Posts from our progressive community

The Scots Give Steve Harper a Thistle Up the Kilt.

The Disaffected Lib - Sun, 12/14/2014 - 14:37

The Scots are doing it.  Their expansion of renewable energy allowed them to displace fossil fuels by 14% last year.

Joss Blamire, a senior policy manager at Scottish Renewables, added: "This means that not only are renewables now the number one source of electricity in Scotland, but we have achieved this milestone while preventing a record amount of harmful carbon emissions from being released into our atmosphere."Renewable energy in Scotland is doing exactly what it was designed to do - creating jobs, securing our energy supplies and, most importantly, reducing our carbon emissions to help limit climate change."WWF Scotland director Lang Banks said the results were "fantastic news".'Leading the way'
Speaking from the UN's climate change conference in Lima, Peru, Mr Banks added: "That renewables in Scotland are now helping to displace almost a million tonnes of climate pollution every month is proof that a renewable power sector is the foundation of a truly low carbon economy - keeping the lights on, creating jobs and cutting emissions."Did you hear that Steve (and you too Justin, ditto for you Tommy) - they're creating jobs, securing energy supplies and reducing carbon emissions.  Jobs and energy security - isn't that what you guys are all about?  Or is it only petro-jobs and fossil energy security?

Observing Patterns and Drawing Correct Conclusions

Anti-Racist Canada - Sun, 12/14/2014 - 14:35
Sometimes when we're bored we like to write about the people who have amused us for some reason or other. Over the years we've published articles on the blog we've had one individual who, as a frequent reader, has often tried to rhetorically cross swords with us:


This wide-eyed waif is a young Tomasz Winnicki pictured at a time when he was innocent, hopeful, and had a full head of hair. Eventually Tommy would turn into this:


The years have not been very kind to Tom. Like the boy he was in the first photograph, this nearly 40 year old man-child also still live with his mother and still has difficulty cleaning his bedroom.

Does the term "arrested development" have any meaning, Tommy?

Our long time readers are by this point aware of Tommy and his unjustifiably inflated ego. In short, Winnicki believes himself to be a particularly brilliant chap and that that his ideological foes cower in the face of an obvious intellectual giant. Tommy certainly isn't shy about sharing with others how clever he believes he is:


The above post is based on Winnicki's perception of a discussion found here on the "London Free Press." In the echo chamber that is VNN, there are those who will likely believe that he is "schooling" the folks he describes as anti-racists. Then again, he also thought this was a legitimate argument concerning the recent national elections in Sweden:


We often like to poke Winnicki because.... well.... it's lots of fun. We also know that challenging his intelligence will result in a temper tantrum and Tommy did not fail to disappoint us:
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Wo Bist Du, LeDaro?

The Disaffected Lib - Sun, 12/14/2014 - 14:26

It's been a while since I've seen anything from friend, LeDaro.  His last post was on 26 October and he had been a regular commenter on several other blogs - but he seems to have fallen silent?

Anybody know what's up?

First, do no harm...

Dammit Janet - Sun, 12/14/2014 - 13:19
Upon successfully completing their basic training, and before they take on the years of residency that will allow them to practice their science, skills and craft in a medical specialty of their choice, medical students pledge to the principals of the Hippocratic Oath*.

In Ontario, the specific application of that pledge came under scrutiny in the last year with regard to women's reproductive health rights. In its modern form, the Oath is centred upon patient care. "... Above all, I must not play at God."

DJ! has been covering this issue from the outset, here, and here

Ontario’s new policy is unlikely to put the discussion to rest, said Carolyn McLeod, professor of philosophy at the University of Western Ontario. Patients, particularly women, will undoubtedly find it troubling if a doctor refuses their request for birth control. Doctors who object to abortion might feel uncomfortable or complicit providing patients with a referral, but setting out a clearer policy could help connect patients to care providers who can best serve their needs, Prof. McLeod said.

“To receive abortion care from somebody who is morally opposed to abortion, I think, is harmful,” she said. “I think for patients’ sake, if for no one else’s, there should be the ability for the provider to give the referral.”

Ontario’s new policy has not yet been finalized and could still be changed, depending on what the college hears during the feedback period.

