Posts from our progressive community

Sunday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - 2 hours 44 min ago
Miscellaneous material for your Sunday reading.

- Nicholas Kristof writes about the empathy gap which causes far too many wealthier citizens to devalue those who don't have as much. Jesse Singal observes that the primary effect of wealth on well-being is to reduce downside rather than improve happiness - signalling that we might be best served pursuing policies aimed at improving financial security across the income scale. And Lucy Mangan discusses what's missing from the people who refuse to understand the effect of poverty - particularly when they're best positioned to do something to alleviate it:
Politicians, for example, are apparently completely baffled by Poor People’s propensity to do harmful things, often expensively, to themselves. (That’s politicians of all stripes – it’s just that the left wing wrings its hands and feels helplessly sorry for Them, while Tories are pretty sure They are just animals in need of better training.) The underclass eats fast food, drinks and smokes, and some of its more unruly members even take drugs. Why? Why?

Listen, I always want to say, if you’re genuinely mystified, answer me this: have you never had a really bad day and really wanted – nay, needed – an extra glass of Montrachet on the roof terrace in the evening? Or such a chaotic, miserable week that you’ve ended up with a takeaway five nights out of seven instead of delving into Nigella’s latest?

You have? Why, splendid. Now imagine if your whole life were not just like that one bad day, but even worse. All the time. No let-up. No end in sight. No, you can’t go on holiday. No, you can’t cash anything in and retire. No. How would you react? No, you’ve not got a marketable skills set. You don’t know anyone who can give you a job. No. No.
I don’t understand how the people in charge of us all don’t understand. If you are genuinely unable to apply your imagination and extend your empathy far enough – and you don’t have to do it all at once; little by little will suffice, but you must get there – then you are a sociopath, and we should all be protected from your actions. If you are in fact able and choose not to, then you’re something quite a lot worse. - But if the privileged can't be convinced to care about fellow human beings in their own right, Larry Elliot notes that they're at least taking notice of the economic costs of inequality. And Tony Berman theorizes that we've reached the point where there's no avoiding some action to level the playing field when it comes to standards of living.

- Unfortunately, neither empathy nor common sense is forthcoming from the Fraser Institute, which is determined to undermine incomes and increase workplace discrimination by undermining the public-sector employers which have made some progress on both fronts.

- And the Saskatchewan Party too seems determined to spend its political capital making life worse for the people who have least - with a new attack on affordable housing serving as just the latest example. Which only matches the track record of other right-wing governments who promise to sell off social housing in order to increase the available stock - only to deliver only on the part which privatizes incomes without benefiting renters.

- Finally, Chantal Hebert discusses how historical two-party systems have eroded in both Canada and the UK, while highlighting the stark difference in reaction by most Canadian parties (though not all) to the possibility of minority government:
A poll published earlier this month reported that one-third of U.K. voters feel they were better served by the coalition than they would have been by a majority government.

The experience has undeniably provided supporters of smaller parties with an added incentive to stick to their original choice, in the hope that they could secure a position of influence in a hung Parliament.

Meanwhile in Canada, Harper and Justin Trudeau’s Liberals are about to spend the next campaign on the same anti-coalition page.

Harper will again plead that the only way to ensure that the Conservatives are not robbed of an election victory by a scheming opposition is to give his party an unassailable majority.

The Liberals will continue to rule out — as Trudeau did in a year-end interview — the option of joining the NDP in a coalition government, the better to convince New Democrats seeking regime change to move over to them.

The losers will be the voters who will once again be held hostage to a winner-take-all approach to parliamentary democracy.

Religion's Twelve Deadly Sins

The Disaffected Lib - 2 hours 53 min ago

Alternet's Valerie Tarico has written an insightful piece about 12-concepts, integral to organized religions, that "promote conflict, cruelty, suffering and death rather than love and peace."

First up is the concept of "chosen people" - that separates believers from non-believers, the believers alone linked to God.   Then there's the companion concept of "heretics."  Again, non-believers.  Call for the headsman!

Religions have also introduced us to the notion of Holy War.  Gott Mit Uns, that sort of thing.  When Muslims do it we call it Jihad.  When we do it, it's just getting rid of Satan.  Man has been doing it for thousands of years and, it seems, it never gets old.

Then there's "blasphemy" - the crime of saying things that offend religious doctrine.  The Bible has a cure for that - death.

Religions have also introduced us to the notion of "glorified suffering" and who doesn't love a martyr who suffers agony and death in the name of God.  The Catholic church loves them, makes them saints.  Islam goes a step further and provides them with explosive vests.

"Genital mutilation."  Alright, let's get real - circumcision.  No illustration required.

"Blood sacrifice."  It's more than killing goats.

Then there's the trump card, the ace in the hole, "Hell."  It's an awful place.  It's forever and ever.  And it's where you go if you don't do what the nice man at the front of the church tells you to do.  The nice thing is, it never gets old.  We do and, as we draw ever nearer to our final exit, Hell looms ever larger.

