Tag Archives: Spin

ICYMI: Stéphane Dion reveals Liberals’ real reason for allowing Saudi arms deal

Image description: A big-ass tank with like eight wheels and two armed soldiers sticking out the top in a sandy-looking locale. (Image credit: General Dynamics Land Systems Canada) NOTE: this may not be the actual model of Light Armoured Vehicle GDLS is selling to Saudi Arabia with Canadian governmental mediation and approval; details are sketchy, but the Globe and Mail reports that whatever they look like, they’re gonna be deadly.

Ever since early January, when dozens of shocking executions in Saudi Arabia reignited a long-simmering controversy over a major Canadian arms deal with the human-rights-abusing nation, the Liberal government has been extremely cautious in its public statements, while steadfastly maintaining the Harper regime’s policy on the issue.

And despite widespread condemnation from activists and incisive questioning from the press, the government has refused to withdraw its approval of the sale of $15 billion of light armoured vehicles (LAVs) or elaborate very much on its justification of the deal.

But on February 18, Foreign Global Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion appeared before the Senate for questioning on a variety of subjects, and Québec Senator Serge Joyal raised the issue. Invoking Saudi Arabia’s atrocious human rights record, Joyal demanded to know how Dion could square his department’s explicit rules on the issue – “The policy with respect to countries with serious human rights problems places the onus on proving `no reasonable risk’ squarely on the exporter” – with the government’s decision to allow the sale proceed.

Dion’s response was incredibly revealing, and demonstrated clearly what the Liberal Party’s priorities are. I quote his statement here in full: Continue Reading

Trudeau, Harper, Saudi Arabia, and Real Change™

Image: A big-ass tank with like eight wheels and two armed soldiers sticking out the top in a sandy-looking locale. (Image credit: General Dynamics Land Systems Canada) NOTE: this may not be the actual model of Light Artillery Vehicle GDLS is selling to Saudi Arabia with Canadian governmental mediation and approval; details are sketchy, but the Globe and Mail reports that whatever they look like, they’re gonna be deadly.

 This one is from the prosaically named Department of Plus ça change, plus c’est le meme chose. Continue Reading

Fact-free arguments: how the case against refugees reveals widespread implicit racism

At this point, it’s a well-established and impartial fact that the attacks on Paris were committed by Europeans, and that not one of the attackers was a refugee.

In fact, the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled to Europe (and the millions more in Turkey, Lebanon, and other Middle Eastern nations) left their homes largely because of type of indiscriminate and contemptible violence which was visited upon Parisians last Friday night had become intolerably (and dangerously) commonplace in their cities and towns [CW: graphic images].

These are plain and simple facts. And you won’t hear them referred to – or even acknowledged – by opponents of an increase in the number of refugees taken in by this country.

In fact, on the contrary, what you’ll hear is a lot of subtle (and some not-so-subtle) suggestions that the refugees and the terrorists are in some ways indistinguishable, and that to accept the former is to also accept the latter.

Some of this discussion is openly reprehensible. New Jersey Governor and struggling Presidential candidate Chris Christie’s desperate-for-a-headline statement that not even orphan refugees should be allowed into the United States is a stand-out of the genre, as is the increasingly-terrifying Donald Trump’s musing that Syrian refugees may be a terrorist Trojan horse, and that as President he would create a national database to register all American Muslims (a stand he has since backed away from).

Statements like these, and the hate-filled crimes that go along with them, are, as I said the other day, the easy shit to spot and condemn and call out.

But a lot of the time, the anti-refugee animus is a lot more subtle.

Consider, for instance, this lead paragraph in an Ottawa Citizen article from a few days back: Continue Reading

Miley Cyrus is a better scientist than the folks at BC Min. of Resource Stewardship

One would think that any politician who’s been in the public eye as long as B.C. Premier Christy Clark would have heard of the Streisand Effect.

In case you don’t know, the Streisand Effect refers to situations in which, by trying to prevent people from hearing about a thing or taking an argument seriously, you actually cause that thing or argument to become much more widely known and accepted than it ever would have been if you’d just kept yer mouth shut to start with.

Such was the case when, around a month ago, Clark waded into a feud with international superstar Miley Cyrus.

Cyrus (who, let’s be clear here, is in some senses a badass pop icon and in other ways is extremely problematic), shared a post on Instagram to her literally millions and millions of followers about the horrors of British Columbia’s wolf cull, encouraging people to sign a petition. (You can see her post and read some reaction here.)

Now, if Christy Clark had just let the whole thing blow over, it would’ve been quickly forgotten. Because petitions, y’know…

The wolf cull was extremely controversial when it was initially announced. The cull, which involves shooting wolves from helicopters, is ostensibly designed to protect decreasing caribou populations, a claim that ecologists and activists hotly disputed. Nonetheless, the cull was implemented in early 2015, and the issue had largely faded from public awareness when Cyrus brought it up again.

