6. Followups

Jun-22-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: The usual mixed bag, with flashbacks to the concentration of power in the 1%, a further look at women in video games, the UN condemning Bill 78 in Quebec (the one that criminalized freedom of assembly). Fortunately there is the ultimate balloon stealing cat to cheer you up.

* We’ve Been Brainwashed, Intentionally, By The 1 Percent Stiglitz  Salon 

How, in a democracy supposedly based on one person one vote, could the 1 percent could have been so victorious in shaping policies in its interests? It is part of a process of disempowerment, disillusionment, and disenfranchisement that produces low voter turnout, a system in which electoral success requires heavy investments, and in which those with money have made political investments that have reaped large rewards — often greater than the returns they have reaped on their other investments. There is another way for moneyed interests to get what they want out of government: convince the 99 percent that they have shared interests. This strategy requires an impressive sleight of hand; in many respects the interests of the 1 percent and the 99 percent differ markedly.

The fact that the 1 percent has so successfully shaped public perception testifies to the malleability of beliefs. When others engage in it, we call it “brainwashing” and “propaganda.” We look askance at these attempts to shape public views, because they are often seen as unbalanced and manipulative, without realizing that there is something akin going on in democracies, too. What is different today is that we have far greater understanding of how to shape perceptions and beliefs — thanks to the advances in research in the social sciences. It is clear that many, if not most, Americans possess a limited understanding of the nature of the inequality in our society: They believe that there is less inequality than there is, they underestimate its adverse economic effects, they underestimate the ability of government to do anything about it, and they overestimate the costs of taking action.

* Sometimes It’s Hard To Be A Woman. Especially When You’re Made Out Of Pixels  Charlie Brooker  The Guardian

Last month the creators of the game Hitman drew widespread criticism for a grisly promotional trailer that showed the main (male) character slaughtering a group of S&M killer nuns. Since this was merely the logical conclusion of a deeply boring trend for rubberised female assassins that’s been going on since the 1990s, some gamers were surprised by the outcry, and became indignant and defensive, as though someone had just walked in and caught them masturbating to the same goat porn they’d been innocently enjoying for decades, and judging them and making them feel bad.

When they’re not 7ft-tall high-heeled dominatrix killers, women in gamestend to be saucy background-dressing or yelping damsels in distress. A rare exception is Lara Croft, the female star of Tomb Raider, who – in Pac-Man terms – is Ms. Indiana Jones. But whoops. Last week the forthcoming big-budget Tomb Raider reboot made headlines after its executive producer apparently told the gaming site Kotaku that players would feel an urge to “protect” Lara after she faces a series of ghastly trials including an encounter in which she kills a would-be rapist. The subsequent outcry necessitated a speedy clarification from the developers about precisely what kind of game they’re making.

* U.N. Puts Canada On Human Rights Watchlist Over Quebec Demo Law  

Canada will be put in the company of some of the world’s worst abusers of human rights tomorrow when the UN’s highest human rights official expresses “alarm” over Quebec’s new law on demonstrations during her opening address to a meeting of the 47-nation UN Human Rights Council, revealed the Geneva-based monitoring group UN Watch, which obtained an advance copy of her speech. Other states on the UN watchlist include Syria, Pakistan and Zimbabwe.

“Moves to restrict freedom of assembly continue to alarm me, as is the case in the province of Quebec in Canada in the context of students’ protests,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay will say tomorrow, according to her draft speech. The rights czar reserves her sharpest language for Canada. While Pillay cites only two other countries in the world for restrictions on freedom of assembly—expressing “concern” about Russia, and “deep concern” for Eritrea—only Canada provokes her far stronger “alarm.”

* Cat After Balloons gif

Is there some sort of cult/religion based on this cat? Because I would like to join it.

5. Quebec Students: The World is Watching

Jun-15-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: After a few weeks of using Canadian articles, it seemed noteworthy that le printemps érable is getting worldwide attention. Here are two views, one from the US, by the inestimable Chris Hedges, and one from Germany. In Focus offers a wider range of photographs than a daily newspaper does, too. 

* Canada’s ‘Casserole’ Movement Is Ours Chris Hedges FOCUS 

The streets of Montreal are clogged nightly with as many as 100,000 protesters banging pots and pans and demanding that the old systems of power be replaced. The mass student strike in Quebec, the longest and largest student protest in Canadian history, began over the announcement of tuition hikes and has metamorphosed into what must swiftly build in the United States—a broad popular uprising. The debt obligation of Canadian university students, even with Quebec’s proposed 82 percent tuition hike over several years, is dwarfed by the huge university fees and the $1 trillion of debt faced by U.S. college students. The Canadian students have gathered widespread support because they linked their tuition protests to Quebec’s call for higher fees for health care, the firing of public sector employees, the closure of factories, the corporate exploitation of natural resources, new restrictions on union organizing, and an announced increase in the retirement age. Crowds in Montreal, now counting 110 days of protests, chant “On ne lâche pas”—“We’re not backing down.”

