Posts from our progressive community

If Ebola Hits Lagos, All Bets are Off

The Disaffected Lib - Tue, 08/19/2014 - 07:01


Laurie Garrett claims "you are not nearly scared enough about ebola."  Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, warns that if the ebola epidemic reaches Lagos, the entire world is in jeopardy.

You think there are magic bullets in some rich country's freezers that will instantly stop the relentless spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa? You think airport security guards in Los Angeles can look a traveler in the eyes and see infection, blocking that jet passenger's entry into La-la-land?

Last week, my brilliant Council on Foreign Relations colleague John Campbell, former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, warned that spread of the virus inside Lagos -- which has a population of 22 million -- would instantly transform this situation into a worldwide crisis, thanks to the chaos, size, density, and mobility of not only that city but dozens of others in the enormous, oil-rich nation. Add to the Nigerian scenario civil war, national elections, Boko Haram terrorists, and a countrywide doctors' strike -- all of which are real and current -- and you have a scenario so overwrought and frightening that I could not have concocted it even when I advised screenwriter Scott Burns on his Contagion script. 

Let's be clear: Absolutely no drug or vaccine has been proven effective against the Ebola virus in human beings.

Since the Ebola outbreak began in March there have been many reports of isolated cases of the disease in travelers to other countries. None has resulted, so far, in secondary spread, i.e., establishing new epidemic focuses of the disease. As I write this, one such isolated case is thought to have occurred in Johannesburg, South Africa's largest city, and another suspected case reportedly died in isolation in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, prompting the kingdom to issue special Ebola warnings for the upcoming hajj. It's only a matter of time before one of these isolated cases spreads, possibly in a chaotic urban center far larger than the ones in which it is now claiming lives: Conakry, Guinea; Monrovia, Liberia; and Freetown, Sierra Leone.

On Aug. 8, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Ebola epidemic a "public health emergency of international concern." In its pronouncement, the agency noted the urgent need for local government actions, such as the recently erected cordons sanitaires, and for global mobilization of medical resources. The WHO has repeatedly warned that this epidemic could persist for a minimum of six months, perhaps a year. The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Tom Frieden, has concurred with that grim forecast.

The Green Devil - Australia's One Man Environmental Wrecking Crew

The Disaffected Lib - Tue, 08/19/2014 - 06:59


Tony Abbott is a man going to war.  His chosen target is Australia's environment and, according to Foreign Policy, he means to do it in.

Located at the bottom of the world, Tasmania is a bioregion so unique that it is listed as a World Heritage site by the United Nations for "outstanding universal value." It satisfies more criteria for that designation than any other World Heritage site on Earth.But for Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, this remarkable natural legacy isn't worth protecting. Instead, it should be stripped.Soon after being elected in September 2013, Abbott started making plans to fulfill his campaign promise of removing some environmental protections on Tasmania's forest and opening it to industry, specifically logging. In March, he invited loggers to Australia's Parliament House and told them that members of the country's Green party were "the devil" and that "the environment is meant for man." The loggers were thrilled.A few months later, however, Abbott had to convince a different audience of his proposal -- and this time, the response was not enthusiastic. When the World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) met in Doha in June 2014, it unanimously rejected Abbott's plan to remove 74,000 hectares of Tasmanian forest from its list of cherished sites. One delegate said the move would have set an "unacceptable precedent." Thedecision took less than 10 minutes.While the old growth forest of Tasmania might have been spared, Tony Abbott is proceeding apace with other plans.  One of them is to dredge a new coal port and then to dump the millions of tons of dredged soil and sand into the Great Barrier Reef.  Honestly, this guy believes that's a sane thing to do.  To Abbott, trashing Australia is merely taking the fight to the socialists.Australia's opposition leader, Bill Shorten, has called Abbott an "environmental vandal," and university researchers have said his first year in office has been nothing but an "environmental train wreck." This dates back to his very first day in office, when Abbott introduced legislation to repeal a carbon tax on Australia's most polluting industries. Soon after, a document created by Abbott's cabinet surfaced, stating that his administration would no longer tolerate "any measures which are socialism masquerading as environmentalism."And Abbott is increasingly and eerily coming to resemble our very own environmental Beelzebub.
Feel like a sauna?  You betcha.For Abbott, all environmental regulations are merely "green tape" that hold back corporate profits. He has hacked away at that tape by gutting the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, the legislative process for determining whether a development project is environmentally safe. Instead oil, gas, and mining permits are now funneled to other agencies where they can get a green stamp.To make sure no one can adequately challenge his dictums, Abbott has eviscerated federal funding for programs such as the Environmental Defenders Offices (EDO), independent legal centers that operate in the public interest. It sounds as though Harper must have slipped Abbott a copy of the Conservatives' own environmental dirty play book.Environmental author Bill McKibben has written that Americans who traveled abroad during George W. Bush's administration should have sympathy for Australians right now: "[I]t's not easy being citizens of countries run by international laughing stocks." The comparison is apt: Like the Bush administration, Abbott chooses to ignore or undercut federal and international law when it doesn't suit his interests.Yet he has no qualms about using the law as a political hammer to quash the opposition: In Tasmania right now, Abbott's Liberal Party government is backing a new bill explicitly drafted to stop environmental protesters. The Workplaces (Protection From Protesters) Bill is aimed at quelling those who "prevent, impede or obstruct the carrying out of business activities." Mining and logging industries are mentioned by name, but the bill is written so broadly that it could cover nearly any business. It includes a sweeping list of prohibitions against "protest activity," with fines up to $10,000 if demonstrations interrupt business -- and mandatory prison sentences for a second offense.
I don't mean to be cynical but I'd guess the only thing preventing Harper from passing his own, protection from protesters act in advance of the Northern Gateway pipeline is the cut lip and bloody nose he's earned in past encounters with the Supreme Court of Canada.  I have to assume that Abbott has the benefit of a weaker constitution and a more compliant court.

