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Driving Round Pegs Into Square Holes - Why We Keep Screwing Up in the Middle East

The Disaffected Lib - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 11:27
Since 1918 with the defeat of the Kaiser's Germany triggered the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the West has established a reputation for screwing up in the Middle East.  It can be said to have begun with the French and British carving up the place to suit their interests, drawing straight lines where none existed before, corralling often hostile ethnic groups into artificial countries with names like Iraq, Iran and Syria.

For all of that, we've never screwed up quite on the scale as our adventures in the Middle East/South Asia in the 21st century.

At the start of this business, almost a century ago, there was a fellow we didn't listen to, Colonel T.E. Lawrence, aka "Lawrence of Arabia."  We didn't listen to him then and that was a screw up.  We haven't listened to him ever since and that remains an ongoing screw up.

John Hulsman, president of a global political risk consultancy, writes that it's time we finally accepted the wisdom of Lawrence.

T E Lawrence, a man who through both theory and practice established himself as the regional Middle Eastern expert par excellence in the early twentieth century, followed a very simple but very different analytical route to wisdom: the actual study of others, rather than the narcissistic devotion to being only able to see the world through one’s own point of view.As Lawrence put it, there is a seminal way to avoid these nasty surprises: “experience of them [local peoples], and knowledge of their prejudices will enable you to foresee their attitude and possible course of action in nearly every case.” In other words, true analysis is more about them, and less about us. US secretary of state John Kerry – a man seemingly perpetually surprised that the world does not operate like a Boston dinner club – would do well to take note.In psychology, the capacity for taking others’ perspectives onboard is referred to as having a theory of mind, an understanding that others’ internal experiences are different from one’s own. In a common test for autism, a school-aged child is shown a bag of, say, sweets. Then, the child is shown that the sweets have been removed and replaced with pennies. The child is asked, “What would another person think is in the bag?” If the child answers “pennies,” that child has no theory of mind. This deficit can, in extreme forms, render a person almost unable to interact with others in a recognisably social way. The same problem writ large in Western policy has crippled strategy in the Middle East for over a century.For example, in modern Iraq, failure to determine the true local unit of politics has been the original sin. That unit has remained the fiercely independent ethno-religious groupings of the Sunni, Shia, and the Kurds, rather than the Western preference for some sort of imposed, centralised, Iraqi construct. This analytical failure has unsurprisingly spawned the chaos of the past century.For example, in modern Iraq, failure to determine the true local unit of politics has been the original sin. That unit has remained the fiercely independent ethno-religious groupings of the Sunni, Shia, and the Kurds, rather than the Western preference for some sort of imposed, centralised, Iraqi construct. This analytical failure has unsurprisingly spawned the chaos of the past century.For as Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds is how the locals primarily see themselves, rather than as Iraqis, as Westerners desire. The long-time rulers of Mesopotamia, the Ottomans, had known better. They had divided the region up into three separate provinces of Basra, Baghdad, and Mosul, respectively dominated by the Shia, the Sunnis, and the Kurds. For in the end, reality will out.Lawrence also said that “the beginning and ending of the secret of handling Arabs is unremitting study of them”, at least in part to develop a theory of mind – their mind, to be exact. Until we learn to stand in the shoes of the people of the region and analytically look at the world the way they do, we cannot hope to guess the decisions they will make, the help they will accept, the reforms they will adopt, the deals they will uphold – and the fears to which they will fall prey. Until we demonstrate a theory of mind, Lawrence’s lessons will have to be learned again and again.Isn't it time we stopped screwing up?

Persecution Complex

Rusty Idols - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 10:56

When a North American Christian claims they are persecuted, I hear 'I'm not allowed to persecute others the way I used to!'

Seriously, if anybody can give me an example that isn't that or 'Not allowed to treat our children like property that we can do anything we want to anymore.' I'd love to hear it.


Women and children

Feminist Christian - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 10:55
Ahh the lazy days of summer. Almost over. Well, unless you're a kid in BC. Then who knows how long this mess will go on for. My kids aren't in the public system. For so many reasons. Most of which could be fixed with better government funding. But I'll be damned if I'm going to sacrifice my kids' education (and safety!) for ideology. Yes, I'm part of the problem, pulling my kids out and going to the private (and subsidized) system. Too fucking bad.