Religions that go the reincarnation route fall back on "Karma."  Stay in line or else you'll pay for it in the next life when you return as a toilet seat.

If life on Earth is brutal and nasty, don't fret, there's always the afterlife.  That's your payoff, "Eternal Life."  Now, don't forget to tithe and, remember, the guy with the keys to Heaven, he's counting.

"Male Ownership of Female Fertility."  I'll let you get this directly from Val:
"The notion of women as brood mares or children as assets likely didn’t originate with religion, but the idea that women were created for this purpose, that if a woman should die of childbearing “she was made to do it,” most certainly did. Traditional religions variously assert that men have a god-ordained right to give women in marriage, take them in war, exclude them from heaven, and kill them if the origins of their offspring can’t be assured. Hence Catholicism’s maniacal obsession with the virginity of Mary and female martyrs."

And last, but by no means least, "Bibliolatry."  This is book worship so integral to all modern religions.  It binds the faithful to notions of what is and isn't, right and wrong, as envisioned way back in ancient times when writing was discovered.  We know that the apostles didn't write their chapters of the New Testament.  Somebody else did.  But, hey, it's in writing so it's magical, divine.

It's particularly prevalent in religious fundamentalism whether Islamic, Judaic or Christian.  There are plenty of Christian fundamentalists who hold a fierce belief in Biblical Inerrancy.  No matter how contradictory, no matter how vague or at odds with reality, it's the Word of God and that's all there is to it.
I urge you to read the entire article here.

A Nation Vexed by Anti-Vaxxers?

The Disaffected Lib - 3 hours 41 min ago
There's a cult in the United States that's come to be called the "Anti-Vaxxers." The term describes parents who prevent their kids from receiving ordinary medical vaccinations. They claim the vaccines are a greater threat to their children's health than the diseases they're intended to protect the kids against.

A recent study found that these anti-vaxxers often live in clusters, such as California's Orange County, increasing the prospects for transmission of the diseases against which their children are unprotected.

For the most part the anti-vaxxers are liberals who have allowed themselves to lapse into belief-based instead of fact-based decision making.

Now they've been told to keep their kids clear of Disneyland where 51-measles cases have been linked.

..the deputy director of California’s Center for Infectious Diseases announced that the theme park is no longer safe for the unvaccinated — the status of over 80 percent of those infected. The outbreak has spread to five states and Mexico, and includes six infants who were too young to have received the vaccine. A full quarter of the patients so far had to be hospitalized. And for 24 unvaccinated children in Orange County, where the theme park is located, school is no longer safe, either: They were told to stay home for three weeks after it emerged that an infected student had shown up on campus earlier this month.

So what's considered "the most contagious disease in the world", measles is now spreading from a theme park and into schools and, obviously, into the general community because a gaggle of contrarian parents knew better than the medical professionals.
Don’t expect, in other words, that modern medical advances will protect us from the ravages of measles — vaccines are the modern medical advancement that were doing a fine job of things until the misguided decisions of a few sacrificed the protection of herd immunity for all of us. If anything, the rapid emergence of antibiotic-resistant superbugs could make a modern-day measles epidemic even deadlier. The continual frustration is that measles was effectively eliminated from this country in 2000, but all it took was enough people buying into the junk science telling them that vaccines aren’t safe to give the disease a new foothold.


Dawg's Blawg - 6 hours 31 min ago
Since the Charlie Hebdo/Hyper Cacher massacres happened, this Blawg has focused a lot of attention on those events and related issues, as well as the usual sorts of items in Canadian politics. But history hasn’t stopped elsewhere. Today, I don’t... Mandos

let them stay week 2015: january 25-31: make your voice heard

we move to canada - 6 hours 46 min ago
Allan guest post

Since September 2014, seven US Iraq War resisters have received negative decisions in their cases. Two veterans were given removal dates (i.e., dates by which they must leave the country). One resister received a stay of removal and the government rescinded the second removal order at the last minute. These reprieves are extremely good news, but war resisters and their loved ones continue to feel stress and uncertainty.

The timing of these initial negative decisions was odd. After no movement on any cases for more than a year, seven cases — allegedly independent of one another — were suddenly announced as Prime Minister Stephen Harper tried to increase Canadian support for the US's latest attack on the people of Iraq.

As the resisters continue their fight, they know that a majority of Canadians are on their side. Nearly two-thirds of Canadians support allowing US Iraq War resisters to remain in Canada. However, the Harper government continues to ignore both the will of the people and the will of Parliament, which has twice passed resolutions calling on Harper to allow war resisters to stay in the country. In addition, all of the opposition parties have recently reaffirmed their support for US war resisters in Canada.

The War Resisters Support Campaign is once again calling on Canadians to speak out against these attempts by the Harper government to remove remaining US war resisters from Canada.

During Let Them Stay Week — January 25 to 31, 2015 — let Minister of Immigration Chris Alexander know that you support a provision for US war resisters to remain in Canada, and that you oppose any and all attempts to deport them.


