Politics and its Discontents

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Reflections, Observations, and Analyses Pertaining to the Canadian Political Scene
Updated: 14 min 41 sec ago

Scenes From Hell, And A Small Effort At Climate-Change Adaptation

Sun, 07/24/2016 - 06:17
It may seem rather pararochial that whenever I post video showing the current effects of climate change, I almost always post scenes from North America, despite the fact that floods, fires, heatwaves and other such apocalyptic signs are present throughout much of the world. Part of the reason is that compelling video of such disasters is readily available, thanks to the good coverage given by NBC, whose main concern is the United States. The other reason is a more basic one: while it is hard to relate to scenes of flooding, for example, from faraway places such as China, when it is in our backyard, i.e., North America, the perils and the threats seem far more immediate, urgent and relatable.

With that in mind, take a look at the following clip, which deals with the conflagrations so regularly engulfing California. For me, the scene that is most moving involves the efforts to evacuate both the horses and the inhabitants of a wildlife sanctuary. I'll introduce the second clip afterwards.

In response to my previous post, The Mound of Sound wrote this:
At some point, Lorne, the question becomes how we and our governments at all levels, especially provincial and local, will act on adaptation. If, over the next five or ten years, these "heat domes" you're currently experience worsen and become the norm adaptive measures will be essential especially in "heat islands" such as Toronto and the GTA. If summer droughts are recurrent it may be necessary for the agricultural sector to begin switching into heat and drought resistant crops. These things aren't long term answers. They don't solve the problems. They merely buy time. Perhaps we'll manage to get Trudeau or his successor to switch their focus from bitumen and pipelines into the survival of our civilization or is that too much to ask?The issue of adaptation does come up in the following clip, a story about how rising sea levels are threatening the wild horses of Assateague Island, off the Maryland coast. Yet, as I think you will agree, the efforts thus far seem puny compared to the magnitude of the threat. Kind of like closing the proverbial barn door after the horses have escaped, perhaps?

Kate Snow, in introducing the above story, describes how the horses are under threat by "Mother Nature herself." Surely that is a mischaracterization. Humanity's collective willfulness, selfishness and mulish refusal to confront the threats we ourselves have wrought are surely to blame. And sadly, our natures seem to lack any real capacity for attitude or lifestyle adaptation to what is destroying us.

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To State The Obvious

Fri, 07/22/2016 - 08:01

... the world is getting hotter. And now that Southern Ontario, already plagued by drought, is in the midst of yet another heatwave, it seems like the right time to look at some hard numbers.

The Guardian reports that
June 2016 marks the 14th consecutive month of record-breaking heat.

According to two US agencies – Nasa and Noaa – June 2016 was 0.9C hotter than the average for the 20th century, and the hottest June in the record which goes back to 1880. It broke the previous record, set in 2015, by 0.02C.

The 14-month streak of record-breaking temperatures was the longest in the 137-year record. And it has been 40 years since the world saw a June that was below the 20th century average.To cool the ardour of those climate-change deniers who would like to blame it all on El Niño, Nasa’s Gavin Schmidt has this to say:
“While the El Niño event in the tropical Pacific this winter gave a boost to global temperatures from October onwards, it is the underlying trend which is producing these record numbers,” he said.

Nasa’s Walt Meir said the global temperatures have been exacerbated by extreme temperatures over the Arctic. Warm temperatures there are pushing up the global average, as well a causing record-low amounts of sea ice.

“It has been a record year so far for global temperatures, but the record high temperatures in the Arctic over the past six months have been even more extreme,” Meier said. “This warmth as well as unusual weather patterns have led to the record-low sea ice extents so far this year.”As another indication of how dire our situation is becoming, consider Alaska:
Alaska has seen a years-long streak of astonishing warmth, with the warmest year-to-date and warmest June capping it off so far this year.

The heat this week in interior parts of Alaska has been particularly extreme, with one noteworthy all-time high temperature record falling. That record was set in Deadhorse, Alaska, located on the Arctic coast, which rose to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, or 30 degrees Celsius.

Closer to home, there is a heat dome enveloping much of North America that has absolutely nothing to do with the noxious emissions emanating from the Republican Convention:

And so it goes, and so we go, along our merry way, lurching from one climatic crisis to another, sadly and willfully oblivious to the larger picture there for all to see.

Special Note: Special thanks to The Mound, our blogosphere's expert on climate change, for alerting me to some of the links used in this post.

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A Teachable Moment?

