Search This Blog

CCE in brief

My photo
Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Friday 29 November 2013

Political Crossroads

Many politic folk will tell you they love campaigns.  They love the tension, the combat, the uncertainty, the bond that is only formed between human beings when they miss sleep, food, family and the world beyond and man the trenches together.

I don't believe that.

I think that hardened political operatives are a bit like life-sentence prisoners - the darkened sliver of landscape they inhabit becomes their whole world; to contemplate life beyond is frightening.  

In politics, as in war, you know who your enemy is; you do not question that your cause, which is defeating the enemy at least as much as ensuring your side emerges victorious, is just.  

You will forgo the niceties, the entitlements of civilized life because you know there's an end-game in play, it's just a question of who crosses the line first.  

Under conditions such as these, it's only natural to ignore a social convention or two yourself to stay ahead.

It's when you make this rationalization that your tether to the true world becomes undone.

Political people use the language of war all the time - trenches, veterans, War Rooms.  They feel as soldiers do, that they have been part of a decisive, barbaric conflict; they have witnessed the Heart of Darkness up close and been scarred by the horrors they saw.  They feel some bond of fellowship with their fellow political warriors - for who else really knows what darkness lies within the hearts of men?
It's not a pretty truth; in fact, it's something the rest of the civilized world must not be exposed to, for to know what cost democracy comes at would surely break their spirit.  

They're not political, after all.  

They don't understand what's out there, what must be kept at bay by the actions, however unsavoury, of people like us.

But none of this is true.

Politics is a drug and campaigns are an addiction - a powerful one - as powerful as war, though nowhere near as consequential.  People who crave the combat of politics do so because they have lost comfort with stability.

They can confabulate (or spin) rationalizations for their aggressive, competitive, destructive inclinations, but that's all it is; a self-justification for taking another hit of election.

Politics isn't war - the stakes aren't anywhere near as high as the spin doctors tell us, or tell themselves. 

When war is your business, you will find ways to wage it, just so you can feel purpose again.  And so political operatives the world over manufacture conflict, create divisions and dry the kindling of democracy, creating the conditions from which real wars are sparked.  

They do this simply because they can't see the social consequences that stem from their addictions, and because for them, the fog of war has obscured any other path.

It's this darkened, polarized viewpoint that has led us to the crossroads at which society now stands.

Despite their best intentions, political people have flamed the cynicism of the masses; now we're all at the front, calling for confrontation.

There are, as in any good contest, only two choices before us:

One is conflict, a sounding of trumpets and a clashing of swords that will leave nothing but regret and lost innocence in its wake.  From the ashes of failure will humanity be resown, as it has many times before.

The other is the path of collaboration; tearing down the walls, seeking common ground, building shared solutions out of the remnants of what came before.  

You can't see this path through the fog of war; it takes leaders with vision to show people the way forward.

One of these is the path least followed.  The other is circuitous, leading us in the fullness of time back to where we stand today.

We have no leaders at present, no men nor women of vision.  There is no one to guide us to the path that leads beyond.  

Where we go next is a choice left to you.

That's what we hold on to.

There is good in this world, after all - and that, not a cause, not an individual, is worth fighting for.

Catching Fire, Importing Nuts

Quite frankly, this is nuts.  

First, let's recognize the fact that both Canada and the US (and countless other countries, and the private sector) have recognized there is a global mental health crisis, largely because we're doing mental health wrong.  Despite the tools, drugs and practices ranging from workplace accommodations to cognitive behavioural therapy, we still think of people with mental illness as either weak or contagious.

We've been stigmatizing mental health in the same way we used to stigmatize leprosy, causing pain, loss and suffering where it could be easily avoided.

Beyond that, though, does the US seriously want to stop people who have been diagnosed with mental illness from crossing their borders?

Sorry, Russell Brand - no more working in Hollywood.  Too bad, Catherine Zeta-Jones; you don't belong here.  Hey, future Einsteins, you're not welcome in the US - take your crazy notions elsewhere. Foreign leaders are welcome, so long as they aren't hounded by black dogs like Winston Churchill was.

If they disqualify the crazies from entering the country, they surely don't want them in the Oval Office - it's a good thing Abraham Lincoln wasn't diagnosed in his lifetime.

The drivers, the innovators, the leaders in society all have something abnormal about their psychology.  If they didn't, they would be normal and we'd still be questing for fire.  

We celebrate the cognitively disparate just as much as we vilify them.  We eat them up on Homeland and Dexter and Community and Monk.  People with mental illness are our new superheroes.  

You know how Jennifer Lawrence keeps talking about being crazy and weird and craving a diagnosis?  Note the brilliance of thought and performance that comes out of her?  Exactly.

"Mental illness" is a gift, a divergence, a disruption, a catalyst.  Like any naked flame, it can blaze out of control and cause a brushfire, but with a bit of structure and the right fuel, you can get both heat and light.

