Tuesday, October 17, 2017

And on it Goes: European Political Struggles

It's difficult to cast an eye to the European news lately and garner much sense of optimism. I should declare at the outset that I am no expert on Europe and only approach the subject as an observer. That said, reading recent headlines out of the continent are certainly enough to give pause.

Last week I wrote about Catalonia and the political instability of Spain. A few weeks before that it was discussion of the rise of the AfD, a far right party, in Germany. Now, we have fresh stories out of the UK on its struggles with Brexit and the growing leadership challenge for Prime Minister Theresa May and far right victories in Austria. This does not make a rosy picture for Europe. While the situation is not as dire as that immediately following the economic collapse years ago, all the following events stem from that time to a certain degree.

The Catalonian situation remains a mess. Conflict continues between the central government in Madrid and secessionists. The constitutional court ruled the referendum illegal, but this will likely only spur divisions between separatists and unionists. Leadership on the Catalan side has been jailed. Surely this escalation would only result in worse outcomes.

Theresa May, leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, is struggling to hold her party together and complete Brexit negotiations. The UK is less than 18 months away from being booted from the EU if they don't get a new deal in place. May suffers in the negotiations because of divisions within her own government. Conservatives cannot agree on the form of Brexit which is undermine British negotiations. May could be forced to drop Brexit, but who knows if such a thing would be possible anymore?

Austria's right-wing People's Party and Freedom Party made concerning gains in the most recent election earlier this week. The party will form government after running an anti-immigration, and anti-immigrant platform. The Freedom Party won second and has been a long-standing far right-wing party in Austria. Austria narrowly avoided this outcome in their presidential elections not long before, but it seems the voters of Austria are willing to give the new right a shot.

Looking at the last few weeks alone has been unpleasant for Europe. In Canada it would be quite easy to sit back and ignore what's happening across the Atlantic. However, it is always useful to be aware of trends, especially in some of the globe's largest economies and our closest allies.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Worth Reading - October 12, 2017

Strong Towns looks at the word 'gentrification' and its shortcomings as a term in our discourse. 

PM Trudeau tries to move the Trump White House on NAFTA, but pleas may be falling on deaf ears

Journalist, writer and activist Desmond Cole is considering a bid to be Toronto's next mayor. 

Heading towards the 2018 municipal election the city of Toronto is adjusting its ward boundaries

Ontario's Financial Accountability Officer is warning about the province's debt and budget deficits

Paul Wells weighs in on Trudeau's tax reforms

Elamin Abdelmahmoud tells you why some of us have to pay higher taxes

Supriya Dwivedi writes that Jagmeet Singh's team needs to brush up on their communications tactics

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Catalonia: Breaking Countries and Making Nations

We may soon bear witness to the birth of a new country. Spain has a fractured and difficult modern history, which includes violent separatist movements. Recently the Catalan region held a referendum on the question of its independence. Like make such referenda the history behind this is long and not easy to summarize, but where this referendum differs from Scotland, Quebec, etc. is that it succeeded.

Catalan's regional President Carles Puigdemont is expected to declare independence for his region soon. Puigdemont is in a difficult position as he moves forward. Hardliners within his governing coalition will expect a unilateral declaration, but this will impact any future negotiations. Another important difference was that the referendum vote was held without the consent of the Spanish government. Spanish police forces attempted to prevent voting on October 1st which resulted in violence.

These questions are inevitably difficult as they dive into questions of loyalty and identity. Despite the animosity between Catalans and the central government, is it still possible to be proud to be Spanish and Catalan at the same time, or to reconcile these differences? Add into the fact that Spain has spent the last ten years struggling with its economy and debt and the risk of disintegration only grows. Especially in the case of Spain it is important to note that there are other regions agitating for greater autonomy or independence. Principally the Basque come to mind.

Since Spain has not recognized the referendum it has threatened to suspend Catalonia's self-government it makes further moves towards independence. While I don't think there is enough suggestion that we are at this stage, there is a very real risk of civil violence if not civil war in Spain. The legitimacy of the vote is in question, not only because of suppression by the central government, but also because only 43% of the electorate turned out to vote. The Catalan government claims that 90% of voters supported independence.

I suppose in the coming weeks and months the only certainty is uncertainty. It will be very difficult to close this particular Pandora's box and it is just as likely that accepting this dubious referendum will cause just as many problems as accepting it. Spain is not unique in this regard. Many countries have defined, distinct regions, cultures, or nations within their boundaries. Divorcing these areas and bodies from the central state is as complicated as it is messy. Catalonia may provide an object lesson on the difficulties of this process, but the lesson may be costly for Europe as a whole at a time when it can scarcely afford it.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Worth Reading - October 5, 2017

The India Times wrote a piece on Jagmeet Singh's win, but raises issues between Singh and the Indian government

Chantal Hebert argues that the biggest loser of the NDP leadership race was Charlie Angus

Noah Richler reflects on the NDP and Tom Mulcair

Chuck Marohn at Strong Towns takes a swing at the culture of regulation, certification and licenses. 

