Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016: In Memoriam

2016 was a terrible year on many, many fronts. Compounding those tragedies in which human beings played major contributing roles was the one over which we have no influence: death. It may be my imagination, but it seems to me that this was a year in which we said goodbye to an unusual number of giants who walked among us in fields as disparate as politics, sports and entertainment.

If I had to pick two that saddened me the most it would probably be the departure of Mohammad Ali and David Bowie. If you know anything about him beyond his public persona, you will know that Ali was a man of deep conviction, principle and integrity, qualities for which he paid a very heavy price. Bowie, of course, was a remarkably versatile artist whose career spanned several decades, and who seemed to have been taken from us far too soon, with work still undone.

As you will see in the following tributes, each of the many who died in 2016 lived fully during their time, exploiting their talents to the maximum, using their gifts to uplift all of us. Not a bad legacy, and one we would all do well to emulate in the time remaining to each of us.



Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Shape Of Ideological Purges To Come?



History teaches us that when political ideologies mutate into forms of state religion, those who stand in opposition or refuse to 'get with the program' are targeted. Nazism, with its elevation of the Aryan race at the expense of all others, is one prime example. Those who didn't conform were swept away. Another, more recent manifestation, is China. Even while expressing a willingness to have a constructive dialogue with the Vatican, it insists that Chinese Catholics “hold up high the flag of patriotism” and adapt Catholicism to Chinese society.

Ideology must have its way.

And now it would seem that, with a president-elect endorsed by white supremacists and a myriad of other misfits, that much beset-upon minority, white people, will have the opportunity to stamp out wrong-thinking when they are under critical scrutiny. That is, if events unfolding in Wisconsin are any indication of things to come.

Damon Sajnani, a professor in the African Cultural Studies Department at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, is offering a course in the new semester entitled “The Problem of Whiteness.”
“Have you ever wondered what it really means to be white? If you’re like most people, the answer is probably ‘no.’ But here is your chance!” the description reads.

“Critical Whiteness Studies aims to understand how whiteness is socially constructed and experienced in order to help dismantle white supremacy.”

The course explores “how race is experienced by white people.” But it also looks at how white people “consciously and unconsciously perpetuate institutional racism.”
A criticism of the white race? That has proven too much for David Murphy, a Wisconsin state assemblyman,
who expressed outrage last week that taxpayers “are expected to pay for this garbage.”
Using the time-honoured cudgel of funding, the assemblyman is expressing his aversion to what used to be one of the main missions of universities, the exploration, discussion and exchange of ideas:
“UW-Madison must discontinue this class. If UW-Madison stands with this professor, I don’t know how the University can expect the taxpayers to stand with UW-Madison.”
Within his fiscal gun sights is not just the 'offending' professor, but also the university's administration for allowing this 'outrage' to occur:
In a statement emailed to The Washington Post, Murphy (R) said the decision to approve the class makes him question the judgment of university leaders.

“I support academic freedom and free speech,” he said. “Free speech also means the public has the right to be critical of their public university. The university’s handling of controversies like this appears to the public as a lack of balance in intellectual openness and diversity of political thought on campus.”
All of the above, by the way, was delivered without a hint of irony, suggesting that the good assemblyman's own intellectual reach is lamentably limited.

For the time being, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has not expressed interest in tying funding to ideological purity, but does offer the following as a possible basis for backtracking, should Murphy's call for academic jihad find favour with the public:
“I could certainly as a citizen or as a father who pays part of my kids’ tuition roll my eyes and raise concerns about some of the classes,” Walker told the newspaper. “But our focus in the budget should be on overall performance and not individual classes.”
No one can heave a sigh of relief at this anemic response, especially given the governor's own rather sordid record.

One of those noteworthy aspects of the rabid right is that, even when they achieve victory, as they have in electing an egregiously unqualified and unfit president, happiness and satisfaction elude them. I suspect it always will until they have wiped out the last dissenting thought, the last contrary opinion, the last remnant of resistance which, of course, is impossible.

Yet I have no doubt that they will do their damnedest to try.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Almost Too Grim To Contemplate

While the Pope is imploring world leaders to act with dispatch to mitigate climate change, it is hard to remain optimistic about the prospects of American engagement under incoming president Donald Trump:

Meanwhile, As The World Fades Away

I have never seen the magnificent cheetah, and new research suggests I never will.

Read, watch, and weep at our collective folly.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A Special Understanding



Under successive neoliberal administrations in both Canada and the U.S., it has long been demonstrated that those occupying the upper echelons of our fractured societies are granted a myriad of benefits, not the least of which seems to be a virtual moratorium on prosecutions when wrongdoing is uncovered and proven. The fact that no one went to jail over the 2008 financial meltdown is but the most egregious example. Indeed, such is their power and arrogance that corporate executives were given bonuses from the very bail-out money that taxpayers funded for those institutions and enterprises deemed "too big to fail." When there is punishment of any kind for malfeasance, it is usually just fines which the errant entity can then use as tax write-offs.

Although the strongest examples of special treatment can be found stateside, Canada has its own way of dealing with financial malfeasance that should anger all of us, reflective as it is of the neoliberalism that pervades our land.

Thanks to a joint investigation by The Toronto Star and The National Obsserver {a fine online newspaper that offers subscriptions and solicits donations to support its journalism), we have yet another example in the deeply offensive special treatment by Fintrac, Canada’s money laundering and terrorist financing enforcement agency, of a major Canadian bank.
Canada’s money-laundering agency is refusing to name the bank hit with an unprecedented penalty for failing to report a suspicious transaction and committing hundreds of other violations in its dealings with a controversial client. Details of the failures — including one the agency described as “very serious”...

For nearly two years, the bank failed to report a series of unusual transactions in its client’s account, despite news reports at the time revealing he was under criminal investigation in the U.S. The transactions included dozens of large cash deposits and hundreds of international transfers worth more than $12 million, reveal the newly-released documents.
Despite the fact that the law requires reporting of transaction amounting to 10,000 or more, from
early 2012 to the end of 2013, the unnamed bank processed 1,179 international electronic transfers of $10,000 or more from the mystery client, who used a “potential shell company” and operated out of an unnamed country associated with money laundering. It also accepted 45 cash deposits of $10,000 or more, all without ever reporting the transactions to Fintrac, Canada’s money laundering and terrorist financing enforcement agency, as required by law.
With some deductive sleuthing, the newspapers were able to determine that the individual involved in these transactions was
Manitoba online pharmacy entrepreneur Andrew Strempler, 42, who pleaded guilty to mail fraud charges in the U.S. after his shipments were found to contain counterfeit medication.
While Strembler served his time and was released in October of 2015, Fintrac has treated the bank, which, under existing law, it could name, to anonymity after levying a $1.15 million fine, certainly a modest penalty given what the law allows:
Anyone who knowingly fails to report a suspicious transaction to FINTRAC can face a $2 million fine and up to five years in prison, under Canadian legislation on money laundering and terrorism financing. The maximum administrative monetary penalty for the bank's hundreds of violations would have been $1.8 million, the documents said.
The original penalty was $1.5 million, but Fintrac reduced it after 'negotiating' with the bank, which argued that the harm done was minimal.

I beg to differ with its decision to protect a major bank's reputation. Flagrantly violating the law 1,225 times in this case is damaging both to confidence in our banking system annd deeply demoralizing to the average person's sense of fair play. As Christine Duhaime, a lawyer who specializes in anti-moneylaundering law says,
“Joe Average who is fined for any administrative infraction is not afforded secrecy in this way and the rules should apply to all Canadians, legal and natural personals, equally, from banks to Joe Average.”
Yet Fintrac somehow seems to feel that they have really brought down the hammer in this case:
Fintrac said Tuesday’s announcement is meant to deter others from failing to report.

