Posts from our progressive community

Our Era; enlightenment in reverse . .

kirbycairo - 2 hours 6 min ago
Mr. Britling, the title character of H.G. Wells’ 1916 novel Mr. Britling Sees it Through, is haunted by the reality of the First World War, a conflict that had been years in the making but which, with his optimistic and compassionate sensibilities, he had always publicly and privately denied as a genuine possibility. The arrival of war in Europe turns Mr. Britling’s intellectual and emotional reality upside down as he is forced to face the possibility that people are simply not as good as he believed, and that perhaps the race to which he belongs is not as mature as he gave them credit for. Though Mr. Britling is in his fifties, Wells’ novel is a coming of age story, an unexpected bildungsromanof a middle-aged man who has been living in the pleasant and quite bubble of Matching’s Easy, a sleepy English village in Essex county.   For those of us born in the last years of the so-called baby boom, it is easy to empathize with Mr. Britling, for lots of reasons. In the wake of the War in Vietnam there was fostered a significant mistrust of the military adventurism of Western States. This mistrust gave rise to the era of largely covert militarism in the late 1970s and 1980s. Our rather childish faith that the public wouldn’t again be so easily fooled into supporting economically motivated wars, was quickly dashed in the early 1990s when we watched the first George Bush commit the West to a war for oil. In an ironic homage to George Orwell, the first Gulf War ushered us into an what seems to be an era of permanent war and the protests against Vietnam are little more than a distant memory of generation now over-leveraged and looking for a comfortable retirement in age when economic security is a thing of the past. Worse than this, the global insecurity which Thatcher and Reagan, the Bushes and the Clintons gave birth is now having the knock-on effect of reigniting the xenophobia and fascism of the 1930s, only this time it comes with the added complication of climate change, global food and water crises, and potential nuclear conflagration. As the late Kurt Vonnegut would have said, so it goes. Karl Marx told us that History repeats itself, first as tragedy then as farce. If so, we are well into an era of farce, but one that promises everywhere to end in tragedy. But the unfulfilled promise that the anti-war movement of the Vietnam era left us, is more than an era of permanent war and shock capitalism, it is also an renewed ideology of “know-nothingism,” that strange pride that people take in their own ignorance and willfully offensive opinions and beliefs. And this know-nothingism is gaining speed and popularity against a monumental digital transformation of culture, a cultural transformation that can surely only be compared in significance to that brought about by the printing press.   
Our “Mr. Britling” moment is partly the realization that the progress of the human sensibilities is nowhere near what we had hoped and that if you give people a uniform, a rifle, and a marching band they will willingly follow you anywhere, blithely beating the drums of war. But this is our individualized “Mr. Britling” moment. At a wider, cultural level, we are witnessing a bildungsroman in reverse; a huge faction of our race that, though we tried to drag them forward into an enlightened future, is happily reverting back to quagmire of blissful ignorance, racism, xenophobia, and the active peddling of hate. Unfortunately, the wilful rejection of rational discourse and the adoption of childish, hate-filled, squealing (so well illustrated by political figures like Donald Trump), is happening against the backdrop of a digital transformation of culture that seems to be, counter-intuitive as it sounds, chipping away at literacy skills and undermining the kind of intellectual expansion that we once took for granted in the golden age of reading, when people sat down for long stretches not only to absorb the imaginative power of novels but read long, syntactically complex journalism and nonfiction, rather than simply clicking on a link, looking at a headline and then blathering some uniformed opinion in the comments section. What would Mr. Britling, a thoughtful essayist and cultural commentator, make of a generation that has an infinite amount of information at its fingertips but watches cat videos instead and happily, even proudly, follows leaders who make ignorance and hate-mongering their modus operandi?

The Canadian Judicial Council Responds To My Complaint

Politics and its Discontents - 3 hours 40 min ago
Regular readers of this blog may recall a post I wrote this past June about an unsettling experience I had at a local grocery story. It was there that my wife and I witnessed the shocking and distasteful behaviour of Ontario Superior Court of Justice Antonio (Toni) Skarica, who was proudly sportng a pro-Trump t-shirt that read, Donald Trump - Make America Great Again - 2016.

