Thursday, November 29, 2018

A Sendup That Cuts To The Bone

Marie at A Puff of Absurdity recently posted on the dysfunction, debasement and corrosiveness that social media has wrought in human relationships. The following seems like an apt complement to her post:

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

A Powerful Voice Is Stilled

It was Henry David Thoreau who said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation."

Harry Leslie Smith was not part of that mass of men. Harry, who I wrote about several times on this blog, has died at the age of 95.

Smith, who escaped early British poverty and later moved to Canada, found his voice late in life, a voice that many heeded and were inspired by.
He was 91 when his bestselling memoir-cum-polemic in defence of the welfare state, Harry’s Last Stand (2014), was published, winning him a mass following in Britain’s ascendant left and beyond.

Harry became a regular commentator in newspapers, a fixture at speaking events in both Britain and Canada, and a prominent champion of the British Labour party. In the build-up to the 2015 general election, he recorded a party political broadcast for Labour on the NHS, and during the campaign he toured constituencies to drum up support for the party.
To get a sense of the horrors he faced as a youngster, you need only watch the following:

After the war, Harry and his wife moved to Canada and started their family, and for the last 20 years he divided his time between Canada and Britain. To appreciate his impact in Canada, you need only click on the link at the start of this post. No fan of the neoliberalism and austerity favoured by people like Stephen Harper, he was not quiet in his opposition, an opposition borne of his poverty-stricken early days. And it was in this opposition that he reached entire new generations of people on both sides of the Atlantic:
Harry became one of the biggest social media stars in British politics. Within several years, he had sent more than 80,000 tweets and accrued over quarter of a million followers. His widely shared tweets were on a variety of topics: fighting austerity and privatisation, opposing western military interventions, and challenging racism and fascism. He was increasingly preoccupied with rising xenophobia, as demonstrated by the increasing popularity of Nigel Farage and Donald Trump, and saw disturbing parallels with the rise of interwar fascism.
Harry Leslie Smith's was a powerful voice that has been stilled. May he have a well-earned rest, and may his words continue to inspire people to look beyond the cheap rhetoric so many politicians favour and fight for the justice everyone deserves.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Alberta Dishonours Itself

As much as I may strive to be a critical thinker, sometimes things happen that tempt me to succumb to certain stereotypes. Take, for example, the notion that many Albertans are rednecks. As you will see in the following, some are certainly sending that message to the rest of Canada. They should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Kim Jong Un Comes To Canada

Well, at least his spirit has. Kim, you may recall, despite the increasingly smiling face he presents to the world, is not a man to be crossed. Just ask those who are the first to stop clapping at one of his military cult rallies. Or ssk his uncle what happened when he fell out of his nephew's favour. (Spoiler Alert - you can't ask them. They are no longer with us.)

Kim's success as a dictator derives from fear, a fear that is cultivated and sustained by a massive surveillance apparatus. And here in Ontario, or Fordlandia, as I like to call it, it would appear that the Doug Ford government has learned some quick lessons from the North Korean dictator's playbook:
The Progressive Conservatives fear some disgruntled MPPs are set to cross the floor to join the Liberals, the Star has learned.

That’s a key reason why Premier Doug Ford is increasing the threshold for official party status in the legislature from eight MPPs to 12, a senior source says. A single defection would give the seven-member Liberal caucus official status.
Based on careful surveillance, Ford's fears seem to be well-founded.
“There are at least two we’re concerned about,” a senior Conservative insider said, speaking like others from the Liberals and PCs on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal machinations.

“We’ve been watching this closely,” the PC source said, declining to reveal which MPPs are suspected of plotting to defect except to say that two are from the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.
“No less than seven members want to get out,” a third senior Conservative operative told the Star on Friday.
The fears are based on careful Kim-inspired practices:
Ford’s office closely monitors Tory members. Sources say they track who applauds in the legislature and watch for MPPs who do not quickly leap to their feet for ovations after the premier or ministers respond to opposition inquiries during question period.

