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Lame green coroplast arrows point to UCP's cozy relationship with Canadian Taxpayers Federation

Thu, 2018-01-04 13:42
David J. Climenhaga

If Jason Kenney were to become premier of Alberta, would government MLAs and ministers of the Crown be forced to dress up in pig costumes and pretend to be characters with names like Porky the Waster Hater?

Perhaps Wes Taylor, United Conservative Party MLA for the Battle River-Wainwright riding in East Central Alberta, would be just the man to meet the challenges of such a dramatic role.

This is actually a more serious question than it first might appear to a casual reader on its round, pink, porcine face.

It's easy to make fun of Taylor. Indeed, many social media users have been doing so since New Year's Day by creating amusing variations of the MLA's social media memes attacking Premier Rachel Notley and her NDP government's carbon levy. Taylor's versions of the images feature pictures of him pointing at stuff with a large green coroplast arrow that says "Notley made this more expensive."

An increase in the carbon tax had kicked in with the start of 2018, so the stunt -- whatever its merits in nuanced policy debate -- was certainly within the bounds of fair comment.

My personal favourite unauthorized variation was done with one a shot from a grocery store's bakery section. Some wag used Photoshop to make the prop read, "Galen Weston made this more expensive," an assertion for which a stronger case can be made!

Was this just Taylor's idea? There's strong reason to suspect it was inspired by two people in the UCP who have in the past held senior positions with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

One is Kenney, the party leader, who was once the CEO of Saskatchewan-based austerity missionaries. Kenney is very proud of that connection and rarely fails to bring it up at meetings with party supporters.

The other is Derek Fildebrandt, who is technically an Independent MLA for Strathmore-Brooks but in reality is a UCP Caucus member in all but title. Despite his recent legal and political woes, Fildebrandt is expected to be formally welcomed back into the party by Kenney soon, no doubt to an influential role.

Printing lame slogans attacking government spending on large pieces of plastic and photographing paid agitators standing with them beside things the organization's unaccountable leaders don't approve of is a vintage CTF tactic.

Like the CTF's fatuous and misleading "debt clock," Porky the Waster Hater is a perennial CTF favourite. The group's unoriginally named mascot is trotted out at stunts like the fake awards given to governments for supposedly wasting taxpayers' money on projects the CTF's operatives think will be easy targets -- say, original work by young Canadian scholars with little immediate profit potential.

That's why you don't have to dig very deeply into the internet to find pictures of Fildebrandt and former Wildrose Party Leader Brian Jean, in happier and more Wildrosy times, sitting in a bar holding up a large, red, coroplast arrow that reads "Prentice made this more expensive." The premier in question at that time was the late Jim Prentice, the last Progressive Conservative to lead the province.

Lazy journalists often call the CTF a "tax watchdog." It is not. The Regina-based group describes itself as a "not-for-profit citizen's (sic) group dedicated to lower taxes, less waste and accountable government." This description, however, is also largely spin. Despite reporting more than 100,000 "supporters" -- presumably mostly individuals who have donated small sums to the group -- the CTF legally has only six members, its board. If you think you're a member and you want to know how much of a pro-accountability citizens' group it is, just ask it to let you see its books.

It's fair to label the CTF a classic Astro-Turf operation.

Board members change occasionally, but the board generally includes some members with an anti-union agenda. The group consistently supports positions taken by market-fundamentalist, conservative political parties as well as what most Canadians understand to be a corporate agenda.

But after many years being handled with kid gloves by mainstream media, the group is extremely sensitive about such criticism. Its president, Troy Lanigan, accuses people who characterize it as serving the corporate agenda of being "far-left bomb throwers." Seriously.

In September last year, Kenney and other candidates for the leadership of the now-defunct PC Party, which has since been merged into the UCP, trooped obediently to a CTF press conference to sign the group's "taxpayer protection pledge" to take "immediate action" to repeal the carbon levy and eliminate the provincial deficit within one term if they form government.

The group's Alberta director boasted it uses such signatures "to pressure politicians" to maintain their fealty to the CTF's agenda. "Politicians know that if they break these promises, the images of them signing the pledges could haunt their political careers," warned Colin Craig in a news release.

The CTF has not always found so much love among Alberta's Conservatives. The late Ralph Klein, whom the UCP leader purports to admire, in 1993 accused Kenney of spreading falsehoods about his government's spending and accused the CTF of "robbing" senior citizens with its aggressive fund-raising campaigns.

According to a Maclean's account of Klein's "remarkable exchange" with Kenney in the halls of the Alberta Legislature Building, Kenney "threatened to sue the premier for slander."

It seems unlikely the CTF needs to worry about anything like that happening with Kenney now. The UCP leader is so close to the CTF one wonders if the UCP has simply become its Alberta franchise.

Are CTF apparatchiks the "experts" a UCP government would rely on to draft and set provincial policy, even law? What role does the group play in drafting UCP policy now? These are legitimate questions Kenney should be asked.

As for the lame stunts deeply ingrained in the CTF's political DNA, it's a given they will increasingly become a part of political life in Alberta with Kenney at the Opposition's helm.

There was a day when you might disagree with Alberta Conservatives, but you could count on them to behave with disdainful dignity when it came to acknowledging their political foes. That, however, was before they found themselves in opposition.

