A week in politics

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…rising quickly to its climax: a report that Stephen Harper wants to abolish the Senate. His creatures there have been giving him a black eye, and only now has he looked in the mirror. Wow, what a shiner!

Will those who have been scolding Tom Mulcair for empty, allegedly unconstitutional threats, please observe a moment of respectful silence? The Senate is toast.

And this followed a mass bribery play earlier in the week, as Canadians with children and young adults were showered with $3 billion of their own money, from coast to coast to coast. The result? A massive bounce for the Conservatives, which has the Toronto Sun in such a frenzy of happy delirium that it originally published the same story twice, back-to-back, literally beside itself. Minister Pierre “Skippy” Poilievre, criss-crossing Canada with a truckload of largesse, denounces “freebies” on his own website. “Government,” he intones, “cannot give anything, without first taking it away.” “Yup, he’s right,” chorus the yokels, as they run out to spend their Christmas in July money on new pitchforks.

True, Harper lost yet another court case, this time over his unconstitutional punishment of refugees, but his expanding support might suggest that refugee-bashing is not exactly hurting him in various dank quarters of the country. And the Conservative fear machine is cranking up, too, with Minister of Foreign Affairs Rob Nicholson ordering up three terrorism-related stories a week.

Another court decision, confirming the disenfranchisement of more than a million Canadians living abroad, is expected to shore up Conservative strength in key ridings. Add to that 250,000 or so poor, First Nations, seniors and student voters deprived of their vote by the so-called Fair Elections Act, the curious reluctance of the Commissioner of Canada Elections and the Director of Public Prosecutions to prosecute the perpetrators of the widespread election fraud in 2011, and the hobbling of Elections Canada, and we might see the 6,201 votes that won Harper his majority in 2011 increase substantially.

Politics is easy.

What to do, what to do? The NDP’s Nathan Cullen, beating his favourite drum, urges a coalition with the Liberals. After all, the two combined still have the support of a (now bare) majority of the electorate. Enter the indefatigable John Ivison with a fistful of shibboleths. “By suggesting a combination of New Democrats and Liberals should bring down a Harper minority government at the first opportunity, [Cullen] has opened the door to accusations the opposition parties will band together to subvert the will of voters.”

Being a trifle old-school, I was under the impression that the “will of voters” bore some relation to majority preference, even if that preference is expressed negatively. Most Canadians reject, and have always rejected, Stephen Harper and the benighted values and policies he stands for. But there remains no end of cheer-misleading in the media, which almost unanimously endorsed him in the lead-up to the 2011 general election, and will likely do the same this time.

Meanwhile, the political landscape has become so surreal that one might soon expect to see the Peace Tower clock ooze down the walls.

A week is an eternity in politics. I can smell the brimstone.

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Jesus H. Christ

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I guess we’ve finally learned what the initial stands for.

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Slow genocide

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More Hispanic and Black casualties in the white supremacist United States of America.

Here is how police are being trained these days: it might help to explain, at least in part, the continuing carnage.

It’s a pogrom in slow motion.

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garden.jpgThis is a fine example of bureaucratic overreach, enabled by a cranky neighbour. Doesn’t the City of Ottawa have better things to do with my taxes?

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Clash of Civilizations

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Published without comment. [Strong language.]

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The predictable clamour that followed the passage of anti-labour Bill C-377 by the Senate just before it rose on June 30 all but drowned out another retrograde move: the upper house permitted Bill C-279, on transgender rights, to die on the order paper. Debate on passage was deliberately delayed by government Senate leader Claude Carignan, effectively killing it.

NDP MP Randall Garrison’s private member’s bill would have added gender identity provisions to both the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act, extending protection against hate crimes to transgender individuals.

The tortuous trajectory of C-279 says much about the dark side of our society. A similar bill (C-389) was introduced to the House of Commons by former MP Bill Siksay in 2009, and managed to pass third reading in 2010, but Parliament was dissolved before it could reach the Senate.

It was reintroduced in September 2011 by Garrison, and was passed in 2013 with 18 Conservatives supporting it, including the late Jim Flaherty and then-minister John Baird. But Stephen Harper strongly opposed it, as did the vast majority of the Conservative caucus.