But the bank’s name was not added to a list of violators published on the agency’s website. The home page shows the name of many smaller companies, such as jewelry stores, independent securities dealers and real estate brokerages.
Quite unapologetic, Fintrac, according to The Observer report, feels it has done exemplary work in this case:
FINTRAC said it was trying to be discreet.

“The process has concluded and FINTRAC exercised its discretion not to name the entity so that we could send a timely message of deterrence to the 31,000 businesses that are subject to the Proceeds of Crime, Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing Act”.
I'm afraid that the only message Fintrac has managed to convey is confirmation that there is indeed one law for the 'giants' who walk among us, and quite another for the rest of us. It is far past time that this special understanding (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) between certain societal segments and the massive insult to the rest of us ended.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas - A Gift For You

During most of the year, the topics and issues I deal with on this blog are often dark and depressing. Such is the way of the world. However, I'd like to share with readers a series of good news stories that show human kindness, compassion and resilience are far from dead. Taken from NBC News, these are best viewed, not at once, but when you feel the need. As counterpoint to the usual news fare, they almost always leave me feeling touched, and serve as potent reminders that not everything in this world is bleak.

Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!










Friday, December 23, 2016

Lethal Legacy - Part 2



In Part 1, I wrote about the lethal consequences for many who have worked at GE Peterborough. A toxic workplace that has resulted in crippling disease or death for many is not the kind of legacy these men and women anticipated.

To compound the tragedy of the situation, Ontario's Workplace Insurance and Safety Board has been strangely reluctant to find a relationship between that workplace and the diseases that are killing far too many former employees, accepting only 280 compensation claims from over 660 applications.

Today, I try to understand that reluctance, as well as look at a bill working its way through the Ontario legislature that will potentially make the workplace even more hazardous.

In exploring this issue, the role of the Ontario government must also be considered, given its apparent indifference to workplace health and safety:
A report produced for the WSIB in 2010 determined that the province had “no effective reporting or surveillance of occupational disease or exposures” and no central repository of data on the subject.
Six years later, that status quo remains.

The WSIB itself seems to share that indifference:
The WSIB has a registry for “unplanned exposure incidents,” but it is voluntary, does not record information about the severity of the exposure, does not collect medical information from workers or health-care providers and looks only at individual cases rather than populations at risk. There is no dedicated funding for the program. ... [and] the Ministry of Labour does not receive data from the registry.
Why this strange shared inertia between a government-appointed board and the government itself? Is it possible that the miasma of neoliberalism has infiltrated both? And if so, how can that be, given that the WISB directors themselves, as I pointed out in the previous post, come from diverse backgrounds?

Is there, in fact, an institutional bias at work here?
“There’s a systemic barrier to actually looking at what’s happening to these blue-collar workers behind factory walls,” says Dr. Jim Brophy, an expert in occupational disease whose research into breast cancer in the workplace won him an award from the American Public Health Association in 2013.

“If compensation boards recognize these cases then the onus is on the government to go do something about them. We’re caught in this vicious cycle.”
Are those appointed to the Board, and by extension, those who work for the Board, trying in some measure, even unconsciously, to protect the government from that onus? The fact is that Board approves just over 40% of all claims for compensation, having set standards of proof almost impossibly high for many.

As well, approving too many claims could prove costly for employers.
The Canadian workers’ compensation model is based on an important compromise: employers agree to fund the system through insurance premiums, sharing the liability for workplace injuries.
We all know what happens if we ever make a claim, for example, on our house insurance. Rates rise, sometimes steeply. The same would hold true of employer premiums to the WSIB.

And where is the Ontario government in all of this? While it is demonstrably infected by the virus of neoliberalism (consider, as one example, the sale of 60% of Hydro One in order "to broaden ownership," in the words of Premier Kathleen Wynne), there is further evidence that the disease is progressing:
... new legislation — Bill 70 — is moving ahead and will quietly scale back routine health and safety inspections in favour of employer self-compliance.
UNIFOR is not impressed by the bill:
Health and safety advocates reviewing Bill 70 have serious concerns. The perverse irony this Bill bears the same number as the Bill which birthed Ontario’s original OHSA [Occupational Health & Safety Act] almost 40 years ago is not lost on worker health and safety advocates. Chief among their concerns is the Bill’s intent to allow the government to privatize the processes for setting and approving standards for health and safety training courses...

Equally troubling, in announcing these amendments to OHSA, Ministry of Labour senior staff indicated employers accredited through this possibly self-regulated scheme would be exempt from proactive enforcement by health and safety inspectors and other “routine burdens.”
We have all seen where these efforts at government deregulation to make industry more competitive and self-regulated have led. Walkerton and Maple Leaf Foods are but two examples of what can happen when standards are relaxed.
John Cartwright, president of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council and himself a survivor of occupational cancer, calls the proposal “a horrific mistake.”

“This is a failed policy practice that has been an absolute ideological cover for deregulation resulting in increased harm to workers,” says Bob DeMatteo, an occupational disease expert and former director of health and safety for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.
The tragedies experienced by GE workers are, for the most part, irremediable. We honour their losses by reading about them. But our larger responsibility involves making sure that the horrors they have experienced are not repeated, ad nauseam, in the future.

Special Note: In my two posts on this subject, I have only focused on a small part of the Star report. For much more insight into this sad collusion between industry and government, I strongly recommend that you read the entire report here.







Thursday, December 22, 2016

Guest Post: An Incompatible Marriage



In response to my post the other day featuring some stellar letters from Star readers on inequality, regular commentator Pamela MacNeil offered an insightful analysis of the fundamental incompatibility between democracy and neoliberalism. Here is that analysis:

Governments who value Democracy, Lorne, will govern in the interests of people according to democratic principles. They will also add legally or otherwise to their country's democracy. They will do this to make their democracy stronger and more accessible to their citizens. This is what Nation Building is all about. Creating The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a good example of strengthening democracy while further entrenching Nation Building.

The stronger the legislative roots upon which Democracy rests, the freer the country.

The more a government seeks to create policy without a democratic process, the greater the chance of that government becoming authoritarian.

Our present government and our previous governments have embraced neoliberal policy domestically and globally. "Neoliberals require a strong state that uses its power to create and enforce markets and prop them up when they fail." Their vision is a state governed by market transactions and not democratic practices. This is what Canadians are now witnessing.

Neoliberalism came later to Canada than to the U.S. and Britain because of the re-election of Pierre Trudeau in 1980. How ironic that it should be his son who is continually promoting neoliberalism and has made it the fundamental driver of his domestic and global policies.

Neoliberalism breeds inequality. Most progressives would defend democracy as a basic right. In neoliberalism "financial markets survive existenial crises only through state bailouts."

The economic inequality can best be seen in the decline of union memberships, the decline in the share of middle class income and the rise in the share of income taken by the top 10%. The goal of neoliberalism is to chip away at union power until it no longer threatens the realization of the market state.

How unequal and insignificant does your government consider you to be, when they, without public consultation, take billions of your dollars to bail out the corporate and financial elite who were the cause of one of the most major financial crisis in history?

There is nothing more important then freedom, freedom ingrained in law. Without democracy there is no freedom. Our government, which has already severed ties with Canadians, is busy trying to find ways to circumvent our constitution or dismantle our democracy in order to implement their neoliberal policies.

Neoliberalism and Democracy cannot survive together. It will be one or the other and right now neoliberalism, at least in Canada, appears to be winning.

