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The Nonagenarian’s Notebook

The Nonagenarian’s Notebook

Why is the United States always fighting a war somewhere?

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Why is the United States always fighting a war somewhere? Could it be because war is profitable? Harper’s magazine, in its June issue, reports on a panel of former soldiers that it convened at the U.S. Military Academy at Westpoint, New York. They were all veterans of wars waged by the U.S. over the past 30 years, mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan, or stationed in some of the nearly 800 military bases the U.S. maintains in more than 70 countries and territories around the world. These veterans were asked to explain why their country has been engaged in so many armed conflicts, and why, in none of them since World War II, has the outcome resulted in a decisive victory. And this despite the U.S. having the world’s best-trained and best-equipped armed forces. The war in Afghanistan has now dragged on for 17 years, under Presidents George Bush, Bill Clinton,…

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Why is Canada far behind other countries in switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources?

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It is depressingly ironic that, while many other countries are steadily switching from fossil fuels to clean and renewable sources of energy, Canada’s federal and provincial governments squabble over building yet another pipeline to British Columbia—one that, with the existing Trans-Mountain pipeline, would nearly triple the delivery capacity from 300,000 barrels of oil a day to 890,000. And the planned new Kinder Morgan pipeline would carry the thickest and dirtiest oil of all: bitumen. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau blithely claims that this massive increase in the extraction of oil from the tar sands is not incompatible with saving the environment from global warming. He proudly points to his government’s carbon pricing policy as evidence of a commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He projects emissions will fall by 90 megatonnes by 2022, conveniently not mentioning that this reduction, even if achieved, will still be inadequate. It will fall far below…

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What’s behind the Canadian pension crisis?

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Most Canadians today are not financially prepared for retirement. According to recent polls, over two-thirds of us (68 percent) don’t have a retirement plan, 30 percent have paltry or no savings, and 62 percent end up retiring earlier than they expected or wanted. The Broadbent Institute, in a recent study, found that half of Canadian couples between 55 and 64 have no employer-provided pensions. Fewer than 20 percent of middle-income families have saved enough to adequately supplement the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS). “The vast majority of Canadians without a private pension have totally inadequate retirement savings,” says the Institute’s executive director, Rick Smith. “We have a retirement crisis that requires urgent and immediate government action.” This action would ideally involve a substantial increase in the Canada Pension Plan. At present, the CPP pays a maximum of $12,780 a year, but many retirees don’t qualify for…

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The Capitalist God’s Ten Commandments

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The first version of this satiric parody was written nearly two decades ago by Brian Arden, while he was a member of the board of the Manitoba office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. 2018 revisions and updates by Ed Finn. 1. Thou shalt honour Me as your one true God and have faith in my religion of neoliberalism, globalization, free trade, and private ownership. 2. Thou shalt accept the impoverishment of the many and the enrichment of the few, for in my religion avarice is to be valued over social and economic equity, and competition over co-operation. 3. Thou shalt not oppose the decline of democracy. I will permit you the illusion of democracy. You may still vote for and elect parties that purport to be different, but since they now all bow down to Me, it matters not which forms the government. 4. Thy governments shalt provide…

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Communication is complicated

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“But far more numerous was the herd of such Who think too little, and who talk too much.” –John Dryden. During the early 1960s, I was assistant editor of The Newfoundland Examiner, a weekly tabloid published in St. John’s. It was a journal launched to provide progressive news and views that were not likely to be found in the province’s conservative media. Our sole reporter was Malcolm (“Mac”) Maclaren, who had earlier emigrated to Newfoundland from England. He and I were boarders in a lodge owned by Mrs. Penny (not her real name), and she became a good friend as well as a good host. One evening, however, her friendship with Mac was sorely tested. She had a dentist’s appointment at 8 o’clock the next morning, but her alarm clock was broken, so she was worried about getting there on time. “Oh, that’s all right, Mrs. Penny,” Mac assured her.…

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Scorpions, icebergs and cancer cells

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Feedback from readers of my earlier essay “Who benefits from government policies?” was mostly positive, but a few thought I had taken a view of the future so dire that it implied capitulation—that further “resistance is futile.” Let me clarify my thinking, at least to the extent of assuring readers that I have not lost hope. Although I see unchecked capitalism as inimical to life on Earth—as the deadliest enemy of all that is fair, progressive and wholesome—I believe it can be vanquished and replaced. Eventually. And before its demolition of the environment passes the point of no return. I am reserving my rationale for optimism until the very end of this perhaps overly protracted blog. I think it will be helpful first to consider how and why capitalism has become the world’s predominant economic system. This does not necessitate a tedious academic treatise, but can best be done by…

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Who benefits from government policies? Usually just the rich and powerful.

