Politics and its Discontents

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Reflections, Observations, and Analyses Pertaining to the Canadian Political Scene
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Your Monday Morning Smile

15 hours 11 min ago
I believe this is the cartoon Pamela was referring to in her comment yesterday:

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An Empty Podium

Sun, 05/24/2015 - 07:43

Given the firm rejection by Mr. Harper to join in the leaders' debates being arranged by a consortium of broadcasters, it would seem only fitting to have an empty podium onstage with his name attached, in case he changes his mind at the last minute, and to serve as a useful reminder of the prime minister's disdain (fear?) of honest and unbiasd formats.

With their usual perspicacity, Star readers offer their insights about this sad decision. All are excellent, but I am reproducing only a few below:

Confused about leaders debates? It's Harperology 101, May 16
I’m surprised Stephen Harper isn’t insisting the election debates be hosted by 24 Seven, his self-promoting video-streaming website. His heavy-handed refusal to participate in any debates hosted by a media consortium of CBC, CTV, ICI Radio-Canada and Global reeks of the fear he may not be able to exercise adequate control over the form and, perhaps, the moderator of those debates.

In assessing Harper’s decision, it’s worth recalling the under-reported episode this January when the PMO tried to stipulate that reporters submit their questions before interviews and press conferences. According to veteran reporter Robert Fife, both CTV and CBC unequivocally refused to comply.

Following fast on the heels of the Charlie Hebdo shooting, the government backed away from its stipulation — perhaps realizing that it was the wrong time to curtail freedom of the press.

If Harper wants to accept invitations to debate at events hosted by others, that’s up to him — though the decision of who is to moderate and the rules over any such debates should be carefully scrutinized by every single leader before going along with this scheme.

The debates hosted by the consortium Harper rejects out of hand have been free of biased moderating to date. I am unsure the same impartiality will govern in all other venues Harper favours.

Penny Gill, Dundas

In reference to the Stephen Harper Conservatives’ alternate plans on federal election debates, I urge the consortium to hold their debates as they planned and scheduled them and issue formal and public invitations to all the federal political parties. Whether the leaders attend or not is their problem, not the consortiums nor the voters.

An empty space at a federal election debate will give a very telling message on the interest, concerns and respect the absent leaders have for the people (voters) of this country. The control freak Conservatives must be shown that they are no better than anyone and they will be treated as equally as everyone else in the debates.

Canadians are getting very tired of their antics and this may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back if they continue on their path of arrogance and false sense of entitlement and superiority. I am of the considered opinion that the majority of voters would agree with and support my suggestion.

Gerald McIvor, Winnipeg

Funny how Harper loves to use the big networks to air his propaganda but fears participating in candidate debates hosted by the same group. This could however be a rare opportunity to salvage what’s left of our nation if Thomas Mulcair, Justin Trudeau and Elizabeth May were to simply seize the opportunity and agree to participate in debates hosted by the CBC/CTV/Global consortium without Harper.

Each could explain why their party is the best choice to put an end to Harper’s destruction of our nation’s environment, democracy, economy, integrity, honesty and reputation while sparing us from having to listen to all Harper’s spin crap. If he chooses not to play – well so be it.

Randy Gostlin, Oshawa

......CBC, CTV and Global should go ahead with their plans to conduct debates. If Harper chooses not to participate, they should set up an empty chair so voters can see what he thinks of them.

Mr. Harper refuses to meet the press in regular news conferences, unlike most PMs and U.S. presidents. He doesn’t trust the media. If he refuses to debate on the “national” television networks, the feeling of mistrust may become mutual.

Joe Spence, KanataRecommend this Post

Is it Critical Thinking Or Political Bias? - Part One

Sat, 05/23/2015 - 06:28

I have written about the virtues of critical thinking many times on this blog, and I have also frequently observed the difficulty of achieving it; without question, I regularly fall short of the ideal. One of the impediments to such thinking is the task of separating one's biases from the process, or at the very least recognizing those biases in assessing people and situations.

