Naomi KleinCredit: Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times
Wise people always remind us to never let a good crisis go to waste.
Wise people with evil inclinations have, of course, taken this sage advice to heart, often exploiting crises, sometimes even arguably manufacturing them, in order to achieve nefarious ends. Naomi Klein, for example, in her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, develops precisely this thesis. She studies crises, such as the Iraq War or Hurricane Katrina, as moments when political and economic leaders took advantage of people’s physical and emotional distraction, their fear and vulnerability and desperate need, to push through neoliberal policies that effectively rolled back civil rights and democracy, furthered economic inequality, and basically consolidated power even further in the hands of the few.
So, the question before us is whether we can make the crisis of the coronavirus outbreak an opportunity to clearly see the flaws, or perpetual and ongoing crises that are typically less visible, in U.S. society that any major crisis tends to draw into relief, or whether the coronavirus outbreak will further threaten the health of our already weakened and teetering democracy in America.
What can we learn from what is going on, if we are paying attention?
Well, here are a few thoughts:
Perhaps the defining hallmark of neoliberalism, as I’ll discuss throughout this piece, is its rejection of any concept of a determinable public good and its insistence that there are only private interests. This neoliberal kernel of thought undergirds the bootstrap ideology so prevalent in American culture, the idea that people need to pull themselves up through their own efforts and stop asking for help or blaming societal conditions for their miseries and deprivations. On a more extreme level, this thought kernel is also the premise for attacks on the social safety net, on so-called “entitlement” programs like social security and medicare, and generally on progressive policies that want to leverage tax dollars to provide vital social services, programs, and infrastructure for the American people. Neoliberal voices frequently refer to this package of programs as “free stuff,” even though the programs that provide safety nets are typically insurance programs into which most Americans pay.
The conditions drawn into relief by the coronavirus make clear, however, that we cannot separate private interests from the public good, or, more to point, that serving the public good is vital to our abilities to pursue and further our private interests. The two are intimately intertwined. We must ensure others are taken care of if we are to be taken care and be able to take care of ourselves and get the care we need.
Let’s look at the situation in concrete terms. A person with coronavirus without paid sick days who can’t afford to miss work shows up to your workplace, to the school your children attend, or to the cafeteria where you eat. What’s worse, the person has poor or no health insurance so he can’t get tested and there are public provisions for testing. You are now at risk. Your private interests are impacted by the fact that we do not have an adequately resourced public health system and response.
Or, think about the healthcare workers who contract the virus because of an inadequate public health response and thus cannot be available to treat you when you are in need.
It is not uncommon in our American world to hear people complain about taxes to help support someone else or give someone else a lunch or a doctor’s visit. But the bottom line is that we all need to participate in taking care of each other out of our own self-interests. And the reality, if we’re honest, is that we already do this.
Stop and think about all the people you depend on—whether you ever see them or not—for the food you eat, the medicine you get, the information communicated to you, the heat in your home, the water you drink, and so on and so on.
Albert Einstein stopped to think about our inevitable interdependence in 1949 when he reflected on what he termed “the essence of the crisis of our time.” He wrote:
“It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration.”
Einstein profoundly asserts that dependence is not weakness but strength—and, more to the point, undeniable reality. Our fear and denial of this dependence is actually what threatens us.
If I deny my dependence on others, will I seek to make sure those others are healthy, well-fed, housed, have the basic conditions necessary to sustain their lives? If I don’t do that, I actually end up endangering my own existence because I them to make my life possible.
As Einstein reminds us, “In relatively densely settled populations with the goods which are indispensable to their continued existence, an extreme division of labor and a highly-centralized productive apparatus are absolutely necessary.”
We tend to de-value others and their labor in the U.S., arguing over which lives matter, often insisting some don’t.
And yet, as Einstein explains in the essay I’ve been quoting titled “Why Socialism?,” valuing others’ lives is essential to sustaining our own.
Recognizing the reality of our mutual dependence may be the basis for actually developing a democratic economy that properly values people’s lives and labor, including our own, ensuring access to all the resources that make our lives possible.
If we pay attention, the developments of the coronavirus crisis might provide the insight and impetus to realize this transformation.
The Wet’suwet’en and their allies are responding to broken democratic institutions we need to fix.
“Cracking down on so-called ‘dissidents or radical activists’ with injunctions and police enforcement orders will not provide the legitimacy our institutions require.” Photo by Lars Hagberg, Canadian Press.
Our democratic institutions are in crisis. Their very legitimacy is in question, and Canada’s national leaders appear ill-equipped to respond.
The Indigenous re-occupation of Wet’suwet’en land and nationwide actions in support have sparked debate and deliberation about the causes, consequences, complications and solutions. The debate has been emotional and traumatic and, I fear, is defining — and threatening — Canada’s future.
People across the county had the chance to hear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s address to the House of Commons and Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer’s response.
Neither one presented a path forward that would ease tensions and address the root causes of Indigenous peoples concerns. Neither made an authentic effort to bridge the deep divide rocking Canadian society. Rather Trudeau asked for patience, co-operation and deliberation, while Scheer demanded the immediate enforcement of the rule of law and the prioritization of our national economy.
Canada’s colonial history and democratic institutions are founded on this constructed divide between Indigenous peoples and the rest.
A legislated, judicially enforced hierarchical divide allowed the relocation of entire Indigenous communities and the narrow determination of which Indigenous rights are to be ignored, minimized or recognized. It allowed the imposition of colonial band governance systems and the delegitimization of Indigenous governance and laws. The divide underpinned the efforts to push us from territories and allow destructive industrial projects, to erase our Indigenous languages and culture and forcibly remove Indigenous children from families.
And it’s behind the mediocre effort to include Indigenous voices within the political, educational and democratic institutions of Canadian society.
This divide still exists today. It shows up most visibly when issues, projects or the interest of the status-quo come into conflict with the interests of Indigenous peoples. This story has played out time and time again, whether with the oil and gas industry (Kinder Morgan TMX, Enbridge, Coastal GasLink, Mackenzie Valley, Energy East, SWN Resources); mines (Teck Frontier, Mount Polley); dams (Site C, Muskrat Falls); forestry (Meares Island/Clayoquot Sound, Stein Valley, Gwaii Haanas, Great Bear Rainforest, boreal forest); or in conflicts around hunting, aquaculture or fisheries.
