That survey

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The Liberal government, trying to recover from Minister Maryam Monsef’s astonishingly bumbled performance in the House of Commons last week, has decided to seek a little consultation camouflage, using an on-line survey that has already been roundly mocked for its heavy-handed tendentiousness.

I don’t approve of on-line surveys. Self-selected sampling is extremely suspect. The results may say little or nothing about a population wider than the sample itself, and hence lack sufficient meaning from which to draw conclusions. That was a significant problem with the Household Survey that replaced the long-form census under the previous government. Voluntary participation leads to self-selection bias, and over- and under-reporting biases in a complex population. And the Liberal survey, just to make things even worse, can apparently be submitted as often as one wishes, increasing the possibility of freeping.

But then there are the survey questions themselves. Some Conservatives managed to sink this to the level of parody. But in some ways, the Liberal survey is scarcely better.

Let’s note the positive aspect first. The Liberal approach is to begin with a probe of voter values and electoral preferences, rather than offer a selection of off-the-shelf systems from which people are expected to choose. In theory, this is the right way to go. Any change in our electoral system should ideally be a made-in-Canada one, reflecting the process and outcomes preferred by a majority of the electorate. You don’t start with a system: you end with one.

The Citizens’ Assemblies in British Columbia (2004) and Ontario (2006) were examples of doing things right. Ordinary citizens were chosen to decide upon a preferred electoral system that reflected the values of their fellow-citizens. The assemblies heard from many of them, in public meetings and through written submissions. There was also a considerable amount of expert background provided to the assemblies on various existing systems. The former settled upon the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system, the latter, on a form of Mixed Member Proportional (MMP). What is important to note is that these were conclusions, not opening positions.

(The recommendations were subject to a popular vote in the two provinces. In BC, all ridings but two reported majorities in favour of a change to STV. The over-all vote for change was 57.7%. Not enough: the government of the day had already legislated a 60% minimum. In Ontario, the MMP proposal lost by a margin of nearly two to one. A flawed model and general lack of information were both blamed.)

Surveying values and preferences, then, should form the basis of any proposal for changing the electoral system. But how well does this new survey perform its alleged task?

As it turns out, not very well; in fact in some cases, ludicrously badly—which led to some hilarious parodies at a Twitter hashtag, #RejectedERQs. The survey as a whole is heavily tendentious. The “propositions” with which respondents are invited to agree or disagree are too often loaded to the breaking-point:

  • There should be parties in Parliament that represent the views of all Canadians, even if some are radical or extreme.

[Comment: The snarl-words “radical” and “extreme” were inserted to influence the responses. They are highly subjective terms that some would even apply to the current parties.]

  • Voters should be able to express multiple preferences on the ballot, even if this means that it takes longer to count the ballots and announce the election result.

[Comment: How much longer? Why appeal to people’s general impatience? And note that “multiple preferences” could mean either STV (where those multiple preferences translate into MPs) or Alternative Vote(AV), aka “instant run-off,” which wastes up to half the votes cast and would likely translate into Liberal majorities until the end of time. (Both NDP and Conservative voters would likely vote Liberal as a second choice.) Opposition to multiple preferences could mean either support for MMP or for the current first-past-the-post system. Answers, then, could reflect powerfully opposing points of view aggregated together. Of what functional use is such a result?]

  • It is better for several parties to have to govern together than for one party to make all the decisions in government, even if it takes longer for government to get things done.

[Comment: Again, this is an appeal to impatience. There is no guarantee that coalitions would take longer to get government business done. After all, the current Liberal and Conservative parties are, in essence, big-tent coalitions. The other thing to consider is compromise: if the House of Commons is reflective of the electorate, then compromise between points of view is a necessary part of the democratic process.]

And the survey often forces respondents to choose between two false options. For example:

  • Ballots should be as simple as possible so that everybody understands how to vote OR ballots should allow everybody to express their preferences in detail?

[Comment: How are these two alternatives opposed? Is an STV or an MMP ballot all that complex? Are Canadians too stupid to figure out how to use them? The underlying assumptions here need to be seriously challenged.]

  • Which would you prefer? Having many small parties in Parliament representing many different views OR having a few big parties that try to appeal to a broad range of people?