Adam Ruins Everything looks at the intersection between race and the suburbs and how they perpetuate racial inequality. 

Strong Towns talks about biking in difficult urban conditions

In the wake of the mass shooting in Las Vegas I found it difficult to process the event. I have grown very weary of the tired tropes that define these conversations. So, I'd like to share this piece from Salon on the masking of these shootings as mental illness and denying terrorism committed by white men

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Jagmeet Singh and the New NDP

Disclosure: I voted for Guy Caron to lead the NDP in the recent leadership contest. 

This week marks an important moment in Canadian political history. As far as I know Jagmeet Singh is the first non-white leader of a federal party, and among the first in the country. The British Columbia NDP and Quebec Solidaire have had non-white leaders prior to this selection. 

There can be no doubt Singh represents a radical departure from Tom Mulcair. Mulcair represented competent, prosecutorial, experienced leadership. Trudeau bested Mulcair and the NDP by seizing the mantle of "change". New Democrats have decidedly selected the most Trudeau-like option among the leadership candidates on offer. Few challenge the narrative that Singh is a young, handsome, stylish man. He is also intelligent and has an impressive resume, but lacks experience in government and has none at all at the federal level. However, he has displayed a certain 'mass' appeal.

Singh certainly appealed to a group of supporters: urban progressives, young people, Torontonians, and suburbanites - especially Punjabi and Sikh voters. During the campaign there can be little denial that he received substantial endorsements from members of the party representing different constituencies.

Let's put aside how Singh won. Instead let's consider how this impacts the party's fortunes going forward.

The NDP is at a crossroads. For all the handwringing about 2015 it was the second best result in the party's history at 44 seats. It was a drop from the over 100 in 2011, but still significant for a party that spent the preceding decade plus in the political wilderness. The question comes now if the NDP will be relegated back to third party status, or, rise to Official Opposition or government.

Samara's research, if memory serves, says that the leader determines people's votes more often than the local candidate so he will impact support for the NDP across the country in some way. That impact, of course, is unlikely to be uniform. Most assume, I think fairly, that Singh could lead to a surge of support for the NDP in suburban areas, particularly with large South Asian populations. That is not to say all brown-skinned voters will support Singh, but the prospect of the first Indo-Canadian Prime Minister will certainly engage some voters. Seats in Brampton, Mississauga, Halton, Surrey, Edmonton, etc. could flip to the NDP in 2019.

But Singh's race is a double-edged sword, I am sad to say. I fear his skin and religion will turn off voters elsewhere in the country. We cannot pretend, especially since 2015, that racial prejudice is dead. In Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, and their environs race may help more than it hurts, but it could easily cut in places like Southwestern Ontario, the north of the provinces, etc. This needn't explicitly be about bigotry, it could merely be voters feeling less able to connect with Singh given cultural differences. I don't mean to cast aspersions on my fellow Canadians, but comfort with a non-white, turbaned Sikh is in question.

Then there is Quebec. While I'm certain the racial dynamic is also at play, more important may be secularism. Ujjal Dosanjh, former BC Premier and MP, and many elected Sikhs tone down their religiosity. Though, to be fair, many, such as Navdeep Bains, are turbaned Sikhs. Singh decidedly does not tone down his faith. His very nature could repel the soft-nationalist voters that the NDP won over during the last few elections that created the larger seat totals in 2011 and 2015.

An NDP with strength in cities and suburbs is a radical departure from the past political calculus. Weakness in rural areas and northern areas may offer fresh opportunities to the Conservatives, Liberals and Bloc. Perhaps even the Green could find an advantage on Vancouver Island.

As one of the most important political leaders in Canada Jagmeet Singh is both a reflection of Canada and Canada will in kind respond to him. The fortunes of the NDP and our politics rides on his shoulders as he shapes the new NDP.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Worth Reading - September 28, 2017

Strong Towns takes a look at the word 'blight' in terms of its use in discussing urban issues

Guy Caron sits down with the National Post to discuss his leadership campaign for the NDP. 

From the Tyee, instant memberships undermines the leadership campaigns

Adam Radwanski writes about the NDP's difficulties in Quebec

Samara Canada recently opened its Everyday Political Citizen contest. If you know someone deserving of a nomination for what they give back to their political community, nominate them!

