canadian health care professionals stand up for refugee health care

These doctors and medical students are so inspiring! They are taking action not on their own behalf, but for the vulnerable, voiceless people they serve.

Several doctors released statements on Friday opposing the cuts.

"Why is minister Kenney persisting with interim federal health program cuts in the face of near-uniform opposition from national health organizations and now the governments of Ontario and Quebec?" Dr. Philip Berger, head of family medicine at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, wrote in a statement.

The changes "have nothing to do with equity and only to do with hurting refugees including pregnant women and their babies," he added.

Berger said opponents of the cuts plan to continue to dog government MPs across the country to show their opposition.

"The interventions at Conservative MP events across Canada will continue indefinitely."

Excellent photos of some of the 2,000 health care workers who protested the changes to the Interim Federal Health Program on June 18 are here on Your Heart's On The Left.

More information: Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care.

jason kenney calls refugees "illegal immigrants", scolds us for caring about them

My disgust at Jason Kenney reached new heights today, and that is really saying something. It's not enough to destroy the Federal Interim Health Program, leaving thousands of vulnerable people without health insurance in a country that claims to have universal health care. When Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews wrote a letter to Kenney and Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq protesting the budget cut, Kenney responded by admonishing the provinces for even caring about it. (How dare anyone care about someone who is not a Canadian citizen?!) Kenney really showed his star-spangled cards when he referred to refugee claimants as illegal immigrants.

Really, Jason? Illegal immigrants? People fleeing death, destruction, torture, starvation? People leaving their homes with only the clothes on their back, struggling through desperation that most of us can only begin to imagine? These are illegal immigrants?

It was bad enough repeatedly referring to certain people as "bogus refugees," as if anyone who applies for refugee status but whose case is rejected by the highly politicized IRB is a joke, a phony, a scam artist. Now these poor souls are "illegal immigrants". I cannot recall ever hearing this language used in Canada. Next we'll be hearing they're coming to steal our jobs and rape our women.
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says provinces upset about cuts to refugee health services should be more concerned about their own citizens than rejected claimants who are taking advantage of the system.

Kenney is fending off protests from the medical community and now some provinces over the Conservatives' decision to cut benefits under the interim federal health program.

. . .

"I think that perhaps the provinces, some of the provinces who are raising this, have put their priority in the wrong place. They should be more focused on their own citizens and residents than people who are, in many cases we're talking here about illegal immigrants — that is to say, rejected asylum claimants who are under removal orders from Canada," he said at a news conference held to highlight the government's immigration reform agenda.

"The real question is why were we providing them with tax-funded health insurance in the past? That's what Canadians have been asking us and that's why we've acted in this way," he said.
Who's been asking you that, Jason? How many Canadians were clamouring for refugee claimaints to be stripped of health insurance? How many Canadians would have even thought about this, would have missed their $0.59, if it weren't for your relentless activism against refugees?

In my next post, Canadians respond.


in defense of drugs: anti-depressant medication saves and improves lives

Friends, if this post sounds like a conversation we've had, please don't take it personally. I've had the same or similar conversations with many people. This is a subject that seems to arise periodically - here, on Allan's blog, on Facebook, in any forum I frequent. That's why I thought it was time to gather my thoughts and put them in a post.

The conversation is about the illness known as depression - also called clinical depression - and the treatment of that illness with anti-depressant medications. Every so often, an athlete or an artist will go public about their struggles with depression, or a new study about either the good or evil of anti-depressants will appear, and I find myself having this familiar conversation. Often, I agree with many of the arguments, but disagree with the conclusion.

I don't use anti-depressants myself, but many people I love do. I've seen anti-depressants, especially the class of drugs known as Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), do tremendous good. I've seen them change lives and save lives. Without these medications, many people I love would lead dire, desperate, lonely lives. In some cases, I don't think they'd be alive at all.

These are some arguments I've heard against the use of anti-depressants, and my response to each.

Big Pharma is evil. True. Pharmaceutical companies are purely profit-driven, and will stop at nothing in their quest for a fatter bottom line. They falsify data from clinical trials. They create biased studies driven by marketing. They re-package normal behaviour into "syndromes," then market drugs to treat the fake diseases. They are engines of the capitalist un-health system that has more incentive to perpetuate disease than to promote health. All this is true.

However, some people need anti-depressants in order to live decent, productive, balanced lives. And Big Pharma is where those drugs come from.

I've never heard the greed and deception of pharmaceutical companies used as an argument against taking medication for arthritis, diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), or any other chronic disease. Only for depression.

We don't know how they work. Somewhat true. It is known how SSRIs work, but it's not clear why different SSRIs have such different effects on different people. The chemistry of the brain remains, in many ways, uncharted territory.

However, "we don't know how it works" may be a partial statement of fact, but it's not an argument against taking the drugs. No one knows what causes fibromyalgia. But I know I have it and I know how it affects my life. Science advances unevenly. One day the medical science behind SSRIs may be fully known. Until then, why should that knowledge gap bother us?

They are over-prescribed. True. They are also underprescribed. I have no doubt that since the advent of SSRIs, some doctors prescribe medication for conditions that might be treated equally well (or possibly better, in some cases) with talk therapy, or perhaps not treated at all. At the same time, many people who suffer from serious depression could be helped by these medications, but won't take them, because of bias from their doctors, their families, or themselves.

The simple fact of over-prescription does not mean all prescriptions for anti-depressants are unnecessary. "Baby with the bathwater" caution applies.

Every mood does not need to be medicated away. True. But depression is not a mood. People who use anti-depressants to treat clinical depression still have bad moods. They still feel anger, sadness, pain, and so on.

Consider this. How many people would go to the trouble of seeing a doctor, asking for a prescription, trying different medications, struggling with the inevitable side effects, and so on, because they feel normal sadness? Generally by the time a person seeks help for depression, they have been suffering for a very long time. Just as these medications are under-prescribed, they are under-requested.

The drugs are institutionally abused. True. The United States Army hands them out like Tic Tacs to any soldier feeling the effects of trauma. Many hospitals use them routinely. This fact does not change the condition of people with clinical depression, nor change the fact that SSRIs help them.

There are side effects, some of them potentially dangerous. True. This is true for most, if not all, drugs. Each of us weighs the costs and benefits, the risks and rewards, of taking medication. When conditions are serious enough, most of us are willing to put up with some risk. This is as true for depression as it is for arthritis, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

Medication is a shortcut. The only real treatment for depression is talk therapy. First of all, what's wrong with shortcuts? The moral imperative to do things the hard way should be tossed in the trash next to the whalebone corset and carbon paper. More importantly, many people with serious depression cannot participate in effective talk therapy without first taking medication. Medical therapy and talk therapy often work together to produce real results.

A study proved they don't work. I've noticed that articles about anti-depressants often graft sensational headlines onto banal stories, or present skewed and sketchy non-arguments. The headline "Study Shows Anti-Depressant Drugs Use Placebo Effect" may sit atop a story saying that one-quarter of the people studied experienced no results. But it's already known that these drugs don't work for everyone. On a website promoting non-pharmaceutical medication for depression, I saw: "Only 1 in 4 had positive results with the first medication tried." That only tells us that most people had to try several drugs before they determined whether medication was effective or not.

People who use anti-depressants know that they work. A friend of mine who struggled with suicidal thoughts and uncontrollable sadness and rage every single day of her life is now a happy and productive person. Without the drugs, the black cloud descends. These are facts for millions of people.

Depression is not a disease. It's part of the human condition. It's a normal part of life. I submit that the person who says this does not understand what depression is, or else has experienced a form so different that it rightly could be called something else entirely.

To split hairs, everything that humans experience is "part of the human condition". Arthritis and diabetes are part of the human condition, but we don't suggest that people suffer and die from those chronic illnesses when they can be easily treated.

It is not normal to be unable to get out of bed every morning because one's limbs are weighed down with despair. It is not normal to fight thoughts of suicide, every day. It is not normal to find no pleasure in anyone, anything, any time.

I'm not suggesting that feelings of depression are never a normal and temporary state, a reaction to a tragic or traumatic event in one's life. But when those feelings persist over time, drowning out all other feelings, until life doesn't seem worth living, separate from any situation or event, something else is going on.