Sunday, January 25 – Profile Picture Day: Change your profile picture on Facebook in support of US war resisters for the duration of Let Them Stay Week.

Monday, January 26 – Media Outreach Day: Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper.

Tuesday, January 27 – Email/Phone Blitz: Call or email Minister of Immigration Chris Alexander (cc to party leaders, immigration critics, and your MP). Click here to send your email. Mr. Alexander's phone numbers are: 613-995-8042 and 905-426-6808.

Wednesday, January 28 – Mail-in Letters Day: Write a letter to the Minister of Immigration Chris Alexander, House of Commons, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1A 0A6. The letter can be sent postage-free within Canada.

Thursday, January 29 – Social Media Day: Share, post, disseminate information on war resisters on social media.

Friday, January 30 – Community Outreach Day: Call your local MP's office to express your concern; circulate the US war resister petition; make a donation to the War Resisters defence fund; post a window-sign at your home, workplace or community organization.

Below is a joint statement recently issued by US war resisters in Canada.
Joint Statement by former US military personnel who came to Canada because of their conscientious objection to the Iraq War.

We are American war resisters. Many of us are combat veterans. All of us came to the conclusion that we could not in good conscience participate in the unjust and illegal war and occupation launched in March 2003 against Iraq.

Faced with jail time and forced redeployment in support of that disastrous war, we sought refuge in Canada.

The response from Canadians has been overwhelmingly welcoming and supportive, and has made it possible for us to settle here, raise families and build communities.

But the Conservative government has directly intervened to deny us access to a fair immigration process.

We now face imminent removal from Canada. Our removal will tear apart our families and punish us for simply doing what Canadians have already done – refusing to support and participate in an illegal and unjust war.

Former Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney publicly disparaged us, instructed immigration officers to "red-flag" our cases, and labelled us "criminally inadmissible" to Canada. This has prejudiced any chance of having our cases decided on their merits.

Yet Canada's Parliament twice voted to allow us to stay. Canadian courts have acknowledged the disproportional punishment handed to US soldiers who have spoken out publicly in Canada. Those who have been forced back by the Conservative government have been court-martialed and received sentences from 12 to 24 months in jail.

It is no coincidence that so many of us are facing deportation at this very moment. It is difficult to manufacture consent for a new war when we are still here to tell the ground truth of the previous war. There is still time for Canadians to speak out – but time is running out.

Neo-Liberalism: The Undying Monster

Northern Reflections - 7 hours 58 min ago

Neo-Liberalism came to Canada long before Stephen Harper came to Ottawa. It was ushered into public policy by Brian Mulroney, who privatised crown corporations like Air Canada and Petro Canada. Jean Chretien and Paul Martin contributed to its juggernaut by signing NAFTA and by introducing fiscal restraint.

But Donald Gurstin argues in his book, Harperism: How Stephen Harper And His Think Tank Colleagues Have Transformed Canada, that neo-liberalism's entrenchment in this country is the result of the long hard work of organizations like the Fraser Institute, the Frontier Centre and the Macdoanld-Laurier Institute:

As of this writing in mid-2014, a tightly knit, smoothly operating neo-liberal propaganda system has been installed in Canada. The foundations of wealthy businessmen, corporations, and individuals are investing more than $26 million a year in neo-liberal think-tanks and single-issue advocacy organizations. (This figure doesn’t include Calgary’s School of Public Policy, whose financial statements are buried within the university’s accounts.) The long-term goal is to discredit government as a vital institution and to champion market alternatives.

As a result of the massing on the right, the political space is crowded with a seemingly endless flow of studies, reports and commentaries supporting neoliberal perspectives. Of course, people are not automatons who blindly internalize these messages. But gradually, and especially as a result of constant repetition, some ideas rise to prominence, while others fade away. People are presented with a changing set of ideas from which they must make selections to make sense of their world: economic freedom and school choice are unqualified good things; the tax burden is burdensome and requires relief; government is inefficient because it harbours bloated bureaucracies and overpaid public employees; the private sector is hobbled by red tape; and so on.
As a result of the constant drumbeat from the Right, neo-liberal ideas have assumed the status of axioms; and they made Stephen Harper's success appear inevitable. The damage has been catastrophic:

He’s hobbled government’s long-standing social-democratic obligations by slashing revenues to their lowest levels — in relation to the size of the economy — they’ve been at in fifty years, when the state first implemented its major social programs. One estimate pegs Harper’s tax cuts at $45 billion a year in foregone revenues. With total revenues at about $250 billion, that’s nearly a 20 per cent cut. Call it privatization by default. If there’s not enough money in the public coffers to finance health care, post-secondary education and rising old age security needs, they will have to be provided by the private or voluntary sectors or by individuals.
But Mr. Harper's success was never inevitable. It has only been possible because the Right has understood what Goebbels meant by the Big Lie. If you repeat a lie often enough, people will assume that it is true.

The Great Recession should have proven that neo-liberalism was a Big Lie. But, thanks to the think tanks, it keeps re-appearing -- like Frankenstein's monster in those old Universal sequels.

