Populism has lost its meaning

Use of the word populism has become more popular says Sylvia Stead, public editor of the Globe and Mail:

      Rodrigo Duterte. Image: Youtube

“There has certainly been a surge in references to ‘populist’ and ‘populism’ in The Globe. Ten years ago, each word had 317 mentions in the paper. Then there was a surge around Toronto mayor Rob Ford. In the past 12 months, the combined number of mentions rose to 1,310. And clearly the increase over the past year reflects a growth in both true populism and the appearance of populism.”

However, its meaning has become less clear. Public historian David Finch says: “the definition of populism is at odds with the racist, narrow minded, reactionary point of view of the minority now claiming to represent the majority.”

It used to mean something, such as grass-roots democracy or working class activism. Those movements are fundamental, not of the left or the right. The Reform Party was a grass-roots movement that was swallowed by the Conservative Party. The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation had agrarian roots before it evolved into the New Democratic Party.

So-called populist leaders have little in common except for raw ambition,.

There are the populist wannabes like Conservative leader hopeful Kellie Leitch.  She tried to exploit the fear of immigrants in her pitch for Canadian Values. Some Canadians feared that immigrants would take their jobs, or end up being terrorists who would kill them in the streets. Instead of addressing those concerns by pointing out that immigrants actually create jobs and that most home-grown terrorists aren’t immigrants, she reinforced those fears. It was a thinly disguised attempt to emulate the power-grab in the U.S.

There are self-aggrandizing fools. There is no doubt that Donald Trump’s supporters represent working-class discontent. These formerly middle-class industrial workers have seen their incomes slip into the rank of the working poor. They awoke from their slumber to find that, while globalism has brought them cheap goods, it has sent their jobs elsewhere. Trump’s vitriol against Mexico and Canada resonates with them. Trump has no appreciation of the working class. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and has clawed his way to fortune by climbing over the backs of his constituents. Calling Trump a populist leader is an insult to the genuine concerns of his base.

There are regressive, reactionary leaders like Rodrigo Duterte, President of the Philippines. Duterte has exploited the concerns of ordinary people over deadly drugs. Duterte encourages vigilante squads to kill drug dealers. Those squads end up killing the very people who worry about drug abuse -innocent Filipinos accused, found guilty, and executed on the spot.

If not populists, what are we to call these autocratic leaders? We can certainly call them xenophobes. The vote on Brexit and the second-place showing of Marine Le Pen in France demonstrates that. Perhaps no one word will do. Instead we will have to use full sentences, even paragraphs to say what we mean.

While the meaning of populism is less clear, the fundamental concerns of the poor and working class are not. Canadians yearn for leaders who are pure of heart, not opportunists who use them as stepping stones to promote their warped ambitions.

Advertisements

Kick the bucket list

Bucket lists have a grim quality about them. Once they’re completed, what else is there to live for? They nag at you. Even if life gets in the way of completion, they sit impatiently to be done. They are potentially dangerous; things you always wanted in your youth might now be dangerous or foolhardy in later years. They represent delayed gratification; a future reward for living the right life now –a bit like heaven.

Cam, Ottawa Citizen

Cam, Ottawa Citizen

Retirement planers like bucket lists because they provide a reason why you to employ them. You’ve probably seen the ads. Buy that sailboat you always wanted and sail to Australia. Scale that mountain you only saw from a distance when young. You, too, can realize the dreams of your youthful-you in your new “mature” body.

There’s nothing wrong with lists. I make them all the time: things around the house that need fixing like the front door hinge. There’s nothing wrong with hopes and goals. The difference between those and a bucket list is that hopes and goals are a dynamic process, a direction, whereas bucket-list items are mere markers along that path.

Andrew Stark finds bucket lists a bit strange (Globe and Mail, December 30, 2016). “And so, as we spy the tip of the reaper’s cowl poking up over the horizon, we begin to write bucket lists. Lists full of concrete, vivid experiences that we hope to enjoy and savour for themselves, and vague status-oriented goals so empty of specificity that we couldn’t possibly value them for themselves.

“Bucket lists typically feature two kinds of items. First are desires, before the end comes, to experience the kinds of moments that bucket-listers tend to find valuable, pleasurable or enjoyable in and of themselves. Typical examples: ‘Swim naked in the Caribbean.’ ‘Be at Chichen Itza on December 12, 2020.’”

The trouble with concrete items is that we confuse specific tasks for the real goals we aim for. Climbing a mountain is part of a longing to enjoy the outdoors and remain fit. The things you might do to achieve those goals are a series, none of them worth listing. You no sooner finish one and the next becomes apparent.