Here's how to fix it: Give the teachers everything they're asking for except the wage increase. The government gets to say they're helping kids. The teachers get to say the kids are their first priority. The kids actually get some funding for things like text books (My daughter had to share a text book in Grade 12!) Everyone wins.

And speaking of everyone winning, any chance that women could get some decent healthcare in this province? No? Didn't think so. Listen to this shit. Kids are not allowed in the ultrasound room**. Not even well-behaved kids. No chances to try. Kids under 10 may not be left in the waiting room either. So a quiet 9-yr-old needs a babysitter. Or in my case, a quiet 5 year old named Pop. This is highly frustrating because this means the parent in charge of child care (usually the woman) has to pay $10/hr or more to go get a simple test done. It's not a sterile environment. It's not a situation where the patient is sedated and unable to care for the child. It's simply company policy, and it's bullshit. What if I didn't have the money? What if I didn't have a person to look after my kids? When I was pregnant with Pop, Tony had to take time off work to watch Crackle during my ultrasound. Tony couldn't watch the test, like most Dads get to. We are spectacularly lucky that Tony has a union job and was able to take time off for that. Had he not, it would have cost a lot of money to get that ultrasound. And maybe I'd have skipped it. Is that a good idea? Hell no. As it is, this ultrasound is going to cost me $30 in babysitting. Which isn't much for me, but geez, if one of my neighbours in low-cost housing next door needed this, what then?

Ahh women and children. Just useless members of society anyway. So who cares, I guess.

**EDIT: No, I'm not pregnant! If I were, I wouldn't be going for an ultrasound. I'd be going for an abortion.

This Just In

Politics and its Discontents - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 09:35

According to a CBC report,

EU lawmakers are threatening to block a multi-billion dollar trade pact between Canada and the European Union — a blueprint for a much bigger EU-U.S. deal — because it would allow firms to sue governments if they breach the treaty.

The agreement with Canada, a draft of which was seen by Reuters, could increase bilateral trade by one fifth to $37 billion (26 billion euros).

But European consumer and environmental groups say a mechanism in the accord would allow multinationals to bully the EU's 28 governments into doing their bidding regardless of environmental, labour and food laws and would set a bad precedent for the planned EU-U.S. trade pact.

Although the neoliberals leading our government don't care about a loss of sovereignty rights, other do:

Tiziana Beghin, an EU lawmaker from Italy's anti-establishment 5-Star Movement who sits on the parliament's influential trade committee, called the EU-Canada deal an "affront to democracy".

"Giving corporations the right to sue governments for loss of anticipated profit would be ridiculous if it were not so dangerous," she told Reuters.

Let's hope that a European revolt leads to a restoration of sanity in trade pacts. Corporate greed has been setting the agenda for far too long.
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Thursday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 08:25
This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Paul Buchheit highlights how inequality continues to explode in the U.S. by comparing the relatively small amounts of money spent on even universal federal programs to the massive gifts handed to the wealthy. Christian Weller and Jackie Odum offer a U.S. economic snapshot which shows exactly the same widening gap between the privileged few and everybody else. And Matt Cowgill examines the policies which tend to exacerbate inquality.

