Category Archives: Identity

Pettiness: the Defining Quality of Politicians?

I regret to say that in the 21st century so far, I see little gravitas and profound pettiness among politicians and political operatives. With a dozen or so exceptions, the gang is not up to the challenge of integrity.

Last night I watched the movie The Contender [see here and here]. Nice film. Full of manipulation, ego, opportunism, a light dose of self-righteous McCarthyism, gender politics and an appeal at the end for people to choose integrity when it’s just as easy not to.

It was made in 2000, so it missed the decade of cynicism, lies and despair that we’ve seen, but even if it were a worse movie it still provided a litmus test we can use to determine if someone in politics [elected or otherwise] is worth your time. Just how petty are they?

Cynicism and self-absorption are one thing, but real pettiness encompasses those and other discouraging traits.

So if pettiness is currently the defining quality of politicians, we are truly in a shitty state. And is it any wonder why so many people of substance are avoiding the traditional political arena, choosing to make a difference elsewhere.

Don’t expect voter turnout to start climbing back up any time soon. The people seem to be using the pettiness scale already and I don’t expect they’ll stop.

Emotional Emancipation

As a Jungian, poet and former high school English teacher, I should say that the following two songs and music videos are a solid and inspiring testament to the human process of emotional emancipation and liberation that comes from rejecting manufactured consumer culture. Aaaaaaaaaaah.

Jaded, by the way, is right up there as one of the perfect rock songs along with Born to Run, Blinded by the Light, Year of the Knife and about 4 songs from The Wall. A nice bonus.

View and enjoy and if you need to download my lesson plan for how I used to teach these videos, just let me know. 🙂

The Sick Government BCers Just Re-Elected

$2m is less than 50 cents/resident of BC.

Matt Good’s profound review of contradictions in, around, during and after Woodlands will pummel your soul, but in a good way, unless you’re a heartless misanthropist. And this first bit is just emblematic of how this government views its social responsibilities:

In 2005, Stan Hagen, BC’s Children and Family Development Minister, claimed that the Provincial government did not subscribe to the view that systematic abuse took place at Woodlands despite the fact that in 2002 the Provincial government issued an official apology to some 1,500 survivors of Woodlands, Essondale, Valleyview, and Tranquille. Unfortunately, the $2 million dollars promised to provide counseling for them has never materialized.

Decades ago, as families picnicked across the highway in Queen’s Park, children were being tortured within view of it. The headstones of those unclaimed victims of Woodlands were, over the years, thrown in the nearby ravine, used to build a staff barbecue patio and stairs, and 1,800 of them were ripped out of the ground in late 70’s so that a park could be built. All that is left now is a small memorial that some believe to be enough to mark their passing, a small park in which local residents allow their dogs to defecate and urinate, were graffiti defames shattered headstones.

via » Archive » A Cannon In My Chest.

Bill Bennett: King of Plausible Deniability!

The ad reads, “You want someone who pays taxes and is concerned about how the money is being spent,” underneath a photo of Bennett and his family and a slogan that reads, “He’s one of us.”

So Kootenay East Liberal Party candidate Bill Bennett did it again. First his campaign planned to host a beer night at a pub, advertising free beer. Bennett claims it was not his idea, but some over-zealous person on his campaign. Plausible deniability. Have a seat in your throne, Mr. Bennett!

Now he runs an ad talking about how voters want to elect someone who pays taxes BLAH BLAH BLAH. I’m trying to think of a provincial politician in a scandal about not paying taxes. Maybe that’s why he mentioned that idea.

Tom Daschle lost his chance at a cabinet post because of tax problems. Oh, wait. He was looking for a spot in Obama’s cabinet.

Ok, there appears to be no obvious context for him to make that comment, unless not living in Kootenay East means I’m missing out on some local controversy.

It is only when you look at the heredity and policies of his opponents do we see value in the statement.

