Is This Progress? This Is Progress.

What Is Kaputall?

Oxford defines Kaput as "broken and useless; no longer working or effective" - similar to our unbalanced economic system. This is a page dedicated to the intersection of capitalism and social, political, and environmental problems.

Friday, 24 June 2016

When Populism Prevails

It is no secret that the European Union has faced serious existential challenges in the past decade. The rise of euroscepticism has been significant, particularly in the most industrialised member countries. Despite the sentiment that the EU isn't perfect, the UK referendum on leaving the union, otherwise known as Brexit, was seen largely as a pipe dream even weeks ago. The victory for Leave, by a narrow margin of course, was unexpected to say the least. I spent hours last night being astonished with the results as they came in. It is, most importantly, the manifestation of a populist neoliberal movement that is reshaping the values of ordinary Europeans - one that might very well have a similar impact in the United States in November.

The rise of euroscepticism, which is defined as a political movement that opposes the mechanisms of the European Union or the more general scope of the European Project, has been sharp of late. Economic and social crises (Syrian refugees, Greek markets, etc) have had a massive political impact. In the past election cycle the European Parliament as well as national assemblies have seen rapid growth in right-wing populist parties, generally groups with very nationalist rhetoric. This is the case in both advanced EU counrties like France and in smaller, newer member states like Hungary.

There are two thrusts behind the Brexit movement. The first is related to economic sovereignty. As austerity has come to damage the UK increasingly with higher unemployment, the European Union has been regarded as a foreign mechanism that ties the hands of London. The second is straightforward xenophobia in the face of increasing immigration both to and within the European Union. Naturally, the former argument was less of a concern during the campaign as the focus, largely, was the discourse that immigrants were taking away jobs and services from British nationals.

While I oppose the very nature of the European Union myself, it is not on the grounds by which Leave campaign based their case. I see the EU as a system designed to promote the free movement of goods and labour in the interest of advancing neoliberal capitalism at the expense of the social-democratic model. In fact, this system works so well that European companies are extremely competitive both domestically and in foreign markets. This is at the expense of European governments and citizens who are increasingly taking on the tax burdens of corporate entities, hence the massive austerity programmes.

Much like in America, there is a hollowing out of the once-stable progressive centrist movements. Extreme left-wing and right-wing organisations have become ever the more popular of late, not limited to the United Kingdom Independence Party, which essentially spearheaded last night's victory.

The future of the European Union and the United Kingdom hang in the balance at present. There is no precedent for leaving the EU and of course the UK is not the only nation dealing with massive euroscepticism. The next few months will be trying times as all parties involved try to forge new trajectories.

Monday, 13 June 2016

In Service of Hatred

In the early hours of Sunday the deadliest mass shooting in American history unfolded. Amred with an AR-15 rifle, Omar Mateen opened fire on hundreds in Orlando's gay nightclub, Pulse. With over fifty dead and another fifty wounded, this marks an unprecedented level of gun violence. However, I aim in this post to address the coverage of the event meant to reinforce Islamophobia in America.

A very thin expression of solidarity with LGBTQ Americans has been mentioned repeatedly in mainstream media - as though it is a given. It is clear that this expression of mourning is more about co-opting the story in service of hatred toward Muslims, even in the case where the shooter was an American-born secular Muslim. In particular, he should be characterised by his disaffectation and his anger problems more than by religious affiliation (based on the information provided by his coworkers and family).

I remember after the Bataclan Theatre attacks. We knew the name of every victim. We knew their life stories, dreams, and favourite colours. If I may make a prediction - we won't get this with Orlando. We have already forgotten the victims, less than 48 hours later. It's about the perpetrator, ISIS, and religious zeal. Never mind that treatment of LGBTQ people in America has been (and absolutely unequivocally continues to be) deeply rooted in homophobia and transphobia, whether around washroom politics, legal marriage, adoption, access to housing, employment equality, etc. Don't forget it was a white male who was stopped on the way to Pride in LA on Saturday with an arsenal of automatic weapons. The violence committed against queer people in America is pervasive, and it's beyond dishonest to insinuate that it is only outsiders that hold these values.

I remember after Sandy Hook it was considered by conservatives ''an insult to the victims' families'' to talk about a ban on AR-15 assault rifles. We are now seeing precisely this debate occurring on CNN, Fox, and MSNBC. If so, I can only conclude that this has something to do with the fact that it is easier to talk about our gun problems than it is to address pervasive homophobia, especially when doing so would take away our collective capacity to shame Islam for it.