The bill then went to the Senate, where it sat gathering dust for 20 months. Then it was effectively gutted by Conservative senators earlier this year. With Senator Don Plett leading the charge, the Senate amended the bill to exempt such venues as prisons, crisis centres and public washrooms from its protection, based upon the outmoded notion that trans women are really just males in drag.

In short, after six years of hard work to enshrine rights and protections for transgender people in the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, the Senate effectively killed a corpse on June 30.

One wonders what all the fuss was about. But one doesn’t have to dig too deeply to answer that question.

The transgender phenomenon is poorly understood by most people. Even the word “transgender” is misleading: the social construct of “gender” is not being transcended, but reinforced. The same male/female binary persists in a different guise.

The debate, however, is not whether or not transgenderism is based upon faulty and essentialist notions of gender. For trans folks living their often difficult daily lives, this is hardly worth discussing. They are what they are, and why shouldn’t they be?

But they stand for something that is anathema to social conservatives and uncomfortable for many others: the notion that gender is fluid and social, not innate.

Feminists have long countered the constraints of gender: the alleged “role” of women in society has been vigorously contested for decades now, every move toward equal status met by fierce opposition.

The arguments against their progress have been based upon a hodgepodge category rooted in fallacious ideas about biology and innate differences. But they are no less real for all of that. We may explain away “gender,” or “race,” for that matter, as mere constructs, but the power that lies behind them has shackled women and racialized people for centuries, imposing untold misery.

Nevertheless, in an historical blink of an eye, the idea of a woman’s “role” in society has been fundamentally altered. In fact, it is probably safe to say that the very notion of role has been shattered. The notion, for example, of “women’s work” has long fallen by the wayside in mainstream society.

That is not to say that women’s struggle has been won, however — not by a long shot. “Gender” still claims its victims every day. Ask anyone involved in the ongoing fight for access to abortion, for example. Or take note of university presidents who claim, absurdly, that some areas of study are dominated by men because of their innate superior abilities.

Transgender individuals, by their very existence, challenge these conventional biological notions of gender. They throw into question people’s comfortable sense of gender identity, to which they cling: how solid is it, really? It is not surprising, then, that so-called “transphobia” (literally, “fear of the beyond”) raises its ugly head everywhere, as it just did in the Senate.

Thanks to unelected legislators, trans people remain vulnerable to open discrimination and even violent physical assault in Canada just because of who they are, unprotected by rights legislation and Criminal Code hate crime provisions.

In the final analysis, it all comes down to basic human decency. Why not live and let live? Bill C-279 was an attempt to counter prejudice, discrimination and blind hatred. It died because those forces proved momentarily stronger. Let us hope that a new government will move quickly to correct this shameful leap backwards.

[This article originally appeared in the Toronto Star on July 7.]

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Greece, sez the pundits, is facing an “uncertain future.” “Uncharted waters.” You betcha.

But between the Devil and the deep blue sea (I know how to swim), I’d take the uncharted waters without hesitation. That’s what nearly two-thirds of Greek voters effectively announced in yesterday’s referendum. Πάμε Ελλάδα!

As more than one Nobel laureate has said, it’s those waters, no doubt chock full o’ shoals and infested with sharks, that pose a better choice than accepting debt servitude in perpetuity to the so-called Troika (the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank).

And Germany, driving the whole mess, looks as though it is trying to win World War Three without firing a shot. Consider Greece a metaphorical Stalingrad of sorts.

Greece, some recall, helped bail out post-war Germany by forgiving a mountain of debt. But memories are short, particularly when long ones might raise pangs of conscience.

No European government, it seems, will stand up to the current Drang nach Südosten. But Greeks have had enough of “austerity,” a quaint word meaning “deliberately-caused Depression.” They have suffered grievously at the hands of the bankers and European elites, including their own, and they’re standing up out of pure desperation. It’s the spirit of humanity vs. steel-eyed bankers and the 1% they serve. We should all stand with Greece at this possibly pivotal moment.