“The second kind of item is the kind of thing that will bring success, status or money, such as ‘write a book,’ or “break or set a world record.’”

These things on a bucket list are more aspirational than concrete. We may want to “complete a great painting.” What we really long for is artistic expression. A friend of mine who calls himself a “tin-basher (heating and air conditioner contractor)” remarked with satisfaction on the completion duct work he completed; already realizing the art of a job creatively done.

Aspirational and concrete things on a bucket list are mere clues to a deeper understanding of what we long for.

“The bucket list is a recent innovation,” adds Stark. “The human psychology it lays bare –our tendency to conceive of things we value for themselves in concrete, particular terms. . .”

B.C.’s failed health-care experiment

Other provinces have opted for the team approach to solve the growing problem of patient access to doctors. Not in B.C. The team approach is not new. Roy Romanow recommended it in his 2002 report:

NorKam Medical Clinic (Google street view)

NorKam Medical Clinic (Google street view)

“in view of …changing trends, corresponding changes must be made in the way health care providers are educated and trained. If health care providers are expected to work together and share expertise in a team environment, it makes sense that their education and training should prepare them for this type of working arrangement.”

B.C. decided to keep doctors in their silos and try monetary reward.

B.C.’s experiment has failed, according to a report published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. The report’s authors, Kimberlyn McGrail and Ruth Lavergne, professors at UBC and Simon Fraser University, respectively, wrote of their results in the Globe and Mail (August 17, 2016). Taxpayers have paid $397 million on the plan without much to show for it. Here’s how it was supposed to work.

The plan, called the Complex Care Initiative, was negotiated between the government of B.C. and doctors a decade ago. It gave doctors who treated patients with complex health problems an extra $315 each year per patient.

The rational was that if doctors cared for patients who were really sick, rather than those with minor complaints, the rest would go to a walk-in clinic. Dr, Shelley Ross, co-chair of the General Practice Services Committee, says that a doctor’s time is sometimes taken up with minor complaints, sometimes more serious. It could be a runny nose and sore throat or it could be case of diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, and memory loss.

“So you can see the difference,” said Dr. Ross, “It is basically a time issue, it is not a knowledge issue. It’s not that we don’t know what to do, it’s just a matter of being able to spend the time to do the quality of care (Globe and Mail, August 15, 2016).”

While doctors understandably want to direct more attention to those in dire need, more walk-in clinics haven’t happened.

The failure of planning for clinics has left patients out on the street. I know, because last year I was one of them. Last year when my doctor was on vacation and I had an eye infection, I only got into the clinic on Tranquille with great persistence and intervention from the pharmacist next door.

Kamloopsians are expressing their concerns on social media. On Tuesday of this week, Megs (‏@PirateMeghan) tweeted “The walk in clinic doesn’t open til 8am and I’m waiting in a line up of 28 people outside. The need for doctors in #Kamloops is intense.”

I’m lucky to have a doctor. Tens of thousands of Kamloopsians don’t according to former city councillor Nancy Bepple: “Which is why it is no surprise that studies have reported between 15,000 and 30,000 people in Kamloops don’t have a family doctor. That is, between one in three and one in six people don’t have a doctor.”

The B.C. Liberal plan has left us with a shortage of doctors, overcrowded clinics, and no improvement in health care. Some plan.

Sense and consciousness

Consciousness is at once mundane and profound. It’s mundane because it’s as common as the air we breathe. It’s profound because it shapes our view of the spiritual world.

The Mystery of Consciousness. John Searle

The Mystery of Consciousness. John Searle

Consciousness is by nature non-physical. For most of us, it seems to be “centred just behind my eyes, right in the middle of my head,” says Jay Ingram in his book Theatre of the Mind – Raising the Curtain on Consciousness. That’s not the case for everyone. Some locate consciousness in the back of the head, or even the throat or heart.

Sometimes consciousness seems not to be in the body at all, as when you think of the last time you were on the beach; you might see yourself from behind, from above or just about anywhere except inside your head.

Consciousness leads us to imagine beings without bodies. The existence of ghosts, gods, angels, devils seems perfectly plausible. If gods exist, then religions are a natural consequence.

The speculation is endless. If our minds are as separate from material bodies, then it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that we continue to exist after we die. And maybe those non-physical beings materialize in the bodies others as in reincarnation.

There are some indisputable qualities of consciousness. John Searle, in his book The Mystery of Consciousness lists them. For one, consciousness is completely subjective: it’s all about us. Another is its singular nature. Despite drawing from widely different senses, it presents us with one view. The pain of stubbing your toe occupies the same world as what you are reading.