Stephen Harper's Canada: Where Cons and Idiots Roam

Montreal Simon - 11 hours 51 sec ago

Oh boy. It's lucky that where I live it's impossible to not know that I live in the Great White North.

Because if it wasn't, I might wonder whether I'm still living in Canada, or whether Stephen Harper has already changed it beyond recognition.

For it really is hard to believe that if you type "Stephen Harper was" into the Google search machine.

This is what comes up? 
Read more »

Ditto What Australia Said. America Can Be a "Dangerous Ally"

The Disaffected Lib - Sat, 01/24/2015 - 16:23

Former Australian prime minister (1975-83), Malcolm Fraser, fears his country's dependence on the United States could drag Australia into a war not of its own choosing, a war with China.

In Fraser's book, he describes how Australia's blind faith in the UK before World War II left the country unprepared for war. He then goes on to say that currently many feel more vulnerable because of the country's dependence on the United States. What Fraser and many Australian leaders fears most is that the United States will get Australia involved in a coflict not of its own making. "Australia effectively ceded to America the ability to decide when Australia goes to war," said Fraser.

Fraser labelled the United States a "dangerous ally" as Australia has become progressively more enmeshed in American strategic and military affairs since the end of Cold War.

Just as with the armed conflicts in the Middle East, Fraser said that the conflict in Ukraine took place partially due to Washington's attempt to include Ukraine in NATO. He went on to blame the United States lack of historical understanding towards Russia on the matter.

Washington's policy to "contain" China can eventually lead to trouble for Australia. Believing that the United States will eventually use Australia as a base to attack China, Fraser suggested the removal of all American military facilities from Darwin in the north and Pine Gap in the center of the country as soon as possible. The former Australian leader added that the country should be more independent of the United States in both defense and foreign affairs. While recommending that Australia shore up its diplomatic activities throughout Asia and at the UN, he also suggested an increase in defense spending to 3% of the country's GDP.

On changing reputations

accidentaldeliberations - Sat, 01/24/2015 - 15:12
Following up on this post as to the value of a common message in countering the Cons' campaign spin, let's test out Stephen Maher's theory as to what the opposition parties need to offer:
For years, Harper has missed no opportunity to portray himself as the only leader who can keep us from ruin, characterizing his rivals as unhinged crackpots with crazy schemes.

Harper has spent more than $100 million in tax dollars on advertisements promoting the Economic Action Plan, a transparently partisan expenditure aimed at inducing a pavlovian response from voters. Add all the cheque presentations, ribbon cuttings, speeches, interviews and party advertising and you have an almost decade-long communication effort that has succeeded in associating economic competence with Harper.
(T)o get rid of Harper, the opposition has to convince voters not that he is nasty or dishonest, but that he doesn’t know what he’s doing.

That looks like a hard job, but if they don’t do that they won’t win. Now, there's certainly some appeal to the idea of running an election based on Harper's economic record, and indeed some polling data to suggest he doesn't have any particular advantage in the area.
But as Maher notes, any attempt to present mere facts on that front is running into a headwind generated by hundreds of millions of dollars of past advertising - not to mention the corporate media which has so determinedly ignored Harper's actual record in promoting him as an economic manager in the first place. Which is to say that a successful message focused on the economy today would have to go a long way to account for people who may have found Harper acceptable on the same issue in the past. Maybe "Harper: He's Had His Chance"? Or "Harper: Tried and Failed"?

At the same time, though, Harper is likely far more vulnerable on other issues such as ethics or social policy than he is on the economy in any event. So while it's worth having some economic counterpoints available to highlight how Harper hasn't lived up to his billing, I'd think a core message should probably focus elsewhere.

When All the King's Horses and All the King's Men Can't.

The Disaffected Lib - Sat, 01/24/2015 - 14:05
The Atlantic's James Fallows was interviewed on Bill Maher's show last night. The discussion focused on Fallows' article in the latest edition, "The Tragedy of the American Military."

One point that Fallows addresses is how the mightiest, most costly and best equipped military in the world lost America's last two wars - in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Fallows accuses the American people of becoming a Chickenhawk Nation, plenty eager to go to war as long as someone else is sent to do the killing and the dying.

Too much complacency regarding our military, and too weak a tragic imagination about the consequences if the next engagement goes wrong, have been part of Americans’ willingness to wade into conflict after conflict, blithely assuming we would win. “Did we have the sense that America cared how we were doing? We did not,” Seth Moulton told me about his experience as a marine during the Iraq War. Moulton became a Marine Corps officer after graduating from Harvard in 2001, believing (as he told me) that when many classmates were heading to Wall Street it was useful to set an example of public service. He opposed the decision to invade Iraq but ended up serving four tours there out of a sense of duty to his comrades. “America was very disconnected. We were proud to serve, but we knew it was a little group of people doing the country’s work.”
...Ours is the best-equipped fighting force in history, and it is incomparably the most expensive. By all measures, today’s professionalized military is also better trained, motivated, and disciplined than during the draft-army years. No decent person who is exposed to today’s troops can be anything but respectful of them and grateful for what they do.