Acknowledging the Irrational

Northern Reflections - Tue, 08/19/2014 - 06:30


At the centre of classical economics is the notion that man is a rational decision maker. Thus, economics is all about creating incentives. If you lower taxes, people will have more money to spend and the economy will become a virtuous cycle. But the "dead money" sitting atop the Canadian economy gives the lie to the notion that man always makes rational decisions.

Worse still, the only explanation classical economics has for unemployment is that it is a moral failure. The unemployed simply have not taken advantage of economic incentives. Shipping jobs overseas, or bringing in temporary foreign workers to replace the already employed has nothing to do with unemployment.

The same model of man as rational decision maker applies to Canadian Conservative drug policy. Create stiffer penalties for drug use, and it will decline. It's called the War on Drugs and it's been going on in the United States for forty years and filling American prisons beyond capacity.

The problem with Conservative drug policy is the same as its problem with economic policy. Man does not always make rational decisions. Devon Black writes:

The philosophy behind this approach to drug policy blends overly-simplistic thinking with moral judgments and a fundamental misunderstanding of addiction. In theory, harsh penalties for drug trafficking and drug use should have a deterrent effect. Alongside tough drug penalties come government campaigns which teach that drugs are a choice – one it’s possible to “just say no” to. And so any rational person, understanding the consequences of drug use, would obviously choose to stay away.

The fatal flaw, of course, is the assumption that everyone will respond to the same incentives. The whole nature of addiction is that addicts keep seeking out the focus of their craving, no matter the consequences. It’s not a matter of choice; addicts can no more say no to drugs than I can say no to the flu. Trying to change the behaviour of a person suffering from addiction by creating more consequences is an exercise in futility.

Compounding the problem is the fact that, for many heavy drug users, drug use does have a twisted rationality. There’s a strong correlation between experiencing trauma and developing problems with substance abuse. For teens with post-traumatic stress disorder, the problem is particularly acute: Up to 59 per cent of them go on to develop problems with substance abuse. When there’s no adequate mental health care available, it’s little wonder that many people coping with the after-effects of trauma turn to illegal drugs to manage their pain.

And so, while throwing drug users in jail might seem like a solution on the surface, it only compounds the problem. Eighty per cent of offenders have substance abuse or addiction problems. Prisons have tried to address this – primarily by introducing methadone replacement therapy for inmates with opioid addictions.
We have a self-fulfilling prophecy. The War on Drugs is one of the causes of the problem it seeks to eradicate. The fatal flaw in Conservative ideology is its failure to acknowledge the irrational. And the solutions it proposes become, by extension, irrational.

Denial And Outrage

Politics and its Discontents - Tue, 08/19/2014 - 05:46


During my teaching career, it was occasionally my unpleasant task to confront a student with evidence of his or her cheating; most situations revolved around plagiarizing essays or having skipped a test. The student's responses when confronted were invariably the same; indeed, they tended to parallel Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' five stages of grief.

I won't bore you with the details, but common initial reactions were denial that any offence had occurred, ("I have no idea what you are talking about"), and when that failed, anger that I would harbour such unfounded and unworthy suspicions ("I am really hurt that you would accuse me of such a thing"). Invariably, they were guilty as charged.

There seems to be an analogous system at work in politics.

Let's start with the Harper regime's upcoming campaign against marijuana use, the one that the three main groups representing doctors, Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC), Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada have refused to be part of because they "... do not, support or endorse any political messaging or political advertising on this issue".

The accusation that the campaign has become a political football aimed at discrediting Justin Trudeau, who favours legalization of pot, has been hotly denied by Health Minister Rona Ambrose:

“Telling kids to not smoke pot is not a partisan attack on Justin Trudeau by Health Canada,” Ambrose told a news conference Monday on the sidelines of the annual Canadian Medical Association meeting.