How relevant is our democracy to Canadians? The battle ahead is a battle of ideas. Freedom and democracy or Neoliberalism and Tyranny. Will Canadians fight to take their country back or will they do nothing?

The choice is ours, and our time is running out.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Lethal Legacy: A Province' s Version Of Neoliberalism


The Toronto Star has run a heartbreaking series, very well-worth reading, on the fate of many of the employees of Peterborough's GE plant, whose lives were either cut short by, or are riddled with, disease thanks to exposure to a toxic brew of chemicals during their working lives.

Entitled Lethal Legacy, it is a story not only about the workers' tragedies but also Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, which has been quite reluctant to award compensation to the victims and their survivors. It all occurs within the context of an Ontario Liberal government that, through a pending bill, will make workplaces even more precarious venues than they already are.

First, a short profile from the series:
Despite working at the plant since he was 16, Ed Condon carried himself with a gentleness factory life didn’t afford him — never swearing, smoking or drinking. Retirement, his family hoped, would finally heal the bone-deep cracks in his hands, stop the nosebleeds he stubbornly brushed off. There would be more twilight drives down River Rd. with his wife, more rambles in the woods with his three grandchildren.

But Ed Condon always believed the chemicals would kill him first.
In the end, his family says, he was right.

“He had such amazing integrity and honour. And he was such an honest man,” says his daughter Cindy Crossley, who lost her father to an inoperable brain tumour in 2012.
Condon was certain his glioblastoma was caused by exposure to a toxic mix of chemicals:
In his final months, he took to carefully documenting the chemicals he worked with. The final list was 42 items long and included some of the world’s most deadly substances: arsenic; cyanide; vinyl chloride; asbestos; lead; benzene; DDT; epoxy resins; silica and cadmium.
Despite a workplace well-documented for its poisons, Condon and hundreds of other claimants to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board were denied compensation. Indeed, of the
660 compensation claims made to [the Board, only]... 280 have been accepted; more than half have been withdrawn, abandoned or rejected because of apparently insufficient evidence that the conditions were work related.
Survivors and those currently fighting disease have not given up their fight, but it appears to be much more of an uphill battle than it should be. While it is not easy matter to prove a causal relationship between exposure and illness,
a 2016 Supreme Court decision ruled that workers’ compensation
boards cannot demand definitive proof that an illness is work-related, especially since existing scientific research on occupational disease is sometimes inconclusive.

Instead, the Supreme Court said compensation boards must consider all available evidence and decide on the balance of probabilities whether a workplace contributed to a claimant’s illness. If so, workers are entitled to compensation. In borderline cases, the court said workers must be given the benefit of the doubt.
But the WISB, despite its poor record on approving claims, says
its “existing adjudication principles are consistent” with the Supreme Court decision and have not changed in response to it.
So how is their recalcitrance to be explained? The Ontario government appoints the board's directors, and it is led by former Conservative cabinet minister Elizabeth Witmer. The research I have done on the directors suggests members come from diverse backgrounds that do not suggest a preponderant corporate bias. As well, if one checks out this job posting on the WISB website, the requirements for, and the duties of, Advanced Practice Nurse suggests a real thoroughness in the discharge of duties there.

My next post will attempt to look more closely at board decisions as well as a pending Ontario bill that will make it harder to enforce health standards within the workplace.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

"The Cancer Of Inequality"



In a recent post well-worth reading, The Mound reflected on the decline of support for liberal democracy. Today, Star readers respond to an article carried by the paper entitled, How Stable Are Democracies? ‘Warning Signs Are Flashing Red’. Their message is clear: inequality is at the root of the problem, fostered and promoted by the neoliberal agenda:
Re: For democracy, ‘warning signs flashing red', Dec. 11

The graphs for the seven countries in this article show the first real dip in democratic trust by people born in the 1960s and with each generation '70s and '80s trust declines. The pattern of distrust is universal across the democracies; therefore it seems logical that the cause is universal and progressive.

The universal event during the survey's time period of 2005-14 was the Great Recession of 2008 and with the slow recovery it is a progressive event affecting all people, but especially the millennial generation. They and their parents feel cheated; they did what was expected but now face unemployment.

However, is feeling cheated by society the total reason for the decline in democratic trust? I say something else going on: First, the three countries with the largest decline in trust — U.S., U.K. and Australia — consistently show the highest rate of inequality. Second, the country with the lowest decline in trust, Sweden, consistently has the lowest rate of inequality. The remaining three countries — Canada, Germany and the Netherlands — are all middle of the road for decline in trust and for inequality. There seems to be a link between decline in democratic trust and inequality, but the work of Mounk and Foa did not link democratic decline to inequality, as Mounk says more research is required.

Whilst waiting for the research we should consider the work of Wilkinson and Pickett who covered 10 components that make up the social fabric of 23 countries and clearly showed how inequality was bad for everyone, from the wealthy to the pauper.

In the U.K. and U.S. since 1980s, when Thatcher and Reagan condoned Greedism as an economic model, inequality has grown to the point where these two countries are near the top on the list. Both recently experienced quasi-social revolutions that shocked the world: Brexit in the U.K. and the Trump election in the U.S. Both events were rightly tied to trade deals and globalization because both exacerbate Greedism and inequality.

Inequality has been insidiously creeping up on us for the last three decades. In the U.S., the poster child for inequality, it gets little attention; in Canada we do not understand the damage it is doing to our democracy.

Democracy is best explained by five words: “The will of the people.” Looking at Canada I do not believe this is the will of the people. No good jobs, precarious work rising, children living in poverty, loss of self respect and dignity, half a billion dollars in tax forgiveness for 70 CEOs, 80 per cent of the economy fruits goes to one per cent, foodbanks grow.

The cancer of inequality is destroying the fabric of our society and governments must act before rips apart.

Keith Parkinson, Cambridge

This article was important yet frustrating. It missed the obvious connection between economic inequality and dwindling support for democracy. The people of Venezuela, Cuba and other nations give up on democracy when they are economically marginalized. The freedom of the few to accumulate disproportionate wealth and power makes democracy seem useless to many.

Laws that increasingly favour the wealthy at the expense of the poor and middle class deprive most citizens of genuine political power. The citizens become irrelevant, so democracy becomes irrelevant to them.

The histories of Athens, Rome and countless other political systems show that democracy dies this way. It has been written about many times, yet we appear incapable of learning how to stop it.

Paul Bigioni, Pickering

Monday, December 19, 2016

What A Pretty Face Conceals



When one thinks deeply about neoliberalism, one conjures up the face of greed, rapacity and monetary narcissism. Not at all a pretty face. But here in Canada, Thomas Walkom writes, neoliberalism is concealed by a human, some would say pretty, face, that of Justin Trudeau.
The essence of neo-liberalism is globalization. Neo-liberals strive for a world in which capital, goods and even labour move effortlessly from country to country. The aim is to let the free market do its magic and maximize wealth.
Once the centrepiece of the Conservative Party, the legacy of the reviled Stephen Harper is now being carried by our 'new' prime minister. Youth and attractiveness seem to go a long way on a number of fronts, including the temporary foreign worker program that grew to outrageous proportions under the previous regime:
... the Trudeau Liberals are smooth. Last week, they eliminated a rule that prevented temporary foreign workers from staying in Canada for more than four years.

To make the move politically palatable, the Liberal government said it would also require employers to advertise among disadvantaged groups such as indigenous people and the disabled before turning to foreigners.

But the bottom line is that the new rule allows employers to use cheap foreign labour indefinitely.
And Trudeau seems to understand something that Harper refused to: the need for 'social licence':
In Canada, that means wooing indigenous peoples and well-organized environmental groups.... And to win social licence for oil and gas pipelines, he worked on two fronts.

