Saturday, December 14, 2013

Unions contracted to work for the Toronto School Board have a history of shennanigans

Jimmy Hazel, head of the maintenance and Skilled Trades Council, which handles repairs at Toronto schools and grossly overcharges (see here)

With the provincial auditor recently reporting on financial shenanigans at the Toronto District School Board (see here), it's worthwhile recalling that the Board has a history of gross financial mismanagement. 

A big piece of the problem is that the unions are way too cozy with the provincial Liberals and with the Toronto School Board.  In the last provincial election, teacher unions, spent more than $6 million to get the Liberals elected and the Tories out.

As the for Toronto School Board, the majority of  trustees are elected with the help of unions and owe their first loyalty to the unions, not to the school kids, their parents or the people of Toronto. 

Neil Flagg (my candidate for School Board trustee in the last election) pointed out the problem during the last school board election in 2010 (see here). Over half of Toronto School Board trustees were (and are) owned by unions. Unfortunately, the media ignored the issue.

Most of the upper management at the Board, comes from the same place: they're card-carrying members of the NDP and/or big union supporters. 

I'm not against unions. In fact at Ryerson U, I'm a union member myself, and the only reason Ryerson pays me triple the pittance offered by community colleges is that we're unionized. 

However, I don't think unions should be running the school board. The Board is meant to run the school for the benefit of our kids, not for the benefit of union members.

Read this salvo from last year on a corrupt union whose members get a whole lot to do very little for our cash-starved schools… here

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Toronto School Board ~ a financial disaster.

$200,000 to Chris Spence for serial plagerism

The Toronto District School Board pays $56,531 to change light bulbs (see here).  

The Board has 1,545 people on staff making more than $100,000 a year (here).

The Board gave Chris Spence a $200,000 golden parachute when he resigned in disgrace after being exposed as a serial plagiariser (here).

Construction and trades union workers employed by this Board have gotten showered with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of free TigerDirect gift cards (here).

The Board regularly pays absurd sums of money for simple jobs: $143 to install a pencil sharpener; $857 to hang three pictures, $3,000 to install one electrical outlet (see here and here).

The Board went $10 million dollars over budget on renovations to Nelson Mandela Park Public School. The Board’s spending on major projects was so out of control that the province froze its capital budget (here).

And perhaps worst of all, because of declining numbers of kids, the Board has 140 schools out of a total of 601 that are less than 60% full (here). The Board needs to close many of those 140 nearly empty schools, but doesn’t have the political will. And in the meantime simply continues to hemorage money.

The Trustees who run this Board need to be tossed out on their ears – and so does the Liberal government that’s overseen this disaster.

"Worse than I expected it to be": Despite wage freeze, the Toronto School Board gave out $1.29M in raises to senior staff, audit says

From the National Post
Contracts signed without competitive bidding, meddlesome trustees pressuring staff not to comply with procurement processes, and $1.29-million in senior staff raises during a government wage freeze were among problems flagged by a damning forensic audit of the Toronto District School Board, released Tuesday.
The 54-page report by auditors Ernst and Young, paid for by Ontario’s education ministry, described a “culture of fear,” where staff felt their jobs were at risk if they did not go along with requests to circumvent established board policies. It made 38 recommendations for improving the board’s processes, including changes to the board’s auditing oversight, new requirements for financial reporting, training in procurement policies for staff, and development of mechanisms to enforce trustee compliance with expense guidelines.
Elizabeth Moyer, the board’s former audit committee chair who first wrote to the ministry last May requesting the audit, said she was satisfied with the report but added the situation it described was “worse than I expected it to be.”
She said she continues to believe a harassment complaint by a TDSB staffer is a result of her blowing the whistle on the board’s financial practices. That complaint alleges Ms. Moyer pressured a board superintendent to hire her two daughters last summer for the board’s Focus On Youth program.
Among the report’s findings:
·         In a sample, 45% of external contracts were found to have been made without a competitive bidding process, contrary to the board’s own rules.
·         Some 79% of expenses for external contractors done through the director’s office did not use a competitive bidding procedure as required. The majority of the period examined covered the tenure of former director Chris Spence, who resigned last January in the midst of a plagiarism scandal.
·         Some key findings from an internal audit by the TDSB in 2012 were withheld from its audit committee, diminishing the committee’s ability to do its job.
·         About 30% of trustee expense claims were deemed ineligible, including a night in a Toronto hotel room for a trustee attending a conference.
·         Some $3.2-million in government funds intended for specific programs such as outdoor education and a summer job and camp program for at-risk youth were used to help balance the board’s budget.
·         Donations and contracts were given to charities or not-for-profit organizations where TDSB trustees, staff, or their family members or close business associates sat as directors or officers.
·         A trustee pressured staff in the board’s purchasing and business services department to go around the TDSB’s procurement process.
·         The TDSB gave raises to senior staff, its deputy directors and director “in excess of the amounts” under Ontario’s public sector wage freeze between March 2010 and last August.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Canadian investor arrested in West Bank for insulting President Abbas