I tried them and didn't like them. I hear this often, and I think this response gets closest to the heart of the problem with all of these arguments - and with so many arguments. Our experiences are not universal. Each of us is unique. The word "depression" may be - probably is - used to describe several different conditions. Your experience with depression may be totally different than someone else's. It may feel different, and respond to treatment differently.

I suffered from depression as a teenager. I didn't have medication. My depression passed from a combination of events: leaving an abusive home, stopping or reducing recreational drugging, and talk therapy. But why should I assume that my experience will apply to anyone else? In the grand mosaic of humanity, nothing seems to be one-size-fits-all - not sexuality or worldview or learning style or anything else, including mental health.

A few assumptions underlie most of these are arguments.

One assumption is the persistent stigma surrounding mental illness and mental health. Very few people would urge someone with diabetes, arthritis, or hypertension (all chronic conditions) to not seek medical treatment. Most of us believe we should extend our life expectancies by using medications when needed, in addition to making whatever lifestyle changes we can. Yet so many people won't extend that latitude to mental health, and insist that lifestyle changes should be enough. Get more exercise, suck it up, and get on with your life.

Another assumption, as I wrote above, is the universality of our own experience. If you tried anti-depressants and they either didn't help you or made you feel worse, then surely you shouldn't use them. If your own depression passed without using drugs and you are glad for that, then so be it. The challenge might be to own your experience without trying to apply it to anyone else.

And finally, I believe that many of the arguments against the use of anti-depressants stem from a lack of understanding of what clinical depression is. It's not "the blues," it's not a moral weakness, it's not a deeper understanding of life, it's not the price we pay for living. For a view into that heart of darkness, I recommend reading William Styron's Darkness Visible, and The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon. These works bring you as close as you will ever come to understanding another human's experience.

homophobic much? queer man challenges blood donation law, is arrested

Someone check the calendar. What century is this again? Are queer men still denied the right and responsibility of blood donation in 2012?

Do we think a response on a questionnaire is adequate protection against the HIV virus entering the blood supply? Of course not. All the damn blood has to be tested anyway.

Do we think that any man who has sex with a man is HIV-positive? Of course not.

Do think that only queer men get HIV? Of course not.

So there's really only one thing to say. WTF?

Uri Horesh decided to say something more useful. He decided to nonviolently challenge the blood donation restriction. For this, he was arrested and suspended from his job.

I hope you'll read, sign, and share this petition. Uri Horesh is a friend of my friend David Heap, but more importantly, he's a man who is being punished for resisting injustice, so he needs support.

From Change.org:
Uri is a graduate student who until recently worked at Indiana University. On June 20, 2012, he was leaving the office and noticed a blood drive truck parked on school grounds. He knew that the government prevents men who have sex with men from giving blood, if they disclose it. But as he said, he "wanted to make a point."

He confronted this homophobic discrimination non-violently -- by talking about it -- and was subsequently arrested. He is now being charged with resisting arrest, battery and disorderly conduct.

The nurse who called the police on him said he spit on her. That couldn't be farther from the truth. The false allegation is a homophobic and AIDS-phobic attack on someone who had the courage to challenge a misguided and anachronistic policy, a policy which betrays the University's own non-discrimination rules.

You can't talk about homophobia at Indiana University?

After his arrest the University first claimed to support him, only to reverse course and ask him to resign or face suspension without pay.

This is how Uri tells it:

"I went in, waited for my turn, had my blood pressure and hemoglobin checked, and proceeded to answer a computerized questionnaire. When it was reviewed by the Red Cross employee, I was told that because I answered the question about having had sex with other men the way I did, I would be deferred indefinitely from donating blood.

I, in turn, told her that she was in violation of the Indiana University nondiscrimination policy, which, among others, prohibits banning any person from participating in university activities on the basis of sexual orientation. She called another Red Cross employee, who in turn called another Red Cross employee, who in turn called Indiana University Police.

Two police officers arrived at the bloodmobile, refusing to listen to anything I had to say. They grabbed me, refused to read me my rights under Miranda, even when I explicitly asked them to (they eventually did, after I was handcuffed and placed in the police car), and only told me I was under arrest after I asked them whether I was.

I later learned from one of the officers that one of the Red Cross employees (he referred to her as a "nurse") accused me of spitting at her. That is a false accusation. But in the State of Indiana, spitting at someone is considered "battery," and the mere charge of battery warrants placing the person arrested for that charge in custody for 24 hours.

I will spare you the details of my experience in Monroe County Jail. That, in and of its own, is worth a short story, which I currently lack the patience to write. But yes, I spent 24 hours in jail. And I now face three misdemeanor charges (battery, resisting law enforcement and disorderly conduct).

In other words, I am being put on trial for another person's homophobia."

Tell the District Attorney's office of Monroe County Indiana to drop all charges against Uri Horesh!
Sign here.

wmtc poll results: avoidance wins the day

It's not a huge sample size, but the results are pretty clear. Eighteen of 27 respondants (this includes three from the "other" category) voted for avoidance. Avoidance is definitely the line of least resistance, easiest on both the avoider and the avoided.

I'm assuming the eff-off response was a troll, so other than that, a direct "we won't see each other" and a bite-the-bullet dinner came in about equal.

For me, the "it won't kill you" dinner could produce some unintended sticky results. The acquaintance will get the wrong idea, thinking I actually want to be friends, while I'll end up even more entrenched in my dislike, having wasted a free evening. Or I'll make plans and end up cancelling because I can't force myself to go.

Thanks for taking the survey! New list post coming soon.


wmtc.ca is back!

I am SO happy! My own domain name, wmtc.ca, is once again working with the Blogger platform. URLs for this blog will now show the wmtc.ca address, as they did many years ago, and I (again) have blogspot out of the blog's URL.

I registered wmtc.ca in 2006, before Blogger really supported custom domain names, and used a cumbersome FTP transfer to get Blogger and wmtc.ca to communicate. It worked, but not well. Page-specific URLs (permalinks) wouldn't publish with the wmtc.ca domain; every page showed as wmtc.ca. You could get the permalink by right-clicking, but of course no one ever did that. So when readers shared my posts, they would only link to the home page.

Then, after a time, Blogger stopped supporting the FTP transfer altogether.

For a while I tried switching to WordPress, but that didn't work for me for a variety of reasons (all documented under the "meta" tag).

Eventually I stopped banging my head against the wall and set wmtc.ca to forward to wmtc.blogspot.com. That wasn't what I wanted, but at least I could still use a simple, short, custom URL when posting on blogs, in my sig line, on Facebook, and so on.

With its more recent upgrade, Blogger now supports custom domains. But because I had the forwarding set up, and because I use a company not specifically listed in Blogger's instructions, I wasn't sure how it would work. I was waiting until Allan and I could both sit down and puzzle over Blogger's and easyDNS's poorly-worded, spotty instructions. And of course when something isn't urgent, it continually gets put off.

So finally, after months of delay, we worked on it this morning. It involved a bit of guesswork and breath-holding, but now... ta-da! It's done!

Wmtc.ca lives!

PS: I don't expect anyone to care about this. I'm just so excited I had to share.

PPS: Regular readers don't have to update anything. Wmtc.blogspot.com will automatically point to wmtc.ca.

59 cents campaign: stand up for health care for refugees

On Facebook:
We at the 59 Cents Campaign find the Canadian Government's decision to cut portions of refugee healthcare by means of the Ministerial Order of Hon. Jason Kenney, published April 25, 2012 to be unacceptable.

We believe that if Canadians stop to consider the effect which these changes will have on the most vulnerable portion of our global society, that our country's annual savings of 59 cents per person to keep the Federal Interim Health Program open for refugees will be seen as insignificant.

The changes are set to take effect June 30, 2012, therefore, we have put together the 59 cent campaign in which we are asking all Canadians to place 59 cents in an envelope and send it to the Prime Minister's office to let him know that we will not stand for these cuts.

