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Sunday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Sun, 01/18/2015 - 09:46
This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Tasini at Daily Kos discusses the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy's finding that every single U.S. state has a regressive tax structure in the taxes imposed at the state and local level. And John Cassidy examines the Center for American Progress' proposals for more inclusive prosperity:
Based on a retelling of recent economic history that should by now be familiar, the report argues that more aggressive measures are needed to tackle wage stagnation and rising inequality. In the U.S. case, the report’s recommendations include raising the minimum wage, encouraging the growth of trades unions, providing wage subsidies to those on moderate incomes, investing in infrastructure and education, boosting home ownership, making the personal tax system more progressive, closing corporate tax loopholes, and making the financial system more stable.

While none of these proposals is new, taken together they constitute a broad agenda designed to reverse, or at least alleviate, the alarming underlying trends. “Our report is about embracing the new economic opportunities of the 21st century by finding ways to ensure they serve the vast majority of society,” the authors write. “Just as it took the New Deal and the European social welfare state to make the Industrial Revolution work for the many and not the few during the 20th century, we need new social and political institutions to make 21st century capitalism work for the many and not the few.”

Despite this language, the report isn’t exactly a radical document. You won’t find anywhere in it an endorsement of Thomas Piketty’s call for a global wealth tax; or of the suggestion, from Peter Diamond and Emmanuel Saez, that the optimal rate of income tax on top earners may be as high as seventy per cent; or of the proposal, from Anat Admati and others, to break up the big banks. In an age of rising populism, the report is clearly intended to occupy the center ground of progressive politics. But its contents also demonstrate how the center ground has shifted.- And Robert Reich explains why improved raw job numbers and unemployment rates in the U.S. aren't leading to wage growth:
(T)oday’s workers are less economically secure than workers have been since World War II. Nearly one out of every five is in a part-time job.

Insecure workers don’t demand higher wages when unemployment drops. They’re grateful simply to have a job.

To make things worse, a majority of Americans have no savings to draw upon if they lose their job. Two-thirds of all workers are living paycheck to paycheck. They won’t risk losing a job by asking for higher pay.

Insecurity is now baked into every aspect of the employment relationship. Workers can be fired for any reason, or no reason. And benefits are disappearing. The portion of workers with any pension connected to their job has fallen from over half in 1979 to under 35 percent in today.

Workers used to be represented by trade unions that utilized tight labor markets to bargain for higher pay. In the 1950s, more than a third of all private-sector workers belonged to a union. Today, though, fewer than 7 percent of private-sector workers are unionized.

None of these changes has been accidental. The growing use of outsourcing abroad and of labor-replacing technologies, the large reserve of hidden unemployed, the mounting economic insecurities, and the demise of labor unions have been actively pursued by corporations and encouraged by Wall Street. - Marianne Geoffrion reports on Julius Grey's take on inequality and the Cons' austerity. And the Star argues that the Cons' choice to bull forward with an income-splitting giveaway - which means borrowing money to hand to the rich - shows how irresponsible they are with our public finances.

- Finally, Voices points out that in addition to doing nothing to actually make child care available for Canadian families, the Cons have also gone out of their way to silence the groups working toward that goal.

Of chills and shills

Trapped In a Whirlpool - Sun, 01/18/2015 - 08:45
My Councillor at work repping those he truly serves.
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we like lists: things we learn from tv detective and murder mystery shows

we move to canada - Sun, 01/18/2015 - 08:00
If you enjoy detective shows, murder mysteries, and legal dramas, you learn a lot of things that don't necessarily reflect reality. Here are some things you may learn from these shows.

1. Women are crazy and kill people.

I have already blogged about and disproportionate percentage of female murderers on TV detective shows.

In reality, about 90% of homicides are committed by men. I don't know what percent of TV murderers are women, but on some shows it's well over half.

2. Defense lawyers are all scum.

On quality police and legal dramas, most categories of people are portrayed as both good and bad. There are honest prosecutors and corrupt prosecutors. There are valiant feminist crusaders and wacko women schemers. But only one character is uniformly and consistently portrayed in a negative light: the defense attorney. On TV, there are no honest defense lawyers. They are all evil magicians who use the law - often dismissed as "a technicality" - to subvert justice.

