Canada’s Shabby Treatment Of Its Veterans

Let me be frank here. Saying you “support the troops” is not the same as actually supporting the troops. Sorry, but wearing a red tie to work or putting a bumper sticker on your car is not “support”. You know what is supportive? Criticizing this ridiculous government for its treatment of veterans.

If anyone cares enough to look into the issue, there are countless ways that the Harper Government™ is treating the country’s veterans like garbage. Here are some examples.

Canada has a Veteran’s Charter, which was overhauled in 2011. You would think that overhauling something would, you know, make it better. But it didn’t. Under the new Charter, severely disabled veterans will have their benefits cut off at 65. For many severely disabled veterans, this all but ensures their living in poverty. The Veterans Ombudsman, Guy Parent, also says that the new lump-sum payments that replaced pensions in the new Charter are inadequate. And compensation for pain and suffering is somehow less than what Canadian courts award for personal injury. Figure that one out. If I lost a leg in a car accident, I would receive more compensation in court than a soldier who lost a leg from a land-mine in Afghanistan would receive from the government.

Plus there’s all of the cuts. Nine Veterans Affairs offices are to be closed by February, and 25% of Veterans Affairs workforce are planned to be cut by 2015. More services are being moved online, which makes perfect sense for the 90-year-old veterans that stormed Juno Beach. What this means is that veterans can call Service Canada and talk to employees who have no particular knowledge about veterans’ programs. Or they can travel as far as 1,100 kilometres to the nearest remaining Veteran Affairs office.

Now, the cuts are of course defended because of the decreasing number of WWII and Korean veterans. But there are still 680,000 veterans (plus current military) in Canada that did not serve in WWII. Many veterans need one-on-one service, not over-the-phone bureaucracy. And if so many veterans are against the closures and protesting against it, shouldn’t that tell us something?

Then there’s the government’s attempt to scale back military pensions. Then there’s the critic of the Veteran’s Charter who had his personal information leaked by Veteran’s Affairs. Then there’s the plan to honour Afghanistan veterans that was scrapped. Then there’s the veterans who are booted from the military just before pension eligibility. Then there’s the fact that only 28% of money budgeted for the Last Post Fund (funding for funerals of impoverished veterans) actually gets spent. This followed the revelation that the fund rejected 67% of requests that it received. (Fun fact: Canada provides funerals for convicts that can’t afford it, but veterans have to rely on this fund.) Then there’s the smear campaigns against veterans who dare to criticize the Conservative Party.

But perhaps the most egregious example of the Conservative Party’s neglect is its flat-out rejection of the Canadian government’s long-standing promise to care for wounded soldiers. This is a promise that Prime Minister Robert Borden made in 1917, just before the Battle of Vimy Ridge. He stated:

You can go into this action feeling assured of this, and as the head of the government I give you this assurance: That you need not fear that the government and the country will fail to show just appreciation of your service to the country and Empire in what you are about to do and what you have already done.

The government and the country will consider it their first duty to see that a proper appreciation of your effort and of your courage is brought to the notice of people at home that no man, whether he goes back or whether he remains in Flanders, will have cause to reproach the government for having broken faith with the men who won and the men who died.

But Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party argue that this no longer applies. The government, in other words, is no longer bound to care for soldiers wounded in combat.

The Conservatives are so cemented in this morally bankrupt position that they tried to have a class-action lawsuit from veterans of the war in Afghanistan thrown out of court. This lawsuit claims that the government has a duty to care for veterans. When throwing out the lawsuit failed, the government instead launched an appeal. They argue that this promise to care for veterans should not bound the current government. 

I’m sorry, but if the government sends you to war, they cannot then decide to abandon you. There is a moral and social obligation. And whether or not the Conservatives are legally right is not at all the point. The point is that they don’t much care for treating veterans with dignity and respect.

It just doesn’t make sense. For a government that wasted so much money trying to commemorate the War of 1812, why does it dismiss the actual people involved in war? Why try to make Canadians care about a two-hundred-year-old war while not caring about Canadians in war? I know that this Conservative government has its priorities mixed up, but that’s taking it to a whole new level.

