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Canada's explosive Christmas gift to the world

Thu, 2017-12-21 02:40
Civil Liberties WatchPolitics in Canada

A few days before Christmas in 1988, I was dressed as Kris Kringle, sitting in the back of a police squad car, my hands tightly cuffed behind my back, my glasses fogged up, and my beard itching like crazy. Outside, I could hear people asking over and over again: why have they arrested Santa Claus?

A few moments earlier, I had been inside a major Toronto toy store resisting the militarization of children, along with five other Santas and two elves, all of whom would also be arrested in a major police takedown that made the holiday-adorned shopping centre look more like a scene out of CSI. We were removing war toys from the store's shelves and placing them in garbage bags. Toy machine guns, missiles, grenades, sniper rifles, and tanks were among the various "fun" things being promoted as the perfect gift during the season of peace and good will to all.

The criminalization of Santa came in response to our concerns that war and militarism were being promoted as an inevitable but nonetheless harmless game, the first rung of recruitment into a militarized culture where young people would either be active participants as little GI Joes and Janes, or bystanders desensitized to the real thing when they saw it on the news.

The connections between playing at war and war itself were made painfully obvious in those days by none other than the always befuddled President Ronald Reagan (the slightly more refined Trump of another generation). In a speech at Disneyland, Reagan famously declared that:

"I recently learned something quite interesting about video games. Many young people have developed incredible hand, eye, and brain coordination in playing these games. The Air Force believes these kids will be outstanding pilots should they fly our jets. The computerized radar screen in the cockpit is not unlike the computerized video screen. Watch a 12-year-old take evasive action and score multiple hits while playing 'Space Invaders,' and you will appreciate the skills of tomorrow's pilot."

Militarizing the holidays

Every December, the state-sanctioned holiday season is always infused with an unhealthy dose of militarism, from the military jet flyovers of sports events and the mini arsenal that's always available in aisle four of your local toy store to the hijacking of Santa Claus by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which "tracks" Santa and "accompanies" him with fighter bombers. It's an insidious propaganda game that inculcates children into an acceptance of the heavily acronym-ized world of militarism that includes NATO and similarly violent institutions. Indeed, children are encouraged every December to call NORAD, which has operators standing by to answer Santa-related questions. The people answering those calls are normally engaged with systems integrated into nuclear war fighting schemes.

As Eric Schlosser writes in his frightening book, Command and Control, it has often been false alarms from NORAD that have led the world to the precipice of nuclear Armageddon. But Santa-tracking is a brilliant piece of deflection and distraction that normalizes NORAD as a friendly, protective umbrella shielding us from the dangers "out there."

Indeed, the Santa-tracking website that hosts children's games tells tiny tots that:

"NORAD makes a point of checking the radar closely for indications of Santa Claus leaving the North Pole every holiday season. The moment our radar tells us that Santa has lifted off, we begin to use the same satellites that we use in providing air warning of possible missile launches aimed at North America….Rudolph's nose gives off an infrared signature similar to a missile launch. The satellites detect Rudolph's bright red nose with no problem."

While Rudolph is not quoted -- nor is Santa or Mrs. Claus (who many believe has long been a member of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom) -- NORAD continues with its insidiously packaged bedtime story, claiming Santa is accompanied by Canadian C-18s and U.S. F-15s, F-16s, and F-22 fighter planes, all of which have been employed to drop bombs on the children of Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, the former Yugoslavia, and other parts of the globe. "When the jets intercept Santa, they tip their wings to say, 'Hello Santa! -- NORAD is tracking you again this year!'" the story continues. "Santa always waves. He loves to see the pilots!"

And in a last bit of colonialism, NORAD reminds children that Santa "will visit everyone (i.e. Afghanistan, Israel, non-Christian countries)… Santa visits all homes where children believe in him." No data is provided to document how many Santa-believing children have been murdered by the bombing runs of these warplanes.

Agents of peace selling weapons systems

Meanwhile, Canada's emcee and leading bedtime storyteller, Justin Trudeau, spent a very busy year playing Santa Claus both to recipients of corporate welfare, as well as some of the globe's worst human rights violators. Supplying presents that explode, obliterate, lacerate, behead, burn and disable women, children and men, the Liberals have wrapped up their role as the Canadian weapons industry's global pimp in lots of pretty paper. As Trudeau said with no trace of irony at the Vancouver "peacekeeping" summit last month, Canada will be "agents of peace in a world that sorely needs it…. we'll protect the world's children, empower women and girls, and build a more peaceful and a more prosperous world."

To underscore that message of hope and peace, just before Parliament shut down for winter break, Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland gushed with joy at the announced opening of weapons sales to the brutal regime in Ukraine. Meanwhile, as part of a year-end Middle East tour, War Minister Harjit Sajjan inked a "defence cooperation agreement" on December 18 with the torture-stained regime of the United Arab Emirates, which detained and tortured Canadian citizen Salim Alaradi for two years. The agreement promises new training opportunities and "defence engagement," code words for weapons sales.

The day before, Sajjan promised more support for the Jordanian regime, which according to Amnesty International's latest report, continues to:

"[r]estrict the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, and detained and prosecuted critics and opponents under criminal defamation, blasphemy and anti-terrorism laws. Torture and other ill-treatment continued in detention centres. Trials before the State Security Court were unfair. Women faced discrimination in law and in practice and were inadequately protected against sexual and other violence. Migrant domestic workers were exploited and abused."

But Sajjan focused on other issues, including Canadian support to build a road that will make it easier for Jordan's armed forces to repress any outbreaks of homegrown democracy. "I am pleased to be in Jordan to announce further support for one of our most trusted partners in the Middle East region, and in turn help to build a more secure and stable world," Sajjan declared. "Jordan has shown that it is always ready to do its part and Canada is happy to reciprocate by supporting the needs of the Jordanian Armed Forces." 

Part of the cooperation appears to have been the Jordanian torture of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, one of the longest-held detainees in the war of terror, who in his book, Guantanamo Diary, recounts that most of his troubles appear to have arisen because of unfounded Canadian state security allegations cooked up while he was living in Montreal.

While it is too soon to tell when Syria's brutal regime will once again become one of Canada's "trusted partners" and weapons buyers (Syrian dictator Assad's regime played a significant role in torturing Canadian citizens at the behest of this country's state security agencies, the RCMP and CSIS), Sajjan's tour will continue this week as part of the federal government's ongoing efforts to maintain its pride of place as the region's second-biggest weapons dealer.

Massive military investment

It was Christmas in July for Canadian weapons-makers last summer when Freeland and Sajjan delivered a series of one-two "hard power" punch lines, informing the world that Canada would invest over $100 billion in new warfare spending while using military force to back up its global objectives.

In a "major policy" speech last June, Freeland smugly asked, "Is Canada an essential country, at this time in the life of our planet? Most of us here would agree that it is." Freeland continued, "Why do we spend billions on defence, if we are not immediately threatened?" She then proceeded to discuss how Canada's "interests" on the world stage must be backed by "the principled use of force" and, in a phrase that illustrates the psycho-sexual undertones of most forms of militarism, "the backing of hard power."

These policy pronouncements were part of an ambitious year of similar instances in which the Liberals committed themselves to a massive theft of the poor that would make even Scrooge blush. At a time when they should be investing in everything from massive reparations and land transfers to Indigenous communities, to a universal daycare program, as well as pharmacare, environmental cleanup, affordable housing, proper pensions and supports for veterans, women's shelters and sexual assault survivor programs, and countless other desperately needed socially useful programs, Trudeau's team then announced a huge war spending spree.

In their advertisement for this massive investment in militarism, "Strong, Secure, Engaged," the War Department not only had the standard introductory page from its own minister, Sajjan, but also a similar note from Freeland, who praised the celebration of mass murder as a key part of her government's "progressive, feminist foreign policy." Freeland's appearance in the document also signaled a confirmation that Canada -- which has historically used its military for imperial adventures that back its corporate clients -- is no longer shy about the role that its diplomatic corps is playing to promote the use of armed force as a preferred policy option.

