Categories
Politics

It’s time to abandon reckless oil propagandists

A response to Dan McTeague’s Financial Post opinion piece “It’s time to abandon reckless EV mandates” published July 03, 2024.

With his head firmly buried in the Athabasca oil sands, fossil fuel advocate Dan McTeague brought his anti-progress bullhorn to the Financial Post today, rehashing anti-EV arguments as outdated and divorced from reality as the industry he plays mouthpiece for.

By McTeague’s reckoning, the Canadian taxpayer will be “on the hook for generations to come” for the “Electric Vehicle Availability Standard” that mandates all new vehicles sold in Canada must be electric by 2035.

Never mind that Canada is joining the EU in this effort and that global car manufacturers are following suit; were we to believe McTeague’s description of reality, a transition to EVs in Canada would “disproportionately harm Canadian workers and families” and “do serious damage to our economy.”

Good news then that his arguments fall flat when exposed to the most basic scrutiny.

Let’s look at them one by one:

Claim number one: “the technology is simply not there for electric vehicles to be a reliable source of transportation in Canada’s climate.” 

Reality check: While it’s true battery electric vehicles lose some of their charge and performance in colder climates, this concern is blown out of proportion for anything except long-haul driving. EV adoption in countries with comparable climates to Canada including Norway and Finland shows that battery EVs are a viable alternative even in colder climates. The main challenge here isn’t lack of reliable EV technology; it’s lack of sufficient charging infrastructure. We’ll get to that later.

Claim number two: “the EV market relies heavily on government subsidies.”

Reality check: This is true, and for good reason: Subsidies work, as proven by the estimated $4.8 billion Canada spends on fossil fuel subsidies every year. To bring forward a just energy transition, the government should invest at least as much on subsidies for technology that weans us off fossil fuels as it does propping up the fossil fuel industry. The good news here is unlike fossil fuel subsidies, EV subsidies are a temporary measure. EV incentives in Norway have been so successful the country has started the process of phasing them out, and we can expect the same to happen in Canada over time. Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry remains dependent not only on subsidies, but on outright bailouts from taxpayers. If McTeague is concerned about the cost of subsidies, I have a glass house to sell him.

Claim number three: “EVs are prohibitively expensive.” 

Reality check: Battery electric vehicles are a relatively new technology, and with new technology comes higher cost at the onset. That said, the average price of an EV in Canada is going steadily down, and new cheaper models and brands are coming to market on a monthly basis.
EV technology is also in its infancy where ICE technology is mature. We have a long way to go with EVs, and new better technologies will bring prices down and quality up for a long time.

There’s another mechanism at play here too that puts an additional kink in McTeague’s argument: He says, “at a fundamental level the government’s push for electric vehicles encroaches on the operation of the free market,” suggesting that subsidies are keeping EV prices artificially low. In reality, the Canadian government is actively working to suppress that free market in the opposite way; by leveling heavy tariffs on new cheaper EVs from Asia. This move is meant to protect the North American car industry, but European car manufacturers say such tariffs will harm them and their American counterparts. If McTeague truly wants to protect the free market and lower the cost of EVs, his beef isn’t with the subsidies; it’s with the tariffs.

Claim number four: “the costs of maintaining an EV are high.”

Reality check: According to a comprehensive breakdown by Forbes UK, while the maintenance cost of an EV is higher than an ICE, the need for maintenance is much lower. And because EVs have fewer moving parts, don’t need oil changes, etc, servicing costs of these cars is significantly lower than comparable ICEs. McTeague’s specific example of battery replacement is a red herring since such replacements typically fall under warranty or insurance.

Claim number five: “our electrical grid isn’t ready for the excess demand that would come with widespread EV adoption.”

Reality check: This is absolutely true, and it has nothing to do with EVs and everything to do with aging infrastructure. The world is in an energy crisis brought on by the disparity between our ever-increasing demand for electricity and our aging energy production and transmission infrastructure. We have a major challenge on our hands to drastically build out energy production and transmission over the next decade to support everything from EVs to AI, and demand for high-efficiency EV chargers may be the boost we need to get that process started. Alongside our transition to EV’s, both federal and provincial governments are investing in bringing energy production home via solar panels and power walls. And realizing you can charge your EV for free from home with solar panels is a major incentive in itself. Rather than point at our aging infrastructure as a reason to stall the EV transition, McTeague should join the calls for new building codes that require solar panels on every roof, neighborhood energy storage, and upgrades of our electrical grid including transitioning from 120V to 240V as a standard.

