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October 28, 2019 12:51 -1000  |  Politics United Kingdom 0

Stephen popped up on Twitter today asking about Brexit again:

Another delay?? I thought there was a new deal.

I took a few minutes to write out a somewhat lengthy response, and after I was finished, realised it probably made more sense as a blog post so... Here it is, my ranting update about the state of all things Brexit here in the UK:


There was a deal, but it was a bad deal (actually it was pretty much the same as the previous deal, but this time it came from BORIS, so it's "new")

Basically Brexit is a mess because democracy:

  • Half the country wants to remain
  • Half the House wants to remain, though the representations don't correlate directly

The Brexiters all have a different definition of what "leave" means:

  • The disaster capitalist maniacs want an exit from all EU-related treaties at all costs immediately. They make up about 20-30% of the House and have roughly that same support among the public -- again, not correlating by constituency.
  • The other "leave" MPs want to leave with a deal but the nature of that deal differs from MP to MP.
  • "Brexit means Brexit" means fuck-all, yet this has been the Conservative position for 3 years.

You may have seen a meme going around, where the UK wants a unicorn, and the EU says "those don't exist, but you can have a pony" -- that's basically the best explanation out there.

The UK wants to leave, but not tear apart Ireland, which is impossible, because a core component of the Good Friday Agreement was that there be no barrier dividing Ireland.

They also want to leave, but have a free trade deal with the EU. The nature of that deal again varies from MP to MP, but mostly they want a deal that lets them freely export to the EU without customs checks and without being a member of the common market... also, they want to be able to sign their own trade deals with other countries. That'll never happen because the EU can't let the UK be a vector for importing uncontrolled goods into the union.

So basically the only deal that could possibly be arranged with the EU is the one that May worked out a couple years ago, and that Boris has re-branded as his deal. This deal doesn't go far enough for the disaster capitalists, and it doesn't keep us in the EU, so it can't be supported by remainers either. As a result, the deal can't pass without another referendum on it.

SO that leads us to the next stage.

Labour has said that they want a referendum on whatever deal is struck between the EU and the UK. The nature of that referendum question might very well dictate the future of this whole mess. It'll likely fall along one of two lines:

  1. Boris/May's deal
  2. No-deal exit

(or)

  1. Boris/May's deal
  2. No-deal exit
  3. Remain

At the moment, it looks like the disaster capitalists are working hard to re-frame "no deal" as "getting Brexit done" -- which is a lie of course. Exiting without a deal simply guarantees that the very next day negotiations start with the UK trying to hammer out a deal from outside the union. Only now it has violence in Ireland, and food & medicine shortages to deal with as well.

This may all be an attempt to get ahead of a referendum choice where people, tired of all of this politicking, vote "just exit already" out of ignorance, thus fucking the country and nicely making it their own faults while the disaster capitalists move to Malta.

Oh, and there's lots of talk of another election. The hope being that each party can get a majority to do what it wants. Boris is a disaster capitalist, so he wants to exit without a deal. Corbyn has stated that he wants a new referendum with remain on the ballot, and the Liberal Democrats say that they won't bother with a referendum and would just revoke Article 50.

The truth though is that a majority for any party is very unilkely. The Conservative vote is split by the Brexit Party which also wants an immediate exit, and the media here has been whipping up fear of Corbyn since he took the job. The Lib-dems are very unlikely to take a majority, but are unwilling to prop up Corbyn's Labour -- even on this one issue alone.

Everything is fucked. So we do the only thing we can do: kick the can down the road and hope that somehow, the British public will see past the tabloids and decades of underfunding education & social safety nets that would have helped them to not be fucking idiots when it comes to their most important political and economic partnership.

I don't have a lot of faith, but thankfully, the EU is patient... for the moment anyway.

August 04, 2019 11:59 -1000  |  Hate Internet Politics Terrorism 0

I want to pose a moral question, but one for which I don't have a concrete answer. Maybe I'm just working this out in my head, and maybe you can share your own opinions to help flesh out the subject, I don't know. I just want to get this down on "paper".

The US suffered two mass-shootings in the last two days. On the whole, this isn't really news. That country is has had 248 mass shootings just this year. The question about why this is so common in the US when compared to most other civilised nations isn't something I'm going to cover here. That subject gets plenty of dialogue, and I think the answer is pretty well defined.

Instead I want to talk about this tweet and my subsequent response to it. Here's the background for those not up on what a Cloudflare is:

Running a website for a Very Large Audience is a complicated process. You can't simply put your site on shared hosting for $5 or even $500 per month and expect your site to stay online. With popularity comes traffic, and that traffic can come from all over the world, sometimes all at once. On top of that, if your site is controversial, or even just a fun target for people who don't like you very much, your site can be inundated with traffic from bots, choking it to death and running up your bandwidth bills.

To get around this, companies like Cloudflare exist. They supply the infrastructure that your popular site relies on to weather storms of popularity, caching layers to reduce the strain on your server, and protection from would-be attackers. On the whole, the services they provide are critical to the web as it is today.

The thing about Cloudflare though, is that they're rather good at what they do. So good in fact that their services underpin a Very Large Number of websites on the internet. They're so big in fact, with so few serious competitors, that you might think of them more as a utility than a private company. Your favourite news site probably uses them, video game companies, libraries, software companies, you name it, Cloudflare is probably handling their traffic. They host a lot of the web... including a lot of the shadier parts of it.

Yeah we're talking about Nazis.

Hate sites are a perfect client for a company like Cloudflare: they have few resources (so they can't afford a massive array of servers) and are a likely target for attack (because they're Nazis). One might even say that without support from Cloudflare (or one of its few competitors), these sites simply couldn't serve their hateful audience.

So when a tragedy like this one happens, and we see that the murderers are being celebrated on the website that helped radicalise them, an obvious question must be asked: What kind of company would support that?

