Monthly Archives: September, 2015

The Unkillable Trans Pacific Partnership

This is one of those times that I hate being right.

A few weeks back, with negotiations over the Trans Pacific Partnership on the rocks after representatives from Japan and the NAFTA countries failed to reach an agreement on auto policy, some pundits were saying that a deal this year was now looking impossible, given the election timelines in various TPP member countries. But I wasn’t so sure:

Given how high the stakes are and how close the deal is to slipping away, I have a funny feeling that we’re going to see some desperate last-minute negotiations. And if Harper slips in the polls, it wouldn’t be surprising if he thought that cobbling together a “major trade deal” in the final weeks of the election campaign was the path to victory. Never mind about what’s actually in the damn thing – the public won’t get to read it, by some accounts, until four years after it’s ratified.

If you’re attending all-candidate meeting or if you get your door knocked by canvassers, please consider bringing up the TPP. And for all our sake, don’t vote for any candidate who supports this terrible deal. Meanwhile, watch out for a hastily-thrown-together negotiating marathon sometime within the next two to three weeks. There’s too much potential profit on the table for the major players in this negotiation to let this opportunity slip away.

Literally two and a half weeks later, we’re on the eve of – guess what? – a hastily-thrown-together negotiating marathon. Continue Reading

ICYMI: Information is a weapon, says the Department of Defence

One of the first casualties of increasingly dictatorial governments is plain, honest language. Everything becomes wrapped in euphemism. Illegal bombing campaigns become non-combat operations. Rights-violating laws become safety-enhancement measures. Shooting wars become kinetic operations. Recessions become merely technical and are better left unmentioned.

So it’s refreshing, in some senses, that Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. John Vance eschewed euphemism in describing his plans for his department’s plans vis-a-vis public information – he intends to “weaponize” it.

That’s about the only encouraging aspect of this story, which David Pugliese at the Ottawa Citizen broke last week and which didn’t get nearly as much attention as it deserved.

Some key quotes:

There will be more strategic leaks by the Canadian Forces/DND to journalists who are deemed “friendly” to the military. Such leaks will consist mainly of “good news” stories or positive initiatives and the journalists will be required to heavily promote those.

Equally important, is the flip-side of this “weaponization” strategy. That is the targeting of journalists who are writing or broadcasting the stories that the CF/DND don’t want out in the public domain.

Journalists seen as “trouble-makers” are those producing stories about failed equipment purchases or uncovering details about severely injured soldiers not being treated properly or individuals being sexually harassed, etc., public affairs officers tell Defence Watch.  In other words, reporters who are producing what the CF/DND views as negative or embarrassing news stories.

The “weaponization” aspect will come into play with phone calls to media bosses, letters to the editor, etc. – anything to undercut the credibility of such journalists in the eyes of readers and their employers, NDHQ public affairs sources say. Other tactics aimed at these journalists could also be developed.

In other words: journalists who do their jobs by uncovering newsworthy information and sharing it with the public will be treated as pesky “trouble-makers” by the Department of National Defence, which will do anything in their power to “undercut their credibility” in the eyes of the public.  Continue Reading

This week in Electionland was actually terrifying

Fear and loathing, my friends.

These two are the foundation of the Conservative campaign. Fill the electorate full to the brim with fear and loathing. Get them all fired up about threats both imagined and grossly exaggerated. That is the path that the governing party has to reelection – a campaign of terror and hatred, directed predominately against Muslims, to appeal to all the old racist white people who are most likely to turn out and vote.

But the truly terrifying thing is that it seems to be working.

I wrote earlier this week about the manufactured controversy surrounding the niqab which is being cynically pushed both by the HarperCons and by the Bloc Quebecois. The Prime Minister has elevated a complete and total non-issue – a few Muslim women’s choice of wardrobe for their citizenship ceremonies – into an existential threat to Canadian “values” and “heritage” and a bunch of other dog-whistle crypto-racist terms.

The niqab debate has been simmering away for quite some time now, and it was to be expected that the subject would come up in the first French-language debate of the campaign. But yesterday, the Conservatives injected another nasty bit of xenophobia into the election in a way that was clearly premeditated and which they obviously hope will play to their advantage.

Canadian citizen Zakaria Amara, convicted of terrorist offences in relation to the “Toronto 18” plot, was stripped of his citizenship by the federal government under the controversial new law, Bill C-24. This law allows the government to remove Canadian citizenship from people with dual citizenship who are convicted of treason, terrorism, or espionage. Four other men were given notice by the government that their citizenship may be revoked; they have sixty days to challenge the revocation. Opposition leaders Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau both oppose the bill, arguing that it creates two tiers of citizenship.

