Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bienvenue Pascal

Bienvenue, Pascal! Vous pouvez nous écrire soit en anglais, soit en français. J'aimerais recevoir des impressions outre-mer. La vision stéréoscopique est le jeu de DEUX yeux qui envoient des images chacune un peu différente l'une de l'autre..

Friday, December 16, 2011

Laffin' an' fiddlin' while Rome burns

             Ah the Tories, one's gotta love 'em! Funnier than a barrel of monkeys..

              When Canada was "awarded" the Colossal Fossil boody prize in the Durbin (post Kyoto protocol) talks, Conservatives MPs laughed and cheered.


                Behind the good ol' boy laugh up and self congratuations, there is a truth being revealed here which the Left, the Center and the Moderate Right ignore at their peril. In the psychology of reaction, facts, alternative views, the civil rights of scapegoats can all be dispensed with by collective ridicule (or outrage or denigration - it's called Group Think). Ridicule conveniently replaces intelligent reasoned response and debate which, of course, require intellectual effort. In addition, Ideology provides justifications and rationalizations for injustice (laziness, racial inferiority, "clashes of civilizations"..) and provides a norm to which "reality" must be forced, wily-nily to conform. Thus, ideologically speaking, for the Global Warming "sceptic", Global Warming simply CAN'T be happening. Therefore, scientists and academics - despite credentials and field experience - who claim it is happening, MUST be lying and planning to corner the market on carbon credit trading and rake in "trillions" (on a professor's salary??!! - no mention made, of course, of those fossil fuel companies, their executives and shareholders and what THEY stand to profit from continued use of fossil fuels "to the last drop"..)

                    More specifically, democracy requires free flows of information up and down the hierarchy of governance. Theoretically - not to mention practically! - the public needs proper information on the pros and cons of important issues so they can decide which of the various platforms proposed by political parties they choose to support. Unfortunately, the type of nervous, reactive, ideological arrogance exhibited by Tory members of the house of Commons is fundamentally incompatible with the transparency of information flows required by democracy to function.

                    1- Ideology blocks openess to alternative views. The ideologue's mind is "opaque" rather than "transparent" and permeable to conflicting facts and viewpoints.

                    2- Perhaps even more toxic to the free and open give and take of opinion which democracy requires is the fact that ideology encourages intellectual - and eventually moral - dishonesty: all those inconvenient FACTS - what to do about them.. In the long run, the notion of the "Public Good" vanishes, replaced by partisan fighting - and infighting - for status, position, favor, bakchich..

                   Here's a good example of what Ideology can do to "Democracy" in practice: a Canadian artist who had her funding cut, seemingly because she was too pro-Global Warming in her thinking..


                   While my appreciation of history may be hindered by my ignorance, we believe that reaction is a (nearly) sure sign that a society is failing in some fundamental ways: France before the Revolution of '89, Russia before WW I (and the Russian Revolution which, be it noted, turned out to be a debacle); Europe in the between wars, 1919 - 1939, and the rise of fascism, the contemporary rise of skinheads and U.S. militias.. What the nexus of the crisis will be, will vary, of course, from one concrete historical situation to another.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dirty tricks: the New World Order

           I wonder if anyone out there remembers why the Harper Conservatives got elected in the first place? Remember? The Liberals left us with the bad tasting legacy of the Chrétien government's "sponsorship scandal". Monies earmarked to polish the Feds' image in Québec - in order to weaken the separatist movement in that province - were diverted either into the pockets of federal Liberal party supporters or into the coffers of the Liberal party's warchest. Taxpayers were taken for millions of dollars. For details:


           The population was, justifiably, miffed by all this. Many were hopping mad. To worsen things, the Chrétien government's arrogance and / or disconnect with physical reality contributed to the growing climate of political apathy and cynicism, especially among the young. Under the Chrétien Liberals Canada ratified the Kyoto Greenhouse Gas Emissions control accord - and then simply ignored it! (The current government continues that policy but at least have the honesty to proclaim their open hostility to the Kyoto accord, affording them, at least, a record of consistency on the issue.)

            The Haperites deftly exploited the climate of political cynicism and "neo-conservative" self-interestedness while mouthing pious populist platitudes about a "return to traditional values" of "responsible government", "transparency" and "law and order". In this image creating venture it is hard to fault them.

             Today, into its second mandate, the Harper government inspires anything but confidence when you examine the list of their accomplishments and the quality of the governance they have provided our country. One commentor was even moved to say that the Harperites have reached a degree of arrogance and cynicism that would give envy to the most corrupt Liberals but in a much shorter period of time - they rotted on the vine even faster than the Libs!

               A shocking display of the nature of today's political climate was recently revealed in what might be called the  "Cotler affair". Liberal federal deputy (Montréal), Irwin Cotler has been the victim lately of a "dirty tricks" campaign. Cotler's constituents have been receiving phone calls implying that he plans to step down and that a by-election is imminent. The calls have been traced to Campaign Research, an Ontario-based market research firm with ties to the Conservative Party. Cotler argues that the difusion of false information is hindering his ability to carry out his public duties.

               "Ok", one might argue, "dirty tricks are unfortunate and there are always rotten apples in every barrel" but in a blatantly cynical appeal to "free speech", the Harperites in Ottawa didn't even bother attempting to conceal their involvement! Has the rot really set this deep? One can only wonder..


                 In a shocking admission of the degree to which short term political expediency has come to rule, House of Commons speaker, Andrew Scheer (Conservative) conceded "I can understand how [Cotler] and others are seeking relief from the climate of cynicism — not to say contempt — about parliamentary institutions and practice that seems to prevail. But I fear that such relief is not within my gift: the Speaker’s powers in these matters are limited, as my predecessors have repeatedly stated". Really Mr. Scheer?