Truth be told, Cloudflare has the power to knock these sites off the web. All they have to do is withhold their services and wait for a bot army to shut it down. Indeed, that's exactly what they did when their CEO Mattew Prince unilaterally pulled Cloudflare's support for a particular Nazi site (no I won't mention it here) after the protest and murder in Charlottesville, Virginia. The site went down alright, and had to scramble for a replacement -- which they found eventually, but not of Cloudflare's calibre.

So now we have these mass shootings to contend with. There's another site out there full of hate that promotes violence, and now Cloudflare is being asked: "Why can't you just kick these assholes off the web like you did those other assholes?"

As of this writing, the site is still up & running, but I'm really not sure what to expect from their end on this one. The problem is that this is really a question of what the function of internet infrastructure should be: do we want an internet of neutral networks over which we can share our ideas, or do we want that conversation mediated by the companies that facilitate that exchange?

With Charlottesville, Cloudflare set a dangerous precedent. More than a benign piece of infrastructure, they were now making decisions about the nature of the content that made use of their system. Matthew Prince, their CEO remarked at the time on the fragile ground he and his company were treading.

Now, were it entirely up to me, I would want some editorial control over what my company supports in the world. I would have a whole department dedicated to making sure that our clients conform to the moral compass of the company -- but maybe that's a reason why I shouldn't be in charge of a company that's a de-facto piece of internet infrastructure.

The trouble for me is Cloudlfare's size and the critical role it plays in simply keeping the internet running. Cloudflare is so fundamental to how the internet functions that asking (or expecting) them to make a value judgement on the existence of one site is tantamount to trusting their CEO with the nature of our primary means of communication.

This is not a slippery slope argument. They're already feeling pressure from the music industry to monitor web traffic for content that infringes copyright. Cloudflare is an excellent vector for anyone wanting to remove anything from the web because they're so ubiquitous.

I'm still not sure. I want Cloudflare to kick 8chan off its platform. I'd like them to kick a lot of their more controversial clients off their services -- but that's my moral judgement. No one elected me (or Matthew Prince for that matter) -- why should either of us get to decide what does and doesn't get to be on the internet? What if Matthew would rather not serve PornHub or PlannedParenthood?

In the end, a lot of this discussion leads back to one of the critical failures of the internet and globalisation in general: no one is in charge. The internet is global, but at best, the only government anyone can appeal to to make collective decisions like this is that of the company's host country, and in a global society, that just isn't good enough. We've already seen the effects of the US's sex-negative culture on the web. Entrusting the American government with the future of global communication is decidedly a Bad Idea, but there's literally no alternative.

And so, here we are with another tragedy bolstered by hateful people on a hateful website and private infrastructure companies operating blindly on whatever they think will get them into the least amount of trouble. It's a terrible system, but I don't see a way out.

June 08, 2019 08:10 -1000  |  Canada Politics 0

I had someone come to me recently asking about Maxime Bernier's new "People's Party of Canada", and after spending a solid few hours writing the response email, I want to share it here as well. Besides, there's an election coming up.

This person presented both an interview with the Sun, and their party policy as reason to consider the PPC the next best thing in Canadian politics.

I decided to politely (but thoroughly) disagree.

Here's my problem with Bernier and his PPC: they're effectively a smiling mask over something very ugly, attempting to legitimise a position that's culturally toxic, a slippery slope bending toward hate and fear.

I know, that's a stark claim, so allow me to back it up. Before I get into why I think they're terrible though, let's start with the stuff I think they've got right.

The Good

Supply Management

It's a boneheaded idea and it's costing Canadians money every day. Effectively we've taken a few select Canadian industries out of the global economy and chosen to shelter them from the realities of the market and consumer demand. To my mind there's no excuse for this. It necessarily makes them complacent and drives up the costs for people at home. As far as I know, the PPC is the only party talking about it. Indeed, I understand that it's this issue more than anything that got Bernier kicked from the Conservative caucus.

It's a dumb policy, and it should die -- if for no other reason than the fact that it hinders trade negotiations with other countries. The recent CETA agreement (EU free trade deal) had a big problem with this one. Jen Gerson has a fantastic column on this in the Guardian if you're interested, where she talks about how our dairy industry has soured (see what I did there?) relations with the US for years.

It should be noted though, that the biggest drivers behind supply-side management are rural farmers, the same demographic the PPC is courting all over their platform so... I'm not sure what anyone can honestly expect here.

Corporate Welfare

Corporate welfare is a serious problem and has been as far back as I've read into Canadian history. Generally speaking, it's bad policy because it makes business dependent on a hand-out, and even after an industry is performing well, it generally continues to receive those government benefits for fear of job losses being tied to the removal of said benefits.

Specifically though, (and convenient that Bernier doesn't appear very vocal on this point), there's a whole whack of oil, gas, car, and aerospace companies on the government teat. Not on that list of top 25 corporate welfare recipients: a single green energy company.

So it's all fine and good to be opposed to corporate welfare, but again, the PPC is courting a demographic that's widely dependent on said welfare, all the while I hear people speaking for the party claiming that the real problem is subsidy for green energy.

End Barriers to Trade Between Provinces

It's dumb, and this is a popular idea -- even between the leading parties. I don't know a lot about the reasons behind why this exists, but I'm willing to bet that it's the provinces themselves behind these barriers rather than any limitations imposed federally. So, while I agree it's a good idea, I'm not convinced that a federal party can be the one to fix it.

"Principles"

He talks a good game about principles, and I'd like to believe him. Indeed, one of the perks of being a new party is that you don't have a record to run against, but rather an idea of who you would be. I like the idea of a man and a party that want to run on unpopular ideas (I tend to vote Green after all). It's the ideas that should win out, and not one's willingness to pander to all sides.

