News for progressives

Go on, get happy: A path to well-being in 2018

Rabble News - Wed, 2018-01-03 11:57
Penney Kome

Every day I try to do something, one thing, for the first time. The action can be as small as hearing a new song or noticing a new author, or it can be as challenging as learning a new line dance or exploring a new city (or a new part of Calgary). This tiny daily goal helps me stay alert to what I'm doing.  

When my goal is simply to try something new, I don't worry so much about whether I'm doing it right. This approach eased my anxiety when I tried skiing or roller-skating, for example. Instead of wanting to be terrific right away, I'd achieved my goal just by trying.

By accident I had found a happiness skill. "Trying out" is one of the skills that the new Action for Happiness charity teaches. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, has agreed to be the patron of an ambitious program that includes local Action for Happiness evening classes in towns all across the U.K. The Tibetan Buddhist leader is reaching out to offer classes everywhere the English internet reaches.

"We believe that creating a happier society requires a fundamental shift in values," says Action for Happiness, "away from our current culture of self-obsessed materialism towards a society which is more loving, positive and collaborative."

Lest this sound too touchy-feely and New Age-ish, a recent article says that business should also see happiness as a skill. Under the headline, "These are the 4 skills you need to master to be happy," Jessica Stillman described Resilience, Positive Outlook, [paying] Attention, and Generosity as key attributes of happy people, no matter where they work.  Of course, listing skills is a whole lot easier than acquiring them, especially resilience.

Stillman drew on neuroscientist Richard Davidson's work, supplying machine readings that corroborate what Action for Happiness preaches -- that the most powerful way to reap happiness is through Generosity (Stillman) or more simply, Giving (Action for Happiness).  

Action for Happiness says that one of the problems is that Western society has been urged to seek happiness in the wrong places -- in the marketplace.  Their classes teach people how to switch their moods and release irritants, rather than drowning their sorrows through self- indulgence. That way, a person can really pay attention to the people they meet.

Action for Happiness explains this approach is, "[a]bout our fundamental philosophy of life -- choosing to treat others well, put our strengths to good use and live a positive life with meaning and purpose."

In short -- I'm on my own soapbox here -- the current competitive, individualistic economic system works to separate us from one another, in order to sell each household (that can afford it) a separate set of everything from cars to espresso machines. Especially in these disruptive times as jobs and whole industries disappear, the system actually encourages friction between individuals -- disruption -- in order to keep the economic engines firing.  

Meanwhile, privileged First World individuals and health-care systems deal with soaring rates of injury, illnesses and mortality rates. Whatever products the TV and online ads are selling, they don't seem to bring happiness, much less longevity.

On the other hand, science, psychology and spirituality all say that social harmony is what actually fosters personal happiness. Genetics account for about half of a person's temperament, says Action for Happiness. Economic and environmental circumstances account for another 10 per cent. The person's attitude determines the rest, 40 per cent, of how the person feels.
Of course, researchers have to contend with a conundrum -- should they believe a person is happy, just because they say they are? Neuroscientist Richard Davidson, who works with specialized electronic instruments, says that self-reported happiness correlates closely to objective data collected through brain scans and heart and breathing measurements.

Socially, different countries report different happiness levels, with Denmark the happiest country in the world. Perhaps Action for Happiness classes have appeal in Britain because Britain's happiness levels are the same as they were in the 1950s. Action for Happiness notes that, "[i]f Britain was as happy as Denmark, we would have 2.5 million fewer people who were not very happy and 5 million more who were very happy."

One huge factor in personal happiness is trust in the society and government. Unfortunately, as the Brexit vote shows, people in the U.K. have been unhappy with growing inequalities.  

"The most important external factors affecting individual happiness are human relationships," says Action for Happiness. "In every society, family or other close relationships are the most important, followed by relationships at work and the community.

"The most important internal factor is mental health. For example, if we take 34 year olds, their mental health at age 26 explains four times more of their present happiness than their income does." Odds are that one in four persons will suffer a depression in their lifetime.

