Month: February 2017

Building Ever Better Mouse Traps

Well, a sitting government in British Columbia has done it again; they’ve introduced a balanced budget for 2017-18 and, with a suitable flourish of trumpets, announced a year end surplus in excess of $2 billion.

The new budget presented plans to spend the surplus and a wide series of scheduled increases to existing programs, funding for new programs, relief all round for beleaguered taxpayers and the promise of more to come.

Opposition and media reaction were instant, on cue; the government is bribing the electorate with its own money. No doubt about that. It is also following a time honoured process first laid down with exemplary skill by W.A.C. Bennett who served 20 years as Premier of BC, winning re-election every three or four years with a never varying election formula.

Back in those days provincial governments were elected for a maximum of five years with the date for a new mandate resting solely with the premier and the ruling party. The Bennett formula was simple: In your first year of a new term introduce all the unpleasant things you need to do to keep the province rolling along in relative comfort. Year one is the time to increase taxes, cut programs, reduce government grants and generally warn citizens that savings must be made and kept “for a rainy day.”

In year two the pressure on taxpayers would be eased, but only slightly. And then, if year three had been planned as the year to call for a new mandate the doors to the provincial Treasury would be opened. The people would be praised for the patient way they paid their taxes and endured myriad fees and they’d be rewarded with a new highway, a bridge here or there, a new school or hospital.

The Opposition would furiously denounce the money suddenly being “shoveled from the back of government trucks” as election bribes. None was condemned as much as the Home Owner Grant of $50 introduced by W.A.C. in the 1950s. It was condemned by the NDP as the most flagrant bribe ever offered taxpayers – and is still on the books as “a benefit” although the government reckons it costs the Treasury $825 million a year in lost revenue.

In 1972, the NDP finally defeated, W.A.C., abandoned his tried and true election formula and in their first two years in office spent and spent some more. MLAs got pay increases, so did public service workers. When Premier Dave Barrett called for a vote of confidence in 1975 there was no money left to make voters happy.

W.A.C.’s son Bill Bennett took over as Premier and declared the Treasury empty of cash but full of promissory notes. Spending was curbed, savings made, election year spending restored. He remained in office for 11 years winning three general elections.

And so it has gone in BC since and continues unabated as we head for a May 9 ballot with voters dazzled by seemingly never ending promises of even better things to come if only taxpayers stay the course and ask for more of the same until at least 2021.

The Opposition has it tough, tougher than usual, with a litany of complaints but, so far, no clearly outlined plans for a more prosperous future. It says “it’s time for a change,” but doesn’t say what the change should be.

Premier Christy Clark and her minions have made their offer to the electorate with a promise of even more relief if re-elected. It’s the tried and true formula, not new, not surprising. And, BC history shows, a call by the ruling party to “endorse us to continue these rewards” is usually a successful campaign enticement.

To lead the NDP to victory in May, John Horgan must stop complaining about anything and everything the government does. He needs to invent a better mousetrap, one that entices with a variety of goodies but doesn’t break the taxpayers’ back when the bait is nibbled. In other words, he needs a variation on the old theme always remembering taxpayers like to be stroked, and when they are they tend to purr on cue.

“Perception Management” with “Terminological Inexactitude”

It was Winston Churchill, long before he became Sir Winston, who invented “terminological inexactitude” when referring to something that may have been stated inaccurately.

That was in 1906 and in the more than 110 years since the phrase was coined it has been used many times in democratic parliaments when one member wanted to call another an outright liar but was restrained by parliamentary rules which forbid such uncouth language.

But there was nothing in the rules to prevent one member from implying that another was advancing an argument with “terminological inexactitude.” It’s clever, neatly permitting one member to imply what needs to be said but can’t be said outright. And, until recently, it was enough to discombobulate most politicians given to outrageous claims and/or carefully crafted lies.

Not anymore. In the past decade or so, spin doctors – the people hired by politicians to make them look good however dubious their policies and claims – have authored a new lexicon to cover the sins of their clients. When their lies are challenged with a well-documented array of facts, to prove them false they don’t withdraw but simply respond with a list of proudly proclaimed “alternative facts.”

In a recent speech at the World Government Summit in Dubai, Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz commented: “It used to be we could have a discussion and agree on facts, but disagree on interpretation.” He warned that belief in alternative facts would undermine “the basis of a common agreement about what is truth…..it’s going to be very, very difficult to reach a consensus on the way forward.”

I doubt if the spin doctors will listen. They subscribe to the view expressed in the Guardian newspaper a few days ago: “Facts are sacred – but alternative facts are free” to be used whenever necessary to blanket lies.

Alternative facts are not the only new slogans in modern media manipulation slang. With a provincial election due in British Columbia in May here are one or two guaranteed to surface as the campaign moves into high gear.

