Politics and its Discontents

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Reflections, Observations, and Analyses Pertaining to the Canadian Political Scene
Updated: 29 min 41 sec ago

Was Nathan Cirillo A Hero?

10 hours 30 min ago


As I noted on this blog previously, it is always a tragedy when a young person loses his or her life, whether to accident, disease, or mayhem. The lost potential is incalculable. Like me, however, I suspect many found the mythologizing of Nathan Cirillo's murder, his passage on the Highway of Heroes, and what amounted to a state funeral, attended by an array of dignitaries, including the Prime Minister, a little much. And as a cynical observer of the political landscape, I cannot escape the notion that all of the ceremony will prove to be of great benefit to the Harper regime's propaganda machine and its ongoing efforts to reduce our civil liberties.

This morning, a friend of mine alerted me to a piece by the Hamilton Spectator's Andrew Dreschel. It is a frank and honest assessment of this past week's spectacle. It is also brave, as I suspect it will earn him a barrage of hate mail.

While in no way detracting from the loss of this young man, Dreschel offers an unsentimental assessment of what happened:
The 24-year-old Hamilton reservist was murdered in cold blood by a homeless crack addict with terrorist notions while he was ceremonially guarding the National War Memorial in Ottawa.

Cirillo's death was tragic and senseless, but in no way was it heroic.Dreschel then goes on to talk about what constitutes heroism: those who display remarkable courage,
by performing brave deeds and daring feats — risking or sacrificing your life to save others, valiantly defending a position, boldly destroying the enemy.But Cirillo never got the chance to show the stuff of which he was made:
He died unprepared and unarmed, the unlucky victim of a seemingly deranged killer who was himself gunned down after storming Parliament.All of the subsequent coverage gave this tragedy a life of its own, culminating in what the writer describes as secular canonization.

Dreschel ends on this note:
Through no action of his own, the accidental victim had become an accidental hero. But sadly, like all accident victims, he just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.Unsentimental and accurate, the column raises some disturbing issues that we should all be honest enough and brave enough to confront. Of course, it is right to feel grief and empathy in tragic situations; obviously it is part of what makes us human. But we should also be keenly aware that those very human responses can work to our detriment if they are not leavened by the knowledge that those in positions of trust with far darker motives may try to exploit them to their own advantage.Recommend this Post

A Dystopian Present And Future

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 06:44


Those of us who consider ourselves progressive bloggers are well-aware of the dystopian nature of the world we live in. It is a world where black is often white, white is black, and deceit abounds. The perpetrators of environmental degradation and climate change offer us commercials showing pristine landscapes to ponder; the moneyed elite tell us that their success is our future success, and those who wage war tell us of their commitment to peace.

Sadly, Canada is not exempt from this madness. Now that the Harper regime has seized the narrative following the attacks in Quebec and Ottawa, almost immediately labelling them as acts of terrorism, it is wasting no time in pursuing measures that will diminish, not protect, all of us.

Consider this:
A 30-year-old assault-rifle collector from Pakistan has been arrested on allegations that he is a terrorist threat to Canada. The Ontario resident is in jail, charged under immigration laws that would allow him to be deported, just one year after he avoided prison on different charges.The accused, Muhammad Aqeeq Ansari, a Karachi-born software designer who has lived in Ontario for several years, was arrested on Oct. 27. Last year, as part of a plea bargain for illegal storage of legally-acquired firearms, he surrendered them. There was no suggestion of terrorism at that time.

Now, however,
federal officials allege Mr. Ansari has ties to terrorists in Pakistan, that he had amassed “a small arsenal” of guns; and that he has expressed extreme opinions on Twitter.What were those opinions?
On a Twitter account that has not been updated since the day of Mr. Ansari’s arrest, @aqeeqansari appeared to suggest at least one of last week’s attackers was framed.