And it’s revealed in the justice system, whether the issue is Indigenous deaths in custody, murdered and missing Indigenous women, Gladue reports, mandatory minimum sentencing or the Ipperwash inquiry and the killing of Colten Boushie.
This divide is not absolute. Demonstrations in support of the Wet’suwet’en have seen non-Indigenous allies in great numbers supporting the voices of Indigenous leaders, youth and land defenders.
Yet in contrast to this support, we are also witnessing increasingly volatile levels of online vitriol, threats of violence, individuals expressing hatred and now incidents of vigilantism. These acts are aimed at Indigenous and non-Indigenous land defenders, Indigenous community members in their daily lives and even Indigenous children in their schools.
As a result of this societal divide, Indigenous peoples have been denied the right to determine what’s best for them and their communities. They have been denied their inherent and treaty rights.
Across the divide, many non-Indigenous people remain unaware of the extent and consequences of Canada’s colonial past and present, and the degree to which it continues to impact the lives of Indigenous peoples while supporting the Canadian status-quo. This lack of understanding leaves many unsympathetic to Indigenous calls for change.
Our democratic institutions were not designed to address these social schisms, nor were they ever intended to. Indigenous peoples have been denied the ability to participate in these institutions in a way that would allow their voices, rights and calls for justice and restitution to be fairly considered.
When good-faith negotiations stall or fail and the alternative is expensive litigation in an over-burdened justice system, we can see how confrontations with Indigenous peoples become inevitable.
The actions and protests we have seen both in recent years and throughout Canadian history are a direct result of this failure to address the foundational causes of these schisms. Because some voices are favoured over others, Indigenous peoples (land defenders) and their supporters no longer perceive our representative institutions as legitimate. They no longer have faith in these institutions’ ability to address the root causes of settler-colonialism or to represent the voices of Indigenous peoples when interests collide across this divide.
When our governments are viewed as illegitimate, so are their processes, decisions and proposed projects. Cracking down on so-called “dissidents or radical activists” with injunctions and police enforcement orders will not provide the legitimacy our institutions require.
We can fix this crisis, but it will take considerable effort and a genuine commitment to reject the status quo and accept the challenge of building processes based on co-operation and consent.
Until that happens, convincing Indigenous peoples to participate in an illegitimate process will be a hard sell. Indigenous peoples are exhausted from seeing their words and input ignored by politicians and judges who continue to reinforce the status quo.
Canada must adopt fair, accountable and transparent processes that promote negotiations with Indigenous peoples, built upon the UN declaration’s principle of free, prior and informed consent. We must create a level playing field with renewed institutions designed for inclusivity, and disavow the status quo power structures fueling mistrust.
That’s not what Trudeau proposed. He proposed keeping the faith and hoping things would improve under the same broken system.
We need more than this. We need more than “respect and communication.” We need substantive systemic change.
In his House of Commons speech, Trudeau asserted that “the place for these debates is here in this House.” But if the legitimacy of that House is in question, how can it be the place?
Scheer was correct in one regard: our society is in crisis. But it is not primarily an economic crisis. The legitimacy of our representative institutions are in dire crisis, and it will take more than speeches in Parliament to repair them. SOURCE
‘Extinction Rebellion needs to find ways of reaching the people who think we’re some sort of weird cult.’
This remark, made by a member of the Extinction Rebellion (XR) Citizens’ Assembly Working Group, is met by a spontaneous flurry of jazz hands from everyone in the small Kings College London meeting room. No, we’re not all frustrated musical theatre performers; waving ‘jazz hands’ are used in XR, and other activist groups, to express agreement during a group discussion. I can’t resist pointing out the irony of our reaction – we’re all agreeing we need to be less cult-like by raising our hands in unison and waving them about. Everyone laughs, but it strikes me that this points to a deeper challenge in our work.
There are people who feel excluded by XR’s culture, but the democratic process we want to promote aims at radical inclusion. After all, we’re calling on the government to create and be led by a Citizens’ Assembly on Climate and Ecological Justice – a process that would put national decision-making in the hands of ordinary people from all walks of life. So it seems to me that reaching more people is actually about making a better case for something we are already calling for.
Most people with only a passing acquaintance of XR know that we are calling on the government to firstly declare an emergency, and secondly to halt biodiversity loss and reach net zero emissions by 2025. But many don’t know much about our demand for a Citizens’ Assembly. This is a randomly selected group of people from across the UK who will learn in-depth about the climate and ecological emergency, work through their differences, and determine how we get to net zero greenhouse gas emissions in a socially just way.
Perhaps the most well-known examples of Citizens’ Assemblies are those that took place in Ireland in recent years. They paved the way for long-overdue reforms on topics such as abortion, gay marriage and even climate change. But there is also a large-scale assembly on climate with unprecedented powers taking place in France right now – initiated by President Macron in the wake of the Yellow Vest protests. In fact, there’s been a global groundswell of interest around deliberative democracy over the past couple of decades. From Australia to Poland, groups of randomly selected residents have been helping determine policy for years.
Democracy beyond the ballot box
Academics, activists and even some politicians are cottoning on to the idea that democracy doesn’t have to stop at the ballot box. But they face an uphill struggle in convincing the wider population. A 2018 Pew Center survey conducted across 27 countries found that 51 per cent of people were dissatisfied with how democracy was working in their country. People still firmly believe in the idea of democracy – the trouble is, we usually have quite a narrow experience of what that can mean in practice. For most, it starts and ends with elections.
We’re trapped: we don’t like the system we currently have, but we have trouble imagining anything beyond it. This is where Citizens’ Assemblies come in; they directly address some of the limitations of electoral politics.
Although we call it representative democracy, our parliament is far from representative demographically. Only 34 per cent of MPs are women, as opposed to 51 per cent in the population at large. For ethnic minorities, the figures are 10 per cent and 16 percent respectively. What’s more, elections incentivise politicians to focus on issues that will help them get re-elected. This means thorny decisions in areas such as climate change are more likely to be kicked into the long grass. MORE
Do people who use air travel realize that every person-flight across the country (or the ocean) emits the amount of carbon we can each afford to emit in a year? All their air travel – living it up while they can – will hasten and exacerbate the climate crisis.