Many have published articles saying it is an either/or proposition: that it can't be that Christians are intolerant of queer people and the Muslims just get a free pass. It should not be about attempting to say that some people's hate is justified; rather we need to acknowledge that western society is also entrenched in histories of oppression and that we do no good to slough off the hatred. Let's stop pretending that we don't have very real contemporary issues related to race, gender, class, or sexuality. It's only a matter of time before we go back to oppressing and marginalising, though it's less sensational if it isn't so violent.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016


Perhaps this is a decidedly unsurprising development, but I still believe it is worthwhile to point out the lack of serious media coverage related to the potential threats to the upcoming UEFA European Championship. Given that France has been on high alert, it is uncharacteristic that the media coverage has been virtually non-existent, save for the important fact that the alleged terrorist doesn't look the part.

On Sunday, a French citizen was arrested while attempting to re-enter the EU from Ukraine. In his vehicle he had an astounding arsenal - grenade launchers, automatic weapons, and C4. His targets: religious buildings, stadia, offices. The unnamed French citizen is associated with right-wing and ultranationalist groups, according to some sources. Again, this form of terrorism is very much the ideological nemesis of Islamic fundamentalism and is, in large part, the dominant grassroots political movement in Europe.

These groups oppose the acceptance and integration minorities (generally Muslims) and have been responsible for widespread hate crimes, massive violent demonstrations, and the closure of several national borders in the wake of the Syrian crisis. We can now add terrorism to the list of manifestations.

Media reaction has been nearly silent: the views for this YouTube video (which is the most popular) about the arrests has less than 1200 views. The National spoke about it for less than 90 seconds last night. Even French President François Hollande's response was muted (and is difficult to find clips of online). And the event failed to register on Facebook or Twitters trends.

I'm not overwhelmingly intrigued by ''what if'' history, but it's a worthwhile social experiment to consider the headlines, social media presence, and political reaction if the alleged terrorist were to have represented the manifestation of our fears. If this isn't clear evidence of Islamophobia then I am frankly not sure what is.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Business and Politics

This weekend marked the convention for the Conservative Party of Canada. One of the speakers this year - Kevin O'Leary. He had drawn some attention months ago when it was speculated that he would run for party leadership. Earlier this week, he joined the party and over the weekend he spoke, using this opportunity to speak to people about ''the future of Canada'' with the aim of improving transparency and getting ''better results'' in government.

As O'Leary has articulated, he leads some early polls (despite the fact that we are about seven months away from the leadership convention). He is popular amongst several key demographics and already has name recognition (and not the kind that comes with much political baggage). O'Leary is a best-selling author, a television personality, and a business mogul. Most importantly, however, is that he is already being lauded as an outsider who is all too keen to speak his mind freely.

This shouldn't surprise anyone given the traction of Trump and Sanders in the United States. Both candidates, as I remarked in an earlier post, have built strong grassroots movements with large online presences. The true success has been in mobilising people against the status quo of ''politics as usual'' and O'Leary can absolutely benefit from this. Aside from his pro-business stance and his national celebrity, O'Leary is seen as someone who is honest and straight-talking, something to be viewed as contrary to other political leaders who speak in jargon, appear rehearsed, and come across as partisans.

All of this, of course, is borne of the false perception that those who are experienced business leaders will be excellent stewards of the national economy. Beyond the stereotype that Conservatives are strong fiscal managers, business savvy and guiding a national economy have little in common. The backlash of late against government (more generally) and politicians (more specifically) has been fed by the idea that a functional government only requires just a few more cuts. Ideological gaps are widening (as they did in the 1930s in Europe) and the results may very well be further polarisation when it comes to many social and economic questions.

O'Leary may very well have the charts to sweep him into public office, but he'd be wise to watch carefully what is occurring in teh United States. Given his attitude toward risk, I presume that he will not declare candidacy until Trump's success against the Democrats looks to be somewhat proven. We know already that Trump is a divisive figure (based on the Republican nomination) but we have yet to see how this will pan out in an election. O'Leary must be aware that his is in a similar situation.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Public History and Democracy

Yesterday the Liberal Government made a formal apology from the floor of the House of Commons. In his speech Trudeau apologised for the 1914 Komagata Maru incident where hundreds of immigrants from India were turned away, clear evidence of the selective nature of Canadian immigration at the time. Most Canadians were not aware of this particular piece of Canadian history (nor was I before yesterday) despite our pride in claiming that we are a diverse, multicultural, welcoming society with a long history of accepting refugees and immigrants from around the globe. Given that both Harper and Trudeau have made comments on the record about the lack of colonialism in our national history, it is imperative that all efforts be made in a democracy to engage with the past.

I'm often told, as an historian, that my field of work is (among other things): dead, irrelevant, boring, stuffy, intellectual, or bunk. While it is tiresome to hear these criticisms, I'm not surprised in the least. Our conceptualisation of history is that it is something akin to a record of the past, a book you can pull off the shelf that tells you definitively about a specific event or person.