Khaled Abu Toameh, Dec. 5, 2013

Palestinian businessmen planning to invest in the West Bank economy have once again been reminded of the challenges facing anyone who wants to do business with the Palestinian Authority. Mohamed Al Sabawi, a Canadian investor of Palestinian origin, was this week arrested by Palestinian Authority policemen in Ramallah after publicly criticizing Mahmoud Abbas.

Al Sabawi, 68, is Director-General of the Ahlia Insurance Group, a firm that employs hundreds of Palestinians in the West Bank. His arrest is seen as part of a campaign by the Palestinian Authority to intimidate and extort money from prominent and wealthy businessmen who seek to help strengthen the Palestinian economy.

Palestinian Authority policemen raided Al Sabawi's office and arrested him on suspicion that he had called on Palestinians to topple Abbas. Al Sabawi was held for nine hours at a police station in Ramallah, where he was accused of "insulting" Abbas and "obstructing" the work of police officers.

The second charge relates to an incident on November 18, when officers belonging to the Palestinian Authority's Presidential Guard stormed the building housing the Ahlia Insurance Group in order to occupy the roof as part of measures to secure the visit of French President Fran├žois Hollande to Ramallah. Al Sabawi tried to prevent the security officers from entering the building, but to no avail.

Frustrated, he declared in front of TV crews, "The people want the downfall of Mahmoud Abbas!" Al Sabawi probably thought that his status as a prominent investor would provide him with some kind of immunity. Of course, he turned out to be wrong.
It is not unusual for the Palestinian Authority to crack down on Palestinians who dare to criticize Abbas. Over the past few years, a number of Palestinian journalists, bloggers and politicians have been targeted by the Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank for publicly criticizing Abbas, especially through social media networking.

But clamping down on journalists and bloggers is not the same as arresting or intimidating businessmen and investors. The case of Al Sabawi will undoubtedly scare potential investors and convince them that investing in Ramallah and other Palestinian cities is a dangerous idea.

Al Sabawi's son, Khaled, who was named "One of the World's Top Energy Entrepreneurs" by
 Global Post in 2010, said that his father was released as a result of "enormous pressure" on the Palestinian Authority after being held for nine hours.

Khaled, who spent the whole nine hours with his father in the police station in Ramallah, wrote that the arrest "goes to show that the US Kerry Plan to bring 4 billion in private investment to the Palestinians territories is nonsense! Come and invest in the PA areas, but if you don't bribe their corrupt officials, the will PA will arrest you."

Monday, December 9, 2013

Pianist Evgeny Kissin is a mensch (a man of honour & integrity, a stand up guy)

Rachmaninov Prelude in G minor - Evgeny Kissin

Grammy-winning pianist to receive Israeli citizenship

From the Times of Israel who got it from the incomparable journalist Tom Gross

Acclaimed Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin will be granted Israeli citizenship in a special ceremony on Saturday evening in Jerusalem.

