April 30, 2015

Charlie Hebdo & the HyperCacher

Going to the scenes of terrorist attacks is not a tourist-thing to do. Yet, where were these places that figured so prominently in our news of only a few months ago?

We know the story about Charlie Hebdo. 

At 11:30 on Wednesday morning, 7 January 2015, a black Citroen drove up to the building housing the offices of  Charlie Hebdo in rue Nicolas-Appert. Two masked gunmen, dressed in black and armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles got out and approached the offices.

They burst into number 6, Rue Nicolas-Appert, before realising they had the wrong address. The two then moved down the street to number 10 where Charlie Hebdo is located on the second floor.

The gunmen killed 11 people and injured 11 others in the building. After leaving, they killed a French National Police officer outside the building. Several related attacks followed outside Paris, where another 5 people were killed and 11 wounded.

It was easy to come to the neighbourhood by Metro, and the area appears to be an extension of China Town with new clothing stores and the Mandarin language heard more often than anywhere else I've been in Paris. It's also on the limits of the Marais, with its fashionable merchants, cool coffee shops and artsy bistros. The church yard near the Metro appeared to be filled with homeless people. It's an interesting neighbourhood.

Rue Nicolas-Appert appears on maps, and it seems simple enough to navigate, but it's a short little back street of sorts, and found only by meandering through another dead-end street to a lane-way, that finally leads to Nicolas-Appert.  Or so it appeared to me... it took a while to find.

At the address, there is little to identify the building in any way with the magazine, though there are now several prints on the concrete walls, and heavily armed National Police patrolling the street every day and all day. They are not keen on photos being taken of the building nor of themselves. There are barricades on both sides of the narrow street.

While I lingered at Charlie Hebdo a man appeared with a little boy. The man held the hand of his son and when they came to the front of number 10 rue Nicolas-Appert the man acknowledged me by nodding and asking what I think was "Is this the place?" I answered softly. The man knelt down and talked quietly to his son about what had happened and why it was important to have come today. Then, the two joined hands and walked away, both looking back with tears in their eyes as they turned the corner.

The HyperCacher story is well known too. HyperCacher is a small supermarket chain that features Kosher products. The chain operates in France and Italy.

On Friday, 9 January 2015, a man, armed with a submachine gun, an assault rifle, and two handguns, entered the HyperCacher supermarket at Porte de Vincennes in the 20e arrondisement of Paris. He killed 4 people, all Jews, then took several hostages. A day earlier the same man had killed a Municipal Police officer.

The HyperCacher was much easier to find than Charlie Hebdo. In fact it's down the street from a Metro stop. It's a bit on the outside of central Paris and the buildings are slightly newer, and generally less iconic than what we see in other parts of the city. The grocery store is found just on the other side of the Boulevard Périphérique, a major highway that literally rings the city. One of the busiest roads in Europe, the Périphérique is often considered the boundary between the city of Paris proper and its suburbs.

Like the street at Charlie Hebdo, this is a depressing place. The barricades are here too, and must be a deterrent to business. There are many candles littering the sidewalk in front of the store, and many more bunches of dried up and rotting flowers left long ago, and I wonder why the mess hasn't been cleared.

The police presence is slightly more subdued here than at Charlie Hebdo. Instead of machine guns toted by National Police, the two officers here are from a municipal force and they carry only side arms. They watch me as I walk back and forth in front of the store, but we acknowledge each other politely when I walk past them to enter the HyperCacher.

Inside, the store is subdued. There isn't the usual supermarket music playing and there aren't many staff and certainly not many customers. Perhaps it gets busier at other times though I assume the attack has not been good for business. I wander the aisles of the smallish store, and linger for some time in the wine department. There are many wines from Israel, France and Italy, and I am impressed to see a number of recognisable-even-to-me French wines that are Kosher. I didn't know.

As I walked through the store I imagined the horrific events of that day in January. And I thought about the route to the basement of the store, to the cold locker, where an employee of the supermarket, and a Muslim, Lassana Bathily, helped hide 15 hostages. He then managed to escape in an attempt to get help for the people in the basement, whereupon he was immediately arrested and only released after ninety minutes. Perhaps he is working here today.

Staff at the store paid me no interest, except to say hello. Several customers, both older citizens, were wary of my presence and uncomfortable. I am an outsider.