Take Stephen Harper, for example. Few would dispute that his propensity for exerting control and influence is massive. His contempt of Parliament, the judiciary, and all those who oppose his views and agenda requires no recounting here. With that context in mind, I offer the following as part of that pattern. Whether the conclusions I draw are a result of critical thinking or my disdain for the prime minister and almost everything he stands for, I leave for the reader to decide.

Exhibit Number One: Today's Star reports that the the renovated Canadian Museum of History (formerly the Canadian Museum of Civilization, which I have visited) will not include a room devoted to the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike:
The exhibit, which opened in 1999, was modelled after a meeting room in the Labour Temple on James St. in Winnipeg, where union members met to debate, organize and vote in the months leading up to, and during, the massive strike.

There have been past accusations that the government is trying to rewrite history in the renovated museum. And of course there is the Conservative anti-union agenda to consider.

In the matter of eliminating this important piece of labour history, the museum adamantly rejects any suggestion of political interference:
“Government is certainly not telling us what to put into the hall. Nor do they know what we are putting into the hall. We are not reporting to them and they are not telling us what to do. There is a very high level of cynicism and paranoia out there,” said David Morrison, the director of research and content for the Canadian History Hall project.Yet one could cogently argue that this decision is part of a much larger pattern, consistent with Mr. Harper's values and method of governance.

Exhibit Number Two: The elimination of home mail delivery is also part of a neoliberal agenda, which sees the fraying of government programs as an imperative. Despite the fact that Canada Post made a pre-tax profit of $194 million in 2014 and $24 million for the first quarter of 2015, it has no intention of reviewing its service cuts. Says Deepak Chopra, president and CEO of Canada Post:
"What we are trying to do is avoid becoming a burden on taxpayers for hundreds of millions of dollars if we don't act responsibly now."

"We don't want to wait until the problem has become so severe that the initiatives we will be forced to take would be even more difficult." While the claim is that overall mail volume is down prompted the decision to end home delivery, no public consultations took place, nor were alternative plans, such as alternate day delivery, entertained.

Doesn't the autocratic nature of the move suggest the heavy hand of Harper was involved?

In Part Two, I will examine the curiously close relationship that seems to exist between the RCMP and the Harper cabal.Recommend this Post

The Life And Death Of Worker Resistance

Fri, 05/22/2015 - 05:46
When it comes to jobs, we live in very precarious times, with fewer and fewer people securing full-time work with benefits. Paradoxically, union membership continues to decline, while right-wing propaganda about the evils of such associations flourishes. As a society, we seem to have lost the will to fight for something better.

So what has happened? Episode one of The Life And Death Of Worker Resistance offers some very useful insights:

H/t Operation MapleRecommend this Post

Canadians Would Be Indeed Foolish To Shrug Their Shoulders At This News

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 07:38
Given the invasive and likely unconstitutional provisions of Bill C-51, and the prime minster's general contempt for democracy and privacy issues, Canadians would be beyond naive to believe that the Harper regime would not use this against us:
Canada and its spying partners exploited weaknesses in one of the world's most popular mobile browsers and planned to hack into smartphones via links to Google and Samsung app stores, a top secret document obtained by CBC News shows.

You can read the full story here.Recommend this Post

Walmart's Shameless Anti-Union Propaganda

Wed, 05/20/2015 - 11:24

This epitomizes why I don't shop at Walmart. A training film was released yesterday showing the shameless propaganda the corporate giant uses to discourage those entertaining the seditious thought of starting a union drive at one of their stores. Originally located on You Tube, the video has been taken down, but another site offers it. Since I cannot embed the video on my blog, you will have to click on this link to view it.

Here are a few of the highlights:
"The thing I remember most about the union is, that they took dues money out of my paycheck before I ever saw it... just like taxes."

"I don't think Walmart associates should have to have someone to speak for them. It's just not that kind of place."