Indeed, as Thomas Friedman wrote two decades ago in The New York Times, "the hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist [the military]." With the Freeland/Sajjan policies as described in "Strong, Secure, Engaged," the role of the Canadian Forces continues to be what it always has been, despite being prettied up with lots of pictures of women and children to promote "inclusivity" while extolling the exciting military opportunities for "Indigenous Canadians." That role is to intercede on behalf of Canadian capital, whether abroad or here at home, where Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr promised last year to call in the military to quash anti-pipeline resistance.  

A 'feminist' foreign policy

To support this supposedly "progressive, feminist foreign policy," the plan is for a $62.3-billion boost to war spending (Canada currently spends well over $20 billion annually on war), over $60 billion for new warships, $19 billion for fighter jets, and over $1 billion for armed drones. To sell this bill of goods, the Liberals rely both on Canadians' fears of Trump (how will we defend ourselves against the madman in the White House?) and the long-standing mythology of Canadian benevolence (because we are, as Freeland concludes, an "essential nation.") Would Canadian drone operators really launch hellfire missiles against a village in Afghanistan from some NORAD bunker in North Bay if the Liberals get their wish to purchase these deadly aerial vehicles? Surely not our boys!

The war spending spree has been criticized by some as empty rhetoric because much of the funds are slated for after the next federal election. While true, it misses the far more important point: such announcements normalize the robbery of the treasury to benefit a global conglomerate of war profiteers. Because such spending is couched in the state security narrative, it becomes a bottomless pit that has no match in any social program. No other federal department is so frequently the focus of "underfunding" whining, even though last year, Canada was ranked the 15th-highest war spender by Jane's Defence Weekly. Indeed, the War Department has always enjoyed the largest use of discretionary funding in the federal budget, and the outlay of well over half a trillion dollars in war spending over the past 30 years has done nothing to guarantee anyone's security.

Just after the announcement of the new war spending spree, the Liberals quickly extended their Iraq military mission for another two years. Instead of a proper national debate about the dangerously under-reported role of Canadian soldiers in that conflict, Trudeau instead chose the final week of June to celebrate the murder of an unnamed human being who, we were told reassuringly, was one of the "enemy," killed as part of  what the government continues to insist is Canada's "non-combat" role.

"What happened there is, first of all, something to be celebrated for the excellence of the Canadian Forces in their training, in the performance of their duties," Trudeau said of the Canadian soldier who killed someone from 3,540 metres away. Little discussed is the role that Canadian troops are playing in that region to help pave the way for what Canada's ambassador to Jordan foresees as a $1-trillion opportunity for Canadian companies interested in rebuilding the infrastructure that other Canadian companies helped to destroy.

If all this weren't maddening enough, Trudeau's self-regarding Prince of Peace imagery is also being branded by Canadian bureaucrats to pitch the idea of "peacekeeping." Trudeau expounded on how he represents the "goodness" of Canadians when he declared:

"What I'm seeing around the world is that Canada is looked at as a place where people are smart and get it and have good values. So that uplifting of Canadians and what it is that we do well, diversity being a strength, being part of it, is, I think, where the brand is making the biggest impact on the world stage."

Testing Brand Trudeau

While that brand is currently being tested via litigation in the Court of Appeal opposing the sale of $15 billion in killer vehicles to the Saudi regime, it's also being tackled at the International Criminal Court, where former MP Craig Scott has asked prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to consider including Canadian complicity in torture as part of a wider investigation into war crimes committed by occupying forces in Afghanistan. The "progressive, feminist" Trudeau brand was also undermined when a number of former Canadian "peacekeepers" recently escaped accountability for their alleged role in sexual misconduct in Haiti.

Meanwhile, as veterans continue fighting the government for proper pensions and health care to deal with the scars of past battles, the government is confident that a new generation of recruits looking down the barrel of decades of student debt will sign on to the military via the "poverty draft."

Towards that end, the armed forces have been busy trying to encourage women, LGBTQ2, and Indigenous people to join an institution rooted in misogyny, homophobia and racism. The military also relies on the mythologized Canadian soldier as a benevolent world force to infiltrate events like last summer's Ottawa Pride Day, where some 100 uniformed military personnel joined federal Liberals who last year approved the sale of $15 billion in weapons to the homophobic regime of Saudi Arabia. The same parade's organizers had rightfully asked Ottawa police not to wear uniforms because many participants did not feel safe having symbols of the city's occupying army in the event. That concern did not extend to solidarity with those in other countries for whom the occupying Canadian military uniform is representative of complicity in torture (Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq) and bombing runs (Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Libya). Nor does it extend to Indigenous people who have had their lands occupied by the Canadian military (such as Kanehsatà:ke, site of the 1990 "Oka crisis," and numerous other sites where unceded Indigenous lands were seized by the War Department for training purposes and bases.)

 As 2017 came to an end, and homeless people were freezing to death on the streets of Canada, the Liberals also discovered they had an extra $500 million lying around to purchase 18 used Australian fighter jets that were supposed to replace on an interim basis CF-18 fighter jets. Even though the Australian jets are the same age as the Canadian ones, we were asked to forgive the nonsensical purchase in the name of a non-existent "capability gap" reminiscent of the mythic "missile gap" that propelled John F. Kennedy to the White House and accelerated the Cold War nuclear weapons race in the 1960s.

The purchase of the Australian jets was meant to bypass an ongoing dispute involving war manufacturers Bombardier and Boeing, and also to defend against those who, Trudeau said, would "harm" Canada's economy. But nowhere in the military funding discussion has there been a proper analysis of how military spending in and of itself is always harmful to economies. Indeed, for decades, studies about conversion from a war economy to a peace economy have shown that monies traditionally poured into war industries like Lockheed Martin and L-3 Wescam would, if directed to human needs, create more long-lasting jobs, and result in far more wholesome contributions like affordable housing, child care, improved access to health care, and environmental cleanup.

What to do?

While there are countless opportunities for resisting militarism and globalized violence, there are some very specific things we can all do to say no to the war that is being funded in our name. First and foremost, don't pay war taxes, and instead divert that portion of your taxes that would go to the War Department to a peace tax fund. Learn more at Conscience Canada.

In addition, one can demand that the Canada Pension Plan, which is riddled with war investments, divest itself from the business of killing. One can also demand that Global Affairs Canada stop playing the role of weapons industry pimp (and their Ottawa lobby offers very spacious facilities for those considering a sit-in).

Almost every community in Canada has industries that profit from war, including London, Ontario's production of killer vehicles for the Saudi regime at General Dynamics, Kitchener's Colt Canada (sniper rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers), Lockheed Martin in Halifax, and drone warfare specialist L-3 in Burlington. Canada's war industry association has a very helpful map documenting the 800 war profiteers that occupy every province and territory. You can also do some basic internet research to find out how many millions in your tax dollars are pumped into your local war industry and ask how that money could be better spent on education, clean water for Indigenous communities, health care, child care, and support services for victims of male violence.

In addition, all of those war industries gather for a massive arms bazaar every year in Ottawa, CANSEC, which hosts some of the world's most horrific human rights violators. Taking place at the end of May, CANSEC is one of those rare opportunities in Canada that provides perfect blockade weather.

Perhaps most importantly, it is critical to stop buying the mythology that Canada's military and war industry are any different from those of the U.S., U.K., Israel, or any other regime willing to employ the tools of terror to achieve their objectives. As former general Rick Hillier famously and accurately declared: "We are the Canadian Forces and our job is to be able to kill people."

Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. 'national security' profiling for many years.

