Posts from our progressive community

So-called "Free Trade" and the Presidential Election. . .

kirbycairo - Wed, 10/26/2016 - 13:53
Trade is one of the stranger political issues in recent years. For more than two decades now the left has been saying that the trade deals (even going back before the Uruguay Round of GATT negotiations), are not really "free-trade" deals at all, but are rather 'corporate rights' deals that are intended to strengthen the power of multinational corporations to set the economic agenda at national and international levels. There has always been plenty of evidence for this and the recent kerfuffle over CETA has demonstrated this remarkably well. These deals almost all contain clauses that strengthen the ability for foreign or multinational organizations to determine domestic economic and even social policy.

The main political parties in many Western nations have overwhelmingly supported these deals and done a great deal to hide the fact that these deals are not really concerned with open trade per se, but with the suppression of national governments' ability to institute policies that will protect their populations from outside forces. The Democrats and the Republicans in the US, for example, have always, with few exceptions, promoted these deals. Thus it comes as some surprise that a guy like Trump, who as far as I can tell never spoke against these deals until the past year or so (and has certainly taken advantage of these deals to increase his own wealth), is suddenly telling people that NAFTA and other such "trade deals" have been bad. (It is not, of course surprising that Bernie Sanders has spoken against such deals; he has been consistent on this issue throughout his career) It is predictable that much of the Republican establishment is upset by Trump's critique in this regard, given that the Republicans (even more than the Democrats) have promoted and benefited from these deals.

What is a little bit surprising is to see some Republican operatives (people who have supported so-called free trade for years or even decades) try to criticize Hillary Clinton for being in favour of them. Many Republicans have tried to use leaked speeches given by Clinton in which she talks of "open boarders" as a strike against her, even though what she has actually said matches exactly what the Republicans have always said. The problem is, of course, that the phrase "open boarders," a phrase that used to be associated specifically with the freer movement of goods and services, has now become associated with the movement of people. This is because of the way the rightwing in the US has been talking about the issue of undocumented workers and the perception among many Republicans that Democrats just want to fling open the boarders with Mexico and let everyone stream across into the US. (Whether any Republicans actually believe that any Democrats sincerely want this, is somewhat irrelevant. What is important is that they have used the idea as a political tool) But when Ms. Clinton used the phrase "open boarders" there is no reason to believe that she meant the free movement of people (in economic theory terms we can read the word "labour" here). Because with the exception of the European Union, no modern trade deal has ever included the free movement of people as individuals who are trading the commodity of their own labour power.  The kinds of deals that Clinton and the Republicans have supported for decades are never concerned with the most common and most traded commodity in the world: labour power.

Thus when Trump's various surrogates (particularly men like Newt Gingrich and Rudi Giuliani) criticize Clinton for 'secretly' wanting to open the boarders to anyone in North and South American who wants to come the the US and work, they are knowingly misleading people, and being supremely hypocritical. They are fully aware that Clinton's agenda is the expansion of already existing "free-trade" deals that are concerned with a) reducing trade barriers, and b) (and more importantly) giving corporations and other nations the ability to suppress social and economic programs in other countries.  But even if Clinton were talking about a North/South American Union similar to the EU, where people were allowed to cross boarders to work in different countries (and there is absolutely no reason to believe that she has ever promoted this), this would, in fact, be the logical outcome of any real notion of actual 'free-trade,' since to exclude the free movement of labour from a trade deal actually means to exclude the most important and commonly traded of all commodities.

Either way, if you look carefully, you can see Donald Trump's pant on fire.

The banality of evil: a case study

Dawg's Blawg - Wed, 10/26/2016 - 13:05
Adam Capay, a young First Nations man, has spent four years in solitary confinement, in a plexiglass cell where the lights are kept on 24 hours a day. He has not had a trial. He is now likely to be... Dr.Dawg

The Rise of Canada's Precariat. Thanks Morneau.

The Disaffected Lib - Wed, 10/26/2016 - 12:04

The natives are restless. There's a powerful anger simmering among the masses echoing a great and persistent discontent. Like the motto of that TV show, "winter is coming."

Just for a lark I went through the post captions on ProgBlog going back several days. Not a lot of happy campers there. Even the banishment of Beelzebub no longer is enough to lift spirits. The Selfie Sprite's wings are beginning to falter.

It's not hard to understand. There aren't may rays of sunshine these days. Most things seem to be trending the wrong way.

Now we've got a finance minister, some guy named Morneau, telling the kids that their job security is going to be a lot like the Arctic sea ice - vanishing and then gone. "Sorry kids, but you're fucked. Thanks for playing." Then, like Pilate, he washes his hands of their plight.

The rise of Canada's "precariat" is a lot like the rise of inequality in that it's engineered, legislated. Nobel laureate economist, Joe Stiglitz, demonstrates that inequality is not neither merit nor market-based. It's legislated. It's the inevitable side effect of government policy. If you're not familiar with it, check out his woefully under read book, "The Price of Inequality."

Precarity is both hammer and anvil. Those who fall into it are crushed between the two scourges of employment insecurity and financial insecurity. They live paycheque to paycheque, a lot of them chasing two or more jobs to make ends meet.