In the modern justice system, everyone is entitled to a defense. The revelation of scores of wrongful convictions points to the need for such a system. Yet in the world of TV detective shows, when a suspect "lawyers up," she is practically admitting guilt.

The award for the most scummy TV defense attorney of all time goes to Maurice Levy (played by Michael Kostroff), who defends the Baltimore drug dealers and murderers who populate "The Wire". Levy is also the only Jewish character on the show.

3. CCTV is an important and useful law-enforcement tool.

The entire UK - and, of course, much of the US, Canada, and elsewhere - is now blanketed in surveillance cameras. Study after study shows that CCTV does very little to prevent crime, except in limited, closed environments such as parking lots or stores. You'd never know this from watching detective shows, in which CCTV is often a crucial link in apprehending very bad people who do very bad things. Yet another cultural trope to remind us that if you have nothing to hide, you have no reason to oppose surveillance - that is, to value your privacy.

Anything else?

thoughts arising from the death of a defender of free speech

we move to canada - Sun, 01/18/2015 - 07:00
This week's obituaries included the last living link to two landmark moments in the history of freedom of expression.

Al Bendich was just two years out of law school when he wrote the brief that is credited with the victory in the famous "Howl" obscenity case. In 1957, Lawrence Ferlinghetti published Allen Ginsberg's masterpiece "Howl" in book form and sold it in his City Lights bookstore (now a San Francisco institution). Ferlinghetti was arrested on obscenity charges; the story of his trial is tremendous. You can read a bit about it in Bendich's New York Times obituary; the movie "Howl" is also a good primer.

A few years later, Bendich would successfully defend the performer Lenny Bruce. Of the four court trials that Bruce would endure, the case that Bendich defended was the only one to end in acquittal.

* * * *

I noticed Bendich's obituary while the law - and its many uses and abuses - was on my mind. We had just seen the documentary "West of Memphis," about a horrendous injustice perpetrated by the justice [sic] and legal systems in the US state of Arkansas. (A feature film "Devil's Knot" was also made about this case. It is terrible. Skip it and go straight to "West of Memphis".)

"West of Memphis" is the story of how three teenage boys were convicted of a crime they did not commit, while the man who very likely did murder three young boys was never even arrested. Two of the teenagers were sentenced to life in prison; one received the death penalty. Only massive, sustained, unrelenting public pressure - and the involvement of several high-profile celebrities such as musical artist Eddie Vedder and director Peter Jackson - resulted in the release of the convicted men, but not before they served 18 years in prison and without exoneration.

The personal and specific stories of what happened to these young men is awful enough, but far more terrible is the knowledge that these wrongful convictions were not unusual. The only unusual part was the public spotlight and their eventual release.

As we've learned through the work of people like Barry Scheck and The Innocence Project, and Northwestern Law School's Center on Wrongful Convictions, wrongful convictions occur all the time. While they may happen for many reasons, most wrongful convictions have one root cause: political pressure. Prosecutors feel they must produce a suspect and get a conviction in order to retain public confidence in the criminal justice system, and ultimately, their jobs.

What kind of justice is that?

I can think of few things more awful - more frustrating, more anger-producing, more disillusioning - than a person serving time for a crime he did not commit. And I can think of few things more useless in terms of justice. Wingnuts who complain about the (supposedly) liberal fixation on wrongful conviction conveniently forget that each wrongful conviction represents a murderer and/or a rapist who is free to continue to terrorize and kill more victims.

* * * *

I used to refer to myself as a law-school refugee; when I was in university, I was under a fair bit of paternal pressure to take the LSATs, apply, and attend law school. The idea held a certain amount of appeal. (Me and my subconscious puns.) Through my early 20s, I still occasionally considered it, to get involved in constitutional law, as practiced by organizations like the Center for Constitutional Rights and other left-leaning public-interest groups.

