28 November 2013

Thou shalt not have an economy of exclusion and inequality

I am no fan of the Roman Catholic Church, nor can I avoid cringing at some of Pope Francis's views, particularly on women, but occasionally I do have to applaud the old boy. Such was the case with his recent apostolic exhortation when he criticized the world economic system, referring to unfettered capitalism as "a new tyranny"and proclaiming, "Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills." Amen to that, Francis.

His comments on markets, an obsession with our current government, deserve a quote: "As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world's problems or, for that matter, to any problems."

He begged his Lord for, "more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor." Reading these words, I immediately thought of a string of Catholic politicians in last year's U.S. presidential election who went on at length about God but who never manifested the slightest interest in the lives of the poor.

Can the Pope reach such people, I wonder. Maybe not. While he preaches his message of inclusion and equality, they will preach their message of exclusion and inequality, both preaching primarily to the converted. With the advent of Francis, the Church has seen a surge in attendance around the world except, apparently, in the United States. Nonetheless, with time, perhaps his good words will inspire the faithful even there.

26 November 2013

Parliament needs a science watchdog

Science has never been more important to the human race than it is today. We are faced with the two greatest threats in our history: catastrophic climate change combined with exhaustion of the Earth's resources. We must rely on science to lead us out of the crises we have created for ourselves, to both understand and to deal with the threats. And this means our leaders must be scientifically literate. Unfortunately, they are not.

 Our Minister of State for Science and Technology, Greg Rickford, has no background in science, which almost makes one wonder if this wasn't why he was appointed. In any case, he isn't alone in ignorance of his portfolio. Out of 308 MPs, except for health care workers only 13 have a science or engineering background. Out of the 74 per cent who have some post-secondary education, only 4.2 per cent have a background in science or engineering and 3.2 per cent have advanced degrees in medical fields. This is well below the general population where 21 per cent of university graduates have a background in science, math, computer science or engineering. Only one MP has a PhD in science and only one a PhD in engineering.

There are a variety of reasons why scientists don't run for public office, not the least of which is that politics is an uncomfortable place for people who value reason over partisanship, but the point is they aren't there and therefore neither is science.

In order to deal with this dangerous deficiency, NDP science critic Kennedy Stewart will introduce a private member's bill this week proposing the creation of a parliamentary science officer. The officer would assess the state of scientific evidence relevant to any proposal or bill before Parliament; answer requests from committees and individual members for unbiased scientific information; conduct independent analysis of federal science and technology policy; raise awareness of scientific issues across government and among Canadians; and encourage coordination between departments and agencies conducting scientific research. According to Stewart, the officer would be "a champion for science." And lord knows, Parliament needs one. Both the U.K. and U.S. governments have a science officer who provides scientific information and advice publicly to all members of their respective legislatures.

Paul Martin's government established a national science adviser, but Stephen Harper abolished it, replacing it with the Science, Technology and Innovation Council. The Council, however, laden as it is with industry executives, is committed primarily to monitoring how well science is being applied to the economy, focusing on "commercialization, entrepreneurship and management." It is of little use in maintaining a high level of science awareness generally or of providing advice on environmental degradation and resource depletion specifically. It will do little to reduce the science illiteracy rampant in Parliament.

At this moment in our history, a Parliamentary science officer is of even greater importance than a Parliamentary budget officer. We can only hope enough MPs of all parties will vote to scientifically enlighten their chamber and support Stewart's bill.

Does Canada's knee-jerk loyalty benefit Israel?

Right on cue, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attacked the new nuclear deal with Iran hardly before the ink was dry, calling it a "historic mistake," stating he was not bound by it, claiming the world had become a "more dangerous place," and reiterating his threat to use military action against Iran as he saw fit.

This belligerence was, also on cue, echoed by our federal government, with Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird expressing deep skepticism about the deal and declaring our sanctions against Iran, for what they're worth, will remain in full force.

One wonders if our knee-jerk support, regardless of the circumstances, really benefits Israel. After all, one of the most important services a good friend can offer is constructive criticism when you are doing something wrong, and Israel has done much wrong to the Palestinians. At one time, while never hiding our friendship with Israel, we also supported the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians. This allowed us to act as an honest broker in attempting to bring the two sides together.