Marc Gabel, former president of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, said doctors could face disciplinary action if they do not comply with the new guidelines and cannot use unfounded medical reasons to withhold birth control, abortions, vasectomies, blood transfusions or other treatments.

“What we’re trying to do, I think, is set a tone to remind physicians and the public we will act professionally in ensuring their access to care and their safety,” Dr. Gabel said.

From here.

This vivid graphic


accompanied anti-Choice Pro-lies groups spin on the 'debate'.  This is their response to regulatory bodies reminding anti-Choice physicians of their professional obligations, responsibilities and duties.

No matter how the fetushists and their acolytes spin their concerns, the basis for their shrieking is fundamentally religious. Yes, a professional can abstain from engaging in activities that compromise her/his beliefs. There are nonetheless job requirements that require that she/he assist a patient in finding a practitioner who will care for, and address the needs of that patient in a timely manner. 

If Gawd-worshippy physicians won't do this, let them move on to a medical specialty or a practice where they won't be tempted to play at being Gawd.

*In my research, I came across this interesting opinion piece about the Oath. There's a relevant point about abortion.

BC RCMP at it again

Dawg's Blawg - Sun, 12/14/2014 - 12:50
It’s not enough to pepper-spray infants or slaughter a new immigrant holding a stapler. Why not drag a 61-year-old woman from her walker (to the right in the photo) and throw her on the ground—for the made-up “crime” of refusing... Dr.Dawg http://drdawgsblawg.ca/

Not Like They Weren't Warned

The Disaffected Lib - Sun, 12/14/2014 - 12:00
"The means of defence against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home."
                                                                   - James Madison

Americans revere their "founding fathers."  Their Supreme Court constantly cites them as authority for its decisions.  Their politicians rely on their words to defend their actions and attack those of their rivals.  The only thing nobody seems to have much interest in is listening to their actual words.








]





Oops, sorry - that's the Wehrmacht

Diversity in the atheist/skeptic communities: An evidence-based approach

Terahertz - Sun, 12/14/2014 - 11:38

The mainstream media has picked up that within the atheist community, there’s been a growing discussion about a perceived lack of diversity among the people viewed as leaders of this movement. I’m not going to rehash the entire discussion (Ashley Miller’s 2013 article "The Non-Religious Patriarchy: Why Losing Religion HAS NOT Meant Losing White Male Dominance" provides a good starting basis) but much of it has focussed on (the important) discussions of why and how the movement should build diversity, with not as much being said about whether things are actually changing.

In the spirit of Sense About Science’s Ask For Evidence campaign (though unaffiliated in any way), Chris Hassall asked me while I was living in Leeds if I could help him research trends in diversity among the leadership of the skeptic/atheist community. It’s a question he’s been thinking about for a couple years (at least) and one I was eager to help answer (particularly being unemployed at the time).

Using as much data as I could find from Google and getting in touch with organisers, we compiled a list of 630 people who have spoken at almost 50 different conferences over the past decade. We made our best estimates of age, sex, education, and ethnicity and were able to show that diversity has increased over the study period.

Once the work was done, we submitted to the journal Secularism & Nonreligion and after some edits from the reviewers, we’re published. It’s an open source journal and our data is available through figshare for those who have novel ideas on how to reuse our work.

What did we find?

Compared to the global gender-balance of the non-religious community, significantly more of the speakers are men and more of the slots available to speak at have gone to men.

Diversity among the speakers has increased

Why is this important?

There’s been a dearth of evidence in the discussions about diversity in the atheist community. Most focuses either on personal anecdotes or specific events/people and their actions or commentary. These discussions are clearly important – personal stories tell us that sexual harassment has happened at atheist and skeptic conferences and those making sexist comments should be challenged. But to make our efforts to change things – particularly at the systematic level – we need to mirror the successes of the evidence-based medicine movement (and by extension the more recent science-based medicine movement). This should seem obvious to a community that prides itself on using reason and evidence to guide its worldview, yet such a discussion has been slow to come.

Similar thinking motivated the BC Humanists to commission a poll into the state of the broader non-religious public in BC in 2013 and I suspect it also motivated American Secular Census and the Atheist Census projects.