- Meanwhile, Thomas Edsall discusses how predatory businesses are turning others' poverty into further opportunities to extract profits:
Sentinel is a part of the expanding universe of poverty capitalism. In this unique sector of the economy, costs of essential government services are shifted to the poor.
In terms of food, housing and other essentials, the cost of being poor has always been exorbitant. Landlords, grocery stores and other commercial enterprises have all found ways to profit from those at the bottom of the ladder.
The recent drive toward privatization of government functions has turned traditional public services into profit-making enterprises as well.
In addition to probation, municipal court systems are also turning collections over to a national network of companies like Sentinel that profit from service charges imposed on the men and women who are under court order to pay fees and fines, including traffic tickets (with the fees being sums tacked on by the court to fund administrative services)....Collection companies and the services they offer appeal to politicians and public officials for a number of reasons: they cut government costs, reducing the need to raise taxes; they shift the burden onto offenders, who have little political influence, in part because many of them have lost the right to vote; and it pleases taxpayers who believe that the enforcement of punishment — however obtained — is a crucial dimension to the administration of justice.
As N.P.R. reported in May, services that “were once free, including those that are constitutionally required,” are now frequently billed to offenders: the cost of a public defender, room and board when jailed, probation and parole supervision, electronic monitoring devices, arrest warrants, drug and alcohol testing, and D.N.A. sampling. This can go to extraordinary lengths: in Washington state, N.P.R. found, offenders even “get charged a fee for a jury trial — with a 12-person jury costing $250, twice the fee for a six-person jury.”
This new system of offender-funded law enforcement creates a vicious circle: The poorer the defendants are, the longer it will take them to pay off the fines, fees and charges; the more debt they accumulate, the longer they will remain on probation or in jail; and the more likely they are to be unemployable and to become recidivists. - Laurie Monsebraaten reports that child poverty in Toronto is reaching epidemic levels, while Robert Reich looks at the connection between inequality and education.

- Mike De Souza reveals that the Cons have ordered public servants to start deleting e-mails - particularly ones which might show how political interference affects the civil service's work.And Jakeet Singh comments on Stephen Harper's aversion to sociology and other factual analysis as to how policies affect people.

- Finally, Dennis Howlett argues that all levels of government in Canada need to rein in tax evasion in order to be able to fund the public services we all value:
Most provincial and territorial governments rely on the Canada Revenue Agency to raise their revenue. Provincial services and programs need a revenue stream provided by an efficient and fair system. But under the CRA’s watch, Canadian money in tax havens has ballooned to an all-time high — an estimated $185 billion in 2013.  Almost $63 billion of that is in the popular tax haven of Barbados — an island paradise that is one-tenth the size of PEI, where the premiers are enjoying their late summer gathering.

They need to declare that the holiday is over. It is time bring our Canadian tax dollars home so they can be put to use doing useful things like funding health care and education.
Provincial governments are responsible for nominating members of the CRA Board of Management. Those members could be directed to strongly encourage the agency to give higher priority to tax haven related compliance efforts. It is a strategy that could have important results.

The provincial representatives on the CRA Board of Management also need to ask:
  • Why the CRA is wasting so much of its scarce capacity harassing development and environmental charities that have been critical of the Harper government.
  • Why does the CRA refuse to work with the Parliamentary Budget Officer and calculate the Tax Gap to measure missing revenue as is done in many other countries? This could help them set priorities and do a better job of going after the most important tax cheats.
  • Is going after the self-employed, small business and other “low hanging fruit” the best use of staff?
  • Have cuts to the CRA’s budget undermined its ability to go after really big tax cheats who play the system? Has more revenue been lost than money saved from staff cuts?
  • Is there sufficient technical expertise to follow up on leads from CRA’s tipster hotline?
  • Does the Justice Department have the capacity to properly prosecute major tax cheats in the courts?

New column day

accidentaldeliberations - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 08:15
Here, on how Brad Wall is kicking Ontario while it's down by demanding that it let stimulus funding leak out of a province which actually needs it - and how Saskatchewan and other provinces stand to suffer too if Wall helps the Cons impose similar restrictions across the country.

For further reading...
- The Leader-Post reported on the Sask Party's own rejection of the TILMA here, while Matthew Burrows noted Saskatchewan's overall consensus not to pursue it here.
- I posted here on the absence of any substantive differences between the TILMA which Wall rejected based on public pressure, and the NWPTA which he signed in secret without consultation. And Erin Weir addressed the problems with those agreements here.
- Lucas Kawa points out Sylvain Leduc and Daniel Wilson's work on the value of infrastructure spending here, noting that while it's generally a good investment under almost any circumstances, it can be several times as valuable if paired with stimulus effects in a depressed economy.
- Finally, Stuart Trew and Kayle Hatt discuss the dangers of the Cons' attacks on provincial government policy-making authority.

Our Anti-Democratic Democracy

Politics and its Discontents - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 06:52

This morning, in my print edition of The Toronto Star, I saw the following headline: Canadian scientists to be placed in isolation. While it turned out to be a story about the evacuation of a Canadian medical team helping to fight Ebola in Sierra Leone, for a brief moment I thought it concerned the latest efforts by the Harper regime to muzzle our scientists.