Often, a depressed person's first instinct is to avoid other people, running away from other people, the very resources who could and should provide comfort. Richard Davidson produces charts and graphs to prove that Generosity is a powerful happiness generator. Action for Happiness offers 10 Keys for Happiness, the GREAT DREAM for short. And the GREAT-ness begins with Giving.  

The GREAT DREAM of a self-directed program is available online as "10 Keys to Happier Living," which is an acronym and a mnemonic for Giving/Relating/Exercise/Awareness/TryingOut/Direction/Resilience/Emotion/Acceptance/Meaning. These behaviours are the recipe for happiness. Note that making lots of money isn't even on this list.  

By espousing pro-social actions as a path to personal happiness, Action for Happiness emphasizes the long-term futility of fanning hatred or even distrust for one another. "Empathy is a part of our nature," explains the website. "If a friend suffers an electric shock, it hurts in exactly the same point of the brain as if you yourself suffer an electric shock." In this philosophy, any blow against another is a blow against yourself, and kindness to others is self-defence.

While the Happiness classes focus on individuals, the long-term strategy is to improve mental health around world -- a long-overdue force for unity, to counter the horrendous political, economic and climate changes that have ripped 70 million refugees from their homes and set another 150 million migrants desperately looking for better options than their homelands offer. From such trauma could come endless generations of embittered and vengeful terrorists.

We know that as fear and terror are contagious. As the Dalai Lama explains on video, happiness is contagious too. "First we make the person happy, then the family, then the community, and then the nation."

Neuroscientist Richard Davidson says that even short stints of cognitive behaviour therapy -- deliberately making short-term changes in how our brains process information -- can alter our long-term happiness level. Although some of us begin our journey farther behind the start line than others, we all can improve our skills. "Improving our well-being is no different from learning how to play the cello," he says on this video.

Davidson says that brain change is within our control, just by cultivating positive thoughts and keeping our minds constructively occupied. He cites a study where subjects were phoned randomly with three-question quizzes. Results said that 47 per cent of the time people weren't paying attention to what they were doing, and that they judged themselves to be on the lower end of the happiness scale. The researchers concluded that "A wandering mind is an unhappy mind."

Mindfulness is one way to keep focus -- making the effort to pay attention, to be present in mind and spirit as well as body -- but that can be exhausting. Modern life is designed to distract us from mindfulness, allowing us to zone out on our electronic devices.

Meditation makes mindfulness easier. Meditation can be as quick and focussed as the Five Senses Scan. And a guided meditation is as portable as our phones.

This Five Senses Scan video has a guided meditation that takes six minutes. The exercise of re-connecting with each sense at a time (hearing, smell, taste, touch, and sight) can be done in four or five minutes. It's kind of a reset button for negative thoughts.

Another little self-care trick is, of course, trying out something brand new, especially in winter, when it's so easy to get stuck in a rut. The good news is that the longest night of this very cold winter has passed. The bad news is that a season of political and climate turmoil lies ahead.  

Buddhists say that misfortune is inevitable but suffering is chosen. Now they and science are showing us ways to put aside suffering so we can be clear-headed in facing some of the challenges ahead. Praise the bored and pass the information. Happy New Year! Hallelujah!

Image: VOA/Wikimedia Commons`

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Categories: News for progressives

Iran - Protests Decrease - Riots Increase - U.S. Prepares The Next Phase

The riots and protests in Iran continue for a 6th day. While "western" media claim that the protests are growing I see no evidence for that in the various videos that appear online. The legitimate protests over price rises, failing...
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The Fraud of Freud

by Jimmie Moglia for the Saker blog I first read Freud’s writings when, probably unconsciously, I believed that if everybody says the same thing, it must be true. Freud’s extraordinary
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Three key digital rights milestones from 2017

Rabble News - Tue, 2018-01-02 22:17
January 2, 2018New Year, New Fight: 2017 in review and the battle ahead for digital rights2017 was a rollercoaster for internet advocates worldwide, filled with both exciting, hard-won victories and devastating decisions that will have ramifications as we come into the new year.
Categories: News for progressives

New Year, New Fight: 2017 in review and the battle ahead for digital rights

Rabble News - Tue, 2018-01-02 22:13
Civil Liberties WatchTechnology

2017 was a rollercoaster for internet advocates worldwide, filled with both exciting, hard-won victories and devastating decisions that will have ramifications as we come into the new year. Let's look back into three key milestones in the digital rights realm from 2017 to better understand the challenges and battles that lie ahead in 2018 -- and how netizens can be part of the momentum.