The UCP has more in common with the Wildrose Party and even the Social Credit League than the poor old PCs, who seemed like they would last forever but suffered one setback and immediately gave up the ghost.

So it's almost a given that, sooner or later, some member of the UCP caucus is going to be told to dress up as Porky the Waster Hater, at least until they have the opportunity to generate some porky waste of their own.

Surely this is something lesser UCP lights like Taylor should worry about.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

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Categories: News for progressives

New Year's Twitter attacks on fact-checking economists suggest UCP will make 2018 Year of the Big Chill

Wed, 2018-01-03 13:17
David J. Climenhaga

New Year's in Alberta blew in on a bitter winter wind.

That was the weather. However, if the United Conservative Party has its way, it looks as if 2018 will be the year of The Big Chill -- as in the chilling effect of intimidation on free expression.

That's sure what it sounded like UCP supporters had in mind when they went after a couple of high-profile Alberta academic economists, Andrew Leach and Trevor Tombe, for daring to challenge UCP Leader Jason Kenney's penchant for making up facts to bolster his arguments.

A typical example: Kenney's tweeted claim Friday that Alberta has gone through "two years of population decline" as a result of the NDP government's policies. As Leach pointed out in a tweet of his own, nothing of the sort has happened. He cheekily asked: "Which two years, Jason?"

But if intimidation was the goal of the onslaught of personal attacks by the UCP's Online Rage Machine on Dr. Leach of the University of Alberta and Dr. Tombe of the University of Calgary, it may have been a tactical error.

This could be said in particular about the extended New Year's Eve Twitter rant by Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried, elected as a Progressive Conservative and now a member of the UCP Caucus, who made what sounded very much like veiled accusations of improper activities against Leach.

After all, Gotfried and the rest of the Rage Machine were taking on two PhD economists who enjoy widespread respect on both sides of the debate over how best to manage Alberta's economy, and who both know how to forcefully and effectively stand up for themselves on social media.

"Happy to have a calm and rational discussion," Tombe tweeted back to one critic, sounding only momentarily plaintive. "But please focus on what I actually said instead of making up stuff and calling it drivel."

Leach was brisk in his responses to MLA Gotfried's bizarre demand that he produce a list of all his sources of income in addition to private tax information. The implication was obvious to all readers: that Gotfried thought Leach had not disclosed some sources of income.

Leach pointed the cranky MLA to his personal disclosure information, which is published online in accordance with the U of A's conflict of interest policies.

Gotfried responded by repeating his dark hints, and making them more specific: "… Put a transparent $ amount to this for 2016 and YTD 2017, so there are no surprises, and then Albertans can form their own opinions around your objectivity. Please include any other non-academic, 3rd party income such as Pembina, Greenpeace, Tides, Rockefeller or others."

Leach's disclosure document shows he chaired the NDP's climate leadership panel in 2015 and 2016, which doubtless infuriates the UCP, and chairs a research centre that has received funds from several major energy industry corporations. It lists all relevant paid and unpaid activities for the previous eight years.

Gotfried's retort claimed (for the second time in this exchange) he was siccing his "research and FOIP team" on the professor's personal finances. As Leach tweeted in response: "Your tax dollars hard at work #ableg."

This continued at some length. Some of the tweets were later removed by Gotfried (although, of course, screenshots of everything exist in numerous places) and some were not.

This is alarming. As blogger Susan Wright observed in a New Year's Eve blog post, Gotfried's threat to turn his research staff loose on Leach is an abuse of process and his unsavoury implications "a new low even for the UCP."

The general uproar strongly suggests Kenney's pious vow to "raise the bar" of political decorum in the province is insincere. Well, in fairness, he was only speaking about doing this inside the legislature. More seriously, it indicates that threatening and defaming credible critics who challenge the UCP leader's made-up facts will become standard operating procedure for the party. No surprise, there, of course. We've already seen them in action, and the tactics are pulled right out of the UCP's well-thumbed copy of the Republican Party playbook.

"This is a longstanding fact of life for me," Leach observed in an email conversation. "I've had similar accusations since I started doing public engagement as an academic. It used to be, I was a bought-and-paid-for shill for Big Oil. Now, it's the NDP."

"This, though, is the first time it's been carried so far by an elected official," he added, noting that the exchange with Gotfried mirrored "almost perfectly" an attack by the publisher of a notorious Canadian alt-right publication more than a year ago.

"What disturbs me most is the chill that interactions like these have to put on my junior colleagues who might have lots to contribute to public policy," Leach said.

"If you know that this is what you'll face, aren't you more likely to stay in the ivory tower?" He concluded with the observation he won't "take accusations of corruption, veiled or otherwise, lightly."

Unfortunately, he and others who criticize the UCP's light-on-accuracy approach to political discourse will likely experience a lot more of the same in 2018 and beyond.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Photo credit: David Climenhaga

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Categories: News for progressives

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

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 Inc.com 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

Three key digital rights milestones from 2017

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

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: https://act1.openmedia.org/savethelink

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

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

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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Categories: News for progressives

Access to clean water a luxury for some First Nations reserves

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

Categories: News for progressives

Our favourites from 2017: rabble's year in review

Sun, 2017-12-24 05:52
December 23, 2017rabble's year in review: 2017 editionWhat had rabble's attention this year? Here's a look at the best of the best from all our sections and more.
Categories: News for progressives

rabble's year in review: 2017 edition

Sun, 2017-12-24 05:45
rabble staff

As 2017 draws to a close, we at rabble are humbled and honoured that you've continued to seek analysis, insight, and solace in rabble's coverage of this year's events. And what a year it was! From hard-hitting news stories from civil society that go undetected in mainstream media outlets to op-eds that challenge the status quo and interviews with unyielding activists, rabble works hard to bring you news for the rest of us.

