Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Will "Slacktivists" Over Dependence on Social Media Blow Chance to Defeat Harper Conservatives?

Likes are not votes, progressives! UK Labour campaigners learned the hard way.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday August 18, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

Here's my melodramatic theory: social media lost Labour the last [United Kingdom] election and it's going to lose Labour the next one, too."

- Helen Lewis, The New Statesman, on U.K. election results

Will Canadian "slacktivists" blow progressives' chance to defeat the Conservatives by overemphasizing social media instead of old-fashioned electoral politics?

That's a serious concern after the United Kingdom's Labour Party focused heavily on tweeting to victory and instead did a Facebook face plant, losing the May election and forcing leader Ed Miliband's resignation.

"A lot of what happens on Facebook, as with Twitter, is 'virtue signalling' -- showing off to your friends about how right on you are," Helen Lewis wrote in The New Statesman.

"It was this 'Tyranny of the Like' that had many social media users convinced that Ed Miliband could squeak the election," Lewis said.

British gadfly comedian Russell Brand inadvertently illustrated Lewis' point perfectly.

Brand utterly reversed himself -- from saying he had "never voted" and that "like most people I am utterly disenchanted by politics" -- only to endorse Miliband after the Labour leader appeared on Brand's million-subscriber webcast just before the election.

But despite Brand's boost, the Conservatives easily won a majority victory.

"When we interviewed Miliband, it was like: 'Oh my God we can probably influence the outcome'... now I think you can't influence the outcome of an election," Brand told The Trews' viewers last month, reversing himself yet again.

And that illustrates the danger of confusing social media sensations with actual votes.

Clicking together

In Canada, several advocacy organizations are gearing up to defeat the Stephen Harper Conservatives by harnessing social media's significant power combined with strategic voting.

But will failure to follow old school campaigning with door-knocking, leafleting, local meetings and direct involvement with political parties' efforts lead to another Tory majority?

Leadnow says it won't fall victim to "clicktivism" -- where voters think social media activity takes the place of actions like campaigning and casting a ballot.

"Our focus is on connecting with people online and then mobilizing them to volunteer through local teams that are going door-to-door in Conservative swing ridings, and through our distributed phone bank which makes channels phone calls from across the country into Conservative swing ridings," Leadnow campaign manager Amara Possian said in an email interview Friday.

"Our campaign is modeled on the [Barack] Obama campaign's successful integration of online and face-to-face organizing," Possian says.

"Both tactics have an important part to play in our strategy for connecting people who want change, helping them to select and support the best local candidate to win, and getting out to vote to defeat Harper and build for lasting change after the election."

Veteran U.S. activists The Yes Men recently criticized dependence on social

"Even 'clicktivism' -- tweeting, liking, or adding your email to online petitions, ultimately a less impactful version of writing to your congressperson -- has its place. But policy shifts and paradigm shifts require more than a click," The Yes Men wrote.

Leadnow believes it is bridging the social media and real worlds in its efforts.

Swing and a miss?

But Leadnow's "Vote Together" campaign as of Sunday had about 53,000 pledgers who said they will "vote strategically" in 72 key swing ridings and elsewhere to elect whichever parties' candidate can defeat the Conservative there.

Yet just one swing riding -- Vancouver South -- had over 80,000 eligible voters in the 2011 federal election.

And the Conservative Party's official Facebook page has over 146,000 "likes" -- they aren't ignoring social media either.

Possian isn't worried Leadnow will have too few pledgers to impact the results.

"We're very happy to have connected with 52,000 Vote Together pledge signers by week two of an 11-week federal election," she said. "In the last federal election, just over 6,000 votes in the closest 14 ridings made the difference between a majority and minority government." 

Fair enough -- but in Vancouver South Conservative Wai Young defeated Liberal Ujjal Dosanjh by 3,900 votes.

For the strategic voting promoted by Leadnow to have worked in 2011, about half of the 8,552 New Democrat voters would have needed to switch to the Liberals -- a very tall order.