Now we mindlessly support Israel's transgressions against both the Palestinians and international law, leaving us with no role to play but that of lap dog. We do not help Israel by rendering ourselves impotent in the effort to resolve the Palestine conflict, the greatest source of tension in the Middle East and the greatest barrier to Israel living at peace with its neighbours. Our government may think itself a good friend, but it is in fact a useless one.

25 November 2013

The Conservatives and the Republican disease

Being an inveterate reader, I frequently encounter something that is such a nice piece of writing it demands a second or third reading and occasionally even creates a pang of envy that I didn't write it myself— a "wish I'd said that" moment. Such was the case when I read Andrew Coynes' November 15th column in the National Post discussing Rob Ford and the state of the right in Canada today. The pertinent passage runs as follows:
And of all his enablers, the most culpable are the strategists, the ones who fashioned his image as the defender of the little guy, the suburban strivers, against the downtown elites, with their degrees and their symphonies—the ones who turned
a bundle of inchoate resentments into Ford Nation. Sound familiar? It is the same condescending populism, the same aggressively dumb, harshly divisive message that has become the playbook for the right generally in this country, in all its contempt for learning, its disdain for facts, its disrespect of convention and debasing of standards.
The "playbook for the right generally in this country" arrived, I believe, when the Mike Harris Conservatives in Ontario brought up advisers from the Republican ranks in the U.S. and then established its enemies list—welfare recipients, teachers and labour unionists among them.

It has now insinuated itself into the federal Conservatives under Stephen Harper, leader of a government that daily illustrates "its contempt for learning, its disdain for facts." Whether it's the nation's police chiefs on the gun registry, medical professionals on injection clinics, or climate scientists on global warming, their learning and their facts are rejected in favour of dogma.

Enlightened Republicans are beginning to tire of this noxious strain in their party. Will Canada's conservatives follow suit? Or will they allow it to erode the standards of Canadian conservatism as it has eroded the standards of American conservatism?

21 November 2013

Era of sense of entitlement reaches U of C

CEOs loading up on compensation and perks, even if their companies are floundering, has become a commonplace of our era. This sense of entitlement has similarly been observed among various politicians, including recently the Senate. Now it seems to have crept into the University of Calgary.

In a year when the university's operating and capital budgets were cut by $47-million, it is spending $8.1-million to renovate the offices of its top brass. And very nice renovations at that. Vice-president offices, for example, will be expanded to 20 per cent larger than the maximum stipulated by the U of C’s own design standards. The president's office, already almost the size of my apartment, will sport a 175 square foot ensuite washroom complete with closet space and a three-piece bath. The office complex will include a $150,000 staircase in order to allow executives to avoid a nearby public stairwell.

Because of the provincial cuts, the university will only be able to afford a third of the necessary upgrades to aging classrooms and is unable to reduce a deferred maintenance liability amounting to $400-million. But as long as the execs are not forced to mingle with the commoners as they trip gaily up their elegant staircase, all is not lost.

20 November 2013

Calgarians are happy campers

If you were looking for a living definition of the expression "happy campers," you might cast an eye on Calgary. According to an Ipsos Reid poll, almost ninety per cent of Calgarians believe their city has a good quality of life and is on the right track to become a better city; 95 per cent give it a positive rating for overall performance; 86 per cent say city government is open and accessible; and 85 per cent consider their neighbourhoods to be safe places.

Not bad. Particularly not bad considering that the city suffered a massive flood in mid year. Although, on second thought, that may have contributed to the high rating. Over 95 per cent of the survey respondents rated the city highly on overall handling of the crisis, evacuation procedures, communications and helping Calgarians recover. As a Calgarians living in one of the hardest hit flood zones, I heartily agree to all that.

And here's a point of some substance: a majority said they not only receive good value for their tax dollars but would accept a tax increase if services are maintained or expanded. Now there's a bunch of happy campers indeed.

19 November 2013

Harper outshames Ford

Embarrassing our country more than Toronto Mayor Rob Ford would seem to be an impossible task. Yet our prime minister has done just that. On November 12th, the federal government issued a formal statement that included the following remark:

“Canada applauds the decision by Prime Minister Abbott to introduce legislation to repeal Australia’s carbon tax. The Australian Prime Minister’s decision will be noticed around the world and sends an important message."