I can perhaps be forgiven for my initial confusion. Reading Paul Wells' book on Stephen Harper, The Longer I'm Prime Minister, two things become apparent: the Harper regime is in constant re-election mode, and a foundation of that never-ending campaign is the almost complete control it exercises over government sources of information.

Having studied what brought down previous governments, Harper et al. have almost always refused to hold national inquiries or House committee investigations into contentious matters. Such would involve too many variables that could wind up embarrassing the government and providing fodder for the opposition (a.k.a. 'enemies'). And woe to he who 'commits sociology.'

Yet of course these restrictions of information, these eliminations of the tools whereby patterns can be detected, these constant and crass manipulations of the Canadian people are all grave disservices to our democracy, predicated as it is on the essential freedoms that the Harper Conservatives find so threatening.

One of the most egregious examples of the Harper contempt for democracy is the regime's muzzling of government scientists, those civil servants who are funded by the taxpayer and whose research is, at least in theory, intended for the public good. Apparently that takes a back seat to the political good of the Conservative Party.

An essay recently appeared in The Toronto Star by C. Scott Findlay, an Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Ottawa and co-founder of Evidence for Democracy, a organization that advocates for evidence-informed decision-making by governments. In it, the writer shows the absurd lengths to which the cabal goes in its never-ending re-election efforts.

He starts out by making reference to a Postmedia investigation that uncovered the following:

In 2012, as the Arctic ice hit the lowest point ever recorded, scientists at the Canadian Ice Service were keen to tell Canadians about the stunning ice loss.

Given the ominous implications for climate change of reduced ice cover, Canadian Ice Service chief of applied science, Leah Braithwaite, wanted to hold a “strictly factual” technical briefing for the media to inform Canadians how the ice had disappeared from not only the Northwest Passage but many normally ice-choked parts of the Arctic.

Reports Findlay:

Documents obtained under an Access to Information request show that the approval process for the briefing implicated nine different levels of government, from the director of CIS to the environment minister. Even the communications folks at the Privy Council Office felt obliged to put their imprimatur on a communications plan that was weeks in the making.

Yet despite the herculean efforts of CIS scientists to inform Canadians on the state of Canada’s arctic ice, a briefing that was planned for months was eventually cancelled.

But, he says, this should surprise no one, since the federal government’s obsession with message control is well known. In February, CBC News reported that tweets from Industry Canada are planned for weeks, scrutinized by dozens of public servants, revised by ministerial staff, and leadened by a (wait for it) 12-step protocol. (Emphasis added.)

Findlay laments the waste of taxpayer money expended in the suppression of publicly-funded research and information, but addresses the heart of the issue this way:

But the real costs of Orwellian message control are far greater. An uninformed public, which — as Thomas Jefferson noted — is the scourge of democracy. A federal public service whose motivation, creativity and productivity is being steadily eroded by the signal failure of politicians and political mandarins to treat public servants — scientists, managers and senior administrators alike — like responsible professionals, fully capable of making decisions about things like technical briefings.

It would appear that in Harperland, (public) ignorance is bliss.
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Ignorance Is Strength

Northern Reflections - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 06:42

The central theme of Stephen Harper's re-election campaign has emerged: Harper against the elites. In his tour of the North, Harper called Justin Trudeau an elitist. And, this week, Fred DeLorey sent out an email to conservative supporters, complaining about Heather Mallick's reference to Harper's sociopathic tendencies:

"If you ever had any doubt that the urban media elite are mobilizing against us, this ridiculous piece should end it," he wrote.
In her defence, Mallick told the Vancouver Observer:

He lacks a moral conscience when he comes to people he dislikes or distrusts. And that's the definition of a sociopath."
Harper's attack on "elites" is classic Orwellian inversion. And that's why Harper has declared war on sociologists. They reveal that, as Harper attacks elites, he serves their interests. Businesses don't need tax cuts to survive. They need customers. Crime is not just about personal responsibility. It's about social responsibility. Harper claims to support our troops, as he cuts services to veterans.

