Sunday, December 31, 2017

Voter Suppression And Gerrymandering

Robert Reich does his usual fine job of warning about threats to American society and democracy posed by the entrenched interests who care nothing for principle and everything about the acquisition and retention of power:

Voting rights are under attack. States across the country have adopted voter suppression laws and the Trump administration could try to implement similar measures at the national level. We must stay vigilant. The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy.

Friday, December 29, 2017

When All Else Fails

... claim voter fraud. That is what the notoriously graceless Alabama loser and alleged pedophile Roy Moore is asserting, as he steadfastly maintains that he didn't lose the election to Democrat Doug Jones.

If you ever had any doubts about the cracker's racism, consider this: the main basis of his fraud claim is that he alleges
"anomalous" higher voter turnout in Jefferson County, in which census data shows 43% of the population is black. He called the county's 47% voter turnout as "highly unusual" and questioned the integrity of its election results.

Message to Moore: true and healthy democracy works when enough people care.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Not All That Surprising

Given the downright insanity that seems to pervade American evangelical circles, and given their habit of richly perverting the message of Christ, I am really not surprised that a disproportionate of them are tenaciously steadfast in their support for Donald Trump.

And that support has not escaped the withering criticism of Paul Bayes, the bishop of Liverpool, who recently said,
...“self-styled evangelicals” risked bringing the word evangelical into disrepute, and added there was no justification for Christians contradicting God’s teaching to protect the poor and the weak.

Bayes told the Guardian: “Some of the things that have been said by religious leaders seem to collude with a system that marginalises the poor, a system which builds walls instead of bridges, a system which says people on the margins of society should be excluded, a system which says we’re not welcoming people any more into our country.
Bayes' analysis of the sad state of American fundamentalism likely offers nothing new to those of us unfortunate enough to be cursed with regular media exposure to the unhinged religious who cavort with and lustily endorse the Orange Ogre. However, he does everyone a service by reminding us of how debased they really are:
“Some quite significant so-called evangelical leaders are uncritically supporting people in ways that imply they are colluding or playing down the seriousness of things which in other parts of their lives [they] would see as really important,” Bayes added.
Bayes is not alone in his astonishment and reprobation:
Last month, Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, said he could not comprehend the strength of support for Trump among conservative evangelicals in the US. “I really genuinely do not understand where that is coming from,” he told ITV’s Peston on Sunday programme.

In his Christmas Day sermon at Canterbury Cathedral, Welby criticised “populist leaders that deceive” their people, in comments interpreted as being aimed at Trump.
Both ecclesiastics have real cause for their concern:
According to the Washington-based Pew Research Center, 80% of self-identified white evangelical Christians said they voted for Trump in the 2016 election, and three-quarters have since said they approve of his presidency.

Bayes, who has been bishop of Liverpool since 2014, said: “If people want to support rightwing populism anywhere in the world, they are free to do so. The question is, how are they going to relate that to their Christian faith?

“And if what I believe are the clear teachings of the gospel about love for all, the desire for justice and for making sure marginalised and defenceless people are protected, if it looks as though those teachings are being contradicted, then I think there is a need to say so.”
One hopes that neither Bayes nor other truly religious hold their breath on that one.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Future Is Bright

For plastics, that is. For the rest of us, not so much.

Despite the terrible environmental problems posed by plastic pollution, The Guardian reports that the future will see more of it, in large part due to the enthusiasms of the fossil fuel industry.
Fossil fuel companies are among those who have ploughed more than $180bn since 2010 into new “cracking” facilities that will produce the raw material for everyday plastics from packaging to bottles, trays and cartons.

The new facilities – being built by corporations like Exxon Mobile Chemical and Shell Chemical – will help fuel a 40% rise in plastic production in the next decade, according to experts, exacerbating the plastic pollution crisis that scientist warn already risks “near permanent pollution of the earth.”

Greenpeace UK’s senior oceans campaigner Louise Edge said any increase in the amount of plastic ending up in the oceans would have a disastrous impact.

“We are already producing more disposable plastic than we can deal with, more in the last decade than in the entire twentieth century, and millions of tonnes of it are ending up in our oceans.”
The Guardian reports a shocking statistic that sets all of this into perspective: the amount of plastic produced in a year is roughly the same as the entire weight of humanity.