NDP candidate Troy Sebastian belongs to the Ktunaxa First Nation and lives on an Indian Reserve so is exempt from federal and provincial taxes under the Indian Act. Wilf Hanni, leader of the BC Conservatives, and one of his party’s top contenders for winning a riding, is opposed to the governing Liberals’ Recognition and Reconciliation Act.

Bennett has recently broken with party policy to also oppose the new relationship, all to remove one of Wilf Hanni’s greatest wedge issues. He has also run ads recently that neglected to include the Liberal Party branding, since it carries such a stink to it these days.

So, if Bennett is more crafty than daft, his tax comment is all about continuing to remove Hanni’s wedge and play the race card against his NDP opponent. Plausible deniability exists again. Here is your scepter, Mr. Bennett!

And while daft and clueless [and arrogant and out of touch, the quite accurate NDP mantra against the Liberals] are possibilities, my money is on Bennett being crafty, sneaking free beer and racism against First Nations in because he is desperate to keep a seat he only barely won.

And in the end, he’s in trouble either way. If he’s too daft and clueless to see how free beer and a comment about paying taxes might be spun badly, why would anyone vote for him as their MLA?

And if he’s crafty, then he’s a lying, scheming, opportunist who will flip on party policy and attack an opponent by pandering to racists, and that is not a person worthy of representing any British Columbians, except of course for Liberal voters who happen to be bigots.

But then again, the BC Liberal Party has a convicted drunk driving for a premier, a former mayor under criminal investigation, a now-resigned cabinet member with a suspended driver’s license, a few others with drunk driving or a plethora of moving violations and a homophobe. And don’t get me started on the sick and disgusting things I heard come out of Harry Bloy’s mouth during question period while I was sitting in the gallery several years ago when there were two female NDP MLAs in the house. That vitriol steams me to this day.

And while the NDP has its share of candidates with some speeding tickets, the trophy with the headless bowler goes to the Liberals for either criminal or madly anti-social behaviour–and don’t get me started either on how anti-social their policies have been for 8 years.

So in the end, Bennett seems more crafty than daft to me, in part because he would fit right in with his party.

So when you go vote tomorrow, Saturday and Tuesday, if you live in Kootenay East, ask yourself if Bill Bennett is just stupid or a lying racist. Whichever answer you get, make sure you don’t vote for him.

No More Strategic Voting: Thanks STV!

This election will see the last strategic vote you will ever need to cast in a provincial election in BC.

STV is polling quite high and I expect it to pass. This means that you no longer have to plug your nose voting for someone to keep someone else from running the place. And it also means you don’t have to waste your vote in a protest by voting for a candidate who won’t win, all to avoid abstaining.

STV means the proportion of votes going to parties will come very close to being translated into seats in the legislature by making sure that someone you rank will use your vote to win a seat.

So if you can’t handle Gordon Campbell anymore, and would prefer not to vote for the NDP for whatever reason, but you feel you need to do it now, here’s how you can put a smile on your face.

When you cast your ballot, vote for STV as well to make sure that the next election will mean that your ranking of candidates won’t be wasted as one of them will almost certainly use your vote to become elected.

The most frustrating thing for me leading up to any election is listening to smart, passionate, concerned friends voting for parties they hate to keep from wasting their vote. Or else they don’t vote and I can understand why. If the system is this broken, it needs to be fixed.

I think for a place with only two political parties our current system is awesome since the winner will have to get more than 50% of the votes. 19th century Canada was such a place, but even then the parties didn’t need to represent women or other politically undesirables.

But in a place like Vancouver, BC and Canada, there are no two parties that effectively reflect everyone’s identities and passions. This is why we get vote splitting, unearned majority governments, wasted votes, apathy, anger and cynicism.

It’s astonishing that we can fix all these things just by changing the system.  STV here we come!

Some Early Justification for NDP’s Gender Policies

I saw today three examples that support the need for the BC NDP’s affirmative action candidate policies. As much as it has been and will continue to be controversial, today alone justifies it for me.

But first, being in an anti-no-spin zone, my take on this issue is affected by being a white male, with university degrees, raised in an upper middle-class suburban Judeo-Christian, English-speaking home. So of course I lose out on typical affirmative action policies, and I’m fine with that.