We hope that this paper starts a discussion on how to better use evidence in our efforts to improve the community. While the trendline is positive, there is still work to be done.

I’m hoping to follow up this work with a talk I can give at Skeptics in the Pub (or elsewhere) and possibly future investigations. I’m also happy to answer any further questions about this work. Send me an email ian@bushfield.ca or leave a comment below (or on the paper itself).

Sidebar: The sad ironies

I fully recognise the irony of a sociological paper being published by a PhD in Biology and a MSc in Physics. I also realise that this is a discussion about diversity coming from two white men. Nevertheless, I hope it still proves a valuable contribution to the broader discussion and I encourage everyone to listen to people from different backgrounds with different perspectives. Comments are welcome on the paper itself and both Chris and I are eager to discuss this work further.

Reference: Hassall, C and Bushfield, I 2014. Increasing Diversity in Emerging Non-religious Communities.Secularism and Nonreligion 3:7, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/snr.as

Canada's Torture Inc.

Trapped In a Whirlpool - Sun, 12/14/2014 - 11:27
Every hour of every day in Canada mentally ill inmates are gleefully subjected to what the UN  considers torture
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Under The Bus

Politics and its Discontents - Sun, 12/14/2014 - 10:30
While these Raging Grannies could perhaps use the services of a good singing coach, their hearts, and their lyrics, are clearly in the right place:

Recommend this Post

Oops

Trapped In a Whirlpool - Sun, 12/14/2014 - 09:09
Industry Minister James Moore appearing on CTV's Question period this am had a slight slip of the tongue
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Sunday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Sun, 12/14/2014 - 08:56
This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Kevin Page points out a few of the issues which should be on the table when Canada's finance ministers meet next week:
Our finance ministers are smart. They know that faster growth is going to require higher investment rates and sustainable public finances. But the reality is that Canada is falling down on capital investments in both the private and public sectors. Business capital investment has grown a weak 2 per cent over the past two years. That is not boosting the investment rate. Meanwhile, government capital investment has declined 2 per cent over the same period, and that is after the 2009-10 fiscal stimulus. This is not a recipe for boosting growth.

Why do we continue to pursue an approach that stunts growth now and for the future? Is this public sector mismanagement? Or, is this an effort to achieve a balanced budget that allows for spending on current goods or services (for my generation that votes) at the cost of capital goods for future generations (our children and grandchildren that do not yet vote)?
...
The austerity approach set out in the 2012 federal budget will succeed in generating a balanced budget, but at a cost: slower growth and degraded public services like support for veterans. Meanwhile, the government is responding to its improved fiscal situation not by raising the investment rate, but by cutting taxes further.

Analysis by the Parliamentary Budget Office (and Finance Canada) indicates that the federal fiscal structure is sustainable. This is largely because Ottawa has reduced the growth escalator on health transfers, downloading the problem to the provinces. Provincial governments, already struggling under increased pressure caused by slow growth, have a long-term fiscal gap they will have to address.

Given all of these challenges, the finance ministers’ meeting ought to be a pivotal moment. The temptation to focus primarily on oil prices must be avoided. If we want economic growth to raise incomes, address inequalities and ensure essential public services, we are going to have to raise the investment rate in Canada. There’s no other way. - And Andrew Jackson notes that even our mediocre economy of the past few years has relied on unsustainable household-level debt to make up for government neglect:
Younger households on modest incomes are often highly stretched financially, have little or no equity in their homes, are often carrying high levels of credit card debt, and are saving very little for retirement. When housing prices fall and/or interest rates rise, they will be highly vulnerable

By contrast, to households, non financial corporations are in rude financial health, and have been net lenders to the rest of the economy in recent years. Credit market debt of non financial corporations is 58% of business equity, a ratio which has been stable for a decade, and these corporations are currently sitting on $656 billion of cash or what former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney referred to as “dead money.”

While the Bank of Canada has consistently said it hopes to see a “rotation” of demand from households to corporate investment, household debt continues to rise, driven by low interest rates and generally stagnant incomes. CIBC Economics has noted a recent acceleration of consumer borrowing.

As the old saying goes, when something cannot go on forever, it won't. Households cannot continue to borrow so as to spend more than they earn, and house prices cannot rise indefinitely compared to incomes.