Photo: NORAD Tracks Santa

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Canadian militarismTrudeau governmentmilitary salesarms dealsdefence spendingMatthew BehrensDecember 21, 2017Bombs away! How Canada is here to helpTrudeau's cheery offer at the UN to bring peace to the world fell flat in light of his government's "principled" commitment to sell billions in weapons and blanket militarism.Saying no to Canada's death gameIn a reminder that the warfare state is never affected by who gets elected in Canada, the Trudeau Liberals are about to embark on a militaristic spending spree that will draw no opposition.Santa Claus rejects NORAD escort, may be placed on no-fly listIn a little-noticed news release from the North Pole, a jolly senior citizen has asked that his image not be co-opted this holiday season by the Canadian War Department and NORAD.
Categories: News for progressives

A year of progressive, purposeful eating in 2018

Wed, 2017-12-20 23:41
EnvironmentFood & Health

The New Year is just a few weeks away -- a good time to start reflecting on what we should do that might be different. At least that is what I like to do at this time of year.

Besides wishing everyone health and happiness (I always dodge the prosperity stuff 'cause I tend to feel that term is ambiguous at best), I always end up reflecting on how best to make this life count in the New Year. What things do I need to consider or undertake that might make this world, my community and myself better?

For some, this time of year might lead to reflections around health, finances or acquisitions -- that never quite cuts it for me.

My resolution this year is going to be all about how I can work towards sustainable eating practices -- practices that work to help the environment as well as food producers here and elsewhere…and practices that help to support food sovereignty.

1. Dump the transnationals

This, I must admit, can be a lofty goal -- but it is one worth aspiring to. On the consumer end of it, I cringe when people tell me to seek out a particular product at Costco. I long ago decided that Costco and Wal-Mart would never be on my list, and I have avoided online shopping through Amazon.

Now, Amazon is about to become an online grocery store as well? Oh boy!

In 2018, I will continue to avoid the transnationals as best I can -- and that extends to very large grocery stores like Loblaws. My goal is to shop locally first, sourcing some foods directly from farms and farmers' markets, and shopping smaller, Canadian, outlets, otherwise.

This is serious business, and as a consumer, I have a responsibility.

It may be a lot easier than you think -- and shopping responsibly is not necessarily more expensive. And it is much safer, I believe, than trying to keep an eye on the mega-food recalls that plague the mega-food industry. A handful of corporations control food production. If I can help it, I do not intend to be a part of helping that continued concentration.

2. Campaign against GM crops, and for food safety and the environment

I plan to continue to keep an eye out for the latest news on genetically modified (GM) foods. The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) is a collaborative research organization that is a great resource to keep track of GM products and campaigns in Canada. It also provides a lot of information about corporate concentration in the seed and food industry. Also on my list of resolutions is to do my best to support sustainable fishing practices and to source sustainable fish products. That will be challenging, I know!

3. Become the new foodie -- progressive and purposeful

On my list of resolutions is to support community food groups and community agriculture by continuing to frequent farmers' markets and projects that encourage locally grown and harvested foods.

I don't eat out a lot, but when I do, my 2018 resolution is to, as much as possible, support Canadian restaurants that source healthy, local foods and that contribute to sustainable farm practices and community food projects.

4. Engage in agriculture

While my very small backyard is currently snow covered, come spring, I plan to grow some food -- maybe a few tomatoes and maybe a few berries from a well-nurtured vine. But there is also garlic and herbs, and lots of other stuff to consider, even on a small plot of land. And I plan to learn more about foraging.

Farmers begin planning their crops in January and February -- a good time for me to start on my small-scale project as well!

If I had a flat roof on my house, I might even consider a rooftop garden -- we could use a few more of those on commercial buildings, so that might be another resolution to consider. Imagine rooftop gardens on all provincial and federal government buildings. I feel a campaign coming on…

5. Join-up -- get a new membership

This year, I plan to join at least one more organization -- one that actively promotes policies and practices that benefit farmers, working folk and our planet.

I was stunned and oh so pleased to learn in 2017 that there is now a local of the National Farmers Union in the middle of Toronto. These are urbanites eager to support a progressive and activist farm organization by becoming associate members. I am big on coalitions believing that change will only happen if there is collaboration between urban and rural folks around food issues, both on an individual and an organizational basis. The NFU Toronto local is heartening!

There are some excellent membership organizations that work on food issues. Another is Food Secure Canada. But there are likely many others to be found.

And if you don't want to join or can't for some reason, I would consider donating time or money or both to community food groups working locally, nationally or internationally.

All the best in engaging in purposeful eating in 2018! Happy New Year!

Lois Ross is a communications specialist, writer, and editor, living in Ottawa. Her column "At the farm gate" discusses issues that are key to food production here in Canada as well as internationally.

Photo: Thomas Nilsson/flickr

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local sustainable foodEating Localfood productionfarmingCanadian agricultureAt the farm gateLois RossDecember 20, 2017Ideas that work to promote sustainable small farmsThere are many layers to farming, but there are plenty of farmers who know what is required. And they have been trying to get the message across for a long time. Will the federal government get it?A food policy for Canada -- show us the goods, please!Will the Liberal government take this opportunity to encourage sustainable agriculture and healthy food practices -- instead of bowing to the pressure of corporations bent on making profits?Street Farm serves up food for the soulStreet Farm is the story of Sole Food Street Farms and how the creation of an urban farm eventually developed into a network of four farms located in Vancouver's East Hastings district.
Categories: News for progressives

The Site C Dam decision by the NDP is a disaster for British Columbia

Wed, 2017-12-20 15:25
December 20, 2017EnvironmentNo insight from BC NDP as they approve Site C DamThere are times when you think the NDP has changed. But then you get a stark reminder that it hasn’t.
Categories: News for progressives

Augmented reality is building a world of digital exclusion

Wed, 2017-12-20 04:43

The sad green bubble is the shame of high school students everywhere. You'll see it when a group chat breaks out on friends' iPhones. There they are, their blue balloons of conversation rich with pictures, animated gifs, stickers, song clips and music videos. And, in the midst of all that gay banter, sits the plain green speech balloon of the one student in the group with an Android phone. They can only share drab text because their messages are sent to iPhones as simple SMS, or text messages. And their poverty of media is signified by that lonely green bubble.

Every time they try to join in the reindeer games of their friends they are reminded they have a bright lime light on the end of their nose. They are not a part of the Clique of Blue. The existence of the proprietary iMessage platform is one reason so many young people who can afford it, gravitate to iPhones.

I think of the sad green bubble when I consider the coming wave of augmented reality (AR) devices. Already phones like Tango-enabled Android phones or the latest iPhones and tablets deliver these augmented reality experiences. So do phones everywhere in the hands of energetic Pokemon Go players.

And soon they'll be added to by hordes of Harry Potter fans. Next year Niantic, the company behind Pokemon Go, will be releasing Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. The augmented reality version of that magical franchise will allow players worldwide to capture fantastic beasts no matter where they find them. The cryptozoological menagerie will be projected into the real world via players' phones.

In the next few years, augmented reality will become a common overlay on the real world. An owner of an AR device will be able to walk down a street lined with shops and see bobbing information bubbles with ratings,comments and special offers inside them.

Empty plates in restaurants will be filled with sample meals from the dining establishment. You'll be able to rotate, zoom in on and order the items all from your phone. Early versions of each of these experiences already exist.

A couple of months ago, IKEA released an app that lets you plunk down their furniture in your own rooms to see how they look. Then, of course, you can buy the items on the spot. Soon assembly instructions will appear over top of a jumble of pieces. All you'll need is an Allen key and an AR app.

And, by 2020 or so, AR-enabled smartphones will be replaced by AR glasses. That eyewear, offered by fashion-forward vendors, will float information over the real world as if it were on an acetate overlay. Google and Microsoft have already released crude and clunky versions of these devices. Apple is rumoured to be developing AR glasses for release in the '20s.

So, here's what all this has to do with the sad green bubble. When these devices are released, they will be expensive, exclusive and excluding. Consumers who can now afford to shell out nearly CAD $2,000 for a top-of-the-line iPhone X or Galaxy Note 8, will be first in line for the novel AR glasses. But it will be years before the technology trickles down to less expensive devices. Only then will low-income earners be able to afford them.