We want access to these cognitive forces of nature; we want to help them reach their maximum potential safely, not watch them burn out and fade away from afar.  If the US had so stigmatized their exceptional people for the entire course of their history, well, they wouldn't be such a loved/hated power today, would they?

But it gets even worse.  From the same article:

MP Mike Sullivan said what has happened to his constituent is "enormously troubling... How did U.S. agents get her personal medical information?"

The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, Section 212, denies entry to people who have had a physical or mental disorder that may pose a "threat to the property, safety or welfare" of themselves or others.

I wonder how they define "threat to property, safety or welfare?"  Through their own ignorance about mental health, US Customs (granted, following US law) have threatened the financial investment Ellen Richardson made for her trip (property) and caused potential harm to her safety and welfare by rubbing salt into her pre-existing, but well-managed condition.

Beyond that - how did they get Ms. Richardson's information?  It's private, in someone else's hands.  They would have had to either do some serious espionage to get information like that on average citizens, or have been provided access to that information by someone else equally paranoid about the masses.  It's obsessive, it's compulsive, it's anti-democratic.

Why would they do such a crazy thing?

It could be the general anxiety about the economy.  Perhaps it's residual fear from 9/11 or connected to the rash of domestic shootings.  It might have something to do with the increased radicalization of their Political Right.  Either way, there's definite paranoia in position.

Sounds a bit like the Department of Homeland Security, doesn't it?

Perhaps that's why the US is trying to firewall themselves off from the crazies - they've got enough problems dealing with their home-grown nuts.

The Folly of Entitlement #2: A Little Less Entitlement, A Little More Equity

I'm not a slick-talking lawyer, so the fine points of whatever legally and financially binding arrangement were in the contract that defined what earned Mazza his bonus are a bit beyond me.

I think it's fair to say, though, that given the financial and political mess he's gotten ORNG and the Government of Ontario into, he's not really entitled to anything.  In fact, there are still calls for him to be rotting in jail.

Of course, Mazza is just playing the game expected of the tough, sales-oriented, profit-driven mentality we're trying to foster at all levels of society - greed is good, it's supposed to hold opposing parties to account and land on fair value and proper scrutiny for all.  It's not Mazza's fault others aren't playing the same game, right?

Nor is it Mike Duffy's fault, Patrick Brazeau's fault, Pamela Wallin's fault, Rob Ford's fault, Peter Shurman's fault, Stephen Harper's fault or even David Dingwall's fault.  They are entitled to their entitlements, after all.  That's what it says on paper and whatever self-serving personal cherries they can put on top of their cakes, well, good on them for being aggressive, right?

Most people don't have the baseline requirements for life, much less the knowledge, contacts or resources required to become entitled.  They just want a little a little more equity, across the board.  

As people who used to live in comfort find their quality of life diminished through loss of job or inability to find steady work, the entitled people can continue to say "you people just need to work harder and sell more" all they want, just as they say they are entitled to their entitlements.

The 1% can delude themselves into thinking the masses are somnambulant and that wealth and status confers rights beyond what are afforded to the average citizen, but they're just blinding themselves to the bigger picture emerging.

Driving around with blinders on?  That's just crazy.

Sochi! Come to Sochi!

So, Putin wants to turn Sochi into an internationally popular resort, does he?  At the same time as he's taking his entire country on a homophobic bender?  I just hope he isn't looking for sponsorship from Apple, or any of the more than 60 big companies standing against gay marriage bans in the U.S.

The fact that one of Russia's athletes just caught fire doesn't help Putin's brand much - catching fire as a metaphor is all the rage, these days.

See, people don't just want selfish entertainment any more - they want to feel like they're contributing to something with their consumption.  Smart companies are realizing what politicians are slow to do - populism secures a base, but sucks at growing your market share.  For that, you need to think laterally.

So, in the name of value-added altruism, here's a little song I wrote to help Putin with his ad campaign (to the tune of The Flinstone's theme:)

Sochi!  Come to Sochi!
You'll ski and gamble without fear
That is unless you're queer.
Rob Ford dances

Don't mind all the hiccups
With finance and construction gaffes
And don't question Putin
The man is not known to laugh.

Why do the torches die without delay?
Does Gazprom sponsor the relay?

But when you're at Sochi
You'll have a sparking time
We'll catch on fire in time

Let's have a gay old time!

Thursday 28 November 2013

Circular Logic

I was asked today how it is I manage to keep so many completely different balls in the air - online portals, cognitive labour, political campaigns, twitter, blogging, etc, etc.

That's easy, I replied - it's not about balls in the air, it's about dots on a page.  When you see how they connect and the picture they form, it all becomes easy, like a narrative.

For example:

Mental health.

Occupational mental health.

Mental health and innovation/productivity.

Mental health and Human Resources.

Human Resource Management

Management and Leadership.