Claim number six: “The sheer number of new charging stations required by wholesale adoption of EVs will strain our distribution networks.”

Reality check: Our society spent the past century building elaborate distribution networks to power ICEs. No matter what road you are on in Canada, you are a reasonably short drive away from a gas station. Meanwhile, the buildout of EV charging networks in Canada has only just begun and those networks are already extensive. Here it’s important to look at the much wider picture. Unlike gas stations, EV chargers have minimal environmental impact, are cheap and easy to install, and can be installed anywhere. There are already networks in place where homeowners can rent out their EV chargers to anyone at a rate they set themselves, and combined with other green energy initiatives like solar panels on every roof, we are moving towards a future where we can create a new viable industry of small scale charging providers without the long-term environmental remediation efforts associated with gas stations.

Claim number seven: “the federal government is operating under the assumption that if you somehow create a supply, that will inspire a demand. This hasn’t worked in any of the countries where it’s been attempted, which is why nations around the world have started to tap the brakes on EV mandates.”

Reality check: This claim is taken straight out of the fossil fuel lobby playbook, and is demonstrably false. In Norway, 82% of new vehicle sales are EVs. Germany, the USA, and most other markets are seeing a steady and rapid rise in EV sales. When Republican lawmakers put this claim to United States Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigeg he spent a solid 3 minutes debunking it with stats. I encourage McTeague to listen to what he had to say.

A final reality check: We are all suffering the festering sores of the bed the oil sector has made for us. McTeague is right in one respect: Canadians can’t afford to keep buying new expensive cars; not because the cars are expensive but because our society can’t sustain our dependency on cars. What we need is a drastic rethink of how we get to where we live, work, and play and how we make our communities and our societies more sustainable. While Europe and Asia built elaborate public transit systems and high-speed intercity rail, the North American oil industry spent the past 100 years ensuring we built our communities around the personal car. The result is congested roads, endless commutes, and nighttime streets that look like industrial parking lots. 

It is time we abandon the reckless oil propaganda that wrought us the climate crisis, dysfunctional transportation infrastructure, and our dependence on the personal car. EVs play a part in that transition but the main job we need our elected officials to do is stop propping up a destructive industry and stop listening to their apologists. 

Oil companies had their century and made a killing on the back of our climate. Now their chokehold on our economy is slipping, so they lash out at anything that doesn’t drip hydrocarbons. It’s time for them to clean up the mess they made and step aside so we can all get the just energy transition we deserve.

Categories
Politics

What Better Place Than Here, What Better Time Than Now

Look at any of the millions of posts sharing personal abortion stories and pro-choice support on LinkedIn over the weekend and you’ll likely find a comment similar to this one:

“Why use LinkedIn for this type of political post? Engagement at all costs.”

I could not disagree more. Work is political. Reproductive rights have a significant impact on work, and our work impacts our own and other people’s access to reproductive services. Having conversations about abortion rights in a work environment is not only appropriate; it is necessary. Abortion is healthcare, and healthcare is a human right. When our coworkers or our clients are subjected to a removal of their human rights, that’s something we need to talk about; not in terms of whether we should talk about it, but what we are doing about it.

In April I wrote about the importance of having political discussions at work which sparked a lively discussion both on the platform and off. Today I want to revisit some of my reasoning in that article with the recent US Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision as the backdrop.

Reproductive Rights and Work

Work and reproductive rights are intrinsically and inseparably linked. Pregnancy, child birth, and child rearing all have significant mental and physical impacts on a person’s ability work. Having the ability to choose whether to bring a pregnancy to term is essential to the health and wellbeing of every person who can get pregnant. For many people, especially in countries with weak unions and few legislated and enforced worker protections, an unwanted pregnancy may mean the loss of a job. In some countries like the USA where healthcare is often funded through your job, losing a job means losing essential services that may be needed to keep you and your family alive.

Like I said, work and reproductive rights are intrinsically and inseparably linked. And access to abortion is an essential part of reproductive rights for every person who may get pregnant.