Premier Clark, apparently just hungry for a headline, fired back at Cyrus the very next day, saying that the pop star didn’t know what she was talking about, scientifically speaking, and that Cyrus should “stick to twerking“.  Continue Reading

Trudeau, Obama, and the dangers of the cult of personality

In 2011, when Stephen Harper led the Conservatives to a majority government, his party amassed 39.6% of the national vote.

Much was made of the fact that roughly 60% of voters had (supposedly) voted against Harper and his Conservative Party.

And yet, in the aftermath of this year’s election, in which Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party secured a mere 39.5% of the popular vote, we hear no such protestations.

There is, however, just as strong a case to be made that the remaining 60% of voters actively voted against the Liberal Party, just as much as they voted for their respective parties of choice.

For Conservative voters, the choice was made starkly clear by Stephen Harper himself: this election was a fight between continued Conservative rule, with their supposed fiscal responsibility and dedication to national security, and the rule of the feckless Liberals, who would irresponsibly lead the nation into deficit and out of a vital war against Islamist jihadism. One can debate the accuracy of this framing of the campaign, but there is no denying that these are the terms in which many Conservative-supporting Canadians viewed the situation. They accordingly, and dutifully, voted against Liberal rule, just as they also voted for four more years of Harper & Co.

For supporters of the NDP and the Greens, though this election seemed on the surface to fundamentally boil down to a referendum on Stephen Harper, they chose to stand by their parties despite the fact that, from a short-sightedly “strategic” point of view, the party most likely to dethrone the Conservatives was the Liberals. This strongly implies that they felt there were meaningful differences between the Liberals and their opponents on the left, differences significant enough that they outweighed the “strategic” imperative of defeating Harper. Which is to say, they voted against the Liberals as much as they voted for the NDP or the Greens.

And lastly, for the Bloc’s hard core of support, the Liberals are of course the old enemy. Trudeau père presided over the first referendum and sent the army onto the streets of Quebec and Montreal during the FLQ crisis, and there is precious little enthusiasm for Trudeau fils amongst the sovereigntist camp. In addition, Gilles Duceppe’s shameful race-baiting fear-mongering niqab-bashing ultimately drew a hard line between the Bloc and the Liberals (as well as the NDP and the Greens), and there can be little doubt at this point that the rump of Quebec nationalists contains within its membership a sizeable contingent of openly xenophobic racists who, obviously, actively voted against the Liberal Party just as surely as they voted for the slowly dying Bloc Quebecois.

So Justin Trudeau will take office this November with a level of support which is comparable to that of Stephen Harper when he embarked upon his first and only majority government. Continue Reading

“#PeopleLikeNenshi”, “old stock Canadians”, and plausibly deniable racism

In 1963, George Wallace, Governor of Alabama and dark-horse Presidential candidate, made his position on one of the major political issues of the day crystal-clear, saying, “I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!”

You could get away with that kind of thing back then – equating integration with tyranny and explicitly embracing a violently racist policy.

These days, a politician who openly expressed this kind of view would be unable to command much mainstream support. Even Wallace was unable to ever expand his political base out of the American South. But racist politicians haven’t disappeared; they’ve just learned how to make plausibly-deniable racist statements.

The Harper Conservatives’ 2015 campaign has been a master-class in subtly coded racism. And though we who follow these stories closely may think their sneakily derogatory statements aren’t gaining traction, it’s easy to be in a bit of a social media bubble on this issue. If you’re reading this, you’re probably relatively young, and you’re probably living in a city, and you’re therefore probably not considered a likely Conservative voter. When Conservative candidates say these are-they-or-aren’t-they-being-racist kind of things, they’re not talking to you.

To take the most recent example, currently trending on Twitter: Earlier this week, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi did an interview with the slimy Evan Solomon on the ongoing niqab furor. (ICYMI, here’s my post from last week on the issue.) Nenshi, in typically blunt fashion, didn’t hold back on the question of Conservative dog-whistle statements. On the question of the niqab, he said, “This is unbelievably dangerous stuff. It’s not fun anymore. And you know, I spoke with a group of – I spoke with a group of mayors and councillors from all over Alberta last week, and in my speech, with all these people from small-town Alberta, I stood up and I said this is disgusting and it’s time for us to say stop it. It’s time for us to say this is enough.”

He also spoke of the danger of trying to politicize the niqab, saying that the message that it sends to Muslim youth is that they will never be truly accepted as Canadians, at exactly the same time that they are being targeted by “deradicalization” campaigns that aim to convince them of the exact opposite. And speaking on the tenuous nature of multiculturalism, he even got kinda poetic: 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: Is this it?

Three weeks of this dismal depressing excuse for an election have dragged past us, but looking forward we see little consolation – just two more months of this mundane nonsense, this putridly pretentious speechifying, this bland and carefully targeted promise-making, this cautious avoidance of anything too bold or substantial or, god forbid, anything truly controversial.

