Posts from our progressive community

Trump Gets Pied

The Disaffected Lib - Mon, 05/16/2016 - 12:01
British comedian Jonathan Pie takes on American presidential politics.

Australia Breaks 400 PPM

The Disaffected Lib - Mon, 05/16/2016 - 09:51
The Earth is a giant ball divided by halves at the equator. The "top" half is the northern hemisphere which is the most heavily populated and most industrially active part of the planet. Europe, North America, India and China are all northern hemisphere countries.

Which helps explain the significance when southern hemisphere CO2 levels break the 400 ppm mark. That happened last week at Australia's Cape Grim monitoring station in the state of Tasmania.

What Year Do You Think This Is? Chris Hedges Figures It's "1984"

The Disaffected Lib - Mon, 05/16/2016 - 09:29

Donald Trump may be a tribute to the timelessness of George Orwell. Chris Hedges warns that chaos is just a step or two away.

The artifice of corporate totalitarianism has been exposed. The citizens, disgusted by the lies and manipulation, have turned on the political establishment. But the game is not over. Corporate power has within its arsenal potent forms of control. It will use them. As the pretense of democracy is unmasked, the naked fist of state repression takes its place. America is about—unless we act quickly—to get ugly.

“Our political system is decaying,” said Ralph Nader when I reached him by phone in Washington, D.C. “It’s on the way to gangrene. It’s reaching a critical mass of citizen revolt.”

Did you think the militarization of America's police departments was some unintentional blunder? Was it sheer coincidence that it arrived at the same time America's venerable posse comitatus rule was gutted? Caesar, my children, has crossed the Rubicon. Hail Caesar.
This moment in American history is what Antonio Gramsci called the “interregnum”—the period when a discredited regime is collapsing but a new one has yet to take its place. There is no guarantee that what comes next will be better. But this space, which will close soon, offers citizens the final chance to embrace a new vision and a new direction.
Nader points out that the notion of a democratic franchise has become a dark farce with a bought and paid for Congress and presidents pre-selected by a handful of America's ultra rich.
“Elections have become off-limits to democracy,” he went on. “They have become off-limits to democracy’s fundamental civil community or civil society. When that happens, the very roots shrivel and dry up. Politics is now a sideshow. Politics does not bother corporate power. Whoever wins, they win. Both parties represent Wall Street over Main Street. Wall Street is embedded in the federal government.”
While Nader supports the building of third parties, he cautions that these parties—he singles out the Green Party and the Libertarian Party—will go nowhere without mass mobilization to pressure the centers of power. He called on the left to reach out to the right in a joint campaign to dismantle the corporate state. Sanders could play a large role in this mobilization, Nader said, because “he is in the eye of the mass media. He is building this rumble from the people.”
Yes. I recently called for a broad based progressive restoration, uniting citizens from the entire political spectrum, left to right, as the only viable avenue to ridding this country of the scourge of neoliberalism and restoring genuine, progressive democracy to Canada. Nader is absolutely right.
As for America's prospects should Clinton win the White House, Nader is blunt:
“We will get more quagmires abroad, more blowback, more slaughter around the world and more training of fighters against us who will be more skilled to bring their fight here,” he said of a Clinton presidency. “Budgets will be more screwed against civilian necessities. There will be more Wall Street speculation. She will be a handmaiden of the corporatists and the military industrial complex. There comes a time, in any society, where the rubber band snaps, where society can’t take it anymore.”


Monday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Mon, 05/16/2016 - 08:21
Assorted content to start your week.