Yet repeatedly this force has been defeated by less modern, worse-equipped, barely funded foes. Or it has won skirmishes and battles only to lose or get bogged down in a larger war. Although no one can agree on an exact figure, our dozen years of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and neighboring countries have cost at least $1.5 trillion; Linda J. Bilmes, of the Harvard Kennedy School, recently estimated that the total cost could be three to four times that much. Recall that while Congress was considering whether to authorize the Iraq War, the head of the White House economic council, Lawrence B. Lindsey, was forced to resign for telling The Wall Street Journal that the all-in costs might be as high as $100 billion to $200 billion, or less than the U.S. has spent on Iraq and Afghanistan in many individual years.

Yet from a strategic perspective, to say nothing of the human cost, most of these dollars might as well have been burned. “At this point, it is incontrovertibly evident that the U.S. military failed to achieve any of its strategic goals in Iraq,” a former military intelligence officer named Jim Gourley wrote recently for Thomas E. Ricks’s blog, Best Defense. “Evaluated according to the goals set forth by our military leadership, the war ended in utter defeat for our forces.” In 13 years of continuous combat under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, the longest stretch of warfare in American history, U.S. forces have achieved one clear strategic success: the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Their many other tactical victories, from overthrowing Saddam Hussein to allying with Sunni tribal leaders to mounting a “surge” in Iraq, demonstrated great bravery and skill. But they brought no lasting stability to, nor advance of U.S. interests in, that part of the world. When ISIS troops overran much of Iraq last year, the forces that laid down their weapons and fled before them were members of the same Iraqi national army that U.S. advisers had so expensively yet ineffectively trained for more than five years.

Fallows deals with the modern collapse of accountability in top military ranks.
During and after even successful American wars, and certainly after the standoff in Korea and the defeat in Vietnam, the professional military’s leadership and judgment were considered fair game for criticism. Grant saved the Union; McClellan seemed almost to sabotage it—and he was only one of the Union generals Lincoln had to move out of the way. Something similar was true in wars through Vietnam. Some leaders were good; others were bad. Now, for purposes of public discussion, they’re all heroes. In our past decade’s wars, as Thomas Ricks wrote in this magazine in 2012, “hundreds of Army generals were deployed to the field, and the available evidence indicates that not one was relieved by the military brass for combat ineffectiveness.” This, he said, was not only a radical break from American tradition but also “an important factor in the failure” of our recent wars.
The author goes on to link the American public's detachment from their military with the madness of modern military procurement.
America’s distance from the military makes the country too willing to go to war, and too callous about the damage warfare inflicts. This distance also means that we spend too much money on the military and we spend it stupidly, thereby shortchanging many of the functions that make the most difference to the welfare of the troops and their success in combat. We buy weapons that have less to do with battlefield realities than with our unending faith that advanced technology will ensure victory, and with the economic interests and political influence of contractors. This leaves us with expensive and delicate high-tech white elephants, while unglamorous but essential tools, from infantry rifles to armored personnel carriers, too often fail our troops (see “Gun Trouble,” by Robert H. Scales, in this issue).

We know that technology is our military’s main advantage. Yet the story of the post-9/11 “long wars” is of America’s higher-tech advantages yielding transitory victories that melt away before the older, messier realities of improvised weapons, sectarian resentments, and mounting hostility to occupiers from afar, however well-intentioned. Many of the Pentagon’s most audacious high-tech ventures have been costly and spectacular failures, including (as we will see) the major air-power project of recent years, the F-35. In an America connected to its military, such questions of strategy and implementation would be at least as familiar as, say, the problems with the Common Core education standards.

Fallows reserves special attention for the overpriced, overdue and under-performing F-35.
“Political engineering,” a term popularized by a young Pentagon analyst named Chuck Spinney in the 1970s, is pork-barrel politics on the grandest scale. Cost overruns sound bad if someone else is getting the extra money. They can be good if they are creating business for your company or jobs in your congressional district. Political engineering is the art of spreading a military project to as many congressional districts as possible, and thus maximizing the number of members of Congress who feel that if they cut off funding, they’d be hurting themselves.

