Today’s required readings on revolution

Following his manifesto for a revolution, Russell Brand received ample praise and criticism, which he explores in a piece in yesterday’s Guardian.

I think he makes a lot of good points in there, key among them is an admission of his own potential faults and biases:

One thing I’ve learned and was surprised by is that I may suffer from the ol’ sexism. I can only assume I have an unaddressed cultural hangover, like my adorable Nan who had a heart that shone like a pearl but was, let’s face it, a bit racist. I don’t want to be a sexist so I’m trying my best to check meself before I wreck meself.

Watching people receive criticism online, I’ve come to expect the double-down defence, where rather than stop and consider that there may be some legitimacy to the complaints, the author denies, obfuscates, and attacks to defend himself (and it’s typically him). So II was actually really surprised to see this admission in Brand’s writing.

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Same old politics or revolution?

Progressives are buzzing after British comedian-turned-revolutionary Russell Brand released his revolutionary manifesto as guest editor of the latest issue of New Statesman and went on an anti-capitalist rant when interviewed by Jeremy Paxman on BBC Newsnight.

The editorial is worth reading in its entirety. It wanders quite a bit but combined with the interview identify the core complaint that galvanized the support behind the 2011 London Riots, the Quebec protests, and the Occupy Movement: The system is broken and it won’t be fixed from within.

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Albertans choose progressive mayors

After a surprise victory in the 2010 purple wave, Naheed Nenshi became one of Canada’s most popular mayors during his handling of severe floods in Calgary earlier this year.

Few predicted any chance of him losing his position in yesterday’s election and perhaps the only shock was the size of his victory, with 74% of the city voting for him.

Meanwhile, Edmonton saw a heated race as popular incumbent Steve Mandel opted to retire on a high note (rather than be unseated like most of his predecessors). Three councillors stepped forward to challenge for the seat, with Don Iveson’s ‘policy wonk’ campaign taking over 60% of the vote in the end. Iveson’s campaign drew on his time at the University of Alberta and engaged a number of my friends.

Both mayors have promised to slow urban sprawl by investing in urban density, mass transit, and bicycle lanes. This approach is familiar and popular in Vancouver, where Gregor Robertson is equally popular.

The results aren’t too surprising for anyone who closely follows Alberta politics. Despite the province’s tendency to vote overwhelming for Conservative provincial and federal parties, the cities tend to be more liberal and many mayors of both major cities have been further to the left than their provincial and federal colleagues.

Meanwhile, a right-wing slate of candidates for Airdrie’s city council was rejected in favour of the incumbents.

And congrats to my aunt who was re-elected to the Rocky View Municipal Council.

Give everyone money

Following a successful petition initiative, Switzerland is set to be the first Western nation to vote on whether to implement a basic income program.

The idea has various names: Basic Income, Negative Income Tax, or Guaranteed Annual Income, which have the same basic premise of giving everyone money. Rather than rely on complex welfare or unemployment systems that require the un(der)-employed to jump through various hoops in order to collect benefits, the state simply provides a cheque every month to top people’s income up to a living wage, regardless of how much work is done.

Perhaps most interesting was that this policy was actually tested experimentally in Manitoba, Canada during the Liberal 1970s. The Mincome Program ran for five years and measured a number of social outcomes. Unfortunately, when the Liberal government fell in 1979, the following Progressive Conservative government shut down the experiment and locked away the results were locked away for 30 years until researchers managed to gain access.

Their findings were quite impressive.

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Seizing Canada’s Moment: The Speech from the Throne

The big news yesterday is of course that the Tea Party finally caved and allowed the United States government to reopen amidst its continued partisan deadlock (between the corporatist and the crazy corporatist right-wing). They’ve kicked the can for the next faceoff to January, when we’ll potentially get to do the whole thing over again.

In other news, my biased Canadian-politics Twitter was ablaze over the pomp and circumstance that was Stephen Harper’s (or I guess it was David Johnston’s) latest Speech from the Throne. Look, it even got it’s own domain:

That website contains the full text, which I’ll analyze below, and numerous ads dedicated to  the never-ending Canada’s Economic Action Plan and “Seizing Canada’s Moment.” As far as I can tell, a speech from the throne has never gotten it’s own marketing material (beyond a press release or early leak), let alone branding. Such is Canada’s current political climate that routine procedures are marketable moments.

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Sex Workers to MLA: Buy local

Some stories you can’t make up.

Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo, Alberta MLA Mike Allen was charged in the summer with prostitution while on a trip to St. Paul, Minnesota. He left the governing Progressive Conservative caucus and currently sits as an independent.