“It is a sound public health policy backed by science. Whether pot is legal or illegal, the health risks of marijuana to youth remain the same, and we should all be concerned about them.”

She added that Trudeau “made this a political issue.”


Denial and shifting the blame, both time-honoured tactics of my former wayward students.

Next, the anger:

This morning's Star reports the following:

The federal New Democrats are hoping to put the Canada Revenue Agency under the microscope Tuesday after recalling a House of Commons committee to examine a wave of audits against registered charities.

NDP MP and revenue critic Murray Rankin (Victoria) has questioned whether the audits were politically motivated actions against those advocating for environmental causes and other issues clashing with the Harper government’s policies.


However, Revenue Minister Kerry-Lynne Findlay rejects the allegations, and with great umbrage:

“Your baseless allegation that I have used my office to blatantly misappropriate CRA resources to target and intimidate charities that don’t agree with our government’s policies is absolutely reprehensible,” wrote Findlay in a letter to Rankin, dated Aug. 5.

“As an honourable parliamentarian, I find your unwarranted attacks on the integrity of the CRA and my office shameful and plunges parliamentary discourses to new lows.”


To quote from my favourite Shakespearean play, "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." Such indignation may play well to the party's base, but critical thinkers may wonder at the rhetorical flourishes employed by Ms. Findlay here.

The final stage in the five stages of grief is acceptance. For the Harper regime, I suspect that will only come after the results of the next election.Recommend this Post

revolutionary thoughts of the day: kareem abdul-jabbar, the new yorker, howard zinn

we move to canada - Tue, 08/19/2014 - 05:00
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has an excellent essay in Time, something only a big-name writer can get away with in the mainstream media. Abdul-Jabbar names the stark truths behind the uprising in Ferguson, Missouri. And the mere fact that this appears on Time.com is reason for hope.
This fist-shaking of everyone’s racial agenda distracts America from the larger issue that the targets of police overreaction are based less on skin color and more on an even worse Ebola-level affliction: being poor. Of course, to many in America, being a person of color is synonymous with being poor, and being poor is synonymous with being a criminal. Ironically, this misperception is true even among the poor.

And that’s how the status quo wants it.
Solidarity with Ferguson in Times Square
The U.S. Census Report finds that 50 million Americans are poor. Fifty million voters is a powerful block if they ever organized in an effort to pursue their common economic goals. So, it’s crucial that those in the wealthiest One Percent keep the poor fractured by distracting them with emotional issues like immigration, abortion and gun control so they never stop to wonder how they got so screwed over for so long.

One way to keep these 50 million fractured is through disinformation. PunditFact’s recent scorecard on network news concluded that at Fox and Fox News Channel, 60 percent of claims are false. At NBC and MSNBC, 46 percent of claims were deemed false. That’s the “news,” folks! During the Ferguson riots, Fox News ran a black and white photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with the bold caption: “Forgetting MLK’s Message/Protestors in Missouri Turn to Violence.” Did they run such a caption when either Presidents Bush invaded Iraq: “Forgetting Jesus Christ’s Message/U.S. Forgets to Turn Cheek and Kills Thousands”?

How can viewers make reasonable choices in a democracy if their sources of information are corrupted? They can’t, which is exactly how the One Percent controls the fate of the Ninety-Nine Percent.This excellent essay from The New Yorker recognizes what's coalescing beneath the so-called riots.
In the eight days since Michael Brown, an eighteen-year-old, was killed by a police officer named Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, what began as an impromptu vigil evolved into a sustained protest; it is now beginning to look like a movement. The local QuikTrip, a gas station and convenience store that was looted and burned on the second night of the protests, has now been repurposed as the epicenter for gatherings and the exchange of information. The front of the lot bears an improvised graffiti sign identifying the area as the “QT People’s Park.” With the exception of a few stretches, such as Thursday afternoon, when it was veiled in clouds of tear gas, protesters have been a constant presence in the lot. On Sunday afternoon the area was populated by members of local churches, black fraternity and sorority groups, Amnesty International, the Outcast Motorcycle Club, and twenty or so white supporters from the surrounding area. On the north side of the station, a group of volunteers with a mobile grill served free hot dogs and water, and a man stood on a crate, handing out bright yellow T-shirts with the logo of the National Action Network, the group led by Al Sharpton.