In a move that baffles the mind, there is a move to name a stadium after deceased former Mayor Rob Ford

Chantal Hebert writes on the proposed tax changes by the federal government. 

Martin Regg Cohn writes about the connection between the provincial government and precarious employment

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Considering Free Speech

There is a subject that has been troubling me. I won't pretend the 21st century is unique in facing illiberal political movements, but I live in this historic moment and feel compelled to note the links between a harder line left and the new right and the difficulty liberal democracies may be facing moving into the future. This post is partially spurred on the German election results, where the AfD gained significantly in the parliament. There have been moments in modern history where polarization in between extremes fractures the polity and wrecks the centre.

In the face of this how do liberal societies defend themselves from those who would use their principles to undermine them?

Today I want to narrow today's topic to the freedom of speech. A liberal, at core, would  not like to limit people's speech. The liberal position says that we need strong justification to curtail anyone's right. Libel laws or harmful speech (fire in the theatre) are obvious restrictions. For classical liberals restrictions are difficult decisions and they prefer to err on the side of speech.

Speech works if we can rely on some basic ground rules. However, the evidence abounds that lies and mischaracterizations spread like wild fire while the truth plods along. Liberal ideals are undone by the most basic human instincts, instincts which are all the easier to embrace in the digital sphere. Enter the era of "fake news." Even beyond the political, lies or misleading headlines stand at equal heights of fact. People are increasingly unable to filter information meaningfully. Look no further than the misinformation on vaccines to see how muddled and mired we are.

As a liberal-minded person I have to concede my discomfort with these sources of "information" or confirmation bias, but I'm not at all comfortable with interfering with these forms of speech.

Then there is hate speech. Here two sides of my thinking war with one another. Speech matters. It shapes thinking and attitudes. Calls for violence are illegal, and I think most can agree are reasonable restrictions for public speech. However, calls for violence are common on the internet and this speech is not curtailed in any substantial way. The debate then goes to what constitutes hate speech. Most people are canny enough to mask their racist rhetoric, or cloak it in policy language. Distrust of Muslims is cloaked in anti-refugee, terrorism, and geopolitics. Anti-black racism is buried in conversations on crime, poverty, and urban culture broadly. the coarse dialog (or rants) of the internet now infect our real world life. Things not uttered in 'polite society' are now bellowed proudly.

Liberalism is a modernist idea and relies on reason, rationalism, and truth. How does it operate in a world where half-truths and lies rule, or at least easily remain on par?

The current debate of free speech is rather odious, in my opinion. Progressive voices seek to silence certain forms of speech deemed inappropriate. It has a streak I find deeply troubling. Protest to disrupt speakers, regulating the use of language, and the bevy of terms to police language seem to belittle real oppression for the sake of bourgeoisie sensitivities of the intelligentsia. To be clear, I am not joining the ranks complaining about all silly university antics.

The right has corrupted free speech as a notion to its own purposes. In reaction to the left they now claim free speech. However, free speech is increasingly used as coded language for expressing racist, bigoted opinions free of consequences.

the last few years has helped to demonstrate to me the power of language. Leaving some to routine abuse by those trying to assert historic dominance makes me uneasy. That said I'm not sure I'd comfortable regulating speech. But speech can be used to undermine a liberal society. Critics may answer the solution is more speech, but I fear there are growing indications that those that seek to distort our polities are fighting with guns while liberals only have knives. This thought is one that worries me.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Worth Reading - September 21, 2017

Steve Paikin raises the question of whether or not we might see a NDP government in Ontario in 2018. 

Aaron Wherry breaks down the NDP leadership race

Chantal Hebert questions whether or not Jagmeet Singh will be the next leader of the NDP. 

The Vancouver Sun reports on some of the feelings of Sikh Canadians on Jagmeet Singh. 

The Manitoba government will amend a law that banned floor crossing

Metrolinx continues to struggle to provide Ontario's urban core with effective transit

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

TV Review: Ozark

Sincere apologies for missing last week's Worth Reading. I got bogged down in family business and didn't have time to put it together. I should be fine for this Thursday.

This week I was requested to write about Netflix's original series Ozark. given how rare a request is I feel compelled to follow-up and talk about a show that I found very enjoyable.

I have heard a few comparisons between Ozark and Breaking Bad. I think the point of comparison might be instructive given my response to both. I'll return to this idea later.

Ozark has a simple premise (sort of). Chicago-based financial advisors who double as money launderers for the second largest cartel in Mexico. Their liaison, Del, in the pilot arrives at their office to accuse them of theft. The volume of cash involved is difficult to fathom, transported in bundles in oil drums. even a light skim would be an incredible amount of wealth.