Leadnow also faces another significant problem -- the New Democratic and Liberal parties don't agree with their strategic voting plan to defeat Conservatives and are running full slates of candidates competing in every riding.

That means Leadnow needs voters to have more brand allegiance to their organization than to a political party voters may have supported for decades.

Many New Democrats do not agree that the Liberals are "progressive" and many Liberals find the NDP too left wing.

Watch that death spiral

And there's another problem facing left politicians trying to attract centrist voters -- what American writer Matt Bruenig calls "The death spiral of futile leftism."

"It is hard enough convincing someone that a minority movement can win, but that difficulty is compounded many times over when the movement itself is full of the type of people who do not actually care about winning," Bruenig wrote in 2013.

"Most people, especially those people you should want to attract to your side, do not want to waste their time doing things that will achieve nothing," Bruenig says.

"Winning things from time to time and being able to articulate a vision of how this is supposed to work that is halfway plausible is the only way to attract the kind of people who are able to moderate leftist dipshittery," Bruenig concludes.

Those who want to defeat Harper in October need to learn lessons from the United Kingdom's May Conservative victory -- and not lean too heavily on social media to make change.


BC Is a 2-Party Battleground Between the NDP and the Conservatives the Facts Show

Elizabeth May, Tom Mulcair, Justin Trudeau & Stephen Harper at national debate in August
Pressure not to 'split' anti-Harper vote will hurt Greens and Liberals here.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday August 11, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

"The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's how the smart money bets."

- Damon Runyon, author and newspaperman

British Columbia is a battleground province in this federal election -- and there are only two parties actually fighting it out -- the governing Conservatives and the official opposition New Democrats.

Liberals and Greens will strongly object but the numbers are clear, whether you look at provincial polling, currently held seats or past political history: the Battle of B.C. is Team Stephen Harper versus Team Tom Mulcair.

It's one reason why NDP leader Mulcair was in Vancouver Sunday and will be a frequent flyer to the West Coast till the October 19 vote.

Why Conservatives and NDP?

Start with the 36 Members of Parliament from B.C.: the Conservatives won 21 seats in the 2011 election; the NDP took 12; the Liberals two and the Green Party one. (B.C. gets six news seats this election.)

But those results only tell part of the daunting story for the Justin Trudeau Liberals and Elizabeth May Greens.

Who came in second place in the 21 Conservative seats? The NDP was runner up in 18, with the Liberals second in just three, the Greens in none.

That means the NDP will put relentless pressure on Liberal and Green voters, who overwhelmingly want to end Harper's reign even if it means voting for their second choice party.

The Liberals know exactly what a "third party squeeze" looks like -- because they used it successfully for years against the NDP. But now the roles are reversed and amplified by Trudeau's fall into consistent third place showings.

And the Greens, who hope to build on Elizabeth May's 2011 breakthrough in Saanich-Gulf Islands, are even more pressured not to "split" the anti-Harper vote.

C-51: Trudeau's self-inflicted wound

The NDP are also the beneficiary of the Conservatives' massive advertising campaign attacking Trudeau as "just not ready" to lead Canada, driving his numbers down and shaking some Liberal voters into the NDP camp.

But Trudeau himself has helped the NDP with disastrous decisions to support the Conservatives' security bill C-51 and recruit tainted Tory MP Eve Adams to run for the Liberals. Trudeau's promise to amend C-51 if elected reinforced the Conservative attack line and Adams' ill-fated losing campaign only alienated Liberals, who asked why an MP rejected by Harper was any prize.

The Liberals are also fighting history in B.C. The battle was also between Conservatives and New Democrats in 2008's election, with the Tories taking 22 seats, the NDP nine and the Liberals five, with no Greens.

In 2006 the Conservatives took 17 seats in B.C. as they formed their first government since the Brian Mulroney era ended in 1993, while the NDP took 10 to surpass the Liberals' nine under Paul Martin's ill-fated leadership.

