirelessly for the likes of Billy Bennett and Zalm, friend to Campbell and to that stirling example of moral rectitude, Brian Mulroney). These people are so generous that they would save us from the sin of greed by being taking on all the greed they can and showing us the true path of poverty and obedience. So now can we call it a day and let Bennett stay dead?

We’re Number Nine!


Actually, the is supposed to be good news, but, as is often the case, the joy or pain is related to how one views the subject.

This came up when scanning the Globe and Mail this morning, where Canada has been listed as the ninth least corrupt country in the world. I guess this is reasonable because we don’t have to deal with the level of garbage that happens in much of Africa, say, or the “Stans” (notwithstanding characterizations of Canada as Canuckistan), but with the B.C Rail deal, Site C, the Health Ministry Firings, Quick Wins, LNG, the Massey Tunnel replacement and everything else that just doesn’t smell all that clean, it would seem that someone missed something in this little corner of Canuckistan. Allison Redford showed us that our neighbours aren’t ready to let us steal a march on them, Kathleen Wynne is facing some sharp questions about her practices and those of her predecessors, and, certainly since the days of the Big O and the ’76 Olympics, there are few who would attribute lily-whiteness to Québec politics. For brevity’s sake, we need go no further, without even getting started with the Federal governments of many ages, in wondering if, since we’re so wonderful, how the hell does anyone get anything meaningful done anywhere else without a level of bribery and corruption that boggles the mind and bends the definition.

It’s a sad perversion of the idea of beauty being in the eye of the beholder and conjures up thoughts of the press saying anything it thinks would be cute, of ourselves being smug, and of a wilful ignorance on a grand scale.



Neither, Nor














Angela Merkel










A most frequent occurrence, there’s a lot of telling material for your reading pleasure at Salt Spring News, the latest instalment dealing in considerable depth with recent moves involving a developing alliance between Russia and Turkey, doing something of an end-around to counter NATO moves in the Ukraine and Syria. Mr. Scott has run this most excellent aggregator site for more than a decade, providing not only the material for rumination, but a short rumination of his own from time to time. He has often featured pieces from Pepe Escobar, a pundit who is the diametric opposite of what we see in our closer-to-home press, that is to say, a fine researcher and a scribe who looks under all the rocks before informing his readers of all aspects of the subject of his enquiries. His latest piece can be accessed at SSN (link above) or here, so now we can get to the point of the mainstream of tonight’s symposium (h/t Tom Lehrer, An Evening Wasted With, c. 1959).)


Pictured above are some of the prima ballerinas in the current dance macabre working through Eastern Europe and the Middle East, with Erdo and Vlad finessing some slick stuff on Merkie and Obie of late. For those of us who don’t like the meddling of NATO in the affairs of the Ukraine or supporting sworn enemies to unseat Assad in Syria, there is this tendency to gloat at the undoing of the narrative that the West is promoting in this region, as well as others around the globe. There is also a tendency to forget what sort of people Vlad and Erdo have shown themselves to be through the repressive actions against minorities in their own countries as well as the sequestration of wealth and suppression of human and general social rights at home and abroad. The sad part is that, for the ordinary citizen who believes that we should all have a say in the affairs of our land, there may be no viable choice from those extant, and there is a readjustment in thinking, one that takes us from an alignment with existing organizations to a sense of belonging to a broader human group of fluid and changing nature in which we provide our own leadership and delegate freely as long as those to whom we delegate work toward agreed objectives. When objectives are not met, or the effort goes astray, we withdraw our support and realign. Anyone who felt the upsurge of interest and energy attendant upon the “hope and change” campaign of 2008, who sensed the stark contrast between the mumblings of the Bush and the soaring oratory of Obama, it continues to be something of a bleeding sore to see that Obama has, for all intents and purposes, become Bush, other than the words. We saw this play out on a lesser scale a couple of weeks back when we saw the loyal opposition in Victoria sign on to a tax bill that even some of their members qualified as a sell-out. It was a no-brainer: the measure would pass with or without their vote, and instead of taking a stand against the bald giveaway of what should be common resources, the opposition became the same corruption by voting with the government. Weaver stood alone is asking the rhetorical WTF? and the sitting was over.