Given the rules of impartiality that govern justices in this country, I wrote a letter of complaint to the Canadian Judicial Council describing the experience in full. Since some of the content of that letter is included in the Council's decision, I will not reproduce it here, but what follows is the Council's response to my complaint, which was delayed because they also required that my wife write a letter attesting to the fact that it was indeed Skarica before they deigned to investigate.

In converting this letter from the PDF original, some of the formatting was lost; I have done my best to restore it here:

Personal and Confidential

CJC File: 16-0160

2 September 2016

Dear Mr Warwick:

I am responding to your correspondence dated 12 June 2016 in which you make a complaint against the Honourable Antonio Skarica of the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario.

In accordance with the Review Procedures of the Canadian Judicial Council (Council) I referred your letter to the Honourable J. Michael MacDonald, Chief Justice of Nova Scotia and Chairperson of the Judicial Conduct Committee. Chief Justice MacDonald requested comments from Justice Skarica and from the Honourable Heather J. Smith, Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario. After carefully reviewing your complaint, Chief Justice MacDonald has directed me to provide you with this response.

The mandate of the Council in matters of judicial conduct is to determine whether a recommendation should be made to the Minister of Justice, after a formal investigation, that a judge be removed from office by Parliament. The reasons for removal are set out in the Judges Act and address situations where a judge has become incapacitated or disabled from performing the duties of a judge. This can be as a result of age or infirmity, misconduct, a failure to execute the duties of the position, or being in a position incompatible with the functions of a judge.

It is important to note that the Councll is not a court and cannot intervene in the court process.

In your correspondence, you indicate that you saw Justice Skarica wearing a t-shirt promoting Donald Trump’s candidacy and that you were both shocked and appalled. You
allege that Justice Skarica is clearly advocating for a man who is a serial liar, racist and demagogue, which raises a number of concerns. You ask how can a man who embraces a politician opposed to Muslims and Mexicans, a man who believes in dividing society into 'winners and losers,' be seen as an impartial arbiter of human lives as he renders judgment on them from the bench.

In commenting the complaint, Justice Skarica indicates that he has not endorsed Mr Trump either publicly or privately in any way and does not know him. Justice Skarica has not contributed any monies to his campaign either directly or indirectly. He has not been involved in the Trump campaign in any manner whatsoever. He writes that he is, however, a student of history and on occasion, have collected memorabilia items over the years that he considers to be turning points in history. It is in that context that Justice Skarica received the t-shirt from his brother who had visited Washington. It was never Justice Skarica’s intention to make the shirt a standard part of his wardrobe but rather to keep it as an item of memorabilia. At one point, Justice Skarica put the shirt on earlier in the day to show a friend and later that day went shopping without thinking too much about it. He does not intend to wear the t-shirt in public in any meaningful way. Moreover, Justice Skarica vehemently denies any suggestion that he is racist.

Chief Justice MacDonald notes that Council’s publication Ethical Principles for Judges provides that judges should refrain from conduct such as membership in groups or organizations or participation in public discussion which, in the mind of a reasonable, fair minded and informed person, would undermine confidence in a judge’s impartiality with respect to issues that could come before the courts. The issue is therefore the extent of the involvement of Justice Skarica in Donald Trump’s campaign to the US presidency, if any, and whether it could reasonably “put in question the judge’s impartiality on an issue that could come before the court.”

First, Chief Justice MacDonald advises that impartiality is key to the judicial process and is presumed. As pointed out by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Cojocaru v. British Columbia Women’s Hospital and Health Centre case, this presumption of impartiality carries considerable weight, and the law does not easily evoke the possibility of bias in a judge, whose authority depends upon that presumption. Second, Chief Justice MacDonald is satisfied with the response of Justice Skarica indicating that he has no involvement whatsoever with Mr Trump or the Republican, that he has not contributed any monies to his campaign either directly or indirectly, and that he is not involved in any way, shape or form in Donald Trump’s campaign for the US presidency. Chief Justice MacDonald also accepts that Justice Skarica has no intention of wearing this or similar shirts in public again. Chief Justice MacDonald is therefore satisfied that there is nothing that could put in question Justice Skarica's impartiality on an issue that could come before his court. Chief Justice MacDonald concludes that your complaint is unfounded. Chief Justice MacDonald is of the view that the issues you raise do not warrant further consideration by the Canadian Judicial Council pursuant to its mandate under the Judges Act. Accordingly, he has directed me to close your file with this reply.