Morneau's announcement is a capitulation, a brazen dereliction of duty. He didn't say, "This is a nightmare for our kids. We have to deal with this." No, the Trudeau government's response is a simple, "Sorry kids, you're fucked."

Which brings me back to Osawatomie, Kansas in the summer of 1910 when Roosevelt delivered his Square Deal speech. A good part of that speech dealt with the struggle between labour and capital. He observed that a good worker was an asset to the employer but, more importantly, an asset to his family, to his community and, ultimately, to his nation. The wellbeing of the worker was the foundation of democratic governance. The duty of a democratic government was to regulate the struggle between labour and capital in accordance with Lincoln's declaration that, of the two, labour must be "by far the superior" of capital.

It strikes me that doesn't sound anything like what came out of the mouth of that guy, Morneau. Just what kind of a country does he think we will have when this precariat becomes the new normal? Let's face facts. The name "Liberal" has no meaning. This is a government in the "movement conservative" model. Laissez-faire leaches, the whores of neoliberalism.

If this government doesn't make bile rise in your throat, consider these passages scavenged from this blog and beginning with a 2012 piece on remarks by Noam Chomsky:

"In 2005, Citigroup came out with a brochure for investors called “Plutonomy: Buying Luxury, Explaining Global Imbalances.” It urged investors to put money into a “plutonomy index.” The brochure says, “The World is dividing into two blocs -- the Plutonomy and the rest.

"Plutonomy refers to the rich, those who buy luxury goods and so on, and that’s where the action is. They claimed that their plutonomy index was way outperforming the stock market. As for the rest, we set them adrift. We don’t really care about them. We don’t really need them. They have to be around to provide a powerful state, which will protect us and bail us out when we get into trouble, but other than that they essentially have no function. These days they’re sometimes called the “precariat” -- people who live a precarious existence at the periphery of society. Only it’s not the periphery anymore. It’s becoming a very substantial part of society in the United States and indeed elsewhere. And this is considered a good thing.

"So, for example, Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, at the time when he was still “Saint Alan” -- hailed by the economics profession as one of the greatest economists of all time (this was before the crash for which he was substantially responsible) -- was testifying to Congress in the Clinton years, and he explained the wonders of the great economy that he was supervising. He said a lot of its success was based substantially on what he called “growing worker insecurity.” If working people are insecure, if they’re part of the precariat, living precarious existences, they’re not going to make demands, they’re not going to try to get better wages, they won’t get improved benefits. We can kick ’em out, if we don’t need ’em. And that’s what’s called a “healthy” economy, technically speaking. And he was highly praised for this, greatly admired."

"As for the rest, we set them adrift." That sounds exactly like what Morneau was saying. And notice what Chomsky was divining from Greenspan's remarks? Capital has now learned how powerfully it can monetize precarity. Not forever perhaps, but for long enough. You can read the complete Chomsky piece here.
In June, 2015, Brian Stewart did a piece on a UN report on the rise of the global precariat
[The UN report] warns of "widespread insecurity" spreading as momentum shifts from societies with full-time jobs to shaky short-term employment across much of the globe.

Another scary fact the study unearths is how many people these days have stable work contracts of any kind. That's barely one in four of the globe's workforce.

The overwhelming majority of people on the planet struggle with temporary work, informal or illegal jobs, long spells of unemployment and unpaid family work.

In other words, most are caught in a disadvantageous spiral where exploitation is a real risk.

...What was once viewed as a passing crisis now seems to be the new normal, producing deep psychological unease within the workforce and growing inequality between those with stable incomes and those without.

Global financial officials are worried to the point they've again started using the term "hysteresis," borrowed from physics, to warn that long-established unemployment is becoming "structural" and therefore harder to correct, as the jobless lose skills and companies grow addicted to cheaper, temporary labour.

...It's hard to escape the feeling that even as our societies grow richer we are, bizarrely, looping backwards.

"The GDP per capita keeps going up. The problem is that we're not sharing the wealth at all equitably," says Wayne Lewchuk of McMaster University who researches precarious employment. "In many ways we've gone back to a 1920s mentality."

The Twenties did not have an encouraging outcome, as we know.

Still, looking at these striking global trends in joblessness and precarious work, as well as at the soaring refugee numbers and widening inequality, it's difficult to get around the nagging feeling that this century's forward movement has stalled and is on slippery ground.

The critical point is that, as Morneau throws our kids to the unregulated wolves of the market place and into the precariat, this has knock-on effects of an even greater magnitude. You throw in the towel, as this Liberal government has so shamefully done, and this malignancy becomes truly structural, an integral part of your economy. As that happens, it is accompanied by a structural shift in governance, the gradual and quiet end of democracy making way for the inevitable rise of plutocracy. 
Morneau is signalling Trudeau's refusal to defend Canada's democracy and the wellbeing of our society. Plain and simple. I'll end with a few remarks I wrote just before our 2015 election:
Look at what's happened in the States and realize that's where we're headed too if we continue to lay on these tracks waiting for the train.