George Orwell knew how it worked. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. But, most of all, ignorance is strength. As long as voters remain ignorant, Harper can remain prime minister.

Stephen Harper and the Deep Not So Blue Ontario Sea

Montreal Simon - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 04:03

It was so beautiful and warm yesterday I wish I could have spent the whole day sunning myself on the beach, or swimming in Lake Ontario.

Because when I saw the lifeguard boys racing for home at the end of their shifts, I was reminded that summer will soon be following them.

Which was a really depressing thought eh?

Until I thought that maybe they were just racing to save Stephen Harper.

Because when it comes to the province of Ontario, he's definitely going under. 
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Gaza War Map and Con warmongering

Creekside - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 03:35

British photojournalist Lewis Whyld has completed his Gaza War Map of 15 panoramic "virtual tours” of the destruction in the Gaza Strip. The stills and vid of the last 50 days hardly prepare you for the impact of turning in a full circle through 360º of destruction from a single point chosen from the map.    
Whyld : these are "not precision strikes". 

In the early stages of this latest version of bombing Gaza to rubble, or as a US military officer put it -  "It's not 'mowing the grass,' it's removing the topsoil" -  the Cons released their "Fire and Water" video. 

Yeah, I know you've already seen it - watch it again. 
It's a battle cry - a pre-justification for the coming assault.  Compiled of clips from Harper's pledge to the Knesset in January : "Through fire and water, Canada will stand with you", and John Baird's bellicose 2012 speech to the American Jewish Committee, echoed again this February in his speech to AIPAC, it also featured seemingly out-of-place non sequitur footage of Canadian soldiers in past wars accompanied by Harper's voice-over about doing what's right even when it isn't popular.  

Not so puzzling now, is it?  Because they obviously knew precisely what was coming.


The Incredibly Incompetent Comic Adventures of Peter Dumbo MacKay

Montreal Simon - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 02:28

OK. Before I write another word, I want to make one thing perfectly clear eh? I'm biased.

I have ALWAYS had a very poor opinion of Peter Dumbo MacKay.

From the moment he was suckered into selling out the Progressive Conservative Party to the Reform Alliance. 

And became Stephen Harper's hapless stooge, or useful idiot.

To the ghastly moment not long ago when he tried to smear the Chief Justice by accusing her of making an improper phone call she never made...
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The Day the Premiers Gave Stephen Harper a Slap in the Face

Montreal Simon - Wed, 08/27/2014 - 13:20

He thought he could disrespect all those dead and missing aboriginal women. He thought he could treat that holocaust as just random acts of violence.

He thought he could use his callous position to appeal to his bigot base.

He thought he could get away with it.

But today Canada's Premiers gave him a stinging slap in the face. 
Read more »

New York Times Claims Putin has Opened "Third Front" Invasion of Ukraine. Nobody Else Biting Yet.

The Disaffected Lib - Wed, 08/27/2014 - 11:01
A bulletin from The New York Times claims that Russian military units including infantry, tanks and artillery, have poured over the border into eastern Ukraine, "attacking Ukrainian forces and causing panic and wholesale what Western and Ukrainian military officials described on Wednesday as a stealth invasion."

True or False?  It's worthwhile to recall how the NYT swallowed, wholesale, its government's lies about Saddam's WMDs and his intrigue with al Qaeda.

McClatchey newspapers, in its former guise Knight-Ridder, did not fall for the Bush/Cheney propaganda mill and it has nothing akin to the Times' saga.  Nor do BBC or The Guardian.  According to The Globe, the "stealth invasion" consisted of five, Russian armoured personnel carriers and a truck that entered a small Ukrainian town.  Hardly sounds like the Battle of the Bulge depicted in the Times.

Dumbass of the Week Award Goes to: Charles Vacca, Firearms Instructor

The Disaffected Lib - Wed, 08/27/2014 - 10:33
It's called the "Last Stop" and, for 39-year old Arizonan, Charles Vacca, it lived up to its name.  For Charles Vacca, the Last Stop was a shooting range where he was a firearms instructor.

Charlie Vacca's Last Stop began when he handed a 9-year old girl, a ripfire Uzi submachine gun that fires 1,200 rounds a minute, 20-rounds a second.  Charlie first had the girl fire a single round before he went into life-ending mode and switched the weapon to fully automatic.