Yours sincerely,

Norman Sabourin
Executive Director and Senior General Council

While I did not really expect a result different from the decision rendered by the Canadian Judicial Council, I am gratified that at least justice Skarica had to account for his strange behaviour, and I think it is safe to say he has learned a valuable lesson from my complaint. I think it likely that henceforth, the Trump t-shirt will be brought out only for gatherings of close family and ultra-conservative friends.

Recommend this Post

The Con Leadership Race Is Getting Ugly

Montreal Simon - 4 hours 2 min ago

I knew the Con leadership race was a total bust. With the desperate search for a good leader continuing, but getting nowhere.

But at least it's been peaceful, and incredibly dull...

For obvious reasons.

But now that the SoCon Andrew Scheer has joined the race, that's changing.

Now it's getting ugly.
Read more »

Could They Have Been Wrong?

Northern Reflections - 4 hours 51 min ago

The smart folks who sold us on Neoliberalism are having second thoughts. Murray Dobbin writes:

If recent mainstream economic reports are to be taken seriously, some of the big brains managing global capitalism these days are starting to lose faith in their neoliberal ideology. Some come close to sounding like virtual heretics -- like Jonathan Ostry, the IMF's deputy director of research and lead author of an article ("Neoliberalism: Oversold?") in the IMF's official publication. He stated, with a childlike innocence: "[s]ome aspects of the neoliberal agenda probably need a rethink. The [2008] crisis said: 'The way we've been thinking can't be right.'"
The IMF underscores two huge missteps:

The IMF bravely identifies two aspects of neoliberal policy for scrutiny: the elimination of capital controls (allowing for capital flight to be used as a political weapon against poor countries) and fiscal austerity. While "cheering" aspects of the "neoliberal agenda," according to the Financial Times, [Ostry] also acknowledged some "'disquieting conclusions" including that they resulted in "increased inequality that undermined economic growth."
And the UN recently weighed in on the subject:

Just last week the annual report of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has leapt ahead of any cautious "rethinking" and calls for a virtual reversal of the whole neoliberal "edifice." The report contains some of the most alarming warnings UNCTAD has ever issued. And that warning relates, in part, to the near-zero interest rates developed countries are using to try to restart their economies. There are unintended consequence of low interest rates, says the report: "Alarm bells have been ringing over the explosion of corporate debt levels in emerging economies, which now exceed $25 trillion. Damaging deflationary spirals cannot be ruled out."
Certainly, what the UN sees around the world applies here at home:

This latter criticism describes the Canadian corporate sector in spades. Instead of investing its record profits -- and its tax break windfall in the billions -- it is sitting on over $600 billion idle cash. But the situation with Canadian corporations is actually much worse than in most OECD countries, particularly compared to their main competitors in the U.S. In previous columns I have quoted past studies done by Harvard Business School's Michael E. Porter. He concluded: "The U.S. is just much more entrepreneurial (than Canada)... Research uncovered key weaknesses in the sophistication of (Canadian) company operations and strategy." He went on to describe Canadian business as cautious and risk-averse, unwilling to spend money on research and development, and addicted to exporting almost exclusively to the U.S.
Could it be that the high octane brains were wrong?


Donald Trump's Monstrous Night of Moral Depravity

Montreal Simon - 5 hours 47 min ago

We already knew that Donald Trump was a bloated demagogue who acts like a spoiled and cruel child, and likes to hurt and humiliate others.

We knew he's a bully, a bigot, a crass misogynist, a serial liar, a rabid climate change denier, a friend of dictators, and the last person we need anywhere near the nuclear button.