The difficulty lies in building community activity to counter this massed stupidity and betrayal, a process that seems to require a good deal of patience, but there remains the question of how much time do we have to be patient, given the pressing nature of the challenges we face.






We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Billionaires…


….’cause we got the government using the taxpayers’ coin to do the billionaires dirty work.

In a recent article on Znet, Gabriel Black describes a lawsuit being heard in California aimed at gutting protections for teachers and doing further damage to the state’s schools through further erosion of budgets:

On Monday, a trial began in Los Angeles County Superior Court that could eliminate teacher tenure in California and have national significance. It is part of a national campaign, led by the Obama administration and supported by both Democrats and Republicans, to victimize teachers for the crisis in public education.

Backed by a host of billionaires and politically connected lawyers, the lawsuit’s complaint cynically seeks to cloak a right-wing assault on teachers and public education under the mantle of securing the civil rights of students. Beneath the lawsuit’s pretense of concern for students is a well-planned initiative to dramatically reduce education costs.

In California, a tenured teacher can be fired for a variety of reasons ranging from “unsatisfactory performance” to “dishonesty” and “unprofessional conduct.” However, a teacher has the right to contest his or her firing and be reviewed by a three-person committee consisting of two teachers and a judge.

Beatriz Vergara, et al. v. State of California, launched by Students Matter with the backing of corporate executive David Welch, challenges the three California State Statues that allow for this hearing process. It also targets a statute that gives teachers the right to tenure and another statute requiring that less-experienced teachers be fired first when budget cuts are imposed.

The complaint alleges that “the challenged statutes have a disproportionate adverse effect on minority and economically disadvantaged students.” The complaint argues that “ineffective” teachers are disproportionately stationed in the schools of these minority areas with low-income earners. These students, they claim, are denied their civil liberty of having equal protection to an education.

The basic demand of those behind the lawsuit is to make it easy to fire more-experienced, higher-paid teachers. Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) superintendent John Deasy, one of the first witnesses called, and an ardent supporter of the lawsuit, told the courtroom that firing was a drain on “human capital” and that it was “too expensive.” In the years leading up to the 2008 crash, the LAUSD successfully fired only between 3 and 6 teachers each year using the dismissal process. In the 2011-2012 year, the year Deasy took over, that number increased to a record 99 teachers.

Nowhere in the complaint is there any hint of the real causes behind the crisis of public education. In the past few years, California’s K-12 annual budget has been cut by about $18 billion. Thousands of schoolteachers have been laid off in California, and hundreds of thousands nation-wide. Throughout the country, teachers face classroom sizes of 50 or more students per teacher, with inadequate textbooks, supplies, and proper cooling and heating systems.

If this all sounds vaguely familiar, then you’ve been paying attention: ever since Gordon Campbell’s tax cutting’ posse moved into the Rockpile on Belleville, provincial revenues have been either curtailed or redirected toward those businesses friendly to the current régime. Recall that more than two billion dollars were immediately taken off the books in reduced business taxes and the parade has continued with monster savings all over the store as whole departments went to the private sector, public servants were shown the door and where it essentially became not only risky, but illegal for those toiling in the public interest to bargain for a reasonable share of the wealth in the best place on Earth.

When the Hole In The Rockpile Gang got a smackdown from the courts at the end of last month, it was clear that they wouldn’t be accepting the judge’s scathing rebuke and making amends for their sins if they could at least drag out the proceedings until they can make an immediate election issue out of it (they may yet do that), or somehow fiddle the process, as they appear to have done in the BC Rail Circus, so that they get the result they want. The BCTF pays its own lawyers: that money comes out of the pockets of he teachers themselves. The government’s layers are paid by thee and me, sorta like I get to pay for the ammunition so I can shoot myself in the foot, a process that rankles more than a little.

Fassbender and the rest of the Deputy Dawgs can’t let this go unchallenged. The cupboard probably is legitimately pretty bare after they’ve reduced oil and gas revenues (thanks Norm) and put on the Five-Ring Circus, complete with shadow-tolled highway, the Millennium Line, Delta Port, SFPR (sounds like something out of ancient Rome), nonsensical IPP contracts (unless you happen to be the IPP on the receiving end) and a couple bridges wherein there is a whiff of cozy relationships between government and winning bidders and little things like secret contracts (the list is not exhaustive, sadly). In truest Shock Doctrine style, they broke it, just hoping they couldn’t be called to account for their actions and inactions, so not only to they have to defend their dominance and nastiness, they have to ensure that no one can go back and scratch around to find out where the money really went, sorta like why we used to be able to afford stuff and somehow we can’t any longer.

