Shona Holmes: The Face of Healthcare Propaganda?

30 07 2009

Healthcare reform has quickly become the summer’s most controversial American political topic. Following President Obama’s July 22nd speech, advocates and opposition of public healthcare have shifted efforts into high-gear. The Republican flag-bearer as shown above is a Canadian named Shona Holmes. In recently produced commercials for Patients United Now (funded by the Republican Party) and in various television interviews, Shona tells a harrowing tale of being diagnosed with a brain tumour, but due to Canada’s government run healthcare system was going to have to wait 6 months before seeing a specialist, and instead traveled to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona for treatment. In her words “if I’d relied on my government for healthcare, I’d be dead.”

But like infamous Joe “The Plumber”, there are a few discrepancies in Shona’s story. First of all, the life threatening brain tumour spoken of isn’t entirely accurate; according to the Mayo Clinic’s website, Shona received successful treatment for a Rathke’s cleft cyst (RCC). RCC’s can cause dizziness and potentially blindness, but ultimately is a benign cyst, and not cancer, nor life-threatening. Secondly, Shona suggests that she was able to receive the surgery immediately upon returning to the Mayo Clinic, when in fact the Mayo Clinic itself states that she underwent “weeks of tests and then got ready for the surgery.”

As a Canadian, what’s most disappointing about this story is how she misrepresents the Canadian healthcare system and general public opinion of Canadians. She states that Canadians are “ignorant” to the perils of our government run system and are too proud to admit its faults. Considering the voting of Tommy Douglas, the forefather of our national system, as the “Greatest Canadian”, she is right in saying we as a country are proud of our healthcare.

Certainly Canadians have been known to complain about some associated waiting times for treatment, just as I know some Americans who have experienced the same trials receiving care. Additionally, I do sympathize with Mrs. Holmes, and anyone faced with long wait times to receive diagnosis, tests or treatment, and I can only imagine the fear associated with the prospect of losing one’s eyesight. But Shona Holmes and other critics of the Canadian government run system fail to acknowledge its benefits. Universal healthcare is just that, universal. Government run healthcare doesn’t cater to those with the most money, or the best insurance policy, but instead seeks to treat everyone, with those in greatest need of medical care receiving priority.

I’m not suggesting that the Canadian system is best for the United States, but neither is President Obama. Considering that there are an estimated 46 million Americans without health insurance, and also considering that Shona Holmes allegedly spent 97 thousand dollars for her American treatment, it’s terribly saddening that there still are so many people fighting against reform in the United States when everyday more and more Americans can’t afford healthcare.

For a Canadian with a trumped up, albeit unfortunate story to be hired and paraded out to lie and sell propaganda to the American public isn’t necessarily surprising, that’s the nature of politics, but it is disappointing.

I also can’t help but believe that Mrs. Holmes will be grateful the next time she requires Canadian medical care and the last words she hears are “Take care, and have a good day!”, rather than “You can expect the bill in the mail.”


On an unrelated note, Shona Holmes has an interesting day-job when she’s not traveling the United States berating Canadian healthcare.


Senator Inhofe: Oil and Gas Don’t Pollute

29 07 2009

Wow…I don’t even know what to say about this. Senator Inhofe, of Oklahoma, actually says not only that oil and gas don’t contribute to climate change, but that they don’t pollute at all. That is one of the most absurd things I’ve ever heard.

Well senator, I guess that gives major oil companys the go ahead to dump their waste water in your backyard? Have you possibly tried to leave your car running in the garage with the door closed? Can you tell me that would have no ill effect on your livelihood? Maybe I can stop by and dump my oil motor oil in your garden? I certainly hope you just fumbled the words and didn’t actually mean what you said.

Greenpeace: Don’t Buy a Hewlett Packard

29 07 2009
From: Treehugger, 2009

From: Treehugger, 2009

Greenpeace was at work this morning with its usual public displays of environmental justice. This time, the culprit is HP. The Environmental Organization climbed onto the computer company’s roof and painted ‘Hazardous Products’ in enormous letters covering about 11 500 square feet. Greenpeace is pretty upset that the company has backtracked on its environmental policies by postponing their phase out of PVC plastics (Polyvinyl Chloride – the base of this plastic is  carcinogenic and explosive) and BFRs (Brominated Flame Retardants –  chemical flame retardants that are sometimes toxic and have a resistance to degredation in the environment). While some might say that these materials are necessary in the production of computers, that simply isn’t true, and is proved by the fact that Apple Inc., Dell, Lenovo, and Acer have all produced computers without these materials. For more information on what computers to buy, you can get some help from Greenpeace’s Guide to Green Electronics. When making your next purchase, you should also consider the recycling programs available.

I would like to emphasize though, that HP has stated it will be releasing a laptop entirely free of these chemicals this september, and plans to have all of its computer PVC/BFR free by 2011. Green peace is simply upset because HP originally scheduled to phase these toxins out of their products earlier.

