Monthly Archives: February, 2016

Wendesday Links Roundup 2/24/16

Readers – if you come across any stories you think ought to be included in next week’s links round-up, please send them my way by email (matt@thealfalfafield.com), on Twitter (@thealfalfafield), or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/thalfalfafield). Also if yer not following me on Twitter and/or Facebook yet, get on that!

First of all, some tunes! This week, Bob Marley explains why y’all shouldn’t be snitches:

And we’ll kick this week off with a touching obituary: 35-year sermon of peace comes to end with White House protestor’s death (Waging Non-Violence) This woman’s incredible dedication is an inspiration. Continue Reading

Conservatives, Liberals, and NDP agree: criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic

Image description: A crowd at a protest. People hold signs reading "Boycott Israel BDS", "Free Palestine", and "Free Palestine - Let Gaza Live!" (Image credit: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Image description: A crowd at a protest. People hold signs reading “Boycott Israel BDS”, “Free Palestine”, and “Free Palestine – Let Gaza Live!” (Image credit: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Yesterday’s vote in Parliament on a resolution formally condemning the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement once again highlighted a massive shortcoming of the Canadian party system: on the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine, as on many critical issues, Canadians have no meaningful representation in Parliament. And it’s hard to avoid coming to the conclusion that that’s a feature, not a bug, of the system.

The Conservative Party, of course, is continuing in its steadfast and unrestrained embrace of right-wing Israeli politics, in the tradition of their former Dear Leader Stephen Harper, who in a 2014 speech to the Israeli Knesset had some strong words about the BDS movement: Continue Reading

ICYMI: Conservative Party’s disastrous approach to Ukraine embraced by Liberals

Image description: Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, both standing, shake hands in front of a row of Canadian and Ukrainian flags on July 14, 2015. In front of them is a table with two chairs, two sets of documents and pens, and a vase of flowers. To either side of the Prime Ministers are two unidentified observers. (Image credit: Uncredicted/pm.gc.ca via the Wayback Machine)

Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada says that the new Liberal government hasn’t departed in any major way from the policies of the old Conservative one – and that’s cause for major concern.

But unlike other continuities from the Harper era which have garnered much more attention, the new administration’s steady-as-she-goes approach to the Ukraine file is drawing precious little comment from the press or the public.

While debate rages over the Trudeau government’s retooled war non-combat operation in Iraq, for instance, a renewed deployment of Canadian Forces troops on a virtually identical “training” “non-combat” mission to Ukraine came and went with a minimum of national attention or fuss.

But that’s a problem, because the mission was never subject to much public scrutiny to begin with. That was despite the fact that there were major concerns that Canadian troops would be training Nazis.

Typically, the word “Nazi” is deployed as a hyperbolic epithet, but in this case we’re talking about actual factual honest-to-God Nazis: Continue Reading

Fallacy Friday: Security agencies utterly lacking in credibility on security issues

Image description: One of those obnoxious "Keep calm and carry on"-style posters, reading "Keep calm and trust me - I'm an expert".

Image description: One of those obnoxious “Keep calm and carry on”-style posters, reading “Keep calm and trust me – I’m an expert”. (Image credit: Author)

The Ministers of Defence and Public Safety tout the “prominent” and “robust” roles that the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) will play in Canada’s retooled military operations in Iraq, but aren’t at liberty to reveal exactly what the two agencies will be doing.

Two former high-ranking national security officials pen an editorial urging the Trudeau government to retain and expand upon new powers granted to intelligence agencies by the controversial C-51, arguing that (unspecified) threats to Canada have “seldom been so high”.

In the wake of a pair of high-profile scandals at CSE and CSIS, officials reassure a worried public that the difficulties were the cause of “inadvertent” errors or the behaviour of a “rogue” lone (now-ex-)employee, and that when it comes to privacy concerns, people don’t really have anything to worry about.

