30 August 2008

Bring on the Debates! - Greens have a MP

I'm thrilled that the Greens have cracked the one-MP mark.

The media consortium made it a requirement for participation in the televised debates that parties have at least one Member of Parliament.

The GPC now has one MP. Ergo, by the consortium's own arbitrary rules, the leader of the GPC should be allowed in the debates. That's what a large majority of Canadians have indicated they want, poll after poll. That's what they should get.

Would it have been better had the Greens' first MP been someone else? Yes. Would it have been better had that first MP been one that had run and been elected as a Green? Yes.

However, not one Green member of any government worldwide has been elected with a first-past-the-post electoral system, which heavily stacks the deck against grassroots parties trying to break through. The global Greens have elected people to office only through proportional representation systems.

Therefore, for Canada's Greens it has been a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation. If they can't get the media exposure which is so vital in Canadian elections, that of participating in the televised debates, then they haven't a chance of winning even one MP in a general federal election.

The Greens' best chances have always been with by-elections. There are four in the works as I write, three to come up for vote September 8th, one September 22nd.

Alas, Stevie-baby has taken a tantrum, is reneging on his promise and own law regarding fixed election dates, and is about to call a general election in advance of the by-election polls.

Stevie doesn't want the Greens in the debates.1 Neither does the NDP's Jack Layton.

Makes one wonder what these leaders are afraid of.

As to their reasons for excluding May, she addresses them in the interview linked above.

Bring on the debates!

1 That link is to a CTV interview with May, aired earlier today. You'll have to suffer through the Cons' nauseating TV ad first, but the May interview is worth waiting for.

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26 August 2008

Election Fever and Bully Tactics

Don't know how many of this blog's readers have been following the innuendo and bully-talk from Harper re an upcoming election call - this after having called FOUR by-elections whose campaigns are already underway.

The polling date for three of those by-elections is September 8th. The fourth is/was to be decided September 22nd, so the 28-day period of campaigning for that has just begun.

If the Writ is dropped early in September (speculation is between the 2nd and 10th), then taxpayer money spent by Elections Canada specifically for those by-elections will have been wasted and the various campaigns will have to find more $ to extend their campaigning over a longer period of time. (How do campaign financing laws come into play in such situations, I wonder?)

Since the Cons have been using, illegally, government money to jump-start their own campaign, they are likely in better position financially than the other parties. Among the Cons' alleged illegal activities have been the in-and-out financing scheme they used during the 2006 election and the junk flyers which have been arriving in your mail boxes over the past several weeks.

Again, regarding those four by-elections, can you imagine the uncertainty the threat of an imminent general election is having on the parties' volunteers? Not to mention, the uncertainty generated among voters? I mean, they're scheduled to vote September 8th and 22nd, which is now almost certain to change.

In the political blogosphere, the drama of 'will there be an election or won't there? And when?' has been playing out for weeks as the Harpercrits have refused to appear before Parliamentary committees (still occurring over the summer and including the committee investigating the in-and-out scheme) - even when issued summonses - and they've been seen to be running scared: too much would be revealed through the investigation of the various committees.

So Harper, having made into law fixed election dates per his promise to Conservative supporters (the first such election to take place October 2009), is about to call an election in advance anyway, one year early.

It's been a game of chicken for a long time, but it's typically been the case in minority situations that an Opposition non-confidence motion brings down the Government and thus forces an election. However, Stevie baby, being the bully and micro-manager that he is, can't stand another person playing with his toys. In this case, the toy is the Government of Canada.

Further evidence of an election in the air is yesterday's announcement by Justice Minister Rob Nicholson of his proposed Bill to stiffen penalties for violence against pregnant women. This Bill is purportedly designed to supplant the contentious private members' Bill C-484 ("Unborn Victims of Crime Act") introduced by Conservative MP Ken Epp.

Not surprisingly, Bill C-484 has drawn an outpouring of negative grassroots action and consequent publicity, including a strong 88% vote against it from the Canadian Medical Association.

A reading of Bill C-484 makes evident the intent of its proponents to recriminalize abortion. If this hadn't been clear before, then Epps' rejection of Nicholson's proposed law and his avowal to keep Bill C-484 alive are additional proof of his - and his Conservative supporters' - no longer hidden agenda.