Our protagonist, Marty Byrde (played by Jason Bateman), seems like an honest criminal. His partner has been stealing without Marty's knowledge. Marty seems detached, disinterested and the boring one compared to his flashy, fast-talking partner. Del wipes out the whole company except for Marty who, in a desperate moment, promises to launder the entire cartel's money - an incredible sum - through new opportunities in Missouri. The Ozarks offers a massive amount of waterfront property, ripe for investment and development. The show repeats the factoid that the Ozarks have more shoreline than California.

One of the things I like best about Ozark is that it shows a fascinating set of intersections in a part of America that is rarely depicted except in a comedic instance. Ozark is rural, poor, and "Southern", but many of the same themes from the scenes in Chicago carry over: greed, crime, graft, and corruption. Ozark is, in many ways, about crime and how class and geography shape the form crime takes. the trailer park petty criminals exist alongside the high-end cartels, but exist at very different standings.

Marty is a high-end white collar criminal. One interesting aspect to the show is that Marty Byrde avoids violence as much as he can. He has no taste for it. Like many white collar criminals he's in it for the money and perhaps the thrill, but he's not a monster. The show toys with the morality of his and his family's position. How responsible is the money launderer for the suffering and violence of the cartel?

On that note, the show is a simple fish out of water story which features a strong cast of local characters.  Marty, his wife (Laura Linney), his fifteen-year-old daughter and young son do not belong, nor particularly like the Ozarks, but are forced to live double lives in order to avoid utter destruction. The three eldest in particular to adapt to the local culture, which in their eyes are backwards rednecks. Marty must navigate the capitalist and financial realities of the region in order to clean enough money to save his family.

Now let's turn to the comparisons to Breaking Bad and why I think this show could be superior in my estimation. Ozark is chopped full of interesting, fun characters. Jason Bateman as Marty Byrde is perfect in his fast-talking scheming ways. There is hardly a finer moment in the show than when Marty is launching into a monologue trying to bully someone or manipulate them. I found Bateman's haggard, desperate performance leavened with just the right amount of humour. While I never warmed to Laura Linney's character, Wendy, I appreciated her character's motivations and struggles as an interesting aspect to the plot. Even the two children have arcs that reveal more about the family and their new setting. The Langmore family, and in particular Ruth (played by Julia Garner) add grit and consequence to the story of the Byrde's disruption of the Ozarks.

One of the reasons I like this television series better than Breaking Bad is because I enjoy the characters. I can understand Marty Byrde in a way I never could with Walter White. I disliked every character on that show and took little pleasure in their triumphs or failures. Early on I was totally sold on the Byrde family and the people they pull into their orbits. I want to see their journeys and how they end up. Ozark feels grounded in a sort of troubling reality while Breaking Bad felt like it had chemistry and little else to lend it credibility.

I am eager to see what the future of this series is and would highly recommend it to those who think the themes discussed above in a crime drama would appeal to them.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Why Writing About Politics has Been Harder Since 2016

As much as I wish it was not the case I have found this blog more difficult to maintain over the last few months. Some of it, I have no doubt, is personal. My life now is far less conducive than it once was to reading and writing regularly. It was easier in some ways to write the blog three years ago when I was working full-time and had lots of demands on me than now when I am tragically, painfully underemployed. But this post isn't about my personal life, I think I'd like to talk more explicitly about my willingness to engage and debate politics in the current era.

Let's get the orange elephant out of the way. Donald Trump's disruptive effect on the body politic is often stomach-turning. I have heard political theorists state that creating a sense of crisis or constant disorder keeps the public off balance and gives governments a freer hand in the exercise of power. I in no way can credit the Trump administration with that level of foresight. What I can say is that the way the America (and sometimes the world) stumbles and falls into crisis after crisis is draining. It is exhausting.

A human being only has so much bandwidth. Even for the most engaged there is only so much a person can pay attention and care about. As a person who tries to get people to care about incredibly dry subjects I understand this innately. I wish I could say that this was a simple process of eliminating the irrelevant, but it's not. I have not poked my head into the North Korea news in the last month because I don't think my brain could process it at present.

I went through a similar phenomenon actually about eight years ago. Before 2009/2010 I used to follow American politic extremely closely. However, in the wake of Obama's election the healthcare broke my ability to stomach more news. Despite its importance and the fact that I supported health care reform watching the drama unfold literally over months left me burned out.

As much as I'd like to blame the Yankees alone in this I must say our own politics has left me feeling downtrodden as well. I really dislike our Prime Minister. I dislike him because like many New Democrats I feared precisely the current state of affairs. Elected on a long list of promises he appears to have become the vanguard of the status quo on a number of important files. The sabotage of electoral reform was a major blow. Trudeau and the Liberals have left a long string of bad decisions and broken promises that seem to be plunging back into the same, repeating cycle of bad policies.