The odious Minister of Defence Jason Kenney, on the other hand, was in full-on attack-dog mode following yesterday’s announcement. On Twitter, he averred that Amara “forfeited his own citizenship”, a line he doubled down on in a press conference:  Continue Reading

The Munk Debates is probably the least impartial host imaginable for a foreign policy debate

This coming Monday, the leaders of The Big Three Parties will gather in Toronto once more for the latest in an interminable series of talking-point recitations and statistical manipulations falsely marketed to the public as “debates”.

The latest such “debate”, hosted by the Munk Debates, will focus exclusively on foreign policy. And as observant critics have pointed out, the choice of host for this debate is pretty problematic. The Munk Debates is endowed by Peter Munk, founder and former CEO of Barrick Gold, the world’s largest gold-mining company and a serial abuser of human rights, indigenous rights, labor activists and the environment. Continue Reading

Seriously? Are we actually gonna make niqabs a big election issue?

Like, actually?

Let me tell you, people: I am committed to covering this election. So much so that I suffered through the French-language debate last night, dubbed into English by the CBC. And though I’m sure a ton of nuance was lost in translation, one thing came through loud and clear – the niqab is a pretty friggin’ big deal in Quebec.

Which made me pine for the good old days when Quebecers mostly wanted to talk about independence – until I remembered Jacques Parizeau blaming the ’95 referendum defeat on “money and the ethnic vote”.

Multicultural “tolerance” – or the lack thereof – is a festering open wound upon this society, and nowhere more so than in Quebec, where the unkillable Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe* seems to have staked his comeback battle against the NDP entirely on his position on the niqab.

He’s against it, in case you haven’t been paying attention.

So much against it, in fact, that he takes great pride in pointing out that while other parties (like, every single party in Quebec) want to force Muslim women to remove their niqabs to access government services, he goes even further – he wants them to be forced to remove their niqabs to vote.

Because nothing says feminism like messing with women’s ability to vote. Continue Reading

Corporate hubris hits an all-time high – so why aren’t we hearing more about it?

It seems like you can’t walk a block without tripping over a headline about corporate wrongdoing or scandal these days.

One that flew below my radar for several days was the ongoing fury surrounding Volkswagen. I saw vague headlines about recalls and fines, but figured it was just another of those all-too-common shoddy manufacturing stories. When I finally heard the details, I was shocked.

In case you missed it, Volkswagen engaged in a multi-year conspiracy to cheat on emissions tests for its diesel vehicles. Over eleven million vehicles were programmed to detect when they were being tested for emissions, and to engage a special filter in those circumstances to bring their emissions in line with government standards. Outside of e-tests, though, the vehicles went back to emitting up to forty times as much as the legal limits of dangerous emissions – a practice that has likely results in the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of asthmatic folks and other people with lung conditions, as well as contributing immeasurably to the pollution of our atmosphere.

This isn’t a case of a few bad apples. This is a widespread, deliberate attempt by engineers, designers, executives, and scientists at Volkswagen to do an end run around regulations, all so they could market their cars as being more fuel efficient.

As the CBC points out, this isn’t the first time that car companies have known about a dangerously fatal flaw in their vehicles and not taken action. To my knowledge, though, this is the first time that such a flaw has been deliberately engineered into the design of vehicles. Volkswagen has put their profitability ahead of the health and lives of the public with this action – it’s a disgusting affront and it shouldn’t be allowed to go unpunished.

A big question a lot of people have is: how widespread is corporate behaviour like this? Lambert Strether at Naked Capitalism points out that Volkswagen’s model could have a broad application: Continue Reading

There’s a high likelihood of dirty tricks in the upcoming election

It’s been said many times, but it bears endless repetition – it’s a near certainty that at least one major party is going to try to steal this year’s federal election.

And with new concerns arising that this year’s election will be subject to more dirty tricks than ever before, this is an issue that deserves closer attention. So let’s take a close look at the recent history of electoral crime.

For as long as there’s been democracy there’s been behind-the-scenes election-day shenanigans, but I feel like things have been pretty next-level out-in-the-open since George W. Bush’s broad daylight theft of the 2000 American presidential election. However, the more instructive example of election theft, and one that seems to have served as a model for the Harper Conservatives, is the 2004 presidential election.

Not widely acknowledged as a rigged event, the Bush vs. Kerry match-up was won for the incumbent president with a veritable buffet of dirty tricks and the modern-day equivalent of ballot box stuffing. And the details of this massive crime were widely available at the time – they just never rose to the level of scandal that would have caught CNN’s attention. But the details are damning. From a 2005 Harper’s Magazine article: Continue Reading

This Week in Electionland: In which I reluctantly conclude that Trudeau might win

At the outset of this interminable election campaign, I figured that ultimately, it would boil down to a struggle between a weak and unprincipled Liberal Party and a strong and unprincipled NDP, with the HarperCons holding on to their core base of voters and not much more. In my estimation, it seemed likely that the NDP, with their lead in the polls and their more clear-cut and understandable position on major issues like Bill C-51, would win the battle for the Anybody But Conservative vote.