As an NDP member and as someone who attended the last convention and voted for the affirmative action policies, it is not because of some kind of male/white/oppressor guilt. It is because breaking generations-long sociological trends can take generations without some intervention.

Not everyone was ready to stop owning people 240 years ago, nor was everyone ready to let non-whites drink out of whites-only public drinking fountains 40-odd years ago. We could have waited for multi-generational educational programs to make the glacial change necessary, while watching old bigots slowly die off.

Honestly, I don’t have that kind of patience.

And when David Chudnovsky decided to not run again as my MLA, I was saddened at what would be the end of his accomplishments and his future potential in the ledge. But I also know that over a dozen women were approached to consider running for his seat, and every single one of them had the qualities to be a successful MLA. But how many of them would have considered it if men were allowed to run? That we’ll never know for sure, but ask around and you’ll find that a few probably wouldn’t have.

So what did we lose with the new policy? People of my demographic weren’t able to run and that left us in the end with Mable Elmore and Jinny Sims to choose from. Quite a fantastic choice. Each signed up over 500 new members in the riding and were an example of on-the-ground democracy in action for 6 months leading up to the nomination meeting. It was an embarrassment of riches since either would be a fantastic MLA.

As far as I can see, Vancouver-Kensington will not suffer under this policy and I expect that with hard work and dedication of already dozens of committed volunteers and staff, the NDP will keep the riding, for many many reasons.

So what happened today to further vindicate this policy for me?

The Victoria Times-Colonist perpetuated sexist reporting yesterday in remarking on how Carole James “looked comfortable in a brown suit and silver earrings as she began her campaign.” The story neglected to comment on how comfortable or uncomfortable Gordon Campbell looked wearing his business suit. Perhaps the premier was wearing jewelry too, but we’ll never know now, nor will we know if that made him more or less comfortable.

Then in the comments section of a Vancouver Sun piece today on the carbon tax, this unenlightened soul wrote about Carole James “Has anybody else noticed that Carole James starts every sentence with the same two words (Gordon Campbell)? Thank you for repeatedly reminding us that Gordon Campbell is our current premier. I do believe I shall vote for him in May. Now run along in your Hillary Clinton-esque pant suits and go celebrate your much-anticipated 2nd place finish with your union buddies.” No spin necessary here. If you don’t get my point, you can stop reading right now.

And finally tonight on Vaughn Palmer’s Voice of BC show there was discussion of the new candidate policy and how it is being received. To wrap the short conversation on that topic, Palmer mentioned that the Liberals have about two dozen female candidates, to which he added, “and that’s not bad for them.” Two dozen is just about right when you look at their list.

Wow. What an astonishing accomplishment getting around two dozen of 85 candidates to be women.

I don’t mind spinning this if it isn’t obvious. No one expects much from a radically right wing party like the neoLiberals in terms of authentic representation, particularly in representing the majority gender of the province. So Palmer is giving a nod to the efforts of the neoLiberals for accomplishing that much anyway. And he’s absolutely right when he said that’s not bad for them. It isn’t bad…for them. But they are a party that is as far from egalitarian in policy and procedure as we have ever seen in BC. And if they are any kind of benchmark we should be seeking, then we are criminally deluded.

In light of these three instances alone, and even without how wonderful it was to choose from two fantastic contenders in Vancouver-Kensington, as a member of the demographic unable to run for the party nomination, I do not begrudge the policy at all and I’m glad I voted for it at the last convention.

Further, I expect it will change the face of the ledge and legitimize in bigots’, cynics’ and anyone’s mind that women can do the job.

And while all the arguments about negative consequences and precedents of affirmative action policies still have merit, a little tweaking now and again can vindicate itself substantially. And I know that the ends justifying the means are not always a strong argument to promote, but inaction is itself a choice with political ramifications. After all, in the STV referendum we are tinkering with our 19th century electoral system that was designed for two broad-based parties that fight for seats. Our population and society don’t reflect that party norm today, and frankly the two parties did a poor job of representing everyone 140 years ago anyway.