In 2011 Canada was proudly a place of hope and healing to 25,000 refugees; this is a fact in which we take pride and wish to take pride in for generations to come.
As soon as I click "publish," I will gather $0.59, put it in an envelope, and mail it to:
The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2
(No postage required)

We know Stephen Harper's and Jason Kenney's new immigration and refugee directives have nothing to do with cost savings. They are remaking Canada through militarization, privatization, and selfish greed. Compassion for refugee claimants has no place in their Canada.

Please stand up for your Canada. Fifty-nine cents per person is a small price to pay.

Please share the video widely and please send in your change.


relax, canadians. voter suppression is "as old as the hills". says a cpc lawyer.

In a recent post, I summarized the Conservatives' arguments in Federal Court, as they attempted to have the case against their illegal election practices dismissed before any evidence had been heard.

I was just paraphrasing, of course. But now I have a real quote, thanks to an email sent today by the Council of Canadians.
"Voter suppression is as old as the hills".
-- Arthur Hamilton, CPC lawyer
Hey, fraudulent elections, voter intimidation, and dictatorships are the norm all over the world. Why should Canada be any different?

national portrait gallery? no, it's the national harper gallery!

Quick, get a dictionary and look up megalomaniac. See if it shows Stephen Harper's picture. Then again, maybe Harper had none to spare.

I missed it when Kady O'Malley and Elizabeth May broke this story, so I'm glad I saw this in the Ottawa Citizen. Emphasis mine.

Harper gallery leaves MPs speechless
Citizens who really want a national portrait gallery in Ottawa can rest easy. The government already has one.

All you need to get in is a Commons security pass, a Conservative party membership and a keen desire to view exclusive pictures of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, exclusively.

Conservative MPs confirmed yesterday what Green party leader Elizabeth May and Macleans.ca blogger Kady O'Malley reported on their cyberspace sites.

Photographs of Mr. Harper in various poses, at various sites, are hung throughout the private and cosy government lobby of the House of Commons.

Ms. May and Ms. O'Malley were surprised and a bit speechless when they saw the exhibit recently as guest Commons Speakers during a youth Parliament.

"When you walk in the door, all you see are pictures of Stephen Harper," said Ms. May

"I'd say between every window, in every available space of the wall, at eye level, every available space has a photo of Stephen Harper."

"You've got photos of Stephen Harper, but not of previous prime ministers," she added. "Photos of Stephen Harper in different costumes, in different settings, dressed as a fireman, in Hudson Bay looking for polar bears, meeting the Dalai Lama, even the portrait of the Queen had to have Stephen Harper, but in a candid, behind her."

A press aide to Mr. Harper said he would get back with an explanation, but didn't.

The exposition might not be too surprising, though.

The prime minister's official Christmas card last December portrayed Mr. Harper looking out a living room window adorned with 24 photographs, small to large, of Mr. Harper in various poses.

When the party last year unveiled its election campaign war room, Mr. Harper stared out from campaign posters on every wall.

NDP MP Paul Dewar, who has never seen the interior of the Conservative lobby room, made a joke based on Mr. Harper's admitted preference for running a tight ship and keeping an eye on things. "If you're ever wondering who's in charge, just look at the wall," said Mr. Dewar.

Liberal MP Mauril BĂ©langer said the Liberal lobby has always displayed portraits of previous prime ministers, even cabinet ministers.

One Conservative said the Harper photos have been up for at least three months.

Another, Calgary MP Deepak Obhrai, was a bit reluctant after question period to talk about the exhibit, possibly because another Tory, Secretary of State Jason Kenney, happened to be walking by just at that moment.

"Well, this is the Harper government," said Mr. Obhrai.
Thanks to @__Danno.

wmtc survey: what would you do?

Survey time! Please choose the answer closest to what you would actually do.

More information:

1. The acquaintance does not read this blog.

2. After answering the question, please feel free to discuss in comments.


fundraising continues for ptsd service dog for war resister

Help a war resister adopt a service dog!

So far we have raised $3,030 of the $8,000 needed. (The ChipIn page shows the amount donated online, but does not include cheques mailed in.) Every donation brings us closer to our goal. If you can spare only $10, it will be greatly appreciated.

For more information, see this wmtc post, and read a message from Jeremy Brockway on the ChipIn page.


prominent progressive usians call on ecuador to grant asylum to assange

Daniel Ellsberg, Noam Chomsky, Glenn Greenwald, Naomi Wolf, Bill Maher, Michael Moore, and Oliver Stone were among the prominent USians who signed a letter urging Ecuador to grant asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Guardian story here.

If you're confused about this situation - and if you've been reading about it in the mainstream media, then you are - this will help: Dissecting the Smears: Assange's asylum bid. The most important takeaway: Assange applied for asylum because of the threat of extradition to the US, not to avoid prosecution in Sweden.

conservative party vs council of canadians, round two

In Federal Court:*

Council of Canadians: There was vote supression in the 2011 election.

Conservative Party of Canada: Maude Barlow hates us.

Council of Canadians: There was vote supression in the 2011 election.

Conservative Party of Canada: Maude Barlow is a radical.

Council of Canadians: There was vote supression in the 2011 election.

Conservative Party of Canada: They filed their motion too late.

Council of Canadians: There was vote supression in the 2011 election.

Conservative Party of Canada: There's no proof that people didn't vote because of these phone calls.

Council of Canadians: There was vote supression in the 2011 election.

Conservative Party of Canada: This is a frivolous lawsuit.

Council of Canadians: There was vote supression in the 2011 election.

* Not actual transcript

coyne: the conflict is between conservatives and their souls

Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page's quest to force the Harper GovernmentTM to release details of its budget cuts escalated over the weekend, when Page said that the government's secrecy could lay the groundwork for a future economic crisis. Page, of course, has laid the groundwork for a court battle that may force Harper's hand.

Andrew Coyne, ethical conservative:
The reality is that the PBO has been given anything but the "free and timely access" that Parliament demanded. Time and time again, rather, he has been given the back of the government's hand — stonewalled by the bureaucrats, ridiculed by the politicians, and lied to by both.

When, for example, the Department of National Defence at last consented to share the cost of the F-35 fighter jet purchase with the PBO, it provided only the most rudimentary figures, without any indication of how they were arrived at. These figures, on which the last election was fought, were later shown to understate the true costs of the jets by at least 40 per cent and probably 60 per cent, in violation not only of Treasury Board rules but the department's own stated policies. For the crime of having been right, the PBO was subjected to a volley of ministerial insults, while the department pretends to this day not to have understood the office's clearly stated requests.

More recently, the PBO (Kevin Page is his name) has been trying to get government departments to explain how they plan to achieve the $5.2 billion in largely unspecified "efficiencies" pencilled into the 2012 budget. How much of these, Page wanted to know, would be achieved by reducing costs, and how much by reducing services? How would federal employment be affected in either event? In other words, what did the budget mean by "efficiencies"? This would seem useful information for Members of Parliament considering their vote, assuming — you'll indulge me here — MPs do indeed consider their votes.

So, on April 12, the PBO sent a letter to the deputies in charge of 82 federal departments and agencies, requesting such information "pursuant to statutory authority under section 79.3(1) of the Parliament of Canada Act" (the part about "free and timely access"). Just eight departments replied. A month later, Page tried again. Eight more came forward.

Shortly afterward, he received a letter from the Clerk of the Privy Council, Wayne Wouters, informing him that he would not be receiving the information he had requested. The reason? The government had certain "contractual obligations" to its unions, requiring it to give notice to those affected before releasing such data to the public.

That's all very well, Page replied, except it's not actually one of the exceptions allowed under the law. The PBO was not asking the government to give him the names of those being laid off: just the totals. For that matter, the unions involved had waived any objection, so long as employee privacy was not breached.

And there things stand. Page has heard nothing further from the government (though two more departments have reported, notwithstanding the supposed "contractual obligations," bringing the total to 18.) This week he released a legal opinion in support of his position from University of Ottawa law professor Joseph Magnet. Again, nothing — except a statement in the House from John Baird, who as the former Treasury Board minister was once responsible for the PBO, accusing him of "overstepping his mandate." So it seems we are headed for the courts — perhaps the only institution of accountability this government does not seem prepared to harass, intimidate, ignore or roll over.

