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Misplaced Admiration

Northern Reflections - Mon, 02/01/2016 - 05:44

Those who pay most dearly for the neo-liberal binge we have been on are children. Chris Hedges writes that, in the United States

Violent criminals are socialized into violence. And a society that permits this to take place is culpable. Over 15 million of our children go to bed hungry. Every fifth child (16.1 million) in America is poor. Every 10th child (7.1 million) is extremely poor. We have 25 percent of the world’s prison population. We have scaled back or cut social services, including welfare. Our infrastructures—including our inner-city schools, little more than warehouses—are crumbling. Police regularly gun down unarmed people in the streets. The poor spend years, sometimes lifetimes, without meaningful work or nurturing environments. And these forms of state violence fuel acts of personal violence.  
Consider the rising murder statistics in the neighbourhoods that Neo-liberalism has left behind:

The United States has a homicide rate of 4.5 per 100,000. But when you look at impoverished inner cities you find homicide rates that are astronomical. St. Louis has a homicide rate of 59.23 per 100,000, Baltimore 54.98 per 100,000, and Detroit 43.89 per 100,000. Some impoverished neighborhoods within American cities have even higher homicide rates. West Garfield Park in Chicago, for example, with 18,000 people, had 21 murders last year. This gives the neighborhood a homicide rate of 116 per 100,000 people.

The country’s 10 largest cities have seen murder rates climb by 11.3 percent in the last year.  
Criminologist Larry Athens writes that this phenomenon is preventable:

The slashing of state and federal programs for children and the failure to address the poverty that now grips half the country are creating a vast underclass of the young who often live in constant insecurity and fear, at times terror, and are schooled daily in the language of violence. As Athens has pointed out, “[T]he creation of dangerous violent criminals is largely preventable, as is much of the human carnage which follows in the wake of their birth. Therefore, if society fails to take any significant steps to stop the process behind the creation of dangerous criminals, it tacitly becomes an accomplice in creating them.”
Until recently, we had a government which emulated the American model.  Most assuredly, its admiration was misplaced.

The Republican Nightmare and the Canada Party

Montreal Simon - Mon, 02/01/2016 - 02:44

Well today is Iowa Caucus day in America, and I must admit I'm a little concerned about the mental state of many of our neighbours, and where they might be going.

Because in their current fevered state ANYTHING could happen.

And to make matters worse I'm also worried about being horribly embarrassed. 

For having confidently predicted that Donald Trump would NOT bring fascism to America.

Because he's too much of a blustering dickhead...
Read more »

dispatches from ola 2016, part 1: choosing to walk a path

we move to canada - Sun, 01/31/2016 - 15:00
I attended OLA* for only one day this year, partly because I'm already missing so much work for bargaining and other union business, and partly because one day is often enough. There's a huge lineup of presentations, poster sessions, book signings, vendors, keynote speakers, tours, receptions, etc. - lots of etc. - but the presentations are the meat of the conference. Four presentations a day for three days is just too much.

As it happened, three of the four talks I attended shared a theme: bringing library services to underserved, marginalized, and socially excluded communities.

My first of the day was Choosing to Walk a Path: Library Services with Indigenous Peoples on Purpose. Monique Woroniak, from Winnipeg, a city with a significant indigenous population, first set the social and political context. It was a bit like being at our annual socialist conference: the presenter using the expression the Canadian state, as opposed to Canada, and speaking about settler colonialism as an ongoing structure, rather than an event in the past.

Woroniak showed an old family photograph from a few generations back, when her own forebears - as for many Canadian-born Canadians - were "settling" the prairies. She set the current context as the marked increase in "public expressions of indigenous sovereignty," beginning with Idle No More, but echoing through Canada with a heightened presence of indigenous literature, and in Winnipeg, with social spaces, a magazine, and other events.

I liked her explanation of the difference between diversity and anti-racism initiatives. Diversity programming celebrates multiculturalism - a commendable goal, and better than its opposite - but it leaves power structures unchanged. Anti-racism programming and services seek to create conditions to transform that power imbalance.

That can only happen with (what is now called) a "community development" model. Rather than think of ourselves and our institutions as experts - the holders of special knowledge or at least the keys to that knowledge - telling the community what we have to offer, we work to build relationships, so the community can tell us what they need.

