Posts from our progressive community

Is This a Battle We've Already Lost Without Knowing It?

The Disaffected Lib - Tue, 06/23/2015 - 12:02


Okay they're listening and I've unwittingly let them in my house.

We were somewhat troubled to learn, several years ago, that certain game consoles had cameras that could allow others to watch what people were doing without them knowing of it.

Now I might have fallen for something along the same lines.  I've developed a heart issue that is somewhat sleep related.  I read about this fitness tracker plus thingee offered by Jawbone, the UP3, that has additional sensors that monitor, record and report things such as resting heart rate and detailed sleep data according to light, deep and REM sleep and waking intervals.

The software is amazing. It provides daily reports on activity, exercise, sleep, heart rate and such. These stats are then crunched into weekly and monthly summaries.  All this info is stored in "the cloud" for up to five years or at least you can supposedly access five years of your own data.

The other morning I woke up parched and immediately downed two glasses of water.  When I looked at the morning UP3 summary, I was surprised that my resting heart rate was a good bit higher than normal.  My smartphone app then went on to conclude that I had probably become dehydrated and urged me to drink 8 glasses of water that day.  I have to say I was pretty impressed.

The Cloud.  That's a network of remote servers and that's about all you'll ever know about them.  They're supposedly secure but don't tell that to the celebrities who risque selfies were hacked and then leaked online.

Now I'm not particularly worried.  I don't see how anyone would be interested in my health data or could possibly benefit by stealing it.  That said, I think others could be quite vulnerable.  Employers are becoming more focused on the health of their workers or those applying for openings.  What about insurers?  They really want that information and they don't have a great reputation for being too scrupulous about getting it.

Some months ago my daughter received an invitation through Amazon Prime (US) to purchase an Amazon Echo device at half price.  These are apparently much sought after.  She wasn't interested but she thought it would be great for me, living alone and all.

It's a black cylinder sort of thingee that operates by voice command.  Some of its functions resemble iPhone's Siri or Android's "Okay Google."  You can ask it things like directions to some destination or trivia such as who won the 1956 World Series and it spews out the info.

The Amazon Echo goes a few steps beyond.  You might turn your smartphone off to save battery power between charges but the Echo is plugged in so it's always on.  You activate it by saying its name "Alexa."  It has a wonderful voice synthesis technology that doesn't sound robotic.  You can ask Alexa for information.  If you're cooking you might need to know how many grams in an ounce or how many teaspoons in a tablespoon, that sort of thing.  Trivia is a specialty.  Whose faces are on Mt. Rushmore, that sort of thing, or who succeeded Joseph Stalin - your sense of curiosity is the limit.  It'll summarize the latest news, give you the local weather, tell you want time it is in Dublin or Tokyo.  It has a bluetooth speaker so it'll play whatever music you request, handy when you're doing something time consuming like making a batch of ravioli.

Amazon, of course, is a mega retailer so it's not surprising that Alexa can make up shopping lists.  "Alexa, put paper towels on my shopping list."  Done.  Then, when you're ready to go the shopping list is on your cell phone and you're away to the races.  Once you set up an account with Amazon, Alexa can also order directly from Jeff Bezo's outfit.  "Alexa, order Pears Soap from Amazon Prime." After that you just wait for the parcel to show up at your doorstep.

It all sounds too good to be true and it probably is.  Your communications with Alexa can go out via bluetooth and wind up somewhere in the Cloud.  I'm damned sure Amazon will be logging everything you put on your shopping lists, building up your consumer profile to target you for advertising.

What would happen if you began each morning with "Alexa, how can I contact al Qaeda?" or "Alexa, what household ingredients are required to make explosives?"  In this era of total information awareness is there some computer out there, maybe a horde of them, scouring the ether for these sorts of buzzwords, identifying the source, adding them to watch lists?

The thing is, I'm not sure Alexa and I are going to have a wonderful relationship. I might just wind up having to drown her in the bathtub - not that I would know anything about that sort of thing you understand.