Leadership and planning.

Planning and structure.

Structure and design.  

Designing online structures.

Design thinking.

Designing policy.

Policy and Engagement.

Engagement and community.

Systems theory and community.

Community engagement and empowerment.

Empowerment and knowledge.

Knowledge and training.

Training and action.

Action vs. reaction.

Reactive thinking vs. proactive thinking.

Designing proactive, engaged systems in the mind.

Cognitive Labour.

Mental Health.

A leads to B leads to C leads to D.  There's nothing to it; the only trick is explaining the B and C part of the equation.

Rob Ford, Ford Nation and the Suburbs: What's Going On? (Todd Gordon)


Rob Ford, Ford Nation and the Suburbs: What's Going On?

By Todd Gordon

Other politicians -- and the Left too -- can only dream of having the base of support Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has had from what he calls "Ford Nation": his supporters based primarily in the inner suburbs of Scarborough, North York, East York and Etobicoke.
When the first slate of police search warrant documents were released on October 31 -- detailing his intimate associations with alleged drug dealer Sandro Lisi, who has been charged with extortion -- and Toronto's Chief of Police Bill Blair told the media the police had the infamous crack video (two videos, in fact), Ford's support didn't drop. Instead, it went up by 4%, infuriating and bewildering Ford's critics. This emboldened the combative mayor against the "downtown elites" he and many of his supporters feel have been unfairly targeting him.

Another poll, conducted by Ipsos Reid after Ford admitted on November 5 that he has indeed smoked crack, found that while a growing number of people would like him to either resign or take a leave of absence to get help, 40% of Torontonians still support his policies. A poll released on November 22 reported that 33% would vote for him again. This support is highest in the inner suburbs.

Even if personal support for the embattled mayor may be finally faltering, there is still significant support for his attack on what he describes as entitled and unaccountable city "elites," alleged government waste and unfair taxes on "the little guy" -- the bread and butter of his angry, blustering and controversy-plagued 13 years in elected office (the first 10 as a city councilor). This support for Ford's policies poses a serious challenge to liberal, social democratic and radical critics, most of whom have made no serious attempt to understand it.

The ignorant masses of inner suburbialand?

So how have the incredulous media commentators and Ford-haters who gobble up what they spew forth responded to this support for Ford and his policies? A Huffington Post article that circulated around Facebook offers us Rob Ford as the "suburbs" personified. To paraphrase: the ugly truth of the suburbs is that people there think like he does: xenophobic, conservative and so on.

An op-ed piece published in the Toronto Star suggests there is a "clash of values" between central Toronto and the inner suburbs. Central Toronto is supposedly ecologically forward-looking in its support for things like better but affordable public transit, more bike lanes, higher density neighbourhoods and so on -- all viewed with disdain by Ford and therefore, supposedly, the backward inner suburbs.

One generally progressive Toronto Star writer even referred nastily on her Facebook page to Ford supporters as having a low IQ. How else but sheer stupidity or ignorance could someone continue to support Ford in the face of all these revelations? Still others say it's all about the cars. A University of Toronto political scientist was quoted in the Globe and Mail suggesting the most likely way to identify a Ford supporter is if they drive to work.

The conclusion some draw from this is the need for deamalgamation: undoing the merger of the old city of Toronto, Etobicoke, North York, East York and Scarborough pushed through by Tory Premier Mike Harris in the 1990s.

This smug, self-righteous and short-sighted response avoids making any effort to actually understand support for Ford in the inner suburbs. Does everyone in the inner suburbs really prefer to sit in traffic for hours every day? Wouldn't they prefer to walk, cycle or take efficient and affordable public transit, just like people in central Toronto, if these were viable options?

The dismissive response to Ford supporters also conveniently avoids placing any responsibility for the situation on what passes for a social democratic Left (if we can even call it that anymore) at City Hall and at the provincial and federal levels. That's the same Left that has embraced neoliberalism and offers no alternative to austerity, anti-union politics (especially in the public sector), law-and-order policing, and the imposition of the market into increasing areas of our lives.

To understand support for Ford and his policies -- and for right-wing populism more generally -- we must look seriously at why such policies resonate with people, not write supporters off as inherently flawed, especially considering that the majority of Toronto's population lives in the inner suburbs. The analysis I will lay out points to a sobering conclusion:  support for Ford's policies actually tells us a lot about the failure of the social democratic Left and the weakness of unions and social movements.

Ford Nation

It's easier to simply dismiss support for Ford when it's some homogeneous, faceless category of people whose opinions you don't take seriously. But, like all nations, Ford Nation is (to borrow from Benedict Anderson, author of Imagined Communities) an imaginary one, a product of myth-making by political leaders, the media and, to a lesser extent, its members. It isn't homogeneous. There are people in different class locations in it. It includes the Canadian-born and immigrants, and you'll find within it people whose first language is English and others for whom it isn't, among other differences.

