Cultureguru's Weblog

Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


Hurrying toward dictatorship

Our so-called leaders speak
With words they try to jail ya —
They subjugate the meek
But it’s the rhetoric of failure

–The Police, Spirits in the Material World

This week I heard the KW Symphony and Jeans’n’Classics play the music of Sting and The Police. That was fantastic.

I also read a lot of political columns about the federal Conservative government is up to. That was the opposite of fantastic.

Earlier in their majority mandate, pundits wondered, why the rush? Why push so many bills through, and why impose time allocation on all of them?

Now that their agenda is becoming clearer, I think we know:

The Harper revolution has never been about abortion or gay rights. This prime minister has little interest in social conservatism.

Rather, the revolution is economic. It is aimed at eliminating regulations—particularly environmental regulations—that interfere in profit-making. It is aimed at reducing wages (which is why the Conservatives take swipes at unions whenever possible). It is aimed at scaling back any social programs—from Old Age Security to Employment Insurance — that help keep wages up.

–Thomas Walkom, Stephen Harper’s stealthy war against wages and the environment

Not quite what they campaigned on, eh? And even though true believers may applaud the efforts to plunder the natural world—they seem to feel that, with fervent enough belief in the capitalist system, one can overcome those pesky biological needs for clean water, air, and food—I’m not sure they’d be as happy about efforts to impoverish them.

So, the Conservatives really have to get all this done as quickly as possible, stifling debate wherever they can, before opposition can really mobilize. Before most people even notice.

Let’s see how many different outrages we heard about—just this week!

1 Denying medical coverage to refugees

2 Working to increase crime rates by cutting rehabilation programs and encouraging prison overcrowding

When the emphasis moves away from corrections toward more and harsher punishment of both the physical and psychological variety, recidivism rates will increase and real correction will become more difficult. That will likely mean more crime over the long haul in a country that, apart from the United States (which is in a league by itself), has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world.

— Jeffrey Simpson, Globe and Mail

3 Rejecting all amendments to the new Copyright Act

This is—believe it or not—a largely good piece of legislation, except for a problematic clause on digital locks. Why not consider amending that?  Far as we can tell, only because the opposition parties brought them forward. I mean, God forbid opposition members actually get to do anything for us in return for our tax dollars.

None of [the defeated] amendments were radical or undermined the goals of the legislation. There is much to like in Bill C-11 but the defeat of provisions designed to improve access for the blind, preserve fair dealing, enhance education, and open the door to innovative services hardly seems like something to celebrate.

— Michael Geist

4 Admitted to dismantling an Environmental advisory group because it recommended a carbon tax

The fact is, a carbon tax is the best way to deal with climate change, so any group serious about it has to advocate for one. The Conservatives have, of course, demonized carbon taxes, so they can’t impose them now. So instead they are trying a “regulatory” approach, Communist style, which as we see, doesn’t work. Canada’s carbon emissions just keep going up. Do they care? Apparently, no.

So that’s four pretty big things in one week—but none are the biggest thing. Not by a long shot. No, the biggest thing, quite literally, is the 420-page Omnibus Bill supposedly to “implement the budget”, but in fact, doing a whole lot of other things as well.

(Which, of course, they immediately imposed time allocation on. Why would anyone need any extra time at all to review 420 pages of confusingly worded new laws?)

This bill, among so other things:

  • Repeals the Fair Wage act.  [You didn’t want a fair wage, did ya?]
  • Repeals the Environmental Assessment act.
  • Makes some kind of changes to EI. We’re not sure what, really. We’ll tell you eventually, after this bill is passed. Trust us. It will be great.
    (Rick Mercer: “How can the gov say we will find out what is in the budget after the budget is voted on? Does that work on other planets?”)
  • Re-writes the Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act, and the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

There’s a ton of environmental law changes in here. The thrust of most, from what I can tell, is to get rid of informed government bodies who currently regulate these matters, and move them to uninformed Harper Cabinet to decide . I’m serious.

Writer Richard Poplak wonders why Canadians aren’t angrier about this. Why we aren’t mobilizing.

There’s a bill, called C-38. It’s driven to Parliament on forklifts retrofitted for maximum stealth. This bill, similar at 420 pages in weight and heft to a small pony, is delivered to dead-eyed MPs, behind whom stands the chief whip, taser in hand. The drool-drenched backbenchers nod in unison, and put the bill back on the forklifts for rubber-stamping further down the line.

By not making this the issue of our generation, by not linking this with other efforts calling for responsible governance and respect for democratic institutions–and by not understanding that this trend is not just local, but global–Canadians are rolling over and playing dead.

And why is that?