So let's have a look at some of those ideas.

The Bad

The Interview

"Unity is our Strength"

Famously, Bernier ranted about "diversity vs. unity" on Twitter in one of the greatest dog whistles of his career to date. At the root of his argument is that Canada is a country built by the French & English (conveniently ignoring the millions of immigrants who helped build the infrastructure, fought for the country, and died for it, but whatever) and that somehow these two groups have exclusive rights to unique Canadian values like rule of law, equality, and freedom of speech.

What's fascinating about these sorts of statements is that they at once bolster how you feel about who you are, and your country, while simultaneously insinuating that "the other" is somehow too foreign to possibly understand why you would think things like the rule of law are worth having. The reality however is that the vast majority of immigrants come to Canada from countries that have all of these things, and that those who weren't lucky enough to grow up in a country with them are coming to Canada because of them. He is painting a picture of an "evil other" that exists at worst, only on the fringes, but makes it sound like a serious threat.

The word for this is Nationalism which, in Europe at least, is mostly a dirty word because they know where that road leads.

The reality is that Canadians have more to fear from other Canadians of so-called "European decent". Historically it's been white people blowing up more stuff and killing more people in Canada than people of any other background. Have a look here for some details if you like. Note also that historically police in Canada have been slow to label violent attacks against civilians as "terrorism" when the instigator is white. Notably, Toronto's Incel van attack isn't listed among the incidents of terrorism in Canada.

The part that really gets to me though is this suggestion that unity is somehow better than diversity. This statement is objectively false. In every conceivable situation, unity is terribly weak in the face of a diverse system:

  • In biology, a diverse microbiome helps you fight off disease.
  • In ecology, diversity improves resistance & longevity while a unified ecosystem is so fragile that it must be artificially protected.
  • A unified economy is susceptible to market forces, while a diverse one can weather any storm.
  • Even metallurgy recognises this: alloys are infinitely stronger than homogeneous metals.

It's just wrong on its face -- that is, unless you're playing to an audience you've already convinced to be afraid of different people. Where exactly does this line between "us" and "them" get drawn? What happens when you find yourself on the wrong side of this line? History is full of answers, and none of them are good.

Bernier is a man who in one breath tells a story about him chastising a woman for referring to herself as "Chinese Canadian" and in the very next sentence refers to himself as a "French Canadian". He is tone-deaf to his own biases on one hand, and dog whistling to racists on the other.

Have a look at their immigration platform with the above in mind. Note the boogeyman they've created there, suggesting that somehow the UN is helping "the immigrants" change the cultural character of the country. There is zero evidence for this claim, but people like this don't need evidence when they have a story.

Climate Change

The man laughed at the mention of the topic. As far as I'm concerned, that alone is enough to discount his opinion on anything, but I like to be thorough.

In his words, the PPC will have no action on climate change at the federal level. Any parent of a child who will have to grow up in this world should be enraged by this. For 50 years we've been peddled this lie that the individual is responsible for their own impact on the earth, while we allowed governments and corporations to literally get away with murder to keep their profit margins up.

Here's what we know:

  1. Climate change is real
  2. It's driven by human action
  3. Just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions
  4. Corporations don't respond to individual action.
  5. They do respond to government policy.

Given that we know the above to be true, any party that would state that the federal government has no business sticking its nose into climate policy must be rejected immediately. This isn't political opinion, it's science. The PPC has an official policy of inaction on the single most critical problem of our generation.

Even if they were to win only a few seats, holding the balance of power would be enough to derail any climate policy by any government, making our country further complicit in making the world uninhabitable for the next generation.

It's easy to feel powerless on the issue of climate change. It's hard to try to find any sense of power when you're faced with massive economic forces bent on doing the wrong thing when it comes to climate, but this is absolutely your opportunity.

Any party without a strong climate policy must be soundly rejected. If you want to lend your vote to the PPC because "they have good policies" you are personally acting to defeat our best hope at combatting climate change.

One last note on this file though, given that the PPC is all about principles and all. It's interesting that they're opposed to having a climate policy at a federal level, but Bernier was happy to say that he'd push to get Trans Mountain (and other pipelines) built. In this, he's basically said that he's willing to leverage the federal government to further damage the planet, but will actively oppose any action to fix it.

He is reprehensible.

Foreign Aid

He wants to drastically reduce foreign aid. There's only 2 possible reasons for any politician to support this:

  1. He thinks it'll win votes
  2. He's an idiot

Study after study tells us the same thing: the money that goes into foreign aid inevitably leads to more and better economic development for Canada. I've seen numbers as high as a 10:1 ratio in terms of payback.

Here's how it works, using Bernier's colourful "build roads in Africa" line (note it's always "the shithole countries" that he'll refer to when talking about undesireables):

  1. Canada sends money to Kenya to help in the construction of roads, wells, and schools.
  2. That money goes to Canadian organisations that either do the work themselves or have relations with organisations already there.
  3. The work gets done, the local economy improves.
  4. That newly growing economy now has (a) a means to buy Canadian goods, and (b) relations with Canadian organisations to facilitate that exchange. They may also allow for expansion of Canadian business into their area for resource exploitation.

It doesn't always work out exactly like this and the system isn't perfect, but this isn't charity. Foreign aid is a smart, long-term means of developing your own economy.

There's also the fact that in a global civilisation (and economy), improving the health and economy of others counter-intuitively improves your own quality of life. Watch this video for a great break down on this subject. Bernier is pandering here, either out of political savvy or economic naïveté. In either case, his argument is terrible.

Policy

That was my reaction to his interview with The Sun, and it overlaps with a lot of what I have to say about their platform, but I also went through their platform for a few choice responses:

Equalisation is Unfair

Equalisation is what keeps Canada together. It's the basis for any country (or economic union) with diverse backgrounds. As economies fluctuate through recession and market forces, it's equalisation payments that keep whole swaths of the Canadian public from being plunged into poverty. We help the other now, because tomorrow we may need their help. This is how you build a union -- even the Americans get this. The fact that the PPC doesn't is not a reason to support them.