Discussing reproductive rights and the politics of reproductive rights at work is also essential. In countries where parents and caregivers are granted extensive parental leave, this is the result of decades of political work to support workers and their families. In companies where nursing rooms, child care services, and fertility support are provided, this is the result of decades of political work to support workers and their families. The same can be said for US companies now providing funding and paid leave for people accessing abortion services. This is the result of decades of political work to support workers and their families. Because access to abortion is an essential part of reproductive healthcare.

The work we do also impacts the reproductive rights of the people impacted by our work. If you work for a company that gathers data on their users, and that data can somehow be tied to accessing reproductive health services including abortion, that data may be subpoenaed by law enforcement in regions where abortion is criminalized. How these companies respond to such subpoenas is a political decision. What penalties (legal, or in the courtroom of public opinion) these companies are willing to accept as a result of their decisions, is also a political decision. Choosing to work for a company that takes a stance supporting one side or the other is a political decision. Choosing to work for a company actively funding politicians who aim to limit the reproductive rights of people who may get pregnant is a political decision.

Work is political

Work, down to the most basic principles of having the right to work, is itself political. You don’t have to go far back in history to find a time when people were denied the right to paid labor for things like their gender, their sexual orientation, their religious beliefs, their country of birth, or their skin colour.

Workers’ rights to fair wages, paid medical leave, paid vacation time, reasonable hours, a safe work environment, all these and more are hard-fought political issues, many of which are still challenged in courts and seats of government to this day. Women and people who may become pregnant’s right to work, right to paid parental leave, right to not lose their job over reproductive decisions, right to not be passed over for promotions due to their reproductive choices, these are all hard-fought political issues for which we are still fighting.

Every 1st of May, workers unite around the world to celebrate International Workers’ Day with marches and protests supporting the rights of workers. In many countries, a Labour or Workers party presents candidates at every election. In some countries, the Labour Party leads the government.

To say we can’t talk about politics at work is to say we can’t talk about work. Because work is political.

Categories
AI My Opinion Politics

#BanFacialRecognition

tl;dr: The dangers of facial recognition far outweigh its benefits. If we don’t severely limit or outright ban the development of this technology today, we run the risk of eroding privacy to the point it ceases to exist.

On Saturday, I got an email from Facebook asking if I could verify whether a bunch of pictures it had uncovered were indeed of me. Among those photos were a series taken during 17th of May celebrations on Nesodden, Norway, in 1997 where I am seen in the crowd of a youth orchestra playing the big drum. The picture is blurry, and I’m wearing a weird hat over my long hair. Even so, Facebook’s facial recognition algorithm had correctly identified me.

In April, a woman posted a video on TikTok explaining how Google Photos had inadvertently sent an adult-themed video of her to her mother. The video had been taken in the kitchen with the fridge in clear view. On the fridge was a picture of the woman’s child. She had set Google Photos up to automatically share photos of her child with her mother. Thus Google used facial recognition to identify the child in the photo on the fridge and send the video to the woman’s mother. (I’m not going to link the story here because it appears the original TikTok has been set to private, but a simple search will surface it for you if you’re interested.)

If you need to apply for a loan or a mortgage in the near future, chances are some of the companies you approach may use facial recognition to check your identity and protect themselves from fraud. In China, facial recognition systems are already in use in the finance industry to verify customer identities or “examine their expressions for clues about their truthfulness.

Governments are eyeing facial recognition for everything from immigration screenings to access to public services.

Meanwhile, errors in facial recognition are leading to people, predominantly racialized and otherwise marginalized, being denied loans, services, even being arrested and put in jail.

Facial Recognition Considered Harmful

If we know one thing about facial recognition it is this: The technology is flawed, inaccurate, and often downright racist. Technologists will counter that over time, the technology and the algorithms underlying it will improve to the point it will be virtually infallible. I don’t disagree; The pursuit of all technology is to endlessly converge on perfection, and thanks to machine learning and AI supported by ever-present and ever more advanced cameras, the future of “perfect” facial recognition is a foregone conclusion.

Here’s the thing though: The question isn’t whether facial recognition technology will be able to deliver on its promise; it’s whether the use of the technology will change our society in ways that are harmful. I firmly believe the answer to that question is yes. Facial recognition is already harmful, and those harms will only get worse.