We risk a major shock to the economy when the day of reckoning arrives, not least because business investment is unlikely to grow rapidly at a time when household demand is weak.

Some part of the economy, be it households, corporations or governments, has to be borrowing at any given time so as to put savings to use and to maintain overall demand. If households are stretched and business are reluctant investors, it will be up to government to save us from a downturn through increased public investment. - But Thomas Walkom discusses Stephen Harper's stubborn consistency in remaining out of touch with Canadians - a pattern which includes handing out tax baubles rather than developing an economic policy that actually benefits workers. And Louise Elliott offers another important example of the principle, as the Cons are approving Microsoft's plan to drive down wages and avoiding hiring Canadians by rubber-stamping a request for hundreds of temporary foreign workers.

- Branko Milanovic observes that Russia offers a particularly stark example as to how free-market dogmatism led to both a destructive giveaway of public assets, and a corrupted form of corporatism afterward. But unfortunately, Robert Benzie reports that the Ontario Libs are just one of many current governments following the same path.

- Finally, Larry Savage and Stephanie Ross comment on the need for a united labour front in working to replace the Harper Cons and other reactionary governments with progressive alternatives.

We Must Be Luddites

Politics and its Discontents - Sun, 12/14/2014 - 08:39
That can be the only possible explanation for the fact that the federal government is breaking its promise to end abuses of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program so that Canadians can have the first opportunity at applying for available jobs.

As reported by the CBC,
The federal government has granted an exemption to Microsoft Canada that will allow the company to bring in an unspecified number of temporary foreign workers to British Columbia as trainees without first looking for Canadians to fill the jobs.Yep, it is high time we Canadians stopped fearing technology.

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Questioning The Orthodoxy

Northern Reflections - Sun, 12/14/2014 - 06:21
                                                   http://canadabubble.com/

Joe Oliver is meeting with his provincial counterparts today. Kevin Page writes that, given Canada's and the world's economic outlook, it's a time to ask some tough questions:

Some of these issues cannot be ignored any longer. For instance, will any provincial or territorial finance minister confront Joe Oliver, their federal counterpart, about income stagnation? Data on Human Resources and Social Development Canada’s site shows that median after-tax incomes for all families (or real GDP per capita) has been virtually flat since 2007. Debt feels very heavy when incomes are stagnating.
Or what about income inequality? The New Canadian Income Survey on the Statistics Canada website shows that 4.7 million people or 13.8 per cent of our population lived with low income in 2012 (income less than half of the median of all households). That is a troubling number that should worry all Canadian political leaders.

It's not that our finance ministers lack brains. Page gives credit where credit is due:

Our finance ministers are smart. They know that faster growth is going to require higher investment rates and sustainable public finances. But the reality is that Canada is falling down on capital investments in both the private and public sectors.  
That's because the ruling orthodoxy these days dictates that the only way to encourage investment is to cut taxes:

Why do we continue to pursue an approach that stunts growth now and for the future? Is this public sector mismanagement? Or, is this an effort to achieve a balanced budget that allows for spending on current goods or services (for my generation that votes) at the cost of capital goods for future generations (our children and grandchildren that do not yet vote)?
And what about infrastructure spending? Will the ministers confront Oliver about the 2013-14 Public Accounts for Infrastructure Canada, which show the federal government is not getting planned transfers on infrastructure out the door. Last year, $640 million was left unspent on a range of infrastructure programs. What will this mean for future Canadians?
The austerity approach set out in the 2012 federal budget will succeed in generating a balanced budget, but at a cost: slower growth and degraded public services like support for veterans. Meanwhile, the government is responding to its improved fiscal situation not by raising the investment rate, but by cutting taxes further.
Page got into trouble because he questioned the Harper government's orthodoxy. Time has proven, however, that Kevin Page knows a lot more about economics than Stephen Harper does.


what i'm reading: lost memory of skin by russell banks

we move to canada - Sun, 12/14/2014 - 05:30
Lost Memory of Skin, Russell Banks' 2011 novel, begins with an impossible paradox.

A group of men are living in an encampment under a highway. It is, in fact, the only place they can live.

