Monthly Archives: June, 2015

Way-off-topic Tuesday, feat. Ray Charles

I tried to do a post today. I have three drafts of the shattered wreckage of posts to prove it. None of them were worth sharing. All I have instead is a list of excuses and a super-catchy tune.

First, the excuses:

It’s been a long week. I burnt my thumb today. I have so many ideas but none are coming out quite clearly. It’s is the last day of the month, and on the last day of the month we do inventory at the restaurant I work for, so I needed to count every last thing in the restaurant, right down to the toothpicks and take-out containers, and now my brain is just not cooperating at all. Also, today’s my Friday night!

If you have the day off tomorrow, enjoy it! If you don’t, enjoy the extra pay! If you don’t have a job, enjoy that! Remember to stay well hydrated, and remember that Canada Day is ultimately a celebration of colonization and imperialism, the commemoration of the founding of a racist and genocidal nation on stolen land!

Here’s a song that’s been stuck in my head all day. See you Friday.

ICYMI – CSIS agents infiltrated Vancouver mosques, and way overplayed their parts

My very first post here at The Alfalfafield, way back in April(!), detailed the ongoing trial of John Nuttall and Amanda Korody, two accused terrorists in British Columbia. I’ve been following the story closely ever since, and with the sudden insertion of CSIS into the drama in the last week, it seems about time for an update.

In case you’re too lazy to click through and read my summary of the events leading up to the trial (henceforth acronymized as ICYTLTCTARMSOTELUTTT), here’s a quick run-down: Nuttall and Korody, two impoverished recovering heroin addicts, were the subject of a 240-Mountie “investigation” which culminated in an “attempt” to bomb the B.C. legislative buildings in Victoria on Canada Day 2013. I use scare quotes for “attempt” because the plot never had any chance of succeeding, as the pressure-cooker “bombs” the couple planted had previously been rendered inoperative by the Mounties controlling the operation.

The pair were recently found guilty, but their sentencing has been delayed while the trial judge considers the question of whether they were entrapped by the RCMP. To a totally-not-impartial outside observer like myself, this seems like a foregone conclusion: the two recent converts to Islam had the most half-baked of plans, proposing wild schemes like hijacking nuclear submarines or building and launching missiles at the Parliament Buildings, or, failing that, Seattle, which they mistakenly believed was ten times closer to them than it actually was. The actual scheme they eventually carried out was pushed on them by undercover cops who alternately bullied and flattered the pair, cajoling them to consider more practical and easily achievable goals, including specifically urging the use of the explosive C-4 inside pressure cookers at the BC Leg on Canada Day. The RCMP even paid for the couple to have a weekend getaway at a Kelowna hotel, where undercover cops gave them detailed instructions on how to use C-4, instructions it’s hard to see them getting elsewhere. In short, this is a plot that could never have existed absence the active involvement of over two hundred cops. Continue Reading

Strategic voting and how it helps the capitalists win

This is the second in an ongoing series on the question of voting. You can read last week’s piece here.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve heard pundits and Liberals loudly claim that I’d be “throwing my vote away” by voting for a “fringe” party, like the Greens or the Marijuana Party or even the NDP. My vote would amount to little more than a meaningless gesture, they say, and a counterproductive one at that, as it would make it more likely that some nasty backwards-thinking poor-bashing homo-hating war-mongering arch-conservative demon would split the left vote and squeak into power. (The implications of the fact that the Conservative Party has a seemingly limitless supply of these baddies is a topic I’ll get into in more detail below)

And so, in election after election, people who would much rather be voting for a party and platform they could wholeheartedly endorse (assuming they can find one!) find themselves reluctantly voting Liberal. We saw it as recently as last fall here in Ontario, when the cretinous (and possibly creationist) Tim Hudak scared the socialist shit out of enough Dippers to give Kathleen Wynne a completely undeserved majority.

So there must be some gleeful schadenfreude in the NDP these days, as they find that the traditional roles have suddenly and completely flipped, and now it is Liberal voters who are being exhorted by the anybody-but-Harper crowd that they must fall in line and vote Orange. Continue Reading

“A massive campaign of serious disruption” – the way forward for the environmental movement?

Next Sunday, July 5, Toronto will play host to a March for Jobs, Justice, and the Climate. The march aims to unite labour, the environmental movement, and activists from First Nations and racialized communities, and organizers hope to draw thousands of people to the streets. From their call to action:

This July, Toronto will host a Pan American Climate Summit and an Economic Summit, where politicians will face a choice: listen to corporate leaders from across the Americas gathering to advance an economic austerity agenda that is increasing inequality and causing a climate crisis felt disproportionally in the global south – or listen to the people.

