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Burning question

accidentaldeliberations - Sat, 09/26/2015 - 09:49
Even leaving aside the past politicians who we'd expect to be mentioned in an election, the Cons' ultra-long, ultra-nasty campaign has managed to drag three of the top ten Greatest Canadians into the political muck. So who has Frederick Banting in the pool?

Saturday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Sat, 09/26/2015 - 09:37
Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Yonatan Strauch and Thomas Homer-Dixon discuss how the Cons' economic plans involve betting against our planet. And David Macdonald notes that the supposed reward for prioritizing oil profits over a sustainable future is to stagnate at recession-level employment rates.

- James Bagnall documents the rise of inequality in Canada - though it's worth questioning the assumption that the policies pitched as encouraging growth at the cost of increased inequality have actually lived up to the supposed benefit. And PressProgress reminds us of the Cons' woeful record in dealing with offshore tax avoidance.

- Melissa Newitt makes the case for a federal pharmacare program. And CBC reports on just another example of the profiteering mindset that makes needed medications unaffordable, as a pharmaceutical company is challenging Canada's authority to regulate the price of a treatment for immune disorders which costs $700,000 per year.

- Scott Gilmore duly questions the claim that Cons whose entire message is based on perpetual fear of imaginary threats can make any claim to bravery or strength:
(E)very message from the Conservative party highlights something that frightens them. The global economy. Justin Trudeau’s age. Mulcair’s budget. Crime.

Consider that last danger. Stephen Harper is regularly warning that more must be done to keep us safe, by imposing longer sentences, building bigger prisons, reducing parole. But crime rates in Canada have been declining for decades. There are fewer property crimes now than there were in the 1960s. So why is he so scared?

Perhaps it was inevitable. Conservatives everywhere have been campaigning for years on the proposition that they are the strongest and bravest. But, for that to matter, there must be a counter-threat, something that requires a real man like Stephen Harper in office, not a wet academic like Stéphane Dion or a mincing toff like Michael Ignatieff.

So they talk up the threat. It used to be the commies. Now it’s the terrorists. And the drug dealers. And the brown people. And the reckless spenders. And the environmental activists. And the census takers. Everyone and everything. They’ve spent so long warning us to be constantly afraid, they’ve internalized it. They have literally frightened themselves.

And now, ironically, the Conservative party is whom you vote for if you are timid and emasculated, if you go to bed scared and wake up worried.

And what of Chris Alexander, who used to strap on body armour and helicopter into hostile districts to stare down warlords? He’s scared of a young woman in a niqab and a homeless family in Turkey.- Finally, Michael Harris laments how much the Cons have done to destroy trust in Canada's public institutions. And the Tyee offers a handy booklet version (PDF) of its compilation of Stephen Harper's abuses of power.

More on the Question of Freedom and the Niqab. . .

kirbycairo - Sat, 09/26/2015 - 07:54
It is interesting and bizarre to me how the foot-soldiers of the rightwing have continually railed against the so-called "nanny-state" and yet they are the first to call for state intervention when they find something that they don't like. They don't want the state to tell them that they can't, say, text and drive, or smoke in restaurants but they are more than eager for the state to come up with a dress-code. For me, this little act of cognitive dissonance is quite a feat and one that leaves me doubting the progress of social democracy.

The foundations of the modern freedoms associated with constitutional democracy are found in events like the French and American revolutions and the writings of people like Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and William Godwin. Though there are complicated theoretical and academic traditions associated with the questions of the limits of freedom, personal autonomy, and self-ownership, in public discourse we have used some pretty basic conceptual standards.  We commonly legitimize individual freedom of action as long as it is doesn't "harm others." Though this is by no means a legal category, it is a kind of conceptual litmus test that people think about in relation to freedoms. For example, freedom of conscious, freedom to marry who we chose, freedom of movement, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of worship, these are the sorts of things that come to mind when we discuss a "free society" in private and public discourse, and they are the kinds of freedoms that are enshrined in various constitutional documents all over the world.