But now he's finally shown us beyond a shadow of a doubt, why he is unfit to be the President of the most powerful nation on earth.
Read more »

Musical interlude

accidentaldeliberations - Fri, 09/30/2016 - 19:18
Massive Attack - Safe From Harm (Rebuilt)

Justin and Christy's Pipe Dream

The Disaffected Lib - Fri, 09/30/2016 - 13:19

What have those two been smoking? Justin Trudeau, Christy Clark and the stoner's dream of vast wealth to be had flogging liquid natural gas (fracked) to Asia.

It culminated in a photo-op vaguely reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz. There was natural resources minister, Jim Carr, as the scarecrow.  Fisheries minister Dominic Leblanc as the tin man. EnviroMin, Dame Catherine McKenna, as Dorothy, and, in their midst, Christy Clark as the cowardly lion. They were all bundled up to Richmond, B.C. to stage the announcement of federal approval for the Petronas/Lelu island LNG project.

The announcement sparked a wave of criticism and anger, especially among British Columbians growing a bit tired of Justin's bullshit.

But I suppose Trudeau must have thought it was worth it. Wait, what's that? Petronas, the Malaysian energy giant behind the project, confirms it's looking to get out of the deal.

Petroliam Nasional, or Petronas, is weighing options for the project as its finances have been squeezed after crude oil prices have collapsed by more than 50 per cent since mid-2014.

Additionally, the economics of the project have been called into question as LNG prices for delivery into the main markets in northeast Asia have slumped more than 70 per cent over nearly the same time period.

...Other options are also being considered, including putting it on ice, as finding a buyer in current market conditions would be difficult.

Petronas signed on for the project in 2012 through acquisition of Canada's Progress Energy. That year, LNG prices climbed as high as $18.17 per million British thermal units (mmBtu), but have fallen to $5.75 per mmBtu since then.

Were these nitwits in Ottawa and Victoria blindsided by Petronas? Now they're left with egg on their faces, looking like a gang of naive incompetents. Okay, maybe more than just "looking like."

Friday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Fri, 09/30/2016 - 06:38
Assorted content to end your week.

- Lawrence Summers discusses the economic damage being done by a top-heavy income spectrum - as the effect of major stimulus programs may have been wholly outweighed by the decline in middle-class incomes.

- Meanwhile, Canadians for Tax Fairness points out the impending tax court case which will bring Cameco's offshoring of profits under scrutiny.

- Zhaocheng Zeng and Benson Honig discuss the positive effects of a living wage for employers and employees alike. And Arindrajit Dube points out the connections between improved minimum wage levels, general wage increases and a reduction in poverty in the U.S.

- Peter Zimonjoc discusses the Pembina Institute's latest report charting a path toward a clean energy economy and a serious reduction in Canada's greenhouse gas emissions.

- Meanwhile, if we needed a reminder as to why it's essential to make the transition away from dirty fossil fuels, David Shield reports that tests are showing continued contamination in the North Saskatchewan River from Husky's oil spill. And Chris Mooney examines how the Arctic region is being transformed beyond recognition.

- Finally, the Star rightly demands that the Trudeau Libs work with the NDP in repealing Bill C-51, rather than siding with an unnecessary and unaccountable security state against the public. And Jim Bronskill reports that CSIS was already using bulk datasets with no consideration for personal privacy - while also keeping its own responsible minister in the dark about overseas operations.

Xenophobia And Political Ambition

Northern Reflections - Fri, 09/30/2016 - 05:40
Bob Hepburn warns that those of us who think that Kellie Leitch is on the political fringe, whipping up wing nuts, should think again. Xenophobia is gaining political traction all around the world. After his recent visit to Britain, Hepburn reports that:

In Oxford and Portsmouth, well-educated middle-income people, the type of voters I thought would see the advantages of being closely linked with other European nations, talked to me about why they voted to leave the EU.