"West of Memphis" left me thinking about the many paths lawyers may take. For a long time, I worked as support staff in law firms where wealthy lawyers help even more wealthy corporations make more profit, pay less taxes, destroy the environment, and buy legislation to do more of all three. They're on one end of a spectrum that ends, for me, with the legal warriors who work to overturn wrongful convictions, defend the environment, defend free speech, defend human rights and civil liberties.

So... thank you, Al Bendich!

Egg On His Car

Politics and its Discontents - Sun, 01/18/2015 - 06:05
... but not on his face. Yes, our peripatetic and staunch, uncritical supporter of all things Israeli, Foreign Minister John baird, was spared the ultimate humiliation during a visit to the West Bank city of Ramallah today to meet with Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki.



The protesters, who were waiting as Baird left Malki's office, were kept well back and Baird was not hit, authorities say. One media report says only one of the eggs landed on the roof of his car.

Protesters held signs reading: "Baird you are not welcome in Palestine."Here is some raw footage of the event, which many Canadians will look upon rather wistfully, I suspect, given that at home, members of the Harper regime have a far more nuanced relationship with the public, appearing only before carefully vetted, friendly groups:



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Stephen Harper and the Ghosts of Scandals Past

Montreal Simon - Sun, 01/18/2015 - 05:01


By proroguing the budget until April, and presumably cancelling any plans for an early election, Stephen Harper has guaranteed himself a visit from the Ghosts of Scandals Past.

And I'm not just talking about Mike Duffy, or Dean del Mastro who will be sentenced later this month.

Or his old friend Bruce Carson who will also have his day in court on corruption charges...



Or even a possible appearance by the ghost of Pamela Wallin.

Because now he's also facing the prospect of having to confront the ghost of Arthur Porter...
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Stephen Harper, Alberta, and the House of Saud

Montreal Simon - Sun, 01/18/2015 - 04:56


Well let's face it, it's not a great time to be an Albertan. Their Great Leader Stephen Harper's oily obsession with creating a Greater Albertonia his leading them to disaster.

Once they were living high off the bitumen, and lording it over the rest of us. Now the wheels are falling off their monster trucks, and they're heading for a recession. 

But when they look around for somebody to blame, maybe they should take a close look at their House of Harper and it's warm relationship with the House of Saud.

Because then they might ask themselves, as Jeffrey Simpson does, why are they supporting those who are destroying their economy?
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What He Says They Mean

Northern Reflections - Sun, 01/18/2015 - 03:29
                                             http://www.activityvillage.co.uk

Watching the Harper government serve up a pre-election budget has become a drama in the Theatre of the Absurd. That's because -- as Tim Harper wrote last week in the Toronto Star -- for Stephen Harper, politics trumps math:

The new Conservative math is political math.
There’s another name for it. It’s a shell game.
Finance Minister Joe Oliver appears ready to arbitrarily set a future oil price — one that neither he nor Prime Minister Stephen Harper can predict — that will allow him to proceed with voter-friendly promises in an election year.Even as he pushed the budget date into April, he told a Calgary audience Thursday that he will balance this budget, then run surpluses in the years to come, rising to over $13 billion by 2019-20.
The Harperites find themselves in this predicament because they predicted a surplus based on $81a barrel oil. And they spent the surplus before it materialised. Moreover, they've based their whole re-election strategy on a balanced budget and tax cuts from their non-existent surplus:

They have to balance the budget so they can make good on a promise Harper made on a chilly early April day in Vaughan almost four years ago — the doubling of the limit for Tax Free Savings Account contributions to $10,000, a vote-friendly initiative that was contingent on the deficit being eliminated.
In the short term, there is a cost. The finance department has estimated that the existing TFSA program, introduced in 2009, cost the government more than $400 million in foregone revenue in 2013.
But that figure will be in the tens of billions when accounts are drawn on in the years to come.Similarly, an adult tax fitness credit is tied to the balanced budget.Then there is the matter of other pre-election spending, such as money that should go to veterans and the ongoing costs of an air mission against Islamic State in northern Iraq.
There is an old adage about not counting your chickens before they hatch. The same rule applies to surpluses.