In reality, history is discipline not about what happened but in fact what is written about what happened. In the same vein of the tree falling in the forest, an event is not a historical event unless someone bore witness and recorded it  (don't let the history channel confuse you). Public history, which is the the way in which we engage with its past through education, museums, holidays, film, is essentially the official memory of a society. Often looked down on by academics, public history is often seen as an attempt to curate the story of a society with one large narrative (which is antithetical to the practice of history).

In the case of Canadian immigration, the notion of not engaging with the narrative critically is a problem. We have seen this with, for example, the 2006 apology for the Indian Residential School System. In spite of the effort to address the egregious colonial institutions of the past, we have continued to fail First Nations in areas of education, health, infrastructure, employment, governance, representation, justice, and more.

Apologies are nothing more than a starting point. They allow us to focus on what has to be done after claiming responsibility so that the harm can be remembered and that we can move toward building bridges. Public history has a significant role to play in addressing the past, from the embarrassing to the criminal.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

We Started The Fire

The outpouring of support for the victims of the massive forest fire burning in Northern Alberta is truly heartwarming. The evacuation of nearly ninety thousand people, most of whom will have lost some or all of their material possessions, is a shocking development and perhaps the worst case of a forest fire encroaching on an urban area in recent memory. That so many Canadians have opened up their homes, wallets, and hearts is a testament to the ability of Canadians to put aside the controversial context of oil politics.

It's a feat, to be sure, especially given the temptation to call the destruction of Fort McMurray "ironic" or "karmic", largely with poor comprehension of these phenomena. While it is blatantly offensive to insinuate that Fort McMurray had it coming, I think it is the only rational conclusion to say that we, as Canadian society, did in fact create the environment in which the fire would start and in which it would cause such destruction.

While the science that correlates forest fires and anthropogenic climate change is clear, I'm in fact referring to the social, political, and economic forces that have led to our present catastrophe.

Every Canadian, regardless of where they live, has some connection to the intensification of the tar sands. A process which, over the past fifteen years, has been caused by a greater demand for petroleum products (whether plastics, fuels, asphalts, lubricants), an emphasis on developing domestic "ethical oil", and a desire to produce a robust Canadian economy.

What I think requires honest political reflection on the culture of attacking transfer payments. In the past year or so, I've seen more and more on social media bemoaning Eastern Canadian provinces' status as a have-not region and looking at Alberta as the engine that powers the country. It's important to note that the message connotes Alberta's economic independence.

I will, without hesitation, suggest that this is the true irony of the forest fire. Alberta, now destined to compound its ecnomic downturn, is relying on the support from Canadians across the country, most of whom are all too happy to contribute without making it political, as I previously noted. Perhaps the most impressive part is that Syrian refugees are coming to the aid of those affected. This is particularly impactful when you consider the proliferation of social media postings that insinuate that we should be helping Canadians, not outsiders.

Human tragedies and natural disasters are an opportunity to come together, but let's not shy away from talking frankly about our shared responsibility and our collective duty to work toward a solution.

Friday, 15 April 2016

An Interesting Comparison

The two most salient national stories this week have to be yesterday's introduction of new right to die legislation and the revelations earlier this week that there is an urgent crisis in northern communities regarding lack of access to adequate mental health services. So far as I can tell, nobody is talking about these two stories together, which I find remarkable given the connections.

In the case of the new legislation, there has been a rush to come up with suitable modifications to the criminal code in the wake of last year's supreme court ruling. While it is clear that more than 75 per cent of Canadians support some form or right to die legislation, there is a strong disconnect politically as crafting legal frameworks is (by definition) tricky business.

The Liberals have been busy since the election drafting their proposed fix, though the result has been (by many accounts) disappointing. Instead of sweeping change, the legislation gently broadens the circumstances under which doctor-assisted death may occur legally. There will be a lot of room for interpretation around suffering and duration which will lead to serious precedents being set in the near future. The result of these changes has been to continue to restrict the right to die for people who have are suffering.

We are all familiar with the moral arguments around end of life care. Our legal system, particularly in criminal law, is predicated on long traditions of western morality.

But we should be asking ourselves, if we are not accepting of doctor-assisted death, then why are we so complicit in a First Nations reservation system that, without a doubt, condemns those in it to poverty, suffering, and death?

Morality is, of course, highly subjective. Moreover, it is intrinsically self-contradictory in its application. But if we are truly going to live in a society that we can be proud of, then why aren't we focused on dignity?

In both cases, the failure to focus on dignity reduces the suffering of people who are trapped in system - health care or reservations. Desperation, whether due to the decay of the human body or due to systemic racism manifests itself similarly: in the will to end that struggle.