Until that time they may well be seeing a city, interacting with people and attempting to get better employment devoid of what might seem to be an extra sense. Well-to-do folks will see a world overlaid with advantageous information and will be able to share and store that information easily. They will be a part of the Blue Clique, with everyone else stranded in the sad green bubbles of unenhanced vision. There will be a class structure built on sight. It will literally be hard for the disadvantaged to see their way clear to make a better life for themselves.

We've seen this kind of technological divide before: those with computers, those without. Those with broadband, those without. In both cases, the playing field, in all but the more extreme cases and challenging geographies, is beginning to level. But as the dozens of people hunched over public library computers attest, there still remains a home team advantage to those who have a home computer.

It may well be that the future may not be so polarizing, but seeing the world through rose rather than tinted spectacles won't augment the reality of as many of us as possible.

Tech companies have been faulted for not paying much attention to the societal impact of their inventions and services. Cool conquers consequence. But AR isn't just about creating a "bicycle for the mind," as Steve Jobs once called a computer. It isn't about getting a cheap bed for the night or an easy ride. AR is about altering how we see.

If the developers of that technology don't have a worldview that encompasses the society beyond R&D labs, their blindspot will mean that all but the most affluent will be stumbling about and hitting brick walls as surely as if someone turned out the lights.

Wayne MacPhail has been a print and online journalist for 25 years, and is a long-time writer for rabble.ca on technology and the Internet.

Photo: Oliver Lavery/flickr

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augmented realitydigital divideeconomic inequalitypovertydigital technologyiPhoneWayne MacPhailDecember 20, 2017Darkness comes to San JoseA visit to Silicon Valley conjures up images of Dickensian-level poverty.When worlds collide and boundaries bleed: Intersections between online and real lifeLast week we witnessed two liminal moments in the space between the online and real worlds. In two very different ways, the edges bled beyond the boundary of one to the other.Technology? We are still in the steam eraWhen I was 15 I couldn't imagine owning a computer. Teens today have no idea what's about to happen to them.
Categories: News for progressives

Programs help those with criminal records gain work and a future

Tue, 2017-12-19 23:52
December 19, 2017Civil Liberties WatchConfronting the stigma of criminal records Both potential employees and employers need to overcome misconceptions of others about returning to the workforce.Canadian prisonsprison rehabilitationTorontoJohn Howard Societyjob training
Categories: News for progressives

Gift guide 2018

Mon, 2017-12-18 07:43
December 17, 2017The Activist Toolkit's fierce giving guide for 2018According to statistics, at this time of year many of us donate to charitable organizations. This list includes ideas to help build progressive change.
Categories: News for progressives

Alabama was a good reminder of what democratic politics looks like

Sat, 2017-12-16 15:22
ElectionsPolitical ActionUS Politics

What a relief that election in Alabama was. Not because Trump lost (which he did) or a quite decent guy won (ditto) but because it was a genuine political event -- an election -- rather than an ersatz one, like an FBI or congressional investigation into a sensational plot featuring Russian villains. Lest we forget, democratic politics is about the people making the decisions themselves.

I feel the same about impeachment, or forcing him to resign in disgrace, as a way to eject Trump. These are contrived, titillating dramas with elite casts, and ultimately resolve nothing. (Non-ultimately, I admit, they can be deeply satisfying.)

People aspire to the Watergate model, but it resolved nothing. Nixon left in shame, followed by four aimless years of Jimmy Carter, then eight of Ronald Reagan, who was even more damaging than Nixon, then George Bush I, who started the endless Iraq catastrophe, etc., culminating, inevitably I'd say, in Trump.

Beneath it all, was an inextinguishable legacy of rage and bitterness. Based on what? They couldn't beat "our guy" legitimately, i.e. electorally, so they went all legal.

In the U.S., almost everything ends up in litigation, the individual fighting alone, like the driver with Pennsylvania plates who doored me on Bloor St. and flew out of her car, shouting I was at fault, she'd see me in court, call my lawyer.

Why? Because too many Americans lack faith in social or political forces, such as elections, government, unions, parties, social movements, so it all ends with you standing alone in court fighting the good fight with Clarence Darrow, Atticus Finch or Bob Mueller as your lawyer (theoretically) and a Solomonic judge on the bench. Each time one of these fantasies plays out, even in reality, it further undermines confidence in democratic political processes.

The Russiagate investigations are quasi-judicial dramas, subbing for real politics, with Robert Mueller, G-man, as the "universally respected" hero. An Atticus for our times. He's the guy, though, who led the FBI for 11 years, post-9/11, ruthlessly smothering civil rights. Not so heroic.

If Trump was impeached or hounded from office under legal threat, like Nixon, instead of being electorally defeated, it would lead to the same hangover of resentment -- rightly, I'd say -- among his devotees. When Trump says Democrats are trying to take away an election he won fairly, he's only wrong about the fairly part, and few U.S. elections are fair. JFK won by cheating in Illinois and he's among the immortals. You still have to win it in an election, that's not optional.

Besides, the Russia claims look very thin. Sure, they tried to interfere with U.S. politics, everyone does that. The U.S. messes merrily with elections in Europe, Latin America, most recently in Ukraine. Trump's people might have "colluded" or tried to -- I don't see why the Russians would've let them -- but there seems nothing outright illegal in that.

The spiciest area may involve Trump owing money to Kremlin-linked Russian banks -- since no one else would loan to him --1 and they manoeuvred to make him president so they could pressure him. But none of that alters the democratic consideration. If the Republicans shut Mueller down, or get him fired, as they seemed determined to during congressional hearings this week — well, there would definitely be a democratic silver lining.

Trump beat Hillary in the face of the Hollywood audiotape, mocking the disabled, calling for violence, outright racism -- so what if the Russians weighed in? If you can't beat him in the light of all that, you don't deserve to be there instead.

What would taking Trump on politically, versus indirectly and legalistically, look like? You could still deal with the Russia stuff, but in public debate and electoral contexts. You could challenge the misogyny and racism, as Alabama's senator-elect Doug Jones did, but effectively, versus ineptly, à la Hillary Clinton.

It would largely be on economic and class issues -- versus Trump's preferred grounds of race -- like his plutocratic cabinet and ludicrous tax bill.

Steve Bannon (quoted by Frank Rich) may have captured it best. He said, "The only question before us" is whether it "is going to be a left-wing populism or a right-wing populism." That's a more auspicious political divide than good (or God) versus evil, or Us vs. Them. It makes you think Bannon might fear Bernie Sanders most -- the incarnation of left populism -- but he's smart enough not to say it.

Correction: Sorry about that. I misrepresented the Toronto school board’s process for selecting gifted students last week. In recent years they’ve wisely changed it so all students are preliminarily screened, not just those chosen by teachers.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Image: Cam Miller/Flickr

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Donald TrumpElectionsalabamaDoug JonesdemocracyU.S. politicshillary clintonRussiaRick SalutinDecember 16, 2017Election of Doug Jones in Alabama 'a political earthquake'Social movements build power and make change. The Democrats would be wise to heed the lessons of Alabama, from resistance to slavery, to the civil-rights era, to the unexpected victory of Doug Jones.Building a mass anti-Trump movement to bring democracy back into politicsWhat kind of opposition or resistance makes sense for the Trump years ahead? The U.S. needs a a popular resistance movement coming from the ground up, mobilizing huge, diverse numbers in the streets.Russian meddling abroad underscores need for electoral reform in CanadaTransparency and representation are essential to countering the kind of foreign interference experienced in the U.S. and France.
Categories: News for progressives

The Activist Toolkit's fierce giving guide for 2018

Sat, 2017-12-16 08:36
Maya Bhullar

According to statistics, at this time of year many of us donate to charitable organizations. Given the huge need around the world, and here in Canada, this guide is meant to help you inform your giving. This list is by no means exhaustive and so please send me suggestions at toolkit@rabble.ca and I will be happy to add them.