Another key part of this calculation was my assessment that the Liberal Party was essentially dead, a shell of the juggernaut it once was. Running their fourth leader in as many elections, a man elevated to the party leadership mostly for his boyish good looks and family connections; four years out from their worst electoral showing ever; lagging languidly in third place in the polls for months leading up to the election, while Thomas Mulcair and the NDP enjoyed all the media advantages of being the biggest challenger to continued Conservative rule – there were innumerable reasons to figure the Liberals were toast. The self-defined centre of the political spectrum, Canada’s “natural governing party”, looked likely to fall victim to an increasingly partisan style of politics.

And good riddance, I thought! The last thing we need is more of the party that brought us, for instance, the punishing and completely needless austerity of the 90s, the party which has long been a magnet for the vast majority of unprincipled power-hungry sociopaths in Canadian politics, the party which is perhaps the worst offender when it comes to making lofty campaign promises and then completely forgetting about them the day after being elected.

(Not that I held out high hopes for the NDP, but I hoped that at a minimum an NDP government would, through its failures and disappointments, help demonstrate to progressive Canadians that our political system is fundamentally broken and in need of radical change.)

But now here we are, a month away from the big day, and what do we see? A resurgent Liberal Party, and a three-way tie in the polls? Hell, the Libs have even led a couple of polls at this point – all well within the margin of error, but still.

The explanation for this surprising turnaround lies in the campaign that the Liberal brain trust has run. With the NDP playing to the centre in an effort to be the party that all the “strategic voters” went for, the Libs sensed an opportunity on the (just barely) left of centre, and they pounced on it. Parliamentary record be damned – most voters don’t keep track of petty matters like that! And so while Mulcair contorts himself trying to explain how he’ll provide help to “working families” via affordable, quality $15-a-day childcare, eventually, while balancing the budget, and keeping taxes low, and helping out small businesses, because lord knows we all love small businesses, and did he mention affordable, quality $15-a-day childcare yet?, Trudeau took for himself the simple narrative. He’ll “invest in Canada’s future”. He’ll raise taxes on “the top 1%”, because who likes them? He’ll bring “real change” to Ottawa.

I watched a Liberal rally in Newfoundland earlier today, and he has it boiled down to a simple repetitive slogan: “The Conservatives won’t bring change, and the NDP can’t bring change, but the Liberal Party will bring change!” To which the partisan crowd, naturally, went friggin’ nuts. Those who don’t learn from history… Continue Reading

No more homeless deaths! OCAP takes the fight to City Hall…again.

One of the true downers of activism is that the same issues keep coming back around again and again.

In March of 2013 I was arrested at an Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) sit-in at Toronto’s Metro Hall protesting the chronic lack of space in city shelters. That winter, several people had frozen to death on the streets of the city, and yet homeless folks were regularly turned away from the city’s shelters due to a lack of beds. This was despite official City of Toronto policy that occupancy rates at municipal shelters should not exceed 90%. Then-mayor Rob Ford brushed off our concerns, insisting that there were available beds – an assertion which was flatly contradicted by a City report released in the months that followed.

The sit-in I participated in was the second in as many months for OCAP. In February, they also occupied the lobby outside of Mayor Ford’s office [link is to the Toronto Sun – fair warning!], demanding that shelter space be made immediately available; several people were arrested that night as well.

(Eventually, all charges related to the whole affair were thrown out – it seems that the main purpose of laying the charges to begin with was to end the sit-ins.)

That round of protests was successful, in a way; after months of delay and denial, city council voted to aim for more shelter beds and reaffirmed their target of 90% occupancy.

In retrospect, though, it’s obvious that Council was all talk and no action. Continue Reading

Fallacy Friday: Substance and logic the big losers in last night’s debate

I watched the whole damn thing.

Really I did. Without the aid of intoxicants, I sat through a painful hour and a half of shouting, statistics, and (old) stock lines from the leaders of the Big Three Parties.

I even took notes!

Looking back over them now, I can see with more perspective how utterly incoherent the evening was, how jumpy. How each subject was dealt with perfunctorily, with the utmost brevity. How the super-liminal branding by the Globe and Mail was a hideous distraction, as was the ominously dark and distorted and angled and looming false-colour photo of the Parliament Buildings that they inexplicably selected as a backdrop. How much goddamn squabbling and shouting and incoherent crosstalk there was.

Some sample quotes from my hasty scribbles:

  • “TOTAL INCOHERENCE ON TAX RATES. They’re all wrong.
  • “Mulcair: ‘Harper dodged the question!’ Then he dodges his question.”
  • Fear-mongering! Lies!”
  • “Harper: Canada: it’s not great, but it’s as good as it gets!”
  • Child care is Mulcair’s answer to the housing bubble?!?!”
  • “Trudeau keeps saying ‘top 1%’ – I guess the focus groups liked that line?”

Upon further reflection, I think taking notes was a waste of time. Continue Reading

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