                 I really beg to differ here. I think two points are in order. 1- You guys are in power. You were elected to lead the country which means, in effect, maintaining a healthy political, social, economic and foreign relations climate in which democratically elected government can function. Obviously an impossible task but your job - your "mandate from the public" as you like to say so often - is to approach these goals as close as is humanly possible: this is what taxpayers are paying you fat salaries for.. 2- Mr. Scheer, let us not be disingenuous, you guys were specifically elected on a platform of good governance, transparency, etc with the specific "mandate" of cleaning up the mess the Liberals had left behind. If you are so powerless to clean up the mess, why the hell did you delude the public in promising clean government  in the first place? Were your camplaign pledges therefore made in bad faith, Mr Scheer..

internal blog link: 29 feb, 2012, So this is governmental transparency, eh?


Friday, November 18, 2011

Do YOU have a shadow?

          This one is a little too bizarre to be true but then, with the Harperites, you never know..

           Cindy Blackstock is a small, middle aged, non-radical, non-separatist aboriginal activist working for children's rights and services on reservation (a Federal jurisdiction). For some unknown reason she managed to get herself on someone's surveillance list. When she showed up for a meeting with the feds, she found herself barred from access and even had a security guard assigned to watch over her while her colleagues conferred with the feds. Why? What was her crime?

              The only thing anyone can come up with to date: a complaint with the human rights commission accusing the feds of willfully underfunding child welfare services on First Nations reserves.


              To get to the bottom of things, Ms Blackstock filed under the freedom of information act. She discovered that she had a thick dossier. As Professor Papillon, an expert on Aboriginal autonomy issues, argues, it is normal that government employees attend meetings relevant to their area of expertise and take notes. Check the audioclip from CBC radio program, The Current, 17 nov, 2011:


                 What is not normal, though, is that Ms Blackstock alone be singled out. Files released under the freedom of information act contained verbatim notes of Ms Blackstock's presentations at meetings but not those of other activists. Ms Blackstock seems to have grown a tail! Shades of the MacCarthy anti-communist "witch hunts" back in the 1950s and early 1960s in the USA..

                  Another expert, appearing on The Current, Tom Powers, himself a Conservative party strategist, and who worked with aboriginal affairs also found the behavior of the government puzzling. And this on the part of a government who ran on a platform of responsible democracy and transparency! What, oh what, is the world coming to?

                   Just wondering. Have you  done something to find youself with a tail, an extra shadow. Have I got one for posting these blogs..

Friday, November 4, 2011

Bilingual / shmilingual - who cares?

         The conservative government's choice for auditor general, Michael Ferguson, does not speak French well. So what, what does it matter?

          We hold it does matter for at least three reasons.

1- When you choose to play a game, you play by the rules or you go home. Else you screw things up for everybody. The Conservatives chose to get themselves elected. The AG's job requirements require French. Tough titty..

2- The Harper government, be it not forgotten, was elected on a platform of law and order, good / responsible government and transparency. This was in reaction to the waste, boondoggles and scams of former Liberal governments. This, we maintain, holds the Haperites to a higher standard than the discredited Liberals. Are they living up to the higher standards they set for themselves? It has, already, been remarked that the Harperites "break the rules when they feel like it", giving the unfortunate impression that they might actually consider themselves above the law. And this, of course, is exactly what they accused the Liberals of doing..

3- While this may appear to be hitting below the belt, we feel it is a legitimate concern for those interested in Canadian national unity. The Ferguson nomination is sure to rub Québécois nationalism the wrong way when there is already evidence of a growing rift between Québec and the ROC (rest of Canada: the fact that Québécois use this term fairly often these days is itself indicative of the rift). In addition, one suspects - fears - that the nomination is, if not a conscious, intentional play to populist, anti-French feelings in the ROC, at least a gaffe which, potentially, plays into the hands of such elements. At the very least, "it doesn't look good"..

             There is, of course, nothing stopping the federal Conservatives from operating within the framework of parlementary procedure and working openly and above board to change the law regulating the AG's proficiencies. But would such a transparent procedure raise the ire of too many? Have the Harperites - once again - stooped to talking from both sides of their mouths at the same time: preaching fairplay and transparency while dealing the cards in a way to send a covert -and contrary - message to their populist core constituency? Once again, things are not clear but it does not look good..

             And in this cynical era of political vacuity, appearance is indeed everything!


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Smoke Screens

        Mr. Harper is at it again: making cheap appeals to his populist base (one wonders if this is a conscious strategy on the part of him and his handlers or an simply unconscious political reflex). Be that as it may..

        Here's how it works. You appeal to your base: their vote has to be assured. Québec, on the other hand has probably been written off as a lost cause by the Harper team (more on this a bit later..)  Seeing the rightward shift in political and social attitudes taking place in Western societies, Harper and co. seem to be betting that mean-spirited, hairy chested populist demagogy will probably pick up more votes from the soft Right  than will be lost on the Left. And they are probably right..

        In the present context, Harper's most recent appeal to the populist base lies in his fufilling his electoral promise to eliminate the long gun registry - ONE promise he manages to keep at least!  His recent gaining of a parliamentary majority assures passage of the bill..


         Planified coup or savy political instinct, this vindictive move strikes deep into a core of resentment burning in the heart of the Canadian electorate. Lest we be accused of "Left wing bias", it is instructive to recall that the gun registry program, instituted by a Liberal government in the wake of the Montréal Polytechnique Massacre (6 Dec, 1989), soon degenerated into an obscene boondoggle, racking up unprecedented cost overruns during its implementation. To rub salt in the wounds of the taxpayer, no heads ever rolled over the cost overruns but the voters - and especially conservative, gun-owning rural voters - remembered. They remembered..


           Here is an example of the masterful manipulation of the rural / small town / suburban voter's smoldering resentment at being ripped off and imposed on by "big city crooked politicians". Note, especially, the tone of righteous indignation (justified) and deep sense of victimization (a perennial theme of populist militants): "These are good salt-of-the-earth people".