“#MartinRouleau … Seems like the cops shot the guy and placed the knife,” the account says, referring to one the suspected terrorists.Those who know Ansari have a more benign view of him, describing
him to The Globe as a firearms enthusiast and a strict Muslim. But they doubt he is capable of violence. “I think he was just a shooting hobbyist who didn’t follow the regulations,” said Ed Burlew, who represented Mr. Ansari in the criminal case.
Despite that benign assessment, he is now facing deportation. And despite what some would describe as a gross overreaction by authorities, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson is
urging Parliament to make it easier for police to get search warrants and to seek restrictions on the movements of suspects in terrorism investigations.Equally worrisome comes a report that the regime is looking at ways of suppressing freedom of expression on the Internet, a fool's errand if there ever was one, but a measure that could have many second-guessing themselves lest they run afoul of the authorities for 'wrong thinking.'

'Justice' Minister Peter MacKay (a constant reminder that a mind is a terrible thing to waste) is now seeking measures that
could include tools to allow for the removal of websites or Internet posts that support the “proliferation of terrorism” in Canada. His desire is to interdict materials that, as he puts it, contribute to the poisoning of young minds.

Being either benighted or disingenuous, MacKay says,
Such measures risk infringing on free speech but Mr. MacKay said he believes it’s possible to set “an objective standard” with which to judge what constitutes promoting terrorism.And there, of course, is the crux of the matter. What is terrorism to a government might very well be considered fair comment to others. In a Canada where a man is facing deportation in part because he questions a police report on Twitter. the dangers to all of us should be readily apparent.






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As a Canadian, You Can't help But Feel Proud Here

Wed, 10/29/2014 - 12:17
Let's hope this kind of integrity and decency is enough to combat the fears that the Harper regime is trying to stoke after last week's tragic events.

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A Response To Russell Brand

Wed, 10/29/2014 - 09:21


Yesterday, I posted a video of Russell Brand excoriating the absence of any real choice when it comes to the vision offered by various political parties. His argument is that they are all essentially cut from the same cloth.

A theme close to The Mound of Sound's heart, he offered the following comments:
Thanks for posting that, Lorne. I watched it three times and was struck by why so many of us fail to see these views as obvious. Why are we not turning on this system that has so ruthlessly turned on us? Here's something to try. Russell Brand's delivery can come across as inflammatory or brash but, reduced to writing, it's actually a lot more sedate.

We have to come to grips with the fundamental truth that government that suppresses the public interest in favour of private interests is a form of government that is, at best, a degraded illiberal democracy or, at worst, fascist.

Young people especially need to discover that they're coming up in an era of neoliberalism in which free market capitalism is too often permitted to flout public interest. It's both a chronic and progressive disease that will become increasingly problematic for them in the decades to come.

When the free trade era was ushered in, I fretted over the surrender of national sovereignty to free markets. I hoped I was wrong. I wasn't. Naomi Klein illustrates this in her new book citing examples where trade regimes have been used to crush attempts to deal with climate change.

I got into a brief but nasty pissing contest with Montreal Simon a couple of years back when I criticized him for constantly, obsessively attacking Harper when we also need to focus on something within our power to achieve, the reformation of our own political movements. I'm convinced the Liberals are truly in the bag and, despite his latter-day pretensions toward progressivism, I suspect Mulcair isn't that far off either.

The thing is, we cannot hope to recover our sovereignty that has been yielded for the benefit of so few and the expense of so many without standing our political parties back on their feet. I haven't a clue how that would ever happen.
I replied:
As soon as I saw the video, Mound, I thought of you, as Brand addresses a theme that I know concerns you greatly. I find myself thinking about it more especially of late, with the reflexive (Pavlovian?) response of nation-wide patriotism on display after the gunning down of Nathan Cirillo. As I have said on this blog before, it is surely tragic when a young person loses his or her life, but I worry a great deal about all of the trappings of state that have ensued from his demise. The attendance at his funeral of Harper, for example, to me doesn't so much indicate respect as it does a willingness to manipulate the population through the construction of a narrative about a soldier who fell protecting our freedoms. This does not augur well for the future of our civil liberties, and I have little faith that either Mulcair or Trudeau will get in the way of the juggernaut.
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A Word to The Wise