In other words, our government not only supports Australia's retreat from the fight against global warming, it encourages other nations to follow suit. As The Guardian put it, "Canada has dropped any remaining pretences of supporting global action on climate change." This at a time when Ottawa is falling short on its own promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and has no plan to get back on track.

But what is most offensive about this statement is its timing. In response to the massive destruction typhoon Haiyan did to his country, Philippines lead negotiator at the UN climate summit in Warsaw, Naderev Sano, whose own family suffered from the storm, pleaded tearfully to the world to end this "climate madness." Mr. Sano attributed the typhoon, the most powerful ever to make landfall, to climate change. He might be right or he might be wrong, but to issue this callous statement in the face of his country's tragedy is like slapping the man in the face.

We can overcome the Ford follies—just one buffoon behaving badly, after all, even if he is a high profile buffoon—but our shameful behaviour on the biggest threat facing humanity will scar our reputation for a long time. And if our government is successful in convincing other countries to ease off on the global warming struggle, much more than reputations will suffer.

18 November 2013

The elites display their conscience

The World Economic Forum (an elite organization in itself) recently released a study, The Outlook on the Global Agenda 2014, based on a survey of 1,592 leaders from academia, business, government, and the non-profit world. The elite group offered their opinion of the top 10 trends for 2014. Number two was "widening income disparities" about which the group concluded, "The difference between rich and poor is becoming more extreme, and as income inequality widens the wealth gap in major nations, education, health and social mobility are all threatened." The study recommended tackling poverty in an integrated way with long-term impact, emphasizing the problem of gender discrimination.

Number three on the group's list was another issue of paramount interest to working people: "persistent structural unemployment." They warned that unemployment is threatening the world's social fabric, declaring that young people in particular need to be productively employed. They were also concerned about "diminishing confidence in economic policies" (number six on the list), again focusing on young people. 

Number one on the list was, "rising societal tensions in the Middle East and North Africa." I was disappointed there wasn't more emphasis on the environment, however, "inaction on climate change" did at least make number five. The group stated, in possibly the biggest understatement of the study, "There is action, and it’s moving in the right direction, but it’s not moving fast enough." They did admit that, "Our changing climate is the most pressing challenge we face," while adding "but it’s also the most compelling opportunity we’ve ever had," something environmentalists have been saying all along.

The concern of this elite group about the two great problems of our time—inequality between rich and poor and climate change— is refreshing and encouraging.

The U.S. and Sweden—a tale of two incarceration rates

Having just watched the documentary The House I Live In about the U.S. drug war, or more precisely about the abject failure of the U.S. drug war, I was intrigued with an article I came across in The Guardian about Sweden's dwindling incarceration rate. The number of prison admissions has dropped so rapidly in the past two years, Sweden is closing four prisons and a remand centre.

The decline is attributed to a number of factors, including a strong focus on rehabilitation, more lenient sentences for drug offences and greater use of probation. Of course, Sweden also has a very low murder rate at 1.0 per year per 100,000 population, compared to the U.S. at 4.7 and Canada at 1.6.

Sweden's incarceration rate is 67 inmates per 100,000 population, ranking 180th in the world. Number one, of course, is the United States at 716, ten times as high. (Canada's rate is 114, ranking 133rd.)

The high U.S. prison population is due to more and longer prison sentences through such policies as mandatory minimum sentences, three-strike laws, and reduced use of parole and early release. But the biggest reason, as The House I Live In documents, is the war on drugs. A lost war. Americans have the world's highest use of cocaine (14 times that of Sweden) and drugs are cheaper, purer and more readily available today than ever. It seems that very many of those imprisoned men and women are rotting away for nothing, their families broken, their communities undermined, their country wasting valuable resources.

We are neither Sweden nor the U.S., we cannot simply imitate either, but if there is a lesson to be learned from these two stories, it is, as is so often the case, that we should tilt heavily toward Sweden.

16 November 2013

Sun News and sewer journalism

When Sun News hires the infamous Ford brothers to do a TV show, decent people cringe, but they shouldn't be surprised. Aping Fox News, as Sun Media are inclined to do, it is simply pandering to the lowest common denominator, and the Fords are masters at pleasing that crowd.