However, the impression that consciousness is non-material is wrong. It seems to me that the mind and body are one and that dualism, the so-called mind-body problem, is a consequence of the misunderstanding of consciousness. That would explain why mental illness can be treated through chemicals or through the mind. George Johnson explains:

“Depression can be treated in two radically different ways: by altering the brain with chemicals, or by altering the mind by talking to a therapist. But we still can’t explain how mind arises from matter or how, in turn, mind acts on the brain (Globe and Mail, Aug. 5, 2016, Magic in the machine)”

The two treatments only seem different if we are convinced that the mind and brain are separate.

Just what consciousness is remains a mystery but here are four explanations from the most plausible to least.

Neuroscientist Michael Graziano proposes that consciousness is a kind of con game the brain plays with itself, similar to a dream. Consciousness is simulation of the workings of the brain –the firing of neurons and synapses. “The machine mistakenly thinks it has magic inside it.”

Along the same lines, Jay Ingram suggests that consciousness is a story that our brains tell ourselves: “consciousness is a highly processed and abstracted version of the world outside the head, an invention more than an impression… (p.27).”

John Searle: “In my view we have to abandon dualism and start with the assumption that consciousness is an ordinary biological phenomenon comparable to growth, digestion, and the production of bile (p.6).”

And lastly, consciousness is built into everything including molecules and atoms. Called panpsychism, advocates see themselves as minds in a world of minds.

Alberta to overtake BC on carbon reduction

Alberta is about to take the lead in reducing greenhouse gases says the non-partisan group Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission. In a recent report, they compared the four provinces that have a carbon price and concluded that Alberta will have the most stringent policy by 2020.

Canadians support carbon pricing -poll, April, 2016

Canadians support carbon pricing -poll, April, 2016

By stringent, they mean the most effective overall plan in reducing greenhouse gases in which carbon pricing is just one of five methods. Commission chair, Professor Chris Ragan, explains:

“When comparing provincial carbon pricing policies, it is useful to use metrics that take into account the various design details, such as coverage and trade that differ from policy to policy. That way we are comparing policies on a more level playing field.”

Of the five ways, carbon pricing is still the most important. For that reason, Alberta and British Columbia both have more stringent carbon pricing than Ontario and Quebec who use the cap-and-trade approach. Supporters of this approach argue that pricing alone through taxes is a misleading; that cap-and-trade will work.

The advantage of carbon pricing is that it is simple –it’s a direct tax applied at the gas pump. The cap-and-trade system uses market forces to determine the price of carbon by first setting a cap on the amount of carbon that any industry can emit and then allowing industries to buy and sell unused allowances. If one industry gets under the cap, they can sell the remainder to those who go over.

Watch out, you provinces without carbon pricing. The federal government is holding a big stick: if you don’t implement carbon pricing, the feds will. Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said all governments will have to increase the stringency of their climate policies, including carbon pricing, in order for Canada to meet its international commitments.

Provinces aren’t used to federal leadership. In the past, the feds have been notoriously negligent in reducing greenhouse gases. As a result, Canada has become a international slacker in the fight to confront the global threat of climate change. Under the Chrétien Liberals, promises were made but never kept. Under the Harper Conservatives, no promises were made and provinces did as they pleased.

Several premiers have voiced opposition to any federal price on carbon – including Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall, Quebec’s Philippe Couillard and Nova Scotia’s Stephen McNeil.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking, reports the Globe and Mail (July 27, 2016) and the commission’s report is timely. “Its report informs talks between Ottawa, the provinces and the territories as they attempt to reach a pan-Canadian climate strategy this fall. Officials are working through the summer on a series of policy issues, including efforts to forge a minimum national carbon price.”

While B.C. can take some pride in being the first province to implement carbon pricing, that lead is in jeopardy. With a B.C. election in less than a year, Premier Clark will have to walk the line between satisfying the business community that opposes higher carbon taxes and the progressive community who wants B.C. to keep the lead in the carbon-reduction.

Canada’s new economic reality

 

As Canada emerges from the Dark Decade, we need to get back on track with a modern economy.

The Harper government’s plan to make Canada an “energy superpower” was a disaster for a number of reasons. The plan reversed our progress as an industrial nation; it insured that Canadians would become the highest per capita emitters of CO2; it failed to anticipate the vagaries commodity markets.

lumberjack

As long as we are hewers of wood and drawers of oil, we are just a colony of economic powerhouses. Mel Watkins identified this failed strategy as the “staples trap” in 1963.

“The tendency for the country to tilt its economic resources and policies in support of one particularly in-demand staple or another that, inevitably, leaves the economy struggling when the staple falls out of favour (David Parkinson, Globe and Mail, July 2, 2016).”