Wed, 10/29/2014 - 05:40
Given our current sensitivity to alleged domestic terrorism, it might be wise to avoid this kind of freedom of expression on your next flight:

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Russell Brand's Latest

Tue, 10/28/2014 - 15:51
This one is for my friend The Mound of Sound who, I think, would agree with the sentiments expressed. One thing you can say about Russell Brand - whether or not you agree with everything he says, he always gives us something to think about.

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Post by Educateinspirechange.org.Recommend this Post

As Canadians, We Should All Be Deeply Ashamed Of Our government

Tue, 10/28/2014 - 12:04
This report, which places Canada dead last among industrialized nations in a new climate change performance index, should make us all deeply ashamed.
"Canada still shows no intention on moving forward with climate policy and therefore remains the worst performer of all industrialized countries," says the report released by Germanwatch, a sustainable development advocacy group.
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Another Reason Not To Subscribe To The Globe and Mail

Tue, 10/28/2014 - 06:00


As I noted recently, we are currently receiving a free three-month subscription to the Globe, one that we will not be renewing. My last post on the subject dealt with one of the reasons. Here is another.

In its 'wisdom,' and despite widespread evidence to the contrary, Canada's self-proclaimed 'newspaper of record' insists, in its Monday editorial, that the Harper regime is not muzzling scientists.

As with so many other efforts by The Globe to extol Dear Leader, the piece starts off deceptively, seeming to suggest there is a basis for concern:
The Conservative government only undermines itself by restricting the ability of federally employed scientists to communicate freely with the public and the media. It feeds suspicion, suggesting that Canada has something to hide, for example, on such controversial matters as the oil sands – wrongly or rightly.So far, so good. Then:
Last week, the Union of Concerned Scientists, an American organization, and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada sent Prime Minister Stephen Harper an open letter strongly recommending that Canada no longer insist that government scientists get the permission of a media relations officer before they speak to journalists. Fifteen thousand or so researchers are said to be affected by such rules. There were 800 signatories – Canadian government researchers themselves did not sign it.Hmmm. Even better. Has the self-titled 'newspaper of record' finally seen the light?
The PIPSC rhetorically exaggerates when it repeatedly says that government scientists are “muzzled.” But in November, 2007, the Conservatives did lay down a rule that any media interview with Environment Canada scientists would be “co-ordinated” by communications staff.
And then we get to the 'exculpatory' heart of the matter, at least what passes as exculpatory in Globeworld:
David Tarasick of Environment Canada and others wrote a paper in 2011, which appeared in one of the world’s most respected scientific journals, Nature, saying there had been an extraordinary loss in the ozone layer over the Arctic. Nobody in government got in the way of its publication, so it cannot be said that Dr. Tarasick was silenced. This was not a case of Galileo, the motion of the heavenly bodies and the Inquisition.The paper then reveals what the 'real' problem is.
Nonetheless, “media relations” did get in the way of direct, effective engagement with reporters who might have been able to translate scientific language into news stories adapted for the general public. So you see, it is just a bureaucratic problem that has created a 'bottleneck.'
It is one thing for cabinet ministers and MPs to work with communication staffs in order to keep the government’s messages consistent and coherent, in accordance with cabinet solidarity. It is quite another to insist that thousands of researchers communicate through legions of flacks. That inevitably creates bottlenecks.So, the message from the Globe, obviously labouring under the delusion that it still has real influence on public thinking, is simple: Nothing to see here. Move along. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

Telescope vision is one thing. Patent dishonesty is quite another.