"We also know that most union members shop in our stores and clubs nationwide. I talk to them all the time and I hear them complain about their jobs and their union representatives."

"I'll tell ya, every job has its ups and downs...and a union can't change that.”

"In today's world, your signature means a lot. To be honest, I don't like handing my signature over to anyone... much less to unions who seem to be spending so much time trying to hurt my company."
Walmart's low tactics are something to think about the next time you are tempted by their 'low' prices.

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More On Government Muzzling

Wed, 05/20/2015 - 05:36

Yesterday, I posted a video of recently retired Fisheries and Oceans Canada biologist Steve Campana speaking about the sad state of morale within bureaucratic ranks. The Harper regime's obsession with control and secrecy means that government scientists are forbidden to speak about their research without going through a labyrinthine series of communications protocols that often still result in denial of permission to speak to 'outsiders,' i.e., the public.

Here is how one government scientist responded to the post, anonymously:
I speak as a government scientist who knows of what Dr. Campana speaks. The squeeze comes from a couple of directions - benign budgetary neglect and active silencing. The budgetary issues are shared by most other government departments:

- attrition of critical personnel as scientific staff are lost to the private sector or retirement and are rarely if ever replaced,

- the similar loss of administrative staff and the downloading of their jobs onto scientific and technical personnel (it is shameful how much time some of us spend doing travel requests and administration)

- loss of program funding which results in decreased opportunity for data collection or equipment purchases

- loss of critical infrastructure - technical library closures, loss of oceanographic vessels, etc...

- loss of travel budgets that have essentially cut many scientists out of the conference loop. This might seem to the outsider like a perk, and in some ways it is, however conferences provide more opportunities to begin important collaborations than any other way I know.

As for the communications issues, I think Dr. Campana summed it up perfectly. As employees, we are generally allowed to publish scientific journals (with some restrictions to more sensitive projects, I presume), but we are basically not allowed to ever speak with the media, even on the most benign of subjects. This has been brought about by the establishment of the Orwellian-named "Communication" branches within each department whose jobs seem to be the restriction of communication at all costs, and through the establishment of a hush-hush environment that is established from the top down. Also, local regional directors are more and more frequently hired outside of their areas of expertise, as if management is a thing in and of itself and knowledge of the department being managed is of secondary importance.

I could go on, but you probably get the point.Meanwhile, yesterday on Power and Politics, Biologist Katie Gibbs, founder of Evidence for Democracy, addressed the issue with Power and Politics' Evan Solomon:

Finally, today's Star weighs in with a hard-hitting editorial on the issue, observing how this government repression has not gone unnoticed both domestically and internationally:
In the past couple of years the New York Times, Nature magazine, the Guardian and The Economist have all written critical articles pleading for our scientists to be set free.

Federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault is investigating complaints that federal scientists have been muzzled by the government.

A survey from Environics Research last year found that 91 per cent of government scientists feel they cannot share their expertise with the media without facing censure from their bosses.Our democracy continues to wither; it will take collective concern and strong electoral action from the wider public to reverse this sad state of affairs.Recommend this Post

A Recently Retired Government Scientist Speaks Out:

Tue, 05/19/2015 - 08:35
This is sad beyond words.
A recently retired Fisheries and Oceans Canada biologist says the muzzling of federal government scientists is worse than anyone can imagine.

Steve Campana, known for his expertise on everything from Great white sharks to porbeagles and Arctic trout, says the atmosphere working for the federal government is toxic.

"I am concerned about the bigger policy issues that are essentially leading to a death spiral for government science," he said in an exclusive interview.

"I see that is going to be a huge problem in the coming years. We are at the point where the vast majority of our senior scientists are in the process of leaving now disgusted as I am with the way things have gone, and I don't think there is any way for it to be recovered."Recommend this Post

What's That Sound I Hear?