“They keep tabs on everything,” said a fourth Tory .... Two party aides noted that speaking out in caucus meetings is also discouraged because they don’t want anyone to undermine team unity.
Another source of fear, as I noted the other day, is PC MPP Amanda Simard, who has grown increasingly vocal about her disenchantment over the reduction of French services in Ontario, touted as an austerity measure:
While the rookie MPP received permission from Ford’s office to publicly dissent on Facebook to help quell outrage among voters, she has not been seen at Queen’s Park since Wednesday.
On Friday a second Tory close to Ford said “we have not heard back from her.”
In my previous post, I suggested Simard will be facing a demotion as a lesson to others about speaking out. Surely it is the path that mentor Kim would follow, except were it in his hands, there would be no opportunity for rehabilitation.

Doug Ford - for the people, or at least those who give him unqualified, unconditional support.

Friday, November 23, 2018

The Idiot-in-Chief Tweets

But, as usual, he spouts arrant nonsense, designed to be cheered by the equally abjectly ignorant:

Thursday, November 22, 2018

A Spark Of Integrity

If one follows politics closely, it is easy to become quite jaded. On almost daily display are scenes of arrogance, condescension and the corrupting influence of power. We are reminded of those sorry aspects of our species regularly by Ontario's Doug Ford government, one I hesitate to label by any other name, as it seems increasingly to be a one-man show.

However, once in awhile we are reminded that there are still those who place principle over ideology and demagoguery, who realize their larger obligation is to the public good, not their political masters.

This was made evident earlier this week in the tale of Doug Ford's chief of staff, Dean French, a name you may have heard recently as the one who arranged for the firing from OPG of Alykhan Velshi, whose 'crime' appears to be his status as the former chief of staff to Patrick Brown.

French's latest foray into crossing lines has become public knowledge because of some brave insiders who reported his transgression to The Toronto Star.
Premier Doug Ford’s chief of staff ordered senior political aides to direct police to raid outlaw cannabis stores the day marijuana became legal and to show “people in handcuffs,” the Star has learned.

The edict from Dean French — an unelected political aide — in two conference calls the morning of Oct. 17 met stiff resistance from staff in the community safety ministry and the attorney general’s office, said four Progressive Conservative sources familiar with the situation.

“We’re not a police state. We don’t have the right or the ability to direct police to do anything,” said one insider who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters.
Resistance, in any form it takes when dealing with overweening governments, is to be encouraged. The next ray of hope is reflected in Progressive Conservative MPP Amanda Simard, who has found the courage to criticize her own administration:
Last week, the Ford government announced it was breaking its election promise to build a French-language university, and axed the office of the French-language services commissioner. The government said the office’s responsibilities would be absorbed by the provincial ombudsman.

In a rare move, Progressive Conservative MPP Amanda Simard released a statement on her Facebook page saying she was disappointed by the cuts.

“You have an ally in me, and I will never let you down,” Simard said in a translated version of the post. She said the cuts “disappoint me greatly, and I share this disappointment and frustration today, having initially worked internally as much as possible to reverse these decisions.”
Simard is apparently one of the few truly bilingual members of the Ford government, and is also the parliamentary assistant to Ford lapdog and Francophone Affairs Minister Caroline Mulroney.

Why is this an example of the integrity and courage we all pine for in our politicians? Make no mistake about it: she will pay a heavy price for her independent thinking. People like Ford, often described as a bully during his one term on Toronto city council, expect unquestioning fealty from all their adherents. It is the way of the authoritarian, and examples must be set when people step out of line.

Expect a demotion for Simard in the near-future. But while she may lose influence, she has achieved something far more important. She has shown that resistance is never futile, that every defiant gesture is a refusal to submit to arbitrary authority. Such is the human spirit, not yet vanquished.

One hopes Simard's example and that of the insiders who refused to defer to Dean French may serve to inspire others in the time to come.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Saturday, November 17, 2018

White Privilege On Steroids

While the Lord of the Flies criminality at St. Michael's College should upset everyone, especially the parents of students attending that prestigious institution, I find it telling that those same parents are blaming the media more than they are the school for these terrible events. Given that the tuition to this elite day school starts at $20,000, some moms, who no doubt are used to getting their way in most matters, seem to feel they should also have control over what the media reports:

I guess there are some things that even money can't buy.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Rejecting The Politics Of Expedience

A letter in today's print edition of The Star by Jack Gallop of Thornhill urges all of us to reject the demagogic politicians who expediently pander to our fears; instead, we need to heed the consensus position of climate-change scientists and act accordingly for the greater good:
For those of us who see the stark and convincing evidence that we are destroying our planet through human-induced climate change, the cry has gone out to governments to take strong action to reduce our carbon footprint before this planet we call home reaches the point of no return.