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“When it can be said in any country in the world, “My poor are happy; neither ignorance nor stress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want; the taxes are not oppressive . . . When these things can be said, then may that country boast of its constitution and its government.” –Thomas Paine. Lucius Cassius, a consul whom the people of ancient Rome revered as a wise and honourable judge, was often required to adjudicate disputes involving the laws or policies of the Senate. Time and again, his first question was “Cui bono?” which can be translated as “Who benefits?” or “To whose benefit?” His reasoning was that no political action could be explained unless it was first ascertained who gained from it. The even more illustrious Roman orator and statesman Cicero often quoted this…

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Fatal truck crashes are a serious problem in Canada, fuelled by government inaction

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The reason there were fewer wrecks in the old horse-and-buggy days is because the driver didn’t have to depend entirely on his own intelligence. – Anonymous. For the past several years, on a part-time basis, I’ve been assisting the non-profit Canadian Owner-Operators’ Cooperative (COOC) in its efforts to lower its trucking members’ operating costs. These mainly include the costs of insurance, fuel, tires, and maintenance. But a much more crucial campaign the COOC has undertaken has been to improve driving safety and decrease the involvement of heavy trucks in highway crashes. Nearly 2,000 Canadians are killed each year and another 10,000 seriously injured in collisions involving a heavy truck (one with a gross vehicle weight greater than 12,000 pounds). Even on a per-distance-travelled basis, large trucks have a fatality rate double the rate for all other vehicles. The tendency, unfortunately, is for most people to blame the truck drivers, rather…

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Will all Canadians enjoy prescription drug coverage soon?

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The federal New Democratic Party has called for Canada’s public health care plan to be expanded to cover the cost of pharmaceutical drugs. If the ruling Liberal government doesn’t provide this extended coverage, the NDP promises to do so if it wins the next election in 2019. While I applaud this NDP initiative, I have to add that it’s jolly well about time. The party should have made the expansion of medicare a top priority a long time ago. And not just to cover pharmacare, but to encompass dental, vision, and other vital health needs as well. Apart from the United States, that’s what all other major countries did when they first inaugurated public health care for their citizens. When Tommy Douglas pioneered public health care in Saskatchewan 56 years ago, he limited it to the services of physicians and hospitals. He would have preferred to make the coverage all-inclusive,…

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Do governments neglect social spending for corporate subsidies?

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Governments exist to protect the rights of minorities. The rich need no protection. — Wendell Phillips. When it comes to listing countries on the basis of the social services they provide to their citizens compared to the subsidies they heap on their corporations, Canada doesn’t fare well. A recent study from the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy reports that our federal government and the four largest provinces spend $29 billion a year subsidizing business firms. The study’s author, John Lester, says that half of these huge subsidies fail to improve economic performance and therefore constitute a colossal waste of government revenue. “And because nearly one-third of all such subsidies just go generally to support specific industries or regions rather than to enhance economic development,” he added, “the proportion of questionable spending rises to 60% of the total.” Of the $29 billion in government handouts that corporations receive annually,…

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Don’t dread old age

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Old age need not be dreaded if it is the culmination of a well-spent life

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What makes a country happy?

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The happiest countries in the world are not necessarily the richest, but those with truly democratic governments

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Hiding wealth in tax havens deprives Canadian governments of massive amounts of tax revenue

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Letting Canadians get away with tax evasion hurts us all

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It’s time to end NAFTA

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A renegotiated NAFTA that satisfies Trump would benefit the U.S. — but only its abrogation would benefit most Canadians.

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Moving toward true universal health care

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Canada’s public health care system could soon be expanded to cover prescription drugs.

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The decline of collectivity

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Victory of individualism over collectivism a disastrous defeat for society as a whole.

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Going vegan at 91

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Conversion to a plant-based diet is the key to better health — for people and the planet.

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Acknowledging the labour movement on Canada’s 150th

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As we acclaim Canada’s builders after 150 years, the vital role of trade unions remains overlooked.

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Comprehensive health care still lacking in Canada

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Jimmy Kimmel deplores “pay-or-die” health care system in U.S., but coverage in Canada lacking, too.

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