Thu, 07/21/2016 - 07:17
If so, I am afraid Melania Trump failed:

But of course, now that Meredith McIver has taken the fall for the plagiarism, I guess we can all hit the rewind button. Except for one tiny detail. Since McIver identifies herself as an employee of the Trump Organization, not the Trump campaign, Trump has violated federal law in using her, a criminal offence.

Oh, the problems of the rich and famous are ones we mere mortals can hardly fathom, eh?Recommend this Post

Fair And Balanced Reporting, Or Craven Corporate Pandering?

Wed, 07/20/2016 - 08:51
I just finished reading Rather Outspoken, a memoir by Dan Rather, former anchor of CBC News who was essentially fired for reporting the truth about George Bush's time in the Texas Air National Guard in lieu of going to Vietnam. While there was plenty of evidence to support the fact that Bush was absent without leave for about a year, the CBS report on it, truncated by 'the suits,' made it seem that the veracity of the claims rested solely on one series of disputed documents, known as the Killian documents.

The book is worthwhile as a reminder of the noble ideals of old-school journalism, the crucial role a free press plays in a democratic society, and as a warning about what happens when news becomes a fungible commodity; in the case of CBS, it became merely one element in the corporate drive for profit and expansion. That it can no longer be relied upon to 'speak truth to power' is made despairingly evident in Rather's book.

I don't have time to go into much detail, but essentially the problem Rather outlines is that government wants something from the media (good press and a means to promulgate its version of 'truth') and the corporate behemoths want things from government. In the case of CBS, Viacom, its parent company, wanted an easing of restrictions on how many stations a network could own. In the past, they were limited to six, but, at least in part due to its willingness to pull stories, apologize for segments aired that offended the administration, etc., that number, at least in 2012 when the book was published, is now 39. The quid pro quo should offend all critical thinkers.

It is a book I highly recommend, and I make it the subject of this post for one reason. Last night I happened to catch the CBS Evening News coverage of the Republican Convention. While they did not shirk from the Melania Trump plagiarism, they did offer ample opportunity for the Trump side's spin, culminating in something that I feel merits some scrutiny.

If you advance the video to about the 8-minute mark, look at the curious perspective offered in the name of 'balance':

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Fair reporting or corporate pandering? You decide.Recommend this Post

True Believers Speak

Tue, 07/19/2016 - 14:48
And as they do, my faith in humanity continues to erode. Watch what Mother Jones has uncovered:

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A Shameful Legacy

Mon, 07/18/2016 - 06:27

During the dark years of the Harper administrations, Canadians became almost inured to the lengths it would go while promoting its neo-liberal agenda. The extolment of free trade, the promotion of tar sands development, the sneering dismissal of all environmental and climate-change concerns were what we came to expect from a government that was committed to servicing the corporate agenda at the expense of the people.

Then came the victory of the Trudeau-led Liberals, and all of us reveled in and breathed deeply of the liberated air that was all about us. But, as time passes, we are seeing that that air is not quite as pure as we had initially hoped.

Promises made are now being temporized. One of the most shameful instances of this is this government's continued importation of asbestos, the deadly mineral whose use the previous government staunchly defended until the last asbestos mines in Quebec closed in 2011.

It would seem amazing that in 2016, our country as yet has refused to ban the product, even though 55 countries, including Australia and Britain, have done so.
Canadian asbestos imports are on the rise. Despite international consensus that the carcinogen should be added to the United Nations’ list of hazardous materials, Canada is among the few countries to oppose the move. The promise of change in the swearing in of the Trudeau government last fall is giving way to a far less attractive reality. Consider, for example, the hopeful rhetoric from earlier this year, when
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada was at last “moving to ban asbestos” because “its impact on workers far outweighs any benefits that it might provide.” This welcome promise prompted fanfare from health advocates and vulnerable workers who know all too well how devastating that impact can be.The reality is looking less rosy:
Asked for an update by the Globe and Mail earlier this month, the Prime Minister’s Office hedged. Ottawa is “reviewing its strategy on asbestos, including a potential ban,” the spokesperson wrote.One need not have a nuanced understanding of the English language to see the difference.
More troubling still, at recent UN meetings the federal government has again expressed doubt that so-called chrysotile asbestos should be covered under the Rotterdam Convention, an international treaty on hazardous materials. Its rationale? “It has not been proven that chrysotile asbestos causes cancer.”Or consider what Gerry Caplan recently wrote about the experience of Katherine Ruff, Canada’s most prominent and knowledgeable advocate for a ban on all asbestos, who says,
“My experience with the current government is worse than what I experienced with the former Harper government.”Repeated attempts by Ruff to get a meeting with Health Minister Jane Philpott or Environment Minister Catherine McKenna have met with no success. According to her, these
add up to a "lack of transparency, lack of democracy and lack of respect...in trying to communicate with the government over the past eight months, which is the opposite to what Prime Minister Trudeau promised."Ruff's fuller consideration of the failure of the 'new' government to act on asbestos can be read in an op-ed she wrote in The Ottawa Citizen.