Get Ottawa out of Health Care

The PPC are unabashedly right-wing, free market capitalists. All of their economic policy speaks to this and their characterisation of Medicare as "abysmal" is exactly what I'd expect.

You have to read between the lines on this one: they want to "get Ottawa out of health care" and delegate powers to the provinces. However, health care is already in provincial jurisdiction and has been ever since the Canada Health Act was signed in 1984. They explicitly say that the problem is that the provinces have grown dependent on funding from the federal government for health services -- but of course they are, health care is expensive and the provinces don't have the sources of funding that the federal government does. To delegate the financial responsibility to the provinces is to download responsibilities (via the CHA) to the provinces without giving them the means to do the job.

What they're really saying here is that they intend to de-fund Medicare to the point where anyone with means will be willing to pay. I refer to it as "Health care for the poors" and it's what's happened to the NHS here in the UK. Health care is done on a shoestring budget, funded by political bodies incapable of doing better, while the rich fund the services for themselves through private insurance.

Frankly, I don't see it as being possible under the Canada Health Act, but if you starve the provinces long enough, you might manage to convince Canadians that Medicare isn't worth fighting for -- and of course that's the goal.

Both of my parents got serious medical treatments in the last year, and it's a certainty that they never would have been able to afford it without the federal government subsidising their ability to be alive. So no, these people can fuck right off with this kind of bullshit.

Privatise Canada Post

This is just annoying, and it's brought up all the time with these types. Somehow, privatising something will always fix it, like letting someone take a profit out of something is the way to make it more cost efficient. It's shortsighed at best, and just dumb policy at worst.

Private companies care about profits, not political ends. That's why finding a private courier to deliver a package to far flung communities in northern Québéc is damned near impossible. Canada Post was founded to bring Canadians together, so that anyone in the country could send a letter or parcel to anyone else in the country -- a political goal meant to facilitate community and an inter-dependent economy. Private companies exist to make a profit, and aren't concerned with political goals, so to suggest that we privatise Canada Post is to say that they don't believe in that political goal, that somehow rural Canadians aren't deserving of access to the same privileges as the rest of us.

While they're at it, maybe they should privatise the police and the fire departments. I'm sure some efficiencies can be found in seeing what happens when only people who can afford to pay out of pocket can get basic services.

Abolish Capital Gains Tax & Cutting the Federal Income Tax to 15%

They say that in the US, the poor support the right-wing because they don't see themselves a "poor", but as "temporarily embarrassed millionaires". This (along with xenophobia) is at the root of support for parties like the PPC.

The thing about taxes is that you have to think about them as a question of national policy as opposed to your personal pocket book. I know that that's not how they want to you think about it, but consider for a moment the size of the bank accounts of the people wanting you to think this way and you begin to see my point.

Say for example that you, as a person of modest means, own a (portion of) your house, and take home a median salary. The suggestion that a party would "put money back into your pocket" by cutting capital gains taxes and lowering the income tax is appealing because it would inflate your paycheque and make selling your house more profitable.

But that's thinking too small. Enlarge the picture to think about the national level and things get a lot more interesting.

In Canada, like most of the world, the vast majority of wealth is held by a few Very Rich People. There is of course a spectrum, and modest-means-you is probably somewhere in the middle, but have a look at what "middle" means in the context of this income chart:

While you may take home 2 or 3 times what the people on the poorer side of the spectrum do, the people on the rich end are wiping their ass with enough cash to buy every house on your street. CEOs in Canada make more money in their first hour of work than most of Canada's poorest earn all year.

In a just society, we try to even things out a bit by levying higher taxes on the rich than on the poor. This means that the super rich are taxed in the area of 50% or even 75% in some countries. If you make $10million a year, you only get to keep $2.5million -- it's still a mountain more than most Canadians ever see, and those taxes go to fund things like health care, roads, and education -- things most of us couldn't afford to pay for on our own.

With this picture in mind, while lowering federal taxes to 15% may mean a small bump to you, it's an epic win for the rich. More importantly though, it's a death blow to social services. Without that $7.5million from that one rich guy, your unemployment cheque has to be a lot lower, veterans affairs offices have to close, and schools get fewer teachers. These are services you can't afford to cover personally, even with that bump from the lower tax rate.

High taxes on the rich are about fairness to everyone, and while there's definitely room to consider moving the tax brackets around to support the low and middle class, calling for a 15% flat tax amounts to robbery of the commons by the rich.

Finally

The danger of populists is that they campaign not on facts, but on a story. To paraphrase a favourite US "president":

We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you Maxime Bernier is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only: Making you afraid of it, and telling you who's to blame for it. That's how you win elections.

Bernier is painting a picture of a Canada under siege by lawless immigrant terrorists, pointing to them (in the absence of any serious evidence) as the true threat while ignoring the realities of failed fiscal policy and climate change. His economic platform is phrased to appeal to the poor and middle-class, but will overwhelmingly benefit the rich and cut the social safety nets that keep the rest of us alive.

He and his party are at best a convenient way to guarantee another Liberal party victory through our borken electoral system. At worst, they're the vanguard for the tumour that is nationalism and even fascism in Canada.

Already you see the racists and yellow jackets lining up to support him -- ask yourself what these people see in him. I promise you it's not a conscious reflection on economic policy. They're responding to that dog whistle.


Update: The party has since removed the entire section on immigration from their website -- read into that what you will. The link I provide here has now been updated to reference the last available copy before it was taken offline thanks to Archive.org's Wayback machine.