“They’re upstanding citizens who work hard. They take their kids and grandkids out hunting and shooting and those kids, by the way, probably aren’t involved in gangs in the streets,” she said.
“These are good salt-of-the-earth people and for so long they have had really nobody in government who has been able to make any changes on their behalf. So it really was very gratifying to know how thankful they were and how much it meant to them to have someone who was going to be promoting good policy, policy that was fair and wasn’t targeting them.”


                The depth of the anger and the sense of betrayal of the conservative, grassroots voter is probably reflected in the meanspirited, pyrrhic vindictiveness of the proposed legislation: Harper wants not merely to suspend the long gun registry but intends to destroy the data bases..

                As seems so often the case these past few decades, conservatives (especially neos) and reactionaries have reaped the fruits of years of liberal (small "l" liberal here) corruption and incompetence. Truth be known, neither the Right nor the Left in modern Western societies has much of a clue what to do next. All parties are in bed with the plutocrats who rule the world. Before the unfolding economic, ecological and climatological meltdown of our planet and its life support systems, they can offer nothing but platitudes ("economic growth", "fighting for democracy"), symbolic gestures ("Millennium Goals" of the United Nations), improvisation and - at the limit - the outright delusions of Magical Thinking:

“God is not capricious. He’s given us a creation that is dynamically stable. We are not going to run out of anything.”


               What the heck is he talking about: what does "dynamically stable" actually mean in the present context?? Can anyone tell me..

                 Since neither Left nor Right has a clue how to get us out of the quagmire (since both are products of the system that created the quagmire), they both lack any coherent Strategy ("game plan"). But the forces of reaction have one huge, short term advantage: Tactics. The Right knows no better than the Left what to do next but they are past masters of the fine art of public opinion manipulation. Lefties are - to strike a caricature - college profs and garrett intellectuals from the Arts and Humanities. They are not the real shakers and movers of modernity. They do not possess the tools, intellectual or otherwise, to effectively jerk the strings of the increasingly frightened and disoriented "masses". The real shakers and movers - the technicians, engineers, programmers, business types, PR men, admen, bureaucrats and technocrats - are basically, by blood and breeding, men of the Right. They understand the tools of mass manipulation: they invented them in the first place!

                 Thus, while Rome burns, our elites fiddle. The public's attention is deftly turned aside from the real problems our world faces: overpopulation, resource depletion, Peak Oil, the need to develop renewable energy sources and to learn to do things more efficiently, to learn to live with less in dignity and in justice.. Thus these pressing real, high priority, problems are never addressed. Instead, just as the Roman mob was given bread and circuses to entertain them, we too are given gory spectacles and entertainment. We are enroled in pseudo-crusades, so that we don't have the time or the courage to pose the really important questions. Instead we fight the terrors of abortion, family planning, gay marriage, the "liberal media bias", creeping secularism, humanism and socialism. Reality check: defeating family planning and abortion in Africa will likely lead to more deaths from malnutrition and the attendant political instability and warfare. We are provided abundant scapegoats to hate - liberals, "socialists", "secular humanists", "baby killers", "Islamofascists", "green nazis".. - all of course to divert our attention from the real issues and who really benefits from maintaining society on its suicidal course.

                  To return to the Canadian situation in conclusion, Harper's team have probably decided that Québec is a lost cause. The gun registry, let's not forget, was born in the aftermath of the infamous Dec 6, 1989, Montéal Polytechnique massacre of women students by a misogynist gunman who then took his own life. Québec will not therefore take the elimination of the long gun registry lightly. Above all, the province wants the info in the data bases referring to guns registered in Québec in order to create its own provincial registry. Harper's move to destroy the data bases may pander to the smoldering anger of his core constituents but can only outrage Québécois voters. Harper's legislation threatens to reopen old mutual incomprehensions between Québec and the rest of the country in order to obtain short term political gain. In the long run it may be the country as a whole that will have to pay the price of his political myopia.

Welcome aboard Anne!

Welcome aboard Anne. Please feel free to contribute: your ideas are surely welcome. And don't forget to suggest us to any friends you think might benefit from or be able to contribute to the discussion. The more the merrier - gotta break the apathy!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Budget Cutting: Cutting off your nose to spite your face

         Harping against the Harperites. Well, they are at it again, it seems. Breaking campaign promises. What is it this time?

          "Responsable government" - like they do what they say and what they do is relatively clean, honest, efficient, comptetent. Those are nice guide lines for responsable government.

            Does the current Conservative government in Ottawa live up to this definition?
             There is reason to believe the answer to this question is "no". A recent article from Canadians for Accountability points to a number of glaring inconsistencies in the Feds recent proposals to "reduce fat" in the bureaucracy.


               They propose paying a private accounting firm $20 million ($90,000 per day or the salary of about 45 people) to save money. On the surface it makes "sense", appealing to kneejerk populist anti-government sentiments. But, the author argues, does it really make sense, in either a financial, managerial or moral sense?

                 Firstly, private firms like Deloitte and Touche are, in reality, likely to be less responsible than the corps of professional bureaucrats who will have to live with the consequences of their policy choices. Outside "privateers" are more like to play the tune they know their clients expect and want to hear. They are therefore less likely to be objective and efficiency oriented than a duly delegated working group of  bureaucrats would be. 

"So why this expensive exercise? The most likely answer is the desire to give a veneer of validity, independence and authority to the findings... The government wants to be able to say, “Look, we don’t want to cut all these jobs. We don’t want to axe these programs. But the report says we have to."

                    In other words, "you gets what you pays for". Attempting to slough off what are essentially governmental functions on the private sector does not necessarily result in "efficiency", "savings", "performance" and the rest. Such decisions these days are - let's be honest - ideologically driven, not performance driven. We are being sold a used clunker with false papers that's been in a bad accident. Would you buy a used car from this man..

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Fascism and optimism

            Fascism may seem a bit off topic. I do not think so, however. All indicators point to a dangerous Rightward shift in Western societies since the end of the second World War.  