All of these disquieting signs echo the intransigent Harper cabal that so many of us so earnestly worked to dispose of.

I am growing increasingly pessimistic about the prospects for real change. May the passing of time prove my fears ill-founded.Recommend this Post

Free Speech Is Fine

Sat, 07/16/2016 - 12:55
.... except when it is used to criticize Israel, as Mississauga, Ont. teacher Nadia Shoufani is learning.
She addressed a downtown Toronto rally on 2 July, marking al-Quds Day, an annual event held around the world to support Palestinian rights and to protest Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.

“Silence in situations of oppression and injustices is a crime against humanity,” Shoufani said in her speech at the rally, in which she condemned the Israeli occupation and Israel’s policies of home demolitions, land confiscation and arrests of Palestinians.

The fact that Shoufani called upon the occupied to resist was apparently too much for the Jewish lobby.

CBC reports that she is now being investigated on several fronts after Bnai Brith et al. complained:
Bruce Campbell, general manager of communications and community relations for the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board [for whom she works], said Wednesday an investigation has begun. He said the matter was brought to the board's attention through a number of sources, including the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center and B'nai Brith Canada.The governing body for Ontario teachers is also prepared to bring down the hammer:
A spokesperson for the Ontario College of Teachers said the organization is "aware of the matter.

"If and when a complaint is launched to the College, we will deal with it accordingly," Gabrielle Barkany said in an email to CBC News.Toronto police are also involved:
Toronto police said they have opened an investigation into comments made at the Al-Quds rally, but could not confirm that Shoufani herself is under investigation.

"It's being investigated as we speak," Const. Allyson Douglas-Cook said on Wednesday. "I can confirm that we are investigating comments made at the rally and there is more than one person involved."MintPressNews reports that her stance has support, however, from those not afraid to criticize Israel:
Tyler Levitan, campaigns coordinator at Independent Jewish Voices-Canada, a group that supports Palestinian rights, said organisations like Bnai Brith Canada and Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal “are shills for Israel”.

“Ms Shoufani was speaking passionately in support of the Palestinians’ right to defend themselves against an occupying power,” Levitan told MEE in an email.

“Under international law, those living under military occupation and a system of colonialism have the absolute right to resist. Ms Shoufani spoke as a defender of the rights of an occupied and besieged people to resist an obscenely violent and criminal military occupation over their lands.”Nonetheless, mainstream lobbyists who oppose any defence of Palestinians have shown remarkable effectiveness in stifling criticism of the Jewish state:
Recently, pro-Israel lobby groups in Canada have launched several campaigns targeting groups and individuals supporting Palestinian rights.

Bnai Brith Canada lauded a parliamentary motion passed earlier this year condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to hold Israel accountable under international law.

In March, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs accused Canadian law professor Michael Lynk of demonstrating a pro-Palestinian bias and of being involved in “anti-Israel advocacy”. The accusations came after Lynk was appointed as the new Special Rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Pro-Israel groups have also urged Canada to maintain funding cuts on the United Nations agency that supports Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

They are also pressuring the Green Party of Canada to dismiss two motions, set to be debated at a party convention in August, that would strip the Jewish National Fund of its charitable status and endorse BDS.

“I know from past experience that Bnai Brith would be using every means possible to try to shut down the al-Quds rally,” said Ken Stone, treasurer of the Hamilton Coalition to Stop the War and another speaker at the al-Quds Day rally in Toronto this year.

Stone told MEE that Bnai Brith Canada has taken the comments made at the rally out of context and distorted them in an effort to shut down the annual event and silence Canadian supporters of Palestinian rights.

“What they’re trying to do is … put a chill on people like Nadia Shoufani,” he said.

“[And] put a chill on people who might be tempted to get up at an al-Quds rally and declare their support for the Palestinian cause.”What a wonderful ideal to aspire to - free speech and the open exchange of points of view. Too bad that when it comes to Israel, such democratic mainstays seem to have no place.

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Elizabeth Warren On The Trans Pacific Partnership

Thu, 07/14/2016 - 06:30
Recently, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, a woman I much admire, released a five-minute video that takes aim at the Trans Pacific Partnership, specifically denouncing the Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions that give corporate entities the right to impinge upon a country's sovereignty through lawsuits if legislation affects their ability to make a profit.