As long as your actions or thoughts aren't perceived as harmful or threatening to others, social democracy is generally thought to be tolerant of them. But how societies choose to limit freedoms is a complex issue. Perhaps the most famous example that is used in public discourse is the idea that your freedom of speech doesn't include yelling "fire" in a crowded theatre. This would be a so-called act of public mischief, because the impending stampede could cause harm to others, and limiting your freedom in this regard does nothing to substantially change your rights. Other limits to freedom of speech are more complex. For example many countries have decided to limit political advertising because even courts recognize the need for a more level electoral playing field. Your freedom of movement is limited to public spaces and doesn't include the private property of others or restricted government property, with the occasional exceptions of recognized easements.

There are other complex limits to your freedoms that are connected to perceived social goods. For example, the state compels you to wear a seatbelt  or a motorcycle helmet because there are significant social costs associated with not doing so.  Such freedom limitations are usually perceived as justified because they are relatively small and don't have huge impacts on people's lives and so are not perceived as too intrusive. But even here we grant exceptions in order to protect religious freedoms. In many places those who practice the Sikh religion are exempted from helmet laws so that they don't have to remove their turbans. The social "good" that this exception is meant to protect (the freedom of religion) is usually thought (at least by the courts) to outweigh the social risks associated with not wearing helmets.*

This brings us to the question of the niqab. Our question regarding freedoms should never, generally speaking, be 'how do I, as an individual, feel about someone's thought, conscience, actions or dress?" Rather, the question is "do those freedoms pose a significant impact or threat toward others or society?" If you want to limit people's freedom to marry who they want, for example, you can't simply appeal to a personal religious belief that gay marriage is some sort of unholy alliance. Since two gay people marrying each other has no direct impact on you as an individual, if you wanted to mount a meaningful argument against it you would have to contend that gay marriage is some sort of social threat, that is to say a threat to the stability or our society etc. However, the values of gay couples span the spectrum of our social values in general; some are conservative, some are liberal, some are atheist, some are religious, etc. In other words, gay couples are, in their beliefs, no different from straight couples. Thus, arguments that claim that we shouldn't legitimize gay couples because doing so poses some sort of threat to our social cohesion, seem to be extremely weak at best.

Arguments about the niqab are similar in nature. If someone choses to wear a niqab, other than potentially offending your personal sensibility, they don't have an individual impact on you. Thus, talk of banning a niqab (whether in citizenship ceremonies or in public in general) has to rely on some more abstract argument concerning what would have to constitute a public threat. This supposed public threat could be of two sorts; a perceived 'feminist' threat, or some kind of pseudo religious one. It is not uncommon to hear people say that the niqab is part of a system of gender oppression and therefore harmful to women. This may be true. However, going from this position to justifying a public ban on such clothing is a substantial and problematic conceptual leap. The danger involved here is, of course, one of extreme paternalism. By attempting to ban consenting adults from actions that they claim to be taking freely by their own volition, we are arguing at some level that these adults are unwittingly caught up in their own oppression. Such behavioural bans do, however, exist. Even consenting adults are not allowed to sell their organs or sell themselves into slavery. The reason that we as a society don't grant these rights is that we know that the most vulnerable among us would potentially fall victim to a system of exploitation. Tacit in the assumption of a niqab ban is a similar claim about exploitation. However, there are two important differences. One is that unlike a ban on selling yourself into slavery, say, a niqab ban involves a perceived religious practice. The other is that a ban on the niqab involves only one gender while other such bans refer themselves to the population at large. It isn't difficult to understand how potentially tricky it is to use a feminist argument to ban women from taking actions that they claim are not only religious but carefully considered and volitional.

An argued ban on the niqab that invokes a perceived cultural or religious threat is even more complicated. Whether we want to admit it or not, behind such arguments are centuries of prejudice, feelings that have resulted in countless acts of aggression and war by the West against muslim targets beginning with the Crusades. The concern here, though people often avoid its strict articulation for fear of sounding racists, are that Western nations are too tolerant, and that if we extend our religious rights too liberally we are opening the floodgates to some sort of Islamic take over of our society. I heard this argument regularly when I lived in the UK and I hear it here on AM talk radio. And politicians regularly stoke these fears with expressions like "jihadists" or the ever-popular "they hate our freedoms."  The argument is problematic in a number of ways. Most importantly people commonly forget that many of the muslims that have arrived in Western nations over the past fifty or sixty years have been compelled to leave the Middle East because of wars, and in many cases these are wars that the West has helped to start and promote. Far from being a sign of some conspiracy to take over the West (as many unhinged rightwingers would have you believe) Islamic immigration to the West has often been a result of our own adventurism and militarism. Perhaps more glaringly obvious is the fact that muslims have chosen to live in countries like Canada when they could have in many cases chosen to live in non-Western states. Though their are crazy and aggressive individuals in all nations and religion, the bizarre notion of an Islamic conspiracy has no basis in fact and is simply a myth conveniently propagated by Western, mostly rightwing politicians eager to exploit fear as a way of winning votes. In fact, the opposite of this myth is actually more true, it is the Western nations that have continually been involved in cultural and military colonial efforts in Muslim nations not the other way around.