             Following the dictum, "knowledge is power", I recently began an informal study of fascist / reactionary movements, both contemporary movements (the Christian Right) and those of mid-20th century vintage. The preliminary results of this research have turned out rather surprising, to say the least..

             In the first place, I never imagined that studying such an unpleasant aspect of modernity as fascism could possibly lead one to optimism (a "guarded optimism", admittedly, but still real optimism, however small).

             An informative, comparative analysis ("case studies") of three 20th century fascist movements is Roger Bourderon, Le fascisme, idéologie et pratiques, (Éditions sociales,  Paris, 1979). Unfortunately, I find no English translation. For an excellent empirical analysis of the psychology of authoritarianism / fascism see: Bob Altemeyer, The authoritarians (free, non-printable online version):


          In a nutshell, I consider "fascism" - in the most general sense of the term - one of the greatest dangers the world faces. It exacerbates all the other challenges we now face and is itself a source of great evil. I have always, even as a kid, wanted to defeat it and, to this end, seached for understanding (which never came). My "hypothesis" today is that most people - as Carl Jung claimed - are capable of both the highest good and the lowest evil. There are few exceptions: 1- those born saints and those "born evil": psychopaths / sociopaths (Lady MacBeth and Iago, the vilain of "Othello" are classical literary examples, Hitler is the stock historical example..)

           In reading Bourderon's text, I found the following - to me surprising - analysis (although in retrospect I got that delayed head-slap reaction: "Now, why the heck didn't I see that before! All the facts were at my disposal.. :-0) Bourderon, a historian, describes fascist ideologies as "un habit d'harlequin", a harlequin's / clown's costume, stitched together from disparate and often contradictory elements. This, of course, belies the apparent monolithic, absolutist, totalitarian face that fascism presents to the world. In effect, the party platforms of the three movements studied (Italian fascists, Nazis, Spanish phalangists) pitchforked together:

- borrowings from traditional Right and Extreme Right parties: appeals to "traditional values", Authority, nationalism, imperialism, militarism, appeals to church centered "compassionate conservatism"..

- contributions from liberal democracy (center Left / center Right of the political spectrum): defense of private property with special appeals to the small and medium sized business communities, importance of eduction as a means of upward social mobility (and "elite building")

- elements of "reform socialism" (Social Democracy, progressivism): exaltation of work and workers, denunciation of monopolies and profiteers, populist appeals to the "little people", public private partnerships for public services..

          The goal of fascist ideologues and militants alike is to appeal to the largest possible base of potential voters (populism). In this scam, everybody gets to hear something they want to hear! Inherent contradictions between the various positions and groups are papered over or simply ignored. This "patchwork quilt" nature of fascist platforms, in retrospect, fits well with long observed traits of the "authoritarian personality type" already noted by social psychologists in the years following WW II. Authoritarians are typically observed to lack internal psychological - and logical - consistency or integrity, for example in holding contrary views. Thus they are prone to "project" onto hated or vilified groups their own aggressivity and negativity. Antisemites warn us of the "dangers" of associating with the Jews they hate, fear and denigrate. "We gotta git 'im before they gits us"..

             Things get really interesting when you start to dig below the surface of the "harlequin's suit" motley of fascist movement party platforms. What positive program do fascists propose, for example? That is what are they trying to DO, what are their GOALS, what is their AGENDA (real or feigned)?

              Bourderon's convincing but surprising conclusion: nothing! There is at the heart, the core, of fascism and reactionary thinking a deep void, a vacuum, a nullity but this nullity is filled with hate and paranoid fear. (One can't help but be reminded of Neitzsche's puzzling but - apparently! - prophetic insight that the core of modernity was nihilistic "life-slander" combined with a toxic "psychology of resentment". It appears that reactionary / fascist thinking is not directed toward any positive goal but only against something.

              But what? "Marxism" (AKA "socialism", "social democracy", "liberal democracy", "liberalism"..) and "internationalism" (AKA "One-Worldism"). The goal of fascist populism ideology is to find -  or fabricate, if need be - hot button connections between "instinctive" mob behaviors and trigger words indicating targetted ethnic or social groups, political orientations, etc. Logical thought and serious critical analysis are to be avoided to the degree  this is possible. Thus rabid anti-intellectualism is cultivated as a public - if not "patriotic" - virtue: liberal college professors were denounced as "pinkos" (half-Reds) and "pinheads" (intellectually defective) by the extremist John Birch Society in the US during the infamous McCarthyite "anti-communist witchunts" of the 1950s and early 60s.

           Now, it is this very nullity of purpose at the heart of reactionary / fascist thinking that gives me room for a bit of hope.

1- the fact that they can propose nothing positive to the "Left agenda" is itself heartening. (It suggests there might not be any other serious game in town..)

2- the very intensity of their paranoia and vitriolic attacks tends to suggest that, down deep, they too intuitively understand that their horse is dead, that the race is likely over..

Monday, September 19, 2011

Environmental Transparency: what you don't see, can't hurt you!

                  Oh dear! The Harperites are at it again, it seems. Defaulting on their campaign promises. What this time..?

                   Remember the promises about "responsable government"? A government is responsable when it informs citizens of common dangers. This is so because, technically speaking, the government is supposed to be acting - in democracies anyway - as the agent of the people. You do not expect your banker to be rifling your accounts or your grocer to be short changing on the weight of the veggies you buy.

                 So too with governments. One of their functions is national defense. "Defense" - in the large sense - includes warning people of dangers, for example, a radioactive cloud arriving on the Pacific cost from damaged Japanese reactors. If the government failed to do so, the public would, in fact, be justified in calling the government to account for its failure to inform. We all know damn well this is true.

                 Now, since we accept the consensus opinion of the scientific community on the risks posed by climate change, we consider it totally unacceptable that the Harper government would suppress reasearch and  monitoring programs relating to anthropogenic climate change. This however is exactly what the Harperites have done!