When former MP Bill Casey went to Harper to complain that he had altered the Atlantic Accord, Harper told him that the words in the accord "mean what I say they mean." The same rule seems to apply to budget numbers.

PSA, Life Hacks

Sister Sages Musings - Sat, 01/17/2015 - 22:44

Hi,

 

I generally post about politics, but today, I’d like to share with you what has become known as a “life hack”.  That’s like a shortcut, for all you old codgers out there, who probably already know this.

 

I am of a certain age, as they say.  I like to keep my . . . → Read More: PSA, Life Hacks

The Great Pope Francis: Not as Good As Advertised

Montreal Simon - Sat, 01/17/2015 - 20:38


I did have such high hopes for him. He did seem to be the best Pope I have ever seen.

He did say some great things about capitalism and climate change. 

But it turns out Pope Francis is not as good as I thought. Just more of the same.

Or just another old reactionary.
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This Changes Everything? I Doubt It.

The Disaffected Lib - Sat, 01/17/2015 - 14:00
I finally got around to finishing Naomi Klein's "This Changes Everything." While it's insightful it didn't break much ground and was disappointing in discussing just how we'll ever "change everything."  Klein gets it.  There's more than climate change at work threatening mankind.  She has a handle on over-population and over-consumption, resource shortages and such but she seems to pin her hopes on some sort of uprising in the miasma emanating from our excesses.  I'm unconvinced.

When I look at the world today, I think that, barring some planet-wide epiphany, some massive revolutionary change, we're hooped.  

I try to stay current with developments in environmental science, the latest reports and such.  Many of these studies are behind paywalls but you can usually find the executive summary and a few informative reviews to put the pieces together.

The past six months have seen new science that has certainly dimmed my outlook.  There was the World Bank study that found we have already locked in 1.5C warming for our grandkids even if we stopped carbon emissions today. What that means is that all of our ongoing and steadily increasing carbon emissions are adding to that 1.5C.  It seems to confirm projections that we're heading for 4 to 5C of warming by the end of this century and nobody contends that's survivable.

In September we received the Living Planet Report 2014 of the WWF, the Global Footprint Network and the Zoological Society of London that found we have lost half of the wild life on our planet since the early 70s.  Half of it is gone.  We're now working our way on the remaining half.  How can that be?  It's easy.  Mankind is now consuming renewable resources at more than 1.5 times their replenishment rate.  When we're taking that much, what's left for all other life forms?  Certainly not enough to sustain them.  We won't do without so they have to until they can't.  We get politely concerned when lakes dry up or rivers no longer reach the sea but we're talking about habitats that other animals and plants cannot live without. Sometimes, as in the collapse of global fisheries, we go at them directly for our own consumption.  Sometimes it's our pollution, especially nitrogen and phosphorous discharge, that kills them off.  If you're a non-human life form today you have to contend with climate change impacts, loss of resources and habitat, human predation and the steadily accumulating pollutants and contaminants of many varieties.

Then there were the reports released this week, apparently for the World Economic Forum, Davos.  The WEF released its "Global Risks 2015" report. The future it foresees is increasingly challenging, an "increasingly complex risk environment for which the world is "insufficiently prepared."  Inter-state wars, resource wars which are wars for survival, are the predominant threat to global security in the coming decade.  Water wars are the prime culprit.

Most troubling for me was the report on the 5-year study of the nine key factors that "ensure a livable planet for humans."  We're already in serious trouble on four of the nine and the trend is not encouraging on the others.

The report reinforces a conclusion I reached some time ago that climate change/global warming is not a stand-alone problem but one symptom of a much greater disorder that confronts and threatens the continuation of mankind.  The comments of the lead author, published in The Guardian, speak for themselves about the mess we're in.

Since 1950 urban populations have increased seven-fold, primary energy use has soared by a factor of five, while the amount of fertiliser used is now eight times higher. The amount of nitrogen entering the oceans has quadrupled.

All of these changes are shifting Earth into a “new state” that is becoming less hospitable to human life, researchers said.