The two places are not on any tourist agenda, nor should they be. What happened here in January and how it shook this modern European state, will always be important to remember. Today in Paris armed police or military can be seen at virtually all synagogues and Jewish memorials. They are seen patrolling the streets around the Grande Mosquée de Paris and at Sacré-Cœur. Something terrible happened here in January, and no one is going to forget anytime soon.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.

April 29, 2015

May Day and zero-hour contracts

May Day approaches.

It is the Labour Day most of the world celebrates, including France, where your faithful scribe finds himself today. In France, the first day of May is one of the few days of the year when all workers must have the day off, or legislated compensation, save those in essential services. Many businesses here in Paris will be closed and parades will occur throughout the city. At least that's what they tell me.

In Britain, a nation going to the polls in another week or so, it's a different story. There is talk there about the insidious policy granting businesses the power to hand out what are called "zero-hour contracts." Since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, the program has expanded four-fold and over 1.5 million workers now have zero-hour contracts. These employees are often young and female, many with dependent family members relying on their income.

Simply put, these contracts aren't really contracts at all. They do not guarantee a minimum number of hours of work, nor do they provide for a standard working week; a person could in fact be asked to come in to work at 7:00 in the morning as little as five hours before. Or after finishing a full week of nighttime hours.These people are on-call in every sense of the word. By signing a zero-hour contract, the worker grants full power to her employer.

It is, in the words of the Labour Party leader and Opposition Leader, Ed Milibrand, "An epidemic undermining hard work, undermining living standards, and undermining family life. Because if you don't know from one day to the next how many hours you're going to be doing, how can you have any security for you and your family?" He has pledged to give employees the right to a regular contract after 12 weeks of working regular hours. The problem here, from my perspective, might be the as yet, undefined "regular hours" Milibrand is talking about, though I suppose it will all come out in the campaign, and then be watered down after election, though that might be too cynical on my part.

For many of these workers in the UK, they receive the minimum pay of about $12 per hour. The "living wage" in London is considered $17 an hour, and that seems bizarrely low.

Business leaders in Britain like the zero-hour contracts and they credit the scheme with providing a "flexible labour market," and that is good for business.

From the vantage of Paris, what is happening across the Channel is bothersome indeed. Yet, it is exactly the same sort of thing that has been happening, in Canada for years. The drive by Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark to promote the slogan: "BC is open for business," and to create more flexible working arrangements that benefit employers under the promise of "creating jobs for British Columbians," provides the same sort of zero-hour contracts for our workers. People can work on-call for years, without being granted regularized employment. It happens in the private sector and within unionized environments too. It is simply wrong.

This May Day we should take time to remember the benefits we all enjoy, largely thanks to the labour movement and progressive political parties. With every concession we make, under the guise of  some slogan, that decreases our commonwealth as a social community and not just as a consumer society, it becomes ever more difficult for any government, even a progressive government, to bring them back. May Day is a day to reflect and remember, and to act.

Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.

Le Brio for coffee in Paris

We are on sojourn in Paris, of all places, and the quest for our daily grind continues.

There are probably ten different cafés within easy walking distance of our place in the 18ieme and Le Brio is just around the corner. It's a restaurant-bar in the traditional French sense; early to open and late to close, with coffee, beer, wine and spirits, plus a full kitchen throughout much of the day. Le Brio is a busy place, especially at noon and again around the dinner hour, which tends to be later than what might be expected in Canada.

Le Brio is very much a neighbourhood  café . There are lots of locals and the regulars are greeted by name. The service is friendly and personable, if at times a bit like Fawlty Towers. Becoming regular faces after just a few days we too are greeted amiably by the manager and staff. In fact, we no longer have to order as our waiter prepares our coffees as soon as she sees us come in the door. That does present a minor problem when one of us wants to try something different, but it's a minor quibble.

The decor is eclectic to say the least and kitschy doesn't tell the whole story. A poster of the Virgin Mary appears beside a calendar of Caribbean women in various states of undress. Cowboy hats and a license plate from Texas collide with art books and a matte cup from Argentina. There's a video screen of course, not tuned to a sports channel, but rather to arte, the international European arts and culture network. Several mornings in a row, the channel featured a program on gorillas and I became involved in a discussion at the bar about these creatures. I fear my French language skills approached gorilla-like standards, yet my comrades were patient and forgiving.

