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As pot legalization shows, the path to social change is winding

21 April 2017 - 10:57am
Politics in Canada

Deep social change happens so slowly it looks like nothing is happening. Not just over years but decades, maybe longer. Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing. Then WHAM. The imminent legalization of (nonmedical) marijuana is a perfect example. Its perfectness even has a generational, father to son, symmetry.

Back in 1969 the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau appointed a royal commission to recommend policy on marijuana. Its head was a future Supreme Court justice. They heard hundreds of witnesses, including John Lennon, and in 1973 reported. Two of the three members recommended decriminalization for possession and cultivation; the third supported legalization. No one suggested keeping it criminal. It must have been what Trudeau wanted. You always select people knowing what they'll give you. Then nothing, nothing, nothing -- till the son.

Why finally now? Who knows? But that's how it goes: there is social ferment yet no official policy or law reflects it. You feel it's hopeless. Then it bursts forth whole. Too bad for devotees of the cause who died in the interim.

In the same era, the 1960s, came the sexual revolution. It questioned heteronormative sex. It was like the drugs, music and political revolutions. Anti-capitalist authorities, such as Herbert Marcuse, theorized about the possibility of "nonrepressive desublimation." Intellectual guru Norman O. Brown advocated "polymorphous perversity" versus uncomplicated (marital only) intercourse.

Then 30 years of nothing. Gary Hart dropped his 1988 Democratic run for president because he was spotted on a sailboat with not-his-wife. In 1998 Bill Clinton was caught having oral sex in the Oval Office (making every word in that phrase sound sexual) with an intern. The sole achievement of his eight years as president was resisting the stigmatization and staying in office. (It seems to me Donald Trump owes Bill Clinton for the fact that his tape didn't cost him victory.)

The official marker for change on this front was same-sex marriage, which became legal nationally in the U.S. in 2015. WHAM, finally.

What about Bill O'Reilly, the mighty mouth at Fox News, who this week was booted for harassment of women working there? Did the Murdochs just find out? I think it's unfortunate that O'Reilly's harassment history got intertwined with Fox's right-wing ideology -- because the very same things have happened for years at other media outlets of all stripes. Women's lives were blighted and careers destroyed at more "liberal" or progressive institutions by behaviour as ugly and sometimes far worse than his including, bien sur, the CBC.

But why now? Nobody knows. It seemed to coalesce at the time of the Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby cases two or three years ago. Then, why then? I don't think there's an answer. (Which should make people wary of declaring "causes" of anything, like wars and recessions.) But that's when women who had been fighting these battles for decades began saying they sensed a "sea-change." The lesson is obvious: don't fret about lack of results; just keep on battling.

Personally, I find it regrettable that the arrival of the cannabis legislation hasn't been more celebratory. I know laws are dry things and Parliament a dreary place. Besides, everyone can say they saw it coming. Still, people celebrate birthdays and anniversaries though they're inevitable. Since you never know the precise moment of a WHAM, it should be worth a cheer.

Maybe it's because fighting when the outcome is uncertain, or hopeless, is more fun. Pierre the dad had an insouciance in office that his son lacks. Even 10 years into power, he pirouetted for the cameras behind the Queen's back, as they went into a formal dinner. Meaning what exactly? Maybe: Believe me, all this prestige and rank means nothing, though I'm enjoying it while it lasts.

Justin had that before his political ascension: when he called Peter Kent "a piece of shit"; boxed, defying the odds, against Patrick Brazeau; or two years later, said nothing "f---ing matters" in the ring except who you truly are. I'm sure he has his reasons, including the dad he had, but now, over 10 years younger than Pierre was when he pirouetted, he sometimes seems older.

All the more reason to take pride in delivering the knockout blow in the case of pot. He should have learned how long it can take to finish something that's clearly right.

Maybe little Hadrien will get around to electoral reform.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: GoToVan/flickr

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social changemarijuana legalizationpot legalizationsexual harassmentheterosexual relationshipssexual rightsRick SalutinApril 21, 2017For the Internet generation, revolutionary change is nothing to fearThe time is ripe, it seems to me, for assessing the deep change brought by the Internet era. It's ripe because, now, there's a generation grown up entirely within that era.Sexual assault is society's norm. Stop treating Donald Trump as an anomaly.Finally, a call for the mainstream press to take a broader approach to analysing Trump's sexual abuse history.Trudeau to make pot legal while cracking down on impaired drivers and pushersThe Liberal government finally introduced its pot legalization legislation, which contains many law-and-order measures to placate the many who are concerned about the impact of legal dope.

Climate change is one area where anti-science rhetoric and actions are endangering human health and survival

21 April 2017 - 9:23am
April 21, 2017March for science, march for Earth Day, march for humanity!Of all the many solutions to global warming and other environmental problems, none is as powerful as people getting together to demand change.

Arkansas plans flurry of executions unprecedented in modern U.S. history

20 April 2017 - 9:59am
Civil Liberties WatchUS Politics

If he gets his way, Arkansas' Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson will execute eight men in 11 days this month. On Feb. 27, he issued the death warrants for the prisoners, with "doubleheader" executions on April 17, 20, 24 and 27, because the state's supply of one of the three drugs in the execution "cocktail," midazolam, is set to expire at the end of April. As this is written, three of the eight executions have been temporarily halted; the other five are scheduled to take place in what would be a rapid-fire flurry of executions unprecedented in modern U.S. history.

Megan McCracken is an attorney with the Death Penalty Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. She told the Democracy Now! news hour:

"Midazolam is an anti-anxiety drug ... but it is not an anesthetic drug. That means it's not used to take a person who is awake and conscious to put that person under surgical anesthesia and then keep that person there. That's what's needed for an execution to be humane, to comport with the Constitution. This drug is inappropriate for the task. You have this situation created by the state where it's rushing to use a drug before it expires, even though the drug itself is inappropriate for the use."

Midazolam is the first of the drugs in Arkansas' death mix.

All the drugs for executions by lethal injection are becoming harder and harder to acquire; companies don't want to be associated with the increasingly unpopular practice of capital punishment, and the European Union has banned companies in Europe from selling execution drugs since 2011, partly because of sensitivity to the Holocaust (yes, press secretary Sean Spicer, Adolf Hitler did use gas to kill millions of people).

The eight men scheduled for execution by Gov. Hutchinson each have unique circumstances, but fall into categories that are common on America's death rows: poor, disproportionately people of colour, most likely to have been found guilty of a crime that had a white victim, and incapable of mounting the type of vigorous defence that wealthier defendants can.

Damien Echols knows Arkansas' death row all too well: He spent more than 18 years on it. He was one of the West Memphis Three, imprisoned for the 1993 slayings of three eight-year-old boys. Four separate documentary films were made about that case, attracting global attention and increased scrutiny. After improved DNA testing became available years later, he and his two co-defendants were freed in 2011.

"These are people that I knew on a personal, everyday basis. [Some] have an IQ of 70. Some of them are mentally insane. A couple of them are believed to be innocent," Echols said on the Democracy Now! news hour. One of those slated to be executed is Don Davis.

"He had killed a woman during a home invasion ... he said it tortured him every single day for the rest of his life since he had done it," Echols said. "He was crying when he was saying this. ... Every single night when he went back to his cell, it's all he thought about all night long. This was a guy who has been in there for 25 years and has had an incredible amount of time to reflect on what he's done, and was truly regretful."

Despite suffering multiple anxiety attacks, Damien returned to Arkansas, the state that almost killed him, to participate in a rally at the Arkansas Capitol building on Good Friday, accompanied by his friend, actor Johnny Depp.

At the Governor's Mansion nearby, a half-dozen people held signs against the death penalty. In front of them, an African-American man lay on a cot, as if on a death-chamber gurney awaiting execution. That man was the Honorable Wendell Griffen.