So, will painting words on HP’s roof make them act in the name of the environment? I seriously doubt it. But, thats probably not what Greenpeace is going for. The point is publicity. How many people will respond to this message and either shoot an angry email to HP or simply make their opinion known with their wallet next time they purchase a computer? Who knows, all I can say for now though is when shopping for a new computer, don’t just lo0ok into the performance and fancy styles you can get, have a look at the environmental impact of that machine. It’s far larger than you think.

Sarah Palin Doesn’t Understand Cap-and-Trade

27 07 2009
Sarah Palin wrote an Op-Ed piece for the Washington Post on July 14th this year. It is full of BS and truth stretching, as well as a good old fashioned lack of concrete information. Allow me to retort:

There is no shortage of threats to our economy. America’s unemployment rate recently hit its highest mark in more than 25 years and is expected to continue climbing. Worries are widespread that even when the economy finally rebounds, the recovery won’t bring jobs. Our nation’s debt is unsustainable, and the federal government’s reach into the private sector is unprecedented.

Unfortunately, many in the national media would rather focus on the personality-driven political gossip of the day than on the gravity of these challenges. So, at risk of disappointing the chattering class, let me make clear what is foremost on my mind and where my focus will be:

I am deeply concerned about President Obama’s cap-and-trade energy plan, and I believe it is an enormous threat to our economy. It would undermine our recovery over the short term and would inflict permanent damage.

Ok Sarah, you say this plan will undermine the economic recovery in the short term. Here’s some news for you, the plan is not to take affect until 2012, if the United States is still in recession over two years from now, I think we have some bigger issues to worry about.

American prosperity has always been driven by the steady supply of abundant, affordable energy.

Yes, this is true, but is it all encompasing and defining? To put the matter close to home, Alaska’s average retail price for electricity in April 2009 was 14.76 cents/kWh. That one of the highest prices in the United States. The cost of electricity is generally between 10 and 15 pence/kWh in England. That translates to between 16.48 and 24.73 cents/kWh in American dollars. Would you say that England is not prosperous?

Particularly in Alaska, we understand the inherent link between energy and prosperity, energy and opportunity, and energy and security. Consequently, many of us in this huge, energy-rich state recognize that the president’s cap-and-trade energy tax would adversely affect every aspect of the U.S. economy.

Every aspect? Thats pretty broad. I bet it would lead to less pollution? Is that an adverse affect Sarah?

There is no denying that as the world becomes more industrialized, we need to reform our energy policy and become less dependent on foreign energy sources. But the answer doesn’t lie in making energy scarcer and more expensive! Those who understand the issue know we can meet our energy needs and environmental challenges without destroying America’s economy.

All energy on earth comes from the sun in some way or another. The scarcity lies in fossil fuels, which takes millions of years to develop. Sun and wind happen naturally every day of the year. Until the sun implodes, I don’t think you can call that a scarce resource.

Job losses are so certain under this new cap-and-tax plan that it includes a provision accommodating newly unemployed workers from the resulting dried-up energy sector, to the tune of $4.2 billion over eight years. So much for creating jobs.

Take a trip down to Neon, Kentucky and look at how people are living after the coal industry left the area. The lifetime of fossil fuel industries is finite and will eventually leave people without jobs. The lifetime of a renewable energy sector is infinite, therefore, in the long run, there are far more permanent jobs. Oh ya, its cap-and-trade Sarah, not cap-and-tax, you made  a typo there.

In addition to immediately increasing unemployment in the energy sector, even more American jobs will be threatened by the rising cost of doing business under the cap-and-tax plan. For example, the cost of farming will certainly increase, driving down farm incomes while driving up grocery prices. The costs of manufacturing, warehousing and transportation will also increase.

For the second time, 2012 is not immediate. And for the second time, its cap-and-trade. Poor farming practices are already subsidized by the government because we demand cheap terrible food. If subsidies were granted to the poor rather than the farmers, higher food costs would be so big an issue. Buying vegetables from your local stand sure is cheaper than buying them from the grocery store.

The ironic beauty in this plan? Soon, even the most ardent liberal will understand supply-side economics.

The Americans hit hardest will be those already struggling to make ends meet. As the president eloquently puts it, their electricity bills will “necessarily skyrocket.” So much for not raising taxes on anyone making less than $250,000 a year.

Even Warren Buffett, an ardent Obama supporter, admitted that under the cap-and-tax scheme, “poor people are going to pay a lot more for electricity.”

This might be a valid point. Though it has been disputed and stated that the poorest families will actually benefit from cap-and-trade. Additionally, rising costs will force an increase in conservation efforts. And if energy costs too much to purchase, part of the cap-costs that corporations pay could go to financing solar panels for the rooves of those who can’t afford to pay for energy. I don’t think this is in the plan though, so Sarah, maybe you could use your influence for something productive like this?