On the eve of those summits, let’s make sure they hear our demands:  a justice-based transition to a new energy economy, in which corporate polluters pay and ordinary people benefit.

The only way to overcome a small, powerful group who have a lot to lose is to build a massive movement of people with everything to gain.

That final line got me to thinking about an excellent piece on mass movement building by Steve D’Arcy I read earlier this week. The article, titled “A Path to Victory Against Austerity in Ontario?”, examines the history of resistance to the Mike Harris government’s austerity regime in the mid-1990s in an effort to create strategies for anti-austerity activists going forward. One of his main points is that large numbers of people in the street is not by itself sufficient to force governments to alter their policies:

Big business would never allow an elected government, of whatever party, to reverse the policy trajectory of recent years — the “austerity” agenda — simply because that agenda is unpopular and lots of people are protesting it. No, only a massive campaign of serious disruption could force the hand of elites and raise the political cost of austerity to the point where proceeding with austerity would be judged by big business to be too dangerous to their interests.

This is critically relevant for the environmental movement to take note of. The past year has featured numerous massive marches for the environment, and precious little actual progress.

Last September, hundreds of thousands of people around the world took the streets for the People’s Climate March, coordinating the action with an international summit on climate change in New York City. Unlike the march, which was the largest climate-focussed rally in human history, the summit was a failure, with no major action announced.

In March, Londoners again took to the streets in the tens of thousands to urge action at this winter’s Paris Climate Summit. Naomi Klein, speaking by remote video link, urged protestors to be the change they wanted to see: Continue Reading

Put not your faith in experts – why you can’t trust bankers on the economy

If you’re like me, the Business section of the newspaper is pretty much impenetrably unreadable.

Not that I don’t try to read it. And not that I don’t occasionally learn things. But most of the time, I come away baffled, as though I’d just read a play-by-play summary of a cricket match.

Like for instance this story from last week about the energy company everybody loves to hate:

Enbridge Inc. moved forward with a sweeping restructuring plan as it seeks to accelerate dividend growth and finance billions in new pipeline projects.

The Calgary-based company said Friday that Enbridge Income Fund would buy $18.7-billion in assets, including the Canadian portion of its mainline oil-shipping network and a patchwork of regional oil sands lines, as well as some renewable energy assets. The deal, known as a drop-down, also includes the assumption of $11.7-billion of debt associated with the assets, Enbridge said.

The move will lower the company’s cost of capital as it advances a $44-billion portfolio of new projects over the next decade, Enbridge said.

It follows an announcement by the company, last December, that it would transfer ownership of $17-billion of assets to the fund and boost its quarterly dividend by 33 per cent. Enbridge expects per-share dividend growth to average 14 to 16 per cent annually from 2016 to 2018.

No matter how many times I read it, my eyes keep glazing over at key parts, and the meaning of what’s happened here remains totally obscure. My best effort at deciphering it is: “Enbridge announced today that by rearranging its piles of money, it has (somehow) created more money! And also more debt. Pipelines!”

Or, as South Park so succinctly put it: Continue Reading

What the hell is going on in France?

Seriously, I’m at a loss here.

I saw the headlines this morning about a hardline militant strike by port workers in Calais, France, who had set tires on fire on the road leading to the Channel Tunnel to the UK, and I had vague thought of solidarity, and I moved on. But then this evening I discovered that the story had mutated into one about migrants and refugees trying to use the chaos the strike created to sneak onto UK-bound trucks.

And so I thought to myself, what the hell? What’s going on?

So I dug. And here’s what I found out.

Calais is located roughly sixty kilometres from the UK and is the entry point for England-bound European traffic. For this reason, it has attracted thousands of refugee migrants from war-torn countries, including Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, and Libya, who have somehow made their way into Europe, all of whom are trying their damndest to get to England.

Why they want to go to England is a mystery to me. The UK is degenerating into a neo-fascist surveillance state run for the benefit of the capitalist elite, and xenophobia is on the rise. (If you don’t believe me, search “Calais migrants” on Twitter and see what British folks have to say about their situation.) If England is a better choice than France – which it very well might be – how sad is that?

The CBC reports on the stories of some of these migrants: Continue Reading

ICYMI – Canadian troops are being sent to Ukraine this summer

The great journalist I.F. Stone may or may not have once said that he loved reading the Washington Post cover to cover, because you never know where you’re going to find a front-page story. In the increasingly fragmented journalistic landscape of the Internet Age, that’s more true than ever – the important stories have to fight with the celebrity controversies and the manufactured political scandals and the short attention spans of the public in order to get noticed, and more often than not all they’re able to muster is a day of coverage before they’re submerged by the relentless news cycle.

So starting this week, I’m going to be devoting Mondays to dredging these critical but overlooked stories back to the surface, and giving them the critical examination they deserve.