[Comment: The purr-phrase “try to appeal” will skew the responses. And the underlying assumptions here are highly questionable, for a number of reasons. Would anything but a pure proportional representation system—which no one is proposing—produce a plethora of small parties, given electoral thresholds and Canadian political behaviour? Germany and New Zealand have each had MMP for some time: the Bundestag, like Canada, presently has five parties represented; the NZ parliament, seven.]

This sondage of elector values is also fundamentally incomplete. Do voters simply not care whether their votes are given equal weight or are simply wasted, or whether the make-up of the House of Commons reflects the electorate’s differing preferences? Should a minority effectively be able to rule the rest of the country unopposed for four years, with “false majority” governments? No questions appear that deal with these matters.

Those questions, however, would not have been based upon hypotheticals. Since World War I there have been seventeen majority governments, only three of which have had actual majority support from the voters. In last year’s election, more than 50% of all votes were for losing candidates, and hence wasted—that’s over nine million voters!

But instead of even whispering the concept of proportional representation in the survey, we are asked substantially less important questions, about voting machines and mandatory voting (again with scare-caveats), and even quizzed on where MPs should spend their time—the latter being something that no electoral system would address.

I cannot see a clear bias towards AV in this survey, as some have alleged, but I do see an obvious bias away from any form of proportional representation—which was favoured by 90% of those testifying and making written submissions to ERRE. While the survey does go a little deeper than most, asking for respondents’ priorities in an electoral system, for example, its drafting is chock-full of rookie mistakes (if mistakes they were) that would appall undergraduate students taking a methods course.

The results will be obviously and significantly skewed, by omission and commission, against proportional representation—the popular favourite. The latter, by the way, is a principle—a value, if you like—not a voting system: this cannot be stressed enough. So why would a survey allegedly intended to elicit the values Canadians would prefer in an electoral system, according to its defenders like Philippe Lagassé, so deliberately steer respondents away from this one?

The conclusion is clear: the purpose of this survey is cynically self-serving and political. Justin Trudeau won a majority with 39% of the vote, after all. As dub poet Lillian Allen says, “No one in power ain’t giving up nothing.”

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The new yokels

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“Evidence-based policy” is a cant phrase that has been around for a while. I first heard it used—repeatedly—at Justin Trudeau’s coronation in Montreal in 2012. It was clearly a term that was intended to set the Liberals off from the Conservatives, who governed in the teeth of evidence, facts, logic and science.

But once in power, this fresh new approach to governance was not to be. Climate change? Here are a couple more pipelines. And mind your manners, Injuns—we’ve got police and the military to sort you out if need be, and you’ve seen that movie before.

For many, changing the antiquated first-past-the-post electoral system was perhaps Trudeau’s key election promise. Presently, less than 40% of the electors can push the other 60%+ around for four years at a time. Most Canadians want proportional representation: in other words, a Parliament that fairly represents the electorate. The vast majority of witnesses and submissions to the special Parliamentary committee on electoral reform were solidly in favour of change. The ERRE laboured long and hard, and fulfilled its mandate to a T.

The response from the Liberal government is encapsulated in the above photograph, which is worth considerably more than a thousand words. It’s the vapid, smirking face of the Minister to whom the ERRE reported, Maryam Monsef, holding the formula for the Gallagher Index while mocking the Committee and lying through her teeth about its mandate and its work.

For any not already clued in, the Gallagher Index is just a formula for measuring proportionality across systems. It’s far from “incomprehensible,” as the Minister claimed—even I can figure it out—but maybe her math class was tough. It’s not a voting system, and it’s not something voters even need to know, any more than people out for a stroll need to be aware of gravitational wave theory to get about.

But barely a year after Sunny Justin was elected, we have come to this: a yokel rising in the House to mock mathematics and deride her own Committee and the myriad of experts who made submissions and testified before it. Flashbacks, anyone?

UPDATE: Monsef’s apology. Take it as you will.

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Fidel: One giant speaks of another

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His enemies say he was an uncrowned king who confused unity with unanimity.

And in that his enemies are right.

His enemies say that if Napoleon had a newspaper like Granma, no Frenchman would have learned of the disaster at Waterloo.

And in that his enemies are right.