One was climate change. The government established its bona fides here by negotiating a path-breaking agreement with eight out of 10 provinces (plus three territories) to impose a price on carbon.

On its own, the carbon-price agreement is not enough to let Canada meet its climate targets. But in the end, it may be enough to convince enough Canadians that the pipelines from Alberta to the Pacific coast Trudeau wants should go ahead.
Simultaneously, the government has been successfully wooing indigenous leaders — with promises of more money, a more respectful relationship and an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.
And while people are oohing and aahing over this new style, globalization plans continue apace:
The free trade and investment deal between Canada and the European Union is closer to fruition. A similar deal with China is on the agenda, as is some kind of free-trade relationship with Japan.
Although Walkom doesn't mention it, my guess is that Trudeau's plans for an infrastructure bank is of the same neoliberal ilk. One may legitimately ask why, when the cost of borrowing is at record lows the Liberals will kick in $35-billion and hope to attract private sector dollars at a ratio of $4 to $5 in private funding for every $1 of federal money. Obviously, if we partner with private sector interests, their rates of return will have to be much more than, for example, a Canada Savings Bond would yield. Will that mean tolls/user fees for roads, bridges, etc.? Whose interests are thus served?

But a pretty face and a pleasing manner can conceal only so much. Perhaps the government's masked slipped a bit recently, and a truer visage emerged, as Walkom notes:
As for the hallmark of neo-liberal economies — the precarious workplace of low wages and multiple jobs — the advice from Finance Minister Bill Morneau is hardly encouraging.

In effect he has said: Get used to it.


Sunday, December 18, 2016

A New Word For Me

And that word is kakistocracy. Coined in 1829, it means government by the worst elements of society.

I have a feeling that all of us will become intimately acquainted with its meaning over the next four years.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Shape Of Things To Come?



The other day, I wrote a post about how NBC Nightly News was attacked by Donald Trump via his weapon of choice, Twitter, a perhaps apt mechanism given the president-elect's incapacity for sustained thought or discourse.

But NBC is hardly the only media outlet in his sights. His latest is an attack on Vanity Fair in retaliation for a scathing review of a restaurant in the lobby of Trump Tower called Trump Grill. This excerpt probably set the Orange One off:
“The allure of Trump’s restaurant, like the candidate, is that it seems like a cheap version of rich,” Tina Nguyen wrote, saying the restaurant “reveals everything you need to know about our next president.”
That seems to have led to this retaliatory tantrum:
"Has anyone looked at the really poor numbers of @VanityFair Magazine," Trump tweeted Thursday morning.

"Way down, big trouble, dead! Graydon Carter, no talent, will be out!"
At one time, being personally and/or professionally attacked by an incoming president would have been a shocking notion to all but the most rabid among us. Now, I fear, it will simply become a common and expected feature of a Trump presidency, one that may have long term consequences.

At a time when mainstream media are losing their cachet and readership, will they have the determination and integrity to continue being the guardians of democracy, or will they mutate, as some already have, into a kind of Praetorian Guard for this strange new emperor of the American Empire? The signs are not entirely promising.

Sarah Kendzior offers some unsettling thoughts on the question:
According to reporter Daniel Dale, Mr. Trump told at least 560 lies during the course of his campaign. Some lies are audacious in that they are easily disproven – for example, when Mr. Trump claimed he did not tell U.S. citizens to “check out a sex tape” after tweeting to them to do so. Flagrant lying is a hallmark of despotism. It sends the message that one should not bother speaking truth to power when power is the only truth. It implies that the teller of the lie defines reality, no matter what evidence there is to the contrary, including the liar’s own words.
It is that later sentence that gives one pause, since the MSM are becoming part of the problem:
... as inauguration looms, Mr. Trump’s team may not have to work too hard to keep the U.S. press in line. U.S. journalists, always his greatest ally due to corporate collaboration and fear of retaliation, [emphasis mine] are already mainstreaming the Trump administration’s most inflammatory ideas. To read the U.S. media today is to see a CNN debate on whether Jews are people, the Associated Press falsely tweet that the KKK has disavowed white supremacy, and countless mainstream media puff pieces on neo-Nazis that focus more on their fashion sense than their fascist beliefs.
Will mainstream media thus become normalizers and apologists for the incoming demagogue? If the following is any indicator, there is much to be concerned about:
Donald Trump's campaign struck a deal with Sinclair Broadcast Group during the campaign to try and secure better media coverage, his son-in-law Jared Kushner told business executives Friday in Manhattan.

Kushner said the agreement with Sinclair, which owns television stations across the country in many swing states and often packages news for their affiliates to run, gave them more access to Trump and the campaign, according to six people who heard his remarks.
The price of this access, it appears, was steep:
In exchange, Sinclair would broadcast their Trump interviews across the country without commentary.
And what about those outlets that insisted upon calling their own shots?
Kushner ... told the business executives that the campaign was upset with CNN because they considered its on-air panels stacked against Trump. He added that he personally talked with Jeff Zucker about changing the composition of the panels but Zucker refused. He repeatedly said in the panel that CNN wasn't "moving the needle" and wasn't important as it once was, according to three of the people present.

The campaign then decided not to work as closely with CNN, and Trump ramped up his bashing of the cable network.
So will this be the shape of things to come? Will the unofficial fiat be, "Play ball with the Trump administration or be denied access?"

I think I know the answer to the above. What I don't know is how many media outlets will opt to save, not sell, their souls.

Friday, December 16, 2016

More Weapons In The War Against Fake News



If you get the bulk of your news from television and print journalism, you may be unaware of the extent to which fake news has taken hold in the virtual world. If you are in that category, here is a link to the stories I have posted revolving around the issue. Or just do a quick Google search. The fact that such fiction has deep traction should worry us all.

Given the suspicion that fake news may very well have been a contributing factor in the recent U.S. election results, especially the prominent role that Facebook seems to have played, the world is now beginning to take this threat seriously and devising ways to ferret out the mendacious from the true. And Facebook will play a leading role:
The social network is going to partner with the Poynter International Fact-Checking Network, which includes groups such as Snopes, to evaluate articles flagged by Facebook users.

If those articles don’t pass the smell test for the fact-checkers, Facebook will pass on that evaluation with a little label whenever they are posted or shared, along with a link to the organization that debunked the story.
While it will not end the scourge of fake news, once the domain of tabloids like The National Enquirer, it will undoubtedly put a dent in it:
The new system will work like this: if there’s a story out there that is patently false — saying that a celebrity is dead when they aren’t, for example — then users will see a notice saying that the story has been disputed or debunked. People who try and share stories that have been found false will also see an alert before they post. Flagged stories will also appear lower in the news feed than unflagged stories.

Users will also be able to report potentially false stories to Facebook, or send messages to the person posting a questionable article directly.
And if that isn't enough, there are other means at our personal disposal through browser plug-ins and extensions, one of which, the B.S. Detector, I previously wrote about. There are others as well:
Slate unfurled This Is Fake, which combines crowdsourcing and editorial curation to identify articles in Facebook feeds that spread misinformation and flag them as false.
An open source project, the FiB Chrome Extension, combs through a user’s Facebook news feed to verify status updates, images and links through image recognition, keyword extraction, source verification and a Twitter search. An artificial intelligence assessment of facts results in a verdict tagged as “Verified” or “Not Verified.” If the story is deemed false, the AI will search for a verified source on the same topic.
Another one is Media Bias/Fact Check. The Daily Dot offers this description:
While Media Bias/Fact Check doesn’t scan your Facebook, it will help you when you end up on a site with questionable news. Or any other type of news. The app works by scraping data from Media Bias Fact Check, a wonderful site that checks for bias across all ideological spectrums.