1. Syria: ISIS has been routed from Syria and the Assad government is reinstalled. The country is in ruins and the wars in the Middle East have created the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. However, there is high probability that the reconstruction money given to the government will not get to all Syrians and will be used to sure up President Assad's power.   

The Syrian government's plans for rebuilding the country’s wrecked cities and governorates are starting to take shape, but there are warning signs the process may not necessarily be geared towards recovery and renewal, according to Swiss-Syrian academic and author Joseph Daher. Daher argues that two ulterior motives underlie the Syrian government's approach to reconstruction: Consolidating political and economic power within a narrow circle of Syrian elites connected to the ruling Assad family and quelling dissent in former opposition areas.

Organizations are working on the ground, and here is a list of 27 which are helping refugees from Syria. Meanwhile many of the Syrian refugees who have been granted asylum in Canada are reaching the one-year mark. This means an end to their monthly living allowance and many of the government supports, despite the fact that some still need assistance. The Canadian Council for Refugees has put together this guide for people who want to help refugees. In April 2016, rabble.ca interviewed Maisie Lo, the Director of Immigation Services at WoodGreen Community Services in Toronto, who called for support to meet the long term needs of refugees. This support is sorely needed. 

2. The United States: I still shudder when I think of the morning of November, 9, 2016, the morning when I realized that Donald Trump had been elected President of the United States and that the Republicans controlled or would control all three branches of the United States government. 2017 has been a rollercoaster. There have been some wins, but far too many losses. However, there are amazing organizations which continue to organize and fight back. They need your support to keep on fighting. This is a partial list, please feel free to find others. The Activist Toolkit will also continue to highlight great initiatives across North America.   

Right now, the efforts to renegotiate NAFTA are chugging along in secrecy. Here is a great analysis of what NAFTA has meant for farmers and working people in Canada. There are important fights being waged to see if the renegotiation of NAFTA can be a better deal for people in Canada. Stay tuned in 2018 for more on this issue.

3. Clean drinking water in First Nations communities: Justin Trudeau and the Liberals made a commitment to end long-term drinking water advisories in First Nations communities by March 2021. As of October 31, 2017, there are 100 long-term drinking water advisories and 47 short-term drinking water advisories in public systems financially supported by INAC and other systems where the public has a reasonable expectation of access.  

Many of us are, understandably, getting involved and demanding that the government address this issue. However, water by any means is not an answer. Some First Nations communities are already relying on private water sources and these water sources are not maintained and are part of the problem. The Harper government wanted to privatize water for First Nations and the current Liberal government likely sees privatization as a quick fix. Let us not continue this complicity by rushing to action. Many communities are demanding increased voice and autonomy, and do not want the federal government farm out contracts to private companies as a quick fix. The Canadian government has a responsibility to ensure that all Canadians have access to clean drinking water and the government should not be allowed to step away from this responsibility. Right now, in Atlantic Canada, First Nations communities are demanding the establishment of a local First Nations Water authority. 

The Council of Canadians has been actively working on this issue and with local First Nations community to amplify their work to access water. Follow and work with their campaign.  

  4. Net Neutrality and Digital Rights: There has been a steady erosion of digital privacy, and a steady corporatization of the internet which culminated in the recent United States decision to end net neutrality, giving big United States based telecom giants a lot more power over what we can see and do online. The internet has no borders, and so this petty attack on President Obama's legacy will impact not only the United States but all of us. 

Meanwhile the Liberal government has introduced Bill C-59, to address national security issues. This bill is being proposed as an attempt to address the concerns of organizations that united to protect our privacy and fight against Bill C-51, the Harper governments attack on our privacy. However, Bill C-59 continues to undermine privacy and endanger land and environmental activists. Currently, OpenMedia is collecting letters to the government to reform Bill C-59. OpenMedia.ca has been leading a lot of important fights for digital rights, as have organizations like ACORN Canada, which has been fighting for internet access for low income Canadians. 

5. Racists and Islamophobia:  On January, 29, 2017, Alexandre Bissonnette went to the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City and shot six men, Azzeddine Soufiane, Khaled Belkacemi, Ibrahima Barry, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Abdelkrim Hassane, and Boubaker Thabti. Since 2014, hate crimes against Muslims in Canada have increased by 253 per cent. According to ommunity leaders, this increase can be linked to the anti-Muslim messages that were shared by Conservative candidates during the federal election and during the Conservative leadership race. The alt-right media, various politicians, and far-right organizations have continued to fuel Islamophobia across Canada.   

Bloggers and editors at rabble.ca have been working with partners around the country to highlight who the racists are and highlight efforts to fight back against them and some of their reporting is compiled in this list. However, the most important thing we can do is to work to organize against racism when we see it in our communities, within our families, and among our friends and acquaintances. As we head to holiday dinners, here are some guides we originally put together for September to help you organize against Islamophobia in your communities.  

One of the most important and difficult things to do is to organize within our own communities, to listen and build real change.  If you want to report an anti-Muslim incident or get a sense of how pervasive these incidents are, the National Council of Canadian Muslims has been mapping anti-Muslim incidents across Canada.

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Categories: News for progressives

why First Nations do not have safe water

Fri, 2017-12-15 15:48
December 15, 2017Anti-RacismOur history explains why First Nations do not have safe waterCanadian attitudes toward Indigenous peoples have only recently evolved. In the past, we believed, as one official told me, "the natives would not know how to flush toilets if they had them."First Nations water
Categories: News for progressives

Alberta UCP Leader Jason Kenney chalks up another convincing win in Calgary-Lougheed by-election

Fri, 2017-12-15 14:22
David J. Climenhaga

Never mind Surrey and Alabama. Jason Kenney won his by-election victory last night, and he won it decisively -- by more than 70 per cent of the vote.

Granted, Kenney was running in Calgary-Lougheed, a determinedly conservative riding. And while the percentages were high, the turnout was not so spectacular -- a total of 10,852 people bothered to cast a ballot out of more than 30,000 eligible voters in the riding.

Still, numbers like Kenney's don’t lie, even if the leader of the United Conservative Party does from time to time.

In this by-election, the government was spared the embarrassment of coming third. The NDP candidate, physician Phillip van der Merwe, came second with 17 per cent of the vote despite the presence of Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan in the race. Khan captured about 9 per cent of the vote.

But to those New Democrats (and not a few old style Progressive Conservatives) who wished for Kenney to win the UCP leadership in October in the belief he would be easier for Premier Rachel Notley to defeat than the former Wildrose Party Leader, Brian Jean, I say be careful what you wish for!

Yes, Kenney has many flaws. But his political virtues considerably outweigh them. He is a campaigning machine who cares not a whit about anything but politics and his social conservative beliefs. And why not? He has no spouse or child to worry about.

He is willing to do whatever it takes to win, as we saw in his ruthless elimination of opponents in the previous race to lead the Progressive Conservative Party last spring.

What he lacks in likability, he more than makes up for in political savvy and a vast network of connections built up over 20 years in politics. He has mainstream media and Alberta's Conservative establishment in his corner, and he knows how to make effective use of them. Already, mainstream media is spinning this undeniably significant election result his way -- the word "landslide" was atop almost everyone's story last night.

Readers will notice that Kenney has laid out his plan quite clearly and publicly from buying the blue Dodge pickup truck to changing the draperies in the Premier's Office, and that at every step to date he has achieved his goals on schedule. You underestimate him at your peril.

When the CBC reported the percentage of his victory, I was reminded of Dr. Johnson's observation, as recorded by Mr. Boswell: "Depend on it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."

Alberta's NDP Government will need to concentrate its mind on its strategy -- and perhaps reconsider some aspects of it -- if it is to survive Kenney's onslaught.