I am the furthest thing from a war supporter. But if your government put you into combat, that same government has a moral duty to take care of you when your body or mind gets injured. Unfortunately, 400 Canadian veterans die in poverty every year. Our government loves photo-ops and cheap talk. But the way it actually treats veterans in this country is an absolute travesty. Something a lot of “supporters” fail to admit.

the maids

travel hard

The UN requires its staff to have a certain level of security in their homes. They won’t let you live somewhere in Harare if it doesn’t have a gate, electric fence, guard, and so on. So, partly because of this and partly because our dollar just goes farther, I live in a pretty nice place. It is a house of four people, and so long as one is okay with sharing the space with others, it is a good arrangement.

When it came time to make an offer on the monthly rent (everything is negotiable), I offered a number a bit lower than the asking price. I also said that I would not require the services of the maid, as I am able to cook and clean for myself just fine. I was ready to accept the place no matter what; I did not really need the monthly rent to be…

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Government Shutdown

In Canada, Parliament shutting down is now the norm. And why shouldn’t it be? In this majority government, there is no real discussion of ideas anyway. So the Prime Minister just removes any appearance of debate and shuts the place down. But this is certainly not as bad as America’s shutdown, as government services in Canada – national parks, Employment Insurance, scientific research, and taxpayer-funded partisan advertisements for economic programs that no longer exist – still function normally.

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Oh, and regular Nickelback visits.

But the shutdown in America is a different, more scary animal. It will cost the economy billions of dollars and it is resulting in a pretty major headache. But at least it’s for a good reason. Errrrr, maybe not.

The whole shutdown is due to an inability of Republicans (read: small, vocal, insane minority of Republicans) to accept the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly known as Obamacare. The ACA, which passed the House, the Senate, and was signed into law by President Obama, is now the law of the land. It was debated, discussed, and voted on. Obama made massive concessions to Republicans in order to get it passed, and many Democrats voted against it because of that. As a result, the ACA is a watered-down version of healthcare reform. But, still, it is better than the existing healthcare system.

But the major point here being this: the bill went through the democratic process, and it is now law. Healthcare reform was one of the major issues in the 2008 election, which saw Obama cruise to victory, and the ACA was also one of the major issues in the 2012 election, where the populace again gave Obama an easy win.

Never mind that the ACA went through the democratic process. No. The Tea-Party wing of the GOP is so obsessed with overturning the ACA that they forced a shutdown of the United States government.

And talk about picking your battles. This is the first shutdown in 17 years, and it is because the government is trying to give people healthcare benefits. If that doesn’t make sense to you, it’s because it shouldn’t. Sure, there have been illegal wars and government-sanctioned torture programs, but let’s actually get mad because fewer people will go bankrupt due to healthcare costs. I mean, wow.

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The Tea Party claims to be super patriotic, but you really have to question their love of country. They couldn’t get their way in any legitimate or democratic means. So they are now holding the economy hostage in order to overturn a bill that has gone through the democratic process, and will provide more people who need it with healthcare. They want Obama to “negotiate”, but all they want is for their illegitimate demands to be met.

The GOP has no control over this faction, and it has now descended deep into absurdity and insanity. Every day is a new exercise in crazy, and everyone is dumber for having experienced it.

I trust that Obama will not give in to the Tea Party’s demands. He is not about to abandon healthcare reform just because a small group of weirdos have found a way to get weirder. And here’s the good news: people actually get it, and are blaming the GOP for this mess. Some polls suggest that Republican support is evaporating.

This pleases me, but not because I think the Democrats are doing a wonderful job and are full of bright ideas. Hopefully this can be a turning point for the GOP, and they can find a way to separate from the Tea Party. If the GOP returns to some normalcy, so too will the Democrats and so too will the country as a whole. But currently, a small, vocal, radical, and uninformed minority are driving the conversation, making us all worse off because of it.

9 Reasons Why The Mayor Of Reykjavík Is A Total Boss

Meet Jón Gnarr, mayor of Iceland’s biggest city.

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While politics brings out the cynic in all of us, Gnarr is a refreshing dose of real. Here’s why.

1. Before politics, Gnarr was a comedian, actor and a bass player in a punk band called “Runny Nose”.

1That is Gnarr on the right. Presumably, this is him as a comedian and not as the punk rocker.

2. He overcame learning disabilities.

As a kid, Gnarr spent time in a children’s psychiatry ward. He was misdiagnosed with severe mental retardation, and then accurately diagnosed with dyslexia, certain learning difficulties and ADHD.

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And as we can see, there is absolutely nothing wrong with him.

At age 11, Gnarr refused to learn anymore, as he thought that school served no purpose to his future as a circus clown or pirate (seriously). And at 16, he quit school for good. But he overcame all of this to have a very successful career.