April 2017: The CRTC ruled against zero-rating, the practice in which Big Telecom can select certain apps and services that don't count against your data cap -- dictating your online experience for you and privileging those with big pockets who can strike backroom deals to make their services data exempt and more accessible. Zero-rating violates net neutrality, the principle that all content on the internet should be treated equally -- preventing ISPs from engaging in trickery such as throttling, blocking or paid-prioritization of sites and services.

What's next?

After the FCC voted to repeal Net Neutrality in the U.S. in December, it became clearer than ever that this decision would be immediately felt north of the border (and worldwide) and could easily jeopardize Canada's own net neutrality rules -- especially with the upcoming Telecommunications Act review. Rather than relying on case-by-case decisions that side with net neutrality protections, this year we'll have to fight for the federal government to enshrine net neutrality in our federal law.

June 2017: Bill C-59 was announced, with some big improvements to the reckless, dangerous and ineffective Bill C-51 that Canadians had long fought against. Some of the big improvements included a new pan-government review body for our spy agencies and a narrower definition of "terrorist propaganda" -- so that this term no longer encompasses activities like peaceful protest and artistic expression.

However, Bill C-59 fell short of addressing some of the most troubling aspects of Bill C-51, such as extensive information-sharing provisions between government agencies. It also makes no mention of protecting our right to encryption -- a vital aspect of our security -- nor protecting us from mass surveillance devices like Stingrays, which were found to be used by the RCMP illegally in the past. Generally speaking, Bill C-59 is far from the repeal of Bill C-51 which thousands of Canadians have been relentlessly fighting over the past few years.

What's next?

A Parliamentary committee is currently discussing reforms to the national security legislation, so this is our chance to make significant improvements to C-59 and hopefully get rid of some of the most terrible aspects of its predecessor. At OpenMedia, we'll be turning our attention to the SECU committee to demand robust privacy protections. Canadians can submit their personalized letters here, and we'll include them in our witness statement. We'll be testifying on February 8.

November 2017: The European Parliament civil liberties committee voted against core dangerous proposals for content filtering a.k.a. censorship machines (Article 13 in the European Commission's copyright draft proposal) -- a move which would have had seriously detrimental consequences for online freedom of expression and innovation for all internet users, not just in the EU. This has been one of OpenMedia's longest and hardest fought campaigns, rallying over 135,000 people to speak up against censorship machines and the Link Tax as part of the Save The Link campaign.

What's next?

The controversial Link Tax -- a proposal which seeks to charge news aggregators for displaying the snippets of text that usually accompany links in search results, is still on the table. But one more critical vote in January could axe it. So we'll be following the issue closely and in the meantime, people can contact their MP and urge them to completely sweep censorship machines and the Link Tax off the table at:

Stay tuned with OpenMedia's latest updates on Facebook and Twitter.

Marie Aspiazu is a Campaigner and Social Media Specialist for OpenMedia, a non-profit organization that works to keep the internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free.

Photo: Dave Maass/flickr

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Digital Freedom Updatenet neutralityinternet neutralityBill C-51bill c-59freedom of expressioninternet surveillanceMarie AspiazuDigital Freedom UpdateJanuary 2, 2018Digital issues at the top of MPs' agenda as Parliament resumesDigital rights and the government's proposed reforms to Bill C-51 are top of mind for many Canadians as the House of Commons resumes for its fall session.Will the long overdue Bill C-51 reform finally give Canadians the privacy protections they deserve?The Trudeau government has finally delivered on its long-awaited promise to reform Bill C-51, but the changes don't go far enough.Net neutrality masks the threat of tech monopoliesNet neutrality has become the banner waved by those trying to save the unique virtues of the internet. Unfortunately, there's more gatekeeping on the internet than just by ISPs.
Categories: News for progressives