So why are we continuing to embrace environmental disaster?
The huge investment in plastic production has been driven by the shale gas boom in the US. This has resulted in one of the raw materials used to produce plastic resin – natural gas liquids – dropping dramatically in price.
That, of course, translates into even bigger profits for the corporate giants who fuel the industry.

Left undiscussed in the article is the other element that makes this madness almost unstoppable: our own addiction to the convenience of living a disposable lifestyle. Why have to worry about holding on to containers for return, when you can just toss that water bottle in the recycling (only a small percentage of which are actually recycled), trash bin or simply on the ground?

There are answers to this problem, but neither industry nor consumers want to hear them; ergo, few governments will attempt any remediation.

As usual, nothing new or hopeful to report about the future.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Not At All Like His Father

That is the opinion of Star letter-writer Colin Languedoc who, along with Mubashir Rizvi, shares my disappointment in Justin Trudeau's craven capitulation to bullying by Donald Trump and his minions.

Canada sits on its hands for UN vote, Harper, Dec. 22

Tim Harper’s excellent column about the UN vote denouncing the U.S. embassy move brings into sharp relief how badly our federal government is representing Canada.

Instead of taking a principled stand and joining most other countries in condemning the move, Ottawa abstained from the vote to avoid annoying the Trump administration.

What makes this episode particularly pathetic is the contrast between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his father. When Pierre Trudeau was at the helm, he did not hesitate to set out positions diametrically opposed to Washington on international controversies like the Vietnam War and relations with Cuba.

This issue shows how far the apple has fallen from the tree.

Colin Languedoc, Toronto

Canada abstains on UN’s rebuke of Trump’s plan, Dec. 22

I was shocked that Canada chose to abstain from voting at the UN vote calling on the U.S. to withdraw its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

As a Canadian, I was hoping for a better response from my Liberal government than what the previous Conservative government would likely have done.

Canada has prided itself in playing a more progressive and just role in the illegal usurpation of Palestinian lands by the state of Israel. But all that belongs to the good old days. The Liberal government appears to be more interested in appeasing U.S. President Donald Trump than doing the just and rightful thing.

With the UN vote, Canada could have demonstrated that it stands with the rest of the world in condemning this move. It is speculated that Canada did not vote because Trump threatened the U.S. would be watching.

However, just as Trump and his divisive administration were taking names, so was the rest of the world, including Canadians like me. And what I saw made me wonder how far Canada has deviated from our principled Canadian positions. I expected more from my Liberal government.

Mubashir Rizvi, Pickering

Friday, December 22, 2017

Is There No Bottom To Canada's Shame?

Apparently not, if you are talking about the craven, rudderless and unprincipled Trudeau government that is making us all look bad.

As reported by CBC, a toadying and craven Canada is accepting the above Haley invitation, a thank you for not opposing the Trump resolution to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital:
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley is throwing a party for all the countries who didn't vote against the United States on its controversial bid to recognize Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel — and Canada plans to attend.
Given the cost to Canada's principles and reputation, I hope it is an exceptional party that Mr. Trudeau et al. feel is worth the heavy price of admission.

Thursday, December 21, 2017


I wonder if there have been any reports of unusual seismic activity in Canada today. If there have, they would likely be the consequence of the Trudeau government's massive boot-quaking in the face of a bully.

While 22 of the 28 EU countries, including the UK, France and Germany, voted for a UN resolution rejecting the Trump government's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, Canada abstained.

Likely, they were intimidated by the muscle-flexing bullying of Nikki Haley, whose rhetoric was reminiscent of, and faithful to, tinpot dictatorships far and wide:

UPDATE: In this morning's Star, Tim Harper has this to say about Canada's abstention:
Canada ... was the only G7 nation beside the United States that did not vote to condemn the move by Trump.

In Canada’s case, an abstention does send a message, because the Trudeau government, like the Stephen Harper government before it, has slavishly backed the U.S. in voting against UN resolutions perceived to be anti-Israel.

But overwhelmingly the message sent by an abstention was that Ottawa didn’t want to be there, didn’t want to take a stand, wished that this would just go away.
Sure looks like cowardice to me.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Facing Hypocrisy

Last month, I read an article by the redoubtable George Monbiot that left me both shaken and, for a period of time, quite depressed. It forced me to face some unpleasant and inconvenient truths about people like me, and left me with the realization that when all is said and done, I am a hypocrite.