Yesterday two EU privacy watchdogs called for the ban of facial recognition in public places. Just a few days earlier, the UK Information Commissioner said she is “deeply concerned” live facial recognition may be used “inappropriately, excessively or even recklessly”. The people who look carefully at the implications of this technology tend to converge on the same conclusion: This stuff is too dangerous, and needs to be aggressively limited.

Supporters of facial recognition will immediately respond with the many useful applications of the technology: It makes it easier to log into your phone! You can use it to open your front door! Imagine not having to carry a clunky ID card around! It can help fight crime, prevent fraud, and abuse, and terrorism! If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear from facial recognition!

Deontologists, and Edward Snowden, disagree. From his book “Permanent Record:”

“Because a citizenry’s freedoms are interdependent, to surrender your own privacy is really to surrender everyone’s.”

“saying that you don’t need or want privacy because you have nothing to hide is to assume that no-one should have or could have to hide anything.”

While on the surface, facial recognition appears to be a tool of convenience, in reality it is a tool of surveillance, manipulation, and oppression.

The value of facial recognition lies in how it automates wholesale omnipresent surveillance for commercial, law enforcement, and political oppression purposes.

In the 2002 movie “Minority Report” there’s a scene where the protagonist walks through a mall and is targeted by personalized advertising. In the movie, this targeting is done using retinal scans. Today, 20 years later, that exact same targeting already exists, thanks to facial recognition.

If you’ve gone to a mall and looked at one of those enormous digital displays showing mall information and ads, chances are your face and facial expressions have been scanned, logged, and probably used to target you, all without your consent. In 2020 a mall real estate company in Canada was found to have collected over 5 million images of shoppers via these kiosks. In 2017 a pizza restaurant in Oslo, Norway was found to use facial recognition to target gendered ads to patrons looking at a digital menu: sausage pizza for men, salad for women.

Can does not imply ought

Facial recognition is a prime example of a constant struggle within science and technology: Does the fact we can do something mean we ought to do it? From a purely scientific technologist perspective, the answer will always be “yes” because that’s how we evolve our technology. From an ethical perspective, the answer is more nuanced. Rather than judge the merit of a technology solely based on its advancement, we look at what the technology does to us, if it promotes human flourishing, and if it causes harm to people, communities, and society.

The technology for cloning humans has been around for decades, yet we don’t clone humans. Why? Because the further development of human cloning technology has severe and irreparable negative consequences for the human race. We can do it, but we don’t, because we know better.

This is the determination we need to make, today, about facial recognition technology: We can do it, but is this technology promoting human flourishing, and will its harms be outweighed by its benefits?

I’ve spent years grappling with this question and talking to people in the industry about it. After much deliberation, my conclusion is crystal clear: This technology is too dangerous for further development. We need a global ban on deployment and further development of facial recognition technologies, and we need it now. Failure to act will result in the destruction of privacy and immeasurable harms to individuals, groups, and society as a whole.

Think of it this way: Right now you can buy a drone with a high definition camera, buy access to one of the many facial recognition platforms available on the web, fly that drone to a public place, find and identify any person within that space, and have the drone track that person wherever they choose to go. That’s not science fiction. That’s current reality.

Oh, and once you find out who the person is, you can also stalk them on social media, find out where they work, who their friends are, what they like to eat, where they like to hang out, etc etc. Which is all harmful to privacy. But the truly dangerous part here here is the facial recognition: it gives anyone the capability of identifying anyone else, based on a single photo or a crappy video clip, and from there proceed to find all the other information. As long as facial recognition exists, we cannot control who can identify us.

And if you think you can opt out, the answer is no. Facial recognition companies have already scraped the internet clean of any and all photos of you and your face has been catalogued. John Oliver did a great bit on this last year. And yes, it will make you want to throw your phone away and go live in a cave in the forest:

Technology is not inevitable.

“But Morten, these technologies already exist. The cat’s out of the bag so to speak.”

True. Which is why a global ban on the deployment, use, and further development of this technology is something we have to do right now. We cannot afford to wait.

Here’s the bottom line: There is no such thing as inevitable technology. We, as a society, can choose to not develop technologies. We can determine a technology to be too harmful and stop developing it. We can assist those already heavily invested in those technologies to pursue other less harmful technologies, and we can impose penalties on those who use or develop the technology in spite of its ban. It won’t be perfect, but it is absolutely possible.