The next big project the Air Force is considering is the Long Range Strike Bomber, a successor to the B-1 and B-2 whose specifications include an ability to do bombing runs deep into China. (A step so wildly reckless that the U.S. didn’t consider it even when fighting Chinese troops during the Korean War.) By the time the plane’s full costs and capabilities become apparent, Chuck Spinney wrote last summer, the airplane, “like the F-35 today, will be unstoppable.” That is because even now its supporters are building the plane’s “social safety net by spreading the subcontracts around the country, or perhaps like the F-35, around the world.”
...In the spring of 2011, Barack Obama asked Gary Hart, the Democratic Party’s most experienced and best-connected figure on defense reform, to form a small bipartisan task force that would draft recommendations on how Obama might try to recast the Pentagon and its practices if he won a second term. Hart did so (I was part of the group, along with Andrew J. Bacevich of Boston University, John Arquilla of the Naval Postgraduate School, and Norman R. Augustine, the former CEO of Lockheed Martin), and sent a report to Obama that fall. [Here is that memo.] He never heard back. Every White House is swamped with recommendations and requests, and it responds only to those it considers most urgent—which defense reform obviously was not.
...Seth Moulton, a few days after his victory in last fall’s congressional race, said that the overall quality and morale of people in the military has dramatically improved since the days of a conscript force. “But it’s become populated, especially at the highest ranks, by careerists, people who have gotten where they are by checking all the boxes and not taking risks,” he told me. “Some of the finest officers I knew were lieutenants who knew they were getting out, so weren’t afraid to make the right decision. I know an awful lot of senior officers who are very afraid to make a tough choice because they’re worried how it will look on their fitness report.” This may sound like a complaint about life in any big organization, but it’s something more. There’s no rival Army or Marine Corps you can switch to for a new start. There’s almost no surmounting an error or a black mark on the fitness or evaluation reports that are the basis for promotions.
Obviously America's cultural-political-military problems are an order of magnitude greater - and worse - than what  confronts us today in Canada.  Yet we too are a society detached from our military, a people too willing to support sending our soldiers into unwinnable wars by Chickenhawk politicians to suit their own ends and often led by ticket punchers that populate the highest ranks.  
America wasn't alone in losing the Afghan war.  We lost it too.  Every ISAF contingent lost that war.  Yet we don't speak of that.  We'll have no scrutiny of what went wrong and what went right, no post-mortem, without which we're entirely vulnerable to making the same blunders in our eagerness to send other young Canadians into harm's way whenever the coalition horns sound.  
No one has dared ask Harper why we lost.  We have on record his declaration of what we were fighting for in Afghanistan and what we were determined, even bound to achieve.  In that, our prime minister set the bar that determines victory or defeat for our Afghan campaign and, by his boastful criteria, we failed.  We didn't even have a solitary defeat because Harper kept lowering the bar as the war dragged on until, at the end, success was so hollowed out as to become a function of getting our troops and the bulk of our equipment out of Afghanistan. 
It wasn't the sergeants and corporals or the lieutenants and captains who let us down.  They fought admirably.  By elimination that leaves our political and military leadership who must be held accountable but they're not talking. 

On common messaging

accidentaldeliberations - Sat, 01/24/2015 - 09:28
It shouldn't come as much surprise that the new election year is bringing out the usual, tiresome round of calls for strategic voting and candidate withdrawals.

In the past, I've responded by suggesting that if Canada's opposition parties have enough common ground to cooperate, they should consider working with joint messages rather than trying to carve up the electoral map. And I'd still be curious to see how that type of arrangement would work if there was any interest in pursuing it.

But I wonder now whether the best course of action may have nothing to do with party arrangements - particularly in light of how the Canadian political system has evolved since 2011.

Until the NDP's rise to Official Opposition status in 2011, it was tempting for far too many people to pretend that all parties other than the Cons could be safely ignored. And the Libs' "blue door, red door" rhetoric in that election took that narrow mindset to a new extreme - before it proved as inaccurate as it was laden with hubris.

Now, though, there shouldn't be any escaping the fact that we're now in a true three-party system. And due to that change, both major opposition parties are inherently focused not only on making the case for change, but on doing so with messages which are designed to differentiate themselves from each other.

But that doesn't mean the public is similarly limited. And I'll suggest that it's worth putting the full weight of public fatigue with the Harper Cons to good use.

With that in mind, I'll suggest a crowdsourced effort to answer these questions (with a hat tip to the #fivewordsharperfears hashtag which offered plenty of ideas).

What brief, easily-remembered message will best convince voters to turn against Stephen Harper and the Cons when they go to the polls in 2015? And how can be make sure that message is the one Canadians consider as they vote?

I'll suggest a few starting points for such a message:
- It should be friendly to swing voters, rather than insulting anybody who's voted Con in the past but might consider switching votes this time out. 60% of voters have ruled out the Cons, and the goal of this message isn't merely to speak to them; instead, it needs to target the next 10-15% who might swing an election.
- But it should also be consistent enough with progressive values to avoid driving away the people who are most motivated to spread it in order to end Harper's reign.
- In addition, it should fit with well-known political messaging structures: favouring "change" over "the same", progressive/nurturant themes over conservative/authoritarian ones, etc.
- It should be consistent enough with how people already see Harper to fit easily into existing perceptions, but be distinct enough from past campaign messages to avoid any concerns about having failed already.
- And finally, it should counter the "better off with Harper" theme the Cons have already set up as their primary message.

A simple version would be "Canada can do better" or "we can do better" - leaving open the question of who would serve as the best alternative, while focusing attention squarely on whether Harper deserves to maintain power and answering with a clear "no".

But that first thought serves only as a starting point for discussion. And hopefully, progressives of multiple partisan stripes can agree enough on a common theme to make it stick to Harper.