Arkansas state judge Griffen had just issued a temporary restraining order, in response to a motion filed by the McKesson Corp., which distributes chemicals. McKeeson claimed that the Arkansas Department of Correction deceived them in order to acquire vecuronium bromide, one of the lethal drugs in the state's execution cocktail. McKesson will only sell vecuronium bromide for authorized medical purposes, which do not include executions. Judge Griffen's restraining order, along with the imminent expiration of the state's supply of midazolam, would effectively halt executions in Arkansas indefinitely. In response to his participation in the anti-death-penalty protest, the state supreme court stripped Griffen of his authority to oversee any capital-punishment cases.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering an appeal from the Arkansas death-row prisoners. Whether or not Gov. Asa Hutchinson has his way, and oversees the execution of eight men, hangs in the balance.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,400 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan and David Goodman, of the newly published New York Times bestseller Democracy Now!: 20 Years Covering the Movements Changing America.

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

Photo: Terry Dye/flickr

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death penaltyexecution drugsExecutionsU.S. JusticeU.S. politicscapital punishmentAmy GoodmanDenis MoynihanApril 20, 2017Trump keeps campaign promise to promote unfettered police powerAs the world focuses on state violence from Syria to Iraq to Yemen to North Korea, the groundwork is being laid in the United States for unchecked state violence at home.Dead Man Walking, 20 years later: Sister Helen Prejean's work on abolishing the death penaltyThirty years ago, a Catholic nun working in a poor neighbourhood of New Orleans was asked if she would be a pen-pal to a death-row prisoner. Sister Helen Prejean agreed, forever changing her life.Opposing the death penalty in the United StatesThis month the United States passed a grim milestone -- 1000 people executed since the death penalty was reinstated 30 years ago.

Universal basic income: Yea or nay?

20 April 2017 - 9:19am
April 20, 2017Universal basic income: Yea or nay?Will a guaranteed basic income release people from the poverty trap or keep them in it? A spirited debate exploring the issues from both sides and all points between.

Premier Rachel Notley's NDP wins Alberta's first-quarter fundraising sweepstakes, continuing trend from 2016

20 April 2017 - 12:30am
David J.Climenhaga

Alberta's New Democratic Party outraised each of the province's other political parties in the first quarter of 2017, ended March 31.

This is not the first time this has happened since the New Democrat government led by Premier Rachel Notley was elected in May 2015 and, promising to take corporate and union money out of electoral politics, swiftly passed tough political financing legislation that allowed donations only from individuals.

Nevertheless, the latest numbers from Elections Alberta do suggest the law is working essentially as advertised -- although, of course, we don't know how much corporate money is flowing into political slush funds for right-wing parties proudly labelled political action committees by their operators.

According to the reports published yesterday by the provincial elections agency, the NDP raised $373,060.23 in the quarter, compared to consolidated donations of $281,606.85 for the Wildrose Party and $226,572.21 for the PCs. (Consolidated reports count donations to constituency associations as well as the party. In the case of the NDP, all donations go to the party.)

We can only speculate on whether a unified right-wing party could collect the same level of support from former supporters of both conservative parties, although, given their traditional differences and the discomfort of many PCs with the direction their party is likely to take under the leadership of social conservative Jason Kenney, this seems unlikely.

The Alberta Liberal Party, with a leadership contest in its near future, raised $47,959.83 in the quarter, the Alberta Party took in a consolidated $14,070.49, which must have been a disappointment for leader Greg Clark, and the Green Party of Alberta was given consolidated donations of $5,192.50.

Revenue totals for all of 2016 lined up in the same order:

NDP – $2.3 million
WRP – $1.5 million
PC – $1 million
ALP – $184,700
AP – $90,100
Greens – $28,000

It would probably be reading too much into these latest numbers to suggest that they mean Wildrose Leader Brian Jean is a little more popular than his rival Kenney, or that the PCs still haven't really figured out how to raise money after thriving on huge corporate donations for generations.

The reasons people make political contributions are more nuanced and complicated than such calculations suggest.

If the latest numbers show anything it's how much support there is for the NDP, notwithstanding the prevailing narratives of both the opposition parties and the mainstream media.

To repeat an old line from past reports of this sort, readers and watchers of various far-right social media sites who see Communists hiding under almost every bed and park bench in Alberta will be disappointed to learn the Communist Party brought in no donations at all once again in the first quarter of 2017. Nor did the Alberta First Party, Alberta Social Credit and the Reform Party of Alberta.

Meanwhile, on either side of Alberta, the conservative party in British Columbia that is known as the Liberals and the conservative party in Saskatchewan called the Saskatchewan Party continue to raise huge amounts of corporate cash by selling access to their leaders.

My blog at AlbertaPolitics.ca remains inaccessible as we continue to work to get it back on line. Bear with us! It will return one of these days.

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Martin Himel on family, isolation, identity and loneliness

19 April 2017 - 9:01am
Face2FaceApril 19, 2017face2faceArts & Culture

Martin Himel and Face2Face host David Peck talk about his new film Secrets of Survival, family, isolation, identity and loneliness -- and the secrets we all keep.

Trailer

CBC Docs

Synopsis:

Malka Rosenbaum remembers that moment as if it happened yesterday.  A Toronto University student, she had been complaining about the difficulties of being an only child. Her Mother then told her there was once another child who had died in the Second World War. Malka had a sister and her name was Esther. Forty-five years later, Malka's 93-year-old Aunt Franiya told her that Esther may have survived. Malka is compelled to find out what happened.

Juergen Ulloth can never forget the moment his life changed forever. Excited about getting married, he went to the Kassel Municipality in Germany to retrieve his birth certificate for a marriage license. The clerk told Juergen that his family name was not originally Ulloth, it was Raenold, his mother's maiden name. Juergen's Father, a German Second World War veteran, was not his biological parent.  Who is his father? Juergen must find him. The search leads him to America and transforms his identity.

Biography

Martin Himel has worked as a foreign correspondent and war correspondent for 25 years for CTV, Global TV and FOX, and a producer for ABC news. His television series, documentaries and news coverage have exposed major issues throughout Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and the Americas, and have appeared on PBS, Bloomberg TV, NBC, SKY, BBC, CNN, Vision Television Canada, CBC, CTV, Global Television Canada, Fox News USA, and HD NET, among others.

He directs and produces his projects through his production companies, Elsash Productions Ltd. and Vigilance Productions. Himel's most recent documentary was the explosive exposé Undercover in ISIS, broadcast on documentary Channel in 2016.

Other productions include the documentary specials Keys To Paradise; North Korea: Desperate or Deceptive; and Jenin – Massacring Truth; as well as two four-part series, Infidelity and Global  Anti-Semitism; and the 13-part series Twist of Faith. For more information: www.martin-himel.com

SECRETS OF SURIVAL is written, directed and produced by Martin Himel. Videography is by Ken Ng, Martin Himel and Ellai Himel. Sound recordist is Inna Shapiro. Lead Picture Editor is Yasmine Novak. Music is by Adam White & David Wall. Field Coordinator is Lisa Sanders. For documentary Channel, Bruce Cowley is Creative Head; Jordana Ross is Production Executive; and Susan Baker handles Business & Rights.

For more information about my podcasting, writing and public speaking please visit my site here.

With thanks to producer Josh Snethlage and Mixed Media Sound.

Image Copyright: Martin Himel. Used with permission. 

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Legacy of Little Mountain shows devastating failure of B.C. Liberals' housing strategy, say critics, former residents

19 April 2017 - 7:35am
April 19, 2017Legacy of Little Mountain shows devastating failure of B.C. Liberals' housing strategy, say critics, former residentsHousing advocates say the redevelopment process for B.C.'s oldest social housing site has failed the residents because it broke up a vibrant community.