Facial recognition terrifies me, and I’m a white man living a middle-class life in Canada. The harms of facial recognition are far more severe for women, people of color, people who fall anywhere outside the binary gender or sexuality spectrum, the list goes on, indefinitely. Any day now we’ll be confronted with a news story of some oppressive regime somewhere in the world using facial recognition to identify and jail LGBTQIA2S+ people. Governments are investigating what is effectively pre-crime: using facial recognition technology along with what is effectively AI phrenology to determine the criminality of a person just by looking at their face.

I could go on, but you get the point: We are trading our privacy and the security of our fellow people for the convenience of logging onto our phones by just looking at them. That’s not a trade I’m comfortable width, and I hope you agree.

On the proverbial slippery slope, we are rapidly nearing the bottom, and once we’re there it will be very difficult to get ourselves back up. As the man on the TV says, avoid disappointment and future regret: act now! Your privacy and our collective future depends on it!

#BanFacialRecognition

Originally posted on LinkedIn.

Categories
My Opinion Politics

Demon Coal – an open letter to CBC Ideas

I am a frequent listener to Ideas and I love the show for its factual base, non-biased approach and excellent coverage of issues. Therefore I was perplexed when I listened to the two part series Demon Coal. Whereas it purports to tell the story of coal, what it actually does is make a valiant effort to debunk all current climate science and make it sound like the consensus in climate science is now moving away from modeling and man made climate change towards what the far right has been touting for years: adaptation.

Here’s the thing: I don’t have a problem with the story being told from both sides. In fact, the story being told was an excellent one and a fair and balanced presentation of one side of the coin. The problem was that, in complete disregard of journalistic practice and integrity, only one side of the coin was presented. Not a single voice from the much larger other side was introduced and the two hours were dedicated to touting a line that is not widely supported among climate scientists world wide.

When I started listening and heard the presentations from climate scientists from the Senate panel, I was wondering when the counter arguments were going to be presented. After all, what these experts were presenting was a strongly skewed opinion that in no way matches what thousands of climate scientists all over the world and their science are saying. When no such response appeared in episode one I expected episode two to be a response. No such thing. In fact, episode two was dedicated to not only trying to debunk both climate science in general but also the IPCC, but it put Bjørn Lomborg and the Copenhagen Consensus Centre on a pedestal as the future of climate science and politics. This is hugely alarming as Lomborg is funded in large part by oil, coal, and natural gas lobbies and has been labeled by some as a false prophet. Though Lomborg’s views should be presented, the counter arguments must also be presented to give listeners the ability to perform a critical analysis of their own.

Demon Coal was a great program, but it was a program that only presented one side of the story. And it did it in such a way that it made it sound like the other side was not worth covering. By doing this, the show, and Ideas as a whole, went from being a trusted resource to becoming a propaganda platform for extreme ideas. That is both sad and unacceptable. How this happened I have no idea. The fact that it did makes me question all of Ideas’ programming. How am I to know that the rest of the information being put out by this show is not just as biased?

The airing of Demon Coal demands either a response or a retraction. Such biased content should not be aired simply because it is one sided and in breach of journalistic ethics. I am disappointed and also concerned about what this says about the internal politics in the show.

I would love to hear a response about this episode, in particular the reasoning behind the decision to air something this heavily biased without at the very least some form of byline commentary about said bias.

Categories
My Opinion Politics

Selling the Message: How to get from Occupation to Social Change

The world is facing both a financial collapse rivalling that of the Great Depression and political upheaval akin to the riots of 1968. In this turbulent environment it is imperative that those wanting to enact change upon the world learn from the past and adopt policies that move us forward, both in their actual policies and how they approach change.

The biggest danger facing a movement like #occupy or the many uprisings in the Arab world is that rather than changing the world for the better they are just replacing one oppressive system for another. Political change should never happen through force of one group against another but rather consensus and pragmatic discussion. We have an opportunity here to do something together to make a more viable future for everyone. But that requires that everyone participate, whether they are the 99%, the 1% or somewhere in between.

In an earlier part of my life I was a politician. I had ideas, ideals and a strong will to enact social change on my community, my country and the world. And to some small extent I like to think I did. But more importantly my time as a politician taught me some hard lessons about how the world works and how to go about enacting change in the world. And though frustrating, ideologically challenging and often counter-intuitive, these lessons should be the very corner stone of any social movement wanting to make a difference in the world.