There is no question that politicians and rightwing pundits will continue to exploit fears and prejudices concerning such things as sexual preferences and religious beliefs in order to create social division and win support. There is also no question that many people will continue to misunderstand or misrepresent the principles of religious freedom and constitutional rights. The struggle for justice and democracy is, in part, the struggle against fear and bigotry; and a long struggle it is.

(*There are, of course, massive exceptions to all of these liberties which conflict with the principle of 'not harming others.' Perhaps the best example that I can think of is the use of carbon burning personal vehicles. The use of combustion engine automobiles does regular and widespread harm to others. But we accept this harm because the activity became a central part of our culture before we realized the dangers and thus we assume that, though a change must be made, it has to be made slowly.)

Mulcair's orange purge continues

Dawg's Blawg - Sat, 09/26/2015 - 06:52
Three years ago, former NDP candidate Stefan Jonasson, writing about religious misogyny, said: “much like the Taliban and other extremists, the Haredim [an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect] offer a toxic caricature of faith at odds with the spirit of the... Dr.Dawg

It Has Come To This

Politics and its Discontents - Sat, 09/26/2015 - 06:36
I am prefacing this by reproducing a comment I made 0n kirbycairo's post, A Dark Hour Upon Us. Kirby, one of our top-shelf bloggers, always provides insightful analysis and commentary, and in yesterday's piece, he offered a rather gloomy assessment of the human condition.

I wrote back:

I find myself in agreement with your gloomy assessment of the human condition, Kirby. While we have certainly experienced social evolution in the past century, it always seem to take very little to rip away the veneer of civilization we encase ourselves in. As you well know, that is why demagogues are so dangerous.

We are part of the animal kingdom, something we are reminded of on a daily basis. However, like other animals we do have the capacity or potential to be good and philanthropic. Of that I have no doubt. But that capacity has to be carefully nurtured in order to express itself and grow. Today, we have no one in the political arena willing to do the hard lifting required of leadership that would bring out the best in us. And we, of course, are the enablers of that weak leadership that exploits and manipulatse our passions and our prejudices.

In my view, we all are to blame for our abject failures.

I have been avoiding political shows for the past week, for reasons of burnout that I wrote about recently. Yesterday, however, I tuned into the first part of Power and Politics, as they were discussing that morally repugnant $15 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, a followup to the justification that Stephen Harper gave yesterday for pursuing it:
At a campaign stop in Rivière-du-Loup, Que., Harper was asked whether he was putting Canadian jobs ahead of human rights concerns.

"As I've said in the debate, it's frankly all of our partners and allies who were pursuing that contract, not just Canada. So this is a deal frankly with a country, and notwithstanding its human rights violations, which are significant, this is a contract with a country that is an ally in the fighting against the Islamic State. A contract that any one of our allies would have signed," he said.

"We expressed our outrage, our disagreement from time to time with the government of Saudi Arabia for their treatment of human rights, but I don't think it makes any sense to pull a contract in a way that would only punish Canadian workers instead of actually expressing our outrage at some of these things in Saudi Arabia."
So, essentially it has come to this: jobs before morality. A greater indictment of the Harper regime I cannot think of. However, as you will see in the following video, despite the commendably tenacious efforts by P+P host Rosemary Barton, who never fails to impress, neither of the opposition party representative would answer her question of whether they would cancel the contract, although near the end, Paul Dewar does get pinned down.

A bankrupt nation, some would describe Canada as.