As the first rounds came out of the Uzi the girl lost control of the weapon, the recoil sending it up and to the left, right where Charlie's head came in the line of fire.  And that was the Last Stop for Charles Vacca, firearms instructor.

Folks, putting  a rapid-fire automatic pistol into the hands of an inexperienced, 9-year old is probably not going to end well.  I feel very badly for the girl and angry at her parents.  What kind of father or mother allows their child to be put in that position?  As for Charlie, well I feel sad for his family but not for him.  He went full-bore dumbass and he left that girl in the condition she'll live with for the rest of her life.

Wednesday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Wed, 08/27/2014 - 10:13
Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- David Reevely writes about the stench of corporate corruption hanging over a privately-sponsored premiers' conference. And Paul Willcocks nicely contrasts the professed belief by politicians that campaign contributions don't unduly policy against the expectations of everybody else affected by the political system - including big donors themselves:Most people figure that money matters. That when someone who gives hundreds of thousands of dollars to a party calls a politician, they get access and a chance to ask for favours. That they are buying special treatment.

The people taking in all that cash, unsurprisingly, disagree.
... But most people think they can be bought, or at least influenced. Research has found 90 per cent of Canadians think people with money have a lot of influence over government. Last year, an Angus Reid poll found 70 per cent of British Columbians want union and corporate donations banned. ... Even more significantly, the donors believe they are buying future benefits by backing the winning side.

They don't say that. They talk about supporting the democratic process, and ensuring the election of a government that will create an environment that advances the interests of their shareholders or, in the case of unions, their members.

But that's baloney.
If donors believe they are buying special access or treatment with their donations, it's hardly surprising the public shares that view.

I can't read politicians' minds. Maybe Bennett would be no quicker to return a phone call from Murray Edwards because he has given a lot of money.

But I know people and the way organizations work. If Edwards is known as a pal of the premier, someone who can deliver millions in donations over the life of a government, at least some government employees will be unable to entirely forget that connection when faced with a subjective decision affecting his interests.- Meanwhile, Iglika Ivanova discusses the dangers of the deregulation which has been bought with so much corporate money over the past few decades. And Bob Weber reports that after previously telling First Nations that they could have their say on the environmental devastation caused by the tar sands through hearings into regional plans rather than individual project reviews, Alberta is now trying to shut them out of that process as well.

- Justin Gillis reports on the U.N.'s latest study showing that climate change continues to exceed even the most alarming projections from a few years ago, while the Washington Post editorial board laments the deterioration of any prospect of political action in the U.S. And CBC reports on an MIT study showing that a cap-and-trade system to regulate greenhouse gas emissions would result in massive reductions in health care costs - though of course it's oil money (and its human embodiment in the PMO) preventing that system from coming about in Canada.

- Michael Butler highlights the need to make health care more effective and affordable - rather than handing massive giveaways to big pharma through the CETA.

- Finally, David MacDonald points out that while the much-discussed Burger King/Tim Horton's takeover may result in plenty of tax avoidance in the U.S., it won't actually increase Canadian revenues - meaning that it instead reflects a corporation using gaps in international tax law to avoid paying its fair share to anybody.

No Compromise MacKay

Dammit Janet - Wed, 08/27/2014 - 09:58
Press Progress published this photo today.

Yes, indeed, friends of Peace, Order, and Good Government, that is Canada's Minister of Justice and Attorney General pandering his foul ass off.

It apparently comes from a tweet by Ericka Clarke, who identifies herself as "NFA Field Officer."

Peter Mackay (Attorney General of Canada) rocked a #nocompromise shirt with me today! #nfa #cdnpoli #change #politics

— Ericka Clarke (@ericka_clarke) August 23, 2014

That would be the National Firearms Association.

As Clarke points out, the corrupted Canadian maple leaf symbol is captioned "No Compromise."

Let's have a closer look at it from NFA's swag page. These are pins on offer.

(Isn't that sweet? They offer a girly-pink version.)

Now, I don't know anything about guns, but that doesn't look like a varmint-scaring or freezer-filling type weapon to me.