                  Incredible! Do these guys have no shame? Or are they so brain-washed by the propaganda machine of the oil industry they serve that they really feel such programs and research are "a waste of time and money" in a time of budget restriction? Although, even here, given the way the economy is behaving lately, it is arguable that the feds should actually be spending money in strategic areas - renewable energies, energy conservation, public transport.. - even if this means going into deeper debt for a while.

                 The consequences of further budget cuts to Environment Canada will be long reaching and unpredictable. For those who reject the scientific consensus on the reality of anthropogenic climate change but who do believe in the threat of ozone eating CFC gases, consider the following:

"... the Canadian cuts also threaten to erode the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement that obliges Arctic countries to monitor the ozone layer and maintain scientific ozone research.
Closing down Canada's ozone stations and the Toronto data archive "would clearly be seen as eroding the regulations of the Montreal protocol,"... "Once such an erosion process starts other countries can follow and may start to question other parts of the regulations under the Protocol.""

                   We are treading on very thin ice here! Global problems, like Ozone Layer Depletion which could reduce crop outputs and further destabalize the third world, need to be faced multilaterally, that  is, "internationally". Harper and his gang, in a move to gain cheap votes from their right wing core - populism, in other words - are dismantling multilateral structures and institutions, the destruction of which will entail unknowable - but extremely heavy - long term consequences.

internal blog link: mar 6, 2012 http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=8403090612918247270#editor/target=post;postID=7082523677780259320

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Transparency: losing control over our privacy rights

            Canada is a democracy which protects the civil rights of its citizens, right?

            So here's a theoretical question: which is more important to the Harper government, trade with the USA or protection of privacy and civil rights here at home?

            Well, you might be inclined to say, given that Canada is a democracy which protects the civil rights of its citizens, that's really a no brainer! Rights trump trade..

             Think again! Former diplomat Gar Pardy - who has worked on US-Can relations - has issued a warning: Canada is thinking of trading off privacy and civil rights protection against trade in recent negotiations with the States.

               Who is Mr. Pardy?


              And here is his warning, in an Ottawa Citizen piece dated September 12, 2011:

"The essence of the security measures in the Shared Vision declaration requires the transfer of information to the United States on, potentially, millions of people, most of whom would be Canadian citizens. Officials with the Canadian Shared Vision working group negotiating with the Americans, in briefing interested Canadians this summer, were frank in declaring that increased Canadian co-operation on security was the price to be paid for the removal of border restraints and constraints. They were equally frank in stating that the privacy rights of Canadians could be affected in paying that price."

                  The former diplomat's conclusion is chilling:
"If Canadians are not vigilant they may soon discover that the Americans have more control over their privacy rights than we do at home."

                   Once again, we are forced to face the inevitable: in the neocon - and neocon wanabe - hierarchy of value, despite all the hairy chested talk about "freedom", "choice", and "individualism", profits trump civil rights and civil society everytime.
                    Forewarned is forearmed, for those with wit to see..
                    Au pays des aveugles, les borgnes sont roi / in the land of the blind, the one-eyed are king

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Is Canada serious in its committment to reduce carbon emissions?

          Transparency in both public and private life means doing what you say you are going to do - doesn't it? "Keeping your word". "A man is as good as his word". In French a person who doesn't keep his word is held up to scorn: "il dit n'importe quoi!" / literally "he says anything" is a big put down. In English we quip, "you can tell when they're lying: their mouths move".

            Is that part of the reason young people in this country are so cynical about politics? They know that our "leaders" can't be trusted, that - in effect - they are not worthy to be leaders: what are leaders good for if they can't be trusted to embody the will and best interest of the people who honor them with the title "leader"??

            A particulary egregious example of the lack of transparency of the Harper government is revealed by a recent Pembina Institute report on Canada's performance in meeting international committments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions:


            We have the feeling that the Haper government serves the interest of the Oil Patch on environmental and energy policy. They do give consent to international agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but only under extreme pressure from home and abroad. They drag their heels. But since they are beholden to the Patch, their "committment" is phony and belied by their (non-)action in meeting targets. They say one thing, do another. Untransparent..

              As a nation, as a people, don't we deserve better?

              And, given the risks to international peace and well being (far greater than that posed by jihadist terrorism for sure!), as part of the human race, should not we demand more from our "leaders"..

Friday, July 22, 2011

Do we live in a sick society? Are we collectively mentally ill?

Reflections on the falling crime rate and the Harper government's reaction

              Violent crime is down, crime is at lowest level since 1973. A cause for jubilation?


              At least one might think it a cause for jubilation. But apparently not for Harper government hairy-chested ideologues.

              They want to spend lots of $$ - taxpayers' money, not their own - "gettin' tough on crime". Professional criminologists think they are crazy, obviously: even down in the States they are having second thoughts about all that money they've wasted.. And besides, the crime decline is probably due, in large part, to demographics, not to government programs. In an aging population, like ours, "exhibitionist" / machismo crimes like barroom brawls, murder, muggings go into decline. Older folks are more cautious: they embezzle the bank they work for or swindle their clients out of their life savings, they ship their profits overseas to island tax havens or use those havens to launder money from drug importation / production..

              The rhetoric is getting a bit hairy, too. Some of Harper's people are claiming crazy things like: "the crime stats are being manipulated" (to fit a liberal-secular humanist-socialist / communist agenda, no doubt..) or, again, that the beleaguered, victimized public has become so discouraged that - in droves - they have ceased reporting crimes. Wacky, wacky, this is wacky thinking..

              The pattern here appears obvious: the Haperites always, instinctively, return to their populist / reactionary core or base, whether we speak of principles or of targeted "audiences" (subsets of the electorate to whom the rhetoric of the Right appeals). Such targeting - think: focus groups - is, in reality, a sure sign that a party, or a political system, is bankrupt of ideas and vision. "They pander to the Right wing / reactionary vote", we say..