Gaslighting – (from the stage play and mind control movie Gaslight) is defined as a form of manipulation that seeks to create doubts in individuals or organizations. In BC, the government will use the gaslighting technique to plants seeds of doubt in the minds of voters and hopefully persuade them the NDP lacks the ability to govern wisely. The NDP will use the same technique to try and persuade the electorate the Liberal government has been deceiving voters for years and will continue to do so if re-elected.

Factoids – these close cousins to alternative facts are usually repeated “facts” about the ideology of a party or organization. All parties use them and hope that, if repeated often enough, they will become accepted as facts.

Perception management – mainly applicable to national governments seeking support for the launch of military actions, but also applicable in election campaigns. It was first used during President Ronald Reagan’s term in office. The U.S. Department of Defence defines the program: “Actions to convey and/or deny selected information to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives and objective reasoning….ultimately resulting in foreign behaviors and official actions favorable to the originators objectives…..”

Delete the two “foreign” mentions, and “perception management” as a civilian election campaign weapon is quickly recognized.

Woven into all campaigns will be a share of double speak, a dash of circular sourcing run through a filter bubble with a taste of dog-whistle politics. Feel free to Google them to better understand how you will be force fed for a month after the election writ is dropped.

Here’s one more tactic guaranteed to be served up: Euphemistic mispeaking – being economical with the truth; a slip of the tongue; to mis-speak.” All coming soon to an election platform near you, terminological inexactitude tested and possibly dangerously infected.

Stay alert!

When “the Quality of Mercy” was Strained in Canada

If you think President Donald Trump a bit of a flake, his bellicose racist fear-mongering disgraceful – so do I. He reminds me of a time, and not so long ago, when Canadian politicians had similar thoughts. Not just one politician with sycophantic followers, but just about all politicians federal, provincial and municipal teaching a mob to bellow in unison that Chinese immigrants did not belong in Canada.

There was never any doubt in their white supremacy. They were open, and frightening: China was a weak nation of backward people who could never learn to live like white Canadians. Those who had been recruited to Canada to build a railroad had “brought with them diseases and other bad habits (such as smoking opium) that threatened Canada’s well being.”

These unprincipled weak and backward people had served a useful purpose as cheap labour while railroads were under construction. Now they not only wanted to stay in Canada – they wanted to bring their families from China to join them. And they actually had the desire to establish themselves in the business world and open laundries, small productive vegetable farms and a few corner stores to raise the money to bring their folks over.

British Columbia led the fight to keep the “dangerous Orientals” in check but was by no means alone. The Library Archives of Canada tell us that in Calgary property owners living near Chinatown made moves to block its ever-expanding growth because they feared their property was being devalued by the Chinese presence.

History also notes that Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario introduced stringent laws prohibiting Chinese laundry owners from hiring white women. It was unacceptable to government that any white person could be answerable to a Chinese boss, and shockingly dangerous that white women should find themselves in a position where their Chinese employer “would take sexual advantage” of them.

Not “could” take advantage but “would” because these Chinese immigrants and refugees were believed to be a bad lot and government at all levels never hesitated to say so. The political ranks were full of replica Donald Trumps and the electorate loved, supported and re-elected them. Newspaper publishers and editors of the day agreed with the politicians, and stoked the rampant racist regulations banning Chinese from public swimming pools and ordering them to sit in special seating areas at the movies.

In 1885, Ottawa introduced the Chinese Immigration Act – the first law to specifically exclude immigrants to Canada on the basis of ethnic origin. The press and the people loved the law and the $50 head tax it placed on every would-be Chinese immigrant. The tax slowed down the flow, but not enough. In 1900 it was increased to $100 and three years later to $500 – more than a year’s pay for labourers.

It would be years before, with awakening conscience, the tax was eliminated and decades before 2006 when Canada, through its then Prime Minister Stephen Harper, apologized “for the racist actions of our past” and offered “symbolic payments” in compensation.

Readers interested in following the evolution of racism in Canada can Google Canadian Immigration Acts and Legislation and follow a legacy of growing intolerance from 1869 and the country’s first Immigration Act (which had virtually no restrictions), through the years when race restrictions first surfaced to the 1910 Immigration Act. That was the year the federal government expanded its prohibited immigrants list. Among the new exclusions were immigrants “unsuited to the climate or requirements of Canada.” Immigrants sponsored by “charitable institutions” were a surprising exclusion.

One phrase in the 1910 revisions would delight President Trump. It kept decision making power firmly in the hands of the executive branch of Canada’s national government with “courts and judges barred from reviewing, reversing or otherwise interfering in the decisions of the minister responsible….”