The Quebec government, which like the United States’ security and surveillance state is deaf to the pleas for justice and fearful of widespread unrest, has reacted by trying to stamp out the rebellion. It has arrested hundreds of protesters. The government passed Law 78, which makes demonstrations inside or near a college or university campus illegal and outlaws spontaneous demonstrations in the province. It forces those who protest to seek permission from the police and imposes fines of up to $125,000 for organizations that defy the new regulations. This, as with the international Occupy movement, has become a test of wills between a disaffected citizenry and the corporate state. The fight in Quebec is our fight. Their enemy is our enemy. And their victory is our victory.

* Quebec Braces Itself For A Summer Of Unrest DW (Germany)

Quebec’s longest ever period of student unrest threatens to continue throughout the summer. What originally began as a student protest about tuition fee rises has now become a full-blown social and political movement.

Quebec’s leaders have warned protesters that their continued acts of civil disobedience are threatening the economy of the predominantly francophone province, which is already one of the most indebted regions in Canada. The warnings come as pictures circulate of police pepper-spraying students within meters of pubs and clubs packed with well-heeled Formula One Grand Prix visitors.

* The Montreal Protests, 4 Months In In Focus, The Atlantic

2. Quebec Students: Canaries in Harper’s Coal Mine

Jun-08-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Part of the plutocratic austerity agenda is cutting the social safety net, and Quebec students are the first to put up a fight. Backing down in their fight is to be an appeaser, accurately characterized by Churchill in:“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile – hoping it will eat him last.”

What Ontario’s Oldsters Can Learn From Quebec’s Youngsters Martin Cohn The Toronto Star

Students clanging pots and pans are the canaries on campus. We should be keeping our ears to the ground, not wagging our fingers. Much of the derision over their demands comes from self-satisfied boomers — people who benefited from lower tuition in their day, emerged with skimpy debt loads, and prospered in a booming economy. Today’s students can look forward to higher college debt, lower-paying jobs and vanishing pensions.

An old generation gap has become a new demographic gap, pitting affluent oldsters against disaffected youngsters — apprehensive, alienated, and disengaged from democracy: in Ontario, barely half of all eligible voters cast ballots in the last election; only one-third of young first-time voters turned out in the last federal election. Even when it gets better, it gets worse. A young person lucky enough to land a solid job will pay far more in pension contributions than his older counterparts, with less likelihood that he’ll get his fair share upon retirement.

That’s the context: You can call students entitled, but when the entitlements of their parents disappear, expect a reaction — be it abstentions from elections or demonstrations on the streets. The world is not standing still for boomers, either. Now, pension shortfalls and corporate failures are the new normal. Many private firms offer no pension at all, and those that do are phasing out defined benefit pensions for new hires (once again shortchanging younger workers).

* Using Red Squares as Red Herrings behindthenumbers

The thumbnail sketch is bleak: since 1987, incomes have stagnated for most Canadian homes—with two exceptions. The lowest income earners have actually lost ground while the wealthiest among us have disproportionately benefited. Meanwhile, people are working harder and longer than ever before, with less to show for it except maybe where sheer exhaustion is concerned. And then there’s household debt which has risen from 93% in 1990 to 150% today.

…Add to this toxic socioeconomic brew the fallout of declining levels of government support for higher education in Canada which has resulted in a number of new realities: over the past 30 years, government grants as a share of university operating revenue plummeted from 84% to 58%, and the share funded by tuition fees rose from 12% to 35%.

It’s revealing that decreasing fees appears to have a positive effect on participation rates. The publicly-funded CEGEP system is largely responsible for Quebec’s highest post-secondary education participation rate in Canada, allowing more people to pursue education when it makes sense for them. Newfoundland-Labrador rolled back and froze tuition fees and, in spite of an aging population, fewer students now leave the province to pursue a degree.

We know the vast benefits of accessible higher education—and not just physical accessibility. Societies that make this a priority tend to be healthier, have a more politically-active citizenry, enjoy greater levels of community and family involvement, and have more social mobility. There are economic returns as well, all of which means that the demand for public education—or public health care, or public child care—is not a request for “free”anything, or even not wanting to pay one’s “fair share”.

* A Numbers Guide To The Quebec ProtestAlice KleinNOW Magazine


Average student debt in Quebec: $13,000

Average student debt in the ROC: $26,000

Percentage of Canadian youth in post-secondary education: 74

Percentage of Quebec youth in post-secondary ed: 83

Cost of free ed in Quebec: less than 1 per cent of the government’s budget

For every $1,000 fee hike: proportion of poor students drops by 19 per cent


Cost of F-35 fighter jets over 20 years: $25 bil

Cost of wiping out Canada’s student debt: $20 billion

May 25th, 2012 :: Year 9, Issue 19

May-25-2012 | Comments Off

1. Quebec Student Rebellion Catches Fire

Bird’s Eye: Bill-78 put the kibosh on last week’s speculation that perhaps Charest was using the student rebellion to gain political karma. His suspension of civil rights has tripled the student support, alienated the centre, and drawn bad press from everyone from the New York Times to Al Jazeera. It’s hard to see how he’ll get out of this: his current position is untenable, but backing down will be a humiliation. Sign the Avaaz petition, though, and held end the odious bill.