An argument can be made that even the benighted among us deserve a mass medium that appeals to their passions and prejudices. And certainly in a land where freedom of speech prevails, no one can question the right of media moguls to satisfy those tastes. The question is whether they have to debase journalism in the process.

No matter what demographic you are appealing to, you can try to raise the standard of discourse with knowledgeable and well-reasoned news and views, even if you have to present your content at a grade eight reading level. But that is the perspective from principle. From the perspective of profit regardless of principle, the Rupert Murdoch perspective, it is easier to make money by peddling trash—angry, fear-inducing, hate-filled trash. And thus is journalism dragged into the sewer.

15 November 2013

I'm waiting for an apology, Toronto

I admit to chuckling when Toronto first elected Rob Ford. While we here in Calgary, a city often accused by the uninformed of being a tad rednecked, chose the bright, well-educated, articulate Naheed Nenshi as mayor, Toronto chose the reddest of rednecks. I wouldn't say we were feeling superior, but there may have been a trace of smugness mixed in with the humour.

Well, it isn't funny any more. It's about more than Toronto now. When a country's premier city elects a foul-mouthed, alcoholic, crack-smoking friend of gangsters as mayor, the whole country looks bad.
And now Torontonians are rubbing it in. As ever more sordid revelations about this unsavoury boor come to light, his popularity with his fellow citizens actually increases. He now has, I understand, a 44 per cent approval rating.

This is too much, Toronto. If you want to make your city an international laughing stock, that's your business, but when you make all of us look like a nation of hosers, you've gone way too far. You owe every last Canadian outside your city boundaries a heartfelt apology.

I'm waiting.

14 November 2013

Good news and bad news about climate change from Stanford U

First the bad news, even if it's old news. Stanford University scientists report that not only is the Earth undergoing one of the largest climate changes since the dinosaurs disappeared, it is occurring 10 times faster than any other change in that period. Many species will have great difficulty making the behavioral, evolutionary or geographic adaptations necessary to survive that rate of change. Entire ecosystems will be greatly stressed. As will global civilization.

Well, you know all that, but Stanford also has some good news. Professor Jon Krosnick has released polling data revealing that a solid majority of Americans in every state now believe that global warming is real. Furthermore, they support government action to limit greenhouse gas emissions by industry and in particular by power plants. A majority in every state also supports a cap-and-trade system to limit emissions; tax breaks to encourage the production of solar, wind and water energy; and government regulations or tax breaks to require or encourage improvements in the energy efficiency of cars, appliances and buildings.

Agreement about global warming ranged from 75 per cent in Idaho to 88 per cent in Arizona, New Mexico and Massachusetts. Surprisingly, two very red states, Oklahoma and Texas, agreed 87 and 84 per cent respectively. With most Republicans in Congress denying the existence of climate change or opposing action to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the red states would seem to have very poor representation in Washington on climate change.

“To me," said Professor Krosnick, "the most striking finding that is new today was that we could not find a single state in the country where climate skepticism was in the majority.” President Obama has a very powerful mandate to deal aggressively with global warming, from the American people if
not from Congress. And that's good news for all of us.

12 November 2013

Neo-militarism shows up on Alberta license plates

The neo-militarism seeping out of Ottawa seems to be infecting Alberta. The province has announced it is unveiling a new license plate which will bear the “Support our Troops” slogan along with the symbolic yellow ribbon. The plates will complement the current veterans’ plates which bear a red poppy.

Offering two plates honouring soldiers is doubly excessive. There is, after all, no plate to honour other workers who sacrifice their lives in the service of their country—police, miners, forestry workers, firemen, agricultural workers ... the list is long. In 2012, Alberta construction workers suffered 42 fatalities, but no plates for them, even though they are literally building the future of our country, a rather more importance task than whatever our military has been doing in Afghanistan.

Soldiers volunteer for the job, hence
deserve no more respect than any other Canadian who gives up his or her life in the service of our country. A life is a life—all are equally precious. Elevating the armed forces to a higher plane is warrior worship—militarism pure and simple. It is a political statement and political statements do not belong on our license plates. As one wag put it, what's next, "support our pipelines"?

11 November 2013

Remember who? And for what?

Canada first observed Remembrance Day on November 11th, 1919, to  commemorate the armistice that had ended WWI one year earlier and to remember those in the military who had given their lives in the war.