(Yes, this is Gnarr.)

3. In 2009, he founded the Best Party as a joke. And won.

Because all political parties were secretly corrupt, The Best Party promised to be openly corrupt. Members of the Best Party include a who’s who of Iceland’s punk rock scene, promising “more time for punk and less politics”. This is their campaign video.

In his acceptance speech, Gnarr said, “No one has to be afraid of the Best Party because it is the best party. If it wasn’t, it would be called the Worst Party or the Bad Party”. Makes sense to me.

4. Free towels.

The Best Party’s campaign promises included free towels in all swimming pools, a new Disneyland, a drug-free Parliament by 2020 and a polar bear for the Reykjavík Zoo.

polar-bear-learns-walkAnd who wouldn’t want that?

5. He might be a Jedi.

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Which is confusing, considering he also sent out a Christmas message as Darth Vader.

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6. He ruled out a coalition government with any party that has not seen all five seasons of “The Wire”.

detective-lester-freamon-the-wire-with-mayor-of-reykjavic-jon-gnarrHe really likes that show.

7. He is a hands-on leader.

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8. He dresses in drag for the Gay Pride parade.

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9. He knows what he’s talking about.

Despite entering politics as a joke, Gnarr’s opinions are highly respected. A poll found that Reykjavík citizens ranked Gnarr as the country’s “most honourable politician,” some 10 percentage points higher than the prime minister.

gnarr-jumpingGnarr protested the Chinese government’s treatment of human rights activist Liu Xiaobo; he is a major supporter of LGBQT rights; he wants Iceland to be less reliant on the global capitalism that collapsed the economy in 2008 (and take those responsible to court); he wants a more direct democracy; and, he strongly advocates for complete equality of the sexes.

Jón Gnarr, we salute you.

You Don’t Deserve Your Money

Okay, maybe that’s a bit strong. You deserve some of your money. But we need to get over the idea that we deserve everything we have and that it’s all a product of our hard work and ingenuity.

The notion does have some validity of course. In White America, hard work is typically rewarded with wealth because almost all possible opportunities are bestowed upon this demographic. This isn’t, however, the case for everyone. Whether we like to admit it or not, barriers exist for most people. The notion that a single black mother in Detroit has the same opportunity as an upper middle class white man is just not true. Hard work and intellect are not rewarded equally for those two people.

But that’s not really what this post is about.

Taxes have become an increasingly contentious issue, especially in light of growing libertarian movements. And some people actually contend that taxes are akin to stealing. I earned my $100,000 salary, so the government taking 30% is nothing more than theft.

Okay. Well, what if I told you that you didn’t earn $100,000? That, instead, you “earned” about 10% of that, and the rest you owe to government, to society and to people who lived before you? Most wealthy individuals brush this off, as they have come to believe that they deserve their special place in society (which this interesting study proves via a rigged game of Monopoly).

But the truth of the matter is that someone like Bill Gates owes much of his wealth to government (for inventing the Internet), his high school (for providing him with pretty exclusive access to the use of a computer), John Vincent Atanasoff (for inventing the first digital computer), Douglas Englebart (for inventing the mouse), government again (for protecting copyrights), government again (for providing peace and security), and so on. To that end, Warren Buffet is famously quote as saying:

I personally think that society is responsible for a very significant percentage of what I’ve earned. If you stick me down in the middle of Bangladesh or Peru or someplace, you find out how much this talent is going to produce in the wrong kind of soil… I work in a market system that happens to reward what I do very well – disproportionately well.

The Nobel Prize-winning economist Herbert Simon studied this, and found that “social capital” is responsible for about 90% of what a person earns in wealthy societies. On moral grounds, Simon said that we should really be taxing at 90%.

Of course, for policy purposes, we need to keep in mind a tax rate that still encourages people to work hard and take risks. But that is most certainly a tax rate higher than we have now, and it is most definitely higher than the absurd calls for tax rates near or under 10%.

But the point is simply this: you don’t deserve all of your money. Statistically, you deserve about 10%. The rest has come by sheer luck and also by (taxpayer-funded) government investments, including roads, clean water, a police force, copyright enforcement, subsidies, regulations, etc. All of this makes possible the vast wealth that people now acquire in our society. Giving some of that money back is not only a smart long-term investment, but it wasn’t really that person’s to begin with.