November 16, 2016 08:59 -1000  |  Politics The United States 2

The outcome of the US presidential election was easily predicted. I say this because I was sure Trump would win as far back as May of this year. There seems to be a great many people still entirely surprised by the outcome though, so I thought I'd write down my reasoning.

There were two primary factors in Trump's taking of the White House. I'll deal with the minor reason first.

Sexism

It's still easier for most people to vote for a black man than it is for a white woman. The reasons for this are long and horrible, but this reality hasn't changed much in the last few thousand years. A woman may have a better chance now of winning an election, but sexism continues to stack the deck against every female candidate in most of the world.

It's a real problem, but I don't think it's nearly enough to explain why Clinton lost in an election that was the Left's for the taking.

The Establishment

Trump didn't win this election, Clinton lost it because she couldn't convince people to show up. Take a look at this chart showing the voter turnout over the last few elections (credit to dinoignacio via reddit). Trump rode the coattails of the Republican base who vote red regardless of the candidate, but the Left barely represented, begging the question: why not?

To answer this you need only look at the Bernie Sanders campaign. Here was a candidate who called for an end to money in politics, real socialised medicine, a focus on the environment, and on returning industry to the country. His focus on the future appealed to young people, his record on social policy encouraged the base, and his rhetoric on taking care of people hit hardest resonated with everyone who has been hurting over the last few years.

That last group is what matters because that last group is HUGE.

The truth is that in most Western nations, the US included, austerity and the right-wing have been at war with the working class for decades. In countries without an adequate social safety net (like the US), it's entirely common to have a household with two working parents and two children, and still not have enough to make ends meet. For those families just squeaking by, they live in fear of one of them losing their job, at which point they are literally homeless.

These people are angry, and they're scared, and the best that the Left could drum up was a woman whose dynastic name practically begs the spectre of corruption and hereditary rule. Clinton is the embodiment of "politics as usual" handed to a nation of people desperate for change.

At his core, Obama wasn't much different from Clinton in the ideals that capitalism somehow equals freedom, but importantly on the surface Obama was inspirational: the first black president, a Democrat who talks like a Kennedy. That man could have read the phone book to the public and the world would still have fallen in love with him.

But after eight years with him at the helm, the people are still scared and angry. They've barely survived a banking crisis that crippled the planet and saw not one rich white banker convicted. There are riots on the streets spurred by cops with military hardware murdering cvilians. They're still living paycheque to paycheque and the only explanation they're getting is from the Orange Beast on the right who is insisting that the immigrants are to blame for everything.

This was a hard sell, but the American people were ripe for a real shift in policy. So what did the Democratic party do? They sabotaged the Sanders campaign and assumed that fear of the damage Trump could do would be enough to get the plebs to vote blue.

The people are tired, angry, and scared. They want an end to corruption, to a government that doesn't understand or even hear their plight. They were told repeatedly by that establishment that a vote for Trump would be insane, that it would burn everything down. The trouble is, that's what the people want. The people want a revolution. They want to see muderous cops and "banksters" behind bars, they want an end to foreign wars, and they want coprorations out of politics.

This is a failure of the Left to give the people what they want. The left could have run an inspirational candidate, one who wanted the same thing 70% of Americans wanted. This was the opportunity to capture the White House, the Senate, Congress, and the Supreme Court for that revolutionary vision of the future.

But the Democrats wanted another Clinton.

That's why they got Trump.

October 06, 2015 07:02 -1000  |  Canada Democracy Environment Green Party NDP Politics 0

A dear friend asked me over Twitter today why I think she should vote Green and not NDP. I started with 140 characters, then switched to a direct message, and then I wanted formatting... So I wrote a blog post.

So Theresa, this is a short, but reasonably complete list of the reasons I couldn't bring myself to vote NDP this election. Which is a pity really. I'd like to live in a world where a party like the Greens didn't need to exist because the mainstream parties actually did the Right Thing.

...but they don't do the right thing, and they shouldn't be rewarded for that.

Environment

The Tar Sands

If there is one fact that should be obvious to anyone who claims to know anything about climate change, it's that the carbon reserves that we have in Northern Alberta need to stay in the ground. The NDP are against Keystone XL and Northern Gateway, but they do support Energy East. So, either the NDP don't believe the millions of scientists who have stated that this stuff has to stay in the ground, or they're pretending to support the oil sector in an effort to get votes.

Either way, the NDP position is suspect and speaks to either their scientific literacy or their authenticity. I'll let you decide which is more egregious.

Carbon Tax vs. Cap and Trade

The NDP has taken a cap/trade position (to the exclusion of a carbon tax) against the advice of every prominent environmentalist and economist. This is quite clearly done for political reasons, to separate themselves from the Liberals and Greens who favour a carbon tax.

This wouldn't be such a big deal if it weren't for the fact that every reputable environmentalist group will tell you that a carbon tax is the best way to affect the change needed, and that cap/trade is a market non-solution. In other words, the NDP is choosing its platform based on what it thinks will win them power over what is right for the country. You may sense a theme developing.

The Senate

Their position on the senate is untenable, impractical, and dishonest. Ignoring for the moment that almost all of the countries on the planet with a single governing house are what you and I might refer to as banana republics, an upper house is a crucial check on the power of the lower house, and in a parliamentary system like ours that vests so much power in the hands of a single person, the prime minister, this is a Very Bad Idea.

On top of that, abolition is quite impossible as it would require support for all of the provinces and every constitutional lawyer in the country will tell you that there's no way you'll ever get everyone on board with abolition.

No one is saying that the Senate shouldn't be reformed, but the NDP position of abolition is not good policy. Once again, they're writing policy based on what they think will play better with the public (abolition is much easier to grasp than reform), as opposed to what would be good for the country.