We've assembled some of our favourite, most inspiring and powerful posts from across the site in blogs, columns, books, podcasts and babble and have rounded those up right here for you. Don't miss Parliamentary reporter Karl Nerenberg's review of this year's events in Canadian politics. On our labour page, rabble.ca's outgoing labour reporter Meagan Gillmore recaps some of the stories that mattered most in 2017.

As 2017 comes to a close, you can give everyone on your list the gift of media democracy and support news for the rest of us. It's the last-minute progressive gift you've been looking for!

Please enjoy rabble's best of 2017, and have a happy holiday!


Blogging the resistance: 2017 in rabble blogs

2017 is over. Almost. For those of you who, like us, need a bit of a memory jog as we enter the new year and continue to reflect, reassess, and resist... let's recap.

Sounds of hope from rabble podcasts in 2017

For your holiday listening, some wise words from people who believe that all is not lost. The struggle continues, and is far from over.

The Activist Toolkit's fierce giving guide for 2018

According to statistics, at this time of year many of us donate to charitable organizations. This list includes ideas to help build progressive change.

Pushing back against injustice: The year in rabble columns

Through their reflections, analysis and critiques, rabble columnists brought fresh perspective -- and yes, hope -- to the challenges of a painful year. Read highlights from rabble columns in 2017.

Trudeau's 2017 ends as it began, cozying up to Trump: The year in Canadian politics

The U.S. president has had an impact on Trudeau's policies. For example, Canada shelved plans to reform refugee law and thus roll back some of Harper's draconian measures.

Looking for hope at the end of a troubling year

As 2017 draws to a close, some words of wisdom in difficult times from a trio of seasoned activists -- Chris Hedges, Angela Davis and Gerry Caplan.

Fight for workers' rights continued as laws changed: The year in rabble labour

rabble.ca's outgoing labour reporter recaps some of the stories that mattered most in 2017.

babbling all the way through 2017: Highlights from rabble's discussion forum

As 2017 comes to a close, it's time for our annual babble roundup. We asked babblers what their favourites threads were for the year and we've collected them here.

A year of progressive, purposeful eating in 2018

The New Year is just a few weeks away -- a good time for reflection. Our food columnist's resolution this year is going to be all about how to work towards sustainable eating practices.

Canada's explosive Christmas gift to the world

Every December, the holiday season is infused with militarism, from the military jet flyovers of sports events and the mini arsenal in your local toy store, to the hijacking of Santa Claus.

Photo: Julie Falk/flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

babbling all the way through 2017: Highlights from rabble's discussion forum

Sat, 2017-12-23 02:38
Meg Borthwick

As 2017 comes to a close, it's time for our annual babble roundup. We asked babblers what their favourites threads were for the year and we've collected them below. Whether it's our long-standing cooking thread (Hey good lookin', what's cookin'), our 2017 polling thread (what is it about polls that so captivates people?) or the trainwreck that is the Trump administration, babblers have a lot to say, and we value their thoughts, opinions and analysis. Never popped by babble? Come have a look at what progressives have to say, engage in debate and learn more about what's going on in the world.


North Report: Hey good lookin', what's cookin'?               

WWWTT:  NDP leadership race         

Pogo: United Kingdom

           British election June 8, 2017


babble staff: All hail the peacemakers 20           

                    Trump administration

                    Alberta politics

                    2017 polls

Meg Borthwick is the moderator for rabble's discussion forum, babble.

Photo: David Strom/flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

The last-minute progressive gift you've been looking for!

Sat, 2017-12-23 00:10
rabble staff

Dear rabble readers:

Gift shopping getting you glum? Have we got a gift idea for you! 

As 2017 comes to a close, you can give everyone on your list the gift of media democracy and support news for the rest of us.

Take a moment and make a gift of $10, $25 or more now.

As a community-supported non-profit media, rabble depends on generous donations from individuals and groups to survive and thrive. rabble has no corporate parent or primary foundation support. We have you. 

What do you spend on TV, newspapers and magazines? What about Internet costs? If each of the more than 250,000 people who visited rabble last month contributed just a fraction of what they spend on mainstream media, we could do so much. Can you donate at least a month's cost of your newspaper subscription, cable, satellite, mobile or Internet costs to independent media? It is a small gift that will go a long way. 

Plus, if you can give $8/month you could choose to receive this vital read:


The Reconciliation Manifesto: Recovering the Land, Rebuilding the Economy by Arthur Manuel and Grand Chief Ronald Derrickson, with a preface by Naomi Klein

This compelling book does what rabble works to do every day - shine a light on key issues that we collectively need to address. Independent media like rabble depends on collective support so please visit rabble.ca/donate and make a difference. And feed that bookworm while you are at it.