But there are some patterns among supporters of Ford's policies that are important to understand. In 2010 Ford won 47% of votes for mayor across the city as a whole. But he won majorities -- in some cases significant ones -- in most city wards with heavy concentrations of lower-income workers and recent immigrants. Ford dominated most wards where incomes and the rate of English-as-a-first-language are below (and in some cases significantly below) the city average, and where the proportions of low-income people, people of colour, and immigrants are above (and in some case well above) the city average.

Ford's support is also strongest in those wards where residents are less likely to be in (to use census language) "management" and more likely to be in "processing", "manufacturing", "trades", "transport", "equipment operators" and "sales and service." These wards are almost all located in the inner suburbs. Interestingly, though, Ford won two wards in central Toronto, Ward 17 Davenport and Ward 31 Beaches-East York, whose residents are in many respects more similar to the inner suburbs than they are to the population of the rest of central Toronto.

What deamalgamation proponents are really saying, then, is let's separate the whitest, wealthiest parts of the city (central or "old" Toronto) from the parts that have the highest concentrations of recent immigrants, people of colour and low income people, and which are the worst served by most city services. They conveniently ignore that, besides winning Wards 17 and 31, Rob Ford came second in all other central Toronto wards but one. They also ignore that the person who came first in most central Toronto wards -- George Smitherman -- is a reactionary who would have pursued an austerity agenda.

Understanding right-wing populism

The suggestion that homophobia and racism have played an important part in his political success is explicit or implicit in the arguments of those who are quick to dismiss Ford's supporters as one reactionary mass and to call for deamalgamation. Ford himself is no doubt both homophobic and racist, which may indeed net him part of his support. But he and his policies do have support within some communities of colour. And the emphasis on homophobia is itself racist. It assumes that immigrants of colour are more homophobic than whites or the Canadian-born and that these views determine who they vote for.

To really understand support for Ford and right-wing populism, we need to look deeper. The last 30-plus years have been witness to successive defeats for the working class in Canada and the steady rollback of most of the gains won by hard-fought workers' struggles between the 1930s and the 1970s against employers and the state. Toronto's inner suburbs (and some neighbourhoods in the central part of the city) bear witness to the harshest effects of the extremely racialized neoliberal remaking of the working class.  Stagnant wages, especially at the bottom end of the labour market, the increased casualization of work and the erosion of public services intersect with the racism of Canadian society, including immigration policy that increasingly denies immigrant workers citizenship status. This historic remaking of the working class in Toronto has dramatically shifted the city's political terrain (a fact that many on the Left haven't fully come to terms with). The defeats of union and community resistance to neoliberalism since the 1980s, along with the end of both the moderately reformist and the Stalinist alternatives to unbridled markets, have profoundly marked the working class.

This reality has shaped the trajectory of the mainstream institutions of the Left, which have also reinforced it. The NDP at the federal, provincial and municipal levels has been on a long march to the centre. It offers no alternative to neoliberalism. You're lucky if you can get NDP support for a strike or campaign. As Stefan Kipfer and Parastou Saberi pointed out after Ford's election, former Mayor David Miller embraced the Toronto Board of Trade's agenda of  increased user fees and shifting more of the city's tax burden onto residential property taxes (which landlords pass on to renters).

The state of political organizing outside of the electoral arena is desperate, especially given that social movements are what drive social change forward. Outside Quebec, how many people under 40 have seen a mass movement that has been able to sustain its momentum and win its goals, let alone present the possibility of an alternative to neoliberalism? How many people under the age of 40 have ever seen a successful strike by a union? What meaningful efforts are unions making to organize with poorly-paid workers stuck in casualized labour - disproportionately women - or with workers who aren't citizens?

Sadly, for increasing numbers of young people, people of colour and immigrants the possibility of being in a union - never mind a union that's highly democratic and has a mobilized membership - seems as distant as a better-paying job in management. In fact, becoming a manager is something people can imagine. The idea that a social movement could challenge the status quo and demonstrate that people can change society by mobilizing collectively is something that most people never consider. People's sense of what is possible in our society is inevitably narrowed by this sad fact.

This doesn't mean that there isn't a real sense of injustice and anger about the reality of bad jobs, poor wages and paying taxes for substandard public services. But today it's not, for the most part, being expressed through collective mobilization against governments or corporate power. It's rarely expressed at the ballot box either because of what the NDP has become. Instead, for many it's expressed through outright alienation from the political system. For others, though, it's getting channeled into right-wing opposition to things and people seen as threatening the ways that people try to survive in an increasingly harsh market-dominated society.

Not duped

In capitalist societies, most people's strategy for survival is based on living in households supported by wage income along with the unpaid work of household members, often supplemented by help from family and neighbours. Where public services like Canada's medicare exist, they also play a role.