As the years rolled by Canadian governments at all levels abandoned old hatreds and beliefs. Maybe the riotous years of the early 1900s – when, in 1907, a mob several thousand strong invaded Vancouver’s prosperous Chinatown to smash store windows and wreck buildings – sparked qualms of conscience. Or maybe it was a quiet reflection on the racist proposal of Victoria’s School Trustees to banish Chinese students from “white only classrooms.”

Perhaps what troubled decent minded people, was the government’s actions during great recession of the 1930s when the BC government provided a Chinese soup kitchen with 16 cents per day per person and white people 25 cents a day; or the rule in Alberta where relief payments were $1.12 a week for Chinese people and double that for needy whites.

It was WW2 that brought about Canada’s final conversion to decency. In the post war years Canada was heavily involved in the birth of the United Nations which declared equal rights for all people in a democracy. After self examination in 1947, Canada removed the prohibition which had denied those of Chinese origin equal rights – and repealed the 1923 immigration law preventing immigration.

We can always hope that President Trump will come to see the error of his racist ways and change his ways quicker than Canada did; hope that he and his supporters will come to understand Shakespeare’s advice that “the quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth as a gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed; it blesseth him that gives and him that takes….”

But it’s not a hope to bet the farm on.

Name The Terrorists -Then and Now

It was on August 25, 1939, that I read in my local newspaper, the Midland Telegraph, that five people had been killed and 70 injured “when an IRA bomb exploded in Coventry’s city centre on Broadgate, the main shopping street thronged with shoppers and workers.” Among the crowd walked Elsie Millets, 21, “who paused for a second to gaze in a jewellery shop window.” In that second, a 2.3 kg bomb sitting in the carrier basket of a bicycle resting at the curb, exploded. “Elsie was killed instantly. She was identifiable only by her engagement ring.”

I was 15, old enough to be shocked by the brutal slaughter of innocents by members of the Irish Republican Army that had its roots in the failed, but legendary, 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin. The rag-tag, ill-trained army of dissidents seeking to persuade England to end its occupancy and let the Irish run their own affairs, was crushed in less than a week, its leaders tried and executed.

Three years later, in 1919, the IRA was created to replace the Irish volunteers. Its purpose was clearly stated: It would use armed force to pursue its objective of an independent Ireland. Thus began the real Irish Troubles with close to three years of guerrilla warfare which led to negotiations and agreement to partition Ireland. Twenty six counties would become the Irish Free State with dominion status; six counties would become Northern Ireland and remain part of Great Britain.

The division didn’t please everyone and the IRA faction continued to recruit and train, stepping up a campaign of terror with indiscriminate time-bomb attacks in England and raids on understaffed police stations in Ireland. In 1919, the British Secretary of State for War Winston Churchill launched a recruitment campaign to attract thousands of unemployed WW1 veterans to join his newly created Royal Irish Constabulary Special Reserve. There was no shortage of recruits for what proved to be an undisciplined force given to brutal attacks on civilians, the destruction of homes and sometimes entire villages.

The force, with its improvised uniform of khaki slacks and dark blue shirts, became known as the Black and Tans. Their record remains a shameful chapter in England’s checkered history and stays high on Churchill’s bad decisions list. It was also one of his great failures. The Black and Tans terror attacks stirred the IRA to greater action, increased violence and a division of power. In 1969, the Army became two pronged – one named “Official” and the other “Provisional. The Officials pursued the fight for independence in parliament while the “Provos” stepped up the bullets, bombs and assassinations campaign.

Between 1969 and 1994, it is estimated the Provos executed 1,800 people of which 600 were civilians.

In 1994, the IRA declared “a complete cessation of all military activities” and agreed to destroy some of its weapons but not its complete and substantial armoury. In 2005, it agreed it would abstain from all violence as it continued to fight for a united Ireland.

It is believed that some of the organizational structure of the “old IRA” remains in place.

So, what’s the purpose of this recital of evil times long ago? Well, I got to wondering about terrorists and acts of terror and people fighting for what they believe are their rights; and other people who disagree with those beliefs and insist, by force if necessary, they should be denied.

I got to thinking about 1920 when the Sunni and the Shia Muslims of Iraq united to force the British out of their country and the UK responded with a 100,000 strong army of British and Indian troops supported by the Royal Air Force perfecting unchallenged bombing runs. It was called “aerial policing of recalcitrant tribal chiefs.” A BBC report says thousands of Arabs were killed “and hundreds of British and Indian soldiers died.” All about the same time the IRA and the Black and Tans were trying to outdo each other in the unwarranted death stakes on the green hills and fields of Ireland.

It was all 90 or so years ago and here we are still trying to figure out who the real terrorists were then – and who they are today.