It is patently disingenuous to be so preoccupied with preventing someone from receiving doctor-assisted death but not concerned for the epidemic that is suicide in northern communities. We all deserve dignity, whether in the pursuit of life or at its end.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Underwood and the Future of American Democracy

Media attention in the democratic race has been focused so far on, primarily, Sanders and Clinton. Despite the fact that Clinton has been very close to securing the nomination over Sanders, few have been focused on the outside shot. I'm talking of course about Democratic nominee Francis Underwood. Regardless of the fact that he doesn't have a chance at winning delegates this time around, it's worth considering what could occur with the superdelegate count in June. I'm going to argue here that I think Underwood, while an exceptionally improbable victor, would be a disaster for America.

A South Carolina Democrat, Underwood has been serving as a congressman since 1991. Since then he has spent time as party whip and Secretary of Education. Underwood has shown exemplary initiative by most accounts, having risen from relative obscurity since 2013.

The controversial education bill he worked on failed to pass through the legislature and he also attempted to push through protections for women in the armed services. He intends, if selected, to carry out a mandate on ''America Works'' which is part austerity programme and part faux-socialist, as it is a programme designed to achieve full employment, and old tactic of Soviet regimes.

He has been known to have a wild temper, something which the media has yet to see, but can be confirmed through interviews with key insiders, most notably former teacher union leader Marty Spinella, who is perhaps better known for having hit Underwood himself after a bout of rage. The charges of manipulation and blackmail by various members of Congress have intermittently become the content of back pages, but there is no denying his mystique and broad appeal.

Where I see perhaps the greatest struggle will be on questions related to foreign relations. So far as I can ascertain, he has limited experience in diplomacy, and despite his personal relationship with the Russian president, there isn't much to go on. His positions on global terror are most certainly unclear, something which Americans deserve to have clarity on before electing him to the highest office.

My worries are that Underwood is willing to do whatever it takes, and his ethics are indeed beyond questionable. Considering that he is relatively out of the contest, these issues might be unimportant, but I would argue that (like all other candidates) his background, his personal logs, relationships, and so on should be scrutinised more carefully. Underwood is, in my opinion, what is wrong with American politics - the blackmail, manipulation, message control, backroom deals and so forth. Again, these contrast largely with his election messages.

Overall, I'm not surprised at the failure of mainstream media to focus much attention (if, frankly, any at all) on Underwoods candidacy. However, with all the uncertainty around the Republican nomination, it would not surprise me if the Democratic Party were to have an outrageous upset itself.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Criminal Justice and Sexual Assault

I have been teaching law now for the past few years and this is really the first time I'll be taking on a matter of our legal system in any detail. To start, I have in fact written on the Ghomeshi trial before (please read here) arguing that by virtue of his position, Ghomeshi's case will be high profile. I didn't know that the allegations would lead to a court case necessarily, but it was obvious from the start what the outcome would be. When the verdict was read yesterday, nobody was shocked. We had all prepared ourselves for the reality that an acquittal was virtually ensured.

My tack with this post will be to discuss the fact that our legal system is not equipped to handle cases of rape or sexual assault for many complex reasons. Moreover, I aim to look again at the public dimension of the case and the degree to which what happens outside the courtroom is in fact important.

Rape is complex, even if there are certain elements of it that are black and white. One of the reasons I have enjoyed teaching law is because it is very similar to history. Perspective is key, and for the most part you have to disregard concepts like "truth" and "objectivity" in the name of understanding experience as inherently subjective, self-serving, biased, and most importantly imperfect. This should apply to accusers and accused, but sadly in cases related to rape I feel like this element is often disregarded.

Rape is a tricky concept to deal with, let alone in a formal legal context. Talk to virtually anyone and they will have clear bias regarding who they are more likely to believe, the accused or the accuser. This is necessarily a problem for those who work in the criminal justice system. There is a systemic bias to believe the defendant and to search out inconsistencies in the victim's story.

Nuance is ultimately key. We have to understand that what Ghomeshi and his accusers will say are imperfect and potentially self-contradictory, and that's alright. Some of this is on purpose but a wider part is due to the sheer complexity of the situation, and this is often not tolerated from the claimant. We need to move beyond understanding rape as a creepy man and a sexually innocent, defenseless woman. Like it or not, we have preconceived notions of what a rapist looks like. If someone doesn't fit that mould (spoiler alert: virtually all rapists are normal people) then it's easy for us to be sceptical (read: forgiving).

There are many particularities of rape cases which need to be addressed.

Not the least of which being that it is very much about "he said she said" which leads to a reliance on character and therefore an affinity to assassinate the profile of the accusers in particular. Women who challenge their accused rapists in court live through having their private lives thoroughly investigated, giving the impression that it is in fact the accuser on trial rather than the accused.