Then there's regional polling. Forget any national polls with tiny sample sizes of under 200 BC voters -- their margins of error are huge and accuracy abysmal.

Website ThreeHundredEight.com instead combines multiple polls to improve accuracy with a larger aggregated sample size -- and the latest numbers show the NDP leading with 40.4 per cent, the Conservatives at 27.7 per cent, the Liberals at 23.2 per cent and the Greens at 7.9 per cent.

Of course, all voters are wary of polling results predicting elections, especially in B.C. after the 2013 provincial surprise.

But looking at recent past results and current polling is a good indicator of political fortunes.

And going back further in history is no comfort for the Liberals, who have had a rough go in B.C. after the heady days of Pierre Trudeau's first election in 1968, when they took 16 of 23 seats and 41.8 per cent of the vote.

That result was the best they've achieved in the 47 years since then, even during Jean Chretien's three successive majority national election wins.

And there's no sign of Trudeaumania 2.0 breaking out in B.C.

The surprise victory of the NDP in Alberta this year may ironically give hope to Liberals and Greens that miracles are indeed possible, but remember that Premier Rachel Notley's crew quadrupled their vote over the last election.

In the battle for B.C., the odds are strong that either the Conservatives or the NDP will take the most seats -- and the one that does may well form the next federal government.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Bring Back New Westminster's “Vicious Dog” Pit Bull Law After Terrible Recent Attacks

Muzzled and leashed pit bull

New Westminster City has 'no plans' to reinstate vicious dog bylaw despite pit bull inflicting serious injuries to woman and man in their home

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday August 4, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

"These breeds [pit bulls] should be regulated in the same way in which other dangerous species, such as leopards, are regulated."

- Annals of Surgery medical journal, April 2011

Despite a horrific pit bull attack that left a New Westminster woman with "life changing" facial injuries and a man also bitten, the city has "no plans" to reinstate a bylaw restricting vicious dog breeds that it repealed in 2013.

The New Westminster attack July 23 sent the woman to hospital with serious injuries while the dog was seized and is being held by New Westminster Animal Control Services.

Two children asleep in the apartment were unharmed.

"No matter how good they [pit bulls] can be, they can change on a dime. They are like walking sharks," Lori Hilton, a neighbour of the New Westminster attack victims told CBC.

The attack is the latest of several pit bull and pit bull mix incidents causing serious injuries in B.C. and resulting in the deaths of several smaller dogs.

'Vocal minority' fuel debate

In June, a nine-year-old Penticton girl was the victim of an unprovoked pit bull attack, requiring five stitches on her arm, which she used to protect herself when the dog lunged for her face.

But New Westminster Animal Control Services supervisor James Doan said after a bylaw review the city removed the "breed specific" rules on pit bulls. Those regulations had demanded muzzles, leashes and other restrictions on several breeds.

"Any dog can have an incident," Doan told The Tyee on Friday.

And New Westminster communications coordinator Ashleigh Young told The Tyee that: "There are no plans to amend the bylaw at this time."

While New Westminster repealed its restrictions, Burnaby continues to define pit bull breeds as "vicious dogs" that must be muzzled in public and in 2013 increased licensing fees for them and fines for incidents.

That's despite strong efforts of pit bull advocates to have the bylaw pulled.

Burnaby Councillor Pietro Calendino rejected pit bull owner arguments.

"I'll call it the vocal minority that's been addressing us, writing to us, again, as I said, passionate about their pit bull dog," Calendino said. "But we have a very silent majority out there that is in support of what the council is doing and they want us to not change our mind about... restraining vicious dogs in the public."

Ontario, which banned pit bulls altogether in 2005, has reported significant drops in dog bite attacks since then, while Winnipeg has prohibited the breed since 1990.

Just looking at recent news reports on pit bull attacks shows why a ban is necessary.

This year alone in the United States, 14 people have already been killed in pit bull attacks -- including seven children and infants.