It is a frequent failing of first-term NDP governments in Canadian provinces to forget who their supporters are, and try to govern as if they were conservatives with a conscience. As an election approaches -- not in a fortnight, but soon enough -- members of the government should keep that in their minds.

They may also want to rethink their angle of attack on Kenney personally, since their focus on his social conservative beliefs, as opposed to his economic views, seems not to have had much impact, with Calgary-Lougheed voters at least.

Kenney's widely forecast election victory yesterday formally brings to an end what has been called here the double-reverse hostile takeover of the Progressive Conservatives by the Wildrose Party and the Wildrose Party of the Conservatives.

Alberta's PCs no longer exist. The political entity known as Alberta's Conservative Party is more akin, ideologically, to the Wildrose Party, but with the PCs' kinder, gentler branding still largely intact. In other words, this is a repeat of the Reform Party/Social Credit takeover of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, imagined and made reality by Preston Manning and implemented by Stephen Harper. Canada has not yet recovered, although the land is strong.

Using social media, Premier Notley publicly welcomed Kenney to the Legislature once yesterday's foregone conclusion was concluded. "Congratulations and welcome to the AB Legislature @JKenney -- I look forward to debating you in the House," she tweeted. Political observers of all stripes, I have no doubt, look forward to that spectacle.

Things to watch for once Kenney actually takes his place in the House:

  • Who will be up, and who will be down, in the UCP's fractious Legislative Caucus? Expect a shuffle of shadow cabinet portfolios soon, and count on Kenney to swiftly forge a more disciplined team.
  • To which insignificant post will Jason Nixon, who served poorly in Kenney's absence as House Leader, be consigned? Service Alberta?
  • How quickly will Derek Fildebrandt, who is clearly Kenney's ideological soulmate, be welcomed back into the UCP Caucus? As predicted in this space yesterday, tonight's convincing percentage is likely to persuade Kenney he can do what he pleases in this regard.
  • Who hires the former Calgary-Lougheed MLA, Dave Rodney, who made way for Kenney by resigning his seat, and to do what?

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

Image: michael_swan​/Flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

Election of Doug Jones in Alabama 'a political earthquake'

Fri, 2017-12-15 08:42
ElectionsPolitical ActionUS Politics

The unexpected victory of Democrat Doug Jones in the special U.S. Senate election in Alabama has been described as a political earthquake. The seismic rumblings began decades ago, though, during the civil-rights struggle of the 1950s and '60s, with echoes that reach as far back as the U.S. Civil War and the long, violent era of slavery. Jones' road to the Senate might have started on the early evening of December 1, 1955, at a bus stop in Montgomery, Alabama, when an African-American woman named Rosa Parks sat down in one of the 10 front rows reserved for white passengers. The driver ordered her to the back of the bus. When she refused, the police were summoned, she was arrested, and the modern civil-rights era was launched.

When she died, one of the cable news networks called her "a tired seamstress, no troublemaker." In fact, Rosa Parks was a first-class troublemaker. She knew exactly what she was doing. She was secretary of the local NAACP. After her arrest, organizing in the African-American community began immediately, with the Montgomery Bus Boycott, launched on December 5, led by Martin Luther King Jr. They knew that overcoming segregation and institutional racism would require dedicated organizing. Their historic achievements laid the foundation for Doug Jones' victory. It was modern-day grass-roots mobilization and movement-building, especially among African-American women, that won him his Senate seat.

It's important to recognize just how profoundly flawed Roy Moore was as the Republican candidate. First were the shocking allegations from at least nine women who accused Moore of sexually harassing or assaulting them when they were teenagers, one as young as 14. Coming in the midst of the national, and increasingly global, #MeToo movement to end sexual harassment and abuse of women, the numerous accounts of predatory sexual stalking by Moore became a flashpoint, with numerous senators pledging that, if he were to win the election, they would expel him from the U.S. Senate. That is, until another self-described sexual assaulter, President Donald Trump, decided to give his unequivocal support for Moore, and began aggressively campaigning for him.

But even if serial child molestation is not enough to disqualify a Senate candidate, many of Moore's statements and actions as an Alabama judge should have. He was twice removed from the elected position of chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing federal court orders. In 2003, he refused to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments from the courthouse property. In 2016, he was again suspended, for refusing to implement the Supreme Court's ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.

When recently asked, by one of the only African-Americans at an event, at what point in the past he thought America was great, Roy Moore referred to slavery time, "when families were united -- even though we had slavery -- our families were strong, our country had a direction." He claims that Muslims, like Keith Ellison, should not be allowed to serve in Congress, likening the Quran to Mein Kampf. He supports the repeal of all U.S. constitutional amendments after the original 10, including those outlawing slavery and granting women and African-Americans the right to vote. When assuring the public at the last campaign rally before Tuesday's election that her husband is not anti-Semitic, Moore's wife emphatically stated, "One of our attorneys is a Jew."

The results of the Alabama special election should not only serve as a lesson for the Republican Party, but for the Democratic Party. Success lies in activating the public, motivating people to become engaged, and fighting against the increasing number of restrictions on voting -- not in tailoring a message in the vain attempt to woo "undecided" voters.

Jones won through voter registration, grass-roots mobilization and the enormous get-out-the-vote effort in the African-American community. According to CNN exit polls, Doug Jones received 98 per cent of the votes cast by African-American women, and 93 per cent of votes by African-American men. In contrast, 63 per cent of white women voted for the accused child molester Roy Moore, as did 72 per cent of white male voters. A larger percentage of the African-American electorate in Alabama turned out for Jones than for Barack Obama in either 2008 or 2012.

Doug Jones won by just 1.5 per cent of the vote, a large enough margin to avoid a recount, but still very slim. He would not have won without the hard work of Alabama-based grass-roots groups, working for years with scant support from the national Democratic Party, registering poor people and African-Americans to vote. Social movements build power and make change, and the Democrats would be wise to heed the lessons of Alabama, from resistance to slavery, to the civil-rights era, to the unexpected victory of Doug Jones.

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

Photo: Doug Jones for Senate Committee​

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Doug JonesalabamaRoy MooreDonald Trumpdemocratscivil rights movementrosa parksAmy GoodmanDenis MoynihanDecember 14, 2017Intolerance in Alabama: People push back with a force more powerfulInequality, racism, segregation. These injustices persist with remarkable tenacity in Alabama and throughout the U.S. But courageous people are rising up and shifting the course of history.Unspooling justice: 'Selma' tells story of civil-rights movementThe film "Selma" follows one of the key moments in the civil-rights movement, the 1965 marches from Selma to Montgomery, best remembered for "Bloody Sunday" on March 7.Forget the polls: Idle No More can take heart from history of the civil rights movementWe can expect general bewilderment and frustration from the public as Idle No More pushes through in 2013. If history is any guide, public support should catch up sometime in 2045.
Categories: News for progressives

Federal prisoners still wait for meaningful reform after two years of ‘sunny ways’

Thu, 2017-12-14 15:59
December 14, 2017Civil Liberties WatchFederal prisoners still wait for meaningful reform after two years of ‘sunny ways’The Journal of Prisoners on Prisons identifies several areas for changes to the laws, policies, and practices of the Canadian penal system to improve life and work inside federal penitentiaries. B.C. prisons
Categories: News for progressives

Derek Fildebrandt ends his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year with a bang

Thu, 2017-12-14 13:29
David J. Climenhaga

Round up your livestock, O farmers of Alberta!

Derek Fildebrandt may be a city boy at heart, but he'll likely have to run in rural Alberta if he wants to stay in politics. So Alberta's Conservative problem child may have concluded shooting large hoofed mammals with powerful firearms would go over well with the yeoman farmers of southern Alberta who are his constituents now.

After all, it appears to work for rural Republican politicians south of the 49th Parallel, whence the querulous Ottawa-born founder of the "Reagan-Goldwater Society" at his alma mater, Carleton University, seems to get much of his strategic inspiration.