Billionaire David Welch can go ahead and blow millions on his case: he gave the money to a foundation that will write him a tax receipt and he may just come out ahead, meaning that he would be using taxpayer money to sue the state, also using taxpayer money, to advance the cause of private education.

OK, I finally got smart and went around Znet’s organizational difficulties and found Black’s article. The end of the article outlines much of what is wrong with unions, and I would be quick to point out that the BCTF lies at the other end of the spectrum: they may not be perfect, but they have done a lot of heavy lifting on behalf of all the citizens of BC (Phil Hochstein notwithstanding) in a scenario where the well being of students aligns well with what the teachers’ union is championing.

This case will probably get settled with only seconds to spare before the world becomes uninhabitable.

Inappropriate Time and Motion



Another piece cropped on the front page (Web) of the Globe and Mail yesterday about how teachers should be paid for performance rather than on seniority: I guess it had been too long since the Globe had taken a shot at teachers and at the public school system. Much of this grousing stems from the lack of desire on the part of those most endowed by out current economic system to pay for the enlightenment that should be the outcome of a thorough education for all, rather than just those students whose parents can afford to send them to Upper Canada College or Jean Brébeuf. It can also be the eagle stirring her nest, so that her young ones don’t get no rest (h/t Maria Muldaur for a 1974 recording of an old spiritual), meaning that we can’t let those fat-cat teachers get too comfortable.

Back in the early part of the last century, Frederick Winslow Taylor engaged in studies of industrial production, using time and motion studies as a way to building efficiency into the process of industrial production and refining the idea of measurable outcomes. It has become frequent practice to try to subject schools to the same process, usually by those who represent industrial output and who would like to defund the school system, or at least minimize it and bend it into a factory for productive labour. There are some flaws in the idea, and it’s interesting that the best debunking of the idea came from none other than Peter Senge at a conference in Victoria a dozen or so years ago. Senge was a business consultant and author whose ideas about changing business models found some favour in the late Ninties and early Oughts, but in this address to senior district administrators and ministry personnel, he had some choice thoughts for the gathering.


He compared schools to industrial concerns in terms of both input and output. In many production facilities, there are strict controls over the material on which the process is based, and material that doesn’t meet spec doesn’t get into the chain of production. All else is rejected. This, of course, doesn’t work well in a system of universal education, in which society undertakes to educate everyone’s children as opposed to selecting only the brightest and the best, or the most compliant, or the strongest, fastest, most adept.

Along the chain of industrial production, an enterprise will control as many factors as possible in the run-up to output so as to minimize deviation from spec and guarantee consistency of product at the end of the process. This is difficult for schools, given that the level of parenting will vary considerably, the presence of constructive/destructive influences outside the school system will vary widely, and the school system has call on the clientèle for only part of the day. During the other part, students are bombarded with images and messages as an incitement to consume and often actively encouraged by influences in the wider community to refrain from any exercise for their intellect. Unless there is serious intervention by the family or another agency, it is easy for any real education to stop at the school room door (the converse can also be true, where the dead air can happen in the classroom and where the student avails himself of opportunities outside of class to engage his faculties and pursue constructive interests, a necessary phenomenon when curriculum and delivery are dumbed down and strictly controlled within the school system). Again, in the industrial framework, any unit that doesn’t measure up along the production chain is simply flushed out of the system and ceases to be part of the responsibility of the organization. This is more difficult in the case of schools where the utmost effort must be made to retain all students in some part of the educational framework, lest they become part of the remediation/incarceration network.

Measurement of outcomes is difficult for schools. In the immediate aftermath of  public schooling, there are measures of how quickly students enter the job market or post-secondary education (and, eventually, the job market), as well as success at exit exams. These exams measure only a very limited and often mischosen set of outcomes and in a way that often means little or nothing. In the current economic climate, employment statistics are likely not going to be very good because of a dearth of real employment, particularly the jobs worthy of a career and where an exiting student might perceive the ability to build a life on the work on offer.