Another issue is the inability to show evidence of a crime in many cases. So few cases even go before the courts in the first place, but remember that the burden of proof lies on the prosecution to show that rape occurred beyond a reasonable doubt. As we have seen in the Ghomeshi case, any evidence that shows continued communication or anything so much as wavering on the part of the victim as serious doubt that sexual assault occurred.

This is tied into the question of how is harm demonstrated. Unlike in a case of theft, murder, battery, etc, there is minimal clearly perceivable evidence of harm as much of the harm is psychological (which does not mean it is lesser). This has, historically, reinforced the previous notion of "he said she said" and is entrenched in the question of memory. There is a triple burden in a case of rape or sexual assault where not only is there an effort to prove that the accuser in fact committed the crime, but firstly that the act was even committed in the first place and secondly that it was non-consensual.

Further amplifying this are the cultural biases around rape and the very common misunderstandings of consent.

Factoring these elements together, we can see the the inherent problems of sexual assault when brought before the law. This is perhaps most evident in the verdict, with Justice Horkins remarking that the behaviour of women having rapey experiences as "odd" for having continued correspondence - a completely vapid statement that ignores the complexity of interacting with someone who has hurt you but for whom you have feelings. Has he heard of the #whyistayed phenomenon? The judgement, in general, was focused excessively on the character of the claimants, but to Justice Horkins' credit, he did state that the verdict did not indicate innocence, but merely that it failed to establish wrongdoing beyond reasonable doubt. We have to ask ourselves to what degree the judge had to acquit.

What this means to me is that there is an inherent incapacity through the courts to deal with these types of cases. If so, we have to contemplate the other major element of the Ghomeshi story: the media. I was extremely disappointed to have read and watched so much yesterday that took the ruling at face value, calling it fair. It is perhaps paradoxical that it is also referred to as the only possible outcome and in the next breath fair. Far from it. What happens next is important, and the media has a responsibility to share what has happened in court and to report honestly on the abysmal statistics regarding rape reporting and convictions so that everyone can be aware of the very real limits of our judicial system.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Nous sommes le monde (...sort of)

In what is becoming ever less shocking news, another terrorist attack occurred this morning. Brussels' international aeroport and metro network were both targeted early this morning to devastating effect. Bombs ripped through crowded spaces, taking the lives of at least 26 people and leaving nearly one hundred people wounded.  The loss of life is difficult to comprehend, even more so because Brussels is a mirror; it reflects back our image of ''Westerness'' and betrays that vulnerability. We could have all been in a similar public place, minding our own business. After all, terrorism is meant to strike fear into the heart of man.

As I have done numerous times before, I'd like to tirelessly point to the rise in such violence in recent months and the discussion that seems to be happening about it all over again.

It is unnerving, to say the least, that the attacks that occurred this morning have already broken the internet when, merely a week ago, Ankara was plagued by the same terror without much fanfare. But please, allow me to be perfectly unequivocal - there is a massive problem with expressing our solidarity with victims of terrorism when we attach conditions. Please see this post. Or this one. Or in fact this one as well. We are all not Brussels UNLESS we are also Ankara, Homs, Tunis, Baghdad, Mardan, or Beirut.

I'm far from at a loss for words, however. There is a lot to say in response to the usual parade of Islamophobia. This morning's tragedy has brought forth a long line of ''terrorism experts'' who are pontificating on all the malice of various cells without even addressing the context that permits terrorism. Brussels is not a random act: the city is the epicentre of the European project - a symbol of Islamophobia, inaction, segregation, injustice, and more.

It is truly tragic that so many people have died as a result of terrorism, but it is important to understand precisely why these events occur - not in the name of excusing them; rather, as a means of trying to come about a resolution that is not merely to feed into the viscious cycles of hate and division.

I truly dislike sounding like a broken record, but something has got to change in the West if we are truly as interested in peace and prosperity as we claim to be.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

In Conversation: Sanders and the Democratic Party

You can't seem to go more than a few days without being reminded that this is the most interesting American primary season in recent memory. Despite not having been alive at the time, I feel that the last primary of this calibre was 1968 after Johnson decided not to pursue a second term. The theatrics of the contests are a true spectacle, for better or for worse, but one gets the feeling that never before has so much been on the line. To get a better sense of what exactly is happening, I decided to talk to one of my friends, Andrew, a southerner and a communist.

Andrew is a committed communist, identifying as a Marxist-Leninist. He has never voted for the Republicans, nor the Democrats. His stances against imperialism and private property shape his perceptions on many key American policies. In general he tends to support the Party of Socialism and Liberation. I asked him about what voting means to him.