For people who deal with the daily insecurities of life by trying to compete and succeed in the job market as individuals, supporting politicians who offer support for this survival strategy has a certain logic. This isn't people simply being duped. It's true that ultimately right-wing populism can't resolve the economic insecurity and alienation from which supporters seek relief, but there is a material basis to this kind of response. When unions and the NDP fail to offer any opposition to austerity and the market and the radical Left that looks to mass movements to change society is unable to offer hope of an alternative social order, right-wing populism like Ford's becomes more appealing to working-class people.

Many of us have heard expressions of its logic: why should I pay more in taxes, which will go to the salaries of unionized public sector workers who already make far more than me and have better working conditions? Why should I support public sector workers striking to defend their pensions when I don't have a pension at all? Why should I have to pay more in taxes to fund poor public services or that will go to a government that doesn't represent me? Or why should I support a new downtown subway line or road tolls for public transit when I have to drive to work (in a region with the worst commuting times in North America) and there's  little prospect of public transit becoming an attractive and affordable alternative in the foreseeable future?

This outlook was expressed by students with whom I spoke following the long strike by CUPE Local 3903 at York University in 2008-2009. Most of them didn't really care about the outcome; they just wanted it to end. As one of them said, the only hope they have of getting a decent job (and, I'd add, a distant hope at that) is the university degree towards which they were working, which cost $6000 a year in tuition. The strike interfered with this very expensive effort. She wasn't a dyed-in-the-wool conservative. She simply didn't see any possible alternative to her individual strategy for survival: spend lots on a university degree in the hope it might get her a decent job. From her perspective, this strategy was threatened by the strike.

And why would she see an alternative? Horizons of possibility have become so limited for so many people that the common response to attacks on better-off workers isn't "I deserve what they have" but "if I don't have that why should they?" This isn't a hatred of public sector workers as a matter of conservative principle. It flows from a realistic assessment of their chances at significantly better working and living conditions, in an age when working-class solidarity is declining, expectations are falling and scapegoating has become common.

Right-wing populism feeds off of this sentiment. Not everyone who feels this way ends up voting for the Rob Fords of the world, but clearly many do, including people in central Toronto. And while some who for vote right-wing populists, such as men and white Canadians, may be drawn to their racism, sexism and homophobia, that's not a full explanation for its success. Those who vote this way, including workers of colour, are voting for someone they think will protect their material interests, their strategy for surviving through individual competition in the market. In the case of men and white Canadians this strategy may also be linked with opposition to measures (real or imagined) to help oppressed groups, such as employment equity.

In Rob Ford's case it helps him that his right-wing populist rage against wasteful government and taxes is attached to an outsider status with which some people identify. While he's from a wealthy family, he's certainly not a polished or articulate insider who moves in the circles of the politically-connected Upper Canada College grads on Bay Street, those whom he calls "slick-talking" lawyers and politicians. Partly for this reason, he was not their choice in 2010 (he's more like a neoliberal Frankenstein's monster: a horrific creation of their crazed austerity science that they ultimately couldn't control). He talks of fighting for the "little guy." He has proudly proclaimed "there are more poor people than rich people in this city; I'm on the side of the poor." Even if we understand the ultimately anti-worker nature of right-wing populism, when was the last time you heard an NDP politician say something like that? He would appear to have a record as a city councilor of helping individuals in need in his ward, including poor people, who are trying to deal with an often-uncaring municipal bureaucracy. One taxi driver interviewed by the Globe and Mail in Ford's old ward expressed his support for Ford saying "the man is a worker." When no one else seems to offer much to the inner suburban working class, and the NDP appears as much on the inside of the apparatus of power at City Hall as do the Liberals or "respectable" Conservatives, Rob Ford-style populism has an appeal.

But we should be careful not reduce the Ford's electoral victory to his image as an outsider. A large number of people, particularly in the inner suburbs, still support his policies. With or without Rob Ford in power, most people in the city, especially those in the inner suburbs, don't have a government that represents their material interests, can't afford to pay more into a tax system that is in fact incredibly unfair to them, have little hope of a higher-paying unionized job and are stuck driving long hours to poorly paid work on increasingly congested roads.

Building an alternative to right-wing populism

The answer to Rob Ford and right-wing populism ultimately lies in building mass social movements rooted in the working class, including among low-waged non-union workers and people without status, movements which don't push the fight against racism, patriarchy and homophobia to the margins. Without such movements, the possibility of an alternative to the neoliberal status quo will continue to seem remote and right-wing populism will remain a draw for some.

We have a lot of work to do, and the challenges are daunting. But we should also be confident in the knowledge that support for right-wing populism isn't inevitable. At its core are deep, irreconcilable contradictions between its promise that people's lives will get better and the reality that it doesn't challenge the forces that are making economic insecurity worse. And we know from history that people will mobilize when they think such action has the possibility of accomplishing something positive, and that mobilization can influence how people understand their world, what's wrong with it and the possibility of changing it.

