Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Standing Up To Bullies

As part of their ongoing mission to destroy the Enlightenment, the right has latched onto a tweet by Lawyers, Guns and Money's Erik Loomis, a non-tenured academic at a Rhode Island university. 

They're of course trying to get him fired.  It's completely hypocritical, the substance of their complaint is preposterous and too often this shit works.  They stage a disingenuous freak out, some nervous school administrators over-react and someone's career is in tatters to the chortling glee of a bunch of sociopaths.

I have signed this open letter and emailed the University's mucky-mucks.  This post is to do my little bit to raise its profile.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Newtown: Another Expose on Conservative Ideological Bankruptcy

While liberals debate various forms of gun control, improvements to the psychiatric care system, and other actual measures to make slaughters like Newtown less likely, the abject bankruptcy of conservative thought is something to behold.

The Tea Party suggests more George Zimmermans are the answer.  Armed vigilante squads patrolling school zones.

Gun "academic" John Lott suggests abolishing even more gun laws, specifically gun-free school zones.

Libertarian law Professor Glenn Reynolds approvingly cites a pro-gun man who later shot and killed his wife in a botched (?) puerile gun stunt.

Supposed "reasonable" conservative Eugene Volokh says to arm the teachers.

Libertarian individualist Megan McArdle proposes a creative collectivist solution:  Train seven year olds to rush adult shooters and overpower them.

Is there anything one needs to say in response to such stupidity?  They can't honestly believe this egregious nonsense.  This is the utter and complete bankruptcy of conservativism and right wing thought in general.  It is incapable of responding to this, and thus can only provide risible self-satirizing ideas to cover its shame.

I wrote about this some time ago, and this is more of the same.  Conservativism has no useful answers to the problems of society.  They simply wish to leave problems to fester, where action would impose the least inconvenience or costs on themselves.  If some problem magically solves itself, they might be ok with that, but for anything else, we are simply left to endure what we must.   They simply don't really believe problems can be solved. 

There shouldn't be 40% of Americans (and 30% of Canadians) willing to call themselves "conservatives" in the face of this.  This is shameful, and frankly disgusting.  The Emperor has no clothes.  People with ideas this monstrous need to experience sustained criticism and even scorn for refusing to rethink such bad ideas in the face of their self-evident horrific failure.  Teach children to rush at mass murderers?  Encourage more vigilantism?  What has to go wrong in your life that you even could entertain these thoughts, never mind publish it to millions in evident seriousness?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Right To Work For Less Coming to Ontario

My operating assumption is that Tim Hudak's "Progressive" Conservative party of Ontario will win the next Ontario election and form the next government.  I hope I'm wrong, but it's certainly the safe bet after events drove McGuinty out of power and Horwath's NDP haven't managed yet to convince voters they're a plausible non-crazy alternative to the PCs.

One depressing certainty of a Hudak administration would be a war on organized labour.  If Republian Governor Snyder can take on Michigan, Hudak can certainly bring some variant of "right to work for less" to Ontario.  Indeed, he has already (months ago) indicated he wants to:
“In many cases union leaders have become so powerful that many employees in effect have two bosses — their actual employer and the people who run their union.”
To correct that, he would like union membership to no longer be mandatory and would outlaw the “forced paycheque contributions” unionized workers make to political causes.
The arguments will be the same anti-union stuff from the US, but also a dollop of one particular anti-union argument that I really want to see die, it's the one that goes like this:
Unions were important back in the days of the robber barons and the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, but now we have all these fancy labour laws that protect workers, and unions have served their purpose.
I really did see someone say something almost exactly like that, including the Triangle Shirtwaist reference. 

The first thing to say here is that we never stopped having Triangle Shirtwaist fires, we just simply outsourced them to Bangladesh, and other unregulated labour countries where such events are depressingly common.

Naturally these facilities are almost never directly managed by brand name Western companies, but they all make clothing for them, and I guarantee those companies' representatives have visited.  We're talking about places built without fire stairs, smoke alarms, sprinklers and where "fire drill" is a meaningless phrase.  I realize companies probably don't send health and safety experts to assess these places, but it doesn't take a Fire Marshall to realize the damn building has no fire safety measures whatsoever.  They don't care. 

They never did.  The only thing that ever makes them treat workers like humans and take the necessary steps to protect their health and safety are laws.  These laws were almost to a one, brought about by unions.

What happens when organized labour is beaten?  These laws are repealed.  No right wing leader ever campaigns on repealing the building fire code, but they'll talk in general terms about "burdensome regulations" and invent convoluted arbitrary schemes to gut workplace regulations.  Like Hudak has already done.

I'm not in a union and I never was, but I know it is not white collar people like me who make sure my office has a first aid kid, fire extinguishers and we hold an annual fire escape drill.  These are all "burdensome" regulations on my employer and every other.  They also save lives.  The Westray Mine disaster was really not that long ago.  It can and will happen again the weaker these laws are made (along with a host of other labour abuse ills, long forgotten which reemerge the moment the laws prohibiting them are repealed).

It's cliche, but Hudak is shaping up to make Harris look like a moderate.  Past conservative ideologues always seem like moderates but it might actually be true here.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Dirty Tricks Politics Goes Local With Rob Ford Ouster

In the wake of an Ontario Judge ruling that Rob Ford violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act and was subject to its mandatory penalty of being removed from office, I've been following the #TOpoli stream on Twitter (which behaves remarkably like the old usenet political debates used to).   So far I have seen two different "petition" sites for outraged Rob Ford supporters to sign.  Both are pretty dubious affairs and I think this deserves some notice, as a sign of the kind of dirty tricks politics that I think should be of concern to Torontonians as we face a likely by-election where Ford is almost certain to be the right's candidate.