"True workers' power can never be won through the ballot box" he told me. He explains that his values are based on idealism, conceding that you have to "go where the masses are" quoting Lenin. For Andrew, this kind of pragmatism is necessary in politics, but he levels an accusation at Sanders, calling him a sell-out.

I enquired as to what, then, would force a committed PSL supporter to vote for a mainstream candidate. Was it that Sanders is a progressive choice, or was it to do with the threat from the Republican side.

Andrew pointed out that one of Sanders true victories is that he has taken away the power of the word "socialism" as a scary word. To have made it socially acceptable to be a socialist in the United States is an accomplishment, but we talked about what exactly constitutes his brand of socialism.

"It doesn't go far enough". He comments on Sanders' support for imperialist endeavours, including troops in the middle east, is something he staunchy opposes. Morever, Sanders' brand of socialism is misleading as it has little to do with public ownership beyond the expansion of universal health care. Progressive taxation, Andrew points out, is not socialism.

It was, then, the idea that the Republican front-runner could do so much damage that motivates Andrew to vote Democrat. So much so, in fact, that he would vote for Clinton in November. We didn't talk much about Clinton, to be fair. It is fair to say that for a communist like Andrew and a democratic socialist like me that Clinton (a corporate candidate with years of experience waging war in the Middle East) is an unsavoury choice. But there is merely too much on the line.

I have thought a lot about how terrible a president Trump would be merely in terms of being the face of Washington. However, Andrew pointed out to me that one of the most serious problems would be that nothing would get done with Trump in the White House. During Obama's administration Congress was obstructionist because public opinion allowed it. Andrew sees that there is simply no way that Trump would't be even more polarising in that role.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Super Tuesday: The Many Mornings After

The results from last night are in and both Clinton and Trump have solidified their leads in their respective races. While, at this point, it looks as though the two frontrunners may have practically finished the job, there is a long road ahead for better or for worse.

I have spent a decent amount of time here talking about Trump in the past few months, so I'll keep my comments on this matter short. The situation is dire for another candidate, at this point either Rubio or Cruz, to run as the Trump alternative. Both campaigns are still in full motion, however, after Super Tuesday. Trump, who is now seen as out of control by many within the Republican establishment, will continue to polarise voters. Those who have seen him as honest and forthright will continue to valorise him; others who can see the degree to which his campaign is based on hate and fear will continue to try to take him down. The window on this is perilously short since the rules for the Republican primary are set to produce a winner relatively quickly (to avoid a repeat of the Romney situation of 2012).

What is perhaps more interesting is the Democratic race (great interactive results here). Last night of the eleven states in question, Clinton won seven. The divide is rather stark, with southern states overwhelmingly going Clinton's way (some with 50 point margins). Many have started sounding the alarm that it is now over for Sanders, but in my opinion it is still far too early.

For one, Clinton had taken a similar lead in 2008 before Obama was able to rally to the finish, which by the way was in June. Moreover, Sanders won by margins no narrower than 18 points in the four states he carried. The thread from the results is that, by and large, Sanders is not faring well in more diverse states. This is interesting given Clinton's backing and background.

For one, southern liberals, and in particular black Democrats, are supporting Clinton. This despite her race baiting Obama (relatively unsuccessfully) in 2008. She has yet to address questions of race that have been (on numerous occasions) asked of her. Avoiding the issue has led to success for her. As well, in January, Human Rights Campaign endorsed Clinton stating that she was the best bet for LGBTQ Americans. Susan Sarandon, speaking at a Sanders event, noted that “It’s one thing to be for gay rights and gay marriage once everybody else is for it,” pointing out that she had only recently become an ally. Lastly, Clinton is most certainly an establishment candidate for the corporate funding she has received. She has taken very weak positions on economic regulation and has been working hard to keep her son-in-law, a wealthy investment banker, out of the picture.

With new contests virtually every week for the next few months, there is still time for the winds of change. My only remaining insight is that it's only going to get uglier.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Monolithic Memory

This weekend the news broke that justice Antonin Scalia passed away. Immediately there were tributes to him and his legacy. I've written about the sentiment that we should not speak ill of the dead before (with the passing of Margaret Thatcher). In the time since, I've paid more attention to the media circles following the death of a public figure. I've noted that there seems to be a tendency to memorialise a celebrated person as either terrible or wonderful with a rather limited capacity to portray the complex nature of their legacy.

I had previously argued that media are wont to not speak ill of the venerable dead, despite their "divisive" status before death. Given the recent death of Scalia, it's interesting that these two figures -who are such clear representations of partisanship - receive such a uniform treatment posthumously.

Yesterday was Presidents' Day and there were enough memorials of Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, and Woodrow Wilson to give me pause. Why is it that individuals who have such patchwork legacies, or at the very extreme have committed heinous acts, can be remembered so positively when they pass away?