They are:

  1. Work from Within
  2. Speak the Language of Your Oppressor
  3. Know that Your Views are Extreme
  4. Strong leadership is vital
  5. Create a political platform
  6. Be pragmatic and think long term

Just before I continue I must warn you what I am about to say will probably make you angry. That’s part of the problem, and can also be part of the solution.

Lesson 1: Work from within

The first and most important lesson is the one hardest to swallow: If you want to make a fundamental change to a system you have to work from within that system and make the changes using its own methods and procedures. This is usually contrary both to the agenda of social movements and also to their premise. Even so it is the hard and honest truth. Save for armed revolt or intentional widespread sabotage this is the only way of enacting large scale systemic change.

To use the #occupy movement as an example: If you want to change laws governing banks, corporations or even electoral systems you must first be in a position to make changes to those laws. This can be done either by electing officials who are willing and able to make these changes or by working your way into the system so you can make those changes yourself. Simply saying the system is flawed and demanding a change will do nothing unless you also have the power to enact this change. This is of course problematic if the root of your complaint is the political system itself, but the cure is the same: If you don’t like the current political system, you must either team up with current politicians or become a politician yourself so you can make the changes necessary.

Call to action: Vote in general elections, vote for the people who share your beliefs, join a political party, set the agenda for your political party.

Lesson 2: Speak the language of your oppressor

This lesson comes from basic marketing: If you want someone to change their mind about something they have to first understand what you’re saying. And I’m not talking about English here; I’m talking about ensuring you are actually talking about the same thing. One of the key problems of radical social movements is that they use language that either doesn’t resonate with or register at all in the minds of their target audience.

A good example of this (and one I get in trouble for bringing up) is feminism. I am a feminist myself (and yes, I’m a guy) but even I have a hard time accepting the vitriolic polemic presented by many in the feminist movement. The reason is much of what is said is rooted in anger, bitterness and all out attacks on “the other”. This creates a chasm between the oppressed (women) and their oppressor (men) and makes it hard for the oppressor to cross over and see the world from the oppressed point of view. The key to winning the war on gender inequality lies in making men see and understand the world from women’s perspective. Only when the oppressor empathises with the one he oppresses can he see his own faults. But this requires that the feminist movement speaks the language of their oppressors and meets them at their level. And that goes against the very nature of the movement, and most movements, which states that the oppressor should understand that they are in the wrong because they are in the wrong.

If you were selling a product this would be crystal clear: To make people feel they have to by the latest and greatest you have to speak their language. The same is true for social movements: Unless you communicate your message in a way your target audience – the people who are doing you wrong – understand, they won’t buy it and they’ll simply ignore you.

Call to Action: Learn the language of your oppressor, speak to them on their terms, use their own language, methods and data to make them empathise with your cause and see that they are the cause of your problems.

Lesson 3: Know that your views are extreme

Social movements almost always hold extreme ideals, largely because it is the people with the most extreme views that feel the most left out and thus feel the strongest need to be heard. This is why terms like “the lunatic fringe” and “the loudest voice in the room” are often attributed to social movements as a reason to ignore them. But even if the social movement itself is extreme, many people will sympathise with most of what the movement has to say, just in a less extreme way. Therein lies the problem:

If a social movement insists on being extreme and ignores more moderate views and approaches it will invariably alienate the large group of people who agree and sympathise with the overall message. As a result the movement will be marginalized because it is not willing to make concessions and the message is never taken seriously.

The only way to ensure wide spread support is to adopt a moderate version of the general ideals of the movement. By taking the moderate route you ensure that a larger group of people will want to join and you keep the overall goal of social change in focus. This usually results in the most extreme end of the spectrum cutting lose and starting its own group denouncing the main group as traitorous. Be that as it may: The end result will be a social movement with clout that people can actually identify with. The bottom line is simple: If you are too extreme, only people who are just as extreme as you will join. And most people are not extreme.

Call to Action: Imagine a scale from 1 (not extreme) to 100 (absolute extreme) and plant your policies somewhere between the 65 and 85 mark, ensure that the leadership of the group is not dominated by extreme elements on one end or the other, include the extreme elements but only as a minority, pursue a moderate message at all times.