Entitled Too right it's Black Friday: our relentless consumption is trashing the planet, the article took away what little comfort I felt about my own 'green' practices. Hardly a rampant consumerist, I believed I was doing my part by respecting the earth's limited resources, buying only when necessary, being prudent about my water usage, driving only when walking is impractical, and being mindful of the overall environment.

In the overall scheme of things, it turns out those efforts are largely illusory in impact:
The ancillary promise is that, through green consumerism, we can reconcile perpetual growth with planetary survival. But a series of research papers reveal there is no significant difference between the ecological footprints of people who care and people who don’t. One recent article, published in the journal Environment and Behaviour, says those who identify themselves as conscious consumers use more energy and carbon than those who do not.
How can that be, I asked myself. Monbiot has the answer:
Because environmental awareness tends to be higher among wealthy people. It is not attitudes that govern our impact on the planet but income. The richer we are, the bigger our footprint, regardless of our good intentions. Those who see themselves as green consumers, the research found, mainly focused on behaviours that had “relatively small benefits”.

I know people who recycle meticulously, save their plastic bags, carefully measure the water in their kettles, then take their holidays in the Caribbean, cancelling any environmental savings a hundredfold. I’ve come to believe that the recycling licences their long-haul flights. It persuades people they’ve gone green, enabling them to overlook their greater impacts.
While I am hardly one of the wealthy Monbiot identifies, that last paragraph gets to the heart of the matter as it pertains to me. Air travel is the poster child for greenhouse gas emissions.

Back in 2013, The New York Times put it this way explained it this way:
One round-trip flight from New York to Europe or to San Francisco creates a warming effect equivalent to 2 or 3 tons of carbon dioxide per person. The average American generates about 19 tons of carbon dioxide a year; the average European, 10.

Though air travel emissions now account for only about 5 percent of warming, that fraction is projected to rise significantly, since the volume of air travel is increasing much faster than gains in flight fuel efficiency.
David Suzuki explains it this way:
...since 1990, CO2 emissions from international aviation have increased 83 per cent. The aviation industry is expanding rapidly in part due to regulatory and taxing policies that do not reflect the true environmental costs of flying. “Cheap” fares may turn out to be costly in terms of climate change.
And even more alarmingly:
A special characteristic of aircraft emissions is that most of them are produced at cruising altitudes high in the atmosphere. Scientific studies have shown that these high-altitude emissions have a more harmful climate impact because they trigger a series of chemical reactions and atmospheric effects that have a net warming effect. The IPCC, for example, has estimated that the climate impact of aircraft is two to four times greater than the effect of their carbon dioxide emissions alone.
In 2017 I had, in total, four air trips: two to Cuba (one last January and one at the start of December, one to England, and one to Edmonton, where my son lives).

Here's the thing: I want to have at least one escape from winter each year. I want to visit my son out West. I want to see more of the world before I depart from it.

Of course, the problem here is obvious. Each of the above sentences begins with the same subject and predicate, and that gets to the heart of the problem (elevating my wants over the needs of the collective) and hence, my own hypocrisy (take a look at how many post I have under the climate change rubric), doesn't it?

Sunday, December 17, 2017

He Who Controls Language, Controls Thought

“A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”

–George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language,” 1946

Given some very troubling developments in the U.S., the prescience of George Orwell, and his special concen about the manipulation of language to influence and control thought, are especially relevant today.

Jem Burkes put it this way:
George Orwell, like many other literary scholars, is interested in the modern use of the English language and, in particular, the abuse and misuse of English. He realises that language has the power in politics to mask the truth and mislead the public, and he wishes to increase public awareness of this power. He accomplishes this by placing a great focus on Newspeak and the media in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Demonstrating the repeated abuse of language by the government and by the media in his novel, Orwell shows how language can be used politically to deceive and manipulate people, leading to a society in which the people unquestioningly obey their government and mindlessly accept all propaganda as reality. Language becomes a mind-control tool, with the ultimate goal being the destruction of will and imagination.
Since his election, Donald Trump has worked hard to disparage the media, his stock response to all coverage that displeases him being the dismissive "fake news." A hallmark of incipient fascism,, there are also slightly more subtle methods taking place to bring about changes in language that will serve not only to tighten freedom of expression and range of thought, but also alter the culture of some important American institutions. One of those institutions is the Centers for Disease Control.

