Posts from our progressive community

what i'm reading: the golden compass by philip pullman

we move to canada - Sun, 03/29/2015 - 06:00
The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman, has been on my to-read list since it was first published in the mid-1990s. Although I generally don't read fantasy fiction, after reading an outstanding review in The New York Times Book Review, I was very intrigued. Thanks to the Teen Book Club I facilitate at the library, I recently had an excuse to read it: The Golden Compass (published as Northern Lights in the UK) is our March title.

This is an absolutely wonderful book. Lyra Belacqua, a smart, spunky 11-year-old girl, is wholly believeable as our powerful, but very human, hero. She lives in a world recognizable to us, but different - a parallel universe which unfolds naturally, without the ponderous world-building that I find so tedious in more typical adult fantasy fiction.

The book is chock-full of adventure, mystery, and action, with just the right touch of thoughtful reflection thrown in. It's an excellent youth or tween read, which is to say it's fast-paced, written in a clear and straightforward style, and with the darker, scarier, and potentially violent material handled with discretion and a gentle touch. There is sadness and loss and frightening elements, as there should be, but there's nothing graphic.

The Golden Compass is sometimes called a youth novel, but it lives on the younger side of that spectrum, perfect for a 10- or 11-year-old who is a good reader. Why, then, is it catalogued in the adult section of our library? I can only speculate that it might have been a response to "challenges" - meaning controversy and calls for banning or limiting access in the library.

To an adult reader, the reason for the challenges - though silly, in my view - are obvious. On the surface The Golden Compass is a straightforward fantasy-adventure, but on another level it can be read as a critique of The Church. The book is certainly not anti-religion or anti-spirituality, but it is a harsh condemnation of the institutional Church - the Church of the Inquisition, the Church of intolerance, and most of all, the Church that has harbored and protected known pedophiles for centuries, allowing countless children's lives to be shattered.

There are other aspects to which some Christian readers might object: our hero is herself identified with Christ imagery. But I believe the principal objections would focus on a negative portrayal of the institution of organized religion.

Some critics see Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy (The Golden Compass is book one) as a response to C. S. Lewis' The Narnia Chronicles, with its clearly Christian underpinnings. Not being a reader of fantasy, and never having read Narnia (I read and enjoyed The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a child, but stopped there), I can't comment on these critiques. There are many comparisons online, but most focus on film adaptations - not a reliable way to critique a book!

The 2007 movie adaptation of The Golden Compass was greeted with articles like "The Chronicles of Atheism" and "The Golden Compass: A Primer on Atheism". This is nonsense, of course. I'm pretty sure anyone who says the movie version of The Golden Compass is about atheism hasn't seen it. For this, I'll turn to the late, great Roger Ebert's review of the movie.
For most families, such questions will be beside the point. Attentive as I was, I was unable to find anything anti-religious in the movie, which works above all as an adventure. The film centers on a young girl named Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards), in an alternative universe vaguely like Victorian England. An orphan raised by the scholars of a university not unlike Oxford or Cambridge, she is the niece of Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig), who entrusts her with the last surviving Alethiometer, or Golden Compass, a device that quite simply tells the truth. The Magisterium has a horror of the truth, because it represents an alternative to its thought control; the battle in the movie is about no less than man's preservation of free will.One of the better pieces I've found on this subject was by Jenn Northington, writing on, for Banned Books Week 2013.
One could argue that while the disdain for organized religion and bureaucracy registers in Pullman’s books as well as in his interviews, it doesn’t prevent them from containing all kinds of mystical elements. There are witches with super powers, embodied souls in the form of daemons, a trip to the underworld. One could further say that they promote a sense of spirituality and a belief in the possibility of things beyond our comprehension. There’s a word for that; some call it faith. This argument, of course, is unlikely to hold weight with anyone who objects to the series. In matters of taste there can be no dispute, and each reader finds something different in a book.If The Golden Compass works equally well as a great children's read, and a response to a famous fantasy series, and a critique of a social institution, that is quite a feat, and Pullman deserves huge recognition for pulling it off. The symbolic meanings are there for discussion and debate, but the solid base of the book is vivid, highly accessible, and simply excellent.

