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Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

accidentaldeliberations - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 20:05
Connected cats.

New Conservative ad, now with added bonus tracks

Creekside - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 15:03
from me, celebrating Stephen Harper's economic record.

Blurb accompanying original Con ad : We're better off with Harper
"With over 1.1 million net new jobs since the recession, Canada’s economy is on the right track – thanks to the strong leadership of Stephen Harper and Canada’s Conservatives."God bless, now.

What Happens When Earth Says, "I'm Outta Here."

The Disaffected Lib - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 11:10
Earth may have had just about enough of us.

One indication that we may be outstaying our planetary welcome is the spike in atmospheric greenhouse gases in 2013.  Part of that reflects our increased use of fossil fuels.  The other part is more worrisome by an order of magnitude.

The Earth, it seems, may have had its fill of absorbing our emissions.

Concentrations of nearly all the major greenhouse gases reached historic highs in 2013, reflecting ever-rising emissions from automobiles and smokestacks but also, scientists believe, a diminishing ability of the world's oceans and plant life to soak up the excess carbon put into the atmosphere by humans, according to data released on Tuesday by the United Nations' meteorological advisory body.

The latest figures from the World Meteorological Organization's monitoring network are considered particularly significant because they reflect not only the amount of carbon pumped into the air by humans, but also the complex interaction between man-made gases and the natural world.  Historically, about half of the pollution from human sources has been absorbed by the oceans and terrestrial plants, preventing temperatures from rising as quickly as they otherwise would, scientists say.

"If the oceans and the biosphere cannot absorb as much carbon, the effect on the atmosphere could be much worse," said Oksana Tarasova ...chief of the WMO's Global Atmospheric Watch program.

"The changes we're seeing are really drastic," Tarasova said.  "We are seeing the growth rate rising exponentially."

The long and the short of it is that, if our biosphere is losing its capacity to backstop us on our carbon emissions, then even the most radical emissions reductions targets - which we're not even close to meeting - are dangerously inadequate.

"It's the level that climate scientists have identified as the beginning of the danger zone," said Michael Oppenheimer, a Princeton University professor of geosciences who was not involved in the WMO report.  "It means we're probably getting to the point where we're looking at the 'safe zone' in the rearview mirror, even as we're stepping on the gas."

 The WMO report also incorporated data on ocean acidification stemming from our greenhouse gas emissions.  The data shows the rate of acidification is unprecedented over at least the last 300,000 years.  Given that every second breath you take represents oxygen generated by our oceans you might want to pay attention to this little problem.

Tuesday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 07:59
This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Andrew Jackson examines the effect of a federal minimum wage - and how it would benefit both workers and employers.

- Dylan Matthews offers a primer on a basic income, featuring this on how a secure income has little impact on individuals' willingness to work:
As noted above, a real basic income has never been implemented across a whole country, which makes macroeconomic effects hard to predict. But we do have some experimental evidence on the question of work effort, drawn from the negative income tax experiments in the US and Canada in the 1970s. Those studies found that work effort declined when a negative income tax was imposed, as predicted, but that the effect was quite small. Moreover, most of the reduction in work effort appeared to come from people taking longer stints of unemployment. That can be a bad thing, but it can also mean that people aren't settling for second-best jobs and holding out for ones that are better fits for them. That'd actually be good, economically. Additionally, the work effect reduction for young people appeared to come entirely from increased school attendance— also a desirable outcome.

Another factor is underreporting. Negative income taxes provide an incentive for beneficiaries to underreport their incomes so as to get a bigger benefit — and that's exactly what happened in the US negative income tax experiments. For the experiment in Gary, Indiana, when participants' reported incomes were cross-referenced with official government data on their earnings, the reduction in work effort went away entirely.- Sean Holman reveals how British Columbians have been kept in the dark as to the dangers of mining activity. And Damien Gillis notes that so far, the only person punished in the wake of the Mount Polley environmental disaster was the whistleblower who lost his job for pointing out that Imperial Metals' tailings pond was about to fail.