Moreover, the phrase itself is lifted from the org's bigger and scarier USian cousin, the mega-lobby National Rifle Association.

Sadly, cosmic synchronicity strikes.

The top news story today is about a 9-year-old killing her instructor with an Uzi at a place called "Bullets and Burgers." (You can't make this shit up.)

Also, from the Cosmic Whup-Ass Department, there's another story on the latest CONservative fearmongering fundraising flyer, touting "traditional family values."

Under a section entitled "I stand with the Conservative Party on the following issues," the members are asked to check off those that apply. "Respecting traditional family values," is one of the options, along with "safe and sensible firearms policies" and "tough-on-crime approach."
If only the CON Brain [sic] Trust could have seen into the future, I'm sure another option would have been "respecting the rights of young children to play with heavy assault weapons while their parents had a burger and a brew".

As I asked on Twitter: Has any other Attorney General of a supposedly civilized nation ever panderingly posed with butchered national logo on his chest with a bunch of gunnnutz?

I'm pretty sure no other Canadian Attorney General has.

But then no other Canadian Attorney General has posed with a police department and a tank before either.

That's New Glascow, Nova Scotia, population in 2011 a tad over 9,000.

So, fellow and sister Canadians, is Canada unrecognizable yet?

The Politics of Lying, An Essay by Henry Giroux

The Disaffected Lib - Wed, 08/27/2014 - 08:32

When it comes to politics and lying the two seem to go hand in glove.  We've always considered politicians a bit shady, willing to bend the truth to suit their purposes.  Yet it can be difficult to distinguish outright lying from differences of opinion, selective perception, variances in grasp and understanding.  If I have no grounding in a topic and someone who does makes a claim that I find hard to swallow, I may suspect them of fiddling with the truth.  Historically, our best political leaders have used fibbing to build consensus or at least acceptance of their chosen policies. Those were the good old days.

Today we have become inured to a much different, even malignant form of political lying.  American intellectual and McMaster prof, Henry Giroux, discusses this in his essay, "The Politics of Lying and the Culture of Deceit in Obama's America," taken from his book, "Zombie Politics and the Culture of Cruelty."

Here are some excerpts from Giroux's essay:

In the age of public relations managers and talk show experts, we are witnessing the demise of public life.  At a time when education is reduced to training workers and stripped of any civic ideals and critical practices, it becomes unfashionable for the public to think critically.  Rather than intelligence uniting us, a collective ignorance of politics, culture, the arts, history, and important social issues, as Mark Slouka points out, "gives us a sense of community, it confers citizenship."  Our political passivity is underscored by a paucity of intellectual engagement, just as the need for discrete judgment and informed analysis falls prey to a culture of watching, a culture of illusion and circus tricks...

The widespread acceptance of lying and deceit is not merely suggestive of a commodified and ubiquitous corporate-driven electronic culture that displays an utter contempt for morality and social needs; it also registers the existence of a troubling form of infantilization and depoliticization.  Lying as common sense and deceit as politics-as-usual join the embrace of provocation in a coupling that empties politics and Agency of any substance and feeds into a corporate state And militarized culture in which matters of judgment, thoughtfulness, morality, and compassion seem to disappear from public view. What is the social cost of such flight from reality, if not the death of democratic politics, critical thought, and civic agency?  

When a society loses sight of the distinction between fact and fiction, truth-telling and lying, what happens is that truth, critical thought, and fact-finding as conditions of democracy are rendered trivial and reduced to a collection of mere platitudes, which in turn reinforces moral indifference and political impotence.   Under such circumstances, language actually becomes the mechanism for promoting political powerlessness.  Lying and deceit are no longer limited to merely substituting falsehoods for the truth; they now performatively constitute their own truth, promoting celebrity culture, right-wing paranoia, and modes of government and corporate power freed from any sense of accountability...

When lying and deceit become normalized in a culture, they serve as an index of how low we have fallen as a literate and civilized society.  Such practices also tied to corporate and political power, and sabotaged by rigid ideologies as part of a growing authoritarianism that uses the educational force of the culture, the means of communication, and the sites in which information circulate to mobilize ignorance among a misinformed citizenry, all the while supporting reactionary policies....