Solidarity with Ferguson in Howard University, Washington DCThe conversation here has shifted from the immediate reaction to Michael Brown’s death and toward the underlying social dynamics. Two men I spoke with pointed to the disparity in education funding for Ferguson and more affluent municipalities nearby. Another talked about being pulled over by an officer who claimed to smell marijuana in the car as a pretense for searching him. “I’m in the United States Navy,” he told me. “We have to take drug tests in the military so I had proof that there were no drugs in my system. But other people can’t do that.” Six black men I spoke to, nearly consecutively, pointed to Missouri’s felon-disfranchisement laws as part of the equation. “If you’re a student in one of the black schools here and you get into a fight you’ll probably get arrested and charged with assault. We have kids here who are barred from voting before they’re even old enough to register,” one said. Ferguson’s elected officials did not look much different than they had years earlier, when it was a largely white community.Last year, I made a list of these disparate, but related events.
The Occupy movement

The uprising in Wisconsin

The Arab Spring: Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, and other countries

The Quebec student strikes and demonstrations

Walmart workers organizing and striking

Fast-food workers in New York City organizing and striking

Ongoing mass demonstrations and general strikes throughout Europe

Miners in South Africa on a wildcat strike

100 million people striking in India

The Chicago teachers' strike

The global environmental movement

Idle No MoreSome of these now seem bittersweet. The Arab Spring cycled into militarism and repression, but that story is still being written. Other movements - like low-wage workers organizing in the US - have burgeoned and thrived. Now we add Ferguson, Missouri, and the solidarity demonstrations we're seeing all over the world.

I remind myself that no one can predict the future.
There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment will continue. We forget how often we have been astonished by the sudden crumbling of institutions, by extraordinary changes in people's thoughts, by unexpected eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies, by the quick collapse of systems of power that seemed invincible.

Howard Zinn

The Shadowy Con Conspiracy to Destroy Justin Trudeau

Montreal Simon - Tue, 08/19/2014 - 03:46


I have no idea who broke into Justin Trudeau's home the other night while he was away, in a creepy attempt to terrorize him and his young family.

I can't imagine what kind of foul creature, or creatures, would leave a sinister message in a circle of butcher knives.

But I am glad Justin is asking the RCMP to evaluate his security. 

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has asked the RCMP to assess whether he will need a security detail after someone broke into his Ottawa home on Saturday and left a threatening note.

Because I honestly believe there are a group of shadowy Cons out there who are trying to destroy him. 
Read more »

Reefer Madness and the Corruption of Rona Ambrose

Montreal Simon - Tue, 08/19/2014 - 03:31


Well it could have been just another day in the glamorous life of Rona Ambrose Health Minister.

Serving the public, like an Angel of Mercy, and servicing Stephen Harper, like the Angel of Death.

Not necessarily in that order. 
But then she blew it. Again.
By trying to make the country's doctors believe that the Con cult's massive tax payer funded anti-marijuana ad campaign wasn't blatantly political. Read more »

Why don't they have a protocol for an officer-involved shooting?

Cathie from Canada - Mon, 08/18/2014 - 23:41
One of the many things I don't understand about the Ferguson police department is why they apparently do not have a protocol for dealing with any shooting in which an officer is involved.
It is a routine in Canada when an officer shoots a civilian, that the officer is suspended, an investigation is done right away by a neighbouring police force, and a prosecutor from another jurisdiction is often used to evaluate possible charges.  We might not believe or support the result, but everybody knows what steps need to be taken.
But in Ferguson, they seem to be struggling with these basic steps, and the credibility of the police force in this little town, and the confidence of the entire justice system in Missouri is being destroyed.
Its difficult to see how it will end, because every time things start to calm down, the incompetent Ferguson police release another meaningless tidbit to smear Brown some more.
Overall, I get the impression that nobody is in charge.
On CNN, Jake Tapper says "this doesn't make any sense"
But as the saying goes, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Or, in Saskboy's version:


.@wongofu @puellavulnerata when all you have is a gun, everything looks like a black man in Missouri. #Ferguson

— Saskboy K. (@saskboy) August 19, 2014

Why the English-Speaking World Resists the Reality of Climate Change

The Disaffected Lib - Mon, 08/18/2014 - 18:13
You would think if you were a country particularly prone to being mugged by severe storm events of increasing intensity, frequency and destructiveness you might be just as particularly receptive to overwhelming scientific evidence of the causes.  However if you happen to be one of the major English-speaking countries you are and you aren't.  When it comes to Australia, the United States, Canada and Britain, all four countries are being hammered by climate change impacts yet remain among the countries least likely to accept the scientific evidence.

All four countries are governed by right of centre legislatures in which denialism runs deep.  All four countries are also big into fossil fuel production.  All four countries have an overall right of centre media that is collaborative with right wing government and energy producers.




What this chart also reveals is that, even in the United States where denialism is at its strongest, a solid majority of the public accepts anthropogenic global warming/climate change.  In all four countries, the government is plainly at odds with its people when it comes to climate change.  
Well if our Anglosphere isn't working for our peoples, who do these governments serve?  Oh sorry, I don't know what I was thinking.  Forget I asked.

August 19, 2014 - Earth Overshoot Day

The Disaffected Lib - Mon, 08/18/2014 - 17:35
Relax, it's not a holiday.  It's not something to celebrate.  It is however a day of observance.