Look: the situation is not entirely unprecedented. Governments sometimes get into disputes with arms' length agencies, and sometimes these end up in court. But "overstepping his mandate," John? The officer specifically authorized to gather information on spending from government departments is guilty of "overstepping" for attempting to do precisely that? The officer your government established? Don't you remember?

As has so often been the case of late, the conflict here is not so much between Conservatives and their opponents. It is between Conservatives and their very souls.
Column here.

truth to power and pride in truth

Seen at San Francisco Pride Parade, June 24, 2012


boston mini-vacation, days 1 through 4

This must be a huge Skip It! for most readers, but I write this blog for myself as much as anyone else, and I must have a record of all my travels. And so...

This trip had a dual purpose - friends and baseball - and both came off brilliantly.

Monday June 18

On Monday we had a good day's drive to Boston, with a bit of excitement (read: tension) as our dogsitter got her days mixed up and was unreachable for a few hours. Once that was settled, it was clear sailing, including at the border.

Our niece Cassie, my sister's daughter, is in law school in Boston. (Yay, new excuse to go to Fenway!) We hadn't seen Cassie for two years, and the last time was a family wedding in California, not the best way to catch up. Lucky for us, she's on light duty right now with a part-time internship, so we were able to spend lots of time together.

As soon as we got in, Cassie met us at our hotel, and we walked off to find a good place to eat. Practically the first restaurant we saw was the same place we had planned to meet Amy the next day: Yard House. This turned out to be a great choice. It's a chain in the US, although new to me, featuring a gigantic beer list (Murphy's!) and an eclectic menu. The food was much better than what I'd expect from a generic chain restaurant. Food, beer, talk. Excellent.

Tuesday, June 19

Tuesday morning we relaxed a bit, poked around in a nearby used bookstore, which whet our appetite for more. We met Amy back at the Yard House for a leisurely lunch and gabfest. She spends the summer on the Cape, but by fortunate coincidence, H had business in Boston that day. It was terrific to spend quality time together.

A bit later that day, we met Joe, his girlfriend "the Other Amy", and Cassie at Lir, scene of the JoS1 meetup. We've also met Joe a few times before, including when he came up to Toronto on a soccer-baseball road trip. Joe's girlfriend's dad has Red Sox season tickets, and we were all going to the game together. Cassie was nearby and popped over to meet us for dinner.

Joe works for the state-run medicaid program, and I learned something about the red-tape jungle of state-run health insurance in Massachusetts. It couldn't be more different from our experience in Canada. In Ontario, there is only one question: are you a legal resident of the province. If so, after a waiting period and proof of residency, you receive your health care card. Everyone has the same benefits. Payment is calculated when you file your income taxes. The end. (Of course, our excellent public health care system is under huge threat of privatization, both from the Harper government and the McGuinty provincial government. But that's a story for another post.)

Joe, Other Amy, Allan, and I went to the game. The seats were terrific, and - as always - it was so wonderful to be at Fenway. It is simply the best ballpark, anywhere. I've said that since my first time there, in 1987, when I was still... you know. Since then I've been to many ball parks, and Fenway is still unrivaled.

On our last Boston trip, JoS1, we saw two terrible losses, so we were reeeeally hoping to see at least one win this time. On Tuesday night, the Sox breezed to a 5-7 win that never felt as close as the score might seem. The Marlins' Logan Morrison was responsible for all five of Miami's RBIs. With that name, he should play for the home team.

At the game, I had the brilliant idea of asking Joe about used bookstores in Boston. He's a Boston native and, like us, a reader, and an urban explorer. He gave us more ideas than we'd have time for. So now I know two things that the city of Boston has all over New York. New York City has lost most of its used bookstores to skyrocketing rents. Myth has it that used and indie bookstores closed because of the Barnes & Noble superstore invasion. But if rents were anywhere even approaching affordable - that is, if there was commercial rent control - at least some of those independent booksellers might have survived. They certainly have in Boston.

(A note to NN, who blogs about bookstores: a trip to Boston should be in your future. The world's first public library, bookstores galore, and a slice of baseball heaven for your sports-loving partner. Why not go this season, while tickets are cheap and plentiful?)

MattyMatty, a JoS regular, stopped by to say hi. As we were leaving Fenway, someone recognized Allan's unusual t-shirt, and introduced himself with his SoSH handle. Allan said "Joy of Sox," and the guy said "Allan!" and shook his hand. Funny.

Also at the game, more evidence (although none is needed) of the militarization of American culture. Our friend Jere had tipped us off to this, and it unfolded exactly as he said. At every game, the Red Sox honour a "kid hero" of the game (random cheering and applause), a blood donor of the game (golf clap), and a military person of the game, who is "protecting our way of life" (loud, sustained applause, standing ovation). Thus someone who literally gives of themselves to help save the lives of strangers is held in lower esteem than someone who goes to foreign lands to kill strangers.

Wednesday, June 20

On Wednesday morning, Allan and I ditched the horrible hotel freebie breakfast and jumped on the T to Copley Square. It was only 8:00 and already stifling from the heat. The weather on Tuesday was mild and breezy - perfect baseball weather - but we knew a few scorching days were ahead.

We had breakfast at boLoco, a Boston-area burrito chain featuring locally-sourced ingredients and compostable everything - and perfect breakfast burritos. Many stars for boLoco, I would definitely go back.

After breakfast, we waited (in the shade) for BPL (the Central Library of the Boston Public system) to open. Allan went off to do research, and I poked around a little bit, discovering a beautiful quiet cafe and an even more beautiful, quiet inner courtyard.

Soon after, I met Cassie a few blocks away for Boston's most touristy activity: a Duck Boat tour! By now it was sweltering - the temperature was in the high 90s (more than 35 C) and humid. Even sitting still in the shade, I was melting.

The duck boat tour was really fun. It's a quick 80 minutes, full of corny jokes and kitsch, but also full of history, architecture, and beautiful views. It's strange (and fun) to be on a bus that drives into the water and turns into a boat.

We weren't on this boat. I just liked the detailing.

This was the only photo I took from the boat that's worth sharing. If you have to ask why, you don't care.

By the time we finished the boat tour at around 11:30, the temperature was in the high 90s, maybe 37 C. Another nice thing about Boston: iced coffee is everywhere. (Ontario, when will you learn about iced coffee???) So Cassie and I sucked down iced coffees and met Allan back at BPL. Then it was off for our bookstore crawl.

We started at Brattle, which resembles New York's Strand, although smaller. There are tables of bargain books outside, a mural of authors looking down on you as you search the tables of $5, $3 and $1 books. Inside, there are two floors of used books, and a third floor of rare and antiquarian finds. Excellent store.

From there, we took the T to Cambridge. From the sizeable list Joe gave us, we easily could have done the whole used-book store crawl in Cambridge, but we wanted to check out Brattle first. We first visited Rodney's. From the website, it appears to have a canine connection, but we didn't meet any dogs there. Nevertheless, it's a beautiful store of used and remaindered books, and incredibly inexpensive greeting cards, note cards, and posters, many handmade.

After that, we jumped on the T again - the high heat and humidity not conducive to walking - and went to the Russell House Tavern for a lovely lunch, courtesy of my sister (Cassie's mom).

Then it was on to Harvard Bookstore. Unrelated to the school, this must be one of Boston's best bookstores. On the ground floor, it's an interesting independent bookstore with a great selection and good discounts; in the basement, it's a rabbit-warren of used books.

Given more time and less heat, this could have continued for several more stores, but Cassie and I were both collapsing. (Allan had to be pried from the store.) So it was back to the hotel for air conditioning and showers, then Cassie and her good friend H met us for our second game.

Having seen one win, of course we wanted another. The Red Sox obliged, and then some, hitting four home runs, including a quadrangular from Big Papi, the capper of the whole trip. Final score 15-5.

Jere from A Red Sox Fan From Pinstripe Territory and his partner Kim from Stella Marie Soap came by to say hi. It was great to finally meet Kim in person! Jere had recently been to Cooperstown, and he brought us back this adorable gift!