Well, maybe we’re just a little exhausted from the constant barrage of appalling behavior from our federal government.
Maybe we’re overwhelmed. We just don’t know which of the many outrages to go after first.
Maybe we don’t know how to protest. What would actually work?
Maybe we’re just sick of whole thing. We’ve tuned out. It’s nice out. We have gardening to do.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what Stephen Harper wants.

Speak out against Harper’s budget (NDP)
Harper is ending environmental protection (Liberal)
Environmental Devastation Act (Green Party)
Black Out Speak Out (Environmental groups)
Apologize to the rest of the world

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I wrote a letter to my love

OK, not really.

In fact, I wrote an email to the Record, in response to today’s editorial. It remains to be seen if they publish it. In the meantime, here is either a preview (or just a view, I guess, if it’s never published anywhere but here):

Record Editorial Board, I feel you’re letting the Conservatives off too lightly.

How could they have found out the true cost of the F-35s when bureaucrats were withholding that information? Well, for one, they could have listened to Kevin Page, and the Opposition parties, instead of mocking them. For another, they could have read the many media stories outlining concerns about F-35 cost overruns. From those sources, I knew perfectly well that the F-35s were going to cost a lot more than had been budgeted, and I have considerably fewer resources than the Minister of Defense.

So if the Minister didn’t know, he was either completely incompetent, or was being willfully ignorant.

Do you even remember why the Conservatives were found to be in contempt of Parliament? It was for refusing to give Canadians financial information—including, very specifically—the true cost of the F-35 program. One suspects they didn’t want to provide that information for fear it would show that they were wrong and their critics were right.

If the Conservatives had looked into the matter then, instead of launching into an unnecessary election, they could have dealt with this issue months ago, instead of waiting to be embarrassed by an Auditor’s report.

Why should the bureaucrats be blamed for not answering questions the Conservatives refused to ask?

If anyone gets fired, it should the politicians who, instead of effectively managing the country, chose to hold it in contempt by refusing to find out the facts.


And you know, it’s not even an issue I care that much about. At least the military actually needs jets, unlike say, the prisons in a time of declining crime rates. But it’s just emblematic of the things I generally hate about this government: the arrogance, the disdain for facts, the disrespect. And that’s not even getting into all the bald-faced lies Harper told, in parliament and at press conferences, about how we had a contract for the F-35s. Even one that protected us against price increases.

And their defense now? Thank God we have no contract! “As we have said repeatedly!” (More at Maclean’s.)

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Some quick ones

Other issues have been getting in the way of blogging lately. Let’s see if I can cover a few items with some brevity (not always my strong suit).

Politics: NDP leadership

It’s been interesting to read the views on Thomas Mulcair, but I haven’t formed my own opinion of him yet. Me, I liked Nathan Cullen. To the point where I was almost wishing I had joined the NDP, just so I could vote for him.

Politics: Robocalls

Yep, I’m still following this issue pretty closely and may rant more about it later. In the meantime I will say that Rick Mercer’s 2-minute rant this week summed it up nicely for me. The MPs themselves don’t really know what happened, but someone does. Several someones, higher up. We know it’s rotten. We know the government won’t investigate itself, but someone must.

Rick suggests the G-G. I don’t have much faith that he would do; he’s really not the shit-disturber type, which is probably why Harper picked him. Still, I don’t have a better suggestion. And like Rick, I want to something to happen on this, and sooner rather than later.


Books: What not to read

On fairly short notice, we ended up having to take a somewhat long road trip. So I tried to find an audiobook. A novel called Mine Are Spectacular! looked kind of fun, and had pretty good reviews.

People, it was so ridiculous. It was intended, I think, as a kind of wish fulfillment novel for middle-aged women. Everyone was rich, richer, and richest, and their was no end to the designer labels being dropped into the prose, as though every paragraph had a sponsor. We started mockingly repeating each as they went by: Louis Vuitton! Gucci! Dolce Gabana!

And though not that old (2006), it seemed so dated. AOL buddies. The cutting-edge concept of metrosexuals. And frankly, all that reveling in the luxury goods, which seemed a bit wrong, post-recession.

And then there was Kurt. Gorgeous, smart, successful, (rich!) Kurt, in his 20s, who nonetheless has so little life of his own that, of course, all he wants to do is hang out with a bunch of women in their 40s. He’s what “the girl” usually is in action movies–a bit of eye candy for our heroines, who has no apparent existence outside of them.

Food: New ways to drink ice wine

We did the Niagara-on-the-Lake thing recently. Like a lot of people, we kind of like ice wine, but it is so thick and so sweet, we don’t really drink it that often.

But on this trip we purchased a wine that was a mix of Riesling and ice wine. The result was a sweet wine, but one that was much less thick and sweet. Much more approachable.