So while there will continue to be great arguments against this policy, I’ve found great peace in supporting it so far and I look forward to the day when my idealism is better realized and we can do away with this tweaking because our political culture will have become less bigoted.

Is Controlling for Race Inherently Racist?

I think so.

Here’s why.

The advantages to having demographic information out in the open far outweigh the disadvantages, said Prof. Fullan, who is also professor emeritus of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto.

“We said we should use the information to make all schools better, but I understand the fear,” he said in an interview yesterday.

Prof. Fullan believes in setting targets for test scores, and in the idea of statistical neighbours, whereby schools with similar demographics can be compared with each other.

via Data on schools website divides parents, educators.

Let’s start with this poll. The last time I saw such a close race was the Quebec separation referendum over 10 years ago. This is the vote tally as of 11:30pm tonight. Apparently it was also evenly split earlier this afternoon.

The poll shows that over 4,000 people agree with Michael Fullan that the demographic make-up of a school in the form of parents’ immigration background is a significant enough variable in determining which school’s product they purchase.

The Ontario government removed income and education levels from the presentation of information. That is a rather damning self-indictment. They initially included it because it fit the profile of what they wanted educational consumers to consider when making their purchases, then they removed it. Perhaps people couldn’t stomach the blatant reality that some would choose a school based on the wealth of parents, but clearly, that does go on.

Essentially, what we’re dealing with here is the Ontario government’s tacit support for a class based public service. Pick some variables that determine the class you want your children to associate with, then publicize the data for informed choice. Society should not be condoning or supporting such class-based decision-making. Period.

In BC, we’re well aware of the criminally narrow range of high-stakes testing that our students suffer to generate Foundational Skills Assessment scores for the hyper-libertarian, unregulated market-worshiping Fraser Institute to use in ranking schools. The whole process is obscene and celebrates active ignorance of the breadth of what it takes to evaluate our multi-faceted human beings in the K-12 education system and the system as a whole.

And now in Ontario, the government is essentially controlling for race in the statistical analysis that parents unjustifiably wish to make. When we talk about immigration background, we’re talking about the polite way of describing parents’ race. I have a hard time thinking that if Michael Fullan tried to float this concept as an academic project past OISE’s research ethics board, he would have been roundly rebuked–at least I’d hope so.

The government is inciting a firestorm of bigotry by enabling people to be able to move their students from schools with too many of the wrong kind of classmates, with people defining wrong in whatever mildly to severely racist tone they wish.

This is the height of social and political irresponsibility. In an era of economic crisis when local communities will increase in importance for enhancing individual and regional socio-economic resilience, inserting this wedge that will split communities is simply reprehensible.

And since I’ve only taught high school and have never been a professor emeritus at OISE, I’m totally open to hearing all these great arguments in libertarian social engineering that Michael Fullan feels far outweigh the provincial government condoning race-based divisive education policy.

Recipe for Assassinating the CBC

  1. Start with an ideology that opposes communitarianism and public ownership and worships the market’s capacity to create “the good” even if the market is far from freely competitive. The federal Liberals and Conservatives have well demonstrated this.
  2. Choke its funding.
  3. Appoint corporate leaders who wouldn’t dare come up with an original idea to guide CBC as a core part of the ever morphing Canadian culture.
  4. Fail several years ago to come up with the cash necessary to secure continued rights from the NHL to broadcast Hockey Night in Canada, the core brand of MotherCorp and the closest thing we have to a central icon of Canadiana.
  5. Cancel shows like This is Wonderland just as they receive a plethora of award nominations.
  6. Murder the CBC orchestra.
  7. Intentionally bungle securing the rights to the theme song to Hockey Night in Canada.
  8. Let bake for several years at 43,500 degrees.
  9. Don’t turn off the oven so that the whole concoction burns to a crisp: strangled of cash, free of its flagship show and cultural icons.
  10. Turn off the oven after it’s too late, take out the burnt carcass and say it can’t compete with CTV, TSN, Global and the Americans; put a bullet in its head.
  11. Toss it in the garbage and instead of auctioning, give away at fire sale prices the broadcast frequencies that MotherCorp held for generations to the strongest of corporations in a bizarre corporate welfare pitch in an arena where Big Media wants to take away a nation-wide network of frequencies that up until a few years from now were owned by the (fucking) people.
  12. Pretend you don’t know what oligopoly means.
  13. Worship Rupert Murdoch and Leonard Asper.