- Karen Palmer writes about a push by U.S. doctors to follow in Canada's footsteps with single-payer health care - even as a few profiteers seek to tear our system apart:
Global evidence shows that private insurance does not reduce public system wait times. The Achilles heel of health care in several European countries, such as Sweden, has been long waiting times for diagnosis and treatment in several areas, despite some private insurance. After Australia introduced private insurance to save the government money, those with private insurance have faster access to elective surgery than those without. Divisions in equitable access to care is one of the biggest challenges now facing countries that have adopted multi-payer systems.
Multi-payer systems are administratively complex and expensive, explaining why the U.S. health insurance industry spends about 18 per cent of its health care dollars on billing and insurance-related administration for its many private plans, compared to just 2 per cent in Canada for our streamlined single payer insurance plans. Hospital administrative costs are lowest in Canada and Scotland — both single payer systems — and highest in the U.S., the Netherlands, and the U.K. — all multi-payer systems....Abundant evidence shows private insurance is at the root of what ails the U.S. system. Dr. Marcia Angell, co-author of the Physicians’ Proposal, Harvard Medical School faculty and former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, sums it up: “We can no longer afford to waste the vast resources we do on the administrative costs, executive salaries, and profiteering of the private insurance system.” 
A Canadian-style single payer financing system would save the U.S. about $500 billion annually.
Meanwhile, in Canada, abandoning our single payer health care system for a U.S.-style multi-payer system would be the worst possible outcome for Canadians.- Amy Traub highlights how worker activism led to a substantial increase in the minimum wage paid to employees of U.S. government contractors. And Rosa Marchitelli examines the abuse of migrant farm workers as an example of what happens when employees are completely at the mercy of their employers and others.

- Samantha Page reports on new research showing the devastating environmental impact of fracking. And Jordon Cooper writes that we should see the Fort McMurray wildfire as exactly the time to discuss the wider effects of climate change.

- Chris York discusses Ken Loach's new film on the treatment of people who receive social assistance.

- Finally, Andrew Coyne rebuts a few of the more preposterous talking points against electoral reform. And Tom Parkin argues that we should expect a new electoral system to be based on equal representation, not the Libs' political interests.

A Working Mother's Perspective: A Guest Post

Politics and its Discontents - Mon, 05/16/2016 - 07:48


Along with many others, I have been both dismayed and disgusted by the attacks directed at Sophie Gregoire for her wish to have extra staff to handle the many speaking invitations and letters she regularly receives. A woman who obviously cares about the public good, she is being cruelly pilloried for that virtue.

I have refrained from commenting simply because many others already have, and I really don't have anything new to add to the discussion. However, a friend of mine, Jennifer Iachelli, a working mother of young children, wrote the following on her Facebook page. With her permission, I am presenting it here.
.......................................................................................................................................
I think when Ms. Gregoire-Trudeau asked for extra help, all of us working mothers, somewhere in our brains, whimpered "me too, please!" Some with resentment, others in steadfast support. It doesn't matter if you think the Prime Minister's wife is spoiled, or an overwhelmed working mom. The bigger questions are: Why is the role of the Prime Minister's wife systemically dismissed to the point where she has "no active duties" and it is therefore questionable whether she needs help? Why is the call for help on behalf of working mothers routinely dismissed?

To solve yet another one of these dilemmas of ingrained misogyny (God there are so many these days), let's get creative. Let's assume everyone is right. Families need more affordable daycare. Working mothers need help ploughing through the rough of this near path-less field of 21st century mothering. I mean really. If you saw the day a working mom puts in...I digress. Sophie Gregoire Trudeau needs some staff so she can be present in the moment with her children, and go to all of her charitable events, and be a good role model to all of us, and NOT be drunk by 5 pm everyday.

So what about this: Sophie says to Justin "Baby, (cause you know she does), the thing is, I am a leader too. And I need support. And the fact that all your buddies up on the hill don't even think respectfully of that request, well, it speaks to a larger issue for all us women. And quite frankly, I'm sick of it. So here is what you and your law-writing friends are gonna do. You're gonna write me a bill. Sophie's bill. I get three staff and a written acknowledgment of my role as PM wife, and you put that subsidized national daycare program in place, along with tax-credits for nanny fees. And I don't want to hear anymore shit."Recommend this Post

Brian Pallister's Efficiency Fairies

The Winnipeg RAG Review - Mon, 05/16/2016 - 07:06
Spending be gone painlessly,
no cuts to services, no
job losses, everyone wins
with the efficiency
fairies!