We needn't go back too far in history to see how the outbursts of potentially mass movements have shifted the political landscape, if only momentarily. Consider, for example, the resonance the Occupy movement's language of the 1% vs the 99% had, or the polls in Canada that recorded widespread sympathy for the movement's broader goals of challenging inequality. Here in Toronto, think back to the role that Stop the Cuts and other community-based activist organizations played in challenging the austerity agenda of Ford and most of City Council in 2011, and the steady decline in support for cutbacks registered in the city during the height of the fightback.

The challenge is to build on these struggles, to find ways to create sustained and sustainable momentum for movement-building, and to offer a hope that there is indeed an alternative to neoliberalism.

Todd Gordon is a member of Toronto New Socialists and the author of Imperialist Canada (Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 2010).

Beyond the Ladder

See, I look at it the other way - I see power as something that's meant to flow and when it gets blocked in the hands of a few, it's unhealthy for them and downright toxic for society as a whole.
It's also interesting how many powerful people could very easily be diagnosed with a DM mental illness, ranging from bipolar disorder to sociopathology.
Let's flip the pyramid over, shall we? 

Open Doors Catching Fire

That's true.  Now, skip down the article a bit...

Everyone is moving in the same direction - we'll all get there, eventually, but the question is who are the trailblazers?  Who are the ones history (and electorates) will remember as first to the top of the mountain?  

Governments (both the elected and civil service sides) can play catch-up to where others are already going, or they can take a bit of risk, think a little different and lead the way forward.

With initiatives like OpenGov, OpenData and even workplace psychological health and safety, jurisdictions in Canada are on the right track.  With super innovative, proactive and user-friendly digital support tools and services like Guardly, RealTimeCrisis and WalkAlong, we're creating value that other jurisdictions are looking to learn from.

We can get there; we just need to pull together and keep moving forward.

Where My Head is At Today

I'm not an artist, so the rendering is rough.  There's also a lot of layers and detail that didn't fit into one slide, but this gives a gist of where my head's at in terms of getting at the front end of this whole networking society business.

Best part is, nothing new really has to be created; all we need are leaders bold enough and lateral-thinking enough to connect the dots between what's already there.

It's a stone soup kind of thing.

Tim Hudak Apes Ozymandias

Hudak really isn't one to speak disparagingly about bosses; after all, every facet of his personal narrative is designed to portray himself as a boss, not a leader.

But then he has demonstrated willingness to work with others when the stakes are high enough, as they have been of late in Toronto.  He's also well aware that there is a much bigger threat looming over Ontario's economy, the strength of our institutions and the stability of our society.

Could that be his play?  Perhaps Hudak and his team are much more strategically altruistic than we think; that the whole hard-right, tough-on-everything approach could simply be a really a tricky gambit.

Maybe, like Ozymandias, Hudak feels that our fractured society needs a common enemy to rally against and, for the sake of the Public Good, is willing to be that foe.  If so, I tip my hat to him.

Meanwhile, as Sid Ryan brings his best Magneto rhetoric forward, I'd encourage him to take a hard look at the whole emerging cognitive labour thing.  He doesn't like being mainstream, which is his right - but instead of proselytizing from the margins, he could be leading from the front.

To each his own, right?  Or are we moving forward together again?

Time will tell.

To Each Their Own Doesn’t Always Work

CCE July 12
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.  The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference.  The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference.  And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.

  • Elie Wiesel, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust Survivor

Jedem Das Seine.

Roughly translated from German, it means “To Each Their Own.”  It’s the message that greets visitors as they walk through the iron gate into what’s left of Buchenwald Concentration Camp.  For those who were inmates of Buchenwald, either under the Nazis or in its reincarnation as Special Camp No. 2 under the Soviets, the meaning was clear – expect nobody to help you.  You’re on your own.

The survival of the fittest notion was core to the divide-and-conquer strategy employed in Nazi Concentration Camps.  By keeping resources to a minimum, separating (and thereby labeling) communities, implementing strict penalties for infractions and by employing internal capos to dish out penalties on their behalf, the Nazis fostered a climate of internal competition that meant the inmates did most of the dirty work for them.

I emphasize the word “dirty” – the Nazi propaganda machine was fully-employed in the Camps.  Guards were encouraged to see inmates as vermin, filth that sullied their meticulously cared-for uniforms.  Buchenwald even had a zoo next to the Appelplatz where roll-call was taken; the families of SS officers and civilian workers could go look at the animals and inmates in tandem.  The inmates themselves were never allowed to forget where they sat on the Nazis’ social spectrum.  Naturally, the lack of proper clothes, shelter, food, hygiene and medicine meant the camps were ripe with disease.  Add to that brutal working conditions and the constant fear of abuse or death, it comes as no surprise Concentration Camp inmates frequently did act like rabid dogs, fighting over scraps of bread or walking over the corpses of their fellows, pausing only to pick up a pair of shoes or a utensil.

