Open letter to PM Trudeau about the #TPP and the need for public input on it

What follows is a letter I’ve just sent to Prime Minister Trudeau, International Trade Minister Freeland, and several MPs, about my concerns with the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the need for meaningful public consultation on it. (This letter is adapted from a template provided by the Council of Canadians for mobilizing public action on this Charter-trumping, corporate-rights deal.)

TO: Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister; Chrystia Freeland, Minister of International Trade

CC: Rona Ambrose, Leader of the Conservative Party; Thomas Mulcair, Leader of the NDP; Rhéal Fortin, Leader of the Bloc Québécois; Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party

Subject: Please hold meaningful public consultations on the TPP

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Freeland,

Concerning the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), you have promised to consult meaningfully with Canadians and act on what you hear. I commend you for this promise, and take you up on it now that the agreement is public.

I have serious concerns about the TPP. Your previously stated support for it contradicts your stated commitments to strengthening the middle class, the arts, and Canadian democracy. The TPP’s investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms would privilege and entrench corporate rights over citizens’ Charter rights (see Dr Ariel Katz’s recent column in the Toronto Star); it would exacerbate the middle class’ destruction; and it would, in effect, impose US laws to trump Canada’s own. 

As a professor who researches copyright, I have particular concerns with not only the TPP’s ISDS provisions, but more specifically with its Intellectual Property (IP) chapter. That chapter will needlessly cost Canada billions in pharmacare by toughening patent protections for vital medicines. That chapter will also seriously damage Canadian arts and culture by extending the term of copyright protection from 50 years after the creator’s death to 70 years. 50 years is already far longer than what economists argue is necessary to incentivize new creation, which is more like 12-14 years at most (see the UK government’s 2011 Hargreaves report, p. 19). There’s no economic justification (beyond sheer corporate greed) to lock down culture and impoverish the public domain for generations to come. Furthermore, that chapter will reintroduce Internet-censoring and access-denying provisions much like those of the USA’s 2011 SOPA bill that was roundly defeated after global public outcry.

Therefore, the TPP requires rigorous, independent review to assess whether it is in Canadians’ best interests.

Specifically, I request that you:

    1. Ask the Parliamentary Budget Officer to conduct a comprehensive, independent analysis of the TPP text. The analysis must assess the deal’s impact on human rights, health, employment, environment and democracy.

    2. Hold public hearings in each province and territory across Canada as well as separate and meaningful consultation with Indigenous communities and First Nations. No agreement can be ratified without full consent.

    3. Protect any progress made in Paris at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21) from the investor-state dispute settlement provisions (ISDS) in the TPP. Furthermore, ISDS must be excised from the TPP.

Thank you for considering these comments and exhortations.


Mark A. McCutcheon, PhD

New DJ set: Strong Women That Roll (drum & bass pop remixes)

Strong Women That Roll: Drum & Bass & Remixed Pop by Sonicfiction on Mixcloud

A set of drum&bass remixes of pop songs by some of today’s smartest artists, like Taylor Swift, Lorde, Charli XCX, Lady Gaga, and more. This set is designed to introduce children, especially “mighty girls” and future strong women, to drum & bass, in a safe, supervised setting. To seal the deal, I’ve even included a remix of “Let it go” from Frozen. Drum&basshead parents: you’re welcome.


a political lipogram about #elxn42

“An ‘Anti-Niqab’ Campaign is Anti-Canadian” is a lipogram about Conservatives in Canada’s current federal election, which I’ve written and published at Medium.
A lipogram is a poem with specific language constraints; this lipogram uses only the vowels A and I. For instance, the poem opens as follows:

Barbaric capitalists and patriarchal partisans spin fascist charisma, baiting and panicking nativist Canadians with rabid, atavistic claims: against migrants; against statisticians’ gravitas (as if trivia)…

Read the whole piece at Medium.

Fascist language from 1946 sounds all too familiar in 2015

Over the summer, I read The President, a 1946 novel by Nobel Prize-winning author Miguel Angel Asturias. The novel is set in an unnamed nation usually read as Asturias’ native Guatemala, and it recounts the manoeuvres and psychological distress of citizens, under the rule of a despotic dictator, The President, in the aftermath of an officer’s murder.
Although the novel is set in a fictionalized Central American nation, over half a century ago, I was struck by the unsettling, contemporary familiarity of one particular detail: the rhetoric used in a “large printed notice” posted in a bar to campaign for The President’s “re-election” (which much else in the novel suggests is a fixed and foregone conclusion). Despite the incommensurate historical, political, and social differences between early 20th-century Guatemala and early 21st-century Canada, and despite some of the obvious creative license and exaggeration Asturias uses, I find it profoundly disturbing how familiar the language of fascism sounds now: the rhetoric of masculine strength; of law and “order”; of coded, Orwellian uses of “freedom” and vigilance (i.e. surveillance); of party loyalty as morality; of allegiance to other parties as treason; of populist morality and fear-mongering against an imagined hostile Other. I’ve excerpted the text of the fictional re-election poster below. Does any of this sound familiar to you too? Any of it sound like the rhetoric we’ve been hearing about “#BarbaricCulturalPractices”?