Image Source:


Disney
(Obtained from Wikipedia)
People like public services but also like low taxes. Conservative parties and right of centre politicians tend to campaign on the later. Given self-styled "fiscal conservatives" tend to make much of deficits and the accumulated stock of debt it stands to reason that something has got to give. Taxes (and other public revenue sources) have to equal spending or else debt financing measures have to be used. Since debt is often (and not always with warrant) regarded as bad, that means service cuts, right?

While people may loath "big government" or "government interference" in the abstract, actual public programs (especially the ones soaking up the largest share of spending) are usually quite popular. This is where one of the cheapest, most effective tricks of rightwing populists comes into play: blaming "waste" for large program spending.


The idea is that we can preserve or even increase services if we eliminate completely useless, unambiguously awful spending. In the 2016 provincial election campaign Pallister equated bargain hungry Manitobans doing comparison shopping to finding savings worth 1% of public spending. Apparently going over to the Dollarama instead of the Hudson's Bay Company is all it takes to painlessly cut the deficit 1.

Toronto's former rightwing populist Mayor the late Rob Ford took this line of thinking to comical conclusions. In the 2010 Toronto Mayoral Election he assured citizens that "services will not be cut, guaranteed" and instead promised to "end the gravy train". A big part of the public messaging (read: propaganda) on the cuts were that it would involve ending such "gravy" as zoo passes for certain city workers. Once in office this no service cut guarantee became a plan to close down five pools, among other things.

As Dan at Autonomy for All noted in 2013, with respect to Ontario provincial politics (Hudak was the Ontario Conservative leader at the time):

How often will voters fall for this deeply dishonest tactic? Try and take seriously the idea that Hudak knows of billions of dollars of true "inefficiencies" in the current government, as I joked on twitter, perhaps there is a Ministry of Burning Cash that can be shut down. If so, wouldn't he be bragging about this specifically? Embarassing the government day after day over the waste in Question Period?

Even as a matter of good public service, if the leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition knows of significant areas of taxpayer waste, is he going to sit quietly on them waiting for an election which might be years in coming, letting the government keep wasting money which could be saved?

On the other hand, maybe the claim is true that he plans to "find" these efficiencies, but only once in government. If so, how can he promise they are there? He can't know this. It's a hope, maybe an educated one, but still a gamble. Even if you think say, 5% of all government spending is true waste (like leaving unused buildings lit at night or whatever example of clear out and out waste you can think up, not talking here about spending you just don't like, which still has a purpose) - it will tend to be a thousand or more little spots of waste. [Emphasis added] There isn't really going to be a Minister of Burning Cash that accounts for 80% of the waste. Finding those unnecessarily lit buildings or other duplication, overpayment & such is going to be tough. Maybe the process for getting someone a driver's license take 14 steps and can be shaved to 13 steps with months of work by the Ministry of Transporation and this saves like $5M a year. I'm sure such inefficiencies exist in government as they do in every large organization, but wringing them out is tough work. Complex multi-deparment processes have dozens of stakeholders and usually no one person fully undertands the purpose of everything in there, so spotting the "waste" takes weeks of stakeholder interviews to find the steps that no longer serve useful purposes or are duplicated elsewhere.

("Hudak Promises To Incur Massive Project Cancellation Costs As Premier". Autonomy For All. Daniel (Oct. 28, 2013)) While there were some concrete, policy specific criticisms from the Manitoba Conservatives (particularly when it came to Provincial Crown Corporation Manitoba Hydro's - politically or otherwise motivated - investment decisions) over a third of the spending cuts they outlined at the end of the campaign came from "value for money" efficiences. Over 8% of the Pallsiter CONs savings came from undercutting labour unions, which I guess is at least outlining specific policy, leaving aside empirical and moral questions on whether workers can bargain a fair wage as solo individuals against large employers.

Some on the centre-right think nothing drastic is in store. The Pallister CON Government will just cut through attrition (which the NDP had started to do in it's last years with departmental hiring freezes) and workers will "prioritize, eliminate redundant reports, and generally find ways to get the work done".