The New York Times reports the following very disturbing development:
The Department of Health and Human Services tried to play down on Saturday a report that officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had been barred from using seven words or phrases, including “science-based,” “fetus,” “transgender” and “vulnerable,” in agency budget documents.
A quick denial by an agency spokesman asserting the primacy of evidence-based decision-making has done little to quell fears for some very good reasons:
The Washington Post [has reported] that C.D.C. policy analysts were told of the forbidden words and phrases at a meeting on Thursday with senior officials who oversee the agency’s budget. Other words included “entitlement,” “diversity” and “evidence-based.”

In some cases, The Post reported, alternative phrases were suggested. Instead of “science-based,” or “evidence-based,” The Post reported, “the suggested phrase is ‘C.D.C. bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.’’’
While some are suggesting that the interference with language is only to assuage Republicans during the budgeting process, others see much darker implications:
A former C.D.C. official, who asked not to be identified, said that some staff members were upset because the purported ban suggested that their work was being politicized.
Dr. Vivek Murthy, a former Surgeon General, expressed concern.

“Whether this is a directive from above is not clear,’’ he said. “But for C.D.C. or any agency to be censored or passively made to feel they have to self-censor to avoid retribution — that’s dangerous and not acceptable. The purpose of science is to search for truth, and when science is censored the truth is censored.”
I would argue that the threat goes beyond censorship and political pandering. Every institution has a culture. (Think of education, law enforcement, the tech industry, etc.) If such constraints at the CDC become entrenched, something that will inevitably happen if employees eventually understand them to be one of the conditions of employment, its entire ethos will, over time, mutate and increasingly become simply and exclusivity an arm of government and its inevitable biases, in the case of Trump, the pandering to the rabid and religious right.

When that happens, be prepared to bid farewell to anything remotely resembling evidence-based research. Diseases and projects skewed toward that which is anathema to the reactionaries will pay a very heavy price indeed.

Friday, December 15, 2017

It Doesn't Have To Be This Way

Should he find the federal leadership of the NDP not to his taste, I suspect that Jagmeet Singh has more than one career option to fall back on. He could, of course, return to his law practice, or he could embark upon an entirely new path and become a New Age life coach. He'd be a natural.

Consider the relentless positivity the man exudes. There was, of course, his much-viewed and much-praised response to racist heckler Jennifer Bush during a campaign rally in Brampton last September. Rather than engage her madness, Singh offered the following:
“What do we believe in? Love and courage,” he said. “We believe in an inclusive Canada where no one is left behind. We believe in building a Canada that ensures that there is economic justice for everybody.

“We welcome you. We love you. We support you … we believe in your rights,” he said, as the crowd chanted “love and courage” – a slogan used by Singh’s leadership campaign.

The encounter ended after several minutes when the woman decided to walk away.
Few except the irreparably bent would find much fault in his classy reaction. However, the fact that similar rhetoric was Singh's response to his party's defeat in four-recent byelections, as reported by Chantal Hebert, may be cause for concern:
On the morning after his party endured a quadruple byelection beating, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh had this to offer on Twitter: “Each and every one of us has an inherent self worth. Nurture and grow it. Give it time and love. Build a courageous belief in your own self worth and you will have the strength to overcome any challenge you face.”
Like two warring factions, the critical thinker in me says these two examples are insufficient to constitute a pattern, while the cynic within fears they may; in which case, style and platitudinous rhetoric threaten to overwhelm principled policy, a phenomenon not unheard of in contemporary politics.

But the pity is, it doesn't have to be this way.

While on holiday last week, I took some time to catch up on my Walrus reading and came upon an article that examines contemporary socialism. Entitled Socialism Is Back. Is the NDP Listening? the piece, written by Ira Wells, argues that the party can achieve victory by returning to its principles.