The coffees at Le Brio are highly acceptable. Beans are ground with each order and the crema is usually rich. In Paris, when one ordersun café, an espresso drink will arrive. It might be slightly more bitter tasting than what you are used to having in Canada. A lump of sugar is provided, but never milk or cream.

Un café filtré, also known as a café américain, is as we might expect. an espresso with added hot water.

Technically café crème and café latte are different drinks (hot cream or milk) though many cafés will have difficulty differentiating between the two. Cappuccinos usually feature whipped cream on top and are rarely ordered by any sane Parisian, though some cafés will accommodate tourists and therefore charge accordingly.

A coffee drink to consider is a café noisette, or simply: noisette. This is an espresso with a spot of cream added. Its name comes from the French word for hazelnut and because of its colour. There won't be any flavouring added to this coffee.

It is less expensive to sit or stand at the bar for a coffee or a quick drink. Taking up space at a table, especially an outside table, will bring a higher price. At Le Brio, un café  served to your table on the sidewalk will be 2 euros. At the bar, standing or sitting if a chair is available, the same coffee will be only 1 euro. Sometimes it is nice to sit outside. Sitting inside at the bar however, can be fun and provide an opportunity to practise your French. And talk about gorillas.

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2015. First published on www.sojourninparis.com

Neil Macdonald and why he's scared of the police in the US

Photo of Neil Macdonald
Neil Macdonald is senior correspondent for CBC News in Washington DC. This analysis piece appeared on the CBC today and is presented here. 

I recall a very similar story to Macdonald's about growing up and learning the lesson of respecting the police and the job they do, and I too have come to have reservations. Not only about police in the US, but in my own country too. The record is fairly clear when it comes to the handling of people with mental issues, or with staplers in their hands. 

The first time I heard my father say it, I was trailing along behind him, licking an ice cream on a warm summer night in a Glengarry County town not far from our farm.
"Good evening, officer," he said, as we passed a uniformed patrolman. "Lovely evening tonight."
The cop smiled back and said something kind and reassuring, and the lesson was complete.
The rule in our house was clear: the police protect us and deserve our respect. The heavens would fall on any of us overheard calling them "pigs," the word the hippies were using where the counterculture was flourishing, in places far from Glengarry.
Another popular phrase back then was "police brutality," words my father also regarded with suspicion and hostility. (Remember, there were no iPhone videos back then, just he-said, she-said newspaper stories.)
Just recently, I was walking from the White House to the CBC bureau a few blocks away, and as I passed a uniformed Secret Service officer, the old reflex kicked in: "Good afternoon, officer."
This cop, though, stared straight ahead through his sunglasses, wordless, barely acknowledging the greeting. Clearly, if he was going to speak, it would be to issue some sort of order. Everything in his stance said I am authority. Move along. Or at least that's how it seemed to me. 
I don't mind saying it: America's police now frighten me. Their power and their impunity frighten me. And I'm a white, 58-year-old middle-class man. I can't imagine what I'd be feeling if I were a black or Latino kid in Baltimore.
Baltimore crackled with violence and rage this week. The governor declared a state of emergency and called in the National Guard after rioting erupted following the funeral of Freddie Gray, yet another black man who died in police custody. The times really haven't changed so much. Gordon Lightfoot once wrote a famous song about another governor who did the same thing 48 years ago in Detroit. 
The public conversation isn't much different, either. Liberals are worrying about what triggered the rioting ("...And they really know the reason, and it wasn't just the temperature and it wasn't just the season ..."). Conservatives are pointing out the shameful looting and the rocks and fire, telling us we should be grateful we have brave police to stand between us and anarchy.
But the reality the modern surveillance society is providing us is impossible to ignore. Just as the authorities use technology to collect unprecedented data on the citizenry, the citizenry is constantly crowdsourcing video evidence about the authorities, and it's ugly.
It used to be the cop's word against the perp's. Now it's the cop's word against clear video evidence, and the cop still usually prevails. In Baltimore, as is most often the case these days, bystanders recorded Freddie Gray's takedown by police on their smartphones. Sometime afterward, his spine was nearly severed. He perished in hospital. But it's improbable that anyone will answer for the killing — that's what it was, after all — in a court of law.
A recent investigation by the Washington Post and Bowling Green State University stated that of the "thousands of people" shot dead by police in America during the last decade, only 54 officers have been charged. And most of those who were charged were acquitted.
The series examined cases ignored by the national media: a lot of them unarmed people shot at point-blank range. The officers involved always claimed they feared for their lives; juries almost always took their word, even when the victim was shot from behind, execution-style.
The system doesn't really want to document police crime; governments are for obvious reasons reluctant to keep statistics on such shootings ("not necessarily considered an offence") and police close ranks. It won't be easy reining in America's chokehold police. In about a fifth of the cases where charges were laid, prosecutors accused police of planting or destroying evidence.
One needs only consult the iPhone video of the South Carolina cop shooting the fleeing man in the back a few weeks ago, then appearing to plant a Taser on his corpse, to see how it happens. That officer was charged with murder, but only after the video emerged. A conviction will be another matter entirely.
"To charge an officer in a fatal shooting, it takes something so egregious, so over the top that it cannot be explained in any rational way," said Philip M. Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green who participated in the Washington Post investigation. And even then, juries tend to give the police officer the benefit of the doubt.
Stinson, a former officer himself, suggested that many of these police shootings are really crimes of passion. "They are used to giving commands and people obeying. They don't like it when people don't listen to them, and things can quickly become violent when people don't follow their orders." 
Today, though, even the conservative voices that have for so long defended law enforcement are wavering. Take some time and browse the libertarian Cato Institute's online National Police Misconduct Reporting Project. It's a scholarly work, and evidence gathered is weighed carefully; in fact, the last full year for which they have issued a definitive report is 2010. That report identified 4,861 formal incidents of police misconduct involving 6,613 law enforcement officers and 247 civilian fatalities for that year alone.
If just a fraction of those fatalities were criminal, then the inescapable conclusion is that more people have been murdered by police in America in the last 10 years than by terrorists. Of course, we are told, we don't know how many terrorists have been thwarted by vigilant behind-the-scenes enforcement. Well, true. But given the minuscule number of prosecutions, let alone convictions, neither do we know how many of the people who are supposed to be guarding us have gotten away with murder.
By Neil Macdonald. CBC News. 29 April 2015. 