Beyond disinformation and disguise, the politics of lying and the culture of deceit trade in and abet the rhetoric of fear in order to manipulate the public into a state of servile political dependency and unquestioning ideological support. Fear (and its attendant use of moral panics) not only creates a rhetorical umbrella to promote right-wing ideological agendas (increased military spending, tax relief for the rich, privatization, market-driven reforms, and religious intolerance) but also contributes to a sense of helplessness and cynicism throughout the body politic...

The politics of lying and the culture of deceit are wrapped in the logic of absolute certainty, an ominous harbinger of a kind of illiteracy in which one no longer has to be accountable for justifying opinions, claims, or alleged arguments. Stripped of accountability, language finds its final resting place in a culture of deceit and arrogance in which lying either is accepted as a political strategy or is viewed as simply another normalized aspect of every day life...

How we define ourselves as a nation cannot be separated from the language we value, inhabit, and use to shape our understanding of others and the world in which we want to live.  As the language of critique, civic responsibility, political courage, and democracy disappears along with sustained investment in schools, media, and other elements of a formative culture that keeps an aspiring democracy alive, we lose the spaces and capacities to imagine a future in which language, literacy, and hope are on the side of justice, rather than on the side of hate, willful ignorance, and widespread injustice.

Simple Solutions Come From Simple Minds

Northern Reflections - Wed, 08/27/2014 - 07:40

 What is behind Stephen Harper's war on sociology? Jakeet Sing writes:

So what does Harper have against sociology? First, Harper is clearly trumpeting a standard component of neo-liberal ideology: that there are no social phenomena, only individual incidents. (This ideology traces back to Margaret Thatcher’s famous claim that “there is no such thing as society.”) Neo-liberalism paints all social problems as individual problems. The benefit of this for those who share Harper’s agenda, of course, is that if there are no social problems or solutions, then there is little need for government. Individuals are solely responsible for the problems they face.
Harper recognizes only one kind of injustice -- personal injustice. Sociologists recognize personal injustices. But they also recognize systematic injustice:

Structural injustices, on the other hand, are produced by a social structure or system. They are often hard to trace back to the actions of specific individuals, are usually not explicitly intended by anyone, and have collective, rather than isolated, victims. Structural injustices are a result of the unintended actions of many individuals participating in a social system together, usually without knowing what each other is doing. Whereas personal injustices are traced back to the harmful actions (or inactions) of individuals, structural injustices are identified by differential societal outcomes among groups. Sociologists call these “social inequalities.”And therein lies the rub. Perhaps the key difference between personal and structural injustices is that the latter are only clearly identifiable through macro-level societal analysis — that is, sociology. This is because a) there are no clear perpetrators with whom to identify the injustice and assign responsibility; and b) while structural injustices do generate concrete harms and victims, we often only learn about the collective nature of the injustice through statistical inquiry, or by identifying social/demographic patterns over time.

Structural injustices are harder to remedy because they are immune to simple solutions. And Mr. Harper favours simple solutions.

Simple solutions are for simple minds.


Politics and its Discontents - Wed, 08/27/2014 - 06:31

Those Star letter-writers nail it yet again:

Under Ottawa's microscope, Insight Aug. 23

If it is not OK for charities to use the money sent to them for the intended purpose of trying to change government policies that threaten the well-being of Canadians and the future of the world, why is it permissible for the Harper government to spend the money we pay them in taxes on billions of dollars worth of useless offensive weapons, while witholding funds from health care, payments to the unemployed and transfers to provinces for infrastructure renewal?

Can we not disagree with a minister like Joe Oliver, who has no grasp of the fundamentals of what he is dealing with?

Instead of forcing charities to waste the money we give them on pointless government requirements, the government should give the public that funds it full disclosure as to how our money is being spent. This is a basic requirement of democracy, flouted only by would-be dictators.

Jenny Carter, Peterborough

It seems odd that a tax-receipt issuing organization like the Fraser Institute is immune from the scrutiny of CRA audits. I see this organization as 100 per cent political and therefore not entitled to issue tax receipts.

Is it possible that a current politician is running interference?

Gerald Berish, Richmond HillRecommend this Post


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