The Quiet Eloquence Of Harry Smith

Politics and its Discontents - Sun, 03/29/2015 - 05:51
His is a quiet eloquence that speaks far louder than all the braying our political 'leaders' engage in with abandon. Harry Smith, about whom I previously posted, is a man who has seen much during his long life. He has seen the worst that happens when society treats the majority of its people with contempt, condemning them to short lives of poverty, illness, and despair. He has also seen the best when society recognizes the obligations government has to the less advantaged through the construction of a comprehensive social safety net. It is the latter that he now sees being steadily eroded, as the neoliberal agenda works hard to return us to that earlier time when only the relatively few mattered, the vast majority abandoned to only their own devices and the charity of individuals to sustain them.

The first video is a trailer for his memoir, Harry's Last Stand, which he describes as
"a rallying cry to a younger generation" to fight for a social safety net "that allows every citizen the right to decent housing, advanced education, proper health care, a living wage, and a dignified old age free of want."

Many of these post-war gains, achieved by his generation after the Second World War, are being clawed back, with the poor and middle class losing more and more ground in the face of growing inequality, says Smith.

The second brief video is a stinging indictment of Stephen Harper's agenda which, despite political rhetoric to the contrary, favours the few while disdaining the majority.
In a blistering attack on the Prime Minister, broadcast Saturday at the Broadbent Institute's Progress Summit 2015, the 92-year-old Smith said Harper "has treated veterans with disdain, intimidated scientists, environmentalists, and most importantly the poor," "robbed the vulnerable" and "enriched the 1% at the expense of the 99%."

All disengaged citizens, especially the young, need to hear Harry Smith's message and act upon it.Recommend this Post

The Ghastly Record and Imaginary Trial of Stephen Harper

Montreal Simon - Sun, 03/29/2015 - 04:39

I was thinking today about Mike Duffy's trial, which is now only nine days away, and how it may last at least two months, because of all the evidence the Crown has collected.

And all the PMO witnesses they are going to have to grill.

And it gave me a really warm feeling. Until I had a horrible thought.

With all the evidence and the witnesses the Crimes Against Canada Tribunal could call upon at Stephen Harper's trial, it could go on for YEARS.

And we might have to wait forever for the Day of Justice.
Read more »

War By Other Means

Northern Reflections - Sun, 03/29/2015 - 01:45


Over the weekend, Charles Taylor addressed the Broadbent Conference. He's a remarkable man with a remarkable mind and a remarkable history. Like Pierre Trudeau, he grew up in privilege, the son of French and English parents. The two men knew each other well and worked together at Cite Libre. Back in the '60's, they ran against each other in the Town of Mount Royal -- and Taylor knew he was going to lose.

I was living in Montreal back then, and I remember the contest. There were sharp differences of opinion. But the contest was marked by mutual civility and respect -- a far cry from the exchanges this week between Stephen Harper and Tom Mulcair.

Back in 2007 Taylor co-chaired Quebec's Commission on Reasonable Accommodation of Cultural and Religious Minorities. He is uniquely qualified to comment on Stephen Harper's politics:

"We're in a context where Islamaphobia is very powerful in the West," he said.

"It's perfectly understandable emotionally. We have to get over it and the worst and the last thing we need is for our political leaders to surf on it and encourage it."

Taylor said Harper seems "tone deaf" to the dangerous impact his rhetoric can have, although he said it also seems to be a deliberate tactic to whip up support in the run-up to the next federal election, scheduled for October.

He called on all political leaders to show restraint, even if it costs them votes, rather than risk "terrible damage" to Canadian society.
In the long run,Taylor said, Harper's politics will be counterproductive:

"Ask yourself what are the recruiters for Islamic State saying? They're saying (to Muslims), 'Look, they despise you, they think that you're foreign, you're dangerous, you're not accepted here, so why don't you come with us?'" 
Carl von Clausewitz wrote that war is "politics by other means." For Stephen Harper, the reverse is true. Politics is war by other means. And that kind of politics, Taylor warned his audience, destroys societies.

Why Young Canadians Can Help Build a Better Canada

Montreal Simon - Sat, 03/28/2015 - 22:38

As you probably know, I believe that one of the most important things progressives must do is reach out to young Canadians and encourage them to vote.

Not just because if they did vote in greater numbers we could crush the ghastly Cons who are destroying our country and torching their future.

But also because they could help build a better Canada. 
Read more »

Mandatory Church Attendance?

Politics and its Discontents - Sat, 03/28/2015 - 17:04
I'm sorry. As Johnny Carson used to say, "I do not make these things up, folks, I merely report them."

Perhaps Americans have far more in common with that theocracy in Iran than they realize?Recommend this Post

What Is It With Barrick Gold?