When you land on a news page and press the MB/FC icon in Chrome, the extension will tell you exactly what kind of bias you can expect from your source. Left, right, center, or somewhere in space, MB/FC will tell you who is lying and when.
As I have said before, ultimately nothing serves to replace skilled critical thinking in assessing what we read and hear. But given the scope of fake news today and its increasingly harmful impact, every development that helps to hem in such deceit is indeed welcome.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

On Trump's Hit List: NBC Nightly News

Media reports that Donald Trump is now railing against NBC Nightly News are not really surprising. After all, the truth can hurt.

The network's reports on his cozy relationship with, and profound ignorance of, Russia has raised the ire of the President-elect.
Trump apparently didn’t like an NBC segment that showed excerpts of his “Fox News Sunday” interview with Chris Wallace in which he said he rejects CIA findings regarding Russia hacking the election and opts not to receive daily intelligence briefings.



Undaunted, last night the network reported the following:



One gets the distinct impression that none of this will fork any lightning with either Trump or his ardent acolytes, as both seem quite comfortable living in a 'reality' created by their own fevered imaginations. The larger question is whether or not there are enough actual Republican adults left in the Senate and House of Representatives to put a brake on the confirmation of Rex Tillerson, Trump's pick for Secretary of State and a known Putin intimate.

My guess is they will all fall into line.

We can only hope that mainstream media do not follow suit. In the corporate-driven environment of today, where ratings are paramount, nothing can be taken for granted.

NOTE: If you would like to read more about this issue, check out Owen's post today over at Northern Reflections.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

More On Fake News

I was tempted to conflate the first two words of my title to drive home a point, but I resisted.



Meanwhile, Star readers weigh in on that shameful Canadian, Stephanie MacWilliams, who played a key role in the 'pizzagate' fake news story that almost ended in tragedy:
Belleville woman played role in delivering ‘Pizzagate’ conspiracy, Dec. 8

Would-be journalist/detective Stefanie MacWilliams shows no remorse and is, in fact, very proud of the part she played in the Pizzagate fake news fiasco, which resulted in a heavily armed nutbar clearing a restaurant of all clients and workforce.

Would she be so jubilant if this guy had encountered resistance, and slaughtered any number of innocent people, including the children attending a birthday party on the premises?

MacWilliams is obviously naive, ill informed, and extremely dangerous. Rather than be a “make believe” journalist, she should consider some professional training. Real journalists rely only on facts. People who believe, and then propagate these ridiculous conspiracy theories exhibit a serious mental deficiency.

David Moore, Annan

Creating or purveying fake news is a lucrative business with few costs and is easy to get into. Why work a regular job when you can, in the comfort of home, post fake news and see your bank account get fat quickly?

I see another lucrative business emerging—helping victims of fake news to sue the perpetrators for huge sums of money.

These are the opportunities in the Internet economy.

Salmon Lee, Mississauga

Stefanie MacWilliams has echoed and amplified fake news with a result similar to that of falsely yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre. Do we not put people before the courts for these actions? We should.

Peter Pinch, Toronto

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Is A New Purge On The Horizon?

Few of us will forget the disdain with which the Harper regime regarded science, especially the science around climate change. Virtual embargoes that prevented scientists from releasing and discussing with the public their findings were commonplace; the permission that was required from a labyrinthine bureaucracy essentially ensured that no information opposed to government ideology could be released.

It would seem that a similar situation in now shaping up in the United States under the incoming Trump administration, a situation that will also likely have students of history thinking of the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950's:



The Washington Post reports that these ominous signs are not being taken lightly:
Alarmed that decades of crucial climate measurements could vanish under a hostile Trump administration, scientists have begun a feverish attempt to copy reams of government data onto independent servers in hopes of safeguarding it from any political interference.

The efforts include a “guerrilla archiving” event in Toronto, where experts will copy irreplaceable public data, meetings at the University of Pennsylvania focused on how to download as much federal data as possible in the coming weeks, and a collaboration of scientists and database experts who are compiling an online site to harbor scientific information.
How justified is this precautionary movement?
Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists, argued that Trump has appointed a “band of climate conspiracy theorists” to run transition efforts at various agencies, along with nominees to lead them who share similar views.

“They have been salivating at the possibility of dismantling federal climate research programs for years. It’s not unreasonable to think they would want to take down the very data that they dispute,” Halpern said in an email. “There is a fine line between being paranoid and being prepared, and scientists are doing their best to be prepared. . . .
No one, of course, is sure of what will happen under a Trump administration. But the very fact that these measures are being enacted as a precaution is surely a potent indication of how unhealthy many perceive the new American 'democracy' to be.

UPDATE: It appears that the Energy Department has shown some spine, and is refusing to name names. But will they be able to refuse once Trump is sworn in?

Monday, December 12, 2016

More Threats, Thanks To Our Heedlessness

Out of sight, out of mind seems the attitude of far too many in today's world; as the following amply demonstrates, such attitudes have far-reaching consequences:



Unfortunately, closer to home, the situation is equally, if not more, grim:

Fidel's Legacy



Although the Toronto Star is my newspaper of choice, there are times when I strongly disagree with its content. Recently, its most prolific writer, Rosie Di Manno, wrote a series of articles in which she was withering, to say the least, in her assessment of Fidel Castro. As one who has visited Cuba many, many times, and gotten to know a fair bit about the reality of its citizens' lives, I felt her scorn was both ill-informed and ignoble.

I see that I am not alone.

In today's paper, an array of readers' letters, only a few of which I reproduce below, take exception to her sweeping condemnations of Castro's legacy:
Having visited Cuba at least 15 times, I have nothing but utmost respect for the Cubans and their system. Fidel Castro achieved what no other leader in the Caribbean achieved—free medicare and education (including university).

My GP in Toronto was trained by Cuban doctors; their reputation world wide is phenomenal. I am outraged that so few people have acknowledged this. Whenever I have visited other Caribbean countries I have never felt as safe as I do in Cuba.

Ingrid Nicholson, Toronto

With some exception, your coverage of Cuba surprises for its lack of substance and facile Cold War rhetoric.

Rosie DiManno’s columns are an example. Long is the list of shortcomings, and few the nods of recognition for gains made against all odds. Adult literacy, education, and health made available to Cuba’s poor majority post-1959, and recognized as exemplary by the United Nations, is a singular achievement in social rights.

Among the greatest beneficiaries have been Afro-Cubans – children and grandchildren of slaves – who in that deeply racist country had been pushed to the margins. The children of once marginalized poor Cubans, and their children, are the professionals now clamoring for change.

These lessons in social justice are more relevant than ever given persistent racism, poverty, inequality and exclusion—certainly no longer exclusively for Latin America. And, echoing DiManno’s stridency, while many North Americans flocked to San Francisco to join flower power, we in Latin America were inspired by the Cuban example to fight for a more just and inclusive society. Let us not minimize or trivialize this.

Verónica Schild, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, The University of Western Ontario, London, Ont.

Ms DiManno actually wrote this, “And damn his eternal soul”? Really? And you published it? Really?

Our Prime Minister was castigated widely for saying a few kind words about Fidel. What will the assembled pundits and columnists say and write about her now?

If anything.

Ted Turner, Toronto

...This story was an “opinion piece” by Rosie DiManno, a very long piece that carried on to the second page under the headline, “Fidel’s dark legacy survives” and which ended with the phrase “And damn his eternal soul.”