With respect to Scalia, he made three impacts that lacked ethics. Despite the fact that he was clearly a brilliant man, he was also instrumental in adversely affecting the lives of millions of Americans. Unlike a private citizen whose opinion is not going to widely impact those around him, Scalia's value system had direct affects on society at large.

Firstly, under his watch the Supreme Court made significant changes to the Voting Rights Act which have allowed for voter suppression. As far as the integrity of a democratic society goes, this is a significant problem. Jon Oliver has an excellent piece on this if you're interested in learning more about the finer points. Consider as well that he was behind the implementation of Citizens United, an initiative the removes transparency from political donations.

Secondly, it was clear that Scalia had a terrible record on civil rights. He was very much opposed to affirmative action, basing his argument on the notion that the constitution should provide for equal treatment. He believed strongly in society's interference in women's reproductive choices. He was very critical of last year's landmark Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage.

Thirdly, Scalia helped create personhood laws which provide massive economic and legal protection for corporations in the United States. With the idea that there are so many similarities between a person and a business, Scalia argued that corporations are "indistinguishable from the individual who owns them". Corporations need to have certain rights, but the balance of protections awarded to large multinationals at present is very much thanks to Scalia. In the 1980s he played a role in legal precedents that paved the way to corporate personhood.

If I may, I'd like to mention that failing to air the negative elements of public figure's legacy when they pass away is not insensitive. It is disingenuous. This reminds me of when, after the shooting at Sandy Hook, there was a push to refrain from talking about gun control because it was seen as an inappropriate time to have the discussion. It couldn't be a better time. If we don't talk frankly about Scalia now, when will we?

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Chronicles of Sarnia - Pt. 3

Today I woke up and stayed in Kitchener. I didn't drive back to Sarnia in the darkness to start another week. While it will take some getting used to, beyond the unemployment, it's a bittersweet situation.

I've been waiting for what seems like forever to be back home, and it is now here. Along with all that anticipation is the heaviness of the numerous goodbyes of the past few days. Sarnia, more than likely any other place I've lived, has become a significant part of me. I don't think I could have ever predicted it, to be honest.

Amidst the feelings of excitement to leave, I found myself hoping that my last week in Sarnia would last longer. I wanted to relish my favourite places, walking the ice-covered beaches, getting a drink at Sideways, or playing Ingress in the quaint downtown.

Being in Sarnia again, under circumstances rather different from 2014, taught me a great deal about myself. This time I was alone a lot more that I've been in my life, much to my chagrin and delight. I made the best of the situation and I feel a certain degree of pride for having stuck through with one of the more difficult tasks of my life. All the while, I made an intelligent career move that I truly hope will pay off. I've gained perspective, and that's more than I can ever ask for, I suppose.

Today I am staring at a new page. However, I am not rudderless; I am merely entering new coordinates and looking therefore at a different horizon. I'm looking forward to the next adventure.

Chronicles of Sarnia Pt. 1 and Chronicles of Sarnia Pt. 2

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Nationalism and Public Memory

A private member's bill has been introduced in the Canadian Parliament regarding the lyrics to the national anthem. A longtime co-op supporter and hero of mine, Ottawa-Vanier MP Mauril Bélanger, wants to change the words ''in all thy sons command'' to ''in all of us command''. Bélanger's initiative to make our national anthem gender neutral is well-intentioned. However, it should have us consider all the lyrics in general, if not the role that the national anthem should play in celebrating our country.

We are seldom are in contact with the national anthem, hearing it at the start of a hockey game, special event, or Canada day. As a teacher, however, I hear O Canada every single day at work. The English lyrics, which were added to Calixa Lavallée's instrumental music in 1906, invoke plenty of other references, if we were truly interested in changing the song, that are worth an edit. Among them are ''god'', ''patriot'', and ''native'' which surely are as gauche as the lyric in question.

Canadians should not be debating changing one element of their anthem without seriously considering the others. Moreover, it's helpful to examine what changing the lyrics mean in the first place. As an historian, it's likely unsurprising that I am not a fan of historical revisionism. We should always be conscientious of the meaning of history and we should not be keen to skip to change words in order to erase realities.

I would argue that would be a better strategy to engage in critically examining the lyrics, rather than changing them. This could happen at school, but it's naturally going to play out in the media cycles in the short term (for better or for worse) Perhaps we could even consider having two sets of lyrics. It may seem complicated, but this is in fact how history works.

Consider the case of Duncan Camphell Scott. It is unlikely you've ever heard of him, but he worked in what was then called the Department of Indian Affairs for 52 years and was instrumental in establishing the Indian Residential School System. He famously noted that we should kill the Indian in the child. It was not until 2014 that a plaque was erected near his grave which describes his ''notorious'' career in destroying the culture of millions of First Nations. His original grave was not touched.