- Finally, Carol Goar discusses how Canada's remand system represents both a glaring waste of money, and an all-too-common form of indefinite detention for people who haven't had a chance to answer the charges against them.

On advance notice

accidentaldeliberations - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 07:30
Between Joan Bryden's report, Paul Wells' interview and Murray Dobbin's column among other coverage, there isn't much room for doubt that the federal NDP's economic focus - including a national minimum wage alongside a restored retirement age of 65 and reversal of corporate tax cuts - is earning some media and public attention. And we can surely expect plenty more as Thomas Mulcair fleshes out the details as he's promised to do this fall. But what can we take from both the substance of the NDP's policy proposals unveiled so far, and the choice to introduce them a year away from the anticipated election date?

Let's start by noting that conventional political wisdom has long been trending away from meaningful engagement with voters on policy. At all levels of government, the unfortunate tendency has been toward introducing a grab bag of policies more out of force of habit than any expectation that they deserve discussion - with those policies often serving more to obscure a party's real intentions than to reveal them.

But the federal NDP has often offered an exception to the rule, due in no small part to its desire to win some public notice when the media would otherwise be inclined to focus solely on a horse race between two other parties.

Of course, part of the NDP's long-term plan has always been to ensure itself a constant place in that horse-race coverage. And there are still two obvious if distant paths toward that end result: either the Libs' choice to bet the party on Justin Trudeau could fail (leaving a strong NDP-Con clash of ideas), or the Cons could crumble like the PCs did in 1993 (allowing the Libs to assume the explicit right-wing position they have in British Columbia).

In the meantime, it makes a world of sense for the NDP to stake its claim once again as the party of ideas - particularly since this time, it has far more resources behind it to reach the media and voters alike. 

So what about the content of the recent announcements? There, Mulcair seems to have learned at least a few lessons from Andrea Horwath's loss of "core left" and "new labour" support. And so instead of taking the NDP's base for granted, he's starting with proposals which serve largely to consolidate those groups of voters (while remaining palatable across the spectrum).

Of particular note, the minimum wage proposal looks ideally placed as an idea whose overall impact might far exceed its direct effects. While a relatively small number of workers fall under federal jurisdiction, even the NDP has rarely emphasized the concept that the federal government can lead the way in improving standards across the board. And particularly if the minimum wage proposal is just the opening salvo in addressing labour and employment rights more generally, there's plenty of room to present ideas which will make for both sound policy and effective politics.

To be clear, the few ideas presented so far almost certainly won't be enough to rally the base for the next year-plus. And so I'd expect the detailed plans being presented to follow a similar theme: ideas which core supporters will see as worth fighting and donating for, and which force the Libs (and to a lesser extent the Cons) to show their hand as to whether they plan to support business interests over the public.

We'll find out fairly soon how effective that effort is. (And Mulcair can help matters by not stepping on his own policy direction - as Wells seems to have had no trouble pushing him toward anti-tax tropes.) But the resolve to change minds on matters of policy is exactly what differentiates a functional political party from a mere leadership vehicle, and it's a plus to see the federal NDP pursuing the former role.

Is Scotland about to leave the UK?

Rusty Idols - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 06:27
The UK is about to go through what we did in 1995 - but not necessarily with the same ending.
The headline trend could not be clearer: the poll for TNS showing that yes and no voters in Scotland are level-pegging at 41% among those who are certain they will vote is the second in three days to indicate that the final outcome in the referendum is too close to call.
But if the result on 18 September remains uncertain, the underlying trends are absolutely clear. The momentum is towards yes: in early July, no held a nine-point lead with the same pollster.
The figures tally with others that have been seen. The YouGov poll for the Sunday Times at the weekend gave yes a two-point lead – but no led by 22 points on 7 August.I'm inclined to think both Scotland and the rest of Britain are better together - the actual slogan of the no to separation side - like here, the loss of the separating nation would tip the rest of the country far more right wing.