Saturday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Sat, 01/24/2015 - 07:37
Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Lana Payne writes that by finally recognizing the unfairness and ineffectiveness of Alberta's regressive tax system, Jim Prentice may be starting a needed national debate:
Alberta Premier Jim Prentice talks up taxes for individuals including a sales tax (Alberta is the only province not to have one) and adjusting income taxes. But what about those oil companies? This might also be an ideal time to consider how the province can receive a bigger piece of the oil revenue when prices do bounce back. The prep work should start now.

When oil prices boom, provincial economies dependent on those boom times have to be able to take advantage of skyrocketing prices. This is one way to build a rainy-day fund that can help through the tough times.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Paul Davis has hinted that everything needs to be considered - both revenues and expenditures - in confronting this province's ballooning deficit. The key here is not to panic. Panic results in poor decisions.

Canadians should demand a tax conversation at the federal level, including a hard look at how tax cuts to the wealthiest in Canada are now being paid for through deficit-financing.
Taxes are all about values. They are how we build a better society. Let's have a conversation about that. - David Sirota comments on the disastrous effect of the U.S.' regressive tax system. And Szu Ping Chan reports on Mark Carney's observation that the tech companies who are rendering substantial classes of workers obsolete should be paying a larger share.

- Andrew Jackson compares the respective merits of meaningful industrial policy as opposed to indiscriminate corporate tax slashing:
The Harper government has proudly put corporate tax cuts at the very heart of its so-called growth and jobs agenda. Since taking power in 2006, they have cut the general federal corporate tax rate from 22.1% to 15%. According to the Parliamentary Budget Office, each one point reduction costs $1.85 Billion in lost annual revenues, so the total annual cost is some $12 billion.

Corporate tax cuts certainly boost after tax corporate profits, but have had a negligible impact to date on actual business investment in machinery and equipment and in intellectual property which are the key building blocks of our future prosperity. The latest national accounts data show that real business spending in these vital areas has been flat for the past three years, and remains below the pre-recession level, both in dollar terms and as a share of the economy.
(G)overnment funds are (shock) being invested as equity in specific areas of the economy such as high tech, IT and health care where start-up capital is much more scarce than in the United States.

Progressive economists see these interventions as broadly justified and cost effective given market failures which limit the willingness of the private sector to undertake or finance risky but potentially highly productive investments. The federal government's own advisory panel on the funding of innovation led by Tom Jenkins recommended more targeted and strategic interventions.

This begs the question of how much money should be funnelled to the private sector through costly across the board tax cuts as opposed to more targeted programs. The fact that even the Harper government has retained and even expanded some strategic interventions strongly suggests that they are needed. - Meanwhile, David Parkinson, Richard Blackwell and Iain Marlow write that no matter how low interest rates are pushed, we can't expect the global economy to begin any sustained recovery until governments get out of austerity mode. And Nadia Alexan discusses some of the more productive options we could be pursuing to turn concentrated wealth into social and economic development.

- Finally, Bruce Anderson observes that the Cons' choice to fund self-promotion rather than anything which could actually benefit Canada's people serves as a compelling indicator of a government that's completely lost its way.

That Grievance Mentality

Northern Reflections - Sat, 01/24/2015 - 06:38


Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address this week. Here are a few highlights:

  • We still need laws that strengthen rather than weaken unions.”
  • “We still need … a higher minimum wage.”
  • “Free community college is possible.”
  • “Let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline.”
  • “Let’s close the loopholes that lead to inequality by allowing the top 1 per cent to avoid paying taxes on their accumulated wealth.”
  • “No challenge – no challenge – poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.”

Jeffrey Simpson writes:

Could any Canadian imagine Prime Minister Stephen Harper saying such things? If Mr. Harper were a U.S. legislator, he would have been sitting in the House of Representatives chamber with the sullen-looking Republicans. The Republicans might have chosen Senator or Congressman Harper to deliver their critical reply to the President’s address.
The speech made clear just how much distance there is between Harper and Obama. I suspect that Obama really has little use for Harper -- a suspicion that is bolstered by Harper's cancellation of the Three Amigos Conference:

With political optics defining almost everything in Ottawa, the Harper government dreaded a late-February meeting in Canada featuring Mr. Harper, Mr. Obama and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. Planning had been proceeding until the Harper government abruptly announced it was pushing back the meeting until some unspecified later date.
What Ottawa dreaded was the public airing, on Canadian soil, of disputes over Keystone XL and Canadian visa requirements on Mexicans. This would not have looked good, since it would have underscored how clumsily the Harper government has played both files.
What has sent Canadian-American relations south, Simpson writes, is Harper's "grievance mentality:"
A grievance mentality has settled over the Harper government because of Keystone XL, which Mr. Obama obviously opposes, although no final decision has been rendered.
The grievance mentality is deepened by the sense that the Americans have given nothing in return for Canadian participation in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the venue Canada provided for the U.S.-Cuba talks. Things have improved a bit, but they got so bad a while ago that the U.S. ambassador to Canada had to get Prime Minister’s Office’s approval for meetings with cabinet ministers.
That grievance mentality, however, does not confine itself to Canadian-American relations. It defines everything Stephen Harper does. It shows through in his dealings with Parliament, with the provinces, with evironmental groups -- with anyone who opposes his agenda.
Harper came into politics with a chip on his shoulder -- a chip which has only grown bigger over the years. The man is the walking definition of  "grievance mentality."