To sum the whole sordid business up in a single sentence: Is this it?

This is – or it was supposed to be – the most important election in decades. Through all the long miserable years of the Harper majority, partisans of the various opposition parties have been saying, “Just wait until 2015 – we’ll get them then!” And now here we are, it’s their big moment, their time to shine, to show us their vision for a better government – and this is it?

The conventional wisdom from the veteran campaign journalists seems to be that the parties are all waiting until after Labour Day to pull out their marquee policy announcements and their show-stopping speeches and whatnot, the idea being that a lot of folks are on vacation right now and, from a marketing politics point of view, in the immortal words of George W. Bush press secretary Andrew Card, “you don’t introduce new products in August.”

Card was explaining why the Bush administration held off on making its case for their invasion of Iraq until the fall of 2002 – it wouldn’t have sold as well in the summer, he insisted. And perhaps he was right. But there’s something unspeakably cynical about such an approach.

First of all, seeing a major change in policy as a product to be sold, rather than an idea to be debated, reveals a great deal about the fundamentally manipulative approach that many insiders take to the political process, and that’s equally true whether the “product” is a war in Iraq or a candidate for Prime Minister of Canada.

But secondly, it shows that the parties – all of them – are afraid of telling us too much about their candidates products. Deciding it’s not worth the effort to make too vigorous or detailed of a pitch because it’s cottage season demonstrates that none of the parties’ chief strategists marketers are very interested in telling the whole story, getting down into the fine details, making a thorough case for their policies. They’re operating on the level of impressions.

And hell, that’s modern politics. I can’t expect them to do any differently. But it makes for a miserable campaign, especially for people (like me) who, for reasons that are probably too complicated and uninteresting to get into here, have committed themselves to reading as much about this goddamn spectacle each day as time and morale will allow for. Continue Reading

The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses is doing Harper’s dirty work

[Bullshit] comes in three flavours. One, making bad things sound like good things. Organic, all-natural. Because factory-made sugar oatmeal balls doesn’t sell. Patriot Act. Because “Are you scared enough to let me look at all your phone records” Act doesn’t sell. So whenever something’s been titled Freedom Family Fairness Health America, take a good long sniff. Chances are it’s been manufactured in a facility that may contain traces of bullshit…

Jon Stewart

Today I want to look at a sneaky way that ideology gets passed off as informed opinion in news coverage: by hiding behind a front of bullshit. Specifically, I’m going to look at the impartial way one business group gets presented in coverage of the new Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP), and the extremely partisan and political reality behind their pseudo-reasonable front.

I’m not going to talk too much about the ORPP itself – I’m not even going to take a position for or against. Instead, I just want to use it as a case study of how right-wing advocacy organizations get their talking points taken seriously and presented as informed opinion or even fact.

Let’s begin, shall we?

The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB) is a business lobbying organization that says they like to stick up for the little guy:

With the strength of over 109,000 small business owners from coast-to-coast – entrepreneurs just like you – the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) is the big voice for small businesses. For over 40 years, we have represented the interests of the small business community to all three levels of government in their fight for tax fairness, reasonable labour laws and reduction of regulatory paper burden.

Before we dive into demolishing the shit out of them, let’s just take a moment to admire how well-crafted this advertising copy is. They’re fighting for fairness, their cause is reasonable, and they want to reduce your burdens. What’s not to like?

They make a lot of the fact that they don’t accept outside donations and are strictly non-partisan. And as for the idea that they have a right-wing agenda, well, let’s just let their President, Dan Kelly, shake his head and laugh that notion away (caution: the link is to a HuffPo advertorial, so click at your own discretion): Continue Reading

The case against campaign debates

I was pretty jazzed all day yesterday for the first debate of the Long Campaign.

I knew better than to be excited, but still I was – like a football fan on Super Bowl Sunday, I hoped that despite all the letdowns in the past, maybe this one would be good.

But these ritualized events, which have come to be considered so pivotal to the success or failure of campaigns, are now so thoroughly scripted and focus-group-tested and rehearsed and strategized that every moment, every utterance, every careful hand gesture and dead-eyed practiced grin feels nakedly manipulative.

And so it was last night. There were a few moments of actual substance – for instance, Elizabeth May pressed Thomas Mulcair relentlessly on the NDP’s position on the Kinder Morgan pipeline, pointing out the inconsistencies in his position (he had earlier complained that the process for deciding on whether to proceed with the pipeline was fundamentally flawed, but then took the stance that the government should wait and see the results of that process before making a decision). But for the most part, the spectacle consisted of Harper, Mulcair, and Trudeau trying to define themselves along the lines their respective parties’ brain trusts think they ought to be defined, and May fighting tooth and nail to get a word in edgewise.

I mean, look at this – here’s a transcript of every time May was cut off in the two-hour debate (h/t fycanadianpolitics): Continue Reading

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