Each of them has been convicted of some crime involving sex. The state, in a moral panic over child pornography, has decreed that after serving time in prison, a former sex offender cannot live within 2,500 feet of any place where children may be present: schools, public parks, bus stops - and homeless shelters. The men wear homing devices on their ankles to enforce compliance, and they are not allowed to leave the county. One problem: there is no residence in the county that is more than 2,500 feet from any forbidden zone.

It's easy enough to dismiss this concern: who cares about these people, they are scum, they are worthless. But the fact remains, they exist. They must live somewhere. And there is literally no place they can live. And so, these social pariahs have formed a ragged little encampment under a highway, where they live in scavenged shanties.  (This situation is real; it has been challenged by the ACLU.)

This is untenable paradox, the premise of Lost Memory of Skin. The Kid, the main character whose real name we never learn, lives in this shanty town. Until politicians vowing to "clean up" the homeless send cops to break bones and smash what passes for shelter.

The Kid is not a bad person, and he is not dangerous. The crime that has led him to this marginal existence is slowly revealed to the reader, and is stupid and pathetic, but not heinous. The Kid is lost, and confused, and socially maladjusted, the result of a lifetime of total neglect, an utterly empty childhood that he filled with internet porn.

Into the Kid's life comes the Professor: a genius, a socially successful person, but also a person with a dark past, with secrets, and with his own deficiencies and his own addiction. The Professor has some theories about sex offenders, and he wants to study the Kid to prove them. He also wants to use the Kid for his own purposes - not sexual, but shadowy and illegal nonetheless.

His relationship with the Professor changes the Kid, and those changes begin to sort out of some of his emotional and mental confusion... but the plot thickens. Is the professor who he says he is Towards the end of the book, another character enters the mix: the Writer. The Writer appears to be a stand-in for Banks himself, who asserts some philosophical guideposts and offers some clues as to how to read the book (and functions as a plot device). In lesser hands, this would have been awkward, even ridiculous, but Banks pulls it off.

When I write about books, I often skim reviews from sources I respect to get a feel for what critics thought. Most critics felt this book was worthwhile, even important, but their interpretation differed widely from mine. For example, it is widely assumed that the Professor's theories about child sex offenders are Russell Banks' own views. I find plenty of evidence in the book that they are not; in fact, the Professor's theories are disproven, or at least questioned, as soon as they are espoused.

One theme running through Lost Memory of Skin concerns how we construct our sense of our selves - how and to what extent we shape our own reality. The Professor has a dark past, and has re-invented himself many times over. The Kid must form his self almost from scratch, as a young adult, with very little to guide him. The Writer has his own theories, but it's unclear whether the Writer offers guidance or more confusion. I saw this theme as central to the novel, yet not one reviewer (of the ones I read) even mentioned it.

Lost Memory of Skin is an absorbing novel, sometimes suspenseful, sometimes achingly sad, sometimes a bit strange. Parts feel bumpy and require a certain faith from the reader, but Russell Banks has earned that faith from me. Like all Banks' novels, this one is beautifully written, thought-provoking, and well worth your time.




Microsoft, Christy Clark open foreign worker turnstile outpost in Vancouver

Creekside - Sun, 12/14/2014 - 04:46
Back in May our media were pretty excited about the jobs jobs jobs angle to Microsoft opening a Centre of Excellence in Vancouver :