The paper is right about something, however. When it comes to The Globe and Mail, there really is nothing to see there.Recommend this Post

In Which Pastor Pat Discusses 'Safe' Investments

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 16:34
God love Pastor Pat Robertson. Few others can:

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The Harperian Concept Of Justice

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 08:10
I don't especially feel like writing today, so I offer you this from Walt Heinzie:



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Tragedy Must Bring Out The Best In All Of Us

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 05:44


That is the sentiment expressed by Craig Wellington of Brampton in this fine lead letter from this morning's Star:

Let’s tone down the hate rhetoric. A tragedy occurred Wednesday and a good man, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo lost his life. Let us use that as a catalyst to illuminate the best, not the worst of us.

Much of the U.S. media and political pundits have shamelessly exploited this tragedy to use as a launchpad for a stream of bigoted, vicious, rhetoric based on innuendo to feed an ongoing narrative of hate. Their apparent delight at this tragedy is disturbing.

CNN and FoxNews have filled their round-the-clock coverage with conjecture and inflammatory innuendo. Bill Maher continued his tireless “us against the Muslims” crusade by tweeting: “Turns out the attacker was Islamic — what are the odds, huh?” Sadly, this type of knee-jerk bigotry, posing as considered, intellectual punditry is far too common. And the public is increasingly unable to discern the difference between considered journalism (disappearing faster than the northern white rhino) and reckless conjecture.

In April of this year, Ft. Hood Army Base in the U.S. was attacked by an armed gunman and multiple servicemen lost their lives. What religion was the shooter? In the mass shooting at Sandy Hook school in which 20 children and six teachers lost their lives, what religion was the shooter? When congressman Gabby Gifford was shot, what religion was the shooter? What about the shooter who fired an assault weapon in a U.S. movie theatre in 2012, killing over 20 people? Timothy McVeigh?

Armed gunmen attacked Capitol Hill in 1998 (killing two police officers) and 2008. What religion were they? What religion was the man who shot Ronald Reagan? Some 84 U.S. policemen have been killed in the line of duty thus far this year. What was the religion of the perpetrators? We don’t know. It wasn’t relevant. The only thing we do know, is they werent Muslim, because if they were, it would have been the headline.

Canada has recently agreed to join the U.S. in a war in the Middle East, a region now rife with sectarian conflict. There is blame all around for that. It’s no coincidence that the epicentre, Iraq, is the country in which the U.S., under the pretense of non-existent weapons of mass destruction, removed Saddam Hussein (a former ally of the U.S. who was armed and funded by them) who was keeping these sectarian forces in check.

Years later, with over 500,000 Iraqis and thousands of U.S. servicemen killed, the area is far more of a global threat than it ever was under Saddam. That has nothing to do with a religion. That’s a convenient excuse and criminal obfuscation.

At the time of the Iraq invasion, Canada refused the U.S.’s call to join them because we did not think it was wise and did not believe the allegations of WMDs and the link to 9/11. Now after the poop has hit the fan, Canada is being asked to help the U.S. clean up their mess. But we are there and not turning back now.

There are potential ramifications to Canada’s joining this war, for Canadian citizens. When England and Germany were at war, both nations anticipated rightly that their heads of state would be assassination targets for agents or sympathizers of the other. That evil is a consequence of war. You send bombs to kill people, some of them are likely to respond.

The Canadian Harper Prime Minister has been asked numerous times in the house to outline the extent of what we have committed to, the duration, the objective of the mission, and the implications in terms of security for Canadians. He has refused to do so.

Clearly there are consequences in terms of our security, especially for Canadians traveling to certain regions, and clearly for our government officials. Wednesday’s incident outlines that not enough steps have been taken to ensure such protection is in place. That needs to change and the Prime Minister needs to have an honest dialogue with Canadians.
But what cannot change is that Canadians cannot devolve from the tolerant, socially progressive nation to a segregated society rife with paranoia, bigotry, finger pointing and hatred as is fast becoming the U.S.’s brand.