               But perhaps we mistake the trees for the forest. Perhaps we are overly focused on what are really only symptoms of a deeper, more pervasive, cultural or civilisational malady: the very lack of ideas, the lack of vision for the future and its potentialities or the flagrant moral irresponsibility with which our societies have addressed issues like 3rd world development, social justice, equity between nations in access to the earth's ressources..

                We contend that the Harperites' obsessive, paranoid fixation on punishing (ubiquitous) evildoers deserves to be put in parallel with, for example, some of Rush Limbaugh's recent conspiratorial ravings.


                For years, I have avoided the conclusion that our leaders, hence our society, is somehow "mad". After all, can one legitimately apply concepts drawn from individual psychopathology to a collective, societal context? Not so sure about that one, me..

                But the evidence is now pressing, invasive, omnipresent. Even professional psychologists are beginning to worry about our collective mental health; we're not talking about crime here but something else, more ominous still. What is happening? For example, why, exactly, are so many people droping psychotropes - prescription, stolen, legal or illegal? Why are wacky, extremist, fundamentalist religious sects gaining political power in the US, the country that put men on the moon and began robotic exploration of the inner and outer solar system, is daily cataloguing exoplanets capable, possibly, of harboring extra-terrestrial life: is this not a worrying trend? If it is not a worrying trend, what is then..


               What we are witnessing, I believe, is an increasing disconnect-from-reality on the part of ascendant reactionary forces in Western societies. Why this is so, I don't know. In fact, none of the social scientists whose work I've consulted has been able to answer this question for me. We can, at best, merely describe this social pathology although its etiology - its origin and nature - remain opaque to understanding, at least at this point in time.

              Such was the case for the plague which ravaged Europe for centuries before people began to get a handle on controling its spread through improved public hygience, quarantine and  rodent control. Only much later was the ultimate cause of the disease isolated after the rise of microbiology.

               Social psychologist, Bob Altemeyer (University of Manitoba) has well described the "highly compartmentalized thinking" and logical incoherence (self-contradiction) so often noted in authoritarian / reactionary / conspiratorial thinkers. Exactly, why these folks are like this is anyone's guess at this stage of the game, but at least we can assess their "illness" and it's potential impacts on society.


                 It is evident, I hope, that one does not have to understand a danger in order to recognize that it IS a danger. In this case we are not dealing with a plague caused by a microbe but a "psychic plague" (Wilhelm Reich): reactionary, fascistic politics and their precursor, contemporary right wing populism. As the recent, still unfolding tragedy in Norways trumpets: our societies are sick, we are in trouble..

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Refugees: Can you speak from both sides of your mouth at same time?

            A recent  CBC radio "The Current" segment dealt with the incredible ordeal of the Benhmuda family. The father's brother belonged to a group opposing the Qadhafi regime in Libya. The cops began to hassle the brother to the point the family immigrated to Canada and sought refugee status. Reason: they feared for their lives. That's clear enough ain't it? Qadhafi is known to do bad things to people who he thinks oppose him: he's a dictator that Canada is fighting, right?
          Strange thing. After living in Canada for EIGHT YEARS  the government wackily decides to deport the family back to Libya. Why? Difficult to get info, of course (we expect this by now..): another lack of transparency in a government elected on a reformist platform with transparency a hot button issue.


           What is going on here? Check out the above link to get a feel for the irrationality of the gov's action. The Benhmuda segment is the first interview.

           To all appearances, the family members commited no crime, either in Libya or Canada. The family had integrated. A son, who considers himself Canadian, was born here. Why, then, deport them back to a hellhole like Libya? And why NOW, with a goddam WAR going on??!! 

          Fortunately the Benhmudas managed to escape Libya and now live in Malta (on assistance, poorly). They have initiated legal procedures and hope to return to Canada which they consider their home.

           But why deport them in the first place? - And after EIGHT YEARS living in Canada! Does it take EIGHT YEARS to find out if they are legit? If so, why does it take so long? - all those cuts to "bureaucratic fat"?

            Given that such behavior on the part of the Harper government is not isolated to this single case, one is in right to question whether or not a pattern is being revealed. One need only think of the truly odious Arar case,where an innocent man was shipped overseas to be tortured to extract information during the war on terrorism:


            Or the absolutely Orwellian / Kafkesque Mubin Shaikh case where a Canadian born muslim volunteered to infiltrate a terrorist cell for the RCMP leading to the dismantling of the gang, convictions and prison sentences. For his trouble - not to mention patriotism and courage - Shaikh was placed on terrorist lists in the US and Canada. LOL, will cockups never cease..


            Do we see a pattern revealed in these - to say the least! - "strange" cases and, if so, what is that pattern? Such behavior obviously demands a response on the part of responsible public servants: Harper was elected on a platform which stressed responsible government, let us not forget.

           Muslims seem to be a prime target in these and other cases. Does that mean anything? Is the government - or segments of that government - pandering to ethnocentric populist sentiments? One surely hopes not..

           In more general terms, one detects a hardening of approach to those seeking refugee status in recent years. Is Canada still the "compassionate nation" we so like to pride ourselves on being? Or have our values imperceptibly shifted? Do we, for example, afford a higher priority today than formerly to economic immigrants, those bringing money to Canada in exchange for citizenship?

           Is Canada STILL the "compassionate nation" we so like to pride ourselves on being? To you to decide, dear reader..

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Transparency: The Dirty Window needs cleaning.

             The RCMP is investigating "G8 summit legacy fund" spending, citing a troubling lack of transparency in the administration of $50 million allotted to the riding of federal cabinet minister Tony Clement. Once again, the Harper government - elected on a platform of "law 'n order, transparency and responsible governance"- has left many with a bitter taste in the mouth through its blatant failure to live up to either the spirit or the word of its electoral commitments.