Proportional Representation

After the 2011 election, the NDP, who had been talking about electoral reform months earlier, suddenly came out in favour of first past the post. I distinctly remember listening to CBC's The House, where the NDP MP steadfastly supported FPTP with the typical platitudes of "it's worked for the country for so long" etc. etc. None of this is surprising since it was first-past-the-post that gave them that "orange wave" in Québec.

Then, just last year, they showed up late to the party on electoral reform and did a big blitz where they told everyone that if elected, they'd "make this Canada's last unfair election". Then, as they rose in the polls, all of that rhetoric evaporated, and now their issues page makes absolutely no mention of it.

The Consortium Debate

Thomas Mulcair started this campaign saying he'd gladly debate anywhere, any time, and he's finishing it having backed out of the one debate that was guaranteed to have the most viewers out of the entire Election.

You can't claim to want to lead the country if you're going to run away from debates with your opponents. It doesn't matter that Stephen Harper refused to participate. In fact, Mulcair's refusal simply puts him in bad company, with arguably Canada's worst Prime Minister in history.

The Consortium Debate could have been an opportunity to reach more than 10 million people (as opposed to the paltry 1.5 from the Maclean's Debate) and publicly shame Stephen Harper for abdicating his responsibility to the democratic process. Instead, through his actions, Mulcair legitimised Harper's position and drastically limited the level of political discourse in Canada.

This reason alone would be enough to keep me from the NDP.

Wrap Up

I want to make it clear that I still think that the NDP are better than the Liberals and Conservatives, but I also think that they've fallen far, far from their roots as the sensible socialist alternative. They've become a party of pragmatists, shifting their principles toward whatever they think will win them votes, and for me this is an unforgivable sin.

If you want to lead my country, I expect you to have ideals and principles underlying your positions, policy that's supported by those principles, and a leader that stands behind them. The CCF was that kind of party, Tommy Douglas, Elizabeth May and Jeremy Corbyn are that kind of leader, and voters can smell the stench of an impostor. They smell it on Thomas Mulcair, and they certainly smell it on Justin Trudeau.

I voted Green because they're still the party of principle out there. They take sometimes unpopular positions that are vested in principles as stated by the party members. I don't agree with all of these positions, but I can live with what I see as bad policy if it means that I can trust the party to follow through with everything they say they represent:

  • They called for a carbon tax more than a decade ago, when the science was in but the public was strongly against it. They've never wavered on this.
  • They've always opposed the tar sands because it's bad policy to support an industry that's trying to kill everyone on the planet.
  • They routinely call for order and respect in the House of Commons.
  • They support the reduction of powers of the Prime Minister, because we shouldn't be electing de-facto dictators, and for the increase in power of MPs so that they can do the work of local representation.
  • Their leader is an accomplished lawyer, parliamentarian and diplomat, dedicated to her role as MP and advocate for a safe environment.

I also think that their position on the senate is silly and impractical, and that their opposition to GMOs is anti-science and idiotic, but as it's clear that neither of these are priorities in the party, I'm unconcerned given their positions on real issues that actually matter.

When it comes time to vote in this election, who would you rather support, a party that stands by what it says, or a party that has demonstrated that their ideology and even their science will bend to pragmatism?

September 02, 2015 22:27 -1000  |  Canada Politics 3

The body of a child, washed up on a Turkish beach

I'm posting the image here for all to see. If this bothers you, good. This is exactly the sort of thing that should bother you. Your reaction proves that you are a good person, capable of empathy.

If you're anything like me, feelings of grief and sadness were followed, after some wallowing, by a deep sense of helplessness and anger. This image, and the issues behind it are terrible -- what can I do about it?

The honest answer is that I don't know. No one thing, no ten things I can think of doing would even begin to solve the problem of finding these people a safe place to live.

The problem at this juncture, from what I understand, is two-sided: political will on the receiving end, and in some cases (at least for that of Turkey), an unwillingness to be decent human beings when it comes to the treatment of refugees. In other words, the problem is political: people need to get out of Syria and the rest of us won't let them. Instead we're collectively sitting idly by while bodies wash up on beaches.

It seems to me that the solution to all of this is to remind everyone of our collective capacity for empathy. If our cowardly leaders won't move on this issue it can only be out of a lack of empathy, and they therefore should be replaced. This is why I'm posting this photo: because we need to be upset about this.

This is a solvable problem. The number of refugees coming out of Syria are great, but manageable: 7million. If Europe alone were to accept all of them tomorrow, this would represent a mere 2% increase in population, and there's no reason that Europe alone should have to bear the strain of such an influx. The United Nations has asked Canada to accept 10,000, and I can only assume that other countries have had similar numbers asked of them.

It's time to make our voices heard on this issue and step up to help. We're a human community after all and that is a dead child on a beach.

May 26, 2015 07:27 -1000  |  Canada Politics 2

Canada's Senate has been getting a lot of flack lately from the suspended/disgraced former senators like Conservatives Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin to most recently, moves by the Senate to block/amend/rewrite the Reform Act, a bill I personally think is long overdue.

Every party has a different idea of what to do with the Red Chamber. The Greens want to reform it by electing senators, the Liberals simply kicked all Liberal senators out of their caucus, the Conservatives want to elect them, but aren't interested in actually going through the process of getting provincial approval, and the NDP wants to outright abolish the Senate -- though they've been unsurprisingly silent on exactly how they'd do that in the face of a constitution that guarantees the Senate's existence.

How it Works Right Now

For those of you who don't know, this is how the Senate currently works in relation to your vote:

  1. You vote for a candidate to represent your riding in the House of Commons.
  2. The winner in your riding goes to Ottawa to represent you, and whichever party holds a plurality of votes after an election forms government, with the leader of that party given the role of Prime Minister.
  3. The government does it's thing until one day a Senate seat becomes available by way of only five options:
    • A senator dies
    • A senator reaches the age of 65
    • A senator leaves the Senate of their own volition
    • A senator is kicked out of the Senate
    • The House of Commons votes to increase the size of the Senate
  4. When this happens, the Prime Minister can put anyone (s)he wants into that Senate seat. Typically these are "friends of the party", or just friends of the Prime Minister.
  5. That senator sits in the Senate and votes on bills coming from the House of Commons until they die, reach 65, leave, or are kicked out.