Let us honour our fallen soldier by honouring what he served and fought for — a free, open and tolerant society. #Canada
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"Something's Not Right, Mr. Harper"

Sun, 10/26/2014 - 06:12
While Mr. Harper would have us all believe he is working to make Canada safe from terrorism, there is a far more insidious problem that he is choosing to ignore. Watch as 12-year-old Tori Metcalf rebukes the Prime Minister for his negligence:

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We Could All Be Joseph K.

Sat, 10/25/2014 - 07:34


"Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning."
- The opening sentence of Franz Kafka's The Trial

Having read The Trial many years ago, I remember being initially struck by the patent absurdity of the novel's premise, that a man could be under arrest, allowed to move about with certain restrictions, and yet never learn the nature of the charges against him. The story does not end well for Josepsh K.

After reading it, of course, I realized that it was a metaphor for the totalitarian state, a state in which the innocent are swept up by the state after a murky process by which they are identified as enemies of the country.

Without wishing to be melodramatic, we are clearly moving closer to that state.

After the events of last week, tragedies that at this point appear to have been perpetrated by mentally disturbed individuals and not organized terrorism, the Harper regime seems to be edging closer towards measures that would allow for a much wider definition of 'preventative arrests,' already toughened up last year, as well as a shielding of the identities of those who accuse others of being terrorists, neither of which would likely have prevented the deaths of two Canadian soldiers. Limits to freedom of speech, as noted yesterday, are also being considered.

Today, The Globe and Mail reports:
Measures now under consideration include changing the so-called threshold for preventative arrests and more closely tracking and monitoring people who may pose a threat, such as requiring them to check in with an officer regularly even without any charges against them. Being looked at, too, is potential legislation that would make it a crime to support terrorists’ acts online, says a senior government source.
Perhaps most ominously, a measure that brings us closer to the nightmare world of Joseph K., is the fact that
legislation giving the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) the ability to better hide the identities of its informants (italics mine)...is to be tabled in the House of Commons as early as Monday or Tuesday, according to a senior government source.
Warns security expert Wesley Wark:
“Let’s be sure we know everything that was done and everything that was missed before we come up with fixes.”

Mr. Wark said that he “would be very cautious about deciding that the real fix is in extending legal powers or the real fix is in let’s go and use those preventive arrest measures … I would hesitate to advocate for that until we know what really went wrong.”
Secret trials, anonymous accusers, mass surveillance: strange ways indeed to protect our sacred democracy.

I'll leave the final word to Star letter-writer Brigitte Nowak of Toronto:
The authorities have not yet stated whether the attack in Ottawa was made by one of the 90 or so “radicalized” persons under surveillance by authorities, but already, there are calls for “increased security.”

Average Canadians are already being videotaped wherever they go, subjected to demeaning scrutiny before accessing public buildings, airplanes, etc. Any more security, reduced freedom, additional surveillance, and the “jihadists,” bent on changing our way of life, will have won.Recommend this Post

And Thus It Begins

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 06:26
One of the misgivings I expressed in yesterday's post seems to be a little closer to reality today.

The National Post headline reads:

Conservatives mulling legislation making it illegal to condone terrorist acts online.

Says John Ivison,
The Conservatives are understood to be considering new legislation that would make it an offence to condone terrorist acts online.

There is frustration in government, and among law enforcement agencies, that the authorities can’t detain or arrest people who express sympathy for atrocities committed overseas and who may pose a threat to public safety, one Conservative MP said. “Do we need new offences? If so which?”

Sources suggest the government is likely to bring in new hate speech legislation that would make it illegal to claim terrorist acts are justified online.

The Prime Minister told the House of Commons on Thursday that Canada’s law and policing powers need to be strengthened in the areas of surveillance, detention and arrest. He said work is already under way to provide law enforcement agencies with “additional tools” and that work will now be expedited.
Hopefully, even the naive and guileless will want to ask themselves, after reading the article, if it is wise to let government decide what constitutes unacceptable speech?