Citing the resonance of Bernie Sanders' message during his run for the Democratic nomination and the very impressive electoral gains made by Britain's Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn, Wells believes that the death-of-socialism narrative that has been promulgated over the years is overblown and inaccurate:
Over the past few decades, the assumed victory of laissez-faire capitalism over socialistic alternatives has been the sine qua non of Western economic policy. Austerity, de-regulation, de-unionization, trade liberalization, tax cuts—the free-market fundamentalism underlying these policies is not, we are told, a contestable ideological position, but rather economic reality. Anyone who dares challenge the essential wisdom of the market is labeled an irresponsible fantasist, unworthy of the people’s trust. In fact, partly due to Corbyn’s leadership, pollsters predicted a historic victory for the incumbent Conservatives (who were going into the election with a majority), saying that they could see their strongest electoral showing since 1979.
Far from the predicted ascension of right-wing nationalism, 2017 has seen a generational revival on the left. An increasingly educated electorate is capable of repudiating the atrocities perpetrated in the names of Marx and Lenin while also recognizing that specific, achievable goals—a livable minimum wage or guaranteed annual income, universal healthcare, reduced income inequality—are properly called socialist goals, and that their realization would enable better lives for more people.
Demographics and circumstances, Wells suggests, makes this the ideal time for the embrace of policies that truly and unapologetically serve the needs of the people:
As the dream of home ownership recedes further into the realm of fantasy, young, urban voters in Canada could be receptive to housing policy akin to Corbyn’s right-to-buy scheme, which would regulate rental markets and guarantee tenants the opportunity to buy their homes at subsidized mortgage rates. At a time when more young Canadians than ever are attending post-secondary education—and when more parents than ever are paying for that education—tuition relief policies, embraced by both Sanders and Corbyn, could also resonate here. And as the Trudeau government approves more pipelines and encourages further tar sands development, space emerges on the left for a more credible environmental policy.
The promise of Justin Trudeau's Liberals has proven to be more sham than reality. The NDP, if it is willing to bide its time and replace a lust for power with principled policies that will resonate with a wide cross-section of Canadians, it can once more become a real presence in this country.

I'm just not sure Jagmeet Singh is the person for the job.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

On Public Asset Sales

Selling off public assets that yield steady and lucrative revenue streams is rarely a good idea. In Ontario, Kathleen Wynne did just that with 60% of Hydro One so she could claim a balanced budget. It is a betrayal I will never forgive her for.

As I have written previously, Justin Trudeau would like to do the same thing, for similar reasons, with our major airports. It is a very bad idea, as are most of the schemes promoted by neoliberals.

Happily, the possibility of relief from such madness is shimmering on the horizon:
A Parliamentary committee is recommending against the Liberal government’s plan to sell off Canada’s airports to raise billions in capital to be used towards other public infrastructure projects.

“Limit rising passenger and operational costs by preventing the privatization of Canadian airports,” the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, said in its report of the Pre-budget consultations in advance of the 2018 federal budget.
The committee's report, Driving Inclusive Growth: Spurring Productivity and Competitiveness in Canada
summarized the strong opposition to airport privatization by various stakeholders, including the Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC), which believes that the sale is near-sighted and will result in significantly higher costs for airlines and passengers.

“Recent experience in such projects, for example in Australia, has resulted in costs per passenger to increase by 50% in the decade following airport privatization,” ATAC told the committee in a briefing. “To add insult to injury, the government would impose a huge new burden on our industry and its passengers while not reinvesting one penny of the billions generated back into aviation.”
Empirical evidence like this should carry much weight, but the Trudeau government is refusing to release the privatization study by Credit Suisse Group AG that it commissioned. Therefore, whether such disquieting facts were even considered is unknown. This unwholesome secrecy is opposed by the National Airlines Council of Canada, which is calling for open and public discussion around the entire issue.

I seem to recall Justin Trudeau, upon taking office, promised an open and transparent government. What a difference two years in office have made to that promise, eh?

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Nothing New To Report

Here is a perfect illustration of why unfettered capitalism and ethics are incompatible:
Canada’s national pension fund manager is among a group of Canadian companies that are undermining the federal government’s international anti-coal alliance by investing in new coal power plants overseas, an environmental organization says.

Friends of the Earth Canada joined with Germany’s Urgewald to release a report today looking at the top 100 private investors putting money down to expand coal-fired electricity — sometimes in places where there isn’t any coal-generated power at the moment.

The report lists six Canadian financial companies among the top 100 investors in new coal plants in the world. Together, Sun Life, Power Corporation, Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec, Royal Bank of Canada, Manulife Financial and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board have pledged $2.9 billion towards building new coal plants overseas.
The fact that the corporate world extols maximum profit at any cost largely limits government goals on climate change mitigation to the aspirational:
While Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is claiming to be a global leader on phasing out the dirtiest of electricity sources, private investors are “undermining that commitment,” says Friends of the Earth senior policy adviser John Bennett.

Canada and the United Kingdom last month teamed up to launch the Powering Past Coal Alliance, trying to bring the rest of the world on side with a campaign pledge to phase out coal as a power source entirely by 2030 for the developed world and 2050 for everyone else.
Clearly, this post reveals nothing new, eh?

Saturday, December 2, 2017