This isn’t just about Greece, of course. Poorer countries have almost invariably suffered after joining the Eurozone. A Greek exit from the Euro might herald a general unravelling of the currency. About time. It was a ridiculous notion to begin with—a common monetary policy without a common fiscal one. Here’s a three-minute primer on why that’s a bad idea.

“Any alternative?” ask the usual sceptics with the usual derision. Well, yes, actually. But no one should imagine that Greeks will enter the Promised Land any time soon. It’s going to be appallingly rough sledding for a number of years, particularly because the powers that be will want to punish Greece pour enourager les autres.

Yet that key human quality, hope, is now in play. There was absolutely none on the course that the Troika had set for them. Is another Greece (and world) possible? I suspect the Greeks are plucky enough to give it their best shot. I wish them well. So should we all.

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Conservative death throes

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dying monster.jpg

An animal is most dangerous when it’s wounded, they say, and the Conservative Party of Canada has been metaphorically bearing that out for months. Sinking steadily in the polls, it has sought to further impose its brand of sado-politics upon our long-suffering country, even against its own best interests.

In its last days it has been showing its teeth, snapping and snarling: jamming the union-busting Bill C-377 through the Senate, tearing at the fabric of free collective bargaining with omnibus Bill C-59, spiking a transgender rights Bill, and tabling legislation to forbid Muslim women from taking the oath of citizenship in traditional niqab dress.

It passed Bill C-24, formally establishing two classes of citizenship. It introduced an act to condemn some criminals to life without parole. It cribbed American voter suppression legislation to make it more difficult for First Nations, students and the poor to exercise their franchise. And of course there was the infamous Bill C-51, establishing a largely unaccountable political police with the power to override the Charter of Rights.

The Supreme Court is unlikely to allow any of these profoundly unconstitutional measures to last: Harper has already racked up a string of losses before them. But the rule of law, as we have seen during a seemingly endless series of scandals (which began, in fact, even before the 2006 election) and legislative jiggery-pokery, seems to be just a minor annoyance for the Conservatives when they’re on a tear.

Like Parliament itself, in fact: since 2011, the Conservatives have shut down debate more than 100 times. Harper earlier distinguished himself as the only Prime Minister in Canadian history to be found guilty of contempt of Parliament.

Through all this, the Conservatives have been spending scads of taxpayers’ cash on nakedly partisan advertising, activities and personal self-aggrandizement. Harper has surrounded himself with criminals and lowlifes to further his agenda. It all smacks of political racketeering. There ought to be a law.

But now the flailing of this dying regime has begun in earnest. A symptom: rejecting Ches Crosbie’s candidacy in the Newfoundland Labrador riding of Avalon, leaving themselves with no candidate at all (the deadline for nominees was June 25). The province has no Conservative MPs at present. This isn’t likely to improve the odds.

Then there’s the Mother Canada monument, approaching Hallmark levels of kitsch, tearing a hole in a pristine national park; and the planned memorial to the victims of Communism, promising to similarly deface the nation’s capital. If those monstrosities are actually built, it will cost the taxpayers millions.

And the attack ads. The Conservatives may even have broken their own law with the latest one, and things weren’t made any better with senior Conservative spokesman Kory Teneyke’s odd performance on national television.

There is no point trying to apply the rational-actor model to any of this. It defies rational explanation. But this sort of thing is not unknown in nature. We’ve seen this self-destructive behaviour before—dealing blow after blow to veterans, who, we might think, should be a solid part of the Conservative base, or alienating senior citizens by raising the retirement age—but these latest spasms are simply bizarre.

The wounded beast is dying, vomiting venom as life slowly drains away. We can put it out of its misery on October 19. Surely at this point it’s the only humane thing to do.

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Precrime, Canadian style

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driver.jpgI’ve been asleep at the switch on this one, but I wonder if I’m alone: since 1983, Canada has had a provision in the Criminal Code (Section 810) to curtail the freedom of citizens who have committed no crime. Failure to sign a “peace bond” and accept conditions as imposed by a judge is punishable by imprisonment.