The narrow focus on the military has become less legitimate—the majority of those who died in WWI were soldiers. In WWII, however, the great majority of the dead were civilians. Yet Remembrance Day still emphasizes the loss of soldiers. The red poppy should now, more than ever, symbolize also the civilian dead, the innocent victims of collateral damage, disease and starvation. Few, fortunately, have been Canadian but they nonetheless deserve a special place in our memories.

We might also commemorate the first victim of war—truth. We persist in perpetuating the lie that we owe our freedoms to the military. In fact Canadians' freedoms were won primarily by generations of diverse reformers who struggled to ensure that the lower classes had the same rights as the aristocrats and the wealthy, mostly by peaceful means but with occasional riot and revolution. Personally, I am grateful for their courage and sacrifice every day of the year, not only on one day.

Indeed, in which wars exactly have Canadians' freedoms been at stake? The Second World War? Maybe, but doubtful. Certainly not the First World War. On that occasion, we fought for the British Empire, defending the British and the French from imperial Germany while imperial Britain and imperial France occupied and exploited much of Africa and Asia. The freedom of Canadians was irrelevant.

So by all means, on November 11th let us remember the dead warriors but let us remember also the victims of warriors. Wear a poppy for all, but particularly for the innocent. And let us remember to be honest about our great follies.

08 November 2013

We really should pay attention to these guys

I know precious little about the World Wide Web other than that it serves me royally. Tim Berners-Lee, on the other hand, knows a lot about it. And he should—he invented it. He is a leading authority on the power and the vulnerabilities of the Internet, uniquely qualified to comment on Internet spying.

And he is now profoundly concerned about just that. He has made some very strong statements about the mischief the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and its British counterpart, GCHQ, have been up to, expressing particular outrage that they have weakened online security by cracking much of the encryption millions of people rely on to guard their Internet privacy. He has pointed out that breaking the encryption software plays into the hands of cyber criminals and hostile groups. "It is naïve to imagine," he said, "that if you introduce a weakness into a system you will be the only one to use it." In effect, he is suggesting the agencies are undermining the very security they are supposed to be protecting.

While British Prime Minister David Cameron calls for an investigation of The Guardian for publishing Edward Snowden's revelations, Berners-Lee declares, "It seems clear that The Guardian's reporting around the scale and scope of state surveillance has been in the public interest and has uncovered many important issues which now need a full and frank public debate." Indeed.

As for Snowden, Berners-Lee suggests that whistleblowers are the only practical guards against excess by the security agencies and called for an international system of protection for them.

Joining Berners-Lee in his criticism of the spymaster is another gentleman with exceptional web knowledge, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. Wales claims that the massive surveillance of global communications networks will cause serious damage to the American cloud computing industry. "If you are BMW, a car maker in Germany ... you probably are not that comfortable putting your data into the U.S. any more," he said. He also suggested that it will be harder to convince nations like China to respect basic freedoms and privacy. The Chinese, he said, will now have "every excuse to be as bad as they have been ... It's really embarrassing. It's an enormous problem, an enormous danger."

A lot of people have something to say about Snowden's revelations, but these two guys stand out. They know what they are talking about like few others and they have no bones to pick. We should pay close attention.

07 November 2013

We were hell on other species before we were even us

Homo sapiens has been driving other species into extinction for a very long time. We are familiar with more recent events on our own continent with the annihilation of species such as the passenger pigeon and, very nearly, the American bison. But it started much earlier than that. Paleontologists suspect that the disappearance of some of the larger species of North America—horses, camels, mammoths, mastodons, giant bears, and many others—was due, in part at least, to the arrival of the Clovis people 10 to 15 thousand years ago.

This pattern is repeated around the world. In Australia, many of the great marsupials vanished around 50,000 years ago, following the arrival of humans. In Madagascar, humans arrived about 2,000 years ago, after which nearly all of the island's megafauna went extinct. In New Zealand, the victims were birds. With no mammalian predators present, the islands were a bird paradise, including 11 species of flightless birds, one a giant, 12-feet tall. After Polynesian settlers arrived around 1500 AD, accompanied by dogs and rats, one fter another disappeared. Today only one is left. And so it goes, from island to island, continent to continent.