Lesson 4: Strong leadership is vital

This is another difficult lesson, especially for left wing movements: Without strong and cohesive leadership your group is doomed to failure. The reasons are many:

  • The movement must have a clear voice – and that voice can only be communicated by a leadership group. If there is no leadership media and others will ask the general population of the group for information and that information will invariably be diluted and incorrect. A clear and concise message communicated by leaders is paramount.
  • Without leadership it will be impossible to formulate a goal and move towards it because fractions and individuals will adopt their own special version of the overall goal and pursue it instead.
  • People need someone to look up to. Without a charismatic leader that people trust and look up to the group will not have a focus and will start breaking into fractions.
  • Leaders are accountable. A group without a leader is hard to address, and internally it is impossible to decide who makes decisions and who is accountable when something doesn’t go according to plan. A democratically elected leader can both ensure that the movement as a whole moves towards their common objective and be held accountable when things don’t go the right way.

The problem with social movements, and left leaning social movements in particular, is that they tend to see leadership as a pathway to corruption. This is often a key part of their gripe as is the case with the #occupy movement. The goal of the group is therefore often a move towards absolute or direct democracy. Though this looks good on paper it is a recipe for disaster. Absolute democracy – where everyone votes on everything and there is no leadership – is doomed to failure even in small groups because not every member has the time, capacity nor knowledge to make an informed decision on everything. Furthermore the group will be faced with countless decisions that have to be made on the fly, something that is impossible to do if everyone is to be consulted.

The only way to ensure that the group remains cohesive and moves towards its stated goal is to create a democratically elected leadership committee that is left in charge. This committee has to have a platform on which to base its decisions (lesson 5) and must be held accountable to that platform. To ensure accountability remains the group should introduce set election periods at which time the entire committee is dissolved and re-elected.

Call to Action: Hold elections for a leadership committee, set down firm election periods, hold leadership accountable through elections.

Lesson 5: Create a political platform

For the movement to have an impact clear goals must be formulated and acted on. Only with clear goals in the form of a political platform can a plan be created on how to enact the change demanded by the group. Once a political platform is created outsiders can see what the group is about and decide to join and outside elements like other political organizations, the media and others can get a firm understanding of what the group wants and whether or not its goals are acceptable and something that should be supported. In addition, with a political platform as a base the movement can hold their leaders accountable and individual members of the movement can refer to the platform when in doubt about what to do next.

The creation of a political platform is generally done at a general assembly. The overall process is as follows:

  1. Everyone proposes policies
  2. Policies are grouped into defined sub-sections
  3. Committees are democratically elected to deal with defined sub-sections
  4. Committees look over all proposals in their section and conform them into a set of proposals
  5. All proposals are taken to a vote on an individual basis by the general assembly
  6. Political platform is defined based on proposals that are voted in

The movement can decide how often to revise their political platform. This should be done on a time basis (every 6 months, every year etc) to give the elected leadership committee time to enact the policies.

Call to Action: Hold general assembly, open the floor for policy proposals, create sub-committees to organize proposals, vote on individual proposals and political platform.

Lesson 6: Be pragmatic and think long term

The final lesson is both obvious and infuriating: If you want to enact large scale social change you need to be pragmatic and think long term. Unless you are planning an armed uprising things will not happen over night, nor should they. Rapidly implemented social restructuring always ends in chaos.

When I say “be pragmatic” I mean that you have to accept that the general population needs time to understand your demands, think about how they will affect their lives and decide whether or not they support them. You also have to take a step back and turn a critical eye to your own demands to see if they are reasonable or if you are demanding too much. Finally you have to seek consensus with your opponents and aim for acceptable compromises. This is hard to do when you have set ideas about how things should be, but getting 50% there is better than getting nowhere.

This links directly to the thinking long term part: If you have a pragmatic long term approach and seek consensus along the way you are more likely to succeed in implementing your goals. But more importantly you’ll have a chance to test out your policies and see if they are really as great as you firs envisioned. The irrevocable truth about political revolutions is that they never end up the way originally intended because our ideals do not correspond with reality. And due to our lack of a crystal ball and a working time machine we can’t actually see the future result of political change. Slow steady change gives us a method for constant course correction and a better chance of getting things right.

Call to Action: Be critical of your own ideals, seek consensus, set out long term goals and stick to them.

Epilogue

We are all in this mess together, and it is only together we can change it for the better. Together is our only option.

