Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Let's Banish Violence From This Town

Early in the morning on Friday, October 3, on second avenue in downtown Prince Rupert a man was beaten within an inch of his life. Three local thugs beat him up so badly that he had to be flown down to Vancouver for reconstructive surgery. Every bone in his face was smashed and it's since been reconstructed with metal plates.

Because of a vicious act of thuggery a man has been permanently disfigured and his family's life has been disrupted forever. He and his wife have now left Prince Rupert for good. A senseless crime has been committed and the repercussions are felt for a lifetime.

It's nothing new for people to be beaten up in down-town Prince Rupert late at night, but that doesn't mean that it somehow should be tolerated. Ten years ago a fisherman was beaten to death by thugs here . No-one was killed this time. Instead a man was scarred and disfigured for life.

This is a wake-up call for Prince Rupert. We need to do something together as a community to heal this wound and to prevent this kind of thing from happening again. I am so appalled by this act of violence that I feel compelled to publicize and write about it.

In a couple of minutes three thugs have destroyed a good person and his family. Three thugs have raised the level of fear and stained the reputation of our good city. They've been arrested for "aggravated assault" and I hope they go to jail for a good long time. But it shouldn't end there.

An RCMP spokesperson has told me that they plan to meet with downtown stakeholders sometime in the near future to discuss solutions to this problem. I certainly hope that the RCMP follows through on this. And I hope that they don't just leave it to downtown merchants because I think that the entire community should be involved. Lives have been ruined and our communities reputation has been dragged through the mud by this senseless act.

Are we going to stand by while this kind of thuggery keeps happening or are we going to get together and do something to prevent it from happening again? We need to put our minds together and come up with a way of banishing violence from this town. We've got to unite on this or we risk our community's future.

Two suggestions I've heard from downtown stakeholders are: bringing back police foot patrols downtown after dark and putting up surveillance cameras on second avenue. Good suggestions, but this is only a part of it. Maybe our schools and colleges need to get involved in educating against violence. Maybe we, as a community, need to be a lot less tolerant of violence. Maybe we need to widen the focus from violence against women to violence against anyone, period.

Violence is not just a bad thing that people do to each other - it's a cancer that eats away at people's good-will and trust. It needs to be rooted out and banished once and for all.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Green Economy or an Economy Built on Sand

The three main issues of the 2008 Canadian Federal election have been, in order of importance: 1. The Economy. 2. The Economy. 3. The Economy. Leadership and The Environment were also supposed to be campaign issues but they got shoved aside by the increasingly bad economic news. That news – that the global economy is on the brink of a depression due to the sub prime mortgage meltdown in the United States – has dominated TV, newspapers, and the web for the duration of the 2008 campaign.

By the time you read these words Stephen Harper will probably still be our Prime Minister. That's a shame because what the economic news is really telling us is that Harper has got it exactly wrong when he argues that going green would hurt the economy.

For the last 25 years the economies of both the United States and Canada grew through a prolonged consumption spree fuelled by a prolonged expansion of credit. The amount of credit in the U.S. tripled while real manufacturing declined. American consumers became the motor running the global economy. The United States ran a current account deficit for years while Asian and Middle -Eastern countries contentedly built up their currency reserves in American dollars. And 5% of the world's population consumed 25% of the the world's oil.

For a long time it seemed to work well, but the American economy that was the engine of global economic growth was built on sand. And once the wind blew strong enough it proceeded to crumble.

Twenty-five years when the United States went from being the acknowledged world economic leader to the world's largest debtor. Twenty-five years when the dominant ideology was “laissez- faire”, let the market decide, and “streamline” financial and environmental regulations that fettered industrial growth. Twenty-five years when the energy security of United States became increasingly compromised by dependency on oil imports.

For 25 years Ronald Reagan, The Bushes and the Republican party have argued that going green is bad for the economy. The American way – to shop till you drop was “non-negotiable”. Now look how the mighty have fallen. The American economy is broken far beyond the imaginings of its worst critics.
What we have really seen is that 25 years of easy credit and profligate consumption have been far worse for the American economy than any carbon tax could ever have been. Yet Harper still echoes the Republican theme song that green is bad for the economy.

For ten years Europe has been going green, developing clean energy technologies and shifting taxes and they have prospered and manufacturing expertise and jobs have stayed in Europe. If we had gone green in North America the Canadian economy would have been stronger – we would have had more manufacturing jobs, the automobile industry would have made more fuel-efficient cars and would have stayed more competitive in world markets. We would have been in a better position to weather high oil prices. And we would be contributing less to global warming by emitting less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

We could have developed made-in-Canada green technologies and exported them to developing nations like China, leading the way for the rest of the world. Instead we've followed in the footsteps of the Bush Republicans, squandering our opportunity to prevent global warming and clean up the environment.