The Disaffected Lib - Sat, 03/28/2015 - 14:34

When Bryan Mulroney left politics he took a spot on the board of Barrick Gold.  So, too, did George H.W. Bush after he failed to win a second term as president.  Now it's John Baird who has a date with Barrick destiny, apparently as an "adviser."  Baird will be joined by Newt Gingrich, also appointed to Barrick's international advisory board.

It's not exactly a demanding job.  Barrick says the international advisory board meets "about once a year."

The job probably won't put Baird on Easy Street but he might try picking up a few of Pam Wallin's former directorships to help make ends meet.

Stick It Where The Sun Don't Shine

Trapped In a Whirlpool - Sat, 03/28/2015 - 13:39
Ontario's annual sunshine list is out and as usual we here the chorus of What? They made how much? Which is the very purpose these lists exist in the first place.
Read more »

Lowlights of the 2015 Manning Centre Conference

The Winnipeg RAG Review - Sat, 03/28/2015 - 12:23
Boy, this year has been crazy - too busy for super frequent blog posting (that and my twitter account has sorta cannibalized a lot of my would-be blog content). I'm still working on some drafts for the blog that should be interesting but as an inaugural post for 2015 I thought I'd lazily share a good mashup of some of the low lights of the 2015 Manning Centre Conference, courtesy of the fine folks from at Truth Mashup.

This early March conference - a true voice of small c-conservatism with a large C-Conservative speakers - is said to have set the tone for the upcoming Federal Election on the right. If so, then feel joy as we're finally going to get to watch the spectacle of real far-right wingnuttery that's dragged political discourse and policy south of the 49th into the ground.

Finally, Canadian politics can become exciting like US politics by becoming a train wreck like US politics!

What Has Jason Kenney Been Smoking?

The Disaffected Lib - Sat, 03/28/2015 - 11:32

Seriously.  I'm wondering if our fledgling defence minister was high, high, high, when he proclaimed that, after we defeat ISIS,  Iraq and Syria better not look to Canada to create a model democracy in those states.

That's sort of like me asking the confirmed bachelor if he's stopped beating his wife yet.  Apparently, though, Mr. Kenney foresees that we are going to defeat ISIS.  Where?  How?  When?

He's an amicable little shit but I think minister Kenney is in way over his head on this portfolio.  Fortunately for Kenney, Canada has already outsourced most of our foreign and defence policy decisions to Washington.  All he has to do is listen for America's dog whistle.

It's really not all that bad so long as you don't expect Jason Kenney, ISIS Slayer to make a whole  lot of sense.

On value assessments

accidentaldeliberations - Sat, 03/28/2015 - 11:17
The Great Budget Debate at the Progress Summit of course reflected a thorough clash in values. But there was one note of obvious agreement which makes the conservative position untenable once its implications are drawn out.

All four speakers spent plenty of time talking about the fact that some investments are worthwhile, and acknowledging that the role of government includes assessing which ones justify the use of public money. But Monte Solberg in particular neatly demonstrated how anti-government bias undermines any attempt to carry out that task.

Solberg spent plenty of time on the Cons' usual jurisdictional dodges, arguing at various points that the federal government should step aside in favour of provinces, individuals and businesses as alternate decision-makers. But the claim that the federal government should carry a strong bias toward that course of action is flawed in two key ways.

There are plenty of areas where the federal government does in fact have direct jurisdiction: as long as one recognizes e.g. the importance of First Nations health and education (being some of the areas with the most obvious potential for investment to make a massive difference in outcomes) which have been grossly underfunded due solely to the choice of the federal government. And there's also the reality that economies of scale and collective planning can produce better outcomes than atomized and unfocused spending which provinces and municipalities are happy to facilitate.

That said, it's absolutely necessary to evaluate program effectiveness. But Solberg and Philip Cross both went far out of their way emphasizing their disdain for the civil service which needs to be able to carry out the cost/benefit analysis required to direct spending where it can best serve public purposes.

In sum, one can't plausibly claim to acknowledge the value of focused and efficient spending while rejecting the process needed to provide exactly that on specious ideological and jurisdictional grounds. And the right's failure to reconcile those principles - both in the Progress Summit debate and elsewhere - offers a compelling reason not to consider it credible when it comes to economic planning.

About that "Of the People, By the People, For the People" Business? Forget About It.