How are we to assess these stories and others like them? The occasional dispatches we mere mortals receive from the lofty milieu of those with above-top-secret clearances are always glaringly incomplete, with key details replaced by an index finger coyly placed upon a smilingly tight lip. It’s often implied that if we just knew all the details, then of course we’d see things their way, but since for obvious reasons certain facts just can’t be revealed, we’ll just have to trust them.

But there’s a strong case to be made for doing the exact opposite – to treat each and every claim made by a national security official, a government minister, or a private-sector apologist for the surveillance apparatus with extreme skepticism or disbelief. Because of informational asymmetry and perverse incentives, the public has effectively no ability to objectively assess the claims of intelligence and security agencies, and no compelling reason to accept on faith alone that we aren’t being deceived in some way.  Continue Reading

Wednesday Links Roundup 2/17/2016

Readers – if you come across any stories you think ought to be included in next week’s links round-up, please send them my way by email (matt@thealfalfafield.com), on Twitter (@thealfalfafield), or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/thalfalfafield). Also if yer not following me on Twitter and/or Facebook yet, get on that!

First of all, some tunes! How about some classic ukulele strumming?

And for our must-read link of the week, I can’t encourage you strongly enough to check out this masterpiece of email fraud: Nigerian astronaut lost in space needs $3m to get home Continue Reading

ICYMI: Thomas Mulcair is full of shit

Image description: a close up of Thomas Mulcair’s face, from bearded chin to eyebrows. Mulcair looks happy, euphoric even. There are smile creases around his eyes and his teeth are showing. The lighting is low and blue-tinged. (Image credit: Youtube)

In the aftermath of the NDP’s massive collapse in last fall’s federal election, I was one of countless observers who fully expected Thomas “Tom” Mulcair to step down as party leader.

And yet, to this day, Mulcair remains. He has faced minimal challenge from within his party (as far as I know, Ontario MPP Cheri DiNovo is alone among elected NDP officials in calling for Mulcair to resign) and has received relatively deferential treatment at the hands of the press.

I must admit that I was baffled by this. I remember back in 2011 when then-Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff chose not to resign on election night despite the historic drubbing which the Liberal Party had received, and the hounding he got in the press in the immediate aftermath of that decision. Granted, Ignatieff did fail to win his own seat, and his party had never suffered the ignominy of a third-place finish before. But given where Mulcair & Co started at the outset of #elxn42 – they were polling in majority territory in August, something Ignatieff never dreamed of! –  the scale and scope of their defeat was comparably yuge.

And yet Mulcair remains.

To be honest, it’s not my habit to pick on losers and third-rate politicians. But Mulcair is something else. Mulcair very nearly got the NDP into government on the most right-wing platform the party has ever run with, a platform for which he still has not apologized. In this sense, he’s a type case of the global Left today – more calculating than caring, more attentive to the polls than the people, willing to sacrifice every principle for power. And for this he deserves every excoriating diatribe, every nasty comments section rant, every vote of no confidence that he gets.

So here’s my two cents. Continue Reading

Canada ending ill-conceived air war, expanding ill-conceived ground war in Iraq

Image description: Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan (right) looks on as U.S. Navy Admiral Bill Gortney speaks at the Halifax International Security Forum. (Image credit: U.S. Embassy Canada/Flickr)

Image description: Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan (right) looks on as U.S. Navy Admiral Bill Gortney speaks at the Halifax International Security Forum on November 20, 2015. (Image credit: U.S. Embassy Canada/Flickr)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has fallen under heavy criticism from the Conservative Party this past week over the government’s recently announced revamp of Canada’s war non-combat operation with ISIS/Daesh. Interim leader Rona Ambrose slammed the ending of the Air Force’s bombing mission in Iraq and Syria as “shameful”, and called Trudeau “dangerously naive” for his belief that the best approach to the conflict was, in his words, a “reasonable” one.