Their main reason? Too many immigrants in recent years from the continent, many of whom they felt didn’t want to “be British,” who didn’t respect “British culture” and “British traditions” and who could be potential terrorists.
They also wanted to “send a message” to the political elite in London, who they felt ignored their concerns about immigrants working in jobs that once were filled by old-stock Brits.
The same thing is happening throughout Europe and the United States:
Similar anti-immigrant sentiments are rampant across Europe and are altering the political landscape from Greece to Germany, France and on to the United Kingdom.
The same xenophobia is a driving force behind Donald Trump’s campaign for the U.S. presidency, with his rallies fuelled by crowds roaring their approval whenever he vows to build a towering wall along the Mexican border to stop illegal immigrants.
In Europe, countries such as Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria are fed up with other nations demanding they take in more refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria. Greeks are trying to prevent migrant children from attending schools with their sons and daughters and talk about “a different look” now in Greek schools.
And, in Canada, the same sentiments are just under the surface:
The lone public poll on Leitch’s proposal found 67 per cent of Canadians, including 87 per cent of Tory voters, like the idea of screening newcomers for “anti-Canadian values.” The Forum Research poll for the Toronto Star also found 57 per cent of Liberals and 59 per cent of New Democrats like it.
It doesn't matter that potential immigrants are already heavily screened. What matters is that xenophobia is the handmaiden of political ambition.

The Senseless Cruelty of Donald Trump

Montreal Simon - Fri, 09/30/2016 - 04:33

In my last post I looked at how Donald Trump's visceral misogyny and disgusting fat-shaming could cost him the election.

Along with his racism, his xenophobia, and his dangerous demagoguery.

But what makes him such a monster is one character flaw that stands out above all the others.
Read more »

Will Donald Trump's Misogyny Be The Issue That Destroys Him?

Montreal Simon - Fri, 09/30/2016 - 04:19

It was the final exchange in a 90-minute debate, but it may be the one that will destroy Donald Trump's chances of getting anywhere near the White House.

For when Hillary Clinton brought up the story of the one-time Miss Universe Alicia Machado, and how Trump had treated her.

And all he could say was "where did you find this, where did you find this?"

It was a carefully laid trap.
Read more »

The Next Time Your Surly Old Uncle Insists Climate Change Isn't Man Made

The Disaffected Lib - Thu, 09/29/2016 - 23:04

Here's a complete answer to those annoying gits who claim that climate change isn't man made.

Step One

Show them this list.

Global warming and severe storm events of increasing intensity, frequency and duration; both cyclical and sustained droughts and floods; sea level rise; ocean acidification; deforestation; desertification; the freshwater crisis; the accelerating loss of biodiversity; pest and disease migration; species extinction and migration, especially the collapse of global fisheries; accumulating waste and pollution of all descriptions; the energy crisis including the transition to clean alternative energy; nuclear proliferation; the spread of terrorism and organized crime; overpopulation and unsustainable consumption of natural resources.

Step Two

Ask them to select, out of the 8.7 million species of eukaryotic life on Earth, one species without which none of these catastrophes would have happened. Just one.

It's the one that has exhausted once viable fertile farmland around the planet, turning it into sterile desert. It's the same one that has destroyed vast swathes of the Earth's forests. The same one that has rapaciously destroyed one global fishery after another. It's the same species that has spawned nuclear proliferation, terrorism and organized crime. The same one that has grown in numbers from a record one billion to a record seven plus billion in less than three centuries. That's the species that is driving global warming and climate change. That's the species without which Earth wouldn't be in this mess.

That's mankind.

Welcome to the Anthropocene

The Disaffected Lib - Thu, 09/29/2016 - 22:53
This time it's Windsor, Ontario. Insurers won't carry the losses any longer. Governments are expected to make good "once in a century" calamities that now arrive every few years. That can't last. It won't.

Welcome to the Anthropocene.

The Tyee Asks - Has Justin Out-Harpered the Conservatives?

The Disaffected Lib - Thu, 09/29/2016 - 12:41

I'm sorry to you Liberal faithful but it's a more than fair question. What happened to all that stuff about the Liberals being progressive? Oh dear.

The key players in Stephen Harper’s government would have been high-fiving after the month Justin Trudeau’s is finishing up.

In September, the Liberal government took a hard line stance with a public union, held steady to the Conservatives’ greenhouse gas targets, approved a liquefied natural gas plant and pipeline assailed by environmentalists and Indigenous groups, and some say signalled it may extend, rather than curtail, powers to spy on citizens granted by the Harper government’s controversial Bill C-51.