The Disaffected Lib - Sat, 03/28/2015 - 11:04
Proof positive that America is a corporatist state saddled with a "bought and paid for" Congress.

The big US banks have given the Democrats an ultimatum - silence progressives like Elizabeth Warren or we'll cut off our funding. calls it "Wall Street's political shakedown."

If ever you doubted that our obscene campaign finance regime constitutes a form of legalized bribery, consider this: Reuters reports today that officials at top Wall Street banks recently convened to discuss how they could convince Democrats “to soften their party’s tone” toward the financial industry, and among the options now under consideration is halting campaign donations to Senate Democrats unless they rein in progressive populists like Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

The banks represented at the Washington meeting included Citigroup, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, according to the report, and though the idea of withholding campaign contributions did not arise at that gathering, it has since been floated in conversations among representatives from the banks.

There are two salient points to be made here: First, while only the most naive mind could consider it surprising, that Democrats are clutching their pearls over a possible drought of Wall Street funds underscores how poisoned our campaign finance system has become, and it speaks volumes about the plutocratic capture of American politics. Moreover, the report further puts the lie to Chief Justice John Roberts’ apparently straight-faced assertion, writing his opinion in the Citizens United case, that campaign contributions are not intended to influence lawmakers’ official duties.
...Yet here we have an industry that may well cut off a political party if it does not jettison proposals like breaking up “Too Big To Fail” institutions, reinstating the Glass-Steagall law separating commercial and investment banking, and reining in unscrupulous speculation. These proposals have galvanized the Warren wing of the Democratic Party, which may be emboldened but is far from dominant. Look no further than Wall Street’s affinity for the party’s likely presidential nominee, or the identity of the Democrats’ potential next leader in the Senate, a top recipient of financial industry contributions.

For Democratic neoliberals who have proven all too eager to forge an unholy alliance with the malefactors of great wealth, this Wall Street shakedown will only redouble their commitment to keep the financial powers-that-be placated.

From Bad to Worse to Absolutely Nuts. How Yemen Complicates and Confounds Everything in Our War on ISIS.

The Disaffected Lib - Sat, 03/28/2015 - 10:42

MSM reporters are finally beginning to figure out that all's not what it seems with our air war against ISIS.  There are wheels spinning within wheels on this one.  There's the religious civil war between Shiite and Sunni Islam, Saudi Arabia versus Iran.  Then there's China's interest in expanding its presence and influence in the Middle East.  Russia is holding a hand too although it's keeping its cards pretty close to its chest for now.

Much as we badmouth ISIS, it does have its usefulness.  Among other things it's presence has become the hallmark of a failed state.  If ISIS is there, the place has gone all to hell.  ISIS shows up just in time to push everything over the edge.  ISIS also lets us see our supposed friends in a clearer light.  ISIS is in Iraq which has gone all to hell.  ISIS is in Libya which has gone all to hell.  ISIS is big in Syria - yeah, gone all to hell.  ISIS is in Yemen - ditto, ditto, ditto.

ISIS is synonymous with chaos.  Which brings up an interesting point.  How do you restore order out of chaos with a bombing campaign?  You could put that question to the half-wits that make up our political and military leadership but you would need to be fluent in babble to make any sense of them.

The lack of any shred of coherence in our current adventure in the Middle East is blatant in the fighting now underway in Yemen.  Lots of players there.  Start with the ousted (Sunni) president, a puppet of the Saudis.  Also on the Sunni side are ISIS and al Qaeda fighters.  Among their ranks are the guys on whom Obama has been waging drone warfare for.. well, it feels like forever.  On the other side are the Houthi rebels, a Shiite bunch, who have been kicking their government's ass and are engaged in fierce combat against ISIS and al Qaeda.  But wait, there's more.  Asia Times has a good backgrounder.

Simply put, the conclusion becomes unavoidable that while Obama has no option but to be seen openly holding the hands of King Salman, a key ally, the US would have serious misgivings about the efficacy of the military intervention achieving anything of lasting value. The Saudis, after all, have no known record in modern history of being great performers in wars and the Americans willy-nilly factor in that if and when the Saudi operations in Yemen fail, a direct US military intervention may become unavoidable, which means involvement in another Middle eastern war, which is something that Obama has refused to contemplate.