Democracy Denied!

We the people of Toronto and friends in the rest of Canada who support Rob Ford for Mayor of Toronto.

Our voice was shutdown by an activists who brought Rob Ford to court on a technicality for using the wrong letterhead to raise money for underprivileged kids sports.

Those elitist Ford haters wanted to get Ford anyway they could.

Now it's time to fight back. Let's bring Rob Ford back into the mayor's office with an even BIGGER vote margin.

Sign the pledge.

First off, this: "an activists who brought Rob Ford to court on a technicality for using the wrong letterhead to raise money for underprivileged kids sports" is a straight out lie (and grammatically atrocious) - Ford was brought to court for voting to save himself from losing $3K out of his own pocket, the most direct and obvious kind of conflict-of-interest there could possibly be.  The reason for that $3K fine has to do with his fundraising for a sports related charity, but that underlying matter is absolutely irrelevant to why he was brought to court.  

The fine could have been for anything, Ford clearly abused his powers as a member of City Council by voting on a matter in which he had a direct financial stake.  If a City Council member voted to cancel all their personal parking tickets, we would all easily understand this was an improper use of their power to vote in Council.  Ford's action was no different.  

Some other features of note in this "petition":
  • You can't see who has signed it.  It lists a number of signers at the top right, but we must take the site's word for that.  In a democracy, petitioning is necessarily a public act, where citizens put their name to a particular sentiment for all to see.  That's the point.
  • No one is claiming credit for this site.  Who started this petition?  Who will deliver it, and to what authorities?  For what outcome?
  • If you sign it via Facebook, it appears to gather an amazing amount of information that the user probably does not intend to provide to the mystery owner of the site, from the source code of the site:user_about_me, user_activities, user_education_history, user_events,user_groups, user_hometown, user_interests,user_likes,user_location,user_notes, user_religion_politics, user_status, user_work_history, email,user_birthday, publish_stream, user_checkins, friends_about_me, friends_checkins, friends_education_history, friends_hometown, friends_interests, friends_likes, friends_location, friends_religion_politics, friends_status, friends_work_history, friends_birthday
    The above means that if you are friends with someone who signs this petition, your info will be provided too.  A better excuse to unfriend any "Ford nation" supporters I can't imagine.
  • The site appears to be created by "" which just screams "astroturf" - a service that creates fake "grass roots" sites for corporate interests.
  • Whois records for the domain reveal no individual owner, registered through a service 
On October 25, 2010, 383,501 Toronto citizens elected Mayor Rob Ford.

At a stroke, that election has been overturned. Why? A politically motivated technical objection over how he raised money for underprivileged kids.

Mayor Ford gained nothing. The City of Toronto lost nothing.

This is unfair, undemocratic, and unacceptable. We elected Mayor Ford to bring respect for taxpayers back to City Hall.

And he’s been doing just that in the face of strong opposition.

We stand with Mayor Ford. We support his appeal. And we support his re-election.

Please show your support for Mayor Ford by signing our petition.  
The similarity in the writing makes me pretty sure the same person or people are behind this too.  Again we have the outright lie about why Ford was in front of that Judge.  We have some fresh sophistry here about whether Ford "gained" anything or the city lost anything.  This isn't really a lie, because I think Ford and Ford supporters really have trouble understanding why Ford's fundraising letter being sent on City letterhead was improper.  Things don't have to require direct financial gains or losses to be a problem.  First of all, if I raise a big chunk of money for some charity, I do gain from that act, not financially, but in social capital.   Being able to say he raised X dollars for charity is good for Ford's political career.  As a public figure, he's likely to get some positive press over it.  He can put it on his campaign site (and he did).  Using the letterhead sends a message to the people who get the letter that Councillor Ford, a person who may be able to help you win some City contract someday, wants you to donate to his charity.  That's plenty of extra reason to give where you might otherwise have passed on this charity.  If Ford someday votes to give one of these donors some City contract, how can we be sure their generosity to his charity was not a factor in his decision?  How could it not be, councillors are human too, someone helps you or helps a cause you care about, you will be emotionally better disposed to them. 

This is all why it is better if public officials steer clear of this stuff.  Honestly, even if Ford didn't use his city letterhead, he is still a city councillor and his donors will know that.  If you got a letter from Stephen Harper asking for money for some charity he likes, how can you ignore the fact that he's the Prime Minister and that you'll gain in his esteem by being generous? 

Again, like the first:
  • No one is claiming credit for organizing this, and whois for the domain is a dead end
  • You can't see who has signed it, and there isn't even a counter to know how many have done so
  • The youtube video linked is a new youtube account with only that video.  Comments and rating are disabled.
  • I don't see a nefarious facebook scraping script here, but my HTML-fu is only mediocre.  There's a set of embedded .js scripts which I didn't pursue, so I don't know what happens when you "share" this page on the social media icons it advertises.
I've seen speculation that these "petitions" are just a good way of gathering Ford supporter info for his upcoming campaign.  This makes sense, but of course since no one is claiming ownership, it could be literally anyone.

This is something to watch.