It's 4 x 6 inches when finished, but there are 234 pieces. It comes with a tweezer!

Kat, another JoS friend, sent me two Red Sox-themed puzzles last year, and Jere - a careful reader and a thoughtful guy - remembered that I'm on a puzzle kick.

Thursday, June 21

Drive home: easy and uneventful. Dogs: wonderful. Red Sox vs. Marlins: a double comeback, and a sweep.

It's amazing how even a short trip can revitalize me. I wish I could do it more often, but it's great while it's here.


greetings from boston

Astute baseball fans might recognize this as Fenway Park, seen from behind the outfield. This would be totally unremarkable... if I hadn't taken it five minutes ago from my hotel room.

We are in Boston for a quick - although highly anticipated - mini-vacation. We drove down yesterday, driving back on Thursday, and in between seeing two games and lots of friends - several friends from Joy of Sox*, plus a niece who is in law school in this city. Before last night, we hadn't seen each other in two years.

On our last trip to Boston, in 2009, we discovered the Hotel Buckminster, a historic hotel, and a great bargain in an amazing location, steps away from Fenway. Now we'll never stay anywhere else.

For anyone keeping track, we crossed the border in about 10 seconds.

* By that I mean originally from Joy of Sox. They are actual friends, no qualification needed.


stop schedule 28: the mass privatization of ontario's public services

As usual, the mainstream media foams at the mouth about a possible snap election in Ontario, but barely reports on what's in the budget itself.

If it weren't for the Council of Canadians and the Ontario Health Coalition, I wouldn't have known that Dalton McGuinty's budget contains a stealth attempt to privatization Ontario's public services with virtually no oversight. Scroll down for information on how to take action.

From The Council of Canadians:
The Ontario government is trying to quietly push through an Act [on Tuesday, June 12] that will allow the privatization of public services without any public consultation or legislative debate. Schedule 28 is a small section of Ontario’s omnibus budget bill. It calls for a new privatization minister who will have the authority to override all other ministers to choose what services – health care, water, hydro, education, and others – will be contracted out, sold or folded into public-private partnerships. There will be no public or legislative debate when these services are privatized. Even the ministers in charge of these portfolios will not have a say.

The McGuinty government is claiming that Schedule 28 will only impact Service Ontario, and that an amendment to this effect has been made. However calls to the opposition parties and those working on Schedule 28 reveal that no one has actually seen this elusive amendment. Without clear details no one can be certain that Ontarians’ public services, natural resources, environment, and privacy will be properly protected. The only solution is to have Schedule 28 withdrawn entirely.
And an updated media release from both the Council of Canadians and the Ontario Health Coalition:
The Council of Canadians and Ontario Health Coalition are outraged that despite promises made by Ontario's government, proposed amendments are too weak to stop the mass privatization of public services in Budget Bill 55, Schedule 28.

Proposed amendments do not remove wording from Schedule 28, subsection 10 that would allow for the privatization of broader public services. "Despite promises from Finance Minister Dwight Duncan the McGuinty government continues to grant itself extraordinary powers to privatize public services ranging from health care, education, water services, and municipal and provincial services, "says Natalie Mehra of the Ontario Health Coalition. "To put it into context, the proposed amendments are so weak that they still facilitate potentially the largest privatization in Ontario's history. Amendments are not enough. Schedule 28 should be struck down in its entirety."

The amendments to Bill 55 were due Tuesday, June 12 at 6 p.m. Until then, the public was not able to see those amendments. "Without having time for proper legal analysis, Ontarians and their MPPs will simply not have the opportunity to understand the consequences of an Act that is being pushed through the legislature. This is a violation of democracy. Ontarians have a right to have a say on government plans to privatize public services," says Maude Barlow, Chairperson of the Council of Canadians. "The McGuinty government misrepresented their intentions for this Schedule to Ontarians."

With amendments, Schedule 28 will still allow the sale of broader public services to for-profit companies. "Public services should never be delivered with profit as a primary motive," says Barlow. "Ontarians deserve the best water, schools and hospitals and they shouldn't have to pay more to get less."

The Council of Canadians and the Ontario Health Coalition are calling on the NDP and the PC opposition parties to put the interests of Ontarians first and strike down Schedule 28.
From the backgrounder to this media release:
Claims by the Finance Minister and some media that Schedule 28 is limited to the privatization of Service Ontario (and that is bad enough) are not true. In fact, Section 10 of the legislation specifically states that for- and non-profit companies could be contracted to privatize services in:
- Municipalities & local boards under the Municipal Act
- Any other authority, board, commission, corporation, office or organization under the authority of a municipality
- Universities, colleges, or other postsecondary institutions
- School boards
- Hospitals
Thus, Schedule 28 clearly applies to hospitals, school boards, municipalities, social services, municipal water systems, and all government services; and it overrides all government ministries as well as existing legislation and regulations.

. . . . If Ontario government services were to be privatized under this Schedule, any attempt to restore these services to the public sector could be subject to a trade challenge under the WTO GATS and the proposed Canadian-European trade agreement, CETA. Schedule 28 has been written without any recognition of this danger.
This is very scary and very disturbing. Privatization inevitably leads to more expensive, multi-tiered service delivery, where the wealthy can opt for higher quality and the rest of us are left with the dregs. Good jobs will vanish and the pay scale of all workers will continue to slide even further. Despite promises, taxes generally do not go down. The only thing that changes is where those taxes go: to finance profits for a few. And the only people who benefit from privatization are corporate shareholders.

If you live in Ontario, I urge you to contact the MPPs on the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs and tell them to withdraw Schedule 28 from the budget bill.

Bob Delaney (Mississauga--Streetsville)

Teresa Piruzza (Windsor West)

Victor Fedeli (Nipissing)

Cindy Forster (Welland)

Monte McNaughton (Lambton--Kent--Middlesex)

Yasir Naqvi (Ottawa Centre)

Michael Prue (Beaches--East York)

Peter Shurman (Thornhill)

Soo Wong (Scarborough--Agincourt)


the limits of empathy: eyes wide open, but not all the time

In light of the horror show taking place in Ottawa, this would be the perfect time to post notes from "Can We Stop the Harper Agenda," the big panel discussion at Marxism 2012. However, I'm waiting to get an audio file of the talk, which will greatly improve the post.

While I wait for that, I'll try my hand at two other pieces I've been thinking about for a long time.

* * * *

I recently wrote about two books - What Is the What and A Long Way Gone - that I recommended with warnings. Both are excellent and well worth reading, and both deal with highly disturbing subjects, including graphic depictions of atrocities and other violence. This led me to think about the choice to read or watch that kind of disturbing, difficult material - and the choice not to.

In the past, I've had no patience for people who refuse to deal with anything that might be upsetting or disturbing, people who seem to live in ignorance and denial, who steadfastly avoid anything that might pierce their bubble. I've been very critical and unsympathetic to this mindset. I realize this is not very generous or understanding of me, but my own empathy doesn't seem to extend that far.

Here are two stories that may help explain further.

My friend Randy, and 9/11

In the late 1990s, a friend of mine was dying of AIDS. We had lost touch over the years, but when we reconnected, I learned he was HIV-positive. Soon after that, his status became full-blown AIDS. We stayed in close touch, often writing letters, even though we were in the same city, and I visited him when I could.

I volunteered to be one of his "care partners" for chemo treatments, so often our visits were tied to his health needs. Eventually Randy had to make some terrible decisions about how far to go with treatment - weighing some horrific side effects against small extensions of his time on earth.

At the end, I continued to visit him, each time knowing it could be the last time I saw him. If you've ever known anyone at the end-stage of a fatal disease, you know it's not an easy thing to witness. But it seemed pretty clear to me that Randy needed company. I figured if he could suffer through all that, the least I could do was sit at his bedside.

Randy and I had a mutual friend named J. J and Randy were very close. Towards the end of Randy's life, J stopped visiting Randy because, he said, it was "too horrible". J would shudder and say, "I can't take it. It's just so disgusting."

In the last week of Randy's life, J told Randy he was out of town and couldn't visit. They spoke on the phone a few times. Everyone knew J was not out of town, and I'm sure Randy knew, too.