Experts say we all need to drastically reduce:
1) air travel
2) the amount of meat we eat
3) the number of children we have, and
4) we need to stop using fossil fuels – ie: immediately transition to renewable, sustainable energy (I add locally produced and controlled, and from diverse sources).
Tragically, the fossil fuel industry (and nuclear) has a stranglehold on the Canadian government – and worse yet; globally, many governments are puppets of the corporate military-industrial complex. The only hope, if we are to save life on the planet, is to take back control of democracy.
Climate experts who have been sounding the alarm for five decades now, say that we have a decade or less to turn things around before planetary systems – Gulf and jet streams – change and we have no control or ability to offset global warming and its exponentially increasing effects on people and ecosystems, leading swiftly to the extinction of life on Earth.
As a spiritually-focused person, I firmly believe that the Creator would be horrified at how badly we have abused this wonderful world we have been blessed to inhabit, and that we should be good stewards of. Greed, by a tiny minority of power brokers, appears to have taken the upper hand. I believe the story of Jesus turning the tables in the temple is an example of what we ought to be doing now.
I am in awe of people like Elizabeth May and my mom and Greta Thunberg and David Suzuki and Bill McKibben – they are my heroes. They are the real leaders on our planet! The millions who have taken to the streets demanding action and climate justice are also leaders.
I weep for young people today, and for indigenous peoples – they are why I persist in acting to try to get something done in our so-wealthy country to effect a rapid paradigm shift, with justice for all. We desperately need a Green New Deal plus intense retooling of our energy industries, including an immediate transition off fossil fuels. We need to achieve net zero emissions within the next couple of decades, starting NOW! We cannot afford to continue to emit more and more carbon into the atmosphere.
Alberta’s premier is in the dark ages and leading Canada down a very dark rabbit hole for political expediency. It appears he has no vision of the future or understanding of the past ‘feast and famine’ cycles that the fossil fuel industry has brought to Alberta. It’s worse than tragic.
Ontario’s premier is equally brain dead! He is committing Ontario to a nuclear future when all the evidence and financial accounting shows that nuclear energy’s financial costs are ~5X more than any other energy path! Solar and wind and other renewable energies are by far the least expensive energy options worldwide now. They are renewable and sustainable, and easily set up in about 1/14th the time it takes to get nuclear on-stream! And they do not produce long-lived toxic wastes.
I’m in awe of the lack of intelligence of our political leaders. Justin Trudeau is not acting like his father – he seems gutless to stand up to industry. I deduce that industry now runs this country, not the people we elect. We need real leadership by people who not only understand the science, but are willing to take strong action to effect change. Or we are doomed, and taking with us the rest of life on the planet.
How many people, if they understood the seriousness of the situation, would be willing to demand action from our political leaders? That’s the big question.
If anything takes us out before climate change, it will be the triumph of lying in government.
Having spent a lifetime digging out facts to reveal the truth, I have to acknowledge it — the compulsive liars running countries are winning the communications war.
The only issue now is whether the liars can be stopped. If Canada wants to side with truth, it should start by regulating political advertisements. We know Facebook won’t do it. And that the nation to our south has become a laboratory for mad scientists of propaganda.
But if a Canadian finds a straight-up whopper in a political ad from a politician or party, there is nobody to file a complaint with. Politicians here can lie with immunity and impunity.
Which makes us part of a global pandemic. Official government lying from the top has gone viral. It kills democracy as surely as the Spanish flu, which in 1918 claimed 50 million lives and afflicted 10 times that number. False, weaponized and dysfunctional information will wreak even more havoc, literally affecting everyone on the planet.
This week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, freshly indicted on criminal counts of fraud, bribery and breach of trust, accused police and prosecutors of staging a “coup” against him. U.S. President Donald Trump used the same word to describe his confrontation with the constitution and the law. Like Trump, Netanyahu is accusing his accusers — without evidence — and whipping his followers into a frenzy against the justice system. The key prosecutors on the case now have bodyguards.
Though the phenomenon is global, Trump is ground zero for the contagion of official mendacity. He tells booming lies out of the presidential bully pulpit.
Everyone knows Trump’s pants have been on fire since the day he lied about his “landslide” victory in the electoral college after the 2016 election. He boasted on Twitter that it was the “biggest since Reagan.”
Actually, it was the biggest since Barack Obama. Obama won 332 electoral college votes in his last presidential win in 2012 — 28 more than Trump ultimately received in 2016. According to the New York Times, 45 of 57 winners in previous presidential elections got more electoral college votes than Trump.
Since that inauspicious day when the new commander-in-chief ushered in the Bullshit Presidency with a lie, Trump has told thousands of them.
How many thousands depends on which gatekeeper you cite. Daniel Dale, formerly of the Toronto Star and now with CNN, put the number at 5,276 this summer; Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post says the lies and misleading statements stand at 13,435; and the New York Times reports that there are 1,700 tweets using “conspiratorial language” on Trump’s Twitter feed.
Trump has lied about everything — people, countries, events, institutions and issues.
The people have included Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Robert Mueller, Adam Schiff, Joe Biden, Stormy Daniels, Michael Cohen, Scott Pruitt, Justin Trudeau, Meghan Markle, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. (Despite U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Bin Salman had ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Trump said the prince was doing “a really spectacular job.”)
Trump has lied about Ukraine, Iran, Puerto Rico, Canada, Russia, Singapore, China, Germany, Venezuela, Malaysia and the United Kingdom. He’s lied about events like the Charlottesville racist protests, Hurricane Maria, climate change, the California wildfires, the presidential election and Russian intervention in the 2016 election, and institutions like the Supreme Court, Congress, NAFTA, NATO and the NFL. Not to mention issues like immigration, infrastructure and the size of his own inaugural crowd on day one of his presidency.
Trump claims that the towering concrete wall he promised on the border with Mexico is underway and progressing quickly, a lie he has repeated 146 times. In reality, repairs are being made to existing barriers — it’s definitely not the “big beautiful wall” that Trump has harped on since he first called Mexicans rapists and drug dealers when trolling the shoals of American bigotry for votes.