So are we fooled by this Harper-via-Nicholson move, to "protect pregnant women" and scuttle Epp & Company's ambitions? Not unless we forget that the tabling of Nicholson's proposed Bill requires Parliament to be sitting and all signs point to Harper calling an election BEFORE Parliament resumes in the Fall.

One journalist covering this escalation of election fever is Paul Wells, the editor of Macleans. Another blog to watch is Kady O'Malley's Inside the Queensway. Kady - coincidentally, also with Macleans - has become my favourite Canadian journalist. Among her adventures has been liveblogging the meetings of the House of Commons committee investigating the Cons' 2006 election in-and-out scheme. Had it not been for Kady, I suspect that certain antics of the Cons to disrupt the committee and evidence coming out of the meetings would have gone largely unreported by the rest of the media.

NB: I may vote Liberal this time (the first time in decades) and have already offered my help with the local campaign but also for the Greens. Normally, I vote Green, but there's no way Canada can afford to have Harper continue holding the reins of power. So if it looks like the Liberal here stands a chance - very unlikely in this riding which swings between the NDP and the Cons (yea, weird) -, then I'll vote Liberal. If he doesn't, then my vote will remain Green.

ETA: Here's a great post, over at DTK, on the C-484 issue and the schism it reveals in the Conservative party.

ETA #2: Andrew Coyne, with whom I seldom agree, wrote a great piece for the August 20th Macleans issue. It succinctly and humorously lays out Harper's election kerfuffle.

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19 August 2008

New FB Group Targets Cons' Spam-a-Lot Campaign

Hats off to Pale, over at A Creative Revolution for starting up a new Facebook group to counter the HarperCons' recent Spam-a-Lot Campaign.

Tired of receiving campaign-style junk mail in your mailbox? You know the ones, those black and white flyers paid for by your tax dollars. Then head on over to ACR, read what Pale's been up to, check out her snazzy new flyers - a refreshing antidote to the nausea-inducing Conservative rhetoric and lies junking up your mailbox - and sign up to the new FB group!

ETA: Just received another TWO of the Cons' junk flyers, each different, courtesy of my non-MP Ken Epp. (Voters for my electoral district chose NDPer Jean Crowder.) One of the flyers was the one attacking Vancouver's InSite.

Such a move doesn't go over so well in these here parts, Ken. British Columbians are rather proud of the fact that InSite has saved lives (PDF).

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18 August 2008

Don't Travel To (or Out Of) US

Earlier this month, I wrote two posts concerning US security policy. One exposed the illogic of the US restricting military exports to Canada while at the same time wanting more Canadian military involvement in US ventures.

The other post discussed the latest powers given to US border agents in defence of "homeland security." I stated then that ever since 911, the Iraq invasion, the US PATRIOT Act, Homeland Security, FEMA, etc., I've had no desire to visit south of the border and that, in fact, Daphne and I turned down an all-expenses paid invitation to present at a poverty forum in the States and opportunities to expand WISE south of the border.

Most of us have read of USians who undergo unpleasant experiences at the border when attempting to return home from trips to certain countries or regions and of US returnees whose apparent misfortune is to have non-beige skin. We'll also have read of Canadians who have been stopped at the US border and turned back.

The following two accounts perhaps highlight best how bad things have become.

Emily Feder, writing for AlterNet.org (one of my favourite US news sites), reports of her own experience at the border two weeks ago. As she writes, "I was recently stopped by Homeland Security as I was returning from a trip to Syria. What I saw in the hours that followed shocked and disturbed me." I urge people to read the full article.

Then in this Canadian news article, we learn of two Canadian women who were denied entry.

The purpose of their visit? To help as unpaid volunteers in post-Katrina rebuilding.

I am hoping the first report, by Feder, gets the attention it deserves and that US regular media picks up the story.

USians need to be made aware of what's happening at their borders, since US security policy is creating problems it is designed to prevent. Not only does it create more, not less, enemies and encourages international disdain, but the increasing difficulty of even USians to return home without having their rights and/or person molested suggests the policy is effectively converting the Land of the Free to the Land of the Imprisoned.

Regarding the second report, this provides further evidence of volunteers and social activists being unwelcome in the good 'ole U S of A. Since Daphne and I work on poverty issues, I can easily envision the two of us - both grey haired and approaching 60 - being fingerprinted, iris-scanned, frisked and detained for hours at the border, and then turned away.