The Star is Canada’s largest circulation newspaper. As such, it comes very close to speaking for Canadians. Ms DiManno is welcome to her opinions, but I believe the Star has insulted the Cuban people by putting her opinions on the front page at a time when they have just lost their leader of over 50 years. Sovereign countries have a right to determine their own path. And each country’s people have a natural tendency to admire and even love their leaders, especially at the time of their death.

To allow one non-Cuban person to tell Canada what the Cubans who live in Cuba – and they are the overwhelming majority of Cubans—are thinking about Fidel Castro is incredibly presumptuous, and simply not right.

Wayne Robbins, Toronto

Sunday, December 11, 2016

If You Are Stumped When It Comes To Inspired Gifts

.... may I suggest Trump On A Stump?

Fake News

While the following is hardly an in-depth report, the interview with the fake-news writer near the end of the report is rather interesting in that it sheds light on the mercenary motives behind such shameful work:

Saturday, December 10, 2016

UPDATED: This Makes Me Happy

Whether or not we like to admit it, Canadians are often a smug lot. We look, for example, at the seemingly rampant racism of the society to the south of us, shake our heads and cluck our tongues. How can people treat other people that way?

Yet we have a far from unblemished record when it comes to race and ethnic relations in our own country, the most egregious examples being the Chinese head tax and the internment and dispossession of the Japanese and the Italians during the second world war. While most people know of those shameful episodes, far fewer know about the discrimination black people have faced here. That is why the decision to put Viola Desmond on the next $10 bill is such cause for celebration.



As the activist in the above video states, the selection of Desmond will not end the racism that still exists (a sentiment echoed by Yusra Khogali, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto), but it makes it easier to address.

And I would add two points: it should also be a point of real pride for the people of colour in our country, as well as a humbling and eye-opening development for the rest of us, including me, who did not know her story, nor the kind of segregation people experienced here.

Perhaps we are finally moving toward a time when we recognize people by the integrity, resilience and fortitude they possess, not the colour of their skin or the religion or ethnic group they belong to.

'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.

UPDATE: This Star editorial is a fitting complement to Viola Desmond:
Putting a Canadian woman on a bill is long overdue. The choice of this particular woman is an especially powerful symbol of acknowledgment of past wrongs and tribute to someone who, at great risk to herself, fought against them. It should also be read as a promise from the state that it will take seriously and work alongside those who continue to resist in the spirit of Viola Desmond’s unfinished project.

Friday, December 9, 2016

In Pursuit Of Answers

Yesterday's post featured the thoughts of my sister-in-law, Ruth, on how to restore humility and a sense of proportion. This morning, she alerted me to the following, a fitting complement to that post.



If you liked the above, this one is even better:

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Restoring Humility And Proportion



One of my main nightly rituals is to watch one hour of television news. The first half-hour is devoted to both a local and a regional station, while during the second half-hour I generally watch NBC Nightly News, sometimes switching back and forth between it and Global National. Such a practice usually provides me with an overview of local, national, and international events, while recognizing the limitations that such coverage provides both in depth and selection of stories.

Sometimes during this ritual, I find myself growing philosophical as I bear witness to events that often have a common subtext: the fragility and brevity of life. From the extermination of men, women and children in Syria to the loss of innocent lives in natural disasters and human-caused mayhem, the fact that our lives could end at any time through no fault of our own is never lost on me.

That got me wondering about our species' loss of humility and sense of proportion. We spend so much time getting and spending, to borrow from the poetry of William Wordsworth, that we have lost touch with both ourselves and the world around us. Should you doubt this, just look at the state of the world from an environmental, economic or sociological perspective. If you lack the time, check out one of The Mound's latest posts.

What haunts me is our collective refusal to live with a little dignity, a little restraint and a little gratitude for the very fact of our lives, precious and precarious as they ultimately are. This led me, on a bit of a whim, to post the following on my Facebook account:
A question: How do we, as a species, recover a measure of humility and a realistic sense of proportion?
The most thoughtful response came from my sister-in-law, Ruth, whose meditation follows:
The only place I can begin is with myself. And I think that's where everyone needs to begin. We can be fully present by putting down the "devices" and, for me, getting out into nature where we reconnect with that sense of grandeur and awe. It might be something different for someone else...but whatever gets them into that place where they can slow down and be humbled and grateful. We can meditate to turn off the inner chatter that can make us so unhappy which in turn can help us turn off the messages that buying more stuff will make us happy.

I'm studying to be a spiritual director to help others get to that place where they are in touch with the inner voice of God and their soul. I know it doesn't seem like much...but if even 10% of the population did those few things...in addition to reducing, reusing and recycling, buying organic, supporting local...I think we could begin to regain that sense of our place in the world.

Keep the faith..never give up. But that's in my humble opinion anyway...
Should anyone else like to address this question, I welcome your comments, as always.


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

An Update On An Update

Yesterday, I posted about a man an one of Edmonton's LRT stations showing his Islamophobic/racist colours, as reported by CBC. I am happy to report that an arrest has been made:


Edmonton police have a suspect in custody in connection with a possible hate crime aimed at two hijab-wearing women.

Police thanked the public for helping the Hate Crimes Unit with the investigation.

Further details will be released when they become available, police said in a news release.

Meanwhile the Islamic community is speaking out about the incident.

"It's very unfortunate to say the least," said Arangzeb Qureshi, with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council. "This is Islamophobia at its worst."

Qureshi credits technology with holding people who may be committing a hate crime to account.

"It's an advantage for people who are unfortunately going through this type of discrimination."
When these kinds of incidents occur, we have an obligation to intervene. To turn away from such hate crimes is to be complicit in them. End of discussion.

Toward A New Clarity Of Language



With conventional media fighting an ever-growing juggernaut of fake news, news that is either outright lie or gross distortion, two national journals have joined a growing chorus in refusing to use the euphemism alt-right: The Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail.

After much discussion and input, Kathy English, The Star's Public Editor, reports the following:
... several senior Star editors met to discuss this issue. In order to seek some measure of consistency, we decided to consult further with our main wire services – The Canadian Press and the U.S. based Associated Press.

This week, both services issued “style notes” on how to refer to the self-labeled alt-right....

The main points to guide Star journalists in writing and editing:

Avoid using alt-right generically.
“We should strive to be accurate and precise, and at least for now, the term ‘alt-right.’ is neither. Terms like ‘white nationalist’ or ‘white supremacist’ are known, accurate and much clearer to readers.”

If you use the term alt-right, define it.
“Phrasing like ‘the ‘alt-right,’ a white nationalist movement’ is appropriate.”

... the Associated Press provided a clear definition of the alt-right, telling us that it’s a name embraced by “some white supremacists and white nationalists to refer to themselves and their ideology, which emphasizes preserving and protecting the white race in the United States.”

And, it adds, “the movement criticizes ‘multiculturalism’ and more rights for non-whites, women, Jews, Muslims, gays, immigrants and other minorities. Its members reject the American democratic ideal that all should have equality under the law regardless of creed, gender, ethnic origin or race.”

With all that’s at stake here, journalists must not rely on euphemistic words that gloss over racism and hate. As the AP rightly tells us, be specific and call it straight: “We should not limit ourselves to letting such groups define themselves, and instead should report their actions, associations, history and positions to reveal their actual beliefs and philosophy, as well as how others see them.”

Language matters. It is our job as journalists to provide readers with accurate, clear and precise words that tell it like it is, not veil reality. We should not serve as unquestioning heralds for those who espouse ideology abhorrent to universal values of equality.

To be clear: the so-called alt-right stands for white supremacy. By any definition, that is racism.
In an abbreviated form, The Globe's Sylvia Stead says essentially the same thing.