“There’s no reasoning with terrorists of this kind, that’s why it’s important to send a very clear signal that we are willing to do what it takes to fight a threat of this nature,” Ambrose told the CBC’s Rosemary Barton.

But the Conservatives, as is par for the course, are barking up the wrong tree on this one. Distracted by the smell of red meat for their base – cowardice in the face of Islamic terrorism! – they’ve missed the true issues in PMJT’s mission relaunch.

The fact of the matter is that the end of Canada’s ill-conceived air war, though laudable in isolation, is accompanied by a significant escalation of what can only reasonably be termed a ground war in Iraq. And there’s nothing in the rhetoric coming from either the Prime Minister or the Department of Defence to indicate that the government has well-considered contingency plans for the various ways in which this conflict may develop, or even much acknowledgement of the massive complexity of the situation. Continue Reading

100 days of (mostly cosmetic) Real Change™

Image description: Justin Trudeau stares intently into the camera, smiling slightly. In the top left is the Liberal Party logo. At the bottom, in white letters over a red background, it says: “I’m voting for real change”. The word “real”, unlike the other words, is in a hand-printed-esque font. (Image credit: Justin Trudeau/Twitter)

Though it’s hard to believe, it’s now been one hundred days since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took office. The hundred-day mark has held symbolic significance ever since U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt’s first term in office, in which he made a big show out of accomplishing certain campaign promises in his first hundred days.

Since then, the milestone has become an inflection point for new administrations, after which they cease to be new and begin to be judged in earnest on what they have done rather than what they have promised to do. When looking back on the first few months of a new government, one is often able to clearly see the priorities, methods, and style which will come to characterize its entire term in office. (One hundred days is, after all, not a trivial length of time, amounting to around 7% of the government’s term.)

So what can we discern about the Justin Trudeau government, looking back at the events which have transpired since that sunny November day on which he and his cabinet were sworn in with much pomp and celebration? The answer necessarily varies by issue, but one general trend is abundantly clear: in its first hundred days, the Trudeau government has demonstrated a commitment to changing the tone and style of politics in Ottawa, but that change has, with only a few exceptions, not been matched by a corresponding shift in the substance of the government’s policies on most major issues.  Continue Reading

Wednesday Links Roundup 2/10/16

Readers – if you come across any stories you think ought to be included in next week’s links round-up, please send them my way by email (matt@thealfalfafield.com), on Twitter (@thealfalfafield), or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/thalfalfafield). Also if yer not following me on Twitter and/or Facebook yet, get on that!

First of all, some tunes! I heard there was some kind of Beyoncé-related news this week, so I thought I’d share my favourite song of hers:

(In all seriousness, though, Formation is AMAZING and you gotta check it out if you haven’t yet.)

And let’s kick off the week with some great news: Mother Canada project won’t go ahead in Cape Breton park (CBC) (!!!) Continue Reading

RCMP indiscriminately collecting DNA from virtually every man in remote Manitoba First Nation

Image description: an aerial view of the First Nations community of Garden Hill, a town of single-storey dwellings and dirt roads on the shore of a large lake. (Image credit: By Timkal - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Image description: an aerial view of the First Nations community of Garden Hill, a town of single-storey dwellings and dirt roads on the shore of a large lake. (Image credit: Timkal – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Questions are being raised by human rights lawyers about the RCMP’s indiscriminate collection of the DNA of thousands of men in the remote Garden Hill First Nation in Manitoba.

The DNA collection is the latest effort by the RCMP to solve the murder of Teresa Robinson, an 11-year-old who was killed in May 2015. Apparently, the Mounties have no leads on the case, and so have started going door-to-door asking every man aged 15-66 to voluntarily provide a sample of their DNA. Roughly two thousand men in that age range live in the fly-in community.

It’s the largest DNA collection effort ever in Manitoba, and possibly in Canada. And some experts say the sheer scope of the collection is cause for concern: Continue Reading

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