“These indicators have shot up since 1950 and there are no signs they are slowing down,” said Prof Will Steffen of the Australian National University and the Stockholm Resilience Centre. Steffen is the lead author on both of the studies.

“When economic systems went into overdrive, there was a massive increase in resource use and pollution. It used to be confined to local and regional areas but we’re now seeing this occurring on a global scale. These changes are down to human activity, not natural variability.”

We are clearing land, we are degrading land, we introduce feral animals and take the top predators out, we change the marine ecosystem by overfishing – it’s a death by a thousand cuts,” he said. “That direct impact upon the land is the most important factor right now, even more than climate change.

“If the Earth is going to move to a warmer state, 5-6C warmer, with no ice caps, it will do so and that won’t be good for large mammals like us. People say the world is robust and that’s true, there will be life on Earth, but the Earth won’t be robust for us.

Some people say we can adapt due to technology, but that’s a belief system, it’s not based on fact. There is no convincing evidence that a large mammal, with a core body temperature of 37C, will be able to evolve that quickly. Insects can, but humans can’t and that’s a problem.”

Steffen said the research showed the economic system was “fundamentally flawed” as it ignored critically important life support systems.

It’s clear the economic system is driving us towards an unsustainable future and people of my daughter’s generation will find it increasingly hard to survive,” he said. “History has shown that civilisations have risen, stuck to their core values and then collapsed because they didn’t change. That’s where we are today.”

The two studies, published in Science and Anthropocene Review, featured the work of scientists from countries including the US, Sweden, Germany and India. The findings will be presented in seven seminars at the World Economic Forum in Davos, which takes place between 21 and 25 January.

All of these studies that are coming in point to one conclusion.   We, mankind, have painted ourselves into a very dangerous corner and there may no longer be a way out.  We cling to forms of organization - economic, industrial, social and political - that outlived their utility as far back as the 70s when we began expanding past the limits of our environment.  Whether we even have the ability to solve our challenges isn't the issue.  What's holding us back is a complete lack of will, especially among those we empower and rely upon to safeguard our nation and our children.  

International Criminal Court Launches Probe. Israel Seethes and Squirms.

The Disaffected Lib - Sat, 01/17/2015 - 11:19


A prosecutor from the International Criminal Court has opened a probe into possible war crimes in the Palestinian territories.  Israel wasted no time lashing out, threatening to dismantle the ICC.

Potential cases [prosecutor Fatou] Bensouda could take on include allegations of war crimes by Israel during last summer's Gaza war where the Palestinians suffered heavy civilian casualties. Israel's settlement construction on occupied Palestinian lands could also be examined.

The cases could also include alleged war crimes by Hamas, which controls Gaza, including the firing of thousands of rockets at Israeli residential areas from crowded neighborhoods.

[Israeli prime minister, Benjamin] Netanyahu also said that, "unfortunately, the move turns the court into part of the problem, rather than part of the solution," Netanyahu concluded. "It's a scandalous that only days after terrorists slaughtered Jews in Paris ... the ICC opens an inquiry against the Jewish state, and only because it defends its citizens against Hamas, a terrorist organization that is partnered with the Palestinian Authority."

Describing the court's statement as hypocritical and supportive of terror, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman the decision was "scandalous," stemmed political and anti-Israel motives and was an attempt to "harm Israel's right to defend itself against terror." He added that Israel would take international action to have the ICC dismantled.


Lieberman said that it was impossible to compare the Israel Defense Forces, which "does everything possible to avoid harming innocents," with "terror organizations which fire from areas populated by civilians against areas populated by other civilians." 
Lieberman, true to form, is talking out of his ass.  The assault on Gaza last summer was a textbook case of the Israeli tactic, Dahiyeh, the deliberate and massive targeting of civilians and the essential infrastructure upon which civilians depend.  It begins with airstrikes to take out sewer and water plants, indispensible to urban living.  Next up are hospitals and schools.  Finally residential areas are targeted and attacked.  Dahiyeh  takes its name from the Lebanese suburb of Beirut where Israel introduced the atrocity.  That this is a deliberate. calculated policy authorized by the highest Israeli authority was revealed by documents released by Wikileaks.