One big problem for Alberta's 'unite-the-centre' effort: The NDP is already there

19 April 2017 - 1:24am
David J. ClimenhagaApril 19, 2017

The effort by a group of politicians previously associated with the Progressive Conservative, Liberal and Alberta parties to "unite the centre" suggests divisive social conservative doctrines that increasingly dominate the Wildrose and PC parties are starting to seriously worry economic conservatives.

Meanwhile, one of the very issues that has been worrying these would-be centrist conservatives, the dispute over how to respond to gay-straight alliances in schools, has now seeped into the open with publication of an attack on Wildrose Opposition Leader Brian Jean on a social media page run by one of his caucus members, Cardston-Taber-Warner Wildrose MLA Grant Hunter.

About 50 members of the self-styled united-the-centre crowd -- which might also be called "the Coalition of the Failing" -- met behind closed doors in Red Deer on the weekend at the invitation of former Edmonton mayor and Prentice PC cabinet minister Stephen Mandel.

Mandel, apparently, is one of several old Tories -- who can only be described as centrists if you've seriously misplaced your left -- who haven’t quite tuned into the fact Alberta already has a successful centre-right party and they're not members of it.

It's called the New Democratic Party and it's led by Premier Rachel Notley. Rhetoric from Alberta's two social-conservative parties notwithstanding, about the only difference between the Dippers of '17 and the Tories of '71 is that a slightly larger percentage of NDP policy is more than mere rhetoric. Still, the similarities between the two parties are striking -- and often annoying to longtime NDP loyalists. If you don't believe me, just ask a New Democrat from British Columbia!

But to see that, you have to pay attention to actual policies -- on royalties, deficit spending and the effort to build an inclusive big tent platform -- and not just listen to the ever-more hysterical rhetoric of the leaders competing to lead the increasingly loony right.

"This was just a preliminary get-together to see if there are any grounds to continue," Mandel told the CBC on the weekend. "We will see what happens next."

What the excessively cynical think will happen is that these old Tories will try to grab what's left of the Alberta Party and turn it into the New PCs to compete with the New Dems.

"If I was Clark, I’d be worried," observed an experienced Alberta political operator of my acquaintance, referring to Alberta Party Leader and sole MLA Greg Clark. 

For his part, Clark didn't sound particularly worried, possibly because short of joining the far-right Frankenparty that both PC Leader Jason Kenney and Wildrose Opposition leader Brian Jean hope to animate as soon as they can figure out where to attach the electrodes, it's about the only possible way for him to keep his job as an MLA.

"Albertans are centrists, I think broadly, and want a centrist political option," Clark told the CBC in the same story -- an observation that is most certainly true, subject to the same caveat as that regarding Mandel's commentary above.

Alberta Liberal leadership candidate Kerry Cundal was there too -- as was St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse, until recently a candidate for the same job -- presumably both aware that the last time a merger of the Alberta Liberal Party and the Alberta Party was proposed, the ALP board of directors put the kybosh on it.

It's interesting that three Alberta political parties -- the Liberals and the Alberta Party thanks to their difficulty getting on the radar in the current Legislative setup, and the PCs seeing as they’ve just elected a leader determined to shut them down and merge them with the Wildrosers -- are now facing existential crises as the wake of the 2015 Alberta general election continues to spread across Alberta's troubled metaphorical waters.

Speaking of the Wildrosers, just days ago Jean was insisting manfully there are no major divisions in his caucus -- despite constant talk of the phenomenon throughout Alberta political circles.

Jean's optimistic denials notwithstanding, one rift within Wildrose Caucus is now right out in the open with the publication by Hunter on his Facebook page of a long screed by Parents for Choice in Education director Donna Trimble.

As noted in this space recently, the social conservative Wildrose base just can't leave alone the issue of gay-straight alliances in schools and their belief that students who join them should be outed to their parents. They keep picking at it, alienating more and more mainstream Abertans.

But when Trimble directed her anger at Jean for daring to agree with the NDP, not to mention many conservatives of the sort who were meeting in Red Deer, that children who join GSAs could be put at risk if their parents are automatically informed, Hunter passed it right along.

While Education Minister David Eggen "Threatens to Expand State Control," Trimble wrote in quaintly capitalized headline style, "there is a greater danger posed by Wildrose Leader Brian Jean demonstrating such weakness on this portfolio in the Legislature." (Emphasis mine.)

"When the opposition in the Legislature fails to stand up to protect families from state control of their own children, Minister Eggen and the NDP are empowered to expand that state control," Trimble protested, urging her militant organization's member-parents to "contact Brian Jean and remind him that his job is to represent you, the good families of Alberta, and not the rhetoric of iSMSS (Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services) and the NDP!"

She advised her readers to "ask that he clarifies or retracts his statement regarding the circumvention of parents."

I imagine the Wildrose Leader was none too pleased by his MLA's freelancing, which tends to bring into question Jean's ability to lead a united right-wing party, not to mention damaging the ability of that party and its two constituent parts to be seen by the boarder public as anything but a mob of obsessive homophobic nuts.

Jean obviously gets this, but for some reason lacks the wherewithal to stand up to the social conservatives in his own caucus or among his party's general membership.

For his part, Kenney seems to be discreetly encouraging them, while keeping his distance from the media or anyone else who might ask him rude questions about what he really believes.

This certainly puts the desire of economic conservatives to rebrand themselves as the centre of the province's centre in proper context, no matter how difficult that will be with a genuinely centrist social democratic party in government.

Today marks 101st anniversary of women's right to vote in Alberta

Today marks the 101st anniversary of the right of women to vote in Alberta.

Alberta followed Saskatchewan, which implemented women’s suffrage on March 14, 1916, and Manitoba, which did so on Jan. 28 the same year.

The West led on this important development in Canada, it has been argued, with the support of the co-operative, labour and temperance movements, the latter which saw women's suffrage as another tool to end alcohol-spurred violence against women and children.

The United Farmers of Alberta, the political movement that lingers as a co-operative retail fuel chain, endorsed the vote for women in Alberta in 1912.

Alas, not all supporters of the franchise for women were as concerned with democracy as using its availability as a tool for encouraging immigration to wrest the recently colonized lands of the West from their Indigenous inhabitants, a part of Prairie history we tend not to acknowledge when we remember this important development in our past.

NOTE: This post will eventually appear on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca. Unfortunately, it's broken right now, possibly the result of a viral surge in interest in yesterday's post about the creation of 20,000 new full-time jobs in Alberta last night, and the way the right and the media are pretending it didn't happen. As soon as AlbertaPolitics.ca is back in operation, this will be posted there as well.

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FeminismPolitics in CanadaAlberta politicsAlberta NDPWildrose PartyProgressive Conservative PartyBrian JeanRachel NotleySocial ConservatismEconomic ConservatismUnite the RightUnite the CentreWomen’s SuffrageUnited Farmers of AlbertaInstitute for Sexual Minority Studies and ServicesParents for Choice in Education

Legacy of Little Mountain shows devastating failure of B.C. Liberals' housing strategy, say critics, former residents

18 April 2017 - 2:22pm
Ten years later, the fight for social housing at Little Mountain continuesWhat Little Mountain taught us about the B.C. government and the fight for affordable housing.How a community in B.C. was terrorized in order to get rid of social housingWatch this documentary by Christopher Bevacqua about the Little Mountain community in British Columbia.Organizing tenants, building solidarityTammy and Alex talk about the work of the Hamilton Tenants Solidarity Network to build a fighting tenants movement.rabble newsPolitical ActionPolitics in Canada

When Ingrid Steenhuisen's former neighbours were low on food and strapped for cash, the Little Mountain social housing resident would spend what little she had on a bag of flour and deliver it to their home.

Last week, Steenhuisen and other Little Mountain housing activists marked 10 years since the province announced it had sold the complex to a private developer, who quickly made plans to demolish it.  While critics continue to cite its demolition as the failed testing ground for B.C.'s approach to social housing, Steenhuisen remembers the vibrant social housing community where people looked out for each other.