“Merely by uttering the name of the President of the Republic we shed light from the torch of Peace upon those sacred interests of a Nation which, under his wise rule, has conquered and will go on conquering the inestimable benefits of Progress in every sphere, and of Order in every form of Progress!!!! As free citizens, conscious of our obligation to watch over our own destiny (which is also that of the Nation) and as men of goodwill and enemies of Anarchy, we hereby proclaim!!! That the welfare of the Republic depends upon the RE-ELECTION OF OUR ILLUSTRIOUS MANDATORY AND ON NOTHING ELSE BUT HIS RE-ELECTION! Why hazard the ship of State in unknown waters, when we have at its head at present the most accomplished Statesman of our day, whom History will salute as a Great Man among Great men, a Wise Man among the Wise, a Liberal, a Thinker and a Democrat??? Even to imagine any other than Him in this high office amounts to an attempt upon the Destiny of the Nation (which is our own destiny); and whoever dares to do so — if any such there be — deserves to be shut up as a dangerous lunatic, or if he is not mad, tried as a traitor to his Country according to the law!!! FELLOW CITIZENS, THE BALLOT-BOXES ARE WAITING!!! VOTE!!! FOR!!! OUR!!! CANDIDATE!!! WHO!!! WILL!!! BE!!! RE-ELECTED!!! BY!!! THE!!! PEOPLE!!!” (254-55)

Work Cited
Asturias, Miguel Angel. The President (1946). Trans. Frances Parridge. Long Grove: Waveland P, 1997.

Make the Trans-Pacific Partnership (#TPP) a bigger issue in the 2015 federal election: it’s not “free trade,” it’s anti-democratic privatization and censorship

After I posted this message about an anti-TPP petition to Twitter and Facebook, a friend asked:

I am interested in knowing exactly what parts of this you disagree with and why. I don’t know too much about the deal.

To which I replied (in a possibly too-long-for-Facebook comment that might work better as a blog post):

In brief: the TPP is less a “free trade” deal than a corporate rights deal that undermines the national sovereignty of signing countries. It has been negotiated for years – in secrecy. Particular concerns (to name only a very few, in addition to its anti-democratic cloak of secrecy) are:

  1. Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions that let foreign companies sue our government on grounds of lost profit; four instance, legislation to protect the environment or the public interest – or Crown corps like CBC or Canada Post – could be grounds for a company to say this legislation hurts their profits, and the action would be decided in a secret tribunal. (These kinds of actions have already been happening under NAFTA; in the late 1990s, a company that manufactured a harmful gasoline additive successfully sued the Canadian government for millions in damages after the government passed a law banning it from gasoline.)
  2. Copyright term extension from 50 years after author’s death to 70, to conform to US copyright law. (Meanwhile, many copyright scholars agree copyright need last no longer than 15 years after a work’s publication.)
  3. Loss of digital privacy and threats to Internet access by forcing ISPs to spy on customers and deny them internet service – this is a provision much like the US’ controversial SOPA act defeated in 2011.
  4. Job losses: Harper says the TPP will create jobs – but he’s already pledged billions to dairy and auto industries against their expected losses.

For more details, see and and take a look at this short introductory video:

And following up to better explain the ISDS thing, which isn’t well or widely enough understood, I also shared this infographic (by the Council of Canadians):


The Canadian public needs to understand the wide-ranging, anti-democratic, and socially and ecologically destructive implications of the TPP agreement. Its text isn’t even public yet, and it’s not at all a done deal – it will need the formal approval of signing nations’ governments, meaning our Parliament. So the TPP should be a much bigger issue in this federal election. If you think so too, consider signing this petition against it.

And if you’re wondering how the Harper government has been able to pursue this agreement in the midst of an election period, when the Canadian government is supposed to stop its regular Parliamentary functions and maintain only a “caretaker” status:

Further Reading

John Nichols, The Nation: “The TPP Prioritizes the ‘Rights’ of Corporations Over Workers, the Environment, and Democracy.” 7 Oct. 2015.