As for me, there's been another change in behaviour. I automatically trash all Calls for Papers for conferences and events which take place in the US. Since there are cross-border nonprofit organizations of which I am a member, this means I've become less active than I'd been previously. I wish this weren't so, but the increasing insularity of the US forces such changes.

I wonder if international organizations based in the US have noticed the international fall-off in participation?

NB: This month, Scientific American is beginning a series on security, technology and privacy.

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15 August 2008

Staples Discriminates Against People Without Phones - P2

This is a follow-up to my previous post about Staples' online store initially refusing my order because I'd not provided a phone number.

The Staples representative had written that it was Visa policy which was guiding store policy. That in fact, Visa required customers to provide a phone number, one which must match the phone number purportedly listed on the Visa cardholder's account.

I wrote then, in an addendum to the original post, that I'd recalled reading somewhere that Visa did NOT require customers to provide a phone number. And now here's the proof that indeed they don't.
Address Verification Service (AVS) helps ensure that the person making the purchase with their Visa card is the same person who receives the Visa card’s monthly statement. By matching the billing address your Visa card issuer has on file against the billing address you provide during check-out, merchants and issuers work together to help ensure that lost or stolen Visa cards are not being used in card-not-present environments to purchase goods or services.

For cardholders, AVS means that unless the correct billing address is provided to the online, mail or telephone merchant during check-out, the transaction will not be completed which may stop a fraudulent purchase from being made.

That is a complete quote from Visa Canada's website. Nowhere is it mentioned that a phone number need be provided or verified against a phone number on file at Visa.

In other words, Staples is passing off their own policy as being that of Visa, in order to justify their requiring customers to include a phone number when submitting online orders.

While I understand that online merchants may want a means of contacting persons who place orders, in the event of delivery problems, a phone number shouldn't be the only (non)option provided.

Many low-income people have free web-based email accounts, to which they're able to gain access from public computers at libraries, local resource centres, and so on.

Therefore, in order to be more inclusive of people's diverse circumstances, online merchants should offer their customers a choice between providing a phone number and an email address.

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14 August 2008

Newest Podcast: Episode 12 - Kaelyn

Episode 12 of 24. A reading from the book Policies of Exclusion, Poverty & Health: Stories from the front. Compiled, with Introduction and Reports by Chrystal Ocean. Copyright 2005.

Kaelyn is a recovering addict who, over the course of the telling of her story, was trying to get away from her ex-boyfriend, became homeless and was struggling with extreme fatigue which in turn was impeding her ability to retain employment. The connections among poor nutrition, tenancy legislation which favours owners, the focus by society and governments on the young and the old, and punitive welfare policies which both diminish attempts to be independent and effectively discourage clients from finding work and staying employed are all drawn together in this story.

There are many bits I could quote, but these four short sentences at the very end of Kaelyn's story resonate with me the most:
I’m very proud of my home when I have a home. I make it into a nice place to be. I need to make my home beautiful. I need a home to make beautiful.

After listening to this episode, PLEASE RATE and comment. (To do this, you must have the episode window open on the podcast site and scripting must be enabled. If you are reading this from the channel's homepage, click on the episode title to open the new window.) You'll see a comment form at the bottom of the page. To rate, pass your mouse over the stars and click the star representing your choice. Podcast channels with the highest ranking and number of ratings attract more listeners!

Regarding comments, I'd be delighted to participate in discussions on the stories, whether on the podcast site or as part of an academic course.

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11 August 2008

Staples Discriminates Against People Without Phones

Anyone who has ordered anything online is familiar with the requirement to fill in all form fields which are marked by an asterisk (*). Usually, the asterisk is highlighted in red - as in * - just to make sure we don't miss it.

One of those fields is always for one's phone number, with full area code. Since this low-income person hasn't a phone, cell or landline, my ornery response has been to enter 123-456-7890.

Sometimes the auto response doesn't like the three digits I use for the area code. In such cases, I use 250, which is the area code for my location.

Now my workaround has been stymied by Staples, whose online store I just visited to order a $139 computer cart. Staples refuses to accept my order without a legitimate phone number, one which I assume must be mine.

Ergo, Staples is discriminating against their low-income customers who haven't a phone and other persons who may choose to be without a phone for other reasons.