The first story I’d like to highlight is one that passed me by entirely when it first broke. I only became aware of it during Stephen Harper’s Russia-bashing European vacation last week, and even then only because I did some digging.

So, in case you missed it, here’s the headline from April 14:

Ukraine crisis: Canada sending 200 trainers for Ukraine military

Troops to leave this summer for [“]lower-risk[“] operations at bases in western Ukraine

(My scare quotes, of course.) And the details: Continue Reading

Does it really matter who wins this fall’s election?

This Parliament has risen, never to sit again in its current configuration. It’s entirely possible that Stephen Harper has had his last day in the House of Commons, with a string of polls showing the NDP surging into the lead nationally. And it’s the first day of summer, and it’s a beautiful day. Life is good, right?

And here I am sitting here, inside, agonizing over what to do on election day this fall.

See here’s the thing. I’ve got a dilemma. I fancy myself to be a radical (on which more later). And one of the ways that radicalness manifests itself is in me steadfastly refusing to vote. Figuring the electoral system to be a rigged game run by the wealthy elite to distract the masses from who controls the true levers of power, abetted by a captured media which reenforces the whole scheme by granting coverage and legitimacy only to those parties and platforms which exist within a spectrum acceptable to the capitalist class, rendering the possibility of transformative change through electoral politics effectively impossible, I have typically opted for “none of the above” in the past.

I’ve not voted, and I’ve spoiled my ballot, and once I voted for an actual party called the None of the Above Party. Last fall, terrified by the possibility of “Ford More Years”, I held my nose and voted for Olivia Chow as the least bad electable option in Toronto’s municipal election, for all the good that did, and let me tell you, it did nothing to encourage me to vote again. (My partner couldn’t stomach the notion and bailed at literally the last minute, leaving a confused elections official holding an unmarked ballot.)

But this year I’m thinking about voting. Continue Reading

NEB delays reversal of Line 9 pipeline amid public pressure and a First Nations court challenge

The sad sorry saga of Line 9B has been dragging on for far too long – but luckily for us all, it’s gonna drag on a while longer.

If you’ve never heard of Line 9, then you’re like most people. Given the huge potential for disaster that this pipeline represents, it’s been embarrassingly under-covered by the media.

Here’s a song about it!

“Line 9 Song” by Byron, used under an Attribution-Noncommercial license

Line 9 is an already-existing pipeline which runs from Montreal to Sarnia, and for the past forty years or so it’s been transporting refined light crude oil westward. Enbridge, which owns the pipeline, applied to the National Energy Board for permission to reverse the pipeline’s direction, increase the volume it was allowed to transport, and switch over to transporting unrefined tar sands bitumen.

There’s a lot of issues with this plan. Bitumen has to be transported at a considerably higher pressure and temperature than light crude, and there are serious concerns about the integrity of the forty-year-old pipeline. A similar Enbridge pipeline of similar age burst near Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 2010, spilling over three million litres of bitumen into the Kalamazoo River. The fact that bitumen, unlike crude oil, sinks in fresh water made the disaster significantly worse, necessitating a complicated multi-year cleanup and causing massive damage to wildlife and the health of local residents.

That the oil spilled in a river is significant, because Line 9 crosses 36 different tributaries of Lake Ontario. A major spill of bitumen could be catastrophic for the world’s fourteenth-largest lake, which is the source of drinking water to over 9 million people in Canada and the United States. Continue Reading

On Timbits and terrorists and Thomas Mulcair

Over the past few weeks, the Conservative government has been introducing a flurry of bills that they have absolutely no intention of passing.

Many of the bills, which include motions to sentence certain criminals to life without the possibility of parole and to ban women from wearing the niqab during citizenship ceremonies, have been labelled as potentially unconstitutional by legal observers and rights groups. But that’s besides the point.

The Conservatives are betting on two things: first, that these bills will be popular with their base, and second, that they can slur the Liberals and NDP for opposing these motions. As the CBC puts it, “who wants to run an election campaign arguing against tough sentences for murders and rapists?”

To claim that opponents of their measure are sympathetic to vicious criminals is a classic example of an ad hominem attack. If you’ve never heard of it, the ad hominem is an attack on the arguer rather than on their argument, an attempt to discredit the speaker rather than refute the speech. Ad hominems are common on schoolyards everywhere – like for instance, “What do you know about sports? You’re just a girl!” or, “Nobody cares what you think anyway, you dummy!”

Which sound pretty obvious. But I still remember watching George W Bush gravely intone in a speech to Congress days after 9/11 that “either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” to wild thunderous applause. Now, that’s barely one step removed from “If you don’t agree with me, you’re clearly an idiot”, but I don’t remember the New York Times calling him out on that one. Continue Reading

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