But it's hard to imagine the Strathmore-Brooks MLA's latest brush with the law, which involves being caught hunting illegally on private farm land, is going to do much to enhance his re-election chances in rural Alberta in the general election expected in 2019.

For one thing, we all know how farmers feel about city slickers wandering uninvited onto their property with big guns, Elmer Fudd caps from Cabela's, a sketchy knowledge of large ungulates, and a desire to shoot something on four legs.

The self-described liberty conservative's latest legal troubles won't even assure his until-recently-assumed swift readmission to the United Conservative Party caucus in the Alberta legislature by his friend Jason Kenney, that party's leader.

Fildebrandt, 32, resigned under pressure from the UCP Caucus in mid-August in the wake of two politically embarrassing situations -- getting caught renting his taxpayer-subsidized Edmonton condo on Airbnb and allegedly crashing his huge pickup truck into another vehicle in the building's parking lot, then taking off without leaving his name.

As The Globe and Mail reported then, "the close scrutiny given to his questionable expenses and legal blunders likely stems from his long-time role as a political agitator." Before becoming a Wildrose Party MLA in 2015, you see, Fildebrandt was well known as an unpleasantly aggressive operative for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, an anti-tax Astro-Turf organization.

Nevertheless, Fildebrandt's readmission to the UCP Caucus was widely expected as soon as Kenney got himself a seat in the Legislature in the Calgary-Lougheed byelection taking place today. Fildebrandt needs to be welcomed back because there's no way he'll be reelected in 2019 unless he's a candidate for the UCP.

Piling illegal hunting onto his previous legal and ethical troubles, though, will not speed his return!

News reports yesterday said Fildebrandt was caught near the town of Sundre on Nov. 4 in unlawful possession of wildlife (a deer he had shot) and being on private land without permission. A farmer complained to provincial Fish and Wildlife officers about an unwelcome hunter. The MLA does not dispute the charges. Indeed, he has apologized to everyone. He has a court date on Feb. 2 in the nearby town of Didsbury.

Meanwhile, his timing couldn't be less propitious. Fildebrandt already has a court hearing next Monday in the matter of the disputed parking lot collision. As noted, Kenney's by-election campaign reaches its climax in Calgary tomorrow. And the UCP Caucus in the Legislature was already scrambling to minimize the damage done by Tuesday's revelation Opposition House Leader Jason Nixon's former consulting company once fired a single mom it employed because she complained about a contractor who was sexually harassing her.

The discovery of Nixon's method of dealing with harassment at his company right came after he'd argued in the Legislature such matters should be left to private companies like his to sort out. The UCP's embarrassment was so acute it dropped its attack on the NDP Government's Bill 30, An Act to Protect the Health and Well-being of Working Albertans, which requires employers to implement sexual harassment policies.

The UCP had planned to stage a bitter fight against the bill, extending the 22-day fall sitting of the Legislature if possible. Instead, they gave up with a whimper yesterday, letting the NDP bring the busy session to an end as it desired.

Government House Leader Brian Mason mocked the UCP's "damage control" efforts, suggesting "they're getting out of there as fast as they can" with their "tail between their legs."

Well, in fairness, they have bigger fish to fry today in Kenney's bid to get into the House, where he can control his fractious, B-Team caucus.

At least one poll -- albeit one readers may not have full confidence in -- is said to have given Kenney 60 per cent support in the safe Conservative riding.

Still, in light of unexpected election outcomes in the past couple of days, Kenney would surely rather be concentrating on his main chance right now.

On Monday in British Columbia, Liberal Gordie Hogg won what was supposed to be a rock solid Conservative seat in a federal by-election for the South Surrey-White Rock riding. It was the first time in 70 years the Liberals have managed to represent any part of the riding.

And yesterday, of course, Democrat Doug Jones scored what is being called "an unimagined victory" in the race for the U.S. Senate seat in another seven-letter jurisdiction starting with A.

So the possibility, however slim, that since political lightning has struck twice, it might strike a third time, must have occurred to Kenney's strategic brain trust.

Fildebrandt's big game hunting adventure, at least, probably means Nixon is less likely to be demoted or sent packing by Kenney after Tuesday's embarrassment. As for the errant marksman's return to the bosom of the UCP, that may depend on Kenney's margin of victory today.

If it is huge, the UCP leader may feel he can do what he pleases. If it is lower than expected, he may be inclined to take more care with his personnel problems. And if by some miracle he loses, well, all bets would be off, wouldn't they?

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

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Categories: News for progressives

Let's all shine our lights to make the world a brighter place

Wed, 2017-12-13 20:41
December 13, 2017Shine a light during dark timesIt's no time to be complacent. We must show that we shine brighter. Knowledge, kindness and solidarity can overcome ignorance and fear.
Categories: News for progressives

Arthur Manuel's books should be mandatory reading for all Canadians

Wed, 2017-12-13 07:24
Doreen Nicoll

"The loss of our lands has been the precise cause of our impoverishment. Indigenous Peoples control only 0.2 [per cent] of the land in Canada while settler governments claim control of the other 99.8 [per cent]. With this distribution of land, you don't have to have a doctorate in economics to understand who will be poor and who will be rich. And our poverty is crushing." - Arthur Manuel, Secwepemc Nation from his book Unsettling Canada.

Arthur Manuel was like a brother to Kahnawake Mohawk policy analyst, writer, and activist Russ Diabo.  Recently, I had the honour and pleasure to speak by phone with Diabo. He told me about the life and work of Manuel, his long-time friend, fellow activist, and author of Unsettling Canada (UC) and The Reconciliation Manifesto: Recovering the Land Rebuilding the Economy (RM).

According to Diabo, "Both books are important for understanding the real history of Indigenous peoples and today's treatment because the structure hasn't changed."

In UC, Manuel lays out Indigenous history as a pattern of dispossession followed by dependence which eventually gives way to uprisings that culminate in the oppression of First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples.

Meanwhile, RM, focuses on Indigenous right to self-determination. But, Manuel doesn't shy away from addressing the fact that Indigenous Nations also need to put their own house in order.

According to Diabo, "First Nation assemblies have been co-opted by federal government money. They are not sitting at the table at the United Nations to ensure more international oversite. There is government oppression of the 0.2 [per cent] economy which is not addressing dependency on the federal government. This needs to be addressed through a change to the system which means going after Trudeau and his fake reconciliation."

Manuel's chapter on dishonest reconciliation embraces the creative use of language by settler politicians and a disrespecting of Indigenous self-determination as laid out by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

In 2007 when UNDRIP was adopted by the UN, Canada was one of only four countries to vote against it. In 2010 after succumbing to constant international pressure Canada endorsed the declaration. Yet, it wasn't until 2016 that Canada adopted and implemented the declaration. Even then, it did so only in accordance with the Canadian Constitution effectively demoting international law to a position secondary to national law -- something that is just not done.

To date, the Canadian government has refused to implement the UNDRIP Action Plan. It continues working against Indigenous interests; routinely excludes Indigenous representatives from decision making processes; and violates Nation to Nation treaties and international human rights law.

Chapter 43 of RM is a scant five pages that concisely lays out Manuel's six-point plan for effective, relatively painless decolonization that could, "Transform Canada into one of the most politically and environmentally progressive countries in the world, one that could be an example for all on how the ugly part of colonialism and racism, that has been so catastrophic for our people in terms of the sheer brutality we have been subject to, can finally be laid to rest. And both Indigenous peoples and Canadians can finally turn away from that sad past and look to a much brighter future."

On January 11, 2017, shortly after completing the manuscript for RM, Manuel died of congenitive heart failure at the age of 65.

Diabo remembers Manuel as, "The Nelson Mandela of the international Indigenous movement. No one has his knowledge, skill, and integrity. It will take many people to replace him and the limitless volunteer work he contributed."

Manuel's wife, son and two daughters are continuing the legacy of his work and they're joined by Manuel's vast network of friends and supporters numbering in the thousands.