Thing is, I've purchased from the Staples online store before and never had a problem. In fact, the desk I'm replacing the cart with, was purchased that way, as have many other items.

And I've regularly purchased from the store in town.

For large or heavy items, my preference is to scope out the goods in the store and order online, because then there isn't an additional charge for shipping. That is, if I made the long trek again into town - a challenge, given I've a disability -, and ordered the computer cart from the store, I would be charged extra to have them deliver it to my apt.

The price is the same, both instore and online, but the latter includes free shipping for orders of $50 or more. The store in town assumes everyone has wheels with which to drive away their purchases. Thus the issue of shipping is another point of discrimination.

So I'm miffed, which is why I'm posting this for all to see. Rather than get angry, I'm going to get even.

ETA: I hate the disempowerment this makes me feel and am sick of having always to think of workarounds for assumption-loaded policies. Am really feeling down right now. It's like being punched in the gut so hard that you can't catch your breath... Am so sick of the fight.

ETA2: To give Staples credit, their representative has just responded to my snarky response with a workaround. Doesn't change the fact, however, that a phone number is required for their and other online retailers' order forms. From my Staples contact, it sounds like they're dealing with Visa requirements. But who knows? And why would a TELEPHONE be a requirement for a credit card purchase anyway? And is this just an excuse for store policy?

ETA3: Just remembered reading years ago that Visa does NOT require card holders to give their phone number. Has that changed, or is it indeed the case that Staples (and other online retailers) are trying to use this purported requirement to support their own discriminatory policies?

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07 August 2008

WISE Book on BC Ministry of Education "Recommended" List

Just found out. Received the letter today.

I'm so excited I can hardly stand, let alone sit, still.

To remind folks, the book produced by WISE in 2005 was Policies of Exclusion, Poverty & Health: Stories from the Front. It was entirely done, from project inception and research to design and publication, by low-income women. No university researchers or professional consultants were involved.

The book includes a) the first-person accounts of 21 low-income Cowichan Valley women who participated in a WISE* study during the summer of 2004 and, b) two reports, also by us.

In other words, the book is in the first person and from our own perspective throughout. Daphne and I (co-authors of this blog) were two of the storytellers.

Since WISE sold out all its copies earlier this year, I've been adding audio files of the book's chapters to my podcast channel. Didn't want the women's stories and voices to stop getting out.

Now, hopefully, they won't, and there'll be orders coming in again.

NB: We sold out our current stock of books earlier this year and have no plans to do another print run. However, we can do special print runs for bulk orders of 30 books or more.

NB2: WISE Membership, which was free, was comprised solely of low-income women. Others supported our work by becoming fee-paying Associate Members or Friends (donors). WISE folded on December 15th, 2007, four years after it was founded. We'd done two projects, produced the book, had grown into a national movement and encouraged other low-income women to be leaders of change in their communities. We folded due to changes made by the Harper government, which effectively barred marginalized groups from further federal support.

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05 August 2008

Vitamin D eases Chronic Back Pain - Part 2

This is a followup to a post I wrote on the 26th of June, in which I reported on a literature study which claimed to have uncovered a strong link between increased intake of Vitamin D and the easing of chronic back pain. 

My back had become increasingly bad over the past dozen years, to the point it was forcing me to be bedridden for a full 24-hour period, two to three times a week. 

So when I read this very thorough study, I was happy to test its conclusions myself. After all, taking Vitamin D supplements in the doses recommended couldn't do me any harm.

That same day being one of my better days, I trekked to the store to get some Vitamin D3 - 240 pills, 1,000 IU each - and began taking two daily. This supplement was in addition to any Vitamin D I was getting from sun exposure and food. 

Frankly, I didn't expect to see an effect.

However, about three weeks into the program, on a walk into town, I realized I wasn't experiencing the usual pain.

Normally, I'd be able to walk a block or two, then would have to stop. The pain would get worse the further I had to walk and the heavier the load I was carrying on the return trip. By the time I got home, I would always be in bad shape.

But on that walk I was able to go further with less discomfort, and while still in pain it wasn't as bad.

The difference was enough that I noticed it. Likely, the pain began easing sooner.

Now I'm delighted to report that the episodes of laying flat on my back have lessened too. In fact, I've not had a period of immobility for THREE WEEKS.