Moveable Feast Cafe 2018/01/02 … Open Thread

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Social work professionals face creeping fascism in 'unfit to practice' policies

Rabble News - Tue, 2018-01-02 18:23
Bonnie Burstow

On April 12, 2017 the regulatory body for social workers and social service workers in Ontario -- the Ontario College for Social Workers and Social Service Workers -- posted a news update on their website, announcing an imminent change to their regulations. The change in part provides "the College with the authority to request information and documents related to the Continuing Competence Program at any time." (bolding in original) It further notes: "Members are already required to make a declaration in the CCP [Continuing Competence Program] at their annual renewal of registration…This addition to the Registration Regulation allows the College to request information and documents related to a member's CCP at any time." (italics in original -- see here)

It goes on to state, that it is "[i]mproving language in the current regulation so that all applicants are required to indicate whether or not they suffer from any physical or mental condition or disorder that would affect their ability to practice social work or social services work in a safe manner." (bolding in original)

 Drawing on what is at this point a frighteningly easy-to-recognize code word -- unfit to practice -- finally, the College states, "The new wording furthers the College's public protection mandate by ensuring that members are fit to practice in a safe manner."

On the surface, the direction being taken here may seem like a good idea. After all, who would want "incompetent" social workers out there practicing?  People, say, lacking in communication skills, practitioners who commonly exhibit poor judgment, people hopelessly Eurocentric, or worse yet, sexually predatory social workers. However, a closer look, with more critical eyes, is needed to discern what is really happening. For the most part the College is not looking for predatory social workers. They are not on the lookout for racist social workers. Despite the addition of the words "physical illness," they are not weeding out people too physically ill to manage their job (though obviously, the physically ill and physically disabled are likewise in jeopardy).

 They are on the hunt for social workers who in the eyes of the establishment have a "mental illness." In the process, they are in essence requiring any professional who has ever been given a psychiatric diagnosis (as most everyone who has ever seen a psychiatrist has been) to declare that diagnosis. Correspondingly, they are reserving the right to require data and information about this, in their words, at any time.

Is this general direction new? Alas, it is not -- just an intensification of a direction already in place. What is being called "unfit to practice" is becoming an ever-increasing feature in regulatory governing not only for social workers but for most of what is known as the "regulated professions." Perfectly capable professionals routinely lose their professional standing and livelihood by just such regulations. By way of example, in their ground-breaking research into current regulation in nursing, Chapman, Poole, Azevedo, and Ballen  (2016) document how such information, regulations and processes are being used against perfectly capable nurses, with the professionals in possession of such information using it to harass these colleagues, to place their colleagues under hyper scrutiny, with the inevitable result being that all actions of the jeopardized nurses end up interpreted as signs of mental illness and many highly capable nurses eventually lose their right to practice.

Let there be no mistake about it. This is a loss to society. At the same time, this does unnecessary and irrevocable damage to the professionals so treated. 

The critical point to keep in mind here is that, whatever credence you do or do not afford the concept, "mental illness" has nothing to do with safety, despite the regulatory bodies so naming it. There is no proof whatsoever that professionals with psychiatric diagnoses are any less safe than any other professional. By the same token, despite the facile conflation of "mentally ill" with "incompetence," it has nothing to do competence. Someone with a psychiatric diagnosis may or may not be incompetent, just as any other professional may or may not be. What we are witnessing in short is prejudice and oppression pure and simple. We are witnessing ableism. We are witnessing "sanism." We are likewise seeing incredible short-sightedness -- for the truth of the matter is that people in touch with their own personal difficulties have a tendency to be better helping professionals -- not worse ones.

I would add that it is not only the helping professions that are taking systematic measures to weed out people whom they see as mentally ill. Just as the helping professions are calling such practitioners "unfit to practice" and creating regulations which make it easy to get rid of them, institutions of higher learning (universities and colleges) are calling students deemed mentally ill "unfit to study" and progressively placing them on "mandatory leave." Hundreds of universities around the world have just such polices and most of those that do not are aggressively  considering them (see, for example, University of Toronto's recent "mandatory leave" proposal; for an in-depth critique  of University of Toronto's  proposal, also see here) And it is all of this together which I am dubbing "creeping fascism."