RCMP union--solidarity forever?

Dawg's Blawg - Sat, 01/17/2015 - 08:21
The Supreme Court of Canada has spoken: RCMP officers have the right to form a union. My brothers and sisters in the labour movement are overjoyed. But I cannot join in the celebrations. No right is abstract and universal: all... Dr.Dawg http://drdawgsblawg.ca/

Saturday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Sat, 01/17/2015 - 07:47
Miscellaneous material for your weekend reading.

- Gerald Caplan writes that we all bear some responsibility for growing inequality - and how we'll need to use our electoral power to reverse it:
(S)elf-sacrifice is not going to be the key to reducing inequality, with all the great damage it inflicts on society. Government needs to act, and Mr. Mackenzie offers perfectly realistic policies to any party that is seriously committed to greater equality. For example, the tax break on stock options generously provided by our government is worth a cool half-trillion to the top 100 – a nice day’s “work,” for sure. And since federal corporate taxes, an affordable 29 per cent only 15 years ago, now stand at 15 per cent, we can expect Mr. Mackenzie to report even higher rewards for his hearty band next January.

Anyone who dabbles in the field for even a moment knows there are lots of ideas for reducing inequality. Some are political non-starters but others are quite simple and workable. Knowing what to do is not the issue. The issue, as usual, is the political will to attack the problem frontally. The NDP is so far proposing a distinctly modest increase in corporate taxes, which is more than its opponents. As of now, with an election less than a year away, the big winner once again, and still champion, is inequality.- Marc Lee rightly challenges the theory that any steps to deal with climate change should exacerbate inequality by being revenue-neutral.

- But Susana Mas reports that the Cons are once again refusing to consider any increases in revenue, and using their failed bet on an oil-dependent economy as an excuse to cut even further into Canada's public services.

- Karl Nerenberg notes that in addition to having the only plan to combat inequality, the NDP is also the only one party is willing to treat voters like adults. But it's worth noting that the NDP isn't the only party with a relatively detailed policy document: the difference is that the NDP has enough respect for members and the public alike to make its policy work readily accessible, while the Cons force non-members to go on a scavenger hunt (or at least search their site from the outside) to find theirs.

- Finally, Stephen Maher recognizes that the greatest threat we face from acts of terror lies in the people who would use the excuse to crack down on civil rights and freedoms.

Election Law? What Election Law?

Northern Reflections - Sat, 01/17/2015 - 07:38


There has been lots of speculation recently about whether Stephen Harper will break his own fixed date election law -- for the second time. It's remarkable, Andrew Coyne writes, that a man who insisted on the law should have such little regard for it. What is even more remarkable is that Canadians -- in general -- also have little respect for the law:

Not only does he not feel bound by it, but neither do the rest of us seem inclined to insist that he should. We have all somehow come to accept that it is perfectly normal, even acceptable, for the government — the government! — to disobey the law if it feels like it, as if the laws that are binding upon the rest of us were not binding upon the governments that pass them. This is surely an astonishing state of affairs, in a democracy, a measure not only of the corrupting effects of power but of how the rest of us have been corrupted along with it.
It is, indeed, an astonishing state of affairs. But it's worth remembering that, for Stephen Harper, "contempt of Parliament" was merely a matter of being out voted. And, given the fact that he won the election that contempt triggered, Canadians seem to believe that contempt comes down to votes.

Coyne correctly observes that:

We should not have to wonder whether the laws Parliament passes are of any worth or meaning, or whether the government we elect will seek refuge in fine print and Clintonian wordplay to wriggle out of them. We should not have to worry that our government is trying to con us. We are entitled to some expectation of good faith, and if we have lost even that then the implications are a lot worse than an untimely election call.
We are in deep trouble.



More On The Amanda Lang Imbroglio

Politics and its Discontents - Sat, 01/17/2015 - 05:46
The Star's John Semley offers his thoughts on the inadequacy and ineptitude of the CBC's response to the Amanda Lang scandal:

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