* Quebec Takes Liberties With Bill 78 Now Magazine

North America’s longest-running student strike marked its 100th day this week amidst a legislated crackdown, putting Canada on the map as a global anti-austerity hot spot. With the likes of Michael Moore, Arcade Fire and director Xavier Dolan on board, and red squares turning up as the insignia of revolt from New York to Paris, Quebec students are the new symbols of anti-1-per-cent resistance.

You could see the realignment Tuesday afternoon, May 22, when 200,000 people poured into the streets for what some have called the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history.  The new legislation imposes heavy fines on students, unions and their leaders for picketing or demonstrating within 50 metres of campus buildings, and requires protest organizers to submit demo routes for any gathering over 50, eight hours in advance, effectively ruling out spontaneous  action. The shock of this one-year emergency legislation has changed the fault lines for the Jean Charest government, galvanizing support for the students from international solidarity protests, major labour associations inside and outside Quebec, civil libertarians, Quebec’s bar association and massive numbers of the formerly uninvolved.

* Our Not-So-Friendly Northern Neighbor New York Times

When Vladimir V. Putin first came to power in Russia, Quebecers could not help but laugh. Poutine, as he is called in French, is also the name of a Québécois fast-food dish made of French fries, gravy and cheese. But these days the laughter is over, as Quebec gets a taste of Mr. Putin’s medicine.

For a change, Americans should take note of what is happening across the quiet northern border. Canada used to seem a progressive and just neighbor, but the picture today looks less rosy. One of its provinces has gone rogue, trampling basic democratic rights in an effort to end student protests against the Quebec provincial government’s plan to raise tuition fees by 75 percent.

On May 18, Quebec’s legislative assembly, under the authority of the provincial premier, Jean Charest, passed a draconian law in a move to break the 15-week-long student strike. Bill 78, adopted last week, is an attack on Quebecers’ freedom of speech, association and assembly. Mr. Charest has refused to use the traditional means of mediation in a representative democracy, leading to even more polarization. His administration, one of the most right-wing governments Quebec has had in 40 years, now wants to shut down opposition.

* Charest Appears To Have Boxed Himself In Over Student Protests Montreal Gazette

Negotiations have not worked. Playing the tough guy has not yielded much. Even a change of education minister, the riot squad and tear gas have not deterred the student movement rocking Quebec’s social peace.

So what’s left for Premier Jean Charest to do? It’s not clear.

With tens of thousands of protesters gathering for a 100th day and some vowing to resort to civil disobedience, opinions are all over the map as to where the government should turn to resolve the crisis. Both Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay and Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois on the weekend said the government has no choice but to reopen negotiations and sit down with students.

* What Happened To The Occupy Movement?  Al Jazeera

Occupy Wall Street was at the pinnacle of its power in October 2011, when thousands of people converged at Zuccotti Park and successfully foiled the plans of billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg to sweep away the occupation on grounds of public health. From that vantage point, the Occupy movement appears to have tumbled off a cliff, having failed to organise anything like a general strike on May Day – despite months of rumblings of mass walkouts, blockades and shutdowns.

….Others note that protests did take place in more than 110 cities on May Day in recognition of worker resistance and solidarity, no mean feat given the hostility to labour among the ruling elite i the US. At the same time, only shameless partisans would deny that the Occupy movement is struggling to reclaim the heights it had last year, and many activists admit this in private. Some argue that police and media hostility act as a one-two punch that can knock out movements such as Occupy, and this is all too true, as explained below. But other movements surmount these obstacles. North of the US-Canada border, hundreds of thousands of university students in Quebec have maintained a militant strike for three months against tuition increases in defiance of whip-cracking politicians, pundits and police.

* Canada: Our Rights, Under Attack! Avaaz

Québec Premier Jean Charest just enacted a draconian emergency law restricting the most basic rights of free assembly. The law could turn Canada into an international embarrassment — making us look more like the Middle Eastern police states the Arab Spring just overthrew — unless we show the world that Canadians reject this type of outdated suppression.

The emergency law, known as Bill 78, imposes massive fines of up to $125,000 for organizing peaceful protests — the most basic right of free democracies. And anyone hoping to gather just 50 people must give police 8 hours notice! Legal scholars are uniform in declaring the law unconstitutional, but while we wait for the courts to strike it down, free speech is in jeopardy. Let’s join together and show leaders everywhere Canadians reject this attack on basic rights and that all suppression will bring is a stronger opposition.

Our country’s constitutional rights and international reputation are at risk. Join the call and forward to everyone — if we reach 50,000 signers, Avaaz will erect giant protesters in front of Montreal representatives’ offices to bring our national call home to politicians.

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