Harper has gotten it exactly wrong. By doing nothing we've made ourselves more vulnerable to the U. S. debt explosion. Going green would make our economy both stronger and more resilient than it could be otherwise.

We can hitch ingenuity and know-how to developing clean energy and sustainable technologies, and build a solid foundation for Canada's future . We can produce economic growth honestly by re-tooling to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. We can inspire Canadian youth to participate in making our Country a leading example of sustainability to the world. Or we can let ourselves become increasingly vulnerable to the fallout from the decline of the American economy.

Harper tries to scare us with nonsense about carbon taxes harming the economy while he ignores the devastation brought on by right-wing ideology. We need to move from a faith-based economy to a reality-based economy, and the only way to do that is by going green.

Monday, October 6, 2008

What To Do About Weapons Of Mass Deception

One of the scariest things about politics these days is the sophisticated use of techniques of deception – better known under the euphemism of “spin”. Spin originally meant to “spin out a yarn” - to tell a make-believe story. But in the hands of Dick Cheney and Karl Rove it has become something far more dangerous.

In the twentieth century totalitarian regimes were masters of deception. In the former Soviet Union, the government tightly controlled information so that the public only got to see a glowing picture of Communism and a bleak picture of Capitalism. The British journalist George Orwell wrote his anti-utopia, 1984, about a totalitarian state which controlled the news, rewrote history, and constantly manipulated people's minds with slogans like “war is peace” and “freedom is slavery”.

1984 has come and gone a generation now and we are not living in totalitarian states yet. But, there are danger signs. The Bush regime convinced the American public to go to war with Iraq by falsely equating Iraq with 9/11. and then concocting false information about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. And, in the realm of science,the Bush government has altered testimony and blocked publication of information concerning global warming.

Two people that offer insight into modern political deception are author and scholar Kathleen Hall Jamieson and billionaire philanthropist George Soros. Both, in various publications, but independently of each other, are telling us that our modern societies have become too tolerant of deception because we don't want to hear about painful truths. Soros calls America a “feel-good society” - a society where success is admired no matter how it is achieved. “Politicians do not aspire to tell the truth,” he says. “They want to win elections, and the best way to do that is to skew reality to their own benefit.”

In Unspun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation, Kathleen Jamieson agrees that deception is widely accepted and even admired in our society. She talks about the “I know I'm right syndrome” - our ability to deceive ourselves by consistently rejecting evidence that contradicts our belief system.

“There's real harm in pretending that there are easy solutions to big problems or that problems don't exist,” says Jamieson. “Accepting the spin means letting the problems fester. Meanwhile, the solutions become ever more painful, or the problems overwhelm us completely.”

In his essay “From Karl Popper to Karl Rove and Back” Soros argues that democracy is being abused by techniques borrowed from advertising and the cognitive sciences. “When emotions can be aroused by methods that bypass consciousness the public is left largely defenceless,” says Soros. But, he adds, “if the public is made aware of the various techniques it is likely to reject them.”

The key then, is to call politicians out on deception and to publicize examples whenever possible. As Soros says, “Politicians will respect rather than manipulate reality only if the public cares about the truth and punishes politicians when it catches them in deliberate deception.”

This is an important role for the media. It's heartening to know that in the United States in the 2008 Presidential Campaign some of the more egregious of the McCain campaign's attacks on Obama have been effectively challenged by the mass media. And, there are now reliable websites such as factcheck.org that help to sort out fact from fiction in American politics. In Canada, CBC TV has a welcome new feature called “reality check” that looks at the claims and counter claims between the various parties in the federal election.

Political discourse should be about reality. It should point to problems that actually exist and to genuine evidence of what works and doesn't work. When we are misinformed or denied pertinent information we are deprived of our power to choose and just as important, our ability to learn from experience. Deception undermines trust in democracy and ultimately makes it harder to govern.

This is why the Bush government had so much trouble convincing the American people to support a Wall street bailout package recently. Because they had been deceived about “The War on Terror” the American public was not ready to accept his recommendations on the financial crisis.

If you deceive people in order to get elected, then you end up continuing to deceive when you are in power and undermining the publics' trust. Let's hope that neither the Canadian nor the American election are won again this way.