Recommend this Post

A Weapon Of Mass Destruction

Northern Reflections - Sat, 09/26/2015 - 06:12


The damage Stephen Harper has done within our borders is apparent everywhere we turn. But Canadians may not be aware of how much damage he has done to their country's international reputation. Harper's tenure on the international stage has been just as destructive as it has been at home. Daryl Copland writes:

The inventor of peacekeeping, long-standing proponent of North-South relations, and determined promoter of sustainable development — once universally welcomed as an honest broker, helpful fixer and provider of good offices and innovative ideas — is today regarded as an obstruction to progress, a country with little to bring to the table.

Canada’s vaunted foreign service has languished, marginalized and under-employed by a government uninterested in professional diplomatic advice or enlightened international initiative.

Unrecognizable to its former partners and friends, Canada has become something of an international pariah — a serial unachiever, the fossil of the year, the country that others don’t want in the room. The one-time boy scout has become a distant outlier in the international system, sometimes ostracized but more often simply ignored. 
Harper claimed we wouldn't recognize Canada by the time he was finished. Our international partners don't recognize us either. When they look at us, what do they see?

All fight, no talk. Dialogue, negotiation, compromise and knowledge-based problem-solving have given way to hectoring rhetoric and debilitating retrogression. Diplomacy and multilateralism have been written off.

Over the past decade the warrior nation wannabes in Ottawa preferred to preside over disastrous years of war in Afghanistan, to help open a Pandora’s Box of multiple misfortunes by participating in an illegal regime change exercise in Libya, and unthinkingly to join in the anti-ISIL bombing of Iraq and Syria, thus worsening the refugee crisis and exposing Canadians to a heightened risk of retaliation at home and abroad. 
It's really quite a record. At home and abroad, Mr. Harper has been a one man weapon of mass destruction.

Stephen Harper and Lynton Crosby's Monstrous Lock Box

Montreal Simon - Sat, 09/26/2015 - 05:21

Well there was Stephen Harper in Quebec yesterday, locking a promise never to raise taxes into a giant safe.

Vowing to put a tax lock on our future. 

Stephen Harper is making a promise to keep his promise. A re-elected Conservative government would introduce so-called “tax lock” legislation that would prohibit increases to federal tax rates, Harper announced Friday.

The gesture is a symbolic one, enshrining in law what Harper has already repeatedly promised and allowing him to say other parties — should they form future governments — would have to break the law in order to raise taxes.

And while some wondered whether he got the idea from a Saturday Night Live skit.
Read more »

Jason Kenney and the Vanishing Ethnic Vote

Montreal Simon - Sat, 09/26/2015 - 02:09

As you know the Harper regime has expended a huge amount of energy pandering to the so-called ethnic vote.

And nobody more than Jason Kenney, the man they call Mr Curry in a Hurry, who likes to jet across the country hitting every religious festival and ethnic banquet between St John's and Victoria.

In relentless pursuit of the ethnic vote, wherever he can find one. At the buffet table, or in a stairwell bearing a pizza. 

So I can't help but think that this move by Justin Trudeau must have felt like a kick in the stomach. 
Read more »

Kevin Page and the Many Victims of the Con Regime

Montreal Simon - Fri, 09/25/2015 - 21:29

For five long years Kevin Page was the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and in many ways the conscience of the Con regime.

They hated the way the way he stood up for the truth, they hounded him, they made his life miserable.

And two years ago they finally forced him out.

But now Page is back with a new book, that tells the story of those nightmare years.
Read more »

Musical interlude

accidentaldeliberations - Fri, 09/25/2015 - 17:35
Gareth Emery feat. Emma Hewitt - I Will Be The Same


accidentaldeliberations - Fri, 09/25/2015 - 16:05
Ladies and gentlemen, the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada:
Sitting in his riding office in Montreal, Cotler says he didn’t like C-51, despite ultimately voting for it. The Liberals, he says, supported C-51 largely out of political considerations. “The party voted against the multilateral mission [against ISIS]. Then comes C-51. Harper’s saying, ‘I’m the guy who’s standing up to terror.’ If, after the ISIS vote, the Libs had been against C-51, then Harper would have said, ‘You can’t really trust these Liberals; they’re soft on terror, soft on crime,’ ” Cotler says. Trudeau, Cotler says, was sure the Conservatives would be open to compromise on the bill. To no one else’s surprise, they weren’t. “Justin is a decent guy. He’s not yet realized how these guys operate, maybe,” Cotler says.Which raises the question: shouldn't somebody running to be Prime Minister have at least some passing awareness of the events of the past decade in Canadian politics?