April 17, 2015

The myth of affordable housing through higher density in Vancouver

Stephen Quinn, host of Vancouver's number one afternoon drive radio program, except possibly when the Canucks are playing, writes in today's Globe and Mail and provides a commentary on the affordability created by higher density in the hedge city that is Vancouver. 

Stephen Quinn remembers, and so do I. His column is reprinted below.

Remember EcoDensity™? I do.

It was June, 2006, when Vancouver mayor – now (seldom seen) B.C. Liberal MLA – Sam Sullivan introduced the brand to Vancouver and the entire planet as the city played host to the World Urban Forum.

Despite the gloss of the hot-off-the-press brochure, critics accused him of rebranding an idea already in practice: Increasing density would reduce the city’s environmental footprint with the secondary benefit of making housing more affordable.

At the time, I questioned Mr. Sullivan on the second point. Density in the downtown core had virtually doubled over the previous two decades and condos were not getting any cheaper. In fact, each new development represented a significant jump in price.

“Don’t you know anything about economics?” I recall him asking me rhetorically.

“Supply and demand, m’boy, supply and demand. We build more supply and the prices come down,” he said, stretching out his suspenders with his thumbs and chomping on a cigar. Okay, there were no suspenders or cigar, but his answer did conjure up grainy black-and-white images of W.C. Fields, sans top hat. Also, I’m pretty sure he didn’t call me “m’boy.”

The point is that selling density as a means to affordability in this city is nothing new.

But it’s a myth, and an especially cruel one to wave in front of well-educated young people hopeful that one day they’ll be able to afford the sort of housing in which they might be able to raise a family in Vancouver.

And yet, it persists.

This week, council approved the third phase of the Cambie Corridor Planning Program.

This phase will see the city rezone the areas between the new developments currently under construction and the lower-density single-family homes in the neighbourhood – think townhouses and row houses in a sort of transition zone between the buildings on main arteries and single-family homes.

Once again, the foggy mirage of affordability appears in the latest report: “Phase 3 provides an opportunity to increase housing options and improve affordability by broadening the range of housing choices that will help young families put down roots and stay in Vancouver.”

Susan Haid, the city’s assistant director of housing for Vancouver South, also talked about affordability when I spoke with her about the plan this week. “Affordability is something that we’re really going to explore; a range of options through the planning process,” she said.