For good measure, Trudeau’s Liberals also suggested making it easier for businesses to bring more temporary foreign workers to Canada, taking a position even Harper had backed away from after abuses of the federal program hit the headlines. The Conservatives tightened restrictions on who can hire foreign workers under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Earlier this month, a Liberal-dominated Parliamentary committee released a report recommending easier access to the program for businesses. 
If you're a devout Liberal, I feel deeply sorry for you. After the better part of a decade spent fearlessly castigating Stephen Harper for these very same things, now it's your boy who is carrying on Shifty Steve's mission. How must that make you feel?

Who Needs the Pundits' Take When We've Got Samantha Bee

The Disaffected Lib - Thu, 09/29/2016 - 12:19
The presidential debate in a nutshell

Let's Stop Digging this Hole

The Disaffected Lib - Thu, 09/29/2016 - 11:58

Shortly after I started my blog, 2005 if I recall correctly, I began putting together a list of the major challenges confronting mankind, indeed all life on Earth. Let me see if I can recall it from memory - global warming and severe storm events of increasing intensity, frequency and duration; both cyclical and sustained droughts and floods; sea level rise; ocean acidification; deforestation; desertification; the freshwater crisis; the accelerating loss of biodiversity; pest and disease migration; species extinction and migration, especially the collapse of global fisheries; accumulating waste and pollution of all descriptions; the energy crisis including the transition to clean alternative energy; nuclear proliferation; the spread of terrorism and organized crime; overpopulation and unsustainable consumption of natural resources.

As I assembled my list I realized all of these problems had to be connected, inter-related. I would regularly challenge my readers to identify the common threads that ran through them even as I lacked the answers myself.

Slowly it emerged that what linked all of these troubles and woes was the manner in which we, mankind, had become organized - socially, politically, economically, industrially, even militarily. Go back to the pre-industrial era, remove just one species, and none of these existential threats occurs. Turn the clock back 200 years, eliminate humanity from the mix, and the world would rapidly return to a state of natural equilibrium. The world would remain in the gentle geological epoch called the Holocene. Wowser.

What flowed from that epiphany was the realization that our modes of organization - social, economic, political and industrial - had outlived their utility to mankind even as they increasingly served the narrow interests of a very small and select group of humans. We had created our own plague.

In Jared Diamond's book, "Collapse," I found the compelling argument that we face a host of existential threats that are so powerfully yet subtly interconnected that, to have any hope of solving any of them, we had to accept the remedies necessary to solve them all. If you've got five guns pointed at your head, removing the bullets from one or two won't be of much help.

The problem with our modes of organization was how well they served mankind across most of the span from the industrial revolution until quite recently. Most of it was rooted in our mastery of cheap energy - first wind power, then coal and finally oil. Without that there would have been no industrial revolution. But thanks to people like Watts we were able to redesign civilization, expand and grow. Growth of every description.

Here's an example. It took until the early 1800s (1814 is often used) for mankind to grow to one billion in number. That's almost all of the 11,000 year history of civilization. Then look what happened. A century later that number had doubled. When I was born, a few years after the end of WWII, the global population stood at just over 2.5 billion. Today, in the span of less than one lifetime, we've trebled that again to 7+ billion heading, we're told, to 9 billion or more. There aren't many lifeforms that grow that way - bacteria and cancer the exceptions.

Our modes of organization facilitated this incredible growth and, in the process, achieved a powerful inertia that propels them along today. We still cling tenaciously to this dogma of perpetual GDP growth. Even Adam Smith, in his 1776 classic, "The Wealth of Nations," knew that the sort of growth we pursue today could not last more than a century or two before we would have to revert to some form of "steady state" economy.

Every prime minister that I know of has been a faithful disciple of growth. In the west we've settled on 3% annual growth as the ideal. What madness. I can illustrate this by using any of the compound interest calculators on the internet.

Let's start with Year One. The total GDP in Year One is 1. Now let's grow that by 3% per annum. Year Two will be 3% greater than Year One. Year Three will be 3% greater than Year Two and so on.

