Monthly Archives: September, 2015

The Great Leap Forward – it sounds great on paper, but how do we get there from here?

If you haven’t heard about the Leap Manifesto yet, and you’re concerned about the future of humanity in the face of myriad challenges, challenges which are corporate, environmental, and white-cis-het-patriarcho-supremacist, then perhaps you could go take a look at it.

(I tried to pick a section to highlight and quote here, but it was all too reasonable and on point. So I’ll wait here while you read it.)

OK. So. A concrete plan for a transformation of the Canadian economy and political system and energy infrastructure and racial relations and worker/capitalist relations, all in the name of making Earth more habitable and life more enjoyable in both the short and long term.

Sounds great, right?

So why in the hell haven’t we been hearing more about this kind of thing from, I don’t know, ANY MAJOR POLITICIAN?

Funny you should ask…

Here’s the thing. We’ve never had any shortage of great ideas in terms of how we should radically transform the world to make it more inclusive, equitable, environmentally sustainable, racially just. Plans to conclusively end poverty once and for all have been kicking around for a century or more. And I’m not saying that these ideas and plans and schemes and manifestos have been ill-informed or poorly designed or unworkable in practice.

It’s just that, well… Continue Reading

TPP update – watch out for last-minute negotiations in the next few weeks

When we last left the TPP, it was on life support.

That was waaaay back in early August, when supposedly final negotiations in Hawaii completely broke down over fairly major differences. This gave hope to folks like me who have long been terrified of this insidious “trade” agreement.

(For some background on the Trans Pacific Partnership, see my summary here.)

But just as zombies are hell-bent on devouring brains, international corporate interests are hell-bent on extracting profits and rents wherever they can, and so the pressure to get a deal done – and soon! – is relentless.

Part of the big rush is related to Canada’s upcoming election; negotiators seem determined to seal the deal before we go to the polls October 19th. For the life of me, I’m not sure what they’re worried about; as Green Party candidate Paul Manly points out, the Big Three Parties are uniformly in favour of this sovereignty-destroying, regulation-eroding, wage-suppressing calamity of a treaty. Regardless of this election’s outcome, Capital will get what it wants out of these negotiations.

Another major component of the time pressure has to do with next year’s US election. Due to arcane Senate rules, any treaty must wait several months before receiving approval, meaning a deal must be sealed within the next few months to avoid running into the heavy-duty American election season, when nothing of substance can get done because the parties become completely incapable of cooperating.

(And we trust these people to make decisions on our behalf?)

Over the past week, negotiators from Mexico, Japan, Canada, and the United States met in Washington to try to resolve outstanding disputes surrounding the auto sector. But it seems that they weren’t able to resolve their differences, at least according to this Japan Times article: Continue Reading

This Week in Electionland: The press smells blood

If you read the political news recently, even a little bit, you’ll know that Stephen Harper had a bad week.

rabble went so far as to call it a “very bad, very ugly week“. Michael Harris at iPolitics dubbed it “the week that Stephen Harper lost the benefit of the doubt”. Maclean’s said it was the worst of the campaign for Harper and that the PM is now “seeking shelter” from the barrage of bad news. I’ll let Maclean’s sum up the damage:

The news of the week included a candidate who urinated in a stranger’s coffee mug, a candidate who impersonated a mentally disabled individual as part of a prank call, recent suggestions of turmoil within the leadership of the Conservative campaign and one anonymous Conservative’s subsequent assertion that someone was “obviously trying to f— us”, and, of course, the Syrian refugee crisis, a matter that, beyond serious questions of principle and policy, has had cabinet ministers complaining about media coverage (first, Chris Alexander’s unfortunate attempt to accuse the CBC of ignoring the issue, then, Jason Kenney’s admonition that the media was ignoring the government’s good work), campaign staff shielding another cabinet minister from reporters’ questions and a Conservative candidate’s spouse heckling a reporter’s attempt to enquire further of the Prime Minister. And before this week there had already been the trial of Mike Duffy—with its myriad of revelations and questions raised—and the official declaration of a recession.

Indeed, it really was one piece of bad news after another for the Conservative campaign this week – and the sharks in the press smelled blood.