He has been consulting with his constituents on whether to resign his seat and has attracted the support of an unlikely source:

…sex workers in Mr. Allen’s riding of Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo want him to continue as their MLA.

The press release also states “that his activities in Minnesota would be lawful, private and welcome in Alberta, where Sex Workers are pleased to consider respectful requests for personal services.”

Finally, perhaps as a nod to the small-c conservative spirit of much of Alberta, they close:

Most Alberta Sex Workers function successfully as Independent Small Businesses. They demand that their occupational choices be respected.

Revised Charter: Less Hypocrisy, More Intolerance

A new report suggests the separatist Government of Quebec is listening to some of the criticisms of its proposed Charter of Values.

Supposedly the Parti Quebecois will now include a provision to remove the crucifix that has been hanging in the National Assembly since 1936 and “a previous exemption for lawmakers will also be struck from the charter, which would presumably make it against the law for Muslim, Sikh and Jewish politicians to sit in the legislature while sporting clothing and symbols important to their faith.”

One month ago, I wrote about the proposed charter, criticizing its hypocrisy for singling out some religious symbols while enshrining Catholic privilege. I also decried the antagonistic approach of the Quebec government, stating: “If you have to pass laws banning religious iconography, you’re doing secularism wrong.

I stand by those words today.

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Harper Conservatives continue to rewrite Canadian History

From the government that is still celebrating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 (a war fought between Britain and America) and that refused to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the defining legal document of the country and arguably one of the most progressive constitutions in the world), comes more pro-military historical revisionism:

Canada’s official commemorative plan leading up to the country’s 150th birthday highlights an arsenal of battles and wars, a smattering of sports and a nod to the Arctic, newly obtained documents show.

University of Ottawa history professor Michael Behiels said the list represents a traditional and exceptionally narrow approach that excludes much of Canada’s social, medical and technological history.

"You have to build a broader base here … for it to be really meaningful," Behiels said.

There is no mention of settling the west, the trials and tribulations of working people or legal landmarks that transformed Canada’s social landscape, he noted.

Under budget cuts during the Chretien 1990s and a shift toward militancy, Canada has fallen to historic lows from its once noble tradition of being the world’s peacekeepers.

By Ottawa’s count, there are only 42 Canadian military personnel currently serving in seven UN peacekeeping missions. The UN says the count is even lower. Its most recent monthly report, issued at the end of the April, registered only 33 Canadian military personnel in UN missions. Another 130 Canadian police – some from the RCMP, others from provincial and municipal forces – are also serving with the UN.

The demand remains high though, as the UN now deploys more peacekeepers then ever, with rising powers like India and Bangladesh filling Canada’s role. Canadians are still strongly supportive of peacekeeping, even more so than Conservative priorities such as arctic sovereignty and counter-terrorism interventionary wars like Afghanistan.

There’s little prospect for change though. The current government is bent on continuing to transform Canada’s foreign policy and history toward militarism, while the Trudeau Liberals have no current foreign policy and were responsible for drastic cuts to peacekeeping missions during the 1990s. The NDP is a bit better with its 2013 Policy Book calling for a focus on peacekeeping, summarizing:

New Democrats believe that defense policy should focus on Canada’s rights as a sovereign and effective world citizen – including defending the Arctic and our territorial waters for the benefit of all citizens and future generations. Peace building will be the top military priority of a New Democrat government.

UK Cons aim to consolidate angry old people vote

“The trouble with kids these days…” is not exactly the way I would have expected one of Britain’s youngest Prime Ministers in recent history would launch his latest policy announcement at the recent Conservative Party Conference.

To David Cameron’s credit he’s not a cranky old man shouting at the kids to get off his lawn but his new plan to remove welfare benefits from people under 25 sounds like it’s targeted at people who do just that.

The goal is to get youth “earning or learning,” meaning that they should either be in university or working.

Unfortunately, due to the Coalition’s own policies, student tuition has skyrocketed from free to £9,000 in a generation and youth unemployment rates have risen to over 20% (graph from link).


So it’s all well and good to talk about the need for youth to be in school or working but the trouble is there are no jobs to pay for the school that students can’t afford. Now the government will take away the little government support that keeps many young families (few people are still studying by 25 and many are starting families by that age) need to survive between jobs in this economy.

Nevertheless, it’s a smart strategy for a government that’s lagging ten points back in the polls as those least likely to vote are the youths getting screwed under this new policy, while those most likely to blame youth for sucking the state dry are the older generations who show up and vote Tory.