Ontario is not much better. A tired Liberal government grinds forward. Its chronic mismanagement and politicking means that its good policy babies are going to get tossed out with its scandal-riddled bathwater in the near future.

Municipally hasn't been much better. Brampton's City Council continues to disappoint. New, bizarre problems with the city administration seem to constantly pop up, and it feels as though the political leaders are waiting for the 2018 elections to sort out their differences. Toronto likewise has continued a series of bad policies as the City Council there and Mayor Tory have tried to find the centrist middle consensus and stomach bad policies continuing.

Twitter was my go to home for political engagement, but now it is a din of disappointment and frustration and anger. I am a person who has constantly encouraged people to engage in the political sphere. I think engagement is a public good in and of itself, but it comes at a cost. It costs us time, and energy, and intellect and it costs us our will.

This isn't a final post before some hiatus. I just wished to share why sitting at my keyboard and typing for this blog is harder sometimes than others, and not just because I have no idea what the hell to write. Keep on staying engaged friends, but it's okay to unplug.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Worth Reading - September 7, 2017

Steve Paikin lays out Kathleen Wynne's position going towards the next provincial election

There was an anti-Islam and anti-hate counter protest in London, Ontario recently. 

Here is Althia Raj's profile of NDP leadership candidate Guy Caron

As millions of students go back to university Steve Paikin asks what the purpose of university is

How Justin Trudeau's governing style mimics Stephen Harper's

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

TV Review: Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On

Hot Girls Wanted was a 2015 documentary that Netflix produced into a six episode documentary series. In advance I will warn the reader that the series deals with explicit sexual content so those who may be offended should likely avoid it. The series was the work of Rashida Jones, Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus.

If I had to describe the series I could say it displays the gritty intersection between modern sexuality and technology (especially the internet and smart phones). From my perspective the documentary is tasteful and explores topics like pornography and sex without showing excessive nudity.

I think the way human sexuality has been filtered through technology over the last 20 years is fascinating. Moreover, I think the reciprocal effects this has had on our culture is fairly disturbing. The documentarians go out of their way to highlight relevant statistics that illustrate the content they are sharing. For example, the prevalence and widespread use of porn, the accessibility to and interest minors have with pornography, and the cultural implications of pornography.

I figure at this stage it would probably be best to give you an idea of what each episode deals with. In the first episode they discuss feminist porn/porn produced by women and how the changing business model of pornography is making it more difficult. Episode two looks at casual dating apps like Tindr and its impact upon relationships. Episode three looks at the world of 'talent' recruitment in pornography and the way the industry chews up young women. The fourth takes a look at male talent in the pornography business, but also the disturbing depictions of race and women within mainstream porn. The fifth looks at camgirls and the relationships that form between models and their big donors. It does this by looking at one pair in particular who meet in person. Finally, the last episode examines the court case of a young woman who recorded a rape and streamed it on the internet.

I can easily see how some readers of my blog will be repulsed by these topics. It's not exactly the regular fare of this blog, certainly. One point that the documentarians return to again and again is the ubiquity of porn. If it isn't a part of your life than it is part of most of those close to you and it is shaping the society you live in. Episode two is probably the most accessible for those who wish to avoid graphic content.

The show is at times ugly and unpleasant, but also contains within it genuine emotion beyond pity and sadness and shame. Pornography and sex is still deeply rooted in shame. Despite the social acceptance of it, to a certain degree, those who participate in it, profit from it, produce and feature in it will be tarred. Given its widespread appeal I think the documentary challenges our inherent hypocrisy on that. 

I find monitoring and observing our changing attitudes about sex, sexuality, romance, and love to be perhaps one of the most compelling topics that one could explore at present. I would love to see Turned On do many more seasons. I highly recommend it to those interested in these topics and with a constitution to match the content. Give this provocative series a watch and hope that they can continue to dig into these ideas.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Worth Reading - August 31, 2017

Northern Ontarians are pressing for better political representation, or perhaps independence

Althia Raj writes that Jagmeet Singh's success at signing up members may not be enough to secure a quick victory

Though perhaps to throw more cold water on the Jagmeet Singh story above, there is this article accusing the Singh campaign of inflating their membership numbers

Many of us dream of moving to a place that we believe conforms better to our values and sensibilities. This is a story of a woman who decided to make her home, Tulsa, better than moving to her idea, Portland. 

In an interview Guy Caron, NDP leadership candidate, lays out his vision for the future of Canada's economy. 