What this looks like in practical terms, as far as I can tell, is not substantially different than a purposeful and meaningful attempt to be more inclusive, combat racism, and educate the public at large about a marginalized community. The difference, it seems, is how one arrives at that goal. And in a field where we are measured by statistics - how many materials circulated, how many people attended a program - this shifts the focus from end result to process.

The most important thing - something we talk about all the time in relation to youth, older adults, or any other population we serve - is not to tell people what we're doing for them, but ask them what they want us to do for and with them. Sounds simple, right? The reality is remarkably elusive. In the context of austerity budgets and skeletal staff, taking time to build relationships and focus on process might as well be a unicorn ride on a rainbow.

One minor note I found interesting was Woroniak`s take on the use of the word "ally". She said (I paraphrase), "You don't call yourself an ally. If a person from the community you are serving calls you an ally, then accept that as a great compliment, but you don't decide that." I'm not sure what to make of that, given that Idle No More shares "I am an ally" badges online.

Next up: Prisons and Libraries: A Relationship Worth Incubating.

* Officially the Ontario Library Association Super Conference, but always referred to as O-L-A, as if we are attending the organization.

what i'm reading: the invention of air by steven johnson

we move to canada - Sun, 01/31/2016 - 13:00
How do we know that the oxygen exists, and that oxygen is different from carbon dioxide? Well, we know it because we've been taught those facts. But how did that knowledge enter the scientific record? Air is invisible to our eyes. How did humans first understand that invisible gases exist, and have predictable properties?

Answering that question, The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America by science historian Steven Johnson, is at its most interesting. The body of experiments that led to the "discovery" of oxygen, carbon dioxide, the properties of gases, and other foundational principles of chemistry were completely unknown to me. (Indeed, I doubt I had ever considered the question.)

This book introduced me to one Joseph Priestly, considered the father of modern chemistry, and a towering thinker of his era, yet largely unknown to the public today.

As Priestly was a contemporary of several of the American "founding fathers", the author illustrates Priestly's importance with these statistics.
In their legendary thirteen-year final correspondence, reflecting back on their collaborations and their feuds, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams wrote 165 letters to each other. In that corpus, Benjamin Franklin is mentioned by name five times, while George Washington is mentioned three times. Their mutual nemesis Alexander Hamilton warrants only two references. By contrast, Priestley, an Englishman who spent only the last decade of his life in the United States, is mentioned fifty-two times.One reason (of many) that Johnson greatly admires Priestly was that he valued open inquiry and the sharing of knowledge more than personal credit or financial gain. Priestly was a dedicated open-source man. He would share his ideas, writing, and data with anyone who was interested. This probably resulted in less fame, and definitely resulted in less income, but those were not Priestly's goals.

The Invention of Air is much more than a biography of Priestly or an account of his experiments. Priestly's work helped define and solidify scientific method, and his political and religious ideas influenced the birth of the American republic. I found these areas more challenging and less interesting. Johnson assumes a degree of knowledge of the history of science that I lack. And the book gets bogged down in biographical detail that seems trivial or irrelevant.

I loved Johnson's The Ghost Map - I'm at least partly responsible for it being promoted widely in our library system - and I've enjoyed (on Netflix) several episodes of Johnson's PBS series, "How We Got to Now". So it was a little disappointing not to love this book, too. But The Invention of Air is often fascinating, and it's well worth the read.

As I did when I reviewed Soul Made Flesh, I caution readers about grisly details of experiments on animals.

This Does Not Sound Good

Politics and its Discontents - Sun, 01/31/2016 - 12:46
Given that the government of Justin Trudeau is in favour of trade deals such as the TPP, its approval seems a foregone conclusion, despite its many grave potential drawbacks:

For a fuller discussion of the above graphic, please click here for both text and links.Recommend this Post

As the World Burns

The Disaffected Lib - Sun, 01/31/2016 - 08:38

When you're roaring toward the cliff edge does it really matter if it's a jackboot or a Gucci loafer smashing the gas pedal into the floorboards? That's kind of how I feel about the body politic in my country these days.

Maybe the Gucci loafer isn't the problem. Maybe the gas pedal is simply jammed. Perhaps it was hammered too many times by the jackboot and now it's stuck. Does it really matter? Do we have time to waste figuring out who is to blame and for how much of what ails us?