CBC : Microsoft Canada Excellence Centre to bring 400 jobs to Vancouver

Vancouver Sun : Microsoft to open new centre in Vancouver, 400 new jobs

HuffPo Microsoft Canada Announces Vancouver Centre, 400 Jobs

.... all of them pretty obviously based on the same Microsoft press release

Yesterday CBC was somewhat less buoyant about that whole 400 jobs angle, given they will all be going to foreign IT workers :
Foreign workers: Microsoft gets green light from Ottawa for foreign trainees   Tech giant exempted from new rules for finding Canadians to fill jobs
which garnered some 2500+ furious comments about those jobs not going to Canadians.
As noted here at Creekside last June, truth is those jobs never were going to Canadians. .Microsoft has been planning to expand their Vancouver sales office since 2007 to circumvent US H1-B immigration restrictions on importing foreign IT specialists :
Amid challenges getting enough foreign programmers admitted into the U.S., Microsoft plans to open a development center in Canada.
"The new software development center will open somewhere in the Vancouver, British Columbia, area and will be "home to software developers from around the world," Microsoft said in a statement on Thursday."The Vancouver area is a global gateway with a diverse population, is close to Microsoft's corporate offices in Redmond, and allows the company to recruit and retain highly skilled people affected by immigration issues in the U.S.," Microsoft said." As Microsoft’s deputy general counsel Karen Jones repeated to Businessweek last May : Vancouver Welcomes Tech Companies Hampered by US Work Visa Caps :“The U.S. laws clearly did not meet our needs,” she says. “We have to look to other places.” Microsoft opened a small office in Vancouver in 2007, when U.S. visa applications for the first time quickly surpassed the congressional limit.  Microsoft will hire and train 400 software developers from around the world to work on mobile and cloud projects. Jones says Microsoft didn’t choose to expand in Vancouver “purely for immigration purposes, but immigration is a factor.”The Canadian government will grant the imported IT workers 24 month visas to work at Microsoft's Centre of Excellence - 12 months more than is required by rules under intra-company transfers before they can be cycled into the US. They are not required to apply for LMIAs due to a special exemption deal between BC and Ottawa, with a special Microsoft exemption on top. Citizenship and Immigration Canada :"Even though Microsoft’s Rotational Program is generally 18 months in duration, a 24-month work permit will be issued so that the employee may continue to perform Rotational Program job duties until they are transitioned by Microsoft into a new position elsewhere."So Microsoft gets an immigration turnstile outpost in Vancouver, and in return they promise to hire a few paid Canadian interns.

As also noted here last June, lead lobbyist on this file is frequent CBC Power&Politics panelist Geoff Norquay of Earnscliffe Strategy Group, who formerly worked for both Harper and Mulroney.  Currently lobbying for Microsoft, CIBC, and Shaw, Mr. Norquay has previously represented Monsanto, BC Fish Farmers, Shell, and SNC-Lavalin  :Client name: Microsoft Canada Lobbyist name: Geoff Norquay, Consultant Initial registration start date: 2006-04-06 to presentOffice of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada
  • Discussions with federal officials in the Departments of Employment and Social Development, Citizenship and Immigration, Industry Canada and Privy Council Office regarding the establishment of the British Columbia Excellence Centre to facilitate entry into Canada of foreign nationals to work in software development on a rotational basis under the Temporary Foreign Workers Program.
Meanwhile out here in BC, Christy Clark and her ministers of jobs and technology have been meeting with other Microsoft lobbyists this the past year : "To support Microsoft's efforts to communicate its various activities in BC relating to the recently announcement BC Centre of Excellence in Vancouver."
Microsoft also has several Centres of Excellence in India, Ireland, Cairo, Dubai, etc. In July Microsoft announced it was cutting 18,000 jobs or about 14% of its full-time workforce, with further cuts pending to its 80,000 external staff.
.

Who's the Real Immigration Minister Chris Alexander or Jason Kenney?

Montreal Simon - Sun, 12/14/2014 - 03:05


Ever since he was made a minister I've made it pretty clear what I think of Chris Alexander.

How he reminds of the character in The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Who after selling his soul to Stephen Harper, morphed from a promising young diplomat into a ghastly Con monster...



But who knew he was so incompetent?
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Ezra Levant and Brian Lilley's Disastrous Freedom Tour

Montreal Simon - Sat, 12/13/2014 - 23:34


Well it was always going to be a freak show. Ezra Levant and Brian Lilley, the two Con clowns from Sun TV, on a so-called Free Speech Tour.

Spewing bigotry out of every orifice, and asking their faithful followers suckers to pay for the privilege of watching them live and in person.