Our greatest assault on the environment began of course with the invention of intensive agriculture in Mesopotamia 5-6,000 years ago when we first began the wholesale conversion of prairie and forest into desert, a process that continues apace today.

Now, scientists suggest that we were annihilating other species long before we became Homo sapiens. In an article in the November issue of Scientific American, fossil expert Lars Werdelin explains the sharp decline of large carnivores in Africa beginning around two million years ago as due to the rise of Homo erectus. Entire groups of species, including the sabertooth cats, disappeared during this period.

Prior to this time, hominins were believed to be "relatively small-brained, chimpanzee-sized creatures that subsisted primarily on plant foods." But erectus were "bigger, smarter and armed with stone tools," and they had a hearty appetite for meat. With a rapidly evolving intelligence and social co-operation, they were serious competitors in the meat market. When game was scarce, the big predators were in trouble, but erectus could resort to plant foods to carry them through the hard times.

Our forbears had excuses for the malign affects of their behaviour—ignorance and need. They didn't understand what they were doing to their neighbours and, in any case, times were precarious. We do understand and our wants greatly exceed our needs, but we continue nonetheless to wipe out one species after another. The age of Homo sapiens is referred to by some biologists as the Sixth Major Extinction.

The Scientific American article is entitled "King of Beasts," an appropriate label. However, the king's rapacious ways have now got him into serious trouble. If we don't soon come to our senses, we may not go the way of the sabertooths, but our civilization will.

No need for the Nisga'a to sell their land

The Nisga'a Nation in northwestern B.C. has announced it will be the first First Nation in Canada to allow reserve land to be owned privately. Three properties have already been transferred to individuals. They are now able to mortgage their property and lease or sell it to aboriginal or non-aboriginal buyers. The land will remain subject to Nisga'a laws.

According to Nation President Mitchell Stevens, land ownership, "will change the Nisga'a world. Without true land ownership, you can't have true self-government." Other Natives are not so sanguine. Toronto lawyer Pamela Palmater, a Mi’kmaq from New Brunswick, comments, “Once you put it into the hands of individuals, it’s gone, especially for impoverished individuals.” Rosie Augustine of Elsipogtog First Nation describes the move as, "The Worst thing you could have done to our native lands."

Whether or not the Nisga'a considered other possibilities I do not know but here in southern Alberta, a proven alternative thrives. In the early 1970s, the Tsuu T'ina First Nation, neighbour of the City of Calgary, leased a parcel of reserve land to Sarcee Developments Ltd., a wholly-owned Tsuu T'ina company. Sarcee then established the Townsite of Redwood Meadows and sub-leased lots to private parties. The leases run until 2049.

Redwood Meadows, population 1,150, has been a great success with many fine homes built on the lots, presumably financed with mortgages. The Townsite of Redwood Meadows Administration Society shares management with the Tsuu T'ina Nation Council.

The Nisga'a could have adopted a similar scheme thus allowing private development while retaining ownership of their land—the best of both worlds. Ironically, this may have most closely approximated the system in place before the Europeans came, where each family was responsible for its own housing but with the land available to all. Did the Nisga'a, I wonder, look into their own history for a solution?

05 November 2013

Conservative MPs defend Edward Snowden, attack security establishment

No, not Canadian Conservative MPs—British Conservative MPs. Former shadow home secretary and Conservative Party leadership candidate David Davis has come out strongly in support of American whistleblower Edward Snowden. "The only protection for us all in this sort of area is actually whistleblowers," said Davis, "It's the only thing that makes these sorts of organizations behave properly." He has also wisely observed that, "It is inevitable that any big bureaucracy—government departments or agencies—will at some point misuse the powers it has and the data it holds."

Davis is not alone in his concerns about the security establishment. Another Conservative backbencher, Rory Stewart, has suggested that Parliament's intelligence and security committee should always be chaired by a member of the opposition to ensure its independence. He has also proposed it be freely elected by MPs. "You are never going to have a government backbencher chairing a committee that is going to criticize the government properly," he states by way of explanation.

Strong stuff. At a time when the British Prime Minister is threatening The Guardian newspaper for publishing Snowden's revelations, it is gratifying to see backbenchers expressing contrary views. It gives democracy a good name.