I lost a lot of respect for him during those weeks. His choice disgusted me. And when J spoke so eloquently at Randy's memorial service, I silently deplored him.

I was angry, and I shared that with another friend. She said, "Everyone is different, has different capabilities, different strengths. J simply wasn't able to be there."

It was difficult - no, it was impossible - for me to see J's choice through such a generous lens. Wasn't able to? I thought. Why? What did he think would happen to him? He would feel upset, and he'd get over it. Randy didn't have that option.

I had a similar reaction, although less intense, in New York City after September 11, 2001, when many people I knew refused to visit the site of the attacks. I couldn't understand how you could be so physically close to the event, how you could know so many people who were directly impacted, how you could know that workers were still toiling in the rubble, and not go pay your respects in person. They said, "It would upset me too much".

I've been told this is harshly judgmental of me, and part of me agrees. But the rest of me continues that ungenerous view.

"It would upset me" meets my own limitations

I've heard very uninformed and ignorant people say they never read newspapers or watch TV news because "it's so depressing". And I'm sure we've all known people who will not read a book or see a movie that deals with any disturbing or upsetting subject matter. As I've said, I don't look on this very kindly.

At the same time, I have limits. I absolutely do seek out books and movies that help me learn about the world, help me face the human condition with wide-open eyes, help me learn about experiences that I will never have. But... I've also come up against my own limits.

I've learned that I have extremely low tolerance to stories involving cruelty to animals. A segment of a Cormac McCarthy novel that I read more than 10 years ago still haunts me. All these years later, it hurts to think about it. I once saw a puppy get run over by a car - the speeding driver never even slowed down. The puppy didn't die immediately, and I swear to you I can hear still hear its high-pitched screams, can still see its agony in my mind's eye as if it were yesterday.

And so, I avoid books and movies that will trigger this reaction. There's a famous documentary called "Earthlings" about how animals are used by humans. It's supposed to be great, but I've refused to see it, and probably never will.

Similarly, I've been hearing about a movie called "The Invisible War," about rape and sexual assault within the U.S. military. It's supposed to be an excellent film, and grueling. I already know I won't see it. Being a rape survivor myself, I fear it will be seriously triggering for me.

In both instances, I truly feel like "I can't". So is that any different than when J said he "couldn't" visit Randy?

If I've recognized this reaction in myself and imposed certain limits, why can't I feel more generous towards other people's self-imposed limitations?

Is it, perhaps, a matter of degree? Is there a difference between people who understand and engage in the world as it is, but also choose to protect themselves from certain stressors, and people who routinely hide from reality?

Or is that just my own rationalization?

happy (belated) birthday to me

A friend noted a certain absence on wmtc and wondered if perhaps I'm not thrilled about turning 51. I do usually announce my birthday here! I didn't this year because (a) it seemed inappropriate to put up a celebratory post on the very day the Harper Government codified its Ruin Canada agenda, and (b) so many people were wishing me HBD on Facebook that it felt gluttonous to announce it here, too.

However, I did celebrate, relax, and thoroughly enjoy my day. As always, I'm glad to be alive on this planet for another year. I'm happy to be here. Keith fans can fill in the rest.

canadian citizen faces imminent execution in iran

In case you haven't done so already, please read and sign this petition from Amnesty International, about Canadian Hamid Ghassemi-Shall. It's a terrible story, and we may not be able to save Ghassemi-Shall's life, but we can try.

Please read and sign.


what i'm reading / marxism 2012 program notes: "too many people?" population, immigration, and the environment

I've just finished reading Too Many People? Population, Immigration, and the Environmental Crisis by Ian Angus and Simon Butler. Co-author Angus spoke at the 2012 Marxism conference; I wasn't able to attend his talk, but Allan did, and afterwards bought the book for me.

The clarity of the authors' arguments, their unassailable reasoning, their thorough research, the full transparency of their worldview, and the readability of their writing, make this one of the best nonfiction books I've read. If you care about both the environment and reproductive justice, this book is a must-read. If you, like so many well-intentioned people, subscribe to - or wonder about - the notion that population control and curtailed immigration are even partial solutions to the environmental crisis, I hope you will read this book.

Here, I'll try to summarize Angus and Butler's principal points.

The populationists

Throughout the history of the modern environmental movement, there has always been a school of thought that the central problem (or at least one huge part of the problem) is overpopulation. Under this view, in order to preserve natural resources, we must slow global human population growth.

Historically and today, this involves changing reproductive patterns in developing or third-world nations, here called the global south. In short, women in the global south must have fewer babies, for the sake of the survival of the planet.

Further, we must prevent people from the global south from emigrating to the global north, or at least greatly slow the rate of immigration. The more people who move from low-consumption lifestyles in the south to high-consumption lifestyles in the north, the more pressure is put on the environment. Therefore, we are told, we must stop or sharply curtail that movement.

The problem, in this view, is too many people. Reduce the numbers of people, therefore reduce CO2 emissions, therefore slow or even reverse climate change.

Historically, many promoters of these ideas have had strong, although often covert, ties to racist, white supremacist, or eugenicist movements. But many within the environmental movement believe in and promote these populationist ideas with no racist intent. Many of the same people support reproductive freedom in a general sense, but believe that the urgency of the global environmental crisis outweighs reproductive freedom in certain parts of the world (i.e., the parts of the world they don't live in). [See below for notes on terminology.]

Numbers and their misuse

Too many people? Which people, how do they live, and what do they consume?

Angus and Butler dismantle and completely disprove these populationist arguments, often by dissecting their statistics and supposed facts. The numbers may be accurate - yet completely irrelevant. The measurement may be correct, but what is being measured proves nothing. Correlation is confused with causation.

Two prime examples of this are statistics about global population and global emissions, and per capita emissions.

The more people who live on the planet, the more CO2 emissions there are. That's easy to show. The correlation between population growth and emissions growth seems obvious. On further inspection, though, the link proves to be illusory.

Consider these facts:

• Between 1980 and 2005, Sub-Saharan Africa had 18.5% of the world's population growth, and accounted for just 2.4% of growth in emissions.

• During that period, the US had 3.4% of the world's population growth, and 12.6% of the growth in emissions.

• Low-income nations accounted for 52.1% of the world's population growth, and 12.8% of the growth in emissions.

• High-income nations accounted for 7% of the world's population growth, and 29% of the growth in emissions.

Almost all the growth in emissions is occurring in countries with little or no population growth. And almost all of the population growth is occurring in areas with extremely low growth in emissions.

Emissions are a problem of rich countries, not poor countries. The 19 countries in the G20 produced 78% of the worldwide total carbon dioxide emissions - four times as much the rest of the world combined. Seen on a per capita basis, emissions from the US alone are, for example, 197 times greater than those from Mozambique and 400 times greater than in Mali.

And those figures above are significantly understated, since they don't take into account the US' global footprint, from both the military and international air travel.

There is actually no correlation between population growth rate and emissions. In fact, there is usually a negative correlation - most of the big polluting countries have a birth rate at or below replacement levels, or nearly so. If we thought correlation equals causation, as the populationists do, we'd conclude that low population growth causes high emissions or high population growth causes low emissions! That's ridiculous, of course. Because both emissions levels and population growth are shaped by other social and economic factors.

Smaller families in Africa or South America are not going to change global emissions or slow climate change. The countries where women have a relatively high degree of control over their reproduction are also the countries that are doing the most to destroy the environment. From Fred Pearce in his book Peoplequake:
The poorest three billion or so people on the planet (roughly 45% of the total) are currently responsible for only 7% of emissions, while the richest 7% (about half a billion people) are responsible for 50% of the emissions.

A woman in rural Ethiopia can have 10 children and her family will still do less damage, and consume fewer resources, than the family of the average soccer mom in Minnesota or Manchester or Munich. In the unlikely event that her 10 children live to adulthood and all have 10 children of their own, the entire clan of more than 100 will still be emitting only about as much carbon dioxide each year as you or me.