The Disaffected Lib - Fri, 09/25/2015 - 14:29
It doesn't matter much except to people of the Pacific coast of North America. It's called "The Blob" - a vast area offshore that is unusually warm, by some accounts up to 3C warmer than normal water temperatures. It's messing up marine life and doing a few other things and it might impact on the evolving El Nino and there's not a damned thing we can do about it.

The Blob has now split up with the southern chunk off the coast of California and Baja. The northern part is centered off the coast of British Columbia between Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii.  It sort of looks like this:

But now the Atlantic has developed a Blob of its own only this one is a cold water event. It looks like this:

The Atlantic blob is shown as that expanse of dark blue off the southeastern tip of Greenland, immediately south of Iceland.

Prior studies have predicted such a trend. Climate scientists Stefan Rahmstorf (Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research) and Michael Mann (Penn State) published a paper in the March issue of Nature Climate Change which found that the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC, is growing weaker.

The scientists hypothesized that "conspicuous cooling" in the northern Atlantic could be "due to a reduction in the AMOC over the twentieth century and particularly after 1970." A possible contributor to this trend is the "melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet," which they say is infusing the area with cold, fresh water, which is then interfering with the interplay between the varying temperatures and levels of salinity that drive the current.

The Washington Post's Chris Mooney questions whether the Atlantic Blob is the telltale of a weakening of the Atlantic Ocean conveyor:

I was formerly somewhat skeptical about the notion that the ocean 'conveyor belt' circulation pattern could weaken abruptly in response to global warming. Yet this now appears to be underway, as we showed in a recent article, and as we now appear to be witnessing before our very eyes in the form of an anomalous blob of cold water in the sup-polar North Atlantic.

Mooney writes that, if this trend continues, "there could be many consequences, including rising seas for the U.S. East Coast and, possibly, a difference in temperature overall in the North Atlantic and Europe."

Whatever is happening in the North Atlantic, it doesn't look like there's a goddamned thing we can do about it now.  Same, same for the Pacific. We're all just along for the ride at this point. Buckle up.

On political placement

accidentaldeliberations - Fri, 09/25/2015 - 09:24
While others have already commented on Adam Dodek's argument that judges should never enter politics after leaving the bench, I'll offer a couple of observations of my own having to do largely with our perceptions of politics (and the need not to let them override democratic principles).

Dodek's concerns arise largely out of attacks launched by the Cons against Carol Baird Ellan based on some of her past decisions. But it's worth asking whether the problem lies primarily with Baird Ellan's candidacy or the Cons' standard in evaluating it - and how best to address that problem once it's identified.

Let's start by noting that it's absolutely true that judges occupying that role must decide - and must be seen to decide - each case based on the law rather than based on any external consideration, including future political implications. (In this respect, I fully agree with Dodek.)

That said, I'd attach the duty at its highest to the judicial role alone - not indefinitely to the person who occupies it, but who may come to find other priorities worth pursuing.

On that front, I'd hope nobody would look at the career path of, say, Louise Arbour and argue that her experience on the bench should have limited her ability to later work on human rights or international conflict resolution - being the areas where she found an opportunity to apply her skills and experience in the service of the greater public good.

Indeed, to the extent we value a judicial temperament, it's a trait we should be looking for in other areas of society as well - including the political arena, where a sense of fairness or objectivity is all too often lacking.

In Baird Ellan's case, there's of course more of a clash between talking points and the realities of judicial experience - which include decisions which can be manipulated for political gain by a sufficiently unscrupulous opponent. Such is the system as it stands now, and so it will remain until we set a higher standard in politics.

But while Dodek's answer is to keep lowest-common-denominator politics away from anybody associated with the bench, I don't see the value in shutting out well-informed citizens who could go a long way toward setting that higher standard. And if the goal of ensuring better decision-making in multiple branches of government requires a bit more work to defend the judiciary in the meantime, then we should be prepared to put in the effort. 


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