Internal Affairs Minister Gideon Sa’ar, Minister of Immigration and Absorption Sofa Landver, and Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky are set to hand the world-famous musician and proud Israel advocate his Israeli identification card at the event.

Though Kissin, 42, has no plans to reside permanently in Israel, the Moscow native was granted approval by senior government officials for his citizenship request, which he filed for last year.

“There are other Jewish musicians who reach Kissin’s level of musical talent, but it isn’t every day that so acclaimed a musician joins the fight for Israel so openly and so uncompromisingly,” Sharansky was quoted as saying in a Jewish Agency press release.

In a statement, Kissin said he wanted to identify as Israeli, and take on Israel’s “problems, tragedies and very destiny,” according to Tom Gross, a friend of Kissin who published the statement on his website.

“When Israel’s enemies try to disrupt concerts of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra or the Jerusalem Quartet {see here for one example}, I want them to come and make troubles at my concerts, too: because Israel’s case is my case, Israel’s enemies are my enemies, and I do not want to be spared of the troubles which Israeli musicians encounter when they represent the Jewish State beyond its borders,” Kissin said.

Kissin has won numerous awards in his decades of playing music, including a Grammy in 2006 for a recording of works by Scriabin, Medtner and Stravinsky.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Iran already weaseling out of agreement

Iranian military parade. The banner under the missile reads: Wipe Israel off the map
Iran is pursuing two paths to a nuclear bomb: it’s refining uranium and it's building a heavy water reactor near the city of Arak so that it can create plutonium. 

Under the Geneva Accord between Iran and the great powers, Iran has, for the first time, been given the world’s blessing to refine uranium to 5% purity – by far the most difficult part of the process. After six months (barring an unlikely permanent agreement), Iran will resume quickly refining this uranium up to the 95% purity needed for a bomb. (More about this aspect of the Accord here).
Under the Geneva Accord, Iran is also supposed to stop work at the Arak nuclear reactor. Except as it turns out, it doesn’t plan to. "Capacity at the Arak site is not going to increase,” said Iran’s Foreign Minister. “It means no new nuclear fuel will be produced and no new installations will be installed, but construction will continue there."
Iran is obviously testing the Americans to see how much push back they’ll get, and the answer so far is none whatsoever. 

Moreover, apart from continuing construction work at Arak itself, Iran can weasel around the Geneva Accord by making “new installations” off-site. Then when the six months of the Accord are up, they'll be able to quickly finish the Arak reactor with pre-constructed components.
Here’s the story from Reuters…
The Arak heavy-water reactor 190 km southwest of Tehran January 15, 2011.
(Reuters) - Iran will pursue construction at the Arak heavy-water reactor, Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif was quoted as saying on Wednesday, despite a deal with world powers to shelve a project they fear could yield plutonium for atomic bombs.
France, one of the six powers that negotiated Sunday's landmark initial accord with Iran to curb its disputed nuclear program, said in response to Zarif's statement that Tehran had to stick to what was agreed in the Geneva talks.
The uncompleted research reactor emerged as one of several big stumbling blocks in the marathon negotiations, in which Iran agreed to restrain its atomic activities for six months in return for limited sanctions relief. The agreement is intended to buy time for talks on a final settlement of the dispute.
Western powers fear Arak could be a source of plutonium - one of two materials, along with highly enriched uranium, that can be used for the core of a nuclear weapon - once it is operational.
According to the agreed text, Iran said it would not make "any further advances of its activities" on the Arak reactor, under construction near a western Iranian town with that name.
"Capacity at the Arak site is not going to increase. It means no new nuclear fuel will be produced and no new installations will be installed, but construction will continue there," Zarif told parliament in translated comments broadcast on Iran's Press TV.
When asked about this, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said: "In the interim accord, the Arak reactor is specifically targeted and the end of all work at this reactor. In the agreement and the text, which has been approved by the Iranian authorities, the Arak reactor is clearly targeted."
Banners in Tehran
Israel has denounced the nuclear agreement with Iran as an "historical mistake" as it does not actually dismantle the program.
"The ink has not even dried on the agreement and already we are hearing provocative announcements from Iran, like this, whose coyness and ambiguity could well augur a breach of the deal," Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz told Reuters when asked about Zarif's statement.
However, nuclear expert Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment think-tank said, "It doesn't matter whether Iran is doing excavation work or civil construction work around the reactor."
"What matters for now is that there is no fuel production and testing, that there is no installation at the reactor. Freezing much more than that might be seen by hardliners as suspension of the project and therefore unacceptable."
Other experts have said that an apparent loophole in the Geneva agreement could allow Iran to build components off-site to install later in the reactor.
"The agreement is silent on the manufacturing of remaining key components of the reactor and its continued heavy-water production," former chief U.N. nuclear inspector Olli Heinonen wrote in an analysis.
"Technically, such efforts are not reasonable if the goal is either to dismantle the reactor or modify it to a more proliferation-resistant, smaller light-water reactor as one of the alternative paths of producing isotopes for medical and industrial purposes," he said.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Success – The Toronto School Board takes the International Sex Workers’ day off its Days of Significance Calendar