Margaret Atwood recently spoke out on housing policy in Toronto, John Michael McGrath offers his critical response. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Update on the NDP Leadership Race

The New Democratic Party released its membership information in the lead up to the leadership vote this fall. These numbers matter now because they will the party members eligible to cast ballots for the next leader of the party.

Impressively the membership has reached 124000 members, which roughly puts it back to where it was at the 2012 leadership race. For many observers the success in the party in getting new/renewed members was somewhat surprising. Since the 2015 election and the ousting of Tom Mulcair the party has felt somewhat listless. Anecdotally the members I have met have not felt optimistic about the party moving into the future. That's not to say the party is dead, I think the average member now sees government as out of reach for the next little while.

However, as the leadership race has moved on I have heard New Democrats expressing greater pleasure with the candidates in the race. I think for many, as with the Conservative leadership race, it felt like the A-team sat this one out. I think it's clear though that the four candidates grew during the race and expanded their abilities and reach. While coming from a place of bias, I am hearing more and more positive feedback about Guy Caron after his debate performances and a series of strong endorsements.

Barring any further withdrawals from the race the competition is between Charlie Angus (NDP - Timmins-James Bay, ON), Niki Ashton (NDP - Churchill-Keewatinook Aski, MB), Guy Caron (NDP - Rimouski-Neigette-Temiscourata-Les Basques, QC), and Jagmeet Singh (ONDP - Bramalea-Gore-Malton).

The party also announced the geographic distribution of its membership. It is as follows:

British Columbia
New Brunswick
Newfoundland and Labrador
Nova Scotia
Northwest Territories
Prince Edward Island

There are areas clearly where the NDP needs to do a better job in recruiting members and building the grassroots. Clearly Atlantic Canada and the North needs some attention by dedicated activists. Sadly, so does Quebec. Areas of strength are not all that surprising. British Columbia is freshly out of an election campaign and has a new NDP government, Ontario is the country's largest province and has two leadership candidates who call it home. Alberta could have stronger numbers, but it has its own government and Manitoba is home to Niki Ashton and a recent NDP government.

Geography doesn't matter in the NDP race as the election will use one member one vote. Still, this may suggest that Jagmeet Singh's efforts to sign up new members in Ontario and BC has paid off handsomely. CBC has a nice write up here. In the discussion you can see that party memberships are down across the country but up starkly in Ontario.

Looking at these numbers I cannot help but feel this provides more evidence for why a system like the Conservatives used would better serve the party. Right now this race looks like who can win over the GTA and Greater Vancouver.

As I said in an earlier post there is not a tremendous amount of information we can go off of. Jagmeet Singh and Charlie Angus can definitely be considered the top contenders, but we cannot be certain. A huge percentage of members are undecided and we are three weeks away from the vote. We now know who may be voting, even if we have no ability to predict how they will vote. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Worth Reading - August 24, 2017

There is impressive research in the area of drug addiction. This piece from National Geographic explores how our understanding of addiction is changing

Apparently the worst trolls in America, by one metric, come from Vermont. 

Kady O'Malley writes about the pieces of legislation languishing in the federal parliament. 

I stumbled upon this bizarre article this week. Apparently there is an extremely divisive, toxic culture among online vegans

There has been a lot of talk over the last year on renegotiating NAFTA. In this article the author discusses some of the things that Canada might want to see changed. 

John Michael McGrath castigates the Ontario government for backing out on commitments to cities

Historians argue that removal of monuments is not the only way to deal with racist relics

Greg Fingas takes a look at the NDP leadership race

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

TV Review: The Handmaid's Tale

I'm definitely late to this party, but it is one of those pieces of fiction that has stuck with me over the last couple of months. See the trailer here.

Perhaps the most successful component of The Handmaid's Tale is the introduction to the world of Gilead. Gilead is the fundamentalist republic which has displaced that United States government. When we are first introduced to the world of The Handmaid's Tale is alien and strange. The expressions are meaningless to us, the clothes are foreign or unfamiliar, and the culture is almost unrecognizable. Of course, it's not foreign completely, the place is still recognizable as North America, the language is American English, but there's something deeply wrong. The best part of the entire series, in my opinion, are the flashbacks.

Our main character, June/Offred, played by Elizabeth Moss, often reflects on her time before she was assigned to be Commander Waterford's handmaid. Handmaids, for those who haven't watched the show or read the novel, are fertile women assigned to the elite families in order to produce children. Human fertility has plummeted and the number of successful live births has decreased significantly. Therefore controlling fertile women is seen as critical for the survival of humanity. June's life in the near-future over the course of several episodes illustrates how everyday life was undermined by the slow crisis and created the condition for radical social transformation and oppression.