Let's assume an adult lifespan to be 50 years - 30 to 40 years of working, the remainder retirement. Over the course of that first 50 year term the economy at 3% annual growth would swell by a factor of 4.38. That's 4.4 times as much economic activity. 4.4 times as much production. 4.4 times as much consumption. 4.4 times as much waste and pollution. Wow, that's really something - 438% growth in GDP.

Add another adult lifespan, make it a full 100 years. At the end of that century of 3% annual growth, GDP would have grown to 19.22 times the entire GDP of Year One. How about 3 adult lifespans? Now you're up to 84.25 times bigger than Year One. 4 lifespans? You're up 369.26 fold. 370 times as much economic activity as you had in Year One. 370 times as much production and consumption. 370 times as much waste and pollution. Just for a giggle, how about three centuries of 3% annual growth. Brace yourselves. The GDP in Year 300 would be 7,098.5 times bigger than it was when you began at Year One.

The biggest problem with even modest exponential growth is that we have a decidedly finite planet, our one and only biosphere, Spaceship Earth. It's all we got, you and me and every other living creature. Just the one.

Some time in the early 1970s we hit a wall, the point at which human consumption of Earth's renewable resources - air, water, biomass - exceeded our planet's carrying capacity. Since then we've been in a state of what scientists have named "overshoot." They've even pegged Earth Overshoot Day. When I first stumbled upon it, Earth Overshoot Day fell in late October. Yet we've been rapidly increasing our consumption, rapaciously wading through the planet's resource reserves, something called "eating your seed corn." This year Earth Overshoot Day had moved up to early August. That means we exhaust the Earth's production of renewables on August 8th and go after the seed corn for the remaining five months of the year. We're getting to the point where we need 1.7 planet Earths worth of resources. Sort of like taking home $1,000 a month and spending $1,700. It doesn't end well.

The worst part isn't that we're doing this. It's that we have made ourselves absolutely dependent on doing it. We can't stop. We have neither the political will nor the public will to doing anything but continue, year by year, ever faster. Sort of like the closing scene in Thelma and Louise where you've just slammed the pedal to the metal as the cliff edge draws ever closer.

So what are the solutions? I could say there isn't any. I thought that until a friend put me on to Thomas Homer-Dixon and his 2006 book, "The Upside of Down." THD is a professor and the former head of the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Centre for Peace, Conflict and Justice at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto.

Like me, Homer-Dixon doesn't see any easy way out of our predicament. This eminently level-headed thinker sees two options. One is Jared Diamond's hypothesis, collapse. The other is something akin to a civilizational equivalent of a crash landing -  seat tray and back in the upright position, shoes off, bend over and brace for impact sort of thing. THD thinks, if we prepare for it correctly, this landing could be hard but survivable. He argues that we have to accept decline as a best-possible outcome, certainly preferable to outright collapse. He sees it as a way to discover our "reset" button and liberate ourselves from what I have described as our outdated modes of organization. We have to start anew, re-invent our civilization.

Homer-Dixon's caution, however, is that to have much chance of a survivable, crash landing we must do the essential preparation in advance which starts with acknowledging what confronts us and resolving to prepare for it. We're not there yet, not even close.

Maybe the way forward begins by having these conversations. I hope so.

New column day

accidentaldeliberations - Thu, 09/29/2016 - 09:30
Here, on how a recent spate of announcements signals that contrary to their campaign commitments in both theme and detail, there's been little difference between the Trudeau Liberals and the Harper Conservatives in substance.

For further reading...
- The point is one being made by plenty of other observers as well in various contexts, including Ross Belot, Karen Mahon, Terry Milewski, Jeremy Nuttall, Lawrence Martin and Tom Parkin.
- By way of a reminder, the Libs' election platform is here (PDF), and my review of it is here.
- For more on the individual stories, Laura Payton reports on the Libs' decision that Stephen Harper's emission targets are good enough for them, as well as on Jane Philpott's announcement that the Cons' health funding levels won't be revisited. And on the former point, Derrick O'Keefe laments the Libs' liquid natural gas "carbon bomb", while on the latter the Council of Canadians calls out the lack of action toward a national prescription drug plan.
- Andrew Kuraja reports on the Site C permit approval, while Jorge Barrera contrasts that position against Jody Wilson-Raybould's supposedly committed activism against the very same project.
- Kristy Kirkup reports on the Libs' delay in complying with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal's orders on services for on-reserve children.
- And finally, Alison Crawford reports on Wayne Smith's decision to resign as Statistics Canada's Chief Statistician due to political meddling in its operations.