Every year, the Toronto District School Board publishes a Days of Significance Calendar for students. It includes the holidays of different religions and various UN mandated observances, such as the International Day of Families (May 15). 

The TDSB also included the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers on the Calendar.

Sex Workers’ Day is celebrated by prostitutes, strippers, porn actors, dominatrixes and, until this school year, by the Toronto District School Board. The day’s purpose is to “advocate for removal of all laws that criminalize sex work” and to remove all negative stigma so that prostitution becomes just one more career path.

Last March, I wrote a letter to the Board suggesting that they might want to rethink their endorsement of this day. After all, a school board must be politically neutral; it shouldn’t be endorsing anyone’s politics – not to mention that a school board really shouldn’t be helping to make prostitution a respectable career for young people.

I followed up with a couple more emails, then a couple phone calls and was at last assured that the appropriate committee would look into it. And then I heard nothing.

So this fall I started sending emails again. An email to Donna Quan, the new Director of Education, finally produced a two-line reply (not from Ms Quan herself): The sex workers day had been taken off the Days of Significance Calendar, and the Calendar itself had been taken off the public website.

In other words: okay, first, the Board’s noticed it’s not a good idea to endorse prostitution as a career path, and second, annoying parents can no longer check what the Board thinks is worth promoting. Now only teachers and TDSB staff get to look at the Days of Significance Calendar.

What might be on the Calendar? Well the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) has produced a Days of Significance Calendar for schools. OISE trains our most senior educators and many teachers, and unfortunately, OISE believes the purpose of schools is to indoctrinate kids into far left activist politics.

OISE thinks kids ought to be taught to observe the birthday of the founder of the Communist Party of Canada, that kids need to celebrate the Quebec student protests against tuition fees becoming almost as high as their cell phone bills, and that kids should should learn that Stephen Harper is a war criminal and Che Guevara is a martyr to social justice. And to promote their political perspective, OISE has created a Calendar (see here).

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario – the most radical and politicized of our teacher unions – has endorsed this Calendar (see here).

Will the Toronto Board adopt it, too? I doubt it. There are still lots of sane people working for the Board. But who knows? Unless a teacher rats them out, the Board can do all sorts of strange things without parents knowing.
Read my earlier, more detailed posting about the Board’s promotion of International Sex Workers’ Day here

Thursday, November 28, 2013

American intelligence estimates accord delays Iran's ability to build a nuclear bomb by "Only a month to a few months"

A poster of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini is seen next to bank of centrifuges in a facility in Natanz. (Reuters)
What has the accord with the Iranians bought us?  It's supposed to be a six-month pause in Iran's bomb program. But in fact it's only a partial pause. Iran is free to continue enriching uranium to 5%  and that's by far the most difficult step. It's free to repair its (many) broken centrifuges, it's free to continue research and development, it's free to continue it's bomb design program and its ballistic missile program. Also, intelligence agencies all assume Iran has hidden facilities, where it will continue with nuclear activities that the agreement does forbid.