And, according to environmental science, that point is fast approaching.

But people vehemently protest when ideas such as cap and trade (a program that was working extremely well) or a carbon tax are initiated. We want action, but not if it costs “me.”

The Ford government prefers to tap into our fears and inherent self interest by stating that saving the environment will cost too many jobs and add to the cost of operating our vehicles and heating our homes. So they fight the very initiatives they should be supporting.

Rather than justifying inaction, it is government’s responsibility to lead the way in educating every citizen on the environmental emergency facing this and future generations. Instead they close their eyes to this inconvenient truth, saying they got elected on improving the economy so that’s their priority.

Nothing is more important than doing all that can be done to reverse the effects of climate change. And it is time for each citizen to insist that we are willing to inconvenience ourselves and contribute financially to government and private initiatives to save our planet.

Present and future generations will be grateful instead of cursing our stupidity and short-sightedness.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

A Cannabis Beacon

For those seeking to ingest 'the herb' legally and are looking forward to the opening of bricks and mortar stores in Ontario April 1st, Premier Doug Ford has taken all of the guesswork out of finding such emporiums. Conveniently, they will be be found within 150 metres of schools.

The real story for me, however, is the brazen contempt for truth and language that Doug and his enablers are indulging in as he betrays an election promise:
“I won’t put it besides schools like you did,” Ford said in a spring election debate to then-premier Kathleen Wynne. The Liberal government had planned to open its first state-run marijuana outlet 450 metres from Blantyre Public School in Scarborough."
That the Ford government is betraying basic safety measures to keep cannabis out of the hands of young people is not lost on some people:
“It’s troubling that Doug Ford’s latest back-door decision — this time to allow pot shops to move within a stone’s throw of kids’ schools — was done without any consultation with parents or communities,” said Deputy NDP Leader Sara Singh.
However, in the world we now inhabit, black is white and white is black. Consider the words of Attorney General Caroline Mulroney who, each time she speaks, seems to slide further and further into self-induced whoredom, as she
... insisted the guidelines, including the smaller distance buffer from schools, are in the best interest of the public.

“The purpose of these regulations is to keep kids safe and to ensure all people operating in this tightly-regulated retail system behave with integrity, honesty, and in the public interest,” she said in a statement released over the supper hour.

The hours of opening “are consistent with on-site retail stores for alcohol and will provide retailers with the flexibility to respond to local market conditions and consumer demands,” the statement added, referring to LCBO agency stores that are part of convenience, hardware and other stores in rural and remote areas where there are no liquor stores nearby.
In the corrupted currents of this world, Mulroney's words no doubt will be lapped up by those insensate Ford supporters who, like their Trump counterparts in the United States, stand by their man and his underlings unconditionally. In their cult-like devotion, they can see only one 'truth', that which is pronounced by their dear leader.

It must be nice to live with such certitude. However, for those of us who retain some critical faculties, these are bleak days indeed.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

"What Do I Have To Do To Earn A Decent Life?"

As my disenchantment with humanity and myself grows, I look for things to counteract the deep cynicism that has gripped me, things that demonstrate the resilience, strength and compassion that groups may no longer possess but individuals still do. The following is an example, the story of Jen Powley, a woman who has had MS since her teen years. Now completely immobilized at the age of 41, she faces some wrenching decisions about her future as she asks the question in this post's title.

While many might throw in the proverbial towel at this point, given the Nova Scotia government's unwillingness to allow her the means to live a decent life, she struggles on, her spirit undiminished.

She is someone we could all learn a lesson from.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Trump Picks A Fellow Traveller: Matt Whitaker

The NYT reports the following:
Matthew G. Whitaker, the acting attorney general, served on the advisory board of a Florida company that a federal judge shut down last year and fined nearly $26 million after the government accused it of scamming customers.

The company, World Patent Marketing, “bilked thousands of consumers out of millions of dollars” by promising inventors lucrative patent agreements, according to a complaint filed in Florida by the Federal Trade Commission.