Taking political lies global
Trump has inspired an international Liars Club of world leaders that has already had a profound effect on humanity. All arrived roughly on the same schedule — Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the first time in 2014, and then again in 2018; the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte in May 2016; the Brexit liars, including Boris Johnson, a month after that, and Trump himself in November 2016.
Back to Boris Johnson. Brexit succeeded because of the Leave Campaign’s outrageous lies. Outgoing European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who now says he regrets not standing up to all the disinformation, adds that Johnson was one of the biggest of the Brexit liars.
Johnson’s most infamous whopper was that the U.K. would have an extra 350 million pounds a week to spend after leaving the EU, money that would have gone to Brussels. That windfall would have been great news for the U.K.’s beleaguered National Health Service — had it been true. But the real number was at least 100 million pounds a week lower, according to the UK Statistics Authority. Others put the savings at less than half the amount Johnson claimed.
Johnson lied. He left out money the U.K. received back from the European Union, and his claim was grossly deceitful and grossly calculating. It was also effective, just like other lies told by Brexiteers Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nigel Farage that Turkey was about to join the EU and Britain would soon be overrun with Muslims.
Duterte has deconstructed democracy in the Philippines by putting out a steady diet of disinformation and persecuting the media and anyone else who questions his lie-driven policies. No wonder his nickname, according to National Public Radio in the U.S., is “Duterte Harry,” after the iconic Clint Eastwood character. At one point, Duterte even boasted about tossing a Chinese drug dealer out of a helicopter, a claim he later said was a “joke.”
What is not a joke is Duterte’s policy of empowering police to shoot suspected drug dealers without arrest or trial. It has been reported that 7,000 people died under that policy in a six-month period.
Yet Trump still made Duterte one of the first world leaders he invited to the White House, and then said he was in favour of the death penalty for drug dealers.
And who does Trump bring to the White House on the day the impeachment inquiry into his presidency begins? None other than Turkish tyrant Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan is the man who ordered his army into Syria against the Kurds after Trump obligingly withdrew U.S. forces. At home, he jailed political opponents and members of the media; assumed extraordinary powers more suited to a sultan than a secular democratic leader; detained 50,000 people after an attempted coup; and declared that women in his country would be defined by “motherhood” — feminism be damned.
And he’s the same man that Trump said has “a great relationship with the Kurds,” the very people his invading forces have been killing in Syria.
How did we get here?
Public life hasn’t always been a liars’ paradise. In fact, lying used to be a short-cut to political Boot Hill. Now it is a turnpike to power. There are a lot of good reasons the Oxford English Dictionary made “post-truth” 2016’s word of the year.
One reason political leaders lie with impunity is that there is no longer even a reputational penalty for doing it, let alone a real sanction.
There is something bizarre about that. If a witness lies in a courtroom, he is guilty of perjury. If a person like Trump’s former national security advisor Michael Flynn lies to the FBI, that is a crime. If a company runs a false ad, it faces consequences under truth-in-advertising laws. Hell, if kids lie to their parents, they at least get a timeout.
But when a politician lies, and lies big, there is a minor skirmish between his detractors and supporters, the media bloviates about whose tactic will impress voters, the dust settles, and nothing happens until the process repeats itself with the next lie. Post-truthiness, yes?
Fortunately, this didn’t happen in the Nixon era, though Tricky Dick gave it his best shot. “When the president does it,” he famously said, “that means that it is not illegal.” Nixon’s brazen misdeeds were punished in large part because all three television networks and print outlets followed the same code back then: journalists were the gatekeepers, the ones who held politicians accountable when they strayed from the facts or uttered intentional lies.
People like Jennings, Brokaw, Donaldson, Woodward and Bernstein spoke truth to power — and to their audiences. In those days, Walter Cronkite was the Buddha of News. He signed off every newscast by saying “And that’s the way it is” — and America believed him. Now Sean Hannity tells Fox viewers the way it isn’t, and millions tune in for his alternate universe.
Fox News didn’t exist in Nixon’s time. It repeats Trump’s lies as true, attacks his critics as partisan assassins and even offers Trump conspiracy theories which he uses to distract his critics. It operates as the de facto press office of the White House.
But Fox News isn’t alone in creating the fog of lies that is slowly choking democracy. Study after study shows that readers and viewers have been abandoning mainstream news and shedding their respect for the journalists who produce it. Consumers have become their own fact-checkers, getting more and more of their information from social media and internet websites.
Nothing blows smoke like the internet. And as Republican political guru Arthur Finkelstein once observed, it is very difficult to tell what is true and what is false in social media.
Pushing back against the lies
The spread of misinformation and lies has inspired some resistance. The Pro-Truth Pledge movement is gaining traction in the U.S. This group of behavioural scientists and ordinary citizens is trying to fight political lying in two ways.
It asks participants to fact-check any article before sharing it with their social networks. The hope is that when someone receives a verified post, they’ll be encouraged to take the same steps.
And it encourages people who sign the pledge to challenge others who share false news, urging them publicly to take it down.
But their task is daunting.
Thanks to social media platforms with billions of users, lies travel as far and wide as truths. In the final months of the 2016 presidential election campaign, the top 20 false stories snagged more Facebook shares, reactions and comments than the top 20 factual articles, according to Scientific American. Facebook is the new Trojan Horse that 2.5 billion people have dragged into their lives at their peril.
It’s hard to tell if a political ad on Facebook is true or false, because the corporation has confused lying with free speech.
Mark Zuckerberg decided to run all political ads from candidates without determining the accuracy of their content, making him the patron saint of political unicorn hucksters around the world. By comparison, Twitter has banned all political advertising to avoid enabling the mass deception of voters.
Attacks on the media and sleeping watchdogs
The Liars Club gets help from another direction — the steady, increasingly vicious attack on traditional reporters.
Thanks to leaders like Trump, these fact-checkers of record have been demonized as dirtbags of dishonesty, even enemies of the people.
And David Mitchell added another factor that helps the Liars Club, writing in the Guardian about “the financial degradation of the old-media investigative institutions that used to provide the truth… and the incalculable long-term effects of social media, bristling with virtue-signalling, selfies and revenge porn, on all our brains.”