Most certainly, Washington would also see that the weakening of the Houthis at the present juncture can only shift the balance of forces in favor of the extremist Islamist groups affiliated with the al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Meanwhile, the standoffish stance taken by the European Union would also imply an early warning to the US from Brussels that it will essentially have to opt for a ‘coalition of the willing’ to carry forward any sustained military intervention in Yemen. In a clear-cut statement on Thursday, the EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has disapproved of military actions on the whole and has counseled that the aim should be to reach “a political consensus through negotiations” so that a “sustainable solution” becomes available.

...Conceivably, Obama and Mogherini’s thinking converge. And that brings in the role of Russia and Iran. Of course, Moscow and Tehran have held consultations. President Vladimir Putin received a phone call on Thursday from his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani and has been reported as stressing “the urgency of an immediate cessation of hostilities and of stepping up efforts, including the UN, to develop options for a peaceful settlement of the conflict.”

Clearly, Moscow is reading the tea leaves correctly that US will turn to the UN Security Council shortly to open a political and diplomatic track and that Russia’s cooperation becomes vital.

Hey, even Pakistan wants in.

This dominant thinking in the world capitals make it very difficult for the Saudis to push ahead with the military operations and expand them to a ground offensive. Interestingly, Riyadh has since advised Islamabad to postpone the visit by a high-level Pakistani delegation including military officials that was to have taken place on Friday. (See my blog Pakistan’s Yemeni War.) Sensing that the Saudis are having a rethink, Islamabad has also quickly re-calibrated its earlier enthusiasm to be part of the Saudi-led coalition.

All in all, the Saudi operations in Yemen are lacking a sense of direction and may have to give way to the political and diplomatic track sooner than later. Iran will be pleased that the prospect of the Houthis being accommodated in Yemen’s power structure in Sana’a as a legitimate constituent party looks brighter than ever. If that happens, Shi’ite empowerment in the region gains further ground. Indeed, the suppressed Shi’ite communities in Bahrain (where Shi’ites are in majority) and other regional states in the Gulf, including even in Saudi Arabia, are watching closely the denouement in Yemen.

As the best-organized force in Yemen, the Houthis can afford to play the long game. Their winning trump card, in the ultimate analysis, is that they are the bulwark against the al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Yemen — and not the GCC states.
Our leaders, political and military, cannot see where this is going.  Harper and Kenney do not see the larger picture.  They haven't got a clue.  The conflict in Iraq is tied into Syria and, through ISIS and al Qaeda, those conflicts are tied into Yemen and the victorious Houthis are kindred spirits with the "suppressed Shi'ite" minorities in the Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia where most of the really good oil fields are in Shiite areas.  
And what does it really come down to at the end of the day?  This is it.

Sunni Muslims regard themselves as the orthodox and traditionalist branch of Islam.

The word Sunni comes from "Ahl al-Sunna", the people of the tradition. The tradition in this case refers to practices based on precedent or reports of the actions of the Prophet Muhammad and those close to him.

Sunnis venerate all the prophets mentioned in the Koran, but particularly Muhammad as the final prophet. All subsequent Muslim leaders are seen as temporal figures.

In early Islamic history the Shia were a political faction - literally "Shiat Ali" or the party of Ali.

The Shia claimed the right of Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, and his descendants to lead the Islamic community.

There you go.  Now does all this chaos make sense?  Is it finally clear?

The economy is the most important consideration. Except when it isn't.

Rusty Idols - Sat, 03/28/2015 - 09:12
It's interesting, how all conservatives, such as Alberta's governing PCs,  firmly oppose higher corporate taxes because of nebulous, highly debatable and entirely theoretical negative economic impacts. 

But anti-gay laws with real, unambiguous, no doubt about it, BIG MONEY negative economic consequences? Well hey, who cares if Salesforce, a company that invested 2 and a half BILLION dollars in Indiana last year says they are now firmly cutting ties with the state over its anti-gay legislation? Who cares if GenCon, the largest gaming convention in North America is making plans to move their annual convention out of Indiana to the tune over 50 million dollars being pulled out of the state's economy EVERY YEAR? So what if the NCAA is seriously re-evaluating any plans to host future events in the state which could add up to hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impact.

Add in potential losses in the millions from the tourist industry, jobs from the tech industry and the huge economic loss caused by an exodus of Gay Indianans and the only question remaining is just how many billions of dollars this new law will cost the state of Indiana's economy.

The entirely theoretical risk to jobs and economic growth cited as a reason to never even consider making corporations pay a fairer share of the tax burden is turned on its head with the argument that treating gays like shit is more important than the devastating effect it will have on the state's economy. 

