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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

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism.

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

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. 

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

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



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