To be fair to Zuckerberg and Facebook, they are not the only ones who have used an appeal to free speech to hand a digital megaphone to the Liars Club. There is an equally powerful offender — the courts.
Twenty-seven U.S. states have run into problems when they tried to mandate truthfulness in political advertising. The bottom line? A dissenting judge put it best after his colleagues ruled that one such state law was unconstitutional. He noted that the First Amendment now offers protection for “calculated lies.”
A case from Ohio makes the point.
Stephen Dinah reported in the Washington Times that the state passed legislation making it illegal to publish or broadcast a false statement about the voting record of a candidate. In a dispute, it was up to the state’s Election Commission to decide the facts.
But the law was struck down by federal district court Judge Timothy S. Black, who ruled that he didn’t want to have the government decide what was politically true and what was false. That, he concluded, was up to the voters.
There is a gigantic flaw in Black’s reasoning. How can voters determine whether a politician is telling the truth or lying if all they receive is a steady diet of lies from their leaders, endlessly repeated on social media, and backed up by false advertising?
Lest anyone imagine things are better on this side of the border, they are not. Canada’s Ad Standards has a code for truth in advertising, but it exempts political ads. The Competition Act also prohibits false advertising, but it too exempts political ads. As for the Canada Elections Act, it registers political ads online, but does not regulate their content.
Here is what that means. As I noted at the top, if a Canadian finds an outright lie in a political ad from a politician or party, there is no authority to file a complaint with. Politicians can get away with just about any bullshit.
The threat to democracy
You can’t lie in court without being charged with perjury. You can’t say a product will melt away fat if it doesn’t, as four U.S. companies peddling weight-loss products learned after the Federal Trade Commission fined them US$26.5 million.
So why should we expect to have a democracy, which needs truth to function, when unbridled lying from political leaders is viewed as less harmful than dubious claims about a diet product?
It is past time to regulate truth in political advertising and what comes out of leaders’ mouths. Assuming, of course, that we actually care about democracy. SOURCE
A sign points voters to the polling station at St. James Anglican Church on Joseph Howe Drive in Halifax on federal election day, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. – Ryan Taplin
OTTAWA, Ont. — A Nova Scotia charitable organization wants the courts to force Canada to abandon its winner-take-all electoral system in favour of one that awards seats in Parliament according to the popular vote.
Halifax-based Springtide Collective and Fair Voting B.C. filed an action with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Toronto earlier this month arguing that Canada’s first-past-the-post system violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ guarantee of fair representation.
Springtide executive director Mark Coffin said the case has been in the works since 2017. By August of 2019 the groups had raised enough money to cover the costs of preparing a court application and securing expert testimony.
“This is a civil rights issue like any other civil rights issue. It’s always best when politicians take steps in lawmaking that would protect and enhance our civil rights, but when we don’t get that from our politicians, and in this case, when we see time and time again politicians really not enthusiastically supporting or championing reform to ensure that everybody’s votes count, it’s time for the courts to intervene,” Coffin said.
Coffin added there’s a pattern of behaviour where campaign on electoral reform, then back off when elected. Justin Trudeau’s Liberals promised that 2015 would be the last election under first-past-the-post, but abandoned the idea of electoral reform a year later.
The applicants hope the courts will now take the issue into their own hands.
The case alleges that Canada’s current electoral system does not comply with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as subsequent rulings on electoral issues, on multiple grounds. Specifically, the application argues that it violates section 3, by denying Canadians effective representation, meaningful participation, and fair and legitimate elections, and section 15, by discriminating against voters and candidates on the basis of political belief.
“The court has in past rulings decided that every Canadian has the right to effective representation and meaningful participation,” Coffin said. “For many Canadians based on their political beliefs, they’re denied effective representation and meaningful participation in the electoral process. . . .Effective representation in the courts means having a voice in the deliberations of government. When more than half of the people vote for candidates that don’t end up in parliament, they’re certainly not represented.”
This election makes the case, the groups argue: 51 per cent of voters cast ballots for candidates that did not end up in Parliament, there were a quarter-million more Conservative voters than Liberal voters but Liberals took 36 more seats than the Conservatives, and NDP voters outnumbered Bloc voters by two to one nationally, yet the NDP will hold fewer seats than the Bloc. Furthermore, they argue, the disproportionate representation of certain political beliefs are concentrated in different regions of the country in ways that are now adding fuel to the fire around national unity.
The two groups involved in the court challenge have hired experienced Toronto-based constitutional lawyer Nicolas Rouleau to represent them. They’re hoping the case will eventually find its way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
If the courts agree with the claims made in the case, they can go as far as to declare Canada’s current electoral system unconstitutional, and order the government to develop a system that complies with the Charter, the applicants say. SOURCE
Since Justin Trudeau’s government took power in 2015, lobbyists in Ottawa have focused more attention on the nation’s bureaucrats, rather than elected office holders, representing what one researcher is calling a troubling ‘fusion of private interest and public bodies’
Public officials faced ‘organized and sustained’ oil and gas lobbying on pipelines in recent years: study. Lobbying contacts by industry groups far outnumbered contacts by environmental NGOs.
A new report from the Corporate Mapping Project documents the reach of the fossil fuel industry when it comes to lobbying the federal government, raising red flags about what it calls a “troubling shift in lobbying patterns.”
The report’s findings suggest that industry lobbyists are increasingly focusing on developing closer, long-term relationships with federal bureaucrats rather than elected officials, especially since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took office in 2015.
The report tracked fossil-fuel-industry lobbying over seven years, from 2011 to 2018 — finding that the fossil fuel industry vastly outnumbered other resource sectors, including the forestry and renewable energy industries — and analyzed how lobbying activities changed with prime ministers.
The result, the report found, is lobbying that’s increasingly focused on “deep state” connections, rather than elected officials, meaning the power of the fossil fuel industry lasts far beyond a federal election, regardless of voter appetite for climate action.
What that means, according to Nicolas Graham, a sociologist at the University of Victoria and lead author on the report, is there’s evidence of a sort of “elite policy network,” of long-lasting connections between high-powered and well-connected lobbyists and bureaucrats, “one that outlasts election cycles and develops over time.”
Proponents of the fossil fuel industry, like Alberta premier Jason Kenney, have long made a point of accusing environmental groups of being behind a “campaign of lies and defamation” against the province’s energy industry.