Tue, 05/19/2015 - 06:17
Lesser morals might baldly accuse Stephen Harper of cowardice. Editorial cartoonists have a better way:

H/t The Toronto Star

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A Tireless Voice

Mon, 05/18/2015 - 05:37
A tireless voice for Canada and all of its iconic values, Maude Barlow urges us not to lose heart.

Her reminders of the terrible things the Harper regime has done to undermine civil society through funding cuts and tax audit witch hunts is truly sobering, and we should all be outraged, but her words should also galvanize us to stand up, defend, and fight for everything that makes Canada the unique and enviable country it is.

Otherwise, the barbarians will have won.

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Stephen Harper and The Canada Revenue Agency: The Unholy Alliance Continues

Sun, 05/17/2015 - 06:45

I have written many times about the unholy partnership between Stephen Harper and the Canada Revenue Agency that takes the form of an auditing witch hunt of those charities that in any way offer criticism of Dear Leader's policies. The latest news offers further proof that official avowals of impartiality in selecting who will be audited are absolute lies.

The laest story involves the actions of the much-reviled and detested former premier of Ontario, Mike Harris:
A fundraising letter written by Fraser Institute senior fellow and former premier Mike Harris criticizing the Ontario government highlights a double standard in the way the Canada Revenue Agency audits charities, critics charge.

The letter takes swipes at the province for lacking a “credible plan” to balance the provincial budget within two years, and goes on to criticize Ontario’s debt and the province’s unemployment rate.Especially troubling are the Institute's assertions that it doesn't engage in political activities, and that the Harris letter is not political.

Says its president, Niels Veldhuis:
“It’s written by a long time senior fellow of the Fraser Institute, Mike Harris. All of the data in the letter is based on Fraser Institute research..."Progressive charities that have fallen victim to CRA audits disagree:
“It’s definitely political,”’ says Tim Gray, executive director of Environmental Defence, referring to the Fraser Institute letter.

“The Fraser Institute is clearly doing public policy work in the political sphere,” says Gray, whose environmental group is being audited by the CRA — a probe that began in 2011.

“They (Fraser Institute) should be reporting that (to Canada Revenue) and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be audited based on their compliance with that 10 per cent (political activities rule),” Gray says.

Gray adds that if they’re not being audited, then that raises the question — why not?Two brief highlights from Harris' letter underscore the political nature of the missive (bolded areas mine):
“Credit rating agencies have further downgraded the province’s credit rating, primarily because it’s very unlikely that this government will reverse course and enact a credible plan to balance the budget within the next two years.’’

“Ontario has experienced reckless overspending by government, ballooning public sector salaries, increased red tape and more union-friendly labour laws.”Environmental Defence director Gray asks why the Fraser Institute is not being audited. The answer, sadly, is all too obvious for anyone willing to see the pattern, and to understand the deep contempt with which the Harper regime regards anyone with the temerity to challenge its agenda.

The October election cannot come soon enough.

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And Speaking of Government Cheerleaders

Sat, 05/16/2015 - 06:32
Yesterday, I wrote about chief Harper sycophant Pierre Poilivre's abuse of the taxpayer through his vanity productions promoting the greatness of Dear Leader under the pretext of disseminating information about government programs. A flurry of criticism of this contemptuous behaviour yielded no signs of contrition from the minister of Democratic Reform.

Second only to Poilievre in obsequiousness is Number Two Harper fan and apologist, Paul Callandra, whose shameful performances both inside and outside of the House of Commons should be required reading and viewing for all voters. Yesterday, with his usual stalwart partisanship, he tried to justify the regular theft of tax dollars for government vanity productions on Power and Politics.

Watch only until your gorge begins to rise:

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The Abuse Never Ends

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 08:08

The abuse of the taxpayer by the Harper regime is shameless and relentless. That's the conclusion drawn by The Star's Tim Harper today, and it is abuse that is amply demonstrated in today's Globe.

First to Tim Harper:
The Conservatives have provided a national background Muzak of sloganeering and propaganda that aims to lull Canadians into a false sense that everything will be okay if you just vote for them.