It's almost as if it was never a good faith argument and Republican Governor Pence is happily abandoning it until the next time someone suggests 'Hey maybe our budget problems could be helped by making corporations pay a higher share?' at which point it will be swiftly resurrected. sdnxry5z7g

Meet a Christian OB/GYN

Dammit Janet - Sat, 03/28/2015 - 09:05
Since I'm being smeared for "targeting" antichoice MDs -- for avoidance by 21st-century minded people -- I thought: what the hell? Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.

I googled "Christian Medical and Dental Society" and scrolled through looking for individual practitioners identifying themselves as members. (Yes, I know, using deeply nefarious tactics here.)

I found more than a few Christian dentists. Here are a couple: Gordon Wong and Tom Harle.

I found a retired paediatric nutritionist, John Patrick, who looks pretty harmless.

Then I hit the jackpot with Dan Reilly, an OB/GYN practicing in "the rural communities of Centre and North Wellington." That would be in Ontario, subject to the new referral guidelines of the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

He's rather full of himself and devotes a page to his dedication to obstetrics and gynaecology, listing eight reasons he chose this specialty. (Really, it deserves a read. The pomposity is amazing even for a male OB/GYN.)

But reasons 6 through 8 are priceless (bold mine):
6. I have to struggle to be empathetic when a patient has a medical complaint I have struggled with. In training it was tough for me to empathize with someone who had a headache or cold or back pain. Deep inside I wanted to say, “I have had this problem and it didn’t slow me down. Buck-up and get back to work!” In ob/gyn I deal with problems that I will never experience. So I have to agree with the patient’s assessment of the severity of the problem and that makes it easier for me to empathize.

7. I enjoy the complexity of medical ethics and law. And there is lots of both in OB/GYN. [Grammar AND creepiness alert!]

8. Men are boring. [Misandry!!!!]
Get your head around number 6. He wanted to deal with problems he will never experience to improve his deficient empathy and claims that as a result he has to agree with the patient's assessment of the problem.

(Plus, like any good Christian, he is using his patients to further his own personal goals.)

Intrigued, I searched the site for abortion, you know, because if he has to agree with the patient's assessment, then he'd do abortions when that's what the patient assessed as the solution to the problem.

From the abortion search, four items come up:
1. A video of a one-hour talk he gave at McMaster University called "Abortion and the Four Principles: Clarity without Resolution." I watched about five minutes of it and that was the end of my patience for his smarmy style.

2. A link to a pdf called "Prenatal Genetic Testing, Eugenic Abortion, and the Christian Physician." I did not download this; the title says it all.

3. and 4. Pages titled "Abortion Ethics Talk" and "Abortion Ethics: Understanding the Debate."

Here they are.

And that's my public service duty for today.

On structures of convenience

accidentaldeliberations - Sat, 03/28/2015 - 09:01
The Progress Summit panel on accountability and transparency has covered the issued of power being consolidated in the hands of the executive, as well as the fact that Stephen Harper's actions in that respect only reflect a wider pattern. But it's worth reminding ourselves how that trend is best explained - and considering how to reverse or modify it.

To start with, the desire to avoid accountability has led to additional trends beyond the transfer of power upward. In addition, projects - and particularly the aspects thereof which might give rise to controversy - are increasingly handled by the private sector which isn't subject to access-to-information legislation rather than the civil service which is. And while that's partly driven by ideology, it's also a matter of convenience for governments which think that knowledge about how decisions are actually made runs contrary to their political goals.

The existence of accountability mechanisms for one process thus tends to be treated as reason to use another one. And the answer to that reality may be to extend the reach of our watchdogs: by eliminating that asymmetry in making both executive operations and private decision-making affecting public expenditures subject to access to information and other oversight mechanisms, we can eliminate the incentive to channel power toward them for artificial reasons.

In addition, it's come to be assumed that the process of review by legislators is too ponderous for many decisions, resulting in legislation being developed more as a framework for executive decisions rather than the outcome of a deliberative process as to what choices should be made.

That trend can be reversed by lawmakers themselves to the extent they're willing to buck the trend and pass more substantive legislation. Or alternatively, greater transparency and consultation in executive decision-making - which itself could be required by law - could go a long way toward ensuring that decisions aren't made solely by the executive and its preferred set of special interests.