Thank you for reading rabble - and for your support

Warmest wishes for a joyous and peaceful holiday, 

Kim Elliott, Publisher, and all of the workers at rabble.ca 

Categories: News for progressives

Net neutrality masks the threat of tech monopolies

Sat, 2017-12-23 00:07
Civil Liberties WatchTechnology

Communications technologies have always been prone to overstatement. The creation of semaphore during the French Revolution -- those flag signals you once got Boy Scout badges for -- was going to unleash humanity's full potential for freedom! Right.

The first King's Christmas Speech on radio in 1932 (by George V, the one before Colin Firth) was hailed as: "King George Greets Whole Empire by Radio. Distant Lands Thrill to His 'God Bless You.'" It was, in other words, a new instrument of imperial domination. Canada wasn't immune. In 1935 CBC radio hit the "apogee" of broadcasting by "forging a choral chain from Halifax to Vancouver" to sing successive verses of Good King Wenceslas.

The sheer thrill of the tech often masked its darker elements. But the age of mass media, such as radio, TV and newspapers, which we're still exiting, also allowed unprecedented manipulation, and not just by Nazis. The few who ran or owned those media enjoyed one-way messaging to the masses, who had no real way to resist or reply. Those on top were the gatekeepers of information and attitudes, but few even noticed there were gates being opened and closed. It fell to marginalized critics like Noam Chomsky to make the point.

In this sinister light, the internet arrived as an incredible bounty. Why? It gave the "masses" a way to answer back, instantly, beyond puny letters to the editor. It was many-to-many communication, not just few-to-many. It would, thereby, crack the power of those infernal media gatekeepers! It would be free ranging, wide open to all opinions, not just "established" ones. It was, in the normal way, overpraised as, for instance, the greatest invention since fire!

But the internet also has dark sides: fake news (in a crasser way than Chomsky's "propaganda"), bullying, even the loss of identifiable villains, like those mass media gatekeepers. It was comforting to know who was out to manipulate you, especially if they're obvious black hats like Rupert Murdoch.

Net neutrality has become the banner waved by those trying to save the unique virtues of the internet and its heart is in the right place. The dodgy characters on the internet were always the internet service providers (ISPs). They were once smallish -- my first was Astral, or Magic, I forget.

But they're now mainly huge telcos -- Rogers, Bell etc. -- and they're the new gatekeepers. They can choke off or expedite traffic and sources -- as Russia and China do -- in the name of the common good, which they alone determine. All that diversity and wildwestiness can vaporize as it passes through the gate that is your mild-mannered ISP. It's where censorship can occur, as it did in mass media. There wasn't much that could be done then, aside from some naming and shaming.

Net neutrality aims higher: to legally forbid ISP gatekeeping, though not the gatekeepers. Let them make billions, but keep our internet open to all. This policy is what the U.S. recently abandoned, and Canada promises to maintain.

So what's not to like in net neut? Unfortunately, there's more gatekeeping on the internet than just by ISPs. Net neutrality is overstated as a battle cry because it doesn't deal with, say, the controlling, monopolistic role of the (adorably named) FANGs: Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google.

They're probably scarier than the ISPs. With their algorithms they decide the news you get, from which sources -- and most news now reaches people via social media. (If you're ever puzzled about why you suddenly got flooded by Star Wars stories, like 26 Things You Didn't Know About Darth Vader …) This outranks, IMO, angst about choking and throttling by ISPs.

FANGs are also the ones collecting your personal data and preferences, preparing a universe more pervaded and controlled than anything Orwell foresaw. Net neutrality doesn't attempt to address their power, or in a way, power itself as it exists in its rawest forms, on the net.

It's almost as if net neutrality is a rhetorical device to reassure us that all will be fine if we do this one thing, and thus take our eye off the (wrecking) ball of the FANGs and other terrifyingly mighty, so far unrestricted forces.

The indefatigable internet crusader, Michael Geist, says it at least "signals a clear commitment to placing consumers and creators in the internet driver's seat." But is a "signal" enough? To me it sounds a bit like comfort food.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: Victoria Pickering/flickr

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internet neutralitynet neutralityOpen Internetdigital technologyinternet freedomRick SalutinDecember 22, 2017In the era of Newsflix, public funding matters more than everAs news outlets struggle to survive, the obvious solution is public funding.Canadians need to plan now to fund and develop dependable media for the futureThe best solution to our growing news crisis is for governments to provide the financial support needed so that community-based online news sites will be sustainable.Net neutrality: Fighting for an Internet that has never been neutralThousands of people feel the fight for net neutrality is an essential struggle. However, it is obscuring the fundamental reality that the Internet hasn't been 'neutral' for years.
Categories: News for progressives

Trump's new tax bill marks the darkest day of the year

Fri, 2017-12-22 22:43
EconomyUS Politics

President Donald Trump is being credited with achieving the first legislative accomplishment of his presidency, pushing the "Tax Cuts and Jobs Act" through Congress. He described it as "an incredible Christmas gift for hardworking Americans," but in reality it's the largest wealth transfer from the bottom to the top in American history.

Congressional Republicans, bused in from Capitol Hill, gathered at the White House for a photo op with the president, where the serial adulatory statements showered on Trump were described by one political commentator as "nearly pornographic." Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska made a very important statement, perhaps unwittingly, congratulating the president by saying, "This is a very historic day, of course, but it's also the beginning of winter solstice … the shortest day, the darkest day."