His enemies say that he exercised power by talking a lot and listening little, because he was more used to hearing echoes than voices.

And in that his enemies are right.

But some things his enemies do not say: it was not to pose for the history books that he bared his breast to the invaders’ bullets,

he faced hurricanes as an equal, hurricane to hurricane,

he survived 637 attempts on his life,

his contagious energy was decisive in making a country out of a colony,

and it was not by Lucifer’s curse or God’s miracle that the new country managed to outlive 10 US presidents, their napkins spread in their laps, ready to eat it with knife and fork.

And his enemies never mention that Cuba is one rare country that does not compete for the World Doormat Cup.

And they do not say that the revolution, punished for the crime of dignity, is what it managed to be and not what it wished to become. Nor do they say that the wall separating desire from reality grew ever higher and wider thanks to the imperial blockade, which suffocated a Cuban-style democracy, militarized society, and gave the bureaucracy, always ready with a problem for every solution, the alibis it needed to justify and perpetuate itself.

And they do not say that in spite of all the sorrow, in spite of the external aggression and the internal high-handedness, this distressed and obstinate island has spawned the least unjust society in Latin America.

And his enemies do not say that this feat was the outcome of the sacrifice of its people, and also of the stubborn will and old-fashioned sense of honor of the knight who always fought on the side of the losers, like his famous colleague in the fields of Castile.

~Eduardo Galeano, “Mirrors”

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Yellow crescent2.jpg

No more safe spaces, my fellow progressives. The world is one vast trigger warning. And my heart goes out to Jews and Muslims in particular. They’re coming for them. Who’s next?

The dichotomy that folks like me have always claimed—between Israel as a perceived beachhead of “Western civilization” against Islam, versus a benign safe haven for world Jewry—is now manifest.

Benjamin Netanyahu loves Donald Trump, who is busy at the moment staffing the White House with fascists. He’ll forgive the anti-Semitism—the real stuff this time—that is now breaking out all over, because it was never about anti-Semitism, anyway. Israel is getting the nod from the far-right, who are, for now, willing to put aside the fact that Israel has Jews in it, if Israel will only keep up the pressure on the Muslims. And all the pious nonsense about a “two-state solution” in the Middle East has at long last been put out of its misery.

Meanwhile, American Muslims will soon be forced to register—better for now, I guess, than being forced into camps or ghettos, or the mandatory wearing of yellow crescents, or having tattoos placed upon their arms, but we can all read history.

Human decency is dying. Welcome to the Hobbesian world of Donald J. Trump, the “bellum omnium contra omnes.” And at the end, Netanyahu is revealed as just another kapo, and his government as the ultimate Judenrat.

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As I said in comments on a previous thread, I’m not totally surprised by the Trump victory. Nor am I going to run around with my hands in the air screaming that this is the final end of the world, or that the USA is going to collapse into a fascist dictatorship, etc, etc. The problem with totalitarian moments is that you often can’t 100% recognize them until they’ve arrived, and there’s an opportunity cost crying wolf if they don’t. (That cost being, obviously, that no one will believe you when it counts. The dilemma being, once again, that you can’t easily know in advance that it does…)

What I am a little surprised by are the attempts at explanation that try to produce a One True Cause of the Trump victory, in opposition to all the other One True Causes. The most popular two I’ll call the Whitelash Hypothesis and the Revenge of the Globalized. In the Whitelash Hypothesis, white voters in “flyover country” walk into the polling booths, rub their hands with glee, and vote for whomever will promise to oppress the people that white people love oppressing, because white. (I’m being facetious here, of course.) The Revenge of the Globalized, however, is when the victims of free trade, that being the workers in Rust Belt factories, lash out at whoever happens to be ruling at the time in protest of their jobs being shipped to China — and it was a Democratic president who never did anything about the costs of globalization who lost the election for a Hillary Clinton allied to globalization’s architects.

The Whitelash Hypothesis is supported by the idea that actually, yes, Trump supporters were better off than average, and that lower-income quintiles tended to go for Clinton — if this were a backlash against neoliberalism, why wouldn’t it have been the other way around? Those who believe it was the Revenge of the Globalized argue in return that it is a sense of economic security that has been removed from populations that had once felt secure, and the possibility of loss creates reactionary politics.