Court documents show that when frustrated consumers tried to get their money back, Scott J. Cooper, the company’s president and founder, used Mr. Whitaker to threaten them as a former federal prosecutor. Mr. Cooper’s company paid Mr. Whitaker nearly $10,000 before it closed.

Mr. Whitaker’s role in the company would complicate his confirmation prospects should President Trump nominate him as attorney general.
Here is a video of Whitaker shilling for the company:

Invention Evaluation by Matthew Whitaker of World Patent Marketing from World Patent Marketing on Vimeo.

The trade commission complaint said that consumers were told they had to spend about $3,000 for a “Global Invention Royalty Analysis” to begin the process of examining an invention with the goal of getting a patent. After making the payment, the company’s clients were then pitched various packages ranging from approximately $8,000 to about $65,000.

After the company took the money, it typically began ignoring customers, who became frustrated that they were left in the dark. Mr. Cooper would often berate or threaten them when they asked questions or wanted their money back.

“Defendants and their lawyers have threatened consumers with lawsuits and even criminal charges and imprisonment for making any kind of complaint,” the trade commission’s complaint said.
And it appears Whitaker wasn't shy about throwing his wight around when people complained about the scam:
Mr. Whitaker, using his Iowa law firm’s email, told a man who had complained to Mr. Cooper that he was a former federal prosecutor and served on the company’s board.

“Your emails and message from today seem to be an apparent attempt at possible blackmail or extortion,” Mr. Whitaker wrote in August 2015. “You also mentioned filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and to smear World Patent Marketing’s reputation online. I am assuming you understand that there could be serious civil and criminal consequences for you.”
Clearly, in appointing him Acting Attorney General, Trump sees Whitaker as a kindred soul; he is now probably resting easier about the Mueller probe, given that he has now found just the man to end that pesky investigation.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Protecting Those In Power

It is to state the obvious that there are many actions going on in the background to which we are not privy. Only occasionally do we see the man behind the curtain. Some actions may simply involve efforts to protect reputations, while others have a more sinister cast, a cast that stabs at the heart of contemporary democracy. It is about the latter I write today.

As people already know, Minister of Economic Development and Trade Jim Wilson has been bounced from the Ford Ontario government, along with Andrew Kimber, Ford’s executive director of issues management and legislative affairs. The initial explanation, that Wilson was leaving his cabinet post and caucus to seek treatment for addiction issues, was put to the lie by some sterling sleuthing by Global News. It turns out that the real reason Wilson left had to do with sexual impropriety. When caught in the lie, Ford said he did it to protect the identity of the complainant, a risible ruse that merits no further discussion, but only complete contempt.

Party and political machinations being what they are, the effort to conceal the real reason for Wilson's departure is hardly surprising. What does become both surprising and alarming is when those forces whose ostensible job is to protect people become enablers of government.

Such would appear to be the case in the miasma surrounding the contentious nomination of PC Ben Levitt, who ran and lost in the riding of Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas in the last election. While the allegations about irregularities and ballot-stuffing during his nomination are not new, what is new is the report that Hamilton Police have made two arrests, but are keeping all the information about them under wraps.
Hamilton police made two arrests – yet laid no charges – in their investigation of alleged voter fraud at a Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario nomination meeting, but the lead officer said details of the probe should be kept under wraps to avoid creating “undue negative bias” toward the government. [Emphasis mine.]
Fortunately, this wholly inappropriate attempt to protect the powerful is not going unchallenged:
The Globe and Mail and CTV are seeking to unseal court documents related to the case, a move the Crown is opposing.
While the police are claiming unsealing the information could contaminate their investigation, one fact keeps emerging:
Det. Constable Jefferess ... noted twice in his affidavit the allegations involve the party that forms the province’s government.

“As this investigation involves a political party and the current sitting provincial government, the release of the contents of the applications for judicial authorizations to the various media outlets may cause the media outlets and/or the public who read the subsequent news stories to come to their own conclusions or draw inferences based on the information,” he wrote.

“This could lead to a prejudice of the potential jury pool (if charges are laid) and/or undue negative bias towards the current sitting provincial government.”
In other words the public, which should have expectation of transparency here, cannot be trusted with the information.
The Globe is seeking to unseal records relating to the search warrants and other authorizations, including information to obtain (ITO) documents, which are compilations of evidence that police present to a judge.