They’re using your money to buy your vote.The contempt for Canadians is egregious:
... this government has spent $750 million blanketing you in Tory blue.

It has advertised programs before they existed. It has appropriated “Strong. Proud. Free” as an advertising slogan, but its genesis is considered a state secret and cannot be revealed for 20 years because Conservatives have deemed the matter one of cabinet confidence.

It is spending $13.5 million to advertise its budget — not to inform, but to promote.

It uses your money for its own partisan videos, endangering Canadian soldiers in the process of burnishing the Stephen Harper image.

David McGuinty says there are 9,800 Economic Action Plan billboards in this country, costing $29 million.

“At its core, this kind of advertising undermines the rules of fair play in our democratic system,’’ he says.

“Canadians believe the government thinks they’re stupid.’’How little the Harper regime regards the taxpayer is made even more graphic by a video that government toadie Pierre Poilievre produced at taxpayer expense:
Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre commissioned a team of public servants for overtime work on a Sunday to film him glad-handing constituents in promotion of the Conservative government’s benefits for families.

The ensuing taxpayer-funded video – and other recent ones like it – are prompting concern that the Conservatives have taken a new step in the use of public funds to produce “vanity videos.”I have to warn you that the following video, made at a children’s clothing consignment event at a local hockey arena in Poilievre's riding, should only be watched by those who are strongly constituted:

And if that's not enough, I offer you a second video, with the same strong viewer advisory:

I can only hope that instead of being impressed by the 'largesse' of the Harper regime, people will far and wide discern its subtext, that we are regarded by our government as suckers easily manipulated by the very propaganda we are footing the bill for.

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A Reconsideration

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 06:11
While I have written about the importance of critical thinking many times on this blog, I have always considered it an ideal, a destination that we should strive for throughout our lives. Never is the journey complete; never are we entirely free from our cultural, political and social contexts and values, all of which act as filters through which we interpret events and ideas. It's all part of being human, and I am acutely aware of the biases through which I see things.

One of my biggest biases, of course, is political in nature. I detest the Harper regime and everything it stands for. That anything good or decent could emerge from such a fundamentally anti-democratic and contemptuous government is a notion difficult for me to entertain. And yet, after watching Rex Murphy's piece on The National last night, I realized that something I had automatically assumed to be prompted by partisan politics may have been something else entirely:

You may have deduced, after watching the clip, that the salient point for me came when he discussed Lisa Raitt's motives in escorting Elizabeth May off the stage. When it was first reported, I automatically, perhaps reflexively, assumed that her intervention was prompted, not for the reasons Murphy attributes, decency and concern for a friend, but rather to spare her boss, Stephen Harper, from any more abuse from Ms May. After watching it, I said to my wife that perhaps Murphy had a valid point (something I am not used to saying about him!), and that perhaps I should reconsider my original cynical conclusion.

In his column today, Rick Salutin seems to come to a similar conclusion:
And now ... for something completely redemptive: that parliamentary correspondents’ dinner, where Green leader Elizabeth May said some things worth saying but in a maudlin, self-pitying way. Then on came Tory cabinet minister Lisa Raitt to lovingly, maternally help her offstage. May wanted one last shot and Raitt unjudgmentally let her take it: “Omar Khadr, you’ve got more class than the entire f------ Tory cabinet.” It was complex. As a cabinet member Raitt shares that lack of class. As a human presence, she was inspirational. Isn’t there some way to bottle what happened between them and turn it into a party and voting option? Well, there should be.
I suppose that when all is said and done, we have to always keep in mind that critical thinking, as stated above, is never a fixed state nor a goal completely achieved, both a humbling and a useful insight for politically engaged people like me.

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Breaking News On Omar Khadr

Thu, 05/14/2015 - 10:06

The Harper vendetta against Omar Khadr has suffered another defeat:
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled Thursday that Omar Khadr, the former teenage al-Qaeda member freed on bail last week in Alberta, should be treated as if he were sentenced as a juvenile. The federal government had argued that he deserved to be treated more severely, as an adult.