"There were a few times where the local grocery store in their sale flier would have a 25-pound bag of flour for six or seven dollars," Steenhuisen says. "So my Mom and I would split that cost and then I'd take the bag of flour to that family because I knew the mother baked and that way she could do bread....she'd have a way to tide it over."

"People took care of one another's kids. That kind of thing existed when I was young, it existed until 2009."

There goes the neighbourhood

Steenhuisen grew up in the Little Mountain housing project, which was originally constructed as low-rent housing for middle-income families after the Second World War. A long-time housing advocate, the 60-year old says that everywhere she goes in her neighbourhood of Little Mountain, people know her. But with the removal of the 224-unit social housing project at East 37th Ave. and Main Street, Steenhuisen had to say goodbye to neighbours she'd known her whole life.

With a handful of others, Steenhuisen resisted eviction for several years. Today she lives in the 54-unit seniors social housing building that sits on the otherwise empty green lot. It's the only thing that has been built since the original row houses were levelled.

Steenhuisen recalls the community had experienced its fair share of rumours that the complex would be broken up and sold off since the 1990s. But it wasn't until March 2007--10 years ago -- that rumour became reality. The B.C. Housing authority announced it had sold the site to a developer, effective April 1, 2007. Many tenants started packing up, with the idea that it was temporary.

According to David Chudnovsky, a Little Mountain housing advocate and former MLA for Vancouver-Kensington, when B.C. Housing started pushing residents out in 2007, they were told they'd be moved back in before the 2010 Olympics. But it never happened.

It wasn't until July 2016 that the city and developer, Holborn Holdings Ltd., agreed on zoning changes that would allow the company to build market-priced condos alongside the social housing it had promised to replace. At this point, the company announced it would still be 10 years before the project was complete.

But according to B.C. NDP housing critic, David Eby, the delay could have been avoided.

"When the property was purchased by the developer everybody knew what the zoning was. . . everybody knew the maximum number of units that could be built on the site," said Eby. But the city initially said no to the developer's rezoning application.

"There has definitely been a stand-off between the city and the developer because [given the zoning] the developer overpaid for the site. The problem is that the province entirely failed to put deadlines in the contract with the developer when they sold the land, to require that the affordable housing be rebuilt, regardless, by a certain deadline."

Eby, the MLA for Vancouver-Point Grey, says the loss of the low-income housing project is an example of the failure of the government's strategy to privatize social housing.

"I think the evidence for the failure of this government's approach is really evident in the Little Mountain site as a micro example," he said. In fact, the project was essentially a "test" site for the B.C. Liberals' "broader approach to public housing."

The approach, said Eby, has seen $200 million worth of public housing sold to private developers, and the management transferred to non-profits. At the Little Mountain site, the province expected that the private developer would rebuild the social housing, using the profit from the market-priced condos it would build next to them. Or, as the B.C. Housing website puts it, the "partnership with the private and non-profit sectors," envisions a "new, safe, accessible housing, with a mix of subsidized and market housing, along with community facilities and other neighbourhood amenities."

With B.C.'s election less than three weeks away, the NDP have promised to build 114,000 new co-op, social, rental and owner-purchased homes in the next 10 years as part of their housing strategy, which also includes a $400 annual subsidy for renters.

While construction is now set to start this year, much of the 15-acre lot has sat unused for the last decade. Housing advocates say the redevelopment process for Little Mountain has failed the residents because it broke up a vibrant community.

"You start with a community that actually works, where people know each other and have some relationship to one another, and then you scatter those people to the four winds," said Chudnovsky.

Tessa Vikander is a Vancouver-based freelance multimedia journalist writing about social movements, Indigenous leadership, education and lifestyle. She is smart and funny on Twitter @TessaVikander.

Image: David Vaisbord

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Tessa VikanderApril 19, 2017Little Mountain2017 B.C. ElectionB.C. politicshousingDavid EbyBC

Not Rex: Trump's new distraction wars

18 April 2017 - 9:44am
YouTubeHumberto DaSilvaUS PoliticsWorldApril 18, 2017Not Rex

Like the last five American presidents, Trump bombs first and asks questions later. The deadliest nerve gas is made of carbon dioxide.

syria bombingtrump administrationwar-mongeringafghanistan warU.S. foreign policy Nerve Gas

Ho-hum budget delivers little vision or action on agriculture

18 April 2017 - 9:16am
EconomyFood & HealthPolitics in Canada

"Further details of the next agricultural policy framework will be announced over the coming year…" So states the 2017 federal Liberal budget released on March 22.

I had hoped there would be a bit more of an attempt to deal with the pressing issues related to agriculture.

When I came upon this statement on page 108 of the 2017 budget, I couldn't quite believe what I was reading.

Another "stay-tuned" budget, with little commitment and definitely little vision for how the agricultural economy of this country might be best developed in the interests of community, family farmers, climate change and clean food.

Still no policy framework and still no discussion of pressing issues such as retiring farmers, land tenure, preserving the family farm, poor farm incomes, or how best to encourage sustainable agriculture, farm cooperatives, community trusts, financing and micro-loans, etc. Of all the ideas that might be tried, this budget came up shamefully empty.

Beyond mentioning working toward eliminating tariffs, launching initiatives to encourage science and value-added agri-business, the 2017 federal budget was remarkable in its lack of understanding, insight and action.

It is not that the federal government has not received guidance or clear recommendations.

Here is what one of several recommendations from the National Farmers Union submission to the pre-budget consultations of the Finance Committee stated on the most pressing of issues -- intergenerational transfer of family farms:

"The average age of farmers in Canada is rising and the number of farmers under age 35 is falling. We are in the midst of a crisis in inter-generational transfer. There is an urgent need for measures to assist young people to begin and continue farming. Measures to promote sustainable incomes for all farmers will help young people choose farming as an economically viable career. Beginning farmers require mentorship and training, as well as assistance in gaining access to land, especially options for secure land tenure that do not involve crippling debts.

The NFU recommends the federal government develop mechanisms for farm family intergenerational land transfers that do not rely on loans and interest payments. Fiscal measures should be created that would promote community-based financing options and community-owned land trusts and land banks to ensure food production by local farmers. Canada also needs an income-assurance plan for beginning farmers to assist them in becoming established and support their long-term success. A retirement savings program or pension plan specifically designed for farmers would reduce their need to rely on selling land at high prices to fund their retirement."

As noted in other columns I have written, there are many, many ways of implementing these recommendations. These two paragraphs clearly and succinctly sum up what is required. Budget 2017 did not even mention new farmers, but encouraged us to wait until next year for a comprehensive agricultural policy under Growing Forward 2018.

Disheartening.

Hearken back to the Alternative Federal Budget 2017 (AFB) published on March 9 by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives for a clear picture of the choices required for food security and sovereignty in Canada. Among its comprehensive economic policies, the AFB 2017 maps out strong policy actions to ensure family farming in Canada gets back on track. It also recognizes the importance of small farms in helping to mitigate climate change, recognizes the need to drastically improve farm incomes, and supports the reestablishment of a strong system of publicly funded research to support family farmers. It also recognizes that there is a crisis in intergenerational land transfer.

Here is a summary from the CCPA's budget publication entitled High Stakes, Clear Choices:

"The average age of Canadian farmers is rising. Older farmers are delaying retirement, while younger people who want to farm are facing barriers that are increasingly difficult to overcome, such as precarious farm income prospects and a fraying rural social fabric. We are in the midst of a crisis in inter-generational transfer. Land is being acquired by farmland investment companies, consolidated into large holdings, and farmed by tenant farmers and hired labour instead of being transferred to younger farm families and new entrants. There is an urgent need for measures to assist young people to begin and continue farming successfully.