If the No side manages to pull out a last minute squeaker - very possible, polls showing a possible win for independence will have the more cautious supporters of independence reconsidering their vote now that its no longer a protest but a real possibility - expect to see a radical new round of devolution of powers to Scotland from the rest of the UK.

If the Independence side in Scotland wins I think we will feel it here when the Parti Quebecois and the Bloc both rise back from the dead overnight.


The Smell Of Desperation

Northern Reflections - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 05:54

If you want to really know what's driving the Harperites these days, Devon Black writes, consider the tactics they are using:

Twice in the last three months, Conservatives have sent individuals into Liberal events in the hopes of deliberately instigating missteps — while secretly recording the whole thing for release later.
The latest example concerns retired general Andrew Leslie, who criticized Israel's tactics in Gaza, but who also recognized Israel's right to defend itself:

So, every nation has the right to defend itself. Every nation has the right to defend its people. So keep that as a thought bubble.

Then there’s this little Chinese gentleman about 2,700 years ago who said, in Cantonese: ‘Never do what your enemy wants you to do.’ So, just keep that as a thought bubble . His name was Sun Tzu.So what does Hamas – who’s actually guided and directed by [whos has] funding and the leadership provided mainly by Iran and Syria – what did they want Israel to do? They want Israel to, essentially, fall into the trap of igniting world opinion against them, by killing civilians.
Of course, the Conservatives exploded. Joe Oliver called Leslie's response “deeply disturbing” accusing Leslie of “(placing) blame on Israel for defending itself.” And immediately a fundraising letter went out to the party faithful.

These tactics are much like those used by Republicans in 2009:

Memories are short in politics, but for anyone who was watching U.S. politics in 2009, these tactics probably seem familiar. That was the year ACORN, a collection of organizations best known for running voter-registration drives in low-income communities, was put out of commission. Two conservative activists — posing as a sex worker and her boyfriend — tried to get ACORN staff to make damaging statements while the conversations were recorded on hidden cameras.

The selectively-edited footage, and the furor it raised in the media, forced ACORN to shut down — even though several subsequent investigations cleared ACORN of any wrongdoing.
The Conservatives are running scared. And that, writes Black, should worry all Canadians:

The first sting saw Liberal MP John McKay criticizing Justin Trudeau on tape. In the second, retired general (and Trudeau advisor) Andrew Leslie was caught holding a nuanced position on the conflict in Gaza. Neither incident seems to have held the public’s interest.

But unlike the ACORN scandal, which was triggered by activists working on their own, these two Canadian incidents appear to have been carried out by Conservative staffers: one by a former intern to Health Minister Rona Ambrose, and the other by a parliamentary assistant to MP Rob Anders.

Rather than developing a strong platform, based on reasoned principles, the Conservatives have instead focused their energies on tearing down enemies — which they apparently have in abundance. Sometimes the targets are obvious — though you have to wonder if we really need any more anti-Trudeau attack ads at this point. The Conservative base must be so well-conditioned by now that just playing that clip of Trudeau stripping probably elicits a Pavlovian response.

But when Harper lashed out at Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin earlier this year, it seemed less like calculation and more like a tantrum. Harper could have taken his government’s repeated losses before the Supreme Court with a pinch of humility and learned from the experience, the way adults do. Instead, he took cheap shots at one of our nation’s most respected institutions.
They have run out of ideas and are running on bile. You can smell their desperation.

Star Readers And Mandatory Voting

Politics and its Discontents - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 04:55

In response to a recent column by Susan Delacourt discussing mandatory voting, Star readers weigh in with their usual perspicacious observations, the majority in favour of a less radical solution to the problem of low voter turnout. Here is a small sampling of the responses:

Re: It's time for mandatory voting laws, Insight Aug. 30

Mandatory voting attempts to address only one symptom of Canada’s corrupt 12th century first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system under which most voters do not cast a ballot for a winning candidate. Mandatory voting will not correct this, but merely result in more votes which do not count to elect anyone. We will still have false majority governments that hold 100 per cent control over the House of Commons with much less than 50 per cent of the popular vote.