I read a truly dreadful interview with a couple of climate scientists in The Guardian recently. There really wasn't much new in it but it presented a stark reminder of how detached from reality our leaders have become on the greatest existential threat ever faced by mankind.

You might recall how, at the Paris climate summit in December, the nations of the world tabled their emissions reductions promises which, if all those promises are honoured (yeah, cross your fingers), they'll result in warming/heating of 3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures by 2100. The target has, for years, been 2C. We're promising, maybe, 3C - maybe more.

One highlight of the Paris summit was a tacit recognition that the old 2C target was simply wrong. If we're to have a reasonable (not great, reasonable) chance of avoiding the worst impacts, i.e. runaway global warming, by 2100, we must not exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius. Yippee, we agree! We've seen the light. 1.5C it is, maybe.

Except for one little snag.

As of now we're already at 1.5C (deferred). Without another tonne of atmospheric CO2, we've already 'baked in' warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius. We don't have to lift another finger to get there. It's in the bag. And so, as we haggle over how many more gigatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions this country or that country should have, we're negotiating to blow straight through 1.5C,  way past it. All this talk, it's gibberish. Utterly disconnected from reality. Hogwash of the particularly lethal sort.

Professor Andy Ridgwell of Bristol University puts it this way:

We have 1.5°C already programmed in, so even if we bring emissions right, right down, immediately, now, we already have 1.5 degrees! So how we’re keeping to a 1.5-degree threshold isn’t clear.

So a fun thing we’re doing now with our very fast warming is the ocean surface warms up and the deep ocean is still cold, which is partly why we have this programmed-in warming that we haven’t seen yet. The deep ocean hasn’t yet noticed that the planet at the surface is rather warmer. If we just sit here at current CO2 levels and let the system equilibrate, it’s 1.5°C anyway. Which comes back to COP21 - what is this 1.5°C target? We’ve emitted the CO2 to reach 1.5°C already, so I don’t know what they’re thinking of!

I wonder if this awkward fact was on the table when our newly-minted federal environment minister met with her provincial counterparts last week. Did they have a "Holy Shit, we've really got to rein in these emissions if our grandkids are to have a snowball's chance" moment? Somehow I doubt it.
As we race toward the cliff edge we've got our eyes glued on the rearview mirror. No one wants to see what lies ahead. No point glancing at the speedometer either.
Maybe the gas pedal isn't stuck. Maybe we're just on cruise control. I expect it really doesn't matter unless we intend to do something about it.

Sunday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Sun, 01/31/2016 - 08:06
This and that for your Sunday reading.

- The Guardian's editorial board comments on the role public entrepreneurship should play in fostering economic development and avoiding bust cycles:
The state’s only legitimate economic role is often seen as patching up discrete failures in particular markets. But Ms Mazzucato stresses how proactive policy is often required to create the markets in the first place. She stresses the role of public agencies in advancing industry’s frontiers. The iPhone may be an archetypal example of entrepreneurial brilliance, but it draws on numerous government-funded technologies including the internet, GPS, touch-screen displays and even Siri, the voice-activated operating system-cum-butler. From Nasa to the BBC, public organisations have created private opportunities. The entrepreneurial state should embrace its unsung role as a venture capitalist, be bullish about the need to run risks to secure returns. New institutions, such as national investment banks, might need to be part of the mix.

Ms Mazzucato points out that the crisis-hit states in Euroland were also all countries where the pre-crisis state failed to innovate. That fostered a frail prosperity, depending less on progress in industry than on booming house prices. When the emergency cures look inadequate, economists interested in fending off future slumps should reconsider the preventative role the state can play.- Michal Rozworski's proposed solutions to Canada's housing crisis include a strong dose of public investment. And Chelsea Vowel duly criticizes Scott Gilmore's attempt to force First Nations and residents of remote areas into cities, rather than working on building existing communities.

- Chris Malsano draws a sharp distinction between socialism and statism. And Greg Sargent notes that Donald Trump's presidential candidacy may be exposing the large number of Republican voters who aren't inclined toward austerity or corporatist economics. 

- Teuila Fuatai documents the gap between the low wages paid to many Canadian workers and the cost of living.

- Finally, the New York Times' editorial board slams corporate tax evasion.

On delayed rectification

accidentaldeliberations - Sun, 01/31/2016 - 07:54
I'll largely echo David Climenhaga's take on Alberta's oil and gas royalty review (PDF). But it's well worth highlighting the difference between the two main interpretations of the review's recommendations - and what they mean for future resource policy.