“The TPP agreement ‘would overhaul special tribunals that handle trade disputes between businesses and participating nations’ in response to ‘widespread criticisms that the Investor-State Dispute Settlement panels favor businesses and interfere with nations’ efforts to pass rules safeguarding public health and safety.’ … Bernie Sanders was blunt about the fundamental flaw in the pact. The TPP, said the Democratic presidential contender, lets ‘multinational corporations rig the system to pad their profits at our expense’.”

Jordan Pearson, VICE: “What we know about the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership that was just signed.” 5 Oct. 2015.

“Buried in the reams of dry legal jargon of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (‪#‎TPP‬) are stipulations that will affect everything from access to pirated movies and music, to government spying, to the price of life-saving drugs around the world. …
“When the TPP is finally released, expect the policy shitshow of the decade.”

Maira Sutton, Electronic Frontier Foundation: “Trade Officials Announce Conclusion of TPP – Now the Real Fight Begins.” 5 Oct. 2015.

“The fact that close to 800 million Internet users’ rights to free expression, privacy, and access to knowledge online hinged upon the outcome of squabbles over trade rules on cars and milk is precisely why digital policy consideration do not belong in trade agreements. Hollywood, other major publishers and even big tech companies have taken advantage of this secretive, corporate-captured process to pass rules that they could not otherwise get away with in an open, participatory process.”

Japan downgrades its universities to quasiversities: a symptom of the Humanities and Social Sciences under neoliberal attack

The Times Higher Education reports today on a drastic directive issued by the Japanese government, which instructs the country’s eighty-six national universities to close their Humanities and Social Sciences programs or “convert them to serve areas that better meet society’s needs.” The article reports that twenty-six universities have already agreed to comply, while the Universities of Tokyo and Kyoto have refused. One university president, Takamitsu Sawa of Shiga University, has publicly denounced the government order as “anti-intellectual.”

Which is precisely what the order is. The universities that comply with the decree should also be required to re-title themselves as quasiversities. The targeted disciplines include economics and even law.

Let’s not be misled by the Times article’s vague reference to financial pressures and low enrollments as reasons for such a short-sighted and regressive government decision. And more importantly, let’s not pretend such an order couldn’t be issued anywhere else. Britain more or less cut the Humanities and Social Sciences loose in the early 2010s, when it stopped all state investment in those areas, a harsh decision that has left those programs and departments to sink or swim by corporatizing and competing in the postsecondary market while the aggressively neoliberal British government has prioritized the “profitable” STEM disciplines: science, technology, engineering, math (Preston). (Of course, the postsecondary “market” is no market at all, but that social entity we used to call “the public.”)

Closer to home in Canada, the Harper government for years has been restructuring federal research grant councils to prioritize not just the STEM disciplines but more specifically their “applied” uses for business and industry (CAUT). Same goes for the ousted PC government of Alberta, which before it got sent packing had begun to take a strong intervening role in postsecondary education, with steep funding cuts, formalized “expectations,” emphasis on business-oriented applied research, pressures on institutions to collaborate if not merge in order to find “efficiencies” (McCutcheon). In addition, the PC government imposed a narrowly neoliberal kind of budgeting: “results-based budgeting,” which by projecting desired “results” in advance – by “picking winners” as one of my colleagues put it – curtails and compromises the inherently messy and unpredictable character of university research and teaching.

Neoliberal or “market-fundamentalist” policy and financial disciplinary measures like those constantly threaten the Humanities and Social Sciences with the proverbial death by a thousand cuts. More like the direct and brutal Japanese directive, in 2007 the New Brunswick government proposed to turn the University of New Brunswick’s Saint John campus into a polytechnical training college. That move – rumoured to be a means to better provide industry-specific job training for the province’s highly concentrated and interconnected oil, forestry, and Anglophone media businesses – was thwarted by public outcry and campus mobilization, with the support of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT).

As neoliberal governments around the world show themselves increasingly to serve not the voting public or the public interest but rather the financial elites and corporations that now manage so-called democracy to advance their own profiteering interests, these governments would evidently like nothing more to suppress and shut down the Humanities and Social Sciences programs and departments that inconvenience if not threaten business elites and neoliberal politicians with policy analysis, ideology critique, public-interest advocacy, and public mobilization, among other valuable forms and practices of counter-discourse. The Humanities and Social Sciences help to advance critique as one of the university’s core social missions; as Stuart Hall famously said, “the university is a critical institution or it is nothing” (qtd. in Giroux).