I assume no further comment on my part is needed.

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Some Much-Needed Perspective

Thu, 10/23/2014 - 16:31


Although this will probably get lost in the jingoistic rhetoric sure to follow yesterday's tragedy, this story from the Vancouver Sun is well-worth reading:
"His behaviour was not normal," said David Ali, vice-president of the Masjid Al-Salaam mosque, adding Zehaf-Bibeau used to trip the mosque's fire alarms by trying to enter through the wrong doors. "We try to be open to everyone. But people on drugs don't behave normally."
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A Very Impressive Lady

Thu, 10/23/2014 - 13:44
Every time I hear Elizabeth May speak, I am struck by the balance and wisdom of her words. A very impressive lady, she clearly has real leadership qualities:

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Thursday Morning

Thu, 10/23/2014 - 06:21

H/t Toronto Star

The events of yesterday were undeniably tragic. A young man, Nathan Cirillo, died. As I noticed on a Facebook posting by my cousin's wife, Nathan was a friend of their son with whom he played organized hockey. Six degrees of separation and all that, I guess.

Nonetheless, I have to confess that when I heard the news on CBC radio, my first thoughts were twofold: how these events could work to Harper's electoral advantage (I could immediately envisage the attack ads juxtaposing Harper's "strong leadership and stand against terrorism" against Trudeau's talk about searching for the "root causes" of terrorism), and how this could very well provide a pretext for further erosion of our civil liberties. Like frightened mice, many people aid and abet anyone or anything to ensure the comforting illusion of security.

Fortunately, I found a measure of balance in two Star columnists this morning, Martin Regg Cohn and Thomas Walkom.

Cohn's words bring some much-needed perspective to terrorism:
For terrorists, killing people is merely a means to an end. By far the bigger objective for terrorists is to terrorize — not just their immediate victims, but an entire population.

A soldier lost his life Wednesday. And parliamentarians lost their innocence.

But the nation must not lose its nerve.

Public shootouts or bombings are carefully choreographed publicity stunts that require audience participation to succeed: If the public gives in to fear, and the state succumbs to hysteria, then the shootings or bombings have hit their mark. If the audience tunes out the sickening violence, the tragic melodrama is reduced to pointlessness.
And he quickly gets to what, for me, is the heart of the matter:
The risk is that we will overreact with security clampdowns and lockdowns that are difficult to roll back when the threat subsides.

Terrorists will never be an existential threat — our Parliament and our parliamentarians are too deeply rooted to crumble in the face of a few bullets or bombs. The greater risk is that we will hunker down with over-the-top security precautions that pose a more insidious menace to our open society.
Thomas Walkom, while acknowledging that events such as yesterday's have a very unsettling effect, reminds us that Canada is not exactly in virgin territory here:
In 1966, a Toronto man blew himself up in a washroom just outside the Commons chamber. He had been preparing to take out the entire government front bench with dynamite. But it exploded too early.

Other legislatures have had their share of trouble, most notably Quebec’s national assembly, which was attacked in 1984 by a disgruntled Canadian Forces corporal.

He shot and killed three as well as wounding another 13 before giving himself up.

In 1988, another man was shot after he opened fire with a rifle in the Alberta Legislature building.And no one who is of a certain age can ever forget the FLQ crisis of 1970 which led to Pierre Trudeau imposing The War Measures Act, which effectively suspended civil liberties across the country, a measure that was widely embraced at the time.

Walkom ends his piece on an appropriately ominous note:
We seem headed for another of those moments of panic. The fact that the gunman attacked Parliament has, understandably, spooked the MPs who pass our laws.

It has also spooked the media and, I suspect, much of the country.

The government wants to give its security agencies more power over citizens. The government wants to rally public support for its war in Iraq.

On both counts, this attack can only help it along.If we are not very careful and vigilant, the real threat will come, not from terrorist attacks, but from our putative political leaders.

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