Stephen Harper's Image Problem and the Con's Secret Weapon

Montreal Simon - Sat, 01/24/2015 - 05:01

Well as you can imagine, Stephen Harper is having a little trouble with his image these days.

He can't pose as a Great Economist Leader anymore, not with the disastrous state of the economy.

And although he is still trying to portray himself as a Great Strong Leader, as I pointed yesterday. 

He knows that image is fatally flawed...
Read more »

Stephen Harper and the Neoliberal Conspiracy

Montreal Simon - Sat, 01/24/2015 - 02:09

If you ever wonder how we could end up living in a world where the richest 80 people on Earth are now as wealthy as the 3.5 billion poorest people.

Or wonder why the top ten percent in Canada are wealthier than the rest of us.

Or wonder how the sinister ideologue Stephen Harper has managed to change this country so much.

Here's an excerpt from Donald Gutstein's excellent new book: Harperism: How Stephen Harper and his Think Tank Colleagues Have Transformed Canada.

And welcome to Steve's World and the neoliberal conspiracy. 
Read more »

Musical interlude

accidentaldeliberations - Fri, 01/23/2015 - 19:40
I Mother Earth - Used to be Alright

The Barbarism of Saudi Arabia and the Grotesque Hypocrisy of Stephen Harper

Montreal Simon - Fri, 01/23/2015 - 16:00

There couldn't be a more hypocritical or nauseating spectacle, the old king of the brutish terrorist kingdom of Saudi Arabia dies.

And western leaders fall over themselves praising him. With Britain's David Cameron even ordering that flags be flown at half-mast. 

While our disgusting Prime Minister Stephen Harper blubbers sympathetically. 
Read more »

A monster dies and the world mourns

Dawg's Blawg - Fri, 01/23/2015 - 13:50
A foul despot has just passed on, and the Western world is singing his praises. Speak no ill of the dead? There are always exceptions to that rule. And King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, one might have thought,... Dr.Dawg

Said the Man With the 145-Foot Yacht

The Disaffected Lib - Fri, 01/23/2015 - 10:04

He made his billions in real estate but Jeff Greene could have had a great career in stand-up.

Greene's private jet was one of 1,700 that conveyed the rich and powerful to the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos now underway.

In an interview with Bloomberg, the real estate entrepreneur, 60, with an estimated wealth of $3 billion said Americans have too high expectations of how their lives should be.

"America’s lifestyle expectations are far too high and need to be adjusted so we have less things and a smaller, better existence," he said.

"We need to reinvent our whole system of life."

Greene, who is on the Forbes 400 list, lives in Palm Beach, Florida, where he founded Florida Sunshine Investments, but also owns a string of luxurious properties across the US.

He added: "I’m remarkably long for my level of pessimism.

"Our economy is in deep trouble. We need to be honest with ourselves. We’ve had a realistic level of job destruction, and those jobs aren’t coming back."

"A realistic level of job destruction" indeed.  Of course it's hard to tell just what that means to a guy who raked in billions by gaming the sub-prime mortgage markets.  I expect the world looks a lot different when you're on the top perch of the vaunted 1%.  

It's Three Minutes to Midnight

The Disaffected Lib - Fri, 01/23/2015 - 09:40
The Cold War relic, the Doomsday Clock, has been moved two minutes and is now set at three minutes to midnight.

"Today, unchecked climate change and a nuclear arms race resulting from modernisation of huge arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity,” said Kennette Benedict, executive director of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in Chicago, the group of scientists which set the clock.

Although the clock is essentially a barometer, it is set by a team that includes 17 Nobel Prize winners and is taken extremely seriously.

The committee pointed out that greenhouse gas emissions have soared by 50 per cent since 1990, while more than £660bn of investment floods into fossil fuel infrastructure every year.

“The resulting climate change will harm millions of people and will threaten many key ecological systems on which civilisation relies. This threat looms over all of humanity,” said committee member Richard Somerville.

The report also raised considerable concerns about nuclear weapons.
“Since the end of the Cold War, there has been a cautious optimism about the ability of nuclear weapon states to keep the nuclear arms race in check and to walk back slowly from the precipice of nuclear destruction,” said Sharon Squassoni, a member of the clock committee.

“That optimism has essentially evaporated in the face of two trends: sweeping nuclear weapon modernisation programmes and a disarmament machinery that has ground to a halt,” she added.

The last time the clock read three minutes to midnight was in 1983 when “US-Soviet relations were at their iciest” according to the bulletin.


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