To fix our broken democratic system, we must go back to basics and change how we elect our MPs. We must modernize our electoral system to ensure representation that is in close proportion to the actual votes cast. Proportional representation (PR) shifts the balance of power back toward the people and away from political parties. It’s like flipping a switch that shines the light on us.

Fraudulent robocalls to deter voting would have no impact under a proportional electoral system because votes cast matter more than the arbitrary boundaries of ridings. Each enlarged riding would have multiple MPs.

When voters believe that their votes really matter, they will naturally vote in larger numbers, without being coerced into doing so. This is evident in the 80 plus countries that have successfully implemented an electoral system which achieves some level of proportionality.

At least ten authoritative public studies have been undertaken in Canada on electoral reform, including the comprehensive 2004 Law Commission of Canada Report on Electoral Reform, commissioned by the Liberal Party of Canada. Each study recommended that Canada’s FPTP electoral system be replaced by one providing equal effective votes for citizens and proportional representation in the House of Commons.

The neoliberal fiefdoms of the U.K., U.S. and Canada still use FPTP because they can manipulate it to retain control over governance. Mandatory voting will divert our attention away from implementing an effective solution to Canada’s democratic deficit. Canadians must not let themselves be led astray.

P. E. McGrail, Brampton

Why does Susan Delacourt resort to mandatory voting to increase voters’ participation when a perfectly democratic and rational approach would provide a valid reason for people to vote?

Proportional representation would make every vote count, decrease the polarization of Parliament, reduce the frequency (and costs) of elections and the need for by-elections. Canada would then join the majority of democracies in the world.

In a multiparty, pluralistic society, FPTP is a bankrupt system that most often silences the voice of the majority of the electorate. Vested interest are the reasons for Canada sticking with it.

It is time for the media to support rational and well informed demands to change the present system at all levels of our government.

Bruna Nota, Toronto

If it’s true that “four of every ten Canadians” chose not to vote in the last federal election then it would be a great mistake to compel such uninterested people to cast a ballot. Do we really want to count the votes of those who are forced (by law) to vote and probably represent the lazy, uneducated and could-care-less class of citizens?

The results of such mandatory legislation would certainly have serious, unintended consequences.

George Dunbar, TorontoRecommend this Post

What Excuse Will Stephen Harper Use to Trigger An Early Election?

Montreal Simon - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 04:48

He is not supposed to call an election until October 19, 2015 according to his own fixed-date election law.

But everybody knows that Stephen Harper won't hesitate to hold one if and when it suits him.

The question is what excuse will he use to trigger an election?

And could it be a clash with the federal public service unions? 
Read more »

Why the Scottish Referendum Is NOT the Quebec Referendum

Montreal Simon - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 01:08

I've been seeing a lot of stories in the Canadian and British media, comparing the Scottish independence referendum campaign to the one in Quebec in 1995.

And I've resigned myself to seeing a lot more of them after this latest development. 

Because it is so familiar.

But here's the thing eh? I've seen the Scottish referendum campaign up close and in the flesh this summer, in this quiet northern place where my family lives...

I lived through the Quebec one in Montreal, in the crucible of the clash between the YES and the NO.

And I can tell you that while the campaigns may be superficially similar, they are at their core radically different.
Read more »

MH-17 Report Tomorrow

The Disaffected Lib - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 13:18
The Dutch Safety Board will release its preliminary report into the July downing of Malaysian Airways flight MH-17 over Ukraine.

The report will supposedly divulge details from the flight data and cockpit voice recorders but will not attribute blame.

Let the conspiracy theories begin.

Stigma persists despite decriminalization

Dammit Janet - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 12:08
In the UK, there is continuing, yea, endless, blather about fetal viability and therefore abortion time limits.

This comes up every time there is a report on the survival of an extreme neonate. Here's some info on these births, aka "miracle babies." (Spoiler alert: only 1% have fully "able-bodied lives.")

But no matter.

They are talking about viability again, who sets the rules for abortion time limits, does UK need abortion law reform. Yada-yada.