Two flashbacks in particular stand out. The first I wish to call out is when June gives birth to her daughter, Hannah. The hospital is surrounded by dozens of people praying for the mother's going into the maternity ward and for the newborns within. The maternity ward feels more like an abandoned wing of the hospital. June goes with a nurse and her child to a vacant nursery. All of the other children have died or worsened over night. Perhaps more significantly, the nurse is the first character chronologically, as far as I can remember, to use the religious extremists expressions "Under His eye," and "Blessed is the fruit." It seems natural but it disturbing knowing where such believe inevitably will lead.

The second flashback takes place at a future date from the one discussed above. The interim government passes a law that bars women from work and transfers ownership of their bank accounts to men in their lives (husbands, fathers, what have you). June and her friend Moira (Samira Wiley) join a group to protest this radical changes. The protest turns violent in a dramatic scene where the religious authorities open fire upon them.

Another call out I will make for the show is the story of Ofglen, played by Alexis Bledel. Her appearance in the show is comparatively brief, but does a great deal to show the reach of the world and its darker elements. While I think the "Canada as utopia" trope is a bit heavy-handed I liked all of the elements of Americans trying to seek refuge, or figure their lives out in Toronto is pretty compelling.

The show is ultimately about women, their bodies, and control. Sex is often used in the show to demonstrate some point about those three elements. Those scenes can be long and uncomfortable, but I believe that's the point. The viewer is suppose to confront the scenes and deal with it.

Though I should spend more time on it I'll briefly say that the show is stunningly beautiful. The cinematography is very powerful and captures the colour and mood of the world perfectly. In many ways the world is desaturated of colour, but not to the extent that it is rendered lifeless, merely stark. The music and sound design are appropriately ominous and foreboding at the right moments and guides you appropriately through the story. The performances are very strong, particularly from Yvonne Strahovski and Ann Dowd.

I would recommend The Handmaid's Tale, but I would have the caveat that the show is quite violent, including sexual violence of many different kinds. This is a world where women are explicitly objects. That their autonomy, rights and reproduction are the exclusive domain of powerful men. This review does not encapsulate the show, but if at all interested I would recommend giving the pilot a watch.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Worth Reading - August 17, 2017

We'll begin with the tragic news of the day of a deadly attack in Barcelona, Spain

John Ibbitson writes about the rallying point Trump provides for fascists

How do we raise taxes in the era of populist revolt

The Ontario government's promise of a balanced budget is relying upon optimistic projections

Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservative Party, says he won't be interviewed by Rebel Media until there is a change in their editorial direction

Ontario municipalities are calling on the province to raise the HST to help fund infrastructure

Emma Teitel defends shaming those who participated in the right-wing rallies in Charlottesville. I have mixed feelings about this, and haven't made up my mind yet. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


On Saturday violence erupted on the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia escalating in vehicular homicide wherein a car was driven through a crowd of people. That's probably the most bloodless, tame way I could describe what occurred a few days ago, but this is an opinion-based blog, so it's probably time to put that aside.

Would highly recommend watching this New York Times video giving a simple breakdown in the events that occurred in Charlottesville. Violence in Charlottesville was likely inevitable on some scale. Neo-Nazis tend to stir up strong feelings, surprisingly. However, there were at least two groups who were anathema to one another. The first was a demonstration and march by White supremacists and neo-Nazis who gathered in park and intended to march through the city to Emancipation Park. A group of counter-protestors gathered at nearby park and intended to countermarch to disrupt their gathering.

While I think that it has been pretty disturbing all on its own, I don't particularly want to discuss the nature of response to these events. Though from what I've seen I am none-too-pleased by some of the media coverage. Some have seemed to find far too much comfort in the "their both to blame" narrative.

I think we have to take a moment now to reflect on how the hell we came to a point in 2017 where people are chanting racist, literal Nazi slogans, waving Nazi, Confederate and other right-wing flags in America. While I cannot substantiate the veracity of the tweets I saw a number of posts apparently from veterans (this is where it gets dubious) about having fought the Nazis and now their flags are waved by Americans claiming to be patriots. Something has gone deeply wrong here.

In a certain sense this is nothing new. In the far-right and white nationalist movements of the United States there has always been a blend of American patriotic and Nazi/German imagery. Right-wing militias, survivalists, Aryan Nation, and certain biker gangs have all formed a cohort of white supremacists. The Nazis are the go-to villains in much of American culture, yet we see with far greater public acknowledgement that there are those who view Hitler as one of the good guys.

It's a baffling about face, especially given the degree to which America's history in World War II made the country what it is today. Still, I don't expect twenty-first century racists and fascists to have a strong grasp of history.