Which means that, as warily as we have to watch for drastic and overt policy moves like the Japanese government order, we also have to refute and reject the perennial claims that the Humanities and Social Sciences are in some kind of financial or existential crisis. We must understand that crisis is a manufactured crisis, a crisis constructed by the powerful interests whom these disciplines and practices inconvenience, threaten, and expose. Several globally renowned scholars, among many others, have made forceful arguments not just for the continuing relevance and utility of the Humanities and Social Sciences, but for their urgent and pivotal importance to democracy, civil society, and the public interest. Martha Nussbaum argues that these disciplines vitally advance democracy and engaged citizenship. Natalia Cecire identifies these disciplines as powerful influences on our everyday life – and calls BS on pundits and policymakers who keep trying to belittle and dismiss them. And Wendy Gay Pearson points out, without exaggeration, that these disciplines can even save lives:

looking at texts for what they reveal about what it is like to live in a particular world can be exceedingly relevant, indeed even a potentially lifesaving experience. This is especially the case with queer novels and films: they teach isolated and distraught young people that they are not alone. Particularly for those in rural areas or in intensely homophobic environments, reading a novel or seeing a film that shows that another world exists can and does save lives; it is no secret that gay teenagers are at significantly greater risk of suicide when they are most isolated from contact with other gay people and especially when they genuinely believe that there is no-one else like them. (16)

Relatedly, some psychology studies of reading have drawn media attention for giving the weight of scientific evidence to conclusions that those working in the Humanities had already known all along: that reading widely, reading difficult and diverse texts, and reading outside one’s zone of comfort and personal experience all expand the reader’s capacity for empathy and understanding (Chiaet). More empathy is evidently not what serves elite interests or the class divisions they keep widening.

But, as an unfortunate torrent of events just this year has already demonstrated, the pernicious persistence of systemic racism, sexism, bigotry, misogyny, homo- and transphobia, and gendered and sexual violence in all areas of contemporary social life vividly and tragically underscores the need for more – not less – teaching and learning in the Humanities and Social Sciences, areas that are not at all peripheral but vitally central to the pursuit and production of social justice, civil society, and an engaged and informed citizenry. To marginalize or destroy them is to destroy the very idea of the university, to leave it a crippled quasiversity – it is to leave the university, and by necessary extension the public interest it is historically mandated to serve, truly in ruins.

Works Cited

Chiaet, Julianne. “Novel finding: Reading literary fiction improves empathy.” Scientific American 4 Oct. 2013.

CAUT. “Federal Budget 2015. Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT). Ottawa. 21 Apr. 2015.

Cecire, Natalia. “Humanities Scholarship is incredibly relevant, and that makes people sad. Natalia Cecire’s Blog 4 Jan. 2014.

Giroux, Henry. “Public Intellectuals Against the Neoliberal University.” TruthOut 29 Oct. 2013.

McCutcheon, Mark A. “Threats to academic freedom (and the public interest) in Alberta.” Academicalism [blog] 15 Jan. 2014.

Nussbaum, Martha. Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities. Princeton UP, 2010. Excerpt rpt. at

Pearson, Wendy Gay. “Queer Matters: A Response to Robert Fulford.: English Studies in Canada 32.4 (2006): 13-17.

Preston, Alex. “The war against Humanities at Britain’s universities.” The Guardian 29 Mar. 2015.

Sawa, Takamitsu. ”Humanities Under Attack.” Japan Times 23 Aug. 2015.


AthaU’s MA in Integrated Studies: a strong program for “zombie studies”

[I haven’t been supervising #AthaU MA student Linda’s final research project, but I’ve nevertheless been following with great interest the progress updates about it that she has posted to her blog, The following is an excerpt from her latest post, which, among other things, reflects critically on the continuing popularity of zombie texts, and mentions some that I didn’t know about … like one by Zora Neale Hurston? That’s going to the top of my reading list.]

Zombies are our fear of the “other” in this world…those who want to get in and take over and change us. Those who squat among us “in here” and mean us harm. Those “out there” who hate us and plot to destroy us. These enemies have no fear of death and they cannot be reasoned with.
Zombies are our fear of the pollutants that will make our earth unliveable. They are the plague of climate change caused by coldly aloof corporations. Of seeping radioactive spaces. Of super-acidic seas. Of species of plants and animals becoming extinct. Of new contagions we cannot control. Of an ozone we are destroying and a nearby star we can neither escape nor live without. And all of these seem to be beyond our control.

Read on: “The Zombie Invasion”

Relatedly: Athabasca U has boasted its own Zombie Research Group for some time now, an on-again, off-again research group started in AU’s social site, the Landing, by a MA-IS student (now graduate). Check it out.