When Party A is elected, the Prime Minister appoints 10 senators over the course of her term. When her party is ousted by Party B, the new party now has to contend with people in the Senate who might oppose anything too extreme, since they're from a different party. This is what is lovingly referred to as "sober second thought".

What the Parties are Suggesting

On the face of it, the Senate seems like an insane tool for democratic governance, and I won't deny the fact that there's a lot of room for improvement, but I want to go on record saying that I think the positions of all the major parties are deeply flawed here, and in the case of every party, self-serving:

  • The Green Party want a proportionally elected senate. Given that the current system currently offers the Greens exactly 0 seats, elections make sense for them. Additionally, proportional elections serve the Greens well because their vote is spread wide across the country.
  • The Liberals kicked the sitting Liberal senators out of caucus, but know that this was more about optics than anything else. These senators are still loyal to the party, to the ideals of the party. They lose nothing, and nothing is gained for anyone but Liberals.
  • The Conservatives want an elected senate, which fits with their mantra of "more responsible government". The only problem is that their own actions over the last decade have shown that they use the electoral process to reduce voter turnout and drive up wedge politics, and then strong-arm the political process to get their way. In a fully elected system, there'd be nothing in the Prime Minister's way to do everything (s)he wants.
  • The NDP want to abolish the senate, a move that works for them since they've never had a seat in there anyway. Given the nature of our constitution, it's also a pipe dream that they can market as something the public can easily comprehend and support. It does nothing at all to ensure appropriate checks on power in our system.

I want to make the case that the senate is a good thing. That for all of its flaws, the purpose it serves is just too important to abandon (as the NDP would suggest) or politicise (as the others have stated).

Why Elections are a Bad Idea

The typical solution of "just elect them" is one that's already been tried and found wanting. For the test case, you need only look South to the United States where they elect:

  • A President
  • Congressmen
  • Senators
  • Judges
  • District Attorneys
  • Sheriffs
  • ...and many more

The result is a deeply polarised society, with judges and senators less concerned about their jobs than they are about getting re-elected. A sheriff's sex life, rather than their track record is made relevant to whether or not they can enforce the law. There is no concept of "sober second thought" because every time a congressman or senator votes on an issue, they have to worry about "how this will play with the voters".

This isn't to say that all elections are bad. They are after all a pillar of democracy. No, I'm arguing that just as an elected governing body is crucial to democracy, a sane political process also requires the existence of a body that is not beholden to the whims of the public. The public is fickle, emotional, and historically grossly uninformed. Purely elected bodies are measureably less stable, more erratic, and more polarising.

This was the idea behind Canada's Senate, and it's still a good one: a place where people can come together and debate, amend, approve, and reject bills passed by the elected House. It's a check on the power of the House, which is beholden only to the electorate.

If you introduce elections to this equation, you undermine the whole value of the senate: the lack of fear in decision making. Worrying about re-election means worrying about the whims of the short-term: anti-science, religious nutbaggery, and war-mongering. All of the emotionally-charged issues underlining every political action based on recent events, presented outside of the broader historical context. This is is a recipe of instability and a tyranny of short-term thinking.

Alternatives

If we shouldn't abolish the Senate, and we shouldn't elect it, then what alternatives do we have? I don't pretend to have all of the answers, but if someone were to make me Emperor for a Day, I might propose something like this:

  • Candidates for Senate seats are nominated by sitting members of the House of Commons
    • One nominee proposed per MP
    • Nominations are secret so party whips can't manipulate MPs.
  • Whenever a senate seat is made available, one is randomly selected from the list of 308 candidates.
  • Senate terms should be 20years to allow for long-term policy making, while allowing for gradual changes over time.
  • Violations of Senate rules (citing the Duffy and Wallin cases here) should be met with investigation and/or suspension and public trial if need be.

I'm curious about what others might think about this, and would invite other proposals -- anything to preserve the ideals of the Red Chamber while working to root out the cronyism we're currently saddled with.

One thing's for certain though, all of the major parties are making recommendations that are bad for the country in the long term, and unsurprisingly, they're all recommending policy that works best for them.

April 18, 2014 02:18 -1000  |  Canada Democracy Politics 0

Listening to CBC radio this morning, Evan Solomon interviewed a Conservative Party senator about the Fair Elections Act. He claimed support for the bill because while he'd received a number of form letters opposed to it, "not a single personal email" had crossed his desk.

Of course, upon hearing this, I did what I could to send him a personal email, but it turns out that it's rather difficult. He didn't list any contact info on the show, so I had to look him up on Wikipedia. From there, I went to his personal website, which was down, so I visited his official page on the Senate's site and sent him this:

Subject: You said you'd not received any personal emails so...

Here's one asking you to reconsider your position on the Fair Elections Act.

The vouching issue is a big problem, but to be honest, it's not my primary concern. I object to the act on the grounds of banning vouching alone as it will disenfranchise voters at a time where our elections are bordering losing their legitimacy, but personally I see the other facets of this bill as far more dangerous.

For me, the most disturbing part of the act are the changes to spending limits that create loopholes so big that that it effectively enables rich parties to dominate the electoral process. Poorer parties, like the NDP, Greens, Bloc, and Pirates, which represent the will of millions of Canadians will be eclipsed by the war chests amassed by the already dominant parties in our country. Canada's democratic process is already biased toward a two-party system, why would you work to deepen that problem?