Buchenwald itself was built on the Ettersburg hill a short distance from Weimar, one of Europe’s greatest centres of culture and learning.  Despite the fact that the smell of burning bodies wafted over the city from Buchenwald’s crematorium; despite the fact that screams and gunshots echoing out from the Camp would have been audible in Weimar; despite the number of inmates that would have made their way through the city proper as the Camp and road leading to it were built, the people living in Weimar were in complete denial that anything inhumane was happening on their doorstep.  They weren’t the only ones.  As warning signs of an emerging Holocaust were cropping up in civilized Europe and it was becoming clear that the persecution of minority groups like Jews and the Roma-Sinti was becoming policy, governments elsewhere in the world were equally in denial.  In Canada, Frederick Charles Blair, Director of the Immigration Branch of the Department of Mines and Resources, began tightening immigration policies in a way that was prejudiced against European Jews.  The amount of money immigrants had to have to gain entry increased; skill sets seen as immediately necessary to the Canadian economy were emphasized.  As for the legitimacy of refugee claims by European Jews, Blair had this to say:

Under Blair’s watch, only 5,000 Jews were allowed into Canada.  Among those he turned away were the 907 German Jewish refugees fleeing Europe on board the M.S. St. Louis in May of 1939.  The Holocaust claimed the lives of some 11 million people; communists, political prisoners, homosexuals, Poles, Roma-Sinti and 6 million Jews.

You’ll note I mentioned political minorities along with ethnic and religious minorities.  It’s important to recognize that communists were targeted by the Nazis – the National Socialists – because far too many people on the political right today take the line that Nazism is a product of the political left; atrocities like the Holocaust would never occur under a Free Market system.  The implication is that a singular focus on wealth generation benefits everyone equally and would somehow negate bigotry.  In response to this, I would point out there were more than a few Nazi collaborators who werewar profiteers driven solely by monetary gain.  War, after all, is an incredibly profitable venture.

It is disingenuous to look at bigotry strictly through a political lens.  Ignorance, hatred and fear-mongering are not the exclusive property of the political left or right; as Buchenwald demonstrates, atrocities have happened under both fascist and communist regimes.  Indifference isn’t the product of a political system; it’s what happens when we zero in on our own interests or ideologies so exclusively that we ignore the well-being of others.  When the water hole shrinks, as the saying goes, the animals look at each other differently.

Today, we are facing a global economic crisis.  Europe in particular has been hit hard.  As the crisis deepens, nations within Europe and beyond are circling the wagons.  “Your debt, your problem” is a meme that’s gaining traction.  These fiscal woes are fueling an increase in social tensions, much as they did in the early decades of the last century.  Political extremism and xenophobia are on the rise, accompanied by a swelling tide of ethnic violence.  In Greece, this alarming trend is represented by the growing influence of Golden Dawn, an anti-immigrant political party that has even incorporated the Swastika into its branding.
In Hungary, the systematic discrimination faced by Roma and Sinti is becoming increasingly violent.  Focused as they are on addressing the financial crisis, European leaders have been “too preoccupied… or unable or disinclined to deal with”this mounting social crisis.  In other words, they’ve labeled it someone else’s problem.

Nations like the US and Canada have been vocal in pushing for European leaders to implement tough austerity measures to tackle the Eurozone’s financial woes.  To his credit, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, an economist by training, has recognized that Europe’s economic challenges will not be solved through each nation working in isolation.  However, he hasn’t had much advice to offer in regards to the rise of ethnic violence in European countries like Greece and Hungary.  In fact, his government has gone to great lengths to tell Canadians there is no ethnic violence in Europe at all.

Jason Kenney, Canada’s current Minister of Immigration, has made a point of decrying refugee claims from Eastern European countries like Hungary (primarily coming from Sinti-Roma) as “bogus.”  Despite the evidence, Kenney keeps telling us Europe is a civilized place where atrocities like ethnic persecution don’t happen.  In fact, Kenney is so determined to shut out refugees from Eastern Europe that he has put forward Bill C-31 which will, among its measures, gives him the power to label what he feels are “designated countries” that are safe from ethnic persecution.  Under Bill C-31, the Minister of Immigration needs no justification other than his or her own beliefs to exclude refugees like Roma-Sinti from Canada.

Another component of this Bill is the move to cut funding for refugee healthcare.  Again, despite the evidence from healthcare professionals that doing so is dangerously irresponsible, Kenney has justified the move by saying it’s wrong for refugees to receive better health benefits than “ordinary Canadians” are getting.  Plus, it’ll save $20 million annually.  This has been the Harper government’s core message; in these financially strained times, all decisions have to be weighed based on their economic value.  If you disagree with them, it’s probably because you’ll be losing generous government funding as a result of their policies.  It’s a simple, circular argument, one of contextual indifference that sounds all too familiar.

