Enter Stage Right hands out its monthly awards...

The Earth is Flat Award

A celebration of the inane, insipid and asinine...

web posted July 26, 1999

Lest Americans think they're the only ones who have seen their military cover up alleged health problems of soldiers who have served their nation, Canada too is quite capable of underhanded dealings when it comes to the average grunt.

Both American and Canadian soldiers have complained for years about a mysterious illness called Gulf War Syndrome thought to have been caused by exposure to nerve gas and biological weapons during the Persian Gulf War. Well, it turns out that there might be a uniquely Canadian condition similar to Gulf War Syndrome.

It seems that more than 1 000 Canadian soldiers serving in Croatia during the early 1990s may have been exposed to hazardous substances such as PCBs and bauxite, a mineral used to make aluminum. The substances may have been in the soil that the soldiers used to make bunkers and fill sandbags.

A doctor serving with the forces ordered that a medical warning of potential exposure to these chemicals be placed in each soldiers file in case of future disability, as some who served are complaining about now. So far it sounds good right?

Those warnings mysteriously vanished out of the files -- military files, by the way, are amazingly detailed from the moment a person joins to their discharge -- by someone's order, prompting accusations that the Department of Defence tried to cover up potential problems. In response, on July 22 the department ordered an inquiry...the same organization that committed the crime is now investigating it.

The department will also send a team of environmental experts to Croatia to re-examine the soil.

As some critics have charged, the incident smacks of the same duck-and-cover mentality that marked the ill-fated Somalia inquiry in the mid-90s, prematurely halted by the Chretien government without assigning blame for atrocities committed by Canadian peacekeepers in the African country.

A colonel with the armed forces conceded that the medical records had been tampered with, but the warning letters were not based on scientific evidence because the soldiers had conducted tests themselves with equipment provided by the military. The military analyzed soil samples in 1995 and found no evidence of contaminants.

The incident once shows the contempt that military brass have for the average soldier who are paid so poorly here that some resorted to food banks to feed their families before a recent -- and small -- pay raise. A recent tour by a military panel found that moral has plunged among the average soldier primarily due to the belief that officers in the Canadian Armed Forces view their non-commissioned counterparts as sacrificeable cattle.

I wonder why.

Have you heard about Dennis Waldock and Leo Walsh? Unless you live in Alaska, I doubt you are aware of what happened to them.

One day after John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife and sister-in-law disappeared on a flight from New Jersey to Martha's Vineyard, pilot Waldock and passenger Walsh and their small plane disappeared in the Cascade Range in Washington state.

Hundreds of small planes crash every year in the United States, but few received the attention that Kennedy's did...or the massive resources that even the Pentagon admitted went beyond what normal procedure prescribed.

That effort, covered live for days by TV networks, involved hundreds of searchers and dozens of aircraft, boats, Navy divers and underwater cameras even after it became obvious the mission had changed from rescuing survivors to recovering wreckage and bodies.

By comparison, the search for Waldock and Walsh was more sedate. The committed and brave men and women searching for them will admit to you that the same resources were not available for them, nor would the search go on indefinitely.

F.E. "Mac" MacSpadden, coordinator of the air search for Waldock and Walsh, insists that celebrity or lack thereof is not a factor in how a search is conducted.

The search made front-page news in Anchorage, Alaska, where both men are prominent in the business community, Waldock as a stockbroker, Walsh as a retired construction contractor and developer. In western Washington, however, newspapers paid far more attention to the East Coast search for Kennedy, relegating the search in their own backyard to brief stories on inside pages.

Not a factor indeed. Some animals it seems are more equal than others.

web posted July 5, 1999

In this age of transparency, when the public demands a right to know about almost anything, it's sad to see politicians demanding that less should be known about something -- especially the workings of the American federal government. I don't think its unreasonable to think that the taxpayer has a right to know, in all but the most extreme cases, what's being done with their money. U.S. Representatives James Walsh (R-NY) and David Price (D-NC) seem to think differently.

Last fall, Alabama Senator Richard Shelby (R) managed to attach an amendment to the 1999 omnibus spending law forcing research developed under government grants -- with the exception of things like national security, commercial data, trade secrets, medical and personnel records, law enforcement information and geological data -- to be subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

Americans have had extraordinary access to government documents thanks to the FOIA, but until Shelby's amendment that didn't include government funded scientific research. That changed after the Shelby amendment and now Americans can see for themselves how government agencies like the Food and Drug Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency and others come up with their often spurious conclusions.