If you want to get up off those tracks, you had better do it soon. What do you really know about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, TPP? Personally I don't know that much about it but I know someone who does, Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz, and he's written a dandy warning for all of us in The New York Times.

Read his warning. Then read his book, "The Price of Inequality." Learn what we're up against, what awaits us and our kids, and who is really responsible for making servitude our reality. Then, when you've had your fill, go to your stooge of choice - Tommy Boy or Junior - and ask them how they're going to undo this national headache before it becomes a full blown and permanent migraine.

If they won't act, don't vote for them. If you do, don't complain about what you've got coming.

The Uberization of Charitable Giving

Dammit Janet - Wed, 10/26/2016 - 11:22

Like most "disruptive" new ideas, at first the "100 Who Care" movement -- if it can be called that -- seems marvellously simple.

There's a good cause in your community. It needs a dose of cash. Call a few friends, who call a few friends, you get the idea. All get together and each write a cheque directly to the worthy cause and BAM!


That's what a woman named Karen Dunigan did.

The first 100 Women Who Care group was formed in November 2006 by Karen Dunigan of Jackson, Michigan, USA. At their first one-hour meeting, the Jackson 100 Women Who Care group raised $10,000 to buy 300 new baby cribs for an organization in their city! Their membership has now grown to nearly 300 members and many other cities across the United States and Canada have formed groups as well.
Indeed, now there's an alliance of these 350 loose groups.

While it started with women, now there are men who care, kids who care, and people who care groups.

Here is an account from the Star on 100 Women Who Care Toronto.

In describing the meeting, the writer says: "Think Dragon’s Den meets crowdfunding."

Local charities -- they must be registered charities for the tax receipts -- are nominated by members. Three charities are chosen at random to make their pitch to the assembled group. They vote, one is chosen, and they all whip out cheque books and BAM! $10,000 (or $100 times the number of members) is raised.

Direct, efficient, laudable.

But there's a problem. We call it the uberization of charitable giving.

By cutting out vetting, oversight, and ethical guidelines, and relying solely on the charities' pitches -- and their government-sanctioned charitable status -- these groups may achieve efficiency at the cost of responsibility and accountability.

I'm sure everyone walks out feeling great, but do they all know exactly what they're supporting?

We have identified five fake clinics, aka crisis pregnancy centres, who have benefitted from these groups.

We reported a few days ago on 100 Guys Who Share - Yarmouth County who donated $11,600 to the Tri-County Pregnancy Care Centre.

Since then, we've found four more.

Women Who Care Norfolk were persuaded by a fake-clinic pitch. (Look how the work is described.)
Outstanding!  The Norfolk Pregnancy Centre will receive $14,600 to purchase additional programming material and expand their services into Delhi. This organization provides leadership, guidance and support to young women and men as they embark on a new phase of life.  Professional volunteers are available to offer assistance on an as needed basis.[I wonder what a "professional volunteer" is.]

Women Who Care Stouffville chose the Markham/Stouffvillle Crisis Pregnancy Centre for a windfall gift.

Sunrise Pregnancy Centre was the recipient of a donation from Women Who Care Uxbridge

And Women Who Care Ottawa picked First Place Options, also the choice of the ill-fated fundraiser by the wives and girlfriends of the Ottawa Senators.

Given that Canada is overwhelmingly pro-choice, we have to question whether all these good, generous people understood that their hard-earned dough was going to anti-choice, anti-contraceptive, religious gangs who lie to and manipulate pregnant people out of choosing abortion as a response to a "crisis pregnancy."

Revisiting the Ottawa Senators' schmozzle, under the title Donor Beware, we pointed out that people need to check out what their money is supporting.


Most people see a charitable registration number and think "OK, fine. This group has been checked out by the government. It is accountable to the Canada Revenue Agency, who monitors its activities and finances."

And they write their cheques (under a bit of group pressure perhaps).

Maybe they all did know exactly what they were supporting. Great.

But we seriously doubt it.

#yqrvotes - Election Day Resources

accidentaldeliberations - Wed, 10/26/2016 - 08:20
While I haven't written much about Regina's municipal election (except for the column linked here), I'll point out a few of the resources worth considering before casting ballots today.

Again, Elections Regina's official information is here.

The Queen City Improvement Bureau's blog offers an opportunity to hear some of the candidates in action, while its latest podcast includes some analysis and predictions. CBC summarizes a few of the stories it's covered, while also pointing out how a lack of party structure leads to apathy at the municipal level. John Klein offers his choices among the candidates.