This is a dark day for the United States. A country's annual budget is often described as a moral document, defining the nation's values. Its tax system codifies its fairness. Who pays into the system, and who reaps the rewards? Clearly, Trump, his family and his businesses will profit enormously. One essential element of this new law is that the tax breaks given to corporations and the wealthy are permanent; those given to the working and middle class are temporary.

"This tax bill is a moral and economic obscenity," Vermont's independent Sen. Bernie Sanders said. "It is a gift to wealthy Republican campaign contributors and an insult to the working families of our country. At a time of massive income and wealth inequality this bill would provide the majority of benefits to the top 1 percent and the largest corporations. Unbelievably, at the end of 10 years it would actually raise taxes on millions of middle-class families and, by creating a $1.4 trillion deficit, would pave the way for massive cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other important programs."

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan essentially confirmed Sanders' fear when he said in a radio interview in early December, "We're going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit." Undermining, eliminating or privatizing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid have been central pillars of the conservative movement for decades. By slashing federal tax revenues, Republicans are setting the stage for future deficits that will fuel their jihad to slash these programs, which are vital to middle-class and poor Americans.

Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, issued a scathing report, stating, "The tax reform package is essentially a bid to make the U.S. the world champion of extreme inequality."

One person who fears that the tax cuts will kill him is Ady Barkan. He traveled to Washington to oppose the tax bill. On his return flight, he saw Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, who has opposed Trump on a number of issues. The video of Ady peppering Flake with questions on board the flight went viral. Ady started by describing how he was recently diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease:

"I was healthy a year ago. I was running on the beach. I'm 33, I have an 18-month-old son, and out of nowhere, I was diagnosed with ALS, which has a life expectancy of three to four years, no treatment, no cure. I probably will need to go on a ventilator to live. This tax bill is probably going to force $400 billion in automatic … cuts, and Mick Mulvaney of the Office of Management and Budget is individually responsible for choosing how to implement those cuts. He thinks people on disabilities are just slackers. So, what happens, what should I tell my son, or what should you tell my son, if you pass this bill and he cuts funding for disability and I can't get a ventilator?"

The Senate passed the bill after midnight Wednesday, interrupted by protesters, many in wheelchairs, chanting, "Kill the bill! Don't kill us!" Barkan later tweeted: "Last night after the Senate vote, peaceful protesters in the gallery were telling personal stories about how this bill will hurt them and their families. And Republican Senators were laughing at them. It explains everything. They do not see our humanity."

Ady Barkan's fate is uncertain, but one thing is clear: He will continue to fight for a fair, just and equitable society. After the winter solstice, the shortest, darkest day of the year, each day grows longer, each day becomes lighter.

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

Photo: Adrian Gray/flickr

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trump administrationcorporate tax cutseconomic inequalitywealth distributionAmy GoodmanDenis MoynihanDecember 22, 2017A full inquiry into Donald Trump should cover his real crimes and misdemeanoursWhat if Donald Trump were actually held responsible for real crimes: killing civilians in drone strikes, forcing refugees to suffer or die, or driving the planet into climate change?Alabama was a good reminder of what democratic politics looks likeIn the U.S., almost everything ends up in litigation because too many Americans lack faith in social or political forces, such as elections, government, unions, parties, social movements.The problem with shiny liberalismWhat three years in the ubiquitous "West" has taught me.
Categories: News for progressives

Pushing back against injustice: The year in rabble columns

Fri, 2017-12-22 21:02
Politics in CanadaUS Politics

In 2017, Canada looked back on 150 years rooted in colonialism, while our neighbours to the south ushered in a troubling new era with Donald Trump in the Oval Office. It was a year darkened by uncertainty and fear, as the Trump administration wreaked havoc on democracy, human rights and the planet.

The frightening politics of the U.S. regime fostered new forms of reflection -- and reaction -- as citizens galvanized together against injustice. Calls for justice rang out at women's marches; in the aftermath of environmental disasters; at far-right hate rallies; in front of statues and institutions upholding a colonial legacy. This year more than ever saw the calling out of the systemic injustices that run through our social fabric.

It was also a year of pushback. Citizens pushed back against the colonialism embedded in the foundation of our country. Activists challenged the white supremacy fuelling the actions of hate groups. The #MeToo movement resisted the misogyny underpinning sexual assault and gender-based violence. People around the world united against the corporatism that is the driving force of Trumpism.

What meaning can be found in a year when the world was continuously on the brink? Where can we find glimmers of hope in the darkness? In this difficult year, rabble columnists looked to community as the site where transformative change begins. Hope is found in laws which protect human rights. It can be uncovered in re-imaginings of history through a compassionate, just lens. Most of all, it resides in all of us, catalyzed through solidarity.

Through their reflections, analysis and critiques, rabble columnists brought fresh perspective -- and yes, hope -- to the challenges of a painful year. Read highlights from the best of our columns writing below. For a complete selection, check out our columns section.