For 2014, August 19th represents the day on which mankind has consumed a full year's worth of renewable, natural resources.  That also means that, for the rest of the year, we'll be dipping into nature's resource reserves, "eating our seed corn" if you will.   That ensures that Earth Overshoot Day, 2015 will fall well prior to August 19.

Just a few years ago Earth Overshoot Day fell in October, the ninth month.  Now it's arriving in the seventh month.  You can do the math and see where this is headed.  Here's a chart tracing the advance of Earth Overshoot Day.


Overshoot impacts take several forms.  Deforestation is one, desertification (the exhaustion of farmland and its transformation into barren desert) is another.  The emptying of aquifers is a manifestation of overshoot.  So too is the collapse of global fisheries through overfishing.  Another form of overshoot is the accumulation of pollution and other contaminants in our air, soil and water which reflects that we're outpacing nature's capacity to clean our environment.

Here's another way to visualize overshoot in the context of the planet's maximum carrying capacity and our excess consumption.  Overshoot causes carrying capacity to decline so that the ecological deficit steadily grows.



Posse Comitatus and Crossing America's Rubicon

The Disaffected Lib - Mon, 08/18/2014 - 17:09


In 49 B.C., then general Julius Caesar staked his life on a huge gamble and led his legions across the Rubicon into Rome.  Caesar knew that any general bringing his army into Rome faced execution but he went on to seize control of the Roman republic. 

In 1879 the U.S. Congress enacted the Posse Comitatus Act, that prohibited the deployment of U.S. Army troops within America "for the purpose of executing laws."  The intent was to prohibit the use of American soldiers against American civilians.  Like the Romans, Americans felt the need to proscribe the use of military force within the homeland.

Lately there's been an end run around the Posse Comitatus Act.  If you can't deploy the armed forces against the public, you can achieve pretty much the same result by militarizing law enforcement and bringing them under the wing of Homeland Security.  Equip the cops with combat gear, outfit them with modern military weaponry and deploy them in armoured military vehicles, all supplied for next to nothing, and - voila - problem solved.

Dennis Kucinich sees recent events in Ferguson, Missouri arising out of the police execution of a young African-American and the police response to the subsequent protests as a threat to American democracy.

The Declaration of Independence condemned King George III for, "keeping among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature."  Out of the Revolution, Americans emerged with an abhorrence of any military presence in their daily lives.

Kucinich points out that, over time, the apparent prohibition against a direct military role in civilian affairs has been gradually and steadily watered down, sidestepped and ignored. 

In 2006, George w. Bush persuaded Congress to enact an express authority for the use of military force:   "The President may employ the armed forces... to... restore public order and enforce the laws of the United States when, as a result of a natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition... the President determines that... domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of maintaining public order... or [to] suppress, in a State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy..."

Now the former Democratic Congressman is calling for reforms:

1. Congress must firmly re-establish the firewall between civilian law enforcement and the military by reinstating the intent of the Posse Comitatus law. As member of Congress I warned in 2007 the dangers of a bill which permitted the government to put troops on the ground in the US.

2. The Department of Defense must stop providing war-fighting equipment to local law enforcement.

3. All equipment provided to local law enforcement by the Department of Defense, must be inventoried and stored, not used except under an executive order from the top civilian authority in a state, the Governor, or under orders of the President of the United States.

4. The General Accounting Office and the Inspector General of the Department of Defense must be asked by Congress to determine the extent to which the training and equipping of local police by the DOD has created a culture in local law enforcement which is adverse to democratic values.

5. The Justice Department needs to fund programs which will train or retrain local law enforcement in racial sensitivity, constitutional protections of suspects, including the right to freedom of speech and right to assemble.

6. The Justice Department must also fund, support and mandate that all local law enforcement receiving any federal funds whatsoever create community programs for dialogue between local police and people in the neighborhood. Local police become an occupying army through emotional distancing, fear and lack of contact with the community. That can change by having police and the community meet regularly to discuss mutual concerns.

Those who serve in local law enforcement are given special trust, special dispensation to serve and protect. Their work is essential. Local police would like to be supported. But we must demand strict adherence to the Constitution and protection of the freedoms given to us by the Bill of Rights.

The reforms Kucinich advocates are so logical, so sensible that, in today's America, they won't get the time of day from its dysfunctional Congress.  But, unless and until such reforms are enacted, America will remain beset by a thoroughly militarized Main Street.

The Farewell Stephen Harper Song

Montreal Simon - Mon, 08/18/2014 - 14:29


Well as you know he's tortured us for more than eight years, not just with his ghastly policies.

But also with his "singing."

That monstrous wailing and screeching designed to make us believe that he's really a nice guy.

No matter how much it hurts our ears, or embarrasses us in the eyes of the world.