And what is surprising to me is that these things are placed in opposition to one another, as though they weren’t interdependent variables that both had an effect on the outcome. The truth is that electorally-crucial segments of the American population have become more insecure and more reactionary as a result. Those segments tend to be a largely-white population that was secure and is willing to pass severe judgement on an entire political order they perceive as not designed around their security and dignity as the Staatsvolk, but rather designed by people who wish to displace them as the Staatsvolk by people whose existence at the best of times is benignly auxiliary.

And that globalization as currently practiced results in this effect is essentially undeniable. The truth is, globalization made it impossible for a largely-white US working class that had benefited from a kind of industrialization to prosper in those industries. It was never enough to say that the steelworks job shipped overseas could be supplemented by retraining. As has been pointed out countless times, you’re not going to turn a 50-year-old auto plant worker into a Javascript developer, and he’s not going to find a job trying to do that. Wal-Mart is not a substitute either.

People are particularly up in arms about the prominence of Steve Bannon, the publisher of the execrable Breitbart. He’s a terrible human being. But that shouldn’t stop you from listening to what he says about himself, where he claims that his nationalism is first and foremost economic:

He absolutely — mockingly — rejects the idea that this is a racial line. “I’m not a white nationalist, I’m a nationalist. I’m an economic nationalist,” he tells me. “The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia. The issue now is about Americans looking to not get f—ed over. If we deliver” — by “we” he means the Trump White House — “we’ll get 60 percent of the white vote, and 40 percent of the black and Hispanic vote and we’ll govern for 50 years. That’s what the Democrats missed. They were talking to these people with companies with a $9 billion market cap employing nine people. It’s not reality. They lost sight of what the world is about.”

And what he wants to do economically:

“Like [Andrew] Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement,” he says. “It’s everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Ship yards, iron works, get them all jacked up. We’re just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution — conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.”

I’ve already seen people mock his references to outdated “shipyards and ironworks”, which sounds all so 19th century. They’re missing the point. It doesn’t matter if it’s a literal ironworks, it just means some place where a man can make a living and support his family doing something he thinks is real — without having to be creative, without having to spend his life in school. That’s the vision Bannon wants to sell here, amidst everything else. That’s the vision that, if he succeeds, will make Trumpism immortal.

Finally, I get to say a morbid “I told you so”. I used to comment on mainstream economics blogs like Brad DeLong and Worthwhile Canadian Initiative, trying to tell them how this would go, that mainstream suppression of the populist anti-globalization left would result in the rise of more dangerous and intolerant forms of right-wing populism. And lo, it has. They variously argued that to say so was to commit racism against the Chinese (why shouldn’t a Chinese person have the industrial job an American did?!?), or they would simply say that the results of globalization were something to be compensated for by a strong welfare state (haha). The politics of economic dignity and sense of self-worth completely escaped their consciousnesses, and some of these people were, yes, fairly powerful and influential people. I eventually seemed to have been silently banned from those places. DeLong is trying to figure out how to convince the Trump government to adopt the same old, basically.

The truth is, until you figure out how to give less educated but previously prosperous people not merely compensatory social welfare but a sense of self-worth, you need to consider doing economic globalization another way, if at all. Unfortunately, in the USA, the world’s biggest military and industrial power, those people tend to be white, they tend to believe certain things about their place in the world that reflects white privilege, and they’re tired of apologizing for it. Both/and.

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Nazi-schmazi, v.2.0

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Two years ago, I noted that Canada was one of only three countries in the world to vote against a United Nations resolution condemning Nazism and assorted other bigotry.

That was under the previous Prime Minister. Today Canada abstained from condemning Nazism. Progress! Sunny ways! [My apologies for the Pravda link, but once again, the legacy media here have been oddly silent about this.]

Meanwhile, Ukraine is busy naming streets after Jew-killers, white supremacists are securing places in Donald Trump’s cabinet, and swastikas are making their appearance in Ottawa.

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The Quebec "justice" system

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Surete du Quebec.jpg

Women in Val d’Or will continue to be sexually violated, and subject to reprisals for coming forward.

