Sunday, August 23, 2015

The stock market and the Daily Bread Food Bank


"Feed their hopes, but give them only just enough to keep them from despair," Maxims and Reflections of Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540).

Wal-Mart stock dropped 3 percent after the company announced wage increases for their U.S. employees. An hourly salary of  $8.78 will increase to $10 sometime next year. No word if this largesse will be shared with Canadians.  Even if it does, it will not keep Wal-Mart employees from visiting the Daily Bread Food Bank.

It's ironic that certain Wal-Mart outlets contain drop boxes for the Food Bank. Ironic because it is Wal-Mart employees who are forced to use that service. Customers who  donate to those boxes are in effect subsidizing Wal-Mart starvation wages, and if the donated food was purchased at Wal-Mart, to  improving the company's profit margin.

All this inspired the revival a blog post of June 9, 2008: "Stock market promotes class warfare." Here it is:

Several years ago, the error-prone Canadian Imperial Bank of Canada (CIBC) negotiated a financial arrangement with the ill-fated Enron Corporation. "In order to extract itself from an Enron-related class-action suit, CIBC would concede a US$2.4-million settlement, the largest one-time charge ever taken by a Canadian bank, " according to The Financial Post of June 2006. CIBC maintained this in no way admitted any wrong-doing. (Do they enjoy giving away their money?)

This news was delivered to CIBC shareholders by Gerald McCaughey to whom had just been passed the CEO's mantle "from the singed fingertips of John Hunkin" who signed the Enron deal while enjoying a salary of $29.5-million (Report on Business, October 2006). To help re-coup some of this loss, McCaughey "took the axe to 950 managers, including 50 executives." This contribution to the unemployed garnered shareholder praise.

McCaughey's action threw 950 breadwinners on the job market, while Hunkin retired "with approximately $52 million in stock and securities" (The Globe and Mail, August 5, 2005).

On one side of the financial divide, we have the bank shareholders demanding even more bloodletting in order to enhance share value. On the other side, we have almost a thousand newly unemployed, one of whom may be you or your neighbour. In one house, we see a shareholder cheering while next door the family of a former banker worries about the mortgage and the cost of the children's education.

On the national scene, we see share value increasing as unemployment increases. It signals to employers greater competition among the unemployed for the jobs they offer. The temptation to take advantage of the situation is too great in the face of shareholder demands for greater profits. It means lower wages, fewer benefits, and worse working conditions for employees.

Internationally, we see large corporations moving offshore in order to realize lower costs and lower taxes. Again shareholders cheer as their own domestic economic base disintegrates.

Hedge fund investors speculate on the price of oil in the hope that tropical storms will strike the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico thus reducing oil availability. They cheer unrest in the Middle East. That too increases oil prices. [2015 note: Current low oil prices are due to Saudi Arabia politics, not economics.]

Much of the stock market is based on harm to a large segment of society for the benefit of the minority of investors who profit from injury to their fellow citizens.

As these scenarios multiply across our economy, we have the seeds of class warfare. The very nature of the stock market pits one element of society against the other.

"Modern societies are conflictual: class against class, interest against interest, men against women, workers against employers. In this, Marx was deeply right."  -- Michael Ignatieff, The Rights Revolution.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Canada first. No one in second place.


My parents came to Canada during the 1920s.  They were poor, no formal education, spoke no English, were Catholic and settled in rabidly Protestant Toronto. They became Canadian citizens as soon as law allowed. In their long lives, they never spoke of the glories of their Austrian homeland nor of how things were done differently and better over there. They did not bring European politics to Canada.

Little wonder I have no patience for partisan and nationalist arguments among later immigrants. Disputes in foreign lands must be left there.

Little wonder my patience ran out in 2010. The then Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty met with the Indian transport minister to discuss trade. Because of a grievance back in India, a group of Sikhs protested. "Unless they make amends quickly, the Liberals will definitely lose this community's votes," said Harbans Jandali, president of the Ontario Sikh  and Gurdwara Council.

I sent a letter to the Toronto Star arguing that foreign problems are better left off-shore and that Canadian politicians should not be held hostage to behaviour on the other side of the world. I sent a similar letter to Mr. Jandali. The newspaper did not publish, nor did Mr. Jandali reply.

This came to mind when I read a report in the Star of August 13, 2015 headlined, "Canadian Jews in Israel could help Harper."