Thursday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Thu, 09/29/2016 - 09:17
This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Valerie Strauss discusses the disastrous effects of corporatized education in the U.S. And Alex Hemingway examines how B.C.'s government (like Saskatchewan's) is going out of its way to make it impossible for a public education system to do its job of offering a bright future to all students.

- CJEM reports on a new survey showing just how many Saskatchewan residents are on the edge of a financial cliff if not already on the descent - with more than a third of those surveyed already unable to pay their bills, and over 60% having at best minimal ability to absorb any additional expenses.

- Colin Freeze and Jim Bronskill report on Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien's annual report - with Freeze focusing on his call for legislation governing metadata, and Bronskill on the total lack of regard for Canadians' privacy in the analysis and application of Bill C-51.

- David Bush critiques the Canada Post Task Force's study which looks to set the stage for worse service at higher prices, rather than seriously evaluating options such as postal banking which could reverse both of those outcomes.

- Finally, Andrew Coyne suggests that the Senate's authority to disrupt public business should match its non-existent legitimacy. And Carlito Pablo reports on Maxwell Cameron's view that we should expect decisions to be made by representatives elected through a fair and proportional system.

That's When It Gets Tough

Northern Reflections - Thu, 09/29/2016 - 06:18

The pundits are increasingly sceptical about Justin Trudeau. Nevertheless, Gerry Caplan writes, the public's love affair with him continues. Even columnists for The Toronto Star -- which generally supports his initiatives -- are beginning to show their cynicism:

Take a column this past weekend by the scrupulously non-partisan Susan Delacourt. Like so many of her peers, Ms. Delacourt did not at all appreciate Stephen Harper’s open contempt for the press gallery. So for most reporters, Mr. Trudeau’s openness and accessibility was a breath of fresh air. Now his shtick has turned to hot air.
Mr. Trudeau’s press conference last week, Delacourt wrote in last Saturday’s Star, “was a remarkably answer-free encounter with the parliamentary press gallery, in which one had the sense the Prime Minister was trying to prove that he could smile and speak for 20 minutes without saying anything.” She offers this warning to the PM: Voters can “take only so many platitudes and winding, wordy detours around hard truths.” Harsh stuff.

And, likewise, for Tony Burman, the bloom is coming off the rose:

Similarly, Tony Burman, former head of CBC News, ridicules Mr. Trudeau’s speech at the UN last week (to a hall two-thirds empty, it was not often enough noted). Mr. Trudeau was peddling his usual “We’re Canadian and we’re here to help” rhetoric. Mr. Burman comments acidly: “If only life were that easy.” And a Globe cartoon shows Mr. Trudeau as all sizzle, no steak.

Smiling images will only get you so far:

These scornful and disappointed observations seem to me to encapsulate much of the reaction these days to Mr. Trudeau’s endless sunny days. Nothing is as easy as Mr. Trudeau always implies, from pipelines to reconciliation with our indigenous peoples. Yet he must produce something, indeed many things, in the next few months, or he’ll be a laughingstock. But of course he risks being a laughingstock if he fails to live up to his own hype. This is a man who increases expectations every time he speaks, who can’t seem to distinguish between aspiration and reality, and he’s doing himself no favours.
 All political honeymoons come to an end. And that's when it gets tough.


Donald Trump and the Rise of Adolf Hitler

Montreal Simon - Thu, 09/29/2016 - 05:15

Although Donald Trump used to sleep with a copy of Hitler's speeches on his bedside table, I've tried to avoid comparing him to the Nazi dictator.

For whatever he is Trump isn't Hitler, and to suggest he is only insults that murderous maniac's many victims.

But after reading a review of a new book about Hitler's rise to power, I must admit I might have to reconsider that position.
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