To quote in regard to these phenomena from a previous publication of mine:

There is a historical echo here that is unmistakable. While I am well aware that the people applying these policies are not intending this echo and indeed would be shocked at the suggestion of it, I cannot but notice that "unfit to study" and "unfit to practice" are on a continuum with "unfit to live" -- or to use the more common designation, "life unworthy of life" -- a concept that ushered in the systematic murder of Jews, "mental patients" and others during the Nazi era, with the eradication of "mental patients", significantly, coming first, paving the way for the others. (For one of the earliest and most influential articulations of this fascist concept, see Binding and Hoche,1920; for an analysis, see Lifton, 1986.)

Now to be clear, I am in no way equating these measures or in any way comparing them -- for the differences are enormous. Nor am I imputing what might be called "intent."  However, I am suggesting that they exist on a continuum. I am likewise suggesting that with this extension of psychiatric rule into areas like academia and into professions like social work and nursing (both, not coincidentally, "regulated professions"), what we are witnessing is creeping fascism -- hence the title of this piece. 

Alas, it is all too easy for the fascistic nature of such measures to go undetected for it is not the blatant fascism that we hear about on the streets in Charlottesville. It is not hatred. It is rather, to coin a phrase, "respectable fascism." Indeed, it bears all the marks of being kindly as well as responsibly intended. All the more reason we need to be on the alert.

That noted, to return to the proposed changes with which with this blog article began:

Since the news of the regulatory change in question was posted on the website of the College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers, an ad hoc group has coalesced to oppose what is happening. When one of the members of this ad hoc group contacted the College to talk, his objection was purportedly trivialized and put down to mere miscommunication (as if the very knowledgeable social work professor in question was not fully capable of deciphering what he was reading). By the same token when another professor associated with this group talked to a representative of the College and asked about the mandatory reporting, she was advised purportedly (in a tone that suggested that the information being given should be reassuring) that there was no problem here, that the College was just keeping this information on file in case it became of use later. Interesting! And just how long are they intending to keep it? It would seem indefinitely. 

Question: Does anyone feel reassured by the clarification provided by the College? Does anyone believe that the information which the College is allowing itself to keep indefinitely will not substantially bias and bias indefinitely how the practitioners' actions and words are interpreted? And with whom might this highly sensitive information be shared? Given that people of colour are disproportionately diagnosed as mentally ill, is not the reporting that the College is requiring going to lead to even less social workers of colour practicing, ergo, more social workers dealing in colonizing ways with groups and cultures that they do not understand? Is not the very act of compelling the self-reporting of personally sensitive and prejudicial information a flagrant invasion of privacy? If this is how officials at the College treat their colleagues, how do they treat their clients? How is it that folks with criminal records can have their record expunged in the fullness of time, while practitioners who have committed no crime whatsoever have to live with a record that sits in a computer and can be trotted out and used against them at any time? How can a society which places a value on freedom tolerate such ongoing and intrusive scrutiny?

If at this point, you too are becoming alarmed, I would invite you to protest what is happening here. Consider giving the College and pivotal members of the legislature a shout and letting them know that when the College resorts to measures like this, they are not safeguarding the welfare of the public -- rather, they are eliminating some of our best workers, placing all workers under surveillance, and in the process making the lot of us complicit in oppression. Correspondingly, if you are someone who advocates for human rights, do think of getting involved, for human rights are blatantly at stake.

Finally, if you are a social worker, or indeed, a member of any of the other "regulated health professions," whether or not your profession or provincial professional association has yet formally adopted policies of this ilk, a word to the wise: beware, be prepared, organize.

Photo: Kennisland/flickr

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A Happy 2018 To All Moonkind

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Access to clean water a luxury for some First Nations reserves

Rabble News - Sat, 2017-12-30 04:03
Krystalline Kraus

I recently went to a movie and one of the pre-screening ads was about donating to a global charity that helps people get access to clean water.