Bottom line: this six-moth accord buys us a one-month delay in how long it will take Iran to build a bomb  maybe two or three months if we're lucky. In return the western powers gave Iran $6 or $7 billion in sanctions relief, a delay in further sanctions, and an effective "right" to enrich uranium, a concession which virtually guarantees that Iran can eventually get a bomb. 

To get even this much took a decade of increasingly harsh sanctions, the threat of an imminent military attack from Israel and a full year of negotiation. 

Five years ago, Iran had enough uranium enriched to 5% to build one bomb. Today, it has enough to build four. In six months when this agreement expires, it will have enough to build five or six. That's the bottom line.

Iranian revolutionary guards are helping the Syrian regime to crush the revolution

From the New York Times

WASHINGTON — The interim accord struck with Iran on Sunday interrupts the country’s nuclear progress for the first time in nearly a decade, but requires Iran to make only a modest down payment on the central problem.

The deal does not roll back the vast majority of the advances Iran has made in the past five years, which have drastically shortened what nuclear experts call its “dash time” to a bomb — the minimum time it would take to build a weapon if Iran’s supreme leader decided to pursue that path.

Lengthening that period, so that the United States and its allies would have time to react, is the ultimate goal of President Obama’s negotiating team. It is also a major source of friction between the White House and two allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, which have made no secret of their belief that they are being sold down the river.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has described the terms of the accord announced early Sunday as a “bad deal” that does not require Iran “to take apart even one centrifuge.” That bitter assessment reflects the deep suspicion inside Mr. Netanyahu’s government that Mr. Obama will settle for a final agreement that leaves Iran a few screwdriver turns short of a weapon.

The Saudis have been equally blistering, hinting in vague asides that if the United States cannot roll back the Iranian program, it may be time for Saudi Arabia to move to Plan B — nuclear weapons of its own, presumably obtained from Pakistan, which entered the nuclear club on Saudi subsidies.

Iran’s agreement to convert or dilute the fuel stocks that are closest to weapons grade, Mr. Obama said, means that the deal would “cut off Iran’s most likely paths to a bomb.” But it would cut them off only temporarily, long enough to pursue negotiations without fear that Iran would use the time to inch closer to a weapons capability.

But the rollback he won for this first stage, according to American intelligence estimates, would slow Iran’s dash time by only a month to a few months.

Mr. Obama met with senators from both parties last week, hoping to dissuade them from imposing new sanctions just as he is lifting some in an effort to coax Iran toward disarmament. But even some of his closest allies are unconvinced: Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, signed a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry last week noting that the temporary accord “would not require Iran to even meet the terms of prior United Nations Security Council resolutions,” which require complete suspension of nuclear production.

On the Iranian side, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which American intelligence agencies have accused of running a secret weapons-design program, may try to chip away at the accord as well, arguing that the sanctions relief is puny and that even the caps on enrichment will slow Iran’s efforts to build its nuclear capabilities.

Mr. Kerry and his chief negotiator, Wendy Sherman, say they have no illusions that the interim agreement solves the Iranian nuclear problem. It simply creates time and space for the real negotiations, they say, where the goal will be to convince Iranian leaders that the only way to get the most crippling sanctions — those that have cut the country’s oil revenue in half — lifted is to dismantle large parts of a program on which they have spent billions of dollars and staked national pride.

Lurking over the American negotiating team is the specter of what can go wrong even with a seemingly good deal to buy time. As Ms. Sherman was coaxing Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, toward the interim agreement, the North Koreans were restarting a nuclear reactor that they had partly dismantled in a similar agreement struck late in the administration of President George W. Bush — a deal meant to halt North Korea’s ability to produce plutonium fuel for weapons.