So now that his hideous reign is nearing an end, I thought it might be a good idea to play this farewell song for Steve...
Read more »

Fearguson, USA

Dawg's Blawg - Mon, 08/18/2014 - 12:22
“[A] space of exception….Whoever entered [it] moved in a zone of indistinction between outside and inside, exception and rule, licit and illicit, in which the very concepts of subjective right and juridical protection no longer made sense.” ~Giorgio Agamben Captain... Dr.Dawg http://drdawgsblawg.ca/

Of Zombie Politics and Culture War

The Disaffected Lib - Mon, 08/18/2014 - 11:12


In a system that reduces life to a chain of disconnected reactions to shock, personal communication tends to lose all meaning... The individual under terrorist conditions is never alone and always alone.  He becomes numb and rigid not only in relation to his neighbor but also in relation to himself'; fear robs him of the power of spontaneous emotional or mental reaction.  Thinking becomes a stupid crime/ it endangers his life.  The inevitable consequence of that stupidity spreads as a contagious disease among the terrorized population.  Human beings live in a state of stupor, in a moral coma.
                                 - Leo Lowenthal on authoritarianism rooted in modern civilization.

If you're looking for a dark read to round out your summer, you won't be disappointed to pick up Henry Giroux', "Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism."  Giroux, an American intellectual who now camps out at McMaster University, focuses on how authoritarianism is creeping into our body politic, rendering democracy powerless and meaningless.  At just over 160-pages it's no tome yet I've been digesting it, chapter by chapter, for a few months and I'm still not halfway through.  It's the sort of book you might read and then ponder until you've had your fill and then put it down, meaning to pick it back up soon but not quite doing it.

A quick look at Giroux' opening comments about the rise of "Authoritarianism with a friendly face."

In the minds of the American public, the dominant media, and the accommodating pundits and intellectuals, there is no sense of how authoritarianism in its soft and hard forms can manifest itself as anything other than horrible images of concentration camps, goose-stepping storm troopers, rigid modes of censorship, and chilling spectacles of extremist government repression and violence.  That is, there is little understanding of how new modes of authoritarian ideology, policy, values, and social relations might manifest themselves in degrees and gradations so as to create the conditions for a distinctly undemocratic and increasingly cruel and oppressive social order.  As the late Susan Sontag suggested in another context, there is a willful ignorance of how emerging registers of power and governance "dissolve politics into pathology."  ...there is no room in the public imagination to entertain what has become the unthinkable - that such an [authoritarian] order in its contemporary form might be more nuanced, less theatrical, more cunning, less concerned with repressive modes of control than with  manipulative modes of consent - what one might call a mode of authoritarianism with a distinctly American character.

Giroux goes on to touch upon a theme raised occasionally on these pages - the 'depoliticizing' of society.  In Canada it's a product of the spread of neoliberalism throughout the Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats.  We wind up staring at a row of grey suits stuffed with wet cardboard and turn on our heels away from politics entirely.  Never in my lifetime has the political spectrum of my country been so compressed, political discourse so stilted and political vision so abnegated.  One of the consequences of this, according to Giroux, is an everyman-for-himself culture.

Agency is now defined by a neoliberal concept of freedom, a notion that is largely organized according to the narrow notions of individual self-interest and limited to the freedom from constraints.  ...It is an unlimited notion of freedom that both refuses to recognize the importance of social costs and social consequences and has no language for an ethic that calls us beyond ourselves, that engages our responsibility to others. 

...This merging of the market-based understanding of freedom as the freedom to consume and the conservative-based view of freedom as a restriction from all constraints refuses to recognize that the conditions for substantive freedom do not lie in personal and political rights alone; on the contrary, real choices and freedom include the individual and collective ability to actively intervene in and shape both the nature of politics and the myriad forces bearing down on everyday life - a notion of freedom that can only be viable when social rights and economic resources are available to individuals.

...the formative culture necessary to create modes of education, thought, dialogue, critique, and critical agency - the necessary conditions of any aspiring democracy - is largely destroyed through the pacification of intellectuals and the elimination of public spheres capable of creating such a culture.

Zombie Politics and Culture is a truly worthwhile read for anyone with a sense that our democracy can no longer be trusted to those who march beneath Conservative, Liberal or New Democrat banners.  While we're still a good distance behind the violent authoritarianism practised openly today across the United States, democracy in Canada is badly in need of restoration. 

Michael Brown - Ferguson, Missouri - The War on Drugs

The Disaffected Lib - Mon, 08/18/2014 - 09:12
What does America's War on Drugs have to do with the execution/killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the riots it spawned?  The New Republic's John McWhorter believes they're inextricably linked and contends that the way to avoid future Ferguson riots is to end the War on Drugs.