Even though it is aimed at an American audience, Canada is mentioned in the warning; all of us would be very wise to take what she says very seriously, given the enthusiasm our 'new' government has for globalized trade.

I look forward to the day when our 'leaders' explain to us why these investor rights are good for all of us.

For more information about why this deal is bad and dangerous, click here.Recommend this Post

Another Very Ominous Sign

Wed, 07/13/2016 - 06:04
Thanks to my friend, The Mound, for passing this on to me. It is not good news.

The Tyee reports the following:
As Arctic sea ice melts, one of the forces doing the melting is the Arctic Ocean itself.

No other region on the planet is warming as fast as the Arctic, where a balance of currents, ice, salinity, and sunlight has been disrupted.

This video by Hakai Magazine on the 'new Arctic' explains the latest research on how this is happening, from warm currents flowing north from the Atlantic and Pacific to drifting ice floes stirring the warmer saltier water up to the icy Arctic surface.

The rapid melting of Arctic sea ice has been named one of the most important global markers of climate change.I was not able to embed the video, but you can see it here.

Meanwhile, NASA reports that Arctic sea ice is now declining at a rate of 13.4 percent per decade.

None of us should be resting easy.Recommend this Post

Democracy's Shortcomings*

Tue, 07/12/2016 - 07:50

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

― Winston S. Churchill

The above is clearly not in accord with the thinking of our 'betters,' aka the corporate elite, who are now lamenting the terrible things that democracy can bring about.

Billionaire CEO Steve Schwarzman first sounded the alarm in January at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
"I find the whole thing sort of astonishing, and what's remarkable is the amount of anger, whether it's on the Republican side or the Democratic side," he said, in a slow cadence that served to highlight his confusion. "Bernie Sanders, to me, is almost more stunning than some of the stuff going on on the Republican side. How is that happening? Why is that happening? What is the vein in America that is being tapped into, across parties, that's made people so unhappy?"

"Now," he concluded, smiling, "that's something you should spend some time on."Schwarzman's bewilderment gave way to introspection and analysis, leading some to conclude there is too much democracy, thereby paving the way for demagogues like Donald Trump, who 'prey' on the emotions of the masses.

James Traub, writing in Foreign Policy, goes further:
It is necessary to say that people are deluded and that the task of leadership is to un-delude them. Is that “elitist”?Such an assertion provoked a strong response from Jake Johnson:
It is elites — including Traub himself — who have for decades cloaked devastating wars in the soaring rhetoric of "humanitarian intervention." It is elites who have forced upon crumbling economies austerity that has served to prolong and worsen already dire circumstances. It is elites who have peddled the fantasy of neoliberalism, which has created a system that lavishly rewards the wealthiest while leaving everyone else to compete for the rest. It is elites, political and corporate, who have devastated the environment in the name of profit. It is elites who have crashed the global economy.

The masses, for their part, are always there to pick up the costs.

And they're sick of it.Writing in Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi says,
"Voters in America not only aren't over-empowered, they've for decades now been almost totally disenfranchised, subjects of one of the more brilliant change-suppressing systems ever invented.

People have no other source of influence ... Unions have been crushed. Nobody has any job security. Main Street institutions that once allowed people to walk down the road to sort things out with other human beings have been phased out. In their place now rest distant, unfeeling global bureaucracies.

Elites, by forcefully eliminating avenues for democratic progress, have cultivated the environment in which anti-establishment sentiment now thrives.

And the major political parties of the wealthiest nations on earth, in order to curry favor from big business, have pushed aside the needs of the working class, often disregarding workers as racists unworthy of attention. And the punditry has dutifully followed suit.And so the schism between the elites and the masses continues. What is left unspoken, however, is the role that all of us can play in counteracting this alleged debasement of democracy.

We have a choice. We can choose to go along our merry way, content and narcotized by the trivial diversions available to us, or we can speak forcefully whenever the occasion demands that we do, and we can refuse to cede authority to the uninformed and the ignorant by turning out in droves during elections, debates, etc.

There is nothing inherently wrong with our democratic institutions. It is its potential participants who need to be regularly reminded of their responsibilities in facilitating their effective discharge. To say that there is no real choice in our political leadership may be true to some extent. But to use that as a reason for withdrawal will only serve the interests of a minority at the expense of the majority.

Anger is justified, but it must be tempered with reason. Otherwise, all will indeed be lost.

*Thanks to Kev for bringing this to my attention.Recommend this Post

Somedays I Feel Very, Very Old

Mon, 07/11/2016 - 18:30
This is one of the reasons:

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