               Acting federal auditor John Wiersema recently decried the virtual total absence of a papertrail in the allocation of  G8 summit legacy fund monies: 

"Wiersema called the complete absence of documentation “very unusual and troubling” and said he’d never encountered anything like it during his lengthy career as an auditor."

               "Never encountered anything like it during his lengthy career as an auditor". That statement alone deserves a moment of quiet reflection. Just think who preceeded the Harperites: the Chrétien government and its procurement scandal! 

               LOL! You come off smellin' like s--t in comparison with THOSE guys! That ain't good. That definitely ain't good. Just think! It was exactly the public's disgust with the antics of THOSE guys which helped elect Harper and his crew in the first place! 

             And now.. and now, we find out that the Harperites are even creepier than the Chrétien crew: "never encountered anything like it during his lengthy career as an auditor"..


             Jeez! Are we being taken for another ride by another wing of the Old Boys Club?  

              And such transparency issues are a recurring problem with this government: this is not so much a glitch as a trend. Going back to March, accusations of attempting to hide the true costs of its budget policies flared, setting the stage for the last election. Guess we just like being whipped by these guys..


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Crysotile Asbestos: transparency or the lack thereof

          Asbestos, the insulating fiber, is a known carcinogen. The crysotile variant is less so but requires special handling to prevent inhalation of the carcinogenic fibers. Canada exports the fiber to third world countries like India from mines in Québec. The trade has been denounced because the "special handling to prevent inhalation" is rarely, if ever, achieved in the third world. See, for example:


           Why then does the Harper government continue to support the international trade in crysotile fiber when it is well known that lives in third world countries are being lost to lung cancer and other respiratory illnesses as a result of exposure to the fibers in unsafe working conditions? It is like a man profiting from selling hypodermic needles to junkies with the argument, "well, I don't know what they use them for". Out of sight, out of mind: it's a crappy morality..

           Less we be accused of Left wing bias - US?? - it should be noted that Canadian unions don't come out smellin' like roses either. As a group they have been internally paralyzed by Québec unions in the industry who have placed local job security over 3rd world health and lives. Short term logic of course: we save our jobs in Québec and to hell with Asian workers. Did no one tell them of "Divide and conquer!"

Friday, June 10, 2011

Tacky, tacky, tacky..: the face of populism in Canada

           Magnificent example of populist rabble rousing! Krista Erickson stands up for the "little man" - the eternal Taxpayer - against that nasty liberal / artist Margie Gillis. Gillis manages to come off with some dignity despite the ambush - good thinking Margie!


          Students of Authoritarianism (or aspiring führers), study the video carefully! Observe how Gillis' past statements are ripped out of context - "Canada not a compassionate society" - and then used to beat up Gillis. The internal dialogue of the viewer is being artfully programmed here by spinmeister Erickson: Oh! what a naughty, arrogant woman! how unpatriotic! and how terribly, terribly ungrateful, taking a million dollars from the Taxpayers in grants (over 39 years and for salaries for many aspiring artists, admittedly) and then claiming Canada is "not compassionate", tsk, tsk, tsk.. Oh, yes, it's all there, all the tools of the demagog's trade, masterfully - and yet apparently instinctively - deployed: the misquoting, the baiting, the rabble rousing followed by pandering to the baser instincts roused. Beautiful Krista, beautiful, you are a master..

           Aside from the tactics employed, the video is also a showroom of the populist psychology on many different levels (astute observers could list more):

- reduction of life to the purely quantitative: how much is it worth?

- behind the rhetoric of  hairy chested "individualism" and the incessant cant of "freedom" (or "democracy" in foreign affairs), the desire to suppress the natural diversity of opinion found in modern societies, the constant pressure to conform to rigid normes and to force others to adopt herd normes of conduct, belief, life-style, occupation..

             Presently reading "The Authoritarians", a free access online text by an American prof of psychology teaching at the University of Manitoba, another recommended window into the populist / authoritarian mentality:


(One wonders why he chose to do his research on authoritarianism from a base in Canada given that he is American and the US seems to be the major current source of authoritarian thinking on the continent. Did his topic of research put him in the way of too many stray bullets.. )

Internal blog link: later article on Krista's bullying populist attack on the arts


Monday, May 30, 2011

From the "Incredible but True!" file: Shameful!

             Vic Toews, federal public safety minister apparently feels that the private sector profits trump the welfare, the health or the safety of citizens:

At a time when distressed flood victims in Quebec’s Richelieu Valley were urging the federal government for more troops to help deal with the crisis, Ottawa refused to send in additional soldiers, saying it would put them “in competition with the private sector.”


             It appears that the bottom line - despite patriotric machismo - is, well, the bottom line.. What a travesty of the word "citizen" we have here! In a State shrunk to the point it "could be drowned in a bathtub", the citizen is finally reduced to the status of a mere "client", a "consumer" of State services. A purely mercantile relation. At the limit, the poor "citizen" (client), who does not have the wherewithall to purchase services, does without. Witness the progressive - sureptitious - privitization of the health services.. death by a thousand cuts.. Yet another example of the mercantile psychology behind neoconservative ideology at work, transparently, in the open.. "From the mouths of babes".. Toews you are an innocent..

"I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."


Friday, May 20, 2011

Transparency and Murphy's Laws

                    Murphy's Laws

1- anything that can go wrong will go wrong
2- anything that can't go wrong will go wrong
3- any attempt to correct for failures of type 1 or type 2 will, by increasing the complexity of the system, increase the sources of failures of type 1 and type 2

          As the "failsafe" nuclear power plant security failures in Japan have demonstrated clearly since 11 March, "failsafe" security measures don't work. We live in a universe ruled by Murphy's Laws!

          Take the case of poor Mubin Shaikh.