We don't know the details yet, but it's apparent that, in spite of all we went through with [Trayvon] Martin so recently, in a clinch - the mean, messy place where these things always happen - the Ferguson cop Darren Wilson assumed that a big black guy was trouble, serious trouble, and shot him dead.  It's what happens in that clinch that matters and we can now see that no amount of articulate protest can cut through such visceral human tendencies as bias and fear.

...I'm the last one to say there should be no protest, but I am dismayed that we are at a point that it can serve only as a statement, not as a tool.  The rate is no longer such a novelty that white America will be scared into some concessions as it was in the late sixties.  Watching black Ferguson burn and wreck its own neighborhoods is not going to make America suddenly "get it."

If the looting and anger are the "it," it that's what we have up our sleeve as an indication that Brown's death was "the last straw," then we're nowhere.

...So, what will really make a difference?  Really, only a continued pullback on the War on Drugs.  Much of what creates the poisonous, vicious-cycle relationship between young black men and the police is that the War on Drugs brings cops into black neighborhoods to patrol for drug possession and sale.

...But that's the long game.  In the here and now, we are stuck.  Michael Brown was not "it."  The journalists assiduously documenting the events in Ferguson can serve as historians, but not as agents of change.

We can be quite sure that by next summer, another unarmed black boy will have been shot dead by a white cop scared in the moment.  Upon which in another hitherto obscure town there will be protests, something about the episode will be enshrined as a totemic gesture, the right-wing will hope the cop turns out to have been black (as they did this time for a blink) or will revel in predictable evidence that the victim was not always a choirboy in his behavior, and good-thinking people will hope that this time is finally "it."


Our Poisoned Political Culture

Politics and its Discontents - Mon, 08/18/2014 - 08:43


Whether true or not, Canadians can, I think, be forgiven for wondering, quite seriously, whether the Harper cabal was somehow involved in the ominous break-in at Justin Trudeau's home while his family was asleep. A destabilizing and disturbing crime for anyone who has experienced such a violation, it is clearly weighing heavily on the Liberal leader, who must be away from his family for extended periods of time. That may be the intended effect.

Perhaps Harper and his acolytes had nothing to do with it, but entertaining such suspicions is surely not unwarranted owing to the pernicious and poisonous political culture that has been so avidly cultivated by a Prime Minister whose only purpose seems to be the perpetuation of his party's power. Assaulting character, instilling fear in critics of his neoliberal agenda, presenting the world in absolutist terms are all of a piece in a scorched earth policy that amply demonstrates Harper's unfitness for public office.

Unfortunately, we all become the victims when public policy is designed only to benefit a select few.

Writing yesterday in The Edmonton Journal, Michael Den Tandt offered this headline:

Reaction to Justin Trudeau break-in a symptom of debased debate

Den Tandt observes that the Twitter reaction to the break-in was often cruel and insensitive:

On Twitter – home to all important Canadian political debate now that Question Period in the Commons has become a set piece – some revelled in the news. Hug-a-terrorist Justin Trudeau, targeted by home-invading thugs; what fun! There were Tweets mockingly tying the break-in to Trudeau’s stance on marijuana. Maybe the burglars were after pot! Ho ho. Others tried, clumsily and with the hackneyed spelling so common in Twitter’s nether parts, to be sardonic.

And to be fair, the writer also castigates the Harper-haters for their own frequent vileness which, he says, neither the Liberal nor the NDP Party has done anything to quell.

Yet he lays the primary responsibility for the devolution in political discourse squarely at Harper's feet:

The Conservative party has since April of 2013 indulged in organized mockery and vilification, aimed at Trudeau personally. The intent of this messaging is to belittle and demean. That is not something the Conservative party can disavow. Nor can they deny that their attack ads – against Trudeau, and predecessors Bob Rae, Michael Ignatieff and Stephane Dion — have contributed to a debasing of Canadian political dialogue. Debasement is the whole point of the ads.

Den Tandt offers some remedial suggestions:

To begin, the prime minister, to whom all Canadians look for leadership, could ditch the stupidest of his party’s attack ads and begin speaking positively, regularly and publicly about how he hopes to build a better country.

[A]ll the parties, their MPs and officials could aggressively block their own partisans who engage in personal debasement in social media. The standard should be the law against defamation.

[O]nline anonymity, in social media and news comment streams, should be abolished. That is a step that publishers can take.

These are all good suggestion, but given the extent of the rot that has set in and accelerated in recent years, I think we can realistically expect nothing to change.Recommend this Post

There's Not Enough Water to Go Around

The Disaffected Lib - Mon, 08/18/2014 - 08:36

This curious graphic depicts areas that are expected to be severely water stressed through the balance of this century.  Note that hard-hit countries include China, India, Brazil, western Russia, the United States and the nations of Central America and western South America.