It’s long been evident that the media elites in this country have it in for this Prime Minister. Hell, even the Sun called for his resignation at the height of the Duffy scandal in 2013. So it’s no surprise that they’re pouncing with all their might now, when they feel Harper is most vulnerable.

When I use the phrase “media elites” I feel a little bit like an Alex Jones-er, one of the Illuminati-obsessors, or even just a regular old Canadian Conservative supporter. It gives me a bit of an icky feeling.

But let’s be real here – our mainstream media in this country is dominated by a handful of extremely wealthy people who aren’t just in it for the chuckles. When, across the board, you see reporters and editorialists joining the pile-on and saying that Harper’s time has come, that he’s really fucked up this time, that the Conservative campaign is on a fast train to Nowheresville, then you gotta know that the big boys at the top are done with Steve-O.

Let’s take a look, shall we? Continue Reading

Fallacy Friday: The NDP on Iraq, Syria, and the use of the Canadian military

This past week, Peter Mansbridge and the CBC news team decided to sit down in bizarre nature-esque locations across Canada to have frank unscripted one-on-one discussions with the intensely focus-group-prepped leaders of the three major parties.

Though nothing much of substance was said – especially in terms of things we haven’t heard before – the interviews at least served the function of drawing attention to a few things.

First of all, Mansbridge is a softie at giving interviews. When the leaders rattled off talking points that were often only tangentially related to his questions, he rarely pushed back, and when he did – like when he tried sooooo hard to get Mulcair to say “50 percent plus one” when he was inexplicably grilling him over the Clarity Act – it was on matters that didn’t really matter. A lot of Mansbridge’s questions were slo-pitched softballs – “Why do you want to be Prime Minister?” – and his infrequent attempts to be tough seemed pretty random. For instance, he didn’t raise the issue of Harper’s being an asshole and a tyrant when he was talking to the Prime Minister, but when interviewing Mulcair, he busted out some super-critical quotes from former NDP MP Bruce Hyer (now a Green) who said that Mulcair would be just as much of an asshole and a tyrant as Harper ever was, and what do you have to say about that, Mr Mulcair? He reminded me of Bob Cole during the sportscaster’s final years as the HNIC play-by-play guy – obviously past his best-before date, but still in there mumbling away because nobody had the heart to tell him he’d lost it and it was time to give somebody else a turn mangling Quebecois players’ names.

Uneven, unbalanced, and most damning of all, uninteresting, the CBC’s leader interviews are destined to go down in history as having practically no impact on anything ever. (Their final sit-down, with Elizabeth May, airs tonight. Look for a lot of patronizing condescension and non-sequiturs.)

The only other thing of note about them – and the only reason I bring them up – was the fact that, for one extra news cycle, folks were talking about the NDP’s position on our Glorious Non-Combat Operation in Iraq and Syria.

In case you haven’t heard, Mulcair & Co. favour an immediate and total withdrawal of all of our troops from Iraq and Syria, including the troops training Kurdish peshmerga forces. Here’s the relevant quotes from the interview; if you want to suffer through the whole thing, you can watch it here, with the ISIS discussion starting at about 25:30: Continue Reading

Ten thousand refugees? Twenty-five thousand? Why not half a million?

As the leaders of the major parties jostled this past week over the massive refugee crisis facing the world, each trying to spin things for his respective electoral advantage, there was a lot of bandying about of numbers.

Prime Minster Harper [sic] stood firmly by his plan to resettle ten thousand Syrian and Iraqi refugees over the next three years (but mostly ones who face religious persecution – a dog-whistle to his base that he’s gonna do his best to keep out teh Muslims), while continuing – nonsensically – to insist that the true solution to this crisis lies in dropping more bombs on Syria and Iraq for an indefinite amount of time.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, on the other hand, wants to accelerate the timetable for resettling refugees, offering to work with the government to bring in ten thousand by the end of this year, presumably with more to come in subsequent years.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, not wanting to be outdone, vowed to bring in twenty-five thousand refugees, although as far as I can tell, he hasn’t been willing to put a date to that figure. This year? Within four years? We just don’t know.

The common thread to all of these proposals is their timidity and sheer lack of imagination. Continue Reading

Whipping out our CF-18s

I live and work a few kilometres away from the site of the CNE in Toronto, and every Labour Day long weekend I’m forced to endure the travesty and disgrace which is the annual Air Show.