That may make some people uncomfortable - the notion that we should leave his original memory intact. However, it's important to create new history rather than erasing the old one. The latter reminds me of the revolutionary zeal of 1789 or 1917. History should be studied, not retouched.

This bill is likely to pass now that the Liberals have a majority government. It may take some time to get sorted out, but in the interim, I'm thankful to sing the national anthem every morning in French.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Africa: Western Narratives

Yesterday there seemed to be no shortage of stories about the six Québec humanitarians who were killed in an attack in Burkina Faso. They were victims of an attack on Sunday where they died along with nearly thirty others. Listening to the reactions of residents of Beauport and Québec was difficult. The loss clearly shook so many people. However, the grief is situated, as it always seems to be, in a political context that fails to recognise why these acts are absolutely not ''senseless''.

Western narratives about Africa are intrinsically harmful. Not the least of which being that so few  understand the rich cultural, economic, and political diversity that exists across the continent. This is compounded by the ravages of colonialism between the 1870s and the 1970s and various forms of economic and cultural imperialism that have since taken the place of formal colonial structures.

Africa, in general, is presented as a monolithic place of poverty, corruption, and helplessness. In the rare moments when Africa is even considered in the west, these narratives play out incessantly. In the past year alone we've seen the ebola crisis, electoral corruption in Zimbabwe, the use of child labour in the DRC, and the rise of Islamic terrorism. All these various issues reinforce the image of Africa  as a place of problems, and one that is incapable of escaping this reality on its own.

It is, sadly, with this western narrative that so many Canadians go to Africa to help. It's well-intentioned and often makes a great impact. But what is routinely forgotten is that, in many ways, it is non-Africans who are deciding both how and when to address problems for locals. It is almost a boutique experience to go to Africa to make a very short-term impact. These expériences are in vogue. However, they are not necessarily replying to the actual need of locals who, largely, are absent from decision-making. It's the infantilisation of Africa.

Make no mistake, I do not condone this genre of terrorist attack against humanitarians, but I feel like there is no real desire to understand why this violence occurs - violence that is specifically targeted at westerners. It's easy to be outraged that people's lives are lost, but it is utterly infuriating to see such incomprehension when the answers are not hidden far from view. We merely have to draw back the curtain.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

The Future of the NDP

It has now been a few unconfortable months since the federal election. In the time since, Trudeau has failed to remain outside the limelight for longer than few days. Whether it was the Paris Peace Conference, the arrival of Syrian refugees, or questions about his shoot with Vogue. As many outlets have addressed, Trudeau has stolen the show. But just what has this meant for the New Democrats?

On the morning after the election, I remember reading articles about the crushing defeat of the NDP. I can also recall reading heartfelt comments from and about longtime NDP members of parliament like Paul Dewar. The party was arguably even more surprised by its performance in 2015 than it was in 2011.

In the time since, Mulcair has retreated to shadows. We've become habituated to seeing Mulcair in parliament with his razor sharp questions for Harper. Now we are seeing a different show - with Rona Ambrose on the attack and Mulcair nowhere to be seen.

The question had been asked - if only for a short time - what happened to the NDP in the nearly three-month campaign. While the answer is unclear, this election was as much Trudeau's to win as it was Harper's or Mulcair's to lose.

At least some emphasis has to be placed on the fact that the Liberals escaped serious scrutiny by remaining in third place for some time. Moreover, when the tide did shift in their favour, it was just enough to gather that enthusiasm without a lot of the necessary questioning that comes afterward.

Mulcair, for his part, handled being in the lead poorly. This could have been for various reasons, but it is likely do to the fact that he has little charisma and was attempting too strongly to play to the centre.

In my view, it will continue to harm the NDP if these two items are not addressed. Jack Layton was someone who embodied the party's values and who didn't comprimise in order to win an election. It's a bit of an unfair comparison because Jack Layton was never in a position to win an election.

Mulcair is the product of a party with a conflicted purpose. Some New Democrats wanted to form governements; others were hoping to represent their social-democratic values.

This is, from my perspective, a case that will not continue to divide the NDP, but that will become more advanced as the party becomes more powerful. When our electoral system is reformed and the NDP invariably wins greater representation, there will be questions about what is more important - having principles or having a soap box.

For my part, Mulcair never appealed too much to me. When I ran for the party nomination in Kitchener-Centre, I redacted comments I had made about Mulcair for the sake of my campaign, but I know that many of my fellow New Democrats shared my concerns with leadership. Fortunately, talent runs deep in the NDP and the future of the party is certainly bright. I look forward to the next leadership convention.