The assessment by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's Atmospheric Science and Global Change Division, concludes that water shortages may even impair efforts at climate change mitigation.  The idea is that there won't be enough water to permit the development of bio-fuels.  What the report doesn't say is that this strengthens the case for development of non-carbon, renewable energy alternatives.

The report confirms other research finding that, by 2100, half of the global population will be enduring severe water shortage.  Unless, that is, something drastic comes along to cull the herd in the meantime.

Today in Flash Flooding News

The Disaffected Lib - Mon, 08/18/2014 - 08:08
We've always lived with spring flooding caused by rapid melting of winter snowpack.  People along the Red River know full well how that works.

Today, however, flooding isn't just a seasonal event and it doesn't always have to do with winter snows.  Now we get flash floods where storm clouds appear overhead and unload five or six inches of rain on one spot in a matter of hours, overwhelming storm sewers and playing hell with low-lying areas.

The Americans have been whipsawed by flash flooding over the past two months from San Bernardino, California to Long Island, New York.  Detroit, Baltimore and Washington, DC, have been hammered.

Yesterday, a Kentucky town with the quaint name of Skullbone, got a 5-inch drenching.  A chunk of north central Texas saw flash flooding as predicted by the NOAA.  Arkansas got it too.

Kentucky and Tennessee remain under flood warnings for today.  Meanwhile a new front is moving in from the mid-west which threatens to bring more "disruptive downpours" to the northeast, including much of southern Ontario.



The worst part of this is that there's almost nothing people can do about it.  People can sort through their basements, get valuables up off the floor or to safety upstairs.  They can make sure the sump pump is working and that their gumboots are handy.  They can urge their governments to upgrade infrastructure to handle heavy, concentrated deluges but that's going to take time - and money that's in scarce supply in these anti-tax days.

Your Global Warming Surcharge Coming Soon

The Disaffected Lib - Mon, 08/18/2014 - 07:17
Reservoir, What Reservoir?
So, you see, you've got this conjunction of forces.  There are more of us by the day, about 220,000 every 24-hours and that's a net increase.  And then our ever larger population is also movin' on up.  We're making progress on reducing poverty and those mega-populated, emerging economies are spawning their own middle, or consumer classes that want pretty much everything that you or I take for granted - nice houses, cars, holidays abroad, consumer goods of every description and better food.  There's the first part of your problem - demand.  It's way up.

The second part of your problem is supply.  Unlike demand, supply may be heading in the other direction.  You see, we've changed the climate.  We've changed the channel.  We're into a new climate now and when it comes to meeting our growing demand, it's less than ideal.  Climate change is making wet regions wetter and dry regions dryer.  In the case of dry regions that often means drought.
Unfortunately these warm, dry regions have also been where we get a lot of what we eat.  Think of California, North America's supplier of fruits, nuts and, of course, wine.  The Golden State is still getting plenty of sunshine but precious little rainfall and farmers are struggling with drought.  Even orchards are being lost.

Now word is out that the world's main olive producer, Spain, is also in the throes of terrible drought.  Spain produces half the world's olives and most of our olive oil.  Expect to pay more soon for olive oil.  European prices have already jumped 30% this year.  Unfortunately this is a problem we're going to be facing ever more in years to come.

Here's the thing.  We can grow olives elsewhere in our warming world.  The problem is it takes nearly 35-years from planting until an olive grove comes into production.  So there's bound to be a period of disruption and, while that lasts, expect to pay for it at the check out.

Don't fret, we still have enough wealth disparity that we can continue to buy our way out of these shortages, for now.  People at the bottom end of the wealth scale, let's just call them the poor, don't have as many options.  They do without or find substitutes like dirt and grass.

in which i attain the holy grail of librarianship: the permanent, full-time job

we move to canada - Mon, 08/18/2014 - 07:00
Meet the new permanent youth librarian at the Mississauga Central Library.

I've been in this position since January, but on a temporary or contract basis. Two big things had to happen in order for this job to post as permanent, and they were completely out of my control: two other people also had to get permanent promotions. If either of those people didn't get their permanent positions, my contract would have ended. I would have gone back to being a part-time library assistant (which would have been a huge hit both financially and in terms of responsibility) and tried for another contract librarian position.

In the last few months, both those people came through with their promotions. When I congratulated them, it was also - mostly? - happiness for myself!

Finally, a few weeks ago, my position posted as permanent. "Full-time permanent," in this context, means being eligible for benefits: paid vacation, paid sick time, extended health, pension, and so on. It also means the security of knowing I won't work as a library assistant in our system again.

Only one-third of staff in our library system is full-time permanent, and that percentage is shrinking all the time. So whenever a full-time, permanent job posts, there's a lot of competition.

I interviewed last week, and I got it.

This is the final piece in my Big Life Change that began with applying for graduate school in 2009. I'm sure I'll have other librarian jobs as my career progresses, to keep things interesting. But in terms of the career and life transition: this is it.

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