Now really, I’m quite lucky. The sound of the jet engines roaring sets my teeth grinding mostly because of an abiding hatred of stupid blind nationalistic militarism and war-mongering, a sort of innate despising loathing of the tools of war.

But I personally have never heard that same jet engine roar and feared for my life, or the life of my loved ones.

Which isn’t true for my neighbours. I live in one of the most diverse cities in the world – and amongst that diversity are refugees from Syria, from Iraq, from Afghanistan, from Bosnia, from places where Canada’s air force, and the air forces of our allies, have rained down death from the sky.

That jet engine roar is, quite literally, the sound of impending death. Continue Reading

This week in Electionland – the refugee crisis is reduced to talking points

This week’s election news was solidly dominated by the refugee crisis, and specifically by each party striving to position itself as the one which actually gets what’s going on.

Which is all a little bit bizarre. While Germany has opened its borders to 800 000 refugees, while Turkey struggles to cope with the two million it has received, and while tiny Lebanon, with a population of a mere four million, has taken on a million or more, over here in Canada Justin Trudeau thinks he can outdo his rivals by pledging to bring in a mere twenty-five thousand. The small-mindedness of the proposals being put forward is staggering.

The Globe and Mail reminded us this week that we’ve done better before. In 1979, Joe Clark’s government moved to admit fifty thousand Vietnamese refugees in dire need of help.

Some details:

Decades before the current crisis, Canada airlifted 5,000 people from Kosovo in the late 1990s, 5,000 from Uganda in 1972, and 60,000 Vietnamese in 1979-80. From January, 2014, to late last month, Canada resettled 2,374 Syrian refugees.

Mike Molloy was the Canadian government official who oversaw the airlifting of the Vietnamese boat people and removed bureaucratic obstacles. “The motto out there was not ‘do the thing right,’ it was ‘do the right thing,’” the 71-year-old, who lives in Ottawa, said in an interview…

“The goal was initially to move 50,000 people in 18 months,” Mr. Molloy said. That became 60,000 in two years under Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1980. The government offered to match all private sponsorships, galvanizing the public. It was the formal launch of a system that involved communities in guaranteeing the care, shelter and early costs of refugees. That system has since brought in more than 200,000 refugees.

In the peak month, February, 1980, Canada resettled 6,200 Vietnamese, Mr. Molloy said. Canada flew 181 charter flights during a two-year period, each carrying anywhere from 200 people to more than 400.

Which is to say, Canada took in almost three times more Vietnamese refugees in February 1980 than it has Syrian refugees in the last twenty months. This despite the fact that there are more displaced people in the world today than at any time since the Second World War. Continue Reading

Solidarity Saturday: DIYism and refugees – because we can’t wait for governments to come around

In the aftermath of the international outrage over the drowning of three members of the Kurdi family, along with hundreds of fellow refugees seeking safety and an end to their own personal wars, a metric tonne of ink has been spilled on the question of whether our government is doing enough to address the massive international refugee crisis, particularly with respect to Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

While Prime Minister Harper insists that not only are we doing a lot for refugees, we’re punching way above our weight, so to speak, the facts indicate otherwise, pretty incontrovertibly. The NDP has called for Canada to accept ten thousand Syrian refugees by the end of this year, and Justin Trudeau, not wanting to be outdone ever, promptly piped up to pledge that a Liberal government would bring in 25 000.

Responses from governments across the West vary widely, from Hungary’s neo-Nazi Gestapo tactics to Germany’s (relative) generosity – Germany projects it will receive at least 800 000 asylum seekers this year alone. Germany’s position is, however, tainted by the EU’s response as a whole. When public concern over the refugee crisis flared up earlier this year in the aftermath of another boat sinking in the Mediterranean, this one carrying over 700 people, the EU’s official response, after a hurried conference of prime ministers and presidents, was to declare war on migrant boats:

The European Union is planning to take military action against refugee transport networks in the Mediterranean, according to leaked documents published by Wikileaks Monday.

“The documents lay out a military operation against cross-Mediterranean refugee transport networks and infrastructure,” Wikileaks said in a statement.