“This application is to further transparency because there is overwhelming public interest in ensuring that nomination rules and procedures are followed when political parties nominate persons to stand for election,” said media lawyer Peter Jacobsen, who represents The Globe.

The Globe and Mail reported previously there was a printer at the nomination meeting cranking out fake Rogers utility bills and Scotiabank statements that enabled people who were not eligible to vote to illegitimately cast ballots, according to multiple sources. In addition, there were irregularities at the credentials table, which is typically where voters are sent after encountering problems at the standard alphabetical registration stations.
It becomes increasingly apparent in this day and age that our belief that our political 'leaders' and their underlings are held in check by both internal and external processes is little more than a cruel illusion. Outside the press, an increasingly beleaguered, undervalued and underfunded check on the powerful, there seems little reason to believe that our democracy is being well-served today.

But then again, like so many other abuses to which we are privy today, will this just be met with a societal shrug of the shoulders as our increasingly infantile populace turns to the next diversion, be it found on social media, reality television, or the next titillating celebrity scandal?

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Is Left-Wing Populism The Answer?

While I personally don't see anything on the horizon to resurrect the fortunes of the federal NDP, Avi Lewis thinks he has a winning strategy: embrace populism, something he thinks could galvanize Jagmeet Singh's leadership. The key, he says, is to keep things simple:
“Why go for something that you have to explain? What populism tells you is that there are simple truths about our economy that can be communicated with great power,” said Lewis, who co-authored the environmental and social democratic treatise, the Leap Manifesto, with his wife, author and activist Naomi Klein.
While populism today seems to be the purview of the extreme right, exemplified by Trump's presidency, it is important to remember that the left has had its own practitioners:
Jan-Werner Mueller, a politics professor at Princeton University, told the CBC last week that populists can come in different ideological shades, so long as they trade in a rhetoric of divisiveness that questions the legitimacy of those who don’t share their views. “It’s always about excluding others,” he said.

For that reason, Mueller considers Hugo Chavez, the late Venezuelan socialist strongman, a populist of the left. He doesn’t use the label for U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and U.K. Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn — politicians who rail against inequalities perpetuated by unbridled capitalism, for instance, but who don’t necessarily vilify their opponents as illegitimate contenders for power.
According to David Laycock, a political science professor at Simon Fraser University, the essence of populism is the division it sees in society:
He said one of populism’s central tenets is an argument that the fundamental division in society is “between the people and some sinister elite.”

For right-wing leaders, that elite tends to be heavy-handed government bureaucrats, a media maligned as progressive and out of touch, or groups that benefit from the largesse of state handouts, Laycock said. On the left, it is the corporate elite or the wealthy few who abuse their power at the expense of the wider populace.

Laycock believes Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives are gently experimenting with populist messages, including recent statements about how the media is biased against their party. He said the NDP could do something similar with more aggressive arguments for distributing wealth or slashing subsidies to big corporations.
Michael Adams, president of the Environics Institute, questions the enthusiam wth which such an approach would be met, given how different we are from other countries:
Canadians are more likely to be union members than Americans, for instance, while people here have universal health care and more generous social programs than south of the border, he said. At a time of relatively robust economic growth and low unemployment, all this could dampen the prospects of a left populism about a corporate elite ripping off the general population.

Avi Lewis' idea is a provocative one, but I find myself made uneasy by the prospect of left-wing populism. While the right under Harper and Scheer have not been shy about 'dog-whistle politics,' all-too obvious attempts to manipulate and control their base, the suggestion that the same techniques can redound to the left's benefit suggests to me the adoption of the same kind of political cynicism that the other parties are all too happy to practise, a politics that, at its heart, sees the electorate, not as people to respect and lead, but rather to be exploited for the sole purpose of acquiring power.

We have surely had enough of that already.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Worse Than We Thought

Yesterday, friend Mound posted a disturbing piece on the fact that the oceans have absorbed 60% more heat than expected. The implications for global warming are significant, and suggest, among other things, that we have far less than 12 years to drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. If you haven't yet read it, I urge you to.

Last night Global News did a piece on the crisis, explaining in a very accessible manner the situation:

But as the Mound so tartly observes in his post, our political leaders are, of course, missing in action when we most need them. We cannot look to them for environmental salvation.