  • What is the antidote to Trumpism? How do we create a new politics that builds the basis of a citizen-based democracy to replace our hollowed-out institutions? For Murray Dobbin, the key lies in first understanding the roots of Trump's popularity.
  • It's been 150 years of Canadian politics. What comes next? Canada acquired its identity as a federal state 150 years ago. Whatever the public relations designs for marking this anniversary, we should also allow for extended critical reflection on what history has to suggest for Canadian politics today. Duncan Cameron sets the stage for looking back.
  • On independence and the niqab. Quebec's shameful embrace of a niqab ban grew out of the identity politics that followed the failed 1995 referendum to separate from Canada. Monia Mazigh unpacks the politics and the history.
  • The collapse of Sears Canada should bring change. The downfall of Sears Canada seems tragic and unnecessary, and the devastating blow to its employees should not have been allowed to happen. Linda McQuaig explains why a billionaire American hedge fund manager should personally pay benefits of terminated Sears workers.
  • Liberals' pension reforms fall woefully short for Canadian workers. While changes to the Canada Pension Plan recently adopted by the Liberal government offer some improvement, they do not go far enough. We need to revisit how retirement income is going to be funded on a secure basis, advises Doug Macpherson, so that no senior is doomed to end their life in poverty. 
  • Trudeau's torture policies no different than Trump's. The Trump administration sets the bar so low that anything which is not Trump is deemed praiseworthy and acceptable. Giving Justin Trudeau a pass just because he is not Trump creates a yawning gap between the government's lofty rhetoric and its actual policies, cautions Matthew Behrens.
  • Why we need to talk about climate change when covering Hurricane Harvey. Now is exactly the time to talk about climate change, and all the other systemic injustices -- from racial profiling to economic austerity -- that turn disasters like Harvey into human catastrophes. Naomi Klein explains why avoiding talk of the climate at these moments comes at the expense of telling the truth.

Michelle Gregus is rabble.ca's managing editor.

Photo: Liz Lemon/flickr

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year in reviewbest of 2017best of rabblecolumnsMichelle GregusDecember 22, 2017A year of rabble: 2016 editionHere's the best of our coverage from 2016, to get inspiration for fighting back in 2017.The year that was: Collective wisdom from rabble columns in 2016Make no mistake. It was a challenging year for progressives and everyone working for a better world. Fortunately, rabble's columnists were there to bring perspective to the year's events.2015's best in rabble columnsIt was a year of commentary in rabble columns, with insights from the leading progressive voices in Canada. We look back at the year in columns and highlight some of our top picks.
Categories: News for progressives

Sunny ways, rainy days

Fri, 2017-12-22 15:17
December 22, 2017Politics in CanadaJustin Trudeau had to apologize for good reasonThe PM vacationed at the expense of a person involved with a large NGO. Other NGOs should not be disadvantaged because they lack private islands to which to invite Justin Trudeau and family. Aga Khan
Categories: News for progressives

Blogging the resistance: 2017 in rabble blogs

Fri, 2017-12-22 11:15
Sophia Reuss

2017 is over. Almost. Give yourselves a pat on the back everyone, we've somehow managed to make it through another year. And what a year it's been. But you know what they say, no rest for the weary. (Don't forget to head over to our Activist Toolkit so you can figure out how to ahem, not rest.) But for those of you who, like me, need a bit of a memory jog as we enter the new year and continue to reflect, reassess, and resist... let's recap. 

January: The day after Donald Trump's inauguration as U.S. President, millions of women took to the streets to protest misogyny, sexism, racism, and all intersecting forms of oppression and violence. Our very own Samaah Jaffer spoke at the Vancouver Women's March. Read her remarks here. Read Tessa Vikander on how Black and trans folks were frustrated by lack of inclusion in the Vancouver march here. And read my own thoughts from the Washington, D.C. march here.  

February: (Well, the end of January really.) Six men were murdered by a white nationalist in a violent attack at the Islamic Centre in Quebec City. In the aftermath of the attack, Muslims across Quebec and Canada reported heightened levels of fear, given the rise of violent Islamophobic acts. 

March: We at rabble didn't hesitate to stand up to Islamophobic violence and racist organizing in Canada. In March, rabble launched the campaign to document hateful acts and engage folks in the anti-racist organizing. Since then, rabble has published 36 stories with the hashtag. Read them here

April: Earth Day isn't the only day you should care about the environment, as David Suzuki's blog reminds us each week. This Earth Day, Suzuki marched for science! Read about Washington, D.C.'s March on Science and how collective action can save the planet. 

May: The question of whether activism and journalism can go together is one that rabble rousers don't lose much sleep over. Not so for the mainstream media establishment. Read John Miller's tale of two columnists, the story of Desmond Cole's decision to leave the Toronto Starhere. And find out how all of us at rabble are doing our part to centre activist-invigorated journalism here.

Also in May, Sarah Miller reflected on the B.C. elections. Full disclosure, she voted for the NDP, read about why here.

June: Let us not forget about Canada's foreign policy decisions. Foreign policy seems to be the realm where hypocrisy looms large, thanks to that good ol' Liberal doublespeak. Read about how Justin Trudeau's foreign policy is reminiscent of Stephen Harper, and why (and how) Canada needs to do more to help the global refugee crisis. (You can talk the talk while running in exactly the other direction, apparently).

July: This year was Canada's 150th colonial birthday. But not everyone was celebrating.

Indigenous communities uncelebrated the country's unbirthday with a focus on unsettling Canada. Read about how members of the Okanagan-Syilx Nation led the Rethink 150 collective to remind everyone of the country's history of colonial oppression and violence. 