When it comes to lobbying, the report found that the fossil fuel industry reported far more lobbying of the federal government than did environmental non-governmental organizations — five times more.
“This idea that there’s a really, really well funded — disproportionately funded — environmental campaign defies the facts of a [fossil fuel] industry that is extremely well funded and very active politically,” Graham told The Narwhal.
Top fossil fuel lobbying organizations. Source: Corporate Mapping Project
‘Co-writing of policy’
Elected officials were the most-lobbied group when Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in office, according to the report. That started to change in 2015, when Justin Trudeau was elected prime minister. Then, the focus of fossil-fuel lobbyists shifted — to bureaucrats.
The report, “Big Oil’s Political Reach: Mapping fossil fuel lobbying from Harper to Trudeau,” dubs this a shift to “deep state” lobbying, “whereby key government institutions and actors become integrated with private firms and interest groups that together co-produce regulation and policy.”
“It becomes this kind of a fusion of private interest and public bodies.” — Nicolas Graham
The result, Graham said, could suggest a kind of “co-governance and co-writing of policy,” in which industry groups take on an increasingly important role in influencing policy.
“It becomes this kind of a fusion of private interest and public bodies,” he added
Elected officials, Graham said, could be “seen as potentially not as amenable to influence from the oil and gas sector.” A strategic approach for the industry could be to integrate more deeply in government, lobbying bureaucrats rather than elected officials.
The report finds a network of well-connected senior public servants and mid-level staff who are in frequent contact with industry lobbyists.
Among the top 10 senior federal bureaucrats identified by the Corporate Mapping Project — each of whom remained in their positions after the 2015 election — the number of annual contacts with fossil fuel industry lobbyists increased from an average of around 145 contacts per year under the Harper government, to approximately 229 per year under the Trudeau government — nearly one contact per work day.
Pierre Gratton, president and CEO of the Mining Association of Canada, doesn’t think that’s newsworthy. “Anyone who does government relations knows that you work at all levels,” Gratton told The Narwhal.
“If you’re leaving it to parliament, you’re going to be disappointed in your outcome. Because the public service is the body that generates the ideas that cabinet and ultimately parliament end up deliberating upon,” he added.
“They’re often looking to us for ideas of how certain policies can work effectively.”
Gratton is also not surprised that there would be an increase in lobbying under the Liberals. “There would be a very simple explanation for that, I think — the Liberals’ approach to public policy was far more open than it was under Harper,” he said.
“Under the Liberals, I think probably everybody increased their amount of lobbying, particularly with public service. But that’s because the Liberals fundamentally changed how public policy was developed.” The Liberals, Gratton said, took public officials “off the leash” and made them more accessible to all groups.
But Graham is concerned that increased lobbying of non-elected officials could mean that lobbying efforts can far outlast election cycles and that electing new politicians may not be enough for voters to cast aside deep relationships between industry and government — something the report calls “the close coupling of federal policy to the needs of extractive corporations.”
“For people who voted in the federal election for some kind of increased action on climate change, I think it would be potentially eye-opening to think about the way policy is formed,” Graham said.
Six lobbying contacts per day
The reports finds the fossil fuel industry reported 11,452 lobbying contacts with government officials over a seven-year period — more than six contacts per work day.
A full quarter of those stem from two major industry associations: the Mining Association of Canada (MAC) — which represents a variety of mining interests, including four companies with interests in Alberta’s oilsands — and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).
CAPP declined The Narwhal’s request for an interview about its lobbying activity, but sent a statement by email.
“It is not surprising CAPP is among the most active lobbyists in our sector,” Jay Averill, a spokesperson for CAPP, wrote in an email. “In effect, we are the main representative for Canada’s oil and natural gas industry.”
Federal institutions lobbied between 2011 and 2018. Source: Corporate Mapping Project
“It is our job to work with local, provincial and federal governments to find the best way to encourage investment in our industry while upholding the high social and environmental standards Canadians expect,” he added, noting that the industry contributes $8 billion in annual revenues to all levels of government.
“Our oil and natural gas industry benefits all Canadians and CAPP will continue to work with the federal government on making those benefits even greater.”
Gratton, of the Mining Association of Canada, rejects the notion that his organization represents the interests of the fossil fuel industry, saying his group advocates on a narrower subset of issues and was the first industry association that came out in favour of a carbon price.
Gratton told The Narwhal that one of the reasons his organization is top of the list in lobbying activities could be because it is diligent in reporting.
“We report everything. We’re very careful about living up to the intent and spirit of the act,” he said.
“I have trouble believing we are much more active than other industry groups active in Ottawa,” he added, pointing to a “grey area” in when meetings with public officials are reported.
The Corporate Mapping Project report points to numerous flaws in Canada’s lobbying rules — vague information about what was actually discussed at lobbying meetings, lack of names of lobbyists present, imprecise dates, no disclosure of fees paid to lobbyists.
“There are fairly straightforward ways transparency could be improved,” Graham said.
Lobbying efforts increase in what are known as “lobbying windows,” according to the report.
One such lobbying window was during debate leading up to changes to Canada’s environmental assessment process under the Harper government. The report found that — of the years included in the report’s analysis — the year between November 2011 and November 2012 was the highest recorded year of lobbying from the sector.
The report’s findings on lobbying windows are in line with a previous investigation by The Narwhal, which found that 80 per cent of Senate lobbying over Bill C-69 — the act to reform Canada’s environmental assessment process, that passed in June — stemmed from industry and related groups, primarily from the oil and gas industry.
The Corporate Mapping Project report found just 10 fossil fuel industry lobbying contacts with the Senate in 2016-2017. The Narwhal found the oil and gas industry met with individual Senate members 224 times over a 16-month period beginning when Bill-C-69 was first introduced in February 2018.
“In 2018–19 big carbon saw an opportunity to block mild reforms to environmental assessment and its Senate lobbying went into overdrive,” the report notes.
As The Narwhal reported in June, CAPP had described, in its lobbyist registration, one of the topics it planned to address a “grassroots lobbying campaign to ask Senators to make sure [Bill C-69] does not pass as it stands today.”
Leaders of major energy companies have acknowledged increasing their lobbying efforts during times like these in the past.