Entitled To Her Entitlements

Politics and its Discontents - Tue, 06/23/2015 - 11:57
That seems to be the attitude of Ann Gray, another former Harper appointee, on her and her husband's lavish 'fact-finding' trips, which cost the taxpayer plenty. She regards the fuss as much ado about nothing, seeing the trips as a 'thank you' for her unpaid time sitting on the Blue Water Bridge Canada crown corporation.

Rarely has a volunteer done so little for so much, some might say.

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Why Won't the Media Denounce Harper as a Despot?

The Disaffected Lib - Tue, 06/23/2015 - 11:14
As the Vancouver Observer points out, day in and day out Canadian journalists themselves are willing victims of Harper's tyrannical ways.

We like talking to him. It's our job, even when he makes it hard.

And he does. Harper takes only 3 questions at each public appearance (or none at all).

Reporters wishing to ask a question must be pre-approved by his team. If we're approved, we get one question. No follow-up for clarification. No discussion.

Same goes for his ministers, who stick to a script. This is bad for democracy. This damages the public's right to know.

The essence of democracy, its very legitimacy hinges on the consent of the governed.  But consent itself is predicated on an informed decision maker, in Harper's case the Canadian people.  It's their consent to give or withhold but it can only be validly given if their government informs them of what it intends to do and explains why and is prepared to answer questions.
When journalists can't question government officials, get the full story, their corporate bosses might not mind but they're abrogating their responsibility to the public.  When "don't make waves" becomes the standard for journalists, the erstwhile "watchdogs of government," it's bludgeoning democracy.


Oxfam Fingers the "Toxic Triangle"

The Disaffected Lib - Tue, 06/23/2015 - 11:02
Oxfam has identified three factors, the Toxic Triangle, it considers most likely to defeat our efforts to prevent runaway global warming - political inertia, financial short-termism, and vested fossil fuel interests.

“The fossil fuel industry has conjured a toxic triangle that is trapping us into a warming world. Governments and investors are helping the industry to recklessly protect its own profits at the expense of us all. The world’s poorest are already being hit hardest and millions more will be made hungry by climate change,” the Oxfam chief executive, Mark Goldring, said. Oxfam says the “toxic triangle” supported spending of more than $674bn (£423bn) on fossil fuels in 2012. Investment in the industry was propped up by tax breaks, government incentives and an estimated $1.9tn of subsidies a year. More than $500,000 a day was being spent on lobbying US and EU governments, it says.

Dear Steve, Don't Go Down in History as a Mass Murderer

The Disaffected Lib - Tue, 06/23/2015 - 10:34
It'll be millions, that's for sure.  More likely many hundreds of millions.  If you add in collateral events such as war, it could well end up in the billions.  Nobody really wants to pin the tail on that donkey, the one representing 4 degrees Celsius of global warming.

Yet that is the future that proponents of high-carbon fossil fuels would bequeath us, a world of chaos and mass death of unprecedented, unimaginable scale.  Here in Canada we've got those very people running the place or waiting in opposition to replace them and pick up where they leave off.  You can think of them as diabolical plague rats.

Look at this picture.


In a way it resembles photos of Chinese factory workers assembling iPhones only the product here is infants.  They're being treated for respiratory illnesses at the children's hospital in Xi'an, China.  Ever see such a thing?  If we don't stop Harper and the rest of the Tar Sanders on Parliament Hill on both sides of the aisle, maybe some day you will.

Germany's climate change centre, the Potsdam Institute, with the sponsorship of the World Bank, recently presented an excellent online course exploring what awaits us in a world beset by 4C warming.  There are plenty of reasons that's not discussed in polite company.  It is certainly not fit for dinner table conversation.

A report just issued by the British medical journal, Lancet, in conjunction with London's UCL (possibly the best university you've never heard of) concludes that climate change threatens to wipe out half a century of advances in global health (see photo above).

“We see climate change as a major health issue and that it is often neglected in the policy debates,” said Professor Anthony Costello, director of the UCL Institute of Global Health and co-chair of the commission.