So to suggest, as some do, that the real threat to the planet arises from too many children in Ethiopia, or rice-growing Bangladeshis on the Ganges delta, or Quechua alpaca herders in the Andes, or cow-pea farmers on the edge of the Sahara, or chaiwallas in Mumbai, is both preposterous and dangerous.
The "per capita" problem

A country's emissions are often expressed per capita - the total emissions from that country divided by its total population. But per capita figures are a convenient way to make any social problem appear to be an individual problem.

Take the per capita emission output of Canada, often said to be the highest in the world. From progressive environmentalist Jeff White:
Per capita figures are statistical artifacts that tell us the ratio of a country's total emissions to its populations. But they don't tell us about individual contributions to the country's total emissions. For example, if I tell you that Canada's annual per capital emissions are 23 tonnes of CO2 equivalent, it doesn't tell you how much of that 23 tonnes I, as an average Canadian, am personally responsible for. It includes, for example "my" per capita share of the emissions caused by the mining of the tar sands in Alberta, the manufacture of cement in Quebec, an the industrialized livestock production in Ontario - none of which I have any personal control over.

If half the population of Canada suddenly disappeared, my per capita share of emissions, and that of very other remaining Canadian would increase dramatically overnight, without any change being made in my - or anyone else's - personal levels of carbon consumption. The population fetishists would realize their fondest wish (a dramatic reduction in population levels) while the per capita emissions levels would soar! What could demonstrate more clearly that per capita statistics tell us nothing about "overpopulation"?
But isn't the planet running out of food? (Short answer: NO.)

It can be shown in several different ways that the earth is still capable of producing enough food for every person on it. The problem is not a shortage of food, but a for-profit system that sees food distributed according to one's ability to buy it, rather than according to need.

Food follows the money, and this is as true globally as it is within countries. Remember, in the richest country in the world (the US), even by conservative estimates, 17% of all children are hungry or malnourished.

In the industrialized food chain, most grain is used to feed animals. The use of sustainable farming practices would allow us to retain half our supply of meat, while freeing up a tremendous amount of nutrition in grain - not to mention the huge health and environmental benefits (and further not to mention the benefits to animals).

Then there are biofuels, thought by many to be the promise of fuel independence and the end to resource wars. In 2007, vehicles in the US burned enough corn to cover the entire import needs of the world's 82 poorest countries. In 2009, more corn was processed by ethanol makers in the US than the combined grain production of Canada and Australia. Mark Lynas:
What biofuels do is undeniable: they take food out of the mouths of starving people and divert it to be burned as fuel in the car engines of the world's rich consumers.
And finally, huge quantities of food are destroyed, thrown away, and wasted in industrial food production, packaging, and distribution. As the authors say:
Blaming food shortages on overpopulation downplays the fact that the existing global food system is grossly inequitable, wasteful, and inefficient. Plenty of food is grown, but it isn't available to hungry people.
Population control is a war on the world's poorest people

Throughout modern history and in the not-distant past, "population control" usually meant forced sterilization. Representatives from wealthy nations, usually under the aegis of well-intentioned foundations, forced men and women to submit to sterilization practices without anything resembling informed consent.

Imagine giving birth and waking up to find your reproductive organs had been removed, or you had been implanted with a tamper-proof IUD! Imagine consenting to a procedure you were told was temporary birth control, until after it was performed, when you were told it was permanent! There are scores of examples of this being done to huge populations. Millions of women and men in India, South America, Africa, the United States, and in indigenous communities all over the world include this in their history. "Those people" - those brown people, those poor people, those others - should not be having all those babies! So we'll come in and decide who has babies and how many they have.

When governments or organizations have enforced measures to control reproduction, the world's poorest people have lost their freedoms, and poor women of colour have suffered the most. This is true whether the goal is to restrict the fertility of poor women or to stop the poor from migrating to the rich world:
Population control schemes inevitably treat the victims of social and economic injustice as obstacles to a sustainable society.
These days, population control rhetoric is less overtly racist and the tactics are less blunt - but only by degree. Population control, when dictated from above or from outside the individual and the community, always involves force or coercion. In some countries, sterilization became a condition of land allotment, electricity, ration cards, pay raises, and promotions. Entire villages would lose government benefits if families had more than the prescribed number of babies.

These schemes amount to one group of people deciding that another group of people are "surplus".
For the planet-destroying rulers of the world, the excess people are never themselves. The excess people are always somebody else.
It is the worst kind of victim-blaming, and an absolutely immoral practice.

Of course everyone should have access to safe, legal birth control, including safe, legal, and easily accessible abortion services. But women and men must be free to decide for themselves when and how many children to raise.

Women limit their reproduction when they have an interest in doing so. When educational and economic opportunity increase, when child mortality rates fall, when large families are not needed for agricultural labour, when the Catholic Church gets out of the picture, then birth rates fall. By choice.

The lifeboat mentality: immigration control is the wrong focus

Historian Robert Biel writes:
It is not just that there is one group of countries in the world which happens to be developed and another which happens to be poor. The two are organically linked; that is to say, one part is poor because the other is rich. The relationship is partly historical - for colonialism and the slave trade helped to build up capitalism and this provided the conditions for later forms of dependency - but the link between development and underdevelopment is a process that continues today.
People seeking to leave the global south and emigrate to the global north are often the victims of environmental degradation and social dislocation caused by that process.

Anti-immigration policies say, in effect, "I deserve to live a privileged life, because I happened to be born here, because (in all likelihood) my ancestors came here, but these people do not."

It is a lifeboat mentality. The earth is the sinking ship, and we're not letting anyone else in the lifeboat.

But our ship will sink or continue to float only if we all work together to save it. Kicking people off the lifeboat or throwing people overboard will not prevent or even forestall disaster.

The world over, indigenous people are fighting back against monumental environmental disasters, many of which barely graze our radar screens. To use just one example, each year more oil is spilled in the Niger delta than was spilled in the Gulf of Mexico disaster in 2010. Despite the brutal repression that led to the execution of environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Nigerian people continue to campaign and to fight for environmental justice.

That story is echoed in India, Ecuador, China, South America, and so on. The people of the global south are allies in our fight to save the planet. "Born here" vs. immigrant is another wedge used to divide and divert.
Support for immigration controls strengthens the most regressive forces in our societies and weakens our ability to deal with the real causes of environmental problems. It gives conservative governments and politicians an easy way out, allowing them to pose as friends of the environment by restricting immigration, while continuing with business as usual. It hands a weapon to reactionaries, allowing them to portray environmentalists as hostile to the legitimate aspirations of the poorest and most oppressed peopled in the world.
Angus and Butler expose the links between the anti-immigration environmental movement and right-wing hate groups: "the greening of hate". However, there are many sincere environmentalists who do not share those ties.

Whether intentionally or not, linking the environmental crisis to immigration is another way of shifting blame. "Those people" are the problem.

"It's up to each of us": the myth of consumer sovereignty

I've blogged many times about planned obsolescence, advertising propaganda, and the mistake of blaming consumers for outcomes largely outside of their control. This is a theme I think about frequently, but I had never seen so fully unpacked before reading Too Many People?.

Here in North America, we are frequently admonished to change our lifestyles, and told that our individual choices account for environmental destruction. I agree that living more simply, wasting less, and making green choices are all healthy goals. But the 99% are not to blame for the environmental crisis, and all of us "doing our part" will not solve it.

After the Exxon Valdez disaster of 1989, Greenpeace ran ads blaming the spill on North Americans' addiction to oil.
This perspective completely overlooks the fact that it was Exxon that chose to use single-hulled ships, that failed to manage the drinking habits of its ship captain, that has worked and lobbied persistently to maintain America's need for a large supply of petroleum, and that pressed to open up the Alaskan oil fields in the first place against the protests of environmentalists.

Similarly, we can reply to those who blamed BP's Gulf of Mexico disaster on our supposed addiction to oil: even if we accept the far-fetched idea that oil companies drill new wells only to please consumers, no one can reasonably suggest that consumers somehow forced BP to cut every possible corner, suborn regulators, or violate safety guidelines. Those decisions were made in BP's executive offices, and consumers had no say.
I am reminded of a bumpersticker that we've discussed in wmtc: "Out of work? Keep buying foreign!" As if consumers decided that everything we purchase should be made in countries without labour and environmental protections to maximize corporate profits! As if there is some alternate store in our neighbourhood selling only products manufactured in Canada or the US! As if we have a choice!