Throughout this year of Colonialism 150 I've encouraged readers to listen to, watch or read an Indigenous point of view each week. Well, here you go settlers, buy a copy of each of these essential books and spend some quality time over the holidays educating yourself about Canada's colonial past and present, but more importantly embrace Manuel's vision of a Turtle Island that is truly home to Indigenous and settler alike.

While you're at it, simplify your life by buying several copies to give to your kids, in-laws, friends, colleagues, and dinner guests this holiday season. What a wonderful way to ring in a truthful New Year ready to hold Canada's governments accountable for meaningful Nation to Nation reconciliAction!

Photo: Tupak Huehuecoyotl​/Facebook

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Categories: News for progressives

Shine a light during dark times

Wed, 2017-12-13 06:09
David Suzuki

Before he died on November 7, 2016, the great poet Leonard Cohen offered a moving, prophetic warning in his final album's title song: "You want it darker / We kill the flame." As we near the Northern hemisphere's longest night of the year, it seems like a monumental challenge to keep the flickering flame from being extinguished.

In the U.S., human rights, environmental protections and social services are being snuffed out by executive order. Angry rhetoric from an administration that appears to thrive on division is fuelling racial tensions. As drought-fuelled fires rage, storms become more intense and unpredictable, and flooding devastates communities, and as much of the world plans how to meet commitments under the Paris Agreement, the fossil fuel industry and its government sycophants continue to destroy ecosystems in their race to exploit every bit of climate-altering product they can before shrinking markets halt their rampage.

Even governments that say they're committed to tackling climate change continue to promote pipelines, fracking and other fossil fuel projects and infrastructure. We also face the spectacle of two mad nuclear-armed heads of state trading childish insults, inching us closer to catastrophic confrontation.

Another great poet, William Butler Yeats, wrote presciently in 1919: "The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned / The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity."

It's not really true that the "best lack all conviction." But as the days get darker, it sometimes feels overwhelming, hopeless.

We must keep the flame burning.

The light will return to this part of the world and the days will get longer, but we must act to make our lives brighter. The "passionate intensity" (or maybe just banal indifference to suffering) of those who would impose misery on many for the benefit of the few may be little more than the death throes of an outdated, destructive order. But it's no time to be complacent. We must show that we shine brighter. Knowledge, kindness and solidarity can overcome ignorance and fear.

This truth is coming to light as more and more people reject the forces of darkness. Black Lives Matter#MeTooIdle No More. Women are speaking out against those who have oppressed them through rape, abuse and systemic sexism. People of colour are standing up to the violence, hatred and inequality they have faced in countries claiming to value freedom and equality. Indigenous peoples are demonstrating their knowledge and power and demanding an end to colonial oppression. Business people, religious leaders, politicians and citizens are demanding action on climate change and other environmental challenges. People everywhere are developing solutions to the problems we have caused through ignorance and avarice.

We must also work for better education, at home and throughout the world. Stabilizing population growth requires education for women and families, along with access to birth control and family planning. Democracies function best when people cast their votes and base their decisions on facts, critical thought and understanding rather than tribalism and rigid ideology. Those who have learned how to critically assess the overabundance of information that floods our daily lives are in a better position to contribute to positive change.

For many cultures, the winter solstice is a time to reflect, regroup and rededicate. As the light slowly returns, it's a period of renewal and eventual rebirth. It's a good time to celebrate that which holds true meaning and brings real happiness in life: friends, family, nature, connection. It's also a time to reach out to help those who are less fortunate.

Every good deed, every positive act, helps the flame burn a little bit brighter. No matter how small or insignificant our contributions may seem, when we do good in the world, it adds up -- and it will eventually overcome the darkness. Even an unconditional smile given to a stranger can cheer that person, who may then offer smiles to others, multiplying the effect and spreading joy.

As we near the solstice and enter the holiday season, I and the David Suzuki Foundation staff wish you peace and happiness for this year and the days to come. Let us all shine our lights to make the world a brighter, better place for all.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Image: patrick janicek​/Flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

Avoidance and possibility in a burning world at COP 23

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December 12, 2017EnvironmentCopping out at COP 23Our uncomfortable future demands that climate criminals not be enabled further while we carry our caps in hand with appeals to do the right thingClimate Changeenvironmental action
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Trump's decision to move U.S. embassy means further oppression for Palestinians

Mon, 2017-12-11 10:17
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Special programs and testing prevent children from learning important life lessons

Sat, 2017-12-09 13:00
Anti-RacismEducationPolitics in Canada

I was saddened to see Toronto's school board retreat from its plan to phase out its special schools and programs, like those for the arts and gifted students. They said it would be for the sake of greater social equity and meant to replace them by spreading the benefits among all, not just some -- mostly white and affluent -- kids. But they came under heavy fire for trying to squelch creativity and undermine individualism among "our" brightest kids. They caved.

These educational matters go through phases; what was once daring and urgent has to eventually be discarded for something else. The individual creativity thing has roots in the mid-20th century, a highly conformist time. If you want a sense of that, watch Amazon's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, about a young Jewish woman in 1950s New York, with a cameo by comedian Lenny Bruce. He was repeatedly arrested for saying words like tits, onstage. Even in the 1970s, comic George Carlin recited a list of seven words you couldn't utter publicly. Now they're all staples of network TV.

How did social equity replace individual creativity? Partly, demographics. Toronto's an awfully different place. But there's also activism among minority communities. It's one thing to have well-meaning white liberals fighting for your kids, it's another to engage directly. It's no longer just about what's right; there's what must be responded to. OISE (the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education), the weird educational building on Bloor St. W., has become a voice for those demands, but it reflects broader activism.

Take Toronto's "gifted" program. Kids are selected for it based on individually administered aptitude tests that don't depend on growing up in a home with lots of books and a piano. But teachers choose which kids take the test. Guess which parents squawk loudest if their kids aren't chosen and demand they be tested anyway. That's one way social equity gets eased out the back door. A high school like Northern has many gifted classes and many black students, but few of the latter are in the former. It makes no sense.

The name itself also sucks. I know I sound like Mister Rogers but all kids are gifted. My main point though is educational. The great feat of public schools is being open to everyone; they offer unique opportunities to learn from those unlike us. That gets lost if school populations are desegregated by program. At the same time, kids fail to learn a crucial lesson: what their society really looks like.

The special programs debate is linked to the testing question, another issue roiling education in Toronto. Every three years all Ontario kids take standardized tests and the results in math have been falling.

In fact, this is common everywhere that standardized tests are used. But in the Globe, Margaret Wente uses it to attack the equity caucus: "The folks at OISE believe that differences in academic achievement are caused by social inequities, not differences in ability."

That isn't so preposterous. Differences in academic achievement between demographic groups are frequently caused by social inequities while differences within the same group indicate different abilities. Maybe Wente needs some refreshers in "problem-solving and discovery approaches," which Conrad Black hyperventilates over in the National Post.

He finds it absurd that teachers and their unions suggest scrapping tests in response to poor scores. But their point isn't that kids are doing badly on the tests; it's that they're doing badly because of them. A heavy stress on tests detracts from teaching time and, if it goes far enough, as it has in the U.S., drives good teachers from the system. That's not what they went into it for.

Black's solution? "A redoubled effort be made to teach young people better." Wow. It's like Trump's idea to appoint "good generals" instead of bad ones, to start winning wars. ("The man's a military genius!" fumed Lewis Black.)

Black also noted that he'd taught fellow inmates while in a U.S. prison and "Every one my lads matriculated," i.e., passed the test. Because that's what tests prove: you've learned how to pass a test.

All university students currently sweating through papers and exams prior to Christmas break know it: you're studying to pass the test, not master the course material. What you've truly learned counts zero, compared to what you think your prof (or more likely, TA) wants to hear you say. This column is dedicated to them.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: University of Saskatchewan​/Flickr

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Categories: News for progressives



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