As I watched the ad, I wondered how many people in that packed theatre knew that it is not only communities in developing nations that struggle for access to clean water. The very same issues are true for some reserves.

"Two-thirds of all First Nation communities in Canada have been under at least one drinking water advisory at some time in the last decade," according to a CBC News investigation, and it has not gotten much better in 2017.

"The longest-running water advisory is in the Neskantaga First Nation in Ontario, where residents have been boiling their water for 20 years," says the CBC report. In second, third and fourth place are the Nazko First Nation, Alexis Creek First Nation and Lake Babine First Nation, all of which are in British Columbia and have struggled with water issues over the past 16 years.

Not that your average Canadian would know about these water issues, even though Canada is now a part of the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

It's literally Canada's dirty little secret that needs exposing.

I would like to believe that if Canadians truly knew that access to clean running water was a luxury for some, they would not stand for it.

It's something that the Trudeau government can barely admit to, even though it was an official campaign promise, when a large part of the "Indigenous vote" went to his campaign with the promise that he would bring positive changes to First Nation reserves.

The good news is that Ontario has pledged to spend $85 million to clean up the damage that mercury poisoning has caused to the Grassy Narrows and White Dog First Nations in Northern Ontario. Victims of the Attawapiskat effect, these reserves are a far enough distance away from Ottawa that they have been willfully ignored until this year.

The federal government also announced that it is planning on building a health centre in Grassy Narrows to treat the victims of mercury poisoning.

Clean water statistics an embarrassment

"Between 2004 and 2014, 93 per cent of all First Nations in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick reported at least one water advisory in their communities," notes the CBC investigation. "Alberta is close behind at 87 per cent."

While there are lots of reasons why a nation might be potentially under a boil advisory, access to clean water is something I would like to believe no one in this country should have to worry about. A combination of anything from a problem with an aging water treatment plant to the repercussions of mining or pipeline spills can all foul the water.

These issues of course only account for acute water treatment problems, not the decade-long boil advisory that some First Nations are under.

Speaking to the CBC, Cindy Blackstock, director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and associate professor at the University of Alberta, said, "You end up with a real sense of despair and stress in these communities."

In the CBC investigation, Lalita Bharadwaj, an associate professor in the University of Saskatchewan's School of Public Health, said governments have spent at least $2 billion on the issue between 2001 and 2013, but the problems remain severe. Bharadwaj "said a more targeted approach is needed, along with better communication between government and First Nations."

The CBC also spoke with Emma Lui of the Council of Canadians, who stated that, "Chronic government underfunding of water systems is to blame for the lack of progress (....) a national assessment commissioned by the federal government found $470 million was needed per year over 10 years."

All this damage to people's health, not to mention the stress of not having access to clean water to bathe a child or take a sip from the tap (and not because a First Nation is being picky about what type of bottled water they prefer over tap water) takes its toll on a community.

Trudeau made an election promise to end boil water advisories on First Nations within five years of being elected, so I'm still holding out hope that he will not just throw money at the problem but will provide clean water to communities while letting Canadians know that there is a problem in the first place.

So far, though, it doesn't look promising. One-third of First Nations people living on reserves use drinking water systems that threaten their health, an investigation by The Globe and Mail has found. 

In fact, the water crisis in Walkerton, Ontario, in 2000 that poisoned 2,300 and killed seven made headline news so why not this issue?

Because environmental racism is responsible for keeping the magnitude of the problem from being widely known.

Environmental racism, for those who don't already know, occurs when political bias affects a community's ability to tackle concerns like clean air and clean water. It's frankly embarrassing that Trudeau has to make such a promise to Indigenous communities in the first place.

Environmental racism can only be combatted by environmental justice, which would mean politicians being honest about the problems in their province as well as nationally.

Together with the sympathy that is raised for othered communities around the globe, this approach could turn a healthy eye onto the problems Canadians need to tackle in their own backyard, including dealing with the shame that this is even an issue in this G8 country.

The fact that a mother from Grassy Narrows reported to Human Rights Watch that she cannot bathe her daughter at home because of water quality issues should make us take pause that these issues need to be tackled in under five years.

Photo: philografy/flickr

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