The case centres on whether the eight-year war-crimes sentence Khadr was given by a U.S. military commission in 2010 ought to be interpreted as a youth or adult sentence.Nonetheless, it would be naive indeed to think that the regime will leave him alone to get on with his life, not with an election in the offering.

So little time, so much hatred and division yet to foment.Recommend this Post

The High Cost Of Integrity

Thu, 05/14/2015 - 05:59

In this world, remaining faithful to one's principles can be a very difficult proposition. We often hear how important it is to "go along to get along," and while we all make compromises during the daily course of living, sometimes the issues confronting us are too large to ignore, too loud to mute that voice crying from within. But acknowledging that voice can come at a cost.

Dr. John O’Connor appears to be paying the price.

The northern Alberta doctor, the on-call doctor for the residents of Fort Chipewyan, you may recall, has been an outspoken critic of the tarsands, his studies showing rare cancers occurring at extremely high rates for the residents residing downstream of the oilsands, apparently the victims of toxic emissions and effluents from the bitumen extraction taking place in their environs. His warnings have been largely ignored by both the Alberta and the federal governments.

But someone must have been listening.

O'Connor, as reported in The National Observer, has been fired.
After 15 years of committed service, his termination came on May 8 without the slightest warning.

“Please be advised that Nunee Health Board Society no longer requires your professional services to provide any patient consultation or on-call services to the staff at the Fort Chipewyan Health Center.”

And just in case that wasn’t hard-edged enough:

“In addition, you have no authority to speak to or represent the Nunee Health Board Society in any way to any other individual, party or entity (sic)”While at this time there is no proof that his outspokenness caused his termination, the Observer offers some history that puts his dismissal into a provocative context:
Twelve years ago, he diagnosed an unusual number of cancers of the bile duct in the tiny northern hamlet of Fort Chipewyan, located downstream of the oil sands. The condition is familiar to Dr. O’Connor because his own father died from this same illness in 1993.

He also noted higher-than-average rates of other kinds of diseases, as well as persistent reports from local hunters and fishermen of unpleasant changes in the wildlife in the region – such as dead and disappearing muskrat, and fishes with strange deformities. He wondered if these circumstances had to do with the pollution from the oil sands companies.

In 2006, the CBC reporter contacted O’Connor, who said publicly, for the first time, that he felt there was a looming public health issue in the region.

Dr. John O’Connor's data was challenged by Health Canada and public health officials in Alberta, and he was threatened with loss of his license because he had raised “undue alarm”.While he was eventually, over several years, cleared of such charges and complaints, it turned him into a tough crusader for what he considers life and death issues.

His dismissal coincides with another curious event:
About three weeks ago, renowned physician Dr. Esther Tailfeathers, who had been spending a week every month in Fort Chipewyan for the last three years, suddenly ended her service, without explaining why to the staff at the nursing station where she worked.That a respected First Nation physician would suddenly disappear from the community, and then three weeks later Dr. O'Connor would be abruptly terminated raises important questions as to what is going on behind the scenes.And it would seem that the impact of these losses will reverberate throughout the region he and Tailfeathers served:
John O’Connor has been supplying on-call services, 24/7, for 15 years. He has answered calls while traveling in other countries, from holiday locations, and even from the shower, walking nursing and paramedic staff in Fort Chipewyan through challenging medical emergencies whenever they occurred. On a number of occasions over the years, he offered to reduce his fees if the Nunee Health Board Society was having trouble meeting them. In fact, [he] reduced his invoice for August 2014 to February 2015 by 50 per cent at the request of Caroline Adam, the person who sent him the one-line email [of termination] on May 8.Virtue, we are told, is its own reward. That may have to be the consolation for O'Connor, but given his capacity to fight the good fight, I very much doubt that the matter will end here.