Perhaps because this was initially added to the Code to restrain violent spouses and/or vicious sex offenders, few brows were wrinkled at the time. (In fact, various forms of this arrangement have existed in the Criminal Code since 1898, originally to protect property.) But in the natural course of events, the law was broadened in 1997 to include members of “criminal organizations,” and then, in 2001, while the memory of 9/11 was still fresh, to further include those who might commit a “terrorism offence.”

And so we stood, until Bill C-51 became law. Just passed by the Conservatives with unanimous Liberal support, this sort of thing becomes child’s play: even a suspicion that a citizen may commit a terrorism offence that now includes “advocating or promoting the commission of terrorism offences in general” can get you detained.

But previous to the passage of C-51, there was already enough on the books to constrain and confine someone who might commit a terrorist act. It just didn’t get invoked much.

Which brings us to the case of Aaron Driver.

Legislative overreach is inevitably followed by lower-court judicial overreach. In this case a young imbecile has been publicly supporting ISIS, the most bestial so far of the Islamist death-cults that have arisen in the slaughterhouse that is today’s Middle East.

Driver has been released after eight days in detention, under a peace bond that imposes 25 conditions, including wearing an monitoring ankle bracelet at all times; no ownership of computers or tablets; no access to social media; no possession of anything with the logos or the many names of ISIS; RCMP oversight of his cellphone; an overnight curfew; and accepting “religious counselling.”

He has never been charged with a crime.

Now we have his own words on tape. His motivation for supporting ISIS is a debased form of “root cause” theory: Western governments, involving themselves in far-off local conflicts, have killed hundreds of thousands of Muslims, so we should hardly be surprised, he argues, when the chickens come home to roost. ISIS is just fighting back. Many might agree, at least, that ISIS did not spring spontaneously from the desert sands like a malodorous mutant flower: it is a hellish symptom of global geopolitics gone badly awry.

Even to make that observation may now, under C-51, be illegal. Yet it is part of the on-going debate about what many of us regard as the folly of Western intervention in countries that they do not understand, where an infrastructure of lies inevitably replaces any notion of superior morality and governance, and whose long-suffering civilian populations have been decimated as a result.

Be all that as it may, a Canadian has now had his liberties severely curtailed, even to the point of forced religious instruction, which we normally associate with the very Islamists that Driver has been supporting.

We don’t know what facts as yet unrevealed might have motivated the RCMP, well before the passage of C-51, or the judge in this case, to take such extraordinary measures against a citizen of Canada. As in the film Minority Report, precrime is now a fact of life in this country. And, while we can all imagine hypothetical cases in which we might find ourselves supporting such measures, we need to keep in mind that they will now be less likely than ever to be confined in their application.

Support the Palestinian cause? Cheer on Ukrainian irregulars blowing up Russian ammunition dumps? Defend an armed uprising against the Chinese occupation of Tibet? Best think again before saying any of that out loud. When, after all, does lawful advocacy become the promotion of terrorism “in general?” You tell me.

Laying criminal charges is, however, still a chancy business. Peace bonds allow the police to evade the trial process, and for that reason they’re likely to become far more common in the C-51 era. Any of us who question the current order of things could be charged with a precrime, not by “precogs” in a bubble, but by your friendly neighbourhood Constable Plod. Aaron Driver’s case is a harbinger of far worse to come. Strap in tight, fellow activists: it’s going to be a rough ride.

UPDATE: And…Aaron Driver is back in custody. Still not charged with anything—as though it mattered.

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Geeks to Greeks: iOwnya

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Greek Apple1.jpgIn a surprise announcement, Apple Inc. announced today that the world’s most valuable corporation would be acquiring Greece. Speaking from the Spanakopita Palace in Cupertino, Tim Cook (CEO) said:

“I’m pleased to confirm that Apple Inc. has completed the acquisition of Greece, a large European enterprise with a strong history of innovation and content development. We will be moving forward immediately to facilitate their financial restructuring and undertaking critical rebranding initiatives. These will include the launch of a new Mac, the Edonia.”

Alexis Sipras, CEO of the new Apple subsidiary i-Thaca, could not be reached for comment.

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