And while I won't put together a full set of endorsements or predictions, some of the candidates I'll encourage people to give a closer look include:
- Ward 3 - Andrew Stevens
- Ward 4 - Asfaw Debia
- Ward 6 - Shelley LaVallee
- Ward 7 - Leanne McKay
- Ward 9 - Aidan Wotherspoon
- Ward 10 - Brian Sklar
- Subdivision 2 - Aleana Young
- Subdivision 3 - Nathaniel Cole
- Subdivision 4 - Misty Longman
- Separate School Board - Wendy Gervais, Marg Romanow

Wednesday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Wed, 10/26/2016 - 06:57
Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Terry Pedwell reports that young workers who were apparently expected to provide Justin Trudeau with a public relations backdrop instead delivered an important dose of reality by protesting his appearance. And Angella MacEwen points out that contrary to the Libs' spin, there's in fact plenty a government can do to combat precarious work and financial insecurity:
I would advise the economic council to take a look at Senator Bellemare’s work on full employment, and Professor Marc Lavoie’s work on wage led growth. It might lead them in a policy direction that will benefit both growth and well-being.

For example, transfers such as the Canada Child Benefit will help to reduce poverty and inequality. Expanding the Working Income Tax Benefit would help make work pay, and make life a little easier for the working poor.

Expanding the social safety net by improving CPP will help down the road, and it absolutely reduces the stress of precarity when workers know they will have that pension when they retire.  The current design of Employment Insurance amplifies and exacerbates labour market inequalities, and ideally a social insurance system would work to dampen existing inequalities. A lower entrance requirement & minimum benefit level would go a long way to doing that.

The federal government could use Labour Market Development Agreements (LMDAs) with the provinces to provide more opportunities for training and re-training – and better supports for non-EI eligible workers who need access to basic numeracy and literacy training through Labour Market Agreements (LMAs).

High quality public services and social services are critical. I cannot overstate the need for more affordable childcare spaces in Canada, and the beneficial impact this would have on precarious workers.- Thomas Walkom suggests that some of the federal-provincial tension on health care can be alleviated by including home care under the list of core services administered under the Canada Health Act.

- But sadly (if less than surprisingly), the Libs couldn't seem less interested in public solutions to social problems - as Brent Patterson highlights the latest indication that Justin Trudeau has decided to ignore the anti-social nature of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, while David McDonald points out that the Libs' push toward privatization and outsourcing is contrary to the international trend in public service delivery.

- Susan Delacourt notes that amidst plenty of valid concern about the influence of money on politics, we could substantially eliminate that problem by restoring public funding.

- Finally, Monia Mazigh rightly argues that it's long past time to repeal Bill C-51. Craig Forcese examines (and offers some important warnings about) the use of secret national security laws in Canada. And Jeremy Nuttall offers some suggestions to modernize public access to information.

The Youth Voice is Our Voice

Politics and its Discontents - Wed, 10/26/2016 - 06:51
If ever there was ever any doubt about the neoliberal agenda being pursued by our 'new' government, Finance Minister Bill Morneau's recent comments removed all uncertainty. He asserted that precarious work is here to stay and Canadians must adapt to having a variety of jobs throughout their lives as they experience the euphemistically phrased 'job churn.' Never have I read a more bald admission of submission to the corporatocracy agenda.

The above was just one of the frustrations about the Trudeau government that a group of youth was voicing yesterday as a number of them turned their backs on the Prime Minister at the Canadian Labour Congress National Young Workers Summit in Ottawa. While precarious work is the problem they most immediately feel, they also did not forget about climate change, pipelines, and a litany of other issues that reveal the disparity between Trudeau's lofty rhetoric and the reality of the Harperesque policies the Liberals are following.

In my mind, we owe these young people a debt of gratitude for their refusal to be polite and pretending all is well. They are the voice of all who care about our world.

Recommend this Post

The Day Donald Trump Revealed His Inner Demons

Montreal Simon - Wed, 10/26/2016 - 05:07

As we all know, it's sometimes hard to tell whether Donald Trump is an extreme narcissist, or a clinical psychopath, or a sexual predator, or a raging maniac.

Or all of the above. 

But now we find out that on a rare occasion when Trump revealed his inner demons, they turned out to be more pathetic than frightening.
Read more »

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

accidentaldeliberations - Tue, 10/25/2016 - 16:20
Lounging cats.

"You Can't Respect People Because Most People Aren't Worthy of Respect."

The Disaffected Lib - Tue, 10/25/2016 - 08:53

So says the man who proclaims himself the "voice of the people," Donald J. Trump, Republican nominee for president of the United States. The New York Times, no fan of The Donald, has obtained five hours of interviews with Trump conducted in 2014. Part one is now available online at the link above.

Tuesday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Tue, 10/25/2016 - 05:55
This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Dani Rodrik discusses the growing public opposition to new corporate-dominated trade deals based on the lessons we've learned from previous ones:
Instead of decrying people’s stupidity and ignorance in rejecting trade deals, we should try to understand why such deals lost legitimacy in the first place. I’d put a large part of the blame on mainstream elites and trade technocrats who pooh-poohed ordinary people’s concerns with earlier trade agreements.

The elites minimized distributional concerns, though they turned out to be significant for the most directly affected communities. They oversold aggregate gains from trade deals, though they have been smallish since at least NAFTA. They said sovereignty would not be diminished though it clearly was in some instances. They claimed democratic principles would not be undermined, though they are in places. They said there’d be no social dumping though there clearly is at times. They advertised trade deals (and continue to do so) as “free trade” agreements, even though Adam Smith and David Ricardo would turn over in their graves if they read, say, any of the TPP chapters.

And because they failed to provide those distinctions and caveats, now trade gets tarred with all kinds of ills even when it’s not deserved. If the demagogues and nativists making nonsensical claims about trade are getting a hearing, it is trade’s cheerleaders that deserve some of the blame.

One more thing. The opposition to trade deals is no longer solely about income losses. The standard remedy of compensation won’t be enough — even if carried out. It’s about fairness, loss of control, and elites’ loss of credibility. It hurts the cause of trade to pretend otherwise.- Scott Sinclair and Stuart Trew point out why progressives have reason to oppose the CETA, while Craig Scott rightly questions the Libs' spin on it And Gareth Hutchins reports on Canada's experience with challenges to democratic legislation under NAFTA as a cautionary tale for other countries.

- Jeremy Gilbert writes about the need for a social movement (going far beyond the partisan political scene) to provide a meaningful alternative to neoliberalism.

- Bob Mackin reports that the Vancouver International Airport Authority's CEO is highlighting the dangers of a selloff of airport assets. And Bill Curry notes that cities are raising important questions about the Libs' musings about diverting direct infrastructure funding toward an "infrastructure bank".

- Finally, James Wilt examines the utter incoherence of Brad Wall's excuse for a climate change plan.

Donald Trump and Les Deplorables

Montreal Simon - Tue, 10/25/2016 - 03:40

I love the musical Les Miserables. I love the songs, and the way the characters  celebrate revolution.

Even if it ends badly.

Because I believe that only a revolution can save us and the world we live in.

But Donald Trump has a version of Les Miserables called Les Deplorables... 
Read more »

What's a Progressive to do?

kirbycairo - Mon, 10/24/2016 - 18:41
As much as I would like it to be otherwise, I really think that any optimism that the Liberal government would be significantly different from the Harper government on some of the most substantive issues, has turned out to be misplaced. I understand why a number of progressives are having a hard time letting go of their hope for Trudeau, but that hope is beginning to look increasingly naive. There is no doubt that Trudeau brought a different tone to government, and on foreign policy, though he has yet to face a significant test, he certainly seems like an improvement on Harper in a number of ways. However, on healthcare, energy and the environment, native issues (and this a particularly painful one to face), and on the neo-liberal trade approach, Trudeau is really so close to Harper that there is little to choose between them.

Here are some interesting stories concerning this difficult dilemma -

On the Economy - Thomas Walkom has some interesting observations.

On Progressive politics - Tom Parkin has this to say.

On the Precariate - Bill Morneau (who is married into one of the richest families in Canada) tells the rest of us we just need to suck it up.

On Native issues - Dene Moore reminds us that indigenous leaders are already giving Trudeau a failing grade. And you can hear Murray Sinclair saying that Trudeau is breeching the "Indian residential schools" settlement.

These are just the articles I found in a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, to see a startling example of how the Liberals are mimiking the Conservative's arrogance and total lack of concern for real people's lives, we only have to look at what Liberal MP Nick Whalen had to say.

I know a few progressives are desperately trying to give Trudeau and the Liberals the benefit of the doubt. But in my experience, governments veer further away from their promises as time goes on, not closer. I think it is little short of folly to imagine that Trudeau isn't another neo-liberal who, despite his smiles and selfies, is quickly making it clear that three years from now, working-people, indigenous people, and the environment will be little or no better off than they would have been under the Conservatives. (Granted, of course, that the Conservatives might have gotten considerably worse if they had actually won another election)

I am willing to give kudos to Trudeau for steering us away from the racist rhetoric that the Cons were, and still are, spew. On the issue of democratic reform, we will just have to wait and see.

Justin, Andrew Would Like a Moment of Your Time

The Disaffected Lib - Mon, 10/24/2016 - 15:43

Is petro-statehood the path that leads to the Americanization of Canada? It kind of looks that way to Canada's top petro-journo, Andrew Nikiforuk.

The Tyee energy scribe sees Justin as "Harper-lite with a surfboard." Rachel Notley is one who thinks a bad bet can be transformed into a winner if only you double down. As for Brad Wall, he offers this:

In Saskatchewan, Premier Brad Wall has compared pipelines to economic miracle workers even as his petro-province flounders thanks to the overproduction of heavy oil in a glutted market.

(Wall’s subservience to petroleum interests, by the way, has taken on Trump-like proportions. The province’s recent Throne Speech even dubbed proposals to limit climate change as “misguided dogma.”)

For these misguided petro-pols, Nikiforuk offers up "four hard truths."
Numero Uno - first and foremost, there is no way, as in none, to clean up a bitumen spill.

There's a reason the Harper government and now the Trudeau government have resolutely dodged this issue. They know it can't be cleaned up. If they could the easiest way to respond to opponents would be to demonstrate that they can clean it up. 
Yet our bitumen-besotted politicians would have British Columbia gamble with its fisheries, tourism and coast on the bold lie that diluted bitumen, a dirtier product than crude, can be cleaned up in a timely and tidy fashion.

Because the low-grade heavy oil must be diluted with a gasoline-like product to move through a pipeline, it presents an even graver logistical challenge than a conventional spill.

A 2015 report by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences summed up the nature of the dirty problem: “Spills of diluted bitumen into a body of water initially float and spread while evaporation of volatile compounds may present health and explosion hazards, as occurs with nearly all crude oils. It is the subsequent weathering effects, unique to diluted bitumen, that merit special response strategies and tactics.

So what do Justin and his enviromin, Dame Cathy, have in mind for a bitumen spill on the B.C. coast? They've authorized the use of Corexit for chrissake! Corexit, the thalidomide for marine habitats. It's promoted as an oil dispersant but it's really a highly toxic, persistent chemical brew that causes oil to sink, out of sight/out of mind. And, once stuck to the bottom, which around here can be 600 feet or more below the surface, it can leach out its heavy metals, acids and carcinogens for decades, possibly generations, fouling the marine habitat.
Numero Dos - the economic case for pipelines has totally collapsed.
According to the lovestruck politicians, bitumen exports to China will make Canadians rich, and the sulfur-rich crude will miraculously command a higher dollar with marine access.

But bitumen will always require higher transportation costs and more upgrading and processing due to its appalling quality. As a consequence, it has always sold at a price differential of around $6 to $7 dollars to conventional oil.

This historic differential widened when the Alberta government rubber-stamped so many projects that industry flooded the North American market with bitumen between 2000 and 2008. The differential dropped again to historic norms as more and more refineries in the U.S. retrofitted to process heavy oil.

The Parliamentary Budget Office explained these elementary facts in 2013, but politicians beset by hydrocarbon hallucinations have trouble reading. The PBO emphasized that eliminating the discount paid for bitumen relative to conventional oil “is not realistic, as there is a significant difference in the quality of these crude oil benchmarks that is reflected in the price difference.”

Now you have to ask yourself why would oil companies keep pushing bitumen if it has become uneconomic? A corporate finance guy explained that they have to keep it going, even at a loss. That allows them to keep harvesting executive salaries and bonuses. It allows them to avoid having to tell shareholders that bitumen is no longer really viable, especially without massive government subsidies. That could lead to greater problems - a bursting of the carbon bubble foremost among them. All of those hard truths may come out, just not on their watch. Leave it to the next guy or the one after him. Let them take the heat.

Numero Tres - bitumen cannibalizes the economy.

Nearly 100 years ago, it cost but one barrel of conventional crude to find and pump another 100 barrels. Today those energy returns now average about one to 20. In the U.S., they’ve fallen to one to 10 and in the oil sands they have collapsed to one to three, or in some cases close to zero. In simple terms, bitumen doesn’t bring home the bacon.

Our world was built on easy energy returns the same way, say, grizzly bears once depended on easy salmon fishing for comfortable winter living. Abundant energy returns from cheap oil fed the growth of government, funded healthcare and encouraged much civility. Expensive energy constricts that flow and shrinks the public sphere.

Unfortunately, mined bitumen and fracked oil aren’t easy, cheap or carbon neutral. Companies extracting fracked oil from Texas and North Dakota typically spend four times more than what they make. Bitumen miners aren’t much better. They burn more energy and capital, and all to deliver fewer returns and surpluses to society. It’s like cycling backwards.

Yet no one in Alberta or Ottawa talks about declining energy returns or its political and economic implications. The consequences generally include words like collapse, ruin and volatility.

Numero Quatro"Climate disruption and carbon anarchy aren’t a distant threat... they’re here now."How many times must ordinary people be slapped in the face before our politicians grasp the gravity of the insult?

Climate disruption, driven by oil consumption and forest destruction, has become a global insurgency that can only be combated by rapidly changing patterns of energy consumption. That means using less energy and living locally. Pipelines and their political champions now look and behave like horsemen of the apocalypse.

The emissions math on climate change in Canada is now pretty simple. Environment Canada states it boldly: “Emissions of GHGs from the oil and gas sector have increased 79 per cent from 107 megatonnes (Mt) in 1990 to 192 Mt CO2 in 2014. This increase is mostly attributable to the increased production of crude oil and the expansion of the oil sands industry."

What this all boils down to is that Harper stuck Canada with a lousy bet on bitumen. He's gone but now the new guy, Trudeau, along with Alberta's Notley and Saskatchewan's Wall, want to double down on that same lousy bet.

From my perspective on the west coast the fact that these hucksters - Trudeau, Notley and Wall - know that there's no way to clean up a bitumen spill off our coast is enough for me to see them, not as fellow Canadians, but as a threat. They know that if they had a shred of decency and consideration for the coast and for the territory between the Tar Sands and "tidewater" they want pipelines to cross, the very least they could do to even partly reduce the catastrophic damage of an oil spill is to refine that bitumen into synthetic crude oil on site in Alberta. They won't entertain the idea and that's why we've got nothing to talk about.

From the perspective of central and eastern Canada, it's still a lousy deal. It's an economic boondoggle and an enormous waste of federal and provincial subsidies, money that could be put to something, anything useful.

In the context of climate change, it's lousy for the nation and lousy for the world. Even for today's already sullied Canada, it's a disgraceful thing for us to do.

Monday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Mon, 10/24/2016 - 08:07
Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Thomas Walkom writes that the federal Libs' idea of "real change" for the economy reflects nothing more than the same old stale neoliberal playbook:
At its core, the federal government’s “bold” new plan for economic growth is strikingly familiar.

The scheme, worked out by Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s hand-picked advisory panel, relies on privatization, deregulation, public-private partnerships and user fees.

It would reserve profitable public infrastructure for the private sector but have governments alone foot the bill for those schemes — such as environmental remediation and First Nations projects — that are destined to lose money.

It would have the government set up a new agency to convince foreign investors that Canada is open for business.
The panel, if I understand it correctly, thinks it insufficient to simply have the government borrow money at rock-bottom interest rates in order to build the things that need to be built.

Rather, it wants private capital to build and own, in whole or in part, these new infrastructure projects.

To make ownership worthwhile to private investors, the government would “attach revenue streams” to both new projects and to some already in existence.

Simply put, this means figuring out way to let private participants reap profits from, say, a bridge or subway line.

This is an old strategy. It is the one that underlies, for example, Ontario’s Highway 407, a toll road built with money raised by the provincial government and owned by private-sector operators.

It is also the strategy behind the current Ontario Liberal government’s baffling plan to sell off most of Hydro One, the provincial electricity transmission monopoly.
The problem with privatization is that it usually ends up costing consumers more. Various auditors general around the world, including Ontario’s, have made that point when examining public-private partnerships. - Michael Harris warns Justin Trudeau about the dangers of breaking his most important promises (in terms of public cynicism as well as partisan outcomes), while Tom Parkin notes that we shouldn't be surprised to see the Libs once again taking progressive support for granted. The Star's editorial board argues that it's particularly important to keep commitments to accountable government, while Dene Moore reports that indigenous leaders are rightly calling out Trudeau's year of failures. And Karl Nerenberg calls Trudeau out for personally undermining his own promise of electoral reform.

- But if there's anything worse than breaking one-time promises, it's a government's inclination to approach all problems from an anti-social perspective - and Lib Finance Minister Bill Morneau's declaration that workers should settle for precarious lives looks particularly telling on that front. Meanwhile, Peter Armstrong reports on the fading prospects for retirement among younger generations of workers.

- Steven Pressman argues that income inequality should be the core test for the U.S.' next president, while Kate Pickett reminds us why it remains a vital issue everywhere.

- Finally, Sam Pizzigati proposes a minimum base tax rate on the wealthy to help rein in inequality at both ends of the income spectrum.

The Art Of The Deal: A Guest Post By John B.

Politics and its Discontents - Mon, 10/24/2016 - 06:32

In response to yesterday's post about free trade, John B. provided a detailed commentary that derves a separate posting. Below is what he wrote:

Are any Canadians asking?

I find the current tap dance we are witnessing reminiscent of the public displays of angst and pretense of desperation by Mulroney and Burney a generation ago over the possibility that the Canada-US deal was in peril because of American apprehension. I've always believed that we were the unwitting dupes of a ruse designed to seduce an uninformed public into assuming, without any further analysis and consideration of what it would occasion that, because a negotiating and simultaneously competing business partner had some reservations, the deal must certainly be much more beneficial to Canada than to its supposedly hesitant deal partner at whose expense the anticipated benefit was to be achieved.

On Saturday when I met up socially with a couple of old acquaintances, both university-educated persons, one of them initiated a discussion of the current CETA situation. They're not people who are generally uninformed: one has an honours degree in history; and the other is a retired police chief. Before I had said anything on the subject, one of them introduced a conversation expressing his displeasure that an insignificant region of a country that had been freed from oppression by Canadian efforts during the Second World War would dare to obstruct an enterprise beneficial to Canadian interests. As my grade eight history teacher would have said: "Shades of the CUSFTA." My pal had made the assumption, just as many other Canadians must have done when Mulroney submitted his star performance, that the other side was balking because the relative benefits of the deal were so heavily weighted in Canada's favour. (There must be a term that marketing specialists use for this baloney sales tactic. Maybe it's got its own chapter in "The Art of the Deal" or "Think and Grow Rich".) After listening to the others' comments, I interjected my opinions on the I-SDS and ICS factors, the enhanced corporate opportunity for achieving regulatory capture and the implications of transnational labour mobility, and briefly stated my view that an insignificant component of this and other "trade" deals actually has anything to do with trade and tariffs. Both of them looked at me as though they didn't speak English and then one of them said that he didn't remember whether he had ever even heard of the CETA prior to Friday. The other one then said that he thought he had heard the first mention of he could recall it earlier in the week.

Now consider what they've been putting on the TV regarding this subject since the hiccup in Belgium on broadcasts that purport to be political and economic analysis : Ed Fast lambasting the Liberals for possibly wrecking his deal when all they had to do was to get it signed; Kevin O'Leary, while Evan Solomon grins from the other side of the interview, ranting in full leadership campaign mode that, because of Freeland's apparent failure, we should now question the competence of all of Selfie-Boy Zoolander's cabinet choices; a private equity and derivatives exchange expert telling Michael Serapio that "trade deals are win-win deals" and that the uncertainty in Wallonia is "absolutely appalling"; and, as we should expect, no discussion dealing with the substance of the objections.

So what's my point? It's that there must certainly be some convergence of interests that has willed the Canadian public to be kept in the dark and cooked the pablum we are being served.

What has happened during the CETA negotiations under both political parties seems to have taken it all up a notch. How did Canada become the headwaiter to and chief water carrier for the global investor-rights business lobby? What additional net benefit are we expected to assume will accrue to the country's economy through the adoption of this irregular national policy as a standard practice? Have we become the go-to guy for the transnational commerce management industry? I'll leave it up to someone smarter and better informed to consider those questions. But I'll suggest that an investigation into some revolving doors and the subsequent career choices of former negotiators and political leaders might provide some possible answers. Maybe Dominic Barton could make some explanation that relates to what's happening now under the Sunny Ways Corps.

With respect to Mound's comment on the possibility of abuses in investor claims, it seems that another innovative market has already emerged from the vibrancy and dynamism of the I-SDS protection racket: this Post

Is the Harper Party Becoming the Trump Party?

Montreal Simon - Mon, 10/24/2016 - 06:04

As you know I always predicted that the Con leadership race was going to be a real circus.

But who knew there would be so many candidates. Twelve and counting.

Or that it would be such a fascist circus.

For look who just joined the race.
Read more »

Keeping His Word

Northern Reflections - Mon, 10/24/2016 - 06:03

Justin Trudeau came to office, claiming he would put an end to the cynicism of the Harper years. Michael Harris writes:

When Justin Trudeau was running to become prime minister, he said that cynicism — about the future, the fate of our kids, and most especially the political establishment — was a serious problem. Somehow, someone just had to win back the public’s faith in the system. Otherwise, we would become a society of malcontents, nay-sayers, and self-seekers divorced from any meaningful sense of community. The national myth for those people would be that the whole shooting match was rigged against them for the benefit of the few.
On two critical files -- electoral reform  and the environment -- Trudeau has been backing away from his promises:

The prime minister found himself in a firestorm of criticism when he suggested in an interview with Le Devoir that he was backing away from his commitment to ending Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral system. The implication of his words was that his election had somehow fixed the problem, or made it far less urgent at very least. That sparked one commentator on social media to ask for a retraction of Trudeau’s words or his recall.

Trudeau was supposed to be the antidote to years of Conservative mismanagement on the environment. At best, his record has been spotty, at worst, a betrayal of environmentalists who saw him as their champion.

While it is true Trudeau has finally put a price on carbon emissions, it is also true that he supported the Site C dam project in British Columbia, despite the opposition of environmentalists, First Nations leaders, Amnesty International, and the Royal Society of Canada.

The Trudeau government has also failed to legislate its own moratorium on oil-tanker traffic on the North Coast of the province. Instead, it has given conditional approval to Pacific NorthWest LNG’s massive $39-billion project that will also create five million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually should it ever be built. Not exactly what the summiteers in Paris had in mind — nor a lot of voters in British Columbia who went Liberal. 
South of the border, we are presently witnessing a lesson about the wages of cynicism:

Part of what everyone is witnessing in the U.S. Presidential election is the extent to which “every day Americans” hate the political establishment with a passion once reserved for the country’s foreign enemies. So desperate have these people become, so overwhelming has been the avalanche of lies and betrayals visited on them by politicians of all stripes, that 50 million Americans are about to vote for a man whose preferred form of greeting women is a hearty grope.  
If Justin is wise, he'll keep his word.

Donald Trump and the Women Who Brought Him Down

Montreal Simon - Mon, 10/24/2016 - 04:27

With only fifteen days to go before the U.S. election, if we were on a plane this would be about the time when the pilot announces "we're now on final approach."

Or if you're on the Trump plane the pilot screams "Mayday!! Mayday!! Only God can save us!!!! 

Hillary Clinton has vaulted to a double-digit advantage in the inaugural ABC News 2016 election tracking poll, boosted by broad disapproval of Donald Trump on two controversial issues: His treatment of women and his reluctance to endorse the election’s legitimacy.

Unless you're Donald Trump of course, who is still screaming "MAGA!!! MAGA!!! My campaign is not nosediving!!!!"
Read more »

i look forward to the day when no one wears a fitbit anymore

we move to canada - Mon, 10/24/2016 - 04:00
What did people do before Fitbit? Without their adorable little bracelets, how did they get enough exercise? Never mind that, how did they manage to live?? All those lonely, barren years, decade upon decade, people running, swimming, cycling, lifting, walking -- without a Fitbit. Can you imagine? It breaks my heart just thinking about it.

Pre-Fitbit, I often didn't know if people were exercising at all! Imagine! I might be speaking to someone who was getting enough exercise, and I wouldn't even know it! Unless the subject came up, I wouldn't know how many steps they had walked that day! What a scary thought.


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