Then there's the constraints on Elections Canada, a spiteful swipe by the Conservative party if ever there was one. Elections Canada needs the power to compel testimony in its effort to keep our elections fair, and the Conservative Party moves instead to curtail the powers of the Chief Electoral Officer and then goes even further to do something nobody wants: block them actually promoting voting.

There's a reason no one who knows what they're talking about supports this act: it's insane. You know that deep down most of these proposals were never made in earnest. The goal has always been to distract the public with the more glaring changes (vouching, stopping Elections Canada from promoting voting), so that the financial changes -- the long-term, most damaging ones -- can slip through on an amended bill.

You're an unelected senator, and this is why I love the Senate. You're in a position to vote to turn this bill out completely with absolutely no risk to your position. You know that this is a bad bill, you have to. Have the courage to stand up for future generations in this country that want fair elections. Turn this bill back with a recommendation to introduce real electoral reform: open accounting, a modern electoral process, any number of recommendations proposed by experts in this field.

You have a choice, here and now to do something right with your position. Please don't waste it.

This Fair Elections Act is probably the most damaging piece of legislation the Conservatives have ever put forward. If it succeeds as-is, it will permanently damage the legitimacy of every Canadian government from 2015 forward. If it's amended to include only a fraction of its current payload, it will simply cripple democracy across the country.

If you're reading this and you're Canadian, please take a few minutes to learn about the act and then write to a senator about why (s)he needs to fight this. It's important.

April 01, 2014 13:24 -1000  |  Free Software Politics 0

I had a bit of a revelation the other day. I realised that we live in an age where state power and secrecy is so fragile that governments are completely at a loss regarding what to do about it. All it takes is for one person with a conscience to copy a file and push it out onto the Internet and that's it: everyone can know the truth, and no one can stop it from circulating.

We've seen this at play with Wikileaks, and more recently with Edward Snowden, and the public world wide overwhelmingly supports the work of these individuals and organisations in bringing to light truths that need to be told. This amazing future we're living in, that allows us to practise journalism of conscience exists solely because of a concept we often refer to as the "Open Web", and it's under attack.

Mozilla screencap

Without getting too technical, there are concerted efforts by governments and corporations to break down the Open Web into more manageable chunks. Governments want a means to control what data gets distributed, copyright holders want a way to monitor what you share and with whom, ISPs want to turn the internet into a series of channels so that they can charge for so-called premium services, and then there's companies like Netflix that actively work to privatise the web itself, pushing for proprietary, closed standards.

Our Free and Open Internet is being attacked on all sides and no one has been a greater ally for the public good in this fight than Mozilla. Yes of course, The Pirate Bay has been a champion of our rights for years, and Google has our back... sometimes, but when it comes to a reputable, reasonable, non-profit voice in the one area that counts the most for this point in our evolution, Mozilla is it.

Mozilla's decision to promote Brendan Eich to CEO was not an endorsement of his politics, but it's still terrible for many reasons, not the least of which was the foreseeable backlash they had to have known they would face from the community who have come to love, trust, and promote Mozilla over the years. His presence in the Big Chair undermines all of that goodwill, and his unwillingness to seek some sort of reconciliation with the community only serves to damage relations further.

But this business of boycotting Mozilla, driving people away from a Free and Open Internet and into the hands of private and government interests, this is not good for anyone but Google, Apple, and the NSA. We need to prioritise the public good, over our distaste for one man's bigotry. We should condemn Mozilla's decision, but acknowledge that they're still our closest ally in the fight for a Free and Open Web.

Brendan Eich should be mocked publicly for being lost on the wrong side of history and Mozilla's board should question its decision to put at the helm of their company someone who has cost the company so much in the eyes of the public, but if we're going to continue fighting for an Open Web, we need to acknowledge who our friends are.

Hint: it's not Google.

July 06, 2011 07:57 -1000  |  Canada Politics 4

It's a strange thing being an expat, stranger still being a rather patriotic one. I manage to keep up on what's happening in Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, and Amsterdam thanks to the wonders of social networking and do what I can to facilitate a cultural exchange with those around me. My coworkers teach me about kibbeling, and I teach them how to properly make use of the word "eh".

The thing is, as an expat, you start to feel like a sort of ambassador for your country and culture. Our traditions, geography, food... people ask me about these things and I do my best to represent Canada when they do. In my short time here, I've given crash courses on poutine, prorogue, and Parliament, explained numerous times that we don't all speak French, and painstakingly outlined our core differences from the Americans. It's an honour really, to serve in this role, but I find my enthusiasm for it is not as strong as it was only a few years ago. Canada is letting me down.

Our reputation abroad has been thrown away by our Glorious Leaders in the key areas of human health and climate change. Canada, a nation that at one time served in a role of moral leadership in these areas, is now being rightfully attacked by the international community for our abysmal track record.

We are being singled out as being the most damaging influence on the issue of climate change, worse than the United States, China, and India. Al Jazeera even did a recent story on our embarrassing track record. As if that wasn't enough, our duplicitous policy of banning the use of asbestos in Canada, while exporting the poison abroad is making headlines now... it's hard to proudly represent a country that you're just not proud of.

Canada is the nation that saved the world by inventing peace keeping. This, and acts like it earned a name for us in the international community as a fair, diplomatic voice, but as our attitude toward the world has changed, so has our reputation, and when we lost our seat on the UN Security Council, our Prime Minister openly stated that he really didn't care.

I've been told that I shouldn't worry about such things, that Canada is just like any other country: hypocritical and tainted with self interest. We "can't be Good about everything" is the thinking, but I disagree and see this as defeatist. If we accept the Canada that is destructive and disingenuous to our neighbours, then we'll never see the Canada we want. Instead, I must learn to be honest about who we are, and fight for who we should be... it's just that some days, it's so very difficult to be proud of my country and this makes me sad.