  • Create a national agricultural climate change mitigation program to help farmers reduce emissions and make their farms more resilient.
  • Make farm incomes less precarious by rebuilding or repairing the institutions that give farmers more power in the marketplace.
  • Create a new set of mechanisms and training programs to facilitate land transfer to new farmers without requiring them to take on crippling debt."

Add to this context decades of poor farm incomes as illustrated in this graphic blog by researcher Darrin Qualman, "Agribusiness takes all: 90 years of Canadian net farm income," and it is incredible that there are any family farmers left in Canada. The fact that there still are underscores the commitment and stamina and stick-to-it-ness of some. But, of course, low farm incomes have taken a drastic toll on the rural population generally. That includes small businesses located in small centres across the country. Family farmers are suffering, but so is all of rural Canada. Without addressing the issue of the farming population, there is no way to solve the rural crisis more generally.

 In 2018, the Liberal government plans to discuss agriculture and apparently provide a framework for renewal. We'll see. So far, the federal government has simply put a whole new spin on the meaning of the farming phrase "next year country."

Lois Ross is a communications specialist, writer, and editor, living in Ottawa. Her column "At the farm gate" discusses issues that are key to food production here in Canada as well as internationally.

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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At the farm gateBudget 2017agricultural policyCanadian agricultureCanadian Farmersland transferLois RossApril 18, 2017Hungering for commitments on a new Canadian food policyHarvest season may be over in Canada, but for activist farmers the work is never done. As winter approaches, food activists are advocating for long-term policy changes that are increasingly urgent.Liberals' second budget gets failing gradeThe federal government, says David Macdonald, "took the 2016 budget out and put a new cover on it... Now you have the 2017 budget. They’ve gift wrapped last year’s budget."Need for national food policy intensifies as costs soar and food insecurity remainsThere should be no one suffering from food insecurity in a country as rich as Canada, yet this is a big issue. Here is why we need a national food policy that focuses on sustainability.

Liberals follow in Harper Conservatives' footsteps with government by the PMO

18 April 2017 - 8:41am
April 18, 2017Liberals follow in Conservatives' footsteps with government by the PMO Turning Canadian democracy over to the PMO may make it simpler to govern. Watching the Trudeau PMO at work shows it does not improve a government's ability to perform the duties it promised.

Liberals follow in Conservatives' footsteps with government by the PMO

18 April 2017 - 8:34am
Politics in Canada

The prime minister's personal staffers have a partisan mission. Each political cycle ends with an election: the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) is supposed to make sure the government comes out on top.

While Prime Minister Trudeau enjoys personal popularity, his government is exhibiting signs of political amnesia. They keep forgetting why they were elected.

With 18 months in office, on key files the Liberals seem incapable of distinguishing themselves from the previous Harper Conservatives.

It may be reassuring for Justin Trudeau to have his campaign team making policy, but it is not working out well with Chief of Staff Katie Telford and Policy Advisor G.M. (Gerry) Butts running things from the PMO.

How could the Trudeau government introduce a 300-page so-called budget implementation bill, after promising that such Harper-style omnibus legislation would disappear under the Liberals?

It is hardly going to escape parliamentary attention that the omnibus budget bill is a crude attempt by the Liberals to pass legislation without it receiving adequate examination.

The PMO has adopted Harper-like tactics because the opposition have succeeded in shutting down Liberal efforts to move bills through Parliament.

A report by Rachel Aiello in The Hill Times gives details on how Liberals efforts to amend the Standing Rules of Procedure in the House of Commons have evoked opposition ire and led to a freeze on parliamentary business.

The opposition point of view received sympathetic understanding from long-serving Liberal MP Wayne Easter.

When questioned by Rachel Aiello about the Liberal approach to Parliament, the Member from Malpeque, P.E.I., stated:

"This is the House of Commons. It's not the House of Cabinet. It's not the House of the PMO. It's the House of Commons. It's the people's House, and the majority of the people in that House are not members of cabinet."

For Wayne Easter, no changes should be made to parliamentary rules of procedure without support of the main opposition parties.

This is no doubt a lesson Easter, but not the Trudeau PMO, learned from watching the Harper government ignore parliamentary opinion.

The Trudeau Liberal response to parliamentary stalemate is pure political communications strategy 101: change the subject.

To distract attention from what is going wrong in Parliament, the PMO have reached for an old favourite -- marijuana -- the subject that first got Trudeau attention after he won the Liberal leadership four years ago on April 14, 2013 and tabled a Cannabis Act.

Information Commissioner of Canada Suzanne Legault has announced she will not seek a new mandate. In her interview with John Geddes of Maclean's she explained her disappointment with the inaction of the Trudeau government.

Measures to increase government transparency were promised by the Liberals, but have been shelved by the PMO.

The new prime minister had promised that 2015 was the last election that would be held under the old electoral system.

The PMO had the next election in mind when the Liberals decided to bury democratic reform. If you win with first-past-the-post why change it?

As a pattern develops of breaking promises, who is going to believe Trudeau when he promises changes in the next campaign?

The concentration of power in the PMO reached its peak under Stephen Harper when the public service, the media, Parliament, and, indeed, cabinet, were regularly dismissed, ignored, or saw their roles downgraded.

Justin Trudeau has promised to end the era of "prime ministerial government" (inaugurated by his father Pierre Trudeau after the 1968 election). Under a democratic government, the upper reaches of the politically neutral public service are to advise on how to deliver good-quality public services efficiently and cost-effectively.

Deputy ministers, and not just the PMO, have the responsibility to warn ministers off doing things that are difficult to sell to voters and would weaken the standing of the government in the country.

Ministers, not staffers, are supposed to make the decisions, because ministers, not the PMO, carry the can with the public and have to account for the results.

Turning Canadian democracy over to the PMO may make it simpler to govern. Watching the Trudeau PMO at work shows it certainly does not improve a government's ability to perform the duties it promised to undertake on behalf of Canadian citizens.

Duncan Cameron is former president of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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PMOTrudeau governmentHarper governmentPM chief of staffbuttskatie telfordDuncan CameronApril 18, 2017Trudeau Liberals betray open and fair government pledgesMeaningful changes to parliament are unlikely so long as a party with the support of only 40 percent of voters can form a majority government, and carry on without seeking support across party lines.Justin Trudeau versus Stephen Harper: What's the difference?By 2015, for most Canadians, the Harper government had run out its time. Voters decided to replace it with the Trudeau Liberals. How is that working out?Trudeau's do-nothing approach to electoral reform risks Canada's future The PM's warning that an extremist party could gain some seats in parliament under a proportional system ignores the fact that the extreme right can win a majority under the current system.

When talking guaranteed basic income, let's not forget the need to contest power

14 April 2017 - 9:58am
EconomyLabourPolitics in Canada

Something about the guaranteed basic income program being readied for an Ontario test run -- names vary but it means automatic minimum support for the needy and eventually everyone -- irritates me. And yes, that makes me feel Dickensian: Humbug!

Let me, without much justification, start somewhere else: sexual abuse at universities. In her book, Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus, U.S. academic Laura Kipnis acknowledges the problem -- the plague really -- but deplores the perils of a bureaucratic, judicialized response.

She documents much abuse in the name of dealing with abuse. Yet what most worries her is what a reviewer called a "crisis of agency" among young women. If they leave their protection to recently minted campus officials and offices -- after registering their complaints -- it may reduce them to passive victimhood, awaiting outside rescuers: "There's an excess of masculine power in the world, and women have to be educated to contest it in real time …"

Now agency is agency and passivity is passivity, though they come in many guises. When I organized with a textile union in the 1970s, another organizer reported a young worker's experience of sexual innuendo being spread about her by company stooges. The organizer wanted to go to Ontario's Human Rights Commission. The union leader, a veteran of 1930s vintage, scoffed. He'd seen it often. My fellow organizer felt rebuffed but his point was: workers are going to encounter much worse and must learn to deal with these attacks themselves, to build their strength.