Elie Wiesel, survivor of both Auschwitz and Buchenwald has joined with leaders of ethnic and religious communities persecuted during the Holocaust in denouncing Kenney’s reforms.  Across the Atlantic, St├ęphane Hessel, another Buchenwald survivor, has published a “manifesto”.  This document, while largely socialist in its content, draws attention to the rise of both ethnic hatred and political indifference in Europe.  It’s a message being shared by the International Buchenwald-Dora Committee (full disclosure: I am a member) in their recently-released declaration pleading for governments to take action against intolerance.  And there are others.  These groups and individuals share one key concern – that as the economic crisis deepens, citizens and governments are focusing on financial math to the exclusion of our broader social context.

Responding to these criticisms, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have employed the same tactics that steered them to a majority government; by loudly supporting their own positions, attacking their detractors to the point of calling them unpatriotic and using every controversy as a way to engage their base and drive up fundraising.  While the Harper Conservatives can rightly be criticized for polarizing the country and narrowing the field of political debate, they don’t shoulder the blame exclusively.  Their strategy is simply a refinement of the divide-and-conquer politics that have become the norm in Canada under the brand of “micro-targeting.”

As inter-partisan good will dries up in Canada and as the economics screw tighten, Canadians are focusing on their own interests to the exclusion of others.  If it’s happening here, where we enjoy relative economic stability, does it not make sense that it would be happening to an even stronger degree in Europe, where national economies are teetering on collapse?  If we are collectively building firewalls around our own interest groups, however we define them, doesn’t it fit that those communities without large numbers or strong voices will fall through the cracks?  Stephen Harper has clearly indicated his belief that European nations cannot survive their crisis if they don’t work together.  He has recognized the need of national entities to do more for communities that don’t have a voice, like those suffering from mental illness.  Does this not apply to refugees here in Canada and persecuted minority groups in Europe as well?

Die-hards on the political left and right can provide ample evidence indicating the other guys are responsible for all our world’s woes and dismiss as irrelevant or biased any facts that disagree with them.  We can continue to narrow our focus to just those issues we feel impact us, however we define us, directly.  We can criticize as alarmist any argument that suggests we’re turning a blind eye to increasing and increasingly violent persecution of minorities in Europe.  When you line up the fluctuations in today’s markets and politics with the reality of the 1930s, however, it’s getting harder not to notice the similarities.  The real question is how far will those parallels extend.

Personally, I have no interest in blame.  I take no joy in pointing out the mistakes of others or justifying indifference on my part by providing examples of how I’m just doing the same thing as someone else.  Although I have worked for the Liberal Party both federally and provincially, I would rather congratulate political opponents on doing the right thing now rather than say “I told you so” after the harm’s been done.  Stephen Harper is bang on when he suggests the hour is late if we are to avoid catastrophe – just like we lived through in the 1930s.  He is also correct when he tells Europeans that “to each their own” isn’t going to work.  We simply can’t afford to be indifferent to the plight of others, both beyond our shores and within our own borders.

If history has taught us anything, it should be this; we can either live together, or die alone.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Red Book, Blue Book, Changebook: Tim Hudak Cribs Saruman

  - Saruman, Lord of the Rings

The Progressive Conservatives of Ontario have a new video for you to watch - new, that is, in that it's someone else's creative work with some conspiracy theories and snide remarks thrown in.  Oh, and a police siren, because we know sirens make people uncomfortable.

They meant for this to be a sharp, possibly witty criticism, I'm sure.  But they've also given a fresh look into how they think and what they view as the role of political bosses.

Hudak, in everything he has done, has stood against.  His semi-famous white papers are all about disparaging what there is, presenting cuts with new covers and finding every flaw, conspiracy and villain that can be mined from civil society in Ontario.

What he has consistently failed to do is create anything new, to add any value to the proceedings.  In fact, he's falling into tropes that are demonstrated to fail.  Hudak plans to cut regulation, cut taxes and strangle the public service, hoping that somehow the private sector will suddenly decide that, unfettered by social bonds, it's in their best interest to fill the gap.  There's no evidence to support that position - in fact, the facts point the other way.

We know the impact Hudak's policies would have, because the evidence is clear - they don't inspire wealth to flow, they inspire economic hibernation.  Leaders don't stand against - they stand for.

They also create new products, services and ideas.  They add value.

Hudak isn't adding value; with his policies and his attack ads, he's simply twisting and torturing what someone else has laid out before him.

This approach might make for good politics, but it's not leadership. 

UPDATE: Notably, the secret NSA briefing document describes part of the U.S. eavesdropping agency's mandate at the Toronto summit as "providing support to policymakers."

If you can't innovate ideas and you have no vision of where to go next, you can always crib from others.