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US Paranoia Continues

On August 1st, I wrote about US border agents, effective July 16th, having the authority to seize travellers' laptops, cellphones and other electronic devices, documents, books and pamphlets, and to make copies of their contents. They need no justification for doing this and may seize these items from anyone, including USians.

Now we learn that military exports from the US to Canada are being restricted, because the USians fear that people here will spy on them. This means that the $17 billion the federal government allotted to military purchases from the US are facing not just cost overruns - reported in the news awhile ago - but additional roadblocks. The latter, if they continue, would effectively limit how much Canada could be involved in USian military ventures.

That Canada should be so hampered is not a bad thing. In fact, I'm cheering that result. However, the illogic of this US policy cries out for notice, especially by the people the policy is purported to protect.

Also, the policy goes beyond paranoia to outright racial profiling.
Under the U.S International Traffic in Arms Regulations, employees from about two dozen countries, including China and Cuba, cannot work on American defence contracts in Canadian facilities. The federal government has argued the U.S. regulations go against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

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04 August 2008

What Does the White House Know about Life on Mars?

Ooooh, there's an intriguing report from Scientific American, re findings from the Mars lander, Phoenix.
Is NASA telling the White House something about life on Mars that it hasn't told anyone else?

That's what Aviation Week reported on Friday. Citing unnamed sources, the site said that NASA had briefed the White House Science Adviser on new findings about the habitability of Mars based on data from the space agency's Phoenix Mars Lander. The rumor was picked up by LiveScience.com, which connected it to results that are supposedly under review for publication at the journal Science.

NASA announced last week that Phoenix had once and for all confirmed the presence of water on Mars. The rumored findings relate to the vehicle's MECA wet chemistry experiment, for adding liquid water to soil samples to identify trace chemicals.

That experiment is not designed to detect life. Instead it can identify trace minerals and salts that might support life.

Kristin Scuderi, a spokesperson for the Science Adviser at the Office and Science and Technology Policy, told SciAm.com that no White House briefing took place, but that something "may be forthcoming" from NASA soon.

"I believe they may have some plans to brief us" on something, she said, adding that she contacted the space agency after the Aviation Week story was published.

Now if life, no matter how infinitesimal, should be found outside Earth, that would put a dint into the belief systems promulgated by certain religionists, wouldn't it? Including Rapturists, of which Dubya is one.

Which makes it no surprise that the White House would be consulted first, before the publication of anything suggesting life on Mars.

Not that I'm sayin' there IS life on Mars, but the article is intriguing, wouldn't you say? Particularly given the White House consultation?

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01 August 2008

US Border Agents Can Seize Travellers' Laptops, Cellphones

When my passport elapsed in 2001, I hadn't the money then - or since - to get another to replace it.

Back then, the lack of a passport didn't affect my ability to travel back and forth between here and the US, the latter being the only foreign destination I might need to visit on WISE business.

Then 911, the Iraq invasion, the US PATRIOT Act, Homeland Security, FEMA all happened ... and more. Ever since, I've had no desire to visit south of the border. Indeed, for these very reasons Daphne and I turned down an all-expenses paid opportunity to present at a poverty forum in the States and expand WISE south of the border.

Now there's one more reason to shun the great U.S. of A. from one's travel itinerary.
U.S. authorities now have the power to seize and detain travellers' electronic devices, including laptops and cellphones, and make copies of their contents at an off-site location, under newly disclosed customs policies.

The policy gives border agents at any point of entry into the United States the authority to also take documents, books, pamphlets and hard drives. The items can be seized from anyone crossing the border and may then be copied and shared with other government agencies, according to Department of Homeland Security documents dated July 16.

All this in the name of security and counter-terrorism? How can documents, books and pamphlets constitute a threat?

They can't. The threat is domestic and it lies in such policies as this.

Oh, wait. This is why documents, books and pamphlets may constitute a threat:
"These examinations are part of ... long-standing practice and are essential to uncovering vital law-enforcement information," the policy says, noting examinations help authorities detect possible instances of terrorism, narcotics smuggling, child pornography and violations of copyright and trademark laws.

Corporate Amerika must be protected from the people (Canadians, USians, all of us), including downloading children.

Fascism is alive and well in the Land of the Free.

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