The way that working people -- by which I mean those who depend on jobs to support themselves, versus living off investments, interest, rent etc. -- the way workers found to protect their interests over a period of about 150 years, was by uniting in what were called unions to assert their rights. This was agency.

The counterattack by the owning class in recent decades has been targeted at undermining those unions. It's been the most significant effect of free trade deals. By moving jobs to cheaper markets, such as Mexico or China, employers pressured unions to ratchet down demands and concede gains they'd made. Eventually workers ask, "What do we need these unions for if all they do is cave?" Then along comes Universal B.I., Guaranteed B.I., or some cognate.

The very governments and sectors that imposed and insisted on those debilitating trade deals, now rise up and say: Worry not, we will restore your declining security, which threatens to plunge you into need and onto welfare, with a guaranteed basic income. The one thing you won't get back, it's true, is your sense of agency and power, which you'd achieved to some extent through your unions. But your "basics" will now, through our benevolence, be covered.

The problem with this isn't only the absence of agency and dignity but, as Kipnis says about the abuse of young women: they can't just wait around "for men to reach some new stage of heightened consciousness" because that day may never come.

And what if the owning and renting classes simply view a BI as another source to be scarfed up through higher rents, charges, privatized highways etc., so it ends up merely expanding the gulf between the rich and the rest? (I'm indebted for this argument to economist Michael Hudson.)

Take Kathleen Wynne's privatization of Hydro. Of course electricity costs will rise once the financiers take over, why else would they buy it except to profit as much as they can? So the GBI just gets recycled back up to those who made it necessary in the first place. The inequality gulf worsens and is financed largely by taxes from people who can't ever get ahead of it. Arrggh!

What's the alternative? Not necessarily unions, but agency in some form. Take control of your destiny -- both because it's more fun than the alternative and because you can't trust anyone else to. Organize somehow -- unions, political parties, whatever -- to get a seat at the same table as those guys with the investments and returns have done forever. Charity is always a way to confirm who's on top and who's stuck below -- and a guaranteed BI is essentially charity.

Would I vote for it? Maybe, as a desperate stopgap measure. People have to survive. But I wouldn't stop skulking around, conniving and contriving a way to contest power, not just gratefully accept its ambiguous droppings.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: Christopher Andrews/flickr

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guaranteed basic incomeeconomic inequalitywealth distributionPoverty ReductionOntario PoliticsCapitalismRick SalutinApril 14, 2017In times of despair, utopias are preferable to dystopiasDystopias are warnings, utopias are yearnings. They keep chugging ahead into the future, unlike dystopias, which are meant to forewarn but can as easily depress and demobilize.Basic income: The devil is in the detailsBasic income is in the news right now, with governments from Alberta to Quebec in support of the idea. Economist David Macdonald says it's critical to pick the right model to actually reduce poverty.We need to work less to live betterA lot needs to be done to reform our economic systems and to address critical issues like pollution and climate change. Reducing work hours is one way to make substantial gains.

Trudeau to make pot legal while cracking down on impaired drivers and pushers

14 April 2017 - 8:50am
April 14, 2017Trudeau to make pot legal while cracking down on impaired drivers and pushersThe Liberal government finally introduced its pot legalization legislation, which contains many law-and-order measures to placate the many who are concerned about the impact of legal dope.

Alberta's Week in Review: We know where the Wildrosers are, but where's Jason?

14 April 2017 - 1:50am
David J. ClimenhagaApril 14, 2017

When Alberta's Wildrose Opposition MLAs sent out a summary yesterday touting their exploits over the past week, there was nary a word about gay-straight alliances.

This is really odd, because restricting or eliminating the rights of LGBTQ students to safely join GSAs in their schools have been pretty much the only thing their supporters and some of their MLAs have been able to talk about for more than two weeks now!

Ever since March 28, when would be united-right boss Jason Kenney, fresh from his victory in the Progressive Conservative Party's leadership campaign, opined that teachers should be required to inform parents whose children join a GSA at school, the base that both political parties hope to appeal to hasn't been able to leave the topic alone.

In other words, ensuring that GSAs don't work and can't work has been the No. 1 burning topic for Alberta's right ever since! They've been at it like a dog with a bone. As blogger Dave Cournoyer put it in a post earlier this week, "Alberta's conservatives are obsessed with gay-straight alliances."

Some conservative MLAs, including Opposition Leader Brian Jean, can't seem to leave it alone either, despite the undeniable fact it's a really terrible issue for them with voters.

Kenney, who started it, obviously gets this. He's made himself scarce ever since he put his foot in it -- something you can only get away with if you're not an MLA with an obligation to turn up at the Legislature when it's in session.

Jean has been braver -- or more foolish -- depending on how you see things.

But maybe he has to be. Notwithstanding his past denial, the Wildrose Caucus clearly appears to be badly riven over the GSA issue -- not to mention the question of whether Jean or Kenney should lead a united right-wing Frankenparty.

Earlier this week, several Wildrose MLAs wore "include parents" buttons given to them by a supporter whose Facebook posts on the topic compared contemporary public schools to residential schools used to force First Nations children to assimilate with Euro-Canadian culture and who also seemed to suggest there's a United Nations plot to seize Canadian children from their parents.

At any rate, as Cournoyer pointed out on Tuesday, the Wildrose Leader first took issue with Kenney on April 3 by saying GSA members should not be outed. The next day he flip-flopped, and said maybe parents should be notified. By April 5, he was back to his original position.

Yesterday at the Legislative Building Jean was back at it, giving the impression he's opening the door to repealing or amending the 2015 law that allows students to form GSAs if he and the Wildrosers manage to form a government.

Jean was responding to a reporter's question about the apparent disagreement by one of his MLAs with his last known position on the issue -- claiming that the MLA was just asking constituents for their opinions.

"I'm more than happy to hear all of those opinions because I think with the widest breadth of consultation with Albertans we'll actually be able to get the law right," he told the gathered reporters. "And I think this is a very important issue for many Albertans and I want to make sure we get the law right."

Say what? When the changes that permitted GSAs were introduced by the late Jim Prentice's PC government in 2015, they were supported by all Wildrose MLAs.

NDP Education Minister David Eggen has been trying to enforce the law, which the NDP also supported back in 2015, in the face of resistance by operators of religious schools and home schooling advocates who have been working with the conservative Opposition parties to embarrass the government.

Does Jean's statement yesterday mean the Wildrose Caucus has a plan to repeal or amend the GSA provisions? It sure as heck sounds like it.

The NDP Legislative Caucus called Jean on this, demanding in a news release that "Brian Jean must state his position, not only on outing LGBTQ+ kids, but now also his position on Bill 10." (Emphasis added.)

The circumstances suggest he'll now have to do that, whether he likes it or not. Whatever he says, it'll look like he's changed his position.

Meanwhile, if anyone sees Kenney, please let a responsible grownup know. If he doesn't show up soon, his face is going to have to start appearing on milk cartons!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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EducationLGBTIQPolitics in CanadaAlberta politicsAlberta EducationAlberta NDPEducation PolicyWildrose PartyProgressive Conservative PartyJason Kenneyjim prenticeBrian JeanDavid EggenNDP Legislative CaucusDave Cournoyerresidential schoolsUnited NationsGay-Straight AlliancesLGBTQ StudentsLGBTQ Rights

Trump keeps campaign promise to promote unfettered police power

13 April 2017 - 12:51pm
Anti-RacismCivil Liberties WatchUS Politics

As the world focuses on state violence from Syria to Iraq to Yemen to North Korea, the groundwork is being laid in the United States for unchecked state violence at home. Donald Trump is making good on at least one of his many campaign promises: promoting unfettered police power. His point person on these goals, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is leading the Justice Department through a tectonic shift, abandoning Obama-era efforts to protect civil and voting rights, threatening more deportations and resuscitating the decades-old, failed "War on Drugs."