“It details plans to conduct military operations to destroy boats used for transporting migrants and refugees in Libyan territory, thereby preventing them from reaching Europe,” the whistle-blower website summarized.

In other words, the EU didn’t want to have to deal with ongoing controversies about their heartlessness towards refugees in the aftermath of repeated boat sinkings which were killing hundreds – so they figured they’d solve the problem by taking out the boats and avoiding the headlines altogether.

To say that this approach is lacking in compassion is a massive understatement. Continue Reading

Fallacy Friday: Why “More War!” isn’t the solution to the refugee crisis

It’s a terrible sight to be sure – the image of a drowned toddler washed up face-down on a beach, something none of us ever wanted to see but which still, compellingly, must be seen, demands to be seen, and cannot be unseen.

Just last week, I found myself irate upon reading about the plight of a Syrian refugee in Lebanon, who was photographed selling pens on the street while his daughter slept on his shoulder. The photo was shared on Twitter by an Icelandic tourist, and within days, over $100 000 had been crowdsourced for the man, a single father of two who hoped to someday make it to Europe.

I was irate because, while surely this man and his children were deserving of compassion, the difference between his case and that of the other four million plus Syrian refugees is pretty much non-existent, whereas the difference in international reaction couldn’t be more stark. Whereas for years the vast majority of refugees have been demonized, their motives intensely scrutinized, their access to healthcare cut off, and their ability to find safe haven in the West heavily restricted, this one photogenic man was, for whatever reason, able to inspire sympathy in the hearts of the Twitterverse. Though I don’t for a second begrudge him and his family the help that they’ve received, I wondered to myself when we would be able to look at all refugees with this kind of compassion and generosity. If he deserved it – and surely he did! – then why didn’t all the others deserve it as well?

And then the tragedy of the Kurdi family blazed its ways into our news feeds and our headlines and, most irrevocably, our brains, our memories. Lord knows why this particular drowning was the one that went mainstream – because there have been a lot of drownings, that’s for sure, over 1800 in the first half of 2015 alone. But for whatever fickle reason of the news cycle, we’re talking about the refugee crisis now, and so now is the time to push the issue. So I’m going to devote all my posts for the next five days to the international refugee crisis.

Today being Fallacy Friday, I’d like to focus in particular on our Prime Minister’s reaction to the outrage over the drowning of Alan Kurdi, his brother Ghalib, and his mother Rehan.

There’s been a lot of politicking around this issue since the story broke a few days ago, and I’d like to deal with that all in detail in Sunday’s round-up of this week’s election news. For now, though, I want to take a close look at one particular thing that Stephen Harper has been saying repeatedly ever since his sycophantic yes-men went underground to ride out the media frenzy: that a key way Canada can help refugees is by continuing its war against the Islamic State.

For a typical example of that, here’s a four-and-a-half minute video from Harper’s daily news conference earlier today. The first two minutes consist of him distorting his government’s record on refugees, but the latter half of the clip is all about ISIS: Continue Reading

The Canadian Association of Police Chiefs wants radical new powers

The Canadian Association of Police Chiefs held their annual confab last week, putting out their typically terrifying wishlist of civil-liberties-violating 1984-esque changes to the Criminal Code that they’d love to see made.

Before we dig into the nitty-gritty of these policy proposals, though, how’s about a little bit of context?

Police-reported crime severity index, 1998-2014. Courtesy StatsCan.

What we see here, clear as a bell, is that over the past two decades, crime of all types has dropped significantly – in some cases, massively. This is particularly true of non-violent crimes. While violent crimes have certainly decreased, the rate of non-violent crime has been in freefall since around 2002.

Incidentally, experts are pretty divided as to why this trend, which is a pretty global phenomenon, is happening at all. (One interesting hypothesis is that the presence of lead in gasoline led to the spike in crime rates we witnessed from the sixties through the early nineties, while its removal has led to the subsequent die-down in crime, although this theory also has its critics.)

All of this is neither here nor there, though. The point is that the Chiefs were meeting in the context of an ongoing and massive drop in reported crime of all varieties. What was their response to this situation? A recommendation that police departments be downsized and their funding decreased?

Hardly. Continue Reading

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