Watkins, now 84, looks back on the Dark Decade: “We bet the farm on oil prices staying high and rising, but that hasn’t happened and, it would seem, is unlikely to in any near future. We need to go back to the 1970s when there was genuine debate in Canada about industrial policy transcending staples.”

Back then, after World War II, Canada had shifted its workforce from agriculture to factories. By 1999, the high-value sectors of automotive, aerospace, transportation, electronics and consumer goods employed 60 per cent of the workforce. At the same time, the resource-sectors of agriculture, energy mining and forestry together only employed one-quarter.

What seduced Canada back into the staples trap? In a word: globalization. We gleefully sent manufacturing jobs to low wage countries with low environmental standards. Exports of metal ores doubled since 2000. Energy exports increased by 55 per cent at the same time as auto exports fell by 11 per cent. Economist Jim Stanford sums it up:

“The global commodities boom shifted Capital and policy attention towards extractive industries. Canada’s economy has been moving down, rather than up, the economic value chain.”

We’ve these cycles before where expansion in one part of the world triggers a global commodities boom. This time it was the modernization of China that triggered the boom. In the past it was the reconstruction of Europe and Japan after the war, and before that it was the rise of the U.S. as an industrial power.

Parkinson looks to future: “For the oil and gas business, the long term prospects look even more grim. The growing global momentum for green energy looks poised to steadily erode demand for fossil fuels over the coming decades. We may one day look back on the oil-price collapse of 21014-15 as the beginning of the end for the industry.”

During the Dark Decade, Canada invested heavily, not only in political resolve to exploit the dirty tar sands, but in the human and financial capital needed to dig the stuff up. It will take time to shift gears but Canada must shed its colonial mentality. It’s happening. Enbridge has invested $1 billion in wind-energy. Alberta has budgeted $3.4 billion for renewable energy.

B.C.’s government still has grandiose dreams of a fossil-fuel economy with liquefied natural gas. While Premier Clark hasn’t yet admitted it, that plan is history.

You can’t eat GM wheat

 

You can’t eat genetically modified wheat because it’s not commercially available. Contrary to a rumour circulating on social media, gluten intolerance is not on the rise because we are eating genetically modified wheat. Amy Harmon clarifies:

gmo

“To be clear, wheat has been genetically modified. Monsanto Co. has field-tested wheat that was altered to tolerate the herbicide glyphosate. A British research institute field-tested modified wheat to repel insects. (It didn’t work.) In 2014, Chinese researchers modified wheat to resist a destructive disease called powdery mildew, but just to see if they could. And Spanish researchers are testing wheat engineered to contain, yes, significantly less gluten. But none of it is on store shelves ( Globe and Mail , July 15, 2016).”

Just the mention of the words “genetically modified’ is enough to strike fear and loathing in the hearts of consumers with the spectre of frankenfoods poisoning our food supply and dooming future generations.

In fact, three-quarters of the foods now on grocery store shelves are genetically modified or contain ingredients that are; foods such as soy, canola, corn, sugar beets, Hawaiian papaya; ingredients such as Vitamin C, Citric Acid, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, Lactic Acid, Molasses, Xanthan Gum, Vitamins, Yeast Products.

Consumers have been pushing for labelling that reveals genetic modification. I favour such labelling –not because GM foods are necessarily dangerous but because good science has nothing to hide.

However, labelling may not bring the clarity that consumers seek because the designation means many things. Labelling alone will not reveal that Hawaiian papaya has been genetically modified by inoculated it against a virus that threatened to destroy the crop, and that inoculation was done with the very virus that threatened it.

That’s not quite the same as the modification in soy lecithin, found in ice cream, which made it resistant to weed-killer.

Confusingly, some foods that have been modified genetically might not be designated as genetically modified. Let me explain. Okanagan Specialty Fruits has developed an apple that doesn’t brown by removing the enzyme. Removal of a gene is not genetic modification according to some regulators –only the addition of genes is considered so. The same is true for a mushroom in which a gene section that causes browning has been precisely removed.

Should canola oil be labelled as GM when the oil itself is not? Most canola grown is Canada has been modified to resist herbicides. The modification is to the plant, and all plant proteins are removed in the processing. The canola oil produced is exactly the same regardless of the source.

Genetic modification includes foods engineered to be healthier. The so-called golden rice has had genes from corn and common soil bacteria added to provide beta carotene which the human body uses to make vitamin A.

If labelling comes to Canada, consumers should educate themselves as to just what the GM designation means. Given the general level of public awareness of science, I suspect that they will not. I predict that a niche market will open for non-GM foods but most consumers will continue buy GM foods without much concern. I know I will.