We must move in a new direction. We are ripe for economic growth and energy independence if we responsibly tap the resources that God created right underfoot on American soil. Just as important, we have more desire and ability to protect the environment than any foreign nation from which we purchase energy today.

Umm…the plan IS to move in a new direction….not the same old direction that you’re proposing.

In Alaska, we are progressing on the largest private-sector energy project in history. Our 3,000-mile natural gas pipeline will transport hundreds of trillions of cubic feet of our clean natural gas to hungry markets across America. We can safely drill for U.S. oil offshore and in a tiny, 2,000-acre corner of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge if ever given the go-ahead by Washington bureaucrats.

Oh those darned Washingotn bureaucrats, trying to protect what little natural environment is left in the world! How dare they take away our black gold! Sarah, there is a reason that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is protected! Once you start drilling in one protected environment, you’ve set the precedent that allows drilling to occur in every wildlife refuge in the country. And who’s to stop you from ploughing through the whole thing? Not to mention the environmental impacts that an oil drilling operation would have on the wider surrounding environment. Take a look at what Texaco did to the Amazon in Ecuador.

Of course, Alaska is not the sole source of American energy. Many states have abundant coal, whose technology is continuously making it into a cleaner energy source. Westerners literally sit on mountains of oil and gas, and every state can consider the possibility of nuclear energy.

Please see my post on the issues surrounding the myth of ‘clean coal’

We have an important choice to make. Do we want to control our energy supply and its environmental impact? Or, do we want to outsource it to China, Russia and Saudi Arabia? Make no mistake: President Obama’s plan will result in the latter.

This is my only gripe with Obama’s plan and I think Sarah Palin might be semi-correct on this one point. However, pretty much everything we consume comes from outside of the continent already anyways. There are bigger problems that pertain to our North American lifestyle than those relating to where our electricity comes from. We continuously greed for the fastest and cheapest of everything, no matter what the external costs to society and the environment. While I could see this cap-and-trade system resulting in the export of even more jobs to foreign countries, I don’t think it is the fault of the plan so much as it is the fault of the North American people as a whole. Make a choice with your wallet and buy what little goods are still made within the continent and we will see those jobs comes back. Only consumers can change the market. Sarah can agree with that.

For so many reasons, we can’t afford to kill responsible domestic energy production or clobber every American consumer with higher prices.

The renewable energy sector is domestic energy production. Buying oil from the middle east is not.

Can America produce more of its own energy through strategic investments that protect the environment, revive our economy and secure our nation?

Please, oh please explain to me how mining for more coal and drilling for more oil is protecting the environment?

Yes, we can. Just not with Barack Obama’s energy cap-and-tax plan.

Wow. That was difficult. To be clear though, I’m not even much of a supporter of the plan proposed by Obama. So many concessions have already been made, so many loopholes, and so many freebies given to big polluters, that the bill has already failed to do what it was meant to do before even beeing enacted. For the most part, the bill is a greenwash effort so that the United States can say they are doing something about climate change. Sarah Palin though, does not have the answers. She’s not remotely close.


Look to France for Action on Environmental Policy

23 07 2009

From the Globe and Mail, by Emmanuel Georges-Picot:

From: RES, 2009

From: RES, 2009

“France’s parliament passed a sweeping law Thursday overhauling environmental standards and setting tough emissions targets, sending a signal to other major polluting nations ahead of global climate talks.

Legislators in both houses of French parliament approved the measure by a comfortable margin, with the majority conservatives and opposition Socialists supporting it. Green Party lawmakers and the Communists opposed it, saying it doesn’t go far enough.

The law says France should reduce its carbon emissions fourfold by 2050 and increase renewable energy sources to 23 per cent of total energy production, about double current levels.

It will affect everything from toll booths to drafty windows. It sets targets for energy efficiency in new and renovated homes, for greener agriculture and waste management. It favours new high-speed trains and river traffic over road construction. It puts in place a system to monitor worker health and pollution.

The law stemmed from months of negotiations among environmental activists, farmers, industry officials and bureaucrats in 2007 to work out what President Nicolas Sarkozy called an environmental “New Deal” for France.

The talks were part of Mr. Sarkozy’s bid to catch France up to its greener neighbours and set an example to other nations.

The law was passed amid worldwide haggling over a pact to replace the Kyoto Protocol on reducing global warming. Before major UN talks in Copenhagen in December, the European Union is pushing for ambitious emissions targets. Any pact will hinge on the positions of major polluters the United States, China and India, which did not sign on to Kyoto.

France’s Green Party said the law was a gift to “big industrial lobbies,” noting loopholes added for the nuclear energy industry. France is more reliant than any other country on nuclear plants, which emit only limited greenhouse gases but which environmental activists say are dangerous and wasteful.