“On our current trajectory, going to 4C [of warming] is somewhere we don’t want to go and that has very serious and potentially catastrophic effects for human health and human survival and could undermine all of the last half-century’s gains. We see that as a medical emergency because the action we need to do to stop that in its tracks and get us back onto a 2C trajectory or less requires action now – and action in the next ten years – otherwise the game could be over.”

Game over, indeed.

There are only two camps, an we're all in one or the other.

One camp accepts science and fact, especially in the face of such an overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change.  It recognizes the enormity of the challenge and the incredible sacrifices necessary to meet it.

The other camp is for denialism.  There are the active denialists who reject the scientific consensus on the strength of belief as well as those who have personal interests to defend.  There's also another group in the denialism camp, the really large group who simply find climate change far too ominous and overwhelming to accept and who, instead, either ignore it or grasp for nonsensical responses about how the Earth has always warmed and cooled, it's all a scientific conspiracy and a massive hoax, or global warming has stopped.  Another substantial element just can't deal with it.  It's more than they can handle.  There are plenty of Liberals and New Democrats in this last subsection. Theirs are the votes that will keep the plague rats in power.

Of course as Canadians we'll be the last and least affected by the ravages of climate change.  We've got our own "sin eaters" - the poorest and most vulnerable in the most hard scrabble corners of the world.  They didn't accept that role but our prosperity prescribes it for them.  Can't be helped.  I suppose.


Obama's interview and his use of 'N' word commenting on South Carolina tragedy

LeDaro - Tue, 06/23/2015 - 09:54
One can do a google search and find a plethora of racist images of Barack Obama and Michelle Obama and yet this is what’s fuelling outrage?  Listening to the interview and context, Obama’s use of the n-word made sense.  It was about how, while there has been much progress in race-relations, much more needs to be done.  It was blunt, it got people talking, though I’m worried a lot of the media coverage misses the point, trying to turn it into a gaffe-of-the-week and not recognizing the depth and seriousness of the problem Obama was talking about.
Blacks are literally being gunned down in city streets in America, deep inequalities persist.  A few feel-good gestures are not enough, that’s what Obama was getting at. What’s especially ironic is conservatives, who have engaged in dog-whistle politics against African-Americans for decades, choose to get outraged over this.
I’m with the president on this.  You can watch the video of the president’s podcast interview below.

Tuesday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Tue, 06/23/2015 - 09:17
This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Mark Anderson reports on the Change Readiness Index' findings that the growing concentration and inequality of wealth is making it more and more difficult for countries to deal with foreseeable disasters. But Jon Queally points out that a concerted effort to quit abusing fossil fuels could do a world in making our world both more fair and more sustainable.

- James Galbraith suggests that the EU is guilty of gross malpractice in how it continues to treat Greece in the face of overwhelming public opposition to austerity. But as David Dayen points out, the course of treatment makes a lot more sense if the goal of creditors is to make the patient suffer as a warning to others.

- Andrew Nikiforuk interviews Gus Van Harten about the pernicious effects of the Cons' FIPA trade deal with China:
Just how lopsided is this investment deal with China?

I have followed these treaties for a long time and reviewed hundreds of them. One thing that stands out for me in the deal with China is the unequal rights of market access. In the FIPA -- and I've never seen this before -- the Harper government gave Chinese investors a right of access to Canada's economy, but did not get the same right for Canadian investors in China. That was an extraordinary concession to China.

So, the FIPA requires Canada to open its economy and resources to Chinese companies in general, but it lets China keep a closed economy. China can also keep favouring its own companies at home, in areas like intellectual property, approvals and tax levels. The FIPA is clearly more about giving Chinese investors the freedom to buy what they want in Canada than it is about protecting Canadian investors in China.

How else is the FIPA lopsided? It lets Canada and China block specific investments, but is lopsided on this issue, again in favour of China. China has belts and suspenders to keep unwanted Canadian investors out. Canada has given up the belt and kept a thinner pair of suspenders to keep Chinese investors out.