This week, Sessions told the International Association of Chiefs of Police, "Unfortunately, in recent years ... law enforcement as a whole has been unfairly maligned and blamed for the crimes and unacceptable deeds of a few bad actors." Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said on the Democracy Now! news hour, "What we see with Attorney General Jeff Sessions is an effort to basically take us back in time ... this is a person who's stuck in the '80s, and in some instances, stuck in the '50s."

Ifill continued, "It's a kind of a retro view of law enforcement and policing in which he's attempting to wipe out the last 30 years of progress in this country, to the extent that it's been made -- the last four years, in particular, where we've really been focused on the issue of policing reform." Much of the recent efforts emanate from the summer of civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. There, on Aug. 9, an unarmed African-American teenager, Michael Brown, was shot dead by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, sparking months of protest. By March of 2016, the City of Ferguson and the Justice Department, then under Attorney General Loretta Lynch, entered into a consent decree "with the shared recognition that the ability of a police department to protect the community it serves is only as strong as the relationship it has with that community."

Before long, right-wing groups like The Heritage Foundation began referring to "The Ferguson Effect," claiming that consent decrees or any other type of judicial or civilian oversight of police actually increases crime by tying the hands of law enforcement. This argument has no basis in fact, but, like many of the policies being pursued by the Trump administration, now appears to be guiding official policy.

After the death of another young African-American man, Freddie Gray, who suffered serious spinal-cord injuries while in Baltimore police custody in April 2015, more civil unrest and protest led to another consent decree. Sessions attempted to delay implementation of that agreement, but last week a federal judge dismissed the motion. In a March 31 memorandum, Sessions instructed the Justice Department to review all "existing or contemplated consent decrees," signaling his intention to undermine the more than 100 such accords agreed to under the Obama administration.

"The statute that governs these investigations and consent decrees ... the Law Enforcement Misconduct Statute, 42 U.S.C. 14141 ... was enacted as part of the 1994 crime bill as a result of the Rodney King assault and the acquittal of those officers in the first trial," Ifill explained. "[It] authorizes the attorney general to investigate unconstitutional policing, to engage in these consent decrees. To the extent that he [Sessions] is a law-and-order attorney general, this is a law he's willing to completely ignore."

Norm Stamper knows a thing or two about policing. A 34-year veteran officer, the former Seattle police chief is author of the book To Protect and Serve: How to Fix America's Police. The Seattle Police Department is under a consent decree, and Stamper says it has done wonders to improve the situation there: "There's been a 60 per cent reduction in use of force by Seattle police officers. There has been a dramatic decrease in the use of firearms, Tasers and batons."

Here is the kicker: "Police officers themselves, through the president of the Police Officers' Guild, are saying, 'We're grateful that we're at this stage of our progress.' The crime rate has continued to go down. Officer injuries are either flat or dropping. So there's been no so-called Ferguson effect or de-policing," Stamper says. About Sessions, Stamper says: "He's clearly in lockstep with his boss. ... He is clearly an apologist for the worst kind of policing in this country."

Longtime civil-rights attorney Sherrilyn Ifill sums up, "This is what Attorney General Sessions will unleash ... if we are not vigilant and resistant."

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,400 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan and David Goodman, of the newly publishedNew York Times bestseller Democracy Now!: 20 Years Covering the Movements Changing America.

Photo: Thomas Hawk/flickr

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

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Amy GoodmanDenis MoynihanApril 13, 2017U.S. Senate should reject Jeff Sessions again, 30 years laterSen. Sessions has been consistent throughout his career. The Senate Judiciary Committee should be equally consistent and reject Sessions as attorney general.The God that fails: C-51, review committees and the dangers of window dressing Instead of questioning the mandates and core practices of secretive, unaccountable security agencies, efforts are underway to save the system by putting up some nice-looking window dressing.The fight against Trump's dangerous agenda has just begunIn the aftermath of this bitterly fought, often crude, vastly expensive and punishingly long election, two questions dominate: How did this happen, and where do we go from here?

Breaking tradition championed by his father, Trudeau boycotts key UN disarmament initiative

13 April 2017 - 10:54am
Politics in CanadaUS PoliticsWorld

Now that Donald Trump has proven himself presidential by bombing a Syrian airbase, I guess we can all relax.

Of course, there's an off chance that things won't work out well, that the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists will be proven correct in their decision, following Trump's inauguration, to move the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight than it has been since 1953.

Trump appears to have stumbled on the time-honoured technique used by world leaders with flagging approval ratings -- strike a foreign military target, preferably one that won't strike back, at least not right away.

Sadly, our own prime minister has backed Trump's illegal attack on Syria, lending credence to the narrative that the president was deeply moved by the plight of Syrian babies -- as long as those toddlers don't get any ideas about crossing the Atlantic.

Having Trump's back may be Trudeau's idea of putting Canada back on the world stage, but it feels more like a revival of the Harper era.

And while the Trudeau team is very worked up about chemical weapons, they seem strangely unconcerned about nuclear ones.

Indeed, the Trudeau government is breaking a long-standing and worthy Canadian practice by snubbing important new UN negotiations aimed at nuclear disarmament.

The new talks, involving more than 120 nations, have been hailed as the most significant development in nuclear disarmament in two decades. They were launched in New York late last month -- with Canada refusing to participate.

While the media has largely ignored the story, Canada's boycott has prompted condemnation from more than 900 Order of Canada recipients, led by Nobel-laureate John Polanyi and former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament Douglas Roche, who calls the Trudeau government's stance "astounding" and "a denial of the country's long track record of working constructively for nuclear disarmament."

Ironically, that long record included Pierre Trudeau, who in 1983 showed some outside-the-box thinking and considerable gumption in leading a peace mission to Moscow, Washington and other nuclear capitals, to press for an end to the nuclear arms race.

That moxie doesn't appear to run in the family, even though the world needs it now more than ever, with Trump tweeting about his intention to "greatly strengthen and expand" America's nuclear capability. (Who knows what button he might reach for if he sees more photos of injured babies?)

Even before Trump, the revival of world spending on nuclear arms and the gridlock in disarmament talks led a group of 50 exasperated nations, supported by a worldwide grassroots movement, to push for a new UN initiative aimed at establishing "a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons."

The innovative move won the overwhelming support of 123 out of 193 nations in a UN vote last October.

But the U.S. and the other big nuclear powers rejected the initiative. Washington also pushed its NATO allies to vote no, arguing in a letter that the initiative was "fundamentally at odds with NATO's basic policies …"

Trudeau, showing none of his father's mettle, capitulated to the U.S. pressure, bypassing a chance to step up to the plate on an issue crying out for world leadership.

Worse, by voting no, Trudeau offered up Canada's international prestige to the U.S. boycott of the talks, providing Washington cover for its refusal to come to the table.

Interestingly, the Netherlands, also a NATO ally, is participating in the talks. It turns out the world needs more Holland.

The Trudeau government insists there's no need to participate because, without the nuclear-armed states involved, the talks have no chance of succeeding.

But that's surely the reason to participate; the leaders of nuclear states must be made to feel the sting of global disapproval for forcing us to live in a world on hair-trigger alert, potentially only minutes away from annihilation.

No other issue imperils us all so immediately and profoundly, nor faces such big power resistance. Leaders of nuclear-armed nations want to preserve the status quo, keep the limelight focused elsewhere, with the public lulled into believing there's little immediate danger and no prospect of eliminating nuclear weapons anyway.

The only hope, in the face of media neglect and big power intransigence, is to create a groundswell of humanity clamouring for nuclear leaders to come to the negotiating table. That's no easy task, but having 120 countries already assembled around the table, demanding action, is a good starting point.

So where's Canada -- not at the table, it turns out, but off having a smoke with the big guys.