In addition, there is a serious quandary (not in some minds, I’m sure) about who determines whether a teacher is successful, about which teachers would deserve to be rewarded with merit pay and which teachers should be working for reduced salary because of shortcomings. A great deal  of personal preference and the arbitrary would be difficult to avoid. Fairness and justice in the distribution of benefit doesn’t seem to be one of society’s strong points, and the same can be said for a lot of individuals who have risen to positions of authority for reasons other than simple and demonstrated competence.

Finally, there is the matter of pay. Teachers will generally have spent five or six years learning their craft at university at their own expense. They will then spend eight to twelve years climbing up the salary scale until they reach their maximum. I would say that, by all means, we should remove the “seniority” clause: pay teachers the top salary from Day One. Teachers who are not competent need to be flushed out of the system if they can’t, given the opportunity, develop a series of processes and strategies that will result in success as an educator. But let’s also do the same with doctors, dentists, lawyers, judges, politicians, nurses, burger flippers, insurance sales people and the rest of the folks who toil on behalf of the general population. Teachers should do more of their training in the actual schools and should be paid to do that work, much as we do with apprentices in the trades and should access real salaries as soon as they get a position following successful completion of their training.

It is unfortunate that society has become so much a reflection of its industrial/consumer underpinnings: as a society, we are becoming increasingly unfit to judge the appropriateness of our institutions and incapable of bring the change to the institutions (as well as the creation of new or repurposed institutions) that the same society needs to thrive in the future. In the process of rebuilding our processes of education, a good first step might be the reform of the press and the cheap-shot journalism that produces screeds  such as the article that set off this whole rant.




Our Dear Leader is off in Israel on a junket with dozens of people at taxpayers expense, off to once again swear undying allegiance to our favourite bullies. As a point of clarification, it bears stating that the part of Palestinian processes that involves suicide bombings and rocket barrages is wrong. However, the charade of Israel calling itself a victim as it continues to displace Palestinians, and the cynicism of holding the announcement of thousands of new settlement homes until after the departure of the American Secretary of State as well as the imbalance of military force in the region indicate that Israel is not, perhaps, the ideal state to hold up as a beacon of enlightenment and freedom as so often happens in the discourse of Harper, Baird and that lot. That Harper would offer the Palestinian Authority money to calm the waters speaks of either ignorance or goading as the gesture completely misses the point of a Palestinian state. It is likely, as is often seemingly the case, that the funds would be doled out by Israeli institutions, meaning that the bribe is also blackmail. If the Dear Leader wanted to be a real friend to the Israeli people, he might consider abandoning the blind loyalty to the current régime and support a viable peace process that would benefit both the Palestinians and the people of Israel.I seem to recall that a plan for such existed under the name Oslo Accords, but the process fell apart when Israel just kept on building settlements in land that was allocated to the Palestinians. That all happened twenty years ago, and the region looks no more peaceful now than it did in the run-up to the negotiations in Oslo.

CETA and the Home Gardener



Recent reports show that the European Union is considering legislation that would require all seeds for sale or trade to be of certified varieties only, with costs to certify being between $4 000 and $5 000 per variety. From my standpoint, this is another move to give corporate seedsmen, mostly owned by large chemical concerns, complete control over what gets planted and by whom. It fits right in with the philosophy of relegating environmental concerns to the background and letting wild fish stocks dwindle to the point where fish farms will control the seafood supply, and it fits in with the de facto privatization of water and power, as well as state policy around here that supports the fossil fuel incumbency. Should we be worried about what the EU is doing with seeds? Damn right, given that Canada, under the leadership of one Stephen Harper, has recently signed a free-trade treaty with the EU which would likely include provision for harmonization of agricultural policies of this nature. Measures of this nature would preclude organizations like Seeds of Diversity and the U.S. Seed Savers’ Exchange from doing what they have been doing to protect diversity in both production and gene plasm. It would likely pull the rug out from under small, independent seed houses, some of whom raise their own seed stock and many of whom rely on networks of small independent seed producers: none of these people would be able to afford the costs in both time and money to get their material homologated under the proposed regulations. Ho hum, just another turn of the CPC screw on the people whose interests the government of Canada is supposed to protect.