First, blaming individual choice for the environmental crisis ignores gross income equality within the global north. Poverty is rampant. Millions of people are struggling to eat and keep a roof over their family's heads. When we hear and read about how much Americans (Canadians, Australians, etc.) consume, we generally hear averages. But in the US, the wealthiest 20% of the population receives and spend 60% of all income. The average means very little.

Second, most people have very little choice about whether and how much fossil fuel they use. Most Americans and Canadians have no choice but to drive, if they are to participate meaningfully in their society and community. They may be able to choose between Ford and Toyota, but they're not able to choose government policies that fund decent, affordable public transportation. They're not able to buy products that last for 20 years, or 10 years, and these days, two years. Planned obsolescence and policies that support the production and consumption of fossil fuels are built into the capitalist system.

Third, individual choices, while important and valid, can have only a marginal impact on the environment, as long as corporate decisions remain untouched - as long as global capitalism remains intact. To illustrate, Angus and Butler detail the mind-bogglingly profligate lifestyle of one American trillionaire. It reads like a cartoon, a person who has more wealth than he can consume in hundreds of lifetimes, and the tremendous waste that he leaves in his wake. Then they detail the waste, pollution and environmental degradation generated by that person's corporation - and his lifestyle is dwarfed in comparison.

Ultimately, believing that "we all" caused the environmental crisis and we as individuals can address it is the environmental equivalent of "bright-siding": a individually-based false solution to a problem that must be addressed collectively. Perpetuating the idea that consumer choice can save the environment serves as a convenient cover for the status quo.

The problem is capitalism: grow or die

When industrial disasters like Bhopal or the BP disaster come to our attention, the stories are often framed as exceptional - a horrendous mistake.
It's important to expose the arrogance and indifference to human life that lead to criminal acts such as the Bhopal and Love Canal disasters, but it's even more important to understand that corporate environmental destruction doesn't typically involve outright lawbreaking. In most cases, polluting is business as usual.
Environmental destruction is built into the global capitalist system. The real culprit of the environmental crisis is not an Ethiopian woman with 10 children, or immigrants to North America who are picking crops, driving taxis, or cleaning offices, or middle-class Canadians who drive to work.

Blaming overpopulation or immigration or our own lifestyles shifts our focus from what is really killing the planet: an unsustainable system with a mandate of constant growth, a system that devours resources not for the continuation and improvement of life on earth, but for one reason only: for profit.

Read this book. It will make it all perfectly clear.

Language notes:

- Arguments that attribute environmental ills to human numbers are often referred to as Malthusian, after Thomas Malthus, who wrote about about the supposed human population crisis in 1798. Malthus' theories are seldom, if ever, read today, and are widely mischaracterized. Angus and Butler use the more precise term populationist.

- The global north is shorthand for the industrialized nations of Europe, the United States, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia. The global south is shorthand for what is often called under-developed or third-world countries.

- Emissions and footprint are used as shorthand for the total greenhouse gases released by people or practices. They are imprecise terms, but are adequate for the present discussion.


we must stand up for the most vulnerable among us: please contact the senate about bill c-31

This week, all political eyes in Canada will be focused on the C-38, the massive "budget" bill through which the Harper Government seeks to remake Canada. The Opposition in the House of Commons will be stalling, and the opposition on the ground will be supporting them, and pressing Conservative MPs to break ranks. (That campaign is here.)

But another terrible bill also continues its way into law today. This bill will directly affect fewer Canadians, and fewer people are resisting it, but the bill will bring profound changes to Canadian culture - and will irreparably harm the most vulnerable people among us. I refer to Bill C31, through which Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney want to dismantle Canada's refugee system.

Under the guise of cost-saving measures, this bill targets the world's most vulnerable people, and gives the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration unprecedented power to decide who is allowed to stay in Canada.

Bill C-31 may have third reading as early as today, June 11. It is unlikely to be defeated, and so will proceed to the Senate. At that point, the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology will study the bill and hear testimony.

We can all contact the members of this committee and urge them to reject this dangerous bill. As the Canadian Council for Refugees notes, "Senators, like MPs, have the responsibility to adopt laws that comply with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and international law."

Please email, write, or call Senators to voice your concerns about this bill. "If we are successful in convincing Senators," says CCR, "we may be able to stall the bill before the government’s target deadline of 29 June 2012."

This summary is from the Canadian Council for Refugees.

* * * *

Bill C-31 must be withdrawn and replaced with legislation which is fair, affordable,
and independent, and which complies with the Charter and Canada’s international

Bill C-31 reforms Canada's refugee determination system to be unfair to refugees from designated countries of origin and with strict, speedy timelines.

- In 'designating' countries of origin to fast-track the cases of certain refugee claimants, the government is creating a discriminatory, two-tiered system. Canada's refugee determination system needs to give everyone a fair hearing, based on the facts of their case and regardless of their country of origin.

- By establishing overly short timelines before refugee determination hearings, not all refugee claimants will be adequately prepared. Strict, shortened timelines will seriously disadvantage refugees who have experienced serious trauma such as torture, refugees who lack important documents and refugees who need to build trust to freely tell their story before the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). Women and men who have experienced sexual violence and LGBT persons would be among the most vulnerable.

Bill C-31 permits unchecked ministerial powers over refugee status determination in Canada.

- Bill C-31 eliminates the committee tasked with overseeing which countries are 'designated countries of origin’, a measure that was included in Bill C-11 (2010). Instead, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration will have the sole discretion to designate countries of origin. Canada's present system of independent decision-making for refugees then becomes vulnerable to political interests.

Bill C-31’s measures to 'curb human smuggling' will do nothing of the sort. Instead, they punish refugees.

- With Bill C-31, the government plans to jail refugee claimants, including some minors, without review for a minimum of one year. This is contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and international law. These claimants will also be denied the right to family reunification and the right to travel abroad for over 5 years.

- Australia tried punishing refugees to deter them: it hasn’t worked. Australia is now adopting a model for refugee determination based on Canada’s present system.

- Jailing refugee claimants is extremely expensive in the short and long term. The cost of keeping an individual refugee claimant in detention for a single day is around $200. For a single year, that amounts to over $70,000 per person.

- Recent research has demonstrated the heavy, long-term mental health costs of detaining refugee claimants in Canada.

- Smuggling is already punishable by life imprisonment under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and mandatory minimums have been shown not to work as deterrents. Refugees know little or nothing about the laws before they arrive in a country of asylum like Canada, and even if they know, fear for their safety, or even their lives, forces them to do whatever they must to flee persecution.

Bill C-31 introduces the concept of 'conditional' permanent residence, which means that refugees could lose their permanent resident status.

- By granting permanent residence to refugees without the possibility of it being revoked, Canada has offered security and the ability to resettled refugees to fully contribute to Canadian society. These positive aspects will be lost by making permanent residence ‘conditional’ in Bill C-31.

- Making permanent residence ‘conditional’ adds barriers to integration for resettled refugees and permanent residents.

* * * *

More background:

I wrote about this extensively when the bill was originally tabled as Bill C-11: stand up for justice: say no to bill c-11, and stephen harper dismantles canada's refugee system; jason kenney attacks canadian democracy, are just two of the many wmtc posts about this distressing bill.

The government originally tried to ram C-11 through Parliament with no debate or amendments, to great outcry from Amnesty International and former Immigration Ministers, among others. The bill died when an election was called, and then resurfaced in the more extreme form of Bill C-31.

Another current piece on C-31 is running at The Mark: "Canada's refugee health services are under serious threat from both Bill-C31 and changes to the Interim Federal Health Program", by Dr. Danyaal Raza.

This page contains many useful links about C-31, including this on- page summary: "Bill C-31 must be withdrawn and replaced with legislation which is fair, affordable, and independent, and which complies with the Charter and Canada’s international obligations" (pdf), copied above.