Treaties like the FIPA are also lopsided in favour of foreign investors, who get far more powerful protection than anyone else does in international law. That comes at a cost to taxpayers and voters. With the FIPA, this part of the deal also favours China simply because the Chinese own more in Canada than Canadians do in China.- Don Braid writes that Rachel Notley's NDP government is not only challenging corporatist dogma in Alberta, but also building a new coalition of previously-marginalized voters who figure to benefit from more progressive governance. And Laurie Monsebraaten reports on Toronto's new - if still somewhat vague - plan to fight poverty in Canada's largest city.

- Finally, tcnorris offers a roadmap for an NDP government in working to abolish the Senate.

Mostly competent government

accidentaldeliberations - Tue, 06/23/2015 - 08:05
To nobody's surprise, Stephen Harper's brand of economic management means election slush funds throwing tens of millions of dollars away for no public benefit.

And it also means public servants going unpaid due to the failure of the Cons' supposed attempts to make government more efficient.

Do we dare take the risk of having another, more responsible party in charge of our public purse?

Michael Chong And The Reform Act

Politics and its Discontents - Tue, 06/23/2015 - 07:37
Yesterday, Owen at Northern Reflections wrote a post on Michael Chong, one of the few members of Stephen Harper's caucus with real integrity, attested to by his principled resignation as Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs after Harper's unilateral declaration of Quebec as a nation. A legitimate question posed is why he remains in the caucus, given the principles he seems to represent. I opined that perhaps he is biding his time, looking toward a future Conservative Party that is no longer led by Stephen Harper, when there is a real opportunity for renewal.

Another reason Chong should feel profoundly disaffected is the fact that his Reform Act has been gutted, and up to yesterday, looked likely to be killed by the Senate through an odious amendment, despite the fact that it was passed by the House. Fortunately, the bill was passed last night without the amendment.

Here is Michael Chong talking to Terry Milewski about the bill on Power and Politics yesterday that perhaps gives some insight into his thinking:

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It Will End In Catastrophe

Northern Reflections - Tue, 06/23/2015 - 05:31

                                    http://predicthistunpredictpast.blogspot.ca/

Pope Francis' encyclical continues to make waves. Five Republican candidates for president -- who are also Catholic -- have attacked Laudato Si, claiming Francis knows nothing about science. They forget that the Pope's first degree was in chemistry. They and their followers profess what Gary Wills calls "Holy Ignorance:"

When a Republican politician, asked about climate change, says, “I’m not a scientist,” most of us hear just a cowardly way of dodging the question; but the politician’s supporters hear a brave defiance of an alien force. When we hear only “science,” they hear “godless science,” the kind that wants to rob them of their belief in creation and force evolution into their minds. That science is marching in a battalion of forces—the media, the academy, the government—that has them besieged. “I’m not a scientist” does not mean, “I have not heard enough about the science, and need to hear more,” but “I know the evil intent or effect of science, and I will not let it affect me.” They summon a courage not to know. 
True to his Jesuit training, however, Francis is all about the courage to know -- and the courage to argue an entirely different case:

"The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth."
"The emptier a person's heart is, the more he or she needs to buy, own and consume."
"Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us."
"For indigenous communities, land is not a commodity, but a gift from God, a sacred space."
"Earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone."
"We should be particularly indignant at the enormous inequalities in our midst."
"We have to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor."
What Francis has done is marry science to traditional Catholic social teaching. Concern for the planet and concern for the poor amount to the same thing. That's a case modern neo-liberalism has been trying to deny for almost fifty years.

For the pope, neo-liberalism amounts to self- centred nihilism -- and it will end in catastrophe.

Solo Stephen and the Scary Collapse of the House of Harper

Montreal Simon - Tue, 06/23/2015 - 03:09


As you know Stephen Harper has been losing so many ministers recently, that even though he's a psychopath not a people person, he must be feeling awfully lonely.

And of course desperately vulnerable.

For how can he claim that the opposition parties are unfit to govern?

When his front bench is now so thin, and his talent pool so shallow, one really has to wonder whether the Cons can still call themselves a government.

What with their Great Leader looking so shrunken...
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