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Distracted Thinking

Wed, 05/13/2015 - 07:37

I am something of a creature of routine. For example, all things being equal, my early morning ritual consists of retrieving the Toronto Star from my mailbox and reading the front section while enjoying my breakfast. It is during this reading that I often get my idea for the day's blog post. Firing up the computer, checking email and going to my blog dashboard are my next steps, assuming no exigencies have arisen requiring my attention elsewhere.

A requisite part of these quotidian activities is a certain amount of focus and concentration, perhaps one of the reasons I don't scan the entire paper during breakfast. If reading a political column, for example, I have to concentrate so as no to misread the writer's intent. Without that focus, distraction and digression would undoubtedly result. Of course, as I get older, that concentration becomes harder to maintain. It is the way of all flesh, I suspect.

It seems to me that as a nation, perhaps as a species, we allow ourselves to be far too easily distracted by the bauble, by the sensational, by the essentially meaningless, while failing to note or appreciate far more important underlying realities.

Take the overreaction to Elizabeth May's 'performance' the other night at the press gallery dinner. The fact that she dropped the 'f' bomb, and not the context of its use, is what everyone talked about, to the point, quite hypocritically in my view, that some say she should resign as Green Party leader.

In today's Star, Thomas Walkon offers some perspective:
First she said she was surprised that previous speakers hadn’t acknowledged that the dinner was taking place on land claimed by the Algonquins.

“What the f--- was wrong with the rest of you,” she said.

This, incidentally, was one of only two times she used vulgarity in what has been labelled a profanity-laden speech.

Then she noted that the prime minister, as usual, wasn’t attending. Maybe he fretted about being hit by flying bread rolls, she mused, before suggesting that such fears were unfounded because “there’s got to be a closet here somewhere.”

I confess I found that rather amusing, in a mean sort of way.May then turned her attention to Omar Khadr:
“Welcome back Omar Khadr,” she said. “It matters to say it. Welcome back. You’re home. Omar Khadr, you’ve got more class than the entire f---ing cabinet.”

And in fact he does. Khadr’s response to being jailed almost half of his life for the crime of being a child soldier has been gracious and measured. The Harper government’s response to Khadr has been anything but.Despite that very important context, all anyone could talk about was May's language and whether or not she was drunk.

Our predilection to think trivially, to be overwhelmed by the sensational while ignoring the substantive, serves the ruling class very well. Gwynne Dyer's most recent column, I think, addresses this issue within the context of anti-terrorism laws passed by both France and Canada:
Left-wing, right-wing, it makes no difference. Almost every elected government, confronted with even the slightest “terrorist threat”, responds by attacking the civil liberties of its own citizens. And the citizens often cheer them on.

Last week, the French government passed a new bill through the National Assembly that vastly expanded the powers of the country’s intelligence services. French intelligence agents will now be free to plant cameras and recording devices in private homes and cars, intercept phone conversations without judicial oversight, and even install “keylogger” devices that record every key stroke on a targeted computer in real time.Things are almost equally as grim here in Canada:
The Anti-Terror Act, which has just passed the Canadian House of Commons, gives the Canadian Security Intelligence Service the right to make “preventive” arrests in Canada. It lets police arrest and detain individuals without charge for up to seven days.

The bill’s prohibitions on speech that “promotes or glorifies terrorism” are so broad and vague that any extreme political opinion can be criminalized.In both countries, the sensational, (the threat of death by terrorist) stoked by respective governments to cultivate a compliant response from their citizens, ignores a very important factual context:
France has 65 million people, and it lost 17 of them to terrorism in the past year. Canada has 36 million people, and it has lost precisely two of them to domestic terrorism in the past 20 years.That seems to have worked for France:
The cruel truth is that we put a higher value on the lives of those killed in terrorist attacks because they get more publicity. That’s why, in an opinion poll last month, nearly two-thirds of French people were in favor of restricting freedoms in the name of fighting extremism—and the French parliament passed the new security law by 438 votes to 86.It appears to have been less successful here:
And the Canadian public, at the start 82 percent in favour of the new law, had a rethink during the course of the debate. By the time the Anti-Terror Act was passed in the House of Commons, 56 percent of Canadians were against it. Among Canadians between 18 and 34 years old, fully three-quarters opposed it.Should Canadians feel superior? Not really. After all, Bill C-51 is now the law of the land, and we can be certain that the 'terror card' will be played relentlessly in the Harper campaign for re-election.