Walsh and Price, apparently afraid of the public's right to know, want to repeal that amendment. So do universities, those supposed bastions of the dissemination of knowledge, who are lobbying members of Congress hard in favour of the repeal. The vote on the bill is expected to come some time after July 4 and has a decent chance at passing since universities are sometimes one of the largest employers in a Congressional district. That means their voices do get heard.

But only when they want it heard...and not any other way. Contact your member of Congress now and tell him or her to vote against that bill. Unless you just don't want to know...in that case, go back to your television.

The Vinegar in Freedom Award

There is an old Serbian proverb that says vinegar in freedom tastes better than honey in slavery. This award is meant for events and people Enter Stage Right considers to be positive.

web posted July 26, 1999

Praise should be given to 218 Republicans and six Democrats in the House of Representatives for voting last week to pass a $792 billion tax cut package, one that will certainly be vetoed by U.S. President Bill Clinton.

The GOP plan calls for a 10-per cent tax cut, rolls back the so-called marriage penalty tax and the capital gains rate, and eliminates the inheritance tax. The tax debate now moves to the Senate, where the GOP leadership has its own tax cut legislation of about the same size but structured much differently than the House approved package. Action on the Senate bill could happen as early as this week.

"I don't think we should even be talking about a tax cut," Clinton said in Lansing, Michigan, at an event to rally support for his Medicare reform proposals. "This is kind of like a family sitting around the kitchen table saying, 'Let's plan the fancy vacation of our dreams, then talk about how we're going to make the mortgage payment.'"

It's hardly shocking that Clinton should be opposed to a big tax cut -- he's pushing for $250 billion in cuts -- considering that he's a man who believes the average American is a cow to be milked for all his statist plans. A little disappointing, however, was Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan telling a House hearing that paying down the national debt in more important than cutting taxes.

The powerful chairman said the strategy of paying down the debt would lower interest rates and put the government in a better position to meet the rising retirement demands of the Baby Boom generation. Greenspan, in effect, was telling Americans as well that support for morally and economically bankrupt government programs was more important than giving people back their money. The former follower of laissez-faire capitalist Ayn Rand also has forgotten that tax cuts spur tax revenue, as proven by John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.

Be that as it may, 223 people deserve at least some praise from Americans. They may have voted themselves significant raises recently, but at least they didn't forget the people who pay the bills.

web posted July 5, 1999

Although it might seem like we're opposed to union and the movement in general, the truth is that we do actually support the right of workers to band together as a group to negotiate with an employer, just as we support the right of the employer to refuse to negotiate with a single employee or group of workers. It's called the right of association, and whether you like it or not, it is a human right. Government and the courts may disagree with it -- on one side or another -- but it is a right.

Unions have done some good. By promoting safety issues and providing a balance to the power of the employer in negotiations, I would say that, while they may not be necessary, unions have helped many people. They primary aim is to protect the rights of the worker. A laudable goal.

These days it unfortunately doesn't always work that way. Unions today often seem more interested in crushing dissent, whether in their own ranks or in society as a whole, then negotiating for their members. That happened in Ontario, Canada recently. Richard Mitchell, a high school math teacher who refused to take part in a work-to-rule campaign last fall, was fined $1 400 by his union and declared ineligible to hold union office for five years.

The 54-year-old teacher continued to tutor students and run school clubs at Vankleek Hill Collegiate Institute, southeast of Ottawa, during a strike last fall.

Mitchell was charged with defying union orders when he refused to participate in a work-to-rule campaign while the union was in a legal strike position last fall. In his four-page statement to the union disciplinary committee, he argued his actions during last fall's protest were justified under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Mitchell claimed it was his right to "remain true to his deeply held beliefs and to the heritage that developed those beliefs and principles." The union, not surprisingly, believes that the individual is not as important as the collective and rejected an incredibly important argument.

He may have not won his case, but he has won ESR's Vinegar in Freedom Award. Unions may not recognize the individual's right to hold an opinion, but we do.

Have someone you want considered for the Earth is Flat Award or the Vinegar in Freedom Award? Email ESR with your candidates!

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