While I regularly consult a number of alternative news sites, all of which enjoy sterling reputations, it would be foolish to suggest that the days of mainstream media are over. Now, more than ever, journalists toiling in conventional media may be our last highly visible bulwark against a rising tide of darkness, division, and devolution.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

UPDATED: Trump's America

From Facebook: Three Racists attack innocent Black man while yelling "Get out of my country!" Is this what they mean when they say make America great?



UPDATE: That this happens in Canada makes me feel deeply ashamed for my country:

Police are looking for a man in connection with a possible hate crime at a south Edmonton LRT station.

The man approached two young women wearing hijabs at the University of Alberta station at 8:20 p.m. on Nov. 8, police say.

The man, believed to be in his 60s, pulled a rope from his pocket, tied a noose and said: "This is for you."

The man then proceeded to sing O Canada in front of the women, one of whom shot video of the performance.

Police are asking anyone who recognizes the man to call 780-423-4567 or #377 from a mobile phone. They can also call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or online at www.tipsubmit.com/start.htm.

Let us all hope this miscreant is brought to swift justice.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Damage Control From A Disingenuous Dick

Apologies for my rather coarse title, but it seemed the only appropriate way to describe that Dorian-Gray-in-reverse-politician, Chris Alexander, who provided a conductorial complement to a rabid crowd in Edmonton offended by the very concept of taxation in general, and carbon taxes in particular.

At a rally in Edmonton hosted by perennial crank Ezra Levant and his self-described Rebel Media Group, as the erstwhile Immigration Minister played to the prejudices of the crowd, this happened:



You will note the zeal with which Alexander embraced the "Lock her up!" chants, seeming to enter a blissful zone accessible only to the extreme right-wing. However, perhaps realizing such a state of nirvana might not play well in all sectors of the Conservative Party he hopes to lead, and desperate to control the damage to 'his brand' that might have occurred, he issued this disclaimer, saying
he felt "uncomfortable" during a rally at the Alberta Legislature this weekend as the crowd chanted "lock her up" in response to his comments about Premier Rachel Notley's leadership.
In a video posted on Twitter by Rebel Media reporter Sheila Gunn Reid, Alexander is nodding and smiling in front of the crowd of about 1,000 as they chant "lock her up" in response to his comments about Notley's leadership.

At no point in the video does Alexander attempt to calm the crowd or denounce their chanting.
"I could clearly hear what they were saying and I was uncomfortable," Alexander told CBC News on Sunday.

"It was not something I initiated, it was not something I said at any point and it's not something I agree with. I was smiling because I was trying to think of a way to change the chant."
Yesterday, I wrote about a software plug-in, a b.s. dectector, to help ferret out fake news. I think it is safe to say no such software is needed to evaluate Chris Alexander's above disavowal.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

An Easy-To-Use Weapon Against Fake News



People of a certain 'vintage' will well remember the above commercial, in which a family appears to take great delight in fooling dad about the spread he is using. All in all, a humorous and harmless deception, one with no lasting consequences. Today, however, we face challenges to truth that the people of that commercial's era could never have imagined, challenges that are not the least bit amusing: the proliferation of fake news, aided and abetted by the ubiquitous Internet.

What defences do we have against such manipulations? Actually, there are many, only one of which I shall address in today's post.

We live in a very rushed world, one in which people often do not take the time to properly assess the information they access. Now, thanks to an exciting software innovation, that task has been made easier. Daniel Sieradski has created a browser plug-in that, with an extensive data base, flashes a warning at the top of one's screen alerting users to the questionable provenance of any given site. Interviewed on CBC's As It Happens, he explained why he created it:
It was in response to Mark Zuckerberg's statement that Facebook couldn't really handle the problem of fake news without a massive effort requiring the development of an algorithm and all these other things. I was able to work out a solution in just about an hour that showed that that was nonsense and that this issue could be easily addressed, if they really wanted to invest their energy in it.
Its principle seems elegantly simple:
Basically, it scans a given web page for the presence of links and then checks the links against a database that has been compiled of fake news sites, satire sites, conspiracy theory sites and so on and then it inserts a warning label adjacent to the link letting the user know that it is not exactly a reliable source of information.
The beauty of this approach is that it censors nothing; it simply issues a warning of unreliable content, and it is then up to the readers as to what they do with that information.


I strongly recommend that readers give it a try. Compatible with the majority of web browsers, I installed it on Chrome, and then tested it by consulting a list of fake news sites. It worked flawlessly on the ones I went to.

If you are interested, here is the link to the software. A further explanation as to its operating basis is supplied there as well:
The list of domains powering the B.S. Detector was somewhat indiscriminately compiled from various sources around the web. We are actively reviewing this dataset, categorizing entries, and removing misidentified domains. We thus cannot guarantee complete accuracy of our data at the moment. You can view the complete list here.

Domain classifications include:

Fake News: Sources that fabricate stories out of whole cloth with the intent of pranking the public.
Satire: Sources that provide humorous commentary on current events in the form of fake news.
Extreme Bias: Sources that traffic in political propaganda and gross distortions of fact.
Conspiracy Theory: Sources that are well-known promoters of kooky conspiracy theories.
Rumor Mill: Sources that traffic in rumors, innuendo, and unverified claims.
State News: Sources in repressive states operating under government sanction.
Junk Science: Sources that promote scientifically dubious claims.
Hate Group: Sources that actively promote racism, misogyny, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination.
Incorporating the plug-in is one defence against the increasingly strong assaults on truth and accuracy being mounted by those who seek to impose their distorted and indefensible views on the world. In a future post, I shall discuss the hard work that is also required if this battle is ever to be won.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Beguiling Words



The propaganda machine of the extreme right has scored a double hit, it would seem. Not only do they and their racist brethren have Breibart-founder Steve Bannon warmly ensconced in the White House as chief strategist and Senior Counselor to Donald Trump (whether he will also be keeping the president's seat warm in the Oval office in what are certain to be frequent presidential absences is anyone's guess), but many in Congress now appear to be conduits for Breitbart propaganda.

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, headed by Republican Lamar Smith, has a new weapon in its attack on climate science: Breibart 'science':



The content of this tweet is the same sort of thing you’d get if you fed a bull 20 kilos of Ex-Lax and stood behind it for a while. Global warming, of course, is real. The Breitbart article in question is written by James Delingpole, a flat-out climate change denier who has a history of writing grossly misleading articles about global warming. He gets this information from yet another climate change denier, David Rose, who wrote an article for the execrable Daily Mail claiming that global temperatures have dropped by an entire degree Celsius since this summer. Contrary to what the Daily Mail might have to say, global temperature is indeed increasing.

In a nutshell, Rose is guilty of extreme cherry-picking. He looked at a single temperature data set from a specific layer of the Earth’s atmosphere and only used measurements over land. And to make matters worse, he only used data going back to 1998, a big no-no: That year was unusually warm, so starting there falsely makes it look like temperatures haven’t risen much.

He also is chasing local fluctuations and ignoring the decadeslong trend. And that trend is up. The Earth is heating up. If you want more details, Tamino at Open Mind debunks Rose’s claims quite thoroughly.
Somehow, I doubt that the propaganda machine in Washington is going to alter too many people's thinking. The true believers of climate denialism will dismiss the critiques, and those who trust the scientific data will be unmoved by such blatant attempts at manipulation.

But what it does show is that the need for critical thinking is greater now than it ever was. In what I hope will be my next post, I will discuss some of the ways one can vet information for its veracity or falseness.

Friday, December 2, 2016

And Speaking of Our Post-Truth World

Yesterday's post dealt with the challenges real journalism faces in this era of presidential prevarications and attacks on the media.