That’s where the townhouses and row houses and other options come in.

Yes, there are opportunities for “lock off suites” that would allow an owner to rent a portion of their townhouse, and opportunities for low and mid-rise apartments.

But as for the definition of affordable, Ms. Haid conceded the city was talking about what she called “relative affordability.”

“Affordable compared to a single family house in the area may be a desirable option for some families,” she said.

We’ve seen block after block of townhouses and row houses spring up along Oak Street and Granville Street in the past few years as a result of rezoning along those busy roads. A quick scan of listings shows a 1,300-square-foot, three-bedroom townhouse in the 6,100 block of Oak going for $870,000. That’s not in a quieter “transition zone” – it’s on six lanes of rush-hour traffic. Two blocks up the street is a similar but slightly larger two-bedroom row house listed for $1.18-million.

From there the prices only go up. (And don’t forget the strata fees.)

As for low-rise apartments, I found a lovely, 1,100-square-foot two-bedroom suite in a new building on Cambie going for $780,000.

By whose definition are those affordable to a young family putting down roots?

Before you venture an answer, remember that we’re talking about “relative affordability.”

So with the law of supply and demand apparently suspended, and with so many market drivers beyond the city’s control, let’s just admit that the myth of affordable housing in the Cambie corridor is exactly that – a myth. We can talk about “providing opportunities” and “broadening the range of housing choices,” but in the end, the real estate market in Vancouver is what it is.

Let’s stop pretending the city can do anything to make housing more affordable for anyone. And let’s not bite when reports to council dangle vague references to affordability in front of us.

Here’s what it has done to us: when I told a young colleague this week about the 1,100-square-foot apartment on Cambie listed for $780,000, her response said it all.

“$780,000? For a two-bedroom?” she said. “That’s a deal!”

Relatively speaking, I guess it is.

Yes, Stephen, in this city, it is. But that doesn't make it right.

Published online April 17, 2015 by the Globe and Mail. Published in the paper on April 18, 2015.

April 15, 2015

The most likely coalition? It's already Harper and Trudeau.

The recent headlines about the Liberal leader considering a coalition with the NDP, but not while Tom Mulcair is the New Democratic Party leader, was interesting in what it says about the inexperienced politician that is Justin Trudeau. Or about the fact that his Liberal Pary has precious little in common with the NDP.

Many of us, including John Ibbitson, writing in the Globe and Mail, wondered why in the world Trudeau would even consider a coalition with the NDP. Historically the Liberals have always found more common ground with the Tories, than they ever did with the social democratic party, and certainly, as Ibbitson points out in Wednesday's column, they seem to be in lock step with Harper on the current issues of the day. Indeed, it's difficult to tell the two parties apart.

The Liberals support Bill C-51, the crazed Conservative anti-terrorism legislation that the NDP opposes.

The Liberals are behind the Canadian military training mission to Ukraine. The NDP says the mission must first be approved by the House of Commons. You would have thought they might agree on that one.

Taxes? Surely the Liberals and New Democrats must agree on increasing taxes to the rich? Then again... The Liberals would retain virtually all the Conservative tax measures, save for a small income-splitting tax cut. Only the NDP would actually raise corporate taxes. Canada is notoriously generous to its corporations when compared to other industrial economies.

When it comes to environmental concerns, Mr Trudeau is happy to let the provinces take on climate change and global warming, as does Mr Harper. Mr Mulcair is committed to compulsory Canadian standards to reduce carbon emissions. But wait, there's even more: Mr Trudeau backs the Keystone XL pipeline and supports the further development of the oil sands, which sounds just like the current Prime Minister. Tom Mulcair opposes Keystone and speaks honestly about a "Dutch disease" of oil dependency in our country.

On Quebec, both the Conservatives and the Liberals find common cause in backing the Clarity Act, while New Democrats endorse the Sherbrooke Declaration, which makes it easier for Quebec to separate, if ever that comes up again.

The NDP has proposed a national child care program. The Conservatives would rather provide direct payments to parents. The Liberals, not surprisingly perhaps, given their record on the issue, are completely silent.

Ideologically, a minority Conservative government might work with the Liberals on a day to day basis. Perhaps the same might be true for a minority Liberal government.

For his part, and in trying to appeal to the 60 percent of Canadians who oppose the present government, Mr Mulcair repeats that he is willing to do whatever it takes to defeat the Conservatives, including forming some sort of coalition with the Liberals, but Mr Trudeau refuses.