White supremacy has always been tied to terrorism. This is a fact. If you don't believe me do a casual search for the history of the KKK and lynchings. There is a certain dark poetry that the vehicular murder of a protestor and the injury of nineteen others mirrors attacks by Islamic radicals in recent years.

I am going to try to keep my remarks balanced here. I do not believe we're seeing a mass movement of grassroots American Nazis. I do believe that in the last few years that far-right rhetoric has been normalized to a certain extent. A few years ago these people would be far more marginalized and few would be willing to publicly defend them. Parts of the far-right, the racist right, is now part of normal discourse. I don't put this on Donald Trump. This has been an element of American culture for decades, and normalized particularly in the wake of 2007 and during the Obama years and the Tea Party.

America in 2017 is not Weimar Germany. I hate that I have to say that so sincerely. What is socially acceptable, or reasonable within the public discourse though is increasingly embracing these people, and if it doesn't they create their own media to share their own twisted ideology. This problems is only likely to get worse. Racism, fascism and Nazism are inherently violent ideologies and we should sadly be braced for more incidents such as this. There is no part of that that isn't heartbreaking.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Worth Reading - August 10, 2017

Shorter list this week. No reason why, just less grabbed my attention I suppose. 

From TVO's The Agenda's Blog, the cost of our democracy with the death of the local press

A short video that explains the costs of free parking

Toronto's Medical Health Officer discusses the notion of full drug legalization

Andrea Horwath has criticized Kathleen Wynne for not calling a by-election for Toronto Centre

Brad Wall is stepping down as Premier of Saskatchewan.

Jagmeet Singh shows impressive fundraising numbers in the NDP leadership race. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Cutting Back on Sugar

I instinctively dislike elements of the 'Nanny State.' With some exceptions it seems to me that certain governments are far too willing to interfere in the private lives of its citizens. Some regulations make sense as they have a public health connection, others less so. The first one that pops into mind is the pit bull ban in Ontario. It doesn't bother me much as I dislike dogs, but it hardly seems like the role of the government to pick and choose acceptable breeds.

However, something popped into my mind lately and I have a hard time shaking the fact that there might be something to the fact that we may require a little more government interference in our lives in a certain way. I want to talk about sugar.

When I heard about the initial spate of sugar taxes I have to admit I was highly dubious. It felt like unnecessary interference in people's lives and an irritating "Father Knows Best" approach to public policy. However, in the years since the first controversial sugar tax proposals I have become increasingly familiar with the negative role sugar plays in our private and communal lives.

Talking about nutrition and diet information on the internet feels virtually pointless to me to a certain extent. Whenever I have sought even basic answers to questions the internet will spit back contradictory advice. This is besides the point, I just say this because I'm going to be light on sources for this one.

There seems to be a growing academic and public awareness of the problems related to sugar. By sugar I mean refined white sugar and similar additives. This information had been bouncing around my head for a few years but it came to a point when I watched a video talking about how sugar has become such a problem in the North American diet.

I have no doubt that there are flaws in that video. Here are the salient points. A public association between fat and weight gain/ill-health created a strong stigma for fat content in foods. To improve taste sugar was added. No to mention sugar is used as a preservative and is present in large quantities in a huge array of products.

Over the decades there has been a growing obesity epidemic and rise in diseases such as diabetes. Trying to change public perception on issues like this seem near impossible. Every day for the rest of your life you could be told the sugar in your soda pop is cutting you life short and you'd still probably regularly ingest one. I know this, and I do.

Sometimes the state has a duty to discourage destructive behaviours. I hesitate to support something like a sugar tax because I know immediately that the burden would fall disproportionately upon those disadvantaged and least able to afford it. Still, policymakers may have to contend with the large quantities of sugar in our diets and the social and personal impacts that may have. 

Friday, August 4, 2017

Worth Reading - August 4, 2017

Sorry for the delay in the post. I was working on it yesterday and it got so late it seemed silly to post it when no one would see it. 

Strong Towns looks at housing in San Francisco and affordable housing in general

Eric Grenier takes a look at the NDP leadership race and discounts some of the talking points about fundraising. Donor analysis is perhaps misleading. I've given to three leadership candidates so I appear as a unique donor in three camps.

Researchers have concluded that 13 Reasons Why had a negative impact on mental health. 

Canadian journalist Jen Gerson kindly asks Americans to pull their heads out of their asses when it comes to Justin Trudeau. 

Andrew Coyne writes on the current discussion on how to reform Parliament

Here is another article from Strong Towns looking at the topic of gentrification and what it means

Here is a cute little animated short about a boy who have a crush on another, cause why not? 

The City of Brampton gave money to the Brampton Beast hockey team under questionable circumstances