In 2014 there were 27 people killed by pit bull attacks and 25 in 2013, according to non-profit DogsBite.org, which tracks dog attacks across the U.S. Pit bull breeds accounted for 64 per cent of all dog attack deaths in 2014 and 78 per cent in 2013.

The Tyee covered an unprovoked pit bull attack on a six-year-old Vancouver girl in Crab Park in January that required 10 stitches to her leg and another four to her face.

In Calgary in May there were five dog attacks in five days connected to pit bulls, with one teenage girl sent to hospital.

"That specific breed has caused a lot of damage in the last five days," Calgary Animal Services Director Ryan Jestin told media.

And small dogs are often killed by pit bull attacks. In Nanaimo in
June, a woman's 13-year-old Maltese-poodle cross died after a pit bull crushed its throat while the owner walked her dog on Hecate Street.

More cities regulate pit bulls

Mia Johnson knows all too well how a sudden, unprovoked pit bull attack can take the life of a cherished dog.

Johnson and her daughter Laurel lost their service dog Yuri, a miniature pinscher, in Vancouver last November -- and no charges were laid against the owner of the pit bull that disemboweled Yuri.

Johnson has strong opinions about how New Westminster was convinced to drop its vicious dog rules by a group called HugABull Advocacy and Rescue Society.

"HugABull pressured New Westminster City Council to drop the pit bull ban by calling it 'antiquated legislation' and telling people the 'trend is towards repealing BSL [breed specific legislation].' Both are entirely untrue," Johnson said in an email interview with The Tyee.

"In the last three years, an additional 160 cities in the United States adopted BSL policies to protect their citizens from pit bulls. This was despite the fact that Best Friends Animal Society, the largest American pit bull lobby group who earned $66.6 million dollars in 2014 relentlessly campaigned against BSL during this time."

"Pit bull advocacy groups have a strong economic interest in not banning pit bulls, and people in cities like New Westminster suffer the consequences," Johnson concluded.

Pit bull supporters continually argue that the owner, not the breed, is the problem.

Unfortunately, that's just not what the evidence shows, nor does it take into account that pit bulls have been bred for centuries as fighting dogs.

And many of the child fatalities are the result of the family pit bull suddenly savaging a youngster in their own home.

In April, 10-week old Brayden Wilson was killed by a pit bull when his father briefly stepped outside to turn on a lawn sprinkler.

When he returned, his pit bull was attacking Brayden in his bouncing seat. The father tried to pull the dog off the infant and was then joined by Brayden's mother, who was bitten twice.

The father finally managed to pull the dog outside and shot it but Brayden was pronounced dead at hospital.

Brayden's grandmother Willetta Tate said the family owned the pit bull for eight years, during which it had been around two other children in the household, eight and 11 years old.

"It's just unexplainable. You just don't get it when you've had the dog so long, I don't know what could have happened. I don't know," Tate said. "Those kids, they sleep with him and everything."

Time to ban the breed

Sadly, fatal pit bull attacks often come from dogs owned by family or friends of the victims, including at least seven of the 14 deadly U.S. pit bull attacks so far this year.

And pit bulls' powerful jaws make a pit bull bite deadly, while their refusal to let their victims go ensures maximum harm.

"Bites from pit bulls inflict much more damage -- multiple deep bites and ripping of flesh -- and are unlike any other domestic animal I've encountered," Tucson plastic surgeon Dr. Christopher Demas testified in a Colorado court.

"Their bites are devastating -- close to what a wildcat or shark would do."

Owners are rarely charged when their pit bulls kill or injure, and not all dogs involved in attacks on humans and other animals are put down.

There were no charges in either the Vancouver or Nanaimo cases this year.

But even if there are charges, they come after an attack -- the only way to prevent those fatalities and injuries is with a ban.

That's why New Westminster City Council should reconsider its 2013 decision to repeal their vicious dog bylaw and put greater emphasis on the protection of citizens than the right to own a pit bull.

And it's why British Columbia should simply ban pit bulls.