Linda McQuaig is a journalist and author. Her book Shooting the Hippo: Death by Deficit and Other Canadian Myths was among the books selected by the Literary Review of Canada as the "25 most influential Canadian books of the past 25 years." This column originally appeared in the Toronto Star.

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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Nuclear Disarmamentnuclear weaponsTrudeau governmentUnited Nationsarms raceLinda McQuaigApril 13, 2017Trudeau's pro-Israel stance offside with Canadians -- and hampers bid for UN seatWhile Trudeau's persona of a progressive internationalist has won him kudos at home and abroad, his staunch support for Israel at the UN has left Canada significantly offside with public opinion.Why is Canada opposing global efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons?There are no signs that the government will rethink its position on nuclear disarmament before the UN General Assembly, which will likely vote on launching negotiations on a nuclear weapons treaty.Why are we trying to keep nuclear weapons out of 'the wrong hands'? How about 'all hands'?Nuclear bombs are and have always been weapons of terrorism.

Who is Trudeau trying to please by keeping Chrystia Freeland in the powerful foreign affairs post?

13 April 2017 - 8:45am
April 13, 2017Trudeau runs risk keeping flawed politician as foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland's well-documented hostility towards Russia raises questions about her suitability for the foreign affairs post. Are we risking a Freeland blunder in a situation that requires nuance?

Trudeau runs risk keeping flawed politician as foreign affairs minister

13 April 2017 - 8:40am
Politics in CanadaWorld

The irrational has begun to dominate our politics as if the American virus has stealthily moved north to infect our national narratives. It reflects itself in various ways but it seems that wars -- old wars, current wars and future wars -- have gripped the minds of our political elite and their courtiers in the media. Most problematic is Chrystia Freeland whose well-documented hostility towards Russia raises questions about her suitability for the foreign affairs post. She got off almost scot-free for blatantly lying about her Nazi grandfather. Justin Trudeau lost his reason regarding the U.S. missile attack on Syria and we were subjected to an extra-heavy dose of non-sense about Vimy Ridge with Trudeau opining that "this was Canada at its best."

Really? That was our best? This grotesque war that sent millions of innocent young men -- from all combatant countries -- to their meaningless deaths is what defined us as a nation? We should obviously mourn the deaths of all those young people forced to sacrifice their lives for nothing. 

But Canada at its best? How about when we finally gave women the vote? Or when we established universal medicare? When we decriminalized abortion? Ended the death penalty? When we refused to get sucked into the Iraq war? When Canada invented UN peacekeeping? Or when we took in Syrian refugees?

As for the mendacious Ms. Freeland, why on earth is she still in one of the most important cabinet posts in the Trudeau government? She got a pass on her grandfather's record with the help of media groupthink along the lines of "we can't blame her for her Nazi grandfather." But no one ever did. Critics blamed her for knowing her grandfather was a Nazi collaborator for two decades and saying nothing, and for never denouncing him (she still hasn't). Critics also blamed her for lying about him -- actually portraying him in her autobiography as almost a freedom fighter: "My maternal grandparents fled western Ukraine after Hitler and Stalin signed their non-aggression pact in 1939. They never dared to go back…"

Well, yes, he did leave Ukraine. Freeland's grandfather Mykhailo Chomiak spent the entire war in Poland editing the Nazi-run newspaper Krakivski Visti (News of Krakow) under the orders of the Nazis' Polish Governor-General Hans Frank, the man who organized the Holocaust in Poland. Chomiak and his family moved into an apartment seized from a Jewish family and ran the newspaper from editorial offices of a former Polish-language Jewish newspaper, Nowy Dziennik, whose editor ended up being murdered at the Belzec concentration camp along with 600,000 other Jews.

Critics also blame Freeland for repeatedly refusing to answer direct questions about her grandfather. Her office gave the Hillary Clinton defence: "People should be questioning where this information comes from, and the motivations behind it." Freeland herself tried to deflect them with references to Russian disinformation: "American officials have publicly said … there were efforts on the Russian side to destabilize Western democracies, and I think it shouldn't come as a surprise if these same efforts were used against Canada." What disinformation would that be? Not, apparently, the crude attempts at whitewashing her grandfather's role in Poland.

That whitewashing includes efforts to downplay just how pro-Nazi the newspaper was. Yet Krakivski Visti was a vicious propaganda tool fomenting as much hatred of Jews as it could. The writer Juilan Tarnovych wrote a series, "Out of Satan's Claws," in which he referred to Jews as "Yid mobs," "bastards," "rotten scum," "bacillus," "that riffraff -- that nest of crawling kikes," and "a pile of crawling worms." Chomiak himself wrote editorials claiming Poland was "infected by the Jews."

Articles from Chomiak's newspaper can be found in Holocaust museums around the world, such as the one in Los Angeles, California.

Instead of saying (last year), "I am proud to honour [his] memory today," how difficult would it be to distance herself from her grandfather's role?

Perhaps the explanation lies in the fact that Freeland is, like her father and grandfather, a devoted Ukrainian nationalist with a deep-seated hostility towards Russia. Even when she was a journalist with the Financial Times she did not hide her fierce Ukrainian nationalism -- encouraging the Euromaidan rebellion that became a violent coup against Russian-friendly Viktor Yanukovich. Freeland's take? "Their victory will be a victory for us all; their defeat will weaken democracy far from the Euromaidan. We are all Ukrainians now. Let's do what we can … to support them."

The democracy that resulted from the coup was not quite as advertised. Freeland's Nazi ghosts came to life in the new government which was chock-a-block with outright Nazis. The new government had five cabinet members from the Svoboda Party -- proud descendants of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) who fought against the Red Army alongside the Nazis. In 1941 the OUN sent a message to Lvov's Jews in the form of a pamphlet which said: "We will lay your heads at Hitler's feet." The OUN and the SS arrested and executed 4,000 of the city's Jews.

It is rare to see a modern politician so blinded by personal hostility. To place Chrystia Freeland in the position of foreign minister is nothing short of reckless. If her bias was against Luxembourg it would hardly matter. But the world is now closer to a nuclear holocaust than at any time since the Reagan administration. The relationship between the West and Russia is now the most important geopolitical issue on the planet.

How can we trust someone who has shown hostility towards Russia to the extent that Freeland has to lead Canada in navigating these treacherous foreign policy waters? Does her blindness prevent her from imagining the potential for nuclear war? Is she capable of accepting that Russia has legitimate interests? Are we risking a Freeland blunder in a situation that requires nuance?

Regarding Russia the question arises of whether or not the tail is wagging the dog in the Trudeau government. Trudeau pledged in the last election to rebuild relations with Russia. Now Canada is demanding that "Assad must go" (via Freeland) -- pure posturing especially given there is no evidence yet of who used gas against Syrian civilians. Then Trudeau added to the embarrassment by demanding Russia abandon Assad, something everyone knows is not going to happen. But it will add to Putin's paranoia that the West is out to get him.

Someone should ask Trudeau just who he is trying to please by keeping this flawed politician in such a powerful post.

Murray Dobbin has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for 40 years. He writes rabble's State of the Nation column.

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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Michael ChomiakChrystia Freelandcanada-russiaNazi GermanyukraineCanadian foreign affairsMurray DobbinApril 13, 2017As NATO war-mongering against Russia intensifies, Canada faces a difficult choiceNATO is requesting that Canada join a 4,000-troop contingent that would form a permanent NATO presence in countries bordering Russia. Will Prime Minister Trudeau make the courageous choice and say no?Chrystia Freeland should not be punished for her grandfather's sins, but for lying to Canadians about themThe fact the Foreign Affairs Minister tried to pass off her grandfather's history, which we now know to be true, as Russian disinformation should concern us all.Why is the Foreign Affairs minister concealing her pro-Nazi lineage?Chrystia Freeland covered up her grandfather's pro-Nazi collaborationist past. How could she imagine the truth would not out?

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