Here's Clare Murphy, a director at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, the UK equivalent of Planned Parenthood, with a radical notion.
Murphy believes that we need a reform of abortion law, but rather than shorten the time limit, suggests it would be more helpful to remove it entirely.

“In an ideal world we would do what Canada has done: take abortion out of criminal law altogether and regulate it like other aspects of women’s reproductive healthcare. Canada has no time limit on abortion – it hasn’t seen an increase in later abortions. In fact, the proportion is similar to that of the UK,” she explains.
Well, yeah. But those are just facts.

Then the columnist indulges in a little fantasy.
I suspect that in Canada, it’s easier to have a discussion about abortion. If I thought of it as an entirely medical matter, I wouldn’t be scared to mention it to my friends and I’m sure they’d feel more comfortable asking me for any support they needed. We can’t afford to stigmatise it when it could affect us all.That suspicion would be wrong. Abortion is as stigmatized in Canada as in most other places.

The difference is that we have have no law on it.

But yeah, the rest of the world would do well to follow our lead on this.

Totally the Same

Dammit Janet - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 11:37
Sad story. With bonus despicably dishonest reporting.

A Pennsylvania woman has been sentenced to up to 18 months in prison for obtaining so-called abortion pills online and providing them to her teenage daughter to end her pregnancy.

Jennifer Ann Whalen, 39, of Washingtonville, a single mother who works as a nursing home aide, pleaded guilty in August to obtaining the miscarriage-inducing pills from an online site in Europe for her daughter, 16, who did not want to have the child.
Terrible situation, but reporting is OK so far. There are some details on how difficult and expensive it would be to access abortion at a clinic.

After taking the pills, the daughter had complications, was admitted to hospital, where nosy-parkers called the police. And now here they are.

Did you catch the key point there?

The story continues.
The Pennsylvania case follows the prosecution of a Florida man who pleaded guilty to tricking his girlfriend into taking an abortion pill. He was sentenced in January to 13 years in prison and $28,500 restitution. In June, Florida toughened state law to allow for prosecutions in the death of non-viable fetuses.Totally the same, right? Mother tries to help her daughter end unwanted pregnancy. Man tries to trick girlfriend into abortion/miscarriage.

And this is a Reuters story that has been picked up by every MSM outlet I can find.

But the Fetus Freak media has a bit of additional information: the woman got off easy.
In addition to the prison sentence, Montour County Court of Common Pleas Judge Gary Norton ordered Whalen to pay a $1,000 fine and perform 40 hours of community service upon her release.  The maximum penalty for performing an illegal abortion in Pennsylvania is seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.
And don't forget: this is the same RWNJ demographic who goes batshit over parental consent regulations. They demand the right to give withhold consent to their children needing abortions.

These people want the right to force their children to bear children but want parents who help their children avoid bearing unwanted children to go to prison.

OK then.

You Know It's Not Working for Us. It's Been Over For a Long Time.

The Disaffected Lib - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 11:36
Naomi Klein's new book, This Changes Everything, will be out next week.  The theme of the book is change or be changed.  Klein argues that the only way mankind will survive climate change is to change the economic model that plagues us and potentially dooms us - good old, free market capitalism.

To do that we'll need to change the way we're organized, socially and politically.  Governments have stopped responding to the public interest, yielding instead to neoliberalism.  They have surrendered a good deal of our sovereignty to corporatism and globalization.  Through that they have enabled the transfer of wealth and political power from labour to capital ensuring the rapid growth of inequality of wealth, income and opportunity and the decline of social mobility.  All of this has occurred through the degrading of our democracy and, unless we throw this over, our grandkids could be looking at a future of corporatist feudalism. 

Three years ago I concluded that Karl Marx was right, that capitalism is self-destructive.  At the end of the day it collapses under its own weight.  It self-destructs.  The markets are falling into chaos. This is by no means to say there's not a role for capital.  There is, just not the role it has assumed today.  We need a reformed capitalism, one functioning under a different economic model.  Even Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations, realized that growth-based economics of the sort we're enslaved to couldn't function for more than 200-years before transitioning to a stable or steady state.