Time for a crash course in Critical Thinking 101.

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Creative, But Incomplete, Solutions

Tue, 05/12/2015 - 07:16

If you read The Mound of Sound regularly, you will understand that there is no quick fix for the myriad problems the world faces. As he has pointed out on more than one occasion, threats like climate change cannot be viewed in isolation. It is only part of a wide panoply of interrelated ills that the world faces, ills that include overpopulation, over consumption, and dwindling resources. Our lifestyles are growing well beyond the earth's capacity to sustain us.

With that proviso in mind, there are a number of developments that, while not a solution to our bloated lifestyles, nonetheless show us what is possible when we think "outside the box."

Last week, The Star's Edward Keenan wrote a thought-provoking piece asking whether or not there are straightforward solutions to intractable problems:
What happens when a serious problem we thought was incredibly complicated and nearly impossible to solve suddenly becomes easier to deal with?

That’s a question raised by a recent blog post by economics professor John Quiggin, who sits on the board of the Australian Climate Change Authority. With the announcement this week by Elon Musk of Tesla Motors electric car fame that his company would be mass-producing a home and utility battery to store solar energy at a fraction of the price of existing similar batteries, combined with developments in electric cars, “we now have just about everything we need for a technological fix for climate change, based on a combination of renewable energy and energy efficiency, at a cost that’s a small fraction of global income …”But one of the big obstacles to such developments is the way we think:
Quiggin notes, correctly I think, that the long-standing seeming intractability of climate change has led people to draw some distinct conclusions, and based on them gather in warring political camps: those who think dealing with it requires ending capitalism and reshaping virtually all of society; those who think the first group is perpetrating an elaborate hoax; and those in competing camps who think the solutions require very big carbon taxes, or massive investments in nuclear energy or “clean coal.”
Therefore, there is real resistance to the notion that a quick fix is possible. This, Keenan says, is the same mentality that led doctors in the mid-1800s to resist the simple measure of washing their hands and their equipment to reduce maternal and child mortality:
Doctors had their own accepted theories about the cause of such deaths and refused to think they could be causing the problem.And so it is with other developments which, more than anything else, seem to require an open mind and a willingness to move beyond a rigidly fixed world view. Take, for example, solar roadways:

This technology was put to the test near Amsterdam, where a bike path was lined with SolaRoad:
SolaRoad has generated more than 3,000 kilowatt hours of electricity since the 70-metre-long strip officially opened in November 2014, in Krommenie, a village northwest of Amsterdam, the project reported late last week. It said that was enough to power a single-person household for a year.

"We did not expect a yield as high as this so quickly," said Sten de Wit, spokesman for the public-private partnership project, in a statement that deemed the first half-year of a three-year pilot a success.

Based on what it has produced so far, the bike path is expected to generate more than 70 kilowatt hours per square metre per year, close to the upper limit predicted based on lab tests.Creative thinking has also led to a development dealing with the millions of cigarette butts littering our streets and parks:
TerraCycle is one of a handful of companies that is working to collect and recycle spent butts, by turning them into plastic lumber that can be used for benches, pallets, and other uses.

Another company, EcoTech Displays, is working on a system to recycle butts into insulation, clothing, and even jewelry.You can watch a video of the process by clicking on the above link.

Will any of these developments save our world? Not in themselves. But they do show us what is possible when we resolve to break out of old modes of thinking, sadly a task perhaps as difficult as the process involved in developing new technologies.
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