The North Korean example has become Exhibit No. 1 in Israel’s argument that the deal struck on Sunday gives a false sense of security. “There are two models for a deal: Libya and North Korea,” Israel’s minister of strategic affairs and intelligence, Yuval Steinitz, said in an interview during a recent trip to Washington. “We need Libya.”

Mr. Steinitz was referring to a 2003 agreement in which Libya gave up all of its nuclear equipment and was left with no ability to make nuclear fuel. 

At the beginning of Mr. Obama’s presidency, Iran had roughly 2,000 kilograms of low-enriched uranium, barely enough for a bomb. It now has about 9,000 kilograms, by the estimates of the International Atomic Energy Agency. A few thousand centrifuges were spinning in 2009; today there are 18,000, including new models that are far more efficient and can produce bomb-grade uranium faster. A new heavy water reactor outside the city of Arak promises a new pathway to a bomb, using plutonium, if it goes online next year as Iran says it will.

True rollback would mean dismantling many of those centrifuges, shipping much of the fuel out of the country or converting it into a state that could not be easily adapted to bomb use, and allowing inspections of many underground sites where the C.I.A., Europe and Israel believe hidden enrichment facilities may exist. There is no evidence of those facilities now, but, as a former senior Obama administration official said recently, speaking anonymously to discuss intelligence, “there has never been a time in the past 15 years or so when Iran didn’t have a hidden facility in construction.”

There is also the problem of forcing Iran to reveal what kind of progress it has made toward designing a weapon. For years, its leaders have refused to answer questions about documents, slipped out of the country by a renegade scientist nearly eight years ago, that strongly suggest work on a nuclear warhead. Inspectors have never been able to interview Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the academic believed to be in charge of a series of weapons development projects.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Syracuse University severs ties with Palestinian Al-Quds University

Students at al-Quds hold a Nazi-style demonstration. Supported by donations from Western nations, al-Quds has a reputation as the most moderate Palestinian univeristy
Syracuse University “indefinitely” suspended its relationship with Al-Quds University on Thursday, making it the second American university to sever ties this week after students held a Nazi-style demonstration on the Palestinian university’s campus.

“We are very disappointed and saddened to have learned of these recent events at Al-Quds University,” said Kevin Quinn, Syracuse’s senior vice president for public affairs, in an email to The Jerusalem Post.

He said Syracuse’s Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism would end its ties with Al-Quds. The decision by Syracuse came three days after Brandeis University severed its relationship. (See here.)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Students at al-Quds University stage Nazi-style rally; Brandeis University suspends academic partnership

Brandeis University President Frederick Lawrence announced Monday that Brandeis has suspended its partnership with Al-Quds University following a Nov. 5 demonstration on the Al-Quds campus in east Jerusalem where demonstrators wore black military gear, were armed with fake automatic weapons, and raised the Nazi salute.

Off campus, the students demonstrate with real automatic rifles, but not on-campus, as the university has a no guns policy.

After President Lawrence contacted Al-Quds President Sari Nusseibeh and requested an unequivocal condemnation of the demonstration, Nusseibeh responded with a statement complaining of “vilification campaigns by Jewish extremists.”

Al-Quds is funded by donations from western nations. It was established by Israel in 1984, one of several universities Israel helped set up for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank with the aim of increasing the educational level of Palestinians.

Brandeis is a quintessential liberal university, placing a heavy emphasis on programs such as Peace Studies. Al-Quds and Brandeis formed their academic partnership a decade ago.

Students clad in black military gear step on Israeli flags and give fascist salute

Photos of suicide bombers and other terrorist martyrs held up as heroes

Note that the group's symbol includes the territory they lay claim to and it includes all of Israel

Demonstrations like this - at the supposedly moderate al-Quds University - tend to convince Israelis that the Palestinians will never keep a peace treaty, regardless of any piece of paper their leaders may sign.