Increasingly, as the election approaches, Mr Harper will warn Canadians that anything less than a Conservative majority will lead to a coalition of the NDP and Liberals. The reality could be a much different thing entirely.

Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.

April 08, 2015

Dear Indiana... and nineteen other states

Facing tremendous economic damage and mounting public pressure from business interests and citizens alike, Indiana Governor Mike Pence recently signed legislation limiting the damage the state’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act has done to its reputation and economy. His new legislation falls short of providing a proper solution. The measure fails to ensure that the RFRA won’t be used to undermine the full scope of Indiana's existing non-discrimination laws, and does not add LGBT non-discrimination protections to the state’s civil rights laws. Bigotry will continue to be legal in Indiana. 

Indiana isn't alone in its lunacy couched in religious freedom. There are nineteen other states to avoid when travelling to the Excited States of America.

All this from a country that celebrates a person's right, indeed, a state's right, to display a flag with historical ties to slavery. This too from a country that continues to support the apartheid state of Israel, mainly because of the money being spent on both sides of the political divide, though increasingly on the fanatical right.

At the same time, this nation finds itself in lockstep with the madness that is Saudi Arabia. Mind you Saudi does seem to have the oil the Excited States desire, and why buy oil from your closest, and most democratic neighbour, when you can buy oil from a nation that publicly beheads people, locks up women for driving cars and stones them to death for looking at someone the wrong way. Oh, and yes, the Saudis do buy about $60 billion worth of military equipment from the Excited States every year, and they probably wouldn't be thrilled to serve gays either, just like the folks in Indiana.

Yes, all this nuttiness from a country that allows its police departments to use asset forfeiture laws to shakedown innocent, law abiding citizens and tourists; that seems to allow its police to shoot first, and possibly explain later. Or not. A nation, in league with the likes of Afghanistan, that can't even begin to control the sale of guns within its own territory.

No Toto, it isn't just Indiana, or even Kansas. Indiana is just the favourite of the current news cycle. There are at least nineteen other states, including Kansas, to consider when travelling south of the border. Or not.

Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.

April 06, 2015

Lunar Eclipse

Thy shadow, Earth, from Pole to Central Sea,
Now steals along upon the Moon's meek shine
In even monochrome and curving line
Of imperturbable serenity.

How shall I link such sun-cast symmetry
With the torn troubled form I know as thine,
That profile, placid as a brow divine,
With continents of moil and misery?

And can immense Mortality but throw
So small a shade, and Heaven's high human scheme
Be hemmed within the coasts yon arc implies?

Is such the stellar gauge of earthly show,
Nation at war with nation, brains that teem,
Heroes, and women fairer than the skies?

At a Lunar Eclipse by Thomas Hardy

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2015.

April 05, 2015

Let's abolish the Senate

Ah, yes. The Canadian Senate. A chamber of second thought, sober or otherwise. Not elected by citizens, not representative of regions nor citizens, and certainly not effective in any manner. It's difficult to know just what the role of a body such as this might be in a democratic federation such as ours.

Senator Nancy Ruth, noted feminist and philanthropist, dropped her last name several years ago as a statement against the patriarchy. All good things indeed. She will now be remembered as the cold fancy-cheese Senator. Nancy Ruth complained about being served cold Camembert and broken crackers while flying first-class. She has to fly first class and have a better breakfast. At our expense of course.

Nancy Ruth is from the Jackman family, three generations of whom have controlled one of Canada's largest financial companies, Empire Life. She sold off her shares in the company in 1980, at the age of 38, because, as she told then reporter Stephen Brunt, "I was tired of working for a living, to be blunt about it." She devoted herself to genuinely good causes and was rewarded in 2005 by the conservative Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin with an appointment to the Senate. That's about three months of actual work every year, with some party fund raising events to be added of course, and a whack of expenses to be paid by taxpayers. All at a starting pay rate of  $138,000.

Her case is minor compared to some of our senators. A number seem to be severely challenged when it comes to claiming expenses. Legal. Illegal. It' all rather confusing to most of them.

For all of us, the cold camebert story sums up what is wrong with our Senate. Unelected, unaccountable and out-of-touch senators cost our country almost $100 million every year.

It's time to get rid of the lot of them. Unless, of course, someone wants to appoint me.                                                      Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray