Posts from our progressive community

Are Conservatives Too Dumb to Govern?

Montreal Simon - 33 min 59 sec ago

We already knew that the brains of progressives and conservatives are wired differently.

And that Cons have a larger fear gland

Peering inside the brain with MRI scans, researchers at University College London found that self-described conservative students had a larger amygdala (link is external) than liberals. The amygdala is an almond-shaped structure deep in the brain that is active during states of fear and anxiety.

The conservative party is big on national defense and magnifies our perception of threat, whether of foreign aggressors, immigrants, terrorists, or invading ideologies like Communism. To a conservative, the world really is a frightening place.

Which explains so much...
Read more »

Sunday Sermon

Politics and its Discontents - 9 hours 37 min ago
As a special service for those of you who missed attending your house of worship today, I offer the following two orators for your discernment. You will notice a common theme as they discuss the impending wrath of their very strange, intolerant deity:

You will have to click here to 'enjoy' a fiery rant by someone named Rick Wiles, who seems theologically tuned in to Pastor Pat's frequency.Recommend this Post

The Flowering of Progressive Alberta

Rusty Idols - 9 hours 45 min ago
"You thought you could bury us.
You forgot we were seeds."
~ Mexican proverbCanada's Texas.   The prairie bible belt.  The queer hating, union busting, healthcare privatizing redneck with a copy of Atlas Shrugged home of the Canadian Conservative movement.

Stereotypes that have never represented anything more than the most superficial understanding of this province.

North America's most successful socialist movement was founded in Calgary in 1932 when the CCF, later to be known as the NDP held their founding convention here.  Over the years Alberta has frequently flirted with socialism, both directly through the NDP and the early days of the United Farmers of Alberta's dozen years in power and through the mirror crack'd version of Social Credit.  Today's NDP has morphed into a center left good government party and the Alberta version in particular is a very pragmatic and centrist party, but socialism wasn't always a bad word in Alberta.

Social Credit was on its last legs in 1971 and people forget the Progressive Conservative insurgency of Peter Lougheed really was a somewhat progressive alternative.  They swept away embarrassing Social Credit weirdness like the forced sterilization of 'defectives' that was still going on in 1971 and DOUBLED oil royalties.

Lougheed's pragmatic mix of conservatism and progressiveness and flashy battles with the federal government and oil corporations made him a superstar and the Tories have coasted on his reign ever since while abandoning all his best ideas.

The NDP have been the official opposition multiple times in Alberta and many still believe only the untimely death of popular NDP leader Grant Notley kept them from becoming the government in 1986.

His daughter is now poised to become Premier according to poll after poll, but even if she doesn't Progressive Alberta is out of the bottle now and showing off our magic.

Alberta will never be the same


Sunday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - 12 hours 22 min ago
This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Michael Kraus, Shai Davidai and A. David Nussbaum discuss the myth of social mobility in the U.S. And Nicholas Kristof writes that inequality is a choice rather than an inevitability:
Yet while we broadly lament inequality, we treat it as some natural disaster imposed upon us. That’s absurd. The roots of inequality are complex and, to some extent, reflect global forces, but they also reflect our policy choices.
In his new book, “The Great Divide,” Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, includes two chapters whose titles sum it up: “Inequality Is Not Inevitable” and “Inequality Is a Choice.”
“I overheard one billionaire — who had gotten his start in life by inheriting a fortune — discuss with another the problem of lazy Americans who were trying to free ride on the rest,” Stiglitz writes. “Soon thereafter, they seamlessly transitioned into a discussion of tax shelters.”
Say what?
We as a nation have chosen to prioritize tax shelters over minimum wages, subsidies for private jets over robust services for children to break the cycle of poverty. And the political conversation is often not about free rides by corporations, but about free rides by the impoverished.- Sean Illing duly calls out David Brooks' attempt to paint the effects of systemic poverty as personal moral failings. And Jason Silverstein notes that racial health disparities have everything to do with social conditions rather than genetics.

- Anita Burke comments that we should be embarrassed by the pathetic response to the English Bay oil spill and resulting environmental damage. But Stanley Tromp reports that the spill didn't tell the U.S. anything it didn't know, as it's been concerned about the Cons' neglect of the possible effects of marine oil spills for years.

- Meanwhile, Dean Beeby reports that the Sierra Club is just the latest environmental group coming under attack by the CRA.

- Adrian Morrow reports on polling showing that Ontarians want nothing to do with the Wynne Libs' privatization schemes. And rightly not, given how a similar plan to shuffle funding into corporate profits rather than the public interest is harming public transportation safety in Ontario and Saskatchewan alike.

- Finally, Jonathan Goldsbie offers another take on George Lakoff's advice to progressives in framing political messages.

what i'm reading: salt sugar fat by michael moss

we move to canada - 13 hours 58 min ago
Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss is an excellent addition to a bookshelf that includes works by Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, Marian Nestle and others who write about the health of our food and the un-health of the industrial food system. Moss lifts the curtain on the giant corporations that engineer and market convenience foods and processed foods. What he reveals is largely invisible to us on a daily basis, yet affects our society significantly - and catastrophically.

Moss is a seasoned investigative reporter - he was the first to expose trans fats, and more recently "pink slime" - and this book is a tour de force of research. Moss takes you to the laboratory and the board room, where chemical engineers and marketing executives contrive to get North Americans eating more and more of everything unhealthy. (The book is written in a US context, but it is equally relevant to Canada.)

Salt Sugar Fat is full of wonderful mini-histories of corporations like Kellogg's and Kraft, and eye-popping demographic data about what North Americans eat. You'll learn how our food has become increasingly sweeter, increasing both our tolerance and desire for ever-sweeter food. How we eat three times as much cheese as we did 40 years ago, now that cheese - or more accurately, a processed substance distantly related to real cheese - is used as an additive in countless foods. And especially, the myriad ways that the holy trinity of salt-sugar-fat is used by food engineers to encourage overconsumption.

Here's an example of a little gem I gleaned from this book. I've always scoffed at fruit drinks that are cynically marketed as containing "10% real juice," meaning, of course, that they are 90% water and sugar. For people accustomed to drinking soda (pop), 10% real juice may seem like a healthy improvement. But Moss describes the how the "juice" in those drinks is created.
At is extreme, the process results in what is known within the industry as "stripped juice," which is basically pure sugar, almost entirely devoid of the fiber, flavors, aromas, and any of the other attributes we associate with real fruit. In other words, the concentrate is reduced to just another form of sugar, with no nutritional benefit over table sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. Rather, its value lies in the healthy image of the fruit that it retains. ... A company like General Foods can use this stuff and still put the comforting words contains real fruit on the box.Much of Salt Sugar Fat is about economics. Moss quotes a parade of food executives - whistleblowers and industry faithfuls alike - who are all caught in the same trap: reduce the amount of salt, sugar, or fat, and the product's taste will suffer drastically. Therefore consumers will buy less. Therefore consumers will buy the competitor product without the reduced additives. And therefore the company cannot reduce the additives.

When reductions are possible, they are immediately offset. It is a principle of the processed food industry - the first commandment, the sacrosanct law - that a reduction in one of the trinity must be countered with an increase in another. Is the product lower fat? Then it is higher in salt. Is it slightly lower in salt? Then it is higher in sugar. Without copious amounts of these three ingredients in various engineered forms, processed food would be completely inedible.

One such tale from within Kraft Foods said it all. A group of high-level insiders was very concerned about the health implications of the company's products. There was no getting around it anymore: these processed foods are contributing to skyrocketing rates of hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes. (Moss refers to this as "the obesity epidemic," but it is actually about health, not weight.) These Kraft insiders fought against a deeply entrenched corporate culture, risking their livelihoods, to force their colleagues to face these facts. They worked very hard, and succeeded in reducing some of the salt-sugar-fat in the company's products by a tiny bit. Only a tiny bit, one might say, but a start.

Then the sales figures came in. These concerned insiders were immediately slapped down by the board of directors, speaking for the shareholders. Wall Street reminded the company that they are not in the business of caring about what consumers eat. They are in the business of making money. The executive behind the internal movement was demoted, her career significantly curtailed.

Are companies trying to do better? Moss crunches the numbers.
"In Capri Sun alone we took out 120 billion calories," [Kraft executive] Firestone said. ... "We've looked at the amount of sodium we've taken out. Last year was six million pounds, and we're going to add nine billion servings of whole grain between now and 2013..."

If those numbers sound impressive consider what Michelle Obama manged to wrestle out of the entire processed food industry in 2010, after asking for their help in fighting obesity. "I am thrilled to say that they have pledged to cut a total of one trillion calories from the food they sell annually by the year year 2012, and 1.5 trillion calories by 2015," she announced. ...

The math on all this, however, is less compelling. If everyone in America consumed the standard 2,000 calories a day, or 730,000 a year, the 1.5 trillion in saved calories would reduce our collective eating by not quite 1 percent. Its actually bleaker than that, according to some health policy experts. In reality, many of us consume far more than 2,000 calories, and processed foods make up a large part, but not all, or our diets. So the real drop in consumption from those 1.5 trillion calories is likely much less than that 1 percent. Still, it's a start.Is it? Salt Sugar Fat leads one to question a system that would rely on these industries to safeguard consumer health. And what about the government agencies tasked with keeping the industries in check? They are a significant part of the problem.
With the American people facing an epidemic of obesity and hardened arteries, the "People's Department" doesn't regulate fat as much as it grants the industry's every wish. Indeed, when it comes to the greatest sources of fat - meat and cheese - the Department of Agriculture has joined industry as a full partner in the most urgent mission of all: cajoling the people to eat more.Moss frequently notes the connections between the processed food industry and the tobacco industry. Kraft and General Foods - the two mega-giants of processed food - were for a long time owned by the Philip Morris corporation. Kraft and General Foods, now one company, are no longer owned by Big Tobacco, but the marketing and engineering principles of that industry informed the companies' cultures and decision-making. The language of addiction and the view of salt-sugar-fat as narcotics run through this book.

When reading Salt Sugar Fat, it's difficult to avoid the conclusion that this is, at bottom, an economic problem. Moss touches on these issues; for example, he mentions more than once the class divide between the food industry executives, who never eat their own products, and their customers. But I wish he went further. For example, Moss writes about the convenience stores overloaded with processed foods, selling no fresh foods at all, and the insidious (and invisible) industry practices that cause this. But he mentions only once, in passing, that these same neighbourhoods are usually food deserts, making processed food laden with salt-sugar-fat the only option for many low-income families.

Another economic factor Moss alludes to, but doesn't examine, is something we hear about all the time in a non-economic context: families are so busy now, both parents work (usually portrayed as "more women are in the workforce"), families don't have time to cook proper meals. That's worth examining, too. Why are families so much busier now, why do both parents work? One principal reason: for most people, it's impossible to raise a family on one income, because the cost of living, especially housing costs, has far outstripped wages.

For anyone writing about the food industry and overconsumption, economic factors are an intrinsic part of the picture. Moss understands that. I just wish he went further.

It's not only an economic issue, of course. It's also an education issue. In my workplace yesterday, a colleague left some "healthy" cereal out to share. Its packaging was full of claims like "no preservatives" and "all natural". Everything about it, down to the colours and fonts used on the packaging said "healthy" and "alternative". The first four ingredients, in order, were: sugar, wheat, corn syrup, and honey. That is, three of the four top ingredients are sugar. And the wheat is not even whole grain, so the human body processes it largely as sugar.

In the end, Moss concludes that we have a choice. We control what we buy. We control what we eat. We can choose to not eat processed food and convenience food.

That is technically true. But it is also incomplete, reductionist, and disingenuous, as Moss himself has shown in more than 400 pages of excellent writing and impeccable research. The individual consumer must be extremely motivated, and blessed with a mighty will, to withstand the economic, social, cultural, and biological forces stacked up against her. The stuff is engineered to make us over-consume, our bodies are biologically programmed to like the stuff and want more ofi t, and many of us cannot afford to do otherwise.

Despite these critiques, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us is page-turning, eye-opening, thought-provoking book that I highly recommend.

Harper's Jihad - Part Two

Politics and its Discontents - 15 hours 15 min ago

As I have written elsewhere on this blog, I am convinced that humans (along with other primates) have an innate sense of fairness, one that is regularly violated in so many ways by the Harper regime. Yesterday I wrote a post about the bald and unsavoury political motivations behind Dear Leader's crusade against Muslims both domestic and foreign. One egregious example is his ongoing war against Omar Khadr, the latest skirmish involving the government's efforts to prevent the former child soldier from being released on bail.

Happily, there is ample evidence from a host of Star letter writers that Canadians feel deep outrage at this persecution, and see through Harper's divisive and self-serving rhetoric. Here is just a small sampling of those letters:

Re: Free at last, almost, Editorial April 25
Re: Let the Khadr furor fade away with him, April 27

What is the matter with Mr. Harper? Why this persistence in hounding this young man, who as a child was prosecuted in the U.S. and served most of his time. We Canadians believe in being fair and we try not to demand that last pound of flesh. Not so Mr. Harper it seems. He wants his pound of flesh.

Omar Khadr deserves a chance to prove he has moved on from his teenage years and their influences and can be a valuable member of society. Mr. Harper needs to check his big bully ways at the courtroom door.

Joan Joseph, Cambridge

The behaviour of the Harper government in relation to Omar Khadr continues to be mean and vicious, all apparently based in politics. It is calculated to appeal to the Harper base in the so-called tough defense of national security and be useful in the coming election.

I think, however, that this may in fact work against the government. Surely the general Canadian public is not that ugly.

Derek Chadwick, Toronto

Please let Omar Khadr go. Let him go. Enough already. Hasn’t this poor man suffered enough?

The Harper regime’s decision to appeal the granting of bail is frankly despicable. Once again, thank goodness for the Charter of Rights. I’m sure Stephen Harper wishes he could abolish it, but it’s fortunately too well entrenched for even a seasoned political opportunist like him to destroy.

Nothing says more about the mean-spirited, reptilian rule of Supreme Leader Harper than the tragic saga of Omar Khadr. Yes, his ordeal began under a Liberal government, but nobody has exploited his story as eagerly and effectively as Harper, simply to further his anti-Muslim agenda and his bogus war on so-called “terrorism.”

As Thomas Walkom mentions in a recent column, Khadr is nothing more than a political football to be tossed around in the upcoming election campaign. This is disgusting beyond words.

Khadr has been the victim of a mockery and travesty of justice unseen in recent times. The injustice he has been subjected to is a stain on the Canadian body politic. All Canadians should be ashamed of his inhumane treatment.

How dare Canada lecture anyone on human rights after what we’ve put this guy through?

I say go, Omar, go – enjoy your freedom. You’ve more than earned it.

Andrew van Velzen, Toronto

Why do Stephen Harper and the Conservatives hate Omar Khadr?

Omar Khadr was a child soldier, captured by the Americans in 2002 at the age of 15. They chose to ignore his child soldier status and to prosecute him under laws that were enacted years after he was captured and imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay. All other G8 countries demanded the release of their nationals from Guantanamo Bay, except Canada.

Omar Khadr’s father was an operative for Al Qaeda and a personal friend of Osama Bin Laden. His son had no choice about becoming an Al Qaeda soldier. He has spent the past 13 years in detention at Guantanamo Bay and in prison in Canada, where he has been denied access to anyone who would speak for him in the press.

Stephen Harper and the Conservative government have made it clear that they intend to continue persecuting this young man as long as they can use him as a scapegoat to whip up fear and hatred (against “terrorists” and Muslims) – whatever might help them to get re-elected.

Surely, Harper and the Conservative government are guilty of conspiracy to persecute a child soldier and should be charged under the Geneva Convention. At the very least they are guilty of promoting hatred against this young man.

Bill Aird, North YorkRecommend this Post

Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney's Con Clown Tour of Iraq

Montreal Simon - 15 hours 56 min ago

It looked like a scene out of one of those On the Road movies with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.

Except that this movie is not a comedy it's a horror show.

It's Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney on the road in Iraq,

Giving themselves another big, fat, juicy photo-op with OUR money. 
Read more »

The Not So Comfortable Pews

Northern Reflections - 17 hours 30 min ago

In the latest edition of The New York Review of Books, Gary Wills writes that Pope Francis is making the billionaires -- particularly Catholic billionaires -- quake. On the eve of his encyclical on climate change, they are mounting what they hope will be a pre-emptive strike:

Now, as the pope prepares a major encyclical on climate change, to be released this summer, the billionaires are spending a great deal of their money in a direct assault on him. They are calling in their chits, their kept scientists, their rigged conferences, their sycophantic beneficiaries, their bought publicists to discredit words of the pope that have not even been issued: “He would do his flock and the world a disservice by putting his moral authority behind the United Nations’ unscientific agenda on the climate,” they say. They do not know exactly what the pope is going to say in his forthcoming encyclical on preserving God’s creation, but they know what he will not say. He will not deny that the poor suffer from actions that despoil the earth. Everything he has said and done so far shows that Francis always stands for the poor. 
The poor may be always with us. But they're easier to deal with when no one calls attention to them. They get in the way of profit:

Those who profit from what harms the earth have to keep the poor out of sight. They have trouble enough fighting off the scientific, economic, and political arguments against bastioned privilege. Bringing basic morality to the fore could be fatal to them. That is why they are mounting such a public pre-emptive strike against the encyclical before it even appears. They must not only discredit the pope’s words (whatever they turn out to be), they must block them, ridicule them, destroy them. The measure of their fear is demonstrated by an article in First Things, the Catholic journal that defended the donations to bishops of the pederast religious founder Marcial Maciel. The First Things writer Maureen Mullarkey calls the pope “an ideologue and a meddlesome egoist,” and continues: “Francis sullies his office by using demagogic formulations to bully the populace into reflexive climate action with no more substantive guide than theologized propaganda.” 
I was educated by Jesuits. I found some of them unbearable. But Francis is one Jesuit I admire. He's making those who sit in the comfortable pews nervous -- as they should be.

The Day Jim Prentice's Fear Campaign Got a Slap in the Face

Montreal Simon - 19 hours 52 min ago

With just two days to go before the Alberta election the excitement is mounting, and so is the fear campaign.

With Jim Prentice and his Big Business posse trying to scare the people of that province into voting for them and not the NDP.

And today it was Big Oil's turn to try to rescue the crumbling Con dynasty, and threaten Albertans. 
Read more »

Saturday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Sat, 05/02/2015 - 09:40
Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Lynne Fernandez properly labels the Cons' federal budget as the "inequality budget". Andrew Jackson discusses how we've ended up in a new Gilded Age in Canada, and what we can do to extricate ourselves from it. And BC BookLook reviews Andrew MacLeod's new book on inequality by pointing out some of the important facts which seldom seem to surface elsewhere.

- Speaking of which, Andrew Nikiforuk exposes how the Alberta PCs handed the oil industry $13 billion in free money by failing to correct a miscalculation as to how royalties would change with time. (Feel free to insert quotation marks and/or pause for laughter in the general vicinity of the term "miscalculation".)

- And Michael Prince writes that a compassionate care benefit is following the Cons' typical pattern of handing plenty of money to those who need it least, while offering nothing at all for the people doing the most to help others.

- PressProgress highlights how the Cons' past funding for transit has been left unused, meaning that there's no reason to take seriously the promise of new money years down the road in the federal budget. And Jim Stanford duly slams the Cons' auto strategy of handing car makers massive amounts of money to produce vehicles elsewhere.

- Craig Forcese follows up on the problems with C-51 by pointing out that it wrongly sees all Charter rights as being both conditional and subject to destruction at the mere mention of national security. Open Media offers a new and hand primer on the Cons' terror bill. The Globe and Mail notes that the U.S. is moving to make its no-fly list more sensible and fair even as the Cons make ours more draconian. And Andrew Mitrovica explains why "just trust us" isn't sufficient accountability from anybody when it comes to national security powers:
So here’s what we’re getting by way of reassurance. C-51 looks “frightening” but it isn’t really — not when viewed from Fadden’s altitude in the security sphere. The security services will never use the vast new powers being granted by the bill to cross the line on Canadians’ civil liberties because Richard Fadden won’t let them. And besides, CSIS is beholden to the Public Safety minister — and we all know how seriously Steven Blaney takes his job.

What a crock. Ever since its inception in 1984, Conservative and Liberal ministers responsible for the agency have said repeatedly, both in and outside the House of Commons, that they do not and cannot get involved in the day-to-day operations of CSIS. And we’re supposed to believe Blaney, the guy who was making Holocaust comparisons during his own committee appearance on the bill, is going to be the one to break that streak?

One of the more disturbing aspects of Fadden’s performance before the committee was how myopic it was. He made pointed reference to terrorist attacks against “Western interests” and Canada’s “allies” in Paris, Madrid and London. He claimed that Canada’s “priorities” in combatting terror only changed after the Americans were attacked on 9/11.

At no point during his testimony did he mention the largest mass murder in Canadian history — the 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182. Most of the 329 victims aboard that flight were Canadians; 86 were children. It was a terrorist attack that made the European attacks cited by Fadden seem subtle. So why didn’t he bring it up?

Because it didn’t fit the narrative. The Air India affair was a black eye for Canadian security and law enforcement. CSIS and the RCMP — the agencies Fadden never tires of describing as “second to none” — were so incompetent and preoccupied with turf wars that they failed, despite ample warning, to stop the terrorist attack, even though they had the tools to do so. And the Air India terror plot was engineered and executed in Canada; its intended victims were Canadians who hailed from every province, save P.E.I.
Air India was and remains a shining example of security service incompetence at its absolute worst. C-51 wouldn’t have prevented it. So while the bill will most certainly pass, the government’s arguments in its favour stand convicted of their own faulty logic. Unless, however, we’re all willing to just trust the Harper government — and Richard Fadden.

On relative popularity

accidentaldeliberations - Sat, 05/02/2015 - 08:43
Jim Prentice is warning Albertans that they should vote for him lest they be governed by somebody like Tom Mulcair.

Jim Prentice's approval rating in Alberta is 22%.

Tom Mulcair's approval rating in Alberta is 42%.

Which means, shorter Jim Prentice:
You may think you're getting an exquisitely prepared filet mignon when you vote NDP, but what if you only get a juicy hamburger? Therefore, vote for gruel!

Failures of imagination and arithmetic

accidentaldeliberations - Sat, 05/02/2015 - 08:04
Colby Cosh's latest includes this explanation as to why he wants to write off the party which holds a strong lead in Alberta's polls:
The province-wide NDP numbers, whichever set you prefer, are conceptually hard to translate into large numbers of seats outside Edmonton. Former Calgary alderman Joe Ceci, running for the NDP, is thought to be strong in his old stomping ground of Calgary-Fort, as is Shannon Phillips in university-influenced Lethbridge West. There is bound to be a third name on this list—a name no one knows yet. Some shrewd, hard-working NDP candidate is knocking on the last door in his riding right now, scarcely suspecting he is about to beat some country-fried PC cabinet minister who got careless.

Alberta New Democrats’ dreams are much wilder than this. They envision a chaotic “wave” election: a butterfly farts in Banff and they unexpectedly quadruple or quintuple their support, as they would need to, in seats outside Edmonton. But unless things have changed very dramatically in places like Cold Lake or Drumheller, the New Democrat ceiling is a couple of dozen seats. That would leave the overall outcome to be decided by 60-plus PC-Wildrose fights in Calgary and the hinterland.Needless to say, this type of analysis is a rather familiar: in 2011, more than a few pollsters and pundits looked at the NDP's commanding lead in Quebec polls, then declared based on past results that the party couldn't hope to win more than five to ten seats in the province. This line of analysis did not prove prescient.

Granted, Cosh allows for the theoretical possibility of a "wave" while simultaneously writing it off. But in so doing, he misses the point that what he considers to be dramatic change is already playing out in the polls.

No, it's not preposterous - nor even unexpected - for a party to quadruple or quintuple its previous support when current polls already show more than that gain. The NDP's 2012 support by region included results ranging from 5% in Calgary and 5-8% in rural Alberta; the most recent polling shows the NDP in the 25-30% and 30-35% range, respectively. So if the right standard is to ask whether the NDP can increase its 2012 vote by five times or more, the answer is that it's already there or further across much of the province.

That said, looking at the NDP's historical vote is probably the wrong way of approaching the question.

It's doubtful that anybody can claim to have a clear, riding-by-riding picture as to how votes will shift. But the regional polls consistently show a tight three-party race in Calgary and "rest of Alberta", including some with the NDP running ahead in those regions.

Which brings us back to the Quebec problem: how can any reasonable observer look at a party which projects to win as many votes as its opponents over a substantial number of seats, and default to a presumption that it will win none of those individual seats (nor indeed contend for any of them)?

I'd argue that absent some coherent explanation as to how a region can be split up into a series of two-way races which render the three-party numbers unreliable, the best assumption has to be that the distribution of seats will be broadly similar to the distribution of votes (subject to distortion by the first-past-the-post system). And even that type of theory can't be based on Cosh's assumption that the NDP will simply be out of the picture over a set of ridings where its vote share is similar to that of the PCs and Wildrose.

That means the fundamentals of the Alberta race boil down to this: the NDP has a significant head start based on its whopping lead in Edmonton, while the rest of the province is a dead heat where any of the three parties could win a large number of seats, but the best baseline assumption is a relatively even split.

Of course, it's theoretically possible that a party could manage to lose dozens of ridings by small margins to two competitors without managing to get over the top in a single one. (In principle, that could even result in the party winning the most votes without taking a seat. Thanks, FPTP!) But surely that outcome should be seen as a remote possibility, not a baseline expectation.

Similarly, a small shift at the end of the campaign could easily change the three-party dynamic in many different directions. But here too, there's no obvious reason to think a shift can only operate in one direction: surely the NDP is at least as likely as its competitors to be the one to nose ahead at the end, particularly since it's been the only party consistently improving its popular perception throughout the campaign.

To be clear, it's entirely possible that Cosh's assumed outcome might come to pass - and that risk will hopefully serve as motivation for NDP activists as the campaign draws to a close. But that doesn't mean there's any reason for Cosh or anybody else to write off the very strong possibility that the NDP can win as matters stand now.

Much That Smells Beneath

Northern Reflections - Sat, 05/02/2015 - 06:38


The Crown Prosecutor at the Duffy trial says that he wants to see the errant senator judged on the basis of "common sense." It's a strange argument, Michael Harris writes:

Common sense helps people quickly navigate the simpler elements of their lives — crossing a road without getting hit, not texting while driving, turning down the music when those not at the party are trying to sleep.

Common sense is almost always about little things, simple things. And the foundation of knowledge upon which it rests is often dubious. “Common sense,” Albert Einstein wrote, “is nothing more than a deposit of prejudices laid down by the mind before you reach eighteen.”

 But common sense is not what this trial is about:

A criminal court is a venue where justice should be truth in action — not a vacuous appeal to common sense and its train of tawdry emotions. “Common sense” works well in a range of situations. But it can be a super-highway to snap judgments, faux revulsion and the lust to vilify when it is misapplied. Applying common sense in a criminal case, rather than legal and evidentiary reality, is a mistake. It’s why Duffy is already swinging from the hanging tree in most media coverage.
When it comes to the Harperites,"snap judgments, faux revulsion and the lust to vilify" are the tools of their trade. And, the Conservative majority in the Senate is trying hard to make sure that actual evidence never sees the light of day:

Astonishingly, the Senate is now arguing parliamentary privilege in refusing to release a 2013 secret internal audit that might be of significance to Duffy’s criminal trial. Would that audit provide exculpatory information in Duffy’s case? Would it out other senators who had similar residency arrangements to the accused (as Nigel Wright noted), but without facing the full force of the police and the justice department? Would it show that the Senate knew back in 2010 it had a problem, but did nothing about it?
There all kinds of secrets which the powers that be want to keep secret. There is much that smells beneath. And the present government will stop at nothing to keep it all buried.

Harper's Jihad

Politics and its Discontents - Sat, 05/02/2015 - 06:27

The closer we come to an election, the more strident and McCarthyesque the Harper regime is becoming over 'radical Islam.' There is, of course, the political opportunism of Bill C-51, a piece of legislation designed not only to keep us in a constant state of suspicion but also to quash dissent against the overlords under whom we currently chafe. But now, new opportunities beckon to remind us that only the vigilance of Dear Leader and his apparatus can keep us safe.

First there is ongoing effort to appeal the bail release of Omar Khadr, about which I posted recently. That effort, partly fought under the pretext that his release would hurt relations with the U.S., has just been debunked, as reported in this morning's Star. And the regime's other claim, that his release could pose a threat to Canadians, is obviously without merit, given Khadr's record as a model prisoner.

Then there was the inexcusable initial refusal to issue a new Canadian passport to Mohamed Fahmy, the Canadian journalist long held in Egypt, a decision that was only recently reversed. His sin seems to be his Muslim roots. Presumably the Harper regime reversed its opposition only because the egregiously unfair nature of their refusal became obvious to far too many voters.

The latest victim of this shameless politicking/witch hunt appears to be Hamilton lawyer Hussein Hamdani, who has been suspended by the regime from his longtime position as a member of the Cross-Cultural Roundtable on National Security. You can access a video report of the story here, but essentially the pretext for his dismissal is information about his activities over 20 years ago while a student, activities that were, in fact, well-known to the Harper regime; in non-election years, the information apparently caused them no concern:
A news report by French-language network TVA of Quebec published Wednesday raised questions about written statements made by Hamdani nearly 20 years ago. The news report also made allegations suggesting Hamdani has been involved in the past with organizations that have provided funding, directly or indirectly, to groups associated with terror.

Jeremy Laurin, press secretary for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said in a statement the allegations against Hamdani are "very concerning."

"While questions surrounding this individual's links to radical ideology have circulated for some time, it was hoped that he could be a positive influence to promote Canadian values in the Muslim community," Laurin stated. "It is now becoming clear this may not have been the case."As CHCH News reports,
None of the information is new. The government has been aware of the allegations for several years, and has either considered it insignificant, or chosen to allow Hamdani to continue his work on the security committee regardless.The lawyer in fact had previously won praise for his efforts in combating radicalization. Says Order of Canada member Gary Warner:
“I have known Hussein for many years and have not heard or seen anything in the reports that would justify his exclusion from the national security roundtable. On the contrary I see him as someone who has worked to deflect youth from contagion by extremists.”Indeed, as recently as this past February, The Globe and Mail highlighted his work:

Hamani is speaking out in his own defense, declaring his patriotism and love for Canada, statements neither he nor any other citizen should have to make. At the end of the raw footage, you will hear the conclusions he draws as to why this is happening, an explanation wholly consistent with the pattern established long ago by this hateful regime:

Nonetheless, extensive damage to his reputation has been done. I guess he is just collateral damage in the relentless, never-ending re-election campaign of a government that cares not a whit for anything other than the preservation of its own power.
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Stephen Harper and the Great Turkey Budget

Montreal Simon - Sat, 05/02/2015 - 06:08

Gosh. What a difference a day makes. The other day I was lamenting that an Abacus poll seemed to suggest that enough Canadians had liked the Con's porky budget so much they had given given Stephen Harper a big boost.