Then at a wine pairing dinner we went to, we were served sparkling wine—with a dash of ice wine in it. That made for a slightly off-dry sparkling (reminiscent of Peller Estates’ Ice Cuvee) that went really nicely with the pumpkin soup.

That got us thinking that we could do our own blending here. A touch of ice in a cabernet franc. Our own blend of ice cuvee with some other sparkling wine. You know? So that bottle of ice doesn’t just sit for months in your fridge after you’ve had your one glass of it.

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Evil robots and power-mad politicians

This electoral fraud (“robo-call”) story has been interesting to follow, and seemingly so well-covered by bloggers and the mainstream media that I’m not sure what I can add. But why not try, even if it’s mostly to provide links.

The Conservatives broke electoral law in the 2006 election. They’ve admitted it, pleaded guilty, paid the fines. It’s always irritated me, though, that it took so long to prosecute, and had no real effect.

What they did essentially launder money through local riding to be able to run more national ads than they were legally allowed to. I know those stupid Conservative ads influence voters, even only to stay home instead of vote. As one writer put it, negative political ads are a legal form of vote suppression. But they did an illegal amount of it, won the election, and have earned that “incumbency” vote ever since.

It was totally worth it for them to cheat on that election. Not so weird to think they might try it again, in a different way, with their well-stocked election coffers.

One of the weirder stories I’ve read goes back to the previous election, 2008, where in Saanich-Gulf Islands, thousands of NDP supporters received robocalls urging them to vote for the local NDP candidate–who had dropped out the race, but too late to remove his name from the ballot. The NDP pulled in more of the vote than polling had suggested they would, and the Conservative candidate narrowly won the seat.

For this election, people keep saying there’s no real proof, but isn’t the Thunder Bay situation kind of a smoking gun? A call center hired by the Conservatives that on the eve of the election, called a bunch of people and told them incorrectly that their polling station had changed?

And this Conservative defense of “honest mistake”— it’s not much of a defense. If you’re not absolutely sure the polling station has changed, don’t go telling people it has! It can’t be that hard to get the facts straight. Especially when you have very well-stocked election coffers.

And the Conservative claim that they do not engage in fraudulent calls is simply incorrect, as they did exactly that in Irwin Colter’s riding, defending it as “free speech”. The Speaker of the House called it “reprehensible”, and it is currently under investigation by the company’s professional association.

And the Conservatives trying to equate the VikiLeaks thing with this? One guy with a free Twitter account, posting publicly available facts? Not illegal. Not a big use of government resources. Not even all that terribly wrong, in my opinion. At worst, kind of tacky. (As is cheating on your wife with your babysitter, then disputing her claim for support. I’m just saying.)

The Conservatives are calling this a smear campaign, but they only have themselves to blame for how easily we can believe they would do anything to gain and keep power.

For an excellent list of the many “dirty tricks” the Conservatives have pulled, see Lawrence Martin’s Trouble in Toryland: their Dirty Tricks catalogue. Even I was shocked how long a list it was.

And for an extremely eloquent indictment, Daniel Veniez’ Tory Tactics and Our Rotten Political Climate.

The tragic thing is that our means of fighting this seem so toothless. What is Election Canada doing, exactly? We don’t really know. The RCMP? Bigger fish to fry, I guess. An inquiry? As if!

With all this attention, will this seriously be investigate, and will it actually mean something this time? I can only hope. But I’m not really hopeful.

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Mess with our Internet, and we will tweet you to death

Yesterday was typical in that, in scanning my Twitter feed, I was becoming incredibly irritated with Conservative Party of Canada. The source this time was Vic Toews’ tabling a bill to allow police, spies, and federal bureaucrats to collect information about the digital services Canadians use—without a warrant.

So the same party who insisted that the long-form census and the long-gun registry, despite their incredible value, had to be done away with to protect Canadians’ privacy—think having access to everything we all do online is just fine.

Ontario’s privacy commissioner also pointed out that pooling all this data was very dangerous, as it would be a “gold mine” for the hackers that you know would get at it.

In response to complaints, Vic Toews said that people were either with him or with child pornographers! He even gave the Bill the 1984-esque monikor of The Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act, even though it covers far more than pornographic activity online.

Criticism was widespread, and not only from the usual suspects. The Sun, the Post, blogging Tories, even Margaret Wente wrote a very thoughtful article on why she was “with the child pornographers” on this one.

But the funniest stuff was online, particularly on Twitter.

The first salvo was from new account @Vikileaks30, which just pumps out facts about Mr. Toews, starting with ugly divorce from his wife, precipitated by his having an affair with impregnating a much younger woman. Though some called it an invasion of privacy, it’s actually all part of the public record. Unlike the information the government wants to store about us.