Also in July, the Ontario government finally committed resources to the tune of $85 million to clean up mercury in Grassy Narrows, where the Grassy Narrows First Nation and the nearby Whitedog First Nation have been struggling for years against environmental racism. 

(Oh yeah, and Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature...) 

August: In Charlottesville, Virginia, members of the far-right gathered for the "Unite the Right" protest. When a car ploughed into a crowd of anti-racist activists, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others, Nora Loreto reported that many were reminded of the rise of terrorist attacks involving vehicles. But workers were also reminded of the routine danger they face while walking a picket line. Read about the labour movement's anti-fascist roots here, and access our Charlottesville coverage here

September: The race for the leadership of the New Democratic Party was a hot topic across rabble this September. Why did it matter? Read Dennis Gruending's take on the election.

October: In a big win for the tireless activists, Indigenous communities, and grassroots groups on the frontline of the fight for climate justice, the TransCanada Energy East pipeline was shut down. Hear voices from that fight here.

And read about how misogyny and anti-environmentalist campaigning go hand in hand.

And importantly, read about the watershed #metoo movement here.

November: The best blog headline this year ("The real pirates of the Caribbean") is awarded to Ed Finn, who glares down the three thousand Canadian entities named in the "Paradise Papers," the name given to a leak of documents revealing the extent of transnational tax evasion using offshore tax havens. It's not pretty, but you should read about it here.

December: Despite the government's release of its much anticipated National Housing Strategy, the country's housing and homelessness crisis remains largely unaddressed. Especially in urban centres like Toronto, where all three levels of government continue to fail the city's homeless population by ignoring requests to open the federal armouries and expanding inadequate, volunteer-run programs instead of instituting meaningful change. Read Cathy Crowe's take on how the city is failing its homeless population. 

Phewf! That's all folks. Well, that's not all. A whole lot of other stuff happened that somehow couldn't make it in here, not for lack of significance or impact. Help us remember by commenting below. And Happy New Year, everyone! On to the next. 

Sophia Reuss is rabble.ca's assistant editor. 

Image: Instagram/michelle_crowe

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Categories: News for progressives

Sounds of hope from rabble podcasts in 2017

Fri, 2017-12-22 10:23
Victoria Fenner

Are things getting better yet?

Last December, we were looking ahead to the year to come with some fear and trepidation. We were still in shock after Donald Trump's win in the U.S. What were we in for? 

Well, now we know. To say it's been a challenging year is the understatement of the still-new century. But, a lot of people rose to the challenge. And though it looks like Peace on Earth is a concept which seems more elusive than ever, there are lots of people out there working to reverse the damage that has been done over many years of globalization, corporate control, and the actions of demagogues who use "democracy" as a synonym for "capitalism."

For your holiday listening, some wise words from people who believe that all is not lost. The struggle continues, and is far from over. 

1.  The sound of resistance: Three women's marches (January 26, rabble radio). Voices from a trio of women's marches on January 21, 2017, starting in Washington, and then moving up to Vancouver and Toronto. 

2. Re-evaluating Sanctuary Cities (February 28, rabble radio). Sanctuary Cities are under fire from the Trump administration and have been controversial in Canada too. Sophia Reuss and Braden Alexander talk to Jaggi Singh and Nigel Bariffe about the effectiveness of Sanctuary City motions and how they can be fixed.

3.  Surviving the gig economy -- three women's experiences (April 6, rabble radio). The gig economy is a fact of life whether we like it or not. We hear three women's perspectives - what works, what doesn't and some ideas for change.

4.  Universal basic income: Yea or nay? (Apr 20, Needs No Introduction). Will a guaranteed basic income release people from the poverty trap or keep them in it? A spirited debate exploring the issues from both sides and all points between.

5.  Bold ideas for health-care reform (May 18,  rabble book lounge). Dr. Danielle Martin talks about her book, Better Now: Six Big Ideas to Improve Health Care for All, at Progress Summit 2017.

6.  The World is Not a Machine: Redefining Power Structures (June 15, Needs No Introduction). A talk by eco-feminist, scholar and author about undoing the power structures which are destroying our world. From the 5th Annual Tommy Douglas Institute on May 31, 2017.

7.  Who am I? Bridging identities for people of both settler and Indigenous heritage (August 2, rabble radio). The issue of identity can be difficult for people of mixed Indigenous and settler heritage. With Braden Alexander, Heather Majaury, Myrriah Gomez-Majaury about integrating those two solitudes.

8. Continuing the fight for the Dreamers (October 16, rabble radio). A conversation with Christopher Torres, former National Organizer for United We Dream, the campaign that pushed Barack Obama to introduce the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

9. Reporting Democracy, Resistance and Hope: Amy Goodman of Democracy Now (October 5, Needs No Introduction). One of the high points of rabble's year was the appearance of Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now, speaking at a special rabble.ca event on October 1 in Toronto.

And, to make it an even dozen, listen to the year-end rabble radio for excerpts of three other rabble podcast bests: 

Chris Hedges: Writing as resistance

Angela Davis: Disruption is power

Gerry Caplan: Hope and despair in a mixed up world

Wishing all of you a peaceful 2018 and a year of collectively finding solutions to the challenges we're facing.

Victoria Fenner is the executive producer of the rabble podcast network.