My email to the Star, also unpublished:

It's disappointing if people holding Canadian citizenship but living permanently in foreign countries vote in Canadian elections in a way to further the interests of those countries in preference to those of Canada.

In the forthcoming election, some such Canadians living in Israel will vote for Stephen Harper because of his stand on Middle East affairs.

Disappointing because my vote on Canadian issues will be cancelled by a single-issue voter concerned more with off-shore matters than with our economy, health care, Aboriginal rights, research funding, the environment and so on.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Will the real Billy Bishop please stand up


Letter to the Toronto Star, August 1, 2015. Unpublished.

World War flying ace Billy Bishop may or may not be proud of the tunnel to the Toronto airport bearing his name (Billy would be proud, editorial, July 31).

More likely he would cringe at the thought there has long been an airport named after him in his home town of Owen Sound. Imagine a flight from Billy Bishop to Billy Bishop.

Yes, Bishop trained World War Two pilots at this site. But was there need to take the name of an existing facility? Toronto Island Airport makes more sense. The present name should be changed.

*   *   *
August 17, after-thought. The airport should have been named after Canada's most decorated soldier, Lt.-Col. William Barker. This Manitoba farm boy shot down 50 enemy aircraft during the First World War. He also received awards from France and Italy. There is always time to make a correction.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

More censorship at the Toronto Star


The issue here is the Toronto Star's apparent double-speak. The photograph that appears in the Star shows Justin Trudeau in a Pride Parade alongside a young women with her breasts exposed. The Star blurred out her nipples. Thus my unpublished letter of August 8, 2015. 

Re Topless photos with Trudeau cause Internet commotion, Aug. 7:

The Toronto Star promotes the Pride parade as a "family event." In other words, you recommend we take our children to see topless women in the flesh. Yet, when it comes to publishing photographs of this "family event," you indulge in censorship, as in this case. Can you explain this double-dealing scented with a whiff of hypocrisy?

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Olympics for Toronto? Let the people decide

Letter to the Toronto Star, published July 31, 2015.

Re 61% of Torontonians want the Olympics, July 27:
The only poll that counts is the vote of the people. Any Olympic bid by Toronto must begin with the people, all of them, not just 755 as in this poll.  A referendum may well show that citizens have higher priorities for the spending of billions of their tax dollars.
The bid itself costs millions of dollars. The City of Chicago spent $60 million in its unsuccessful bid for the 2016 Olympics. Colorado was awarded the 1976 Winter Olympics. Then the people were consulted, and they voted it down.

The history of bribery in mega-events is well known. All citizens of a free country deserve a voice with regard to unnecessary expenditures.


*   *   *

On August 8, Star columnist Royson James adopted his editor's promotion of the event. (Would a contrary opinion be allowed in that paper?)  James extols the Olympics in literary flights of fancy: "There is no greater test of a city's mettle: no more pressing and irrepressible mandate for success on a stage where the alternative is embarrassment; no more exhilarating gathering of the world's peoples."

On the other hand, James describes the opposition as "highbrow," those who "lack faith" and others "stricken with delusional self-loathing." And other forms of name-calling. Such are the flights of turgid prose. He cites the poll mentioned above as definitive. 

Mr. James' roster of miscreants must include Eric Reguly. By coincidence on the same day, the Globe and Mail's European Bureau Chief explained "why Olympic games remain money-suckling boondoggles."  Reguly tells why his home town does not need "a coming-out party," and that "winning them would be little more than an ego massage." Curious, these are two main reasons why the Toronto Star wants this event.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Canada Post, censorship or not?


In March 2014, Canada Post issued a public apology. It had delivered to residents of Happy Valley-Goose Bay flyers critical of the homosexual lifestyle. In a published letter to the Toronto Star, I asked if the corporation had become a censorship agency responsible for the content of what it delivers.

This month, the issue flared up again. The flyer in question was pro-life (anti-abortion to others) but found offensive by some. The postal union got into the act by claiming some letter carriers were upset about the flyers and have balked at delivering them. The union "supports our members who feel they have a legitimate concern that a corporation like Canada Post should work to preserve family values."  So now it's the the union that wants into the censorship business.

Common sense at last. A Canada Post spokesperson stated that the corporation is not responsible for the content of mail and is legally obligated to deliver all such material.