But today took the cake. Today #TellVicEverything was trending. These were a series of tweets, with that hash tag, often also directed to Mr. Toews real Twitter account, sparing Toews the bother of spying on us by just telling him everything we’re doing.

And it was hilarious. Oh, my God, Canadians are funny. (Not me. Mine was lame.) And busy! There was no keeping with it. But I’d just check in every couple hours or so for latest, and laugh…

A tiny sample…

Justin Trudeau, MP @justinpjtrudeau

During QP @johnbairdown dropped by and I asked him to tell @ToewsVic that I had to pee. He didn’t know we #TellVicEverything. Awkward.

ThisHourHas22Minutes @22_Minutes

Dear @ToewsVic: Just yawned. Now the guy beside me is yawning. Feeling guilty about it. #TellVicEverything

Dan Gardner @dgardner

Hey, everybody! You either #TellVicEverything or you side with the child pornographers.

And by the way…

This bill is actually going to committee now instead of to second reading, as would normally be the case.  You may think that’s nothing, but with this band of time allocation junkies (they already have limited debate on more bills than any other government in Canadian history), it is waving a white flag. Unlike the many other bad bills recently, they will actually entertain amendments to this one.

Never underestimate the power of the Twitterverse.

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The GOP’s Crackpot Agenda

The Republican candidates for president seem like such a bunch of farcical idiots that it’s been difficult to take them seriously, especially if you watch The Daily Show regularly, as I do. It was therefore somewhat sobering to read the Rolling Stone article, “The GOP’s Crackpot Agenda”, which lays out what these candidates are actually promising to do. All of them.

(Well, all except Ron Paul, whom Rolling Stone ignores, as seems to be typical media approach to Ron Paul. Though I’m not sure what he is promising is any better, it seems worth noting that it is different, particularly in areas such as the military. The article also apparently pre-dates Herman Cain’s withdrawal from the race.)

But the point is that one of these people could actually be President of the United States! And this what they say they would do:

  • Promote dirty energy jobs—addressing unemployment by increasing carbon emissions.
  • Reduce environmental regulations, such as by limiting or even getting rid of the EPA.
  • Unleash Wall Street by eliminating safeguards that protect consumers and workers.
  • Destroy the safety net: Cancel health care reform, privatize Medicare, and privatize Social Security for young workers.
  • Wreck the economy through a brutal austerity plan, likely to bring on a new recession.
  • Increase military spending and find new wars to fight.
  • Cut taxes on the rich—reduce corporate, estate, and investment taxes.
  • Attack abortion rights. (As an aside: Rick Santorum also doesn’t much care for birth control.)
  • Harsh crackdowns on illegal immigrants.

As Canadians, not all of this would affect us. But if the US economy goes down, so does Canada’s. If they pollute the air and atmosphere, we all suffer the consequences. If they start a new war, our soldiers could be drawn on.

While Obama has certainly been a disappointment as President, at least he’s not, as the headline says, a crackpot. Let us hope that this article is correct that this Republican agenda is too radical to actually be electable.

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Connect the dots, Kitchener-Waterloo

Last federal election, voters in the riding of Kitchener Waterloo received mysterious phone calls telling them, incorrectly, that their polling station had changed. Commissioner of Canada Elections William Corbett is still investigating the source of those calls, but the targets were identified Liberal voters.

A few weeks ago, voters in Irwin Cotler’s Montreal riding received phone calls on behalf of the Conservative Party of Canada telling them, incorrectly, that Cotler was planning to resign, so who would they support in a byelection.

It turns out that the firm behind the calls, Campaign Research, Inc. also did a lot of work for the Conservatives in the last election. In fact, principle partner Nick Kouvalis described his firm’s mandate thusly: “We’re in the business of getting Conservatives elected and ending Liberal careers.”

One of the Conservatives Nick Kouvalis helped elect was one Peter Braid, federal Conservative candidate for the riding of  Kitchener Waterloo. Kouvalis was Braid’s election day chair. Another member of that same firm, Aaron Lee-Wudrick, was Braid’s campaign manager. Per Wikileaks, the two have a history together: See Conservative Party strategy to take over student unions exposed.

During the last election campaign, on behalf of Peter Braid, Campaign Research Inc. spent over $19,000 on phone calls in the Kitchener-Waterloo riding. One of the highest totals in Canada.

Got it?

You know, I hear there might be a byelection soon in the riding of Kitchener Waterloo. Something about an MP resigning in disgrace?

(With much thanks to Creekside blog for helping me connect the dots: Campaign Research Con cats are out of the bag.)

UPDATE: Today in the Waterloo Region Record, a report that at least one of the calls in Kitchener Waterloo area, illegally claiming polling stations had changed was indeed from a number associated with the Conservative Party of Canada.