           This fellow, well intentioned and / or hopelessly naive, offered Canadian security agencies (CSIS, RCMP) his services as a mole within the radical Islamic community in Canada. His goal, he says, was to be a better-than-average citizen and personally run the risk of ferretting out terrorists plots. Weird. Pollyanish, maybe, but brave, at least (I mean, these dudes are willing to kill innocent people: what might they do to a mole if they found out? Would you do it..) At any rate, Shaikh's services led to the conviction of theToronto 18 plot members.

             Normally, the guy should get a medal, right? He volunteered to put himself at risk to serve his country, etc. So how was Mubin Shaikh rewarded for his time, effort, courage? 

              According to a wiki-leaks document, Shaikh was amply "rewarded" for his services by being place on one or more American terrorist suspect lists. Note: I don't make this stuff up! - I simply don't have enough imagination.. However, I imagine this type of incredible cockup must have led engineer Murphy to formulate his famous Laws: engineers apply scientific theories to practical situations and thus are forced to deal with all the vicissitudes and perversities of the material world.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Transparency: neocon "Voter Suppression" tactics imported from U.S.

         Harper and company promised "law 'n order, responsible government and transparency", right?

          How's this for "transparency"?  Anne Lagacé Dowson:

"The Conservatives’ latest voter suppression tactic is what is called "robo-calling" – fake phone calls directing voters to the wrong polling stations. These calls are standard operating procedure for Republican right-wingers in the U.S. Now they are apparently part of the Tory playbook.
The calls went out to ridings where the races were close, and where the difference between winning and losing is a couple of hundred votes. People were told to go to the wrong place to vote in B.C., Manitoba, Ontario and the Atlantic region. The phone messages told voters that their polling place had been changed because of high turnout. Elections Canada never calls people like that, but most people trust such a call when it comes."

           To my way of thinking - which apparently is not that of the Harper crew - being "transparent" means being open, honest, above board in dealing with others. It means probity, frankness - yes, at times it's needed, "telling it like it is". Above all, transparency is the opposite of dissimulation, "dirty tricks". And these are U.S. Republican style dirty tricks: not a good sign. One talks the moral "high road" and walks quite a different way..

            At this early date, Elections Canada has been informed of the dirty tricks played the last few weeks of the campaign but has made no judgement. Rogue Conservative supporters may, of course, be responsible but this remains to be proven.. See, for example, CBC radio's The Current, May 11, 2011 for a discussion with an American author who wrote a book about his work as a Republic hatchet man (he spent time in prison for it):


Thursday, May 5, 2011

A STRANGE PUZZLING ELECTION - More questions than answers

         As we expected, the Conservatives won with a big majority.

         Division of the vote on the Left between Liberals and the NDP let Conservatives walk up the middle.


          The election left Big Losers and Big Winners.

The Big Losers

The Liberals: their lowest percentage of the popular vote in history. Leader Ignatieff, defeated in his own riding, fell on his sword and quit politics. What will now become of the beleaguered, once mighty, Liberal Party? It leaves the impression of a wounded animal crawling off to die..

            Some pundits suggest a fusion of the Liberal Party and the NDP to create a unified party of the Left (as the Right did years ago with fusion / hostile takeover of the "Red Tory" Progressive Conservatives by the neoconservative Reform - Alliance). Other, more pragmatic voices claim that a fusion would destroy the former: the Liberal right wing - business - would rush to the Conservatives, fleeing the socialist hordes. The future of the traditional party of the center is, at best, uncertain..

The Bloc Québécois: A truly monumental defeat, giving new meaning to the saying "going down in flames". No one saw leader Gilles Duceppes' loss of his home riding: he, like Ignatieff, bows out, leaving the political scene in defeat. What will happen to the separatist movement in Québec? Will it die? No one can say..

The Big Winners:

Finally! Elizabeth May, head of the Green Party, wins a sole seat. Will she be able to leverage her win into a national paradigm shift on environmental issues? Good luck, Elizabeth!

Jack Layton's Orange Wave: Why did the NDP spike so quickly the last two weeks of the campaign? Why did the wave begin and crest so high in Québec, formerly closed to NDP wooing because of the Province's "made-in-Québec" brand of social democracy? Why did the Orange Wave spread to other parts of the country? Was the wave just another example of "social mimicry", the recent democracy movements in the Middle East serving as role-models? If so, this would suggest there is an underground current of fear, frustration, rage and desire for change waiting to be tapped by emerging social / political movements..

           The election raises more questions than it answered, revealing fracture lines of fear and distrust, revealing also an alien political landscape for which we possess no maps..

            For the first time in history the Reds have been denied the role of Official Opposition by Jack's neophyte Orange team. A first! - but what does it really mean for the long run? Does the Liberal rout indicate a fundamental shift in our political perspective: a potentially creative polarization of Canadian politics between a neoconservative Right and a "Social Democratic", possibly green, Left? Or did people vote for Jack merely in protest? Only time will tell if the Orange Wave was a fluke created by circumstances or a real paradigm shift..

            Just as puzzling is the role Québec now finds itself in: undefined! Not only did the Orange Wave begin there but more than half of Layton's team hail from la belle province - no one, but no one, saw this coming. To be effective the Orange team will need to reach across the linguistic divide and develop a common political vision and strategy. This alone could - potentially - usher in a new era of Canadian federal politics. Decades ago, in their heyday, the centrist Liberals played this bridging role. Now the role of bridge builder falls to a party of the Left. How will this reconfigured political map play out in the decades of environmental / ecological turmoil ahead? One can only speculate!

            One thing seems certain though: the Bloquistes, the Liberals and the NDP itself will have a long stretch ahead to discover their new roles, formulate new goals and try out new strategies in this political Wonderland we have suddenly fallen into. They will all have their work cut out for them too: with their strong majority, the Harperites will feel their hand free to do pretty much as they see fit..

            One thing I think we can count on: the unexpected.

Attendre l'inattendu! / expect the unexpected!

Politics is the art of the possible

Politics is the realm where Murphy's Laws have their fullest, most complete and most diversified expression