Tag Archives: Canada

Stephen Harper as Killer Robot

“Stephen Harper as Killer Robot” is my new article in English Studies in Canada‘s just-published special issue on the automated body.

shaskillbot-screenshotWhile an article about Harper might seem like a political postmortem, the former prime minister’s popular caricature as a robot speaks to widespread fears about the implications of technology for democracy. These alarming implications have been analyzed recently in tech CEO Berit Anderson’s article “The rise of the weaponized AI propaganda machine.” Anderson’s article is a must-read for appreciating the extent to which digital technology now poses a real and present threat to democracy. Anderson’s article sort of picks up — and dives in — where mine leaves off, as a discussion of how that threat has been growing in Canada for some time now.

jffg3

Stencil by “myheadhurtsalot” (https://i.imgur.com/JFfG3.png). My thanks to this Redditor for their permission to reprint their image in my article.

“Stephen Harper as Killer Robot” is currently available online via the Project Muse database, but ESC‘s decent open access policy means the article will be publicly available soon, in 6 months to a year (that’s soonish, for academia). But in the meantime, if you want a copy and can’t access Project Muse, leave a comment below, or send me an e-mail at academicalism[at]gmail[dot]com.

 

 

in sorrow with Canada, where #WeAllBelong

in solidarity with #SteFoyMosque;
in outrage at terrorism & the dogwhistle politics stoking hate;
in sorrow with Canada, where #WeAllBelong.

little mosque in the ice district

“The TPP will invalidate millions of dollars of tax-payer funded research in Canada”

Following the annual conference of the Association of Canadian College & University Teachers of English (ACCUTE) at Congress in Calgary, ACCUTE has posted to its English Matters blog a condensed version of my conference talk on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (#TPP):

“The TPP will invalidate millions of dollars of tax-payer funded research in Canada”: Implications of the TPP for Canadian literature and literary studies

The article identifies many major authors whose entry to the Canadian public domain the TPP will interfere with; and it highlights a few publishing and research projects that the TPP will kill, thus posing a waste of public funds and a cost to Canadians’ social literacy and access to knowledge.
The article ends with links and resources for how to “stop the TPP and the mess it would make of the Canadian public domain (not to mention the Internet).”
A full version has been sent to Canada’s Minister of International Trade, and submitted to the Government of Canada’s Public Consultations on the TPP.

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.

Sincerely,

Mark A. McCutcheon, PhD

Link

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”?

“CITIZENS:
“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 MichaelGeist.ca and OpenMedia.ca 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):

CanadiansOrg_ISDS101

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.”