Need Legal Aid? Get Stuffed!

“Brenner said they were wrong and told them to get stuffed.”
Ian Mulgrew, Vancouver Sun [see below]

Aside from the perverse standards of journalism at the Vancouver Sun, the above indicates that the BC Court of Appeals is not willing to contribute to a humane notion of legal aid for the resource-deprived embroiled in civil cases.

While legal aid for criminal cases was not the issue, after deep cuts across the country to legal aid for victims in civil cases, the Canadian Bar Association wanted the courts to establish a standard of justice that offends the neoliberal budget cutters that are particularly harsh in BC.

People deserving legal aid include those facing unjust eviction, mothers reeling from deadbeat dads ignoring court-ordered financial support and scores of others find themselves unable to afford effective representation in civil matters.

Of course, the rich do quite well since they can afford counsel to pursue their legal issues. Civil legal aid, however, is becoming far less civil than it deserves to be.

And in one sense, it all comes down to freedom. Political philosophers talk about negative and positive freedoms. Negative freedom refers to a way of defining freedom where individuals are free from “needless” meddling by the state, where we are not regulated and impeded in our pursuit of our liberty. Hyper-capitalists, libertarians and neoliberal governments look for ways to keep society from interfering with our god-given right to go about our business, regardless of how many people or watersheds we abuse.

Positive freedom defines freedom as a way of enabling those who are socially disempowered to have access to opportunity to function as well as those who are socially gifted: often groups like white, upper or middle class, English speaking males. Positive freedom efforts include things like affirmative action, or using tax dollars to fund legal aid for those not wealthy enough to pursue civil legal justice.

Obviously these two conceptions of freedom are mutually exclusive in their pure form. They also form a core conflict in our society: deregulate to the point where we have no society or gather together social and financial resources to empower those who are structurally vulnerable, thereby undermining the power of the economic, social and political elites.

The Court of Appeals has chosen to reject this effort to pursue positive freedom. It is not an isolated incident and it allows a neoliberal regime in our province and country to continue gutting social programs that allow people who aren’t white men to have a better shot at success or even meaningful survival.

Legal aid not a right, court rules
B.C. Appeal Court judges quash lawyers’ bid to force government to pay civil legal costs of poor people
Ian Mulgrew
Vancouver Sun

The B.C. Court of Appeal has backed B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Don Brenner’s decision to kill the Canadian Bar Association’s landmark attempt to force governments to provide adequate civil legal aid to poor people.

In a majority ruling Monday, the court agreed with the province’s senior trial court judge and said he was also quite right to assess costs against the CBA.

Susan McGrath, past president of the bar association, said she was saddened because the decision means access to justice will continue being denied to those least able to help themselves.

“We’re disappointed we continue to confront procedural hurdles trying to bring this case,” the Ontario lawyer said in an interview. “We’re going to have to study the ruling and consider our options. We had hoped the courts would have been more responsive to this novel approach. We’re not giving up the fight.”

The Appeal Court said the association failed to meet even the minimum threshold for launching such an action — a reasonable claim.

“Although the action is intended to assist low-income members of the pubic and its spirit is commendable, I do not consider that the altruistic nature of the action should be afforded much weight until at least the [bar association] has established it can meet the minimal test of disclosing a reasonable claim,” Justice Mary Saunders wrote.