Speaking to CBC in June, Cenovus CEO Alex Pourbaix noted that the industry had ramped up activities to “an almost unprecedented effort with government,” in order to come up with what he had hoped would be “a workable bill.”
Not all industry groups opposed the bill. The Mining Association of Canada has supported Bill C-69 since it was introduced, telling CBC in June that it would provide more certainty and was an improvement over existing legislation.
Graham is quick to point out that not all lobbying is negative, and that it can play a legitimate role in advancing the public interest. What’s missing, he said, is an equalization of influence, or “equalizing access” to politicians and bureaucrats.
The report documents a “core of a small world of leading industry associations and targeted offices and individuals within government that are in regular contact with each other” — just 20 organizations accounted for 88 per cent of the total lobbying contacts by the fossil fuel industry, according to the report.
“Policies that would proactively support more equal access to political influence are needed to ensure industry is not over-represented when shaping policy,” the report notes.
Gratton of the Mining Association isn’t concerned about the state of lobbying activities in Canada, saying critics may be presenting “a sensationalized view that’s really not really a truly representative accounting of how things function.”
“Canada’s [lobbying] is very different from lobbying in the United States,” he said. “It doesn’t happen in darkened corridors.”
Gratton views Canada’s lobbying rules as robust, and says he supports multi-stakeholder engagement. “I’ll be honest, in this age of sort of populism and Trumpism, I worry that that unique Canadian way of doing things is under threat,” he told The Narwhal.
“I would hate to see a day when in the public policy is developed differently than it has been traditionally in Canada,” he said. “It’s a better way of doing things that’s better for the country.”
But Graham told The Narwhal that he’s concerned about the ways in which corporations can influence public policy in Canada.
“The economic power of industry ends up reaching into political society,” he said.
And without equal access to influence political decisions, the report warns that meaningful action to reduce fossil fuel consumption may be that much more difficult.
“In this time of climate crisis, transitioning away from fossil fuels in a rapid, democratic and socially just manner is essential,” William Carroll, a co-author of the study said in a press release.
“If we do not acknowledge and address the influence that the fossil fuel industry holds over government policy, we will not be able to take the steps necessary to adequately address the crisis with the urgency it requires.” SOURCE
Trans Mountain project: A timeline | Vancouver Sun
The chances are excellent that when you go about marking your ballot in the upcoming federal election, something quirky and quintessentially Canadian will happen without you even knowing it.
Some votes are going to be substantially more powerful than others, especially those cast in the most remote rural ridings. And if you live in a city — especially one growing as rapidly as Greater Toronto — your vote is more likely to register as less than equal.
Take the electoral district of Labrador, for example. Only 27,197 live there, according to Elections Canada. Yes it is vast — you could fit all of the United Kingdom inside Labrador and still have room for Costa Rica. But compared to a typical riding in Brampton or Scarborough, where riding populations exceed the national average, and the numerical disparity is glaring: it will take about four times as many Toronto-area voters to get the same result, electing a single representative to Parliament.
How is that even possible? It’s a long and complicated story, one that began in the earliest years of Confederation itself. But at the heart of the matter is this fundamental fact: Canada lives with a basic and intensifying representational tension, with too few rural and too many urban dwellers.
Or, as John Courtney, Canada’s foremost scholar on these tensions, likes to say, “To paraphrase Mackenzie King, ‘Canada has too much geography and not enough people living in the more remote northern and rural parts of the country.’ ”
Throughout Canada’s first century and beyond, the historic compromise was to err on the side of rural representation — and in so doing, we veered away from the doctrine of “one person, one vote” that our southern neighbours hold so dear.
And Canadians, at the time, were OK with that. Throughout the 20th century Canada had a concurrent problem with “gerrymandering” — federally and provincially, parties in power routinely proposed redrawing ridings for partisan advantage. But Canada — ingeniously, some would say — finally solved gerrymandering in the 1960s by creating 10 Electoral Boundary Commissions, one for each province, effectively taking the power away from politicians and letting experts draw the boundaries.
“I remember once speaking to the league of Women Voters in Washington, D.C., and they were absolutely stunned to hear that Canada had independent electoral commissions,” said Courtney, professor emeritus of Political Studies at the University of Saskatchewan. “They thought it was a great idea.”
“They applauded roundly. But then when I put up a map, they wanted to know the relative populations of the districts and when I told them, they were shocked. They just could not grasp how far we are willing to deviate from representation by population.”
The question of whether or not Canadians were guaranteed voting equality was all but settled in a landmark 1991 Supreme Court ruling that said “deviations from absolute voter parity” may be justified under Canada’s charter.
Writing for the majority in the 6-3 decision, Justice Beverley McLachlin dismissed the “one person, one vote” argument, instead famously coining the phrase “effective representation” as the constitutionally enshrined right of all Canadian voters.
“Relative parity of voting power is a prime condition of effective representation,” McLachlin wrote. But other factors “like geography, community history, community interests and minority representation may need to be taken into account to ensure that our legislative assemblies effectively represent the diversity of our social mosaic.”
But if things were settled in 1991, many scholars see them as unsettled today — or in need of legislative tweaking, at the least — given the changing face of Canada’s largest cities and urbanization as a whole.
Courtney notes that the unspoken consent in the 1991 ruling was to allow deviations of plus or minus 25 per cent in population equity, riding by riding. And the provincial commissions, which redistribute voting power every 10 years based on fresh census data, have shaped their maps with what many see as glaring inequity.
University of Ottawa law professor Michael Pal seized upon the issue in 2015, questioning some of the inequities in Ontario in a paper for the McGill Law Journal titled “The Fractured Right to Vote: Democracy, Discretion and Designing Electoral Districts.”
Pal, speaking to the Star, agreed that even to this day, “there is a very strong principled argument in Canada for permitting deviations from representation by population for truly Northern areas — especially considering Canada’s long and storied history of specifically excluding Indigenous people from participation in the House of Commons.”
But Pal argues the Boundary Commissions that set riding boundaries have altogether too much discretion to remap areas that have nothing to do with the North — and he cites the example of the Niagara Falls district, which during the 2015 federal election was the most populous of all 338 Canadian ridings, with 128,357 people. The adjacent riding of Niagara West, by stark contrast, had only 86,533 inhabitants — a “mystifying inequality” of nearly 40 per cent, he notes.