Police investigated other police. A civilian official, appointed to oversee the investigation, said she would be “surprised” if no charges were laid. They weren’t. And I, for one, am not in the least surprised.

This afternoon we will get some official Crownsplaining, and we have already had some pointless commentary about looking at the “broader” issues of societal racism.

Let’s not say that the system didn’t work. It worked perfectly well.

UPDATE: The Crown’s version.

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You who philosphize disgrace

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The American justice system cuts the murderer of Philando Castile a break. Or two, or three. And we aren’t even at the trial stage.

The Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Donald Trump. Their faith is unlikely to be unrewarded. Things will get very, very dark over the next few years. Because, in America, and especially Trump’s America, Black lives don’t matter very much.

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America flips the bird

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Trump’s election is going to be the biggest ‘fuck you’ ever recorded in human history—and it will feel good….He is the human Molotov cocktail that they’ve been waiting for, the human hand grenade that they can legally throw into the system. ~Michael Moore

Last night I learned a lesson. And I now have questions about everything I have lazily taken for granted over the decades of my life, both political and personal.

I think Moore got it right several months ago, but it runs much deeper. Not everyone who voted for Trump was financially ruined by free trade and Wall Street. Not all of them were racist and sexist hooligans. America, I think, had reached the tipping point for the politics-as-usual that never did make any sense, that left some high and dry, certainly, but which didn’t affect others either for good or ill. The latter was the main problem: it was also the reason so many people felt willing and able to kick out the jams. It seemed entirely risk-free to them. It was politics at a remote distance, politics that let people stick their heads out a window and shout “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more,” and actually have an effect on a system with which they had always been so profoundly unengaged.

Had Bernie Sanders run against Trump, the polls showed a healthy lead for the former—for the exact-same reason. Yes, I know, polls, but it was a hypothetical question, and hence low-risk for those surveyed: no Bradley effect here. Sanders, too, was an outsider, who took on the entire machine and attracted huge crowds at his rallies. He rattled the cage of the system, and the system kicked him to the curb. There was only one choice left for a radically disaffected electorate, and they took it.

I listened to a number of interviews with Trump supporters. They weren’t all misogynist neo-Nazis. In fact a lot of them, with some embarrassment, it seemed to me, tried to explain away Trump’s grossly evident sexism and racism, rather than defiantly glory in it. Remember hope and change? They were clearly motivated by both. It wasn’t ideology at work here: it was alienation.

The media-political complex lulled us all, as it has always done. Even those of us radically sceptical of the corporate media allowed ourselves to be reassured. The pollsters must be scratching their heads till their scalps bleed. Republicans joined Democrats in defending the system and denouncing the interloper: Trump didn’t get a single major newspaper endorsement. Major Republican figures spoke out in concern. But the more the establishment sounded the alarm, the more entrenched the Trump phenomenon became. It is tempting, in fact, to infer some cause and effect here.

The people have spoken, but they’ve been speaking for some time. It is only the thinnest of silver linings in a vast dark cloud that Clinton narrowly won the popular vote. Trump won the presidency, fair and square, against enormous obstacles. And so many of us were taken by surprise.

It’s not that we weren’t listening. It’s that we didn’t have the means to listen. And that is the most sobering and challenging truth that has just emerged from America.

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Montreal police: War on Scotsmen

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McCarthy.jpgThis story rather speaks for itself.

But a few observations:

  • The sgian dubh is not a prohibited weapon: it is a part of ceremonial Scottish dress. The analogy with Sikhs and their kirpans (already legally decided, by the way) is rather obvious. Carrying the sgian dubh in this fashion clearly meets the “reasonable excuse” requirement.

  • The small knife was unconcealed. It was not being brandished.

  • The Montreal police are notorious for throwing their weight around. Here is another glaring example. (The citations against Amal Asmar, for sitting on a bench while Arab, were eventually dropped.)

  • Perhaps worthy of mention is that the people targeted in both cases are not white. (The bagpiper’s grandmother was Scottish. He has a Jamaican mother.) Racial profiling is a well-used implement in the Montreal Police bag of tricks.

Should Jeff McCarthy choose to complain, well, good luck with that. We can hope that he gets his little knife back, at least, without having to pay into the coffers of the City of Montreal for the privilege of walking while Scottish.

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