Supported by Justice Peter Lowry, she quoted the Supreme Court of Canada saying there is no fundamental right to access to legal services:

“Access to legal services is fundamentally important in any free and democratic society. In some cases, it has been found essential to due process and a fair trial. But a review of the constitutional text, the jurisprudence and the history of the concept does not support the respondent’s contention that there is a broad general right to legal counsel as an aspect of, or precondition to, the rule of law.”

(Justice Allan Thackray, the third member of the appeal panel, heard arguments in the case but retired in October before the decision and did not participate in the ruling.)

In a clear and well-reasoned judgment, Justice Brenner said the bar association was the wrong group to launch such a lawsuit, and the remedy it sought was far too sweeping. (The Appeal Court didn’t rule on whether the bar association was the proper body to bring such a lawsuit because it found its arguments had been so unpersuasive that that question didn’t need to be answered.)

“Instead of considering a specific statute or a specific administrative act or expenditure for constitutional compliance, this case would ultimately require the court to define a constitutionally valid civil legal aid scheme and order its provision by the [federal and provincial governments],” Justice Brenner wrote.

For almost two decades, legal aid across Canada has been a growing concern because of government cutbacks.

Provinces have curtailed legal aid services, narrowing the types of cases they cover, raising the eligibility criteria, making it harder to qualify.

At the same time, the federal government assumes little responsibility, with the primary exception of serious criminal matters.

People often have no legal assistance even when critical issues are at stake and no government is accountable.

The legal community fears we are creating a system for the rich and stacking the deck against those without resources, yet extensive lobbying has proved useless.

In 2002, the bar association launched this lawsuit. It chose B.C. for the unique test case because of the deep, deep cuts to legal services by the Liberal government when it first took office.

“Our concern has always been access to justice,” McGrath said.

The association filed a statement of claim in June 2005, alleging the provision of civil legal aid in B.C. is inadequate and those inadequacies amount to breaches of the Constitution and international human rights conventions.

It maintained that coverage was limited, that financial eligibility guidelines excluded many poor people, and that the services provided are too restrictive.

As the voice of some 36,000 members of the country’s legal profession, the association said it was the most appropriate party to bring such a suit.

It maintained it was unreasonable to insist that poor individuals — denied legal aid in cases where they are unjustly evicted or when they are threatened about the custody of their children — be required to mount constitutional challenges themselves on a case-by-case basis.

The association wanted court-mandated civil legal aid across Canada with judges deciding what was necessary while taxpayers footed the bill.

Brenner said they were wrong and told them to get stuffed.

He said there are other ways to tackle the problem facing the poor, and like the Supreme Court of Canada, suggested individual litigants could raise their need on a case-by-case basis.

The Appeal Court agreed that this lawsuit as put forward by the association was the wrong way to proceed.

“We knew there would be setbacks,” McGrath said. “But I don’t think people without the financial resources and often without the emotional resources should be expected to mount this type of challenge and argue this case before the court. We’re not giving up.”

Society’s Celebrity Bloodlust Complex and Britney Spears: Part 2

In Part one I compared society’s fascination with Britney Spears to the new movie Untraceable where people visit a website to accelerate the murder of a prone victim. Now that she’s out of the psych ward, there seems to be a new level of intimacy between Britney and the “journalists” out to get the best shots of her. It’s almost as if whatever pretense there had recently been about not literally swarming and stalking her has evaporated.

These two stills from CNN video are courtesy of a media helicopter that followed her car away from the hospital. It was stopped at least twice on the road for the swarmings.

It’s hard to imagine how much of this a person can take. If she “snaps” we would get to say, “yeah, that figures” but how much of a chance does this woman have to be able to regain mental health.

It reminds me of a tunnel in Paris in the late 1990s, except this time it’s not taking place in one evening of speeding drivers, but stretched out slow motion over weeks and months, almost as if someone is storyboarding it for maximum extraction of images during her whole descent into madness.

On one level she has merely drifted from one entertainment sector to another: pop music to tabloid spectacle. Once a Disney prop, she’s now a media character. I wonder if she’s ever had much time to be a self-contained individual.