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#Occupy posters for Canadian issues

#occupycanadaThe #Occupy movement is spreading, and with good reason. In the western world, and North America in particular, inequality is slowly becoming the norm. And nowhere more so than in the USA.

In my view the #Occupy movement is at its core about one thing: Democracy. And though the issues focused on may and should differ from country to country, the one persistent message is clear: Every man, woman and child has a voice and has an equal right to speak, be heard, and be part of society. The problem is that right now, especially in North America, only the rich and powerful get heard while the vast majority get overlooked or ignored.

Occupy Canada – issues for Canadians

One of the dangers of the #Occupy movement is that it may try to transplant issues from one country to another. This will not only erode the cause itself but make the movement seem ill informed. This is especially important as #Occupy events are ramping up in Canada. So if you plan on taking part in the events starting on October 15th in Canada, take up the cause of democratic issues we all face in Canada.

To help with this I’ve created three posters focusing on three important Canadian democratic issues: Electoral reform, control of telecommunications and cross-media ownership. I’ve also attached a short blurb about each of the issues so you can see why they matter and why you should make one of them (or all) your slogan as you #Occupy your city.

Proportional Representation Now!

Proportional representation nowCanada has an electoral system that has been referred to as a “sham democracy”. The first-past-the-post system does not reflect the popular vote but stacks parliament based on artificial electoral districts and simple majority rules. The result is that parliamentary composition rarely reflects the popular vote.

Case in point, the current Harper government. Whereas the Conservatives have a Parliamentary majority of 54.2% they only got 39.6% of the popular vote. In other words, based on popular vote the Canadian government would be a coalition of the NDP, Liberals and the Bloc with the Conservatives as official opposition. So when Harper claims he has a “strong majority mandate” he is really talking about an artificially inflated mandate based on an antiquated and undemocratic electoral system. Needless to say something must be done about this.

The solution is some form of proportional representation, employed by most western nations in the world. This would ensure that the popular vote is represented in parliament.

Download the poster in PDF format. JPEG version on Flickr.

Reform the CRTC

Reform the CRTCThe CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ) is the government watchdog and regulatory body for all radio, television and telecommunications in Canada. In other words they are the ones that decide who and what can be aired or sent over the internet and by whom this information is carried. The CRTC regulates the four big Canadian telecoms (Shaw, Telus, Bell and Rogers) who collectively stand for nearly 100% of all broadcasting and telecommunications.

The problem with the CRTC is that unlike in other western countries (the USA excluded) their mandate does not include the Canadian people nor consumer rights. The job of the CRTC is to protect the big telecoms from each other. This becomes problematic when you learn that the board of the CRTC is stacked with former heads of the four big telecoms.

Because of the weird mandate of the CRTC the four big telecoms can agree among each other to ramp up prices, cut services and lock competition out as long as all of them agree. As a result you, the consumer, gets screwed ever time. Ever wonder why your cell phone bill or cable bill is so high or why you don’t have the same streaming video services they have in other countries? The CRTC is to blame.

To solve this and make the telecoms act fairly and treat consumers with respect the mandate of the CRTC must be reformed to include consumer rights.

Download the poster in PDF format. JPEG version on Flickr.

Cross Media Ownership Kills the Free Word

Cross-media ownership kills the free wordOn the topic of the four big telecoms, did you know that almost all Canadian broadcasters are owned by the same telecoms that provide the cable signal in your house? Or that most Canadian news outlets are owned by the same big corporations? In Vancouver, both the major news papers The Vancouver Sun and The Vancouver Province are owned by the same company.

The result of such cross-media ownership is that the free word is quashed in favour of corporate interests. When one or a few corporations control the media entirely, the corporate philosophies and political views become the predominant voice in the media landscape. This is further complicated when the broadcasters are owned by the same companies that bring the broadcast signal to your home.

The bottom line is that cross-media ownership results in censorship of opinion and the free word. You see the result in the USA, especially with FOX News, but also in general with the media blackout over the #Occupy movement. And Canada is just inches away from being in that same situation unless the Government starts cracking down on cross-media ownership and passes legislation to prevent it from spreading.

Download the poster in PDF format. JPEG version on Flickr.

Final words

If you’re going to one of the #Occupy protests keep this in mind: If you want someone to change their mind you have to make them understand your case first. If you just shout at them, or try to force them, you will get nowhere. Communication is the key to everything.