Smith recognized a limit to economic growth. He predicted that in the long run, population growth would push wages down, natural resources would become increasingly scarce, and division of labor would approach the limits of its effectiveness. He incorrectly predicted 200 years as the longest period of growth, followed by population stability.

I don't think that Smith got it wrong at all.  What he predicted was right but we haven't had the wisdom to abandon our addiction to perpetual exponential growth. 

Klein argues that we're nearing a sink or swim moment and that the very threat posed to our society by climate change is also the opportunity for us to learn to swim. 

It's been written that the 21st will be a century of revolution and we're already seeing that in rebellions, social unrest and the rise of failed states.  18th century economics, 19th century industrialism and 20th century geo-politics are what has brought us to this perilous state.  Overall they worked fairly well for us for a couple of centuries but they also created the conditions in which mankind's population - around a billion at the start - has burgeoned to 7+ billion en route to 9 or more.   Somewhere at around the 3-billion mark these institutions developed a toxicity that has steadily worsened over the past 30-years.  Today their legacy has become over population, over-consumption, environmental degradation, resource depletion, species extinctions - on and on and on.

Unfortunately the broad sweeping reformation of the sort envisioned by Klein will be taken by the powerful defenders of the status quo as revolutionary.  There are many vested interests who do not want to accept change and they're supported by every political party in Canada today.  Somehow these institutions that have driven us to the cliff edge have to be taken down.  Therein lies the struggle.  But it's a struggle in which we don't really have much choice.

On The Training of Marine Mammals (a.k.a. MPs)

Politics and its Discontents - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 09:41

As I mentioned in a blog post the other day, I am currently reading Tragedy in the Commons, a book that examines the gross deficits to be found in Canadian parliamentary democracy. One of the recurring complaints of the former MPs interviewed for the book is the lack of independence afforded them, ethereby rendering them unable to effectively represent the interests of their constituents, interests that are routinely superseded by the chief priority of the party, which is to gain and maintain power.

Former Conservative Member of Parliament Brent Rathgeber, now sitting as an independent, is intimately acquainted with such impotence, and has written a book, set to be released this month, detailing his experiences under iron grip of the Harper cabal.

Entitled Irresponsible Government: The Decline of Parliamentary Democracy in Canada, the book

outlines how MPs have seen their powers fade away, reduced to “cheer-leading and barking on command” while the PMO has grown stronger over decades, under Mr. Harper and his predecessors, with little oversight.

While perhaps hardly new or shocking to those who have followed the machinations of the regime over the years, an insider's view does reaffirm the commonly-held perceptions of Mr. Harper's leadership:

The book offers a glimpse into the tightly controlled Conservative caucus, where backbenchers are given little say and punished – a relocated office, a less desirable committee, the cancelling of travel junkets – for stepping out of line.

Indeed, there aren't even any votes in the Tory caucus:

Under Mr. Harper, the Conservative caucus is more of a pep rally, says Rathgeber. Most play along in the hopes of rising to Cabinet, and so willingly submit to uttering prewritten talking points they are given, lobbing softball questions at ministers, and a myriad of other indignities that rob them of both their independence and any spine they might have.

Rathgeber questions the decline of ministerial responsibility, at one point saying cabinet ministers Peter MacKay and Tony Clement should have resigned over their handling of the F-35 and G-8/G-20 summits, respectively. He touches, too, on the responsibility of Mr. Harper for his own staff, pointing to the agreement between Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy, of which Mr. Harper has disavowed knowledge. “Leaders lead, they do not perpetually search for scapegoats”.

Lest those whose whose allegiances are with one of the other two major parties feel smug, the independent MP offers this:

Opposition MPs may like it, he said. “But if and when they become the government they will summarily dismiss all ... the suggestions designed to stir discussion about how to renew democracy contained in his book.

In that, I fear he is all too correct.Recommend this Post


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