By way of comparison, some of the media spin includes statements along the lines of the following:
The key points of the report are:
  • Albertans are receiving their fair share.
  • Oilsands royalties won't change.
Contrast that against Rachel Notley's message (which matches the actual comments from the review panel, and indeed from Brian Jean in gloating about the lack of changes):
“The fact of the matter is the environment has changed profoundly, even in the last 12 months, and so that is what is driving our decision-making at this point,” Ms. Notley told a news conference in Calgary yesterday morning. “It is not the time to reach out and make a big money grab. That just is not going to help Albertans over-all right now, and so I feel quite confident that this is the right direction to take.” There's thus a stark contrast between the claim that Alberta's royalty structure is in fact sufficiently fair to stay in place indefinitely, and the view that a period of low prices isn't the time to alter it to improve its level of fairness.

Indeed, anybody looking to the report to confirm or refute the first point will find plenty of conflicting information. Yes, it suggests that Alberta's royalty rates are "comparable with other jurisdictions". But it also recommends annual reporting and further reconsideration as to whether royalties paid meet a number of goals, including "returns to Albertans" - meaning there's ample room for further review as circumstances change. And we'd expect the gap between costs and royalties to be much higher when prices and profits are up.

So the answer on an improved return for the public is best seen as a "not now" rather than a "not ever". And while that's still disappointing compared to the prospect of ensuring improved public benefits in the long term (which could be palatable if paired with supports to cover a short-term downturn), it doesn't close the door to a more fair system in the future.

The Killing of Sammy Yatim: Should Another Cop Be Charged?

Montreal Simon - Sun, 01/31/2016 - 04:12

It's been almost a week since the Toronto police officer James Forcillo was found guilty of the attempted murder of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim. 

Even though he killed him, and it was murder.

And now there are calls for another police officer to be charged for what he did to Yatim after he was shot.
Read more »

In The Absence Of Hope

Northern Reflections - Sun, 01/31/2016 - 03:13

Canadians were shocked by what happened at La Loche a little over a week ago. Jeff Sallot writes that the kid with the gun had been picked on:

We’re not surprised to read that the 17-year-old boy accused of rampaging through the small town of La Loche last Friday — shooting 11 people, four of them fatally — had been bullied in school.
The bullies teased the boy relentlessly about his big ears, Jason Warick of Postmedia News tells us in a heartbreaking report from La Loche.

Three people who were inside the school when the teenager arrived with a gun claim the youth dared people to tease him about his ears. Witnesses report the youth passed by some people and fired at others — as if he knew his quarry, who he wanted dead.
Those of us who have spent their teaching careers in high schools have taught maybe a thousand kids like this kid. For him high school was hell. The truth is that, for most kids, high school is hell. Only a chosen few become president of the student's council. Most students dream of escaping -- and eventually they do.

But, what if you live in a community from which there is no escape?

People in La Loche have known for a long time that their children are at risk of falling into despair. Many are suicidal. Residents have been trying for years to establish a youth centre where young people might hang out doing kid stuff, under adult supervision. In such settings — a YMCA, an ice rink, a youth centre — a caring adult just might notice the quiet kid in the corner, take him aside and get him to open up.

Social workers, school nurses and psychologists know that merely having a sympathetic adult to listen can change the life of a troubled kid. But social workers, school nurses and psychologists are too scarce in remote First Nations’ communities. They’re found down south, in larger and more prosperous parts of the country.This was the point Perry Bellegarde, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, tried to make when talking to reporters in La Loche on Sunday.
Justin Trudeau says his government will set course for a new relationship with Canada's First Nations. If he is to do that, he must give native communities real hope that their citizens can lead productive lives.

Because, in the absence of hope, those with nothing to lose turn to violence.

Rex Murphy: Who Needs An Environmental Review?

Montreal Simon - Sun, 01/31/2016 - 02:07

In my last post I argued that the CBC should fire the Con clown Rex Murphy, for promoting the Energy East pipeline.

While being paid by Big Oil to give speeches glorifying their dubious achievements.

And for attacking Justin Trudeau, and acting like Rona Ambrose's spokesman, on the CBC's flagship news show The National.

Well now in the National Post, Murphy has taken his deranged campaign one step further.
Read more »


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