But who knew it would be such a bust or such an execrable adventure?
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Helplessness, learned or otherwise

Dawg's Blawg - Sat, 12/13/2014 - 12:09
Even if you believed torture methods worked to gather useful, lifesaving intelligence — although you have to construct extremely elaborate improbable scenarios to do so, not that there seem to be any shortage of people making the effort —... Mandos http://politblogo.typepad.com/

Reflections on a Nation Brought Low From Within

The Disaffected Lib - Sat, 12/13/2014 - 11:53


Salon.com pundit Andrew O'Hehir looks at the week's revelations on American torture and sees in it the demise of American democracy.  O'Hehir asks, "Can we quit pretending torture is some huge aberration?  It fits into a larger pattern of America's imperial decay."  He says it's convenient to blame this on Cheney and his consorts but "that's bullshit."

Torture is a symptom of America’s cultural and political disease, not the disease itself, and the fact that we turned to torture so rapidly and willingly after a single spectacular terrorist attack is evidence of a generalized infection. When Darth Cheney opened his robes, in that infamous “Meet the Press” appearance five days after the 9/11 attacks, and invited us to join him on “the dark side,” we went willingly, even gratefully. It’s not as if Cheney dissembled or tried to mislead anybody; say what you will about the guy, lying isn’t really part of his M.O. “We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world,” he said. “A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion … That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.”

We can claim now that we didn’t know what Cheney meant by “without any discussion” or “any means at our disposal,” but not to put too fine a point on it, that’s bullshit. Sure, there were a handful of civil libertarians and lefty journalists who sounded the alarm, but most of us just nodded knowingly: It was a new world with new rules, and it came as a great relief to ditch the old-fashioned, unattainable ideal of American exceptionalism – the notion that we were special because we represented something new and revolutionary in human history. The new version of American exceptionalism is not based on any such delusions. Cheney set us free from the legacy of daylight Thomas Jefferson, who saw that the chattel slavery that made him rich was a curse that might never be expunged; free from the legacy of Lincoln at Gettysburg, or King on the National Mall. Screw government of the people, by the people and for the people. What a pain in the ass! If we’re exceptional now, it’s in an obvious and brutal way we can all get our heads around, because we’ve got the biggest guns and the most stuff. (That won’t last, of course.)


..U.C. Berkeley professor Mark Danner observes that war architects like Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld appear blissfully unaware of a fact obvious to everyone else: Their Iraq invasion, meant to forge a Pax Americana in the Middle East and cow “rogue nations” into submission, has had exactly the opposite effect. It has exposed American military might as a paper tiger, possessed of the magical power to create more enemies in every country it touches, and has encouraged the rise of a new adversary, more sophisticated and culture-savvy than al-Qaida ever was. It has made us look both weak and evil.Torture apologists fall into the same epistemological error — and the same existential nihilism, you might say — when they announce that they don’t care how many eggs get broken as long as we are kept safe. (Then there’s the wimpier, “moderate” Obama administration version, which is every bit as offensive: Without quite endorsing what did or did not happen, we’re going to agree never to think about it again.) First of all, we’re almost certainly less safe. More important than that, the criminal acts meant to keep us safe have stripped us bare before the whole world as a lawless and decadent empire that doesn’t look as if it’s worth saving.In order to save democracy, the torturers had to destroy it. Somewhere in Nietzsche’s discussion of “decadence,” an important concept in his philosophy, he defines it as a quality that leads people or societies to seek their own deterioration and destruction. (Nietzsche was certainly no fan of democracy, but he also noted that decadent societies were characterized by severe social and economic inequality and a lack of moral and intellectual leadership.) I don’t suggest that Dick Cheney and his Fox News acolytes harbor a conscious death-wish; they lack the imagination and insight for that. But their nightmarish fantasies all point toward that outcome. It’s as good an explanation of America’s insane response to 9/11 as any. What kind of society produces physicians who will supervise waterboarding and “rectal feeding,” or psychologists who spin the supervision of a secret torture program into an $80 million government contract? What ideal of America is being preserved by such methods, and will it bear their mark forever?

Recognizing Harper For what He Is

Politics and its Discontents - Sat, 12/13/2014 - 10:37


Last evening I watched a PBS special on the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary. Archival footage spanning over 50 years of the group and their times reminded me of the passionate and committed century I grew up in, a time that saw people marching en masse to protest the Vietnam War, to advocate for civil rights, etc. Outside of the Occupy Movement, rarely has this century seen such activism.