The following video, via Mother Jones, shows what critical thinkers everywhere have to contend with.



Considering the above, we, as a species, clearly have little to be arrogant about.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Surviving In A Post-Truth World

Reading my morning paper, the Toronto Star, I came across a notice to subscribers that rates are once again increasing. As part of what is frequently referred to as their 'legacy readers," I am not happy about this, but I will continue with my subscription, despite the fact that I have full access to a complete digital version of it and hundreds of other papers through my local library via its Press Display service.

Why? First of all, I much prefer the print version of anything I read, but secondly, and more importantly, it is only through a steady income stream that newspapers can fulfill their traditional roles as safeguards of our democracy.

And lord knows that we need those safeguards, especially given the explosion of fake news sites, some of which may have influenced the U.S. election, not to mention the attacks on traditional media much in evidence these days, instigated, aided and abetted by demagogues like Donald Trump. Consider this:



The above campaign rally brought out this observation from the New York Times:
...even reporters long accustomed to the toxic fervor of Trump rallies were startled — and even frightened — at the vitriol of a Cincinnati crowd on Thursday evening as more than 15,000 supporters flashed homemade signs, flipped middle fingers and lashed out in tirades often laced with profanity as journalists made their way to a crammed, fenced-in island in the center of the floor.
Or how about this scene from another rally?



Last week, veteran journalist Christiane Amanpour was given an award honouring her for her extraordinary and sustained achievement in the cause of press freedom. Her acceptance speech, which you can see here, expressed her concerns over this kind of pillorying, a concern that the CBC's Diana Swain discussed with her:



It would not be wrong to conclude that the mainstream media, through a combination of laziness, obedience to corporate imperatives and frequent abandonment of their sacred responsibilities, deserve criticism. But it would be wrong to conclude that they no longer have a place in informing the public through deep research, factual renditions of stories and fearless resistance to the pressures from unhinged members of the public, opportunistic, manipulative politicos and feckless employers.

I shall continue to do my part in trying to realize the above ideal by paying for the paper I most trust. I leave you with the reflections of a Star letter-writer, who recognizes the challenges facing traditional media today:
Journalist Christiane Amanpour’s address last week to the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York is extremely relevant. The need for the mainstream media to re-commit to an unwavering role in delivering pure facts is more important now than ever.

Some news outlets may have been more committed to delivering facts than others. So it’s up to readers, viewers and listeners to decide where they get their information.

But too many, it seems, have relied over the past year or more on social media. Donald Trump aside, this has been a very dangerous trend. And dwindling ratings/circulation and news coverage budgets have not helped.

The media have always been under attack from one source or other, but never to the degree that we’re seeing now. And it’s not only from Trump. While re-dedicating themselves to ever-higher standards, media will now have to reinvent themselves to deal with what social media is pumping out in the form of fake news (to which Trump has been just one major contributor).

Some social media may also have learned some lessons from this and may have accepted responsibility, as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently acknowledged.

Amanpour asked a very good question off the top. What would Ed Murrow do? Fifty-one years after his death, the iconic CBS newsman is still regarded by a (admittedly-dwindling) number of reporters as a leading light in truthful, gutsy, advocacy journalism. He took on an earlier narcissist sociopath in the 1950s by the name of McCarthy – and won. Joe McCarthy self-destructed within months.

Nobody – doubtless including himself – knows what will happen with a Trump presidency. As we know, he’s already reversed himself on several issues, probably thanks to prevailing wisdom that has eked its way through to the Trump Tower. He may, in fact, moderate his attitude about mainstream media, as well. Who knows?

But the same media are going to have to figure out how to deal with this guy in, one hopes, some constructive way. And Trump will be forever totally unpredictable.

Amanpour’s warnings are critically important at this worrisome time. She has articulated the urgency of the message better than we’ve heard from anyone else to date.

Ian Sutton, Kingston

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The World Needs More People Like This

Living in Texas, I doubt this man will have endeared himself to many. All the more reason to laud his courage and integrity in displaying this sign outside of the Islamic Center of Irving, Texas.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Fight Must Continue

Because I am quite a private person, I rarely discuss anything personal on my blog. But I will, to a small extent, break that general rule today to convey something I have come to understand.

The catalyst for today's post is a comment that Kirby Evans made in response to something I posted yesterday, two videos depicting the empowerment of homophobes and racists now that the demagogue Trump has been elected president. Kirby is one of the bloggers that I read regularly and deeply respect for his heartfelt convictions and analyses. Since he made the comments public on my blog, I am sure he will not mind me featuring them in this post:
I must admit, Lorne, that I have largely lost heart. I avoid the news, can't bring myself to write blogposts. I just feel like all the years of fighting have left me drained and bereft of my humanity. In my dad's last years he was continually predicting the return of the 1930s because he said that the spirit of hate is too strong to keep down. As sad as it sounds, I am glad he didn't live to see this stuff. I know I need to keep fighting for my daughter's sake if nothing else. But I just don't know how any more. I feel like the tide of history has changed and we are just going to lose.
Here is what I wrote in response:
I felt the same way in the immediate aftermath of Trump's election, Kirby, but somehow found renewed purpose. I hope you will regain your spirit, Kirby.

Thoughtful, reflective and analytical voices like yours are far too important to be silenced. The war, in my view, is always worth fighting, if only to deny final victory to the rabid right, the morally twisted, and the outright bigots who live amongst us.
What I didn't mention was the catalyst for my renewed purpose, which is where the story gets a little more personal than I am usually comfortable with.

It was probably two days after the Trump victory that I received a phone call from an organization looking for someone to canvas on my street for their charitable cause. Although it was a worthy one, I immediately responded by telling her that I wasn't interested. It wasn't my refusal that was noteworthy, since it is not the kind of thing I do, but it was what I felt when I refused, which I will come back to momentarily.

Probably the same day, or perhaps the next, I was coming out of a library branch and walking to a nearby grocery store when a man sitting on a bench asked me if I had some spare change for a coffee and a doughnut from a nearby Tim Horton's. As is my usual practice, I said "No." (I should add here that I usually refuse such requests in the full knowledge that the area where I live is well-served with organizations providing breakfasts, lunches and dinners seven days a week, and we prefer to donate to organizations rather than individuals.)

My refusal was not delivered with any rancour, and his response was, "Oh." Yet something didn't feel right to me. As I continued my walk to the store, it occurred to me what it was. It was not that I had refused his request or the request of the telephone solicitor that bothered me. It was my realization of a certain mean-spiritedness I felt in issuing those refusals. It dawned upon me that I had, indeed, been deeply affected by the repudiation of my values and principles thanks to the Trump election and I had, in fact, allowed that victory to infect my own psyche. In a word, I think I had momentarily surrendered to the power of darkness cast by Trump and was, in fact, acting as a Trump supporter would have.

I am not sure if I am explaining myself clearly here, but the fact of my refusal was not the issue. I will repeat, it was what I felt when issuing the refusals. To counteract that, upon my return from the store I went into Tim Horton's and bought a gift certificate, hoping the man was still on the bench down the street. He was, and he once more made the same request of me. I handed him the gift card.

Such gestures may be largely meaningless, and certainly are unusual for me. But it hit me with full force that the only way to combat the darkness enveloping us now is to be proactive, to be on guard against such psychic infection, and to carry on as best we can in fighting the forces that would have us devolve into a lower form of existence.

I hope Kirby Evans at some point finds a renewed sense of purpose and resumes his blog. Win or lose, we all have a role to play in this fight, if only to deny final victory to the barbarians at the gate.