Identifying the adversary

accidentaldeliberations - Sat, 03/28/2015 - 07:18
Not surprisingly, Charles Taylor's keynote address and discussion on political inclusion has neatly highlighted both the importance of finding commonalities at the personal level, and the dangers of government fomenting prejudice toward minority groups. But I'd think it's worth drawing a distinction between the problems being addressed at the personal and the political levels.

At the personal level, it's true prejudice which is best addressed through relationships and shared experience. And we should expect a concerted effort to connect to minority communities to put an end to the underlying fear of the other which politicians may seek to use to their own ends in trying to build a voting coalition through the demonization of others.

But the choice to pursue that path - with the Cons' attempt to conflate Islam in general with an inchoate threat to Canadians serving as a particularly jarring example - arises out of something more cynical and dangerous than individual prejudice based in ignorance or unfamiliarity, and which deserves to be called out as such when carried out as a deliberate strategy.

The best label for it may be something along the lines of exclusionism: the inclination and/or deliberate choice to exacerbate prejudice for the purpose of diminishing the public participation of minority groups. And it should be a relatively easy matter to build consensus around the need to fight along those principled lines, even if each particular case also involves the challenge of countering some level of personal prejudice.

Penetrating The Fog Of War

Politics and its Discontents - Sat, 03/28/2015 - 06:26

Today I turn, once again, to Star letter-writers to inspire both sanity and hope in our troubled land:

No ‘middle’ in Mideast war debate, March 25
Prime Minister Stephen Harper bet Canada’s future on oil prices remaining abnormally high. Some economist! Now he is about to order our Armed Forces to take another series of baby steps into that miserable immoral morass known as the Middle East. Why? To distract voters from taking a hard look at his government’s dismal record. History shows banging the drums of war is by far the best way to manipulate people’s emotions. Attacking thoughtful critics for being unpatriotic or cowardly is another ploy used by tyrants and bullies.

Horrendous atrocities have occurred in the Middle East and will continue as long as that region’s despotic quarrelling nations support local terrorist groups. Western governments and their multinational energy corporations have been maliciously meddling in the area for more than a century. If only the seeds of democracy had been planted and nourished during that time. But nobody cared about the ordinary people. The ongoing violence has turned the Arab world into an irrational religious-based kaleidoscope of warring factions. The cradle of civilization is becoming enveloped in a shroud of acrid smoke and the putrid stench of death. Fools rush in where wise men fear to tread.

Lloyd Atkins, VernonHarper’s flip-flop on war fits larger pattern of deceit, Column March 26
Haroon Siddiqui speaks volumes when he describes our leader’s ill-conceived venture into Syria. As I flip more pages in the Star and see a country of interracial harmony, I am saddened by the fact that our new generation, which was created by a young nation built with a vision for transparency, peacekeeping and diplomacy, is now relegated to fear mongering and misrepresentation of our foundation.

Peter Keleghan, TorontoRecommend this Post

Only Making Matters Worse

Northern Reflections - Sat, 03/28/2015 - 06:18

As Canada prepares to enter the Syrian civil war, red flags are everywhere. The latest comes from Yemen. Tom Walkom writes:

In Yemen, it’s hard to figure out who the good guys are. The Saudis and Egyptians back President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the person they regard as the country’s legitimate leader.He was the consensus choice of the country’s two main political parties in a 2012 election where he was the only candidate.
Both the Houthis and southern secessionists boycotted that vote.
Hadi’s enemies now include the Houthis and forces aligned with Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s former president.
Saleh used to be Washington’s man in Yemen, helping America in its fight against Al Qaeda terrorists. At that time he was viewed as a good guy.
But the U.S. eventually decided he was no longer useful. As part of U.S. President Barack Obama’s embrace of the so-called Arab Spring, Saleh was persuaded to step aside.Now, for the time being at least, he is a bad guy.
The problem in the Middle East is that the good guys and the bad guys keep exchanging white and black hats. Stephen Harper lives in a world where it's easy to tell the bad guys from the good guys -- and where international law has no meaning.
Given Harper's simplistic view of the world, foreign military intervention only makes matters worse.

Stephen Harper and the Day the Fear Factor Ran Out

Montreal Simon - Sat, 03/28/2015 - 04:50

I can only imagine the state Stephen Harper must be in this weekend. Because it can't be pretty.

Not after being he was forced to promise changes to his anti-terrorist bill. The one he claimed, so long and so loudly, didn't need to be changed. 

And not after the evidence keeps growing that his war and fear campaign just isn't working.
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