I often think that the forces of corporatism, aided and abetted by their government enablers, have been very successful in largely muting, if not totally silencing, the spirit of protest. Their relentless message that the market is the only altar to worship at has frequently skewed, perverted and undermined our better natures and the values upon which our society was founded. Care for the collectivity, they suggest, is a quaint notion that has no place in modern life.

Fortunately, not everyone has drunk that particular Kool Aid. There are two major comforts that sustain me in these times; the deep political awareness and critical thinking that my fellow bloggers are so brilliantly capable of, and the regular letters to the editor at The Star that repudiate the passivity so cherished by the right wing.

In today's paper, there is a wealth of missives on the subject of Stephen Harper, all with a common theme: the emperor has no clothes. In his snubbing of Ontario and his refusal to meet our Premier, a myriad of Harper's flaws as both a human being and the leader of the country are exposed for all to see. I hope you check out all of them; here are but a few to whet your appetite:
Re: Deep freeze, Dec. 5

This page one story is a chilling expose. Childish behaviour is an increasing card being played from our political deck. The cry of “we will have another meeting at some point in time” is indicative of a federal leader exhibiting an increasingly punitive, juvenile approach to Ontario citizens. Pretty scary position when one man believes that it is his way or no way.

Hang in there, Premier Wynne. Childish tantrums are often quickly put aside when something shiny attracts their attention. It appears that our prime minister did not learn everything he needed to learn in kindergarten. Pity.

Don Graves, Burlington

It makes you wonder how someone who leads a country as significant as Canada can be so small-minded and treat the largest province in the country with such a contemptuous, childish and partisan attitude. Just because Ontario is led by a Liberal who points out the weaknesses in the Canada Pension Plan and infrastructure payments to Ontario.

I do feel that Kathleen Wynne will soon be in a very enviable position, when Stephen Harper, with cap in hand, will no doubt be forced to appease her and start to make every attempt to persuade Ontario and Quebec to accept the Energy East pipeline. Anyone with any concern of global warming, which Harper obviously has no regard for, would question its credibility and the true benefit to Ontario and Quebec.

Harper will continue to do anything he can to promote Alberta’s oil sales while doing very little to assist the two manufacturing arms of Canada, Ontario and Quebec. I predict Harper will be almost pleading with these two provinces to accept Energy East, even though it appears the ultimate decision will be in the hands of the National Energy Board, which no doubt has been stacked with pro-Harper appointees, similar to the Senate.

Anybody who has taken Economics 101 knows that you should not base your economy purely on commodities; you need to build a manufacuring base too. Commodities go up and down based on supply and demand, while manufacturing creates at least a stable working environment and also makes Canada more competitive in the world.

They say that Ontario and Quebec will decide the next election. The Harper plan for 2015 is to end up with a balanced budget and to give out a few election goodies to entice or fool the public, which he has already started. However I believe with the drop in the oil prices, I doubt he will balance his budget, unless he claws more back from infrastructure payments to the provinces.

My guess is that the 40 per cent who actually voted for Harper in the last election, will start to question the Canada he has created and will realise his expiry date has been exceeded, will realise how little he has done for Ontario and Quebec, and will join the majority 60 per cent who did not vote for him.

John F. Langton, Oakville

Now, let me see if I’ve got this democratic theory right. The Prime Minister represents all of Canada, and not just part of it. He or she works for us and therefore listens to us. He or she is more ear than mouth. And the money that the PM uses to guide us down the path is not his or her money but ours. It is a common wealth.

The PM must take care of all of us, not just the wealthy, the petroleum people, and the corporations. The PM should not empty the cookie jar because, as Aesop showed us centuries ago, we must be ants and not grasshoppers.

And that listening thing goes for all the ministers of the government as well, whether that is Pierre Polievre, Tony Clement, Chris Alexander, Peter MacKay or that tone-deaf and arrogant Veterans Affairs Minister I call Pope Julian.

David J. Paul, London, Ont.

Is Stephen Harper not the prime minister of all 10 provinces of Canada? It appears he is only the prime minister of Alberta, where the oil is, since he won’t meet with our premier. Why then should any Ontarian consider voting for him?

Bev Murray, BurlingtonRecommend this Post

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