 Photo: Max Pixel

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Categories: News for progressives

It's time to confront the invisible suffering of animals

Fri, 2017-12-22 04:31
Food & Health

At a giant pet store in west-end Toronto last week, people loaded up on gifts and stocking stuffers for their pets, and posed with them for a "family Christmas photo."

This cheerful scene only highlighted the odd disconnect between the way we embrace our pets as family while allowing animals that are similarly sweet and endearing to live miserable lives on factory farms -- and to endure horrific deaths (more on that in a minute).

Indeed, only a stone's throw from that west-end Petsmart -- where you can buy a cute pair of fuzzy antlers for your dog -- are two slaughterhouses where a daily stream of trucks arrive carrying cows, calves and sheep.

We've all seen such trucks on the highway, probably caught a glimpse of animal snouts and eyes through the narrow slats. But no one driving on the highway seems alarmed, making it easy to conclude everything is fine, that the animals aren't suffering and that their deaths will be swift and painless.

I've recently come to believe that none of these comforting thoughts is true.

At the root of our numbness to animal suffering is the notion -- unwittingly accepted by lifelong meat-eaters like myself -- that animals don't feel emotions like we do.

But Joseph Stookey, a veterinary professor at the University of Saskatchewan, maintains that a cow's love for her offspring pretty much resembles that of a human mother: "I can't see any difference," he notes.

In recent years, scientists have come to see remarkable similarities between animal and human behaviour. "Farm animals feel pleasure and sadness, excitement and resentment, depression, fear and pain," writes the renowned ethologist Jane Goodall. "They are far more aware and intelligent than we ever imagined."

 This shines a very different light on what animals are experiencing in the back of those transport trucks.

A group of activists calling themselves "Toronto Cow Save" gathers every week for a vigil in front of those two west-end slaughterhouses to comfort the animals and to "bear witness" to their suffering.

The group is an offshoot of Toronto Pig Save, which captured widespread attention after activist Anita Krajnc was charged for providing water to thirsty pigs being transported on a hot June day in 2015. Her case -- and eventual acquittal -- prompted a wave of public support, spawning the creation of like-minded groups, now numbering more 200 across North America and as far away as Brazil and Hong Kong.

Last week, to get a look for myself, I took part in a Toronto Cow Save vigil.

As each truck slowed to enter the loading dock, we could briefly reach through the slats and pat the animals, who were skittish and trembling; some were stomping. One cow eagerly licked an activist's hand.

What happens next has been captured in a powerful video filmed last summer by Toronto activist Len Goldberg through an open window at the back of the Ryding-Regency slaughterhouse.

One expects the scenes to be unpleasant. This is a slaughterhouse, not a petting zoo. Still, the video is shocking and difficult to watch.

Previously unreleased, the video clearly shows a large brown cow thrashing about on the floor, trying to get up, as blood gushes out of a gaping wound on her neck. A black-and-white cow similarly struggles on the floor, while a worker bends over and cuts her throat. Cows hoisted upside down, dangling from one leg, appear to be still moving while workers tear off their skin with knives. Blood is everywhere.

Armaiti May, a California-based veterinarian who watched the video, commented: "I was horrified to see fully conscious, alert cows writhing and flailing in agony as the blood drained from their slit throats."

The suffering visible in the video makes an eloquent case for not eating meat. Then there's the fact that the livestock industry -- processing billions of animals globally each year -- generates massive greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming.

But meat-eating is deeply embedded in our culture and the multi-billion-dollar cattle and dairy industries are powerful and politically connected, making change difficult.

At the very least, however, our systematic, largely invisible mistreatment of animals deserves much more scrutiny in the media and in Parliament than it currently gets.

After the vigil, I wander back to Petsmart, trying to return to the spirit of Christmas. I buy a nice warm coat for my dog, and struggle to put out of my mind the sweet face of a calf I petted, minutes before the truck delivered her for slaughter.

Linda McQuaig is a journalist and author. Her book Shooting the Hippo: Death by Deficit and Other Canadian Mythswas among the books selected by the Literary Review of Canada as the "25 most influential Canadian books of the past 25 years." A version of this column originally appeared in the Toronto Star.

Photo: Vladimir Morozov/flickr

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. 

livestockanimal rightsanimal rights activismanimal crueltyLinda McQuaigDecember 21, 2017Trudeau and Morneau play a risky pensions gameWorkers and retirees from federally regulated industries may be pushed into insecure pensions programs that are market dependent.Toronto Pig Save 'bears witness' to animal suffering and seeks to inspire changeAnita Krajnc, founder of Toronto Pig Save, talks about her ongoing trial and the Save Movement.Toronto Cow Save bears witness of a crippled cow at St. Helen's slaughterhouseToronto Cow Save bears witness of a crippled cow, known as a "downer" in the animal exploitation industry, at an early vigil on Monday, February 24, 2013 at St. Helen's "Meat Packers" slaughterhouse.
Categories: News for progressives

The shame of Toronto's homelessness crisis

Thu, 2017-12-21 14:32
December 21, 2017Civil Liberties WatchBehind closed doors sleeps a city’s shame: The crisis of Toronto’s homelessness Hidden behind the doors of All Saints Church is the long history of the abandonment of Toronto’s poor by all three levels of governmenthomelessnesscanadian homelessnesscanadian poverty
Categories: News for progressives



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