But now an EKOS poll suggests that while nobody is complaining about being bribed.

The budget hasn't moved his numbers. 
Read more »

Hey, federal political parties - this is how it's done.

Creekside - Sat, 05/02/2015 - 06:04
In three days Albertans go to the polls. Here's how that's looking as of yesterday according to 308 :

As part of his election platform, Calgary-Klein Green Party candidate Noel Keough made a great case for raising corporate taxes in Alberta - the lowest in the country - by just 2% in order to raise $12-billion annually for Alberta's decimated public coffers : 

An environmental design prof at the University of Calgary, he also put forward solid policy on fossil fuels and advocates a PropRep voting system replacing first-past-the post - the better to more fairly represent Albertans.

But then he looked at the very close polling for his riding, and at an all-candidates debate in Calgary two days ago, Keough announced his decision to step out of the race and support his NDP rival rather than split the vote. Notable that he referred to this decision as a party decision. Keough : [bold:mine]
"So, with a heavy heart, but a firm conviction in my decision I am stepping out of the race immediately and putting my full support behind the New Democratic Party and their candidate Craig Coolihan. The policies of the NDP are not in perfect alignment with The Green Party but they are the most closely aligned. A win for the NDP in Calgary-Klein will advance Green principles and will make Alberta a better place to live."Putting your constituency and province ahead of the party system - what a novel idea.
People have said the Greens couldn't have won the seat anyway. Not the point. Keough did the one thing he could within his power to help voters avoid splitting the vote by trying to guess how to vote strategically.

Well, federal NDP, Libs, and Greens? We're waiting for a sign you plan to follow Keough's example here.

As Canadian Cynic observed : "forget strategic voting, here's strategic candidacy."

As for the rest of us, support for Prop Rep should be the line-in-the-sand litmus test for whether we support a local candidate.  Between election fraud and the Stephen Harper the Economist's disastrously incompetent corporate-driven fiscal policies, we just can't afford another unrestrained and poisonous first-past-the-post 24% minority misrule. 

FairVoteCanada is soliciting citizens in all ridings across Canada to get local candidates of all parties to sign a pledge to support PropRep so we'll know who we can afford to vote for before the next election. Go. Sign up to do it.

Meanwhile, a Globe and Mail editorial from the very paper which has endorsed Harper in every election since 2006 is now shilling for Prentice : For Alberta, Jim Prentice is the best choice.

I only mention this entirely unsurprising endorsement so you can enjoy the thorough shellacking they get for it in comments.

ObligaTory shot of Prentice with PMO fraudster Bruce Carson at left.

Rona Ambrose and the Disgusting Con Fear Campaign in Alberta

Montreal Simon - Sat, 05/02/2015 - 01:56

Oh no. I can't believe it. She's at it again. Rona Ambrose just can't stop scaring people, and has absolutely no idea of her own limitations.

Just a few days ago she was terrorizing the peaceful residents of Vancouver by posing as a Health Minister AND a Justice Minister.

And demanding that they close down their pot shops, before the Killer Weed kills them, and Justin Trudeau kills their children.

Now she trying to scare the people of Alberta, with dark warnings about the Deadly Job Killing NDP Menace.

While posing as a Finance Minister !!!! 
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Hegemony or bust

accidentaldeliberations - Fri, 05/01/2015 - 19:42
Earlier this week, I mused thusly:
And I'm particularly curious as to whether the PCAA will bet heavily on a high-variance strategy, preferring to exhaust every hope of maintaining hegemony over Alberta politics rather than making any substantial effort to rebuild from the opposition benches.Suffice it to say that we have our answer, in the form of the declaration "keep us in power or the children's hospital gets it!" - which might marginally increase the possibility of scaring voters into the PC camp compared to a less hostage-based message, while carrying a far stronger chance of highlighting exactly why Albertans can't stand more of the same.

But it's also worth looking at the bigger picture. If Jim Prentice and company have gone out of their way to ensure that Alberta lacks the public resources to build essential health infrastructure without going begging to the corporate sector, isn't that all the more reason to want a more effective government?

Musical interlude

accidentaldeliberations - Fri, 05/01/2015 - 18:00
Hooverphonic - Eden


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