The idea that there's endless (or at least great) slack in the public service such that staffing could go down without service effects seems like a nice idea, but it's probably too good to be true. The Manitoba Government has already been whittling down staffing levels through selective attrition under NDP rule. There's only so much "fat" you can scalp off. As Curtis Brown and Paul G. Thomas have documented 2, the Manitoba Public Service has went through some serious capacity reduction in the past, modest renewal in the Doer days, and currently has an aging workforce. They further noted that "by 2016, almost 75 percent of senior leaders in the civil service will be eligible to retire. By the same year, almost 50 percent of the entire civil service will be in a position to retire. These statistics have profound significance for government-wide policy memory and the in-house capacity to formulate policy under more complex conditions." (Brown & Thomas, 2010, p. 246)

Factoring in that there has been some replacement since the six years ago, when the book was published, it is still an aging workforce with many members set to retire. There won't be limitless slack to exploit and many upcoming challenges Manitoba faces, like an aging overall population more dependent on the healthcare system and the need to transition to a low carbon economy, will require significant policy development and expertise.

 And from the standpoint of keeping service levels constant with less staff, some of the Pallister CON Government's recent announcements seem weird. For instance, there is a memo directing deputy ministers to "refrain from new spending on office relocations, furniture and information technology projects [emphasis added]". Now, you would imagine increasing IT investments to make individual workers more productive as well as investments aimed at getting more government services online, faster would be exactly the way you keep services constant with less staff. Yet here be freezes.

All of this seems to be pointing to a situation where, yes, the Cassandras will be proved right. There will not be unlimited slack to exploit. Even if workers aren't fired, they simply retire and aren't replaced, we'll still face declining service levels.Comparison shopping and efficiency fairies, in the end, will not painlessly cut spending without cutting service.

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1 Pallister's actual savings plan had specifics like merging agencies like the East Side Road Authority and reducing union contracts in government alongside the unspecified "efficiencies" that accounted for over a third of his savings. Pallister, however, consistently argued in public for all his savings along the lines that they'd be just like comparison shopping done by Manitoba consumers.


2 Curtis Brown and Paul G. Thomas, “The Past, Present and Future of Manitoba’s Civil Service,” in Manitoba Politics and Government: Issues, Institutions, Traditions, ed. P.G. Thomas and Curtis Brown, 227-256 (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2012).

Still Indispensable

Northern Reflections - Mon, 05/16/2016 - 04:51


Paul Godfrey appeared before the Heritage Committee last week to ask the government for a hand. It was more than a little ironic that the publisher who would prefer to get government out of our lives was coming to it cap in hand. But, Tom Walkom writes, Canadian governments have been giving publishers hand outs for a long time:

In his book Making National News, Ryerson University historian Gene Allen details the agonizing debates among publishers over the federal government’s handsome subsidy to their wire service co-operative, Canadian Press.

The subsidy was required in part because some Canadian publishers were unwilling or unable to pay the high rates charged by telegraph companies for transmitting news over the wire.
During the First World War, publishers also convinced Ottawa that a government-subsidized Canadian wire service would act as a pro-British antidote to news routed through the U.S.-based Associated Press.
At one point, Canada’s wire service was subsidized by both the British and Canadian governments.
In the early years, Ottawa rewarded friendly newspapers by contracting out government printing to them. Later, publishers lobbied for and won reduced rate postage for newspapers. At a time when many readers received their papers through the mail, this was a significant bonus.
Still later, publishers persuaded Ottawa to change the income tax system to favour domestic publications. Those businesses that advertised in Canadian newspapers and magazines could write the cost off. Those that advertised in foreign publications could not.
Known informally as the Maclean’s law, this rule proved of particular benefit to the newsmagazine of that name.
Surprisingly, Walkom believes Godfrey's proposal has merit -- perhaps not just because Postmedia is drowning in debt, but because Walkom's own publisher,  Torstar, lost $53.5 million in the first quarter of this year.
These are tough days for newspapers. But they're still indispensable.
Image: ipolitics.ca

The Attacks on Sophie Grégoire Trudeau Grow More Ugly and Violent

Montreal Simon - Mon, 05/16/2016 - 04:39


Yesterday I wrote about how disgusted I was by the way the Cons had gone after Sophie Grégoire Trudeau.

And how the smear campaign against her on social media was becoming meaner and uglier.

Well now it's out of control, and getting even more violent.
Read more »

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