The law is only a first step in France’s environmental push, giving it broad outlines, and legislators will take up more detailed measures in the coming months.

The law does not include a “carbon tax” that government advisers proposed this week that would hike the price of gasoline and natural gas to encourage consumers to use cleaner energy forms.”

Why is it that North Americans seem unable to pass successful laws in support of the environment? The only downfall in France’s case, the loopholes for the nuclear industry.

The Apple Tree Market – North Toronto

23 07 2009
From: Canadian Home and Country, 2009

From: Canadian Home and Country, 2009

It’s about time I posted something a little bit more local and little bit more uplifting. I bring you, the Apple Tree Market at Eglinton Park in Midtown Toronto. If you’re like me, you want to support local and organic foods. And if you’re like me, you question the large corporations who claim to offer organics. At the Apple Tree though, there are no questions, just local farmers, bringing their delicious delights to us city folk. Here you can chat to the people who actually produce the food…you know, the ones who work in the field for long hours trying to keep afloat of a increasingly corporate food world. You can take the nickels and dimes out of your pocket and place your money directly into the hands of those who grow the food. I must say, it is a wonderful feeling to have this opportunity available in the heart (almost) of the city.

The market takes place Thursdays from 3pm to 7pm. And if you can’t make it during this time, Culinarium, a local food store on Mount Pleasant Road carries products from most of the Apple Tree vendors every day of the week.

The eWaste Nightmare – Ghana, China, Vietnam, the List Goes On…

21 07 2009
From: Flickr, 2009

From: Flickr, 2009

Ever wondered what happens to that old computer that you so responsibly do away with? Well, its highly likely that you should be holding some major companies accountable for their misdeeds and misinformation about computer disposal. Contrary to what you are told, electronic waste is often not recycled locally or in an environmentally responsible manner.

From: Flickr, 2009

From: Flickr, 2009

Recently, a group of graduate students from the University of British Columbia travelled to Ghana to investigate the world of electronic waste. What they found, was more than disconcerting. On the outskirts of Ghana’s largest city sits Agbogbloshie, a wasteland of the first world’s electronic goods. Here also lies the Korle Lagoon, one of the most polluted bodies of water on earth, filled with old computers and their contaminants. It is reported that hundreds of millions of tons of eWaste end up here every year.

Many of the local boys work within this dumping ground, scrounging for scraps of metal by burning the plastic away from the body of the computer. There is no method of protection from the fumes either, they breath burning plastic every day.

How did things end up this way? A few years ago, Ghanaians welcomed truckloads of second hand computers, donations to help them bridge the technology gap. It didn’t take long though for corporations to see the loophole here though. More and more truckloads – boatloads – of used computers were shipped here. Western companies found that they could label their garbage computers as ‘donations’ and send the non-working computers to Ghana to dispose of them.

Now here is another risk that affects us in the west. Hard drives from these computers are never truly erased. Thus, our personal information is essentially up for sale at extremely cheap prices at Ghanaian markets. One purchased hard drive exposed credit card information, another wedding photos, a third a $22 million dollar government contract from the United States.

When the university group tries to track the disposal from a British Columbia recycler, they are informed by an employee that:

“What they literally do is dump it into a blast furnace and it burns it all up; and all they get out of it is a bunch of ash and some of the precious metal. Everything else gets consumed, burnt. And that’s an actual fact.”

From: Flickr, 2009

From: Flickr, 2009

After taking note of the serial number on the shipping container that contains computer waste, they track it to Hong Kong. Certainly not local. It turns out that the souther Chinese city of Guiyu has been built entirely around the eWaste trade. Miles and miles of computer monitors, hardware, other electronics line the streets. Guiyu is a dirty secret of the trade. Behind closed doors, women burn cicuit boards to find traces of gold, all the while breathing the lead solder fumes.

What is one of the largest reasons that eWaste trade flourishes in China? They ship so many containers of goods to North America that would all normall come back empty. It’s just easy to load them up with our crap and exploit their own workers to make a profit. Our overconsumption of Chinese goods coupled with their lack of humanitarianism equals one very polluted world of electronic waste.  And where do you go if regulations are too restrictive in China? Down to Vietnam.

In India, barrels of acid used to strip circuit boards are dumped into the sewer and products are burned in the open air despite Indian laws against this practice. Workers wear no protective masks or gloves. The owner of one of these scrap yards says, “If your country keeps sending us the material, our business will be good.”

There is some shred of hope though. Occassionally, you may stumble upon an honest-to-goodness electronic recycler. Do I know of any? Not at all. It would be best to do some research in your area to find one. Oh, and make sure that hard drive is destroyed before tossing it away.

Treehugger article and UBC videos: 

PBS video:

Basel Action Network: