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Archive for December, 2012

John Stuart Mill by John Watkins 1865

John Stuart Mill by John Watkins 1865

Note: This is not really a post. These were some notes that I was saving to work on a post later. I had scheduled this to automatically publish in order to encourage myself to work on it instead of just leaving it as I do most drafts that I write. Unfortunately, I got really ill and forgot about it. So here are some notes for a post that I was going to tidy up and write later.

The other day I wrote about a 2005 list of the top-ten most harmful books from a conservative perspective. I described one of the things that I found odd about the list, namely the stance against critical thinking skills. Today I want to comment on a second thing that I find odd about the list: It has a strong illiberal streak. When I say it is illiberal, I don’t mean ‘liberal’ in the way this is sometimes contrasted with conservatism; I mean ‘liberal’ in the sense of liberty and freedom, two values that many conservatives claim to uphold and hold dear.

I’ve written in the past about some of the different ways to understand the concept of liberty of freedom, and how the Tea Party seems to reduce freedom to not paying taxes. I find it difficult to understand what exactly Republicans have in mind when they invoke the concept of freedom, and this post continues my attempt to uncover how conservatives use the concept of liberty and freedom.

One of the books that does not make the top ten, but gets honourable mention on the list is John Stewart Mill‘s On Liberty. I find it very strange that this book should make the list at all since in this text Mill provides some of what are widely considered the best defences of the liberties many Republicans claim to hold dear. Mill writes in defence of freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion  and freedom of the individual.

Here again is a passage from Dewey’s Democracy and Education:

Dewey on the relationship between education and freedom

Dewey explains how without education workers don’t understand how their work contributes to the social good, and so their labour does not reflect their own ends, but instead the ends of their employers. This robs workers of their freedom. From Democracy and Education, page 249.

This also helps me understand, to an extent, the hostility to the Arts and Social Sciences (well, except for economics which is also a social science) that one sometimes finds in certain commenters on the right. For example, Margaret Wente is almost always deriding students who choose to take philosophy, English, sociology, or anthropology despite having an MA in English herself. (I wrote about Wente’s odd loathing of her own education in an earlier post).

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Here is an interesting discussion about Melissa, a Republican who had to move to Canada and changed her mind about Universal Health Care after experiencing it. She also discusses abortion policy in Canada a little bit. In a separate post Melissa describes why she used to fear Universal Health Care.

The comments on the first piece are interesting, too. Many sound like they learned something. There are a number of Canadians showing up to gloat (we love talking about how great our health care is). But this is probably the saddest comment I read there:

I am not in favor of Universal Health Care on principle. it all sounds so good, but you are giving your freedom of choice completely away. The government becomes your provider, not God. You become dependent on the government and worship it instead of God.

I don’t think Obama care is the solution. Government taking away from some to give to others is not charity is stealing. you can’t force charity on people. God doesn’t do it, why should government or anyone do it??

on the surface, UHC looks good, but it’s a web of deceit.

PS I don’t have insurance and I pay cash for all my health care. I have 4 children.

This outlook is very unfamiliar to me.  I think this (anon) commenter is wrong about giving your freedom away: we have lots of choice in Canada. But the idea that the government replaces God? That is what seems unfamiliar to me. I don’t see how a company providing insurance doesn’t replace God in the exact same way.

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This is not really a post, as much as a collection of links. Usually I try to write some thoughts, but today I am deep in marking. Nevertheless, I wanted to provide some links to help counter the media silence around the Idle No More movement. On December 10, 2012, a number of Canada’s First Nations came together around the country to protest the legislative changes Harper is making to the Indian Act and the erosion of environmental protections (among other things). The Indian Act has always been a racist and terrible piece of legislation (for example, this legislation served as the template for South African apartheid), but these changes are making things worse, not better.

Link Round-Up

Idle No More’s Website and Blog, which includes their manifesto describing the reason behind the protests.

Anishinaabewiziwin “Everyday Cry: Feeling Through Ogitchidaakwe’s Hunger Strike” by Waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy. December 27, 2012. This is a great piece. I think everyone should read it. It moved me to tears.

Zig Zag Warrior “Idle No More? Speak for Yourself…Warrior Publications December 12, 2012. A critical perspective on the protests.

âpihtawikosisân “The natives are restless. Wondering why?” âpihtawikosisân December 11, 2012.

Trevor Greyeyes “Keep up the Pressure with Idle No MoreThe First Perspective December 11, 2012.

Andrew Loewen “Idle No More & Settler-Colonial Canada” The Paltry Sapians December 11, 2012. (lots of pictures and videos of the Edmonton march at this link)

Nora Loreto “Idle No More: Non-Indigenous responsibility to actRabble.ca December 10, 2012.
IDLE NO MORE: CANADA’S FIRST PEOPLES ARE RISINGIndigenousRising December 10, 2012.

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5TruthsYouCannotDisagreeWithSo there has been this photo going around Facebook that allegedly shows why certain Republican beliefs are “Truths” that no one can argue with. But in fact none of these are ‘truths’ (whatever that means), and none of them are ‘facts’ that could be empirically verified because most of them involve values that would first have to be unpacked before verification (or falsification) could take place.

Questioning Point #1

For example, with reference to point #1, to actually investigate whether this was ‘true’ one would have to specify what one means by “prosperity” and people can actually disagree about how to measure prosperity. Is prosperity achieved at some absolute threshold or is it relative to what others have? If it is an absolute threshold, then one might disagree with point #1 by pointing out that the levels of taxation that are being proposed are certainly not sufficient to bring people below that absolute level.

In contrast, if one believes that prosperity is relative to what others have, then one has to specify that class of “others.” Are we only talking about ‘others’ within one’s own country or are we talking about ‘others’ across the world? Sticking with others within one’s own society, point #1 would be plainly false. If what it took for me to be prosperous were measured relative to what others in my society have, then lowering what those at the very top have would indeed make those at the bottom relatively more prosperous.

Questioning Point #4

With respect to point #4 many have disagreed with this ‘truth’ including several famous capitalists.  For example, Henry Ford believed that the best way to multiply wealth was to divide it. Although Ford was anti-union, he thought that if he paid workers a wage that would provide them with a comfortable life, then this would provide them with the ability to buy the cars he was producing, and ultimately, this would lead to greater wealth for Ford himself.

Ford wasn’t exactly a socialist, yet he would argue (and could argue) with these alleged “truths.”

This argument seems similar to certain “truths” that have been repeated around American presidential campaigns lately.  But some people disagree, and they do so in a reasonable way. Here is a video of Nick Hanauer at TED, for those of you who don’t like to read. For those of you who do, many of the Hanauer’s arguments, and a link round-up are written out below the fold.

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There has been quite a lot of discussion of unions lately, and to be honest, I think it is kind of exciting. Unions had been quietly fading away, especially in the private sector, but now they seem to be in the headlines once again and I think the attention that is being paid to unions might end up back-firing against those who seek to eliminate them. We heard a lot about Unions with the WalMart employee’s planned “Black Friday” events organized by OUR Walmart: Organization United for Respect at Walmart and the recent controversies over the introduction of “Right-to-Work” laws in Michigan. In this post, I want to concentrate on private-sector employees.

The following video made the rounds of the internet a little while ago. It purports to be an anti-union training video produced by Target. (I looked it up on snopes.com and did not find any debunking, so I am going to assume it is legit).

One of the things that I find so interesting about this video is the way it seems to have a number of internal contradictions. For example, Target is a business, and when we think of Target we are supposed to think of a happy family according to these actors’ lines. In contrast, when they describe the unions, all of a sudden “business” becomes some kind of frightening and corrupt thing. So in the one case, business is supposed to be benign but in the other it is supposed to be scary (complete with scary music! Which is great).

But there is something else odd about this, which is that they seem to be importing a for-profit business model into the not-for-profit union domain. For example, they state that a union “is not a charity” it is a business. But it has no products, only memberships to sell. The “only alternative” (to what is not made clear) is to get more people to pay more money to them in dues every month. But unions aren’t seeking to increase their own profits, because unions are not-for-profit organizations. Therefore, they don’t need to follow business models that require the “only alternative” of getting more people to pay more money to increase profits.

Second, unions sell services, they don’t sell products and they don’t sell memberships. Many businesses don’t sell products. Many businesses sell services. If we want to think of unions as businesses, then they should be thought of more along the lines of service industries and not along the lines of widget-makers. The services that unions sell are bargaining services, and they sell a good service when they are able to effectively bargain on workers’ behalves.

Now, it might be true that there are certain oddities about unions that make them somewhat market-unresponsive.  For example, Wikipedia describes a number of union types:

  • closed shop (US) or a “pre-entry closed shop” (UK) employs only people who are already union members. The compulsory hiring hall is an example of a closed shop—in this case the employer must recruit directly from the union, as well as the employee working strictly for unionized employers.
  • union shop (US) or a “post-entry closed shop” (UK) employs non-union workers as well, but sets a time limit within which new employees must join a union.
  • An agency shop requires non-union workers to pay a fee to the union for its services in negotiating their contract. This is sometimes called the Rand formula. In certain situations involving state public employees in the United States, such as California, “fair share laws” make it easy to require these sorts of payments.
  • An open shop does not require union membership in employing or keeping workers. Where a union is active, workers who do not contribute to a union still benefit from the collective bargaining process. In the United States, state level right-to-work laws mandate the open shop in some states. In Germany only open shops are legal; that is, all discrimination based on union membership is forbidden. This affects the function and services of the union. An EU case concerning Italy extended this principle to the rest of the EU in that it stated that, “The principle of trade union freedom in the Italian system implies recognition of the right of the individual not to belong to any trade union (“negative” freedom of association/trade union freedom), and the unlawfulness of discrimination liable to cause harm to non-unionized employees.” (Source: Wikipedia “Trade Union”)

Now, Republicans in so-called “Right-to-Work” legislation like to focus on the first three types listed above (closed shop, union shop, and agency shop unions). The Republicans often suggest that requiring union dues violates negative freedoms of association (the right not to associate, if one so chooses). There might be some truth to these complaints. For example, I would be mighty unhappy if I were forced to pay my hairdresser (a service provider) every month whether or not I wanted a haircut.

On the other hand, “Right-to-Work” legislation favours open-shop unions, and this too has its troubles.  Open shop unions allow employees to decide whether they want to associate as a union (the positive freedom to associate without government interference requires allowing workers to continue to make this choice if so desired, though this right is not honoured in all of the United States or Canadian provinces). But those who choose not to associate with the union are still able to reap the benefits of the services provided by the unions. This is destined to weaken the union. Keeping with the hairdresser metaphor, if I were not required to pay my hairdresser, but I was still able to obtain a haircut whenever I wanted one, there would be no incentive for me to pay the hairdresser. Sure, a few people who really believed in the skills of hairdressers might continue to pay, but in short time most (if not all) hairdressers would likely go out of business. Ironically, in making the anti-union case, the Target video points out precisely this problem: “And no body wants to pay dues for something they already have” (Source: “Doug” about minute 3:22).

Before I go on to suggest an alternative, it might be worth considering whether union services are something we bought once, and now “already have” forever. It is a strange suggestion, since most services are things we buy on an ongoing basis and if we stop buying them, then we lose the service. Perhaps if we were thinking of unions as something that sold a “product” then this would make sense. For example, if I buy a book, I don’t need to keep buying it every month. But as we’ve already discussed, unions sell a service, not a product. If I have enrolled in a cleaning service, then I will need to continuously put money into that service, otherwise the cleaners will no longer come.

This video: Debunking anti-union myths takes on this point directly:

This video notes that unions are a service. One of the things that they provide is on-going representation in addition to helping to enforce the legislative gains that were made by unions in the past.  Even if labour laws exist, they will not be effective unless they are enforced. Part of the service that this video claims is provided by unions is assistance in enforcing their legal rights under labour standards legislation.

In contrast, Target tries to have it both ways. They paint for-profit businesses of the past as evil, while making for-profit businesses of the presents into benign entities. So they are not daemonizing unions, you see. Just modern not-for-profit unions (businesses), who are “out of step” with the evolving and competitive modern for-profit businesses. Here is Gwen Sharpe on this issue:

What I found especially striking was the segment starting at about 3:10, where they argue we don’t need unions because, basically, they were so effective in the past, they already fixed everything! There’s no more child labor, you can get worker’s comp if you’re injured…what more could you need a union for? So on the one hand, today unions are useless, empty organizations that just take your money and give you nothing, but in the past, they were great. Presumably employers only had to be told once to clean up, and then for all time everything is fixed. (source: Sharpe)

In addition, the union can serve as a buffer or “anonymizer” between the employee making the complaint and the employer who will hear the complaint. Is this necessary? I guess that is for employees to decide for themselves. The union case is that if an employee makes a complaint about the way they are being managed, and the only outlet for this complaint is that very same management, then there is a heightened chance that the employee will be fired for the complaint. Target disagrees:

[“Maria”] Person 2: …Target prides its self on our open door policy. Ask your team leader, ask your ETL [executive team leader], or ask any supervisor. There doors and every door are always open to you and what you have to say.

I don’t know how most employees might feel about talking about their problems with management directly to management, but as a union member (not a ‘higher up’ whose whole job is negotiating, but just a regular employee who is a member of a union whose job has nothing to do with union negotiations), I am pretty happy to have someone to act as a go-between so that I don’t have to fear being fired.

Link Round-Up and Transcript of the Target Video below the fold.

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Today I remember Geneviève Bergeron, 21; Hélène Colgan, 23; Nathalie Croteau, 23; Barbara Daigneault, 22; Anne-Marie Edward, 21; Maud Haviernick, 29; Barbara Maria Klucznik, 31; Maryse Leclair, 23; Annie St.-Arneault, 23; Michèle Richard, 21; Maryse Laganière, 25; Anne-Marie Lemay, 22; Sonia Pelletier, 28; Annie Turcotte, 21. They died because they were women. Who dared to study engineering.

This day marks the anniversary of the murders in 1989 of these 14 young women at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal.

December 6 by Evalyn Parry:

Lyrics and Links below the fold

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Sometimes I try to think about the differences between Quebec and Anglo Canada, and it at times proves difficult. But there are differences in the perspectives brought by the linguistic divide. This is probably one of the most irresponsible posts I have ever written because I am making sweeping and unjustified statements about diverse groups of people based on only two songs. So you know, take this with a grain of salt, but there are two songs that seem (to me) to exemplify some of the differences between francophone and anglophone Canada (and neither of these songs are even by Canadians, so you know…).  But nevertheless, I think some songs recently popular among the two language groups prove instructive. First, here is the Francophone song by HK and the Saltimbanks “On ne lache rien”

And the Lyrics in translation from the French to English:

From deep in my ghetto
To the depths of your countryside
Our reality is the same
And everywhere revolt is brewing
We didn’t have our place in this world
We didn’t have the right face to get a job
We weren’t born in a palace
We didn’t have daddy’s Credit Card
Homeless, unemployed, workers, peasants, immigrants, illegals (without papers)
They wanted to divide us
And I have to say, they succeeded.
As long as it was each man for himself,
Their system could prosper.
But we had to wake up some day,
And head would have to roll again!

We don’t give up!
We don’t give up!
We don’t give up! We don’t give up! X2

They talked to us about equality,
And like fools, we believed them.
“Democracy” my ass!
If that were the case we would have known.
What’s our ballot paper worth
Against the law of the market?
It’s dumb my dear countrymen, but…
…we got fucked big time!
And what are human rights worth against the sale of an airbus?
The bottom line is there is only one rule, to sum it up:
“To sell some more to sell some more”
The Republic is whoring itself on the sidewalk of dictators.
We don’t believe their sweet words any more.
Our leaders are liars!

We don’t give up!
We don’t give up!
We don’t give up! We don’t give up! X2

It’s so stupid, so easy,
To talk about peace and brotherhood,
When the homeless are starving on the street,
And when illegals are hunted down.
When they throw crumbs to workers
Just to pacify them.
So they won’t go after the millionaire bosses, “Too precious for our society.”
It’s amazing how shielded they are, our wealthy and powerful.
There is no doubt, it helps to be a friend of the President.
Dear comrades, dear “voters,” dear “citizen-consumers”
The alarm clock has gone off, It’s time to reset the counters to zero.

As long as there is struggle, there is hope.
As long as there is life, there is fighting,
As long as were are fighting, we are standing,
As long as we are standing we won’t give up
The rage to win flows in our veins.
Now you know why we fight.
Our ideal, much more than a dream.
Another world, we have no choice!

We don’t give up!
We don’t give up!
We don’t give up! We don’t give up! (repeated to the end)

So in the francophone version we have a tale of struggle, and hope: of perseverance in the face of stacked odds. Now lets look at an Anglo song that also deals with these kinds of modern-times problems:

With our eyes wide open, we…
With our eyes wide open, we…

So this is the end of the story,
Everything we had, everything we did,
Is buried in dust,
And this dust is all that’s left of us.
But only a few ever worried.

Well the signs were clear, they had no idea.
You just get used to living in fear,
Or give up when you can’t even picture your future.

We walk the plank with our eyes wide open.

We walk the plank with our eyes wide open, we…
(Walk the plank with our eyes wide open, we…)
Yeah, we walk the plank with our eyes wide open, we…
(Walk the plank with our eyes wide open.)

Some people offered up answers.
We made out like we heard, they were only words.
They didn’t add up to a change in the way we were living,
And the saddest thing is all of it could have been avoided.

But it was like to stop consuming’s to stop being human,
And why would I make a change if you won’t?
We’re all in the same boat, staying afloat for the moment.

We walk the plank with our eyes wide open, we…
(Walk the plank with our eyes wide open, we…)
Yeah we walk the plank with our eyes wide open, we…
(Walk the plank with our eyes wide open.)
We walk the plank with our eyes wide open,
We walk the plank with our eyes wide open,
We walk the plank with our eyes wide open, we…

With our eyes wide open, we walk the plank, we walk the plank.
With our eyes wide open, we walk the plank, we walk the plank, we walk the plank.
With our eyes wide open, we walk the plank, we walk the plank.

That was the end of the story. (Source)

The francophone song is one of resistance, while the anglophone song is one of fatalism and succumbing. Neither song presents these as good options, but the francophone song presents these options as something to resist in solidarity. In contrast, the anglophone song presents these problems as something that is impossible to resist because solidarity itself is impossible: “And why would I make a change if you won’t?”

So there is a very unsupported argument for why social change (for e.g. in the form of student strikes) might be more possible in Quebec than in the rest of Canada.

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