“It is jarring,” said Pal. “I think people in Niagara Falls would be surprised at the degree that their vote is different from their neighbours in Niagara West. There’s no mountain, no body of water, I can’t see anything in those historic ideals that really makes any sense.”
Though the statute that guides the Provincial Electoral Commissions makes no mention of municipal borders, that appears to be something Ontario’s commission cleaved to in its reshaping of many of the province’s federal electoral boundaries. Some politicos see logic in such an approach, even if it is outside the bounds of statute. MORE
The issues involved in the SNC-Lavalin affair are too important to be treated flippantly. This isn’t some question of policy on which people of goodwill can differ
Another campaign begun in the shadow of scandal. The first weeks of the 2015 election campaign were dominated by the trial of Sen. Mike Duffy, at much subsequent cost to Stephen Harper’s re-election chances. Whether or not the latest revelations in the SNC-Lavalin affair prove to be as consequential to the current campaign, the implications are deeply troubling.
Not only is the RCMP reported to have been inquiring into the affair, in which the prime minister and other government officials attempted to interfere in a criminal prosecution, as a possible case of obstruction of justice, but investigators have apparently been prevented from gathering evidence from key witnesses — obstructed, if you will — by the government’s continuing refusal to release them from the bonds of cabinet confidentiality.
No, it’s not yet a formal criminal investigation, and yes, whatever else you want to call it has been “paused” until after the election — a protocol installed after the 2006 campaign, which was knocked sideways by the revelation that the RCMP was investigating the then minister of finance. No doubt that will be of some relief to the Liberal campaign, but it does leave the public in a bind: it would be a hell of a thing to re-elect the government only to have its top officials charged afterward with serious crimes.
And the questions — the first from a reporter, immediately after Justin Trudeau’s opening statement: “what is your government trying to hide?” — are not going to go away. Seven months after the scandal first came to light, they boil down to one: why not lift the obligation to keep cabinet conversations secret if it will help police get to the bottom of the matter?
This is not, after all, the first time the subject has come up. While the prime minister made a great show of waiving cabinet confidentiality earlier this year with regard to his former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, the waiver applied only to discussions that took place while she was still in the job, and only to those in which she took part. The ethics commissioner reported last month that nine witnesses with evidence relevant to his inquiry had been kept silent by the same restriction.
Cabinet confidentiality is an important principle — ministers could not otherwise speak frankly on sensitive matters — that ought not to be taken lightly. But it is not as important as the rule of law. It might be invoked for reasons of state — or, more often, to spare governments political embarrassment — but it cannot be extended to cover discussions of potential crimes.
Or at any rate it should not. Maybe Trudeau, as he insists, did nothing wrong, legally or ethically. If so, the witnesses will presumably exonerate him. But if not, all the more reason why they should be allowed to tell police what they know.
Certainly it is within his power to do so. The explanation, offered both to the ethics commissioner and the RCMP, that it was a decision of the clerk of the privy council, even if true, will not wash. The clerk works for the prime minister, not the other way around. Whatever power the prime minister chooses to delegate he can also choose to take back.
The prime minister, in any event, long ago undermined any principled defence of his position by his readiness to go public with his side of the same conversations. It is no part of the doctrine of cabinet confidentiality that it should be strictly applied to material that might incriminate government officials, but may be relaxed where it shows them in a better light.
I say all this in the vain hope that the question will be considered on its merits, and not merely as a matter of optics, or polling, or tactics. We have an unfortunate tendency in our trade to cover the campaign, rather than the election — who’s up, who’s down, how the parties are or should be positioning themselves on a given issue, as opposed to what’s right, what’s wrong, and which party’s position is closest to the truth.
Cabinet confidentiality is an important principle. But it is not as important as the rule of law
But the issues involved in the SNC-Lavalin affair are too important to be treated so flippantly. This isn’t about whether to raise or lower taxes or some other question of policy on which people of goodwill can differ, but whether we are to have an impartial system of justice, or one in which powerful corporations can wriggle out of prosecution by lobbying the right politicians. MORE
I have been updating my story all day. The quote from Kenney has been included, along with the reaction from Alex Neve, the secretary general of Amnesty International Canada. http://cbc.ca/1.5277846#ableg
Amnesty International says Jason Kenney’s ‘fight back’ strategy violates human rights | CBC News
Amnesty International Canada says the Alberta government’s plan to fight people who criticize the oil and gas industry exposes them to threats, intimidation and violates their human rights.
Here is the video of @jkenney making remarks in Fort McMurray today about the jailing of Greenpeace activists is Russia #ableg
As environmental citizen groups and non-profit organizations race against time to mount a co-ordinated international response to climate change, they’re encountering a formidable new threat: their own governments.
When Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro proclaimed in August that environmentalists set the Amazon ablaze over a foreign funding fracas, he didn’t pull the accusation out of thin air.
Authoritarian governments moving in lockstep to discredit environmentalists
“Foreign funding” has emerged as a powerful propaganda cudgel for governments to turn on environmental and human rights activists around the world.
The leader of Russia’s Ecodefense sought political asylum in Germany this June to avoid imprisonment in Putin’s ruthless crackdown on environmental groups designated as “foreign agents,” a term that in Russian denotes “spy” or “traitor.”
In Narendra Modi’s India, where flooding and drought threaten more than 100 million lives, a 2014 intelligence report called dissident environmental and human rights organizations a threat to national security, accusing them of “serving as tools for foreign policy interests.”
“The world is facing the most pressing moral imperative in the history of human civilization, and Jason Kenney’s inquiry has all but criminalized opposition to fossil fuel expansion, before a single witness is called. ” @Garossino #cdnpoli #oped
Despite being praised by Stephen Harper for his visionary global leadership, Modi was nothing short of brutal. Cancelling the licences of 20,000 NGOs, his government froze bank accounts and raided offices, including those of Amnesty International India and prominent human rights lawyers who had challenged his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
To prevent a Greenpeace India activist from testifying in the British parliament about the local impact of a British mining company’s Indian operations, Modi’s government blocked her from boarding her flight to the UK, then put her on a no-fly list. MORE